Monday, December 26, 2011

A Conversation with General George Washington

I first met General George Washington (a.k.a. Carl Closs, "Living Biographer") while visiting Valley Forge in 1998, the General standing in full uniform with a heavy, dark blue wool officer's coat keeping him warm as he greeted guests at the Park. With his cockaded three-cormered hat and 18th century sword, he is an impressive figure, his 6 foot 2 1/2 inch frame towering above the women and children coming to meet him. It was almost ten years later that we'd talk at length about our country, the Revolution and what America meant to him during an event at the historic Hale-Byrnes House near Newark, Delaware. This was the start of a great and very interesting friendship.

Carl explained to me, as we sat at a picnic table at the Hale-Byrnes House (where Washington, Lafayette and his other top Generals planned the looming Battle of the Brandywine in September 1777), that our country was not planned as a democracy- but as a republic. Since the times of the ancient Greeks, republics represented systems whereby citizens could voice their opinions and participate in decisions which would guide their own future. Our country was founded on these same principles and Closs (dressed superbly as General Washington)  explained to me the sacred values which were the foundation of this republic that he and his rag-tag Army fought for 235 years ago.

In the last year I've become good friends with this man, who despite his nearly 70 years of age shows the vitality of a 50-year old. I've talked with him about his thoughts on Washington, our system of government and what our country has become since the struggle began back in 1776. His depth of knowledge regarding the people and events which generated our system of government is truly inspiring.

Carl feels that Washington was- by far- our greatest President, not only because he agreed to lead our fragile democracy during its time of dire need and uncertainty, but because he engendered the virtues which we don't often see in today's politicians: honesty, humility, integrity, strong dedication to principle and devotion to a cause which they are willing to die for. Washington believed deeply in Divine Providence- that God guided him and the other Founding Fathers to pursue a sacred cause: liberty. Washington's fervent support for "The Cause" (he rarely used the word "revolution" or "war") was in large part the reason why we succeeded not only against the British, but also in the early desperate years as a fledgling republic. You can feel this devotion as he speaks; as you view his towering frame and graying ponytail, you sense the presence of his hero, our greatest President, George Washington.

Thank you, Carl... and deepest thanks to the General, without whom we wouldn't be having this discussion. God bless you, General Washington... your devotion lives on today in this man... and in the hearts and minds of millions of patriots who now have the ability to call themselves free Americans. To learn more about Carl Closs, go to his website at

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Night at Historic Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia- Our "Sleep With the Ghosts" Adventure

On Saturday October 15th, 2011 my wife and I along with two others drove out to Old Fort Mifflin, one of the few remaining, fully intact Colonial-era forts from the Revolutionary War in the mid-Atlantic region. The Fort is located just South of Philadelphia along the Delaware River and under the flight path of planes approaching Philadelphia International Airport, a noisy reminder of the dramatic changes in technology we've seen in the 235 years since our struggle for independence began. The Fort had advertized a "Sleep With the Ghosts" night, which apparently has attracted dozens of both professional ghost hunters and thrill seekers over the past few years. As someone with a scientific education and working background, I was initially hesitant when my wife Phyllis asked if I was interested in the event. Yet I quickly jumped onto the opportunity, having her book it as I shared my analytic curiosity in potentially experiencing something quite fascinating or at the least, entertaining. We told two family members that we'd bought them tickets and were all excited as the day neared.

As we drove up to the location, the bleak landscape with tawny-grey wild grasses and muddy, pebble-strewn paths reminded us that the Fort was originally named Mud Island, Colonial planners constructing an earthen fortification in hopes of guarding this marshy portion of the approach to the port and capitol Philadelphia, protecting against possible attacks from the British Navy. Leaving the parking area, part of our group went to the main facility outside the Fort walls to register, while I walked slowly around the antiquated moat which rims the structure. I quickly noticed a man riding a large tractor/mower cruising toward me. As he stopped, we started to chat about the event planned for that evening.

"I heard a while back, a groundskeeper here stumbled into a ditch, which was discovered to be the now-famous Casement #11- the one that's supposed to be haunted by some Civil War soldier who died here."

"That would be me. I'm the groundskeeper. Name's Floyd and I was the one who tripped and almost fell into the Casement."

Staring at him as he spoke, I noticed he kept his head tilted, with one eye slightly lower than the other, giving him an eerie look. "I'm Gene. Good to meet you, Floyd. Very interesting. Do you get much time to check out the Casement and other parts of the Fort? It's supposed to be haunted. I think there's been several ghost-hunting crews here that even got them on film."

"Yeah, I've seen them. I live here."

The last three words sent a shiver up my back, but I turned as I heard the group approaching. "Well, good to talk with you, Floyd. Our group is here." He drove off, his head still slightly cocked as he stared at me.

"That's the guy!! He was the groundskeeper who discovered Casement #11."

"Really? That's interesting. We can go inside now, we're all registered." Phyllis put the receipt in her purse as I pulled the suitcase on its wheels toward the entrance gate. After we got situated in our rooms, we ate hoagies on the earthen bank of the Fort as the sunset bathed the area in a golden shimmer, the last rays enveloping us as we walked back to our room. With darkness surrounding our group of 15, we were led to a small room near the Officer's Barracks where a Paranormal Group led by a 35-ish woman with a bright red ponytail shared their experiences at Fort Mifflin.

"I've been here many times over the last few years and I've gotten some wild stuff on these recordings. I want you all to hear just a few..." As she pressed the "PLAY" button, the computer screen showed the noise levels with rising and falling columns denoting sound intensity. The first recording, with its apparent "ghost" voice, was nothing more than a muffled indecipherable noise, but the next two were captivating, many people in our group leaning closer as she replayed each "event". Armed with the knowledge that these professional techno- ghosthunters were firm in their conviction that we were surrounded by spirits, we all walked with flashlights out ino the starry night.

"Let's not go to Casement #11 right now. It'll be too crowded. We can check out the other sites along the edges."

Going into the Blacksmith's shop, the Officer's Quarters and several other building from the 1820- 1865 period, we saw and heard... nothing... but when we finally got to Casement #11, where William Hauk was kept and later tried as a prisoner of war for having killed a Union officer, things changed. Hauk had been hanged right there at the Fort and died there. Two people in our group said they were certain they heard a woman screaming in the distance- and Phyllis' sister Sue saw a rock thrown at her feet- when there was no one else nearby. I stayed most of the time outside the Casement, keeping my flashlight ready, growing sleepy sitting on the cold, damp wall. We all went to bed, with me thinking that I hadn't seen any evidence whatsoever of other-worldly creatures.

I awoke about 5:30 a.m. and walked down to the far end of the barracks in a bitingly cold breeze to use the restroom. When I came out, I turned off my flashlight as the night gave way to the twilight of the dawn. As I stood looking at a large grey-white patch of cement on the side of a building in the center of the complex, I noticed two figures approaching in the dim, charcoal-grey morning. One was much taller, I assumed to be a man, alongside perhaps his wife, coming toward me to use the facilities. As they passed in front of the white patch of wall, I clearly saw their silhouettes despite the limited visibility. Then I watched them come closer and their shadows... disappeared. I looked again and noticed there was no one there- no people approaching me... and I walked back to join the group warming themselves in front of the fireplace in the building nearby.

"Well- I don't believe in ghosts, but I just saw something I can't explain. I noticed two people walking toward me as I stood out in front of the restroom just now... and they just... vanished..." After discussing it for several minutes with the ghosthunters, I tried to analyze what I'd seen. I could only arrive at one conclusion- it was unexplainable.

We packed up the car and departed for our home in Kennett Square- and I replayed the image over and over again in my mind. "I do believe that our energy never ends- never dies. In that sense, perhaps there is a force, a presence of those who've gone before us- some people call them ghosts- and what I saw was a manifestation of that."

"So- you're a believer now?" Phyllis asked as we got onto I-95 heading South.

"I think... I am..." I said as I watched a United Airlines 747 roar above Old Fort Mifflin.