Posts Tagged ‘Affiliated Site’

Camden, S.C.
Visited: October 21, 2005
NPS Site Visited: Not an Official Site
NPS Affiliate Site Visited: 14 of 26
Local Website

The Fun Happened Long AgoWHAT IS IT?
An affiliate National Park Site consisting of reconstructed (in 1977) Revolutionary War-era buildings.

The Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site is so lame that it does not merit a full review. Camden is NOT a National Park Site, it is an affiliate site, meaning your National Parks Pass does not work.

The August 1870 Battle of Camden did NOT take place here. It occurred up the road at a separate Site where the Redcoats routed the Patriots. We did not want to travel to one of our country’s worst home defeats, so we didn’t.

Why did we come here, the place where English General Cornwallis and his men camped that winter? Well, somehow, the Site finagled a National Parks Passport Stamp and we are inveterate collectors. Imagine our disappointment and boiled-up anger when we arrived to see a sign on the bookstore door reading, “Back in One Hour”.

We waited and walked through the “Revolutionary War-era buildings” that were younger than us, having been built in 1977. Most were in various stages of disrepair, despite their relative youthfulness. One actually included a surly looking mannequin slumped over a tavern table, mug in hand, a disturbing image indeed.

Then, out of nowhere, two things arrived at the Site: a torrential downpour and a busload full of middle-aged male history tourists. They huddled at the closed book store’s entrance while we walked through the rain and took pictures. Eventually, a worker was summoned, she open the bookstore to a locust-like descent from the travelers, we got our stamp and left.

BEAUTY (3/10)
CROWDS (3/10)
COSTS (2/5)
FUN (2/10)

TOTAL 26/80


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Sullivan’s Island, S.C.
Visited: October 20, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 264 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Coastal defense fort that saw continuous military use for nearly two centuries, including major battles in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Red bricks replaced the namesakes of Fort Moultrie’s Palmetto Fort in the early 1800s. Low walls encircle a grass courtyard and a large unattractive black battery. It is hard to focus your eyes on the Fort’s interior when the Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter create your horizon. Fort Moultrie NM offers a wonderful vantage point to view the busy waterway and skyline of the grand old city. Its flags, cannons and planted palmettos help frame the competing blues of the Harbor and the bright Carolina sky.

Confederate cannons fired the first shots of the Civil War from Fort Moultrie onto Fort Sumter. Nevertheless, Moultrie remains shrouded in a cloak of historical anonymity while Sumter is etched indelibly in our American consciousness.

Fort Moultrie was also site of a vital June 28, 1776 Revolutionary War battle which less than a week before our nation declared its independence from Great Britain. British Naval forces led by Commodore Peter Parker attempted to take the key city of Charleston but were repelled by forces commanded by Colonel William Moultrie.

Morning CoffeeCROWDS (6/10)
We encountered a much larger crowd at Fort Moultrie than expected. Dozens moved in and out of the Fort’s quirky nooks and narrow passageways discovering the long history of a coastal fort.

You need a car to get to Fort Moultrie NM, so if you have come to Charleston on a cruise ship, you are out of luck. The Fort is located on the west end of Sullivan’s Island at the narrowest entry point into Charleston Harbor.

From both downtown Charleston and Interstate 26, take U.S. Route 17 North. You will cross the dramatic Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. Once you reach the mainland take Coleman Blvd. (S.C. Route 703). Three miles later, Coleman Blvd. will bend and become Ben Sawyer Blvd but remain S.C. 703. You will be crossing marshlands on your way to the Island. Once you reach Sullivan’s Island, turn right onto Middle Street and take it to its end. You are there! Do not worry; there are plenty of signs.

Fort Moultrie’s bookstore spreads itself thin across four wars and several ethnic and cultural topics. Books on the Gullah, Seminoles and the Underground Railroad sit next to stories, songbooks and cookbooks from the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, which share the shelves with a biography of the Swamp Fox, Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and a few paperbacks about the War of 1812 and the Spanish War.

While a few titles do stand out, like the Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution, or Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War, the store’s variety doesn’t allow for much depth in any of the subject areas. If Fort Moultrie’s bookstore were a basketball team, it would need a better sixth man.

Strength with MowingCOSTS (3/5)
The Fort costs $3 per adult or $5 per family. If you have the National Parks Pass, entry is free.

A charming septuagenarian South Carolinian examined our National Parks pass, shared some knowledge about Charleston’s unique architecture (“We were saved by our own poverty; people were too poor to knock down the old houses and build new.”) and alerted us to the next showing of the film. This was the most interaction we had with any Site staff. We vaguely recall a Ranger but this gentleman volunteer introduced us to the Site and directed us on our way.

It would have been nice to have a Ranger across the street at the actual Fort to answer questions as they arose.

Fort Moultrie’s Visitor Center houses a small set of exhibits, the bookstore and theatre where the Site’s introductory film plays every 30 minutes. What a film it is.

Filmed entirely on location, Fort Moultrie’s video is a one-man tour de force. An actor named Michael Longfield dons several period costumes, different facial hair variations and at least eight different accents to guide viewers through the history of the Palmetto Fort. The audience sees the Fort’s construction, two reconstructions and finally the closing of its gates as a military post through the eyes of a common soldier.

FUN (6/10)
We entered the Fort still smiling from Mr Longfield’s valiant linguistic efforts. Most of the Site is open for exploration. Several rooms within the battery are furnished as offices and radio control centers circa 1940, complete with pin-up calendars and board games to occupy bored privates.

There is a pathway circling the exterior of the Fort and leading down to a small beach. As appealing as this stroll sounds, do not exit the Fort without applying adequate amounts of bug spray. We were fine within the perimeter but mosquitoes swarmed as soon as we neared the water.

Coastal DefenseWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
Fort Moultrie NM is one of the most military-focused units in the National Park System, a noteworthy distinction given the innumerable battlefields and war-related historic sites. Fort Moultrie spotlights the role of the soldier in every American conflict from the Revolutionary War to World War II as well as the soldier’s role in peacetime. We even recall a Park volunteer saluting paying customers.

The storied events of Fort Moultrie’s history are even downplayed in favor of highlighting the life of the average soldiers who fought there. Fort Moultrie soldier-centric learning experience contrasts sharply to the historic overview offered at its sister site Fort Sumter. In addition, the view offered at Moultrie is the closest you can get to Fort Sumter without taking the ferry. It worked for the Confederate cannons; it can work for you.

TOTAL 46/80

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near Concord, Calif.
Visited: June 18, 2005
NPS Site Visited: Not an Official Site
NPS Affiliate Site Visited: 10 of 26
NPS Website

Ghost Pier at Port ChicagoWHAT IS IT?
Site of a July 17, 1944 ammunitions explosion that blew up two ships parked side-by-side on a loading pier 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.

BEAUTY (4/10)
The Memorial consists of a small granite block commemorating the dedication. The names of those who died are etched in four table-top granite plaques that look out onto the remnants of the destroyed pier in the Carquinez Strait. You are looking out onto a watery graveyard. It is a chilling site. A mangled piece of metal sits near the plaques unmarked. The Ranger told us that it is a piece of one of the detonated ships. We are sure it has some stories to tell.

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.

The 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.

CROWDS (8/10)
The high security atmosphere of a working military base prevents you from driving to the Memorial. Instead, you drive to the base’s entrance, a Park Ranger picks you up in a minivan and drives you to the explosion site. We toured the Site with a retired African American man, his wife and daughter. He had served in the Navy. He was very familiar with the Port Chicago explosion. He and his family added a perspective and understanding to our visit that we would not have had without them.

An unexpected participant in our visit was an on-duty federal police officer. He trailed the NPS minivan in an SUV and watched us closely during our entire stay. We followed the NPS Ranger’s rules and kept our camera focused on only the Memorial.

<50 Years in the MakingEASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
Port Chicago N MEM is located on the still-active Concord Naval Weapons Station. Access is very limited. You must arrange your visit ahead of time with a National Parks Service Ranger. The phone number is (925) 838-0249. Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday. In addition, no civilians are allowed on the base while the Weapons Station is handling live ammunition. Our request took three weeks to process (because of live ammo) and we knew our tour was OKed only a day prior to our visit.

Parts of the base have been included on the most recent base closure list. Contrary to most communities, Concord is eager for the base to close; they want the prime real estate developed. Accessing the Memorial will be much easier once the base closes.

The Site has no bookstore.

COSTS (5/5)
Port Chicago N MEM must be visited via a guided Ranger tour. Both the tour and entry are free.

One wonderful and tireless woman is the only Ranger that gives the mandatory tours at both Port Chicago N MEM and the Eugene O’Neill Tao House. She is it at both places. Nonetheless, five tourists to one Ranger was not a bad ratio.

Our Ranger-led tour was terrific, just as educational, thought provoking, and in-depth as an intensive graduate school level class. Our Ranger Tour Guide had a tangible passion to teach about the events at Port Chicago. She brought additional reading materials, pictures and histories into the minivan for us to peruse post-tour. Her tour illuminated an episode in American history that we knew nothing about despite not having what most Park sites enjoy: a Museum or even an official Parks Pamphlet.

FUN (5/10)
Port Chicago N MEM offers no easy answers. Questions of racism, mutiny during wartime, segregation and the Navy’s indifference are hard to address and fully comprehend when you are staring at a place where hundreds died. It is even harder to discern any truths because the Port Chicago explosion is such an unknown historical event. Our visit was not fun but it was very effective at stirring other emotions. We were disturbed, moved, angered, sympathetic and confused.

The only definitive conclusion we came to was that it should have never taken 50 years for the United States to memorialize the brave 300+ seamen who gave their lives to our country at Port Chicago.

Visiting the Port Chicago N MEM is difficult logistically and emotionally, but the men who died here should not remain forgotten. If you live nearby, a weekend visit makes for a powerful educational experience and is recommended.

TOTAL 46/80

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 24, 2004
NPS Park Site: Not an NPS Site
Local Website

The Pennsy CrewWHAT IS IT?
Brand new museum (opened July 4, 2003) dedicated to an explanation and education of the United States through its founding document, the Constitution.

BEAUTY (5/10)
A sleek white modern building, with part of the Constitution’s Preamble etched on the outside, the Center itself is more aesthetically appealing than the boxy brick Visitor Center across the street, but not appealing enough to merit much more than a five.

One could argue that the Constitution of the United States is the piece of paper that has held our country together for over 200 years. It deserves the honor and recognition bestowed upon it by this Center, which is independent of the National Parks Service.

CROWDS (7/10)
When we arrived late in the afternoon, we were the youngest people in the audience but I’m sure school groups and student tours packed the place before 3 p.m. There was ample room in the amphitheater, but we did have to wait our turn to get to some of the popular interactive displays.

Located right behind the ugly Visitor Center and lacking the security hassle, the Constitution Center by comparison, is quite accessible. The building is new so it is accessible to individuals with disabilities, more so than other sites in the area. Parking could be a problem.

The First Lady bobble head dolls on prominent display get a big thumbs up. Also a large selection of books and other Constitution memorabilia. What better way to celebrate our nation’s core document than with a shot glass?

Center ExteriorCOSTS (3/5)
The multimedia presentation which is the showcase of the Center cost $6.00 for adults. If you purchased over $100 at the Bookstore, you were given a free admission to the show. Since we took the bus, we don’t know what costs were involved for parking.

The site is independent of the National Parks Service so there are no NPS Rangers. When we entered early in the morning to get a basic idea about times and costs, there were several helpful staff at the Information Desk who supplied us with the maps we used for the rest of the day and gave us suggestions for other area attractions we might like to see while we waited for our turn to see Independence Hall. However, when we went later in the afternoon, few staff were present, other than the large gentleman who ushered us out of the amphitheater and pointed us in the direction of the interactive displays.

No doubt about it, the multimedia presentation with an actor delivering a monologue surrounded by images and film projected on the walls, floor and later a hexagonal screen which drops from the ceiling and engulfs him is impressive. It is Hollywood. We can’t stop thinking about how much it must have cost to put together this sleek production. That being said, it was effective and we were moved.

The interactive displays were not lacking in historical content and often went deeper than a surface summary. The Constitution Center does not shy away from the subject of slavery and its omission in the founding fathers’ document and contains displays where visitors can voice their opinions about current Constitutional questions, such as gay marriage and whether a foreign citizen should be able to become president of the United States, by way of Post It-notes.

Ben Franklin. What a Guy.FUN (8/10)
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Like we said, we were the youngest two people in the building when we went and everyone was having a good time – pressing buttons and touch sensitive computer screens, voting for the best president of all time, trying on Supreme Court Justice Robes and swearing themselves in as president of the United States. Kids will have a blast. We did.

Every person we met this week, when told we were going to Philadelphia, strongly recommended the Constitution Center to us. Above and beyond all other attractions and sites, this was the first place that came to their minds. The Constitution Center lived up to our expectations and kept us entertained and informed even after a very long and tiring morning.

TOTAL 59/80

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