Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Following The Great Locomotive Chase

A 120-Mile Journey Tracing the Civil War's Greatest Adventure

Monument to the General in Chattanooga National Cemetary

I started where it ended, in the rolling hills of the Chattanooga National Cemetery in Tennessee.   There, under a great bronze statue of the steam locomotive The General, is a monument to one of the Civil War's most daring raids, an adventure that came to be known as "The Great Locomotive Chase."

Around the memorial are the graves of some brave men:  James J. Andrews, the civilian spy who organized the raid, and seven of the Union soldiers he led.  Some of them were the first Americans to ever receive our nation's highest award for valor -- the Medal of Honor.

They also share one other piece of history.  All of them were hanged; seven of them were executed side-by-side from a single scaffold.

The graves of the eight executed raiders are side-by-side.
How the locomotive and these eight courageous men came together is a fascinating tale.   Since it is also the story of the world's first high-speed chase, it can only be appreciated by following the trail of Andrews' Raiders over a 120-mile journey, from Atlanta to Chattanooga.  Along the way there are visits to museums, several monuments, a chance to see two of history's most famous steam locomotives and even the opportunity to ride a golf cart through an historic Civil War era railroad tunnel – the same tunnel the chase went roaring through in 1862.

Atlanta and Chattanooga were connected by vital rail links.
Some background is necessary before the first stop.  In the early days of the Civil War, Chattanooga was an important rail junction that controlled food and supplies coming from the deep South headed to the Confederate armies in Virginia.  Cut the rail lines in Chattanooga, and it could end the war.

The raid, as conceived by Andrews, called for 22 Ohio soldiers to dress as civilians and sneak 200 miles behind Confederate lines to Marietta, Georgia, just a few miles north of Atlanta.  There, they would steal a train and race it north, burning the bridges behind them.  With the railroad destroyed, Chattanooga would be cut off from Confederate reinforcements by train and easily captured by a coordinated Union attack advancing from the west under General Ormsby M. Mitchel.

The raiders spent the night in this hotel (far left window, middle row)

It was a daring, but possible, plan, and Andrews set it in motion.  The raiders, traveling in groups of two or three, made their way incognito in civilian clothes to Marietta and on April 11, 1862, they booked two rooms at the Kennesaw Hotel.   This is where you can join them.  The hotel room that Andrews occupied is now part of the Marietta Museum of History and is made up much like it would have looked the night Andrews’ Raiders slept there, complete with a mannequin of Andrews looking out the window on to the tracks below.  It’s hard to imagine, as school kids move around the room laughing, the tension these 22 men must have felt.  Several of them spoke up and said they thought the plan was hopeless and doomed to fail. But Andrews was firm, telling them any man could drop out, but “I will succeed or leave my bones in Dixie.”

Andrews looks out the window from the room he stayed in.

So on the morning of April 12, in a light rain, each man stuck a pistol in his belt, and boarded the regularly scheduled north bound train.  To avoid suspicion, they all bought tickets to different destinations.  The train was pulled by a 25-ton, eight-wheel wood burning locomotive, The General.  At this time, there were no railroad dining cars, so 12 miles up the line at Big Shanty, the train came to halt of hissing steam and smoke and all the passengers got off for a 20 minute breakfast break.  You can follow the raiders to Big Shanty, now the town of Kennesaw, and home to the impressively named Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. 

There’s a barn full of exhibits here on the war and railroading, but for our purposes, one thing stands above all.  The General.  The gleaming black and red locomotive was destined to survive the raid, the war and even the burning of Atlanta.  

The General

For years, it crossed the country touring at exhibitions, even appearing at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, before ending up back here in 1972, 100 yards from the spot where Andrews stole her.  It’s an impressive and gorgeous machine.  You can get climb above it, around it, and peer into the cab. From its red "cow catcher" to the great bell smoke stack and huge five-foot-high red wheels, clearly this engine was built for speed.  It's easy to imagine Andrews in the cab, clinging to the handrail as the locomotive screamed round the curves, yelling to the engineers at the height of the chase, "Push her, boys.  Push her!"

The museum has put together a thrilling film, using accurate bits from the 1956 Walt Disney Movie The Great Locomotive Chase, edited with modern actors and narration to tell a completely historical tale of what happened next.         

The General in Kennesaw 

Andrews plotted to steal the train at Big Shanty because it did not have a telegraph station.  When the other passengers and train crew got off for breakfast, the raiders stayed on board, uncoupled the passenger cars, climbed into the box cars, snuck into the engine, released the brake and opened the throttle.  With a grinding of steel on steel, they were on their way, in front of the startled passengers and an entire camp of Confederate soldiers.  A few miles up the line, they stopped to cut telegraph wires and rip up track.  They were now confident that nothing could catch them from behind and it was clear sailing up ahead. 

But the plan soon went wrong.  Rain had delayed Andrews for a day, but the Union attack went ahead on schedule.  Afraid of the approaching Union army, the Confederates in Chattanooga tried to save supplies by sending additional trains south, clogging the rail line.  Andrews lost several hours in delays.  But carrying forged documents and claiming his train had badly needed ammunition for the “front,” he continually bullied it past skeptical station agents.  They were just above Adairsville again ripping up track when suddenly the raiders were startled by a shrill whistle from the south.  One of them wrote, "No sound more unwelcome ever fell on human ears."

The Station in Adairsville looks like it did in 1862

Pursuit!  Unknown to the raiders, the General's conductor, William R. Fuller, had watched his train being stolen and started off after it on foot.  Since the average speed of a train at that time was 12 mph, this was not as crazy as it sounds, especially since the north bound train had to adhere to a schedule that Fuller well knew.  The uneven race soon improved as Fuller came upon a rail push cart and then an old iron works locomotive, the Yonah.

Highway 41, "the Blue and Gray Highway," follows the route of the 1862 railroad and offers a number of opportunities to visit sites associated with “the chase.”  Free “Great Locomotive Chase” brochures available at the museum have maps and detail 14 points along the route associated with the race.   Dalton is good stop with a rail depot that was there in 1862, and Adairsville looks much like it did during the Civil War.  The depot, which was also there in 1862, has some exhibits on the raid, including two toy train locomotives that chase each other around one side of the building. 

The Texas has recently been restored and will be returned to the Atlanta History Center
It was here that Fuller got what he needed most for the chase – his third locomotive of the day, The Texas, a powerful new engine that matched the General in speed.  The Texas had been heading south, but Fuller commandeered it, and through sheer force of character and courage, raced the engine backwards at 70 miles an hour on tracks where the safe speed was 18.  With whistles blowing, steel wheels shrieking on rails and steam billowing, he was able to follow the General in the race across the Georgia countryside.

From Adairsville on, it was indeed a race for life or death.  Andrews' men tried everything -- pushing ties on to the tracks, building barricades, and even throwing the General in reverse to fling empty boxcars charging back toward the onrushing Confederates, but seemingly nothing could stop Fuller.

The Texas was raced backwards at speeds up to 70 mph

Or The Texas.  This engine also survived the war and for years was on display at The Cyclorama in Atlanta’s Grant Park, which featured the world's largest painting – a circular piece of art four stories high and longer than a football field depicting the Battle of Atlanta.  Both the painting and The Texas are now headed to a new and better home in the Atlanta History Center.  The Texas has undergone a complete restoration and was revealed to the public for the first time in two years at a recent ceremony in April 2017 at the North Carolina Transportation Museum, where it was restored. In 2017 it will be unveiled in its new home, under a huge glass canopy at the entrance of the Atlanta History Museum.  Similar to The General, it is a sleek and economical machine – the fastest thing on earth at the time of the Chase.  Though it only worked for a few hours on the day of the Chase, The Texas ran for decades as a working engine, and in its new home it will do a fine job of interpreting railroading in the period both before and after the Civil War.

You can ride through the same tunnel as the race did on a golf cart

One of the final and most dramatic moments of the Chase came at Tunnel Hill.  This 1,477-foot- long tunnel was opened in 1850 and was the longest tunnel in the South.  It was the raider’s last chance to win the race.  The Union soldiers wanted to make a stand and fight it out with pistols at the end of the tunnel, or send The General backwards at full speed through the tunnel to crash into The Texas.  But Andrews was by trade a spy.  He had always talked his way out of any dangerous situation, and he believed their best chance was by breaking up into small groups and fleeing.

Today, the Western & Atlantic Tunnel has been restored.  Closed in 1928, and saved from destruction in 1992, it is a wet, dripping, narrow dark and dank space.  But you can travel through it for $6 on a golf cart tour.  

The Texas entering the tunnel.

Along the roof, you can see where 20th Century rail cars were too high and scraped the rock, necessitating a new tunnel.  When The Texas arrived at the edge of the dark tunnel, it was filled with smoke from The General and the other Confederates with Fuller baulked at entering what they were sure was a Union death trap.  But Fuller, riding on the tender, forced them through.  When they emerged from the tunnel back in daylight and could see The General ahead, Fuller could tell by its pale smoke that she was low on fuel and water and nearly finished. 

And indeed they were.  Just a short way past Ringgold, with all 22 Union men riding on the locomotive and tender, out of fuel and the Confederates in sight, Andrews gave his last order: “jump off and scatter, every man for himself.”  There is a historic marker at the lonely spot on a straight track where the chase ended.

Historic marker in Atlanta near Andrews hanging site

Within a week, Andrews and all 21 of his men were captured.  Caught out of uniform, they were considered spies and he and seven men selected at random were tried, convicted and hanged in Atlanta.  The rest, fearing a similar fate, staged a desperate escape.  Eight made it back to Union lines; the other six were captured again and eventually exchanged.

In the end, the failure of the raid led to two years of fighting before Chattanooga finally fell to Union hands.  In all, more than 47,000 young men were killed or horribly wounded in these battles -- men who might have been spared had Andrews succeeded.  Today, many thousands of them lay in the rolling grass slopes of the Chattanooga National Cemetery, surrounding Andrews and his men.  

When the United States created a new medal to honor outstanding bravery, it was decided to present the very first ones to Andrews' Raiders.  Secretary of War Stanton pinned them on the survivors himself.

Ironically, one of the raiders not honored was Andrews. As a civilian, he did not qualify.   His medal is the judgement of history.

Georgia's Bloody Ground

Site of a major attack at Chickamauga 

Few areas in North America have experienced as much violent conflict as the 120-mile stretch between Chattanooga and Atlanta.  The battles for Chattanooga and the Battle for Atlanta stretched back and forth over this land from 1862-1864 in some of the Civil War's most savage and confused fighting.   Several of the war's best preserved battlefields are just a few minutes drive from the route of the Great Locomotive Chase.  The Blue & Gray Trail lists 74 historic sites.  Among them:

Chickamauga National Military Park:  Located just south of Chattanooga, the fields and woods of this battlefield were filled with smoke on Sept. 19-20, 1863, when
66,000 Confederates defeated and almost destroyed a Union army of 58,000.  Casualties were among the highest in the war with 34,000 men falling.  This was the first battlefield preserved in United States and is the largest.  An excellent museum sets the stage, while an observation tower overlooks and explains the entire strategy of the conflict.  Highlights include Snodgrass Hill, where General Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga," fought a rear-guard action that saved the Union Army and perhaps the war.  The park also features one of the largest and best Civil War bookstores.

Lookout Mountain

Point Park and Lookout Mountain:  Part of the Chattanooga National Military Park, this battlefield has a gorgeous view of the Tennessee River.  From a tower, it is possible to understand the geographic difficulties that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant faced in trying to dislodge the Southern army from the hills around the town.  The November 1863 campaign was one of Grant's most brilliant and set the stage for the Battle of Atlanta.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park:  Located 10 minutes from the site where The General was stolen at Big Shanty, this beautiful park preserves just one of the dozens of areas that saw heavy fighting in the Battle for Atlanta.  Here in July 1864, General Sherman threw wave after wave of blue-coated troops in hopeless assaults against strong Confederate lines.  The panoramic sweeping views from the mountain stretch to Atlanta and beyond.  A museum attempts to explain the confusing campaign, but to truly understand it, head to the Atlanta History Museum.

If You Go:

The gorgeous hotel is in the center of Midtown Atlanta

The place to stay in Atlanta is the Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta’s old grand dame.  Located across the street from the restored Fox Theatre, the elegant and beautiful hotel opened in 1911  and has hosted everyone from presidents to rock stars.  It is just down the street from the home were Margaret Mitchell wrote the ultimate Civil War novel, “Gone With the Wind,” and it is where Clark Gable and most of the cast stayed for the premiere of the film in 1939.  Ironically, it is also within a pistol shot of Third and Juniper, the obscure corner in midtown Atlanta were James J. Andrews was hanged.  There’s a historic marker, slowly being overgrown by bushes, to mark the spot.

The Marietta Museum of History is housed in the old Kennesaw hotel, where Andrews' Raiders spent the night before stealing The General.  They have restored Andrews’ room as it might have appeared and have good exhibits on the raid.

Pretty Chattanooga and the Tennessee River

The Southern Museum of the Civil War and Locomotive History originally opened  on April 12, 1972, exactly 110 years to the day that Andrews and his men stole The General, 100 yards from this site.  The museum is the permanent home of the locomotive The General, and contains hundreds of artifacts connected to Great Locomotive Chase, as well as an 18-minute video and a full documentation on the role that railroads played in the war.  Kennesaw is a historic town; a free walking tour brochure available at the museum points out 32 historic sites.  Don't miss Wildman's Civil War & Relic Shop, the "Best Little War Store in Kennesaw, as it bills itself, directly across the street.  Possibly the most politically incorrect museum you’ll ever see, it’s still a “don’t miss” one-of-a-kind attraction.

The Texas will be in a new space in the History Atlanta Center

The Atlanta History Center is magnificent and worth a half day.  There are gardens, historic homes, an excellent strategic interpretation of the Civil War and the importance of Atlanta, and this will be the new home of The Texas, and the world’s largest painting. 

Tunnel Hill Heritage Center & Museum is a hoot.  The museum has exhibits on the raid, the tunnel, and the later Civil War battle fought here.  But the highlight is riding a nine-passenger golf cart through the actual tunnel.  Once you see the landscape, you can understand why Andrews baulked at fighting a battle here.  There was little cover, and the raiders could see that the Confederates riding The Texas had long range rifles, whereas the raiders were armed only with pistols. 

Atlanta has become amazing and makes a good base for following the chase.

Open every day.  There are 33,000 men buried here, including 12,000 from the Civil War.  A memorial with a bronze statue of the locomotive The General honors the Great Locomotive Chase.  James J. Andrews and the seven raiders who were executed are buried here in a small semi-circle around the monument.

ATLANTA:  Atlanta has been transformed in recent years into a world class tourist destination.  The best deal is CityPASS which saves you money and time and gets you into all the city's top attractions including the aquarium, Civil Rights Museum, CNN and more. 

BEFORE YOU GO:        The 1956 Walt Disney movie, "The Great Locomotive Chase," is surprisingly accurate and gives a good look at Civil War locomotives in action. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Traveling With Mark Twain in Hawaii

Waikiki Beach was the Royal Coconut Grove when Twain arrived in 1866.
In 1866, Mark Twain was virtually unknown without a single published book.  He had bright red hair and he talked and gestured in such an animated way that people meeting him for the first time often thought he was drunk.  And then he got one of the greatest jobs in history.

The Sacramento Union, the best newspaper on the West Coast, sent him to the Sandwich Islands (as Hawaii was then called) and agreed to pay $20 for every letter or story he sent back.  Though Samuel Clemens, writing as Mark Twain, would go on to become America’s most famous writer and the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and would travel extensively around the world, he never forget Hawaii.  He called it “the loveliest stream of islands that lies anchored in any ocean.”

Though he was only in Hawaii for four months in 1866 and never returned, much later in his life he wrote, “No alien land in all the world has any deep strong charm for me but that one, no other land could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done…. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud wrack;…in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.”

Rainbow Falls on the Big Island is just one of many places Twain visited that are much the same today.
So when my brother and I decided to spend two weeks exploring the Hawaiian Islands, who better to be our guide than Mark Twain?  Armed with editions of Twain’s two travel books on the subject “Letters from Hawaii” and “Roughing It,” we decided to follow his route and see how much we could return to the Sandwich Islands of 1866, when it was still an independent kingdom and the most isolated population center on earth.


Twain arrived in Honolulu on March 18, 1866 after a ten day voyage and set out to explore the settlement of then 15,000.  “The further I traveled through the town the better I liked it.  Every step revealed a new contrast -- disclosed something I was unaccustomed to…I saw luxurious banks and thickets of flowers fresh as a meadow after a rain, and glowing with the richest dyes…I saw huge-bodied, wide-spreading forest trees, with strange names and stranger appearance – trees that cast a shadow like a thundercloud….I saw long-haired, saddle-colored Sandwich Island maidens…gazing indolently at whatever or whoever happened along.”

The porch of the Moana Surfrider hotel, opened in 1901. 
Much like Mark Twain, we arrived in Honolulu after what seemed like a ten-day trip, although it was really just a seven-hour flight and five-hour delay.   After negotiating the maze of Waikiki streets, we checked in, had a drink and walked out at midnight into a light mist of rain.   And into a Hawaii not too far different from Twain’s.  Oh, of course, Honolulu is a now sprawling city of 400,000, with 8 million more tourists thrown in.  But the shock of arriving from the mainland in winter was the same.  Here there were flowers – everywhere – in January, with palm trees swaying overhead and huge banyan trees covering a city block.  The temperature, even at midnight, was balmy and on every corner there were woman looking at us, perhaps not “indolently,” but at least sizing us up to see if we were potential customers.  

Waikiki is known for boasting a large collection of streetwalkers.  They were all colors, races and sizes, and beautifully dressed.  And strangely, they were working the territory in front of the Moana Surfrider, perhaps the most gorgeous and expensive of Waikiki hotels, and one of the oldest, dating back to 1901.  On this street, Kalakaua Ave, which has the same look and feel of Rodeo Drive, with many of the same stores, it is an odd sight to see prostitutes on every corner.  Their target is rich Asian men, so two old, pale and poorly dressed Americans didn’t cause much excitement, but one did ask my brother if he wanted a massage. 

The sunsets on Waikiki have not changed since Mark Twain's visit. 
The Waikiki of Twain’s day was a village of white cottages.  It was the royal coconut grove and one-time home of King Kamehameha I, the king that united all of Hawaii by winning a famous battle here in 1795.  It was also here on the thin sliver of Waikiki Beach that Mark Twain tried surfing, and first introduced the sport to the world.  “In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf- bathing. Each …. would paddle three or four hundred yards out to sea (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did not seem that a lightning express-train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting speed. I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it. I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself. The board struck the shore in three-quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me.”

The statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the most famous of all Hawaiian surfers on Waikiki. 
Today, of course, they are still surfing at Waikiki and the beach is home to the ultimate surfing tribute, a statue of the king of the board, Duke Kahanamoku.  But the real excitement of surfing in winter is on the north shore of the island – a place that would have been inaccessible to Mark Twain except by boat because in 1866, no road penetrated Oahu’s central spine of mountains. 

Breakers on Banzai-Pipeline Beach are so close to the shore you can capture them with cellphones. 
Today, it’s a drive of an hour or so by tunnels and highway to Sunset and Banzai-Pipeline Beaches.  Both are known for their flat reefs that cause waves to break when they hit shallow depths, creating a huge curling tube of water that surfers can actually ride down the center.   In winter, these can be the deadliest of beaches with waves averaging nine feet, and reaching even 14-20 feet high, with the constant danger of surfers being hurled into the coral below. 

The incredible thing when visiting is that the main road is literally at the edge of the beach.  You just pull over for free parking, and in less than a minute you can walk right up to the gigantic breaking waves and be so close that you can actually photograph a surfer in curl … with a cell phone!   Of course, the beach is lined with professional photographers with two-foot long telephotos and some of the top surfing photos come from here, but you don’t need one to feel part of the action.  You can buy cold coconuts at the beach, or it’s a short drive to Hale’iwa, an old hippie surfing town that is also home to the most famous of all North Shore stops:  Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. 

The North Shore is a laid back look at an older, less commercially developed Hawaii.

Diamond Head

This 700-foot-high extinct crater looms over Honolulu and has fascinated every visitor from Mark Twain to the TV show Hawaii Five-O.  Twain rented a broken-down horse named Oahu and struggled to the top, but now people think nothing of walking from Waikiki and climbing to the summit at dawn, taking a $10 cab ride back to their hotel.  It’s an interesting hike, with tunnels and curving staircases cut through rock.  

Of course the view from the top of Diamond Head includes thousands of modern buildings, but nature hasn't changed.
The summit was converted to an army lookout point in World War II.  Of course the view today includes hundreds upon hundreds of modern hotels, apartments and office buildings, but nothing much has changed along the shoreline or in the steep mountain crags, so much of the view is the same as Mark Twain described it:  “Impressed by the profound silence and repose that rested over the beautiful landscape…I gave voice to my thought.  I said:  What a picture is here slumbering…How strong the rugged outlines of the dead volcano stand out against the clear sky! What a snowy fringe marks the bursting of the surf over the long, curved reef! How calmly the dim city sleeps yonder in the plain! How soft the shadows lie upon the stately mountains that border the dream-haunted Manoa Valley!  How….at this point the horse called Oahu deliberately sat down in the sand.  Sat down to listen, I suppose….I stopped apostrophizing and convinced him that I was not a man to allow contempt of court on the part of a horse.” 
Mark Twain in 1867

On his way back to town, Twain noticed a beautiful island woman and thinking to impress her, he galloped by like a cavalier.  She called to his friend Brown, who was bringing up the rear and spoke to him.    Twain waited and when Brown caught up, he asked what she had said.  Brown laughed. “She thought from the slouchy way you rode and the way you drawled out your words, that you was drunk!  She said, ‘Why don’t you take the poor creature home, Mr. Brown?  It makes me nervous to see him galloping that horse and hanging on that way, and he so drunk.’ “


Twain’s next stop was Maui.  He wrote famously, “I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five.  I had a jolly time. I would not have fooled away any of it writing letters under any consideration whatever… I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place good-bye so regretfully.”

Big Beach on Maui
Most people feel the same way.  Twain based in Lahaina, so we did too.  In the 1800s, this large whaling town could have 400 ships in harbor at a time, and seemingly just as many bars, saloons and brothels.  One of the surviving buildings from the era is the sturdily built town jail.  Today, Front Street, Lahaina is a wacky mix of tourist shops, historic buildings with balconies, restaurants, galleries, stone churches and bars, with an old fort and picturesque harbor that offers bobbing boats and classic mountain and sea views. 

Lahaina at sunset from the Pier
Perhaps the two most familiar landmarks – the giant banyan tree that covers an entire city block and the historic balconied Pioneer Hotel where writer Jack London once stayed, both came after Twain’s visit,  But there are a dozen or so buildings from his time, and no matter how many Subway sandwich shops and pizza joints invade, Lahaina still has the look of an old whaling town.  Have a local Haleakala IPA from the Maui Brewing Company on the balcony of Captain Jack’s Island Grill, and you can drift with the swaying overhead palm trees back to a different time.

Captain Jack's looking towards the Pioneer Hotel, where Jack London stayed and wrote some of his stories. 
By 1866, the missionaries had arrived in Lahaina, and were in steady conflict with the sailors, the native Hawaiians and Mark Twain, who loved needling them.  He complained that the missionaries had come to make the native people “permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there.”   He wrote, “How sad it is to think of the multitudes who have gone to their graves in this beautiful island and never knew there was a hell.”

Lahaina is a weird mix of tourist shops and upscale galleries and historic buildings with a whaling port town feel thrown in.

One of Mark Twain’s permanent gifts to Maui was popularizing the idea of watching sunrise from the 10,023-foot summit of the extinct volcano Haleakala, “the house of the sun.”   Twain camped on the top and at dawn had the not uncommon experience of being in bright sunshine, while all below him was blanketed with clouds.  “It was the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed, and I think the memory of it will remain with me always,” he wrote.  

Hiking above the clouds on the summit of Haleakala.
Today, the ritual, which involves driving twisting roads in the dark and freezing on the summit until the sun comes up, has become so popular that as of Feb. 1, 2017, the National Park Service requires permits and only cars with permits are allowed on the summit at dawn. No matter.  The summit view is fantastic at any time, and since the volcano is covered with hundreds of microclimates, there are always constantly swirling clouds and light formations.  Dress warm.

The Big Island of Hawaii

With its active volcano, waterfalls, and historic sites, Twain liked the island of Hawaii above all else.  He sailed from Honolulu and wrote, “We landed at Kailua (pronounced Ki-loo-ah), a little collection of native grass houses reposing under tall coconut trees – the sleepiest, quietest, Sundayest looking place you can imagine.  Ye weary ones that are sick of the labor and care… and sigh for a land where ye may fold your tired hands and slumber your lives peacefully away, pack up your carpet sacks and go to Kailua!  A week there ought to cure the saddest of you.”

The buildings of Kailua line one side of the street, the ocean the other.
I liked Kailua best of all myself.  The historic town consists of a half moon bay with the sea on one side, where towering waves crash against a rock wall breakwater every minute or so, sending a spray water splashing over the sidewalk.  On the other side, is a South Pacific paradise of historic buildings sprinkled with new ones made to look old with shutters, balconies, bars, live music, ABC liquor stores, towering palm trees and an assortment of Hawaiian tourists shops.

The current Hawaiian State Flag was the national flag in 1866 when Twain visited. 
Of course, it’s touristy.  There’s a steady stream of cars, convertibles, motorcycles and people, with drifts of a live singer doing John Denver or a tourism shop playing Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a song, by the way, that you’ll probably hear more than a hundred times.  The official Youtube page for the song has 261 million views.  I suppose there are people who hate it, but to me, never has a song captured a place better.  Even Mark Twain, a hundred years before the song was recorded, wrote, “Why did not Captain Cook have taste enough to call his great discovery the Rainbow Islands?  These charming spectacles are present to you at every turn; they are as common in all the islands as fogs and wind in San Francisco.”

The parks along the sea in downtown Kailua look directly west and are perfect for sunsets.
Captain Cook was killed on Hawaii, a fact that fascinated Twain, and he spent a great deal of time visiting the site of the murder, and also the site where Cook was “cooked.”  Twain had no great respect for Captain Cook, who he thought had pretended to be a god and got what he deserved.  He delighted in the fact that when the British demanded the return of Captain Cook’s body, the natives could sheepishly only produce nine pounds of it… the rest having been eaten.  The monument to Cook that Twain visited is now underwater.  Not a good sign for global warming.

Wood carvings and a giant stone wall are the attractions at Pu"uhonua o Honauuau, City of Refuge
The big island is filled with sights visited by Twain that have changed little if at all.  You can walk by the massive black lava walls of Pu’uhonua o Honauuau, the City of Refuge, which is now a National Park.  The earth’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa, is still 13,677 feet high and consumes half the island, while the planet’s youngest and most active volcano, Kilauea, is still spewing gas, smoke and ash, as it did when Twain climbed down into it.  

Looking down into the crater.  Photo:  Donald Grant
You can have the same view of Halema’uma’u Crater from the Volcano House, that he enjoyed.  The current restaurant is new, but the location of the park’s only hotel is the same.  He wrote, “The surprise of finding a good hotel in such an outlandish spot startled me considerably more than the volcano did.”  Not only is the drop off Kilauea caldera steep, but so are the restaurant prices.  But at least stop in Uncle George’s Lounge for a Kona Brewing Co. IPA and the splendid view.  You might even want to stand by the fireplace – at 4,000 feet, it can be chilly up here.

The Waipi'o Valley can't have changed much since Mark Twain was here.
Mark Twain also rode through the Waipi’o Valley, which is just as inaccessible today as in 1866, and rode up and down all of the Kona Coast, writing, “Kona to me will always be a happy memory.”

But his happiest memory of Hawaii appears to be the women, which he mentions over and over, most often when he happens upon them swimming or dancing what he called, the “hula hula.”  But being Mark Twain, he was always a gentlemen.  “At noon I observed a bevy of nude native young ladies bathing in the sea, and went and sad down on their clothes to keep them from being stolen.”

Mark Twain never forgot his visit to Hawaii, and unfortunately, was never able to return.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

George Washington’s New York

Fraunces Tavern is the oldest establishment in New York serving food and drink and a favorite of George Washington
George Washington was not really a New Yorker.  He was born, raised and died in Virginia.  He spent much of his public life, as both a president and a general, in his favorite city of Philadelphia. But New York?  Not so much. 

It’s hard to blame him.  He fought six battles trying to defend New York, and lost them all, but one.  When he finally retreated from New York, he wanted to burn the city to the ground, but Congress stopped him.  Officially, at least.  No one really knows who started the fire on September 21, 1776, but George was not disappointed when hundreds of houses in New York did in fact go up in flames.

Despite all this, George Washington probably did have some very fond memories of the city.  It was in New York that he was sworn in as President and spent 17 months, before the capital was moved to Philadelphia.  And it was here that the Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783, with a triumphal march by the Continental army down the Broad-way, stopping from tavern to tavern to drink 13 toasts at each one in celebration of the new country.  

George Washington portrait by John Trumbull in NY Historical Society

Because New York was so small at the time of the Revolution, most of the sites associated with George Washington are within a short walk of each other.  You can have a drink and a meal at his favorite tavern; see the pew he sat in at his church; view the gravesite of his trusted chief of staff (and current pop star) Alexander Hamilton; stand on the spot where he was sworn in as President, and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, passing almost directly over the spot where he retreated after the Battle of Brooklyn, saving the army in what has been called the most magnificent military retreat in history.

As George might have done himself, it’s best to begin the tour with a drink.   

When Samuel Fraunces opened his tavern here in 1762, there were already 217 taverns in New York to serve just 13,000 people.  Today, it is the only colonial tavern to survive and the oldest establishment serving food and drinks in New York. 

Taverns at the time were a combination of an inn where you could stay and a public house where you could get a drink and meal.  Both offerings were pretty dreadful.  People shared beds and sat at simple communal tables, often arranged around a fireplace, with a mishmash of different flatware and glasses.  Taverns were expensive because patrons had to pay not only for food and drink, but also for the candles used.

The Tallmadge Room in Fraunces Tavern today
The average colonial of the day drank a staggering four gallons of hard liquor and 14 gallons of beer or cider a year, and since pipe smoking was common, the room would be filled with smoke, gambling, gossip and politics.  Taverns were hotbeds of radical ideas, and because Samuel Fraunces (or Black Sam, as he was called by friends) was a revolutionary, his tavern was home to the Sons of Liberty and other rebels.

When the British captured New York in 1776 and occupied it for seven years, they forced Samuel to seek safer ground and his son-in-law, a Tory, took over the tavern.  But on Nov. 25, 1783, the day the war officially ended, the British departed, General Washington marched in, and he and 185 friends gathered at Fraunces Tavern for a celebration dinner.  In New York, Nov. 25 was known as “Evacuation Day,” and was an official holiday for more than 100 years.

A private dining room in Franuces Tavern as it would have looked at the time of George Washington
George had promised his wife Martha he would be home in Mount Vernon for Christmas, so after eight days of celebration in New York, it was time for one last farewell luncheon party – the last time, as far as any of them knew, that Washington and his army officers would ever see each other.  Washington fully intended to retire to his home and become a farmer, far from public life.

For the last meal, the tavern laid out an impressive spread of cold meats, but the atmosphere was so sad, no one touched their food.  The best known account, written by Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, and now on display in the restaurant’s museum, described the scene as General Washington entered the room.

“His emotions were too strong to be concealed which seemed to be reciprocated by every officer present. After partaking of a slight refreshment in almost breathless silence, the General filled his glass with wine and turning to the officers said, ‘With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you….I cannot come to each of you, but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.’

General Knox being nearest to him, turned to the Commander-in-chief who, suffused in tears, was incapable of utterance, but grasped his hand when they embraced each other in silence. In the same affectionate manner, every officer in the room marched up and parted with his general in chief. Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed and fondly hope I may never be called to witness again.”
Good thing he wasn’t at any Hillary parties the night of the election.
You can see the actual room where this emotional farewell took place upstairs in the Fraunces Tavern Museum.  This is a gem of a museum.  In Boston or Philadelphia it would be a huge attraction, but somehow in the overwhelming opportunities of New York, it gets lost.  You might find, as I did on a recent Friday afternoon in December, that you have all two floors of it to yourself.

The Porterhouse Brewing Company in Fraunces Tavern

The Long Room, where the dinner took place, has been reconstructed as it might have looked on that afternoon.  It is a typical colonial dining room, with wood table and chairs, candles and framed prints, and actually not that different from the one you can dine in downstairs.  

But the rest of the museum is a kick.  There’s one of Martha’s silk shoes, the last letter from spy Nathan Hale (who was hung in 1776 and has a statue nearby at City Hall), and a wild assortment of trinkets and mementos from the Revolution and those who have preserved its history.  

The collection of illustrations by John Ward Dunsmore fill the walls of the museum
Currently, for the first time, there are 47 paintings of the Revolution by master illustrator John Ward Dunsmore.  This is the only time the paintings have all been together and they chronicle the entire war. He worked for a calendar company, and these paintings will be familiar to anyone who has ever had any interest in the colonial period.

George was no stranger to taverns or liquor.  He liked wine, beer, and cider and was at one point the largest manufacturer of whiskey in the nation.  Three of his dogs were called Tipsy, Tippler and Drunkard.

The small bar in Franuces Tavern connects to Porterhouse Brewing
After the museum, the restaurant is a bit eclectic, with offerings from jambalaya to lobster tortellini, but for those desiring authentic, there are beef and chicken pot pies, Scotch eggs and something called George Washington’s Horseback (bacon, dates and almonds).  

The atmosphere?  It could not be better.  The main dining area (the Tallmadge Room, named after the Colonel) has a gorgeous room of wood tables lit by candles.  There is a maze of corridors that lead to private dining areas and a bar with stuffed chairs, a roaring fireplace, and enough wood and prints to make George feel at home. 

Cask conditioned IPA in Porterhouse Brewing Co.

The biggest surprise, is the Porterhouse Brewing Company, which has taken over half the main floor and has 140 craft beers to try, including a range of craft beers all brewed in Ireland.  It’s all wood, mirrors and brass with brightly lit bottles and little nooks carved out for private gatherings around communal tables.  Other than the no smoking laws, it’s pretty certain that the Sons of Liberty could still gather here and talk about The Donald pretty much in the same way they once did about George III.

The cobblestone Stone Street is lined with taverns and restaurants

Neighborhood Walks with George in Lower Manhattan

The great thing about Fraunces Tavern is that it is in the heart of Lower Manhattan.  Just a short musket shot away is Stone Street, the first paved street in New York.  Now closed to traffic as a historic district, the petty cobblestone way is lined with taverns and restaurants and evokes a feel for, if not colonial New York, at least the old New York of Godfather II.  In summer, the two-block area is filled with outdoor umbrellas and is one of nicest places to dine in the city.

A block in the other direction takes you to Battery Park, which in George’s time was an island and fortress with 100 cannon.  Today it’s been connected to the mainland and has one of New York’s oldest standing forts  – (from a different war, Castle Clinton from the War of 1812) – and two emotional memorials. 
The Sphere by Fritz Koenig

The Sphere designed by Fritz Koenig was a monument to world peace that stood in the plaza in front of the original World Trade Center. In the 9-11 attacks, it was buried under tons of rubble, torn apart, bent and scraped, but it was dug up, reassembled and now sits in Battery Park as a testament to New York’s resiliency.

Nearby, the Merchant Marine Memorial is truly eerie. Commemorating the 7,000 merchant marines who died in World War II, it depicts a sinking ship and drowning sailor with his arms stretched out of the sea. Depending on the tide, you see half of his body or just his arm and neck reaching out for help.

The Merchant Marine Memorial in Battery Park

New York’s famous Broadway starts at the intersection of Battery Park and Bowling Green (a small green triangle where George could have enjoyed the passion of the day – outdoor lawn bowling).  Here you’ll find the 7,000-pound bronze Charging Bull sculpture by Arturo Di Modica that has become the symbol of a bull market on Wall Street. Rub its nose for luck, and continue up Broadway to the beautiful Trinity Church, where 

Alexander Hamilton is buried.
The first Trinity Church was destroyed in the fire that George didn’t set in 1776; the current church dates to 1846.  At first Hamilton was not allowed to be buried in the quiet churchyard, where gravestones date back to 1680.  The church strongly disapproved of dueling and did not want to be seen as sanctioning it.  

Alexander Hamilton's Grave at Trinity Church

Ironically, Hamilton’s son was killed in a duel three years before, and is thought to be buried in the same graveyard, but because of the stain of dueling, his grave was unmarked.  Hamilton lingered for several days after his famous duel with Vice President Arron Burr and was able to plead in person from his deathbed with Reverend Benjamin Moore, rector of Trinity, and finally was allowed to be buried at the church.  Today, thanks to the hit musical, his grave is a popular site for selfies.

From the church, cross Broadway and head down Wall Street and you’ll soon see George Washington’s statue on the steps of the Federal Hall National Monument.  The statue is approximately where George was inaugurated as president (although at the time, he was inside another building that stood here.  The statue is the same height and street location as where he stood). 

Anywhere else in the nation – or the world – Federal Hall would be famous. In New York, the 1842 modified version of the Parthenon is overshadowed by, well, everything else.  But climb the steps and go in – the rotunda is amazing, it’s free, there’s a lot of history and (always important in New York) there are clean, free public restrooms.  There are exhibits on the inauguration and the Revolution in New York, and a there’s a fascinating “All George” gift shop offering everything from Christmas ornaments to bookmarks featuring his familiar face.

The statue of Washington on the spot where he was inaugurated facing NY Stock Exchange
One of the most iconic photos in New York is to frame the statue of George at Federal Hall with the famous gigantic flag that hangs on the New York Stock Exchange across the street. If you look closely, you’ll see that the stock exchange is on Broad Street, not Wall Street. Less well known is that yet another of New York’s terrorist attacks took place here in 1920 when 31 people were killed by a bomb placed in a horse and carriage. The building across the street from Federal Hall still has pot marks from the explosion.
St. Paul's is the oldest church in New York

Back to the Broad-way, it’s three blocks to St. Paul’s Chapel, known as “the little chapel that stood.”  Built in 1766, the chapel survived not only the great fire of 1776, but also the attack on Sept. 11, that brought down the two twin towers of the World Trade Center, located directly across the street.  

St. Paul’s was not damaged and became a place of refuge for the firefighters, police officers, and other first responders working through the devastation.

St. Paul’s was George Washington’s church in New York.  You can see a replica of George’s modest pew box, where he prayed after the inauguration.  The churchyard is particularly moving.  George certainly walked through the gravestones here, because this was the main entrance to the church in his day.  It is a truly a spectacular sight to see gravestones from the 1700s with Santiago Calatrava’s new World Trade Center Oculus Pavilion directly across the street.

Santiago Calatrava's Oculus Pavilion from the graveyard of St. Paul's
Finally, from the front of the church on Broadway, head to the ramp that is the pedestrian walkway over the Brooklyn Bridge crossing the East River.  George had entered New York in the spring of 1776 as the hero who driven the British out of Boston.  But then the Empire struck back, sending the largest armada of ships and men the world had ever seen to that point. 

Washington tried to defend all the potential landing points, but the British outmaneuvered him and put 30,000 redcoats on Long Island.  Then they conducted a secret night march around Washington’s flank, and in what became the Battle of Brooklyn, the largest battle of the Revolution, they badly beat him and almost destroyed the American army.  Only a valiant last stand by Maryland troops at the Old Stone House saved the day.

The Old Stone House in Brooklyn was the scene of severe fighting in 1776.
Near the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn, in Washington Park, the Old Stone House Building is now a museum.  It is a reconstruction of the 1699 Vechte-Cortelyou House in the exact location where the battle took place.  The museum has models and exhibits of the battle, but it takes a lot of imagination to picture this place in 1776. 

Diorama of the Battle of Brooklyn depicts the fighting around the Old Stone House

Easier is to look down at the East River from the Bridge.  With the victorious British to his front, and the river to his rear, Washington had only one option – somehow he had to retreat and ferry his men across the East River without the British knowing it.  The embarkation point was the little shore-side park, Fulton Ferry Landing, just to the north of the Bridge on the Brooklyn side.  

Keeping fires on the front line burning as a disguise, and in a providentially thick fog, Washington managed to extract his entire army of 9,000 men back to Manhattan to give them a chance to fight another day.    

Emanuel Leutze's painting of George Washington Crossing the Delaware hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of New York,  
A retreat may not be the most glorious of military maneuvers, but if George Washington had not managed to retreat from New York, there almost certainly would be no United States of America.  And for that, New Yorkers…..and George Washington… were always grateful.