I don’t know about you but I love to look through old family photos and remember the stories that go with them. I thought that for the next little while I would share some of my Christmas memories with you. And to be honest….I found it hard to write some of these blogs. They made me laugh, made me smile, brought back forgotten memories and sometimes made me cry…a little sad that I have lost my Mom so she isn’t here to share these stories with her Grandchildren and their children. But hopefully one day they will read my stories, and be able to share these memories with me.
My Dad worked for a mining company and was busy working his way up into the Executive offices. He started out as a miner, but it was soon apparent to everyone that he was gifted with leadership and people skills and so up to the offices he was destined. My Mom was a stay at home Mom and she was amazing at it. She made every meal from scratch, baked every day, kept up with laundry and cleaning and her biggest job…taking care of inquisitive me.
We lived in a little upstairs apartment when I was young, I think until I was about 4 or 5 years old. It was in an old Victorian building and we had to climb the stairs on the outside of the building to get to our door. I remember that it was cozy and I used to love to sit in the window and watch the people walk by….I imagined they had amazing lives and were off to do some incredible things. I drive past this building a few times a year now, just to reflect back on those times.
Christmas was my Mom’s jam….she decorated anything that didn’t move and it was all done in traditional reds and golds..one of my sons likely doesn’t know it, but he has adopted the same color scheme as his Grandma. She had little Santa and snowmen figurines everywhere, tied ribbons around lamps shades, hung Christmas cards that were received on strings on the wall, and threw more tinsel on our tree than you would see in a Vegas show…you name it, she did it. She attached a cardboard brick like wall and fireplace to our wall for some ambience behind the tree. Stockings were hung and ready for Santa to fill. She had bought a couple of stuffed Santas that had a red nose that when you turned it , it played “here comes Santa Claus”. And she baked… For days. She made squares, cookies, tarts, pies and a traditional Christmas fruitcake…three tiered in fact. She sprayed fake snow on all of the gifts and wrote personal messages to everyone on every gift. My Mom loved Christmas with all of her heart. I think she really loved the chance it gave her to unleash her creative side.
Some Christmases my Aunt Eleanor, cousin Debbie and my Grandma came for a few days. Aunt Eleanor is my Mom’s sister and Grandma is their mom. Aunt Eleanor was my favorite Aunt…I thought she was cool because she had a job and worked outside of the house…and she was so much fun and so pretty. Debbie was like a sister to me so I loved when they came to stay.
If they weren’t coming, then my Mom, Dad and I headed to Parry Sound to have celebrations with my Dad’s side of the family…and there were a lot of Aunts, Uncles and cousins to celebrate with. In Parry Sound, there was noise and chaos and laughter and soooo much food. Gifts were usually one per child, since there about 15 of us little ones. My Uncle Ian, who was a watch maker and owned the jewelry store in town always let me pick out a pretty bracelet or two as an extra present…I loved him so much. The house always smelled of turkey, and pine tree, and Uncle Ian’s expensive pipe tobacco…I used to go and play with his pipes…not sure why, I just thought they were cool. A sit down dinner was had and by sit down… I mean the adults sat at the table and us children sat on the floor with our plates in the living room. After dinner was singing and some bag pipe playing (there last name is MacDonald) and of course, Scottish dancing. I loved going there for Christmas.
I always wrote my letter to Santa Claus, and Mom and Dad would walk me down to the mailbox to send it off. I waited for the mail to come every day once I sent it off, waiting for Santa to reply and tell me what a good little girl I had been. The letter always came, colorful and filled with praise of my behavior and an assurance that he would leave some gifts for me on Christmas Eve. I guess Santa is a little forgiving of those one or two little misbehaving moments I had.
Milk and Mom’s freshly baked cookies were always laid out on a special Christmas plate and I always left carrots for the reindeer….always have been an animal lover I guess. And Santa and the reindeer must have loved their snack, because it was always gone in the morning.
Christmas was pretty formal back then. As a little girl, I would wake up and put on my housecoat and slippers and then wait for Mom and Dad to wake up. (Do I even own a housecoat now?). They didn’t stay sleeping long because I was super excited to open all of those presents. After breakfast, I changed into a pretty little Christmas dress, white socks and shoes…and Mom did my hair. She patiently used water and her finger to twist my naturally curly hair into ringlets and then attach a festive barrette with a bow on top….I was very pampered…I just didn’t realize it back then.
I guess some of the first Christmas memories I have are in that little apartment. I feel like Aunt Eleanor and Mom coordinated what Santa was bringing, because it seems that Debbie and I each got the same thing…slightly different styles maybe, but the same none the less. This particular year we got dolls, doll carriages and doll high chairs…there were other gifts but I don’t remember them. I have a vague memory of sitting at the little table in the kitchen, enjoying the feast my Mom had prepared for dinner (I am sure Gramma and Aunt Eleanor helped her). I have such great memories of this apartment.
We moved to a little house when I was just about 5 years old. It was a cute house in a tiny town and I loved that I had a backyard to play in and friends to play with. I also got my first dog here….this was a wonderful place to live.
It is here that the dollhouse story took place. Mom and Dad had gone to a Christmas Eve house party and I was left with a babysitter. I went to bed no problem and fell asleep dreaming of Santa. I guess my parents coming home woke me up. I sprung out of bed and ran out of my room. Mom laughed and gently picked me up and took me back to bed, assuring me that Santa had not come just yet. I tried to sleep but could not. Soon I heard noises in the living room…I think it is Santa. I decide to sneak out and watch him put the gifts under the tree. I tiptoe to the living room and see…my Mom and Dad. Mom is sitting on the floor reading a large paper and Dad…well apparently he over partied, because he is attempting to stay sitting upright while assembling a bunch of pieces of tin that are scattered all over the floor. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were trying to assemble my dollhouse. When they had got home from the party, they thought it was a good idea for the dollhouse to be ready to go when I got up Christmas morning and so they unwrapped it, opened the box…and were now way over their heads in the assembly process. Dad happened to look up and see me standing there…freaked out a little…and yelled at me to get back to bed….which I did because my Dad never yelled.
I lay in bed wide awake, until I hear them close their door and go to bed. I wait a little bit…and then I get up, throw on my housecoat (yes its a habit at this point), and head very quietly out to the living room. (I know I was supposed to stay in bed but, I have always been a rebel so I can see that I started out early on this path). The tree is lit, there is a dollhouse, assembled in all of its glory with a big bow on it and a big yellow dog that I had wanted. I picked up the dog and hugged it soooo tight. Then dog and I headed to the big chair in the window and sat there to wait for Mom and Dad to wake up…which will be really painful for Dad, I now realize.
As I look out the window, I remember seeing huge snowflakes slowly falling to the ground. Our neighbors across the street, Mr. and Mrs. Treasure, were up with their tree all lit up. I remember her in a dark green sequined dress and him in a tuxedo. I guess they had been out to a party too. I watched as they danced together in front of the tree. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I remember it and the feeling it gave me to this day.
Soon I am awakened by Mom…I had fallen asleep in the chair. She assures me that Santa has come and it is now time to see what is waiting under the tree. I run to the dollhouse and then over to my Dad and give him a big hug. He smiles….and asks Mom if she can get him a coffee…and aspirin. (hmmm…I now know what that was for).
As a parent now, I completely understand how my Mom and Dad felt….my husband and I used to wrap the gifts for our kids stockings and put together any gifts that required assembling on Christmas Eve after we had put the children to bed. We shared a few drinks, played Christmas music, had a fire going in the fireplace and occasionally we danced…but always we laughed and smiled at the joy we knew would be on our childrens’ faces. I understand my Dads’ frustration with assembly and his yelling….he didn’t want the surprise to be ruined for me.
Christmas is a time when my family celebrates the season; like so many other folks do. But, we tend to have the spirit of Christmas in our hearts all year. I know that the foundation of love and family that my parents gave to me has been passed on to my children, and to my grandchildren. Never miss a moment to create a memory with those you love…be it at Christmas…but better still…all year long.
This blog post is dedicated to you, Mom…for all of your love, kindness, over the top decorating and for just being beautiful you. I miss you.
Next we head to my Uncle’s farm for the holidays…oh what stories there are to share.
Well, I must say I had a very good nights rest in the Inn At The Roslyn…just had to wear sunglasses to shower in the blue bathroom…but outside of that it was a great evening.
We grab some coffee from the lobby and head out to visit Arlington Cemetery, which is just two blocks away. Its a beautiful day and I am excited to visit this most hallowed site.
We arrive and park the car and head to the visitors center. Admission is charged for those that want to take a shuttle bus around the site, which I would advise. It is over 640 acres in size and you do hop off and on the shuttles to visit specific grave sites, so yes, if you go, please hop on a shuttle. They do have guides on them that offer a great deal of information along the way.
Arlington is the second largest national cemetery in the USA. The land was originally part of the grounds of Arlington House which was at one point owned by Mary Lee, the wife of General Robert E. Lee. In 1864, while General Lee was off fighting in the Civil War, the house was confiscated by the Union Army. It seems that Mary had not paid the taxes owing on the property in person, which was the law at the time. The amount owing was $92.07. The Lees left the property and moved to the Southern states. The Government used the property as a cemetery for soldiers. In 1882, George Lee, the oldest son of Robert and Mary went after the government to return the property to him. They did. And in 1883, they offered him $150,000 for the property and he sold it to the US Government. It was at this point that it officially became a National cemetery, keeping the name Arlington and maintaining the Lees’ house on the property, which you can visit to this day.
There are over 400,000 graves here….I know, that is hard to digest…and there are 27 to 30 more funerals every day of the week. The first soldier buried here was Private William Christman on May 13th, 1864. There are gravesites here of many notable folks, including John Kennedy, Jackie Onassis and many more. There are graves for those who fought in all of the Nations wars, from the American Revolution to Afghanistan and Iraq. But each of the souls buried here deserve to be honored and remembered.
After the burial of JFK on November 25, 1963, Arlington received thousands of requests for burials here. Due to this, they expanded the site and created new eligibility requirements for inground burials.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is something incredible and soul stirring to see. Erected on November 11, 1921, it contains the remains of an unknown soldier from WW1 and pays homage to all of those who have fallen and were not found or could not be identified. The tomb sits atop a hill and overlooks the Potomak river and faces the white house. There is a changing of the guard ceremony held every hour on the hour. The crowds remain completely silent as the ritual is completed with precision, honor and great respect. The soldiers that take on this role train for years, after having been carefully selected, to ensure everything from their uniform to their shoes is spotless and that they commit to standing guard over the tomb for an hour without moving…rain, snow, hail, winds, heat…365 days a year. This is a remarkable moment that I have never forgotten.
We spend over 3 hours here…and it was not hard to do. We decide it is time to head out and head home to Canada…its a Saturday and we want a day of rest before…the back to work mode needs to kick in. We decide to start out on the interstate and then take a few side highways if we find one that is interesting.
Being back on the road feels good. We are back in the mountains and farmlands and I love it. We are driving on the interstate so there are not many towns to see, but the views of the mountains and farms is spectacular. We stay on this interstate until it turns into Hwy 70 and this is where we start to drive through a few small towns…and we cross into Maryland.
Hagerstown, Maryland is our first stop…why you ask…because it is ridiculously hot out and we want ice cream. Hagerstown is built with limestone ridges that run right through the middle of town, and most all of the older homes and stores are built from limestone. This is a semi-rural community, where the folks travel to other cities for work. It is nestled in between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny mountain ranges. We find a little ice cream shop called the Sweet Frog and make our choices…large dipped cones…the biggest ones that they sold. It was quite the lick fest thanks to the hot sun…but we persevered.
As a note once we got onto the I-70, which was scary to drive on due to the heavy amounts of traffic and the speeds at which they drove, we realized it is a toll highway…ugh. So, since we had no change, we had to pull off at a gas station to buy something to get change. And at one point, the toll booth was closed and we had to turn off and double back to take a different detour route. It was frustrating to say the least.
Eventually we find a back road and decide to take that and get off this dratted highway. This road takes us to Bedford, Pennsylvania. I know this place…we drove through here on our way down at the start of our trip. At this point we relax a little and start to enjoy the drive again. It is now late in the afternoon and so we spot a Starbucks and pull in for a java and a little leg stretch. We figure its clear sailing now…oh how wrong we would be.
Back on the road we boogey along…until…construction. And not just a little construction. We end up in a massive traffic jam and no one is moving…not even an inch. We sit and sip our coffees and try to be upbeat and amusing to each other….not sure if it really worked. We sat here for over an hour and once we got moving again we were sent down a detour back road.
This road took us through some lovely little places: Pleasantville and Johnstown to name a few. Johnstown has an interesting fact you may like. It is home to the Johnstown Jets hockey team. On November 20, 1951, the Jets hosted Maurice Richard and the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL for a fundraising hockey game. And the movie Slap Shot is based on the Jets big win in a tournament in 1976. A little place in the middle of no where…how interesting.
It is now 6:45 pm. We are 1000 miles from home which is roughly 10 hours of driving. We are tired and have not had a real meal all day, and we have no place to sleep. This day is not working out the way we thought it would. We continue driving and then we see it…as though it was a beacon of light in the dark…the sign…that said…Punxsutawney-26 miles. Eureeeeka. We quickly decide that we will find a place to stay there for the night..(I secretly plan to visit Punxsutawney Phil again….see a previous blog for that fun story), and so we drive into Punxsutawney.
We drive around the streets looking for something that looks like a place to stay….we find nothing. The town appears closed for the night. Everything is dark and there was a really eerie feel every where we went. It is now 7:45pm. I suggest we drive the few miles to Dubois and the Hampton Inn, where we stayed the very first night of our trip. My partner puts up no fuss about doing just that.
After another half hour we are checked into a room…we are tired and do not feel like going out for dinner so we order pizza and I make us a cocktail…a Jan original. While we were on our travels in Gatlinburg I found a bottle of vodka that intrigued me…Chokin Chicken vodka. I loved it because of the wording on the bottle (“If This Don’t Light Your Fire, Your Wood Is Wet” and “Not Intended To Grow Hair On A Goat’s Ass”) and the fact that even though I am an animal lover, I have a fear of chickens…specifically their feet. They really creep me out. So of course I had to purchase this gitchy product. I don’t have any mix with me except for some blue Gatorade…so…I make a drink out of the vodka and Gatorade. It was delicious. My partner and I enjoyed a couple of these fine cocktails and ate our pizza while watching the movie Gettysburg. Even though we haven’t made it home just yet, this became one of the most memorable nights of the trip. And as a note….this is really smooth vodka…(I still have the empty bottle as a memento).
The next morning, after a breakfast at the hotel, we load up and head out early…well we head out at 10 am…a little later than planned. We have to make it home today.
We try to leave Dubois…yes I said try. My driver took a wrong turn and we were heading south instead of north. I calmly let him know that we were going the wrong way and he turned around. Our second attempt to leave was successful. We know what we are doing now. Canada here we come.
We stayed on the Interstate all the way to Fort Erie. An uneventful boarder crossing and we are now on Canadian soil. We have a late lunch in St Catherines and then drive home.
We arrive home at 7:00 pm…safe and sound. We have driven over 6500 miles in 15 days. We have had adventures, met new friends, discovered amazing places and seen sights that words cannot even begin to properly share. We have laughed, almost cried and shared an incredible adventure together that will not be forgotten.
It is time to unpack the suitcases and stow them away until another adventure calls my name.
Well, its goodbye to beautiful Ocracoke and hello open roads.
We have decided to head to Washington DC for the day, to see Arlington Cemetery and then head back home and spend the night in Canada. You know what they say…the road to hell is paved with good intentions….at least we started the day with good intentions, right?
We opt to take the most scenic route we can so we head up US158- Caratoke Hwy. We are driving again in North Carolina and it is so darn gorgeous here. Mountains, lush forests, country side…this woman is happy to be exploring again.
This will be a long day of driving, with only a stop for a late lunch. We left Ocracoke around 11 am…you see…I really didn’t want to go. I also didn’t realize that the drive to Arlington was about six and a half hours so there was no time to sight see today…but that did not make this day a waste of time at all…after all, this is a road trip.
We drive slightly inland in North Carolina, so no ocean views for a bit, but there are plenty of bays and rivers to see. Now, the route we take has us travelling through gorgeous countryside and many counties, but not too many cities or large towns…so bear with me if I can’t share much other than the names of the places we drove through.
We drive through Crawford which is on Bellows Bay, which is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a thin strip of land that is the location of the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge.
Our drive takes us through the counties of Snowden, Guinea, and Moyock. An interesting fact about Moyock is that it used to be the site for greyhound racing (insert sad face). However, when greyhound racing was finally made illegal in 1954, the track sat dormant for a few years. It reopened and was used for NASCAR racing from 1962 to 1966. This eventually came to an end due to low revenues and poor attendance. Moyock is only 40 kilometers away from Chesapeake, so it has become a bedroom community for those folks that need to commute to work in Chesapeake each day.
After a short while, we cross into Virginia…they say it is the state for lovers…well, not in my case but its beautiful just the same.
Hickory, VA is the first notable city we come to. It is considered a neighborhood of Chesapeake. It is a real mix of family homes and very upscale mansions. Quite spectacular to drive through…as I look at the mansions all I am thinking about is who lives there and what is their life like….probably alot like mine…with a little more cash.
The next notable place we drive through is Chesapeake. Mostly protected farmlands and wetlands and situated on the Atlantic Waterway, Chesapeake is an absolutely breathtaking place. The Dismal Swamp Canal runs through this town. Odd name right? This canal was surveyed originally by George Washington (prior to his becoming President). It was first called the Work Ditch as it was built to be used by merchant ships. It is the oldest continuously used man made canal in the USA and is over 230 years old. And if you love the Dollar Tree, you will find their headquarters here.
We drive on and reach Norfolk. This is the home of the US Navy and the worlds largest naval installation. It has a massive cargo port as well and is home to the worlds’ largest and fastest container crane, used to load and unload the cargo vessels at the port. There are also many cruise ships that come here on their way to wonderous and sometimes warm destinations…oh how I wish I could be on one as I write this. A really historic event occurred here in 1981. Elizabeth Jordan Carr was born here…she is the first in-vitro baby born in the USA….Oh the things you learn when you travel.
We drive through Norfolk and head toward the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. This is a 5.6 km long toll free tunnel that has four lanes and is an interesting experience to drive…I mean, once you are in it….you are committed. Built in 1957, it was originally only two lanes wide, but it was expanded in 1976. It starts out as a bridge, then takes you under the water in a tunnel and then back out to a bridge on the other side. This allows the ships and cargo vessels to still travel down the river. It joins Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads. It is slightly thrilling to drive through, knowing that a large ship could be above you and you are under water….talk about engineering.
I just wanted to add in here that this was such a long day of driving. There was construction and detours everywhere and if we were in a city, every traffic light seemed to turn red as we approached it. At one point it started to rain, and since we were driving with the top down…its a convertible remember?…we took the time to put it up at one of the red lights. The roof is almost up and the light turns green…and the not so patient or friendly dude behind us decides to lean on his horn. We finish with the roof….and then…nothing…because the light is red again. We watch him sit not so patiently behind us, until at last the green light shines and we are off. And if I recall… this guy was in a big hurry to get to a parking spot…about 30 feet from the light we had been waiting at. Please show some patience…driving angry does not get you there any faster.
We drove for hours through gorgeous farmland, driving through places called Swansea Manor, Rochambeau Village (there is a funny family story with the word Rochambeau which I will share another time…makes me smile as I drive through), Barker Corner, Corrtuck Farm and Simpkins Corner.
We are getting late into the afternoon so we need a place to eat some lunch. We find one at Giovannis Pizza in Chickahominy. I just love to say this word. Lunch was delicious, all be it quick, because we want to go and see Arlington Cemetery and head home….neither of us realize at this point that that will not be happening today.
So, onward we drive, through Pullerson Corner and Spotsylvania County and end up in Fredericksburg. Sitting on the banks of the Rappahannock River, Fredericksburg is one very beautiful city, filled with history and historic buildings. This of course attracts many tourists…over 1.5 million each year. George Washington was born here and his mother Mary lived here for many years…her home is a historical site. Another future President was born here…James Monroe. And there is a spot that everyone stops at…we didn’t have time, darn it. Carls Frozen Custard. Built in 1947 by Carl Sponseller this retro custard shop still makes homemade custard every day with its original 1940s Electro Freezer machine. When Carl passed away, he left the shop to his brothers. When they retired, their children took it over and run it to this day. What a wonderful family business. I really wish I could have tried a scoop…or three.
Our drive continues through Stafford County, and Polonia Hills, (more farmland), Prince William County and Fairfax County. And then we reach Alexandria.
What a beautiful city this is. On the shores of the Potomac River, this city due to its close proximity to Washington is home to many Federal employees, professionals, US military and those who work in the Department of Defence. It is a historic town and the downtown area, or olde town has many boutiques, restaurants, antique shops and theatres. Two Presidents were born here, President Nixon and President Ford. This is also the birthplace of Jim Morrison of the Doors, and Cass Elliott and John Phillips, both of the Mamas and Papas. The city holds a very impressive Scottish Christmas Walk every year since 1969 as an homage to the ancestery of the original settlers. It would have been nice to stay here and explore for a day…on my to do list now.
It is now close to 5 pm…the idea that we will not be making it to Canada tonight is finally settling in. But we are determined to visit Arlington Cemetery today…we are not that far away now.
We arrive in Arlington. As we head towards the cemetery we drive past the bridge over the Potomac and see the nations’ capital in all of its splendor. The roads are busy with traffic and after a few wrong turns we find ourselves on the road to the cemetery. This is where we run into a problem. The cemetery is closed for the night. That is right… it is now nightfall. We make the decision to find a place to stay here for the night and visit the cemetery in the morning.
We do a quick drive and find…The Inn At Roslyn. This is not a fancy place…heck I didn’t even feel safe sitting in the parking lot here, but what is life without taking a chance once in a while. We go in to the office to get a room and notice a police car parked in the parking lot…never a good sign. My partner asked if there was a problem and the clerk at the desk said no. Apparently the police leave a car parked in the lot there every night to keep folks thinking twice about doing anything naughty…apparently that happens often in this area of town. Yikes. Ok, we take a room.
The Inn At Roslyn needs a little bit of explaining here. It was clean as anything, which I will be honest…that surprised me. Built in 1957, this motel was novel in its day and modern. Today it has a 2 star rating, but it is still very cool and retro. The floors are black and white checkered, and our bathroom had a blue toilet and bathtub. I want to just say here that the first house I lived in with my husband in the 1980’s had a pink bathtub and floral sinks…I have to say I feel right at home at the Inn At Roslyn.
Once settled in, since it is now quite late we decide to order Chinese food to be delivered to the room. Here is where we get the best treat of the day. The food came and we were so excited when we opened the bag. Unlike the normal tin containers with cardboard lids that we usually get in Canada when we order Chinese food, this order was neatly boxed in tiny little containers with handles….just like in the movies. We thought we had won the lottery…I guess we were tired and easily amused. We settled in and ate our food and watched a movie. Oh…fun fact I learned recently…the Chinese food containers actually fold out to make a plate for you to eat on…who knew. My mind is blown by this fact.
Tomorrow we head to Arlington Cemetery early in the morning and then head to Canada.
It was hard leaving Edenton…especially leaving all of the great people I had met. But it was time to hit the road and head towards a very unknown to me destination…Ocracoke on Ocracoke Island….I am loving it already.
There a couple of ways that we could have headed to the Outer Banks where Ocracoke is located. All require a ferry ride, but the one with the shortest ferry ride and what I think is the most fascinating drive is the one I chose…I am an amazing navigator on trips.
We head North East and take the Ocean Parkway, which goes through several small towns, but to be honest it was mostly beautiful countryside with some spectacular water views that we drove through. One town worth mentioning was Hertford, a pretty little town on the banks of the Perquimans River. The most notable thing about this place is that the famous dj Wolfman Jack is buried near by and that the record company that he created is still in existence there. Fun facts are everywhere…you just need to find them.
After about an hours drive, we arrive at Point Harbor, which is where we will take the Wright Memorial bridge over to the Outer Banks highway 12, which leads to Ocracoke.
The Wright Memorial Bridge is over 3 miles long and has seen millions of travelers cross over from Albermarie Sound to OBX (the Outer Banks). In the 1930’s only the very wealthy would cross the sound to go to their hunt camps and cottages. In fact there are still some of their original cottages, in what is now Nags Head, from the 1900’s on the oceanfront, which is now known as “millionares row”. When the Wright Brothers conducted their first flight on OBX, news spread quickly and the area started to grow and see more tourists from all walks of life. The original bridge was built of wood and looked much like a boardwalk. It was upgraded to a concrete structure in 1966. By the early 1990’s, there were problems for all of the thousands of travelers that were forced to evacuate the OBX during hurricanes. They traffic jammed up on the bridge and it was soon determined that the bridge needed to be expanded to get everyone safely off of the OBX without traffic jams. In 1995, the bridge was reconstructed to the way its stands today…4 lanes and although traffic is slow at peak times in the summer, the wait times to cross are not long at all.
One of the first towns is Kittyhawk. Although it is famous as the site that the wright brothers took their first flight, that is not exactly true. The first flight actually took place down the road at Kill Devil Hills which is 4 km away. Once they had completed their successful flight, the brothers walked to Kittyhawk and sent a telegram to their Dad to give him the good news.
Next we enter Nags Head. Home to the largest sand dune at Jockey Ridge State Park, which keeps moving inland due to the tides and the storms that pass through. This place is home to the worlds largest hang glding school. Easy to see why the waters are covered with hang gliders.
Roadanthe has us on a the highway with Pamlico Sound on one side and the mighty Atlantic ocean on the other…This town celebrates Christmas on January 6th, per the Julian Calendar which was used by the towns original settlers.
Hatteras Island is not so much an island any more…again. After a particularly nasty hurricane many years ago, Hatteras Island separated from a piece of land, which then became known as Pea Island. Eventually, thanks to tides and winds, the islands have joined again and now form Hatteras Island. It is in Hatteras Village, at the very tip of this island that we go to catch the ferry to Ocracoke.
In the 1920’s folks used to head to Ocracoke thanks to the tug boats of J B Tillet. Of course, JB charged them to cross…unfortunately he kept raising his fares making it costly for families to cross. Eventually the government stepped in and set up the ferries used today…eliminating jb’s entrepreneurial wallet gauging. The ferries run every day and are the only way to get to Ocracoke from Hatteras. When you arrive at the ferry loading area, you line up and load onto the ferry…there are no reservations to be made here…its first come first serve. The vehicle ferry is free and there is an express ferry that takes passengers only (no vehicles) over for $4 a person (children under 3 are free). It is a 70 minute ride in the often rough waters where the Atlantic meets Pamlico Sound, but the views are spectacular. You will see many fishing boats, both commercial and charter and pleasure craft and birds…lots of birds following the fishing boats.
We park the car and head up top to the open deck….yep it was breezy but those views are worth it. I took note of the song that was playing on the radio as we parked…sooo apprpriate, wouldn’t you say.
Ocracoke is like nothing I have ever seen before. It has the feel of an ocean community, which it is, but it also has the feel of an artists colony/tourist destination/family vacation place. I love it here.
Ocracoke Village is located on the very tip of the island. It is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by the large sand dunes on the Southern side and a salt marsh on the Northern side. It is only 5 feet above sea level…that is right…you are literally walking on a piece of land that is only 5 feet deep…on top of the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest land is over 60 miles away by water, not including the ferry trip we took from Hatteras. The population of local residents is 800, so its not very big. Its the kind of village where folks don’t lock their doors ever…no need because they all know each other and the values are very old school. Before becoming settled, it was the hunting grounds of the Hatterask Indians. They paddled from the mainland to Ocracoke to hunt, camp and to collect the native holly plant that was used for tea in ceremony. It was also a pirate haven, due to its remote location until settlers began to make it a village starting in 1750. It was also at one point connected to Hatteras Island until, in 1846 a hurricane swept away the sandy land that joined them.
Tourism thrives here in the summer months. The streets have numerous restaurants, shops, art galleries, antique stores, hand made goods, breweries and of course accommodations. Most of these close in the winter months. And you can find alot of boats…pleasure crafts, charters and commercial fishing barges.
Some of the locals have a brogue dialect and they are called high tiders (they pronounce it hoi-toide)…you don’t hear it often now as the accents are changing due to the tourists and the new locals that have moved here.
A big thing in Ocracoke is the harvesting of figs…they are growing every where. A fig festival is held every year with the grand finale being the annual fig cake contest…I so want to be a judge at that.
Blackbeard the pirate (yes I have yet another story about him), died here. He died in November of 1718. The Royal Navy had dispatched 2 ships to Ocracoke led by Lieutenant Maynard. When he found Blackbeard there, there was a large battle, and Lt Maynard killed Blackbeard. Maynard beheaded the pirate and threw his body in the ocean and stuck his head on the bow of the Navy ship. The head ended up being sent to England where it was put on display under a glass as a spectacle for all to see. Odd thing is this…the head went missing in 1840 and has never been found…still a mystery to this day. Blackbeard was killed in Pamilco Sound at Teach’s Hole Channel (named after him). It is said that his headless body has been seen wondering the beaches and that many have seen a campfire burning on the beach, but when they approach the fire…it has disappeared with no evidence what so ever of it having ever been there. There have also been sightings of a pirate ship, seen burning at sea, right in the spot where Blackbeards’ ship was burned by the Navy. Many feel that Blackbeard is haunting the area, looking to retrieve his head and to retrieve the treasure that it has been said he buried here. In 1961, hikers found numerous Spanish gold coins dated from the 1700’s on a beach at the spot where Blackbeard has been seen…..Maybe he does have a treasure buried here….an interesting final tale of Blackbeard.
I went on Air B&B to find a place for the next couple of nights, and I found the Crew’s Inn…really happy that this place was available.
The Crew’s Inn is the perfect place to stay to get a feel for the hospitality of this island and for some relaxation after a day of exploring. The Inn was built at the turn of the 20th century and is an example of an authentic island home, still maintaining the character and charm of the past with modern amenities of course. It has been in business for over 34 years and its current owner, Alton Ballance, is a local who was born and raised here, in the house next door. Alton purchased the inn from his brother and his partners in 1989 and has owned it since. Hurricane Dorian damaged a good portion of the inn in September 2019, so it is closed until 2021 for renovations and upgrades….I can’t wait to get back there one day.
One of the best parts of staying here is…Ike. Ike is a beautiful soul, who although quiet and really shy it seems, maintains the grounds and the inn, and makes a delicious breakfast every morning. He is kind, hospitable, and when you get a moment to talk to him, he just exudes joy in the fact that you are enjoying your stay….Bless your sweet soul Ike.
Before we arrived at the inn, I was texted our registration instructions…go inside to the kitchen, grab your key to your room (in my case it was the loft called the Captain’s Quarters…so cool), sign in with the form left on the table for you, and head to your room….they would collect payment at the end of our stay. Oh, and help yourself to a coffee or a cold drink if you like. That is right….no money collected, no doors locked….just absolute trust…how rare.
The loft was really cool, minus the slanted low ceiling when you stepped out of bed…ouch…and the lugging of suitcases up the narrow outdoor stairway which really was no problem at all. I settled in like it was home.
Once we finished settling into the room, out to the streets we go, to walk around and see the sights of Ocracoke. It is impossible to describe this place without using words like quaint, friendly, family…home. Each street brought new shops or galleries or homes that were so darn welcoming. I was having such a good time…when the rain came…and it came down hard. We got soaked, but kept on walking anyway and finally found a nice place for dinner…The Back Porch Restaurant.
This delightful restaurant and wine bar makes you feel, no matter where you sit, like you are at a cottage and eating your dinner on the back porch. The food is delicious, the dinner menu offers many selections as does the wine menu. This is a place I highly recommend if you are in Ocracoke.
After dinner, we head back to the inn, and change into dry clothes. I grab a bottle of wine and head to the back porch. Here I meet Gail, a guest as well, who is on a little vacation from Virginia Beach. I settle into a chair, pour a wine, and spend the evening chatting with Gail. Ike comes out and joins us for some conversation, sharing his story and his love of the inn and his job. All around us it is raining, and there is thunder and lightening what I think are high winds. No one seems concerned…these folks stay during hurricanes so a windy rainy night like this is nothing to them. I am wondering how I would leave in a hurricane…hmmmm. It was a beautiful evening, despite the weather…I am so happy to be here.
The next morning it is sunny and warm. I am anxious to spend my day exploring, so I quickly dress and head to the front porch for breakfast. Ike has set the tables and the food is prepared. It is self serve, but Ike will accommodate you by cooking your eggs however you like them. There are a few other guests joining us and there is much laughter and conversation. what a great start to the day. But now it is time to explore.
The first thing we do is walk towards the British cemetery, which is only a block from the Inn. This tiny site has only 4 graves. On May 11, 1942, a Navy ship was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat off the shores of Ocracoke. All 37 crew members were killed. Two bodies washed ashore: Lt. Thomas Cunningham and Telegraphist Stanley Craig. They were buried by the Coast Guard on a plot of land donated by a local family…this is where the graveyard is to this day. Two more unidentified bodies washed ashore one week later…and they are buried here as well. This is the smallest Commissioned cemetery in the world. Rest Peacefully brave souls.
We walk to the main street and walk away from where all of the restaurants and shops are located…towards the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum. The society started in 1983 and offers free admission to the museum and gift shop. It has been housed in the century old David William house since 1990. This house was moved to its present location in 1989 in order to save it from demolition. The first floor houses the museum and gift shop and the second floor has a research library and administration offices. This is worth a visit, because there is so much to see here and learn about the history of Ocracoke Island. And it is run entirely by volunteers. The one that stands out to me is Euphenia Farrow Gaskoc…aka Enis. This lovely soul is now 93 years old and is the oldest living resident who was born and raised on the island. She has spent most of her life recording the geneology of Ocracoke. Enis shared so much history with me: the death of Blackbeard, the history of the island, where to visit historic sites. She also made shared a laugh when she said that her husband was buried on the island…in a hole that was only 18″ deep….in a wood coffin. That is how deep they could dig before they hit water…aka the ocean. She jokingly said that he could “pop up at any time after a good storm” because the wood coffin could float. She was a genuine love.
We head out of the musum and walk to the pier to watch a couple of young boys fishing in Pamilco Sound (which surrounds this end of the island). It is here that I fell in love…in love with pelicans. I had never seen one before and there right before me they were flying and diving into the ocean. I was in awe and so darn excited.
We walked the main street back towards the shops and such and stopped into every one. One of the ladies told me about a wine and cheese event at a local gallery that evening and gave me two tickets if I wanted to attend. Heck yes I do.
Lunch time came and we stop in at the Jolly Roger, right on the water. We order lunch and take a seat on their pier patio. I look out and see…pelicans…oodles and oodles of pelicans. They were in the water and perched on the posts of piers. What was amazing to me was that the younger pelicans were bringing food to the older sick pelicans…patiently flying over to catch some food, and then feed it to their sick or older friend. I made my partner take so many pictures of them…that was a real highlight for me to look at them all as I wrote this blog. I didn’t want to bore you with 50 pelican pics …so I only shared a couple here. As we were sitting there, a commercial shrimp boat came in and headed to unload their catch at the fish market a couple docks over. The pelicans see the boat anchor and in they come….to get some of the catch. The fishermen here unload their catch but always throw a few out to the pelicans….I think the pelicans know this routine based on their close proximity to the fish market. It was amazing to see and my love for pelicans grew even deeper.
With lunch in my belly, we decide to head back towards the inn, grab the car and head out to see the wild horses on the beach out of town. I stop at a little store and pick up a few souvenirs for myself and my daughter, hop in the car and away we go. There are wild mustangs here on the OBX…specifically in Corolla and on the beaches just outside of Ocracoke Village…..that is where we are headed. We park in the parking lot of what looks like a corral and I read the sign on the fence. This is the housing area that is 100 acres, where the wild mustangs are enclosed to keep them safe from storms and tourism…sad. They range free here but they are so far back from the road, I do not get to see any. I am just happy that they are protected and safe…and free. We cross the road and head over the massive sand dunes to check out the Atlantic ocean. I can’t resist and off come my shoes and into the water go my toes…only toes because the Atlantic is always cold. It so beautiful to stand there, appreciating the vastness and power of the water, the heat from the sand, the creation by nature of the sand dunes and the serenity of it all….I do so love it here.
We drive back to the Inn, park the car and cross the street to grab a drink at Zillies’ Island Pantry…a very popular spot…(ps…my pants were dry by then). Zillies’ is where you go to buy wines and beers, and specialty foods, but they also have a wine patio that is just lovely to sit on…and I wanted to do just that. We share a nice bottle of wine and then head to our room to get changed for the art gallery event.
We get changed for our evening out and head out to the wine and cheese gala at the Down Creek Gallery. We met so many local folks, tourists and many talented artists who were showcasing their pieces. It was hard not to fill the car up with their beautiful work. The wine flowed, cheeses and crackers and fig jelly was consumed and it was a really wonderful time.
We decide to head to the Jolly Roger for a few drinks and to listen to the live music. Once settled at the bar a very drunk fella named Ben decided to buy fireball shots for all of us….now its a party. Actually… Ben only wanted to buy shots for a select few…I was not in the select few… and he told me so when he said “not for you’…(it was only shots for the boys at the bar and my partner)…so I bought my own damn shot. Ben eventually leaves and a really nice couple sit beside me; Diette and James. They are tourists from New York and they are so much fun. Diette and I hit it off right away and the four of us spent a great night together. Diette and I are still friends and we are working out a way to meet one day again…fingers crossed. We leave the bar and head over to Ocracoke Pizza Company to grab some food to take back to the inn. It seems like everyone in Ocracoke had the same idea….the line up was long, but to their credit, the service was quick and really friendly. We headed back to the Crew’s Inn, where we ate pizza and talked with several of the other guests to the wee hours of the morning.
Today we leave Ocracoke…I don’t want to go. I have fallen for this place. I take a moment to just take it all in. The air is fresh here, the people friendly…this is community and life as it should be lived…simple, safe, loving. I realize how I need to incorporate these things into my own daily life. I notice the fig trees in the back yard for the first time and the ducks. Ike tells me the ducks come every morning, very early, to eat the figs that have fallen off of the trees. They seem very content with their breakfast selection.
We pack up the car and then head to the front porch for our breakfast. Again it was delicious and there were more guests to chat with…a lovely couple that were newly engaged and Tim, a professor who comes here every year…he wrote me a note in a little book I had that says “It was an absolute pleasure to meet you in my favorite place in the world. The people who visit the Crews Inn are unique and special…you certainly belong here. Till our paths cross again.” What a sweet man.
Its time to say our goodbyes and head off. Ike tells me to come back in September for the Pirate Festival….oh, how I wish I could.
We drive towards the ferry terminal and as we wait in line to board, I walk over to the water for one last glance. The ferry boards quickly and the ride seems to fly by. There are plenty of fishing boats on the water and …pelicans…I wonder if my partner would mind if I brought one back….hmmm. We retrace our route back to the Wright Memorial bridge… and back to the mainland of North Carolina.
We are heading north…vacation is almost over but there is one more stop we want to make…Washington DC, to see Arlington Cemetery.
There are still a few more adventures to be had before this trip is over….stay with me…you won’t want to miss it.
Well, I survived my night in the Lumberton Quality Inn unscathed. I am up and in the car…not showering here. Breakfast will be found on the road and from there we will figure out how to get back to towards the coast again. I feel like this is going to be a great day… and I end up being so right.
We head out on a highway…no more backroads just yet as we had our fill last night. We head north towards Fayetteville which is about 3 hours north of Lumberton. Fayetteville is home to Fort Bragg, the USA military….. It also received some noteriety in December of 2015 when it unveiled the worlds largest knitted Christmas stocking, a record that went into the Guiness Book of World Records. The stocking weighed over 1600 pounds and was 74 feet wide and 139 feet long. It took one year to create and was put together from the 3 foot by 3 foot squares sent in from knitters from 50 US states, 4 Canadian provinces and some from the folks in Ireland. The thought behind the creation of this large stocking was so they could have it filled and distribute the gifts and goodies to the families of soldiers that were killed or were in need. I think this is such a wonderful work of art and a charitable way to honor the soldiers and give to their families. I only wish Santa would fill a stocking half that size for me…have I been a good girl all year?..hmmmm.
We see a side highway…I know but I can’t resist seeing what is down a road sometimes, and so we exit on to it and find ourselves driving through beautiful farmlands and lovely little towns. Brogden, Kinston, Robersonville and Windsor to name just a few. It truly was a really pretty drive.
Around 1:00 pm, we find ourselves at the Chowan River Bridge and with my curiosity getting the better of me…yet again….we cross over and shortly find ourselves on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and in the town of Edenton.
We take a drive around the town and with its picturesque historic homes and the fact that it is on water, we decide to find a place to stay and spend the day relaxing and exploring the town…we liked it so much, that we stayed for two days here.
Edenton has a population of only 5000 and is primarily a tranquil retirement town and heritage tourism destination. It was named after one of its earliest Governers, Charles Eden. Now Charles had some interesting friends, the most noteworthy here is Blackbeard. If you read my blog on my stay in Savannah, you will remember that I mentioned Blackbeard there also (intrigued?…go read the blog). Blackbeard terrorized the whole South Eastern coastal region in that area for many years. Anyway, Blackbeard visited Charles in Edenton often, even stayed at Charles home. In 1718 Blackbeard decided to marry Mary Ormond and it was Charles who presided over the ceremony. Blackbeard vows at this time that he is going to buy a home here and settle down…enough of the high seas for him. It was at this time that Charles, who had the power to do so, pardoned Blackbeard from all of his crimes…you know so he could settle down proper like. It is believed that Charles issued this pardon because he was being looked at as having profited from the bounty of Blackbeards stolen goods…I won’t go into detail, but you can find all of the information if you google it…It appears as though Charles and Blackbeard were in cahoots selling the stolen goods, so Charles it seems thought it a grand idea to clear Blackbeard of all of his wrong doing, thereby exonerating himself as well. Bravo Charles. Well, after a few months on land, the call of the seas was too much for Blackbeard and he was back out to sea, stealing and killing again. When Charles warned him that he was about to be arrested, Blackbeard took to the sea and was never seen in Edenton again….I know….you are thinking “Jan, I thought you said this is a tranquil town”. It is now.
As we are driving around, we decide to stop and pick up some food for a light platter for lunch and some wine and some beer. We try to check into a couple of bed and breakfasts but one had no room and the other was a little further from the water than we wanted. Finally we found our place…the absolutely gorgeous Inner Banks Inn. We book two nights immediately, although we did have to switch rooms…not a problem.
This bed and breakfast is set in the historic district of Edenton. There are 4 buildings that house accommodations; the Southern Victorian Mansion, The Pack House Barn, The Original House and the Carolina Cottage. There is also the converted Carriage House where breakfast is served and dinner reservations can be made at The Table at Inner Bank restaurant….the food is delicious, top quality and beautifully presented. We chose a room in the Pack House Barn, which is a restored tobacco drying barn and it is open, spacious and so comfy and well decorated. I highly recommend this place if you are coming to Edenton. http://www.innerbanksinn.com
A quick lunch in our room and a little drive around the town brought us back to the Inn and we spend our time before and after dinner sitting on the front porch swing, sipping bourbon and chatting with other guests.
The next morning after breakfast, we moved into our new room, in the same building and then walked towards the harbor, through the town. There is so much to see here if you love historic homes that are immaculate and gardens that are magazine worthy. Here are some of the spots we stopped into:
The Chowan County Courthouse: It is still in use today for special trials even though it was built in 1767. The jail is in the back of the courthouse and it is eerie to walk by, evening in the daytime. Apparently at night, it is often reported by the locals that they hear loud banging from the inside of courthouse on the main door. They feel it is the spirit of a prisoner who died in the courthouse and was banging on the door to get out…exactly what he was doing when he dropped dead. I don’t know that I would be opening that door to find out…if I could.
The Cupola House: Built in 1767 by Francis Corbin, a land agent for King Charles II, the Cupola House is a delightfully restored home that showcases the distinct social hierarchy of room design of that era. Mr. Corbin passed away in 1767 and the home was eventually purchased by Dr. Samuel Dickinson in 1777. Dr. Dickinson and his descendants owned the home for over 141 years. When finally the last relative owner could not afford to stay in the home or keep it up, the citizens of Edenton purchased the property and since 1918 they have restored the home and kept the grounds gardened meticulously.
The Lighthouse: This lighthouse is the last remaining original screw-pile construction structure in the USA. It was originally located in the mouth of Albemarle Sound to mark the entrance to the Roanoke River near Plymouth. In 1941, it was decommissioned and remained abandoned by the US Coast Guard for about 15 years. In 1955 the Federal Government ordered that it had to be removed or destroyed. Mr. Emmett Wiggins, a WWII Navy Engineer Captain, and underwater salvager, bought the lighthouse and performed an engineering feat by recovering it and transporting it to Edenton. Here it was placed on a plot of land at the mouth of Filbert’s Creek. Mr. Wiggins resided in the lighthouse until his death in 1995 and the lighthouse remained in his family after his death. I didn’t get to go inside, since it was closed to the public due to repair work being done. It is a really remarkable structure to stand beside.
The Barker House: Built in 1782 by Thomas and his wife Penelope Barker. It main floor originally consisted of a parlor wing and a half hall. It was then added onto 3 times from 1840 to date. It now has 3 floors and 8 fireplaces. It was moved to where it is located today from a plot of land 2 blocks north. It is now a museum and home to the Edenton Historical Commission. There are numerous historical pieces and furnishings that belonged to the Barkers on display. One item that was of interest to me was a document similar to a will, which shows what Thomas left to Penelope upon his death: all of his property including, town lots, 2 plantations, 33 mahogany chairs, 53 slaves, watches, horses, and 400 books. Thomas and Penelope are buried together in a plot at the Hayes Plantation which they used to own. I wonder if I need to count how many chairs I have to leave my children…1..2..3…
When we left the Barker house we saw across the road a boat tour…so we went over and booked ourselves on the next cruise. Captain Mark Thesier of Historic Edenton Bay Boat Tours took us out for a lovely little river ride, a few history lessons and a chance to see the beautiful town from the water. Captain Mark and his wife came to Edenton to retire, and then he got bored and bought a boat, started a sightseeing company and spends his days in the summer doing something he loves. The river area is dotted with little juts of land, sometimes with a tree growing proudly on top. Many of those trees have the nests of osprey and other hawks in them. There is a rather large island that we passed and our Captain mentioned that folks go on the island to camp overnight. So I said maybe we should pull aground and go for a walk. Captain Mark said that wasn’t a problem…but how did I feel about rattle snakes…and watching out for the black puma that lives there. I decided I was better suited to stay in the boat…far away from that island. (By the way, he was not kidding about black pumas in the area…there are sightings that have been validated as legitimate). For a wonderful way to see Edenton from the bay, definitely recommend this cruise. http://www.edentonbaycruises.com
Safely back to the dock, we head towards the downtown. Its lunchtime and we are having some trouble finding a place to eat. For some reason, most of the stores and cafes are closed. We stop into Edenton Bay Trading Company…this was a serendipitous stop. Malcolm King, the friendly and funny owner, showed us around his shop. Malcolm’s wife sells gifts, glassware and antiques all in a setting that is both luxurious and comfortable. Malcolm sells specialty wines and craft beers…by the bottle. He takes us through to the back of the store and through a door that leads to…the Secret Courtyard Patio. Oh My! This feels as though we have left Edenton completely and have walked into a Parisian cafe. It is a courtyard of tables and fountains and vines and gardens and he has classical music playing just ever so softly. I say that I wish we could have lunch here and Malcolm says…”you can”. He doesn’t sell food but recommends we go choose a sandwich from Emilio’s down the street and come back, purchase a bottle of wine from him and then sit in the courtyard and enjoy our repast. I am halfway headed to Emilios’ before my partner even gets out of the door.
Emilios’ turns into yet another amazing story and surprise. This lovely little shop, Emilios’ General Store and Take Away, is owned by someone you would not expect to find here. Emilio is a classically trained chef, who owns 29 restaurants around the world and has been brought in to open over 300 restaurants for other chefs. He has studied with Julia Child as her sous chef (there is a picture of her and him on his wall signed by Julia…wow…just wow), and he is a personal chef for Dolly Parton when she is throwing charity events or private dinner parties in her home. Emilio is from Peru and has travelled and cooked all over the world. When he and his wife stopped in Edenton for a night, he fell in love with the place due to its tranquility and so he opened Emilios’ as a place where neighbors, visitors and friends can gather to share some time and some great food. I am spellbound by this man. I ordered something in the way of a sandwich and then asked him questions about Edenton and himself while he made my order. I left Emilio’s really understanding that you never really know someone until you find out their story….I have made that a part of me that I still do to this day.
We walk back to Malcolm’s shop, order a bottle of wine and head out to the Secret courtyard. Malcolm ensures that we are settled in, and then leaves us to our meal in private….what a fantastic host…although I would have loved to have chatted with him to know his story. I did however ask him to write something in my travel notebook before we left…it says: “To our Canadian Friends…Thanks for stopping in Edenton, NC. Enjoyed having you in our Courtyard at Edenton Bay Trading Co. Thanks again and enjoy traveling the US. Come see us again, eh! Malcolm King”…Oh Malcolm had to get a little Canadian humor in there, didn’t he? Malcolm hosts many events in his courtyard: sangria sundays, live music, movie nights, halloween parties and he has fireplaces in the winter to keep it open all year long. Thank you Malcolm for the hospitality and for being a great ambassador for the town of Edenton. PS….I wish I had taken a picture of the courtyard, but I was too excited and in awe of being there, that I forgot. edentonbaytradingcompany.com or check them out on facebook.
We strolled our way back to our Inn. We were told that since it was a Sunday everything in the town shuts down by 5 pm….they were not kidding. Back at the inn, we took all of the food that we had in our room and laid it out on the harvest table that was in the main living room of our bed and breakfast. I made a lovely displayed on some trays of our meats, chesses, grapes, strawberries, and pickles…a real charcuterie any restaurant would be proud to serve. We were the only people there so we figured we would come in, make up a plate and then go outside to drink some wine and sit on the porch swings and just chat. Well, a few folks started to check into our building and once they were settled in, they came out to join us on the porch. Funny thing is though…they came out with plates of food…our food. You see, they thought that the owners of the bed and breakfast had laid out a few nibbles for all of the guests to enjoy mid afternoon…so they helped themselves. My partner and I just smiled and let them enjoy our feast…we had more than enough to share and it was nice to share it with some folks we could sit and chat with.
Soon it was dinner time and we ate at the restaurant on site….my oh my. What a delicious meal it was and the restaurant was packed with two sittings fully booked. It is the place to go for a dinner in Edenton.
After dinner we sat in the living room with some of the people that were staying in the same building as us. We met a lovely older couple, Kim and Bill, from VIrginia. He had that personality that tried to be grumpy, but he was a softy at heart, and he could throw in a good punchline now and then too. They were here celebrating their 8 year wedding anniversary. Bill told us how he proposed. It was on Kim’s birthday. He gave her some flowers and a card…with another note card inside….that said “marry me”. She said yes. because who could resist such romance as this… and they have been making memories ever since. Cheers to your young love Kim and Bill.
As the evening progressed, more weary travelers joined our group and then in walked a lady name Mary and her hubby. They got settled in their room and then said they were going out to get some wine. We had to disappoint them by saying everything was closed. Mary was highly disappointed because she really wanted a glass of wine. You see Mary and her husband live in Martha’s Vineyard and they know all too well just how busy it gets there in the summer months. So they were out looking for a summer home close to the Outer Banks…just to get away from it all. They had been house hunting for days and had more scheduled for tomorrow…so yes, she needed a wine…and I could provide just that. So my partner heads to our room and brings down our personal bar and we share some bevies with them. Mary and I have become great friends and to this day she is thankful for those much needed sips of wine. Soon it is time for us all to say goodnight, but we know we will meet at breakfast in the morning.
At breakfast we do all meet and chat and enjoy some more great food. Mary asks where we are headed and I say I have no idea. She mentions that we absolutely must go to Okracoke and she assures me that since I am a hippy at heart, I will love it there. We decide that we will head there.
Saying goodbye to this place and these wonderful people was hard this morning. Mary and I hug goodbye and she says she wants to give me something to remember her, but she doesn’t really have anything on her. She digs in her purse and then hands me…a lobster keychain/bottle opener with the contact details of the company she owns on it. I still have it as you can see from the picture. It makes me smile every time I look at it…a reminder of the laughs, the stories and of the time spent with a new friend.
We also said goodbye to Kim and Bill who were heading back towards Virginia and gave me their address to their farm to stop by and stay if we head that way.
Edenton…you gave me so much in such a short time. Good friends, great memories, delicious food, comfy accommodations and some wonderful conversations with your friendly locals.
You know…your journey doesn’t have to be planned. Most times those spontaneous detours end up creating the best memories for you. Be open to such adventurous…be open to meeting new people and really hearing their story…be open to living and feeling gratitude in every moment, no matter what it brings…because this is living your life. These words apply to all aspects of your life…it sure does mine
Next, we head to the Outer Banks…to Okracoke Island….where I fall in love…with pelicans.
You know how it goes. There are times when things go as planned…times when things go better than you could ever have imagined…and then…there are times when things start out grand and then turn into one of your worst experiences ever…today, on this trip, is that day for me.
Morning comes bringing with it a gorgeous sunny day. So after breakfast and packing the car we set off. We have decided to head toward the Eastern coast and head up the Ocean Parkway. Why…because why not…and its a beautiful drive.
We head back out the way we came in until a little past Ridgeway, where we turn onto a back roads highway towards Charleston. My oh my…what a beautiful route to travel. Its lush and green and just a treat to ride, especially in the convertible with the roof down.
Out of Georgia and now in South Carolina, Charleston is our first stop and what a great choice this city is if you are looking for things to see, ocean views and great food.
Charleston was first settled by the English in 1670 and was originally named Charles Town, after King Charles ll of England. This was a port city that placed a major role, sadly, in the slave trade. This was a city that was dominated by plantation owners and slave traders, and they ruled with a hard tact, thinking only of the monetary gains they could achieve through the use (and abuse) and trade of slaves. In the 1670’s it was also a hotspot for pirates because it was known for its weak government and the high levels of corruption within it. In 1718, the city was besieged by Blackbeard, the famous nasty pirate, who, for several days, stole all the goods and crews from merchant ships entering the port, as well as held all passengers hostage. He eventually released the passengers in exchange for a chest of medicine and he left the port…with all of his stolen goods and crew on board.
Charleston, now, is a beautiful historic city to walk through. It was the place where the Civil War started and there are many markers and historic sites that share that history here. One of my first stops was at the Old Slave Market and Museum. In 1856, this building was the place where the slave auctions took place. It also was where you could purchase property or livestock. In 1939 it became a museum, which was opened and closed sporadically for years until, in the late 1990’s, it was purchased by the city of Charleston and the South Carolina African American Heritage Community. The museum is open today as is the market, which is housed in the area where the auctions were held. Craftsman, painters, artists and food producers all bring their wares here and they sell them to the public. I purchased a beautiful butterfly piece of art here…its one of my treasures hanging on my travel wall.
Next, I took a stroll down towards the Harbour Walkway….right on the Atlantic Ocean. Spectacular is all I have to say. I saw dolphins playing by the dock…yep dolphins, an old warship now turned museum, historic homes and a Carnival cruise ship…moored at a dock. This is a wonderful spot to sit and spend a few moments just appreciating the views and how vast that ocean is.
Walking back towards the car, I stop to watch a talented man play his banjo and interact with the children passing by…my but he could play that banjo. He played from his soul, not noticing who was around until he stopped for a moment. He genuinely wanted to play to make your day just a little bit brighter…that he did for me…I wanted to stay and dance.
I also spoke to a couple who were out walking their pet…a pet racoon on a leash. I couldn’t resist and had to pet him and get all of the details. This little guy was named Charlie and they had rescued him after his mom had been killed. He was adorable, and he has such a great home. Sending my love to little Charlie.
Walking down some of the streets back to the car, there was house after house that had been restored and were just meticulous. One that stuck out was a home that had lovely gardens and…had a stockade in the front yard…along with a marker that explained the history of it. An interesting garden piece to say the least, but a reminder of what punishment looked like a few decades ago. Oh, and I believe this was the place where you could see a cannon ball lodged into one of the exterior walls.
Figuring that it was a good time for lunch we head over to T-Bonz restaurant and brewery. While there, I start researching at what route we could take and where we could possibly end up for the night. I wanted a room on the ocean, and my partner, easily persuaded on this one, quickly agreed. So we decide that we will head towards Myrtle Beach and look for a place to check in early, to enjoy some time on the beach. As a note…keep reading where you will see how happy I was that we ate now (12 noon) and did not wait for Myrtle Beach.
Leaving Charleston, we follow the Ocean Parkway towards Mount Pleasant. The Parkway takes you to the Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge, which spans the Cooper River from Charleston to Mount Pleasant. This is no ordinary structure…it is massive and hugely impressive. Built in 2005, it is the longest cable splayed bridge in the USA. It has 8 lanes and a twelve foot pedestrian and biking lane. Crossing it is something else…it feels like it will never end…but you don’t mind because the views are breathtaking.
Once we get through Mount Pleasant, we continue our drive ocean side drive towards Myrtle Beach and we pass through several small towns. The first is Awendaw, SC, home to 1294 people and to the blue crab, which has a festival dedicated to to just them.
The small fishing village of McClellanville, SC is not far down the road. This poor place was absolutely devastted by Hurricane Hugo, which tossed the heavy shrimp boats from the docks onto the houses and buildings on the streets several blocks back. These resilient folks are still making this place home again, and keeping their fishing, shrimp and seafood industry alive and well. Good for them.
A quick drive through Georgetown and then we are close to Myrtle Beach. Georgetown, SC is the home of the grandfather of Michelle Obama, and many of her relatives live here now.
At last we arrive at Myrtle Beach….all I can say is wow…like Pigeon Forge this is not what I had pictured at all.
Myrtle Beach is a 60 mile long stretch of beach known as the Grand Stand. Over 20 million visitors come here each year. A fun fact…it got its name from a contest that was run in the early 1900’s. A lady won the contest by suggesting that it be named after the abundant shrub found in the area called the myrtle shrub…hence Myrtle Beach. There are over 425 hotels here, 157 private homes offering accommodation and over 100 golf courses. In 2011, a sky wheel was built on the ocean front boardwalk. This ferris wheel like structure is 187 feet tall and has 47 glass enclosed gondolas. Each gondola is temperature controlled and can seat up to 6 people. In the event of an on coming hurricane or high wind warning, the gondolas are all removed, taking over 10 hours to do so. This is the perfect place to get an incredible view of Myrtle Beach, the coastline and the Atlantic Ocean…so I am told. I did not have the opportunity to take a spin on it.
I see here for the first time ever in my apparently sheltered existence…houses on stilts by the water…I am determined that we will stay in one tonight. And so the hunt begins…and ends just as quickly. It is summer vacation time for many families in the USA and little did we know that this was a hot destination for them to come. So, after much searching, there was nothing to be rented, no rooms, no houses on stilts…nothing. And the crowds and packed lineups for restaurants was growing less appealing by the minute. So we decided to head further up the coast to find another place to spend the night.
We try North Myrtle Beach…also booked…no surprises there. We head towards Wilmington (yes we are now in North Carolina), as its getting late in the afternoon and we just want to relax. Here’s were the day takes a horrible turn. Our GPS fails us…miserably.
We head towards Wilmington just fine, when the GPS gives us directions, for an “easier” route…not true. This we follow and it takes us to Kure Beach, which is 68 miles south east of Wilmington…meaning 68 miles past our destination. Now this Kure Beach is right on the Atlantic….so we figure it would be a nice place to stay so we try to get a room. No luck…again, everything is booked with vacationers. I am all for being spontaneous…but I am getting tired, and hungry. A nice man tells us that things will be booked all up the coast and that we are wise to head to inland to find a spot for the night. He suggests we head to Lumberton, which is only an hour away and gives us directions…I am happy to not rely on that nasty GPS…but I won’t be happy for long.
We drive the 68 miles back towards Wilmington and then head down the road we were told to take…Lumberton here we come. Well, this turned out to be a dirt road…we are in a sports car…and on a dirt road we are going a little slower than usual to avoid rock chips and ruts. There are no turn offs now…we are committed to following this road to see where it goes Soon it starts to get dark…not what we needed. We have been on this road for over 2 hours…remember it was supposed to be only 1 hour to Lumberton? We almost ran over an opossum who was scurrying across the road. And shortly thereafter…a deer jumps out in front of the car, and we have to swerve to miss it. It is now pitch black except for our headlights….the darkness is beginning to match our moods….we are lost, tired, hungry and frankly, really grumpy. This is the stuff that builds character with travel buddies, right?
Just when we think we are coming to Lumberton…bam…there was a detour due to washed out roads ahead… and we are now sent on even more dirt roads for over an hour and a half. We aren’t even talking to each other at this point.
We finally come out on a paved road with a sign that says Lumberton is 60 miles away…please let this be true…we are hungry, tired and almost out of gas. At every little town we came to we looked for restaurant or a room or a gas station. There were either none around or they had long closed for the night…its now 10:00 pm. Finally we see the lights of a gas station with a Subway restaurant in it…is it a mirage or real? I am delusional at this point. As we pull in, we see they are about to close, so I run into the Subway and place an order while my partner pumps some gas before the pumps are shut off. The folks here were so kind, and made us some great subs and they told us that Lumberton was just down the road not too far….we thank them…we eat in the car and keep driving.
Finally we reach Lumberton. Phew…Nope…There are no rooms in Lumberton…what the _____(insert nasty word here), thanks to a big baseball tournament in town. I am convinced that I will have to sleep in the car.
After trying at 3 different hotels, we finally find one room at the dingy, rundown Quality Inn on the edge of town with a lovely view of nothing… We take it. I have enough liquid courage (aka wine) to make me numb enough to sleep in this room. (as a note: this hotel has since been renovated and is beautiful).
I go to sleep…dreaming that I am in a stilted beach house, listening to the sound of the waves against the shore and feeling the ocean breeze on my face….or was that a cockroach…nope, I am going with ocean breeze.
This is a day I remember fondly …now. Not everything in life is perfect, or goes as you would like it to. You learn to adapt, adjust and just go with the flow. I also learned that I will not ever just go with that damn GPS.
Tomorrow is another unexpected stop…but this one is remarkable. Stay tuned to find out about the quirky little town I stayed in and the amazing friends that I made.
The drive down the Smokey Mountains from the cabin was beautiful…even though it had started to rain…since I am not on a motorcycle this trip, I am not worried at all. We are headed now through the Great Smokey National Park, then southeast through North Carolina and then heading south to Savannah, Georgia. I didn’t know much about Savannah before I went on this trip, but let me just say that with everything that happened while I was there…I will never forget it.
The drive begins with us gaining elevation through the park. Its incremental in a car, but I sure it would feel quite steep on foot. The route we are on is not a major highway at the moment, but a lesser route that goes directly through the mountain range….it is a spectacular drive.
Once we reach the end of this road we are onto a highway that will have us connect to the interstate, which is our route of choice today, although as you all know, not usually. We are going to stay on major highways since our drive day is roughly seven hours not including stops for breaks or lunch. So no galivanting to be done today.
All was going well until we hit the new connecting highway…we are now nearing the base of the mountains and the weather has changed. It has gone from rain in Gatlinburg, to sunny skies in the upper mountains to a torrential downpour at mountain base leading to the valley. And torrential downpour is being kind. The rain was coming down so hard that the wipers could not even begin to keep the windshield clean. There was clap after clap of thunder and a lightening show that would have made any fireworks display look dull. This is a 4 lane highway and there is traffic whizzing by, creating even more water on the windshield. We really want to pull over and wait it out…but there is no where to go. So slow and steady down the road we go. This by the way is the first day that we have been in any rain. The top of the mustang has been down the whole way so far…not today my friends…not today.
Finally we get to the interstate turn off and although the rain has subsided, it is still coming down. We decide to head to the first place we can turn off to take a break from the stress of the drive so far, and for some lunch. That place turned out to be Asheville, North Carolina…and even though we left early it is now 12:30 pm. We find an Applebees and in we go. After a nice little break, we head back out to the car and I spot a puppy. Across the parking lot I go to meet him since I am a huge animal lover…schedule be damned. The owner says she is just three months old and her name is Lil Girl. She knew so many commands which in itself at her age was impressive, but even more so…she knew them all in Russian. Wow…this little lady is a superstar.
We set off again and by three pm we make South Carolina.
One of the little towns we travel through is Spartanburg. Home to Wofford College, Spartanburg is where the NFL Carolina Panthers hold their summer training camp, right on the college football field. Being a big NFL fan, I wish we had time to go and watch them train. But its not on our agenda today…drive, drive, drive is our mantra today.
We travel through a small piece of the Sumter National Forest. This is a preserved are of over 370,000 acres and draws many hikers and white water rafters. Originally the hunting grounds for the Cherokee, it became a home to settlers who farmed timber and mined its gold resources. It is yet another beautiful area to take a drive through. Gosh… I feel so blessed and connected to nature on this trip.
St. George…what can I say. This little town of 2000 people had absolutely nothing to give it any notoriety or set it apart. Until…a local grocer a few years ago found out from the Quaker Oats company that this little town consumed more grits per capita than anywhere else in…the world…wow. So, in 1986, the townsfolk established the World Grit Festival, which brings in over 45,000 visitors to eat grits, roll in grits and just honor grits in general. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons…or in this case grits out of corn kernels. Way to go St. George!
We drive through Hendersonville and then onto Ridgeland. This town of 4000 was originally known as Gopher Hill. This was due to the town being the home of the Gopher Tortoise, which weighs up to 15 pounds and burrows deep into the sand to rest. This species is now endangered and protected due to humans destroying its natural habitat…this makes me sad. There is a statue paying tribute to this beautiful tortoise, that is five feet long and can be found in the Gopher Hill town square. As a note, I am not sure why the towns’ name was changed to Ridgeland, but I do like the story of the original name.
Finally, as night falls we reach Savannah, Georgia. Now Savannah by day or night is beautiful but Savannah by night is positively wonderfully eerie. With moss hanging from weeping willows and mighty oaks blowing in the wind, the whole vibe of this city is the presence of spirits…the ghostly kind…which it is.
Savannah was founded as a colony in 1733 by James Oglethorpe and several others. One of the first things Oglethorpe did was to ban slavery and alcohol. He also designed the colony in the form of 24 squares with a central square that housed shops, large homes and gardens. 22 of the 24 squares are still in existence today in the historic district.
In the 1860, General William Tecumseh Sherman was travelling from the west towards Georgia, and he and his troops had orders to destroy all colonies in their path. Upon arrival in Savannah, Tecumseh could not bring himself to destroy this beautiful colony. And so, he saved the city from destruction and on Christmas Day in 1864, he offered it as a gift to President Abe Lincoln…who then declared the city to be spared and left intact.
In the 1930’s, the Historical Savannah Foundation was formed to raise money to buy and preserve the historical homes and buildings of Savannah. Many were being knocked down in order for businesses to be built and the Foundation was at odds with this. Over time, they purchased all of the remaining historical buildings, and sold them to buyers, with the agreement that they would be restored and preserved and never knocked down. This strategy worked because Savannah is home to the most beautiful historical homes, plantations and warehouses I have ever seen. It is like stepping back into history. The large cotton warehouses on river were restored and the Riverwalk was created. This area is home to many restaurants and unique shops, and nightclubs…all housed in the warehouses. It is a lovely place for a stroll and a bite to eat. It is here that you will find the “waving girl” statue. This is to pay tribute to Florence Marcus, a young girl who stood in this spot for years, every day, with her dog and waved to the sailors on all of the ships coming and going from the very busy port. It is said that Florence had promised her sweetheart, who had gone to sea, that she would come there every day to wait for his return…sadly, he never did return to her.
Since it is already late, the first thing we do is find a hotel room and we want something right downtown to allow us the freedom to walk around and explore tomorrow. We get a nice room at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites and it overlooked Abercorn Street, which leads right to the the main area that we want to explore.
I am hungry and need to walk a little after sitting for so long in a car, so we head to the Riverwalk and look for a place to eat and take in the beauty of the lights of the city shimmering in the river. We find Bernies’ Oyster bar and in we go. Our wonderful waitress gave me some ideas about what to see while here and one of the things she mentioned was the Pirate House. This is a tavern that is rife with hauntings. She told me that one of her friends works there. It is customary for the person locking up to leave a shot of rum on the bar to appease the pirate spirits that do nasty things here. After her first shift there, she did not leave the shot out, locked up and went home. When she arrived to open up the next day, wine bottles and glasses were shattered all over the bar. She called the owner and the owner asked her if she had left the shot of rum out. She said she had not and that she thought that it was just a joke when she had been instructed to do so. The owner told her that it is no joke…the pirate spirits here get very mad if you do not leave them a shot of rum and they will destroy the place in anger. Wow. Now I need to go see this place.
We leave the restaurant and head over to the Pirates Tavern. Unfortunately it was closed for the night, but don’t worry, I do go inside tomorrow. I must say there is a really scary feeling walking around that building…it makes your hair stand on end. Stay tuned to find out what I see tomorrow.
After a good nights sleep and some breakfast we head out to explore. On our way we stop in at Grave Digger Tours and book a ghost walk for that evening….this is worth every penny….you will see why. I highly recommend this company as the tour is interesting, the guide is knowledgeable and entertaining and they pack a lot of stops into the 90 minute walk about. http://www.gravediggertours.com
We start our walk down Abercorn street and there is just so much to take in. I think the best I can do is to share some of the highlights of my walk.
The Lucas Theatre: Built by Arthur Melville Lucas Jr., it was known as the most beautiful theatre in all of the USA. It took 2 years to build at a cost of $500,000 and opened its doors in December 1921. It was a luxurious design, inside and out and drew the elite of Savannah to its movie nights. It was the first building in Savannah to install air conditioning in 1927…a must in the very hot climate here. The Exorcist was the last movie shown here in 1976 when the theatre closed. The historical Foundation purchased the property and it was soon restored by new owners. In 1997 Clint Eastwood held the wrap up party for the movie Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil (which was filmed here and based on Jim Williams who lived here…more on him later). The event raised over $200,000 which Mr. Eastwood donated to the owners of the theatre to maintain it. Today the theatre presents events for the orchestra, opera, cabarets and country music. It is also haunted. There is the ghost a former ticket taker who was shot at the entrance by gangsters and now throws open the locked doors at the entrance and stumbles into the lobby and then collapses and vanishes in the spot where he died. At times, employees hear the theatre filled with the applause of a large crowd…and there is no one in the theatre. A film projector will start up on its own and during renovations it did the same thing…when it wasn’t even installed. A beautiful building with a great story and some current hauntings…a must see if you are here.
The Andrew Low House: This is one of Savannahs prized restored homes. Now a museum, it houses some of the best preserved furnishings of the period. The front garden and the rooms are an exact replica of the way it appeared when Mr. Low resided here in 1848. Mr. Low, his wife Sarah and their three children were awaiting the completion of the house when sadly Sarah and their youngest son died suddenly of an illness. Mr. Low moved into his house with his two daughters and eventually remarried a lady named Mary May Stiles. They had a son named William who married Juliet Gordon (she becomes famous…keep reading to find out who she is). When Andrew and Mary die, William and Juliet take over the house. William was a naughty guy…he had a mistress and thought it a good idea to live with her in the house…while still married to Juliet, who also lived there…this will never work out William. William eventually has a stroke and dies (some say he hung himself in the basement, but they called it a stroke and hid the rope marks on his neck…otherwise he could not of had a funeral and been buried in the family plot; according to the laws at that time.). There are of course hauntings in this house. Tom, Andrew Lows’ butler, who likes to move items back to where they were when he lived there with Andrew Low and he always appears in period clothing at the entrance when visitors enter. Quite the welcome isn’t it? Andrew Low’s rocking chair will start rocking on its own, with no one in the room and you can smell Juliet’s perfume on the staircase leading up to her bedroom. I did the tour and it was time well spent. Learning about how the house was constructed with internal running water was really interesting…and the house itself is splendid.
Now lets talk about why Juliet became famous. Juliet became famous for being the founder of the Girl Guides. Juliet and William never had any children, but they did travel frequently, especially to England. It is here where Juliet met Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. He encouraged her to start something for girls and so she did. The Girl Guide meetings were first held on the ground of the Low House…how amazing that it is still in existence today. As a note, you can walk up the street and see the home that Juliet was born and raised in.
I am hungry for some lunch and I figure it is a good time to check out the Pirates Tavern that I mentioned earlier…besides its daytime and I won’t see any angry pirate ghosts right? The Pirates Tavern is first tavern built in Savannah and the oldest standing building in Georgia having been built in 1734. Oglethorpe originally used the land to create Trustee Garden. On this plot he had planted spices, indigo, cotton and medicinal herbs from all over the world. Thinking he could have an impact on the wine and silk industries, he planted Mulberry trees. The soil and weather of the area was not conducive to these plants growing, although he was successful in growing the first peach crop of Georgia (now known as the peach state) and cotton. Oglethorpe had build a small cottage on the property known as Herb House, for the gardener to live in. By 1754, the gardens were gone and a tavern and boarding house for seamen was constructed, keeping the Herb House intact. At this time a tunnel from the rum cellar in the basement to River Street was made by some shady seamen. If a captain needed a crew for his ship, he simply went to Pirate House, waited until the men were drunk and passed out and then they were taken down to the basement and through the tunnel and tossed onto the captains ship. When the poor seamen awoke, they were hundreds of miles from shore with two choices: work on the ship or be tossed overboard…they had been shanghaied. The tunnels have long been covered up, but many voices and moans were heard by the workers as they were sealing the tunnel…and there was no one in them. There are many hauntings here, one I have already shared and the building itself is creepy. I went over to the stairs leading to the sealed tunnel and there was no way I could find the courage to go down them. Back to my table I go. Lunch was good and I had two of their specialty rum drinks called “the skull crusher”…they came in a skull mug which I happily brought home with me. This was a lunch I won’t ever forget.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the squares, enjoying beautiful Layfette park and the Forsyth Fountain which is the focal point of the park and its easy to see why. The fountain is the most photographed icon of Savannah, and it has stood the test of time. It was ordered from a catalogue and has remained intact since 1858. Many wedding photos are taken here as well as engagement proposals…what a romantic setting to say “yes”.
More walking took us past the Clarys restaurant, made famous from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. There were so many landmarks and homes to see, I couldn’t possibly name them all. I will say that one of the houses we walked by was incredibly creepy…I mean walking up to it struck fear in you immediately…even in broad daylight. I have never felt such negativity walking past a house in my life…and I don’t even know its history yet. You will find out all about it, later on our Ghost walk.
I had dinner in the Crystal Beer Parlour and then lazed around the hotel room until we walked to the meeting spot for the ghost tour at 9:00 pm. Let the hauntings begin.
I will give you just the highlights of this walk, because our guide gave us so much information on the history of the houses and park and of course their hauntings, I cannot share it all with you. But, there were two things that happened that need to be shared.
Remember the creepy house I mentioned earlier? Well this house is located at 432 Abercorn and it has has numerous owners. The house keeps changing hands because the ghosts “living” there frighten everyone so badly that they move out, never looking back. This house was likely destined to have some bad luck as it is built on the mass unmarked graves of the slaves of this area…pretty disrespectful. This home was built in 1868 for Benjamin Wilson and his family. Shortly after they moved in, Mrs. Wilson died of yellow fever. Ben became very depressed after her death, and became unkind, very strict and overbearing and constantly disciplining his daughter. His daughter was forbidden to play with the children attending Massie school (across the street), as Ben considered the children that went there to be of a lower class. His daughter went over to the school one day while Ben was out and played with the children…Ben caught her and loudly berated her and took her home. The next day…she went over again when her father left the house. This time, when Ben caught her, he decided she needed a stricter lesson. He tied her to a chair which he sat in front of her bedroom window, tightly binding her legs and wrists to the arms and legs of the chair. The window faced the Massie school and she was being forced to watch the children that she longed to play with, play in the school yard. Savannah experienced a major heatwave that year, and despite hearing her cries and screams, Ben left his daughter, without water or food, tied to that chair for 4 days. On day 5, when he felt she had learned her lesson, he went into her room…and found her dead of heat exhaustion. He was never charged for his crime due to his affluence in Savannah, but he did pay for his horrid act. His daughters ghost came to haunt him one day, and it send Ben into painful remorse. He went to her room, sat in the chair, which was still in the same spot it was the day she died, pulled his revolver and shot himself. Wow…some story, right? The ghost of the little girl haunts all who enter the house and sometimes the ghost of her mother is seen with her. On the night we stood there, I clearly saw the image of an older woman’s face in an upstairs window, just staring out into the night. As interesting as this was, I was more than happy to move on to the next stop.
For more eerie tales, we head to the Colonial cemetery, where there are over 10,000 people buried, on 6 acres, and only 1000 grave markers. This spot was the area where many duels took place and voodoo rituals and ceremonies. We were told the story of a little girl who is buried here, whose ghost has been seen many times…actually there is a You Tube video of her running in the cemetery and then leaping into the high branches of a tree…(authenticated by experts as not tampered with or a hoax)…aka…a real apparition. The little girl lived in the house across the street, and had been playing with other children one day when they decided to play on the roof. Unfortunately, she little fell to her death. I have to say that with the dark of night, the odd mist that hovers over the cemetery, day and night, and the Spanish moss swaying in the breeze from the massive oak trees, this is cemetery will certainly give you chills.
This last spot that I will share with you is perhaps the most memorable of the evening…The Mercer-Williams house which was built in 1868 for General Hugh Mercer, the great grandfather of songwriter Johnny Mercer. General Mercer died before he was able to move into the house and after it went through several owners, it was eventually purchased in 1969 by Jim Williams, an antique dealer (which is reflected in the home today when you visit…opulent antiques and curiosities from all over the world fill every room). He bought the home for $55,000 and as a note: it sold in 1990 for seven million dollars…quite the jump in price. Tragedy is associated with this home. In 1969, while the home was vacant, 11 year old Tommy Downs went into the house with some friends, to hunt pigeons. While on the roof, Tommy fell to his death, impaling himself on one of the iron spikes of the fence below. His friends have said that it looked like Tommy was pushed off of the roof, even though none of them were close to him and there was no one standing behind him. You can still see one of the broken spikes that Tommy landed on when you walk by this house.
Lets get back to Jim Williams, because his story is the basis for the movie Midnight in The Garden Of Good and Evil. Jim had an assistant named Danny Hansford, who was also Jim’s lover. One evening, during an argument, Jim shot Danny in the library of the house. Jim was tried for murder, and after a trail that lasted 3 years, he was found not guilty…(the judge who had presided over the trail said that he knew Jim was guilty, but since Danny was “trouble with a capital T anyway”, best to let Jim go free). Jim remained in his home for 6 months after the trial was over, at which time he contracted pneumonia, and died…on the very spot were he shot Danny Hansford. Some karma at play here it seems.
There are some notable ghosts in this home…orbs, images in windows and Jim seem walking the halls. Jim always threw a lavish Christmas party every year on the same day, for the elite of Savannah, and to this day, if you pass this house on that day, the chandeliers light up on their own and images of guests entering the house in period clothing and walking room to room with drinks in hand can be seen. One of the ladies in our tour group was busy taking pictures of the front of the house while our guide was wrapping up our tour. When she went to view her photos, she said to me “look at this”. I looked at the photo and what I saw was incredible. In the upstairs bedroom window, was an very bright orb… there were no lights on in the upstairs to create this image and no street lights that were shining in that direction. Trust me…we all checked. When we looked again, while standing on the exact same spot…the orb was gone…and then…reappeared. I don’t know what your beliefs on this might be…but I feel that the spirit of one of the souls of that house was making itself visible to us. (I tried to find my photo of the orb but I couldn’t locate it….if I find it I will share it in a future blog).
The Mercer-Williams House is now a museum that is an absolute must see when you visit Savannah…and no…it is not open at night…drat.
With ghosts on our brains, we head to our room. It has been an amazing day…I am a little unnerved from the eerie events of the evening. It is time to rest because tomorrow we head out to…we don’t have any destination in mind or planned. Simply drive up the Eastern coast and see what the day brings us.
Stay tuned because tomorrow is a day filled with disappointments, detours and a few other mishaps.
Today I woke up to sunshine and I am ready to hit the open road and head towards the Smokey Mountains. Today we head to Pigeon Forge…I don’t know why but I am super excited. I have in my mind this quaint, quiet little mountain town…with log houses, rocking chairs on the front porch and it is laid back…something out of a postcard. Boy was I to discover how wrong I was.
The drive is only about four hours long, but with the way we like to explore this will likely take about seven hours. And since we have an amazing place booked for our stay for two nights, I want to get there sooner than later.
We follow Highway 11 veering off course west a little, but passing through mile after mile of farm lands and mountain views. I will share a few of the counties and towns with you.
Highland Park, a suburb of Richmond, Virginia is an architecture lovers dream. This little area has the largest number of restored Queen Anne style homes in all of Virginia. They are gorgeous…its like walking back in time…but with paved roads, a Starbucks coffee in the holder and taking pictures with a cellphone…pretty close, right? It is worth a drive through if you are in that area.
We drove through the small counties of Fort Chiswell, Hildreth House, Atkins, Mount Carmel and Chilhowie (which means valley of many deer…and yes there were a lot of deer; roadside and in the forest). There is no real history to share with you on these sites and we didn’t stop in any of them, but I found some pictures to share with you.
We did drive through Bristol…mainly because we had to…that is where the highway took us. Bristol, Virginia is right across from Bristol, Tennessee….its actually right across the road. Both towns are on their respective state lines, directly across from each other, and the main street is the state line…its called State Street. So you can stand in the middle of the street, straddle the lane dividing line and you will be in both Virginia and Tennessee. That is not something you get to do everyday. Bristol is home to the Bristol Motor Speedway. Its located in what is called Thunder Alley due to the roar of the racing cars engines echoing back to the crowd off of the mountains…I gather it sounds just like thunder.
The most interesting thing I found out about Bristol, Virginia is that it is the birthplace of country music. In 1927, Ralph Peer of Victor records made the first commercial record here with the Carter family. They received $50.00 per song recorded…that was a good sum of money back then. The Carter family went on to become the first ever country music stars. Now you may say…”Hey Jan, who is this Carter family you are going on about?” Well, one of the members was Maybelle Carter. She went on to become known as Mother Maybelle…and…she is the Mother of June Carter…the wife of Johnny Cash and a talent in her own right. I think this is a wonderful story that only one side of the main street in Bristol can call their own.
The route we have chosen to Pigeon Forge has us weaving in and out of Tennessee and West Virginia…but you never really notice much in the way of signs on this highway. We travel through Jearoldstown, Tennessee, Baileytown and then through Mount Carmel, West Virgina, and finally back to Tennessee. I have vertigo just typing this. Phew.
We pass a turn off that we didn’t take, but I wanted to share with you. After you are passed Mount Carmel, watch for Highway 448, the Dolly Parton Parkway. This will take you into Sevierville, the birthplace of Dolly. You can even go and see the cabin that she grew up in.
Only 8 miles from the turn off to Sevierville, we drive into…Pigeon Forge. Mountains loom beside me and I am so excited to see what it really looks like. Well, color me disappointed….well my expectations were. If you have ever seen Lundys’ Lane in Niagara Falls, Canada (if not you can google it)…well multiply the carnival atmosphere times 100 and you have…ta da…Pigeon Forge. It is an adventure and fun park town for families and it is full of lights, noise, theme parks and amusement areas and lots of over the top themes on everything. We decided this was a good time for a bit of lunch. We headed to the Outback Steakhouse, where Lexi, our waitress filled us in on the reality of Pigeon Forge. It really is a place that families come on their vacation…and Dollywood…well good luck getting in there without waiting in a long line-up. So with this in mind, we decide to drive through Pigeon Forge on the highway (aka, now the main road through town), and look for our room rental and check in.
I found this wonderful place online called Fireside Cabins. http://www.firesidechalets.com. I figured if I was going to be in the Smokey Mountains, I wanted a cabin in the mountains…I made the best choice. They have various sizes of cabins; from one bedroom to seven bedroom. All have fully equipped kitchens, air conditioning and heat and fireplaces (wood burning or gas) and all have internet access. Some have hot tubs, pool tables, theater rooms and games rooms. I highly recommend them if you are coming here.
We found the check in office but they were closed for an hour or so, so we went and picked up some provisions for the next couple of days while we waited. Check in was easy, and a door code was given to us and directions on how to get to our cabin. I only paid $165.00 taxes in for two nights…I feel that was a good price when you see the pictures of the place and compare it to staying in a hotel room.
I love travelling by motorcycle on a trip, but I am happy that on this trip we were in a car…this road was extremely narrow, climbed a good elevation up the mountain and was almost constantly curving. Not a great road for night driving, meeting on coming traffic or a deer. But…man oh man…those views!
We finally arrived at the cabin…and…sigh…I am in heaven. A beautiful little log cabin, with a porch out front and a deck out back, with a hot tub, and views that overlook the amazing Smokey Mountains. This is more than I could ever have imagined…I have such fond memories that I will forever cherish of my stay there.
We spend the evening snacking and drinking some wine, watched On Golden Pond (yes we laughed and cried during this movie), watched the moon come up over the mountains and went to bed. I knew that I needed to sleep for another adventure day tomorrow, but I didn’t want to miss a moment in this cabin. I really love this place…I wish that I had a home just like it.
The next morning, I had coffee on the back deck and watched fog of the Smokey Mountains slowly rise. I heard a grunt down below me on the ground and saw a few bushes move…I think I had a black bear visitor. Sadly he left before I could see him.
This morning we are headed to Gatlinburg for the day, and then back to the cabin. This is a day I have talked about a lot while planning this trip (I seem to do that a lot, don’t I?). We plan to visit Ole Smokeys’ Moonshine Distillery…how could this be a bad day?
Gatlinburg is in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. The park is part of the Appalachian chain and has some of the highest summits in North America. Sixteen of the mountains are over 5000 feet, the highest being Clingmans Dome, coming in at 6643 feet. It is no wonder there are many hikers here. In fact over 13 million people visit this park every year to hike, camp, walk the Appalachian Trail, visit the towns within the area and to do historic walks in the park which has many historic cabins from the original settlers and mills from early logging days, prior to the land being preserved as parkland. It is good to be bear aware here…there are over 2000 of these lovelies wondering the woods. I felt so humbled and in awe of this place…I don’t believe I have ever been in the woods and realized how spectacular they are as I did here.
Gatlinburg is a very touristy place, filled with shops, restaurants, resorts, hotels and…moonshine distilleries. In the winter it is a ski resort, much like Collingwood, Ontario, Canada is. The town was named after Radford Gatlin, who was the postmaster. Unfortunately, he was run out of town due to his views on the Civil War, which went against the views of the rest of the townsfolk. It is home to the longest footbridge in the USA, which spans two mountains and is something to walk…I am told. It is a great place to park the car and walk around, which is exactly what we did.
The first stop we made was the Gatlinburg Package Store. Its a wine and spirits store… of course, I had to make a few purchases. Now that our supply for the evening was complete…into the main area of Gatlinburg we go. Parking the car took a little time, as it was so busy with so many folks from all over coming to check things out.
Once parked, our first stop was the place I wanted to see the most…Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery. Known as “The Holler” (why do I love that word so much?), Ole Smokey is the most visited distillery in all of the USA. It is the first federally licensed distillery in Eastern Tennessee, becoming legal on July 4, 2020…although it has made illegal moonshine for many decades before this. Originally it started when the Irish and Scottish immigrants settled in the area and began to do what they did in their homeland…make alcohol. Since the government imposed a $2.00 per gallon tax on legally made whiskey, it became too costly for many folks, so the moonshiners had a solid customer base. Corn farmers in the area quickly jumped on board and started illegal stills of their own, since using their corn to produce “shine” to sell was far more profitable than the costs of harvesting and transporting their corn to markets in big cities…and they sold a lot of corn locally to the area moonshiners…win/win for everyone. The term “moonshine” was coined due to the stills doing their cooking in the middle of the night to avoid being found by the police. If you go for a tour of the Forbidden Caves in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, you will see old stills there, as this was a popular place to set up shop, due to their remote location and ability to hide the stills from the law.
Ole Smokey Moonshine is made from a 100 year old recipe, and they make numerous flavors and proofs of the product, ranging from 40 to 100 proof. When you visit the distillery in Gatlinburg, you are able to sample 5 or 6 different blends and proofs for free (although I hear that you now have to pay to do this). You can tour the distillery, shop in their 12,000 foot store and of course purchase shine…I bought a few to share with the folks at home…it was a hit. Out front there are many giant rocking chairs, where you can sit and listen to different local bluegrass bands…it is truly what I expected and more. This is a must see if you are in Gatlinburg…and yes,…moonshine is an acquired taste…which thankfully, I acquired pretty quick. Oh, and as a fun Covid-19 fact….Ole Smokey now produces hand sanitizer…do not lick your hands. Ole Smokey also had some wine sampling going on…sooooo…I had to try a couple and loved them all.
A walk down the street brought us to the Davey Crockett distillery….and so it was sample time again. You can really taste the difference from their products and those of Ole Smokey…those cherished secret recipes really do matter. Davey Crockett distillery is similar to Ole Smokey in that you can shop in their store and buy their products. It was a really neat store to browse in.
It was time to eat…I am sure you can figure out why…and so we walked until we found this delightful place…Dicks Last Resort. How could you not go in here? It was a pub style place, with many choices on the menu, a fun waitress, and a place I would recommend as a stop in for some good pub grub.
A post lunch stop at the Great T-Shirt Company had me purchasing…well, t-shirts. So much selection, but great mementos of my day in this lovely town.
Heading back towards the car, we feel fueled up enough after lunch to try one more moonshine sampling…this time at Sugarlands Distillery. This is a very new distillery that takes honoring the area of the Smokeys seriously. They are housed in a beautiful building that has been built with stone and out of reclaimed wood, both on the inside and outside, from houses and barns of the homes in the mountains that pre date the Civil War. There is a an area out back they call “the back porch” where you are welcomed to sip “shine” and listen to live music. There is merchandise to purchase in the store and of course you can buy some of their very smooth moonshine. Great environment to hang out for a bit in.
Heading out and continuing the walk back to the car we stumble upon Ole Smokey Candy Kitchen…yummmmmmy. A few free sample of sweet treats infused or made with moonshine…and I walk out with two bags of moonshine peanut brittle…neither of which survived the night.
Across the street from our car is the area called The Old World Village. Set back off the main street and housed in some really quaint buildings are over 27 unique shops and restaurants. There is pottery, donuts, jewelry, clothing, candles, coffee, Celtic goods, bath and body and….well, the list goes on. It felt like being transported to Europe to walk through this lovely little area. A few benches placed in the beautiful inner court gardens make it the perfect spot to people watch and to gaze toward the ever looming mountains surrounding this town.
I took a moment to get my picture taken with a couple of furry, well in this case, wooden friends…I couldn’t resist their cuteness….could you?
Our time for exploring today has wound to an end. And so we leave Gatlinburg and head back to the cabin. A quick supper and a few movies (Ghost and Gettysberg…how fitting for this trip) and its time for bed…with visions of moonshine dancing in my head.
In the morning I hopped into the hot tub on the back deck and drank my coffee…How amazing to watch the morning clouds quietly disappear and the surrounding mountains slowly becoming visible…this is why they are called the Smokey Mountains, because we are up so high in elevation, that the clouds linger, all of the time. They are very thick leaving minimal visibility in the early mornings and late at night. I can eventually see across to another looming mountain and sit looking at the cabins nestled there…it is then I vow to come back and rent another cabin for a longer period of time. I settle into a rocking chair for my final cup of java and immediately hear rustling in the bush below my deck. Its another bear…not caring about me…just making its way to wherever it needs to go.
A quick breakfast and the packing of the car means its time to leave this beautiful place and head out for a long days drive to our next destination.
Our next stop is filled with ghost sightings (mine), history, mean pirate ghosts and southern hospitality….we are heading to Savannah.
Come along…this next story has much to offer your curiousities and will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck…I promise.
The morning is sunny and beautiful and I am happy because this gives us a great day to drive through and walk around the battlefields of Gettysburg. We quickly pack up, find a spot to grab some breakfast and a coffee to go and head out to start our tour.
I was not prepared for the vastness of the battlefields, and the non stop chills you feel while walking around. I would love to return one day and explore this place at night….without dowsing rods (read day 3 blog).
The tour of a large portion of the battlefields is at the Gettysburg National Military Park. The battlefields are much more wooded than they were during the war but there is still alot of open space and original fencing built in 1863. There were over 22,000 wounded soldiers left on the battlefield, many who died where they lay. Numerous bullets and bones still can be found to this day, although you are not allowed to go excavating for them in the town of Gettysburg or on the battlefield. There are 1320 commemorative monuments and markers here, 410 cannons (restored) and 148 buildings that were hit by gun fire. The last body found here was in 1997 and is now buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Here are just a few of the notable sites in the Park… Devils Den..A boulder strewn hill that was used primarily by sharp shooters in an ambush. A fun fact…throughout the 19th century, the locals of Gettysburg believed that the large crevices of Devils Den were home to an enormous 15 foot serpent…the locals called it the Devil…hence the name of the hill became Devils Den. Thankfully I did not see any signs of said serpent…trust me…I would be telling you.
Two other notable sites are Little Round Top and Big round Top….two flat topped hills, one larger than the other, that hold their place in the wars history as strategic vantage points to command the troops fighting in the fields below. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain gained notoriety for a battle he won with limited soldiers, fighting downhill on Little Round Top, and using only bayonets, as they were without ammunition.
You find many statues here, some with riders on horses. They are tributes to the Generals and Colonels of the war. There is a theory in the USA that the positioning of the hooves of the horses on statues tell the story of how the rider died. If both front hooves are in the air, it meant the rider died in battle. If one front hoof is raised, the rider died after the war, from wounds suffered in battle. If all hooves are on the ground, the rider died of natural causes. This theory doesn’t seem to apply to many statues in the USA, one being at Gettysburg, where the statue of General Longstreet has one front hoof raised indicating he died from wounds suffered in battle….Longstreet was never wounded at Gettysburg. Its still awe inspiring to look at the detail and size of these statues, regardless of where the hooves are placed.
After a few hours of touring the Park, we are ready to hit the road. We are heading South West…towards…Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Why you ask? One…why not. And two…because as usual, I came across something I want to see in Gatlinburg, (right next to Pigeon Forge), and three…Pigeon Forge is such a cool name…who doesn’t want to check it out.
We head down Highway 240 and in no time we are Maryland…woot…cross another State off the “been there” list. The first town we come to is Thurmont, a tiny picturesque town, with of course farms surrounding it. It is nestled in the Catoctin Spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is very close to Camp David, the country retreat of the US President. We are driving through many covered bridges now, and I don’t know why, but to me, there is something magically romantic about them.
Once through Thurmont, we drive for a short while and are now in West Virginia. One of the places we end up driving through is Harpers Ferry. This is a really pretty place with a lot of hills (we are in the Appalachian Mountains after all)..hence we did not go for a walk around….yep…too lazy.
Harpers Ferry is is named after Robert Harper, who upon arriving in the area realized the potential of setting up a ferry there, since Harpers Ferry is situated between two rivers, the Shenandouh and the Potomac. The ferry came to be the only way to cross the rivers without travelling, at that time, for weeks, by land. The ferry operated until 1824, when covered bridges were then constructed to facilitate travel across the rivers. Harpers Ferry is also the site of the John Brown raid in 1859. John, along with several others, tried to take over the town and the munitions supplies from the factory that was located there. His idea was to arm slaves with weapons and to start a revolt against the slave owners. He failed in his attempt when the local folks forced John and his followers to hole up in a building. The Government sent in the militia, lead by General Robert E. Lee, who after a quick skirmish secured John and his group. John was tried for treason and was hanged in Charles Town shortly thereafter. Harpers Ferry is a well known rest spot for those hiking the Appalachian Trail, as the trail goes right through the middle of this town. It is a very picturesque spot, and well worth driving through if you are in that area.
On ward we go, driving through the gorgeous Appalachian Mountains…I thought the Blue Ridge Mountains were something, which they are, but the Appalchians have a real majesty all of their own.
Charles Town is our next drive through, and as I mentioned it does have some history relative to John Brown. The town was owned and named after George Washington’s youngest full brother, Charles. Many of the Washington brothers ended up making their home there over time. It is another really pretty town.
We are driving through the Shenandoah Valley…oh my, but it is gorgeous and lush. It is believed that the name came from the Native American Schin- han- dou, which means river through the spruces. There are numerous caves to explore here and due to the fertility of the soils, there is much agriculture and viticulture…aka…vineyards. I cannot say enough how blessed I felt and still feel that I was able to witness the beauty of nature and my words here will never be able to fully share it with you…get out and go see it for yourself…wherever you are.
The roads are curvy, smooth and the views just do not stop. I am not explaining all of the Civil War history that is associated with all of these towns, because that is not my intention. But if that is something that interests you, well, there is much to be read about these towns and the war. Harrisburg is one such place and what is interesting here is that the Rosetta Stone was created here…largely due to the fact that it is an ethnically diverse town and that the children in the public schools represent over 55 different languages.
We are driving highway 11 which runs perpendicular to the interstate. Its much more scenic on this route, however, there are not many towns to stop in or things to see…except the remarkable scenery…that was more than enough. I will share a couple of the towns with you.
The first one is a lovely little city where we ate lunch was called Staunton. Because we are travelling off the interstate we drive right through the downtown of Staunton. We ate lunch at the Shenandoah Pizza and Tap House and it was delicious. Staunton is the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the USA, Staunton offers a great respite and many options to the tired and in my case, hungry, traveler. Staunton was known back in the day as a backwoods remote trading center. It became the area that coordinated the transportation of grains and tobacco from the local and surrounding area farmers in the backwoods to the major ports and other larger cities in the USA. In the early 19th century, there was an asylum built here…the Western State hospital. It offered it patients a very utopian atmosphere with terraced gardens and gorgeous mountain views. But, by the mid 19th century, the methods of treatment changed, due to overcrowding and the warehousing of patients. The treatments were less holistic and far more…shall we say…torturous. In the 1980’s the asylum moved and the building became a medium security prison for men. In 2003 the prison was closed, the land sold and the gorgeous “The Village” condominiums were built. It seems that there are many ghost stories associated with this property…I am not surprised…are you? Staunton is home to the Statler Brothers and they still reside here.
The next little town we drive through is a tiny town called Buchanan, with a population of only 1000. A cute little town, it is the birthplace of Hughie Thomasson of the band Lynard Skynard. Don’t blink or you will miss this little gem.
Roanoke is our next spot….most people have heard of this city. Roanoke was originally called “Big Lick”, named after a large outcrop of salt on the now Roanoke River. This salt lick attracted much wildlife, which made it a prime spot for hunting, therefore, a good spot for the settlers to plant some roots. The towns name was changed to Roanoke in a few years as a way to easily identify where it was situated (this makes perfect sense with it being on the Roanoke River and all). I am not certain of the year this occurred in, but at some point a Mr. Fred Kimball, a civil engineer and partner with the Clark Company that owned the Shenandoah Railroad, brought the railroad to Roanoke. Mr. Kimball, being a geology buff, went into the surrounding mountains looking for…well…geology finds. It was here that he discovered coal… and that led to the discovery of the Pocahontas Coalfields and the beginning of an industry that has long been a part of Virginia…coal mining. And as a real juxtaposition to this…Roanoke became known as a textile district. There were many mills in the area that manufactured cotton and other materials and fabrics for use in the USA and to be exported all over the world. And of great interest to many…this is the city where Las Vegas legend Wayne Newton was raised…danke shein my friends! (side note in case you are not aware of this Wayne Newton reference…it is the title of one of his famous songs…yep…I am that old…I mean knowledgeable).
Our final stop for the day is Christiansburg. It has been a long but beautiful day of driving and sightseeing and its now time for some dinner and to find a room. Christiansburg is named a after Colonel William Christian, who was one of the first justices of Virginia. Daniel Boone lived here and then he…um…”moved”. Apparently there is a document in a museum in Christiansburg, from 1774 that is a warrant for the arrest of Daniel Boone. It was issued for his non payment of a debt, and on the warrant it is written “not executed…gone to Kentucky”. Hence, Daniel Boone moved….with cause it seems…as a note…he later paid the debt in full… $8.00.
Another notable from Christiansburg is Davey Crocket. As a young man, Davey worked here as an apprentice for the newspaper printer.
William Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition resided here at 109 East Main Street. The home is still in existence today…restored of course and it is now known as the Montague house, home to Civil War History of Virgin Tech.
Interesting to know…Christiansburg is the site of the first and last rifle duel in the Virginia. In May 1808, Thomas Lewis and John McHenry fought a duel with rifles. The end result…they both died. In January 1810, greatly influenced by this duel, a law was passed, outlawing any dueling in Virginia. An interesting way to settle disputes…however, not too effective in this case.
We end up getting a room at a Holiday Inn and look for a restaurant. I seem to recall that we had difficulty finding something open…not sure why. Eventually we find a Cracker Barrel restaurant that is open and in we go. We settle down and the waitress asks if we would like something to drink. I order a wine…and she stares at me with a very strange look. You see…Cracker Barrel restaurants do not serve alcohol. Why would I even consider having dinner here? Fail on my part. We order our meal and enjoy a lovely glass of…water to wash it down. Sigh.
Back to the hotel we go and plan the next days journey. This is exciting for me because tomorrow we will be in…The Smokey Mountains. You won’t believe the adventures we have tomorrow…but you can join me in my next blog and find out all about them.
Oh boy…this is going to be a busy one today. So much to see and do here so we decide that we will leave touring the actual battlefields for tomorrow morning and spend the day checking out the sites in the town of Gettysburg.
We head out to find some breakfast and coffee, and while eating we decide to find and book a ghost tour for this evening. I know it will be interesting and a fun way to walk through the town at night. I had no idea just how amazing it would turn out…are you scared yet?
After breakfast we drove to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where over 3500 Union soldiers are buried. Situated on a portion of a battlefield, the cemetery contains the remains of 6000 people; 3512 soldiers and their spouses and children and 979 graves for unknown soldiers. There is a 60 foot tall granite statue right in the middle of the cemetery, known as the Soldiers National Monument. On November 19, 1863, the day the cemetery opened, President Abe Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at its opening in Lincoln Square. This day is now annually observed by Gettysburg as their Remembrance Day, and is honored with a parade and Civil War reenactments. It is a very sad place to visit and for some reason it has left an impact on me. Rest peacefully.
After parking the car back at the hotel, we hit the streets and poke around in some of the shops and museums. There are many that have some interesting relics and historical pieces in them, and I found the owners very open to sharing some history and amuse us with great storytelling. It was a fun experience.
At lunchtime we head to the Blue/Grey Bar and Grill…a nice little pub style place with good food. We continued our stroll down the streets and two memorable spots for me were Rupp House History Center and Dobbin House Tavern.
Rupp House has a really interesting history. It was built in 1863 and the tour illustrates what life was like during and after the Civil War. Imagine cannons thundering on the outskirts of your town and soldiers are gathering right outside your front door? What would you do? John Rupp lived here with his wife Caroline and their six children aged six months to thirteen years. As the Battle of Gettysburg broke out on July 1st, John took Caroline and the children across the street to hid in the cellar of the home of Solomon Welty, their neighbor. The next day, as the fighting worsened, John had his father take Caroline and all of the children to his home. It was about eight blocks away and they had a perilous journey through the town which was now occupied by soldiers and sharp shooters. Meanwhile, John returned to his home and as the Union and Confederate armies exchanged gunfire, which went directly through the house, John stayed in the home and took refuge in the cellar until the battle ended 2 days later. This most interesting tour lets you see, hear and feel how the battle impacted the Rupp family and see the space that John hid in…now that is remarkable.
The Dobbin House Tavern is a must stop. We only walked around the grounds now, but we did make a reservation for dinner that evening. I can’t wait. I will share the history of this wonderful spot in a bit.
I want to mention the Farnsworth House here. In my previous blog,I had forgotten the name of the restaurant where we had eaten dinner last night, and just remembered that it was the Farnsworth House…thank gosh for my travel diary. The Farnsworth House is a beautiful spot for a meal, with a dining room filled with memorabilia from the movie Gettysburg, filmed in Gettysburg in 1993. There is also a beautiful outdoor beer garden and patio. The original house was built in 1810 and is intact, with of course some modern renovations. The building was occupied during the war by Confederate sharp shooters and on the outside of the building you can see over 100 bullet holes in the walls…it is an interesting moment to take yourself back in time when standing there and think of how it must have felt to be inside the building. Outside of being one of the more popular places to dine, it is also known for many hauntings which draws many a ghost hunter to this site.
On our way back up the street we happen across Reids Wine Tasting Room and Cider House…sounds like my kinda place. Reids has an orchard right outside of Gettysburg and their tasting room is here, on the main street in the town. What wonderful hospitality we received here and so many laughs. As it was getting late in the afternoon they were getting set up to close soon, but gave us samples of their hard ciders and wines. They also had two pieces of quiche that remained unsold from today, so they set us up on the patio with a glass of wine and the quiche…what a wonderful treat. I was loving one particular cider, Black Bear Hard Cider and decided I would buy some. The lovely server asked me if I wanted it in a growler…say what…what is that? Well, of course I said yes once she showed me what a nice moonshine type jug it was. I walked out with some treats for my family and some wines and my growler….happy me. I took a picture of the ladies that were so great with us and sent them a copy when I returned home. If you are in Gettysburg, be sure to stop in…you will love the products and atmosphere.
It was now time to return to the room and get ready for dinner. We, as I mentioned have a reservation at the Dobbin House Tavern and I can’t wait to see inside this beautiful building. Soon we are ready and we walk over to the restaurant.
Dobbin House is the oldest building in Gettysburg. Built by one of the founders of Gettysburg, Alexander Dobbin, in 1776 it is a magnificent building. Alexander purchased about 300 acres of land in 1774 around what is now Gettysburg, and on this land he built Dobbin House. He used the house as his home…he had 16 children and 9 step children (hence the big house, right?), and as a seminary, since he was a Presbyterian pastor. Mr. Dobbin resided here until his death in 1809. There eleven bedrooms in this house…plus…one small bedroom accessed only by a sliding cupboard…what a creative man Mr. Dobbin was. In some of the upstairs rooms, there are hiding spaces under the floors and in the walls that were used in the 1800’s as a stop on the Underground Railroad for escaping slaves. After the war, the home became a field hospital for both armies. The home now, appears entirely as it did when originally built, except of course for some modern kitchen amenities. There are seven original working fireplaces. The china and flatware used in the restaurant are exact replicas of those that were unearthed in the cellar pantry. The servers are all in period clothing that is remarkably exact from the 1800’s. The house is haunted, and it is wonderfully eerie inside. Many have seen Mr. Dobbin, smoking a cigar and walking the halls of his home, and there are also sightings of some of the slaves and infirmed soldiers. An odd occurrence is the reappearing blood stains on the floor, in the area that was once the operating room of the field hospital. Yikes. Upstairs, on the main floor, is the Spring House Tavern, which is named for the three springs that come into the house…it is a nice place to eat a meal or have a jug of beer. The dining room, where we ate, is in the cellar, and is delightfully quaint and cozy and so authentic in its decor. The food is hearty, delicious and oh my, that homemade bread. This is great place if you want to have a nice dining experience while in Gettysburg.
Directly beside the Dobbin House Tavern and used as a bed and breakfast is the Leister House. Built in 1861 by the widowed Lydia Leister, it was originally about half a mile south of Gettysburg. In 1863, Lydia’s house was surrounded by the Union army who had set up a fishhook formation in preparation for battle with the Confederate army…Lydia’s house sat right in the middle of this formation. General Meade decided to take over her home as his headquarters for this battle, and Lydia was forced out, along with her six children. When the war was over, Lydia moved back into the house, which she had to rebuild and she then added a two story addition to it. When Lydia reached the age of 79, she sold the farm to the Gettysburg Memorial Association (you can visit the site today at Little Round Top, on the battle fields of Gettysburg), and moved the original part of the home to the lot right beside the Dobbin home. Here she added a new two story addition to the home and she resided peacefully there until she died at the age of 84. This is now the Dobbin House Bed and Breakfast, and is right beside the Dobbin House Tavern.
With our bellies full, we head out towards the meeting point for our ghost tour….it was right beside the Dobbin House Tavern. We have booked with Sleepy Hollow Ghost Tours, and I would highly recommend them. It is now dark and the air is filled with the anticipation of who or what we will soon see. There are several other ghost hunters that join us, and we meet Steve, our knowledgeable and affable guide. Steve is great at sharing the history of the town and the battle that waged here and he knows a lot about the ghosts that are said to inhabit the areas we are walking in. The tour starts around 8:30 pm and is a two hour walking tour of the downtown, with some time spent in an eerie park under the trees, talking to a spirit…yes it really happened. We walk slowly listening to Steve and eventually end up in this park. It is here Steve tells us the story of William Pooler, an 18 year old boy who has been conscripted into the war from Virginia. William, as I recall only took one shot and then went to hide in the house right beside the park. It was here that he was killed by a sharp shooter, through the window of the second floor bedroom, facing the street…it was his first day of fighting….and sadly his last. At this point Steve asks if we would like to talk to William…Steve assures us that he talks to him and that William is very friendly and likes to answer questions about his life and the war. Steve then takes two dowsing rods out of his pocket and asks William to show us that he is with us and wants to talk. Ok…I am hugely freaked out and skeptical about this whole thing…until…the rods begin to move…really slowly but they move. Now if the rods open up wide, this indicates a yes and if they cross over each other, this indicates a no…the rods opened really wide…so, this apparently indicates that William is here and is open to speaking with us…great. Some people start asking questions to William, and he responds through the rods. Steve then asks one of us to hold the rods…I guess he senses my skepticism. I am volunteered by my travel partner to hold the rods and so I do. I have to admit that there was a certain humming sensation in my hands while I held them. Someone from the group asked a question…to be honest I waited for nothing to happen because I thought Steve had manipulated the rods…and then…without any interference from me…the rods moved and opened wide…a yes response to the question. I was shocked, thrilled, scared and you name it. This was actually real. Now I was hooked. I didn’t want to let go of those rods. So Steve let me hold them for the rest of our tour. The rods would spin quite often, apparently indicating the presence of a spirit. I am now really into this and so is the rest of our group.
Near the end of our tour, Steve tells us about an orphanage that used to be in the town. Let me share some of its history with you because it is important for the next ghost conversation I experience.
The orphanage had originally been opened by a very kind woman who had lost her husband in the war. She cared for and loved over 80 children until the day she remarried and moved out. A new woman came to run the orphanage….Rosa Carmichael. Now, Rosa despised children and was very cruel to these poor orphans…(maybe Rosa should have chosen a different career path). She would shackle them to the walls in the basement for days, or lock them in the outhouse in the dead of winter. She even built a pit in a deep alcove of the basement to lock the children in. Wow….what a piece of work she was. One night, in 1876, some men heard the pitiful cries of a young boy locked in the outhouse, and they reported this to the authorities. They came and freed the boy and saw the horror of what Rosa was doing to the orphans…they arrested her. She was held in jail with a bail set at $300.00, which she could not pay, so she stayed locked up…a little karma here for Rosa perhaps? She was charged and found to be guilty. She was eventually freed from jail for $20.00 plus court costs, purportedly because she was a female and needed to get back to taking “care” of the orphans. Rosa was soon arrested and charged again on another incident of cruelty to children and after she was released from jail the second time, she left town. There is no information to be found as to where she went or when she died.
Now, as Steve is telling us this story, about the horrid Rosa, we are cutting through an alley right beside the Adams County Court House and Jail….Rosa had been jailed and found guilty in this very building. At this point the air gets brutely cold…(remember this is summer)…and my dowsing rods are vibrating in my hands and spinning like crazy…Rosa has arrived and we have made Rosa mad. We all stand there in shock and likely some fear….and Steve yells, “Rosa, go away you cruel woman. Leave us alone and go away”. Okay, Steve…maybe you should have held onto the rods. The rods are spinning away, still really warm in my hands…and then…they just stop and the air is warm again. Cruel Rosa has gone. Wow…I am not making this up at all. I have a lot of ghost and spirit stories to share with you in future blogs, but this one I remember as my only experience with a truly angry, mean and vengeful spirit.
Well, after this experience, we all walk a little quicker to the end of the tour and say our goodbyes to Steve. I believe he was tipped really well by us all that night. I did return the dowsing rods to him…thought of buying my own…but was a little too shaken up still to be that brave.
We head to the room for a couple of stiff drinks on the balcony…I took quite a while to fall asleep…you can imagine why.
Tomorrow, we get up early to explore the battlefields. There is so much to see there we will take most of the morning. Then we will leave Gettysburg and head….well, I can’t tell you….you need to read the next blog. You won’t be disappointed.
Live Your Life…Jan
PS…I looooove writing these stories of my life for you to enjoy!