A Cajun Christmas In New Orleans

NOLA Panorama

NOLA Panorama

We’ve been wanting to spend time time in New Orleans ever since we hit the road. This year (2016) we finally got here. Another sticker for the RV map. That only leaves 3 states in the lower 48 we haven’t camped in West VA, Ohio and Connecticut). We chose Bayou Segnette SP on what is referred to as the westbank area. Good choice as it has large sites, free wifi, free laundry and is only a 10 minute drive to the Algiers Point ferry to downtown New Orleans. The parking for all day was $5 and senior rate on the ferry is $1 each way. If you are lucky you might even get serenaded by the calliope from the Steamboat Natchez.

Steamboat Natchez In The Fog

Steamboat Natchez In The Fog

We spent the first day with friend and fellow volunteer from Red Rock Lakes, Marilyn, touring two of the six sites that are part of Jean Lafitte NHP. The first was Chalmette Battlefield (site of the 1814 Battle of New Orleans) and the other in Thibodaux, LA at the Acadian Culture Center. We arrived in Thibodaux just in time for a Ranger led walking tour of town covering history and architecture of the area. If you enjoy discovering the small towns and hidden gems of our country, don’t miss this walk. We saw original Acadian homes, Victorian homes, Art & Craft homes, Beau Arts buildings and even one of only two Second French Empire homes in Louisiana. We also learned about the Louisiana seal which depicts a pelican with 3 chicks ripping her own flesh to feed them. This was created based upon what the first governor thinks he saw. Truth, per the Ranger, is that pelicans never have more than two chicks and usually only one survives, no bird would rip itself to feed young and that until the late 20th century the seal also showed blood droplets. The Center hosts free events such as a Cajun music night and a local dialect of French discussion group to preserve the language. At one time it was illegal to speak the Acadian language. We ended the day with a meal at Fremin’s, once a pharmacy cum restaurant. Oh, those smoked oysters and gumbo!

Seal Of Louisiana

Seal Of Louisiana

Chalmette VC and The Battle Of New Orleans

Chalmette VC and The Battle Of New Orleans

Malus-Beauregard House

Malus-Beauregard House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victorian Home In Thibodeaux

Victorian Home In Thibodaux

Second Empire French Home

Second Empire French Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thibodeaux Cemetery

Thibodaux Cemetery

Day two was a walking marathon through the French Quarter. We started at the Old Mint, the only mint to have coined currency for both the US and the Confederacy. Currently it is also being used as the Visitor Center for the New Orleans Jazz NHP. Then we walked and photographed ourselves silly on the fabulous architecture and seasonal decorations. We returned to the Jazz park for a Ranger led walk on music and cuisine. If America is the melting pot of the world then surely New Orleans is the epicenter. We knew about the Spanish, the French, the Acadians, the Caribbean influence but Canary Island Islenos … we had no idea. We were still able to catch half of the free jazz concert by the NPS Arrowhead band too. Starving we stopped for a muffuletta and jambalaya.

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

The French Market

The French Market

Shabby Chic

Shabby Chic

The Cornstalk Hotel

The Cornstalk Hotel

Mardi Gras Beads On Balcony

Mardi Gras Beads On Balcony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

muffuleta-sign

Landmark Eatery

OMG! The Food!

OMG! The Food!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans Architecture

New Orleans Architecture

French Quarter Scene

French Quarter Scene

All That Jazz!

All That Jazz!

 

New Orleans From The Ferry At Sunset

New Orleans From The Ferry At Sunset

Being in a vibrant city at holiday time is special. We loved the decorations, the lights at The Oaks and most of all the Cajun custom of guiding Papa Noel with bonfires along the levees. Steve has put together a video of these events and our visit to Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

 

 

 

 

Lake Okechobee, Palm Beach And Old Friends

West Palm Beach

West Palm Beach Panorama

RV, South Bay

Lake Okeechobee and South Bay RV Campground

Next stop on the Florida Snowbird Express was South Bay County Park at the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee. As with most of the country, winter has been cooler than normal this year. Here we were in south Florida but many mornings were still in the 30s. however daytime temperatures were a pleasant 60-70 degrees. Florida has a network of County Parks and these can be an alternative to staying in the all too popular state parks plus most allow stays longer than two weeks.

South Bay was a very well kept park with large well spaced sites and offers full hookups. Just across the street is a levee for Lake Okechobee with a walking/biking trail at the top. During our stay the weather was too windy and cool for kayaking on the open water. We’d hoped to see if the bass were really as large as they say but that will have to wait for another time. The surrounding area is primarily agricultural (sugar cane growing and refining) so the downside is you must drive an hour or more to sights and attractions.

We did use the biking trail twice for 10-11 mile trips. On the second trip we were on our way home and enjoying seeing pelicans and ibis roosting in trees along the lake. All of a sudden I heard Steve call out “whoa!” and swerve to the right into the grass. Right on the path in front of him was a snake. I past by on the left about three feet away. Steve missed the critter by inches and as he went by it lifted its head six inches, opened its mouth to show fangs and the classic white roof of its mouth. It was a cottonmouth. Way to close for comfort. Neither of us had a cell phone and it made us think a bit about carrying one.  How would we have gotten help if he had been bitten? So from now on we’ll be more prepared. 

We’d come here primarily to see friends recently relocated from Seattle. They have found many activities here and keep very busy. One place they spend a lot of time is the Life Long Learning Center at Florida Atlantic University. They were taking a four week course on the War of 1812 from Dr. Robert Watson. They invited us to come along and we were able to attend as guests for a small fee. Dr. Watson is a most knowledgeable and dynamic teacher. If we lived there we’d be regulars for his classes. In fact we enjoyed the first week so much we returned for the following week. Steve told him the story about his brother and the USS Constitution and was able to send him a copy of the inscription in the Java Bible. In turn when he learned we were going to Key West he told us to see if a friend of his who was the Director at the Truman Little White House would give us a tour.

Florida, sightseeing, Palm Beach

Flagler Museum in
Palm Beach, Florida

Having seen what Henry Flagler built for other people we planned a visit to his Palm Beach estate, Whitehall. This 75 room, 100,000 square foot mansion was built for his third wife in 1902. We strolled the grounds and main floor while waiting for the next docent led tour. If you go definitely take one of the free tours. You will learn so much more than touring on your own. After Henry Flagler died in 1913 his wife moved back to St. Augustine. Upon her death the property was owned by a niece until the mid 1920s when it was sold and converted into a 300 room hotel with a second building  consisting of ten floors attached to the rear.  The original home was used for dining, bar and card rooms. The hotel operated until 1959. By then the once gracious mansion was in severe disrepair and threatened with demolition. Henry Flagler’s granddaughter organized a non-profit corporation to restore the property and opened it to the public in 1960. Through her efforts 90% of the original furnishings and artwork have been recovered. With rooms copied from the Vatican and Versailles this museum is a must see for anyone visiting south Florida. If you visit on a Sunday afternoon you may hear the largest pipe organ ever installed in a private home being played. During the winter “season” the museum also holds classical music performances in the grand ballroom for an addition fee. Enjoy a tour via our photos until you have a chance to visit yourself.

Flagler, Whitehall, Palm Beach

Entrance Hall At Whitehall

Grand Staircase To Second Floor

Grand Staircase To Second Floor

architecture

Whitehall Architecture

One Of The 75 Bedrooms

One Of The 75 Bedrooms

Grand Ballroom At Whitehall Copied From Versailles

Grand Ballroom At Whitehall Copied From Versailles

Grand Ballroom In Use c. early 1900s

Grand Ballroom In Use c. early 1900s

Tiffany

Tiffany Lamp At Whitehall

sculpture

Delicate Sculpture Called Lady In A Veil

railroad

Flagler’s Private Railroad Car

Palm Beach, Florida

Oldest Home In Palm Beach Where The Flagler’s Stayed While Whitehall Was Built.

Tropical Plant In Bloom At Whitehall Gardens

Tropical Plant In Bloom At Whitehall Gardens

We also spent time enjoying two locations along the Florida Birding Trail: Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach and Loxahatchee NWR in Boynton Beach. We visited the later on twice, once walking the boardwalk and another taking the volunteer narrated tram tour. Here we spoke to two volunteers who encouraged us to pursue workcamping at NWR sites.

Loxahatchee NWR, lichen

Loxahatchee Air Plant With Baton Rouge Lichen

butterflies

Butterfly At Loxahatchee

birds

Loxahatchee Great White Egret

Flowering Plant Along Loxahatchee Boardwalk

Flowering Plant Along Loxahatchee Boardwalk

fern

Young Fern Unfolding

We learned about the Wakodahatchee Wetlands from another passenger on the Loxahatchee NWR tram ride. Not having anything planned for the afternoon, we decided to visit. What a wonderful surprise! This wetland is created by the county water authority from the discharge of treated sewage.  A mile plus boardwalk has been built through the wetlands allowing birders, photographers and nature lovers to be up close and personal with hundreds of shore and wading birds. Here are some photos from our visit.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands, birds, photography

Wakodahatchee Wetlands Boardwalk

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

anhinga, nest

Female Anhinga On Nest

Great Blue Heron With Reflection

Great Blue Heron With Reflection

Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

photography

Anhinga Chicks Sibling Rivalry

Very Patient Green Heron

Very Patient Green Heron

Mottled Duck

Mottled Duck

Common Gallinule aka Moorhen

Common Gallinule aka Moorhen

Anhinga Feeding Two New Chicks

Anhinga Feeding Two New Chicks

Happy 500th Birthday Florida!

Happy Birthday, Florida!

Happy Birthday, Florida!

It is April 2, 1513 and a Spanish galleon lies just off the coast of a new land. A smaller boat brings a landing party ashore. The first Spaniard, Don Juan Ponce de Leon, will step foot on what soon will be called the Treasure Coast.  He claims this new land for Spain and names it La Florida, land of flowers. Although others have come to America’s shores this is the first time anyone has made a claim in the name of a country. La Florida covers most of the North American continent. Over the next three centuries Spanish, French, British, Confederate and USA flags will fly and lay their claims.

Five centuries later millions of people inhabit the state of Florida. For the next three months we will be Floridians. Since this is the 500 year anniversary, it seems only right that we begin our first snowbird winter in North America’s oldest, continuously inhabited city, St. Augustine. We will spend the next eight days at Anastasia State Park. The park is located on Anastasia Island just across Matanzas Bay via the beautiful Bridge of Lions and Route A1A.

Google Earth, Florida, St. Augustine

Google Earth Map of St. Augustine and Area

St. Augustine was not, however, Spain’s first attempt to colonize La Florida. There had been six previous attempts. The French were successful in establishing a fort, Fort Caroline, approximately 50 miles north near what is now Jacksonville in 1564. With the French threatening his Treasure Fleet as it sailed La Florida’s east coast on the way back to Spain, the king appointed Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Spain’s most experienced admiral, as governor. His mission was to explore and settle the New World. He arrived on August 28, the Feast Day of St. Augustine, thus naming the new settlement after the patron saint. He occupied the indian village of Seloy and even claimed the council house to billet his officers.  A larger, better equipped French Navy would have dominated the Menendez forces had they not been caught in a hurricane. The French survivors attempted to march back to Fort Caroline but were stopped by the Spanish forces and executed. With that defeat French control of La Florida ended. Today the bay is still called Mantanzas Bay, meaning slaughter.

Matanzas Bay Panorama

Matanzas Bay Panorama

Ponce de Leon never mentioned a Fountain of Youth. There were statements that this might exist in other governmental documents. Legend suggests that the advanced age (80-90) of many Timicua people when the European average lifespan was less than 40 may have been the source. Others believe Ponce de Leon was searching for an aphrodisiac for the King who in his later years married a very young woman.

_DSC0071

A wooden fort, Castillo de San Marcos, was built to defend the settlement. St. Augustine defended herself not only against other nations but against pirates such as Sir Francis Drake who raided and burned the city in 1586. The town was rebuilt. Almost a century later, privateer Robert Searles would raid the town in 1668. In 1670 the British established Charles Town (now Charleston) and raised another threat to Spanish territory.  A new stone fort made from local coquina stone took most of two decades to build and was completed in 1695. In 1702 the British attacked St. Augustine. Unable to subdue the Castillo San Marcos they burned the town to the ground. There is no building in St. Augustine that predates 1702.

National Monument, NPS, national parks, Florida

Castillo de San Marcos

By the time of the American Revolution, St. Augustine was in the hands of the British and became a haven for loyalists. Three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge and Thomas Heyward, Jr., were placed under house arrest in the city. Other prisoners did not fair so well being housed in the Castillo now known as Fort St. Marks. Florida was returned to the Spanish in 1784 as compensation for having aided the patriots.

The native Timicuan (pronounced Tim – i (short i) – quan) people had lived in northern Florida for over 4,000 years. Within 250 years they would all but vanish and the few survivors would be absorbed along with Creek, Yamasee, Oconee and runaway slaves to form the Seminole nation. The word Seminole is a corruption of the Spanish word cimarrones, meaning untamed or wild ones. During the War of 1812 the Seminole sided with the British. The First Seminole War, 1817-1818, occurred when the United States invaded Spanish held Florida. After destroying Seminole villages, Andrew Jackson went on to attack Spanish settlements. In a 1819 treaty negotiated by John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, and Spain’s Minister, Luis de Onis, Florida   became American territory. Between 1835-1842 in response to the Indian Removal Act, the Second Seminole War erupted. This stands as the bloodiest Indian war in American history. Florida’s admission as a state was delayed because it wanted to enter as a slave state. It finally did enter as a slave state in 1845 when Iowa entered as a free state.

Many of the first families to settle in the area came from the Aviles area of Spain. Later immigrants came from the Canary Islands and the Cracker families arrived with their cattle herds. While St. Augustine is an interesting place to visit at any time of year, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas bring out a special beauty when the city dons festival lights. The tree at the Visitors Center is decorated with pictures and family names of the founding families.

So join us as we wander through St. Augustine by day and night.

First Families of St. Augustine

First Families of St. Augustine

The heART Of The Eastern Shore

What is it my Mom used to say? Oh yes, “It’s OK to make plans as long as you don’t plan the results.” It should be a mantra for RVers. The cancellation of our stop in northern Pennsylvania meant we had to drive straight through to Maryland. Normally we stick close to the 244 rule (200 miles, 4 hours of driving or arrive by 4pm.) There was a domino effect on plans until we were back in Charlotte. We tried to move up our stay at Elk Neck SP in Maryland but there was no opening for our size rig. We changed our reservation to Martinak SP which is located along the Choptank river near the small town of Denton. This is the first time we’ve been able to  use our Maryland State Golden Age Pass which gives us half price rates Sunday-Thursday. One stay paid for our passes plus almost $50 more. A very good deal!

Originally we’d come here with the idea of kayaking the Choptank. However, the weather turned much cooler (down to 26 degrees one night) and quite breezy. So we chose not to paddle. Biking, walking and exploring the coast occupied most of our time. We drove down to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and out to the Hooper Islands. Loads of birds were in the refuge especially eagles. It was a bit early for the snow geese. Seeing a blast off of these geese is on my bucket list! We also drove 1 1/2 hours to the Baltimore area to see a friend from Charlotte that had moved there.

Crossing The Hooper Island Chain

Crossing The Hooper Island Chain

Cute As A Button

Cute As A Button

Relaxing On The Eastern Shore

Relaxing On The Eastern Shore

One day Steve went to a local liquor store and came back with a photo of a poster. It was advertising an event sponsored by the Caroline County Arts Council for the following Saturday evening. The event was a fundraiser for the Council called an Evening With Edgar Allen Poe. When we went on the CCAC website for more information we also learned of an event in the neighboring town of Greensboro for a music performance about the War of 1812. Who says drinking isn’t good for you? We were lucky to get two of the last five tickets for the Poe dinner.

The music performance was given at the public library by Lee Murdock, a folksinger who specializes in music about the Great Lakes. Most of his performances are in the midwest. He’d put together the show we heard for the bicentennial of the War of 1812. He interwove history, legend and song for a very entertaining (and free) evening. There were only eleven people attending. The War of 1812 has local significance as many battles were fought on the Chesapeake Bay and of course at Fort McHenry. We bought a CD so we could enjoy the songs again. If you are interested in where he is performing check his website http://www.leemurdock.com .

Hidden In Downtown Denton

Hidden In Downtown Denton

History In Denton

History In Denton

The Evening With Edgar Allen Poe was also a great event. Every year the CCAC picks an author and features a variety of speakers about the person, their contributions to literature and culture and selected readings. Before dinner we mingled as everyone tried to find the answer to their Poe related question issued upon arrival. My question was “How much was Poe paid for his poem The Raven?” The answer will be hidden somewhere in the post. It was a great way to meet some local people. The keynote speaker was an English professor from a nearby community college.  A local teacher and musician gave a talk on Poe’s influence on music. The presentation we enjoyed the most was a one man reading of The Telltale Heart by another teacher and thespian. He was terrific and received a standing ovation.

As I finalize this post we are beginning a two week stint in NC for Tweak Week #2. The answer to the trivia question is $9 (about $20 in today’s money).  For those new to our blog, Tweak Week is when we take the trailer in for maintenance/repair and ourselves in for doctor and dentist visits. Repair from our earlier Attack of the Tree Branch post will require us to find time for a new roof before heading south for the winter. During this time we will try our best to get caught up with the rest of our wonderful Canadian Maritime travels.

Where next? Check out our next post.

Lighting The Way

Nothing indicates the Liberality, Prosperity or Intelligence of a nation more clearly than the facilities it affords for the Safe Approach of the Mariner to its shores. 

From the 1868 report of the United States Lighthouse Board

lighthouse, museum

Lghthouses As Art

With its long maritime history and spectacular but rocky coast Maine offers lighthouse aficionados a rare treat. You can purchase a lighthouse passport book and attempt to collect stamps from all of the ones open to the public. Or perhaps join the annual Lighthouse race when hundreds of people dash along the coast to see all of them in one 24-hr period. We spent time at a much more leisurely pace at four lighthouses: Owls Head, Rockland Breakwater, Bass Harbor and West Quoddy Head.

A great place to start your lighthouse education is at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland. The museum consists of several rooms with exhibits and on demand videos. Whether your interest is in the technical and architectural area or in the stories of those who lived and worked at the light stations, you won’t be disappointed. Plan to spend at least 2 hours here. Of course we were there over four hours! Many people have worked very hard to preserve our coastal heritage but none more than Connie Scoville Small. She and her husband were lighthouse keepers along the New England coast from 1920-1948.  In her ‘retirement’ years she gave hundreds of lectures, appeared on television and wrote newspaper articles all aimed at preserving lighthouses and a way of life that no longer exists. She wrote a book called The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

The museum exhibits began with the history of the United States Lighthouse Establishment created by Congress when it federalized all lighthouses in 1789. The first man in charge of the service was Alexander Hamilton when he was our first Secretary of the Treasury.  We were fascinated by the story of Stephen Pleasonton.  Never heard of him? Neither had we. When you hear what he did you’ll wonder why. We’ve all heard about Dolly Madison saving George Washington’s portrait when the British burned the capital during the War of 1812. Stephen Pleasanton was auditor of the Treasury in 1814. Among his numerous duties was overseeing and staffing lighthouses. Under instructions from Secretary of State James Monroe who saw the British land in Maryland, Pleasanton and his staff sewed linen bags and filled them with important documents and books.  The documents were taken by wagon to a mill in Georgetown for safekeeping. Then Pleasonton realized the mill was near a munitions depot and moved the documents a second time to a farmhouse in Leesburg, VA. He kept the documents secure while watching Washington burn on the horizon.  Just what were these documents? The bags contained George Washington’s letter of resignation as General of the Continental Army, the original Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States and The Bill of Rights.  Throughout his 32 year civil service career Pleasonton  was known as a “tight wad”.   Eventually public outcry and congressional investigation put an end to his budgetary constraints.  In 1852 a nine member U. S. Lighthouse Board was created to take over the operation of our lighthouses.  The nation was divided into twelve lighthouse districts each with a Lighthouse inspector responsible for construction, operation and staffing of the navigational aids. The Board was proactive in construction and modernization of lighthouses. By 1860 Fresnel lenses had been installed in all lighthouses. The Lighthouse Board was dissolved in 1910 when the civilian run Lighthouse Service was created.  Under the leadership of George Putnam the United States went from sixth place in navigational safety to second place, surpassed only by the Netherlands. In 1939 the Coast Guard assumed responsibility for lighthouse operation by merging with the U. S. Lighthouse Service.

Another place where lighthouse history could have changed the world was when William Rosecrans was asked to be Abraham Lincoln’s second term Vice President. Besides a military career Rosecrans had invented the odorless oil lamp used in many lighthouses.  Rosecrans took an extended time to accept the offer. Lincoln thought the delay was Rosecrans way of declining and then asked Andrew Johnson to be his running mate. Had Rosecrans answered in a timely fashion, he would have been President after Lincoln’s assassination.

  Manticus Rock Lighthouse


mannticus Rock
Manticus Rock Lighthouse

There were stories about several women who made significant contributions to lighthouse history. One of the most widely publicized is that of 14 year-old Abbie Burgess when her family manned the remote Manticus Rock lighthouse in the Fall of 1856. The supply ship had not arrived on schedule and by December stores were at a critical level. Her father left to row the five miles to Manticus Island. A severe storm developed. Abbie moved her ailing mother and sisters from the wooden house to a granite building only minutes before the home was flooded. Then she scrambled along the rocks to rescue her pet chickens.  The storm raged for twenty days. Abbie kept the lights burning in the lighthouse, rationed supplies of one cup of cornmeal and one egg to each of her family members. The story ended happily with all surviving and her father’s safe return. Two books that might be of interest are The Original Biography of Abbie Burgess, Lighthouse Heroine or a children’s book Keep The Lights Burning Abbie.  Three years later her father was replaced by another lighthouse keeper but Abbie stayed on to assist with the transition. She fell in love with the new keeper’s  son and was married in 1861. Except for a short period when they tried ‘civilian’ life the couple served in the Lighthouse Service. Abbie died just before her 54th birthday and is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Spruce Head, Maine where her grave is marked with an aluminum replica of a lighthouse.

Barbara Mabrity

Barbara Mabrity

Stories are not limited to lighthouses in Maine. Barbara Mabrity became keeper of the Key West lighthouse in 1832 upon the death of her husband who’d been lighthouse keeper. She was one of the first women appointed to the Lighthouse Service. Later on it became common for widowed women to assume their husband’s position. In 1846 a severe storm destroyed the lighthouse and all who sought shelter there including the six Mabrity children. Mrs. Mabrity resumed her duties in the new lighthouse in 1847 and remained until her retirement at age 82. Then there is Ida Lewis who at age 16 assumed lighthouse keeper duties at Lime Rock in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island when her father suffered a stroke. She performed many rescues and was the first woman to receive the Congressional Lifesaving Medal.  Her fame spread and she received visits from President Grant, Susan B. Anthony and Mrs. William Astor.  Andrew Carnegie became concerned over her lack of funds for her later years and set up a retirement fund. The first Coast Guard bouy tender was named after her. The next time you think you’ve had a hard day at the office, think about Katherine Walker who at 4’10” and 100 lbs. assumed keeper duties at Robbins Reef Light in New York Harbor when her husband died. She performed over fifty rescues, operated the fog bell and lantern as well as rowing her children to and from school in Bayonne, New Jersey. Life at a light station was not always bleak as shown by Emily Fish at Point Pinos Light in Pacific Grove, CA. She became keeper at age 50 after being widowed but continued to decorate and entertain with style using antiques, paintings and fine china. This earned her the title of “The Socialite Keeper”. The last civilian woman lighthouse keeper was Fannie Mae Salter at Turkey Point, MD. She served from 1925-1947.

Last Woman Lighthouse Keeper

Last Woman Lighthouse Keeper

The Four Types Of Lighthouses

The Four Types Of Lighthouses

On the more technical side the museum has displays showing the four types of marine light alerts; lighthouses, lightships, beacons and lighted buoys. Lighthouses were constructed from wood, cast iron, rubble stone, dressed granite and brick depending on the location.  A 55-page manual listed the keeper’s duties beginning with the instruction “to be conversant with all apparatus.”  This was closely followed with the admonition that “Ignorance upon any point will not be considered as a reason for neglect of duty.” Keepers stood watches of 12 hours at night to make sure the lights operated properly. If weather conditions required it a foghorn was sounded manually and often required operation for several days at a time.  The keeper was responsible for all medical care at the station until he could signal a passing ship for assistance. Children were home schooled through the elementary grades unless they were close enough to attend shore-based schools. In the later years children would live with friends or relatives off island to attend school. After 1918 the Lighthouse Service paid teachers to go to the larger stations or built one room schoolhouses. An extensive display of Fresnel lenses, clothing, rescue equipment and artifacts will keep the technology oriented visitor interested.  Lighthouses are used as symbols by many organizations. A display of badges and patches using lighthouses was on display. One shown here uses The Statue of Liberty, our most recognized lighthouse. There’s even a bit of roadside humor in the Elvis patch.

Maine Lighthouse Museum Artifacts

Maine Lighthouse Museum Artifacts

Fresnel Lens

Fresnel Lens

How Fresnel Works

Statue Of Liberty Patch

Statue Of Liberty Patch

Elvis Has Left The Lighthouse

Elvis Has Left The Lighthouse

One of the last displays discussed lighthouses in other countries such as Canada, Great Britain, Russia and Japan. Japan has over 3300 lighthouses. The father and uncle of author Robert Louis Stevenson were lighthouse designers and builders in Scotland. They built the northernmost lighthouse in Great Britain, Muckle Flugga.  This ties in with the Wyeth exhibit as N. C. Wyeth illustrated many of Stevenson’s books.

If you aren’t overdosed on seafaring history also plan a visit to the Penobscot Maritime Museum in Searsport, Maine. We stopped one Sunday afternoon not realizing the extent of the museum. We saw about half of the exhibits that are devoted to shipbuilding, trading and seamanship. We look forward to another longer visit when we come back.

Here are the four lighthouses we visited:

Owls Head lighthouse is located just south of Rockland at Owls Head State Park. This is a day use park with picnic facilities and a beach. The lighthouse is managed by the American Lighthouse Foundation and staffed by volunteers. Many of the properties under their umbrella were badly deteriorated with the USCG doing only operational and structurally required maintenance when ALF stepped in. By using the funds from tours and gift shops they have restored them to period condition. We went on a Saturday but I’m not sure about operating hours on weekdays. There is a nominal charge to enter the lighthouse but no fee for the grounds or small museum. This is one of the few lighthouses that has an original Fresnel lens. Most of them have been broken or ceased working and were replaced with a plastic lens. Unlike lighthouses in the south that must be several stories tall for ships to see them, Owls Head is short and built on a rocky hill. This means an easy climb to the top. While there we met a couple from New Hampshire who asked us to take their picture and then reciprocated by taking ours. Later we met again at the beach. We sat and talked for an hour finding many things in common. They had their RV at Camden Hills too so we continued our conversation at our site that evening. We hope to meet them at a New Hampshire State Park in September on our return loop.

Maine, Lighthouse

Chari And Steve At Owls Head Light June 2013

Steve Inside The Lighthouse

Steve Inside The Lighthouse

View From Owls Head Light

View From Owls Head Light

Spot Lived Here

Spot Lived Here

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse is at the end of a granite barrier in a city park. The Breakwater is almost a mile long, seven stories high and is constructed entirely of granite (700,000 tons that is). It was constructed between 1881 and 1902. You really have to see it to appreciate the size of the blocks of granite. The closest thing I’d seen were the huge blocks used at the Pyramids in Giza. As you walk along the breakwater you must watch the uneven surface and the 6-12” cracks between the blocks. There is a campaign running between June and September 2013 to make this the 8th Wonder of the World. The lighthouse wasn’t open when we were there in the evening. We did see some shorebirds and our first eider duck. On the way back I’d put my camera in my backpack. Apparently I’d forgotten to zip one half. All of a sudden the camera fell onto the stone. Could I have picked a grassy spot…no. I held my breath as I picked it up. The polarizer was smashed but my new 18-300mm lens appeared OK. The camera worked. Yes, I did deserve the HOW COULD I BE SO STUPID AWARD that day. I think Nikon should use this like Samsonite used the gorilla to demonstrate the durability of their product.

A Long Way To The Light

A Long Way To The Light

Reflecting On Rockland Breakwater

Reflecting On Rockland Breakwater

A Working Harbor

A Working Harbor

While we were in the Bar Harbor area we drove to Southwest Harbor to see the Bass Harbor lighthouse. It was a foggy afternoon but this gave us a different view of the lighthouse probably one similar to that of fishermen in the area. This lighthouse is not open to the public and access is only by scrambling along the rocks. Steve’s always much braver than I am about going out to the edge.  As this was just before July 4th, there were lots of people crawling all over the rocks so getting a people free picture was a challenge.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Bass Harbor Lighthouse

The fourth Maine lighthouse we visited is West Quoddy Head. This is the easternmost lighthouse in the USA. So why is the easternmost lighthouse called West Quoddy Head, you ask? It’s because East Quoddy lighthouse is on Campbobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada. We saw that too and will cover it in an upcoming post. Quoddy Head State Park offers 5.5 miles trails through forest and bog down to the rocky shore. and an interesting museum. Here we learned that the body of XXX, father of the Coast Guard was buried until his body was exhumed and moved to New London in XXX. The red and white striped lighthouse built in 1808 has been painted with six or eight alternating stripes at various times. Right now there are eight. It was the first to use a fog bell and later a steam powered foghorn. The light was automated in 1988. Unfortunately the tower is not open. The view of Grand Manan Channel and Sail Rock is worth a visit by itself. The black cliffs are a type of rock called gabbro. You’ll hear more about this when we post our Catching Up #2 about Saugus Iron Works.

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse

Old Ironsides And Our Family Connection

Boston Daily Advertiser

Tuesday, September 14, 1830

Old Ironsides.   It has been affirmed upon good authority that the Secretary of the Navy has recommended to the Board of Navy Commissioners to dispose of the frigate Constitution. Since it has been understood that such a step was in contemplation we have heard but one opinion expressed, and that in decided disapprobation of the measure. Such a national object of interest, so endeared to our national pride as Old Ironsides is, should never by any act of our government cease to belong to the Navy, so long as our country is to be found upon the map of nations. In England it was lately determined by the Admiralty to cut the Victory, a one-hundred gun ship (which it will be recollected bore the flag of Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar), down to a seventy-four, but so loud were the lamentations of the people upon the proposed measure that the intention was abandoned. We confidently anticipate that the Secretary of the Navy will in like manner consult the general wish in regard to the Constitution, and either let her remain in ordinary or rebuild her whenever the public service may require.”   (note:  “in ordinary” refers to placing the ship in a reserve fleet.  sm)

In 1830, Oliver Wendell Holmes read the preceding paragraph and was startled.  No, he was more than startled, he was quite upset.  The USS Constitution, Old Ironsides, sent to the scrap heap?  Unthinkable!  No!  This should not happen!  This will not happen!

He was moved to write a poem, and the following day, The Advertiser published it.  Soon after, newspapers in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington reprinted it.  The Nation was aroused!  And The Constitution was saved!

Aye, Tear her tattered ensign down


long has it waved on high,


And many an eye has danced to see


That banner in the sky;

Beneath it rung the battle shout,


And burst the cannon’s roar;

The meteor of the ocean air


Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,


Where knelt the vanquished foe,


When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,


And waves were white below,


No more shall feel the victor’s tread,

Or know the conquered knee;

The harpies of the shore shall pluck


The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk


Should sink beneath the wave;

Her thunders shook the mighty deep,

And there should be her grave;

Nail to the mast her holy flag,


Set every threadbare sail,

And give her to the god of storms,


The lightning and the gale!

Today, USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned navy ship still afloat, in the world.

Why is this ship special?  What happened aboard her to cause the American People to rise up and demand she be allowed to live on?

To answer that, we must go back in time, to the War of 1812, the Second War of American Independence.  The second time the United States fought a war against the forces of Great Britain.  The reasons for that war were many, but one was the fact that even though we had won our independence from England in the American Revolution, we were not being treated by our Mother Country as an equal among nations.  American ships were being stopped and boarded at sea.  American sailors were being pressed into service in the British Navy.

 As a young man, in the late nineteenth century, Theodore Roosevelt wrote a book, The Naval War of 1812, a book still widely read by historians and students of Naval Warfare today.  In it, he asserts that ironically, this very impressment of American seamen into the British Navy served as a magnificent training ground for the men of our own fledgling Navy.  Where better to learn how to fight the greatest naval force the world had seen than from right within the ranks of that navy?

 Americans were natural sailors.  Since the earliest Colonial days, the vast majority of Americans lived within a few miles of the coast, or bays and rivers leading to the coast.  Road systems were poor.  There were no railroads.  The sea provided our main means of commerce.

 But, until 1794, there was no United States Navy.  Following the Revolution, the Continental Navy, authorized by Congress in 1775, was disbanded.  But, there were problems.  American merchant ships were sailing the seven seas, and in the Mediterranean, were being harassed by pirates, from the Barbary States of Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis.  In 1793, the long war between Portugal and Algeria ended, the Portuguese blockade of the Mediterranean was ended, Algerian ships once again sailed the Atlantic Ocean.  In less than a year, eleven American merchantmen had been captured by these pirates.  President Washington requested that Congress authorize a navy.

With limited funds, there was no way the fledgling nation could build a huge navy with seventy-four gun line of battle ships and all the support vessels such ships required.  Instead, it was decided to begin construction on six ships officially classified as frigates.

Historically, frigates were smaller than line of battle ships, built for maneuverability and speed, and carrying up to twenty-eight guns.  These would be different.  Four of the six, Chesapeake, Constitution, President, and United States would carry forty-four guns.  Congress and Constellation would carry thirty-six.  Only the most durable materials available would be used for construction, mostly white pine, longleaf pine, white oak, and southern live oak.  Strong, dense, and long lasting, live oak weighs up to seventy-five pounds per cubic foot when freshly cut.  This tough wood would be used for framing the ships.

A sross-section model of Old Ironsides made from wood removed from the ship during the 1927-1931 restoration.  2200 hours of work were required to build this model, which illustrates the thick oak sides that gave USS Constitution her nickname.

A cross-section model of Old Ironsides made from wood removed from the ship during the 1927-1931 restoration. 2200 hours of work were required to build this model, which illustrates the thick oak sides that gave USS Constitution her nickname.

Then, as now, there were huge cost over-runs, and politics interfered with construction.  On October 21, 1797, Constitution was the third to be launched, following United States and Constellation earlier in the year.  But funds for completion and manning them were withheld until the Quasi-War with France speeded up the process.

During the Quasi-War, Constellation fought and captured the French frigate Insurgente, in the first major victory of an American designed and built warship.  Constitution captured a French merchantman in that “war”, and was later involved in defeating the Barbary Pirates.

Constitution became the “stuff of legend” when the United States declared war on England in 1812.  Up to that time, it was British policy in time of war for any navy ship to engage an enemy vessel of equal or lesser rating.  Indeed, it would be a court-martial offence if a captain failed to do so.  Shortly after the outbreak of war, on August 18, 1812, the British thirty-eight gun frigate HMS Guerriere sighted USS Constitution about four hundred miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Americans pressed into service aboard the Guerriere were permitted to quit their guns when Constitution raised the Stars and Stripes.  For a half-hour, the two frigates exchanged broadsides.  The British ship was outclassed, fighting with thirty-eight guns, a 526-pound broadside, and crew of 272 versus the Americans with forty-four guns, a 950-pound broadside, and crew of 450.  After a fierce battle, Captain Dacres of Guerriere ordered a shot fired in the opposite direction of Constitution.  Captain Isaac Hull sensed that this might be an attempt to signal surrender, and ordered a boat to bring one of his lieutenants to ask if they were prepared to surrender.  Dacres replied, “Well, Sir, I don’t know. Our mizzen mast is gone, our fore and main masts are gone-I think on the whole you might say we have struck our flag.”

PEM series 1 copy

PEM series 2 copy

PEM series 3 copy

A series of four paintings hanging in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. depicting the action between HMS Guerriere and USS Constitution at the beginning of the War of 1812

A series of four paintings hanging in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. depicting the action between HMS Guerriere and USS Constitution at the beginning of the War of 1812

Hull refused Dacres’ sword, saying he could not accept it from one who fought so gallantly. British sailors were transferred to Constitution and Guerriere, clearly sinking, was set afire.  While Constitution was virtually undamaged and carried two-thirds of its ammunition, still in a position to continue its cruise, Hull decided to return home to tell the American public of the victory.  When he arrived ten days later, with his two hundred prisoners, there was widespread rejoicing!  A ship of the United States had defeated a ship of the Greatest Navy In The World!

Captain Isaac Hull was succeeded by William Bainbridge, who had previously commanded USS Philadelphia, the ship that accidently grounded during the blockade of Tripoli in the First Barbary War.  He had been taken prisoner, along with his crew, and was held for a year and a half.  Stephen Decatur, commanding USS Intrepid in a daring night raid into Tripoli harbor, destroyed the captured Philadelphia, an action immortalized in the Marine Hymn.  Bainbridge was exonerated of any malfeasance in his conduct in the affair.  Upon succeeding Hull he was assigned to cruise the South Atlantic.

Portrait of Commodore Bainbridge, painted by Gilbert Stuart, hanging in the Old Ironsides Museum

Portrait of Commodore Bainbridge, painted by Gilbert Stuart, hanging in the Old Ironsides Museum

In December, 1812, off the coast of Brazil, HMS Java, thirty-eight guns, was on her way to the East Indies, carrying over four hundred officers and seamen to be stationed there, the newly appointed governor of Bombay and his staff, and dispatches for every British port in the Indian and Chinese Seas.  Java’s crew was inexperienced, having had only a single day’s gunnery drill.  Bainbridge’s crew on Constitution was well trained, and when the two frigates engaged, Java was cut to pieces.  A lucky shot took out the helm (wheel) on Constitution, and Bainbridge himself was twice wounded.  After the surrender, Java’s helm was used to replace that on the Constitution, and while some say it has since been replaced in some subsequent refitting, there are others who claim it remains to this day.  Java was burned and sunk.  The celebrations in Boston in February 1813 when Constitution arrived in port were even greater than when Hull arrived with the news of Guerriere. 

Detail from ship's log on day of action with HMS Java

Detail from ship’s log on day of action with HMS Java

Painting of USS Constitution and HMS Java fighting off the coast of Brazil

Painting of USS Constitution and HMS Java fighting off the coast of Brazil

The long-standing policy of England’s navy was amended.  British captains were ordered not to engage American ships in single ship actions, and were only to engage when overwhelming superiority of arms existed.

In April 1814, under command of Captain Charles Stuart, and after capturing several British merchantmen and the fourteen-gun HMS Pictou, a split in Constitution’s mainmast was discovered and she headed to port, in Boston for repair.   Two British ships, HMS Junon and Tenedos commenced pursuit.  Stuart ordered water and food dumped overboard, the last to be dumped being the liquor supply.  The mainmast held long enough to gain the harbor at Marblehead.  The local citizens responded by assembling whatever cannon they could locate and the Royal Navy called off the pursuit. 

Old Ironsides escaping from the British fleet.   Painting hanging in Old Ironsides Museum.

Old Ironsides escaping from the British fleet.
Painting hanging in Old Ironsides Museum.

Later in the war, actually after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, but prior to ratification (so a “State of War” between the United States and England still existed) still under command of Stuart, Constitution engaged and took two armed British merchantmen, Cyane and Levant. Suffering no substantial damage from the action, it was discovered that twelve thirty-two pound cannonballs were embedded, but had not penetrated, in Constitution’s sides.  After repairs to all three ships, the trio set sail for the Cape Verde Islands.

In the meantime, Captain George Collier of the British navy was sent to North America with a squadron of ships including the fifty-gun HMS Leander to pursue the American frigates that were wreaking havoc among British merchantmen.  The two squadrons met, and in the ensuing action, Levant was retaken, but Cyane, under a prize crew, eluded the British and headed for America.  Constitution made good her escape from the overwhelming British force.

The USS Constitution returned to service after the American public was so aroused following the publication of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem, Old Ironsides.  An old, outdated ship, she served in mainly ceremonial posts.  Funds for restoration were never abundant, but Navy officials were reluctant to arouse the indignation of the American Citizenry by suggesting she be removed from service.  In 1905, Charles Joseph Bonaparte, Secretary of the Navy, did just that when he suggested she be towed out to sea and used for target practice.  Once more, the public responded.

Since 1907, the USS Constitution, still a commissioned ship of the United States Navy, has served as a floating museum.  From 1925 to 1931, she underwent a complete restoration, largely funded from citizens groups.  She made a three-year tour of American ports, from Bar Harbor, Maine to Bellingham, Washington, passing through the Panama Canal.  She was towed, however, throughout the tour by the minesweeper USS Grebe, not under sail.

USS Constitution in New York Harbor in 1931

USS Constitution in New York Harbor in 1931

To celebrate her 200th Anniversary, in 1997, it was decided that USS Constitution should sail, for the first time in more than a century.  An 1819 navy sailing manual was used to train her crew for the historic mission.  On the evening of July 19, the classic silent film Old Ironsides was shown, with her actual cannon being fired in sync with the film.  The following day she was towed to an overnight mooring in Marblehead.  Enroute, she made her first actual sail in 116 years, with a recorded speed of six knots.  The next day, July 21, 1997, she was towed five miles offshore, where the towline was dropped.  Six sails were set and for forty minutes the USS Constitution sailed, under her own power on a course of south southeast, winds of fourteen miles per hour, and a recorded speed of four knots.  With many dignitaries aboard, she was saluted by USS Ramage (guided missile destroyer) and the frigate USS Halyburton, and overflown by the Blue Angels.  Returning to port in Charlestown, she herself rendered a twenty-one-gun salute to the American People off Fort Independence in Boston Harbor.

Old Ironsides fires a salute while under sail as the Navy's Blue Angels fly overhead!

Old Ironsides fires a salute while under sail as the Navy’s Blue Angels fly overhead!

Today, annually, she makes a “turn around” cruise, into Boston Harbor, performs demonstrations including a gun drill, and returns to dock, tied in the opposite direction to ensure even weathering.

The crew of the Constitution and her commanding officer, Commander Matt Bonner, during the bicentennial observances of the War of 1812, sailed Constitution under her own power on August 19, 2012, the anniversary of her defeat of HMS Guerriere.  Bonner is Constitution’s seventy-second commanding officer.

The first woman sailor assigned to USS Constitution.  I haven't been able to find when this happened or who she was.   Can anyone out there in "bloggerland" help?

The first woman sailor assigned to USS Constitution. I haven’t been able to find when this happened or who she was.
Can anyone out there in “bloggerland” help?

Some very famous people have walked the decks of Old Ironsides.  This is Queen Elizabeth.

Some very famous people have walked the decks of Old Ironsides. This is Queen Elizabeth.

... and General Douglas MacArthur

… and General Douglas MacArthur

There is a very personal connection within my family to the USS Constitution.  I asked my brother, Fred, to write the following, which I am happy to include with this story:

(Fred)    On December 29, 1812, USS CONSTITUTION, commanded by Commodore William Bainbridge, 30 miles off the coast of Brazil sighted the HMS Java.

      It had been less than five months since the USS CONSTITUTION had engaged and defeated the HMS Guerriere. This battle earned two important distinctions for the USS CONSTITUTION. It was noted by the British sailors on board the Guerriere that their 18 pound iron cannon balls were bouncing off the sides of the CONSTITUTION. One of the sailors declared,”Her sides must be made of iron!”  She earned the nickname, “OLD IRONSIDES”  Of greater importance was the fact that the USS CONSTITUTION became the first ship to defeat a British man of war in the history of the British navy.

     It took 12 hours for Commodore Bainbridge to close on the Java, delivering the first broadside at 2:00 pm. The Java’s first salvo wounded Commodore Bainbridge. He remained on the Quarterdeck, and engaged in an epic two and a half hour battle during which time CONSTITUTION’s rudder was disabled, and he had to steer by using block and tackle, passing orders down below decks. He was wounded a second time but refused to be treated. At 5:25 pm, HMS Java surrendered, striking the British Ensign, becoming the second ship in the history of the British empire to surrender. The British Admiralty issued new orders to the entire fleet. ” Do NOT engage with any vessel of the American Navy unless you outnumber them by at least two to one”

   Upon returning to Boston, Commodore Bainbridge assumed command of the Navy Yard in Charlestown, Massachusetts while he recuperated from his wounds. Somehow during his departure from Old Ironsides, his family bible was left behind. Was it left in his sea cabin, and in the haste to remove the badly wounded Captain, forgotten? 

     November 16, 1972, 160 years later on board the USS ENTERPRISE CVAN 65 in the Tonkin Gulf off the coast of Vietnam, I, a young sailor on my first cruise had the thrill of seeing the only four nuclear powered surface ships in the world, join in formation and steam together. The USS ENTERPRISE CVAN 65, USS LONGBEACH CGN 9, USS TRUXTUN CGN 35, AND USS BAINBRIDGE CGN 25 . The fourth ship in the US Navy to carry the name of Commodore Bainbridge. In a Navy steeped in tradition, these four ships steaming together had 16 previous ships combined with those time honored and battle proven names. It was a sight that would remain in my memory forever.

     1985, Pontiac Michigan Naval Recruiting Station- now on recruiting duty  I answered the ringing telephone in my office. Four other sailors in the office might have answered. Had they, this story would not be being told. An elderly woman was on the phone. She asked if this was the US Navy? 

    I replied that it indeed was the US Navy, and how could I help her? She proceeded to tell me that they were in the process of moving from the home that had been in the family for many years, and they had found an old trunk in the attic. 

    Wondering where this story was going, and what it had to do with the US Navy, and having lots of work to do before I could go home, something made me stay on the phone with her and let her continue her story. Besides, old trunks in an attic can be interesting. Eventually, she told me that they opened this dusty old trunk, and there were some old things in the trunk, one of which was an old Bible. And there was a name in the Bible along with some things that made her believe that it had something to do with the Navy. She than asked me if I would like to come out to her house and get this Bible from her? 

     At this point, I asked her if she could read to me what was written on the inside of the Bible, and she opened it up and told me that the name in it was William Bainbridge, and it said something about the USS CONSTITUTION, and there was a date of 1812.

     THIS was getting interesting, and a lot more fun than making phone calls trying to put people in the Navy. I told her that Commodore Bainbridge was a Naval hero, and that the USS CONSTITUTION was the most famous ship in the Navy, and what she had found in her attic was indeed something that might be of interest to the Navy. She again asked me if I wanted to come and get it. I told her the significance of what she was holding, and that I wanted to make some phone calls, and that I would be back in touch with her very soon. She agreed, gave me her name and telephone number and thanked me for listening to her story.

     Seconds later, I was dialing information in the Boston area. The first number was the general information about the hours of touring Old Ironsides. Not really what I wanted. After several phone calls, I was able to get in touch with the Officer of the Deck on board USS CONSTITUTION. After a brief conversation between fellow sailors, I told him the story about my phone call. I asked him if I could talk with the commanding officer, and he agreed that it would be a good idea. He took my name and telephone number in case we got disconnected, and put me on hold. He must have been as excited about this as I was, because in less than a minute, the Commanding Officer of USS CONSTITUTION was on my phone. Talk about history, and the Navy being steeped in tradition, here I was talking with a man that was in command of the same ship that Commodore Bainbridge had commanded 173 years ago. Commanding officer of a ship that has been in Naval service since 1797. I felt like I was part of American History.

     After telling him who I was and where I was stationed, I gave him the story as I knew it so far. When I gave him some of the dates that the elderly woman had given me, he got very excited, and asked me to hold for a minute while he got the ships log. Minutes later, he was reading to me from Commodore Bainbridge’s own handwriting from the original ships log. Not a copy, not a printout, but the details of the battle in the original ships log. He told me that an engagement that lasted as long as the battle with the HMS Java was very rare, most battles usually lasted about half an hour. The seamanship exhibited in engaging a ship that was smaller and faster than Ironsides was incredible. He was as excited as I was about the Bible. He took all the information that I had, and told me that he would be in touch. 

     All the wheels had been set in motion, and I called the woman back and told her someone from Old Ironsides would be in touch with her. The Captain of Old Ironsides called her that same day, and soon the Department of the Navy was in touch with her. 

     It turned out that a distant relative of hers was the ships surgeon and somehow the Bible was with his belongings. Was it misplaced during the evacuation of the wounded Commodore? Only the spirits of American sailors still walking below decks on Old Ironsides know. The decks that were painted red to disguise the blood that was shed by the sailors that shaped our history. The same sailors that gave Old Ironsides her nickname. The sailors that forever upended the myth that the Royal British Navy was invincible. 

    Many years later, when I took my son Stephen to Boston, we went to USS CONSTITUTION. After touring the ship we went through the museum and there behind glass in the Commodore Bainbridge section, was his family Bible. The same Bible that the elderly woman had wanted me to come to her house and get. I was proud to tell my son the small part that I had in bringing the Bible to the museum. Proud to tell him of the feeling that it gave me inside to do the right thing, and in a small way to become part of American History.

(Steve again)  On Tuesday, May 21, Chari and I went to see Old Ironsides.  We checked on-line for parking in the area, and found a local parking garage.  Since we are a somewhat oversized vehicle (a full sized crew-cab pick-up truck with two kayaks and a canoe on top) I called to find out if we would fit.  No, we wouldn’t, but there was plenty of metered street parking in the area, we were told.  Well, there was metered parking there, but there was a two-hour limit, and the nearest open spot was a few blocks away, maybe a fifteen minute walk.  We drove around a bit, and found a marina.  I explained our situation, and asked if we could park there for a few hours…  we’d be happy to pay a fee.  “Sure, go ahead.  Stay all day if you want.  No charge.”  Bostonians can be very friendly people!

The Old Ironsides Museum is a privately run not-for-profit museum, not officially connected with the ship itself.  The first exhibits explained, as I did in the beginning of this post, the reasons for the six original frigates being built, the Quasi-War with France, and the war with the Barbary Pirates.  Other exhibits showed the actual construction of the ship.  An interesting bit of trivia is that during construction of The Constitution, fifteen tons of drawn copper bolts used for fastening the ship’s planking were provided by Paul Revere.  He also provided the ship’s bell.  In 1801, he established the first copper rolling mill in America, and was thus able to provide the copper sheets placed on her hull in the 1803 refitting.

Normal ship construction of the time consisted of wooden framing (ribs) attached to a bottom center keel, upon which planking was fastened to both the interior and exterior.  The ribs were generally spaced apart by about sixteen to twenty inches.  These American ships, however, had a spacing of about two inches between the ribs, which were sixteen inches square of solid Georgian live oak.  Interior and exterior planking was four inches of white oak, making an almost two-foot thick solid wall of some of the densest wood on earth.  No wonder cannon balls bounced off her sides!

Exhibit on the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812

Exhibit on the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812

Then came exhibits explaining the causes and build-up to the War of 1812 with Great Britain, followed by one dealing with the action against HMS Guerriere.  When we came to the Java exhibit, I was immediately drawn to the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Commodore Bainbridge, and there, in a glass display case under the portrait, was the Bible.

The "Bainbridge Bible"

The “Bainbridge Bible”

A museum employee saw my interest, and came over to see if he could answer any questions.  I told him Fred’s story.  Yes, he said, there is indeed an inscription in the book that mentions Bainbridge and the year 1812.  One day each year, he told me, the book is opened to the inscription page, but it is generally kept closed to keep the light from destroying the image. ” I would love to see it, I told him. “ He told me to wait, and returned a few minutes later with a photocopy of the inscription page.

Dulany Forest's inscription

Dulany Forest’s inscription

The story, as it turned out, was somewhat different from the story Fred told.  But no less interesting!  While Fred had taken the call from the woman who found the book in her attic, and had initiated contact with the proper authorities, he had never actually met the woman, or seen the book, until his visit to the museum with his son, Steve, when, as I did, he only saw the outside cover through the glass case.  The actual inscription, verified by the museum’s archivist who I presume did the necessary research, told another story.

The Bible never belonged to Commodore Bainbridge.  It actually came off HMS Java.  Immediately following the battle, Java was boarded by sailors and officers of USS Constitution, to take prisoners, and to see if the ship could be salvaged.  But sailors then were no different than sailors today, or the soldiers of Julius Caesar, for that matter.  These men knew they had just made history, and they wanted souvenirs!  A midshipman, Dulany Forrest by name, grabbed the Bible for himself and squirreled it away before Java was sunk.  That same evening, December 29, 1812, he wrote:       

             Dulany Forrest’s Book

                         Coast of Brazil

                        December 29th

                                      1812

 

This book was taken

from the British frigate

Java when she was

Captured by the U States

Frigate Constitution

Commanded by Commodore

William Bainbridge.

                                    Dec. 29th 1812

The Bible was later presented to a US Navy Surgeon, and presumably, it was this surgeon who was the ancestor of the woman who called the Navy Recruiting Office in Detroit.  I don’t  know what arrangements were made between her and the Navy, but isn’t it wonderful that this priceless piece of history was able to find its way to this museum instead of some private collection, where it would be enjoyed by a select few.  Knowing this story makes me wonder about all the other seemingly mundane items we see in museums, a soldiers tobacco pouch, a politicians cane, a dinner plate from a colonial home, that have equally fascinating stories.

After touring the museum, we walked over to the ship herself, USS Constitution, Old Ironsides, but before we go, there is one more interesting display to tell you about.  Another seemingly mundane display, but one with an equally fascinating story behind it.

Unfortunately, as I write this, we are in an area with an extremely poor internet connection, so I cannot research my facts.  I’ll tell the story from memory, but I can’t recall the dates when this took place, and I may have some of the story wrong.

A few months ago, there was an episode on The History Detectives on PBS Television.  For those of you who have never seen the show, it’s fantastic.  Ordinary people, like the lady who found the “Bainbridge Bible”, will find something in their attics or basements, or maybe make a purchase in a garage sale, or maybe have an item that has been handed down within their family for generations, that they believe has some sort of historical significance.  Maybe it would be a pistol that their great grandfather told them had been given to him by General Custer, or a diary from a pioneer traveling west in a covered wagon.  It could be anything.  These people contact The History Detectives, who will come knocking on their door, listen to their story, and then try to find out the real history behind the item.

This particular episode concerned a piece of hand-carved wood, a few inches in size, that didn’t look like much of anything.  But, the story went, it was really the chin from the head of a statue of Andrew Jackson.  Could the Detectives find out anything?

President Jackson was an extremely popular president in the South, but this wasn’t the case in New England. Indeed, he was hated in this part of the country.  Sometime, I’m guessing in the 1840s, the Navy, in its infinite wisdom, decided that the USS Constitution needed a new figurehead, and thought that a wonderful subject for this figurehead would be President Andrew Jackson.  Keep in mind that Old Ironsides was then, as now, a Boston based ship.  As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with the Bostonians.  On a dark moonless night, a few locals rowed out to the ship to remove the figurehead.  Unable to do so, they took a saw and decapitated President Jackson.  The head disappeared from history, but could this block of wood really be the President’s chin?  To make a long story short, The History Detectives were able to actually find the rest of the head, which was indeed missing its chin.  And lo and behold, the type of wood from the head and the chin were the same!  Wherever the head was located, they travelled there with the chin, and placed the two together.  YES!!!  A perfect fit!  The head and chin of President Jackson, now forever reunited, are on display at the museum.

Andrew Jackson, with his chin!

Andrew Jackson, with his chin!

Chills ran up my spine when we stepped onto the deck of the USS Constitution.  The third ship commissioned by the United States Navy, and the oldest warship in the world, still commissioned and manned by officers and sailors of the US Navy and still afloat.  Yes, HMS Victory, Admiral Horatio Nelson’s flagship, and the ship on which he lost his life at Trafalgar, is still to be seen on the Thames in London, but Victory has been sitting on a bed of concrete for decades.  Old Ironsides is still afloat, and should never, WILL never, if history minded citizens have anything to say about it, die.  The ship is huge.  I’ve been on many tall ships, both replicas and actual old ships, but wasn’t prepared to see a ship of this magnitude from so long ago.  Again, as I write this, I don’t have internet access so can’t research the actual dimensions, but it is more than a hundred yards in length.  The ship my dad served on in WWII, a sub chaser, by comparison was only 120 feet.  The masts towered overhead.  I was walking where heroes walked.

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Below Decks

Below Decks

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Our guide

Our guide

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Steve at the helm!

Steve at the helm!

A sailor gave us a tour, both above and below decks, of the ship.  Before leaving, we noticed a family hoisting an American flag over the aft deck.  They lowered it, and with a sailor there, folded it and took it with them.  I asked, and was told that we could purchase a flag, fly it over the USS Constitution and take it home.  We had been thinking about getting an American flag to fly on our trailer, and here was a great opportunity.  So we now have flying in front of our home on wheels, a flag that flew over Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution.

Hoisting "Old Glory" over "Old Ironsides"!

Hoisting “Old Glory” over “Old Ironsides”!

Proudly she waves!

Proudly she waves!

Folding the flag

Folding the flag

Proudly she waves again!

Proudly she waves again!

One more thing before leaving you.  A few days later, Memorial Day, we were touring Boston, walking the Freedom Trail.  The Freedom Trail is a Boston National Historical Park, overseen by the National Park Service.  It includes such things as the Old North Church, The Old Statehouse, The Constitution, etc.  Our ranger guide paused as she told us about the Boston Massacre, when a loud BOOM sounded.  “That’s Old Ironsides,” she told us.  “She is firing a twenty-one-gun salute throughout the day in honor of our fallen heroes.”

What a thrill!  (Steve)

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Arlington National Cemetery

HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD

HERE RESTS IN
HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

March 28 was a cool and blustery day, and we decided to visit Arlington National Cemetery.  Again, we parked the truck at the Vienna Metro Station and took the train.  As Chari has mentioned, it’s a clean, efficient system, and really the only way to get around in the D.C. area.

We’ve visited a lot of cemeteries since we’ve been on the road, and we love wandering and looking at the old tombstones and markers, some centuries old, and wondering about the lives of the people interred there.  Sometimes we’ve visited military cemeteries, usually at the site of a National Battlefield, like Little Bighorn or Gettysburg.  It’s different in these places.  The battlefield graves are not of people who lived out their natural lives, but are of men and women whose lives were cruelly interrupted by the horrors of war and who never returned to the arms of their families and friends.  Other graves in these military cemeteries are of veterans of all American wars who survived their wartime experiences and were able to return to a normal life.

But this is different.  This is Arlington.  This place is special.  You feel it as you enter the gates, along with thousands of other people, both citizens of the United States and citizens of the world, who come to pay their respects.  This is not just another military cemetery, although in some respects, it is just that.  Veterans of all of our armed conflicts are eligible for burial here, and as at the others, you feel a profound sense of respect for those who lie in the thousands of graves.  But this is Arlington.  This place is special.  This is where we honor our greatest heros.  Arlington.

Arlington1

The first thing you see as you enter and look to the top of the hill is Arlington House, with the American Flag flying at half-staff.  Arlington house was built for George Washington Parke Custis, the step-grandson of our first President and only grandson of his wife, Martha Custis Washington.  Custis’ father, John Parke Custis, bought the 1100 acre property in 1778, and after the death of his grandmother, Martha in 1802, decided to build his home there and name it Mount Washington.  Family members convinced him to call it Arlington House, after their ancestral home on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  An English architect, George Hadfield, who also participated in the design of the U.S. Capitol, designed the house.  Custis’ only surviving daughter, Mary, married her distant cousin Robert E. Lee, and in 1857 inherited the home.

At the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln offered command of the Federal Army to Lee, who declined and resigned to join the Confederate Army.  He reported to Richmond, and almost immediately wrote Mary advising her for her safety to leave her home due to its proximity to Washington.  Because of its high ground position overlooking the city, within days of her leaving it was occupied by Union troops.

View of Washington DC from Arlington House

View of Washington DC from Arlington House

General Irvin McDowel used the house as headquarters for his Army of Northeastern Virginia, and in 1864, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, a Georgian who had served under Lee in the days before the war, believing Lee had made a treasonous decision in fighting against the Union, had Mrs. Lee’s prized rose garden dug up to bury twenty-six Union soldiers.

After the end of the Civil War, Robert and Mary Lee chose not to contest the Federal Government’s decision to confiscate the property during the war for “non-payment of taxes.”  But in 1870, when Robert E. Lee died, his oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, who would have inherited the estate, sued to regain the property.  It wasn’t until 1882 when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.  In 1883, in a signing ceremony attended by the son of Robert E. Lee and the son of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln (then Secretary of War) the estate was sold back to the Federal Government for $150,000, about three and a half million in today’s dollars.

So much for the history of the estate.  Now on to the cemetery itself.

“BENEATH THIS STONE REPOSE THE BONES OF TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN UNKNOWN SOLDIERS GATHERED AFTER THE WAR FROM THE FIELDS OF BULL RUN AND THE ROUTE TO THE RAPPAHANNOCK.  THEIR REMAINS COULD NOT BE IDENTIFIED, BUT THEIR NAMES AND DEATHS ARE RECORDED IN THE ARCHIVES OF THEIR COUNTRY AND ITS GRATEFUL CITIZENS HONOR THEM AS OF THEIR NOBLE ARMY OF MARTYRS.  MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.  SEPTEMBER A.D. 1866”

“BENEATH THIS STONE REPOSE THE BONES OF TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN UNKNOWN SOLDIERS GATHERED AFTER THE WAR FROM THE FIELDS OF BULL RUN AND THE ROUTE TO THE RAPPAHANNOCK. THEIR REMAINS COULD NOT BE IDENTIFIED, BUT THEIR NAMES AND DEATHS ARE RECORDED IN THE ARCHIVES OF THEIR COUNTRY AND ITS GRATEFUL CITIZENS HONOR THEM AS OF THEIR NOBLE ARMY OF MARTYRS. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE. SEPTEMBER A.D. 1866”

We took the bus tour through the cemetery.  The driver/tour guide spoke of various monuments and facts throughout the tour, but we only made three scheduled stops, at the John F. Kennedy grave, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and finally at Arlington House.  We were free to wander on our own at each stop, and then pick up another bus to continue the tour.  Since, as I mentioned, it was a chilly and blustery day, we didn’t spend a lot of time on our own, but someday we’d love to go back and spend the entire day wandering and exploring the cemetery.

THE ETERNAL FLAME AT THE GRAVE OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY

THE ETERNAL FLAME AT THE GRAVE OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY

AND SO, MY FELLOW AMERICANS,  ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY MY FELLOW CITIZENS OF THE WORLD, ASK NOT WHAT AMERICA WILL DO FOR YOU, BUT WHAT TOGETHER WE CAN DO FOR THE FREEDOM OF MAN

AND SO, MY FELLOW AMERICANS,
ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU
ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY.
MY FELLOW CITIZENS OF THE WORLD, ASK NOT
WHAT AMERICA WILL DO FOR YOU, BUT WHAT TOGETHER
WE CAN DO FOR THE FREEDOM OF MAN

Today’s politicians, of both parties, who profess to revere Kennedy, would do well to remember these words instead of pandering to those looking for a handout.

From the walkway not far from Kennedy’s grave, I saw the back of a stone for Michael A. Musmanno, whom I had never heard of, but I was intrigued by reading that he was a presiding judge at the International War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg.  I looked him up on-line afterward, and found he led a very interesting life.  He served in the Navy in both World Wars, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral.  In civilian life after World War II he served as a justice in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania until his passing in 1968.  He must have been quite a controversial character, as in his tenure, he himself wrote more dissenting opinions then in the previous fifty years of the court combined!  I only saw the back of his stone, but was able to find a photo of the front on-line.

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The quote on the front of the stone reads:

“There is an eternal justice and an eternal order, there is a wise, merciful and omnipotent God. My friends, have no fear of the night or death. It is the forerunner of dawn, a glowing resplendent dawn, whose iridescent rays will write across the pink sky in unmistakable language – man does live again.’ 

The final words of Michael A. Musmanno in his debate with Clarence Darrow, 1932.”

I found another stone quite interesting.  Again, from my position I was only able to see the back, but it indicated that the person buried there was a veteran of the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II.  A long military career indeed!  There was a number on the back of the stone, so I did a bit of research on-line and found his name was Frank Fletcher, and not only did he serve in those three wars, he was a Medal of Honor recipient for heroism in the Mexican Campaign in 1914.  He was Task Force Commander at the Battle of Coral Sea in World War II, the first battle in history fought between Aircraft Carrier groups, and the first battle where opposing forces were out of sight of each other.  Two destroyers bore the Fletcher name.  The first, DD-445 was named for his uncle, the second, DD-992 was named for him.

This is all I saw.  Note the number at the top of the stone.

This is all I saw. Note the number at the top of the stone.

I found this picture while researching the number.

I found this picture while researching the number.

For a very interesting internet article about Admiral Fletcher, see:     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Jack_Fletcher

There is a memorial to the Battleship Maine, which exploded in Havana Harbor in 1898 and was a cause of the Spanish American War.  Was it truly sabotage, as the American press professed?  Or was the cause of the explosion a fire in a coal bunker?  The controversy goes on to this day.  Admiral Fletcher, by the way, at one point had served on the Maine.  The actual mast of the Maine is part of the memorial, as well as the names of the 261 fatalities carved into the monument.  I found it interesting while looking at the names of the marines and sailors that several of the sailors had rates which no longer exist.  Like John T. Adams “Coal Passer” (I envision a bare chested, sweaty man covered in black coal dust with a large flat shovel piling coal into a boiler), Charles Anderson “Landsman”, and Bernhard Anglund “Blacksmith”.  And how times have changed from when Orientals served in the American Navy as cooks or servants.  Suki Chingi “Mess Attendant” and Yukichi Katagata “Warrant Officer Cook”.

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We saw a memorial to the Challenger Astronauts.

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And a tribute to the Americans who lost their lives in the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran in 1980.

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But by far, the most impressive sight at Arlington is the Tomb of the Unknowns.  There are unknowns buried at most battlefield military cemeteries.  In wars up to and including the Civil War, the only way to identify a dead soldier was if someone who knew the man could identify the body.  Or if he had some personal belongings such as a letter or a bible on his person.  By World War I most soldiers were wearing some sort of identification, but oftentimes these were lost and the bodies remained unidentified.  After “The Great War”, it was decided to create a monument to The Unknown Soldier, thus honoring every soldier killed in battle whose identity was forever lost.  The soldier chosen would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The process of choosing a particular person to be so honored was quite complex.  The custom was followed for World War II and Korea, and again for the conflict in Vietnam, although by Vietnam, means of identification were much improved, and the remains selected were eventually identified and returned to his family.  For an extremely interesting internet article about the selection process, please see:  http://www.456fis.org/THE_SELECTION_PROCESS_OF_THE_UNKNOWN_SOLDIERS.htm

The Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater

The Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater, location of the Tomb of the Unknowns

STANDING GUARD

STANDING GUARD

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Inside the Amphitheater is a small museum, housing artifacts relating to the Unknown Soldier Tomb.  Honors from countries all over the world are on exhibit.  One I found very interesting was a letter from the King of England in 1921 thanking the American people for bestowing on the British Unknown Soldier from World War I the Congressional Medal of Honor, and so honoring ours with the Victoria Cross.  The flags that draped the caskets of each of our soldiers, from WWI to Vietnam are on display, along with the Medals of Honor issued to them.

LETTER FROM KING GEORGE

LETTER FROM KING GEORGE

MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION SIGNED BY PRESIDENT REAGAN AND CASKET FLAG FOR THE VIETNAM UNKNOWN

MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION SIGNED BY PRESIDENT REAGAN AND CASKET FLAG FOR THE VIETNAM UNKNOWN

Quite by accident, while visiting the rest room, we happened by a soldier explaining to a family including a young boy, probably about twelve years old, about the proper procedure for placing a wreath at the tomb.  The lad was extremely attentive, and I found out later he was being instructed because he was going to place a wreath there.

We were privileged to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, and it was very moving.  Although there was a crowd of a couple of hundred people watching, including many children, there was dead silence.  You could hear a pin drop.  The following video lasts for about six or seven minutes.  It’s a bit shaky in places, I was holding my small pocket camera, but turn on your volume and note the silence and respect of the spectators.

And please, as an American, please make the effort to visit Arlington.