Saturday, February 16, 2019

Bob Zeller laser-focused on Maryland Campaign photography

Bob Zeller, who lives in North Carolina with his wife, Ann, with a portion of his Civil War photo collection.
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A former print reporter, Bob Zeller still may have a little newspaper ink flowing through his veins. He may also have Antietam in his DNA. Zeller, co-founder and president of The Center for Civil War Photography, has one of the world's more impressive collections of images from the 1862 Maryland Campaign.

Zeller's connections to Antietam are deep: He was raised in the Church of the Brethren, the Dunkers. When he was 10 in 1962, he even attended the re-dedication of Dunker Church at Antietam.  His uncle, Rev. Harry K. Zeller, Jr., a leading Brethren pastor, gave the sermon at the service. Zeller's grandmother's great uncle was Samuel Poffenberger, who owned an historic battlefield farm.

Zeller, one of the country’s leading authorities on Civil War imagery, is author of several ground-breaking books in the field, including The Blue and Gray in Black and White: A History of Civil War Photography. The Washington, D.C. native pioneered the modern presentation of stereoscopic Civil War photography with The Civil War in Depth, the first 3-D photo history of​ the war, and The Civil War in Depth Volume II.  His latest book, Fighting the Second Civil War (2017) is a history of battlefield preservation. (Full disclosure: I was an editor for the book. I also am a CCWP board member.)

In this Q&A, Zeller reveals how he got started collecting Antietam images, the story of  his greatest photo find, what he'd like to ask famed Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner and more.

In 39 years of collecting, Bob Zeller has acquired 21 large plates and 67 stereo views or half-stereo prints
 of the 1862 Maryland Campaign.
A simple question: Why do you collect Antietam images?

Zeller: My personal Antietam connections drew me to it. My middle name, Otho, probably originated from Otho J. Smith, who owned the farm where Alexander Gardner photographed a Confederate field hospital. And for many years, our family owned a cabin on Red Hill overlooking the battlefield.

Dunker Church during its reconstruction in the early 1960s. Bob Zeller 
attended its rededication in 1962, when he was 10.
 (National Park Service collection)
When I began collecting in 1980, I was a newspaper journalist, and my interest was in the documentary record of the battle – the photographs by Alexander Gardner, the newspapers of September 1862 and soldier letters. The first great series of American war photographs are Gardner’s Antietam photos and arguably the best newspaper story from the war was George Smalley’s dramatic account of the battle in the New York Tribune on Sept. 19, 1862. After acquiring a lot of 13 Gardner Antietam images in 1984, I began to focus more on the photography and decided to try to acquire vintage albumen prints of all of Gardner’s images from the Maryland Campaign – about 85 stereo images and about 35 large plate, 7x9 images. In 39 years, I have assembled 21 large plates and 67 stereo views or half-stereo prints. The stereo views of Antietam are among history’s first numbered, collectable cards. So, I literally have a checklist for them, like I had for baseball cards as a kid.

Antietam stereo views in Bob Zeller's collection. 
How did you start?

Zeller: In the late 1970s, ads for Civil War antique dealers began showing up in my Civil War Times Illustrated, including one for D. Mark Katz, who was a dealer of Civil War photography. I made an appointment to visit him at his home at Lake Heritage in Gettysburg on Oct. 28, 1980. That visit was a life-changing revelation. His living room was like a museum of Civil War photography. He had a portfolio filing cabinet that contained Gardner’s two-volume Sketch Book of the Civil War and Barnard’s Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign. On the wall above his couch was a beautifully framed copy of the Sketch Book print of a Signal Corp officer at Antietam, peering through a telescope toward the battlefield from a signal station that had been on our own Red Hill.

But my jaw hit the floor when he pulled out a stereo view of Bloody Lane on the Antietam battlefield. I was familiar with the photo but had never seen it like this. The card looked older than any stereo card I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe it. How could I not know about this? My first antique was a stereo viewer, for crying out loud, which I bought more than 15 years earlier at about age 12. I’d collected several dozen old stereo views over the years, somehow never encountering a stereo view from the Civil War. I had no firm understanding that they even existed. “Where have these been all my life?” I wondered. I was a bit angry about it. Had I known years earlier, I could have been looking for them. I felt I was late to the game. In fact, I had arrived at a good time, with more vintage material than ever coming out of the woodwork and showing up in dealer catalogs or at shows. Katz was pompous and had little regard for stereo views. On the back of the Bloody Lane he had written the price -- $40 – in blue ink. I bought it, of course. And I was captivated.

In 1993, Zeller purchased images of George McClellan's staff (upper and lower right) on the
 Antietam battlefield during President Lincoln's October 1862 visit. "It was a thrill of a lifetime," he says.
What's your favorite Antietam image, and why is it so special to you?

Zeller: That’s a tough one, because there are about a dozen that are really special, some because of the story behind finding and acquiring them. I made a major discovery in 1993 of three previously unknown large plate images by Gardner from Antietam, and I’d have to say that two of those excite me the most. One is a gorgeous, likely one-of-a-kind mounted large plate print in mint condition showing Burnside Bridge. The other is a group photo of Union General George McClellan’s staff having a cocktail party on the battlefield during the visit of President Lincoln. It’s just an amazing image. It was a private photo – never offered for sale in Gardner’s catalog – showing the officers drinking. A companion image of the same group, taken at the same time, shows no partying whatsoever. That one was offered for sale to the public. I never expected to find Gardner Antietam images that were unknown in our time. It was a thrill of a lifetime. And the incredible drinking scene in this image made the find that much more exciting.

Zeller's prints of images of Union Signal Corps at Elk Ridge, also known as Red Hill. The image at right
has a rough history. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
Every collector also has a favorite story about a purchase -- a great find at a flea market, an unexpected discovery in an attic. Tell us about yours.

Zeller: My greatest find as a collector started with a disaster. In 1984, I acquired a mounted print of a Signal Corps detachment at their signal station on Elk Ridge, or Red Hill. It was special because we owned land just down the road on Red Hill from where the photo was taken. And the print was special, too, because it was on a mount that that had a printed title as well as “Gardner, Photographer” at lower left and “M.B. Brady, Publisher” at lower right. This dated the print to 1862, within weeks of the battle, because Gardner and Brady split around the end of 1862 or beginning of 1863. But this print was also in pretty rough condition, so I decided to get it restored and mailed it to dealer/appraiser Cliff Krainik in December 1992. He soon called with bad news. “Your print was basically destroyed in the mail,” he said.

Back then, dealers mailed out illustrated catalogs every so often and it was first come, first served. The moment the catalog arrived in the mail, I’d tear through it. If I found something I wanted, I frantically dialed the dealer’s number, hoping it wasn’t already sold. Those moments as the phone rang felt about the same as the last 10 seconds of a crucial eBay auction today. Anyway, just days before the mail disaster, I had received longtime dealer Len Rosa’s Christmas season catalog, and one item was a Gardner large plate photo of the Middle Bridge on one of those Gardner/Brady mounts. I already owned the image, so I didn’t go after it. But after the disaster, I suddenly wanted that boring photo in the worst way because I would at least have a print on one of those rare Gardner/Brady 1862 mounts. Fortunately, Len still had the image available, so I bought it. “Don’t mail it,” I told him. “I’m coming to Gettysburg on Jan. 2 and I’ll pick it up from you in person.”

Front cover of Alexander Gardner's "Incidents of The War," purchased by Bob Zeller in 1993. 
Rarely had I been as excited about a trip as the one to Gettysburg on Jan. 2, 1993. It was my first opportunity to go to a Civil War memorabilia show since our recent move from California to North Carolina. It ended up being my single most amazing and memorable day as a collector. The day was cold, but clear and sunny, and Len said he’d meet me in front of the Gettysburg Hotel to give me my print of Antietam bridge.

I told Len I was buying it because this other print showing the Signal Corps detachment had been destroyed. He said, “I think I might have that Signal Corps print. I have a portfolio of prints like these at home. I’ll run home and get them.” When he returned, he was carrying a large portfolio cover with “Incidents of the War” hand-stamped in gold letters. I knew that was a Gardner title and that the cover itself was extraordinary.

Inside, disbound but clearly once bound into the book, were eight more prints. As I looked at them one by one, I realized I was seeing Antietam images I had never seen before. The fourth or fifth image was a mint condition copy of the photo I had lost – the Signal Corps detachment! I bought it on the spot.

I was still a casual hobbyist then, at least in my willingness to spend money, and even buying the Signal Corps image was a bit of a stretch. So, I didn’t buy anything else immediately. But over the course of the next few days, I bought six more plates from Len and the cover. Three of the photos were previously unknown and I pitched the story to the Associated Press, which published a national story on the find in 1993.

That day in Gettysburg was insane. At The Horse Soldier, I found two stereo views at bargain prices, including the famous three Rebel prisoners. I left town with a pit of anxiety gnawing at my stomach, because I knew I had to have other photos from that portfolio but that it would cost far beyond what I had ever spent. I told my wife as much. She was fully supportive, as she always has been.

A stack of Antietam stereo views in Bob Zeller's collection. 
Every collector seems to have a "one that got away story." What's yours?

Zeller: The “one that got away” is part of the same story. I ultimately purchased seven of the nine prints, as well as the “Incidents of the War” cover. I did not buy two of the prints. I already had a nice vintage copy of one. But I did not have the other – a large plate of a forge scene at a Union camp at Antietam. I have never again seen a copy of that print for sale. It remains a box unchecked on my checklist of Antietam images. In hindsight, I should have bought the entire portfolio from Len right there in front of the Gettysburg Hotel. I could not imagine walking away from the treasure like that today.

But as I said, I was just a hobbyist then. The discovery, however, was the first in a series of events in the 1990s that transformed my professional career. In 1994, I convinced the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Fla., to do an exhibition of my Gardner Antietam photo collection, which happened the following year.

Bob Zeller is a co-founder of 
The Center For Civil War Photography.
Go here for information on the CCWP
In 1997, Chronicle Books of San Francisco published my first book – The Civil War in Depth: History in 3-D. It was the first book devoted to the amazing 3-D photos of the war. In 1999, while relaxing with a beer at O’Rorke’s in Gettysburg with wet plate photographer Rob Gibson and the late Al Benson, a Confederate reenactor, we hatched the idea of starting a Center for Civil War Photography to display images and teach about the photography of the war.

In 2001, with a push from our other co-founders, Garry Adelman and Chuck Morrongiello, we incorporated the Center and I became president. Since then, we have thrived as a small-but-vibrant, non-profit educational organization. We have created custom 3-D Civil War visual presentations for numerous organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution. We have preserved images digitally by providing the funds to scan them at the Library of Congress, which puts the scans online for all to see and share. And this fall, we’ll hold our 19th annual Image of War seminar in Richmond. It’s amazing to think that all this evolved from a decision many years ago: “I think I’ll collect Gardner’s photos of Antietam.”

Alexander Gardner
Finally, if you could go back in time and ask Alexander Gardner one question about his Antietam images, what would it be and why?

Zeller: I would ask Gardner the one question designed to open his personal treasure chest of memories: “What was it like to photograph the Antietam battlefield?” I’d want to know about it all, so I am certain that first questions would lead to more: Where did he watch the battle from? How did he gain access to the battlefield? In what order did he take the photos? What were his emotions while taking the images? Did he realize he was making photo history? Who was with him? And that would just be for starters.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

In 15 images: An appreciation of Shiloh's battlefield markers

Headquarters for Union brigades or divisions are designated with these signs atop cannonball pyramids.
This cast-iron tablet near the Iowa memorial explains the meaning of many Shiloh battlefield markers.
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Roughly 600 of them stand stoically at attention throughout Shiloh National Military Park. Most are brittle, not unexpected given nearly all are well over 100 years old.

They come in distinct shapes and sizes. Different colors, too.

Sometimes they are targets of thieves or victims of wayward drivers or fallen tree limbs. Others suffer from ravages of time or weather.

The marker for Bloody Pond features a coating of red paint.
But these silent guides, the battlefield markers of Shiloh, are invaluable, providing information on camp sites, battlefield positions of units and armies and other significant locations.

The positions of most of the cast-iron markers in the park were designated by the veterans themselves, ensuring their accuracy.

Steps from the Iowa memorial, a marker explains the meaning of other markers: large rectangular tablets give historical significance about armies and units engaged; rectangular tablets mark troop positions on April 6, 1862, the first day of the two-day battle; and oval tablets mark troop positions on April 7.

Yellow markers denote the Union Army of the Ohio, red the Confederate Army of  the Mississippi, and blue the Union Army of the Tennessee. Irregular pentagon-shaped signs, painted black and white, denote camp sites. Star-shaped markers denote headquarters of Union brigades or divisions.

The vast majority of markers were installed in 1900-1901, after the park was created in December 1894. At the time, they cost about $25. A replacement marker and pedestal today can cost as much as $5,000, plus labor and installation. Nearly 100 of the markers have been replaced over the years.

This marker denotes one of the more popular sites at Shiloh.
Some markers, such as this one for the Confederates' 38th Tennessee, are off the beaten path.
The headquarters marker for Union III Brigade, commanded by Colonel Leonard F. Ross of the 17th Illinois.
The cannonballs are Civil War-era surplus ordnance.
This tablet in a ravine marks the death site of Confederate commander Albert Sidney Johnston.
A crack courses through the marker for General Albert Johnston's death site. The overall commander 
of Confederate forces in the Western Theater was mortally wounded nearby on April 6, 1862.
Apparently recently painted, this marker denotes a significant battlefield location.
Tennessee, Mississippi soldiers in Patrick Cleburne's brigade fought here April 6, 1862, the battle's first day.
The marker for James Tuttle's Union brigade could use a fresh coat of paint.
A five-sided sign -- an irregular pentagon -- designates the site of a Union artillery camp.
Even the position of campsites for regiments are marked at Shiloh.
A marker for the former burial site for 28th Illinois soldiers is atop an ancient Indian mound.
The 28th Illinois burial sign, sorely in need of paint, notes the bodies were disinterred and re-buried 
at the national cemetery. It is located on a Tennessee River bluff, a short distance away.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Now & Then: In their own words, POWs on Andersonville 'hell'

The National Park Service has marked with stakes the wartime location of the infamous 
Andersonville deadline. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
PANORAMA: A stream slices between two hills at the 26.5-acre site. 
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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Nearly 154 years after the last prisoner left Andersonville, the former POW camp remains cloaked in sadness. Perhaps the 26 1/2-acre prison site should simply be covered with black mourning crepe. It's a painful place to visit.

Andersonville diary of Samuel J. Gibson of the 103rd Pennsylvania.
(Read it on Library of Congress site.)
Almost 13,000 Union prisoners died at the camp, mainly from scurvy, dysentery and diarrhea. Albert Harry Shatzel, a 21-year-old in the 1st Vermont Cavalry, was one of the lucky ones. He survived. So, too, did the private's diary of his wretched four-month experience in southwestern Georgia.

" ... there never was such misery known since the world stood as there is on the streets in this den of Hell. There is no tounge or Pen that can discribe the situation of the sick Wounded & Rotten men in hear," he wrote on Aug. 4, 1864, while a POW at Andersonville. "God help the Prisoner for their life is a horable one especially those confined in hear."

Coupled with photos (and a video) I shot recently at Andersonville, here are the words of  Union survivors culled from diaries they kept there. The POW camp opened in February 1864 and closed in April 1865. (Click on link for diary source of each quote.)

A view of  terrain POWs saw when they entered camp.
"As we waited, the great gates of the prison swung on their ponderous oaken hinges, and we were ushered into what seemed to us Hades itself. Strange, skeleton men, in tattered, faded blue — and not much of blue either, so obscured with dirt were their habiliments — gathered and crowded around us; their faces were so begrimed with pitch-pine smoke and dirt, that for a while we could not discern whether they were negroes or white men."

-- Warren. L. Goss, 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery

Water from Sweetwater Creek was used by POWs for bathing, washing clothes and sometimes for drinking.
A source of disease, the water was often deadly to drink. Today, the NPS warns about other dangers.
“If this is not Hell itself, it must be pandemonium; which is only Hell Gate. Heaven forbid I should ever see a worse place.”

 -- Samuel J. Gibson, 103rd Pennsylvania 

A branch of Sweetwater Creek at the 26.5-acre prison site.
"The prison lot contains about 30 acres, located on two hills with a swamp between and a small stream, running through the swamp. In this swamp, the men on both hills meet to draw water, wash, etc. We are served with raw rations of corn meal and a small piece of bacon, so the men have to cook for themselves. A large number have nothing to cook in and bake little cakes on pieces of board held before the fire."

 -- Michael Dougherty, 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry

“In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. (Watch video above.) The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then.”

-- Robert Kellogg, 16th Connecticut

If a prisoner crossed the deadline -- a low rail fence used to keep POWs away from the stockade walls -- 
 he could get shot by a guard.
"One of the poor Boys shot dead by the Guard while geting a cup of watter. The Ball passed through his head. He stuck his head under the Dead Line to get some watter but he will never go there again. Dam the laws of such men as those are hear for they consider it an honor to murder a man ... all in all they are not to blame for they get a Furlough of 35 days for every man they kill."

-- Albert Harry Shatzel, 1st Vermont Cavalry

Prisoners dug wells and escape tunnels in the camp. Is this the remains of one?
“Signs of scurvy have appeared in my mouth around the gums of my diseased teeth. The gums swell up and turn dark purple. Where others have it and do not recover, this swelling spreads in a few days until the face and neck turn black as if blood settled all over it; then the teeth drop out—the jaws become set and a general rotting process is the last stage. With others the disease shows itself first in the limbs, rendering them stiff and helpless. My general feeling is one of complete lassitude and low spirits. Am feeling very poorly.”

-- George Hitchcock, 21st Massachusetts

Site of the Andersonville hospital, a short distance outside the prison stockade. 
"See here Mr. Confederacy, this is going a little too far. You have no business to kill us off at this rate. About thirty or forty die daily. They have rigged up an excuse for a hospital on the outside, where the sick are taken. Admit none though who can walk or help themselves in any way. Some of our men are detailed to help as nurses, but in a majority of cases those who go out on parole of honor are cut-throats and robbers, who abuse a sick prisoner."

-- John L. Ransom, 9th Michigan Cavalry

"This is the first Sabbath I ever spent in a Hospital. It has been very quiet but no attention has been paid to the sacredness of the day at all. I would so like to hear a good sermon from some good chaplin. I do so hope that there is an exchange of the sick on the way. If I could only get into one of our Hospitals I think there would be some chance of my geting well. Good speed the day when we may all arrive in our lines."

-- Charles Ross, 11th Vermont

      PANORAMA: View of 26.5-acre camp and a replica of the war-time stockade fence.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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Thursday, February 07, 2019

Morton's Ford (Va.) Then & Now: The amazing Alfred Waud

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From renowned Culpeper County (Va.) historian Clark "Bud" Hall:

Yesterday, while out at Morton's Ford with off-duty sheriff's deputies, I took along the real-time sketch Alfred Waud crafted on Feb. 6, 1864, depicting Federal soldiers in attack ranks straddling Morton's Ford Road -- while hunkering down in front of the Dr. George Morton House (destroyed by the war).

Alfred Waud, Civil War sketch artist.
Waud "captioned" this drawing, "Scene at the late reconnaissance at Morton's Ford/night."

So we strolled up to the same knoll whereupon Alfred Waud sketched this dramatic scene, and you can herein observe the dead-on comparison.

Now, Waud was sketching his scene from atop a horse and I am 5-9, so I didn't achieve as much of the eastern background, as did Waud. But I will soon go back and take another photo while standing in the bed of my pick-up -- an inelegant substitute, to be sure, for Waud's steed.

As we all know, Waud possessed the uncanny ability to precisely craft a scene wherein the supporting terrain is represented as equally significant as the subject of the presentation -- for which we thank him. And you will notice that even in the waning light, Waud was able to accurately depict the moderate swale in front of the house, and the proper location of the distant background, and ford road.

General G.K. Warren visited this precise location in the early evening of Feb. 6 and conferred with Alexander Hays, and others. Is that Warren in Waud's scene? Probably. (He almost got killed here, but that's another story.)

And I don't need to point out the obvious, but will do so, anyway:

Alfred Waud sketched this scene -- like the sketch at St. James Plateau, June 9 at Brandy Station -- when the bullets were flying! Yet, he remained solid, and performed his duty.

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Waiting for 'Mr. Jimmy': A predawn adventure in Plains, Ga.

At Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., Jimmy Carter delivers wisdom during his Sunday 
school lesson while his niece, Jana (far right), daughter of Billy Carter, watches.
In the predawn darkness, George Williams greets visitors at Maranatha Baptist Church. 
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PLAINS, Ga. — At the ungodly hour of 5 a.m., faithful and faithless have gathered in the parking lot at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, population roughly 800 if you count the dogs and cats. The Sunday school lesson begins at 10 a.m. Church service starts an hour later. But most of the sleepy-eyed visitors on the outskirts of town aren’t here before dawn just for church.

A prized slip of numbered paper, a "ticket" 
for admission to Carter's Sunday school lesson.
The main attraction is 94-year-old native son Jimmy Carter, the 39th U.S. president. Twice a month, Carter – who still lives in Plains with former First Lady Rosalynn, his wife of 72 years – delivers a Sunday school lesson at Maranatha Baptist. Shortly after he lost the presidential election to Ronald Reagan in 1980, he began teaching at the church and attending Sunday service here.

Carter is renowned for his humanitarian and charitable efforts after his presidency. Most notably, he helps builds houses for Habitat for Humanity, and his Carter Center has helped monitor elections in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

In the predawn darkness, lifelong Plains resident George Williams, wearing a red Coke cap and windbreaker, greets visitors in vehicles at Maranatha’s parking lot entrance, a short distance from an oversized peanut with a toothy grin. "Where y'all from?" he asks as he hands a visitor a small slip of crinkled brown paper upon which a number is scrawled in felt-tip marker. "Park right up there by Jill. God bless y'all."

Before sunrise, Maranatha Baptist in Plains, Ga.,
is bathed in light.
The lower your number, the better your chances of getting a seat for Carter’s lesson. On this damp morning in rural Georgia, another big event -- the Super Bowl in early evening in Atlanta, 160 miles north – may have thinned the crowd. Sometimes as many as 500 people attend Carter’s lesson. But there’s a little more than 350 Sunday. Only a handful will watch the former president on a monitor in the overflow room in the church instead of in person in the sanctuary.

Williams arrived at 2 a.m. The first visitor pulled in five minutes later. Some take their number and doze in their car. Others spring to life by gulping coffee. A small group engages in small talk near a grove of leafless trees behind Maranatha, a modest, red-brick building topped with a white steeple.

To some in Plains, Carter is "Mr. Jimmy." To others, he has been a hunting buddy. Most of all, locals proudly say, “He’s one of us.”

'He hasn't changed one bit'

Plains mayor Lynton Earl Godwin III, 75, is a longtime friend of Jimmy Carter. 
"He hasn't  changed one bit," he says.
Longtime Plains mayor Lynton Earl Godwin III – almost everyone here calls him “Boze” -- arrives before sunrise. He surveys the parking lot with city councilwoman Jill Stuckey, who directs visitors to parking spaces with a wave of a large flashlight. She also serves as a de facto visitors’ guide, a role she assumed in 1998.

Although the crowd Sunday is “a little light,” Stuckey says, visitation has been “crazy busy” since news of Carter’s cancer diagnosis in 2015. (In summer 2018, Carter said he was cancer-free.) “A lot of people have this on their bucket list,” she says. One Sunday about a decade ago, 48 countries were represented at the church in a single group from the University of Oxford in England. In late January, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a Democratic presidential candidate, and Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, were welcomed.

Some visitors are especially devoted. The night before a Carter event – it’s more a pilgrimage, really -- two women from Missouri pitched a tent in a yard next to the church. They cooked their breakfast with the fire of a propane tank they brought.

Godwin has known Carter most of his life. “He has not forgot where he comes from,” the 75-year-old says. “He hasn’t changed one bit.”

To underscore the mayor’s point, Williams shows off cellphone images of himself hunting with Carter and laughing with the president at a softball game. He’s known Carter most of his life, too.

'A point of light in a veil of darkness'

David Kendall, 68, feeding his dog, Luna, comes from a staunch Republican family. But he says he voted 
for Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, twice for president.
The first to arrive on Sunday morning is 68-year-old David Kendall, who pulled in at 2:05. He leans against his green Volkswagen van with a pop-up roof, tufts of gray hair peeking from under his green and white MAGA ballcap. No, not that MAGA ballcap. His reads: “Make America Green Again.” A self-described East Tennessee farm boy, Kendall and his wife operate a small farm and lodge in western North Carolina. His residence is so deep in the woods, he says, that the location doesn’t even have a name.

On a six-week journey across the U.S., Kendall is traveling alone with his dog, Luna, a 9 ½-year-old mixed breed. He says he comes from a staunch Republican family, but he voted twice for Carter, a Democrat, for president.

Stephen Wilson, with his children Drew and Sarah, 
 admires Carter for his "moral authority."
“He was given a plate of spoiled food,” Kendall says of Carter’s presidency. He ticks off the challenges the president faced during his term from 1976-80, including an oil crisis in 1979: “I think he did the best he could with what he had.”

Kendall says he admires the former president most of all for his outstanding character, a key reason many of the morning’s visitors traveled to hear the former president. “Carter is a point of light in a veil of darkness,” he says, contrasting him with present-day politicians.

At least a dozen states are represented on license plates on vehicles near Kendall’s VW. Lou Fuller, from Chattanooga, Tenn., arrived with her friend, Addie, at about 5 a.m. She recalls hearing Carter, Georgia governor from 1971-75, speak at a PTA meeting during his successful run for that office.

“Who has this kind of access for a former president?” Fuller says when asked why she’s here.

Stephen Wilson, a 41-year-old lawyer from Carrollton, Ga., drove 2 ½ hours with his wife and three young children to hear Carter. An ardent Democrat, he says he admires the former president for his “moral authority.”

“Building those houses at age 94, working with troubled democracies. He’s a hands-on person,” says Wilson, dressed in a suit and sporting a red, white and blue bowtie. Carter, he adds, is a “supporter of our endangered values.”

Susan and Mark Tons of St. Louis arrived at about 5 a.m. for Jimmy Carter's lesson.
Fresh off a cruise to Spain and England, retired couple Mark, 66, and Susan Tons, 63, also arrived about 5 a.m. From St. Louis, they describe themselves as non-religious. “As a president, he was not good,” Mark says between sips of coffee, “but as a human being he’s the best.”

A visitor from Florida praises the simplicity of the event: “They could have citified this,” she says, “made it a high-falutin, fancy place. But they haven’t. It’s the same as it always has been. Good people here."

'Miss Jan': Part drill sergeant, part comedian

Jan Williams, fondly called "Miss Jan," gives detailed instructions to church visitors. If you want a photo
with President Carter, she tells them, you must stay for the 11 a.m. church service.
At about 7:30 a.m., longtime church member Jan Williams, George’s wife, gathers visitors for pre-service instructions. Some are dressed in their Sunday finest, others wear informal attire. There is no dress code at Maranatha Baptist, a blessing for an unshaven visitor wearing black Nike sweatpants and a scroungy, black Puma sweatshirt.

At about 7:45 a.m., visitors form in line for Carter's
Sunday school lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church.
Part drill sergeant and part comedian, Jan goes over the well-established church rules: No shaking Carter’s hand; no conversation with him; no autographs; and if you want a photo with the president, you must stay for the church service following his lesson. And, of course, no smoking in church. “If you smoke,” Williams says, “this may be the best day to quit.”

As Williams issues commands, a bomb-sniffing dog, part of Carter’s Secret Service escort, ventures around the church’s exterior. “This is the safest place in the world to go to church,” she says emphatically.

At about 7:45, Williams orders visitors into line by their “ticket” numbers. She rejoices that the weather is mild. “Thank God,” Williams tells those in line, “God doesn’t let it rain here very much. One time we had to break out the hair dryers because folks got sloppin’ wet.”

At the church entrance, visitors unload their cellphones and anything else in their pockets or purses at a small table in front of two Secret Service agents. Two other agents wave a metal detecting wand over visitors and members before they are admitted. In the entryway, Mayor Godwin hands out church service bulletins.

In the sanctuary, there are three sections of pews, 13 rows in each section. Folding chairs add to capacity of the church, which only has about 30 active members. The walls and carpet are shades of key-lime green. Light streams through 10 stained-glass windows. Newly installed large-screen monitors flank the altar. With military-like precision, “Miss Jan” helps directs traffic.

The Secret Service lays down the law
when Carter attends Maranatha Baptist Church.
Before the lesson, Jana Carter, daughter of Carter’s brother, Billy, talks about her famous uncle. “He’s just a hometown boy to us,” she says, “who happens to have been the 39th president of the United States.” Like Williams, she has the genes of a comedian in her DNA and enjoys interacting with visitors. She briefly puts on her Chamber of Commerce hat, offering advice on where to eat after church or buy peanut butter ice cream in Plains.

Jana goes over ground rules, too. The president will ask the people in each section where they’re from. Tell him in a loud voice, she says, because he’s hard of hearing. Jana practices with each group.

“Poland,” says a man.

“Canada,” says another.

When the president enters the sanctuary, Jana instructs, say “Good Morning” in unison.


Jill Stuckey provides the most important instructions of all: how to get a picture taken with Mr. and Mrs. Carter, 91, after the service concludes. Have your phone ready. Give it to Stuckey, who will quickly take the photo. Don’t dawdle. The aim is to get the photography wrapped up in 15 minutes. Clearly, this isn’t her first photo rodeo.

Carter teaches lessons from the Bible, often sprinkled with thoughts on current events. While not out of bounds, political topics are rarely discussed. Besides the twice-monthly lessons, he has touched the church in other ways. “Mr. Jimmy” made the wooden offering plates – his initials are on the bottom – and the cross behind the altar. He also has made repairs in the church and cut bushes and hedges. “He was our handyman,” Stuckey says. Mrs. Carter has often pitched in for church work, too. She even has cleaned the restrooms.

Jimmy Carter has touched Maranatha Baptist in many ways. He
 even made the offering plates. His initials "J.C." appear at right.
Before the president’s arrival, Cheryl and Joe Bistayi talk with another visitor in a pew near the front. The couple is from Novi, Mich. Cheryl, who grew up in Chicago, laughs when she tells about what her father said decades ago about the 39th president. “Jimmy Carter is a good and decent man,” he told her, “and you can’t have a guy like that run the government.”

Soon, stern-looking Secret Service agents stir on each side of the sanctuary.

At 9:57 a.m., a man wearing a black suit, light blue shirt and a turquoise and black bolo tie slowly walks into the room.

“Good morning, everybody” President Carter says.

“Good morning!” shout the worshipers.


The lesson begins.

The former first couple -- Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter -- with blogger John Banks. The Carters
pose for photos with visitors at Maranatha Baptist after the 11 a.m. service.

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Saturday, February 02, 2019

In 10 images: A walk in Andersonville National Cemetery

A passage from President Lincoln's first inaugural address on the Illinois monument.
On the Illinois monument, a stone figure of an officer among scores of  graves.

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At Andersonville National Cemetery, the rows of pearl-white tombstones are mind-numbing, almost impossible to process in just one visit. Nearly 13,000 Union soldiers who died at the prison camp a quarter-mile away rest in the red Georgia clay. Under a leaden sky, we examined the names on scores on the gravestones in the well-kept cemetery. The unknowns drew special attention. So, too, did the angel, eagle and bronze and stone figures who stand watch for eternity.

An angel overlooks two forlorn prisoners in bas-relief on the reverse of the New York monument.
Of the nearly 13,000 soldiers buried at Andersonville, 492 are unknown. Here are five of them.
A plaque on the front of the New York monument details the Empire State's sacrifice at Andersonville.
 A soldier in a great coat atop the Minnesota monument.
A weary soldier on the New York monument. 
A bronze figure of an eagle stands watch over the dead.
Words from the Bible inscribed on the bottom of a monument at a cemetery entrance.
A miniature American flag to honor an unknown.

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