Lancaster, Pennsylvania

My husband and I enjoyed our day away in Gettysburg in May so much that we decided to grab at another opportunity to have a parents-only day out. We decided upon Lancaster because, while I have been to Lancaster County several times, I have never actually been into the town of Lancaster itself. I also had another specific reason for selecting that location which I will explain later.

We wandered along to the Central Market, the oldest continuously operated market in the entire nation. Lancaster has had a regular market since 1730, pretty much on the same site. Unfortunately we were visiting the day after Independence Day so approximately half of the stalls were closed since the vendors were on vacation. We enjoyed wandering around, however, and taking in all of the produce and wares on sale. We bought some wonderful rhubarb from an Amish vendor and a punnet of fresh figs, the first fresh figs I have had in at least three years.

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Our next port of call was a cemetery, the modest Shreiner-Concord Cemetery. You know I love cemeteries and finding graves and you also know that my husband is a massive Civil War nerd so the first grave we visited was that of Jonathan Sweeney, a black Civil War veteran. Pretty much adjacent to that grave was the one that was the focus of my visit: the final resting place of Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens was a radical politician and passionate abolitionist, active in the Underground Railroad and an advocate for both the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. Stevens had elected to be buried in this cemetery because it was not segregated.

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We next wandered back towards the centre of Lancaster. In common with many towns that are trying to rejuvenate their retail and leisure areas, Lancaster has lots of independent stores, quirky specialists, and interesting eateries. My husband and I enjoyed pottering around in all of the vintage stores on Queen Street. I was tempted to buy a mid-century punch bowl and glasses but could not justify doing so since I really have no regular use for it. Mr Pict enjoyed flicking through stacks of old vinyl albums and he did buy one.

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We had worked up an appetite after a morning of exploring on foot so we headed back towards the Market and a pub-restaurant that was recommended by the staff at the visitor centre.

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Refuelled, we collected our car and headed back to our final destination in Lancaster and the one that was actually the prime reason for our visit: Woodward Hill Cemetery. Yes, I love cemeteries anyway but I had a specific reason to visit this one. You see, I have accidentally created a somewhat random travel bucket list. I have visited enough Presidential graves that I now want to see if I can visit as many as possible. I am not as fanatical about this travel mission as I am, for instance, about visiting all 50 states but I think it gives my cemetery wanderings a focus and suggests ideas for trips. Anyway, James Buchanan, the 15th US President, is interned in Woodward Hill Cemetery. The cemetery itself is in a bit of a state, with plentiful collapsed gravestones. We saw myriad groundhogs during our visit who might have something to do with that. Buchanan’s grave, therefore, while inherently simple, looked a little grander by comparison to the surrounding grave markers. Buchanan is consistently ranked as one of the worst presidents in history, often as the worst. Maybe, therefore, he should be honoured to be the 9th president whose grave I have visited.

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The Liberty Bell

We had a day out in Philly on Saturday to celebrate my birthday.  Last year I chose to visit a historic cemetery and this year I decided we should consume more local history.  I thought it was entirely ridiculous that I had been living in the suburbs of Philadelphia for four years now (as of 17 October) yet had never been to see the Liberty Bell or been inside Independence Hall.  That, therefore, was my selection for the first part of my birthday trip.

The lines to get in to see the Liberty Bell – part of the Independence Historic Site – were long but not as ridiculously long as they have been on other occasions when we have considered viewing it.  We, therefore, joined the line and found that it moved at a reasonable pace.  We all had to remove layers of clothing and place our possessions in boxes to be scanned for security purposes but, even so, it only took about half an hour between joining the queue and being allowed to go and view the bell.  There were displays outlining the bell’s history, its symbolism, and how it has been cared for and restored.  The boys had zero interest in lingering long enough to read so Mr Pict and I had to skim and scan.

The bell is, of course, famous for its crack.  This appeared as soon as it was rung for the first time in Philadelphia.  Poor workmanship it seems.  It was recast a couple of times by men whose names – Pass and Stow – appear on the bell and then the bell cracked to the extent it appears now in the 19th Century.  It was probably one of the bells that was rung when the Declaration of Independence was read publicly for the first time on 8 July 1776 but really the rest of its history was pretty insignificant.  Its real importance emerges from its symbolism, particularly for the abolitionist movement.  Its use as a symbol is really why I wanted to see it: the bell is used all over the place locally and nationally so I thought I had really better see the real thing.

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After our visit to the Liberty Bell, the plan was to go and explore Independence Hall.  However, all of the tickets for the day were already gone.  Completely bad planning on our part.  Tsk tsk.  We will have to return another time.  We, therefore, had to content ourselves with the adjacent Old City Hall.  Its significance rests in the fact that it housed the Supreme Court until the nation’s capital was relocated to Washington DC.  We had a quick gander and then we moved on.

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Sticking with the theme of America’s founding, our next pit stop was to see the grave of Benjamin Franklin.  There was a charge, however, to enter Christ Church Burial Ground.  Despite the modest fee, we decided not to pay so I had to content myself with a glimpse through the railings.  Oh dear.  Our planning for the day was really not going too well at all.  Happily none of this was the main event for my birthday day out.

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Inktober 2016 – #25 Zombie

For today’s Inktober drawing I got to scurry back to my subject comfort zone: zombies!  The Drawlloween prompt was “Entombed Tuesday” which could have been interpreted several ways but, of course, as a massive fan of zombies there was only one way I was determined to interpret it.  I realised, however, upon putting pen to paper, that it has been really quite some time since I last drew a human zombie.  Most of my zombie drawings are of zombie animals so it was fun to draw an undead human again, crawling and clambering out of his grave.  This quick drawing has reminded me how much I enjoy drawing zombies and how I should try to find more time to draw them.

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Great-Grandad’s Grave and Coney Island

For reasons I will probably commit to a future blog entry, my Great-Grandfather is buried in Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island.  In fact, the primary reason for building a stay on Long Island into our vacation was to visit his grave as it made sense to do so when my Mum (his granddaughter) was visiting America.  My last visit to Long Island was before I had uncovered the location of his final resting place so, therefore, the final day of our family vacation was committed to my first visit there.  Our travels had intersected quite a lot with Mr Pict’s family history but this was a day for my own family history.  Of course, it was historical in only the loosest definition since my Great-Grandfather died when I was ten.

A couple of summers ago, Mr Pict and two of our boys had spent more hours than expected in a cemetery in London searching for and eventually finding the grave of another of my Great-Grandad’s.  That cemetery had been vast but Calverton National Cemetery was on an even more massive scale.  To indicate how expansive it was, our sat nav app actually identified roads within the boundaries of the cemetery.  Using a map I had downloaded from the relevant website, we easily made our way to the correct section of the cemetery.  Then, using the clearly indicated grave numbers on each brass plaque, the boys ran off in search of their Great-Great-Grandad’s grave with our 8 year old successfully finding it in short order.  Although I did meet him once and have a very misty memory of him, I really know very little about my Great-Grandad.  He was estranged from his wife and daughters and was, therefore, never really part of our family.  To mix my metaphors, although he is clearly an important section in the trunk of my family tree, in terms of family history it is as if he is a little island off on his own, not especially intersecting with the other branches and buds, discovered but unexplored.  Frustratingly, because he is a recent ancestor, one who died within living memory, it is also difficult to access documents about him and begin to piece together the parts of his life.  He’s rather an enigma.  As I stood at his grave, three generations of his descendents gathered together, really the only emotion I felt was that sense of frustration that I did not know more about him, that I wish I had the anecdotes that would breathe some life into him.

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With a whole afternoon spare, we decided to head off to Coney Island since none of us had ever been there, not even Mr Pict.  As someone who is nerdy about the history of sideshows, I wish the title of this blog entry served to indicate that my Great-Grandfather had some connection to Coney Island but there is none.  The only connection is that we somehow reckoned it was appropriate to do something as solemn as visiting a grave in a Veterans’ Cemetery immediately followed by a trip to a boardwalk, beach and fun fair.  Such ying and yang is the stuff of life.

We managed to find a parking spot really close to the boardwalk so within minutes of arriving my children were running around and we were all having a relaxing stroll along the promenade.  We partook of some munchies from Nathan’s famous hot dog stand, people watched and the older boys buried the youngest Pict in the sand and then sculpted the resulting mound into the form of a mermaid.  Really, it wasn’t a merboy as they opted to give it boobies.  Kids!  I was very excited to be at Coney Island, not just because of the whole sideshow thing but also because of other episodes from history and popular culture.  Mr Pict and I knew that there used to be a massive elephant somewhere on Coney Island, an actual building that was shaped like an elephant.  Just because.  It had been a hotel, tourist attraction and brothel.  The architect must have been either a genius or a madman.  Mr Pict had it in his head that it still existed so he asked a brace of cops for directions.  You know that old adage that whenever you are lost you should always ask a police officer because they will know the answer?  Well not only did neither of these police officers have a clue as to its location but they had never even heard of it.  Mr Pict was puzzled.  I googled.  It had burned down in 1896.  No wonder the cops didn’t know anything about it: we were a bit late.  A more tragic tale of a Coney Island elephant, of course, relates to poor, sad, brutalised Topsy.  Topsy was a maltreated circus elephant who was condemned to death after killing her trainer.  So it was that in 1903, the inventor Thomas Edison, engineered the electrocution of the pitiful animal at Luna Park.  It was a spectator event and was filmed to be viewed by even more people.  I also knew of Coney Island from the cult 1979 movie ‘The Warriors’.  It’s one of my guilty pleasure movies so I am not going to argue that it is a stellar piece of film-making with weighty themes but if you have never seen it then I urge you to do so nevertheless.  It depicts a near future – so probably a 1990 that never was – in which tribal gangs defined by elaborate costumes are battling against each other in New York City.  When one gang, the Warriors, are accused of assassinating a kingpin, they must fight their way through the city streets and back to the safety of their home base, which happens to be Coney Island.  Seriously, I recommend it.

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Obviously the major attraction at Coney Island is the fairground rides so it would have been lax of me as a parent to not allow my kids to have a turn on a ride.  Our time was limited, as per the parking meter, so they were permitted to choose one ride each.  The 5 year old chose a little aeroplane ride, though he wanted to do something more adrenalin-fuelled, and the 8 year old chose a shooting gallery which resulted in him winning a penguin.  The 11 and 7 year olds, however, opted to do something more adventurous.  They chose a water flume ride.  At first it was all smiles but, as soon as the log boat climbed higher, the 7 year old began to look stricken and by the time the log hurtled down the watery slope and splash-landed at the bottom he was virtually hysterical.  Poor wee guy.

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And thus our family vacation literally did end with a splash.