Hamam al-Basha, i.e., The Old Turkish Bathhouse Museum, Acre, Israel

If you’re ever in the historic town of Acre, Israel (it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited ones on the planet), I strongly suggest a visit to Turkish Bathhouse Museum. Granted this museum dedicated to the Ottoman Bathhouse tradition (which they inherited from the Romans) is incredibly touristy, but that said, it’s multimedia presentation designed to bring history to life, is in my opinion what makes the Hamam Al-Basha one of the most entertaining and educational tourist attractions in the whole city, and worth at least a full hour’s worth of your time.

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When I first told my Israeli friends I was planning to spend a full 29 days in Acre’s old city, one of them literally blurted out, “WHY?! There’s NOTHING to DO there!” IF what you’re looking for is things like night clubs and theater, then they’re right… however, IF you’re a fan of all things historic… which I am… then they’re entirely wrong.

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The city of Acre is located on the western edge of the Northern district of Israel, just above the modern city of Haifa, and importantly (from the historic perspective) is one the only natural ports along the Holy land’s Mediterranean coastline. That is why it was one of most important port cities in the world during crusader period, when it served as the foothold for the almost all of the Christian Knight’s into the birthplace of their religion during that period. It’s important to remember that while the first Crusade, an attempt to take back the area from Islamic rule, came over land via Turkey, the second and third ones both came over sea, and utilized their heavily defended fortress port city of Acre — which they were able to keep control of the whole time —  as their base).

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As a result of its historically changing ownership, Acre (english)has many different names, in Hebrew it is Akko, while in Arabic it is Akka, and there are a few other names besides. Like I already said, this city is often overlooked by Jewish tourists to the country, because its past is predominantly Muslim and Christian. However, that said, it is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited human settlements on the planet, with most of its pre-crusader heritage still buried under a thousand years of other historically important buildings — and yet to be discovered (although you CAN see some of it if you know where to look).

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That said, the Turkish Bath Museum, also known as Hamam (sweat bath) El Basha (sort of like “The Prince”) in Arabic… (or The Prince’s sweat baths) … can be a bit hard to find in the twisty alley ways of Acre, although you’ll see signs all over town pointing out the way to it.

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The next thing to be aware of is that buying tickets for Acre’s attractions is kind of tricky.

As shown in the photo above, the multi-site ticket includes :
Hospitaller Castle/Knights’ Halls    – the city’s main attraction.
Templar Tunnel – and another, smaller tunnel.
Pasha’s Turkish Bath/Hamam al-BashaOkashi Museum -a small art museum.
Treasures in the Walls Museum
Rosh Hanikra

While these tickets may be purchased at multiple locations, but the main one is the visitor’s center, and if you do it there you get to see a short 15 minute movie on the history of the town.

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Ticket booth at the visitor’s center

The #1 attraction in town is the The Hospitallers‘ Fortress (Aka the Knights’ Halls)… but you can NOT buy a ticket for that which does not includes a mess of other things, the Templar’s tunnel (which it totally worth seeing), the Treasures in the Walls Museum (which is part of the tickets but not mentioned on ANY of the description signs for said tickets… IF you’ve seen everything else and still have time go see it, but if you skip it you won’t have missed out on anything special) … and a pathetic excuse for an art museum displaying all of the lesser pieces of Avshalom Okashi which is a complete waste of time (I graduated from one of the top Art schools in the world, and WHY the city demands you see this collection I don’t know).

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Basically it’s a collection of his works that no museums or collectors wanted (you’re not allowed to take photos while inside the museum, probably because they don’t want word getting out about how bad this collection sucks). Okashi was a painter so influential that while he’s often mentioned alongside other better respected artists, poor Avshalom doesn’t even merit his own Wikipedia page — even though he somehow DID manage to get his own museum. He was a very lessor part of the Ofakim Hadashim or New Horizons art movement in Israel, which helped to develop a distinctively abstract Israeli sensibility to art, which is still highly influential today (Israeli art doesn’t look quite like any other art style, but there is a cohesive feel to most of it). And he chose to live his final years in Acre, so I’m guessing when he died his family were stuck with a bunch of paintings no one wanted, not even them, and they left them to the city.

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To the combined Fortress ticket you can add one to the Baths…. or you can buy a ticket for the baths and the tunnels that does NOT include the #1 attraction… the Fortress… You can NOT however buy a ticket JUST for the #1 attraction, which is Fortress
or a ticket to the #2 attraction: the Templar Tunnels,
Or one for the Baths…
SO, you will HAVE to buy a combo ticket of some sort to see any of those —
And the tickets to the Fortress all include the aforementioned hideous art collection and the Treasures in the Walls Museum (which isn’t bad, but shouldn’t be considered any sort of priority if you’re on a limited schedule).

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With the ticket to the baths comes an audio guide, available in 8 languages

… the good news is it’s good for all of that year (if you buy it Jan 2019 it’s good through Dec 2019… If you buy it at the in Dec 2019 it expires at the end of that month), and it’s fully transferable — you can hand it off to friends or relatives who live in Israel to use whatever bits you haven’t. As such, your best bet is just to buy the either the combined ticket WITH the baths, or IF you intend to go up to Rosh Hanikra anyway (its at the Lebanese border and they do NOT provide transportation to get up there) [However, keep in mind that the ONLY historical attraction in Acre NOT included in any of the combined tickets (which include all the Arab controlled attractions), is the one to the old English Prison, which is controlled by the Israeli military.]

The package of tickets that I had initially bought, to my chagrin as I had SPECIFICALLY told the woman at the counter of the visitor’s center (where the Knight’s hall is) that I wanted to see the baths…

only to find when I arrived to the baths that what she had sold me did not include it!! (Be sure to double check your tickets.) So, when I got there… this guy said as far as he was concerned it wasn’t worth the extra price, and offered to quickly first walk me through the whole thing while explaining to me what was going since they couldn’t give me the headset because I didn’t have a ticket.

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He was more than bit annoyed when after he was done, I decided I wanted go ahead and pay for a combined tunnel and bathhouse ticket… which meant seeing the tunnels a second time.

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After you buy your ticket and get your headphones, you’re led into a outdoor courtyard area, where sit and wait for the next introductory overview film to begin — each film lasts about 15 minute, with a few minutes between to allow the room to clear and for the next group to enter

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While there (I had about 14 minutes to wait upon entering) I met and got friendly with one of the local cats, who seemed a great deal more domesticated than most of the cats of Acre …. the place is TEAMING with feral cats. This guy was following me around and demanding more scratches….

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The above picture is the entry room, just as you enter from the patio area …  Here you take a seat and enjoy a 15 minute movie that is projected onto the one empty wall to the right, which you listen to with your headphones…

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The movie focuses on the history of Acre and the building of bathhouse during the Ottoman empire, and the audio tracks come in eight different languages: Hebrew, Arabic, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Russian. (The Chinese and Japanese tourists don’t seem to come here much.)

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In addition to explaining its history, it also explains the cultural importance of the bathhouse to the community (it was much more than just a place to take a bath) up through modern times, when it was it fell into disuse because of the advent of modern plumbing.

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Note the image top right and compare to the tableau below

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After the movie you’re led into a long hallway lined with lithographs that narrate the sorts of things that would take place here…. and if you pay attention you’ll notice that many of the statues arranged throughout the bathhouse (so as to bring the place to life) were based on these drawings.

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After that hallway you turn into what had been another one lined with a series on rooms on either side, but when they converted it into a museum they removed the interior walls  (the ones that would lined the hallway) so that they now serve as the stages for a series of tableaus of what would have occurred within those areas.

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And as you approach some of the rooms, films with dialogue are played on their back walls in order to make the tableaus even more lifelikeUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c2c.jpg

Notice how this photo (with me in it) is the same room as the one above, only the movie which had triggered upon my first having entered had played out. That said, if you didn’t get to see the little movies, or the sound track was off, I found if you leave the room heading back towards the main film room… and then WAIT for that film to finish for the next group and then reenter this section, you’ll get a second chance to see it all…if you have that time to do that…  the soundtracks and such seem to be timed on how much time they designers believe it will take for people to move through, rather than being triggered by actual movement.

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After you pass through the hallway of small tableaus, you will pass through a doorway into a very large room circular, where the steam bath was located… 7w25W1pASp+%3949t40pgw_thumb_ebae.jpg

… and it has actual steam which is kind of cool. Again in this room there is a sound track that coordinates with a film played on one of the walls, and also from ONE of the statues which a moving face projected onto it, just like the tech you see at Disney world in the Haunted Mansion.

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This larger central room is circular, but sits in a square building… as such at the corners of the square are a series of smaller rooms that you can sort of peer into. I suppose the center of the room was the hottest location, too hot for some, and the side rooms while still steamy brought the temperatures down a bit. All in all I found my visit here highly enjoyable and other people I talked to also said they really enjoyed this museum.

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The Templar’s Tunnel, Acre, Israel

In the historic city of Acre, Israel, is a 350 meters/985 feet long tunnel. It is known as the Templar Tunnel, because it is believed to have been built by the Knights Templar during the crusader period (1095 A.D. – 1492), and though lost for over 700 years, it was rediscovered in 1994, and is now one of the city’s major historic tourist attractions.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_e6ee.jpgThe city of Acre  is located on the western edge of the Northern district of Israel, just above the modern city of Haifa, and importantly along her Mediterranean coastline. She has many different names, in Hebrew it is Akko, while in Arabic it is Akka, and with a few other names besides. Often overlooked by Jewish tourists to the country, because its past is predominantly Muslim and Christian, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited human settlements on the planet.

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While her history is long and varied, for the purposes of this blog I’m interested in the Acre’s role during the Medieval period; when because of its location on one of the very few natural ports in The Holy Land, and hence was of great strategic importance to anyone wishing to take part in a Christian pilgrimage to the area, she served as the capital city of the Crusader states.

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The tunnel had been essentially lost for 700 years, but it’s import had been “rediscovered” in 1994 because a woman living in one of the homes built above it. When they dug down to figure out the problem, they stumbled upon the tunnel, which had been converted into part of the towns sewage system.

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Evidence of its sewage system past is still there

As the saying goes, you can’t dig a hole anywhere in Israel and NOT find something of historical importance. Although converting the tunnel to a sewage pipe probably happened after the time of the Mamluks — slave soldiers, not unlike the unsullied in the Game of Thrones— who during the Mamluk Sultanate kicked the crusaders out of the area, at which point not only had its import probably been already forgotten, but history is written, and as often erased, by the victors.

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A public bathroom located directly across from the eastern entrance to the tunnel, and above the tunnel (kind of funny if you think about it)

Between 1291 when the Mamluks kicked out the crusaders and 1920, when the British were granted the mandate by the League of Nations to take over control of Palestine from the Turks’ collapsing Ottoman Empire, the fact is no one in the area cared about Templars, let alone their tunnel.  All the glory was to the Muslim empire that had taken it back from invading Christians… so turning their tunnel into a sewage pipe was probably seen at the time as fitting and appropriate.

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Once re-discovered The Acre development company, in co-ordination with Israel’s Antiquities Authority, cleared away the dirt and excrement filling the tunnel, and found whatever of historical value there was within it; all the while preparing it to serve as a local tourist attraction whose doors initially opened to the public in 1999… although repairs, rehabilitation, and extension of the tunnel continued through 2007. Today, the water that once carried you-know-what out into the ocean still runs (you can even see where it enters into the now destroyed Templar castle), but now people throw coins into it instead, supposedly for good luck.

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The Knights Templar, or Templars, were a catholic monastic military order that have long served as a focus of fascination and urban myths, both good and bad.  They were founded in 1119 to protect pilgrims who came to see the holy lands from Muslims and highwaymen (being a pilgrim during that period was a very dangerous activity, with dead bodies littered along the paths); initially WILDLY popular with the faithful, once the Crusades were over and the holy land was lost support for them faded, at which point their size and wealth made them a convenient target for a deeply in debt King Philip IV of France, who was deeply in debt to them financially. They were then completely disbanded by Pope Clement V.  If you want to learn more about them I found this GREAT pod cast about them by the guest host Dan Jones, who is an internationally best-selling historian/author of non-fiction works.

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The tunnel runs from what is believed to be the destroyed Templar palace on the western part of the city, on the Mediterranean’s edge, whose remaining walls are now shallowly submerged beneath the water (but still visible)

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The tunnel, according to one of the multiple short movies shown in the tunnel (this one is just towards the eastern end), is thought to have been built to go under another the Pisan quarter (a quarter within the city of Acre that was controlled by people from the Republic of Pisa) who were not friendly with the Templars and tended to charge them taxes to pass through their area…

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and, in addition to that would try to stop the Templars from taking “sacred relics” related to the story of Christ out of the city. [I say sacred relics in quotation marks because one sort of has to, like the 16th century Dutch humanist Erasmus, question their authenticity. To quote his commentary on just how many places claimed to own pieces of the true cross… “if all the fragments were collected together, they would appear to form a fair cargo for a merchant ship.”] The Templars, didn’t take kindly to the Pisan’s interference in their business, and in response built this tunnel…traveling UNDER the Pisan quarter, from their castle to the port

Location map of Akko Port; A) The sea-front of the Pisan quarter (insert Fig.6); B) The Western Basin, (insert Fig. 2b) 
[source of the photo, “New insights on Maritime Acre revealed by Underwater and Coastal Archaeological Research”]
In the image above, the destroyed Templar’s Palace is the Green roundish thing at the bottom left of the town, the Templars tunnel is shown as a line of red dots, the sea-front of the Pisan quarter is marked as A, while the port that the Templars were trying to get to is in the Western Basin, marked B (I’m not sure WHY they couldn’t just park boats alongside their castle, but apparently they couldn’t.

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So of course there are TWO entrances to the tunnel… the EASY one to find is adjacent to the destroyed palace directly adjacent to the big parking lot and the world-renowned Uri Buri restaurant (considered one of the three restaurants in all of Israel, and the country’s best location for seafood). At the bottom of the stairs at this entrance is a set of two buttons, either of which will initiate an audio narration describing the tunnel (no video). However, if a large group is coming through, I strongly suggest waiting till they’ve passed to push it as you won’t hear it otherwise.

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The tunnel’s “Eastern Entrance” is now marked on Google (Feel free to send me chocolate in thanks)

The hard one to find is buried in the alleyways of Acre across the alley from that public bathroom I showed earlier … in fact when I first arrived in town Google maps did NOT have EITHER of the two doors marked!!! (As in all manner of folks can be found wandering around trying to find the bathroom! Not to mention the Eastern entrance to the tunnels) While I was there I submitted a request to Google that they fix that, marking for them exactly where it was located… and if you’re wandering around the town trying to find that entrance using Google maps, you can thank me for the fact that

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Eastern Entrance

By comparison to the easy to find entrance (which is kind of plain and squished) the eastern entrance is actually quite fancy looking on the inside, even though it’s really easy to miss on the outside (especially when the doors are not open for business). And the squishiness is not just at the entrance… At that east end of the tunnel, the ceiling is very low…. [well either that, or (much more likely) the walkway for tourists is placed very high up within the tunnel because that end is close to the Mediterranean, and probably dips down lower than the other side does, and as such is deeply flooded with water.]

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At this end are two narrow tunnels, one in each direction, with ceilings that become progressively taller (or shorter if you’re coming from the other end). That said, from the perspective of the average tourist, it starts out with you having to bend down very low in order to pass (the ceiling was at about the height of my arm pits), and then the further into the tunnel you go (heading east) the higher the ceiling moves (the bottom picture I was JUST able to stand full height to 5’4″ — my travel buddy that day was a few inches taller than I).UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2be6.jpg

At this point in the tunnel (picture upper left) she was just getting to where she could stand tall… and the walkway — which is you look is clearly elevated (there was the equivalent of a little river running under it) is lit up, and had little glass windows embedded into it showing where various archeological finds were discovered — the originals are in a museum, these were just pictures of the objects found. And the ceiling gets taller the further east you go (which supports my elevated walkway theory), until you get to this point in the tunnel, where the ceiling gets REALLY tall and vaulted… and they seem to have found a 2nd layer to it or some such

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all photos of the same location, but from different angles

The above photos are taken of the same location but looking both directions — double tunnels at one side that join at this point into one huge tunnel. As you can see at this point in the tunnel (on the left side of the photo above) there’s yet another movie screen showing more about the history of the place, that once again comes with narration in either Hebrew or English. The movie doesn’t restart, the track being played just switches languages based one which button you press, even if its mid film.

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From that point on, instead of two narrow tunnels it’s one wide one…  but still with the windows in the walkway where they found things…. and the blue wall is where the easter exit/stairwell is located.

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As you can probably tell from the photos (no I did not change my T-shirts while in there) I actually traversed the tunnel twice. The first time was on a temperate day (high of 68 — 70 F) with a new friend who I had met the night before at the Airbnb I was staying at (an American girl doing her post doctoral studies at Tel Aviv University). The 2nd time I went on a hot day (closer to 85 F), and I decided to go there thinking that in the tunnels it would be cooler… I was wrong… while it wasn’t as hot as outdoors it was HUMID down there, because of all the water running under the walkway, and therefore the even less comfortable the outdoor heat which was dry.

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In order to go into the tunnel you’re going to need a ticket… and this is where things get a bit complicated (see above). You COULD buy a ticket to go to the tunnel which includes the Turkish baths (you can’t get one to just the tunnel) … but … The MAIN attraction in Acre is the Hospitallers‘ Fortress (aka Knight’s Halls)… and in order to see it you HAVE to buy the combined ticket. As such, if you have ANY interest in seeing that you’ll want to buy the combo ticket… I strongly suggest including the Turkish Bath… but if you’re in town with no car, do not get the Rosh Hanikra ticket as that is very far away and does not include any sort of shuttle bus to get you there.

In fact the ONLY attraction NOT included in a combined ticket combination (which includes all the Arab controlled attractions), is the ticket to the old English Prison, which is controlled by the Israeli military

Gardner, Illinois: home of the two cell Jail and the Riviera Restaurant

Driving along route 66 there are “designated stops” and if you want to really do it (66 I mean) you sort of have to stop at them, even if when you do you find yourself going… “OK then, this is it.” These two “attractions” in Gardner Illinois pretty much fall into that category.

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The first of these is the a jail with only two cells in it. Built in 1906 the community has recently renovated it and turned it into a tourist attraction. No one was in there providing information,

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There was however a recorded message you could listen to. Adjacent to this was a monument/replica of a historically important but recently destroyed by fire (2010) diner that had existed on route 66 in Gardner. Built in 1928, in what had originally been a horse-drawn-streetcar, and then expanded from that into a larger adjoining building

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the Riviera Restaurant was a reputed favorite hangout for Al Capone because during prohibition it secretly offered gambling and a drink.

I found this video on YouTube taken of the fire department trying to save the structure as it burnt to the ground. The original location was NOT next to the jail cell but rather a little bit outside of town — a more secluded location — along route 66

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This sign stands at the restaurants original location

That said…. Gardner has put up at this location an information board about one of its most famous former citizens, a native of Norway, the Reverend Christian Christiansen. Born in 1859, the reverend first came to the area between 1897-1907, moved to Wisconsin for 20 years, but then returned for his retirement. In 1942, when he was 83, he read an article in the Chicago Tribune about how the Nazis were trying to develop an atom bomb and had built a heavy water plant that the Allies couldn’t destroy because of the protection of a mountain shelf, and battleships couldn’t navigate the fiords. As he read the article he realized it was the area he had grown up in, and contacted the military with the information they needed to attack the plant.

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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 Wright’s 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 was wondering who were these Lincoln Farm Association folks (see the names in the photo above)…  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 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.

Paul Bunyan & Chippewa Valley Museums

While I came to see the Paul Bunyan, and it was OK, it was the unexpected Chippewa Valley collection that I was deeply, deeply, impressed by — ardently so, to the extent that I would argue that if you’re ever within (let’s say) an hour drive of there, it’s definitely worth making a special trip to Eau Claire just to see it. In fact just before leaving — while telling the elderly woman at the front desk how much I loved the place, I learned that their former curator (who was the one who had set the tone) had been ‘stolen’ away from them by the Smithsonian. Yes, it’s THAT good, but on a much smaller budget.

What brought me to the Paul Bunyan Museum was I had remembered seeing a truly massive statue of Paul (and his Blue Ox “Babe”) when I came here with my mother as a child (maybe middle school aged?). Apparently, based on what other people who also came to see the statue as I was waiting for the place to open, that one had fallen apart and been replaced with this much smaller and far less impressive model.

img_0034With regards to the hand, I saw a bunch of these sculptures scattered all over Eau Claire. I thought that they were a bit like the Chicago cows — which are much larger, also decorated uniquely and scattered around the city — or something of that sort, and it turned out I was exactly correct.

Initially, I arrived at the Paul Bunyan museum just as it was closing. They let me walk in and look at the gift shop collection, but that was it. As such, I opted to spend the night in Eau Claire and come back the next day before continuing my trip westward.  (I stayed at an Airbnb, a REALLY nice apartment in a high rise with an amazing view; the owner made me home-made quiche and some really good coffee for my breakfast.) The next day, because my host had to go the work, and I was intending to not return to her digs before leaving town, I arrived an hour before the Paul Bunyan was due to open.

As I sat there, I was looking at the sky and saw that there was a slight beige tint to it. It’s not as bad as say the skies in Korea but there was clearly a lot of something between me and the blue. I think Eau Claire Wisconsin is beginning to get the downdraft from that contagion of fires spreading all over southern Canada that were why I opted to take Interstate 94 across till I got to Glacier National Park, rather than going straight north and taking the Trans-Canada highway all the way to Vancouver Island, where I plan to spend to months.

The Paul Bunyan museum to be honest struck me as something of a tourist trap-ish… the employees were for the most part a bunch of spoiled teenagers who are paid to essentially sit there and do nothing (LOUSY customer service). When I went there was in fact this one blonde girl who is clearly the bully/leader who was doing her best to avoid actually working, and expected the other employees to stay with her so she could laud it over them. When I finally demanded help, she send over this other girl, a kind of passive and sweet brunette to see what the problem was. It was a rather small museum and most of what was in there in terms of interactive displays didn’t even work.

To be honest the best part of the Paul Bunyan is what I refer to as the “living Museum” part out back — a collection buildings representing a logging camp; and… I saw many locals go STRAIGHT to these, bypassing the completely the building where you pay your entrance fee… and like I said before, all the teenagers on staff were just sitting in there not doing their jobs — which would have included stopping people from entering without paying.

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Note the Green button on top of the silver box in the bottom right picture, every area had one of these and when you pushed it a “local” in this case the ‘store owner’ would begin offering a detailed narration of the room, its contents, and tidbits of about the life of the loggers who worked there.

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Again on the left, the green button you pushed for the narration

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As you continue back through the buildings you pass through a wooden gate and come to more houses, only these are no longer the logging camp and look more like part of what might have been early Eau Claire, WI, marking the transition to the Chippewa Valley Museum, in the large post office type looking building in front of you (no pic, sorry).

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Even though the two museums, the Paul Bunyan and The Chippewa Valley, are located right next to each other within a park area (surrounded by a sort of moat — see map below) they are not in fact cooperative with each other — you can not even get a discounted combo ticket for both — because they are their owned by two different groups.

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The price is the same for both places seven dollars each, but this place which is the non-for profit devoted to the overall history of the area, not just logging, actually has a much better display in my opinion. Rather than having to hit a button, the who place is automated with movement activated ‘background noises’ to give each area a feeling of veracity. So for instance, in the section about how the Eau Claire area used to be devoted to logging and wood industry, as you enter you hear the manager of the woodworkers talking to them about doing their jobs or when you walk into a section that supposed to be a schoolroom children saying the Pledge of Allegiance, that’s what you hear.

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They also have really taken a good advantage of the video game architecture as a way for people to be able to go back in time and experience various things. … So for instance, fir you walk into an area devoted to the original Native American tribes the lived in the area

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and in the trading post you can actually in a video game (built by local students) sort of manner interact with the trader. You are a Native American of the region and your language shifts between English and your native language is you negotiate with the trader and socialize.

Perrault’s Trading Post Game from Alex Bostone on Vimeo.
(The actual interaction between you and the trader begins 1 minute into the video)

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This is followed by a fairly devastating area devoted to the cultural havoc wrought on the tribes when they children were forced into boarding schools where they were forcibly ‘converted’ to meet the cultural norms of the dominate white population. This included a selection of interviews with Elderly tribal members recounting their own memories of the place, and of the abuses.

And then the presentation moved into modern times…

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Then they talk about problematic things, like the resettling of the Hmong refugees in the area and the problems they had when they came to settle,

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And then of course there are ‘fun things’ like the local fishing pond

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And the functional icecream parlor where you can get a snack

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All in all this was probably one of the best local history museums I’ve ever seen; while there I talked to a local who said as he was walking through one of the sections devoted to what life was like between the late 1800’s and around 1960, also broken down into subject categories (jobs, health, technologies, etc)… as he went through he was reading all of these quotes, and noting to me that they were from locals he knew—  and he’s lived here all his life — so whoever organized the exhibitions clearly had anthropologists and historians going through the community and collecting the local stories and supporting objects from the area in order to re-created the experiences….. and they skipped nothing, the good, the bad, and the ugly… it’s all in there….civil strife, strikes, economic upheavals, it’s all in there …. I am deeply impressed

 

The Mary Todd-Lincoln House.

Definitely worth a visit: Apparently the first museum devoted to a first lady. I learned a lot about her during the visit and now have a lot more respect and sympathy for her than I did previously.

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Finding this place wasn’t difficult (with GPS helping), and once you’re in the right part of town the house its self is easy enough to spot, in fact there are signs everywhere of the “hi you’re here” variety — but I’ve got to warn you, that the signage that was supposed to direct visitors to it’s parking lot was horrible! There’s this narrow little alleyway that odds are you won’t spot, which is where you need to turn down off of the busy main street in order to get to the parking lot behind the house, and G-d help you! It really is NOT clearly marked, nor is the traffic pattern in front of the house set up to aid out-of-town visitors to make the turn safely.

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I enjoyed my visit here. A lot of historical research, time, effort, and money was invested in order to try to recreate the home as Lincoln might have known it when he visited here. According to our docent, a retired female lawyer, as a result of various historical flukes, historians have a pretty good idea of exactly what items were in the house, and if they weren’t successful in tracking down the specific items the Todds owned (although happily in many cases they were), then they were able to replace them with items sufficiently similar as to give visitors a fairly accurate sense of being in their home. Anytime the items were known to have been owned by the Todd or the Lincoln families, the docent would point them out, and she always made it clear when they were not. So for instance they knew Mary Todd had a preference for the work of a particular furniture designer, and they have some of his pieces but aren’t sure if they’re the exact ones own by Mary… etc. In the picture below for instance, the table she (in white sweater) is standing next to was the actual one from the home, as was the bible laying on it.

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I learned a lot of interesting things, such as the house (after the Todds had sold it) became the brothel where a soon to be famous madam, Belle Brezing, who many believe became the template for the Belle Watling character in ‘Gone with the Wind,’ got her ‘training’; and that after Lincoln’s death, Mary’s son, who didn’t recognized the symptoms of laudanum/morphine addiction (which she had been proscribed as a cure for migraines) had his mother declared insane, and tried to get control of her money.

The first time I read about this place was in a blog devoted to ‘things worth stopping to see while road-tripping with the kids down to Disney World.’ However, back in June of 2015, when I was initially making that trip south from Chicago to Orlando, I was still one month shy of the end of the proscribed (by Jewish law) 11 months of mourning for my father, and as such couldn’t do anything ‘fun.’ However, I remembered it now, almost a year later, and since I discovered it was effectively on my path from my friends home in Georgia, to visiting another friend currently doing time in Ohio, I made a point of stopping to see it (in fact, all other things I did while in Lexington were peripheral to this stop).

Prater’s Mill

Picturesque spot for a nice picnic, or to fish: This is an historic site that’s technically in Dalton, even though you’ve got to drive past a few other towns to get to it… I think it’s a bit like O’Hare Airport being in Chicago (It’s ORD designation refers to it historically being located in Orchard Place, which Chicago annexed in the late 1950’s via a thin strip of land, against the wishes of the surrounding suburbs, so as to be able to claim the income generated by the airport). Even though it’s supposed to be in Dalton, on the map it’s much closer to Varnell, GA … and if you are from here Varnell is pronounced Varr-a-nell

It’s Historic (pre-Civil War & Trail of Tears, and listed on the list of Historic places), and pops up on all the ‘things to do lists for the area — even though they haven’t actually put in the effort to give you anything to do when you get here. In spite of it being a working mill (the product of which is sold at a local shop) it’s apparently only open to the public once a year in October, when they have a festival here — makes no sense to me either. If it is a working mill, why not just set a schedule and allow folks to visit while its happening, talk to the kids about the process, etc… more often than just once a year. There is a visitor’s center and ‘historic’ store across the street, but it too is rarely open. As such, this is more of picturesque place to stop and eat than really an educational experience (although there are the obligatory signs scattered around). Knowing this (thank you to Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews – by other confused visitors), I had picked up a Ruben sandwich from the butcher shop/deli near here and am eating it as I watch three old guys who are sitting pretty spread out from each other along the river bank, fishing silently.
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The most entertaining thing that happened while I was here was a car and a truck drove into the lot, and a young dark haired woman got out of the car, ran over to the truck, got up on the running board and started repeatedly head slapping the poor guy sitting there who looked to be in his early 20’s. After she was done she ran back to her car. He then slowly got out and went over to her car to talk to her… At that point one of the fishermen and I made a quiet retreat.

Battles for Chattanoga, GA

Well worth the price! Probably the easiest to understand explanation of the civil war battles in this area, played out on a 3d diorama . Is it low rent? Sure, but whoever put the thing together did so with a spark of theatrical genius which makes the whole thing worth while. Great theater of the off off off Broadway variety if you will…

The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park consists of three separate parks that memorialize one of the major/pivotal military campaigns of the Civil War (or what some Southerners refer to as the War of Northern Aggression).

They are: (listed in the order I went to them)

  1. Chickamauga Battlefield & Visitor Center (in GA)
  2. Cravens House located 1/2 way up Lookout Mountain (which I didn’t bother seeing the inside of because the original house was decimated during the battles, and what’s there is entirely a re-creation — and it’s only open on Weekends)
  3. Point Park & Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center (which the Park service thinks of as two separate things but I don’t think anyone else does)

Next door the #3’s visitor center is the tourist trap called Battles of Chattanooga which to be quite honest, completely beats the crap out of the paltry offerings at the tourist center next door; and, any traveler who wants a better understanding of the battles around Chattanooga should consider this a MUST do. In fact, this is the 2nd time I’ve gone to this attraction, the first time was maybe 10 or 15 years ago as a friend and I road tripped from Chicago to Disney World, and we spotted massive road signs advertising it. At the time we thought it was going to be hokey, but as we were both geeks we decided to give it a try. We ultimately agreed it was utterly worth the time as both of us had studied the battles in school, but the 3D blinking lights visual demonstration (showing troop movements up and down the mountains that surround the city, etc), allowed us to finally understand what had happened.

However, as it had been at least 10 years since my last viewing I decided to buy include the ticket to this as part of the Rock City/Ruby Falls/Battles combo deal which I strongly suggest buying if you’re going to be in Chattanooga for at least a few days. And I suggest seeing this demonstration and THEN going across the street to the National park at the point.

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Since it was to dark inside to take any useful photos, let me set the scene with words:

Imagine if you will one of those massive sculpted 3d tables that shows the geography of the Chattanooga basin looking south across the winding Tennessee River —  with lookout mountain on the far right, and the hills of Missionary Ridge to the far left, effectively encircling the city below. Now imagine on the wall behind the table a movie about the long siege of the area, and how it went on until President Lincoln finally got fed up with General Bragg’s refusal to be aggressive (which was resulting in failing morale among the soldiers) and opted to replace him with General Ulysses S. Grant (sometimes referred to as Lincoln’s Butcher). From time to time the movie darkens, and the map comes alive with flickering colored lights demonstrating troop movements. For example: Federals floating past Confederate guards in the dead of night to attack the only viable ferry point, or racing up Missionary Ridge as, father like son, the elder (and horribly named) Arthur Macarthur (can’t you just imagine the ribbing he got growing up?) disobeys Grants express orders — setting the pattern for his son I suppose — and thereby wins one of the first Medals of Honor, as his son General Douglas Macarthur would later do in WWII (making them the first father and son pair to do so).  The whole thing is really quite exciting.