It is not uncommon to wake up in the summer to a Chinook hovering over the house, landing practically in the backyard.
When the helicopters are that close they create a small local earthquake. The dogs don’t understand what they bark at.
Automatic gunfire* rattles through the forest. Canons explode. Horses lift their heads in the paddocks on the farm before returning to graze as camouflage humvees whip by.
Dozens of cadets lay on the forest floor next to the house with their weapons ready.
At any point during the night I can walk into the woods and expect to hear the decisive yet quiet commands of a team of cadets planning their next move. When their targets are close.
In the summer the forest has hundreds of voices.
At night the gunfire** echoes louder, sometimes closer.
Smoke rises from the mountains in the morning.
*The West Point cadets train for war in the forest around my home using Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System or MILES gear. Although no real bullets are used, the sounds and smells of guns, smoke, and marching sweat still stick to the wind. MILES gear is essentially a glorified laser tag. The MILES is mounted onto the weapons, vehicles, helicopters, etc. When a soldier is “hit” a loud sound will ring out through the forest, typically signaling a “fatality.”
** I’m not sure if MILES gear is still being used or not - as this summer I don’t hear many fatalities ringing through the woods. However, the gunfire doesn’t sound (or reverberate through my walls) any less real.
The tomb of General Egbert Ludovicus Viele and his wife Juliette in the West Point Cemetery.
He was a civil engineer and United States Representative from New York from 1885–1887, as well as an officer in the Union during the Civil War.
He also served in the Mexican-American War.
He was a President of the Aztec Club of 1847. A club which both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee belonged since the men all fought together in the Mexican-American War. Viele also surveyed the land that would become Central Park and submitted a design proposal for which he would win a competition that would lead him to become appointed engineer-in-chief of Central Park in 1856, and engineer of Prospect Park, Brooklyn in 1860.
A map that Viele made of NYC is still used today by engineers when planning to build in the city.
Given that in the late 1800s it was not uncommon for people to be buried alive by accident, Viele insisted that a doorbell be installed in his tomb should he wake up in his coffin.
The doorbell was wired to go off in the house of the Superintendent of West Point. The buzzer became a traditional prank pulled amongst cadets. Cadets would sneak into the graveyard and ring Viele’s doorbell, which would alarm the groundskeeper and Superintendent enough to eventually disable the buzzer. Two sphinxes guard the entrance to his tomb.
Viele died on April 22, 1902.
West Point does Gangnam Style and they used the farm I live on to film some key scenes.
Our horses are stoked.
Op op op op.
The bar where Edgar Allan Poe used to drink before leaving West Point. The bar that almost killed Jefferson Davis years before he lead the Confederate South. The bar that was banned from West Point because it served too strong a drink.
My new Backyard Landmark piece @ WorldWinder.com is Benny Havens in Highland Falls. Although it’s moved a few times and all within the same mile stretch, it still harbors the many ghosts of West Point’s legendary history. And dim-saloon-lighting and whiskey.