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!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Willow Street / Hans Herr House

Willow Street, Lancaster County
Oldest Homestead in Lancaster
The Original Homestead
It was the middle of summer and I was visiting my brother and his family who were having us over for a cookout.  Upon marriage, he moved to the community of Willow Street on the south side of Lancaster City.  It is always strange to me when a town is named for a street.  When I first met my wife over two decades ago she was living in Lightstreet, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Bloomsburg, where I went to college.   So my brother and I both met and married a girl from such a "named town".  My brother's family later bought a house in Willow Street on Hans Herr Drive just down the road from the oldest known German homestead in Lancaster County.  For years I had wanted to visit the historic site but the only time I ever got over that way was for family visits.  However, on this particular get-together, I took a little break to drive up the road and check out the homestead.  It was a Sunday and I knew they would be closed. I thought I could take a quick look-see to determine if it was worth a trip back to take the complete tour.

Side View of the House
I took my camera along so I could get some nice shots of the property without people.  As a personal preference, I always try to maintain the historical atmosphere of a historical shot by trying to capture the images void of people, cars, etc.  So this was a great opportunity to get the photos I wanted as long as I didn't set off any alarms and get arrested for trespassing! The site was well maintained and had several out buildings and other examples of farm dwellings from the area from several time periods.  The original house built in 1719 was the star of the show.  I especially thought the windows were ornate with small panes set squared within each wall and protected by a single shutter.  The high slanted roof was evidence of the German style of the Herr family's homeland.  The sharply slanted roof enabled heavy snow to slide easily with the help of gravity, easing the weight load on the roof. The sun was beginning to set, giving a nice fading light to take my pictures.

The Front Door
Well, so far the cops hadn't shown up... at least not yet... but I was startled by a pair of pigs who seemed to be acting as stand-in watch dogs.  They suddenly emerged from their shed and squealed loudly to sound the alarm that an intruder was on the property.  Or, they might have been hoping it was time for dinner and I was carrying a bucket of slop.  I decided to get back to the cookout and return another day for an in depth tour of the history associated with the Hans Herr name.  I was anxious to see the interior of the house and take in the view of the outside world from the beautiful windows.

Hans Herr Guard Dog
Upon returning for the nickle tour I was surprised to find myself all alone again with two pigs who seemed happy to see me.  The site, like so many other small historical landmarks, make most of their connections with the public by holding special community events.  When I arrived, they were in preparation mode for the upcoming Snitz Fest and Heritage Days.  Several staff members were loading the old smoke house full of traditional German sausage which I'm told is a must for all who attend the festival.  I was accompanied by a tour guide who first took me down to the Pequea Creek where a small crude lean-to shelter was located.  This represented the first temporary home of Hans Herr and his wife Elizabeth, while the stone farmhouse was built by his son Christian Herr.  The Herr family were of the Mennonite faith and had escaped the brutal persecution in Switzerland and Germany by accepting the invitation from William Penn to take part in the Holy Experiment on the other side of the world.    

The Smoke House
William Penn's impact on the poor and persecuted of the entire European continent can never be appreciated enough.  He was a special person who used his life to make the world a better place for so many disadvantaged others.  He could have lived a life of ease as a member of the English Aristocracy but gave it all away for the concept of religious freedom, which most of the world was not ready to accept.  He spent most of his life away from the colony he created, searching instead for others like himself in Europe, who wished to escape hardship and needed a safe haven.  When William Penn visited "Penn's Woods" he made changes to the charter that limited his power more and more each time until he had created a commonwealth for the benefit of the people of Pennsylvania.  How many leaders in history followed such an unselfish path? 

Penn's Treaty with the Indians
(Painting Credit / Benjamin West)
The bulk of the European World stood back and waited for Penn's Holy Experiment to implode and erupt into violence... but it never happened.  The Pennsylvania colony was a huge success and became one of the most populated.  Penn's concept gave birth to the possibilities of religious tolerance and the other twelve colonies now had to bend and also offer religious freedom to compete with Pennsylvania's success.  It became the foundation of the ideal of American freedom.  Later, James Madison included Penn's concept in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Hans Her Cabin in Winter
(Photo Credit / Scott Martin) 
The centerpiece of the interior of the Hans Herr stone farmhouse was the large family German Bible carefully preserved for future generations.  The few pieces of furniture were simple and practical as would be expected in a colonial home from the period.  The tour was informative and told the story of a single family who prospered with the help of their faith and the rich soil of Lancaster County.    

Snow Covered Split Rail Fence
(Photo Credit / Scott Martin) 

As the community prospered and grew around the Herr homestead, two other homes remain that were built close by as the years passed.  A Georgian style home was built in 1835 by the Shaub family and a Victorian style home built by the Huber family sometime in the 1890's. The 1719 stone house had a root cellar under the house that was quite cool in the heat of July.  It was built in the form of an arch with stones cleared from the nearby fields, as was the rest of the house. I wonder how many Herr family members took a break from work to hide out in the root cellar to take advantage of natural air conditioning during the hot summer months?  Storage space was essential since the home was the only building on the early farm.  The house had two attics built into the steep slants of the roof which were used for storage.  The lower attic was also used for sleeping space for the family's seven children.  As with all early American homes, the kitchen was the center point of the house and often the only heated room during the winter months.  Later iron stoves were added to give a heat source for the upper floors.  The house also used rye straw insulation to keep winter's cold at bay, a technique brought from the Old Country.

Stone Livestock Barn
This year will mark the 300th anniversary of the first arrival of settlers to Lancaster County which will be commemorated in an event called Lancaster Roots 300 sponsored by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.  You may also want to visit the Hans Herr House for their popular candlelight tours during the Christmas season on Friday and Saturday evenings.  Special events often include live music and traditional foods such as homemade bread and the smoked sausages that were curing within the smokehouse during my visit.  What other motivation could you possibly need?  Normal operating hours for the site is April through November, Monday through Saturday, 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM.  The Hans Herr House is located at 1849 Hans Herr Drive, in Willow Street.  Take the time to see where it all began, a short tour well worth your time!  And stop in and say hello to my brother if you have time!

My Brother Scott and his wife Teresa
(Who puts up with him)
A Thought...
  • What would the Herr family think if they could see the number of homes that have been built in Lancaster County since 1719?  What is the German word for Suburban Sprawl?


Sunday, December 5, 2010

O' Christmas Tree / Elizabeth Farms

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt
Elizabeth Farm/ Brickerville, PA

Ride Out to the Fields
It's that time of the year again... Christmas is less than a month away and the most essential of holiday decorations at the Martin household is the all-important center piece, the Christmas tree.   When I was a kid, Christmas was always such a magical time of year and I always looked forward to going out to look for our tree.  My father was a Douglass Fir man.  I now know that Christmas is always a magical time for kids because all they have to do is show up.  As a kid, you don't see the blood, sweat, and tears parents have to endure as they navigate their way toward the big day. 

Elizabeth Farm Horse Power
Over the years, my family and I have always enjoyed a real Christmas tree with the exception of one experimental year with plastic.  The only place we can put our tree in our living room is right in front of our large bay window, which looks great.  However, it is also the spot where a large heating vent blows hot air from our furnace into the room, which often drys out our tree.  A few years ago, we decided to give an artificial tree a try so we could keep it up longer, avoid daily needle cleanup and the risk of fire.  We set it up and burned a Christmas tree scented Yankee candle for effect.  Can you say epic fail?  It just wasn't the same and our dabble in fake trees ended after one forgettable season.  
The Ultimate Christmas Tree?
This year we decided to try something new and avoid the Christmas tree lots that sprout up all over the county with pre-cut trees for sale.  I had heard of a Christmas tree farm north of Lititz where you can cut your own tree fresh from the field.  As we headed north toward our destination, we passed a convoy of vehicles with their chosen Christmas masterpieces securely bound to their roofs as precious cargo, yet to be delivered.  We had a little trouble locating the entrance to Elizabeth Farms because the tree plantation is so vast at 250 acres and borders both Routes 501 and 322.   My daughter Katelyn openly expressed her concern that they would be sold out before we found the farm!  After a few navigational mishaps, we found Hopeland Road and the farm lane that led us to Elizabeth Farms and a parking lot filled with about a hundred cars.

The Staging Area
We were newbies in this neck of the woods and navigated our way through the complex of Christmas tree harvesting stations in search of the starting line.  We soon found the little booth to register our name for our tree tag and sign the legal wavier exonerating Elizabeth Farms of any legal or financial liability if we were injured by horse, tree saw or random acts of God.  Any activity that requires a legal get out of responsibility document has to more exciting just by the risk of potential pain and suffering!  I love it!  We got in line and waited our turn to board the festive green and red wagons that would transport us to the trees.  The wagons were pulled by impressive teams of draft horses that were all decked out in their holiday work gear.  They were beautiful animals and the star of the show.  Giddy-up kids, it's time to make a family memory!

Haul Back to the Barn
The ride out was great fun; a throwback to a bygone era.  I felt just like John Boy riding the team up Walton's Mountain in search of a Christmas miracle.  The power of the horses was immediately felt as the wagon jutted forward into motion.  The irony of the fact that the man guiding our team to the field was a big guy with all white hair and matching beard was not lost on me!  On Dasher! On Prancer! The team trotted at a swift pace giving us a thrill as we bounced out of our seats along the winding trail.  We soon arrived at the staging area where a happy elf came on board to give us instructions about the process of hunting and gathering the perfect tree.  I was hoping this would be a quick and easy find.  After all, I was sacrificing some good college football games on television for this fun family experience. How hard could it be?

Christmas Tree Forest
Now with saw in hand and family in tow, I entered the maze of evergreen trees in search of the perfect Douglass Fir to enrich our holiday experience this year.  My wife prides herself as a gifted critic in multiple categories of everyday life, especially me... and... apparently as a world renowned connoisseur of Christmas trees.  We looked at tree after tree and penetrated deeper and deeper into the evergreen abyss in search of perfection.  Our favorite holiday movie, Christmas Vacation, came to mind multiple times with several classic scenes fondly discussed in detail.  I was feeling more and more like Clark W. Griswold as the search exceeded an hour.  I was just hoping that my cousin's R.V. wasn't going to be parked in my driveway when we finally returned home.  On with the extensive search...
Goldilocks and Accomplices
The quest continued and we began to resemble Goldilocks and the three bears with my wife playing the lead role... this ones too tall, this ones too thin... We began to consider trees that we previously considered.  However, no one could ever agree which direction that specific tree just might be found.  My daughter Katelyn feared we might aimlessly wonder the evergreen labyrinth for eternity and never be seen again!  This surprisingly seemed like a real possibility... so we decided to abandon the mission of giving previous trees of honorable mention a second glance and continued searching through new territory of virgin timber.

 Lumberjacks at Work
Finally we all reached the breaking point and the only criteria considered in our final choice came down to two essential questions.  Was it green and would it fit in the living room.  We soon stumbled upon the perfect tree, the clouds parted, and a bright ray of light descended from the heavens.  I thought I might have heard angles singing in the distance.  My teenage son, Tyler, who was now turning blue for not complying with our parental request for him to wear his heavy winter jacket, had the honor of cutting down our holiday prize.  I love winning these little power struggles with my teenage son and watching him suffer.  It almost makes the role of being a parent at this stage of endless tug-of-war battle-of-wills worthwhile... Almost!

Animated Christmas Display
The beautiful tree fell to the ground.  It was dead!  We killed it!  We dragged it into the farm lane, and waited for the modern tractor to collect our prize and take it back to the staging area.  The wagon, full of fresh-cut trees, soon appeared along with all the people who had completed their successful search.  Trees were matched with their owners and both boarded a horse drawn wagon back to the farm where they were measured, bagged, and tagged.  We then went to the Christmas Village were we enjoyed a complimentary hot chocolate as we got in line to pay for our tree.  Tyler began to get his color back but continued to shiver uncontrollably.  It was awesome!

Our Bagged Catch
We did a quick tour of the animated holiday display in remembrance of Christmas from the 1950's in the large barn.  A very cool and unique display!  A nice man carried our tree to our vehicle and helped lift it into position on top of our car.  We then used about fifteen bungee cords to secure it to our roof rack.  It wasn't going to move an inch, it was practically glued to the roof.  As we left the parking lot with our prize catch in full view of envious passersby, the car in front of us lost their tree on the sharp curve on Hopeland Road.  Never bring string or rope to a job requiring the sophisticated technology of the bungee cord.  I was going to pull over and offer to help but hey... we were missing football!   Besides I only had fifteen bungee cords and they were all in use.  I couldn't spare one.  Live and learn buddy!

 Final Product 24 Hours Later
Well, we got it home in one piece and within an hour we had our trophy mounted in the living room.  And... I still had time to catch the kickoff of the 7:00 SEC game between Florida and Florida State!  The sweet evergreen smell permeated the entire house, which even a Yankee Candle on steroids couldn't match!   In all seriousness, it was a great time, enjoyed by all!  Even Tyler... well sort of... Next year we plan to go again and make the experience an annual family tradition.  I'll bet Tyler will even wear his heavy winter coat without an argument!  Well... maybe? The price was fair and the festive ambiance was priceless. The farm has been in operation since 1752 and the scenery was beautiful.  The farm's future looks as bright as the new fallen snow!  Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Happy Holidays Campers!

Please See My Additional Photos of our Adventure at...

Elizabeth Farms
Hopeland Road, Brickerville PA

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Penn's Landing / Philadelphia

  Penn's Landing
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Foot Bridge to Penn's Landing
In late August 1682, William Penn departed England with a group of Quaker settlers to see the land he recently acquired in the New World from the King of England, Charles II.  Both men were hoping to create a win-win situation by creating a safe-haven for separatist groups that had suffered terrible persecution and had been a problematic nuisance to the Royal Court.  The fact a separatist Quaker and the King of England could find common ground on such a touchy situation was probably made possible by the close friendship of King Charles II with William Penn's father, Admiral Penn, who had recently died.  The king held a sizable outstanding financial debt to Admiral William Penn's estate and all accounts needed to be settled with his passing.  William suggested the debt be paid in land in the New World and Charles II was agreeable, hoping to see the separatist dilemma board ships and sail to the other side of the world.  King Charles II suggested the proprietary colony be named Penn's Woods or Pennsylvania, in honor of the memory Admiral William Penn.

View of Ben Franklin Bridge 
The voyage appropriately departed from the port city of Deal, England, aboard a ship named the Welcome.   You can't make this stuff up!  The voyage was a very difficult two month ordeal because the passengers and crew suffered through an outbreak of the deadly smallpox virus, which killed a third of the people on board.  William suffered along with his fellow Quaker brethren but survived the scare because he already had the small pox once before as a child and had built up some resistance to the disease.  The ship first docked at New Castle, Delaware and then sailed on to the small settlement of Upland in Chester, where he first set foot in Pennsylvania.  Here is where he would plan out the future city of Philadelphia.  Immediately, Penn met with his governor-deputy of the colony, William Markham, who had been unsuccessful in negotiations with Lord Baltimore of the Maryland colony concerning the boundary line between the two regions.  This prompted Penn to return with the ship to plead his case to the Royal Court, leaving his wife Hannah and young son in Pennsylvania.   

PA / MD Boundary Dispute
The boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland would persist along the vague 40th parallel, where both colonies were granted land where Penn had started building his capital city.  King Charles II appeased William Penn by granting him an additional proprietorship to a small satellite colony to the east called Delaware.  This action further escalated the tension between the two colonies since Delaware was within the original charter of Maryland, previously granted to Lord Baltimore.  Violence erupted between settlers who were both within the disputed zone during the 1730's.  Both colonies formed armed local militias that clashed several times in what became known as Cresap's War.  King George II of England who now ruled the British Empire intervened to put down the conflict but tension persisted.  In 1763 the British Crown had the survey team of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon arrive to officially map out a permanent line between the two colonies, once and for all.  Later the Mason-Dixon Line came to mean the division line between northern and southern states that would face off in the American Civil War.

Penn's Landing Amphitheater
Philadelphia is always a great place to explore.  Find a parking garage and just walk around and get lost.  I usually stay within the Old City section of the city but wanted to check out Penn's Landing and see the view of the Delaware River.  A major barrier must be crossed to get to Penn's Landing, which is Interstate 95 and several other additional high-speed roadways.  Fortunately, there are several foot bridges that make the walk to Penn's Landing easy with a death defying view of the seventeen lanes of speeding vehicles below.  The view from Penn's Landing is really something to see, with the city of Camden, New Jersey's waterfront on the far shore.  The Battleship U.S.S. New Jersey appears to be on guard with a commanding presence.  The site is well maintained and includes several ships from several eras of nautical history that you can board and tour.  There is also an amphitheater known as Festival Pier, where Philadelphians can attend outdoor concerts and special community events.

Penn's Landing Pier
On this particular trip I was accompanying my wife who was being screened as a potential juror in a federal court case.  She was thrilled... Not!  She was hoping she wouldn't be picked and I was hoping she would be so I could return to explore the historic city again.  We had met for lunch and not much had happened during her long morning wait.  She needed to return for the afternoon session of interviews and questioning with the federal lawyers.  She said she didn't know when she would be done but would call me on my cell when she was released.   I was quickly off to visit the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn's Landing that had caught my eye earlier in the day.  

 Independence Seaport Museum
I entered the modern looking structure and paid my entrance fee and literally took my first step into the exhibit area when my cell phone unexpectedly rang.   It was my wife telling me she was suddenly released by the court and was ready to go home!  I told her that I had just entered the museum and was about a ten block walk from her location.  She told me that I should tour the museum but also let me know she was tired and really wanted to get home.  So it was time for a quick mad dash tour of the museum.  Besides, I had the keys to the car and she didn't have her set in her purse. Or, did she?    

 Model of an American Frigate
I have always been a big fan of the model ships from the majestic tall ship era of sailing history.  I wish I had the skills and patience to build one of my own from a kit or better yet, have the money to buy one already built by an expert.  I have a model of the frigate U.S.S. Constitution and the British clipper ship Cutty Sark on display in my classroom.  They are both detailed plastic models that I built myself years ago, which the kids never believe.  My students think the only skills I possess are the ability to create PowerPoints, quizzes and tests... a gift, which they don't appreciate.  I really did construct them myself... have a little faith, kids!  The museum was well laid out with a lot of examples of maritime history from various time periods.  One area was dedicated to the trade relationship between Philadelphia and the Far East when tea and porcelain were popular goods in demand within the colonies.

Museum Boat Work Shop
The highlight of the museum was a visit to the boat shop, which is called the Workshop on the Water.  The workshop's mission is to preserve the traditional crafting techniques of building the wooden boats of the Delaware and New Jersey regions.  Many boats from a bygone era are rescued from decay and are refitted and overhauled at the shop.  You could get a good view of the ongoing work from an elevated platform, where I viewed a craftsman working on the bow of a sail boat called the Torch and its sister ship, named the Spy seen in the background.  Both were built from scratch on site and are in the A - Class Cat Boat category of sail craft from New Jersey.   The broadly designed single sail cat boats first hit the water in 1923 as a mid size racing craft.  They are manned by a crew team of ten mates and still race in leagues off the coast to the present day. 

Delaware Shipyard Model
My favorite exhibit was a large model of a working full scale shipyard from the colonial time period.  It was full of details from any given work day during the area's nautical industrial past.  It was something you had to view from every angle to really appreciate the time and effort that must have gone in to building the large scale model.  Now my small plastic models looked really lame in comparison!  Semi-conscious of my time, I breezed my way through most of the exhibit rooms and quickly ventured up to the second floor to look around.  The second floor highlight was a three story replica of the Ben Franklin Bridge, followed by a temporary exhibit of maritime tattoo art.  Sorry, not my thing.  I went on to check out the collection of wooden ship's figureheads they had on display.  There was also a display dedicated to the longshoreman's trade where you could unload a ship container from a cargo vessel using a mechanical crane.  Uh Oh, I think my phone is ringing... Time to go!
 Where Have You Been?
Penn's Landing was a fun place to tour and I was glad my wife's patience held out long enough for me to give the Independence Seaport Museum a quick tour.  She's a good sport!  We left the city and my wife breathed a sigh of relief because she would not have to return for another round of jury duty questioning in the morning as my sinister mind was silently planning my next trip back to the City of Brotherly Love!

For More Information Please Contact
Independence Seaport Museum
Penn's Landing, Philadelphia 
Phone / (215) 413-8655

Another Shot of the Boat Workshop


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Revisiting Three Mile Island

 Revisiting Three Mile Island
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Nuclear Accident Historical Marker
Time to look back in time to a traumatic event from my childhood that threatened Pennsylvania and impacted the region to the present day .  In 1979, Metropolitan Edison's Unit # 2 reactor at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant overheated and spread panic throughout the nation.  I was a student at Warwick Middle School and remember the fear that the event instilled in the people of Lancaster County.  For years prior to the event, scientist critics and left over hippies from the 60's were warning the world of the dangers of nuclear energy.  They preached the common "Dooms Day" scenario that suddenly became a real possibility and played out vividly in people's minds.

 Potential Fall Out Zone
Events began to play out in the early morning hours of March 28, 1979 in Unit # 2 when a combination of mechanical and human errors combined to create a partial meltdown of the reactor's core.  Over a period of five long days, confusion over what actually happened and how dangerous released gases and radiation might be to the public led to fear and uncertainty.  At first, Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh stated that officials at Metropolitan Edison ensured him there was little threat to the public.  However, conflicting statements were issued by other state government leaders which generated more uncertainty, especially for local residents.  

Unit # 2 Control Room
(Photo Credit / The Patriot News)
Members of the press were trying to sort through facts and rumors but when on CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, said a green cloud had been seen in the air over the complex, real fear took hold of the nation.  Within a few days, Governor Thornburgh issued a voluntary evacuation for pregnant women and young children living within a five mile radius of the power plant.  Schools were closed and people were advised to stay indoors.  Within days, over 140,000 people left the area to seek a safe haven elsewhere.  I still remember my mother packing essential items in boxes and loading them in the trunk of our car in case we needed to make a quick exit and evacuate. It was a very unsettling feeling not knowing what might happen next.  

President Carter's Motorcade
(Photo Credit / The Patriot News)
The crisis began in the middle of the week and by Friday I went to school and discovered I was in the minority.  Most of my classes were now more than half empty as many of my classmates evacuated or were staying indoors for their own safety.  Maybe my parents sold me out as a guinea pig for a state government research team but I didn't turn green or wake up with rabbit ears, at least not yet.  Eventually people breathed a sigh of relief when President Jimmy Carter visited the site in person to send a message to the public that things were under control and all was well.  If the President of the United States wasn't afraid, well... time to put a lid on panic and get back to some degree of normalcy.  Reactor # 2 was shut down and was slowly dismantled as a long term investigation took place.  Three Mile Island was the worst nuclear accident in the history of the United States.  The extensive investigation led to new safety regulations for power plants around the world.

Unit # 2 Cooling Tower Skeleton
The real problem was the fact that nothing like this had ever taken place before and no one really knew where to begin to figure out exactly what happened.  Later, when I was in high school, our science class went on a field trip to Three Mile Island to tour the shut down reactor complex.  We arrived at a visitor / education center and then boarded a bus and crossed through the gates and over the bridge to the island.  Before we went inside the complex, we were each given a hard hat and small Geiger counter to wear that would sound an alarm if we were exposed to any radiation.  The interior of the reactor building was incredibly vast and I could not imagine how anyone could ever design and build something so large and complex.  As we walked through the plant, pipes twisted every which way in a complex labyrinth without pattern.  We walked over metal grated floors where we could look down several stories and a huge wheel continuously rotated so it would not warp under its own immense weight.  We entered ground zero for the disaster, the control room where fingers were pointed and jobs were lost.  The entire green control panel was encased in a plastic shell so no one could touch anything. The interior of the control room looked exactly as it did on March 28, 1979.   Apparently the long term investigation was yet to be completed and they didn't want anyone tampering with the dials, knobs, or gizmos.  It was an amazing field trip!

 Mrs. Ruth Gallagher / Unit # 1
My friend and science teacher colleague Ruth Gallagher and I were on a road trip Geo Caching and since we were in the area, we decided to get a close up view of Three Mile Island.  On the way, I told her how brave I was during the scare and what a pillar of strength I was for my family, friends, and the entire community.  I could tell she was impressed!  Reactor # 1 continued in operation and we could see the steam rising into the clouds from a long distance away.  As we followed the GPS directions, the rising steam would disappear and then suddenly reappear again and again getting larger each time.  After traveling through a canopy of trees, we were in the presence of power.  A nuclear facility is a commanding and intimidating presence in any community.  I remember when I was in college and often drove past the nuclear power facility near Berwick, Pennsylvania at night. The enormous cooling towers suddenly appeared between small houses along the road.  It was surreal.  They glowed orange with industrial style lighting, an ominous sight to say the least.  It is easy to understand why people feared the worst in 1979.  It's the stuff made-for-tv movies live for!

Three Mile Island Front Gate
The impact of the event on the health of local residents continues to be debated to this day but the area seems to have the same rate of cancer as the rest of the nation.  The Incident of Three Mile Island put the world on alert but the complete meltdown of the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, Russia in 1986 killed the image of nuclear power as an energy savior.  However, with the passing of time and the world's increasing insatiable appetite for power, nuclear power may have to be part of the solution. National Geographic stated in an article in their April issue of 2006, Nuclear Power... It's controversial. It's expensive. And it just might save the Earth.  The new controversy concerning nuclear power is what to do with the hazardous waste.  The Federal Government has created an isolated facility in Nevada, rightfully called the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. However, to date, no nuclear waste has been deposited in the underground site.  Although containers have been developed to move the waste from site to storage, critics claim the containers are not safe enough if catastrophe would strike a shipment on the move.  Is the benefit of creating emission free power worth the risk of the hazardous waste it also generates.  To date it is a zero sum game.

Unit Two's Dead Facility
Did you Know...
  • There has not been a new nuclear power facility built in the United States since the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979.
  • The United States has 4% of the world's population but currently uses 25% of the world's available power grid.
  • There are 104 active nuclear power plants currently operating in the United States that produce almost 20% of America's daily demand for electricity.
  • In 2010, President Obama has approved an 8 billion dollar loan for the future construction of two new nuclear power plants in the state of Georgia, the first in thirty years.
  • There is currently over 150 million pounds of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel stored in 121 various sites within the United States.
Anti-Nuke Rally Following the Accident
(Photo Credit / Harrisburg / National Archives)


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