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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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

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!


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. 

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

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:


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/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.

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/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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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/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.


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.


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.

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.


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

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.

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.


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.

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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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