Archive | July, 2010

Natchez, Mississippi – Routh Cemetery

20 Jul

Behind the brick wall was a well kept cemetery of some age

In April my wife and I had a visitor from England and we decided that a day in Natchez would make a nice trip.  We didn’t realize though that we would spend so much time in Lorman, and in Rodney, and at Windsor Ruins.  Earlier in the day we even stumbled upon what appeared to be the last resting place for fleets of school buses.  All of these places begged to be photographed and appreciated and we happily obliged.

The time soon got away from us and by the time we arrived in Natchez it was getting late.  Our first stop in Natchez was the Natchez City Cemetery.  Again more photos were needed and more time spent but it was worth it.  The cemetery is a very pretty and historic place and worth a visit in itself.  However, a visit to an antebellum home is a necessity when in Natchez and the sun was going down.  Now there is not a shortage of antebellum homes in Natchez but there is a problem in selecting just one, for a picture, and hopefully before the sun goes completely down.

We headed for Dunleith.  It is very open there and good pictures can be taken from the street and as luck would have it there was an empty parking lot for a business that had closed for the day fairly close to the the house.  My wife opted to stay in the car but Sally and I headed toward the house.  As we approached the house I noticed a brick walled area on a small hill on the other side of the road.  It appeared that this may be a cemetery, which meant I had to check it out.  The pictures at Dunleith went quickly as the sun was already behind the beautiful columned house.  The westward light was on the brick walls across the street.  We made our approach in haste and then up the steps to what indeed turned out to be a cemetery.  This was a complete surprise to me.  A very nice cemetery it was too and the graves appeared to be fairly old as indicated by the wear on the tall stones and vaults.  One thing very special caught my eye and that was a large black dog statue that appeared to be sitting beside a larger tomb. It was near the rear of the cemetery and since it appeared to be a private or family cemetery we did not enter  All of this was a mystery so when I arrived home I went to work searching for clues to the mysterious cemetery that we had mysteriously stumbled upon.

Image taken from the front of Routh Cemetery

It didn’t take long to start unraveling the mysteries via the Internet.  It was the Routh Cemetery and as I studied along it became clear why the cemetery was at that location.  Dunleith was at one time named Routhville and it was the Routh family that first established Routhville/Dunleith.  Most of the inhabitants of the cemetery were the old time owners of Dunleith and their relatives. It was interesting to learn the history of the family and the house but I soon discovered there was a story about the dog statue in the cemetery.

The dog was a life size Newfoundland made of iron.  It was next to a tomb and one of the persons interred there was a man named Walton Pembroke Smith.  He was married to Mary Routh if I remember correctly and he was originally from Virginia.  As a child he fell into the Potomac River and was in danger of drowning.  His dog, a large Newfoundland, jumped in and saved him.  When Smith became an adult he described his beloved dog to a New York iron works.  The result was a treasured statue that resembled his well remembered dog.  After Smith died the family was left with the statue.  It was decided that the best thing to do with the statue was to place it in the family cemetery next to the vault of Mr. Smith.  Today the statue, of the dog that once saved Walton Smith’s life, now guards him in death.

A Friend in Life and a Friend in Death

Being an ignorant traveler can be a disaster, however, I do not believe I would have appreciated that cemetery as much had we not discovered it by accident.

There are many places with unknown stories all along the course of the Mississippi River.  I hope to post many more such “discovered places” in the future.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana – U.S.S. Kidd – Small Ship Big History

17 Jul

Moored in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River

The USS KIDD has been in Baton Rouge since 1982.  I have been on the ship several times – always bringing some kids to see an old war ship.  While on the ship I have thought about the men that served aboard the Kidd and as I have navigated the small doors and narrow halls I have thought how “tight” things must been for them while at sea.  I am fairly tall and somewhat claustrophobic and have become uncomfortable while on the ship.

My dad, a World War 2 veteran,  always told me that the service would get one over phobias  and everything else real quick.   Maybe the visitor center covers more but I haven’t even bothered to visit the facility and I had not discovered the rich history of the little ship. I have been apathetic.

The Kidd is not overly impressive as it sits near the Mississippi River levee in Baton Rouge. It is a destroyer.  It is a good thing that beauty contests are not held for ships. It is certainly not as glamorous as the Battleship USS Alabama located in Mobile, Alabama. Ships are more like boxers.  The destroyers are fast and meant to defend against a number of different threats. Destroyers are like lightweight boxers and battleships are like heavyweights.  The heavyweights pound and the lightweights are all over the place hitting and dodging.  The Kidd has a few small guns – not like the many massive ones on the Alabama. The USS Kidd is a Fletcher class destroyer (built in 1943) and about 175 of them were constructed during WW 2.  Only four remain today but three of those have been modernized leaving only one that still is basically the same that it was on V.J. Day in World War 2, and that one destroyer is the USS Kidd.

The Kidd is moored just North of downtown along the Baton Rouge riverfront. Since it’s home is now the Mississippi River a special mooring system was designed to account for the annual fluctuations in the Mississippi River water stages.  The river fluctuates over 40 feet a year and so part of the year the Kidd is floating and when the river is at lower stages the ship is held  in its one of a kind mooring, and is completely out of the water.  People can walk under the hull at these low water periods.

The Kidd is named after Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. Admiral Kidd was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor while he was serving aboard the USS Arizona.  The Kidd was launched on February 28, 1943 at the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Kearny, New Jersey.  It has been a valuable part of some of the most important times in American history. It has fought in battles, has rescued downed flyers and was even hit at mid ship by a kamikaze.  History is interesting for those that live it but for those that don’t there is always a list.  What follows is somewhat of a list.  This was obtained from the National Register for Historic Places Application.  By the way, the U.S.S. Kidd is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the summer of 1943, as a new ship, the Kidd served its shakedown duty guarding convoys in the Atlantic. As it’s need for duty pressed nearer it was assigned for duty in the Pacific in August of 1943. Within a month the Kidd was escorting aircraft carriers in their attack on the Wake Islands.

The Kidd participated in the attack on Rabaul and supported amphibious operations at Bougainville in an operation to dislodge over 60,000 Japanese troops from New Guinea during October of the same year. On November 11, 1943, South of Rabaul the Kidd was detached from the main strike force as it steamed to rescue downed pilots from the U.S.S. Essex.  The Kidd was alone during the rescue and was attacked by eight Japanese aircraft.  While rescuing two downed pilots the Kidd shot down three of the aircraft, left another trailing smoke and had hits on the others. Now mind you the ship was not only picking up downed flyers and shooting at enemy planes but it was also dodging bombs and torpedoes! There must have had some Louisiana boys in important positions on that ship if you ask me!  Commander Allan B. Roby was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in the action.

During the time of November 19 until December 9, 1943, the Kidd screened aircraft carriers during air attacks on Tarawa and the Gilbert Island Invasion. The Kidd was sent, away from the main force, to investigate possible submarine activity.  While away the crew spotted 15 low flying enemy bombers headed toward the large U.S. troopships carrying thousands of Marines.  The Kidd sounded the alarm and the fleet opened fire downing two bombers.  The remaining bombers were soon downed by air patrols.

In early 1944, from January 11 until February 28 the Kidd participated in the invasion of the Marshall Islands.  She not only screened heavy ships and bombarded Roi and Wokje but she was the first ship to follow minesweepers into the lagoon at Majuro. From March 20, 1944 until  April 14, 1944, the U.S.S. Kidd guarded airstrip construction at Emirau until completion.

The Kidd also supported the occupation of Atlape and Hollandia, New Guinea. She fought in the Marianas campaign on June 10, 1944. She bombarded Guam from July 8, 1944 until August 10, 1944, to prepare for invasion. During this time the Kidd rescued at total of 35 downed flyers.  She was also part of the invasion fleet of the Philippines in October of 1944.

It appears that the Kidd was at important duty and seeing some type of action just about every day in the Pacific but things were about to change.  The US was preparing to invade the main island of Japan and the first step, and test, was to be made at Okinawa.

I tend to think of Okinawa as the forgotten battle in World War 2. If the Japanese could have prevailed then there was a chance of a negotiated peace. It the allies prevailed then the next chapter was the invasion of Japan.  In looking for information about the battle there are all kinds of official and unofficial estimates about casualties and this and that.

Over 12,500 Americans died there and nearly 40,000 were wounded. Most of these did not make the evening news or the local newspapers.  No vigils were held when the first 1,000 killed or when the total reached 10,000.  One battle in World War 2 with more casualties than the number serving in Afghanistan today.  On the Japanese side things were a lot worse. About 110,00 killed and maybe 20,000 more sealed in caves by their own hands or forces. Don’t forget that civilians lived on Okinawa.  Maybe as many as 150,000 died. These casualties were not all inflicted by the Americans or the battles.  Over 1,000 locals were killed by the Japanese because of their dialect.  It was now or never and someone with a language difference might get friendly with the enemy.  If high end estimates are used then the Japanese military and civilian casualties are about the same as those inflicted by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We are still hearing debate about the Atomic bombs but little if anything is said about Okinawa.

The above figures and thoughts are mentioned to show the gravity of the situation and the determination with which the Japanese were willing to fight at Okinawa. It was into this mix that the USS Kidd would enter its most perilous times.

During the early phases of the battle the Kidd screened battleships, rescued downed flyers and participated in shore bombardments.  The Kidd was then assigned radar picket duty.  This was the most dangerous assigned for a destroyer.  A radar picket had to maintain its position, regardless.

A few days before the Kidd was to be assigned radar picket duty it had provided emergency protection for the USS Franklin, a carrier, that had been hit by two kamikazes.  The kamikaze flights were numerous at Okinawa.  Over 1,500 were used in seven waves in the early days of the battle.  On April 11, 1945 a low flying kamikaze took aim on the U.S.S. Kidd hitting her at mid ship.  Thirty eight men were killed and 55 wounded.  Despite the horror the Kidd was able to rejoin the task group.  While she was being repaired the war in the Pacific ended.

The Kidd went on to serve in Korea and in the Cold War but I have just covered the high points of her time in the Pacific in World War 2.  The Kidd was decommissioned for a final time in 1964.  In 1982 she was donated to the Louisiana Naval War Commission and was placed in Baton Rouge.

Much drama, death, excitement, emotion and history have taken place on the decks of the USS Kidd. It is not felt today as families stroll around and inside the ship.  She sits there on the river like most of the old World War 2 veterans now and doesn’t say much.  She knows the horrors of war but she is content to sit in silence.  We have a great witness to what our fellow countrymen have done for us.  Those on the Kidd helped to give us freedom.  She is the only WW 2 Fletcher Class Destroyer that can tell us her story.  We need to listen.

New Orleans, Louisiana – Streetcars – St. Charles Line

1 Jul

St. Charles Line in the neutral ground between Audubon Park and Tulane

New Orleans is noted for its historic streetcars and streetcar lines.  I have heard them rumble by and there is even a historic roar on the tracks as they pass.  In many places the neutral ground is filled with people jogging or walking.  The green of the neutral ground and the people project a park like setting in which the streetcars rumble up and down St. Charles Avenue and out Carrollton.

Passengers Getting in Streetcar on St. Charles

One of the first family stories that I remember about the St. Charles line happened when I was a baby.  Somehow I managed to kick my shoes off and they sailed out the window of the streetcar. This was not funny to my mother.  In fact, 50 years later, I am compelled to look for those shoes every time I am in New Orleans.

Later I worked for a stint in New Orleans and took the St, Charles line in to work everyday.  It was something that I always enjoyed .  The people, the cars and the atmosphere associated with the whole thing.  It was a part of history.

Historical Marker on Carrollton

On Carrollton Street there is a historic marker that says that the Carrollton Street Car line in the oldest continuous streetcar line in the U.S.  That is true but the Cable Car in San Francisco and the Trolley in New York both predate the New Orleans system by a few years.  Still New Orleans can claim that it was the second city in the nation to have a street car system and that it has the oldest continuously operated line in the world with the St. Charles and Carrollton line.

Historic Streetcar with Mahogany Seats Carries 52 Passengers

The cars in use today are the still “Arch Roof” type designed by Mr. Perley A. Thomas and built by the Brill and Perley Thomas Car Companies in 1922-24.  These double trunk cars are 47’8″ in width, and 11’4″ in height.  The exteriors retain their traditional (since 1899) colors of olive green and cream trim and iron red window and door frames.  The interiors are fitted with wooden seats that seat 52 passengers.  The cars can be operated in either direction with controls in the vestibule at each end of the car.  The cars have been completely refurbished by New Orleans Public Service Incorporated (NOPSI) and presently in good condition.

The Bed of the Tracks is Underground Putting the Rails at Ground Level

There is a “roadbed” for the tracks but it is all underground.  Therefore the tracks and neutral ground traversed by cars that were pulled by mules and then powered by steam and then by electricity still appear very much like they did originally.  In the September 30, 1835 issue of the New Orleans Bee the 25 cent ride was described.

“The route passes through a level and beautiful country; Very high, (About six feet above Canal Street), dry and arable lands – and affording one of the most pleasant drives in the Southern States.  It passes through the limits of an ancient forest of Live Oaks; Peculiarly interesting as being one of the very few of its kind now remaining in the South.”

St. Charles Line Cars on Canal Before Canal Line Cars Started the Route After Hurricane Katrina

In 1866, General P.G.T. Beauregard, C.S.A., and Associates leased the N.O. & C. R.R. Co., and Beauregard served as an innovative president for almost 10 years.  The constant improvements and increased efficiency under his management were reflected in the value of the Company’s stock which rose from $7.50 per share in 1865 to $110.00 per share by the early 1870s.

Car 900 Heads Uptown on the Historic St. Charles Line

For a 125 years streetcars have been an integral part of travel in New Orleans.  Today the St. Charles Line is the oldest, continuously operated street car line in the world today.  Since 1835, street railway cars have rounded Lee Circle and headed up St. Charles Avenue to Carrollton.  It is one of the last surviving examples of an era in which street railways were one of the major forms of public transit contributing greatly to the development of Urban America.