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, 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)


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Eastern State Penitentiary / Part # 2

Eastern State Penitentiary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
PART # 2 

 Eastern State Penitentiary
(Outside Walls / Fairmount Street)
In 17th Century America, prison's were institutions for punishment based on the tradition handed down from Europe.  William Penn did not approve and developed some of the most lenient guidelines in the American Colonies that would comply with his Quaker beliefs and future vision for Pennsylvania.  Years after Penn's death, a group of Philadelphia's leading citizens, many of whom were Quakers, met to discuss a proposal for a revised prison system.  Dr. Benjamin Rush, who created the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, spoke at the meeting to promote the use of solitary confinement as a means to rehabilitate prisoners.  It was decided to convert a section of the Walnut Street Jail into sixteen individual cells for the solitary confinement method as an experiment.  The group pressed the Pennsylvania State Legislature to build a new prison institution that would incorporate their vision of rehabilitation through individual spiritual reflection and discovery.

Central Guard Observation Tower
Thirty-four years later, the Pennsylvania State Legislature finally conceded and appropriated the funds to build a new state of the art prison facility based on the solitary confinement method of rehabilitation.  Upon completion, Eastern State Penitentiary was one of the largest and most expensive building projects in the United States.  It was also the worlds first true penitentiary, with rehabilitation the goal, rather than just punishment.  It was based on Quaker principals of self examination, and meditation as a means of repenting for their crimes.  Faced alone in the quiet of a cell, each prisoner would have no choice but to confront the reality of what they had done and begin the process of self healing, repenting for their sins against society.  The small skylight in each cell was designed to represent the Light of God, reinforcing the Quaker belief of the Inner Light, the light of God that existed within all people.  In time, the wagon wheel architectural design of Eastern State Penitentiary would become the model for some 300 newly constructed prisons around the world.

 Cell Block - A / Center Causeway
I had never heard of the prison before but stumbled across it in tourism booklet I had sent away for to see what other tourist attractions I might visit in and around Philadelphia.  A friend of mine had been there years ago and so we put together a little field trip with a few of my teaching colleagues for a tour of the prison and a few other sites around the city.  The prison is located just behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  We drove down a few city streets lined with row homes and suddenly came upon the intimidating 30 foot stone walls of the prison, which stood directly in front of our car.  It was an ominous sight, a dark Medieval presence of an old abandoned castle, misplaced in the middle of modern day Philadelphia.  The structure was enormous and consumed the entire city block.  We walked around to the front gate and descended down a short flight of stairs to the tour entrance, picking up individual audio gear for the self guided walking tour of the facility.  Please press "1" on your hand-held device to begin the tour...

 Cleaned Up Cell Interior
I had never taken a self guided audio tour before and was curious how it would work out.  It turned out to be really easy to navigate and you could go at your own pace taking breaks along the way to explore on your own.  After you completed the regular tour route, there were dozens of other locations marked by signs throughout the prison where you could enter a two-digit number on your device to learn more about individuals or events.  The building was eerie and dark from the start with the atmosphere matching the weight of the subject matter.  The prison closed for good in the early 70's and we were all amazed by the level of decay that had taken place over the past four decades.  The walls were literally crumbling to the cell floors, which collected the plaster dust that was falling away, exposing the original stonework.  The site's mission today is to stop the decay at its present state and preserve the prison as it appears today.  A few areas have been partially restored but there is no planned effort to restore the institution completely.  The decay factor has become the star of the show.

Aerial View / Eastern State
 (Photo Credit / Google Earth Images)
Eastern State Penitentiary is a place full of contrasts.  The outside castle-like exterior was designed to intimidate the outsider, a stern warning that this was not a place you wanted to witness from inside the stone walls.  The inside was designed to resemble a church with tall arched ceilings to aid the condemned toward penance. Which, was really pointless since the early prisoners never saw anything outside the walls of their own individual cells.  From the time it was first built, Eastern State became an instant tourist destination.  Visitors from Philadelphia flocked to see one of the most expensive building projects in the country, an institution on the cutting edge of criminal science.  The world beyond was also watching and visitors came from the far reaches across Europe to see the great wonder in person.  The prison took advantage by charging admission for short tours and by 1854, over 10,000 visitors were passing through the front gate every year.  Even the great social reformer Charles Dickens crossed the Atlantic to give his opinion.  He wasn't impressed, calling the system inhumane and cruel beyond comprehension.

 View of Two Story Cell Block
The practice of solitary confinement at Eastern State became known as the Pennsylvania System and was praised by some and condemned by many others.  The process of isolating prisoners was intended to prohibit them from being a bad influence on one another.  Eliminating contact with all criminal temptation would force inmates to confront the actions of their crimes that resulted in their incarceration.  People supporting the theory of prolonged isolation, argued the process would further lead to self rehabilitation through personal reflection, which would have a positive impact on their moral character.  The evidence of their full transformation would be witnessed in their future behavior in the outside world, on the other side of the gate.  By coincidence, The New York System prison concept was conceived about the same time and became the competitive ideology of the Pennsylvania System.  The New York System design also had prisoners living in private individual cells but inmates ate meals, exercised, and learned trades with other condemned men in large common areas.  In effect, they would learn to work with others, eventually becoming a contributing member of society.  So goes the theory...

 Corner Guard Tower / Zoomed Image
As time passed, outside critics voiced claims that the extreme isolation inside Eastern State was causing cases of mental illness and depression among the prisoners.  Rather than having a positive impact on their state of mind, the solitary environment was causing more harm than good.  The institution began to get more and more new inmates and needed to continuously expand.  The prison model began to cause financial stress with every inmate needing their own private cell and exercise yard.  The New York System continued to progress because it was more cost effective than the Pennsylvania System and could handle larger numbers of inmates.  Soon Eastern State was forced to face the issues all prisons struggle to manage to the present day... overcrowded living conditions and underfunded budgets.  The isolation system became impossible to maintain and Eastern State was forced to slowly evolve to resemble the New York version of the penitentiary concept.

 Prison Door / Entrance to the Yard
As time passed, Eastern State's inmates began to interact with one another more in newly created open spaces within the walls.  Baseball was played on a field created within the center yard and cell blocks competed with one another in organized leagues.  Educators were hired to teach illiterate inmates to read and write, while others could learn a trade such as shoe making, which they could use when released to support themselves.  Serving time at Eastern State became more bearable for inmates but more challenging for the guard staff.  Isolation had prevented outbreaks of fights, gang activities, the use of contraband items, escape attempts, and prison riots.  All became common place with the socialization of the prisoners in common spaces.  Over 140 prisoners escaped from Eastern State during the prison's operating years but only one was never recaptured.  One man had made it as far away as Hawaii but most were caught within a few hours in the city of Philadelphia. 

 Al Capone / Prison File Content
The two most famous inmates at Eastern State were bank robber Slick Willie Sutton and notorious Chicago gangster mob boss Al Capone.  In 1929 Capone received his first prison sentence for having a concealed weapon without a permit and was sentenced to a year in prison.  His cell at Eastern State was not within the regular population cell block but existed in a semi-private area located directly across from the prison barber shop.  No one can say how or why it happened but Capone's cell was outfitted with carpet, fine furniture, artwork on the walls, and a radio to keep him up with current events.  Without doubt, Capone's accommodations were the most comfortable of any inmate who ever served out a sentence at Eastern State.  In his eighth month of his year long sentence, he was paroled for good behavior and over 500 people lined the streets to witness his departure.  The warden however, wanted to avoid the pending media circus and secretly had him transferred to another facility a few days before his scheduled release.  He quietly reentered society without notice. 

Al Capone's Semi-Restored Cell
The tour was truly fascinating and unique, unlike any historic site I had ever toured before.  The site was closed in early 1971 following a large prison riot and the prisoners were soon transferred to other prison facilities.  Eastern State stood empty and abandoned for the next twenty years.  With the prison's close proximity to the Art Museum, the city purchased the property for $400,000 in 1980 with the intention of redeveloping the land for commercial purposes.  For eight years not much happened and Eastern State continued a rapid process of decay.  In 1988 a group of historians and preservationists urged the city to make the site a historic landmark and open the facility to public tours.  Funding was raised to stabilize the structure to prevent further decay and the effort began making the property safe for group tours.  One of the most successful fund raising events is the annual Halloween themed tour.  The event is now called Terror Behind the Walls and is a very popular attraction throughout the fall season, raising funds to help preserve the site.

Closed Cell Block / Ghost Cat Sculpture
I couldn't imagine touring the facility by candle light at night, especially with people jumping out of the shadows to scare you... can you say heart attack?  Eastern State is considered one of the most haunted places in America and has been featured on shows such as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures and MTV's Fear.  The Hollywood film Twelve Monkeys, (starring Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, and Madaline Stowe) filmed a mental hospital scene for the movie here in 1995.  One of the interesting items that caught everyone's attention during the tour route was the multiple white sculptures of individual cats.  During the years when the prison stood empty and began to decay, the building became home to a colony of wild cats.  Volunteers cared for the cats on site until the last one died.  Their former residency is documented in the Ghost Cat Sculptures that can be discovered throughout the prison and grounds.  There are a total of thirty-six cats that can be found, kind of like a Where's Waldo of Eastern State Penitentiary.  Happy hunting!

A Tree Grows in Eastern State
The prison was damp and smelled of mildew in certain places.  Plaster dust filled the floor of many cells and nature began to reclaim the space.  Several cells actually had trees growing up through them fed by water and light that filtered through the open skylight.  Another perfect example in the real world of what happens when we abandon man-made structures as detailed in the Discovery Channel series entitled Life After People.  How long before the walls would fall and the land would be reclaimed by the green of the forest.  Eastern State Penitentiary is an incredible place to visit, something you don't come across everyday.  I highly recommend it next time you are in the neighborhood of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Fairmount Park.

 Prison Yard / Baseball Backstop
Did you know... 
  • The organization Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, founded by Dr. Benjamin Rush, still exists today and is now known as the Pennsylvania Prison Society.  The head office, which oversees forty-three chapters within the state, is still located in center city Philadelphia.  The group continues the mission of aiding prisoners and their family members. 
  • When Eastern State was first built in 1829, it was one of the most advanced buildings in the world with indoor pluming, running water, and a centralized heating system.  The prisoners enjoyed these comforts within their individual prison cells which President Andrew Jackson had yet to experience in the White House.
Please See Additional Photographs at....


Eastern State Penitentiary / Part #1

Eastern State Penitentiary
2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 1930
(215) 236-3300

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