Tuesday morning we sadly bade farewell to Emily and NYC, retrieved the Old Home from her quarters in Jersey and set off for Annapolis, MD.
Back in 2001 my job involved a significant amount of travel for monthly meetings that were typically located in central, convenient places such as airport hotels in Denver, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago. One time however, just to keep things interesting, our meeting was held in out-of-the-way Annapolis, Maryland. Normally I would have been pretty unhappy about having to fly all the way to Baltimore, rent a car, drive an hour to Annapolis, all just to give a 30 minute presentation at a one or two-day meeting that never involved leaving the hotel. However this particular meeting was scheduled to take place a couple of days before we were to leave for vacation (Emily had a basketball tournament in Atlanta). So instead of flying to Baltimore, flying back to California, then flying to Atlanta, I decided to stay in Annapolis an extra day then leave directly for Atlanta. Upon arriving in Atlanta, I told Robin “Annapolis is really cool, we should try to go there some day”. That day was Tuesday.
We arrived late afternoon, found a laundromat near the state capital building, did our laundry, and then walked into the historic downtown for dinner at The Iron Rooster. Their specialty happens to be home-made pop-tarts:
Wednesday we walked to the Naval Academy for a guided tour of the campus (aka “The Yard”). We learned that about 1,200 “Plebes” (freshman, short for plebeian) are accepted to the Academy each year out of about 20,000 applications. Females now account for 25% of each new class. Graduates (about 85% graduate) are commissioned as ensigns in the Navy or second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. The Navel Academy, besides being free, is considered one of the best liberal arts and engineering schools in the country. The midshipmen (their military rank while at the Academy) are required to work-out 2 1/2 hours every day, with most doing so by participating on one of the 30 collegiate sports teams, or dozen club and intramural teams.
One of the highlights of the tour was watching “Noon Formation”. Every day at noon the entire Brigade of Midshipmen meet in front of Bancroft Hall, get in formation, and march into the hall for lunch while the navy band plays Anchors Aweigh. Once in the hall, all 4,000 of them eat simultaneously in 30 minutes. Here is a video (of the march, not the eating):
We then toured Bancroft Hall, considered to be the largest dormitory in the world. Bancroft, besides housing every midshipman (over 1,700 dorm rooms), contains everything from the cafeteria to the bookstore, the laundromat, post office, gym, bank, health clinic and barbershop. It even has its own ZIP code!
Once in the building we walked through the rotunda and up the marble stairs to Memorial Hall which contains a list of all the graduates who have died in battle. Very sobering.
The final stop on our tour was the Navy Chapel, which happens to contain the crypt of Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones (considered to be the father of the US Navy along with John Barry).
The tour now over, we decided to walk to the Naval Academy Club for lunch and then a quick visit to the gift shop so I could buy a hat for Saturday’s football game.
Overall we were very impressed with the Academy. The tree-lined brick walkways, perfectly manicured grounds, and French Renaissance architecture sitting on the banks of Chesapeake Bay are absolutely gorgeous. The uniformed midshipmen are courteous and dignified (and in great shape). We both came away with a better understanding and appreciation of the discipline, sacrifice and ever evolving comradery that permeates throughout the student body.
Oh, the goat. The mascot at the Academy is Bill the Goat. One of the first stops on our tour was to see the Goat statue.
With the first football game of the season just days away, fear the goat tee shirts have become prevalent around town. The Navy takes their football very seriously, especially the annual game against Army (Navy has won the last 13 Army-Navy games). One of the bits of information every Plebe must know is the exact number of days until the Army game, so that if asked by an upper classmen they will have the correct answer. An incorrect answer leads to on-the-spot push-ups. Fear the Goat!
We spent the rest of the day strolling around downtown with a stop at the city dock to see the Kunta Kinte – Alex Haley Memorial. Part of the memorial is a statue of Alex Haley recounting his family’s history to three children of different ethnic backgrounds.
For those familiar with the book and the TV series Roots, Haley’s great ancestor Kunte Kinte arrived at this very Port in Annapolis aboard the slave ship Lord Ligonier in 1767.
We finished our day with dinner at the Dock Street Bar and Grill and dessert at Tutti Frutti for frozen yogurt.
Thursday we left Annapolis and drove to Silver Springs, MD to visit with our friend Pam Ex. Readers may remember that Robin and Pam were roommates at the U of I, and stood up in each others weddings. Pam and her husband Chuck are moving to Sarajevo, Bosnia (for Chuck’s work) for at least the next 14 months starting later this month. In spite of the chaos of moving to Bosnia, Pam made a wonderful brunch for us. It was really nice visiting and seeing her before their incredible journey starts.
From Pam’s house, we drove to the Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. Manassas was the site of two major civil war battles in the summers of 1861 and 1862. The battle of First Manassas (or First Bull Run per the Union soldiers) was the first major civil war engagement between the armies of the North and South. In Washington the prevailing thought was that once the Union Army began firing, the Confederates would turn and run and the war would soon be over. In fact, as the troops began their march toward Manassas, just 50 miles from Washington, many congressman and other citizens packed picnic baskets, loaded their carriages, and followed the army south so as not to miss the only battle of the war. Unfortunately 10 hours of vicious fighting and 900 lost lives swept away any notion that the war would end quickly.
The battle itself started well for the Union troops as they were having some success against the outnumbered southerners, but the arrival of Thomas Jackson’s brigade turned the tide and before long the reinforced Confederates forced the Union army to withdraw. Jackson’s stand in the face of a fierce battle earned him the nickname “Stonewall”, as one of the other generals called to his retreating troops, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”.
Unfortunately the Union withdrawal got bogged down when the soldiers crossed the stone bridge over Bull Run and ran into a traffic jam caused by all the congressman’s carriages (senseless then, senseless now). Now panicked, the withdrawal turned into a rout. The only positive being that the Confederate Army was too disorganized to chase them to Washington.
We toured Henry Hill (where most of the fighting took place), the Stone House where many wounded soldiers found some refuge, and the Stone Bridge which fords the Bull Run tributary, and was on the highway (now called the Lee highway) taken by the Union soldiers on their advances and retreats during the two battles.
Inside the Stone House, carved into the floor boards, are the names of 2 union soldiers (5th New York Infantry) who were wounded during the Battle of Second Manassas. Charles Brehm recovered and survived the war, 17-year-old Eugene Geer died of his wounds.
After Manassas we drove to the Sheraton Dulles Airport Hotel where we happily met up with our friends Barry and Claudia Altshuler (from Chicago area, Barry and Claudia went to the Cubs v. White Sox game with us a few weeks ago). The Altshulers were in town for a wedding and managed to work their schedule so they could meet and travel with us for a day. We had a nice dinner at Stone’s Cove Kitbar and dessert at Cold Spoon.
Friday, after breakfast at the hotel, the four of us made our way to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The Center, an annex at Dulles Airport, is part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Steven Udvar-Hazy is a billionaire who made his money as the founder of a company that leases jets. The annex houses hundreds of aircraft and exhibits. We took a guided tour by an ex-test pilot. Some of the many highlights included the Enola Gay (dropped atomic bomb over Hiroshima), an Air France Concorde, a Lockheed Blackbird spy plane and the space shuttle Discovery.
We had a great time visiting and touring with Barry and Claudia, even if it was only for one day. Thanks guys for joining us. Hope the wedding was fun!
After lunch with the Altshulers, Robin and I headed to Fredericksburg and checked into the Courtyard by Marriott Fredericksburg Historic District Hotel. We are in Fredericksburg to visit several important Civil War battle sites, but our first order of business was to get a good nights sleep so we could wake early and drive back to Annapolis for the Navy vs. Colgate football game. We thought it would be fun to attend a college game, see the famous March-On of the brigade of Midshipmen, and the Blue Angel fly-over.
We arrived early to have breakfast at Miss Shirley’s Cafe before walking to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
We had a great time and just loved the college football atmosphere combined with all the pageantry of Navy football. The only disappointment was the fly-over. Instead of the Blue Angels, we saw a Grumman TBM-3 Avenger and two North American SJN-5 TEXANs. Pretty slow and quiet compared to Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornets, but we did learn that one of the TBM-3’s was actually flown by former President George HW Bush during WWII, so that was pretty cool.
The March-On was great. 4,000 Midshipmen march into the stadium and onto the field (by company) just before kick-off for the national anthem. They then tip their caps to the fans, and take their seats. After every touchdown the Plebes run to the end zone for push-ups, and of course Bill the Goat roams the sidelines and keeps an eye on all the festivities. The tailgates looked impressive and they have a nice grassy hillside at one end zone for families to picnic. Instead of using nets to catch the footballs on extra points and field goals (on the grassy knoll side of the field), they let the kids catch the balls. They have to give the ball back but the kids just love it.
The stadium itself is really part sports venue and part memorial. On the facing of the upper deck are the names of every major battle fought by the Navy and Marine Corps. Around the stadium are numerous plaques and displays commemorating various graduating classes and battles dating all the way back to the revolutionary war. It was truly inspiring.
Navy won 48-10. Just 98 days till the Army game!