Carolina Bays; A Peek Into a Violent, Prehistoric World

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No telling what compelled John Lawson and his gang to strip naked and wade through tangled underbrush and into the murky water, but we know with the benefit of three hundred years’ hindsight that if he’d moved north or south a bit, he might have avoided the unpleasant plunge altogether. The famed Lawson party, exploring … Continue reading

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R/V Arctic Discoverer; The Sad Remnants of a Golden Find

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The listing and rusted vessel is what you’d expect to see at a scrapyard. What’s not readily apparent, though, is that beneath the cracked paint and broken windows lies an epic tale of disaster and riches, disappearance and discovery, greed and justice. And the story is far from over. The Research Vessel Arctic Discoverer was … Continue reading

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Laurel Run, Pennsylvania; Fire beneath the Mountain

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A fire smolders in an abandoned coal mine deep underground. Gases seep to the surface through fissures in the earth. A blue-collar Pennsylvania town vaporizes, chased away by the blaze. But this is not Centralia, where subterranean seams of anthracite have been burning since 1962. No, this is Laurel Run, a town done in by a … Continue reading

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The Carolinas’ Curious Legacy; Nuclear Near-Misses

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Ahh, the Carolinas. Known far and wide for barbecue, conservative politics and…nuclear near-misses?? That’s right, the Carolinian legacy you’ve likely never heard of missed annihilating vast swaths of the East Coast’s countryside by just a whisper. Indeed, the only two accidents during which atomic bombs accidentally fell from bombers on American soil were in the … Continue reading

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Buffalo Springs; The Nectar of Eden

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To hear William Byrd II tell it, these springs made wet dreams, allowing his exploring party’s “appetites to mend, our slumbers to sweeten, the stream of life to run cool and peaceably in veins, and if ever we dreamt of women, they were kind.” The water, Byrd said, was “what Adam drank in Paradise.” What … Continue reading

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James River Steam Brewery Cellars; Underground Richmond Rediscovered

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Great things have been accomplished in pursuit of drink. The Pilgrims made an early exit from the Mayflower because their beer was running low. New England may be the most prominent example of landmarks that exist because of the need for strong drink, yet there are other extraordinary rock piles carved into the landscape because … Continue reading

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Shaker Communities; The Remnants of Kingdom Come

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Three remain. Not three villages, but three people. That’s of thousands who once counted themselves among the believers, scattered in two dozen communities from the Deep South to New England to the Midwest. Now just two women and a man–the last of the Shakers–live at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. If you’re still a good stretch … Continue reading

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Fort Hancock; Coastal Defense Through the Nuclear Age

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I’m often asked for tips by folks who want to find and explore abandoned history, and the discussion always circles around to trespassing. “Do you ever ignore ‘No Trespassing’ signs?” they ask. My answer? No. There’s no reason to, especially when there’s so much to see on public property nearby major cities. For instance, few … Continue reading

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The Smallpox Hospital, or, Renwick Ruin; An Abandoned Symbol of How Far We’ve Come

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New York City has its share of abandoned history, but none quite like the Renwick Ruin on Roosevelt Island. With its Gothic facade, the Smallpox Hospital, as it was once known, looks like some forsaken castle lost in time, better suited for the rolling terrain of rural Europe. Indeed, the Renwick Ruin does represent another … Continue reading

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Williamsburg’s Civil War Battlefield and a Community at a Crossroads

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The white clapboard house hides in plain sight on a short city street lined with recycle bins and compact sedans. Nothing on the exterior betrays what happened within those walls long ago, that officers engaged in the nation’s greatest crisis made decisions that ended many lives and spared others. What’s now a rental home close … Continue reading

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Aiden Lair; The First Stop in a Remarkable Presidency

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Teddy Roosevelt slept here. Or might have were he not the home-schooled, mountain-climbing, really-big-game-hunting, rough-riding-war-hero and boxer of a man he turned out to be. “Sleep when you die,” you can almost hear him bellowing. “I’m pressing on.” Despite that missed opportunity, Roosevelt’s arrival at Aiden Lair makes the lodge’s present condition all the more … Continue reading

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The Bethlehem Steel Plant; A Phoenix in Pennsylvania

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Eight out of every ten New York City skyscrapers originated here, not to mention every bridge and tunnel linking New Jersey and Manhattan. Wartime product was even grander: 1,127 World War II-era ships, as well as every 16-inch gun and 40% of American artillery shells used during both global wars. Despite helping to forge the … Continue reading

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Iron Furnaces in a National Forest; Deceptively Beautiful Ruins

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Virginia’s iron industry was neither the first nor the largest in early America–those distinctions belong to Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. But the demand for day-to-day items such as nails and barrel staves and, later, armaments for the Confederacy, meant that some hundred-plus stone furnaces once graced the Old Dominion. Most are long gone, their cut stone … Continue reading

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Chapman’s Mill and the Traces of Energy’s Past

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How many high-speed commuters drive by the towering shell of Chapman’s Mill—or any old mill, for that matter—and connect the crumbling ruins to the energy that allows them to zoom past? Not many, I’d wager. But as calls mount to make renewable sources a larger portion of our voracious energy diets, noble old ruins such … Continue reading

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Lost Drive-In Theaters in Maryland; The Vanished Pastime of a Generation

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There’s a good chance that if you’re better than 40 years old, you have a vivid recollection or two from a drive-in movie theater. After all, more than 4,000 of them once peppered the American landscape. For Bob Mondello, National Public Radio’s film critic, the most potent memories are of the zany ploys he used … Continue reading

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The Shaw Monument; A Testament to Folly

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A word to the wise: if you’re going to erect a monument to one of world history’s watershed moments, don’t do it like “Old John” Shaw did. Otherwise critics might similarly pan your work. “A monument crude and unsightly,” one observer said of his masterpiece. “A dishonor to beauty and art.” Another called it “an … Continue reading

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Matildaville; A Town That Couldn’t Catch a Break

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Go big or go home, right? That’s no doubt what Henry Lee III was thinking when he signed a 900-year lease on land near the Potomac River’s Great Falls. In the 1790s, old Light-Horse Harry had high hopes for the up-and-coming Matildaville, which had been named in honor of his late cousin-turned-first wife. He bought … Continue reading

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Rock Creek Park and the U.S. Capitol; Grand Old Stones No More

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When New England’s tallest elm tree, “Herbie,” succumbed to Dutch Elm disease, craftsmen made the wood into everything from a guitar to a casket. When the dust settled after 9/11, shipbuilders recycled the Twin Towers’ steel into the USS New York. And when the United States Capitol got a face-lift, the old stones went to … Continue reading

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A New Season; Lost Harbingers of a Chesapeake Spring

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Could you find tuckahoe if you had to? Know when to hook up with a herring? If you’re like most of us, the answer is probably “no.” All our modern conveniences and gadgets insulate us from a world our ancestors knew. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy central air and Google as much as the … Continue reading

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Cloverleaf Earthworks; Hidden Remnants of the Civil War

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Thousands of people drive within feet of this forgotten trace of history every day with no knowledge that it’s there. Not that most would give a flying fig. Nevertheless, this site’s very existence is a study in contrasts, an example of what happens when history and development intersect. Some might see this as an injustice. … Continue reading

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