Our trip this August took us from the Civil War in Virginia up to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; then across the southern part of New York to play at the glass museum in Corning; up to the Buffalo area to see the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda and to be awed by Niagara Falls; and then down into scenic Pennsylvania to see Amish country, visiting Hershey and Strasburg. We really enjoyed our liberty, visiting
Saturday, 19 August 2006:
Mom and Terry arrived at my house from
When we got to Sully, we got a nice surprise: Sully was hosting Civil War Days, with re-enactors in
We saw a skirmish between infantry units (we were accidentally on the battlefield for part of that, because we followed other people looking for a vantage point, and nothing was roped off – we were told very politely by a Union officer on horseback that we should move because we were on the field, and the cannon were pointing our way!), a demonstration of artillery supporting the Confederate infantry – two really loud cannon! – and most fascinating of all, a demonstration of cavalry training with troopers “running at the heads.” Two sets of poles were on the field, one topped by balloons (okay, not the traditional targets!) and the other by padded, head-sized bolsters. A trooper would ride at speed down one side of the field discharging his (or her; we had a woman in the group) pistol at the balloon targets, then holster the pistol and draw saber to ride back up, slashing at the “heads.” That was neat to watch! We learned that, in order to be able to fire “blanks” from their notoriously sloppy black powder percussion revolvers, the re-enactors pack the revolver’s chambers with cream of wheat, because it won’t flame or spark in the adjoining chambers when the tiny cap of fulminate of mercury in the firing chamber is triggered. Egad! We were watching cereal killers!
We also saw a little demonstration of how they trained horses to put up with this kind of strangeness. To keep an inexperienced horse running in a straight line down the course while guns went off and riders swung at targets, a second rider on an experienced horse would run the course beside the greenhorn, both to prevent the first horse from breaking away from the target run and to give the new animal the calm example of a herdmate being unfazed by the loud noises. Horses being herd animals, a young horse finding that another animal wasn’t bothered by weirdness would learn to accept it.
I also learned something I hadn’t known before. I’d known for a long time about Minie bullets being common ammunition in the Civil War, and that they were the first cylindrical rather than round ball bullets, but I hadn’t known why. Turns out that the Frenchman Minie invented them to take advantage of the increased accuracy that a rifled barrel imparted to the musket ball by making it spin, while also increasing the speed of loading and firing over what had been achieved before with rifles. At the time, musket balls were basically the same size as the gun barrels, so they had to be rammed down the barrels. If the barrel was rifled, having spiraling ridges on the inside of the barrel to impart spin and stability to the bullet being fired, it was even harder to force the ball down into the barrel, making a rifle a slow weapon best suited only to a sniper, not a common infantryman. A Minie bullet was a smaller diameter than the gun barrel, but the bottom end of the cylinder had a small depression scooped out of it. When the percussion cap triggered the powder charge in the gun beneath the bullet, the explosion expanded into the little hollow at the base of the bullet and forced its edges out wider. This made the base of the bullet actually expand to fill the rifle barrel, so it would be shaped by the rifled ridges and take on a spin as it left the barrel, making it more accurate. Now I understand!
Church had its own unusual little wrinkle: the Mass incorporated a baptism. That made for a neat service, and the singer had a gorgeous voice.
I had a late night doing laundry, so that we would all start with clean clothes. Good thing we weren’t leaving early, since I didn’t finish until 23:30!
Sunday, 20 August 2006:
We left my house around 9:30 for an uneventful roughly 4.5 hour ride north. We had lovely sunny weather and good roads, making for a very pleasant run. The neatest part to me was being able to use my little SmartTag/EZ-Pass device to pay every single toll along the way, just holding it up at about the same angle it would have been in a car as we approached toll gates. The transponder read the signal from my little white box and flashed the “toll paid” sign; we never even had to stop. Pretty cool! Now all I have to do is figure out a way to secure the little flat box to my glove so I don’t need to hang onto it all the time …
The GPS worked very nicely to bring us to our hotel, at least when we gave it sufficient direction! It really likes having specific addresses, because if you only give it a street name, it figures you’ve reached your goal as soon as you reach the street. That’s not entirely helpful when the addresses on the street don’t run in a logical numerical sequence to let you figure out whether or not you’re going in the right direction to reach your destination … Still, we got there.
Our Hampton Inn was across the street from
Monday, 21 August 2006:
Not knowing the roads and being concerned about rush hour New-York-bound traffic, we pulled out before 7:00 this morning to go to
We followed the path to the ferry terminal, which is housed in an historic railroad terminal. The building is impressive, and the internal tile and exposed metal gridwork supporting the roof vault reminded us of the old natatoria, especially since the ground floor was open all the way to the roof, while there were two balcony floors above that ran all around the open rectangular interior.
Jose, the fellow at the information desk setting thins up in preparation for the terminal opening at 8:00, turned out to be a biker and a family man. He and Terry had a fine old time talking sidecars and the age at which a kid could ride. When Terry told him about the onboard GPS and its final faulty directions, he showed us on a map the way that the GPS was trying to bring us in. He said that all the mapping services use a different road along the edge of the park, rather than the scenic drive through the park, so it seems that the GPS wasn’t wrong in how it tried to send us, even though it didn’t look right.
We went through security before boarding the ferry, just as if we were going to fly. Given their metal shanks, Terry and I both wound up having to take our biker boots off, and I was better off in that than Terry: my socks were black, so walking around on the floor in my stockinged feet didn’t leave nearly as much evidence behind as on Terry’s white socks!
The ferry ride on the Circle Line ferry Miss New Jersey was a very pretty one, and I went a little crazy with the camera. The sky was absolutely clear, without any of the pollution haze that normally hangs over the
We had tickets for the first timeslot for touring the Statue of Liberty, so we stayed on the ferry until its second stop. And if we thought going through security at the ferry terminal was fun, you should see security at the Statue! Your stuff gets x-rayed while you walk first into a GE puffer/sniffer detector – a machine that puffs jets of air at you and sniffs for traces of any forbidden or hazardous chemicals – and then you walk through the classic magnetometer. We took off our boots again – Terry’s poor white socks were taking a beating! We’re wondering now when those puffer/sniffers are going to start showing up at airports …
Inside the pedestal under the Statue, we were met by a funny and personable (and very cute) Park Ranger named Steve, who gave us the tour of the museum in the pedestal. In the antechamber stands the original torch from the Statue, which was replaced in the 1980’s renovation. The original torch had been modified to contain electric lights just seven years after
Electrifying the torch had caused another unanticipated problem. The Statue stands in a migratory bird pattern, and when the light went on, birds flew into it in the thousands. In one day, the staff picked up over 1,300 bird carcasses! It took many years before the birds began to adjust and the deaths started to drop off.
The new torch is gilded, and light reflecting off the gilding makes it brighter now that it ever was with electricity. The original designer of the Statue, Auguste Bertholdi, had opposed the initial electrification of the torch as an abomination, and told people at the time that if they wanted it to shine, they should just gild it – so 100 years later, we finally did.
The museum has many neat exhibits illustrating how the statue was built and includes a copy of the lady’s face and one of her feet, graphically demonstrating the size of the whole. Her left forefinger is eight feet long! There’s also a cutaway model that displays the internal structure throughout the Statue.
From the museum, we took the elevator up to the observation deck at the top of the base of the pedestal holding the statue, which is as high up as anyone can go any more, since the crown was shut down on 9/11/01. From inside the top of the pedestal, you can look up through large glass panels in the ceiling to see the innards of the Statue, including all the inner supporting structure and the two spiraling helix staircases that people used to climb. Then you can walk out onto the observation deck and get a 360◦ view of the harbor. With the perfection of the day, I kept going nuts with the camera. Then came the part they didn’t tell you about when describing the tour: while you take the elevator up into the pedestal, you’re expected to walk the 10 stories down on the interior staircases! We didn’t have any trouble, although the lighting was a little dim, so we stopped on the occasional landings to let faster groups pass us by. We definitely got our steps in for the day …
At the base of the pedestal, you have the opportunity to go all the way around the Statue again, this time by walking the circumference of star-shaped
We learned a lot from Ranger Steve about the symbolism in the Statue, as well as about how it was affected by historical events. The torch holder incorporates things intrinsically associated with
People were once able to climb up all the way into the torch, although the last 42 feet were a narrow ladder that was always dangerous to climb. The torch was closed to the public in 1916 because of an act of German terrorism – called sabotage in those days – when the German government hired recent immigrants to blow up a munitions factory and shipping wharf that stood in what is now
We ate tasty but overpriced pastrami sandwiches on the island, and then took the audio tour around the base of the Statue. That one was pretty disappointing; although it added a little more information, the Rangers do a much better job. Save your money on that one.
We took the ferry back, and scrounged a couple of photos of the bike with the Statue of Liberty in the background. Then we went back to the hotel and went swimming, and caught the hotel shuttle to a local Portuguese restaurant. The food was good, but came in massive quantities: the three of us could probably have split a single entrée and been happy. We took the leftovers back to our hotel room fridge and microwave for dinner the next night.
Tuesday, 22 August 2006:
We headed back to
We had another gorgeous day with temps in the low 80’s and very low humidity. There was a bit of haze and cloud cover, though, so I was glad I’d gone overboard with the camera on Monday.
The receiving room on the second floor, where immigrants first assembled, is huge, with a gleaming red tile floor and a cream tile vaulted ceiling. We learned that the tile ceiling was a late addition to the structure, which came about because of the same German terrorist/sabotage attack that we’d learned about at the Statue. The 1916 explosion of the munitions factory at
The sheer mass of humanity that passed through
Something I never knew was the
So far, only the main building has been fully renovated. The hospital and quarantine buildings, which are extensive, have been stabilized and major structural repairs have been done where essential, but they can now hold in their current sealed state for another 15 years or so. Workers are currently stabilizing the
While public access to Ellis Island is limited to the ferry, we did see a bridge connecting Ellis to the
After our tour, and eating lunch on the premises, we went into the theatre and saw the 45-minute video on Ellis, which was very well done. Then Terry treated us to fudge (yummy!), which we ate out in the sunshine on the patio dining area in order to warm up after the chillingly air-conditioned theatre.
We caught the ferry over to Liberty Island in order to buy, write, and mail our postcards with the special
When we arrived back at the parked motorcycle, Terry and I had the same thought: there was a better vantage at the end of the parking lot for getting a shot of the bike with the Statue of Liberty in the background right there than we had found at the spot where we stopped for pictures yesterday! Terry drove the bike down to the end of the lot, she and Mom posed while I snapped pics, and then I got in with Mom and gave the camera to Terry. Voila! Proof that we were there!
We came back to our hotel to relax and cool down. We rented a movie – Antonio Banderas in the little high school dance movie Take The Lead – and really enjoyed it. Then it was time to reheat our leftovers from Valença’s for dinner. Terry realized that she had three microwave-safe dishes handy, because she had packed ice in three of the Ziplok round containers to keep essentials (like our chocolate Tads!) from melting. So, we had containers for reheating, and fetched plates, utensils, napkins, and apples for dessert from the hotel’s breakfast area. Worked like a charm!
Read Part Two