Friday, November 2, 2012

A Fort & Some Fezzes...

I had been planning to visit Tybee Island again. It being so close, it’s not like it’s a difficult trip to make. When I was last at the north beach to snap some photos and absorb some Zen energy, I promised to no one in particular that the next time I headed that way I would make Fort Screven my photography subject. My trip was overdue, and I managed to make it over.

Autumn has been around for several weeks now, but it recently dug its heels in and took the reins away from summer. The past week or so has been cool to the point of being jacket worthy. Since I was going to be traipsing around right by the massive expanse of water known as the Atlantic, I knew the temperatures would dip a bit more. (In the past I have visited the north beach during the winter, and experienced excruciatingly cold temperatures with brutally biting winds.) After putting on a long sleeve shirt and a jacket, I felt that would be sufficient (and it was).

(General James Screven)
The fort was named in honor of Georgia Militia Brigadier General James Screven. In 1778, during the Revolutionary War, Screven was killed at Midway Church. 

There was a law passed by the Georgia Legislature in 1786 that stated a fort would be built on either Tybee or Cockspur Island, to be named after Screven. In 1808, the land on Tybee fell under federal government jurisdiction as Fort Screven Reservation. The build site at the north end of Tybee was approved in 1855, and it was to provide modern seacoast defense. Six concrete gun batteries, and a minefield were built on Tybee along with a hundred other buildings. The fort served as an integral part of America’s Coastal Defense system from 1897-1947. In 1947, the fort was decommissioned and sold to the town of Tybee. Many of the buildings were converted for use by private owners by the 1950’s.

I did not arrive at the fort until the late afternoon. Before driving over what I call “the land bridge” to Tybee, I had to refuel…the car and me. I grabbed a hot Mocha at Mickey D’s…my usual for chilly beach visits.

For as many times as I have gone by the fort, one would think I would have scrutinized it a bit closer than I had up to that point. It was approaching 5:00 PM by the time I rolled into the parking area, and since it took a bit of hunting to find a pay station for parking that wasn’t out of order, any thoughts I may have had about checking out the forts museum were moot. That was fine by me though. It was great to be out in the fresh air, doing two of my favorite things…exploring and taking pictures.

There were hardly any people about. That was great. I would not have to navigate around people to take my pictures. The concrete buildings that sit along the edge of the large parking lot I park in when I visit the north beach were…odd somehow.  I could not quite place why. Everywhere I looked as I walked down the length of the buildings, I saw signs. ‘Do Not Enter’. ‘No Trespassing’. Not to say that I did not expect there to be access restrictions, but not that many. I at least wanted to go to the upper level somehow. I wanted to explore more of the structures interior. To find what was projecting the odd feeling.

Settling into snapping ground level photos, I walked as far into the structure as I was allowed, which wasn’t very far. A couple of chained off areas gave a slight recess that allowed me to see a bit farther in than most other areas. There was so much temptation to throw caution to the wind (and there was a strong breeze blowing), and cross one of the barriers to see what lay beyond. I do not think I would have gotten caught as I saw no security cameras, but reason took over and I abandoned the thought. Instead, I would hold the camera as far in front of me as I could and snap a picture. That proved to be my best way of seeing what was around a few corners. A part of me hoped to catch an apparition. At certain points I could almost hear the faint sounds of soldiers calling out.

(Oddly placed random "ICE" machine)
Farther down the length of buildings were the parts that had been converted for private use. I stopped short of those not wanting to intrude. Some are actual private residences, although I don’t know what changes could have been made to make someone want to live in a concrete battery. I would love to know if the inhabitants have experienced any odd sensations or events.

As I made my way back toward the end where my car was, I stopped to snap a picture of a large symbol on one of the exterior walls. Local Shriners have their club in the fort, and I assumed the symbol was linked to them. As I walked past the ground floor door to the Shriners Club, I noticed a woman wheeling a cart with food tins on it toward the entrance. She noticed me snapping pictures, and said I was welcome to come up to the Shriners club to get some shots from there. I jumped at the chance. It looked like I was going to get up to the top of the fort after all.

We squeezed the cart and ourselves into a tiny elevator and rode it up to the third (top) floor. Crossing a short hall, we entered a large room filled with round tables. A man was sitting by the door, and the gal who invited me up explained that I was just there to snap some pictures. To say that I was the youngest person there was obviously true. I felt kind of like an interloper. I was not a member, and it definitely had a membership vibe. Yes, the room was worn, and clearly had not been updated in…I do not think I would be over stating to say that it looked like it was last furnished in the 1970’s. It was a relatively long room filled with round tables. The tables were surrounded by school style plastic seated chairs. There was a kitchen area that had open windows. I expect that it once was a chow line? At the far end from where I entered (and looking completely out of place), was a large, dark, wooden bar. 

A bank of large windows looked out on the north beach (which I usually refer to as “my beach”). I took several photos from there, and turned to leave. The man by the door had been quiet before, but became extremely chatty as I made to leave. He pointed out Hilton Head Island, and mentioned a couple of other bits of historical information…which I unfortunately can’t remember now. The woman who had invited me up found me again and suggested that I go out on the patio area outside of a door by the bar. That was the type of vantage point I had wanted. Out in the air with everything spreading away around me. The ocean was beautiful from up there. I had been curious about whether or not Hurricane Sandy was causing the surf in the area to be a bit more turbulent (my trip to Screven was a few days ago). The waters looked as active as they had the other times I had visited. Nothing different there. Turning around, the lighthouse towered in front of me. If it had not been so chilly out, I would have spent a bit more time studying things for more possible photos. When I finished and cut back through the club room toward the exit, the one thing that screamed that this was a Shriner’s club revealed itself to me. The wall by the entrance/exit door was covered with cases of Shriner’s Fezzes. I was surprised I had not noticed it before. On closer inspection, I saw that there were Fezzes (hats) from clubs throughout the United States. Some were a bit more ornate than others (the Los Angeles one was fittingly sparkly), but they were all really neat. It was then that any uncomfortable feelings I may have had about being an intruder in their club were shot down. The same woman from before  told me I should come by next Tuesday night. They had dinner every Tuesday, and the cover was $8. I thanked her and the “door man”, and headed back to the car.

As I drove home, I thought about my visit to the fort. The Shriner’s. When I was little my dad had taken my brother and I to the Shriner’s Circus. I have a distinct memory of being terrified of a clown with a giant plastic comb…he had wanted to comb my hair. I don’t know if that event was the catalyst for my hatred of clowns, but I know it didn’t help. *shudder* I had always thought the Shriner’s to be an organization created for the guys who could not get into the Freemason’s. I looked it up while writing this and it turns out a Shriner has to be a Mason first. I do not know much beyond that. Maybe Glenn and I should go there one Tuesday for an $8 dinner, and ask.

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