The National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers

Sitting on a hilltop outside Milwaukee and a baseball toss from Miller Park is the General George H. Wood Veterans Home. The building, commissioned in 1865 by President Abraham Lincoln as one of the original federal hospitals for veterans, was initially called the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. And for decades, the facility housed generations of injured war heroes from across the nation. Now abandoned, the only sign of life in the building are pigeons roosting in the broken windows on the tower.

Built in a Victorian Gothic style made evident by tall pointed arches in windows and doors and the use of contrasting colors, the hospital once housed over 1,000 men. Long before the evolution of medicinals and rehabilitation allowed injured soldiers to return to their homes and farms, the Wood Hospital was built for those who made great sacrifices for their country, not out of charity, but instead as a reward.

Life at the Wood Hospital paralled life in the military. Men were grouped in companies based on their ailments and issued uniforms, fostering a continuing sense of fraternity and purpose. Rank and discipline ruled their daily existence, just like on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Normandy. Those who were able held jobs taking care of those who weren't. Brass military bands with legless musicians played songs to cheer up the invalid and blind actors performed in plays for men with tuberculosis in wheelchairs. While a modern VA medical center was later built nearby and currently houses many of our soldiers coming back from Iraq, the old Wood Hospital embodies the spirit of a time when those wounded in war lived in dignity amongst themselves. And, according to a source who has been in the building, the sound of old men talking and playing cards or the muted bleet of a calvary bugle can still be heard from the long hallways and empty rooms covered in cracked plaster and water stains.

Along the western edge of the hospital is the Wood National Cemetary, the permanent resting place for 37,661 soldiers and sailors. The first internment was Pvt. John Afton, a Michigan infantryman who died in the Civil War in 1861. Veterans from every war since lie among the orderly rows. Most are from northern states, but two Confederate soldiers from the Civil War represent Southern Pride. If the South someday does rise again, they will be outnumbered significantly.

In the sea of white gravestones, one is of Marine Cpl. David Gander, killed in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983. 240 other American Servicemen died that horrific day. May they also rest in peace under the shade of lofty oak branches among their fathers and grandfathers and brothers and let us never forget the wives and mothers and daughters and sons whose forever loss gives us our freedom.


Spring Day

The weather has offered up a welcome respite from winter and we're back to normal seasonable temperatures. Finally. Before going to the Lucinda Williams show at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor, we went for a hike along the Huron River. It's not quite canoeing weather, but those days are not far off.

An elm lists over the river, soon to fall.

Mother Goose perches on one leg on a downed tree.

Clear waters flow over rocks and pebbles from the basement of time.

Barren trees sway in the brisk wind below the sapphire sky.


Keys Dreams

Seeing how it's mid-April and instead of tulips and robins we're dealing with yet another late-season wintry mix of foul weather, we've decided to drop yet another Florida Keys post. Maybe it will take our mind off what has become a most dreary spring thus far in Michigan.

An egret perches on a scrub brush at Robbie's Marina, Islamorada.

Baby octopi in sesame and sweet jalepeno sauce, seconds before we scarf it down.

Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, Duvall Street, Key West.

Tarpon swim in the shallows at Robbie's Marina, Islamorada.

No sunset is ever the same.

If you're interested in a Keys vacation and staying at a great place for a great price, click here. Your travel guides at River Rant give it our coveted five-star rating.


Sail Away

We took our Key West yacht out for a sunset cruise last week. Moored near Mallory Square, it sits at the dock most of the year except when we visit.

Just kidding. Other than our canoe and Sunfish sailboat, the closest thing we have to a yacht is a ten year-old runabout Sunbird with a noisy outboard that stalls every ten minutes.

It's amazing how the mega-wealthy live: the owner of this yacht also probably owns an ocean-front home in Malibu, and upper eastside high-rise in Manhattan, a horse ranch in Taos, and a winter home in St. Barts. A man walked out onto the deck and we half-expected it to be someone we'd recognize, like Sylvester Stallone or Ted Turner. Instead, he was a random Harry who likely made his zillions by inventing a new heart shunt or an internet dating site. He didn't invite us aboard so we went sailing aboard the Liberty Clipper instead.

Built in 1993, the Liberty Clipper is a schooner typical to New England during the 1800's. She spends her winters in Key West and summers in Boston and leaves port every night for a sunset cruise laden with cubed-cheese and boxed-wine. Good cubed-cheese and boxed-wine, mind you.

Her crew was comprised of a captain, first mate, and a half-dozen college kids, mostly from the Boston area. For a moment, we were envious of their life; they were beholden to little more than sea winds and ocean currents. But then we recalled the movie Dead Calm and envisioned how living on a boat with a group of strangers would test our patience and temperance. That must be why we never dropped out of college for a year to sail on a schooner.

The sunset was spectacular, yes indeed. The captain said if we watched carefully, we'd witness the "green flash", a supposed natural phenomenon where at very last moment, the brilliant orb suddenly flares a green tone. We watched with eyes wide open and saw nothing but fiery orange. Everyone else said they saw it. It reminded us of a Benny Hinn healing event, where the power of suggestion combined with group dynamics propels normally lucid people to embrace every miracle no matter how impossible.

Maybe we're just blind to green flashes and miracles. We'll still take the ones we can see.

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