Last Stand

On June 15, 2016 · 4 Comments

I came across the escape route used by John Wilkes Booth in the immediate aftermath of the Abraham Lincoln assassination while I researched By George. Every student in the United States likely learned all about the assassination multiple times starting from elementary school and every year thereafter. Fewer probably knew much about the attempted escape. I confess to understanding no more than a few basic details of Booth’s brief flight from justice. Then I started to wonder if I could find the exact spot where Booth died, a rather macabre subject for sure, although certainly a legitimate topic for a geo-oddity blog.

John Wilkes Booth’s Foiled Escape


Garrett Farm
Garrett Farm on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

For example, I knew all about Ford’s Theater where Booth shot Lincoln. It’s still there, an active home to the performing arts, and I’ve been to it a bunch of times. I’d never heard of Richard H. Garrett’s farm, though. That’s where Booth died.

John Wilkes Booth fled south from the city into Maryland after he committed his horrendous crime. He stopped at Surratt’s Tavern for guns and supplies he’d stashed there earlier. Then he traveled to to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd who set his broken leg. Mudd later went to prison for four years at remote Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas for doing that (I saw his jail cell!).

Booth then stayed with various Confederate sympathizers, hid in the woods, and crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. Eventually he found his way to Garrett’s farm. Garrett apparently had no idea who he was dealing with and in fact hadn’t even heard about Lincoln’s assassination. Lines of communication had been decimated in Virginia during those final months of the war and word hadn’t spread that far yet.

Union soldiers tracked Booth down to the farm and trapped him in a tobacco barn on Garrett’s property. Booth refused to surrender so they set the barn on fire. One of the soldiers shot Booth — some say in cold blood — and Booth was carried to Garrett’s front porch where he died several hours later. That would seem to be a rather historic spot yet it no longer exists. The house fell into disrepair in spite of its notoriety, eventually collapsing upon itself.

The place where Booth died is as unsung as modernity can make it, a forgotten median, sandwiched between the north and southbound lanes of a divided, four-lane highway. Commuters and truckers speed by, wholly unaware that they’ve passed the location where the most famous manhunt in United States history came to a violent end.

The road that passed by Garrett’s home eventually became U.S. Route 301, later expanded to four lanes (map), obliterating what little was left of the farm.


Fort A.P. Hill


Va. Guard aviators support Marines at Fort A.P. Hill.
Va. Guard aviators support Marines at Fort A.P. Hill by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr (cc)

That wasn’t the only indignity. The United States Army began to expand rapidly in the years leading up to World War II. It searched around the country for out-of-the-way spaces suitable for stashing military functions away from prying eyes. Eastern Virginia looked particularly good, a quite rural hideaway just steps from the nation’s capital, with sixty thousand acres available for the government to seize.

Fort A.P. Hill was established as an Army training facility on June 11, 1941, pursuant to War Department General Order No. 5. In its 1st year, the installation was used as a maneuver area for the II Army Corps and for three activated National Guard divisions from Mid-Atlantic states. In the autumn of 1942, Fort A.P. Hill was the staging area for the headquarters and corps troops of Major General Patton’s Task Force A, which invaded French Morocco in North Africa.

The old Garrett farm fell within the original northern boundary of Fort A.P. Hill. Who exactly was A.P. Hill? He was a Confederate general who fought the Union armies of Abraham Lincoln and died in combat during the Third Battle of Petersburg. It seemed a little ironic that the US Army named a fort for someone who fought against it. Similarly, it seemed strange that the place where Lincoln’s assassin died happened on land that would later be named for a Confederate officer. Yet there it was, and largely forgotten.

New England, Part 4 (A Little History Too)

On June 5, 2016 · 0 Comments

New England, with some of the earliest colonies in a place that would later become the United States, harbored hundreds of years of history along with a people who appreciated their ties to the past. Most of my previous trips through the region hugged the coast. I relished an opportunity to wander inland to places less tread by tourists. The history there may not have been as memorable as its coastal cousins although it had been continuous and intense since colonial times.


Hancock, New Hampshire

Every little rural town oozed Eighteenth Century charm. We must have driven through hundreds of hamlets on backcountry roads taking the straightest line between races, although the lines were never truly straight. They all seemed to follow old colonial paths that followed ancient Native American trails that followed tracks through the forest blazed by animals millennia ago.

Hancock, New Hampshire (map) seemed to follow the typical model of a New England settlement with its town square, gazebo and a protestant church with requisite steeple. This place was settled by Revolutionary War veterans who named it for John Hancock, "signer of the Declaration of Independence (who happened to own nearly a thousand acres within the town boundaries), [although] there is no evidence that Governor Hancock ever visited or benefited the community in any way."

We stayed overnight in Hancock because our race took place in a nearby state park the next morning. I got to walk around and take a few photos. Otherwise we would have driven through Hancock without stopping to appreciate it, like we did with countless other Hancock equivalents, similarly attractive and historic.


Springfield Armory


Springfield Armory

I’d gotten in the habit of looking for National Park Service properties before each trip because there were often hidden gems to be found. NPS listed scores of options in New England although they tended to congregate along the coast. Pickings were slim farther inland. The Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Springfield, Massachusetts looked interesting though, and caught my eye (map). It wasn’t far from our route either. The Armory became a new nation’s primary arsenal during the Revolutionary War and "for nearly two centuries, the US Armed Forces and American industry looked to Springfield Armory for innovative engineering and superior firearms." It also included the "world’s largest historic US military small arms collection." Too bad I didn’t get to see it.

If I collected National Park Service passport stamps, a hobby I know some 12MC readers enjoy, I probably would have paid closer attention to the website. The armory closed on Tuesdays before Memorial Day. It never dawned on me that a park would be closed on a Tuesday. So there we stood outside of this large edifice and took a few photos because we were already there and what else were we supposed to do, and then moved on to other activities we’d planned for Springfield. The whole setup was kind-of weird too. The armory shared a campus with a local community college so visitors had to wind their way around the school to the back, and past people directing traffic who made sure everyone parked in the right spot.

I probably don’t care enough about firearms to go back although I certainly enjoy wandering outside for a few moments on a beautiful day.


Mark Twain House


Mark Twain House

I guess I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), lived in Connecticut for many years although his writing drew more inspiration from his formative years in Missouri, growing up along the Mississippi River. Still, themes of New England crept into books occasionally such as in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. He lived in a fancy house in Hartford for seventeen years, 1874 to 1891 (map). The home has since been preserved as the Mark Twain House and Museum. Some of his most influential and best-known works were penned within his upper-floor study on that property, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, and of course the aforementioned Connecticut Yankee.

The tour wound through the interior of Twain’s home although it was one of those places that didn’t allow indoor photographs. The 12MC audience will have to take my word that it was pretty impressive inside, or simply examine the many photos plainly visible on the Intertubes. The docent explained that Twain was a lousy businessman in spite of his success as an author. The house actually belonged to his wife who came from a very wealthy family. She owned it outright in her name. Otherwise Twain would have lost the house during bankruptcy.


Air Line Trail


Air Line Trail

I mentioned the Air Line Trail, its proximity to the Connecticut-Massachusetts-Rhode Island Tripoint and the infamous 4-train collision that happened there in Of Course Geo-Oddities. It began as the New Haven, Middletown and Willimantic Railroad (NHM&W) in 1873 as a high speed corridor between Boston and New York City. According to the Air Line State Park Trail site, the name came from an imaginary shortest distance "through the air" between those two cities. While completing that theoretical line proved impossible, portions did adhere to the standard and requiring great cuts, fills and bridges to tame the terrain. This railroad was quite profitable for awhile.

Successful businessmen and prominent citizens, including President Benjamin Harrison, rode this increasingly well known line that had gained its name as it sped across Eastern Connecticut with its seemingly luminescent cars being easily recognized – especially at twilight.

The Air Line was a marvel of the Industrial Revolution, like so many other endeavors that took root in 19th century New England. Gradually technology overcame the usefulness of the Air Line and now the former rail bed has been converted into a linear park, for walkers, bikers and equestrians to enjoy.


Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum


Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

I had so much fun at the Woodrow Wilson birthplace a few months ago that I decided to check out the lifelong home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York (map). Technically this wasn’t New England although it seemed close enough so I kept it on the list.

The residence had been preserved as part of his Presidential Library and Museum. There were distinct differences between Wilson’s home and Roosevelt’s abode. Woodrow Wilson was the son of a minister and his home reflected a certain modesty. FDR lived on what would accurately be described as an "estate" called Springwood occupying an entire square mile of land (2.6 square kilometres). He came from a distinguished family and his father increased the family fortune even farther through coal and railroad interests.

Roosevelt became the first president to designate a presidential library to hold his records. He built the library on his estate and kept an office there that he used during trips to Hyde Park while president. Some of his Fireside Chat radio broadcasts took place in the library. His original office remained untouched after he passed away in 1945 and it became a permanent exhibit, an integral part of the museum. Prior to FDR, presidential papers didn’t necessarily have a permanent home. They were personal property of each president and many records became lost over time. He set a precedent by donating his papers to the American people along with a means for public access by designating a permanent library. He then went a step further by donated his entire estate to the government with the understanding that he and his immediate family could remain there indefinitely. The family relinquished the property soon after his death.


Reminders of the Past Everywhere


Holiday Inn Cemetery

The past always lurked around the corner wherever we traveled through New England, sometimes in unexpected ways. I was reminded of that as we checked into our hotel in Rochester, New Hampshire (map). There, beside the parking lot and next to the highway stood a small cemetery. It reminded me of the impermanence of people who came before. I doubted that families who established a cemetery a century and a half ago in what was probably a rustic setting ever imagined their loved ones would end up sandwiched between a noisy road and a strip mall. Nothing lasts forever.


New England articles:

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

And So

On April 17, 2016 · 6 Comments

I’ve paid close attention to country names during my many years of combing through access logs of Twelve Mile Circle readers, looking at various patterns and trends. I’m not sure what drew my particular attention to the names of nations containing the conjunction AND. It was probably one of those days when multiple instances appeared by chance, offering something beyond the ordinary rate of occurrences. By my count there were a total of six of these nations. I examined three of them for today’s article and I’ll discuss the remaining three in a follow-on post. These will be presented in alphabetical order because it seemed as good a pattern as any.

The mere existence of these nations brought a number of questions to mind. Couldn’t their founders come up with a single name that represented the collective? How did they decide which name came first, was it a sign of importance or what? I decided to focus on the junior partners in each arrangement because they deserved a little extra attention, being stuck at the tail-end of the nations’ names for all those years.

Antigua and Barbuda


IMG_6759.JPG
Barbuda by Sailing Nomad on Flickr (cc)

The Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda shared an intertwined history. Barbuda had a very small population so it would have been a poor candidate on its own when the United Kingdom began to spin-off various colonial possessions. It made sense to append Barbuda onto Antigua to form a single nation. No decent collective name described the set. I supposed they could have played around with Leeward Islands or Lesser Antilles, although those described larger arrays of islands aligned with several colonial powers. Antigua and Barbuda was good enough.

Both islands had been spotted by Christopher Columbus who bestowed their names, Spanish for Ancient and Bearded. Those were odd choices. I’ve never seen an island with a beard. Nonetheless that’s what happened and the names stuck throughout the centuries. The native Carib inhabitants were particularly fierce and it took almost 150 years for anyone to establish a colony on Antigua. It was the English who finally found success. Early in its history, Christopher Codrington established a sprawling sugar plantation with the labor of African slaves, helping to spur Antigua’s growth. He needed to provision his huge Antiguan estate so he and his brother leased the island of Barbuda: "They were granted the first 50 year lease for Barbuda by King Charles II on 9 January 1685. The rent ascribed to the lease was ‘one fat sheep yearly if demanded’."

Thus, Antigua and Barbuda forged a bond from the earliest days of colonialism. This relationship remained intact when independence arrived in 1981. Antigua still dwarfed Barbuda in population and economic activity, and was divided into several parishes. Barbuda became its own single unit. It had barely fifteen hundred residents, most living in the sole town of Codrington (map), compared to the nearly one hundred thousand residents of the nation as a whole. It made sense for Barbuda to play second fiddle.


Bosnia and Herzegovina


Mostar old bridge HDR
Mostar old bridge HDR by Justin van Dyke on Flickr (cc)

I decided to generally sidestep the complex historical situation of the two namesakes forming Bosnia and Herzegovina. After all, these lands fell within the Balkans. They very term Balkanization described segmented small states that fought amongst themselves, either on the Balkan Peninsula or more generically. The breakup of Yugoslavia near the end of the Twentieth Century allowed old hatreds to reemerge. Ethnic groups fought for position aligned with ancient grudges. Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of several new nations that rose from the tattered scraps of the former Yugoslavia, although not before armed clashes, bloodshed and ethnic cleansing burned across the land. The current Bosnia and Herzegovina came out of the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 and subsequent negotiations in Paris.

Even its overall construct was confusing. The present nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into two nominally autonomous regions. One was the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the other was Republika Srpska. That’s right, Bosnia and Herzegovina had a sub-unit called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Someone living in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina also lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however someone living in Bosnia and Herzegovina didn’t necessarily live in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I examined the second banana, Herzegovina, a little closer. There didn’t appear to be a clearly defined boundary for Herzegovina in present Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was somewhat amorphous in historical terms too. Generally it fell at the southern edge of the nation along with its unofficial capital at Mostar. Herzegovina had been around for a long time though, dating back at least to the Fifteenth Century. Herzog was a heraldic title in the German language adopted to this corner of the Balkans, equivalent to Duke in the English language. Herzegovina meant nothing more than the "duke’s land."

Mostar had a similarly simplistic etymology. The Ottomans under Suleiman the Magnificent built a bridge over the Neretva River in the Sixteenth Century. It was an amazing bridge with an exaggerated arch like something from a fairy tale. The bridge earned a name over time, the Stari Most, meaning Old Bridge (map). Those who protected the bridge were called mostari, or bridge keepers. The town where the bridge crossed the river became Mostar, the old bridge town. Stari Most survived through the ages until 1993 when Croat army forces destroyed it during fighting that erupted as Yugoslavia died. The current bridge is a reconstruction.


Saint Kitts and Nevis



Saint Kitts and Nevis sat due west of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean Sea, about forty miles (65 kilometres) away. No nation in the Americas had fewer citizens, barely fifty thousand. Despite its proximity to Antigua and Barbuda, the history of Saint Kitts and Nevis differed considerably. Spanish, French and British powers all controlled these lands, sometimes cooperatively and more often in forceful opposition. Britain eventually won that struggle and the islands remained solely in British hands beginning with the Eighteenth Century. Britain placed the two into a forced arrangement along with the island of Anguilla for governance purposes. None of them really got along with each other. Anguilla managed to extricate itself in the 1970’s, so Saint Kitts and Nevis remained joined when the United Kingdom granted sovereignty in 1983. Tensions continue to exist between the two islands even today as they plod along in an arranged marriage, with Nevis occasionally making overtures of separation.

Nevis would be a highly unusual nation. It had only twelve thousand residents and precious few resources other than tourism and a budding tax haven for individuals and companies hoping to hide their assets. I focused on this island way back in the very early days of 12MC in The Point of Five Nevis Parishes in 2008. It held a rather fascinating geo-oddity. The island formed roughly an oval with its five parishes meeting at a common point atop a volcano at its center, Nevis Peak (map). Each parish formed a pie wedge and theoretically one could climb to the top of Nevis Peak and stand in all five parishes at the same time.

I supposed I should note that Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis, perhaps a point of interest to fans of the Broadway musical Hamilton. From an unlikely beginning on Nevis, Hamilton would arrive in New York for an education, work his way onto the staff of General George Washington during the American Revolution, support the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, become the nation’s first Secretary of State the Treasury, and then die after being shot by Aaron Burr in a duel. That was quite a pedigree. His image also adorned the U.S. $10 bill although there was talk of replacing him a few months ago. The success of the musical may have been sufficient to save Hamilton from that fate. What a strange turn of events.

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12 Mile Circle:
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