Honeymoon in Key West, Part 3: Truman’s Little White House

November 19, 2023

Truman’s Little White House

When we were planning our trip initially, this was one of those places that jumped right out at me. We made a reservation for one of the morning tours at Truman’s Little White House and made our way up to that side of the island.

Exterior view of the "Little White House" - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Exterior view of the “Little White House” – Photo by the author

Originally built as housing for officers on the Naval base in 1890, this house ended up being associated with President Truman because of a vacation ordered by his doctor. Truman had been feeling ill and was advised to go somewhere warm in November of 1946. FADM Chester Nimitz had recently visited Naval Station Key West and knew that this house was available. Truman felt so invigorated here, that he made it a regular part of his presidency – spending something like 10% of his time in office here.

One of the things that I found interesting about the house itself is that it was originally situated on waterfront property, but over the years the island has been expanded by depositing fill from dredging operations. The west side of the island changed a lot because of this.

Our tour guide, Chet, was awesome. He had a lot of really great stories, and made us feel welcome. Many of the furnishings in the house are original to the Trumans’ time here. The whole interior decorating scheme is very 1950s. Parts of it felt like it could have been my grandmother’s house.

I swear I have seen these very chairs at my grandparents' house! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I swear I have seen these very chairs at my grandparents’ house! – Photo by the author

One of the highlights of the tour was this custom card table, built by some of the guys on the Naval Station for Truman to use. He apparently enjoyed playing cards with guests that would come down – in fact, it seemed like the whole atmosphere here was very relaxed – I can see why Truman loved it so much. The story is that it was seen as very uncouth for the President to be seen playing cards, so a top was made to be fitted over the card playing surface for when the press was around.

Chet talks about the card table. The top cover rests behind him. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Chet talks about the card table. The top cover rests behind him. – Photo by the author

The other thing that was interesting was that a company in Miami (I believe) had heard about Truman’s frequent vacations here and send him some Hawaiian shirts they made. Truman decided that this was to be the “Key West Uniform” and all the staffers were encouraged to participate. They even have one of the original shirts that Truman wore still in their collection.

The case on the right holds a shirt that Truman actually wore in Key West. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The case on the right holds a shirt that Truman actually wore in Key West. – Photo by the author

Truman’s personal office and bedroom upstairs were pretty cool. His wife and daughter slept in the next room over – the idea being that if there was some emergency in the middle of the night, his family would not be disturbed. Mrs. Truman didn’t travel down here very often though, as she thought this was more of a hangout spot for the “boys.”

Truman's bed in Key West. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Truman’s bed in Key West. – Photo by the author

There were some notable historical events that took place here. In 1948, this is where the plan to consolidate the Department of the Navy and the Department of War into the Department of Defense was devised. Much later, in 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell chose to host peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan here. When asked why, he said that it was because of his tremendous respect for Truman, who had made a very personal impact on his life by desegregating the US military.

Once our tour was finished, I was able to get a photo of Emily out front with Truman’s grill. He was known to use the fine silver as a tray for hot dogs. Now I feel like I need to take her to visit Eisenhower’s house!

Emily with Truman's grill. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Emily with Truman’s grill. – Photo by the author

Lunch at DJ’s Clam Shack

My wife Emily is definitely a foodie, and the number of options for restaurants on Key West was nearly overwhelming. I think we need to make a return trip just to try out some other places.

One of the food stops that she really wanted to make on Duval Street was DJ’s Clam Shack. This place had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, so it had something of a famous reputation.

Emily inspects the menu at DJ's Clam Shack - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Emily inspects the menu at DJ’s Clam Shack – Photo by the author

In the end, Emily chose to go with their famous fried clams. I had some chicken fingers. We split an order of sweet potato fries. It was all delicious.

Dinner at Bo’s Fish Wagon

When we told people we were going to Key West, we got a ton of recommendations. One of the loudest was from my boss – herself a frequent visitor to the island – about a little joint that she thought Emily would really like. We had to check out Bo’s Fish Wagon.

Bo's Fish Wagon, on the northern side of the island. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Bo’s Fish Wagon, on the northern side of the island. – Photo by the author

I’ll be honest, the look of the place from the outside was…interesting. I ended up getting a hotdog (because I’m boring) and some really great black beans and rice on the side. Emily got fish tacos with crispy fries, and said that the fish was some of the freshest she had ever had.

We walked around the seaport district for a while and then headed back to the hotel. The big adventure of our honeymoon was planned for the next day, and we needed to be well-rested.

Honeymoon in Key West, Part 1

November 17, 2023

One of the things that we decided in the run up to our wedding was that we weren’t going to take a honeymoon immediately after. We had wanted to go to Key West because it seemed like it was a good compromise location for us – it’s a tropical island, but it has a lot of interesting history. Since we knew that was where we were headed, Emily thought it would be good to avoid hurricane season, and have a time when we wouldn’t be with my boys for a fairly extended period. The week before Thanksgiving met all the criteria.

We flew out of PHL on November 16, and got settled in pretty easily to our resort. The next day, we would start doing some tourist things.

Our resort was lovely. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Our resort was lovely. – Photo by the author

After getting a really lovely brunch at Bagatelle, we walked over to the “Mile Marker 0” sign for US-1, and got the requisite photos.

Emily and I at "Mile Marker 0" - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Emily and I at “Mile Marker 0” – Photo by a fellow tourist

Continuing to walk south along Whitehead Street, we came to the Hemingway Home and Museum. While it didn’t necessarily light either of us up on its face, several people we had talked to had recommended checking it out. We took the leap, and the tour was much cooler than we were expecting. There were lots of stories involving alcohol and various affairs. Hemingway certainly led a tortured life.

Once we reached the bottom of Whitehead Street, we were at the famous “Southernmost Point” marker, where we only had to wait in line for a few minutes to get our second tourist photo of the day. I’m very aware that this is nowhere near the actual southernmost point in the continental US, but it’s just one of those things you have to do on Key West. I found myself reading the historical marker for the underwater communications cable to Cuba while we waited in line. Apparently, this line carried the very first international phone call. Cool stuff.

Our ultra-touristy photo from the "Southernmost Point". - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Our ultra-touristy photo from the “Southernmost Point”. – Photo by a fellow tourist

Just from walking around the “downtown” area for a while, Cuba and the Navy really seem to dominate the history and culture here. Many of the buildings seem to have begun their lives as structures to support the Navy or some aspect of international trade. This was particularly evident as we had dinner that night just off Mallory Square in an old building that had been turned into a Cuban restaurant.

Cuban dinner near Mallory Square. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Cuban dinner near Mallory Square. – Photo by the author

While we were at dinner, we would experience the only rough spot of the week. The power went out on the island as we were finishing and then a hard rain storm came through. After maybe 20-30 minutes, things came back to life, we were able to settle our bill, and we made our way back to the hotel.

Battlefield Visits, Epic Man Trip Edition – Part 5: Norfolk

From my travels, June 28, 2023.

Air Power Park

The museum at the Air Power Park. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The museum at the Air Power Park. – Photo by the author

This is a very cool city park in Hampton. Sadly, the outdoor aircraft display was closed because of construction, but the totally free museum here had HUNDREDS of model aircraft that people have built and donated. They also have an aviation-focused library, and some informational signs. The curator talked to us for a while, and you could tell that he really loved the subject matter.

Just a few of the hundreds of aircraft models that have been donated to the museum. The boys LOVED these! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Just a few of the hundreds of aircraft models that have been donated to the museum. The boys LOVED these! – Photo by the author

As a bonus for me, the entrance to the museum is flanked by two Nike Ajax missles – like the ones that were stationed at my office when it was first built.

Fort Monroe

Fort Monroe. Lots of history here. While there were no Civil War battles fought here, this is one of the first places that was used as a “contraband” camp during the war. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was also held here after he was captured. The museums at the visitors center, as well as the Casemate Museum, were all awesome.

This is another site that is operated through some kind of joint partnership with a local group and the NPS doing different things. They have a Junior Ranger program here that the boys participated in, so that was good. And it was cool to be able to drive around such a large Third System fort.

Norfolk Naval Base Cruise

After grabbing some lunch, we took a tour of Norfolk / Hampton Roads by boat about the Victory Rover. Norfolk has the largest naval base in the world. It’s impressive to see not only the fleet, but all the other infrastructure that goes into supporting it.

The captain / narrator was very good about explaining what we were seeing as we went past – including the sites of some old forts and all the modern facilities. We got to see some LHDs in dry dock, some Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (including the USS Porter, named in part for Civil War Admiral David Dixon Porter), and some Ticonderoga-class cruisers (including the USS Gettysburg). None of the aircraft carriers were in port, though – they’re quite busy these days. As we were turning around to head back, we did get to see a Los Angeles-class submarine heading out to sea.

Battle of Sewell’s Point – Civil War Battlefield #173

The earliest naval fight of the war, the Battle of Sewell’s Point was between the gunboat USS Monticello and Confederate shore batteries that had been constructed on Sewell’s Point (now part of the Norfolk Naval Base). Over a few days, shots were fired by both sides, with very little effect. Combined casualties were less than 10 men.

Confederate batteries were here on Sewell's Point. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Confederate batteries were here on Sewell’s Point. – Photo by the author

I was able to get a photo of the area that the batteries were in while we were on our harbor cruise.

Norfolk Tides

Being native Baltimoreans, my boys and I are Orioles fans. So I couldn’t pass up the chance to see their Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, while we were in town.

It was a beautiful night for baseball! We got tickets to the 6:35pm game against the Charlotte Knights. In the end, the Tides crushed them 12-5 and just check out that lineup for our baby birds: Mountcastle, Kjerstad, and Grayson Rodriguez pitching!

Also, it was $0.50 hotdog, popcorn, and soda night. That’s already a win and a dinner solution! Toward the end of the game they announced the attendance: 10,213, with 24,697 hot dogs sold.

Battlefield Visits, Epic Man Trip Edition – Part 4: Coastal North Carolina

From my travels, June 27, 2023

The next morning, we got up and had a quick breakfast at the hotel. It was about a 20 minute drive over to our first stop of the day.

Battle of Plymouth – Civil War Battlefield #167

There is a small museum in the town of Plymouth, NC and we spent a few minutes checking out their displays and artifacts. They have a lot of artillery rounds and bullets, as well as buttons and small camp items that were found during digs at known local army camp sites. The 3/8 scale model of the CSS Albemarle that they have floating in the Roanoke River was a highlight for us.

Some of the artifacts in the town museum include part of the smoke stack of the <i>Albemarle</i> - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Some of the artifacts in the town museum include part of the smoke stack of the AlbemarlePhoto by the author

As for the Battle of Plymouth, Union forces had occupied the town and were using it as a base of operations in the area. Confederates decided to re-take it, and a combined land and naval attack using the ironclad ram CSS Albemarle succeeded in destroying the Federal warships while Confederate Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke’s division of North Carolinians and Virginians forced the occupying Union troops out of town.

We just had to get a selfie with the model <i>Albemarle</i>! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
We just had to get a selfie with the model Albemarle! – Photo by the author

Battle of Albemarle Sound – Civil War Battlefield #168

Here at the Battle of Albemarle Sound, we have a rare, purely-naval Civil War action.

After helping to take back the town of Plymouth, the CSS Albemarle made her way out into Albemarle Sound on May 5, 1864 and found a small fleet of 8 Union gunboats waiting for her. Over the course of the day, the Albemarle held her own against multiple attacks from the gunboats. Attacks involving artillery, ramming, and even attempting to use a net to tangle her propulsion system all failed against the Albemarle. Though badly damaged, she was able to escape back to Plymouth. This fight was a stand-off, but it kept the Confederate naval weapon bottled up in port.

The Battle of Albemarle Sound took place out in these waters. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Battle of Albemarle Sound took place out in these waters. – Photo by the author

Eventually, a raid led by William B. Cushing would succeed in detonating a naval mine (what they would have called a “torpedo” in those days) under the Albemarle and lead to her sinking.

We didn’t go across to Edenton, NC (where there is at least a wayside about this battle) for road trip routing reasons. We were able to get a photo from near where the action actually took place at the Waterside Resort.

Battle of Roanoke Island – Civil War Battlefield #169

In February of 1862, Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside was tasked with closing off the Outer Banks to Confederate shipping. As part of that effort, he landed 13,000 troops on the southern end of Roanoke Island and fought his way north. This action became known as the Battle of Roanoke Island. After flushing the rebels from the other forts on the island, the final fighting happened here at Fort Huger. The overwhelmed Confederates had no choice but to surrender.

The view looking out on Croatan Sound from near the spot of Fort Huger. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The view looking out on Croatan Sound from near the spot of Fort Huger. – Photo by the author

We stopped at Pineapple Beach – right off of US-64‘s William B. Umstead Memorial Bridge – to get a few photos and check out the markers. The visitors center at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site – which we would be visiting next – has some info on the fighting here, as well as the Freedmen’s Colony that was established once the island was under Federal control.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

What can I say about Fort Raleigh National Historic Site? There is a lot of history here: from the “Lost Colony” to Civil War fighting, to a Freedmen’s Colony, to the very first voice radio transmission. Definitely worth visiting if you’re in the vicinity of the Outer Banks!

Posing in the reconstructed Fort Raleigh - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Posing in the reconstructed Fort Raleigh – Photo by the author

We browsed the museum in the visitors center – critical to the completion of their Junior Ranger program – and checked out the movie, and the reconstructed Fort Raleigh. The rangers were very friendly, and in addition to awarding the boys their badges, gave us bonus Junior Ranger books for the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Those would come in handy a little later.

Fort Raleigh has two different designs for their Junior Ranger badges. The boys got one of each. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Fort Raleigh has two different designs for their Junior Ranger badges. The boys got one of each. – Photo by the author

We grabbed a quick lunch at the Olde Towne Creamery in Manteo, and then we made our way onto the Outer Banks.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

This one had been circled on the itinerary for a while. The boys were very excited to visit Wright Brothers National Memorial.

There is a very nice museum in the visitors center that talks about the brothers’ lives and especially their constant experimentation with powered and controlled flight. The 1903 Wright Flyer they display here is only a replica, but they have a few real pieces of the aircraft that were used here. I guess I’m starting to get over my aviophobia, because it was pretty magical to stand on the ground where it actually happened.

We made the hike up Big Kill Devil Hill so the boys could get their photo with the monument at the top. The view was very impressive.

After our visit, John told me that this was his favorite Junior Ranger badge so far because of the image of the Wright Flyer on it.

Battle of South Mills – Civil War Battlefield #170

There was concern among the Union commanders in North Carolina that the canal through the Great Dismal Swamp could be used to transfer rebel ironclads from Norfolk down to Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. This would threaten the Federal troops in the area. In reality, there were no such ironclads, but the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads had created a lot of fear.

The canal at South Mills. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The canal at South Mills. – Photo by the author

To counter this supposed threat, Brig. Gen. Jesse L. Reno was sent with about 3,000 troops to destroy locks along the canal at the Battle of South Mills. Unfortunately, Reno opted for an overnight forced march, so when his troops arrived and encountered only about 900 Confederate troops, they were already exhausted and confused. They wasted hours trying to outflank the southerners, and ultimately left without doing any real damage to the canal.

There is a wayside that talks about the action next to the canal in the town of South Mills.

Siege of Suffolk – Civil War Battlefield #171

The “official” battles around Suffolk, VA are a little confusing. The CWSAC seems to list them multiple different ways, with at least two different “Battles of Suffolk” being contained within an over-all “Siege of Suffolk“. For my purposes, I’m listing the “Battle” as being the action at Hill’s Point, while the “Siege” is the action at the Norfleet House. As I learn more about these actions, I hope to get more clarity.

Union troops had occupied Suffolk – mainly as a way to protect land approaches to Norfolk – since the spring of 1862. The following year, Confederates under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet were in the area attempting to gather food and supplies. Longstreet decided to lay siege to the Union forces in order to keep them from interfering with those foraging operations. He was never able to truly *cut-off* Suffolk, but he did keep the Union troops occupied.

A roadside marker describes some of the action around Suffolk. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
A roadside marker describes some of the action around Suffolk. – Photo by the author

A rebel artillery battery was constructed across the Nansemond River from here, at the Norfleet House, to discourage and destroy Union supply ships from coming upstream. While they succeeded in disabling at least one such craft, Union gunboats as well as artillery positions that were constructed here forced the Confederates to abandon their position.

Within a few weeks, Longstreet was ordered to rejoin Gen. Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia at the start of the Battle of Chancellorsville, ending the siege. Though he never captured Suffolk, he was successful in gathering supplies. It’s unclear who the winner was here.

I wasn’t able to get a great photo at the spot that the Union artillery occupied. The area is now a neighborhood, and I didn’t want to get in anyone’s backyard.

Battle of Suffolk – Civil War Battlefield #172

The Battle of Suffolk here at Hill’s Point / Fort Huger is probably the most interesting of the actions around the Siege of Suffolk in the spring of 1863.

Fort Huger was another hastily-built earthwork fort along the Nansemond River that was meant to stop Federal supply ships. On April 19, Federal batteries opened fire on the fort all day, hoping to weaken the defenses there. Just as night was beginning to fall, about 300 Union soldiers landed from river boats near the fort, and assaulted the earthworks from the rear. The fort fell, and over a hundred rebel prisoners were taken.

The remains of Fort Huger at Hill's Point. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The remains of Fort Huger at Hill’s Point. – Photo by the author

The fort amazingly still exists. The boys and I walked down close to it to get a photo (earthworks are notoriously hard to photograph, so you may need some imagination). For many years, the remains of Fort Huger were contained within a golf course, but the property is now being converted into a neighborhood. There is still construction happening here, but the fact that there is a path laid out gives me some hope that the remains of the fort may be preserved. I know there is a local group that is active in trying to put together tours. Hopefully they are making some noise.

Battlefield Visits, Epic Man Trip Edition – Part 3: Fort Sumter and Patriot’s Point

From my travels, June 26, 2023.

We got packed up and checked out of the hotel with plenty of time. We were easily able to make it over to Patriot’s Point for our 10:30am ferry ride to…

Fort Sumter

The Civil War began here at Fort Sumter as the Confederates opened fire on the Federal garrison on April 12, 1861.

This is my second visit (I came here on a family vacation when I was in high school), and the first for the boys. Coming out here takes us (roughly) to the site of four Civil War battlefields, and it’s the best place to view two others:

A note on my battlefield numbering here – since I had visited the site when I was younger and not as much of a Civil War nerd, I consider that to be my visit for tracking purposes for the actions involving Fort Sumter. The two battles that took place on Morris Island were unknown to me at the time, and the area where they took place is now, sadly, under the Atlantic Ocean. This is as close as I’m reasonably able to get to them.

It’s a really pleasant and smooth 35-minute boat ride out from Patriot’s Point, and the hour we spent on the island felt like about 5 minutes. It’s an awesome place.

The boys were able to earn their Junior Ranger badges for Fort Sumter National Monument and had a ceremony to award them in front of some of the heavy artillery. The ranger suggested the site and I think it’s super cool!

USS Laffey (DD-724)

We started our visit at Patriot’s Point with the USS Laffey, an Allen M. Sumner-class, WWII-era destroyer, that is also known as “The Ship that Wouldn’t Die” as she took 4 bomb hits and 6 kamikaze attacks near Okinawa and – obviously – survived. She continued to serve into the Vietnam-era.

The Laffey as we approached to board her. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Laffey as we approached to board her. – Photo by the author

While John was really anxious to get on to that other ship here, both boys ended up having a good time. We spent about 45 minutes touring the Laffey. There are a number of interactive exhibits aboard, including a really cool Soviet submarine hunting simulation in the CIC. Isaac in particular wanted to do that experience over and over!

Tracking Soviets in the CIC. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Tracking Soviets in the CIC. – Photo by the author

USS Yorktown (CV-10)

At last, it was time for the main event – the USS Yorktown, an Essex-class aircraft carrier from WWII that, like the Laffey, had a service that extended into the Vietnam-era. She was heavily modified in the years after WWII, and that is mostly how she is presented today. The most obvious upgrade is her angled flight deck.

We had a great view of the <i>Yorktown</i> from our ferry out to Fort Sumter. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
We had a great view of the Yorktown from our ferry out to Fort Sumter. – Photo by the author

John was extremely excited about this ship, and really wanted to get to the aircraft and the flight deck. He had to practice a little patience as we worked through all 4 tour routes that were offered. While we’re here we might as well see everything, right? It was a lot of fun for me to see the different aspects of the tour that excited the boys. I was a little surprised by this, but they really enjoyed all the aircraft models in the museum section of the ship.

As we were walking on the flight deck, John came close to tripping over one of the arresting cables. We had a bit of a laugh over that not being exactly the kind of landing he was looking for.

I took a ton of photos on the Yorktown – it was really hard to narrow down what to post here. This one is well worth the visit if you’re in the Charleston area.

The trip from Charleston to our next stop, Williamston, NC, took several hours and the boys slept most of the way. We got dinner once again at Buc-ee’s, and made it to our hotel just before midnight.

Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum

From my travels, April 20, 2022.

The boys and I were on spring break and spending some time with their “Nene” and “Baba” in Columbia, MD. One of the things that we wanted to do together was visit the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Air & Space Museum in Northern Virginia.

We wandered around the impressively large museum for a while – they have a huge collection of aircraft – some with a particular historical significance. That day, we saw the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis that first broke the sound barrier (seemingly out here because of renovations happening to the museum in downtown DC). We also got to see the B-29 Enola Gay and I did my best to explain the complicated history around the use of nuclear weapons at the end of WWII.

The boys pose with the <i>Enola Gay</i> - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The boys pose with the Enola GayPhoto by the author

Both boys really enjoyed seeing the SR-71 in the collection – which set a speed record on it’s final flight from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, making the journey in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, to become part of this museum. On the day we visited, they had something of a remote, Zoom-like setup going with a large TV and an expert on the SR-71 who was giving a presentation and answering questions. Isaac got to ask her a couple and felt like it was the coolest thing in the world.

Of course, the Space Shuttle Discovery was also a hit. It’s the centerpiece of the museum’s space wing, and it’s impressive to see not only its size, but to know that this vehicle went into space so many times.

With the Space Shuttle <i>Discovery</i>. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
With the Space Shuttle Discovery. – Photo by the author

One of the more interactive exhibits was done by Garmin. They had a computer game-like display with a yoke that was attached to a model plane suspended in a glass box. As you moved the yoke, the plane moved, too, demonstrating the concepts of pitch, roll, and yaw. That was pretty neat.

At the end of our visit, “Nene” wanted to go up in the observation tower. Isaac went along with her, while the rest of us stayed a little closer to the ground.

I really like this shot of John overlooking the main floor of the museum. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I really like this shot of John overlooking the main floor of the museum. – Photo by the author

When we arrived back at “Nene’s” house, the boys showed her their latest open source video game obsession: Minetest. We had set up a server for the boys to collaborate on building structures together, and much to their delight, “Nene” fired up her computer and joined them. It was a very sweet cross-generational moment.

LAN party at "Nene's" house! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
LAN party at “Nene’s” house! – Photo by the author

New England Road Trip, Part 2: Boston

From my travels, August 5, 2021.

We got up and had a nice breakfast at the hotel. It was raining, but we decided to take our chances and roll downtown.

The first stop I wanted to take the boys to was the old Out of Town News near Harvard. Of course, this meant that I had to explain the concept of a newsstand to them, but I also got to share the story of how Microsoft had been started there. It wasn’t the best experience since it was still raining, and there wasn’t anywhere great to park, but it was some history that is more on the nerdy side.

Microcenter is always a hit with my crew. - <i>Photo by Karen Michener</i>
Microcenter is always a hit with my crew. – Photo by Karen Michener

From there, we stopped over at the Cambridge Microcenter – always a favorite store for us. And to be at the one where the MIT folks shop was a treat. It was fun to browse around there, and we were even able to pick up some inexpensive oversized golf umbrellas while we were there. Who would have guessed?

I then took the boys by MIT. Due to COVID-19, we couldn’t really go in any of the buildings, but we were allowed to check out their extremely nerdy bookstore. I especially liked their rather creative “MIT” t-shirts, but they didn’t carry them in the boys’ sizes. Bummer. Both boys were able to pick out postcards that they sent back to their mom – something of a tradition for us now.

One of the nerdiest t-shirts imaginable at the MIT bookstore. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
One of the nerdiest t-shirts imaginable at the MIT bookstore. – Photo by the author

Moving back into history nerd mode, we drove over to the Charlestown Navy Yard to see the NPS Visitors Center there and pick up Junior Ranger books for Boston National Historical Park. There we were able to see and learn a little about the Battle of Bunker Hill. Sadly, the WWII-era Fletcher-class Destroyer USS Cassin Young (DD-793) was closed due to the rain (maybe there is concern about the decks being too slippery?)

But it wasn’t a complete waste. After passing through security, we were able to go aboard the USS Constitution – the oldest commissioned warship still afloat in the world. It was very cool to be able to explore her and speak with the sailors who keep her in such good shape while sharing her history with the public.

The boys pose with "Nene" in front of the USS <i>Constitution</i>. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The boys pose with “Nene” in front of the USS Constitution. – Photo by the author

We crossed over into Boston and drove by the Old North Church, and made our way to Faneuil Hall for a late lunch. “Nene” was able to find “fried clams with bellies” that she was very excited about – it was a taste of home for her.

Around the corner, we were able to visit the Old State House, and the site of the Boston Massacre in front of it, which the boys had been reading about in school. It isn’t quite how you picture it since modern-day Boston is certainly more built-up than it was during 1770.

The boys at the site of the Boston Massacre. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The boys at the site of the Boston Massacre. – Photo by the author

On our way out of town, we drove around Boston Common (and especially to see the monument to the 54th MA) and even got to see Fenway Park. The rest of the evening was spent hanging out at the hotel – including finishing up those Junior Ranger books – and then having dinner at the Burlington Mall food court. There would be more to do in the morning.

New England Road Trip, Part 1: Submarine Force Museum

From my travels, August 4, 2021.

The boys’ grandparents – affectionately known as “Nene” and “Baba” – had wanted to take the boys to Boston to explore some colonial history, as well as some of the history of their family from their mom’s side. Regular readers will know that I’m all for a trip like that!

We loaded up the van and got on the road north. Along the way, I wanted to stop off and show the boys the Submarine Force Museum – which I had visited once with my family as a kid – and was excited to share with my own boys.

Isaac approves of the dummy control panels in the museum. He loves buttons and switches! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Isaac approves of the dummy control panels in the museum. He loves buttons and switches! – Photo by the author

Among the favorite attractions within the museum for my crew were the dummy sub controls and actual working periscopes in a more interactive section. The periscopes stick out through the roof of the building and allow a 360-degree view around the building. The boys had fun looking for our car out in the parking lot – and John said he wanted to install one at home.

John checks out our surroundings through the periscope. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
John checks out our surroundings through the periscope. – Photo by the author

The true highlight of the museum was of course getting to go aboard the world’s first nuclear-powered vessel, the USS Nautilus (SSN-571). The boys and their grandparents had never done anything like that. It’s much roomier than the WWII-era USS Becuna that the boys and I had visited in Philadephia a few years earlier.

The boys with their "Nene" about to go aboard the USS Nautilus. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The boys with their “Nene” about to go aboard the USS Nautilus. – Photo by the author

I think that everyone had a good time learning and experiencing some new things on our first stop – especially considering that the museum is free. From Groton, CT, we continued north through Rhode Island, and got to our hotel in Lexington, MA that evening. We had a nice dinner out at Red Heat Tavern, and then settled in to rest up for the activities we had planned in Boston the next day.

USS Slater (DE-766)

From my travels, June 6, 2021.

For the final stop of our family road trip through New York, we had wanted to see a very unique museum ship: the Cannon-class Destroyer Escort, USS Slater (DE-766).

We got into Albany and were able to get tickets for the 2:30pm tour. It was crazy hot that day, but the ship really felt alive as there was a team of volunteers aboard doing various restoration projects. Some of them were even cooking their dinner in the galley. That was pretty cool to see.

The view of USS <i>Slater</i> from astern. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The view of USS Slater from astern. – Photo by the author

Our tour guide did a really good job. There was a brief introductory film in the visitors center / gift shop and then we were taken aboard.

Over 500 destroyer escorts were built during WWII in order to protect convoys of supply ships from attacks by submarines and aircraft. Slater is the only one that still survives, owing to the fact that she served with the Greek Navy for a number of years during the Cold War. A group of preservationists bought her and have been restoring her to the appearance she had during WWII. The other challenge they have is the almost constant need for repairs as these ships were built very quickly without longevity in mind. Apparently one of these warships was even completely built from scratch in just over 23 days. The whole story is a testament to American industrial might during the wartime years.

The hedgehog mortar - probably the coolest weapon system aboard. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The hedgehog mortar – probably the coolest weapon system aboard. – Photo by the author

For being such a small and quickly-built ship, she was very well armed. Probably the coolest weapon system we saw was the hedgehog mortar – an anti-submarine that shot a ring of depth charges ahead of the ship. My boys also enjoyed getting to see the radio room and the combat information center.

Checking out the combar information center - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Checking out the combat information center – Photo by the author

By the end, we were all pretty wiped-out by the heat that day. It was the only part of the experience that wasn’t top-notch.

Battleship USS New Jersey

From my travels, May 1, 2021.

Ever since we visited the Independence Seaport Museum, the boys have looked forward to visiting the USS New Jersey (BB-62) just across the river from Philadelphia. I had heard through Facebook that they were hosting a promotion that gave discounted tickets in exchange for old electronics to recycle. Since we had an old computer to get rid of, this seemed like the perfect chance for a win-win. Emily was even willing to go along with us for her first visit to a museum ship.

The boys and I in front of BB-62. - <i>Photo by Emily Skillman</i>
The boys and I in front of BB-62. – Photo by Emily Skillman

We had no trouble exchanging our old computer for some discounted tickets and made our way aboard. We did the entire standard tour route, and went as high as we were allowed to go in the ship. I had visited the ship a few times in years past, and I was impressed with how much restoration work had been done since my last tour. Emily was most surprised by the lack of privacy in the crew berthing area – it’s tight quarters on a warship – even one as massive as a battleship. The boys had a good time “firing” the .50 machine gun and the anti-aircraft guns on the deck. The restored Combat Engagement Center (CEC) with the radar and computers to control the modern “smart weapons” that New Jersey was fitted with in the Gulf War era, was also a favorite stop.

As we were leaving, the boys expressed how cool it was to be on a battleship. They are both looking forward to visiting more ships – most notably a destroyer and an aircraft carrier – so that they can complete their “collection”. Stay tuned for those.