More microscope adventures


So I mentioned, a couple of posts ago, my latest microscope, made in 1932 or 1933 by the Spencer Company in Buffalo, New York for Dartmouth College. I can report that I now have all the parts working, and it is in great shape!

A few nights ago, that Famous Traveling Pard of mine and I were watching The Poiso ner’s Handbook, a PBS series based on the work of the same title. Both norrisdocument the extraordinary careers of Alexander Gettler and Charles Norris of the New York Medical Examiner’s office. As I was watching, this image of Charles Norris flashed on the screen. He is sitting at a table with a microscope almost identical to mine. You can see the microscope in another image, this one showing more of the lab. I wonder what happened to this Spencer Company microscope?

I also wonder how many other Spencer Company microscopes I can find in other old lab photos….

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday National Park Service!

Created by act of Congress 100 years ago today! I’ve explored many parks over my life-time, and I have many, many more to go. A few of those in the list below I’ve actually had the chance to serve as a volunteer. And for the Blue Ridge Parkway, I’m proud to say that I am a volunteer in parks, and our family was chosen as our district’s Volunteer of the Year last year! What does your list look like?


Kings Mountain National Military Park 


Russell Cave National Monument (AL), Canaveral National Seashore (FL), Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (FL), Ft. Matanzas National Monument (FL),  Gulf Islands National Seashore (FL), Andersonville National Historic Site (GA), Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (GA), Fort Pulaski National Monument (GA), Kennesaw Mountain National battlefield Park (GA), Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (KY, TN, VA), Appalachian National Scenic Trail (NC/TN), Antietam National Battlefield (MD), Monocacy National Battlefield (MD), Adams National Historical Park (MA), Salem Maritime National Historic Site (MA), Harry S. Truman National Historic Site (MO), National Expansion Memorial (MO),  Manhattan Project National Historical Park (TN), Blue Ridge Parkway (VA/NC), Cape Hatteras National Seashore (NC), Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site (NC), Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (NC), Moores Creek National Battlefield (NC), Wright Brothers National Monument (NC), Gettysburg National Military Park (PA), Independence National Historic Park (PA), Valley Forge National Historic Park (PA), Cowpens National Battlefield (SC), Fort Sumter National Monument (SC), Kings Mountain National Military Park (SC), Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (TN), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TN/NC), Shiloh National Military Park (TN), Stones River National Battlefield (TN), Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (VA), Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial (VA), Cedar Creek and Bell Grove National Historical Park (VA), Colonial National Historical Park (VA), Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (VA), Manassas National Battlefield Park (VA), Petersburg National Battlefield Park (VA), Richmond National Battlefield Park (VA), Shenandoah National Park (VA), Lincoln Memorial (DC), National Mall (DC), National Capital Parks (DC), Washington Monument (DC), Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (WV), New River Gorge National River (WV).



Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cherokee Mountains vs. Smoky Mountains

1733 Cherokee Mountains

A portion of the 1733 Mosley map.

Recently, I started reading (or maybe re-reading, it seems familiar) Christopher Camuto’s Another Country: Journey Towards the Cherokee Mountains. He writes that the area was called the Cherokee Mountains. So, that got me to thinking: when did the term Smoky Mountains term come into use, and when did Cherokee Mountains fade from use?


Camuto writes that “the first white traders among the Cherokee… from Charles Town…” called the mountains such, and that the term “persisted at least through the eighteenth century.” (4) James Adair used the term in 1775 book History of the American Indians, as does William Bartum in his Travels (1791).

My question is twofold: just when did the term Smoky Mountains replace the Cherokee Mountains and just how far north did the “Cherokee Mountains” stretch? So, I did a quick search in a couple of newspaper databases. The first reference in a newspaper to the “Cherokee Mountains” comes in The Public Advertiser (London, England), June 23, 1761. The article deals with Grant’s movement against the Cherokee.

More importantly, how long did the title hang around? It appears that by the 1820s, the term “Smoky Mountain” or “Smokey Mountains” was replacing “Cherokee Mountains.” However, I found a very interesting piece in the Fayetteville Daily Observer, September 27, 1860. The editor was traveling and decided to return home through the mountains of Tennessee/North Carolina. In Greenville, Tennessee, he hired a hack to take him to Asheville, North Carolina.

At the “Chunkey river,” (as our driver called it) the view after crossing the bridge and partly ascending a high hill on this side, was very beautiful. But it was nothing to what followed. After 16 miles travel, we commenced the ascent of the ‘”Paint Mountains,” one mile, which I chose to walk, for at every step there was something before or behind worth a better look than I could get from within a carriage. The road is cut from the mountain side, winds around it, with the tops of the tallest trees far below on one side, and the almost perpendicular steep far above on the other. The Tennessee mountains, beautiful and grand, in the back ground. When we gained the highest point of the road, (not however the highest point of the Mountains,) I turned to take a last look at the Tennessee mountains. The next moment brought me within sight of a far more magnificent view than had yet greeted me, in the “Cherokee mountains,” (again adopting our driver’s designation, though doubting its correctness,) rising tier above tier, in a long chain or grandeur. They are in North Carolina, whilst we gazed at them from Tennessee.

Was the editor looking at the Smokys? (I guess a road trip is in order.) More importantly, in 1860, at least the driver of the hack was still referring to the mountains as the “Cherokee mountains.”

Another interesting article also appears in the Fayetteville Observer on February 15, 1853. This time, the editor is describing the 1733 Mosley map of North Carolina. He writes:

The Roanoke is represented as nearly conterminous with the entire extent of our northern boundary, while the Yadkin, running nearly South, seems to be almost the line of our Western limits. The “Cherokee mountains” are shown at the sources of the Yadkin on the north-western corner.

From the late 1850s on, it becomes difficult to picket out the “Cherokee mountains.” There is actually a peak in Washington County, Tennessee, that bears this name, and other articles seem to just deal with that place, or another Cherokee mountain in Arizona.

Of course, two sources are really not enough to base a solid or definitive account of the questions that I proposed. Without more research, I must simply say that the term “Cherokee Mountains” referred to all of the mountains of western North Carolina, and that locally, the term persisted into the middle of the 19th century.


Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A 1930s microscope….

Recently, I was stumbling through an antique store and found a microscope. Not really an old microscope, but an interesting scope nonetheless. The microscope was made in 1932 or 1933 by the Spencer Company in Buffalo, New York. At least I think it dates to 1932. The only serial number I found appears to be hand etched. I saw one on eBay that matched this one, and they dated theirs to 1915. The microscope was a little dirty, but cleaned up nicely. It is in great working condition.

Even more interesting, it still has its Control #. This microscope once belonged to Dartmouth College. (I’m sure the control number sticker dates much later.)

As you have probably figured out, I have a strong interest in the history of science. It is a side to my passion for Civil War history (along with 18th century Southern Appalachian frontier). Of course, the history of science also ties in well with the 19th century, especially the later part of the 1800s. The Civil War undoubtedly played a large role in kicking off certain aspects of that

History is more than just words on a page. The Spencer microscope is just one piece of a growing collection of early scientific instruments that I am starting to build.  I’m interested in seeing how this collection continues to grow.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ode to a keyboard

For the past few days, I’ve noticed a decline in my ability to spell (not that I am the world’s best speller to begin with). It seemed that I had forgotten how to spell the word “two,” with it often coming out as “to.” Come to find out, the “w” key on my keyboard was giving up the ghost, and no amount of blowing or shaking, trying to remove some foreign article, would motivate the “w” to get in line with the other keys. It was obvious it was time for a new keyboard, and time to say goodbye to the old one.

So goodbye, old keyboard.  I’ve no idea how many hKeyboardundreds of thousands of words we’ve put into print. In the past five years, we’ve moved through the streets of Civil War-era Charlotte, through the thick undergrowth at Chancellorsville, and the war-torn mountainside of Watauga County. We’ve traversed Grandfather Mountain, written more about Avery County than anyone else has, and you almost made it through the Branch-Lane brigade manuscript. Almost. There have been seemingly countless emails answered, and facebook posts, and almost a thousand blog posts.

So goodbye, old keyboard.  My famous traveling pard,
Nathaniel, who is deeply fascinated with the history of technology, loves seeing displays of old computers, and himself likes typing on a “retro” keyboard because it is “clicky.” Many young people collect and admire the now-obsolete pieces of our computer-driven world; perhaps someday my long-suffering keyboard will be in an exhibit of dusty old monitors and towers, part of history, and not just part of recording it.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why no History Festival?

For several years now, April has been the month of Science in North Carolina. In 2010, the North Carolina Science Festival kicked off, the first state-wide science festival in the United States. I’ve participated in several of these events – star parties at Elk Knob State Park, the science expo at Appalachian State. I’ve also helped host events, like a science fair for our local home school group. This year’s science festival included 650 events in 99 counties in North Carolina.

This past Saturday, we got to attFestival3end the signature event in the state – the Science Expo on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. Even though it was on the chilly side, with some pretty serious wind gusts, there were still over 100 tents, and easily a thousand (conservative estimate) kids and parents wandering Cameron Avenue. There were tons of hands-on experiments and live stage entertainment, the Morehead Planetarium Buses were on hand, and there were lab tours and open departments. I cannot begin to tell you how many experiments my younger child did, nor the amount of time my elder one spent in the computer and robotics department. Needless to say, it was a fantastic day, and it is a great state-wide event. You can learn more here.

But, why does North Carolina not have a state-wide history festival? North Carolina has some incredible history – from Native Americans like the Cherokee, Catawba, and Tuscarora (and their ancestors), to Spanish and English explorers, pirates like Blackbeard, Revolutionary War battlefields, Civil War sites, a battleship, and mFestival2useums dedicated to special forces troops, Civil War history, literally tons of great history. We also have a plethora of museums, so many in fact, that there is not an actual exact tally (I know of seven in Avery County).

Yet there is no a state-wide history festival, a week or ten -day event to get people out to explore the rich history of a great state. Why not? I understand that funds, especially when tied to history-related events, are always in short supply. But I also know for a fact that communities and cities should want to have these events – they generate income for local business (I stayed in a hotel, ate out, bought gas, and even went to Hancock Fabric’s going out of business sale). More importantly, we can also do hands-on events, and show kids (and parents) just how cool the past is. And maybe, just maybe, get some of them interested.

I know that the NC SFestival1cience Festival got a grant to start out, and that they still get funding from private sources. But I also know that we can start a grass-roots effort to get state-wide festival going. I serve as a chair for a local museum, and we’d be interested in partnering with other museums and historic sites. How about your local history museum? Could we work together to make a history event as epic as the fantastic NC Science Festival? I think so, and I’d like to hear from you if you agree.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Space…. My Final Frontier?


If you would have asked me, say ten or fifteen years ago, what interest I had in history beyond mid-19th century, I probably would have answered Egyptology. For some reason, that piece of human past, its monuments and influence on the future, interests me more, than say Greece or Roman. And while I am sure that any new discoveries, especially with KV5, I will follow with rapt attention, I find myself being drawn elsewhere. To be honest, I’ll never be an Egyptologist, and given the current geo-political state in Egypt, along with the pauperism that writing fulltime brings, I doubt I will ever trod the sands of Giza.

Over the past couple of years, I have found myself being drawn in different directions. This includes the frontier of western North Carolina; 18th and 19th politics, including the presidency and the early Supreme Court; and, probably more surprising, the space race.

That’s quite a jump, from a duel fought between one of North Carolina’s founding fathers and a future president of the United States, to the science and technology used to begin the exploration of the “final frontier.”

If you grew up near Pennsylvania, a visit to Gettysburg, or maybe, Valley Forge, was a part of your school curriculum. I grew up in Central Florida, and I recall visiting St. Augustine, and Kennedy Space Center.

I’ve been back to KSP three times in the past ten years, most recently this past Saturday. This trip was not really for me, but for Nathaniel and his upcoming National History Day project. But this interest has some type of draw on me.

It is an interest that I am feeding slowly. Not only have I visited KSC


Goddard Space Flight Center

three times in the past ten years, but I’ve also visited Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, the former Rosman Satellite Tracking Station, and exhibits at the Smithsonian, and the National Museum of the United States Air Force. I’ve seen all types of rockets and craft, from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules, to two of the shuttles. That in itself is an odd statement, as I’ve “seen” all of the shuttles–as they took off. Some were very close, others, from the parking lots of schools I attended.

Those are some of the seeds that I’ve planted, along with exploring the mysteries of the Universe with my own telescope, and simply lying on the porch watching meteor showers.

We have a fantastic history when it comes to the space race, (and we could have a glorious future, if we could recover that dream and get the politicians out of the way). I encourage you to get out and explore this piece of the past. Who knows what it in your own backyard?

So how about me? I’m not sure what this path holds. I plan to keep exploring, with trips to other facilities, to view other pieces of the past. The past is all around us, from sites where meteors fell, to tracking centers, old telescopes, observatories (like the one being built by the community college where I teach), and museums with some of the most complex machines ever created by man. I am looking forward to the launch of Orion atop an SLS rocket. I am just a hair too young to remember the Saturn Vs, the last being launched in 1973.

We’ll see what lies beyond the realms of 19th century for me…..


Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Rethinking my role as an interpreter.

If you read my last post, well, this is a continuation. It was spurred by an article I recently read on NPR entitled “American History Lives: A Story of the People, By the People, For the People.” You can check out the article here.

As I reach my mid-40s, I often think about the 33+ years I’ve spent “on the field.” I’ve done just about everything, Confederate and Federal, that can be done on the field, from private, musician, first sergeant, ensign, to company captain and the colonel of the battalion. I’ve worked as a medical steward, and was once certified in artillery. I have enough equipment and clothing to do early war, eastern theater, and western theater (plus Federal).

Technically, I’m going to age out soon. Yes, I know a lot of people older than I am who are still in the field. And I’m sure that I’ll still be in the field from time to time, but I’ve been thinking about different personas (for lack of a better word) to play, all in an effort to help people learn about the past.

For my 18th century role, beside just being a settler on the frontier in the 1770s or 1780s, I think we are looking at being plant hunters – people who knew what various plants were, how to find them, and, most importantly, what they were used for, to eat, or for medical reasons. This could also translate into a mid-19th century role. The Confederate government frequently implored the public to find and bring plants to be turned into


The Hardy family at the home of Richmond Pearson. 


medicine for troops.

For the 19th century, I think I want to develop a role as a lawyer. This has been in the back of my mind for some time, and as of late, I’ve been interested in the life of Richmond Pearson, who served as a justice on the war-time North Carolina Supreme Court. I recently acquired some histories of law in the United States. All I need to do is find the time to “read law.”

Will I ever move beyond the 1770 to 1870 time period? Probably not, although I did some “Old West” gunfighter/outlaw when I was younger and could probably pull it together again with ease. But the 100- year span I’m interested in right now is enough for my next lifetime.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

18th vs 19th century

I make no bones about it – living history has an important place in our society. And I’ve written before about the importance to young people, to be able to feel, and smell, and taste the past. History is so much more than just words on page. Those are strong words from someone who spends his days putting words on page!

I spent a large part of 2015 putting together an 18th century kit – clothes, a hat, accouterments, and a rifle. Am I giving up on 19th century events? No, not even close.

I have, however, come to this realization. After 33 years of living histories and reenactments, I’m just not that interested in going out and burning a lot of powder. I’m much more interested in working with historic sites and museums and helping people understand the past. Furthermore, given the hectic life I live, being on the road a lot, I’m just not able to take a weekend or two a month and drive across two or three states and participating in events. Instead, I’m going to focus on places in my own backyard, say maybe two hours or less from my house. There are a few places that are tied to the 19th century here, but a whole lot more with ties to the 18th century.

Will I ever write about the 18th century? Time will tell. Even though I’ve written a score of books , I’ve still got a score more of ideas floating around. Not all of those deal with the War.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Stumbling through 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but I promise, I’m still stumbling through history. This past year’s stumbles have taken me far and wide.

Mid-January 2015 found me at Fort Fisher, below Wilmington, at the 150th commemoration of the battle. I spoke on Saturday and Sunday and got to connect with quite a few folks. It was an awesome event and I am glad I was able to participate.

Febstumbling2ruary found me in Kentucky, and I took the opportunity to visit the Red Bird River Petroglyphs. Does this rock really have multiple Old World languages carved into it? I can’t say. But it was an interesting visit.

In early March, I and that famous traveling pard of mine visited PARI – the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, in Rosman, North Carolina. Nathaniel was there working on his radio telescope project for the North Carolina Academy of Science. stumbling3I was happy to visit the site established in 1962 as the Spacecraft Tracking and Data Acquisition Network. The tracking station was an integral part of the communications between earth and the Gemini and Apollo projects.

In late March, I had the opportunity to judge the regional North Carolina History Day competition in Asheville. It was once again a privilege to talk with young folks interested in various pieces of history. I look forward to being involved again next year. By the way – that famous pard of mine placed first in regional and second at state competitions.

Even later in March, I was in Durham. The famous pard of mine was at the North Carolina School of Science and Math for the North Carolina Academy of Science competition (he took first in the Earth Science category). While we were waiting, I had the chance to visit, for the second time, Duke Homestead. I really enjoyed walking around the grounds.

The first of AStumbling5pril found me and that famous pard in Oak Ridge Tennessee. For the second time, we visited the Secret City. Nathaniel was expanding his National History Day project for the state event and got to do some behind the scenes research at the American Museum of Science and Energy. That afternoon, we took the Secret City Rail Excursion, something I would highly recommend.

About this same time, I spoke on a panel at the Greensboro Public Library, talking about the area and the end of the Civil War. It was a pleasure finally meeting Bill Trotter.

In April my 2015 book tour kicked off with the release of The Capitals of the Confederacy. I won’t drone on about all of the places I went, but let’s just say that I had multiple stops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama.

June brought my second visit to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum near Savannah, Georgia. I seem to have a thing for Air Force Museums. Isabella, the Junior Traveling Pard, has a fascination with early female aviators, and her brother is really a World War II kind of guy, so they both loved it.

In mid-June, we traveled to Maryland and Pennsylvania. Nathaniel was competing in National History Day, and his science team, at e-Cybermission. So on this trip, I was just tagging along. Our first stop was the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. It was fantastic seeing the Enola Gay, the Spirit of Tuskegee, and the Space Shuttle Discovery. I’ve now seen two of the Space Shuttles up close (and saw all of them launch at various times). While Nathaniel was competing, I took my younger pard to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. Surprisingly, it was my first visit. While we were out roaming around, we hit Antietam National battlefield as well. This battlefieStumbling6ld is my favorite (in the east) to visit. We also snuck in a visit to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Eventually, I’d like to visit all of the space flight centers in the United States.

Once all of the competitions and awards were over, we squeezed in some family time with a visit to Philadelphia. This included a visiStumbling8t to Independence Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, the Betsy Ross House, and Laurel Hill Cemetery. We eventually worked our way over to Valley Forge National Park. I had an ancestor (or maybe two) under Washington who spent a winter of two encamped here.

We wrapped up our trip with a visit to Gettysburg and finally to Harper’s Ferry. I go to Gettysburg about every year. It was, however, awesome to be there in June to see the plethora of fireflies. Harper’s Ferry I had not visited in a long time (maybe 15 years?). It was neat to wander down the historic streets with my traveling pards.

A quick research trip in July allowed us to visit the Mariners’ Museum and Park Newport News, Virginia. This is a museum that had been on my list for some time, and we finally found the time! Their displays are top notch and I would highly recommend a visit. Seeing so many pieces from the USS Monitor was fantastic.

The first weekend in August found us back in Wilmington, and back at Ft. Fisher. I think I speak at the Fort at least once a year.

If you know us, then you know we spend a great deal of time working with various historic sites in the area. These included several programs on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Ft. Defiance in Caldwell County, Historic Rosedale in Charlotte, and Historic Richmond Hill in Yadkin County. I’ve always believed that history is a multi-sensory experience.

September found us at Cumberland Gap National Battlefield Park. As a home schoolingStumbling11 family, it has been a great benefit to take the kids the places they are studying. Isabella just happened to be reading about Daniel Boone and we just happened to be heading in his direction. Not only did we visit Cumberland Gap (hiking some of the original Wilderness Road), but we visited Ft. Boonesboro as well.

October’s big trip was to speak to the Outer Banks Civil War Round Table. On our list to visit was the Wright Brothers National Memorial, once again, a place on my list that I had never had the chance to visit. I need to go back soon.

Early November brought a quick trip to Burke County. I was working on an article for a upcoming issue of Carolina Mountain Life and we took some time to visit some of the great history in the area. Later that month, I and that famous pard of mine had the opportunity to participate in a living history at Petersburg National Military Park. It is really something special to be able to get out and sleep in the trenches.

Last, but not least, was a quick a day trip the last week of December to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. We went to see the da Vinci papers, but overall, NCMA has a fantastic collection dating from antiquity all the way to the present.

So those were the highlights of our year, Stumbling Through History. We’ll be stumbling along into 2016 before we know it!



Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blog at