Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Detroit Eclipse

For those of you in the dark (buh-dum-dum), these past few weeks, the Great American Eclipse of 2017 has been incredibly hyped.  Lets face it - it should be. 

This type of eclipse involves the moon moving directly between the earth and the sun.  Recognizing that the sun is basically 400 times larger than the moon but is also 400 times farther away, the sizes match almost perfectly.  If the two line up correctly with each other and the earth, an eclipse ensues. 

The result is an awe inspiring astronomical event that is known to have stopped conflict and  inspire the arts.  Christopher Columbus even used one to bamboozle indigenous people.  I suspect an eclipse might  even confuse a Republican or two. 

During this recent eclipse, the 70-mile wide strip of land, known as the Zone of Totality, stretched from sea to shining sea.  As expected, the lighting became dim, the temperature dropped and some animals reacted as if it was dawn or dusk. 

While zillions of people flocked to the Zone (Wyoming's population literally doubled!), I could not make the journey.  While I had an offer for a road trip to St. Louis, I was obliged to decline as I had home responsibilities (sorry Josh).  I knew I wanted to photograph the spectacle but I just couldn't manage the time commitment.

That said, I wanted to secure photos that you would likely not see elsewhere.  Lets face it - stunning images were produced showing the Bailey's Beads....but nothing else is in the picture.  Why?  In part, because it was too high in the sky. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, they are photos that could have been taken anywhere in the zone.  I wanted to incorporate the eclipse into some sort of feature that says "I was here!"  with "here" in this case being a readily identifiable landmark.

But my problem was the angle. At 2:28pm Detroit time, the sun was over 60 degrees above the horizon.  Further, in order to have a large sun in the image, I have to use my telephoto lens.  So where can I go where I can shoot high in the sky for a large sun and still have a recognizable foreground?  


Rising over 660 feet, the Penobscot Building is one of Detroit's gems.  Completed in 1928 in the Art-Deco style, the roof profile is probably one of the most identifiable buildings in Detroit's skyline.  For those of you familiar with the area, this is the building with the red ball on the spire at night.  

So, the idea was simple - find the location in Detroit where the sun will be near the Penobscot ball during the eclipse when viewed from the ground.  

Enter PhotoPills. Without the gory details, this application allowed me to calculate where I needed to be during the big show. The destination? Campus Martius Park.  

During the big day, Natalie, Sue and I set up shop with two critical pieces of equipment.  First, we all had the eclipse glasses.  No, they don't make anybody look good but they make you look smart.  Everybody knows that looking into the sun, even under most stages of an eclipse, is bad.  Okay, maybe not everybody.  

Second, I secured the mandatory solar filter for my camera rig.  Without it, the camera is ruined (not unlike your retina) as the lens focuses the sunlight on the delicate sensor. 

Ultimately, I was in three different locations.  That's a long story.  But, in the end, I got the shot I envisioned. For the record, these images are barely altered. 

Generally, clouds during an eclipse might bring some folks to tears.  Think about it. When is the last time you saw the sun on a cloudy day?  What if you had to wait for a very specific sun in a very specific spot at a very specific time of day? 

But for me, it worked.  The clouds were just starting to roll in during the latter phases.  Knowing the solar filter was blocking light, I needed to lengthen the shutter speed.  Subjects on the move with an open shutter blur.  Voila.  

All in all, the outing was excellent.  In the event you missed this particular event, another one is occurring in 2024. Totality will be as close as Toledo, Ohio.  I'm there.  

I'll be looking ahead to June of 2021, also.  Little known fact - the sun will rise in Detroit eclipsed on the 10th.

I'll be there, too. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

OK in the OTR and CZ

Two people.  Two days off.  Road trip.  

While I have come to generally despise the name "bucket list", I understand its motive.  Natalie and I, looking to hit a target destination, hit the road. 

The drive down to Cincinnati was smooth as it was a Sunday morning.  By lunch time, we had arrived in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood (OTR).

Needless to say, that name needs some explanation. 

As is so often the case, immigrants moving to a new town gather in clusters based on their heritage or country of origin. Detroit has Mexican Town while Dearborn has a tremendous Middle-eastern population.  For Cincinnati, the mid-19th Century saw a a huge influx of Germans. 

Rhine. Germany.  So the connection is made, right?....sort of. Germans named the neighborhood based on the geography of their homeland. They were indeed "over the Rhine."   A quick peak at a map of Europe shows the Rhine River is the second longest river in the region and is a major part of Germany's identity.

But there is no river in downtown Cincinnati.  That's right - no river exists separating the downtown region with the OTR.  Perhaps those Germans were having one too many lagers?  

It turns out there was a water feature that inspired the name. During Cincinnati's expansion as a midwestern economic force, the Miami and Erie Canal  was cut from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.  This canal, running south along the western counties of the state, literally bisected Cincinnati into a northern and southern portion. Guess where OTR ended up?  Yup - north of the canal.  So from a downtown perspective, OTR was literally over the "river.".

As economic forces changed, the canal lost its muscle. After a short stint as basically an open sewer, the city opted to pursue a subway system. Dead before the first car was on the track, Cincinnati opted to pave the land as a road.  Today, you drive it as Central Parkway. 

Anti-German sentiments came into play during World War I.  This was complicated by the gaff known as Prohibition. After all, what do Germans like to do with their time? Brew beer!  Over a dozen breweries where in the neighborhood at the turn of the 20th Century. Why would a cultural group stay in a region where everyone hates you and numbnuts in your government prevent you from making a living?  You'd leave too! 

Construction of major interstates during the Eisenhower Administration forced the displaced poor in to the OTR that was now partially occupied by the impoverished from Appalachia.  Federal programs soured as crime rose and poverty became entrenched.  By the 1990's, OTR was a neighborhood that you didn't walk in broad daylight. If you didn't need to go there, you didn't go.   (Some studies suggested that crime rivaled that of Compton in Southern California.  While this has been discredited, OTR was still awful. Nobody in the right mind disputes it.)

Yes, we went there.  Now, before you think we're nuts, read this article.  Visit this website.  In short, this is what can happen when concerned citizens and businesses say "enough."

As it turns out, the neighborhood is over 360 acres.  Sure, some of historic buildings are gone, but many remain.  It may turn out to be one of most intact historic neighborhoods in the country.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the neighborhood on the list of the” Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places in America” in 2006. Between 2001 and 2006, 52 historic buildings were demolished.  Realistically, those numbers exceed the number of historic buildings in some cities’ entire historic districts. The neighborhood has now lost about 50% of its historic buildings.  

The opportunity to poke around for the afternoon was tremendous. The weather was great (though a tad warm).  It wasn't anything a cold beer and wood-stove pizza couldn't fix. The Findlay Market was extraordinary.  Built in 1852, the main building is a rare example of the nation’s early iron architecture.  Iron frameworks for construction were a BIG deal when they were first developed - very few remain. 

Still in the OTR, the obligatory cold beers on a warm early summer day came at the Rhinegeist Brewery.  Remember, the OTR neighborhood was largely German when it was settled.  German for "Ghost of the Rhine", the little skulls on the tap are a perfect logo.  Further yet, and perhaps more cool, the current brewery is inside one of the old bottling operations from the Pre-Prohibition Era.   The photo below was taken on the rooftop drinking deck.  Five stories above Cincinnati, the opportunity to taste fancy beer, look at old architecture and and watch sky-diving Peregrines Falcons cant be overlooked. What a great way to enjoy some time...

The inside, it should be mentioned, is simply huge. I mean huge.  Simply massive. Natalie and I were both in awe as we walked up the stairs to the main room.  Thousands and thousands of square feet.   They literally have wiffle ball games inside the building.    

Sadly for us, we did not get a chance to take a tour of the caverns below the building.  For you beer brewing novices, lagers, a German flagship beer, are not fermented at room temperature. They must be kept cooler.  With today's modern technologies, refrigeration is possible.  Historically, brewers would construct large caverns below the breweries were the temperature were suitable.  The caverns still exist below OTR. Perhaps if Natalie and I return, we can get there. In the meantime, the kegs below were in the main ale room.


Dinner was at yet another stellar OTR project - The Taft Ale House. Originally, it was the St. Paul’s Evangelical Church and was once the oldest protestant parish in the Queen City (one of Cincinnati's many nicknames). Constructed in 1850 amidst the expanding Over-the-Rhine brewing industry, its rather ironic that the church becomes the brewery, don't you think? 

What's the Taft connection? William H. Taft was from Ohio, specifically Cincinnati.  Ohio is rather proud of their man who went on to be both the President of the United States and the Justice of United States Supreme Court.  

The legend of the rather rotund, 350-pound Taft getting stuck in the tub lives on here. While it has never been confirmed as the story appeared 20 years after he left office, it is known he added a giant tub to White House during his tenure as President. To honor the story - true or not - the Ale House developed what is quite possibly the coolest logo ever....
After dinner drinks were secured in Washington Park. Originally, it was developed in the mid-18th century as a part of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood after a short tenure as a cemetery. During OTR's less than glamorous days, the property was the dump you would expect it to be.  

Now?  Kids playing in fountains. Beer sales.  Dog parks.  Concert shells.  Playgrounds.  Simply an unbelievable piece of property at only 12 acres in size.  

Parking? Well, think about this. How many cars were there during the development of the OTR? Exactly none.  Needless to say, parking in the area might be a challenge and what you do find might be tight. Well, during the $46,000,000 restoration,  a 450-car garage was built below the park. You would never know it was there as it was mastefrully included. 

Further, the entire neighborhood is now boasting rurals.  The Golden Muse (below) is right next to the park.  It's nice to see art that has not been vandalized.  The city, forward thinking as it is, totally embraces the idea.

Lodging was a short skip from Washington Park.  The Symphony Hotel is quite possibly the nicest place we've ever stayed.  Resurrecting an old 18th Century home with the musical theme based on the Cincinnati Music Hall (which is literally across the street), the building is now one of the go-to places for lodging. Fine dining awaits guests before a show at the Hall.  For us, our meal was Monday's breakfast cooked to order.  

Each room, by the way, is named for musical greats.  We opted to pass on the Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven Rooms. There was no Cypher room interestingly enough.   Instead, the Rachmaninoff seemed appropriate.  Named for Sergei Rachmaninoff, the room was stunningly detailed in late 18th Century furniture.  What a room.  

As a biology nut, I always find the historic medical investigations of the deceased to be fascinating.  While it has yet to confirmed (if indeed it ever can be), evidence suggests that Rachmaninoff suffered from either Marfan Syndrome or Acromegaly.  Both congenital conditions result in large hands (among other traits).  He was noted as writing piano pieces with chord structures that involved tremendous stretching of the fingers.  His skills as a pianist were certainly added by his biology.

While our first day in town was largely an "off-the-cuff" sort of structure, Day 2 was certainly planned. In fact, it was really the entire reason for the trip.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens is one of the premier zoos in the country.  One of the nation's oldest, it made recent headlines for the killing of Harambe the Gorilla. While certainly a horrible situation (and correctly handled by the zoo, by the way), another death occurred there that should not be overlooked. 

John James Audubon, the noted 19th Century ornithologist, estimated that the Passenger Pigeon population was in excess of 3 billion birds.   Unregulated hunting and massive habitat loss brought the once abundant bird to extinction.  Martha, the world's last passenger pigeon, died in her enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1st, 1914.  

Her enclosure remains.  The statue below is there in her honor, as well.  Her time of death is noted as 1pm - this makes that moment in time one of the only episodes (if not the only  episode) in world history where the extinction of an animal is precisely known.  

Interestingly, and even more unknown to most folks, the world's last Carolina Parakeet died here, as well.  Incas died on February 21, 1918.

While it was not horribly hot, it was hot enough if you are not used to humidity.  Regardless, it goes without saying that cameras and zoos go hand in hand.

Giraffes, in case you don't know, poop different depending on whether they are males, females, or moms who have just given birth.  

Orangutans, as you might imagine, spend alot time in zoos doing nothing.  Contrary to the opinions of the public, their time in the wild is spent doing much of the same... 

Gray-crowned Cranes are native to Africa.  Like so many other species of wildlife, they are experiencing declining populations.  Sucks for Uganda.  It's their national bird and is shown on their flag.

Meerkats have become very popular given their successful show Meerkat Manor.  Their tendency to post a guard while the rest forage is an excellent trait that shows their "all-for-one one-for-all" mentality.  It works great.......right up until they each other's offspring to help ensure better odds for their own kids. I wonder if they showed that on the television!

Ultimately, the two day tour of Cincinnati was superb.  Beer.  Buildings.  History.  World class zoo.  In fact, it was so enjoyable, we may have to head back.  There were plenty of parts we never covered. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Fort Wayne

As any student of American history knows, the United States and Great Britain have had an interesting relationship.  We hated each otherWe continued to hate each otherWe liked each other.  Now they hate us again.   

After the second "we hate each other" phase, cooler heads prevailed and peace existed...for a short time, anyhow.  During the late 1830's, internal conflict within Canada swelled into a little known brouhaha known as the Patriot War. 

While United States troops were involved (sort of), it brought to the forefront a grand gaff of strategic military planning relating to the protection of our newly acquired soils. Federal documentation attributed to an unknown author (or perhaps just an interpretation of a suspected conversation by the writer of this blog) states:  "Holy s***.  If we find ourselves hating them again, we are so screwed because they have a fort on the Detroit River and we don't....."

Enter Fort Wayne.  Named after the western movie star, John  General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, funds were secured and the fort was built in what is now Del Ray in Detroit.  Shortly after the fort's completion in 1851, but before the installment of the first cannon, peace prevailed yet again.

While one might think the fort immediately slipped into disrepair, it did not.  (That comes later.)  The Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam all saw Fort Wayne playing a role.  During the Arsenal of Democracy, the grounds were functionally the world's most impressive motor pool.  The tanks and jeeps rolling off assembly lines of Metro Detroit passed through Fort Wayne before heading to Europe.  The Vietnam era saw the grounds used for swearing in new soldiers before closing before finally closing.

After a short stint as the Fort Wayne Military Museum under the auspices of the Detroit Historical Museum, it has been operated, as of 2006, by the Detroit Recreation Department, assisted by the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, the Friends of Fort Wayne, and the Detroit Historical Society.

With my newfound freedoms following graduation and a free day in my schedule, I headed to the Fort's grounds for photography.  Like many photographers, I find black-and-white conversions to be very appealing for images of the built environment. 

This is the original 1848 limestone barracks.  Note the addition on the back elevation of the building. Fossils were found in some of the front blocks as limestone is functionally old sea creatures. 

Sadly, funding is lacking.  Some buildings have been restored. Others have not.  The rowed buildings below are the quarters for the Non-commissioned Officers.  They are duplexes. 

While some buildings were literally converting to trellises for various botanicals, some could use some simple attention. The door below, while shoddy looking, really just needed some paint. Sure, the side lights needed replacement, but that is largely cosmetic.  While ugly and beautiful at the same time, this door is not as decrepit as it looks. 

Any fort needs defensive works.'s a really bad fort, or not a fort at all.  This board is held in place to minimize bird entry.  Back in the day, as the saying goes, a soldier could discharge their weapon from this gun port at an attacker.  The slot is only perhaps 5 inches wide, but that is enough room to do the deed. Note the lintel over the port.  

Brick courses are much more involved than people realize.  Almost any building today is laid out in "Common Bond."  If you look closely at historic buildings, however, you'll note that bricks are assembled in various patterns.  In the hands of skilled craftsmen, these patterns can become impressive.  Others, like the "English Bond" below, are marginally flashy, but easily overlooked.  The long face of a brick is the stretcher  while the short face is the header.  Note that every other course of bricks is entirely headers while the other courses are stretchers.  The exterior walls at Fort Wayne were not originally brick at all. These were added later. 

Storage of munitions is an issue with any military installation, even to this day.  Many historic forts have powder houses. In the event of an accidental explosion of potentially hundreds or even thousands of pounds of gun powder, damage could be extensive.  The standard design of the time called for an arched roof and stout stone walls. In the event of an accidental discharge, the force of the explosion would be driven up, not out.  

In the case of the Fort Wayne Powder House, protection goes beyond roof design.  The building (slightly larger than a one-car garage) is recessed into a hill.  Around the building, an open space reinforced with limestone beams can be found.  In the image below, the space is perhaps four feet wide while the beams are near chest high.  Note that the construction techniques are not identical on the two walls.  The left wall is the exterior wall of the powder house while the right wall is an interior wall of the hill in which the building is recessed.

Sadly, so much of the fort is in disrepair. Sure the property still gets used.  Civil War reenactments, flea markets, and soccer games now replace marching soldiers, motor pools, and poker.  In any case, if you appreciate history, architecture or the military, it is worth your time. 

Check it out.  It doesn't matter who currently hates whom.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


It's done. Finally.  Finished.  The finale.  Complete.

There it is....

What you see there is my Final Project. Officially, it is the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Naval Air Station - Grosse Ile.  The title?  Runways to Recognition.  Huh? Huh? Pretty witty, eh?

As the "Final Project" suggests, it was the final step of my three-year journey to earn a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from Eastern Michigan University.  I even managed to graduate with honors.

Of course, with documentation that includes histories, photos and written descriptions of over 30 buildings on a 600+ acre piece of property, any documentation that is worth of a damn is going to be a few pages long, right?  I added the  bottle cap to give scale. (Who would have thought that a bottle cap would be laying around the house. Crazy.) It clocks in at about 7/8" thick.  


That journey was quite awesome, if I can say so myself.  Sure, I went to Ypsilanti scores of times over that period. But I also managed Traverse City for a few classes and that awesome road trip to Wheeling, West Virginia is one for the ages.  

My plan?  Well, for now, I'm going to relax just a bit and try to catch up on some things I have been putting off.  I also need to investigate the details behind that one extra class.

Yeah, you read that right.  One more class.  

One of the courses for my degree was an introduction to Geographic Information Systems.  Basically, you input incredible data into incredible software and get incredible maps allowing for incredible analysis.  My project for the class involved a study of cemeteries in Wayne County, Michigan that are susceptible to flooding.   I found the class to be simply incredible. 

The class I am looking to take this fall is essentially a Part 2 as the first section only covered half of the data options (Vector vs. Raster for those of you who know the difference.)

"Why?" you ask?

Because I want to...

So, when I mentioned a moment ago that I was done, welllllll, sort of. I guess I was done with my Final Project and Degree. 

But, hey, there is more learning to be done!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays!

On behalf of Natalie and I, Santa Tree Swallow would like to wish to you all safe and happy Holiday Season!