bardicvoice (bardicvoice) wrote,

2006: The Biker Babes At Liberty, Part One

 2006:  The Biker Babes At Liberty


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 Liberty!


Saturday, 19 August 2006:  Chantilly, VA


Mom and Terry arrived at my house from Milwaukee on Friday. Saturday was an unprogrammed day, except for Mass at 17:00. Terry hadn’t yet played with the onboard Global Positioning System (GPS) on the bike and wanted to test it in safe circumstances where we would know the territory and could overcome any issues, so I suggested a visit to historic Sully Plantation in Chantilly, VA, a house built in 1794 by Richard Bland Lee. Terry figured out the instructions for the GPS, programmed in the location, and we hit the road. The GPS performed well, even when we threw it a couple of curves by making wrong turns as we got used to the way it provided directions. It got us where we wanted to go, and that set the template for us using it throughout the rest of the trip.


When we got to Sully, we got a nice surprise:  Sully was hosting Civil War Days, with re-enactors in Union and Confederate camps and with special exhibits in the house of artifacts from the Civil War period that weren’t normally on display. It was fascinating! During the Civil War, Sully was owned by the Haight family, Quakers originally from New York who were ostracized as Unionists by their predominantly Confederate neighbors. The men of the family fled north at the beginning of the war, but the Haight women and children stayed. With women and children still in the house, the buildings survived, because the women cared for the wounded of both sides as the war swept across the land. The land changed hands often between the North and South.


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:  Reston, VA to Elizabeth, NJ


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 Newark Airport; not exactly the best neighborhood, but boasting the kind of winged scenery that I really don’t mind. Unfortunately, it turned out not to have a swimming pool, but the Doubletree next door – also part of the Hilton family of hotels – was grudgingly willing to let us swim there, since Terry is a Hilton Honors member. We had a pricey dinner at the indifferent restaurant in the Doubletree: bland baby back ribs with baked beans and coleslaw. Not a patch on Tumbleweed!


Monday, 21 August 2006:  Liberty Island


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 Liberty State Park in NJ, where we would catch the ferry over to Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty. The GPS took us most of the way without incident, until it told us to turn left by a shipping transport terminal when we could see flags in the distance directly ahead of us. We followed our eyes into the park and found the terminal. The fellow manning the parking lot gate had us park right next to his kiosk in what was marked as a handicapped spot, but would be visible to him in the kiosk. He was really into us!


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 New York skyline, so I absolutely couldn’t resist shutter clicking. The ferry from the NJ side stops first at Ellis Island, and then goes on to Liberty Island, while the ferry from New York runs the opposite way.


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 Edison invented the incandescent light bulb. The original copper torch had pieces cut out of it to allow lights to be inserted, and stained glass panels were inserted, but rain came through the holes and ran down inside the statue, rusting the steel framework. By the time of the 1980’s restoration, the interior structural damage was so bad that replacing the torch entirely with a once-again fully enclosed flame was the only option. The new torch was built by French artisans from the original blueprints.


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 Fort Wood, the 18th Century harbor fort that was selected as the site for the Statue. I took advantage of the vantage to take yet more pictures of the lady and the harbor.


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 America, including corncobs, tobacco leaves, and arrowheads. Liberty herself is dressed in classical Greco-Roman style, in a toga with a stola draped over her shoulder. The tablet in her left hand – which serves very practically as the counterweight for that torch, and her left hand and arm are actually bigger than her right, to help with the stability of the whole – is inscribed with the date of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, a tribute to the rule of law. Liberty, in taking her one step forward, has broken her shackles, which lie in pieces at her feet. Since you can no longer go up into the Statue to view the sculpture from above, her broken shackles are now visible only to people in aircraft.


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 Liberty State Park in NJ, our ferry departure point. The resulting explosion was colossal and actually damaged the Statue with its shockwave, shifting the torch arm slightly at the shoulder. The reason that the crown was closed on 9/11 and will remain shut is that the narrow spiral staircases make it impossible to evacuate the Statue quickly if there was ever an incident or threat, so that makes twice that acts of terrorism have affected public access to the Statue.


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:  Ellis Island


We headed back to Liberty State Park to catch the ferry again, this time to Ellis Island. Terry wore black socks in anticipation of the security screening!


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.


Ellis Island was excellent! We had purchased the audio tour, and this one was more than worth the money – way better than the one on Liberty Island. You get a headset connected to a little hand control, and you enter the appropriate number into the handset to hear the recording for each room or area. It’s the same system that the Biltmore Estate uses down in Asheville, NC, and it works really well. The audio tour walks you all the way through the museum in the main building, and it is chock-full of information.


The Ellis Island facility was closed in 1954 and was abandoned for 40 years. The restoration of the derelict buildings is nothing short of spectacular, and it’s still going on; there will be more to see in years to come.


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 Black Tom Wharf was so massive that the shock was felt 90 miles away in Philadelphia. On Ellis Island, the shockwave broke virtually all the windows, and caused the original plaster vaulted ceiling to collapse. No one was killed, but the damage was extensive.


The sheer mass of humanity that passed through Ellis Island boggles the imagination. The staff processed over 3,000 people per day. From 1890, when Ellis Island was designated a point of entry, through 1924, when immigration laws changed to require the screening of prospective immigrants at their embarkation points, over 12 million immigrants came through Ellis. From 1925 until its closure in 1954, Ellis still served as a quarantine and detention facility for inbound immigrants suspected of illness or evil intent.


Something I never knew was the Ellis Island itself was actually enlarged three times by landfill techniques. The original Oyster Island was first fortified as a harbor fort, and was expanded to hold the initial processing facility. Then they built an entire second island to hold hospital facilities. Years later, they built a third island to hold a quarantine facility for contagious diseases. Finally, they filled in the space between the second and third islands and created a grassy mall.


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 New Ferry Building, the low building that connects the first and second islands. I’ll be curious to see how the full restoration progresses, and what the buildings will ultimately be used for. Part of the grassy mall boasts an obstacle course used to train guard dogs.


While public access to Ellis Island is limited to the ferry, we did see a bridge connecting Ellis to the New Jersey shore along the Liberty State Park coastline. Presumably staff can park their cars on the mainland and use the bridge. Access to Liberty Island and the Statue is by boat only, for all purposes.


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 Liberty Island cancellation stamp. We had been disappointed by the paucity of postcards in the Ellis Island gift shop, and we were similarly dismayed by the meager choices at Liberty Island. Each place limited its collection to the subject of the Island – so, no Ellis cards at Liberty, and vice versa – and each had only four to six designs each, of which only a couple were attractive. Still, we spent a pleasant hour at a wrought iron table under the trees on Liberty writing out our cards, and we mailed them before catching the ferry back to Liberty State Park.


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

Tags: harley, motorcycle diaries, real life, travelogue

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