August 05, 2002
Vans and Vauban

The Cranky Professor writes about visiting the star-shaped fortress of Ticonderoga. I don't know how many such forts there are in the U.S., but there is one at Fort Monroe in Virginia, built to protect the north side of Hampton Roads. It is next to the north end of the bridge-tunnel that connects Norfolk to Hampton and Newport News. Fort Monroe houses Continental Army Command, so I don't imagine it's easy to visit these days.

I've only been there while working for Mayflower in college. Some of the officers' quarters are inside the star-shaped fortifications, which are surrounded by a star-shaped moat. To get inside, you had to make a right-angle turn from the road around the fort, cross the moat on a narrow one-lane bridge, then drive through a tunnel in the wall with less than 6" total clearance on both sides combined. The clearance did not allow for rear-view mirrors, which had to be pulled in for the duration, making them useless. And you couldn't get out of the cab to look if you got stuck. Fortunately, I never got stuck.

Inside you found that officers' quarters are huge old (turn-of-the-century?) duplexes three or four stories high, with 15 or 20 rooms and 15' ceilings on the first floor, making for way too many steps. The occupant was typically a colonel with four teenaged kids and enough furniture and household goods to fill up a van and a half. If you're wondering, that's a lot of stuff. All in all, Fort Monroe looked like a very nice place to live, but well worth avoiding if you're a mover.

Of course the enlisted men's quarters were outside the wall and moat, but also near the beach. They're the only place I've ever seen a professional moving man turn down a free beer. It was 8:00 AM, and even moving men find that a little early to start on the beer, though some sergeants apparently don't.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 05, 2002 12:24 AM

Ft. McHenry in Baltimore is also star shaped; that was state of the art for the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. An aerial picture of Ft. McHenry is available at:

The projections allowed the defenders to keep the walls clear of attackers, since every part of the perimeter could be fired on from some other part of the fort. At the battle of Ft. McHenry, I don't think it ever came to having British troops at the walls. The British command was smart enough to try to take the fort from behind, but the landing party was stopped at the battle of North Point, east of Baltimore.

Besides the Ft. McHenry monument, there's also a 'star spangled' buoy in the Patapsco River, marking the location of the British ship from which Francis Scott Key watched the bombardment (Key was a lawyer, and was negotiating prisoner exchanges).


Posted by: steevil (Dr Weevil's bro Steve) on August 5, 2002 08:40 PM

Thanks, big brother. So how come you haven't invited me over for dinner yet? I'm right down the street.

(Just thought it would be fun to turn this into one of those personal day-in-the-life doesn't-make-any-sense-to-most-readers weblogs for just a moment.)

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on August 5, 2002 09:46 PM

Some kind of ground meat was defrosting on the counter this a.m. Don't know what the menu is. Dinner will be 8-ish since I will be spending yet more hours on replacing the fuel pump on the boat engine before I go home. (Kathie just called, and I told her you were whining about not being invited. She says maybe Friday).

BTW, concerning Greek plurals, in the space biz, we produce ephemerides (plural of ephemeris), which are simply lists of (usually predicted) satellite positions and velocities.

I usually pronounce the word e-FEM-er-i-deez, but some of my co-workers prefer e-FEM-er-rides.

I think it might have been Kepler who came up with the name, and it supposedly is derived from the word for 'mayfly.'


Posted by: steevil on August 6, 2002 04:28 PM