Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wackiest New Year's Eve Ball Drops

New York City isn't the only place that has an awesome New Year's Eve celebration.  I came across this article on Travel & Leisure that lists some of the pretty insane ball drops around the US.  Enjoy!

pic via the Travel and Leisure article

Eastport, ME
A big red plywood maple leaf honoring nearby Canada is released at 11 p.m. and an eight-foot sardine (paying homage to the local industry) at midnight. Tides Institute & Museum of Art; (207) 853-4047;

Bethlehem, PA
Home to the headquarters of the ubiquitous bird-shaped Easter marshmallow candy, Bethlehem ceremoniously lowers a yellow, lighted, 85-pound fiberglass resin Peep at 5:15 p.m. and midnight. SteelStacks; (610) 332-3378;

Raleigh, NC
A 1,250-pound steel-and-copper acorn is dropped at 7 p.m. (for the kids) and midnight. City Plaza; (919) 832-8699;

Atlanta, GA
The largest New Year’s party in the Southeast features the fall of an 800-pound fiberglass-and-foam peach. Underground Atlanta; (404) 523-2311;

Vincennes, IN
Known for its multimillion-dollar melon industry, Indiana raises an 18-foot, 500-pound watermelon into the sky, which then opens to release 12 real Knox County watermelons (don’t worry, there’s a splash zone below). Riverfront Pavilion; (800) 886-6443;

Flagstaff, AZ
At 10 p.m. and midnight, the city lowers a six-foot pinecone. Why? Flagstaff lies on the edge of the world’s largest contiguous ponderosa forest. Hotel Weatherford; (928) 779-1919;

Plymouth, WI
This town drops an 80-pound wedge of BellaVitano Gold cheese; alas, it’s made of Styrofoam. Plymouth Arts Center; (920) 892-8409;

Elizabethtown, PA
Elizabethtown lowers a giant M&M at the rather unexpected time of 7 p.m.—so that it can correspond with its Irish sister city, Letterkenny. (717) 361-7188;

Niagara Falls, NY
An illuminated 10-foot Gibson guitar is dropped every year at the Hard Rock Café, drawing crowds averaging 15,000–20,000 annually. Hard Rock Café Niagara Falls, 333 Prospect St.; (716) 282-0007

Key West, FL
The New Year kicks off here as flamboyantly as you’d expect. Key West’s now-famous festivities include dropping a drag queen named Sushi in a giant ruby red slipper. Bourbon Street Pub/New Orleans House complex, 724 Duval St.; (305) 293-9800

Lebanon, PA
Weighing more than 100 pounds, the giant bologna that is dropped in this Pennsylvania city brings crowds from all over. The meat is later donated to local shelters. 9th and Cumberland Streets; (717) 273-7215;

Bartlesville, OK
In 2012, for the eighth year and counting, the town of Bartlesville will drop a giant green olive into a large martini glass that waits at the base of a 221-foot-tall building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Price Tower Arts Center; (918) 336-4949, ext: 19;

Havre de Grace, MD
Known for manufacturing duck decoys, Havre de Grace releases a mammoth 10-foot-by-15-foot wooden illuminated duck decoy. Created by a local resident, the faux fowl is released from a 102-foot ladder truck. Havre de Grace Middle School Grounds; (410) 939-2100;

Prairie du Chien, WI
You’ll have to get in line for a good luck kiss from a 20-plus-pound fish in Prairie du Chien, where revelers await Lucky, the frozen carp. Donning a crown, the spray-painted fish is lowered 110 feet from the air into a wooden cradle at the stroke of midnight. St. Feriole Island; (608) 326-8602;

Brasstown, NC
A live opossum is lowered by a rope from a plexiglass cage in Brasstown, considered the opossum capital of the world. This may seem like a natural New Year’s festivity to longtime residents, but PETA has recently spoken out against the event. Clay’s Corner gas station; (828) 837-3797;

Hershey, PA
A seven-foot, 300-pound silver Hershey’s kiss is raised 50 feet up the side of the Hershey Press Building—not dropped. The reason why? Two children’s hospitals overlook the street where the event happens, letting sick kids kiss the New Year hello without leaving their room. 27 W. Chocolate Ave., (800) 437-7439,

Duncannon, PA
A 10-foot sled makes its way down 110 feet from a restored fire lookout tower each New Year’s Eve at midnight. It’s a homage to the Lightning Guider, a sled manufactured at the Standard Sled Factory, which operated in Duncannon for more than 80 years. Sled Works on Market Street; (717) 834-4311;

Miami, FL
In Miami, never a destination to conform, folks gather at coastal Bayfront Park to count down the New Year by raising their ball: a giant, neon orange, complete with sunglasses—that staple local accessory. Bayfront Park; (305) 358-7550;

Chincoteague Island, VA
The heavily costumed festivities begin at 10:30 p.m. in Robert Reed Park, but everything comes to a halt when a lit-up horseshoe descends for the countdown. Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce; (757) 336-6161;

Mobile, AL
Nothing says the New Year more than a marshmallow sandwich—at least not in Mobile, where residents consume more than four million MoonPies each year. So at midnight, a 12-foot-tall electronic version will drop from the city’s 34-story RSA BankTrust building in the annual “MoonPie over Mobile” celebration.

Easton, MD
Celebrating the crustacean is a year-round effort in this Chesapeake Bay town, and it culminates in the dropping of a giant papier-mâché blue crab on New Year’s Eve at 9 p.m. and midnight. (410)-770-8000;

Panama City, FL
A beach-ball drop is the natural choice for oceanfront Panama City and will be back at Pier Park for the fourth year in 2011. The 800-pound illuminated ball bounces twice—at a kid-friendly 8 p.m. and again at midnight—with stilt walkers, fireworks, and live music. 600 Pier Park Dr.; (850) 233-5070;

Honolulu, HI
The Kahala Hotel & Resort may host a fancy poolside gala on New Year’s Eve, but even it gets in the wacky spirit as midnight approaches—lowering a 14-foot papier-mâché pineapple from the roof. Kahala Hotel & Resort; 5000 Kahala Ave.;

Manhattan, KS
This Midwest Manhattan embraces its status as the “Little Apple” by choosing to drop a shiny red apple before a crowd of more than 10,000. A laser show set to music gets things going at 10 p.m. Aggieville; Manhattan Avenue and Moro Street;

Pensacola, FL
To celebrate the New Year and the Gulf Coast, this aluminum pelican with a 20-foot wingspan drops at midnight to the delight of the crowd of about 50,000. Come for the kid-friendly countdown at 8 p.m. to watch as it lifts off to its 100-foot-tall perch, or wait until it drops at midnight. Downtown Pensacola; Palafox Street and Government Street;

Fayetteville, AR
In the home of the Razorbacks, the hog drop (seen in the pictures here) was the traditional midnight countdown for several years. This year, with the debut Last Night Fayetteville event, there’s a new hog in town: a locally sculpted winged hog with an 8.5-foot wingspan will welcome 2012 as it’s dropped from the top of a fire truck ladder. Fayetteville Square;

Eastover, NC
In a nod to the town’s original name, Flea Hill, a three-foot-tall flea made of fabric, foam, wire, and wood drops from the Eastover Community Center. But be forewarned: this is a family affair, so no booze allowed. Town of Eastover; (910) 323-0707;

Traverse City, MI
With a cherry on top—that’s how you’ll get your New Year’s at the CherryT Ball Drop in Traverse City. Just before midnight, the giant cherry, illuminated by 5,000–7,000 Christmas lights, descends more than 200 feet from a crane hovering over the downtown skyline. Downtown Traverse City; (231) 944-1500;

Mount Olive, NC
Folks in town make way for a well-lit three-foot pickle to slide down a 45-foot flagpole into a barrel—a 13-year tradition known as the great Pickle Drop and courtesy of the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. Corner of Cucumber and Vine; (800) 672-5041;

Port Clinton, OH
“Madness at Midnight” sets in New Year’s Eve in Port Clinton—the walleye capital of the world—as a 20-foot, 600-pound fiberglass walleye, created by a local taxidermist, gets dropped from a 150-foot crane. Locals stand ready with netting to catch it. Madison Street; (419) 734-0022;

Shamokin, PA
Fittingly, for an old coal-mining city, the residents of this small community gather to watch a large piece of faux coal descend as they count down. City of Shamokin; (570) 644-0876;

New Orleans, LA
A fleur-de-lis, the symbol of New Orleans, descends from a 25-foot pole at the top of the Jax Brewery Condominiums at midnight. Catch the best views across the street from Jackson Square, where there’s live music all night. In past years, a New Year’s baby (wearing a Saints helmet, of course) dropped at midnight. Jax Brewery; N. St. Peters Street and Decatur Street;

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Auld Lang Syne

Confession time: as much as I complain about working right near Times Square, I *kind of* enjoy being so close to the action. After all, isn’t Times Square considered the crossroads of the world? And in just a few short days, all eyes will be on this part of the city as we ring in the New Year. I have never celebrated NYE in Times Square – it’s one of those things that native New Yorkers just don’t do. Standing for hours, in a giant crowd, without use of the bathroom? Big pass for me. But hey, people have been gathering here since 1907 to celebrate!

Last week, I had the chance to do something I had never done before – I got to see the New Year’s Eve ball up close and personal. In the week before it takes its place atop One Times Square, the ball, along with the numeral ‘2’ (to replace the 1 in 2011) are on display at the Times Square Visitor’s Center. The theme of this year’s ball is “Let There Be Friendship” and the crystals, designed and crafted by Waterford artisans, feature a pattern that represents friends holding hands around the world. It’s amazing to see how fancy the ball has gotten over the years.

I still have vivid memories of being a kid, watching the giant apple descend, counting down the last minute of the year. And even though I usually wax nostalgic every.single.year for that damn apple, looking back on this video, I realize how lame it actually was. And maybe just teeny bit too New York-centric.  (Was the ball/apple ever properly timed??)

In addition to the ball, there was an area set aside in the Visitor’s Center to write down your wishes for the New Year on little pieces of confetti. These pieces are then dropped onto the crowd below once the clock strikes midnight. Due to a bit of a line, I didn’t get a chance to write my own 2012 wishes, but it was fun to see that so many people had!

As an extra bonus, I got to see this really cool old cop car on the walk up Broadway. Pretty sweet that it pulled up right next to a new NYPD van. You just never know what you’ll see in New York!

For an awesome history of the New Year's Eve ball, visit this site.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Favorites: Dyker Heights Lights

In Brooklyn, we take Christmas pretty seriously.  And if you've strolled through the Dyker Heights neighborhood during December, you'd know exactly HOW serious us Brooklynites are when it comes to the holiday.  Every year, we make it point to drive over to 11th Avenue and 84th Street to see the stunningly extravagant light displays.  And ladies and gentlemen, they do not disappoint. 

(All pictures used in this post are from this site.)

 Happy Holidays!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top 10 Christmas Towns in America

As I mentioned last week, Christmas-time is one of my favorite times of year in NYC.  But there are some towns in America that go to the nines to celebrate Christmas.  This article lists the top 10 Christmas towns in America  - which town walks away with bragging rights?  And how does YOUR town celebrate Christmas?

Your Bavarian Getaway transforms itself into a virtual snow globe of Christmas Magic. Crowned "the Ultimate Holiday Town USA" from the A&E Network and featured by Good Morning America, Leavenworth, WA welcomes you with Roasting Chestnuts, Holiday Characters, Old Fashion Caroling and pure simple Christmas Magic. Visit this charming village in the mountains to celebrate this special season and fill your heart with memories for a lifetime.

Old West Christmas Families use found items from the Old West for ornaments and trimmings, including cowboy boots as stockings, chaps as table runners or bridle bits as garland to wrap around stairwells or railings. They also have a Polar Express, where kids show up in PJ's, and they hop on a locomotive train which rides 30 minutes out of town to the "North Pole," where Santa is waiting and gives them a little bell.

Words like "romantic", "magical" and "historic" are often used to describe this quaint village that has been called "the prettiest small town in America". First settled in 1768, Woodstock retains the elegant charm and rugged character of American antiquity. Wassail Weekend kicks off winter excitement in Woodstock! This festive annual holiday event is held the second weekend in December and features three days of holiday shows, beautiful music, a parade of riders, horses and carriages, a historic house tour, a medieval banquet, a 19th Century Christmas celebration at Billings Farm & Museum and many more activities throughout the village. Voted one of Vermont's 10 best winter events.

Kennebunkport and Lower Village of Kennebunk are nestled between the Kennebunk River and the ocean--"the port" being on the east side of the river and Lower Village on the west. Kennebunkpork Christmas Prelude includes a tree lighting ceremony, a River Tree Arts concert, a chowder luncheon, candlelight caroling and Santa’s arrival by lobster boat. There are three tree-lighting ceremonies – Dock Square in Kennebunkport, Lower Village of Kennebunk and the lobster trap tree in Cape Porpoise; about a dozen Art and Craft Fairs; approximately 12 venues serving either breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner; programs sponsored by the Historical Society; and 12 programs of music celebrating the season. Santa still arrives by lobster boat escorted by two very special “lobster elves”. The Kennebunkport Business Association’s Christmas Prelude is now in its 26th year. For each of these years, business people have worked with the community to recreate the spirit and joy of the Christmas season.

The locals pay tribute to their centuries-long musical heritage by caroling in the caves, in a huge amphitheater located in Blanchard Spring Caverns, where the sound is incredible! Also they make corn shuck angels (made out of corn husks and string) that hold various musical instruments like fiddle banjos and dulcimers, and a guy whittles spools into ornaments.

Driving through North Pole, in any season, you will see why we capture the imaginations of visitors to our great state. When you visit North Pole, you’ll experience great outdoor venues, highly charged youth sports and arts activities, friendly faces and pleasant conversations with friends you just meet in the local stores, year-round Christmas decorations, and street names and light poles that reflect our motto, and now Santa Claus Lane boasts three beautiful traffic circles within a quarter mile—certainly an experience for the record books! No visit to North Pole would be complete without a stop at the world famous Santa Claus House. As an extra treat, mail your postcards from our U.S. Post Office (Santa’s Zip Code is 99705!) so that friends and family can receive mail postmarked from North Pole, Alaska.

As the annual host of the Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend, The Campagna Center is proud to launch Alexandria’s holiday season with the fresh scent of heather and the festive melody of bagpipes throughout the quaint streets of Old Town. The Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend events, with the exception of the Parade and the Holiday Designer Tour of Homes, is held at the George Washington Masonic Memorial. The Memorial is located at 101 Callahan Drive (at the intersection of King & Callahan) in Alexandria, VA.

Just a frozen 20 minute ferry ride from the northern tip of Michigan, this town of only 500 people celebrate Christmas like they did a century ago -- people travel only on horse and buggy, since cars have been banned for 100 years. Among the town's traditions, Santa visits every child to hear their Christmas wish, they have an annual island Christmas bazaar where they sell unique crafts and their decorations are full of lots of green, red and lilacs, which is a special local color.

Welcome to Christmas New Orleans Style! Join with us as we celebrate the spirit of our city aglow with twinkling lights, festive iron-laced balconies, and garland decked streetcars. Converse with Historical Characters as they stroll the streets of the Vieux Carre and share their love of New Orleans; learn the secrets of our award winning cuisine at Cooking Demos; visit our historic homes and museums decorated in festive holiday colors; and find treasured holiday gifts as you stroll our quaint streets and shop with our local merchants. Papa Noel hotel rates are available and make it easier to spend more time at Christmas New Orleans Style. Restaurants continue the French tradition of “Reveillon” dinners. The icon of our city, 200 year old St. Louis Cathedral, will host a variety of weekly concerts, and additional Special Events for all ages will bring family and friends together to fall in love with New Orleans all over again!

Every year the city dresses itself in lights to celebrate the Holiday Season. The Riverwalk slips on thousands of lights and the parks dress up with 40' Christmas trees. We've tried to give you a taste of what you'll discover when you visit downtown SA this year, whether you're a local or coming for a visit. Residents pull out all the stops to make this Christmas memorable, from piñatas and mariachis to riverboats and twinkling trees. Instead of turkey, they make tamales. Some of the traditional Mexican decorations include figurines made from cornhusks wearing colorful dresses. Finally, they stage an annual spirtual and spirited procession, "La Gran Posada," a moving reenactment of the first Christmas eve.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Favorites: Cows for Sale

A few months ago, I wrote about our trip to the Fort Worth Stockyards. What that post didn’t include was an account of one of the coolest experiences I have ever had – an accidental visit to a live cattle auction!

Ya see, I was actually familiar with cattle auctions even before I visited Texas. When we lived at home, my brother and I used to be big TV junkies and would watch pretty much anything we could find. That included the agriculture channel, RFD-TV. One day we had stumbled upon a live cattle auction and were mesmerized. There was just something so fascinating about hearing the voice of the auction’s caller over video of cows just hanging out in a field.

We happened to be at the Stockyards the day that the Superior Livestock auction was taking place.  This auction broadcasts from the Fort Worth Stockyards every other Friday. I have to admit, I was pretty stoked when I saw this door…because I knew exactly what was happening on the other side of it.

My mom and I took the cue of two other tourists and decided to open the door and step inside the auction. We were NOT disappointed! We were quickly greeted by a cowboy who started to explain what exactly was happening. He damn near fell over when I asked if this was the auction on RFD-TV and was equally shocked when I told him I had seen it a bunch of times. I still didn’t really understand exactly how the whole process worked, but remained captivated by the auction caller’s sing-songy voice. The highlight of the day was when the camera turned to mom and I and we gave a nice wave! If only I could have gotten an aircheck of that...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lunch Hour Christmas

Christmas-time in NYC might arguably be my favorite time to be in the city. From the decorated store windows and trees draped in sparkly lights to the street corner Santas, there is just something magical in the air come December. My office is located right off of Times Square, so I have a front row seat to all of the fun Christmas action.

It was pretty warm out today so I decided to use my lunch hour to take a quick jaunt up to Rockefeller Center to see this year’s tree. Isn’t she pretty?

For me, no visit to the tree is complete without lighting a candle in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. However, getting across the street in the height of tourist season can be some feat. Mass was being held during my visit so I didn’t want to go wild with pictures. But you get the idea. The church’s interior is absolutely beautiful.

I also had planned to take some pictures of Saks 5th Avenue’s windows but I was honestly so underwhelmed that I didn’t even make the effort. I also felt way too touristy whipping out my iPhone to take pictures of Kathie Lee and Hoda taping a segment for the TODAY Show. There are just some lines that New Yorkers don’t cross!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Kid in a Candy Store

Fact: I have a total sweet tooth and love candy in pretty much any shape or form. And I can guarantee you - if there is chocolate on the premises, I will sniff it out and eat it. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see that our Denver city tour offered a visit to a famous candy factory. Free samples? Yes, please.

Founded by Carl Hammond, Hammond’s Candies has been a fixture in the Mile High City since 1920. Today, Hammond’s Candies produces a multitude of sweet confections including candy canes, ribbon candy, chocolate piggy backs and their famous Mitchell Sweets - marshmallows dipped in caramel, which I can confirm are as delicious as they sound.

Our tour started with a free sample of their hard ‘art’ candy (word to the wise: unless you want a blue mouth, do NOT choose the blueberry candy) followed by a short film about the factory. Then the real fun began…we were able to see candy being made! I’ve seen countless factory tours on some of my favorite Food Network shows, and never did I think I’d be visiting one myself. Candy-making truly is an art form and you walk away with a better appreciation of how it is made when visiting a factory like Hammond’s. While we were on the grounds, we watched candy canes being cut, ribbon candy running through the crimper machine, and chocolate turtles being boxed up.

On the way out of the factory, we were given a free sample of oops! candy before being turned loose into the candy store. I have to admit, it was pretty overwhelming! The selection of flavors all sounded so tasty and the displays were so colorful that I couldn’t help but take a ton of pictures. When all was said and done, we walked out with some hard candy, ribbon candy for my mom (since we have a very random inside joke about it) some Mitchell Sweets and a sampling of all different kinds of chocolates. If you haven’t yet picked up Christmas candy canes, I HIGHLY suggest checking out Hammond’s.  You will not regret it!

Hammond's Candy is located at 5735 N Washington Street in Denver, CO. Factory tours are free and run every half hour, Monday-Friday 9:00am - 3:00pm and Saturdays 10:00am - 3:00pm.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Today we remember the brave souls that gave up their lives 70 years ago when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.   Below is a great posting from the History Channel's site that reveals 5 lesser known facts about Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona. 

pic via wikipedia
1. Twenty-three sets of brothers died aboard the USS Arizona.

There were 37 confirmed pairs or trios of brothers assigned to the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. Of these 77 men, 62 were killed, and 23 sets of brothers died. Only one full set of brothers, Kenneth and Russell Warriner, survived the attack; Kenneth was away at flight school in San Diego on that day and Russell was badly wounded but recovered. Both members of the ship’s only father-and-son pair, Thomas Augusta Free and his son William Thomas Free, were killed in action.

Though family members often served on the same ship before World War II, U.S. officials attempted to discourage the practice after Pearl Harbor. However, no official regulations were established, and by the end of the war hundreds of brothers had fought—and died¬—together. The five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo, Iowa, for instance, jointly enlisted after learning that a friend, Bill Ball, had died aboard the USS Arizona; Their only condition upon enlistment was that they be assigned to the same ship. In November 1942, all five siblings were killed in action when their light cruiser, the USS Juneau, was sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

2. The USS Arizona’s entire band was lost in the attack.

Almost half of the casualties at Pearl Harbor occurred on the naval battleship USS Arizona, which was hit four times by Japanese bombers and eventually sank. Among the 1,177 crewmen killed were all 21 members of the Arizona’s band, known as U.S. Navy Band Unit (NBU) 22. Most of its members were up on deck preparing to play music for the daily flag raising ceremony when the attack began. They instantly moved to man their battle positions beneath the ship’s gun turret. At no other time in American history has an entire military band died in action.

The night before the attack, NBU 22 had attended the latest round of the annual “Battle of Music” competition between military bands from U.S. ships based at Pearl Harbor. Contrary to some reports, NBU 22 did not perform, having already qualified for the finals set to be held on December 20, 1941. Following the assault, the unit was unanimously declared the winner of that year’s contest, and the award was permanently renamed the USS Arizona Band Trophy.

3. Fuel continues to leak from the USS Arizona’s wreckage.

On December 6, 1941, the USS Arizona took on a full load of fuel—nearly 1.5 million gallons—in preparation for its scheduled trip to the mainland later that month. The next day, much of it fed the explosion and subsequent fires that destroyed the ship following its attack by Japanese bombers. However, despite the raging fire and ravages of time, some 500,000 gallons are still slowly seeping out of the ship’s submerged wreckage: Nearly 70 years after its demise, the USS Arizona continues to spill up to 9 quarts of oil into the harbor each day. In the mid-1990s, environmental concerns led the National Park Service to commission a series of site studies to determine the long-term effects of the oil leakage.

Some scientists have warned of a possible “catastrophic” eruption of oil from the wreckage, which they believe would cause extensive damage to the Hawaiian shoreline and disrupt U.S. naval functions in the area. The NPS and other governmental agencies continue to monitor the deterioration of the wreck site but are reluctant to perform extensive repairs or modifications due to the Arizona’s role as a “war grave.” In fact, the oil that often coats the surface of the water surrounding the ship has added an emotional gravity for many who visit the memorial and is sometimes referred to as the “tears of the Arizona,” or “black tears.”

4. Some former crewmembers have chosen the USS Arizona as their final resting place.

The bonds between the crewmembers of the USS Arizona have lasted far beyond the ship’s loss on December 7, 1941. Since 1982, the U.S. Navy has allowed survivors of the USS Arizona to be interred in the ship’s wreckage upon their deaths. Following a full military funeral at the Arizona memorial, the cremated remains are placed in an urn and then deposited by divers beneath one of the Arizona’s gun turrets. To date, more than 30 Arizona crewmen who survived Pearl Harbor have chosen the ship as their final resting place. Crewmembers who served on the ship prior to the attack may have their ashes scattered above the wreck site, and those who served on other vessels stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, may have their ashes scattered above their former ships. As of November 2011, only 18 of the 355 crewmen who survived the bombing of the USS Arizona are known to be alive.

5. A memorial was built at the USS Arizona site, thanks in part to Elvis Presley.

After the USS Arizona sank, its superstructure and main armament were salvaged and reused to support the war effort, leaving its hull, two gun turrets and the remains of more than 1,000 crewmen submerged in less than 40 feet of water. In 1949 the Pacific War Memorial Commission was established to create a permanent tribute to those who had lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor, but it wasn’t until 1958 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation to create a national memorial. The funds to build it came from both the public sector and private donors, including one unlikely source. In March 1961, entertainer Elvis Presley, who had recently finished a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, performed a benefit concert at Pearl Harbor’s Block Arena that raised over $50,000—more than 10 percent of the USS Arizona Memorial’s final cost. The monument was officially dedicated on May 30, 1962, and attracts more than 1 million visitors each year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Top 10 U.S. Civil War Sites

Back on December 6th, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, banning slavery nationwide.  Below is a great posting that I found on National Geographic that lists the top 10 U.S. Civil War sites.


Fort Sumter National Monument
Charleston, South Carolina

The U.S. Civil War began at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery unleashed a barrage on the Federal fort. Sumter’s Union defenders surrendered after 34 hours; two soldiers (both from the Northern ranks) were killed during the engagement. Unfortunately the following four years would prove far bloodier for both sides.

Over three million men fought in America’s brother-against-brother conflict and more than 600,000—2 percent of the entire population—died. The war settled the question of Union versus States’ Rights, ended slavery, and laid the groundwork for a new political and economic order that eventually guided America’s rise to superpower status.

Visitors to Fort Sumter, where it all began, can walk the fort’s walls, examine a wide array of artillery pieces, explore the museum, and enjoy the same views the fort’s defenders saw from the harbor of historic Charleston, South Carolina. Naval history buffs will enjoy an added bonus; the famed Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley can be visited nearby in the old Charleston Naval Shipyard.

Manassas National Battlefield Park
Manassas, Virginia

Hopes of a quick and glorious Northern victory were dashed at Manassas when thousands of idealistic young soldiers and 90-day recruits clashed. The Battle of First Manassas (First Bull Run), in July 1861 ended with Federal troops—and spectators who had traveled from Washington to watch a victory—fleeing the field in a disorganized rout at the hands of Confederate forces.

The second battle on these fields, during August 1862, ended with another Confederate victory, one that set the stage for Gen. Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the north.

The Henry Hill Visitor Center, home to a fine museum, stands near a monumental statue to Confederate Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, who rallied troops to stop a Federal advance here—earning him the nickname "Stonewall." Henry Hill is an excellent starting point for several walking tours (around the smaller First Battle of Manassas field) and driving tours (around the larger grounds of the Second Battle of Manassas).

Shiloh National Military Park
Shiloh, Tennessee

Shiloh was the largest battle in the Civil War’s Mississippi Valley Campaign and its terrible cost was shocking to both sides. Of the 109,784 men thrown into the fight on April 6 and 7, 1862, 23,746 were casualties (killed, injured, or missing) when the battle ended with a very costly Union victory. Living history demonstrations here offer a tangible taste of Civil War camp life and are capped each year by a large event on the anniversary of the battle.

Shiloh triggered a titanic struggle for nearby Corinth, a bustling railroad junction that for the South once held strategic importance perhaps topped only by Richmond itself. Corinth was the site of its own battle and an extended siege, which resulted in the loss of this key junction, a major blow to the Confederate cause. Today the site is within Shiloh National Military Park and home to the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center.

Richmond, Virginia

As capital of the Confederacy, the South’s industrial heart, and the ultimate target of Northern armies, Richmond is rich with Civil War historic sites. Many of them are grouped under the auspices of Richmond National Battlefield Park in and around the city itself.

Richmond was the target of several invasions by both land and sea. Defensive positions and battlefields include several from the Seven Days Campaign as well as New Market Heights (scene of the U.S. Colored Troops’ legendary charge), and Drewry’s Bluff, where Confederate guns foiled an attack by a U.S. naval fleet.

Much of the city burned during evacuation and occupation in April 1865, but numerous historic structures remain. The national battlefield park’s main visitors center is located in the Tredegar Iron Works, where many Confederate munitions were produced. The site of the former Chimborazo Hospital, where countless wounded from Virginia’s many battlefields were treated, is now a museum to the war’s medical history.

Antietam National Battlefield
Sharpsburg, Maryland

The setting sun of September 17, 1862, ended the bloodiest one-day battle in U.S. history. Some 23,000 soldiers, from both sides, were killed, wounded, or missing in action after the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland. That terrible cost was more than nine times as many Americans as were lost on D-Day, the bloodiest day for the U.S. in World War II.

Though the battle did not result in a convincing victory for either side (Northern troops were able to turn back Lee's Maryland invasion), Antietam had a major effect on the course of the war—and on the lives of millions of people.

Declaring the slaves free meant total war between North and South. No negotiation or reconciliation would be possible save one side crushing the other by force of arms. As Union armies moved south, about one of every seven slaves escaped to the Northern troops, and many African-Americans served under the Union banner.

Today, battlefield visitors can explore landmarks like Burnside’s Bridge, the Cornfield, and Dunker Church. A walk down Bloody Lane is a bit like stepping into a Civil War photograph. That spot saw some of the war’s fiercest fighting, and the first graphic photos of the war’s appalling casualties were shot here.

Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

A trip to Gettysburg enables visitors to walk some of America’s truly sacred soil. The well-preserved battlefield is dotted with legendary combat sites such as Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, which appear now much as they did in the fateful days of July 1863.

No trip to Gettysburg is complete without walking the route of the war’s most famous assault. Pickett’s Charge, named after flamboyant Gen. George Pickett, who lost much of his division in the desperate charge against the Union forces on Cemetery Ridge, was one of the war’s most poignant moments. It was also the end of Lee’s hopes for victory in Pennsylvania. Visitors to Gettysburg's focal point, the Angle, can stand at the high-water mark of the Confederacy, the point from which the Southern cause slowly ebbed away to defeat.

The Gettysburg battlefield looks much as it did in July 1863 though now marked with many monuments to remember the three-day battle’s 51,000 casualties. More memorials can be found in the Soldiers National Cemetery, which was the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s now famous Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg, Mississippi

The city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, was the scene of a Civil War siege from May 18 to July 4, 1863. The 47-day standoff for the city was also waged for control of the Mississippi River. Vicksburg’s surrender effectively split the Confederacy in two by giving the Union control of the critical waterway. “Vicksburg is the key,” Abraham Lincoln once said. “The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.”

Today, Vicksburg National Military Park essentially circles the city. A 16-mile tour road parallels the Union and Confederate lines and features 15 designated stops at places from artillery battery sites to the Vicksburg National Cemetery—final resting place of some 17,000 dead. The ironclad gunboat U.S.S. Cairo, sunk in 1862 and not raised until 1964, has been restored and, together with an adjacent museum, offers a fascinating glimpse of Civil War naval life.

Andersonville National Historic Site
Andersonville, Georgia

The fighting was over for Union soldiers who made the long trip to confinement in Andersonville, Georgia—but the danger had hardly ended. More than 45,000 Northerners were held at Camp Sumter during the 14 months that this most notorious of Civil War prisons was operational. Nearly 13,000 men died from disease, malnutrition, exposure, and other ills during 1864 and 1865.

Walking the grounds of the 26.5-acre prison, now delineated with white posts, it’s hard to believe how many men were packed into the area. Sections of reconstructed stockades and gates stand in the fields, and living historians often illustrate what life was like under the camp’s brutal conditions. Providence Spring, a water source that emerged during an August 1864 storm, was thought by some prisoners to be a gift from above and can still be seen today.

Andersonville is also home to the National Prisoner of War Museum, which commemorates those who served as POWs in all of America’s subsequent conflicts.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia/Lookout Mountain, Tennessee

For those who like to see the big picture, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park offers a chance to view a theater of war at the macro level. From the heights of Lookout Mountain, visitors can gaze over miles of surrounding landscape and trace the movements of both armies during the epic campaign for Chattanooga.

The 5,300-acre Chickamauga Battlefield was the site of the South’s last major victory, in September 1863. By November of that year Union forces had prevailed in the larger campaign, however, and were in control of Chattanooga.

Lookout Mountain Battlefield is well worth a visit, not only for its historic treasures but also for its breathtaking views. The fight on these slopes was nicknamed the “Battle Above the Clouds,” and James Walker’s massive painting depicting the struggle is on display in the visitors center here.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
Appomattox, Virginia

The first step toward healing a nation was taken on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, when Gens. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant sat down in the parlor of the McLean House and signed surrender terms. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia essentially ended the war and sealed the South’s fate, though formal Confederate resistance did not end until May 26, when Gen. E. Kirby Smith surrendered the Trans-Mississippi Department in New Orleans.

Today visitors to the park, the site of the Battle of Appomattox Court House, can see a reconstruction McLean House, meticulously built by the National Park Service and opened to the public in 1949. Other historic buildings here date to the fateful days of 1865. The dirt road that victorious Union troops once lined in salute to their Confederate counterparts after their surrender has been preserved, as has the spot where Lee’s army finally folded its flags and laid down its arms. Appomattox is also home to a Confederate cemetery and a museum of artifacts that includes the pencil used by Lee on the surrender terms.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Road-Tripping through the Heartland?

After throwing around tons of ideas for consideration, I think Dan and I have found a winning location for our next adventure….Missouri. That’s right; we’re planning on taking a long drive across the Show Me State to see all that it has to offer. The itinerary we are proposing will have us starting out in St. Louis (yes, ARCH!!) and ending the journey in Kansas City. Of course, we’ll cross the border further into Kansas than Kansas City (Topeka, perhaps) as well as take a drive up to the quaint city of Falls City, Nebraska. Since we never got out of the car during our last stop in Nebraska, I don’t feel like we did the state justice. And my strange obsession with the state is just pulling me back there. One thing I am really looking forward to is stopping by some of the small cities that my dad lived in during our family’s short stint in Missouri. These include O’Fallon, New Bloomfield and Holts Summit. So Missouri, ready to show us what ya got?

Any suggestions of places to see/things to do are greatly appreciated!