MKTilghman Communications

I've been a writer and editor for 30 years, adapting to the constant changes in communications along the way. Web page? Brochure? Book? Article? Yeah, I can do that.

July 10, 2014 2:25 am

TIPSY TOURIST: Pssst….Are the owl’s eyes blinking?

TIPSY TOURIST: Pssst….Are the owl’s eyes blinking?

Owls are everywhere at the Owl Bar inside the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore.

Owls are everywhere at the Owl Bar inside the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore.

I sat alone at the Owl Bar, waiting for my friends to arrive. It’s an old, scarred bar that probably has absorbed many secrets, tears and laughter. It’s been here for more than 100 years. Back in 1903 I couldn’t have entered the bar, much less order that Bloody Mary I had.

The Owl Bar has attracted the powerful and the beautiful, the famous and the anonymous. And there are pictures on the wall outside the bar to prove it.

The Owl Bar has attracted the powerful and the…

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July 8, 2014 9:17 am
The SS John W. Brown, a World War II era Liberty Ship, has been restored by dedicated volunteers in Baltimore.

The SS John W. Brown, a World War II era Liberty Ship, has been restored by dedicated volunteers in Baltimore.

The Brown, docked in Fells Point

The Brown, docked in Fells Point

Called “the cargo-carrying key to victory” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Liberty Ships of World War II were part of a national effort to build ships faster than the enemy could sink them.

Shipbuilding began in Baltimore in 1941 at Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard. Ultimately 19 shipyards produced some 2,700 ships during the war. And 2,500 survived the war. Today, the SS John W. Brown is the only surviving, operating Liberty Ship on the East Coast.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it calls Baltimore home. It still gets around a lot for an old girl, with Voyages into History on the Chesapeake Bay four times a year, visits to other ports, occasional charters and dockside tours.

I got a chance to take a look around on Fourth of July Weekend in Fells Point. She’s a big ship, over 400 feet long with a steam engine that takes up three decks. She’s a merchant ship, not a war ship. But she carried guns and an armed guard from the U.S. Navy.

After you take a look outside…

Head inside the ship for a look at the different quarters for the merchant marines and the U.S. Navy, the enginee room, the inside bridge.

And finally there’s a museum and gift shop.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

Baltimore’s liberty ship Called “the cargo-carrying key to victory” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Liberty Ships of World War II were part of a national effort to build ships faster than the enemy could sink them.
June 24, 2014 9:19 am
The exhibit starts downstairs in the servants' hall.

The exhibit starts downstairs in the servants’ hall.

Edith's wedding dress began with a glittering bit of antique fabric that made up her train.

Edith’s wedding dress began with a glittering bit of antique fabric that made up her train.

Spend an afternoon upstairs and downstairs in Downton Abbey, thanks to the gorgeous exhibits put together by Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Delaware.

Edith’s wedding gown in all its sparkling detail is there. Matthew asks Mary to marry him in the swirling snow on a big screen TV — and there in front of them are the costumes the actors wore in the scene. Period hats, coats and gloves. Clothes for walking, hunting and cricket. Mrs. Patmore’s apron and Mrs. Hughes’ black dress with the keys hung from the belt. Suits worn by Matthew (beautiful Matthew!) and wily Thomas’s evening clothes. All the rich fabrics, sparkling detail and beautiful stitching of clothes worn by Cora, Violet, the Dowager Countess, Mary and Rose.

Mrs. Patmore's dress and apron and a bit of dialogue between the feisty cook and her assistant Daisy.

Mrs. Patmore’s dress and apron and a bit of dialogue between the feisty cook and her assistant Daisy.

They are set among flat screen TVs playing scenes from the popular PBS series, with the theme music welcoming visitors in. Bits of dialogue are printed behind the displays, including the always amusing Violet (who usually doesn’t seem amused when she speaks.)

These aren't from the wardrobe of Lord Grantham, but of Mr. DuPont.

These aren’t from the wardrobe of Lord Grantham, but of Mr. DuPont.

Because this is a country estate, Winterthur has interspersed pieces from its own collection comparing life in an American country home with its British counterpart. There are definitely similarities — and differences.

Admission to the exhibit — which runs through January 4, 2015 — is part of the regular admission. Buy your tickets online and decide what time you want to go into the exhbit. You can choose a two-hour window. When you arrive at Winterthur, you decide on the time for an introductory tour of the house and you can walk the gardens, take a half-hour tram tour of the grounds and spend hours in the gift shops as well. Have lunch or tea in the cafe at the visitor center or plan to have tea at a nearby restaurant. (More on that later.)

The display of the clothes Mary and Matthew wore when they agreed to marry is stunning. (Bring your lace-trimmed hanky.)

The display of the clothes Mary and Matthew wore when they agreed to marry is stunning. (Bring your lace-trimmed hanky.)

Make sure you have enough time to do everything. I didn’t, I’m disappointed to say. The costumes exhibit takes a good 90 minutes, no matter what they tell you at the visitor center — and even then I felt rushed. But I missed the house tour because you can’t come back to the exhibit once you leave. I’ve been on the house tour before but Winterthur is so astounding it’s always worth seeing again.

The gardens of Winterthur need an hour or more on these sunny summer days.

The gardens of Winterthur need an hour or more on these sunny summer days.

Bring your walking shoes so you can wander through the wooded paths, see the Enchanted Garden (a children’s delight) and enjoy whatever’s in bloom. The tram tour is a good introduction. Catch it at the visitor center on your way to the Downton exhibit — or afterwards. It’ll stop at the Enchanted Garden, if you like.

Tea at Buckley's Tavern.

Tea at Buckley’s Tavern.

Dining at the cafe at Winterthur is certainly convenient and lovely enough. But if I were you, I’d head a couple miles up Kennett Pike to the beautifully furnished  of Buckley’s Tavern for afternoon tea. Tea sandwiches, delicious little sweets and tea (or something stronger if you like) made this a wonderful ending to our visit to Downton Abbey. Wilmington has plenty of other delicious offerings, as well.

 © Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

 I wrote about Wilmington just before the exhibit opened in January.

Downton Abbey: costumes at Winterthur Spend an afternoon upstairs and downstairs in Downton Abbey, thanks to the gorgeous exhibits put together by…
June 19, 2014 12:40 am
Vodka, moonshine, bourbon and liqueurs are all made on site at Firefly. Next door, they're producing wine from muscadine grapes.

Vodka, moonshine, bourbon and liqueurs are all made on site at Firefly. Next door, they’re producing wine from muscadine grapes.

For $6, visitors may taste six different Firefly products. I recommend the sweet tea vodka, but there's also moonshine, liqueurs and a smooth bourbon.

For $6, visitors may taste six different Firefly products. I recommend the sweet tea vodka, but there’s also moonshine, liqueurs and a smooth bourbon.

The road to Firefly Distillery is long and winding, lined with crooked trees dripping with Spanish moss. It’s not far from downtown Charleston, but this spot on Wadmalaw Island is miles from the refined hustle and bustle of South Carolina’s charming city. Keep an eye out for the little signs. There are three at the entrance but they’re small.

The tasting room is installed in a big barn. The distillery is in back — and that’s where all these delightful flavors are created. That isn’t open for tours but the tasting room has plenty of offerings to satisfy the thirsty visitor.

Trees hung with Spanish moss shade the tasting room at Firefly.

Trees hung with Spanish moss shade the tasting room at Firefly.

Sweet tea vodka put Firefly on the map. It was the first sweet tea vodka in 48 states (even though there are plenty of competitors now.) You can get it straight, skinny, flavored with peach or mint. And you can even get a sweet tea bourbon. Oh. My. As one of my drinking companions put it, “Party in your mouth.” Warm, rich, smooth.

The Charleston Tea Plantation, also on Wadmalaw, supplies all the tea for Firefly. And everything is produced right here. The exception is that bourbon. It’s imported from that great state of bourbon, Kentucky. And then it is blended with the tea to create Firefly’s sweet tea bourbon.

All the wine Irvin House produces are made here. Tastings are held among the fermenting tanks.

All the wine Irvin House produces are made here. Tastings are held among the fermenting tanks.

They like their flavors sweet here, which is fine with me, but for those who like their liquor lightning strength, there’s a straight moonshine. And if sweet’s your thing, honey, they’re waiting for you with coconut cake and banana pudding liqueur.

The distillery is on the property of Irvin House Vineyards, Charleston’s only winery. They grow muscadine grapes, big sweet grapes with thick skins and bitter seeds that like the heat and humidity of the Low Country.

The vineyards at Irvin House.

The vineyards at Irvin House.

They’ve been growing grapes here only since 2001 with the first wines bottled a mere two years later. They make 48,000 bottles a year here. Visitors can stop by — next door to Firefly — for a short video explaining their wines and a tasting of their two reds, two whites and rose which combines the red and white.

You have to stop at the winery for all the fun gifts. They're only selling liquor in the distillery.

You have to stop at the winery for all the fun gifts. They’re only selling liquor in the distillery.

Mostly, they are sweet though the Tara Gold is a bit drier. These wines are designed to be drunk within a year of bottling.

Irvin House makes five wines, all from muscadine grapes.

Irvin House makes five wines, all from muscadine grapes.

Fun is the name of the game here. You know it when you arrive. Rows of leafy muscadine vines, dappled shade cooling the hot Charleston air, a rooster crowing in the distance. Inside, the bartenders are friendly. “Where y’all from?” they ask as they place the tasting glass before you.

Come again, they say as you leave. Come and stomp grapes in August or spend a Sippin’ Saturday here.

And, you know, I really want to. But until I can come back, I’ve got my sweet tea vodka to remind me of a dreamy afternoon on Wadmalaw Island.

 © Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

TIPSY TOURIST: Firefly Distillery The road to Firefly Distillery is long and winding, lined with crooked trees dripping with Spanish moss. 
June 14, 2014 12:20 pm

Star Spangled bicentennial

The Smithsonian Institution's entrance to the Star Spangled Banner exhibit.
The Smithsonian Institution's entrance to the Star Spangled Banner exhibit.

The Smithsonian Institution’s entrance to the Star Spangled Banner exhibit.

A replica of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry hangs at the entrance of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

A replica of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry hangs at the entrance of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

I shivered when I saw the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on display with the manuscript that flag inspired. For just a few days, the historic Star Spangled…

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June 10, 2014 7:22 am
Did Poe sleep here? A tiny bed in a tiny room at the top of a tiny house is here but the question remains unanswered.

Did Poe sleep here? A tiny bed in a tiny room at the top of a tiny house is here but the question remains unanswered.

The facade of 3 Amity Street.

The facade of 3 Amity Street.

Edgar Allan Poe lived in a tiny rowhouse west of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for a mere two years. He moved here from Richmond after a feud with his step father, moving in with his aunt, and more importantly his cousin Virginia Eliza Clemm. Virginia’s brother and ailing grandmother also lived in the five-room house.

Those two years (it may have been more like three), 1832-1835, were productive ones. Poe wrote furiously, getting his career as a writer underway. And he fell in love with his young cousin whom he would later marry.

China used in the Allan home in Richmond. The family took the boy in after his parents died.

China used in the Allan home in Richmond. The family took the boy in after his parents died.

Poe in Baltimore is mostly a mystery. A visit to his house prompts more questions than it answers. Where did he sleep? Although a bed has been placed on the top floor, it is still unknown if this was his room. During a previous visit, I saw a desk set in the little gable window and imagined him looking over Baltimore’s roof tops as he penned his next poem. Pshaw! He probably was in a second story bedroom, perhaps sharing with his cousin Henry. Virginia may have slept up on the third floor.

But this is certain: The author of the horror story, the detective story and haunting poetry trod these floorboards. He looked out these windows, went through that front door. He wrote poetry, literary reviews and stories. One story, MS Found in a Bottlewon a $50 prize in a contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter. More of his stories were published by the Visiter later.

Tributes to Poe, from the world's writers and filmmakers, fill one wall of the house.

Tributes to Poe, from the world’s writers and filmmakers, fill one wall of the house.

A few mementoes of Poe are on display here: a writing desk, a few pieces of the Allan tableware, a telescope. Bring your imagination with you. As you step into the parlor, the kitchen (enlarged since Poe’s day), climb the winding narrow stairs, peer into the three bedrooms, you’ll see very little furniture. Would it have been smoky? Imagine these rooms in a Baltimore summer, hot and humid. How much furniture would have been crammed against these walls?

Take a moment to read some of the tributes that fill a wall in the kitchen. It helps a little, I think, to see how influential Poe was.

A visit to this typical Baltimore rowhouse won’t take long. Getting here might take more time. I don’t advise walking here. Drive over and park on the street. Get a cab if you don’t have your car. Bring your camera. Everybody wants a picture taken with the bust of Poe. Wear your trustiest walking shoes — you’ll need them on these extremely narrow stairs. And (forgive this indelicacy) visit a restroom before you come; there’s none here. The house is open weekends only May through December.

Edgar Allan Poe returned to Baltimore on numerous occasions. Most famously, he got off the train between Richmond and Philadelphia and died here, at the age of 40. To fill out your day away, there are other Poe sites you can visit in Baltimore, including the Horse You Came In On, a tavern in Fells Point where he may (or may not) have visited the day he died.

His gravesite is near the house, in a tiny graveyard near the University of Maryland hospital. Parking is available nearby. Make sure you visit both graves, one near the entrance with accolades from the French where he is buried with Virginia, and the original grave in back which still bears a marker.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

A house for Poe Edgar Allan Poe lived in a tiny rowhouse west of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for a mere two years.
June 3, 2014 1:06 am

Memories of A Lost Town

Memories of A Lost Town

Hammers hang above a workshop at Furnace Town.
Hammers hang above a workshop at Furnace Town.

Hammers hang above a workshop at Furnace Town.

The old furnace that gives the town its name and, once, its purpose.

The old furnace that gives the town its name and, once, its purpose.

The furnace that gives this ghost town its name stands silently now, what’s left of it soaring above the grassy indentation that was once its millrace.

Furnace Town, located near the southern tipof Maryland’s Eastern Shore (and about 30 miles from Ocean City), is green, shaded by…

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May 26, 2014 2:42 am
A rainbow appears to end on the deck of the USS Missouri, near the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

A rainbow appears to end on the deck of the USS Missouri, near the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

The tree of life sculpture on the mainland. A similar sculpture is part of the Arizona Memorial.

The tree of life sculpture on the mainland. A similar sculpture is part of the Arizona Memorial.

I sat next to a Japanese family on the boat that shuttles tourists to the USS Arizona Memorial. I paused in silence before the names of all the lives lost on that “day that will live in infamy.” And again, beside me was a Japanese tourist. It was already a profound moment as we honored the 1,177 men entombed in the  waters below.  Both of our nations shared that historic day — from vastly different perspectives, of course. But now, more than a half century later, we were here together to pay tribute to the dead, to the heroic, to the memory of a war we simply can’t forget. And with me clutching my brochure in English and my fellow tourists reading theirs in Japanese, we shared these few moments in silence (and in a drenching downpour.)

Before taking the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial, plan to spend plenty of time in the museums at the park. The photos, artifacts and graphics present a vivid portrait of that awful day.

Before taking the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial, plan to spend plenty of time in the museums at the park. Photos, artifacts and graphics present a vivid portrait of that awful day.

I’ve visited plenty of war memorials — Gettysburg and Antietam, Valley Forge and the Vietnam Memorial. I’ve seen World War I tributes in Great Britain and Boonsboro, Md. I stood at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va.

But this one is different. The curved white memorial building seems to float above the battleship still lying under the waters of Pearl Harbor. Oil from the ship continues to create a rainbow sheen on the waters, a reminder that the ship that sank here has not been disturbed since that December day. The crew who served on her are still here, too, and this is their tomb.

This display recalls Sadako and all the origami cranes she folded.

This display recalls Sadako, who survived Hiroshima, and the 1,300 cranes she folded before her death in 1955.

Going to Oahu meant a stop in Pearl Harbor. I couldn’t stay away. I’d been here once before with our children.This time I was here with my husband. Far from the mai tais and the surfboards of Waikiki, the beaches of the North Shore and Kailua, this place is somber but beautiful, too. I couldn’t help remembering that this was probably paradise for the young men serving here that December morning. They, too, had been planning trips to the beach or one of Oahu’s other scenic spots.

Sadako's cranes remind us of the victims of the end of World War II.

Sadako’s cranes remind us of the victims of the end of World War II.

Pearl Harbor shouldn’t be missed. The museum tells the story of the attacks vividly with eyewitness accounts from sailors, nurses and townspeople. A picture of Sadako and the colorful cranes she folded are a reminder of another brutal day in World War II, the bombing of Hiroshima. I was surprised, but moved, when I saw the bits of folded paper and read the child’s story.

Some practical advice….

DSCN3108Get your tickets on line before you arrive in Hawaii. If you can’t, don’t worry. I panicked when I saw tickets online were sold out. They save 2,000 for walk-in visitors. Just plan to arrive early (the park opens at 7 a.m.). Tickets have timed entry for the film and shuttle to the memorial.

The audio tour enhances the visit to the museum and the sites around the park. I turned it off on the memorial itself. My own thoughts were enough.

Leave your bags at your  hotel. You can’t take the in the park. Where shoes for climbing in and out of a boat. Bring your camera.

This is a surprisingly big park. Make sure to leave enough time to see the museum and walk the grounds before you line up to see the film and visit the memorial. We spent a couple of hours walking around the park and visiting the museum. The film and visit to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial takes a little more than an hour — and it goes by fast. You might want to visit the other museums and memorials nearby as well.

It’s a beautiful place. A sad place. Inspiring, too.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

USS Arizona: Stop and Remember I sat next to a Japanese family on the boat that shuttles tourists to the USS Arizona Memorial…
May 20, 2014 3:01 am
Hoover Dam spans the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona.

Hoover Dam spans the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona.

A tribute to the High Scaler, the worker with one of the most dangerous jobs on the Hoover Dam project. Sculptor Steven Liguori  created the statue.

A tribute to the High Scaler, the worker with one of the most dangerous jobs on the Hoover Dam project. Sculptor Steven Liguori created the statue.

Tour guides at the Hoover Dam toss around massive numbers. It’s more than 700 feet high. It’s millions of pounds of concrete. Some 5,000 men worked on it (most of them making about $4 a day) during its 4 years of construction — and it finished two years ahead of schedule.

The first thing I thought? Thank goodness it was built during the Art Deco period. Sure, it’s an engineering marvel. You might even call it a monument to human ingenuity, vision, industry, hubris.

It’s a work of art.

From the monuments to the workers (and their dog), some of whom

A memorial to a lost friend.

A memorial to a lost friend.

died working here, to the decoration on the intake towers, you’ll see not just a dam. Even the floors and elevators were built with style.

On my recent visit to the Hoover Dam, I took a tour that gave me a chance to walk over it, float at its base (well, as close as you’re allowed to go) and and go inside it. The visitor center displays exhibits about the construction and engineering of the dam, along with a bit of science. I still don’t understand the miracle of electricity but I’m a bit more informed now.

Hoover Dam is only one of the dams holding back the power of the Colorado River.

Hoover Dam is only one of the dams holding back the power of the Colorado River.

If you have an extra few minutes, stop in the old visitor center for a look at the hand-painted model of the Colorado River Basin with the Hoover and other dams.

The view looking down the concrete wall of Hoover Dam.

The view looking down the concrete wall of Hoover Dam.

No doubt about it, Hoover Dam is massive. I couldn’t help but be awed by the amount of concrete that create this gigantic wall, and the gallons of water being held back — forming the 156,800-acre Lake Mead. The thing weighs 6.6 million tons. Here’s a factoid I heard twice. There’s enough concrete to pave a sidewalk all the way around the equator. Impressive but it still doesn’t help me grasp what I’m looking at.

On the Arizona tide, the Intake Tower clock says "Arizona Time."

On the Arizona tide, the Intake Tower clock says “Arizona Time.”

Hoover Dam is also pretty. Get beyond that incredible wall of cement and take a look at the decoration on the intake towers. Or stop to marvel at the tile work on the floor or the fanciful band above the elevator.

What a fanciful floor for a power plant.

What a fanciful floor for a power plant.

I discovered after I left I saw only a fraction of the artwork. But what I saw certainly pleased my Art Deco-loving eye.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

Science — and art — of Hoover Dam Tour guides at the Hoover Dam toss around massive numbers. It’s more than 700 feet high. It’s millions of pounds of concrete.
May 13, 2014 8:33 am
Orchids are always on display in Baltimore's Howard P. Rawlings Conservatory.

Orchids are always on display in Baltimore’s Howard P. Rawlings Conservatory.

The original Palm House has brought a bit of the tropics to Baltimore since 1888.

The original Palm House has brought a bit of the tropics to Baltimore since 1888.

I didn’t have a day to get away. I had an hour (although once I arrived I would have liked much more time.)

The petals of the flowering cherries had drifted away. The tulips and daffodils had faded. It’s too soon for roses. And I wanted flowers.

Baltimore’s Howard P. Rawlings Conservatory  brings flowers from all over the world to Charm City. And on the day I went (Mother’s Day) everything was in bloom.

Desert cacti, citrus trees, ginger and always the orchids filled the warm green spaces with color and fragrance.

A cell phone tour is designed to satisfy the botanically curious.

A cell phone tour is designed to satisfy the botanically curious.

The original Palm House is only the beginning of the tour. Three rooms were added when the conservatory  was renovated in 2004: Mediterranean, Tropical and Desert Houses. Gardens around the conservatory and an assortment of events throughout the year keep it interesting.

The conservatory is located near Druid Hill Park and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The conservatory pairs nicely with a visit to the zoo to see the lions and giraffes and penguins. Lots of renovations have been going on at the zoo with plenty of cushy new habitats for our wild friends. The Children’s Zoo is always a winner.

I didn’t have time for all that. It was OK. For an hour or so, I entered a world of flowers so different from the blossoms in my own backyard. It was, it is paradise under glass.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

Paradise under glass I didn’t have a day to get away. I had an hour (although once I arrived I would have liked much more time.)