My first trip to Washington, D.C wasn’t with family, but neither was it with strangers. It was made up of people with whom I had gone to school at Granite Quarry ( Brantley Lyerly, Pam Misenheimer, Alan Lyerly (also my neighbor), etc.) and people then recently met in that first year at East Rowan (Steve McCombs, Norman Ribelin, Gray Barrier, etc.). The unifying thread for this trip was that we were all in the East Rowan Senior High Band under the direction of Mr. Bill Coble. In a way, it could be said that my “ticket to ride” the bus on that trip was by virtue of the particular musical instrument which I had begun playing under Mr. Coble several years before at Granite Quarry School. That instrument was, namely, the “BBb bass horn”, also called the “Sousaphone”, and sometimes referred to (incorrectly) as the “Tuba”.
We pulled out, heading north to Virginia, not in rattling old activity buses, but in cushioned, hired “motor coaches” with professional drivers and equipped with “rooms” providing the necessary amenities essential for the elimination of as many “pauses” as possible during a long road trip.
Our “statement of purpose” for the trip, for which we had sold a wealth of “World’s Finest Chocolate”, (and, I think, some other brand consisting of coconut-covered chocolate pieces) was to march in the Shenandoah Apple Blossom festival at Winchester, Virginia. Attached to that stated musical purpose was our educational exploration of Endless Caverns, Natural Bridge, Mt. Vernon, Arlington, and the museums and memorials of Washington, D.C., in effect: “The mother of all field trips” (even an evil dictator can leave something behind which further enriches the linguistics of a language, already wealthy).
Our passing into the Shenandoah Valley was announced by the bus driver, causing me to make an immediate association with the then, recently -released Jimmy Stewart movie “Shenandoah”, which I had seen at Salisbury’s old “Center Theater”, originally “Meroney,” and for some years now, “Meroney” again. Even back then, movies and television shows were already becoming the “tab” markers for our lives (but for the expert on this, please refer to Mike Cline).
Shortly after our arrival in the New Market, Virginia area, we entered a lodge-style building, complete with fireplace and fire. Some of us formed an impromptu dance band, while others did some impromptu dancing. Two recalled members of that brief evening combo were: Mike Barringer on Sousaphone and Gray Barrier on drums.
The next day, we went to Natural Bridge and looked across Cedar Creek, which was the bridge’s natural architect. On the opposite side of Cedar Creek, on a large rock , we saw the carved letters “G W”, the initials of the man who was the original surveyor of the property. In the case of Natural Bridge, the erosive creek was the architect and the surveyor, was, of course, a man, the “architect” having begun “work” on the project many thousands of years before the man performed his measuring. That surveyor went on to become one of the architects of a nation which always remembers him particularly, with the phrase:”First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
In the vicinity of Natural Bridge, we also visited a cave where saltpeter was mined during the Civil War for the making of gunpowder ( there was a rumor at East Rowan that saltpeter had been mixed with the salt in the cafeteria’s saltshakers to provide some of the students with a certain, and opposite, non-explosive, “calming” effect).
The next morning, we were to take a guided tour of Endless Caverns ( a limited tour; however, since the caverns are said to be “endless”). We were fortified beforehand by a very hearty breakfast at the motel’s restaurant where framed pictures of the cavern’s splendors were hung on the walls. The result was the sating of our early-morning stomachs and the whetting of our recently- awakened minds.
In the tour of Endless Caverns, we saw many beautiful and varied stalactites, stalagmites, and examples of flowstone. If the span of our then 15-16 year-old lives could have been charted from the bottom of a stalactite, less than 1/16th of an inch from the stalactite’s tip is about all that would have been required, with the overlying stretch of stalactite reaching not just to the ceiling, but thousands of years into the past.
There were many wonderful “rooms” at Endless Caverns, great and small, but the one which impressed me the most was “Diamond Lake”. It consisted of a shallow, extended pool with a myriad of miniature stalactites above it. All of the rooms were, of course, electrically lit, and I remember our guide gradually diminishing Diamond Lake’s light to total darkness, then bringing it up again to give the effect of “Sunset and Sunrise on Diamond lake”. It was like dawn and sunset without the gentle breezes associated with either, minus the sounds of birds leaving their nests and later returning , in effect: a lifeless, subterranean imitation of the real thing.
The guide told us that Endless Caverns was so named for the fact that a final end to its passages has never been found, but there must be an end somewhere, due to its more “intimate” nature as a feature of geology, only approaching “endless” if it were some feature in the vast realm of astronomy.
We toured Mt.Vernon, and in addition to the sights of the mansion and its furnishings, we also walked part of the grounds and looked into the Washington crypt from a short distance to see the sarcophagi of George and Martha Washington. Within his white marble sarcophagus, George Washington rested, particularly from the labors of his work in the Continental Congress, the battles of the Revolutionary War ( including surely, the encampment at Valley Forge), his term as First Presidenct, and his rest from life in general, including that day, when as a young surveyor, he had chiseled “GW” on a large rock next to Natural Bridge’s Cedar Creek.
In Arlington, we saw John F. Kennedy’s grave, making a physical connection with what we had sadly watched on four consecutive days of television coverage just several years before. My brother Joe had visited Washington D.C. about a year-or-so before our band trip, and had sent me a postcard with the portrait of the late President. In 1966, President Kennedy’s grave was much simpler in appearance than now, but in both views the eternal flame prevails. The prior placing of the hats of the five branches of service around the flame seemed to give it a more personal touch back then.
To be concluded next week, with, among other things: a wild ride and a mummy (the mummy; however, was not on the ride).