Tag Archives: William P. Tandy

Digging Glass

It began with a few fifths.

Booze, that is; the outdated measurement itself – embossed on the heels of the innumerable bottles we have plucked from the tree line along Factory Road – when taken into account alongside its more modern metric counterpart (750 mL), hints that this area has been a popular drinking spot since long before Old Grand-Dad was a twinkle in your father’s eye.

Even today, the winding little Baltimore County byway – bordered by private and state-owned forest, as well as the handful of homes clustered near Factory’s southern terminus – is an anomalous throwback to an earlier, pre-code time. It’s a two-way street, though its oddly narrow, unmarked width might lead one to reasonably conclude otherwise. A rural cousin of the now-congested horse-and-buggy routes of old east coast cities like Boston and Philadelphia – now paved, but never built with cars in mind. Much like a pre-pandemic world forced to retrofit to a new reality…

Directly or indirectly, COVID-19 has informed almost every decision we’ve made since mid-March 2020: staying home as much as possible, to minimize our chances of exposure; thoroughly cleaning anything that comes into the house; taking regular walks, to counter the inertia of daily teleworking; ordering a reach extender to more safely bag the litter we find along our favorite route – Factory Road. Sometimes, as we collect the trash, I wonder how often (if ever) it crosses the minds of those who so casually toss their half-smoked butts, Wendy’s wrappers, and empty White Claws out their windows, at speed. Also in the regular mix: dental floss picks; used latex gloves; home pregnancy tests; and spent shotgun shells.

Then there are the anomalies, like the rusting cylinder of nitrous oxide in the drainage ditch beside the road, or the pay phone in the nearby woods. Their origins – a great source of speculation – don’t really matter, as these items are today as much fixtures of the surrounding landscape as the gentle hills, the rocks and trees.

Some three dozen trash bags later, and with the roadside now clean enough to draw the occasional encouraging honk from passing cars, we turned our attention inward, beyond the tree line, into the woods. More fifths, and four-fifths, gallons and full pints – the cast-off bones of clandestine late-night benders. The more interesting ones – embossed or easily identified brands; unique shapes, sizes, and colors; unfamiliar names – come home with us.

The rest get recycled.

Digging glass from the forest floor led us to discover several old trash pits – most likely the detritus from a couple of overgrown foundations in the woods and their one-time occupants. I spent a few college summers working for a South Jersey DPW, where I learned to build amateur forensic profiles of people based on what they threw away, how much of it, and how often. Stacks of well-read Sunday papers. A neatly polished-off handle of Myers’s – just like last week’s, and the one from the week before that. Bag upon bag of meticulously landscaped brush.

The glass bones that litter these lonely woods tell their own story. Heavy, green Coke bottles. Car polish. Zinc-lidded Mason jars. A Depression-era knockoff Vaseline. Amber Clorox bottles. Turpentine. A 1940s hair crème. Mustard. Ketchup. Soft drinks. Booze, of course (and nearly as much aspirin). And hundred-year-old bottles from breweries killed by Prohibition. Together with midcentury license plates, a rust-flaked Radio Flyer, and the odd horseshoe, they comprise the long-forgotten ruins of a routine that one day, not so very long ago, left home and never came back.

We’ve resurrected several items from the forest floor. Much of the glass has cleaned up beautifully. Apothecary bottles of all colors, shapes, and sizes now line our kitchen sills like the usual snake-oil suspects. Beside a blue-tinted Ball Perfect Mason jar, a King Syrup bottle holds freshly cut flowers from the yard. Even an ordinary glass salt shaker that would have been at home on any Cold War kitchen table once again fulfills its intended purpose.

Like a flood of cheap, single-use plastic, COVID-19 has upped the ante for our disposable culture. Bits of the old normal will eventually be recycled, repurposed, to be sure. But I sometimes wonder, as I stand at the kitchen sink, scrubbing off the latest haul, what those who will kick about the woods, the riverbeds, and shorelines a hundred years hence will make of what we threw away…

More photos @digging_glass


Nevermind Nirvana


It was mid-day and Dave Grohl was slamming back his third or fourth miniature and the boat hadn’t even left the dock.

At least, he said he was Dave Grohl – from Park City, Utah – as he introduced himself and his wife to the newlyweds seated next to them. For the third time. He looked a hard 50, with thinning, shoulder-length hair draped over his vintage Pearl Jam t-shirt that, when juxtaposed with a scattering of sunbaked tattoos, that added to an overall lack of mystique. My guess was that they really did hail from Park City, and that his name may have even been Dave Grohl, though he was the only one who seemed convinced that he had once laid down the backbeat as one-third of Nirvana.

He was most certainly drinking Fireball, though, and too much, too fast; the expression on his wife’s face confirmed it, as her failing efforts to sequester Dave from the rest of the passengers and crew were matched only by her own interest in fading into the farthest nook possible.

“I used to own a bar,” said Dave. “That didn’t work out so well.” He said it without a hint of irony.

The charter’s captain fired up the engine, and after the obligatory briefing about lifejackets and the delicate mechanics of the marine head, the deckhands cast off the mooring lines and we slowly made our way out of the lagoon, past mangroves full of iguanas basking listlessly in the tropical sun.

We and perhaps two dozen others were bound for Stingray City, cited as a must-see attraction by virtually every Top-10-Things-to-Do-on-Grand-Cayman list we had read. And for good reason. On any given day, scores of southern stingrays converge on the warm, impossibly blue shallows of this series of sandbars near the mouth of the island’s North Sound. At one time, they were drawn to the spot by fishermen who cast the unwanted scraps from their catches overboard. Today, the rays still gather on the bank to feed, but now at the hands of the dozens of charter boats – including Captain Marvin’s, one of Grand Cayman’s oldest and most reputable snorkel charters, which operates several boats daily, including the one we now found ourselves aboard.

Once moored, the boat’s crew ushered us into the water, where we were free to swim with the rays. They are magnificent, utterly singular creatures that appear almost alien as they “fly” past you. There were plenty of photo ops, and even the chance to kiss a stingray “for good luck” before we weighed anchor and headed for the nearby “Coral Gardens” for a bit of snorkeling amidst the fire corals, sea fans, and fish. There, for the second time in our roughly 15 years of snorkeling together, we witnessed a moray eel, who with silent precision wriggled all six feet of his bright green body into a well-suited nook at the base of a coral head. The coral on Grand Cayman was the healthiest of any we had seen in years, vibrant and teeming with life. No wonder many of the locals we spoke with voiced concerned dismay over the environmental impact of a proposed cruise ship terminal.

Snorkeling is a revelatory experience, providing the terrestrial biped a “bird’s eye view” of a strange and silent world to which the very best aquarium cannot remotely compare. Never forsake an opportunity to behold wildlife in its natural setting, whether on land or at sea – even aboard a hotel shuttle bus.

Truth was, we had such a great experience with Captain Marvin’s that I had totally forgotten about Dave Grohl from Park City – at least until we returned to port, where we found ourselves two seats removed from Mr. Fireball aboard the hotel shuttle bus. We watched as polite passengers tried to disengage him in mute horror. From the other side of the bus his wife made half-hearted attempts to discourage his efforts to engage the lone middle-aged woman seated between us in conversation. The woman’s accent, poise, and improbable tolerance for drunken Americans suggested that she was European and a professional, perhaps associated with George Town’s renowned banking industry.

“Where are you from? We’re from Park City, Utah.”

“St. Helena,” she replied. “I’m the attorney general.”

“Oh!” said Mrs. Grohl. “My husband is a recovering lawyer.”

“I’m not a recovering anything,” slurred Dave. “Saint what?”

“St. Helena,” the woman said. “It’s a little island in the middle of the South Atlantic, where Napoleon Bonaparte died in exile.”

“We’re from Park City,” he said, again.

“Utah,” noted Mrs. Grohl. The bus pulled up to its first stop, freeing several from the group before resuming its route.

“And where is your husband?” asked Dave.

Without flinching, the woman politely replied, “He’s dead.”

Mrs. Grohl closed her eyes and sank back into her seat as even Dave himself seemed to realize he’d overplayed his hand, if not exactly how.

“I’m so sorry,” said Mrs. Grohl.

The woman smiled. “It’s alright, thank you.”

“We’re going to Rackam’s for dinner and drinks,” said Dave. “You should join us.”

“I would love to, but I simply cahnt,” replied the woman, mother Britain manifest in her speech.

Dave perked up. “Cahnts? I just love cahnts!” Mrs. Grohl sank ever further into her seat.

“Next stop, Comfort Suites,” the driver announced.

“Keith Richards,” blurted Dave.

Both women looked at him incredulously. “What?”

“Keith Richards,” he reiterated. “You ever want a husband who won’t die on you, you should marry Keith Richards. He’s gonna live forever.”

The bus pulled to a stop. “Comfort Suites,” announced the driver.

“Who the hell stays at Comfort Suites?” Dave wondered aloud, just as St. Helena rose from her seat, gathered her things, and headed for the bus door.

Now, it was Dave who was incredulous. “Wait – you’re staying at Comfort Suites?” But she was already gone.

Mrs. Grohl sighed with relief, but then Dave closed the gap by sliding into the now-vacant seat next to me. We had done our best to remain expressionless throughout the bus ride, intent on bearing witness without actively participating, unable to look at one another for fear of releasing the pent up laughter. Mrs. Grohl, too, had preferred it that way, seeming to fear what we, above all others, might do if Dave attempted to interact, which was just fine by us.

“Jesus Christ, you’ve got some hairy legs,” Dave said, stroking my calf. “Like a damned yeti.”

The Straw Market

We arrive at the Straw Market around 9:00 a.m., just as its vendors begin throwing back the blue plastic tarps that shield their wares from the passing tropical showers that douse Nassau, like most else in these latitudes, every few hours.

Opening time, and the most industrious sellers of this bustling city block-size flea market are already hawking their goods to the handful of intrepid tourists that presage the imminent cruise ship invasion. One woman, still unwrapping her stall, draws us in by appealing to Garnet with a wooden folding knife, which she offers to engrave on the spot for a grand total of $10. It’s a cool piece, and a rare opportunity for a kid whose name will never appear on those little bicycle license plates for sale in every seaside five-and-ten from Cape Cod to Key West. Sold.

We walk on, and other vendors begin to swoop in like seagulls circling a bucket of boardwalk fries. They’re hawking tie-dyes and wood carvings, ball caps and bongs, African masks, Bob Marley beach towels and, of course, straw goods. From stall to stall, much of it is redundant, and the same “Bahamian” mementos that 500 miles to the south are stamped “Kingston”. Still, a closer look will reveal some fine locally-hewn crafts.

Just outside the Market’s west wing we meet Winston, a beaming older local who sits with his hatchet, carving rough wooden figures which he sells alongside the mass-produced pieces. We buy one of his masks, and he offers to pose for a picture.

Inside, we navigate the tight aisles which, in some cases, are all that distinguish one stall from the next. Garnet buys me a starfish shot glass for my birthday, before moving on in search of a stuffy. He and Davida advance to the next booth while I run to the rest room, which is remarkably bright, clean, and well-kept.

I catch up with them at a booth where Garnet is considering a blue plush bear with Bahamas embroidered on it while Davida contemplates one bamboo-adorned photo album over another. She steps away to help Garnet with his selection, and somehow, I wind up with both albums in hand, making me a clear mark for the vendor, a fast-talking Bahamian woman who has already moved in.

“Fifteen dollars,” she says. Then, sensing my indecision, shrewdly adds, “Two for twenty-five.”

Why not? Tangible flotsam adrift in a digital sea.

“Deal.” I open my wallet. Nothing but twenties. Goddamn ATMs. I pull out $40, and the woman eyes the two bills like an informant who’s about to put the Jackson twins away for the next five to seven years.

“Tell you what,” she says, grabbing a third photo album and adding it to the pair in my hands, “take this one, too. Ten dollars.”

I laugh to myself, but roll with it. Our philosophy generally runs like this: if we can afford to be here, for nothing more than a few days of fun, we can afford to spend a few dollars – it is part of the budget. Unlike nearby Paradise Island, with its international chains and faux-tropicalia, these dollars will go straight into the local economy.

I nod and hand her the money.

“So – let’s see. I owe you…five dollars.” She pulls a few bills from her pocket and begins counting out singles into my hand. “One…two…three…four…” Hamilton stares back from his ten-spot.

“Let’s see,” she says, scanning the booth. From a nearby shelf, she seizes a small shot glass adorned with cartoon fish which she promptly adds to my stack. “Here – take this.” It’s a done deal. And with that she moves on to the cruise ship invaders now storming the Market. They don’t stand a chance.

As we move on, I reflect on my lesson in Straw Market economics. Know that everyone needs to make a buck and understand you are that buck, nothing personal. Be prepared for toe-to-toe trade in a spirited setting. Enjoy the experience of mingling with locals whose livelihoods, in their own unique way, depend upon the daily tourist invasion.

And bring exact change.

Why Nassau?

So why Nassau? Arguably, Nassau caters to tourists, not travelers, with its omnipresent cruise ships and Paradise Island’s Disneyfied version of the Caribbean.  As our regular readers know, we attempt to be more travelers than tourists, so why go to a tourist hot spot? In reality, we went to New Providence Island, with Nassau a playing small part of the trip.

In the spring we started planning a trip, our first real family vacation in two and a half years. We wanted to relax for a change. We wanted an actual vacation. We wanted to go somewhere that would make two exhausted adults and one rambunctious 11-year-old happy. We picked New Providence because the travel there was relatively quick and easy and more importantly, our frequent flyer points covered the airfares (but not the taxes and fees*).  We found an affordable cottage with a kitchenette that was mere feet from the ocean.

In those respects, a trip to the Bahamas was cheaper than Utah and Seattle (they were other discussed possibilities). Those areas were in peak high season, while the Caribbean was a month into hurricane season.  We decided to splurge on two things – a rental car, so we could see the whole island, and a boat trip to the Exumas.

We hope you enjoy the upcoming series of posts about New Providence Island and all of the wonderful things to discover beyond Paradise Island.

Photo by Garnet

* The taxes, fees, etc., assessed by the Bahamas came to $287.97 for all three plane tickets.



Indian Key

View from the tower on Indian Key

With the prospect of a three- to four-hour drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, flying directly to the southernmost point in the US offers a convenient, if costly, option for those travelers on tight schedules. But the balmy, flat, and winding 110 miles of the Overseas Highway that run from the Florida mainland to the bottom of US-1 will yield wild and weird corners for those able (or willing) to take the time.

Paddling up to Indian Key

From the geological wonders of Devil’s Milhopper to the picturesque sands of Bahia Honda, Florida has a varied and truly amazing state park system. One of its most distinctive parks is also one all too easily overlooked on a drive through the Keys. Located a half-mile, ocean-side, off Islamorada lies the lush but unassuming Indian Key Historic State Park. Accessible only by boat, the uninhabited 11-acre island was, two centuries ago, the original county seat for Dade County.

The old streets are still evident.

But that simple historical fact doesn’t begin to belie the tranquil key’s colorful and, at times, lurid history. From here, Jacob Housman built a formidable “wrecking” business in the early 19th century, salvaging valuable cargoes from ships that met their ends on the treacherous reefs in the surrounding waters. In 1838, the Philadelphia botanist Dr. Henry Perrine moved to the island, bringing with him a host of non-indigenous flora, including agave (used in the manufacturing of sisal), tamarind, and large yucca plants. By the close of that decade, the island boasted a population of about 60, and even a nationally advertised resort hotel. Later, Henry Flagler would use the key as a base for dredging operations during the construction of his Overseas Railroad.

Cochineal insects – the red dye carmine is made from them

But Indian Key’s golden heyday drew its last breaths in the wee hours of August 7, 1840, when an invasion force of more than 130 Spanish-speaking Seminoles descended upon the island from nearby Lower Matecumbe Key. Twelve hours later, six people were dead (including Perrine) and much of the looted settlement laid in smoldering ruins. The United States Navy subsequently used Indian Key as a base of operations for the Second Seminole War, but the island’s halcyon days as a thriving, self-sustaining commercial center were effectively done.

Brad Bertelli and WPT

Today, visitors may rent canoes and kayaks from Robbie’s of Islamorada and paddle out to Indian Key. Make the most of the trip by enlisting the services of historian, author, and tour guide Brad Bertelli of Historic Upper Keys Walking Tours to bring the island’s crumbling foundations and crunching gravel streets back to bustling life. If you appreciate vivid detail, humor, and a healthy overdose of enthusiasm for esoterica in your docent, then the affable Bertelli – who, with co-author David Sloan, recently published Bloodline: A Local’s Guide to 50 Famous Film Locations in the Florida Keys, an indispensable, trivia-packed self-guided tour for fans of the Netflix Original Series Bloodline – is your man.

Small shark resting in the shallows, just offshore
Small shark resting in the shallows, just offshore

Back in Islamorada, at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center, where Bertelli also serves as the Curator/Historian, a fine scale model of Housman-era Indian Key provides additional perspective.

Model of Indian Key at Florida Keys History & Discovery Center
Model of Indian Key at Florida Keys History & Discovery Center

It is worth noting that there are no restroom facilities, nor fresh water, nor trash cans on Indian Key. But there is some decent snorkeling off its craggy northeastern shore. So any which way, plan accordingly.

Florida Keys History & Discovery Center

Breezin Charters

13669847_10157106853055702_1711600339449912319_nShortly after clearing Key West Harbor, bound for the reef at Sand Key Lighthouse some six or seven miles offshore, came that most cherished moment when, with sails full and neatly trimmed, you kill the diesel grumbling beneath your feet and, like 300 generations of your forebears, give yourself over to the power of the wind.


Unlike today’s hard-chine powerboats, the sailboat’s traditionally curved hull rides the waves like a duck, and one momentarily reverts to that evolutionary stage when mankind pursued its own ends by harnessing the forces of nature rather than trying to dominate them.

13754342_10157106852945702_8921155845293474025_nOf course, modern sailboats offer amenities your ancestors never could have foreseen – global positioning systems (GPS), refrigeration, roller furling, autopilot, self-tailing winches, and satellite radio, to name a few – but the tried-and-true fundamentals of sailing remain the same. And sea-legged visitors to Key West can enjoy the best of both worlds aboard Breezin, a 42-foot Catalina sloop that offers full- (seven hours) and half-day (four hours) charters on the balmy surrounding waters.


But what really sets Breezin apart from the competition is her skipper, Dennis Krinitt. We first met “Captain Dees” about a decade ago, when he worked for a nearby sailing charter company. While that all-day snorkel excursion was everything we’d hoped for, it was the smart, good-natured, soft-spoken Krinitt – whose conversation shifted from jazz standards to Tom Robbins to basic seamanship as naturally as the changing tide – that really shone. And despite his credentialed profession, the native Californian may well be the most productive-yet-chill human being I’ve ever met: calm, collected, unflappable.


So impressed were we by Captain Dees that we went out with him again before that trip was up. And thereafter, on each return to Key West, we made a point of booking only those trips he was scheduled to helm, including one sunset cruise on which Captain Dees – also a licensed notary – officiated our renewed wedding vows.


Eventually, Captain Dees landed Breezin a slip in the Key West Bight Marina, at the foot of William Street, where he now offers sailing charters, lessons, sunset cruises, and more. (And those modern amenities also include the ability to book your reservation online.) On your way there, stop by the nearby Cuban Coffee Queen for a café con leche and pan cubano, or anything from their extensive menu. But get there early, as the line quickly builds – and you don’t want to miss the boat!

Breezin Charters

Historic Seaport Walk

Key West Bight Marina, Slip E-7

201 William Street

Key West, FL 33040

P: (305) 797-1561


Cuban Coffee Queen

284 Margaret Street

Key West, FL 33040

P: (305) 292-4747

Downtown Location

5 Key Lime Square

Key West, FL 33040

P: (305) 294-7787

Out and Back


The official motto of the United States Coast Guard is “Semper Paratus,” or “Always Ready.” But, since the heyday of the United States Life-Saving Service (which merged with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form our modern USCG), at least, another phrase has adorned the flipside of that figurative coin: “The rules say you have to go out, but they do not say you have to come back.”


On February 18, 1952, four young men with those words in mind set out from the Chatham (Massachusetts) Lifeboat Station in a 36-foot self-righting, self-bailing wooden motor lifeboat – clinically named CG36500 – into a hellish nor’easter, and the annals of lifesaving lore. In what has since been considered the greatest small-boat rescue in USCG history, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber and his crew of three – Andrew Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey, and Ervin Maske – battled at-times hurricane-force winds and frigid, 60-foot seas to rescue the crew of the S.S. Pendleton, a 500-foot World War II-era tanker which had broken in half several miles offshore.


En route, the CG36500’s engine briefly quit, and the angry seas smashed the boat’s windshield and tore away her compass. Yet, somehow, Webber and his crew successfully reached the stern of the mortally wounded Pendleton, and despite the odds, successfully rescued 32 of the ship’s crew in a boat designed to hold a maximum of 12 (including its own crew).


Not surprisingly, this seemingly impossible feat became the stuff of Coast Guard legend, yet Webber, Fitzgerald, Livesey, and Maske did not consider themselves “heroes”, per se; rather, they regarded their actions simply as a fulfillment of duty. By the late 1960s, the old 36-footers, including CG36500, had been decommissioned, and the slick, new 44-foot motor lifeboat became the Coast Guard’s standby.


The CG36500 languished in dry-dock, neglected, for more than a decade, until a collective of intrepid locals, recognizing her historical value, set about painstakingly restoring her. Today, the fully restored and operational CG36500 is maintained under the auspices of the Orleans Historical Society and Museum, which features an impressive exhibit on the famed rescue in its nearby museum. As the son of a career Coast Guardsman, having the opportunity to visit the boat was a borderline spiritual experience. The 2016 movie The Finest Hours – based on Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman’s 2009 book of the same name – faithfully recreates the Pendleton rescue. While the film was not a commercial success, in this era of hyperbolic action movies that inexorably seek inspiration through the spilling of blood, it is good to see the four lifesavers from Chatham Station – and, by proxy, all who have come before or since – finally get their due.



Orleans Historical Society and Museum
3 River Rd, Orleans, MA 02653
call 508-240-1329

Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9:00 – noon and 1:00 – 5:00 or by appointment

The boat moves seasonally, so please visit the website to check on its location.

The Boys No Man Dares Dun


We had planned to bypass Limerick completely. Irish friends had recommended skipping the historically industrial hub, given the scale of our trip and improbably limited amount of time, in favor of more epic destinations like the Burren and Newgrange.


Yet one unlikely nook of Limerick still beckoned – a rough, working-class suburb on the city’s eastside called Garryowen. The area’s Irish name, Garraí Eoin, translates to “the garden of John”, a reference to John the Baptist. Indeed, St. John’s Cathedral, built in 1861, towers fortress-like over the heart of Garryowen, and, at 94 meters (or about 308 feet), boasts the tallest spire in all of Ireland.


However, my interest in Garryowen was not grounded in religious history or its renowned rugby club, but rather an eponymous tune whose origins may be traced back two or three centuries. Today, the song is probably best known in America as a march favored by the U.S. Army, and it often emanates from bagpipes during St. Patrick’s Day parades. But, in fact, “Garryowen” began life purely as a hooligan’s refrain:


Let Bacchus’s sons be not dismayed

But join with me each jovial blade

Come booze and sing and lend your aid

To help me with the chorus


Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale

And pay the reckoning on the nail

For debt no man shall go to jail

From Garryowen in glory


We are the boys who take delight

In smashing Limerick lamps at night

And through the street like sportsters fight

Tearing all before us



We’ll break windows, we’ll break doors

The watch knock down by threes and fours

Then let the doctors work their cures

And tinker up our bruises



We’ll make the mayor and sheriff run

We’ll beat the bailiffs out of fun

We are the boys no man dares dun

If he regards a whole skin



Our hearts so stout have got us fame

For soon ’tis known from whence we came

Where’er we go they dread the name

Of Garryowen in glory


I was about 12 when I first heard “Garryowen”, on an album of Civil War-era music performed by folk musician Jim Taylor. The rowdy, infectious tune appears, ironically, as part of an instrumental medley that includes “Haste to the Wedding” and “St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning”.

“Garryowen” was part of a canon of traditional music that accompanied an unprecedented wave of Irish immigration to America during the mid to late 19th century and, before long, manifested throughout Union Army camps in the War Between the States. It was there, so the story goes, that General George A. Custer first heard “Garryowen”, and favored it so greatly that his Seventh Cavalry took the jaunty air west with them during the Indian Wars, adopting it as its official theme – one which they still play today. Indeed, “Garryowen” (both instrumentally and with lyrics) is ubiquitous throughout the 1941 Errol Flynn vehicle They Died with Their Boots On.

Surely, a rough-and-tumble town with such an inspired musical heritage must merit a brief detour. Hell, for all I knew, Garryowen was now a gentrified hipster haven sporting Thai restaurants and art galleries on every block…


IMG_7962We rolled into Garryowen shortly before the local afternoon rush hour, and while I wasn’t sure of the precise whereabouts of St. John’s Cathedral, one thing soon became clear: if 300-year-old lyrics are to be believed, Garryowen has remained true to itself. I’ve lived and worked in Baltimore long enough to recognize a tourist destination…and this certainly is not one. From ubiquitous security cameras and graffiti to ruins both new and ancient, Garryowen bears all the scars and hallmarks of an area still awaiting a ship that is several centuries overdue.


Yet the towering architecture of Garryowen’s centerpiece, St. John’s Cathedral, remains an awe-inspiring sight for the intrepid (and streetwise) traveler. Garryowen itself stands as a resilient and sobering reminder of the truths that ground the most elaborate mythologies.



Maritime Museum of San Diego


Several times each year, I attend work conferences that take me to cities all across America. Between educational programming, receptions, and catching up with old friends and colleagues, it can be quite exhausting. Still, I try to make the most of the small bits of personal time allotted by exploring points beyond the antiseptic confines of a conference hotel.

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Given my limited free time, I assigned utmost priority to visiting the Maritime Museum of San Diego during a recent trip to that city – particularly the Museum’s centerpiece, the tall ship Star of India. The Museum bills the 212-foot “Iron Lady” – launched as the Euterpe from the Isle of Man in 1863 – as “the world’s oldest active sailing ship.” (NOTE: Following a recent overhaul, the wooden whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, built in 1841, left her home port of Mystic, Connecticut, for an extensive tour of the New England coastline. However, even if this fact muddies the superlative waters, that both ships are so well-maintained, never mind operational, is nothing short of commendable.) The Star of India hauled everything from salmon to timber to New Zealand-bound immigrants until her retirement in the 1920s. Following a half-century of idle decay, she put to sea again in 1976. Today, the Star tells her illustrious story (which includes collision and mutiny) through a host of exhibits both below deck and topside. Visitors may take note of the ship’s ubiquitous knot-work, whose decorative aesthetic was in fact secondary, in nearly all cases, to serving practical purposes.


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But for me, the most pleasantly unexpected moment of my visit came aboard the in-this-case-aptly-named H.M.S. Surprise. You see, the ship, launched in 1970, is a replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate, the H.M.S. Rose, a name she bore for the next three decades. A substantial portion of that time was spent berthed in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was during this time that an uncle of mine volunteered on the ship, and in fact was aboard when she sailed for New York in 1986 in commemoration of the Statue of Liberty’s centennial.

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At the dawn of the 21st century, 20th Century Fox purchased the ship for use in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, renaming her H.M.S. Surprise. The Maritime Museum acquired the Surprise/Rose in 2006. But to this day the ship’s engraved bell belies her original namesake.

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Other Maritime Museum highlights include the 1898 steam ferry Berkeley, which evacuated survivors of the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake to Oakland; the Californian, a replica of the 1847 Revenue Cutter C.W. Lawrence and the official tall ship of the state of California; the B-39, a Cold War-era “Foxtrot” class Soviet submarine; and the U.S.S. Dolphin, a deep-diving diesel-electric U.S. Navy research submarine decommissioned in 2007. Fans of all things nautical will revel in the Museum’s collection, unparalleled, in my experience, this side of Mystic Seaport.


Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Having grown up near the shore, I’ve a great affinity for the small unsung museums that serve as the repositories for coastal lore and culture. Much like the beach in January, such places – like the Barnegat Light Historical Society and Museum, at the north end of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, which in a former one-room schoolhouse contains, among other artifacts, the original first-order Fresnel lens from nearby Barnegat Lighthouse – tend to draw those who most appreciate a place for what it is in and of itself.

While other attractions superbly highlight the area’s past within a greater historical context (e.g., the Wright Brothers National Memorial or the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island), the Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum in Nags Head provides a glimpse into the daily lives of the hardy souls who inhabited these parts long before mini-golf and timeshares.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

When a Google search prior to our trip turned up the Beachcomber Museum, I was thrilled to have found such a hitherto unexplored nook. My jubilation, however, was quickly tempered by the chilly realization that, like many beachfront concerns, the Museum would most likely be closed in mid-January. Nevertheless, Davida, taking a shot in the dark, sent an email to the address on their website – and soon received a reply from the Museum’s proprietors, Chaz and Dorothy. They arranged a time for us to visit the museum during our trip. We were especially lucky because the museum does close for the winter, but they kept it open and heated the space just for our visit.

A cold rain fell as we drove down the beach road (NC Route 12), past shuttered summer homes left alone to face the wintry seas, to Mattie Midgette’s 1914 general store, which now holds the late Nellie Myrtle Pridgen’s collection of washed-up ephemera collected from the surrounding coastline over the course of the Outer Banks native’s 74-year lifetime.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Chaz and Dorothy warmly welcomed us. Following brief introductions, Dorothy, herself a cache of historical knowledge and local goings-on, took us on a tour of what in my experience is a most singular collection, the only one of its kind that I have ever seen, anywhere. Here, for example, you will find an expansive array of shells, sea glass, photographs, bottles (some dating back to the 1600s), Japanese glass fishing net floats, Trinidadian relics, and notes found in bottles, as well as several examples of fulgurites, the product of a lightning strike upon sand.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

One of my favorite items was an elaborately embossed Guinness bottle from 1959 – part of an ingenious “message in a bottle” advertising campaign celebrating the brand’s bicentenary, wherein 150,000 of the special bottles were dropped into the Atlantic Ocean. Each one contained a memo “From the Office of King Neptune” that invited the finder to inform Guinness as to when and where they made the find.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Chaz, it turned out, is also a photographer, and though we paid no admission fee, we did purchase two of his prints, which help to support the Museum. I commend Dorothy and Chaz’s efforts to preserve a collection unlike any I have ever seen. This place is a must-see for Banks visitors new and old, and a fascinating glimpse into the lifelong obsession of one of the beach’s more vocal keepers and defenders.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum