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, January 26, 2010

Lancaster / September Sunrise

Lancaster County Sunrise 
I captured the following sequence of a Sunday morning sunrise just south of the Lancaster Airport in the crop belt between Warwick and Manheim Townships.  The entire event lasted less than five minutes and I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.  The weather had been especially clear and cool for this time of the year, more like fall than late summer.  The combination of seventy degree temperatures and lower than normal humidity help set the stage. I thought this would be a good time to publish this episode because we could all use a little sunshine during the depths of winter!  Enjoy!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lancaster / Buchanan's Wheatland

Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Presidential Home of James Buchanan

Wheatland Estate
On this episode of Camp Martin Travels, I stopped in to see one of Lancaster County's most overlooked landmarks, the home of President James Buchanan. The presidency of James Buchanan was plagued by problems that often lands him at the top of the list for... worst presidents in history. Serving the office on the eve of the Civil War, as the nation's fifteen president, was not a good time to hold the highest office in the land. The nation was pulling apart and was on the verge of violence on a broad scale. Buchanan was seen as a politician from the north who was sympathetic to southern issues. This moderate position enabled him to gain the democratic nomination for the presidency and he later won the overall election. He is sometimes called the reluctant president because he only wanted to serve one term and even went so far as to promise to that fact, in his inauguration speech.

Rear Porch / Entrance
Wheatland was originally a 23-acre estate just outside the city of Lancaster that contained a federal style mansion and several out buildings. It was created and built by a lawyer from Philadelphia and was later purchased by Buchanan in the winter of 1848. Although Buchanan was a life long bachelor, the Wheatland home was filled with the sounds of children. Following the death of his sister, her two children, Harriet (age eleven) and James (age seven) were adopted by James Buchanan and came to live with him at Wheatland. Both children would go on to play key support roles when Buchanan later became president. His nephew James Buchanan (J.B.) Henry grew up to study law and later became Buchanan's personal secretary at the White House. His Niece Harriet Lane, served as his First Lady and was highly respected for her ability to run the social affairs of the presidential mansion.

Vegetable Garden Boxes
The house itself is one of the finest federal style restored homes in the country. The interior contains many artifacts that are original to the house including the dining room china, much of the furniture, and several pieces of artwork. Following Buchanan's death in 1868, many of the home's pieces stayed in the family and were later returned to the estate when it became a historical landmark. All of the rooms are lavishly decorated in the style of the period and several rooms are not railed off so you can walk freely through the space. Unfortunately, like many historical homes, the interior is off limits to cameras so you will have to use your imagination or take the tour yourself.

Rear Lawn / Entrance
Our tour was led by an elderly woman who looked like she was old enough to be Buchanan's aunt. However, she was very informative and had several unique interesting stories to share. One that stuck out was how President Buchanan and his nephew J.B. Henry worked very closely together but later had a falling out over the fact that J.B. wanted to grow a mustache! Buchanan would have none of it and the two parted ways over the issue and never fully reconciled. Power struggles between parent and child are apparently timeless.  Incidentally, J.B. grew the mustache and kept it for the rest of his life. I hope it was worth it! The exterior gardens are beautiful and are maintained by members of a local garden club. Wheatland has recently fallen on hard times with financial problems and as a result, has joined forces with the Lancaster Historical Society (located next door) to try and help with additional funding.

President James Buchanan
Hulton Archives / Getty Images
As president, Buchanan was unable to hold the country together and often gets blamed for not doing enough to try to prevent the impending war. He had tremendous faith in the Constitution (to a fault) and following the South's succession; he did not take action stating that both secession and war to end secession were Constitutionally illegal. As a result, he did nothing and his own party and supporters divided on the issue, turning the tide against him. He remains the only president from the state of Pennsylvania and the only life long bachelor president.

Buchanan's Privy
One of President Buchanan's most memorable quotes came on his final day as president when he remarked to the incoming president-elect, Abraham Lincoln... "If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man." Buchanan did enjoy his remaining time at Wheatland enjoying the peace and quiet, enhanced by the company of friends and family. He continued to be generous to others, supporting extended family and even quietly financially supported former first lady Dolly Madison when he learned she had become impoverished . He died in the upstairs bedroom on June 1, 1868 at the age of 77 and was laid to rest in the Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster City.

Portrait / Harriet Lane
Photograph: Waidner-Spahr Library
James Buchanan's greatest legacy may be his niece Harriet Lane.  When she ran the white house social calendar for her bachelor uncle, no one really knew how to address her.  One day a reporter called her the First Lady and the label stuck and was later applied to all who held the position.  She became enormously popular in Washington and was the talk of the capital.  She married late at age 36 but was followed by tragedy as her husband and both sons died.  She turned the grief of her young sons into helping found the pediatric hospital at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.  This action laid the groundwork for the prestigious hospital we know today as one of the best in the world.  Like her uncle she was very generous, using her wealth and influence to support various causes including Native Americans, education and the arts.  Her vast collection of fine European art was the first donated and displayed at the Smithsonian Institute. She turned the grief from her own personal tragedies into helping others and left the world a better place following her death in 1903.  We continue to benefit from her generous gifts.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lancaster Airport / Community Days

Lancaster Community Days
Airshow / Freedom Isn't Free

P-51 C Mustang Fighter
Today we were off to the Community Days at the Lancaster Airport where the public is invited to the tour the airport facilities and learn a little about aviation history. The main attraction of the event were the two World War II era bombers and other vintage military planes on display from the time period. We only live about a mile from the airport and the planes were buzzing overhead following their arrival a few days earlier. They make such a distinctive sound, so different from modern aircraft; you can't help but take notice. A great advertisement method to say the least!

Flying Fortress
I grabbed the kids (by force) for a little afternoon adventure to take in the action up close, right from the runway. The place was packed and traffic was at a standstill. It had rained the previous two days canceling a lot of the scheduled action. All the big performances were now pushed to the final day, so the crowds were descending on the airport like hippies heading for Woodstock. We eventually made it to a muddy field where an ocean of vehicles were parked in a make-shift parking lot. We hiked the quarter of a mile to the air show entrance and the first thing you come to is the food court. The kids had not eaten lunch yet and the smell of fair like foods, wafting over the grounds, were a great incentive to push onward!

World War II Fighters
The stars of the show were grounded today on the runway, open for walk through tours of the interiors. The B-24 Liberator bomber (All American) remains alone as the only flyable aircraft of its kind in the world. The B-17 Flying Fortress bomber (Nine on Nine) flew 140 missions during the war and never lost a single crew member. I found out quickly that getting close up to aviation history can be expensive as it was $12 to tour each plane per person. They planes are big but not big enough to spend the money for the three of us to check both out, so we decided to just admire the exterior from behind the perimeter barricade for free! On the previous days, you could actually go for a ride in one of the bombers for $425 an hour or ride along in the cockpit of a P-51 C Mustang for $3,200! Apparently, the price gets bigger as the size of the plane gets smaller.

Acrobatic Aviation Dance
One thing became apparent very quickly, in that there is no shade on a runway! The sun was hot from above and the asphalt baked from below making it a little uncomfortable. The kids fresh cut French fry effect was wearing off and they were looking less interested by the second. Nothing much was happening for quite a while but suddenly the sun went behind the clouds offering a brief reprieve from the heat and then the planes appeared on the horizon and the air show began. The squadron of five vintage planes went through a dazzling routine of acrobatic moves including, loops, barrel rolls, and inverted flybys. The absence of the sun allowed for much easier viewing of the action and helped enable my camera to capture some nice images from their routines.

Laying a Smoke Trail
A few of the planes trailed a line of white smoke that outlined their flight path for effect. I always wondered what that stuff was because during the war, it would indicate they had been hit and were on their way to a crash landing! The smoke is actually generated by something called fog oil that is sprayed in a fine mist into the hot air created by the exhaust of the aircraft. The effect has been around since the end of the war and has been used in varying forms ever since. The show was great but the sun broke from its ray blocking cloud prison to resume the assault on the spectators below. The kids looked like they had just completed a sortie mission in the Pacific theater and I knew it was time to bale out!

A-110 Tank Killer
I was a little disappointed because the modern military planes looked like they might jump into the show and I really wanted to see the aerobatics of modern technology. We drove home the back way rounding the end of the runway and saw one of the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft take flight. We pulled the car into a field and ejected outside to see the jet put on a roller coaster display of maneuvers. The A-110 is often called the Tank Killer due to its successful assault ratio on enemy targets on the ground while supporting infantry troops. It is also referred to as the Warthog due to the aircraft's unrefined and bulky design.

Inverted Warthog
The A-10 Thunderbolt can carry a variety of disposable explosive payloads but the primary weapon of the aircraft is the enormous 30mm Avenger Gatling style cannon machine gun that can fire up to 4,200 large armor piercing rounds per minute which translates to 65 bullets per second. The weapon is mounted directly below the pilot under the nose of the plane and has a high target rate of 80% accuracy. The plane was amazing and it is easy to see why the country that dominates and controls the sky, has a huge advantage during conflict. It was a really great experience for the kids despite their dehydration and signs of early heat stoke.

World War II Bomber
The theme of the show was Freedom Isn't Free and I am always humbled by the personal risk and sacrifice young men and women gave then and now to protect us from harm and threat, the world over. A big thank you to veterans and their families! I truly appreciate you and all you do for our great nation.

Paratrooper Descent

Please See My Additional Photos of the Airshow at...


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Virginia / Washington's Mt. Vernon

The Home of George Washington
Mount Vernon, Virginia

Estate Mansion Green
I was headed south for a week-long teacher's institute at Colonial Williamsburg but first made a side trip on the way to see George Washington's beloved Mount Vernon along the Potomac River in Virginia. This was the home of the father of our country, a sacred place to George Washington and yet throughout his life, public service would pull him away time and time again to serve the young nation. First he served as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and promised his wife Martha that he would return home in time to celebrate Christmas. He retained his promise to her and did return home in time to celebrate the holidays, eight long years later.

Mount Vernon Mansion
Mount Vernon was a constant work in progress and George Washington oversaw the property's evolution into a grand Georgian style estate modeled after those found in Europe. During the war he corresponded frequently with his cousin and friend Lund Washington who ran the day-to-day operations of the estate in his absence. His letters gave instructions concerning various expansion and construction projects, as well as the agricultural production of the five farms surrounding Mount Vernon. One cannot ignore the fact that the man who was leading the movement to overthrow British control of the colonies had so much to lose if the cause was lost. His willingness to risk and potentially sacrifice everything he had in the name of liberty, certainly inspired others to risk their own possessions for political freedom.
 View of the Potomac
Later, he was pulled away again to serve as the nation's first president moving to an apartment in the nation's capital at that time, New York City. As he worked to unite the young nation and avoid conflict with foreign governments he realized from his own personal experience in New York that a new, more centrally located national capital was needed to anchor the northern and southern states. The District of Columbia would later be created as a keystone capital city that would geographically join the north and south and help unite the United States of America. Nearing the conclusion of his second term as president, Washington decided to retire from public life and return to the home he had managed and built from a distance. He felt he had done more than his fair share by serving as general and then president, sacrificing 16 years of his life for the nation. The country had progressed well under his watch and was off to a good start, his goals were accomplished, and he stepped out. He had finally returned to the role of citizen farmer where he concentrated on agricultural science and techniques.

Mock Marble Siding
One unique characteristic of many of the buildings at Mount Vernon, including the mansion, are the exterior walls. Even from a short distance away, the exterior gives the illusion that the walls are made of stone. In fact, the sides are actually wooden planks carved in the shape of rectangles to resemble blocks of stone. The planks are then painted white and covered with fine sand while the paint is still wet to complete the illusion. Upon drying the exterior has the look and feel of stone.

Washington's Wheat Farm
George Washington retired to Mount Vernon and lived out the final years of his life on his estate which was constantly filled with visitors, friends, and family. He spent his time experimenting with new crop rotations and new farming techniques. He is often considered a pioneer in the field of agriculture, as he was concerned with the environmental impact on the land. He felt traditional methods would destroy the fertile land and sought new methods to preserve the land for future crops and generations. Unfortunately, his stay at Mount Vernon was once again brief as he died a short two years later of pneumonia following a tour of his fields on a cold day in driving sleet and rain.

Washington Family Tomb
Washington's tomb is on the grounds a short distant from the house in a quiet wooded space. The current tomb replaced the family structure that had previously deteriorated in 1831 and contains the bodies of George, Martha, and other family members. A short distance away is an area that was designated as a burial place for the many African-American slaves and free blacks that worked on the plantations. All slave plots are unmarked and no records were maintained of the names or the number of people buried in this wooded section of the property. A pathway has been constructed through the area ending in a small circular monument in their honor.

Restored Slave Cemetery
This space also contains the remains of Billy Lee Washington who was George Washington's personal slave servant and constant companion. He is the only slave to be openly freed in Washington's will where it is also noted he was awarded a pension of $30 a month for life and the option to live on the grounds of Mount Vernon, which he did until his death sometime around 1828. Despite his importance in Washington's life... accompanying him on campaign during the war, his presidency in New York, and retirement at Mount Vernon... he is also buried in an unknown, unmarked location within the slave cemetery hillside.  Sadly, the one man who probably knew Washington best remained silent as he was never interviewed to have his thoughts and perceptions recorded for history.

Mount Vernon Estate
Source: Lithograph / The Granger Collection
The interior of the house is off limits to cameras, which is probably an incentive for you to buy the guidebook at the gift shop... which, I did. By the way, it is an excellent resource and I highly recommend it! The house is filled with very bright colors, some which might be described today as gaudy. In some rooms the walls and woodwork are painted all the same color, with only the ceiling standing out in contrast in bright white. My favorite room of the house was the first room you see on the tour, which is the large dining room. This multipurpose room is painted various shades of green (Washington's favorite color) with intricate white plaster stencil designs framing multiple angles and edges throughout the room.

Key to the Bastile
The one artifact I found most fascinating was a large key mounted in a metal-framed display case that turned out to be the main key to the Bastile prison in France where the French Revolution first began. It was a gift to Washington from his old friend from the American Revolution the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette credited him with helping to inspire the people of France to overthrow their own monarchy system of government. It was the first item visitors would see upon entering the center hallway of the house where it was proudly displayed and where it remains today.

Multipurpose Large Dining Room
Source: Photograph / Mount Vernon Estate Website
The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
The Mount Vernon estate was passed through several generations of relatives where the property fell into disrepair and was later abandoned. The property went up for sale in the late 1950's but neither the national or state government of Virginia showed any interest in the purchase and restoration of the property. However, in 1960 the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association came through to purchase the estate following five years of fund raising. The nonprofit association purchased the 200-acre property and slowly accomplished the restoration of the house and support buildings. The association still owns, maintains, and operates the property today.

General George Washington
(American Revolution Period)
The visitor center is built slightly off sight as not to disturb the historical setting of the plantation. Here you will find several excellent gift shops, a food court, and an excellent museum. One of the never-ending questions the displays attempt to answer is... What did George Washington really look like? In 1785, world-renowned French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon came to Mount Vernon to make a life-like bust of George Washington. It is considered the most accurate likeness of the founding father. In partnership with the Discovery Channel, the museum has used modern technology in combination with Houdon's bust to recreate Washington's appearance at various stages of his life. The results of the project are three life size dioramas of Washington during the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and his inauguration in New York City.

Colonel George Washington
(French and Indian War Period)
Overall, the estate was a great experience. I showed up mid morning on a rainy day and was shocked to see the line to get into the house tour was several football fields long. I waited well over an hour outside as the long single file line inched slowly forward. I also made some new friends from Nebraska who didn't have an umbrella! I would love to go back and explore the long walking trail along the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway that parallels the Potomac River on your way to the estate. It is a ten mile long paved trail that is called the Potomac Heritage Trail. It looks like something worth checking out on a rain free day.

Please See My Additional Photographs of Mount Vernon...


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