Monday, October 15, 2018

Finally Heading home....

Yours truly, standing on a balcony at the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA on the last day of sightseeing.   During this visit, a number of the soldiers addressed my wife and I as "ladies."  I did not hear "Sir" - but there were a few instances of "non-gendered forms of address."  A very nice touch, considering that I was not in full Mandy form!

Displays and dioramas were fabulous, everything was marked and well-explained in the documentation.  If you ever get the chance to visit, be sure to do it!

We took the long way back home, going south toward Richmond to beat the DC traffic, subsequently heading east on a country road, then north on US 301, crossing the Potomac River on the 1.7 mile long Harry W Nice Bridge.   It's a narrow, antiquated 2-lane structure, and connects Newburg,
MD with Dahlgren, VA.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt participated in its 1938 groundbreaking.   And it is definitely not a "nice" bridge. One has to be extremely careful to not stray over the center line and hit oncoming traffic, or hit the side guardrails.   But we survived!  Good news is: its 4-lane replacement is being discussed!  A two-lane bridge with 4 lane highways leading up to it tends to be a classic bottleneck!

Immediately after descending the north side, I turned in to a rather uninviting gas station and followed a driveway back south, to investigate the following curiosity:

At first glance, it appears to be some sort of elaborate advertising gimmick.  Look again, more closely at the two center towers.  Notice that "wall" between them does not look the same as walls on either side.   That's because it was added quite some time after the "castle" was built...   And notice the real windows in some of the openings on the end towers with the blue roofs.  Very curious.

Upon investigation on-line, it became clear that this was built as the "grand entrance" to now-defunct "Aqua-Land Amusement Park."  The road (which no longer exists but can be imagined - look at the tree gap above the center wall)  passed between the two center towers and led into the park. 

Following is a description of the park (and surrounding areas) from the Sept. 10, 1996 Baltimore Sun:

Vacation-style communities are part of a greater architecture and development trend called "themeing," in which communities are engineered to create a more enchanting atmosphere than typical suburbs, he said.

This vision of fun and fantasy was exactly what the Conner brothers, Dennis and Delbert, were after when they began carving Aqua-Land and Cliffton from the rural coast in Newburg in 1960.
Flights with free champagne brought Washington and Baltimore visitors to an airstrip at Cliffton for 24 unreal hours. Tigers and bears prowled in a petting zoo, a giant Humpty-Dumpty welcomed visitors to the children's theme park, Storyville U.S.A., and guests traversed the grounds via mini-trains.

The Conners dreamed of creating a "Las Vegas of the East" and building thousands of homes at their Cliffton on Potomac community alongside it. If visitors bought lots and stayed for good, the Conner brothers gave them free kitchen utensils.

"One fed the other," said Dennis "Dennie" Conner, 72, who now lives in Palm City, a retirement community in South Florida. "We did fly-ins and boat-ins and crab feasts that helped the whole development. We did a lot of promoting."

But the disappointments started coming early. First, they lost a choice spot on the shoreline to a PEPCO power plant. Then, they were denied a permit to dig a moat around the property for Jungle-Land. And after it was built, the biggest setback of all: Maryland began phasing out slot machines in 1963.

The community's "reason for being" withered and Aqua-Land died. It was just a bit too far from Washington or Baltimore to attract summertime crowds, too cold in the winter to attract retirees and too isolated for families searching for suburban conveniences.  The Conners sold the property in 1972. A series of owners went bankrupt throughout the next two decades in efforts to develop the land. Now, the county owns roughly 100 lots and scores more are scattered among different owners.

The land is all but deserted. Where a campground now sits, one dirty pet peacock scratches in a cage surrounded by RVs. Muskrats skitter across what used to be an airstrip. Honeysuckle grows over a cracked park pavilion. And brittle reeds fill the meadows where sky divers performed tricks in Aqua-Land's heyday. A marina built by the Conners is still open, but it does only a fraction of the business they had hoped.

At Cliffton on the Potomac, the neighborhood seems largely forgotten. The community's welcome sign on the riverbank reads "CLIFFTO." Nobody bothered to replace the N when it fell into the river.

From a mapping program, you can see that the airstrip has crumbled.  Views of the river are overgrown, and campsites/homesites sit empty.  Some nearby motels (which looked like they might have been decent "back in the day") are now abandoned and crumbling.  Only the modified and repurposed park entrance remains, mute testimony to a dream.  A dream which glowed brightly for a short time, and then was abruptly extinguished.

A rather melancholy end to an otherwise fabulous trip.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

More sightseeing in the Washington, DC area

No visit to Washington DC is complete without a visit to Mt. Vernon.  The traffic was awful, but the sightseeing was wonderful.

Following is a picture of the greenhouse on the Mt.Vernon estate property.  It looks nice enough to live in!  Don't you just love the plantings and fabulous gardens?

We took some time to explore downtown Fredericksburg, VA on foot.  There were many fascinating shops and lots of seasonal (fall) decorations.  During our exploration, we came across an old-time soda fountain and pharmacy.  Fascinating.  The sign inside proclaims it to be the nation's oldest soda fountain!  And they still make their yunmy milkshakes the old fashioned way, with those old "tall" blenders.  If you look carefully, you can see them against the wall under the "G" in Goolrick's.

Below is one of the dioramas at the Marine Corps museum in Quantico, VA....depicting typical Marine activity in a scene from the war in Vietnam.  One person mused that the latticework in the overhead windows was meant to symbolize rope ladders used on the sides of ships to get Marines down to the water when going ashore.  Could be....I can imagine that scenario.

More to follow...


Thursday, October 11, 2018

This time, on the road in Virginia.

This lighthouse (Point Lookout) marks the entrance to the Potomac River at the southernmost tip of Maryland's western shore of Chesapeake Bay. It is reputed to be the most haunted lighthouse in the US and the most haunted area in Maryland.

Point Lookout itself was once the site of a civil war era hospital, a prisoner of war camp, a refugee camp for runaway and freed slaves, the site of shipwrecks, and a hotel that burned to the ground. And it is often visited by investigators looking for paranormal (ghostly) activity.

Good thing it was not open for visitations...and fortunately, we did not bring any apparitions home with us.

In the same area was an old Civil War fort, with (as we later discovered) a re-enactment in progress.  Once that was made clear (docents in Civil War uniforms carrying muskets while standing on the surrounding earthenworks were a fine hint), wifey headed back toward the car at full speed, while I headed deeper into the fort.    

Just in time for the "Ka-Boom."  

Smoke seen above is the result of firing the "One O'clock Cannon."  Yes, it was loud, and yes, wifey heard it - but she was far enough away that it wasn't an issue. 

Located along Sunken Road in Fredericksburg, VA (essentially the old version of US Route 1), the Innis house was used as a firing position by Confederate sharpshooters in the Civil War battle for control of the town.

It was a private residence until the 1970's when it was sold to the park, and the exterior (as well as parts of the interior) were restored to their 1862 appearance.

Needless to say, they uncovered some amazing things on the interior, when taking down the newer inside walls.  Those dark spots are holes from stray Union projectiles which passed through the house during the Civil War.

In the early 19th century a stone wall was built along this three block section of the heights at Fredericksburg.  And the road behind it was dug in a bit, thus the moniker "sunken road".) 

During the first Battle of Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862), the wall protected Confederate soldiers fortunate to crouch behind it. Behind the wall on the upper side, only around 300 Confederate soldiers were shot. 

By contrast, in front of the wall (on the downhill side), approximately 8,000 Union soldiers were hit. After the war, much of the wall was removed. A portion was rebuilt in the 1930's and in 2004.

So many simply amazing historic things to see...!



Sunday, October 7, 2018

Fun is where you find it...

The train my wife was riding home from her sister's place a while back, experienced significant delays in recent weeks.  Enduring that type of delay would undoubtedly cause her to miss the connection in DC, and make her return to Baltimore so late that we would have to deal with rush hour traffic - and rush hour at the Bay Bridge.  (Often not a good thing.)  I didn't want to drive in that mess, and neither did she.  We both wanted to be back home quickly...if at all possible.

Our plan to avoid this situation was for me to go to an intermediate station several mid-day hours from DC the day before, and have her get off the train "several stops early" the next morning.  This would let us hopefully get to, and across, the bridge before rush hour, even with a late train.  We agreed on a time by which we'd communicate by cell phone to confirm that I had arrived in town.   And that left me free for some errands and sightseeing.

Androgynous was my errand presentation the day of my recent excursion to pick up my wife at the top, gray shorts, pantyhose, flats and so on.  Makeup and lipstick but no other jewelry.   Dressed that way,, there were no instances of either "Sir" or "Ma'am."

Confusion can be a good thing!    After finishing my errands, I pulled on my red paisley skirt, and took off those in-car cornfield changes.  And off to the hinterlands...

First stop was Washington Monument State Park near Boonsboro, MD.    Located atop South Mountain, it's the first completed monument dedicated to the memory of George Washington.  A rugged stone tower, it was initially erected by the citizens of Boonsboro in 1827.

Interestingly,  it fell into disrepair , and was rebuilt at least twice, during its history - most recently by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936.  It is currently maintained by the Maryland Park Service.  Unfortunately the gate was locked and no entry into the tower was possible.  But it's still magnificent!

Lunch was quick and easy, at fast food...

Next stop was at a small, privately-owned cavern.  There, I was able to escape the 95 degree outdoor heat by going on a tour of the cavern, about 50 feet underground.  Nice and cool...with interesting formations and lots of dampness...the proprietor calculated that he was pumping out 100,000 gallons of water a day to keep it from flooding...and even so, one low passage was flooded.

From there, I headed to a hotel in Western Maryland to await wifey's arrival by train the next morning...    And needless to say, I wore an "everyday outfit."  Mandy went back into the suitcase!

Mandy's day out was mostly successful, with only one known instances of being "clocked."   And since I'll never see that party again, who cares?

Fun is where you find it!