Pocahontas – Did Disney Get it Right?

April 30, 2018 – Jamestown, Virginia

Some of us might remember the 1995 Disney movie Pocahontas, in which the young Powhatan Indian maiden is romantically involved with one of the founders of Jamestown, Captain John Smith.  It followed 1994’s The Lion King, so you may still have had the latter VHS tape in your VCR and missed it.  We did a little digging to find out just what happened at this historic village, and if the young native really had a thing for the dashing Englishman.

Jamestown is the first successful English settlement in North America.  Captain John Smith was aboard a three-ship expedition that established James Fort on what is now known as the James River.  It lies a mere 3 miles from the center of Williamsburg, Virginia, which we visited in our last post.  They arrived in late April of 1607, finding a place they thought was graced with fresh water.  That was later known to be the result of snow melt, with summer revealing the area’s water to be brackish.  They were agriculturally ill-equipped, and 80% of them perished the next winter during a period known as the Starving Time.  It didn’t help that the settlers weren’t getting along with the natives, either.  According to Smith he was captured by the Powhatans and nearly executed at one point, only to have Pocahontas throw herself across his body to save him.  Pretty romantic, but not the complete story.  More on that in a bit.

Following those difficult first years, Jamestown flourished and was the capital of Virginia from 1616 to 1699. Eventually it was known as James City.  In 1698 the capitol building burned, so the decision was made to move the seat of power to Williamsburg.  The little settlement by the James River eventually disappeared, except for the brick church tower that the colonists had built.  The property changed hands a few times and was eventually donated to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in 1893.  That non-profit organization is now known as Preservation Virginia.  It was believed that the original townsite had eroded into the river.  The organization received federal assistance to build a seawall to protect what was left.

On April 30, we went to check this place out.  We weren’t quite sure where to go, as there are two locations that are administered by three organizations.  Bear with me on this. The Commonwealth (state) of Virginia owns a recreated living history museum called Jamestown Settlement just downriver from the original site.  We chose not to visit there, opting to instead see the actual place where the colony existed.  The Preservation Virginia site is immediately adjoined upriver by New Town, the direction Jamestown grew as it developed.  New Town is administered by the National Park Service, and was excavated beginning in the 1930’s.  Those digs are considered to be complete. It is confusing that those two sites are presented together as Historic Jamestowne.  With Preservation Virginia’s involvement a separate $5 per person fee was charged, over and above our annual NPS pass. There is no choice to go only to the National Park.

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Upon entering the park, we were greeted by this large monument that commemorates the founding of Jamestown.  We decided to join in on the archaeologist’s tour, which met in the shadow of the obelisk. So if the original townsite was washed into the river, what are they digging for?  Well, in 1994, a man by the name of Dr. William Kelso convinced Preservation Virginia to let him dig and see what he could find.

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Our tour guide, Danny Schmidt, explained to us how they found the impressions of the fort’s posts in the soil.  He joined Kelso right at the start of the project when he was just 16 years old and has been digging ever since. He bolstered his on the site experience with official degrees, and is now Senior Staff Archaeologist. He repeatedly commented that he was in the right place at the right time and feels very lucky to have spent his career in this location learning from Dr. Kelso.

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It is very clear where a trench was dug and where the posts were placed.  When the posts rotted, the impressions in the soil left a different color.  The walls of the fort were quickly reestablished, finding that only a small portion of the structure had washed away.

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Looking down this wall to the point in the river where the far wall would intersect, shows how tiny that lost section is.  Danny took us through the discoveries he and the team made, explaining how the dried up wells and basements of burned structures were used as dumps.  As they found them, thousands of artifacts were brought up to help tell the story of Jamestown.  Comparing what they were finding to historical accounts from the colonists, the archaeologists were able to even identify some of the human remains that were buried there.  Schmidt was very interesting to listen to, telling about the times he met George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II, along with how the archaeology team determined what each found object was telling them.

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The group is currently excavating the earth under the brick church that was originally built in the 17th century.  This version is from the 1920’s, although the attached tower is said to be original. Also, there is a museum on the property which displays many of the artifacts found since Kelso started digging.

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This armor was found in one of the wells.  It is still in pretty good shape, considering it is 400 years old!

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This tag was probably affixed to a crate of supplies that was brought from England.  The old English spelling had it listed as Yames Towne.  This tag flew on the space shuttle Atlantis to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the settlement.  It logged a lot more miles on that trip than it did on it’s first one!

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And this guy is Captain Bartholomew.  They determined it by his bone structure, the staff he was buried with, and the location and direction of his grave.  Schmidt even explained that they can determine what area of England a person would have come from, as the water in each place leaves different markers on the bones.  Amazing stuff.  They also found the bones of a young girl that was cannibalized during the Starving Time.

So back to our Disney story.  Danny told us about how they ended up finding the original church, along with the graves of four people from the settlement.

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He even showed us the spot where Pocahontas was married to….John Rolfe.  Huh?  What happened to John Smith?  He had left town in late 1609.  As far as our young Powhatan maiden, it turns out that she was captured and held for ransom by the English in 1613.  She converted to Christianity and married Rolfe in 1614.  He was the person who introduced tobacco to the New World as a cash crop.  Pocahontas bore their son in 1615 and the three set sail for England in 1617.  She died soon after of unknown causes at the young age of 20 to 21 years old.  She is buried in the church in Gravesend, England.

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Here are our feet on the exact spot that the Rolfes would have taken their vows.  Pocahontas would have been wearing pink laces.  🙂

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A selfie after the ceremony and we were on our way to discover the third corner of the historic triangle: Yorktown.  We will take a look at that in our next post, so be sure to stay tuned.  We found some nifty little tidbits while we were there.  Until then, don’t forget to “paint with all the colors of the wind” in your travels! (We still love a little Disney now and then!)   🙂

As stated earlier, there is an additional $5 per person charge to enter Historic Jamestowne, even if you hold an annual NPS pass.  Preservation Virginia also asks for donations during the Archaeologist Tour and again upon entering the museum, even though the first additional fee goes to them.  In addition, this was the first park we had ever seen that charged for a Junior Ranger book.  While it was only $1, we were concerned that some parents would forego having their children participate in the activity, thereby putting a roadblock into what Preservation Virginia and National Parks are trying to accomplish.  Perhaps they will rethink that in the future.

Jamestown Settlement is a completely separate location that charges its own fee. It is a recreated living history museum owned by Commonwealth (state) of Virginia. We did not visit this location.

 

 

 

Reliving the American Revolution at Williamsburg

Thinking back to high school and American History 101, most of us learned about the American Revolution and the reasons it came about.  Our teachers and textbooks dealt with much of what led up to our forefathers’ decision to break free from Britain…but as a teenager, it was tough for me to envision what they went through and were feeling at that moment in time.

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© aoc.gov

Looking at the image of Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries gathered in Independence Hall, I really wasn’t able to fully grasp the moment.  Although I was most likely bored by it then, I am intrigued by that illustration now. What did their voices sound like?  Which ones were overly passionate and who among them were the voices of reason?  What was the chatter in the corners of the room?  Most certainly there were those that were ready to fight for independence, while others quietly wished they were somewhere else.  At just shy of 60 years old I have lived one fourth of the United States’ lifespan, yet I feel light years removed from this group of guys wearing those funny clothes and wigs.

Diana and I have been fortunate to be able to visit many of the places where our nation was built.  Standing in the actual room in the painting above we were enveloped within the surroundings, but we still needed to concentrate to feel the founders’ presence over the sounds of modern Philadelphia outside of the rooms’ windows.  Piece by piece over time, we’ve heard stories of these men.  Familiar ones like Benjamin Franklin, who was asked by a woman as he left the proceedings whether they decided upon a monarchy or republic.  His reply was, “A republic, if you can keep it.” And lesser known men like Caesar Rodney of Delaware who, while sick with cancer, rode 70 miles on horseback through a thunderstorm to cast his vote for independence.  He walked into the room with his spurs on, damp and dirty.  That ride is depicted on the back of the Delaware state quarter.   Sorry folks… that ain’t Paul Revere on that horse.

So on our trip up the East Coast this year, Williamsburg, Virginia, was high on our list of places to visit.  We had been here previously, back in 1993. The town was the capital of Colonial Virginia up to and through the American Revolution.  When the seat of power was moved inland to Richmond at the end of the war, the once bustling community became a sleepy borough.  By the 1920’s this place that was also home to the College of William and Mary was getting a bit run down.  A local minister, W.A.R. Goodwin, was dismayed at what Williamsburg had become. He was concerned that a big part of American history was being lost to decay and/or modernization. He quietly convinced John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to support a project to restore the community to it’s 18th century heyday.  Rockefeller secretly bought up most of the historic part of town in 1926 and worked to restore it over many, many years. He was still working on it when he died in 1960. The vision included the use of costumed reenactors. Not only could we see many of the buildings from that time…either original or recreated…but we could also see people assume the roles of some of the key players from that era.

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Walking the streets of Colonial Williamsburg…refereed to by the locals as CW, there are plenty of reminders that you are in the 21st century.  Paved streets, electric lights, and a solid cell signal are but a few of the conveniences of today.  But watch where you step, so you don’t end up with horse poop in your Nike treads.  🙂

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We lucked out and were there while the gardens were in full bloom.  Sights like this were common throughout the community.

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Craftsmen were working in every shop at CW.  This woodworker was demonstrating his foot-powered lathe.  One gentleman we spoke with in the blacksmith shop had worked there over 20 years.  Those career lengths seemed to be more the rule than the exception, so you know the foundation must be treating them right.  They follow the steps from apprentice to master craftsmen and women. Some even enjoy the benefit of living onsite, with their children being required to dress as and play the role of 18th century youngsters when they are outside of their homes.

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This building is the Governor’s Palace.  Remember, this was a British colony at the time, so the ruler had to exhibit a level of dominance over the commoners. And if the exterior dimensions of the building didn’t achieve that…

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…perhaps the interior decor would get the point across.

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One thing to note about touring CW is that it is totally free to stroll the streets.  To gain access to the buildings and to be a part of the reenactments, you have to buy a ticket; something we recommend.  When we arrived on April 28 we purchased a three-day pass at $50 and some change each, which was a bargain in our minds.  The only thing we paid extra for above that was food.  Military and veterans enjoy special benefits and discounts, including their own lounge, thanks to the generosity of the Home Depot Foundation.

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Our ticket even included a tour of the Rockefeller home.

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While CW was being restored, John and his wife Anna lived here.  Everything is left as it would have been when they were in town.  Even the radios were playing music from the 40’s.  🙂

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This building is the Capitol.  It is a second recreation, as the original and its replacement both burned.  We toured the building, and later took part in an audience participation production that included several of the rooms.  Very impressive, to say the least.  We followed that up with a tour of the Raleigh Tavern, where the Virginia delegation secretly gathered to decide whether or not they were going to part ways with England.  On that private tour, we met with an enslaved minister reenactor. He stood across the table from where we were sitting and explained his role in the community.  He was very animated and actually had us sinking into our chairs as his rich baritone voice rose.  Think James Earl Jones speaking directly to you and you kind of get the picture. When he looked at us and asked if he could have an ‘Amen!”, we gladly obliged!

We also attended two talks with CW’s ‘nation builders’.

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Martha Washington told a bit about herself and her life while George was off to war.  She would go visit him and his men, personally tending to their wounds.  She also insisted on being given the smallpox vaccine so she could do so.   The end of the talk was opened up to questions, which was very interesting to hear her responses to a 21st century audience while still in character.

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We attended a talk with young Thomas Jefferson later that day.  CW has both an old and a young TJ.  This version is played by Kurt Benjamin Smith, a professional actor who jumped at the chance to take on the role. To label him as merely ‘inspiring’ is a gross understatement.  If you ever go, make it a point to see him. We’ve spoken with a few people since, and ‘young Thomas Jefferson’ ended up being mentioned as a high point of their visit.  During his presentation, he continually asked his audience questions at what was needed to make our democracy work.  When he asked how we would achieve an informed electorate, I softly mouthed my response to myself and he saw me do it.  Over 10  or so rows between us, he motioned upwards to me with his hand and said “be heard!”  Louder, I gave my response of “free public education”, to which he agreed.  He also talked about slavery, which can be a touchy subject…especially for Thomas Jefferson.  In fact, we found that CW as a whole did not shy away from discussing the complicated issues of  owning slaves. We were often reminded that even though Jefferson aspired to the ideal of “all men are created equal”, the reality was that only white, property owning, Protestant men were making the decisions. Luckily, the U.S. Constitution was designed to be amendable.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  The people who take on these roles of our ancestors accurately portray when the men of Virginia decided to become independent from British rule.  Our forefathers could have been hung for treason, yet they banded together and pushed forward with the American Revolution.  Americans have a lot to be thankful for as a result of their efforts.

And I now have a better appreciation of what those guys in the painting were feeling.

 

Touring the Outer Banks

In our last post about Kitty Hawk, we took you to one small slice of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  Today we show you the other places we visited on this ribbon of sand that extends for 200 miles along the Atlantic coast.

Commonly referred to as OBX, the area consists of the islands of Ocracoke, Hatteras, Pea, Bodie, and Roanoke, along with the peninsula known as Currituck Banks.  Due to the shifting nature of the sand and the force of the storms that shape them, some of these islands come and go.  What might be an island today could very well be a peninsula tomorrow.  One of the most dynamic places along the chain is Cape Point, a corner of sand that moves continually south and west.  Just to the north of that point is Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

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This sentinel has stood guard here since 1870 and is America’s tallest brick lighthouse.  Well actually, not quite ‘here’, as remember…the island is moving.  When built, the tower was 1500 feet from the shore.  The ocean reshaped the island over time to where the structure was in danger of falling into the drink.  That 1500 feet had become just 15 feet.

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So in 1999, the National Park Service contracted to have the lighthouse moved 1/2 mile southwest to a point that is 1500 feet due east of the shore.  The red arrow shows about where the lighthouse used to be.  The move was considered an engineering marvel, as the tower is nearly 5000 tons and almost 200 feet tall!

As we climbed the steps, we noticed that the salt air is taking a toll on the lighthouse.

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The iron window frames are either rusting or are missing.  Not sure exactly why that is being allowed to happen, especially after putting so much effort into moving it.  Hmmmm….

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There are 257 steps up to the light itself, along with these beautiful black and white marble landings every 31 steps.  It is a very long climb.

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Not to worry; they were ready for us at the top.

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From the gallery, we could easily see Cape Point…

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…and how far we were from the ground!

While we were on the Outer Banks, we also visited several other lighthouses.

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Bodie (pronounced ‘body’) Island Lighthouse stands 40 miles north of Cape Hatteras.  This beauty still has its first order Fresnel lens, similar to the one we were responsible for at Heceta Head in Oregon last summer.  Vandals destroyed the one at Cape Hatteras years ago, and it was replaced with an aircraft beacon.

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We also visited Ocracoke Lighthouse, which was built in 1823.  It is still operating!  To reach it, we had to take a one-hour ferry ride from Hatteras Island.

While on Ocracoke Island, we visited their local historical museum.  It had an interesting collection of items that show what living on this isolated island is like.

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At the back of the museum was a video and a list of words that O’cockers (people raised on Ocracoke) use.  It’s actually tough to understand what they are saying as they speak.  One of the stories on the film was about some friends who flew to Las Vegas and brought their own oysters in Styrofoam coolers wrapped in duct tape to save a few bucks.  The part about one of the packages splitting open on the luggage carousel was hilarious.  🙂

Farther north on the Outer Banks is Roanoke Island.  This small piece of land actually sits inside the barrier islands, even though it is considered to be part of OBX.  It was here that the Lost Colony of Roanoke once existed.  In 1587, England attempted to establish a presence in North America at this location.  More than 100 men, women, and children landed on the island and worked to build a colony.  Their leader, John White, sailed back to England for supplies, only to be delayed in returning by a war that had erupted with Spain.  When he returned in 1590, the colonists were nowhere to be found.  Among them was the first European born in America, Virginia Dare.  The county that OBX is located in is named Dare in her honor.  What happened to the colonists?  Many theories exist, but no one knows for certain.

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Next to the site where the colony was is the Elizabethan Gardens.  We wanted to tour here, as the spring flowers are all in bloom!

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The azaleas were just gorgeous!

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So much color and fragrance.

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The garden’s namesake, Queen Elizabeth I, stands proud in the center of the property.  She was responsible for sending the colonists to America.

And here is another fun fact while visiting the site:

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Roanoke Island was the scene of a Civil Was battle.  This gentleman was a Union brigadier general by the name of Ambrose Burnside.  It is his unique way of styling his facial hair that used a twist of his last name to describe it: sideburns.  I always wondered where that came from!

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And no trip to the Outer Banks is complete without watching the kite boarders!

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With the steady breeze, these people were having a great time.

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We even noticed several Michigan license plates on the vehicles in the parking lot.  Still too cold on the Great Lakes to attempt this in April.

As mentioned at the beginning of the post, these islands are constantly changing.  While crossing the bridge from Bodie to Pea Islands, we saw a curious sign:

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Hey….what’s up with this???  Well, Pea Island was once part of Bodie Island, until a hurricane cut an inlet across it in 1846.  The first ship to navigate through the new waterway was the Oregon, so that’s what they named the inlet after.  Thought we were back on the west coast for a minute…

That wraps up our time in North Carolina.  We move into Virginia next, as well as inland for a bit.  Stay tuned to see what we find on our next adventure.  Until then, safe travels to all!

Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk

As long as there have been humans watching birds soar through the skies above them, mankind has wanted to fly.   Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes  floated skyward above Paris in 1783 using a hot air balloon.  In 1853, George Cayley witnessed the successful manned flight of a glider that he had invented in England.  It was he who identified the four basic principles of flight that a heavier-than-air aircraft uses today:  thrust, gravity, lift, and drag.  He also identified the cambered shape of a bird’s wings, which create lift as air passes over them.

In the 1890’s, two bicycle shop owners from Dayton, Ohio, decided to try their hand at building an airplane.  Orville and Wilbur Wright used Cayley’s principles to construct a two-winged glider.  In order to test it, they needed a location with a soft landing surface (sand), a hill, and sustained winds.  Noting the media circus that had taken place near Chicago when Octave Chanute had tested his gliders, the Wrights were also looking for privacy.  They contacted the weather bureau for locations with the best sustained winds.  Kitty Hawk, North Carolina was chosen, after the hamlet’s postmaster responded favorably to an inquiry from the brothers.  William Tate’s reply included help with the endeavor in any way he could.  The crew of the local U.S. Lifesaving station also offered to lend a hand when needed. In 1900, the Wrights brought their first glider to Kitty Hawk by train to give it a try.  The first tests were flown unmanned and tethered as a kite.  Then Wilbur flew aboard untethered to see if he could control it.  They had come up with an idea they called wing warping…a process in which the wings were bent in one direction or another to steer the plane, along with an elevator to maneuver up and down.  They determined the glider needed to be larger, as they weren’t able to stay in the air long enough to adequately test the controls.  In 1901, they brought a larger glider to Kitty Hawk, only to find that their wings weren’t producing enough lift.  They had been relying on data produced by Germany’s Otto Lilienthal, who had died in 1896 in a glider crash.

After abandoning Lilienthal’s figures and testing 200 wing designs in their homemade wind tunnel, the Wrights set out for Kitty Hawk in late 1902 to try out their new glider.  They had also added a rudder to the plane, thereby giving them three ways to control it.  It worked.  Over a one month period, they made approximately 1,000 flights…with one being 622 feet.  Systems they developed that year, are still the basis for aircraft today.

In 1903, they decided to add power to their aircraft.  Their bike shop employee, Charlie Taylor, machined a light weight engine for them out of a solid block of aluminum.  The Wrights fashioned propellers out of laminated wood. They had no basis for design, other than the props from ship motors.  After much discussion, it was decided that the propellers should exhibit the properties of a glider wing.  Their theory proved correct, and their creation was over 80% efficient.  Not bad for not having a starting point!

On December 14, the brothers flipped a coin to see who would fly first.  Wilbur won. They attempted to take off from Big Kill Devil Hill, the large sand dune they had been using for glider flights.  The plane lifted off for three seconds and then stalled, as he had attempted to rise too quickly.  The landing broke the front elevator. Three days later, they summoned the lifesaving crew over to the hanger.  The group aimed the airplane into a cold, 27 mile-an-hour headwind on level ground.  Since Wilbur piloted the previous attempt, Orville climbed on board.

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The aircraft lifted off for a 12 second, 120 foot flight!  Orville was able to bring the plane in for a somewhat controlled landing.  Wilbur then took the plane for a 12 second, 175 foot flight.  Orville followed with a 15 second, 200 foot flight.  The last flight of the day was by Wilbur; a 59 second, 852 foot flight.  That is almost the length of three football fields!  The plane landed hard and again broke the front elevator.  While bringing it back to the hanger, a gust of wind caught the plane and caused it to tumble end over end, which made repairs much more difficult.  They decided to call it a season, as they wanted to be back in Ohio for Christmas.  The plane was packed up, and sent back to Dayton, never to be flown again. Eventually, the restored plane made its way to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. where it hangs from the ceiling today.  They continued improving upon their design, and eventually achieved their goal of selling planes to the military.

When Diana and I found our way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this spring, we knew Kitty Hawk was one of the ‘must see’ destinations.  The National Park Service operates the site of the flights as the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

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At the top of Big Kill Devil Hill, a large granite pillar is erected to signify their accomplishment.  Note that the area is completely covered in grass now, planted to keep the hill from shifting southward from the prevailing winds.

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When we got to the front of the structure, we noticed the sun was positioned directly in line with it.  The clouds also had an interesting pattern to them, which we thought was neat.

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The size of the memorial is impressive, to say the least.  The inscription that is inscribed in the base reads  “In commemoration of the conquest of the air, by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, conceived by genius, achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”

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The view from the top shows the position of the hanger and their workshop and living quarters, along with the markers that signify the length of each flight.  In 1903, neither those houses in the distance nor trees were there.

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From the large granite marker at the end of the rail where they took off, a path runs along four smaller markers that signify the length of each flight.  Walking along it, I thought of all of the subsequent accomplishments in the 115 years since that day. All of us have been touched in one way or another by what happened at Kitty Hawk.

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On the back side of Big Kill Devil Hill is an interactive sculpture of Orville’s first flight, shown here from the photographer’s point of view.

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All of the men who were present for the event are depicted.  The second man from the right is a lumberman from Manteo who just happened to be at the lifesaving station when the Wrights signaled the crew to come over and help.

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Visitors are encouraged to climb aboard the plane.  Diana and I took turns flying with Orville.  A fun way to end a perfect visit!

Stay tuned to see what else we find as we explore the rest of the Outer Banks in our next post.  Until then, safe travels!

 

 

Serendipity Along the Grand Strand

Have you ever been put somewhere by what seems like sheer luck?  Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s meant to be.  We had that situation last May when we were put in a campsite next to a guy who I had a Facebook friend request into for ages, as we had 11 friends in common.  Turns out our now great friend Rick wasn’t big on checking his Facebook account.  🙂  Neither of us had any connectivity at the campground we were at on the Oregon coast, and our mutual friend Tracy (who figured out we were both there) was frantically trying to get in touch with us.  By the time she did, Rick had met us…even though we hadn’t made the mutual friends connection yet.  Thinking back, it was as if we were supposed to be there.

Such was the case on April 16th at Myrtle Beach State Park in South Carolina.  We really didn’t have any plans for what we were going to do once we got there, only that we wanted to see what the place known as the Grand Strand looked like.  We pulled in and got ourselves set up and prepared to settle in for the evening.  As I kicked back in my recliner, I could see a Bighorn fifth wheel passing by.  A few minutes later, I saw the back of it peeking out from behind the motorhome next door.  The woman that was helping direct the rig back looked really familiar to me.  I thought ‘Hmmmm….that looks like Sharon’, a fellow RV-Dreamer who we had yet to meet.  Before I could totally grasp that thought, her husband David popped into view.  Neither of us had any idea the other was going to be coming to Myrtle Beach. Here were two people that we had long wanted to get to know, placed just two campsites away from us.  We had been following their blog Two Lanes of Freedom for years, as they had with ours.  Dumb luck?  We choose to think it was more than that.  We were out of the rig and headed over to meet them in a flash!

They recognized us right away.  🙂  We talked for a bit and then called it a night, as we were all tuckered out from traveling. The next day, they invited us to go to Brookgreen Gardens with them, as they were meeting longtime RV-Dreamers, Bill and Nancy there.  Oh my goodness…two more people we had wanted to meet!

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Here we are gettin’ cozy on a park bench.  We slowly wound our way through Brookgreen’s trails, admiring the sculptures, landscaping, and animals.  All the while, we were learning more about each other.  🙂

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Here’s David admiring the gardens from the shade of a huge Live Oak tree.  Nancy and Sharon are in the background.

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This red fox had other plans for the lazy afternoon.

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Diana, Nancy, and Sharon are headed towards a sculpture of…

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Diana of the Chase.  This amazing work was created by Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1922.  She and her husband, Archer Huntington, founded Brookgreen in 1931 on four former rice plantations.  Close to 1500 works are displayed throughout the gardens.

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Their former winter home, Atalaya Castle, is located across US-17 in what is now known as Huntington Beach State Park.  Anna had an indoor and outdoor studio in the home.  She kept live animals in the courtyard, so she could study their muscle structure as they moved about.  What an amazing day with Bill, Nancy, David, and Sharon!

The next day was a beach day for Diana and I.  The temperature climbed above 80, which was perfect for putting our toes in the sand….except when the wind would shift and the cooler ocean air would roll in. David and Sharon stopped over for a bit, and we made plans for a campfire that evening.

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They were wondering who the couple was all bundled up on the beach, when they realized it was US!  Hey, our Michigan blood has thinned to a Florida viscosity.  🙂  That night we enjoyed a nice campfire and some excellent company, complete with several songs from David and his guitar.

The next morning was our travel day, but not before a sunrise meetup on the beach.

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I spotted them taking photos, so I took a few of my own.  We all headed back to camp, and Diana and I packed to leave. As we stopped by to say our farewells, David greeted us with his guitar.

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He sang us one of his ballads to see us on our way.  What a fitting and perfect ending to our time together.  Travel safely friends, we will see you down the road!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Who?

As we were exploring Charleston, we kept coming upon a name that sounded familiar to us:  Charles Pinckney.  That was due in large part to our Michigan lineage, as there is a town in the Wolverine state named Pinckney.  I remember it well, as I did a 50 mile bicycle ride there one day with some friends.  After some research, it turns out that the South Carolina Pinckneys appear to not be related to the Michigan clan.  But who was this Charles Pinckney, and why does he have a national historic site in his honor?  Well, it turns out that there were several people by that name in Charleston.  In this post we are going to focus on the one who is honored at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

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Charles Pinckney (October 26, 1757 – October 29, 1824) came of age in a wealthy family as the people of the English colonies in America prepared to declare their independence from Britain. As a young man he fought in the Revolutionary War.  He was captured during the battle of Charleston and was taken prisoner until after the war ended.  Over his career, he was a four term Governor of South Carolina, a U.S. Senator, a U.S. Representative, and an ambassador to Spain.  But his biggest claim to fame was as a member of the Continental Congress when the U.S. Constitution was drafted.  On May 29, 1787, he submitted a plan to the convention that was called the Pinckney Draught.  It was similar in many ways to the Virginia Plan, calling for the following:

  • Three branches of government: Congress, Judicial and Executive branches.
  • A separate House and Senate.
  • A President shall inform Congress the conditions of the nation (State of the Union).
  • The President shall be Commander-in-Chief.
  • No state shall coin money, establish tariffs, keep troops, or enter into a treaty.
  • Only the House shall have the power of impeachment.

He also exclusively came up with the idea that no person should be held to a religious test to hold any elected office in the United States.

Eventually, ideas from all of the plans presented were woven into what became the United States Constitution.  Pinckney spoke often during the convention that was responsible for the creation of the instrument, and his signature is on the final document.

So how did his country plantation become a national historic site overseen by the National Park Service?  At first glance, the answer to that is a bit confusing…as the 1820’s era home that occupies the site was built by a subsequent owner.

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It turns out that the property had been sold to developers in the latter half of the 20th century.  Most of the original 715 acre estate was turned into a golf course, homes, and such.  US-17 even runs through it.  When the builders began to prepare the final 28 acres for development into 42 individual home sites, a group of local preservationists led by two women came to the rescue.  In 1986 they negotiated a $2 million purchase price, and proceeded to raise the money to cover it.  In 1990, they donated the property to the National Park Service.  The park opened to the public in 1995.

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The grounds are beautiful, with several paths winding through the property.  Over 150,000 artifacts have been unearthed from the site, along with the foundations from the original buildings.  The visitor center has many displays regarding Pinckney’s life of service, several of the found artifacts, and an interesting display on the Gullah culture along the lower Eastern seaboard.  Gullah is a language developed by the slaves that has an English base with West African influences.

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A fantastic example of the language is this Bible they have on display.  The English translation is on the sidebars.  I found it mesmerizing.  They actually let visitors page through it.

As with our other recent National Park visits, we completed our Junior Ranger books and earned our badges.  Having to search the displays for answers really makes sure we read each display carefully.  While the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site wasn’t a major attraction, we were glad we made the effort to go there.  We now have an appreciation for the man and his contributions to our nation.  As we see his name in the future, we will have a better understanding of who he was and where he came from.

Next up: A serendipitous assignment of campsites in Myrtle Beach.  Be sure to see the amazing meetup that resulted from that, and the friendships that came about as a result!  🙂

A Harbor Well Protected

Charleston Harbor is home to one of the most significant historic sites in the nation; Fort Sumter.  This massive brick structure at the entrance to the harbor saw the first shell of the Civil War explode above its walls. With that said, there are other historic military compounds around the perimeter of the harbor…each having significance in their own unique way.  Come on along as we tour these fascinating locations and find out the importance each one holds.  We even found a few surprises along our path!

Fort Sumter

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© moultrienews.com

 

Fort Sumter was not the first defense built in Charleston Harbor, but it was by far the most imposing.  Built in 1829, it was intended to defend against invaders coming in from the ocean. Able to fire cannons at three levels, it appeared to be invincible.  The Confederate states needed control of this fort, in order to bring supplies into Charleston and beyond. On April 12, 1861, Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered his soldiers to fire upon the garrison that was held by Union Major Robert Anderson and 85 men under his command.  It was a difficult decision for Beauregard, as Anderson had been his artillery instructor at West Point.  The Union soldiers were not effective in hitting any Confederate targets, as the rebel forces were spread out around the large waterway.  The flip side of the coin was that Beauregard’s men had one thing to focus on, and they inflicted heavy damage.  When the Union soldiers called a truce on April 14, Fort Sumter had been heavily damaged.  Amazingly, no one had been killed in the battle on either side.

Once the Confederates held the structure, it was the Union’s turn to try to get it back.  Several attempts were made, but the South had a firm hold on it and the harbor.  Remember the building was tall, massive, and made of brick.  By 1865, the North had pounded it with seven million pounds of artillery shells. Most of that brick fell and created a solid mound of material that was stronger than the original fort. Only Sherman’s troops approaching on their March to the Sea, were enough to cause the Confederate troops to abandon the fort.

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Today’s structure bears little resemblance to the original.  The fallen brick has been cleared away and the lower portion of the walls are once again in view.  The black concrete battery in the center of the fort was completed in 1899, in preparation for the impending Spanish-American War.

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That battery was manned in both World Wars I & II, after which point the fort was decommissioned.

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Little remains of the lower level casemates.

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The older brick against the relatively newer concrete.

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This massive leaning wall was knocked off kilter when the powder magazine behind it accidentally exploded, killing 11 Confederate soldiers.  The National Park Service has installed these metal supports to prevent it from moving further.

Note that access to the island is by ferry boat, either from Liberty Square in Charleston or from Patriot’s Point in Mt. Pleasant.

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We chose the latter, which gave us this awesome bow view of the U.S.S. Yorktown aircraft carrier as we passed by!

Castle Pinkney

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Castle Pinkney sits in the center of the harbor, between Fort Sumter and Charleston.  Built in 1810, it was used for six weeks as a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War.  It also housed artillery, although it is believed that a hostile shot has never been fired from there.  In 1924 it was designated as a national monument, only to see that status taken away in 1951.  It was deemed excess property and sold to the South Carolina in 1958.  Attempts to turn it into a tourist attraction failed, so the state tried to give it back to the federal government.  They declined the offer. The Sons of Confederate Veterans took over care of the island, but were unable to raise the cash to buy it.  Finally, in 2011, the State of South Carolina sold Castle Pinckney to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for the sum of $10…in Confederate currency.  The Stars and Bars of the Confederacy fly over it today.

Fort Johnson

Fort Johnson was built in 1708.  Only a small powder magazine remains at the site that actually fired the first shot of the Civil War.  The rest of the site is occupied by South Carolina Fish and Wildlife and the College of Charleston.  It is unfortunate that this prominent place in American history wasn’t preserved.

Fort Moultrie

Last, but by no means least, is Fort Moultrie.  This location has the longest history of all the Charleston garrisons, having been manned for 171 years.

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Located on Sullivan’s Island, this was the second defensive structure built to protect Charleston.  Due to the natural curve in the river channel, ships had to pass here before they were ever within sight of town.  Soldiers would fire a cannon to notify the townsfolk of an approaching ship.  In 1776, a palmetto log fort was constructed by Colonel William Moultrie and his men to defend against a British invasion.  They fought a one day battle that heavily damaged the enemy ships, yet little damage was done to the fort.  Turns out that palmetto logs, a member of the cabbage family, are fibrous.  The British cannonballs simply bounced off.  To add insult to injury, the American soldiers would retrieve the balls and fire them back.

During the battle, the soldiers wore hats with a crescent. The shape had the word ‘Liberty’ inscribed in it.  This was also on South Carolina’s flag.  A palmetto tree was added to the flag at a later date to signify the palmetto logs of Fort Moultrie.

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That symbol is everywhere throughout the state.  Coffee mugs, keychains, license plates…you name it.  At first glance, we thought the flag represented a waning moon rising or setting over a palm tree.  The crescent represents a gorget, the throat plate that protected officers’ throats at that time.  In designing the flag, Colonel Moultrie chose the the crescent and blue color to match the uniforms they wore.  So much for that romantic image of an evening walk on a South Carolina beach with your sweetheart. 🙂

Between the Revolutionary and Civil wars, the fort continued to be manned.  It is interesting to note that a young private by the assumed name of Edgar A. Perry was stationed there from 1827 through 1828.  We know him as Edgar Allan Poe.  Fittingly, the establishment we ate at on the day of our tour of the fort was called Poe’s Tavern.

Another resident of the fort at that time was the famous Seminole leader, Osceola.  He was held there by the U.S. Army after being taken prisoner under a flag of truce in Florida.  In failing health, Osceola died there in 1838.

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His grave lies just outside the fort gate.  The John Anderson classic Seminole Wind came to mind as we stood there.  While it is sad that he isn’t buried in Florida, it is nice that he is given an honorable grave.  Also on the property is Colonel Moultrie’s grave, which is along the shore of the cove behind the visitor center.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Major Robert Anderson was originally garrisoned at Fort Moultrie.  By 1861, the walls had gone from palmetto to being made of brick.  However, the Union commander felt it was indefensible, as the area around it had been developed with homes that looked down into it. The Confederate army took over the post after Anderson and his men left for Fort Sumter.  Fort Moultrie had one of the best positions to shell Fort Sumter, with only a mile separating them.

Like Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie had batteries built in the late 1800’s.

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These were used through World War II.  A gas and bombproof building was added following World War I.

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Referred to as HECP/HDCP, it was a joint command post run by the Army and Navy.  The building is maintained as a museum as it would have looked in the 1940’s.  It is interesting to note that German U-boats slipped past this post and mined Charleston’s harbor at different times in the war.

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We had a great time exploring the forts around Charleston this week.  We even earned two Junior Ranger badges in the process!  Stay tuned for one last adventure in Charleston, along with our move up the coast.  We hope you will tag along!

 

 

 

 

Charleston, South Carolina

We arrived in Charleston, South Carolina this past Monday without a plan as to what we were going to be seeing.  Sure, we knew that this was the location of Fort Sumter, the place that received the first shot of the Civil War.  Beyond that, we knew little of Charleston’s story.  By pure luck, we opted to stay at the same KOA that our friend Kathy was working at.

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You may recall that we had met her while working at Amazon, and we also caught up with her in the Black Hills last September.  On this occasion, she was heading out the following day to her next KOA gig in New York…one we are staying at later in our trip.  We went out to a local pizzeria and she filled us in on a few things to see in town.

On Wednesday, our friends from Melbourne Beach Mobile Park, Brenda and Jim, met us in Charleston’s historic district.

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Brenda’s blog, No More Sticks and Bricks, details their journey as fulltime RVers.  Definitely check it out.  The four of us had lunch at the Brown Dog Deli, then we set out to do some exploring!

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All throughout the town, we saw these plates with nuts in the center of them.  They are called earthquake bolts, and they were put there following the 7.0 quake in 1886 that rocked the city.  They are rods that run completely through the buildings that help straighten the bulging walls.

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This is St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.  It is the oldest religious structure in Charleston, dating back to the 1750’s.   It’s graveyard  holds two of the signers of the U.S. Constitution: John Rutledge and Charles Pinckney.

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Both George Washington and Robert E. Lee attended services here, each sitting in Pew #43, some 70 years apart.

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On State Street, we found the Union Insurance building.  Back in the day, each insurance company in town also had their own fire truck.  See that seal at the top of the building?  Each insured home displayed the seal from the company they were insured by.  While all companies would respond to a fire, only the one that insured the home was responsible to fight the blaze.

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Jim, Brenda and Diana are admiring the Heyward-Washington house.  Thomas Heyward, signer of the Declaration of Independence, owned this home.  George Washington stayed here on his visit to the city in 1791.

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Twice we passed by St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church, but were unable to view the interior.  The first time, a funeral was in progress and the second time it was closed.  This building was built in the 1830’s, after fire destroyed its predecessor.  In 1861, the bells in the steeple were donated to the Confederate Army to be made into munitions.  They were not replaced until 1976.

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On Bay Street is this collection of houses known as Rainbow Row.  Alternating pastel colors adorn each home.  This concludes our tour of the upper part of town with Jim and Brenda.  What a fun day!

On Friday, Diana and I decided to check out the lower portion of the historic district.

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This beautiful building is the Circular Congregational Church.  Part of the United Church of Christ, this progressive congregation has been meeting at this site since 1681.  The current building was built after the earthquake.

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We also saw several of these ‘single’ houses, meaning they were only one room wide.  This allowed the sea breezes to flow through the homes.  Note the front door.  It actually opens to the porch, thereby allowing privacy for the homeowners when they were sitting outside.

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Overlooking the harbor is the High Battery.  Named for the artillery that was mounted there during the Civil War, this raised walkway allowed for the construction of lower Bay Street.

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One of the many homes across from the High Battery is the Edmondston-Alston house.  It is from the second floor porch that Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard observed the shelling of Fort Sumter, which can be easily seen from that vantage point.

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Further down the street is this monument to the men of the Confederacy.  The figures are looking directly across the harbor at Fort Sumter.

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White Point Garden sits at the extreme south end of town.  The beautiful park has a checkered past, as Stede Bonnet and 50 of his fellow pirates were hung here in 1791.  They were left hanging for days as a successful deterrent to piracy along these shores.  It was also the site of heavy artillery during the Civil War.

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That wraps up our tour of the historic district in Charleston.  Next up is a tour of Forts Sumter and Fort Moultrie, both including some surprises found there that we weren’t aware of.  Be sure to stay tuned for that adventure in our next post!

 

 

Tybee Island Light and the Mighty Eighth

Before we take the trip up the coast as we promised in our last post, we wanted to detail two other notable sites we toured in Savannah:  Tybee Island Light Station and The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.  The former has guided mariners in some shape or form along the Georgia shore for almost 300 years.  The latter honors the men and women who served and are serving in the Eighth Air Force, which was founded in Savannah in 1942.

Tybee Island Light Station

We will begin with the Tybee Island Light Station.  First ordered by General James Oglethorpe back in 1732, the beacon started its career as a simple day-mark; in other words, there wasn’t a light associated with it. The octagonal brick structure stood ninety feet tall.  Unfortunately, it was built too close to the shore and storms destroyed it in 1741.  The next year, a slightly taller day-mark was built, this time with a flagpole on top.  Even though this one was further away from the shore, the sea eventually reached the tower.  A third tower was completed in 1773.  That tower was 60 feet of brick, topped with 40 feet of wood.  In 1791, a light was added to the day-mark.

When the Confederate troops abandoned Tybee Island in 1861, they burned the wooden portion of the beacon to prevent Union soldiers from using it.  After the war, the tower was increased in size to it’s current height, using the original 60 foot brick tower as it’s base.

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That is what we see today.  Currently standing at 145 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in Georgia.  There are 178 steps that take visitors to the top to view the fixed first order Fresnel lens.

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Having climbed it, we have serious respect for the men who kept the light burning.  As we were waiting to enter, an older Southern gentleman exited, looked at the ticket-taker and said ” If I win the lottery, I am gonna take a whole bunch of that money and build y’all an elevator to the top of that thing!”  We all got a good laugh out of that.  🙂

The rest of the station’s buildings are intact and restored with period furnishings.

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We toured the head keeper’s house, which was built in 1881.

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One thing we found unique was the tongue-in-groove southern pine walls and ceilings. They really gave the home a warm, cozy feel.

National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

The other highlight of this trip to Savannah was the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.

This division of the military currently consists of over 16,000 personnel whose primary mission is to keep America safe by operating and maintaining our long-range bombers.  They were established in 1942 with the same goal in mind.  Back then, they flew B-17 and B-24 bombers out of approximately 100 bases in England on daylight runs over Nazi Germany.  They also provided fighter escort for those big planes.

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The museum has a gorgeous B-17 Flying Fortress as its centerpiece.  On any given day, hundreds of these planes would be in the air.  One day in early 1944, Jimmy Doolittle led over 1,000 B-17’s across Europe to bomb Berlin.  It is difficult to imagine the sheer terror that must have existed on the ground that day.  At that time this division of the Army Air Corps had 200,000 people in their ranks, and had the capability of putting 3,000 bombers and fighters in the air on any given day…hence, the ‘Mighty’ as a prefix.

As we toured this building, the story of the Mighty Eighth was detailed through photos, videos, and displays.  As far as military museums go, this was what I would consider one of the better ones…as it personalized the war.  Stories from both sides were told along the way, making for a compelling afternoon.

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One such story was of the plane “Snap, Crackle, and Pop”.  The pilot of this plane, depicted in a mural at the museum, was from Battle Creek, Michigan, home of Kellogg’s Cereal.  He received permission, before flying the plane to England, to stop home and have one of the company artists paint the Rice Krispies trio on the front of the plane. Sometime later in the war, the B-17 was shot down over France, and only two parachutes were seen exiting the aircraft.

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Actually the ball turret gunner, a man by the name of Alan Magee, also got out of the plane…but without his parachute.  You see, this position in the B-17 is so small, the gunner would have to leave his parachute above him in the fuselage.  By the time he got to it, the bomber was disintegrating and he was thrown clear.  He fell 20,000 feet and crashed through the glass roof of the railroad station in St. Nazaire, France.  A German doctor saved his life by doing surgery on his many injuries.  The surgeon told him, “I am a doctor first, and a German second.”  Magee lived to be 84 years old.

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There was also a reminder of a story my father told me when he learned to fly in one of these Stearman trainers during the war.  His instructor told him to do a ‘carrier landing’, which was to put the tail wheel on the ground before the front wheels.  The maneuver simulated what a pilot would do on an aircraft carrier when they put their tail hook low enough to grab the cable on the deck.

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The tail wheel hit the runway hard and smashed the entire assembly up into the plane.  When Dad saw the damage, he feared he had totally screwed up. The instructor looked at him and said “Perfect!”  🙂

The exhibits also included stories of the Tuskegee Airmen, and the WASP’s…the non-combat women pilots who delivered planes to bases during the war.

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One of those women was Suzanne Parish.  She and her husband started the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Back when I was in college, I would see her buzzing over campus in her pink P-40 Warhawk.  Little did I know at the time of her invaluable service during the war.  If you want to read more about the Air Zoo and see a photo of her beloved pink aircraft, follow this link.

That wraps up our tour of Savannah, Georgia for this year.  We are sure to be back, as we left so much to discover on a future trip.  Next up: Charleston, South Carolina.  We hope you tag along to see what we find there!

Fort Pulaski

On the east end of Cockspur Island, in the middle of the Savannah River, sits one of the most massive brick fortifications ever built; Fort Pulaski.  This impressive structure was named for Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish soldier who fought in the American Revolution and lost his life during the Battle of Savannah in 1779.  It was constructed over an 18 year period beginning in 1829, and sits on the Georgia side of the border with South Carolina. Sporting 7-1/2 foot thick walls that tower 32 feet above the 8 foot deep moat, it was felt that the structure was impenetrable.

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It was part of a coastal defense system put into place by President James Madison after the War of 1812.

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It is interesting to note that preliminary construction of the fort…including the canal system seen above…was the first assignment for a young cadet fresh out of West Point by the name of Robert E. Lee.  He was here from 1829 until 1831.

Even though it was completed in 1847, Fort Pulaski had not yet been manned by the army, nor was it fully gunned by the time 1860 rolled around.  On January 3, 1861, Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown ordered the state militia to occupy the fort.  This was in response to federal troops seizing Fort Sumter to the north at Charleston just two weeks earlier, after South Carolina voted to secede from the Union.  Savannah was an important port for the southern states, and vital to the success of the Confederacy.

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Work began in earnest to ready the post for the battle that was sure to come.  Thick timbers, such as can be seen in the photo above, were leaned against the inner walls.  This allowed a protected passageway between the casemates that surrounded the perimeter.

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Within a year, Union troops were setting up a series of 11 batteries on nearby Tybee Island, just to the southeast.  Those positions are signified in red in the above photo.  With the south and southeast walls of the fort (noted in green) at more than a mile away, it was felt by the Confederates that they were safe from anything the Union army could lob at them from that distance.  What they did not know was that the Federal troops had a new weapon: the 30 pound Parrott rifled cannon.  This gun had spiraled grooves the length of its bore which increase the accuracy and velocity of its 30 pound bullet-shaped projectiles.  This gun had a range of nearly five miles, so breaching Fort Pulaski’s walls at a mere mile away was a fairly easy task.  There were five of these guns in the Union’s arsenal on Tybee’s shore, along with five smaller rifled guns and twenty-six mortars.

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On April 10, 1862, Captain Quincy A. Gilmore sent a boat to Cockspur under the flag of truce to demand the confederates surrender the fort.  That demand was refused, so Gilmore ordered his men to open fire. Thirty hours and over five thousand shells later, the Union army opened a hole in the southeast corner of the fort.  The area that was destroyed was reconstructed and can be seen above as darker red brick.  The rest of the garrison walls still show the damage to this day.  Fearing that his powder magazines would be breached and the entire fort would be destroyed by the resulting explosion, Confederate Col. Charles H. Olmstead surrendered.  Similar to the unsinkable Titanic that sank almost 50 years to the day later, this impenetrable fort was penetrated.  Needless to say, confederate leaders were shocked.

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Visitors today can still see some of the shells embedded in the walls, the backs of which all face northeast.

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Even the tip of the southeastern-most cannon was damaged in the battle.

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This is the view the Union soldiers had from Tybee Island, about one mile from the garrison’s southeast flank.

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Amazingly, little Cockspur Island Lighthouse received hardly any damage during the siege, even though it was in the direct line of fire.  It is still standing strong.  It was re-lit in 2007 for historical purposes.

The 30 hour battle at Fort Pulaski rendered brick fortifications obsolete.  Union troops repaired the hole in the outer walls and turned the structure into a prison until the end of the war.  It was here that the Immortal Six Hundred…Confederate prisoners who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States…were held under horrible conditions. Thirteen of them died there and were buried along the outside bank of the moat. By 1880, only a lighthouse keeper and a caretaker remained.  They too were soon gone, and the fort was left to the forces of nature.  In 1924, Fort Pulaski was made a national monument, with restoration efforts taking place during the Great Depression.

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We learned a lot from our visit to Fort Pulaski, all while each adding a Junior Ranger badge to our collection.  If there is one important takeaway from this monument, it is the fact that no one is invincible.

Stay tuned to see what we find as we explore further up the coast.  Until next time, safe travels!

M.B. HENRY

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