Posts Tagged ‘history’

Waco, Texas

Waco, Texas, is home to many places of significant historical importance. For starters there’s the Dr Pepper Museum. And then there’s. . . well. . . Okay, so there isn’t much. But there is a bridge! Karen discovered it in the guidebook.

The Waco Suspension Bridge, the first bridge across the Brazos River, opened on January 7, 1870. At 475 feet, it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world. The steel and cables came from New York’s John A. Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. (Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began four days before the Waco Suspension Bridge opened.)

Some say the Waco bridge was the model or inspiration for the Brooklyn Bridge, but I just don’t see it.

Brooklyn Bridge with fireboat John J. Harvey, photo by Karen

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The most interesting thing about the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is the large number of old buildings that have been moved into the park from their original locations. These are not small wood shacks, but rather entire buildings of stone or brick. On one street, most of the buildings came from somewhere else. Much of this relocation is due to the efforts of WHALE (Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE), which has an impressive record of historic preservation.

One building which has not been moved is the New Bedford Custom House:


It was completed in 1836 and is the oldest continuously operating custom house in the United States. The New York Times had an interesting article about the custom house:


New Bedford is also home to the Seamen’s Bethel:


Herman Melville wrote about the bethel in chapter VII of Moby Dick:

In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman’s Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot.

He also described the cenotaphs (from the Greek for empty tomb) that adorn the bethel’s walls. Here’s one:


Melville wrote of the chapel’s pulpit:

Its panelled front was in the likeness of a ship’s bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on a projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship’s fiddle-headed beak.

Here’s how Rockwell Kent illustrated it:


And here’s Orson Welles preaching from the pulpit in the 1956 movie:


The only problem was that the real Seamen’s Bethel did not have a pulpit like that—at least not until throngs of tourists arrived there asking to see the pulpit. Now it has one:


New Bedford’s working waterfront is alive with all sorts of fishing boats. Fortunately for us we were there on a Sunday—there was not much work happening, but there were tons of boats at the docks:



There was also a most-interesting fountain of a Greek god standing atop all sorts of sea creatures:


New Bedford is also home to the schooner Ernestina, ex-Effie M. Morrisey. For some reason there are no booms or gaffs on the masts of this 115-year-old boat (perhaps due to current restoration work?), so this is the most nautical shot I could get:


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Today Karen, the kids, and I along with our friends Elisa and Jon took a tour of Bannerman’s Island. Also known as Pollepel Island, it was bought by Francis Bannerman VI in 1900. Here he built an arsenal to house his inventory of military surplus and also a residence for his family. Last winter I took some pictures of the island and its ruins, and we passed by on our trip up the river in July, but this was the first time we actually set foot on the island.

The coolest thing about the tour was that we had to wear hard hats:


This warning sign was also cool, if a little scary:


Bannerman was not an architect, but he was rich, so he designed the castle himself, taking design elements from various castles he had seen:



He also invented a coat-of-arms for himself and a Latin motto, which used to appear over the entry:


Bannerman was fond of carving words in cement. These are the steps that lead down to Wee Bay on the south side of the island:


Also on the south side are the ruins of the Bannerman family residence:


This tower:


reminds me of this painting:


The image carved here refers to the story (probably false) that Bannerman told about how his ancestor carried the banner of Scotland back in the days of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and was called the “banner man.” Hence the name.


Here’s one last view of the arsenal as we boarded the boat back to Beacon:


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Lest we stray too far from the nautical theme of this blog, here are a couple of pictures of the Mayflower II, which sailed from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1957.


Here’s a close-up of one of the blocks:


This is the shallop, used for coastal exploration and for going ashore:


Then we returned to Plimoth Plantation. There were a few more villagers about and a lot more visitors. Having spent the entire previous day in the company of the villagers, we now felt completely at home. The kids immediately ran off to find the Cookes so they could say hello.

We were also treated to a demonstration of matchlock musketry (or an “exercise of the weapons”). Before firing the muskets, the village militia prayed:


They then marched down to the bottom of the village and discharged their weapons:


Click picture to see the muskets fire

There are not many children role players in the 1627 village, but we were fortunate to find Peregrin White (born on the Mayflower shortly after arriving). Here he is jumping over Y and P in a game of leapfrog:


Like the adult role players, Peregrin did an amazing job. When another young visitor pointed out a bee, Peregrin replied, “That’s not a bee. It’s a humble bee.” It was great to see my kids running all over the village with him as if they lived there too. It’s not every day they get to play “seek and hide” with a boy from the 17th century.

Karen and I spent much of the afternoon chatting once again with Hester Cooke. Our intention had been to visit the village for a short while, but we ended up spending the entire day there again. We left as they were closing the gates, and it felt like we were leaving friends behind. They had to shoo us out, as they did the day before:


I realized just how effective the visits had been when I turned to my daughter in the gift shop and asked if she’d picked out a magnet yet. She answered, without any hesitation, “Nay. I have not.”

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Plimoth Plantation

This is a quick post from Plymouth, Massachusetts, simply to say that we had an absolutely amazing experience at Plimoth Plantation. I had thoroughly read their Web site, and thought I was prepared, but the actual experience was far beyond what I was expecting. It starts with a short video orientation, followed by a visit to the Wampanoag homesite, where Native People in traditional clothing talk about what it would have been like for their people in the early 1600s.

After a short walk along a nature trail, we arrived at the gates to the 1627 English village. Here, role players in period clothing speak and act as if it were 1627. They are so well-prepared that we felt like we were intruders in their homes. The best way to experience the re-created village is to walk into people’s homes and ask questions. It was so fascinating that we spent nearly five hours there, and we’re going back tomorrow.

Here are a few scenes.

Hester Cook

Hester Cooke

Elizabeth Hopkins (and Y, pounding corn into flour)

Elizabeth Hopkins (and Y, pounding corn into flour)

Stephen Hopkins

Stephen Hopkins

Closing time with villager, making sure all guests are gone

Closing time with villager, making sure all guests are gone

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We are currently touring New England with the kids. It’s a car trip, but we’re sticking close to the water. Today we arrived in Gloucester, MA. After reading The Last Fish Tale and stumbling upon some Gloucester blogs (see related post), I knew I had to come to Gloucester sooner rather than later. Joey of GoodMorningGloucester was incredibly helpful with advice on visiting his hometown. (His blog is a fantastic compilation of photos, videos, and news from America’s oldest fishing port.)

Upon our arrival in town, we made the obligatory stop at the Man at the Wheel, the Gloucester Fishermen’s Memorial.


From there we proceeded straight to Captain Joe & Sons to try to find Joey. He wasn’t hard to find:


When we got there, he was busy crating up lobsters and herring:


We chatted a bit, and he suggested some places to visit. So we headed off to the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center, but first we had lunch:


There is a great pier behind the heritage center, and we sat there for a while as I took billions of pictures. Fishing boats of all varieties were headed out to sea:



Finally, heeding the call of our stomachs, we left the pier and headed for dinner, which we ate at Halibut Point, located in the building where Howard Blackburn had his inn.

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Tonight Karen and I saw the play The Report of My Death, a one-person show starring Michael Graves and written and directed by Adam Klasfeld.

The play itself was witty and wise. But the remarkable thing about it was the venue. This production is the latest in the new tradition (is that an oxymoron?) of staging theatrical productions on old boats. The trend started when an opera was produced aboard the Mary Whalen (scroll down the linked page for details), and tonight’s performance took place on the deck of the steamship LILAC, a decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse tender moored at Pier 40 on the Hudson River.

The story of the play (or docudrama, as Klasfeld calls it) is Mark Twain traveling around the world by steamship and train, giving lectures to try to recoup his losses from a bad business deal. As such, it is highly appropriate to stage it on the deck of an old steamship. Here’s the set:

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Set of The Report of My Death

The gentle rocking of the boat, the breeze from the river, and the threat of rain all enhanced the experience. Also adding to the ambiance was the presence of Iggy, the ship’s cat:

photo 081209 003


Tugster has more on LILAC here. And Bowsprite shows off one of her amazing watercolors of the ship here.

The play runs for a few more days; follow this link to try to get tickets.

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