Tag Archives: history

Caswell

I arrived late.

The rest of my group had made it to Caswell early in the afternoon. My summer class ran long and I wasn’t able to leave Raleigh until nearly 7 p.m. By the time I got to the western bank of the Waterway the sun was just slipping under the distant horizon, leaving a telltale stream of orange clouds in the evening sky. As my Jeep lurched to the top of the bridge, Oak Island light station let off four quick blasts of brilliant white light, like a battery of cannon fire hurled right at me. Coastal highways seem to give my iPhone a hard time with navigation, but as long as I could keep the lighthouse in sight, I would be fine.

I pulled past the guard house and made my way to the barracks. The sun was gone now; darkness had settled in for the night. I parked the Jeep, said a quick prayer and sat in silence for a moment, letting all the worries and unfinished tasks from the last few days drift out of my mind so that I might focus on the week ahead.

I climbed out of the Jeep.

My shoes nestled into the soft beach grass as my lungs began to soak up the warm, heavy coastal air. I glanced over at the ruined fort to find my path to Hatch Auditorium, where our youth group would be finishing up their first night of worship. I set off towards Hatch, pushing through the gentle sea breeze that flowed over the tops of the dunes — my path clearly marked in the darkness by the soft glow of a yellow moon.

I had seen Fort Caswell many times before, but this time was different. My first visit to Caswell was years ago with my dad; as a young boy, the concrete tunnels and musty storerooms buried under the dunes provided endless opportunities for adventure. When I returned as a 17-year-old on a summer youth retreat, the fort still held a certain level of intrigue, but my free time was taken up with finding a quiet moment alone on the beach with my love interest at the time.

Tonight is different. There are no sounds of gulls chirping or kids playing; the only noise that pierces the silence is the occasional rustling of sea oats, stirred to life by the soft breeze. As I stroll alongside the ruined fortress — concrete pillars laced with black streaks from centuries of abuse by wild weather, yet still doing their best to hold up the crumbling brick walls — the fort begins to speak to me with a new voice. It tells a story of great sadness, and great joy; a story too complex for me to listen to in my youth.

Tonight, as I stroll alongside this squat fortress from another time and era, I am swept away to Nuremberg. I see the grand parade grounds, the grassy plains surrounded by a stadium apparently built for giants, though no one seems to know where the giants have gone off to; their playground sits empty and neglected. I see the grand coliseum — a massive structure seemingly lifted straight out of ancient Rome and planted in the German country side, where it was nurtured and allowed to grow far beyond the vision of its original architects.

In the years following World War II, the German people had to make a tough decision about what to do with these grandiose building projects of the Third Reich. They were the work of a regime that stole its power from the souls of innocents; they were tools used to oppress the unwanted members of society and boost the already dangerously inflated egos of those in power. They were also public works projects that had cost a great deal of public resources. Should they be maintained and used by the new government, or should they be destroyed as a symbolic act of total rejection of the Nazi movement?

The solution to the dilemma was an ingenious compromise; Germany did both. These monuments, built to celebrate the “triumph of the will” that drove the National Socialists, were to be left standing, but they were not to be maintained or used in any official capacity. The coliseum was left intact, but unfinished. The parade grounds formerly used to organize and prepare the Third Reich’s elite fighting force were open to the public, now to be used for soccer matches, picnics and kite flying. The icons of the Nazi party were quickly destroyed. The core stone work endures, but it continues to take further abuse from vandals, edged on by the inevitable decay of time and nature. Nothing is done to preserve the sites, but neither are they officially condemned. Their foreboding presence is a haunting reminder of what has been; a constant admonition of the danger that always lurks in the shadows whenever men gather.

In much the same way, the gutted remains of Caswell stand as a physical reminder of our own dark history. This fortress from the American Civil War has it’s own story to tell, and it is largely a story of human tragedy — even if our war-infatuated culture doesn’t like to freely recognize the evil that drove that conflict.

Yet Caswell’s story doesn’t end in tragedy. As my walk draws to an end, I remember the wonderful vacation I shared here with my father — one of the few trips we took together that has only memories of laughter, joy and discovery attached to it. I think of the camp week I spent here as a high school student, of the friendships that were nurtured under ancient live oaks and on grassy dunes. I think of the love I share with Kristen, and how the time we spent together at Caswell laid the foundation for our relationship to take root and grow. I imagine the thousands of young people who have encountered the Living God of All Creation here for the first time, and the many more who allowed a few days of solitude at Caswell to loosen the chains that had been preventing their faith from taking root, from digging deeper into the life and mission God has called them to.

I stop when I get to Hatch. The sounds of worship leak out through the stone walls and fade away into the night. I take another deep breath of sea air, and I’m filled with one thought.

Isn’t it just like God to take something like Caswell — something scarred and broken by human hands — and do something wonderful?

I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.

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Terror of the South

museum2The last time my brother Jacob spent the weekend with us Kristen and I took him to the North Carolina Museum of History, where we could spend all day studying photographs and learning about how people lived in our state years ago. Jacob enjoyed the museum for a few minutes here and there — a new pirate exhibit and the complete gun-making workshop of Dunn-native “Carbine” Williams caught his interest — but for the most part, he dutifully followed us around and told us how bored he was. We promised the next time he stayed with us we would go to the more kid-friendly Museum of Natural Science. We got the opportunity last weekend.

I visited the science museum often as a child when my dad would take me and my younger brothers strolling through on Saturdays while my mom was at work. At that time, the coolest things in the museum were a fake T-Rex skull in the foyer and an impressive blue whale skeleton that hung high overhead in its own exhibit hall. Years ago the museum underwent a major renovation, and though I had stepped in from time to time, I hadn’t taken the opportunity to really soak it all up before.

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Obviously bored with his audience, this guy made his own perfectly sized hammock to chill out in.

One of the highlights of the museum is a prominent exhibit hall with a fully-developed dinosaur display. The old T-Rex model still greets guests as they walk up the stairs, but the star of the show is a full size display of Acrocanthosaurus. The dinosaur supposedly lived 45 million years before the first Tyrannosaur arrived on the scene. More importantly, “Acro” as he’s affectionally called at the museum, lived in the southern states from Texas to Maryland (including North Carolina) while his larger, younger and better-known brethren hung out on the West Coast.

Acro circling his prey.

Acro circling his prey.

The skeleton at the museum in Raleigh is only 53 percent authentic, with the rest being cast models of bone. Still, this is the most complete Acro remains found to date. Only four sets of Acro bones have ever been found, making this dinosaur one of the rarest known to science. At just 40 feet long, Acro doesn’t have the size of T-Rex, but he made up for it with an aggression all his own. While T-Rex is largely believed to be a scavenger, Acro was taking on dinos twice his size to grab a bite of lunch.

As strongly as I believe our state needs to keep a better grasp of how they spend money and reign in some dollars that aren’t being used in the best way, I am very proud to have such fine museums in our capital city. These projects represent a great use of state funds because they are offered to the benefit of everyone, everyday, free of charge. Most of the exhibits, including the $3 million Acro skelton, are funded through donations and grants from companies and individuals. The state keeps the doors open, the lights on and the payroll staffed with experts who can educate the citizenry — school children, seniors and guys like me who just like to know stuff — whenever they take the time to ask.

An open rainforest exhibit, staffed by teenaged-volunteers, is planted on the top floor the museum and is free and open to the public. A similar attraction costs tourist $13 each in Myrtle Beach before business dropped off and it shut down.

An open rainforest exhibit, staffed by teenaged-volunteers, is planted on the top floor of the museum and is free and open to the public. A similar attraction cost tourists $13 each in Myrtle Beach before business dropped off and it shut down.

Kristen and Acro

Kristen and Acro


Endor Furnace

Endor Iron Furnace near Sanford, N.C.

Endor Iron Furnace near Sanford, N.C.

I’ve been working on a story about Endor Iron Furnace for The Herald for a few days now and I thought I really should see the structure for myself to get a better understanding of its significance. The furnace was built in the years leading up to the Civil War. Sitting just a stone throw away from the Deep River, the furnace churned out iron ore to be used for munitions and railroad equipment for nearly two decades before the local mineral deposits ran dry.

In 1874, the furnace was abandoned. For more than a century it sat alone and forgotten in the woods two miles off of the nearest road.

In recent years, local advocates have been trying to raise money to turn the furnace and the adjacent land into a state park, but they’ve had difficulty raising support for their cause because people just don’t know what the furnace is. Hopefully a recent turn of events will change that. Read more about that in The Herald next week.Endor5

I love finding new trails to explore and finding a cool historical site along the way makes it even more worthwhile. While it may not be the best time to be raising money to build a new state park (or maybe it is exactly the kind of thing we should be doing during a recession, who knows?) this is a neat stretch of public property that anyone would enjoy visiting.

My pictures don’t do a good job putting the furnace in perspective. It is about 30 feet high and 25 feet wide at the base. A grown man standing beside the furnace would stand on level with the top of the hearth. The side shown above is in the best condition, while much of the smokestack on the other sides has collapsed.

Here’s a few more pictures.

I've been playing around with white balance settings, trying to bring out the richest colors without making the images unnatural.

I've been playing around with white balance settings, trying to bring out the richest colors without making the images unnatural.

On the trail to Endor.

On the trail to Endor.


Museum vs. Fourth Graders

airborne-postFriday all of the fourth grade classes at my wife’s school took a field trip to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville. I went along as a chaperon. While I’m always up for a visit to a good museum, I was worried it would be difficult to keep the students interested and occupied for the two hours we were going to be there. In my experience, military history museums in general are targeted only at people who already have a strong interest in the subject, and displays are typically pretty lackluster. Boy was I wrong.

I would recommend the museum to anyone looking for something cool to do within 100 miles of Fayetteville. If you’re a military or technology buff, it’s definitely worth traveling even further. The main exhibition hall features exhibits arranged in chronological order, beginning with the army’s first attempt at deploying airborne troops and ending with an awesome display of Operation Iraqi Freedom. All of the displays are very interactive and constantly being updated. (While we were there, one exhibit hall was closed while a new feature on dessert guerrilla warfare and the war on terror was being finished.) A changeable-exhibit hall told the story of the United States’ operations in France during World War I — an area of history often overlooked in favor of the more dramatic conflict that occurred 20 years later. The museum also houses a full size movie theater with a variety of free shows and a separate theater set up as a flight simulator.

Still, the best asset the museum has is obviously its volunteer staff: Retired military personnel, all experts in their subject area and all passionate about sharing their very real experiences.

Check it out.

Most of my time was occupied with keeping my group of adolescents together and answering — or teaching them how to use a museum to answer — the endless barrage of questions their minds blasted out. I did manage to snap a few pictures though.
Click the image below to see more.
 
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—David