Historic Methodist Campground in Des Plaines, Illinois

In 1860, members of the Methodist Church began having tent meetings along the Des Plaines River, and after a few years erected hardstand buildings at the site. The small spiritual community grew to 35 acres and contained a large tabernacle, approximately 100 cottages, 30-room hotel, cafe, and even a swimming pool.

I have fond memories of the old Methodist Campground at 1900 E. Algonquin Road. My dad and I would ride bikes along the Forest Preserve trail and venture into the campground for an ice cream or cold soda at the cafe. The camp sometimes hosted Civil War reenactments. I spent two summers at day camp there, and swam in the pool (which was open to the public) on hot days.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Unfortunately, severe flooding in recent years made renting the cabins undesirable, and only 20-30 are currently occupied. Water sometimes rose to the second floor. Heritage House, a cabin built in 1870, is sagging and appears in danger of collapse.

The camp’s core, around the snack shop and old hotel, appears well maintained, but it’s sad to see the state of disrepair in the rest of the camp. A New Age group plans to revitalize the location, but when I passed through last summer, it didn’t look like much progress had been made.

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Unchain the Thunder

Monument to Col. John Stanton Slocum (1824-1861) in Swan Point Cemetery, 585 Blackstone Blvd in Providence, Rhode Island. Slocum commanded the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry Regiment and was killed on July 21, 1861 at the First Battle of Bull Run. The 2nd RI was deployed in Burnside’s Brigade, which initially drove Confederate forces back during the opening phase of the battle.

Unchain the Thunder

Great Swamp Battle Monument

A stone monument deep in the Rhode Island wilderness marks the site of the bloodiest battle of King Philip’s War.

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The Great Swamp Fight (or Great Swamp Massacre) was fought on December 19, 1675 between New England forces and their native allies commanded by Governor Josiah Winslow, Major Samuel Appleton, Governor Robert Treat, Major William Bradford, and Chief Uncas, and the Narragansett Tribe commanded by Chief Canonchet in the Great Swamp in present-day Washington County, Rhode Island during King Philip’s War. The battle was a major colonial victory, resulting in the near-destruction of the Narragansetts.

In the summer of 1675, after a breakdown in relations with New England colonists, Metacom (King Philip), sachem of the Pokanoket Indians (the same tribe that helped the Pilgrims survive their first winter), began to raid English settlements. The New England Confederation raised an army in defense, and after several raids and counter-raids, decided to strike the neutral Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island before they could join forces with Metacom.

On the chilly day of December 19th, an Indian guide led approximately 1,000 New England militia and 150 Pequot Indians through the frozen Great Swamp to a wooden palisade, which the Narragansetts had fortified for the winter. Their initial attack was poorly coordinated and beaten back, but after a long struggle, they overwhelmed the defenders and burned the fort. The Narragansetts attempted to escape, but hundreds including women, children, and the elderly, were killed. The colonists lost 70 killed and 150 wounded.

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Adirondac and Tahawus Ghost Town

On September 6, 1901, Anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley in the stomach in Buffalo, New York. As he lay in agony, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who was vacationing in Vermont at the time, left to be at his side, but stayed with family at the Tahawus Club in the Adirondack Mountains along the way.

Since the President appeared to be recovering, Roosevelt decided to climb Mount Marcy. On September 13, word reached him that McKinley was dying. Roosevelt rushed down the rough mountain road on his way to Buffalo, where he learned he would become the next President of the United States.

The Tahawus Club ruins can still be seen today, at the Upper Works Trailhead at the end of Upper Works Road (County Road 25). The sportman’s club was built on the ruins of an older town, called Adirondac, which businessmen Archibald McIntyre and David Henderson built for their iron miners and lasted from 1826 to 1853. A titanium mine opened in 1940, and the newly christened town of Tahawus grew to over 80 buildings. That mine closed in the 1980s, however, and the structures quickly deteriorated.

Today, not much remains of this ghost town. Beautifully illustrated interpretive signs explaining the area’s history have been erected at the site, and one building, called the MacNaughton Cottage, has been preserved. Crumbling brick chimneys stand as memorials to the rest. The remains are roughly located at 44°05’12.6″N 74°03’21.0″W.

Son of a Gun – Amateur Effort Sours an Otherwise Promising Film

This indie film based on a Civil War legend had potential but ultimately fell below the standards of a made-for-TV movie.

A Confederate surgeon invents a battlefield legend to protect a young woman from an intolerant society in Son of a Gun (2019), written and directed by Travis Mills. This indie production reels in its audience with an interesting premise but from the first scene to the last, falls short in nearly every category of filmmaking.

The year is 1863. Union and Confederate armies are locked in deadly combat near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Battlefield surgeon Legrand Capers (Miles Doleac) is pulled away from a wounded soldier to tend to a young woman (Jessica Harthcock) at a nearby farmhouse who was shot in the abdomen by a stray bullet. Months later, he returns to learn the woman is pregnant, yet she insists she’s a virgin. The stray bullet, passing through the soldier’s scrotum, must have somehow impregnated the woman! At least, that’s what an elderly Legrand Capers (Cotton Yancey) tells a group of old-timers at a tavern.

Things get complicated when the film unravels three separate versions of events, with different actors and actresses playing the various roles. Each version leads the audience further away from fantasy and toward the scandalous truth. Finally, as Capers is dying of tuberculosis many years after the war, he is confronted by the family’s former slave, Mamie (Nancy Lindsey), who knows what really happened.

Son of a Gun’s use of multiple perspectives and multiple casts to tell the story was unique and not as confusing as it sounds. The actor who played middle-aged Capers, William Shannon Williams, was subtly charming and fit the role well, as did actress Nancy Lindsey. For the most part, the performances were fine. It was the amateurish sound and editing that cheapened every scene.

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Battlefield Tourism in Decline

At a time when American history is being fought over in the social and political arena, a sharp decline in visits to our national battlefields reveals a sad lack of public appreciation for our nation’s history.

To me, there’s something deeply important about visiting museums, forts, and battlefields, which is why I write weekly articles about historic sites and events. It’s one thing to read about a battle in a book. I’ve read dozens of books on the American Civil War, at least ten on the Battle of Gettysburg alone. But until you stand on the actual ground where those armies fought, you’ll never have a complete sense of what happened there.

Battlefields are more than just lifeless monuments and interpretive signs that tell a story. You are standing on the same dirt those armies trampled 150 years ago, that same soil over which men fought and died, whose wounds bled into that very ground. Standing on Little Round Top at Gettysburg National Military Park, you can imagine the gray columns advancing through the smoke from the perspective of a Union soldier.

That’s not something you’ll ever experience in a classroom.

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