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UNCLE JACK'S WEBLOG
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Sherwood Gardens redux (again) Tuesday June 30, 2009
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. last visited Sherwood Gardens a couple of months ago when the tulips were in full bloom (go to April 24 in the archives if you want to take another look at that spectacular display). They walked over there again yesterday to see what has transpired since the tulips faded and as you can see from the pictures it was worth the effort. Every flower bed has been restocked with new varieties that are appropriate to the season and the park looks as stunning as ever, as does the Guilford neighborhood in which it's located.
       Walking is their major (but definitely not their only) physical activity these days and Baltimore provides an almost unlimited number of possibilities in the perambulation department. This morning they set out for a shopping area on Cold Spring Lane (a bit more than a mile through the upscale Roland Park neighborhood)where they checked out what is reputed to be the best video store in all of Bawlmer, Video Americain, and then repaired to a popular restaurant called Miss Shirley's for lunch.
       The DVD store is incredible and they hope to plunder its vast collection of foreign films, documentaries, English TV series, and the like right up until the day they go out of business. The owners are nothing if not realists and they know their days are numbered due to fierce competition from online video distributors like
Netflix,streaming video online, and the increasing sophistication of "on demand" movie channels on cable TV.
       Miss Shirley's is a keeper. Mrs. U.J. had what she described as the best softshell crab she has ever eaten in a restaurant (this does not include the divine softshells she has consumed at Suzanne Tate's table on many occasions) while Uncle Jack pigged out on superb fried green tomatoes and corn fritters. He could hardly walk home but it was worth the struggle.
       June is departing in fine fashion and the Fourth of July impends. They have been reliably informed that the fireworks in the inner harbor are visible from their seventh floor condo's south-facing windows and that is as close as they want to get.
              Baltimore is still Baltimore, after all. Especially after dark.


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The tulips are gone but not forgotten.

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Uncle Jack has no idea what all these flowers are but they certainly are pretty.

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Sherwood Gardens is a private/public park. He has no idea who pays for all this but he's glad it's free and so nearby.

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A lot of work goes into this lovely place every year. Uncle Jack is glad he is not called upon to do any of it.

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Lovely.

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The Guilford neighborhood is about a hundred years old and the foliage has reached near-jungle proportions in many places. Many trees are three feet or more in diameter.

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Hydrangeas are everywhere in Roland Park, another upscale neighborhood near Uncle Jack's condo.

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Roland Park is not quite as snazzy as Guilford but there is nothing shabby about this house. Note the absence of particle board.

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Miss Shirley's looks like a standard strip-mall eatery from the outside but the food attracts knowledgable eaters from all over Bawlmer.

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One of the more peculiar trees they have spotted on their daily walks.

posted by Uncle Jack at 4:26 PM

Comments [4]



Sunday, June 28, 2009
City lights, Sunday June 28, 2009
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. are firmly back in the city groove after their week in the hinterlands of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The night after returning they dined in an Afghan restaurant downtown which is owned and operated by the brother of the present leader of that unfortunate country, Mohammed Karzai. The place is called The Helmand and it's one of the most popular restaurants in town, possibly because the food and service are excellent and the prices unbelievably reasonable. Uncle Jack could not begin to pronounce his entree but it was a delicious concoction of lamb, beef, rice and vegetables which returned to wreak vengeance in the middle of the night, possibly in retaliation for the errant drone attacks which have killed so many Afghan civilians in recent months.
       They emerged from the Helmand at about 9 p.m. to find a group of young people with a boombox dancing at the foot of the Washington Monument. They learned later that it was one of the many spontaneous tributes to the Gloved One that sprung up all over the country in the wake of his death.
Bizarre is the word that comes most readily
to Uncle Jack's mind.
       The Saturday Farmer's Market is now in full swing with new veggies and fruits coming into the stalls each week. Local strawberries were in for the first time along with radishes, carrots, beets and a whole lot of other good stuff. They will eat well this week for sure. Michael Pollan would be proud of them. (He was in town last week to give a talk at the Pratt Library).
       This morning's aerobic walk took them to a part of the JHU campus hitherto unexplored. The major discovery was Dunning Park, a lovely bower filled with amusing animal sculptures by Benjamin Bufano, an American artist who died in 1970. They have taken a beating over the years as children love to climb on them but they retain their charm nonetheless.
       Their walking tour ended in the student activities building which is loaded with every kind of amenity including weight and exercise rooms, swimming pools, gymnasiums, a spectacular climbing wall, running track, etc. The JHU tuition is over $40,000 a year now but the students can't complain about their activities center---or the campus either which has to be one of the prettiest in the country. And it's right across the street.
      


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A grove of magnolia trees on the JHU campus is coming into bloom.

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Uncle Jack didn't expect to see blossoms like this so far north. Baltimore has been full of surprises.

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Not hard to see why small children (and JHU students) would want to ride this horse.

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Or this camel.

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Or better yet, this camel. Mrs. Stonebreaker taught him the difference between bactrian and dromedary camels but he no longer remembers which is which.

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Escargot, in marble.

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Uncle Jack looked for bears in Minnesota but had to come back to Baltimore to find one.

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This shot putter stands in front of the athletic office. A similar discus thrower flanks the entrance.

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Part of an elaborate climbing wall in the magnificent student activities center.

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Mayor Bloomberg's impact on JHU is seen everywhere. This is just one of several buildings he has endowed.

posted by Uncle Jack at 4:12 PM

Comments [4]



Wednesday, June 24, 2009
You CAN go home again, Wednesday June 24, 2009
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. have returned to Charm City after a week-long sojourn in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota which turned out to be both enjoyable and spiritually uplifting. They spent four days in Brainerd, Minnesota visiting his brother and sister and numerous others of his extended family including a number of nieces and nephews who were calling him Uncle Jack even before he adopted his nom de laptop.
       His brother Don and wife Idelle (he is Swedish and she is Norwegian which makes theirs a mixed marriage in Minnesota) whomped up lots of meals featuring the sublime ethnic foods of his childhood including potato sausage, Swedish brown beans and Swedish rye bread of which he ate entirely too much at every sitting. He also partook of walleyed pike, the Minnesota equivalent of rockfish, which no restaurant in that state dares not to serve (cooked at least three ways). All of this glorious food was washed down with the incomparable beer of his childhood, Leinenkugel's Old Style Lager.
       They tore themselves away from food and family for a couple of days to visit Uncle Jack's old home town, Ashland, Wisconsin which is about a 3.5 hour drive from Brainerd over roads that have been vastly improved in the past 50 years. When John F. Kennedy visited Ashland on a campaign tour fifty years ago he described it aptly as a "classic example of an economically distressed community"---which it was. The lumbering industry was dead due to lack of any more trees to cut down. The ore-shipping industry was defunct for lack of iron ore. The paper mill was on its last legs due to foreign competition and obsolescence, and the tourists couldn't think of any reason to visit Ashland when there were so many nicer places to go.
       Well Uncle Jack is here to tell you that a social and economic miracle has happened in his old home town and his bosom swells with pride to tell about it. Due to the hard work and vision of a coterie of its citizens, including a number of politicians, Ashland has transformed itself into a singularly attractive community whose future looks bright even in these parlous times.
       The amazing mural project is probably the most attention-grabbing part of this renaissance but really no more important than the spruced-up stores on Main Street or the newly refurbished houses all over town fronting on newly paved streets. Some of the dozen or so murals are pictured below and more are on the way. They are extremely well done by a local artist and are sure to become a tourist attraction in their own right as the word gets around.
       The title of one of Thomas Wolfe's books suggests that you can't go home again but Uncle Jack did it last week and he plans to do it again next year if for no other reason than to see the new murals. Stay tuned.
      
             


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Ashland was once a mighty iron-ore-shipping port but the ore ran out many years ago. The only remaining dock is built of reinforced concrete which would cost a fortune to tear down. The pedestrian/bike path in the foreground is several miles long.

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The Chequamegon Hotel is an antique-filled replica of a 19th century hotel that burned down many years ago. The classiest hostelry in Ashland for sure.

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The first of Ashland's wonderful murals. The entire wall is trompe l'oeil. The gent in the white shirt is Ashland's founder, Asaph Whittlesey, who walked a hundred miles on snowshoes to attend a meeting of the state legislature.

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Each of these lumberjacks is identified by name. Nobody seemed to know why the woman was in the picture but Uncle Jack has a theory.

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This faux street contains actual representations of shops that once existed on Main Street. (Some are still there). There is not one empty storefront anywhere in the downtown area at this time.

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For over a hundred years the Black Cat was a favorite hangout for the drinking class, including Uncle Jack. Now it's a coffee shop. Sic transit gloria mundi.

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This small Marina in front of the Chequamegon Hotel is presently Ashland's only boating facility. Uncle Jack has a hunch this is going to change dramatically in the future. Look at all that water.

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The home place, still standing after more than a century. Termites can't live in this climate which probably accounts for its longevity.

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Uncle Jack's sister Phyl, still cheerful after 87 winters in northern Minnesota. Flanked by her short brother, Don, 77, and her tall brother, 79. Their Aunt Esther lived to be a hundred so there's hope for them yet.

posted by Uncle Jack at 9:11 PM

Comments [9]



Monday, June 15, 2009
Hiatus, Monday June 15, 2009
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. are leaving for Minnesota bright and early tomorrow morning and will be gone for a week during which it is unlikely that he will be able to post a weblog entry. His brother lives out in the country where cable TV and broad band are not yet available and Uncle Jack doesn't remember how to do dial-up so he will be taking some time off. Save some wear and tear on your mouse and stop looking for anything in this space until the 24th or thereabouts. He hopes by then to have many pictures of lakes and pine trees and other flora and fauna native to the upper midwest. In the meantime read a good book of your choice. Ciao.

posted by Uncle Jack at 8:25 PM

Comments [10]



Saturday, June 13, 2009
Why, indeed?, Saturday June 13, 2009


       Uncle Jack read the following article from the Virginian-Pilot a couple of days ago in the online publication "Outer Banks Free Press". It took him by surprise because he has been under the mistaken impression that the Coastal Studies Institute was going to be located on property near the aquarium which had been generously donated by the County Commissioners on behalf of the taxpaying citizens of Dare County. He can understand why the people setting up the Institute might want to put it in a waterfront location but he thought they had decided to compromise and accept the freebie from the commissioners. Obviously he was mistaken.
       He was curious about who the sellers (Skyco LLC) were and how they came to be the owners of this very valuable property, but now that he is no longer a tax-paying resident of N.C. he didn't try to follow up on it. (Right now he is more interested in how the Chairman of the Board of Education of the Baltimore City School system, a real estate man who has been cited dozens of times for various financial delinquencies, managed to land a brand-new job near the top of the school system's food chain at a salary of $170,000).
       Yesterday, however, Uncle Jack received a mailing from the indefatigable fiscal watchdog, Ray Midgett, which raises another interesting question about this transaction. Ray's letter follows the article by Catherine Kozak.


       By Catherine Kozak
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 10, 2009
When the goal is to build an innovative facility to study coastal processes, ideally it should be located on water.

That's why the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute in Manteo decided to pursue purchase of a 200-acre parcel in Skyco along the Croatan Sound rather than be landlocked at the initial proposed site on Roanoke Island.

The $8.25 million deal with sellers Skyco LLC closed Friday, said Nancy White, the institute's director.

At the first proposed location, she said, "we'd still have to find a site for water access."

With deep water access and open marshland, the Skyco land, one mile south of the Midway intersection in Manteo, has 34 upland acres, White said.

Of those, 26 are buildable and 8 are preserved for a conservation easement with the North Carolina Nature Conservancy.

The institute plans to build certified green campus buildings and landscape at the site with environmentally sustainable, efficient and low-impact technology. A revised draft design for the $32.4 million project is expected to be complete in about a month.

In 1994, a UNC task force identified the need for a marine research and education facility in the northeast. The institute will partner with UNC-Chapel Hill, East Carolina University and North Carolina State University.

Planned program areas include estuarine ecology and human health; estuarine and coastal processes, with an emphasis on remote sensing and satellite imagery; coastal engineering; and human dimensions.

"We're going to be very high-tech and focused on these underserved areas of coastal and marine science," White said.

Funding for the land and construction is being provided through bonds, she said.

Catherine Kozak, (252) 441-1711, cate.kozak@pilotonline.com


Dear Friend,

If you own your home in Dare County today and put it on the market for sale, you would have to take less than the current county tax appraisal.

However, the UNC Coastal Studies Institute, Roanoke Island just purchased property in Skyco (Roanoke Island) for the price of $8.25 million.
What was the county tax value?       Well, how about $589,000?

How would you like to sell your home for 15 times what the county says its worth?

And, who is going to pay this $8.25 million? You are.

Did you know the County of Dare had already offered CSI a piece of property at the Manteo Airport, with a county tax value of $2.3 million
FOR FREE???.....Yes, CSI has turned it down...after previously accepting it and having a Grand Acceptance Ceremony last year.

Why?

Your Dare County Commissioner, Richard Johnson sits on the UNC-CSI board. I encourage you to call him and let him explain.
If you get an answer, would you please forward it to me. I'd like to know.

Also, please share this info. with your email friends.

Ray


If anybody out there knows anything about "Skyco LLC" and how this remarkable transaction came to pass, Uncle Jack would love to hear about it. And when he finds out how that school board chairman managed to pick the $170,000 plum at a time when teachers are being laid off and schools closed for lack of funds he will be the first to let you know.










posted by Uncle Jack at 8:42 AM

Comments [7]



Thursday, June 11, 2009
Pill Popping, Thursday June 11, 2009
       A couple of weeks ago Uncle Jack mentioned a book he had read called "The Illusion of Uncertainty" in which the authors raised some interesting questions about various widespread medical phenomena, e.g. the use of statins to reduce cholesterol levels and therefore, presumably, to reduce the incidence of heart attacks; screening using PSA and other tests in an effort to reduce deaths from prostate cancer; and colorectal cancer screening.
       It's a fascinating book because the authors, neither of whom are medical doctors, take a completely different approach to measuring and interpreting risk than we usually get in the TV ads for nostrums like Lipitor and Zocor in which claims like "reduces the risk of heart attack by 50%" are often made. They explain the difference between "relative risk" which these advertisements proclaim and "actual risk" which applies to any given individual rather than a large population.
       For example if two groups of 1000 people each are compared after one group has taken a medication for five years and the other has not, and the findings are that two people in the group who did not take the medication died as compared with only one person in the group who did take it, you could interpret these results to mean that the medication reduced the death rate by 50% and this would be true in relative terms.
       Looked at from the standpoint of the individual faced with a decision whether or not to take a medication that may be costly and have serious side effects the risk is not 50% but only .01%---he or she has a one-in-a-thousand chance of benefiting from the medication. Surely this is information a patient should have when trying to decide whether or not the risk is sufficient to avoid embarking on an expensive and possibly dangerous course of medication.
       Research on the effectiveness of statins in preventing heart attacks shows that among the group of people who have not had a previous heart attack (about 180 million Americans) only about 3% would benefit from taking statins. The other 97% would not benefit.
       The authors point out that in 2001 over 20 million people worldwide took statins at a cost of $16 billion. How much of that $16 billion helped to drive up the cost of medical care without concommitant benefits is something for the medical profession and the insurance companies to ponder. How much of it is driven by zillions of dollars worth of advertising on the part of pharmaceutical companies is also worth investigating.
       "The Illusion of Certainty" is packed with so much information that Uncle Jack can hardly do it justice in this brief piece. The chapter on screening for prostate cancer, for example, was alone worth the modest price of the book for Uncle Jack because it confirmed his conclusions about the course he chose to take when informed seven years ago that he did indeed have prostate cancer.
       In his estimation this is a very important book and he recommends it to all readers who would like to better prepared to make intelligent decisions about their own medical care.

posted by Uncle Jack at 12:46 PM

Comments [4]



Tuesday, June 9, 2009
I-95 Blues, Tuesday June 9, 2009
       Uncle Jack was reminded again last Saturday of one of the major advantages Outer Banks residents have over their tourist visitors---they don't have to leave if they don't want to. Twice in the past month he has been faced with the necessity of pointing the Mini north, gritting his teeth and submitting himself to the agonizing vagaries of Interstate Highway Number 95. Having to run (or more often creep) the gauntlet from Richmond to D.C. to Baltimore has become the painful price he must pay for the occasional pleasure of strolling the beaches that once lay at his front door.
       Last Saturday's trip provided a particularly egregious example of the torture he (and thousands like him who live north of the D.C. barrier) must endure as they struggle to return to their northern homes after an idyllic, life-enhancing sojourn on the Outer Banks. Uncle Jack has found that passage to the vicinity of Richmond is most often accomplished relatively swiftly and with only occasional moments of sheer terror. Tension builds, however, as the Mini is swept into the roaring tsunami of traffic that flows ceaselessly up I-95 toward D.C. and all points north.
              Well, maybe ceaselessly is not exactly the right word. The onrushing river begins to slow noticeably as more and more vehicles fill its four lanes to capacity. On this occasion forward movement stopped completely some 31 miles south of the Beltway at which point Uncle Jack cleverly exited to fill the Mini's minuscule gas tank and check the map for possible escape routes.
       One seemed fraught with possibility. They could take four-lane highway 234 north to Manassas where they could use I-66 to carry them to the Beltway which would take them clockwise around D.C. to rejoin 95 for the finishing spurt to Bawlmer. This turned out to be a brilliant plan right up to the point where they missed the turn off I-66 onto the Beltway and wound up in the heart of downtown Washington. While they enjoyed seeing the Pentagon again and the Washington Monument and the rest of the Shining City on the Hill it was with mixed emotions because after six hours of heavy driving Uncle Jack wanted more than anything else to rejoin his stash of Pilsner Urquell.
       Luckily they stumbled upon the ancient Baltimore-Washington Parkway which got them out of downtown D.C. and into downtown Baltimore in less than an hour. Will they do it again? Of course they will. They're tourists.
             
      
      


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They got home just in time to dine at the annual Charles Village street fair held on the Johns Hopkins campus across the street from their condo. City living at its finest.

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It's not without its dangers, though. On the way home they were accosted by this wild animal and two of his buddies who demanded all their carrots.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:15 AM

Comments [8]



Friday, June 5, 2009
Homeward bound, Friday June 5, 2009
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. have come to the end of a lovely week in Nags Head during which they played their unaccustomed roles as tourists to the hilt. Except for a couple of hours of rain this morning the weather has been flawless so they were able to enjoy many hours of beachwalking and decksitting---their two favorite recreational activities while in tourist mode.
       The high points of the week included a visit to Yellowhouse Gallery which is looking spiffier than ever thanks to the good works of Eve and Pete Turek who have brought new life to Uncle Jack's and Mrs. U.J.'s old hangout. As Uncle Jack has always said, no trip to the Outer Banks is complete without a visit to Yellowhouse.
       They joined Eve and Pete later for dinner at Captain George's restaurant in Kill Devil Hills, the latest entrant in the long-running elimination tournament among Outer Banks seafood eateries. Many have come and gone over the years but Captain George's looks like it could be here to stay if the size of the dinner crowd on Thursday is any indication. It's now by far the largest restaurant on the Outer Banks and while Uncle Jack is not usually a fan of "all you can eat" buffets he has to say the food is a cut above. He is very much afraid that the arrival of Captain George's is going to cause some consternation in the ranks of local restaurant operators---at least until the novelty wears off, as it already has for Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J.
       Uncle Jack is always happy to pay a visit to Steve Brumfield's wonderful bookstore in Manteo where he acquired a copy of a new book written by his old friend Ray McAllister. It's called "Hatteras Island: Keeper of the Outer Banks" and he can tell you it's a great read. Ray is a former columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch who has turned his hand to writing books about the Outer Banks and we should all be grateful for that fact.
       Tomorrow the Mini will join the caravan of SUV's heading for the Wright Memorial Bridge. They hope everybody had as much fun as they did this week.      


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The Filene Center at Wolf Trap where they enjoyed a delightful presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" Saturday night.

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Gilbert and Sullivan prove that they can still pack 'em in after 100 years of performances.

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Their host, Ron Sacra, proudly displays his delicious planked salmon while Mrs. U.J. and Rebecca quietly salivate in the background. What a dinner.

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The Sacras live in Ashburn, Virginia, a suburb near Dulles airport, where they share their backyard lake with this heron.

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The Jennette's Pier project is underway. This is one serious crane.

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This house sits in the middle of the beach in South Nags Head---when it isn't in the water. The septic tank has been cleverly concealed under a sand pile where the health department will never find it.

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South Nags Head where Surfside Drive was once located. Not too crowded at noon on Friday.

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This ancient Harley was parked in Leesburg, Va. on Sunday. Uncle Jack's dad had one just like it in the 20's. He and Uncle Jack's mom went on their honeymoon in it (and on it).

posted by Uncle Jack at 5:48 PM

Comments [4]




click picture for more
Uncle Jack lived in Nags Head for 35 years before he moved to Baltimore a couple of years ago. He still has a house in South Nags Head which he and Mrs. U.J. visit every chance they get.
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