A Park at RDU? Who Knew?

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A wind feature at RDU Observation Park — Raleigh-Durham International Airport; Morrisville, North Carolina

I was taking my sister to the airport last Sunday morning when she observed a sign that changed my life forever: Observation Park

All my years—-nine, to be exact—-of circling and circling the terminals at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, (RDU), waiting for that call, email, or text that the plane had landed and my passenger was waiting for me outside baggage claim were over!

Five days later, I found myself not circling the terminals, but rather navigating the turns toward Observation Park as I awaited the arrival of my sister’s return flight. In true Lori fashion, I had left the battery of my good camera plugged in at work, so I was limited to my iPhone’s capabilities.

RDU’s Observation Park, which has been around for over twenty years, is small but quaint. Located near the Control Tower and the General Aviation Terminal, the park consists of an observation deck, benches and picnic tables, restrooms, and a play area complete with a miniature runway and a small jungle gym shaped like a yellow spider. The park is full of aviation history and artifacts, and parking is free.

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The flowering, tree-lined path leading to the elevated observation deck is a welcome (and park-like!) contrast to hangars and pavement. — RDU Observation Park

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An elevated observation deck offers a bird’s eye view of planes taking off and landing. An intercom on the deck makes it possible to hear air traffic control. In flying, wind socks like the orange one you see flying above and to the left of the observation deck in this photo help to determine wind direction. Aircraft take off and land against the prevailing winds.  — RDU Observation Park

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Along the railing of the observation deck are images and descriptions of planes past and present. — RDU Observation Park

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In the foreground is a walking path with plaques detailing the history of flight in general and RDU in particular. In the background, a plane takes off on a rainy, breezing summer day to a destination unknown. — RDU Observation Park

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Just below the observation deck is a plane propeller from a Douglas DC-3. This “workhorse of the skies” served RDU from 1943-1963.

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One of the plaques along the pillared pathway near the play area harkens back to the first powered flight taken by Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. The Wright Flyer stayed in the air for 120 feet. …And the rest is history.

Although not technically a Raleigh city park, RDU Observation Park is a park and it is in the Raleigh area, so for purposes of this post I’m counting it toward my goal of visiting (and appreciating) Raleigh’s parks this summer. Five down, and many more to go!

Mordecai Historic Park

Deep in the heart of Raleigh lies a hodgepodge of historic North Carolina structures known as Mordecai Historic Park.

This 3.2-acre city park provided a beautiful backdrop for a Southern wedding reception I attended this weekend. The unique venue, once the site of the largest plantation in Wake County, was a delightful distraction for guests who were awaiting the arrival of the wedding party.

The largest building on the grounds is Mordecai House, which dates back to 1785 and is the oldest house in Raleigh still resting on its original location.

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Mordecai House in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina

Behind Mordecai House is the Ellen Mordecai Garden, which harkens back to the family’s 19th century garden and is based on details that Ellen Mordecai provided in her book, Gleanings from Long Ago, first published in 1933.

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Through this gate, the Ellen Mordecai Garden grows. — Mordecai Historic Park in Raleigh, North Carolina

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Parsnip growing at the Ellen Mordecai Garden at Mordecai Historic Park in Raleigh, North Carolina

To the right of the garden sits Andrew Johnson’s birthplace, which was moved to this location. Johnson, who was Vice President under Abraham Lincoln and later ascended to the Presidency after Lincoln’s assassination, was born in downtown Raleigh in this modest but quaint house.

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Andrew Johnson’s birthplace, currently located at Mordecai Historic Park.

Across from Johnson’s birthplace are several other historic buildings, including a 19th century law office and an 1847 chapel built by slaves.

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Badger Iredell Law Office, built in 1810 and located at Mordecai Historic Park in Raleigh, NC.

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St. Mark’s Chapel, on the grounds of Mordecai HIstoric Park, was built by slaves in 1847.

My time at Mordecai Historic Park was perfect: Carolina blue skies and gentle breezes. The perfect weather for celebrating the future of two people united in holy matrimony, and the perfect weather for reflecting on little pieces of North Carolina’s past.

Pullen Park — Part 2

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It’s been said that “amusement should be used to do us good like a medicine.”[1] If that’s the case, then I had a healthy dose during a recent visit to Pullen Park in Raleigh, NC. I partially recounted the day in my earlier Pullen Park — Part 1 post. (If you took the time to read it, thank you!) …Now here is the rest of the story.

Pullen Park was founded in 1887 and is North Carolina’s first public park. While I would argue that all the offerings at Pullen Park are amusements of some sort or another, the park consists of these distinct amenities: Aquatics CenterCommunity CenterArts Center, Cafe, Playground, and Amusements.

Not to sound like a broken Wurlitzer 125 Military Band Organ, but my favorite attraction was the historic carousel (which I highlighted in my first post). Nevertheless, Pullen Park boasts several other quaint and unique sights and activities.  Here are just a few that I enjoyed with my nephew and my older sister during our visit:

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Pullen Park (Raleigh, NC) is beautifully landscaped.

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Rides are affordable at Pullen Park. These kiddie boats, for example, cost $1 or one token.

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At Pullen Park, the North Carolina and United States flags fly on this C.P. Huntington Train, which is a miniature replica (one-third the size) of the original locomotive built in 1863 and purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad.

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Be prepared to wave and be waved at while visiting Pullen Park. Here, a cheery couple paddle boating on Lake Howell wave to us as we pass by on the C.P. Huntington Train.

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Children wave from their perch on the Norfolk Southern 380 Caboose. Folks large and small can explore this full-size, bay window caboose at Pullen Park.

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The Pullen Park Playground has three central themes–history, art, and nature–and is divided into four areas based on age and activities.

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Paddle boats can be rented for 6 tickets ($6) per boat (seats 4) for 30 minutes. Life jackets are provided. Here’s a view of Pullen Park’s Lake Howell from our paddle boat.

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Pullen Park’s concession stand offers fresh, seasonal, and local foods and beverages.

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Just how local is the Pullen Park Cafe? Pretty.

And last but not least, here is my second favorite Pullen Park attraction:

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This Andy and Opie bronze sculpture was commissioned by TV Land and erected in Pullen Park in October 2003.  It depicts the fictional North Carolina father and son of the 1960s Andy Griffith Show. (Unfortunately, Andy’s fishing pole is partially missing or broken.)

If you are in the Raleigh area, consider a visit to Pullen Park. There’s a little something for everyone there!


[1] Charles Spurgeon

Pullen Park – Part 1

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Adjacent to NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, lies a 66-acre gem called Pullen Park. Established in 1887 by Richard Stanhope Pullen, it was the first public park in North Carolina. Today, Pullen Park is the 14th oldest amusement park in the world.[1]

Recently, my older sister and I took our young nephew to Pullen Park, which today offers such attractions as paddle boats, train rides, and a locally-sourced canteen. Being the fanciful creature that I am, my favorite attraction was the circa 1900 wooden carousel nestled neatly inside an octagonal building topped with a quirky weathervane.

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The weathervane on the Pullen Park Carousel building.

The carousel was made for the Dentzel Carousel Company in Germantown, PA, by master carver Salvatore Cernigliaro and his apprentices. It is one of 23 remaining historic Dentzel carousels and one of 14 Dentzel menageries still operating in Northern America. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.[2]

The carousel is a three-abreast, stationary and galloping menagerie machine consisting of 52 animals and two chariots. As for the music? It’s a Wurlitzer 125 Military Band Organ dating back to between 1900 and 1924.  A major restoration of the carousel took place from 1977 – 1982. This was the first restoration of a carousel that involved the removal of layers of paint to expose the original colors and designs, which were then reproduced as closely as possible.[3]

We arrived at the park before the big rush, so I was able to take pictures in the carousel house while it was still empty. Despite a morning of best efforts, I could not entice my nephew onto the magical, moving menagerie.  By the time I decided to go it alone, throngs of excited children were wrapped around the inside of the building and my carousel dreams were set aside for another day.  In the meantime, these pictures serve as a reminder of another place and time … right here, right now in the City of Oaks.

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Pullen Park Carousel: Of the 52 animals on the historic menagerie, 16 of them are stationary and 36 move up and down.

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The inside rim of the Pullen Park Carousel is comprised of 18 gilded mirrors and 18 canvas panels.

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The Pullen Park Carousel’s Wurlitzer 125 Military Band Organ, (circa 1900-1924)

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The outside rim of the Pullen Park Carousel contains 18 large panels of alternating animal portraits and landscape scenes.

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One of the landscape scenes on the outside rim of the Pullen Park Carousel.

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My favorite animal on the Pullen Park Carousel was this colorful and graceful giraffe.

There are many thing to see and do at Pullen Park! Not entirely convinced? Look for my upcoming post, Pullen Park — Part 2.


[1] Census of the National Amusement Park Historical Association
[2] National Carousel Association Census
[3] http://www.raleighnc.gov/arts/content/PRecRecreation/Articles/PullenParkHistory.html