Tuesday, February 26, 2019

24 Things to Do in 24 Hours in Fredericksburg VA

Back in the day -- colonial days, that is -- Fredericksburg was an important port on the Rappahannock River. At the time, it was at the farthest point navigable by large ships laden with treasured items from Europe and beyond. The city soon became a key trading center for the plantation owners and farmers nearby, although it never reached the commercial traffic that Richmond and Alexandria enjoyed.

The city also was in the center of the Civil War in Virginia, and changed hands numerous times between Union and Confederate forces. During the battle in Fredericksburg, Union General Burnside repeatedly marched his troops across the Rappahannock River and up Marye's Heights, where Confederates picked them off easily from their positions high up on the hill. Today you can visit the site of the sunken road, stroll up the hill to where the Confederates enjoyed a superior strategic position, and then visit the National Cemetery where the Union casualties were interred.

But Fredericksburg is most known for its colonial buildings, including the homes of George Washington's siblings and mother.

There is so much to see and do in the historic town of Fredericksburg, VA! Take the "24 in 24 Challenge," below. 24 hours... can you do them all?*
  1. Travel on the Sunken Road Walking Trail and learn about the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg
  2. Pay your respects to the mom of the Father of our country and visit Mary Washington's Monument
  3. Check out Fredericksburg's murals
  4. Grab coffee and a freshly baked sticky bun at Eileen's Bakery and Cafe
  5. Visit the Apothecary Museum to learn what makes a leech happy
  6. Browse the antique stores lining Caroline Street 
  7. Get a malt or a shake at Goolrick's Modern Pharmacy
  8. Grab a mid-day pick-me-up at Hyperion Espresso
  9. Visit the Fredericksburg National Cemetery and pay your respects to the men who fought to preserve the Union
  10. Learn about the perils of 18th century travel at the Rising Sun Tavern
  11. Have an after-dinner caipirinha at Curitariba Art Cafe
  12. Eat in an old bank vault at FoodE
  13. Learn about the sit-in civil rights protest that finally integrated the lunch counters at Woolworths, Peoples and Grants Department Store on Caroline Street
  14. Take the trolley car tour and learn about the interesting history of Fredericksburg
  15. Take a selfie at Fredericksburg's very own LOVE sculpture
  16. Follow the footsteps of Mary Washington and walk down Rocky Lane down to the Rappahannock River
  17. Shop the world at Latitudes
  18. Buy your dog a bone at Dog Krazy 
  19. Learn about George Washington's mom at the Mary Washington House
  20. Check out a craft beer brewery, like 1781 Brewery
  21. Have a hot slice of pizza at Benny Vitalis
  22. Cross the Rappahannock River to visit George Washington's childhood home at Ferry Farm
  23. Check out some regional wineries such as Potomac Point Winery and Wilderness Run Vineyard
  24. Learn about our fifth president at the James Monroe Museum
Look for articles in the coming months about these daytrip destinations. Fredericksburg is a quaint town just brimming with Revolutionary War, colonial, and Civil War history. With some interesting restaurants, a growing number of distilleries and craft beer breweries, and lots of antiques stores and boutiques, there's something for everyone!

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Beginning in March, I started a series of posts about Fredericksburg, VA. To see others in this series, click on the label "Fredericksburg" below this post.
* Nah. It took me three days!

Updated April 2019

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Hiking on Hallowed Ground: Cemetery Ridge Hike

Most of us possess at least a basic understanding of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863. Union Maj. Gen. George Meade's Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate General Robert E Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, effectively rebuffing Lee's invasion of the North. There were up to 51,000 casualties from both sides -- the most costly in U.S. history -- and from this battle arose then President Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address when he traveled to Gettysburg the following November to dedicate the National Cemetery. In combination with the fall of Vicksburg on the western theater the following day, the Battle of Gettysburg is considered the "turning point" of the Civil War. From there on, it appears to us now, for the Confederates, it was a losing war.

Along Cemetery Ridge.

It's worth noting that to really understand the battles, you should walk the battlefield. Visitors to the Gettysburg National Battlefield spend most of their time driving, rather than walking, the battlefields, and thus miss the significance of landmarks and geography on the fighting. From a car or bus, a "ridge" seems merely a bump. But things look different from the ground.

A statue commemorating Gen. George Meade, who led the Union Army,
having assumed command just three days before the Gettysburg battle

After visiting the Visitors Center museum and the famous Panorama, we hiked from the Visitors Center to Cemetery Ridge to see the battlefield from the viewpoint of the Union troops who defended it, to try to understand how the landscape played into the outcome of the battle, and to walk in the footsteps of the men who struggled there.

A segment of the famous Battle of Gettysburg cyclorama, by Paul Philippoteaux. In an era
before motion pictures or video, cycloramas brought images to life for audiences. The vast
circular paintings put audiences in the center of the action. Rocks, weapons or other objects
placed in front of the painting brought a sense of depth. in 1884, a version of the Battle of
Gettysburg cyclorama opened in Boston; some 200,000 people saw the painting.

It's difficult high-level summarize the Battle of Gettysburg, but here goes: the Union Army got to Gettysburg first, and thus claimed three ridges west of town (anticipating that the bulk of the Confederate Army would come from the west, as it subsequently did). This delayed the Confederates on the first day of the three-day battle just long enough for Union reinforcements to arrive and occupy strong defensive positions south of town at Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Culp's Hill on the evening of July 1 and the morning of July 2. Confederate reinforcements also arrived. By the end of the first day's fighting, these three positions formed the Union lines; Confederates were arrayed along Seminary Ridge, roughly opposite Cemetery Ridge.

Behind the low rock wall that shielded Union troops defending Cemetery Ridge.

Cemetery Ridge formed a primary defensive position for the Union Army during the remaining two days of battle. Cemetery Hill overlooks the main downtown area of Gettysburg from the south; the hill gently slopes into Cemetery Ridge as it runs south. This area provided a site for Union artillery. At the northern end of Cemetery Ridge is a copse of trees and a low stone wall that makes two 90-degree turns, nicknamed The Angle.

A park ranger led the hike, explaining the battle.

Despite a ferocious attack on the second day of the battle, in which the Confederate troops almost breached the defensive line on Cemetery Hill, Union troops were able to repel the attack and hold Cemetery Ridge. The following morning, both sides engaged in a cannonade that could be heard miles away as hundreds of cannons from both sides were fired off for almost two hours. A massive Confederate artillery bombardment, meant to "soften up" the Union defense, was largely ineffective. Nevertheless, around 2 p.m. that afternoon, Pickett's Charge began, launching from Seminary Ridge. More than 12,000 Confederate soldiers from three divisions marched in a mile-long line across the farm fields. They encountered heavy artillery fire. Fencing and a slow upward incline increased casualties. The line shrank to less than half a mile long as casualties from first the shell and solid shot and then canister and musket fire piled up.

The battlefield of Pickett's Charge.

From Cemetery Ridge, Union troops arrayed along the stone fence fired upon the Confederate charge. Gaps opened up on the defensive line, allowing Confederates to reach several cannon -- the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy." The Confedeate troops turned the Union cannon to fire on the Union troops, only to realize there were no ammunition (luckily for the Union). Union reinforcements arrived and charged into the breach. With no senior officers remaining to call a formal retreat, Confederate troops began to slip away individually as they realized the defensive line was impregnable.

The following day, under a heavy rain, the Confederates withdrew. The momentous battle was over.

During the ranger-led hike, we spent time at several of the monuments, discussing the significance of the actions of the troops located there. We learned about the Harpers Ferry Cowards -- a brigade who surrendered to the Confederates in a previous encounter at Harpers Ferry -- who redeemed themselves at Gettysburg. We also heard the story of the California Brigade's bravery, in driving back Confederates who temporarily encountered the southern end of the Angle.

For a few minutes, we stood on this hallowed ground, where Union soldiers had stood and fought to preserve a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

On the opposite side of the ridge, the view of the battlefield is completely obscured.

Getting there: 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA 17325

Hours: April 1 - October 31 the park is open daily from 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.; November 1 - March 31 the park is open daily from 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Website: https://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

National Gallery of Art East Wing

Edward Hopper, "Cape Cod Evening," 1939, oil on canvas

Art museums are different things to different people: must-see obligations for some, art education for others, places of reverie and contemplation for others. For me, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art is a place to visit some old friends -- the first modern art works that I first fell in love with.

The National Gallery of Art's two buildings on the National Mall provide a quieter place, where fewer of the tourist crowds go, so if you're looking for some cool quiet after the frenetic crowds at the Smithsonian's popular Air and Space museum or the Museum of Natural History, then spend a few hours at the National Gallery of Art.

Elie Nadalman, "Horse," 1914, bronze

Open to the public and free of charge, the National Gallery of Art was privately established in 1937 for the American people by a joint resolution of the United States Congress. Andrew W. Mellon donated a substantial art collection and funds for construction and the core collection comes from a who's who of the rich and even richer of the 20th century: Paul Mellon, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Lessing J. Rosenwald, Samuel Henry Kress, Rush Harrison Kress, Peter Arrell Browne Widener, Joseph E. Widener, and Chester Dale all donated major works of art to the museum.

Pablo Picasso, "Lady with a Fan," 1905, oil on canvas

In the West Building, you'll find paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, medals, and decorative arts tracing the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas.

Katherine Fritsch, "Hahn/Cock," 2013, glass fiber
reinforced polyester resin filling on stainless steel supporting structure

It was the East Wing -- the one housing a giant Alexander Calder mobile -- that I was headed to. This is my favorite art museum, possibly because it was where I discovered modern art and my love of it. The East Building focuses on modern and contemporary art, with a collection including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, a 1977 mural by Robert Motherwell and works by many other artists.

Paul Klee, "New House in the Suburbs," 1924, gouache on canvas

The Gallery of Art's East Building was constructed in the 1970s adjacent to the original National Gallery of Art building, which was built earlier in the century; Andrew Mellon's children, Paul Mellon and Ailsa Mellon Bruce, perpetuated their family's support by funding the new art building.

Roy Lichtenstein, "Painting with Statue of Liberty," 1983, oil and Magna on canvas

Designed by architect I. M. Pei, the contemporary structure was completed in 1978. The new building was built to house the Museum's collection of modern paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints, as well as study and research centers and offices. The building's central feature is a high atrium designed as an open interior court that is enclosed by a sculptural space spanning 16,000 square feet. Walking through it feels light and mysterious at the same time, as you look at walkways spanning open spaces and wonder how to get there -- the galleries are primarily housed in the towers, layered over each other. Over you gently sways a giant Alexander Calder mobile, inviting you to explore the museum's hidden galleries.

Jean DuBuffet, "Site a l'homme assis," 1969-1984, polyester resin

Getting there: The National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall, between 3rd and 9th Streets, at Constitution Avenue NW. Parking is scarce in the area; taking Metro is recommended. The Gallery of Art is located near several Metrorail stops, the closest at Archives–Navy Memorial–Penn Quarter on the Green and Yellow lines.

Hours: Entry to both buildings of the National Gallery of Art is free of charge. From Monday through Saturday, the museum is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; it is open from 11 – 6 p.m. on Sundays. It is closed on December 25 and January 1.

Website: https://www.nga.gov/

Mark Rothko, "No, 8," 1949, oil and mixed media on canvas

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Bride, the Butcher and the Little Boy: Ghost Hunting at Hotel Conneaut

The ghosts of Hotel Conneaut welcomed us for a hauntingly romantic Valentine's Day weekend overnight stay and ghost hunt. First opened in 1902, much of the hotel remains in its vintage state - and lacks some modern conveniences. There is no elevator, but there ARE ghosts!

In 1893, the Exposition Park Co. built a new resort hotel on a lake front parcel of property on the southern end of what was then known as Exposition Park. As the new resort -- the lakefront activities and amusement park -- began to grow and prosper, so did the need for accommodations.

In 1902, construction began, enlarging the original Exposition Hotel into the new Hotel Conneaut (pronounced connie-aut). While most of the original hotel was demolished, one wing was retained and reused in the new hotel, and still stands to this day.

The Hotel Conneaut boasted 150 guest rooms, a substantial hotel for its day. It was a popular vacation destination, especially for Pittsburghers and others in the region. With Lake Conneaut on one side and an amusement park on the other, there was plenty to do, in a lovely setting.

On April 29, 1943 the hotel was struck by lightening and the resulting fire destroyed more than half the roof. Newspaper articles of the time indicate that no one perished in the fire and that in fact, the hotel was still closed for the season.

Unable to obtain permission to replace the damaged roof due to World War II, the damaged section was demolished, but eventually, was rebuilt. Inside, the floors are many levels, with unusually placed slopes up and down -- a result, I wonder, of the various remodels/reconstructions.

The hotel has seen a lot of happiness and tragedy over the years and as a result of both its age and its history, local residents, guests and its staff have experienced paranormal activity and built up legends and ghost stories, including the Ghost Bride Elizabeth (who may or may not have died in a fire while trying to save her fiance), a little boy who died tragically while trying to ride his tricycle down a stairwell, and an angry butcher in the basement kitchen who, legend suggests, stabbed someone to death right in that very kitchen. (Let's just hope he then didn't try to serve up his crime for someone's dinner!)

Hotel Conneaut was first made famous in the paranormal world by the Paranormal State episode in which Penn State Paranormal Researchers experienced a host of ghostly activity, such as seeing apparitions of the boy, the bride and the butcher. The team recorded doors closing on their own, various EVPs, and so forth.

The employees hallway is a particularly active hotspot for paranormal activity.

Although the episode eventually concludes that there's absolutely no evidence that there ever was a butcher who died in the basement kitchen -- or that anyone actually died on the property -- they, as well as subsequent ghost hunters and paranormal investigators, have experienced and documented various paranormal phenomena. It appears the hotel is well and truly haunted, and there is some speculation that deaths on the property, whether on the lake adjacent to the hotel or in the amusement park, may be contributing to the paranormal energy in Hotel Conneat.

Ghosts N'at has visited the hotel numerous times, and the staff and guests of these visits have captured phantom voices, partial apparitions, doors opening and closing, and more.

Orbs in the center (for what it's worth).

Did we see ghosts or experience the paranormal? There were certainly some interesting EVPs recorded, and orbs in photos. The spirit boxes and other devices spit out words in response to questions that were both confusing and convincing.

Many of the other guests brought their own equipment for the post-ghost hunt ghost hunts!

Ghosts, as I've pointed out before in previous posts about ghost hunts, are not performing seals, that will be there to entertain you and perform on command. Ghosts were formally free-willed, free-wheeling people, and we all know people don't always live up to our expectations!

Brett McGinnis, the company's co-founder, starred on SyFy Channel's hit TV series "Ghost Hunters Academy."

However, the evening and ghost hunt was well-orchestrated and entertaining, from check in promptly at 4 p.m. to splitting us into manageable groups to Ghost N'at's raffle of the most haunted room in the hotel at 11 p.m. and the end of the formal ghost hunt and release to continue ghost hunting on our own. During the hunt, we watched demonstrations of various ghost hunting equipment and got to see it in action.

Ken, one of Ghosts N'at's crew, shares his experiences
and ghost hunting tips as the event formally begins.

Ghosts N'at ultimately is providing an evening of entertainment, the opportunity to dip our toes into a world with which none of us are very familiar. They do that well. The staff circulated with the guests, often joining the private ghost hunts or chatting with them, answering questions, providing ghost hunting pointers, and being generally pleasant and fun.

Although I'll continue to occasionally plan my own ghost hunts, I will definitely be looking for Ghosts N'at hosted hunts in the future. They provide a lot of equipment that I'll never have on my own, and in the three times I've participated in their ghost hunts, have proven to be excellent hosts.

Today Hotel Conneat is showing her age. Many of the rooms have not been recently renovated and the edges all seem gently frayed. We only had cold water in our room, but it's my understanding that all the other rooms enjoyed both hot and cold running water. Like its ghosts, Hotel Conneat is starting to blur its edges, a quaint reminder of a heyday that included colorful characters who now serve as the basis for its ghost stories.

Getting there: 12241 Lake St., Conneaut Lake, PA. 16316

Hours: Check Ghosts N'at* website for upcoming ghost hunts at Hotel Conneaut

Websites: Hotel Conneaut http://thehotelconneaut.com/; Ghosts N'at https://www.ghostsnat.com/

* For MidAtlantic DayTrips' previous ghost hunts with Ghosts N'at, check out Anderson Mansion and Carrie Furnaces. Yes, I am very enthusiastic about Ghosts N'at. These are my independent views. Ghosts N'at has not solicited these articles, nor do I have any arrangement with them in exchange for favorable articles.

Can't get enough ghost hunts? Check out the following ghost hunts and paranormal investigations we've participated in!


Some of the other guests also brought a ouija board.

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Snowy Hike to a Maryland Ghosttown

On Friday, a lovely, powdery snow fell, and I knew I wanted to go on one particular hike the next morning: to see the ruins of St Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church in the snow.

To get there, we'd have to follow the Alberton Road Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park into the ghosttown of Daniels. About 3/4 of the way to the ghosttown, we would veer off onto what looks like a fire-road to the stone ruins of the church.

Daniels was once a thriving mill town straddling the Patapsco River east of Woodstock and north of Old Ellicott City in Baltimore County and Howard County.

It was a cold winter day, but I'm building an appreciation for winter hikes. Although it was just 20 degrees when we began, it was starting to pop over freezing as we returned to our car. Without any wind to speak of, it actually was quite pleasant.

And the snow made it magnificent.

Daniels, originally called Elysville, was a cotton mill town, founded in the 1820s. Lured by the mills, the B&O Railroad came through in 1831. In 1853, the Alberton Manufacturing Company bought the town, renaming it Alberton (hence the name of the road) and held it until the 1870s; the mill was then acquired by James S. Gary, who created still another firm which operated the mill until the 1940s. Eventually the C.R. Daniels Company bought the mill and the town -- 500 acres for $65,000 -- in the 1940s, and the town was renamed again.

By the 1960s, the Daniels Company was beginning to phase out company housing, and demolishing the buildings it owned in its town: a restaurant, a post office, a general store, a bowling alley.

Although the mills were closing down and the Daniels Company was in the process of shutting down its buildings, it was the floods caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972 that sealed the deal. After that, the land was acquired by the Maryland state park system, and the town was completely abandoned. The houses were left to go to ruin -- most are just foundations now, some as high as a few feet. And the two churches remain: the Pentacostal Church ruins near the dam and St Stanislaus Koskas Roman Catholic Church higher up on the hillside. Cars and trucks remained where the hurricane floods had dropped them.

Even with the snow (it was just a few inches), the hike was delightful. Except the brief climb to the ruins of the Catholic Church, the hike is 5 miles long, give or take a tenth and flat. So it's an easy hike along the river, with lots of history along the way. Impressive cliffs and river views along the entire route.

To see photos of Daniels in the summer, click out a previous hike MidAtlantic DayTrips went on.

Getting there: The trailhead for the Alberton Road Trail into Daniels is hard to find, but click here for Google Maps directions.

Hours: Dawn to dusk.

Website: https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/PatapscoValley/Daniels/Daniels.aspx

For other hikes in the Patapsco Valley State Park, check out the following articles:

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