Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Windsor Ruins in Mississippi

Snow and ice have made an unwelcome appearance here in Mississippi, but before it arrived we had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Windsor Ruins.  Windsor was a plantation owned by Smith Daniel II, his wife Catherine and their seven children (only three survived to adulthood).  Smith completed his home in 1861 using slave labor.  Skilled carpenters from New England were brought in to complete the interior woodwork.

The columns are 45 feet high and made of bricks covered with mortar and plaster.  It cost $175,000 to build - equivalent to $4,593,426 in today's dollars.  Unfortunately, Daniel only lived in the house a few weeks before dying at the age of 34.  His wife and children continued to live in the home and throw many lavish parties.

There were 25 rooms, each with it's own fireplace, and interior baths fed by a water tank on the roof.

The mansion had four floors and a cupola.  The main floor was the 2nd floor, containing a broad hall, two parlors, a bathroom, the master bedroom, a study, a library, and the dining room.  The ground floor had the kitchen, schoolroom, commissary, and doctor's office.

The 3rd floor had another bathroom and nine bedrooms with the 4th floor serving as the ballroom.  During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops used the house as a hospital and observation station.  Mark Twain actually stayed at the home and viewed his beloved Mississippi River from the cupola.

Surprisingly, Windsor survived the Civil War only to burn down on February 17, 1890 when the family was away.  Someone, a guest or worker, left a lighted cigar on an upper balcony burning down the mansion, leaving only 23 of the 29 columns and a lone metal staircase.  This picture was taken in 1901.

All the house plans and records were destroyed in the fire so no one really knew what the mansion looked like until, in 1991, a drawing was discovered in someone's attic.  Henry Otis Dwight, an officer in the 20th Ohio Infantry, had sketched Windsor when his troop was camped on the grounds in 1863.

Despite it's fairly remote location, the remains have served as settings for several movies, including 1957's Raintree County starring Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.  In a scene in the movie they ascend the staircase and Taylor tells Clift about how her home had burned when she was a child.

Eventually, the staircase was removed and installed in the chapel at nearby Alcorn State University.  In 1971, the Daniel descendants donated the ruins to the state of Mississippi who oversees the property now.

We certainly enjoyed our tour of some Mississippi history.  We can't wait to see more.  If only the weather would cooperate!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Grand Gulf, Mississippi

Last weekend we began exploring the state of Mississippi.  I'm planning on visiting plenty of Antebellum mansions while we're here, but our first stop was the town of Grand Gulf:  one-time boom town, major river port, theater center, and a strategic Confederate stronghold during the Civil War.

Today it is a virtual ghost town.  Originally settled by the French in the early 1700s, it became a major port city on the Mississippi River.  Prosperous plantation owners shipped loads of cotton to northern textile mills from here.

There was even talk of Grand Gulf as a possible site for the state capital - until several disasters hit the area.  Yellow fever turned into an epidemic, claiming the lives of many of the town's citizens.  Then a devastating tornado ravaged the town.  Finally, the currents of the mighty Mississippi River ate away the entire 55 block business section of Grand Gulf.

The Civil War destroyed what little was left of the town, with Union forces twice occupying the area, then burning the few remaining buildings to the ground before withdrawing.

The few inhabitants today still do battle with the river!

Not far from town is the Grand Gulf Military Monument dedicated to the battle fought here during the Civil War.

The small museum has some excellent displays on life in the area during the war.

Outside the museum are various buildings and displays.  This is a re-creation of the jail at Grand Gulf.

This is no re-creation though!  This is the actual cell they used.  They dug it out of the river mud.

 This is a hearse from New Orleans.  The sign says "people were dying to ride in it."

After viewing the displays near the museum, we took a driving tour of the 400 acre landmark which includes this church transported here from the nearby ghost town of Rodney, Mississippi.

One of the most interesting sights on the driving tour was the Grand Gulf Cemetery.

Most of the people buried in this, rather large, cemetery died long before the Civil War started.

As we wandered among the tombstones the thing that struck me the most was how young most of these people were when they died.  There were way too many children here too.

There was a lot to see at Grand Gulf but we had more miles to go!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New Job, New Location

It's hard to believe that it's been the beginning of November since I blogged!  We drove back to Arizona from the job in Pennsylvania (so glad I'm not there now!) in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family.  A few months home, and we left Arizona two weeks ago for a new nuclear power plant near Vicksburg, Mississippi.  What did we do while we were home?

We played with our grandsons..........

........watched a hockey game........

..........went to the zoo.......

...........helped put together a LOT of Leggos..........

.........saw a wonderful Christmas program.......

..........had a few meals with the family........

........celebrated Christmas with lots of gifts........

..........did some re-decorating at our mountain cabin in Pine...........

..........and did some outdoor work before..........

................it snowed!

All too soon, it was time to pack up the 5th wheel and head to another job.  We'll start doing a little sightseeing this weekend and I'll be blogging about our new adventures.  We're not in Arizona anymore!

Monday, November 10, 2014

George Washington's Mount Vernon

The last stop, before we left the Washington, D.C. area, was Mount Vernon, Virginia.  We had visited there many years ago and, although the original buildings remain the same, the area around it had changed greatly!

It was a chilly day but plenty of people were lined up to get a look inside our first President's home.  Like the majority of the homes we've visited "no photography" was allowed, which is a shame because the mansion is detailed to look as it did in 1799.  It features a large collection of furnishings owned by the Washingtons.

One of the biggest changes to the property was the large museum where you purchased your tickets and began your tour.  There is also an inn, where we had a delicious lunch, and a huge gift shop.  Dawn and I thoroughly enjoyed shopping for souvenirs.

Washington acquired Mount Vernon in 1754 and spent the next 45 years of his life expanding his home to reflect his status as a Virginia gentleman. After shuffling through the house in a line of other sightseers we began our tour of the numerous outbuildings.

There are more than a dozen original structures.

Among the many outbuildings is this reconstructed slave cabin.  A tour guide inside explained the life of a slave.  A large family lived in cabins like these sleeping on the dirt floor.  They had no beds, or much else in the way of furniture.

In contrast, the overseer had a much more comfortable life.

George Washington thought of himself, first and foremost, as a farmer.  He pioneered innovative methods for the day, including crop rotation and the use of fertilizers.  In fact, he operated four successful farms at Mount Vernon.

Another cash crop was dried fish.  Fish also helped to supplement the diets of the slaves at the farms.  When schools of fish were sighted on the Potomac everyone stopped whatever they were doing and helped bring in heavy nets of fish.

Another change at Mount Vernon was the addition of a delightful "Martha Washington."  She told her audience all about life with George and at Mount Vernon.

George Washington died at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799.  His will directed that he be buried on his beloved estate.  He also selected a site for a new brick tomb to replace the original burial vault.  His final resting place was completed in 1831 and the remains of Washington, Martha and other family members are interred there.

In 1793 George Washington said, "No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this...."  He may be right.  We sure enjoyed our visit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Our first stop on our whirlwind tour of Washington was the International Spy Museum where we learned all about the world of spies.

It is appropriately located near the FBI building.

We learned all about the "game" of spying.

The museum covers the secrets of the second oldest profession.  Even Moses sent spies into the Promised Land!

Ninjas are (or were) considered spies too!

They even had a German enigma machine.  It produced a cipher thought to be unbreakable.  Allied cryptanalysts finally succeeded in cracking it during WWII.

The museum also demonstrated different ways of killing your enemy with poisonous gas.

An American diplomat used his son's toy to smuggle sensitive information back to the states.

One of the most interesting exhibits was a special one celebrating 50 years of Bond villains.

Who doesn't remember the ultimate spy car?  James Bond's Aston Martin is fully loaded with tire shredders, machine guns, and rotating license plates.

While James Bond is a fictional spy, his creator, Ian Fleming, was a real spy.

There was a LOT more to see at the spy museum - but it's a secret.