Buried Treasure

Treasure hunter

By Judy Berman

A beachcomber shuffles along the sand, shifts his metal detector slowly left, then right, in search of something shiny or black.

He scores a few bottle caps, loose change … and, then, he spots pieces of eight (gold), and silver that has a black silver sulfide patina on its surface.

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.* Treasure hunters today hope to strike it rich like Kip Wagner did in the 1950s.

Wagner, a retired Florida contractor, frequently went to the beach in search of driftwood next to the Sebastian River. Instead, after a hurricane, he found a piece of eight – also known as a cob, a Spanish silver coin dating back to the 1700s.

He wondered why gold and silver kept washing ashore near his home. None of the coins were dated past 1715.

He began working with his friend, Dr. Kip Kelso, in researching shipwrecks from that time.

They discovered that the treasure came from the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet. During a violent hurricane, 11 of 12 Spanish Galleons and one French ship sank between Sebastian and Fort Pierce.

About 700 people – crew and passengers – lost their lives, and the fleet’s precious cargo of gold, silver, jewels and jewelry now lay on the ocean floor.

Some 1,500 survivors struggled to shore and set up camp while awaiting rescue. This site, now known as the Survivors’ and Salvagers’ Camp, is in the Sebastian Inlet.

Treasure Island - book cover - 1911

Help did arrive within weeks. “Over the next four years, official Spanish salvors, Indian divers, English pirates, and privateers and river pirates of various nationalities flocked to the area to retrieve – or steal from each other – as much treasure as they could,” according to the McLarty Treasure Museum in Sebastian, Florida.

“Less than half the material originally listed on the ships’ manifest reached the Spanish treasury. The rest, so recently pried from the mountains (of Mexico and South America), now lay buried in sand and silt of the shore.”

Wagner purchased a $15 Army surplus metal detector. That led to finding the encampment, cannonballs, swords and artifacts from that site. Later, he took his search to the ocean and discovered remnants of one of the ships.

With the aid of their subcontractor, Mel Fisher, Wagner’s group – the Real Eight Company – salvaged the wreck of El Capitana from the 1715 Fleet.

By the mid-1960s, they hauled in “silver pieces of eight, gold doubloons, bars and plates of both metals, pearls, jewelry, and rare Chinese porcelains.”

Efforts continue to “coax from the seabed what 18th century divers left behind.”

Mel Fisher's Treasures, Sebastian - Oct. 2014 (4)

There are still untapped treasures and areas to explore along the Treasure Coast. Who knows what the next major storm will stir up from the ocean?

But some try to resist that siren’s call as young Jim Hawkins did in the last lines of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”:

“The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them, and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island, and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”

 

Have you ever searched for treasure? Gold? Books? Memorabilia? What was your best find?

 

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: The Spanish ship Atocha Shipwreck Found – Gold Treasure Discovery – Mel Fisher Story. It also includes search for the 1715 Spanish Fleet.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNdi4pbUIwc 

1.Main Photo: Treasure Hunter

2.Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – book cover (1911) – Illustrator: N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) http://www.openlibrary.org/details/treasureisland00steviala http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/77/Treasure_Island_title_1911.jpg/436px-Treasure_Island_title_1911.jpg

3.Photo: Mel Fisher’s Treasures – 40 pound “clump” of about 500 silver coins as a diver would find them on the ocean floor.

* Quote: “The, eh, stuff that dreams are made of.” Humphrey Bogart (Sam Spade) telling Ward Bond (Detective Tom Polhaus) what the black statuette is in the movie, “The Maltese Falcon.” (1941)

Link to: McLarty Treasure Museum at Sebastian Inlet State Park – http://www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet/activities.cfm

A Grand Weekend

Connor and Kaitlyn at the McLarty Treasure Museum, Sebastian, Fl

By Judy Berman

Gold was within our reach. But we walked away empty-handed.

To some, that would be mighty disappointing. For the grands, Kaitlyn and Connor, it was just one of the adventures we had during their visit in October.

All great excursions involve food. Right? We stopped for lunch at Capt. Hiram’s Restaurant in Sebastian, Florida. While we ate, we sat on an open deck and watched plovers and sea gulls scurry back and forth hunting down their meal.

Mel Fisher Treasure Museum, Sebastian, Florida

Then we went down the street to Mel Fisher’s Treasures Museum.

After searching for 16 years, “a salvage team led by Mel Fisher recovered the mother lode of the Atocha” in 1985. The Atocha, which sank in 1622, met a similar fate as the eleven Spanish vessels that sank in 1715 in a storm near present-day Sebastian.

gold bar at Mel Fisher's Museum, Sebastian, Fl

Seven hundred lives were lost and more than 14 million pesos worth of treasure went down with the eleven Spanish Galleons. No wonder this area is referred to as the Treasure Coast

It’s typical to take the sites and attractions for granted. In our role as tour guides, we discovered the many treasures close to us.

The next day, we were transported from visions of gold, silver and jewels hauled from the depths of the sea to a ride up a seven-story tower overlooking Port Canaveral on the Space Coast in Brevard County.

Exploration Tower, Port Canaveral - Oct. 2014 (24)

What is it like to navigate a boat? The “pilots” made it looks easy, but I bet it’s harder to do than parallel-parking a car.

On the fifth floor, Connor, and then Kaitlyn, safely steered their vessel via a simulator through Canaveral Harbor to greet a cruise ship. Not a dent or a scratch on either boat.

We shifted our course from the present to the past. It was all just a touch screen away.

Where did early native populations live? Where did the first European settlers land? We discovered this and more thru an interactive map.

Exploration Tower, Port Canaveral - Oct. 2014 (44)

When you enter the Exploration Tower, and when you leave, visitors are reminded of our fragile environment via the exhibit, “Embrace,” by Sayaka Ganz.

Vivid blue and white right whales, red jellyfish and stingrays can be seen from the lobby and second floor. It’s remarkable not just by its size, but from the elements used to create it. Ganz recycled items that people toss away: kitchen utensils, plastic toys and bottle caps.

From trash to treasure. That, too, is worth more than gold.

What attraction near your home do you want to see or return to?

 

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Video clip: Wallace & Gromit’s “A Grand Day Out” – ‘We Forgot the Crackers.’ (No, we didn’t forget the crackers, but we did have a Wallace & Gromit video marathon … and we had a grand time.)  http://www.spike.com/video-clips/czwml1/wallace-gromit-a-grand-day-out-we-forgot-the-crackers

Music Video: Jimmy Buffet singing “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (with apologies to our vegetarian granddaughter) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBsPZV14I-k 

1.Main Photo: Connor and Kaitlyn outside the McLarty Treasure Museum which is part of the Sebastian Inlet State Park in Florida.

2.Photo: Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum, Sebastian, Florida – photo taken by Ebyabe on April 25, 2011 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/67/Sebastian_FL_Fisher_msm04.jpg/640px-Sebastian_FL_Fisher_msm04.jpg

3.Photo: Gold bar from Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum

4.Photo: Exploration Tower – Port Canaveral, Florida – Connor and Kaitlyn piloting and navigating a boat using a simulator thru Canaveral Harbor to greet a cruise ship.

5.Photo: Exploration Tower – “Embrace” exhibit by Sayaka Ganz. She captures the movement of right whales, rays and jellies out of discarded objects such as kitchen utensils, plastic toys and bottle caps.

Links to sites:

Mel Fisher’s Treasures in Sebastian, Florida http://www.melfisher.com/Sebastian/Sebastian_Museum.asp

McLarty Treasure Museum at Sebastian Inlet State Park – http://www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet/activities.cfm

Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral - http://www.explorationtower.com/

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Spooky

By Judy Berman

A narrow creek glides thru a quiet, secluded glen that is nestled in a little valley among high hills.

The gurgling brook could lull you to sleep as you wait for a fish to bite. A walk in the woods in the fall as the sun glints among the trees is calming. Autumn leaves litter the forest floor.

By nightfall, that same setting is menacing.

Each innocent sight and sound becomes more ominous. This is what a very superstitious Ichabod Crane encounters in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

One day, Ichabod, a lean and lanky bookish fellow, wanders into the village of Tarrytown (now known as Sleepy Hollow, New York). Single ladies there consider the new schoolmaster to be quite a catch.

But he longs for the lovely Katrina Van Tassel, the only child of a Dutch farmer.

Ichabod’s attracted to Katrina’s beauty and to the wealth she would inherit when her father, Baltus Van Tassel, dies. Ichabod is consumed by daydreams of overseeing the spacious farmhouse on the “green, fertile banks of the Hudson River.”

Katrina doesn’t lack for suitors. Ichabod’s main rival was Brom Van Brunt, known as Brom Bones. Brom also was courting the very flirtatious Katrina.

One day, a messenger rode up to the schoolhouse and announced that Ichabod was invited to a quilting party that evening at the Van Tassel home.

Ichabod borrowed a broken-down plow horse from Hans Van Ripper, an ill-tempered farmer that he was staying with. The steed, Gunpowder, must have inherited his owner’s very nasty disposition.

Sleepy Hollow cemetery-bridge

At the Van Tassels, Ichabod was delighted to see a mountain of food on the tea table. He danced the whole night with Katrina while Brom Bones brooded and fumed.

When the dance ended, Ichabod joined Baltus and other men on the porch.

They swapped stories about goblins and ghosts. Brom Bones claimed he had a run-in with the Headless Horseman, the main spirit that haunts their region.

“Some people say it is the ghost of a Hessian soldier, whose head was carried away by a cannonball during a battle of the Revolutionary War.”

Locals believe his body is buried in the graveyard of the old Dutch church. At night, they say, his ghost continues to ride in search of his head.

Ichabod was the last to leave the party late that night. It’s believed he proposed to Katrina, and left with a heavy heart when she turned him down

His overactive imagination kicks in as he rides through the dark woods to get home.

As he approached the scene where many of the ghost stories had been set, he began to whistle nervously.

Huge, gnarled limbs appeared to be outstretched human arms. To his relief, Ichabod discovered that it was only a large tree.

Suddenly, there was a groan. Ichabod’s “teeth chattered and his knees knocked furiously against the saddle. Again, it turned out to be another innocent sound: one branch rubbing against another in the breeze.”

He was about to cross the stream when Gunpowder stubbornly refused to move. Ichabod panicked. He dug his heels into the horse and whipped him.

Then, he heard a splash. When Ichabod looked up, he saw a towering black shadow ready to spring on him.

Twice, Ichabod stammered “who are you?” But he got no reply. Soon the race was on between Ichabod and the terrifying figure that appeared to be carrying his head in front of him.

Sleepy Hollow - The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane

Both headed for the church bridge. Gunpowder’s saddle came undone and Ichabod clung to the horse. He heard the goblin’s black horse trample the saddle.

The old horse made it to the bridge and thundered across on the opposite side. But the Headless Horseman did not vanish as the legend said it would, and threw its head (a pumpkin) at Ichabod.

The next morning, Gunpowder was found nibbling the grass outside Van Ripper’s gate. Ichabod didn’t show up at the school house. A search party found no trace of Ichabod – only of the saddle, Ichabod’s hat and a shattered pumpkin.

Shortly after Ichabod’s disappearance, Brom Bones wed the lovely Katrina. When anyone mentioned the pumpkin, Brom burst out in a hearty laugh, leaving some to believe that he knew more than he chose to tell.

Some say that Ichabod fled the area in terror and moved to a new community, where he settled down and got married.

Others insist that he was spirited away by supernatural means. They claim they’ve heard him singing a melancholy tune as they take an evening stroll thru Sleepy Hollow.

Ichabod’s spirit – and that of the Headless Horseman – live on in Sleepy Hollow.

The historic community has hayrides and other events for little ghouls and goblins, and an opportunity to hear about the author, Washington Irving, in “the legend behind the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” http://visitsleepyhollow.com/

Happy Halloween!

What’s your favorite non-gory ghost tale?

 

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Video: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – a short story by Washington Irving (1820) – narrated by Glenn Close https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmImfSZ6Nl8 

Main Photo: Spooky (Ghost Light) – taken 2004 by Popperipopp http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e2/Ghost_light.JPG/640px-Ghost_light.JPG

Photo: Sleepy Hollow – Cemetery Bridge – used with permission from photographer Jim Logan http://visitsleepyhollow.com/legend-landmarks/

Photo Reproduction of artist John Quidor’s “The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane” (1801-1881) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/The_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane.jpg/640px-The_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane.jpg

Quotes are from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” – a Treasury of Illustrated Classics adaptation.

Hoover Dam, Ragtown and Dingbat Houses

Hoover Dam - June 2014   (9)

By Judy Berman

What would drive a man to take his family across the country and set up in a squatters’ camp in the desert where the average temperature was 116 degrees?

The three D’s: Desperation, the “Dust Bowl” and the (Great) Depression. During the 1930s, thousands fled to whatever Promised Land offered a job.

A drought turned their land into a “Dust Bowl” and rendered it useless to grow crops and to make a living. This forced thousands to leave their homes in a five-state region of the Great Plains in search of work.

“On October 29, 1929 – Black Tuesday – the stock market crashed, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. By 1933, one out of every three Americans was living in poverty. Thousands lined up to apply for a handful of available jobs,” Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum Permanent Exhibit. (Exhibit 2: Welcome to Hard Times)

Two years before construction began on Hoover Dam in 1931, the area near Las Vegas was flooded with job-seekers.

They lived in Ragtown, a makeshift shantytown on the floor of the Black Canyon next to the Colorado River. Their “homes” were made of tents, cardboard boxes, tin scraps and anything that amounted to shelter from the scorching heat.

“When somebody … became overcome with the heat, we dashed out there with these ice buckets and we’d pack them in ice. If their heart took it and they survived, OK. But if their heart stopped, that was it. We sent for the undertaker,” Bob Parker. (museum’s Exhibit 4: A Deadly Desert Place)

Boulder City - cottages built by Six Companies, Inc. - save

Six Companies Inc., a “supercompany” made up of six construction firms, agreed to build the dam for just under $49 million. The Boulder Canyon Project authorized Hoover Dam for flood control, improved navigation and regulation of the Colorado River.

Temporary housing was built in Boulder City for those who would work on the dam.

The homes – 658 of them – were called “dingbat” houses because of the quick and shoddy way they were constructed. The boxy homes had a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom.

Two men could throw one together in about 12 hours.

They looked so much alike that it wasn’t uncommon to wake up and find a stranger sleeping on the couch. When he was awakened, he’d look around bewildered, get up and head for home.

“The dingbat houses were a great improvement over the squatters’ camp, but the ragged construction style created hazards of its own. Dust blew in thru the cracks in the walls and doorways, piling up against the houses, creating small dunes throughout the neighborhood,” according to “Boulder City,” a PBS documentary.

Boulder City - bus to transport workers to Hoover Dam - save

Despite the hardships at home and the hazards of dynamite blasts at work, the workers at Six Companies completed Hoover Dam two years ahead of schedule and well under budget, says U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Restoration.

Their work created an engineering marvel that draws millions of tourists a year. Some staggering facts (U.S. Department of Interior Department of Reclamation):

Hoover Dam - June 2014   (7)

  • Hoover Dam is 726 feet tall. That’s 171 feet taller than the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.
  • At its base, Hoover Dam is as thick (660 feet) as two footballs fields measured end-to-end.
  • Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the USA, contains enough water to flood the entire state of New York with 1 foot of water (26 million acre feet).
  • Between 1931 and 1936 when the dam was built, 96 men were killed in industrial accidents. None were buried in the concrete.

Hoover Dam - mascot

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Source: Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum – http://www.bcmha.org/

Source: Hoover Dam, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation

Source: Boulder City – PBS. http://www.pbs.org/bouldercity/script.htm

1. Main Photo: Hoover Dam Tour Center, Nevada – mural of construction workers – June 5, 2014, by Judy Berman

2. Photo: Boulder City – cottages built by Six Companies Inc.: Department of the Interior. Bureau of Reclamation. Engineering and Research Center – April 1, 1932  http://research.archives.gov/description/293623

3. Photo: Boulder City – bus to transport workers to Hoover Dam, capacity 150 men:Department of the Interior. Bureau of Reclamation. Engineering and Research Center – July 27, 1933   http://research.archives.gov/description/293924

4. Photo: Hoover Dam – June 5, 2014, by Judy Berman

5. Photo: Hoover Dam – mascot – memorial to dog beloved by the construction workers at Hoover Dam. Taken – April 13, 2012. Filed in wikimedia.org. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/73/Hoover_Dam%2C_Wikiexp_21.jpg/640px-Hoover_Dam%2C_Wikiexp_21.jpg   Used with permission by photographer: Adam Kliczek, http://zatrzymujeczas.pl (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Grapes of Wrath

Migrant Mother - Florence Owens Thompson - 1936

By Judy Berman

My role model is a paroled prisoner, an unrepentant killer.

After four years in prison on a manslaughter charge, his concerns were only for “today.”

Time and life’s experiences shifted Tom Joad’s focus from selfish self-interest to helping others in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

He is one of the reasons I root for the underdog – personally and when I was a reporter.

The politics and social injustice that existed when the book was written have changed. But the book still resonates 75 years after its publication on April 14, 1939.

Like many families in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Joads are forced to leave Oklahoma. A drought turns their land into a “Dust Bowl” and renders it useless to grow crops and to make a living.

Landowners and banks evicted tenant farmers. Some homes are torn down by tractors, leaving residents with nowhere to go.

They’re told that there are jobs in California. Before they can get to the Promised Land, they are taken advantage of by crooked car salesmen and dishonest pawnbrokers when they try to sell their belongings to pay for transportation and for their trip.

Migrant worker's family, Nipomo, California

Defeated, they pack what possessions they can and drive down Route 66 in rickety cars and trucks to California where they – and thousands of others – head to migrant camps in search of work.

Life on the road is hard and fraught with danger. The Joads and others are treated with hostility because so many Okies are flooding into California and there’s not enough work for them. Some are starving.

Ma Joad, the family’s strength, believes that helping others will be rewarded. While there is greed, she has also witnessed kindness from strangers. She repays that by feeding some of the starving migrant children at the camp.

Early on, Tom Joad and Jim Casy, a family friend and ex-preacher, begin to wonder why the tenant farmers aren’t organizing a union to fight the injustices of poverty wages and harsh treatment at migrant camps.

They’re told that if they do organize a protest that they will be black-listed from the camps. That means they’ll never find work.

When the Joads settle in at the Weedpatch camp, a government-sponsored place, it appears their luck has changed for the better. But trouble still follows them.

A Farmers’ Association plans to sabotage the camp. They fear that the Okies are a threat to their way of life.

Work is again hard to find. The migrant workers are paid far less than promised and it’s not enough to feed their families. Casy urges them to strike.

Their protest is met with violence and motivates Tom to work for the community’s good. He’s on the run.

Ma Joad fears she won’t see him again. Before they part, Tom comforts her and vows to continue to fight injustice wherever he finds it.

Grapes of Wrath - Henry Fonda - DVD cover

“I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be everywhere – wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ – I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry ‘n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build – why, I’ll be there.”

My colleagues at the Observer Dispatch in Utica, New York, paraphrased that quote to reflect on my career at the paper.

It’s a comparison I’ll cherish always.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie clip – Grapes of Wrath (1940) – Famous “I’ll Be There” speech in the movie by Tom Joad (Henry Fonda)   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2JR3FmvVAw  

Video – John Steinbeck and Grapes of Wrath – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqaTv8cCWeg  

Photo – Migrant Mother (1936) – Florence Owens Thompson – (Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.) Photo by Dorothea Lange, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/54/Lange-MigrantMother02.jpg/461px-Lange-MigrantMother02.jpg

Photo – Migrant worker’s family – Photography of Florence Owens Thompson, known as “Migrant Mother”, Pea-Pickers Camp, Nipomo, California.  Photo taken 1936 by Dorothea Lange http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ca/Migrant_agricultural_worker%27s_family%2C_Nipomo%2C_California_ppmsca03054u.jpg/754px-Migrant_agricultural_worker%27s_family%2C_Nipomo%2C_California_ppmsca03054u.jpg

Photo – Grapes of Wrath (1940) – Henry Fonda as Tom Joad – DVD cover

 

 

The Safe Haven

Refugees registering at Fort Ontario's refugee camp

Refugees registering at Fort Ontario’s refugee camp

By Judy Berman

An Army post dating back to the 1700s served a peaceful and humanitarian purpose during the last two years of its life. But few knew of the role that Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York, played in sheltering refugees.

The fort became the only refugee center in America during World War II. It was a safe haven for nearly 1,000 men, women and children fleeing Hitler’s march across Europe. Of 3,000 who applied, just 982 refugees (874 were Jews, the rest were Christian) from 18 different countries were offered shelter at the fort.

Ray Harding was 8 years old when he and his family first came to America in 1944. They were Yugoslavian refugees who had been in a concentration camp in Italy that was liberated by the British. He viewed his 18-month stay at Fort Ontario as idyllic.

“The shelter in Oswego represented hope. It was a haven, a new life in the United States, a hand being reached across the sea by the United States,” Harding told me in an interview when I was a reporter at WHEN-AM radio in Syracuse, N.Y. (Born Branko Hochwald, Harding became a Liberal Party power broker in New York. He died in August 2012.)

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s decision to provide a safe haven changed not only the lives of the refugees who stayed there, but also the small community they lived in during the remainder of the war.

Aug. 5 marked the 69th anniversary of the fort’s role in the refugee relocation during WWII. Even though I lived about 35 miles from Oswego, I was never aware of its link to history until shortly before I did these interviews.

Manya Breuer, who survived five concentration camps, told me the fort was a welcome relief from her family’s life on the run.

“It was the beginning of a new life. It was coming from Hell into Heaven,” she said, referring to what is now called the Safe Haven.

But she felt guilty being among those selected.

“Here I was from so many, many people chosen to come to the United States, and beginning a new life again. When I think about it, it hurts me. Why is it that the rest didn’t have a chance?” she said.

Not all, initially, felt this way. “They were greatly disturbed by the chain-link fence with barbed wire on top and military police at the gate,” said Dr. Willard Schum, founding president and board member of the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center.

Ruth Gruber who helped the refugees relocate in Oswego, N.Y.

Ruth Gruber who helped the refugees relocate in Oswego, N.Y.

Ruth Gruber, who worked with the U.S. Secretary of Interior to help the refugees relocate, told them that all army installations had fences.

“(Some) didn’t believe me, and they were really terrified. It brought back all the memories of everything they’d escaped from. But others saw the fence as safety.”

Gruber said the schools in Oswego welcomed those in the shelter. Some of the children had never been to school.

“There was a 15-year-old girl from Germany who had been running since 1933. The day she went to school, she said: ‘I never believed in my life that I would go to school, that I would sit in a classroom.’” The girl grew up to be an artist.

Oswego residents did open their heart to the new arrivals. They brought the refugees food and clothing, and passed it over the fence. A former city mayor, Bill Cahill, remembered biking to the shelter and bringing candy to the refugees.

Housing and education were easy to resolve. Another concern was where they would go once the war ended. That was settled after the war came to an end. They were permitted to become American citizens.

Ruth Gruber's "Haven" - the story of nearly 1,000 refugees who found a safe haven in the U.S. during WWII.

Dr. Schum said he wished more could have found asylum in the United States during WWII. But there were ships that were turned away that had Jewish refugees aboard. They were not allowed to land.

He noted that of the roughly 1,000 people at the refugee center, there were doctors and lawyers who made their mark in this country. One scientist helped develop the CAT scan, another worked dismantling atomic weapons in Russia for the American government.

“What could we have done if we had opened our gates to more,” Dr. Schum said in a video made by The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y. (Link below)

Many hope that the Safe Haven will remind people what the refugees went thru before they came to America’s shores, and that this tragedy will never be repeated.

Sad to say … it has. Genocide has taken place in many countries and regions, including: Rwanda, Bosnia, Uganda, Darfur and Syria.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: Refugees – Registering at the Fort Ontario Refugee Camp, Oswego, New York – 1944. Author: Department of the Interior, War Relocation Authority, Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter (1944-1946) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/14/Refugees_Registering_at_the_Fort_Ontario_Refugee_Camp%2C_Oswego%2C_New_York%2C_08-1944.jpg/604px-Refugees_Registering_at_the_Fort_Ontario_Refugee_Camp%2C_Oswego%2C_New_York%2C_08-1944.jpg

Safe Haven Museum – http://www.safehavenmuseum.com/about.html

Photo: Ruth Gruber – The Haven and Ruth Gruber – War Department

Video: Ruth Gruber was a woman of firsts. This fascinating short film (7 minutes) includes the nearly 1,000 refugees who she helped relocate at Fort Ontario, Oswego, New York. She will be 102 on Sept. 30, 2013. http://www.aheadoftimethemovie.com/trailer.html

Imagine a Time for Peace

The Christmas Truce of 1914: German and British soldiers stand together in No Man's Land on the Western Front

The Christmas Truce of 1914: German and British soldiers stand together in No Man’s Land on the Western Front

By Judy Berman

A narrow stretch of land was all that separated the soldiers. Sometimes, the trenches the British and the Germans fought in during World War I were only 200 yards apart. That space in between was known as “No Man’s Land.”

They were so close they could hear each other’s conversations. On Christmas Day 1914, many on both sides began to sing Christmas carols to each other.

Then, they did the unthinkable. They exchanged gifts of cigarettes and plum puddings. This Christmas Truce lasted just a few days.

One British soldier, Staff Sgt. Clement Barker, wrote to his brother on Dec. 28, 1914, from the trenches of Ypres (in Belgium), about the temporary cease-fire.

Barker’s letter, found 98 years after this event, is quoted Dec. 24, 2012, in the online Daily and Sunday Express: “So, in the morning (Christmas Day), a German looked over the trench – no shots – our man did the same, and then a few of our men went out and brought the dead in (69) and buried them, and the next thing happened a football kicked out of our trenches, and Germans and English played football (soccer).”

Many of the soldiers, curious about the unseen enemy, “were surprised to discover that they were more alike than” they thought.

This could be the setting of John Lennon’s song, “Imagine,” written in 1971.

Lennon asks us to imagine a time of peace when people put aside their differences, when there are no barriers between us, when we are not divided by our different faiths or politics. Instead of focusing on material possessions, Lennon said we should focus on humanity throughout the world.

Author John Blarney wrote that “Lennon contends that global harmony is within our reach, but only if we reject the mechanisms of social control that restrict human potential.”

This British infantry unit fights in a trench that is within 200 yards of German lines. (1914)

This British infantry unit fights in a trench that is within 200 yards of German lines. (1914)

For a few days in 1914, in several spots consumed by war, soldiers put aside their differences.

“The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of a war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated … but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of  weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured,” according to history.com.

That scenario, played out nearly 60 years before “Imagine” was written, makes Lennon’s dream seem less distant. More real.

“Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.
You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”  

For now, I can only imagine.

Video – The Christmas Truce - 

Music Video – John Lennon singing “Imagine.”  

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Main Photo: The Christmas Truce – 1914: German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment photographed with men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in “No Man’s Land” on the Western Front. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Christmas_Truce_1914_IWM_HU_35801.jpg

Letter found from soldier in “No Man’s Land” Truce – 98 years later. http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/366837/98-years-on-letter-found-from-soldier-in-no-man-s-land-truce

Photo: Christmas Truce – British soldiers fighting in trenches: Illustrating the closeness of enemy lines, this British infantry unit fights from a trench that is within 200 yards of German lines. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/CORBIS) http://www.history.com/topics/christmas-truce-of-1914/photos#