Fathers' Day

A few weeks ago I obtained a notice from the Office of Personnel Management regarding my ex-husband’s NASA pension. Per the separation and divorce agreement, I’m entitled to receive a portion of my ex-husband’s pension and my ex made a filing on my behalf. The bad news was that my ex had neglected to include a copy of the original Separation and Divorce Agreement. On top of it, my ex had provided a plain photocopy of the divorce certificate. Basically OPM wanted a plain photocopy of the Separation and Divorce Agreement and a certified copy of the divorce certificate.

I don’t know if my ex-husband was being absent-minded (I recall the many times when he would leave for work in the morning only to return home anywhere between 5-15 minutes later because he forgot something) or if he did it deliberately in order to antagonize me but, at this point, it doesn’t matter. Basically my ex screwed up and I had to fix his mistakes if I want to receive anything from this pension. I can easily photocopy the Separation and Divorce Agreement myself using my Canon all-in-one machine that’s a combined photocopier, printer, scanner, and fax machine.

As for the certified copy of my divorce certificate, I only had one copy that I was reluctant to mail off because there’s always a chance that I would need it for some reason at some time in the future. So I had to get another certified copy of my divorce certificate and that meant that I had to make a special trip to the Prince George’s County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Since I had to make that trip, I decided to do some research to see if I could make that trip a bit more fun than just going to the courthouse. I tried the Roadside America site and I came up empty. I have a copy of a promo brochure listing all of the scenic routes that one could take in the state of Maryland so I decided to look through it and found that Upper Marlboro is directly on the Star-Spangled Banner Trail, which tracks the route of the attempted British invasion of the United States during the War of 1812. The Star-Spangled Banner Trail formally debuted just a couple of years ago in order to coincide with the bicentennial of the War of 1812, which means that there are now special signs (such as the one on this webpage) indicating that you are on that trail. (Before then, anyone who wanted to retrace the steps of the British invasion had to do their own research and mapping of the route.)

So I decided to take that drudgery special trip to Upper Marlboro in order to obtain a certified copy of my divorce certificate and turn it into a fun trip along the Star-Spangled Banner Trail.

On that day I decided to go to the Prince George’s County Courthouse first because of, you know, business before pleasure. I waited until the afternoon to begin driving to Upper Marlboro because I know from previous experience that the mornings are a total zoo there. Upper Marlboro is the county seat for Prince George’s County so both the Prince George’s County Council and the Prince George’s County Board of Education hold meetings and work sessions there. But the biggest hub of activity is the courthouse, where all kinds of court cases are heard before a variety of judges.

I’ve been to the courthouse four previous times. The first time was when I was called to testify as a witness for the prosecution in a criminal case stemming from the time when a bunch of homes in my neighborhood were burglarized, including my own. (My home burglary happened on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. My husband was doing some paperwork at his NASA office while I had gone shopping. When I came home I saw that the window had been forced open, the living room lamp had been knocked over on the couch, and the VCR in the living room was missing. The burglars had stolen the VCR, an old laptop that my husband and I had previously decided to replace, and a box full of rings that were mostly costume jewelry. The people who were arrested had previously done yard work for us and all of the other homes they burglarized. It turned out that these yard workers were also part of a crack cocaine ring and they only did the yard work in order to finance their crack habit.) I was waiting in a room at the courthouse along with the other prosecution witnesses when the prosecutor came in and told us that the defendant (who was the supposed leader of this crack ring) decided to change his plea from not guilty to guilty about five minutes before the trial was to begin. The second and third times were for jury duty. (Both times I was place in a pool for criminal trials but I was dismissed during the jury selection phases.) The fourth time was the day I appeared in divorce court. My case was the first one on the docket and I was out of there by 9:30 a.m. I ended up traveling to Baltimore and walking all over the place while wondering what the hell happened.

So I made a trip to Upper Marlboro for the first time since my divorce trial in 2013. On the day of my trip it was raining off and on most of the day, which is why all of the outdoor photos in this post have cloudy skies and wet pavement. I arrived in the afternoon. (The one good thing is that after several days of hot and humid weather with temperatures ranging from the high 80’s to the low 90’s, the rain had lowered the temperature to a more pleasant 75 degrees with low humidity.) Like my previous trips, parking was still a total hassle. Upper Marlboro is a very small town. There are a limited number of parking meters along the streets and the parking garages that are adjacent to the courthouse are limited to judges, lawyers, and other courthouse employees. Everyone else is expected to park in the parking lots at the Show Place Arena and the adjacent Prince George’s Equestrian Center and take the shuttle bus over to the courthouse.

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The next photo shows the water tower at the sprawling complex with a painting that indicates that, yes, this area has an equestrian center.

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Both the Prince George’s County Courthouse and the town of Upper Marlboro itself are rich in history. Upper Marlboro was first settled in 1695 and it was named after the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, who was also the ancestor of Winston Churchill. The site of the courthouse was once part of a larger plantation known as Darnall’s Chance and it was the birthplace of John Carroll, who served as the first Roman Catholic Bishop and Archbishop in the United States and who also founded Georgetown University in nearby Washington, DC. Today there are signs and markers on the grounds of the courthouse showing the exact place where John Carroll was born.

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The courthouse was eventually built on land that was once part of Darnall’s Chance and, since 1721, it has been a critical part of the town. The next photo shows the older section of the courthouse, which is located along Main Street.

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Generally when you park at the Show Place Arena/Equestrian Center and take the shuttle bus, you get deposited at the back of the courthouse, which is really a separate building that was built in the 1990’s and is connected to the older front courthouse building by walkways. This more modern building is notable for having this statue of three horses outside the doors.

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Arriving at the courthouse in the afternoon was a great idea on my part because everything is more laid-back. There were a few trials in session but the courthouse was mostly empty. It’s amazing when you show up in a courthouse and you don’t have to show up at any trial because you can have a more leisurely walk and you can have the luxury of admiring some features of the entire building complex that you wouldn’t notice if you were going to and from a courtroom. I was able to admire the rich mahogany trim along the walls and the nice checkerboard floor.

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There was this pretty stained glass that was framed by mahogany trim.

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It took a while for me to get my certified divorce certificate mainly because the entire courthouse complex is such a labyrinth that, at times, I felt like I was going through a maze. I needed to go to the Court of the Clerk office but there were at least four different Court of the Clerk offices—one was for criminal trials, one was for civil lawsuits, one was for cases involving child custody and child support, and the one that I needed to go to—the one that dealt with family court including divorces. I eventually found the right Court of the Clerk office. I had to file my request, then go to another counter to pay the 50 cent fee for the official divorce certificate copy, then go back to the first counter and wait for my official copy of my divorce certificate. Not only did I get my copy with the embossed seal but the woman also made another copy for me so, if I ever find myself in a situation where I have to mail an official copy of my divorce certificate to someone else, I’ll have one copy that I can spare without having to make a return trip to Upper Marlboro. Sweet!

Here’s a last photo of the interior of the Prince George’s County Courthouse showing, in the distance, the metal detectors that everyone has to walk through in order to get inside.

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If it weren’t for the fact that it’s a courthouse, I would say that visitors who are into architecture and/or interior decorating would love viewing the building’s interiors. But, let’s face it, the Prince George’s County Courthouse is the kind of place where you only visit if you really need to be there for official reasons (like a court summons). It’s definitely not a tourist attraction. Although I was fascinated by this tree that was planted close to the shuttle bus stop while waiting for a ride back to the Show Place Arena/Equestrian Center so I could retrieve my car.

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The bark had this intricate pattern on it.

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Even the roots of that same tree had an interesting pattern.

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Even though downtown Upper Marlboro is a colonial town that’s rich in history, unlike other historical colonial downtowns (like Annapolis or Old Town Alexandria), there isn’t a lot of shopping or other attractions.

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There are a few places like a couple of clothing boutiques, a spa, and a jewelry store. Plus there are a few dining establishments.

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There are a few law offices since the courthouse is the main source of so much activity in Upper Marlboro during the week but, believe it or not, the law offices aren’t even the biggest businesses operating in that town.

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The biggest industry that operates in Upper Marlboro is bail bonds.

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That’s right, bail bonds.

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Everywhere I walked there seemed to be bail bonds.

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The only advantage of so many bail bonds in one place that I can think of is that one can easily shop around to get the best deals. But for anyone else who are into exploring historical districts, the proliferation of so many bail bonds in such a small historical district is a total turn-off.

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What’s more, there are more bail bond places that I didn’t even bother with photographing other than the ones in this post.

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There is only one reason why the Star-Spangled Banner Trail even runs through Upper Marlboro: the British troops made their way through that town while going further north to Washington, DC. But, to be honest, Darnall’s Chance is about the only genuine historical tourist place in that town. Even though neither the Wikipedia nor the official website mentions any role that Darnall’s Chance may have played in the War of 1812, the place was standing when that war happened and it was somehow spared from being torched by the invading British troops.

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The house itself is only opened on the weekends. I went there once years ago (when I was still married) when the house had its annual display of gingerbread houses around Christmas. I didn’t bring my camera at the time but I remembered being impressed by the creativity. I even toured the rest of the house. Darnall’s Chance would be considered “small” by today’s standards mainly because back in the 1700’s (when the house was originally built), it was impractical to have a very large house because heating it in the winter would’ve been difficult. But back in the day it was considered a mansion and the people who lived there were mainly wealthy. Darnell’s Chance sports a wide yard where outdoor weddings can be booked.

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The one interesting thing about walking on the grounds of Darnall’s Chance is seeing this family vault located just a few feet away from the house.

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After I got what I needed from the Prince George’s County Courthouse, I decided to drive south along the Star-Spangled Banner Trail. I traveled mainly along Maryland Route 382 (which, believe it or not, has its own Wikipedia page). Once I got out of Upper Marlboro, the road suddenly turned into a one-lane road and the area became more rural. It was full of picturesque farms on rolling hills. I wanted to take some pictures but there were very few areas where I could safely pull off on the side of the road plus that road was heavy with traffic. Instead I’m just going to provide a few Google Street View screenshots to give you an idea as to how rural this area is.

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At various points along the Star-Spangled Banner Trail, there are forks in the road where the driver can decide whether to stay on the main road or veer off on a side trip. At the first fork, I opted to veer off on to Mount Calvert Road, where I came to the Mount Calvert Historical & Archaeological Park.

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This place is such a goldmine for photographers that one can shoot lots of lovely picturesque scenes of farmland, rolling hills and the Patuxent River. Even with the rainy weather that day, I was still able to get a bunch of lovely shots. If all that wasn’t enough, I even spotted a rabbit hopping into a thicket of bushes. (Unfortunately that critter was too fast for my camera.)

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Mount Calvert has signs all over the place noting the area as a site where the invading British troops landed and an incredible goldmine for archeologists as there are excavations uncovering artifacts that reflected the area’s past as a southern plantation (complete with African American slaves) and, before that, as a Native American settlement.

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There is one other tidbit about this area that the signs I saw didn’t mention at all. According to this blog post, this area was also the site of two separate witch trials back in the 1680’s—one of which resulted in acquittal and the other one led to the defendant being hanged.

There is a house that overlooks the Patuxent River, which provides lovely breathtaking scenery on a daily basis. The house is only opened to the public on weekends so I had to just stick with taking exterior shots along with the view of the Patuxent River from that house.

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After spending some time photographing the area, I decided to move on. As I was driving back along Mount Calvert Road, I noticed this flag display in the middle of a field with the sign reading “Dawn’s Early Light” (an obvious reference to the first verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” whose lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812).

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I eventually got back on Maryland Route 382 and drove further south until I hit another fork in the road. I decided to turn on Croom Airport Road and drive for a couple of miles until I came across the Patuxent River Park. The road leading to the park was thick with trees.

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I came to a lovely park at the end of the road. Compared to Mount Calvert, the Patuxent River Park is relatively small yet it has all kinds of cute touches.

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There was also the obligatory sign mentioning how this area was invaded by British troops during the War of 1812.

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I was impressed by the restrooms. I usually don’t take photos of a toilet but it had a sign providing details on how it’s a state of the art toilet that’s supposed to conserve water.

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The restroom also sported this unusual sink to wash your hands in. It was a box structure where you place your hands in the back of the bowl. Soap and water automatically dispenses on your hands for a few seconds. Then the hand dryer turns on automatically.

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Like Mount Calvert, Patuxent River Park also overlooks the Patuxent River. The big difference I noticed is that Patuxent River Park offers river views that are obstructed by trees and bushes.

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The Visitors Center is a wooden barn-like structure. Unfortunately it was closed when I was there but it had a nice garden planted all around the structure.

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The park also has the Patuxent Rural Life Museums, which are opened only on the weekends, just like the other buildings I saw on the Star-Spangled Banner Trail. I didn’t bother stopping by there but the official website makes the museums look interesting.

After my visit to the Patxuent River Park, I continued to drive south along Maryland Route 382 until I reached the town of Croom (which is basically a collection of farms with no Main Street or downtown to speak of). By then it was getting close to dinner time but I decided to wait until later before I go back on the Capital Beltway because I didn’t feel like getting stuck in rush hour traffic. So I drove north on MD 382 until I reached Upper Marlboro once again. Unlike earlier, I was able to find metered parking on Main Street and I didn’t have to feed the meter with money either because it’s free parking after 6 p.m.

Basically Upper Marlboro is empty on weeknights when the courthouse closes for the day. I was able to walk around town without encountering another person and the few non-bail bond shops that were in town were closed.

I ended up eating dinner at Ledo’s Pizza (which has several restaurants scattered throughout the Washington, DC metro area). When I needed to use the restroom, I saw this painted wall with ultra cute teddy bear trim.

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After dinner I drove back home along Route 4 and the Capital Beltway. I felt pretty relaxed as I arrived home. I only drove a small portion of the Star-Spangled Banner Trail (it runs from Southern Maryland all the way up to Fort McHenry in Baltimore). I’d love to do it again, this time I would leave earlier and start the trail near Solomons then drive north until nightfall or I’m tired (whichever comes first). I would also drive the trail on a Saturday or Sunday so I would have a chance to see the insides of the buildings that are usually closed during the week.

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