WPS Southern Heritage Tour
April 8-12, 2002
6:00 AM came an hour early, with the change to daylight savings time only a day old. It was still pitch black as we pulled out of the Windermere Preparatory School parking lot and headed for Charleston. Two, buses, one for girls and one for boys, were both nearly full, with 56 students and 23 chaperones — nearly all of the fifth and sixth grade classes. I was on the girl’s bus, and guess I got the better deal, as the video player worked. The kids were very patient on the ten-hour drive to Charleston. They had notebooks with class assignments in all different subjects, and immediately got to work learning about Charleston History .
We stopped only twice, the second time at a McDonald’s somewhere in Georgia for lunch. I had made up a word search puzzle, which helped pass the time.
We learned that it’s pretty challenging to come up with seven-letter words using the letters in Charleston (never mind that the computer can find 94 of them!) The winners were Bramjot and Erica Kordsmeier .
We also learned that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a VERY long movie .
We arrived at Patriot’s Point and met out tour director, Frankie, a bit too late to visit the Yorktown aircraft carrier, but in time for the last boat to Fort Sumter.
Fort Sumter is operated by the National Park Service.
These aren’t the first cannons from the fort, but they are old.
To strengthen the fort for the Spanish American War, these cannon placements were filled with dirt and rubble. They were excavated in the 1950s. Archaeologists were surprised to discover that the cannons were still there .
Tuesday morning we had a nice breakfast at the hotel, then headed for Charleston. We passed a replica of the Confederate submarine the Hunley. It was the first submarine to succeed in sinking a ship, although its crew subsequently perished. It was forty feet long, but so skinny it is hard to imagine eight or nine men crammed inside, hand cranking the propeller. It would have been like crawling into your own coffin .
Once in Charleston we discovered we had left one student and his mother at the hotel, and both buses made the round trip to pick them up. Nevertheless, we arrived at the Charleston Aquarium with plenty of time to explore.
The best exhibit at the Charleston Aquarium was UFOs — Unidentified Floating Objects. Between the Tampa and Sydney Aquariums, I thought I’d seen pretty much everything, but there was some REALLY weird stuff in this exhibit.
Here, Dani points at some very fanciful seahorses.
The salt marsh exhibit yielded few clues in filling out the curriculum.
Picking up slimy things .
We had a leisurely lunch at a food court outside the IMAX theater, then saw a fabulous film about Earnest Shakleton’s ill-fated attempt to cross Antarctica in 1914. He and his crew survived a year and a half in and on the ice, escaping from their ship, the Endeavor, as it was crushed. Shackleton and five others made an 800-mile journey in a rowboat, returning to rescue the entire crew. A remarkable accomplishment, and the best IMAX film I’ve seen.
Our next stop was the market in downtown Charleston. Originally deeded to the city for use as an open air food market, it is now a souvenir market with many interesting arts and crafts.
Student group shot.
Hey! Where did everybody go?
The pirate walking tour. Our guide was fantastic. She really brought the story of Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard alive, including all the gory details. Roasted lips, anyone?
Dinner was at Bubba Gump’s (delicious garlic bread!)
After dinner we went on yet another walking tour. Scattered showers forced us to take cover periodically under overhanging buildings. Linda’s glow stick bracelets added a spooky air to the ghost tour, which proved frightening — at least to the frighteningly gullible .
Back at the hotel it was nearly 10:00 pm. A few stalwart souls joined Mrs. Kent in the lobby for a study session. , but we were definitely ready for bed after this, our busiest day of the tour .
After a nice breakfast we loaded our luggage onto the bus and set off on the rainy two-hour bus ride to Savannah. I handed our a cryptogram puzzle, which proved popular. It was also an opportunity to learn some Savannah History, as these paragraphs turned out to be the answers .
We stopped at the Savannah visitors’ center to pick up our bus pass and ruminate about the rainy day. In the end, we decided to follow the original plan and go to the River Walk, an historic area that has been converted to shops and restaurants. There, equipped with some newly-purchased pastel umbrellas, we strolled down the half mile of storefronts .
We had lunch with Dani, Elise, Miranda and Becky at Fiddler’s Crab House, then bought some candy and curios .
At a shop at the very end of the street I bought some Savannah ceramic tiles as prizes for the cryptogram contest. (Later, on the bus ride to dinner, we handed them out to the winners. Five people solved all five cryptograms: Gabrielle, Alannah, Dani, and Chris. )
At 4:00 pm, soggy but cheerful, we headed to the Fairfield Inn to check in and get ready for dinner.
Dinner was at Fort Jackson, a Civil War era fortification located on the river downstream of Savannah. The students were greeted by three soldiers dressed in Civil War garb.
They learned some basic field drills and then had dinner (fortunately chicken tenders, not salt pork). Afterwards, they were split into three companies, and cycled through three different presentations.
Up on the wall, they learned about the role of blacks during the war, and inspected a fiberglass cannon used in the filming of Glory.
Back on the field they learned about nineteenth century communications, and got to try their hand with semaphore flags .
In the supply room they were shown what soldiers ate (yuck) and wore .
The grand finale was the firing of the 12-pound field cannon. We learned how it is cleaned and loaded, a non-trivial process that could be accomplished in 15 seconds by a team of seven. We also learned that when it’s fired you want to have your fingers in your ears!
Thursday morning one of our buses broke down, so we had to transfer the group to our first stop in two shifts .
Our first stop was the Railroad Museum, where we had a very entertaining and informative tour by the museum’s director. She showed us how the turntable worked (we went for a very noisy ride), and described the machinery and tools that were used to service the locomotives.
The facility was quite sophisticated for its time, using a central steam engine to drive rotating shafts that went to buildings throughout the yard, providing power to the equipment .
A circular building in the yard was a community shower. Excess steam heated water in a tank above the individual stalls, and a tall smokestack carried away the leftover heat.
Next stop was Fort Pulaski. I was dubious that we could find a third fort in as many days interesting, but our National Park Service Ranger guide was funny, fascinating and really brought the place to life. When one girl asked what cause the impressive holes lining one wall of the fort he exclaimed, “Woodpeckers! We’ve got a terrible woodpecker problem here!
“The fort, originally constructed prior to the revolution, was believed impregnable. Yet its wall was breached in just 36 hours, using a new cannon developed during the Civil War.
It was quite exhilarating to be up on the railing-free wall. Particularly for those of us trying to keep the kids away from the edge.
Near Fort Pulaski is The Crab Shack, an unparalleled dive where we had some delicious crab, shrimp, mussels, and crawfish. Well, some of us did. Chicken and hotdogs won the popular vote.
We stopped briefly at the lighthouse on Tybee Island, but with the museum closed it hardly seemed worth the price of admission, so we walked along the beach instead. It was cool, with a stiff wind blowing, but no rain. Nearby was a great concrete structure, now the Shriners’ Hall. I wondered if it was originally a WWII era fortification or U-boat lookout station. There were no explanatory signs, but plenty of keep off warnings.
Dinner was on a riverboat on the Savannah River. The group, wearing their school uniforms, posed on the River Walk in front of it prior to boarding. Quite a few of the kids were dragging from our busy schedule, and a few had colds or the flu, but there was still an enthusiast group doing karaoke after dinner.
We were all definitely ready for bed by the time we got back to the hotel .
Luggage packed, continental breakfast, and onto the bus by 9:00 am, we headed for our final stop: the Mighty Eight Air Force Heritage Museum. This wonderful museum presents the history of World War II, particularly the European Theater, from 1933 through 1945. Several videos and our informative guide brought the conflict to life. It appeared to be the first time that many of the girls had been exposed to this information, and I think they learned a tremendous amount about it .
One terrific multi-screen show put us in the seats of a B-17 mission, including explosions and wind coming in the bomb bay doors. It was quite gripping .
On the way home I handed out some Weird Facts About Florida .
At last the six hour bus ride was over. A cheer went up as we pulled into the Windermere Preparatory School parking lot. Kids and luggage tumbled out of the bus into the arms and cars of their waiting parents.
We learned a tremendous amount on the trip. The students learned about everything from the Civil War to World War II, with stops in Antarctica and under the ocean along the way. The adults learned a few things, too, particularly about keeping track of students. I think everyone had a great time, but I also know we’ll all be happy to be home in our own beds, for a loooong night’s sleep.