I like Ike…sort of

September 2014

From our stop in Topeka we journeyed to Abilene, Kansas, home to the Dwight. D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home. One of 13 Presidential Libraries in the National Archives and Records Administration it was dedicated in 1956. As we walked into the Museum my first thought was that it felt as though it hadn’t been updated since. The museum starts out about as inviting as a 10th grade history book. In fact, the opening exhibit hall looked as if someone had merely blown up the pages of a history book.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Truthfully, I moved through the opening section rather quickly, skimming through most of it with very little of it drawing my eye or attention. But as I continued to explore the museum, I warmed up to it (adapting to the fact that it’s as much a war museum as a presidential museum – it’s nearly 2/3rds of the way through the museum before you stumble upon Eisenhower’s presidency). Of course, the heavy focus on General Eisenhower is certainly understood.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It’s difficult to write about and capture the spirit of any museum without turning it into a bit of a book report (proven by the fact that I still haven’t gone back to finish a write up of the Truman Library). And while I could certainly fill a long blog post about all that the museum had to offer and all that Dwight D. Eisenhower accomplished in his life, I’d rather just highlight some of the pieces that were of particular interest to me and leave the rest to Wikipedia and such.

Boyhood Home

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We took the short tour of the home where Ike was raised between ages 8-20, a home that his parents lived in until their deaths.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Eisenhower was one of seven boys, and while his brother Paul died in infancy, all of the others were very accomplished in life. One of my favorite stories from the tour recounted a moment when Ida Eisenhower was supposedly asked, after the victory at Normandy, “Are you proud of your son?” To which she replied, “Which one?”

The Original ‘Do It Yourself’ Project”

I found these instructions for building your own bomb shelter very helpful.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Trench Art

I had never really heard about “trench art” before coming upon an example of it here.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I’ve included the next picture for a couple reasons. First, to give a little perspective on the size of that ashtray. And second because the funny man front and center is movie star, Mickey Rooney – Private First Class.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Life Saving Map

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

On the Campaign Trail

I love old campaign memorabilia, and there was lots of fun stuff to be found here. I think the gloves are my favorite. There were even some Ike-themed women’s stockings, but I didn’t manage to get a very good picture of them. “Like” was probably not a strong enough word for how people felt about Ike.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Mamie Eisenhower & the White House

As a bit of a hat enthusiast, I had a particular fondness for Mamie Eisenhower’s hat collection.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

But I also enjoyed seeing jewelry, dresses and some of the things gifted to her in the White House.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Ok – I confess, one of those is Ike’s, I’ll let you figure out which.

Ike’s Emmy

This was a fun discovery. Who knew that President Eisenhower had an Emmy? The teleprompter reel shows the stern warning in his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961; but his Emmy, as noted, was not for any speech in particular, but simply “in recognition of his extensive use of television.”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The Space Race

I’m always happy to encounter space memorabilia (I really was born too late), and as Eisenhower had a hand in authorizing the formation of NASA (and keeping it separate from the Department of Defense, a separation he believed to be crucial) there was some fun space stuff to be found.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Of course there was so much more to see, and in the end (and upon reflection), I enjoyed our visit to the museum despite my first impression upon entry. I suppose I’ll retract my “sort of” and declare that “I like Ike!” I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the awesome staff in the gift shop. When we couldn’t find a bumper sticker for our roof box they were kind enough to give us one of the “I like Ike” stickers that they hand out to kids. Thanks!

****************************************************************************************
From August 12 – October 15, 2014 my husband and I traveled the northern United States in my Honda Civic. Cross Country Civic was started (and will eventually be completed) to document our cross country adventure. All comments and questions welcome and appreciated.

America…1954: Brown V. The Board of Education

September 2014

We’ve journeyed back over to Kansas for a few days for some more history, beginning at Monroe Elementary School , the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Established in 2004 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court Decision it is the only site in the National Park Service system dedicated to a Supreme Court case. The site on which the (formerly all black) school sits has an interesting history in and of itself (the land was originally obtained through a homestead claim), which includes ties to the Underground Railroad.

Race in America

The school is divided into five exhibit areas chronicling not only the case itself but what had come before and what has come since. It also includes a classroom set up from 1954 and a bookstore with many relevant publications. We began our tour inside the main auditorium with a thirty minute film.

The movie – Race and the American Creed, coupled with photos and displays, tells the story of slavery, racism and segregation in America. Even among those who felt slavery was unfair, it was still believed that blacks were inferior to whites.

In memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, in imagination they are dull, tasteless. ~ Thomas Jefferson

In the movie, an old story teller, Mr. Owens, shares what he knows with Nicole, the teenaged granddaughter of a friend. Covering slavery, Japanese interment camps, segregation, Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights movement and more, the movie really highlights a disturbing history, and provides an overview of the issues chronicled within the other exhibits. The link above goes to a transcript of the movie (though it’s far more powerful to see it), if interested.

The Doll Test

After the movie we stopped into the bookstore/gift shop talking to the Ranger (who had coincidentally enough done a stint at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, so lots of chat about back home and a reminder to check out some of the local NPS sites that we haven’t hit yet). Just outside, in the main hallway I noticed a display case containing one faded baby doll and stepped out to check it out.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I read the accompanying plaque and though it didn’t fully explain the experiment, I instantly knew the premise, having seen it repeated on an episode of Oprah years ago. In the test, Drs Kenneth & Mamie Clark showed two dolls – a white doll and a black doll – to 200 children, including 16 black children. They were asked a series of questions about the dolls – which they preferred, which was pretty, which was nice, which was good, which was bad, etc. In most circumstances all of the positive traits (as well as their preference for a doll) were assigned to the white doll, even by the black children.

I remember watching the episode of Oprah all those years ago, and being struck by how early the negative self image began in black children. It was devastating watching child after child pick the black doll as the bad or ugly or mean doll and then be asked the last question – “which doll is like you?” Each black child looked confused and sad as they chose the bad/ugly/mean doll as the one that was like them. You can find multiple videos of this test repeated, and the results are nearly always the same. White doll = good. Black doll = bad.

The Clarks’s work, originally part of the Briggs v. Elliot court case was key in showing that segregated schools were not only not equal, but clearly detrimental to the psychological development of black children.

Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Brown v. the Board of Education, was the result of five cases (including Briggs v. Elliot) merged as part of a national strategy in fighting against school segregation. The merged case reached the Supreme Court in 1954 and when the Court ruled unanimously on May 17, 1954 that separate was not equal, it was the catalyst for desegregation and the furthering of civil rights movements all over the country. But it was not a battle easily won and the ruling, which did little to change public opinion, was only the beginning. Integration would not come quickly. In fact, one county in Virginia opted to close its schools for five years rather than comply. They were later ordered by the Supreme Court to reopen and integrate. Total integration wasn’t completed until 1963, nearly 10 years after the Supreme Court ruled against segregation.

1954 Classroom

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The Original Fight for Marriage Equality

Though the focus of the site is Brown v. Board of Education, the museum covers other racial history. As one half of an interracial marriage I was stunned by this panel about Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage throughout the US in 1967 (although Alabama, which was the last state to amend its constitution to reflect the ruling, did not do so until 2000). Obviously even prior to meeting and marrying my husband I was familiar with the case. However, it certainly took on a more personal meaning when we were married in 2010, knowing that less than fifty years earlier, in some parts of this country, our marriage would have still been illegal (the 50th anniversary is still two years away).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

But what I found most disturbing about this piece was the second section, the part that didn’t specifically deal with Loving, but instead with a more recent event. In case it’s too small to read, – from the board:

In 2011, the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Kentucky openly banned interracial couples from their church after a 9-6 vote. The church stated that the banning of interracial couples was to “promote great unity” among its members and the community. Interracial couples were banned from church services and functions, with the exception of funerals.

Should you think that may have been a typo on my part, that vote happened in 2011 – 4 years ago. The pastor of the church eventually overturned the ruling, but it was still stunning to read about. While I don’t live in complete denial of racial issues, I suppose I thought we had come further than we have. Though remembering the extreme backlash over a sweet Cheerios commercial should have had me knowing better, and serve as a reminder to anyone who thinks the folks at Gulnare were a rare exception.

I’m so grateful to all who fought before me so that a fight wasn’t necessary for me to marry my husband and have been happy to help in the fight for others. I know that some people balk at the idea of comparing the more recent struggle of the LGBT community for marriage equality to the fight for interracial marriage, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why. It doesn’t feel any different to me. I was working in the Massachusetts State Senate when marriage equality became a reality in Massachusetts. It was both an exciting and depressing time – exciting to watch people gain freedoms they’d been denied, and depressing to see the vitriol spewed from some opponents (including having personally fielded a phone call that ended with a thinly veiled death threat). I’m still proud to be from the first state to legally recognize same sex marriage and glad to have been part of the movement that eventually resulted in another historic Supreme Court victory.

Reflections

There was so much at Munroe to explore that I couldn’t possibly chronicle it all, but it was certainly a worthwhile and educational visit. Truth be told, I found myself overwhelmed in the exhibits, exploring some of the most shameful history of our country, knowing that it isn’t nearly as long ago as I’d wish and that we haven’t come nearly as far as we need to. But I was also moved by the many individuals who fought for equality (often to their own peril) and worked to further the rights of those long denied. I can only hope that we continue the work of those before us, and ensure that the fight for equality doesn’t stop until it truly represents all.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

****************************************************************************************
From August 12 – October 15, 2014 my husband and I traveled the northern United States in my Honda Civic. Cross Country Civic was started (and will eventually be completed) to document our cross country adventure. All comments and questions welcome.

Missouri: Eats and Treats

Prime 1000 Steakhouse
St. Louis

While staying at the Magnolia Hotel we’d asked at the concierge desk for a recommendation for dinner. We were told that if we walked up and down nearby Washington Avenue we would find every type of restaurant you could possibly wish for. We did not find that to be the case. We ended up at Prime 1000 after walking quite far and circling back to it after having put it as a “maybe” when we originally passed it.

It turned out to be a wonderful stop in. We had some very amazing steaks with great sides. I only remembered to take pictures of the salads because we were enjoying the meal and each other’s company so much. But I highly recommend stopping in if you are ever in St. Louis. You will not regret it.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The Brewhouse
St. Louis

After visiting the Gateway Arch we stopped into the Brewhouse Historical Sports Bar at the Hyatt for lunch. At the recommendation of Sriram’s eye doctor we ordered up some St. Louis Toasted Ravioli – a local specialty. It was quite tasty, but I didn’t find it any more or less interesting than any other toasted ravioli I’d ever had. We also ordered the chili which came with delicious cornbread. It was a good stop, but the most noteworthy thing about our lunch at the Brewhouse is that it was where Sriram lost his favorite hat. A total bummer, and when we called to see if anyone had turned it in, no one had. Farewell great hat. I hope whoever wears you now loves you just as much.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

54th Street
St. Louis

In need of a snack before hitting the road we stopped into the 54th Street Grill. We ordered the fried pickles. These were tasty enough (deep fried anything usually equals tasty), but I can never rave about spears. I’ll never understand why anyone makes fried pickle spears when chips are so superior. Pickle-fryers of the world take note.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Kauffman Stadium Hot Dog Stand
Kansas City

On our walkabout around the stadium we checked out the various concession stands to determine what we’d grab before heading back to our seats and the specialty hotdog stand definitely won out. I got the Royal Bacon Blue Dog, because I can pretty much never resist anything with blue cheese and bacon (the dog came with red onions, too), while Sriram got the All Star BBQ Dog (topped with pulled pork, cole slaw, pickles and BBQ sauce). They were both delicious (if not a little messy to eat). Definitely a big step up from the traditional ballpark frank.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Arthur Bryant BBQ
Kansas City

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Our trip to Arthur Bryant’s was quite comical. Throughout the day, as we had driven around the Kansas City area, a wall claiming “World Famous” BBQ loomed over us. We had joked about it more than once. If we asked the Queen of England about this BBQ joint, would she have heard? How about the Pope? The fifth Beatle? Our guess was no. So when we left Kauffman Stadium in search of some Kansas City BBQ we couldn’t help but laugh when (with the help of our GPS) we landed under that giant sign heralding that World Famous BBQ. To its credit, it turned out to be pretty famous, at least among politicos and celebrities. Photos lined the walls of President Obama’s visits, as well as John McCain and Sarah Palin’s stop on the campaign trail. Even President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter dined there. You can add the likes of Steven Spielberg and Jack Nicholson to the list.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We got in line (it’s cafeteria style) and ordered a basic pulled pork plate. The food was so good that we found ourselves wishing that we hadn’t already eaten (though really no regrets about those hotdogs), as we only had room for a snack. There were three sauces available, but nothing beat the Original.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It may not look like much, but believe me, if you ever find yourself nearby, Arthur Bryant’s is 100% worth the trip!

****************************************************************************************
From August 12 – October 15, 2014 my husband and I traveled the northern United States in my Honda Civic. Cross Country Civic was started (and will eventually be completed) to document our cross country adventure. All comments and questions welcome.

Kansas City Baseball

Continuing on our day in Kansas City we decided that since the Boston Red Sox were in town and we’re from Boston (though only one of us is a Sox fan…and it’s not me) that we would take in a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium. But as far as baseball goes, the Royals aren’t the only “game” in town. Before our evening at the ballpark we made a stop to learn about an oft-neglected history of the sport.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a showcase for the (mostly) unknown talents that passed through the Negro Leagues from the late 1800’s to the early 1960’s. It was founded in 1990, growing from a small, one room office to the 10,000 square foot space that it occupies now.

An important point about the museum’s purpose can be found on its website:

Often the museum is referred to as the “Negro Leagues Hall of Fame” or “Black Baseball Hall of Fame” and various names. It is important to the museum that we not be referred to as such. The NLBM was conceived as a museum to tell the complete story of Negro Leagues Baseball, from the average players to the superstars. We feel VERY strongly that the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, NY, is the proper place for recognition baseball’s greatest players. The Negro Leagues existed in the face of segregation. Baseball’s shrines should not be segregated today. Therefore, the NLBM does not hold any special induction ceremonies for honorees. As space allows, we include information on every player, executive, and important figure. However, we do give special recognition in our exhibit to those Negro Leaguers who have been honored in Cooperstown.

As was the case on a few other spots along the trip, the museum did not allow for photography, so the only picture I took was of the lobby as you enter.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As I blog this nearly a year later (yes, I’m a slacker), I find it would be impossible for me to do this museum justice. On future road trips (we’ll have to do the southern states at some point), I’ll bring along a notebook to all of my stops to record my thoughts in the moment, but since I can’t go back in time to do that on this trip, I’m left with only vague memories when trying to write about places I couldn’t take pictures.

I recall really liking the setup of the museum. A movie, They Were All Stars, set in a bleachers area, tells the story of many of the players and is narrated by the incomparable James Earl Jones. The museum itself is laid out in time-line fashion chronicling nearly 100 years of African American and baseball history. It was a fascinating place to visit and a fabulous tribute to those who played the sport without the credit or fame of their white counterparts.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the Field of Legends. 10 bronze statues of players who have been honored in Cooperstown are positioned on a baseball diamond. I found this picture of it online at Trip Advisor:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The players on the field are Rube Foster, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Pop Lloyd, Judy Johnson, Ray Dandridge, James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell, Oscar Charleston, Leon Day, Martin Dihigo, and “Buck” O’Neil

The link to Buck O’Neil’s page on the Hall of Fame website leads to information about the Buck O’Neil lifetime achievement award:

The Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award is presented by the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors not more than once every three years to honor an individual whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball’s positive impact on society, broadened the game’s appeal, and whose character, integrity and dignity are comparable to the qualities exhibited by O’Neil. The Award, named after the late Buck O’Neil, was first given in 2008, with O’Neil being the first recipient.

I went back to our visit at Cooperstown at the beginning of our road trip and found this photograph that I took of a bronze statue of O’Neil with an infographic about his eight decades long association with baseball.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Those are some of the highlights of our visit to the NLBM. Feel free to read more about the current exhibits on the Museum’s Website.

Our afternoon of baseball learning morphed into an evening checking out Kauffman Stadium. We were able to walk right up to the ticket window and get pretty great seats right up over home plate. It was a chilly September night, as evidenced by this concession change:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Note the carousel in the picture above. As is my ritual when entering any new ballpark (this was my tenth), we did a lap around the park to see what there was to see. The outfield had lots of activities for kids – batting cages, rides, a playground, even mini-golf. I’m not sure how I felt about the number of things kids and their families could be doing instead of watching the game. We kept on moving.

The park had the typical bronze statues denoting notable Royals and this great water feature in the outfield made for cool viewing from either side. Here’s a shot from center field as the sun went down.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After our exploration, we grabbed some hotdogs and headed up to our seats. A pretty great view for last minute tickets.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Here’s another view of that water feature from the seats.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It was a fun outing, but since we wanted to avoid being stuck in the parking lot, and were more than a little chilly, we decided to take off early. Ultimately the Royals ended up winning 7 to 1. We made a pit stop before heading back to Sriram’s friend’s house, which you can read about it in the upcoming “Eats and Treats” installment. Until then, see you next time!

****************************************************************************************
From August 12 – October 15, 2014 my husband and I traveled the northern United States in my Honda Civic. Cross Country Civic was started (and will eventually be completed) to document our cross country adventure. All comments and questions welcome.

Independence Harry

Leaving St. Louis, we drove across Missouri to our next destination, Independence, and explored the life and Presidency of Harry S Truman. Our tour of “all things Truman” spanned decades of his life, from the drug store where a young Truman once worked, to his final resting place at his Presidential Library and Museum. It was a great day of historical exploration.

September 2014

CLINTON’S SODA FOUNTAIN

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We began our day by stopping into Clinton’s Soda Fountain. Though this iteration of Clinton’s has only been in existence since 1988, it was at this site that a fourteen year old Harry Truman worked his first job at Clinton’s Drug Store. The drug store, thankfully, is not overwhelmingly Truman the way Springfield was all Lincoln all the time.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Presidential Museum with its display regarding Harry’s time at Clinton’s. You can see that the new captures the spirit of the old.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We grabbed a quick drink and snack at the counter before heading off to the NPS Visitor’s Center.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

HARRY S. TRUMAN NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

The Harry S. Truman National Historic Site is comprised of multiple locations. In addition to the NPS Visitor’s Center, there is (the Truman Family Farm), his home with wife Elizabeth “Bess” Truman, the church where they were married, as well as other sites in the Truman Historic District (the Presidential Library is separate from the NHS). For our visit we only had time to visit Harry and Bess’s home if we were going to have the opportunity to explore the museum (which we very much wanted to do). We began with the exhibits and movie at the Visitor’s Center before moving on to the historic home.

TRUMAN HOME

The only way to visit the home is to take the guided tour offered by the National Park Service, so we grabbed our tickets and headed down to the house. The beautiful Victorian home was known as the “Summer White House” during Truman’s Presidency – not to be confused with the “Little Whitehouse” located in Key West. Unfortunately, other than exterior shots, the Truman home did not allow photography. I asked why and was told it was to protect the artifacts in the home from light. Since most cameras have the ability to disable flash (and since many National Historic Sites do allow photography) I find that to be a frustrating explanation, but I always abide by the rules on tour. Here’s a photograph of the outside of this beautiful home, along with the historical marker:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Here’s another look at the exterior of the house:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

In this shot, you’ll notice the top of a wrought iron fence in the foreground. Not a part of the original property, the fence was added by the Secret Service in 1949 to protect the home from “treasure hunters.” Souvenir hunters began to satisfy their needs by literally stealing pieces of the house. One particularly frightening incident had a startled Bess finding two women “touring” the inside of the house. So the fence was erected. Unfortunately, in addition to keeping unwelcome guests out, it also served to keep the Trumans in. Truman hated the fence, and had envisioned taking the fence down after his presidency. But they quickly realized that would never be possible. Fame would not allow for it.

The inside of the house is a bit like a time capsule. Unlike many historic homes where you step back to another century in a home that has been refurbished and done “in the style” of the original home, the Truman home is preserved exactly as it had been (complete with the Trumans’ actual possessions and furnishings), at the time when Bess Truman passed away in 1982 (10 years after Harry). This passage from the NHS website captures it perfectly: “Today, the Truman Home offers a glimpse at the personal life of the 33rd President of the United States. Beautiful in its uncluttered commonness, the Truman Home showcases the simple life the family enjoyed in Independence before and after Harry’s years as President.”

The Trumans were very frugal and there may have been financial reasons for their lifestyle and choice of Independence to retire. Until 1958, ex-presidents did not get a pension. Congress finally passed (and President Eisenhower signed) the law allowing for an annual pension of $25,000 plus office expenses of $50,000 and unlimited postage. Additionally, only after the Kennedy assassination did retired presidents get secret service protection. Until then, the police chief assigned an officer as a part-time bodyguard for the Trumans. It is said that Bess was able to push her shopping cart through the local supermarket without anyone bothering her.

One of the showpieces within the home was a piano. Unaware that the Trumans’ only child Margaret Truman Daniel was a singer and songwriter (as well as a novelist), I was charmed by stories of Margaret’s childhood in Independence including one about the train set she really wanted the Christmas she got her first piano instead.

A later tale about her career as a singer involved her father (the sitting President at the time) writing a pointed letter to a critic who had given her a less a than favorable review. The letter included (among other gems): “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!” Apparently it caused a big controversy about how a man who could not control his temper over a bad review could be trusted with the authority to use nuclear weapons. Have things really changed?

Back outside, another “time-capsule” of sorts is located on the grounds. In the garage sits Harry’s final car.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Harry only drove the 1972 Chrysler Newport for 6 months before his passing, and Bess for another ten years after that. Margaret donated the car to the National Park Service and it remains in the garage at the family home. The license plate 5745 (May 7th, 1945), the date of VE day in Europe – was to serve as a reminder to Harry of this important victory. The plate number is retired and no longer issued.

This however, was the not the same car that Harry Truman took on a long road trip after the presidency. The book “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip” provides great insight into the years following the presidency. I wonder how their trip compared to ours?

Stay tuned as we continue our exploration of the life of the 33rd President with our visit to the Harry S. Truman Museum and Library.

****************************************************************************************
From August 12 – October 15, 2014 my husband and I traveled the northern United States in my Honda Civic. Cross Country Civic was started (and will eventually be completed) to document our cross country adventure. All comments and questions welcome.

Meet Me in St. Louis

We arrived in St. Louis and checked ourselves into the Magnolia Hotel, a beautiful hotel in the downtown area of the city. After being on the road all day (and driving in some pretty nerve-racking weather) we decided to simply grab dinner before settling in for a good night’s sleep so we could hit the town fresh the next day.

For our one day of site seeing in St. Louis we started, of course, with the city’s biggest (literally and figuratively) attraction, the world famous Gateway Arch at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Completed in 1965 (after two and a half years of construction), the Arch, standing at 630 feet tall, can be seen from virtually every point in the city.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We bought our tickets for the ride up to the top and because we had about a 1/2 hour wait for our turn, we settled in to watch an interesting movie explaining its construction – a pretty impressive undertaking. When the time for our ride came, we boarded the small 5 person “pod” to take us on the journey to the top. This is not a ride for the claustrophobic, but the view from the top certainly can’t be beat. In one direction, the Mississippi River – out the other side, the City of St. Louis. I was stunned at how much the entire city almost looked like a little Lego village.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We also got a great view of Busch Stadium. We were disappointed that for our short stay in town we were going to miss the Cardinals by a couple of days because they were on the road. It would have been nice to get in another major league ballpark, but this was a great peek at the park.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Once you’ve taken in the view for a bit, it’s back in line for the pod ride down. Back at ground level, we popped into the Museum of Westward Expansion, which we perused for a little while, but to be honest we found it pretty boring. Since our visit, the museum has actually closed down and is undergoing a modernization project. It will be interesting to see what changes they make.

We headed out of the Arch to explore other parts of the Memorial. We moved over to the Old Courthouse which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The old historic building’s history includes being the site of the Dred Scott Trial. Scott, a slave who sued his owners on behalf of himself and his wife, eventually lost his case when the US Supreme Court deemed that since a slave had no claim to citizenship, he could not bring suit in Federal Court. Another sad chapter in our Nation’s sad history with slavery.

A monument to the Scotts is located outside the courthouse.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We strolled around a bit more, grabbed some lunch and then were just about ready to hit the road again. Our final stop in St. Louis was a part of the city known as “The Hill”. This neighborhood, set in the highest point of the city, is known for its extensive Italian-American population (nearly 75% of the residents), a fact that is pretty clear once you cross into the neighborhood.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Our primary purpose for a visit was to check out the boyhood home of New York Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Our stop over in St. Louis was a brief one, but nice all the same. Next up – Independence, MO.

All comments and questions welcome. Hi Tina.

On the Road Again

We headed out of Springfield with St. Louis in our sights. Rather than jumping on the highway to get there as quickly as possible, we decided to take the more rambling drive through Route 66. While there are some very fun stops on Route 66, in many places it seems to merely be an excuse to leave old junk and call it nostalgia simply because you put up this sign.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Still, the route was beneficial for two reasons. First, the weather was terrible and during periods of heavy rain we were happy to be driving the slower, less populated road. And, second, well, sometimes kitschy is fun.

Our first stop was more on the somber side, however. We took a few moments to visit the Mother Jones Monument in the Mount Olive Union Miner’s Cemetery.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Born in 1830 (or 1837 depending on the source), Mary Harris Jones, the sometimes teacher/sometimes dressmaker, would become one of history’s fiercest labor activists. Mary led a difficult life. Married in 1861 to George Jones, she would lose her husband and all four of their children just 6 years later to yellow fever. After the loss of her family she opened a dress shop in Chicago only to have it (along with her home and all of her belongings) burn to the ground 3 years later. In a ten year span, two tragedies had taken everything from her.

But it was that brief marriage to Jones, an iron worker, that would first spark her interest in unions and unfair labor practices, an interest that would become part of a life-long crusade. Mary fought tirelessly for safe working and living conditions for miners and was so instrumental in their fight that she is buried along side them in the miners’ cemetery with the monument serving as a tribute to those who lost their lives in the fight.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Our next stop was far more lighthearted and frivolous. It was actually just a drive-by at the Soulsby Shell Station, the oldest remaining service station on Route 66. Originally opened in 1926, it remained in business until 1993 (the pumps were closed in 1991, but the station still provided oil checks, soft drinks and a fun stop for tourists). Today it has been restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Further down the road we passed by this giant chair (explanation unknown):

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

And then, of course, our trip wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The catsup bottle (actually a water tower), built in 1949, stands 170 feet tall and was saved from demolition 20 years ago. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2002, and even has its own fan club.

That’s it for the road. Meet me in St. Louis for the next installment.

All comments and questions welcome.

Honest Abe and Mr. Accordion

At the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois the most note-worthy “resident” is certainly our 16th President. We headed to the cemetery to visit the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The tomb, which is 117 feet tall is not only the final burial spot for Abraham Lincoln but also his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of the four Lincoln children. Resting at the tomb are Edward, William (Willie) and Thomas (Tad), none of whom survived their parents. A plaque inside the tomb for Robert Lincoln (the eldest, and the only to survive to adulthood) indicates that he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

It is constructed of granite, quarried in my home state of Massachusetts (Quincy). The bronze bust of President Lincoln in front of the tomb features a shiny nose. Rubbing Lincoln’s nose is supposed to bring good luck.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The main rotunda and the interior corridors contain famous Lincoln quotes as well as smaller replicas of some of the most famous Lincoln statues.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Inside the burial chamber itself, Lincoln’s crypt is surrounded by flags. At center is the US Flag. To the left are flags honoring the homes of his ancestors. The left-most flag shown is the State Flag of Masssachusetts. To the right of center are flags depicting the places where Lincoln lived. Above the crypt the fitting words, “Now He Belongs to the Ages“.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The tribute is fitting but I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast to the burial place of President Hoover.

*******************************************************************************************

While in the area we got an alert from an app called Field Trip that Sriram had downloaded on his phone for the trip. Up until this point it had mostly alerted us to things that we already knew. This time though, it led us to Roy Bertelli, aka Mr. Accordion. A Springfield resident and World War II veteran, Mr. Bertelli wanted to be buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

One day he went to the cemetery to ask about a plot. He was thrilled to learn that a plot was available on the road leading to President Lincoln’s tomb so he quickly purchased, only to be told soon after that a mistake had been made and that he would need to return the plot. Disappointed, and then outraged when legal action was threatened, Bertelli dug in his heels and refused to surrender the plot. As you can see from the photo below, Mr. Bertelli was successful in holding onto the prime piece of “real estate” with Lincoln’s Tomb in the background.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Mr. Bertolli erected the large crypt above ground with tributes to his beloved accordion.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

For years, he would visit the cemetery and play the accordion at his tomb, much to the dismay of city officials. In the end, Mr. Accordion wasn’t even buried at the cemetery (though a few sites suggest that his accordions are in the crypt), instead being buried at the nearby Camp Butler National Cemetery.

*******************************************************************************************

It’s time for us to move on from the land of Lincoln, but we’ve certainly enjoyed our time here. If you have an questions, comments or feedback, we’d love to hear from you.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We visited the Presidential Museum the day after we visited the Lincoln Home. Our visit to the Lincoln Museum was unlike our visit to the Hoover Museum. First, and very much to my dismay, the museum does not allow photography, which is always such a difficult thing for me to hear (the Hoover Museum allowed photography – without flash – in all but the temporary exhibits). While a member of the museum staff told me that they are considering opening certain areas of the museum to photos in the future, for our visit the only place photographs were allowed was inside the main foyer.

So, here it is, your Lincoln Museum photo.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The picture itself isn’t all that interesting; the Lincoln Family standing in front of the White House. However, those paying attention will see that the family is being observed from a distance. That’s John Wilkes Booth leaning against the column to the left.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

In addition to the no-photos rule, the Lincoln Museum, which opened in 2005 is a great deal newer than the Hoover Museum (opened in 1962) and employs far different techniques for presenting information (though some believe the museum is already outdated after less than ten full years – more on that later) favoring more advanced media, and less memorabilia display cases. The difference might be explained, in part, by the fact that the Hoover Museum is part of a Presidential Library system comprised of 13 libraries/museums that are operated by the National Archives, while the Lincoln Museum is run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, was funded with a combination of state, federal and municipal money, and consists of exhibits designed by BRC Imagination Arts, which also designs theme park exhibits.

We began our visit entering through Lincoln’s Log Cabin to Journey One: The Pre-Presidential Years. Passing through the cabin itself you find a young Lincoln reading (Lincoln was self-educated). Once exiting into the main section, one of the first exhibits depicts a Slave Auction showing a family being sold and torn apart, a sad (and unfathomable) depiction of what would have been an all-too-often occurrence. Other areas of this section touched on Lincoln’s relationship with Ann Rutledge who died in 1835 (and is considered by some to have been his first and true love). Lincoln would meet Mary Todd four years later and after a stormy courtship, marry.

Some of Lincoln’s pre-White House days were a bit of surprise to me. I knew he was a lawyer, and knew that he held other political offices before being elected President, but I had no idea just how many times he had run for various offices and lost. In fact, it seemed as though he’d lost far more elections than he’d won.

A fascinating look at the 1860 presidential election was presented in one of the rooms. A multi-screen video presentation, Campaign 1860, featuring the fantastic, late Tim Russert, esteemed host of Meet the Press from 1991 until his untimely passing in 2008, does a great job of showcasing the issues facing the candidates, their ideals and conflicts, and how those issues would have played out in a modern-day arena. A plaque on the wall dedicates the exhibit to Mr. Russert.

When we exited “Journey One” the White House exhibit looked particularly crowded so we headed instead over to the Union Theater where we viewed Lincoln’s Eyes – describe by the museum as a story “told by the artist who struggled to capture the sorrow, hope, vision, resolve, and forgiveness in Lincoln’s eyes.” It was a wonderful piece, though I was annoyed at the number of adults seemingly incapable of sitting through a 20 minute presentation without talking.

From there we entered through the White House to Journey Two: The White House Years. As you enter you are immediately greeted with voices and chaos, while the sounds of political discourse and Lincoln-bashing surround you in what’s known as the Whispering Gallery. The walls are covered in political cartoons, from both sides of the aisle, none portraying Lincoln in a particularly positive light. Lincoln, a liberal Republican (no, the terms are not mutually exclusive, as the Republicans were once the more progressive party), was pretty much universally loathed for most of his presidency (in the 4-way race, Lincoln was elected with only 39% of the popular vote). Things had turned slightly in his favor shortly before his re-election, but overall he did not experience overwhelming popularity while in office, only rising to legend status long after his assassination.

As I made my way through the museum, one thing became apparent. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Those who long for a time when debate was spirited but civil, and lacked partisan clashes would be greatly disappointed when truly looking at history. Such gentler times do not exist.

Interestingly enough, Mary Todd Lincoln was not particularly popular in Washington either. Many of the local society women felt her beneath them, and not up to the standard of first lady. A particularly interesting exhibit shows Mary in a ball gown with the gowns of her rivals around an outer ring. The associated commentary of the women is full of catty and cruel remarks. Episodes of “Real Housewives of 1800’s Washington, D.C.” could have certainly featured these women.

Deeper in the journey you experienced the Lincolns’ pain of losing their son Willie (an exhibit shows them sitting vigil at Willie’s bedside while the President must also attend a White House ball). Further in, a large gallery with ghostly faces and voices debate the effectiveness and constitutionality of the Emancipation Proclamation, while another shows the 13th Amendment being heavily debated within Lincoln’s inner circle. In 2013, 148 years after its passing, Mississippi would become the final state to ratify the amendment (though they voted to ratify in 1995, they neglected to submit the paperwork). The section ends with first a replica of the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater, and then Lincoln Lying in State at the Capital.

It would be impossible for me to describe all the museum has to offer, including the Treasures Gallery which hosts a large collection of Lincoln-related artifacts.. That said, I thought it was the most interesting museum of its kind I have ever been to and would recommend it to all. The displays were visually interesting, and captivated your mind and your emotions. The Civil War in 4 Minutes (click the link for the video), a Ken Burns piece chronicling the war’s shifting boundaries and the casualty count, makes a big impact. I wept as I stood in a dimly lit room and read the Gettysburg Address while a somber rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic played softly in the background. Manipulative? Sure. But effective. Complete with a message that I don’t think we have mastered even today.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

We made our way into the Museum Store, and I was sad to discover that while the museum does sell DVDs of some of the other video shorts from the exhibits, they do not sell the Tim Russert campaign piece. He passed before they received publication rights. I hope that someday his family will make this fantastic video available for the public or at least to educators. I can think of at least one history teacher that would make it an annual viewing in her classroom.

On the way out, I noticed a Penny Machine in the lobby. I have collected pressed pennies for years, but was thoroughly amused at pressing an image of the Lincoln Museum on my Lincoln penny.

Across the street at the Union Station Train Depot (converted as part of the museum site), a small tribute to the Oscar winning film exists (and if you haven’t seen it, I couldn’t recommended it highly enough). The exhibit is extremely limited, showing one small set (where Lincoln’s closest discussed the 13th), a dress worn by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, and a few other pieces of movie memorabilia, but it was fun to pop into.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Research after the visit revealed that many believe that the museum isn’t “museum-like” enough, but I think that’s what made it fantastic. It engages in a way that most don’t, drawing you in with the interactive and vibrant exhibits. Even complaints about the Tim Russert piece being outdated seem like nonsense to me. While younger generations certainly won’t feel the nostalgia that I (and I’m sure others) felt upon coming across a piece of Mr. Russert’s work, the lesson of the video still stands as it illustrates that the political machine, while constantly evolving, hasn’t changed the overall conflicts inherent in the political process itself.

The museum is extraordinarily well done and tells a remarkable story about a remarkable man.

Thanks for reading. Thoughts, questions and comments always welcome.

Abraham Lincoln: Before the White House

The list of things that most Americans can agree on is likely pretty short. On that list would surely be the fact that Abraham Lincoln was a great President (though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few dissenters). But that’s the historical perspective, and does not necessarily reflect feelings about the man at the time.

In our attempt to find a deeper appreciation of the 16th President and to discover the man before his election to the land’s highest office, we visited Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln moved to Springfield in 1837. His future wife, Mary Todd, in 1839. Their courtship was a stormy one, in part due to the fact that Mary’s family did not approve of the union. Still, in 1842 they were married.

Their first year they lived in a boarding house, but after the birth of their first son, Robert Todd Lincoln, they found the conditions at the house too crowded and loud. They moved first into a 3 room cabin, and then finally into what is now the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. This is not the log cabin of Lincoln’s youth (for that you’d have to visit the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana); but instead, the only home he owned as an adult. The home he purchased with Mary Todd Lincoln.

During their time there, Lincoln’s legal career would thrive, they would have more children (and lose their second-born Edward just shy of his 4th birthday), and Lincoln would eventually be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. It was the home they planned to return to at the end of his Presidency; though Lincoln’s own words in his farewell address seem eerily prophetic in retrospect.

“Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return…”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The family would never return to the home, and Robert (the only of the four Lincoln children to live to adulthood), would eventually donate the home to the State of Illinois in 1887 (22 years after his father’s assassination). Later, in 1972, it was given to the United States Government and became a National Park Service Historic Site. In the “fun facts” section of the home’s website, it mentions that, “President Richard Nixon signed the legislation authorizing the establishment of the Lincoln Home as a National Historic Site at the Old State Capitol, using the same desk Lincoln used to write his first inaugural address.”

We arrived to the site pretty late in the afternoon and were lucky to get onto one of the last tours of the day. It was raining pretty hard as we headed from the Visitor’s Center down to the home, but the walk itself is a bit like going back in time. The surrounding neighborhood has been restored to recreate the world as it was when the Lincolns lived there. And as you can see from the photo above (which was taken after our tour when the rain had subsided) there are brick sidewalks and the roads are an unpaved, red clay.

Tours of old homes can often seem much the same – old rooms, old furniture, restored items, original items – unless you are enamored with the furnishings of a particular time period, it can be a bit of a mixed bag. In this case, in anticipation of their move to Washington, the Lincoln’s had rented out the house, selling the majority of their furniture, and putting aside only a few pieces for their return. When most of the furnishings aren’t original it becomes the stories and the history (and often the little touches) that make the difference.

The main hallway welcomes you with an immediate and tangible piece of Lincoln hanging on a hall tree.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

From the main hall, we were guided further into the house to the back parlor. One of two parlors in the home where guests would have been received, this parlor is particularly noteworthy. It was here on May 19, 1860, that members of the Republican National Committee would officially offer Abraham Lincoln the party’s nomination for President. A far cry from the pageantry, drama and spin of today’s nominating conventions, it was four days before he accepted the nomination.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

From there, we moved across the hall past a dining room and into the sitting room. In the sitting room (the equivalent of a modern-day family room) it is said that Lincoln would often lay on the floor, as most of the room’s furniture was not comfortable for his tall frame. He would read to the children, or play games with them. It was where they spent the majority of their family time, as the boys were not allowed in the formal parlors. And according to our guide, it was here that Lincoln would have frequent wrestling matches with his boys.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The second floor housed a boy’s bedroom, as well as a small room for a “hired girl” (a hired girl was a young teenaged girl who helped with duties such as making fires, getting well water, cleaning lamps, etc.). A hired girl earned approximately $1.50 per week.

Additionally, the second floor housed a 2 bedroom suite for Abe and Mary. It was considered great luxury at that time for spouses to have separate bedrooms, though for many years, Mary shared hers with their youngest sons, Willie and Tad (Edward passed away before Willie and Tad were born). It wasn’t until Robert moved away to college that the younger boys could move across the hall into his room, finally affording Mary the privacy that her husband enjoyed.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The final room of note was the kitchen. It is said that the kitchen in the Lincolns’ home was nearly identical in size to the one room cabin of his youth. Here are a two shots of the kitchen, though neither show the total room. But you can still get a sense of how small that cabin would have been. This kitchen was considered very modern for its time, and it is said that Mary had a hand in modernizing the White House kitchen.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Mary loved entertaining and was a fan of cooking and baking. She was known to throw elaborate birthday parties for the boys (which was not at all common in those days). Her most famous recipe still lives on today. She often made a White Almond Cake, which was a particular favorite of Abe’s. It was such a well-known treat in their lives that a white almond cake is on display in the house, though the park staff enjoy moving it around from room to room to see if the tour guests will “discover” it. We found it in the dining room on our tour.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After our tour of the home we explored the neighborhood a bit since the rain had stopped. Many of the houses on the block are privately owned, and while the owners can do what they like to the interior, the exterior and grounds are not to be touched. There are even some limitations placed on the homes regarding outdoor usage of the grounds.

Some of the other buildings are owned by the Park Service, while at least one serves as a Congressional District Office. This house is home to the the local office for the US Senate’s 13th District. If that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to you, the former occupant now sits at the White House.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Visiting the Lincoln Home was a good start for insight into the man. His pre-Presidential life was full of family and community. The family experienced hard times (the death of their son Edward for starters), but to say it was a simpler time for the Lincolns would certainly be an understatement.

Next up, a tour the Presidential Museum.