Monday, March 24, 2014

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Road trip! Cheyenne next to a field, not one of the things one sees in the Florida Keys, but one does north of Jacksonville, our first stop.


It's because of the dog, but luckily La Quinta not only takes Cheyenne and doesn't charge extra for her, but also has comfortable beds and decent pillows to keep the wife happy. So we travel from one La Quinta to the next.

Our first tourist destination Jekyll Island - Affordable Georgia Beach Family Vacation Destination Jekyll Island has a crap website so let me fill you in. I have no idea what the opening hours and they may be 24hrs because the machines at the gate work automatically, supposedly. Big signs tell you credit cards are preferred but we had six dollars cash, wife's choice, and a helpful worker stood at the machine to handle our transaction for us. Saturday, she said, was a busy day and the workers were standing there to help. It sounded brutal to me, used as I am to toll takers seated in booths, but she laughed it off.

After the Civil War a group of New York industrialists wanted to create a winter retreat and Floridawas off the map, uninhabitable thanks to yellow fever and lack of access so they settled on an island offered to them for $125,000 by the descendent of a French aristocrat who fled to Georgia to escape The Terror of the French Revolution. John DuBignon sold the island in 1886 and he got space for his own "cottage" as part of the deal.

Fifty three investors stepped up and bought $1200 worth of shares each in the venture. It became a family resort for the one percenters of the day and as you wander round you can see pictures of them doing what holidaymakers do today at Jekyll Island, ride bicycles, swim, walk and play golf. And walk what became the historic district of the island.

Cheyenne and I walked ahead under gray skies with temperatures just above seventy degrees. She bought a couple if Georgia condiments but rated the stores as costly. The food huts looked like fried Sysco food products.

Modern 95 percenters get to cycle just like the rich buggers of old because the island today belongs to the people of Georgia. It wasn't a socialist revolution that ended the old order. Basically they burned out, helped on their way by the Great Depression which started the decline. By 1942 World War Atwo was burning up the planet and young people in the wealthy families thought vacations en famille on an isolated southern island sounded dull. They shuttered their homes and literally walked away, leaving the buildings full of furniture and toys. The State of Georgia did what is unthinkable today and bought the island turning it into a State Park. Bummer, huh? Not really, preservation was valued higher than return on investment in those distant days of high industrial output after World War Two.

In the picture below the building on the left is a candy store but it used to be the steam plant with the brick chimney. It's purpose was to heat the building on the right, America's first condo, shared by six of the power broker-founders of the Jekyll Island club. It was named, rather unimaginatively Sans Souci which means No Worries. I should think not.

Here's someone else with nothing much to worry about. She was ready to walk after a long Friday in the car so we walked long and hard Saturday morning.

I was entranced by the Spanish Moss and in the distance the club house...

...and that strangely empty Historic District. I found it to be rather dull actually, lacking the dynamism of an organically developed city downtown. This was planned for one group of people who had to have social lives with their peers and no others, so they built their cottages, had picnics and played games together, waited on by their servants.
It puts me in mind of my childhood embarrassingly enough. We had a TV in our home and the only other television in the Italian village where I grew up was in a communal viewing room. My mother wanted my sisters and I to stay home and watch our TV but we wanted to be in the village yelling at the screen, singing along with the advertising and hissing at the villains as the heroes gunned them down. We wanted to be in the grime and mess of a Mallory Square, not locked away safely across the water on Sunset Key. These people, in my estimation, suffered from the same isolation and lack of earthy flavor. Key West is messy but never sterile and sterility in a social sense breeds dullness.

We reached the massively large but not terribly joyous looking club house.

Nowadays the island is a self governing public corporation with a Board of Directors and the need to fund itself. The state park plan didn't work for want of money and dynamism, so this effort is aimed at attracting people and money, and the format seems to be working. The hotel in the clubhouse includes a formal dining room and a cafe, and it was busy. My wife discovered that in the absence of La Quinta, there is a Hampton Inn on the island that takes dogs...the next thing I knew we had a plan to come back at Thanksgiving with friends and she called the restaurant to book a table for four at the restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner....

The clubhouse offers lovely places to sit and judging by the number of computers in use they enjoy all modern conveniences including wifi! Once upon a time flushing toilets, gas lighting and hot running water were reserved for the wealthy.

The view includes glimpses of the river which in that same time kept hoi polloi off the island.

The interior was designed in a dark leather and wood clubby atmosphere which has been lovingly preserved, along with the curse of a public TV screen blaring color and light and noise and no substance to match the building's heft.
My wife thought this might be a different way to celebrate her week off at Thanksgiving so she was quite surprised to learn that the restaurant was fully booked for Thanksgiving 2014 the very first day after Thanksgiving 2013! Hmm... But the hostess assured her our party of four was on the first page of stand by reservations so there was a good chance we would get a seat at one of three sittings that night.

I guess you could say Jekyll Island has its fans, even under government stewardship.

If you pay attention to the state of the world and the US economy you will have noticed there are a great many people who are upset by the actions of our privately operated Federal Reserve Bank and it's monthly purchase of billions of dollars of government debt in an effort to sustain the gamblers on the stock markets. I am no fan of Quantative a Easing or the obscurantist language used by the Financial, Insurance and Real Estate economy in which we live but wandering the halls of the clubhouse I was surprised to come across the room where this thing called The Federal Reserve was planned in 1910, even as Flagler's railroad was inching toward Key West, bringing the future with it.

The clubhouse is open to the public and you can walk in and admire the architecture and old photos and so forth.

And as you do you come across this little nugget of history. Apparently the crash of 1907 freaked out the financiers and leaders of the industrial revolution enough, such that they decided to meet here in secret and figure out a better way to operate to prevent peaks and valleys of financial instability from taking place all the time. The operation was extremely hush-hush with the six participants meeting here after surreptitiously boarding a train in New York.

From Wikipedia:

At the end of November 1910, Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department A. Piatt Andrew, and five of the country's leading financiers (Frank Vanderlip, Henry P. Davison, Charles D. Norton, Benjamin Strong, and Paul Warburg) arrived at the Jekyll Island Club to discuss monetary policy and the banking system, an event that led to the creation of the current, privately owned Federal Reserve. According to the a Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the 1910 Jekyll Island meeting resulted in draft legislation for the creation of a U.S. central bank. Parts of this draft (the Aldrich plan) were incorporated into the 1913 Federal Reserve Act. On November 5–6, 2010, Ben Bernanke stayed on Jekyll Island to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of this original meeting.The Conference was the first official confirmation of the revelations made initially in 1949 by Ezra Pound to Eustace Mullins in his work Secrets of The Federal Reserve and later reported by G. Edward Griffin in his book The Creature from Jekyll Island.

The participants in the secret gathering to order the country's finances met in this room and used cover names to hide their identities from the press. Then as now, we in third class steerage were deemed too dumb to have any say in these matters. And I dare say they meant well, but twenty years later irrational exuberance wrecked the national economy with a vengeance, and austerity policies such as we see in Europe today wrecked human lives on a scale that scarred generations with a terror of poverty. Just last year the head of J P Morgan was rewarded for his hard work with twenty million in bonuses even after the company was fined billions for financial irregularities. Like Willie Sutton said, one robs banks because that's where the money is.

I remarked to one other interested spectator of this record of the workings of the one percent that at least this lot looked respectable. Yes he laughed, the pipe helps. Our modern robber barons of the Internet technology world don't even pretend to give a fig about the welfare of their inferiors. And Henry Ford may have been a paternalistic son of a bitch but he paid well.

Wandering these halls I wonder what monuments to decadence our leaders of our own Gilded Age will leave behind, what enduring monuments to their achievements? It may be that the passage of time makes it seem so but I think of Firestone and Standard Oil, International Harvester and the staid bankers of their era as men, yes profiteers, but also people who made things and hired Americans and produced wealth, that thanks to the unions did actually trickle down. Nowadays I see the drive to deny decent pay and public education to young people combined with the assertion that the "public thing" (res publica of the Roman world) is a monstrosity as leading us all into another dark age of no real progress, uneducated masses uncaring of history and thus unable to influence the future. Being child free and well past my prime I hope for better things for the generation to come after I am dead but I do not feel my rebellious generation has done right by those yet to take charge.

Out of the wealth and the industrial base built by these men the United States won a war and earned a seat at the table of nations that guided the world in the aftermath. Industry built the middle class and our modern leaders are now overseeing its dismemberment, even as industry collapses and cheap energy runs out. We might as well imitate the Morgans and Rockefellers at play because we sure can't at wealth!

Later on Saturday afternoon my wife and I were walking Cheyenne on Savannah's riverfront and we saw a Chinese container ship making its way up the river. The crowds on the waterfront stopped to watch the ocean going freighter move smoothly through the brown water. China Shipping was written in big white letters on the green hull and the idle spectators shyly waved at the Chinese crew members watching us in turn from their decks, shyly waving back.

What a role reversal I thought to myself, thinking back to those 20th century pictures of Chinese peasants staring in wonder at the smooth efficiency of the modern European concessions in Shanghai, snatched illegally by industrialized white people from the fuddled Chinese opium junkies and observed from the mud and chaos of the Chinese peasant world. As the ship went by my wife and I watched the red Chinese national flag flutter at the stern of the freighter, showing off the hammer and sickle of our own New World Order. The organizers of the Federal Reserve must be spinning in their graves, I thought, to see how low we are fallen.