Thursday, January 31, 2013

Elizabethan Gardens

Enchanting.  Historic.  Beautiful. The Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island in North Carolina are exquisite, even in January when the camellias are in full bloom.  It was a wet, gray morning when my travel buddy and I toured the gardens a few weeks ago, but we loved it this way.  It only added to the mystery of the Lost Colony, which the gardens commemorate.

Although the Sunken Gardens with Roman statuary of the gods, is considered the highlight of the gardens, I came here to see the controversial Virginia Dare sculpture.  To me, this was the Crown Jewel.

Virginia Dare
Virginia Dare, of course, was the first child born in the New World of English descent.   She was only a baby when her grandfather, John White, left the colonists behind on Roanoke Island to go back to England for much-needed supplies.  Because England went to war against Spain in 1588, he was not able to return until 1590.  No one knows what happened to the people left behind, but when a new colony settled in Jamestown twenty years later, there were rumors of white men living among the Chesapeake Indians.  John Smith sent a search party out to find them, but they were not successful.  A legend persists even today--that Virginia Dare grew up among the Native Americans and her spirit roams Roanoke Island, the place of her birth, in the form of a white dove.

How we all want this to be true!  (Well, some of us anyway.)   The story of the Virginia Dare sculpture is as captivating as the Lost Colony one.  Carved in Rome by Maria Louisa Lander in 1859, it actually sank off the coast of Spain on its way to America.  It was recovered two years later from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  When it finally arrived, it was placed in the State Hall of History in Raleigh.  You can imagine how shocked the people of North Carolina were, when in the 1920's, they finally saw this depiction of their beloved daughter.   A grown woman, naked except for a fishing net wrapped around her waist.  An Indian Princess?  No way!  The statue was removed.

Paul Green, the playwright who wrote The Lost Colony, kept it at his estate near Chapel Hill until he donated it to the Elizabethan Gardens.  It took a full one hundred years after its creation, to find its proper home.  Placed under a canopy of trees in a serene corner of the gardens, Virginia Dare is at peace.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Abandoned Colony of Roanoke

An empty stage.  Rows of vacant seats.  A sky turning gray and ominous.  I had an eerie feeling I was retracing the steps of Governor John White when he stepped ashore Roanoke Island in 1590, hoping to see the colonists he had left behind three years earlier--his wife, daughter and grandchild among them.  But there was no one here.  Only ruins of a fort now overgrown with vines.  Remnants of old chests tossed about and rusted beyond use.  Where had everyone gone?

We all know the story.  The "CRO" carved into a tree.  "Croatoan" carved on a post at the fort.  Clues to a mystery that has never been solved.
Playwright Paul Green
The theatrical production of The Lost Colony has been performed every summer for years at the Waterside Theatre, in Manteo, North Carolina.  It was written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Paul Green, in 1937.  Many famous actors have been a part of this production, including Andy Griffith and Terrence Mann. Of course, being here in January, my travel buddy and I were the only people around.  I was happy, but surprised, to be able to wander around the stage.  The mystery of the colonists' disappearance seemed more  real in the absolute silence.
We walked by the reconstructed earthern fort and then along a nature trail to the beach beyond the stage.  We did not see another soul.  As beautiful as it was, I admit to being a little spooked.

Historians are fairly certain the colonists left behind were not massacred or did not die because of drought or inclement weather.  There are no graves; no bones.  But where did they go?  This is the mystery.

White himself, however, seemed encouraged by the clues.  In his narrative he writes that he and his planters had agreed on a "secret token" between them when he departed for England for supplies.  If they had to move, carve their whereabouts on a tree.  Place a Maltese cross next to it, if under distress.  Because there was no cross, he assumed they had relocated "fifty miles into the mainland", as they had agreed upon.  Sadly, White could not go there.  They had already lost one boat, seven men and three out of four anchors.  The weather had turned fierce and supplies were low.  They were forced to return to England without locating the colony.  Were they truly only a few miles away?   It must have torn him apart to have to abandon them yet again.

"History is going to be rewritten shortly, mark my words," declared a docent at one of the nearby lighthouses we visited.  A 425-year old map of Roanoke Island, created by John White, had recently been discovered by the British Museum to mark the spot where the colonists relocated.  It is on the confluence of the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers.  Active digging is now going on in the area, as well as DNA samples of the local population.  Stories abound of the colonists being assimilated into the Croatoan tribe.  These Native Americans had befriended them and helped them in finding and preparing food.  Even if the men had been killed, it is hopeful the women and children survived.

 . . . Thus committing the relief of my uncomfortable company, the planters in Virginia, to the merciful help of the Almighty--whom I most humbly beseech to help and comfort them according to His most holy will and their good desire--I take my leave.   
                                                  John White (in a letter written in 1593)


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Men of Fort Macon

Fort Macon is one of North Carolina's most visited state parks.  Its history is a little odd, actually, so going through the museum is far from boring.  And as Mimi pointed out, "Who can resist a man in a uniform?"   The truth is, I was a bit mesmerized by the recorded voices.  The deep male voices were sultry and languid.  In that sexy southern drawl, the men outlined their duties at the fort and bared their souls with tales of hardship, boredom and home sickness.  I lingered here a little too long listening to the recordings a second time over.  (Two other ladies joined me!)   My travel buddy finally walked in and said, "Oh, so here you are.  I've been looking all over for you."
North Carolina seceded from the union, after the Battle of Fort Sumter, on April 12, 1861.  Two days later a local militia demanded Fort Macon's surrender.  Since the fort was occupied by only a sergeant and his wife who had been acting as caretakers, there wasn't much of a fight.  Three days later, the North Carolina governor ordered seizure of all U.S. Military installations.  When troops arrived at the fort, they were surprised to see it was already in confederate hands.

It did not, however, remain in confederate hands for long.
One year later on April 25, 1862, as part of the largest amphibious operation of the Civil War, it was seized by Union troops as part of the "Burnside Expedition".  Commanded by Union General Ambrose Burnside, the objective of this expedition was to gain control of the islands, sounds and rivers of North Carolina.  The confederates held out for nearly eleven hours and frankly, I'm amazed it took that long.  They were simply outnumbered and outpowered.  The Union's Parrott rifle cannons easily penetrated the forts's walls.  So powerful, they broke through railroad iron and disabled the fort's cannons.  Soldiers, on both sides, watched the bombardment in complete awe.  They had never seen such total destruction before.  Seven confederate soldiers were killed that day; the union lost only one.
Fort Macon was then turned into a military prison.  Most of the prisoners were their own soldiers who had been charged with desertion, theft, alcohol abuse or disciplinary problems.  The routine for the soldiers guarding the prison consisted of drills, inspections and guard duty.  They had a lot of time on their hands so they read, played games, hunted, fished and swam--a far different (but safer)  life than their brothers to the west of them.  Being from the north, their main complaints were of the unbearable heat and humidity and the constant scratching due to bedbugs.

Even after the war, the fort continued to be used as a prison as there were no penitentiaries in the Carolinas.   However, the men's families were finally able to join them.  Cottages were built outside the walls.  The long and costly reconstruction of the south had begun.
"What an ugly outfit," Mimi chimes in.  "Put me in that diorama and I guarantee those men will get their minds off bedbugs."

"I'm sure you would, Scarlet!"
Not only is the history of Fort Macon interesting, but its locale is beautiful.  Surrounded by Bogue Sound and the Beaufort inlet, it's a wonderful place to picnic and to walk on the beach.  While leaving the fort, I couldn't help but think of the men who lived here and how the words of Charles Dickens, although describing a war a century before on another continent, seem so fitting:

  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness . . .

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks

The evidence was everywhere, but where were the horses?  This barrier island was nine miles long and my three travel buddies and I only had two hours to find them.  "I'll be back at four," the captain of the little Boston Whaler told us.  "Same spot."  Gulp.  We looked around for a landmark and saw nothing but sand, sand and more sand.  If we were going to find the horses and make it back in time, we better boogie.

An hour later, just beyond the dunes in the middle of the island, we found them.  And if ever there was a magical moment in my travels, this was one of them!

Shackleford Banks is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, off the coast of North Carolina.  The horses here are legendary.  Believed to have swum ashore from Spanish sinking ships in the 16th century, they have remained wild ever since.  There are nearly 100 of them on the island.  The locals call them "Banker Ponies" because of their small size.  We stumbled across a group of mares with one adorable foal.    At first, we were reluctant to get too close for fear the horses would run away, but they were totally indifferent to our presence.  We crept closer and closer.  Only the foal seemed curious about us.  We wondered if he had ever seen a human being before, he was so young.
 The horses are able to find enough food and water on the island to survive.  They are managed by the National Park Service and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses.  They have implemented a birth control program to keep the herd down and some of them have been removed and put up for adoption.  So are they really "wild"?  Yes and no.  It's clear they are used to people, tourists like us who come out here to admire and photograph them.  Despite the signs,  Do not to feed the horses,  I suspect they have all had a tasty carrot or two.  "Don't put your backpack down," we were warned.
We hated to leave them, but someone in our little group noticed the time, and we had to run back to the end of the island to catch the boat ride home.  A very special, special day!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Birthplace of Pepsi-Cola

Only in America would the creation of a soft drink warrant an historic marker.  The illustrious beginning of the iconic brand, Pepsi, all began here in New Bern, North Carolina.  I suppose, with its recognizable red, white and blue logo, it's as American as the Stars and Stripes.
Caleb Bradham graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1867, and intended to go to medical school to become a pharmacist, but did not have the finances to do so.  He took a position teaching at the New Bern High School, but when the opportunity arose to buy a local drugstore, he grabbed it.  While working at his store, he studied for the Board of Pharmacy examination and passed.  His dream came true.

He was now a pharmacist and a businessman.  When he created "Brad's Drink", he marketed it as "exhilarating, invigorating and an aid to digestion."  He soon packaged his drink in syrup form and sold it as "Pepsi-Cola".  The cola wars had begun!

The building on the corner of Pollock and Middle Streets has been turned into a mini-museum for Pepsi.  It includes a reproduction of the soda fountain where Caleb first served his carbonated beverage.  There are lots of souvenirs to buy if you're a Pepsi fan.  I find it interesting that you are Either-Or.  "Do you like Coke or Pepsi?"  I've been asked this question many times.  Evidently, you can't like both; and evidently, you can't find both in a restaurant or fast food chain.  The two companies have divided up the world.  How American is that!

Sorry, New Bern, but Mimi and I prefer Coke!