Last week marked the Centennial anniversary of when America officially entered World War One. As I’ve been digging for information on my American relatives from that generation, I’ve also been finding more about Martin’s German family from that time period.
We got a hold of these photos just last year, showing Martin’s great-grandfather Georg. He was a career military man who joined in the late 1800s: he was already a non-commissioned officer by the time German fighting broke out in 1914.
The photo on the left was taken sometime between 1908-1912. The photo on the right is dated 1915. By then, he had five children at home, all under the age of 7. The difference in his appearance is remarkable. He survived the war, living well into his 60s, long enough to see two of his three sons conscripted into the Wehrmacht during WWII and taken as POWs by the Russians.
Only one son (Martin’s grandfather) returned after several years.
[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]D[/dropcap]uring our farewell tour in Cincinnati last week, my boys and I paid a visit to Union Terminal. It opened in 1932, and was one of the busiest locations in the whole city as all the train transportation for this area passed through it. And as all superhero and comic book fans may recognize, it was also the inspiration for the “Hall of Justice.”
These days, it doesn’t receive nearly as much train traffic, and is known as the Cincinnati Museum Center since it houses three separate and distinct museums. The place is amazing, and while we were there in Cincinnati, voters in Hamilton County overwhelmingly supported an issue that will raise taxes to pay for the upkeep and preservation of the building.
We were so excited by that news! Not only did I work there in high school as a performer in the Natural History museum, but my Dad is now an official volunteer there, too.
That place feels like home.
So, Martin, Jaz, and I paid a visit while the girls spent time with Nona and Aunt Jill.
Once we got there, we went straight to Tower A, which wasn’t open to the public when I was younger. You can see all the train tracks from there, and they’ve restored a lot of it. The views are amazing, and Jaz loved the toy train sets set up there for visitors.
After hanging around there for a little bit, we connected with my Dad who invited us back down into the main hall. The whole building was constructed in the Art Deco style, and it’s half-dome is amazing. It’s bright yellow, and there are colorful stone murals depicting the early days and evolution of Cincinnati. The acoustics are spectacular, and every now and then, an organ plays music to echo in the halls.
As soon as Jaz walked into the room, the organ began to play “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss — also known as the theme to Space Odyessy: 2001.
Now, you may know that Jaz is a huge Superman fan and more often than not, he’s wearing his Superman (or some superhero) shirt. It happens so often, I don’t even realize it anymore. I swear to you, his shirt didn’t dawn on me until I bent down to take a photo of him in front of Union Terminal and remembered the “Hall of Justice” connection.
So to have that music play as he entered the hall?
Perfect. Just perfect.
After the song ended, my Dad gave us his official tour, which included a pass by the various miniature train sets set up in the Cincinnati History Museum. Having him as a guide was so amusing and we tried to trip him up, but he stuck to his guns and relayed a lot of information. I think you could wander those halls for years, and still learn something new each time.
One other thing we accomplished that day: our son’s first visit to a hair salon. We were getting family portraits taken and I wanted him and Martin to look their best. Normally, I cut my men’s hair in the kitchen with clippers, but I didn’t bring them with me to Ohio. So, we did a walk-in and it was also pretty amusing. Jaz was not interested in any of it, which surprised me. Normally, he’s pretty tolerant when I cut his hair. But I think a new environment (and a much-needed nap) overwhelmed him, and he just didn’t enjoy it all.
And it’s not that I like seeing my son distressed … but I found it pretty adorable. The hairdresser was super fast, and he was done in less than five minutes. He left there with a sucker and a balloon, and was fast asleep by the time we pulled out of the parking lot, looking dapper as always.
My Dad started taking us to cemeteries shortly after the divorce. I realize that sounds pretty dark, but he was merely being resourceful. Money was tight, so frequent trips to the movies or zoo were out of the question. So, rather than have the three of us kids be restless and cramped in his small apartment on the weekends he had us, he decided to share his passion for history and fact-finding by driving us around to local cemeteries to find relatives, interesting tombstones, and remnants of the Civil War defenses put up in that area. Then, if we found any cool names, dates, or trends (like a group of people all dying around the same time), we headed over to the county library to research obits on Microfiche.
So, a trip to the a cemetery with my dad was in order on our farewell tour.
Right around this time a few years ago, I was preparing to attend my first high school reunion.
That was fun.
I spent a lot of time scanning in photos from dances and events to send to the reunion organizers. This was one of the photos I found, but didn’t submit, but I posted it on the blog with a few thoughts for the girl in the photo.
He didn’t say anything about it, but thought it was odd there were so many crosses leaning against such a large boulder on the side of the road. He assumed the crosses were for driving fatalities, and wondered how so many could happen at that one spot.
I didn’t see it.
I was too busy in the passenger seat, looking at our cell phone while navigating our way to Stacey’s house along a winding, tree-covered mountain road over the weekend.
It wasn’t until later that evening when we learned the story behind the rock and the crosses.
It was the point of impact when an airliner carrying 85 passengers and 7 crew members slammed into the side of the mountain on its approach to Dulles airport nearly 40 years ago.
We learned that little tidbit as we were sitting around in Stacey’s house, chit-chatting with the other adults. We were sharing stories of personal haunting experiences, things we remembered from childhood that scared us, or even things we experienced as adults that made us pause. This was to be expected, I suppose. Stacey is an author who has published several “horror-lite” books and articles, and with a background in anthropology and archaeology and a passion for both history and the paranormal, her stories are always good.
So, it’s not surprising that we were talking of such things.
However, I think it was one of her neighbors who first brought it up, and Stacey confirmed that the spot Martin had seen on the side of the road was, in fact, the scene of a violent and horrific tragedy that took place decades earlier.
Of course, once we got home late that evening, I got online and immediately researched it.
It was TWA Flight 514, and it crashed on December 1, 1974 shortly after 11 a.m.
The flight originated in Indianapolis, Indiana and had a lay-over in Columbus, Ohio. It was meant to land at Washington National Airport, but due to weather, was re-directed to land at Dulles Airport instead.
Because it happened in 1974, there wasn’t an avalanche of information readily available on the Internet. Not like other, more recent airplane disasters.
But I did find quite a bit online, especially since that specific plane crash changed a lot in the aviation industry. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was split as to what caused the crash, and eventually it was decided it was a combination of many things, but mostly miscommunication and language used between the pilots and the air traffic controller. They learned that six weeks earlier, a United flight almost met the same fate due to the same miscommunication errors, but the pilots were able to divert the plane in time.
So flights became safer because of the lessons learned from the crash of TWA Flight 514.
So the crosses are there, and a small plaque listing the names of those killed. It’s not permanent. It’s just placed there, balanced on top.
But in that space, even without the small plaque and the crosses, I’m sure a person coming upon the spot would know something definitely happened there.
On Sunday, as we were driving home, I had Martin pull up alongside the boulders so I could get some pictures. I intended just to hop out, take a few, and jump right back in since it’s just a two-lane road there on the mountain.
But as soon as I stepped out and closed the door, Martin pulled away, leaving me there. He saw a space up ahead where he could park off to the side and wait for me.
But it left me alone in that spot.
And it was quiet.
I turned to face west, and could see the very trees that in the old black-and-white photos were razed and cut away decades ago. They’ve grown back, of course. But they’re not as thick and tall as those around.
I turned to the east, and faced the boulders.
When the plane hit, the nose cone slammed into the boulders and disintegrated. In my online research, I read many accounts made by locals who lived near the spot, who recalled where they were and what they were doing when they heard the sound of the airplane hit. Many said they could feel it, even being miles away. With the sort of force, the debris flew up the mountain and into the trees up there.
The most identifiable piece of aircraft was the tail with TWA on it. The rest was just bits and pieces, spread over a large part of the land. Even now, decades later, folks can still find things up there. In my Internet search, I’ve found blog and forum posts and pictures from as recent as last year, describing things like singed and dated clothing, credit cards, wires, and aircraft pieces found up in those woods.
I didn’t dare go up there myself.
My curiosity allowed for me to stand there at the boulders, but that was enough for me. For one thing, Martin and the kids were waiting for me down the road. But also, while I wouldn’t say I was spooked, I was definitely aware that there was an energy that demanded from me some respect and reverence. The idea of picking around up there and disturbing the area just didn’t appeal to me.
That kind of energy, the damage, the loss of life … I think that sort of thing stays around and gets absorbed in the places where these things happen. It was similar to how I felt in the 9/11 chapel at the Pentagon, at the 9/11 site in New York City, the Oklahoma City memorial site, and on the Civil War battlefields surrounding our area. And on the hill in Northern Kentucky where the Beverly Hills supper club caught fire and killed 165 people, to include some of my father’s cousins.
Life goes on, of course.
But I think it’s definitely worth something to pause, learn and reflect wherever history presents itself.