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.


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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/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:


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/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:


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/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:


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. 

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.

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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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