September of 2018 was supposed to feature a family vacation cruise to celebrate my niece’s wedding. The wedding took place, but owing to surgery last year and unanticipated follow-up expenses, we had to opt for a less costly option – which led to two trips in one.
The first trip was to Constantine, Michigan – the small town near the Indiana border where my father grew up. I may have visited there as a very young child, but I have no clear memory of doing so. Outside of travel, my grandfather spent his entire life there – his home, work, and burial plot are all within a 20-block area. Sadly, I have no memory of my grandfather as he died at age 63 when I was only 15 months old – although my father told me that my grandfather used to bounce me on his knee. For me, he exists only in family anecdotes, photos, and home movies. I do have memories of his first wife, my grandmother, a troubled woman who died in 1995 and is also buried at the local cemetery. While in Constantine, I stopped by the old Drake Casket Company (once owned by my grandfather and his brother), the Township Cemetery (where I spent 90 minutes searching for family graves) and the center of town. In my father’s home movies, the Constantine of the 1950s was bustling, with of parades, stores, and people driving or walking everywhere – a typical middle-American town. Now, it’s a town forgotten – the stores along the main street are mostly empty, the former Drake Casket Company abandoned, the once immaculately kept houses in disrepair. It took me 51 years to visit, but I doubt I’ll ever feel the need to go again. My father almost never mentioned Constantine, but I now fully understand why he told me joining the Navy was one of the smartest decisions he ever made – it opened the door to a wider world filled with diverse people. In any case, here are some photos:
Gravestone of my great great grandfather, J. Mark Harvey
Marker for my great grandparents, John and Jane W. (Titus) Drake
Marker for my grandfather, Titus H Drake, and his second wife Florence (Cylka)
My grandmother, Helen Harvey Drake
My grandfather, circa 1960.
I went alone to Constantine, but Dan was with me on our trip to Ticonderoga, New York. Although to a lesser extent, like Constantine, Ticonderoga is not as thriving as it once was. The downtown area has a few antique stores, a retro-1950s diner (excellent, in my opinion) – but much else is pretty ordinary. The two main draws are Fort Ticonderoga and the Star Trek Original Series set tour. Those who’ve followed my blog will know which attraction brought me to Ticonderoga.
The Star Trek Original Series set tour is a screen accurate recreation of the sets as they were configured on Stage 9 at Desilu studios during the show's original run. The current sets were built for the Star Trek New Voyages web series, which ran for 13 episodes. There are a few minor upgrades: a functional bridge viewscreen replaces the blue screen the actors would have seen, and HD displays for the biobeds (instead of levers and pulleys operated by a stage technician). A few more tweaks are in the planning and I've heard they are even considering adding the Next Generation sets. Our tour guide, Paul, knew all the ins & outs of how the original series was made and how sets were redressed for multiple use. For example: Captain Kirk's quarters were redressed for Spock, the other crew members, and guest stars; The Briefing Room was redressed as the Recreation Room, Crew Mess, and a few other sets. One interesting tidbit: both the Bridge and Engineering are smaller than they appeared on TV because the original cinematographers used wide-angle lenses to add depth to the scene. (FYI: The sets are built from the original series blueprints and are the exact same dimensions.) The back wall of Engineering (with the engines visible thru the grill) uses forced perspective. Because of the age of some of the elements, guests are advised not to touch the artifacts, but the set's owner, James Cawley, invited me to sit in the Captain's chair. Photos are permitted, but videos are not (due to Paramount's licensing restrictions). Due to a recent high-volume attraction, the selection at the gift shop was rather thin, but we still purchased a few goodies including, of course, a Tribble.
Dan & I beam in.
Dr. Dan ready to help a patient.
Dan in the medical lab, checking the Captain for intergalactic STDs.
Our tour guide Paul, recreating a famous pose from the series.
A pensive moment on the Bridge
The weather was cooperating, and as it was September 11th, it seemed appropriate for us to visit Fort Ticonderoga. Originally Fort Carillon, the French fort was captured by the British in 1759, by American Revolutionaries in 1775, recaptured by the British in 1777, and finally abandoned to the British 1781. By then, the fort was in ruins. It went through several owners and was rebuilt during the 20th Century. It’s a fascinating place to learn about our nation’s history and how those stationed here lived – whether French, British, or American. The high point for us was a canon demonstration.