The Odd Ducks Go On Vacation

Title Image for The Odd Ducks Go On Vacation on Kathleen Denly.com . Shows various rubber duckies dressed in different outfits and floating in a line down an old drainage channel between cobblestone walkways.

As I have mentioned before, I am a bit of an odd duck. Fortunately, my husband is also an odd duck and we are raising a small group of odd little ducklings. (It’s a secret plan for us odd ducks to take over the world. Shh!)

Being a family of odd ducks makes many aspects of our lives easier. For example, all but one of us completely agree that mornings are best spent sleeping and the odd duck out is courteous enough to play quietly on those occasions when the rest of us have the opportunity to live out our ideal. This works out rather nicely.

Another way we odd ducks get along well is in our choice of vacations. You would think, being a history buff such as I am, that I would either need to drag my family around to historical sites and museums, or else finagle myself some time to visit them alone. This is not so. You see, my husband is almost as avid a history fan as I and we have happily bestowed this love for all things old and storied upon our children. Thus, when my husband and I excitedly announced that our upcoming vacation would include an extensive visit to Columbia State Historic Park, the 1897 Railtown State Park, and several other museums and historical sites, we were not met with groans and long faces. Nope. My odd little ducklings squealed with joy and bounced up and down in excitement. *contented sigh* Clearly we are doing something right.

Having said that, vacation or no, the historical researcher in me is never turned off, so of course, I have brought back gobs of photos and fun little factoids to share with my fellow history fanatics.

MERCER CAVERNS

Collage of photographs of the inside of Mercer Caverns. The lower right photograph shows a display of the type of torch and red lantern once used to light the caverns. Photos by Kathleen Denly
Mercer Caverns, Murphy, CA

Did you know Mercer Caverns was discovered on September 1, 1885 by a man searching for gold? The first tourists were lowered in by ropes and had only candlelight with which to view these enormous caverns. Worse yet, these candles were carried on boards held in the teeth of the tourists as they lowered themselves into the cave. Hmm. Ropes and flames. What could possibly go wrong there? Later, torches and different types of lanterns (lower right) were used before electricity was finally threaded throughout the cave in 1901.

Another interesting bit of the Mercer Cavern story lies in how they came up with the money to install stairs for tourists. Apparently, Mercer Caverns is home to an extremely rare type of aragonite, so they cut off a chunk of this stuff and sent it off to the 1900 Paris World’s Fair where it won a special prize which came with a nice chunk of money. Sadly, Mr. Mercer passed on before the stairs could be installed, but his widow took over in his stead.

My family’s tour of the Mercer Caverns was exceedingly interesting and I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area. Oh, and if you do stop by, be sure to eat at one of the local restaurants in town. We ate at two and both were exceptionally delicious meals served up by friendly staff.

THE MURPHYS POKEY

Photograph of The Murphys Pokey by Kathleen Denly. Show the cement exterior with metal doors, a historical plaque, and a sign bearing its name. Also show interior with homemade mannequin sitting on a bare wire cot.

I came across this old time jail in Murphy, CA just off the main road on the way to the park where we found a large, modern play structure and public restrooms prior to our Tour of Mercer Caverns. I liked the humor of the story and the handmade feel of the display so I wanted to share it here.

The plaque reads:

“The Murphys Pokey was built around 1915 by Tom Burrow, Frank Kaler, Price Williams, Frank Degale and Frank Forrester and is constructed of hand-mixed concrete. The previous jail was made of wood and was located closer to the creek. It is doubted that any really bad man was ever housed in this jail, but it is said that one of the men who built it became drunk and rowdy while celebrating its completion and was the first inmate.”

1860 Schoolhouse – Columbia, California

Photo collage of the historic schoolhouse in Columbia, Ca and its accompanying outhouse. Photos taken by Kathleen Denly
First two-story brick schoolhouse built in California.

Above you see the schoolhouse located in Columbia, Ca along with one of its two oversized outhouses. Originally built in 1860 of locally made sun-dried bricks this building has undergone a number of renovations to reach the appearance it has today.

While visiting Columbia’s main historic area you will notice signs directing you toward the schoolhouse. Do not be fooled. This building is located at the top of a hill about 3 country blocks away from those signs. Though this undertaking by foot may seem easy at the start of your vacation, attempting this walk with three young children after many days of touring and several nights of interrupted sleep (courtesy of those same 3 darlings) will have you panting for breath long before you reach your destination. On the bright side, a bench has been strategically placed about halfway to your destination beneath some trees in the middle of an empty lot. Nevertheless, might I recommend taking advantage of the parking lot we didn’t know was near the school until we got there?

Despite the unexpectedly challenging walk, the schoolhouse was a fascinating site to explore. Apparently, the elementary students used the bottom floor while older students used the upper floor. Being the writer I am, it was fun to stand inside the classrooms and imagine the classes held there in yesteryear. What shenanigans the children might have gotten up to and where the teachers may have come from wandered through my mind. Can you imagine climbing those steep wooden stairs on a snowy winter’s day? Or rushing out to the odoriferous outhouse in the heat of a sweltering summer? Would you have preferred to roast in the seat closest to the wood burning stoves or shiver in the seat farthest from it? The school was in continual use until it closed in 1937 due to not meeting earthquake safety standards.

Columbia State Historic Park – California

Photo collage of Main Street, Columbia, Ca by Kathleen Denly
Main Street, Columbia, CA

Above you see the photographs I took while waiting for the history tour to begin. I’m sitting on the boardwalk outside the visitor’s center, it’s early, and I’ve been up for hours exploring the town on my own while the kids and my husband sleep in, so believe me when I say that’s a smile. I truly am excited, just too tired to show it properly.

Columbia, California is where we spent the bulk of our vacation. This historic state park is packed full of fun things to do and interesting things to see and learn. I could have spent a month digging through all the layers of history the town represents.

Those green metal doors you see? They have nothing to do with thieves as one might think, and everything to do with fire. They were added after two fires devastated this gold rush town. Combined with newly doubled brick walls, it was hoped those doors would keep the fires out.

Speaking of fire, the story goes that one man, despairing of any other solution, took it upon himself to soak the wooden roof of his otherwise brick building with the vast amounts of vinegar he had on hand in order to prevent the building and its contents from being destroyed. It worked. Though his roof suffered some damage, he managed to save the rest. Today you can see the burnt beam left behind by this fire when you enter the visitor’s center, walk to the back room and look up. More interestingly it is said that on a hot summer’s day if you stand next to the building’s brick walls and smell it you will get a whiff of vinegar. I admit I was skeptical, but I tried it. I did not smell vinegar. Still, if you ever get a chance to visit and give it a try I’d love to hear about your results.

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Photos from Columbia, Ca.  Beginning upper left and moving clockwise:  Representation of a typical miner’s cabin set between boulders revealed by the use of hydraulic mining; Representation of a general store of the time; Representation of the living quarters behind the general store; the interior of one of the jail cells in the small jail building located just off main street; the backside of the Wells Fargo office showing a mystery room with barred windows and reinforced metal door – its use is unknown but is guessed to have perhaps been a storage room.

So now I’ve told you all about my family’s vacation. What about you?

What’s your favorite vacation memory?

Let me know in the comments below!

Why I Want To Hi-Five Clara Barton

Clara Barton

I am in the midst of another round of research, this time looking into certain aspects of the Civil War, when I stumble across a letter written by Clara Barton that makes me wish I could go back in time and hi-five her.

I am sure many of you recognize the name of Clara Barton. Additionally, I would say most of you associate her name with nursing. What you may not know is that she also founded and ran an office which searched for the missing soldiers of the Civil War. Today the building where the office was located is a museum and the museum has made several valuable pieces of history available online for public viewing. Included in these are several primary sources, such as letters written by family members requesting Ms. Barton’s help in locating their loved ones.

This may sound quite sad to read, and I would imagine most are, however, one particular set of correspondence left me with a huge grin on my face and, as I mentioned before, wanting to give Clara Barton a very 21st century hi-five.

The letters to which I am referring include a letter from a Eugenica Hitchins, who is searching for her brother, a letter from the “missing” brother, and Clara’s retort. Yes, retort. It seems this particular brother wasn’t overly bothered with letting his family know that he was still alive and felt quite mortified by having his name “Blazoned all over the county.” He demands to know “what he has done” to deserve this. He goes so far as to say that those concerned for his welfare should simply “wait until I see fit to write them.” I kid you not. Oh, and did I mention, his mother had also been looking for him until she DIED and his sister made a DEATHBED PROMISE to their mother that she would find him?

The beauty, the glorious, fantastic part of this story, however, comes in Clara’s retort. You absolutely have to read it in full to truly appreciate it, but here’s a highlight for you:

“‘What you have done’ to render this necessary I certainly do not know. It seems to have been the misfortune of your family to think more of you than you do of them and probably more than you deserve from the manner in which you treat them.”

Oh and it goes on from there. You can practically feel the heat of her righteous fury simmering on the page (or screen as it may be).

I am telling you, this is a lady I want to be friends with!

SDGQ – McGurck Block Building

McGauck Block Building

Built in 1880, this Italianate Revival building is located on the northeast corner of Fifth and Market Street. Occupied first by a dry-goods store, the building is best remembered for the Ferris and Ferris Drug Store, an all-night pharmacy, which operated on the ground floor there until 1984. According to the San Diego Historical Society’s Images of America San Diego Gaslamp Quarter:

“Many [sailors] who had been in altercations purchased leeches from the store to reduce swelling and avoid getting in trouble with superior officers.”

Another odd bit of interesting random trivia is that Gregory Peck‘s father apparently worked as the pharmacist at Ferris and Ferris for many years.

The ground floor is currently home to the restaurant, Searsucker.

The upper floors were once known as the “Monroe Hotel” with an entrance from 5th street, although I have been unable to pinpoint why it held this name.

The building is named after Edward McGurck the original owner of the building. For further details about the building’s structural details, click here.

Read the joyful history of Christmas in San Diego!

For a different and seasonally appropriate perspective on San Diego’s history, try “Christmas in San Diego” by Bill “Santa” Swank.

Source: Read the joyful history of Christmas in San Diego!

SDGQ – Old City Hall

Old City Hall Doorway

The next stop on our tour of San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter is the Old City Hall located on the corner of 5th and G.

Built in 1874, this building was originally only 2 stories tall and housed two banks before being purchased by the city. The top two floors were added in 1887.

In an area full of interesting, historic buildings, the Old City Hall building draws your eye with its ornate window framing and the columns placed on the top floor.

Maybe I’m showing my lack of architectural prowess, but I’m used to seeing columns on the first floor of a building. Something about seeing them frame the windows that high up, for me, gives the building a regal feeling. They say, “Look at me. I’m important.” Which, with its history, seems accurate.

The building basically became a one-stop government shop in 1891 when the city’s leaders moved in. The Police Department occupied the first and second floors – complete with a jail.  The San Diego Public Library occupied the 3rd floor, while the Council Chambers occupied the fourth floor.

In 1955 someone got it into their head to (in my opinion) horribly disfigure this beautiful building by covering it in stucco. They called it “modernizing.” (Picture me shuddering.) Fortunately, years later, wiser minds prevailed and the building was restored to its original beauty.

Click here to see a picture of the building just beginning to be restored. You will also find additional interesting information on the history of this building.

In 1995 the un-reinforced masonry building was retrofitted according to the seismic regulations of the time.

Old City Hall 5th & G

Doesn’t this fire escape just beg to be used in a romantic movie scene?

Today the first floor of the Old City Hall building is a restaurant space currently occupied by the Florent Restaurant + Lounge, while the top three floors are live/work lofts accessible through the G Street entrance.

History | Gaslamp Quarter

san-diego-gaslamp-quarter-post-header-image

While I could use the research I’ve done to put together my own timeline detailing the highlights in the history of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, why reinvent the wheel?

Follow the link below to learn more about this fascinating part of San Diego’s History!

via History | Gaslamp Quarter.

 

 

10 Fun Ways To Enjoy Thanksgiving History

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I don’t think it’s any secret that I love history and sharing history with others, and Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity for doing exactly that. Even better are the hundreds of resources out there for making it fun. Here are just a few of my favorites:

1. A Thanksgiving History Lesson: Fun Facts for Turkey Day!  by Amanda Boyarshinov  

Contains a timeline overview of the Thanksgiving celebration and how it has changed through the years. At the end you’ll find a varied list of fun suggestions for fun ways to continue the learning.

2. Bet You Didn’t Know: Thanksgiving

This fun video is a great quick way to learn what was really on the menu at the first Thanksgiving Celebration, along with a few other lesser known facts.

3. Thanksgiving History Quiz

This quick quiz has some questions I haven’t seen elsewhere and provides little snippets of info after each answer, which is why I’m sharing it over some of the others I’ve seen.

4. Thanksgiving Interactive: Your are the Historian

In this fun, award-winning activity, you take on the role of a “history detective” to investigate what really happened at the famous 1621 celebration. (Hint: It was a lot more than just a feast!) Along the way, you will read a letter written by an eyewitness to the event, learn about Wampanoag traditions of giving thanks, and visit Pilgrim Mary Allerton’s home. As a final activity, you can design and print your own Thanksgiving exhibit panel.

5. The First Thanksgiving

Scholastic has a great interactive website chock full of information, games, and activities for people of all ages. They even have historical fiction letters.

And because Thanksgiving history isn’t all about learning, here are some other fun links I think you’ll enjoy:

6. Top 32 Easy DIY Thanksgiving Crafts Kids Can Make

What Holiday would be complete without a few crafts? As a mother of 3, I am all about the easy craft. I especially love yarn ball turkey center piece that guests can add to with feathers of thanksgiving.

7. Thanksgiving Jokes

Okay, so some of these are cringe worthy, but it’s all clean fun and you don’t have worry about offending Aunt Ida.

8. Thanksgiving Family Games

This page has a generous list of games suitable for the whole family, which are conveniently sorted by noise level and whether they can be played inside or must be played outdoors.

9. Top 30 Bible Verse for Thanksgiving

Whether you’re working on a craft, a sermon, or just wanting to do a topical study. This list of verses about giving thanks will help you get you started.

10. 4 Thanksgiving Food Pranks

For my readers with a mildly twisted sense of humor, I share this how-to video of Thanksgiving Food Pranks. Now I personally wouldn’t recommend the mashed potato prank because someone might crack a crown and there goes your celebration, BUT the rest are too hilarious not to share.

Well, that’s all folks. I hope these links add to both your understanding and enjoyment of this wonderful holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving Image with frame