Our Segway Adventure At Bonaventure

On Chari’s Top 5 list for 2013 was to ride a Segway. Ok, check that one off the list. Well, not really off the list. As with so many of our fun things, once we’ve tried them we can’t wait to do them again. The Segway falls into this category. Looks like our Bucket List is more like a loop than a list. Too bad these fun machines are over $6,000 or we’d be out looking for them. But then we already have lots of toys strapped to our RV (which I’ve named Dream Chaser) so a ride now and then will have to do.

Segway, Bonaventure cemetery

Our Bonaventure Segway Tour

We scheduled our tour with Segway of Savannah http://www.segwayofsavannah.com after picking up a flyer at the Savannah Visitors Center. Their new location is just across MLK Blvd. in the Old South Trolley Tour parking lot. They offer tours of the historic district (60 minutes for $65) and Bonaventure Cemetery (90 minutes for $75). Reservations do need to be made a day ahead and there are age and weight restrictions (see website or brochure). This would be our splurge for this stop. Hey, you can’t take it with you even though a lot of people try! I’d rather collect memories than something I have to dust. 

There were four of us taking the tour today. The other couple was from Detroit and about our age. We met our tour guide, Tess, at the cemetery parking lot after watching a safety video and signing waivers. After watching the video my palms were a bit moist and my adrenaline surging from a combination of excitement mixed with a dose of fear. Part of me felt like the Little Engine That Could as I said “You can do this, I know you can”. The moment had arrived. Tess held the handle bars as I stepped up and felt the machine purr. Slowly, ever so slowly , I leaned forward so the weight transferred to my toes and off I went at a snail’s pace with Tess walking along side. Then she said “OK, now turn”. The Segway turns in a very tight radius by touching the handle right or left. We were instructed to NEVER lean on the handle. Around to the left. Now back to the right. This wasn’t going to be that hard. Actually the hardest part isn’t the going but learning to control the stopping and standing still. When moving along with weight forward you gently shift  your weight back onto your heels to slow down or stop. When standing still you need to keep still. even the smallest movement causes the machine to “rock” a bit. If by any chance you shift your weight too far to the rear the Segway will start backwards. More about that later… After about ten minutes of practice we were off to see one of the most beautiful Victorian era cemeteries in the country.

Segway, Savannah

Steve Learns To Operate The Segway

Segway, Savannah

Segway Training Session

Bonaventure Cemetery leapt onto the literary stage in the best selling novel Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil.  However, the story starts long before that. For safety reasons no photographs are allowed while riding the Segway so we only have a few photos to share. We refer you to the Bonaventure Historical Society website  http://www.bonaventurehistorical.org for additional details and a virtual tour. There was a wooden plantation home called Bonaventure (French for good luck) built on the site in 1771. A family burial plot was located here  and was the beginning of the cemetery. The two original owners were loyal to England during the Revolutionary War and their property was seized and sold. After the war the Tatanall family returned and repurchased the property. It remained in the family until 1846. The next owner developed part of the property for use as a cemetery called Evergreen Cemetery of Bonaventure. It was a public cemetery and became “the place” to be buried during the Victorian era when burial rituals became formalized and memorials not only spoke of the deceased’s deeds but of social status and wealth. Tess was a most informative and humorous guide. We’d pause at various places and she would tell us stories or explain the significance of various statues. Prior to the Victorian era for instance coffins were reused. Once enough time had passed the bones were removed and left at the gravesite and the coffin recycled. Then embalming began to be used and graves became personalized. To be interred at Bonaventure was so desirable that many wealthy families moved loved ones from downtown Savannah cemeteries to Bonaventure. During the Civil War when money was scarce very simple markers were used. As wealth returned, elaborate sculptures became common. Many of the sculptures were done by John Waltz. His sense of detail and of humanity make these works of art meaningful today. One of the most popular is of a young girl named Gracie. Her parents had a photograph taken of her just days before she died from pneumonia. Her grieving father took the photo to John Waltz and the memorial captures a child-like innocence and beauty. The tree stump symbolizes a life cut short, the bud a life just begun and the palm branch peace. Oddly enough his own grave has no sculpture to mark it. Many notables are buried here including songwriter Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken. It was Aiken who brought Emily Dickenson’s poetry to light and she is now much more well known than he. The city of Savannah bought the cemetery in 1907 and it is still an active cemetery today.

Bonaventure cemetery, John Walz

A John Walz Sculpture

Bonaventure cemetery, Savannah


One of the things that surprised us was how much you use the smaller muscles of your feet and legs on the Segway. It’s not uncommon for the constant use to cause decreased blood flow to the feet. So we took a few breaks off of the Segways to walk around. After one of the breaks I climbed back on the Segway but must not have gotten my feet quite far enough forward. Instead of rolling forward, I began going backward. Fortunately the man behind me put out his hand to stop me. A slight shift forward and I was balanced and headed in the right direction. From there on I made sure to step well forward when getting on and had no further problems. Our units were supplied with all terrain tires which we needed for the dirt roads and tree roots. As we moved along our confidence increased and we kept a reasonable pace. At the end Tess took us about 3/4 of a mile down a side road where we could “open them up”. She asked if we felt like we were twelve years old. I replied, “mentally at least”. The road led to another cemetery where the grave of Danny, the murdered assistant, from Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil is located. Tess said the book is 90% true and 10% fiction. She said the fun is to find the 10%. For example in the end both Danny and Williams are buried at Bonaventure. In fact neither one of them is there. It’s been a long time since I saw the movie and Steve never has so we’ve put it on our Netflix list.


Grave From “Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil”

Our hour and a half tour went by so fast. We’d love to come back and do a walking tour or just take photos. If you’ve ever wanted to try a Segway, we highly recommend this tour. Our second childhood is great especially on days like this one.

Segway, tour

Steve and Chari On Their Segways

Green For A Day

We are now waiting out the last month of winter or at least winter as we know it here in the South at Skidaway Island State Park. The park is located ten miles outside of Savannah, Georgia. We’ve been very pleased with our stays at two other Georgia State Parks and Skidaway Island is no exception. All of the sites are pull through style although trees can make it difficult for larger rigs. In fact the site we chose will require us to back out onto the street to leave.  Current upgrades to the park are being done to include some sites with sewer. We were surprised to see a cable hookup in the utility box. Very few state parks offer this service. Then we learned that they are waiting for the new cable company to connect. Our satellite TV doesn’t work because of the dense forest. Fortunately, our over the air antenna does well and we can get PBS. We are addicted to Downton Abbey and couldn’t bear to miss the Season 3 finale.

This is Presidents Day Weekend and there are three big events being held in Savannah.  One of them is the Irish Festival. Most people think of the Irish emigrating to New York, Boston and Chicago. Few realize that many came south to Savannah. In fact, over St. Patrick’s Day this city of almost 140,000 swells to several million partygoers. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade here is planned all year. There is a clock at the Parade office downtown that counts down the start of the next parade to the one thousandth of a second.  Now that’s being precise! Festivities begin well ahead of the big day and the Irish Festival is one of them.

Steve With His Guiness Hat

Steve With His Guiness Hat

We attended on Sunday afternoon only.  The festival was held at the Savannah Civic Center. Two stages provided ongoing entertainment, one small stage held cultural events and lectures and one was devoted to children’s activities. There were vendors galore with every conceivable Celtic item. Steve bought a Guinness hat for his brother who has a Guinness collection but then decided to keep it. Looks good on him, don’t you think? Of course we’re sure that we have the winning ticket for the trip to Ireland raffle. Steve’s grandmother was from County Mayo so he’s always wanted to visit Ireland. The entertainment was fantastic especially when you can enjoy a beer at the same time.. We hope you enjoy the videos we made of the Savannah Irish Dancers, comedian/songwriter/singer Seamus Kennedy and the Cathy Ryan Band.  Steve thinks Cathy Ryan is the Irish version of Judy Collins. At a festival like this everyone can be green for a day.

Where Next #2

Time to think about where we will roam during the next two months. Nothing is cast in concrete but we plan to move up the east coast combining stops at National Park sites, wildlife refuges, kayaking trips, beach time and visits with friends and family. What a life!

As we write this post the blog is quickly approaching 2100 views. Not a huge number yet but definitely growing. It took six months to reach the first 1,000 views and only six weeks for the second 1,000. We are thrilled to have so many folks “traveling” along with us. Thanks for following our blog.

On the map below we’ve noted campgrounds in green and areas or sites we hope to see in red. After we added the Google Earth map the first time it was too full to be readable. So we broke it down into three sections. You can double click on the image to bring it to full screen size.

We’ll be busy for sure!

Google Earth, RV

Our February-March 2013 Destinations

Google Earth, RV

Our March-April 2013 Destinations

Google Earth, RV

Our April-June 2013 Destinations

Atalaya And Brookgreen Gardens

After five weeks at Huntington Beach we are packing up for our next move. Then we realize that we’ve overlooked posting anything about the two people who were responsible for donating the land that created Huntington Beach State Park: Archer Huntington and Anna Hyatt Huntington. The Huntington’s bought four defunct rice plantations during the Great Depression of the 1930s as a winter retreat. The property extended east to west from the Intercoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean with Highway 17 running north to south about midway. Today, Atalaya, their winter home is preserved at Huntington SP and open to the public for a $2 fee. There are self-guided tours, an exhibition center and many photo opportunities.

Archer Milton Huntington

Archer Milton Huntington

Archer Huntington was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth… but as the stepson of Collis P. Huntington and Arabella (Duval) Huntington  he lived the life of author, scholar and benefactor. Collis P. Huntington was a railroad magnate (Central Pacific and Southern Pacific) and founder of the Newport News Shipyard in Virginia. The Central Pacific line connected with the Union Pacific to become this country’s first transcontinental railroad. Archer Milton Huntington is best known as founder of The Hispanic Society of America, the Mariner’s Museum in Virginia and Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. I am fascinated with the connections between sites as we travel around. Steve and I had already planned a visit to the Mariner’s Museum for this Spring. Archer Huntington was married to and divorced from Helen Manchester Gates prior to marrying renowned sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. They celebrated March 3 as “3 in 1 day” as it was their anniversary and both birthdays. I can’t help but be curious as his first wife’s name included Manchester  which is my maiden name. My long lost rich uncle? I doubt it but fun to wonder.

Anna Hyatt Huntington

Anna Hyatt Huntington

Anna Hyatt Huntington was the daughter of a professor of paleontology at Harvard and MIT. It was through him that she developed an interest in animal anatomy that would bring such life-like poses to her sculpture. she studied with several well known sculptors. Among them was Gutzon Borgum, sculptor of presidential faces at Mount Rushmore. Many of her sculptures can be seen in public parks around the country and in Brookgreen. Anna and Archer Huntington founded fourteen museums and four wildlife preserves. She preferred to sculpt from live animals. Her Don Quixote statue at Brookgreen used a pathetic horse she bought from a farmer. After the statue was finished she rehabilitated the horse and set it out to pasture to live happily. When working at Atalaya she had gamekeepers, pens and cages for dogs, monkeys and bears. The Huntington’s would travel to South Carolina each winter often in their new, fashionable RV. Anna Hyatt Huntington was one of the first sculptors to use cast aluminum as a medium.

sculpture, Anna Hyatt Huntington

Don Quixote By Anna Hyatt Huntington

If you were to find Atalaya without prior knowledge of its use or owners, you might think it to be an old Spanish prison. Archer Milton Huntington designed it and drew on his love of Moorish architecture and hispanic culture. The home was built around a central courtyard with two studios for Anna, a private living area and a servants living area. There were no guest rooms or public entertaining areas. This was where they took a break from the hectic social scene.

Atalaya, The Huntingtons

Approaching Atalaya

Atalaya, architecture

Main Entrance To Atalaya

Atalaya, photography

View Of Walkway Through Gated Window

Atalaya, Huntington Beach

Central Courtyard At Atalaya

Atalaya, South Carolina

Atalaya Courtyard Through Open Window

Across the street is Brookgreen Gardens. The phrase “always amazing, always changing” is seen as you enter. It is so true. This was my third visit to the gardens. I’ve been when it was a sultry summer day, at Christmas and on a cool, cloudy day in winter and always have seen something new. Besides Anna Hyatt Huntington’s sculptures there are many other sculptures inside and out. Even in the cool of winter you’ll find blooms and colorful foliage. Part of the grounds is devoted to a wildlife preserve. then there is the zoo. I’d never come to this area before. The butterfly house isn’t open until April so I went on to the aviary. After walking into the double door entry I was stunned. At least fifty birds greeted me within five feet of the walkway. Not since the Galapagos have I been able to approach birds this close. There were herons, egrets and ibises. The aviary was the first of it’s kind to be built over a natural swamp. We arrived about 3pm and it was feeding time. After an hour of watching and many photos we moved on to exhibits of river otters, red and gray foxes and an eagle.

sculpture, Brookgreen

Reading The Paper

sculpture, Brookgreen

Rearing Ram Statue

Brookgreen, sculpture

Flying Geese Sculpture

flowers, azalea

Azalea In January

plants, photography

Agave At Brookgreen

birds, Brookgreen


birds, Brookgreen

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron

birds, Brookgreen

Cattle Egret

ibis, birds


I’m sure we’ll return to this area for another snowbird stay in the future. When we do both Brookgreen and Hobcaw will provide new adventures. So where to next? Just wait and see.

river otter

River Otter

Nuts And Bolts Of RV Living #3 – Home Is Where You Park It

RV living, campground

Home IS Where You Park It!

We have a small tapestry hanging right outside our trailer door that says “Home Is Where You Park It” and for us that is true. As full time RVers we are not attached to a house rather our house is attached to us.  Learning how to find places to park our home and how to make reservations has been part of our learning curve.  When we were asked “where do you park at night?”  as if we drove this huge thing around all day, I realized many people don’t know the basics of finding RV sites. Volumes have been written on this subject and the following post is just a brief overview of choices with a good amount of bias toward what we prefer.

You can find any type of RV facility from a WalMart parking lot to a gated community restricted to class A vehicles over $500,000. While we will certainly use the former we will never be qualified to stay in the later. For us state parks, national forests and parks, Canadian Provincial Parks and Corp of Engineers campgrounds make up 95% of the places we stay. We may do more boondock camping, that is staying for free without facilities, or dry camping, staying at a low cost site with rudimentary facilities now that we have purchased a generator and inverter. We do stay at private RV parks if needed but in the last 11 months we’ve only used four parks. That is likely to change as we move along the east coast and visit more urban locations.

One thing we learned early on is that parks that have seasonal or permanent sites or call themselves ‘family’ campgrounds are not for us. That’s not to say it may not work for you. Just be forewarned that some of these campers were parked here many years ago and a variety of homemade lean-to or porch additions have been added. In one park where permanent residents were allowed it was obvious that some were homeless in the true sense  of the word and not as we use it, meaning traveling as a lifestyle. We have been at one park in PA that has very strict rules for the permanent tenants and the park is in great shape. When using an unknown park we always read reviews online at RV park review or check the Escapees forum. My favorite go to app for the iPad and iPhone is CampWhere which costs about $5. Granted you can get the same information for free the web at http://www.uscampgrounds.info but the app is much easier to search and use. This lists federal, state, and city/county parks in an easy to use format with basic info about the park and contact information. We have as you’ll read found errors in their information so now we always double check. Other apps and sites we use are Reserve America, Recreation.gov, Days End ($10/yr for Escapees members only), Allstays Camp and Tent or Trailer Life for private parks and WalMart OVN. Recently another RVer recommended Harvest Hosts which is an annual fee membership site that allows free overnight parking at farms, wineries, orchards or other small businesses. We haven’t joined yet but most likely will soon.

If you qualify, be sure to get the federal interagency pass for those 62 and older. It can save you up to 50% on camping fees as well as free entry to any federal agency facility that charges a fee. Some states offer senior discounts only to residents (SC and FL for example) while others like Mississippi extend it to all. Then there are other states like Georgia who don’t mention it when you reserve on line but give it to you when you register. We’ve recently been making plans for our trip this summer to the Canadian Maritime provinces and found that New Brunswick and Nova Scotia offer senior discounts. Oh, and there is another way to save. Check for states who have their own senior pass like Maryland. For a nominal fee ($10) you can get half price camping at state parks Monday-Wednesday. Lastly look for special rates in off season or shoulder season months such as we found at Land Between the Lakes and on the SC coast. For savings at private parks memberships in groups like Good Sam, KOA and Escapees as well as camping clubs are useful. The best resource of all is talking to other Rvers. They are willing to share their experiences (good and bad)  and information such as parks that hold back sites for walk-in arrivals so that even when a reservation site says “no matching site available” you may still be able to go. This can save you a lot of time and effort. Best of all you make new friends in the process.

H A P PY   C A M P I N G !

When you don’t have a house payment to worry about this is a very economical lifestyle. We are thrilled we made the choice to become full timers.

RV, camping, US camp map

Where We’ve Camped Since Beginning RVing In 2009

Hobcaw Barony

Are you the kind of person who can be driving down the road, see a sign with an unusual name and find yourself turning the steering wheel to check it out? Well, we are too. (Chari) I have pulled off to check names like Havre de Grace in MD just because it sounded so pretty or places like Bucksnort, TN because they made me laugh. So when I saw a sign on Rt. 17 just north of Georgetown for Hobcaw Barony and it made me say “Huh?”,  I had to hang a left and find out what it was. We seem to be blessed with finding the most wonderful places. After you read this post, if you want to take the tour, make your reservations well in advance. They only do one tour a day at 9:30AM Tuesday-Friday with a limit of 13 people (that’s the capacity of their van). The 3 hour tour costs $20/person. We signed up on a Thursday for the following Wednesday and were numbers 11 and 12 for that tour. When we were waiting for our tour to begin I overheard the receptionist say all tours for the rest of the week were filled.

Imagine owning a property of 17,500 acres as a winter retreat? It was an area larger than Manhattan. That’s what Bernard Baruch did when he purchased eleven old rice plantations in 1905 and named his hunt club retreat Hobcaw after a Waccamaw indian word meaning land between the waters. The term barony comes from the land grant originally given by the King of England to one of his barons in 1718. Today it serves as a nature preserve, a university and NOAA research facility and a historical landmark. Thanks to Hobcaw and other privately and state or federally owned lands 66 contiguous miles of South Carolina coastline are protected from development.

Hobcaw, Baruch

Bernard Baruch

Bernard Baruch was born in Camden, South Carolina and moved to NYC at age 11. What a change in lifestyle from a small town to one of the world’s largest cities. He must have been a genius. He entered City College of New York at 14 and graduated at 17. He took the NY Stock Exchange by storm and was a millionaire by the time he was 20. That was in the day when a million was a lot more than it is today. He was stock broker, financier and advisor to seven presidents. He had three children. His oldest daughter, Belle, was the most like him. Both were very tall (6’2″) and loved to be out of doors. Belle established herself as a fierce competitor in the world of sailing at a time when women “just didn’t do that sort of thing”. At 21 she inherited a million dollars. She went to France and became well known in the horse world for her trophy winning horse jumping. In 1956 Bernard Baruch sold Hobcaw to Belle for $5,000.  She lived here until her death in 1964. Showing much foresight Belle Baruch set aside Hobcaw in her Will as a foundation for conservation, preservation and education. I had no luck finding a good photo of Belle Baruch.

Our tour began with a short movie about the Baruch family and Hobcaw. Then we boarded the Center’s bus. We were a varied group. Steve and I found ourselves talking most of the time with a couple from Quebec. Our first stop was at a preserved workers village called Friendfield. There are three villages on the property but this is the most complete. At one time there were 16 homes here. Now there are about 6. We were able to see the church and two homes on our tour. One home is essentially as it was when Friendfield was slave housing. When Bernard Baruch bought the land, rice planting was a failing enterprise. Although free men, most of the people who lived in the village were ‘transferred’ as part of the sale. They stayed on as employees to work the property. Besides providing improved housing the Barauchs paid for education and medical care for their employees. Our guide mentioned that one of the Hobcaw Barony volunteers had a personal history with Friendfield as his grandfather used to live in the home pictured below. It is a 3 mile walk from the village to the main Baruch home which was our next stop.

church, Hobcaw  Barony

Church At Friendfield

Hobcaw Barony, South Carolina

Carved Doorknob On Cabin

Hobcaw, South Carolina

Friendfield Home c. 1935

Our route took us over the original Kings Highway that ran from Georgetown north and was the Route 17 of it’s day. Looking at the narrow dirt road you could see how difficult transportation of goods would have been 250 years ago. There are 100 miles of roads on Hobcaw Barony and all are dirt roads. When the property was first bought there was a wood frame Victorian home here. It burned down in 1929. Bernard Baruch rebuilt his home from brick and concrete to be fire safe. Coming to Hobcaw had long been a very sought after invitation. During the 1930s and early 1940s two of its most famous visitors were here: Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. While on tour you can sit in the chair Winston Churchill used or use the same toilet as FDR. Other notable visitors were President Woodrow Wilson and General Pershing. The home is in the midst of a multi-year renovation. Although over 13,000 square feet, Hobcaw House has a comfortable and welcoming feel. There are several valuable works of art displayed. As with so many of the historical homes no photos are allowed inside. They had artwork stolen several years ago. Some has been recovered but other pieces are still missing. Each year Antiques Roadshow does a show about stolen antiques in an effort to alert the public to these items. This year the show airs on 2/25/13 and Hobcaw House will be one of the locations discussed.

history, architecture

Hobcaw House

When Belle Baruch returned to Hobcaw she built her own home and called it Bellfield. She chose a site overlooking a pond where she had played as a child. In her Will Belle gave her life partner a life estate at Bellefield. It was then used as offices.The home has been vacant for seven years and has not yet been renovated. It is not open to the public. The Center is hoping grant money can be found to restore the home. Belle Baruch was a “down to earth” person. Our guide told a story about a visit by FDR. They were having a meal on her patio. Belle began eating then noticed the President was not eating. She inquired “Don’t you like the food, Mr. President?” FDR replied “I’m sure I would if I had a fork.” Besides the home there is a large stable where she kept her horses and an airplane hanger. When she was no longer able to ride because of arthritis, Belle Baruch became a pilot. She was licensed to fly single engine planes and co-pilot twin engine planes. Not your typical heiress.

tour, Hobcaw

Our Guide At Bellefield

The last portion of the tour is showing the research facilities of Clemson, University of South Carolina and NOAA. For those of you not familiar with the universities, you should know they are arch rivals. Is that the reason the areas of emphasis are kept separate? Clemson concentrates on the upland forest area while USC concentrates on the salt marsh region. Our guide went into detail about current research into water quality and timber growth.  Wildlife  conservation and management is another focus of Hobcaw Barony. While we didn’t see any on our tour there are great photos and exhibits at the Visitor Center. One project is control of feral boar. It is estimated that the property has a population of 1500-2000 boars. Since they reproduce quickly, boar traps are frequently seen along the road. An annual target of boars to be captured is 600. Another avenue for education at Hobcaw are the many special programs and activities the center offers. Be sure to pick up a flyer or check online. This is not a place to visit only once.

wild boar

Wild Boar Trap At Hobcaw

CSS H.L. Hunley


Oh-oh.  Blue type.  That means Steve is typing now and that probably means another history lesson.  And probably about the Civil War.  Well, you’re right.  But this time we won’t be talking about thousands of troops and bloody battles and generals and unconditional surrenders.  Today’s story is about incredible genius, incredible bravery, and a turning point in the history of naval warfare.  Intrigued?  Read on…

The story of people attempting to descend below the surface of the sea goes back thousands of years.  In the 4th Century, BC, Aristotle wrote of using an inverted bronze tank to hold air, which would assist a submerged man.  In the year 325 BC, Alexander the Great and a companion actually went to a depth of twenty-five meters using a clear glass diving bell. 

During the Middle Ages, most of any technology of this sort disappeared, but during the Renaissance, philosophers again began studying the physics of air and water.  Leonardo DaVinci designed a diving helmet made of leather, with spikes to avoid being eaten by monsters, and breathing tubes leading to the surface. 

In the 1500s the first modern “diving bell” was invented, which consisted of a device similar to a barrel held in place over a man’s head by leather straps. 

The first actual submarine, as we know it, being a fully enclosed vessel capable of being propelled beneath the surface, was invented, built, and successfully demonstrated in the Thames River in the year 1623 by Cornelius Drebbel.  While no one knows for sure what Drebbel’s boat looked like or how it operated, it was probably a fully enclosed and watertight rowboat of some sort, with a sloping flat upper deck.  At neutral buoyancy, forward motion would drive it below the surface, and when rowing stopped, it would bob to the surface.  The same principles of buoyancy and use of diving planes are still in use today with modern nuclear subs.  Drebbel’s demonstration, in a boat with twelve rowers, traveled down the Thames at a depth of about fifteen feet, watched by King James I, who probably did not, as some reports have it, actually participate. 

Shortly after, a Frenchman, Marin Mersenne, theorized that a submersible boat should be made of copper and be cylindrical in shape to withstand water pressure.  As with all technology, it seems, it wasn’t long before people started thinking of military uses for a stealthy underwater vessel. During the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652- 1654), Louis de Son had built his 72ft-long ‘Rotterdam Boat’, a semi-submerged battering ram intended to punch a hole in the side of an enemy ship.  However, once launched, it failed to move.

The American Revolution saw the first attempt to sink an enemy vessel by a submarine.  Built by David Bushnell, Turtle was a one-man hand-cranked boat whose mission was to sink HMS Eagle in New York Harbor in 1776.  Ezra Lee, the boat’s pilot, failed to attach the 150-pound keg of powder to the Eagle’s hull, and the mission was a failure.  Shortly thereafter, Turtle was off Fort Lee, New Jersey, when it’s tender, on which it was sitting, was sunk by the British.  During the War of 1812, Robert Fulton developed the Nautilus.  Driven by a hand-cranked propeller submerged and a sail when surfaced, Nautilus made four knots under water and made many attacks on British ships, but since it was always visible, was always evaded.  Not much happened after that for another fifty years.

Fast-forward to April 19, 1861.  It’s a week after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, and by Presidential Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln orders the blockade of every port city in every seceded state.  At that time, the Union had only three vessels available and suitable to patrol more than 3500 miles of Confederate coastline.  Gideon Welles, Navy Secretary, quickly ordered the manufacture or purchase of numerous ships, and captured southern blockade-runners were turned to the task as well, so that by the end of 1861, the number of blockading ships rose to 160, both sail and steam.  671 ships held the job by war’s end.  Blockade-runners were mainly small and fast, able to carry but minimal cargo, and in a large part, were captained by British Royal Navy officers, officially “on leave”.  The Brits set up supply bases in the neutral ports of Havana, Cuba, Nassau, Bahamas, and Bermuda.

As the blockade matured, and became more effective, the South needed more and more ways to circumvent it.  One strategy involved attacking the blockading vessels and causing them to give chase, allowing blockade-runners to escape port.  Another used the new technology of ironclads to attack the Union ships and on March 8, 1862, USS Congress and USS Cumberland were sunk by CSS Virginia, built from the remnants of the USS Merrimack.  The following day, USS Monitor appeared, and the ensuing battle also turned the tide of naval warfare.  But that’s the topic of another story.

Suppose a stealthy boat, able to operate underwater, could approach the blockading ships and attach some sort of explosive device, with no one the wiser?  Horace Lawson Hunley, James McClintock, and Baxter Watson privately funded and developed a small submarine named Pioneer, in New Orleans, and tested it in the Mississippi River.  It was towed to Lake Pontchartrain for additional testing and trials, but Union advances forced its scuttling.  Another, the less documented Bayou St. John probably suffered a similar fate.  The three men moved to Mobile Bay, and built American Diver, experimenting with electromagnetic and steam propulsion.  In February 1863, Diver sank in a storm and was never recovered.  Construction began shortly after on a new boat, and by July, she was ready for a demonstration.  A coal flatboat was successfully attacked and sunk in Mobile Bay.  The privately owned submarine arrived in Charleston, South Carolina by rail, and was promptly seized by the Confederate Army, though Horace and his partners remained involved in the vessel’s testing and operation.  While never officially commissioned, it was known as CSS H.L. Hunley, and operated as a Confederate Army vessel. 

Volunteers were sought, and Lt. John A. Payne, Confederate Navy, of CSS Chicora became skipper.  A crew of seven was selected from Chicora and CSS Palmetto State.  While preparing to make a test dive on August 29, 1863, Payne inadvertently stepped on the lever controlling the diving planes.  Hunley submerged with its hatches open.  The skipper and two others managed to escape.  Five men were dead. 

The Hunley was raised.  On October 18, with Horace Hunley himself in the skipper’s seat, she failed to surface after a mock trial attack.  Hunley and seven more were drowned, raising the total of Hunley crew now dead to thirteen.  She was raised again.

Despite the obvious risk, men were lining up to volunteer as crew on Hunley.  After months of further testing and training, on the night of February 17, 1864, naval history changed forever. 

Stationed at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, the USS Housatonic was a 1240-ton steam powered sloop-of-war, armed with twelve cannons.  Under the command of Lt. George E. Dixon, CSS H.L. Hunley with a crew of seven, successfully embedded a barbed explosive spar (known as a “torpedo”) into Housatonic’s hull.  As Hunley backed off, a line attached to it detonated the torpedo, blowing a twelve-foot hole in the side of the ship.  In five minutes, Housatonic was on the bottom, with only the tops of her masts above water.  Most of the crew escaped, either on lifeboats or by climbing the rigging and waiting for rescue, but five Union sailors went down with the ship.  For the first time ever, an enemy ship was sunk by a submarine. 

A pre-arranged signal of a “blue light” was reportedly observed on shore indicating that Hunley had backed off and was returning to base.  But she, with her crew, was not to be seen again for more than a century.

Twenty-one men had now died aboard H.L. Hunley.  All twenty-one are now buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.  The eight men in her final mission posthumously received the Confederate Medal of Honor.

More than fifty years later, on September 5, 1914 Otto Hersing, operating in the Firth of Forth, and commanding German submarine U-21, fired a torpedo and sank HMS PathfinderPathfinder was the first enemy ship to be sunk from a modern self-propelled torpedo, but the “honor” of being the first ship destroyed by an enemy submarine will forever go to the USS Housatonic and the CSS H.L. Hunley

Discovered in 1995 by a dive team led by novelist Clive Cussler, Hunley was finally raised on August 8, 2000.  She now sits in a tank in an industrial section of Charleston, undergoing extensive restoration, conservation, and research.  For a great website detailing the recovery efforts and conservation efforts, see http://www.hunley.org/index.asp Friends of the Hunley.  While work goes on at the lab on weekdays, a small museum is open and the actual submarine is visible every weekend.  The visit is well worth the $10.00 (seniors rate) price of admission, especially if your tour is led by “Bill” as ours was. 

Bill’s talk covered the design of the boat, difficulty of recovery, questions as to her disappearance, as well as personal details of identifying crew remains.  A romantic legend existed concerning Lt. Dixon, skipper of Hunley’s final mission.  Supposedly, when he married earlier during the Civil War, his bride, as a good luck charm and to keep him from harm, gave him a $20 gold coin.  During battle he was hit in the leg.  The musket ball, so the story goes, hit the coin in his pocket, which absorbed its impact.  The coin, however, was driven into Dixon’s leg, coming to rest alongside the bone, and had to be surgically removed.  With the bones recovered with the Hunley, in the skipper’s seat at the forward hatch, was a bent gold $20 coin with an inscription indicating it had saved his life at the Battle of Shiloh, and bearing minute traces of lead.  And examination of the skeleton revealed slight traces of gold embedded in the leg bone. 

Identification of other crewmembers was equally interesting.  One crewmember was identified by the fact that his naval duty, prior to volunteering for duty on the Hunley, was as sailmaker.  A sailmaker’s job involved sewing canvas, and he would regularly stick the needle in his mouth between teeth while gathering up folds to be stitched together.  Wear marks in his teeth identified one skeleton as Frank G. Collins of Fredericksburg, Va. 

Examination and research are revealing that Hunley was far more advanced than previously believed.  For instance, its use of snorkel equipment to provide air while submerged was thought not to have happened until years later, when developed by the Germans.  Other fascinating research results include cataloging differences of sea life over the years in Charleston Harbor, by studying the three levels of silt and mud that filled the boat.

Eventually, CSS H.L. Hunley will be on display for all to see at a planned new city park dedicated to it, but for now, and probably for a decade to come, work continues.  This is truly a wonderful piece of history, and Chari and I encourage anyone with an opportunity to come and see it for themselves.

Note:  While writing this, I used information from various websites, particularly Wikipedia, to find info on diving bell and submarine history.  No photos of the actual boat were allowed, but some images taken at the museum are included here.  Several photos are available on-line, but are protected by copywrite, and are not.  If interested, visit Google Images, and search for CSS Hunley.   Steve

Full-scale model of Pioneer, made from original drawings

Full-scale model of Pioneer, made from original drawings

Photograph on wall of museum depicting raising of the Hunley

Photograph on wall of museum depicting raising of the Hunley

Cut-away model showing crew and captain at their stations

Cut-away model showing crew and captain at their stations

Medals of Honor issued by the Sons of the Confederacy

Medals of Honor issued by the Sons of the Confederacy

Graves at Magnolia Cemetery of the last crew of the Hunley

Graves at Magnolia Cemetery of the last crew of the Hunley  (image copied from internet)