Mobile AL – Alpha for Mardi Gras, Omega for USS Alabama and Epsilon, Zeta and Sigma Thrown in for Good Measure

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May 1st 2018
Published: May 20th 2018
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Oh, Queen of Mardi Gras, You DamselOh, Queen of Mardi Gras, You DamselOh, Queen of Mardi Gras, You Damsel

Mobile History Museum - Mobile AL
The drive from French Quarter RV Resort in New Orleans LA to I-65 RV Campground in Mobile AL on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 was short and uneventful. I was set up by early afternoon and headed for the Visit Mobile Welcome Center to get some tips, particularly dining tips as Uncle Larry really likes fresh seafood. After my visitor center stop, I cruised about town and happened upon an interesting-looking ma and pa kind of eatery named Roshell's Seafood Cafe & Family Diner. Of course, I sat at the counter only a few feet away from the food preparation area. While I was awaiting my food order, I watched the cook making hamburger patties for the next day that had to be about 8-9 inches in diameter. The menu calls them “pure Angus steerburgers,” and they come in a dozen or so variations. Of course, a conversation with the cook ensued. Third-generation owner, Marty, told me that his grandfather had opened the business in 1953. Roshell’s is the longest standing restaurant in Mobile that is run by the same owners/family – another restaurant has been in existence longer but has had several unrelated owners over the years. I had a nice seafood platter of fried oysters, shrimp and two fish filets with hush puppies, fries and coleslaw. After I finished my meal and he had finished his preparation for the next day, we talked extensively about RV travelling, which he hopes to do someday, and I got some tips for touring the Mobile area.

My cousin Pat and his wife Allison drove down to the RV park from their home in Andalusia AL on Thursday. We chatted for a while in the Bighorn and then went for lunch at Felix's Fish Camp Restaurant in Spanish Fort AL where we had some great seafood. The Crab Soup might be the best cup of soup I have ever eaten. As of 2017, it has been voted the Mobile area's best soup for nine consecutive years. A brief aside, later during the week (after visiting the nearby USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park) I returned to Felix’s to purchase a gallon of the crab soup; however, I abandoned that idea when I learned the cost – over $50.00 per gallon. I hadn’t even looked at the price when I had ordered the cup a few of days earlier!

After lunch, we headed for Blakeley State Park, also in Spanish Fort. Blakeley State Park is located on the former town site of Blakeley and encompasses an area once occupied by settlers in what was a thriving river community. Confederate soldiers were garrisoned there during the Civil War and faced superior Union forces in the last major battle of the U.S. Civil War, the Battle of Fort Blakeley. The engagement took place from April 2 to April 9, 1865, involved over 16,000 soldiers and ended on the same day as the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House VA. In 1993, Blakeley was named a Class A Civil War site by the United States Congress, and the park is now part of the Civil War Discovery Trail. Some remnants of battlefield operations remain, including the Confederate breastworks that cross the park, but little evidence remains of the Blakeley town site itself. For Civil War enthusiasts, Blakeley State Park would enhance understanding of the battle, but for the casual observer, it’s a nice park with several nature trails and an interesting boardwalk.

Friday found me heading for Old City Hall, which was also known as Southern Market. That facility is an historic complex built between 1855 and 1857 to serve as city hall and as a local marketplace, go figure. It currently houses the History Museum of Mobile and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973. In the entry vestibule, 8-10 murals portray various themes such as Science and Invention, Fraternity, Power of Local Opinion and Transportation along with some pretty cool architecture. There is no map of the museum, and the attendant said there was no true starting point, a notion with which I must disagree. Look for a portal labeled “Old Ways, New Days: The Story of Mobile.” I entered through the horseless carriage exhibit and made a retrograde tour of Mobile’s past; therefore, I will trace my steps backwards and progress through this blog as though I had made a chronological journey through the historical area of the museum.

The first exhibit area, Beginnings: Early People – 1813, presents two mannequins dressed as a Choctaw Hunter and as a Spanish Explorer followed by examination of the period of the British Colonists, 1763-1780, and then that of the Spanish Colonists, 1780-1813, which includes Mobile’s role in the War of 1812. An extensive, emotional exhibit covers the slavery era, including a representation of life aboard a slave ship, replica shackles for the visitor to don and slave auctions. Specific exhibits I found of interest told of the “Voyage of the Clotilda,” the last ship to deliver imprisoned African Americans to Mobile Bay and of lynching, named for Charles Lynch of Virginia and practiced as early as the Revolutionary War. In its early days, lynching was a non-racial, non-lethal practice of vigilante justice which dealt with the unsavory characters of a community through flogging, tarring and feathering and/or running the person out of town; however, in the Post-Reconstruction era, lynching “changed to fit racially intolerant and sadistically lethal ideologies. Victims were often stripped, beaten, humiliated, hanged, and burned while spectators watched with amusement.” The exhibit also identifies six factors that contributed to racial violence.

Several other “Mobile Milestones” are outlined including “The (1927) Cochrane Bridge,” that provided the first non-water route across Mobile Bay, the construction of “The State Docks” in 1928, which provided economic growth for the area and, of course, The Great Depression and World War II. The historic exhibits area continues with segregation and integration subjects and ends with the revitalization of the downtown area. After leaving the historic area, one finds a display of numerous historic silver pieces and the aforementioned horseless carriages.

Other “rooms” in the repurposed facility contain an unbelievably detailed collection of a dozen or so doll houses; a portrait gallery of historically influential Mobilians (hell, I don’t know but it rolls of the tongue easily); a Mobilian “Hall of Fame,” including Henry Aaron; the history of Mardi Gras in Mobile, the birthplace of the event in the United States; a discussion of the hows, whys and wherefores of being Creole; a city timeline; and “Building Ships Along the Bay” – an incredibly interesting lesson which includes the construction of early submarines. For any history buff who visits Mobile, the museum is an absolute must see. City Hall and Southern Market is architecturally significant unto itself, and the small collection of well restored horse-drawn vehicles is interesting. The park across the street hosts the only architectural remains of Colonial Mobile and an interesting handful of Mardi Gras statues all decked out in festival attire.

My next stop was Mobile Carnival Museum where I had an unpleasant experience but nothing that can be placed on the shoulders of the attraction. First, I arrived just as two groups arrived. The first, and merely seconds before my entry, was a disorganized family of 8-10 people (including one very unruly little boy of 3-4 years) representing at least three generations that took over ten minutes to pay for admission, impromptu souvenirs and other paraphernalia. Just as I got my turn at the cash register, a small tour bus arrived with a handful of pre-paid middle-aged folks. The cashier gave me my choice, and I took the more elderly group. Bad choice! Well, truthfully, I really don’t think I had a good choice.

When I got a new smart phone a couple of years ago, it had been suggested that I keep my first smart phone (now four years old) merely for photography so I don’t exhaust the battery in my real phone. Two years ago, I had heeded that advice, and life was wonderful. A week earlier, when I was in New Orleans LA, my “camera” had quit working but I had a ton of pictures on it which I didn’t want to lose. I knew I would have to visit Verizon sooner or later but had procrastinated, hoping to stumble upon a store when I had some extra time. Well, Uncle Larry had used his real phone to take pictures at City Hall and Southern Market and had taken about half a dozen pictures at Mobile Carnival Museum when my phone died. It not only died but locked up just as it had when I had forgotten the “camera” and was touring the museums at Fort Hood TX two weeks earlier. Phones, phones, phones! Issues three weeks in a row!

The Mobile Carnival Museum is housed in an elegant repurposed house and has incredible artifacts on display. My tour guide was the tour bus driver who was interesting and knowledgeable while being emphatically apologetic for being “on a deadline” he had to meet to get his passengers back to the hotel by X:XX hours and for having to offer an abbreviated, rushed tour. Indeed, we skipped a few rooms because there was “not enough time for that room.” Although the bus driver/tour guide was as gracious as he could be, I considered offering a protest and insisting on a second, unhurried tour; however, with no camera, what was the point! All I would gain from a second tour would be a narrative I wouldn’t remember next week anyway.

Well, what does one do when frustrated? Eat! My next stop was back at Roshell's Seafood Cafe & Family Diner to dig into a “pure Angus steerburger.” I opted for the Ponderosa Burger, one of fourteen variations on the menu – an 8-ounce patty with bacon, mushrooms, garlic, hickory, Swiss and American cheeses, tomato, lettuce and onion. It was sloppy-good and came with a generous serving of napkins! After my meal, I renewed my conversation with owner, Marty, and told him of my plans for Saturday. He gave me some helpful hints from a local including a dining suggestion. What, an eatery owner offering business to his competition! The miles of separation mitigate that dilemma, but I thought it was a noteworthy endorsement. I am unwilling to tackle The Great Adventure with an unreliable phone OR camera so my final stop of the day was at Verizon where I learned my “camera” battery was toast. I ended up with a new phone; however, I was told that the “camera” might work with a new $40.00 battery. I put that idea on the back burner for consideration.

Saturday, April 28, 2018 found me heading for Dauphin Island AL and The Estuarium. A bridge accesses the island from the north, and there are a handful of
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The Estuarium - Dauphin Island AL
streets at the east end of the island; but the main roadway extends westerly for only about half the island’s narrow length. I drove westerly until I reached the end of the road and returned to my destination which is adjacent to Historic Fort Gaines at the east end of the island. Fort Gaines Is an interesting-sounding nineteenth century bastion that protected Mobile Bay from the west while its counterpart, Fort Morgan (Fort Morgan State Historic Site) in Gulf Shores AL, stood sentry on the eastern shore. I put both forts on my “if-I-am-still-a-professional-tourist-at-age-90” list.

An estuary is the tidal mouth of a large river, where the tide meets the stream, in this case the Mobile River. The Estuarium is an educational public aquarium that focuses on the Mobile Estuary, the fourth largest estuary system in the United States, and highlights the four key habitats of coastal Alabama – the Mobile Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands and the Northern Gulf of Mexico – by showcasing the plants, animals and other natural resources found in the Estuary and its surrounding marine habitats. It includes the Living Marsh Boardwalk, a 10,000 square foot Exhibit Hall, a 7,000-gallon sting ray touch pool and 31 aquariums
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Mobile Bay Ferry - Dauphin Island AL
totaling over 30,000 gallons and more than 100 species on display. The Estuarium is interesting, is much more that an aquarium and is a “should see” for the young and the young at heart eager to learn while visiting Mobile.

I got in line at the Dauphin Island boarding point for the Mobile Bay Ferry. There was a wait of about 35-40 minutes so I learned some new tricks on the new phone, downloaded a couple of apps and tweaked the settings during the wait. I headed north to Foley AL and Stacey Rexall Drugs & Olde Tyme Soda Fountain where I ordered a Green River. Green River soda was first introduced in 1919 in Chicago and was a popular soda fountain drink on a hot, muggy day during my youth when I had an nickel to spend at Robbins Drug Store. Stacey’s has a full-fledged, old-fashioned soda fountain compete with hand dipped ice cream treats. Whenever I have the opportunity, well, count me in!

I drove to Daphne AL and attempted to find Booth Sculpture Park to no avail and, not yet ready for a meal, headed east toward West Pensacola FL, south to Perdido Key FL and then entered my next destination in the GPS – Doc's Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar in Orange Beach AL. Marty, from Roshell’s, had recommended Doc's and the soft-shell crab sandwich it offers. “The Ole Spider Burger” is described on the menu as a “Big ole crab – deep fried golden brown, on a bun w/all da fixin’s.” The place was crazy busy in mid-afternoon, but there were a couple of stools at the bar – just to Uncle Larry’s liking. My food came amazingly quickly and was delicious. I headed back to the Bighorn with a full belly.

After only one day on the back burner, Monday, April 30, 2018 found me headed to a battery store to get a “camera” battery. The relic works fine, and I was able to harvest the photos I took in New Orleans. Aside, I don’t know what’s up with the “middle-aged” phone, but I’m now using the “relic” (with a new battery) for my camera and a brand-new phone for talk and text. I ponder the merits of donating an UNRELIABLE MISFIT to the “For 911 Use Only” box! My next stop was at the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum in Mobile. This small museum has been relocated to its new site adjacent to Hank Aaron Stadium, home to the Mobile BayBears, a professional minor-league baseball team in the Southern League. Inside, there is one exposed wall which shows the original construction and some original appliances in the kitchen but make no mistake – emphasize the word museum when telling people about the institution. Nicely done and worthy of a visit by the sports fan.

My next stop was the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile. This attraction is really two facilities wrapped in the same newspaper. First is the memorial park with a $4.00 entrance fee, and second is the battleship USS Alabama with its own $13.00 price tag for seniors. The memorial park has several, ta-dah, memorials and several military land and air vehicles on display. The Alabama Vietnam Veterans Memorial was a vision of several members of the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter. The memorial was originally designed as a single wall to honor the 175 men from Mobile and Baldwin Counties who died in Vietnam. Later in the planning process, circumstances caused the design of the memorial to be changed, and two, black-granite walls were built – one wall was built for the Lower Alabama vets, those from Mobile & Baldwin Counties, and a second wall was built to honor all
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Service Dog War Memorial - Battleship Memorial Park - Mobile AL
the other Alabamans who died in Vietnam. Vietnam veterans raised all the money for the memorial and then built it. There is a standing POW bracelet that welcomes visitors, a Huey mounted on a pole overlooking the site and a bronze statue of a 50ish-year-old veteran stands nearby, "Remembering."

Battleship Memorial Park itself honors all veterans of all wars; however, specific memorials found in the park include the Korean War Memorial; the Fallen Guardian Memorial, honoring those whose lives were lost in service to the U.S. Coast Guard; the OUTSTANDING (my opinion) Service Dog War Memorial, which honors the dogs who served our country; and the Fallen Hero 9/11 Memorial, that pays tribute to all the Alabamans who have given their lives in service since 9/11. Along with the memorials, an M26 Pershing tank, a M48A1 Patton tank and a Vietnam PBR Gun Boat are on display.

I made my way to the USS Alabama store, purchased my ticket and headed for the historic ship. The keel of USS Alabama was laid at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth VA on February 1, 1940. When completed, she sported a main battery of nine 16" Mark 7 guns housed
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Battleship Memorial Park - USS Alabama - Mobile AL
in three three-gun turrets. They could fire a 2,700-pound armor-piercing shell some 23 miles. Her secondary battery consisted of twenty 5" guns mounted in twin-gun dual purpose turrets, which could hit targets up to 9 miles away. The 45,000-ton vessel, home to a crew of 2,500, began her World War II service in the North Atlantic in 1943, went to the South Pacific later that year, led the American Fleet into Tokyo Bay on September 5, 1945, opened in Mobile as a museum ship in 1965 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1986. She was awarded nine Battle Stars for meritorious service. The USS New Jersey, a sister to the Alabama which also had 16” guns, served offshore while I was in Vietnam. I heard those 2,700-pound projectiles as they screamed through the skies above and saw the effects of their powerful impact. We all were glad we were not on the receiving end!

I have toured a few historic naval ships during my travels and have to say that the USS Alabama is near, if not at, the apex of those attractions. The turrets of both the 16" and the 5” guns are open to the public and are extremely interesting, the scale of the 2,500-member crew services (such as kitchen and laundry) is mind-boggling and the sheer size of the ship itself is surprising. My only criticism is that additional directional arrows should be deployed. I found myself, as did others I encountered, revisiting some areas due to a poor choice of passageways (left vs. right) that brought me back to a previously seen area. USS Alabama is highly recommended, particularly for those with little or no historic naval vessel experience.

Tuesday, I made a scenic drive to Andalusia to spend another day with my cousin and his wife. We solved a few more of the world’s problems, and I enjoyed a great catfish lunch – not really one of their favorites but definitely one of mine. I had a nice time in Mobile. It’s a city I have passed through many times and always resolved to stop someday. Someday finally arrived. There are interesting attractions in Mobile, but there is nothing that “rattles the rafters” so to say. Most of the travelling public could see the three main attractions, the USS Alabama. The Mardi Gras Museum and the History Museum of Mobile, in a
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Battleship Memorial Park - USS Alabama - Mobile AL
very full day of tourism, but few could keep themselves entertained for an entire week. When I began The Great Adventure, the travel gods never promised a sojourner’s nirvana!

Additional photos below
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Placards Provide Brief History LessonsPlacards Provide Brief History Lessons
Placards Provide Brief History Lessons

Mobile History Museum - Mobile AL
“But Master, I Really Need to Take a Dump!”“But Master, I Really Need to Take a Dump!”
“But Master, I Really Need to Take a Dump!”

Mobile History Museum - Mobile AL
“Off to the Auction Block with You!”“Off to the Auction Block with You!”
“Off to the Auction Block with You!”

Mobile History Museum - Mobile AL

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