It’s 1879, and Captain De Long and his 32 men receive quite the send-off on their way to explore the Arctic. Financed by an eccentric playboy newspaper publisher, they are as prepared as possible for the grueling years of making camp on ice floes, as well as winters of darkness and aching loneliness. Hampton Sides’ In the Kingdom of Ice sets down their story of trying to be the first to reach the North Pole—which they and much of the scientific community believe to be a warm sea.
In 1873, a steamboat loaded with passengers, livestock and produce caught fire and sank on the Potomac River near Aquia Creek. Traveling from Washington, the overloaded vessel carried three times more people than allowed by its license, and the engulfing flames and churning waters claimed 76 passengers, most of them women and children. A new book, Disaster on the Potomac: The Last Run of the Steamboat Wawaset, by Alvin Oickle, gives the details of that terrible day.
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From The Fredericksburg News, Thursday, January 10, 1878
THE ICE HARVEST is a large one, and the business activity of the past few days to gather it in, has been a stirring scene on our wintry streets. Men and horses, waggons and carts, have improved the fleeting hours in the most rapid manner and the rumble of wheels over the icy ground has been unceasing from morning till night. Mr. A. P. Rowe's pond has furnished a large amount of excellent ice, about five inches thick, and all the Ice houses in town and country will be filled with this indispensable luxury, of home production this Season.
In 1852, Fredericksburg business men were concerned with the failure of the Rappahannock Canal (see Fredericksburg Times, Jan., 1978), the impassability of the turnpike, the incomplete state of the plank road and the loss of county trade to the Alexandria markets via the railroad.
SASSAFRAS VARIFOLIUM is an old species, fossil forms being found in the one-hundred-million-year-old rocks of the Cretaceous period in both North America and Eurasia. Since the ice ages, it has continued to live only in a small section of Asia and in North America from Maine to Florida and westward to the beginning of the prairies. Today it is most commonly found at the wood's edge along roadsides and fence rows as a tree growing between fifteen and fifty feet.
In July, 1872 it was reported an enormous serpent, supposed to be a python, anaconda or boa constrictor, escaped from a traveling menagerie. Its body was said to be the thickness of a lamp post, and it had been seen in the meadow below the papermill (today's water treatment plant). It had also been seen in the trees overhanging the water at Beck's Island, and "we may soon expect to hear of the disappearance of the boys who go bathing" there.
As the first Germania Mill blazed, local artist Gustavus Erickson captured the fury of the flames. Earlier, he had painted the conflagration at the woolen factory. The painting was given by Mrs. Frances Jones in memory of Charles Seddon Latham and William Deacon Latham, both Gustavus Erickson paintings are owned by the Fredericksburg Museum and Cultural Center.