A Winter On The Crystal Coast

Oceana Pier On Atlantic Beach, NC

Winter On The Outer Banks

Along The Crystal Coast

We arrived at Cape Lookout National Seashore in early November 2017. This would be our home for almost 5 months while we volunteered as Visitor Center docents for the National Park Service. The main Visitor Center is located on Harkers Island, North Carolina and the National Seashore  protects the southernmost islands of the Outer Banks: North and South Core Banks and Shakleford Banks. The  iconic landmark for the Cape Lookout is its black and white diamond painted lighthouse. The seashore is also well known as a shellers haven and for the wild horses that live on Shackleford Banks. This part of the North Carolina coast is called the Crystal Coast because of the beautiful beaches, ocean access and numerous bays and rivers. East of the town of Beaufort to Cedar Island (where you catch the state ferry to Ocracoke Island) is referred to as “Down East” with a unique culture and way of speaking due to being isolated well into the 20th century. We don’t have space enough to detail all that we did here but we hope there is enough so you’ll come visit yourself.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse And Assistant Keepers Quarters

A lot of people ask “Why do you want to go to the beach in the winter?” Our reply is because everyone else doesn’t! The pristine beaches you can walk for miles and rarely see anyone else, after a storm the shells are washed up and ready for the taking and in town you can walk in to a restaurant or find free parking without the hassle. One other reason: Steve hates heat and humidity so he’d never go in the summer! I lived in North Carolina for 20 years and had gone to the northern Outer Banks but never to this area. I couldn’t believe what I’d missed!

CALO Visitor Center In Beaufort


Oil Shed And Summer Kitchen Near Lighthouse










When we started work as volunteers both the Harkers Island and Beaufort Visitor Centers were open so we had days at both. The Beaufort VC is located in the old post office building with some city offices. The building was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project in 1937 during the Great Depression. In the lobby are four murals painted by Russian born artist Simca Simikovich representing life and history of this sea oriented area. One shows range markers used to guide ships into Beaufort harbor. Because of the shifting shoals and sandbars Cape Lookout and the Outer Banks were called “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Mailboat Mural

Another mural shows a mailboat headed for Cape Lookout lighthouse. Due to rivers, bays and marshes the Down East area had no roads or bridges until the 1940s so all transportation and commerce came and went by boat. The mailboat was the link between the isolated communities and town.

Live Decoy Geese Mural

A third mural shows geese that were raised from eggs by the Ca’e Bankers of Portsmouth Village on North Core Banks. They imprinted on the villagers and stayed. The birds were used as live decoys to bring in migrating wild geese for hunters.

Shackleford Ponies Mural

Of course there is one of the Shackleford ponies. At an average of 44-48″ at the withers they are between pony and horse so both terms are used. DNA tests link these horses to Spanish horses but no one knows just how they got here.

The last mural depicts the famous wreck of the Chrissie Wright. It is placed over a doorway. When this ship foundered on the shoals  off Shackleford Island during a winter storm all but one of the crew froze to death while islanders watched helplessly from shore. This tragedy led to the establishment of a lifesaving station on Cape Lookout two years later. Even today locals will refer to a cold stormy day as a “Chrissie Wright Day”.

Chrissie Wright Mural

The town of Beaufort was the third town established in North Carolina and dates to 1713. History abounds all through the area and we took full advantage of learning as much as we could from tours, special events and lectures. 2018 is the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s capture and the sinking of his ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, nearby. One of the most interesting locations was the Ann Street Cemetery. If you love old cemeteries this is one you need to see. The self guided tour brochure details many stories from the unmarked graves of settlers killed in the Tuscaroran War in the early 1700s to the little girl buried in a cask of rum when she died at sea to area privateer turned statesman Ottway Burns.

Chari At The Veterans Day Parade

Shortly after we arrived Cape Lookout was represented in the Morehead City Veterans Day parade. So we rode in one of the NPS boats and showered the kids with candy. We learned that because of the area being home to several military bases this parade is one of the longest in the country. We also did the Down East Christmas parade and served as Santa’s sleigh!

Have You Been Naughty Or Nice?

Another holiday event was the Beaufort Candlelight Home Tour through private homes and buildings in the historic district. The Beaufort office was open that night. We worked a few hours and also had time to tour. On Christmas Eve we attended services at the Ann Street Methodist Church built in the 1750s and still in use.


Christmas On Harkers Island



Crab Trap Christmas Tree At Core Sound Museum

We enjoyed touring Harkers Island to see the holiday lights. Several of the homes displayed the area’s symbolic anchor outlined in lights. We decorated the interior of our Visitor Center and strung lights on the anchor from the Olive Thurlow, a shipwreck near cape Lookout, that greets visitors to the Harkers Island location. The Cape Lookout lighthouse is normally open for climbing mid May to mid September. So we were very excited when a New Years Day climb was scheduled and we were to be working. In preparation, we learned the history of the lighthouse, interpretive points and climbed it – all 207 steps! The view is fantastic! Unfortunately Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and the climb was cancelled.

Hackers Island Visitors Center


View From The Top Of The Cape Lookout Lighthouse

For Thanksgiving we took a harbor cruise aboard The Crystal Lady around Beaufort Harbor and had Thanksgiving dinner. A great way to spend the holiday when you are in a new area. A special holiday celebration was our trip to New Bern, NC to take the city tram tour and visit Tryon Palace. We highly recommend the tram tour. Our guide was excellent and gave us insight into this historical city. It is said that houses have moved more in this city than anywhere else as the city expanded and developed. As we observed several times when the guide would say “This house used to be over there.”  One house has been moved 5 times! The original Tryon Palace burned down and the current structure is a replica built from the original plans. New Bern was the capitol of the colony of North Carolina and Tryon Palace served as the Governor’s palace. Each December for two weekends they hold a candlelight tour of the palace with living history skits done in several locations. Outside on the grounds are tents with period entertainment and in front of the palace black Americans perform the traditional song and dance of enslaved people called Jonkonnu.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner Cruise






















Tryon Palace Living History Dancers











Jonkonnu Singer




Jonkonnu Dancers







Performer Signora Bella Does A Comedy Juggling Routine

During the winter the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort holds monthly lectures on Wednesdays. Since we were off the lectures became a highlight of our time here. We attended four lectures on topics from Native people of the area and the Tuscaroran War, whaling on Shackleford Island, the story behind the sperm whale skeleton and heart on display at the museum and Churchill’s Pirates (a British fleet sent to the USA to patrol the Outer Banks against German U-boats). There are three NC Maritime Museums but the Beaufort location is the largest. It houses displays and relics from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, about the Civil Air Patrol in WWII, the Menhaden fishing industry and sea chanteys, and boating/recreation in the area.  After the lecture about the sperm whale Steve and I got to hold the plastinated heart which weighed in at 55 lbs. This museum is a must see if you visit.

That’s A Whale Of A Heart!

Speaking of must see brings us to another wonderful museum, the Core Sound Waterfowl and Culture Museum. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history and folkways of the Down East communities. The Core Sound is the body of water between the mainland and the Outer Banks. Each November the CSM and the Decoy Carvers Guild sponsor the Core Sound Decoy Festival. Thousands of folks attend. We worked one day at a NPS table with a kids fishing activity and one day in the VC but we did have time to see the festival for a few hours. I never realized there were so many types of decoys! Decoy carving is still active and the best carvers are true artists. The second floor of the museum is dedicated to telling the story of the independent and hardworking people who lived on the islands and mainland Down East communities. They were a self reliant, closely knit and religious people whose way of life is but a memory. Don’t miss this either.

Jellyfish Dancing

The Aquarium Dive Show












Other great places to visit are the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knolls Shores and Fort Macon State Park. Fort Macon has a wonderful beach area and provided a place for us to go when the ferries weren’t running. The Fort itself has a lengthy history from the mid 1800s thru WWII. Rooms are set up with interactive audio and displays of the various historical periods. The Pine Knolls Shores Aquarium features fish and reptiles of the NC coast. It is one of three NC aquariums. Both Fort Macon and the Aquarium have extensive programing so be sure to check the website before your visit.

Fort Macon

We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the great restaurants in the area. Seafood lovers rejoice! Not only in the restaurants but we found fish markets galore. We ate our fill and then some of red and black drum, sea trout, shrimp, scallops and oysters. However once in a while we took a break and pigged out at Grumpy’s in Morehead City. Known for the in house cured corned beef, we highly recommend the corned beef hash and reuben sandwiches. Another seafood break spot was the Seaside restaurant at the Citgo station on Harkers Island for the best fried chicken. We toured areas up to two hours away. When we went to Kinston, NC to see a Civil War era ironclad we also dined at The Farmer and The Chef of Food Network fame. A higher class restaurant than we normally frequent, it was a superb meal. Another trip took us south to see Moore’s Creek National Battlefield. They were renovating the Visitor Center and we had postponed the trip hoping it would reopen before we left. That didn’t happen but we did walk the trail and read interpretive signs. That gave us an appetite (doesn’t everything?). We looked on the GPS and picked a spot called Something Fishy just based on its name. When we walked in we saw Guy Fieri’s poster on the wall. This was a DDD spot he’d been too just 3 weeks prior. The evening I am writing this blog we saw the episode including Something Fishy. Let’s just say we never had a bad meal!

Dinner At The Farmer And The Chef

Moore’s Creek National Battlefield

January and February are the slow months for the national seashore and we worked 2-3 days a week. This, according to locals, was the coldest winter they had had in 30 years. We had not one but two snowstorms albeit not more than four inches of snow. However for this area that was a lot and we got “snow days” off from work. There were several days when winds would be too high and the ferries to the islands wouldn’t run. On the days they did run we took advantage and enjoyed combing the beach without crowds. A home school group came and the equine biologist did her Horse Sense tour for them to Shackleford Island. Did we want to go along and take photos for the park? How fast do you think we said yes? Dr. Sue is so informative and gave a great tour. This tour is given monthly in the summer and fall. We highly recommend it. You need to sign up for it as space is limited. During our workdays Steve and I enjoyed doing research and read extensively. We were able to develop some outlines for Shade Shelter talks to be given by staff during the summer. Topics we learned about were the history of lighthouses, types of sailing ships, WWII along the Outer Banks, the Menhaden fisheries, the Winter of 1918 when Core Sound froze over and stories of Down East plus a great book called The Paper Canoe.

The Welcoming Committee

Banker Horse

Snow At The Seashore

That’s Not Sand!

When we arrived five months seemed a long time but oh, it went so quickly. We had a wonderful time and best of all the staff said we were welcome back anytime. OK, twist our arms! We take with us wonderful memories! So long Cape Lookout! So long Crystal Coast!

Worth Getting up Early To See

Steve At The Top Of Cape Lookout Lighthouse

South Core Banks Pier










Leave Only Footprints


Morehead City, NC Celebrates Veterans Day 2017

Just a quick post so that we are more timely than our usual posts. We have just begun a 5 month volunteer position at Cape Lookout National Seashore. As our first activity we participated with two park rangers and other volunteers in the Morehead City Veterans Day Parade. Some communities have big parades for July 4th or Christmas but in Morehead City the big parade is on Veterans Day. It is the type of parade where you are either in it or watching it. We were entry number 152 and I don’t know how many more there were behind us.

Yes, of course we took pictures! Steve made a short (4 minute) video of the event. We are both veterans and proud to have served even if we were not in combat situations. Thanks to all who have served.

All Packed Up and No where To Go

Steve At A Restaurant In Redding

Steve At A Restaurant In Redding

Talk with any full time RVer and they will soon tell you of some mishap or breakdown. It happens to all of us. We’d been going along just fine. However since we had done a lot of mountain driving Steve thought it would be a good idea if we had our trailer brakes checked and wheel bearings packed. So we pulled into an RV dealer in Redding, CA for what we thought would be a quick top. Not so. When the tech pulled the wheel off and did an inspection he found we’d been driving around with a broken leaf spring. we could have had a collapse of our suspension. Thinking about the steep descent into Death Valley made us thankful for our Guardian Angel. He (She) certainly works overtime on our behalf! The RV was already up on jacks. We were allowed in one at a time to retrieve belongings and head to a motel. Our quick stop turned into a five day stay thus canceling plans to head for the redwoods. All of this happened only one month before our extended warranty plan expired. I bet they were really glad to get rid of us! After eating out for almost a week we were glad to stay home and cook.

Redding, CA is in the heart of wine country east of San Francisco. We spent time just driving the area in between frequent checks on repair progress. One side trip was to drive to the outskirts of SF to visit the Rosie the Riveter NHS. Both Steve and I grew up in families where our parents had been in WWII. We remember sitting around the dinner table listening to their stories. the Rosie the Riveter site is located in an industrial area where the Kaiser shipyards were located during WWII. Unlike most WWII museums it focuses on life on the homefront during this time. With able bodied men overseas women and those who couldn’t serve came into the workforce as never before. Race relations also came to the forefront. This would set up events for the 60s and 70s as Civil rights and Women’s Rights took center stage. We were treated to a talk by the oldest working NPS Ranger (88) who had worked in clerical duties during WWII later becoming an activist in Civil Rights. As one of the newer NPS sites it is still developing but offered us insights and information we did not know before even though we thought we knew quite a bit. If you are in the SF area, do make a visit.

Rosie The Riveter NHS

Rosie The Riveter NHS

Kaiser Shipyards near SF During WWII

Kaiser Shipyards near SF During WWII

Everyone chipped In

Everyone chipped In


















A WWII Recruiting Poster

A WWII Recruiting Poster

Women Go To Work

Women Go To Work

Photo Of Shipyard Workers

Photo Of Shipyard Workers


















Lunch Break










The most famous of all WWII posters is the namesake Rosie The Riveter poster  by Norman Rockwell for the May 1943 Saturday Evening Post. The name came from a pop song of the day. Rockwell used the image of Michelangelo’s Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel to depict a strong, capable woman.

Saturday Evening Post Cover

Saturday Evening Post Cover



A Hop Over To Coeur d’Alene

Sorry for the delay in posting but our travels through Idaho, Utah and Colorado have put us in poor cell areas much of the time. When we did have good signal, it seemed we were also very busy being out and about. Hopefully we will now begin catching up. With our readers, patience is always a virtue! Thanks for sticking with us.

We hated to leave Glacier NP but after eighteen days of dry camping we were both looking forward to having hookups and long showers. On our way out we stopped in Whitefish, Montana to have the smashed side view mirror replaced. It came to just under our insurance deductible…Ka-ching! On to Coeur d’Alene in the Idaho panhandle.

Google Earth, Glacier NP, Coeur d'Alene, Farragut SP

Glacier NP to Coeur d’Alene

While we’ve been in eastern Idaho three times, neither of us had been in other parts of the state. I’d picked a state park at the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene called Heyburn. Reservations were made on Reserve America for a drive through site 55 feet long with water and electric. When we arrived, we had an unpleasant surprise. Yes, it was a drive through. Yes, it was long enough. However, the turn to get in was too sharp and on either side were big trees. The curve of the drive through was also too sharp for a large trailer. Steve tried to back in but there was a large rock just where he needed to put the truck so the angle of the trailer was right. If he backed in where the truck would fit, the trailer wheels were on a downhill slope. After six tries Steve said ” Let’s cancel reservations and go to Walmart.” We hadn’t filled our tank with water since we thought we’d have services plus we needed to dump. We located the dump site. Also set up with a sharp turn and narrow for a large trailer. I took a deep breath and hoped we’d make it through without any damage. We did. There was a Walmart close to where we needed to take our generators for repair the next day. We joined about ten other RVs, rented a Redbox movie and spent the night.

One good outcome of it all was finding a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives place called Capone’s. The original restaurant was in downtown Coeur d’Alene. Now there are three sites. We enjoyed our individual pizzas very much. ” I was raised in New York and haven’t found good pizza very many places. I told Chari, if we lived here, we’d eat at Capone’s a lot just like we did at Hawthorne’s our favorite pizza place in Charlotte.) “

The next day Steve ran our generators down to a Honda repair shop while Chari looked for another place to stay. We thought Farragut SP about 20 miles north sounded good but based on our experience we wanted to check it out before making reservations. First we needed to see about the slow leak we had in a trailer tire. Bad news there. The leak was a small puncture in the tire sidewall. Plus the spare tire was down to secondary rubber and by law the technician couldn’t put that on. So we bought two new tires. Ka-ching!

On to Farragut SP which is on beautiful Lake Pend Orielle (pronounced Pon Der A). We checked on availability and they had two sites left that would accommodate us. This is a lovely park with paved sites, water and electric hookups and gray water disposal drains throughout the camping loops. We were home! We’d been lucky to get a site as the coming weekend was their annual celebration for anyone who had served at Farragut Naval Training station during WWII. Prior to being a state park this area had been a major Navy basic training facility for recruits from the western states. Steve had an uncle who might have been one of the 293,000 + men who trained here. After setting up we just relaxed with a drink and dinner by a campfire.

Old Mission State Park, Idaho

Old Mission State Park

The following day we checked to see what time the generators would be ready. They’d run into some problems but thought the repairs would be completed by late that afternoon. My stack of brochures came in handy for some sightseeing ideas. We headed for another state park called Old Mission State Park which has the oldest building in Idaho. It is a National Historic Landmark. The Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe sought out Catholic priests who they heard had “powerful medicine” by sending representatives to St. Louis, Father DeSmet was the first to respond but was followed by others in the mid 1800s. The church that stands today was built by Indian labor using the wattle and daub method and did not use any nails. Features such as the handcut tin chandelier feature the creativity and artistry of the builders. Next door is a parish house furnished as it was in the early 1900s. Like many building the church went through a period of decline and was almost torn down before the state assumed ownership and two restorations were done. There is also a wonderful museum exhibit at the Visitor Center which is worth the additional $5 to view.

Front Of Old Mission

Front Of Old Mission

church, American Indian, mission

Church Interior With Handmade Chandelier











architecture, National Historic Landmark

Ceiling Detail At Old Mission SP







Parrish House Office

Parrish House Office





Parish House Sanctuary

Parish House Sanctuary













Then we took a scenic drive around Lake Coeur d’Alene and along the White Pine Scenic Byway. We looked at a National Forest Campground for future visits. A few sites are workable but Farragut SP would be our first choice. We also noted locations of some kayak pit-ins. By then it was time to pick up the generators. They were still working on them when we arrived. We talked to the mechanic as he finished up and learned of a local restaurant called The Porch which is known for its gumbo. It was late and we were hungry. Sounded good. First we had to pay for the generators…another $500! So much for paying off the credit card this month. We never would have found the restaurant on our own. Definitely one of the “locals go here” spots. The gumbo was very spicy but good. We’d come back any time we visit.

The Porch Restaurant

The Porch Restaurant

We gave ourselves an “at home” day which is something we rarely do unless the weather is bad. We had been on the go for three weeks and our energy was lagging. With our “batteries” recharged we headed to the park museum called The Brig. Normally the museum is closed after Labor Day but it was open for the veterans reunion. Within months of the Pearl Harbor attack and the USA’s entrance into WWII new bases were built quickly. One interesting fact was that Farragut was built at the same time as the San Diego Naval Base. Architectural plans were accidentally switched so that the California base was built with pitched roofs and the Idaho base was built with flat roofs. Bet the recruits had fun shoveling snow off of those roofs! The museum provides information on the home front during the war, recruitment and training and impact on the community.

museum, Idaho

Seaman Statue At The Brig Museum

Navy, WWII

Museum Is Housed In The Old Base Brig











Farragut Naval Base

Map Of Farragut Naval Base




Recruiting Labor For Base Construction

Recruiting Labor For Base Construction 








Four days gave us just a taste for the area. We will definitely make a return visit.

This Place Bugs Me!

Christmas, Kennedy Space Center

Christmas 2013 at KSC

We are not finished with some great things from St. Augustine but you’ll see why there’s an interruption in a moment. For our second stop in Florida we moved about three hours south to Sebastian Inlet SP near Vero Beach. It had still been “cold” in St. Augustine so we welcomed the warmer temperatures or at least I did!. We’d be here for Christmas so Steve put up our tree again. This time he hung it from a tree branch with a bungee and spread the base further. It looked very good.

However we quickly discovered a problem. No-see-ums were everywhere! Chari reacts quite strongly to any insect bite with huge welts that last a week. Steve usually doesn’t react very much and 10 minutes later you wouldn’t know he’d been bitten. Not so here. Even Steve was showing welts. Within a day or so my legs and to a lesser extent my arms and torso were covered with bites. I was forever scratching. My legs looked like I’d walked through poison ivy. I was going to take a picture but then thought it was too gross looking. Now other people seemed to tolerate them. Bug spray and repellent didn’t work. Steve seemed to become immune after a few days. Not Chari. She was miserable the whole time. So instead of doing a lot of outside activities we stayed inside. With regret as it is a nice park we put this on the DO NOT RETURN list.

Adding insult to injury Chari’s computer took a bath. I was sitting under our awning which was only halfway extended due to some tree branches. All of a sudden condensation from having had the A/C on at night came rolling down. All over me! All over my open laptop. Quickly mopping up the computer everything seemed to work so I thought I’d dodged a bullet. About an hour later the keyboard stopped working. To make a long story short my computer has been in the repair shop for about a week. Working on the iPad for photo editing and posting to the blog leaves a lot to be desired. Steve’s working on a book on our May – December 2012 travels. So even batting my lovely hazel eyes at him and a “if you really loved me you’d let me use your computer” look goes unnoticed.

I notice it but I don’t acknowledge it!

We got to see the METLIFE blimp fly over just before New Years. We guessed it was down here for the Orange Bowl. Cute Snoopy character on the front but you might not be able to see it as all we had available was the iPhone.


Snoopy In The Skies

We did check out another park, a county park called Long Point, when we kayaked there. We didn’t notice any bugs so if we return to the area we’ll stay there. While kayaking we watched two osprey hunting. They’d dive and grab a fish but often they came up empty. We could have watched them for hours.

A Loaf Of Bread, A Hunk Of Cheese And Pasta For Dinner.

A Loaf Of Bread, A Hunk Of Cheese And Pasta For Dinner.

So Now For Some Fresh Citrus

So Now For Some Fresh Citrus

Without the computer I’m falling behind on the blog. So if you see things posted later that seem out of order hopefully you’ll remember why. We did go to Ft. Pierce to the Farmers Market on Saturday where we bought some great cheese, bread and citrus. We also bought an organic bug spray advertised for no-see-ums.. That didn’t work either. Also in Ft. Pierce is the UDT (underwater demolition team) and SEAL Museum. Steve has “volunteered” to do that entry.

Our Christmas present to each other was a trip to the Kennedy Space Center with a behind the scenes tour of the VAB (vehicle assembly building) and launch pad. There is so much to see we were glad the tickets were good for a week. We made a second trip up to see the IMAX movie Hubble 3D, take the Shuttle Launch Experience and to finish the exhibits. We attended a lecture by a retired shuttle astronaut, Sam Gemar, and had a photo op with him. When a little girl asked him what his favorite food was in space, he answered “shrimp cocktail”. The reason for this is that the taste buds loose sensitivity in space so spicy foods taste better. Between weightlessness and no taste buds maybe I could finally loose weight! On the way home from our second visit we stopped at the Astronaut Hall of Fame as our KSC tickets covered admission here as well. Both at the Space Center and at the Hall of Fame we became aware that only a few other folks were probably alive when all of this was happening. Once again we find ourselves seeing our lives in a museum. Was it really that long ago? Anyway, consider this a coming attraction notice for a video.

Kennedy Space Center, Christmas, Florida, space exploration.

Coming Attraction For Our Video

blog, Homeless and Loving It, NASA, astronaut, space shuttle

Chari and Steve With Space Shuttle Astronaut

You all know we call our RV the DreamChaser. So when we saw that one of the next generation shuttles by Sierra Nevada Corporation was being given the same name we wondered, is this what RVs will look like in space? In the early years NASA did all of its own engineering. Now that will be in the private sector and NASA will rent vehicles as needed for missions. This model is a 1/3 scale model.

Dream Chaser In Space

Dream Chaser In Space

Within 48 hours away from Sebastian Inlet SP, at our next park, Lake Louisa SP, I finally stopped itching (and yes you could also put a B in front of that). Oh, you have no idea how good that feels!

Colorful Citrus Box Labels

Colorful Citrus Box Labels

After ten days my computer with what they called a new top case is back and working great. When we drove over from Orlando to Vero Beach to pick it up, we stopped at the Citrus Museum. It’s a small but very interesting place and the docent gave us a free tour. Here’s a piece of trivia for you… did you know that 75% of the grapefruit grown in the Indian River Valley are shipped to Japan! Don’t order it over there though unless you are ready to pay $15-20 each! After the tour we know why our favorite oranges, Honeybells, are so expensive. If they tried to use mechanical pickers or even pluck them the skin breaks off from the stem leaving fruit exposed. So they must be hand cut from the tree. Oh, but they are so sweet and juicy! The docent gave us directions to Poinsettia Growers processing plant where they have a small store. Crab from the factory in Cape Breton to fresh Honeybells from the grower in Florida. Can you believe this life?

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.


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

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



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.




Below Decks

Below Decks


Our guide

Our guide


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)