Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History

Home of the Great Locomotive Chase - Kennesaw, GA - More
The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History is a Smithsonian affiliate located just north of Atlanta in Kennesaw, Georgia. The significance of Kennesaw in Civil War history is notable on several fronts. Not only is Kennesaw the site of one of the most savage battles of the war between the states, and home of a massive National battlefield cemetery, it (Big Shanty Station) is also the beginning point for what would eventually become famously (or infamously, depending on loyalties) known as the Great Locomotive Chase. The key subject of the action-filled story is housed here at the Southern Museum. Let me explain...

On April 12, 1862, a small band of rough-cut northern spies
led by a civilian northern scout (secret service?) by the name of James J. Andrews, boldly stole a train in plain sight of the southern army. Their objective was to push north to Chattanooga, cutting telegraph lines and destroying track and bridges along the way. Their ultimate goal was to cut off supply lines and communication between Atlanta and Southern Troops in Tennessee. Unfortunately for the spies, a single enthusiastic train conductor named William Allen Fuller would have nothing to do with his train being stolen by a bunch of Yankee spies. He set out on foot to chase his train, the General, until he got it back. Mr. Fuller's resolve proved to be more than "Andrew's Raiders" expected, and the train was captured near Ringgold, Georgia, remarkably near the spy's destination. Some of the northern spies were captured and some escaped to return home. The Union survivors were awarded the very first Congressional Medals of Honor.

In 1956, the Great Locomotive Chase adventure was made into a Disney
film starring Fess Parker, an actor who later (1964) became the star of the popular TV series Daniel Boone. Rebecca and I were young children during that time period, and Fess Parker was a star to us. So, when I first saw The Great Locomotive Chase at camp at the ripe old age of 9, it was a immediate hit.

Ok, sorry about the tangent, but the point is, the steam engine named The General, the real star of "The Great Locomotive Chase," is here in all its glory. Yes, the original, 200-year-old locomotive is displayed here at the Southern Museum. Also, an abbreviated 20 minute film tells the Great Locomotive Chase story in the museum's theater, and the full length Disney DVD is available for purchase in the museum's gift shop.


Now, I don't want to neglect the rest of the museum because there is much more here. The Southern Museum features many displays portraying life of the soldiers of the Civil war, both northern and southern. Most displays are static: pictures, clothing, eating utensils, and weapons. Additionally, the museum has a series of displays portraying the manufacture of train engines by the Glover Machine Works during the time period. This is a really cool display showing the processes of engineering, machining, casting, and manufacturing.
For the children:
While much of the museum is targeted at adults, there is a portion of the
Southern Museum dedicated to children. There are displays of historical significance that encourage children to role play (dress-up). There is also a full-size model of an engine in which children can experience the thrill of piloting a train. Additionally, the museum is adjacent to a very nice playground, a sure cure for childish boredom.

In summary, the Southern Museum is a must-see for adventurous families. Much of the static portions of the museum are not the most exciting places
for small kids, but there are plenty of distractions to help keep them occupied. We really recommend the purchase of Disney's Great Locomotive Chase DVD in the museum's gift shop. It's well worth it! 

While in the Kennesaw area, we suggest a short drive up to Cartersville to visit the Tellus Science Museum, the Booth Western Art Museum, and the Etowah Indian Mounds. If camping and recreation are what's on your mind, check out Red Top Mountain State Park and McKinney Campground on nearby Lake Allatoona.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Lake Sidney Lanier - A Labor Day Weekend Adventure

Adventure Journal - Entry Date: September 2012 - More
We were so excited to visit Lake Sidney Lanier on this Labor Day weekend. We'd heard about the LanierWorld water park, and it looked like the kind of place we could have some serious fun. We arrived at the lake on a Friday afternoon with just enough time to set-up the camper and take a walk around the campground. We chose Shoal Creek Campground for this visit because of its proximity to LanierWorld. We expected the campground to be pretty full. It was, after all, Labor Day weekend. Surprisingly, the campground was sparsely populated. In fact, our site hadn't been camped in for almost a month. Why? I guess it might have something to do with the lake's water level. We visited the campground's beach and boat ramp, both left high and dry by the receding waterline.

Saturday morning came with a few sprinkles, just enough to give us an excuse to sleep in a bit. Fortunately it soon cleared off and we emerged from our home away from home, ready for adventure. One of our first priorities was to investigate Lanier World. We decided to take the short drive over to the park to find out what the admission would be, and if there were any special package prices for Lanier Island Resort guests. We learned there is a discount  admission, and Shoal Creek campground is a part of the resort. Additionally, as a guest, the $15 per car fee to enter the resort is also waived. That benefit alone reduces the actual cost of staying at the campground considerably. We were favorably impressed with the resort's beautiful landscaping and maintenance. Very nice!

Our next objective was to get the boat in the water and explore the lake a bit. As I mentioned before, the Shoal Creek Campground boat ramp was closed, but another ramp was located just outside the campground's entrance. It was sufficient to put in, but the end of the dock was several feet from the edge of the water. This made for some muddy feet when loading the boat. The water seemed very clean, and traffic on the lake wasn't terribly bad. Some of the boats that were on the lake seemed to be rather erratic, so we tried to maintain our distance from most.

We explored the coastline for a while before heading to Sunset Cove, the location of LanierWorld. We thought we might be able to grab a spot at the dock, or maybe even park the boat right off the beach. When we pulled into the cove, it was very crowded. There were numerous large boats densely anchored with dozens of people on the boats and on floats drinking. There was a lot of partying going on, and it made us wonder if anyone was policing the activity. It seemed to be a very dangerous situation, and the rangers didn't appear concerned. We left immediately, opting for the land route to the water park.

When we finally made it to the park that evening, many of the boats in the
cove had dispersed. We paid our admission, and proceeded to each of Lanier World's attractions. The first stop was a large inflatable obstacle course in the lagoon. From there, we visited each of the attractions (some were not open). The kids especially enjoyed the water slides and the wild river tube ride. As the sun set, we settled in at the wave pool to watch Jurassic Park. They call this a "dive-in movie," and it was really cool. The kids spent the entire movie watching from the pool. It was after 11pm by the time we headed back to the campground that night. What an awesome time we all had.

Sunday was spent at the campground exploring and looking for rocks.  When the water level is this low, it makes for good rockhounding. Lake Lanier is fed by the Chattahoochee river which flows from the gold-rich mountains around Dahlonega. That means lots of quartz of varying clarity and color. We found some pretty nice rocks, but we didn't pan for gold here because the Army Corps of Engineers frowns on such activity. We did have a fire-building contest though, and the kids collected dozens of shed cicada exoskeletons. Pretty much a typical day camping with the Richardson Tribe.

For more about Lake Lanier, LanierwWorld, and Shoal Creek Campground, including details and dozens of pictures, click here.