Finding Modoc Stash or How I Detoured Three Hours For an Old Geocache

Before I tell you my story, I should take a moment and explain that I am a Geocacher.  Geocaching is a hobby in which people use multimillion-dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods. That may be a flip oversimplification. A little more of a concise definition for Geocaching may be: hunting for and finding a hidden container, location, or event using GPS coordinates posted on a website. There are over 3 million Geocaches hidden, worldwide.  There are apps that you can use depending on what kind of phone you have. I use a Garman Oregon 450T, handheld GPS for most of my Geocaching trips.

GPSThe hobby became possible May 2, 2000, when the government turned off “Selected Availability” from the geospatial constellation of satellites that enable the Global Positioning System (GPS) to function.  On that May day, civilian use of those satellites became 10X more effective.  On 3 May the first “GeoStash” was hidden in Oregon to test the accuracy of the newly released satellite capability.

If you are not familiar with Geocaching, you can watch a quick Geocaching 101 video.

Now that you are caught up, I will tell you about my adventure.

I had planned a weekend trip to Savannah to see Jeanne in early April.  The weather has been a little crazy since March with some unseasonably cold weather; I was looking forward to a  warmer climate and some quality time with Jeanne.  I had taken a day off on Friday the 13th and planned to drive south.  Jeanne was going to be working; my goal was to arrive in Savannah for dinner.

576245636_orig

National Forest Map, South Carolina

While planning my trip, I was looking to see if there were any challenging Geocaches along the way to break up the seven-hour drive.  I have had my eye on the oldest cache in the State of South Carolina.  Modoc Stash (GCF4) was placed in December 2000 in the Sumter National Forest.  I have thought about coming here before but have had to change plans because of weather, hunting season or a lack of time.   The other issue is that an attempt to find this Geocache would take me over 135 miles out of my way, roughly a three-hour detour off my usual run to Savannah.

Why would a reasonably intelligent man drive 135 miles out of his way to find an ammo can in the woods? If you don’t have the Geocaching bug, you may not get it.  There were several draws for this hike.  First, it is a Y2K hide.  There are less than 175 of the original caches hidden in 2000 still active worldwide. On top of that, it is one of the rare remaining Y2K caches with a four place alphanumeric serial number.  Second, it helps me fill in some challenges.  I add a new county (McCormick) in South Carolina, fill in a new page for the South Carolina DeLorme Challenge (Page 42). This find qualified me for the April 2018 GeoChallenge of the Month.  Yes, I am a geek.

63f4678c-b61a-47f7-b5b0-23bed7082cb8_l

The Trailhead along South Carolina Route 23

I left my house in Chesapeake just after 7 a.m. and began the trek south and west.  When I came upon the I-95/I-20 interchange in Florence, South Carolina, I went west on I-20 and started the detour hoping to get past Columbia, South Carolina’s Capitol, before Friday afternoon traffic became problematic.  Just after 3 p.m., I exited I-20 west of Aiken and worked my way along country highways until I arrived at the trailhead.   There is parking at this location and a geocache, Modoc Trailhead (GC7B2YZ),  is very close to the parking area.

I had a backpack with me with water, a couple of Kind bars, and some of my usual Geocaching gear.  I also had a walking stick. I usually do not use the Geocaching app on my iPhone for hikes like this one.  Instead, I had loaded my Garmin Oregon 450T with the coordinates for the caches along the trail.   I had the trailhead marked with the first cache that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, another along the path and finally the goal for the day, Modoc Stash.

I have some recommendations for this hike.  First, sturdy hiking boots.  Flip flops or sandals are not going to cut it on this trail.  Second, be aware of your surroundings.  This trail is shared with mountain bikers. You will want to keep a lookout for them.  There is also wildlife in the national forest.  There are over 48 species of mammals including bears, bobcats, beaver, and deer as well as a variety of venomous and non-venomous IMG_4623snakes. Finally, you need to stick to the trail until you get within about 200 feet of the cache location.  At the parking area, you will be about 1/3 of a mile from the target geocache.  That is a straight line reading.  You will not be able to do a straight line land navigation quickly.  Stick to the trail.  I know that switchbacks are a pain, but there are a few elevation changes and water obstacles to cross. Two of those water obstacles do not have bridges.  They are not difficult to handle. If you stick to the trail you will come on a geocache, Eclipsed in the Forest (GC7B2ZG), about halfway to Modoc Stash.  The hike to the old geocache is about 1.1 miles. One last point, I marked a waypoint where my Jeep was parked.  While I used the trail markings, I like to know the distance to the car on the way out.

stevens creek
Stevens Creek

 

water crossing Modo

The first crossing point

 

IMG_4627

Modo Stash in hand!

The hike was fun.  Early spring in South Carolina with the trees budding and some species of wildflowers in bloom is lovely. If you are interested in birds, there is no shortage of variety from songbirds to the big raptors and wild turkey.  The cool temps, in the low 60s, with a breeze kept the bugs to a minimum.  Once I was within 200 feet of the cache location, left the trail to head to “ground zero.”  Going off trail here is not a difficult bushwhack.  Once I was within 20 feet, I switched from my handheld GPS to my eyes and my “geosenses.”  Within a minute of getting to the general area, I had the ammo can in my hand. I traded some trackable items and signed the log.  It was time to head back to the Jeep and get back on the road to Savannah.

 

 

IMG_4635

The trail on the hike out.

 

I took a little over an hour to complete the hike and find three Geocaches.  I actually had a strong signal on my iPhone that enabled me to do a preliminary log for all the caches and document the trackable items exchanged at the old cache.

From the trailhead parking area, it took about three hours to complete the trip to Savannah.  I was at my destination around 7:30 p.m. in time to get cleaned up and go out for dinner.

The next Geocaching road trip for me will be to collect a group of Y2K Geocaches in northeast Georgia.  One will require a boat to get me out to an island in Lake Lanier.  A friend of mine completed that grouping a couple of weeks ago.  That trip will have to be more than just a detour on the way to Savannah! Perhaps I can convince Jeanne to partake in a little Geocaching adventure with me.

Click here if you would like more information the trails in the Sumter National Forest.

Partake

 

The War At Home

My daily routine during the work week is pretty well established. I commute 22 miles from my home in Chesapeake, Virginia to my office on a Navy installation in Norfolk. I occasionally vary my route because of traffic reports or time of day to avoid congestion. If you are familiar with this part of the country, you will know traffic can be a challenge. Because of the river systems feeding the estuary that is the Chesapeake Bay, people around here are doomed to deal with a system of bridges, tunnels, and bridge-tunnels. Bottlenecks abound!

While I am maneuvering my ride along Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk as I approach the bridge over the Lafayette River, I stay focused on what is ahead of me and what is overtaking me from behind. I don’t notice the scenery or anything off the road if it does not have an impact on traffic. As a result, I am not aware of changes in neighborhoods, especially when it comes to the installation of art on public land.

IMG_4470

Larchmont Branch Library, Norfolk

On a Sunday morning, not too long ago, I was out indulging a hobby of mine. A friend with the same hobby pointed me in the direction of a new art installation around the Larchmont Branch Library in Norfolk. Located south of the bridge over the Lafayette River on Hampton Boulevard, it is a place I pass almost every day. Because it was early in the morning, no one was around, and the rising sun was casting long shadows on that brisk morning.

What I found was an installation of steel plates standing upright on bases positioned on the west and north sides of the library. On each one of those plates, an outline of a veteran was cut out. These were not random cutouts; the veterans represented here are among those who have committed suicide. The installation is called “The War at Home“.IMG_4450 (2)Mission 22, a veterans organization dedicated to combating veteran suicide is responsible for the installation of these memorial plates. Each is an outline of a specific veteran, a dog tag with the name of the lost veteran is placed at the bottom of each plate.

A plaque by the installation states:

This memorial is meant to remind us of our loss, to amend the past, honor the present and prevent this from happening in the future.

IMG_4453

On average, 22 Veterans take their own life each day. That is 22 too many. According to the Mission 22 website, “These memorials remind us of the sacrifice, honor those we’ve lost, and help tie civilian to soldier.” They want to thwart the epidemic of suicide.

The War at Home is a “temporary” installation. If you live in Norfolk or plan on visiting, I would recommend you come down and walk among the plates, among the lost. Over the last 15 years, we have asked a great deal of our volunteer force. They have been going into harm’s way more so than any other generation in American history. Perhaps installations such as this will serve as a reminder that more must be done to engage veterans and help them to live. Mission 22 is looking to find permanent homes for these installations.

If you want to help or get more information, I invite you to go to the Mission 22 website.

Like those steel plates, our nation is weaker because of what is missing.

 

Thwart

I love a parade… usually

President Trump has announced his intention of conducting a grand parade to honor the Armed Forces of the United States. His inspiration comes from the Bastille Day Parade he attended in July 2017 in Paris. The French have been conducting this parade on the morning of July 14 every year since 1880. I will note here that the Germans marched the same route during their occupation of Paris during World War II. The parade passes down the Champs-Elysées from l’Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde. At the end of the route, the formation marches in front of the President of France, his government, and foreign ambassadors. It is a French tradition.

WWII Victory Parade NYC

82nd Airborne marching in the WWII Victory Parade in New York City (Library of Congress)

But I am an American. I am a Veteran with 24 years of military service. The United States does not have a current tradition of an annual military parade on a national scale. We “parade” after significant historical events. For instance, after winning a war. The Grand Review of the Armies was held in Washington, D.C. on 23 and 24 May 1865 to the cheers of those viewing along the route.

After World War I, General Pershing marched the American Expeditionary Force down 5th Avenue in New York. In 1946, the 82nd Airborne Division in “Operation Homecoming” marched, 13,000 strong, with their equipment through the streets of New York representing the combat forces of World War II.

1991 Victory Parade DC

The National Victory Celebration in Washington, DC following the Gulf War in 1991 had representatives from the Active and Reserve Components (8,000 military personnel) and the equipment that won that conflict. The price tag for that parade was approximately $8 million. Of that, $3 million was paid for by the taxpayers. The rest came from private donors.

Military commands are regular participants in patriotic parades and presidential inaugurations. Military Bands and small units march in ceremonies across the country on the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. There are ceremonial units in the Washington D.C. that have the specific mission to represent the Armed Forces at official state occasions. You also see the Old Guard maintaining vigil at Arlington National Cemetery. We march and represent all the time.

Why does President Trump insist on having a full-blown U.S. Military Parade? And what would it cost? I don’t know the answer to the first question. I will tackle the second.

Right now, the Secretary of Defense is preparing options for President Trump. Secretary Mattis will go in with some scenarios to conduct an event ranging from a large-scale parade on par with the National Victory Celebration in 1991 down to small-scale events.

An event with the scope of the 1991 parade would include marching units, bands, vehicles, tanks, self-propelled artillery, and missiles. Expect 8,000 uniformed personnel to participate. There will be flyovers by fixed winged and rotary aircraft along the route, most likely moving down Pennsylvania Avenue. Accelerating the cost from 1991, this parade would probably cost over $40 million.

Stepping down from the mother of all parades, a medium sized event with 5,000 troops, their equipment, and aircraft, just less of it, would run in the price range of $20 Million. This parade would be comparable to that of a Presidential inauguration event.

An event with only 1,500 to 2,000 service members and limited amounts of equipment could be sized to a parade similar to a large scale 4th of July event and carry a price tag of around $10 million to $15 million.

The logical time to run a parade, in whatever form it would take, would either be on the 4th of July or on Veteran’s Day, 11 November 2018. Veteran’s Day this year will mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice that ended World War I. That may be a reason to honor the service of the men and women of this country that helped, in conjunction with our allies, bring a close to that conflict. I think a small, relevant event would be appropriate to mark that occasion.

A Military Times poll posted on their website (as of 2/10/18 at 5 p.m.), showed that an 89% majority favored not having a parade at all. I live near and work in Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk is not only a Navy town, but it also sits in the middle of one of the most significant concentrations of military bases in the country. The buzz I am hearing is that a tiny group of people see the idea of a National Military Parade as a good idea. Most of the people (a high percentage are veterans) I have spoken with don’t think the country needs this kind of event. Why? We don’t rely on parades to showcase our military might. We don’t need to march like the Russians in Red Square or the North Koreans in front of their “great leader” (don’t get me started). I really don’t like the optics of that with President Trump reviewing the troops. We can demonstrate our military acumen, when needed, with great effect. I think we need to respect the might of the armed forces of the United States of America, but I also believe we should appreciate the humility of the men and women in the uniform of this country and not put them in the bullseye of an unnecessary political storm.

If I may be so bold as to offer a fourth option to those outlined before, do something small and respectful on the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. Let’s just not make it a date every year. Mr. President, I am sure you can book a room and watch the parade in Paris on July 14, 2018. I hear that it is a beloved national tradition there.

Doughboys

Insist

Parking Garage Photo Collection

I am absent-minded when I park my ride.  If I am heading to the airport, hospital, shopping mall, or a work location to give a presentation I usually space out where I left my wheels.  It is actually a little embarrassing.

I have had enough of walking through parking lots or garages with my hand in the air pushing the lock button and waiting for the horn to sound. Sometimes I end up hitting the panic button and waiting for the full cacophony of headlights and horns and discover that I am on the wrong level.  That leads me to my next mystery, did the sound come from the level above or the level below? I am hoping that someone reading this post is thinking “Oh yeah, I have done that!”

I have begun using the camera on my iPhone to record where I have left my Jeep.   This usually means that the clue to the location of my car is just a few swipes away in the picture folder on my phone. An example to the left is of the long-term parking garage at the Norfolk International Airport.  I snapped that on my last business trip out to San Antonio.  That was only an overnight trip, and I had to pull out the phone at baggage claim to remind me where I had left the Jeep the previous morning. (The airline made me check my small suitcase because the overhead compartments were almost nonexistent on the flight from Charlotte to Norfolk.)

On Friday, 22 December, I had an appointment at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia.  I arrived to find the communal garage pretty full, even for the Friday before Christmas.

After circling the first and second levels for a few minutes, I finally found someone pulling out of a spot.  Once in the parking space, I mindlessly pulled out my phone and snapped a photo of the closest location sign to where my Jeep sat waiting for me. I heard a small laugh behind me.  When I turned around a woman, walking in the same direction as I, looked at me and smiled. I was busted getting my photographic waypoint before heading for my outpatient procedure.  “That is actually a good idea,” she said.  We chatted as we headed to the elevator about the joys of the times when we had not remembered where we parked.  It is easy enough to do in some of the larger parking lots or multiple story parking structures that have become ubiquitous in modern life.

As I waited for orthopedics to see me, I scrolled through my phone and found about two dozen shots of parking lot location signs from all over the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  There are also shots of street signs and neighborhood streets in Savannah and Washington, D.C. where I have found on street parking.

You may think that I am a forgetful middle-aged man who is overly reliant on a photographic prompt to find my car.  But next time you are wandering from row to row trying to find your wheels in stormy weather or dragging luggage behind you, I will be making a beeline for my Jeep, currently parked on Level 3, Aisle D.  Safe travels, my friends!


Communal

Gotham Writers Workshop Assignment

I recently completed a creative writing course through the Gotham Writers Workshop.  The following short post is the updated draft of the third week’s assignment for Individuality.  It is a rant piece on something I hate.

Sand

I hate sand.  I have always hated sand.  When I was a child, my mother would take my siblings and me to the beach at Breezy Point.  Only in her late twenties, she would haul her five children out of Brooklyn in a station wagon full of towels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beach toys.  Once at Breezy Point she would first take me out to the beach, spread out a big blanket and place my three-year-old butt in the center.  Only then would she go back and grab the rest of my siblings with one of her girlfriends schlepping the gear needed to keep five kids, all under the age of 7, entertained for a day at the beach. Mom would not worry about me wandering off my cotton island in the sand.  I hated the feel of it burning my feet, on my skin and in my hair. I hated the taste of it in my mouth.  Most kids bring pails and shovels to the beach, I brought a hand broom and fought my first battle in the sand.

I still hate the texture, the way it gets into everything, and never seems to go completely away. It collected in my boots, scratched my glasses and never really shook out of my desert camouflage uniform. It concealed explosives and absorbed blood, the stain from either only lasting a few hours before being covered. Giant storms of it would blow and envelope everything in its path.  The sun could not completely penetrate the huge clouds rolling across the desert. Sand could steal the horizon and any sense of safety I had retained.  The taste of it was always in my mouth, I breathed it in and coughed it up.

I hate that it took a body as quickly as a bullet took a life.  I hate how it covered mass graves and weapons caches.  Even when heavy equipment was brought in to move it, you knew it was only a matter of time before the sand would undo all the effort to displace it.

No amount of washing those uniforms seems to be able to get rid of all the sand.  Even now,  14 years later, I can pull out the big plastic bags in which my combat uniforms are stored, and I will still find the powdery off-white substance that fuels my nightmares. It makes my skin crawl.

Everyone laughed at me and thought I was weird when I was three years old because I would go to such lengths to avoid contact with sand.  Forty years later, I remembered what I knew as a very young boy. I have no use for sand.

 

Serendipity, Thy Name is Goat

The text of the email read as follows: “Don’t ask how I got to your page but I may have what you are looking for…..”

Sometimes the universe surprises me.  Something amazing happens, and I have no explanation for it.  My father would call that a miracle.  I will call it serendipity.

We all have icons in our lives.  Some are more obvious than others.   Growing up in the largest of the five boroughs in New York City,  I could point to structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Williamsburg Bank Building or the Cyclone as being Brooklyn icons.  But, there are more personal icons.  Those are things that may be small and significant to a neighborhood, a block, or a family.  Examples in my life included the letter “F’ on the front end of the subway train that serviced my neighborhood.  The F Train was transportation to adventure. It would take you to Manhattan and, with a change of subway line, would take you anywhere in the city.

prospect panthers

Panthers of Prospect Park (3rd Street Entrance)

The Panthers at the Third Street entrance to Prospect Park guarded the approach to a different universe in my imagination away from the traffic and buzz of my neighborhood.  (They are not lions! Google it if you don’t believe me, I’ll wait.)

And then there was Fred Goat.  I have been on a mission to find a photo of Fred Goat since last October.  That tasking came from my godmother, my Aunt Anne.  This post is, in fact, my third on the subject.  The other two posts are:

To summarize, Fred Goat was a logo that adorned the side of the turret on the building at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Dean Street in Brooklyn.  In the 1940’s and 1950’s, my maternal grandfather would encourage his daughters to say good night to Fred Goat as they passed by on the journey from my grandmother’s family home on Dean Street to their home in  Park Slope.  The tradition continued with my siblings in the 1960’s as we made a similar journey home from the venerable old brownstone on Dean Street to our home on 4th Street near the park. As a child, I would look at that castle-like structure, and I would imagine it was ruled over by a goat named Fred.

 

 

My search for a photo had yielded me various shots of the exterior of the building, but none had an angle I wanted with Fred on the side of the turret. I worked with the Brooklyn Public Library, the NYC Municipal Archives, the New York Times and other potential sources of the holy grail of Fred Goat photos.  But my efforts went unrewarded.

That is until last night. I noticed that an email had arrived in this blog’s admin account as I was working on some old family photos.  The text of the email read as follows: “Don’t ask how I got to your page but I may have what you are looking for…..” I took a look at the name of the sender, and I knew the universe might be up to something.  I replied to the email hopeful that I was about to be reunited with an icon from my past.

The email was from the great, great, great granddaughter of  Fred Goat (the entrepreneur, not my mythical goat).  I don’t know how she stumbled on my blog.

Fred Goat2

Courtesy of the Goat Family

Perhaps, one of my 23 subscribers let it slip that I was looking for a photo of her family’s old business in Brooklyn.  My subscribers are, after all, a very exclusive and influential group! I would like to know how she stumbled on me, but I promised not to ask. So this me, not asking.

Just before ten last night, another email came in with two photos attached.

Ladies, Gentleman, and exclusive and influential subscribers, I give you Fred Goat!

Fred Goat1 (2)

The Fred Goat Company, corner of 3rd Avenue and Dean Street.  Courtesy of the Goat Family

We all have quirky family traditions.  At least I hope and wish we all do. The real Goat family probably never knew what was being whispered from the back seat of a random Ford Country Squire station wagon to the logo on their building. That secret is out now.  Without ever knowing it, there was a connection between the families.  Of course, you didn’t know about us, and the younger members of my family thought you might be real goats.

Aunt Anne, here is your photo courtesy of the Goat Family.  I will start working on quest #2 (that is another story for another evening).

My thanks to K.G. for sending this along. Please know that from southern Virginia to coastal Massachusetts, my Mom, siblings, aunts, cousins and maybe some nieces and nephews are going to be saying goodnight to Fred Goat tonight.  Some are doing so for the first time.

Goodnight, Fred Goat!

Returning a Bracelet to the Wall

Jeanne and I found it about a year ago in an antique store on Maybank Highway in Charleston, South Carolina.  A Vietnam era POW/MIA bracelet with the name LCDR James Beene and a date, 10-5-1966. It was in a case with old military buttons, medals, and coins. I had worn one of these as a teenager in the 1970’s, albeit with a different name etched on it.DSCN2492

I think that I was initially bothered by seeing it in the display case with a price tag.  This was not, at least to my thinking, something that should be for sale.  After walking around the store and looking at all manner of antique collectibles, I came back to a sales associate and asked for the bracelet.   I didn’t think it was right to leave it sitting in the case.

Perhaps I should explain two things here.  The first is that the idea for these bracelets came from two college students, Carol Bates and Karen Hunter in 1969 as a way to draw attention to the missing men of the Vietnam conflict without getting drawn into the politics of the day.  (You can read more about how the idea of the bracelets became a reality clicking here:  Bracelet ).  The bracelets originally included the name, rank, and date of loss of the service member.  The idea was to wear the bracelet until the person whose name was on your wrist came home. Second, I am the son of a Naval Aviator who served on active duty and in the reserves from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. The name on the bracelet, James Beene, was a Naval Aviator, a contemporary of my father’s.  I spent almost 24 years as a naval officer; I feel a connection to anyone who has worn or is wearing the uniform.

Lieutenant Commander James Alvin Beene, USNR was a native of Burbank California. He was a member of Attack Squadron 152, Carrier Air Wing 16 aboard USS ORISKANY (CVA-34). On October 5, 1966, he was the pilot of a Douglas Attack Skyraider (A-1H), serial number 137610, on armed reconnaissance over the coastal area of North Vietnam. His aircraft disappeared after he entered the clouds during the mission.

I was wondering what I should do with the bracelet.  Should I try to return it to the family?  Was there a group to which I could send it? I knew I did not want to put it in a drawer and forget about it. After discussing it with Jeanne, we decided that I should bring it with me on my next trip to Washington, D.C. and leave it at the Vietnam Memorial Wall at the base of the panel that bears LCDR Beene’s name.

I know that items left at the Vietnam Memorial Wall are collected, cataloged and conserved.  The collection will serve as part of the display for a planned Visitor Center. Perhaps this bracelet could find a home in that collection.

At the beginning of July, I was scheduled to conduct a brief at the Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.  I traveled to the area the day before my presentation to give me time to get into the city in the early evening.  There was a METRO station close to my hotel, so I took the train into the city and walked down to the Mall on a hot, humid evening.

I found James A. Beene’s name on panel 11E, row 48.  I carefully laid the bracelet at the base of the wall.  While there, I noticed other things left behind in memory of some of the more than 58,000 names of Americans killed or missing from that conflict.  Along the wall were a few long stemmed roses as well as a handful military medals from the Vietnam era scattered along the base of the Wall.  There were people carefully taking rubbings of names off the wall onto paper provided by volunteers.  There were veterans, in silent contemplation, lingering near panels.

I didn’t want to stay too long. I had delivered the bracelet that I had for almost a year. It was time to wander back to the METRO station at Foggy Bottom and head back to my hotel.  As I walked through the streets of Washington, I couldn’t shake the thought of the loss of all those service men and women in that conflict. Many of the families still do not have answers about their loved ones. We, as a country, owe it to those who gave their lives in service to this nation to gain as full an accounting as is possible. It is the very least we can do for those who gave the last full measure of their devotion.

 

 

 

 

 

Brooklyn Tour

It was my youngest sister’s idea. In recognition of our parents’ 60 years of marriage, we would return to where it all started. Brooklyn! The plan was pretty simple, Mom and Dad would come down from their home in Massachusetts with my sister and meet up with the rest of their children in Brooklyn. I cannot remember the last time we (Mom, Dad, and all six children) were together without spouses and grandchildren in tow.

We booked rooms at the Brooklyn Marriott and used that as our starting point for our tour.  My brother had arranged for a tour guide from Brooklyn Unplugged and a large luxury van to take us on a four-hour tour of the significant locations in my parents’ lives. Our tour guide was Jeff Stirewalt, and our van driver was a gentleman named Tito.

IMG_4002We boarded the van in front of the Marriott at 1 p.m. Our first location was the house on Dean Street in the Boerum Hill neighborhood that was the center of my mother’s family for generations.   As we stopped along the street, we, noticed the door open and an arborist coming out of the venerable old brownstone with the owner of the home.  My sister jumped out of the van and introduced herself to the owners, Bob and Carol.  As it turns out, they had purchased it from my great-uncle in IMG_39771989.  To our surprise and delight, they invited us into the house for a quick look around. The house has been restored over the years, but the architectural details, many of the light fixtures and some remnants of my mother’s family remained.   Our hosts talked to us for around 20 minutes.  We were even invited up to the third floor where my great uncle’s study had been converted to closet space for the front and back bedrooms.  It was in this room where my great-uncle had painted a map of a large section of Brooklyn with the Fire Department of New York firehouses, call boxes and equipment. When the closet renovation was done, the new owner could not bring himself to paint over the sections of the map that survived.

DSCN2447

Brooklyn Fire Map painted by my Great Uncle, Edward A. O’Connell

 

After speaking with the owners and reminiscing about our eccentric great-uncle, we offered our appreciation for their incredibly generous invitation to glimpse the house.  We left Boerum Hill and headed to Red Hook, the neighborhood where my father lived as a child. While this part of Brooklyn had gone through a dramatic transformation from the turn of the twentieth century when it was predominantly populated by Irish and Italian immigrants to a mostly Cuban and Dominican neighborhood, some of the places from his childhood remained.  The most emotional location was Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, my father’s family parish when he was a child. (Visitation is located at 98 Richards Street at Verona Street)

img169

Dad, as a Visitation altar boy, front row, center

DSCN2450

Visitation of the Blessed Virginia Mary, Red Hook, Brooklyn

48.visitation.church-506x380There was a social going on the in the yard next to the church when we pulled up.  The front door was open, so we got out of the van and went inside.  While we were inside the darkened church, a woman from the social came in and asked if she could assist us.   I told her that my father’s family had been members of the parish and that he was an altar boy here in 1940.  A smile came across her face, and she immediately offered to light up the church and illuminate the fresco behind the altar. Tears came to his eyes as he took in the sights of this grand old Gothic church.  I am sure memories of both his parents’ families came to the forefront of his consciousness.

We loaded back into the van and headed to Coney Island to the place where my parents met as summer camp counselors for the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO).  I would be remiss if I did not mention our driver, Tito.  He handled that Mercedes Van like he was in a car modified for drifting.  He maneuvered us around Brooklyn as if he was on rails, narrowly missing cars in traffic, pulling U-turns on city streets and squeezing into tight spaces with remarkable ease. His handling of traffic on the Belt Parkway was NASCAR worthy! He was able to turn the transits between stops into a thrill ride. Every time we loaded into the van after a stop I made sure Mom was buckled in.  As we traveled from stop to stop our tour guide, Jeff, filled in with facts about Brooklyn.  My parents, of course,  corrected him a few times! (I know my father is reading this so I will admit to chiming in a few times as well.)  While we were on the Belt Parkway the subject of beer came up, followed by an impressive display of classic beer jingle singing by my brother, Bob, who belted out the tunes for Rheingold, Schaefer and Ballentine Beers, respectively! We were all having a grand time.

Once we made it to Coney Island, we offloaded at the West 28th Street ramp to the boardwalk at Coney Island, this is the place where my parents met and got to know each other while they were working at CYO.

 

Lunch had to be at Nathan’s!  Tito somehow parked right in front of the restaurant.

 

My parents were full of stories about taking their summer camp charges to the pool and to the beach. Stories of their own adventures on the Cyclone, which turned 90 years old the day after we visited.  You could almost see the memories in their eyes as they took in the sights and sounds around them that day.

 

From Coney Island, we traveled to the neighborhood that I remember, Park Slope.  This is the area where my mother grew up in the big limestone on 4th Street, my father lived in an apartment on 9th street with his family, and I grew up in a brownstone down the street from my maternal grandmother.

 

DSCN2482

Liz knocking on the door on 4th Street

Tito, our driver, was able to park the van across the street from the house I grew up in on 4th street.  My youngest sister jumped out of the van and up the stoop to the front door of the brownstone.  Ringing the bell brought the current owner to the door.  I have no idea what she must have thought when she saw the group gathering on the sidewalk.  Liz asked for permission to take a group photo on the stoop.  Isabel surprised us all by inviting us in for a quick look at the house. Amazingly, for the second time today, we were entering into a house that was important to our family, welcomed by people who did not know us but were quick to offer a kind invitation to revisit memories.

 

We finally did get the photo on the stoop as we departed for our last official stop.

 

Tito dropped us at our final tour stop, St. Saviour Church on 8th Avenue. My parents were married here in June 1957.  This is the parish to which both sides of my family belonged in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  It is the parish where my mother went to high school and where I went to elementary school.  My father and older brother sang in the choir here.  At the end of my choir audition when I was a child, the choir master looked at me and announced that they were also looking for altar boys. He pointed me to the front of the church.  This was the center of parochial life for the family.

 

We arrived at the church in time for five o’clock mass, which we had arranged to be said for my parents.  My parents seemed to be deeply moved by the service.  It had been over 40 years since the last time we sat as a family in this church.

Once mass was concluded, and my parents had spoken with the priest on the steps of the church, we made our way to the Stone Park Cafe for dinner.  Seated at a large round table at the front of the restaurant, we enjoyed a meal while talking about our adventure that day and sharing stories.  We could not believe how lucky were to have Bob and Carrol invite us into their house on Dean Street and Isabel welcome us into the brownstone that was our home on 4th Street.  Mom and Dad were ready to call it quits after dinner, so we made our way back to the hotel.  Once we bid them goodnight, the “children” headed for a nearby tequila bar.

IMG_4014

Around midnight, June 24, 2017

After a few drinks, someone came up with the idea to walk up onto the Brooklyn Bridge to check out the skyline.  We had been game for anything all day, so why not?  We ended up on the Brooklyn tower at midnight, taking in the sights of the New York skyline.

While looking at lower Manhattan, I had to wonder how many more times we would be together.  Was this the last time we would be in Brooklyn as a group?  Given how widely scattered we are from Massachusetts to southern Virginia I am afraid I know the answer to that question.  As we packed up the cars on Sunday morning, my brother handed off two big boxes of old photos and slides from my father for me to sort, scan and catalog.  I am sure that will keep me busy through the summer.  After saying our goodbyes, I started my trek south to Virginia.  While the family had moved out of the city years ago, I could not help but think at this moment we had left Brooklyn for good.

 

It was a fantastic day for my parents and my siblings.   It was a celebration of Regina Kelly and Jerry Baumann on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary.  It was a day I will not soon forget.

I want to thank my sister, Liz, for coming up with this idea and bringing my parents down from coastal Massachusetts.  My brother James for arranging the tour and the guide. My sister, Cathy, for finding a fantastic restaurant. My sister, Eileen, for finding parking in Park Slope and staging a car to get my parents back to the hotel after dinner.  I also want to thank Bob, the oldest of the siblings, for capturing the day with his camera and his encyclopedic knowledge of 1960 beer jingles.

For Bob and Carol on Dean Street and Isabel on 4th Street, your own kind invitations to come into your homes was astounding and much appreciated.  I think I speak for all of us in saying that going into the houses again was the biggest thrill of the day. From me,  from my family, thank you so very much!

Thanks to Jeff, our guide, and Tito, our driver, from Brooklyn Unplugged for an incredible afternoon!

 

 

Addressing My Past

If you know anything about me, you will know I like to research and discover things about my ancestors.  I do because, until a few years ago, I did not know all that much about them.  Either side of the family was pretty much a mystery except for the O’Connells. For me, the O’Connells were my maternal grandmother, Regina, and her brothers Edward and James.  Edward was her twin and James was my godfather.

I have spent a lot of time looking through sites like Ancestry.com, FindaGrave.com, and Newspapers.com  for names and dates of family events. I have also researched the family homes in Brooklyn. This week I plugged in an address to see what would turn up. The house at 164 Dean Street is in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.  During my lifetime it was “Uncle Ed’s house.”

P045

164 Dean Street, circa 1940, NYC Municipal Archives

It came into my family in March 1907 with the deed going to John Boyle (my third great-grandfather).  With the death of John Boyle, it passed into the hands of the O’Connell family, specifically my great-grandfather, Edward F. O’Connell.  It passed to my Great Uncle, Edward A. O’Connell in 1941 and James O’Connell was added to the deed soon after.

It was common for multiple family units in the Irish immigrant community to fill these venerable old Brownstones. From 1907 through the late 1980’s, 164 Dean Street was the home of many of the Irish names that run in my family; Boyle, Cooke, Mahoney, and O’Connell.

I went into Newspapers.com and found The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the daily paper for Brooklyn for 114 years from 1841 to 1955.  What I found was a little bit of a revelation.  I caught some of my ancestors living their daily lives.  The first thing to catch my eye with the Dean Street address was a letter written by my, then 10-year-old, grandmother to the children’s page published in May 1917 seeking admission to the Humane Club.  It seems to have been a column written by someone who went by “Aunt Jean.”

The newspaper did a lot of society reporting, and it actually reported on parties on Dean Street.  Mary Boyle Cooke (my second great-grandmother) celebrated her 81st birthday:

Mrs Anthony Cooke Birthday

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun, Nov 14, 1937 – Page 18

There were parties for my cousin William “Billy” J. Mahoney, Jr. (1st cousin, 2 X removed)  The first was his 21 birthday party, the second announced his return home on furlough from the army.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun, Dec 14, 1941 – Page 20

With all those “Misses” invited, I think his mother, my second great-aunt “Gertie,” may have been trying to marry Billy off in 1941.

Billy would, like so many young men during that time, join the Army.  He went to boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  Either during a break in training or before heading over to the European theater he came home on a furlough, and his mother threw him another party.

Billy Mahoney home on furlough

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Thu, Jun 10, 1943 – Page 4

I think the second event was a lot more bittersweet than the 21st birthday celebration.  Billy would go on to fight in Europe where he was wounded in action.  He came home to Dean Street and took care of his mother.  He never did marry.

My great Uncle Ed (Edward A. O’Connell) was an interesting character.  He was a banker,  a talented artist and a bit of an amateur historian of the Fire Department in New York City.  In his study on the third floor of the brownstone on Dean Street he had painted a borough map of Brooklyn with the locations of all the fire houses, call boxes and graphics of some of the equipment.  I don’t know if any photographs of the wall were ever taken.  If there are any out there, I would love a copy.  On 24 October 1948, his work appeared in the Old Timers section of the paper.  Both the graphic and the write-up were his work.

Graphic.png

Text FDNY

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 24 October 1948, page 24

I was originally looking for information on births and deaths. I found the life in between.

Revelation

60 Years

My parents, Regina and Jerry Baumann were married on June 3,  1957. Today is their 60th wedding anniversary. They were married when he was 23, just 2 months shy of his 24th birthday, and she was 2 months past her 19th.

Mom and Dad wedding

Monday is an odd day for a church wedding, and yet there they were at St. Saviour Church on 8th Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.  The bride was the daughter of a New York City Fireman. The groom, a young Naval Aviator, was the son of a Brooklyn, shipyard welder.  They were the products of a strong, working class, Irish Catholic upbringing in a world that had recently survived the Great Depression and World War II.  They were of the generation coming of age during the innocence of the 1950’s in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The bride’s parents had great hopes for their eldest daughter, and her choice for a life partner at this age was not immediately embraced by her parents.  They finally relented and gave their blessing.   I guess if my father could land a jet on the rolling deck of an aircraft carrier at sea, he must have shown some potential.  With the blessings of both families, wedding plans were expedited, and they arrived at the church on that Monday to say their vows and start their journey together.

Mom and Dad 3 June 1957

Vows at St. Saviour Church in Brooklyn

The marriage was officiated by Rev. William Scrill, a friend of the bride and groom from their days as CYO counselors at Coney Island. Rosemary McNulty, my mother’s best friend, was the maid of honor. Don Hayes stood up for my Dad. Donald Harper, one of my Dad’s Navy buddies, made a last-minute appearance.

S-103 (2)

L to R: Don Hayes, Regina “Kelly” Baumann, Jerry Baumann, Rosemary McNulty and Don Harper

I tend to study old family photos. The one above is my favorite for a few reasons.  First of all, my mother is positively beaming.  My mother has never been comfortable with her appearance. In fact, she has always downplayed her looks. She is, unquestionably,  an American Beauty.  (Anyone who says otherwise is itching for a fight.)  My Aunt Ann, my mother’s sister, is just barely visible photo bombing over Don Harper’s shoulder.  The other story in this photo concerns the two people on the right of the group shot.  Ensign Don Harper met Rosemary McNulty for the first time on May 26, 1957, just 8 days before this photo was taken.  Introduced by the same couple that they are flanking in the photo.  Take a close look and notice that her left arm goes back to Ensign Harper’s side.  If I were a betting man, I would say that they are holding hands.  The smile on her face reveals a great deal.  Sixty years later, Don and Rosemary are still holding hands in South Carolina.

I am not going to give you some fantastic story of my parent’s perfect life together.  There are no fairy tales.  Marriage is work.  Mom and Dad had more than their share of trouble, heartache, triumph, and adventure.    Their union has produced six children, three sons, and three daughters.  All are college graduates, all have families of their own.  There are 13 grandchildren including adopted and step-grandchildren.

Through their lives together they have battled alcoholism, cancer, periods of unemployment and significant financial challenges. They sometimes battled each other.  During some very dark years, my mother held the family together by sheer force of will.   But, they came back to embrace sobriety, beat cancer, succeed in business and travel the world together.  Today they are battling my mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s Disease.  They are still together, honoring the vows they shared sixty years ago today.

S-007

I want to congratulate my parents, Regina and Jerry, on reaching this milestone together. I wish for their continued love and happiness no matter what challenges lie ahead.  Whatever comes, I know you will get through it together.  I love you both!