Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ten Things You Probably Don’t Know About Charleston, SC

That Will Make You Want to Visit

The backstreets of the historic district
Everyone knows Charleston, SC, is one of America’s most historic cities, but there’s a lot more than history occupying the town’s 1,600 pre-Revolutionary War buildings, including new breweries, distilleries and clubs. Charleston has become a Williamsburg with bars.  And James Beard award-winning restaurants.  And one-of-a-kind shops and galleries.

Of course, there’s still plenty of history dripping from the Spanish moss on every corner waiting to be discovered. 

So here’s 10 fascinating facts about this quirky town where Stephen Colbert grew up and Bill Murray is a part owner of the baseball team.

1.     Charleston was started as a colony of Barbados

In the 1660s, Barbados, the tropical island off the coast of Venezuela, was the richest speck of land on earth.  And the most congested.  Every inch of the tropical island was covered with 800 sugar plantations.  An incredible 500 windmills used renewable energy to convert the sugar cane to the “white gold” used to sweeten tea throughout Europe. The little island’s population was larger than New England’s, but the majority of people were enslaved Africans, who did all the backbreaking work to make plantation owners rich.  There was only one problem with this scenario.  The island was starving. 

Because every inch of land was used for sugar plantations, Barbados couldn’t support the beef and crops needed to feed the island’s population.  So, much like the other powers in Europe, Barbados established a colony to support and feed the homeland.  The colony these Barbadians started eventually came to be the city of Charleston. 

2.     You can see the many influences of Barbados all over Charleston – in the names of the streets dating back to the Barbadian founders, in the vividly colored buildings of pink, yellow and lavender giving the town a Caribbean feel, and in the basic architecture of the houses, which came to be called the “Charlestown Single House.”
Charleston single house with "haint blue" porch ceiling.

This is the famous one-room-wide house facing the wind.  All the rooms in the
house opened to a piazza, or porch.  The windows on both sides of the house could be opened
to create a much needed draft in the heat
of summer.  Any walking or carriage tour of Charleston will show you dozens and
dozens of these Charleston single house homes – but the idea for them came from Barbados. 

3.     The roofs of the piazzas on all the 
      Charleston Single Houses are 
      painted“haint blue.”  African slaves believed this color warded off evil spirits and they wouldn’t work in a house that didn’t have it.

4.     Charleston was the largest slave port in America. 

Any history of slavery in America begins in Charleston.  Because it was founded by a slave plantation economy from Barbados, Charleston took on the same model and became the principle port where slaves entered North America with some 40 percent of them passing through Charleston.  By 1860, there were 400,000 slaves in South Carolina, more than 57 percent of the population; of the 15 people in America who owned 500 slaves or more, eight were in this state.

In Charleston’s early days, slaves could be paraded and sold on any street corner that could gather a crowd, but by July 1, 1856, abolitionists forced the sale of slaves off public streets, and 40 slave marts were established for private sales.  Only one has survived, and today it is the Old Slave Mart Museum, a one-of-a-kind place telling this chapter of the American story. 

The Old Slave Mart Museum 
Enslaved Africans began their journey by sailing the “Middle Passage” in filthy, overcrowded ships filled with disease.  Those who survived, were brought to Sullivan’s Island in Charleston’s harbor, where they were interned to weed out the sick, weak and dying.  The survivors were then placed in a baracoon --- jails, where they would be fattened up, washed, clothed, have gray hair dyed black and their bodies greased, all to increase their market value on the auction block.  Ryan’s Slave Mart had one of the largest of the baracoons, and today it forms the heart of the museum.

A top slave with a skill like carpentry could fetch $1,500 – about $38,000 in today’s value.  A young attractive light skinned woman could sell for even more.  “If God has bestowed beauty upon a slave woman, it will prove her greatest curse,” one slave woman wrote.

It is an odd sensation to be inside the Slave Mart discovering the ghastly history that took place here, just a few hundred feet from carefree tourists clattering by in horse drawn carriages.   

5.     Charleston freely acknowledges the many accomplishments contributed to the city by enslaved Africans.
You can feel the influence of Barbados in Charleston.

Unlike Washington D.C., where politicians seldom mention that the White House was built by slaves, in Charleston the contributions of enslaved Africans are a principal part of any discussion of the city.  In the Charleston Museum (the oldest museum in the U.S.), the Fort Sumter museum, and on home and plantation tours, you learn that many enslaved Africans were skilled craftsman – carpenters, stone masons, brick makers, gardeners, painters, blacksmiths, iron workers, and plasterers.  Not only did slaves build this incredible city of homes and gardens, but they were also responsible for its wealth.  

South Carolina was the only state that imported slaves for their knowledge.  Since it was the principle rice growing state in America, they imported slaves from the Windward Coast of Africa, from Senegal to Sierra Leone and Liberia, because these people had been growing rice in their homeland for a thousand years.  Rice production was tedious work – ten times the labor effort of growing cotton.  But the profits were gigantic.  Charleston became the rice king of America with 120 ships arriving in port every day.  By the time the American Revolution started in 1775, Charleston was the richest city in all the colonies, and the fourth largest.

The gardens at Middleton Place were built and maintained by enslaved Africans.

6.      The plantation at Middleton Place holds family reunions – for descendants of former masters and slaves.  One spot that does an excellent job of illustrating how much Charleston owes to enslaved Africans is Middleton Place.  The plantation home was burned in the Civil War and today Middleton Place is best known for having the oldest formal garden in the country.  Gardens in the 18th century were based more on symmetry and contrasting the many shades of green to be found in hedges, trees and lawns, so this is not a garden of colorful flower beds, but a subtle, mathematical creation. 

The gardens at Middleton Place

Like everything else from this period, these magnificent gardens were built and maintained by enslaved Africans.  Only here, they get credit for it.  Eliza’s House, a freedman’s house from 1870, has been restored into a small museum telling their story.  The names of all 2,800 slaves who worked at Middleton Place from 1738 to the end of the Civil war are listed, along with the jobs they held, and, chillingly, the price that was paid for them. There is Judy, a house wench and seamstress purchased for $70, and Cuffy, a carpenter who was bought for $60.   Old Jenny came for just $15, but it must have been a package deal because Paul, her son, a gardener, fetched $70.  

Every year, Middleton has a reunion of the family members who trace their history back to the Middleton name.  Since 2006, the descendants of the 2,800 slaves who lived there have been researched and also invited; some 200 attended in 2016.

7.     Charleston was a major battleground in the American Revolution. 
Mention the Revolution, and most people think of Boston, Paul Revere, Philadelphia and the Liberty Bell, but there were actually 135 engagements during the Revolution in South Carolina, more than in all New England.  

As the richest city in the colonies, Charleston was a major prize and the British sent an expedition of nine ships to capture it in June 1776.  Quick thinking Americans built a fort out of rubber-like palmetto palm tree trunks and sand.  To the disgust of the British, their cannonballs bounced off the soft palm trees, or got imbedded in the sand, while the American guns were able to do great damage to the British Navy.  This attack failed, but in 1779 the British sent an even larger fleet and laid siege to Charleston.  The Americans surrendered in what was to be the largest colonial defeat of the war.

8.       Today, historic Charleston looks so much like it did during the Revolution, that when Mel Gibson filmed The Patriot here, all he had to do was take down signs and put mulch on the streets.  The fire department wouldn’t let him remove fire plugs, so every time there was a fire plug in a scene, he placed a woman in a big hoop skirt directly over it.

Poe's Tavern near Fort Moultrie
Fort Moultrie, where the first battle took place, disappeared long ago, but a second fort still stands and a museum tells the role this spot had in three wars.  After visiting, stop by the Poe Tavern for a drink.  Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie in 1827 (although to escape gambling debts and family problems, he had enlisted in the army as Edgar A. Perry).  Several of his famous short stories were written here or based on the area.

9.     Another revolutionary war battlefield is now the hippest place in town.

The real fighting during the siege of Charleston in 1779 was right downtown in what is now Marion Square.  Not that long ago, there was little for tourists north of this park, but today, the Upper King Street neighborhood is the hippest hood in town and booming with new eateries and clubs, while the park hosts a weekly farmer’s market and art shows.

When it opens in spring 2018, Hotel Bennett will rise from the park in attractive tiered building offering 179 luxury rooms and suites, many with spectacular views and balconies overlooking Marion Square.  With a rooftop pool, a 1,000-seat music venue, view bars, and indoor and outdoor meeting space, the hotel will have the grandest location in Charleston. 

The seafood tower in The Ordianry

The eight blocks north of here are now one long string of James Beard restaurants, music clubs, and lowcountry cuisine cafes with tap houses and distilleries sprinkled in.  It’s packed with people and even lines on weekends, and busy every night.  TheOrdinary deserves all the raves. From their spectacular shellfish tower signature dish to oyster sliders, the restaurant is simply amazing, transforming an old bank into a chic multi-level shellfish house.  The Macintosh was the first big name on the street (Executive Chef Jeremiah Bacon is a five-time James Beard semifinalist).  How could you not love a place that has a Bacon Happy Hour?  Prohibition is a 1920s style speakeasy with live music six nights a week ranging from bluegrass to Cuban jazz.

There are at least seven breweries in downtown Charleston with more on the way.  On Upper King, try the Charleston Beer Works and the spectacularly named, “Closed for Business” – both are tap houses with a wide selection of local beers, which, like anywhere in the south, tend to run to light, pales, sour, fruit and ambers.

10.   The Civil War started in Charleston with the type of “battle” all wars should have – no one was killed. 

Everyone knows the Civil War started at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired the first shells at Fort Sumter.  Some 3,000 bombs later, the United States forces surrendered.  No one had been killed. 

The Huntley, the world's first submarine, also fought in Charleston Harbor. 

Less well known is that the American forces came back in April 1863 and commenced the largest bombardment in U.S. history.  For 20 months, the Union hurled seven million pounds of metal at Fort Sumter, and were never able to take it.  They also bombarded Charleston in what was to be the longest bombardment of any American city in history, destroying much of the town.  And regiments of African American troops assaulted Fort Wagner which protected Charleston, in an attack depicted in the movie Glory.  Nothing succeeded, and Charleston was only taken when Sherman marched to it from Atlanta.

It's amazing, given the history, how much has survived here.

Of course, Charleston had also been destroyed by a fire in 1838 with 1,200 buildings burned, and then was hit by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which damaged 80 percent of the homes and left 50,000 people homeless.  And if that’s not enough, Charleston is also on a major geologic fault and an earthquake in 1886 destroyed much of the city (and many experts think Charleston is way overdue for another). 

All of these historic incidents are depicted at Fort Sumter National Monument.  A visit is mandatory, and free – if you swim.  But it costs $21 if you want to take the hour ferry each way.

Unfortunately, yet another disaster – this one manmade -- occurred on June 17, 2015, when a crazy psychotic killed nine members of a bible study group at the Emanuel AME church, just a few blocks from Marion Square.

The tower of the Emanuel AME Church stands proud.

Through all of these tragedies, Charleston has survived, endured and come out stronger and better.

On the second anniversary of the shooting, it was announced that famed architect Michael Arad, designer of the National September 11 Memorial in New York, will create a piece to honor the victims of this tragic shooting.  

It is perhaps because Charleston has endured so much that it is so beautiful.  Walking its quiet backstreets on tree-shaded brick sidewalks is one of the great joys of visiting this city.  On every block there’s something to admire.  Peek through a gate to see a private garden, duck down a tree-covered alley, wander through a graveyard, or read the plaques mounted on hundreds of homes to see who lived here.  There is no place else quite like Charleston.

There are hundreds of flower baskets in Charleston

The CharlestonConvention & Visitors Bureau is one of the best in the nation with a large, incredible visitor’s center packed with helpful advice.  The Hyatt House and Hyatt Place share a common courtyard and are ideal place to stay, within walking distance of the historic district, and smack in the center of the exciting new restaurants and clubs along Upper King Street.  They Hyatt House has a kitchen and order your own omelet breakfast.  Bulldog Tours does excellent walking tours of the historic district. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Nine Colorful Characters Who Made History in Estes Park, Colorado

Sitting at the edge of Colorado’s No. 1 attraction – Rocky Mountain National Park – the little resort village of Estes Park lies in one of the world’s most beautiful locations, and as such, it has been attracting visitors for more than 150 years. In addition to the millions of tourists who have passed through, here are some other colorful characters who made history in Estes Park.

Longs Peak rising above the clouds
In 1865, nearly twenty years before his classic “Around the World in 80 Days,” Jules Verne wrote a science fiction novel “From the Earth to the Moon” about the first spacecraft to the moon, which was fired from a gigantic cannon. To follow the space ship’s progress, he imagined a fictional 80-foot-long telescope on top of Estes Park’s most famous mountain, the 14,259-foot-high Longs Peak. This was somewhat remarkable, since at this point in history, no known person had ever climbed Longs Peak. Verne mistakenly thought this was the highest mountain in the United States. He wrote: “All the necessary apparatus was consequently sent on to the summit of Long's Peak…  Neither pen nor language can describe the difficulties of all kinds which the American engineers had to surmount…. They had to raise enormous stones, massive pieces of wrought iron, heavy corner-clamps and huge portions of cylinder, with an object-glass weighing nearly 30,000 pounds, above the line of perpetual snow for more than 10,000 feet in height.” Quite an accomplishment in 1865 when in reality, there was only one family living at the base of Longs Peak – that of Joel Estes.
Experience: It’s not quite as big as Verne imagined it all those years ago, but the Estes Park Memorial Observatory’s Ritchey-Chretien telescope is your gateway into deep space.

Lake Estes bears the name of Joel Estes, first known resident of the area.
Joel was a restless man. He and his wife Patsey raised 13 children. Joel crossed the Oregon Trail, went prospecting in California and ended up in Denver in 1859 as a cattle rancher.  The Gold Rush crowds in Denver forced him farther and farther up into the hills, where he finally discovered an incredibly beautiful secret valley at the base of Longs Peak. When William Byers, the editor of the Rocky Mountain News, tried to climb Longs Peak, he stayed with the Estes family. Though unsuccessful, he rewarded the Estes’ hospitality by naming the valley “Estes Park.” By 1866, Joel was restless again and sold all of Estes Park for a pair of oxen and moved back to Missouri. But the memory of the place that still bears their name lingered on. Patsey later said her time there “was like living on the front doorstep of heaven.” 
Experience: The Estes Park Museum provides a window into the town’s past, with artifacts and exhibits stretching back to Joel Estes’ time.

Today there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park
Even though he lost his right arm fighting for the Union at the Battle of Shiloh, John Wesley Powell became one of the most well known explorers in history. In 1869, he led the first expedition to ever sail down the Grand Canyon in boats. A year earlier, he and William Byers made several attempts to climb Longs Peak, but were turned back each time. Finally, they found a route to the top and became the first white men known to do reach the summit (though they found evidence that Native Americans had beaten them to the top). It is estimated that 200,000 people have climbed Longs Peak since then, about 7,500 a year – although 60 have died trying.
Experience: Get to the top of the iconic Longs Peak in a safe and responsible way with a guide from Estes Park Mountain Shop – 14,255 feet above sea level.

MacDonald's Bookshop in Estes Park

The fourth woman in history to climb Longs Peak was destined to become one of the most famous travel writers of all time. Growing up in England, Isabella Bird was frail and suffered from nervous headaches and insomnia. Her doctors recommended an outdoor life, and in 1873 she moved to Colorado, where the air was said to be good for your health. Settling in Estes Park, she eventually traveled 800 miles around the Rocky Mountains with her guide (some people said he was more than a guide) a one-eyed desperado named “Rocky Mountain Jim” Nugent (see below). Writing about him in her book, “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains,” she said he was a "man any woman might love but no sane woman would marry." (In Victorian England, that line was censored.) Isabella went on to travel and write about all corners of the world and became the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Experience: Isabella’s book about Colorado is still a great read and available in the national park gift shops and around town. Drop in to MacDonald’s Bookshop, Estes Park’s original bookstore, family owned since 1928, and browse their extensive history section.

Rangers give guided tours around Sprauge Lake.

Jim told so many tall tales that it’s difficult to separate truth from fiction. He may have been a trapper for the Hudson Bay Company, a British army officer or a defrocked priest. But we know for sure that he arrived in what would become Rocky Mountain National Park in the late 1860s. There, a close encounter with a bear left him with a scarred face and one less eye. Undeterred, he became one of the first guides in Estes Park and helped Isabella Bird and many others climb Longs Peak. But he had a falling out with another rival guide, Griff Evans. A year after Isabella returned to England, Evans shot “Rocky Mountain Jim” in cold blood with a double barrel shotgun. Incredibly, Jim lived long enough to write a statement accusing Evans, but without witnesses, Evans never stood trial.
Experience: The Fall RiverVisitor Center offers a variety of ranger-led educational opportunities, as well as exhibits on wildlife survival – just so you don’t end up looking like “Rocky Mountain Jim.”

The village of Estes Park sits right at the base of the national park lands, which, ironically, Lord Dunraven helped save.
 A good friend and drinking buddy of the murderer Griff Evans was Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, the fourth Earl of Dunraven of Ireland. Lord Dunraven came to Estes Park on a hunting trip in 1872 and fell in love with it. In what has been called one of the greatest land thefts in Colorado history, Dunraven acquired (mostly through unscrupulous means) 15,000 acres of land around Estes Park to create his own private hunting reserve. 
But the locals disliked his heavy-handed ways, and he became disenchanted with the large number of tourists visiting his private property (as many as 200 a summer!). So eventually Dunraven packed up and moved back to England, never returning. 

Experience: Lord Dunraven came from Ireland – but the Dunraven Inn, the classic Estes Park restaurant that bares his name specializes in Italian food. But certainly he’d approve of the Lord Dunraven, a center-cut sirloin steak charbroiled to perfection.  

Lord Dunraven's private hunting estate is now the national park.
Before leaving, Lord Dunraven hired Albert Bierstadt, one of the most famous artists of the day, to create masterpieces of Estes Park. Dunraven paid him $15,000 – a deal in today’s terms. These days, Bierstadt is considered one of the great artists of the American West and his paintings, which hang in a dozen museums including the Smithsonian, can sell for $7 million or more. His paintings of Estes Park and the Rocky Mountains (now in the Denver Art Museum) helped popularize the area around the world. When Lord Dunraven decided to build a hotel, legend has it that artist Albert Bierstadt selected the site that would offer the best views and artistic light. That hotel burned down, but the next landlord would replace it.
Experience: Estes Park’s gorgeous sights continue to inspire, and the Art Center of Estes Park’s gallery brings together an array of masterpieces from local artists.
The skies and clouds above Estes Park have inspired countless artists.
In 1903, F.O. Stanley, the wealthy inventor and producer of one of the first automobiles, the Stanley Steamer, was stricken with tuberculosis. Seeking a cure, he did what many did at the time and sought out the fresh air of Estes Park. In one season, his health improved dramatically and he resolved to turn the area into a world-class summer resort. He purchased 160 acres from Lord Dunraven and in 1907 constructed a grand hotel in the Colonial Revival style of New England, complete with electric lights, telephones, and en suite bathrooms. It was the first resort in the world where guests arrived by car rather than by train. Stanley helped Estes Park grow into a real resort village, and with his friend, naturalist Enos Mills, worked tirelessly to create Rocky Mountain National Park, which opened in 1915. The Stanlely Hotel offered every modern service, except heat — a factor that helped determine its future fame.
Experience: Take a step back in time and learn more about The Stanley Hotel's rich history during a daily guided tour that takes you all over the property.

The Stanley Hotel
In late fall 1974, a fledgling writer named Stephen King wanted to cross Trail Ridge Road, but it was already closed due to snow. He sought refuge in the Stanley Hotel. At this time, lacking heat, the Stanley was in the process of closing for the winter and King was the only guest. He sat up late with Grady, the one remaining bartender, walked the empty corridors of the hotel, and finally checked into room 217 … where he had one of the worst nightmares of his life. But by morning, he also had the outline of The Shining, his first best-selling hardback book. Both Grady and room 217 make important appearances in the book. The Stanley Kubrick/Jack Nicholson film of The Shining was shot in Oregon, but King disliked it so much, he supported a 1997 television movie remake, filmed entirely on site at the Stanley Hotel. Today, the Stanley is regarded as one of the most haunted hotels in the world and is studied by paranormal experts. Ghost Tours of the hotel are a popular excursion in Estes Park, and the film The Shining plays on cable in every room in the Stanley, 24-7. But don’t watch it there alone. 
Experience: Want to discover the Stanley’s “spiritual” side? Night GhostTours at the hotel take you to a few darkened spaces, telling the tales behind the "active" phenomena and spirit folklore that have been causing bumps in the night for decades.

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.