Friends Playing Tourists: Exploring Baltimore (Part 3)

Saturday found us turning our sights toward Baltimore, Maryland’s largest (and perhaps best known) city. After furthering the world championship of Uno and consuming significant quantities of cranberry juice (with just the slightest hint of Cape Codder fixings), our morning got started around 10. Our quest for the day included Fort McHenry, the Zappa bust and the Baltimore Basilica.

This year, Maryland will be celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 (as evidenced by our current car tags as much as anything else). Following the Battle of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key observed the Flag (15 stars and 15 stripes at the time) being flown over Fort McHenry from his vantage point in Baltimore Harbor and penned the words to The Defence of Fort McHenry which would become our Star Spangled Banner. An interesting piece of info is that the tune was that of an old drinking song.


The original tune was “To Anacreon in Heaven,” an English drinking song written by John Stafford Smith with words by Ralph Tomlinson, Esq.  According to tradition it was first “sung at the Crown Anchor Tavern in the Strand, circa 1780.” Tomlinson was president of the Anacreontic Society, a gentlemen’s club popular with upscale London boozers. Anacreon (563-478 B.C.) was a Greek poet known for his songs of wine and women.

Copyrights were a different issue in those days.

Key was a Washington lawyer. He was onboard a British truce ship attempting to negotiate the release of a civilian friend of his who had been captured. While onboard, Key’s delegation learned of plans to launch the attack on Baltimore. He was detained onboard to protect the plans. Thus he witnessed the dawn’s breaking from the ship and saw the over-sized American flag which was raised at first light.

The Americans were under the command of Brevet Lt. Col. George Armistead and  did suffer casualties, amounting to four killed and 24 wounded.

The War of 1812 came about largely because of an ongoing tussle between the French and the English for control of the seas. The very young United States wasn’t really a player in that tussle but suffered on-going collateral damage as the English and French were constantly trying to disrupt the others’ supply lines. Along the way, American sailors were conscripted into service on foreign-flagged ships. Eventually, having had enough, President James Madison requested a declaration of war against the British.

Other events in the War that may stand out in your mind include the Battle of New Orleans (In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the Mighty Mississipp’, remember Johnny Horton?) and the burning of Washington by the British and moving of the capital to Brookeville Maryland for the day.  The Americans had designs on removing the British from Canada as well but that wasn’t to be.

Our tour guide was an historian with the National Park Service. It was obvious that the man enjoyed his job! Our tour included the facts and enough drama and humor to make his presentation particularly memorable.

The fort is positioned at the mouth of the Baltimore Harbor at the convergence of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay.  Although the count of hits vs. misses show that much of the “rockets’ red glare” was visual effects. Cannon fire from the fort was designed to skip across the water and penetrate the hull near the waterline where the red hot cannonball was likely to start a fire and lead to the loss of the ship.

The fort is of the five-pointed star design with a dry moat around it which could be used as cover by musket men to fend off a land attack should an invading naval attack make it to shore. The fort was active until 1925 when it became a National Park. In 1939, it was designated a National Monument and Historic Shrine. It was also used as a Coast Guard base during World War II.

The Fort contains several buildings which served as officer and enlisted quarters, a brig and an ammunition store. Exhibits depict these uses as well as artifacts from the fort’s life.

The flagpole which supports the flag is two-pieces, much as a ship’s mast would be. This was apparently fairly common design for forts of this era. There was also an exhibit showing how the flagpole is anchored and a display of the original flagpole anchor.

There is a newly-constructed visitor center which contains the obligatory gift shop and a series of exhibits on the War of 1812 and the Star Spangled Banner. The audio-visual presentation is entertaining and has a quite dramatic ending with a view of the soaring and (on the day we were there) brightly sunlit view.

We made the requisite stop at the Gift Shop both to do our part to support the operations plus we needed to get a few things (postcard, shotglasses and a DVD featuring history and our favorite Park historian).

  A big commemorative celebration with tall sailing ships and fireworks and enough pomp and circumstance to be worthy of the occasion is planned to begin June 18, 2012.  Sounds like quite the party.

All this fresh air and exercise of climbing around the fort worked up our appetites. The suggestion was put forward to find some lunch, or considering the hour, maybe an early dinner and noodles were requested for the menu. Sounds like its time to find Baltimore’s Little Italy!

Bridge construction had the most direct route blocked so we wound our way back out to 95 and then on to circle the Inner Harbor.

  We headed to Little Italy with no particular restaurant in mind (as we’d never been there before) and cruised until we found a parking spot on High Street, conveniently in front of the door at Amicci’s. After perusing the choices, we decided that Amicci’s to be our choice.

Seated quickly, we ordered drinks and calimari as an appetizer. Our dinner choices included pasta dishes including mussels and chicken marsala. All our choices were tasty, served promptly and attractively. Amicci’s was a good choice. Happenstance was in our favor.

By the time we had finished our meal, it was nearing dark so we continued on to find the bust of Frank Zappa.

The bust of Frank Zappa was a gift to the city of Baltimore to honor a native son and matches another bust in Vilnius Lithuania. It was of particular interest to Steve as he had seen the matching bust during his travels in Lithuania. Finding it is a bit more of a trick. We were aware it was outside the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. There are at least 3 Enoch Pratt libraries in Baltimore! It seems Enoch Pratt was a friend of Andrew Carnegie and also a successful businessman and philanthropist. The Zappa bust is located at the Southeast Anchor Branch on Eastern Avenue and was celebrated by the city with Frank Zappa Day when it was unveiled on September 19, 2010.

This picture is getting shared as I'm trying to figure exactly what happened. A slow shutter speed accounts for the light trails but the center shows a relatively clear face of the bronze Zappa bust.

We still had hoped to make one more site in travels around Baltimore but we weren’t sure we had time to make it. America’s First Basilica is in Baltimore. It usually closes at 6:00 and we were past that BUT on Saturday evening, the church is open for Evening Mass. Mass brings parishioners and parking was at a premium so we dropped Steve and Russ by the door and went to circle the block. Second time around we found a spot as Mass was letting out.

It’s a beautiful building and the night lighting shows it off dramatically. The Baltimore Basilica, built from 1806-1821, was closed from April 2004 until November 2006, for a major restoration to return the church to its original design, as envisioned by America’s first bishop, John Carroll, and as planned by renowned architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. The Basilica reopened with much fanfare and celebration, just in time to commemorate her 200th Anniversary. Within the first year of reopening, over 200,000 visitors were welcomed from all over the world, to walk through history, rejoice in faith, and admire the Basilica’s stunning architecture and artwork. The Basilica is also one of Baltimore’s beloved cultural institutions, offering educational tours daily, as well as hosting uplifting concerts and informative lectures.

It had been a full day and the Uno cards were calling. We drove past Camden Yards and back to Germantown for some more serious socializing.




Friends Playing Tourists in DC: A Tribute to Our Military Heroes (Part 2.2)

From the Declaration monument, we made our way to one of the newer and more well-known memorials, the World War II Memorial. It is both striking in its design (even with the water drained for the cold weather as it is now) and awe-inspiring in its sobriety. It is also very popular at all times of year.

The World War II Memorial honors the service of sixteen million members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, the support of countless millions on the home front, and the ultimate sacrifice of 405,399 Americans.  On May 29, 2004, a four-day “grand reunion” of veterans on the National Mall culminated in the dedication of this tribute to the legacy of “The Greatest Generation.” See more at the official website.

It is situated between the Washington and Lincoln adjacent to the Reflecting Pool. This was the first time that Steve and Russ had been to see it.

The Memorial includes granite columns for each of the states, districts and territories that sent their sons and daughters to fight.

Connecting the granite columns are bronze ropes just as the country was bound together in a common purpose. (More than a few lament the passing of these binds while rejoicing that their cause has ended.)

At opposite ends of the circle are soaring pavilions to signify the two major fronts of the war, the Atlantic (sea, land and air)  and the Pacific (sea, land and air).In the center of the circle are pools of water (during normally warmer months). At various spots are bronze bas-reliefs and engraved granite recalling significant events or thoughts of the period.One of my favorite parts of this Memorial is the wall of over 4,000 gold stars commemorating those who were casualties or missing after the war. (We didn’t get a picture of them.)

Our next stop was the Korean War Veterans Memorial, located southeast of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. The Memorial commemorates the many who died (USA 54,246 United Nations 628,833), went missing (USA 8,177 UN 470,267), captured (USA 7,140 UN 92,970), and wounded (USA 103,284 UN 1,064,453) for a country of people they never knew.

The Memorial contains 19 larger-than-life figures are made from stainless steel and are depicted marching next to a wall of polished granite where a multitude of faces look on. There is something haunting in the sculpture as well as the faces etched and reflections. The visit to the Korean Veterans Memorial was a first for the guys.

Our next stop was the Iwo Jima Memorial.

“The United States Marine Corps War Memorial stands as a symbol of this grateful nation’s esteem for the honored dead of the U.S. Marine Corps. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in the defense of the United States since 1775. ” You can read more about the Memorial at the official website.

The Pentagon September 11 Memorial opened on September 11, 2008 to honor the memory of the 184 people who died in the attack there on September 11, 2001 both on the ground and onboard the airplane.

The Memorial is located on the rounds of the Pentagon complex and not easily reached. The options include taking the Yellow or Blue Line Metro to Pentagon Station and then walking around to the opposite side of the complex or driving and parking on the opposite side of I-395 (although 5 handicap parking spaces are available next to the Memorial). There is also a walking tunnel under 395 from near the Pentagon City Mall. I believe that there is also a drop off for tour buses nearby so the “difficulty” and long walk is only if you’re traveling on your own.

For each person who died there, there is a bench rising from the ground on one end and suspended in the air on the other. Below each bench is a pool of moving water. On the end of the bench, the name of the person is engraved. You can tell whether the person was inside the Pentagon or onboard the airplane from which end of the bench with their name is anchored in the earth and which end is elevated. If the anchored end is closer to the building, they were inside the Pentagon. If the anchored end is away from the building, they were onboard the airplane.

The benches are arranged based on the year of birth of the person. The younger children onboard the airplane are closer to the entrance. Thankfully, there are also fewer of them in that area. If more than one member of a family died during the attack, family names are listed in the reflecting pool under the bench, in addition to the separate benches that have been created for each individual. A wall along the edge of the Memorial begins at a height of 3 inches and rises to a height of 71 inches, the ages of the youngest and oldest victim of the attack, and approximately 85 paperbark maple trees are planted on the memorial grounds.

Friends Playing Tourists in DC (Part 2.1)

Friday morning rolled around and not too early after a full night of Uno and Cape Codders but we were out and about after breakfast. Our goal for the day was the National Mall in DC. Since our last friends’ visit, there were a couple of new Monuments and Memorials as well as several we had never visited. One thing about DC is that there is always something else to see and do.

Our first stop was to be the new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Mall adjacent to the Tidal Basin and the FDR Memorial and in line between the Jefferson Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. We had visited before and the monument is truly impressive and somewhat emotional for me, at least. There was a young woman with her cameraman there from the Voice of America (VOA) broadcasters. She was interviewing visitors and asking folks to share their opinions and impressions of the man who is recognized largely for his work and stance on civil rights and his position on peace, including voicing objections to the Vietnam War.

This visit, we chose to participate in the Park Rangers tour/talk. He spoke a bit about King himself and also offered some information about the monument itself and some of the controversy that accompanies it.

The main rocks are made of pink shrimp granite, which we had never heard of before. First, it’s less pink than pink granite and was imported from China because pink shrimp granite is not available in this country. The carving of the likeness was also performed in China as

the talent for this size statue is no longer readily available in the US.

There is also some controversy regarding the inscription on on one side of the large statue. The inscription appears as “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” In context, King said “If I was anything, I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The concern is that the shorter quote reflects an egotistical attitude that King didn’t have.

The NPS store at the monument was closed for the day due to an upgrade of the computer software but we did get to peek in the window to see that the dedication engraving still shows the August 28, 2012 date. The dedication ceremonies were re-scheduled for October due to Hurricane Irene passing through the area.

We crossed the street and visited one of the oft-overlooked memorial on the Mall, the District of Columbia World War One Memorial. This commemorates those residents of the District who gave their lives in WWI. It’s made of white marble. Recently it gained attention on the floors of Congress when DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton spoke in favor of preserving its original purpose rather than expanding its role to include others from WWI. One surprise (especially for late January) was blooming cherry trees! It’s been a mild winter but really!Daughter Ryan has been temping downtown lately and we had decided to have her join us for lunch. As we started heading that way, we passed by the Washington Monument. In truth, there aren’t many places you can go where you don’t see the Washington Monument. It’s temporarily closed though.

We walked over to retrieve her from the secret confines of her latest assignment and then went to the Food Court at National Place. Steve and Russ got lunch from Five Guys, Betty and Keith chose Moe’s and Ryan got sushi. Nice lunch where everyone got to choose something different and we managed to meet the time constraints to get Ryan back to work on time and we continued on our touring after taking a little time to check out the Old Post Office building, Ben Franklin and Steve got his picture taken with the sign for the folks who did his most recent audit. (Just to be clear, that seemed to go well although he was waiting on a final disposition on some of his deductions.)

We walked along Constitution Avenue and took a break at 14th Street and then continued to the Ellipse where we saw the Monument to the 2nd Infantry Division. Somehow that one hadn’t shown up in our travels or conversation before.

We crossed over to the Lockkeeper’s House for the old Washington City Canal at the corner of 16th and Constitution.

Speaking of things we’ve not seen nor heard mentioned, did you know there is a Monument to the signers of the Declaration of Independence?

It’s located along Constitution across from 18th and between the Lockkeeper’s House and the Vietnam Memorial.

We continued on the Mall but that’s subject for another post.

Former Sailors? Old Sailors? Long-time Friends: Playing tourists (Part 1)

The year was 19…well, it was some time ago. Russ, Steve and Keith were roommates and attending the same Navy school in the wilds of the Adirondacks when we all met Betty who was also a student at the same school at the same time. As you know, Betty and Keith eventually married and we’ve more or less stayed in touch or maybe gotten back in touch. On a pretty regular basis, the four of us get together to play tourist and catch up. It’s a great time. While I’ll not share the details of the conversations, Happy-Tracks is going to offer you the chance to tag along as we play tourist right here in the DC and Baltimore areas.

We’ll start on Thursday. Steve arrives via airplane at BWI-Thurgood Marshall. We used the occasion to conduct a little test of Maryland’s newish InterCounty Connector toll road. The results are in. It takes about the same time to get from our house to/from BWI whether you take the toll road or Warfield Road to Clarksville. By the way, a similar comparison test showed about the same time to get to/from work whether using the toll ICC or the non-toll Beltway. Oh well.

As Steve’s plane arrived in early afternoon, we stopped for lunch. At his request, we stopped at ChickFilA in Germantown.

On to the house. Russ arrived and we had a traditional eastern Eurpoean meal of sausage, chops, mushrooms and potatoes served with homemade mead (honeywine) which had been brewed by Ryan. Good hearty meal with good friends. After dinner, we moved on to Cape Codders and the Championship of Uno. The evening passed with good conversations until the early hours.


Dr. Martin Luther King and the Dreams

On the holiday in 2012 that commemorates his life, the news cycle is consumed by the election process and pointing fingers at “those people” who are responsible for the failings in our Government. It should go without saying that the thrust of these remarks are that “we” are doing everything we can and “they” are doing everything possible to prevent us accomplishing good.

To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Flashback, if you will, to September 24, 2011, Betty and Keith visited the recently-opened memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King on the National Mall in Washington, DC. We are going to share some pictures we took that day in September of the Memorial. It should be on your list of places to visit. Come with an open mind and with sufficient time to “soak” in the dreams of Dr. King.

In these sour, pessimistic times, it is important to remember the great lesson of King’s remarkable life: Impossible dreams can come true.
This is not a partisan message; King was every bit as tough on Democrats as Republicans. His activism even transcended ideology. His call for social justice and his opposition to the Vietnam War were rightly seen as liberal, but his insistence on the primacy of faith and family was deeply conservative.

Eugene Robinson

Dedication Plague

The dedication date reflects the original planned date. The arrival of Hurricane Irene postponed the dedication until October 16, 2011.

 Martin Luther King, Jr.
(January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)

May he rest in peace. May his dreams keep good men and good women from resting too comfortably too soon.

Halloween at the Beach: Part 5 – Have to head home

Although its been great fun, it must come to an end.

Monday morning we woke up relatively early and were checked out and on the move about 9:00. We stopped in Kill Devil Hills to fill the truck. The Shell station had an interesting layout. There were 6 or 8 pumps on 3 or 4 parallel islands. Traffic was so that everyone came in from the same side of the corner and then went to the islands. Cash or credit didn’t matter, just pump and go. With the traffic pattern, everyone went out by passing the cashier sitting in a drive up booth. The lines were orderly and not having to prepay cut the lines and time to accomplish your business and move along.

We decided to follow the GPS to see what way they would send us around or through Norfolk this time. The routing got us off the 168 toll road expressway and on a surface street that took us into Virginia Beach via the Centerville Parkway. This was a new one to us. We got onto I64 a few miles before the Hampton tunnel.

Our next stop was lunch at Pierce’s Pitt BBQ in Lightfoot near Williamsburg. That’s a frequent stop for us as the food is good, the prices reasonable and the in and out relatively easy.

Although it threatened rain, it never hit us and we made good time to the Springfield interchange about 4:30. Traffic wasn’t as bad as we figured and the new configuration for the I66 interchange kept the backup limited to the right two lanes allowing us to continue on to slow at the Tyson’s Corner construction. With two of us, we were able to use the HOV lanes on I270 and made it home about 5:30 which was ahead of the trick or treaters.

This trip and the one in the spring are highlights for me and recharging the internal batteries. Unfortunately, Tuesday meant back to work.