Friday, September 28, 2007

Edgartown Lighthouse

Edgartown, on the eastern end of the island of Martha’s Vineyard was once a whaling port. The first lighthouse was established in 1828, on the western side of the inner harbor, but deteriorated through the years and was finally knocked out, like a lot of things were, by the Hurricane of 1938.

Then the Coast Guard took over, and replaced it with this cast-iron tower. It’s now under the control of the Vineyard Environmental Research Institute, just beyond the town’s center and at the end of North Water Street, the start of the public Norton Point Beach. Today, the lighthouse is equipped with an environmentally-friendly, solar-powered lamp, its beacon alternating white and red light 170 feet above sea level.

European settlement of Martha's Vineyard began in Edgartown, named for the son of England’s James II. By the 1800s, over 100 Edgartown men were captains of whaling ships. Just off Main Street, there are houses dating from the 18th century, and whalers' mansions from the 19th century. Among the oldest buildings is the Vincent House, built in 1672, now a museum depicting life on the Island through the last four centuries. The Old Whaling Church built in 1843 by the whaling captains, is considered one of the finest examples of Greek revival architecture in New England.

What to go? Check out the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce at A new faster Steamship Authority vessel “Island Home” just cut the trip from Woods Hole to the Vineyard to 35 minutes. And mind the bees in the beach roses.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-Shirt? Let us know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Eastern States Exposition

The Eastern States Exposition located in West Springfield, Massachusetts runs for 17 days in late September every year. This “state fair” encompasses all the six New England states, and so the exposition, or “Big E” as it is called, is quite large. It’s probably not terribly different from state fairs all over the US, except perhaps with a bit more lobster, maple sugar candy, and cranberries.

Cattle and sheep shows, equine competitions, produce, floriculture, wine making competitions are pretty standard, and reflect on New England’s agricultural history. There is a strong reputation for urban and industrial communities in New England, but this part of the country is still pretty rural despite the reduction in number of farms. This only increases their importance to us.

Sometimes I think nothing is so humbling to a city dweller than seeing a 12-year old boy or girl care for a horse or cow larger than they are with a sense of responsibility and maturity that is absent in many adults when caring for their own children.

The Eastern States Exposition was founded by Joshua L. Brooks, and in 1917 the first Exposition took place to bring together all six New England states in one spot to share ideas and improve regional agriculture. The cultural and historical unity of the New England states is exemplified by the unique attraction of the Avenue of States, where life-size replicas of each state's original capitol display products and attractions of each of the New England states. I heard a man in the crowd describe it to his guest, a newcomer to the fair as “kind of like (Disney’s) Epcot, but instead of different countries, you’ve got the states.” Maybe. Here’s where you load up on your Maine baked potato, your Rhode Island quahog fritter (Pronounced co-hog. That’s a clam.), and your road maps of Vermont.

Over one million visitors come to the fair each year, not just for the cattle judging or the state buildings, but for the circus, the live performances, the vendors selling everything from luggage to kitchen gadgets, the country crafts and the junk food typical of probably most fairs.

It doesn’t change much from year to year, but that in itself is a comforting thing. One might go to see country music star Trace Adkins this year, where you might have gone to see the McGuire sisters a few decades ago is about the only big difference.

I can recall going as a child with my parents, and later as a teenager, and still later pushing my elderly father in a wheelchair before he died. He loved the Big E, and always referred to the first cold mornings of September followed by warm afternoons as “Big E weather.” Minor exhibits, like the fads, come and go, but memories like that, and the essence of continuity with the past and renewal of heritage, is what really probably brings us back. And the carmel apples.

Want to go? Take a look at the Big E website for information.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Barker Character, Comic, and Cartoon Museum

Orphan Annie’s Ovaltine shaker mug and decoder prize is here, along with TV-show theme lunch boxes, just about any game, toy, or trinket you remember from your childhood. The Barker Character, Comic, and Cartoon Museum is an astoundingly detailed walk through memory lane. Your memory. Your parents’ memories. Even your grandparents. If they played as children, they played with the stuff in this fantastic museum.

The thousands of items from comic strips, cartoons, TV and advertising memorabilia have been collected by Herb and Gloria Barker. The collection is uniquely American and tells us where our heads were at, and where our hearts are still, from the late 19th Century to now.

Located in Cheshire, Connecticut, this is a museum which must be seen to be believed, and it is fascinating for the whole family. There are few museum exhibits of popular history that will engross your children as much as they do you. GI Joe, Shirley Temple, Raggedy Ann, Snoopy, board games and cereal box prizes. They’re all here.

And, you’ll be surprised at how many TV and cartoon theme songs and commercial ditties that suddenly invade your brain and make you sing a little as you move from one treasure to the next. You might have forgotten your second grade teacher’s name, but you’ll take the lyrics of the “Casper the Friendly Ghost” song to your grave.

Currently, the museum is only open Saturdays from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, until June 2008 to allow for staff to inventory the collection. Admission is free.

What to go? For more information, take a look at the museum website.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sea Monster Champ - Lake Champlain

The above photo shows the mysterious sea monster living in Lake Champlain, commonly called “Champ.” Don’t see him? Don’t feel bad. Few people have. But he’s there. To the left. Or, maybe it’s the right. Maybe it wasn’t that day at all.

Lake Champlain, discovered by French explorer Samuel del Champlain in 1609, is sometimes called New England’s west coast. It’s a 109-mile long freshwater lake, 400 feet deep at its greatest depth, and reported, even since the 1600s, as being the home of a sea monster, long before “Nessie” in Loch Ness Scotland ever made a name for herself.

Modern-era sightings of Champ were made by passengers of ferry steamships in the 1870s, about the time of the first “Nessie” sighting in Loch Ness. Long-time “Champ” searcher and author Joseph W. Zarzynski has produced a sonar image of a creature or something with the help of Rochester Engineering Laboratories. It is hoped that one day technology will uncover this mystery of what may be a plesiosaur, living some 10,000 years beyond the age when we thought they bought the farm.

Here is the view from the ferry “Sprit of Ethan Allen” which cruises Lake Champlain, of another ferry on which passengers are also unsuccessfully seeking Champ. Oh, he’s around, though. You see him on T-shirts and souvenirs at the gift shops. One of these days, when Champ appears in the flesh, he’s going to be a millionaire with all that merchandising.

Want to go? Check out this website for one of the many cruises on lake with “Spirit of Ethan Allen III” that run through October.

Been there? Done that? Bought the Champ T-Shirt? Saw Champ? Let us know!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Desert of Maine

The camel in this photo is not real, but the place is. The Desert of Maine, which because of the camel statue and the standard gift shop might make this seem a typical tourist trap. Typical it is not. And it’s more of a sand trap than a tourist trap.

Some years ago a contestant on the TV quiz program “Jeopardy” replied “What is the Desert of Maine?” to the answer of which is the most eastern desert to be found in the United States. At first he was told his response was incorrect, but after a commercial and a little adjudication, the contestant was vindicated and the answer was accepted. The Desert of Maine is an actual desert, even if there’s not quite 50 acres of it.

The area was the site of the William Tuttle farm in 1797, but after a couple of generations of overworking the soil, erosion wore away at the grassland and topsoil, and revealed a stubborn, shimmering spot of glacial silt. Long before Farmer Tuttle came along, long before anybody came along, the last Ice Age receded about 11,000 years ago and dragged a few levels of what would later be Maine with it.

Eventually, the silt was covered by topsoil and later forest. It lay there underneath for centuries, and finally poked through in Freeport, Maine. It began to spread, and that was the end of the farm. In 1919 the land was bought by Henry Goldrup, who cleverly turned the spot into a tourist attraction. The automobile was fast turning the family picnic into the family road trip, and Route 1 brought tourists to the little desert that could.

Today there are hiking trails, an escorted tram ride, activities for the kids, and of course, the gift shop. On the day of my visit, the guide suggested the desert would continue to spread across the eroding topsoil and one day reach as far south as Portland. If you want to see this fantastic phenomenon, you’ll have to wait a few tens of thousands of years. Be patient. No shouting, “Is it there, yet? Is it there, yet?” I hate that on a road trip.

If you do visit the Desert of Maine, remember it’s quite hot on a sunny day, as the minerals of the silt reflect the suns rays. It could be a pleasant 75 or 80 degrees on Route 1, but it’ll be in the 90s or even 100 in the desert.

Want to go? Visit the website of the Desert of Maine for more details. They are open only on a seasonal basis, from May to October.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

For more info:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Blog Goes Dark

This blog goes dark today in memory of September 11, 2001.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Historical Roadside Markers - Western Mass.

A certain breed of tourist reads every historical marker, no matter which side of the highway it’s on or how fast the car is moving. If the rest of the family is patient, mileposts in time as well as distance are reached, but in western Massachusetts, getting there from here can become more ominous with each sign.

One stretch of road in Deerfield is a preserved slice of the Colonial frontier that reminds us what miserable times the colonists had, according to the road signs.

This sign notes a bloody Indian attack in 1675. That sign over there tells of a 1704 attack. That other sign says you can’t park here. Clearly, the settlers had a lot to contend with.

There are more signs, carved monuments and historical marker verbiage on that one lonely stretch of street than in many more miles of rambling Bay State roadside, and that is saying something because Massachusetts is well marked. Most of the signs are not historical markers so much as they seem to be warnings of what can happen to you if you stand in the wrong place.

On a silent, absolutely empty country road in North New Salem there is a chunk of rock on which is carved “Oct. 25th 1777. 1000 Hessians Who Surrendered At Saratoga Passed Here.” There is no other explanation, no name of some long dead historical commission who might have put the stone here. It is almost as if one of the even longer-dead Hessians, bored and mischievous, carved the message himself, like “Kilroy Was Here.”
A completely different scene awaits in Springfield. Another marker to the Revolution stands in tribute to General Henry Knox on a steep knoll by the former Springfield Armory, and a bus stop. In this urban downtown, there is of course no parking allowed in front of the curb where the marker stands. It is a challenge to those compelled by some force unknown to read everything. Risk a ten-car pileup by trying to park illegally, or just hang Junior out the window with the camera as you drive by and read the picture of the monument later? Tough choice.

Luckily, for those fans of the Knox Trail (which probably do not include any of those weary, mud-soaked band who had to drag cannon from Fort Ticonderoga in New York overland across the Bay State to where the bays actually are and thus remove the British from Boston) there is another marker further eastward on the Knox Trail on the West Brookfield/Warren town line. There is no risk of city traffic here, only of being spotted by the Neighborhood Watch.

In Westfield, the town common is graced by a brownstone mile marker from about 1800. It bears the legend: “IX Miles to Springfield Court House.”

Unfortunately, this is not where the marker originally stood. It had been in another part of Westfield at one time and was moved to the common, perhaps so all the monuments could keep each other company. The courthouse in Springfield has also been moved, many times. So, the marker really marks nothing. This one is nothing but a brownstone lie.

These markers would seem to illustrate that old New England joke about telling a traveler “you can’t get there from here.” Sometimes you really can’t, not without imminent danger of being lost because the mile marker is wrong, or kidnapped by enemies of the King, or flattened by some DAR road crew with more historical markers and fresh cement.

For lack of a good frontier war, some Massachusetts towns take to marking sites of famous weather incidents. A typical sign is a reminder of the epic Hurricane of 1938 which greets the traveler over Muddy Brook in the town of Ware. It shows you how deep underwater you would be if you were stupid enough to stand there on September 22, 1938.

Perhaps the ultimate in weather markers stands on Route 47 in the Connecticut River Valley town of Hadley. Here, the water levels of several floods are labeled like a kind of meteorological totem pole. About waist high a sign on this pole marks a 1984 flood, around your shoulders is a sign that marks the November 1927 flood. Above your head the next sign marks the Hurricane of 1938 level, and above that, a sign that must explain how tired the people living here are of hearing the same questions: “No, stopped one inch from first floor. Yes, 5½ feet deep in my living room.” On the very top, perhaps some ten feet above you is the last sign, it marks the March 1936 flood. After reading all these, you almost feel as if you are drowning yourself.

But some fanatical historical marker readers will inevitably admire the totem pole, take a picture, and have another one taken of themselves standing next to it. And then drive on to look for more.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


This begins a new blog about travel in New England. A region known for dry humor and bland food, there is a lot more to discover in the six New England states. All you have to do is look. You could start by looking here.

If you have any questions, comments, or memories of your own New England travels to share, I hope you’ll pull up a chair around the old cracker barrel, disregard the perennial checker game, and say what you have to say.

Whether it’s an old sentimental favorite spot, a new-found discovery, or just a place in your memory, you can get there from here.