January 31, 2016

Photo Essay: The Decommissioned Light of the Chesapeake

Whenever I plan a trip to a new place, there are a few keywords I always search for:
If I can find at least a couple of those in any place I visit, I'm pretty entertained.

In Baltimore, the issue wasn't whether or not I could find any of my favorite attractions, but how much time I would have to visit any of them.

I made time to visit the lighthouse.

Now located in the touristy Inner Harbor section of Baltimore, the Seven Foot Knoll Light was built in 1855...

...and installed at the mouth of the Patapsco River at the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1997, the lighthouse was moved nearly 40 miles up the river to its northern end and installed at the harbor.

It is the oldest lighthouse of its kind in the state of Maryland—one that had been screwed into a shallow shoal, rather than being built on land or a manmade island.

It was one of the first such "screw-pile" lighthouses to be built in the U.S., and the second in the Chesapeake Bay.

Now, the relocated and restored lighthouse serves as a maritime museum.

The keepers of the lighthouse were either from the U.S. Lighthouse Service or the Coast Guard...

...but it was hard to keep them at the lighthouse, in such isolation and monotony.

There wasn't really enough room for an entire family to stay there, a practice that wasn't permitted anyway—though some keepers tried.

Every morning, they would climb up to the lantern to clean the lens and make sure it was in good working order for that evening.

If it was foggy, they had to sound the horn. During winter storms, they had to fight off floating ice.

And they had to collect rainwater in cisterns so they'd have a water supply.

Of course, the work of a lighthouse keeper is absolutely essential for the safe navigation of vessels through high traffic (or high hazard) waterways—unless the lighthouse becomes automated. And that's exactly what happened with the Seven Foot Knoll lighthouse in 1949, making the keepers obsolete.

But lighthouses are certainly not obsolete, and Baltimore Harbor still has a working lighthouse protecting its waters at the mouth of the Magothy River by Gibson Island.

The only problem with lighthouses that haven't been decommissioned yet?

They're a lot harder for the public to visit.

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The Hometown I Haven't Forgotten, and The One I Never Knew

I always had some sense of history while growing up in Syracuse, New York. I knew that the Erie Canal once ran straight through our Downtown (along what is now Erie Boulevard). I knew that our buildings were old—much older than me, and perhaps even older than my parents.

I knew that my Grampy had been a sign painter for local businesses; but after two strokes, he could no longer paint signs. Then again, nobody wanted a hand-painted sign for their business anymore, anyway.

When I was young, it was hard to put all the random pieces of information together on my own. My parents didn't teach me local history, and I don't recall learning it in school.

So a couple weeks ago, I returned to my old stomping grounds of Downtown Syracuse, where I worked for a couple of years at a discount clothing store called "One Price Sportswear," and visited (for the first time ever) the Onondaga Historical Association, down the block from City Hall and the old Syracuse Library.

And there, I met the famous Heaphy's Tin Man, a roadside advertisement for a sheet metal chain (now stationed in the toasty indoors, though equipped with a scarf just in case).

This isn't what my childhood in Syracuse looked like.

Then again, I rarely was allowed to leave my parents' house.

I couldn't tell you what most of the important local businesses were in the 1970s and '80s.

I had no idea that Syracuse was a stop on the Underground Railroad, or that in the mid-1800s, its abolitionist views and practices weren't even kept a secret.

After all, at the time, New York was a "free state," and Syracuse was a good stopover point for slaves escaping to Canada for their freedom.

I love museums like this—places that act as a repository for once-lost and forgotten items that are later found but have nowhere else to go.

Case in point: having been designed, fabricated, and installed by the Henry Keck Stained Glass Studios in 1920, a gorgeous stained glass window had been left in the St. Paul's church basement in Liverpool since 1964 when it had been removed during renovations.

The Hotel Syracuse opened in 1924 and shuttered in 2004, but at least its glassware was saved (and will most certainly not be used by Marriott when they reopen the historic hotel this year).

Dishware was always a big deal in Syracuse, the home of Syracuse China (founded 1871) until the factory closed in 2009. But lots of hotels, restaurants, airlines, and even railroad dining cars once served lots of meals on that fine china—and perhaps some of them still do.

I do remember many years at the Great New York State Fair, still the best fair I've ever been to...

...many local delicacies...

...milk in bottles...

...and salt. Lots of salt.

Just because I don't live there anymore—and don't want to live there anymore—doesn't mean I should stop learning about where I came from...or forget everything I once knew.

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Photo Essay: Trinity Church & Churchyard

When you talk about "Trinity Church" in Lower Manhattan, you're not just talking about one church.

It's a conglomeration of churches and their respective cemeteries—plus 18 commercial buildings that occupy six million square feet of space, making Trinity the biggest landowner in Manhattan.

But there is one singular church that's actually called "Trinity Church"...

...whose current structure, consecrated in 1846, is the third Trinity Church to have been built on the site.

in 1697, the Church of England purchased land in Lower Manhattan, and King William III chartered the Trinity Church parish. In 1705, Queen Anne of Great Britain granted even more land to their holdings—which the church has managed to keep for over three centuries.

Trinity Church figures significantly in recent history, too—as a place where people sought refuge after the first World Trade Center tower collapsed on 9/11. Because of that, it's part of the pilgrimage that people make when they come Downtown to see the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero (now the North and South Pools) and the Freedom Tower.

But you can escape the crowds—especially on a blustery day—outside in the Trinity Churchyard.

Unlike the Trinity Cemetery & Mausoleum in Upper Manhattan, this is no longer an active cemetery... there's no hope of being buried alongside such historical figures as Alexander Hamilton (or his wife or mistress).

Who else has been laid to rest there?

It's hard to tell.

It's not for lack of maintenance or care.

It's just the passage of time.

After all, compared to California, New York is so old.

Sites like this are an endangered species in the Big Apple...

...which is probably why they'd prefer you stay off the grass, away from the headstones, and on the path.

Of course, in addition to its tourist traffic, Trinity Church itself still has an active Episcopal congregation, with regular mass services and church bells that clang when the Wall Street traders have gone home...the stock markets have closed...and the bull has gone to sleep.

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Photo Essay: Tiny Trains and Landmarks Made of Trees

People can do the darnedest things.

Of course, I go see the darnedest things.

And the two converged at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx during my recent visit to New York, where there was a train show to beat all train shows.

You see, these model trains chug along tracks that go past miniature versions of 150 New York-area landmarks...

...that are made purely out of natural materials.

Someone with a bit of architectural savvy and natural design know-how...

...has managed to reconstruct really complex historic structures...

...out of bark, leaves, twigs, acorns, pinecones, and what have you.


I mean, we're talking everything from Grand Central Terminal and the old Penn Station... any of the dozens of historic houses... the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty.

Honestly, the trains get completely overshadowed.

They almost get in the way when you're trying to get a good look at the TWA Terminal...

...or peer into the lit windows of the Frick Collection to see if someone built a replica of the bowling alley inside, too.

It surprised me to see something so hand-crafted in New York—nay, the Bronx—

...since the city usually comes off as a bit more slick and not quite so...folksy.

I couldn't imagine the patience it would take for someone to assemble these environments along a half mile of G-scale train track.

Then again, this train show wasn't built in a day.

Although I'd only just heard about it this year, it dates back to 1992—and many of the tiny replicas have survived several years.

On the other hand, other ones are completely new, like this year's finale on the reflecting pool in the garden's conservatory: the sites of the '64/'65 World's Fair (including a replica of the multicolor paneled ceiling of the Tent of Tomorrow).

There are other shows by the same artist throughout the year at gardens and museums in cities like Chicago, Philly, Dallas, Omaha, and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada.

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