Archive for the ‘Alaska’ Category

ELDA Revisited

Friday, May 13th, 2016


My journeys take me back through New York State and I simply must stop to visit my great uncle’s old estate in Ossining.  He, and all of his siblings, were inventors and David T. Abercrombie was no exception having founded Abercrombie & Fitch in 1892.  This estate, named ELDA after his four children (Elizabeth, Lucy, David, Abbott) was built in 1925-6 by Portuguese stone masons, is five stories tall, sits on 52 acres with three lakes and was once a grandiose estate.


A closer look at the south side of the building.  It’s massive!  The walls are 3-4′ thick and reinforced with Abbott Steel.  David’s wife was Lucy Abbott Cate of the Abbott Steel Company who built the turret on the Monitor and the steel trusses and compression ring on the US Capitol rotunda.  They held patents on fireproof steel–which wouldn’t warp when heated.  They knew their stuff.

Entrance Reduced Size

This is the north side of the building with the curved entrance.  It enters a foyer with the dining/kitchen on the left and living room on the right.  A tea house was later added right behind the tree in the center of this photograph.  The square tower housed guest bedrooms, a gunroom above, a cistern above which gravity fed the entire house.  On top was an observation level where the NYC skyline could be seen, but only when crawling up a narrow catwalk out over the corbelled rim–seen here left center.


This is the same view today–the entire wing is gone.  A faint roof line can be seen on the square tower.  The newspaper accounts of the time attribute this destruction to a paint factory fire in 1944. But I question this account.


Here is the living room ca. 1930.

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An identical perspective in 2010……


…..and today.  Vandals have moved in and have simply trashed the place.  Every window, gone.


The alcove in the living room.

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A 2010 photo of the hinge details…..


… the doors have been ripped out and stripped of their hardware–here half a hinge survived for some unknown reason.

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Today, the toilet and tub fixtures are gone.  Who would steal a 1960s turquoise toilet?

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Attic 2010…..liveable.


2016–the far left panel chopped through the roof.


And on it goes.  The future leaders of our country.  Or more likely, the welfare kings & queens?


I think this was a kitchen.


This was a habitable living space only 6 years ago.


The entry.


The gun-room–intact in 2010 has been stripped of doors and some of the intricately carved panels were crow-barred off the walls.


One parting photograph as I leave.  Every window in the house is gone, every door removed, every appliance tipped and smashed.  I walked on 2″ glass everywhere.  In 2010 I gathered the local/county/state park folks together to try and preserve this property to no avail.  Now 6 years later, it’s worse.  I’m still trying to interest local governments in a park on these 52+ acres.  I’ve also contacted the present day Abercrombie & Fitch–given their track record contrary to the original A & F mission–to  kick in a few shillings–don’t you think?

Oh…..the missing wing of this building.  In 1960 a physicist bought this estate and cleaned it up–a life-time mission of raising his two daughters here.  He was a student of, and understudy to, Norman Ramsey, who won the Nobel Prize in physics for……the Manhattan Project.   Now, it’s just a hunch, but could that forceful blast in 1944 on a secluded 52 acre estate, within a stone’s throw of Manhattan, that took out one wing of Abbott Steel, been related to the Manhattan Project?    Stay tuned!

On to Washington

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Blue Ridge Parkway

Instead of following the whole Blue Ridge Parkway, which rattled out my trailer, I decide to take the parallel roads and visit many of the small towns north of Boone, North Carolina–which also rattled out my trailer.


My first stop north of Boone was just outside of Lexington, VA where I found the Lee Hi Campground and which made a three-way tie for the worst campground on my (so far) 8 1/2 month odyssey: Graceland TN and Ridge Crest NM.  But it was the only “RV” park in the area so I hunkered down in the rain with about 150 semi-trucks that idled their engines all night.  Only water and electricity available and all for $50 bucks!  It was an early departure the next morning for Ranger Doug who likes the open plains.

To give Lexington credit, it is full of beautiful old brick buildings (brick foundry here), the home of Stonewall Jackson, the Virginia Military Academy and the film site for “Brother Rat” starring Ronald Reagan.  On the main street, in a small alcove, was an old piano which I sat down to play, totally fracturing my old Chopin Gm Ballade.  Immediately a Russian visitor came up, sat down and fractured the C#m Prelude by Rachmaninoff.  Afterward, we had a fractured conversation in Russian…..  This is America!


Half hour’s drive north of Lexington is Staunton, VA which was equally charming.  I stayed at the Shenandoah RV Park which was very well run–they even sent me a personal email thanking me for staying and asked for suggestions.   Lee Hi RV didn’t do that…..   Staunton, the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, was also voted the “Best Small Town in America” a few years ago.  This camp-spot above is really in Shenandoah National Park at the Big Meadows Campground, but I had to mention Saunton.


I gave four talks in Shenandoah; three at Big Meadows (above) and one at Dickey Ridge which was an impromptu talk.  Considering that the weather was terrible (mild-Alaskan actually), I reached over 70 people.  We put up the four original posters which generated a lot of interest–the Yellowstone Falls on the right is the only original found.  The Shenandoah staff was simply great–making me feel like a ranger again.  Thank you Greta for putting this all together!


More drizzle which invades the window seal…….  I designed this rear bumper–which houses the gray and black-water hoses–stowed outside of the trailer.  Quick disconnects allow me to hook up in about one minute.  Airstreams are the only place where a straight flush beats a full house……


It’s only an hour and a half to Washington from the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center.  The only RV camp in the Washington area is the Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park, NE of the City by 20 miles.  It’s on the Green Line so I could access downtown Washington DC easily.  My first stop was the Department of the Interior where I signed some of our new prints and a couple dozen postcards, and met a dozen more staff–our federal lands are in good hands!   I also signed up for the Interior Building tour again–can’t get enough of this New Deal art–Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 pm. This building is a museum unto itself–Ranger Doug highly recommends this tour.  Here’s one example of this mural art–painted by WPA Native American artists:


In WWII, two anti-aircraft guns were placed on the roof-decks outside this ice cream parlor and one accidentally discharged while being cleaned, knocking the “W” of “Wisconsin” on the Lincoln Memorial–the only shot fired domestically in WWII.  I took photos of the whole room and will post this later up in a cloud somewhere…..stand by.


There’s more!   The National Postal Museum is one of 18 Smithsonian museums.  I’ve always been curious about the “Inverted Jenny” and four are on display here.  One sheet was inserted in the “spider” printing press backwards, inverting this Curtiss JN (Jenny) 4.  One hundred stamps (one sheet) were released and today each has a value of approximately $100,000.  More on the “Jenny” here.


Walking around the Mall is always fun and you meet interesting people.  I had to stop here and take in this group–now didn’t our founding fathers want separation of church & state?  I think so, but today (and tomorrow) you can take in 90 hours of continuous bible reading on Federal Land……


…..and in both English and Spanish simultaneously!


The Capitol is still under renovations but so I thought I’d take the Rotunda tour.  The freeze-thaw cycles have taken their toll over the years on the dome and leaking has become a problem.  This scaffolding is both exterior and interior so I’ve no interior photos.

I proudly pointed out to the tour-guide that my grandmother’s brother’s wife’s great grandfather, founder of the Abbott Steel Company, manufactured the steel trusses and compression ring for this rotunda (and the USS Monitor’s turret).  Abraham Lincoln insisted that this dome be completed during the heat of the Civil War, replacing the old copper dome, as a symbol of stability and unity for the Union……with slave labor.

The Statue of Freedom crowning the rotunda has a convoluted history arriving in plaster pieces after a halting trip from Rome via Gibraltar and Bermuda.  The five section were cast at the Mills Foundry near Washington until the Civil War broke out.  A labor strike halted the casting which was ultimately completed by a former slave Philip Reid.  Much history is here for the taking…..


This is the roof dome in the Library of Congress–beautiful!  On the third floor is Thomas Jefferson’s personal library–this alone is worth a trip to Washington and I’m not disappointed travelling from Alaska.

I am very proud to have all my (and co-Artist Brian Maebius’) poster art–both historic reproductions and contemporary silkscreens–as part of the LOC collection. Here is my last LOC visit.  Since then, I’ve found one more original poster (Yellowstone Falls) which now brings the total to 12 of 14.  Still missing are Great Smoky Mountains and Wind Cave National Parks.


Trump’s new hotel in the Old Post Office Building, right across the Mall from the White House.  Sad to see this history converted into a hotel–perhaps another museum?   Well–no politics here of course!


Within the walls of the National Museum of Natural History is a huge collection of everything that once was alive–including this White Rhino, now teetering on the brink of extinction; the Northern White Rhinos are gone and the Southern number about 20,000.  Not sure which one this is (N or S), but it was none other than Teddy Roosevelt who shot this one dead.  Back in those days, that’s what a naturalist did and TR was a prolific naturalist.  In the Insect Section, they have an exhibit explaining why they needed a lot of specimens but this philosophy didn’t work here for large mammals.  Tomorrow more museums……stay tuned!

More Roadside Attractions–Graceland to Boone

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016


Enough of Graceland.   I’m heading where it’s warm and sunny and that means Florida and Georgia and Southern Appalachia.  Driving south through Alabama is interesting.


I pass this building for about half an hour and wonder what purpose this huge building serves……it’s a Toyota manufacturing plant–and I’m driving a Toyota!  Cosmic!  My car was likely built here–in fact, I own three gas guzzling Toyotas (1990 LandCrusher, 2007 FJ Cruiser, and this 2015 Super-Sequoia with leather and cameras….but you know, they build the best cars & trucks, period!


This is Flamingo–at the very end of the road in Florida’s Everglades.  It’s 42 miles from the park entrance but is worth the visit.  I rate this the second best campground in the country that I’ve visited;  Spearfish SD City RV Park is the #1 so far.  This campground is spacious, has electric and water (no septic or cable) and, believe it or not,  three bars of ATT reception!   There I run into some Airstream rally participants bound for the Florida Keys and guess what, I’ve never been to one of these (and will likely not attend again), but I did join 174 other Airstreams on Big Pine Key.  It was quite eventful with a swap-meet where I made $60 bucks, a breakfast that would put any three star hotel chain’s continental breakfast to shame and finishing with a macaroni salad dinner (with steak & ham–but only one helping!).  I didn’t take any pictures.  But the evening entertainment was the best I’ve heard in a long time and originally from Alaska!  They are the Redhead Express (four sisters) and the Walker Boys (three brothers = 7 kids in this family) and immensely talented.  I bought every CD they sold and am glad I did.

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Returning from the Florida Keys I take SR-27 up the center past the east shore of Lake Okeechobee–a beautiful drive through sugar plantations and quaint towns.  It reminded me of the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland Australia, without the Tablelands.  However, it’s the agriculture here and the infrastructure of roads that has ‘plugged up’ the “River of Grass” which flows down through Everglades Park.  The Florida Department of Transportation is ameliorating this issue by putting in culverts under both I-75 and S-41 which have essentially dammed (damned?) this flow…..

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At the same time, they’re raising these roads with coral “gravel” berms by the megatons because of……global warming!  Our precious tax dollars at work here–trillions.  This is the true cost of industrialization and I’ll bet in one or two decades we’ll also regret gouging all this coral up and piling it here.  Well, the bugs are so bad here, I’m moving back north to Melbourne (Florida) and Jekyll Island Georgia before cutting in to the Appalachian Mountain Range.



The Blue Ridge Parkway is a long scenic roadway stretching from the Great Smoky Mountains in the south to the northern border of Shenandoah National Park for a full 469 miles.  It is winding and hilly and for a purpose–to follow the ridge lines of Appalachia and expose the ‘smoky’ views seen in the first post above.  My trailer has careened and careered for half of this Parkway so far.   Let’s pull over to some gateway communities surrounding Great Smoky National Park……


When I first visited Gatlinburg about 20 years ago, it was…..well, tacky as hell but smaller.  Today it is even tackier and also bigger and more contiguous with Seviereville, then Pigeon Forge, and finally Gatlinburg.  It is a mind-numbing, endless strip-mall, stretching a good 30+ miles and getting progressively worse over time.  Dollywood is in Pigeon Forge and believe it or not, they approached me to design their adventure-land addition about 7 years ago.  When I went to visit, it was $55 just to park!  I immediately left.


Tacky, tackier, tackiest……Pigeon Forge demands another superlative.


No comment……you want to see more?  Look here on Google search.  I don’t want to post these here as there are too many and further, my server probably won’t let me post this as it exceeds First Amendment protections.  Imagine 30 or more miles of this!   Sadly, the town of Sevierville is the Sevier County seat and has a wonderful old town, the King Family Library and lots of history.  Lost on this strip mall.


I’m still reeling from my Elvis experience (previous post) so didn’t attend this Museum either.  Gatlinburg has it all–and crowded right up the National Park boundary.   Let’s look at some of the earlier architecture…..

John Cable Mill

This is the John Cable Mill built in the early 1870s and still is functional and attractive.  This was a generation of practicality and simplicity (and taste).  So much so, that I based our poster design on this mill for the 75 anniversary of Great Smoky National Park.


The penstock to the mill is simply designed, can be repaired easily, and accommodate varying amounts of flow.  The low flow rate shown here was enough to drive the mill.


This ingenious flood-gate ensures the waterwheel will turn at low volumes. I’ve been contemplating a similar system in Alaska and now I know how to do it!  I’m still stumped about getting coins to fund my project though.


This is the grist mill and flour was being milled as I watched–I bought a bag of corn flour and wheat flour–organic, fresh, and only ten bucks!


Finally, I wander north to Boone, North Carolina–land of LGBT warfare.  I check each bathroom carefully before entering–so far no problems.  I initially intended to spend one night here at the Flintlock Campground, but ended up staying a week!  The folks here are very friendly, have a 7th day free, it is the home of Appalachian State Teachers College (23,000 friendly students–I enjoyed meeting many of them), the hub of the Mast Stores (seen across the street), an employee owned outdoor focused general store chain–which carries everything.  This week they had a sale on Carhartts and Filson and this is why Ranger Doug hung around so long!  That and the peach cobbler & ice cream they serve here for breakfast.  I just might become a Tar Heel……stay tuned.