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Circus Trip 2018: Flight 93 National Memorial

Day 38, Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stoystown, Pennsylvania

I was in graduate school when the planes hit the Twin Towers.  I was still asleep, as I didn’t have class until afternoon, and got a phone call letting me know I should turn on the TV.  Seeing that second plane crash on live TV was something I’m sure none of us who saw it will ever forget. Then seeing that another plane hit the Pentagon, and finally a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

 

Seeing the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania was a powerful and emotional experience.  The Visitor’s Center is perched on top of a hill overlooking the crash site; a new, modern building with exhibits that really hit home.  You know it is going to be emotional when you see that they have boxes of Kleenex parked all over the place – take some; you will need them.

You see, the thing about Flight 93 is that it was the last plane to crash that morning.  By then, the passengers and crew knew what had happened to those three other planes.  They knew they were going to die, so they made the heroic decision to fight against their hijackers.  By fighting back, they could at least prevent them from crashing that plane into another occupied building – it wasn’t until later that authorities learned that the likely target was the U.S. Capitol.

The Visitor’s Center has news footage playing of that morning.  You learn that the flights weren’t chosen at random. The hijackers chose long haul flights (more jet fuel to explode) with few passengers (fewer people to interfere with their plans).  The exhibits also include recordings of some of the last phone calls that the passengers made to their loved ones.  You can hear the fear, and the emotion of those goodbyes.  If you are anything like me, you will bawl your eyes out…

One of the exhibits is a note on Best Western Hotel stationary.  It reads, “I was in DC, across from the White House, on the top floor of the tallest building nearby.  The way I figure it, you all gave your life for me.  I won’t waste it.  I promise.  -CH”

You can drive or walk down to the site – I chose to drive since it was getting to be late in the afternoon, and there were only a couple other people there.  I walked out along the path, watching a large, sandstone boulder that has been placed at the impact site and the final resting place of the passengers and crew.  Rays of sun shone down on that stone that afternoon like a message from God.

There were 40 passengers and crew on board that day, along with the 4 hijackers.  The names of those 40 people who lost their lives that day are engraved on a white marble wall; the wall lines up with the final flight path of the plane.  It is a somber tribute to these souls; simple and beautiful.

It may be easier to not confront the pain that this place represents for so many people.  However, it is important to experience, and to never forget.

 

 

 

2018 Circus Trip: Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Day 38, Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Johnstown, Pennsylvania

The previous evening, I crossed into Pennsylvania (sorry I wasn’t able to get a pic with a sign!), and discovered that Pennsylvania really LOVES its toll roads.  In the span of about 30 miles, I racked up $17 in tolls!  Ugh!  I was excited to start exploring a new state though!

I first learned about the Johnstown Flood when I read a book about the event by David McCullough about a dozen years ago.  I have always thought that this tragedy could have been avoided, and find the story pretty interesting, so I wanted to see the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

In 1889, the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was a thriving community built on the banks of the Conemaugh River, just past where the Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh Rivers joined together.  The Cambria Iron Works was a bustling iron and steel mill supporting a town of about 30,000 people.  Above the city was the South Fork Dam, an earthen dam originally built by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania between 1838 and 1853 as a part of a cross-state canal system.  Once the railroads took over, Pennsylvania sold off the canal and dam to the railroad, who in turn, sold the dam and its lake to a private interest.

That private interest was the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a membership club for the wealthy elite of nearby Pittsburgh.  The hunt club was built near Johnstown, and members and their families could enjoy a country respite from the dirty, crowded city.  Unfortunately, over several years before the flood, a series of alterations were made to the dam which affected its structural integrity, regular maintenance was lacking, and leaks that sprang up were repaired haphazardly.

Which leads us to May 31, 1889.  During the three days leading up to this fateful Friday, there was rain.  In fact, so much rain that they estimated between 6 and 10 inches fell in the 24 hours before the dam breached.  Colonel Elias Unger, who managed the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, lived above the dam, and recognized that it was in bad shape that morning.  He called in engineers and laborers who tried desperately to clean out the spillway, which had been clogged by debris.  They also tried to dig a new spillway to release water, but stopped when they became convinced that it would just cause the entire dam to give way.  Unger also sent a man to the telegraph station to warn communities down below of the danger, but it is unclear whether the message was received in Johnstown.  Oops.

When the dam finally breached at about 2:50 pm, more than 3.8 billion gallons of water released in a torrent downstream.  It hit several communities along its path, which suffered more or less depending on whether they had enough advance notice to get to higher ground.  One community was wiped away completely; the land where the town had been located was scoured down to bedrock.  Johnstown, about 14 miles from the dam, was hit about an hour after the dam breached, and by that time the river was carrying a huge amount of deadly debris along with it, including trees, logs, houses, locomotives, barbed wire, animals, and human victims.

The horror was unimaginable and people died from drowning, being bludgeoned to death by debris, and even being burned, as a large pile of debris got trapped by a bridge over the river and caught on fire.  Bodies were found as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio, 357 miles away by today’s roads, and as late as 1911.  When it was over, 2209 people had died, including entire families; at the time it was the largest civilian loss of life in U.S. history.

The Johnstown Flood National Memorial preserves the site of what remains of the dam and gives visitors a view of the narrow valley where the waters raged, and have continued to flood the towns below periodically (most recently in 1977).  The Visitor’s Center has exhibits on the flood, photos and artifacts that were collected from the flood waters, stories of the people who died and those who survived.  There is also a very powerful (and not suitable for young children) movie on the event; it evokes the fear that you would have felt as that wall of water crashed into town.

The Johnstown Flood National Memorial was authorized by Congress on August 31, 1964 and annual visitation of the National Memorial is approximately 112,000.

It was very interesting to see the artifacts and the movie; they also have a list of nearby sites that also relate to the flood, including the Grandview Cemetery (where most of the victims are buried) and the historic structures of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.  I’ll blog about those next!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: McKinley Memorial

Day 37, Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Canton, Ohio

I heard somewhere that this is the largest Presidential tomb in the United States.  I tried to corroborate this with information online, but I came up empty, but having seen it, it seems plausible.  That said, I wasn’t really expecting that, since President William McKinley isn’t exactly the most famous or revered of our Presidents.

The memorial

McKinley lived in Canton, Ohio for the majority of his adult life. He served in the Civil War and participated in several battles an officer in a regiment of the Ohio volunteers; he was the last Civil War veteran president. After the war, he became a lawyer and had a robust civil and political career before being elected President in 1896.

On September 6, 1901, an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He died eight days later after developing gangrene. His body was returned to Washington, D.C. to lie in state at the United States Capitol, and then he came home to be interred in Canton.

McKinley’s friends planned a memorial for McKinley and raised over $600,000 to build it in Canton’s Westlawn Cemetery.  Construction started in 1905 and was completed in 1907, the same year that Ida McKinley died.  McKinley, Ida, and their two daughters who died in early childhood were all interred in the memorial building.

And what a memorial it is!  It stands on a grass-covered hill overlooking the city of Canton, and is immense!  It was designed by architect H. Van Buren Magonigle (that’s a name you really have to grow into!) and is a huge domed pink granite building that is 96 feet tall and 79 feet in diameter. To get to the building, you must first climb up 108 stone steps that lead up to the mausoleum.  When I visited, there were quite a few joggers getting their workout in on these imposing steps.  There used to be a long reflecting pool in front of the memorial and steps, but it was replaced in  1951 by a depressed lawn.  About halfway up the steps is a bronze statue of President McKinley delivering his last speech in Buffalo, by artist Charles Henry Niehaus.

You can go inside the mausoleum and see the tomb where the McKinley family is interred, but it was already closed for the day when I visited.  It would have been neat to see!  Instead I took pictures outside, where my hair really shows how windy it was at the top of the hill that day!  The memorial is managed by the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum – one day I’ll visit there too!

 

Circus Trip 2018: First Ladies NHS

Day 37, Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Canton, Ohio

After I left Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I went down to Canton, Ohio and spent a little bit of time there.

Canton is where the family home of Ida Saxton McKinley is located, the wife of President William McKinley.  The home is beautiful!  It was built in 1841 by Ida’s grandfather and modified in 1865; and remained in the family until 1919.  Although Ida and William McKinley didn’t own the home themselves, as her father purchased a home for them a few blocks south, the President and his wife spent a considerable amount of time living here with Ida’s sister and her family, 13 years in total.

This historic site is unique, because although the home is tied to a US President, it focuses on the story of Ida McKinley, his wife.  She was born in 1847; the daughter of a wealthy banker, and enjoyed a privileged upbringing.  She and William McKinley were married in 1871, and had two daughters together; sadly, both died in early childhood.  Ida was grief-stricken over the loss of her daughters and the death of her mother, which had occurred two weeks before the birth of her first daughter.  She believed that the deaths were God’s punishment of her, and developed epilepsy, which severely hindered her ability to participate in society.  Despite her health issues, McKinley was devoted to her and made accommodations for her seizures and ailments in his schedule and public appearances.

 

 

Of course, you probably know that during a Presidential trip to Buffalo, New York, President McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901 by anarchist Leon Czolgosz; he died of his wounds on September 14, after gangrene set in. Ida had accompanied her husband on the trip, but was not present at the shooting.  She held up well while McKinley fought to survive, but her health suffered even more afterwards.  She went back to the home in Canton where her sister Mary Barber and Mary’s family lived, and her sister cared for her until Ida’s death in 1907.  During that period, Ida largely spent her time in a rocking chair, crocheting slippers to give to her friends as gifts.  President McKinley, Ida and their two daughters are now interred in McKinley’s memorial monument in a nearby cemetery – an upcoming post!

 

 

The First Ladies National Historic Site is operated as a partnership between the National First Ladies Library, and the National Park Service.  There is a small visitor’s center in a nearby historic bank building and the home, which is open to the public on a tour.  The historic site has a movie about Ida Saxton McKinley and the role of First Ladies in general.  There was also an interesting exhibit on First Lady fashion, with featured dresses of several different first ladies in history.  It was interesting to see a perspective dedicated to the women who supported their husbands in their First Lady roles, as well as the women who took on their role for other family members, as not all First Ladies were spouses.

What a unique historic site!  I hope we will have a woman as President too, so we can see our first First Man!

 

Circus Trip 2018: The Sights of Cuyahoga Valley

Day 36, Monday, August 20, 2018

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Monday was my second day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and I intended to make the most of my day!  I hadn’t slept well the night before though, so it took a bit to get going.

Me feeling pensive at the Streetsboro KOA

I started with a short walk to the Everett Covered Bridge, the last remaining covered bridge in Summit County, Ohio.  There used to be over 2,000 covered bridges in the county!  Sadly, though, this one is a reconstruction.  The original Everett Covered Bridge went over Furnace Run, and was based on an 1869 Smith Truss design, but the date of construction is unknown.  In the flood of 1913, the bridge was damaged, but repaired.  In 1975, a spring storm destroyed the original bridge for good.  A local fundraising campaign earned enough money to rebuild the bridge, and this historically accurate reconstruction was completed in 1986.

After checking out the bridge, I found a spot next to Furnace Run to relax for a little bit and watched some trail riders take their horses in the shallow water.  It was so peaceful!

Trail riders at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Next up was a 3/4 mile (each way) walk to the Hale Farm, where the first buildings were constructed about 1825.  This living history farm is privately owned, and closed on Mondays, so I didn’t get to see it except from the fence line, but it was still a nice walk and cool to check out.  We don’t have anything that old at home in the Pacific Northwest!

I went over to Beaver Marsh to try my hand at wildlife spotting.  Jackpot!  The marsh has a wooden boardwalk going over it, so you can walk out over the water.  It was amazing!  I saw snapping turtles, painted turtles, wood ducks, song birds, a Great Blue Heron and lots of fish in the water.  I spent quite a bit of time in one spot, watching what I thought was a snapping turtle but wasn’t positive.  I wanted to wait to see if he would move – and he finally did!

It was a nice relaxing day, and I enjoyed seeing more of the park, and doing the series of shorter walks.  Even though I spent two days there, I still feel like there is way more to see there; I will certainly have to come back!

That evening I went to the grocery store to replenish my food, and spent another night at the Streetsboro KOA.  It rained hard that night!

Circus Trip 2018: Brandywine Falls

Day 35, Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

My first day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park I did some exploring.  I didn’t know much about Cuyahoga Valley before I went, so I was curious to see what it was all about.  I entered through a side road towards the middle of the park, although I didn’t know that at the time!  Later I learned that Cuyahoga Valley National Park is kind of a long, skinny park going through the valley, with some fingers of land going off to the sides at some points, and a main road traveling through it.

I stopped to check out the Happy Days Camp near The Ledges section of the park, which was built by the CCC during the Great Depression as a youth camp.  These days the building is used as an events center, but it was quiet the day that I was there.  Nearby there is also a community cemetery, which like many old cemeteries, has seen better days.  It was still cool to see it and wander among the old graves; the trail to get to the area from the parking lot even took me under the street through a culvert!

Next I checked out the Boston Store Visitor’s Center and got my passport stamp and some postcards.  I also got some information on hikes – the ranger explained that many of the waterfall hikes would be a bit disappointing in the height of summer, as many of the waterfalls dry up.  I decided to hike to Brandywine Falls, a 65 foot waterfall; the tallest waterfall in the park.  I left my car at the Boston Store Visitor’s Center, and headed down the Towpath Trail.

The Towpath Trail follows the old Ohio and Erie canal, which was built in the 1820s to provide an easier route to move goods to and from the Great Lakes.  I walked along the Towpath Trail for about a mile (best guess), and looked at the canal walls and the remains of the locks that evened out the water levels along the canal.  How cool!  It was a sunny, hot day, and there were a lot of runners and bikers on the trail, but not many walkers like me.  I turned off at the Stanford House, a historic home that was built in 1843 along the canal.  James Stanford originally settled the property in 1806, after coming to the area as a part of a survey group.  When he died in 1827, he willed his property to his oldest son George, who built the home and a number of outbuildings, including the barn which also still stands today.

After passing the home down a few generations of Stanfords and then their neighbors, the home was purchased by the National Park Service in 1978, who operated it as a hostel for several years before converting it to a community meeting space with overnight accommodations.  It is such a pretty property, and the trail to get to Brandywine Falls passes through it. You pass through a meadow, and walk through a forest with bedrock outcroppings, and cross over a little stream a few times on the way to the falls.  There were other people, but it wasn’t too busy except at the falls itself!

There are a number of good views of the falls from a boardwalk that is built into the bedrock, the falls are in between rock outcroppings.  It isn’t very tall based on my west coast waterfall standard, but it is pretty!

From the Stanford House the trail to Brandywine Falls is about 3.6 miles if you do the entire loop, but with starting from the Boston Store I would estimate you add another 2 miles round-trip.  That’s a pretty good hike!  There are some stairs, but the total elevation gain is only about 190 feet, so although the park rates it as moderate to difficult, I rated it as easy.  If you aren’t interested in hiking to the falls, you can park up above them and just take a short walk down the boardwalk to the viewpoint; that isn’t as fun, in my opinion!

After my hike, I headed back to the Boston Store, and got a sandwich and some iced tea to eat in the sunshine, before heading back to my campground for the night.  What a nice day!

 

Cuyahoga Valley NP History

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of our newer national parks, having been designated on October 11, 2000 by President Bill Clinton.  It is the only national park that began its public life as a National Recreation Area, having been designated as an NRA in 1974.  Cuyahoga Valley is unique in several other respects as well; it is the only national park in Ohio, located between Akron and Cleveland in a fairly populated area.  It was already filled with roads, farms, small towns and several existing parks before it became a national park, so the National Park Service coordinates with the towns and the metro park system to administer the park.

The land that Cuyahoga Valley National Park sits on has a long history of use by several tribes, including the Wyandot, Ottawa, Objibwe, Munsee, Potawatomi, and Shawnee, but the Lenapé Nation is considered the grandfather of many of the other tribes in the upper Ohio River Valley.  A series of treaties and white encroachment on their land pushed the tribes off the land in this area in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

White settlement began in the late 1700s, and increased when the Ohio and Erie Canal established a well defined trade path between Akron and Cleveland in 1827.  Towns and services sprung up along the path of the canal, feeding passengers and workers on the barges, and quenching their thirst at the taverns!  Farming and sawmills were also common in the area.  Even after the railroad came to the valley in the mid-1800s and greatly lessened the use of the canal, it still operated as a method to move coal to the Great Lakes for the ships there.  The canal was finally doomed when a flood in 1913 washed out large portions of its banks, and some of the locks had to be dynamited in order to release the floodwaters.

The park is located along a 20 mile section of the old Ohio and Erie Canal, and it’s towpath has been turned into the Towpath Trail, for walkers, runners and bicyclists.  The park also has dozens of waterfalls, including the 65 foot Brandywine Falls, which is the tallest in the park and the second tallest in Ohio; some of the waterfalls dry up in the dry season though.  There are historic buildings, and living history museums, and some old cemeteries scattered throughout the park.  A rebuilt covered bridge, a marsh and lots of wildlife round out the park!

The park has an annual visitation of 2,096,053 in 2018, and I was one of them!  I spent two days there in August 2018; I’m excited to share my experiences!