Driving through History: Visits to the USS Monitor, Smithsonian Air, Richmond, Gettysburg and Brawner’s Farm
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” ― William Faulkner,
William Faulkner famously struggled with the history of the South. Born and raised at a time when Civil War veterans still lived, he didn’t have to walk the battlefields at Gettysburg in order to be able to write his stirring piece on how those days in 1863 have never left us. But once the people of significant events have passed into that same history, no longer to tell their stories, we have to find other ways to touch the past.
Recently, I was made aware that the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia, the home of the restoration of the USS Monitor turret and other recovered artifacts, was giving tours of the facilities and the turret itself. See, the turret is kept in a tank filled with water the majority of the time, fresh water and a slight electrical current leech the accumulated salt from metal that spent 140 years on the bottom of the Atlantic. Of course, once I heard of the tours, I made plans, borrowed a car, and drove south on a Thursday afternoon.
The USS Monitor had a short lifespan, yet was a truly revolutionary ship. After careful perusal, I can actually recommend the Wikipedia article on her as a good source for her history during the Civil War and post recovery in 2002. I’ve read a lot about the Monitor during years of model building, general historical curiosity, and research for my New York Times pieces, so I was well versed in her past when I arrived at the museum on Friday morning. I was greeted by Hannah, who took me through the initial parts of the Monitor related exhibits, including a busted Dahlgren cannon fired from the CSS Virginia during the battle the day before her fight with the Monitor, and a full-sized partial depiction of the Virginia herself. Several preserved artifacts recovered from the Monitor’s wreck are displayed, the most impressive of which is the red signal lantern at the top of this entry. The red lantern, the distress signal the Monitor raised on New Years Eve in 1862, was the last thing anyone ever saw of her as she sank. 140 year later, it was also the first thing found of her wreck, spotted laying on the ocean floor, literally rolling in the sand, several hundred yards from Monitor herself. Continue Reading »
Writing, and any art, is a ritual. Show up at the same time every day, sit at your desk or stand in your studio. Keep showing up and your muse will show up as well, and all will be right with the world.
But what happens when you or your muse get bored with the same ol’?
This is the third year that Kristen and I have done the Reboot Camp in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, with Michael Andreula. We came here for the work out, and work out we do. Every morning we’re up with the sunrise and do a full hour on the beach, punching and kicking with a group of other morning warriors, working with hand and knee pads, round house kicking in the surf, yoga stretches in the sand. Breakfast and decompress immediately after it all, and then it’s 10 a.m. and I’m in a hammock on a rooftop deck with a view of the Pacific, writing.
Something about the workout clears my mind, a sort of meditation. Regular meditation has never Continue Reading »
I always say I’m going to shoot more photos and video when in Costa Rica, but I always get caught up in the working out (Kristen and I take part in the ReBoot Camp Retreats) and the other activities and forget to do much of anything else. I happened to have my camera the other morning as we were heading out, however, and caught this video of monkeys on the move.
Click the photo for the video.
Yesterday evening, August 28th, I sat on our deck in Hoboken, New Jersey, right before sunset. I watched the sun sink below the horizon and thought about what was kicking off down in Virginia, 150 years ago. The battle at Brawner Farm began just before sunset, at about 6 p.m. in 1862, but now with time zones and other factors, it was nearly 8 p.m. here by the time the sky had turned to a gradient of orange upwards to dark blue, and everyday objects replaced their hard lines with shadows.
Brawner Farm was the first battle for the Union unit known as The Iron Brigade, a unit I’ve developed a particular fondness for. They didn’t have that name 150 years ago at Brawner Farm, though, not yet. They’d earn that at the battle of South Mountain in less than a month. On August 28th, they were known as the Black Hats. The unit was made up of entirely “western” soldiers, men from Wisconsin and Indiana; the only brigade in the eastern theater to be made up so. In order to further distinguish them, their commander John Gibbon outfit them in the regular army uniform of tall black hats, long blue frock coats, and even dress leggings. Imagine going into battle wearing that.
The unit was formed in late 1861, Continue Reading »
When I was in the sixth grade and at a book fair, I chose a book based on its cover: a listing ship ablaze, black smoke in the sky, aircraft hurtling overhead. It intrigued me, to say the least. I didn’t realize it then, but I’d just selected my first book of many about WWII in the Pacific. That book wasn’t about Pearl Harbor, and I’ve never been a big student of that particular battle for several reasons, but I’ve always known the Arizona Memorial was one of the few places that I could “be where it happened” for a WWII naval battle. And so, for most of my adult life — and for a good chunk of my childhood — I’ve looked forward to visiting the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor.
We got to the memorial visitor’s center early, and even at 8 a.m., Continue Reading »
It’s been nearly a month now since Kristen and I returned from our Hawaiian Honeymoon. We are still in our post-Aloha depression. It gets better day by day, the freakishly-warm weather we’ve had on the East Coast helps a bit, but it’s still taking some adjustment.
I took several hundred photos during the trip, and while I posted quite a few while we were there, there are still too many to post (and almost too many to sort!). I’ve put up a page with a few dozen images that I picked for… well, I picked them for some reason.
We started our trip in Waikiki, because Continue Reading »
In a state-of-the-art museum and conservation lab in Newport News, Virginia, sit large tanks of fresh water that hold large rusting chunks of iron that are over 150 years old. 150 years isn’t a long time for some museum artifacts; in Manhattan one can visit the Metropolitan Museum and see Buddhist statues over 500 years old, then walk several yards down the hall and see mummies thousands of years old. But the significance of the rusted iron from USS Monitor that rests in The Mariner’s Museum in Virginia isn’t in its age; it’s in the revolution that it brought.
The battle between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia 150 years ago today is one of the few naval battles, Continue Reading »
I wouldn’t say being in Hawaii particularly reminded me of my Navy days, but there were triggers, prompts to my memory of how, once upon a time, I sailed in large gray aluminum and steel warships, not unlike those that were stationed nearby at Pearl Harbor. But it wasn’t the proximity of those warships that brought back my Navy days. It was the Fruit Loops.
I hadn’t had them in years, but at the breakfast buffet our first morning in Waikiki, there they were. In one of those tall clear glass cylinders that look like a gumball machine. You turn a knob and out comes the sweet, crispy goodness inside.
As I munched on my cereal and my wife gave me the “really, you’re eating that?” look, I was reminded Continue Reading »
When one first gets to Hawaii, you automatically ask “Where are the good beaches?” You are told two things: First, they all are good. Second, they all are open to everyone. There’s no such thing as a private beach in Hawaii (those socialists!)
I believe, though, that I have found the local’s secret for keeping the good beaches to themselves: keep them nearly impossible to get to. Sure, anyone can go to a resort and park in a parking lot and walk forty feet or so to crowded white seaside lots. But the true beaches, the ones that locals love and covet, are harder to come by. If you ask about a specific location and the response is that it’s a “little difficult” to get to, then that’s where you want to go.
Last Friday we went to Makalawana beach Continue Reading »