Category Archives: Military

James River Steam Brewery Cellars; Underground Richmond Rediscovered

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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Fort Hancock; Coastal Defense Through the Nuclear Age

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

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

Posted in African Americans, Earthworks, Military | 8 Comments

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

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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The Shaw Monument; A Testament to Folly

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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The Forgotten Mass Grave at Harpers Ferry; A Strange Trip for Eight Raiders

Three feet down, the men struck something: a pine box. Waterlogged and rotting, yes, but a pine box nonetheless–exactly what they’d come looking for. They pried off the lid. A man’s spine was stuck to it. They closed the coffin, refilled the hole, placed a couple crude headstones, knowing all the while there’d soon be … Continue reading

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The Elko Tract; A Lost City That’s Too Well-Known

In the dense woods east of Richmond, Virginia is a notorious ghost town–an empty grid of grown-over streets lined by sidewalks that sprout trees and sewers choked with decades of leaf litter. An idle and rust-crowned water tower looms high above. This is the fabled Lost City. Unfortunately, too many people have found this abandoned … Continue reading

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Mockhorn Island and the Ruins of a Concrete Effort

I wasn’t sure what I’d find on Mockhorn Island. I knew there was a chance there would be odd artifacts since Mockhorn had once been the secluded retreat of the Cushman family, heirs to a New York bakery fortune, and later Yale University football coaching legend-turned-businessman T.A.D. Jones. Nevertheless, what greeted me when I first … Continue reading

Posted in Bay Islands, Ghost towns, Industry, Military | 20 Comments

Richard Baynham Garrett and the Unwanted Celebrity of an Assassin Come Calling

You’d not think to look for traces of John Wilkes Booth in Portsmouth, Virginia. Sure, the city has witnessed its share of extraordinary episodes, but the bustling port town is a long way from Washington D.C. and the quiet, rural community where the most famous manhunt in U.S. history came to a violent end. For … Continue reading

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Slabtown; A Community that Gave Its Existence for the United States

It’s easy to appreciate sacrifice at Yorktown Battlefield, where Americans secured their independence. Visitors there find historic fortifications, artillery and cemeteries containing the remains of hundreds of soldiers who fought and died for a cause. But sometimes folks render service to their country in less visible ways, and in an out-of-the-way quarter of the battlefield, … Continue reading

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Nike Missile Batteries; Forgotten Sentinels of American Cities

They’re not much to look at. Pads of cracked concrete and rusted steel. Squat cinder block buildings that could pass for some 50s-era strip mall. Aged and rusty chain-link fences are usually involved, too. It takes a broad stretch of the imagination to believe that these forlorn compounds once guarded the U.S.’s major cities. The … Continue reading

Posted in Earthworks, Ghost towns, Military | 28 Comments

Fort Ritchie, Maryland and the Remnants of an Indispensable Allied Weapon

The farmers of west-central Maryland panicked when the German military spilled out of the woods. The invasion had begun. World War II was entering a new phase, or so they thought. But there was something different about these Nazis. Their uniforms didn’t fit right–too big or too small. The enemy soldiers spoke perfect American English. Their … Continue reading

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Conscientious Objectors, Part II; Shedding Light on the Need for Reform

Caring for our neighbors who happen to be mentally ill is among society’s most challenging responsibilities. In fact, during World War II, the federal government deemed it “work of national importance.” Conscientious objectors–draftees who refused military service but were willing to offer themselves for peaceful endeavors–worked at 44 mental institutions around the country under the … Continue reading

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Conscientious Objectors, Part I; Work Fit to Make Pacifists Reconsider Corporal Punishment

In a grassy clearing on the forested grounds of Patapsco Valley State Park in suburban Baltimore are a couple stone staircase supports that go nowhere. Men once trudged down these steps on their way to a long day’s work. These steps–what’s left of them anyway–are among the few remaining monuments to thousands of men who … Continue reading

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The James River Reserve Fleet; The Last of an Armada that Served the World

Used to be you had no problem seeing the Ghost Fleet. After all, there were 850 idle ships lashed together in neat rows of two dozen or more stretching five miles. Today, though, that vast armada is a dying flame. There are fewer than twenty vessels, and the James River’s role as a vault for … Continue reading

Posted in Boat Graveyards, Ghost towns, Industry, Military | 13 Comments

Kiptopeke’s Concrete Ships; A Long Journey to Obscurity

Concrete floats. Well, a concrete hull does, anyway. Form the material to make a vessel that displaces water and–voila–just like steel, concrete is buoyant. Go figure. I knew writing a book about the Chesapeake Bay’s abandoned history would lead me to Kiptopeke State Park‘s concrete ships, which I’ve held in curious esteem since I first … Continue reading

Posted in Boat Graveyards, Military | 10 Comments

Where John Wilkes Booth Died; The Garrett Farm

John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin, would be aghast to see the spot where he met his end. After all, the vainglorious murderer scoffed at what he was told was the $140,000 price on his head. He thought it should be half a million. The place where Booth died is as unsung as modernity can make … Continue reading

Posted in Ghost towns, Military, Miscellaneous | 114 Comments

Fisherman Island, Real Estate from Thin Air

What happens when real estate appears more or less out of thin air? Turns out the answer’s not all that difficult to find out. Fisherman Island is at the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula.   The most remarkable thing about touring this refuge is that you’re standing in a spot that was water not too … Continue reading

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