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Philadelphia Campout 2009

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Saturday - Wednesday, April 18th -22nd, 2009

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In April of 2008, a few weeks before the troop left for Gettysburg, Jim Dowd and I (Larry Krainson) were talking about doing a sleepover at the Haunted Fort Mifflin.

The TV show Ghost Hunters had an episode that we both caught about this haunted revolutionary war fort in Philadelphia. Jim and I talked about building a Philadelphia trip around a visit to the fort. We discussed this for some months and it really started to take form at the 2009 planning meeting in September.

Once the vote was made for going to Philly over the school vacation and I volunteered to organize it, we were off and running. This was a five day trip and involved a littler more planning than I was used to with weekend trips. The planning was started in November and everything was locked in about two months before the trip was to take place.

Finding a campground within a reasonable distance from Philadelphia center was the most difficult. Originally I thought we could stay at a scout camp, but that went out the window when I found out the Philly area scout camps were 90 miles away! I eventually found the Timberlane Campground in Clarksboro, NJ which is right across the river from Philadelphia and just 12 miles away. One of their group sites was booked for us at a reasonable $10 per person per night. We only stayed 3 nights, so $30 of the $150 charged to the scouts was for the campground (www.timberlanecampground.com).

The next step was planning on events. I spoke with Fort Mifflin and the weekend of our arrival was booked. But they said we could do a sleepover during the week. So a Tuesday night stay was planned.

I made a contact with Stephanie Ketts from the Valley Forge Visitor Bureau online in late November. Working with Stephanie, she helped and made some great suggestions on what to do and on which day. She suggested doing the walking tour of Philly on Sunday when the traffic was much less and finding parking would be MUCH easier. She also suggested visiting Valley Forge on Monday after rush hour was over to avoid a major traffic situation (more on this later).

Saturday, April 18th came up quick. We had 12 scouts attending and 6 adults. One adult and his son was coming up from NJ where they were visiting relatives. The rest of us came from Springfield. We had a caravan of 4 vehicles with Jim Dowd towing the trailer.

About half way in we stopped at a rest stop and realized we lost Peter Beauregard. But waited and via cell phone, re-found him and he arrived just before we were about to leave again. The trip was pretty uneventful and w/o any major traffic along the way. We did choose to go around NYC and not take any chances with the GW Bridge or Rt 95 traffic. It was a little longer, but worth it.

The campground was great. There was a grassy field for the scouts to play some football and Frisbee. A nearby duck pond and LOTS of ducks everywhere. Quack quack was what we heard day and night. Plus wild turkeys were seen every day too.

On Sunday, we went into Philadelphia. We walked historic Philly and visited Ben Franklins house and museum (fascinating), Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and more. We spent most of the day there until we were tired. Sunday night we made the most delicious Philmont Packs I have ever tasted plus a fresh salad. Everything hit the spot and the scouts cooked a most excellent meal!

On Monday, we went to Valley Forge. Stephanie had mentioned to not go until after 9am when rush hour traffic had waned. But we still got caught in traffic in Manayunk, PA along RT 76. Valley Forge was about 25 miles from the campground. Unfortunately when we got there it was raining pretty hard and had gotten very windy. We viewed the movie in the visitor center and then made plans for the hike. By then the wind had really picked up and was blowing around 30mph and the rain was coming down hard. We did wait and the rain let up some and the scouts started the hike. Using the booklet, they learned and walked thru the hillsides of Valley Forge. As the weather got much worse, it was decided to not complete the hike. So we worked our way back to the vehicles and started on back to the campground. This for me and the scouts in my truck was a longer prospect than we expected as my GPS was not working properly and we got seriously lost. But we did eventually find our way back.

On Tuesday morning we packed up camp and headed over to the Eastern State Penitentiary. (http://www.easternstate.org/) We had a 1 pm tour booked for our group. Luckily Jim was able to find parking with the trailer in tow.

ESP was originally at the highest point in Philadelphia and on farm land with nothing near it. It was supposed to look menacing with the reminder that it was there waiting for those that do bad to come and stay. Gradually the city grew until it circles around the penitentiary.

From the outside, ESP looked like a medieval castle and looked pretty cool! On the inside, it had a much different look. The walls were 10 feet thick and 30 feet high which made it impenetrable from the outside or the inside. The cells were all originally solitary confinement. Each cell had it’s own exercise room off it. No prisoner incarcerated there ever had any contact with the other prisoners. At least that was the original plan. But as the prison grew, some of those plans changed. The prison also had a famous resident for a few months. Al Capone himself had a cell there (see the pictures). While it wasn’t fancy, it was pretty luxurious compared to all the other cells in the prison. It was a pretty spooky place to walk around and must be pretty scary at night.

From the ESP we went 5 blocks away. We had to move our vehicles due to parking regulations. The next stop was the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The steps leading up to the museum are the “Rocky” steps. We had a picnic lunch on the grass and then let everyone explore the outside area of the museum. There was also the run up the steps by the scouts. Pictures of the Rocky statue and more. We did not enter the museum as it was too expensive.

From there we made our way to Fort Mifflin which we would have to ourselves that night. We made tasty chicken fajitas in the parking lot before entering the fort for the night. Right after dinner and around sunset, Wayne the caretaker for the night, gave us a ghost tour of the grounds and told us some of the stories. He also told us about what the Ghost Hunters found and how their planned one day visit turned into a 3 day visit. 

The adults had chosen the officers quarters for sleeping. This was two rooms with wood “cots” which were basically a wooden slat table that we each slept on. Thank goodness for sleeping pads! Some of the adults slept on cots that were stored in a closet. The scouts slept in the barracks. We tried to turn off the lights but they would have none of that and were too afraid to sleep in the dark!

We were originally going to have a bonfire Tuesday night, but a heavy rain cancelled that idea.

We did have the offer to sleep in the haunted casemates. Only Jim and Peter took up that offer. They made themselves a big fire in the fireplace and had the place to themselves. They did not hear or see any ghosts that night, but Peter explained how he heard a large thump that was Jim falling off his cot. Whether he was pushed by a ghost or slid off he’s not saying.

After breakfast we had a tour of the fort and were told the story about it’s history. And no, the airport was not there when the fort was built. But every few minutes a plane would arrive and fly low right over the fort.

The fort was originally on Mud Island and called Fort Mud. That was changed to Fort Mifflin to honor the person who worked so hard to get the fort built. The Delaware River is right beside the fort and the grounds of the fort are actually below the level of the river and were always wet.

It was interesting to occasionally see large container ships come and go in the river and dock not too far away.

All too soon it was time to return home. A decision was made to chance going up 95 and over the GW. I still had very bad feelings about that but followed anyways. True to form, just like all my prior attempts to drive 95 and the GW, we hit major traffic that delayed us three to four hours. We did make a few stops to break up the traffic wait and got home around 8pm Wednesday night.

All in all it was a fun, interesting and educational trip. There was still more in Philadelphia that we did not even see, but what we did see we enjoyed! - ASM Larry Krainson