Sampling the Mid-Atlantic States (May 30 – June 12, 2022)

Over the next 13 days, we camped in four of the Middle Atlantic states.  Our first stop was in Rockwood, PA, where we spent six nights at Hickory Hollow Campground.  The drive to Rockwood on Memorial Day, May 30th, was supposed to be 206 miles but, due to a couple of wrong turns which necessitated a couple of challenging u-turns, we added an additional 40 miles. Phil purchased $100 of diesel at the Pennsylvania Turnpike service plaza at $6.18 per gallon.   Given that we only get about 9 mpg when towing, this is ridiculously expensive. 

On Tuesday, we toured Fallingwater in Mill Run, PA, designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  The house was built partly over a waterfall as a vacation home for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family, owners of Pittsburgh’s largest department store.  Fallingwater exemplifies Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture: the harmonious union of art and nature.  In addition to the house, Wright designed 90% of the furniture.  The main house was built mostly by local craftspeople in 1936-1938, followed by the guest house construction in 1939.  It is listed among Smithsonian’s Life’s list of 28 places “to visit before you die.”  In 1991, members of the American Institute of Architects named the house the “best all-time work of American architecture.”

On our drive home, we visited two of the ten remaining covered bridges in Somerset County: King’s and Barronvale.

On Wednesday, we visited the Flight 93 National Memorial.  This memorial honors the courage of the 40 passengers and crew members on United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.  Four al Qaeda terrorists had hijacked this flight, headed from Boston to San Francisco, and had turned the plane back toward their target in Washington, DC, either the Capitol or the White House.  Passengers and crew began phoning family, friends and authorities to report the hijacking and learned of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.  Realizing that their plane was part of a planned attack, the passengers and crew made a collective decision, by vote, to rush the terrorists and try to retake the plane.  The terrorists ended up crashing the plane, inverted and at 565 mph with 5,500 gallons of jet fuel still on board, into an open field several miles from Shanksville, PA, 18 minutes flying time short of Washington, DC.

Our first stop was at the Visitor Center, where they have outstanding displays detailing, event-by-event, the happenings of that day, including a lot of broadcast videos.  One of the more emotional displays enabled us to listen to three messages passengers had left on answering machines.  Another display had pictures of the 40 passengers and crew members and contained each person’s profile, family pictures and mementoes from their life. 

We then walked the trail through the 40 Memorial Groves to the impact site (marked by a boulder) and debris field.  We viewed the Wall of Names at Memorial Plaza, where the names of the passengers and crew members are engraved on a white marble wall. 

Our final stop at the memorial was the 93-foot-tall Tower of Voices, which contains 40 large wind chimes. On our drive home, we stopped at the Trostletown Covered Bridge.

On Friday, we drove to Johnstown, PA and visited the Johnstown Flood Museum.  We learned a great deal about the May 31, 1889 flood that left 2,206 people dead after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam, 14 miles upstream from Johnstown.

The huge, earthen South Fork Dam, once part of the state’s canal system, had suffered from decades of neglect.  In 1879, a group of wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and businessmen bought the dam and the surrounding land and created a resort where its members could hunt and fish on weekends and summers.  By 1889, the club had 66 members (including Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon), 16 private summer homes and a large clubhouse.  The new owners not only failed to make adequate repairs to the dam, but seriously compromised safety features from the original design.  Downstream, the town of Johnstown was an industrial hub and had a population of 30,000, largely Welsh and German immigrants.  Cambria Iron Works employed 7,000. 

On May 31, 1889, heavy rains led to the dam holding back 20 million gallons of water before it collapsed.  This is equivalent to the volume of water that goes over Niagara Falls in 36 minutes.  Within 10 minutes, four square miles of downtown Johnstown were completely destroyed and 1 out of every 10 people living in the affected areas were killed. 

The museum is located in the former Cambria Library, built after the flood to replace the original library on the site, using funds donated by Andrew Carnegie.  This library was one of the first of more than 2,500 Carnegie-funded libraries in the world.  The first floor holds exhibits about the flood and its aftermath, including a relief map that illustrates the path of the flood down the narrow valley, using light and sound effects.  The second floor holds a theater showing a 26-minute Academy Award-winning documentary about the flood.  The third floor features an elegant gymnasium and running track, which we were told is common in many Carnegie libraries.  The museum also has a replica of an Oklahoma house, one of the 310 prefab houses created to shelter people left homeless by the flood.

After leaving the museum, we strolled through the Downtown Johnstown Historic District.  Although the district includes ten buildings that survived the flood (including the Methodist church), the majority date from 1890 – 1930.

As we drove out of town, we passed the Johnstown Inclined Plane.  This plane was built in 1891 as an evacuation route in the event of another flood.  There have been five more major floods in Johnstown since 1889, including one in 1977 which claimed 88 lives.  Initially, it was used to transport people, horses and wagons up Yoder Hill, which has a steep 70.9% grade.  It is now used to transport cars and motorcycles, and their passengers, up the hill.  Unfortunately, it is currently being refurbished, so we didn’t get to experience the ride.

On Sunday, June 5th, we drove 115 miles to Williamsport, MD where we spent two nights at the Hagerstown / Antietam Battlefield KOA.  The roads to the campground were quite narrow and tree-lined but, fortunately, there was no opposing traffic so Phil was able to straddle the middle line for most of the 2-mile drive.

On Monday, we drove to Sharpsburg, MD and visited the site of the Civil War Battle of Antietam, which remains the bloodiest day in American history.  Twelve hours of fighting on September 17, 1862 left nearly 23,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing.  This is four times as many American casualties as suffered on D-Day.  7,650 American soldiers were killed. The battle was between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.  It was the first battle in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War to take place on Union soil.  Although most historians consider the battle to be a stalemate, the Union claimed it a victory.  Abraham Lincoln, who had delayed issuing the Emancipation Proclamation during a series of Union defeats, seized on this battle to issue the proclamation shortly thereafter.  Interestingly, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves held in Maryland, since Maryland had remained in the Union.  The perception of a Union victory and Lincoln’s proclamation dissuaded the governments of France and Britain from recognizing the Confederacy.

Upon arriving at the Visitors Center, we watched a 30-minute video detailing the fighting at Antietam.  It was very disconcerting to watch numerous lines of soldiers charging at each other, despite being under heavy gunfire, and seeing soldiers dropping like flies. 

After leaving the Visitor Center, we did the 11-stop driving tour of the battlefield.  We got out and explored several of the stops.  We climbed the steep steps of the Observation Tower, built by the War Department in 1896. 

Our final stop was at the Antietam National Cemetery, where 4,776 Union soldiers (more than one-third of them unknown) and 261 veterans of later wars are buried.  Although both Union and Confederate soldiers had originally been buried in mass graves where they had fallen, only Union soldiers were reinterred in the National Cemetery.  Confederate soldiers were reinterred elsewhere in MD and WV.

On Tuesday, we drove 205 miles to Rehoboth Beach, DE where we spent three nights at the Delaware Seashore State Park.  The drive was much slower than usual, as it took us across the Bay Bridge and through a lot of small towns in Maryland and Delaware.  The last 10 miles toward Rehoboth Beach had a seemingly endless number of traffic lights.  Our campsite was barely large enough to hold all our vehicles, but we can’t complain when we are within a short walk of the Atlantic Ocean.  Delaware is the 47th state in which we’ve camped over the past seven years.

On Wednesday, we walked to the beach and strolled up and down the shore.  It was a beautiful day.  The beach was fairly empty, probably not surprising for mid-week in early June.

On Friday, we drove 129 miles to Clarksboro, NJ, where we spent two nights at the Clarksboro / Philadelphia South KOA.

On Saturday, we drove to Haddon Heights, NJ and attended Phil’s 50th high school reunion.  We arrived in Haddon Heights early, so Phil gave Jan a quick tour around the town.  The reunion was held at the Sons of Italy lodge and was catered by Anthony’s Restaurant.  There were about 60 attendees, including quite a few of Phil’s close friends, most of whom he hadn’t seen in over 45 years.  Phil was surprised to see Gene Piontkowski, his college roommate for 3 ½ years, and his wife, Beth.  Phil had located Gene and let him know about the reunion but hadn’t thought he would be attending.  Phil’s childhood best friend, Bill Loder, and his wife, Cindy, were also there.  Phil was the best man in their wedding but hadn’t seen the Loders in over 35 years.

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