Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Famously Wed and the Very Dead: Touring Greenmount Cemetery

Longtime readers of this blog know I love visiting cemeteries -- especially the lovely "rural garden" or "garden park" cemeteries of the mid to late 1800s. So when I learned of historic Green Mount Cemetery, in northern Baltimore, I was excited.

Green Mount Cemetery was established a the very beginning of the rural garden cemetery movement in the United States, and it is notable for being one of the earliest of the Victorian rural garden cemeteries in the United States. Designed to be outdoor galleries of art and architecture, these were destinations in and of themselves, whether you had a loved one buried there or not. I particularly enjoyed this cemetery because of some of the very lovely bronze sculptures situated throughout the cemetery. The sculptors include William Henry Rinehart (himself interred within the grounds), Hans Schuler, and J. Maxwell Miller.

Green Mount Cemetery offers a slice of Maryland history that includes 8 Maryland governors, 16 Civil War generals, Lincoln assassination conspirators Samual Arnold and Michael O'Laughlin, as well as Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth (who lies in his family's plot in an all-but-unmarked grave), as well as other movers and shakers of the late 1800s and 1900s: Johns Hopkins, Enoch Pratt, and Allen Dulles (CIA director), among others. Circus performers, authors, sculptors, mayors and senators, business leaders and philanthropists are also interred within Green Mount.

My friend and I visited Booth's grave, mostly with the intent of leaving our Lincoln pennies on his marker, a traditional offering. His stone is unremarkable and almost invisible, next to the more showy Junias Brutas Booth's marker. The Booths, in their day, were a famous acting family. Unfortunately their most infamous member is the only one well remembered now.

As you walk the paths, as you climb to the highest point, you'll be rewarded with a panoramic view of Baltimore, especially if you visit during the late fall or winter, when tree leaves have fallen. If you go during the summer months, you'll notice the variety of trees -- Green Mount, like many other rural garden cemeteries, also served as arboretums, with a wide variety of trees.

Interestingly, bird watchers frequent the cemetery and with good reason: hawks, falcons, woodcocks, and owls all inhabit the cemetery. Unfortunately when we visited, all we noticed were sparrows and black birds.

There were many remarkable grave markers (remember, I'm a "tombstone tourist"). One of my favorite markers is that of Elijah Bond, who patented the ouija board. Not surprisingly, this is a popular grave, often visited by ouija board enthusiasts. More interesting background about this grave can be found here.

Know before you go #1: Each May and October Wayne Schaumburg leads guided tours of the Cemetery on Saturday mornings. Mr. Schaumburg has degrees in history and liberal arts from Towson University, Morgan State University, and Johns Hopkins University.

Know before you go #2: Take your own guided walking tour of the cemetery. Maps and other materials can be obtained at the Cemetery Office located on the right side of the Entrance Gate; the minimal charge for these materials help cover the cost of production. All visitors are asked to sign in at the office.

Getting there: 1501 Greenmount Avenue, Baltimore

Hours: The Cemetery office and grounds are open Monday through Friday 9 am till 4 pm. The office closes at noon on Saturdays; the grounds remain open until 4 pm. In cases of inclement weather, please call before visiting.

Dogs: I'm not sure whether they're officially allowed, although we did see several dog walkers enjoying the scenery while we were there.


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Thursday, March 19, 2015

There's Lots to Dig about Crystal Grottoes Caverns

Guest blogger Melinda writes about taking her family to Crystal Grottoes Caverns. What a great day trip for any time of year!

When my family and I returned two years ago from living in Europe, we decided that if Central Maryland was going to be home for the foreseeable future, we might as well get to know our adopted state and the surrounding areas. One of the things we most enjoyed doing in Europe was visiting caves and all-things underground and so we decided to continue that trend here on the East Coast.

We have since visited larger and more well-known locations such as the Luray and Shenandoah Caverns in Virginia as well as caverns in Kentucky; however, it took some "digging" before we found what is probably the little-known and closer-to-home Crystal Grottoes, in Boonsboro, MD.

This set of connecting caves, considered the only show cave in all of Maryland, does not boast the advertising and curb appeal of the larger Luray and Shenandoah Caverns, and apparently, that's just fine for the owners because one gets the sense that because close at hand are the Washington Monument State Park, Antietam National Battlefield and all things having to do with romance author Nora Roberts, a visitor can either stop by or continue on his/her way. 

Visualize off the beaten path and that's the Grottoes. Accept that the "visitors center" is absolutely no frills and that's the Grottoes. Be greeted by a guy with a big belly, hairy chest and smoking a cigarette who looks like a mafia wise-guy and that's the Grottoes. Become blown-away by the knowledge of Trail Guide James and his obvious affection for the caverns and that's the Grottoes too.

It is a bare-bones operation with excavation continuing, so maybe that's why the $20 price for adults and $10 for kids under 12 seemed so steep and although I still think that price is a little much, Trail Guide James certainly made the 40-minute tour much more enjoyable than anticipated. Our children were fully engaged, which meant James had to respond to a barrage of questions, but he patiently answered each and every one. No doubt he appreciated that the other four visitors in our group were from Asia and admittedly did not attempt to converse; otherwise, he would have lost his voice before the conclusion of the trip due to responding to so many queries. One of the reasons why he knows so much about the caves and the on-going excavation is because he currently works with the excavation team and that insight provided a greater understanding of the caves and what's in store for them in the future.

The thing that I appreciated the most about these caverns is that although you cannot touch them, you can get really close to the stalactite, stalagmite and helectite formations and because Trail Guide James was so informative, I learned a great deal more than I thought I would. The folksy and who-cares attitude can be off-putting for the cavern connoisseur; however, like an iceberg, the Crystal Grottoes has so much more going for itself underground and really, is the visitor there for the gift shop or is the visitor there to learn something new? If the gift shop is your true destination, then you are much better off visiting the more garish and over-priced Luray and Shenandoah Caverns. Bring your cash, because no other type of payment is accepted and suspend your expectations because if you do, you'll be pleasantly surprised as I was.

Walking around the beautiful countryside that surrounds the place and then visiting the Washington Monument State Park made for a very enjoyable and low-key day. I won't go into detail about the caverns because you can either Google it or do as we did, just get in the car and go.

Know before you go: Bring cash. That's the only way to pay! Dress appropriately. Underground temperature is 54 degrees, all year long. That's pretty chilly, especially if you're dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Bring a jacket.

Getting there: 19821 Shepherdstown Pike, Boonsboro MD

Hours: Winter Hours are Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.; 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. during warmer months.


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Updated August 2021

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Craving Cave: Exploring Penn's Cave

For all the natural wonders above ground, I've always been fascinated by the ones below! But I'm not a spelunker: scary dangerous dark places and heights -- and both exist in caves -- are not for me.

There are some 55 thousand caves in the United States, and most of them have not become tourist attractions or "show caves," with lighting and passageways that allow comfortable exploration for people of all ages and abilities. But a few are show caves -- Luray in Virginia, Mammoth in Kentucky come to mind. Such is Penn's Cave, an all-water cavern -- and one of the few, if not the only cave you travel through entirely on boat -- nestled in scenic Central Pennsylvania. 

This is a day trip that you can take any time of the year. And whether there are leaves on the trees or soggy weather -- it just doesn't matter very much because the cave stays the same temperature and climate -- 52 degrees. Two separate guided tours are offered at Penn's Cave: a 50-minute tour of the water cavern by boat and a 90-minute tour of the wildlife park by motor vehicle. We passed on the wildlife park tour, deciding to visit the nearby Penn State campus at State College so I could introduce my sons to my alma mater.

The limestone cavern, rich in geology and history, is a natural landmark that is a stunning example of nature's flawless beauty and color. Glittering stalactites and stalagmites appear in mysteriously familiar shapes, such as the "Statue of Liberty" and  the "Garden of the Gods." It is wonderful how dripping water has sculpted magnificent flowstone, curtains, cascades, and draperies against a background of pillars and gigantic columns.

Penn’s Cave has two natural entrances. The water entrance opens from the bottom of a sinkhole several hundred feet in diameter and 75 feet deep -- that's where the tour through the cave starts. The other is at the bottom of a small sink hole in the front yard of the former Penn’s Cave Hotel, a distinctive white building on the property.

Penn’s Cave, like other limestone caverns, was formed in two cycles: first, the dissolving of the limestone rock by slightly acidic ground water deep below the surface, and second, the lowering of the water table and draining of the cavities. For caves to form in the limestone, which is essentially impermeable to groundwater unless it is fractured, the primary paths for groundwater to flow through are the joints, fractures, and gaps that have resulted from earth movements. Water continues to dissolve the limestone, and the initial path along a joint or fracture becomes enlarged to a cave passage. Caves are living things (not just home to them), and continue to evolve, albeit oh, so unfathomably slowly.

The entrance at the boat dock is a broad, smoothly-arched tunnel 20 feet wide and 10 feet high. Both walls come down to meet at the water. The tunnel opens after 150 feet into a high-arched ceiling room. The tour operator lit up the cave room in pretty colors, eliciting ooohs and ahhhhs from several of the children (and adults) with us in the boat.

The Seneca Indians discovered this natural landmark in the Valley of Karoondinha (Penn’s Valley). The famous legend of the Indian Maiden, Nitanee, from whom the famous Penn State Nittany Lion is named, and her French trapper lover, Malachi Boyer, has been told around campfires for generations and is learned by every Penn Stater. Unable to marry because of Indian custom, they ran away and were captured, and Malachi was thrown into Penn's Cave to die. Local history also tells of Indians and early explorers using the cave's dry rooms for shelter. In 1885, Penn's Cave was opened as a commercial show cavern, and the Penn's Cave Hotel was built. In 1976, Penn's Cave and the Penn's Cave House were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Know before you go: Even on a hot day, a sweater or jacket is recommended because the temperature is 52 degrees inside the caverns. Penn's Cave is located close to State College  -- home to the
Penn State University Park campus and attracts thousands of visitors each year. Plan a few hours to check out the many craft and antique shops in towns like Boalsburg, Centre Hall, and Lemont, many featuring works by local artists and craftspeople. If you take a drive on Route 192 through Madisonburg and Rebersburg, you can see Amish farms unchanged for nearly two centuries.

Getting there: 222 Penns Cave Road, Centre Hall, PA 16828

Hours: Changes monthly. Please check website below.


The Legend of Penn's Cave

In the early eighteenth century, long before settlements reached beyond Sunbury, PA, a young Frenchman from Lancaster County, Malachi Boyer, set out to explore the wilderness. He roamed into the forests peopled by Native Americans, with whom he was friendly. One beautiful April, Malachi camped at Mammoth Springs, near the camp of Chief O-Ko-Cho, on the shores of Spring Creek near Bellefonte. He made friends with the old chief and sent him small gifts as tokens of friendship. 
O-Ko-Cho had seven sons and one beautiful daughter, Nita-nee, whom the sons guarded carefully all the time. One day Malachi caught sight of Nita-nee washing a deer skin in the stream and immediately fell in love with her. Since the Native Americans would not permit their marriage, they decided to run away, and late one night, they departed for the eastern settlements. They were later captured by the seven brothers and were returned to Chief O-Ko-Cho. 
O-Ko-Cho commanded his sons to take Malachi into a yawning cavern filled with water and thrust him in. Every day for a week he swam back and forth searching in vain for an entrance other than the large one guarded by the merciless brothers. Then, exhausted from his efforts and vowing that the brothers should not see him die, he crawled into one of the furthermost recesses of the cavern and breathed his last. The brothers did not touch the body except to weight it with stones and drop it in the deepest water in the cavern. After these many years, those who have heard the legend declare that on still summer nights an unaccountable echo rings through the cavern, which sounds like “Nita-nee - Nita-nee.” 
--As told by Isaac Steele, an elderly Seneca Indian, to Henry W. Shoemaker, in 1892

Jody and her two sons visiting her alma mater, Penn State.

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Updated August 2021