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.

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.

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.

“We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover…

“…for really showing us the way.”

It’s not 31st President’s fault that the catchy song from Annie played on repeat in my head throughout my visit to his boyhood home and Presidential Library. Annie is such a deeply ingrained part of my childhood that I can sing every song word for word. I mean no disrespect. It’s just that besides being the subject of an unflattering Broadway showtune, I couldn’t have told you much else about Hoover prior to my visit. I know, of course, that he was considered a failed President by most, and that he has a big dam named after him (I’ve even taken the Dam Tour). But that’s about it.

I’ll confess, history (unless it’s related to the space age) was never my favorite subject, but here I am exploring our vast country, and history – the good and the bad – is a very big part of that journey.

We arrived to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa late in the afternoon. The site chronicles Hoover’s life from boyhood home, through his presidency to his final resting place. We stopped into the Visitors Center for maps and information, and explored the very brief exhibit there.

Late in Hoover’s life, he said of his childhood, “I do not know much of anything that happens to a small boy in Iowa that is not cheerful. It is a life of more nearly complete joy than any other form of existence I can imagine.” Sill, his early years were not easy. His father, a Quaker blacksmith, passed in December 1880 when Hoover was only 6 years old, and his mom just four years later. At 11 years old, Hoover traveled by train from Iowa to Oregon to live with his uncle, a doctor. In his possession was one suitcase, a basket of food from his aunt and 50 cents sewn into his clothing in case of emergency. He would never live in Iowa again and returned only to assist in the planning of the site.

We wanted to spend the majority of our limited available time in the Presidential Museum, so we made only a quick visit to the various buildings on the property (his boyhood home, the Quaker Meeting House where his family gathered, a blacksmith shop that would have been similar to his father’s, as well as the school house where Hoover was educated).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We strolled across the vast property to the Presidential Library. Presidential libraries are, by their very nature it seems, designed to be a bit of a lie. Balance isn’t necessarily the goal – the goal is, of course, to showcase the President’s highlights, even if, as in the case of Hoover, those highlights mostly didn’t come during the Presidency.

Blamed for the Great Depression (or for not doing enough to end it), Hoover is pretty much synonymous with “presidential failure.” But there was more to the man than the Presidency, and the museum tells an interesting story of a distinguished Commerce Secretary, and a great humanitarian – a man who spent 50 years in public service, and is often defined only by 4 of those years.

Hoover went to Stanford University, while in it’s infancy, to become a mining engineer. He then used his education in China and Australia, where he literally struck gold and became a very wealthy man at a very early age, earning the adage the ‘great engineer’. The museum showcased the difficult living conditions in the Australian desert and the tense times in China during the Boxer rebellion.

While he was in Europe, WWI broke out and he led the efforts to bring Americans stranded in Europe home safely. He then had the unenviable job of getting American food aid to the European allies, without it ending up in the hands of the German occupiers, thereby cementing his reputation as a ‘great humanitarian’.

One of my favorite parts of the the museum were the flour sacks within the Humanitarian Exhibit.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Here are a few of the flour sack samples throughout the exhibit.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Appointed Commerce Secretary by Warren Harding in 1920 (and continuing to serve under Calvin Coolidge), Hoover was said to be so popular that he over-shadowed both presidents. It was joked throughout Washington that Hoover was “Secretary of Commerce, and Undersecretary of everything else.” His great accomplishment during this time was the establishment of the ‘Bureau of Standards’, which established standards for such things like sizes for car wheels and tires; bedframes and mattress. This resulted in vast efficiencies and enabled consumers to buy a car from one manufacturer and the tires from another.

The roaring 1920s were depicted with interesting exhibits. One exhibit presented the early age of commercial radio, and how Hoover thought only live performances should be broadcast, while another chronicled the establishment of the early version of air traffic control.

Having won the presidential election with relative ease, there were very high hopes for Hoover. However, the feelings did not last through the depression. The newspaper articles and cartoons show that there were rumors that he was running away from the country with all his gold on Andrew Carnegie’s yacht.

Overall, we felt the great depression did not get the level of attention that it deserved. Still, the museum was very much an eye-opener for me and an in-depth look at the man, if not the President.

The final exhibit hall, a re-creation of his suite at the Waldorf Astoria (where he spent his post-presidential years) demonstrated the extent of his personal wealth. Hoover would go on to do many great things in those years, including heading the Boys Clubs of America (which he raised millions of dollars for), serving as the coordinator for Food Supply for World Famine during World War II, serving as occupancy adviser to President Truman, among many other things. He also paved the way for the 1949 Executive Reorganization Act, which restructured the executive branch of the government. He also found time to author dozens of books.

A President is laid to rest ~ October 1964.

It is said that his Quaker faith helped guide him through the years. In the Quaker tradition, his grave is marked with only his name and dates. You’ll find no Presidential Seal or fancy engravings here.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Our visit to the Hoover Library was certainly interesting. We have other Presidential Libraries on our itinerary for the trip, but Hoover was my first. I have been to the JKF Library in Boston, but it was a screening of an installment of the HBO Mini-series From the Earth to the Moon. I have not visited the exhibits. Somehow, we always forget to make time to be tourists in our own states. Will definitely have to change that soon.

Have you visited a Presidential Library? Let us know which and your thoughts. Maybe your library is next on our list. And since we discovered the Presidential Library Passport on this visit, we’re looking forward to checking them all out.

Apologies for the very long gap since the last post. Life has been crazy! Lots more posts to follow.

The Voyage Continues

Waking up on the water is magical. Our view is spectacular, as is the peace and quiet. We wake to the sound of two loon calls, which turn out to be the Voyagaire morning radio show. It’s 8am and we listen in for the weather and some park history. Today’s topic is the Kettle Falls Hotel – timely as that will be our destination today. The broadcast ends with a “thought for the day” – today’s thought, the word politics – poli meaning many, tics meaning blood suckers. I chuckle and then start up the boat for charging.

We call into base to let them know we’ve figured things out (it’s not so much just pressing the button, it’s finding the small button under the large button that really puts it in idle), and to ask the hospitality service, “Simon Says,” to bring us some hot chocolate and potato chips on their delivery run. I’ve woken up cold, and have a sore throat. I’m feeling run down and figure warm beverages are a good thing. The chips are just cause we’re out. We won’t see Simon til much later in the day, and he’ll find us wherever we go, so we decided to head up to the Falls for the day.

Getting out of our spot turns out to be trickier than getting in. It’s difficult to keep the boat in place so that Sriram can get on after untying us. The wind is working against us, but he gets aboard and we go on our way. We “drive” for hours – following our navigational markers along the way. Many of them are hard to spot (the greens in particular), and we long for a pair of binoculars. We came straight from the lighthouse so didn’t have much prep time. Binoculars were on the suggested items to pack list, but as it’s not noted that it’s suggested for navigational reasons, I wouldn’t have thought of it as such. Still, my 200 mm lens on my camera turns out to be a decent backup, and I often take long range photos of the markers and then zoom in close in the view screen to verify numbers and locations. It works out ok.

I’m also improving my eagle scouting and photography.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Radio calls throughout the day make it clear that we will NOT find houseboat parking up near Kettle Falls so we’ll have to find parking elsewhere and then make our way up to the Falls in our small motor boat. The fun begins again as we attempt to find a place to land. We call in our location for some advice. Jim, from base mentions looking for spots where they have marked the black dots on the map. I again find myself wishing that the islands had corresponding black dots on them. Jim mentions several beautiful beaches in the area we are boating – we have seen none. We eventually ask him to clarify what he means by beaches, as perhaps he has a different definition than we do. Nope – he means a nice sandy beach. We eventually see one or two, but other houseboats are already parked in the spots, and it’s one houseboat per spot. But in the end we never really did see anything we considered a “beautiful beach.”

We eventually end up simply “inventing” a spot, as we have no clue what to do otherwise. It was frustrating. We’re on rocks again, and without benefit of a sign we don’t know if we’re ok where we are. But we tie up best we can, get in the small boat and head up to the Falls and the old Hotel.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The hotel is not what I expected. We were told it would be “like stepping back into time.” It was, but in an outdated way. A few cool period pieces were sprinkled throughout (old cash register, fire pit, sewing machine), but none of it presented in a way that made it seem like it belonged there. We stayed long enough to have lunch (and read the National Park trivia cards at our table) and take a stroll before the journey back to our boat (which I wasn’t 100% convinced we’d find).

Simon Says dropped by after our return and verified that our spot is ay-ok – that some of the best spots are “made-up” spots. We’re grateful for the confirmation, particularly when heavy rain and thunderstorms roll in over night tossing our boat repeatedly against the rocky shoreline.

We wake up to a beautiful fog the next day.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

S’mores greet us for breakfast (and by “greet us” I mean, that’s what I made for breakfast). A basket of supplies had been left on the boat as a welcome – and heck, we’re on vacation – there are no rules on vacation. They were a tasty start to our day. The weather report on the morning show mentioned that the evening and following morning would once again have thunderstorms. Opting to not have to search for parking and then deal with the rain in the morning we decided to spend our final night on the boat docked back at home base. But, first we need to make the few hour journey back, which gives us plenty of time to enjoy the view.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

When we got close enough, we radioed in for a pilot and came in to explore a bit of the park on land. We took a drive out to one of the visitor’s centers, walked a few trails, and saw some of the beautiful land-based sights in the park. In the evening we retired to the top deck of our houseboat (which also has a water slide – air and water temps were not suitable for use) and just enjoyed the peaceful night in the harbor.

Our final morning, we woke to this. A beautiful conclusion to the visit.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Overall, I think I’d only recommend the park to boaters and fishermen. We saw so many fishing boats out, and there seemed to be plenty of great spots for all. House boating turned out to be more work than we felt it was worth. Perhaps with a larger group, so we wouldn’t always have to be driving and/or navigating, it would have been easier, but the lack of easily recognizable parking made the outings more stressful than they should have been. But it was an interesting experience, and I’m glad we did it.

Bon Voyage

Red, right, return. Jeff, our boat “trainer” repeats it over and over again, being sure to drill the information home before setting us loose in Voyageurs National Park. We’ve rented a houseboat from Voyagaire Lodge and Houseboats for a couple days and after a brief tutorial will be on our way into the park, alone. The red, right, return speech is familiar. Jeff says, “It’s the ‘saying’ here at Voyageurs,” but truth is, it’s just the rules of the road in boating. When you are returning to port, you keep red buoys/markers to your right (which means on the way out, they will be on your left). It’s how you navigate your way around rocks and such. Sriram has been sailing for more than a decade – and I’ve been married to him for 4 years – it’s familiar to us both. Nothing else is.

As Jeff advises us to “beach” our boat – giving it just a little more throttle after it hits land, I can see Sriram’s confusion. Over and over again, their recommendations fly in the face of everything he (we) know from sailing. But this is their boat, so we’ll follow their guidance while in the park. We go through the checklist for the boat (and our smaller day-trip boat that’s attached) and ask any questions as they come up. We’ve already loaded our belongings on board, and stopped into the lodge store for last minute provisions – mostly beverages. They didn’t have much in the store, so we asked if there was somewhere else that we could pick up supplies. We were only looking for a couple of onions and potatoes. That was easy enough – they grabbed them from the restaurant kitchen and would just add them to our bill.

With our supplies all set we headed back onto our houseboat, Knot A Care), and headed out. A small motor boat trails us as we head out of the main harbor – Jeff is piloting our boat. Guests are not allowed to man the craft until a certain point outside the harbor. Jeff will “jump ship” and off we’ll go. We’ve been given details about where our best travel points are as we head into the park, as we only have a half day and must be tied up one hour before sunset. Once he leaves us, we follow his advice and head toward a section of the park known as Grassy Pointe.

The drive is beautiful. It is the first lake we’ve been in where we are surrounded by shoreline. It’s both secluded and inviting. We see few travelers as we navigate our way through small narrows and open water, but feel a certain solidarity with those we do see.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The “house” handles well, and things are looking good. We get turned around a couple times, but discover some beautiful places along the way. All is well – until we look for a place to go and “beach” our boat for the night, and then the fun begins. We see nothing that looks like a beach. We’re supposed to tie up to trees on the shore after bringing her in, but there’s no obvious place to do that. Our map (for any sailors/boaters reading – it was in fact a map, not a chart), indicates spots where the house boaters are allowed to “park.” Big black dots, that probably represent a wide stretch of shoreline that has no corresponding black dot to help you out.

We radio into Voyagaire Base. The operator is super friendly and helpful. No beaches in that area, but we’ll see a dot marked on our map of a spot we can settle in for the night. We’re near a series of cliffs and right around the bend is a houseboat spot. We thank her for the info and mention that we’ll get back to her if we can’t find it.

We find the spot, but it’s rocks. Pretty much all rocks. To park the boat, we will essentially slow down and “beach” the boat on a bed of rocks. It’s a mind-blowing prospect. But the sign says to park there. Base has confirmed it. So we do it. I nudge the boat into place and Sriram jumps off and begins to tie up. We get the boat tied up with time to spare before our “curfew.” We try to explore the mini island at Leach Bay where we have landed, but the paths don’t really lead anywhere and the bugs are out in full force, so we retreat back to the boat. But not before taking a picture of our traveling home.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A few housekeeping tasks await us, anyway. Each night we are supposed to idle the motor for three hours, at approximately 1,800rpms. This will charge the batteries so that all of our systems will operate. We’re supposed to do the same each A.M. Jeff had given us a lesson on how to do this. I can’t make it happen. No matter what I do, I can’t get the boat to idle, and as I try to increase the rpms, the boat lurches forward into more rock. Not good.

Base is once again a brief call away. I radio in, and first take a moment to thank her for the previous help and verify that we should indeed be up on the rocks. She gives us confirmation that our parking job is just fine and I move onto my question about the charging. She hands off the radio to someone with better knowledge and they attempt to walk me through the procedure again. I’m doing everything they are telling me, but it just won’t catch in idle. Finally I’m told to give up, that my batteries (which were replaced just before we set off) should be fine, and if they can they’ll send someone out in the morning. OK.

It’s a beautiful night, so we load up on bug spray and sit outside and pretty soon I spot a beaver on the opposite shore. We watch it for a bit, and just as it’s about to exit the water for the shore so that I can get a better picture, a motor boat comes through. It heads over to our boat and it’s Chuck from base, come to check in on our charging situation. He hops on board and gets it to idle in one try. He walks me through it again and I get it to idle on my first try, too. I tell him that I swear I’d done exactly what I’d just done 150 times with no luck. He replies, “151st is the charm,” and off he goes.

We quickly discover that we were better off before we could figure out how to do it, as the running motor intrudes on what was just moments ago a beautifully serene location. The thought of leaving it running for three hours is depressing. The thought of doing it again come morning, even more so. When it’s time for bed we lock up for the night and shut down.

An interesting first day in the park. Stayed tuned for more of our house-boating adventure.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Welcome to our one and only adventure in Wisconsin (although – definitely see the upcoming “Eats and Treats” for the info on our trip to the Benoit Cheese Company, which was a mini-adventure).

The draw in Wisconsin was definitely the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior (it’s starting to seem like we have moved to the Lake). The Apostle Islands archipelago is made up of 21 islands, the first twenty having been declared a National Lakeshore by Congress in 1970 (the other would come in the 80’s). The varying islands played a big part in the early fur trade and through the years have had fishing, logging, and rock quarrying ventures.

We arrived in Bayfield, home to the Apostle Islands Visitor’s Center for information and to get our National Parks stamp and view the exhibits.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

You can visit many of the islands to hike or picnic, but one of the best ways to see the park is by boat. I wasn’t up for more kayaking, so we booked a Sunset Grand Tour with Apostle Island Cruises. With almost an hour before our boat tour, we walked around the small waterfront and happened upon the Bayfield Maritime Museum. The museum chronicled the evolution of boats and ships in the area, starting with the birch canoes used by the Indians to sail powered commercial fishing crafts and more.

As I’ve found with any historical look at the Great Lakes, it would not be complete without information about shipwrecks. The Bayfield Maritime Museum was no exception. As you can see, there were quite a few.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

At 5:15, we boarded the Superior Princess. The boat was not very crowded, so everyone had the option to be inside or out (and I think nearly everyone started outside and ended up inside, including us). The winds and the cool evening temperature quickly had us retreating inside, but the windows opened, so it was still good for photography.

As the tour made its way around the Islands, Captain Pat acted as both Captain and story-teller. The majority of the islands are seen from a distance. Trees and shoreline – very pretty, but after some of our previous adventures, not as overwhelming a view. For a while I was thinking that perhaps this would be the big dud of our trip. Still, some of the islands had interesting stories.

Manitou Island has been restored to a 1930’s fishing camp that used to operate there.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Captain Pat told a story about a ranger who spent a full season on the island. No cable, no internet, just isolation and nature (I found myself singing, “No phones, no lights, no motor cars…” in my head). Another had once been trapped in the outhouse by a bear. She’d luckily had her radio with her, and had radioed another ranger who’d come over to the island and managed to scare the bear off. When the other ranger asked if there was anything else he could help with, she said, “Wait right there,” fetched her things, and left with him never to return. I can’t say that I blame her.

Another story was told about Skar the bear (though I don’t know if it’s simply a fanciful story to make a point). After tourists had taken it upon themselves to feed the bears, Skar began to get aggressive and was raiding camps. Many things were tried to correct the problem before he simply had to be removed from the island. He was brought to North Dakota and put into the wild there. When the rangers went back to the island the following season, Skar greeted them on the dock. Skar (now stuffed) still greets visitors at the island’s visitor center to serve as a reminder that feeding wildlife will often lead to the animal’s death.

Moving on to more islands, a watchful eye on the highest treetops revealed eagles on watch, which always leaves me wishing for a lens even bigger than the 200mm lens I borrowed from my sister for the trip.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Things had gotten more interesting, but it was still not as impressive as some of our previous adventures. But then, they’d saved the best for last. It’s Devil’s Island where you finally get to see what all of the fuss is about. The shoreline is a wonderful burst of color and jagged rock. The natural sea caves are both beautiful and fascinating. It makes for dramatic scenery around the lighthouse.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The trip back was uneventful and once back in town we grabbed a bite to eat before settling in for the night. A new state tomorrow. Wisconsin – we hardly knew ya. Perhaps someday we’ll get back and explore more of what the Apostle Islands have to offer.

Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. We love getting feedback on the trip.

Isle Royale – Part II

Our first full day on the island was slow-going. We slept a little later than we’d expected, but as we had nowhere in particular to be, it didn’t matter much. When we awoke, we headed down to the dock. Part of our package included a ½ day rental of a canoe, so we had decided on a day on the water, only to discover that all of the canoes and kayaks had already been rented (early bird gets the canoe as they say). We could come back later, but there was no guarantee that we would get anything.

We strolled around and considered the various hiking trails on the island. While deciding, I stopped into the Visitor’s Center to speak with the Ranger (Lucas again) and get a crash course on some of the vegetation I’d seen on the island the day before. I was most curious about the variety of shiny hard berries (in red, white and blue), as I’d never seen anything like them. I was told they were not edible (they didn’t look edible, so no worries).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The white berries with the black dot were Baneberry (also known as Doll’s Eyes) and are quite toxic. The red berries also fell into that same category. The hard blue colored berries are a type of lily – the Bluebead Lily. I thought those were really interesting. The bead apparently forms after they flower.

As the morning drifted away, we decided that rather than test our luck waiting on a canoe return, we would hop on The Sandy and head over to nearby Raspberry Island for a spell. Despite the name, you won’t find many raspberries on the island, though it was once full of them (a shame really, as I do love raspberries). We did come across a great rock cliff where we sat to enjoy the view for a bit. Just as I was getting up to leave I noticed some wild blueberries. We snacked on a few before exploring the island further – they were so delicious. Far superior to any supermarket blueberry I have ever eaten.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife on the Island (we were hoping for an elusive moose, but alas, despite signs of them, we did not see any actual moose). But there were lots of flowers and wonderful views on the island. The bog in particular had some really unique plants. This pretty flower, which likes to munch on insects, is called a Pitcher Plant.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

There was also a plant called a sunburst which was tricky to photograph. Here’s my best attempt.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The plants weren’t the only things that were tricky to photograph. After many failed attempts (including while he sat on my leg for a spell), I finally got this guy to sit still long enough for me to get a shot.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It was a very nice visit to one of Isle Royale’s other islands and you’d be hard-pressed to beat the scenery.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Though we left with lots of daylight remaining, once back on Isle Royale we stuck to the trails in the Rock Harbor area, as we didn’t feel we had time for a major hike. I spent quite a bit of my time munching on thimbleberries as we went. Having only discovered them that day, and knowing my time with them were limited, my strategy amounted to if it is ripe, pick it. Wondering what a thimbleberry looks like? You’ll have to google one, as I was apparently too busy eating them to capture a good shot of one.

In the evening, we ended up back down on the sea plane dock with a few other people to watch the sunset. A private plane had come in. I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of it. And of course, we also took pictures of the setting sun.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

With the sun down, the chilly night air had us making our way back to our cottage. It was a short trip, but we’ve very much enjoyed our time in the park.

Saying Goodbye to Isle Royale

The morning of our departure we headed for the seaplane dock for our 9am flight back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula only to find out the plane was delayed 40 minutes. Seemed strange as the skies were clear and the weather was beautiful. Perhaps something was brewing on the mainland. But it was a lovely spot to wait, so we hung out on the dock taking photos and hoping for a last minute moose sighting.

Twenty minutes later we were informed that the plane wouldn’t be coming – mechanical problems needed to be addressed and the part would not be available until the next day. We headed up to the park office to find out what our options were. Our choices? Get on the afternoon ferry if they had room, or stay an extra night, hoping to get out on the plane the next day.

We opted for the ferry (this was a shorter three hour ferry) and then determined to make the best of our extended stay, we used our free ½ day rental to take a kayak out in Tobin Harbor. We’d been down at the harbor while waiting for the plane and it could not have been more flat, so I had no concerns about this kayaking trip. This picture of a nearby canoe shows just how flat the water was.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We spent about an hour and a half out on the water and simply enjoyed the stillness and the peace and quiet. At one point, along the shoreline we could hear voices of hikers on the trail that seemed to be following us. We’d later connect with some of those voices in the guest house while talking to some friends we’d made earlier.

In the afternoon we made our way over to the ferry and after waiting until all of the scheduled passengers got on, made our way aboard. The seats had filled up quickly. I found a table with two empty seats and asked the two young men who were sitting there if the seats were free. They were, so we joined them.

Alex and Ian had been backpacking on the Island as a final trek before the start of their sophomore and junior years at Michigan Institute of Technology. They were really great guys and we enjoyed a lovely conversation on the crossing, discussing everything from travel, to business, to school and families. And they gave us a couple of restaurant recommendations for back in Houghton, which is always great.

Coming into the dock in Copper Harbor the captain blew the whistle and told us to watch out the window, as employees of the restaurants like to come out and wave the ship in. Staff at the Copper Harbor Inn will even come out and dance the cancan. I assumed he was joking, but they did indeed come out and dance.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Overall, the experience of Isle Royale was great from start to finish. The staff were fantastic and extremely helpful. And Alex mentioned on the ferry ride that while it’s the least visited of all the National Parks, it is the most RE-visited. With such a lovely and unspoiled experience, I can certainly see why.

Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. We love getting feedback on the trip.