Friday, July 28, 2017

The Retreating Tangibility of Tangier Island

On Sunday,  Emily and Richard and I drove down to Reedville, VA and caught the ferry to Tangier Island. I'd always wanted to visit Smith Island, but Tangier is smaller and in dire need of being rescued before it disappears forever beneath the sea, likely before 2050. The ferry ride was an 18 mile trip and a good 90 minutes. With no alcohol being available on the island, we had brought a cooler with some craft ales to taste and mimosas for the trip there.
It was darn hot again and despite the ferry thundering across the water at a fast rate of knots, the humidity still clung in the air. We settled under a shady canopy on the top deck and enjoyed our mimosa breakfast, plus a beer, because we could. Needless to say, we all had a little buzz going so went to the front of the boat where we hoped the strong drafts, created by the ferry, would blow our fuzziness away and return our sea legs, as we had all walked to the front in a zig zag fashion, but of course blamed it on the turbulence. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the captain as he gave out snippets of information over the speakers. His accent was amazing, a slow drawl that I could have listened to all day.
We watched some dolphins cresting the waves and as we approached the island, we could see how low the land was, areas of water were also inside the sea wall. Apparently one side of the island has been bulked up with rocks but the other side desperately needs help, and isn't getting it.
Tangier Island has a population of about 450 and is known as the Soft Crab Capital of the World. We saw many small docks, all with small sheds, piles of crab pots and small boats. There were also some that had been abandoned, left to disintegrate and fall into the sea. Scientists estimate that Tangier Island will be underwater by 2050, one more island to be lost from the Chesapeake Bay where more than 500 islands have been lost to erosion and storms since the 1600's. This little island is losing about 16ft of shoreline each year.
We left our cooler on board the ferry and as soon as we disembarked, some of the locals swarmed around us, wanting to hire out golf carts or steer us towards the few attractions, a museum, a tourist store, an ice cream parlor and a couple of restaurants. We walked past and hoisted our cameras from our bags. There was just one road heading away to our left, lined with small white houses, so we took it. A few other tourists walked the same route, while others dived into the stores or climbed onto the golf carts. We hadn't got far before we found ourselves in front of the restaurant that we'd decided to have lunch at, an 'all you can eat' deal for $22. We were herded with another small group through the doorway by a few ladies wearing the restaurant t-shirts, and then into a room with tables laid awaiting guests.
This wasn't what I'd been expecting at all, I had thought we'd have a buffet that we'd help ourselves too. Instead, the table was filled with dishes, some of which I recognized, and some that I didn't. I gallantly ploughed my way through as much as possible, but avoided the ham, the bread, the apple sauce and the potato salad. I only had a taste of the corn pudding, (nope, didn't like it!), I wasn't keen on the beets, (too sweet), but the crab cakes were the best I'd ever had. And the coleslaw was tasty too, not loaded with sugar. I really enjoyed the meal, and then after discovering that the wedge of cake on a separate plate was actually lemon cake, I demolished that too. It was the best! I dearly wanted to reach for everybody else's lemon cake and pack it away for later but managed to control myself. The crab cakes were the only item that weren't left on the table so none of those could be snaffled. The fried clam fritters were good too, but just not on the same level. We waddled out and although I was glad to be upright and walking again, the heat literally kicked us as we tottered down the steps.
We lathered up with sunscreen, (Emily more than Richard or I), and bug spray under a shady crepe myrtle then continued walking, a lot slower by now.
One of the interesting features of the island were the graveyards.There were so many of them and all very close to the houses or actually in their yards. We discovered that this was due to grave-robbing which had been an issue in the 1800's and early 1900's. Also, it meant loved ones didn't have to travel far to visit, plus the ground is higher near the homes, so graves were less likely to fall victim to flooding. Apparently dogs had once been a problem too, digging up the burial sites, although I only saw one woofer while we were on the island.
Many of the homes had beach bikes left in their yards, and some were for rent too. The residents cycled, or used mopeds. Many had golf carts which they parked on raised wooden ramps in their yards. I only saw 2 cars and 3 trucks, and wondered why these were even necessary.
As well as numerous religious markers on the island there were a lot of sorry looking boats left in the grassy marshlands, I couldn't be sure if they were still in use or abandoned. There's a lot of water within the island, tidal creeks known as 'guts' by the locals have meant the turf has become tidal grass. On this area there used to stand a shirt factory in the early 1900's, employing 60 women and turning out 125 dozen shirts a day that would be taken up to a Baltimore market. The factory was burned down in 1927, supposedly by the men on the island who didn't like their wives working there.
As we strolled along the narrow streets, we spotted many feline residents, most of whom were very willing to be stroked and petted. Just as many of them though were sleeping in shady patches by buildings or under golf carts. They seemed to be an important and much loved part of the community and I found an article on them here.
I loved this friendly little place, the residents with their drawling accents were welcoming, apart from one old lady who threw open her front door to yell at us, "Is that all you can take pictures of?!" as we photographed her neighbor's untidy yard. She hollered at us again when we walked back but I smiled, guessing we were her entertainment for the day. Everyone else had been smiling and more than happy to pass on information, a tight knit community, reflected by the names on the gravestones, many of which bore the same surnames. We only had a few hours here, not enough since we were walking everywhere. I would have loved to walk on the beaches and explore every end of every road but time was not on our side, and the burning sun was relentless, as well as the biting flies, which attacked both Richard and I on our backs, leaving welts that still itched 3 days later.
There's only one school here that teaches 72 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, and the youth tend to move to the mainland to find work. The residents want the island saved, a new seawall is needed, costing more millions than the government seems willing to spend.
Tangier Island is also hallowed ground, the final resting place of Native Americans who were banished here, residents who lost their lives fighting in the forces, British sailors and soldiers who died during the 1812 War, and it's also the soil that African Americans first walked on as free people.
The residents refuse to believe in the climate change causing rising seas, saying instead that the island's disappearance is due to land subsiding and erosion. As we chugged away from the island on our ferry, I thought of these determined islanders. With their soft dialect originating from the first settlers coming from Cornwall, England, their resoluteness reminded me of the British gentlemen on the sinking Titanic, standing on the deck, singing and smoking cigars as the ship sank below the waves. That same steadfastness was apparent in the older residents on the island, many saying they had grown up here and wouldn't leave their home now. They weren't going to desert their sinking ship.
A recent article about the island is here, and another from 2016 is here.
On the way back home we stopped at a few abandoned places we found in Northern Neck, old houses and an old school, albeit with a certain amount of enthusiasm lacking. It had been a long day and the sun was still beating us up. but it was interesting to have the drive back broken up, and we managed a few photos.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Moribund Mansions in Maryland

Saturday was another day that sweltered from the temperatures of Hell, and not a day that we wanted to be spending much time outdoors. So Emily, Richard and I decided to check out an abandoned house that some of our urbexing buddies had already been to. An old house, shielded from the burning sun, would hopefully be cooler than a cycling or hiking expedition.
The outside looked promising, a large family home surrounded by huge established trees. Completely private with the dense vegetation almost completely blocking the sound of traffic, so it would be easy to believe we were in the countryside rather than suburban Maryland.
 There had once been some gaudy lighting outside. None now. Lamp posts with large white spherical shades were all laying on the ground, many of the actual posts completely covered by ground plants but the white shades were still visible about the front yard, looking like huge eggs about to hatch.
We entered through the back of the house and saw an empty indoor swimming pool, heavily graffitied with satanic scrawl, broken furniture and trash thrown about, and my thought was, "Oh no, another trashed house filled with junk and rubbish." It wasn't even old, none of the structure was architecturally photogenic, and I saddened at struggling to find something to photograph that I'd actually want to look at later.
But inside at the front of the house, my enthusiasm picked up when I saw these two chairs. Ignoring the violent red paint daubs on the walls and the vandalized fireplaces I concentrated on these, then slowly came around, managing to find other angles of interest.
It had been an Indian family living here, both husband and wife are doctors, still practicing, and their choice of wallpaper left much to be desired. Very vibrant, with lurid colors, different patterns screamed at each other from adjacent walls. And every wall had been papered. Elaborate coving competed with the wall decorations below and thankfully, the ceilings had been spared, otherwise this would have been a severe sensory perception overload. As I climbed the stairs and saw more gaudy, hideously decorated walls I wondered how they ever slept. Edges and corners were curling away from the walls as though the house was repelling the tacky trimming but despite the house having stood empty for a long time, that paper was well glued and sticking firmly.
The bedrooms looked as though only clothing and immediate personal items had been taken, the beds had been made, bedside cabinets and tables still adorned with knickknacks and lamps. Shoes stood at the bottom of closets and a few items of clothing clung to rusty hangers. Even paintings, that looked like vacation memories, were left hanging on walls.
But the most astounding feature were the cancelled checks. They were everywhere, across the floors, on the stairs, in drawers and even outside. So many financial documents and plans sat in folders inside cabinets or were thrown across the floor, I nearly balked at seeing them, but then after getting used to the quantity of paperwork strewn about, it became commonplace, and I started reading some of it. As well as being doctors, these folks were pursuing many other financial ventures, involving thousands of dollars. But why was all the evidence left here for anyone to see, especially when they were still close to the neighborhood. We had no answers.
We may never know the real reason why the house was vacated, but personally, I think it was the wallpaper...
We then drove on to explore another old house, one we hadn't seen for a few years. I wanted to check on the beautiful stained glass that had been in some of the windows, left to deteriorate by non interested owners in this slowly crumbling building.
It still stood, and I was relieved to not smell gas, a leak had been very apparent on our last visit, but thankfully had been resolved and hadn't resulted in the house's demise.
Inside though it was apparent that the building had been desecrated since we'd last visited, though thankfully not the glass. Obviously the vandals had some conscience and hadn't destroyed these objects of beauty, although I wondered how much longer they'd survive.
These were in the downstairs hallway and in one room next to the front door. The four seasons are depicted in the girl's outfits.
When we had last come here, the fireplaces had also been beautiful, with wood carvings and ornate hand painted tiles. Only a few of these remained, most had been pulled up and taken away. A beautiful stained glass window showing an angel had also been above a fireplace, but today I saw that had also disappeared, leaving blank glass behind it. There was no broken glass on the floor so I was a little glad that it had at least been removed in one piece and was being appreciated by somebody, even if it was stolen.
We went out on to the roof again, the fairytale turret still reaching up to the clouds, its colored slate clinging determinedly to the steep roof. The wood looked as though it was beyond restoration so I'm guessing it won't be long before this little tower collapses and all we're left with are our photos.
We didn't stay long. Apart from the gorgeous windows, there wasn't much to see, all remaining furniture had been destroyed or taken, dropped ceilings had collapsed or been pulled down, leaving the floor covered in broken pieces of polystyrene tiles. Graffiti had been sprayed on some of the walls and the place felt depressing. As we walked away I looked up at the turret one last time.
We polished off our day's exploring with a beer tasting at a local brewery, as much interested in their air conditioning as in their brews. We were exhausted from the heat and thirsty. We ordered a taste of all 10 beers on tap, but unfortunately, we were more impressed with the coolness of the temperature inside than we were with the ales. They weren't momentous but we dutifully polished them all off before heading home to cool off under shower heads.