Thursday, July 2, 2020

HGB Ep. 343 - The Forts of Mobile Bay

Moment in Oddity - Exploding Whale Park
Suggested by: Mike Streibel

How does one get rid of a large rotting whale on the beach? It's probably not a question you have ever pondered, but if you live in a coastal town where dead whales wash up on the beach, you could face this rather large, stinky problem. This very problem happened to Florence, Oregon back in 1970. A large dead sperm whale was found putrefying on the beach and this posed a real health issue. Officials needed to move it, but there was a big problem...why yes, we ARE referring to the size of the whale. This whale was too large to be moved. Officials came up with a great idea that proved to be a poorly thought out solution. Why not dynamite the thing? And that is just what they did on November 12, 1970. Everybody came out to watch and all the local news stations covered the explosive event. And we bet they all wished they had stayed home. Paul Linnman, a reporter for KATU, described it this way, "The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds." Yep, there were bits of whale everywhere. It slammed into the local laundromat and other buildings in the area, a large chunk of blubber crushed a car roof and everyone in attendance got a gory shower of blood and blubber. The hope had been that the whale would explode into little bits for crabs and birds to carry off, but there were still big pieces that the city ended up burying under the sand. One would think a city would not want to commemorate this moment in history, but Florence did. On June 13, 2020, a new park was dedicated with a name that residents voted for in huge numbers. That name is Exploding Whale Memorial Park and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Coca-Cola Classic Returns

In the month of July, on the 11th, in 1985, the Coca Cola company brought back their original formula after the huge blunder of introducing New Coke. I'm a big fan of Coke and I'll never forget the day I tried New Coke. This was not a pleasant experience. Coca-Cola had been losing market share for years against Pepsi and other non-cola drinks, so the company decided to reinvigorate their brand by introducing a reformulation. Tastes tests with 200,000 consumers helped Coke to make the decision, which new formula to go forward with. What Coke didn't realize is how attached we Coke lovers are to that original formula. Calls flooded into Coke's hotline and their offices around the country. People hoarded the old Coke. There was a huge upheaval and Coke decided it would be best to bring back the original formula and they named it Coca-Cola Classic. Eventually New Coke became Coke II and now it is no longer available and Coke is just Coke again. And while the new formula was a blunder, the marketing goof actually worked wonders. It rekindled loyalty and love for Coke and many advertising experts call this an intelligent risk.

The Forts of Mobile Bay (Suggested by: Josh Nash)

At the mouth of Mobile Bay in Alabama sat three forts, Fort Gaines, Fort Powell and Fort Morgan. Fort Powell no longer exists, but both Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines are still here. All of the forts saw action in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines would also see action in the Spanish American War and both World Wars. Many people died at these forts and that has lead to stories of apparitions and other paranormal activity. Fort Morgan is considered one of the most haunted locations in Alabama. Today, the forts are historic sites that can be toured and there is even a creepy escape room for adventurous souls. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the forts of Mobile Bay!

Mobile Bay is a shallow inlet of the Gulf of Mexico that is 413 square miles, making it the fourth largest estuary in the United States. There is an abundance of seafood in the deep waters of the bay that comes up to the shallow coastline during the summer and locals call this a jubilee. They easily collect crabs, shrimp, eels, flounder and other fish. This bay is the only place in the world to have jubilees happen regularly. Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to map the bay and they named it Bahia del Espiritu Santo, meaning the Bay of the Holy Spirit. They would continue to visit throughout the 1500s. The name Mobile would come from a town established by Chief Tuscaloosa of a Mississippian Native American tribe named Maubila. This was located north of the bay and was destroyed by Hernando de Soto. The Spanish never had luck setting up a settlement, but the French did in 1702. Part of Mobile Bay is Dauphin Island, which is a barrier island at the mouth of the bay. Dauphin means "prince" in French, but it originally was called Massacre Island because the French found large piles of human bones there. This had not been a massacre site, but rather a burial mound that had been opened up by a hurricane. The French built a fort here along with a chapel, warehouse and some homes. This would serve as a major port that passed through various hands until the early 1800s when it became the property of the United States.

The original fort to stand where Fort Morgan is now, was Fort Bowyer and this was built in 1813 by the U.S. Army. It was attacked twice during the War of 1812 with the British being defeated the first time, but forcing the American troops to surrender the second time. When the war ended, the Americans got the fort back and it served as defense until construction on Fort Morgan began in 1819. The fort has a unique design that has lead to it being referred to as the "finest example of military architecture in the New World." This resembles a five pointed star and was designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was constructed from brick, sandstone, granite, cement, iron work and mortar using slave labor.The name Morgan was chosen to honor Revolutionary War hero General Daniel Morgan. Work would continue on the fort until 1834. Across from Fort Morgan, on the island of Dauphin, Fort Gaines would be built starting in 1821 from brick and mortar. This fort was named for Edmund P. Gaines who was a hero of the War of 1812. Engineers decided that Fort Gaines was in sad shape and a newly designed fort was completed in 1858. This is in the shape of a pentagon.

During the Civil War, the Confederacy struggled to defend the coastline and they decided to focus on key ports. Mobile Bay was one of these ports and it became the most important import location after New Orleans fell in 1862. Goods from Havana and the Caribbean were brought through Mobile, so the Union set up ships to block the port. The Confederacy would run the blockades with steam ships and one of the most successful ships was the CSS Florida, which was able to break through the US Navy in September of 1862 and subsequently escaped through the blockade in January of 1863. There were three forts here around the bay: Fort Gaines, Fort Morgan and Fort Powell that had been partially built in 1862. It never was fully completed and sat on Grant's Pass. They had all been fortified, but when it came to gun power and actual defense, they were poorly managed. None of the forts were protected on the rear and there were not a large number of troops. There were only 600 stationed at Fort Morgan when the Battle of Mobile Bay started.

The Battle of Mobile Bay started on August 5, 1864. Rear Admiral David G. Farragut lead the Union forces and he had brought 18 boats with his naval fleet. He would face off against the Confederacy lead by Admiral Franklin Buchanan. The Confederates had fortified the three forts that guarded the bay with 67 naval mines across the entrance of the bay. There was just a small area left free of mines to allow their supply ships through. The minefield was flanked by buoys and Farragut knew what they meant. He believed he could steer through the minefield fine, but this would put him close to Fort Morgan. Farragut gave the order, "Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!" One of the ironclad monitors was destroyed by a mine, but the rest of the fleet made it through. Fort Gaines dealt some heavy blows with their guns though. *Fun Fact: Farragut called his device for removing mines a "cowcatcher."

Rear Admiral Farragut needed help on the ground and he planned a ground assault from the rear with the commander of the Military Division of West Mississippi, Major General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby. The two men decided that they could take the city of Mobile with a force of 5,000. Unfortunately, General Ulysses S. Grant needed troops sent to Virginia and so he would not send more than 1,500 men. This meant an assault on Mobile was not possible, but the two men believed they could at least take the bay. Now with Farragut through the mines, this force of 1,500 men who had landed 15 miles west of Fort Gaines, began making their way for a siege of the fort. They were lead by General Gordon Granger and these soldiers came from Maryland, Iowa, Illinois and Ohio.

Confederate ships entered the bay and fired on the second column of the Union fleet. The UNion ships closest to the forts continued to focus on the forts because they couldn't reach the Confederate ships with their gunfire. The Confederates dealt a heavy blow to the fleet and sunk the Tecumseh. She was completely underwater in three minutes. Only 21 of the 114 men on board survived. Many of the ships in the bay rammed each other rather than firing on each other. The Union managed to capture one of the Confederates most important ships, the ironclad CSS Tennessee, when the Admiral on board broke his leg and the Commander was unable to fight. Three hours had passed since the first shots were fired. Now a ground assault was ready to go and Fort Gaines decided it did not want to get into a hand-to-hand combat situation and it surrendered. Fort Powell surrendered quickly and was eventually destroyed, so that it no longer stands.

General Granger then set his sights on Fort Morgan. Farragut fired from the bay and Granger attacked with his men, keeping up a barrage of artillery fire. They pounded Fort Morgan for two weeks. By August 16th, the Confederates abandoned two of the batteries, which allowed Granger's men to get closer. They continued their assault until August 23rd when Confederate General Page surrendered the fort. He was arrested because he did not honor the surrender agreement and destroyed munitions. This sealed off the bay and Mobile would fall by April of the next year. Both standing forts would fall into disrepair, but the use of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines was not over. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a new fortification system for Fort Morgan in 1895, which concreted the batteries rather than leaving them brick. The latest technology in communications and electricity was added as well. And more water mines were placed in the bay during the Spanish-American War. The batteries also were equipped with 8-inch breech loading guns on disappearing carriages. They referred to the carriages as disappearing because these guns could be rotated backward and down behind a parapet after being fired. This protected the gun from being fired on while being reloaded. The design is obsolete today, but can still be seen on display at various forts. After the war, many of the cannons and guns were given to cities to use in making memorials.

Starting in 1900 and running through 1923, Fort Morgan was the largest permanent military base in Alabama. While World War I was being fought, there were two thousand troops stationed at the fort. The post was ordered closed in 1923, but would reopen again during World War II for the U.S. Navy to protect the coast line. In July 1944, Fort Morgan was closed again and left abandoned, never to be used for war again. It has been listed on the 10 most endangered battle sites in America because its location leaves it vulnerable to erosion and damage. Today, the fort is a historic site that can be toured and features an Escape Room Attraction called Espionage at Mobile Point. The official website of the fort describes it like this, "It is the summer of 1864 and you are Federal Spies captured by the Confederate soldiers. The Battle of Mobile Bay was one of the most decisive battles of the war. Can you help the union forces understand the defenses of mobile bay? Does the fort have an effective method of attack? Your job is to find the defensive map and escape route.  LISTEN carefully!  Wise captives have been known to escape. Step back in time to discover your fate."

Fort Gaines saw action in similar fashion as Fort Morgan during the Spanish-American War and both World Wars. Today, it still serves as a base for the Coast Guard. It was also used as a setting for and episode of MTV's Fear. The fort can be toured and features original cannons and a real working blacksmith shop. Both forts are also haunted with Fort Morgan being considered one of the most haunted places in the state.

Much of the paranormal activity reported publicly at Fort Gaines was documented by MTV while filming their Fear episode there. MTV had said that some Native Americans had been used as slaves and that they were chained together in a tunnel when the tunnel collapsed, burying them alive and the claim is that the bones were never removed. This has lead to people feeling cold spots and hearing disembodied footsteps. One of the more famous apparitions here is of a Native American woman who is wearing animal skins and covered in blood. There are also spirits of Confederate and Union soldiers seen wandering the grounds. One soldier in particular will follow people around until they exit out the front gate.

There had been a home located near Fort Gaines that was relocated to a different part of the island. It needed some refurbishment and once this commenced, construction workers kept walking off the job. When they were asked why, they claimed that something was scaring them away. The problem got so bad that the refurb was stopped and the property sits abandoned. People claim to see faces in the windows and they call the police to investigate and they never find anyone inside. A mile up from the fort is a small park called Cadillac Square. Locals claim to see shadowy figures walking in the park and there is one apparition that sounds really strange. This is a woman who has a bag over her head and digs into the ground as though she is looking for something. This island had been a burial ground, so the opportunities for hauntings are wide open.

The Director at the museum on Dauphin Island is named Jim Hall and he claims that there is spiritual residue left over from the burials. He said, “Even today you can hear Indian maidens singing at night to the beat of Indian drums. There are people who say that in the shell mounds at night on some particular dates, you can see white lights emulating from the shell mounds, and that could have very well been the spirits. But then there was always the Indian Chief… His name was Chief Double Head… The six-foot, red-headed Indian Chief that walked the beaches at night and he left phosphorescent foot prints in the sand.” Hall said of Fort Gaines, “People have driven by the fort and they have seen one of the females. I don’t know whether she would have been a wife, or a child, or what. In a full dress with the full hoop skirt walking the parapets.”

Fort Morgan is considered one of the most haunted locations in Alabama and there are several spirits here. A bomb went off in one of the rooms of the fort and it killed most of the men inside. Their disembodied screams are still heard on occasion. We're not sure if this was an accident or part of a battle. A man being kept in the barracks as a prisoner in 1917, hanged himself and people claim to hear him crying at night. This old barracks is considered the most haunted spot in the fort. A young woman was attacked and killed in the fort and she still roams around it as though she is seeking justice.

Mobile Bay has seen a lot of death, particularly at her forts, so it is no wonder that there are reports of paranormal activity. The fact that Dauphin Island was once a burial ground just adds to the mystique. Are Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan haunted? That is for you to decide!

No comments:

Post a Comment