Harry Truman’s ‘Seagoing White House’ Rusts In Italian Shipyard

truman floating whitehouse
What was once one of the world’s most famous ships is now rusting away in an Italian shipyard. The U.S.S. Williamsburg, a naval ship that became President Harry Truman’s personal yacht in 1945 and was once considered an American treasure, could be scrapped within a few years if a last-minute attempt to save the ship fails, NBC Nightly News reports.truman floating whitehouse
Originally a private vessel, the ship was bought by the U.S. Navy and spent much of World War II in Iceland, helping to safeguard the delivery of supplies from the U.S. to Europe. After the war ended, the ship became the President’s official yacht, eventually becoming Truman’s favored setting for vacations and state occasions, earning the nickname of the “seagoing White House” in the 1940s.

truman floating whitehouse
But when Dwight Eisenhower became President in 1953, he ordered the ship to be decomissioned after just one voyage. The yacht was given to the National Science Foundation to be used for oceanographic research, and six years later was damaged when it was attached to a floating drydock, which suddenly sank. Although there have been many proposals to revive the Williamsburg – including turning it into a cruise ship – the vessel has been slowly degrading in an Italian shipyard for the past 20 years. Owners say the ship will likely sink in the next few years if nobody steps in to save it.

[via Daily Mail]

Forbidden America: Cold War-Era Map Shows No-Go Zones For Soviet Tourists

Image courtesy of the Rockefeller Archive Center

If you think security is tight now, imagine what it was like for Soviet tourists who came to the United States during the Cold War. Although a select few private Soviet citizens were granted permission to visit the Land of the Free in the 1950s, the U.S. government was very specific about the places these tourists could and could not visit. A map that surfaced on Slate’s new history blog, The Vault, details those forbidden places, which are shaded in green above.

The U.S. barred the admission of all Communists in 1952. According to Slate, tourists had to produce a detailed itinerary and get it approved before obtaining a visa to visit the U.S. Most ports and coastlines were off-limits to these travelers, as well as anywhere near weapons facilities or industrial centers. It seems these restrictions mirrored Soviet constraints on American travel to the USSR after World War II, with the only exceptions being journalists and government officials. These travel restrictions stayed in place until the Kennedy administration lifted them in 1962 as a symbol of the openness of American society.

[via BoingBoing]

Mussolini’s Bunker Discovered In Rome, Will Become A Tourist Attraction

MussoliniA bunker intended for the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini has been discovered in Rome, World Crunch reports.

The bunker was found in 2011 by workers restoring the Palazzo Venezia, but its existence wasn’t revealed until now. The workers found a trap door in the cellar of a 15th-century building that led to nine rooms fortified with concrete walls up to two meters (6.6 feet) thick.

Researchers believe this was the 12th bunker Mussolini was said to have had. It was obviously never finished as there is no plumbing or electricity, only bare walls.

The bunker is 15 meters (49.2 feet) underground and could have withstood some serious bombing.

There are two escape routes in the bunker, one of which leads to a neighboring church garden. The other hasn’t been fully explored but leads in the direction of another of Mussolini’s bunkers.

While his network of bunkers protected Mussolini from Allied bombing, they didn’t protect him from his own people. He was killed by Communist partisans on April 27, 1945.

The bunker will open to tourists this autumn and will include a touchscreen display to explain its historical significance and the recording of an air raid siren to add a touch of atmosphere.

This decision is at odds with what Germany did with Hitler’s bunker in Berlin. While the exact location was known, it was decided not to turn it into a historical monument for fear that it would attract neo-Nazis. It wasn’t until 2006, and after much controversy, that a historic plaque was put up at the location.

[Image courtesy Bundesarchiv]

Epic Spring Break Adventures Of Past Generations

spring break

The history of spring break goes back to 1936 when a swim coach from New York brought some of his swim team down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to practice at a warm pool during the winter. That proved such a good idea that the coach brought the whole team the following year. Seizing an opportunity in a post-depression economy, Fort Lauderdale quickly grew to be the original “spring break” capital of the world. Today, spring break travelers make life-long memories at destinations around the world. But the spring break options of today are an evolution of what has come before them, some of which were epic moments.

“Most of our lives, spring break has been portrayed as a fabled experience of near-utopian bacchanalia, community with fellow youth and warm sunny weather,” says CoolestSpringBreak, a website dedicated to preserving the history of fellow and future generations of spring breakers, both young and old. They ask, “… where does Spring Break, as a ritual of youth, come from?”

From the end of World War II until the 1980s, Fort Lauderdale was a notorious spring break destination in the United States for college students as was Daytona Beach, Panama City Beach and – well, you get it – warm places with beaches ruled as top spring break destinations.

Other states caught on and started promoting their destinations as spring break-friendly too, but Fort Lauderdale clearly had the lead, drawing as many as 20,000 students in the 1950s. That number grew to over 50,000 annual trekkers coming to Florida in the ’60s but then came the ’70s and along with them a very different scene.

Gone were the wholesome times associated with spring break-defining films like “Where The Boys Are” starring teen idol Connie Francis and the clean-cut songs of the Beach Boys.

Alcohol, a spring break staple, was mixed with drugs, which played a larger role in the festivities. The moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars to bring the hippie “free love” movement. Add college students, on a beach, with little supervision and the cocktail for epic spring break experiences had been mixed.Because of the shenanigans of the ’70s, the ’80s grew spring breaker numbers in Florida to over 350,000, overwhelming city services, taking all available hotel rooms, leaving many in shambles after occupancy and quickly becoming a difficult situation to deal with – but not for long.

The 1990s saw spring break go international in spite of nearly half a million spring breakers coming to Florida as high school students joined the fun. Young professionals began scheduling vacation time during spring break to re-live their college days before turning the ripe old age of 30.

As U.S. destinations tightened up enforcement of alcohol laws, spring break drinkers looked to spring breakMexico, where the legal drinking age is “old enough to see over the bar” and “anything goes” is pretty much a way of life. Already a popular option with budget-minded travelers, Mexico’s all-inclusive resorts offered hotel rooms that held up to four people, included meals and hours of free cocktails throughout the day. Never mind the drug wars, Mexico is perfect for the spring breaker mentality.

Still today, spring break rules the beaches and ski slopes for a period of time each year as a new generation of spring breaker comes forth to create their own epic memories. Google “top spring break destination” today and results vary depending on who is rating them but thousands of hits indicate a whole lot of people are.

Throughout most of the last century, spring breakers did not have anything close to that search ability and relied on newspaper accounts and TV news reports, mostly when something bad happened, for information on where to go and what to do there by reading between the lines. “Students Arrested For Disorderly Contact,” a story might read then go on to say, “25 students were arrested in Florida when things got out of hand.”

Looking for a party place for spring break, the old school researcher needn’t read further in that story than “200,000 students converged on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale to celebrate spring break…” to know this was the place to go. Twenty-five arrested out of 200,000? Pretty good odds for a stage set for epic spring break adventures.

Last week, when Gadling was in town for Seatrade Miami, the SXSW of cruise travel, Victoria’s Secret models Sara Sampaio and Elsa Hosk were hosts for the Ultimate Spring Break Dance Party 2013 with DJ Irie and DJ Cassidy at the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach. Here is video of that event:


[Photo credit – Flickr users sean dreilinger and prakash_ut, respectively]

The Secret Tunnels Under Tallinn

Tallinn
Tallinn is an old city, and like many old cities it has its share of secrets. Stories of ghosts, buried treasure and hidden tunnels add to the atmosphere of the medieval streets.

For a couple of years, one of those secrets was revealed when the city opened up the Bastion Tunnels. These corridors were built by Estonia’s Swedish rulers in the 1670s and ran under the earthen bastions that protected the city. These bastions were an improvement over Tallinn’s stone walls, which were now outdated in the age of artillery. The tunnels allowed for the rapid and safe transport of troops from one part of the defenses to the other.

The Bastion Tunnels were used by the soldiers for a time and then were abandoned to the rats and spiders. Abandoned, but not forgotten. The entrances were still visible yet few dared to go down there. Rumors of buried treasure arose but most people were too afraid to venture into the dank, dark tunnels to search for it.

In the more practical 20th century the tunnels got new life. In the 1930s everyone could see that war was coming, and Estonia’s uncomfortable position next to the Soviet Union made it an obvious target. The government reopened the tunnels as bomb shelters. Today, a section of the tunnels is preserved to commemorate this era, with vintage posters showing what to do in case of an air raid, and some frightened dummies set up in period clothing.

The Soviets occupied Estonia in 1940, only to be kicked out by the Germans the following year. They were hardly a liberating force, however, and the partisans who had been fighting the Soviets soon turned their guns on the Nazis. Meanwhile the Soviets launched bombing raids and the citizens of Tallinn hid in the tunnels for protection. Luckily most of the historic city was preserved, but as you walk around you can spot patches where all the buildings are new. This is thanks to the Soviets.

%Gallery-179163%The Estonian resistance actually took advantage of the bombings to strike a blow against their occupiers. Estonians tell the story that the German high officers all stayed at a particular posh hotel. The resistance hoped it would get hit by a bomb and preeminently smuggled ammunition into the cellar. A Soviet bomb hit the hotel and BOOM … no more Nazi officers.

The Soviets eventually retook Estonia and it would remain under Soviet rule until 1991. During that time the tunnels were used again as a bomb shelter. Visitors can see period equipment like radios, air circulation machines and radiation suits. There’s even an old Soviet latrine that still stinks. The photo above shows an Estonian family hoping their suits will stop the radiation from an American nuclear strike. That green bag between the mother and her child is for a baby. I’ll leave it to you to guess whether that contraption would have actually worked.

Eventually the Soviets, too, abandoned the tunnels. Estonia had nuclear missiles positioned all over the country so it was on the U.S. shortlist for bombing. The Soviets must have realized that some 17th century tunnels weren’t going to protect anyone from a direct hit, so the tunnels once again reverted to a home for rats and spiders.

Then, in the 1980s and ’90s, a new group took over the tunnels – the punks. Punk rock was illegal in the Soviet Union. That whole defy-the-system ethos didn’t sit too well with the Communist Party. So the punks went underground, literally. They spray painted the walls, threw parties, drank, took drugs and generally had a good time while thumbing their noses at authority. The police harassed and often arrested punks on the street but never chased them into the tunnels. Our tour guide told us that the tunnels had become infested with fleas and the cops didn’t want to catch bugs along with punks.

Independence came in 1991 and the punks could enjoy sunlight again. The economy wasn’t doing so well and the homeless population swelled. They took over the tunnels and made them as comfortable as they could. Eventually, of course, they were kicked out so the tunnels could be restored and opened as a tourist site. Our tour guide didn’t know what happened to the homeless people.

The Bastion Tunnels make for an interesting tour, yet I feel that the city missed a great opportunity. The punk graffiti was all painted over and eventually replaced with faux graffiti in the punk style. I would have much preferred to have seen graffiti written by some crusty old punk from the days when defying authority could land you in jail instead of just angering parents. It would have also been nice if they could have employed some of the homeless people as tour guides. This would have given them work and given visitors an insight into what it was like to live underneath the city.

And the “Time Machine” ride they have is just too cheesy to waste bandwidth on …

Still, the Bastion Tunnels are one of the most interesting attractions in Tallinn. They’re entered through the cellar of the Kiek in de Kök tower. The name means “peek into the kitchen” because the tower so dominated the town that it was said the watchmen could look down the chimneys of the houses and see what was cooking! The tower has a collection of arms and armor as well as a space for photographic exhibitions. From the top you get a fine view of Tallinn’s Old Town.

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: A Vintage Submarine and Icebreaker in Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbor!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]