Yesterday and today have been an interesting mix of sites in coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
We drove to Plymouth and set up camp outside the city in probably the worst campsite we have been to yet. While the campground itself is not bad, the particular site we are in is pretty much awful. The site is plenty wide enough, but not deep enough… Or it would be were it not for a tree several feet away from the edge for the site. Add in the fact that the site is not level at all and took a lot in terms of leveling to get the camper set up.
The campground is full (Fourth of July weekend… Of course it is), but the number of children in the campground is unusual based upon what we have seen in the past. It is definitely more of a weekend getaway for folks from Boston and other cities, with several seasonal residents, than a place for travelers to camp. That’s not a bad thing, just different.
Plymouth, itself, is a nice enough town, with typical touristy shops along the coast and a nice stretch on Court Street with plenty of pubs and eateries. On the coast is the Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims landed, and the Mayflower II, a recreation of the original sailing ship that brought said pilgrims across the Atlantic.
New Bedford National Historical Park
We headed across to New Bedford, where we visited the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. The park highlights the whaling chapter of American life, focusing on the life of the whalers and the home life back in New Bedford for the wives left behind.
Like many of the urban parks, it is spread out over several locations in the town, giving us a chance to explore the town on foot and by car. The visitor center houses a nice exhibit on the impacts of whaling, along with a nice film on all the aspects of whaling.
Other areas of the park include the Seaman’s Bethel (a chapel for mariners), which was closed for renovations, several other buildings in the harbor district which are closed to the public, and the schooner Ernestina-Morrissey, which was not in the harbor (it was up in Maine for Windjammer Days at Boothbay Harbor… We might have seen it were it not for the rain!). The other site in the park is the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Gardens, which was up on the hill overlooking the port… for good reason: whale oil stinks!
Touro Synagogue National Historic Site
We made a side trip out to Newport, R.I. (new state for both of us!) to go to a park that only kinda is a national park, sorta. It is listed on the National Park Service web site, but there is no National Park Service presence at the site, nor is it listed in the NPS Passport app. Alas, I could not turn down a trip to new state to cross this site off the list.
The synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the US, established in 1763 and continues to have an active congregation. It truly is a symbol of religious freedom in the US as not all of the colonies respected other religions. The grounds of the site are nice, but the $12 per person price for visiting the interior of the synagogue was more than our budget could afford today, primarily due to the next site on tour today.
Located in Falls River, Ma., Battleship Cove is the home to the USS Massachusetts (BB 59), the second South Dakota-class battleship, and the first battleship to fire the massive 16-inch main guns in battle. It is also home to the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD 850), the WWII-era submarine USS Lionfish (SS 298), and the Hiddensee, a Soviet-made Tarantu-class missile corvette that used to belong to the East German navy. The museum also had two WWII PT (which stands for Patrol Torpedo) boats and a handful of aircraft.
As a military history buff and the son of a submarine sailor, I am always eager to climb aboard old warships. We have been to Patriot’s Point in Charleston Harbor to tour the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, but this was my first opportunity to clamber upon a battleship since I was a eight (the USS Alabama in Mobile Bay). Add in that I just started a new book, Collisions of the Damned, an alternative history of WWII with significant naval focus by my good friend James Young (shameless plug, I know) and the visit was a perfect excuse to drag Bonnie through more military history.
I am always amazed at what life must have been like aboard the submarines during WWII. My dad served on the USS Volador, which was modernized for the Cold War, but was about the same size as the USS Lionfish, the sub we toured today. It was so amazingly cramped.
Speaking of cramped, the PT boats were even smaller and were stuffed to the gills with guns and gasoline, not to mention the torpedo tubes. The boats operated in squadrons and engaged all manner of enemy craft. President John F. Kennedy skippered PT 109 during WWII and was decorated for saving his men when the boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer.
Seeing the Hiddensee was a real treat. Just walking aboard an ex-Soviet vessel was one of the neatest experiences at Battleship Cove. It wasn’t that different from US ships, but seemed a lot less “user-friendly” in terms of navigating the decks.
The grand lady of the cove, “Big Mamie,” was easily the star attraction. Just getting to crawl into the aft 16-inch gun turret and see the breech where a 2,700-lb shell could be lobbed up to 23 miles away. The battleship was far more spacious than the other ships and boats present, which made for a far less bruise-inducing tour. Hard metal corners and blood thinners don’t mix!
The variety of the day has certainly made for an interesting contrast. We are looking forward the Fourth of July tomorrow and fireworks on Cape Cod!