Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Centralia / Earth, Wind & Fire

Centralia Mine Fire
Coal Country Pennsylvania

Smoldering Landscape
For our next stop, we headed a few miles north to the most well known place name in the area, the town of Centralia, known for its tragic mine fire. The story starts in 1962 when the borough asked the volunteer fire department to burn some trash in an abandoned strip mine pit next to the local cemetery. Apparently, this was a yearly tradition but the landfill was in a new location this year and unknown to everyone, there was a small exposed coal seam beneath the new trash pile. Efforts to extinguish the fire failed and the fire spread into the abandoned coal mines that ran beneath the town. It continues to burn out of control to the present day.

The town of about a thousand people has now dwindled to a population in the single digits since the fire started burning out of control causing health risks for the residents. My wife's great grandfather once owned a gas service station on the main street shown above. Recently, her brother David Grant went in search of the site of the former town Mobil Service Station.  He was able to find the cement base where the station's sign once proudly advertised his grandfather's business.  Soon it will be reclaimed by the progress of Mother Nature.

Mobil Station Sign Base
I remember passing through this town periodically on my way to and from college at Bloomsburg University during the late 80's and saw less and less of the town each trip. A government bailout allowed homeowners to sell their homes and most did with the exception of a few holdouts. As the people left, their homes were destroyed and the town slowly transformed into a ghost town.

 Former Home Sites
Today the one street town is unrecognizable as nature has reclaimed the former home sites. It resembles an episode from the series Life After People on the Discovery Channel. It is amazing how plant life and trees have erased the large footprint of man in such a short period of time. The sidewals are now hard to find just off the road's edge and are breaking apart as plants are forcing their way through. The continuous strong smell of sulfer and fog on rainy days are now the only evidence that hidden within the new growth, something is still very wrong here. However, in stark contrast to this sad story, on the ridge of above the lost town, an army of giant white turbines has suddenly appeared.

Windmills on the Horizon
Within the past two years, giant windmills have been built along the mountain ridge just above Centralia as far as the eye can see. Ironically, the dead coal town is now providing energy once again to power nearby urban areas. This time the energy is green and clean to match the landscape and without risk of fire or harm to the environment.

 Windmills are the Future
The windmills were beautiful and you couldn't help but be drawn closer to the bright white spinning giants that dotted the horizon, What was old is new again, power is being produced once more but the town and the people will not come back, they are gone forever. Soon all that will remain of the previous town of Centralia will be the memmories lost to history and the presence of a valuable lesson connecting the environment to all of us and the weight of the responsibilities that realationship carries.

 David Grant Jr.
Susan (Grant) Martin
Rev. David W. Grant


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ashland / Pioneer Coal Mine

Pioneer Coal Mine Tunnel Tour
Ashland, Pennsylvania

In this episode, we are heading to northern Pennsylvania to coal territory, land of the roots of my wife's family. My wife's grandmother lived her whole life in Ashland in the north central part of the state. Ashland was one of many small towns known as the patches, that dotted the landscape along the coal seams that brought a way of life and defined the region.

Danny's Drive Inn Lunch

First, we stopped for lunch at a famous local hot spot since... well, since forever. Danny's Drive Inn diner was the local hang out where my wife's parents dated and you can still get the famous burgers and fresh cut french fries that made it a Saturday night must back in the day. The kids were a little confused, looking for the drive through window where you order by number and the scary plastic clown that they normally identify with burgers & fries. We sat on the original round stools at the counter and devoured the famous fare, as countless patrons before us. The kids were impressed because you just can't get this great tasting food and atmosphere in the commercial dominated fast food world back home. Sorry if this made you hungry!

Entrance to the Mine

Now on to the tour, a .75 mile ride straight into the mountain on the original mine train and track that once carried the workers to the veins of black gold. I was a little worried about Katelyn, because underground adventures that are dark and damp just aren't her scene. Tyler was game and with his help we encouraged her on into the darkness. The rail ride was loud and creepy with cold water seepage dripping throughout the long passage through the solid rock tunnel. The temperature inside the mine is always a constant 52 degrees cold year round!

Two Modern Day Miners
The tour guide guy was great and did an excellent job explaining the history of the mine and the difficult and dangerous process the workers endured on a daily grind to make a meager living. Deep inside the mountain, we were able to get out and take a walking tour through several twisting and turning mine shafts. Katelyn's expression resembled what she usually looks like while visiting the dentist's office but on the inside, she retained a brave mind set. Even after they turned out all the lights, an anticipated action on any underground tour, she took it in stride.

Deep into the Mine Tunnel
Well, we all made it back up to the surface but failed to bring out any mined coal. However, we all did come away with a great appreciation of how hard the people of the coal region worked to help fuel the industrial age of America. They sacrificed their health and risked their lives to provide for their families. Coal is no longer king in the region and many towns are economically depressed as a result. Today they are seeking something again, a rebirth in new markets that can return prosperity once more to the people of the patches of north central Pennsylvania.

Air Shaft / Emergency Exit
Thanks for tuning in... See you next time!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Baltimore / Fort McHenry

Historic Fort McHenry
Baltimore Harbor, Maryland
Fort Interior Yard
After our exciting trek across Africa via Baltimore, we headed out to the harbor to see the most famous site from the War of 1812.  The kids didn't seem to share my enthusiasm for visiting historic Fort McHenry? Maybe they were just tired but I had the car keys and even though out voted two to one, we pushed onward.  Fort McHenry was built to defend one of America's most important seaports along the eastern seaboard.  Baltimore was a major economic hub, a port city vital to the young nation's growing economy.  Three weeks earlier the British had successfully invaded the new capital city of the United States of America along the Potomac River.  Originally called Federal City, Washington D.C. became a prime target for the British offensive during the War of 1812.  The District of Columbia was not a geographically strategic target but was the symbol of the new rising American nation the British had recently lost during the American Revolution.   The new capital city was burned to the ground with minimum resistance and the British Army set their sights on the city of Baltimore to the north.    

Defender's of the Harbor
Fort McHenry looked out over Baltimore Harbor with the objective of protecting one of America's most important commercial trade cities.   As the news of Washington's destruction reached Baltimore the garrison of Fort McHenry knew attack was imminent.  The British planned to invade by using the Royal Navy to burst through the front door, by destroying Fort McHenry.  However, the large heavy frigate warships of the Royal Navy could not safely navigate the shallow waters of the harbor.  As a result, they were unable to get close enough to the fort to use their broadside cannons.  Forced to fire from a distance, they pummeled the walls of the fort all night long, hoping to pound Fort McHenry to dust.  The British bombardment lasted for 25 straight hours but when their guns fell silent and the smoke cleared, the large American flag, tattered and damaged, was still there, flying in the coastal wind.

Rotating Gun Batteries
A young American lawyer named Francis Scott Key was aboard a British warship in the harbor working with British officials on negotiations concerning an exchange of prisoners.  He was one of the few Americans to witness the British naval assault from the water.  Like so often happens to most of us, Francis Scott Key was so moved by the sight he pulled out a pen and expressed his intense feelings of nationalism and patriotism by poring out his heart onto paper in the form of a long poem. This happens to me at least once a week!  The Star Spangled Banner was born and was later set to music, becoming our National Anthem.  Play Ball!  After telling the kids this great story from history, I was so moved and caught up in my emotions of the moment that I burst into song!  The kids were soon nowhere to be seen as they retreated and disappeared from view?  Dumbfounded, I strained to regain control of my emotions and then went to see if Katelyn and Tyler were still within the state of Maryland.

 O' Say can you See
Well anyway, after the kids came out of hiding we were ready to head north back to Lancaster County. Now I had the pictures to share with my students during my Fort McHenry lesson presentation and could tell them... I was here!  Maybe I will sing to them... they can't leave / escape the classroom without a hall pass!  It's good to be the teacher!

Guard House Interior

Preserved Flag from Fort McHenry
Smithsonian Institute / Washington D.C.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Baltimore / Maryland Zoo

The Baltimore Zoo
Baltimore Maryland

Big Cat Looking Hungry
 For our very first adventure of Camp Martin Travels, I decided to venture to another state, well... just next door in Maryland. Last year Katelyn and I had visited the Philadelphia Zoo and decided to see what Baltimore had to offer.  We dragged Katelyn's brother Tyler out of bed and fastened him into his seat belt before he regained total consciousness and sped out of the driveway.  I went all out and purchased an iPhone when I recently had to upgrade my cell account and was now able to GPS my way around the globe or... right next door to Maryland. To everyone's surprise, we found Maryland on the first try and then the zoo itself.  We pulled into the parking lot and made our way to the front gate.  An exotic jungle adventure was just around the corner.

Part-Time Zoo Keepers
The Baltimore Zoo is officially known as The Maryland Zoo at Baltimore and was first opened to the public in 1876.  Today the zoo has over 2,000 animals and also serves as a care center for wounded local wildlife, including birds of prey.  It was a hot summer day and we were thankful for the shuttle that transported us to the exhibits we were most anxious to see.   Tyler was now fully awake and aware of his surroundings but was a good sport despite being kidnapped.  Tyler had never been to a zoo before and took it all in with as much false enthusiasm as is possible for any fourteen year old to exhibit.  The highlight of the day came early when the kids got to feed the giraffes (for a small additional fee) and it was a great photo opportunity for Dear Old Dad

King of the Jungle
We were able to see a variety of animals from Africa without the cost and dangers of actually traveling to another continent.  The Rock Island exhibit featured the African black-footed penguins, where the zoo has had great success with their penguin breeding program, producing more chicks than any other zoo.  All of the exhibits were well designed and resembled the natural habitat of each animal.  You really felt like you were in Africa, navigating you way through pathways, abundant with green foliage and even waterfalls.  The large African Journey exhibit was impressive and the animals were mostly easily visible despite the heat of midday.  I had never seen an African Lion that close before, easily seen through observation points along the route.  It was a pleasant contrast to the zoo I visited as a kid, which had the dangerous animals contained behind bars in large cages, where they frantically paced back and forth.  The big cats here seemed relaxed and content, at home in their recreated natural habitat.

 African Elephant
Along with the lion, the other star of the zoo would have to be the African elephants.  The zoo first opened its first elephant exhibit in 1920 with a single Asian elephant named Mary Anne.  The elephant was purchased with money collected by local school children who ran various fund raising efforts throughout the city of Baltimore.  Today the elephant exhibit at the Baltimore Zoo is part of the African Journey section of the zoo and continues to go through expansion programs.  As the habitat grows in size and the site's facilities are enlarged and improved, more elephants continue to arrive.  They are coming from other zoos who do not have the space or facilities to properly care for the large animals.  The goal is to provide a realistic habitat and range similar to their native environments.  The hope is to create a breeding program to ensure that the elephants continue to thrive and remain protected within North America.  Recently a new elephant arrived from an Arkansas zoo that arrived pregnant and soon gave birth to a healthy calf named Felix.

Polar Bear Arctic Exhibit
We were all surprised by the amazing polar bear arctic habitat area that had the look and feel of far reaches of the north, despite the summer heat.  The polar bear is continuing to face challenges with global warming and the constant disappearance of the arctic ice flows they depend upon for their survival.  In this exhibit, there was a large pool surrounded by large rocks that mimicked the frigid arctic waters of their natural habitat.  We were fortunate enough to be there when the bear decided to go for a swim.  There were observation points to take in the view from above the pool but we soon discovered there was an aquarium-like window to see the action from below the waterline.  It was very cool to see the bear swimming from our underwater vantage point.  We were all a little envious as he seemed to be having a grand ole time, cooling himself off while we suffered in the hot sun.  It was a very creative way for the visitors of the zoo to get a unique view of such a large, beautiful, and yet dangerous wild animal.  

 Exhausting Day of Being Watched
My favorite part was the chimpanzees at the Primate House, where I got a great picture of a chimp who looked like I felt by the end of the day.  My least favorite part was lunch because the food was expensive and made public school cafeteria food seem like four star gourmet in comparison.  Our trip ended at the all important stop at the gift shop to acquire physical evidence that we were here and could now remember our experience for eternity.   The kids were tired and ready to go home but I had other plans in mind...  Why not top off our fun filled day with a little history that was close by and possible to find easily with my new little GPS friend...  Stay tuned...

My Unsuspecting Victims

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Camp Martin Travels Intro

Hello America,

My name is Jeff Martin and I am a history teacher from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I have never had the time to travel but now that my kids are teenagers, I have ventured into the outside world. With each trip, I was taking pictures and sharing my adventures with friends through email and they suggested I collect them all together in one place where others could visit and enjoy the ride. These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way.

This all started about two summers ago when my daughter Katelyn announced she was bored at 11:07 AM the first day of summer vacation. Since I am also home during the summer, she expected me to become the activities director to make her summer interesting and exciting. I responded with... "What do you think this is... Camp Martin"? And so it began...

Since we live in a tourist area it was not hard to find places to visit for the day... places that we have driven past hundreds of times or seen signs advertising. So we decided to try and hit at least a dozen tourist traps and historical sites that were in our own back yard. This blog will document our journey to the Great Beyond!

All Aboard!

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