American history, Detroit, Detroit history, Famous Train Stations, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, Lost and Found, Michigan Central Train Station, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, Train Travel, Travel, Uncategorized, What to see in Detroit, What to see in Michigan

Detroit’s Michigan Central Train Station: a rising phoenix on the city’s skyline.

5 X 7 Old Train Station

Michigan Central Train Station as it was in 2015

I love history shot

Ron Current

One of the first things you see when driving into Detroit on I-75 is the large, and looming, Michigan Central Train Station. To me, standing tall and alone, it looks like a tombstone; a tombstone for a city that seemed to have given up on itself.
For too many years the Michigan Central Station has stood in ruin, its windows broken out and the building surrounded by a chain link fence that tries to protect an already ravaged grand lady.

However, this is not a post of gloom, but rather one of hope and vision.
I’ll begin with a little history of the train station and then I’ll go into what we hope is its new, and exciting, future under its new owners.

A magnificent expression to 20th century progress

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The back of Michigan Central Station, with the train gate at the bottom. June 22, 2018

Michigan Central Station’s story began in 1914, right after the former stationed burned down in 1913, when Michigan Central Railroad decided to build a world class train station on its main rail line. They hired the firms of Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stem, who had also built New York’s Grand Central Terminal, to do the design and construction.

The architects chose the Beaux-Arts Classical style for the station’s design, and to handle the rail company’s workers a 18-story office tower was added, making Michigan Central the tallest train station in the world at that time.

When it opened thousands of travelers would embark or disembark from one of the more than 200 trains that arrived or departed daily. These passengers could then take one of the many street or interurban railcars that converged there to get to their final destinations. Such notables that came through Michigan Central were Presidents Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and Truman, as well as Charlie Chaplin and Thomas Edison. Over 3,000 employees occupied the many offices in the station’s tower. In those pre-automobile days public mass transportation was how you got around, and Detroit’s Michigan Central Station was one of the crown jewels in the country.

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the ruined Michigan Central Station grand lobby during the open house June 22, 2018

Henry Ford’s development vision

But the station had a major downfall; it was built on the south west side of the city, far from Detroit’s downtown. This was done because the station was to be an important part of a master plan to develop that area of the city. Henry Ford, even though he didn’t own the station, was a major contributor in these plans. Ford had bought up land around the station in preparation for this new development; however the Great Depression put an end to those plans.

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The station’s concourse taken during the open house on June 22, 2018

The station continued to thrive through the Second World War, after which it began a slow decline as cars and airplanes took over as the public’s mode of transportation. In 1971 Amtrak took over operation of the station, they made some repairs to the building and reopened the main lobby. But in 1988, with passenger rail traffic almost nonexistent, the last Amtrak train left Michigan Central on January 6th.

The now vacant and abandoned station became a target for scavengers and defacers: stripping the building of its fixtures, marble, wiring, and plumbing. Graffiti now covered its once elegant walls.

The Moroun years

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The hall way that travelers took to catch a streetcar to the city. It also where the stations shops were located. Taken on June 22, 2018.

Eight years later, in 1996, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit with Winsor Canada, took possession of the station. Moroun didn’t do much with the building until 2000, when he demolished its train shed to help convert the property to a freight depot for the Canadian Pacific Railway. But this usage didn’t last long, four years later Moroun closed the station permanently in 2004.

The relationship between Moroun and the City of Detroit, in regards to the train station, is interesting. In 2006, the city named the station as a “Priority Cultural Site.” But in 2009, even though Moroun owned the building, the City Council voted to demolish it. The station’s demolition was only stopped when Stanley Christmas, a Detroit resident, sued the city under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Little was done to renovate the old station until 2011 when Moroun, with the city’s help with funding, replaced the tower’s roof, removed some of the asbestos, and drained some of the water from the basement.

In 2015 electricity was restored to the building, and for the first time in years the main lobby was illuminated. In addition Moroun acquired a permit to install a new freight elevator. Also in 2015, after a land swap with the city, the Moroun family agreed to install windows throughout the building.

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This was the station’s restaurant. Taken on June 22, 2018.

A very special occurrence happened during the “Detroit Homecoming” celebration in September of 2017. The station was opened for an event for the first time in twenty-nine years.

There was excitement for the future of the old building when on March 20, 2018 the Detroit News reported that the Ford Motor Company was in talks with the Moroun family on purchasing the station. And on June 11, 2018 the Moroun family confirmed that the Ford Motor Company was now indeed the new owners of the Michigan Central Station.

With Ford, it comes full circle

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The front of the Michigan Central Station, June 22, 2018

William Clay Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, spoke on what the future prospects were for the Michigan Central Station under Ford Motor Company. They plan on doing a total restoration and renovation of the historic site. Not only the station is to be renovated but also the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository building next door is included in their plans. These two buildings, as well as the surrounding land, will become a campus for Ford’s futuristic autonomous vehicle division. The projected target date for completion of this project is 2022.

One of the big question asked of Ford is: will there be trains in Michigan Central’s future? And although Ford can’t answer that question for sure, they did say that they’re leaving the passenger tracks in place, just in case.

With Bill Ford’s commitment he picks up right where his grandfather left off in the 1920’s, reviving a neighborhood centered on a magnificent and grand building.

Taking a look inside the station

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After the announcement on June 19th Ford opened the train station to the public to tour on the weekend of June 22-25. My wife and I were among those who patiently stood in line for an hour and a half to enter, and experience this historic event.
As we walked in the expansive waiting area, along the halls where shops had been, stood looking up at the skeletal remains of the concourse’s roof that held the glass skylight and the

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The line of those that wanting to experience history

dark cavernous room that was the station’s restaurant, we weren’t depressed by the acts of destruction and neglect that was before us. No, we were encouraged by the possibilities to come.

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The colonnade that connects the station’s main lobby and to its concourse. Taken June 22, 2018

The rising of this Detroit phoenix says a lot about a community. A community that’s tired of the decay, and wanting to build to a new and positive future. From Ford’s commitment, to the over 20,000 people that came to see what was and learn of what will come, this is what will redefine Detroit.

There was one selfless act that I’d like to mention, and it may seem small to some, but is really meaningful to the stations history and of one person’s desire to help; as I had stated, the interior of the station had been stripped of everything that might be of value. One of those items was the brass clock face that was on the station’s gateway.

5 X 5 clock

The returned clock face

Right after the announcement was made by Ford the company got a phone call; it was from the person who had taken the clock. Without giving his name, or asking for any form of payment, he told them where they could find the clock. This important part of Michigan Central’s history will once again be back home, after restoration by the Henry Ford Museum.

In closing, I look forward to the day when I drive into Detroit on I-75 and not see a tombstone, but rather a beacon to what can be accomplished when you have a vision.

Because with a vision, there is always hope!

The photos in this post were taken by me, and the following website was used for background information in my story.

Wikipedia. “Michigan Central Station.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia , 20 June 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Central_Station.

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The History of the Alamo, Part II: From Fort to forgotten

 

The Alamo Church in ruin 1848

1847, the Alamo church in ruin by Edward Everett

 

 

 

I love history shot

“Remember the Alamo,” was the battle cry at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, were the forces of Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna’s army ending the Texas Revolution. Yes, Texans remembered the battle, and what Santa Anna had done to the defenders in that battle, but they soon forgot the Alamo battlefield and its buildings. On May 29, 2017 I published the article “The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort,” in this post I’ll continue the story, taking the Alamo as a fort through the Mexican and Texas Revolutions, how the Alamo was almost lost before the 1836 battle, and the neglect it suffered after the fighting ended.

 

The Alamo under the Spanish
At the beginning of the 19th Century the Spanish increased the numbers of troops stationed at the old Alamo mission to help combat the intrusions by Anglo-American from Louisiana. This brought the need for a military hospital to be set-up within the mission; this would be the first hospital in Texas. The hospital was most likely in the Convento building (today’s Long Barracks). The Alamo’s unfinished and rubble filled church was mostly unusable.
Even though Spanish Mexico was afraid of wholesale attacks by Anglo Americans they were still open to immigration by American’s. In 1806 one of those Americans that petitioned for settlement in Texas near the Alamo was the blacksmith Daniel Boone, a relative of the famous frontiersmen.

During the war of Mexican Independence (1810-1821) the Alamo was occupied back and forth by both Spanish Royalists and Mexican Rebels. Other than being used as a military post, hospital and prison the Alamo saw little action during this war.

The Alamo under Mexican control
After Mexico won its independence the Mexican army continued to be stationed in the old mission. However the first threat to the Alamo came in 1825, when the need for funds caused the local political chief Saucedo to ask the Governor of the Mexican State of Coahulia y Tejas to sell the stones of the Alamo to raise cash. In 1827, the Coahulia y Tejas State Legislature approved of the selling of the stone.

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Anastacio Bustamante

Before the sale could begin Anastacipo Bustamante, the new commandant of the Eastern Provinces, demanded that the order be suspended. Bustamante saw the need for the Alamo to be a permanent post for the Mexican army because of the increase of illegal immigration by Americans into Texas. Bustamante would be the first to save the Alamo from destruction, nine years before the famous battle.

 

The Alamo during the Texas Revolution
In 1835, as the rebellion in Texas began to unfold Mexican President Santa Anna sent his brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos, with 500 soldiers to Bexar (San Antonio) to strengthen that post . Cos ordered 330px-Martin_perfecto_de_cosimprovements made to the Alamo’s defenses: digging trenches, building platforms and ramps for cannon, a wooden palisade was built across the open gap between the church and the Low Barracks, strengthening the crumbing north wall, and building a gun platform at the rear of the church from the rubble inside. On this platform were placed three cannon that could fire over the walls of the roofless church.
After the Battle of Gonzales on October 2, 1835, which officially began the Texas Revolution, Gen. Cos found himself constantly on the defensive: losing at Goliad, Concepcion, and finally surrounded in Bexar itself by the Texan rebels. The Battle of Bexar began as a fifty-six day siege and ended in a bloody house to house fight. The battle ended with Gen. Cos surrendering after being promised that he and his men would be paroled. Here’s an interesting twist of history, at the Battle of Bexar the Mexicans were inside the Alamo and the Texans attacked from the outside. Also, the Alamo’s defenses used in the Battle of the Alamo were those built by Cos.

Cos and his men did not honor the terms of their parole, meeting Santa Anna and his army heading north they returned and helped to retake the Alamo in the 13 day siege and battle.

Santa Anna

General Santa Anna

After Santa Anna retook the Alamo in the predawn of March 6, 1836 he prepared to pursue Sam Huston and the Texan army. Not wanting to leave his rear open for a counter attack he ordered Gen. Andrade, his commander in San Antonio, to rebuild the defenses of the Alamo. As Santa Anna and his army marched off to the northeast work began instantly on rebuilding the walls damaged in the battle. Most of this work of rebuilding was done by those Mexican soldiers wounded in the battle.
After losing at the Battle of San Jacinto Santa Anna sent counter orders back to Gen. Andrade to now destroy all of the Alamo’s defenses: its walls torn down, the gun platforms ripped up, and the canons spiked and disabled, making them unusable. This would be the first destruction of the Alamo compound.

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This 1849 daguerreotype is thought to be the first photo of the Alamo church

 

The Alamo becomes a source for building materials 

Soon locals were using the stones and wood from the Alamo for building materials. By 1842, just six years after the battle, all that remained of the Alamo were a few of the buildings that were on west wall, these being rebuilt as homes. The missions major buildings: the Church, Long Barracks, and Low Barracks laid in ruin. For most Texans the Alamo sat forgotten, with only a few tourists visiting the ruins.

But this was only the beginning of what was to befall the battle site that Houston called to remember. I will continue my narrative of how the Alamo continued to survive, and of the changes that are predicted to come.

Resources:

Nelson, George. The Alamo: An Illustrated History. Third Revised Edition, Aldine Press, 2009.
Thompson, Frank. The Alamo: A Cultural History. Taylor Publishing Company, 2001.
Wikipedia. “Timeline of the Texas Revolution .” Wikipedia, Wikipedia , 27 Mar. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:History/Timeline_of_the_Texas_Revolution.

Also read my post: The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort 

 

 

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Ancient Roman, Greek history, history and travel, History in Time, In the footsteps of the Ceasers, Italy, Lost and Found, Palaces, Roman History, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The Caesars, The Isle of Capri, Travel, Uncategorized, World history

The Isle of Capri: Resort of the Caesars

 

A view of the harbor

Marina Grande, the main harbor of the Isle of Capri

 

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

Part of our tour was a daytrip to the magical and romantic Isle of Capri, which is only a short forty minute ferry ride from Sorrento. Capri is one of three islands located just outside the Bay of Naples: the others are Ischia and Procida. But the most famous of them all is Capri. As we cruise there I’ll give you a brief history of the Isle of Capri.

Although it’s known that Capri was settled by Bronze Age Greeks it is now thought that the island was inhabited at a much earlier time. The first record of this comes from when the Emperor Augustus was excavating for his villa where large bones and stone weapons were unearthed. Modern archaeologists now believe that the island was indeed inhabited during the Neolithic period, from 10,200 BC till around 2,500 BC.
However the most famous settlers of the island were the Romans, and two of their emperors. As I mentioned above the first emperor to build a villa on Capri was Augustus. Augustus needed a place to get away from the heat and crowds of Rome, he chose Capri for its mild climate, remoteness and its rocky cliffs that offered him protection from would be assassins. But it would be his successor Tiberius that would out do him in the scale, grandeur and numbers of villas built on the island. Tiberius constructed twelve palaces on Capri, the largest being Villa Jovis.

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Bust of Tiberius Caesar, the Romisch-Germanisches Museum in Cologne

During his rule Tiberius began spending more and more time at Villa Jovis than he did in Rome. Fear of assassination became such a paranoia for him that he self-exiled himself to Capri were his personal security was much better than in Rome. It was at Jovis that he spent the rest of his life until his death in 37 AD.
Villa Jovis sits atop Monte Tiberio, the islands second highest peak. The palace covers almost 1.7 acres and was built at different levels. Water was an issue for such a large complex, with all the servants and solders serving and protecting the emperor. To solve that problem four huge barrel roofed cisterns were built to collect and store water, providing more than enough even for hot baths.

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The ruins of Villa Jovis

Today only eight levels remain of the Villa Jovis complex, but it does give visitors a feeling of what it must have looked like when Tiberius Caesar ruled from there. Sadly, since this was just a day trip there wasn’t time to visit the site.

Our ferry docked at the port of Marina Grande on the island’s north side. As you disembark you’ll notice that the harbor is a mixture of small colorful fishing boats, day cruisers and multi-million dollar yachts. Unlike many other island ports Marina Grande isn’t the main town, it’s Capri sitting 800 feet above the harbor.

The port of Marina Grande

The harbor of Marina Grande

To get to the town of Capri you can: walk, take a bike, take a taxi, or the funicular. We decided on the funicular. Capri’s funicular is a cable car that holds 70 passengers and pulls itself up a steep incline to the town. As you’re riding up you get a great view of the harbor and its surrounding cliffs with white washed houses clinging to their sides.
The funicular station lets you off on the Piazzetta, the center of town. If you are a people watcher Capri is the place to be, for this is the place where the who’s who of Europe come to stay and shop, and if you’re a shopper Capri has the largest selection of exclusive brand name shops in one location.

 

 

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Street in Capri

 

Our next stop was a little higher up the mountain, the town of Anacapri. We choose one of the island’s buses to get us there. The buses on Capri are not like the buses we think of, they’re more like minivans. I have been on many thrill rides but nothing compared to this bus ride. The road up to Anacapri is very, very narrow and full of traffic going up and down. Add to that they all drive at Italian speed. Our seat was near the front and all we could see were cars, motor scooters and buses coming right at us. It was surprising that we weren’t involved in a head-on collision. Finally arriving at Anacapri we quickly got off, and I found a shop where I could sample another Limoncello.

Narrow road

close call on the road to Anacapri

Anacapri is a little less fancy and more laidback that Capri, and the shops are not as high end as in Capri. Things to see in Anacapri: the small church of Chiesa di San Michele with its eighteenth-century majolica floor, which is a form of painted ceramic. Also there’s the Villa San Michele built by the Swedish doctor Axel Munthe. If you like antiques this is the place to visit.
Just a little past the Villa San Michele is what is known as the La Scala Fenicia or Phoenician Steps. This steep rock stairway was the only way to get from Marina Grande, Capri and Anacapri for centuries. Although called the Phoenician Steps they were most likely constructed by the ancient Greek colonist.

The ancient stairs

the top of the Phoenician Steps

Another popular thing to do while in Anacapri is go to the top of Mount Solaro, the island’s highest peak. From up there they say the view is spectacular. However there’s only two ways to get to the top: walk or take the chair left. And when I say a chair lift, I mean a chair. It’s a single seat chair that hangs on a cable with your legs dangling in the air.

the Chairlift to the top

The chair lift to Mount Solaro

 

I wish that we had time to see the other sites that Capri had to offer, especially the world famous Grotta Azzurra or Blue Grotto. But it gives us something to go back for.

 

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The Sorrento Coast, Italy: the song of the Sirens

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

Leaving the ancient ruins of Pompeii we journeyed down the northern side of the rugged peninsula that frames the south side of the Bay of Naples to the beautiful town of Sorrento. Our hotel was just north of the town on the water, where across the bay Mount Vesuvius commanded our view.
Sorrento is part of what is commonly known as the Sorrento Coast, the region near the tip of the peninsula that is dominated by high and sheer cliffs that plunge down into the blue Mediterranean. It, along with its sister region the Amalfi Coast on the opposite side of the peninsular, are famous destinations for those seeking fantastic panoramic views and a mild climate.

Vesuvius seen from Sorrento

Vesuvius as seen from Sorrento

 

So exotic and enchanting is this coastal area that it’s said to be the site of an legendary place in one of the oldest works of Western literature, Homer’s the Odyssey.
The Odyssey is the Greek poet Homer’s sequel to his the Iliad  about the Trojan War. The Odyssey tells of the Greek King of Ithaca Odysseus’ (Ulysses in Roman) ten year quest to get home after the war. One of his trials was an encounter with the beautiful and hypnotic Sirens, whose songs would cause sailors to run their ships onto the rocks. It is believed that it was the Greeks who colonized the Sorrento region that attached the area to Odyssey’s sirens.
After the Greeks came the Romans who would make these shores one of their favorite playgrounds. Still today it continues the have the reputation as being an exclusive resort area, not only for the Italians but all of Europe as well. Sorrento 4
Besides the town of Sorrento the area is dotted with small hamlets that stretch along the coast and into the surrounding hills. The Sorrento region is noted for its fresh seafood, olives, grapes, oranges, and lemons; it’s from these lemons that they make their famed liqueur, Limoncello. Shops offer free tasting, and when I sampled one the fumes burned the inside of my nose by just bringing the glass to my mouth. In other words it’s a little too potent for me.
The actively on the streets of Sorrento doesn’t slow down with the setting Sun. The buildings are lighted and music fills the still crowded streets. Even with the scores of tourists and locals you never feel closed in. The crowds move freely from shop to shop, and restaurant to restaurant.

Plaza in Sorrento

The Plaza at the center of Sorrento

If Sorrento is where you’re staying during your visit there’s easy transportation to other points of interest along the peninsula and the bay: Naples and Pompeii are a quick train ride away, buses can carry you other picturesque villages along the Sorrento and Amalfi Coasts, and a ferry can whisk you away to the romantic Isle of Capri, our next destination.

Street in Sorrento at night

Sorrento in the evening 

Sorrento, and its coastal area, may be the most idyllic place to visit with its seaside splendor, mild climate, colorful villages, great food, friendly people, and the most amazing and gorgeous rugged cliff lined shores. In Homer’s story Odyssus had himself tied to his ships mast and his crew’s ears plugged to avoid the siren’s song, but perhaps in reality it was the overwhelming and the awesome beauty of the cliffs that caused the ancient sailor to venture to close and crashed on its rocks.

 
Next: The Isle of Capri, resort of the Caesars.

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Pompeii: A City Frozen in Time

“Broad sheets of flame were lighting up many parts of Vesuvius; their light and brightness were the more vivid for the darkness of the night… it was daylight now elsewhere in the world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any night.”
“I cannot give you a more exact description of its appearance than by comparing to a pine tree; for it shot up to a great height in the form of a tall trunk, which spread out at the top as though into branches. …Occasionally it was brighter, occasionally darker and spotted, as it was either more or less filled with earth and cinders.”
Pliny the Younger, August 79 AD

Ron Current

was Ron Current

These are the writings of the young Roman Pliny the Younger as he described the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of the City of Pompeii as he watched from across the Bay of Naples. Pliny’s is the only recorded account of what occurred during those 24 hours of horror and suffering by the citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum in August of 79 AD.

Welcome to my first posting of 2018, with this post I’ll return to our 2015 trip to Italy.
When my wife and I were planning this trip visiting Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius was a must for me. Vesuvius and Pompeii had been on my bucket list ever since I saw the 1959 movie “The Last Days of Pompeii.” It was also that movie that gave me the deep interest in volcanos. Now, as our tour bus left Rome, I was excited that soon another one of my life’s dreams would be fulfilled. So as we motor down to one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites I’ll give you a brief history of Pompeii, and the Volcano that froze it in time.

A church setting above Pompeii

The church at the top of the photo is at ground level. This gives you an idea as how deep Pompeii was buried.

The Eruption
The story of Pompeii’s eventual fate actually began seventeen years before the 79 AD eruption. On February 5, 62 AD a massive earthquake struck the region around the Bay of Naples, where Pompeii and Herculaneum were located. This earthquake caused severe damage in both cities. What the citizens didn’t know was that the earthquake was caused by magma moving up deep inside of Mt. Vesuvius. Earthquakes were fairly common in Italy, and the large gray Mt. Vesuvius seemed to be nothing more than just another mountain. Since Vesuvius hadn’t erupted in centuries most had forgotten that it was a volcano. They also didn’t know that the low hills that ringed Vesuvius were the remains of a much larger prehistoric volcano, and that the 4,000 foot Vesuvius was actually a new cone that had built up in its caldera.

Street of Pomeii

Street in Pompeii

On the hot afternoon of August 24, 79 AD the citizens felt continued earthquakes and heard loud rumblings coming from the mountain. This was followed by flames leaping out of its summit craters, Vesuvius had two. Soon a large column of thick black smoke shot up, to what is believed to have been 20 miles into the stratosphere. This column of smoke had a particular shape described by Pliny the Younger as, ““I cannot give you a more exact description of its appearance than by comparing to a (Mediterranean) pine tree.” Today volcanologists refer to these types of eruptions as “Plinian,” after Pliny.
The citizens watched the mountain in amazement, but soon it began to rain down ash and pumice onto the city. At that point some decided to leave, but sadly many chose to stay and ride it out.

The Theater of Pompeii

The main 5,000 seat theater of Pompeii that is still used today for plays and concerts.

As the day wore on the eruptive blasts became more and more intense, and more and more ash rained down causing those that stayed to panic. They began collecting their belongings to leave, but for many it was too late. The heavy ash had now gotten so deep that the roofs of some of the homes began to collapse, and it was now so thick that it was hard to see and to breathe.
At around midnight the amount of materials, called tephra, within the bellowing cloud caused it to collapse releasing the first of the pyroclastic surges. Pyroclastic surges are a ground hugging fluidized mass of gas and rock that travels down the sides of  volcanos at several hundred miles per hour, and with temperatures of nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Via Stabiana of Pompeii

The Via Stabiana

The first surge engulfed the city of Herculaneum, but Pompeii didn’t stay lucky for long. Throughout the night new columns of tephra would shoot up out of the craters, and then collapse into another pyroclastic surge. Scientists estimate that there may have been as many as six pyroclastic surges that horrible night. Now Pompeii was also encased in super-heated mud and gases. This is what killed those that stayed too long, no one could have survived.

An unfortunate Roman of Vesuvius' wrath

The cast of a poor victim of Vesuvius’ wrath.

The Aftermath
As morning came Vesuvius had quieted, leaving behind an unearthly smoldering gray landscape. All traces of Pompeii and Herculaneum had been erased under one and a half millions tons of volcanic material. Although no one knows for sure how many were killed in the eruption it is believed to have been around 2,000, or 13% of the city’s population. Herculaneum suffered fewer losses due to its lesser population, and that most had left when the eruption started.
Over the weeks that followed some came back looking for family members to no avail. In most cases when a disaster hits people soon come back and rebuild, but not so with Pompeii and Herculaneum. So traumatic was this event, and the fact that the cities were buried under 14 to 17 feet of ash and pumice, Pompeii and Herculaneum were never rebuilt, and were soon forgotten.

The exercise yard of the Stabian Bath

The exercise yard of the Stabian Baths

Rediscovered
The popular story is that Pompeii lay hidden and unknown until the 18th century, however this is incorrect. Archaeologists have found signs of looters digging tunnels into the buried houses looking for buried riches. Officially Pompeii was lost for 1,500 years when it was rediscovered in 1599. But it wasn’t until 150 years later that any serious excavations began. This was done by the Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738.

The courtyard garden at the House of Memander

The courtyard garden of the House of Menander.

We arrive
Arriving at the archaeological site we exited our bus and followed our guide into the unearthed Roman city. As we entered I looked up to see houses sitting above us, this gave me a good perspective as to how deep Pompeii had been buried.

It still works! 2,000 year old drinking fountain

One of the 2,000 year old drinking fountains that still works.

As you walk amongst the ruins you get a true snapshot into the lives of first century Romans. As you walk along the streets you can see the worn groves made by chariots and wagons, take a drink from a Roman fountain, and see the temples where Romans worshiped their gods. Inside the houses are colorful frescos and walls paintings. This was the life of people in a great city more than 2,000 years ago.

The portrait of a poet on the House of Menander

The fresco of a seated poet in the House of Menander.

Protecting Pompeii
For over the 250 years Pompeii has been a major tourist destination of Italy. It is estimated that over 2.6 million visitors per year visit this ancient city. This has caused many problems connected to large volumes of tourists crowded  into such a fragile site. Hoping to reduce the number of visitors to Pompeii the governing body has expanded the use of entry tickets to include Herculaneum and the town of Stabiae, and Villa Poppaesa, which were also buried in the 79 AD eruption.
The masses of tourists is but one of the problems facing Pompeii’s future. For 2,000 years the volcanic materials of Mt. Vesuvius had protected the building and art of this ancient city from the elements. Sealing out air and moisture let its buried objects remain preserved. But once exposed they now became subject to wind, rain, light exposure, erosion, plants, and animals that’s been causing rapidly deterioration.

Supporting the walls

Supports holding up buildings walls

Many of the building at Pompeii have started to fall apart, or even collapse. I could see the efforts of trying to preserve this treasure, with houses and temples closed, and supports holding up walls. We can only hope that Pompeii can be saved.
All funding today is directed at trying to preserving this site. But it’s estimated that over 355 million US dollars is needed to just stabilize the two-thirds of the city that’s already been excavated. UNESCO in 2013 declared that if preservation work had not progressed Pompeii would be listed as in danger.

Me at the Forum of Pompeii with the Mountain in the background.

Standing in the Forum of Pompeii with “the Mountain” in the distance.

The Sleeping Giant
As I stood in the Forum of Pompeii looking at Vesuvius 5 miles in the distance I couldn’t help but think that modern Italians have fallen into the same complacent bliss with this fire mountain as did the ancient Romans of Pompeii. There are over 3 million people living within 20 miles of the mountain, and all are in danger from another eruption as big as the one in 79 AD. Volcanologists say that it’s not if, but when she awakes.
But because Vesuvius hasn’t stirred in recent history (the last eruption was in 1944) they don’t seem to fear her.  However Mt. Vesuvius is a proven killer, but yet she’s is a beautiful killer.

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, History of U-Haul Trailers, How famous buinesses got started, Lost and Found, Ridgefield Washington, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized

Where it all started: U-Haul

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

One of the things I love about traveling, ether overseas or around the United States, is finding little historical locations completely by accident and unexpectedly. As when passing through the town of LeRoy New York and finding that’s where Jell-O dessert was created.
This again happened on my wife’s and my visit to the State of Washington. After a day of sightseeing north of Vancouver Washington we decided to find a place to have dinner. What we felt like having was pizza but not from one of those pizza chains, something local. Using the app on our smartphone we found a pizzeria that sounded good only 3 miles off of I-5 in the town of Ridgefield. As we entered the city there on the welcome sign it read, “Welcome to Ridgefield, the birthplace of U-Haul.” We had struck obscure historical gold again.

Ridgefield sign

Photo by author

I believe that just about everyone in the United States has rented from U-Haul at least once, ether one of their trailers or trucks. The story of U-Haul is another one of entrepreneurial inspiration and hard work, but as with the story of McDonald’s and Jell-O it has a sad side also.
U-Haul’s beginnings is a simply tale of a couple needing something, not being able find it, then building a business to fulfill that need for others. The story of U-Haul begins in Los Angeles California in 1945 at the end of World War II when the newly discharged 29 year old Navy veteran Leonard “Sam” Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary, tried to rent a tailer to take their belongings north to Portland Oregon. What they found was that there were trailer rental companies in Los Angeles but they could only be used around that city, and they were also very small. Cramming what luggage they could, along with their small son, into their 1937 Ford they headed north. On their way to Portland they talked about the need for a trailer rental that people could use from city to city or even from state to state on a one way bases. Besides coming up with this business plan they also came up with a name for their company, U-Haul.
With a $5,000 investment Sam began building his trailers in the garage on Anna Mary’s parent’s home just outside of Ridgefield Washington. Shoen’s idea was to build the trailers and then find partnering gas stations, which would be franchised agents, to rent them, and splitting the rental fees. Within two weeks of them leaving Los Angeles the first of their 4’ X 7’ U-Haul trailers was sitting at a Mobil gas station on Interstate Street in Portland ready to be rented.

U-Haul truck

Photo by William Grimes from Wikipedia

Shoen came up with a great marketing plan; First he developed a unique look for his trailers by painting them bright orange. Secondly he identified all of his trailers with the name, U-Haul Co. And thirdly he included advertising messages on each trailer that read: “Trailer Rental,” and “$2.00 Per Day.” In addition to helping grow his U-Haul outlets he offered discounts to customers that signed up gas station agents at their destination.
All of Shoen’s hard work and marketing paid off; by the end of 1949 you could rent a U-Haul trailer one way to almost any city in the United States, and by 1955 you could rent one throughout Canada. By the end of 1959 the U-Haul trailer fleet numbered over 42,600 trailers across North America. In 1951 Shoen reorganized the U-Haul Trailer Rental Company under a new holding company named Associated Rental Companies of American (ARCOA). In 1967 Shoen moved the corporate offices from Portland Oregon to Phoenix Arizona.
Today U-Haul remains the largest do-it-yourself moving rental company in the country. Since Sam Shoen’s first trailers U-Haul has added to its lineup trucks, vans and large storage containers. Some of their franchises also offer self-storage units, package shipping supplies, and alternative-fuels for vehicles and backyard grills.

 

A success marred with tragedies
On May 4, 1957 Sam came home and expressed to Anna Mary how great things were going for them and U-Haul, life couldn’t have been better. That night tragedy struck, Anna died of a heart attack at only 34 years old, and Sam was left with six young children to care for. Doctors had told Anna not to have children because of her heart condition, but she and Sam couldn’t resist having a large family.
After Anna’s death Shoen married four more times, three ending in divorce. He would also father six more children with his other wives in addition to the six with Anna. Shoen made all of his children stockholders in ARCOA, leaving only 2% of the stock and control for himself. In 1986 two of his sons, Mark and Edward launched a successful takeover of the business to which Sam could do nothing about.
On October 4, 1999 Leonard Shoen was killed in Las Vegas Nevada when he ran his car into a telephone pole, he was 83 years old. The Cook County Coroner’s office ruled it a suicide.
Finding the site where Shoen built his first U-Haul trailers

 

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Main Street Ridgefield. Photo from Wikipedia. 

 

I went to the Ridgefield City’s website to see if they told the location of Anna’s parent’s ranch and the garage Sam used to build his trailers in. Under the heading of, “what to see in Ridgefield,” it showed the location and an address just north of the downtown. The problem we had was that the address on the website didn’t match up with the road that was indicated on the map. We even asked those working in the restaurant if they knew where it was, to no avail. After multiple times driving back and forth we finally gave up. But somewhere on one of those back country roads north of the town is a garage where U-Haul began.
Vinnie’s
Going back to why we went to Ridgefield to begin with, to find a local pizzeria. What we found was Vinnie’s. Vinnie’s is a small family restaurant specializing in simple Italian fare.
Salvatore Oliveri, a Sicilian restaurateur, began his journey across the United States from New York city bringing his family recipe for the perfect New York style pizza with him. The Oliveri family is still very much involved is maintaining the quality and service at their restaurants.

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Vinnie’s in Ridgefield. Photo by author

My wife and I started with a delicious Mediterranean salad, followed by their “Combination” pizza. The pizza was fantastic, and a true New York style in crust and sauce.
After we finished our server asked if we’d like dessert, we asked “what do you have?” She went down a list of six items ending with Cannoli and Tiramisu, of which she said, “Mama had just made them.” We had both, and they were to die for.
We like Vinnie’s so much that we made the trek out from Vancouver once again before we left.
They also have a location in Vancouver, but we liked the small town feel of their Ridgefield restaurant, so I highly recommend going there. And while you’re in Ridgefield see if you can find that garage, the true birthplace of U-Haul.

 

if you like this post please read my others on how businesses got started: McDonald’s Restaurants, Jell-O, and Starbucks.

 

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American history, Folgers Coffee, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, How famous buinesses got started, Nantucket, Seattle Washington, Starbucks Coffe, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington State

Where it all started: Starbucks

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

I can’t wait for the month of November to come around, because that’s when Starbucks begins to feature its Peppermint Mocha Latte. I’m sure that many of you have your own favorite Starbucks coffee or Teavana tea drink, and that’s because Starbucks is the largest, and most prolific, coffeehouse chain in the world.
Most every city, town, freeway rest area, and airport has at least one, and sometimes more, Starbucks Cafes. If you miss and happen to drive past one, don’t worry, they’ll be another coming up real soon.
We all know what Starbucks is, even if we don’t drink coffee. And most of us know that Starbucks got its start in Seattle Washington USA. But what you may not know is how it got it’s name, where their very first location really was, and what unique little historical coincidence does Starbucks have with another major coffee company.
In this post I will show you a photo of where the actual “first” Starbucks site was and tell you about that very unique little historical coincidence that even the founders of Starbucks may not have known.
So while we’re waiting in line for our coffee let me give you a short synopsis of Starbucks’ history.
It’s all about the name
The story of Starbucks begins with three University of San Francisco schoolmates: Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker. Although after graduation each had gone off to different careers (Baldwin was an English teacher, Siegl a history teacher, and Bowker a writer) they stayed in touch. They had long wanted to go into business together and were looking for just that right business to go into. They became inspired by the growing number of gourmet coffees coming onto the market, especially those from a coffee roasting entrepreneur named Alfred Peet, and his Peet’s Coffee in the San Francisco. They believed that a store selling high quality coffee beans and brewing equipment was  the type of business they were looking for.

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Pike Place Street and its Pike Place Market. Starbucks is in the building in the background on the right.

They learned the techniques of roasting and brewing coffee from the master, Peet himself. They put together a business plan, selected the city they wanted to open their store in, and where ready to go except for one thing, they didn’t have a name for their business that was a real grabber. They knew the name had to be easy to remember and able to attract the attention of consumers.
They started brainstorming for just that right name; two suggestions where, Cargo House and Pequod. None where good enough to excite them. Finally running out of ideas themselves they decided to get an opinion from someone on the outside.

Besides being a writer Gordon Bowker also owned a small adverting business with another friend, Terry Heckler. Heckler suggested that they find a name that started with the letters “s” and “t.” His theory was that names that start with those two letters sounded very powerful.
The friends had already decided to open their store in Seattle and figured that a local sounding name would be helpful. They began going through old mining maps of the Cascade Mountains looking for a name of an old mining town that started with “st”. Soon they found the town of Starbo, it was close, but no cigar.
Even though Starbo started with the right letters it didn’t have what they were looking for; however it did remind them of one of their other names, Pequod. Pequod was the name of the fictional whaling ship in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick, and the ships first mate was named, Starbuck. Bingo! It started with the right letters, was unique, easy to remember, and very powerful sounding. So the name for their new coffee company would be, Starbucks.
Where was the “original” Starbucks location?

The original first location of Starbuks

2000 Western Avenue, it was here that Starbucks opened its very first store in 1971

Near the Seattle waterfront they selected a corner storefront at 2000 Western Avenue; adjacent to Pike Place Street and its popular Pike Place Market. On March 31, 1971 the three friends finally fulfilled their dream and opened a business together.
This first Starbucks only sold roasted coffee beans and coffee brewing equipment, the only brewed coffee they served was as free samples to showcase their different coffee blends. But over time, due to customer requests, they started to add brewed coffee for sale, it was then that Starbucks became more of a coffee café instead of just a coffee bean store.

The original Starbucks store or is it

What many believe as the first Starbucks is actually its second location. They moved to 1912 Pike Place in 1976. It’s still open, with very long lines.

 

In 1976 they moved their coffee café down the street to 1912 Pike Place, where it still operates today.

To most visitors seeking the “original” first Starbucks they think it’s this Pike Place location, but in reality you need to walk a half block back from that location to where Pike Place intersects with Western Avenue and Virginia Street; it’s there at that corner, now occupied by another restaurant, that Starbucks began in March of 1971.

 

That assumed first location on Pike Place has an incredibly long line, all the time. So if you want a Starbucks coffee, and don’t want to stand in that very, very long line, may I suggest that you walk a block in the other direction and around the corner to where Pike Place meets 1st Avenue, there you’ll find a Starbucks with a much shorter line.
In 1984 the three friends bought out their old mentor’s Peet’s Coffee, and in 1987 the three founders sold their interests in Starbucks to one of their former managers, Howard Schultz, and in June of 1992 Starbucks went public on the New York Stock Exchange. Starbucks has also acquired Teavana teas, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Torefaziona Italia, Diedrich Coffee, and its Coffee People brand.
Today Starbucks has over 23,768 locations, and growing, worldwide. They’ve expanded their café’s offerings to include specialty food items and a wide range of hot and cold specialty coffee and tea drinks.
From three friends that wanted to go into business together, to finding the right name, the Starbucks Coffee Company is now the largest coffeehouse chain in the world, with revenues of over nineteen billions dollars.
What do Starbucks, Folgers Coffee and Nantucket Island, Massachusetts have in common?

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The main street of Nantucket Island, home of the Starbuck and Folger families.

To answer that question we need to go back to when those three founders were trying to come up with a name for their company. They chose the name of the first mate of the Whaling ship in Moby-Dick because it started with an “st” and sounded strong. But what they most likely didn’t realize is that Melville’s novel was based on the true story of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex, and its misadventure with a giant white Sperm whale. But what’s even more interesting is that Melville used the names of real Nantucket families in his story. One of those families used by Melville was of one of the original investors in the purchasing of Nantucket from the Indians, Starbuck.
Now here’s that unbelievable historical coincidence, another one of those Nantucket founding families was Folger. Yes, this is the same family whose descendants would move to San Francisco and start Folgers Coffee.

Two Nantucket families , both connected to coffee.

 

 

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