Friday, November 28, 2014

Fort McHenry, Maryland

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is the fort immortalized in a poem first titled "Defense of Fort McHenry." The poet wasn't actually in the fort when it was attacked. He had gone to negotiate a prisoner release and was detained by the British because he became aware of their plan to attack Baltimore (the Redcoats weren't going to let him warn the defenders!). He watched British warships bombard the fort the night of September 13th. In the morning he was overjoyed to see the American flag still flying over the fort. That poet was Francis Scott Key and his poem was published a few days later (of course the British released him and the POW after the battle was over). Later the poem was put to music and renamed The Star-Spangled Banner.

A replica flag over the fort's entrance

The fort was run by the US Army for over 100 years though it was never attacked after the 1814 battle. During the American Civil War the fort was a prison for Confederate soldiers and sympathizers. During World War I and for years after, it was a hospital for returning soldiers. In 1925 it became a national park and in 1939 it was designated a historic shrine, the only park in the country to have the double distinction as a park and a shrine.

The modern visitor's center is down the hill from the fort and is rather undistinguished looking. It has a gift shop, some displays, and a video describing the Battle of Baltimore. At the end of the video, the screen rises and reveals the fort itself, a nice dramatic flourish at the end of the presentation.

Visitor's center

View of the fort from the visitor's center

The fort sits on high ground right by the entrance to Baltimore harbor, so it is a natural defense point. The fort is shielded by several berms which still have cannon lined up and pointing towards the water.

Scouts admiring the cannon

How they repositioned the cannon

Jacob ready to fire!

View with the harbor entrance on the left

More guns

Cannon with the fort in the background

The grassy knolls are not for climbing, partly because the have supply rooms underneath. Extra ammunition and gunpowder were stored in ready reach of the cannons.

Magazine entrance

By the entrance to the fort is a larger magazine called Ravelin Magazine. Each magazine has entrances with angled stairs so that enemy fire could not ignite the munitions stored inside.

Ravelin Magazine

Inside the Ravelin Magazine

Just behind the Ravelin is the entrance to the fort. The entrance has a side passage leading down into a bombproof, an area to shelter from attacks.

Fort entrance

The bombproof

Inside the fort are a series of low, two-story buildings where the soldiers were stationed. A brick barn-like building is another magazine in case the outer defenses were penetrated.

Building, flagpole, and entrance

Buildings seen from the entrance

Magazine and a third building

Inside the magazine

The buildings have many exhibits on life at the fort, including some prison cells and some bunks for the soldiers.

Bunks for the enlisted men

Since we came with Jacob's Cub Scout den, we had a special presentation on life at the fort, including a review of what the typical soldier had in his pack. The ranger said one item was contraband--a game of checkers! The game was forbidden because soldiers on duty could be distracted and often they'd quarrel if one player was a sore loser. We also saw samples of uniforms for sailors, soldiers, and musicians. The musicians were the public address system for the fort, letting everyone know when it was time to get up, to eat, to change shifts, etc.

The fort also has some spare cannons lying around which the scouts somehow didn't notice. They spent a good deal of their free time playing tag on the parade ground or checking out the bigger cannons.

Spare cannons

Jacob checks out a barrel

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Oxford Food

As I publish this post, the day is Thanksgiving 2014, so what better day to write about food?

We had some very eclectic food experiences in Oxford when we visited in 2012. We found an alleyway with plenty of restaurants. Pizza is always a popular choice with our children, though we didn't try the pizza truck.

Outdoors is too cold for eating!

Pizza truck

Dessert is always a popular item. In a university town, what is more whimsical than a milkshake shop called Shakespeare's?

What's with that last line?

Cafe Loco on Rose Place is famous for its chocolate; George and Danver on Pembroke Street for their ice cream.

Cafe Loco

George & Danver & Cone

Chief Inspector Morse (from the books and telly) is from Oxford and has a favorite pub, the Turf Tavern on St. Helens Passage. We followed some signs and saw his pub.

The sign says it's famous!

Turf Tavern

Cool spiral staircase by the tavern

The other famous Oxford pub is the Eagle and Child where the Inklings met. We were in the neighborhood on a Sunday morning and it wasn't open, alas!

Eagle and Child pub

We found a fish shop but didn't shop there because of the shark overhead, which was nothing compared to the shark in the roof near our B&B.

Posh Fish! with scary shark

Who gets that bedroom?

Detail of the Headington Shark

The shark was put on the roof on August 9, 1986, as a protest against nuclear armament. The local council was generally unhappy with it (first they claimed it was unsafe, then that they hadn't given permission for the display) and offered to move it to a nearby swimming pool (somehow they thought that would be less scary). The locals protested and the shark won.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: Bone Vol. 9 Crown of Horns by Jeff Smith

Bone Volume 9 Crown of Horns by Jeff Smith

The big finale is a quick-moving romp. Gran'ma Ben leads the defenders of Atheia as her sister leads the assault. Fone Bone and Thorn set out to find the Crown of Horns, hoping she can use it to end the conflict. Phoney Bone figures the only place to hide such a valuable object is the heavily guarded ancient dragon burial ground. Dragons have killed whoever has disturbed their final resting place. He does not go with them. He wants to recover the town's treasure, which he figures is hidden in the well, the heavily guarded source of water for the besieged town. At least it was heavily guarded before the assault started. And the dragons have left the valley, so maybe that is easy to reach too?

The end of the war is a little predictable but nonetheless entertaining. Jokes are still around but not as frequent as in earlier issues. More of the history of Bone's world is revealed and a satisfying ending rounds out a great comic book series. Highly recommended!

Sample Text--Smiley Bone tortures some captive rat creatures with quiche!

Click to enlarge

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Review: Ghosts of St. Augustine by Dave Lapham

Ghosts of St. Augustine by Dave Lapham

St. Augustine in Florida claims to be America's oldest city. It was founded by the Spanish, taken over by the British, returned to the Spanish, and eventually became part of the United States of America. With such a long history, it is easy to see how many stories and legends have grown up around the city. The author, Dave Lapham, is interested in ghosts but is not a professional ghost hunter or psychic. When he decided to write the book, he collected stories from many people, some first hand accounts of experiences with the supernatural. Some of the specters are recently deceased, others date back to the British or Spanish periods. Lapham believes in the stories but doesn't feel the need to persuade the reader. Rather, he tells each in an entertaining way. One of the stories is even told (quite effectively) from the ghost's point of view. The creativity is refreshing and makes the book very entertaining if light reading.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The Ashmolean Museum is the oldest public museum in England, opening its doors in 1683. It has a wide variety of exhibits which was good for the attention spans of our children. Even so, we did not spend a lot of time there. Happily, entrance is free so we didn't feel pressured into seeing everything to the detriment of everyone's happiness.

Ashmolean Museum entrance

The museum has a lot of classical sculptures from Greece, Rome, and Egypt. Other countries are also represented.


A variety of statues

Venus with a restored head

Lucy and Jacob admire a sphinx

Jacob is not sure about this one

Swedish runes

The museum has an extensive collection of paintings. If you've been reading this blog for long, you know I tend toward the medieval stuff, so here is a sampling.

Annunciation, attributed to Paolo di Dono (circa 1400)

Triptych by Fra Angelico and Studio (circa 1420s)

Meeting at the Golden Gate by Fra Filippo Lippi (1440s)

Meeting at the Golden Gate shows Joachim and Anna (parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary) meeting in Jerusalem.

St. Michael Subduing Satan and Weighing the Souls of the Dead, attributed to Lelio Orsi (1540s)

Truth Presenting a Mirror to the Vanities of the World, artist unknown (1620s)

Paintings and porcelain

A large collection of musical instruments are on display, including a Stradivarius.

Violin family

More exotic stringed instruments