Big Mac Museum; Irwin, Pennsylvania

Everything is invented somewhere, and while you might think that the Big Mac, the signature burger for McDonald’s might have been created by Ray Kroc, the chain’s founder, or the two McDonald brothers he had partnered with (it was they who had invented the business model) and whose business interests he ultimately bought out… or maybe at their food labs in their global headquarters in Oakbrook, Illinois, you’d be wrong. The Big Mac was invented in Irwin, Pennsylvania by a franchise owner by the name of Jim Delligatti in 1967…

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To be honest, I don’t think I’d eaten a big mac in 20 years (I tend to go for the quarter pounder with cheese) but since I was here, I felt it was obligitory.

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Different containers the Big Mac came in, my favorite is the tin one
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McDonald’s collectables, I THINK they’re figurines of corporate managers
I am deeply embarrased to admit that there’s a 14 foot Big Mac somewhere on the property and I missed it… it is my intent to go there again at some point and take a picture of it.

 

 

Mongers Fish and Chips in Manly Beach, Australia

If you’re looking for a healthy meal to eat while at the beach, Mongers’ Fish and Chips is an option. That said, it is NOT the most amazing fish I have ever had, and it is NOT particularly cheap; as such, especially since they refer to themselves as “gourmet” I was expecting better (especially considering all the amazing reviews it had on-line). I chose it in large part because you had the option of frying OR grilling, and my diet required the latter.IMG_6725.jpg

On this day back in on January 24th, because the sky was blue and the temperatures were not too horrible, I had been touring around the greater Sydney area by riding on most of the various ferry lines. [Note: the 24th was the day before the horrific accident that gave me the horrible concussion that I’m still getting over 6 months later — including dental work to try heal my jaw which has been clicking since it got dislocated that day] This was in fact my 2nd time in Manly.

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The first time I had gone there… I think it was by car… with my travel buddy and his mom; we had dinner at an Italian place, whose name I’m sorry to say I no longer remember — it was actually pretty good. After he and I had taken the ferry back to Sydney (which is when I got the idea to at some point in the trip spend a full day just riding around on the them). This time, when I arrived in Manly, it was about my lunch time (which is normal people’s early dinner time), so I looked on yelp to find a decent fish place — which directed me to Mongers.

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I ordered the grilled Barramundi (which is native to Australian waters) with salad… but they removed the corn (carbs) and the pesto (oil) and got creative to make it a bit healthier with spices, and extra veggies in the place of the corn. I took my meal with me to the beach,

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found a nice bench to sit on and enjoyed my meal there. It was OK, not great… the fish didn’t seem particularly fresh to me (an attribute that glares loud when you aren’t covering it up with things like frying or pesto). That said, the view was steller!

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I remember I fed my leftovers to the seagulls, who apparently are not big fans of lettuce. Then, I walked around Manly until it was time to catch the next ferry back to Sydney.

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You know you are in a Jewish neighborhood when: Bondi Beach, Sydney Australia

Bondi Beach is one of THE places to go if you’re visiting Sydney; for instance, if you look at TripAdvisor’s top things to do while in Sydney, a trip to Bondi is #2 on the list. It’s a beachfront neighborhood in the greater Sydney metropolitan area. What most people when they come here would probably miss is all the clues that tell those of us who are MOT “members of the tribe” that this is also one of THE most Jewish neighborhoods in all of Australia.

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Like I said in a previous post, my decision to go to Australia was fairly last-minute. I had contacted my travel buddy, who goes to Sydney (his hometown) almost every year during their summer months (Dec through March) in part so that he can spend Christmas with his mother, but also just to be there. His mother lives in a retirement village in the suburbs, so he opts to stay in an apartment rental in one of his old stomping grounds.

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A mural adjacent to Bondi Beach, note my T-shirt

In this case, when I arrived he had rented a room in an apartment in an area called Bellevue Hill, right near St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, that is located just west of Bondi beach and just east of the Bondi Junction Train station — [The map refuses to embed, so please check the location via the link]. What I didn’t realize untill I had actually been there a few days and explored the place it was that it was ALSO spitting distance from The Central Synagogue, which is a modern orthodox congregation

AND Adath Yisroel Congregation / Tzemach Tzedek

AND The Sephardi Synagogue

AND an easy walking distance from the Chabad-Lubavitch House

In fact, there turned out to be about EIGHT … EIGHT synagogues all within an easy walking distance of our apartment …. Let’s put it this way, only the MOST orthodox of Jewish neighborhoods have that many synagogues so close together.

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Now granted, on the day when I first arrived, we took the train from the airport to Bondi Junction, at which point — because my friend seems to like to walk everywhere (even when lugging suitcases)

we walked first to this cafe, which he said was supposed to be good, in order to have a bite to eat. The place is called Savta Cafe (I was SO tired after my flight that my brain didn’t notice that Savta might be pronounced Safta — the hebrew word for grandmother).

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That said, the menu made it pretty obvious that this was an Israeli restaurant — something my friend had not realized. I got very excited and ordered the Shakshouka, a dish invented by Tunisian Jews, and pretty common in Israel.

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Not the best I’ve ever eaten (the mushrooms confused me) but it was ok…

But an Israeli restaurant does not a Jewish neighborhood necessarily make. The next hint however was SO in your face that I couldn’t possibly miss the implication. The next day he took me on a walk from our apartment to the beach, and we passed THIS house along the way…

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Let’s Welcome Moshiach with acts of goodness and kindness

For those who don’t know who this guy is, his name is Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Many of his followers (I am not one) had actually believed that he was THE Moshiach (the Messiah, not to be confused with Jesus… even if the Chabad-Lubavitch are the most Catholic of Jews) at least until he died.

To tell you how Jewish I am, I’m one step away from Schneerson via more than a few people even though I am NOT one of his followers; most closely of whom was our family cardiologist (until he retired) who was flown in to be Schneerson’s cardiologist. Ira came to my father’s funeral, where he took me by the hands, looked me in the eye and told me how sorry he was to be out-of-town during my fathers final days, but that he had heard via the nurses and doctors at the hospital how I had been at my father’s side every day from his admittance until he died… and he said to me, “Rebecca, you have raised the bar in terms of how a child should be with a sick parent.” … to this day it is probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me, and just thinking about it makes me want to cry. Ira is a real man of G-d, instead of going to synagogue and making himself the center of attention, he spends every sabbath quietly in the hospital, saving lives.

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The next thing I discovered in Bondi was no shortage of Israeli restaurants. This place, Sabbaba — which not only had COMPLETELY authentic Israeli style falafel sandwich, but the manager was Israeli (I spoke Hebrew with him) and they were serving MALT STAR (a non alcoholic beer that is almost ubiquitous in Israel) to wash it down with!! (As it should be!) This turned out to be a local chain (there are a three of them scattered around Sydney,) but TWO in the Bondi beach area.

RIGHT across the street from Sabbaba I spotted a Kosher butcher, called, “Hadassa Kosher Butchery PTY Ltd.” and “Golds World of Judaica” where I ended up spending a few hundred dollars on Jewish things you can only find in Australia type gifts for friends and of course for myself…

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An Australian Kippah! Got more than few of these

At this restaurant, Lyfe Cafe, again the owner was an Israeli (again, I talked them in Hebrew) and I also tried their Shakshouka — a bit better than the last place, but still not “up to snuff” in my opinion.

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Finally, up in the mall next to Bondi Junction, there are three different supermarkets, and in one of them I found a MASSIVE kosher section

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The Convent: Daylesford, Victoria Australia

You wouldn’t think it, but Daylesford is actually a major tourist destination in Australia. By all appearances it’s just another small Australian town, indistinguishable from many of the other small towns in the area… but it has the advantage of sitting on the edge of what is now an extinct volcano, and as such it is one of the few natural spa towns in the country… known for it’s 65 naturally effervescent (bubbling) springs. Among its many attractions, is a historic (and haunted) nun’s convent that has been converted into an art gallery and wedding venue.

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(Based simply on how the people in the town preferred to dress — unstructured simple flowy garments made from natural materials, I told my hostess that I felt like I was back in Mill Valley, CA — a highly affluent town just north of San Francisco known for its concentration of New Agers, movie stars and retired Hippies … to which my friend responded that I had perceived correctly, as this town has very similar demographics, and has an Ashram a Yogi, etc)

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I was brought here by the friend I stayed with for two weeks in Ballarat. She is a woman of many talents: a former nurse, a real estate agent, an entrepreneur, and about once a month she guides collections of tourists through this convent, as she is also a psychic and medium, a talent she has had since her early childhood.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit so I’m a bit vague on the details of what ghosts were where. I came here on February 9, 2018… only about two weeks after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … but a good 6 months later, and as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

As we were driving around my friend told me that this is the second gay capital of Australia (Sydney being the first), and based on the number of rainbow flags I was seeing I don’t doubt it. She said that there are more gay people than straight people in Daylesford. fullsizeoutput_4145.jpegWe came to this former convent, which during the day triple duties as an art gallery, a wedding venue, and a hotel ….. because in the evenings is when its fourth duty comes into play, as a haunted structure… and my friend has been hired (because of her particular talent), to lead a ghost tour here on a similar regular basis. That said, the woman who normally comes and helps her lead the groups through the structure couldn’t be there that night, so since I had asked if I could come see the place (anyway) she’d tasked me with walking at the end of the group and making sure there were no stragglers (or folks who were breaking the rules and taping the tour without prior permission — photos are allowed). IMG_2078

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As we walked through the hallways of the building, my friend would describe various ghosts that are known to regularly haunt different parts of the building.

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This top floor of building was used as a hospital ward at one point, and she had interesting details to share of how the nuns managed this (getting the bodies up and down, etc.).

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These small rooms off of the larger main rooms were nuns bedrooms. One of them in particular, the one everyone is lining up to get into… is haunted by the ghost of a woman who (I think) had committed suicide there, or some such… (I’m really very blurry on the details at this point — it’s 6 month later — of the specifics of her story, but my friend explained it at great length…I remember it was very interesting and sad)

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IMG_2083I think I remember she said that this church part of the convent was haunted by a former Priest, or maybe it was the head nun… again, I’m very foggy on the details so I suggest if you’re in town you take her tour. IMG_2084At this point my friend was giving a very long story, and I was getting tired and wasn’t paying close attention anymore, and was focusing mostly on taking pictures… but as you can see more of the tour group were riveted on what she was saying

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This painted door, according to my friend, has a particular energy embedded into it, which both my friend and another psychic both had felt independently (I forget what it was, again, you should sign up for the tour to find out), and she was explaining about that during the picture above. She was also leading us into the basement which had been used for some horrible purposes over the years, lots of ghosts… and while we were down there a lot of people who were on the tour came out of there having experienced something…

Glenrowan, Victoria, home of Ned Kelly: Australia’s Billy the Kid

If you ever happen to be driving from Sydney to Melbourne (or visa versa — or looking for a day-trip from either), Glenrowan, the location of Ned Kelly’s final standoff with police, is a must see.  If you’ve never heard of him, Edward “Ned” Kelly (1854 – 1880) is a central figure in Australia’s ideology of self. At a relatively young age he became one of Australia’s last, and still to this day best known Bushrangers; he was also a cop killer, and ultimately the leader of his own gang — although he’s best known for inventing a suit of bulletproof armor to wear during a shoot-out with police. IMG_2011Every book that I read on Australian history (that covered that time period) before coming to the country (I’m that sort of traveler) talks about him, and he’s about to have the 11th movie made about him go into production in the coming months (and if you move very quickly, you could be in it).

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Portraits of Ned, his mother (who is a central figure to his story), and his sister

My travel partner on this trip and I were driving from Melbourne to Sydney (it was a really pretty day…

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in I came here on February 25, 2018… a month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, by the end of day’s travel I wasn’t mentally able to mentally focus enough to do any write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and more often than not next day was spent just resting … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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When we passed this sign, which he felt was really funny, and a good example of Australian humor (that an offical sign would look like this)… I didn’t get the joke

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So he explained that it kind of looks like Ned Kelly holding up a wine bottle… and that we were about to drive by the town of Ned Kelly a famous bushranger, and then he started to explain to me who he was. I stopped him and told him that not only did I already know… I had read about him in two different Australian history books, but that I was also about midway through a book devoted to his story (that had won the very prestigious Booker Prize), and could we please stop because I would really like to see the place… and anyways we needed to have lunch.IMG_2007

I had the “house made Pikelets” in large part because it would be something new (I learned while researching for this piece that they are Welsh in origin, and are often referred to as the ‘poor man’s crumpet’) but upon eating them, they tasted indistinguishable from pancakes — just small ones. I also had the pumpkin soup (which in Australia is served savory with a lot of pepper… never sweet, the way it is in the US) and a cup of tea … 

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Then we went to the museum dedicated to Ned Kelly’s story. So for instance I knew from the book I was reading that when Ned was very young, he became the town hero by saving the life of the son of one of the richest families in town (who almost drowned). As a reward Ned was gifted by the father with a purple sash. You’d think since he was very rich and Ned’s family very poor it would have been something more tangible, but it’s almost a symbol of inequality with which Irish immigrants …

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That said, the sash was deeply meaningful to Ned and a treasured possession that he chose to wear under his metal armor on his last day when he knew he would be facing impossible odds, and might well die.

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Mrs. Kelly, Ned’s elderly mother was a major element in his life. Ultimately she was arrested and thrown in prison, unjustly, as a way to capture Ned. He fought to have her freed, including writing a manifesto letter that he tried unsuccessfully to have printed, trying to make people aware of the injustice but failed. All that was printed were annotated summaries that distorted it’s meaning in a way that made the government look good and Ned look bad were printed.

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What happened is long and complicated, but the part that all Australians remember was the final showdown where he wore the armor, but was ultimately captured.

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Inside the museum were a large collection of collected object about Ned or his family, including a selection of items that were supposedly owned by them. My friend and travel buddy, was overwhelmed by seeing a plate that supposedly had belonged to his sister. As a child, he had learned about Ned in part by reading a book written from Ned’s sister’s point of view… so seeing something as simple as a plate, that she had actually, was an emotional experience for him.

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Behind the museum was a reconstruction of the Kelly Homestead, filled with the sorts of items they were known to have owned. The actual homestead is located about 9km away from Glenrowan and still owned by the Kelly family, and NOT open to the public. I remembered reading in the book about the walls covered in newspaper.

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Behind the house were some pet Cockatoos, pictured here because they’re cute

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Clunes, Victoria, Australia

The friend who hosted me in Ballarat brought me to visit a nearby town called Clunes, Victoria (there’s actually more than one Clunes in Australia). The town (like many in the area) was once a gold mining town, but its current claims to fame is that it has been used many times in movies and TV shows, and they hold the largest yearly book fair in Australia.IMG_1860

Movies and shows shot in this town include, Ned Kelly (with Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush,  & Orlando Bloom), Mad Max, HBO’s the Leftovers, Amazon’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, and a large selection of Australian TV shows, etc. In fact there’s a new big budget about to be filled there about the life of Ned Kelly staring Russel Crow, that’s currently looking for extras.
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Other than being very picturesque Clunes seems to be just a quiet little Australian town. I could see why film studios like the place, there’s very are lots of very nice building but not much going on that a filming would disrupt.

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What to do with a horse troth? Fill it with flowers

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Bunjil Rock Shelter

Bunjil Rock Shelter is one of the many Aboriginal religious sites scattered throughout Australia. In is located in the Black Range Scenic Reserve, and according to this academic report, “It is the only known site in Victoria to contain bichrome [2 color] figures and an anthropomorphic figure whose identity is known…The site is generally regarded to be one of the most significant of the 150 or so Aboriginal art sites in Victoria, and yet its management has been characterized by nagging doubts about its authenticity.”

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Bunjil is one of their creator deities of the Aboriginal world (see image below), and is often described as a Wedge-tailed eagle, the largest bird of prey in Australia (see image above)

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Bunjil Rock Shelter was one of the meaningful (to me) places my host (while in Ballarat) took me to; she was driving me around and always keeping in mind my highly limited post concussive energy limits (the glorious serendipity of staying with someone who used to be a nurse). She said this was one of those places she’d always wanted to go to, but never had — so it was good for her too.

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My host and her friend, who joined us on this trip,v standing in front of the fence the protects the rock cave (just left of them)

Inside the cave there is an “Ancient” Aboriginal painting (according to my friend its had touch ups so that kind of screws with the ancient part)IMG_1873

Unfortunately I was the only taking pictures this day, and I was already seriously fatigued from our other stops, so I didn’t remember to ask someone to take a photo of me….

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in I came here on February 9, 2018… only about two weeks after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, I was only able to do this trip because my friend drove me around, and I actually spent very little time on my feet. Once back home I wasn’t mentally able to keep up with my write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and the next day was spent just resting … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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Personally I really loved the huge rocks in the area… although you have to wonder where they came from…

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Warning… if you decide to come here… whoever set up the signs leading to this historical site needs a good whipping. We had a really hard time finding it, and actually passed it twice.  It’s a relatively small sign placed well away from the road, on a side road that doesn’t really look like road… 

Link to the map

Ballarat: Wildlife Park

Just like pretty much every town in Australia, Ballarat has a wildlife park where you can get up close and personal (in varying degrees) with Australia’s wildlife. I had avoided the one in Sydney, hoping to actually see them in the wild —  rather than under zoo like conditions — but while convalescing in Ballarat my friend (who used to work as a nurse) convinced me to give her city’s one a try.

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[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Ballarat Wildlife Park on Feb. 4th, 2018, only 10 days after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … At the time any activity tended to result in this really odd sensation of getting jittery, irritable, and with a sort of sickening tightening in my stomach… and as such if I did go out for an hour or two, that was pretty much all I could manage for the whole day… and I was in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it then, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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One of the animals I was MOST looking forward to see “in the wild” was a Koala. This park had a few (and you could PAY to get your picture taken next to one … you would think that for $40 they let you hold it, but no — probably safety concerns; apparently while Koala’s are cute, they aren’t very friendly).IMG_1676The Koala’s that were in cages were very hard to photograph, in part because they were sort of hiding in the shade (while being grey), but mostly because of where the sun was relative to where I was made it so that in each case the lighting wasn’t conducive to it…

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This is a video that I took of a bird that is actually pretty common in Australia (as in I had in fact seen it in the wild), I kept seeing it in city parks, etc.,

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Some people in Australia have these as pets… let’s keep in mind my favorite animated character as a child was Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, and that in my storage locker waiting to be unpacked is a HUGE collection of porcelain and other type dolls made in her image

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These are the lizards from the Priscilla Queen of the desert dance routine


 

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I took two videos of these cutie pies….  they were really a lot of fun to watch

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This sweetheart was my favorite animal in the whole park, she “held” my hand as I fed her and was really very sweet

Even with taking it easy as possible I ultimately only managed about two hours at the park… The more tired I got the dizzier/sicker (like my head was buzzing) I was getting … so once we’d sort of seen it, we headed home and I went back to bed.

Knob Creek, KY: Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home, from age 2

If you were on a Lincoln pilgrimage to the impressive memorial at Lincoln’s birthplace, and have some spare time, one of the places you might want to consider as part of your trip is  Knob Creek, KY, the homestead his family moved to when he was two years old; Granted, what’s currently there now is nowhere near as impressive as what stands at his birthplace, but it would have been the place he thought of as his childhood home, and unlike the birthplace, this is where he would have had an emotional connection to… and as such, it’s worth a few minutes.

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BOY do I fall behind in my “work” when it comes to this blog. WAY back in 2016 I visited this part of the country, and I had THOUGHT I had blogged about it, but when in 2018 I went to Springfield, IL, the site of Lincoln’s adult home, and his tomb… and found myself wanting to link to that blog post about the one I had done for his birthplace … and found myself wondering where in the hell that blog for it had gone to, only to realize I’d never written it … I decided to rectify that lapse (a few days ago), and today I’m doing the same for this satellite location where he grew up. That said, it’s been a LONG time since I was there, and although I’m looking back in my Facebook postings for notes, those were pretty scarce… so this post will mostly be about the pictures.

The site of Lincoln’s childhood home about 42.5 miles/about an easy 15 minute drive from his birthplace – where his family moved to when he was two years old. So if you choose to visit it (and why not) an important thing to keep in mind is that a horse walks about four miles per hour, and as such… in Lincoln’s time the distance between the two locations took was about 10 hours by horse, or about 14 hours by foot — so it’s likely Lincoln might have had no memory at all of the place of his birth, and as such, to him, Knob Creek would have been much more important to him emotionally.

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That said, it is a quick nine minute drive from Hodgenville, KY, a very small town of around five eateries (two being fast food) and little “commercial” museum (basically a business set up by a local). That’s also worth stopping in.

As you’re driving down road 31E watch out for this sign on your left, as it’s fairly easy to drive past if you’re not paying attention (like I said, it’s unimpressive).

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What you’ll see is a nondescript roadhouse type building that was built much later on the same property (sorry, I never bothered to take a picture of it, as it is NOT related to Lincoln) and some parking… At the time when I went to visit the building was essentially empty, but had some of these signs scattered around it explaining what it was

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Once you’ve parked and walked behind that front building, you’ll see this

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And then scattered around that are more official “tourist signs” offering information about the location.

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After that you might want to consider a trip back into Hodgenville for a bite to eat, and to walk around the little museum they have there.

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There are TWO massive statues in the middle of town….One is very similar to, but different from the at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.,  As I discuss in the blog post about his tomb, which I visited two years later, in Springfield, IL in 2018; one of the things I learned there from the docent giving the tour was that first statue of Lincoln that you see when you enter the tomb is NOT an exact copy of the one in the D.C., but rather a precursor to it… according to the docent, the artist, Daniel Chester French had actually presented various bronze versions of the statue, before one was chosen to be chiseled in marble, and the one in the tomb was one of them. I initially was guessing that this one here near the place of his birth was one of those other designs (because it’s almost a copy of it) …. but one should never assume, because according to Wikipedia, I was wrong…  I actually feel kind of sad for the artist of this statue, because AS a former artist myself, there’s nothing more disheartening than having a paying customer who only wants you to mimic someone else’s work.

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Not my image, borrowed from this open source website dedicated to US presidents

Than, across the park (?) from the much older Lincoln, stands a newer smaller statue of Lincoln as the young boy he might have been when he lived here, sitting on a log, reading a book, and looking across a street to the statue of himself as an adult… almost as though he were dreaming of who he might be when he grew up. It’s really a very nice juxtaposition… and I’m guessing that artist (of the newer statue) has a lot of pride in his new creation. In fact, AS a former artist, I think the new statue sort of redeems the copycat older one.

 

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Keep in mind, when this picture was taken, Obama was still President

As is visible in the picture of the statue of the older Lincoln, behind it there is a museum dedicated to Lincoln. In fact it’s a sort of shop, really; as, it is a commercial/private enterprise rather than professionally curated museum, which is pretty obvious once you get inside. That said, I think it’s still worth looking at, especially if you have kids with you who are just learning about Lincoln.

First when you walk in there are a wide variety of art type objects related to Lincoln that are scattered pell-mell through the front rooms (like I said, NOT curated in any way shape of form)

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One of my favorite pieces in the collection, it’s very conceptual and made with local stone

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Two images… the first is a print where the artist has created a montage of Lincoln’s face using a variety of actual photographs taken of him, the second is an image of him made up of Lincoln pennies

Once you pass this area you enter a back section where a LOT more effort was put into creating the area. Each section is full of life-size constructed vignettes or dioramas full of antiques (authenticity or period-correctness be damned I am guessing, but again I’m not sure) with semi-realistic wax dolls, sort of like a mini Madame Tussaud‘s dedicated to Lincoln, at different points in his life

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So, like I said, especially if you’re traveling with a child, and you know your history and can explain, I think the museum is definitley worth a walk through.

 

 

 

 

 

Casey IL: the land of 8 world record holding big things, and a lot of Jesus

If you’re the sort of person who is into BIG things, i.e., roadside attractions designed to lure motorists off of main roads and into small towns that they would otherwise have no reason to pass through… at least long enough to stop and have a meal or fill up their tank, than you’re going to LOVE Casey IL, pronounced ‘Kay-zee‘ by the locals.

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I first heard about Casey NOT from billboards or Tv, but rather from the woman whose Airbnb I stayed in during the Total Eclipse of the Sun that passed through downstate IL on August 22, 2017, (not one I’ll ever go to again, the woman who ran it was kind of despicable in her unmitigated greed) and I had been trying to work Casey into my travel schedule since then.

That said, when I say Casey is a town you probably would never come to otherwise (unless your family or job necessitated it), I mean it ! THIS ladies and gentleman is pretty much the whole of town (plus or minus a side street or two), if you don’t count the fast food options located adjacent to the highway off-ramp, about a 15 minute walk, or two minutes of driving away.IMG_1203

These photos were taken at around 4pm on a Monday afternoon, and so many of the businesses were closed, even the ones that were still in business, that at first I thought I might have made the strategic error of showing up on a Sunday.

Let’s be clear, Casey isn’t just kind of quiet, its dying. According to Wikipedia the most recent 2010 census, the population of the town was 2,762, down from their 2000 census count of 2,942, and while the next census isn’t for a few years, the estimated numbers for 2016 are even worse, 2,698… to put this in perspective the suburb I grew up in has a population of 12,187 and my highschool had a population of about 4,500 when I graduated, although it’s down to about 4K now…

That said, there’s something kind of brilliant in the efforts of town local, Jim Bolin to not only bring attention to his town, but do something to try to revive its economy, which is something I learned from these postcards in his wife’s shop:
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That said, the following video is worth seeing, as Casey made the iconic CBS Sunday Morning show, in that section where they talk about wonderful and/or odd things to be found off America’s beaten paths….

Watching the show I found it really interesting how its producers assiduously opted to ignore a huge element of the oversized objects scattered around town… namely, Casey is a town that takes its love of all things biblical, SERIOUSLY!

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Note the Star of David and Fishes motif on the chimes

Apparently, the wind chimes were the first item Jim built (with the aid of the Guinness organization), in order to hopefully draw traffic from the highway (with the aid of billboards) to his wife’s failing coffee-house, and it proved so successful that he started to create other items to help other stores in town…. that were “appropriate to the business” being helped.

For the yarn store he created the world’s largest knitting needles and a crochet hook, which would have brought me into the store and I might have purchased something, but for the fact that in spite of it being a Monday afternoon, the place was closed. (I’m pretty sure these had biblical text on them as well, but since the store was close I don’t know what it was.)

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… But that said, THIS is the password for the free wi-fi his wife’s business, the local coffee-house, offers. My provider is T-mobile and while my phone worked there, there was absolutely NO data other than this available for me in the whole town; otherwise, I might not have spotted this.

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I looked it up, the verse is “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Once I saw that, I got a tad suspicious, as it’s not the sort of thing you expect as a WiFi login outside of a religious institution.

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Note: even more biblical stuff in this mural

After seeing the WiFi password it quickly became clear that every single one of these oversized item in town (from what I saw), while it does clearly serves to help bring customers into the various stores who might never otherwise enter them, each item also comes with an apropos bit of evangelicalism … via bits of biblical text.

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According to the (very) professional video located at this web site, the shoes weigh 1,500 lb, and according to the video from CBS, not only does the mailbox work, but if you mail things from it the postmark stamp says “world’s biggest mailbox” rather than Casey, IL. (Wish I’d known that when I was there, I’d have sent some post cards.)

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While most of the items are located in the downtown area, and were kind of easy to find with these sign posts that were scattered around town:
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Easily the single biggest “big-thing” in the whole town was the rocking chair… although is a rocking chair a rocking chair when it’s not allowed to rock?

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One of the stores in town sold a service where they would Photoshop you onto the chair

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While the final two items, the golf-tee and the pitchfork were both in locally owned businesses (not a national chain, etc), these were not in the downtown area but rather nearer to the highway.

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In addition to Guinness World record holding items, there were also other big items scattered around town items that did NOT earn that merit, but were none the less very big… and again, evangelical….

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Also while walking around town, I came across this sign referring to a road I’d never heard of, “The National Road

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… it wasn’t until I got home and wrote this blog that I learned it was actually the Cumberland Road, the first federal highway built by the United states government, which ultimately became route U.S. Route 40 …. so of COURSE that I had heard of that …

 

 

That said, there’s a quote from one of my favorite books, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, that comes to mind anytime I’m in one of the tourist trap/roadside attractions

“So what is this place?” asked Shadow, as they walked through the parking lot toward a low, unimpressive wooden building.
“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”
“Come again?”
“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”
“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.
“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a giant bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”

― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

So who knows, maybe there is something special about Casey…