Archive for the ‘National Memorial’ Category

I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they asked a very legitimate question, “where are you?”

liberty bell

liberty bell

Michael and I have been residing in Harrisburg, PA since we ended our trip in December 2005, just a few months ahead of schedule. Bags were unpacked, the ‘Tima got a car wash, items were pulled out of storage and a new home was found (a few blocks away from the old one).

Since then, one of us went back to work, one of us found a new job, we both wrote for a few other places, and in between we’ve gone back to some of our favorite park sites to give them a second look, like Independence Hall National Historical Park, the Liberty Bell and our beloved Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial.

New sites were given National Park site designations since we created our original list, like the Carter G. Woodson House National Historic Site in Washington D.C. This was one of our final stops, but our visit was still a little premature. The African Burial Grounds National Memorial in New York is another newbie we have to add to our “still to see” list.

Did we reach our goal of Every. Single. NPS site in the Continental United States?


Did we reach our goal of rediscovering America and answering the question, “what, exactly, does it mean to be American?”

We’re not sure if America ever becomes a static answer, or if the discovery ever ends. We found a lot of different answers, and had the time of our lives trying.

And it ain’t over yet.


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Lincoln Memorial Full Frontal

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was last Tuesday, his holiday is this Monday. At which National Park Sites can I celebrate his life in the meantime? Two days ago we suggested his birthplace in Atlanta and today we suggest the Lincoln Memorial, home to one of his most famous speeches: The I Have a Dream Speech. On that August 28, 1963 day, the Lincoln Memorial grounds served as the centerpiece for the one of the most important (and among the largest) political rallies ever to occur, the 1963 March on Washington.

Every time Michael walks up the Lincoln Memorial steps he feels the same rush of expectation and the same flood of emotions. It is a pilgrimage site and a place to give secular thanks and blessings not just to Mr. Lincoln but to Dr. King and the pioneers of the many human rights organizations that have rallied here. The Lincoln Memorial is a quintessential American icon and a must-see destination for all Americans.

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Lincoln Memorial Full Frontal

Thanksgiving weekend. Did you leave your house? Then you’ll completely understand this week’s theme: most crowded National Park Sites. On Monday we went to the crowdiest of them all: Yosemite. But not every crowded Park Site teems with people because of their extreme popularity. Some, like Manassas National Battlefield Park, just happen to be located in population centers.

And sometimes large crowds aren’t a bad thing at all. Often the buzz of hundreds of people and their infectious spirit makes visits a joy. Into that category we would place the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.’s steadfast memorial to what America should be.

When we visited there were a lot of people here. There are always a lot of people here! The mass of humanity that was milling about, ascending and descending the stairs and waiting patiently to be photographed next to Lincoln’s knees, were all in celebratory, dare we say, jubilant moods despite the heat of the day. This classic American landmark’s grand size can handle all comers with ease.

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Ghost Pier at Port ChicagoIn honor of Veterans Day, today we are remembering a forgotten set of American servicemen, the 200 that were killed by the 1944 explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine and the 50 seamen who were then wrongfully charged with mutiny and, over 50 years later, offered a pardon by the President of the United States.

The story goes like this:

On July 17, 1944 an ammunitions explosion that blew up two ships parked side-by-side on a loading pier exploded and killed over 300 men. Port Chicago was the largest stateside disaster during World War II. Over 200 of those killed were enlisted African American seaman, 15% of all WWII African American deaths.

Many factors led to the incredible tragedy of Port Chicago: a segregated military force, no training for ammunition loaders, the loaded ammunition was live and two ships were loaded simultaneously side-by-side. The Navy addressed all these problems within years of the explosion largely because of the lessons learned at Port Chicago.

However, Port Chicago’s pull on our American psyche does not end there. The Port Chicago disaster holds great historic significance because it has been effectively erased from our collective national memory. It is not a story we repeat about our greatest generation.

The African Americans at Port Chicago had enlisted in the Navy with the understanding that they would be fighting overseas. Instead, the Navy sent them to Concord, California to load live ammunition.

Immediately following the disaster, other African American regiments spent the next weeks cleaning up the destruction, taking in the loss of their fellow seamen. The devastation caused by 5,000 tons of explosion was removed in just three weeks. At that point, the seamen were ordered to begin loading ammunition again, in the same way and in the same place where their fellow seamen had fallen.

Three divisions, 328 men, agreed to keep working but refused to load the dangerous ammunition. They were all taken into custody, 258 of them imprisoned on a floating barge and charged with mutiny. The threat of firing squad dwindled the number of resisters to 50.

50 Years in the MakingThe Court Martial began in September of 1944, the judgment coming soon after: dishonorable discharge and 8 to 15 years in jail. Future Supreme Court Justice and then NAACP attorney, Thurgood Marshall, watched the trial and was disturbed by its “obvious racism”. He argued for the seaman’s benefit before public officials and for the press. President Truman agreed and released the men once the War ended. The Court Martial and the explosion are often cited as the reason Truman desegregated the military in 1948.

The Navy has never taken responsibility for the disaster. They have always blamed the soldiers. Racism sears through their argument. The families of the fallen African American seamen have never been compensated. In contrast, the Navy immediately compensated the families of white Officers who died in the blast.

The memorial to the fallen seamen took 50 years to build. The remembrance saw the light of day only because of the tireless ten-year lobbying of a local Congressman and a president with a sympathetic ear. Five years after the memorial’s dedication, in 1999, President Clinton pardoned the 50 mutineers. Only one of the soldiers accepted the pardon, the others still believe they had done nothing wrong.

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 24, 2004
Second Visit: December 7, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 5 of 353

NPS Website; Local Website

Want More? Read About Our Phun-Philled 2004 Philadelphia Phoray.
Click Here for the In-Depth Recount of that Day.

Small townhouse where Kosciuszko (pronounced kosh-CHOOSH-koh) lived in the winter of 1797-98 after his exile from Poland.

BEAUTY (4/10)
The Kosciuszko House is one of many quaint Federal-style redbrick houses in Philadelphia’s charming Society Hill neighborhood. Its corner lot, well-maintained exterior and adjoining cobblestone streets scream “I am worth a ridiculously high price per square foot.”

During Gab’s first days as an English teacher in Poland, her students asked for her thoughts on Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Gab’s sheepish reply was “Who?”

Her students vociferously responded, “You do not know Kosciuszko!?! He saved your country!” Their fantastic conclusion holds much merit in romanticized legend-making Revolutionary War retellings. Kosciuszko was one of a handful of young, brilliant Age of Enlightenment values-driven Europeans who aided the American Revolution through military, intellectual and spiritual means. Both he and the Marquis de La Fayette returned to their respective countries post-American Revolution with the aim of spreading our new nation’s liberal democratic ideas to their homelands.

Kosciuszko arrived in the Colonies in August of 1776, a 30-year-old military engineer who had been living in Paris. The Park Brochure states that he traveled across the Atlantic on his own spontaneous accord, wrapped up in the fever of the colonial uprising. Other reports say that Benjamin Franklin recruited his services while in Paris. In October 1776 Kosciuszko was named head engineer of the Continental Army.

From there the legend grows. Kosciuszko’s engineering genius allowed for a successful retreat at Fort Ticonderoga, an historically monumental victory at Saratoga and the successful creation of a Hudson River fortress stronghold at West Point. More of Kosciuszko’s handiwork can be seen at the Ninety Six Battlefield in South Carolina.

Kosciuszko returned to Poland in 1784 where he helped write the Polish Constitution, modern Europe’s first, and was named Commander in Chief of the Polish Army. From 1792-94, Kosciuszko successfully defended Poland against a 100,000-soldier strong Russian Invasion, winning every battle. The Polish King, however, surrendered to the Russians. Intrigue, treaties and confusion abounded. In late 1794, the Kosciuszko Uprising, a last-ditch attempt to expel the Russian influence, failed and Tadeusz was imprisoned in Siberia.

KosciuszkoIn 1797, Tadeusz was freed and exiled to the United States. Where did he live? Right here in Philadelphia at Pine and 3rd, just blocks from Independence Hall. He lived here for less than a year before returning to Europe with plans to free Poland.

If you are of Polish decent this rating could be higher. In fact, we think we may have upped it a little bit already.

CROWDS (6/10)
No one. While it would have been nice to have seen someone else, more people would have made the Site’s four tiny rooms unbearably cramped. At approximately 900 square feet, this Site is the NPS’s smallest. In 2005, the Kosciuszko House averaged 16 visitors per day so all Revolutionary War buffs of Polish descent suffering from claustrophobia can be sure of a fear-free visit.

In 2004, we scratched our brave Altima’s left front while parallel parking into a too-small space.

In 2006, there were at least a half-dozen open spaces in a one-block radius. “We’ve got two hours of free parking, Gab. Want to go to Independence NHP? It’s only a few blocks away.” “Uh, no. That wasn’t in the plan.” “Well then, it’s settled. Let’s see the Liberty Bell.” And we did. And we had fun, says Michael.

The Kosciuszko House has shortened its operating hours in the last year. Its door is now open from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Even so, pull hard. We found the door defiantly locked at 12:30 p.m. until a Ranger unlatched it and let us in.

The few Kosciuszko-related knickknacks for sale were wholly unmemorable.

Sadly, the wonderful six Kosciuszko lithographs designed by Art Institute of Philadelphia students and on display inside the House are not for sale. We got some good pictures, however, and they might soon adorn our apartment walls despite the Park’s shortsightedness.

COSTS (4/5)
Totally free.

Ranger to Tourist Ratio: High.

Ranger Interest to Tourist Interest Ratio: Very Low.

Both our 2004 and 2006 visits revealed a less-than-enthusiastic on-duty Ranger with minimal Kosciuszko knowledge and an I’ve-just-been-sent-to-National-Park-purgatory look on their face. Perhaps they’re just lonely from only seeing 16 visitors per day.

KosciuszkoTOURS/CLASSES (3/10)
Little effort has gone into the educational offerings at this tiny Site. The 1970’s-produced cartoon film is action-filled campy fun but begins and ends with Kosciuszko’s Revolutionary War exploits. We wanted more information on the Polish Constitution, the Kosciuszko Uprising and Tadeusz’s dealings with Napoleon. Since the Park brochure and other handouts are printed in both English and Polish, we are guessing other visitors want more background info too.

The Site’s marquee (or is it marquis) attraction is Kosciuszko’s recreated boarding house bedroom, stuffed with period furniture, symbolic items and sequestered behind bullet-proof glass. A push-button tape recording dispenses a general recap of the bedroom’s contents. A Ranger-led recap would have been nice; it’s not like they are overwhelmed with visitors or a sprawling mansion.

FUN (5/10)
Kosciuszko is our favorite Revolutionary War hero. He is dashing, he is a military genius and he is Polish. Every Kosciuszko statue, every Kosciuszko-named town and every Kosciuszko-related Park Site makes us giddy. We love you dear Tadeusz. You saved our country.

This Site is only for fellow Kosciuszko enthusiasts. His exploits are better understood at the battle sites. Saratoga NHP shows his unparalleled strategic genius while Ninety Six reveals his subtle artistic eye and unorthodox creativity.

After reading this review, has your passion for Kosciuszko reached an uncontrollable ecstasy? If yes, then get to Philly soon! The Ranger told us that the House will soon undergo renovations and, perhaps, a multi-year closure.

TOTAL 36/80

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Part of National Mall and Memorial Parks
Washington, D.C.
Visited: July 14, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 308 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Lincoln Memorial Full Frontal

The instantly recognizable white Georgia marble neo-Classical monument dedicated to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

BEAUTY (8/10)
At the National Mall western end, the Lincoln Memorial stands, a steadfast Greek Temple that emanates greatness and elicits reflexive, earnest tribute. The ascent up its three flights of stairs builds the anticipation, heightens the spirit and takes you to the most fitting tribute any American president has yet to achieve.

Inside Abraham Lincoln sits. His position recalls an imagined recreation of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Lincoln’s recreation is no less godlike, but instead of the bombast and tyranny of his mythical counterpart, he sits with the wisdom of Athena. Lincoln’s famed melancholy is no more; he sits with self-assuredness. His gaze is more complicated; it speaks of hope and pride but also shows wariness and fear.

Despite its grand scale and lofty symbolism, the Lincoln Memorial is not triumphalist. It shows a man with flaws and sensitivities. It speaks to a hopeful future accompanied by thought and a humble character. It speaks to what America should be.

Penny for Your ThoughtsHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
The Lincoln Memorial has seen historic significance rare to most memorials and monuments. Since soon after its dedication, the Memorial has played host to countless concerts, political demonstrations and speeches. Perhaps the only speech to rival the legend of Lincoln’s own Gettysburg Address occurred here: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. On that August 28, 1963 day, the Lincoln Memorial grounds served as the centerpiece for the one of the most important (and among the largest) political rallies ever to occur, the 1963 March on Washington.

CROWDS (9/10)
There were a lot of people here! The mass of humanity that was milling about, ascending and descending the stairs and waiting patiently to be photographed next to Lincoln’s knees were all in celebratory, dare we say, jubilant moods despite the heat of the day. This classic American landmark’s grand size can handle all comers with ease.

The easiest way to visit is via the Tourmobile® Sightseeing buses. Your $20.00 per adult all day ticket drops you off in front of the both the Lincoln Memorial, the nearby Vietnam Veterans and Korean Memorials and every other National Mall-area attraction.

The Lincoln Memorial is located on the western edge of the National Mall, just south of a dense conglomeration of federal offices. The more adventurous (or masochistic) tourist could find a metered street parking space among this mess of barricaded one-ways streets, diplomat-only meters and tricky diagonal intersections but we do not recommended it.

The nearest D.C. Metro stop is Foggy-Bottom-GWU, located three-quarters of a mile to the north at the intersection of 23rd and I Streets. This downhill concrete walk always seems longer than the distance indicates.

The President’s KneeCONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
Oddly inadequate. The Lincoln Memorial bookstore is tucked away in the inner right corner of the Memorial’s mezzanine. It is far too small to handle its crowd, especially when a baby stroller is pushed into the mix. Shelf space is divvied up between the Lincoln Memorial and other nearby bookstore-less sites, including the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Memorials. A few books on civil rights and more recent military involvements are scattered in there for good measure.

We could find no rhyme or reason for the bookstore offerings or why some titles were chosen over others. We couldn’t even find a cool magnet. Those looking for substantial information on our 16th president will do much better at the Ford’s Theater NHS.

COSTS (4/5)
Not a penny to see the front and back of a penny.

The area in and around the Lincoln Memorial’s circular perimeter appeared to be a Ranger-free zone. We saw security guards, bookstore clerks and construction workers doing Memorial restoration but no Rangers. Even the tiny downstairs Lincoln museum appeared to be un-staffed.

Park literature states that there are Park Ranger programs every day at all the National Mall Memorials. Somehow, we missed them all. We understand that the D.C. experience is primarily visceral; it is about being overwhelmed with larger than life statues and legendarily great men.

The Lincoln Memorial needs no elaboration and no educational help. Old Abe sits on his throne and regally looks over the capital city of the country he reunited (and broke apart according to some). His greatest words, the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, flank him on either side, in their full glory and in complete context.

That is why the Lincoln Museum, located beneath the Memorial, is disappointing. The Museum consists mostly of granite-etched Lincoln quotes regarding equality, freedom, emancipation and the Union. These quotes are mangled and taken out of context in a misguided attempt to portray Lincoln as a fiery abolitionist. The museum exhibits reveal more about the curators and their opinions about Lincoln than Lincoln himself.

Side View FUN (10/10)
From his perch, Abe Lincoln enjoys the best and most classic view in Washington, D.C. He overlooks his own reflecting pool, the new World War II Memorial, the soaring obelisk Washington Monument, the National Mall and finally the U.S. Capitol. The vista is stirring at all times and in all seasons. The views and the history will infuse strong patriotic emotions into even the most cynical of Americans. The Lincoln Memorial is a resolute reminder of the positive strength of both humanity and the self.

The Lincoln Memorial is Michael’s favorite place in Washington D.C. Every time he walks up its steps he feels the same rush of expectation and the same flood of emotions. It is a pilgrimage site and a place to give secular thanks and blessings not just to Mr. Lincoln but to Dr. King and the pioneers of the many human rights organizations that have rallied here. The Lincoln Memorial is a quintessential American icon and a must-see destination for all Americans.

TOTAL 60/80

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Part of National Mall and Memorial Parks
Washington, D.C.
Visited: July 14, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 310 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Three Pillars WHAT IS IT?
Sprawling outdoor granite monument complex dedicated to our 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

BEAUTY (3/10)
Humongous pink granite stacked walls allegedly separate this ridiculously long memorial into distinctive “rooms”, each of which explain different parts of FDR’s life and the America he shaped. Miniature golf course-worthy waterfalls appear (thematically out of nowhere) in each “room” adding a taunting cruelty to your D.C. summer visit. What do you mean I can’t stick my head into the waterfall, Mr. Ranger?

In addition to the waterfalls, the “rooms” contain larger-than-life bronze statues of FDR, Eleanor and Fala, bas relief abstract wall art, quotes written in Braille, statues of five guys in a chow line and a statue of a man listening to a radio. The “rooms” adornments are symbolic to the point of absurdity and too numerous and too disjointed to understand as a whole. Maddeningly, there are no pamphlets, no exhibits and no Rangers to explain the artistic minutiae and historic allusions.

Perhaps the Memorial looks better and offers a more pleasant visit in spring when surrounded by blooming cherry blossoms and cooler weather. We can only hope.

It took almost 50 years to bring the current FDR Memorial to reality. Even when it was dedicated in May 1997, some felt it was incomplete.

The latest addition to the Memorial is perhaps the most controversial. In January 2001, a little more than 10 years after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a statue of FDR sitting in his wheelchair was added to the Prologue Room. Its $1.65M construction and placement primarily funded by the National Organization on Disability who advocated for a true representation of the president’s polio-inflicted disability.

Those opposed to the addition argued that FDR had gone to great lengths to conceal his disability and never wanted to be seen as someone “disabled.” Would a man who hid his wheelchair, crutches and inability to walk from photographers appreciate that his assistive devices are now carved indelibly in stone? Do FDR’s decisions reflect denial and shame or unusual strength and determination?

We don’t have the answers, but credit the FDR Memorial and its seated statue for returning the issues of full inclusion for individuals with disabilities to the national table.

Fan of FDR CROWDS (3/10)
If you thought 7.5 acres, “four rooms”, 300 trees and 4000 granite blocks would offer a place for quiet reflection or even an isolated experience you would be wrong. Despite the Memorial’s profligate use of public space, we found it impossible to enjoy the Site at our own pace. The crowds all move to the same spots and all take the same pictures. We never thought we would be queuing for ten minutes to take a picture of the bronze FDR and Fala. Sure, we could have moved on sans photo, but that’s not the point. We have principles…and a Chinese tourist-less picture of Fala.

No place in West Potomac Park or the National Mall is further from a D.C. Metro stop than the FDR Memorial. The Smithsonian, Foggy Bottom and L’Enfant Plaza stop all are more than one mile away! During D.C. summers, that one mile feels more like five miles.

Since there is no parking, the easiest way to visit is via the Tourmobile® Sightseeing buses. Your $20.00 per adult all day ticket drops you off in front of the FDR Memorial and every other National Mall-area attraction.

Once he is able to say the book’s title ten times really fast, Michael is going to read David Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning, 992-page long Depression-era America tome Freedom from Fear. He swears.

There have been many books written about FDR, WWII, Eleanor and the Depression and this bookstore carries an admirable selection discussing those themes.

Another Waterfall COSTS (4/5)
This open-air monstrosity is free although we could think at least one-thousand better places in D.C. to spend your time.

Gab claims to have seen two Rangers milling about the various “rooms”. Michael cannot corroborate what he thinks were waterfall-induced mirages.

During our stay, we fruitlessly hoped that a Ranger talk would materialize. Perhaps then we could have understood what we were looking at. We know the history; we just could not come to grips with what the architects were trying to say or what mood they meant to provoke.

Did the waterfalls somehow suggest FDR’s feverish dam building or were they meant to allude to his Hudson River home? What is being said when FDR’s “I Hate War” quote is emblazoned on a wall and then, in a separate display, seen crushed in granite rubble? We can come up with dozens of interpretations, most of them contradictory, anachronistic and ultimately a misreading of FDR’s history and intentions.

FUN (2/10)
We came to the FDR Memorial with a muted anticipation. We loved our time at Hyde Park and have effusive admiration for our 32nd president.

With every step through the Memorial we grew more confused. “What’s the point of that”, we thought, still confused. Then the sarcasm crept in,“oooh, another waterfall”. We walked with a hope the next pink granite corner would signal the Site’s linear end. But the Memorial kept going.

Then came the 10-minute long (or was it 20) FDR photo incident. Thankfully, only trees and the Tidal Basin greeted us around the next corner.

We left the FDR Memorial with audible appreciation that we now had our lives back.

Whether apocryphal or not, in 1982 Time Magazine reported that FDR once told Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter that he wanted only a small memorial about the size of his desk. FDR continued, “I want it plain without any ornamentation, with the simple carving, `In memory of . . .’”

FDR’s desired Memorial exists and sits in front of the National Archives building. Why this new FDR Memorial had to be built or, better yet, why $48,500,000 had to be spent on it escapes us. We do know that we will never visit here again but we will return to Hyde Park this July. FDR would probably agree with our decision.

TOTAL 30/80

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Saint Michael, Pa.
Visited: April 1, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 281 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Old Dam AbutmentsWHAT IS IT?
Site memorializing the victims of the May 31, 1889 flood that killed over 2,000 Johnstown, Pa. residents.

BEAUTY (3/10)
The Park Site vistas overlook what was once Lake Conemaugh and is now (again, post-broken dam), just the Conemaugh River. The former South Fork Dam remains, its center remains torn through, powerful visceral evidence of that fateful 1889 day.

The whole panorama still screams of tragedy, aided by the Site’s horror-filled style of education. The western Pennsylvania hillsides, bared by strip-mines and deforestation do not make the situation cheerier. But it is only when you drive the 10-mile steady downhill slope towards center city Johnstown that the sickening ambiance of the flood’s menace fully seeps in.

For years, residents fear a poorly built water control system, so much so that the city’s possible destruction by flood becomes a running joke. Destruction of the environment is so wide spread that the land’s natural protections are gone. During the rainy season, floods are so common that the citizenry becomes lackadaisical about the waters’ power. In said year of heavy rain, mild floods occur but the people refuse to believe that the shoddily constructed dam will break.

10 inches of rain fall in one 24-hour period and the dam does break. Thousands die in apocalypse-level destruction while the rich are spared because they live on the high ground. Post-flood examinations reveal that the wealthy knew of the impending dangers, were warned numerous times of the eventual danger and did nothing. Sound familiar? Well, this “natural disaster” occurred in Johnstown, Pa. in May of 1889.

The broken dam had held back Lake Conemaugh, a recreational lake used solely by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, whose members included the Gilded Age luminaries Henry Frick, Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon. Did the Johnstown Flood affect any change in national opinion or policy change towards this era of unabashed ecological damage and lawless capitalism? Nope.

Capitalist reform would soon come, but the Great Flood was not a causal factor; it was just a horrible disaster that claimed too many lives.

Hang in ThereCROWDS (5/10)
The good-sized crowds touring the Park were all a little shell-shocked from the dour heaviness of the Site’s message. Ashen faces, no eye contact and a funereal-esque pall.

The Memorial is located about 12 miles east of downtown Johnstown, near the town of South Fork and just off U.S. Route 219. Clear signage from U.S. 219 will point you towards the Site.

From the west, the Site is about 30 miles north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Exit 110 (Somerset) straight up U.S. Route 219. From the east, and Turnpike Exit 146 (Bedford) the Site is a more circuitous 45 miles via I-99 to Pa. Route 52 to U.S. Route 99.

A modest selection of books, including about a dozen specific to the flood itself.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $4 per person, free with the National Parks Pass. Your admission also covers entry into three nearby NPS sites: the Allegheny Portage NHS, Fort Necessity NB and Friendship Hill NHS.

Entry to the see the unaffiliated Johnstown Flood Museum, located in downtown Johnstown, runs $6 per person.

We spent a nice time with a volunteer eager to point out all the relevant Great Flood-event locations on the horizons. Our numerous questions to the on-duty Ranger, however, were met with lackadaisical disdain. So we just moved on.

The door into the Site’s theater warns that some of the film’s images may be unsuitable to children. They are not kidding.

The 35-minute Black Friday is a disconcerting black-and-white film, categorized better as a horror film than an educational historic documentary. The film begins with still shots of unmarked gravestones and ends with an image of a maniacal grim reaper and the audible reading (by the death-obsessed narrator, no less) of the list of the victims and the horrific way in which their bodies were found.

What is in between are non-stop grainy pseudo footage of floodwaters, screaming children, collapsing houses, burning buildings and lots of tombstones. It is all a little much.

We were hoping for more background on the natural destruction that caused the flood, something about the effect the flood had on our country as a whole, and just a tad bit of commentary on the cleanup effort and rebuilding of the town; no such luck with either the film or the exhibits. We later learned, through independent reading, that Clara Barton’s efforts during the Flood’s cleanup were the touchstone event that brought the American Red Cross into our national consciousness.

Perhaps the independently run Johnstown Flood Museum with its 1989 Academy Award winning film for Short Form Documentary does a better job. However, after Black Friday, we were in no mood to continue our learning. At the NPS Site, the education is entirely visceral.

Looking Through the Old South Fork DamFUN (2/10)
Victim-based museums do not have to be death-obsessed orgies. They can be celebrations of lives well led (like the Oklahoma City N MEM), explanations of regrettable historical circumstances enhanced by the triumphant stories of its victims (Manzanar NHS) or just honorable remembrances (like the nearby Flight 93 N MEM). The Johnstown Flood N MEM is none of those things; instead, it chooses to focus only on the flood’s 45 minutes of annihilation, its immediate pain, madness and devastation.

Not unless you are a lustful masochist eager to find superficial pleasure in an over-the-top rendering of extreme violence and destruction…and happen to be traveling near Johnstown, Pa.

TOTAL 31/80

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near Gould, Ark.
Visited: August 29, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 240 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

They’re EverywhereWHAT IS IT?
Site of one of France’s earliest permanent New World settlements. For almost 200 years, from 1686 to 1863, the Arkansas Post was an important city but now nothing remains.

BEAUTY (5/10)
The Park is a murky peninsula, surrounded on its wide sides by the bayou, its tip pointing towards the Arkansas River. The sky shines a hazy grayish blue, reflecting the waters’ dark dingy tint. Trees grow in the water. Fields of lily pads float everywhere amidst lime green algae and yellow lotus flowers add an unseen color and a delicate beauty. Snowy Egrets fly above skulking alligators, multiple dragonfly species hover incessantly, mosquitoes swarm and yearling deer race through the ruins of an early Arkansas town.

It is hard to believe this abandoned bayou backwater could ever have been an important place, but for nearly two centuries, it was the center of European life in the Arkansas region. In 1686, the French built a fort, establishing a trading post and solidifying control of the Arkansas River. The River’s flooding, Chickasaw war parties and British raiders continually forced the fort to be moved.

In 1763, France cedes the region to the Spanish, who soon after establish a presence at Arkansas Post. British soldiers attack the Fort in 1783, during the American Revolution, because Spain has sided with the colonists. France regains the territory in 1800 and sells it to Thomas Jefferson as a part of the Louisiana Purchase. Arkansas Post becomes capital of the Arkansas Territory in 1819 and the Arkansas Gazette (still the State’s major newspaper) begins publication.

Six Flags Over ArkansasIn 1821, Little Rock becomes the capital, the paper moves and the population shrinks from 1830 to only 114. The town is all but dead. The penultimate nail comes in January 1863, during the Civil War, when Union gunboats destroy the Site’s newly built Fort and mercilessly shell the town. Nothing remains. Nature deals the final blow through erosion and the changing course of the Arkansas River. All that remains are alligators, deer, dragonflies, wild turkeys and lotus flowers.

CROWDS (6/10)
Just us. We wish we could have spotted some alligators. Maybe if the sky had not been overcast.

The N MEM is located in the bayou country of southeastern Arkansas, about 60 miles from Pine Bluff and 100 miles from Little Rock.

From Pine Bluff, take U.S. Route 65 southeast until the town of Gould. Wind your way through the back streets of this tiny town along Arkansas Route 212. Once you hit U.S. Rte. 165, turn north (left). In about 5 miles, turn east (right) onto Arkansas Rte. 169. Rte. 169 will lead you through the bayou and to the Park.

If you would prefer to stay on larger roads, continue on 65, past Gould, and to Dumas. From Dumas, take U.S. Rte. 165 for 15 miles until Ark. Rte. 169. Turn right and you will soon be there.

Bayou Country

The bookstore has a sparse, but well thought out and interesting selection of merchandise for sale. Jaw Harps, reprints of the two Harper’s Weekly’s that mention the Arkansas Post Civil War battle, reprints of the first issue of the Arkansas Gazette, a cute canned Alligator (stuffed animal in a can, not a meal) and ceramic mugs stamped with the fleur de lis. Cool books include an Arkansas traveler’s 1819 journal, a book on the Indian gun trade, Alan Taylor’s American Colonies and a history of the Arkansas Post written by a Park Service employee.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

One kind Ranger looked happy to see us; it was a dreary, rainy midweek day and few people were venturing to this bayou ghost town.

There are a few neat displays in the Museum and the film, while superficial and hokey, is watch-able. The Park holds no interesting secrets and no spellbinding historical revelations. The Site does an able job with its limited material. The Site provides a terrific bird checklist that even lists the specific areas of the Park to look for each bird.

FUN (3/10)
We would have had more fun of there were alligators. We cut our pleasant, but humid, walk around the Post Bayou Nature Trail short because the rain started to come down in droves. The thick trees were not going to provide a sturdy canopy for long. The old townsite was anticlimactic, consisting of only one or two ruins. The climate, ruins, scenery and colonial history reminded us of Georgia’s Fort Frederica NM. We did not have much fun there, either.

Photogenic ThreeWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10)
Only if you have a thing for French colonial history. We have heard good things about the newly opened White River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located about 30 miles to the north in St. Charles. The White River NWR is close to the Cache River, the place where some ornithologists believe they found the ivory-billed woodpecker, an elusive bird species thought to have gone extinct. We had our binoculars on and ears open at Arkansas Post but saw and heard nothing.

TOTAL 40/80

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Part of Timucuan Ecological and Historical PreserveJacksonville, Fla.
Visited: February 2, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 139 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Welcome to JacksonvilleWHAT IS IT?
Reconstructed 16th-century fort that marks the brief Protestant French (Huguenot) presence along the southern Atlantic coast.

BEAUTY (2/10)
We asked the Ranger at Castillo de San Marcos NM why did the French sail to St. Augustine instead of waiting for the Spanish from their reinforced fortress. His response, “Have you been to Fort Caroline yet? Then you’ll know” And we did. Even though Fort Caroline N MEM is a 1/3-sized reconstruction, its historical smallness and flimsy walls were apparent. It is not much of a fort, more like a triangular shaped enclosure with thin walls overlooking the wide, deep St. Johns River.

We arrived in Jacksonville on a dreary, cold, rainy day. Massive barges floated down the river while steam and smoke bellowed from the many factories. Had it not been for the million dollar houses on the River’s far side, the vista might have been mistaken for Industrial Revolution-era London. Who would build a house overlooking this disgusting river span? Maybe Charles Dickens.

In 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault sailed to the mouth of the St. Johns River hoping to find a suitable area to be a refuge for the persecuted Protestant French. Two years later the fort was built and a 200-person colony was established. The colony would double its size in under a year but saw its end by 1565 at the hands of the Spanish. See our Fort Matanzas review for more background.

In September of 1565 after receiving military reinforcements, the Huguenots launched a preemptive attack on the new Spanish colony of St. Augustine located 20 miles to the south. They picked the wrong month. Once out on the water, the weather changed rapidly and the French found themselves sailing into a hurricane. The violent winds tossed and wrecked their ships far to the south of St. Augustine.

The Spanish learned of the Huguenots terrible luck and sent soldiers to take the sparsely protected Fort Caroline. After swiftly reappropriating the fort and massacring some 250 settlers, the Spanish went looking for the accursed French. They found the exhausted Huguenots south of St. Augustine and slaughtered all but 16 of the 350. The French presence in the region was officially over.

Coastal ViewCROWDS (4/10)
This Site cannot handle crowds well. Not really a problem in our case because there was only one other couple there. Unbelievable since it was Super Bowl week, the biggest thing that has happened to Jacksonville since the Huguenots. Still, the museums ceilings are low and loudly echoed the couple’s conversation with the only person on duty, a talkative and opinionated volunteer. We could not concentrate enough to read the exhibits’ small print text.

Fort Caroline is 13 miles east of downtown Jacksonville. The road that hugs the St. Johns River from Florida 9A (Jacksonville’s beltway) to the Site is fittingly named Fort Caroline Road.

At least it’s unique. We haven’t seen a pine needle basket craft kit or a fluffy hand puppet in the shape of a clam at other Sites. If only you didn’t have to face the very chatty volunteer to get to the books, several of which are specific to Fort Caroline. Did we mention the clam puppet makes noises?

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

No Rangers, just one volunteer. She shocked us when she explained that the Park’s Ranger generally does not do a good job.

New FranceTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
There are no Ranger programs. We heard rumors that there are monthly living history reenactments. Hopefully they are not battle reenactments because they would not take long to finish. The newly refurbished Visitor Center museum is nice and provides a good introduction to the Timucuan Indians who inhabited the area for thousands of years before the Frenchmen’s fleeting inhabitation.

FUN (3/10)
The most fun the Site offered was a close-up view of a Carnival Cruise Line ship making its way into Jacksonville to provide much needed Super Bowl hotel rooms.

We cannot see much reason to travel to Fort Caroline N MEM. The fort’s story is told in depth elsewhere – by Rangers at Fort Matanzas NM – and the industrial scenery is dismal at best. The reconstructed fort offers no exploration possibilities. It is just an enclosed yard.

TOTAL 30/80

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