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      Blowjobs, Satanists, and Tiny American Flags in Valley Forge National Park

      October 18, 2012

      By Duncan Larkin

      On any given day in Valley Forge National Historic Park, in Pennsylvania, a hunched-over retiree wearing a powdered wig, a brass-buttoned Revolutionary War uniform, and a tricorn hat will board a bus made to look like an old-fashioned trolley and speak into a microphone to a group of tourists. He’ll try to get all the well-intentioned, red-state folks (they come from Kansas, Missouri, and the like) to imagine that they aren’t on that hot bus. He wants them to close their eyes and pretend they have boarded a time machine that’s taken them back to the cruel winter of 1777, when George Washington’s Continental Army was trying to regroup here after a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the British.

      The costumed General Washington will throw out the words “suffering” and “sacrifice” as the bus departs from the park’s visitor’s center. He’ll push up his authentic-looking reenactor spectacles and grit his teeth; he’ll clasp that microphone while his lip quivers. Only one third of the soldiers had shoes and many froze to death, he’ll intone, probably leaving out the graphic details of how many of them went to Valhalla by shitting their guts out.

      The old volunteer patriot will tell of all this while the open-mouthed visitors, with their disposable cameras and fanny packs, stare out the fake trolley’s windows at the granite monuments and timber huts that line the wooded park’s undulating terrain.

      If they came back at night, however, these card-carrying American patriots would get to see another side of Valley Forge Park, the modern-day side, which is full of hot, repressed gay sex and creepy satanic rituals. Instead of the emaciated ghosts of Continental Army soldiers they’d see sucking mouths, bare asses, and heads banging against birch trees. The boom of flintlock muskets would be replaced by the orgasmic moan of a big, bear-like man with long strands of ass hair. The pungent smell of black powder would be substituted for the sickly sweet odor of black-magic animal sacrifices.

      That reenactor knows the deal, as do all the National Park Service Rangers and the parks' bathroom-cleaning crews. It’s not mentioned to the tour groups, who come here for the patriotism and the history, not the park’s current sleazy state—but you want to hear about it, right? Let me tell you a little about Valley Forge’s underbelly. Let me be your real tour guide of the place.

      What makes me qualified as a guide to such a place? I’m a runner who’s been on practically every inch of the 3,500-acre park for nearly a decade. And remember, as Dave Atell, once said, “Joggers are always the ones that find the dead body.”

      I haven’t seen any corpses, but there’s always something going on in the wilds—beyond the road, out where the sex addicts and scary monsters lurk. That’s where I spend a lot of my time every day.

      At Valley Forge, you’ve primarily got your cottagers and cruisers. The former hang out in bathroom stalls and tap toes for sex, while the latter sit in their parked cars and use a secret code to attract partners and pair off—the wink and that magic word that leads to the long walk to the prearranged tree where semen is shot into the air and hangs down from the branches like gooey stalactites.

      There’s one man who has the unenviable job of preventing the Boy Scouts and other unassuming members of the waddling public from seeing the park’s dark underbelly: Chief Officer Gregg Tinkham. Tall and muscular, sporting a crew cut and packing a holstered Glock 23, Tinkham is in charge of policing the park.

      “Yes, we are aware of this sexual activity going on in parts of the park,” Tinkham tells me matter-of-factly in his office on the second floor of the park’s administration building. “We’ve known about it for a long time and we are actively trying to shut it down as much as possible.”

      Still, despite the long arm of the law, gay anonymous sex websites talk up the park. “It's a great place to get a quick piece,” writes a poster on Crusinggays.com. “Everyone there seems to want to be discreet. I've gotten serviced every time I've gone… Go deep into the woods there and wait or watch others. There are anywhere from 10-15 guys and/or cars waiting every time I've been there. There are several paths you can take. Just find yourselves a secluded area.”

      The poster concludes his report by writing, “Crowd: All kinds of guys, professionals and non-professionals, young and old.”

      “All kinds of guys,” is the operative phrase there. A lot of these men aren’t oiled-up hunks in sailor suits; they aren’t pulling up into the right, pre-designated parking lot in cars with rainbow decals. These are good and decent Christian men who tithe and vote Republican. They wear pleated Dockers and golf shirts; they fly American flags in their front yards and throw around masculine sports analogies in staff meetings. They have “Jesus is Lord” bumper stickers and rail against the killing of unborn babies.

      And they’re occasionally predatory, too.

      Bobby Curtis, an all-American distance runner who went to nearby Villanova University, knows their ilk. One day, as he was waiting for his friend, New Zealand Olympian Adrian Blincoe, to go for a run, a cruiser approached him. “I was sitting in my car and the man pulled beside me and motioned for me to roll down my window,” he recalls. “I ignored him and he drove off. If you think about it, runners must be pretty enticing to the men looking to pick up at the park. We're young, fit, and are often wearing very little clothing. On top of that, we hang out in the parking lot doing all sorts stretching in provocative poses.”

      Valley Forge’s Betzwood parking area in the park’s north quadrant is where it all starts. Depending on who wants what, who’s sucking or doing the sucking, the cruisers either back into the space or pull in. If you sit there long enough, you get to watch a little ritual unfold. A man slowly approaches a car. He chats up the driver, nods, and then walks down a trail that leads into the woods. A few minutes later, the driver gets out and follows him.

      These men usually end up in a few places. Probably the most popular is a crumbling, moss-covered 18th-century edifice that sits adjacent to a dirt bike path on the Schuylkill River. The backside of the building’s exposed hearth is the perfect clandestine place for a good suck off. Engorged condoms looking like half-eaten rice-paper spring rolls lay on the rocky ground near where some typhoidal American patriot once warmed himself 235 years ago.

      Betzwood is also a good place for the cruisers to catch some eye candy like short-shorts-wearing Bobby Curtis and his fellow training partners doing their squats and other stretches. Sometimes the runners and cruisers exchange more than glances. Joshua Finger, a top American ultra marathoner who spends hours in the park every day, recalls a time when one of his running friends yelled out to the men in their parked cars.

      “There's a hotel down the road!” he bellowed.

      One of the cruisers rolled down his window and asked, "What room number?"

      But to understand Valley Forge is to know it’s much more than buses full of unsuspecting tourists and cottagers. There’s an even more sinister and strange side to the park—a side that goes beyond the blowjobs and balding Larry Craig types.

      Men wearing pentagram necklaces and “Hail Satan” T-shirts have been known to walk the trails. Pyramids of animal bones that suggest some sort of sacrifice are scattered in out-of-the-way places. Towering rock piles appear seemingly out of nowhere and are gone hours later. Fallen branches that have been made into strange arrows of varying length lay on the trails leading up to the park’s highest precipice, Mount Misery. Enigmatic chalk symbols are drawn into the sides of towering American elm trees. A crimson bandana is sometimes wrapped around a whittled stick that juts out from the ground. These are all markers left by someone. What exactly they represent is a mystery.

      Jen Flint Panetta, who lives near the park, was out with some friends on a trail near a set of railroad tracks early one morning and believes she saw a naked man dart down from the tracks and into the tall grass. “Since I was a bit ahead of my friends, no one else saw him, so it is sort of a Yeti-type sighting,” she recalls. “The weirdest part is that he went into the grass, so I knew he was in there someplace, but wasn't about to search him out. It was creepy and I’m glad I wasn't alone. I'm guessing since it was early morning, that he was some kind of leftover disaster from the night before.”

      Officer Tinkham has the unenviable job of trying to stop all this absurdity—or at least doing his best to prevent the cottagers and Satanists from crossing paths with the tax-paying flag-wavers. He alludes to “plainclothes” efforts going on, but won’t discuss details. “We really don’t want a nice family from Kentucky to accidently stumble upon this kind of thing,” he says. “It ruins the experience of visiting a historical encampment area.”

      “And what about all the strange markings out on the trails?” I ask him. “Are you aware of them?”

      Tinkham nods slowly. “We see this kind of activity, yes.”

      “What do you think is going on?” I ask.

      Tinkham sits back in his leather chair and brings his hands together to form a steeple. He draws a long breath. “We don’t know. It could be something innocent like geocaching; it could have something to do with illicit activity like marijuana cultivation—we see a lot of that—or it could be something else.”

      “Like?”

      Tinkham shakes his head. “Not sure. I tell my officers to dismantle these things when they see them. That’s about all we can do.”

      I prepare to ask a follow-up, but Tinkham stops me. “You know this is a national park,” he says. “And so we get the things that all our national parks get. We get the drugs and the crime. We get the occasional suicide; for some reason, people like to come here to kill themselves. But in the end, we’re a historical park and so we have to do what we can to maintain that experience for the public.”

      Several years ago, park officials installed enormous wooden gates at all the entrances. Large signs telling visitors that the park closed at sundown were hastily erected. When darkness comes, the gates are bolted and locked. Tinkham says that they constructed the gates for safety—that they been planned for a long time, that they were routine measures. But you can’t help but think they’re there to separate the patriots from the men in the trees.

      Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who has written for ESPN.com, Running Times, and Competitor magazine. His first book, Run Simple, came out in July.

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      Topics: Valley Forge National Park, America, butt stuff, satanism, Duncan Larkin, get a room, gay stuff

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