Tag: Mid-Atlantic

A Road Trip for the Hamilton Fan

A Road Trip for the Hamilton Fan

(This post was originally written July 2017; updated September 2020.)

Are you a fan of the wildly popular Broadway musical, Hamilton? I certainly am, so I figured it might be fun to do a Hamilton road trip visiting all of the places connected to this founding father. I’m listing them in chronological order; however, I will have a list at the end that organizes the sites by state, and a map to guide you in planning your Hamilton road trip.

In New York you can be a new man

In the first year or two after his arrival on the mainland, Alexander focused on his education. During this time, he came under the influence of William Livingston, a leading intellectual and revolutionary. Hamilton even lived at the Livingston residence for about a year. Livingston’s house, known as Liberty Hall, is now the Liberty Hall Museum of Union, NJ.

Hamilton entered King’s College in New York City (now Columbia University) in the autumn of 1773 as a private student and officially matriculated in May 1774. As a result, if you visit the college today, you will see Hamilton Hall and a large statue of Hamilton in front of it.

alexander hamilton road trip columbia university hall statue
Hamilton Hall at Columbia University (source)

After his education, Alexander Hamilton joined a New York volunteer militia company. He drilled with the company in the graveyard of nearby St. Paul’s Chapel.

You walked in and my heart went BOOM

Hamilton met Elizabeth Schuyler while stationed in Morristown, New Jersey in the winter of December 1779-March 1780.

They were married on December 14, 1780, at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York. The Schuyler Mansion still stands, and it is a New York State Historic Site. Between 1763 and 1804, this mansion was the site of military strategizing, political hobnobbing, elegant social affairs, and an active family life. You can tour the mansion for $5 (students and seniors $4 and children under 12 receive free admission).

alexander hamilton roadt trip albany ny schuyler mansion
The Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY (source)

The Battle of Yorktown … 1781 …

Hamilton was there, and you can be, too.

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (Virginia) tells the story of the nation’s founding, from the colonial period to the Revolution and beyond. Indoor galleries feature period artifacts, immersive environments, interactive exhibits and films. One film, “The Siege of Yorktown,” has a 180-degree surround screen and special effects. The museum also has outdoor living-history areas, in which visitors can witness artillery demonstrations, or drill with wooden muskets at a re-created Continental Army encampment.

alexander hamilton road trip american revolution museum yorktown
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (source)

After the war, I went back to New York

In July 1782, Hamilton passed the bar and set up law practice in Albany after six months of self-directed education. Unfortunately, I could not find any reference to the location of his law practice.

Back in Manhattan, in 1784, he founded the Bank of New York. The bank opened for business at 326 Pearl Street only a few months after the departure of British troops from American soil. Sadly, that building has not stood since 1881. It is interesting to note, however, that the Bank of New York became one of the longest operating banks in American history. It stayed in business for over 220 years before it merged with another bank in 2007.

I was chosen for the constitutional convention

The Annapolis Convention of September 1786, held at Mann’s Tavern, consisted of twelve delegates from five states. Hamilton played a major leadership role at the convention, where he drafted a resolution for a constitutional convention. As a result, he came one step closer to achieving his longtime desire to have a more powerful, financially independent federal government.

The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia the following year from May 25 to September 17. Delegates met at the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall. After months of work in defining and improving our fledgling nation’s government, they emerged with the Constitution of the United States of America.  Alexander Hamilton was the sole signer from the state of New York.  Today, you can see the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington DC.

alexander hamilton road trip independence hall philadelphia
Independence Hall, Philadelphia  (source)

The New York state Ratifying Convention took place in Poughkeepsie in June 1788. Most delegates to the ratifying convention were anti-Federalists, and they opposed ratification.  However, Hamilton led the Federalist minority in a tenacious and persevering fight for ratification. The original Dutchess County Courthouse where the convention was held later burned down and a new courthouse was built on the same site. Outside the courthouse, signs mark the historic site of the New York Ratifying Convention. Inside the US Post Office at the end of the street, you can view a large mural of the New York Ratification Convention.

We’ll get a little place in Harlem

Alexander Hamilton owned just one home in his lifetime: a Federal style mansion known as The Grange. Originally built on Hamilton’s 32-acre country estate in upper Manhattan, the home was moved twice, and is now located in St. Nicholas Park in Hamilton Heights, Manhattan. It is maintained by the National Park Service, who restored it to its original 1802 appearance.  The Park Service also provides guided tours daily.

alexander hamilton road trip grange new york
The Grange (source)

Weehawken, dawn.  Guns drawn.

After decades of insults and provocations between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, they met to duel at dawn on July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, NJ. The dueling grounds, located along the west bank of the Hudson River, have a historic marker and a bronze bust of Alexander Hamilton… in Hamilton Park, adjacent to Hamilton Street. Also on Hamilton Street is a large boulder upon which Alexander Hamilton rested after being shot.

Paralyzed by a bullet that struck his spine, Hamilton was ferried to the Greenwich Village home of his friend William Bayard Jr., who had been waiting on the dock. Hamilton died the following afternoon, July 12, at Bayard’s home. According to Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, “A large bloodstain soaked into the Bayard’s floor where Hamilton expired, and for many years the family refused to expunge this sacred spot.” The house currently at this address is not the one in which Hamilton passed away, but there is a marker to commemorate the place of Hamilton’s demise.

Hamilton’s tomb lies near the southern fence of Trinity churchyard in New York. Eliza is buried next to him, but she outlived him by 50 years.  Also buried in the cemetery are Angelica Schuyler Church and Hercules Mulligan.

alexander hamilton road trip grave site epitaph
Hamilton’s grave site at Trinity Church

Who tells your story

Numerous locations in the United States pay tribute to Alexander Hamilton and his legacy. To name a few:

Hamilton served as one of the first trustees of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy in Clinton, New York. After receiving a college charter in 1812, it became Hamilton College.

It isn’t mentioned in the play, but Alexander Hamilton envisioned using the Great Falls of the Passaic River in New Jersey to power new factories.  While Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton selected the site of the nation’s first planned industrial city. Then, in 1791, Hamilton helped found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures (SUM), a state-chartered private corporation to fulfill this vision. SUM founded the town of Paterson and today, there is a statue of Hamilton overlooking the falls in Paterson, New Jersey.

The United States Capitol in Washington DC has a statue of Hamilton in the southwest portion of its rotunda.

In 1790, Hamilton created the United States Revenue Cutter Service to help with customs enforcement. In 1915, the service combined with the United States Life Saving Service to form the United States Coast Guard.  So it’s no surprise that the main administration building of the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, is named Hamilton Hall.

In 1880, Hamilton’s son, John Church Hamilton, commissioned Carl Conrads to sculpt a granite statue of his father, now located in Central Park, New York City.

alexander hamilton road trip central park statue new york
The statue of Alexander Hamilton in Central Park, New York. (source)

In 1990, the U.S. Custom House in New York City was renamed after Alexander Hamilton.

The U.S. Army’s Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn is named after Hamilton.

In Washington, DC, the south terrace of the Treasury Building features a statue of Hamilton by James Earle Fraser, dedicated on May 17, 1923.

In Chicago, a thirteen-foot tall statue of Hamilton by sculptor John Angel was cast in 1939. Installation at Lincoln Park did not occur until 1952, however, due to issues with the accompanying structure. The statue underwent restoration work in 2016 and now gleams shiny gold.

A bronze sculpture of Hamilton titled The American Cape was unveiled at Journal Square in downtown Hamilton, Ohio, in October 2004. (That link will take you to a site with multiple images – it’s really striking, so check it out!)

The Road Trip

Because most of these sites are close together, I think it makes an ideal road trip.  The road trip itinerary below does not include all of the spots, just the most important ones.  I tried to keep it semi-practical, so you wouldn’t be driving an hour out of your way just to see a statue.

  1. Start at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia.  I would allow at least half a day for seeing that.  From there, head toward Washington DC. However, if you want to shorten your tip, you can make Washington your starting point – I included Yorktown because I’ve been to its sister site, the Jamestown Settlement, which is excellent.
  2. In Washington, go first to the Capitol building, then the National Archives, and then the US Treasury. From there, head to Philadelphia.
  3. In Philadelphia, tour Independence Hall.  Again, I would allow at least half a day for this.  Then head to New York City.
  4. In Manhattan, go to Trinity Church and look for the graves of Alexander & Eliza Hamilton, Hercules Mulligan, and Angelica Schuyler Church
  5. As you head north in New York, stop by 82 Jane Street, the site where Hamilton died at William Bayard’s home.
  6. Visit Central Park and look for the statue of Hamilton, located east of The Great Lawn between 82nd and 83rd Streets
  7. Go see Hamilton Hall at Columbia University.  Visit nearby St. Paul’s Chapel, where Hamilton and his fellow militiamen did drills in the cemetery.
  8. Make your last stop in the Big Apple the Hamilton Grange National Memorial.
  9. Leave New York and head to the Weehawken Dueling Grounds and Hamilton Memorial in Weehawken NJ. Be sure to look for the boulder.
  10. Visit the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson NJ and look for the statue of Hamilton there.
  11. Head north and stop in Poughkeepsie to see the Dutchess County Courthouse. While you’re there, you can also get a look at the mural in the nearby Post Office.
  12. Finally, you reach the end of the trip at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY, site of Alexander and Eliza’s wedding.

Of course, this is just a suggestion.  You could adapt this trip to include more sites, or shorten it by removing some. A full list of all the sites mentioned in this article, and their addresses, follows.

New Jersey

  • Liberty Hall Museum – 1003 Morris Avenue, Union NJ
  • Morristown, NJ – Hamilton was stationed there in 1779/1780
  • Weehawken, NJ – Hamilton Street dueling grounds
  • Paterson, NJ Statue – 72 McBride Ave ExtensionPaterson, NJ

New York

  • Columbia University – 1130 Amsterdam Avenue, New York NY
  • St. Paul’s Chapel – 1160 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY
  • Schuyler Mansion – 32 Catherine Street, Albany, NY
  • Dutchess County Courthouse – 10 Market St, Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Hamilton Grange National Memorial – 414 West 141st Street, New York, NY
  • William Bayard’s home Marker – 82 Jane Street, New York, NY
  • Trinity Churchyard Cemetery – Broadway and Wall Street, New York, NY
  • Hamilton College – 198 College Hill Rd, Clinton, NY
  • Central Park Statue – Mid-Park east of The Great Lawn between 82nd and 83rd Streets
  • Alexander Hamilton US Custom House – 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY
  • Fort Hamilton – 101st Street, Brooklyn, NY

Virginia

  • American Revolution Museum at Yorktown – 200 Water Street, Route 1020, Yorktown, VA

Maryland

  • Mann’s Tavern Marker – 162 Conduit St, Annapolis MD

Pennsylvania

  • Independence Hall – 520 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia

Washington, DC

  • National Archives – 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
  • Capitol Building – East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, DC
  • US Treasury Building – 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C.

Connecticut

  • US Coast Guard Academy – 31 Mohegan Ave, New London, CT

Thank you for joining me on this tour of Alexander Hamilton’s life!  Please let me know if you take a Hamilton road trip and/or visit any of these places.  I would love to hear what you thought of them!

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Hamilton US Road Trip
From Yuck to Yay! Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery

From Yuck to Yay! Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery

We recently visited Williamsburg, Virginia on an extended weekend. I’ve been to Williamsburg before, so for this trip, we were looking for something new to do. A friend suggested a wine tasting at Williamsburg Winery, and that sounded like fun, so we reserved our spots.

NB: I did not tell anyone at the winery that I was a travel blogger, nor did I receive any compensation or promotional consideration. This is my review of my experience, 100% honest.

The History of Williamsburg Winery

Situated just south of the city of Williamsburg, on a plot of land with rolling hills and verdant pastures, lies Williamsburg Winery. In a previous life, the property was a farm initially called “Archer’s Hope” after Gabriel Archer. Mr. Archer was the second in command on the Discovery, one of the three ships that brought English settlers to the area in 1607.

Surveying the North coast of the James River, Captain Archer had identified the site of the farm as his preferred spot for the landing. Captain John Smith overruled him feeling that the adjacent island would provide a more defendable site. In later years, Archer was a fierce critic of Captain John Smith and other leaders, even at one point calling for Smith’s execution.

In a nod to his connection with the land, Williamsburg Winery has named one of their wines after Archer: the Gabriel Archer Reserve. Also on the winery grounds, you can enjoy a meal at the Gabriel Archer Tavern, which offers gourmet fare at reasonable prices.

The Tour of Williamsburg Winery

We had a wonderful tour guide named (I believe) Jack, who had retired from his primary profession and worked part-time as a tour guide for the winery. It was easy to see that he enjoyed what he did, although he joked that he only did the tours as a way to give his wife a break from him being at home all the time.

Jack showed us some of the grapevines and talked about planting and harvesting techniques. He taught us about vertical shoot positioning – where the two main shoots or branches of the grapevine are spread out horizontally to the left and right of the stem to form a T. All other shoots grow up vertically from that point.

wine tasting at williamsburg winery - vertical shoot positioning of the grapevines

He told us that in the United States, Virginia is ranked #5 when it comes to wines (after California, Washington, Oregon, and New York).

Jack also explained the differences between how red wines and white wines are made. White grapes go straight to press, and the wine is made in steel tanks from the juice of the grapes. Red grapes are put in tanks and heated to 85 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3-7 days. This process, known as maceration, gives us the flavor, color, and the tannins that come from the grape skins.

Jack also showed us some large concrete eggs that reminded me a little too much of Mork from Ork. (Nanu Nanu. RIP, Robin Williams.) You can see examples of concrete wine eggs here. The shape of the vessel promotes constant movement, which gives the wine a richer flavor. Also, because concrete is somewhat porous, low levels of oxygen can enter through the walls of the egg and improve the flavor of the wine.

And of course, we got to tour the cellar, where we saw row after row of oak barrels. The wine ages in these barrels, and inevitably draws some of its flavor from the wood. The hints of vanilla and notes of spice that you see listed in a wine’s description? They come from the barrel.

wine tasting at williamsburg winery - oak barrels hold red wine in the cellar

Barrels, we learned, are quite expensive, and can only be used for a maximum of 4-5 years. With each use of an oak barrel, it loses some of its ability to add to the flavor of the wine. The amount of oxygen that transports through the wood of the barrel also diminishes over time.

The Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery

Finally, it was time to try some of the wines that we had learned so much about. We had booked the Reserve Tasting, which was a selection of nine different wines (3 white, 5 red, and 1 dessert), served with four types of cheese: Brie, Manchego, Maple Smoked Cheddar, and Stilton.

the reserve wine tasting at williamsburg winery included a selection of cheeses which complemented the wines

If, like me, you are rather inexperienced at wine tastings and/or every time you’ve tried wine you’ve thought, “Yuck. Why do people like this stuff so much?” then I’m going to let you in on a secret. A little bit of cheese can make a world of difference. Seriously!

Jack explained that when pairing wines with cheese, it is best to pair the milder tasting wines with milder cheeses, and strongly flavored wines with stronger cheeses. You do not want the wine to overpower the cheese, or vice versa.

Pouring red wine at a wine tasting at Williamsburg Winery

With each wine he poured, I took a small sip, and to be honest, I didn’t care for the wine very much. Then I took a bite of cheese, followed by another sip. That second sip of wine was amazing! This happened every single time, without exception.

They gave us a cheat sheet that listed the wines we were tasting, with descriptions of each and prices on the back. We sampled:

  • Wessex Hundred Viognier – 2018
  • Virginia Petit Manseng – 2018
  • Wessex Hundred Chardonnay – 2018
  • Merlot Reserve – 2017
  • Virginia Trianon (77% Cabernet Franc, 23% Petit Verdot) – 2017
  • Gabriel Archer Reserve (40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Petit Verdot, 20% Merlot) – 2017
  • Petit Verdot Reserve – 2017
  • Adagio (37% Tannat, 33% Petit Verdot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon) – 2017
  • Petit Fleur (515 Vidal Blanc, 25% Muscat, 24% Traminette) – 2018

My favorites were the first three (all white wines), the Merlot, and the Petit Fleur dessert wine because I tend to enjoy sweeter, not-so-dry wines.

The descriptions on the cheat sheet included phrases like “approachable” tannins, earthy character, and “well structured” oak. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what any of that means. But what I can tell you is that the Petit Fleur almost single handedly turned me into a wine aficionado. When I raised the glass to my nose and smelled the Petit Fleur, I said that it smelled like a summer meadow – sunshine and flowers. I enjoyed smelling it as much as I enjoyed drinking it!

In Summary

The Reserve Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery was a great experience! I learned so much about winemaking and discovered that I really can enjoy wine. Even a dry red wine! I’m so glad that we went – it’s really opened up a new world of possibilities for me where wine is concerned!

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To the End of the Earth: Point Lookout, Maryland

To the End of the Earth: Point Lookout, Maryland

On a narrow spit of land where the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River meet, in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, there is a small state park with a fascinating historical background. Here’s why you should visit the appropriately named Point Lookout.

view from Point Lookout, Maryland

The Early Days of Point Lookout

Captain John Smith (yes, the one whom Pocahontas saved when her father threatened to kill him) first set foot on Point Lookout in 1608. He explored the area and sent favorable reports back to the British crown, stating that in addition to abundant resources like fish and game. He also pointed out that the area could offer a strategic military position as well. (More on that later.) The first settlement in the state of Maryland occurred in 1634, in nearby St. Mary’s City.

The Turbulent Times of War – Part 1

The area got the name of Point Lookout during the War of 1812. The Chesapeake Bay was a major route for British war ships, based on nearby Tangier Island. Members of the local citizens’ militia in St. Mary’s County established a secret base at Point Lookout to monitor the movements of those war ships. They also established a secret relay system of night time post riders to send intelligence reports to President James Madison in Washington, DC.

The citizens’ militia secretly worked in the area for over a year, until the British came ashore, seized and occupied Point Lookout. Unfortunately, the militia was no match for the overwhelming number of seasoned British troops. American intelligence efforts in the region came to a grinding halt. This turn of events could have been a contributing factor to the invasion and burning of Washington DC by British troops in 1814.

The Turbulent Times of War – Part 2

In 1862, as the Civil War was ramping up, Point Lookout once again became a hub of activity. The area became a bustling port and temporary city of civilians and military personnel and numerous buildings. Point Lookout included a large Union Army hospital, an Army garrison, and a prisoner of war camp.

Maryland Historical Marker - Point Lookout Prisoner of War Camp - Civil War

The conditions for the Confederate prisoners were not ideal. Designed to hold 10,000, the POW camp often held more than twice that amount after the Union and Confederate armies stopped exchanging prisoners. In some cases, there were sixteen men to a tent. Point Lookout was the largest Union-run prison camp and its reputation was one of the worst. About eight percent of the Confederate prisoners died before the end of the war. That may seem like a lot, but by comparison, it was less than half the mortality rate for the men fighting in the war.

In an interesting twist of fate, some African-American soldiers of the U.S.C.T. Regiments (United States Colored Troops) served in some federal Army units that rotated from the front to serve as guards at Point Lookout. In some cases, these soldiers had occasion to guard their former masters, which led to instances of brutality, or of kindness, depending on the nature of their relationship prior to the war.

What Remains at Point Lookout Today

Today, visitors to Point Lookout can visit a memorial honoring the Confederate prisoners of war. A mass grave on the former grounds of the POW camp holds the bodies of the 3,384 Confederate prisoners of war who died there. The grave is marked by a pillar inscribed at its base with the names of the dead. A privately funded Confederate Memorial Park occupies a three-acre site next to the cemetery. Although a US flag is flown in front of the memorial, there is also a Confederate flag on a flagpole just outside the gates of the grounds, in memory of the soldiers who gave their lives for the Confederacy.

Privately owned & maintained confederate soldier  memorial at Point Lookout Maryland

There is a sign at the memorial explaining why they chose to fly the Confederate flag.

Please note that I am merely reporting on the use of the Confederate flag at this privately owned and maintained memorial. I am not in any way endorsing or condoning it.

As one might expect in a geographical location like Point Lookout, there is also a lighthouse, which was built in 1830 and utilized until 1966. When we visited, the lighthouse was closed for renovations, but I was still able to get a photo from a distance.

Lighthouse at Point Lookout, Maryland

As a recreational area, the Point Lookout State Park offers visitors a wide range of activities. There is a fishing pier, as well as a beach area with grills, picnic tables and a playground. The park includes a designated pet-friendly beach, swimming, a water trail, wooded campsites and cabins. Deer and waterfowl hunting are permitted in designated park areas at specific times of year.

The Point Lookout fishing pier. Image via Flickr by Elvert Barnes.

Additionally, the park’s nature center and museum are located within the campground. The Museum and Nature Center are open May through October, Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Center offers programs in nature and Civil War history.

Finally, the park holds some outstanding events throughout the year. Contact the park for a current schedule of historic programs. Popular annual festivities include Civil War era demonstrations and re-enactments.

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A Philadelphia Ghost Tour

A Philadelphia Ghost Tour

Last month, my daughter and three of her friends went to an AJR concert in Philadelphia. Hubs and I provided the transportation, so we had to figure out something to do while they were at the show. Luckily, I happened upon a Philadelphia ghost tour that sounded like it might be fun.

We made our reservation, dropped off the girls, and headed to the meeting place for the start of our tour. Our guide issued us glow sticks, provided a brief introduction, and away we went!

The Ghost of Carpenters’ Hall

Our first stop was Carpenters’ Hall (320 Chestnut Street), built in 1775 for the Carpenters’ Company for the City and County of Philadelphia, the oldest craft guild in the country, and still in existence today. This building was the meeting site of the first Continental Congress in 1774, and the Pennsylvania Provincial Conference in 1776. It was at the latter meeting that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was officially established and declared independent from British rule.

Philadelphia ghost tour - Carpenters Hall

As for the ghost, the story goes that at one point in time, the attic floor of Carpenters’ Hall consisted of apartments rented to members of the guild. One of the residents, Tom Cunningham, died in his apartment in late 1879 from the yellow fever epidemic. (Yellow fever, as it turns out, was quite a big deal in Philly. More on that later.) After Cunningham’s death, other residents stated that they heard footsteps stomping down the hallway and loud banging noises from Cunningham’s old room.

Bishop White House

The Bishop White house (309 Walnut Street) was home to the Rev. Dr. William White, the first Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania and chaplain to the Second Constitutional Convention and the U.S. Senate. It was built in 1787, and was one of the first homes to have an indoor “necessary,” or toilet. While that sounds like a luxury of which most would be envious back in the day, it didn’t turn out that way. Servants emptied the waste from the toilets into Dock Creek… the waters of which flowed in back of the Bishop’s house. The waters from that stream were used, among other things, in food preparation for the White family. Five of the Bishop’s eight children contracted dysentery and died from the disease. (This is what our tour guide told us. Other accounts say that the deaths were due to yellow fever.)

City Tavern

City Tavern - one of the most haunted sites on the Philadelphia ghost tour

Once called the “most genteel tavern in America” by founding father John Adams, Philadelphia’s City Tavern ( 138 S 2nd Street) boasts two ghosts of legend. The first is that of a waiter who unknowingly stepped into the line of fire at a duel on the tavern grounds around 1790. Some people have reported seeing his ghost fall to the ground as if shot. This spectre also purportedly moves table settings around and makes silverware clatter.

The second ghost is that of a bride-to-be who was upstairs with her attendants preparing for the wedding. During the excitement, a candle set a curtain on fire and the flame quickly engulfed the room, then spread to the rest of the building. The bride died in that 1834 fire which also destroyed part of the building. Visitors report seeing a ghostly woman dressed in her wedding gown with a long train.

The Merchants’ Exchange

The Merchants' Exchange - a haunted site on the Philadelphia Ghost Tour.

This is probably the most beautiful building we saw on our Philadelphia ghost tour. The Merchants’ Exchange (143 S 3rd Street) was built in the 1830s and is the oldest existing stock exchange building in the United States. The ghosts at this location are those of Harold Thorn, a wealthy but ill-tempered business man, and Jack Osteen (no relation to Joel as far as I know), a blind beggar.

Jack hung around outside the Merchants’ Exchange building, hoping to get some money from a philanthropic business men. While there, he would often spend time with the horses tethered outside the building, petting them and, when he was able, feeding them apples.

One particular day in 1834, Thorn lost a lot of money inside the Merchants’ Exchange, putting him in a fouler mood than usual. As he stormed out, he bumped into Jack. The bling man stumbled to regain his footing and as a result, inadvertently stepped on Thorn’s shoes. Thorn went into a rage and began pommeling Jack with his fashionable walking stick. When his rage subsided, Jack was dead.

In the silence following the attack, one of the horses let out an unearthly shriek, reared up on its hind legs, and struck Thorn with its hooves. The blow killed him. Today people say that they sometimes see the figure of Thorn and a horse re-enacting the scene outside the Merchants’ Exchange building.

Physick House

The entrance to the Physick House - one of the haunted sights on the Philadelphia ghost tour.

Built in 1786, the Hill-Keith-Physick house (321 S. Fourth Street) was once owned by Philip Physick, the father of american surgery. One of the foremost surgeons of the time, Physick was one of the few doctors who stayed in Philadelphia to care for the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. His many patients included Dolley Madison and Chief Justice John Marshall.

The story goes that Physick hired men to dig up bodies from the grave yard and bring them back to his house, where he performed autopsies to study anatomy and discover their cause of death. Once he had finished with them, he buried the bodies in his back yard. The ghosts at the Physick House are supposed to be those of his dead subjects, robbed of their final resting place.

St. Peters Episcopal Church

In 1793, a group of Iroquois chief tribe chiefs traveled to Philadelphia to sign a peace treaty with George Washington. The city was going through a smallpox epidemic at the time. Unfortunately, all of the visiting chiefs contracted the disease and died. Washington buried them at St. Peter’s Church (3rd & Pine Streets) with military honors.

Today, their ghosts are said to haunt the area because they were buried in a location that was not consecrated for the Iroquois. And because their graves are unmarked, the bodies can’t be moved — no one knows for certain exactly where they are buried.

Old Pine Street Church

Old Pine St. Church & Cemetery (412 Pine Street) – also known as the cemetery that Nicholas Cage ran through in National Treasure – was occupied by the British Army from September 1777 – June 1778. The British soldiers stripped the church of its pews, and used the church building as a stable and hospital. They also used the cemetery as a target range to improve their marksmanship.

It is said that the spirits of those British soldiers have been condemned to remain there as an eternal punishment, and that the fancy fence that surrounds the cemetery is there to keep them locked in.

Washington Square Park

William Penn laid out five public squares in the 1680s to keep the green in his “greene Countrie Towne” of Philadelphia. One of those public squares is Washington Square, and during the Revolutionary War, it was a mass burial ground. It served as a mass burial site again during the yellow fever epidemic that struck Philadelphia in 1793.

Grave robbers were very common at that time, so Quaker nurses wearing black cloaks would patrol the area to keep the graves undisturbed. They say that today, the spirit of one such nurse named Leah still walks through the square.

Congress Hall

Next to the imposing and important Independence Hall is a smaller building called Congress Hall (6th & Chestnut Streets). The United States Senate and House of Representatives met at Congress Hall while Philadelphia was the capital of the United States, from 1790 to 1800. President George Washington took his second oath of office in this building, and John Adams’ inauguration also took place here.

Congress Hall, allegedly haunted by President John Adams - part of the Philadelphia ghost tour.

They say that the ghosts of some of America’s early legislators inhabit the building, including President John Adams. The story goes that President Adams’ spirit regularly knocks the paintings on the walls so they hang crookedly.

How to Take a Philadelphia Ghost Tour

The ghost tour we enjoyed was the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour. It lasts about 75 minutes, and takes you to 20 different allegedly haunted sites in the historic center of Philadelphia. You can also buy a ghost tour combo ticket with a Constitutional Walking Tour. 

While we did not see (or feel the presence of) any ghosts, we did enjoy seeing some of the historic buildings and learning about the history of the city. I would recommend taking this tour if you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly evening activity.

Please note that I paid for our tickets. Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour was not aware that I was a blogger, nor that I would be writing a review of my experience.

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A Review of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, NYC

A Review of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, NYC

On our most recent trip to New York, we had a few hours to kill while my daughter and her friend went to see Dear Evan Hansen. There were any number of fun things we could have done – Gulliver’s Gate, Spyscape, Madame Tussaud’s, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty… I could go on and on. But rather than do something fun, we decided to do something important instead: The 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

I’ve wanted (and simultaneously not wanted) to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum ever since it opened in 2014. However, our trips to NYC usually left us with not enough time to fit it in. This time, we made it a priority.

Entering the 9/11 Memorial Plaza

As we approached the World Trade Center site, the first thing we saw was the new building – One World Trade Center. It was beautiful, not just in its appearance but also in what it represented: the determination to persevere after tragedy.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - One World Trade Center

Impressive, isn’t it? It stands (including the spire) at 1776 feet tall,
the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and sixth tallest in the world. The height is not a coincidence; it was chosen to symbolize the independent spirit of America.

The new building is located on the site of the former 6 World Trade Center, heavily damaged in the 2001 attacks.

A one acre pool with the largest man-made waterfalls in the United States now stands on each footprint of the Twin Towers. Known collectively as Reflecting Absence, they symbolize both the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. The waterfalls drown out the sounds of the city, making this an ideal space for contemplation. A bronze ledge surrounding each pool bears the names of 2983 people – those who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks and the previous World Trade Center bombing of 1993.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - the names of those who lost their lives surround the pools where the towers once stood.

The museum is housed in a strange looking building meant to resemble a partially collapsed building. Mostly glass, both clear and reflective, configured at odd angles.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - the pavilion over the museum was meant to resemble a partially collapsed building.

Inside the 9/11 Museum

Once you enter the museum and pass through security, you start to get an inkling of (or remember) the enormity of the events that day. One of the first things we saw was the flag that was raised at Ground Zero.

On the day of the attacks, a firefighter saw the flag flying on a yacht in the nearby Hudson River basin. He cut the yardarm off the boat and took it to an evacuation site at Ground Zero. There, he and two other firefighters raised it over the rubble. A reporter captured the moment and from that point forward, it became an iconic and enduring image.

To so many people, the three firefighters raising this flag on September 11, 2001, symbolized the resilience of our nation. It also seemed an act of defiance to our attackers – telling them, in effect, “You cannot break us.”

After viewing the flag, we proceeded downstairs into the dark exhibit halls. The farther down we went, the quieter it got. We came upon a map of the mid-Atlantic region, or home, to me. It showed the location of the four terrorist-hijacked airplanes at the time of their crashes. The following two-paragraph summary accompanied the map, with September 11, 2001 spelled out in big letters overhead.

It struck me as odd that such large scale destruction and loss of life could be so easily summed up.

We also saw the rough slurry wall:

A section of the slurry wall left exposed at the 9/11 memorial and museum in NYC.

If, like me, you have no idea what a slurry wall is, or why it would be significant in this place, allow me to share what I have since learned. A slurry wall is a reinforced concrete wall in areas of soft earth that are close to open water.  Its purpose is to keep water out and support the building from beneath. The building above the slurry wall (one of the Twin Towers) collapsed like a house of cards. When it did, the slurry wall could have caved in, resulting in a flooded lower Manhattan. But, thankfully, the wall held.

Of Tears and Twisted Metal

As we wandered through the space, we saw huge pieces of twisted metal hanging against the concrete walls. In a different setting, they could have been works of modern art. But here, they were a grim reminder of the force of destruction and lives lost. When destruction twists a steel beam into a grotesque shape, how could something as fragile as a human body possibly survive?

A twisted piece of metal from the Twin Towers on display at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Looking at these items in person put me in a contemplative, somber mood. It wasn’t until I emerged on a balcony overlooking the lower level, however, that I began to tear up and cry.

"No Day Shall Erase You from the Memory of Time" wall at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

Amid tiles in various shades of blue, Virgil’s quote from The Aeneid overwhelmed me with emotion. “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Not only is it a beautiful promise to remember the victims of the attacks, it is a memorial in itself. The letters were made from World Trade Center steel. The sign describing the display said:

“Originally trained as a blacksmith, [New Mexico artist Tom] Joyce was invited to harness the transformative process that occurs when iron is touched by fire. He took wounded, remnant steel – made of iron and carbon – and forged it, by heating and folding, into letters of beauty. The result reminds us that Virgil’s words are not just a statement; they are a promise.”

The Exhibition and Education Level

We went down to the lower level and saw, among other things, a portion of the “Survivors’ Staircase,” which came from an evacuation route used by many people on the day of the attacks. In the months and years following September 11, the staircase was the last remaining structure above ground level.

We also saw the remains of the box columns that provided structural support for the World Trade Center buildings. We saw part of a radio/TV antenna and a crumpled piece of shiny metal bearing an inscription from the World Trade Center Dedication Day in 1973. But it wasn’t until we turned and I saw the fire truck from Ladder Company 3 that I gasped.

The twisted metal of a fire truck from Ladder Company 3 at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

Fire trucks, as any preschooler can tell you, are big, magnificent machines. They are red and shiny, loud and fast. They are strong, just like the men who ride in them. In a word, they are invincible.

Yet the fire truck before me had none of those characteristics. Its ladder more closely resembled the plastic-coated wire tie that you find on a loaf of bread. Bent doors on the side of the truck hung at odd angles, like an injured athlete’s broken arm.

A volunteer stood nearby to tell us the story of the truck and its captain. The truck, she explained, carried eleven responders, some of whom had just gone off duty after completing overnight shifts, to the WTC site. It was 8:46 when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. By 9:21, the members of Ladder Company 3 had reached the 35th floor.

In his last recorded transmission, Ladder Company 3 Captain Patrick “Paddy” Brown stated, “We are still heading up”. When the building collapsed a little over an hour later, all eleven members of the company perished.

The Historical Exhibition

The guide finished by telling us that we could see the historical exhibit across from the fire engine. No photos are allowed in that part of the museum, so I have none to share. But I will do my best to tell you about it because it was the most thorough and interesting part of the museum.

The exhibit made use of video clips that looped on continuous playback on monitors. There we saw Matt Lauer reporting on the attacks from the Today Show set. We saw footage of the plane hitting the building. We saw footage of the towers collapsing. And hidden away in an alcove so sensitive visitors would not have to see it if they did not want to, we even saw the clips of people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers to avoid the slow and inevitable death they were facing inside the building.

It was almost too much to bear. Because instead of sitting in my office watching the events of the day unfold real time with my coworkers as I did on 9/11, this time I was immersed in it. I was a spectator, surrounded by the chaos and confusion and the fear and the overwhelming sadness of it all. And rather than having time to slowly let it all sink in, I was witnessing it all at once, as if time had somehow sped up. It was brutal.

The historical exhibit also examined what happened before the attacks. I saw redacted copies of government correspondence suggesting that an attack was imminent, and urging action in response. It made me angry. Why didn’t anyone take it seriously?

And I saw exhibits on what happened after the attack. The clean up, the search for people who were missing, the nation coming together united as it has never done since. And, eventually, the re-building, and the hope for the future.

In Memoriam

Moving on from the historical exhibit to a quiet, somber, and dimly lit room, you can see portraits of all of the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and in the 1993 World Trade Center attack: men and women. Latino and African-American, Asian and White. Young and old and middle aged. People who earned six figures and those who earned minimum wage. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist. Death is the great equalizer.

I looked for Juan Garcia’s photo. I never knew him, but I wrote about him on my old mommy blog as part of a 5 year anniversary blogger project. Seeing his picture on the wall made me feel sad. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who lost someone they knew personally.

In Conclusion

If you have an opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, you should. It is important to remind ourselves of how good this country can be when we stand united. It is equally important to remind ourselves of the ripple effect that senseless acts of violence can have on society. So go. And when you do, please come back here and tell me how it affected you. I’d love to hear about your experience. Maybe the more we talk about, the more we can do to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

9/11 Memorial and Museum - pinnable image
Ocean View, Delaware – Where You Can Enjoy Dinner on a Train

Ocean View, Delaware – Where You Can Enjoy Dinner on a Train

As previously mentioned here, my husband loves trains. Not in the sense of being a collector/builder of model railroads. The idea of traveling by train just fascinates him. And we’ve done it a few times as a result. So for Valentine’s Day this year, I suggested that we check out a restaurant called The Salted Rim in Ocean View, Delaware. The Salted Rim frequently has themed dinners in their restored rail cars… and I just knew Hubs would love to have dinner on a train!

Delaware?

Yes, Delaware! Don’t say that you would never go there, because the fact of the matter is that there are loads of beautiful beaches in the First State. The Atlantic coastline offers a variety of destinations, from Lewes and Rehoboth to Dewey, Bethany and Fenwick. All have their own special niche, and all are 30 minutes or less from Ocean View.

The Salted Rim

The Salted Rim in Ocean View Delaware offers themed dinner on a train events that are fun for the whole family.

So, if you’re visiting the Delaware beaches, you should definitely check out The Salted Rim. Before I tell you about their wonderful dinner on a train events, you should know that they offer a lot more. Happy Hour specials on drinks and food run Sunday-Friday from 11-7 PM and 3-7 PM on Saturday.

Here are the ongoing daily specials (as of this writing – they are subject to change):

  • MONDAY – All you can eat tacos 4-9 PM, plus Bingo at 6 PM
  • TUESDAY – Karaoke starting at 8 PM
  • WEDNESDAY – Domestic beers $2.50, Mingo (music bingo) at 7 PM
  • THURSDAY – Fried Grouper Sandwich $5.99 11 AM-4PM, Trivia at 7 PM
  • FRIDAY – 2 Shrimp Tacos for $5.99 11 AM-4PM, DJ providing music

Their menu is as diverse as the entertainment. From seafood to Mexican fare, plus a great selection of appetizers, burgers, and sandwiches, the food is fresh and tasty. The service at the Salted Rim is also excellent.

Dinner on a Train

There are two train cars located adjacent to the restaurant proper. Their themed events offer a breakfast or dinner buffet, depending on the time. The breakfast offers guests scrambled eggs, pancakes, chocolate chip pancakes, French toast, breakfast potatoes, sausage, ham, and rolls. The lunch/dinner option includes salad, mac & cheese, scalloped potatoes, tater tots, chicken nuggets (I’m told they are very similar to Chick-fil-A nuggets!), corn, BBQ chicken legs, pasta & marinara sauce, fresh fish in Lemon Butter, and dinner rolls.

Prices are $12.99 for children ages 1-7, $17.99 for children ages 8-12, and $26.99 for ages 13 and up.

Frozen

Young guests are invited to dress up as their favorite princess or other character (or just come in their pajamas) and enter the magical, frozen world of Elsa, Anna and Olaf.

"Frozen" princesses Elsa & Anna  are the stars of the Frozen theme dinner on a train at the Salted Rim in Ocean View DE

Inside the rail cars, decorated for the event in shades of white and blue and an abundance of snowflakes, guests can watch the movie on a large screen television and enjoy the buffet meal. There will be a special visit from the Princesses as guests sing-a-long to their favorite songs from the movie.

Polar Express

Decorated for Christmas - guests can experience a Polar Express dinner on a train during the holidays at the Salted Room in Ocean View DE

Offered around the holidays, the Salted Rim’s Polar Express meal is a must for any young fans of the movie or book. Just like the kids in the story, they should attend in their pajamas! Many families use the occasion to take photos with the decorated trains in the background, and then use the photo for their Christmas card greetings.

Upon arrival, guests check in with Mrs. Claus, who issues golden tickets to the diners. Then, when the train is ready to board, Mrs. Claus will make the announcement and all families will walk a short distance down the deck to the train entrance.

The Conductor punches the tickets of guests on the Salted Rim's Polar Express dinner on a train in Ocean View DE

At the entrance to the train car, Mr. Conductor greets the guests and punches the golden tickets just like in the movie. Then guests meet the Elves, who are the servers, and they escort to your assigned seat. After all guests are seated, the buffet dinner begins.

Once everyone has their food, the movie begins. During the rousing hot chocolate scene in the movie, the guests receive hot chocolate and cookies. After that, families are free to just sit back and enjoy the movie.

At a certain point, the Elves pause the movie to announce a special visitor. Direct from the North Pole, it’s Santa Claus! Santa visits with each child, asks them what they want for Christmas, and gives them a special gift. He poses for pictures with the children, and the Elves are happy to help if the whole family wants to be in the picture with Santa.

The movie resumes after Santa’s visit and everyone claps as the movie ends! It is truly magical! They even have a mailbox for children to mail their letters to Santa!

Harry Potter

The latest offering from the Salted Rim is dinner on a train that might resemble the Hogwarts Express. Guests can arrive in Hogwarts uniform or other costume (optional). The may also bring their wands, but broomsticks must park in the front of the train.

Harry Potter fans can enjoy a Hogwarts theme dinner on a train at the Salted Rim in Ocean View DE

In this magical world, guests are sorted into Gyffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff as you watch one of the eight Harry Potter movies. Pick your favorite, then sit back and watch Harry, Ron and Hermoine learn how to battle the evil forces of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Movies will be shown on large screen TV’s in authentic train cars decorated in true Harry Potter style.

You will enjoy a first course of a garden salad served family style to your table, an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet and a butter beer cupcake dessert served by Hogwarts characters.

Holiday Specials

The Salted Rim also offers fine dining specials for holiday meals. Hubs and I went there for Valentine’s Day dinner this year, and it was a great experience!

Hearts and roses and rhinestones adornted the rail cars:

The Salted Rim offers guests the opportunity to celebrate holidays by having a romantic dinner on a train.
Couples can enjoy a Valentine's Dinner on a train at the Salted Rim in Ocean View, Delaware.

I don’t know if you can see it in the photo above, but they had some special Valentine’s Day drink specials on the menu. They all sounded really good, but the one that really caught my eye was “Love at First Bite,” which was described as a “strawberry rattle snake margarita.” I love margaritas, and I love strawberry margaritas. So I ordered it.

Isn’t it pretty? Well, let me tell you – looks can be deceiving! My mouth burned from the very first sip, because I neglected to ask what the rattlesnake reference was for. After the initial sip, when I realized that the rim was coated in Old Bay seasoning, I drank the rest through a straw in an effort to cool the burning sensation on my lips and tongue. Big mistake. It turns out that the tequila used in this particular margarita was infused with some really hot pepper. I can’t remember if it was jalapeno or habanero – either way, it was too much for me! But then again, I think Chipotle is too spicy. Your mileage may vary.

Needless to say, that’s the last time I will order a drink without finding out what’s in it! Fortunately, the food was much more to my liking. I ordered Chicken Chesapeake and Hubs had Grouper stuffed with crab imperial, both served with some yummy mashed potatoes and a vegetable. Then we split a creamy, decadent Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake for dessert.

It was a great evening, and we couldn’t have been more pleased. The next time you’re in the Delaware beaches area, make sure you check out the Salted Rim and see if you can have dinner on a train!

NOTE: I have not received any compensation for this article. My husband and I paid for our own meals.

The Best Place for Lunch in Easton, Maryland

The Best Place for Lunch in Easton, Maryland

Back before Christmas, I met a friend in Easton, Maryland to spend the afternoon catching up. It was a welcome time of relaxation in an otherwise hectic December. We enjoyed some coffee, strolled through the town admiring the various shops and historic buildings, and then we decided to have some lunch.

We stopped at a place called Sunflowers and Greens, and it was nothing short of amazing. What follows is my review of the restaurant. To be clear, I walked in off the street with no knowledge of the restaurant. I paid for my meal and received no compensation for this review.

The Best Lunch in Easton Maryland - Sunflowers & Greens

The Best Lunch in Easton Maryland

When we walked in, an employee promptly greeted us and asked if we had been there before. When we replied that we had not, she took a few moments and showed us around, explaining how the restaurant operated and what sort of foods they offered. The warm welcome we received was a breath of fresh air in a day when customer service is a dying art.

The Salads

While the restaurant offers soups and sandwiches, the real star of the menu is their salads. The blurb on their web site says it best: their salads contain “the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients… composed to each guest’s specification”. All salads come with handcrafted dressings and a piece of traditional sourdough bread.

Best Lunch in Easton Maryland - Signature Salads at Sunflowers and Greens.

I ordered the Poached Pear Salad (pears are my very favorite fruit), which is one of the chef’s signature salads on the menu. It consisted of garden greens & baby spinach, maple roasted Cheshire pork loin, poached pear, roasted pecans, Vermont Creamery goat cheese, honey balsamic vinaigrette.

As soon as I placed my order, the folks behind the counter got to work. It was interesting to watch them preparing the salad because they made it with their (gloved) hands. They placed all of the salad components in a large wooden bowl and hand mixed them. It seemed really strange at first. However, I realized it was probably a far more efficient method than using an awkward pair of tongs to do the job!

Best Lunch in Easton Maryland - poached pear salad at Sunflowers & Greens

I have to say, it was quite possibly the best salad I have ever eaten! The slice of bread that came with the salad was scrumptious. We could tell that it had been baked fresh that day.

Customers who don’t find the signature salads appealing can create their own custom salad by specifying which ingredients they want. (But trust me, you really need to try that Poached Pear Salad!) You can’t go wrong with their fresh ingredients, procured from a number of local and artisanal sources and is organic whenever possible. Working with the finest purveyors of meat, poultry and fish, Sunflowers & Greens serves select cuts of Wagyu and Prime Beef, Russ & Daughters’ smoked salmon and antibiotic and hormone free poultry.

If You Go

Sunflowers & Greens is located at 11 Federal Street in Easton, Maryland. The menu changes daily, but you can see the daily menu on their website.

There is not a lot of room for customers who wish to dine in, and I would imagine that they are very busy on weekdays around noon, when nearby office workers stop in for lunch. I would recommend going before noon or after 1:30 to minimize wait time.

The best lunch in Easton Maryland is at Sunflowers and Greens on Federal Street.

Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap

Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap

I love having special treats for special occasions, so I am constantly in search of the most decadent desserts. When I treated my daughter to a trip to NYC for her sixteenth birthday party this past June, we intended to celebrate by getting Crazy Shakes at Black Tap. Sadly, our time between other activities was in short segments that would not have sufficed. We went to Black Tap twice and both times the line was so long outside the door that we would not have gotten inside and ordered in time to move on to the next activity. So when we went to NYC again this month, we were determined to get those Crazy Shakes.

Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

I know, their name doesn’t even mention their Crazy Shakes. But trust me, these Insta-worthy, most decadent desserts are what’s drawing the crowds to their three New York locations. (They also have a location inside The Venetian in Las Vegas, and one in Singapore. More restaurants will soon be opening in Downtown Disney Anaheim and NYC’s Herald Square.) We dined at their midtown Manhattan location (136 W 55th St).

There’s no doubt about it – Black Tap is a fun place to eat. The decor is a cross between old fashioned soda fountain, 1980s retro, and street art grafitti. Our booth was next to this bit of artwork:

Decadent Desserts (and Decor) at Black Tap in NYC

Also, the music was awesome!  Just the right mix of my old 1980s favorites and some more modern songs. All of it was upbeat… the kind of music that you find yourself bopping along to in your seat even if you haven’t heard the song before.

The Burgers

They describe their restaurants as a new take on the classic burger joint. The menu is fairly simplistic at first glance – offering burgers, salads, fries, and shakes. But when you look a little more closely, you realize that these are not your average run-of-the-mill burgers. Black Tap’s “Greg Norman” burger won the People’s Choice Award three years in a row at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s annual Burger Bash. Ranging from $16 to $20 per burger, you can choose from the classic All-American, a falafel or vegan burger, pizza burger, or a Carolina BBQ pulled pork burger.

We decided that for the four of us (Hubs and my daughters friend were also there) would split two burgers and two crazy shakes. We did this not only to save money, but also to keep us from leaving there looking like engorged ticks and feeling even worse. I selected the Bison Burger (bison burger, fresh mozzarella, pesto mayo, arugula, shaved Parmesan, roasted tomatoes, $19), and my daughter chose the Pizza Burger (prime burger, zesty tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, shaved Parmesan, $17). Both came with a side of fries.

The burgers and the fries were very good. I’d never eaten bison before, but it honestly didn’t taste much different to me than a beef burger would have.

The Crazy Shakes

Black Tap serves classic milkshakes ($9) in nine different flavors, from standard chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, to the more exotic caramel, Nutella, and coffee. But it’s the Crazy Shakes ($15) that grab the glory.

The Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap in NYC

If these Crazy Shakes aren’t the most decadent desserts you’ve ever seen, then please tell me what is!

On the left is the Cookie Shake: vanilla frosted rim with cookie crumbles topped with a ‘cookiewich’, crumbled cookies, chocolate chips, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle. And that’s on top of a vanilla milkshake! On the right is the Cookie & Creme Supreme: vanilla frosted rim with crushed Oreos topped with a ‘cookies ’n cream’ sandwich, crumbled Oreo, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle, served on top of a cookies & creme milkshake.

Here’s a closer look at each one.

Most Decadent Desserts - the Cookie Crazy Shake at Black Tap in NYC

Most Decadent Desserts - the Cookie & Cream Supreme Crazy Shake at Black Tap in NYC

And when the description mentions a frosted rim, they don’t mean it in the sense of frosted glass, or a coating of sugar. No, they mean frosted as in cake frosting. So essentially you have a milkshake with a couple tablespoons of cake frosting, cookies, an ice cream sandwich, and whipped cream. Thank goodness they don’t publish calorie counts on the menu!!

Other Crazy Shakes at the midtown Manhattan location include:

  • Sweet & Salty (peanut butter/chocolate/pretzel)
  • Cotton Candy (strawberry shake with cotton candy and other candies)
  • Sour Power (black cherry shake with sour candies)
  • Brooklyn Blackout (chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate)
  • Bam Bam (Fruity Pebbles, Pop Tart, candy)
  • Cake Shake (cake batter shake with a slice of cake and lots of sprinkles)

Honesty, you can’t go wrong here. It was difficult (but obviously very necessary) to pick just one!

If You Go

Get there plenty early, because lines do form outside the restaurant (even when it’s ridiculously cold outside, as it was when we were there). You may have to wait about an hour for a table, possibly more in nicer weather.

Consider sharing an entree and/or dessert with a friend, so as not to overdo. You don’t want to end your euphoric dining experience feeling like you’re going to be ill.

 

Historic Annapolis Maryland & the State House

Historic Annapolis Maryland & the State House

Why You Should Visit the State House in Historic Annapolis Maryland:

Dating to 1772, the Maryland State House in Annapolis is the oldest state capitol building still in continuous legislative use in the USA. It housed the Continental Congress, and is the only state house to have ever served as our national capitol. It is such a significant symbol of Maryland’s history that it appears on the “tails” side of Maryland’s state quarter.

But that’s not the only thing that makes it special, and worth checking out if you travel to historic Annapolis. Here are some other reasons.

The Architecture & Grounds

The brick building consists of two stories constructed in the Georgian style, with large symmetrical windows. An imposing set of steps and a columned portico provide an dramatic entrance to the building.

The State House in Historic Annapolis Maryland
Photo courtesy of Kevin Galens by CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The dome of the Maryland State House is the largest wooden dome in the United States. Constructed of  cypress wood, the dome has eight sides. The dome was constructed without nails, held together instead by wooden pegs reinforced by iron straps. The dome differs from many similar structures in that it actually has a balcony from which the city can be seen. The story goes that in 1790, Thomas Jefferson spent three hours on the balcony with James Madison and two other men, one of whom entertained them with the gossip related to each of the houses they could see from their perch above the town.

A lightning rod built and grounded according to the specifications of Benjamin Franklin sits atop the State House.  It has been protecting the building for over 225 years! The use of the Benjamin Franklin lightning rod could be interpreted not just as a precautionary measure, but also as a political statement, symbolizing the independence and ingenuity of our young nation.

The Dome of the State House in Historic Annapolis Maryland
(public domain photo)

The grounds feature a statue of Baltimore native and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Justice Marshall was the first African-American to serve on that high court.

The Old Treasury Building, built in 1735, also stands on the grounds of the State House. It is the oldest public building in Annapolis. Currently, the building is closed to visitors as it undergoes extensive historic preservation and archaeological investigations. When it reopens, it will contain exhibits relating to its history and that of 17th century Maryland.

The Old Senate Chamber

The Old Senate Chamber of the State House in Historic Annapolis Maryland
Photo courtesy of Bestbudbrian [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
The Old Senate Chamber served as the meeting room for the Continental Congress from November 1783 to August 1784. Two future presidents – Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe – participated in those meetings.

Also in this room, two days before Christmas 1783, General George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the continental army. The State House Rotunda includes a display of Washington’s copy of the speech, which historians consider the fourth most important document in American history. Why? Because it set the precedent of the military being under civilian authority. A bronze statue of George Washington is placed where it is believed that he stood to deliver his address to Congress. Washington is depicted in the emotional moment when he was compelled to steady his handwritten speech with both hands.

Above, in the upstairs gallery overlooking the room, you will find a resin statue of Molly Ridout. The gallery was the only place where women could view the proceedings of Congress and the Maryland Senate. Molly witnessed the resignation and authored one of the only written accounts of the event.

The walls of this room also bore witness to the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War in 1784.

The Caucus Room

The State House Caucus Room houses most of a 48-piece silver service from the armored cruiser USS Maryland. The pieces in the set show 167 scenes from Maryland history. Each piece focuses on one of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City.

In addition to the silver, the Caucus Room contains portraits of nine former Maryland Governors,and historical furniture.

The Old House of Delegates Room

The exhibits in the Old House of Delegates Room center around the expansion of rights in Maryland during the 19th century. For instance, during this time period Jews were given the right to hold public office and slavery was abolished in the state.

Visit the State House in historic Annapolis, Maryland and see Francis Blackwell Mayer's The Burning of the Peggy Stewart
The Burning of the Peggy Stewart (public domain photo)

One painting in this room, The Burning of the Peggy Stewart, depicts the Annapolis protest over tea importation that took place in 1774, prior to the American Revolution.

The Archives Room

The Archives Room houses a portrait of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, otherwise known as the Marquis de Lafayette. Fans of the Hamilton musical will recall that Lafayette was “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman”. He served as a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington and became his close friend. Lafayette made several trips to Annapolis both during and after the war. In 1784, in gratitude for his service, Maryland named Lafayette and his male heirs natural-born citizens of the state.

The Annex

The more modern (1902-1905) addition to the original State House is referred to as The Annex. The Annex is the part of the building that houses the current Senate and House of Delegates chambers. Each chamber contains a distinctive black and gold marble to represent the black and gold colors of the Maryland flag. Both chambers also feature skylights made by the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The Maryland Senate Chamber of the State House in historic Annapolis Maryland
Senate Chamber By Irteagle102704 of English Wikipedia – self-taken photo by the author, Public Domain

Woven into the Senate chamber’s carpet is the state seal of 1648.

The House of Delegates Chamber at the State House in historic Annapolis Maryland
House of Delegates Chamber By Irteagle102704 of English Wikipedia – self-taken photo by the author, Public Domain

A line of black limestone with fossils dating to 450 million years ago separates the annex from the original State House. A large marble staircase, called the Grand Staircase, leads up to the second floor, where the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and other staff offices are located. The observation galleries for both houses of the Maryland government are also located on the second floor. The most important feature of the grand staircase is the 1858 painting of Washington Resigning His Commission, by Edwin White:

Washington Resigning his Commission by Edwin White, depicting one of the most famous events to take place at the State House in historic Annapolis Maryland.
Washington Resigning His Commission by Edwin White [Public domain]

To Visit the State House:

If you’re in Annapolis, the State House is surely a must-see. It’s open to visitors from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day of the year except Christmas and New Years Day. Visitors may take a self-guided tour with information available in the Office of Interpretation on the first floor. Alternatively, specialized curatorial tours of the building and its artwork can be arranged by appointment by calling 410-260-6445.

Please note that security measures are in place for all state buildings in the Annapolis complex. Visitors must show a picture ID for entrance. Other security measures include metal detectors and bag searches.

 

Header & pinterest image photo via Flickr by Dougtone.

 

Must See in historic Annapolis Maryland - the State House
Glassblowing Class in Berlin, Maryland…

Glassblowing Class in Berlin, Maryland…

Glassblowing Class

Very few things – other than super cute animals and longer than normal posts from friends who are normally just lurkers – get me to stop scrolling and really take notice of something in my Facebook feed. But when I happened upon a Facebook event for a glassblowing class that said “Make Your Own Blown Glass Christmas Ornaments,” my fingers froze. Tell me more, Facebook!

Berlin, Maryland

The small town of Berlin, Maryland (population 5000) was named Coolest Small Town in America in 2014. It was also the setting of the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere movie, “Runaway Bride.” As you can imagine, it’s quaint and picturesque and has a lot to offer its visitors, from boutique shops to bathtub races. (Yes, really!)

Berlin is also home to a small art glass studio and gallery:

Jeffrey Auxer Designs

The studio and gallery showcase the work of Jeffrey Auxer, as you may have guessed. Jeff was a candidate for a degree in Business Administration at local Salisbury University. In the final semester before receiving his Bachelor’s degree, he decided to take a glass blowing class as an elective. That whim changed his life.

Jeffrey Auxer started blowing glass in college and now shares his passion with others - giving them the opportunity to creat blown glass Christmas ornaments at his Berlin Maryland studio.

In 2009 he opened his own studio in the Berlin Arts and Entertainment District. The gallery serves as a showcase and storefront for his colorful glass works such as these:

Blown Glass Christmas Ornaments and More at Jeffrey Auxer Designs in Berlin Maryland

And, since we were there in December, there were quite a few colorful Christmas ornaments to choose from:

Blown Glass Christmas Ornaments for sale at Jeffrey Auxer Designs in Berlin Maryland

In addition to the styles you see above, Jeff also does Chihuly style glass work. I thought this lamp was just stunning:

Chihuly Style lamp at Jeffrey Auxer Designs in Berlin Maryland.

Jeff also does metalwork. His two skills are paired in a number of unique pieces, like this one:

Blown Glass Christmas Ornaments and Metal Work by Jeffrey Auxer Designs in Berlin Maryland

DIY Time!

I bought two ornaments as gifts. But that’s not why we were there.  We were there to make our own blown glass Christmas ornaments.

While we waited for our appointed time slot, we looked over the 20 or so different color combinations we could choose. Some of the color combinations were themed for sports teams, with coordinating ribbon emblazoned with the team’s name.  Orange and black ornaments sported a Baltimore Orioles ribbon, for example.

Ultimately, I chose the turquoise, lime green and white combination, while Hubs chose yellow and black. Our first task was holding the long metal rod in the furnace and spinning it so it heated evenly.

Heating the rod prior to making blown glass Christmas ornaments in Berlin Maryland

Jeff then took the rod and dipped the end in a pool of molten glass located inside a 2000+ degree furnace. He dabbed it in the colored pieces we chose and began shaping it into a ball, then gave a small blow to get it started. At that point, he sat down on the bench and we slipped our protective mouthpiece on the end of the rod. (Because no one wants to do communal glassblowing. Eeuuww.)

Making blown glass Christmas ornaments in Berlin, Maryland.

He told us to blow into the mouthpiece while he shaped the ornament. It was easier than I thought it would be. After a couple of blows and repeated rolling & shaping, Jeff placed the ornament on a pad of soft cotton and snipped it off the rod.

Blown Glass Christmas Ornaments from Jeffrey Auxer Designs in Berlin, Maryland.

His assistant added a clear glass “loop” to the top of it so that the ornament for hanging it, and the ornaments went into a kiln at 900 degrees to finish up. The next day, I returned and picked up our ornaments, which turned out beautifully.

Yellow and black Christmas ornament made in Glassblowing class at Jeffrey Auxer Designs, Berlin, MD.

Blown glass Christmas ornament made in glassblowing class at Jeffrey Auxer Designs in Berlin MD

This is not something you want to do if you’re all about instant gratification, though. Not only do you not get to take your ornament home with you when you leave, you won’t even know what it really looks like. That’s because it will be so hot that the colors will not appear true. In both of the photos above, the ornaments appear red and orange but neither had those colors in them.

Glassblowing Class: What You Need to Know

Jeffrey Auxer Designs offers glassblowing classes for individuals as young as age 4. While I refer to these as Christmas ornaments, it’s important to note that they can be hung in a window all year round. They’ll look especially pretty when the sun hits them.

Reservations are required and the cost is $25-$30.

NOTE: I did not receive any compensation for this post.  

Glassblowing Class Review - Jeffrey Auxer Designs in Berlin Maryland