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.

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a the connection between Lincoln logs and the log cabin Abraham Lincoln was born in? HMMMMMMMM…. a theory

I have just come up with a convoluted but not so unlikely theory regarding the invention of Lincoln logs and why they are called Lincoln logs…

So yesterday while Visiting Lincoln’s home in Springfield, IL I learned they were invented by Frank Loyd Wrights son…

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Well I have been the memorial for Lincoln’s birthplace, inside of which stands a log cabin

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today I learn I was wondering who were these Lincoln Farm Association folks…  and learned that…

According to Wikipedia:

Richard Lloyd Jones “From 1903 until 1911, he was a writer and associate editor for Collier’s Weekly, working under the publisher Robert J. Collier.[1] In 1905, Robert Collier and Jones collaborated to buy the old Abraham Lincoln farm at auction in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Then they organized a fundraising campaign to establish a historic site, which was opened during the Lincoln Centennial in 1909. The first board of trustees for the site included Jones, Jenkin Lloyd Jones [his dad]Mark TwainWilliam Jennings Bryan and President William H. Taft.[1]

AND….

Jenkin Lloyd Jones was not only a famous Unitarian minister, but was ALSO the uncle of Frank Lloyd Wright.

So what you ask?

I have been to Lincoln’s birth place, and according to both the staff member at the memorial  and Wikipedia the log cabin that is there is NOT the original, but according to this site it was — or at least the guys who made up the Lincoln Association, who were the ones that bought the building thought it was. Doing more research I found this site which sort of explains the confusion.

Apparently, in 1894 a speculator by the name of A.W. Dennett bought the farm where Lincoln had been born thinking people would want to see it, and had deconstructed a two-story log cabin found on a different part of the property, and moved its logs over to the spot where the original farm was thought to have stood (the original building had long ago been disassembled and he just assumed that this Lincoln cabin had been built using those logs). He then opened the spot for business, only no one came — because, no one was interested enough to shelp to rural Kentucky… So, as the saying goes, if you can’t bring Mohammed to the Mountain…. and at one point he added the logs from the cabin that was supposed to have been the childhood home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. But, with all the building and taking-apart and moving around, the Davis logs and the Lincoln logs got mixed up… so that by the time the Lincoln Farm Association got around to buying the land and the logs back from Dennett, it was anybody’s guess (by historical standards) which if any of the logs were from the original house, when they ‘rebuilt the house’ in Hodgenville.

SO, Frank Loyd Wright’s son is the cousin of the guy who started the foundation to buy up the property that had been Lincoln’s birthplace and original home which was on touring display (come see Lincoln’s cabin) both of which were owned by the same guy… oh and this guy also own the Jefferson Davis logs from his original home and would show them together… and in the South, Lincoln logs were not marketed as Lincoln logs, they were marketed as Jefferson Davis Logs… coincidence? I doubt it…

 

Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace; Hodgenville, KY

The Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln is located on the top of a hill just outside of Hodgenville Kentucky, in National Historical Park that safeguards both his birthplace and the first home he lived in. Other than that, there’s really not much there.

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Over a year ago, on Sunday Nov. 13, 2016, during one of my many road trips I had pit stopped at the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, and for some reason COMPLETELY forgotten to blog about it. (I had been to Zachary Taylor’s Tomb the day before and THAT I had blogged about, but for some reason never did this.) I thought I had, but apparently Not so much. I didn’t realize till just yesterday, when I was blogging about his tomb and wanting to link to the post about his birthplace and wondering where the hell the blog for it had gone to … so I have decided to rectify that lapse now. 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.

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So, one thing I did find in my Facebook notes from the day of my visit was that there had been NO WiFi or data accessible outside of the building (I have T-Mobile), although there was some free WiFi inside of it.

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Getting up to the top of the building was NOT easy for me. My legs were still very weak at this point, and all of the various ways up to the monument involved a lot of steps (handicapped accessible the place is not)….

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The poor Dachshund belonging to these two people was not liking the steps either

Today I learned from Wikipedia that there are in fact 56 steps going up the hill, and that the number is intentional, as it was Lincoln’s age at the time of his death

Once you got to the top you could read this dedication laid into the stone …
(only I remember at the time I was seriously wondering why almost all the R’s in it looked like P’s)

Here
over the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born
Destined to preserve the Union and to free the slave
A grateful people have dedicated this memorial
To unity peace and brotherhood among these states
With Malice toward none, with charity for all

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And when you got inside (according to my FB notes from that day) there was movie about Lincoln and his life, whose over-riding message was that “acceptance and inclusion are what makes America great”… something that had sounded particularly jarring to me at the time. (Keep in mind that Donald Trump beaten Hillary in the election for President JUST four days before, and I was in the state of Kentucky, a former slave state that had declared neutrality at the start of the Civil war, and where pro-Trump stickers and posters were common place — he won the state by 62.54%, and on that day every racist red neck in the state was still in a state of euphoria over the win).

There was a nice bronze of Lincoln’s family, when he was a tiny baby (having just been born of course)

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And then inside this huge structure stood what the staff member (I remember this person was particularly grumpy) told me and the other visitors was a reminder of the original house. We were like all amazed that it was the actual house and he was like, “No, it’s just a replica.”

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You can see the cabin stands empty (no furniture), and in the bottom left the staff member who told us it wasn’t the actual home

So, while from the outside it’s a very nice looking building (there was a slab on the side of the building that gives you some of the history of the place… something about the whole thing had my hackles up… could a state that had just gone overwhelmingly Trump have actually put up a monument to Lincoln?

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According to this plaque on the outside of the building I still couldn’t be sure. It says that the memorial was built with funds raised by the Lincoln Farm association, the Cornerstone was laid by President Roosevelt in 1909, and it was dedicated by President Taft in 1911

However, now that I’m researching all of this I have learned that, the Association was founded in 1906 specifically to save this location, was headquartered in New York (NOT Kentucky) and included such notables as Samuel Clemens (aka, Mark Twain), Ida M. Tarbell, Robert Collier and Richard Lloyd Jones

According to Wikipedia: “From 1903 until 1911, he was a writer and associate editor for Collier’s Weekly, working under the publisher Robert J. Collier.[1] In 1905, Robert Collier and Jones collaborated to buy the old Abraham Lincoln farm at auction in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Then they organized a fundraising campaign to establish a historic site, which was opened during the Lincoln Centennial in 1909. The first board of trustees for the site included Jones, Jenkin Lloyd Jones [his dad]Mark TwainWilliam Jennings Bryan and President William H. Taft.[1]

So in other words, No, this memorial was NOT built by the state of Kentucky or even anyone who lived here.

According to both the staff member and Wikipedia the log cabin is NOT the original, but according to this site it was — or at least the guys who bought the building thought it was. Doing more research I found this site which sort of explains the confusion.

Apparently, in 1894 a speculator by the name of A.W. Dennett bought the farm where Lincoln had been born thinking people would want to see it, and had deconstructed a two-story log cabin found on a different part of the property, and moved its logs over to the spot where the original farm was thought to have stood (the original building had long ago been disassembled and he just assumed that this Lincoln cabin had been built using those logs). He then opened the spot for business, only no one came — because, no one was interested enough to shelp to rural Kentucky… So, as the saying goes, if you can’t bring Mohammed to the Mountain…. and at one point he added the logs from the cabin that was supposed to have been the childhood home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. But, with all the building and taking-apart and moving around, the Davis logs and the Lincoln logs got mixed up… so that by the time the Lincoln Farm Association got around to buying the land and the logs back from Dennett, it was anybody’s guess (by historical standards) which if any of the logs were from the original house, when they ‘rebuilt the house’ in Hodgenville.

So, all that said, back to the site…  At the bottom of the hill where the memorial to Lincoln’s childhood home sits, on what is known to have been the location of said home is a spring, which is still there….

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And worth walking down to…

Also, out by the parking lot, there is something actually pretty cool. It is a metal copy of the memorial specifically designed to allow blind people to see the memorial. Keep in mind blind people see by using the sense of touch…  Cool right? I seriously wonder why I haven’t seen more of these around the country. This would be my first.

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President Lincoln’s Tomb; Springfield, IL

All the presidential tomb’s I’ve seen so far have been highly impressive, and Abraham Lincoln‘s is no exception. If you’re going to Springfield, IL to do the Lincoln pilgrimage I strongly suggest it. Warning, it is really NOT walking distance from the downtown area where the rest of the tourist attractions are, it’s a good 2.5 miles away …. so you’ll need either a car, or to take the public bus (whose route does connect the Lincoln’s tomb to his house).

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This small nondescript door is the entrance to the tomb, I was expecting something larger and grander, or to have to go up the stairs on its side to get to the upper level, but no…. apparently not

 

 

As soon as you enter you see a smaller bronze version of the famous Lincoln Memorial statue from D.C.. You then go through the doorway on the right, taking a circular path back to the crypt, and then keep going until you come back out via the doorway on the left (like the two people in the picture below)

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I got lucky, and right after I had walked through the whole monument on my own and was getting ready to leave, a school group came in, so the docent (he looked to be in his early 20’s), who had entirely ignored me, got up and started sharing information. So I stuck around and did it a second time, this time with a guide.

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Things I learned: Firstly, there are 36 sets of the sort of caramel colored vertical design elements surrounding the room, representing the number of states in the union when Lincoln died; Secondly, the ceiling of the room is made of some sort of metal (platinum or something of the sort) that at the time of the building was more valuable than gold, and thirdly… the air conditioning vents are covered with wheat like designs, to represent the fields of the area (what is now the midwest)

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Most interestingly I thought, the statue of Lincoln is not a copy of the one in 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 this was one of them.

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As soon as I came in I had mentioned to him (before the school kids arrived) how I love that Lincoln has fasces below each of his hands. When the school children arrived he pointed them out, and I asked if I could add something (I looked at the teacher and said, “I’m a former teacher, she nodded her permission”), and I then told the students about how if you take a toothpick and break it, it’s easy to do. If you take a bunch of toothpicks and hold them together like the sticks in a fasces and try to break it, it’s MUCH harder to do. And then, if you then compare how hard it is to break that fasces made of 4 or 5 toothpicks with how hard it is to break a stick of the same width, you also find that it is HARDER to break the fasces than the stick. It’s physics, but it also represents an idea, that we are stronger as a union; that the total is greater than the sum of its parts. (I sware to G-d I saw tears come to the eyes of one of the teachers. She then came and thanked me. I’m guessing there’s a back story that I don’t know, but it was nice.)

Also, according to the docent, if you go to the lincoln memorial in D.C. something you really can’t see is the back of the marble statue, and as such one important symbolic element of the piece is lost… Lincoln is sitting on an American flag.

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According to him, this was not intended to be disrespectful, but rather a manifestation of his fierce resolve to not allow the flag, with a star for every state, to be torn apart. I.e., by sitting on it, Lincoln is protecting it.

After viewing the statue, you then follow this sign into the pathway to the right

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Along the path are black panels like the one above, and a whole series of Bronzes of Lincoln depicting him at various ages and stages of his life in sets of two, standing across from each other at various bends along the circular path

 

 

So the images above and below are of statues located right across from each other, and show him as a young adult starting his career, probably as he might have looked upon first arriving in Springfield.

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While the bronze below which was further along the path is him as president, and we know this because he was clean-shaven up until he shortly before he became President until convinced by a letter written by a 12-year-old girl convinced him to grow it:

Dear Sir
My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to [sic] but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chautauqua County New York.
I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye
Grace Bedell

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After these statues you finally arrive at the crypt, which has more of those black panels on either side, only these have some of his best known speeches:

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The guide basically told us what was written on the sign that was right next to him (read below) adding a few the facts, namely that the ceiling above the crypt was lined with 18k gold, and the reason the President was 10 feet down instead of six, and was also encased in concrete (which the sign didn’t say) was that between his burial and the completion of the tomb, there had been an attempted theft for ransom of Lincoln’s body

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And then, after pointing out all the flags mentioned in the sign and describing their meaning. He asked us, “Do you know where Licoln was born?” … total silence till a teacher said, “Kentucky” and he pointed to that flag; Then he asked the room, “does anyone know which state he lived in after Kentucky but before Illinois?” again silence, and the teachers didn’t appear to know, so I said, “Indiana” and he said “right”; and then  he held out the Flag of the President of the United States that according to him, was placed there in order to represent not only Lincoln, but also all the Presidents since him who had come to visit the Tomb….

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He said he ‘thought’ that President Reagan might have been the one to have added it to the collection when he came to visit, but said he wasn’t actually sure which president had done it, so not to hold him to that

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And then he noted that on “the wall behind you”, just as the sign had said, there are the crypts of Mary Todd Lincoln and most of her sons, excluding Robert, who was buried in Arlington Cemetary (he was a veteran of the Civil War) … at which point I quietly added to the adults standing by me what I had learned about Robert from my visit to Mary Todd’s family home in May of 2016, about what an asshole he was and how he had tried to get control of her money.

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When I was finally leaving the tomb, I passed the manager of the younger guy who had been giving the tour and asked him if there was anything else in the graveyard I should see before leaving… he said that there was in fact a second tomb, where Lincoln had been buried the first time. That this was the second burial location (Lincoln died in 1865 and his body was moved around a few times — read the history of the Tomb until it reached it’s final resting place about 10 years later.) So this manager said I could take a walking path, that he pointed out, around to the back of the tomb and then go down a staircase of, I think he said 55 steps (!!!) to the bottom. (see the photo below, take from the bottom of said steps)

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Now, with my horrible balance, bad knees, weak legs, and a general level of out of shapedness (yes I know, that’s not a word), … So I just gave him a sort of a ‘look’ which I guess clearly communicated to him that this was probably not going to happen… so he said, “OR, you could get into your car, and as you exit the parking lot take a right hand turn, then another — you’ll see signs, and the road will wind down to the back of the monument where you can see it from your car…. So that’s what I did.

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So I have now been to Lincoln’s birth place and his home in Springfield, and Tomb…

 

 

 

Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, IL

The Abraham Lincoln Home (the only home he ever owned) is a national historic site in Springfield, IL, and a must see for anyone from the state (see below), or anyone interested in his life. It is actually a preserved district that allows you to see his neighborhood as he would have, and contains: a visitors center, his home, and collection of preserved neighbors’ homes that surrounded his (although only the interiors of a few of those homes are accessible, and those constitute more museum space, than presenting them as they were) ….  Entrance is free to the public … i.e., your tax dollars at work.

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To preface this, I was born and raised in Illinois, I am in my early 50’s and this is the FIRST time I have been to my state’s capital, Springfield, IL. SERIOUSLY! Everyone else in my school went on the Springfield class trip, but not me. I didn’t get to go on the Washington, D.C., school trip either. My parents always complained that the cost was too high and that they’d take me, but they never did. It’s kind of embarrassing.

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The first thing to know is IF you drive your car, be warned, the parking lot on the property will charge you $2 an hour (in leu of an entrance fee), and you have to tell them how many hours you want to stay there and then put the receipt on your car’s window or be ticketed. That said, IF you come on a weekend street parking is free (not weekdays), and I came on a Saturday, and had no trouble at all find a spot no more than a block away from the site. Also, are a handful of covered parking lots not more than a block or two away, and the one I found (1 block away) was only $1/hour, with a maximum charge of $5 for the whole day, but you must have exact cash (which I didn’t) and it didn’t take credit cards.

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After you park, you head into the visitor’s center (this is where you pay for your parking if you used their lot), and ask for your free ticket for a tour of the house. I asked them why there was no fee (Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville for instance was NOT free… nor was the childhood home of Mrs. Lincoln in Lexington, KY). And they said, IN UNISON, a spiel about how “Robert Todd Lincoln donated the family home… under the condition that it would forever be well maintained and open to the public at no charge” (while putting together this blog I found it pretty much word for word on the Wikipedia site). The Tours start every few minutes and the tickets are just to keep the groups at manageable numbers.

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That said, I told the staff member how just a few days ago I was at the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, and how they managed the same feat simply by setting up some chairs, and only allowing in at one time as many people as could comfortably sit in those chairs… a practice that is much greener, i.e., would save a lot paper.

Inside the visitor’s center there is a massive map of the historic district, with displays around the edges where you can press button to light up various houses or routes, with explanations of what it is that’s lit up.

IMG_1668.JPGThere’s also a movie on the history of Lincoln, and about his relationship to the historic site and the Civil war ………..

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……….which offers an overly simplistic view of the man; it’s what I like to refer to as the middle school version of Lincoln, the one that says he was against slavery (full stop).

[Begin rant] The reality is a lot more complex. Lincoln really didn’t like slavery, he thought it was a bad institution, and he wanted to contain it (keep it from spreading to new states)… but he never said he wanted to end it (He thought that would happen naturally) … At least that was his stance until the realities of the fact that Union was essentially losing the war and house might in fact become divided drove him to it.

Lincoln’s House Divided Speech made before he became President was actually very specific, but few folks bother to really pay attention to it:

“A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

So he was sure the Union would have to go one way or the other, all slave or all free, and he was very worried that it go all slave. That he could not abide.

In addition if you actually read the Emancipation Proclamation, which “freed the slaves” it actually doesn’t. It says any Confederate state that doesn’t end its rebellion by January 1, 1863 would lose the right to own slaves … which by default means that if the state DID end it’s rebellion, they could continue to own them… and by extension, the three slave states that had not rebelled, including Kentucky where he was born, could continue to own their slaves (at least until the 13th amendment was passed). AND, by doing so Lincoln ensured that the French and the British, would not come to the Confederacies aid (from whom both countries bought a lot of cotton) …. The British had publicly declared their support of the South’s right to secede. Keep in mind America pretty much owes its independence to French intervention in the our rebellion from the British.
… P.S., putting aside the whole slavery issue….  to this day lawyers STILL debate whether the South was within it’s right to secede from the Union, and very few believe Lincoln’s arguments for why they did not have the right were airtight (and most of them think Lincoln, who was a really good lawyer, knew it).
[End rant]

In addition to the movie and the interactive map the visitor’s center has a really good gift shop with a large selection of goodies

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Learning that Frank Loyd Wright’s son invented Lincoln logs led to a massive brain fart on my part that I blogged about (read here, it’s actually interesting I think)

And of course there a very large book selection about Lincoln and the Civil War (both written and recorded formats) … I bought a few of these useful things called BottleEze (they had them with Lincoln’s home printed on the sides) where you clip one end around the neck of your water bottle, and stick the other over your pants waistband, or in a tight pocket,

From time to time (you need to check their schedules) the historic site does special things, living history demonstrations. I was lucky enough to stumble onto one. The woman at the front desk told me that in the lecture room (adjacent to the movie theater) I would find Abraham Lincoln…. so I opened the door to find…

IMG_1669Martin Luther king talking to Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman— apparently this is a regular event for the kids (who get to draw fake beards on to their faces before it starts).

I only stayed for a little bit because it was about time for tour to start (and you are supposed to be there five minutes before the start time.

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This was the first room we entered, the Lincoln’s divided living room area (there are big wooden doors that can be closed in the middle, if he needed to speak with visitors)

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IMG_1672.JPGOne of the things I learned, while listening to the tour guide gave us her introduction, wa that today is the anniversary of Lincoln being asked to run, in this room. The shelves against the living room wall are called apparently called whatnots — and I own some — they’re tucked away in storage till I settle down; my parents had a few of them, almost identical to these, and till today I never knew they had a specific name. (Last time I got this excited about a piece of furniture was when I visited Elvis’ kitchen Graceland and he had almost exactly the same interior design for his kitchen, down to the same brands of ovens and stoves).

That said, I asked the tour guide if in fact Mrs. Lincoln kept a bust of her husbands head in pride of place at the top of the whatnot… she smiled and said that it seems she did. When Lincoln was running for President a bust was made of his head and mass-produced for sale, and Mrs Lincoln is known to have displayed it in the living room. To which I said, “like a proud mama.” The tour guide agreed.

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This is the closest I will ever get to touching Abraham Lincoln. These banisters are original to the house.

This site gives you a good overview of the interior of the house

That said, according to the tour guide, very little of what’s in the house is actually original, although she pointed out to us every item that was. I found this one document which I think says the entire sum of original objects in the house is 48. The rest of the furniture pieces are similar or identical to things the Lincolns were thought to have owned, based on sketches that had been made of the rooms, or original items held in private collections. If you search on the internet you can see that the sale of Park passes, and the $2/hour parking fees are being used to slowly buy up bits and pieces of the Lincoln’s possessions from private collectors to return to the house.

That said, one original item that they were able to obtain, according to the tour guide, was Mary Lincolns personal toilet … oh and apparently the Lincolns slept in adjoining but separate bedrooms. (No, I’m not going to go there)
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After viewing the house, I walked around the “neighborhood” making a point of stepping into any of the houses that were open for viewing, and reading the various informational signs scattered along the gravel road.
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The contents of each of the open homes had a different focus… sort of like rooms in a museum, with each house constituting a museum room.
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This house focused on the various families who lived in the neighborhood and shared some information about each of them, how we know what we know (the evidence), and items found during excavations, etc.
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While this next house focused on what was involved in restoring this heritage homes NOT to meet modern standards but to re-create the historic ones, historic building techniques, etc.
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This open corner shows the exposed walls, as originally built, with buttons you could push that would create red laser dots of light on the topic being discussed… in this case, she’s pushing on the button for the Nails… and there’s a red dot on one of the nail heads. (As luck would have it the woman standing there’s father had been a builder so she was all excited about it and telling me stuff)
Another of the walk through homes, the between the lincoln home and the visitor’s center, had a detailed display talking about who the Lincoln’s bought their home from and for how much; and how when the they first bought it, it was only a story and a half (a great starter home for a young married couple); but then, as Lincoln became successful and influential, they remodeled it, taking off the roof and expanding it to two floors, etc. (not going to bother posting pictures of it)
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Walking around the neighborhood, it is a very pretty shaded lane, and I found that locals take advantage of it.
Most of the houses you could NOT walk inside of came instead with these interactive options, where you call a number and then listen to a description.
If you want a listen to it call:   +1 (217) 213- 3003   and then press 50#
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According to this guide, Springfield at the time of Lincoln’s having lived here was a fairly diverse population, with a large recent immigrant population which included quite a few African-Americans affluent enough to afford their own homes. (apparently, if you come with a group of children — or 15 or more adults, you can pre-arrange to have a park ranger guide you around)
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For instance, this currently empty plot (before the yellow house) is just a few houses away from Lincoln’s home and used to contain two homes — both of which were owned by a Mr. Jenkins, one of Springfield’s African-American residents (the 2nd home was for his sister). He was fairly prosperous (obviously) and was involved in the “trucking” industry, moving goods around the country.
Both the tour guid and recorded guide point out that he was on good terms with the Lincolns and transported them and their goods to the train station when they needed to move to Washington.
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The reflections on the glass made all my other shots utterly unreadable
That said, there’s also strong evidence that his home and his wagons were all part of the underground railway
To hear about all the details, call +1 (217) 213 – 3003 and then press 51#
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According to the guide this was one of the his wagons, and if you look carefully you can see air holes have been strategically drilled into the boxes
But for something REALLY cool, look below!!!
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Since in this case there was no home at the site (I’m going to take a guess that once the entire “district” and not just the Lincoln home, became a national park in 1971… and was turned into what is essentially an outdoor museum, that all of homes on the property that were not original to the Lincoln’s time period were removed. AS Jenkins’ home was a historically important one, the park service has gone to the effort of creating an artificial Reality tour using a freely available app, which is really kind of cool if you think about it. (I did find it in Apple’s app store, and tested it. IT WILL WORK, if you have your smart phone look at the picture above!!)
Another cool thing was how the locals take advantage of property. I kept seeing folks walking around in twos and staring at their smart phones, my brain went, Pokémon!! And I was right. They told me that the local bar was having a fundraising event that involved playing the game, and that as EVERY home and object had historic importance the park was a very rich Pokemon playing ground for the locals.
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The bar in question is less than a block away from the park’s visiter center (sort of kiddy corner from it) and there is a coffee-house, bar and restaurant, each in a separate house but all owned by the same people,  — I had eaten at the coffee-house, Wm. Van’s Coffee House, already that day. I’d had an avocado and tomato on whole wheat toast with an iced coffee before going to the Lincoln’s home. (You’d think that would be hard to screw up, but they used some sort of pureed and watered down avocado spread… kind of tasted like the stuff sold in plastic bags at supermarkets … instead of just spreading the real stuff)
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and was intending to hit the restaurant for dinner, so when they mentioned the bar’s name I knew which one they meant …
That said, Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery, was supposedly the best place in town. When I got there, I found the menu mostly consisted of unhealthy choices, everything deep-fried with a lot of carbs, etc … As a rule, anyplace that does the unholy triumvirate of salt, fat and sugar can make food that tastes good… it’s making healthy food tasty that requires skill.
I ended up defaulting to a grilled chicken & berry salad with blueberries, strawberries, candied pecans and goat cheese … and I had them substitute straight balsamic for the vinaigrette (i.e., it didn’t need more oil… the cheese, chicken and pecans already provided enough)
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A visit to the Hermitage: Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, TN

The Hermitage is the home of Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh (from 1829 to 1837, he served two terms) President of the United States, and possibly one of our most controversial ones. To put it in a modern context, Trump is a big fan of Andrew Jackson, and a lot of people compare the two Presidents as being similar, and will view that similarity with the same intensity of love and or hate for the man, depending on their political leanings.

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How people viewed President Jackson is part and parcel with the nicknames they gave him. So for instance his names among the whites varied from “Old Hickory” which was given to him by the soldiers who served under him and loved him, to “The Hero of New Orleans,” because of his successes in the Battles for New Orleans  (December 14, 1814 and January 18, 1815) as part of the War of 1812, notably his wins happened AFTER the treaty ending the war had already been signed (December 24, 1814), but apparently that didn’t (and still doesn’t) matter in the minds of his supporters …  to “King Mob,” by his white detractors, because his most avid supporters for position of President were considered the illiterate mob. While the names the Native-Americans gave him included  “Sharp Knife,” given to him by the Muscogee/Creek people, or his even more explicit Cherokee name of “Indian Killer.”

So for instance, during my travels I’ve spoken about the Trail of Tears in numerous posts, and that act of genocide was initiated by the state of Georgia, but could never have happened but for Jackson’s who hearted support …  His supporters (current day hard core republicans) will often point to his high respect for the constitution, and how he said, “The Constitution and the laws are supreme and the Union indissoluble” when speaking against a state’s right to secede from the union, but seem to completely forget that the Cherokee had fought their forced relocation by the state of Georgia all the way to the Supreme Court and won their case, only to have Jackson, who had as part of his campaign promised to support Indian removal (the same way Trump has promised to kick out illegal aliens and build the wall) completely reject the court’s findings, “supposedly” saying (but probably didn’t) “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” and then instructing the US military to forcibly remove the Cherokee anyway.

And yet, Andrew Jackson was a man of the people. In a government that had till then been run almost exclusively by men from America’s “best families,” essentially our upper classes … Jackson was quite the opposite. Without him Lincoln might have never been elected. The illiterate and unwashed populace supported him because he was one of them, hence the title “King Mob.” And even some of our most iconic liberal media TV shows, like The West Wing, are therefore forced to tip their hat to him.

My first visit to the Hermitage was in December of 2010, and there was snow on the ground. To be honest my desire to come here again was so I could blog about it here as part of my visiting sites around America related to our Presidents and First Spouses (in fact I’ll be doing more Lincoln stuff in a few days) and to see if there were any changes to the place. And there had been, although nothing particularly substantive.

When you first enter the property, you are now given a choice between two different sorts of tickets. The major difference being, one includes the older audio device for self guided tours (audio, but no pictures), while the new one includes a sort of smart phone like device, which adds images, a few more narrations with more information (much of it about relationship between Jackson and his slaves), and a 10% discount at the store which I wish they had actually told me about when I paid for the thing, because I bought about $80 worth of costume jewelry while there and that $8 discount would have paid for itself (I only just discovered it now).

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In the photo on the bottom left you can see a staff member demonstrating how to use the older audio device (on the wall behind her were the three sorts of tours information), while on the bottom right is one of the new smart-phone type machines, which is what I was using. Regarding the sorts of information offered, I found two things interesting: firstly, On adult devices do NOT allow you to hear the blue 200 series audio files, intended for kids, so that as a parent you can’t actually know what they’re telling your kids, or NOT telling them… that’s a problem! Also, if you think about it for a second, you get the feeling that the 300 series, the information about Andrew Jackson’s wife was added as an afterthought … as part of the whole, we need to pay as much attention to the first spouses as to the presidents movement.

After getting your headsets, or before, depending on how you time things, there’s short movie that provided a fairly level introduction to who Jackson was, pointing out that he could be mild-mannered and polite, as long as you didn’t get in the way of anything he wanted, in which case he could turn extremely violent, and you were essentially dog meat. (There’s a world for this, its psychopath … no I don’t have an opinion about this, why do you ask?)

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The movie also talks about Jackson’s war with the Central/Federal Bank of the United States, a point of history which if you don’t understand it, you will never appreciate the exquisite irony of Andrew Jackson’s face on the 20 dollar bill.

After the movie there is a small museum area you can either walk straight through on your way to see Hermitage, or you can stop and appreciate, which will teach you more about the man and his importance to American history.

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After the museum you begin to the approach the property, and this is when the audio aides come into use.

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All along the path there are detailed signs you are meant to stop and read that offer other information (not available in the audio segments)

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And then after you’ve walked a short but winding path you begin to approach the building itself, and are offered information about its building and evolution over the years before, during and after Jackson’s presidency.

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Then, you stand in a cordoned off line, and wait for your turn to enter the building. For this they’ve come up with really smart way of breaking the tourists into easily manageable groups. There is a set of benches, and only as many people as can comfortably sit on the benches at once are allowed in at a time, and each group once seated is given a short speech about what they’re about to see, with a question period after it, all of this intended to space the groups out.

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One difference I DID notice between this time and my previous visit in 2010 was back then ALL the various tour guides were dressed in period costumes, while this time they all were wearing modern clothes. (I think this change is a loss)

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Note the difference in cloths of this guy (in the black outfit) in this picture taken in 2010 with the young guy in the picture taken yesterday

Additionally, and this I’m less sure of, last time I’m pretty sure that the same docent stayed with our group along the whole tour, while this time we visitors were moved from one location to the next but the tour guides stayed put.

Both times, while in the house, we were not allowed to take pictures. However, I think this was for two reasons, firstly, picture takers can slow down the efficient movement of people from one location to the next, and secondly, picture takes tend to break the rules in favor of a good shot… crossing boundaries and using flash (which could have a cumulatively destructive effect on the antiques in the house).

But once you’re outside of the shuffled through tour part, there’s not only no one telling you NOT to take pictures, but there also plastic walls in place separating you from any chance to do anything destructive… via the servants section of the house where you can see into the main house … so… here are some.

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This was the informal part of Jackson Parlor. In the Front rooms, which are not directly visible from the servants area is where he met official visitors, this back room was where family would spend their time

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This is the dining room. The flooring which looks like linoleum is actually a waxed cloth (like wall paper for floors) that was popular at the time and even existed in the White House. The stove was a modern Franklin stove which was much more efficient than a fireplace.

The home would house any and all visitors who came that day (as at that time it was a couple of hours ride away from Nashville), offering them a place for the night. Bed rooms were filled on a first come first serve basis, separated by gender, with late comers given bedding on the floor, as was the common courtesy of the day. (There’s actually an amusing story of one time Thomas Jefferson while running for President went to visit the then widowed Martha Washington in Mount Vernon, and she hated him so much while she could not refuse to see him, she did not, as was considered common courtesy, offer him a place for the night… and he was forced to ride all the way back to Alexandria. A MAJOR diss… we know this is true because apparently he ran up quite the liquor bill that night at the inn he ended up in)

After dinner, the dinner table was designed to be easily taken apart, and the dinning room was then available for dancing and other entertainments. Right behind the dining room is of course the servants area, such as the kitchen and store rooms

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Another change I noticed was, while last time I was here, people would press the various buttons (like the one here in front of the kitchen) to listen to the recording describing the area, which was blared over a loud-speaker to the whole group at once, this time NO ONE (other than me) pressed these buttons. In fact I spotted one woman bitching to a guard that I had disturbed her by doing it… to which I’m pretty sure he responded, “Madam, that’s what they’re there for.”

After the house you walk to the fields, work houses and slave quarters that are located in the backyard area

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A view of the house from the back, less fancy than from the front

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One of the interesting things that I learned was that while one of the horrors of slavery you always hear about is families being separated, it was NOT Andrew Jackson’s practice to do this. Whenever possible he kept slave families together even to the point of it not being economically practical (holding on to the very young and the very old), to the extent of he once purchased a seamstress for his time at the white house, and then upon her request her whole family… she had informed him that they were all trained house slaves owned by a man going bankrupt and therefore at risk of being seperated (it was in one of the audio files, from her voice I think she was the same African-American historian who spoke in the movie, who specialized in the slave experience). However, according to the above sign, Jefferson did this less out of the goodness of his heart than as a modern slave management technique, designed to make slaves less likely to want to run away as the larger their families, the less likely they would be able to do it together.

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That said, back when I was studying the institution of slavery at Northwestern University with a professor who specialized in it, one of the things she taught us was one of the best measures of was, and I preface this by saying slavery is a HORRIBLE thing and should never exist, and there are therefore no “good” slave owners… that said, the way to distinguish the relatively ‘good’ owners from the really bad ones was once emancipation came, how many freed slaves chose to stay put and continue working for their former owners, versus opted to grab their freedom and pursue better options. The reality, as politically incorrect as this might sound, was that many former slaves stayed put (or came back after doing a walk about to see what else was out there)… but those owned by BAD owners, the ones who were most notorious for their evil behaviors… those saw their “families” of former slaves abandon them with a will…

That said, while Andrew Jackson had passed away about 20 years before the Civil war, and it was his son who was the owner of all of his former ‘properties’ once emancipation came to the Hermitage, according to the sign above … most of Jackson’s “black family still at the Hermitage chose an uncertain future and fled behind Union lines”

In fact, I wasn’t able to find the sign this time, but I remember that last time I was there I read one that said in fact almost ALL the former slaves but a small handful (I think the number was like three?) had run away from them, telling you pretty much everything you needed to know, at least about how Jackson’s son had treated them.

High Tea & Tour at the National Cathedral; Washington D.C.

Yesterday a childhood friend and I had High tea at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.; it was a very interesting tour with a tasty snack at the end. Unlike most high teas, the portions are just enough to satiate your hunger while leaving you more than enough room for dinner.

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As is our ‘tradition’ whenever my friend Gina comes to town, we go to high tea. Last time I was in D.C., Cheryl, another childhood friend who lives in the general area, suggested that our BEST choice was this one at the National Cathedral — but seating is highly limited so that by the time Gina had finalized her travel dates they were already fully booked and we ended up at Lady Camellia’s in Georgetown instead. However, SINCE I was going to be coming back to D.C. again this week, I suggested to Cheryl that this time she and I should do it together.

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When at first you arrive at the Cathedral, the first thing you’ll notice is the update on the post 2011 earthquake repairs to the only recently completed Cathedral (1990), and a plea for funds so that they can complete the job. Personally, while construction had begun in 1907, I have to wonder why as it progressed modifications had not been instituted to keep it up to modern earthquake standards.

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When you enter the Cathedral at the check in counter you tell them you’re there for the high tea, and they don’t even bother to check a ticket or compare your name to a list. (That said, one way to get in and avoid admission on a weekday is to time your visit to when folks would be arriving for the tea, and just say that’s why your there.) Once you are inside the church proper, you are immediately impressed by it’s grandness, which is on par with some of the greatest medieval built Cathedrals of Europe, but with a lot of very modern touches (earthquake proofing construction not being one of them).

Notably, the stain-glass windows are on the whole far more modern than what I would have expected. One of them, which I could not get a good shot of, is devoted to the exploration of space, and includes a moon rock provided by NASA. And many of the windows have a sort of ‘cartoonish’ aspect to them, rather than the sort of classic stained glass you normally see in churches.

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My favorite window however was fairly traditional… and pretty clearly devoted to Jews and the old testament:

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About 30+ people had shown up that day for the tour and tea, and first they spoke to us about the Cathedral

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and then of course showed us some of it’s high points.

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if you look very carefully you’ll see mine and Cheryl’s reflection in the mirror, I’m wearing red

HOWEVER, as Cheryl had already done the generic cathedral tour twice before, I had signed us up for their “Nobel Prize” tour, which highlights aspects of the church devoted to that; this is a tour only offered a few times a year, and these are some but by no means all of the details they pointed out to us…

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This corner includes an image of Mother Teresa who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979
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While Elenor Roosevelt never won the Nobel Peace Prize, she was nominated for it three times
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Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, this area of the church is devoted to him and includes a sculpture of the prize itself
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A window devoted to the United Nations whose combined agencies and funds, etc., have won the Nobel Peace Prize eleven times
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The actual crypt of President Woodrow Wilson who won the Nobel Peace Prize of 1919 for his work in trying to form the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations) and his wife
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And this is of course is in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. While at it Cheryl and I talked about how he had come to the village green of our home town of Winnetka in 1965 to speak about how segregated the great Chicagoland area was. When my parents tried to buy a home in the area realtors would not show us any because we were Jewish, and when my parents on their own found a home for sale by owner and bought it, petitions went out the next day in protest that Jews were moving into the neighborhood. The first blacks to move in was a bi-racial couple where the wife and mixed race daughter stayed hidden from the realtors till after the sale had been completed.

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Kneeling cushions devoted to Nobel Prize winners, and and other notables. While Ben Franklin obviously could not have won the Nobel as it was not created till well after his death, he did win the Copley Medal for his work with electricity, which is given out the UK’s Royal Society, and was an early equivalent.

After the tour they took us all upstairs to have our tea. Cheryl and I were lucky in that we had a window seat:

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While very tasty, as you can see the sandwiches and desserts are for the most part “finger food” or appetizer sized portions, so our hunger was soothed, but the meal wasn’t filling enough so that we had no appetite for dinner.

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This was the view directly out of the window we were seated next to

After our tea was over, we explored the top floor and the windows other groups were sat next too, taking in the various views offered

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Note the capitol building and the Washington monument

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In this image you can also see the Vice President’s mansion and the Jefferson memorial

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After the Tea we went down into the basement of the Cathedral, which the tour had not gone to and explored it…

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the basement gift shop
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Things for sale in the basement gift shop
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Apparently one of the Gargoyles on the building is the head of Darth Vader, and as a way to make money to fund the repairs, you can buy a duplicate of it

In addition to the massive gift shop the basement holds more crypts, chapels, and is something of medieval architectural delight

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Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, Louisville KY

Located just at the edge of Louisville Kentucky, in a residential neighborhood, this national military cemetery dedicated to the son, and 12th President of the United states, sits on part of what had originally been his father’s, Richard Taylor, 400 acre estate, Springfield; according to some sources — but not others, this land had been gifted to the President’s father by the government in thanks for his service as an officer of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War, other sources claim he had purchased the land.

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Originally the family plot for the Taylor Family, after Zachary Taylor had ascended to the office of President of the United States, a Washington outsider and popular war hero with limited political experience — and was soon thereafter buried after having only served 16 months — probably from a horrible case of the shits (Dysentery), although from what I’ve read they tried to cover it up by saying he had Cholera, which was endemic at the time.

Much later, in the 1920’s, the family initiated an act of Congress to transfer the title to the government, at which time it was converted to also be a local military graveyard. Because of a legal technicality, members of the Taylor family can still be buried there in the family plot section; even though that bit is surrounded by the National Cemetery, it does actually not belong to the government, even though it is tended by government. This was despite the best efforts of the family, because the Army judge advocate general decided against federal possession, even though to the average it appears to be the same cemetery. Originally only a half acre in size, two donations from the state of Kentucky increased the size to its current 16 acres.

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The Taylor home, which is not far from the cemetery, is a private home hidden in an upscale residential neighborhood, and while it IS a National Historic Landmark it is NOT a designated national park, because the local neighbors have fought against it. All things considered, you sort of got to feel sorry for Zachary Taylor, it’s like the man quickly died an ignominious death and ultimately got no respect  … but in lieu of this years presidential election results…..

Anyway, it was a pretty graveyard
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Zachary Taylor and his wife were moved from their original resting place in the the family plot (see below) — a very plain almost ignominious subterranean mausoleum, which is NOT technically part of the cemetery, to this fancier mausoleum next to his monument (see above), which I’m assuming is…
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Teddy Roosevelt National Park

You can just view it from a viewpoint/visitor center off of Interstate 94, or do the right thing and spend the night in the area, and really appreciate the THREE units of the National Park (there are two main ones, and a third small one — the site of Roosevelt’s ranch, which I didn’t find out about till after) in all their dangerous beauty.

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I94 Exit 32, Belfield, ND, brings you to the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, where if you don’t have time to really stop and see the place, you can at least get a taste of it. The visitor’s centers tend to have limited hours (they’re usually all closed by 4:30 or such), but if you get there when open the staff are very helpful with suggestions of how best to enjoy the parks, and places to stay

It was also there that I learned about the fact that there are Two main Unites to the park: North and South that are about an hour apart from each other, connected only by government owned grazing pasture lands (not interesting, unless you’re a farmer), each of which will take you a good two hours or more just two a drive drive through (assuming you’ll be stoping for photographs along the way). It was then that I decided I should stay the night so that I could do both parts, and it was a staff member who told me about the Rough Rider’s Inn in Medora and gave me the phone number so I could make a reservation for that night.

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North Unit is in fact the better one, to paraphrase the young guide who worked at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, it has everything the south park does, only twice as big, twice as nice, and there are more animals…. and for all that… fewer visitors.

Like WAY fewer… It was like I was practically the only one there (although not completely alone), I was standing there listening to really loud birdsong and crickets … and I was only a few days shy of the main season. According to the staff I’d spoken too, if I’d shown up a week later, it would be me following a whole row of cars and hearing mostly the sounds of visitors.

To get there from I94, you have to take North Dakota state road 85 (exit 42), and drive for a full 52 minutes north; along the  way you’ll drive past the sweet crude gas station and convience store (nice place, clean bathrooms, friendly staff)

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There are so many buffalo here that they are blocking the road and I can’t get out of the park!

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To get to the entrance to the South Unit of the park, you essentially have leave I94 either at exits 24 or 27 (depending on which direction you’re coming from) towards the town of Medora (which has an historic hotel I really enjoyed), which is sort of a mini cowboy-themed tourist mecca, .

 

Sadly, I didn’t learn about the Elkhorn Ranch section of the Park, the historic part, till well after I had left the area. As a History buff it might have been nice to see where Teddy’s ranch was (but isn’t any more). But I have a feeling the staff didn’t mention it because it is kind of a let down ….

First Ladies National Historic Site

Worth a visit, but underwhelming; remember to use your National parks pass!!

You know how pretty much every former US President has gotten a memorial or (at least since Herbert Hoover) a library, well this fairly new National park is a museum (consisting of two, not quite adjacent buildings) dedicated to the women behind the men… i.e., all our unsung first ladies. It was established, in order to fill that gap, around the year 2000, and consists of the historic (from 1878-1891) home of Ida McKinley (whose husband’s memorial and museum are about 5 minutes away by car), and a nearby former bank (built 1895 — so after her family had already moved out); the former bank now holds a small collection of first ladies dresses, etc., and a library/research section (on its upper floors).

The Museum is pretty easy to find, and there is free parking. However, one of the more disconcerting things about this site, at least to me, was how the area is arranged; the lot is adjacent to Ida McKinley’s house but blocking your entrance is one of those vertically swinging gates. When you get there you have to ask (via a microphone) to be allowed in, and will be asked to verify that your intent is to visit the site — I get why they do it, but it is pretty unusual, all things considered. Then you will discover, confusingly, that the building you need to go to first (it’s where you pay your fee and are then led around by a docent) is NOT the house you just parked next to, but rather, it’s the former bank building which is on the FAR side of an adjacent hotel&parking-structure. And, if you happen to be cutting it close till the tour, as I was, and have any trouble walking (as I do), then it can be quite the trek. However, and I learned this afterward having already left the site entirely, there are actually quite of few first ladies dresses and things of that sort on display in the hotel, so you should try to either time your arrival so that you have a chance to see those — either before a tour, or otherwise try to remember to do it before driving away afterwards (the docents were NOT the ones who told me about it, so odds are they won’t remind you either).

In the bank building (where you are NOT allowed to take pictures) you’ll pay your fee, don’t forget to use your national park pass if you have one, and be led to a back ‘library’ to watch a pretty propagandist movie about the first ladies. I say this, because it says things like, and I’m paraphrasing “all of the wives were supportive of their husbands” and then goes on to even mention Bess Truman who I wouldn’t describe as a ‘supportive’ first wife….

Now if you know anything about Bess, you’ll know that she DESPISED Washington and would only deem to be there when her presence was absolutely demanded (essentially abandoning her husband for the majority of his presidency). Her behavior overall made it clear that she was less than thrilled about her husband’s political career in spite of Truman doing everything he could to keep her involved, including nepotism in the form of finding her paying jobs. Once, when asked if she’d like her daughter to one day be President, she said, “most definitely not.” Bess held only ONE press conference over the course of Harry’s two terms in office and only did that once her repeated refusals to do them had become a political issue. While one could give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she feared her father’s suicide would become a public issue (back then the ‘heinous sin’ of a suicide in the family was like a permanent ‘taint’ on the blood of all descendants), or perhaps one could argue that it was a before-her-time feminist stance (if the press asked her what she might be wearing to a public event her “written” responses were usually pretty sarcastic) the overall effect is still of a woman whose behavior could not be described as “supportive of her husband.”

…. hence why I mean it when I say the movie they showed us about the first ladies was pretty “propagandist”; for me, I prefer my history presented unapologetic-ally, with the good, the bad and the ugly intact.

Then we were led into the front room where the docent offered to either let us just wander the exhibits independently, or he could share with us what he knew. I promptly said “share what you know” and he made it clear he knew his first ladies (although he did edit some of the most controversial stuff out), including things like the fact that Jackie-O felt she was cursed. The docent then essentially keeps us in the ‘first ladies room’ for what I’m pretty sure was a set amount of time — it was clear my group was ready to go one well before he allowed us to do it, and then we were told to all go as a group past the hotel (again) to the Ida McKinley’s house where we led around by a different docent.

Over all, I felt the place was underwhelming; the exhibits in the first building were, in my opinion, worth seeing but not quite ‘ready for prime time.’ It was like they knew they HAD to have something, and this was the best they could come up with.  I have not yet seen the Smithsonian’s first ladies exhibit, but I’m guessing it beats the pants off of what I saw here. And then, while the lower floors of Ida’s house impressively attempted to ‘recreate’ the home — based on old family photographs of the rooms, the top floor of Ida’s house then discordantly tried to tie back into the first ladies theme by offering a gallery of portraits of the women. While up there I brought up the topic, “what are you guys going to do if Hillary wins the presidential campaign?” The docent admitted it was an issue they were currently trying to wrap their brains around — even though it was something they should have considered at the outset. Insisting that first ladies need to be recognized is a feminist stance… Yet,  Just looking at the place, in my opinion, how they set the place up is evidence that its founders essentially bought into the belief that presidents are and always will be male. Considering organized the place not 16 years ago, you’d think they’d have prepared, nay… looked forward, to the eventuality of a female president, but it is clear they had not.

Before leaving the site entirely, I struck up a conversation with some retired folks who were in the parking lot. To my great luck, one of them had grown up in Canton and started telling me about just how different the site had been then — reiterating something I had spotted in an image that was in the house.

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Ida’s childhood home had been converted into a business, and the parking lot we were standing in, as well as the home’s garden, had been occupied with other businesses/buildings … all of which have since been torn down (in order to restore the site, something that probably could not have happened but for a downturn in the Canton economy).