Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Ecology Lab at RMSC

Second Saturdays are the perfect time to get out to the Roper Mountain Science Center, located right here in Greenville! On the second Saturday of select months, the learning spaces throughout the science center are open to the public, offering visitors an opportunity to enjoy experiences similar to those which engage students during the weekday lessons held in the center’s classrooms and labs. The Living History Farm, the Planetarium & Observatory, the Symmes Hall of Science... In addition to special activities geared towards that Saturday’s topic, there are also plenty of resident animals to meet and exhibits to explore - and if you’re a RMSC member, it’s free!

Red Eared Slider

Our favorite summer stop on Second Saturdays is Harrison Hall of Natural Sciences, and during the recent Blueberry Festival we spent some time exploring the Ecology Lab. Located right next door to the Marine Lab, the Ecology Lab showcases South Carolina habitats from the mountains to the sea. Oriented like a classroom, the center of the room is filled with long tables and chairs; on the Second Saturdays these are often filled with crafts and activities. The Butterfly Adventure was in its final day, and so thousands of butterflies had been created at one station to form an enormous hanging work of art that fluttered in a corner.


Four large “Living Habitats” line the far wall: a Mountain Trout Stream, a Beaver/Turtle Pond, a Cypress Swamp (with alligator), and a Salt Marsh. Murals, faux rock work, and aquariums with live animals & plants showcase these habitats, while a fifth terrarium with carnivorous plants highlights our Carolina Bay habitat.




Along one end of the lab is a mural of a forest, and a large window overlooking the pollinator garden which is often buzzing with the resident bees. A bench faces the window, offering a quiet place for observation.This is also where the live indoor honeybee hive is located; this brand new hive was installed in June of this year as an Eagle Scout project, replacing an older display without the convenient feeding station of the new one. The full pollen sacs on legs of bees returning from their foraging were clearly visible, and we watched in fascination as they performed the waggle dance, the figure-eights that instruct the rest of the hive where to find a food source. 


Meanwhile the other end of the lab has the Invertebrate Zoo, which displays native and tropical invertebrates. On Second Saturdays there is usually a volunteer, or two, who are more than willing to help answer any questions visitors may have; in our case it was concerning large snakes of the Upstate…


With the ‘don’t touch’ policy many science museums enforce with their exhibits, it is wonderful to see the hands-on approach that Roper Mountain takes with the Ecology Lab. In addition to the ‘touchable’ aspect of the Living Habitats (small doors to open to find answers to questions, and models of various animals) the Lab has an “In Touch with Nature Table” that allows kids (and adults!) to hold real artifacts; a snake skin, turtle shells, pieces of coral and seashells were scattered amongst beaver-gnawed branches, pine cones and various other objects found in the great outdoors.



Soon enough the kids had their fill and we headed outdoors to see what was new in the butterfly garden. The Living History farm also beckoned, but it was good to know that on such a scorching hot day we could always return to the cool labs of the Harrison Hall of Natural Science. For more information on the Second Saturday events at Roper Mountain Science Center (the next ones are scheduled in October and November) please visit the RMSC website, which will also have admissions info and hours. Remember, if you’re a member not only do you get free admission to Second Saturdays and Starry Nights, but you also gain admission to over 300 science centers and museums worldwide – for membership info click here and join the RMSC community today!



Monday, July 24, 2017

The Swamp Rabbit – from Furman to the Swamp Rabbit Café

It was a sunny day, albeit without the heat that has plagued the Upstate for the last month. We loaded up the bicycles and headed north to Furman with the goal of hopping on the Swamp Rabbit Trail for the day. Our goal was to bike the 4 miles from the south end of the Furman campus all the way to the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery (SRC&G), eat lunch, rest, and then make the return trip - for a total of 8 miles.


There is parking at both ends of this section of trail, though the dirt lot off Duncan Chapel Rd. is on the small side when compared to the extensive trail parking available at SRC&G. If the lot is full, try the visitor parking lot at the Trone Student Center on Swan Lake – it’s just another ½ mile north. While we unpacked the bikes the boys explored, admiring the old rail car to the side of the trail that pays homage to the trail’s origins as a rail line connecting Greenville with Travelers Rest. The trailhead also features a convenient map, water fountain and vending machines. 


For more on Furman and Swan Lake, please visit my post A Lake Hike at Furman University

Headed south you'll pass milepost 27.5, a small clearing with a picnic table, and then milepost 28 before coming to Watkins Bridge Road. Here the trail meets up with the Reedy River, mostly staying within a stone’s throw all the way to the southern terminus in Lake Conestee Nature Park. After crossing Watkins Bridge Road it’s smooth sailing; a straight, level, shaded cruise until you hit milepost 28.5 where the trail gets a lot more urban, with backyards and power lines paralleling the path. Right before crossing Little Creek there is a little wooden structure on the trail, providing room to pull off for some shade and a view of a small meadow.


After the Little Creek bridge there’s another pull-out, this one with concrete benches, a table and some rose bushes to sweeten the ride.


Milepost 29 marks the beginning of a not-so-scenic stretch, industrial/automotive businesses and fences on both sides. However not too much further and you’ll spot the green boxcar of Swamp Rabbit Station and you’ll know you’re halfway to SRC&G. I was happy to see that the pocket park is coming along – the Berea Community Mural Project dedicated “Looking Back” this past May.


For more on this pocket park, please visit my post Swamp Rabbit Station

The next portion parallels power lines and has less shade, but is pleasantly green and has various trees and shrubs planted alongside that will eventually help cool down cyclists. We cruised past the 29.5 milepost and before we knew it were back in the woods. The next mile is pleasant enough, shade and woods to both sides; we hit milepost 30, then 30.5.


Immediately after crossing Langston Creek the trail intersects with W. Blue Ridge Drive. We walk our bikes across all the road crossings on this section of the SRT as they involve wide roads that see quite a bit off traffic, but luckily there aren’t all that many roads to cross…

The last ¾ of a mile (from W Blue Ridge to Cedar Lane Rd.) passes by quickly. More power lines, then another short wooded section, with a Swamp Rabbit Grocery sign and then milepost 31 to let you know you’re almost there. The Reedy River has been to the right ever since crossing Watkins Bridge Road, but here you’ll cross over to the other side of the river, emerging to a large grassy area and an abandoned warehouse. It’s advised to decrease your speed as you maneuver the trail under Cedar Lane Road, but upon emerging on the other side you’ll see the Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery to your right.


In addition to a map, bicycle racks and restrooms, SRC&G is home to the Swamp Garden (an excellent natural play area for the kiddos), the new storage-container-turned-pizza-place, and of course the restaurant and grocery. The opportunity to purchase a refreshing King of Pops or enjoy a locally sourced lunch is definitely one of the benefits of cycling this section of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Other positive aspects: there’s relatively low traffic on this section and it’s pretty level in elevation. Two drawbacks to this portion of the trail are the road crossings and the slightly monotonous scenery. Having rested, consumed a Swamp Pizza, and played in the Swamp Garden, we hopped back on our bikes and hit the trail north, back to Furman.

Related posts:


Crossing the Reedy River Bridge

Friday, July 21, 2017

On how to retire an American flag

I wrote Wednesday about our visit to Fort McHenry, the birthplace of our National Anthem. While composing the post about the “Star-Spangled Banner” I was reminded of our recent trip to Chester State Park, where we had the honor of attending a Flag Retirement Ceremony.


The United States Flag Code states, “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” I knew that when a flag becomes worn, torn, faded or badly soiled, it is time to replace it with a new flag, and I also understood that the old flag should be "retired" with dignity and respect. However, I had never before witnessed the incineration of a worn flag, and didn’t know that the Boy Scouts of America accept old flags for retirement.


The simple ceremony was dignified; a solemn and respectful ritual that all three of my boys learned a great deal from. We had discussed earlier that they will have to be as quiet as they can manage during the service, and Lauris wore his Cub Scout uniform for the occasion. We gathered around a fire that had been specially stacked and lit for the occasion, and when darkness fell the Scoutmaster and Scouts proceeded to follow a Flag Retirement Ceremony script. If you are interested in sample ceremonials, you can find various examples here and here.


The goal is to completely incinerate the flag; the Scouts maintained a vigil over the fire until all traces of the flag remnants were destroyed, and only then was the fire extinguished. The following morning only grommets remained as a testimonial to the formal observance that had taken place there the previous night. The Cub Scouts and their younger siblings each chose one to remind them of the ceremony and all it stands for, and then the ashes were buried. I also kept a grommet, as well as a few photographs to serve as a memento, though the memory of the brilliant colors of mingling flames and Old Glory will be with me each time I see the Star-Spangled Banner flying high.


A couple of questions I had that were answered by the Scoutmaster and a little research:
How do you know your flag should be retired?
If possible, mend a tattered flag at early signs of wear, but if the flag is unable to be repaired or is too tattered then the flag should be retired.
Who is authorized to retire a U.S. flag?
There are many local organizations that will take your flag for proper retirement, including (but not limited to) the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America and the Marine Corps League. However, the Flag Code does not authorize any one organization with this duty - any one person or group can retire a flag.

And a few recommended precautions:
- When burning flags made of synthetic fibers, be aware that they may burn quickly and even emit noxious gases. 
- It is important that the fire be sizable in order to ensure complete burning of the flag, yet one should take precautions against bits of the flag being carried off by a roaring fire.
Make sure the fire is safely extinguished before leaving the location.
- Some communities/municipalities have regulations prohibiting open fires. In this case it is suggested to turn to a local organization that accepts flags for retirement.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Star-Spangled Fourth of July at Fort McHenry

Every so often our vacation plans align with the calendar in such a way that what would have already been an incredible experience becomes extraordinary due to the perfect alignment of date and place. Such was the case with our Veterans Day trip to Normandy, which included stops at Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery; it was a somber and emotional experience which has given new meaning to our Veterans Day remembrances. Our recent trip to Baltimore coincided with the 4th of July, and I immediately realized this would be another one of those occasions; Fort McHenry is the birthplace of the American anthem!


Many people don’t realize that “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t written during the American Revolution, and fewer still can name the war that inspired the words we all know by heart. It was the events of the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812 that prompted Francis Scott Key to write the poem that is today our National Anthem, and the Fourth of July was the perfect day for a visit.

Star-shaped Fort McHenry in center, visitor center next to red pin

A week before the battle, a young lawyer set sail from Baltimore along with Col. John S. Skinner, US Commissioner General of Prisoners. They were on a mission to gain release of a prisoner, Dr. William Beanes, and reached the British fleet on September 7th. After a few days of negotiations on the waters of the Chesapeake they had arranged for Beanes to go free, but because during this time they had learned of the British plan to attack Baltimore, they were detained.

View from bastions over harbor, Francis Scott Key Bridge on right in distance

Washington had already burned, but Baltimore was better prepared due in large part to Fort McHenry’s defensive position guarding the entrance to the harbor. The British attacked the Fort from the water at dawn on the 13th, simultaneous to an attack on the east side of Baltimore. 25 hours later, after some 1,500-1,800 shells and rockets, the bombships withdrew down the river. As the British sailed away the Americans fired the morning gun, hoisted the Star-Spangled Banner and played Yankee Doodle.


Fort McHenry served as an active military post for the next 100 years, although it would never again see enemy fire. A temporary prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War and a hospital for WWI veterans from 1917-1923, the Fort became a national park in 1925. Today it is a national monument and historic shrine, the only park in the United States to have this distinction.


The Fort is accessible by harbor ferry, but we opted to drive, passing through Federal Hill and out through Locust Point. We had sailed past Fort McHenry in the dark a few nights ago on our Spirit of Baltimore cruise, a journey that brought us all the way to Francis Scott Key Bridge, the approximate location Key would have watched the bombardment from (about 4 miles out). Fun fact; the British had a range of about 2 miles with their mortars, while the Americans were effective only 1 ½ mile with the Smoothbore artillery. However the Americans only suffered two casualties – a result of a direct hit on the southwest bastion.


Start your tour of Fort McHenry in the Visitor Center. After paying admission and picking up Jr. Ranger booklets we headed into the museum where the film soon started. This was one of the highlights of our visit; as the movie ended the Star-Spangled Banner sounded out from the speakers, the enormous screen rolling up to reveal the Fort with American flag flying proudly directly behind. The words of our anthem came to life, watching the fort and flag revealed in a similar fashion to what Francis Scott Key would have seen in the early hours of September 14th. After jotting down notes aboard the truce ship, Key returned to Baltimore and wrote a poem titled "Defence of Fort McHenry." Published the next day, it was soon sung to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven" and is now known as "The Star-Spangled Banner." 


From the Visitor Center we headed out into the heat of the day to explore the fort. During the bombardment the guns were manned by 60 artillerymen – the remaining 70 were sick, had deserted, or were under military guard. We entered through the Sally Port, passed the Civil War guardhouse, and one by one explored the barracks, the officer’s quarters, the powder magazine and finally the bastions under the flag waving crisply in the harbor breeze. The original flag (which measured 42 by 30 feet) that inspired Key was made by Mary Pickersgill, and today is displayed in the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.


A second highlight of the Fort McHenry trip was watching reenactors fire a cannon. As commands were issued and orders followed, the whole firing process was explained to the spectators. Afterwards visitors could get an up-close look at the weapon and ask questions. We continued our tour by descending to the sea wall, circling the peninsula and enjoying the view of the harbor, before finally returning to the visitor center and starting our journey back to South Carolina.


The Fort had a special schedule of activities on our visit in honor of Independence Day, but normal summer activities include daily flag changes, interpretive programs, living history features and of course, the self-guided tour of the star fort and grounds. Fort McHenry is also on the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail (which tells the story of the events, people, and places that led to the birth of our National Anthem), and is located in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network and the Baltimore National Heritage Area. For more information about the fort, operating hours, special events, fees and more, visit the official Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine website.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Echoes of the song festival / Dziesmu svētku atskaņas / Part 2

(This is part two of a two-part post on the Latvian Song & Dance Festival in Baltimore. You can find Part 1 here…)

The Šmidchens clan represents in Baltimore
The Līdz Auseklis Lec dance party was underway when we returned from our Inner Harbor excursion aboard the Spirit of Baltimore. Organized by the American Latvian Youth Association, DJ Ai-Va kept the tunes flowing long into the early morning. Check out this video via #niceonequipment to hear ALJA’s Dziesmu Svētki beat.



The next morning we grabbed the kids and joined Iļģi once more, this time sacrificing Rakstnieku cēliens in return for bērnu rīts. I’m not sure who enjoyed the morning more - the kids, or the adults that had joined them - for what turned out to be a foot-stomping, bagpipe-wailing, kicking-up-a-fiddle-storm type of concert. We sang along, we danced and we even learned about some of the traditional Latvian instruments; the morning was over far too soon.

  
Two more events we had to skip: the Kamermūzikas concerts at the American Visionary Art Museum and the Ceļā uz mājām theater production which had traveled all the way from Latvia. There just wasn’t much choice, as we wanted to be able to enjoy the main event of the entire festival – the Kopkora koncerts – and needed some down time in between. Before long we were boarding one of the shuttles that would take us to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the perfect venue for what is the climax of the song festival.
 

The festival choir explored the centuries-old tradition of song in Latvia in a heart-stopping, emotion-evoking crescendo of 28 songs. The tears started with the first two, the American and Latvian hymns; as the audience stood up and joined in, it was clear that we were not to be an audience for this concert, but sentimental līdzgājēji on the journey through over a hundred years of the Latvian Song Festival. From there, 400 voices singing as one took us through the prayers of our forefathers, Pauls Berkolds conducting Tev mūžam dzīvot Latvija and a little later in the program, Vizma Maksiņa with Lūgšana. Again and again the audience leapt to their feet with applause, but somehow the conductors maintained their forward momentum, raising the bar with each additional song instead of caving to audience demands to repeat favorites. I couldn’t breathe during the last four songs before intermission, the pride in our national identity overwhelming during what was a finale that shattered expectations and left the audience trembling: Saule, pērkons, Daugava (conductor Kaspars Ādamsons), Jāņu dziesma (conductor Laura Padega Zamura), Tēvijai (Kaspars Ādamsons) and Lec, saulīte (Krisīte Skare).


We returned from the intermission with tissues stowed, thinking ourselves ready for the onslaught of sentiment. The concert continued with a celebration of East Coast Latvian composers, rejoicing in the return of the song festival to the east US in the first time in 40 years. Exciting arrangements of popular favorites – Ziedi, ziedi, rudzu vārpa, Dod dieviņi kalnā kāpt and Pērkonītis ducināja – rolled over the audience in waves, bringing the end of this portion of the concert far too quickly. As the final farewell approached, we were taken on one more voyage of passion: the reverbrations of Gaismas pils (conductor Kaspars Ādamsons), Šķind zemīte, rīb zemīte (conductor Krisīte Skare) and Pūt Vējiņi (conductor Laura Padega Zamura) cut clear to the soul, and will stay with me long after the final echoes of applause have died away.


The most unique event at this Dziesmu un deju svētki might have been the Festival Dinner. The menu for the banquet was created and produced by Māris Jansons, head Chef of Bibliotēka №1 Restorāns in Rīga, Latvia. We knew we were in for a treat when we arrived to an epic spread of finger foods, all traditionally Latvian but with a contemporary twist: Rīga sprats on rye bread with horseradish cream, goat cheese with cloudberry (lāceņu) jam and onion pickled in beer, grey peas with bacon, herring on rye bread with sour cream, and my favorite, salmon in beet roots on toast with hemp butter.


Once we had been seated the feast continued, albeit with less emphasis on the Latvian and more on the modern. The mixed green salad with raspberries, candied walnuts and crumbled goat cheese was topped with a red wine vinaigrette. The salmon was accompanied by wild rice, asparagus puree, asparagus mélange and pickled fennel. The third course was pork tenderloin seasoned with Old Bay, smoked corn puree and heirloom tomatoes on the side. As sated as I was after the third course I should have known there would be two desserts: A melt-in-your-mouth strawberry shortcake, and the Latvian counterpart of sweet rye bread and red bilberry (brūklenes) trifle!


Chef Māris had produced the entire meal in the hotel kitchen, working alongside the (American) hotel chef and a local team. The festival dinner was an event to remember, and I’m excited for the chance to someday dine in his restaurant in Rīga. As a final coup de grace Chef Māris had arranged for Rīgas Melnais Balzams to be served alongside the coffee and tea, and we emerged from the banquet thoroughly sated.


The final event of the Svētki was the Festival Ball. Toronto-based Latvian rock band Penzionāri had a deal with the attendees – we keep dancing, they keep playing! It was a final hurrah, and an energizing night with friends; ballējam, neguļam!
The cousins (with husbands, kids and significant others!)
Thank you for joining me on this journey to the Latvian Song and Dance Festival in Baltimore! For those of you already looking forward to the next festival, next year Latvia is hosting the XXVI Vispārējie latviešu dziesmu un XVI deju svētki during the Latvian centennial celebrations. Tickets go on sale in January of 2018; for more on that and the Latvija 100 celebration, visit the official LV100 website


However if you’re looking for the next festival on this side of the Atlantic, you will only have to wait until 2019 when Toronto will be hosting the XV Latviešu dziesmu un deju svētki Kanādā! The dates have been set (July 4-7), and a preliminary calendar of events is already available; please visit their website and follow them on facebook, twitter and Instagram to keep up to date on all the latest.

Māci man dvēsles mieru, māci debess spēku,
Kā pati Laima lika, tinot mūža rakstu.
Lec, saulīte, spīdi spoži, torā puisi, rotā meitu,
Lec, saulīte, tumsu šķel, vieno visu Latvju tautu.
(Lec, saulīte - Raimonds Tiguls)

For more memories from the Baltimore Song and Dance Festival, make sure to visit festival Reviews and Reports page as well as the Smugmug page which features photos available for download. One of the articles I think best captures the essence of the festival is the Latvians Online article “Baltimore Latvian Song Festival– a resounding success.”

Friday, July 14, 2017

Echoes of the song festival / Dziesmu svētku atskaņas / Part 1

Our four days in Baltimore passed in a blur of concerts, what felt like several years of Latvian culture boiled down into 100 hours of events. With three young children along (and an abundance of family and friends we wanted to catch up with), we knew we would not be able to do everything – but that didn’t stop us from trying!


Our largest obstacle to fitting everything in was arrival time, as we were set to arrive in Baltimore on Friday night. This meant we wouldn’t be able to attend the opening ceremony (svētku atklāšana), about which my friend Daina had this to say; “While the official opening event (atklāšana) has traditionally been less than exciting, this festival's opening featured enough interesting people (Latvia's Minister of Culture! Latvia's Ambassador to the US!) who kept their remarks brief, as well as high quality musical performances that indicated the great concerts we were to experience during the festival. The East Coast Combined Choir's performance of Ēriks Ešenvalds' stirring Dvēseles dziesma was particularly beautiful.” After the opening ceremony the Song Festival continued in earnest with various acts taking the Printful Stage, as well as with the Sacred Music Concert (garīgās mūzikas koncerts). The one event that I regret missing most was the dance party that evening with Iļģi; luckily we were to have more opportunities to hear them play, but more on that in a bit…


Saturday we took a quick look at the svētku market before heading out into the heat of the day to see the Peabody Library and Bromo Seltzer Tower, missing the Jaundeju skate (new choreography contest) at the Lyric Opera House. Here’s a view from backstage with members of the dance group Sienāzītis, the children’s group that traveled all the way from Longford, Ireland to the festival...


We used a moment of quiet in the early afternoon to check in at the mobile passport station, and then while dad set out to take care of a few obligations, the boys and I headed to the Sheraton for the theater production Emīls un Berlīnes zēni. Based on the children’s novel Emil and the Detectives by German writer Erich Kästner, the production was an adaptation performed by the San Francisco Theater Workshop. Director and producer Māra Lewis brought a cast of 18 to Baltimore, and the family-friendly show was a hit with parents and children alike; the kids had all gathered at the foot of the stage within the first 10 minutes and were kept enthralled for the duration, while the parents enjoyed the positive values put forth such as honesty, hard work and teamwork. My three boys give 6 thumbs up to the show. Parole – Emīls!


The next morning we headed downstairs to the Fells Point room for bērnu nodarbības (children’s activities). Overflowing with energy, the kids made puzuri out of straws, decorated mittens with Latvian designs, played with helium balloons, and in general, caused a ruckus until mom declared it to be pool time. Only complaint? Who puts 50 children in a room together with their parents with no coffee…


While dad took two of the kids to the pool (another enclosed space with 50 kids and no coffee), the third joined my sister and me on a tour of the art and the fashion & folk costume exhibits. The latter showcased contemporary fashion alongside traditional dress, and featured a number of current designers with their take on folk patterns & symbols.


The art exhibit brought together an eclectic collection of work, all by Latvian-American artists and relating to the theme “On the Road to Latvia’s Centennial.” After browsing the pieces, more than one of which was the work of a familiar name, we took in the view of the harborfront, Latvian flag fluttering in the steady breeze coming off the Patapsco.


The folk dancing show (tautas deju lieluzvedums), one of the primary events of the weekend, took place Sunday afternoon at the Royal Farms Arena. 778 folk dancers came together to reflect the changing face of Latvian folk dance, the selected dances highlighting the evolution of patterns, movements and music over the last 100 years. The dancers came from all over the world: 32 dance troops from the US, Canada, Latvia and Ireland, and the 26-dance program was strewn with crowd favorites ranging from Vidzemes polka to Gailis un vista.


From there, a portion of the attendees headed to Christ Lutheran church for the SŌLA concert. Daina writes “Attending the Sōla concert was a true musical treat. The program had been well chosen – the first half contained works by Latvian composers, and the second part presented Latvian folk songs in choral arrangements. The beautiful setting of Christ Lutheran Church with its excellent acoustics only added to our enjoyment of this outstanding choir’s concert.”


Meanwhile we were trying to get the boys fed because that evening we were lucky to have vecpaps Jānis around to watch the kiddos while we relaxed aboard the Spirit of Baltimore. Setting sail from the Inner Harbor, we watched the sunset over the city while enjoying hors d’oeuvres, and soon were slipping past a dark Fort McHenry. The lively accompaniment of Iļģi filled the boat and floated out over the water as we navigated all the way out of the Inner Harbor to the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The conversation and laughter of long-time friends reunited echoed from the shore, if only for one magical evening on the Chesapeake.



Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Exploring the Bromo Seltzer clock tower in Baltimore

From Washington Monument & Mount Vernon Place we headed south on Cathedral Street past the Walters Art Museum, whose collection includes masterworks of ancient Egypt, Greek sculpture and Roman sarcophagi, as well as illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance bronzes and Old Master European and 19th-century paintings. We didn’t have time to stop there, but we did duck into the Enoch Pratt Free Library for a respite from the heat and humidity. Located across the street from the Baltimore Basilica, the library is currently undergoing restoration – but it is open for business. After our exploration of the George Peabody Library the boys were anxious to get their little hands on books that they could actually read, and so we spent a quiet half an hour tucked away in the basement children’s section before continuing south to our next destination, Baltimore’s tallest skyscraper - if only from 1911 to 1923.


The Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower is 15 stories tall, a testament to the role of the Emerson Drug Company in Baltimore during the first half of the 20th century. The Palazzo Vecchio-inspired tower and factory were designed by Joseph Evans Sperry specifically for Bromo-Seltzer inventor Isaac Emerson after his visit to Italy, and opened in 1911. By 2002 the tower was virtually abandoned, but instead of demolishing the landmark (which had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973), the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts and philanthropists Eddie & Sylvia Brown worked to transform the structure into artist studios, resulting in the restored building we explored on our visit.


The Bromo-Seltzer brand of antacid was composed of acetaminophen, sodium bicarbonate, and citric acid, and was marketed as a pain-reliever and hangover cure, as well as a remedy for heartburn, upset stomach and acid indigestion. Among the original components were sodium bromide (tranquilizers that were withdrawn from the U.S. market in 1975 due to their toxicity) and acetanilide (now known to be poisonous); this explains why you won’t find Bromo-Seltzer on your pharmacy shelves today. The main factory for the drug was adjacent to the tower, but was demolished in 1969 and replaced with the firehouse that stands there today.


Instead of numbers, the four clock faces feature the letters "BROMOSELTZER" and smaller roman numerals. As if the 24-foot diameter dials aren’t visible enough, the tower was originally topped by a 51 foot glowing and rotating blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle & crown which weighed 20 tons and could be seen 20 miles away; this beacon was removed in 1936 due to structural concerns.


When it was finished in 1911 the Bromo Seltzer clock featured the largest four dial gravity driven clock in the world. In 1975 it was electrified, but as part of the restoration the original weight drive was recently restored, and today the inner workings can be viewed on the guided history tour.


The tower is only open to visitors on Saturdays from 11am to 4pm (art studios open at noon), while clock room tours are given at 11:30, 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 for a fee of $8/person. The tour includes not only access to the clock room, but a 30 minute presentation, and entrance to the tower museum on the 15th floor. The collection showcases all sorts of Bromo Seltzer memorabilia such as the cobalt blue glass bottles made by the Maryland Glass Corporation – another one of Isaac Emerson’s businesses, specifically started to provide Bromo Seltzer with their trademark glass.


Planning your visit? Tours can fill up beforehand and are limited to a certain # of people, so you might want to arrive before the scheduled tour time to purchase tickets and sign a waiver. While waiting for the tour to start, check out the artists’ studios for a unique Baltimore souvenir, or browse the museum and marvel at the spectacular view from the tower. If you’re hungry I can recommend the Thai restaurant across the street, and if you’ve really got some time to kill head on over to Westminster Hall and Edgar Allen Poe’s grave some six blocks away. The Bromo Seltzer Tower website has more event and artist information. 


As we walked back towards the harbor we passed a wave of baseball fans on their way to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but once we approached the Convention Center and the various downtown hotels we started hearing more and more Latvian spoken by passersby, a reminder of the event that had brought us to Baltimore in the first place – the Latvian Song and Dance Festival.


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