For Memorial Day, 2018

By sheer coincidence, we happened to visit a few historical locations last week that are associated in one way or the other with the American Civil War.   The practice of observing a Memorial Day in the United States came into being as a formal way to remember the people who had lost their lives in this war.

The first place we visited during our travels last week was Gettysburg, the location of the civil war battle where about 51,000  lives were lost in a single encounter over three days of fighting. The battle marked the turning of the Civil War, when The Union finally began to push back The Confederacy.  It was also the place where Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address.  The first picture below is from a section of the famous Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama. The cyclorama can be seen at the visitor center in Gettysburg.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next place we visited was Harper’s Ferry, the location where John Brown, the abolitionist, raided the local armory and helped to ignite a process that eventually led to the civil war.  Being at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, the town played an important role during the civil war itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last place we visited were the fields of Antietam where the bloodiest single day battle of the civil war was fought. About 23,000 people lost their lives in about 12 hours.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese days Memorial Day serves as the day to remember all the men and women who have given up their lives to serve the country in various wars and battles, but mostly it seems to be a day for people to consider the beginning of the summer season.  Barbecues are fired up for the first time, swimming pools are open, and yes, there are good sales in the stores.

Sadly, we have still not learnt our lessons about wars in general.

2/17/2008 – Cherries in the Snow: The Legend of Mary Pinchot Meyer

I was reminded of this old email that I had sent to family and friends because of some recent news that I blogged about.  I will explain at the end.
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Ok, I am being overly dramatic! It is not a legend. It is merely a curious story. The particular name in the title has the remote possibility of attracting the attention of suspicious people who like to keep track of activities on the Internet – even though the story is quite old at this point. Anyway, back to the story.

If you were running along the C&O canal near Washington, DC, (just north of mile 1 on the towpath), you might come across a small white cross leaning against a tree trunk beside the trail. On the cross is a card. The card indicates that this is a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer.IMG_4171IMG_4172IMG_4173The cross appeared on the trail some time last year and is at the location where she was killed while walking along the towpath in 1964. She was 43 years old when she died, and the cross appeared on the towpath 43 years after her death. Nobody has yet admitted to putting the cross there. Who was Mary Pinchot Meyer? She was John F. Kennedy’s mistress at the time of his death. If you look it up the Internet, you will find a few conspiracy theories surrounding her death. She apparently used to keep a diary that included an account of her affair with JFK. Various people were interested in this diary after her death and went looking for it. Her ex-husband, Cord Meyer, was a higher-up in the CIA and was involved in the search for the murderer. The person who was brought to trial for killing her was acquitted. Just another story on the towpath…

By the way, if you are interested in a really good (but completely humorless) movie about the kind of people who came together to form the CIA during that time, I would recommend The Good Shepherd directed by Robert De Niro.

I finally worked up the courage to do the Potomac tour on foot in the area of Washington DC this morning. Basically I ran on both sides of the river at Washington, DC. Working my way south on the towpath from Fletcher’s Cove,

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Early morning on the Canal near Georgetown

I crossed over into Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the river at the Key Bridge (named after Francis Scott Key),

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Early morning view from the Key Bridge
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A view of Roosevelt Island from the Key Bridge
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Crossing the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the Mt. Vernon Trail in Virginia

and then followed the Mount Vernon trail south, past Roosevelt Island and the various bridges that span the Potomac.IMG_4182IMG_4189IMG_4190I followed the trail as it paralleled the George Washington Parkway all the way to Gravelly Point Park at the end of the longest runway for Washington National Airport.  I spent some time at Gravelly taking pictures and watching the planes landing and taking off.IMG_4195On the way back, I crossed over the river at the 14th Street Bridge into Washington DC.IMG_4210IMG_4212I got off the bridge close to the Jefferson Memorial, and then worked my way back up north along the river, past the Lincoln Memorial, the Kennedy Center and the Watergate buildings, to the beginning of the towpath. I then followed the canal back to Fletcher’s Cove.IMG_4222Next time I come to this area I will try to explore the trails on Roosevelt Island, and also try to find the trail along the edge of the river north of Key bridge on the Virginia side.
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Today’s Postscript: Coming back to Mary Pinchot Meyer, mentioned in the first section of the above email, the cops tried to pin her murder on a black person, Ray Crump, who happened to be in the general area.  Dovey Johnson Roundtree, the subject of my previous blog, was the one who was able to get Ray Crump acquitted of the crime.  It was quite an achievement for a black woman lawyer in those days!

Since I wrote the original email, I have been to this area, and traveled this path, several times on a bicycle.  I have taken the 18 mile long Mt. Vernon trail all the way to Mt. Vernon.  I have however not been to Roosevelt island yet!  I have also walked the trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac up to the Chain bridge under very trying conditions.  That was the subject of another email blast, an email that I might rediscover some other day.

By the way, I have not seen a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer in subsequent years at that location, but this could possibly be because I have not been on that section of the towpath at the right time of the year.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree

“As a lawyer, she helped win a landmark ban on racial segregation in interstate bus travel, and her representation of poor black defendants — including her successful defense of a man accused of the notorious murder of a Georgetown socialite in 1964 — blazed new trails for black lawyers.”

Celebrating a black woman who thrived in a Washington ruled by white men – Washington Post.

Maria Agnesi, The Greatest Female Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of : The Conversation

“A passionate advocate for the education of women and the poor, Agnesi believed that the natural sciences and math should play an important role in an educational curriculum. As a person of deep religious faith, however, she also believed that scientific and mathematical studies must be viewed in the larger context of God’s plan for creation.”

http://theconversation.com/maria-agnesi-the-greatest-female-mathematician-youve-never-heard-of-94378

I watched an entire Flat Earth Convention for my research – here’s what I learnt: The Conversation

The democratization of “science” and “information” by the Internet has enabled many strange things today, including acceptance of lines of thinking that one would have expected reasonable people to scoff at in the past, and events that some people would consider quite surprising during our times, such as the results of the US presidential elections in 2016.

Despite early claims, from as far back as HG Well’s “world brain” essays in 1936, that a worldwide shared resource of knowledge such as the internet would create peace, harmony and a common interpretation of reality, it appears that quite the opposite has happened. With the increased voice afforded by social media, knowledge has been increasingly decentralised, and competing narratives have emerged.

via I watched an entire Flat Earth Convention for my research – here’s what I learnt

In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium | Quanta Magazine

Fascinating area of study that can help us understand how human interactions evolve, and can even be used to try to explain how societies, or even entire species, can progress to certain states of “equilibrium”, or not….

via In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium | Quanta Magazine

Carson City, NV

The visit to Carson City in Nevada was an afterthought that occurred only after we had already started our vacation, after we had left San Francisco on our multi-day drive through California and Nevada.  Our visit there strengthens my opinion that a vacation experience is not just about going to well known places and looking for the extraordinary.  Sometimes you can enjoy the simple experiences and things that would not be considered noteworthy in the normal course of events.

We had spent the night in Reno and were about to head south in the morning, along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, on our way to Mammoth Lakes for our stopover for that night.  The thought had occurred to me that it would be nice to take a short detour to Carson City if possible just for the heck of it.  After all, Carson City is the capital of the state of  Nevada.  The only other item of note as far as we were concerned was the fact that Mark Twain had spent a few years of his life there.  Still, we were curious. Perhaps there was something new to learn by visiting the town.

But a detour to Carson City from Lake Tahoe would take up additional time just for the driving even though the two places were close by, especially if we wanted to visit the entire eastern shore of the lake (which would involve driving back and forth between the two places).    We could save time visiting just the top half or the bottom half of the east shore of Lake Tahoe, while cutting east-west between the two destinations just once at the half-way mark.

We awoke to threatening skies on the morning of the drive.  This was a view from our hotel room in Reno.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince driving on the winding roads in the area of the lake in the rain was not likely to be fun, we made a quick decision to head straight down to Carson City and to try to get to Lake Tahoe later in the day.

Carson City looked quite underwhelming when we arrived.  It looked small and unimposing.   It did not look like the capital of a state to me!  The city appeared to have one main drag, Carson Street, that went from north to south, with a few smaller streets parallel to it, and others cutting across in a grid.  I could see no big buildings typical of a big town, let alone a capital city.  The houses were modest in size and older.  There was hardly any traffic on the main road.  The place certainly looked laid back, and as if it had seen better times.

It was time for us to learn more about Carson City.  We drove down Carson Street to the Visitor Center to get information.  We learned that Carson City was named after Kit Carson, and that one of the important historical markers in town was the mint which had now been converted into a section of the Nevada State Museum.  We got a map of the city and a description of a walking tour of about 2.5 miles that covered all the noteworthy sights in town.  (Yes, the town was small enough to be covered that easily!)  The path taken during the walk was called the Kit Carson Trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe kind lady at the visitor center told us that we could park almost anywhere, except at the visitor center where the meter lady would make an occasional appearance.  There was ample parking in front of the houses on the side streets.  It was certainly a nice change to be driving in a city where one could relax and not worry about some impatient person who wanted to get in front of you, or about finding a place to park.

We had a choice of going to the museum or taking a walk along parts of the Kit Carson trail.  We started with the walk since it was not raining at that time.  The main drag, Carson Street, was mostly empty of traffic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany storefronts on the street looked like they were shuttered down and in a state of disuse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked past the obligatory casino in town.  It appeared to have seen better days (and this was true of most of the casinos we saw in small towns in Nevada).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can seen the sign for an abandoned casino next to Cactus Jack’s casino in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following building was the only one of note in that section of the strip.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe side streets had an equally empty feel about them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou would have a hard time believing that you were in a capital city.

But in very short order we found ourselves on the grounds of the Nevada State Capitol.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did indeed see a few people in somewhat formal clothes walk in and out of the building, indicating that some sort of business of note was taking place in these offices.  This contrasted with the feel of the rest of the town itself.  It did not seem to take itself that seriously!

Our next stop was on one of the side streets off the main road, at an art gallery that Angela had found in the city guide.  The rain was beginning to fall steadily at this point, but we were OK since we had our rain gear with us.  I saw this other art gallery on the way.  It seemed to blend in well with the “small” nature of the place.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe building pictured below was our destination for this visit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey were having an exhibition of entries from a statewide art competition.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our way out of the exhibition, the lady who was manning the information table (a turn of phrase that might be considered inappropriate by some :-)) noted that she spent a lot of her time giving tours at the museum.  She then gave us a strong recommendation to spend some time there.  Seeing that the rain was not slowing down, we decided that this was indeed what we would do.

We continued our walk along the Kit Carson trail (marked in blue on the sidewalk) on our way to the museum.  The skies began to clear up a little bit (temporarily, as it turned out) as we walked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed the building where Mark Twain had lived for a few years.   (Mark Twain actually followed his brother, Orion Clemens, the first Secretary to the new government of the Territory of Nevada, to Carson City.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The building appeared to be owned by an Insurance Company!

We continued to walk the back roads of the city.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACloser to the museum, on Carson Street, we passed memorials for the Lincoln Highway, the first coast to coast highway, and the old Pony Express, the paths of both of which used to run through Carson City.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at the museum, passing by the old mint building on our way to the entrance. The visit turned out to be quite interesting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had a big section in the museum about the minting operations that are a part of the history of the city.  This mint worked primarily with silver, and it seems that the minting operations only lasted a few years.  This is a picture of a coin press machine which is still operational and used occasionally.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had a reconstruction of a mine at the lowest level of the museum.  This covered all aspects of the mining process including the construction of the underground structures, the extraction and supply processes, and the safety elements of the operation.  This is a picture of a slide that was used to move material from one level to another below it within the mine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASilver and gold were mined in these parts, and mining used  to be a significant source of employment for people.

There was a section on natural history, including displays about animals and birds, and the about the geology of the area.  The place has a history of significant volcanic activity. They tackled the more recent history of human settlement in that area.  European arrival in Nevada is actually a very recent happening (in a relative sense).   They had a separate section in the museum put together from the Native American perspective (which can be quite different than the White Man’s way of thinking).  There is some tension even today between the Native Americans and the “modern world” in many regards.  The Native Americans try to live in harmony with their surroundings whereas modern man was (and still is) more intent on taking control over and exploiting their surroundings and resources.  We found out that whereas modern man has no hesitation or compunctions about digging up ancient Indian burial sites to study and try to understand life in olden times, the Native Americans believe that their ancestors are to be left alone in their quest for eternal peace in the afterlife.  Even though I have my own scientific curiosity,  I know where my sympathies lie.

The rain had returned with a vengeance as we prepared to leave the museum.  We headed out to a cafe that had been recommended to us for lunch.  It was called the L. A. Bakery Cafe and Eatery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe place was a delightful surprise.  The family had opened the cafe in 2012, selling healthy foods with a light Mediterranean touch. The business seemed to have caught on and become a success with the local population.  From the plaques and other hangings on the walls, I gathered that they had received recognition from the local community and accolades from the local business groups for what they was doing.  They were in the process of expanding their business.  The food was really healthy and tasty.  (I wish I had taken a picture of my salad!)

It was still raining after lunch.  Given that we had stayed longer than we had anticipated in town, and since the weather was not really cooperating, we gave up on making the side trip to Lake Tahoe and decided to take the most direct route for Mammoth Lakes.

Since we had some more time on our hands because of the change in plans, I suggested that we visit the railroad museum, one of the two more significant tourist destinations in town noted in the tour guides (the other one was the state museum).  We found out as we were driving towards  the museum that we had arrived in town on the one day of the week that it was closed. We had to satisfy ourselves with a drive past in the rain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was on to Mammoth Lakes for an earlier arrival than originally planned.  The weather kept changing during the drive.  We even saw a rainbow at some point,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut later on, as we climbed into the mountains, we also ran into a few heavy snowstorms that came out of nowhere and presented some fairly challenging driving conditions every once in a while. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA But I will leave the stories of our further adventures during this trip for another day.