D.C.Trip - Day 3 Monticello

Hotel window view in Charlottsville
Day 3 was a Sunday. We slept late since we were not all that far from D.C. now. At least the girls slept late. As usual, I was up relatively early, but after taking my morning shower, I went down to the lobby and had several cups of coffee and read some of Stephen King’s new book 11/22/63 on my iPad.

About 8:30, I headed back up to the room to get the girls out of bed. To me, more sleep than about 6 hours is a waste of time, but I obviously am of the minority opinion in my family. While waiting for them to finish getting ready, I took a picture looking out of our hotel room window to add to my collection. One of these days I’ll publish a book – My Hotel Windows – A Compilation of the Most Boring, Tedious Views Imaginable.

Going thru Charlottsville to Monticello
After breakfast, we headed a short distance to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I have to be honest, it was not my idea to stop here. Momma-woman has long found Mr. Jefferson to be a fascinating person and has wanted to come here for years, so since it is her vacation too, we put it on the itinerary. Turns out, the dude was pretty cool and I’m glad we went.

The first thing I learned other than the home is located in a breathtakingly beautiful location is that it is on the United Nations World Heritage List of 936 internationally significant sites, along with places like the Great Wall of China, Mesa Verde and the Tower of London. The 2nd thing I learned from the tour guide was that the man was a genius. In addition to authoring the Declaration of Independence and his time in public office as president, vice-president, member of the Continental Congress, governor of Virginia, and Minister of Trade with France, he was also a noted philosopher and historian, successful planter, inventor, and the founder of the University of Virginia. He owned 2 estates, including the 5,000 acre Monticello, and had about 200 slaves to help him. At any given time, about 100 of his 200 slaves were under the age of 16; and it is accepted that some of those young slaves were fathered by him after his wife died.

Entrance to Monticello
In his fifty-six years at Monticello he always kept himself very busy. He would start his day at first light, reportedly getting out of bed as soon as he could read the hands of the obelisk clock that he designed. This clock was marked by clangs from a Chinese gong placed on the roof. The gong was powered by the clock located in the entrance hall. The mechanism was controlled by fifty pound cannonball weights that would descend slowly throughout the week, passing the days of the week marked on the wall as they descended and then falling through holes in the floor by Friday, spending the next two days falling further into the cellar.

Some of his other inventions include a dumbwaiter; a writing machine that enabled him to make exact copies of letters as he was writing them; Venetian blinds he used to regulate sunlight in his greenhouses; a moldboard for a plow; and his achromatic telescope.

When he was not busy building, designing or inventing, Thomas Jefferson spent many hours writing one of his more than 20,000 letters, or reading from one of his more than seven thousand books in his library. His library contained books in seven languages, two of which were Latin and Greek, languages he had mastered. When he worked at his desk, he would have no less than twenty books at a time in which to refer.

One of his great pleasures was his vegetable garden. Among the vegetables in the large garden was the English pea, his favorite vegetable. He grew fifteen types of the English pea, and he happily noted in his Garden Book when “peas come to table.” By staggering the planting of peas, Jefferson was able to eat them fresh from the garden from the middle of May to the middle of July. Aside from personal preference, Jefferson might have taken special note of his English peas because of an annual neighborhood contest to see which farmer could bring to table the first peas of spring. The winner would host the other contestants in a dinner that included the peas. Though Jefferson’s mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage, the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers. As Jefferson’s grandson recalled: “A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. My grandfather on one occasion had them first, but when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, ‘No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend Mr. Divers to think that he never fails.’”

Rear of Monticello
President Jefferson spent forty years designing Monticello, building it, tearing it apart, redesigning it, and finally putting it all back together. He loved the house and its’ property, and knew the name of every tree planted on its grounds. And if one of his trees died, he knew it. He used his own kilns to bake the more than half-million bricks he used in the various stages of its construction.
While serving as Minister to France, he filled almost a hundred crates with furniture and various works of art for the many rooms at Monticello. While in France he would collect fruit trees and bring them with him on the long boat trip home.

I love finding out about people who think outside-the-box when it comes to thinking up a simple solution to a problem and when you see the solution, you think, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” For example, he had cattle on his plantation, but did not want fences to break up the vista of his mountaintop home. His solution? Rather than putting something up, he went down. He dug long, slender ditches in the earth, just wide and deep enough that the cattle would not cross over them, but they posed no obstacle to a man. In addition to serving as an invisible fence, the ditches also served as irrigation ditches which funneled rain-water into holding ponds! 
The tour was interesting and informative. Thomas Jefferson was indeed a most interesting man and his home is still beautiful and very functional. It seems he hated wasted space and what he considered a waste was unique. Unfortunately, taking pictures is not allowed inside Monticello so I guess you’ll just have to go see for yourself the bed in the wall, the octagon room and the hidden doors, panels and holes in the floors that he created to reduce that hated wasted space.

Michie Tavern where we had a good,
but expensive lunch.
After the tour, we headed down the road 1/2 mile and had a late lunch at Michie Tavern, an historic tavern and store first opened in 1784. The atmosphere is authentic, rustic 18th century with servers in period costume, but the food is more of a modern southern-style – fried chicken, pulled pork barbecue, baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, beets, cornbread and biscuits. We shared a bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate syrup for dessert. At $16.75 per adult and $10.95 for the girl child, plus $5 for the ice cream, I thought the prices were a bit expensive for a lunch. After taxes and tip, the bill was over $60, but the food was pretty darn good and it made the momma-woman happy so money well spent!

Eating the last of the ice cream.
By the time we arrived in Washington, D.C., it was dark and I was surprised to find that even though it was a Sunday evening, the traffic was very heavy. Where are all of these people going on a Sunday night? Of course, with cars doing about 80 MPH all around us and us not knowing where the heck exactly we were going, even with the GPS, we managed to not make a right turn across 2 lanes of whizzing traffic within about 20 yards after entering on the left side of the freeway (who the heck designed that one?!) and soon found ourselves in an area we didn’t feel comfortable being in. We pulled off to the side of the road for a minute to get our bearings and to let the GPS recover from too many “recalculating” tries and soon we were back on the correct path to our destination, the Holiday Inn in downtown Washington.

After a harrowing 45 minutes of driving in that traffic at night, we were very happy to finally get to the hotel. Once again, the front desk folks were nice and efficient; the lobby was clean and functional. We got checked in, retrieved a luggage cart and started unpacking the car. We stacked luggage on that cart until it looked like a pyramid. We let momma-woman drive the car to the underground parking while Youngest-daughter and I took the pyramid cart up to the room.

I started pulling that over-loaded cart across the lobby and it felt like it weighed about 500 pounds! After I pulled until I thought I would pass out, I kindly requested Youngest-daughter to make herself useful why don’t you and push! We finally made it to the room and I felt like some sadistic Nazi man-hater had been working me out with weights for the last hour. With sweat dripping down my face, I began taking bags off of the cart and bags, suitcases, and boxes started falling down around me. The room was rather small and tight quarters and when a girl’s heavy bag fell on my foot, I retrieved my 1 suitcase and my laptop bag, put it on the floor by the in-room desk, and piled all of the girl’s stuff on one bed. It seemed to be piled half way to the ceiling. I don’t know where we are going to put all of this stuff.

I asked Youngest-daughter to please take the now empty luggage cart back down to the lobby. She tugged on it, but it didn’t go. That caught my attention. She looked down and said, “Oh, the little brake thingy is on. I forgot I pushed it down when we were loading it at the car. Sorry, Dad.” It’s a very good thing I love that little girl so much.

Tomorrow we get to see D.C. in the daylight. I’m pretty excited about it. First stop, a tour of the Library of Congress. It’s close enough to walk there, which makes me a happy camper since I won’t have to drive in the morning rush hour traffic. And I’m anxious to see the view from our hotel room window in the morning. I'm hoping it won’t be as boring as it appears to be in the dark.

D.C. Trip - Day 2 Appomattox

The morning of Day 2, I awoke early, took my shower, turned on the lights and woke up the girls at 6:45, packed my stuff and hauled it down to the car, pleaded with the girls to get out of bed ‘cause “we’re burning daylight,” grabbed my iPad and found my way down to the hotel lobby for a cup of coffee and the free breakfast.

We left at 8:30. That’s not a misprint – 8:30! A new world record time for us to leave! I told the girls how much I loved them just then, got out a calendar to mark the date for the new record leaving time, stopped at a gas station to feed the Honda, and off we went for a new day’s adventure.
Appomattox Court House.

We decided to take a small detour on our way to D.C. to see Appomattox Court House. The momma-woman can take Civil War stuff or leave it, but being a native-born Texan with ancestors who fought and died during that terrible time, I’m a bit of a nut about it. She knows and is an understanding and very patient spouse so she was OK with the side-trip.

In the words of Charles Kuralt – thanks to the interstate highway system, it is possible to go from coast to coast without seeing anything. Having spent the whole first day of our trip seeing nothing on I-40, we hooked up with I-81 not far outside of Knoxville and I prepared myself for more hours of boring driving. However, I was very pleasantly surprised to find it actually rather pretty and interesting due to the terrain – very large hills, plenty of trees, and interesting architecture of the houses we passed. Momma-woman stayed awake most of the time and we enjoyed several nice conversations along the way. Even Youngest-daughter put aside her Nook, looked at the countryside, asked a few questions and took part in several conversations. It was turning out to be a very good day indeed!

The McLean House where the
surrender took place.
We jumped off the interstate in Roanoke and took Hwy 460 east. It’s a 4-lane road, smooth, and again, because of the interesting terrain, was rather enjoyable to drive. We stopped for lunch in Lynchburg and finally made it to the Appomattox National Historic Park at about 3:30 – pretty good timing since the park closes at 5:00 and the last Ranger guided tour starts at 4:00.

It’s a very interesting park and the Rangers were, as usual, very friendly, interesting, and informative. We received basically personal attention from everyone because other than one other guy, we were the only visitors. We visited the houses, the stores, the jail, and the courthouse of the Appomattox Courthouse community; we walked the dirt roads where General Robert E. Lee, General Ulysses S. Grant, their men and all of the other civil war soldiers walked; and we visited the McLean house where the actual surrender took place on April 9, 1865. To stand there, especially in the actual parlor of the house where such an historical event took place, was humbling. The Ranger lady was very good. She led us to the spot, told the story, filled in some interesting details, then just stood back and let us stand there in silence, actually feeling the history, the smells of the house, trying to picture the surrender ceremony, trying to comprehend the weight of the decision on General Lee’s shoulders knowing that after 4 years of such hard struggles, of so much suffering and death, he was about to change the course of history by signing his name to a piece of paper saying, “We will lay down our guns, we will fight no more, we will change our way of life. It’s over.”

Ranger giving tour in the cold.
If you would like to read what I think is a really interesting story about Wilmer McLean and the surrender ceremony, please see one of my other entries here: Wilmer McLean.

We left the park at 5:15 and headed back east toward Lynchburg where we caught Hwy 29 before reaching the town and headed north. I’m sure Hwy 29 would be a joy to drive during the daylight hours as it is mostly just 2 lanes with almost continuous curves through hill, valley and dale, but I’m afraid my night vision isn’t as good as it once was and the sun had already gone to bed. With all of the blind, dark curves and only a memory of yellow and white lines left to hint at guidance, I decided it would be best for younger, sharper-eyed Momma-woman to take the wheel. It was OK because I’m such a good co-pilot. I will often offer calm, helpful guidance. When a car slows down in front of us, I calmly slam my foot into the floorboard and say “Slow down!” Helpful mumbles of “Watch out!” and “Do you see that car slowing down up ahead?!” and “You’re taking this curve too fast!” and “We’re all going to die!!” are somewhat common. It’s beyond me why she doesn’t seem to appreciate my help.

Daughter in the old
Appomattox jail.
After a couple of hours which seemed longer, we safely reached Charlottesville and found a Hampton Inn located next to a nice shopping center. This time we only removed from the car the bags we would need rather than everything, including the kitchen sink which I was pretty sure the girls had also packed. We were able to walk to a Chili’s right around the corner for supper. Not much to say about that – it was Chili’s – decent food at a decent price, but not something to gush over. Once again, the hotel was nice, the front desk staff friendly and welcoming, the beds were fine. And like the previous night, we relaxed for a while, and soon found ourselves in bed and asleep before the clock struck 11:00. We’ll be in D.C. tomorrow!

D.C. Trip - The Beginning

Youngest-daughter has been studying government and history in school for a while now and the Mamma-woman and I believe learning is best when you can see and touch as well as read and hear so this year we decided to take a little road trip to Washington, D.C. over the Christmas holidays. We were going to fly, but Mamma-woman wanted to visit a few other sites that we needed a car to get to, plus, flying these days is such a hassle and I love road trips so after a new set of tires, an oil change, and a dealer check of all systems, we packed our ever-dependable Honda Odyssey, dropped off Riley the Wonder Dog at the kennel, pointed the GPS to Washington D.C. 1,049 miles away, and on Friday morning, the 21st of December, away we did go.

Of course, I had wanted to get an early start, but somehow, no matter how excited everyone is to be going and no matter how early I begin gently and lovingly screaming for everyone to get out of bed or I swear I’ll leave without them, we just cannot get away before 9:30. I don’t know how my girls manage to do this (I’m just a man and can’t be expected to figure it out), but I’ve learned to accept this. Get up at 6:00, leave at 9:30; get up at 8:30, leave at 9:30. It’s called a conundrum.

We made our first potty-break stop at 10:15. Mamma-woman needed to get rid of her morning coffee. Youngest-daughter doesn’t have to go and can’t make herself. At 10:35 when we made the 2nd potty-break for Youngest-daughter, we were just east of Little Rock and after consulting the GPS to see how many more miles were ahead of us, I came to the conclusion that at this rate, we would arrive sometime around the middle of January. Things calmed down a little after that and we were able to make good progress – until 11:10 when youngest-daughter asked when we were going to stop for lunch and Mamma-woman said we might as well start looking for a McDonald’s ‘cause she needed another potty-break anyway. We were 75 miles from home and only had another 975 miles to go. I was filled with joy.

Back on the road after McDonald’s, with full bellies and empty bladders, it was nap time. Not for me of course, but I contented myself with the thought that my girls trust me enough for them to fall asleep in the car I’m driving – for several hours. I kept myself company softly singing along with my iPod tunes and making very elaborate plans for what to do after I hit the lottery for $50 million.

Over the Mississippi River into Memphis
I woke up the girls just before crossing the Mississippi River and entering Tennessee so they could see it. They were less than impressed since they’ve seen this before. The first “How much longer?” comes from the back seat almost at the same time as, “I could use a potty-break” comes from the co-pilot seat.

I’ll skip forward to the evening of the first night as there isn’t much to tell. Since we were on a time schedule with hotel reservations in D.C., we stayed on I-40 the whole day. Trust me, there’s not much to get excited about while traveling I-40. It wasn’t long until I started thinking, “How much longer?” myself as the miles slowly passed under our wheels.

We decided to stop for the night in Knoxville, Tennessee. We didn't have a reservation so the Mamma-woman used a handy-dandy little iPhone app to find a nice, but affordable place just off the freeway – Fairfield Inn & Suites, Knoxville/East at 1551 Cracker Barrel Lane. By the time we arrived, it was dark and the entrance is a bit confusing to get to as it is down a 1-way street on the other side of the freeway from the side we were on. We flat out missed it the first time with the GPS saying, “Turn left here,” “Recalculating,” “Drive 1/2 mile…” ”Recalculating.” But we figured it out the 2nd time around and were rewarded with a quick check-in and a nice, clean room. We got in our workouts by hauling most of our stuff from the car. I determined we had brought with us about 98% of everything we own.

There wasn't much in the way of food establishments around the hotel and we were pretty tired (how do you get so tired just driving/riding in a car?) so we settled for a quick trip a couple of blocks away to a Wendy’s for salads. I applauded them for hiring the elderly when I saw the lady getting us our food had silver-blue hair and was obviously no spring chicken. I’m not going to be a cad and say anything negative about the sweet dear totally messing up our order several times. She was trying and I can only hope I last that long so good for her!

Not long after returning to the hotel we all crashed and fell asleep. The room was quiet and the beds were very comfortable. We had knocked off 558 miles and the girls had pee'd they're way across 2 states when the day was done.

Postcard From Dalby Springs, Texas Ghost Town

Dalby Springs church and bell
Dalby Springs. At one time a vibrant town, people thought it was a place of healing. Now it is a virtual ghost town, just a shadow of what it once was. For the folks who still call it home, that may not be such a bad thing.

Interior of the church gathering dust
and spiders
Located in Bowie County in far northeast Texas, Anglo settlement of the area began in 1839 when Warren Dalby and his family settled on land beside four natural fresh-water springs. The land was fertile and proved ideal for farming and soon a handful of other settlers arrived. Unknown by them, archaeological evidence later proved the springs had been used for thousands of years by prehistoric people and then by Caddo and other bands of Indians who roamed the area before the Dalby family arrived. By the 1850′s, the Anglos learned what the Indians had known for hundreds of years; the springs which gushed reddish colored water due to their high mineral content, contained healing medicinal properties. Through word-of-mouth, visitors who came to “take the water” at Dalby Springs soon made the sleepy little farming settlement into a boom town.

Dalby Springs Cemetery
Buildings were erected to accommodate the visitors and a post office was opened in 1860. The town made it through the Civil War relatively unscathed and by the late 1860’s it had churches, a school, five mills, five cotton gins, a newspaper, and a population estimated at 250. In 1871, it was reported that there were fifty to seventy-five people there every day to drink the spring water. The same observer claimed the water was “good for dyspepsia, diseases of the skin and kidneys and also for diseases of females. It is a sovereign remedy for barrenness. If Abraham and Sarah had visited this spring, Isaac would have figured fifty years earlier in Biblical history.” Unfortunately, crime also found the town with several murders and a number of theft incidents.

Gravestone with fungus eating away at it.
The popularity of bathing in mineral waters peaked in the early 1890’s with people spending a week to a full month in the towns containing the springs, but the fad was over by the mid to late 1890’s. In the 1900 census, the population of Dalby Springs was listed as 200 as farms consolidated and fewer people came to bath in and drink the spring water. The town’s population gradually reduced until the 1950 census showed only 50 residents remained with no business, no school, only 1 church and the graveyard beside it.

Today, the spring waters have declined to a trickle and several hand pumps are in use to bring the water above ground. There are still a few isolated farms and homes in the area, but even the church with it’s updated interior has been shuttered and is busy accumulating dust and cobwebs. The fenced graveyard has been mowed, but the old headstones are slowly being eaten away by fungus. The bell beside the graveyard which used to be rung to summon the residents for church services, burials, and community functions is rusting and hasn’t sounded in years.

Fungus rotting away a windowsill of the church.
As I started to leave, a kid of about 12 pulled up on a red Honda 4-wheeler next to where I had parked my truck on the side of the dirt road. I walked out and tried to start a conversation with him. “Nice truck” he said as I approached. “Thanks,” I replied, “Does anyone use the church anymore?” “No, sir. I don’t remember it ever being used. Nothing ever happens around here. I gotta go home ‘cause my dad called me” he said as he pointed to the iPhone hanging from his belt. He waved as he pulled away and I stood there watching as the cloud of dirt he had raised slowly settled. I left in my truck a few minutes later and my own cloud of dirt billowed up behind me until I made it to the 2-lane black top road. I continued on my way as the dirt settled back down in my rearview mirror.

Wilmer McLean, Man of Fate

Wilmer McLean was born on May 3, 1814 in Manassas, Virginia. As a teenager, he enlisted in the Virginia Militia and retired in 1854 after obtaining the rank of Major. He purchased a plantation at Manassas Junction along Bull Run and began to make many needed repairs and enhancements to the property where he lived with his wife and children. He became a part-time farmer and full-time merchant, mostly buying and selling sugar. He worked hard and became successful in his business. With his income from farming, selling sugar, and a modest retirement from the Virginia Militia, a nice and loving family and a comfortable place to live, life was good. He probably would have lived out his life in relative obscurity, but history came knocking on his front door in 1861 and his name was destined to be recorded as the only man on whose front porch a war started and in whose parlor a war ended.

The bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter near Charleston, Virginia on April 12 – 13, 1861 is known as the start of the American Civil War, but that’s not exactly true. Following declarations of secession by seven Southern states, South Carolina demanded the U.S. Army abandon its facilities in Charleston Harbor. On December 26, 1860, under cover of darkness, U.S. Major Robert Anderson moved his small command from the indefensible Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island to Fort Sumter, a substantial fortress controlling the entrance of Charleston Harbor. An attempt by U.S. President James Buchanan to reinforce and resupply Anderson, using the unarmed merchant ship Star of the West, failed when it was fired on by shore batteries on January 9, 1861. These were the actual first shots of the war. South Carolina authorities then seized all Federal property in the Charleston area, except for Fort Sumter which was placed under siege.

The road into Appomattox Court House
The first crisis for the newly elected president, Abe Lincoln, was Fort Sumter. He notified the governor of South Carolina that he was sending re-supply ships to the fort. In response, South Carolina demanded the evacuation of what it considered to be state’s property. Their demand was refused. Delegations from the south were then sent to Washington, D.C. and offered to pay for the Federal properties and enter into a peace treaty with the United States. President Lincoln however, rejected any negotiations with the Confederate agents because he did not consider the Confederacy a legitimate nation and making any treaty with it would be seen as recognition of it as a sovereign government. After several additional negotiations failed, at 3:20am on April 12, a southern delegation rowed a small boat over to the fort and a handwritten note was given to Major Anderson. It stated, “Sir: by authority of Brigadier General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.” Anderson escorted the officers back to their boat, shook hands with each one, and said “If we never meet in this world again, God grant that we may meet in the next.”

At 4:30am, bombardment of the fort from shore batteries began. The fort returned fire, but after 34 hours, even though there had been no loss of life on either side, Major Anderson raised a white flag of surrender and agreed to evacuate. Ironically, during the surrender ceremonies, the Union gunners fired off a cannon salute to the U.S. flag and one of the cannons exploded and killed 2 men. Private Daniel Hough was killed instantly, becoming the first casualty of the Civil War and Private Edward Gallway was mortally wounded, dying a few days later. Following the battle, Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion resulted in four more states also declaring their secession and joining the Confederacy.

The first large-scale battle of the war occurred beginning on July 18, 1861; the First Battle of Bull Run. Confederate troops were stationed along Bull Run to guard against a Union incursion from Washington, D.C. Many regiments were camped on the McLean plantation along the rail line and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was using McLean’s house as his headquarters. Union troops arrived in the area and attacked the Confederates just before noon. Mrs. McLean was preparing lunch for the general when the battle began. When the firing started, General Beauregard rushed out of the house, mounted his horse and raced to the front lines. Right after he left, the Federals began shelling the McLean house. One of the first shots sent a cannonball falling directly down the chimney and straight into the large pot of stew cooking on the fire. The ball exploded in the pot, resulting in no casualties, but the stew was splattered all over the room and the McLean family.

Appomattox Court House was locked 
on the day of surrender.
As the battle progressed, wounded were brought to the large barn Wilmer had built beside the McLean home. Soon though, the Union gunners began shelling the barn and the wounded had to be quickly evacuated. After the battle, Beauregard commented bitterly on the enemy treatment of the McLean barn, saying that it was “surmounted by the usual yellow hospital flag. I hope, for the sake of past associations, that it was ignorantly mistaken for a Confederate flag.”

A few days later, when the battle was over, Wilmer McLean, in an effort to protect his family from a recurrence of their near miss with death, packed up and moved 120 miles south to a small farm he purchased in isolated Virginia in the village of Appomattox Court House. Leaving was a smart thing to do as at least 2 more battles were fought on his plantation lands.

General Lee rode down this road on his 
way to McLean's house.
The McLean family lived in relative peace in their new 2-story red brick home for the next 3 years. But in early April, 1865, the war found them again. The main Confederate force, the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee was in retreat from Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. The Rebels were short on ammunition, weak from lack of food, few had proper clothing for the cold weather, there were almost no tents for shelter and many were barefoot and sick. In full retreat down a road near the McLean house, they ran into a small Yankee cavalry force guarding their one path of escape. When the Southern forces quickly swept aside this small force, it seemed they were on the way to escaping the clutches of the enemy. The men rejoiced and quickly started down the road, but suddenly, just a few hundred yards ahead, the main Yankee force crested a hill, blocking their path. General Lee called a meeting of his officers. Most wanted to continue the fight with either a charge straight into the teeth of the Union army or to break up into small groups who would try to make their way through the Union lines and continue to fight later in guerilla actions. But Lee knew this would only delay the inevitable and lead to more bloodshed and suffering for his men. With his officers and men around him, most of them in tears, he sent an emissary to General Grant offering to surrender his army.

General Grant and party rode down this 
road on their way to McLean's house.
General Lee also sent Colonel Charles Marshall over the hill to the settlement of Appomattox Court House to secure a proper place for the generals to meet. With the cessation of that morning’s battle, Wilmer McLean came out and was walking down a street of the community trying to figure out if the fighting would engulf his farm. Young officer Marshall in a tattered gray uniform hailed him, asking for a place where General Lee might meet with General Grant. The courthouse was an obvious choice, but it was locked and the person with the keys could not be found. McLean then showed the officer an unoccupied, unfurnished, unheated brick building in the center of the village and left him there. As he was walking up to the front porch of his home, Colonel Marshall ran up to him and asked, “Isn’t there some other place?” “Well,” McLean answered, “I supposed you could use my parlor.”

A short time later, Wilmer McLean stood on the front porch of his two-story brick house awaiting the arrival of General Lee. Shortly after noon, General Lee, accompanied by Colonel Marshall, arrived on horseback. Wilmer extended his greetings to the two Confederate officers and invited them into his parlor. And there, on April 9, 1865, they awaited the arrival of the other guests.
At about 1:30pm, a group of Union officers arrived on horseback. Among those were Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Major General P. H. Sheridan, Major General E. O. C. Ord, Major General Wesley Merritt, Major General George Armstrong Custer, and Captain Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln.

The McLean house where the surrender and 
end of the Civil War took place.
General Grant and several of the Union officers entered the parlor where General Lee was waiting. For the next 90 minutes, the generals discussed and came to agreement on the terms of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. For all practical purposes, the long, bloody war ended right there in Wilmer McLean’s parlor.

Once the ceremony was over, members of the Army of the Potomac began taking the tables, chairs, and other furnishings in the house – anything that was not tied down – as souvenirs. Some handed the protesting McLean family money as they made off with their property. Major Ord gave Wilmer $40 for the table Lee had used to sign the surrender document. Major General Sheridan got the table on which Grant had drafted the document for a $20 gold piece. Sheridan then asked George Armstrong Custer to carry it away on his horse. Few of their possessions were left by the time the soldiers were gone.

The McLean parlor - Lee sat at the table with 
the white top; Grant at the table on the right.
Five days later, on April 14, 1865, exactly 4 years to the day after he lowered it, Major General Robert Anderson, having survived the war, returned to Fort Sumter and raised the flag he had surrendered.
Wilmer and his family sold their Appomattox house in 1867 and returned to their Manassas plantation. They later moved to Alexandria, Virginia where he worked for the Internal Revenue Service. Wilmer McLean, who has gone down in history through a quirk of fate, died in Alexandria on June 5, 1882. His grave continues to be visited by the curious.

Postcard From The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

I recently heard of a remarkable action at the Tomb of the Unknowns, commonly known as The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and I thought I would share it with you. Being a veteran myself, I should know more facts about this distinguished memorial so I did a little research.

The marble for the Tomb of the Unknowns was furnished by the Vermont Marble Company of Danby, Vt. The marble is the finest and whitest of American marble, quarried from the Yule Marble Quarry located near Marble, Colorado and is called Yule Marble. The Marble for the Lincoln memorial and other famous buildings was also quarried there. The Tomb consists of seven pieces of rectangular marble:

Four pieces in sub base; weight 15 tons; One piece in base or plinth; weight – 16 tons; One piece in die; weight – 36 tons; One piece in cap; weight – 12 tons.

Carved on the East side (the front of the Tomb, which faces Washington, D.C.) is a composite of three figures commemorative of the spirit of the Allies of World War I. In the center of the panel stands Victory (female). On the right side, a male figure symbolizes Valor. On the left side stands Peace, with her palm branch to reward the devotion and sacrifice that went with courage to make the cause of righteousness triumphant.

The north and south sides are divided into three panels by Doric pilasters. In each panel is an inverted wreath. On the west, or rear panel (facing the Amphitheater) is inscribed: HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD

The current Tomb was completed and the area opened to the public at 9:15 a.m. April 9, 1932, without any ceremony. The cost of the tomb was $48,000, under budget by $2,000.

The first Tomb was created in 1921 and was unguarded. However, people climbed on it, sat on it, took pictures of each other standing on it and even had picnics on it so a day-time civilian guard was placed on duty in 1925 and a military guard replaced the civilians in 1926. The 24-hour military guard began in 1937.

Bodies of the unknown soldiers are not contained in the memorial itself, but rather in tombs. The tombs contain unidentified remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II, and Korea. There is an empty tomb where the unidentified remains of a soldier from Vietnam once laid. With the availability of more extensive records of combat action during Vietnam and due to the technical ability of identification through DNA, the previously unknown soldier was identified in 1998 as Air Force First Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, who was killed in action when his plane was shot down in South Vietnam in 1972.

Each of the unidentified remains were awarded the Medal of Honor by the then sitting president of the United States. First lieutenant Blassie’s Medal of Honor had to be rescinded upon his identification. Upon removal of his body, a marker was placed on the now empty tomb which reads, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”

The Third Infantry Regiment at Fort Myer has the responsibility for providing ceremonial units and honor guards for state occasions, White House social functions, public celebrations and interments at Arlington National Cemetery and standing the very formal sentry watch at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

A few interesting facts:

How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns and why? – 21 steps. It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.

How long does he hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and why? – 21 seconds, for the same reason as answer above.

Why are his gloves wet? – His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.
Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time, and if not, why not? – No, he carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.

How often are the guards changed? – Guards are changed every thirty minutes in the summer and every hour in the winter, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Other facts of the Guard:

A guard’s tour at the tomb is normally 1 year, but can be longer.

After extensive training, passing a special test, and 9 months of experience, the guard is given a Tomb Guard Identification badge that is worn over the right pocket of the uniform signifying they served as guard of the tomb. It is considered to be an honor of high prestige. There are only 525 presently worn.

Every guard (they call themselves “Sentinels”) spends approximately 6 – 8 hours every “off” day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty the next day. When a guard begins his shift, there can be no wrinkles, folds or lint on his uniform.

The Sentinels Creed:
My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection. Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability. It is he who commands the respect I protect. His bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

Most people think that when the Cemetery is closed to the public in the evening, the show stops. To the men who are dedicated to this work, it is not a show; it is a “charge of honor.” The formality and precision continues uninterrupted all night. During the nighttime, the drill of relief and the measured step of the on-duty sentry remain unchanged from the daylight hours. To these special men, the continuity of this post is the key to the honor and respect shown to these honored dead, symbolic of all unaccounted for American combat dead. The steady rhythmic step, in rain, sleet, snow, hail, heat, and cold must be uninterrupted. Uninterrupted is the important part of the honor shown.

And the story I wanted to tell you? Last year, hurricane Isabel roared through this area and did an incredible amount of damage – thousands of trees down, power outages, traffic signals out, roads filled with downed limbs and tons of debris everywhere. There was flooding and devastation throughout the area. At the height of the storm, the Regimental Commander of the U.S. Third Infantry sent word to the nighttime Sentry Detail to secure the post and seek shelter from the high winds to ensure their personal safety.

The men walking their post disobeyed his order. During winds that turned over vehicles and turned debris into projectiles, withstanding the stinging, pelting rain, the measured step continued. One of the soldiers later said “Guarding the Tomb is not just an assignment, it’s the highest honor that can be afforded a service person. Besides, I’ve got buddies getting shot at in Iraq who would kick my butt if word got to them that we let them down. I sure as hell have no intention of spending my Army career being known as the idiot who couldn’t stand a little breeze and shirked his duty.” Then, in response to a female reporter’s question regarding “silly, purposeless personal risk” he said, “I wouldn’t expect you to understand, ma’m,. It’s an enlisted man’s thing.”

The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1937.

Odd Paris, Texas

There are fifteen American municipalities named “Paris,” and most of them have erected an Eiffel Tower replica. Paris, Texas commemorated their Eiffel Tower in 1993. Coincidentally, Paris, Tennessee also commemorated theirs that same year. Unfortunately for them, their 60-ft tall tower had no bragging rights attached as the Texas Eiffel Tower came in at 65-ft tall. Not willing to just let it go, Tennessee soon replaced their tower with a 70-ft version and joyfully let the Texas clan know that despite Paris, Texas being the 2nd largest Paris in the world as well as the inspiration for the title of the hit 1984 movie “Paris, Texas,” they now were the site of the 2nd largest replica tower and therefore inferior to Paris, Tennessee.

No self-respecting Texan could not respond to such an affront, but boosters knew their rather small town could not afford to build a series of slightly bigger towers. So, being ever resourceful Texans, in 1998 they added a large red cowboy hat to the top of the tower. Placed on a pole on top of the tower, the hat added just enough height to officially be taller than the Tennessee entry. The hat, 4 ½-feet-tall and 10-feet wide, was then tilted to gain a few extra feet. With a friendly missive which basically said, “In your face!” Paris, Texas declared itself to be the location of the world’s tallest Eiffel Tower replica.

Any further one-upmanship was short-circuited the very next year when Las Vegas erected a 540-ft. tall Eiffel Tower Replica along the Strip. At half the height of the original (which is 984 ft. tall), this replica effectively put a stop to any future challenges. But Paris, Texas can still lay claim to being the location of the world’s only Eiffel Tower with a cowboy hat!

Fire-breathing dragon?
Paris is also home to the rather well-known, at least in Texas, Paris Junior College. While being respected for high-quality academics, the athletic accomplishments of the school have been rather successful with several national junior college championships in basketball and baseball. This success has come about in spite of what may be the absolute least-fearsome-depicted mascot in all the land –Pyro the Dragon. I know, dragons are usually thought to be fire-breathing monsters and therefore an excellent mascot that will no doubt instill fear in all unfortunate opponents. But Pyro? “Lovable doofus” comes to mind much more readily than a fire-breathing monster. Take a look and decide for yourself.

I visited Paris in early December, 2011, on an overcast, cold day with intermittent rain showers and a threatening storm. I found that unlike the bleak, dry, desert landscape depicted in the 1984 movie, the real Paris, Texas is located along the edge of the East Texas forest with gently rolling farm land far away from any desert. The town and the friendly people have a number of interesting items to see and things to do. A couple of days in one of the local B&B establishments with drives around town to see the sites and a good book to curl up with at night might be just what the doctor ordered if you need to unwind and take a break.

Enjoy the little things. One day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.

Jesus In Cowboy Boots

Evergreen Cemetery in Paris, Texas is the final resting place for over 40,000 souls. Founded by charter in 1866 by some of Paris’ most influential personalities, it was established in response to the growing needs of the growing city. The original cemetery was composed of only 16 acres and was sold to the cemetery association by George Wright for $320. When it was chartered, it had already had a history as a family cemetery, and since the original land sale, it has grown through grants and additional sales of land.

Today, Evergreen Cemetery is best known for the poignant headstones; the beautifully carved tributes to the loved and lost. They are emblems of history, art, and a window into the lives of those buried and their families. Among these markers are a variety of angels, both winged and not, young and old, each carved with a care and elegance that is increasingly rare in this modern world. There are also plants; leaves, ivies and broken trees. Perhaps these are a testament to the love of the natural world that someone once had. In addition, there are anchors and chains, a carved newspaper front page, a variety of sheep, and a resting buffalo.
Statue on the Babcock Family
With over 40,000 graves though, it’s the headstone of a small-town furniture maker which gets most of the attention. People come from near and far to see the grave they’ve heard about. Most don’t know the person buried there, they really just want to see what’s above him – Jesus in cowboy boots.
Jesus in cowboy boots?
Willet Babcock is the man in eternal rest beneath the boot-wearing Jesus. Willet was originally from New York and he owned two cabinet-making factories. He brought automation to his factories which helped Paris become the cabinet-making center of Texas in the 1870’s; he helped charter a railroad company; and he served on several boards of directors, including the Evergreen Cemetery.
However, few if any of the visitors know any of that. Actually, nobody really knows for sure if it really is Jesus up on the pedestal above Willet’s grave. Look closely and you might say he’s not as macho as most other depictions of Jesus. That same close inspection will also reveal Jesus is not carrying a cross, but is instead leaning on it. Some people think the figure is simply an angel leaning on a cross mourning over a grave. A local historian whose grandfather supposedly was friends with Willet is of the opinion that it is really a Shakespearian character up there as Willet was a big fan of the Bard, but he can’t say which character it is and besides, it’s highly doubtful any of them purchased their footwear from Sheplers.

Still other locals report Willet and his wife were atheists and the whole thing is just their tongue-in-cheek tweak-of-the-nose toward the ultra-religious conservatives in town. It is a long-held tradition, especially in the south, for people to be buried with their feet to the east. The east is the direction of Jerusalem, of the 2ndcoming, and Archangel Gabriel’s horn will sound from that quarter. In order to be facing Christ when they rise from their graves on Judgment Day, the dead must lie with their feet to the east. A posthumous punishment given to those who have extraordinary sins (murder, suicide) is to bury them on a north-south axis so the poor soul will rise facing in the wrong direction. The Babcock’s is the only statue in the cemetery that does not face east. Also, carved into the pedestal base are inverted torches and anything upside down is a sure sign of godlessness. The boots are simply a kicker, the final act of blasphemy, sort of like putting a Stetson on Noah.
What do you think?
The superintendent of Evergreen Cemetery has his own theory however. He thinks Willet simply had a sense of humor about the whole thing and that’s why he set it up that way, so it would give everybody something to cogitate on. He postulates that had Willet died today, we would probably see the same statue up there wearing Nikes. Maybe he was, after all, just a pretty cool guy.