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.

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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.

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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

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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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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:

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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.

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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.

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.

Illinois: Eats and Treats

Our time in Illinois was limited. All said, we only spent about 24 hours there. Still, we managed to get in two noteworthy meals, though for two entirely different reasons.

American Harvest Eatery
Springfield

We have often used Open Table on our trip to find interesting places to eat. American Harvest Eatery turned out to be quite the gem. The “about” info on Open Table began with, “Our goal at American Harvest Eatery is to offer our guests a dining experience that uses only the freshest ingredients, sourced from local farmers right here in Illinois.” That was enough for us to want to give it a try, and it did not disappoint.

Sadly, I did not take a photo of the menu, and as it changes frequently (sometimes daily), I can’t do much to describe most of these dishes, as my memory is not that good and the menu is completely different now. I’ll simply let the photos speak for themselves and tell you that the food was absolutely as good as it looks, and that the menu was so wonderful we ordered quite a bit. I will also note that we did indeed begin and end the meal with cheese – starting with the seasonal “cheese pot” and ending with an artisan cheese plate.

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It was definitely a wonderful dinner, and one of the highlight meals of the trip.

The next day, after touring the Lincoln Museum and visiting the cemetery, we couldn’t resist a stop at a Route 66 classic before heading out of town.

Cozy Dog Drive-In
Springfield

We didn’t need Open Table to find this gem as it was listed in our faithful travel companion, Road Trip USA. Home of the original corn dog, the Cozy Dog Drive-In certainly didn’t look like much from the outside:

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A Rte 66 marker greeted us at the door, and the restaurant was full of fun memorabilia (though to our great disappointment, no cozy dog bumper sticker for our roof box).

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We settled on a a couple of dogs and a basket of onion rings. Not exactly gourmet food, but it was a fun and tasty lunch stop. We’re off to St. Louis now. See you again soon.

Honest Abe and Mr. Accordion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

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

So, here it is, your Lincoln Museum photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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