Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas is the time for giving and it's not just me.

Merry Christmas everyone;

I have always thought of myself as a "do-gooder" or a "Good Deed Doer" and have gone through life with the mantra that if you are a good person and do the right thing, especially where kids, family and animals are involved, good things will happen to you.

It hasn't always worked out that way, but I don't give up hope that no matter how bad things are now, they will get better some day. Of course if personal finance is your weakness, like it is with me, the good things in life will have a harder time finding you.

Last week, really put my mantra, as well as my finances, to the test, but I'm here to say to you all today that it does work and in unexpected ways.

What's the line from the movie Miracle on 34th street...."yes, Elizabeth, there is a Santa Claus"

And the spirit of Santa Claus, lives on in me, as well as many others, some of whom have given me a better Christmas than even I, always the optimist, expected.

"A better Christmas than expected"......I tried and think I succeeded in that with my boys and their girlfriends, this year. I also tried to give a better christmas to the woman, who was out in front of Target last Tuesday, giving out decorated candy canes for a money donation.

As I walked in to the Target at White Marsh, to pick up one video game for Josh, there was a woman out there, asking for donations to help a needy family. To anyone who gave her a dollar, she gave them a candy cane that she decorated with pipe cleaners, small bells and plastic eyes.

When I came back out, I went up to here, with a few bucks in my pocket and asked her directly, what was this for. She answered me back, just as directly, "I'll be honest with you sir, I'm trying to raise money to buy my kids christmas presents". I had already put donations of change or a buck or two in the Salvation Army kettles over the past weeks, I am struggling to get my own kids presents too, but the fact that she was out there and giving something back for your donation was something that I admired, and so I told her that I can appreciate what she is trying to do and put five dollars in her basket and took one candy cane.

So Tuesday 12/23 was my shopping day, as up until then, I didn't have the funds to do any shopping. Thanks to a check from Mom and Dad, I had enough money to get something for each kid as well as groceries to re-stock the pantry.

Things were going well, but as I gassed up my van, I started to get a nagging feeling that I had better check on my checking account. You see, I had just paid two bills on-line and meanwhile, just remembered that there were two "automatic payments" that had not gone through yet and I wasn't sure if they would go through that week or the next.

As you are probably guessing, I got home and looked at my checking account...dangerously low, those two auto deductions went through that day and the bank hadn't posted my last two bill payments.....nuts.

By the next day, my account went in the red and things were looking grim for beyond the Christmas holiday, especially because I have Christopher and Daisy for his entire Christmas vacation. But I knew that I, still had some cash left and would be getting a bit over 200 dollars from my part time job with AIM the upcoming Friday and while that would probably bring my account out of the red, there wouldn't be much left over till my next pay day which will be January 2nd.

I sat down and thought things over and realized that it was now Christmas Eve, there was nothing else that could be done till after Christmas and at least for now, it was time to enjoy the holiday with my family.

Things were dark, my future was uncertain.....but it was Christmas, and hope springs eternal.

Now for a little history lesson about terrible times and the spirit of Christmas.

You didn't think I'd let you get away without a history lesson did you?

It's December 1914, the first year of the First World War, men have been fighting and dying in the thousands and are now, starting to build trenches and face each other across a no-mans land.

Each side, British and French, versus German, vowed to wipe the other out completely.

And yet, on Christmas Eve a miracle happened that would take every General and every Politician, by suprise. Something would happen that would bring light to the darkness.

It was Christmas Eve and men on both sides, all along the Western Front, sat down in their trenches to share a meal and a drink or to sing a song and write to their homes and loved ones.

All along the German lines, small christmas trees with candles, were set up along the tops of trenches, songs like Silent Night, were sung and then answered back by British troops, who perhaps emboldened by the Christmas Trees, made overtures of a temporary truce to the Germans across the way.

One soldier walked out in to No-mans land, another soldier came from the other side and met him halfway. Soon, more came out from the trenches, tobbacco was swapped with chocolate.

Below is a drawing made by an English soldier during the truce.

A little farther down the line, French soldiers, Germany's most implacable foe, walked out into no-mans land and swapped French wine for German Sausage, photos of wives and sweethearts were passed around, German, Scot and French soldiers sat around fires drinking coffee and singing Christmas songs and at midnight, a Scottish Chaplin held Mass for soldiers from all sides, right in the center of no-mans land.

The truce didn't end then either, for with the dawning of Christmas Day, came more fellowship between the men, whom just days before were trying to kill the other. Soccer games took place there in no-mans land, addresses were traded so that men might be able to meet with each other when the war ended. Below is a photo taken on Christmas Day, of German and British soldiers gathered together.

The story of this Christam Truce would grow and survive all those Generals and Politicians who asked for a pushed for the war. It showed that no matter how bad things can be, there should always be hope in the goodness of your fellow man and the magic of the holiday.

Now I don't consider myself to be a religious person, but I've always been struck by one thing in this story....

Each side in the war, said, "God is with us" or "God is on our side", but I think during the 1914 Christmas Truce, god showed that he was on Humanities side.

Now how about a little Christmas magic for

Christmas day 2008, has us up in Delaware spending the day with my sister Ginas' family.

They live a little over an hour from us, so we spend a part of each holiday together.

Since my birthday was just a few days before, Gina and John gave me a birthday card and enclosed in the card was my age in cash, with a note for me "to spend on yourself".

Now Gina and I have exchanged birthday cards for many years, as both of our birthdays are in December (22nd and 29th), but the last few years, we haven't exchanged gifts. So this was a nice and most welcome suprise.

Christmas night, the boys, their girlfriends Nicole and Jasmine are all back at the house for our family gift giving. All four kids were happy to have some gifts from me to unwrap, even if it was just a gift card to Target or Subway:-).
Josh and Nicole gave me some very nice gifts as well as a Target gift card for $50.00.

Then I opened yet another Christmas card from my Mom and Dad (the 3rd one actually) and there was a $40.00 gift card for Wal-Mart.

Wow...I know knew, that I would have enough to keep the household pantry and laundry room, plus cat and dog food supplied for the next couple of weeks.
To go back a few days to my birthday, on Sunday night, I got a gift card from Chris and Jasmine for Borders Books, this was perfect because there was one book there that I had been wanting to get for a few months now, and with this gift card, I could do it.
The very next day, 12/22, I received as a birthday gift that exact book, from one of my closest friends, Dick Caldwell.
Dick is a wargamer like me and natually, knows what type of book would catch my eye.
Of course, there is always another book, that catches my eye at Borders, so the gift card will still come in handy.

And finally there was an even greater surprise waiting for me in my mail box when I got home from work Saturday evening and that brings us all the way back to the image of Santa's cap and "Merry Christmas" at the top of this long post.

In a simple white envelope, with no return address, except for an Albany, NY post mark, came another bright light of goodness to me.

Inside the envelope was a single sheet of white paper with the image you see on the top and a Merry Christmas just below, there was no signature or anything else to reveal to me, the name or identity of the sender.
Along with that note of Christmas wishes was a Postal Money Order for $100.00.

To you who sent this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
In this economy and with tough times all around, this money order, as well as all the other gifts I have received since last Sunday 12/22 from Friends and Family have been a godsend.
Just as the soliders gained strength and hope during that Christmas Truce of 1914, I have done the same here and now thanks to all of you.
Below is a picture of my boys and Ginas boys, plus the girlfriends of Josh, Jonathan and Christopher. Taken at Gina's house on Christmas Day.

From left to right: Jasmine, Christopher, Nicole, Josh, Matty, Jonathan and Kara.
A great group of kids, and all are key parts of Mr. Joes World.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas at Camp Run-A-Muk

Well hello everyone and welcome back to Mr. Joes World. Merry Christmas to all of you.

It's been a very tough year for me and the boys and it started off pretty close to the start of the year when I was laid off by GET Marketing on January 29th. The job market is not good, especially for a 50+ year old guy (that's me by the way) and the many, many jobs I did apply for seemed to vanish in thin air. Thankfully I had Unemployment Insurance and even more thankfully, I have a strong family that continually supported me with financial and moral support.

Back in May, I stopped by a local Boating supply retail store, aka West Marine and secured a part time position at $9.00 per hour with them. This job has been a "god send" as it is about a half mile from the house, had a great group of people to work with and allowed me to talk to customers and help customers out with all of their boating needs.

Now some of you may not know this, but I have a good bit of boating experience, having sailed since 1988 and raced on a 35 foot boat from 1994 to 1999.

I do have to say, that I have learned more about boating while working for West Marine, than I ever did out on the water.

I also picked up a part time job with a company called AIM (Alternative and Innovative Marketing) representing the Sony Digital Reader on weekends, starting in October.

This past month, I have been promoted to Assistant Store Manager with West Marine and that also includes a nice raise to $15.00 per hour and more hours.
So between the two jobs and the Bank of Dad and Mom, I've been able to keep the house and keep the pantry from being completely bare over this past year.
My Brothers and sister have been a constant source of support, with my brother Jim sending me money at two key times this year and with out me even asking for it.
That's the strength of family.

Since coming down here in 1993, and especially since I really got into a great group of guys through Miniature Wargaming, I have made very good friends whom have also given me their support and advice during this tough time in my life. Their friendship and camaraderie have carried me through many rough stretches this year.

Now the images you have been looking at are all from my home today, a place I fondly call; Camp Run-A-Muk.

Why am I posting pictures of my tree and decorations?

To show anyone who is interested enough to still be reading that......

I believe, that no matter what comes at me in life, my family, my friends and my pets are better served by me being thankful for what I have and enjoying the season and life in every way possible.

There will not be many gifts this year, but there will be a good feeling in the air at Camp Run-A-Muk and the holidays will be cheerie and bright, as the song goes.

Whether it's having dinner here with the kids, walking Daisy or playing an evening of a miniatures game with my friends, I will be happy.

And I'll do all of the above this week.

So enjoy your holidays with family and friends, be thankful for the simple pleasures in life and remember loved ones and friends, who are no longer here with us, but are still in our hearts.

From the whole gang at Camp Run-A-Muk and our part of Mr. Joes World, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Mr. Joe, Josh, Nicole, Christopher, Jasmine, Hobie and Daisy

Friday, November 7, 2008

My "Book of Days"

A couple of weeks ago, where I work, (West Marine-Boating supply store), we received in our 2009 Calendars and even Christmas cards. Yes, they are pushing the season along.
One of the items we got in was a "Mariners Book of Days". It's kind of like a combination- Day Planner, Almanac and lots of nautical history and trivia information, that us old salts like to read about.
There is something about the term..."Book of Days" that I always liked, kind of sounds biblical and historical at the same time. I imagine a Book of Days, would be a good record of your life, something that would prompt old memories or thoughts of important events in ones life.
Maybe it would be a large leather bound volume, with many parchment like pages, that you could leaf through and have those days of yesteryear come streaming back to you like a rerun.

Or it could be something as pedestrian as in my case, when I received my brand new Baltimore County recycling/trash collection schedule.
One weekday morning, sitting at the kitchen table, with a cup of coffee, before I went in to work, I looked at my old Baltimore County Collection, dating back to the end of 2004. I started looking over the various dates and months and years, remembering certain events that happened in that month or this year. Then it dawned on me.....this was to be my "Book of Days"

There it started in the year 2004; Joan, I and the boys took our first family vacation at Lake George, staying at the Alpine Village resort. A place that we all loved and the boys and I would visit two more times. Later we brought our Beagle, Daisy home as a puppy. In December of 2004, I was told that I would be laid off from my job with Panasonic, a company I had worked for 12 years and loved being a part of.

Later on in the months and days of 2005, I see my last day with Panasonic and my first day with GET Marketing. Here before me were the nights I was a business traveler in New England, Virgina or North Carolina, as well as the nights I was a dad/fan on the football field for Chris and the Overlea Orangemen or at the basketball court for Josh and Eastern Tech Mavericks.

Later in November 2005; Joan tells me she is leaving.

Looking a little further on, into 2006 and I have February-Super Bowl Sunday, Joan moves out completely, yet the boys spend the night with me, so we can watch the Super Bowl and have some of their friends over.

July 2006 and the boys and I spend a week at Lake George, I remember our Horseback riding excursion that year. Where a great trail guide-College student from North Carolina and two horses-Duke and Bucky, won the boys over and showed them that there are new adventures to try in life and going horseback riding is not "Gay" as the boys wondered before it was our turn to mount up and ride.
2006 Thanksgiving; was at Gina's with Dad, Mom, Greg and his family all in attendance.

2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008...the past 4 years of my life were playing themselves out right on these non-parchment looking pages.

I remembered great trips I took for work ( out to Chicago, or up to Newport, Rhode Island or down to Virginia Beach, or Charleston, SC and even to Puerto Rico.
Welcoming in 2007 was a party here for Christopher and his friends Donny, Tommy and Alex.
I can still recall the layer of confetti and streamers all over my deck.
Josh had his Senior Prom and then graduated from E.T. High School in 2007, I can picture those days and events.
July 2007 was another week spent at Lake George and this time it was a climb up Prospect Mountain, that while it was a killer for me, it was an adventure and a feat, the boys and I accomplished together.
Later on as the year rolls by, I remember....
My first time preparing an entire Thanksgiving dinner for Josh, Chris and Josh's girfriend Nicole came in November 2007.
Christmas dinner was at Gina's for all her family and my family.
Walks with Daisy along the Gunpowder River or the Eastern Regional Park.
Then comes a bad layoff for me in January 2008 and months of frustration searching for work and anxiety for losing everything I owned.
But what also comes is my rescue in the shape of Dad and Mom, plus West Marine.
Oh and don't forget the Unemployment insurance and then another part time job for Sony.
As I put this modern book of days down and finished my coffee, a few things about my life came to light.
I have had a string of events, good and bad, high and low, that would pass for a plot line on a Soap Opera, and.....I sure am consistant in recycling and marking off those weeks.
No matter what happened in my life, that week, month or year...I always made sure the recycling made it out to the curb and I recorded it all here in my "Book of Days"
Many thanks to the Baltimore County Department of Public Works.
And that's how life goes in Mr. Joes World.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

3 days at Gettysburg part 3

Hi everyone; Sorry for the long hiatus from posting here.
Now it's time to talk about our "Ghost Tour" at Gettysburg.

On Saturday night, we all went on a tour with the "Ghosts of Gettysburg, Candlelight Walking Tours". I think we were expecting something out of the TV show, "Ghost Hunters", walking through old houses and woods in the dead of night. What we got was a much different experience, but a satisfying one at that.

We met up with our guide and about 15 other people in the parking lot of a hotel bar, around 7PM. Of course in mid-summer, it was still very much light out, the guide was dressed in period garb and carrying a lantern. The temps were in the high 80s, low 90s, so we were sweating just looking at him, but he set the mood, by starting off with a few stories about the National Cemetery near by. Here's two of the stories, as best as I recall them, On Cemetery Ridge, a Union soldier was standing next to a cannon. when a Confederate cannon ball hit him and took one of his arms off cleanly. The soldier was taken to the hospital tent, minus his arm, but he soon died from loss of blood. The Yankee soldier was buried at the National Cemetery, and what happened to his arm no one knows, but ever since then, a ghostly figure has been seen walking around the grounds, obviously looking for something on the ground in one small area. According to historians, that area was where his own gun was located when he was hit.

Another story is about a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, who died at Gettysburg.

The Gettysburg National Cemetery can be seen right from the main roads, as can many of the tombstones, belonging to soldiers who died at Gettysburg. One grave site had been the haunting spot of a Union officer, whom had been seen by many witnesses, to be standing in front of his grave site and slowly shaking his head. The caretaker did some investigating and found that the person buried there had been awarded (posthumously), the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his actions during the battle. A look at the grave stone revealed that there was no indication, that this man won the Medal of Honor. Shortly thereafter, the plaque was attached to the stone and the hauntings stopped all together .
Our tour took us through a part of the town and to the edge of the battlefield, where Picketts charge took place. As we walked, our guide would stop and tell us another story about the buildings in the area and other sightings made. We found out that the office of Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours, was a house that stood during the battle and was the used by Confederate soldiers during the battle. Of course many of the buildings were used as "Aid Stations" by both sides, lives passed in many homes.

Here's a story that happened to one of their own staff after hours in the office:
It was known or speculated by the staff of Ghosts of Gettysburg tours, that some southern soldiers still inhabited their building. They were never seen, but things were moved, noises were heard by the staff, that led them to believe, that someone still occupied the house.

One night, as one of the staff members closed up shop and turned out the lights, she remembered that she had left something behind in the office and so with a quick turn around, unlocked the door and walked into the reception area, which is in front of the building, and jumped with fright as a young confederate soldier walked into the same area from a back room. He was just as suprised as she, because he stepped back and said, "Who goes there?!"

The staff member quickly apologized and went back out the door to the street, her heart pounding in her ears.

Can ghosts really interact like this with us?

Maybe some of the time they can.

What I have read on the subject of ghosts and what Nicole had read and heard, state that some times, those who have passed away, still think they are alive and in their present situation (July 1863), in their present time and occasionally their "present time" mixes with our "present time" and you have interactions like this where the soldier thinks he is still in this house (his position) doing his duty and it's July 1863, when all of a sudden, appearing from nowhere is a person, not from his time.

So these are the stories our guide related to this as we walked toward the Gettysburg Battlefield proper. The sun was finally getting lower in the sky, evening was coming on. The photo to the right was taken about 7:40PM and is looking towards the Confederate lines along Seminary ridge. Here's some more stories, the first one relates to Union General John Reynolds, who was killed on the first day. In my earlier blogs, you saw a photo of us standing in front of the marker, on the battlefield where he fell.

The day that General Reynolds died, a messenger went to his wife and family, telling them the tragic news and ensuring them that his body would be held in honor at Gettysburg, until the wife came to pick him up. Now General Reynolds was a tall man and unfortunately no coffin could be found to fit him, so the end where his feet would be was opened so he could be laid in there, albeit with his feet sticking out. John Reynolds was laying in state in a small house in Gettysburg, a place that now allows tourists to have their picture taken in period clothing, and each day a women, dressed in black, would sit near his coffin. Fast forward to the present day, a family from out of town, gets to Gettysburg late at night and after dinner decides to walk around the town. Coming upon one small building, they look in a window and see an empty front room, but also a back room, with a coffin in the middle of the room, a corpse, whose feet are sticking out of the coffin and a women dressed in black, who gets up, walks around the casket once and sits back down. The tourists, think this is a strange, bizzare tourist display and especially as they were seeing it late at night, when everything was closed. The next day they go back to the building and ask about the scene. The front room that looked bare when they saw it at night, was furnished with everything a studio would need and the back room was closed off by a curtain. The owner of the studio promised them that there was no display the night before or since 1863, even showing them the back costume room behind the curtain. The owner then described what took place with the body of General Reynolds in that building back in 1863 and it matched exactly what the tourists had seen the night before.

To the right is our guide, doing a good job holding everyones attention as he points out some landmarks on the battlefield. That's Josh leaning against the telephone pole, with Matty, Jonathan and Christopher in front and Nicole on the far end, sitting on the curb. Near this spot, is a house that had the unfortunate distinction of being built on a site where they found numerous arm and leg bones buried. Even to this day, the homeowner has a deodorizer going in one closet, that from time to time will smell like decaying flesh.

Other than that the house is a dream:-)

To the right is looking at the Union positions along Cemetery Ridge and what was the Center of the Union line. This was the focus of General Robert E. Lees attack on the third day, what is now called Picketts Charge. Thousands of men, died on this battlefield in one day, many more died days, weeks and months later, from wounds suffered during this one part of the battle. No wonder it's haunted. Our guide was great and gave us a lot of tips on ways to sense that spirits are walking among us at Gettysburg. The smell of tobacco or cigar, when no one is smoking near you, the sudden feeling of cold or chill, as you walk along the battlefield, the sound of cannons in the distance. These are all reported at Gettysburg, by regular people who live there or are just there for a visit.

Early the next morning, Josh, Nicole and I took a ride to this battlefield, just as the sun was coming up. Jonathan was supposed to come with us, but he never answered our calls and Chris said there was no way he would get up at 5:00 AM to go find ghosts.

Here's some photos from the early morning hours, along the Emmitsburg Road.

Along Emmitsburg Road, the morning of July 20th Sunday. Through this area came over 12,000 of the souths finest soldiers from the Army of Northern Virginia and into the guns of the Union Army of the Potomac.This is looking towards the southern lines, where the 12,000 soldiers came out of the woods. It's been said, that visitors to this area have seen images of these same soldiers walking through the early morning mist.

Looking from the Emmitsburg Road, toward the Union lines. The trees were a landmark the south was aiming for. We saw no ghosts, we only heard the birds and a cow waking up, but you felt something just being there in the dawn.

This last picture is looking down the Emmitsburg Pike, the early morning dew stiff can be seen on the fence rails. Rails like this lined the same road and became a killing ground as Confederate soldiers stacked up trying to get over and through the rails. Now this picture has another part to it, that maybe, just maybe have something of the supernatual to it. If you can view this picture in a larger format and look to the left of the trees in the center left, there looks to me a human figure in the middle of the mist.

It could be and probably is a small tree, but I have looked closer and it does have a human shape to it. Could it be a soldier from North Carolina or Virginia, still making that long walk towards the Union Center, or is it a tree or bush...we'll never know till I go back there again.

A final note about our guide and what a small world it is. Nicole and Matt stayed right with him and they got some more in-depth stories from him than we did. The small world part of the story is that he lived just a few miles from where we live and he knew of my kids High School (Eastern Tech) and I think even taught there years ago.

Now, I have told you some ghost stories and gave you a better taste of the area, but I think I should give you one documented Ghost picture, even if it wasn't taken by me.

The photo to the left was taken by tourists like us, who visited the part of the battlefield named "The Devils Den". This was the scene of ferocious combat among rocks and boulders on the second day of the battle. A couple of "Ghost Hunters" visited Devils Den one summer night, took many photos of the area. But didn't see anything until they were leaving.

This photo was taken from their car, as they started to drive away. They were positive that there was nobody else around and when they stopped to check out the person standing by the road, they could not find anyone, yet this picture clearly shows someone, clad in grey, standing there watching them leave.

Is it a long lost soldier from the Army of Northern Virginia, was he in our time or were the Ghost Hunters in his, and does the war still go on for him at Gettysburg.

Thanks for reading;

Mr. Joe

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Three days at Gettysburg part two

Hi again everyone; When I last posted the group was heading back to the hotel for some R&R.
Actually; my sister Gina had studying to do, the kids went swimming, while John and I went back to the battlefield and took a whirlwind tour of the rest of the stops. Here now are photos from the battlefield stops we made.

North Carolina Memorial, looking across the battlefield to the Union lines.

North Carolina had a large number of soldiers at this battle and their units were in the thick of the fighting, suffering thousands of casualties. The field in this photo is the scene of Picketts Charge. You can see the white Union monuments across the field.

Bronze soldiers from North Carolina perpetually look and point towards their destination.

A short distance away, along Seminary Ridge is the Virginia Memorial.

This amazing structure can be clearly seen from the Union/Northern side about a mile away.General Lee sits on top his horse, Traveler, looking out on the fields he committed over 12,000 men to cross on the third day (July 3rd 1863).

The soldiers below represent the different trades and civilian status that soldiers of Virginia represented in the way. Merchant, Farmer, Teacher, Tradesman.

A Confederate Encampment, in the woods near where thousands of other Confederate Soldiers "camped" out in July of 1863.

The new statue of General James Longstreet.

After Stonewall Jackson died, Longstreet became Lee's top commander. However they had a difference of opinion on how this battle was fought.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Three days at Gettysburg, 2008 style

Hello everyone; It's been a long time since I posted anything of note here, but a family trip to Gettysburg is plenty of reason now.

On July 18, 19 and 20th my boys (Josh 19 years old and Chris 15) and I, plus Josh's girlfriend, Nicole took a weekend trip to Gettysburg. We were joined by my sister Gina and her husband John and her two sons (Jonathan 16 yrs old and Matt, 13). I had been to Gettysburg twice before but years ago. Nobody else in our group had ever been there, so it was a real trip of discovery.

To be honest, the draw to the kids for this visit was two Ghost Tours we went on Friday and Saturday night. What they also learned was that a battle of immense proportions was fought here, highlighted by acts of bravery and heroics in conditions the kids would never want to face, as well as immense tragedy and loss. And it's only an hour and a half from here.

Major General Joshua Chamberlain says it best in the photo up above. This was taken by Nicole at the Gettysburg Visitors Center. I'll write out below, what is written in the first photo, it's almost like he knew we were coming and "ghost hunting" as well as touring the battlefield was on our itinerary.

"In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays;

Forms change and pass, bodies disappear, but spirits linger.....

And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that...we know not of.....(are) drawn to see where...great things were suffered and done for them..."

A great place to start any visit to the battlefield, that had the kids amazed at how many people were there. "Yes kids, Mr. Joe is not the only history buff in the world":-)

Actually, lets back up to Friday night, when we got there.

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, right on Route 30 and just minutes from downtown

All the modern amenities as well as an indoor pool and jacuzzi. We made sure the 5 kids had time to enjoy that.

On Friday night, we went on a Ghost Tour train ride, along the edge of the battlefield and to an old engine house, that has been the site of paranormal activity. It was a nice, but pricey trip.

Below is the engine and a bit of the passenger cars. There was full narration by the guide as we rolled along, lots of good stories about the battle and paranormal activity.

The train pulled into the engine house and a CD was played featuring Ghost Hunter and Author; Mark Nesbitt. On the CD were tracks that featured ghostly answers to his questions.

On this tour, Josh and Nicole did not join us, as Josh had to work till 5pm and wouldn't be getting to G-Burg until 8PM. The photos below are of the train station (circa 1880s), Chris and Jonathan checking text messages or photos on a cell phone and a bit of the countryside as we rolled through it. This farm was used as a hospital during the battle.

But when we got back to the station we called Josh and he and Nicole met us for dinner. Earlier, before the train ride, the six of us walked around the heart of Gettysburg, visited a few shops and got our bearings. Gettysburg is a great small city, that's very clean, very friendly and with plenty of shopping and restaurants.

Dinner was right downtown at a place called "The Pub" and was a welcome break to the chain restaurants we normally go to. We took up two tables, with the four boys at one table and Nicole sitting with John, Gina and I. One glance at the boys table, shows another reason why we came here, the boys have such a great time together, they are always all smiles when they're together.

On Saturday, we all went to the Gettysburg Battlefield, starting with the brand new Visitors Center.

The Visitors Center is very large and very well done. We spent about an hour in there, including watching a 15 minute movie narrated by Morgan Freeman. It was well done, fast paced and kept the kids attention, while at the same time setting the framework for our tour of the actual battlefield.

Pictured below is the visitors center, and displays inside of it. Everywhere you looked there was something to see and many stirring stories of what it was like for soldiers and civilians in that battle. For the kids, this was a chance to see actual items used in the battle and found on the battlefield. Seeing an actual flag that flew in 1863 for a Union or Confederate regiment is a great history lesson.

After the visitors center we caravaned along the park roads, Gina, John and their boys in their jeep and me and my crew in the van. There are over 15 stopping points in the park, plus many more areas to pull over and look at a monument or statue.

Speaking of monuments, the shear number of them, placed by individual regiments or units or states involved is amazing. And many of them were erected in the 1880s or early 1900s, which also amazed the kids. I imagine the kids think that life was rustic and people lived in log cabins up until the 1970s. Just today (July 28th) Nicole mentioned how much she liked the various statues and the craftsmanship put into them and how good they looked for being made so long ago.

The picture below is of the 5 kids in front of the spot where Union General John Reynolds was fatally shot, while directing his troops on the first day of battle.

In the back row, from left to right, you have Christopher, Josh and Jonathan and in front you have Nicole and Matt. The second photo is myself, Josh and Chris. The parts of the battlefield we toured that Saturday morning/ mid-afternoon was the scene of the first days fighting. Pictured below are some of the sites along the tour road.
First photo is a monument erected by veterans of a Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment.

Second photo is one of two observation towers, gave us a great birdseye view of the surrounding area.Third photo here is looking down at some of the numerous monuments to regiments and other units, that fought in this part of the battle. The monuments are overwhelmingly Union, since it was a Union victory on Northern soil. But at the end of the first day that victory was the farthest thing from the yankees mind.

By 2:00 pm, we were all getting hot and hungry, so we decided to take a break and get some lunch down in Gettysburg and then head back to the hotel so the kids could get some pool time in.
Later that night, we were due for a ghost tour put on my "Ghosts of Gettysburg, Candlelight Walking Tours"

I think I'll post this for now and come back in a day or two with the next chapter of our story.

Mr. Joe

Monday, April 28, 2008

Battle of Santiago in 1/1000 scale part 2

In my last post, I related about the actual battle of Santiago and our recreation on the tabletop, using 1/1000 scale Houstons Ships and the Age of Iron rules, Age of the Dreadnought, Armored Ships come of Age. There were three players and myself as the GM. None of us had played these rules before, but we are all experienced gamers. By turn 3 or 4, everyone knew what they had to do, what modifires they needed on dice rolls and where to look in the rule book. I had laminated the QRF chart that comes with it, and promptly left it buried under a bunch of papers, where it was no use to anyone.

Les Mansir (Adm. Cervera) was quickly learning that his primary guns were really no use against the American Battleships and had to wait for the range to close up. Meanwhile, the hits were starting to mount up as the American gunners found the range.
The Spanish Squadron steams out of Santiago Harbor and into to waiting arms of the Americans.

As happened in the real battle, the American commanders did not know which direction the Spanish would go when they came out. I tasked Les with generally following the route taken in 1898 by the Spanish. All movement and range was measured in centimeters, due to the large size of the ships and the large (but not large enough) table. We played on an 8' x 6' table.

In the pictures below, we first have the Vixen leading the Gloucester in to the battle.

Here is an original photo of the Armed Yacht Gloucester. She engaged both the Pluton and Furor in a furious gun duel, all the while getting caught by tall columns of shell splashes from the American Battleships.The American noose tightens, as the Spanish ships make a turn to starboard upon exiting the harbor entrance. As the range closed, the negative modifiers started changing to positive modifires and that meant trouble for the Spanish ships. By turn 6, the Cristobal Colon had some major damage and Critical Damage, which effected it's speed and turning ability. The Viscaya had also been hit.

The small ships mill about and we had a real melee. Here the Vixen and Gloucester pierce the line and intercept the Pluton and Furor, while the Brooklyn and Almirante Oquendo trade broadsides.

By turn 8, the Furor was sunk by the combined gunfire of the Armored Cruiser USS New York and the Armed Yacht Vixen. Here's an 1898 illustration of the TBD Furor being pursued.

The Booklyn pierces the Spanish line.

While the Infanta Maria Teresa puts some water between her and the Americans.

The grey pile of debris you see in the above photo is to simulate a reef, that is another obstacle to the Spanish and forces them to turn to port a bit for open water. Meanwhile I instructed Admiral Sampson (Dick Caldwell) that the Indiana had developed engine trouble and her max speed would be 10 knots instead of 15.

In the photos below, you can see how close the action was for the rest of the Spanish ships.

The BB Texas even sunk the TBD Pluton by Torpedo attack and some excellent dice rolls by Indy.

In this photo the New York nearly runs over the tiny Vixen, while the Pluton is last seen trying to get a Torpedo shot on the Texas.

"Torpedo markers are in the Water" A burning Cristobal Colon tries to keep station while the Viscaya gets a short ranged torpedo attack by the Brooklyn and the trailing Oquendo gets the "Measuring Fingers of Doom" by Commodore Schley (Indy) as he estimates the range from the Texas to the Almirante Oquendo.

The Oquendo would be sunk by gunfire from the Texas and New York on Turn 10. By the last few turns of the game 8-10, Les was so busy marking damage to his ships stat sheets that he could barely think of firing his own guns. In the rules, as a ship takes hull damage, it starts loosing speed, weaponry and turning ability.

The end came as the Infanta Maria Teresa steamed off the table and into "Game" history.

I had one more test up my sleeve for the Americans as they congratulated themselves on a wonderful victory. As happened in the real battle, an alarm went out that a Spanish Battleship was seen approaching. The USS Brooklyn hurried over to investigate and make ready for further combat. The ship was a warship and the flag had the unmistakable red bars on the flag.

I quickly quizzed Admiral Sampson and Commodore Schley as to what this ship could be. I had no miniature to put out, so I described the scene for the Americans. Adm Sampson (Dick Caldwell) quicky deduced that the flag was the red and white flag of Austria and not the red and yellow flag of Spain. Then I described the signal flags flying from my mystery ship stating "This is an Austrian Ship, Please do not fire". The Austrian ship was looking for a place to spend the night and thought Santiago looked like a good port on the charts. In real life, the Americans asked them to anchor 20 miles out to sea, but the Austrians went out 40 miles, to be sure there was no more confusion. Amazingly enough the Austrian ship was named the Maria Theresa too.

Here's a photo of that very ship. "SMS Kaisein und Konigin Maria Theresa"

In wrapping this up, I want to first say how much fun this project was to do. Doing the research of this battle and naval combat of the time, coming up with ideas for the ship status sheets, getting photos of the actual ships, all are part of the fun for me.

We play 15mm WWII every Monday night at The Arena and every Wednesday night at Renaissance Games, after a while it becomes a blur, but preparing a game like this, for a different era and type of combat, and being the GM (Game Master) was a whole new thing for me. I enjoyed this game as much as the three players did. Speaking of the 3 players; having three good friends who enjoy this as much as I do, really made for a great game.

And now, after hosting this game, both Les and Dick want to have their own fleets of 1/1000 scale ships, which means that all of these ships will be on the table top again in the near future.
Right where they belong.
Good Gaming;
Mr. Joe