We awoke our usual time and trotted across the empty field to the host. The grass was wet from last night and we left footprints through the empty hookups; no danger of anyone skipping out when the spots are rented. Maybe that’s why I garnered so much attention, there wasn’t anyone else to look after. Enough said about last night’s experience. The office is actually the golf course club house and it turns out the campground was originally across the street. When an offer that couldn’t be refused was made, it moved over in conjunction with the links. We walked past the bath house but I already knew where it was from last night. One of the first things I do is check out the facilities, if they look like a Sunoco station on the New Jersey Turnpike I move along. These passed the test or I wouldn’t have been walking over to pay. There was a small pond with the requisite yellow paddleboats tied to shore and the clubhouse was homey and welcoming. I told the lady behind the counter I needed to settle for last night and then pay for an additional one as well. This caused a slight problem and needed the owners assistance, my check-in wasn’t normal as I camped the night before a reservation/registration was made. I almost expected a “security, we have a complicated order,” announcement to come over the loudspeaker, but it didn’t. My status was remedied quickly and everyone very pleasant. I tell them my story and they come out to see Mabel, it was love at first site as it usually is. In addition to the usual KOA literature, a paddle to swat the gnats was provided. I hope it helps.
I am set up for two days of stay and keep Mabel in the air conditioning instead of force marching her around the Andersonville NHS. Besides, it gives her some alone time to sit back and contemplate our journey up to this point. She always sneaks over to my mattress when I am gone, a small act of defiance. It would be fine in ordinary, non-molting conditions, but her shedding adds a layer of warmth to the blanket. Not something I need in this heat.
As I am speeding along, I see a sign for Lindbergh’s first solo flight, and make the turn as this is too much to pass up. I pull down the tight road leading to Souther Field, (no N) passing through what I think is tobacco and come to the commemorative plaque. He purchased a surplus WW1 trainer in May of 1923 and soloed on the departure. Pretty cool to think this is where he got his start and would eventually go on to cross the Atlantic, without the navigation aid of a Jindo mixed canine.
I find the park, much easier in the daylight and continue to the welcome center. A sign states they will be passing out eclipse glasses at noon, just what I was looking for at a National Historic Site! I’ll be honest, the eclipse doesn’t hold much interest for me. Yes, I dig space and aviation but the hype is a little too much. The welcome center holds the National POW museum and I pass through those waiting for the eclipse and start a self-guided tour. I think they did a comprehensive job of showing the history of POWs with a lot on the Vietnam War. The human perspective of the POW and the family left to wonder at home is shown through pictures and letters. There were some POWs in captivity for over seven years and I can’t imagine how their hope held out. As I am touring the announcement is made that eclipse glasses will be now handed out. The line stretches from the counter to inside the museum and I dodge noisy little kids, shouldn’t they be in school. The theatre will show a historical movie about life at the prison pulling from diary accounts of actual prisoners. It was very bleak for all those inside the walls as the basic necessities of life were missing. After the movie, I finish touring the museum, the eclipse glasses line now down to nothing, so I wander up to the counter and acquire a pair. Maybe someday they will be worth something, if not I’ll have them for the next eclipse in seven or so years.
I make my way out to the very large, and rolling grass field that was once the prison. The exterior walls as well as the dead line are marked with stakes showing the exact dimensions of the prison. There were a lot of men crowded and suffering inside these walls. Water was a muddy, disease ridden stream that barely flowed through the prison grounds. Food distribution was a major undertaking while shade was nonexistent and the men had little to use for building shelter. In one corner of the prison, a partial wall is recreated, the timbers spaced almost exactly as they were during the prison’s use.
Archaeologists excavated the area and identified the original timbers locations by changes in the soil. Small shelters, basically sticks with old blankets represented what the men used to survive. Without the walls, it looks like a big field and it’s difficult to visualize the horrors that were experienced here. Without knowing the history, it could be mistaken for a concert venue. I am having a hard time with the heat, even after coming out of the air conditioning and drinking plenty of water. How did these men manage to live through this?
The field is too big to walk, but I guess you could if it wasn’t so hot. Today walking holds little interest for me so I jump in my air-conditioned car to tour the field. There are plaques calling out significant areas and Providence Spring has a unique story. Eye witness accounts tell of lightning hitting this area and sending a plume of water into the sky, the fresh water eventually flowing through the camp. The hill above the spring holds a recreation of the gate used by all prisoners to enter the prison. It’s sturdy nature a firm message to the prisoners that they have little hope of survival. I meet a man from Texas as we drive the perimeter who is not a fan of Texas. This is new to me as I thought by living within the Texas border you, by necessity become Texas Proud. This man is an anomaly. He is making his way back to Texas after bringing his daughter to Charleston for medical school and is stopping at the parks along the way. A cool thing to do.
After circling the prison, I head to the cemetery to see the war graves. They are all in neat rows, and since it is a National Cemetery, burials still occur. All of those buried would have been unknown but to God if it wasn’t for a Dorence Atwater, a prisoner paroled to work in the hospital. He kept records of all who died and smuggled a copy out of the prison. After the war he had contacted Clara Barton as she was fielding requests from families wanting to know the status of loved ones. Together they identified many of the soldiers resting in the cemetery. I find prisoner #1 at the start of a row and wonder if he is to be considered lucky.
Peak eclipse coverage is soon approaching so I decide to stay and find a tree offering shade. There are others looking to take place in the folly, some erecting tents to stake their claim to prime viewing real estate. I talk with the man from Texas who mentions the glasses were being sold on an unofficial secondary market in Charleston. But then they are in the close to 100% coverage zone, we are closer to the low 90’s. I hold the glasses to my face and can see partial coverage of the sun which progresses each time I look through them. It is kind of cool, but I am waiting for darkness or a cooling of the air. After twenty minutes or so, the man from Texas says it is over, the sun is now winning the battle with the moon. I saw almost 90% coverage but remarkably, it didn’t get dark or cooler. Amazing that such a small sliver of the sun still provides so much light and heat. I am underwhelmed, and wouldn’t have known anything happened without the glasses. Maybe it is different in the 100% coverage zone. Maybe they got to do “Oohs” and “Ahhhs” like on the fourth of July, the day becoming nightlike. For me it was “Ho Hum”, and I’ll check it out on YouTube.
Mabel is waiting for me, nice and cool, and we walk around the campground. My screen tent providing a little relief from the bugs as the day legitimately becomes night. I do some writing and wait for news on which soccer team Hayden was chosen for. It’s hard being away during this time as I feel very detached even with texts and phone calls. I know how much Varsity means to him and have been wondering about the results for the last few days. Tonight will see the team announced with Varsity scrimmaging JV and the annual alumni game. I watch the time and not wanting to bother Sheri continue to wonder, until I can’t wait any longer and send the “What’s Up?” text. She replies Varsity and I raise my hands triumphantly in the air, only punching a few gnats on the way. Tonight, we sleep happy.