Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mount Carmel and The Branch Davidians

Wayne and I remember where we were mid-day on April 19, 1993. We were finishing lunch at Sergio's Cuban Restaurant in Miami, Florida. We watched the television set behind the bar as a Waco, Texas religious compound exploded into flames.  America was attacking it's citizens. Men, women and children were inside the burning building and they would not be rescued. There were no fire trucks or ambulances. Flames engulfed the compound and it was clear there was no escape for the souls inside. It was sickening.

The siege began February 28th when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms  (ATF) was tipped off that a religious group, formerly a part of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, was stockpiling firearms in a rural part of Waco.  Possession of the firearms, it seems, was perfectly legal. The group's intentions in the use of the firearms was the point in question.

ATF agents attempted to serve a warrant on a Sunday morning, when, it was supposed by the ATF, that church members would be preoccupied with worship services. As the door was slammed on the agents, gunfire ensued. It is not clear from whom but agents of the ATF later reported they were shooting dogs. It is clear however, that shots were fired from both sides. Four ATF agents and six members of the church were killed on that day alone.

Failing to complete the raid, the FBI became involved and initiated a 51 day standoff with the church members.  Eventually, on April 19th, a tear gas assault was launched in attempt to force the men, women and children out of their compound. During the attack, a rapidly expanding fire engulfed the entire religious compound and in the end, 76 were dead. Fire trucks, (according to the official record) arrived just 9 minutes before the fire finally burned itself out. Of course, there were no injured to rescue.

On our last day in Waco this week, we drove out to the former Branch Davidian compound. As expected, there are no directional signs and the people of Waco do not seem to know much or won't disclose anything about it even though it is a religious property still today. It's known now as the Stone Church, The Branch and New Mount Carmel.

I'd read somewhere that it was okay for visitors to walk the property even though there's not much to see -- just the remains of a swimming pool (used as a bunker by the group), an old bathtub and part of a bus that is mostly buried.  But the day we were there, the weather was pretty awful -- rainy and cold, so we didn't get out of the car.   We could see a small church building on the property and I read that the membership number was tiny. 

The entrance to Mount Carmel today. The gates are open.

Just inside the gate, this stone welcome visitors to New Mt. Carmel Center,
The Stone Church, The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness

Each stone bears a name, all bear the same date of death -- April 19, 1993, age at that time and the country of origin.

A stone for every member of the church who died that day.
 The center monument bears the names of all who died during the siege, including the names of the ATF agents.
Vernon Wayne Howell (David Koresh) does not have an individual stone.
His name is on the list of The Seven Shepherds of the Advent Movements.
The actual events that led to the siege at Waco may never be known. The siege and it's violent end, however, appear to have been the motivation for bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City exactly two years later.

What I found to be a detailed, non-biased report of the incidents that might have occurred at this location can be read at Crime Library for anyone interested in the read.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What To See In Waco

Along the Texas back roads to Waco from Bryan and College Station, the soil changed from reddish to dark brown. We saw many fields being cultivated and readied for seeding.  Plenty of oil rigging sites within those fields could be seen too.  We were even buzzed by a crop dusting plane.  It happened too quickly for me to snap a photo. 

In Waco, there are several things on my tourist bucket list.  I'll try to be brief.

The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame

The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame is dedicated to the history and popular culture of the legendary Texas Rangers.  First up: a 45-minute film about the Rangers -- from their beginning, just after Texas became a state, to their current responsibilities.
After the very enlightening film, there are many artifacts to view, including dozens of cases of firearms.  Here are a few ornate ones... 

This one bears the Texas Ranger Star logo on the engraved grip.
More than 12,000 artifacts are housed in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame here in Waco. Not only guns, but saddles, badges, uniforms, hats and much more.

One of the first Texas Ranger Badges
The first revolvers were made in 1831 by Samuel Colt of Hartford, Connecticut.  While the Texas Rangers were fighting Native Americans, the Indians were firing 3-5 arrows for every round the Rangers could fire with their single shot weapons.  As explained more fully at The Texas State Historical Association's Website, the revolver was patented in 1836, the year of the Texas Revolution.

One of the earliest revolver models.
As you might imagine, the Bonnie and Clyde exhibits are especially popular in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame.  In the photo below the center gun is believed to have belonged to Clyde Barrow. The short gun on the top was probably Bonnie Parker's.  Both were found inside the car the couple were riding in when they were killed.

I learned last week about a marker along the roadside in Gilsland, Louisiana where Bonnie and Clyde met their death at the hands of Texas Rangers.  Wayne promised me that we'd go by there sometime.  

Waco Suspension Bridge 

The photo below is of a railroad bridge (background) and a suspension bridge (foreground) over the Brazos River. The historic Waco Suspension Bridge was completed in 1870 and served as a Chisholm Trail crossing.  For many years it was the longest single span suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River.  It now is for pedestrian use only. Rainy, windy, cool weather and nearby road construction kept us from enjoying all the adjoining parks had to offer. As a matter of fact, this shot from the car window was the best photo I could get but we did manage to let Lexie and Ozzie walk a short distance in one of the riverbank parks leading to the bridge. 
Waco Suspension Bridge Over The Brazos River

Dr Pepper Museum

Dr Pepper is my soft drink and I am thrilled to learn that we can see the original bottling facility here in Waco.
Dr Pepper... so misunderstood. It's the most original soft drink ever in the whole wide world. Dr. Pepper.
So it seems a Waco, Texas pharmacist named "Doc" Alderton created this magical soft drink in 1885 (just like it says on every can and bottle).  Dr Pepper is the oldest major soft drink in America and was originally bottled in this building. There are three floors of memorabilia and seeing it all is worth the very reasonable $6 entrance fee.
Some of the very first Dr. Pepper bottles

Wayne studied the evolution of the containers.

Looking down into the original Dr Pepper Artisan well located inside the building.

The first bottles were corked by hand.

Dr Pepper bottling equipment

Wayne reminisced about which bottles he remembers. 

Old dispensers, many I remember seeing in local stores where I grew up.

The Dr Pepper delivery truck

Another "original"... 1930's soda shop.

The building in it's heyday.

The building today.  With me in the picture of course.

Mammoth Site

Another place of interest which we didn't get to see was the site the National Park Service refers to as "the nation's first and only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths". It began in 1978 when a mammoth bone was discovered along the bank of the Bosque River.  Since that time, the remains of 24 mammoths and a camel have been uncovered. 

We're not finished in Waco... there's another story for another post. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Birth of Texas, Bryan and College Station

Texas was a sovereign nation from 1836 to 1846.

It's the only state in America that was a country. This week we drove through the town where the Texas Declaration of Independence was produced -- Washington on the Brazos River. 

On March 2, 1836, while the Alamo in San Antonio was under siege by Santa Anna's Army of Mexico, a delegation drafted the document and Texas became a nation.

On our way to Bryan and College Station, Texas, we were completely unaware of this important Texas fact and passed right through the town without even stopping. Later I ran across the Texas Declaration of Independence .  I'm sick over it but Wayne steadfastly refuses to go back.

Anyway, we went on to Bryan and College Station -- mainly to tour the Texas A&M campus. That's just one of the things we like to do... visit college campuses. Particularly of interest are SEC schools (Southeastern Conference). Texas A&M, along with Missouri, are recent additions to the SEC so it's even more meaningful for us to be there. It's Wayne's thing.. I'm mostly am along for the ride.  While we're here, we also want to take in the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. We did and I posted about it already.

There are some 50,000 students who attend Texas A&M University and the College Station campus is large and nice even though I didn't take a great number of pictures of it. 

We learned that there is no "downtown" to College Station as the town literally sprung up around the railroad station.  Hence the name "College Station" as the train would make a stop there for the students traveling to and from there.

Kyle Field, where the Texas A&M Aggies play football

Expansion going on at Kyle Field

Guess it's pretty evident, we're football fans.
In 1909 Texas A&M students banded together for the first time to build and burn a Bonfire to symbolize the Aggies' burning desire to beat arch rival, the University of Texas in football.
The annual tradition eventually evolved into the largest bonfire in the world. Bonfire burned every year except 1963 after the assassination of President John Kennedy.
Sadly, A&M's Bonfire was permanently stopped 92 years later.  The Bonfire, while being prepared for the burn, collapsed at 2:42 a.m. on November 18, 1999. Twelve Texas A&M Aggies were killed in the accident. Twenty-seven other people were injured in the incident.   To learn more about the tradition, the accident and the memorial, click  here.

"Spririt of Bonfire"
We're off to the next adventure now. It's in Waco. Hope you'll join us there.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

He Does Not Like Broccoli

I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, news conference, Mar. 22, 1990

Today, while visiting College Station and Bryan, Texas, we took a nice, long, leisurely tour of the George Bush Library and Museum.

President George Bush did not attend Texas A&M University. (He went to Yale as did his father and the second President Bush.) He never called College Station "home" either. We couldn't help but wonder why this location was chosen. We asked one of the ladies at the information desk. Seems that many very well-to-do Bush supporters are Texas A&M alumni and that, coupled with the hard campaigning by Texas A&M to have it built here, paid off.

Link Directly to the George Bush Library / Museum Page

The sculpture below is just outside the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  Sculptor Veryl Goodnight captured the moment of joy felt around the world when Berlin was reunited on November 9, 1989. That was the day the Berlin Wall suddenly and unexpectedly came down. The horses in the sculpture represent the freedom of the human spirit. The graffiti on the sculpture's crumbling wall was taken directly from a piece of the original Berlin Wall rubble.

"The Day The Wall Came Down" by Veryl Goodnight
A sister sculpture is on display in Berlin, Germany
Ozzie (beside me), Lexie (in my lap) and me.
The museum tour takes visitors through the Bush family, history (both George and Barbara's), their courtship and marriage.  Photographs and mementos from the Bush's young children, his years as an athlete, his time at Yale (third generation) and the first business ventures are on display.  President Bush's military service includes facts and photographs of the ditching of his airplane and the loss of two crew members. We followed George Bush through his time at the U.N., the Republican National Committee, the CIA, Vice Presidency and Presidency. 

If we had not been fans of this great American before the museum tour, we would have been after the tour.  But yes, we do admire both Barbara and George Bush.  

First new car (Studebaker, my favorite) complete with the bill of sale.

Who knew George Bush kept his first baseman's glove in his White House desk?
We finally reach the are of the Presidency of George Bush.  Many "off limits" locations of the White House were replicated here.  Below, you can see I'm giving a "press briefing"....

Wayne chaired a meeting in the Situation Room
Wayne sat behind the President's Desk in the Oval Office.  Yes, Lexie and Ozzie were there.  Not to worry, they were well behaved.

Lexie, Ozzie and Wayne in the Oval Office.

I truly admire Barbara Bush.
We visited with the Bush family at Camp David, looked in on a few State Dinners and admired the many Gifts of State, including a large 24 karat gold fort, a gift from Saudi Arabia.

One of the last stops on our tour was to watch the difficult campaign that resulted in the loss of the presidential election to Bill Clinton. 

We caught up on life with the Bush family after the White House and were invited to stroll through the gardens and the cemetery where George and Barbara will be buried.  Their second child, a daughter, is already buried here. It's the only grave and it's marked by a small inlaid stone.

At the cemetery entrance
In case you're interested, you can read more George Bush Notable Quotes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A "Big Easy" Day

We stayed at Lakeside Campground, just off I-12 in Livingston, Louisiana, for only as long as it took to have the coach waxed, see a few former colleagues and visit New Orleans.

The years we lived in Baton Rouge gave us some very fond memories of this area. The people, the history, the color and oh yes, the food, are just about the best!

The day we arrived, the sky was overcast but the temperature was nice. Overnight a cool front moved in and the second day was miserably cool ... mostly because we just weren't expecting it.

Our third day was set aside to take in the World War II  D-Day Museum in New Orleans. The weather is expected to be perfect -- sunny and almost 70 degrees. 

Manchac Wildlife Management Area along I-55 near Lake Maurepas
Somewhere along this stretch I got a very good look at an American Eagle perched atop a bare cypress tree.
We drove down on I-55, then took I-10, working our way to Magazine Street where we parked in the memorial parking lot for a surprisingly reasonable fee. 

Famous American Author, historian and producer Stephen E. Ambrose, Ph.D. founded the National D-Day Museum in 2000, a few years after we moved away from Baton Rouge.  We wondered why it is now referred to as a WWII Museum. I learned that Congress, in 2003, awarded the new title of "America's National World War II Museum".  More about Dr. Ambrose and the museum can be found at The National WWII Museum.

Unfortunately, we found America's National World War II Museum to be just mildly interesting. Wayne has been a student of WWII for many years, has watched hundreds of hours of film footage and personal interviews, read dozens of books and visited countless memorials and museums. Most of the artifacts included here, while interesting, were not unusual, with a few exceptions, like the one below.

The display card identifies this French Resistance Armband bearing the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the Free French Forces. It dates from 1940-1945 and belonged to a then-teenager who would later live in New Orleans for 50 years.
Another facet of the museum we found interesting were the records and displays of Higgins Boat, the memorabilia and story of the boat's creator, Andrew Jackson Higgins, a Nebraska native, who, according to Dwight D. Eisenhower, "was the man who won the war for us".  Nearly 13,000 boats (92%) of the D-Day landing vessel count were  Higgins boats built in New Orleans. It's a fascinating story.  For more about Higgins and his boats, click  here.
We didn't spend as much time at the WWII Museum as we had planned. After a miserable lunch at the museum cafe, we cruised town.  First, of course, would be the French Quarter.
Colorful French Quarter

We're just a week after Fat Tuesday.  Many decorations are still displayed.

I guess everybody who goes to the French Quarter stops in for a hurricane at Pat O'Brien's. It's been around since 1933.

One of my favorite New Orleans restaurants is Galatoires.
When we had enjoyed about all of the French Quarter we could stand, we drove through the central business district, downtown and captured a few more picture memories.
George Rodrigue's "Blue Dog" art. Rodrigue was born in New Iberia, studied art at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. He began the "Blue Dog" series of paintings in the 1990's using the shape and stance of his deceased dog, Tiffany.

One of Wayne's favorite lunch restaurants -- Palace Cafe on Canal Street.
Passing Camp Street, Wayne recalled some things he'd seen on a tv program recently about Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy.  Oswald was born in New Orleans, lived at almost 20 different addresses here and his final residence was on Camp Street.  I did a quick internet search and found it: 544 Camp Street. We put that into the GPS and followed the directions. The location is now the Hale Boggs Federal Building and U.S. Court House. The number isn't even the same anymore.  Driving by and unable to stop, I didn't get to take a picture.

We continued to drive through the business district and I took a few more pictures that have special meaning to us.

Just a nice, postcard-like picture.

But the Best Was Last!

Leaving New Orleans, we remembered one of our favorite New Orleans area seafood dives. It's in Kenner, just a few blocks off I-10.  It's a simple small blue and white duplex (seafood market and seafood/oyster bar). The building displays the name Fisherman's Cove on the front but the seafood and oyster bar goes by the name Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar. 

We ate fried oyster po-boy and fried shrimp po-boy and took crawfish ettoufee and seafood gumbo home for lunch the next day.  If that wasn't enough, we stopped by Cafe du Monde for a couple orders of beignets and an iced coffee. Oooh la la.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Driving back to the campground we passed an annoying sight:  a field of rusting FEMA trailers. They seem to be a monument to government waste.  There are hundreds of them strewn across a stretch of a mile or so on I-10. 

...and with that, I'll close the post.