Podcast Episodes

Toward a Dark and Indefinite Shore

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted and written by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

That’s the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. It’s not Lincoln’s most famous speech, but it’s close, and those last words are as fine as anything he ever wrote or spoke. A month later, the war was over after the surrender at Appomattox.

Lincoln waited two days to speak. He opened, “we meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart.”

“Gladness of heart” was something quite different from happiness. Lincoln was looking ahead to the reconstruction of the nation, but it would take place without him.

His would-be assassin, a notable stage actor, was at both speeches, biding his time until the moment arrived on his home turf.

Ford’s Theatre was first constructed in 1833 as the First Baptist Church. In 1859, the structure was abandoned as a place of worship. John T. Ford, a theatre entrepreneur from Baltimore, leased the building in 1861. A church board member predicted a dire fate would fall anyone who turned the former house of worship into a theatre. In 1862, Ford renovated the theatre and performances began, setting in motion events to follow that would shake America to its core.


John Wilkes Booth was born in Maryland into a family of prominent stage actors, including his older brother Edwin, the greatest actor of his time. John became a famous actor too and national celebrity in his own right, in fact, Abraham Lincoln, was a big fan. He had seen him previously in a play at Ford’s Theater and had repeatedly invited him, without success, to visit the White House.

Booth was no fan of Lincoln, however, a fact which had eluded the President. During the civil war, he was an outspoken Confederate sympathizer.

In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, then commander of the Union armies, suspended the exchange of prisoners of war with the Confederate Army to increase pressure on the South, who were strapped for men.

Booth decided to get involved. He concocted a plan to kidnap Lincoln, with the goal of holding him hostage until prisoner exchanges resumed. He recruited five men to help — Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, and John Surratt. On March 17, the conspirators planned to abduct Lincoln as he returned from a play at Campbell Military Hospital, but the President changed his plans at the last minute and instead attended a ceremony at the National Hotel. In a strange twist of fate, Booth was living at the National Hotel at the time. Had he not gone to the hospital for the failed kidnap attempt, he might have been successful.

As the war drew toward a conclusion, Booth continued to believe in the Confederate cause and sought a way to salvage it. Meanwhile, he attended Lincoln’s speech at the White House in which he promoted voting rights for blacks. Booth said that it would be the last speech Lincoln would ever give. It wasn’t. In fact, Booth also attended Lincoln’s second inaugural in the closing days of the war.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln told of a dream he had. One in which he entered the white house to see mourners and a military guard. He asked someone who had died. “The President,” came the response.

On the morning of April 14, 1865, Lincoln told people how happy he felt. He told his cabinet that he had dreamed of being on a “singular and indescribable vessel that was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore.” A dream, according to Lincoln, he’d before “nearly every great and important event of the War.”

While visiting Ford’s Theatre in daylight to pick up some mail, Booth learned that Lincoln and Grant were to see the play “Our American Cousin” that night. No stranger to the staff and layout of the theater, Booth knew the perfect opportunity to attack Lincoln had presented itself.

The conspirators met at 7 p.m. Booth assigned Lewis Powell to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward at his home, with David E. Herold as a guide. Meanwhile, George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel.

Booth planned to shoot Lincoln at point-blank range with his single-shot Deringer, after which he’d stab Grant. The conspirators would simultaneously strike shortly after ten o’clock.

Despite what Booth had heard, General Grant and his wife, Julia had declined the invitation. Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris would accompany the Lincolns. Mary Lincoln had developed a headache and intended to stay home, but Lincoln told her he must attend because newspapers had announced that he would.

The president arrived late to the play, which was haldted for the orchestra to play “Hail to the Chief” for the 1,700 standing spectators. Lincoln sat in a rocking chair that had been selected for him from among the Ford family’s personal furnishings.

Policeman John Frederick Parker was assigned to guard the President’s box. At intermission, he went to a nearby tavern along with Lincoln’s footman and coachman and was not at his post. Navy Surgeon George Brainerd Todd saw Booth arrive, saying: About 10:25 pm, a man came in walking slowly and I heard a man say, “There’s Booth” and I turned my head to look at him. He was still walking very slow and was near the box door when he stopped, took a card from his pocket, wrote something on it, and gave it to the usher who took it to the box. In a minute the door was opened and he walked in.”

Once through the door, Booth barricaded it by wedging it with a brace he had prepared. A second door led to Lincoln’s box.

Booth knew the play by heart and waited to time his shot with one of the best lines of the play, one which was sure to get a loud laugh. He opened the door, stepped forward, and shot from behind with a derringer while Lincoln was laughing.

Lincoln slumped over in his chair and then fell backward. Rathbone turned to see Booth standing in gunsmoke and jumped from his seat wrestling the pistol away. Booth drew a knife and stabbed him in the left forearm. Booth jumped 12 feet from the box to the stage. His riding spur became caught on the flag decorating the box, causing him to land awkwardly on his left foot. He began to cross the stage, and many in the audience thought it was part of the play.

Booth held his bloody knife over his head, and yelled “Sic Semper Tyrannus!,” a phrase Marcus Brutus utters after killing Julius Ceasar. It means “thus always to tyrants.” He followed it in English with “The South is avenged!”

Booth ran across the stage and exited through a side door, stabbing the orchestra leader on the way. He escaped on a horse he had waiting in the alleyway.

Army surgeon Charles Leale was in attendance that night, and after the commotion, he drove through the crowd to Lincoln’s box but couldn’t open the door. Rathbone noticed and removed the wooden brace Booth used to jam it shut.

Leale found Lincoln with his head in Mary’s arms. “His eyes were closed and he was in a profoundly comatose condition, while his breathing was intermittent and exceedingly stertorous,” “he said. Thinking Lincoln had been stabbed, Leale shifted him to the floor. Meanwhile, another physician, Charles Sabin Taft, was lifted from the stage into the box.

After Taft and Leale opened Lincoln’s shirt and found no stab wound, they found the gunshot wound. The bullet was too deep to be removed, but they were able to dislodge a clot, after which Lincoln’s breathing improved. They decided that Lincoln must be moved, but a carriage ride to the White House was too dangerous. They took the President to one of the houses across the road, that of tailor William Petersen. It rained as soldiers carried Lincoln into the street. In Petersen’s first-floor bedroom, the exceptionally tall Lincoln was laid diagonally on the bed.

More physicians arrived, all agreeing that the wound was mortal. Throughout the night, as the hemorrhage continued, they removed blood clots to relieve pressure on the brain. Eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln arrived sometime after midnight but twelve-year-old Tad Lincoln was kept away.

Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15. According to Lincoln’s secretary John Hay, at the moment of Lincoln’s death, “a look of unspeakable peace came upon his worn features.”

Ten days prior, Secretary of State William H. Seward had been thrown from his carriage, suffering a concussion, a broken jaw, and a broken arm. On the night of the assassination, he was confined to bed at his home in Lafayette Park. As Booth was making his way to the Ford Theatre, David Herold was guiding Lewis Powell to Seward’s house. One of Seward’s servants answered the door and Powell told him he had medicine from Seward’s physician, and that his instructions were to personally show him how to take it. Powell was admitted and made his way up the stairs. At the top of the staircase he was stopped by Seward’s son, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick W. Seward, who, suspicious, said his father was asleep. Daughter Fanny emerged from a room and said, “Fred, Father is awake now” – revealing to Powell where Sewards location. Powell turned as if to start downstairs but suddenly drew his revolver. He aimed at Frederick’s forehead and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. He knocked Frederick unconscious with it, instead.

Powell then went in the room and stabbed at Seward’s face and neck, but the splint doctors had fitted to his broken jaw prevented the blade from penetrating deeply, saving his life. Seward’s son Augustus and Sergeant George F. Robinson, a soldier assigned to the home, were alerted by Fanny’s screams and rushed into the bedroom. Both received stab wounds struggling with Powell. As Augustus went for a pistol, Powell ran toward the door, where he encountered a State Department messenger and stabbed him in the back. He then ran down the stairs and out the door. Once outside, he exclaimed, “I’m mad! I’m mad!”. Whether that was a code to alert Herold, or an attempt to frighten pedestrians outside remains unclear, regardless, by the time Powell made his way out of the house, Herold had already ran off, leaving him to find his own way in an unfamiliar city.

George Atzerodt, meanwhile, had rented a room directly above Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was staying at the Kirkwood House in Washington. Carrying a gun and knife, he went to the bar downstairs, where he tried to get his courage up. He eventually became drunk and wandered off through the streets.

Within half an hour of the shooting, Booth crossed the Navy Yard Bridge into Maryland where an army sentry questioned him about his late-night travel. Although it was forbidden for civilians to cross the bridge after 9 pm, the sentry let him through. David Herold went across the same bridge less than an hour later. After retrieving weapons and supplies they had stored away, Herold and Booth went to the home of Samuel A. Mudd, a local doctor, who splinted the leg Booth had broken jumping from the presidential box.

After a day at Mudd’s house, Booth and Herold hired a local man to guide them to Samuel Cox’s house. Cox took them to Thomas Jones, who hid them in a swamp for five days until they could cross the Potomac River. On the afternoon of April 24th, they arrived at a tobacco farm in King George County, Virginia. Booth told the owner he was a wounded Confederate soldier.

The hunt for the conspirators quickly became the largest in U.S. history, involving thousands of federal troops, who tracked them to the farm.

Booth and Herold were sleeping on April 26th when soldiers surrounded the barn, then threatened to set fire to it. Herold surrendered, but Booth cried out, “I will not be taken alive!” The soldiers set fire to the barn sending Booth scrambling for the back door with a rifle and pistol.

Sergeant Boston Corbett crept up behind the barn and shot Booth in the back of the head, almost exactly where he shot Lincoln. He died on the porch of the farm two hours later.

The remaining conspirators were arrested by month’s end – except for John Surratt, who fled to Quebec then Europe until a friend from his school days recognized him in there in early 1866 and alerted the U.S. government. He was finally captured in Egypt in November 1866.

Mourners lined up seven abreast for a mile to view Lincoln in his walnut casket in the black-draped East Room of the White House. Special trains brought thousands from other cities, some of whom slept on the Capitol’s lawn. Hundreds of thousands watched the funeral procession, and millions more lined the 1,700-mile route of the train that took Lincoln’s remains to Springfield, Illinois.


Following the assassination, the government appropriated the theater, with Congress paying Ford $88,000 in compensation. An order was issued forever prohibiting its use as a place of public amusement. Between 1866 and 1887, the theater was taken over by the U.S. military and served as a facility for the War Department with records kept on the first floor, the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office on the second floor, and the Army Medical Museum on the third. In 1887, the building exclusively became a clerk’s office for the War Department, when the medical departments moved out.

On June 9, 1893, the front part of the building collapsed, killing 22 clerks and injuring another 68. This led some to believe the facility was cursed. The building was repaired and used as a government warehouse until 1911.

A Lincoln museum opened on the first floor of the theater building in 1932, and in the following year, it was transferred to the new National Park Service.

In 1964, Congress approved funds for the building’s complete restoration, which began that year and was completed in 1968. Ford’s theater became a venue for live entertainment again. Vice President Hubert Humphrey dedicated the restored theater at a gala performance.

The theater was again renovated during the 2000s. The re-opening ceremony was on February 11, 2009, to commemorate Lincoln’s 200th birthday. The event featured President Barack Obama, Katie Couric, Kelsey Grammer, James Earl Jones, Ben Vereen, the President’s Own Marine Band, Broadway star Audra McDonald and more.

The Ford’s Theatre Museum beneath the theater contains Lincoln artifacts, including some related to the assassination, like the Derringer pistol used to carry out the shooting, Booth’s diary, the original door to Lincoln’s theater box, and the blood-stained pillow from the President’s deathbed.

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site is open every day except for Thanksgiving Day and December 25. Tickets are free and required for entry. The theatre is an active performing arts venue, and there are times when it is closed for matinees, rehearsals and special events. In most cases, the museum and Petersen House, where Lincoln died, will remain open even if the theater is closed for performances.

A performance is another opportunity to see the historic theater. Regular runs of exceptional quality plays and musicals can be attended by anyone willing to purchase a ticket. The presidential box is never occupied.



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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

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For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

National Park Service News

A Prescription for Fire

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue and video’s from the National Park Service. Links are provided below for all videos used in this episode.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

From a seed no bigger than one from a tomato, California’s coast Redwood may grow to a height of 367 feet and have a width of 22 feet at its base. Imagine a 35-story skyscraper in your city, and you have an inkling of the trees’ ability to arouse humility.

Some visitors envision dinosaurs rumbling through these forests in bygone eras. I’m Jason Epperson, and this is California’s Redwood National Park.

It turns out that picturing dinosaurs roaming through the forest is a perfectly natural thought. Fossil records have shown that relatives of today’s coast redwoods thrived in the Jurassic Era 160 million years ago. And while the fantastic creatures of that age have long since disappeared, the redwoods continue to thrive in the right environment.

California’s North Coast provides the only such environment in the world. A combination of longitude, climate, and elevation limits the Redwoods’ range to a few hundred coastal miles. The cool, moist air created by the Pacific Ocean keeps the trees continually damp, even during summer droughts. These conditions have existed for some time, as the redwoods go back 20 million years in their present range.

Exactly why the redwoods grow so tall is a mystery. Theories continue to develop but proof remains elusive. The trees can reach ages of 2,000 years and regularly reach 600 years.

Resistance to natural enemies such as insects and fire are built-in features of a coast redwood. Diseases are virtually unknown, and insect damage insignificant thanks to the high tannin content of the wood. Thick bark and foliage that rests high above the ground provides protection from all but the hottest fires.

The Redwoods’ unusual ability to regenerate also aids in their survival as a species. They do not rely solely upon sexual reproduction, as many other trees must. New sprouts may come directly from a stump or downed tree’s root system as a clone. Basal burls — hard, knotty growths that form from dormant seedlings on a living tree — can sprout a new tree when the main trunk is damaged by fire, cutting, or toppling.

The coast Redwood’s environment recycles naturally; because the 100-plus inches of annual rainfall leaves the soil with few nutrients, the trees rely on each other, living and dead for their vital nutrients. The trees need to decay naturally to fully participate in this cycle. 

But while these trees enjoy robust and hearty features, they have been threatened by humans. 

When Euro-Americans swept westward in the 1800s, they needed raw material for their homes and lives. Commercial logging followed the expansion of America as companies struggled to keep up with the furious pace of progress. Timber harvesting quickly became the top manufacturing industry in the west.

When gold was discovered in northwestern California in 1850, the rush was on. Thousands crowded the remote redwood region in search of riches and new lives. These people were no less dependent upon lumber, and the redwoods conveniently provided the wood the people needed. The size of the huge trees made them prized timber, as redwood became known for its durability and workability. By 1853, nine sawmills were at work in Eureka, a gold boom town established three years prior. Large-scale logging was soon underway, and the once immense stands of redwoods began to disappear by the close of the 19th century.

At first, axes, saws, and other early methods of bringing the trees down were used. But the loggers made use of rapidly improving technology in the 20th century that allowed more trees to be harvested in less time. Transportation also caught up to the task of moving the massive logs. The locomotive replaced horses and oxen. Railroads became the fastest way to transport the logs to mills.

Land fraud was common, as acres of prime redwood forests were transferred from the public domain to private industry. Although some of the perpetrators were caught, many thousands of acres of land were lost in land swindles.

By the 1910s, some concerned citizens began to clamor for the preservation of the dwindling stands of redwoods. The Save-the-Redwoods League was born out of this earnest group, and eventually, the League succeeded in helping to establish the redwood preserves of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

But still logging continued in those parts of the forests that were privately owned, accelerated by WW II and the economic boom of the 1950s. By the 1960s, logging had consumed nearly 90 percent of all the original redwoods. It wasn’t until 1968 that Redwood National Park was established, which secured some of the few remaining stands of uncut redwoods. In 1978, Congress added more land that included logged-over portions of Redwood Creek. Today, these lands are undergoing large-scale restoration by the parks’ resource managers. Logging continues on privately-held lands nearby and throughout the redwood region.

That’s Eamon Engber, Fire Ecologist at Redwood National Park. He stands in front of a park emergency vehicle with a map taped to it, planning the day’s job as he addresses the crew that will carry it out.

Fire is the life-blood of conifer forests and paries. But as modern development encroaches on these lands, fires have become more dangerous, and too big to rebirth plands without killing others. Forest fires have always been caused by lighting, meaning that they happen during or after rainstorms, and otherwise moist times of the year, keeping their impact minimal, usually towards the forest floor and away from the canopy. When humans cause fires during dry periods, they spread rapidly, consuming everything in their path. 

Using a “drip-torch”, fire crews begin to burn the edges of the planned boundary. This occurs after a small test burn has been competed, and only when the temperature, humidity, wind direction and fuel moisture are within strict parameters.

The burn is accomplishing its task. The next time a massive forest fire comes through, there will be less fuel available to it, but more importantly, invasive species are removed, and small trees that choke the forest are eliminated. This forest will continue to thrive because of prescribed burns. 

Redwood National Park is actually managed as Redwood National and State Parks, a string of protected forests, beaches and grasslands along Northern California’s coast. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park has trails through dense old-growth woods. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is home to Fern Canyon, with its high, plant-covered walls. Roosevelt elk frequent nearby Elk Prairie. Giant redwood clusters include Redwood National Park’s Lady Bird Johnson Grove.

 For thousands of years people have lived in this verdant landscape. Together, the National Park Service and California State Parks are managing and restoring these lands for the inspiration, enjoyment, and education of all.

Here, banana slugs, gray whales, Douglas-fir, black bears, and sea anemones are equally at home with redwoods.

Congress protected lands adjacent to the three California state parks in 1968 with the creation of Redwood National Park. In 1994, the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service agreed to manage the four-park area jointly for maximum resource protection.

Today, visitors will find not only old-growth redwood groves but open prairie lands, two major rivers, and 37 miles of pristine California coastline. 

Cabins and developed camping are available through the California State Parks system, and plenty of commercial lodging surrounds the area. 

It’s a large area, with several individual groves to explore, so you’ll want to plan well. Scenic drives, hiking, and biking trails abound. 



Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Redwood Area History: https://www.nps.gov/redw/learn/historyculture/area-history.htm

About the trees:  https://www.nps.gov/redw/learn/nature/about-the-trees.htm

The Three Redwoods:  https://www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/upload/ThreeTrees-2014-508.pdf

Prescribed Fire Videos used in the episode: 

https://www.nps.gov/redw/learn/photosmultimedia/firevideos.htm


For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

The Legacy of Three Million

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue. The bulk of the text was written by retired Forest Service Historian Gerald W. Williams with additions by Historian Aaron Shapiro.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


If you’ve spent any amount of time in National or State parks in the U.S., you’ve probably been in a building built by a federal program that employed nearly 3 million people during the most difficult economic time in our country’s history. Their work constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 state and national parks. They built wildlife refuges, fisheries, water storage basins, and animal shelters. They built bridges and campground facilities, many of which are still in use today.

The 1920s were a decade of unprecedented growth, prosperity, and social change in the U.S. The rise of the inexpensive, mass-produced automobile allowed millions to explore new highways and byways. Farm people flocked to cities to pursue jobs on the production line. Credit expanded, allowing many wage earners to purchase products without ready cash. Stock market
speculation, especially through a system of easy credit, was on the rise.

Yet mounting inflation began to erode worker purchasing power, and wage increases. At the same time, the nation stepped back from the international scene through a policy of isolationism, exemplified most prominently by Congress’ refusal to ratify the League of Nations pact.

When the stock market crashed in the fall of 1929, the things that marked 1920s growth contributed to a long and depressed economy in the 1930s.

When the depression hit, the demand for products and thus their need for production fell sharply. City dwellers increasingly found themselves unemployed. Farmers suffered through severe droughts, Dust Bowl storms, and restricted credit, often losing their land. Debts piled up, and savings disappeared. Banks limited remaining credit, recalled loans and foreclosed on mortgages. In addition, because fewer people lived and worked directly on the land, city people could not fall back on the barter system for the exchange of food and shelter.

Without a cash or credit income, the economy fell to an unprecedented low. By late 1932 over 13 million Americans, about one-third of the workforce were out of jobs. People had nothing to do, nowhere to go, and felt hungry, bewildered, apathetic, and angry. Young people were particularly vulnerable and had little hope for the future, given that they found themselves untrained, unskilled, unable to gain work experience, and lacking adequate education.

The stock market crash virtually eliminated the credit system, personal and family savings, and long-term capital expenditures by industry. Consumer demand was sharply reduced, devastating confidence along with much of the business structure. The final straw for many came when a large number of banks and financial institutions, having demanded loan repayments from people who had no money, went bankrupt. The almost total collapse of the nation’s financial structure demolished the public confidence that existed in the 1920s.

President Herbert Hoover attempted to remedy the crisis but to little avail. Despite the fact that he was not directly responsible for the depression, he became a scapegoat. Re-nominated by the Republicans in 1932, the condition of the national economy soured his chances for re-election. The Democrats nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then governor of New York. FDR looked to create a federal program to intervene in the public and private sectors that would create a “new deal.” He campaigned on the basic economic and social issues that were at the very heart of the depression, and he prevailed in a landslide.

Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, and his inaugural speech helped change the country’s attitude to one of careful optimism. His first official act as President was to declare a bank holiday on March 6 to allow time for the Treasury Department to check the stability of each bank before reopening. Thus began the “Hundred Days” in which the President, with the consent of Congress, produced much of the legislation that formed the body of the New Deal.

On March 21, 1933, FDR sent a message to Congress stating that he wanted to establish a new forestry relief agency: “I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth.”

Congress acted quickly, passing a bill authorizing the President to act on his proposed back-to-work forestry program. On April 5, 1933, FDR signed Executive Order 6101 which officially established the Emergency Conservation Work Program.

The initial selection of men for CCC camps began just four days after the signing of the Executive Order, with the first camp established ten days later. This first CCC camp, near Luray, Virginia in the George Washington National Forest, was named Camp Roosevelt. In early June, a peak of almost 14,000 men per day were selected and assigned to nearly 1,300 CCC camps across the nation. By July 1, 1933, three months into the program, the six-month enrollment quota of almost 275,000 was reached. That’d be one of the country’s largest employers, even today.

The CCC represented a significant departure from older work relief efforts that relied on private or small public efforts for those without jobs. The CCC was designed to “give each man some sense of his duties as a citizen in American Society.” It provided unemployed young men with work in the nation’s forests, parks, and rangelands. It became one of the most successful of New Deal back-to-work programs.

The idea for the CCC originated from FDR’s involvement with the Boy Scouts. The Scouts promoted the idea that social behavior could be shaped by manipulating one’s physical surroundings or environment. Like the Scouts, the CCC brought young men from what many viewed as diseased urban settings struggling through the depression and placed them in healthful environments in nature.

The CCC program had two main objectives. The first was to find immediate and useful conservation work for hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men. The other, as specified in law in 1937, was to provide vocational training, and later educational training, for enrollees. Enlistment lasted six months with an option of re-enrolling for additional six month periods for a maximum of two years. Men were paid a dollar a day, with $25.00 per month sent home to their dependents, usually their parents. Remaining funds could be spent at the camp canteen or for other personal expenses. The government provided the enrollees with room, board, clothing, and transportation.

Four distinct categories of enrollees existed. Most numerous were the young men, or Juniors, between the ages of 18 and 25. The Junior enrollee had to be single and pass a physical examination. Juniors comprised about 85 percent of CCC enrollment.

Another group was the Local Experienced Men, LEM for short. This group served as project leaders in the Junior camps. These men were hired from local communities and were often previously employed in outdoor or woods work. They could be married and were allowed to live at home if the camp was nearby, and there were no age restrictions.

Both the LEMs and Juniors were chosen through the U.S. Department of Labor until 1935 and thereafter by each state. LEM’s comprised about five percent of total CCC enrollment.

Veterans of World War I were another group of older men who could enroll in the CCC. Several thousand World War I veterans had taken part in the “Bonus Army” marches on Washington in 1932 and 1933. The earlier march in Hoover’s administration was dispersed by the U.S. Army, while the latter march was dispersed by FDR by offering to allow them to enroll in the CCC. Many second “Bonus Army” veterans opted to join the newly established work relief program with the administration creating separate CCC companies and camps for the veterans. After the initial “Bonus Army” enrollment, Veterans Administration regional offices chose other veterans from around the country. Veterans were not restricted by age or marital status. This category comprised about five percent of total CCC enrollment.

American Indians and residents from the U.S. Territories comprised another group of CCC enrollees. They generally had separate CCC companies and camps on or in their own reservations or territories, where they could live at home and work on nearby projects. They were not restricted by age or marital status. American Indians were chosen by the local tribal council and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and made up approximately two percent of total CCC enrollment. Territorial enrollees lived in the U.S. Territories, which at the time included residents of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Each corps area was commanded by an Army General. After signing up for the CCC, enrollees were assigned to a CCC company and reported to an
Army post for conditioning. The companies were then dispersed to a CCC camp. Later in the program, many enrollees were sent directly to existing CCC companies and camps without the physical conditioning period. A
CCC company consisted of about 200 men, although several women’s camps existed in northeastern states, enrolling 8,500 women before being eliminated in 1937. In the early days of the CCC, some racially integrated camps existed, but these were disbanded in 1935. By 1938 the number of African-American enrollees reached 10 percent, and by the end of the program, nearly 250,000 served, almost all in segregated camps.

At the beginning of the program, regular U.S. Army officers were in charge of each camp. Within several years the officers were replaced by Reserve officers from all military branches. As World War II approached, civilians were allowed to have command positions in CCC camps. Military officers had authority over enrollees from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. The responsible work agency, such as the Forest Service, had authority over CCC men during the workday.

Initially, each CCC company was housed in a camp consisting of surplus army pyramid tents or wooden tent frames. Permanent camp buildings were later constructed by local community contractors unless the camp was in an especially remote area, in which case the company commander had an option of having the CCC company construct their own buildings. Later, camps were fitted with inexpensive, prefabricated and portable buildings.

Camps were built around a basic model that included barracks, kitchen, mess hall, recreation hall, office, latrines, and equipment and storage sheds.

Many work projects occurred far away from the main CCC camp and required men to spend as much as half the workday in travel. As a result, “side” camps were often established near the worksite. Side camps usually consisted of 10-20 men living in tents, with a work supervisor or foreman in charge.

CCC boys often preferred these side camps, which offered less stringent schedules and more congenial work and play atmosphere.

In addition to improving the nation’s forest and park lands, CCC enrollees bettered themselves. On-the-job training provided crew members with marketable skills and basic education. About one-half of the enrollees had less than an eighth-grade education, and a number of them were functionally illiterate. Evening instruction offered remedial reading and writing skills. Many camps worked closely with local schools, while some colleges offered correspondence courses.

CCC enrollees received medical and dental care along with opportunities for religious services and recreational activities. Religious services were usually provided at least once a month, although many enrollees attended local churches. Recreation often involved organized and competitive sports through camp programs. Most camps provided space for library services, dances, ping pong, card games, and musical outlets. Additional opportunities such as hunting, fishing, and courting young women in the local community existed for the CCC boys in their free time.

The CCC made substantial contributions to forested areas, especially the millions of acres of national forests. Initially, most CCC camps were assigned to national and state forests, public domain land, and a few private forests. Later in the program, additional camps were organized for other state and federal agencies that requested specific work projects. CCC accomplishments in reforestation, road construction, firefighting, and recreation still yield benefits today. The CCC left the nation a vastly improved natural resources balance sheet, including three billion trees
planted, 125,000 miles of truck trails built, 89,000 miles of telephone lines, 800 new state parks developed, 40 million acres of farmlands benefiting from erosion control work, rehabilitation of drainage ditches, better grazing conditions, and an increasing wildlife population.

During the dark days of the depression, the CCC put over three million men to work on conservation projects in the national forests. A 1933 Journal of Forestry article reported on the work of CCC enrollees in eastern National Forests, “On the whole, the men in the camps have taken to the woods work very well. Many prefer it to work on roads or other construction projects. The use of an ax is no longer a mystery, and trees are often called by their first names,” the article proclaimed. Many of these workers in the woods later found themselves using different sorts of tools as they served their country in World War II.

The CCC was one of the most popular and successful New Deal programs. It enjoyed overwhelming support from the enrollees, local communities, various states and territories, and the nation. Perhaps the most significant product of the CCC-era was the profound and lasting effect it had on the three million enrollees. Work in the CCC provided a turning point in the lives of many of the nation’s youth, and it brought much needed financial aid to their families. In addition, it fostered self-confidence, a desire, and capacity to return to active work, a new understanding of a great country, and faith in its future.

By 1941, unemployment in the United States reduced to pre-Depression levels, and enrollment in the CCC was slowing. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Congress stopped funding the program, and most of the equipment was turned over to the War Department for use in World War II.

The toil of more than 3,000,000 people lives in our park system today across the country, leaving their stamp on places like the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Mount Rainer, and the Appalachian Trail in historic buildings, roads, lodges, fire towers and unseen conservation efforts that bear fruits to this day. The next time you’re in a National Park, remember that it might look much different if it weren’t for the Civilian Conservation Corps.



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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.184.8948&rep=rep1&type=pdf


For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

The Sound of Geology

One of our most visited National Parks averages more than a half-million visitors per month in the summer, visitors who flock to see massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky, and it’s main feature, a glorious canyon carved by an unassuming yet powerful river.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


Zion National Park is located along the edge of a region known as the Colorado Plateau. The rock layers have been uplifted, tilted, and eroded, forming a feature called the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. The bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon is the top layer at Zion, and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer at the Grand Canyon.

Zion was a relatively flat basin near sea level 240 million years ago. As sands, gravels, and muds eroded from surrounding mountains, streams carried these materials into the basin and deposited them in layers. The sheer weight of these accumulated layers caused the basin to sink, so that the top surface always remained near sea level. As the land rose and fell and as the climate changed, the depositional environment fluctuated from shallow seas to coastal plains to a desert of massive windblown sand. This process of sedimentation continued until over 10,000 feet of material accumulated.

Mineral-laden waters slowly filtered through the compacted sediments. Iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and silica acted as cementing agents, and with pressure from overlying layers over long periods of time, transformed the deposits into stone. Ancient seabeds became limestone; mud and clay became mudstones and shale; and desert sand became sandstone. Each layer originated from a distinct source and so differs in thickness, mineral content, color, and eroded appearance.

From Zion to the Rocky Mountains, forces deep within the earth started to push the surface up. This was not chaotic uplift, but very slow vertical hoisting of huge blocks of the crust. Zion’s elevation rose from near sea level to as high as 10,000 feet above sea level.

This uplift gave the streams greater cutting force in their descent to the sea. Zion’s location on the western edge of this uplift caused the streams to tumble off the plateau, flowing rapidly down a steep gradient. A fast-moving stream carries more sediment and larger boulders than a slow-moving river. These streams began eroding and cutting into the rock layers, forming deep and narrow canyons.

Since the uplift began, the North Fork of the Virgin River has carried away several thousand feet of rock that once lay above the highest layers visible today. The Virgin River is still excavating. Upstream from the Temple of Sinawava the river cuts through Navajo Sandstone, creating a slot canyon. At the Temple, the river has reached the softer Kayenta Formation below. Water erodes the shale, undermining the overlaying sandstone and causing it to collapse, widening the canyon.

One of the most popular areas of the park is where this transition happens. Everyday visitors walk the paved riverwalk trail, while the more adventurous head upstream, hiking through the water of the narrows. Here, geology is constantly in motion.

Unlock the hidden geologic mysteries of river stones with Park Ranger Robin Hampton as she reads an article written by Park Ranger Barb Graves for the park’s Nature Notes.

The Secret Life of River Stones

If you’ve spent any time on the riverwalk trail, then you’ve certainly met the unofficial park mascot – the rock squirrel. In their home, animals like the rock squirrel encounter an overabundance of human contact on a daily basis. Having been on the River Walk trail a few times myself, I can tell you the rock squirrel is the king of the castle here. If you even consider taking out that Nature Valley bar, they will come for you and take it. They also have zero issues rooting through your bag if you set it down. You’ll often see people snapping pics and oohing and aahing over these “cute” little squirrels.

But in our this next audio clip narrated again by Park Ranger Robin Hampton, from an article written for the park’s Nature Notes by Park Ranger Amy Gaiennie, we learn a little bit more about the “Misunderstood Rodent.”

Misunderstood Rodents

Perhaps a bit of that will keep you from putting your finger near a rock squirrel.

The Virgin River winds through the park and beyond into the gateway town of Springdale, where you can find all sorts of lodging and dinging options for a visit to Zion. There are two campgrounds in the park, the Watchman, which has electric and water, and can accommodate large RVs, is reservable 6 months in advance, and the neighboring South Campground features primitive sites and can be reserved up to two weeks in advance. The spectacular virgin river flows through both campgrounds.

It’s best to stay in the park if you can, because the parking lot fills nearly every day, and you can’t just drive through the canyon, you have to take the park’s shuttle system. If you do stay outside, there’s another shuttle that runs through the town of Springdale, but you’ll have to pay about $20 to park.

See all Zion National Park Audiocasts here.



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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 


For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

National Park Service News

News from the Parks | October 2019

Welcome to the October “News From the Parks Episode” of the America’s National Parks Podcast, our new monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

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October 2019 News

The biggest news out of the parks this month was a controversial plan by the Department of the Interior’s “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, a group of outdoor and recreation business operators. The plan boasts the parks as quote “excellent candidates for partner management under concessions and leases.” end quote. It recommends everything from turning campground operations to private companies, indexing campground prices to reflect inflation and the market, blackout periods for discounted senior-citizen and disabled camping fees during peak seasons, and even access for food trucks. The committee believes that the plan will help stabilize a park system that is in need or repair and maintenance, while providing relief for a strapped National Park Service. 

Detractors look at the plan as an attempt at a land-grab, pointing to historic problems with large concessionaires at places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, which have not resulted in revenue increases for the park service. It’s also not clear if concessionaires are interested in operating campgrounds in many parks. Often when current contracts go up for renewal, they have few if any bidders. 

But it’s important to note that the plan is just one advisory committee’s proposal, and is far from being adopted by the Department of the Interior.


Researchers have identified a new threat to Wild Lands across the country, human noise.

Anthropogenic noise, it’s called. Scientists from Colorado State University and the Park Service have spent the past decade studying noise on national parks. Researchers analyzed 46,789 hours of audio from 66 parks, and noise made by machines and people are heard in 37% of those recordings.

For many species, hearing the sounds of their habitat helps manage their safety. It’s often key to their survival and mating patterns. 

Recreational watercraft and trains create the loudest sounds, but the most common are automobiles, aircraft, and human voices.

It’s hoped that the research will lead to possible solutions, including quiet zones, managed construction noise, and limited access to sensitive areas.


Two mountain lions have been found dead in the Santa Monica Mountains—the cause of death for one of them, a healthy six-year-old male known as P-30, was rodent poison, according to National Park Service biologists.

He is the fifth mountain lion in the long-term study of the species to die from anticoagulant rodent poison, highlighting how an attempt to curb a rat problem can end up negatively impacting a wide range of wildlife.

Since 2002, National Park Service researchers have documented anticoagulant rodenticide compounds in 23 out of 24 local mountain lions that they have tested, including in a three-month-old kitten.

“Just about every mountain lion we’ve tested throughout our study has had exposure to these poisons, generally multiple compounds and often at high levels,” said Seth Riley, an ecologist and the wildlife branch chief for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “A wide range of predators can be exposed to these toxicants – everything from hawks and owls to bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and mountain lions. Even if they don’t die directly from the anticoagulant effects, our research has shown that bobcats, for example, are suffering significant immune system impacts.”

Mountain lions are likely exposed through secondary or tertiary poisoning, meaning that they consume an animal that ate the bait, such as a ground squirrel, or an animal that ate an animal that consumed the bait, such as a coyote.


How would you like to get paid to go fishing? The National Park Service has approved a plan to protect native fish and other aquatic species in the Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park by paying fishermen to catch invasive species.

The Expanded Non-Native Aquatic Species Management Plan includes what’s called an “incentivized harvest,” to reduce the growing population of brown trout in the Lees Ferry area below Glen Canyon Dam. Anglers will be rewarded for brown trout that are caught and removed from the river. The Park Service is working on the details of that program and will notify the public on how to participate once that process is funded and in place.


In other invasive species news, Little fire ants have met their match as Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park gets closer to meeting its goal of eradicating the pests from the popular Steam Vents area off Crater Rim Drive. 

Little fire ant, or “LFA” detections have decreased by at least 99% at Steam Vents since the park began treating the area in February. In 2018, LFA were abundant and readily observed on vegetation. During last month’s surveys, park pest control workers found LFA on just 0.1% of bait stations. 

Treatments will continue until the population is eliminated. “It’s too early to declare victory just yet,” said park ecologist David Benitez. “If we don’t continue our treatments, LFA populations will quickly rebound and could spread to new areas. These pests are a serious concern for human health and also for our natural resources.”


The U.S. is running short of people who can tell the forest from the trees. “Plant blindness,” or the inability of many people, even those in the scientific community, to identify plants is on the rise. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, organizations such as the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management can’t find enough scientists to deal with invasive plants, wildfire reforestation, and basic land-management issues.

Not only are there fewer university botany programs, but those who graduate from them may not be well versed in plant identification, focusing more on commercial applications of plants. 

There is now one botanist on the federal payroll for every 20 million acres of land, many having retired in recent years. 

—–

Similarly, A dwindling number of federal officers are patrolling the nation’s forests, parks, wildlife refuges and other open spaces, A GAO report cited a 19% drop in the ranks of officers at the U.S. Forest Service between 2013 and 2018 The Bureau of Land Management saw a 9% drop and now has one officer in the field for every 1.2 million acres the agency oversees.

https://kutv.com/news/nation-world/study-finds-us-public-land-workers-facing-assaults-threats


A reproduction bust of Orville Wright, which was recently stolen from Wright Brothers National Memorial, was found on the beach in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. A visitor called the County non-emergency line to report that the bust was “tucked” into the dunes.

National Park Service Rangers will continue investigating the theft of the bust and the damage to its granite mounting base. Homeowners and business owners in the area of Wright Brothers National Memorial have been encouraged to review security camera footage and report any suspicious activity from the night of October 12th through the afternoon of October 15th.


The National Park Service has begun recruitment for thousands of seasonal jobs. 2020 summer positions have been released on USAJobs website. The parks are recruiting entry-level summer seasonal park rangers all across the country—from the peaks of Mount Rainier National Park to the historic streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The National Park Service is also recruiting for a variety of specialized jobs, including archaeologists, biological technicians, and engineers.

“The uncommon men and women of the National Park Service share a common trait: a passion for caring for the nation’s special places and sharing their stories,” said Acting Regional Director Chip Jenkins. “I hope you’ll consider joining us this summer season to experience your America. You can make a difference by bringing your unique perspective to our work.”


Finally, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park celebrated its 20th birthday this month. The Western Colorado park was established as a National Monument on March 2, 1933, and was redesignated a National Park on October 21, 1999. Its name comes from the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day.


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Podcast Episodes

Spooky Yellowstone

National Parks play roles in all kinds of American legends, and Yellowstone, our first park, is no exception. It’s October, time to dust off the ghost stories and feast on three short pieces of Yellowstone lore, as retold by S.E. Schlosser for her book “Spooky Yellowstone.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


In the wild-west early days of the park, many of the proprietors felt they owned the land, and as our first tale proves, some could never let go.


Yancey was a quirky old-time pioneer, gold prospector and Civil War veteran —perhaps the last of that breed—who came to Yellowstone National Park in the 1870s and built a hotel in “Yancey’s Hole”; current day Pleasant Valley near Roosevelt Lodge. The hotel provided accommodations and provisions to the stagecoach traveling back and forth between Mammoth Hot Springs and the mining camps in Cooke City. It boasted five bedrooms and could accommodate twenty guests. Rooms were $2 per day, $10 per week, and included meals. There was also a saloon handy for anyone wishing a splash of moonshine after dinner.
Folks around Yellowstone called him “Uncle John” Yancey. He was popular with just about everybody in the park and its vicinity. Uncle John Yancey had important friends among the posh families back east, some of whom dropped by the hotel from time-to-time. Yancey knew all the good fishing holes and had plenty of tall tales to amuse people. He welcomed all and sundry with a libation of “Kentucky tea,” reputed to be the best whiskey in the park.
John F. Yancey was seventy-seven years when he traveled to Gardiner, Montana, to witness the dedication of the Roosevelt Arch by President Theodore Roosevelt on April 24, 1903. Yancey met President Roosevelt during the ceremony, but he caught a cold at the event and died of pneumonia a couple of weeks later. He was buried in the old Tinker’s Cemetery near Mammoth, and folks thought that was the last they’d ever see of Yancey. But not so!
It soon became apparent that Yancey’s ghost had gone right back to the Pleasant Valley; and Yancey’s ghost made himself at home in Roosevelt Lodge for the next 100 plus years. According to the park employees, Yancey’s ghost will bang a tin cup on the walls of the staff quarters at three a.m. He hides things and makes them reappear in unexpected places. Yancey’s ghost has also been known to unsaddle horses at the end of a long day on the trail. A trickster and a bit of a nuisance, Yancey’s ghost is still as wild as the West he helped tame.


The Lake Yellowstone has been filled with lore since it was built back in the 1800s. Many workers of all stripes have treated guests over the last century…perhaps some never left. Our next story is a first-person account of a very helpful bellman.


I gasped a bit as I wheeled my heavy bag toward the white-trimmed double doors leading to the hotel lobby. I was having some trouble adjusting to the altitude in Yellowstone after living my whole life at sea level. My husband Frank, on the other hand, took to the elevation as one mountain-born, much to my annoyance. He’d already dragged the rest of our luggage inside the hotel and was checking in at the front desk as I doddered my way into the lobby and collapsed in a chair near the fireplace.

“Come on, slowpoke, we are on the fourth floor,” my husband called happily, and dashed down the hall carrying a load of luggage as expertly as any of the bellmen. I struggled out of the chair, which was very comfortable, and aimed myself somewhat erratically for the hall. About halfway down, a compassionate bellman overtook me and claimed my heavy bag. Relieved, I hitched my handbag over my shoulder and followed the bellman. We chattered about my trip all the way up the elevator, and the bellman had some great suggestions for hikes we might take along the lakeshore, and where we might see wildlife.

The elevator let us off on the fourth floor, and we walked to the end of a long, rather spooky hallway. I shivered a bit, feeling uncomfortable and not understanding why this was so. But the friendly bellman distracted me with his gentle conversation. He left me in front of the open door with my bag, bowing slightly like an old-fashioned gentleman in a movie. I fumbled in my handbag, looking for my wallet, then realized I’d given it to my husband so he could check us in.

“Wait a moment,” I told the friendly bellman and hurried inside the room, calling to my husband. Frank was locked in the bathroom, but my wallet was on the bedside table. Pulling out some money, I hurried to the door, only to find that the friendly bellman had vanished.

“Were you calling for me, honey?” my husband asked, coming out of the bathroom.”I was looking for my wallet to tip the bellman that helped me with my bag,” I explained. “But he disappeared while I was looking for it.”
“We can leave a tip for him at the desk in the lobby,” my husband said.
“Great idea,” I said. “Don’t let me forget. He had some great advice for our trip. Told me to drink lots of water to help me adjust to the elevation and recommended the hike out to Storm Point. Apparently, the view of the lake is lovely!” Frank’s face lit up at this suggestion. He loved to hike.

We turned our attention to unpacking our bags. We were staying at the hotel for two nights before heading up to Canyon. Frank was going fishing for lake trout tomorrow, while I took a tour around the lower loop, learning all about the Yellowstone volcano and looking at the geysers and other hot springs.

Our room was quite lovely. It was at the end of the hall on the backside of the hotel, but I could see the lake out of the side window. Still, something about the room felt a little strange, as if someone was watching. I had goosebumps all along my upper arms as I unpacked. “What nonsense,” I said aloud, trying to make the feeling go away. “What did you say?” Frank asked, looking up from his fishing tackle box. “Nothing,” I said hastily. “Let’s go down to dinner.”

We had reservations for 7 p.m. at the hotel dining room, and it was almost that time now. I grabbed my wallet, remembering that I wanted to tip the friendly bellman. The being-watched feeling returned full force as we walked down the spooky hallway to the elevator. I shivered, and my husband suggested that I go back for my sweater. “No I’m fine,” I said hastily, not wanting to be alone in the room.

We descended in the elevator and walked down the lower hall to the lobby. I paused for a moment at the bell desk, hoping to see my friendly bellman. A nice young man greeted me with a smile, and I asked about the man who’d helped me with my luggage, explaining that he’d vanished before I could tip him. “Do you know his name?” the young man asked. “I’m sorry, I don’t,” I said. Then I spied the picture on the desk, showing a group of bellmen. “That’s him,” I said, pointing. The young man’s smile slipped a bit. “That is a historic picture, taken many years ago,” he said cautiously. “None of those men work here now.” “Really? That’s strange,” I said, feeling cold again. “The bellman who helped me looks just like this man.” “That man was the bell captain,” the young man said. “He’s since passed away.” Face devoid of expression; he added: “I’m sorry, I don’t know who it was that helped you today.” “Oh well, maybe I will see him again,” I said with an uneasy glance at the photo on the desk. Strange that the man who helped me looked exactly like the former bell captain.

I shuddered and hurried over to my husband, who was examining some of the lovely photographs displayed around the lobby. “All done?” he asked, taking my hand and leading me toward the dining room. “Not really,” I said uneasily, and told him about the picture. “So, you’re saying a ghost helped you with your luggage?” Frank asked when I finished. Hearing it put that way sent cold shudders down my spine. “Pretty much,” I said. “I’m not sure I want to spend the night at this hotel. What if the ghost comes back?” “If the phantom bellman comes back, we’ll ask him to take our luggage down to the car,” said Frank. “That way, we can make a fast getaway and we won’t have to carry our bags. Works for me!” “Get out of here,” I said with a reluctant grin. He smiled back and took my hand. “Let’s go to dinner,” my husband said.


A 500-passenger ship began touring the massive Yellowstone Lake in 1905. Its owner hired a man to watch the ship for the 1906 winter, but he died of a heart attack as he rowed out to Stevenson Island. The ship never took another cruise and was left on the Stevenson Island waterfront to wither away.

By 1921, the ship had to be pushed onto the Island’s shore and by 1926, her steam boiler was drilled out and used as an island hotel heater. The ship was also used by skiers for warmth, as an overhang for a fish-fry business and as a place to stage full-out bar fights.

In 1930, rangers doused the boat in kerosene and light it ablaze, which really only served to turn it black.

In the time since, the anchor and other items have been removed and put on display throughout the park, but the ship’s ribs still wait on the Island.

Our final story comes from a park ranger’s chilling tale from those early years after the wreck.


My supervisor radioed me just after sunrise on a warm summer morning to report another incident aboard the shipwrecked E.C. Waters out on Stevenson Island. “A bunch of drunks were boozing and brawling on the boat last night,” he said in a grumpy tone that clearly indicated his lack of morning coffee. I sighed. Again! I had no idea why so many summer visitors flocked to the wreck of the old steamboat on Stevenson Island, which lay partially submerged beside a sandy beach.”I want you to head out there and make sure no one got knocked on the head or stranded on the island when the brawl ended,” my supervisor continued. “Right, boss,” I said.

I hurried down to the marina and headed out in the boat we used for official business. It was a short ride out to Stevenson’s Island. I sighed as I drew closer to the creaky old tub listing precariously on the shore. There were empty beer bottles strewn on the beach and floating in the water, always a sign of trespassers. I moored my craft and gathered up as much trash as I could. Then I cautiously ventured onto the rickety steamboat. Thankfully, I found no bodies huddled asleep in the beer-soaked wreck.

Time to check the Island.

Stevenson’s Island was 1.3 miles long, and I was going to have to check the whole darn thing, just in case some of the drunks had gone exploring last night. With a sigh, I headed out in a basic search pattern.

By mid-morning, I was hot, grumpy, tired, and convinced I was on a wild-goose chase. There had been no sign of stranded vacationers – drunk or sober. I headed back toward the sunlit beach, ready to return to the mainland.

As I came over a tiny rise, a huge wind struck me hard, making me stagger backward a few paces in the suddenly freezing air. In front of me, I saw the lake churning in great waves while a huge storm cloud massed overhead. I saw something big and bulky, floating at the edge of the water. Something man-shaped. My heart leapt into my throat, and I rushed forward. Dear God, someone had fallen from the boat last night and hit his head! My hands felt cold and clammy as I fumbled with the radio at my belt. I had to call this in! But when I spoke into the radio, it only returned static.

I dropped to my knees beside the body; noticing that the sodden clothing was old-fashioned, dating from long before 1900. The drowned man looked rather like a fur trapper or explorer from the era when Yellowstone was first discovered. I checked his neck for a pulse. There was no pulse. I turned the body over and stared into a pair of bulging brown eyes on a blue-white face.

And then, in between one breath and the next, the body vanished. Suddenly my hand was gripping empty air instead of an old-fashioned jacket. I reeled backward with a gasp and landed on my rump in the sand. Where had the corpse gone?

I glanced frantically over the calm, sparkling waters of the still lake, searching for the body of the drowned man. The warm summer wind caressed my face as my brain registered the change in scenery. What had happened to the approaching storm? Where were the huge, wind-swept swells that had frightened me so much when I came over the rise?

I scrambled to my feet and stood hyperventilating with my head between my legs, arms braced on my knees. This couldn’t be happening. But I knew it was. Storm, cold wind, and the corpse had vanished in a heartbeat. They had been shades of a former time, a former accident. So that was why the man’s clothes had been so old-fashioned.

Spooked by the incident, I unmoored the official park boat and leapt in, glad to get away from Stevenson Island. Folks said that Lake Yellowstone never gave up its dead. Apparently, neither did the Island. I turned my craft and headed back to the main land and (hopefully) sanity. No more ghosts for me!


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Spooky Yellowstone: Tales Of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, And Other Local Lore
By S.E. Schlosser

From Amazon: Pull up a chair or gather round the campfire and get ready for creepy tales of ghostly hauntings, eerie happenings, and other strange occurrences under starry skies. Whether read around the campfire on a dark and stormy night or from the backseat of the family van on the way to grandma’s, this is a collection to treasure.


For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering Family

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

The Great Unknown

In the summer of 1869, an expedition embarked from The Green River Station in the Wyoming Territory and traveled downstream through parts of the present-day states of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona before reaching the convergence of the Colorado and Virgin rivers in present-day Nevada. Despite a series of hardships, including losses of boats and supplies, near-drownings, and the eventual departures of several crew members, the voyage produced the first detailed descriptions of much of the previously unexplored canyon country of the Colorado Plateau.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, American Naturalist John Wesley Powell, and the Grand Canyon National Park.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/geology/publications/inf/powell/index.htm

https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm

https://www.nps.gov/glca/index.htm


Arizona has been home to humans for more than 13,000 years. Ancestral Puebloan people lived in and around the Grand Canyon, leaving behind dwellings, garden sites, food storage areas, and artifacts that we can see today.

Modern tribes still consider Grand Canyon their homeland. Eleven contemporary tribes have cultural links to the area, and their oral histories are rich with references to the creation of that great chasm and torrential river.

In fact, much of the canyon isn’t part of the National Park. Parts lie within the bounds of reservations. 

Early European and American explorers of the Grand Canyon were the first to document the power of the Colorado River and share the beauty of the immense canyon with the larger world.

The first Europeans to lay eyes on the Grand Canyon were Spanish soldiers in Francisco Vázquez de Coronado’s army. They traveled north from Mexico City in search of the Seven Cities of Gold, fabled cities in the New Mexico territory purported to hold untold riches. 

After traveling for six months, Coronado’s army arrived at the Hopi Mesas, east of Grand Canyon. Coronado had also hoped to find a navigable water route to the Gulf of California. The Hopi leaders led a party into the canyon to see the power of the Colorado River. The soldiers were most unwelcome, and the Hopi guided them along a dangerous path to the highest point above the river and offered no information of value.

The twenty-day journey to the edge of the canyon culminated with the river nearly a mile below them. Three infantrymen were ordered to climb their way down to the river. They made it about 1,500 feet, a third of the way down, where they could more clearly see the river that they had estimated to be only 6′ wide. Now they saw it as a much wider waterway and realized there was no way to navigate ships along the powerful rapids. The Hopi had fooled the Spaniards into thinking that the area was an impenetrable wasteland, and Coronado dismissed further western exploration, moving his men east to Texas. The Grand Canyon was left unexplored for the next 235 years.

Often called “The Great Unknown,” the area was literally a blank space on maps. But it was clear that the Colorado River made a significant portion of its journey through this area, so in the mid-1800s, the federal government funded an expedition to determine its usefulness as a trade route.

Army First Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers was charged with the duty and would become the first European American known to reach the river within Grand Canyon.

Ives navigated upriver in a fifty-foot long sternwheel steamboat called the Explorer. Before reaching the Grand Canyon, he crashed and had to continue upriver for thirty miles in a skiff, until resorting to a journey on foot.

In his report, he said that “the extent and magnitude of the system of canyons is astounding. The plateau is cut into shreds by these gigantic chasms and resembles a vast ruin. Belts of country miles in width have been swept away, leaving only isolated mountains standing in the gap. Fissures so profound that the eye cannot penetrate their depths are separated by walls whose thickness one can almost span, and slender spires that seem to be tottering upon their bases shoot up thousands of feet from the vaults below.”

But he could not envision any sort of application for the area. Much of the beautiful scenery of the west was, to many early Americans, useless. He continued: “The region is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado river, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.”

But in 1869, another explorer would take on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. His name was John Wesley Powell. 

Powell was born in Mount Morris, New York, in 1834, the son of Joseph and Mary Powell. His father, a poor itinerant preacher, had emigrated to the U.S. from Shrewsbury, England, in 1830. His family moved westward to Ohio, then Wisconsin, before settling in rural Boone County, Illinois.

As a young man, he undertook a series of adventures through the Mississippi River valley. At age 21, he spent four months walking across Wisconsin. The next year, he rowed the Mississippi from St. Anthony, Minnesota, to the Gulf of Mexico. Then he rowed down the length of the Ohio River, and then down the Illinois River, turning upstream and rowing the Mississippi and the Des Moines River to central Iowa. 

His ravenous appetite for exploration led to being elected in 1859 to the Illinois Natural History Society.

Powell studied at Illinois College, Illinois Institute (which would later become Wheaton College), and Oberlin College, over a period of seven years while teaching, but was unable to attain his degree. He learned Ancient Greek and Latin, and of course, he buried himself in the natural sciences. However, the course of his education changed as the Civil War was looming. As a union-loyal abolitionist, he decided to study military science and engineering to prepare himself for the approaching conflict. He enlisted at Hennepin, Illinois, as a private in the 20th Illinois Infantry, hoping to serve the Union army as a cartographer, topographer and military engineer. He was elected sergeant-major of the regiment, and when the 20th Illinois was mustered into the Federal service a month later, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

During the War, he became a captain of a regiment, before taking a brief leave to get married. He returned to service, where he fought in the Battle of Shiloh, and lost most of his right arm when struck by a bullet.

Despite the loss of an arm, he fought at Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, and in the siege of Vicksburg. He was made a major and commanded an artillery brigade during the Atlanta Campaign. After the fall of Atlanta, he participated in the battle of Nashville.

After leaving the Army, Powell returned to Illinois where he became a lecturer at various universities, but declined a permanent position, as he had his eyes focused on exploring again. This time, in the American West.

Powell led expeditions into Colorado and Wyoming, studying the geology, especially that of the Colorado River. That unknown space on the maps downriver sparked his curiosity. He began to study reports from Ives’ expedition, arranged for support and supplies from the Smithsonian Institution, railroads, and some educational institutions, and convinced Congress to authorize the use of rations and supplies from army posts along the planned route. He designed boats and gathered a makeshift crew of ex-trappers, mountain men, and Civil War veterans like himself. 

The Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869 launched four boats from Green River, Wyoming. The river started off with ease, but quickly gained momentum and began to bare its teeth. One boat and all its supplies were lost in a rapid Powell dubbed “Disaster Falls.”

He wrote:  

Early in the afternoon I found a place where it would be necessary to make a portage, and signalling the boats to come down, I walked along the bank to examine the ground for the portage, and left one of the men of my boat to signal the others to land at the right point. I soon saw one of the boats land all right, and felt no more care about them. But five minutes after I heard a shout, and looking around, I saw one of the boats coming over the falls. Capt. Howland, of the “No Name,” had not seen the signal in time, and the swift current had carried him to the brink. I saw that his going over was inevitable and turned to save the third boat. In two minutes more I saw that turn the point and head to shore, and so I went after the boat going over the falls. The first fall was not great, only two or three feet, and we had often run such, but below it continued to tumble down 20 to 30 feet more, in a channel filled with dangerous rocks that broke the waves into whirlpools and beat them into foam. I turned just to see the boat strike a rock and throw the men and cargo out. Still they clung to her sides and clambered in again and saved part of the oars, but she was full of water, and they could not manage her. Still down the river they went, two or three hundred yards to another rocky rapid just as bad, and the boat struck again amid ships, and was dashed to pieces. The men were thrown into the river and carried beyond my sight.

Although the three men were washed ashore uninjured, the No Name was utterly wrecked. Rations, instruments, and clothing were lost. Only two barometers and a keg of whiskey were recovered. 

Bad luck continued to plague the explorers. Only a little more than a week later, they camped in a little alcove bordered by cedars on one side and a dense mass of box elders and dead willows on the other. Powell and Captain Howland went to explore the stream coming down into the alcove, and, while away, their campfire was blown by strong winds starting a forest fire. The men rushed for the boats, leaving everything they couldn’t carry. Their clothes were burned and their hair singed. The cook saved the mess kit, but as he jumped aboard the boat, he stumbled and tossed it overboard, losing it all to the Colorado. Plates, silverware, pots, and water vessels were all lost. 

That’s only a small sampling of the trials the party faced on their journey downriver, well before finding the unknown canyon. After a summer traveling, the expedition entered a canyon where the river, in its meanderings, had undermined the vertical walls. There were mazes of side canyons and gorges and huge potholes in the rocks. On the canyon walls and back many miles into the country, the explorers saw monument-shaped buttes, carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcoves, gulches, and mounds. They named it Monument Canyon. Today, we call it Glen Canyon. 

They traveled cautiously in water that boiled between sharp rocks and over limestone ledges. As they proceeded, the canyon walls rose higher and higher. In places, the river occupied the entire channel; the cliffs rose vertically from the water’s edge, and there was no place to land. The walls were of colored marble—white, gray, pink, and purple. Powell wrote: August 9 . . . Scenery on grand scale. Marble walls polished by the waves. Walls 2,500 feet high. 3 portages before dinner. This afternoon I had a walk of a mile on a marble pavement, polished smooth in many places, in others embossed in a thousand fantastic patterns. Highly colored marble. Sun shining through cleft in the wall and the marble sending back the light in iridescence. 

Marble Canyon today is the eastern tip of Grand Canyon National Park, where the earth truly begins to open. 

Their food was reduced to flour, coffee, some bacon, and dried apples; half of their blankets were lost; their clothes were in rags. Powell described the experience in these words:

“We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth and the great river shrinks into insignificance,” Powell continued. “As it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders.

We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channels, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not.

August 13—We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. Our boats, tied to a common stake, chafe each other as they are tossed by the fretful river. They ride high and buoyant, for their loads are lighter than we could desire. We have but a month’s rations remaining. The flour has been resifted through the mosquito-net sieve; the spoiled bacon has been dried and the worst of it boiled; the few pounds of dried apples have been spread in the sun and re-shrunken to their normal bulk.

The sugar has all melted and gone on its way down the river. But we have a large sack of coffee. The lightening of the boats has this advantage; they will ride the waves better and we shall have but little to carry when we make a portage.

They became aware of a great roar and moved forward cautiously. The sound grew increasingly loud, and they found themselves above a long broken fall with ledges and pinnacles of rock jutting into the stream, their tops sometimes just below the surface. There was a descent of 75-80 feet in one-third of a mile, and the rushing waters broke into great waves on the rocks.

The walls were now more than a mile high. The gorge was black and narrow below, red and gray and flaring above, cut in many places by side canyons out of which streams flowed, adding to the turmoil of the river. Carried swiftly along, they listened for the roar of water that meant increased danger. The narrow canyon was winding, and the river was closed in so that they could see but a few hundred yards ahead.

After making a difficult portage in the afternoon, the party finally landed the boats in a side canyon and climbed to a shelf 40-50 feet above the water where they camped for the night. It was raining, there was no shelter, and the men spent the night on the rocks, sleeping fitfully, wrapped in their rotted ponchos.

At noon on August 27, they approached a section of the river that seemed to be particularly threatening. Boulders that had been washed into the river formed a dam over which the water fell 18-20 feet. Below the boulder dam was a 300-foot-long rock-filled rapids. On the side of the gorge, rock points projected from the wall almost halfway across the river. They tried in vain to find a way around it but finally concluded that they had to run it. There were provisions for only 5 days more.

Some of the men thought they should abandon the river. 3 men decided to leave the party and go overland to the Mormon settlements 75 miles to the north.

For the last 2 days, the course had not been plotted, and Powell now used dead reckoning to determine their way. He found that they were only about 45 miles from the mouth of the Virgin River in a direct line, but probably 80-90 miles from it by the meandering line of the river. If they could navigate the remaining stretch of unknown water to that point, he reasoned, the journey up the Virgin River to Mormon settlements would be a relatively easy one.

Powell spent the night pacing up and down on the few yards of a sandy beach along the river. Was it wise to go on? While he felt that they could get over the immediate danger, he could not foresee what might be below. He almost decided to leave the river, but wrote:

For years I have been contemplating this trip. To leave the exploration unfinished, to say that there is a part of the canyon which I cannot explore, having already nearly accomplished it, is more than I am willing to acknowledge and I determine to go on.

They divided the scanty rations and the guns and ammunition. The small boat was abandoned. First, three men in one boat ran the rapids, then three in the other.

Early on the morning of the 29th, the expedition again started downriver. At about 10 o’clock, the country began to open up. On the 30th, they came, somewhat unexpectedly, to the mouth of the Virgin River. They had successfully traversed the previously unknown Grand Canyon.

 On September 1, 4 of the remaining men took a small supply of rations and continued downstream, intending to go on to Fort Mojave and then overland to Los Angeles. Powell and his brother left for Salt Lake City and then home, returning as a national hero.

Powell was not satisfied with the results of his exploration. Notes and specimens had been lost. The scientific instruments had been badly damaged and the information obtained was not as complete or reliable as Powell wished.

So, he planned another expedition to supplement the work of the first. Congress appropriated funds, the members of the party had been selected, and, on May 22, 1871, the party pushed their boats out into the stream at Lee’s Ferry

The voyages produced the first detailed descriptions of much of the previously unexplored canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. 

After returning home, Powell became the director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution in 1879 until his death. In honor of his service to the country, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetary. 

Lake Powell, created by the flooding of Glen Canyon is named for John Wesley Powell, the one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the river on three wooden boats in 1869.

If you’re interested in a similar, but perhaps safer journey through the grand canyon, you can see it the way Powell did. Rafting trips up to 18 days long set in at Lee’s Ferry, just where Powell did on his second trip, above marble canyon. 

This is really the ultimate National Park adventure’s trip. There are over 42 major rapids rated 5 or above on a 1-10 scale. Rafters float in the mornings, stop for short hikes, and arrive at a new campsite late afternoon each day, dining river-side before sleeping under the stars before waking up to magnificent sunrises. A charter plane, helicopter, or ground transport takes you either back to your car at Lee’s Ferry, or to Las Vegas for air travel home.


The America’s National Parks Podcast is hosted by Jason Epperson and Abigail Trabue, produced by Lotus Theatricals, LLC and sponsored by L.L.Bean. Follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Want to continue exploring America? Check out the entire lineup of RV Miles Network Podcast featuring the road trip focused See America and the RV and camping focused RV Miles.

Podcast Episodes

Gateway to the West

Halfway down the mighty Mississippi, a model of engineering greets the world to the Lion of the Valley, the Gateway to the West, St. Louis, Missouri.

Today on America’s National Parks, Gateway Arch National Park, and its namesake architectural wonder that is like no other on earth.

The Gateway Arch has always inspired me. I’m a sucker for structures that make a statement about a city: Seattle’s Space Needle, The Chrysler building, The White House, Independence Hall. I grew up about 7 hours upriver from St. Louis and seeing that silver gleam on our annual trips to one of my favorite cities still gets my heart racing today.

The Gateway Arch is known worldwide; it’s probably only second to the Statue of Liberty But how much do you actually know about its history? It’s wild, and it parallels much of the 20th century.


Listen below, or on any podcast app:


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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/jeff/learn/historyculture/archives.htm

https://www.nps.gov/jeff/planyourvisit/materials-and-techniques.htm

https://www.nps.gov/jeff/learn/index.htm

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/facts-about-st-louis-gateway-arch

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/gateway-arch-completed

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/story-st-louis-gateway-arch-180956624/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gateway_Arch


In 1933, amidst the pains of the great depression, civic leader Luther Ely Smith looked upon the industrial St. Louis riverfront and envisioned a project that would stimulate the town’s economy — a large memorial to commemorate the people who made the western expansion of the United States possible. People like President Jefferson, his aides Livingston and Monroe, explorers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the territory’s hunters, trappers, and pioneers. He approached mayor Bernard Dickmann, who brought it up in a meeting with city leaders. They endorsed the idea, and the nonprofit Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association, or “Jenny May” as they called it, was formed. Smith was appointed chairman.

As with most projects of this sort, locals did not approve of exhausting public funds for such a cause. The people of St.Louis would often tell Smith that the city needed more practical things, and he would respond that “spiritual things” were equally important. The crushing yoke of the Great Depression changed a lot of minds. The project was expected to create 5,000 jobs for three to four years. And the association hoped that the federal government would foot three-quarters of the bill for the project, which was budgeted at an astounding $30 million.

The association worked a bill through Congress to authorize the project without any funding appropriated. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill into law.

Meanwhile, the association began working on an architectural competition to determine the design of the monument.

Funding was applied for from the Public Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration, as well as the State of Missouri. Funding was approved on all counts.

Since the Mississippi River played a crucial role in establishing St. Louis as the Gateway to the west, a memorial commemorating it needed to be near the river. An 82-acre area was set aside, even as some taxpayers filed lawsuits to block the construction.

Following a rigged bond measure to cover the city’s costs—the St. Louis Post-Dispatch counted 46,000 phony ballots, more than enough to tilt the outcome, and denounced the project as “election thievery” — The National Park Service began to acquire the buildings within the historic site in an extremely controversial way. Instead of purchasing the buildings, which were mostly dilapidated factories and slums, they went and had them condemned. There were several legal disputes over the condemnation, but ultimately the United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it legal. A total of $6.2 million was distributed to landowners.

On May 30, 1947, 14 years after Luther Ely Smith looked upon the riverfront and envisioned a project that would stimulate a ravished economy, the design contest officially opened. The competition included two stages—the first to narrow down the designers to five and the second to single out one architect’s design which was to include: An architectural memorial to Jefferson, landscaping, provision of an open-air campfire theater, reproduction of old historic buildings, a Museum interpreting the Westward movement, a vision of greater opportunities for people of all races and creeds; recreational facilities on both sides of the river, parking facilities,placement of an interstate highway, and moving train tracks only recently built on the levee.

After four days of deliberation, the jury narrowed down the 172 submissions to five finalists. A father and son, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, had both entered the competition. Eero was chosen as a finalist, but, officials mistakenly told the father, Eliel, he had made the cut. The family had begun a champagne celebration to toast the senior Saarinen when a telegram came to correct the error. Eliel broke out a second bottle of champagne to toast his son.

Eero Saarinen’s design instantly stood out. It was a massive steel arch, 580 feet high, which he said symbolized “the gateway to the West, the national expansion, and whatnot.”

During the second phase of the competition, the design was refined. It was increased to 630′ in height and width. It was to have carbon steel on the interior, stainless steel on the exterior, and a concrete in-filling. The legs were originally square, but the design changed to an equilateral-triangle-shaped crosssection that tapers from 54′ wide at the base to only 17′ wide at the top.

He wanted the landscape surrounding the Arch to be so densely covered with trees that it would be a forest-like park, a green retreat from the tension of the downtown city.

Saarinen’s design was chosen unanimously.

The design drew mixed responses from the public. While some saw it as an impressive modern display, some likened it to a hairpin or a stainless steel hitching post.
It would be a lot more impressive once it left the bounds of paper drawings.

As preparations began, the train tracks were still a problem. Saarinen proposed a tunnel below Second and First Streets, and further said that if the tracks passed between the memorial and the river, he would withdraw his participation.

Ultimately the tunnel design was too expensive, and a grand staircase that would connect the memorial and the river was designed to cover a 1000′ portion of the tracks.

The federal government, strapped for cash, began to pull back on appropriations and was unwilling to foot a large bill for moving the railroad tracks. It was now the 1950s, and the Korean War, in particular, was a drain on the government coffers. The association resorted to approaching the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations for $10 million. The foundations denied the request because their function as private foundations did not include funding national memorials. In 1956, Congress appropriated $2.64 million to be used to move the railroad tracks. The remainder of the original authorized appropriation was requested via six congressional bills, increasing federal funds by $12.25 million.

Moving the railroad tracks was the first stage of the project. 10:30 a.m. on June 23, 1959, 12 years after Saarinen won the competition, the groundbreaking ceremony occurred. In 1961, the foundation of the structure was laid, and construction of the Arch itself began on February 12, 1963.

The steel triangle legs, which narrowed as they increased in height, were prefabricated in sections. The stainless steel pieces of the Arch were shipped in via train from Pennsylvania and had to be assembled on site. Once in place, each section had its double-walled skin filled with concrete. In order to keep the partially completed legs steady, a scissor truss was placed between them.

Welders had to work especially carefully to ensure their measurements were precise—the margin of error allowed was less than half a millimeter. If the sections didn’t line up correctly, the top of the Arch would not fit.

Many people speculated that the Arch would fail when the trestle was removed.

The construction itself was a tourist attraction. Contractor MacDonald Construction Company built a 30-foot tower for spectators. In 1963, a million people went to observe the progress, and by 1964, local radio stations began to broadcast when large slabs of steel were to be raised into place.

However, construction of the Arch was often delayed by safety checks, funding uncertainties, and legal disputes.

Civil rights activists regarded the construction of the Arch as a token of racial discrimination, as the unions had barred skilled Black workers from involvement. On July 14, 1964, protesters climbed 125 feet up the north leg of the Arch to draw attention to the discrimination, demanding that at least 10% of the skilled jobs go to African Americans. Four hours later, they dismounted from the Arch and were arrested. But they were successful in getting the United States Department of Justice to file the first pattern or practice case against the AFL–CIO under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; unfortunately, the department later called off the charges.

The unions halted construction regularly to ascertain if the work site was safe. But even though the insurance company for the project predicted that 13 workers would die during construction as workers were hundreds of feet in the air with no safety nets, no one died during the project.

The ceremony date was reset to October 17, 1965, and workers strained to meet the deadline, taking double shifts, but failing.
On October 28th, a time capsule containing the signatures of 762,000 students was welded into the keystone before the final piece was set in place. The Arch was completed as Vice President Hubert Humphrey observed from a helicopter. A Catholic priest and a rabbi prayed over the keystone, which is a 9-ton eight-foot-long section. It was slated to be inserted at 10:00 a.m. but was done 30 minutes early as thermal expansion had constricted the 8.5-foot gap at the top by 5 inches. Workers used fire hoses to spray water on the surface of the south leg to cool it down and make it contract. The keystone was inserted in 13 minutes.

The Gateway Arch was expected to open to the public by 1964, but in 1967 the public relations agency stopped forecasting the opening date. The Arch’s visitor center didn’t open until June 10, 1967, and the tram inside that takes people to the top opened two weeks later.

The Arch was officially dedicated by Humphrey on May 25, 1968, who declared the arch “a soaring curve in the sky that links the rich heritage of yesterday with the richer future of tomorrow” and brings a “new purpose” and a “new sense of urgency to wipe out every slum.”

The project did not provide 5,000 jobs as expected— in fact; workers numbered fewer than 100. The project did, however, spawn another $150 million in riverfront restoration efforts, including a 50,000-seat sports stadium, a 30-story hotel, several office towers, four parking garages, and an apartment complex. One estimate found that since the 1960s, the Arch has incited almost $503 million worth of construction.

In June of 1976, the memorial was finalized. The statue of Thomas Jefferson was unveiled, the Museum of Westward Expansion was previewed, a theater under the Arch was dedicated and a curving staircase from the Arch down to the levee was built.

In 1974, the Arch ranked fourth on a list of “most-visited man-made attraction[s]. It’s now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, with over four million visitors annually, of which around one million travel to the top.

Three years after the monument’s opening, the St. Louis phone directory contained 65 corporations with “Gateway” in their title and 17 with “Arch.” Arches also appeared over gas stations and drive-in restaurants. In the 1970s, a local sports team adopted the name “Fighting Arches”

Robert S. Chandler, an NPS superintendent, said, that most visitors are awed by the size and scale of the Arch, but they don’t understand what it’s all about … Too many people see it as just a symbol of the city of St. Louis.

Eero Saantarin went on to design Washington Dulles International Airport, the TWA terminal at JFK International Airport in New York and a celebrated line of high modern furniture, but died of a brain tumor at 51, fourteen years after he dreamed up the Arch and four years before it was finished.

Over the last decade, a massive revitalization project was undertaken to revive the Arch, it’s museum, and the grounds. A highway passed between the Arch and downtown, which included the historic Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was tried. The courthouse is also a symbol of St Louis, framed perfectly by the Arch, linking our Nation’s original sin with the optimism of a brighter day. Now, there’s a physical connection between the two, as a massive lawn has ben built over the highway, finally linking the Arch closely with the downtown area. The entrance has been moved from near the Arch’s legs to a stunning central slit in the lawn that leads to a modern museum. To culminate the project, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, as it’s been called for decades, has been rechristened Gateway Arch National Park — the 60th to receive the congressional designation and the smallest.

Just as many objected to the Arch’s construction, putting the “National Park” brand on modern construction has drawn the ire of many national park lovers. But consider this: The park is a multifaceted connection between our past, present, and future. It’s a park, for the Nation. And it’s certainly not the first humanized area to become a National Park.

I think we should be a little less precious with the National Park designation. Let’s have hundreds more National Parks. Places where people can come together to experience our country in many different ways.


The America’s National Parks Podcast is hosted by Jason Epperson and Abigail Trabue, produced by Lotus Theatricals, LLC and sponsored by L.L.Bean. Follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Want to continue exploring America? Check out the entire lineup of RV Miles Network Podcast featuring the road trip focused See America and the RV and camping focused RV Miles.

Podcast Episodes

News from the Parks | September 2019

With over 420 sites in the NPS, every month offers a new opportunity to Find Your Park. And while we strive to focus on the stories that make these places so special, we also think keeping up-to-date can be useful to support and celebrate these special places.

With that in mind, we’re rolling out a new series called “News from the Parks.” The last episode of each month we’ll take a look at what is coming down the pipeline and some of the bigger news to come out of the National Park Service in the previous weeks. 

On this episode, a potential new National Park, grants to dozens of historic sites, new park superintendents, the anniversary of the Wilderness Act and more.

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Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/national-park-service-institute-of-museum-and-library-services-national-endowment-for-the-arts-and-national-endowment-for-the-humanities-announce-12-6-million-in-save-america-s-treasures-grants.htm

https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/national-park-service-awards-historic-preservation-grants-to-american-indian-tribes-alaskan-natives-and-native-hawaiian-organizations2019.htm

https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/national-park-service-announces-12-2-million-in-grants-to-preserve-african-american-civil-rights-history.htm

https://www.nps.gov/whis/learn/news/whiskeytown-nra-opens-crystal-creek-falls-area.htm

https://www.nps.gov/pefo/learn/news/jeanninemcelveenselectedsuperintendentpefo.htm

https://www.nps.gov/colm/learn/news/new-superintendent-2019.htm

https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1072/stuart-west-selected-as-superintendent-of-high-plains-group-of-parks-in-colorado-and-new-mexico.htm

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/bill-to-make-new-river-gorge-a-national-park-preserve/article_c121512e-e233-5f04-a782-7da818754a09.html

https://kutv.com/news/local/1000th-hatched-california-condor-chick-leaves-nest-at-zion-national-park-for-first-time

https://www.nps.gov/subjects/npscelebrates/park-anniversaries.htm


America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks. 

Podcast Episodes

The Old Northwest

In the town of Vincennes, Indiana stands the largest Beaux-Arts style monument on an American battlefield outside of Washington, D.C. It sits on the former site of Fort Sackville to commemorate a little known battle with tremendous stakes. It’s a rarely told story that effectively doubled the size of our country.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/gero/index.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Rogers_Clark


George Rogers Clark was born on November 19, 1752, near Charlottesville, Virginia, the hometown of Thomas Jefferson. He was the second of 10 children of John and Ann Rogers Clark, who were of English and Scottish ancestry. Five of their six sons became officers during the American Revolutionary War. Their youngest son William wasn’t yet old enough to fight in the war but later found fame as one half of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

George Clark had little formal education. When he was old enough, he lived with his grandfather who trained him to be a surveyor.

In 1771 at age 19, Clark left home for his first surveying trip into western Virginia. The following year, he made his first trip into Kentucky and spent the next two years surveying the Kanawha River region, as well as learning about the area’s natural history and customs of the various tribes of Indians who lived there.

Clark’s military career began in 1774 when he was appointed as a captain in the Virginia militia. He was preparing to lead an expedition of 90 men down the Ohio River when hostilities broke out between the Shawnee and white settlers. Although most of Kentucky was not inhabited by Indians, tribes such as the Shawnee, Cherokee, and Seneca used the area for hunting. A judge from North Carolina had purchased much of Kentucky from the Cherokee through an illegal treaty and tribes in Ohio country, who had not been party to the treaty, were angry. Kentucky hunting grounds had been ceded to Great Britain without their approval. As a result, they tried to resist encroachment by the white settlers but were unsuccessful.

As the Revolutionary War broke out in the East, Kentucky’s settlers became involved in a dispute about the region’s sovereignty due to Judge Henderson’s treaty. Henderson intended to create a proprietary colony known as Transylvania, but many Kentucky settlers did not recognize Transylvania’s authority over them. In June of 1776, the settlers selected Clark and John Gabriel Jones to deliver a petition to the Virginia General Assembly, asking Virginia to formally extend its boundaries to include Kentucky.

Clark and Jones traveled the Wilderness Road to Williamsburg, where they convinced Governor Patrick Henry to create Kentucky County, Virginia. Clark was given 500 lb of gunpowder to help defend the settlements and was appointed a major in the Kentucky County militia.

By 1777, the Revolutionary War had intensified and the Continental Army could spare no man, leaving the defense of Kentucky entirely to the local population. Clark spent several months defending settlements as a leader in the Kentucky County militia while developing his plan for a long-distance strike against the British. His strategy involved seizing British outposts north of the Ohio River to destroy British influence among their Indian allies.

Clark and his men fought several battles in the ensuing years, but In February 1779, now Colonel George Rogers Clark made a bold military maneuver that would forever change the face of our nation. After taking British-held garrisons in Illinois country, Clark received word that the British had taken control of Fort Sackville in the French town of Vincennes in present-day Indiana. If Clark had waited until spring, meeting a larger British force in the open could have spelled disaster for his mission.

Taking initiative, Clark marched 175 American frontiersmen through Illinois and the flooded Wabash River in winter, through melting snow, ice, and cold rain. They arrived at Vincennes on February 23 where the hungry and cold frontiersman made contact with French allies. Together, they launched a surprise attack on Fort Sackville, which was under the command of British Governor Henry Hamilton. Hamilton surrendered the garrison on February 25 and was captured in the process. The winter expedition was Clark’s most significant military achievement and became the basis of his reputation as an early American military hero. The taking of Fort Sackville was among the most important Revolutionary battles west of the Appalachians.

The violence on the frontier eased for a time during the Revolution because of Clark’s action, and an area one-third the size of the original 13 colonies went to the United States at the end of the war. This area, known as the Old Northwest Territory, eventually became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the eastern parts of Minnesota. This was the first step to the United States expansion west and foreshadowed the larger territory that George’s little brother William Clark would explore with Merriweather Lewis 25 years later.


While nothing remains of the original fort, the people of Indiana petitioned the government to build the monument on the former site of the fort along the Wabash River in the 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt attended the grand opening of the memorial in 1936, and a visit from President Lyndon Johnson welcomed the site into the National Park Service in 1966.

The interior rotunda includes a statue of George Rogers Clark by Hermon MacNeil and seven 28-foot tall murals by Ezra Winter, telling the story of Clark and his men.

In the park visitor center, you can find exhibits and the park film “Longknives,”

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park is part of a community of historical sites and museums that tell stories spanning over 250 years. One of the best times to visit is during the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous on Memorial Day weekend. Over 400 living history demonstrators camp at or near the park. The demonstrations and talks allow visitors of all ages the chance to step back to the Indiana frontier during the late 18th century. The sights and sounds of Rendezvous offer a unique atmosphere for those who want to connect to the past.

Podcast Episodes

The Search for Dark Skies

80 percent of the world’s population lives under what’s called “skyglow.” In the United States and Europe, 99 percent of the public can’t experience a natural night.

Light is helpful to people, of course, but it’s also one of our greatest pollutants. Artificial light brings disastrous consequences to wildlife, especially birds, bats, insects, and sea turtles.

This episode is a little different than most of our shows. Today, we travel to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where for generations, the night sky helped the original Polynesian sailors find their way across the sea.

The audio comes from the park’s Voices of Science audio series, hosted by Brittni Connell, who talks with experts about light pollution and how the park is working to eradicate it.


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Voices of Science Audio Series: https://www.nps.gov/nature/night.htm

https://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm


Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park protects some of the most unique geological, biological, and cultural landscapes in the world. Extending from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet, the park encompasses the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes. It’s yet to become an official International Dark Sky Park, but nearly 30 National Park Service sites enjoy that designation, as well as a couple dozen state parks. 

In most of these places, the National Park Service hosts night sky programs, where you can view the wonders of the solar system with the guidance of a ranger and high powered telescopes. 

Podcast Episodes

Castle on the Coast

Situated along the shores of St. Augustine in northeastern Florida stands the only surviving 17th-century military construction in the United States, Castillo de San Marcos.

A product of forces both political and technological, the fortress is evidence of empirical competition that defined so much of the colonial era. Its history is woven into the fabric of America.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the many faces of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, as told by Rangers who preserve and protect this historic fort.

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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/casa/learn/photosmultimedia/videos.htm

https://www.nps.gov/casa/index.htm


In 1673, Manuel Cendoya had arrived in St. Augustine, at one of a series of wooden forts that had been destroyed and rebuilt many times over. He was charged by Mariana, Queen of Spain, to repair the fortifications of St. Augustine.

The wooden structure was in a dilapidated condition. St. Augustine was an outpost that indirectly defended the Spanish Caribbean and New Spain, but it was never self-sufficient. The viceroy of New Spain (Mexico today) was supposed to send a subsidy from his coffers each year to support the garrison and town. However, for many years, this subsidy never came. The people of St. Augustine were close to starving, and there were no funds to repair the old fort.

In 1668, a pirate ship, under disguise penetrated St. Augustine’s meager defenses. In the confused darkness, the pirates seemed everywhere as they stormed ashore. The Governor and a meager handful of soldiers were able to take refuge in the wooden fort. Others and civilians ran into the woods as the pirates systematically sacked the town. By the time the pirates left the next day, 60 people were dead.

The sack of St. Augustine was a blessing in disguise, for it shocked Spanish officials into action. The governor of Cuba, as well as the viceroy of New Spain, finally sent money and troops to bring St. Augustine up to strength. Back in Spain, Queen Mariana commanded the viceroy to pay the Florida funds on time and ordered a permanent fortress and to support a full 300-man garrison in Florida.

Meanwhile, the Governor’s tenure in Florida was ending, and the Queen appointed Manuel Cendoya to the governorship.

Arriving in Veracruz, he proceeded to Mexico City to confer with the viceroy. He asked for 30,000 pesos for the construction of one main and two auxiliary fortifications. In December word arrived of an even greater threat than that of pirates. The general council of finance discussed the matter and allowed Cendoya only 12,000 pesos to begin construction of just one fort. If suitable progress was made, they would consider sending 10,000 pesos yearly until completion.

On assuming the governorship, he moved promptly on the matter of fortifications. For more on the Pirate influenced design, here’s Ranger Allen Arnold.

The fort itself was constructed of a unique material that has ensured its survival over the last 350 years. Here’s Ranger Jill Leverett.

When Britain gained control of Florida in 1763, St. Augustine became the capital of British East Florida, and the fort was renamed Fort St. Mark until the Peace of Paris when Florida was transferred back to Spain and the original name was restored. Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821; who designated it an Army base named Fort Marion in honor of American Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion.

Over the decades, coastal forts have been used for many purposes, one of the most nefarious being prisons for Native Americans. Fort Marion was used to incarcerate Plains Indians, Geronimo’s Apache, and most notably, 200 Seminole, 20 of whom escaped.

Ranger Jill Leverett again.

Today, the St. Augustine area is a haven for recreation, especially golf, featuring several championship courses. But the first golf course in the State of Florida was carved right into the grounds of the fort. Jim Purdy, Park Interpreter.

The fort was declared a National Monument in 1924, and after 251 years of continuous military possession, was deactivated in 1933. The 20.48-acre site was subsequently turned over to the United States National Park Service. In 1942 the original name, Castillo de San Marcos, was restored by an Act of Congress.

Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest and largest masonry fort in the continental United States. It’s open every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. All visitors must exit the Castillo no later than 5:15 p.m. Tickets are required and can be purchased in advance online. The city of St. Augustine operates a pay parking lot that can accommodate vehicles up to 21′. A free parking lot for larger vehicles is available a few blocks away.

It’s also worth noting that as this episode airs, the monument is closed in preparation for Hurricane Dorian, which only recently received category five status. All are keeping all those in the path of this storm in our thoughts.

Podcast Episodes

10 Days, 1,800 Miles

For 18 short months, a group of riders carried letters from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, and they did it in just 10 days. Crossing 1800 miles of rough western terrain, at breakneck speeds, the Ponny Express tied the east to the west in ways that would become pivotal in the years to come.

I’m Abigail Trabue, filling in for a very sick Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the riders who have become synonymous with the American West.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/poex/learn/historyculture/index.htm

National Pony Express Association


For 18 short months, a group of riders carried letters from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, and they did it in just 10 days. Crossing 1800 miles of rough western terrain, at breakneck speeds, the Ponny Express tied the east to the west in ways that would become pivotal in the years to come.

I’m Abigail Trabue, filling in for a very sick Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the riders who have become synonymous with the American West.

Thanks to the Gold Rush of 1849, the 1847 Mormon exodus to Utah and the thousands who had moved west on the Oregon Trail, the need for fast mail service beyond the Rocky Mountains had become vital.

Originally the need was filled by outfits such as the Butterfield Overland Mail Service and private carriers, but then postmaster general Joseph Holt scaled back service to California and the central region of the country in 1858, and an even greater need arose.

Enter in the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company created by William H. Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell. It would later be known as the Pony Express.

In January 1860, with only two months to make the Pony Express a reality, the team had their hands full. Over 100 stations, 400-500 horses and enough riders were needed – at an estimated cost of $70,000.

In March 1860, an ad was placed in the Sacramento Union that read,

“Men Wanted”

The undersigned wishes to hire ten or a dozen men, familiar with the management of horses, as hostlers, or riders on the Overland Express Route via Salt Lake City. Wages $50 per month and found.

On April 3, 1860, the first official delivery of the Pony Express took off in St. Joseph, Missouri. Surrounded by great fanfare, a mail pouch containing 49 letters, five telegrams, and miscellaneous papers was handed to a rider at 7:15 p.m. A cannon was fired, and the rider bolted off to a waiting ferry boat.

Because of the pace at which the riders took to the route, The Pony Express was set up to provide a fresh horse every 10-15 miles and a fresh rider every 75-100 miles. With an average speed of 10 miles per hour, it took 75 horses to make the one-way trip.

On April 9 at 6:45 p.m., the first rider from the east reached Salt Lake City. On April 12 at 2:30 p.m., the mail pouch reached Carson City.

From there the riders flew over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, down through Placerville, California and on to Sacramento. On April 14, the first mail pouch delivered by the Pony Express arrived in San Francisco at midnight.

The New York Times wrote, “citizens paraded the streets with bands of music, fireworks were set off….the best feeling was manifested by everybody.” 

Despite the success and approval of the public, problems abound – weather, supply difficulties, rider fatigue, and war.

Fueled by white mineral seekers encroaching on traditional Indian lands, The Pyramid Lake War, crippled the operation of the Pony Express for months, an operation that was also guilty of encroaching on Indian territory, building relay stations at critical water sources that the native Paiute people depended on. As Prospectors continued to claim resources and land that wasn’t theirs to claim, conflict between whites and the Paiutes became inevitable.

On May 7, 1860, an old Paiute man and a younger Pauite woman went to a house owned by white man J.O. Williams. Inside four white men tied up the man and attacked the woman. They were later set free, but the Pauite man returned with friends who forced the four white men into the house and burned it to the ground.

As the conflict raged, Indian raids became more common at remote Pony Express stations in western Nevada, and in May of 1860 Simpson Park Station was burned to the ground, and the station keeper was killed.

By June the Pony Express had canceled operations between Carson City and Salt Lake City, which meant cash flow wasn’t coming in.

By July, with the help of federal troops and stepped-up security measures, the Pony Express resumed mail delivery to California, but delays had cost the company almost $75,000.

But the final blow to the Pony Express would come not from war, or delays, but from the advancement of communication. Fueled by the need to keep the west a part of the union as war loomed on the horizon, In June 1860, almost ten weeks after the first successfully delivered pouch, Congress authorized a bill instructing the Secretary of the Treasury to build a transcontinental telegraph line connecting the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast. On October 26, 1861, San Francisco made direct contact with New York City and the Pony Express, was officially no more.

In June of every year, the National Pony Express Association takes to the trail in a re-ride covering 1,966 miles in ten days. The 750 volunteers ride for 24 hours straight in an attempt to faithfully deliver the over 1,000 letters received every year. You can follow the action 24 hours a day on an online feed provided by the Association. We’ll link to it in the show notes.

Today, most of the original trail has either been erased by time or human activities. However, short pristine segments can still be seen in Utah and California., There are also 120 historic sites, including 50 existing Pony Express stations or station ruins that may eventually be available to the public.

For those who want to take to the open road, the National Park Service offers a state by state Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide featuring an overview of local trail history and driving directions to suggested sites and points of interest. The National Park Service stresses that this is a work-in-progress.

Podcast Episodes

The Waving Girl of Savannah

The Savannah river twists and turns for 301 miles in the Southeastern United States, forming most of the border between Georgia and South Carolina, before it’s divided into channels by several islands near Savannah Georgia, and then spills into the Atlantic. The last of those islands holds a storied past, having played a role in both the revolutionary and civil wars, as well as World War II.

I’m Jason Epperson, and today on America’s National Parks, Cockspur Island, and Fort Pulaski National Monument.

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Before the rapid population growth and development of the Savannah area, spring tides covered the entirety of Cockspur Island. Behind it was a series of marsh islands, which have now been joined to Cockspur by the dredging of the Savannah River to accommodate modern shipping.

It’s strategic coastal location meant the island was ideal for military fortification. In 1761, an earth and hewn log fort was built, along with a quarantine station and customs checkpoint. It was called Fort George, and it protected the entrances to the city from foes but was more focused on shipping regulation.

During the Revolutionary War, American Patriots dismantled Fort George. It was too exposed for its size against the big British ships. The crown then established the island as a safe haven for Loyalists who fled there with the Royal Governor, Sir James Wright. Cockspur became, for a short time, capital of the colony of Georgia.

Once the Revolutionary War ended, the new United States would build a new fort on the site. It was constructed very much like Fort George – with earth and log – and would be named for the Revolutionary War hero, General Nathaniel Greene. The life of Fort Greene was short and tragic. In September of 1804, a hurricane swept across the island washing it away.

In the early years of the 19th century, the United States would embark on a massive coastal fortification project, which you can learn a bit more about in our Guardian of the Gulf episode. At Cockspur, the 5-sided Brick bastion Fort Pulaski was built, by free men and slaves under the command of Robert E. Lee.
The new fort was finished in 1847, only a couple of decades before it would serve in the civil war.

Situated off the southeastern tip of Cockspur Island marking the South Channel of the Savannah River, the Cockspur Lighthouse stands twelve miles east of the port of Savannah. The first brick tower, used as a daymark, was built between March 1837 and November 1839. In 1848, John Norris, a New York architect, was contracted to supervise construction of an illuminated station. Norris designed many of Savannah’s grand structures.

Norris’s duties were to “repair, alter, and put up lanterns and lights on Cockspur Island…and to erect a suitable keeper’s house.” This first tower had a focal plane 25′ above sea level. The beacon housed a fixed white light emanating from five lamps with 14″ reflectors visible for nine miles.

Tragedy struck again in 1854 when the structure was destroyed by a hurricane. The tower was rebuilt and enlarged on the same foundation the next year. At the start of the American Civil War, the light was temporarily extinguished. On April 10, 1862, Union forces in eleven batteries stretching along the beach at Tybee Island, started a long-range bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Thirty-six guns participated in a thirty-hour siege of the fort with the Cockspur Lighthouse in direct line of fire.

Though much of the island’s story is a violent one, spanning decades of war and natural disasters, passing ships warmed by the dedicated cheerfulness of one special woman.


Florence Martus was the daughter of a sergeant stationed at Fort Pulaski. Her brother George was keeper of the Cockspur Island Lighthouse but soon transferred to the nearby Elba Island light, bringing Florence him. One day, while spending an afternoon with her father, a sailing ship docked at Savannah, and a few of the sailors rowed out to Ft. Pulaski, just a stone’s throw from the lighthouse. Florence’s father offered to give the sailors a tour of the island, and lighthouse and Florence went along for the ride where she and one of the sailors caught each other’s eye. During his time in port, he visited Florence three times and when he left promised to return and marry her. The morning that the ship left port, Florence stood in front of her cottage and waved a white handkerchief. The sailor never returned.

Life at the remote cottage was lonely for Florence whose closest companion was her devoted collie. She began to welcome each incoming ship in memory of her love with a wave of her handkerchief. Sailors began returning her greeting by waving back or with a blast of the ship’s horn. Eventually, Florence started greeting the vessels arriving in the dark by waving a lantern.

She became a well-known and welcomed sight for all mariners who came to expect her as they entered port. Many sailors brought her gifts. One even presented her with a llama from Peru.

Florence Martus continued her waving tradition night and day for 44 years without break, and it is estimated that she welcomed more than 50,000 ships during her lifetime. She grew to become a legend, known far and wide as the “waving girl of Savannah.”

Florence died in 1943, having never loved another. She was laid to rest next to her brother in Laurel Grove Cemetery. The headstone inscription resonates the admiration for their service to the harbor and its visitors, saying “in memory of the Waving Girl and her brother, keeper of the lighthouse on Elba Island for 35 years.” On September 27 of that year, the SS Florence Martus was christened in her honor. According to the Georgia Historical Society, it was the thirtieth of eighty-eight liberty ships built in Savannah and was eventually scrapped in Baltimore.

Despite the loss of her namesake ship, Florence’s legacy lives on thanks to a statue that sits in the Savannah Harbor created by renowned sculptor Felix De Weldon, the artist behind the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The figure can be found at the eastern end of River Street, overlooking the Savannah River from the bluff. The captain of the ship that delivered the statue declined payment in her memory. 


The legend of Florence and her sailor love may or may not be true, there’s no concrete evidence, but her effect on sailors for nearly half a century is very real.

The Elba Island Lighthouse is gone to the sea, but the Cockspur light remains. It’s closed to visitors for restoration, but you can see it from the shore.

Brick forts like Fort Pulaski were a dying breed almost as soon as they were built. In the civil war, the Union army’s rifled cannon tore right through it, compelling the Confederate garrison inside to surrender. The outer walls are riddled with giant pockmarks from the bombardment.

After the Civil War, Fort Pulaski was unoccupied and neglected. The War Department finally made it a national monument in 1924 by presidential proclamation of Calvin Coolidge. The 1930s saw new activity on the island with the arrival of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who worked to rehabilitate it and the surrounding landscape.

Podcast Episodes

The Voice of Wilderness in the Storm

This episode was written by Lindsey Taylor, whose blog “The Curiosity Chronicles” follows her adventures around the world.

In the early days of Denali National Park and Preserve (formerly known as Mt. McKinley National Park), one park scientist stood out among the rest. He was known for his tough, adventurous spirit, ground-breaking biological research, and inspiring communication. His name was Adolph Murie.

Ade (as he was known to his friends) wasn’t the only person in his family to become a famous conservationist. His half-brother was Olaus Murie, also a biologist. The two half-brothers married two half-sisters: Olaus to Margaret, and Adolph to Louise. Margaret became known by some as the “grandmother of the conservation movement” for fighting to create the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She moved to Alaska when she was a small child, and in 1924 she was the first female graduate from the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (which is the University of Alaska-Fairbanks today).

We could do whole episodes on the Muries, but it was Adolph who would change the face of ecology forever.

On this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, Adolph Murie and Denali National Park and Preserve.

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Olaus and Adolph Murie grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota. The town had around 5,000 people at the time with a private university founded in 1891: Concordia College. Olaus began his studies at Concordia and finished his bachelor’s degree at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon in 1912. A few years later, he was recruited to America’s last frontier: Alaska. The chief of the US Biological Survey (what we know today as the US Fish and Wildlife Service) was interested in studying caribou migration across the Brooks Range. In his time at Mt. McKinley National Park , he also classified much of the park’s flora and fauna, creating the first record of what plants and animals the park was actually protecting.

Adolph, while in the middle of his undergraduate degree back at Concordia – joined Olaus in Alaska for two summers capturing caribou bulls for mating with reindeer, to enhance the reindeer population.

Two years later Adolph graduated from Concordia with an undergraduate degree in biology. He got a job as a seasonal ranger in Glacier National Park where he spent two summers before heading to the University of Michigan to get his master’s degree. By that time, Olaus, his wife Margaret and their son, one-year-old Martin, were also in Michigan. Olaus was turning his field notes from caribou research into a master’s degree as well.

Adolph stood out early in his graduate program. One of his professors and mentors was Lee R. Dice, a leading figure in the relatively young scientific field of ecology.

Before the study of ecology, which is based on the interrelationships of living organisms and their environment, biologists had a straight-forward approach to nature based on collecting and cataloging. Little attention was paid to if or how species may influence each other. Murie’s mentor, Lee Dice, was one of the first ecologists to advocate that predators in our natural ecosystems are important and worth protecting. Throughout the country, predator control (the killing of carnivores such as wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions to protect prey and livestock) was a common and accepted management tactic. Ecology began to show biologists that every living thing had an important role in the environment, and Dice wrote an article explaining his thoughts, titled “The Scientific Value of Predatory Mammals.”

In 1929, Ade Murie received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He completed his first post-doctoral study on Isle Royale, observing the ecology of the moose that lived there. It was Murie’s report that convinced the director of the National Park Service to approve the creation of a new national park on Isle Royale.

In 1934, Adolph Murie was hired to work as a biologist with the Park Service in the new Wildlife Division, hired by George Wright, the division chief. His first assignment was in the Olympic Peninsula, where he recommended that the eradicated wolves be reintroduced into the area.

Three years later, Murie began a two-year coyote study in Yellowstone that culminated in a book: Ecology of the Coyote in Yellowstone. Never before had a wildlife biologist in the National Park Service completed a similar study about predators, and it was one of the first true studies of ecology in a national park. After this project, Murie was assigned to study the wolves of Mt. McKinley, where there was another predator controversy. After his summers spent in the park more than 13 years prior, he was thrilled to be heading back to Alaska.

Much of Adolph Murie’s work time in the park was spent out in the backcountry, collecting scat samples, skulls, and antlers, and taking photographs of tracks, wildlife, and habitats. Scat samples can tell biologists a great deal about what animals are eating, and bones can tell us an animal’s age, sex, and health.

One special mammal he studied was the Dall sheep: the only wild white mountain sheep on earth. The Dall sheep was, in fact, the reason that Mt. McKinley National Park was created in the first place. In the early 1900s, market hunters were harvesting mammals like moose, caribou, and Dall sheep to sell the meat to prospectors and local pioneers. But they were not harvesting animals from populations sustainably, and the Dall sheep population began to dwindle. In 1906, a visiting naturalist and game hunter named Charles Sheldon noticed the decline and worried about the possibility of extinction. So, when he returned to the east coast, he began lobbying for the creation of a game reserve to offer some protection for wildlife. Eleven years later, Mt. McKinley National Park was created, and it was the first national park to be created to protect wildlife as opposed to natural scenery or beauty.

A few years before Adolph Murie arrived, the park Dall sheep population began to wane again. But this time, the cause was unknown. A series of winters with more snowfall and colder temperatures lasting longer than average coincided with this decline, but wolves were blamed as the leading cause.

The park service went along with the theory and began culling the predator population to allow the prey population to rebound. This management philosophy had already succeeded at completely eradicating wolves from parks like Yellowstone and Olympic. But it raised some big questions for Mt. McKinley National Park. Should the park service favor one species over another? Or should it take an ecosystem approach, where all species are treated equally?

Predator control management continued, but in the late 1930s, Adolph Murie was assigned to the task of figuring out what was really happening to the Dall sheep population. His research revolved around the question: “What is the effect of wolves preying on big game species in the park?” While he was focusing on Dall sheep, he also studied the wolves’ relationship with caribou.

In April of 1939, he set out into the park and performed field research until October. He estimated that he walked more than 1700 miles in the park that summer alone. It’s likely that Murie was not using the road much: he was climbing mountains off-trail, crossing rivers, and bushwhacking through willow and alder shrubs, some taller than he was.

In April 1940, he returned to the park, this time completing field research for another 15 months. Spending more than a year observing the wildlife was critical to understanding how animal behaviors change through the seasons.

So what did Murie discover? His conclusion was that, though wolves did hunt the Dall sheep, the main reason for the population decline was the harsh winters. More snow means less food availability, so Dall sheep would have trouble finding enough to eat and could starve or succumb to disease more easily.

He also concluded that predators have an important role in our ecosystem. At this time, in the early 1940s, this was a very radical idea.
Adolph Murie concluded that the wolves were actually helping the Dall sheep population. He noticed that when wolves hunted Dall sheep, they only targeted individuals that were sick, injured, or elderly. By doing so, wolves were keeping the genetic population of the sheep healthy and robust. Out of this research came his book The Wolves of Mt. McKinley. Half research findings, half field journal, Murie takes his readers through the alpine tundra and boreal forests of the park to rediscover wolves alongside him. It was the first study to analyze wolves and their interactions with other species, and it was aiding in the beginning of a new scientific discipline: ecology. It was published in 1944 and is still being reprinted and sold in parks today. Other books Adolph Murie would later write include The Mammals of Denali, The Grizzlies of Mt. McKinley, and A Naturalist in Alaska.

Ade Murie describes one of his favorite wolf experiences in this last book:

“In the morning it was a crisp thirty-five degrees below zero. At a cabin on the lower Toklat River in Mount McKinley National Park, my companion and I started out at daybreak, he on snowshoes, and I on skis, each of us carrying a pack containing bedroll and food, en route to Wonder Lake along the north boundary of McKinley Park. We were making a two-hundred-mile winter trip to carry out general wildlife observations. Heavy frost covered the spruce trees. At intervals, we encountered overflow water on top of the ice, which necessitated detours to avoid getting wet.Enroute, we noted tracks of many kinds—fox, wolverine, wolf, caribou, moose, squirrel, and weasel—and gained general impressions on wildlife presence and abundance. It became dusk, and by the time we left the river and turned in on a trail it was dark and stormy. … Then we stopped, transfixed, for out of the storm came music, the long-drawn, mournful call of a wolf. … It started low, moved slowly up the scale with increased volume—at the high point a slight break in the voice, then a deepening of the tone as it became a little more throaty and gradually descended the scale and the soft voice trailed off to blend with the storm. We waited to hear again the voice of wilderness in the storm. But the performer, with artistic restraint, was silent.”

In 1945, Adolph Murie again checked on the sheep populations in the park. They were at an all-time low after another severe winter, and sportsmen’s organizations pressured the Park Service for action: the extermination of all wolves in Mt. McKinley National Park.

Though he believed in allowing nature to unfold on its own, Murie recommended that 10-15 wolves be killed to allow the sheep population to regrow, and satisfy the growing pressure from outside groups. Even with Adolph Murie’s research, predator control on wolves in the park continued into the 1950s. It is thought by some that Adolph Murie agreed to lead the predator control management in order to limit its harm on the wolf population. The last year of predator control in the park was in 1952.
Development in Mt. McKinley increased as more visitors made the trek to Alaska each year. In the mid-1950s, there was a movement to improve infrastructure throughout the nation’s national parks called “Mission 66”, a ten-year plan to create more visitor centers, roads, hotels, and gas stations, headed by Conrad Wirth, the director of the National Park Service. In Mt. McKinley, there were plans to widen and pave the park road out to Mile 66, where a new visitor center was being built, as well as building a hotel and gas stations out near the end of the park road at Wonder Lake, 85 miles in.
Adolph and Olaus Murie were very opposed to these developments. In 1958, as road construction had started, Adolph Murie argued that it damaged the “purity of wilderness atmosphere.” Construction of the Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 began two years later, which Murie called a “monstrosity” and “Dairy Queen” because of how it stood out on the tundra landscape. Olaus warned, “the national park will not serve its purpose if we encourage the visitor to hurry as fast as possible for a mere glimpse of scenery from a car, and a few snapshots.”

The Park Service responded by saying, “the road must be widened to minimum safety standards” due to increased visitation. In the spring of 1963, Murie and a group of other conservationists retaliated. They published an entire issue of National Parks Magazine dedicated to Mount McKinley, arguing through multiple essays and articles that the new road would not allow visitors to receive full enjoyment and that it was a detriment to the park.

Construction continued in the park, and in July 1965, Adolph Murie wrote another article for the National Parks Magazine, calling on conservationists to write to officials expressing their concerns about the park road. Replies flooded in, which triggered intra-agency correspondence. Two months later, construction slowed and finally stopped. The park service had constructed 15 miles of pavement and 30 miles of road widening.

It was through these efforts to protect the character of the park’s wilderness that Ade Murie became known as “Denali’s Wilderness Conscience.” He retired from the Park Service in early 1965 and received the highest honor in the Department of the Interior: the Distinguished Service Award, recognizing his cutting-edge ecological studies, passion for proper park management, and dedication to conservation values in Denali and other national parks across the country.

Margaret and Olaus had moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 1927. Olaus was studying the elk populations in the Teton Mountains. In 1937 Murie became a member of the Wilderness Society council, and only eight years later became the director of the Wilderness Society. He lobbied against the construction of dams in Glacier National Park and helped drive the movement to create the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a 9-million-acre ecosystem bordering the Arctic Ocean. Adolph and Louise, along with Olaus and Margaret, purchased a ranch in Moose, Wyoming in 1945. Today, it is home to the Teton Science Schools, whose mission is to inspire curiosity, engagement, and leadership through transformative place-based education.

In Denali, the Murie Science and Learning Center was dedicated to Adolph Murie in 2004. It’s the hub for science communication and education in the park. In the summer, the center hosts a park scientist weekly to share their research conclusions with local employees and visitors. Together the center and the scientists carry on Murie’s legacy of communicating scientific findings directly with the public.

Today, the park road in Denali is still 92 miles long, and the first 15 miles of paved road are the only areas visitors are allowed to take a personal vehicle. The rest of the road is still gravel. Today it is traveled by bus via a shuttle system that was put in place in 1972 to keep the park as wild as possible.

Podcast Episodes

Lincoln’s Throne

For more than 100 years, no national memorial had been contemplated for any president except George Washington, yet talk of building one to honor the monumental legacy left by Abraham Lincoln began even as he lingered on his deathbed. There was an obvious appropriateness to the concept that Lincoln, the preserver of the Union, should join Washington, the founder of that Union, in being honored on the National Mall.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the Lincoln Memorial, part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington D.C.

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In 1867, Congress passed the first of many bills establishing a commission to erect a monument for the sixteenth president. Sculptor Clark Mills was chosen to design the monument. His plans called for a 70-foot structure adorned with six equestrian and 31 massive pedestrian statues, crowned by a 12-foot statue of Lincoln.

The project couldn’t raise enough funds, and the plans went by the wayside until the start of the 20th century, when six separate bills were introduced in Congress for the incorporation of a new memorial commission. The first five bills were met with defeat. Remember, the country was still deeply wounded from the Civil War, and Lincoln, to many, was still derided. Nor was it American nature to diefy presidents at the time. The sixth bill, introduced on December 13, 1910, passed. The Lincoln Memorial Commission had its first meeting the following year, led by President Taft. By 1913 Congress had approved of the Commission’s choice of design and location.

Architect Henry Bacon was chosen to design the memorial. His Greek temple design was far too outrageous for some, who instead proposed a humble log cabin shrine. But Bacon prevailed. Until the late 1800s, the current site of the Lincoln Memorial did not exist and the Washington Monument marked the shoreline of the Potomac River. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deepened the river, the dredged silt deposited along its banks expanded the land to its current configuration. The reclaimed land was proposed as the site for a memorial

With Congressional approval and a $300,000 allocation, the project got underway. On February 12, 1914, a dedication ceremony was conducted and the following month the actual construction began. Work progressed steadily according to schedule. Some changes were made to the plan. The statue of Lincoln, originally designed to be 10 feet (3.0 m) tall, was enlarged to 19 feet (5.8 m) to prevent it from being overwhelmed by the huge chamber. As late as 1920, the decision was made to substitute an open portal for the bronze and glass grille which was to have guarded the entrance. Despite these changes, the Memorial was finished on schedule. Commission president William H. Taft – who was then Chief Justice of the United States – dedicated the Memorial on May 30, 1922, and presented it to United States President Warren G. Harding, who accepted it on behalf of the American people. Lincoln’s only surviving son, 78-year-old Robert Todd Lincoln, was in attendance.[8]

The Lincoln Memorial is almost an unworldly sight. Entering its presence quite literally can make your knees weak. To talk about his first time seeing the effigy, here’s Ranger Thomas Downs.

Jason – The Memorial’s interior is divided into three chambers by two rows of four Ionic columns. The north and south chambers display carved inscriptions of Lincoln’s second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address.

Lying between the north and south chambers is the central hall containing the 19’ tall statue of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. The statue was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers under the supervision of the sculptor Daniel Chester French. It took four years to complete. Made of Georgia white marble, it weighs 175 tons and was shipped in twenty-eight pieces.

The Memorial is full with symbolic elements. The 36 columns represent the states of the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death; the 48 stone festoons above the columns represent the 48 states in 1922. With more, here’s Ranger Robert Healy JR

When the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in 1922, the United States, although torn by the Civil War, felt unified as never before. Citizens of the North and South had fought together in a World War. They had shared the bloodshed and then the victory. As a result, the dedication ceremony celebrated, even reveled in the message of unity proclaimed by this memorial. Yet, as the ceremony exalted one thing, it largely overlooked another. Aside from the Union veterans in the soldiers’ section, those attending the 1922 dedication ceremony were segregated along racial lines. It seems that some of the people who dedicated the building failed to dedicate themselves to its full meaning. Some may have chosen to forget the meaning of equality represented here, but the memorial remained steadfast in its advocacy for equality.

The memorial would continue to echo truths about America’s racial relations through the years, and Ranger Gilbert Lyons lived through much of it.

https://www.nps.gov/featurecontent/ncr/linc/interactive/deploy/html/videos.html

Martin Luther King’s I HAVE A DREAM speech is the most memorable event to happen at the Lincoln Memorial – one of the most important events in American history. But years before, in 1939, singer Marian Anderson was denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution because of her color. Instead, and at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt, she was permitted to perform at the Lincoln Memorial, in front of a crowd of thousands, including President Roosevelt. Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Dr King, are all set to appear on the back the newly re-designed $5 bill, which should be printed in the coming years. Lincoln will continue to grace its front.

Podcast Episodes

A $50 Bet

Rising high above the prairies of the Blackhills stands a tower of astounding geological feature. Considered sacred by indigenous people, it’s an impressive and striking monument against the flat lands of Northeastern Wyoming. Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest climbing areas in North America, and for decades this remarkable wonder has drawn daredevils and thrill seekers alike, all hoping to stand atop the tower’s flat summit.

One person, though, took a very different approach, one that hasn’t been attempted since.

On this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the man who spent six days trapped atop Devils Tower National Monument and the attempt to rescue him.

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In the fall of 1941 professional parachutist, George Hopkins struck a unique wager with his friend Earl Brockelsby. Brockelsby bet Hopkins $50 he couldn’t parachute down and land on the flat summit of Devils Tower. It was a feat that had never been done before and Hopkins, who had a reputation for breaking records with his thrillseeking jumps, eagerly accepted the bet.

Parachuting into strange places was nothing new for Hopkins. His latest stunt would have him setting the record for the most jumps in one day, and a pre-publicity Devils Tower jump seemed like the perfect way to raise awareness. In the end, things didn’t exactly go the way, Hopkins planned.

Letting only a few local reporters in on his plan, under the condition they would not publish his story until the jump was complete, Hopkins took to the sky on the morning of Oct. 1, while a car full of people watched from below,

The plan was to land upon the one-acre top, then descend using a 1,000-foot rope which would drop from the plane after him. Hopkins exited the plane, flew through the sky, and hit his mark, but his rope did not. It landed just out of reach on the cliff face, effectively leaving the parachutist marooned on Devils Tower.

With no option for escape, National Park Service officials were brought in to rescue Hopkins from the cold, windy summit, but exactly how that would be accomplished was anyone’s guess.

While debating what to do with this man stuck on top of Devils Tower, newspapers around the country began picking up the story, and letters from concerned citizens, corporations, and even the military began arriving with suggestions for rescuing Hopkins. The Goodyear Company offered to loan the use of a blimp, while the Navy offered the use of a helicopter.

Airplanes dropped food, water, and warm clothing over the Tower, even a bottle of whiskey, which Hopkins claimed was for “medicinal purposes.” A new rope was attempted but that too didn’t go according to plan. After landing, it became tangled and later froze due to wind, snow, and condensation atop the rock. Try as he might, Hopkins couldn’t get the knots out of the 1,000 feet of frozen rope.

After a few days of discussion, Jack Durrance, one of the earliest technical climbers to scale Devils Tower, offered to lead a rescue party. The park service accepted. The problem was, Durrance was in Dartmouth, so a plan to get him to the tower, and quickly, had to be put into place.

In the end, bad weather forced Durrance to travel by train, which meant Hopkins would be stranded for at least a couple more days.

On October 5, Durrance and his party arrived at the monument and began laying out a safe climbing route for rescue operations. The following day, he led seven other climbers to the summit of Devils Tower where they found Hopkins who, in spite of his ordeal, was in good spirits and excellent physical condition. The team descended down quickly and with minimal difficulty.

Hopkins described his ordeal saying, “I bet I counted the big boulders on that damned mountain peak a thousand times, and I gave ‘em all names you couldn’t print if I told you what they were.”

George Hopkins ended up spending close to a week stranded on top of Devils Tower before Durrance could arrive and assist him down. During the six-day period nearly 7,000 visitors came to witness events first hand, events that started all because of a $50 bet.

“I had my hand out fishin’ for the dough when I hit the ground,” Hopkins said. “Earl paid off.”


Within a few months following the Hopkins episode, the United States entered World War II. National Park Service sites saw very little visitation during the war years. Hopkins would go on to work with the military training the new airborne infantry divisions for the war. It is believed he set his world record as he taught other young men to safely jump and land using a parachute.

Today, nearly 6,000 climbers come to Devils Tower to scale the 867 feet from its base to the summit. Climbing is voluntarily closed in June out of respect for the spiritual and cultural significance of the tower. Over twenty American Indian Tribes consider Devils Tower a sacred place. Activities and ceremonies occur in the monument throughout the year; however, the month of June is an especially meaningful time for traditional tribal ceremonial expression.

Designated in 1906 as our first National Monument, Devils Tower continues to be a popular destination for National Park enthusiasts and during the busy season, parking can be difficult, so plan to get there early if you can.

There is a seasonal first -come-first served campground with 43 RV pull-through sites and 3 group tent camping sites. Large cottonwood trees provide much-needed shade from the summer heat. There is no electric or sewer, and drinking water is available at designated water spigots. If full-hookup RVing is your thing, there are several private campgrounds outside the park.

The park is open year round, and so is the visitor center, however, operating hours vary with the seasons, so its best to call before you go.

Podcast Episodes

Cataloochee – The Center of the World

Nestled among some of the most rugged mountains in the southeastern United States is an isolated valley that was home to 1200 people in 1910, who made their living first at farming, and then, as tourism developed, by welcoming weary travelers to the Smoky Mountains. On today’s episode – the Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as told through the people who lived there.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribeon Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


The audio for today’s episode is from the short film Cataloochee – The Center of the World, which you can watch below:


Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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