Archive for January, 2011

When the Challenger exploded, there we were

January 27, 2011

Challenger’s trail of vapor from Diane`s second-floor balcony on Merritt Island

Hmmm, that is weird and kind of pretty I thought, as I watched the Challenger’s trail of vapor from my second-floor balcony on Merritt Island, Fla., 10 miles from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. It was Jan, 28, 1986, a crisp, clear Tuesday, a little after 11:30 a.m.. The cloud formation was so interesting that I took a photo, shown here. I didn’t assume anything had gone wrong. Unthinkable.

Then my brain caught up. How can this be? Odd became ominous. I switched on the TV. And that’s when I heard the news. The Challenger had exploded. I called my friend and colleague Connie Ogle. “Connie, turn on your television. Now!” We were both due at work in a few hours to edit and lay out the news section of Florida Today, the local paper.

The crew of the Challenger's final flight (photo Wikipedia)

I’d lived on “the Space Coast” of Florida for two years and never missed a shuttle launch. I’d scan the sky while my windows rattled. Always I was overcome by the enormity of the rocket, the science, the human achievements. Most of my paper’s readers were connected — through work, family, or allegiance — to the space program. In 1985, my pal Scott Kline and I got press credentials to view a launch from the VIP stand. Standing in the bleachers with the shuttle just across a small pond I will forever recall that rush of watching the space shuttle fire up and shoot into the sky while the ground shook below us. Awesome.

Connie and I went to the newsroom early that day, along with the entire editorial staff. We scrambled to put out a special edition. Of course this was the shuttle launch that the entire country —  no, the world —  was invested in, the first one carrying a civilian, New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe. All eyes were on the flight, and, by default, on our community. The press already was everywhere, and more reporters flooded in after the explosion. And there we were, shellshocked, working on the hometown paper, trying to soothe our readers who had grown up with NASA in their back yards.

Challenger's rollout to the Vehicle Assembly Building on Cape Canaveral in 1983 (photo Wikipedia)

The craziest part was the journalistic rush coupled with personal depression. I guess everyone whose job thrives on emergencies feels this way. We were news people at the center of the world’s news. But the news was horrific and dragged us down.

That day and every day for months we wrote and edited pages and pages of shuttle coverage. And of course it was all the residents discussed. I remember feeling relieved that I’d recently moved away from Cape Canaveral, the closet beach community to the space center.  For weeks after the explosion, volunteers and NASA workers combed that beach for shuttle parts. For body parts. I was glad to not witness that. I’d moved off the beach to temporary digs in Merritt Island because I was headed to Europe in the spring. In April 1986, I left behind Cocoa, Cape Canaveral, the Space Coast and Florida Today, where still pages and pages were devoted to that day — the weather, the O rings, the sorrow.

January 28, 1986. Twenty-five years ago. A defining moment for all of us there, from the Space Coast to the other side of the planet. 

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Old Salem, N.C., a Moravian miracle

January 23, 2011

Friendly gunsmith demonstrates how he makes muzzleloaders

What does Wachovia Bank have to do with the Moravians? Funny you should ask…

While touring Old Salem, a history museum/attraction and a neighborhood in Winston-Salem, NC, last week, we learned the answer. Salem (which later joined with Winston) was settled by Moravians, a German-speaking religious sect, in 1766. They came from Pennsylvania to build on a 100,000-acre tract called Wachau, meaning stream and meadow.

When William Lemly decided to move his tiny bank from Salem to next-door Winston in 1879, he needed a new name. Voila: Wachovia, the English form of Wachau. Of course Wachovia will soon be but a banking memory when Wells Fargo finishes its takeover, but that’s another story.

Here’s what I most enjoyed about Old Salem, which re-creates life in the 18th and 19th centuries:

Home Moravian Church constructed in 1800

The whole area has a nice feel because the town, and Salem Academy and College, have grown around Old Salem, which makes it seem more authentic.

Several acres of gardens focus on heirloom plants, impressive when you have a tight budget and staff. Originally, each lot in the community of 300 Moravians included a garden. In the spring and fall, they grew cabbage, lettuce, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower; in summer, squash, okra, peppers, cucumbers, beans and peas. I can’t say it looked great in the dead of winter, but spring is around the corner!

The St. Philips complex includes the restores 19th-century church for black worshippers. Apparently the country’s largest community of black Moravians lives in Winston-Salem. The congregation now has a bigger, newer church, but still worships here on fifth Sundays and during special events. The brick church, from 1861, is the oldest standing African American church in NC. These days, a large number of Moravians internationally are black, with many congregations in Africa due to a long history of mission work.

God's Acre, burial ground of the Moravian Church since 1770

God’s Acre, a 1770 burial ground, is still in use. The evangelical Moravians organize their cemeteries in large squares reserved for “choir” groups within the congregation, and even today are separated by gender instead of family unit. No comment on that.

For folks who need more modern-day action, yes there are gift shops, dining options, and costumed interpreters playing such roles as gunsmith, pharmacist, potter, tailor, tinsmith, and baker.

The 1858 Coffee Pot marks the northern end of the historic district

The 1858 Coffee Pot was once used to advertise a tinsmith business and now graces the northern end of the historic district. That’s a lot of coffee.

The newish Visitor Center is quite impressive. Open since 2003, it contains a couple shops, very nicely done illustrated timelines, an auditorium, and a ticket area. We remarked that the woman handing us tickets and maps explained the layout and attractions to us as if we were the first people she’d ever shared this information with instead of the 2 millionth. Quite remarkable! She helped set the tone for a lovely day of yore.

High honor for Durham’s dining scene

January 8, 2011

So this morning I’m reading the New York Times’ feature “Where to Travel in 2011,” which is online now and will be in print in the travel section on Jan. 9 and I’m zipping through the entries, places like Koh Samui, Thailand; Loreto, Mexico; Park City, Utah; and then I get to No. 35: Durham, N.C. Excellent choice, y’all, and not just because it’s my hometown.

For those of you not registered with the Times’ website, here’s what writer Ingrid K. Williams had to say about us in the piece titled “A downtown turnaround means food worth a trip.”

“A decade ago, downtown Durham was a place best avoided after sundown. But as revitalization has transformed abandoned tobacco factories and former textile mills into bustling mixed-use properties, the city has been injected with much-needed life. In the heart of downtown, a crop of standout restaurants and cafes has recently sprouted around West Main Street, where low rents have allowed chefs and other entrepreneurs to pursue an ethos that skews local, seasonal and delicious.

Visit Scratch at 111 Orange St.

The farmers’ market favorite Scratch Bakery has a brand-new storefront for its seasonal homemade pies that include chestnut cream pie and buttermilk sweet potato pie. At the cafe-cum-grocery Parker and Otis, the menu features sandwiches made with freshly baked bread from nearby Rue Cler and locally roasted java from Durham’s Counter Culture Coffee. And at the sophisticated Revolution Restaurant, squash tamales, mascarpone gnocchi, and tuna with wasabi caviar rotate through the seasonal menu.”

Thanks for that, Ingrid, and to the Times’ editors for including us in this list that will bring more visitors to sample our many wonderful offerings, food and otherwise. Congrats to those who got shout-outs, and of course there are dozens more businesses who deserve them as well.