Thursday, July 31, 2008

27. Massachusetts

Mother Nature blessed us with a torrential dumping on July 24. Fortunately, that was our stay-in-camp day to relax, tidy up the rolling abode and do some travel planning. The next day was beautiful. We got an early start and drove through southern New York, over the Hudson River, through Connecticut and Rhode Island, and arrived at the Canoe River Campground in Massachusetts in mid-afternoon.

The campground is fairly large but we arrived on Friday and nearly all the sites were full of summer weekend campers. We were lucky to get a spot next to Earl’s fifth-wheel. Earl is single and a truck driver. He grew up in Providence, Rhode Island and has lived in this campground for five years in his trailer. Earl is one of those interesting characters that we occasionally come across in campgrounds. He drives an old rusty Cadillac stretch limo and keeps a flock of more than 40 ducks as pets. The ducks waddle around, chase each other and quack a lot, but don’t cause any trouble. They amuse the other campers and kids love to chase them. During the five days we were there, a momma duck laid half a dozen eggs in a little nest about five feet from our RV and sat on them the whole time (photo below). We left before they hatched. Earl has a sign posted in front of his trailer that says, “Welcome Friends – Now Leave”. That says a lot about Earl.

We targeted four places during our stay in Massachusetts; Hyannisport, Fall River, Newport and Plymouth. Each was different and interesting in its own way.

Hyannisport: Our campground was about 50 miles from Hyannisport, home of the Kennedy clan. Senator Edward Kennedy was recently treated for brain cancer, so we thought we’d go down and wish him well. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and half of Massachusetts seemed to be heading for Cape Cod. We ran into a ton of stop-n-go freeway traffic but made it to Hyannisport. After a quick burger at Mr. Dude’s, we caught a harbor cruise on the Prudence that took us out into the ocean to view sailboats, coastal homes and the Kennedy compound.

Around the corner and along a stretch of nice beach was a line of big beach homes, including the Kennedy compound. The main Kennedy house is the large white one with the multiple gables. That's where Senator Ted lives. The next photo is Ted's sailboat. According to the tour guide, he sails often.

After the tour we drove down the beach to Kennedy Memorial Park. It's a very nice little park with a bronze memorial plaque on the rock wall behind the fountain and lots of rose bushes and other gardens overlooking the ocean.

We also snooped around the neighborhood to see how close we could get to the Kennedy compound. There were no high walls or gates and we got within a block or so before encountering discouraging signs. The Senator wasn’t home anyway, so we didn’t stop to chat.

Fall River: Ron likes to climb around on old Navy ships, so we drove down to Battleship Cove in Fall River. The destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy was on display, along with the attack submarine USS Lionfish and battleship USS Massachusetts. Inside the battleship was a small museum and memorial to Massachusetts residents who gave their lives in World War II and the Persian Gulf War.

We came across an unexpected surprise next to the Navy pier. Inside a special Victorian building was a restored 1920 carrousel, complete with four dozen hand-carved horses and a genuine Wurlitzer organ. It was a real gem. There were very few people there so we paid our dollar and went for a ride. For a few minutes we felt like kids again.

Newport, Rhode Island: South of Fall River and Providence and on a hill overlooking the ocean and Narragansett Bay is Newport, home of the rich and famous. Among the many beautiful homes are some of the finest mansions anywhere. The king of the mansions, and most popular tourist stop, is The Breakers. The first home by that name was built for tobacco businessman P. Lorillard. In 1885, Cornelius Vanderbilt II bought the house for $450,000. At that time, he was chairman of the New York Central Railroad and director of 49 other railroads. At that time, the Vanderbilts were the richest family in America. After the house burned down in 1892, Vanderbilt hired architects to build the present 70-room “summer home”. The house has the dimensions of a hotel, but the details and personality of a home. The central Great Hall is at least 3,000 sq. ft in area with 45 foot high ceilings, heavy chandeliers and lots of paintings and detailed carvings. The 2,400 sq. ft. formal dining room has two priceless 12 ft. chandeliers made by French glassmakers Cristalleries Baccarat. The dining table can be extended to seat up to 34 guests. Simply incredible. [No photos allowed inside.]Outside the main house is a children’s playhouse (below) with all the details of a full-scale house, and some extras. Note the carved porch posts. There was also a separate house for the manager who managed the household and all the cooks, maids, groundskeepers and other servants that kept the place going.

We also toured Marble House, which was built for Alva Vanderbilt, a local society hostess and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. Her husband William Vanderbilt gave her the house as a birthday gift. She divorced him three years later and married another Newport millionaire. This house was built primarily of marble in all colors. Much of it was brought by ship from Europe and cut and shaped by Italian workers on the site. The house is hard and cold but is lavishly decorated and very impressive inside and out. It cost $11 million to build in 1892. Imagine what it would cost in today’s dollars. Again, photos weren't allowed inside, but the house is incredible. Bonnie bought a book describing all the great mansions of Newport.

Downtown Newport is also a fun place to look around, shop and get a bite to eat. The old part of town still has original cobblestone streets and lots of old buildings.

Plymouth: A couple months ago we were in St. Augustine, America’s oldest continuous community. As a follow-up, we had to visit Plymouth to see where the Pilgrims landed in 1620. Plymouth is very attractive with some of the oldest buildings in the country and its harbor full of boats. It's a very pleasant and comfortable community to visit.

The Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship, is moored at a pier a block from the Plymouth Rock monument. It was actually sailed across the Atlantic in the 1950s and is now a tourist attraction.

Do you remember Massasoit from your history books? His statue stands in a small park overlooking the harbor and Plymouth Rock. He was the Indian who gets most of the credit for assisting the Mayflower immigrants. Many of them died during the first winter and they all might have died if they weren’t helped by the local Indians. Sadly, the newcomers later turned on the Indians, killed many of them and took their land. A plaque next to Massasoit explains that the local Indians now congregate on Thanksgiving Day each year as a day of mourning.

We had a very nice relaxing day in Plymouth. We had lunch at the Lobster Hut overlooking the harbor. Bonnie had her first lobster roll, which is a hot ticket food item in this area. Most eateries offer lobster, crab or clam rolls. Thanks to high gas prices, bad economy and reduced tourism, the price of lobster is lower than average this summer, which means we can eat more. That’s good news for us.

We liked Massachusetts a lot. The people were all very nice and friendly, the countryside is woodsy and pretty and there’s lots more to do and see than we had time for.