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.

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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

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

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

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

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

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

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

So, here it is, your Lincoln Museum photo.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

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

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

Abraham Lincoln: Before the White House

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

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

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

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

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

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

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

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Next up, a tour the Presidential Museum.

Mark Twain’s Hannibal

We ducked into Hannibal, MO for the day to visit the town that so thoroughly celebrates native son Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, that you’d be hard pressed to not trip over a reference at every turn. Though also home of another famous resident – the unsinkable Molly Brown herself (whose home/museum was unfortunately closed the day we visited) – from street signs to restaurants, museums and motels, Hannibal is ALL about Twain and the characters he created. So much so, that after a description of the town, our handy road trip guide, Road Trip USA, had this to say:

“Not to detract from the credit due him, but don’t look for any subtlety or modesty surrounding Mark Twain’s achievements here.”

The book also references disgraced baseball player, Shoeless Joe Jackson as being from Hannibal, MO, and has this to say:

“The Twain mania is so overwhelming that little is made of Hannibal’s other famous son(s). Baseball lovers searching for some mention of Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson will look in vain, there is none.”

Jackson, however, was born and raised in South Carolina. I believe the book’s author is confusing Jackson with the fictional Joe Hardy from the musical Damn Yankees. Hardy, also dubbed “shoeless,” is immortalized in the show’s number, Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO.

But back to Twain. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is actually a series of buildings and exhibits that span a few blocks in the downtown Hannibal area. We began our tour as directed, in the interpretive center. The center chronicles the timeline of the Clemens Family and does an excellent job of setting up the social and economic context of the great author’s life and how many of his early experiences influenced his future literary works. We enjoyed reading through much of the exhibit.

However, as we got closer to the adjoining room, we encountered a problem. A video was playing in the next room. It could be heard from wherever you stood once you were near or in the room. It was quite loud, and extremely distracting. It was difficult to focus on the events I was trying to read about with conflicting information playing loudly in the background. The video was likely good, but I didn’t stay around to watch because it was so intrusive while trying to enjoy the rest of the exhibit. The remainder of the interpretive center was mostly a loss.

We moved on to tour the other properties, off first to Huck Finn’s house.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

In his autobiography, Twain mentions his childhood friend Tom Blankenship as the inspiration for creating Huckleberry Finn: “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had. His liberties were totally unrestricted. He was the only really independent person—boy or man—in the community, and by consequence he was tranquilly and continuously happy and envied by the rest of us. And as his society was forbidden us by our parents the prohibition trebled and quadrupled its value, and therefore we sought and got more of his society than any other boy’s.”

Across the way, we stopped to visit the Tom and Huck statue that has been erected. But, we decided that it didn’t quite capture the mischievous nature of the boys. In fact, we didn’t think it much looked like young boys at all.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Next stop was the Clemens home. Inside the home, which was much larger than Huck’s home, each room was set up with various statues of Twain, as well as quotes and memorabilia.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Tom and Huck fans know that two boys were bosom buddies despite their social and economic differences (which were more than apparent when comparing their homes). Perhaps before there was neighborhood zoning, the rich and poor and in-betweens lived next door to each other and knew and played with each other. It seems the real Huck grew up to be a petty criminal and there are several instances where he was arrested for stealing food.

Outside the Clemens house we discovered a fun interactive exhibit. Just grab a brush from the bucket, and you, too, could help paint Tom’s fence.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The next building to explore was Becky Thatcher’s House. Becky, Tom Sawyer’s love interest, was based on Twain’s friend and neighbor Laura Hawkins. While touring the home we learned about the Tom and Becky Program. Each year since 1956, the Chamber of Commerce selects two students to portray Tom and Becky, and serve as ambassadors, representing the town in parades and other ceremonies throughout the year.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Further down the block the larger museum welcomes you in with exhibits depicting scenes from Twain’s most popular books. One of the fun things to do was to sound the whistle of a steamboat. The staff assured us that they like hearing the sound all day long. Hannibal at one time was an important port and lead Samuel Clemens to become a Mississippi riverboat pilot. In his book Life on the Mississippi, he talks about how a river pilot was the most coveted job in many small towns along the great river. There were riverboat tours available, but we didn’t have the time to go on one.

An upstairs gallery at the museum contained a great exhibit of drawings by Norman Rockwell from one of the illustrated editions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Noticeably, racial segregation and slavery in Hannibal was barely mentioned – there was a small mention in the interpretive center that differences existed and words to the effect of ‘everyone knew their place’. There was also a small display about the real ‘Injun Joe’, a harmless Osage Indian, who was badly disfigured by small pox. Supposedly, his ugliness led Mark Twain to make him the perfect villain.

Though we thoroughly enjoyed our experience in Hannibal, our greatest disappointment was that we purchased the Mark Twain: Words & Music double CD set and then accidentally left it in a Post Office while mailing some other items home. A collection of stories and music, narrated by the incomparable Garrison Keillor as well as Clint Eastwood and others, the collection features such wonderful country artists as Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Brad Paisley, and many more. At some point we’ll replace it, but it would have made for fantastic listening on the road.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After a full day exploring the town, it was time to move on. As we were leaving, an employee of the museum directed us back inside the gift shop. She’d asked if we’d taken note of a painting hanging on the wall. The painting shows Twain painted with other famous figures. See how many you can pick out.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

This post is dedicated to my cousin, Tina, who has waited patiently to hear the next installment of our travel adventure!

Iowa: Eats and Treats

Our stay in Iowa was a short one – despite the many blog posts and the length of time it took me to write them, we were only there for one full day. A quick breakfast in the morning at a diner and then lots to do. There wasn’t so much worth blogging about as far as food goes, but for the sake of consistency I thought I would include a brief posting. So, to quote a fun movie, “without any ado what-so-ever…”

Murphy’s Bar and Grill
Riverside

Our stop into Murphy’s was more for curiosity sake than any real desire to have a meal there (you can read more about our stop in Riverside in my previous post). Still, since it was a rainy, miserable night, we were more than content with the greasy bar fare.

Our dinner consisted of a trio of appetizers: jalapeno poppers, wings and rings!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Our deep-fried dinner certainly was not our healthiest roadtrip meal, but it was fine and served it’s purpose. Thanks Murphy’s!

Stay tuned as the blog finally moves on to some new states.

Riverside’s Most Famous Resident

Our final stop in Iowa was in the city of Riverside. Riverside is famous for exactly one thing, and the one thing it’s famous for hasn’t even happened yet. For the non-initiated, non-geeks of the World, Riverside is famous for being the future birthplace of James Tiberius Kirk, the Captain himself.

We visited this little city (in the pouring rain, I might add) in order to commemorate this sacred spot. Riverside began celebrating Kirk’s birth back in 1984 after the City Council petitioned Gene Roddenbury for permission to erect a monument declaring Riverside as the Captain’s birthplace. With Roddenbury’s full blessing, this tribute to its future resident was installed:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Hidden behind a small barbershop, the plaque could easily go unnoticed by those not looking. Though the mini U.S.S. Enterprise in the parking lot of the The Voyage Home Museum down the street is a little trickier to miss. Unfortunately, the museum was closed during our visit so we were unable to drop by.

But the plaque and museum aren’t the full story (or history) here in Riverside. The Trek connection apparently began with a plaque under a pool table in the nearby Murphy’s Bar and Grill commemorating Kirk’s conception – a clever marketing ploy the bar had thought up. The town council wasn’t a fan of the plaque though (hence, the more official and family friendly “birthplace” celebration), and it can no longer be found in the bar.

However, the bar does still embrace it’s Trek “connection.” We stopped in for dinner and found a giant banner proclaiming it the Future Home of the Shipyard Bar. So, while the plaque down the road embraces Prime Kirk, the bar is now embracing the new Trek World. Alternate Kirk, of course, is born in outer space. I imagine that plaque is going to be much more difficult to visit.

How many of you Trekkies out there have made the “trek” to Iowa?

“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.

Born to Be Wild

Our journey in Iowa continues. And no road trip would be complete without at least one completely random and unplanned destination. While on the road, Sriram spotted the National Motorcycle Museum and decided we had to stop in for a visit.

One of the first displays you come across as you enter into the museum is of dare devil Evel Knievel, perhaps the most famous rider of all time. Known as much for his Americana riding outfits as his dare devil stunts, Knievel’s official career spawned 15 years, included more than 75 jumps and resulted in more than 425 broken bones (which earned him a Guinness World Records record for most lifetime broken bones).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

But Evel Knievel wasn’t what drew us off the road. Just around the corner, Sriram got what he came for. The bike.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Peter Fonda’s famed bike from Easy Rider. I confess, I’ve seen this movie and found it to be … mind numbingly boring and tedious. But Sriram is a big fan and was hoping to come across the bike. He was certainly happy to discover it in the museum.

We meandered through the museum which had some interesting displays and stories, including a display for the first female motorcycle club, an old fashioned 1920’s gas station, a track chronicling the history of race surfaces, as well as many movie and television bikes. As with any such museum (planes, automobiles, etc) it’s so difficult to photograph with any real meaning because the backgrounds are cluttered with so many other bikes. But I managed a few fun shots.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Notice the bike on the bottom left, it’s an ice-cream “truck”. Such fun.

Of course, for me, the museum was not considered authentic until we came across this display commemorating the best rider of them all, and the object of my (very) youthful crush. The Fonz, himself. No bike, but a worthy tribute.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It was a fun stop and considering how pricey a lot of museums and tourist attractions are, the $10 admission was modest. I’d recommend it for motorcycle enthusiasts and casual fans alike.

Wondering about a particular bike? Ask in the comments section. I have lots of pictures.