A Surprise in Thermopolis

Hello Readers!

I’m going to skip ahead about a week in the blog. I promise to backtrack to the other events as time allows, but blogging time is scarce these days (this post explains why), and as this is a very special anniversary, I wanted to post this one on this day. I hope you’ll forgive me, but this post will be more personal than travel related, but it was a big part of our trip so I hope you’ll indulge me.

September 22, 2014

Our plan for the day was to spend the morning in Thermopolis Wyoming enjoying a dip at Hot Springs State Park. We’d originally heard of the park from a ranger at Voyageurs National Park a few weeks earlier. So we planned to spend some time at the hot springs and then decide if we wanted to explore some of the other sites Thermopolis had to offer.

We went down to breakfast at the hotel and chatted about our options, but as we were getting ready to head to the springs a nagging voice in my head told me that before jumping into nature’s Jacuzzi I should take a pregnancy test. I was late, but not by much and that wasn’t all that unusual. Besides, a couple weeks into the trip I’d been pretty convinced that I’d started menopause, so I was quite certain I was just being paranoid. Still, something told me to check. So I did.

The test was positive…sort of. While the pregnancy line showed up, the test line did not. Not sure if I simply had a defective test, I told Sriram “I think we’re pregnant” before running to the store for a second test. Test number two confirmed I was indeed pregnant. Surprise!

We’d been married and trying for four years. Fertility doctors had given me about a 5% chance of getting pregnant, with or without help. My insurance wouldn’t cover fertility treatments because I was over forty and had failed a medical test they require to provide coverage. So, rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars on treatments that would do little to improve my odds we had opted to hit the open road and appreciate all that we had and simply enjoy our marriage. We’d mostly given up on the thought of a biological child. We figured if it happened, it happened, but we didn’t hold out much hope.

Yet here we stood, 40 days after driving out of Boston, positive pregnancy test in hand and a definitive “no” to the question, “Are we going in the hot springs today?” We knew we still had a ways to go, both to finish our trip, and to see the pregnancy through (I was 41 and life had already shown us there were no guarantees), but we left Thermopolis feeling hopeful about our future.

Sriram wondered if we should turn back (we still had three weeks left to travel), but I didn’t see the point. We could always turn back later if I started to feel sick, but since I knew I couldn’t possibly be more than a few weeks along, and that most doctors won’t even see you until the 8 week mark, I knew we could still enjoy the rest of our travels with some slight modifications (no more chugging Diet Coke for me).

We didn’t think to take a picture in Thermopolis to mark the occasion (I think we were in a bit of shock), but here we are in Yellowstone 2 days later. I’d say we were pretty happy!



We finished out our trip (which I’ll continue, and eventually finish, blogging) and my pregnancy went fantastic. This past May we welcomed a healthy, beautiful, baby boy. He’s a lot of work, but brings us a lot of joy. A dream we had given up on came back to us while living out another. Someday we hope to bring our son on another fantastic journey (he didn’t have the best vantage point on this trip) and share our love of travel and exploration. Until then, we’ll simply enjoy all that life has to offer while raising our little man.

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.


We’re Off to See the Wizard

We stopped in Wamego Kansas at the Wizard of Oz Museum which opened in 2004 as a showcase for all things Oz. The brochure boasts a collection of 2000 items on display, commemorating all manner of Oz from books to film to the Broadway stage. Clearly with so much memorabilia on display I couldn’t possibly show it all, but I’ll cover some of the highlights and my favorites.

In the lobby of the museum you’re greeted by an 8 foot tall Tin Man. I’ve left the doorway in the photo just to demonstrate the enormous size of the statue. Such fun!

As you walk through the museum many of the displays are grouped by character. As Oz characters go, I admit to being partial to Glinda, having played her in a sixth grade production of The Wizard of Oz.

So, in honor of my sixth grade self, here is one of the Glinda displays:

Despite my Glinda love, I’ll be honest, some of my favorite items were memorabilia for the Scarecrow. Here are just a few of the pieces that caught my eye.

Of course, there were tributes to many of the other characters. Here are some other groups of memorabilia:


Of course, no Oz museum could be complete without lots of Dorothy items, as well as recognition for the incomparable Judy Garland. Here is just a small sampling.

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Tin Man & the Lion

The Munchkins

An Unexpected Tribute

This next display was certainly among the more unexpected bits of memorabilia in the museum. I certainly wasn’t expecting a 9/11 themed display when we walked in.

According to the display, Oz collector Johnpaul Cafiero had visited the Warner Brothers store at the World Trade Center in New York often, as he had family in the area. He struck up a friendship with the store’s manager and during a visit at the end of August 2001 the manager asked if he wanted some Oz themed stuffed dolls that the store was not going to display (as the store was slated to close later that year). He did, and the manager agreed to ship them out to him within the next couple of weeks. 14 days later the unthinkable happened.

His thoughts after the tragedy of 9/11:

On September 12, I called the Warner Brothers Store in Times Square inquiring on the staff and manager of the WTC store. They all managed to get out before the towers collapsed. To tell you the truth, I did wonder about the plush dolls. Did they ever get shipped? Well, the answer came the next day on Thursday, September 13, 2001. I received a number of large boxes from the WTC Warner Brothers Store. It was a strange feeling. They had survived a terrible disaster. This box and the five plush character figures are a testimony to the enduring legacy of OZ and the American Spirit.

Beyond the Book

Beyond the original book and timeless film, the museum features other iterations of Oz. There were displays for musical adaptations Wicked (a personal favorite) and The Wiz; and TV mini-series Tin Man; a fantastic old Rolling Stone cover featuring the cast of Seinfeld; Wizard of Oz on Ice; and more. And on the day of our visit a display for “Oz the Great and Powerful” was in development to commemorate the most recent film starring James Franco and Michelle Williams.

Overall it was a fun visit. A little on the cheesy side, but it was a cute stop and would thrill any Oz fan.

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.

Here Kitty Kitty…

For the majority of our adventure, I haven’t bothered to blog about our lodging. With the exception of the nights we spent in our awesome teepee, we were mostly in serviceable hotels and motels not in need of mention. We also mostly had an easy time of finding places to stay. This night (9/14/14 – the halfway mark of our trip) it was a little trickier.

We checked out some of the B&B’s in Abilene, but unfortunately they were all sold out for the night. There were a few other places nearby, but looking for something more interesting, Sriram decided to check Airbnb and see if we could find anything. He found a place in Chapman, KS – about a 35 minute drive away – the Windmill Inn B&B.

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Stepping up onto the porch we rang the bell and waited. While we waited to be greeted by a human, a cute kitten wandered up onto the porch. It cozied up to my leg (as cats always seem wont to do) and I took a picture, while silently cursing the fact that we didn’t think to ask about cats (I also never remember to request no tomatoes on my salads, but I digress).

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As we rang the bell again another kitten joined the first. And then another, and another. Suddenly I was surrounded by kittens, or balls of death as I like to think of them (due to my severe allergies). As they circled around me, I began to feel a bit like the little girl on the island at the beginning of Jurassic Park: The Lost World. You know, the one who stumbles across the little dinosaur and is suddenly overrun as they try to get her snack?

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I stood on the porch hoping the owners would understand when I had to cancel our reservation; except after four or five rings, they still hadn’t answered the door. Sriram finally gave them a call to see what was up. Turned out they were in Oklahoma on vacation and due to a glitch, the dates weren’t blocked out on their website. It might have been annoying if I hadn’t been so relieved. We observed a few minutes of kitty hijinks (because despite my allergies, they sure were cute!) before we drove back to Abilene and found a room at the Holiday Inn Express. A shame, we were too late for the family style chicken fry at the nearby Brookville Hotel that a friend recommended. Maybe next time.

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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.


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.


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


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


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).


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.


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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Arthur Bryant BBQ
Kansas City

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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

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

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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.

Losing Our Marbles

Note: I know I said the Truman Library would be next, but I’m finding that writing that post is more time consuming than my blogging availability currently allows for. I’ll definitely get back to it soon. In the meantime I hope you enjoy reading about the next part of our adventure.

September 2014

Though we’re still touring Missouri (Kansas City up next), we’ve popped on over to Olathe, Kansas for a couple nights as friends of Sriram’s have graciously opened up their home to us for our stay in the Kansas City area. Today we are spending the morning with their two daughters at the Moon Marble Company in nearby Bonner Springs.

In addition to selling all sorts of wonderful toys (lots of great items from my childhood lined their shelves), and lots of machine-made marbles, Moon Marble also makes specialty marbles right on the premises. We were lucky enough to visit on a day when marble making was happening and watched a demonstration by owner Bruce Breslow. It was fascinating seeing him melt down the various glass rods and swirl the colors together as he worked the marbles into shape. The presentation was both informative and entertaining. I’d really never given much thought to marble making, and it was a lot of fun to see it in action.

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The company makes some beautiful marbles and also sells hand-blown marbles from other marble artisans. Here are a variety of gorgeous marbles available for purchase in their shop:

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Before leaving, we purchased a couple marbles to commemorate our visit and also got a sticker for our roof box. Speaking of which, I don’t think I’ve given a roof box update in a while. Here’s a section of it with some of the most recent stickers added on. You’ll notice the marbles on the lower right:

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After dropping the kids back home, we headed into Kansas City, MO and visited the Hallmark Visitors Center. It didn’t come highly recommended, but it was free so we figured we’d give it a shot. I found it more interesting than I would have assumed. It was fun to see the various cards presented time-line style along with pop culture displays, World events and Hallmark mementos.

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Another fun display was the collection of “Christmas trees” that the employees created and presented to Hallmark founder Joyce C. Hall each year. Each tree had a theme and was given as a sign of affection by the employees to their boss. Here are just some of the trees on display.

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Perhaps the most interesting discovery at the museum was in learning that Winston Churchill was an artist and his paintings once appeared on Hallmark cards. Mr. Churchill was friends with Mr. Hall. At the time of our visit, an exhibit displaying Mr. Churchill’s paintings was open (it has since closed). No photographs were allowed inside the gallery, but I did take this photograph of the sign explaining the exhibit, which showcases two of the cards by Churchill and as well as featuring a letter he wrote to Mr. Hall.

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It was very cool seeing the paintings and learning a bit about the history of the company. As a random side note, Sriram thought all the employees there looked really unhappy. Still, it was an interesting stop and if you’re ever in the area, I’d recommend popping in.

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


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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.

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

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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.


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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.