Over the last month, I’ve been going through my huge “memory box”. Over the years I’ve built up layers of items that seemed too important or sentimental to throw away. It started with my teenage scrapbooks, childhood diaries, report cards and school awards. Over the years I added love letters, wedding memorabilia, photos, greeting cards with personal messages, newspaper articles, and travel postcards. More recently the box was stuffed to the top with mementos saved for my children. I’ve moved the memory box over the years, and peaked in at times, but there was never time to sort through it. Now that I’m retired, that time has come.
The hours I’ve spent going through the box have brought back wonderful and sometimes comical memories. I shed a few tears as I held the “I love you Mommy” artwork with the tiny hand prints of my children. Even better were the thank you messages they added on Mothers Day cards as they grew older. I laughed at some of the silly things I saved which no longer hold any significance, and was grateful I saved things from loved ones I’ve lost.
Like Pandora, I encountered a few things in my box that made my skin crawl. Maturity and changing societal norms have a way of bringing into clear focus uncomfortable feelings that previously could not be identified. Deep in the box I found cartoons of me that a co-worker had created and circulated as a joke in the early-1990’s. He was a gregarious, respected older man who volunteered much of his time helping others. He seemed to think it would boost office morale if he pasted pictures of co-worker faces on cartoons and magazine photos and then post them on office bulletin boards. This was before Photoshop, it was obvious that they weren’t real, but some were rather funny.
I was the subject of a number of his humorous cartoons, including a few of scantily clad buxom women with my face. I remember feeling very uncomfortable about these, but I excused his behavior as that of a silly old man who didn’t know better. I was a young working mother with an aversion to conflict, and I didn’t want to cause trouble. I was more concerned about the headaches that I was getting from the cheap cigars he smoked in our small shared office. At the time smoking laws were just changing, and it took employee complaints before managers implemented workplace smoking bans. I was successful in having his cigar smoking moved outside, and was pleased that I’d won at least one battle.
I admire the brave women who have come forward recently to talk about the sexual harassment they experienced in the workplace. It is shameful that the abuse continues, particularly through intimidation by those in positions of power. I admit, however, that at times I thought that some complaints had gone too far, and I wondered why it took so long for accusers to come forward. I feel sorry for men who are afraid to say anything remotely personal to women that could be misinterpreted as sexual harassment. At my age, I would welcome an occasional “you look nice” from a male colleague and appreciate when men hold a door open for me. Until I saw those cartoons, however, I felt removed from the current heated debates, having never been the subject of sexual harassment.
As I angrily shredded those cartoons, I realized that the embarrassment and irritation I felt, upon seeing them pinned around our workplace, now has a name. I was experiencing a hostile workplace environment. I wonder why I kept the cartoons. I also wish I had spoken directly to that man about his inappropriate behavior, which he may not have realized offended me. I hope that as result of the “Me Too” movement men will now have a better idea of where the line is drawn, and women will speak up when they begin to cross it.
In those memory boxes were also reminders of my beauty pageant days. That same uncomfortable feeling emerged as I looked at the photo below. I was asked to wear my Miss Deptford pageant white bathing suit, heels, crown and sash, to sit in a boat on Woodbury, New Jersey’s Broad Street. It was for a good cause, boat safety awareness, and the Coast Guard officers that we posed with were gentlemen. The question remains, why did they need young girls in bathing suits to attract attention? That experience, as well as others that I will write about soon, initiated my ambivalent feelings about beauty pageants. In the Miss America system they are called “scholarship pageants”, and I credit my pageant experiences for helping me develop the confidence and poise I needed in my professional life. Young women who compete in these pageant today are incredibly intelligent, talented and committed to charitable causes. It is when they have to walk around stage in bikinis that I continue to ask – WHY?
After his discharge from the Union army, due to a gunshot wound to his right shoulder, George returned to Philadelphia to heal. He may have stayed for a while with his brother Andrew’s wife, Eliza, and her children, where he was living before going to war. (Eliza married John Carley a few years after Andrew’s death and they had a daughter, Ella.) Or perhaps he lived with his older sister, Sarah Hooper Eckfeldt, and her husband Adam. They also lived in Philadelphia. His mother, Sarah McHenry Hooper, died when George was only five, and his father, Thomas Hooper, died when he was 18. Sarah was eleven years older than George, and he listed her as his next-of-kin in later hospital records. She also handled his burial.
In 1862, George began receiving army pension benefits because of his disability. He was also listed in the 1862 Philadelphia city directory as a printer, living at 318 Lombard Street. In the 1870 census he was listed as still living in Philadelphia, but with a woman named Catherine Besselievre and her four children. Catherine is shown as the head-of-household, so George may have been a boarder. In the 1873 city directory he is still shown as a printer, with a residence at 247 S. 3rd Street.
Trouble began for George in 1876. I located a December 11, 1876 Philadelphia Inquirer article which listed George Hooper as one of the people arrested during a police raid on a disorderly house run by someone named Pat Hooper. The article stated that several persons testified about the disorderly character of the establishment. “The men were identified as thieves and the women were of bad character.” George was held on $600 bail to keep the peace.
An article in the July 24, 1877 Inquirer reported on a more serious charge against George, the robbery of a jewelry store. A subsequent article on October 8, 1877 showed that the charges were dropped because no one showed up at the trial to testify against him. His luck ran out on his next arrest. The February 8, 1877 Inquirer reported, “George W. Hooper was convicted of the larceny of a watch from a man with whom he had been drinking.”
Articles like these illustrate a consequence of genealogical research; finding disappointing facts about your ancestors. I believe, however, that similar behavior in a disabled veteran today would be attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Imagine being a 20-year-old young man, with virtually no military training, suddenly finding yourself in the midst of the chaotic, poorly managed, devastating loss that was the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Also imagine being severely injured and transported several miles across the river to a temporary hospital, where you watch your mortally wounded older brother slowly die. Back in Philadelphia, he may have felt guilt for surviving while his brother could not come home to his wife and children. He probably suffered chronic pain from the shoulder injury, and may have even suffered some use of that arm. Alcohol may have dulled the pain. His injury would have made working as a printer difficult, such as moving heavy metal plates and piles of paper. He may have lost his job and turned to robbery.
At some time in 1878, it appears that George became involved with Catharine Lillian McCabe. Catharine was about 26 and born in New York City. Her parents were Francis McCabe and Mary (Molly) Riley, Irish immigrants. I found newspaper references for a Lilly McCabe who was a singer in Philadelphia, but my grandmother told me she was a dressmaker. There are no marriage records, and George’s military and pension records show that he was single with no dependents. However there are several records which show that Catharine had a child, James Frederick Hooper, on February 17, 1879 (my grandfather, also known as Fred). George Hooper was listed as the father on these records. George was not in Philadelphia for the birth. On December 4, 1878 he became a resident of the National Military Home near Dayton, Ohio. We do not know if he knew about the pregnancy or if he ever saw his son. Catharine married Joseph Kneipp, another Civil War veteran, several years later in April 1889. James lived with his mother and step-father until March 1895, when Kneipp died.
James Hooper continued to live with his mother in Philadelphia until she died on July 5, 1924. Her name on the census reports and her death certificate show that she used both Catharine and Lillian at different times as her first name, and Kneipp or Hooper as her last name. James supported her, working as a clerk and controller for the Chichester Chemical Company. After his mother died he married her nurse, Catherine Loftus, on September 1, 1925. My father, the first of their five children, was born on October 17, 1926.
George’s grandchildren never knew the truth about him. Their father was said to tip his hat when driving past a house where he said the Hooper’s lived, but he never stopped. We think that George’s sister, Sarah Eckfeldt, may have lived in that house. There was talk of a Dr. Hooper who worked in the Philadelphia suburbs and may have been a relative. We know that there is a wealthy Hooper family in Philadelphia with a successful shipping company. While working as development director for the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, I used my Hooper name to help secure a grant from that family’s charitable foundation. When Bruce Hooper from the foundation came to present the check, I told him I might be a poor relative. I have not yet found a family connection.
George lived at the National Military Home in Dayton Ohio from age 38 through 63. I contacted the genealogist for the home, Carolyn Burns, about retrieving medical records. I was curious about why he would have stayed so long at a facility that was primarily intended to house old or sick soldiers.
Carolyn told me George’s records show that he was disabled due to the gunshot to his arm, but that additional medical records are not available. I suspect that alcoholism and possible mental illness may also have been involved. On March 25, 1903 he was transferred to the Government Hospital for the Insane (St. Elizabeths in Washington, DC). That is where he died on January 3, 1906.
While spending half of your life in government institutions may initially sound tragic, information that Carolyn Burns shared with me about his Ohio residence sounds as if life there was better than the way he was living in Philadelphia.
“At the time Mr. Hooper was living here, the Dayton Soldier’s Home as it was called, was “the” place to be. It was almost a tourist attraction. People traveled from all over the U.S. to come and see it. The men who lived here often had jobs at the home. In fact, Mr. Hooper may have even worked as a printer here at the home. It wasn’t like we think of a nursing home today where everybody just sits around and are cared for. ” – Carolyn Burns, Genealogist for Dayton Military Home.
Carolyn provided this link to a website for the facility, which is still operating as the Dayton VA Medical Center: Dayton Military Home virtual museum from 1885. It is from this historical collection that I share these photos depicting how life must have been for George as a resident there. Beautiful gardens, a small zoo, a farm, a lake for boating, a baseball stadium, a theater for the resident band and visiting performers – this place even had the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama on display for a while. (This was one of the four versions on display in the late 1800’s. One of these is now on display at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center.)
The home definitely had a military atmosphere, and the residents wore uniforms similar to those worn during the Civil War. In a photo of men relaxing at the grotto, I spotted the man shown in the photo at the top of this post. I feel this could be George Washington Hooper. I have no way of telling for sure, but the photo reminds me of my father and brother. His eyes look familiar and so do the long hands and fingers which many in our family have.
St. Elizabeths, also known as the Government Hospital for the Insane, was George’s residence for the last three years of his life. This facility also had a large campus, attractive facilities and grounds, and an impressive view of the Potomac River and Washington DC. It was opened in 1852 to provide “the most humane care and enlightened curative treatment” for members of the Army and Navy and residents of the District of Columbia. Dorothea Dix, a famous advocate for the mentally ill, was partially responsible for its design. She witnessed the horrible conditions in which the mentally ill were treated in the early 1800’s, with many receiving no care and locked in jails or poor houses. She campaigned for beautiful surroundings and innovative care for patients. In the 1940s, the facility covered over 300 acres and housed 7,000 patients. Some of the most well-known residents were the mentally ill poet, Ezra Pound, in the 1940’s and John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. He was declared guilty but insane and lived there for 30 years.
Most of the institution’s historic buildings are now empty, but the west campus is being developed as the headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security. The surrounding neighborhood is no longer rural and not the best, as my cousin and I saw when we stopped there on our way to Arlington Cemetery. I took a few photos before the military police spotted me and yelled about it being a secure area. Not wanting to clash with army MP officers again (see my earlier blog from Seoul where I was escorted off an army base), I hopped in the car and told my cousin to get us out of there!
This is the end of my three-part blog on George Washington Hooper. If we discover any further interesting facts about him, Catharine Lillian McCabe, or other relatives, I will share them. I feel satisfied that I know much more about his life and the way the country paid him back for his military service and injury – with care at comfortable homes and a burial at Arlington National Cemetery. He was not perfect, but none of us are. I hope that somehow he knows that his only son lived a good life, and that his grand-children, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren carried on the Hooper name and legacy.
My cousin Fred Bennis and I visited the Ball’s Bluff Battlefield and National Cemetery in late August, 2017, after our visit to Arlington National Cemetery. The Ball’s Bluff battle, which took place on October 21, 1861, was a mostly forgotten early Civil War conflict. However it forever changed the lives of our great-grandfather, George Washington Hooper, and his older brother Andrew.
Although the battle was small, Confederate troops scored what was probably the most complete victory by either side in the Civil War. The Union army battle defeat resulted in the death of one of Abraham Lincoln’s closest friends, and the forming of a congressional committee to investigate the incompetence of the Union army. In some ways the lessons learned there led to later successful battles and the eventual preservation of the Union.
After finding the battleground, Fred and I followed a very steep trail down the bluff. We looked across the Potomac to Harrison Island, Maryland, where George and Andrew Hooper were camped with the Union forces before crossing the river to fight in the devastating battle. It was an eerie feeling standing where so many brave men were killed and injured, in a battle which never should have taken place. Here is the story behind Ball’s Bluff.
George and his brother Andrew were born and raised in Philadelphia. George was an apprentice printer, living with his brother, sister-in-law Eliza, two-year-old niece Eliza and infant nephew Thomas. On May 21, 1861, at the age of 20 (George) and 22 (Andrew), the brothers enlisted as volunteer Union infantry soldiers in the California Regiment. Their military careers did not last long. George was discharged exactly five months later, on October 21, 1861, for wounds he received in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Andrew died from his wounds two days after the battle, on October 23.
Why would Philly boys enlist in a California regiment? This leads to an interesting story behind the battle, and the only US sitting senator ever killed in battle.
Photo: Library of Congress
Edward Dickinson Baker and Abraham Lincoln were lawyers who served together as state senators in Illinois. Their friendship was so close that Abe named his second son, Edward, after Baker. After moving west to California, Baker eventually became the US Senator for Oregon. He had some limited military experience gained through fighting in the Mexican War, but was anxious to join the Civil War action. He was chosen to lead the California Regiment as Colonel in May 1861. Funded by Californians, the regiment was part of an effort to keep California in the Union. The original intent was to enlist men from California, but they found it would take too much time and effort to transport troops to the east coast battles. (At that time there were no railroad tracks west of the Mississippi.) Baker asked his former law partner, Isaac Wistar, to recruit men from his home city of Philadelphia. Consequently the Hooper brothers were convinced to joined what became known as the “California Brigade.” Wistar became their brigade commander.
The Battle of Ball’s Bluff, took place only six months later, and was the brigade’s first battle. The “Californians” were reported to have fought valiantly, but were overwhelmed by Confederate forces and suffered heavy losses. Col. Baker was killed in the battle, and his four regiments were subsequently renamed with Pennsylvania designations. The California Brigade became the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers regiment. It was commonly known as the “Philadelphia Brigade”, since so many members came from that city. After Ball’s Bluff, the brigade went on to fight at Antietam and Gettysburg, where they were part of the famous Pickett’s Charge. The former name “California Regiment” was carved into their monument at Gettysburg.
The Battle of Ball’s Bluff occurred 35 miles west of Washington, DC, on the Virginia bank of the Potomac River. The Confederates called this conflict the Battle of Leesburg, for the town that is two miles away. The steep, heavily wooded cliffs stand 110 feet above the Potomac River. The geography of this battle location put the Union army at a terrible disadvantage.
The Union defeat was blamed on inexperience, poor communication and bad tactical decisions. The small battle (about 1700 men on each side) was fought by Union troops from Brigadier General Charles Stone’s division (under Major General George McClellan), and by a Confederate brigade under the command of Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans. By the end of the battle, Union forces had suffered more than 900 casualties compared to less than 200 casualties for the Confederates.
On the day before the battle, union troops on the Maryland side of the Potomac wanted to learn more about Confederate troops across the river in Virginia. There was no plan for an attack, only surveillance. McClellan ordered Stone to move some troops down the river on highly visible boats, to see what type of response they might get from the Confederates. When Stone received no response, he sent a small reconnaissance patrol across the river from Harrison’s Island to Ball’s Bluff just after dusk. The patrol reported that they the saw tents of a small Confederate camp. In reality, what they actually saw was a row of trees!
Based on this false report, Stone sent a small 300-man raiding patrol across the river, under the cover of darkness, to attack the Confederate camp. He counted on backup, if needed, from a Union brigade of 12,000 men a few miles away. He was never told that those troops were marching in the other direction and were unaware of any fighting. What a difference cell phones would have made, if only they had them.
On the morning of October 21, 1861, Col. Baker reported in to Stone to see what the activity across the river was all about. Stone told Baker that the raiding patrol might need some help, and put him in command of the troops at Ball’s Bluff. Baker had never been the overall commander on a battlefield, but he quickly responded by sending over almost all of his troops (which probably included the Hoopers in his California Brigade). By then a large group of Mississippi and Virginia Confederate troops had arrived, with Col. Shanks Evans, and fierce fighting had begun. Baker put his brigade under control of his friend, Commander Wistar from Philadelphia, while he tried to find more boats. By the time he arrived several hours later, the battle was a disaster.
Baker was advised by other officers to move the entire force away from the bluff. Instead he ordered them into several lines in an open field, with only the bluff and river at their backs. They were easy targets for Confederate troops hiding in bushes and up in trees. Baker urged his troops on, and fought valiantly with them until he was killed. Members of his California Brigade managed to move Baker’s body across the river. Confederate troops forced the remaining panicked troops down the bluff and into the river. Their few boats were swamped. The Union soldiers had the impossible choice of surrendering as prisoners or swimming across the Potomac with bullets flying everywhere. Over 500 men did surrender, but many others were shot or drowned with bodies floating down as far as Washington.
It took several days for news about the Philadelphia Brigade to reach nervous relatives in Philadelphia, such as Andrew’s wife Eliza.
I was somewhat comforted by this section of another Inquirer article. George and Andrew Hooper must have somehow made it across the river to Maryland, and went together to a temporary hospital in Poolesville. At least they were together when Andrew died.
This defeat, coming three months after another major Union defeat at Bull Run, led to the formation of a joint congressional committee in an attempt to figure out what was wrong with the Union war effort. Most battle survivors blamed this defeat on the inexperience and poor tactical decisions of Col. Baker. However, because he had been a good friend of President Lincoln, the committee attempted to place the blame on Gen. Stone. False accusations of treason were used against him and he was put in prison. He was later cleared and released, but his military career was over.
On a side note, there was another young man who fought at Ball’s Bluff and then went on to become one of the most respected, longest-serving Supreme Court Justices. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a recent Harvard graduate, was a lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry known as the “The Harvard Regiment.” He sustained a near fatal injury at Ball’s Bluff, but went on to be injured again at Antietam and then again at Chancellorsville. I wonder if he fought or was hospitalized with the Hooper brothers.
After leaving Ball’s Bluff, Fred and I traveled a few miles to find Andrew Hooper’s grave in Poolesville, Maryland. It was at a tiny old Methodist church cemetery. The prior church building now appears to be a thrift store. In 1861 it was used as a temporary headquarters for General Stone, and a hospital for Union troops injured at Ball’s Bluff. George and Andrew were taken there after being injured in the battle. There were no headstones for the soldiers who died, but a plaque lists their names. Andrew’s name appears near the bottom. The soldiers may have been buried in a mass grave. I can’t help but think of his family back in Philadelphia, and whether he had an actual funeral.
In my next blog post, I will write about George Washington Hooper’s life after the loss of his brother and the horrors he experienced at Ball’s Bluff.
It has taken at least two generations of my family to find George Washington Hooper, my father’s paternal grandfather. Our only clue was his patriotic name, hand-written on an old family tree document, and a story.
As the story went, George Washington Hooper was from a wealthy English Protestant Philadelphia family. He was a descendent of William Hooper who signed the Declaration of Independence. His family disapproved of his marriage to Catharine Lillian McCabe, a poor Catholic Irish dressmaker. They had a son, my grandfather, James Frederick Hooper, who was born in Philadelphia on February 17, 1879. When his son was very young George abandoned the family, never to be heard from again.
Beyond the story we know some facts. Catharine married Joseph Kneipp in 1887, and she and James lived with him in Philadelphia until Kneipp’s death in 1895, when James was 16. James and his mother continued to live together in Philadelphia, where he worked as a bookkeeper for the Chichester Chemical Company. His mother died after a long illness when he was 45, and the following year he married her nurse, Catherine Loftus. They had five children and he died at the age of 64. If he knew much about his father, he apparently did not share that information with his wife or children.
My interest in genealogy began in the late 1990’s and was encouraged by my father. I wanted to prove that we were descendents of William Hooper so that my daughter could apply for a college scholarship from the Daughters of the American Revolution. I reluctantly shared with my family the disappointing results of my research, which indicated no connection between William Hooper in North Carolina and our Hooper ancestors in Philadelphia.
Several years ago my cousins Fred, Cathy and I became determined to learn more about this mysterious great-grandfather, but we kept running into brick walls. George Washington Hooper was listed as the father of James Hooper on our grandfather’s birth and death certificates, and on his draft registration records. However we could not find any other birth, death or marriage information for George.
Fred and Cathy decided to have their DNA tested through Ancestry.com. A few weeks ago Fred was contacted by a woman whose husband was shown on the Ancestry.com DNA report as a probable relative. Her research gave us the clues we needed! Her husband is a descendant of Andrew J. Hooper of Philadelphia, and she suspected that the brother listed for him was the same George Washington Hooper shown on Fred’s family tree. Her research revealed that they were Civil War soldiers who fought together at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, VA, where Andrew was killed and George was wounded. Her research also indicated that George lived many years in military hospitals and that he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
This news got our detective juices flowing! We were able to confirm her research with census records, registries and military records. We also found a photo showing the location of George’s grave – Section 17, grave 17092. A road trip to Arlington became a priority! Cathy was unable to get the day off work, but Fred and I drove down on August 30, 2017.
GW Hooper grave is #17092 in Section 17 of the Arlington Cemetery.
His grave is behind this large rock tombstone which says “Ross”.
His site is across the street from the Rough Riders monument.
(These photos will assist in finding George’s grave, if you visit Arlington National Cemetery. It is right off the road and across from a monument for the Rough Riders. Click on the photos to enlarge them and to read the captions.)
At first we explored the visitor center and the eternal flame at the gravesites of JFK and other members of the Kennedy family. The headstones in this section bore many famous names from our country’s military and political history. Next we arrived just in time to see the impressive and somber changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From there we walked to section 17 at the back of the cemetery. We followed a map and numbers on the tomb stones, and after a short search we located the grave. Unfortunately they are replanting the grass in his section, but that did little to dampen our excitement in seeing our great-grandfather’s name in this national shrine to those who have served our country. “We’ve been searching for you for a long time,” I told him.
Fred at the Kennedy gravesite with the eternal flame.
Robert E. Lee’s home is in the background. The family vacated the property during the Civil War.
Quotes from JFK are at the monument.
As we left the grave, Fred and I passed a funeral in progress for a Marine with full military honors, including a horse-drawn carriage carrying a flag-covered casket and a full military band playing the Marine’s Hymn. I imagined a much simpler, quieter ceremony for George when he was buried on January 6, 1906. He died at the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington DC on January 3, 1906. Hospital records show his sister, Sarah Melvina Hooper Eckfeldt from Philadelphia, listed as his closest relative. (The records also show that he was single with no children.) I hope she was there, with her family, for the burial. Fred and I also speculated on how long it may have been since anyone had visited his grave – perhaps more than 100 years.
We will probably never know if our grandfather, James, knew that his father fought in the Civil War and received the honor of a burial in Arlington National Cemetery. I fervently wish that my father, and his two brothers and two sisters, had known before they died. My father, James F. Hooper, Jr., was proud of his military service and visited Arlington, without ever knowing how close he was to his grandfather’s resting place.
After Arlington, Fred and I traveled to the Civil War Balls Bluff Battlefield in Leesburg, VA. On October 21, 1861, George was shot in the arm there and his brother Andrew was killed. From there we drove to a small church graveyard in Poolesville, MD, where Andrew is buried. In my next post I will share what we’ve learned about the battle and the famous regiment they fought with.
Fred and I also drove around the government hospital in Washington, DC where George died. It is also known as St. Elizabeths Hospital and it has a fascinating history. I will provide background on what his life might have been like there, and in the National Military Home near Dayton, Ohio, where he spent much of his life. We also have some insight into his life and family in Philadelphia. He was probably not the rich English man who abandoned his wife and son that we thought. George Washington Hooper may actually have been a young Irish wounded Civil War veteran, working as an apprentice printer, who spent much of his life in military hospitals. It appears that he was not married and never knew he had a child or his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I have been home from my three-week Far East adventure for two months now. Impressions of the wonders of Japan and South Korea are already starting to fade. I am grateful for the many photos, and my blog, to help me look back upon these memories in the years to come. I also created two slideshows, so that my family and friends can share in my experiences. Links to the shows are at the end of this post.
My overall impression of Japan can be summarized as an elegant mixture of contrasts. Tokyo, and to a lesser extent Kyoto, were as modern as any city I’ve visited in the United States. Yet interwoven throughout these cities are temples, parks and shrines which allow a visitor to become immersed in their very ancient culture. Japanese residents we passed on the street, or who shared our subway cars, seemed rushed, serious, well-dressed and focused. Still they take time to enjoy a stroll through the beautiful gardens or a party under the cherry blossoms. The cities are packed with high-rise buildings and streets clogged with cars, pedestrians and bikes. Yet their apartments and homes are small, with minimalist and efficient design adorned with small touches of beauty. In general, the people we met were polite but not overly friendly.
While Japan was much as I expected, Korea was a complete and delightful surprise! Although there were some similarities in culture and food, the overall vibe was totally different. South Korea is every bit as modern as Japan, if not more so.
Words to describe the city of Seoul are: friendly, fun, colorful and young. There is a reason that my granddaughters are enjoying their time there. Koreans seem to love children and provide then with an amazing selection of playgrounds, shows, parks and children’s museums to entertain and educate them. Teenagers and young adults have fashion and music that is playful (think “Hello Kitty”) and are glued to their cell phones. They can shop for street food, skin care and trendy clothing at markets throughout the city every day and night. They love to sit in cafe′s sipping espresso (sometimes accompanied by cats, dogs, sheep, etc. to keep it interesting). You don’t get a sense that they worry much about their ominous neighbors to the north. As an American, you feel welcome there.
Ready to board – but there is no train
On the faces of the older people, who lived through the Korean War, you see greater understanding. I have tremendous respect for the South Koreans, who rebuilt Seoul and much of the country after extreme postwar devastation. There is a reason why everything is so new, and the few historical sites left there have been rebuilt from rubble. They know how the uneasy truce with North Korea could so quickly change. I feared for them as I looked across the DMZ at North Korea, and now when I hear about the escalation of missile launches. I am proud that my son is working to provide intelligence on this situation to the US and South Korean military forces. I will, however, feel relieved when he and his family are back in the USA early next year!
Note: you need to click on the photo a time or two to launch the show.
P.S. I will now be concentrating more effort on my business, Your Story Productions. The slideshows are on my website, which describes the slideshows, photo organization and life story assistance we can provide. Keep me in mind if you would like help sharing your adventures or telling your story!
We had two other day trips in Seoul that I will describe, and one incident that was too funny not to share. I’ll start with that.
Jenn took me to the Namdaemun traditional market in another of Seoul’s neighborhoods, where there were hundreds of street vendors, sidewalk sales and stores in a several block area. It looked like a good place to finish up my souvenir/gift shopping. I told her to go pick up Liana from preschool, and that I would find my way home on the subway. It was great fun, I was finally becoming adept at buying things with the South Korean won (currency), and was even able to talk a vendor down on the price of an item.
When I got back, I was excited to show Jenn and the girls all of my great buys – including an adorable Minion onesie for my 2-month-old grandson, Carter. Jenn burst into laughter and opened the package to show me that what I had actually purchased was a dog outfit! The girls were thrilled when we decided that their dog, Dewey, would be the recipient of this gift. Sorry Carter – you’re getting socks.
Anyone that knows our family also knows that we love zoos. So one of our excursions was a visit to the Seoul Zoo. The zoo had just reopened after being closed due to bird flu, and on the day we visited they were still doing a lot of season-opening construction work. Nonetheless we enjoyed the day, especially the lion exhibit. Our timing was just right to see them being fed. We also had ice cream in a little snack shop within the lion enclosure (accessed by a bridge). Lions sat right beside the windows and we could even look down through a glass floor to see them walk underneath us. A unique experience!
We ate ice cream in the center of this lion enclosure
Eric and I spent my last Friday at The Garden of Morning Calm, one the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. (That is saying a lot since I frequently visit the beautiful Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, near our home.) A warm sunny day, with the cherry blossoms, tulips and azaleas in bloom, was a perfect time to visit.
The garden is located about 1.5 hours northeast of Seoul in a mountainous area of Korea. It was a delight to leave the modern city and highways behind and drive through small towns and villages. This Gyeonggi-do area is popular for Seoul vacationers as well as foreign tourists, and reminded me a little of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Eric and I stopped for lunch at one of several cheese fondue restaurants on the road to the garden. I did not expect fondue in Korea, but of course it came with meat grilled at your table and sides of kimche and other condiments.
Eric and his family have visited the gardens several times, including during the winter season when they decorate the gardens with millions of lights and ornaments. It is made up of many individually themed gardens, greenhouses, tea houses and an art gallery. It is the oldest private Korean garden, with elements of oriental and modern design.
Eric and I spent several hours exploring the gardens and taking many, many photos. Here are some of mine. Please note that there was also a coffee shop. I have never been in an area that loved coffee more!
Even with two weeks in Seoul, it was still not enough time to see everything. One evening we went out for delicious fried chicken in the Dongdaemun area, where Korea’s domestic fashion design is centered. It has become a center of international design. We did not stay late enough to explore their night market, which doesn’t open until 9 pm every night and closes at dawn. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza, used for fashion shows and exhibitions, looked like a giant space ship.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
A rather strange statue
A forgotten river that was uncovered and flows through this part of the city
We did not visit the Gangnam-Apujeong area of Seoul, which is the richest area of the city with high end stores. Not being a fashionista, I was content to miss that shopping experience. I was surprised that Seoul is also a mecca for skin care and beauty supplies, with shops everywhere. I had to buy a larger suitcase to bring home all the treasures I found. I also kept thinking how much my sisters (who are much more into shopping than I am) would have loved Seoul.
We spent most of our time in the Itaewon shopping district, which is the neighborhood just outside the Army post. I read that this is the area to go if you want to buy a custom-tailored suit, and there were also beautiful fancy dress shops. (The girls love to window-shop there.) We stopped at the neighborhood McDonalds, which was very modern and looked more like a Starbucks. I enjoyed a delicious shrimp-burger, which should be added to the menu at home. We also enjoyed the American-style pancake house in this neighborhood, and the churros and ice cream shop is a Sipos-family favorite.
McDonalds – Korean style
Churros and ice cream
At last, it was time to say goodbye to Seoul – and sadly to Eric, Jenn, Liana and Willow. (I probably won’t see them again until they return to the US early next year). Although a trip to Japan was on my list of “must-see countries”, South Korea would never had made the list if the US Air Force hadn’t deployed Eric there with his family. It was a wonderful discovery, with such a mixture of ancient and modern, danger and calm. I felt a true connection to the South Korean people, and I pray that some day the problems in North Korea will be resolved and their dream of a peaceful unified country comes true.
My next blog post will be a slideshow. It will probably take a few weeks to get that together. From there – more retirement adventures… Thanks for reading my blog!
In this post I will go back to my days in Seoul before the trip to the DMZ.
Easter was a beautiful warm sunny day filled with holiday activities. Vice President Mike Pence was visiting the Yongsan army post to attend church with the troops, which increased security and traffic. We decided to stay on post and attend what was listed as a Catholic mass, but turned out to be a very lively Pentecostal service. (The chapel must be used for multiple religions.) The kids enjoyed all the clapping for a while, but when the testimonials went on for over an hour, we had to leave and get lunch. We spent some time dying Easter Eggs and decorating them with craft supplies that Grandma Weber sent. In the late afternoon, Liana and Willow enjoyed the neighborhood Easter egg hunt, followed by dinner and Eric’s birthday cake (a day late) for dessert.
Willow hard at work
Liana showing her creations
The finished eggs
“Happy birthday Daddy”
I decided that on Monday I was brave enough to head out alone to explore the city. My first stop was the National Museum of Korea. It had a very impressive collection of art and artifacts from before the Bronze Age to modern day. The artwork was not just from Korea, but also from Japan, China, India and Southeast Asia. I spent several hours exploring the exhibits and shopping in the beautiful gift shop.
Gold crown & girdle from the Silla Kingdom
Stone Buddha from the SeokSeokguram Grotto (751 AD)
Bodhisattua (14th Century)
A hall of Buddhas
Korean warrior statue
After stopping in the coffee shop for an Americana (watered down espresso but the closest thing they have to American drip coffee) and cheesecake, I ventured out into the pouring rain and then the subway. My next stop was The War Memorial of Korea where I planned to learn more about the Korean War. I was disappointed to find the memorial is closed on Mondays. I was still able to walk around and see the statues and exhibits outside the building. On Tuesday I went back to tour the inside. I found the Statue of Brothers to be especially moving. I read that it depicts two brothers who fought the Korean War on opposite sides and were reunited on the battlefield. It symbolizes hope for national peace and Korean reunification.
Korean War Monument
Statue of Brothers
Flags of the 21 nations that supported the Korean War
Equipment used during the war
The War Memorial covered much more than the Korean War. Korea, situated between China, Japan and Russia, has been at war against foreign invasions since the prehistoric age. The exhibits on the Korean War held the most significance for me. Like many Americans, I knew little about the war beyond what I watched on the MASH TV series. In less than three years, 5 million soldiers died in the war, including 40,000 Americans.
For a simplified explanation: Korea was under Japanese control until the end of WWII. After the war, the country was divided at the 38th parallel, with Russia overseeing the North and the US in charge of the South. On June 25, 1950, North Korean communist leader Kim Il Sung, backed by the Soviet Union, sent 75,000 North Korea People’s Army soldiers down to attack South Korea. The United States felt it was important to stop the spread of communism, so fought with the South Korean Army. It was the first Cold War, and a total of 21 nations came to the support of South Korea under the direction of the United Nations. US General Douglas MacArthur lead the war efforts, and the combined forces pushed the North Koreans back across the border and deep into North Korean territory, in an attempt to unify Korea. However that became too close for comfort for communist China and they threatened to join the fight. President Truman and others felt this could start World War III. MacArthur was fired, fighting was suspended, and negotiations resulted in creation of the DMZ to keep the North and South separate.
On Tuesday night, Eric and Jenn got a sitter to stay with the girls and we went out for Korean BBQ. Our waitress cut the steak into small pieces and cooked it on a stove at the center of our table. It was served with vegetables (like kimche) and sauces that we rolled into lettuce wraps. It was delicious.
After dinner they took me to see the “young and cute” side of modern South Korean culture. I had already observed that many young women embrace the “little school girl look” (think “Hello Kitty” with pigtails, short skirts and knee socks). You also see bright-colored animated characters everywhere. Some of those are the Line Friends, and we went to a large Line Friend store. It was full of stuffed animals and related merchandise. Apparently the store attracts more adults than children and, of course, it has a coffee shop where we had dessert.
“The scariest place on earth,” President Bill Clinton.
Since rising tensions with North Korea are top news items now, I decided to skip ahead a few days to blog about my last tour in South Korea. On Saturday, April 22, my daughter-in-law, Jenn, and I took a bus tour an hour north of Seoul to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). My son Eric made arrangements for us to take the bus from Yongsan Military Post with other military families and visitors. Earlier that week, Vice President Mike Pence visited the post, and he also toured the DMZ.
As a bit of background, the DMZ is 151 miles of the most heavily fortified border in the world, where about two million troops face each other, prepared to go back to war at any minute. I was surprised to learn that the Korean War never really ended. An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, (I was three weeks old), to cease the fighting without a formal peace agreement. Korea was divided by a Military Demarcation Line and a 2.5 mile DMZ (a no man’s land) was established between the countries. The zone is monitored by a small group of Swiss and Swedish officers (the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission). There have been skirmishes over the last 63 years, with a small number of casualties on both sides. The United States was committed to defend South Korea in a 1954 treaty, and Eric currently works with the US and Republic of South Korean Armies as part of that defense.
Our South Korean tour guide provided background and prepared us for what we would encounter upon arriving. First South Korean soldiers came onto the bus to check passports and grant us access. Then we drove to Camp Bonifas, where US Army personnel took over. Security was extremely tight, and upon leaving the tour bus we were only permitted to bring our cell phones and cameras (no bags of any kind) and small items in our pockets. We were told when and where we could take photos – and only in the direction of North Korea.
We attended a short orientation presentation, during which a soldier asked if any of us harbored a desire to defect to North Korea. I wanted to laugh, but was too scared! We then moved with our Army escort to a military bus for the remainder of the DMZ tour. At one point he shouted at someone at the back of the bus taking an unauthorized photo and told him to delete it.
From there we were taken to the Joint Security Area. We moved through the Freedom House building, so-called because the South Koreans built it so that families separated by the war could meet. Sadly, the North Koreans have not allowed anyone to come.
They lined us up in two rows facing the North Korean Army headquarters, with the blue buildings (used for joint negotiation meetings) between us. I was front and center, with Jenn behind me. I could just see the North Korean Army guard facing us, and in the enlarged photo below you can see him more clearly. We were warned not to interact with the enemy by words or gestures (I couldn’t quite manage a smile when Jenn took my photo.) Apparently they sometimes have tours on the North Korean side as well, and they stare at our soldiers.
North Korean building
North Korean soldier
After about ten tense minutes there, we were led into one of the blue meeting buildings. We saw the conference table with the United Nations flag, and the South Korean guard standing in a taekwondo stance with clenched fists and wearing sunglasses. Some people in our group posed for pictures with him, but that didn’t feel right to me. I did walk to that side of the building, so that I could say I was actually on North Korean soil, and then took a photo of the concrete Military Demarcation Line marker on my way out of the building.
South Korean Army Guard
Military Demarcation Line
Our next stop was the Dorasan Observatory, where we could look over the DMZ and see North Korea. I referred to the DMZ earlier as a “no man’s land”, and after 60 years it has become home to a wide variety of wildlife, including nearly extinct Korean tigers and leopards. (Unfortunately, some animals are occasionally killed when they set off land mines.) On both sides, large loudspeakers blare propaganda and military music at each other up to 20 hours a day. We could only hear what the South Koreans were playing. I could not figure out why they were playing the very un-military old pop song, “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls!
Daesong-dong is on the right with the white South Korean flag
Kiiung Dong with the red North Korean flag
A huge surprise to me was that there are two towns within the DMZ. The town of Daesung Dong consists of about 100 people who lived there before the Korean War, and their descendants. They are primarily rice farmers, are cared for by the South Korean government, and they don’t have to pay taxes. Everyone in the town has an 11 pm curfew. Just 1.38 miles away (also in the DMZ) is the North Korean town of Kiiung Dong or, as it is referred to by the South Koreans, “Propaganda Village”. The North Koreans claim that 200 farmers live there, but high-powered telescopes show no people and windows that have no glass. They do have the world’s 4th highest flagpole. They erected this 525-foot pole after South Korea raised a 323-foot flagpole in the 1980’s. (Is it wrong of me to find this “who has the longest pole” fight hilarious?!)
Six miles north of the DMZ is the Kaesung Industrial Park, built by South Korean companies to use cheap North Korean labor to make items such as shoes, clothing and watches. As late as 2013 the factories employed 53,000 North Korean workers and 800 from South Korea. However when North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb in February, 2016, and relations between the countries broke off, the factories were closed.
The third section of the tour involved a walk down The 3rd Tunnel. This is one of four tunnels dug by North Koreans under the DMZ for a surprise attack on Seoul (27 miles away). A defector told the South Koreans about it and the unfinished tunnel was found in 1978. It is a mile long, 240 feet underground and went 1427 feet into South Korea. The tour involved a walk down a long decline wearing a hard hat because of the low ceiling. (That saved my head from a bad bump several times.) It was a really long walk back up the incline. No photos were allowed.
Once back on the tour bus, we were taken to the Dorsan Station. This was constructed in 2003 as the first railway station on the Gyeongui Line, intended to go to the North Korean capital of Pyeongyang and beyond. Because of worsening relations with North Korea, the railroad was never built. It still looks very real. I also bought some North Korean wine at the station – it was pretty awful!
For lunch we had an hour at the Imjingak tourist site – also known as Peace Park. Jenn and I had Korean food and ice cream and explored the park. It is not in the DMZ, but the Freedom Bridge (which South Korean POW’s traveled down after the war) ends there. Signs indicated that the park symbolized the sorrow caused by the Korean War, as well as the hope for a reunified Korea. South Korean people go there to be as close as they can to family members in the North. It also has a small amusement park, which seemed strange. Jenn and I could feel how hard this 63-year division has been on many Koreans, particularly older citizens.
Bridge to Freedom
Flags and and memorials placed at the end of the bridge
Memorial ribbons for loved ones tied to the fence
A sculpture made of rocks from battlefields from every continent
On the drive back to Seoul we passed the barbed wire fences, guard posts and rock drops (refer to my 4/20/17 post) along the Han River. Gradually the fences disappeared and we could see the citizens of Seoul enjoying a beautiful, warm Saturday afternoon beside the river – a world away from the tense atmosphere of the DMZ.
Saturday, April 15, was Eric’s birthday. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and we spent it exploring the Gyeongnbok Royal Palace and the nearby Traditional Folk Museum of Korea.
The royal palace sits at the end of Seoul’s main street, near the Blue House (like our White House) and Seoul City Hall. We passed large demonstrations. It seemed that some people were protesting the anti-missile systems which USA recently put in place against the North Koreans. But others were there to promote women’s rights. This is also where the huge protests took place recently that lead to the impeachment of South Korea’s president due to corruption charges.
We reached the Gwanhwamun Palace Gate just in time to see the changing of the guard. We then entered a huge courtyard and began to explore the many ornate buildings in the palace complex. This was the main royal palace for the Joeson dynasty, and was built in 1395. It was destroyed by the Japanese during several occupations and rebuilt each time. The palace once had 330 buildings and a staff of 3000 (research indicates that this included 140 eunuchs) serving the royal family.
I particularly enjoyed the Korean Folk Museum because it covered the history of the Korean people, including their customs, religions, dress, food and ceremonies. Current day Seoul is so modern and “western”, it is sometimes hard to see their rich cultural heritage. The museum also had a great children’s area which Liana and Willow enjoyed. My observation was that the Korean people love children, with so many museums, parks and other activities dedicated for their enjoyment. I found it funny that, as we traveled through Japan, Liana continually said, “In Seoul, South Korea….” as an introduction to all the wonderful things I would see when I got there. It makes a grandmother feel better about the distance between us, knowing how much the girls are enjoying their two-year stay in Seoul.
This was an exhibit showing the traditional hanbok formal dress, which South Koreans still wear for festivals and celebrations. Women and men wear a jeogori – an upper garment like a blouse or jacket. The women then wear a full wrap-around skirt with a petticoat underneath. Men wear loose pants called baji, and they both wear outer coats or vests. The clothing is often brightly colored with ornate embroidery. The man on the right is wearing a samo hat, worn by officials. Men also wear a gat, which looks like a tall top hat with a wide brim (see below).
Thursday, April 13, started with an introduction to life on a military post. There was a problem with my visitor pass which resulted in three hours of going from place to place with Eric to get the problem fixed, and to get back my driver’s license which was being held hostage by the MP’s (military police). Eric and I started getting worried, in addition to annoyed, when we were escorted to a small room by a MP with a gun on her belt. Yikes! Apparently we were not provided with correct info by the Korean guards when getting my temporary pass, so we received a lecture on “proper procedures”. By the time that was done, Eric needed to leave to pick up Liana from pre-school, and I got a little ride in the back of a police car with an American and Korean Army MP, who escorted me to the main gate. The guards got a talking to and I finally received my pass and license. In a recent “have you ever” quiz I was asked if I ever rode in the back of a police car. Now I can say “yes” – with multi-national guards!
The day got better. Jenn and I went to Insadong Market to see local crafts and to do a little shopping. That was an area where tourists rent traditional Korean clothing, similar to what we saw in Kyoto. Whereas they wear kimonos for traditional ceremonies in Japan, in Korea they wear hanbok. We also stopped for some delicious bingsu, a type of creamy shaved ice, with strawberries.
On Friday Eric, Liana, Willow and I had a great time at Zoolung, an indoor Animal Theme Park. We had to drive there, and there is only room for two car seats in the back of their small Mazda, so Jenn got some “me” time. We drove out of the city north along the Han River, and I started to see signs that we were approaching North Korea and the DMZ. The river had barriers and barbed wire, with manned guard posts. As for the roads, we saw several “rock drops” designed to drop rocks and debris to block the road if enemy vehicles approach the city.
Zoolung was an amazing place – for kids and also for taking close-up photos of animals and birds. I truly wish I could find a place like this in the USA – I know that my other grandchildren (and John) would also have loved it. I let Eric use my camera, and he got some great shots of the kids and animals. Click on photos to enlarge them.
Here are some of Eric’s animal photos:
Nemo and a few Dorys
Remember when I wrote about the Dr. Fish beauty treatment for feet? At Zoolung they had those little fish, and they were very intent on removing the dead skin from my hands. It was a weird feeling, but I can see how you could get used to it.
The girls also enjoyed a bubble show, and had a great time playing in the whale playground. They both take after their Dad and love to climb. They are quite the cute little animals!