Friday, June 28, 2013

A Necessary Stop: Fort Necessity

We trusted 22-year-olds a lot more back in the 1700s than we do now. It's not because life is more complicated now, because that's arguable. Back then we (and by we I mean not us but our British colonial overlords) told a young man to take a bunch of men and forge a road where previously there was none and along the way keep them fed and healthy, avoid dying to miscellaneous but numerous possible causes, keep from antagonizing the natives too greatly, and oh yeah, try not to engage in hostilities with a competing and definitely unfriendly colonial overlord (France).

So in 1754, George Washington, a lieutenant colonel already at age 22, set off with his Virginia militia through western Maryland to carve out what became the first federally funded and maintained highway -- now U.S. 40. Along the way he encountered a French patrol and ambushed them. Stories differ about the actual events -- whether Washington and his men surprised them at dawn and before the enemy even had a chance to pick up their weapons, killed them despite pleas for truce, as the French claim, or whether he tried to surprise them, goofed, and there was an honest confrontation between the two sides that he ended up winning.

Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville was a French Canadian military officer; his defeat and killing at the Battle of Jumonville Glen by forces led by Washington was one of the sparks that ignited the Seven Years' War. (Accounts vary whether Jumonville was killed during the skirmish or whether he was wounded, subsequently taken prisoner by Washington's forces, and then summarily executed by one of Washington's Native American allies.) Regardless, Washington seriously pissed off the French, and he worried, accurately, that the French were hell bent on revenge.

Hence Fort Necessity, at Great Meadows, near Uniontown, PA. "A charming field for an encounter," is supposedly what Washington said of the marshy, natural meadow surrounded by dense forest. He threw a few logs up, called it a fort, and settled down to await the French attack. The wait wasn't long -- just 30 days, during which time Washington and his men lengthened the new road by some 14 back-breaking miles.

A large French reprisal force attacked Fort Necessity and forced Washington to surrender on 4 July -- the only time Washington ever surrendered. Washington and his men left, and the French burned the fort. The present day reconstruction is close proximity to what Washington had built.

What took Washington months to build takes us modern-day history buffs hours to drive -- just three, in fact, if you're coming from the Baltimore-Washington area. You want to go there for the history of the road, as well as the history related to George Washington's life (he clearly learned some lessons during that time that later served him well) and the history related to the first battle of the French and Indian War.

Getting there: 1 Washington Parkway, Farmington PA 15437

Hours: Park grounds open sunrise to sunset. Visitor center open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed federal holidays.

Dogs: Wecome on the grounds, leashed. Not so much in the visitor's center.

Eats: Pack a picnic -- picnic tables available. About 11 miles from Uniontown, where there are plenty of choices.


Updated May 2018.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Falling for Water Falls: Ohiopyle State Park (PA)

The waters of the Youghiogheny River are the center of the Ohiopyle State Park, in the Laurel Highlands area of Pennsylvania. The Ohiopyle Falls are gorgeous, and I knew from a previous visit that I wanted my sons to see Cucumber Falls, which feed into the Yough itself.

I decided to drag the kids and husband there because of the Ohiopyle Falls, right near the park headquarters and in the cute little town of Ohiopyle. I knew there were some trails that we could do -- shortish ones of maybe a coupla miles. I figured I'd get some trail guides from the Park's headquarters and we'd be on our way. I also didn't have a GPS address for Cucumber Falls -- in the park -- but figured the park rangers could steer us in the right direction.

Oops. No headquarters building that I could see, although one was being constructed, and the depiction of what it'll be looked lovely, but not very helpful at that moment. Update September 2018: The park visitors center has been built and is open!

Well, at least the Ohiopyle Falls themselves were right there. Had we come more prepared, we could have gone wading into the river itself -- lots of folks were splashing around, and the area was cordoned off for safety, so you wouldn't get too near and possibly swept into the falls and rapids themselves. It looked fun, I thought wistfully. Neither of my sons were game to go in. We ate our picnic lunch in the shade, enjoyed the falls for a few moments. Then headed across the street to check out the cafes -- must get coffee afterall!

In Ohiopyle there are several cafes that look cute. You also can arrange for white water rafting trips and rent bicycles or kayaks. Had I done my research ahead of time, we could have been enjoying a trip down the river. Oh well. It's on my list -- we'll be back! But, if you go there, do stop by the Ohiopyle Old Mill General Store, an old gristmill, and try out some of their hand-dipped ice cream. My youngest tried the sweet and salty pretzel flavor -- which was rated "freakin' awesome!"

Since you're there -- you must go see Cucumber Falls. I love that waterfalls! Ask for directions from the Old Mill General Store staff, or staff from one of the other cafes. It's right around the corner from there, and easy to find when you have the directions -- something like "right out of the lot, over the bridge, first left, and you're there" kind of thing. It's not a strenuous hike -- you go down some steps and there it is, a ribbon of water splashing over the side of a cliff. You can climb behind the waterfalls itself, as a semi-cave has been carved out. And wear clothes you don't mind getting muddy or wet, because you can splash around in the water a bit too.

 As a side note -- Cucumber Falls is about 5 minutes away from Fallingwater -- Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece; Ohiopyle Falls is about 15 minutes away, so the two visits can be combined.

Getting there: Ohiophyle State Park, Main Street, Ohiopyle, PA 15470; free admission to the state park.

Dogs: Bring 'em!! Dogs were having a blast walking in the park and playing in the water!

Hours: Dawn to dusk, presumably. Use good sense!


White water rafting: Laurel Highlands River Tours 800-4raftin; Wilderness Voyageurs 800-272-4141; White Water Adventures 800-WWA-RAFT

Updated September 2018.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Going for the Ghosts: Ellicott City Ghost Tour

A little bit of local history, a lot of old fashioned storytelling, and almost no scary, a ghost tour is a great excuse (if you need one) to walk slowly up and down the main street of Ellicott City, hand in hand with that special someone, on a summer evening. The ghost tours (there are several to chose from) take about an hour, and are a fine compliment to a nice meal at one of Ellicott City's restaurants.

I first heard about ghost tours while roaming around Gettysburg a decade ago. At the time there was just one tour -- now there's a handful. I was intrigued, but never around Gettysburg at the time of night most ghost tours are conducted. I still would like to go on a ghost tour there. It's on my bucket list.

So are the ghost tours in Frederick, Annapolis, and Baltimore. Not to mention, "Part 1" of the Ellicotty City Ghost Tour. Ellicott City is haunted enough, apparently, for Part 1 and Part 2, as well as a Spirits of Ellicott City Tour -- a pub crawl, where I guess, you can go inside and drink and potentially see for yourself the ghost in the mirrors behind the bar. By the way -- the local establishments cheerfully play along with the ghost tours -- while standing outside one bar, the wait staff flickered the lights on and off, almost on cue, garnering a few nervous laughs.

Part 1 and Part 2 Ellicott City ghost tours run on alternating weeks, so when Ed and I decided to go on the tour a few weeks ago, it was Part 2 week. Although interesting -- mostly for the tidbits of local history, such as the fact that Ellicott City used to have an opera house --  the tours are light on scary.  Another piece of history I learned was that Confederate soldiers were often help prisoner in one of the buildings before they were boarded onto the train and shipped off to god knows where. One such Confederate is now a local ghost -- having made the somewhat dubious decision to try to escape, necessitating a flight down a long, narrow stone flight of stairs between two buildings, during which descent he was gunned down by those in pursuit. His body tumbled the rest of the way down. Supposedly you can still hear his footsteps running, the sound of his boots echoing down the narrow stone steps, and then the sound of a body thudding down to rest at the base of the stairs, near the street. Personally, I'm glad there's no need for me to ever climb or descend those stairs.

Fans of SyFy's Ghost Hunters show know that the Confederate ghost is what is known as a residual haunting, versus an intelligent haunting, which would be a ghost that can interact with the living. But thee were some of those mentioned during the tour, including a dinner guest ghost and the ghosts at Kaplans Department Store.

Part 2 included a bit too much about hauntings experienced by former and current ghost tour guides. One wondered whether they're predisposed to be haunted? But nevertheless, I'd like to hear the rest of the tales and decide for myself whether Ellicott City's Main Street is truly the most haunted mile in Maryland.

Getting there: 8267 Main Street in the historical district. Parking behind the building.

Hours: April - November, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; fee required.

Dogs: Well behaved pooches welcomed on First Friday tours! (Although not on the Spirits of Ellicott City Tour.)


Updated May 2018.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Celtic Fling & Highland Games

Who doesn't love a good Renaissance festival?

Not that Renaissance festivals really just celebrate the European Renaissance anymore -- if they ever did. Rather, they celebrate American lunacy and (mis)interpretation of the 1500-1600s in Europe. And that's just fine by me. But if women went around with fairy wings strapped to their backs or furry tails attached to their rears back then, well... they wouldn't be doing it for long, or else they'd find themselves strapped to a stake with flames licking their ankles. And despite how most of the women are dressed at these festivals, I seriously doubt it was either so colorful or so boobalicious, except among a certain sort...

But this is what makes going to these festivals fun -- the joy of life of all those who show up in period costume and just enjoy the day and dressing up and playing make-believe. I keep promising myself that one of these years...

The Celtic Fling, at the Mount Hope Estate in Manheim, PA, occurs late June every year, is likewise visually interesting and fun, and yes, kind of hokey in an "eww, they're old, should they really be wearing that" sort of way. But then, look who's enjoying themselves the most? I think maybe they have a point. Well, maybe next year I'll dress up! The Fling takes place on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, which starts in August and runs through October. Folks dress up for the Celtic Fling much like they would dress for the Renaissance Faire, only with more green and men in skirts kilts.

There's plenty to eat, plenty to drink, plenty to buy. There were several booths offering various wiccan accessories, with a plethora of herbs, crystals, and animal skulls -- another anachronism for a festival supposedly celebrating an age of religious absolutism. Foodwise there's plenty, regardless of what you like. The Scottish eggs were tempting, although we settled for the safer fish and chips.

It's a nice place to walk hand in hand around, taking in the sights and the sounds. The games are fun to watch if you're interested in huge men tossing even huger poles like they're matchsticks, and there are a variety of other Highland games. Mostly, we enjoyed the various Celtic music groups playing at various stages in the venue. Our favorite group being Albannach -- a pounding combination of drums and bagpipes played by sweaty men with long hair and gorgeous Scottish accents. (I believe it may be hotter here in Pennsylvania than back home in Scotland.)

Know before you go: If you get there early, it's both cooler and fewer drinkers -- more a time for families with kids. There are weapons and gunfire demonstrations, and a few games geared for kids.

Getting there: 2775 Lebanon Road, Manheim, PA 17545; fee required.

Hours: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. 


Updated May 2018.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013


My boys are generally not enthusiastic when I announce that we're heading out for another house tour. And if I recall correctly, it wasn't until I was in my 20s that I began enjoying touring old homes. I've often wondered what it is about us -- or maybe about me -- that figures, if our parents did it to us, then we can do it to our kids (at least, when it comes to daytrips). I remember schlepping through colonial homes, plantation mansions, and many a Victorian mansion as a kid. Now it's my turn to inflict this all on my kids....

For the record, mom and dad never took my sister and I to see Fallingwater.

However, Fallingwater was one of those surprises for my boys, when their relatively docile (no, not so much) submission to another one of mom's whims turned out to be interesting, even enjoyable. Certainly, the house engaged their imagination in a way that as their mother, I was quite pleased to see.

Fallingwater -- possibly rating as one of the top 5 most famous homes in the U.S. -- was the summer weekend home for two decades of the Kaufmans, of Kaufmans Department Store in Pittsburgh, and was designed for them by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. Almost forgotten in his late 60s at the time, his work on Fallingwater helped spark Wright's renaissance as a great American architect, and over the next two decades, he'd design another 400 buildings, including the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art in New York City. (Hmmm, do I sense another day trip?)

The hour-long house tour brings you into every room but the kitchen and servants quarters and moves quite quickly through the spaces, explaining the architecture and Wright's philosophy of architecture, and artistry in the spaces, as well as how the Kaufmans and Wright interacted and negotiated over the design. It is easy to imagine yourself as Liliana Kaufman, getting up in the morning to take a dip in a spring-fed pool, or go relax in the sun to while lulled by the sound of the waterfall below.

I won't go into more detail about the house -- something like 30 books (and maybe more) have been written on the topic. After the house tour, walk around the grounds and grab a photo of the famous "postcard shot." The grounds are lovely in their own right -- well worth a walk in the woods.

Know before you go: If your kids are older or if it's an adults-only trip, then go out to the other house Wright designed in the area: Kentuck Knob, just seven miles away. You also need tickets for that home. Children younger than 6 not allowed in the house. Children younger than 10 or 11 likely to be bored to tears. Get advance tickets online or by calling 724-329-8501.

Getting there:1491 Mill Run Road, Mill Run, PA.

Hours: Mid-March through Thanksgiving Weekend, daily except Wednesdays, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Dogs: Leave your furry friends at home for this day trip.

Eats: Food is available at an onsite cafe, with the usual markup for a captive audience. The parking lot has some shade, so we packed a picnic and ate it in the parking lot. Worth noting -- you're just a few minutes away from Ohiopyle, where there are several cute cafes.


Updated May 2018.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Flight 93 National Memorial

Flight 93 National Memorial is the nation's permanent memorial to the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93. It's their final resting place and their remains are still present. The crash site is bordered by the Memorial Plaza.

We headed out early Thursday morning, taking I70 West out of Baltimore to the Memorial, nestled in the Laurel Highlands farmland, near Stoystown, PA. This was my second visit. The first time my husband and I had visited it had been in February, and it had snowed the day before -- breathtaking. We sat at the entrance until 0910 (despite its official open time of 0900), and were the only ones there at the time. It was touching, and I decided then that my sons needed to see this. They'd already been to Ground Zero, with their father, and they've been to the Pentagon Memorial (more on that in a future post).

On the drive out, we discussed 9/11 and our memories of that day. My younger son was born a few months later -- making the memorial even more poignant. We started talking about Flight 93 itself and the events as we recalled them about what happened that morning. Someone mentioned the theory that the plane had been shot down, rather than taken down by the passengers. We didn't reach a conclusion about the "conspiracy theory" -- it would make sense if that plane had been shot down, although I personally prefer the version of events generally accepted as true, that the passengers had fought back against the terrorists and taken their fates into their own hands -- but ultimately, the four of us decided it didn't matter. The passengers and flight crew on that plane are modern American heroes, whichever is the truth.

The Memorial is touching and despite how lovely the day was, felt solemn. A cell phone tour guided us through the history panels. As we walked along the memorial plaza out to the Wall of Names, we passed little shelves, filled with tributes others have offered in tribute to the crash victims. My youngest son was so moved as to seek an item he could leave -- and settled on a quarter, because on its face is George Washington, seeking solace in the symbolism of the Nation's Founding Fathers. We continued walking past the boulder set out in the meadow, marking the spot of the main impact.

The Wall of Names lists a name of one of the passengers or flight crew on each white marble panel. We walked slowly past each panel, reading the name on each one. I stumbled upon reaching Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas' name, as it also listed "and unborn child." I imagined her last moments. Did she hold her hands on her belly, perhaps feeling her unborn baby move within, wishing for a different future? Did she curse fate? Did she cry in fear? Could she accept her fate and take comfort in knowing she would be known as a modern American hero?

We walked back in silence.

Getting there: If you're looking for it on GPS, it's located at 6434 Lincoln Highway, Stoystown, PA. Note-- our GPS dropped us off about a half mile away from there, so keep your eyes open for the entrance.

If you're coming from Baltimore region, and have a lot of time to mosey along, then take the first federally funded highway -- US 40 -- out through western Maryland. Actually -- pick up 40 just north of Frederick, as 40 and 70 are the same road until about then anyway. In spring, summer and early fall it's a scenic drive, but more on that in some future post.

Getting there: 6424 Lincoln Highway, Stoystown, PA 15563; Many GPS units may recommend a different route, sometimes taking you to a closed entrance from the early days of the temporary memorial. There is only one entrance, and it is located on US Route 30 (Lincoln Highway). Enter the actual GPS address noted above. Searching for the location by site name will not get you to the correct entrance.

Hours: April - October 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.; November - March 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Dogs: Leave your dogs at home for this one!

Eats: This is in a fairly rural location. If you're heading there near meal time, plan a picnic, or prepare to wait until you get back on the main highway and reach a nearby big town.


Updated September 2018.

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