Posted in Canada - British Columbia

Totem Poles in Vancouver

Another Postcrossing postcard received earlier this year came from British Columbia, one of Canada’s provinces along the west coast of that country. I’ve long been interested in Native American culture and was thrilled to see the totem poles on this card. These are displayed in Vancouver’s Stanley Park and are British Columbia’s most visited tourist attraction.

Totem poles are monumental carvings, a type of Northwest Coast art, consisting of poles, posts or pillars, carved with symbols or figures. They are usually made from large trees, mostly western red cedar, by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America (Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia). The word totem derives from the Algonquian (most likely Ojibwe) word odoodem [oˈtuːtɛm], “his kinship group”. The carvings may symbolize or commemorate cultural beliefs that recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. The poles may also serve as functional architectural features, welcome signs for village visitors, mortuary vessels for the remains of deceased ancestors, or as a means to publicly ridicule someone. Given the complexity and symbolic meanings of totem pole carvings, their placement and importance lies in the observer’s knowledge and connection to the meanings of the figures.

Totem pole carvings were likely preceded by a long history of decorative carving, with stylistic features borrowed from smaller prototypes. Eighteenth-century explorers documented the existence of decorated interior and exterior house posts prior to 1800; however, due to the lack of efficient carving tools, sufficient wealth, and leisure time to devote to the craft, the monumental poles placed in front of native homes along the Pacific Northwest coast probably did not appear in large numbers until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Trade and settlement initially led to the growth of totem pole carving, but governmental policies and practices of acculturation and assimilation sharply reduced totem pole production by the end of nineteenth century. Renewed interest from tourists, collectors, and scholars in the 1880s and 1890s helped document and collect the remaining totem poles, but nearly all totem pole making had ceased by 1901. Twentieth-century revivals of the craft, additional research, and continued support from the public have helped establish new interest in this regional artistic tradition.

Stanley Park is a 1,001-acre (405-hectare) public park that borders the downtown of Vancouver and is almost entirely surrounded by waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. The park has a long history and was one of the first areas to be explored in the city. The land was originally used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before British Columbia was colonized by the British during the 1858 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. For many years after colonization, the future park with its abundant resources would also be home to nonaboriginal settlers. The land was later turned into Vancouver’s first park when the city incorporated in 1886. It was named after Lord Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, a British politician who had recently been appointed governor general.

Unlike other large urban parks, Stanley Park is not the creation of a landscape architect, but rather the evolution of a forest and urban space over many years. Most of the manmade structures present in the park were built between 1911 and 1937 under the influence of then superintendent W.S. Rawlings. Additional attractions, such as a polar bear exhibit, aquarium, and miniature train, were added in the post-war period.

Much of the park remains as densely forested as it was in the late 1800s, with about a half million trees, some of which stand as tall as 249 feet (76 meters) and are up to hundreds of years old. Thousands of trees were lost (and many replanted) after three major windstorms that took place in the past 100 years, the last in 2006.

Significant effort was put into constructing the near-century-old Vancouver Seawall, which can draw thousands of residents and visitors to the park every day. The park also features forest trails, beaches, lakes, children’s play areas, and the Vancouver Aquarium, among many other attractions. On June 18, 2014, Stanley Park was named “top park in the entire world” by TripAdvisor.

The province’s most popular attraction is a group of ten totem poles at Brockton Point, the most easterly part of Stanley Park and home to a 100-year-old lighthouse. Four totem poles were originally brought from Alert Bay and placed at Lumbermen’s Arch in 1924. Some had been carved back in the late 1880s. More totem poles were purchased in the 1920s and 1930s, this time originating from the Queen Charlotte Islands and Rivers Inlet. All of the totem poles were moved to Brockton Point in 1962 to allow the construction of an overhead road at Lumberman’s Arch. Many of them have been replaced with replicas, with the originals now kept in museums for preservation. The most recent addition, erected in 2009, was carved by a member of the Squamish Nation whose mother was born in Stanley Park.

Coat of Arms of Canada
Coat of Arms of Canada
Coat of Arms of British Columbia
Coat of Arms of British Columbia

 

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Posted in Austria

Austrian Amusement Park

Over the years, I’ve only received two postcards from Austria through Postcrossing; the earlier card was received back in September 2006 and I believe it was the first homemade card that I got. This one arrived earlier this year and pictures the Wurstelprater amusement park in Vienna’s 2nd district (Leopoldstadt), often simply called “Prater”. It features the Wiener Riesenrad (German for Vienna Giant Wheel), a 212-foot (64.75-meter) tall Ferris wheel at the entrance. It is one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions, and symbolizes the district as well as the city for many people. Constructed in 1897, it was the world’s tallest extant Ferris wheel from 1920 until 1985.

The area that makes up the modern Prater was first mentioned in 1162, when Emperor Friedrich I gave the land to a noble family called de Prato. The word “Prater” was first used in 1403, originally referring to a small island in the Danube north of Freudenau, but was gradually extended to mean the neighboring areas as well. The land changed hands frequently until it was bought by Emperor Maximilian II in 1560 to be a hunting ground. To deal with the problem of poachers, Emperor Rudolf II forbade entry to the Prater. On April 7, 1766, Emperor Joseph II declared the Prater to be free for public enjoyment, and allowed the establishment of coffee-houses and cafés, which led to the beginnings of the Wurstelprater. Throughout this time, hunting continued to take place in the Prater, ending only in 1920.

In 1873, a World Exhibition was held in the Prater, for which a large area of land was set aside, centered on the Rotunda, which burnt down in 1937. This land now houses the Messegelände (exhibition center).

On the grounds of modern-day Kaiserwiese, an attraction called “Venice in Vienna” was established in 1895 by Gabor Steiner. The area included an artificial lagoon to simulate the canals of Venice, Italy.

The Wiener Riesenrad was constructed in 1897 by the English engineer Lieutenant Walter Bassett, Royal Navy. Its purpose was to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I, and it was one of the earliest Ferris wheels ever built. Bassett’s Ferris wheel manufacturing business was not a commercial success, and he died in 1907 almost bankrupt. A permit for its demolition was issued in 1916, but because of a lack of funds with which to carry out the destruction, it survived. The Ferris wheel and cafe on the Prater were once owned by a Jew, Eduard Steiner, who was murdered at Auschwitz.

The Wiener Riesenrad was built with 30 gondolas, but was severely damaged in World War II and when it was rebuilt only 15 gondolas were replaced. The wheel is driven by a circumferential cable which leaves the wheel and passes through the drive mechanism under the base, and its spokes are steel cables, in tension.

In 2004, major renovations to the Wurstelprater began, and a new underground railway line was finished and brought into service on May 11, 2008, which includes three stops along the Prater. The railway station Praterstern has been in operation for a long time and is only a few dozen meters away from an entrance to the park.

The overall area of the park has also been reduced by the building of the Ernst-Happel-Stadion (Austria’s national stadium), the Südosttangente (Austria’s busiest piece of motorway) and Krieau Race Track. In 2013, the new campus of the Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business/WU) was opened next to the Prater.

The Hauptallee (main avenue) is the main artery of the Prater, lined with horse chestnut trees, closed to motorists and known to sports enthusiasts from the annual Vienna Marathon. The Wiener Prater is home to the Liliputbahn, a narrow gauge railway. Another unusual object to be found in the Wiener Prater is the Republik Kugelmugel (Republic of Kugelmugel), a spherical micronation. The Wiener Prater also houses a planetarium and the Prater Museum.

Posted in China

Postcards from China

I received my first Postcrossing card from China on September 19, 2013. Since then, I have only received nine additional postcards from the country. While they may take a very long time to reach Thailand (odd, considering that it isn’t so far away), I always enjoy receiving items from China and the stamps are always interesting!

The postcard pictured above came from Shenzhen in Guangdong Province just north of Hong Kong but it pictures the Forbidden City in Beijing. This was probably my favorite site that I visited while in China during the SARS pandemic of 2003. While the public spaces such as this remained open, Chinese people stayed home and most tourists stayed away. I was literally the only person at the Forbidden City on the day of my visit and my photos have a ghostly, where has everybody gone?, feeling to them. Of course, word got out that there was a visitor and by the time I exited the northern gates, there were dozens of touts waiting to sell me something!

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty — the years 1420 to 1912. It is in the center of Beijing and now houses the Imperial Palace Museum. It served as the home of emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for almost 500 years.

Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 180 acres. The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

Since 1925, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artwork and artifacts were built upon the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Part of the museum’s former collection is now in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Both museums descend from the same institution, but were split after the Chinese Civil War. With over 14.6 million visitors in 2015, the Palace Museum is the most visited art museum in the world.

This card was a duplicate, the only time I’ve ever received two cards that were exactly the same (the first had come from Shantou about a year-and-a-half before this one came from Wuxi). The card portrays a gateway at the Cemetery of Confucius (孔林 — Kǒng lín, literally: “Kong Forest [of gravestones]”) which houses the Kong clan (the descendants of Confucius) in Confucius’ hometown Qufu in Shandong province. Confucius himself and some of his disciples are buried there, as well as many thousands of his descendants.

Since 1994, the Cemetery of Confucius has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu”. The two other components of the site are the Temple of Confucius dedicated to the memory of the philosopher and the Kong Family Mansion, where his descendants lived. The three sites are collectively known in Qufu as San Kong (三孔), i.e. “The Three Confucian [sites]”.

Wuxi (无锡) is an old city in southern Jiangsu province, China. The city borders two other large cities, Changzhou to the west and Suzhou to the east, and borders Zhejiang Province as well in the south. It also covers a coastline of the Yangtze River in the north and two separate coasts of Lake Tai. Wuxi is well known for being one of the birthplaces of China’s modern industry and commerce, as well as the hometown of many important businessmen who have played essential roles in building commerce in Shanghai since the early 20th century.

One of the best things about living in Thailand is that there officially three different New Year celebrations each year: “Western” New Year on December 31/January 1, Chinese New Year in January or February, and Thai New Year (Songkran) in mid-April. The Chinese New Year celebrations always last around a week here and, in my community, are immediately followed by a three-day-long Phuket Old Town Festival.

Also known as the “Spring Festival” (春节 — Chūn Jié) in modern China, Chinese New Year is celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. Celebrations traditionally run from the evening preceding the first day, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first calendar month. The first day of the New Year falls on the new moon between January 21 and February 20. In 2018, the first day of the Chinese New Year will occur on February 16, initiating the Year of the Dog (2017 is the Year of the Rooster).

The New Year festival is centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and customs. Traditionally, the festival was a time to honor deities as well as ancestors. Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mauritius, Australia, and the Philippines. It is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the lunar new year celebrations of its geographic neighbors.

Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely. Often, the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly clean the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Windows and doors are decorated with red color paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity”. Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes. In about one third of the Mainland population, or 500 million Northerners, dumplings (especially those of vegetarian fillings) feature prominently in the meals celebrating the festival.

This card came from Zhenjiang (镇江, “Suppressing” or “Guarding the River”), formerly romanized as Chenkiang, a prefecture-level city in Jiangsu Province, China. It was long an important entrepôt at the intersection of the Grand Canal and the Yangtze River near its mouth, and has some medieval historic buildings. One of these is Jinshan Temple, with a spectacular setting on a mountain overlooking the water, which is known to most people in China as the setting of a famous legend, about a snake-spirit that falls in love with a man.

In the 19th century, Zhenjiang became a “treaty port” open to international trade, and a British concession was established here. Some of the English-style houses and public buildings from the British period still survive, including the home of writer Pearl Buck. The ferry crossing at Zhenjiang was an important crossing on the lower Yangtze. A range of ancient poets crossed here and wrote poems to record their experiences; Marco Polo also mentions crossing the Yangtze here. Today, it is a preserved quarter with an ecletic mixture of medieval Chinese temples and 19th century European-style buildings built by the British.

The town is best known in China and abroad for its fragrant black vinegar, a staple of Chinese cooking.

Jinshan Park in Zhenjiang is famous for being a “mountain encompassed by monasteries (寺裹山)”. It is the setting of the ancient legend and novel “Tale of the White Snake (白蛇传)”, in which it is flooded by the heroine, a white snake spirit, because the abbot of the Buddhist monastery had imprisoned her husband.

This postcard pictures Xijindu Ancient Street (西津渡), an ancient ferry crossing heavily modified by contemporary restoration to create a more “ancient” feel. There are some interesting preserved medieval buildings and various shops and restaurants targeting tourists.

Posted in Brazil

Olympic Cards from Rio 2016

Flag of Brazil

A little over one year ago, I was once again feeling the Olympic Spirit.

I’ve been a fan of the Olympics since the mid-1970’s and can remember watching the Montreal games in that Bicentennial summer of ’76. My first Olympic stamps in my collection came via the U.S. Postal Service annual folder later that year, an annual birthday or Christmas present. By the 1980 Winter Games in upstate New York, I was designing my own cachets which I diligently sent off to various postmasters for torch relay and venue special postmarks. One of my most-cherished possessions in my collection was a thank-you card received from gold-medal favorites Tai Babelonia and Randy Gardner, the result of a letter sent to them after they were unable to compete in the figure skating finals due to Randy’s groin injury. I also designed cachets for the stamps issued for the 1980 Moscow summer games which the United States ended up boycotting.

It is much more difficult to follow the Olympics here in Thailand, where I’ve lived for the past twelve years. Nowadays, I tend to download BBC feeds of the opening and closing ceremonies and attempt to stream certain other events. For the 2016 games in Brazil, I got most of my information on scores, etc. through Facebook. It certainly isn’t the same as watching back home on American network television!

Last summer, I had joined a number of swapping groups on Facebook and I was very happy to set up a trade with someone in the Rio suburb of Resende. The plan had been for my partner to mail the postcards on the day of the opening ceremonies but the resulting postmark was four days later. I suppose the post offices there were quite swamped during the entire period of the Olympics and Paralympics, the first ever to be held in South America.

It did take nearly two months for the postcards to arrive in Thailand (I have become quite accustomed to long waits, cards from China and Russia usually taking the longest). At least they arrived; my original package to my swap-partner never got there…

 

Resende is a municipality in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The population is 125,214 (2015 est.) in an area of 1094 km². Resendense refers to people or things that come from or inhabit Resende. It is the oldest town in this region, which has boundaries with the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. It is an important industrial, automotive, metallurgical, and tourist center, and headquarters of the world’s second-largest military complex, the Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras (AMAN). Resende is of national importance and houses the Nuclear Fuel Factory complex of the Indústrias Nucleares de Brasil (Brazilian Nuclear Factories), the only one able to enrich uranium. Resende’s automotive area holds MAN Latin America (former Volkswagen Trucks and Buses), the biggest truck and bus factory of Brazil, limited to PSA Peugeot Citroën and Michelin.

The town has the following tourist attractions: Visconde de Mauá, Parque Nacional do Itatiaia, Engenheiro Passos, AMAN, Serrinha do Alambari, Penedo (which belong the city of Itatiaia), the Cachoeira da Fumaça, and some of the city’s houses. Resende is home to the largest theater in Latin America, The Academy Theater with a capacity of 2,884 people. Resende is crossed by Rodovia Presidente Dutra, the most important Brazilian road. The municipality has a big territorial extension, 1.144 km², as mentioned before, the biggest in the area between Rio and São Paulo, between the municipalities traversed by the road which connects them. The town is served by Resende Airport.

Map of Rio de Janeiro State showing location of Resende Municipality
Map of Rio de Janeiro State showing location of Resende Municipality
Flag of Resende
Flag of Resende
Coat of Arms of Resende
Coat of Arms of Resende
Coat of Arms of Brazil
Coat of Arms of Brazil
Posted in Thailand

Clearing the Back-Log

I have been away from this blog for way too long once again! The majority of my blogging the past 14 months have been on my A Stamp A Day blog; I am currently taking a brief blogging break from “ASAD” brought on by a 16,300-word article last week about the Titanic! I had planned to stay away from the computer today but decided to update my three “other” blogs instead, including this one.

I have an estimated 70 or so postcards that I haven’t yet written about. Last week, I finished scanning them and will try to clear out this back-log. As a result, the articles will be much shorter — perhaps just an info box along with the postcard images for now. Some may include a paragraph or two but no more than that. My “problem” has been in adopting the “everything including the kitchen sink” approach (hence the ever-lengthening entries over on “ADAD”). Brevity hasn’t ever been my style in blogging; in this case, it is necessary if I ever hope to get caught up on this blog.

I hope that I succeed…

P.S. I am also thinking of changing the name of the blog once again (first, it was “Please, Mr. Postman!” and then it became The Postcard Traveler Blog). Current thoughts are either Postcard To Thailand or Postcards To Phuket. Maybe simply Phuket Postcards (keep in mind that the “ph” in this case is pronounced as an aspirated /bp/ with “u” as /oo/ and NOT as /f/ and /uh/).

Posted in Australia

Christmas Card from Christmas Island

Last year, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to swapping Christmas-themed postcards and am just now getting around to writing about them. As I sit in my office here in Phuket, Thailand, I can see grey skies so it at least looks a bit wintery although in reality it’s 87° Fahrenheit and pouring down rain.

This is one of those odd cards that I need to think about how to categorize: it bears Christmas Island stamps but was mailed from the city of Hamilton in New South Wales. The scene pictured on the postcard has no real relation to either other than it celebrates the holiday for which the island was named. So, I am listing it as a card from Australia, computed the distance traveled from Hamilton, but will write about Christmas Island (and will save writing about the holiday itself for a different blog).

The Territory of Christmas Island is an Australian external territory. Located at 10°30′S 105°40′E, the island is about 12 miles (19 kilometers) in greatest length and 9 miles (14.5 km) in breadth. The total land area is 52 square miles (135 km²), with 86.3 miles (138.9 km) of coastline. The island is the flat summit of an underwater mountain more than 14,800 feet (4,500 meters) high, which rises from about 13,780 feet (4,200 m) below the sea and only about 984 feet (300 m) above it. The mountain was originally a volcano, and some basalt is exposed in places such as The Dales and Dolly Beach, but most of the surface rock is limestone accumulated from coral growth. The karst terrain supports numerous anchialine caves. The summit of this mountain peak is formed by a succession of tertiary limestones ranging from the Eocene or Oligocene up to recent reef deposits, with intercalations of volcanic rock in the older beds.

Steep cliffs along much of the coast rise abruptly to a central plateau. The island is mainly tropical rainforest, 63% of which is national park land. The narrow fringing reef surrounding the island poses a maritime hazard.

Christmas Island lies 1,600 miles (2,600 km) northwest of Perth, Western Australia, 310 miles (500 km) south of Indonesia, 606 miles (975 km) ENE of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and 1,708 miles (2,748 km) west of Darwin, Northern Territory.

The island has a population of just over 2,000 residents, the majority of whom live in settlements on the northern tip. The main settlement is Flying Fish Cove. Around two-thirds of the island’s population are Malaysian Chinese, with significant numbers of Malays and European Australians as well as smaller numbers of Malaysian Indians and Eurasians. Several languages are in use, including English, Malay, and various Chinese dialects, while Buddhism is the primary religion, practiced by three-quarters of the population.

Captain William Mynors of the Royal Mary, an English East India Company vessel, named the island when he sailed past it on Christmas Day, in 1643. The island was included on English and Dutch navigation charts as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, but it was not until 1666 that a map published by Dutch cartographer Pieter Goos included the island. Goos labelled the island “Mony” or “Moni“, the meaning of which is unclear.

English navigator William Dampier, aboard the English ship Cygnet, made the earliest recorded visit to the sea around the island in March 1688. He found it uninhabited. Dampier gave an account of the visit which can be found in his Voyages. Dampier was trying to reach Cocos from New Holland. His ship was pulled off course in an easterly direction, arriving at Christmas Island twenty-eight days later. Dampier landed at the Dales (on the west coast). Two of his crewmen became the first Europeans to set foot on Christmas Island.

Captain Daniel Beeckman of the Eagle passed the island on April 5, 1714, chronicled in his 1718 book, A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, in the East-Indies.

The first attempt at exploring the island was in 1857 by the crew of the Amethyst. They tried to reach the summit of the island, but found the cliffs impassable. During the 1872–76 Challenger expedition to Indonesia, naturalist John Murray carried out extensive surveys.

In 1886, Captain John Maclear of HMS Flying Fish, having discovered an anchorage in a bay that he named “Flying Fish Cove”, landed a party and made a small collection of the flora and fauna. In the next year, Pelham Aldrich, on board HMS Egeria, visited it for ten days, accompanied by J. J. Lister, who gathered a larger biological and mineralogical collection. Among the rocks then obtained and submitted to Murray for examination were many of nearly pure phosphate of lime. This discovery led to annexation of the island by the British Crown on June 6, 1888.

Soon afterwards, a small settlement was established in Flying Fish Cove by G. Clunies Ross, the owner of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (some 560 miles or 900 km) to the south west) to collect timber and supplies for the growing industry on Cocos. Phosphate mining began in 1899 using indentured workers from Singapore, Malaya, and China. John Davis Murray, a mechanical engineer and recent graduate of Purdue University, was sent to supervise the operation on behalf of the Phosphate Mining and Shipping Company. Murray was known as the “King of Christmas Island” until 1910, when he married and settled in London.

The island was administered jointly by the British Phosphate commissioners and district officers from the United Kingdom Colonial Office through the Straits Settlements, and later the Crown Colony of Singapore. Hunt (2011) provides a detailed history of Chinese indentured labor on the island during those years. In 1922, scientists attempted unsuccessfully to view a solar eclipse from the island to test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

At the outbreak of the South-East Asian theatre of World War II in December 1941, Christmas Island was a target for Japanese occupation because of its rich phosphate deposits. A naval gun was installed under a British officer and four NCOs and 27 Indian soldiers. The first attack was carried out on January 20, 1942, by the Japanese submarine I-59, which torpedoed a Norwegian freighter, the Eidsvold. The vessel drifted and eventually sank off West White Beach. Most of the European and Asian staff and their families were evacuated to Perth.

In late February and early March 1942, there were two aerial bombing raids. Shelling from a Japanese naval group on March 7 led the district officer to hoist the white flag. After the Japanese naval group sailed away, the British officer raised the Union flag once more. During the night of March 10-11, a mutiny of the Indian troops, abetted by Sikh policemen, led to the killing of the five British soldiers and the imprisonment of the remaining 21 Europeans. At dawn on March 31, 1942, a dozen Japanese bombers launched an attack, destroying the radio station. The same day, a Japanese fleet of nine vessels arrived, and the island surrendered. About 850 men of the Japanese 21st and 24th Special Base Forces and 102nd Construction Unit came ashore at Flying Fish Cove and occupied the island. They rounded up the workforce, most of whom had fled to the jungle. Sabotaged equipment was repaired and preparations were made to resume the mining and export of phosphate. Only 20 men from the 21st Special Base Force were left as a garrison.

Isolated acts of sabotage and the torpedoing of the Nissei Maru at the wharf on November 17, 1942, meant that only small amounts of phosphate were exported to Japan during the occupation. In November 1943, over 60% of the island’s population was evacuated to Surabayan prison camps, leaving a total population of just under 500 Chinese and Malays and 15 Japanese to survive as best they could. In October 1945, HMS Rother re-occupied Christmas Island.

After the war, seven mutineers were traced and prosecuted by the Military Court in Singapore. In 1947, five of them were sentenced to death. However, following representations made by the newly independent government of India, their sentences were reduced to penal servitude for life.

At Australia’s request, the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty to Australia, with a M$20 million payment from the Australian government to Singapore as compensation for the loss of earnings from the phosphate revenue. The United Kingdom’s Christmas Island Act was given royal assent on May 14, 1958, enabling Britain to transfer authority over Christmas Island from Singapore to Australia by an order-in-council. Australia’s Christmas Island Act was passed in September 1958 and the island was officially placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia on October 1, 1958.

In 1968, the official secretary was re-titled an administrator and, since 1997, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands together are called the Australian Indian Ocean Territories and share a single administrator resident on Christmas Island.

The settlement of Silver City was built in the 1970s, with aluminium-clad houses that were supposed to be cyclone-proof. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami centered off the western shore of Sumatra in Indonesia, resulted in no reported casualties, but some swimmers were swept some 490 feet (150 meters) out to sea for a time before being swept back in.

A postal agency was opened on Christmas Island in 1901 and sold stamps of the Strait Settlements. After the Japanese occupation (1942–45), postage stamps of the British Military Administration in Malaya were in use, then stamps of Singapore.

In 1958, the island received its own postage stamps after being put under Australian custody. It had a large philatelic and postal independence, managed first by the Phosphate Commission (1958–1969) and then by the island’s administration (1969–1993). This ended on March 2, 1993. when Australia Post became the island’s postal operator. Christmas Island stamps issued after March 1993 were usable in Australia, and Australian stamps in Christmas Island.

On March 4, 1993. the first five Australia Post stamps were issued with a new designation: CHRISTMAS ISLAND / AUSTRALIA. The philatelic program topics remained limited. Australia Post promised three issues per year: a Christmas stamp that was issued every two years during the 2000s, a Chinese New Year stamp since 1995 and one issue on local life.

Posted in Mauritius

The Island of Mauritius

Preparing an article for A Stamp A Day about Mauritius recently reminded me that I have yet to blog about the sole postcard I’ve received from the Indian Ocean island nation. The fact that card was sent by the author of a book about stamps makes this oversight even more surprising! The stamp article dealt with the pre-colonial history of Mauritius on through its periods of Dutch, French, and British rule. This article about the postcard will allow me to bring the story up-to-date in discussing the present-day Republic of Mauritius (République de Maurice in French and Repiblik Moris in Mauritian creole).

Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles (2,000 kilometers) off the southeast coast of the African continent. The total land area of the country is 790 square miles (2,040 km²) which is about 80% the size of Luxembourg. The Republic of Mauritius is constituted of the main island of Mauritius and several outlying islands including Rodrigues 350 miles (560 km) to the east of Mauritius and the twin islands of Agalega 620 miles (1,000 km) north of Mauritius. Saint Brandon, also known as the Cargados Carajos shoals, is an archipelago comprising a number of sand-banks, shoals and islets situated some 267 miles (430 km) north-east of Mauritius and is mostly used as a fishing base. The islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues form part of the Mascarene Islands, along with nearby Réunion, a French overseas department. The nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covers about 888,035 square miles (2.3 million km²) of the Indian Ocean, including approximately 154,440 square miles (400,000 km²) jointly managed with the Seychelles.

The sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago is disputed between Mauritius and the United Kingdom. Chagos was administratively part of Mauritius from the eighteenth century when the French first settled the islands. All of the islands forming part of the French colonial territory of Isle de France (as Mauritius was then known) were ceded to the British in 1810 under the Act of Capitulation signed between the two powers. In 1965, three years before the independence of Mauritius, the United Kingdom split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches from the Seychelles to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The islands were formally established as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom on November 8, 1965.

On June 23, 1976, Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches were returned to Seychelles as a result of its attaining independence. The BIOT now comprises the Chagos Archipelago only. The UK gradually depopulated the archipelago’s indigenous population and leased its biggest island, Diego Garcia, to the United States under a 50-year lease to establish a military base. Access to the archipelago is prohibited to casual tourists, the media, and its former inhabitants.

Mauritius has repeatedly asserted that the separation of its territories is a violation of United Nations resolutions banning the dismemberment of colonial territories before independence and claims that the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius under both Mauritian law and international law. After initially denying that the islands were inhabited, British officials forcibly expelled to mainland Mauritius, approximately 2,000 Chagossians who had lived on those islands for a century. Since 1971, only the atoll of Diego Garcia is inhabited, home to some 3,000 UK and US military and civilian contracted personnel. Chagossians have since engaged in activism to return to the archipelago, claiming that their forced expulsion and dispossession were illegal.

 Mauritius also claims sovereignty over Tromelin Island from France.

The island of Mauritius is located between latitudes 19°58.8′ and 20°31.7′ south and longitudes 57°18.0′ and 57°46.5′ east. It is 40 miles (65 km) long and 29 miles (45 km) wide with a land area of 720 square miles (1,864.8 km²). The island is surrounded by more than 93 miles (150 km) of white sandy beaches, and the lagoons are protected from the open sea by the world’s third largest coral reef, which surrounds the island. Just off the Mauritian coast lie some 49 uninhabited islands and islets, several used as natural reserves for endangered species.

The island is relatively young geologically, having been created by volcanic activity some 8 million years ago. Together with Saint Brandon, Réunion, and Rodrigues, the island is part of the Mascarene Islands. These islands have emerged as a result of gigantic underwater volcanic eruptions that happened thousands of miles to the east of the continental block made up of Africa and Madagascar. They are no longer volcanicaly active and the hotspot now rests under Réunion Island. Mauritius is encircled by a broken ring of mountain ranges, varying in height from 984-2,625 feet (300–800 meters) above sea level. The land rises from coastal plains to a central plateau where it reaches a height of 2,198 feet (670 m); the highest peak is in the southwest, Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire at 2,717 feet (828 m). Streams and rivers speckle the island, many formed in the cracks created by lava flows.

The capital and largest city is Port Louis. Mauritius was a British colonial possession from 1810 to 1968, the year of its independence. The government uses English as the main language.

The people of Mauritius are multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural and multilingual. The island’s government is closely modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system, and Mauritius is highly ranked for democracy and for economic and political freedom. Along with the other Mascarene Islands, Mauritius is known for its varied flora and fauna, with many species endemic to the island. The island is widely known as the only known home of the dodo, which, along with several other avian species, was made extinct by human activities relatively shortly after the island’s settlement. Mauritius is the only country in Africa where Hinduism is the largest religion.

At the Lancaster Conference of 1965, it became clear that Britain wanted to relieve itself of the colony of Mauritius. In 1959, Harold Macmillan had made his famous Winds of Change Speech where he acknowledged that the best option for Britain was to give complete independence to its colonies. Thus, since the late Fifties, the way was paved for independence.

Later in 1965, after the Lancaster Conference, the Chagos Archipelago was excised from the territory of Mauritius to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). A general election took place on August 7 1967, and the Labour Party and its two allies obtained the majority of seats. Mauritius adopted a new constitution and independence was proclaimed on March 12, 1968. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the first prime minister of an independent Mauritius with Queen Elizabeth II remaining head of state as Queen of Mauritius.

In 1969, the opposition party Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) led by Paul Bérenger was founded. Later in 1971, the MMM, backed by unions, called a series of strikes in the port which caused a state of emergency in the country. The coalition government of the Labour Party and the PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Democrate) reacted by curtailing civil liberties and curbing freedom of the press. Two unsuccessful assassination attempts were made against Paul Bérenger. The second one led to the death of Azor Adélaïde, a dock worker and activist, on November 25, 1971. General elections were postponed and public meetings were prohibited. Members of the MMM including Paul Bérenger were imprisoned on December 23, 1971. The MMM leader was released a year later.

In May 1975, a student revolt that started at the University of Mauritius swept across the country. The students were unsatisfied with an education system that did not meet their aspirations and gave limited prospects for future employment. On May 20, thousands of students tried to enter Port-Louis over the Grand River North West bridge and clashed with police. An act of Parliament was passed on December 16, 1975 to extend the right to vote to 18-year-olds. This was seen as an attempt to appease the frustration of the younger generation.

The next general election took place on December 20, 1976. The Labour Party won 28 seats out of 62 but Prime Minister Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam managed to remain in office, with a two-seat majority, after striking an alliance with the PMSD of Gaetan Duval.

In 1982, an MMM government led by Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth and Paul Bérenger as Minister of Finance was elected. However, ideological and personality differences emerged within the MMM leadership. The power struggle between Bérenger and Jugnauth peaked in March 1983. Jugnauth travelled to New Delhi to attend a Non-Aligned Movement summit; on his return, Bérenger proposed constitutional changes that would strip power from the Prime Minister. At Jugnauth’s request, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India planned an armed intervention involving the Indian Navy and Indian Army to prevent a coup under the code name Operation Lal Dora.

The MMM government split up nine months after the June 1982 election. According to an Information Ministry official the nine months was a “socialist experiment”. The new MSM party, led by Aneerood Jugnauth, was elected in 1983. Gaëtan Duval became the vice-prime minister. Throughout the decade, Aneerood Jugnauth ruled the country with the help of the PMSD and the Labour Party.

That period saw a growth in the EPZ (Export Processing Zone) sector. Industrialization began to spread to villages as well, and attracted young workers from all ethnic communities. As a result, the sugar industry began to lose its hold on the economy. Large retail chains began opening stores opened in 1985 and offered credit facilities to low income earners, thus allowing them to afford basic household appliances. There was also a boom in the tourism industry, and new hotels sprang up throughout the island. In 1989 the stock exchange opened its doors and in 1992 the freeport began operation. In 1990, the Prime Minister lost the vote on changing the Constitution to make the country a republic with Bérenger as President.

On March 12, 1992, twenty-four years after independence, Mauritius was proclaimed a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. The last Governor General, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo became the first President. This was under a transitional arrangement, in which he was replaced by Cassam Uteem later that year. Political power remained with the Prime Minister.

Despite an improvement in the economy, which coincided with a fall in the price of petrol and a favorable dollar exchange rate, the government did not enjoy full popularity. As early as 1984, there was discontent. Through the Newspapers and Periodicals Amendment Act, the government tried to make every newspaper provide a bank guarantee of half a million rupees. Forty-three journalists protested by participating in a public demonstration in Port Louis, in front of Parliament. They were arrested and freed on bail. This caused a public outcry and the government had to review its policy.

There was also dissatisfaction in the education sector. There were not enough high-quality secondary colleges to answer the growing demand of primary school leavers who had got through their CPE (Certificate of Primary Education). In 1991, a master plan for education failed to get national support and contributed to the government’s downfall.

Dr Navin Chandra Ramgoolam was elected as Prime Minister in the 1995 election. The landslide victory of 60–0 was a repeat of the 1982 score, but this time it was on the side of the Labour–MMM alliance.

In February 1999, the country experienced a brief period of civil unrest. Riots flared after the popular singer Kaya, arrested for smoking marijuana at a public concert, was found dead in his prison cell. President Cassam Uteem and Cardinal Jean Margéot toured the country and, after four days of turmoil, calm was restored. A commission of inquiry was set up to investigate the root causes of the social disturbance. The resulting report delved into the cause of poverty and qualified many tenacious beliefs as perceptions.

Aneerood Jugnauth of the MSM returned to power in 2000 after making an alliance with the MMM. In 2002, the island of Rodrigues became an autonomous entity within the republic and was thus able to elect its own representatives to administer the island. In 2003, the prime ministership was transferred to Paul Bérenger of the MMM, and Aneerood Jugnauth went to Le Réduit to serve as president.

In the 2005 election, Navin Ramgoolam, leader of the Labour Party, was brought to power after making an alliance with the Parti Mauricien Xavier-Luc Duval (PMXD) and other minor parties. Navin Ramgoolam was again elected in May 2010. This time the Labour Party joined forces with the PMSD and the MSM. Under the new government, the country continued with its MID (Maurice Ile Durable) project, started in 2008, to make the economy less dependent on fossil fuels. The political landscape stayed rather confused. The Labour Party did away with the MSM, and then with the PMSD, whose leader had acted as Finance minister. The MMM made an alliance (known as Remake) with the MSM but broke off with the latter to become the ally of Labour Party.

Parliament remained closed for most of 2014. A second republic was proposed (by the leaders of Labour and MMM) whereby a president, elected by the population, would hold more power and rule the country in joint collaboration with the prime minister. Nomination day took place on November 24, 2014, and, for the first time, electoral candidates had the option of not proclaiming their ethnic group. Only a few chose to do so. General elections were held on December 10, 2014, and the Lepep alliance made up of the MSM, PMSD, and Mouvement Liberater (led by an MMM dissident) was elected to power by reaping 47 seats out of 60. The Westminster system was thus maintained and Aneerood Jugnauth became the prime minister for the sixth time.

Shortly after the new government took office, the ex-prime minister was lengthily interrogated by the police on charges related to money laundering. The license of the Bramer Bank was revoked due to alleged lack of liquidity, and the BAI (British-American Insurance) was suspended from trading and placed in receivership. A United Nations tribunal ruled that Britain had acted illegally when it created a marine protected area around the Chagos without the consent of Mauritius, thereby depriving this country of its fishing rights. Fresh negotiations began with Jin Fei in view of reviving the project started in 2006. Mauritius will henceforth detain 80% of the shares while the rest would go to the Chinese promoters.

Tourism continued to be the main source for foreign exchange, and the number of visitors to the island reached 1.1 million in 2015. Despite this boom in the tourism industry, Tourism Minister Xavier-Luc Duval placed a two-year moratorium on the construction of new hotels.

On January 21, 2017, Anerood Jugnauth announced that in two days time he would resign in favor of his son, Finance Minister Pravind Jugnauth, who would assume the office of prime minister. The transition took place as planned on January 23.

Posted in Belgium

BE-495932: Herentals, Belgium

A postcard of “seconds”: this was the second postcard I’ve received from Belgium (the first was one received through Postcrossing back in September 2006; one of the few cards that I’ve since lost!) and the second of my cards in the very popular “Flags of the World” series published by Postcardsmarket.com. I wrote a brief account of the history of Belgium on my A Stamp A Day blog last September. Looking back on it now reminds me that I need to add maps, flags, and coat of arms to those earlier entries as it took some time for me to hit upon the idea; the article also seems rather short compared to some of my more recent entries!

At any rate, the sender of this particular card lives in Herentals, a city situated in the Province of Antwerp. The municipality comprises the city of Herentals proper and the towns of Morkhoven and Noorderwijk. On January 1, 2006, Herentals, had a total population of 26,071. The total area is 18.75 square miles (48.56 km²) which gives a population density of 537 inhabitants per square kilometer. Saint-Waldetrudis is the patron saint of the city.

Herentals is often referred to as the capital of the Belgian Campine region. It has some outstanding historical buildings, including the church, town hall and the old city gates — Bovenpoort, the Northern gate, and Zandpoort, the Western gate. There used to be a Nederpoort and Koeienpoort as well, but those have been torn down a long time ago. The Hidrodoe science museum is located in Herentals. There is also a large chocolate factory located in the city.

Flag of Herentals, Belgium
Flag of Herentals, Belgium
Arms of Herentals, Belgium
Arms of Herentals, Belgium

Herentals is twinned with Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire in France, Alpen in Germany and Ijsselstijn in the Netherlands. The inhabitants of the Campine region have common soubriquets that are particular to their towns; people from Herentals are referred to by the colloquialisms “Klokkenververs” (meaning “bell painters”) and “Peestekers” which comes from an old story about the farmers of the town using carrots (pekes, “pee”-stekers) as a lock on the “zandpoort”, one of the great gates in that time.

The national flag of Belgium is a tricolor of three bands of black, yellow, and red. The colors were taken from the coat of arms of the Duchy of Brabant, and the vertical design may be based on the flag of France. When flown, the black band is nearest the pole (at the hoist side). It has the unusual proportions of 13:15.

On August 26, 1830, the day after the rioting at the Brussels Opera and the start of the Belgian Revolution, the flag of France flew from the city hall of Brussels. The insurgents hastily replaced it with a tricolor of red, yellow and black horizontal stripes (similar to the one used during the Brabant Revolution of 1789-1790 which had established the United States of Belgium) made at a nearby fabric store. As a result, Article 193 of the Constitution of Belgium describes the colors of the Belgian nation as “red, yellow and black” instead of using the order shown in the official flag.

On January 23, 1831, the stripes changed from horizontal to vertical, and on October 12 the flag attained its modern form, with the black placed at the hoist side of the flag.

The official guide to protocol in Belgium states that the national flag measures 2.60 meters tall for each 3 meters of width, giving it a ratio of 13:15. Each of the stripes is one-third of the width of the flag. The yellow is in fact yellow and not the darker gold of the flag of Germany, which is a somewhat similar black-red-gold tricolor.

Posted in Jordan

Jerash, Jordan: Roman Ruins of Gerasa

This card is a bit of a mystery as I have no idea how I got it! I “found” it this morning while going through a file folder of “unsorted scans”. I scanned it back in June 2015 but that offers no real clues. It was probably included as a “stiffener” in an order of stamps from an overseas dealer…

At any rate, it is my only postcard from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (المملكة الأردنية الهاشمية‎‎ — Al-Mamlakah Al-Urdunnīyah Al-Hāshimīyah) and I’m happy to have it. Jersash (جرش) is the capital and largest city of Jerash Governorate (محافظة جرش), which is situated in the north of Jordan, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of the national capital Amman towards Syria. Jerash Governorate’s geographical features vary from cold mountains to fertile valleys from 820 to 980 feet (250 to 300 meters) above sea level, suitable for growing a wide variety of crops.

Jerash is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa (Γέρασα), also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River. Ancient Greek inscriptions from the city as well as literary sources from both Iamblichus and the Etymologicum Magnum support that the city was founded by Alexander the Great or his general Perdiccas, who settled aged Macedonian soldiers there (γῆρας – gēras means “old age” in Ancient Greek). This took place during the spring of 331 BC, when Alexander left Egypt, crossed Syria and then went to Mesopotamia.

After the Roman conquest in 63 BC, Jerash and the land surrounding it were annexed to the Roman province of Syria, and later joined the Decapolis league of cities. In AD 90, Jerash was absorbed into the Roman province of Arabia, which included the city of Philadelphia (modern day Amman). The Romans ensured security and peace in this area, which enabled its people to devote their efforts and time to economic development and encouraged civic building activity.

Jerash is sometimes misleadingly referred to as the “Pompeii of the Middle East” or of Asia, referring to its size, extent of excavation and level of preservation, since Jerash was never destroyed and buried by a single cataclysmic event, such as a volcanic eruption. Jerash is considered one of the most important and best preserved Roman cities in the Near East. It was the birthplace of the mathematician Nicomachus (Νικόμαχος) of Gerasa  (c. 60 – c. 120 AD).

In the second half of the first century AD, the city of Jerash achieved great prosperity. In AD 106, the Emperor Trajan constructed roads throughout the province, and more trade came to Jerash. The Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129–130. The triumphal arch (or Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit. A remarkable Latin inscription records a religious dedication set up by members of the imperial mounted bodyguard wintering there.

The Persian invasion in AD 614 caused the rapid decline of Jerash. Despite its decline, the city continued to flourish during the Umayyad period, as shown by recent excavations. The AD 749 Galilee earthquake destroyed large parts of Jerash, while subsequent earthquakes (847 Damascus earthquake) along with wars and turmoil contributed to additional destruction.

However, by the year 1119, during the period of the ِKingdom of Jerusalem, a garrison of forty men stationed in Jerash by Zahir ad-Din Toghtekin, atabeg of Damascus converted the Temple of Artemis into a fortress which was captured by Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem (1118-31), and utterly destroyed. Afterwards, the Crusaders abandoned Jerash for Sakib (Seecip) on the eastern border of the Kingdom of Jerusalem with Seljuk Empire. They initiated a re-treatment of the eastern border of settlement. This, however, was not yet permanent, since Jerash re-appeared on Ottoman tax registers of the sixteenth century.

Small settlements continued in Jerash during the Ayyubid, Mamluk Sultanate, and Ottoman periods.

Most of the ruins of Jerash remained buried in the soil for hundreds of years until they were discovered by German Orientalist Ulrich Jasper Seetzen in 1806. In addition to the role of the people of old villages near Jerash, the process of building the modern city of Jerash was mainly done by the resettlement of Circassian Muslims by the Ottoman authorities; the Circassians came to Jerash from the Caucasus by the year 1885-6 after the Russo-Turkish War. Subsequently, a community of people from Syria came to the area by the time of the Emirate of Transjordan.

Excavation and restoration of Jerash has been almost continuous since the 1920s. Jerash has developed dramatically in the last century with the growing importance of the tourism industry to the city.

Jerash is now the second-most popular tourist attraction in Jordan, closely behind the splendid ruins of Petra. On the western side of the city, which contained most of the representative buildings, the ruins have been carefully preserved and spared from encroachment, with the modern city sprawling to the east of the river which once divided ancient Jerash in two.

Recently the city of Jerash has expanded to include many of the surrounding villages, including Souf, Dairelliat, Thougretasfour, Jaba, Aljbarat and Majar. Other important villages in the governorate include: Kitteh, Sakib, Nahlé, Burma, Mustabah, Jubba, Raimoun (biblical Ramoth-Gilead), Kufr Khall, Balila, and Qafqafa.

Since 1981, the old city of Jerash has hosted the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, a three-week-long summer program of Arabic and international dance, music, and theatrical performances. The festival is frequently attended by members of the royal family of Jordan and is hailed as one of the largest cultural activities in the region.

In addition, performances of the Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE) were started at the hippodrome in Jerash. The show runs twice daily, at 11am and at 2pm, and at 10am on Fridays, except Tuesdays. It features forty-five legionaries in full armor in a display of Roman army drill and battle tactics, ten gladiators fighting “to the death” and several Roman chariots competing in a classical seven-lap race around the ancient hippodrome.

According to Jordan Times, the number of tourists who visited the ancient city of Jerash reached 214,000 during 2005. Director of Jerash Antiquities Department Mohammad Balawneh said that the number of non-Jordanian tourists was 182,000 that year, adding that the sum of entry charges reached JD900,000.

Posted in U.S.A. - Alabama

Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay

At New Years 2013/2014, my sister Marilyn stayed in a beach house on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. One of several postcards she sent me during that time was this one picturing Fort Morgan — a historic masonry star fort at the mouth of Mobile Bay. The fort is at the tip of Mobile Point at the western terminus of Alabama State Route 180. It and Dauphin Island, on which Fort Gaines is situated, enclose Mobile Bay. The post was named in honor of Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan. It was built on the site of the earlier Fort Bowyer, an earthen and stockade type fortification involved in the final land battles of the War of 1812. Construction was completed in 1834 and it received its first garrison in March of the same year. The Alabama Historical Commission maintains the site.

After the War of 1812, the United States embarked on a program to strengthen its seacoast defenses. As part of this program, in 1818 the U.S. contracted with Benjamin Hopkins of Vermont to build a large masonry fort on Mobile Point after a design by Simon Bernard, who had been a military engineer for Napoleon. However, Hopkins died a year later in a yellow fever epidemic, having accomplished little. The next contractor, Samuel Hawkins of New York, died in 1821, before accomplishing anything on the project. The Army turned the task over to the Corps of Engineers under Captain R.E. DeRussey. Using slave labor, DeRussey was able to make some progress before he took ill in 1825 and turned the work over to his deputy, Lieutenant Cornelius Ogden. Ogden completed the work in March 1834 and turned the fort over to Captain F.S. Belton, commander of Company B, 2nd US Artillery. This unit remained at the fort for about a year and a half before its transfer to Florida to assist in the Second Seminole Indian War.

Eight days before Alabama seceded from the Union, Colonel John B. Todd took four companies of Alabama volunteers and captured the fort before dawn on January 3, 1861. The Confederates then proceeded to strengthen the defenses of Mobile Bay. The key point was the Main Ship Channel opposite Fort Morgan as this was the only approach where the water was deep enough to permit major warships to pass. To defend this area, the Confederates placed 18 of the fort’s heaviest guns (including two 7-inch Brooke rifles and two British-made 8-inch Blakely rifles), so that they could bear on the Channel. They also built redoubts and trenches east of the fort to impede further any attack via land. Lastly, they complemented the land defenses with a small flotilla consisting of the ram Tennessee, and three gunboats, Morgan, Gaines and Selma, all under the command of Admiral Franklin Buchanan.

During the war, Fort Morgan provided protective fire for blockade runners. All 17 vessels that ran out of the Bay eluded capture, as did 19 of the 21 that attempted to enter.

During the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864, Union naval forces under Admiral David G. Farragut were able to get past Fort Morgan and enter the Bay. They captured Tennessee and Selma, sank Gaines, and captured Fort Gaines. This freed the Union land forces under Gordon Granger to besiege Fort Morgan. During the siege, the wooden roof of the Citadel, a ten-sided barracks located in the center of the fort used to house the enlisted men, caught fire and the structure was badly damaged.

After two weeks of bombardment from sea and land, Major Richard L. Page, commander of the fort, felt compelled to surrender. He did so on August 23, 1864, after first spiking the fort’s guns. Once the fort was in Union hands, the Union used it as a base for reconnaissance raids, and then as a staging area for the Battle of Spanish Fort and the Battle of Fort Blakely, which occurred days before General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Rather than restore the Citadel, post-War crews used the ruins as a brick source for repairing the fort. The remains of the Citadel were razed in the 1880s for use as a breakwater.

During a renovation project in the 1870s, the fort received 12 200-pounder Parrott rifled cannon. Eventually, however, the U.S. Government abandoned the fort, letting it fall into disrepair. Under the presidency of Grover Cleveland, Secretary of War William Endicott chaired the Endicott Board, which led to a program of building new, concrete batteries. Between 1895 and 1900, Fort Morgan received five concrete batteries, supported by the latest in fire control, electricity, and communications.

The first battery, Battery Bowyer, was operational during the Spanish–American War. It had four 8-inch breech-loading guns on disappearing carriages. At beginning of the Spanish–American War, Fort Morgan also received eight 10-inch smooth-bore muzzle-loading Rodman cannon, converted to 8-inch rifles with the insertion of a barrel sleeve. This was a makeshift and the Army later gave the guns away to cities for Civil War memorials. Battery Bowyer was closed in 1917 and the guns removed for conversion to railway guns for service in Europe.

The second battery, completed in 1900, was Battery Dearborn, named for Major General Henry Dearborn. The battery had eight breech-loading 12-inch coast defense mortar in two four-gun pits. The intent was that should enemy vessels approach, the mortars would rain down shells on the vessels’ less heavily armored decks.

The third battery, also completed in 1900, was Battery Duportail, named for Major General Louis Duportail. Its armament consisted of two 12-inch breech-loading rifles on disappearing carriages. The battery was decommissioned in 1923. The Army removed the breechblocks and plugged the breeches before abandoning the guns in place. The Army scrapped the guns in the early 1940s.

The fourth battery was Battery Thomas, named for Captain Evan Thomas, who had been killed in the Battle of Sand Butte in 1873 during the Modoc War. This battery’s armament consisted of two British 4.7-inch rapid-fire Armstrong guns. The battery’s role was to prevent smaller enemy vessels from passing through the ship’s channel in front of the fort. The battery was deactivated in 1917 and its guns removed.

The fifth battery was Battery Schenk, named for Lieutenant William T. Schenck, who was killed in action in Luzon in 1900 during the Philippine–American War. The battery initially held two, later increased to three, 3-inch rapid-fire guns. It too protected the ship channel.

Hurricanes in 1906 and in July 1916 caused a great deal of damage to the wooden houses at Fort Morgan along Officer’s Row. The wide porches that helped cool the buildings in summer proved particularly vulnerable.

In 1915, the Coast Artillery Corps built an experimental battery, called Battery Test, about a mile away from Fort Morgan. The battery held a single 10-inch gun on a disappearing carriage. Then in 1916, the Navy had two battleships, the USS New York and the USS Arkansas, shell the battery for two days to see how well it would survive, which it did with remarkably little damage. The gun was removed shortly after the tests.

After the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the fort took on the task of training men of the Coast Artillery in modern weapons. The fort also trained field anti-aircraft batteries. In 1920, the fort received four British 9.2-inch howitzers. These guns were abandoned and later scrapped in 1924 when the Army abandoned the fort. Thereafter, the base deteriorated quickly.

During World War I, the Army had established a radio transmitting and receiving station at Fort Morgan as a part of a nationwide Morse-code communication network. The transmitter had the call letters WUR. When Fort Morgan was abandoned, the call letters were transferred to Fort McClellan, Alabama.

In April 1942, the Army re-occupied the fort and constructed an adjacent airfield. Initially, the Coast Artillery brought five Model 1918 155mm (6.1-inch) guns to equip the fort. The Army placed two on top of Fort Morgan on mounts that permitted 360 degrees traverse. The remaining three guns stood on the fort’s parade ground.

The War Department turned Fort Morgan over to the State of Alabama in 1946, and the Army again abandoned the fort in 1947. The War Department disbanded the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps itself in 1950. Fort Morgan was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. In 2007 it was listed as “one of the nation’s 10 most endangered battle sites” by the Civil War Preservation Trust in History Under Siege: A Guide to America’s Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields.

In June 2008, a 90-pound live Union naval shell was uncovered at the site. The shell was from a Parrott rifle on a U.S. Navy warship and was fired at the fort in the summer of 1864. The discovery came during excavations as part of a project meant to repair cracks in the walls.