Tracing Amtrak’s NEC

Today’s American railroads are the products of hundreds of mergers and combinations of earlier lines, so it’s a good bet that there’s a good story behind any particular stretch of track. Here’s the tangled tale of the route followed by Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor trains as they head south from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

(And if you’re intrigued by that 15-foot marble obelisk, click through for the whole fascinating story of the 1839 Newkirk Monument.)

Farewell, FFG 58

The crew of USS Samuel B. Roberts leaves their ship for the last time on May 22, 2015.

The crew of USS Samuel B. Roberts leaves their ship for the last time on May 22, 2015.

It’s been a very Sammy B Memorial Day weekend. The third USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) was decommissioned on Friday, accompanied by the typical pomp and circumstance the Navy affords its ships on the day they leave active service.

Here are some photos, stories, op-eds, and other remembrances that were published over the weekend:

Update: Op-ed: On May 27, Navy Times published my op-ed laying out the case for naming a fourth ship after the World War II coxswain.

Photo gallery: My best photos from the decommissioning ceremony, wrapped up in a Storify. The decommissioning was also covered by WJXT (video) and First Coast News (story).

Op-ed: The Naval Institute published my op-ed arguing that FFG 58, now slated for scrapping, should instead be brought to the Washington Navy Yard to replace the aging destroyer Barry as the centerpiece of the Navy’s main museum.

Tweetstorm: Defense One gathered up my tweets about the history and legacy of FFG 58 and used it to make a case for naming a fourth U.S. warship after Roberts.

Longform: Navy Times’ David Larter tells the story of FFG 58 anew in this longform piece that includes video interviews of former CO Paul Rinn and current crewmen and an audio interview with me.

Article: USNI also republished my 2013 Proceedings article about the mining of the Samuel B. Roberts and the crew’s fight to save her from fire and flood.

Podcast: Cdr. Salamander rebroadcast a 2013 episode of his Midrats podcast in which we discussed the mining of the Roberts.

Farewell, and onward!

Today’s my last day at Defense News; defenseoneI’m heading off to be the deputy editor of Defense One, Atlantic Media’s national-security publication.

I couldn’t be more excited about the new job; it’ll put me back in the thick of covering news, and will allow me to work with great folks, some of whom are former colleagues and others I know so far only by reputation.

2002: Navy Times senior reporter John Burlage receives the Superior Public Service Award from Adm. Vern Clark, Chief of Naval Operations. (U.S. Navy photo)

Here’s Navy Times senior reporter John Burlage, a retired Navy master chief journalist and a mentor to me and many others, receiving the Superior Public Service Award from Adm. Vern Clark, Chief of Naval Operations, in 2002. (U.S. Navy photo)

But it’s a bittersweet moment as well. I joined Gannett Government Media back in 1997 when it was still Army Times Publishing Company. As a new Navy Times reporter, I learned about covering the military from a retired master chief journalist, who drilled into his charges the importance of serving readers who have chosen the path of military service. I went on to work for Defense News in 2001, later took over Armed Forces Journal (and C4ISR Journal and Training & Simulation Journal as well), and last year moved back to Defense News. At each step, I learned from colleagues and contributors who were generous with their time and thought, and I am grateful for all of their help and counsel.

Now it’s time for new lessons and new challenges. Farewell, Defense News, and hello, Defense One!

That Darn Train

loco IMG_8562If you work at Gannett Government Media (née Army Times Publishing Company) in Springfield, Va., you will, from time to time, wait for a pair of rumbling Norfolk Southern locomotives to drag a string of hopper cars across the road and into the nearby concrete plant. It is the train my co-workers and I love to hate.

It eventually occurred to me to wonder what the railroad was doing there in the first place — not the industrial stub, but the main line it connects to. The answer, it turned out, lay some 170 years in the past.

I shared what I’d learned with my colleagues, Pecha Kucha-style:

Production notes: The super-high quality audio was recorded by my iPhone in my shirt pocket while I gave this talk on March 10. Afterward, I exported the slides from Keynote as an M4V file and added the audio in iMovie. Oddly, the video moved more quickly than the audio, but iMovie makes it easy to arbitrarily speed up video clips, and I got them to sync without too much trouble.

Mystery Weekend

Every January, when the weather gets cold and the airfares get cheapish, my brother James (update: and sister Christy!) and I visit a new city. Generally, these are places with a bit of history to them, and they’re generally ones we haven’t been to before. While we’re there, we try to meet some new people and do a few things off the beaten path. We call it our Mystery Weekend.

Putting the rock in the house with the Kzoo Curling Club.

Putting the rock in the house with the Kzoo Curling Club.

Continue reading →

Philly skyline, with and without ‘PNB’

(Photos by Bradley Maule/Hidden City Philadelphia)

For more than 60 years, the giant neon letters PNB have advertised Philadelphia National Bank atop the skyscraper at 1 South Broad Street. Over the past few months (and long after the bank itself became part of Wells Fargo), those letters have been removed. Brad Maule, an editor at Hidden City Philadelphia, has this post-mortem about the letters and their legacy.

His essay includes before-and-after-PNB shots of the skyline, which I’ve taken the liberty of displaying with a slider above.

(By the way, Hidden City is in the last hours of a year-end fundraising drive. They’re a great organization that seeks to reveal and hold up for public appreciation and debate the complex built environment of Philadelphia. They’ve also published a few of my writings. If you feel like supporting them, their Indigogo campaign is here.)

Comet comet comet

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken from the Philae lander. (ESA)

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken from the Philae lander. (ESA)

I’m more excited about the European Space Agency’s landing on Comet 67P than I expected. Here’s a bunch of links about it:

Monument Men

Crossposted at Hidden City Philadelphia.

Just north of Kingsessing’s 49th Street bridge, amid the brush and litter of the Amtrak right-of-way, an old railroad monument offers an express ticket back to the Age of Jackson.

Newkirk Monument in Kingsessing (Bradley Peniston)

Newkirk Monument, looking northeast toward the Philly skyline (Bradley Peniston)

In 1838, the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad completed the first rail line between its namesake cities, a landmark feat that also helped link Boston and New York to the nation’s capital. The following year, the railroad’s board commemorated the effort with a 15-foot marble obelisk at the western foot of its Schuylkill River bridge. Inscribed on this Newkirk Monument were the names of the four railroads that merged to form the PW&B — and 51 of their executives, engineers, and contractors. Continue reading →

What’s in a name: Clark Park

Crossposted to Hidden City Philadelphia.

Entrance to Clark Park, 42nd & Baltimore (Simon/Flickr)

Entrance to Clark Park, 42nd & Baltimore (Simon/Flickr)

If West Philly has a recreational hub, it’s Clark Park: 9.1 acres of grass and trees and paths and playgrounds and a hunk of stone from the Gettysburg battlefield and half of the world’s known statues of Charles Dickens.

Like Philadelphia itself, the 119-year-old park has seen its ups and downs. After a spate of improvements in the 1960s, it deteriorated for decades until neighbors, non-profits and the city’s recreation department teamed up to whip things back in shape. Today, Clark Park hosts summer festivals, a farmers’ market, and a bunch of kids who run around on Saturdays with foam swords.

It’s a safe bet that few of the basketballers and chess players and dog walkers know why their park, which marks its birthday on Jan. 18, is named Clark. Yet its namesake played so many prominent roles in Philly and beyond that it is a bit astounding that this well-loved triangle of land is almost the only thing that still bears his name. Continue reading →