Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Travel Tuesday: USNA Museum

Thanks to generous grandparents, I’m currently on vacation with Mike and no kids. You are free to be jealous.

So one of the first things on our list of things to do was make a pilgrimage back to the school by the bay. When I was a midshipman, I volunteered in the museum in the restoration department. It sounds more impressive than it is, since probably half the time all I did was sit around and listen to the sea stories of some old fogeys. The curator’s area was literally crammed full of history- written, built, remembered, and that doesn’t even cover the museum itself. Or the stuff in the attic for that matter.

Recently, thanks to the navy updating the building and some generous grants from ship lovers and alumni, the entire museum is unrecognizable with the exception of its crown jewel, the ship collection. No longer is it all crammed in the basement with the first floor a semi-organized jumble of interesting stuff. Now the entire basement is dedicated to the restoration department, it’s open and modernized, the references are spread out in a way that makes them much easier to access… I could go on and on, because to me this was all a big deal, but neither that part nor the attic are open to the public, though there is a window by the gift shop you can look into the workshop through. If you are there at a good time (Saturday morning is probably the best) they will have the window open and you can talk to the people inside.

Then there’s the first and second floor- wow. Mike and I were blown away. The 2nd floor used to belong to the Naval Institute, where they had a modest library and a couple classrooms, now it’s the home of the Roger’s Ship Collection and the other sailing vessel models. Most of them are contemporary with the ship they represent, they were built as the ship itself was and often took just as long or longer to make. Usually they were presented to the owner of the vessel so he could brag about the fleet he owned. Some have panels that lift up or away so you can see inside.

Back when I was a mid, I recall them using fiber optic cameras to see some of the spaces within. The details are phenomenal. During one particular restoration we found a note pinned to the inner hull- a note no one had laid eyes on for nearly 200 years! So how much are they worth? Some of them as much as $2 million.

Less accurate, but perhaps even more impressive, is the bone collection, built by prisoners of the War of 1812. They answer the question: what do you do when cramped in a dark, damp space with nothing to do except whittle the soup bones from your watery rations?

The first floor is dedicated to the history of the navy in sort of a clock-wise wheel around a central hub which focuses on the Naval Academy itself. We could have spent hours in there. New touch screens enable you to pick from a couple dozen naval battles from different eras and watch computer generated ships fight it out. If your eyes ever glazed over staring at a map with tiny ship shapes and arrows showing their movements, you will truly appreciate how the battles come alive. Pearl Harbor has its own huge display with lights and maps and sound effects.

And, tucked over in the World War I area so it also edges the history of USNA center, is my baby. In my time I had worked on a couple minor (and not very valuable) restorations, until the curator took me up into the attic to see if I could find a project of my own. In a corner I came across a very dusty, thickly painted, somewhat broken model of a WWI submarine chaser, which I figured I couldn’t do that much more damage to. So in the next couple years, with much help and guidance, I cleaned her up, made her much more accurate to scale, and did lots of research on her type of ship. They turned out to have not only some amazing stories of their own, but after their war time, many were retired to the Naval Academy as training tools for the midshipmen- precursors to the yard patrol craft in use now and when I was there. So it turned out to have significant meaning to the museum in two ways, enabling me to have a small slice of immortality at my old haunting ground.

So if you are in the Baltimore or DC area, take a swing over to Annapolis, it’s a place of great beauty and history- both the town and the yard. If you take a guided tour, know half of what they tell you is not really that impressive (what college these days doesn’t have their own post office/zip code?) and the rest of it is euphemized or exaggerated (IHTFP does not stand for “I have truly found paradise”). Allot a couple hours for the museum (admission is free!) and pay a visit to John Paul Jones’ crypt under the chapel- it takes a church to hold him down, two Marines to keep him quiet, and he still spends all his time in a pickle.

You have my personal permission to get your picture taken by or with any random midshipman passing by, but do them a favor and don’t pick one that looks like he/she is in a hurry.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Travelin' Tuesday: The Importance of Carseats

So I'm officially declaring Tuesdays on this blog will be about traveling, because I have a backlog of places to tell you about, and here's hoping it is enough to get me to start going through them! To kick this off, I want to start with a public service announcement about seatbelts and carseats since it is National Child Passenger Safety Week.

While I was growing up, seatbelts were practically an obsession in our household because my grandfather died in a slow-speed wreck he could have walked away from had he been wearing even just a lap-belt. My dad was only 11 at the time. Needless to say, it changed his whole life.

For a good portion of my childhood, my dad worked as a police officer and/or a fireman, and he brought home countless gruesome tales of accident scenes where people hadn't worn their seatbelts. Some of them would be loaded into ambulances, moaning that they or their children didn't like to be belted because it was too confining. Well, now the lucky ones are just confined to wheelchairs. I took a fair amount of ribbing in high school and college because I refused to ride or drive a car unless everyone was belted, because anyone not tied down becomes a projectile.

For obvious reasons I am still obsessive now with my own kids. Not that they appreciate it at the present time.

Today I was contacted by the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and asked to post a link to their safety blog, and I said I'd be honored to do my part to spread the word about this very important issue. It's written by Dr Arlene Greenspan and called Mom, why do I still have to sit in this “baby” car seat? which I know is a question we've all heard. That and "Honey, do they really need to still be in these boosters?" There's lots of good information plus links to guidelines and where you can go for National Seat Check Day on Saturday, September 25.

If you have a blog of your own, please spread the word and the link. You may not have a huge audience, but if you end up saving just one child, it's more than worth it.

Till next Tuesday, Safe Travels.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston, SC

On our trip with Dad, our first stop was Ft Sumter in Charleston Harbor. To visit you have to take a hour-long ferry either from Liberty Square, which is downtown, or Patriot's Point. They recommend buying tickets ahead, and we got ours online for about $50 for all seven of us. That was the only admission/fees we had to pay.

Ft Sumter is more than just the site of the beginning of the Civil War; it and others have guarded Charleston Harbor since the 1700s. It completely occupies a tiny island right at the harbor's narrow mouth. Once there, you can see how its location was so vital to the security of one of America's first cities. In fact, it was an active coastal defense through World War II.
As for its most well known footnote in history, when South Carolina made the decision to secede from the Union, the Federal Army still occupied the city's defenses, and while the army's loyalty was to the north, the town had become their home. They never received instructions to fire on the town, and it is doubtful they would have carried out orders if they had. The city soon decided to force the issue and fired on the fortress until it surrendered, still unwilling to fight back. It became a symbol to both sides for the next 5 years of conflict, and still embodies gallantry or rebellion for many, depending whose side you are on. Union forces eventually recaptured it, but not without tremendous effort. However, the fort is so well built and so far from its attackers that very few casualties were suffered.
The cannon ports have all been sealed for safety, and there's a few places you can't walk, but more than enough to explore. Here you can see the metal arches that were the tracks the cannon were angled on. If you look closely at them, you can see the degrees marked.
If you want to touch a piece of history, you can find several places where projectiles are embedded in the walls from the many bombardments the fort endured.
When you are tired of the weather (which is tempered or exacerbated by a near constant ocean wind), you can meander through the air conditioned museum, It's small, but packed full of history. Unfortunately, my little ones didn't appreciate it much, which made it harder for me to as well.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cape Henry Light House, Virginia

Things are crazy around here, and I'm finding it difficult to carve out much time for blogging about our recent travels. So I'll start with the quickest and easiest.

While hanging out in the Hampton Roads area for a week, I took the kids on the short drive over to the Cape Henry Lighthouses. They are located within Fort Story, which I think is currently annexed to the Little Creek Amphibious base, but they are open to the general public. You just have to submit to a full party ID check (driver's licenses) and a thorough vehicle search. Or you can hitch a ride with a friend who has a military ID and they'll wave you in.

Either way, you head straight in from the gate and you can't really miss them. Only the old one can be toured as the new one is still a functioning lighthouse. Hours are 10-4 November to 15 March, and 10-5 from 16 March- October, closed Thanksgiving, and Christmas and New Year's Eves and Days. Admission is $2 per child under 12 and $4 per adult, but you can't even go to the base of it unless you are 42" tall due to liability with the stairs. Entry is through a small gift shop building and after paying you go through a door and gate and up a butt-load of stairs just to get to the base of the structure. Hand carried/slung infants and strollers are not allowed.

Unfortunately one member of our party (Miriam) was a few inches shy of the height requirement, and being the only adult, there was no way I could leave her behind. Fortunately, one of the staff members volunteered to escort Patrick and Sam up, so the trip wasn't a total loss. Nicholas especially was devastated (and there was NO WAY I would burden that guy with the red-headed psycho), but I pacified him by allowing him and his sisters to pick something from the gift shop. He picked a mini statue of the new lighthouse which he slept with for the next week. Natalie chose a North American Lighthouses coloring book, and Miriam went with a stuffed dolphin. All together they cost $13 plus $4 for the boys' admission. A very decent price for an afternoon's entertainment for a large family.
Once in the lighthouse itself, you have another bazillion spiral stairs in a brick sweat house, and then a vertical ladder to the very top. But the effort is worth it: You get a panoramic view of the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. I know all this because went several years ago when Natalie was fresh out of the oven, and they crazily allowed hand carried infants at the time. I'd share those pictures, but the sweaty one week post-partem shots are not complementary. I also can't seem to locate them.
The lighthouse itself is one of the original ones commissioned by President George Washington, he even visited it. You can find its history and other visiting info here. The new lighthouse was built in 1881, which gives it a gravitas of its own.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Space Shuttle Atlantis

I took the kids out of school early so we could go see the shuttle launch. I figure the inspiring sight of the human race's greatest technological acheivement is worth seeing up close. And while you can see it from our house on a clear day, it's not very impressive looking except for how fast it goes. We saw a night launch last year, and it was amazingly bright. However you can't see much except for a white light.

So we headed south before lunch and arrived in plenty of time to hit Wendy's for frosties before wandering to a patch of grass near the intracoastal waterway about 6 miles due west of the launch pads. The kids behaved great, especially considering how much traffic there was and how many side streets we crossed, not to mention US-1.

T-5 minutes...

For some reason I can't get my video of the launch to load. I'll try with a second entry later.