Category Archives: History

The Golden Gate Strait State

Note: All photos in this post were taken from the Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, and at the time was the longest and highest suspension bridge in the world. It spans 4,200 feet, and towers 746 feet high. It’s regarded as the most beautiful and most photographed bridge in the world. It’s also the second-most used bridge in the world for suicide, after the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. With a deck level of 245 feet, it takes just four seconds for a jumper to go from the Golden Gate to the Pearly Gates.

The Golden Gate is a narrow strait of whirlpools, eddies, and undertows, that will suck you under, twirl you around, and spit you out onto the teeth of sharp, wave-battered rocks. It connects the Pacific Ocean to the San Francisco Bay. It’s often used to symbolize the state of California, and I believe it’s an apt symbol.

The treacherous currents that guard the Golden Gate are symbolic of hardships newcomers tend to encounter, after being lured here by promises of sunny weather, fame, or fortune.

Fort Point is a Civil War era fort nestled beneath the southern approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. It nearly saw action in August, 1865, from the Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah. But as the ship approached, the captain learned that the war was over and broke off his planned attack. This is different from today, where many Confederates still fly the Stars and Bars, celebrate monuments to rebel Generals, and apparently haven’t heard that the Civil War is over.

It was dubbed the Golden Gate by U.S. Army Major John C. Fremont, in 1846, shortly before he usurped military control of the new California Republic. This was nearly two years before gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, so the name had nothing to do with the gold rush.

Fremont envisioned golden riches pouring in from the Asian empires of Japan and China, and saw this strait as “a golden gate to trade with the Orient.”

Alcatraz Island lies just beyond the Golden Gate.

This Golden Gate was difficult to discover. Spanish explorers blithely sailed past it for two hundreds years, often anchoring in Drake’s Bay, just 30 miles north. They never imagined they were so close to the largest bay on the Pacific side of the Americas.

Shrouded in fog, and guarded by rocks and unpredictable currents, Spanish sailors had avoided the area of this golden entrance, and thus never encountered it. It was finally discovered by a land expedition, in 1769.

A zoom view of Alcatraz Island. Here, many newcomers to California were given a solidly built home with no chance of eviction, a steady job, and three square meals a day.

In the same way, those who dream of California are often deterred by the foggy mystery of trying to find a decent paying job, and by the dangers of high rent, long commutes, and outrageous gas prices.

I had a similar experience. I left California when I was 17, seeking fortune in easier lands. I returned five times, and struggled until I was 40, before I finally gained a solid footing in this, my home state.

The mouth of the Golden Gate, with San Francisco across the strait.

More than a hundred ships have gone down, attempting to navigate the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay. The most common cause of shipwreck has been a loss of power that allows the strong currents to pull vessels into rocks, or onto the shallow waters of sandy beaches. If you come to California, be sure to bring plenty of reserve power with you, lest our treacherous economy beach you on the shores of financial ruin.

This zoom view of the rocks, waves, and currents at the mouth of the Golden Gate shows the strait’s treacherous navigation conditions.

California has always been deluge and drought, boom and bust, growth and wildfires. Be warned. If you wish to migrate to this hyped-up “paradise”, exercise caution. Test the wind. Trim your sails. Then stand by close to a lifeboat before daring passage through the Golden Gate.

The Gatlin Brothers can tell you a little bit more about All The Gold In California:

The Winchester Mystery House

Sarah Pardee was born in 1841, to middle-class parents, in New Haven, Connecticut. Just 40 years later she became one of the richest women in the world.

In 1862, she married William Wirt Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester. Oliver Winchester owned the New Haven Arms Company, and was getting rich selling the Henry rifle.

In 1866, Oliver renamed his business the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and the first Winchester repeating rifles began production. The Winchester quickly gained popularity, especially with pioneers, and eventually became known as the gun that won the West.

Oliver earned a fast fortune running this company. And when he died in December, 1880, Sarah’s husband, William, inherited much of it. Then, just three months later, William died of tuberculosis.

This left Sarah with an inheritance of $20 million dollars, which was the equivalent to over $500 million, today. She was also left with a near 50% holding in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which allowed her to rake in $1,000 per day in dividend income. That’s the equivalent to over $25,000 per day, or more than $9 million per year, in today’s money.

You may envy her, but the widow Winchester was no stranger to tragedy. In 1866 her only child, Annie Pardee Winchester, died just 40 days after birth. And of course her husband, a man whom she truly loved, died 15 years later. No amount of money could dissolve her lifelong grief over these losses.

Much of Sarah’s life, after her great inheritance, remains a mystery. But it’s commonly believed that she was an occultist, who held seances and tried to communicate with the dead, including her late-husband and daughter.

It’s believed she once visited a famous Boston medium named Adam Coons. And it’s said that Coons warned her that she was cursed by the Winchester fortune, due to the many people who’d been slain by the Winchester rifle.

Coons allegedly relayed instructions from angry spirits, telling Sarah to move to California and build a great house for all the ghosts of those who had been gunned down. And he told her to never stop building, as the sound of all the construction noise would confuse the spirits and keep them from harming her.

And so, in 1884, Sarah Winchester purchased an unfinished farmhouse south of San Francisco Bay, in what is now San Jose, California. And she commenced a never-ending job of finishing it.

She hired a crew of contractors and paid them three times the going wage. They remained very loyal to Sarah, and set to work, continuously building room after room, addition after addition, round-the-clock, for the next 38 years.

By the time she died in 1922, her farmhouse had expanded to 161 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys, two basements, and three elevators. And this was after part of the house had been destroyed by the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

It had many toilets, but only one was functioning. The other restrooms were built as decoys to confuse the spirits. In fact, much of the construction was intended to confuse these victims of the Winchester rifle. Every pillar, inside and outside, was installed upside-down. Hallways led to dead ends. A staircase led to a ceiling. Doors opened to steep drop-offs, or to bare walls. A skylight was installed in a floor. Other skylights were covered by roofs.

The front of the Winchester Mystery House. Or is it a side? There are so many entrances, it’s hard for a ghost to know. Notice the upside-down porch pillars?

She decorated the house with beautiful Tiffany stained glass and crystal windows. And many windows were designed with the number 13 in mind, as this was Sarah’s favorite number. So some windows had 13 panes, or a design would repeat 13 times within a window.

Her will, in fact, contained 13 parts, and was signed 13 times.

Another outdoor photo of the Winchester Mystery House. A sign near the entrance warned that photography was forbidden inside the house. I hate snooty policies like that. So after snapping a number of outdoor photos, I returned my camera to the car. But when the tour began, our guide told us that photography really WAS allowed inside, just not flash photography. I could have kicked myself. Or the guide. Someone needs to change that sign.

She died in her sleep at age 81, from heart failure. Or who knows, perhaps one of the spirits finally managed to exact revenge upon this Winchester gun heiress.

When her workers heard of her death they immediately halted construction, leaving nails half driven into walls. They knew the end had come for their fat paychecks.

Sarah was the architect of all the additions and remodelings. And she left no blueprints. She employed a gingerbread architectural style, which is fairly common to Victorian-era buildings in the United States.

Sarah bequeathed all of her possessions, except her sprawling mansion, to her niece and personal secretary. She made no mention of her mansion, in the will. So her niece emptied the house, trucking most of Sarah’s possessions to an auction. And it supposedly took six trucks working eight hours a day for six weeks, to remove all the furniture from the home.

The Foreman’s house, which is one of several outbuildings behind the Winchester mansion. The guy who lived here must have kept very busy.

Appraisers were confounded, and considered the mansion worthless. Nonetheless, it sold at auction for $135,000. The investor leased, then sold the mansion to John and Mayme Brown, who opened it to the public as a tourist attraction, just five months after Sarah’s death.

The horse stable, which is connected to the house. It was designed so that Mrs. Winchester’s carriage could be driven indoors, thus alleviating her from being soiled by raindrops, blowing dust, or other weather-borne unpleasantries.

Today it’s dubbed the Winchester Mystery House, and for an adult ticket price of $39, you can visit and explore many of the rooms of this odd mansion. The house is reputed to be haunted, and occasionally tourists and tour guides report strange happenings, such as swinging chandeliers, apparitions, and ghostly voices.

So it’s quite popular with tourists around October 31st.

Click here to learn more about the Winchester Mystery House.

This weather vane is one of the few remaining parts of the original farmhouse, that are identifiable. The farmhouse was renovated and added onto so extensively, that most of its original structure belies location and identification.

The Craziest Idea

“That’s the craziest idea I’ve ever heard!” laughed Bob McCulloch. He was the same McCulloch who’d made a fortune in manufacturing McCulloch chainsaws, so he knew the difference between a good idea and a crazy one. Nonetheless he cogitated on it for a while, and it grew on him. It occurred to him that sometimes crazy ideas can also be good ideas.

He’d come to Lake Havasu, on the Colorado River, to compete against his brother-in-law, Ralph Evinrude. Bob had excelled in chainsaws, and wanted to do the same with outboard motors, just like his B-I-L, Ralph. He planned to test the motors he developed, on the waters of the lake.

Little did Bob realize that his venture into outboard motors would drift over to real estate, and eventually take him to London.

The federal government had closed a military base at this lake, and returned the land to the state of Arizona. And the Arizona government was stuck trying to figure out what to do with these 26 square miles along the shore.

But Bob got an idea, he offered to purchase the land for less than $75 an acre, with a promise that he would develop it. In 1963 he cut a deal with the state, and suddenly found himself in the real estate business.

And now he faced the challenge of attracting buyers. Turned out, almost nobody wanted to live in that hell hole. Lake Havasu sits in the broiling hot, miserable, low desert. The average high exceeds 100 degrees from June through September. The record high is 128. And the waters from the lake make it a humid, sticky heat.

And besides, it was in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing going on at Lake Havasu except howling coyotes, sunbathing lizards, and chirping crickets. Few came to look. And most who did, left without buying any of McCulloch’s developed parcels.

London Bridge in the late 19th Century.

Meanwhile, in England, London Bridge was falling down. This famous, historic bridge had been built in 1831, and right from the start began sinking at the rate of one inch every eight years. Furthermore, it had not been designed to withstand 20th century motor vehicle traffic. The weight of such traffic accelerated and distorted the sinking. By 1924, the falling down London Bridge was three to four inches shorter on its east side, than on its west.

In 1967 the city of London decided they’d better build a new bridge, before the old one sank completely below the surface of the river Thames. But rather than demolish the old bridge, they put it up for sale.

And that’s when Bob McCulloch heard the craziest idea that ever encountered his ears. His real estate agent, Robert Plumer, suggested that he buy London Bridge and move it to Lake Havasu, as a way to attract curious tourists and potential customers.

McCulloch won the bid, at $2.46 million dollars. The historic structure was meticulously dismantled, and each stone was numbered, to assist in reconstruction. It was shipped through the Panama Canal, to Long Beach, California, where it was then trucked to Lake Havasu.

London Bridge at Lake Havasu, as it appeared from a paddle boat we rented last month. Many homeless ducks live here, that shamelessly panhandle for crackers from soft-hearted people such as my wife.

London Bridge was reassembled, by the numbers, on a peninsula that jutted into the lake. Then a canal was dug that passed beneath the bridge, and that turned the peninsula into an island, with the bridge connecting the newly-formed island to the Arizona mainland. And since it was reconstructed on solid earth, and fortified to withstand motor vehicle traffic, London Bridge would no longer be falling down.

Swallows make their mud nests beneath the edges of London Bridge. There are also divots in the stonework of the bridge, caused by Nazi strafing during the Blitz.

On October 10, 1971, London Bridge was officially rededicated, before a gobsmacked public. News of this incongruous relocation spread coast-to-coast. Curious, prospective buyers flooded in on free flights offered by McCulloch, to stand on this newsworthy bridge and take a tour of properties for sale. Soon, McCulloch recovered the entire cost of the bridge, in land sales, and transformed his red ink into a diluvium of black.

The underside of London Bridge. Rumor has it that unicorns have been sighted here.

In 1970, one year before the reconstruction of the bridge, Lake Havasu City had a population of just over 4,000 hardy souls. By 1980 it had swelled to 15,000. And today it boasts more than 53,000 residents.

Modern cars can now pass over the top of London Bridge, without creating a sinking feeling.

Bob McCulloch was almost sunk, from his purchase of worthless desert land. But a sinking bridge connected him to success. Sometimes, when you’re desperate, you have to strive very hard to dig yourself out of a hole. Sometimes you just have to be lucky.

An antiquarian lamppost atop the bridge, with Lake Havasu City in the background.

And sometimes you have to try the craziest idea you ever heard.

Here’s another crazy idea. You can bring your significant other to London Bridge, and lock your love together, at this railing.

A Rock to be Thankful For

A developer planned to build a wharf. But town residents protested. Why, this was a historic landmark! Sacred ground, they claimed. And so the planned development became mired in public debate. Sound familiar? Sure, this sort of thing happens to developers all the time in our country. And some of us feel glad about that.

But this particular town was Plymouth, Massachusetts. And the year was 1741.

The foremost protester against the wharf development was a 94-year-old elder of the Puritan Church, named Thomas Faunce. He had been born in Plymouth in 1647, and remembered many of the original pilgrims who had arrived on the Mayflower.

Elder Faunce claimed that the pilgrims landed on the very spot where the wharf was planned. And he pointed out a rock, which he claimed had been stepped upon by these pilgrims as they came to shore. He wept during his public protest, his tears splashing upon the hard surface of the rock, as he contemplated aloud the thought of the wharf covering it up.

The Landing of the Pilgrims, Henry Bacon, 1877.

Many who witnessed this protest felt moved. And who could doubt him? He claimed that this is what he’d been told by the very people who landed there. And nobody else alive had lived long enough to know any better. Plus, Faunce was a revered, respected elder of the church.

Just the same, Faunce’s protest failed. He was shoved aside, and the wharf was built in spite of his story. And in spite of the fact that everyone believed the story. Progress is progress, you know. We mustn’t stop our holy quest for progress.

But as a show of good faith the developers compromised, and preserved the rock uncovered, that Faunce had championed. From then on, this boulder became known as Plymouth Rock. It gained fame, and began attracting curious visitors.

In 1774, the good citizens of Plymouth split the famous rock in half. They then moved the top portion to their meeting house, to stand upon and deliver fiery speeches advocating independence from Britain. Over the years it was moved around some more, until 1867, when it was returned and rejoined to its lower portion. That’s when “1620” was chiseled upon it, commemorating the year the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth.

Plymouth Rock reunited with it’s other half, and properly date-stamped.

Souvenir hunters have, over the centuries, chipped away at this rock that Thomas Faunce made famous, so that now it’s only about one-third of its original size. Today it only measures about six feet long and three feet wide.

Now it sits on public display on the Plymouth beach, ensconced within a memorial at the spot where Faunce said the pilgrims had landed. And the wharf was finally torn down, so Faunce finally won out in the end. Today, Plymouth Rock continues to attract tourists from far and wide, to this unwharfed location.

Plymouth Rock at the shoreline where the Pilgrims landed, according to Thomas Faunce. Notice there’s no wharf in the background?

I don’t know if this is where the movement actually began in America, to conserve public lands and curtail development. But I like the story. It seems that deep within the heart of many Americans, both young and old, we treasure that which is pure and pristine.

Thomas Faunce was 94 years old. So his protest could not have been for himself. It was for future generations. I’m thankful for people like him. Because of such magnanimous activists of our past, today we can enjoy National Parks and historic landmarks.

If most tourists are anything like my wife and me, they leave Plymouth Rock with amused disappointment. We imagined this fixture to be some sort of majestic, Gibraltar-style edifice, jutting into the sea, with waves lapping upon its rugged, granite face. We had no idea it was just a puny stone, barely larger than a welcome mat.

My legs offer a little scale as to the size of Plymouth Rock. As you can see, it ain’t no Gibraltar.

But I’m thankful for Plymouth Rock, anyway. It reminds me of Thomas Faunce, one of the first American protesters against development. And it reminds me of the pristine seashore he sought to protect.

Faunce was a Puritan. And his religion was marred with many flaws that made it anything but pure. But I believe Faunce was an exception. He was one Puritan who understood the true nature of purity.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 4 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday, or rather in the year 1776, the British drove the Americans out of Quebec. They wanted to attack Fort Ticonderoga, but then winter set in. Rather than continue fighting, it was time for a cup of hot chocolate and stories around the campfire. The war could wait until next year . . .

On July 5, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surprised American General Arthur St. Clair. St. Clair had been put in charge of Fort Ticonderoga after most of the Continental Army moved south to join George Washington’s forces. He was expecting a British attack, so when it came, that wasn’t any surprise. The surprise occurred when General St. Clair looked up. He saw a sight that must have made him shit his pants.

The British had secretly and silently deployed artillery at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain (now called Mount Defiance).

This was Fort Ticonderoga’s Achilles’ Heal. We all have one. Even fortresses. This fort was surrounded by high ground and mountains. Sugar Loaf Mountain stood just a mile away from the fort, and was easily within artillery range. The presence of British cannon on that high ground left the Americans sitting ducks.

A cannon pointing in the general direction of Sugar Loaf Mountain (Mt. Defiance) and the outfall of the La Chute River.

That night General St. Clair made a very wise move. He gathered his troops and slunk away, abandoning the fort. And so, the British took back the “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga without firing a single cannon shot.

This was the beginning of General Burgoyne’s Saratoga Campaign. This campaign was named after the General’s favorite brand of cigarettes, which he chain-smoked every waking hour.

Burgoyne hoped to reunify Canada with the American colonies, while dividing the Colonies by isolating New England. It was thought by the British that the main revolutionary fervor came from New England. So by isolating New England, it was theorized that the remainder of the colonies could be quickly and easily subjugated.

And perhaps that’s true, for Southerners don’t know how to think without the help of New England politicians.

General St. Clair’s retreating forces were pursued by General Burgoyne. Some escaped, but others were taken prisoner. Those who escaped, along with other men, were led by Colonel John Brown right back to Fort Ticonderoga. He wasn’t about to let them get away with running from the Brits.

Cannon at the upper ramparts of Fort Ticonderoga.

On September 18th, 1777, they surprised the British defenders of the fort. Brown and company captured artillery pieces and hundreds of enemy prisoners. They destroyed shipping and the outer works of the fort. They freed 100 American POW’s. And they nearly recaptured the fort itself.

The British held the fort, but were shaken. Or, they were shaken, but not stirred. No one knew it at the time, but this would be the last major assault on Fort Ticonderoga.

Meanwhile, General Burgoyne had led his invading troops south to the Hudson River valley. He was running out of Saratogas and needed to replenish his supply quickly. There they engaged in a series of battles against American defenders under Generals Horatio Gates and, once again, Benedict Arnold. His troops got shot all to hell up by the Americans. It was frustrating, and he was having a nicotine fit.

Finally, Burgoyne made it to the town of Saratoga itself. There at last, he found his favorite brand of cigarettes. And he sat back to enjoy them, while watching thoroughbred racing at the local track. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by American troops. The gig was up. He was forced to surrender at Saratoga, New York, on October 17, 1777.

General Burgoyne, very unhappily surrendering his Saratogas.

This was a monumental victory for the Americans. It surprised the entire world. Nobody expected anything like this. What a bunch of smarty-pants the Americans were. Now the world took the American Revolution seriously. And this victory convinced France to join the American side, and provide crucial help in the war. Who knows, maybe they thought they could get Canada back.

The British abandoned Fort Ticonderoga in November, 1777, but not before destroying as much of it as possible. Did I mention that it’s great fun to demolish things? The Revolutionary War then shifted southward, and Fort Ticonderoga became forever irrelevant to all but historians. And tourists. And purveyors of souvenir shops, selling cheapjack crap.

This beautiful greensward is part of a dry moat that surrounded Fort Ticonderoga. During lulls in the war, this is where the officers engaged in sporting games of golf, croquet, and other gentlemanly pursuits.

After the war, it was plundered by local settlers for wood and stone, and fell into labefaction. And within a hundred years it was nothing but a pile of ruins. No one cared about Fort Ticonderoga. All they wanted was houses to live in. Ungrateful sots.

Daguerreotype of the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga.

Restoration efforts began in 1900, and now Fort Ticonderoga is back to its old 18th century glory. Today it’s a popular tourist attraction. And who knows, maybe it’s part of a secret CIA plot to once again invade Canada.

But Fort Ticonderoga helps to explain why Canada and the United States are separate nations. It was used for invasions both north and south, in attempts to unify. But that thin connecting thread between the St. Lawrence valley and Hudson River valley was not enough to overcome geographical isolation.

Culture, mindsets, and political attitudes developed independently north and south. Even if an invasion had been successful, it would have been very challenging to bring the two peoples together in heart and mind. Canadians are way too polite. And we Americans are way too rude. It just wouldn’t have worked out.

And after the revolution, Loyalists in the new United States were persecuted. Many fled north to Canada. Understandably, they had kind of a sour attitude toward the idea of unification.

“Halt, who goes there?” this cannon seems to say.

We tried once more during the War of 1812, to swallow up the lands to the north. Doncha’ just love good ol’ American Greed? But we were roundly defeated in this effort, while at the same time Canadian identity cemented in strength. They said, “Fuck-all this! We are Canadians! Go the hell home, Yankees!”

This ensured we will always have a Canada, separate and independent from us.

And isn’t it handy to have this foreign jurisdiction? In the 19th century, Canada gave runaway slaves a place of refuge. During the idiotic, insane Vietnam War, runaway conscientious objectors also found a place of refuge in Canada. These days, when prescription drug prices get out of hand, we can smuggle something cheaper across the border to save our lives.

And when we have a president who behaves like a bully, it feels refreshing to see a prime minister up north stand up and politely thumb his nose at the rantipole.

Canada has been our strong friend and ally for many years. I hope it stays that way, and that it always remains independent. We need this ally and counterpoise as much as we, and they, once needed Fort Ticonderoga.

War is an ugly hell. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be prettied up a touch with artistic cannon designs.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 3 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday’s time machine took us all the way back to an improbable 16-year era, when the Canadian colony and the 13 American colonies were unified in a sense. Of course every colony had their own government, overseen by the British, and kept morally divided through constant bickering. But a thin thread existed along the waterways of Lake Champlain and Lake George, that connected the Canadian colony to the American colonies. And Fort Ticonderoga was at the heart of that connection . . .

The barracks where the soldiers lived, worked, and probably played poker, at Fort Ticonderoga.

The British loved Fort Ticonderoga. They found it to be extremely useful as a supply and communication link between Canada and New York. And it was such a safe and secure place. It was just the spot to relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy the magnificent splendor of the Adirondack and Green Mountains, mirrored in the placid waters of Lake Champlain.

And it would have remained this way if only the damned Yankees had not been so revolting.

But on April 19, 1775, the shot heard round the world began the American Revolution. On that date, the British were defeated by the Yankees in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. How dare those Yankees! They had to be punished. So the British laid siege on Boston. They figured if they could starve all the Bostonians to death, it would teach them a lesson.

Ethan Allen giving the commander of Fort Ticonderoga, Captain William Delaplace, a wake-up call.

The Yankees felt concerned, because they enjoyed eating. And they knew that success for the new revolution they had just fomented depended on breaking the siege. So they quickly came up with a plan.

On May 10, 1775, just three weeks after the Revolutionary War began, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, and Benedict Arnold with his volunteers, led a surprise attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Those poor damned British soldiers. There they napped, without a care in the world, living the life of Riley. And then someone shit all over their paradise.

The unprepared British had only 48 soldiers, and they were caught sleeping. Mighty, “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga fell without a shot being fired.

This is where some of the British soldiers slept, on cozy, Sleep Number beds, while Ethan Allan and his Green Mountain Boys were sneaking up on them.

And boy, what a haul the Americans stole. Er, confiscated. The fort was stocked chock full of cannons, guns, and other instruments of death. General Henry Knox, who must have been very rich because he later had a valuable fort named after him, transported these cannons to Boston. There, they were used to end the siege.

And now Fort Ticonderoga was occupied by a newly formed Continental Army, all proud of themselves and intent on driving their British oppressors from North America.

When Ethan Allan died, his body was frozen and put on permanent display at Fort Ticonderoga. Here’s a photo of the ol’ block of ice himself.

That’s when somebody got the bright idea of using this fort as a staging ground to sail up Lake Champlain and attack Canada. They thought they could easily defeat the British army and then convince French Canadiens to join the revolution. What could possibly go wrong?

Why shouldn’t the French Canadiens want to go along with this plan? After all, they spoke French, while their British occupiers spoke English. But the American Yankees, they spoke, uh . . . well . . . never mind.

In late-August, 1775, American General Richard Montgomery confidently left Fort Ticonderoga with 1,200 troops, to invade the weak, quivering colony of Quebec. He sailed north and he met with quick success, the lucky bastard. By November he captured Montreal, and then laid siege on Quebec City.

He met up with General Benedict Arnold at Quebec City. Arnold, by the way, had drawn the unlucky straw. To reach Quebec City, he had to lead a disastrous expedition through the wilderness of Maine, losing nearly half of his men to the treacherous terrain. Meanwhile, all Montgomery had to do was sail up Lake Champlain as if he were on a Carnival Cruise. It’s no wonder Arnold later turned his coat and sided with the Brits.

In December, 1775, a new battle was fought for Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham (again, not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln). The Canadians, under General Guy Carleton, soundly defeated the Americans, killing General Montgomery and wounding General Arnold. Ouch!

But General Arnold did not leave immediately. There was no way in hell he was going back through the Maine wilderness. Instead he laid a weak, token siege upon the city, while American occupying forces in Montreal attempted to convince Canadians to join in the revolution.

Problem was, the Americans didn’t have any money except worthless paper printed by the Continental Congress. The Canadians were unimpressed. They said, “Show me the money!” And we didn’t have anything to show.

By May of 1776, it became apparent that the military and propaganda mission to conquer Quebec had failed. Meanwhile British reinforcements and supplies arrived after the ice on the St. Lawrence River thawed out. Uh-oh. In the face of certain annihilation, the Continental Army broke off its siege of Quebec City and fled back to the Colonies. But this time, Benedict Arnold made sure to travel by way of Lake Champlain. No more coach for him. He was going first class.

He led his Yankee troops lickety-split to Fort Ticonderoga.

Sigh, it seemed unification with Canada would have to wait for another day.

But maybe not too much longer, as far as the British were concerned. They were all full of themselves, putting the Yankees on the run like that, and so they pursued the retreating Continental Army, sailing down Lake Champlain toward their fortress at Ticonderoga.

The flagstone pavement and inner structures of mighty Fort Ticonderoga.

But the Americans were not to be underestimated. They had a navy of their own, and they too liked to play in the water. General Arnold took command of this navy and fought the British at the Battle of Valcour Island, in Lake Champlain, on October 11, 1776. It was no contest. Poor Arnold was defeated by General Carleton, who captured or destroyed most of the American ships. And who knows, maybe this is where Benedict first got the idea of jumping ship.

Just the same, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the British. Arnold’s efforts managed to stall the Brits long enough for winter to start sneaking her cold, icy hands up the breeches of the British army. Yep, they were freezing their balls off. So they decided to put away their ambitions to take back Fort Ticonderoga until the next year.

It’s time for bed. Don’t worry, Part 4 will be waiting right here for you tomorrow when you wake up. And smile! It’s the final part! 🙂

I believe this building was the officer’s quarters, at Fort Ticonderoga. Here is where big staff meetings were no doubt held, where some poor bastard always got the big staff.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 2 of 4

RECAP: If you can remember as far back as yesterday, or maybe the year 1758, British General James Abercromby has just decided to attack the newly constructed Fort Carillon, at Ticonderoga, and take it from the French. His long-term plan is to sail north from the fort, and drive the French out of Canada . . .

Cannon protruding through the battlement of an outer rampart of Fort Ticonderoga. It points southwest, toward the area where the La Chute River empties into Lake Champlain.

He came with an army of 16,000 soldiers. But Fort Carillon was a tough bell to ring. French General Louis Montcalm had only 4,000 troops to defend the fort, but he soundly defeated the British. Yep, he rang their bell instead.

This defeat was very embarrassing for the British. The whole world wondered how they could lose this battle against such an inferior force. The Brits looked like a bunch of wimps. But the British had a face-saving answer. They let it be known that this damned fort was impregnable.

That year the British were losing World War Zero. But then they got to praying. They prayed real hard for a miracle. And in 1759, a year that is known as the Annus Mirabilis (or, miraculous year), their prayers were answered. God switched sides.

In 1759, Great Britain and it’s allies began winning WW0, especially with some victories at sea against the French. Yessir, they hoisted the French by their own petard. Aye mateys, they keel-hauled them buggers. Yup, made them walk the plank into shark-infested waters.

Mortar and cannon aimed at Lake Champlain and the La Chute River.

France got desperate. Their prayers weren’t working, so they concentrated their resources in Europe and left General Montcalm with a skeleton fighting force to protect their Canadian colony. Well, maybe they weren’t skeletons just yet.

Montcalm muttered “oi vey” to himself. Or was it, “oh merde”? Whatever it was, he knew he was in trouble. He pondered his priorities. Should he choose Ticonderoga, or his own ass? He made the smart decision and chose his own ass. He withdrew to Quebec City, and left Fort Carillon with just a small garrison of 400 dupes. I mean troops.

That’s when the British said, “Hmm, maybe that damned fort isn’t so impregnable after all.” And in July, 1759, British General Jeffrey Amherst led an overwhelming force of 11,000 soldiers against Carillon. These 400 Frenchers weren’t idiots. They ran like hell, but not before trying to blow the fort up. After all, what could be more fun than blowing something up?

But perhaps they were drunk, or maybe their matches were wet, or maybe it’s because dynamite hadn’t been invented yet. But they were largely unsuccessful at their demolition efforts, and this “impregnable” fort fell into the hands of the Limeys, nearly intact.

The British renamed it after the Iroquois word. They hated anything French, including a French name. And so from then on it’s been known as Fort Ticonderoga.

Close-up of the business end of a mortar at Fort Ticonderoga. If I was facing this I’d feel mortarfied.

The next step would be to proceed north, and finish the French off at Quebec City. But the fickle British changed their minds. Instead of attacking from the south, they decided to attack Quebec City from the east, by sea. And why not? The British loved the sea. That’s where they had most of their successes.

British General James Wolfe sailed up the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic, and laid siege to Quebec City. A few months later he drew the French army out of the city and defeated General Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln).

Both generals died in this battle, so I’m not sure what they got out of it. But the French were finally defeated and were driven out of Canada. The French government, that is. The French settlers remained in place, and from then on have tried to do their best getting along speaking French in an English speaking country. It’s led to more than one awkward moment.

For the next 16 years, Canada and the 13 American colonies were unified. Yay! At last we were one! Well, sort of. We were connected by the thin thread of the Lake Champlain and Lake George waterways, with Fort Ticonderoga at the nexus.

Perhaps it would be nice for some, if the story ended here. That would mean Canada and America remained unified. And it might mean we eventually became one nation, after Great Britain slowly released its grip on us. But we know that’s not what happened. Camelot can only last for one brief shining moment. Come back tomorrow for Part 3, and find out how everything went all wrong.

A Yankee and Limey soldier fighting over a box of cannonballs. Can’t we all just get along?

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