Tag Archive | history

Life is Precious

It had been a long week – several long weeks all running together actually.  So it was timely that Noémi Ban was speaking at the university this week – a coworker and I went to see the presentation.

Noémi Ban is a Hungarian born Jew – she became a United States citizen after she immigrated here.  She was born in 1922, and she was 21 years old when the Nazis invaded Hungary.  When you hear her speak, a palpable silence comes over the room.  The only sound comes from her voice, thickly accented and still strong.  She speaks simply, not going into too much detail about the emotions she must still feel vividly, even after all this time.

She tells the audience about how her family was deported to Auschwitz; told to bring only a small parcel with food, and a change of underwear.  No valuables, not even wedding rings.  She tells of the stench of the cattle cars they rode in for 8 days.  With one bucket for water, and one bucket for a toilet.  For 85 people.  She explains how, on their arrival, they are told not to bring their parcel with them.

She doesn’t break when she explains how her family lined up at the entrance of Auschwitz, how she was the only one in her family who was sent to the doctor’s left side.  How she didn’t know then what it meant to be sent to the right.  It was only later that she found out the doctor’s name.  Josef Mengele.

She speaks candidly about having her menstrual period on the day that she arrived in the camp.  How she refused to drink from the bowl of soup that was sent down the line of women prisoners, because so many mouths had already been on it by the time it reached her.  The guards told her that next time the soup was passed to her, she would drink.  Or else.  She understood what “or else” meant.  The soup made her period stop within an hour.  She didn’t know it at the time, but the soup contained toxic chemicals that permanently sterilized many of the survivors.

She speaks of how, after 4 months at Auschwitz, she was sent to Buchenwald and began working in a factory building bombs for the Germans.  She explains how the Nazi guards didn’t seem too concerned with watching the women much, choosing to spend much of their time in an adjoining room.  This gave her and the other women an opportunity to deliberately wire the bombs incorrectly, so they wouldn’t explode on impact.  She laughs lightheartedly when she explains their sabotage, as if she were explaining a childhood prank.  She tells us that she did this forced labor for seven months.

She maintains her composure when she explains that when the Americans were getting close, the Nazis forced the inmates at Buchenwald to march to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  Noémi and several other women managed to escape from the march and run into the forest.  She tells of hearing a man, and the profound relief she felt to discover it was an American soldier.  She laughs when she tells of how she and the other women kissed and clung to the soldier, only letting go when he told them they might strangle him.  She was liberated in April, 1945.

Her voice gets soft when she tells us that her father was the only other family member who survived the war.  Her mother, sister, brother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, nephew, cousins – 21 family members in all, were all sent to the gas chamber.  She cracks a little when she recounts how she had to tell her father about their fate – how she wanted to tell him because she didn’t want him to hear it from somebody else.  She was 22 years old.

You would think the sad part of the story ends there, but it doesn’t.  She tells the audience that after getting married and having two sons, she was living in Hungary during the Soviet occupation after the war.  She became a teacher.  And in 1956, she and her family escaped from Communist rule by hiding themselves in giant balls of yarn that were being shipped across the border to Austria.  They came to the United States in 1957.

She gets angry as she talks about the people who say the Holocaust never happened.  How she wishes she could sit with them and ask them to explain what was done to her.  She ends her presentation by telling her audience that she learned to love life in Auschwitz.  Everything else she has endured must pale in comparison to Auschwitz.  Where she learned to love life.  She ends with a statement that must seem obvious by now.

Life is precious.

California Marathon Road Trip: The California Delta

After our visit to the John Muir National Historic Site, we decided to take the scenic route back to Roseville.  We found CA Highway 160 and set off into the California Delta.  The reality is that much of the area just south and west of Sacramento is a delta; in its natural state the California Delta is a freshwater marsh with significant annual flooding, and a series of channels and sloughs with islands of peat.  The official name is the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta because it is located at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

Beginning in the mid 1800s enterprising Americans decided that seasonal floods didn’t really work for them, so they set out to control nature and remade the Delta into fertile farmland that now rarely floods.  The rivers are contained with high built up levees on either side, which happens to be perfect for a highway, right?  The delta also happens to deliver a significant amount of the water supply for the San Joaquin Valley and southern California through an elaborate pump system.

So you drive along an elevated road, with the slow moving river on one side and large farmhouses on the other, and you feel like you have been transported into the Louisiana bayou, only with less vegetation and no Spanish moss.  And no alligators.  I imagine that in the summer the heat is probably pretty similar to the south, but perhaps with less humidity.  But otherwise it is EXACTLY the same.  Really.  And there are probably just as many mosquitoes.

One of the many bridges spanning the river

One of the many bridges spanning the river

Along the way, we stopped in a couple of small towns that modern life seems to have largely passed by.  Isleton (population 804) announced that it had a historic point of interest, so we set off to find out what is was.  It wasn’t clearly marked, so I’m not exactly sure what we were looking for or if we found it, but what we did find was a small town with several turn of the last century buildings in various states of disrepair.

The second story of an abandoned building in Isleton – its Chinese immigrant past still visible.

The second story of an abandoned building in Isleton – its Chinese immigrant past still visible.

And we found a woman who seemed to be on drugs, who proceeded to follow us around and stop where we stopped, and continue when we did, peeking into cars along the way.  So, due to the fact that this woman was creeping Jon out, we didn’t hang around long in Isleton.  Note: there were an awful lot of cars parked along the main street for as dead as the town appeared to be.  We could only find a handful of businesses that were actually open (or in business for that matter); certainly not enough to justify the number of cars that were parked.  We also found that stereotypical car covered with cats – so we took a photo of that too.

A couple of the more maintained buildings in downtown Isleton, California

A couple of the more maintained buildings in downtown Isleton, California

Cats on Cars

Cats on Cars

Our next stop on the Delta was in the historic town of Locke.  Locke was founded in 1915 by Chinese immigrants who were prevented from living in the nearby communities with whites.  This was once a thriving town with a Chinese school, traditional Chinese doctors, and restaurants and shops catering to the Chinese population.  You can see what it once was by the Chinese writing remaining on some of the buildings.  Technically, Locke isn’t a town, but an unincorporated area, but the historic buildings and its connection as a Chinese immigrant community earned it a designation as a National Historic Landmark District.

A row of historic buildings in Locke, California

A row of historic buildings in Locke, California

Someone (I cannot remember who) had told me that Locke was a quaint little historic town with art galleries and shops.  What we found wasn’t quite what I would describe as quaint – although it was certainly trying.  There were only a few shops open – a couple of art galleries and a consignment shop.  And a tiny little museum on the history of the Chinese in the area.  And wow, historic is an understatement!

Locke has as many abandoned buildings as it does occupied ones – and some of them seem dangerously close to falling down.  I would not want to be in Locke when the next earthquake hits California!  The upside was that there weren’t any tweakers in Locke, and it did give me the opportunity to take some interesting photos of the old, run-down buildings.  Other than that though, it wasn’t much of a destination – I was glad we had just chanced upon it rather than heading out there with a plan to spend awhile…

One of the not so well maintained buildings in Locke

One of the not so well maintained buildings in Locke

Our cruise of the California Delta was certainly interesting and beautiful, giving me an opportunity to see something new in California.  Jon lived in Sacramento for a few years and never knew this was right outside of the city!  This is definitely not a world of strip malls and pavement.  And at the end of our delta tour we happened upon a converted beet sugar mill – I will post about that next!

Have you ever visited the California Delta?  What did you think?

California Road Trip: The California Governor’s Mansion

On the Friday of our December California Marathon Trip, we went to the runner’s expo in downtown Sacramento to pick up his race packet for the Sunday race.  We got downtown about lunchtime, so we had lunch first at the Coyote Tap House and Big Bowl Noodle Bar in downtown Sacramento.

Our server was really friendly, and the food was really good – I had the wonton noodle bowl with shrimp and Jon had the seafood noodle bowl.  They have an extensive selection of microbrews (which seemed a little out of place with an Asian restaurant), and a full bar.  It also seemed to be doing double duty as a sports bar, with big screen TVs everywhere, and a nightclub, with a large open area that could be a dance floor and a stage at the end of the building.  It seemed like the restaurant was trying too hard to be a little of everything, but it is still pretty new, only having opened on November 16, so perhaps they are still working the kinks out.

My Wonton Noodle Bowl at the Big Bowl Noodle Bar

My Wonton Noodle Bowl at the Big Bowl Noodle Bar

After the expo, we got some coffee and walked down to the Governor’s Mansion.  The mansion was built in 1877 for Albert Gallatin, a local hardware merchant.  It has 30 rooms, and three stories plus a cupola.  The State of California purchased the home, and the first governor of California moved there in 1903.  It was a governor’s mansion for 64 years, and was home to 13 governors.  The last governor to live here was Ronald Reagan in 1967  – he and Nancy lived here for about four months before they moved out.

California Governor’s Mansion

California Governor’s Mansion

The current CA governor, Jerry Brown, lived here for a time when his father was governor of CA in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  The docent told us a story about Jerry Brown’s sister Kathleen, who apparently liked to play pranks when she was a teenager living there with her parents.  One Halloween, she offered to hand out the candy while her parents went out to dinner.  Instead, she and a couple of friends climbed the tower with  a load of water balloons and proceeded to bombard the children with water balloons as they came by trick or treating.  With election day next week (fortunately not a re-election year for Governor Brown) there was quite the public relations debacle.

The Governor’s Mansion Christmas Tree

The Governor’s Mansion Christmas Tree

And the house?  It is a beautiful Victorian mansion with lots of ornate detailing on the door frames and windows.   But after 50 years as a California State Park, and a couple million tourists and schoolchildren coming through the home on tours, it is certainly showing its age.  It was last renovated in the 1960s, so some of the rooms show the décor from that time period.

The Stairs to the Cupola

The Stairs to the Cupola

Other rooms have been restored to look as they would have in the late 1800s.  Both the billiard room and the ballroom have been restored.  The kitchen is a 1950s assault on the senses, covered in white tile and aqua blue cabinets.  The home has servants quarters near the bedrooms for the family, but sadly, they are not open to the public.

Don’t you want this kitchen!

Don’t you want this kitchen!

Our docent was a man who had apparently spent a little time up in our neck of the woods in the 1960s or 70s.  Once he found out where we were from, he told us stories of his trip to Mt. Baker and the magic mushrooms that he was introduced to by his lady companion, “before they were illegal, of course.”  I assured him that now that marijuana is legal again in WA state, then surely psychedelic mushrooms can’t be too far behind….  You meet all kinds, if you are willing to lend an ear…

The Breakfast Room – John F. Kennedy had breakfast in this room

The Breakfast Room – John F. Kennedy had breakfast in this room

All in all, it was a good tour and a great afternoon.

Note: You can take photos in the Governor’s Mansion, as long as you don’t use flash.

Book Review: The Professor and the Madman

I realized the other day that I haven’t posted a book review lately.  I’m not sure how I’ve gotten so behind, because I have been reading, albeit not quite as much as I usually do…

Back in the summer I read The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, written by Simon Winchester.  The book is based on the true story of Dr. W. C. Minor and his unlikely friendship with Professor James Murray, the man responsible for compiling the definitions for the First Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

In the 1870s, James Murray began working as editor on the project of compiling a comprehensive dictionary of the English language.  The project had been underway since 1857, but they didn’t yet have a publisher for the dictionary.  Professor Murray breathed new life into the project, by recruiting thousands of volunteer readers to read though millions of books, looking for the first reference in writing for a word, as well as quotations that show the regular use of the word.  Murray set up a system to track all the submissions coming in, and to request references and quotations on specific words that they didn’t have enough information on.

In the late 1870s, Professor Murray began receiving quotations from Dr. W.C. Minor.  The two established a very productive working relationship, with Dr. Minor supplying a high volume of quotations.  Soon, Professor Murray was requesting quotations on specific words from Dr. Minor, and was consistently amazed when his requests were quickly answered with a plethora of references on those particular words (see how I worked plethora in there?).  Dr. Minor became one of the two biggest contributors for the project.

Dr. W.C. Minor was an American surgeon living in London.  He was born in 1834 to American missionary parents in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and went to Yale Medical School.  He served as a surgeon during the Civil War, most notably performing as a surgeon during the Wilderness Campaign in 1864.  The campaign is known for its extremely bloody fighting and high casualties, including countless men who were severely injured or burned to death when the woods caught on fire.  Who knows if this trauma contributed to how Dr. Minor’s later life turned out, but it had to have impacted him.

But Professor Murray didn’t know anything about Dr. Minor’s life – all he knew is that this voracious reader seemed to have an inexhaustible library of books and a lot of time to read them.  What Professor Murray didn’t know is that after the Wilderness Campaign and the Civil War, Dr. Minor served in New York and Florida, where he began to frequent prostitutes in the Red Light District.  His increasingly erratic behavior soon had him hospitalized in an insane asylum.

Eventually he was released and moved to England, where he continued to have paranoid hallucinations.  Eventually, his mental instability caught up with him, and he murdered a young father in the street, after believing that the man had broken into his apartment.  His sentence was to be served at Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane, which is where he was when he began working on the project.

There is much about Dr. Minor that is not known, so Winchester did have to take some liberties on facts – it does not detract at all from the book, which is very well researched and written.  The book flows well from one story to the another, spending time giving the history of Dr. Minor and the history of Professor Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary project.  And I must say that I had no idea what an intriguing and all consuming project the making of the dictionary really was.

This is certainly a worthy read – I was interested the whole way through, and wanted to know if Dr. Minor was ever released.  You’ll have to read to find out, but I will tell you there is quite the twist near the end!

Help Save the Cooper-Molera Adobe

This spring I posted about my California Road Trip and our visit to the Cooper-Molera Adobe in Monterey, California.  You can read about it here.  This adobe home was built in 1823, and has stood the test of time for almost 200 years.  It is currently owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who leases it to the California Park System to operate.  It is a beautiful structure that is part of the Monterey State Historic Park, which consists of 55 buildings all over town.

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

The California Park System has been plagued by financial difficulties over the last several years and is now telling the National Trust that it cannot continue to upkeep or operate a site that they do not own.  As a result, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is considering a proposal by a developer to turn the site into shops and restaurants.  The developer says they intend to maintain the historic integrity of the structures, but as I’m sure you know, it wouldn’t be possible to add commercial kitchens and office spaces without fundamentally changing the structure and damaging the historic integrity of the building.  And once a site is gone, we can never get it back…

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

If this tugs at your heartstrings the way that it does mine, here’s a website with more information.  Send a letter, get involved, do what you can to help ensure future generations are able to visit historic sites.

Boise Roadtrip: Old Idaho Penitentiary

After I finished cleaning out shopping at Hastings, it was time for some touristing.  The first place on my must-see agenda was the Old Idaho Penitentiary.  I’m not sure why I have a fascination with old prisons – perhaps it is because I likely will never see the inside of a new one (knock on wood) because I lead a pretty boring, plain-vanilla life (which I’m totally fine with by the way).  And my family doesn’t really have any run-ins with the law either, so I’ve never had occasion to visit anyone in prison either (again, I am not expressing any kind of regret for not having had this experience).

But the reviews describe Old Idaho Penitentiary as better than Alcatraz, so I had to find out.  The Old Idaho Penitentiary was built in 1870 and housed prisoners for an astounding 101 years – from 1872 to 1973.  The site was chosen because of its proximity to the growing Boise area, and the cheap building material – sandstone.  The prison began with a single cell block, and most of the buildings were built by inmate labor.  It eventually grew to an entire compound with over a dozen buildings.

The New Cellhouse - Built 1889

The New Cellhouse – Built 1889

From the beginning until Idaho became a state, the prison was operated by the Federal Government.  This was the rough and tumble West, so many of the prisoners were hardened criminals, there for murder, assault, horse thieving, and a host of other crimes.  In its history, the “Old Pen”, as it was affectionately known by the locals held over 13,000 prisoners, with a maximum occupancy of 600 at one time.  The prison was known for being a pretty harsh environment; if you have ever been to Boise you know that the summers are hot and the winters are very cold.  The sandstone provided shelter, but didn’t keep you warm…

In the early years, women were housed with men, but after one female inmate told the Warden she was pregnant (I’m sure she was just trying to stay warm in the winter), they figured they had better get cracking on a separate cell block for women.  Women were separated from the men in 1906, and a new building was built for them in 1920.  Women on the frontier were often as tough as the men – on infamous lady prisoner, Lyda Southard, became known as Lady Bluebeard, because she was convicted of murdering several of her husbands to collect on life insurance policies.  Another lady was incarcerated there when she drove her wagon by the house of her husband’s mistress and tried to kill her.  Is is one of history’s first drive-by shootings?

The Women's Ward - Established 1906 - This Building Built in 1920

The Women’s Ward – Established 1906 – This Building Built in 1920

The prison did have a gallows, and over the 101 years, ten prisoners were executed there.  The first nine were carried out in the rose garden, which was planted there in order to give the inmates some worthwhile pursuits.  Interestingly, the rose garden was a test garden for the Jackson and Perkins Company.  If you have any Tropicana roses in your yard, first sold in 1962, they were tested here at the same site where prisoners were executed.  That’s a little creepy!  The roses were kept well trimmed so inmates couldn’t hide among the shrubbery and use the bushes to help them escape.

Old Penitentiary Rose - Where Executions Were Carried Out Early On

Old Penitentiary Rose Garden – Where Executions Were Carried Out Early On

Buildings were added over the years to house the growing number of prisoners and make the prison more modern – the original cell block from the days of the territorial prison was converted to a chapel in the 1930s.  Three cell blocks were added in 1899, another in 1952 and the last building was built in 1954.  The 1899 buildings were still not someplace I would want to stay; the only facilities were a bucket that was stored in the ventilation area behind the cells.

Cellhouse 2 - Built 1899

Cellhouse 2 – Built 1899

A Row of Cells in Cellhouse 2 - Built 1899

A Row of Cells in Cellhouse 2 – Built 1899

The 1954 building was the maximum security prison, it had its own walled recreation area and these prisoners were not allowed to mingle with the general population.  It was inside this building where the final execution was carried out.  Raymond Snowden was known as Idaho’s Jack the Ripper, due to the way he brutally murdered a young woman by stabbing her repeatedly in 1956.  Snowden was executed in 1957 in the Maximum Security Building.  The gallows have been removed, but the “Drop Room” is still there along with the mechanism for opening up the floor.  Not a pleasant thought.

Solitary Confinement - These Cells Are About 2 Feet Wide and 6 Feet Long

Solitary Confinement – These Cells Are About 2 Feet Wide and 6 Feet Long

Apparently, there are rumors that the “Old Pen” is haunted, and I can see why.  13,000 angry, suffering men and women, 10 executions, and likely countless other deaths, from violence and disease might leave some ghosts who have trouble moving on.  Apparently visitors have seen an inmate tending the rose garden, and have experienced being shoved, along with the sounds of voices and heavy footsteps in the various buildings.  The prison has been investigated by Ghost Adventures.

We loved our visit – it was really interesting to see the progression of the buildings over the years.

Port Townsend in the Fog

On Saturday, January 19, Jon and I decided to get out of town and take a little day trip over to Port Townsend.  The weather was supposed to be sunny and dry, and since we had a rare day off together, we wanted to do something special.

We got up early (early for a Saturday anyway) and headed down to Coupeville to walk onto the ferry.  When we got on the ferry, it was still very foggy and overcast, but we had high hopes that the fog would burn off and clear up once we got there.  The ferry ride is about 35 minutes, and it is a very smooth trip.  We were on the Kennewick, which seems to be one of the newer ferries in the Washington State Ferry System.  Some of the ships are up to 65 years old!  I got some photos from the deck, but unfortunately with the fog and dark, overcast morning, combined with the zoom, they didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped.

Jefferson County Courthouse - Port Townsend

Jefferson County Courthouse – Port Townsend

Beyond coming up with the plan to go to Port Townsend, Jon didn’t really have any specific ideas about what he wanted to do for the day.  So the planner in me took over.  I wanted to visit Fort Worden since I haven’t been there in several years.  Once we got off the ferry, we trekked the little more than two miles over the hill and out to the fort.

The Point Wilson Lighthouse at Fort Worden - In the Fog

The Point Wilson Lighthouse at Fort Worden – In the Fog

Point Wilson Lighthouse at Fort Worden

Point Wilson Lighthouse at Fort Worden

A Lonely Rowboat on the Dunes at Fort Worden

A Lonely Rowboat on the Dunes at Fort Worden

Fort Worden is a fort in Port Townsend that was established in 1902 (construction began in 1897).  It is built along Admiralty Inlet, and is one of three forts that were built to protect the entrance to Puget Sound, which leads to Seattle and Tacoma.  The other two forts are Fort Casey (in Coupeville, Washington) and Fort Flagler (Nordland, Washington).  Fort Worden is named for U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Lorimer Worden, who commanded the U.S.S. Monitor during the Civil War.  Fortunately for those of us in the Pacific Northwest, we were never attacked, and none of the three forts ever fired a hostile shot.  The guns were removed and shipped to Europe during World War I.

Battery Kinzie at Fort Worden - Construction Began 1908

Battery Kinzie at Fort Worden – Construction Began 1908

Fort Worden was decommissioned by the Federal Government in 1953, was purchased by the State of Washington, and became a juvenile detention facility for a period of time before it was transferred to the State Parks Department in 1971.  It opened as a State Park in 1973.  Now, kids and adults who want to re-live their youth can run around in the concrete fort, spook themselves in the tunnels, and explore the batteries.

Another cool feature of Fort Worden is the Officer’s Homes and Parade Ground.  There are nine Officer’s Homes, ranging in size from a 4 unit apartment home, to duplexes with three to six bedrooms in each unit.  One of the homes is an Officer’s Home Museum, and is open seasonally.  Unfortunately, it isn’t open in the winter, so we didn’t get the opportunity to tour it.  It has been a long time, but when I was a child we used to rent out one of these homes each year and stay there with family friends.  We got to explore the fort during the day, walk to town to do some poking around in the souvenir shops, and then play games and hide and seek in the evenings.  Staying there each year is one of my favorite childhood memories.  Maybe one day I’ll stay there again!

The Row of Officer's Houses at Fort Worden - An Officer and a Gentleman Was Filmed Here!

The Row of Officer’s Houses at Fort Worden – An Officer and a Gentleman Was Filmed Here!

Once we were done poking around the fort, Jon and I walked back to town.  On the main street, Water Street, lives the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum, housed in the Old City Hall.  We had heard good things about the museum, so we decided to stop in and take a look around.  The volunteer docent was very friendly, and told me that I could take photos, even though the sign said no.  Ssshhh!  Don’t tell!

The museum is an eclectic mix of artifacts that the historical society has acquired over the years.  There is an exhibit detailing the history of settlement in the area, from the Native Americans, the French and Russians, the British, and then finally, American settlement in the 1850s to present.  It details the attempt by Port Townsend to become the State Capitol (that didn’t happen), and the history of Chinese and Japanese laborers in the area.

The museum has an antique horse drawn hearse and several other interesting things.  In the basement, you can tour the original jail of City Hall, built in 1892.  One thing is for certain – I wouldn’t want to be locked up in that solitary confinement cell!  Also in the basement there is a fascinating exhibit on the history of prostitution in Port Townsend, with some photos of madames and the women of sin who worked in the area.

The Solitary Confinement Cell in Port Townsend's Original 1892 Jail

The Solitary Confinement Cell in Port Townsend’s Original 1892 Jail

You can visit and see everything in less than an hour, and is a worthwhile visit for the $4 admission price.  They also give you a guide with a map to the historic homes and buildings in the area.  The guide lets you do your own walking tour!

After taking our spin around the historical society museum, we poked around in some of the shops and art galleries on the main drag.  Jon got to visit a record store, and I went to the coffee shop across the street to get sandwiches to take on our return ferry trip.  And last but not least, we stopped in a little wine shop, The Wine Seller, to see if we could find a local bottle of wine to take home.  By that point, I was really hungry, so I wasn’t thinking straight, and was a bit overwhelmed by the huge selection of wines.  If we had a little more time (and something in my stomach), I would have made good use of the great selection in this wine shop!  As it was, we picked out a bottle of Christina James Pinot Noir to take home with us and try (more on that in an upcoming post).

My Favorite Mural in Port Townsend - Not that I go for smoking advertising, but this is very cool!

My Favorite Mural in Port Townsend – Not that I go for smoking advertising, but this is very cool!

As we were waiting in line for the ferry, the sky had cleared to sun, and we had a wonderful return trip on the ferry.  When we got back to Coupeville, the sun was getting lower in the sky, but Jon agreed to take me up to the Fort Casey Admiralty Head Lighthouse so I could get some last pictures of the day.  I have memories of a great day, and I leave you with these.

Port Townsend Waterfront - Once the Sky Began to Clear

Port Townsend Waterfront – Once the Sky Began to Clear

Admiralty Head Lighthouse at Fort Worden

Admiralty Head Lighthouse at Fort Casey

Sunset at Fort Casey

Sunset at Fort Casey

Lincoln’s Sanctuary

Recently, I read Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldier’s Home, by Matthew Pinsker.  It was a great find at the library book sale, and I couldn’t resist picking it up for $1 when I saw it.


Lincoln’s Sanctuary, by Matthew Pinsker

If you have never heard of the Soldier’s Home, it is on the grounds of a property that was established in 1851 as the Armed Forces Retirement Home, also known as the Military Asylum.  Its purpose was to care for the invalid and disabled veterans of the army.  The cottage was originally the home of George Riggs, the man from whom the property was purchased.  The cottage dates to 1842.  So, how does that relate to Lincoln you ask?

Well, the Soldier’s Home is approximately 3 miles from the White House, which was considered to be well outside of the city in the 1860s.  And it enjoyed a location atop a shaded hill, so it enjoyed cooler temperatures and breezes than the White House did.  It was a perfect summer retreat for someone who lived in Washington D.C., close enough to be able to travel daily to the White House, but far enough away to feel like you were getting a break to the country.

In all, Lincoln spent 13 months living at the Soldier’s Home during his Presidency.  He first visited 3 days after his inauguration, and his last visit was the day before his assassination.  He was able to use the peace and solitude to get some of his best thinking done, and as a result, he was able to produce some of his best work there, including, it is thought, the first drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Matthew Pinsker does a wonderful job going chronologically through Lincoln’s Presidency, hitting the high points of Lincoln’s thoughts and actions, and tying these events in with Lincoln’s time at the Soldier’s Home.  Of course, some of it is speculation, because there aren’t surviving records to corroborate it, but the author makes educated guesses on Lincoln’s writings and conversations with others based on historic eyewitness accounts of visits, diary and journal entries from the time, and public records of when Lincoln and his family were in residence at the Home.

The book offers a look at the more intimate side of Lincoln’s life.  Those moments when he was able to let his guard down and enjoy his friends and family.  It also provides more than one eyewitness account of the sheer exhaustion and fatigue he experienced during his Presidency, when people expected him to be available to receive them at any hour of the day or night.  It made me think of the line of photos of Lincoln that hang in the Lincoln museum in Springfield, Illinois, where 5 photos document the aging process.  In those photos, Lincoln goes from a young to an old man in the span of four years.

I do wish there were more description about what the Soldier’s Home was like when Lincoln stayed there, but the book is an insightful look into a place where Lincoln spent a significant amount of time, where friendships and professional relationships were developed and nurtured, and where crucial political decisions were made.  I’ve wanted to visit the Soldier’s Home since I first discovered it was open to the public, and this book made by want to visit even more.

Be aware however, that it is not a quick or easy read, and has a tendency to be rather dry.  Someone with only a cursory interest in Lincoln or the Civil War probably won’t find this book holding their interest.  But to the true Lincoln scholar, it offers another perspective that had not, to this point, been explored.

I didn’t know until after I read the book, but apparently it was commissioned by the Soldier’s Home to increase awareness of this amazing historic site, which was recently renovated and opened to the public in 2008.  And the proceeds from the sale of the book to to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to maintain the Soldier’s Home.  What a great way to fundraise!