Alright, I’m going to be honest.  I’ve never been the biggest fan of Valentine’s Day.  First of all, it’s just way too close to my birthday.  It also doesn’t help that for many Valentine days, I was single.  I’m sure we can agree there’s few things more annoying than watching everyone celebrate a day for lovers when you don’t have one yourself.  I managed the pain by going to the store the next day, and enjoying the chocolates in the half-off bin that, like myself, were left behind on February 14.  Once I found myself a nice fellow and got married, I still didn’t warm up to Valentine’s Day.  Something about the whole thing just felt off to me.  The over priced flowers, the boxes of chocolate bigger than my head, the aisles and aisles of pink and red cards… I just couldn’t get into it.

Perhaps it was my inner senses tingling that, like most things in history, Valentines Day has a darker history than flowers and cards.  So, recently, I finally dug into it.  As it turns out, I’m not the only one that’s had some bad luck on Valentine’s Day.

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The Seattle Underground

“Well, you have to visit the Underground,” a friend told me over dinner last fall.  It was just before I was due to take off for my first trip to Seattle.  My head raced with questions.  Was there some sort of impressive underground rail system in Seattle?  Was “the Underground” a little-known community within the town?  Some sort of artistic district that I just had to see?

Well, as it turns out, there is an actual underground Seattle.  An entire historic city, located beneath the modern-day one.  As soon as I figured that out, I immediately booked a ticket to tour the caves, tunnels, and corridors of the historic Seattle Underground.

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In the summer of 2016, I drove down an isolated road in Southern Georgia.  There wasn’t much around.  There were just a few run-down houses here and there.  Cotton fields stretched on to the horizon.  Silence hung heavy along with the heat.

There were only a few signs with arrows to point me to my destination.  I followed them to a small parking lot that was practically empty of cars.  A quiet visitor center beckoned.  Behind it was a sprawling field, fully exposed to the hot, Georgia sun.  A few concrete monuments were scattered across the horizon.  There was also a row of gnarled shanties, and a section of a stockyard wall.  Other than that, there was nothing.  Nothing… as far as the eye could see.  It was all that was left of one of the most notorious Civil War prisons – Andersonville.

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The Brass Hands

As winter sets in, here is some poetic musing on the force of time and how fast it moves.  Enjoy!

Tick, tock, tick, tock
That’s the sound of the old brass clock
I breathe deeper, it chimes the hour
It has no feelings, it does not cower
I sit and grip the arm of my chair
It sits across from me with a blank stare
It has no eyes, yet I feel them there
Boring into the mask that I wear Read More

Once upon a time, deep in the mountains of Germany, there was a charming little village named Lauscha. It was surrounded by snowy slopes and magnificent pine trees, and was home to generations of glassblowers. It was a special town indeed, because since the mid-1800s, their primary trade was Christmas. The traditional German Tannenbaum or Kristbaum had caught the attention of the rest of the world. Seeing an opportunity, Lauscha turned their glass blowers to making ornaments. The result was a thriving business that swept up every glassblower in town. They even became the inventor of one of the most famous ornaments of all – the glass ball. Lauscha glassblowers would often amuse themselves by seeing how big a glass bubble they could blow in their shop. Known as “kugels,” they were silvered with shiny solutions like lead or zinc to give them a dazzling reflective look. Sometime in the 1840s, someone got the idea to use the kugels as a tree ornament. Read More

Battle at Alcatraz Prison

IMG_4282May 2, 1946 started as a normal day on the job for William Miller. Or at least, as normal as any day could be on “the Rock” – what most people called Alcatraz Prison. Situated on a tiny island just off the coast of San Francisco, it was the most infamous prison for federal criminals. It boasted zero successful escapes, although many inmates had tried. Most were stopped by the guards before even making it off the island. Some tried to make a swim for it but were shot. Some disappeared into the icy waters of San Francisco Bay, and were never seen or heard from again. Read More

That’s All Brother

IMG_7602In the summer of 2015, in a silent boneyard in Wisconsin, there sat an abandoned old aircraft. Like the rest of the planes there, its original use was long-forgotten. It hadn’t been airborne in decades. It was corroded and covered with rust, inside and out. All that remained was a rotting skeleton in a valley of dry bones.

Little did anyone know, this silent airplane had an amazing story. On a cloudy day in June of 1944, it took to the war-riddled skies. Under the control of a brave flight crew, piloted by Lt. Col. John M. Donalson, it carried in its cargo hold a stick of nervous paratroopers. Their names have been lost to history, but they were boys of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the famous 101st Airborne Division. Like all parachute jumpers in the second world war, they came from a variety of backgrounds, and had undergone vigorous training. Read More

John Muir, and a Story of Yosemite

IMG_8819On a chilly night in 1903, two men sat before a crackling campfire in the Bridal Veil Meadow of Yosemite Park. The stars shone down on them, and the surrounding pine trees whistled in the night breeze. The sound of waterfalls soothed their tired minds. One of these men was John Muir, a famous mountaineer and naturalist. The other was President Theodore Roosevelt.

The story of this famous camping trip started in 1868, when a young John Muir first set eyes on the Yosemite Valley. He fast fell in love with the splendid rock formations, beautiful flowers and charming wildlife. He wrote – “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life… their feet among beautiful groves and meadows, their brows in the sky, a thousand flowers leaning confidingly against their feet, bathed in floods of water…. myriads of small winged creatures – birds, bees, butterflies – give glad animation…as if into this one mountain mansion Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, to draw her lovers into close and confining communion with her.” Read More

The Bloody Angle

It was a cool morning in April of 2016 when I visited a small prairie in the wilderness of Virginia. It was a wide-open field of grass leading down into a deep ravine. There were blooming purple and white Dogwoods that whispered in the breeze. There were also butterflies everywhere – Tiger Swallowtails, their yellow and black wings a marked contrast with the fresh green grass.

Spotsylvania Bloody Angle 3It’s hard to know that something of significance ever happened there. In fact, there’s just a few stone monuments with faded carving. Next to them, a sign that says “Bloody Angle” points to a ripple in the grass that couldn’t even qualify as a shallow ditch. But one-hundred-fifty years ago, “Bloody Angle” wasn’t just a ripple in a peaceful meadow. Instead, it was the scene of one of the most horrific encounters of the American Civil War.

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Twenty-four years ago, a man named Kevin Wisniewski showed up at the annual EAA airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  He stood out amongst the thousands of other people, because he was dressed as an officer from World War II.  Every piece of his gear was authentic, part of a lifelong collection.  He wondered around the displays of World War II planes in the show’s famed “Warbird Alley.”  People were enthralled with his outfit.  Many asked to take photos with him.  It went over so well that the next year, Kevin asked his best friend to join him.  A few years after that, they were approached by representatives of Warbird Alley and asked to set up a camp there. Read More