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Inside the fort today

canonPart 1: Our Visit to Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry and what it stands for in American history is so important, with so much information available, that I decided to break it up into 4 parts—that makes for easier reading and understanding, I hope.

One of the most popular places to visit in Baltimore is Fort McHenry—to visit the actual fort and to learn about the American flag and anthem. As we discovered, it’s impossible to talk about the fort without also mentioning the flag and anthem as their history is so intertwined.

We caught the free Banner bus at the stop close to the Baltimore Visitors’ Center—about a 20-minute bus ride to the entrance to the park, but it’s also possible to go by water taxi.

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At the entrance to the park

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Visitor Center at the fort

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View through windows as curtains open

A short walk takes you to the impressive fort Visitor Center, which has a ticket counter, shop, restrooms, and a small museum that offers an audio-visual show at regular intervals. We bought a life-time pass to the US National Parks for only $10 each as seniors—what an amazing deal! The museum has information on the fort, the siege and defense of Baltimore, and the story of Francis Scott Key writing the words to the Star-Spangled Banner. (See my earlier background post here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/fort-mchenry-and-the-star-spangled-banner/ ). A ranger gives a short audio-visual presentation, at the end of which curtains open over huge picture windows, giving a dramatic view out to the fort.

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Entrance to the inner part of the fort

canon2You can take a ranger-guided tour, or just walk around by yourself, which we opted to do. The sight has many information boards along the paths and by all the buildings and other points of view, so it is very easy to picture what was going on here. Some of the structures from the original fort no longer exist (such as the Tavern, as alcohol was important to the soldiers), but the foundation outline is still there, so we can imagine the layout. What we see today are the modifications over 200 years.

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These Rodman canons were installed in 1866

It’s a large grassy area, with great views out to the river, and it’s fun to ramble around. The fort is in an excellent location for protecting Baltimore as it controlled the entrance to the Inner harbor. Almost all of this was new information for us, which we tried to absorb, but being there and walking around made it much more personal and meaningful

fortinsideThe actual fort inside is quite small (it was built for 150 soldiers), so trying to imagine 1,000 people crammed in there during the siege of Baltimore is hard. Many of the rooms in the inner fort buildings now serve as a museum depicting life in the fort. We learn details and snippets, such as the fact that officers were from rich families and often had their own servants and paid for their own (nice) food. Tobacco was important as an export to America and the British blockade badly affected imports and exports, with negative impact on the economy. One of the important ports was Baltimore, so it’s also symbolic that it played a pivotal role in fending off the British.

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Example of an information board —this one about the Magazine

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Magazine inside today

We saw the cross-traverse for the original flag. This kept the flagpole from falling over, because such a big flag on a pole would just blow over. We also saw the magazine used for stored gunpowder (it was used to store coal in WW1), and some of the canons used in 1814 and later, plus explanations about the fuses and how long fuses should be. The canon balls were solid and varied in size—all were deadly.

What are the main take-home lessons from visiting the fort?

First, how important the War of 1812 was in American history. It was the second war against Britain, and the success of the American defense got the British “off their backs”. It’s also very clear that the British could potentially have sacked Baltimore just as they did Washington DC, so holding them off here was enormously important.

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Canon balls (shots) of different sizes

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A 36-pound shot. Absolutely lethal 

Second, this was the naval battle that led to the development of the national anthem. And this was due to a huge American flag flying at the fort. See Part 2 on information about the flags at Fort McHenry.

For more information about Fort McHenry and the park, go to their website:

https://www.nps.gov/fomc/index.htm

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fortsign4Fort McHenry and the Star-Spangled Banner: Historical Context

With all the hou-haa going on right now about the US anthem, honoring it and what it means to be patriotic, this seemed like a good time for me to try and finish writing about Fort McHenry in Baltimore and the birth of the song that was inspired by a huge flag.

In July we were in Baltimore for a conference, our first time to visit this American city. Our knowledge of its history was a bit sketchy to say the least, so we had a great time exploring Fort McHenry, and the small house where Mary Pickersgill lived and helped stitch the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen his victory poem that later became the American anthem.

It’s actually a tense and dramatic story, made more real by visiting the sites of the action, and trying to visualize what happened on those momentous days.

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The inside of Fort McHenry today

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Entrance to the inside of the fort today

battle_starsignEveryone speaks of the War of 1812, but in reality the major events took place in 1814.

Bit of background:

After the American Revolution and the exhausting fight to win independence from Great Britain, tensions between the two countries still smoldered. Britain was at war with France for supremacy in Europe, and also set policies that interfered with American trade, like confiscating merchant ships and cargoes. The British navy needed more men, so would board American vessels and seize men said to be British deserters. They also forcefully blocked American expansion along the Great Lakes and Northern Frontier.

Many Americans, including President James Madison, wanted to strike back, and Congress declared war on June 18, 1812. Over the next 2 years, American and British forces clashed in many places from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The British occupied the fertile Chesapeake Bay, and raided waterfront towns.

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One of the canons in Fort McHenry

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Fort McHenry

By summer 1814, President Madison realized the war could escalate, especially since Napoleon had fallen and the British then had more troops available. He worried in particular about the Washington-Maryland area and called for more militiamen and volunteers.

On August 19, 1814 British General Robert Ross brought more than 4,000 troops ashore in southern Maryland to start a land invasion, and Rear Admiral George Cockburn sailed up the Potomac River towards Washington DC. Both of them and their troops arrived at the edge of DC at dusk on August 24, and created havoc and panic. They torched much of the city, including the US Capitol and the President’s house. The rampage only ended because of a violent rainstorm. Bladensburg, a tobacco port just 5 miles northeast of the capital, was also attacked and badly affected, mostly because the American commanders and troops were very inexperienced compared to the British counterparts.

From August 28 the British plundered Alexandria for 5-6 days and then set their sights on Baltimore, on the Patapsco River with its many ‘arms’ and branches.

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The guns that won the battle

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armisteadplaqueBut, Baltimore was better prepared than Washington had been. Under Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith, a US Senator and veteran of the Revolution, defences were erected, arms and equipment stockpiled, and troops trained. He had about 15,000 men, and Fort McHenry, the key to the harbor, had 1,000 men. Fort McHenry was commanded by Maj. George Armistead. The fort’s guns and two batteries along the river’s edge dominated the channels leading to the city. A line of gunboats and sunken hulks across the mouth of Northwest Branch also obstructed entry.

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Direct Hits to Fort McHenry–in which 2 officers were killed

On September 12, Ross’s troops marched towards Baltimore. Ross was killed but his replacement, Col Arthur Brooke, marched to within 2 miles of the city and was waiting for the naval attack to end before assaulting the city. British Admiral Cochrane knew that for the British campaign to succeed he had to capture or destroy Fort McHenry. He attacked the fort at dawn on September 13th and the bombardment from the water carried on for 25 hours. Armistead estimated later that between 1500 and 1800 shells and rockets were fired at the fort. However, only two officers were killed and several gun crew members injured.

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Dawn’s Early Light

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The soldiers on Fort McHenry hoist the huge flag

Around midnight Cochrane realized that shelling the fort was not enough and decided to send small boats as a diversion up the Ferry Branch of the river to distract the Americans and allow Brooke to storm the east side of the city where he was waiting. But in the dark, this plan went wrong—they rowed up the wrong branch, and other barges were detected and driven back by the Americans. The British carried on bombing the fort until 7am on September 14th, and then they withdrew.

The American soldiers fired the morning gun and hoisted the huge flag that Armistead had ordered especially, which later became known as the “Star-Spangled Banner”.

How did that happen? This takes us to Francis Scott Key.

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Plaque to Francis Scott Key on Fort McHenry

As the British sailed toward Baltimore in early September 1814, Georgetown attorney Francis Scott Key and John Skinner, the US agent for the exchange of prisoners, met the British to negotiate the release of Key’s friend, a physician abducted from Maryland. They were aboard a truce ship when the British began bombarding Fort McHenry outside Baltimore. They had to watch the fighting through the night, but then came the raising of that large flag measuring 30×42 feet, which Key could see even from a distance. He then knew that the Americans were victorious and was very proud. To record his thoughts at that moment, he wrote a poem about his feelings on seeing the flag. This poem later became the national anthem. Some of his words say “the stars of that banner”, which led to the actual flag being called The Star-Spangled Banner too.

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Viv M and a flag and statue of Key in the Fort McHenry Museum

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The flag on Fort McHenry today

President Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent on February 17th, 1815, and the war was officially over. Neither America nor Britain had won a clear victory, but the war gave Americans a stronger sense of collective identity and confirmed its new position on the international stage.

Fort McHenry became a National Monument, which people can visit. We did and it was fascinating—I’ll write more on that later.

Two lasting symbols came from this war: The Star-Spangled Banner (now in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington DC) and the national anthem that honors it. More details on those coming too.

 

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Model of Zimmerman House at museum

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Front view

The Isadore J. and Lucille Zimmerman House, 1950

People who know and love the architecture and designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, in Illinois or elsewhere, will be delighted to find another of his amazing houses in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The Zimmerman House is an example of his modest Usonian homes and the only Frank Lloyd Wright house open to the public in New England. Usonian is a term Wright coined to classify small, one-story homes intended for modest living. Today, Usonian homes are considered a precursor to the American ranch house.

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Entrance—even that big rock was part of the design

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Back view

We’d previously seen a Usonian house south of St Louis in Missouri; have been to Oak Park, Illinois, which has the largest concentration of Wright buildings in the world; and have toured the gorgeous Dana Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois. When we discovered there was a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Manchester, where we would be for half a day, we knew we had to try and see it. And we did.

Fortuitous, as this is a special year for Frank Lloyd Wright fans.

Frank Lloyd Wright was born 150 years ago and there will be many parties, exhibits and events at some of his buildings, and a major show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art called “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive.” It will run until October 1, 2017. Many consider Frank Lloyd Wright to be America’s best-known architect and both his innovative designs and his larger-than-life personality (and controversial personal life) continue to fascinate the public.

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backcloseralongbackOne of the reasons that this architect was so popular with the general public was that he did what he wanted in his own style, which was often more in line with popular taste than academic taste. For example, he loved to use color, pattern and ornamentation, similar to 19th century architects, and unlike the minimalism associated with modernism in architecture.

He did create fantastic buildings, with technical details way ahead of his time, even if he also offended some people by his insistence on the fact that he was always right—-down to the last detail about furniture, decorations in the houses, what could and could not be hung on his walls, how the gardens should be planted etc. When in one of his houses you get an intangible feeling of being in something special, of being in a space that feels exactly right, partly because all the dimensions and all the fittings were carefully calculated to fit into that space.

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Looking through one of the huge windows

His buildings remain must-see sights for his fans. About 380 Wright structures still stand and those that are open to the public often sell out tours well in advance. So, we were very lucky in May to easily get on a tour to the Zimmerman House in Manchester, NH. You have to take a tour from the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. A driver takes visitors in a small bus to the house and a knowledgeable guide takes you on the bus and through the house.

The Zimmerman House is an example of his Usonian style, so it’s smaller but the layout is still carefully planned and the attention to details is amazing as always.

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Steps from car port towards front entrance

The 1,600-square-foot brick home was created for Isadore and Lucille Zimmerman, a doctor and a nurse who requested a “small, spacious and simple house” from Wright, as they were dissatisfied with the “ultra-conservative” residential architecture of New England. Wright’s solution was “a classic Usonian” for which he designed the house, the gardens, the furniture, and all the interior details, such as cabinets and shelves, down to the dinnerware and even the mailbox. Wright once said, “a Usonian house is always hungry for ground, lives by it, becoming an integral feature of it.” Appropriately, the Zimmerman House appears to blend with the landscape, as it is specially angled on the plot, and uses floor-to-ceiling windows and natural materials to bring the outdoors in. The green of the garden and the brown of all the wood give a feeling of peace, harmony, and serenity. We are so happy that we were able to see another example of this very special kind of architecture.

Though not large, the built-in furniture, continuous concrete floor mat, large windows,

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Even the postbox was specially designed

and dramatic changes in ceiling height impart a sense of great spaciousness. The Zimmermans lived in the house for the next 36 years.

In 1979 the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Dr. and Mrs. Zimmerman left the property to the Currier Museum of Art in 1988. In 1990, the house and grounds were opened so that visitors could enjoy glimpses of a private world from the 1950s and 1960s, including the Zimmermans’ personal collection of modern art, pottery and sculpture.

Tours are Thursday through Monday at 11:15am, 1:15pm and 3:15pm. Tours are 90 minutes long.

No photos inside

Visitors must wear slip-ons over shoes inside the house.

No restrooms on the tour.

$25 for adults
$24 for seniors (65+)
$16 for students
$10 for children ages 7-17 (Children under age 7 are not permitted to tour the Zimmerman House).

$10 for Museum members

All Zimmerman House tours include general Museum admission.

Book online http://currier.org/education-programs/zimmerman-house-tours/

 

 

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A woman in Quito making wonderful crafts for sale

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Mongolian singer at a conference we attended

International Women’s Day (IWD)

This day is celebrated on March 8th each year, in varying ways in different parts of the world, supported by many different organizations and institutions. In some countries it is a national holiday but not in others, in which case they celebrate in other ways: a fun run, a dinner gala, conferences, breakfasts, festivals, tech talks etc.

Each year, the UN picks a different theme for IWD. In 2015 it was “Empowering Women. Empowering Humanity.”

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Ronel in Australia is co-captain of this boat

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Graduate students of Beijing Agriculture University visit the Forbidden City

The 2016 theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”, or “Closing the Gender Gap, or Gender Parity.”

These goals are all good, but I think it’s also a time to just celebrate women and honor them all, whether famous, powerful or not; to acknowledge what they do, however menial, as it contributes to the good of their society in some way.

To that aim, here are some pictures we’ve taken over the years of various women in different countries, involved in a number of differing activities, or just smiling for us.

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Marching in the Gay Pride parade, St Louis

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Handicrafts seller at the Equator, Equador

But first, a bit of history.

On March 19, 1911 the first official International Women’s Day was celebrated in Europe. At that time, in many European nations, as well as in the USA, women’s rights and women’s

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Curio vendor on Grenada Island

suffrage were hot topics.

It was honored in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, to vote, to be trained, to hold public office and to end discrimination.

However, many people believe that there were earlier events that were a build-up to this first official IWD. Some say the first International Women’s meeting was on March 8, 1907 in the US. This was to commemorate the garment workers’ strike 50 years earlier, an event that many think was the initial trigger for a deeper consciousness about women’s issues.

 

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Guide at the Secret Garden in Seoul, Korea

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Kirsty from Norway

What happened 50 years before? On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten-hour day, and equal rights for women. Police broke their ranks, quite violently.

One year after the women’s gathering in 1907 there was another march. On March 8, 1908, the garment workers’ sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again, honoring the 1857 march, demanding the vote, and an end to sweatshops and child labor. The police were present on this occasion too.

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Old meets new in Kyoto

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Traditional Mayan-style dances in Merida, Mexico

The first official meeting in 1911 came about because earlier in 1910 at a meeting in Copenhagen, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed an International Women’s Day, to commemorate the US demonstrations and honor working women the world over.

After 1911, because of WW1, the Depression, and WW2, interest in a women’s day was low, but in the 1960s the women’s movement began a new revival, mainly because there was a growing sense that “history” as taught in school was incomplete and had a male bias.

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A street vendor on Insadong, Seoul, Korea

In 1975, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8

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Mayuko from Japan enjoys a bridal shower in USA

March during International Women’s Year 1975. And in 1987, a group of women in the US campaigned with representatives from museums, schools and libraries to expand the celebration, and Congress responded by declaring the entire month of March as National Women’s History Month.

On the 100th anniversary of IWD, March 8, 2011, the IWD Organization collaborated with women’s organizations around the world to present gatherings and celebrations in 152 countries. In the United States, President Barack Obama honored the day and the then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, launched the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges“. In the UK, celebrity activist Annie Lennox lead an amazing march across one of London’s iconic bridges, to raise awareness in support of the global charity, Women for Women International.

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Nora helps sell flowers in KZN, South Africa

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A worker at the Gouyave Nutmeg Station on Grenada explains the spice to us

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A new employee at Uva Mira Wine Estate in South Africa explains a wine to Rod M

So, since those early years, International Women’s Day has taken on a global dimension for women in both developed and developing countries. Other well-known charities such as Oxfam have actively supported IWD, as have many celebrities and business leaders. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate small acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have tried to help their countries and communities.

See the official website:

http://www.internationalwomensday.com

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Last but not least, my mother Joy Vermaak (left) with a friend. Mothers make all things possible!

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Last, but not least, my mother-in-law Peggy Mackie

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Colonial times in southern Africa

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April gets married in a semi-traditional Shona wedding in Zimbabwe

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An outdoor exhibit on Pope John Paul II in Planty Park, Krakow

An outdoor exhibit on Pope John Paul II in Planty Park, Krakow

I posted this on my blog about our special Eastern Europe Trip, but think it’s also relevant and interesting here. So, here’s the link. Enjoy!

https://easterneuropetrip.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/pope-franciss-predecessor/

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