Louiseville Slugger Museum, KY

What the name suggests: it’s very touristy, but interesting; and worth driving by, if only to see the worlds largest baseball bat (but made of carbon steel, not wood). It is an oversized replica of the bat the Louisville Slugger company made for Babe Ruth (aka, ‘The Bambino’ or ‘The Sultan of Swat’in the 1920s.

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Among the sources I used when planning my trips, there’s a web-page/iPhone app resource that I use, called Roadtrippers.com where you can load in your destinations, and the application/web site will pop up a list of all the various things you might want to consider stopping at along the way (in its “oddities” category, which I love). You chose the ones you want, and then on your iPhone you load the list… HOWEVER, I have also found that the addresses appended to those locations are NOT always correct, so it’s best to then double check them with google. (For instance, on this day I was TRYING to get to the Louisville Slugger museum which is in downtown Louisville, and got misdirected to a residential neighborhood in what seemed to be the worst part of Louisville (really run down). But there were factories there so I thought MAYBE this right… till I ended up on a residential street. That said, it wasn’t a complete waste, as I learned from the myriad of signs (advertising the fact), that this was the neighborhood where Muhammad Ali, formerly known as Cassius Clay, had been born.)

I then (thank the lord for the iPhone and cellphone data plans — folks not old enough to remember a time before such things don’t appreciate just how magical it is) googled the attraction and found the correct address, which was a good thing because an old friend of mine was actually driving in from her small town in Indiana (two hours away) to meet up with me there.

As I waited for her (she was, thankfully, running late as well) I discovered that Louisville has done something very smart, they’re historic downtown is full of these amazingly beautiful historic buildings. When the area got run down and the businesses for the most part left for safer neighborhoods, they ‘restored’ most of them, by leaving the amazing facades and ripping out everything behind it. Most of these buildings they then filled up with museums and other touristy attractions. So there’s now a ‘historic’ museum row / tourist mecca that is centrally located with most of what you’d  (as a tourist) want to see when visiting Louisville.

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Just out front of the Museum was a fairly in-congruent statue of Captain America… I have no idea WHY it was there, but it was pretty cool… and purely coincidentally, it matched my shirt.

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But it may have been reflective of the large number of street pieces along Museum row, of which I only photographed a few.

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And then lining the sides of the museum were these highly inconspicuous, to the point of one almost tripped me…  little memorials to various famous players who had preferred the Louisville slugger bat.

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The first (and last thing) you see upon entering the building is the gift shop, which impressive in it’s own right, with everything from key chains and bumper stickers to collectors items, like baseballs signed by some of the greats, which you can buy.

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The one things that I found “tempting” was walking sticks made out of mini baseball bats. As I’ve discussed previously I’ve been suffering from periodic bouts of benign positional vertigo now for about 15 years, so for me walking sticks are useful, AND these could double as a self-defense weapon.

that said, the Baseball Bat Museum is reasonably priced (see below); but that said, my friend and I were actually able to get in for FREE!! (can’t beat free). It was an off-season weekday, and the tour, which was just about to begin, was far from sold out; as such they were just handing out the tickets. (This made me think that the store is far more profitable than the museum itself, while the latter draws new customers to the former.)

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In the waiting area before the factory tour there’s a museum devoted to Louisville Slugger bats, and baseball in general.

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In it, there’s a batting cage area where you can put on gloves, and get to hold and test the weights of various bats that were ACTUALLY used by some the greats.

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In addition to an extensive collection of memorabilia, and explanations about the history of baseball, there are also Madame Tussauds type wax figures of some of the greats that you can can go right up to, take your picture with — and I saw some people touching them.

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At a certain time, an announcement is made, and all the people wandering through the museum file into a loading area, and watch a movie loaded with facts and figures regarding the production and sale of Louisville slugger bats.

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After the movie, we walked through the factory area, with demonstrations of bats being made by hand (solely for the purpose of the tour), and then there are explanations of how they are made now. There are low tech systems, which are used to make bats for sale to the general public, or little league teams. One interesting factoid she shared was that, if you’re a baseball player in the minor leagues, odds are you’ll use a custom made bat to your preferred configurations, however, you have to pay for your own bats, the teams don’t pay for them for you — while they DO pay for the major league players‘ bats.

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But, on the seemly unrelated topic of “why the jobs are not coming back” — a conversation I had had a few weeks before with a progressive liberal friend who was sure Bernie Sanders would be able to do this (I spent a few hours trying, but failing, to convince him otherwise…. I now offer the case of the Louisville Slugger:

According to our tour guide, it used to be that the bats were all turned by hand on the lave, each one taking about four hours of very careful shaving, smoothing and measuring to produce. Then, the industrial revolution reached baseball, and the bats were, and (for the most part) continue to be produced by a factory mechanized system which, while nowhere near as precise, allowed them to make bats that were much cheaper and therefore able to reach a broader market; and as I said, these are the ones that are today sold to the home market, Little League’s, and customers like that.  Then they showed us a brand new very expensive computerized machine that, in just one hour can produce the entire needs of a major-league team … THREE times over. They spoke of it with great pride, noting that at that moment it was making special order bats for the Chicago Cubs that were painted blue and said “World Series champions” — having just broken their 108 year losing streak by beating the Cleveland Indians, who were the 2nd most losing team in the country. And everyone in the group was all happy and impressed until I chirped up…

Question: “You said that untill the computerized system arrived professional bats, for minor league and National league players, were made by hand… correct?”
“yes”
“Then, could you tell me HOW many workers this one machine put out of work?”

Suffice it to say the girl leading the tour didn’t look happy, and the people in my tour group looked at me annoyed (how dare I point out the obvious)… She didn’t know but promised to get the answer by the end of the tour, which was that this one computerized machine has replaced/made redundant 50 highly skilled workers.

Jobs that be done cheaper aboard, enough so that the added shipping still results in a cheaper product than what can be produced at home will be produced abroad. At a certain point, labors who previously were happy with 10 cents an hour are now asking for $1.50, and that becomes no longer true. AT THAT POINT, it then becomes cheaper to invest in a computerized production system that can do a job as well as any skilled laborer, only much quicker…. And THAT ladies and gentleman is why the jobs aren’t coming back.

After the tour was over we were taken into a final room, and were allowed to choose our only miniature baseball bats out of the bin in this picture, to take home as a souveigner.

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And then towards the back of the building there is an actual batters cage where you can try out your skills against an automated pitcher, using different types and weights of bats produced by the company.

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On one side of the building that houses the factory tour, they also have a small Ripleys believe it or not subsection (believe it or not… seriously WHAT is this doing here?). Most of what’s there is less the “believe it or not” sort of stuff that would show up in a circus side show, and more art in utilizing “unusual” mediums, so like duct tape, chewing gum or nuts, but some of it is the more exotic stuff — at Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.

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After we finished with the museum, and walking around the downtown area we headed back to the neighborhood I had been to the day before, where Zachary Taylor’s grave yard is. We HAD wanted to have dinner downtown, but a staff member in the museum had STRONGLY warned us against it, saying that once the businesses had closed up it would quickly become an unsafe neighborhood. As such, I suggested that we go to the same restaurant I had gone to the night before, a place with AMAZING food in a neighborhood full of what looked to be multi-million dollar homes.

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Anoosh Bistro was a restaurant I had found the day before using Yelp. The first time I came I was deeply impressed with how Anoosh and his wait staff were HIGHLY accommodating to my medical dietary needs.  The first time I had the Cioppino (Fresh Fish, Shrimp, King Crab, Mussels, Clams, Tomato Saffron Clam Broth — all of which was incredibly fresh, and there was so much fish that I ended up taking home half) & the poached pear salad, which was incredibly tasty — I ate the salad before the meal and saved the pear for my desert (there was SO much alcohol in the pear that it left me tipsy).

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As I was leaving, the first time, I discovered that this place is actually halal (the owner is Lebanese — considered by many to have the best pallet in the middle east) — which is a good thing.

This time, with my old friend from University … I had the red snapper special with black rice and vegetables (they had modified it to meet my dietary needs) while she had the chicken curry which smelled amazing… and both of us were doing the ‘happy food dance’… Although Andie ate my carrots for me cause I hate cooked carrots (and they’re not good for me either, too much sugar) while I ate her asparagus for her…. She said my carrots were also amazing.

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Then, for dessert — something I generally skip unless they have fresh berries… she ordered the white chocolate bread pudding with their home made pistachio ice cream in place of vanilla. I had a tiny taste of both and they were amazing… especially the ice cream which we were sure was made in house… (we tasted a tiny undercurrent of rose water in it).

My Dad would’ve approved (and he always really liked Andie, and he loved bread pudding). As she ate it (I did have a small taste) we were remembering the one time my dad made her dinner, and it was mind-blowingly amazing…  but it was one of these things where he just kind of improvised with whatever happened to be in the house, so that afterwards he could never duplicate it because he could never remember how he got there.

Jeffersonville, IN

Louisville Kentucky is one of the myriad of US towns situated on a river that is a state border, so that her ‘suburbs’ effectually spread over multiple states; historic Jeffersonville Indiana is just such a suburb.

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Originally the location of a fort named after Baron Von Steuben (the Gay military genius without whom we would have most likely lost the Revolutionary war), Jeffersonville was most likely named as such the same year Thomas Jefferson became president of the united states, and the settlers of the town used the same grid layout that he had promoted as a way for distributing land.

To the town’s credit, they have embraced the historic nature of their town, and as you walk around it you’ll see numerous historic buildings, and signs attached to walls, that offer you a window into the towns past.

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Ironically, however, when I scanned the QR codes attached to those signs into my phone I was taken to a web page saying that the campaign had been disabled — not sure why they would go to all the effort to produce the signs if the city leaders weren’t committed to at least keep the associated web pages active.

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The town however is full of architecturally interesting buildings that have been, for the most part, well maintained, and was full of cute little restaurants, cafes, etc., including a two different cigar lounges (all leather armchairs and sipping bourbon), and a Cafeteria resturant, which is sort of a dying institution.

img_7068Truth be told, I hadn’t come to Jeffersonville in order to see the town, even though having seen it I would happily categorize it as a destination in and of itself, but rather U had come here because of Schimpff’s Candies, which is historic enough to have been covered by the history channel (it was, ironically, featured in the show, Modern Marvels on an episode devoted to candy production).img_7065

Having celebrated it’s 125th anniversary, Schimpff’s, which was originally opened on April 11, 1891,  is one of the oldest continuously operated, family owned candy companies in the US to still be located in it’s original location. And in case one were to forget the perils of being in a town located adjacent to a river, I found the way that the owners had proudly notated its various floods on the exterior wall of the shop to be interesting.

Schimpff’s Candies is a cute place, a combination store, ice cream and lunch counter, with a museum of the Candy industry located in the back.
img_6847I came here because I thought there was going to be a factory tour but there is not — they just do demonstrations of what they’re making that day.
img_7063They’re famous for their red hots, but today they were making Christmas candy.

While the store itself was worthy of a stop, I think that the it’s more the high point of a cute little historic town visit, rather than a full destination in and of itself.

The day I went was by sheer coincidence veterans day… and I saw this:img_6867

The Sudbury Superstack in Canada

Built for the sole purpose of circumventing clean air laws, I passed this on my trek eastward on the TransCanadian Highway, heading towards Stratford Ontario for the Shakespeare Festival. Costing around $25 million to build, it is the tallest chimmney/smokestack in the western hemisphere, and used to be the tallest in the world, at least untill Kazakhstan built themselves a taller one.

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Now you might ask why would I stop to see a smoke stack? Well, a few days before, as I was driving along talking, via my bluetooth hands-free integrated into the car phone system (yes, I love my new car), one of my oldest friends, an UBER Geek (he’s in his 50’s like me, and when he was in highschool he was programming computer systems for the Pentegon — think WarGames). When I told him the route I was taking he asked if I would be stopping in Sudbury… which as luck would have it I had already planned to do, just as a place to spend the night before the last leg of my trip to Stratford.

He said, “Do me a favor and when you are in Sudbury get me some pictures of their superstack while you’re there. I did a factory tour of the place back when I was in my 20’s, but I never took any pictures of it and I would like some.”

“What’s a superstack” I asked

He proceeded to explain to me how when the governments started to imprement clean air acts in order to address problems like acid rain, that they would measure the air pollution at a certain height above ground; superstacks were one of the ways that heavy polluters would circumvent those rules by essentially disposing of their pollution above that eleveation (see, we’re not poisoning the local air). Built in 1972 by the International Nickel Company (INCO), one of the world’s largest producers of nickel, the superstack was therefore a circumeventing regulations; because, by going higher they were effectively dispersing the massive amounts of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other pollutants that their plant produced in the higher altetude wind currents, and away from the local area. This, they claimed, was them “addressing” the health concerns of the locals, and the surrounding farmers who had in recent years found themselves unable to grow anything anymore because their lands had become too acidic to sustain life. Was it successful? Sure… if you only local at local impact studies, but the superstack and things like it were part of the problem that lead to our current catastrophy of global climate change.

Driving towards Sudbury, sure enough this thing was impressivly HUGE; you could not but see it from miles away, spewing dirty filthy nasty G-d knows what into the air… and my motel for the night was just down the road from the base of the thing… oh joy.

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Since companies can no longer play these sorts of regulatory games under the new global rules intended to help curb global warming, and have been forced to actually reduce how much pollution they dump into the atmosphere… there’s talk of bringing the superstack down. Here are some articles I found on the topic:

‘It’s history, like it or not’: the Significance of Sudbury’s Superstack
Sudbury superstack faces uncertain future
Vale clear to tear down Sudbury’s Superstack

Now you might argue that this is could not possibly be a tourist destination, but I beg to differ. TripAdvisor lists it as #14 on its list of the 58 things you could do while visiting Sudbury, Ontario.

Remington Carriage Museum, Cardston Alberta

The Remington Carriage Museum has the largest collection of horse drawn carriages, wagons, etc. in all of North America (270 of them); it is located in this small border town near one of the US/Canadian border crossings. They have trained young docents who give free hourly guided tours.
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This really is NOT something you would expect to find in this location. It was a private collection by Don Remington (a local horse carriage geek) who donated his “babies” to the government on three conditions: firstly, that it must stay in his home town town, and secondly, that the pieces be kept together, and thirdly, that he have access to it whenever he wanted it. The government accepted his terms and spent $12.5 million building this facility to house the collection.
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It is absolutely massive, and holds 270 carriages and wagons, etc., of the sort drawn by horses and rarely used anymore, like totally massive. Its so enormous that locals get year passes just so that they can use it as an indoor walking area during incremental weather.
Of the carriages, 49 belonged to Remington who began the collections, and another 175 are on loan from other organizations that don’t have the space to display them, or were donated. The museum facilities also do restorations of carriages that people bring in, but those are not the ones that go into the collection on display, because those are considered historical artifacts so they try to avoid restoring them as that would negatively affect their value.  Got everything from carriages for hauling wood to carriages for hauling the rich. There is also like a 20 minute documentary on the history and evolution of the carriage industry in America

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I was there on a weekday, and NOT during tourist season, so some of what’s “available” wasn’t while I was there: There is also a barn that holds a collection of Clydesdales and other horses, that provide carriage rides; there’s a working ironsmith, etc. There is also a restaurant, but it too was closed.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

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Hadn’t come to Canton intending to visit the Pro football Hall of fame; to be honest didn’t even know it was there (not a football fan); however, driving around in this town it’s kind of hard to miss it.

So I came here, and I was interested, but not $24 + $10 for parking interested….

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Once I saw the prices, I opted to just check out the gift shop, which the guys working their front-desk did not want to let me do (and they even said I should have paid the $10 for the pleasure of parking my car before shopping) but I just ignored their comments, and no one stopped me.

The gift shop is basically any sports wear shop you’ve ever seen that specializes in any particular NFL team, only this one has stuff for every team, and not much more than that. They don’t even have much specifically aimed at that museum itself… I compare this to goods for sale at Hong Kong Disney which are just generic ‘disney’ stuff, with almost nothing that is specific or special to the park. In other words, there’s no reason to not just buy a generic disney character shirt at a discount store rather than pay the elevated park prices. Suffice it to say, I was out of there in about three minutes. 

I heard afterwards from the front desk clerk at my hotel that it’s possible to get a combined ticket for both the NFL and the Rock and Roll (which I didn’t realize was also in Canton)hall of fame ticket for $30, and according to my male friends — when they heard I could have gone in but didn’t — both are MUST see museums  ….. So, I will try the combo ticket next time I’m in Canton. 

 

The American Saddlebred Museum

This is one of my favorite sorts of museums, folks who are entirely geeking out about something they love…. in this case, a specific breed of horse called the American Saddlebred horse, which used to be called “Kentucky Saddler.”

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I found this museum on a list of ‘unusual’ things to visit in Lexington, KY. I had just driven up from the Pigeon Forge, TN (Dollywood) and was hoping to arrive in time to see Mary Todd’s Home, but that had closed at 3pm and I arrived at around 3:30pm. So, I decided to spend the night and to do it the next day. It is located on the grounds of the Kentucky State Horse Farm Park and apparently is usually a combined ticket to the race track, meet and greet with the horses, pony rides, etc., but I wasn’t here for those things…I was here for the geek museum.

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The area is broken into two rooms — the first is a massive collection of personal momentous from trainers including paintings and sculptures they had commissioned of themselves and their favorite horses,

… as well as personal mementoes, like awards they’d won, or favorite saddles, riding gear, etc.

The 2nd is a museum dedicated to history of the breed, the uses of the horses, and some history of the people who worked with them. Walking around the space it is clear from walking around here that serious money had been spent.

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There are two full documentaries (which I have a feeling they had specially made), one about the horses the museum honors and another about the forgotten history of black trainers who didn’t receive any recognition before the 1970’s. According to the film the color barrier didn’t just apply to people; one of the stories the film told was about a horse that wasn’t winning awards because of her odd color (silver), so her trainer — who was a person of color himself, dyed her brown instead of silver and changed her name to painted lady, and she began winning.

The movie that was just about the horses, their history, and why these people love them, includes an interview with the actor William Shatner (of Star Trek fame, again, GEEK) …

 
4083 Iron Works Pkwy, Lexington, KY 40511, United States
+1 859-259-2746

Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center; Chattanooga, TN

Museum dedicated to a medal. Currently located in a mall, but expected to move back to central Chattanooga soon.

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This is a tiny but very interesting museum that should not be confused with the larger Museum that is being built in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. I had a published pamphlet advertising it, and had called previously to confirm that was open and that it was really located in the mall… all of which turned out to be a very good thing, because if I had needed to rely solely on folks who worked in the mall to direct me, I’d have left feeling lost and annoyed; as it was, once I was at the mall I quite literally had to ask seven different staff members for directions before I found one who even know it was there and could direct me (and none of her fellow workers had any idea about it and laughed when they learned it was there and had been there for a while; One even realized she’d walked by it daily, and never saw it).

Like I said previously, the first medal of Honor was given for the civil war campaign called “The Great Locomotive Chase” (which, not surprisingly, Disney made a 1956 movie about) that occurred during the Civil war and ended in a tunnel near Dalton Georgia, where some union soldiers tried to steal a confederate train, take it back up north to Chattanooga, and do as much damage to the strategic rail line as possible along the way, hence the existence of this museum in the Chattanooga area. This museum used to be downtown and according to the docent, intends to move back there soon. The guy running it was a young war-geek guy, maybe 27 years old (where most docents are retired elderly people) who seemed to know a heck of a lot about every aspect of the museum. From what I could tell this was sort of a dream job for him, where he gets paid to sit around all day reading every book he could get his hand on about medal of honor winners, and shares that knowledge with visitors.

It’s a small place, but it’s packed to the gills with information about the medal itself, it’s history, and placards describing some of the more outstanding individuals who had won the medals. Among the ones that peaked my interest was the only medal of honor ever given to a woman, Dr. Mary E. Walker, which — according to the docent, was then taken away from her because women weren’t in the military (only she refused to stop wearing it), but the right was later returned to her posthumously. She had been a volunteer Union army surgeon who had been taken captive when she cross enemy lines in order to help wounded civilians, and declared a spy (probably because they couldn’t believe she was a doctor)

Among their fairly large selection of original medals and historic artifacts, was special cash brought back by WWII soldiers that had been created by the nazis for Jews to use within the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, which I’m not sure I ever saw before. For those who don’t know, Theresienstadt was a mediveil walled city which the Nazi’s had converted into a Ghetto for Jews, and as something of a waypoint to the extermination camps. Mostly however, they also used it for propaganda purposes, making movies about it claiming it to the world that it was an example of many Jewish resettlement areas, and an area they allowed the red cross to visit to prove the lie.

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And of course, we can’t forget everyone’s favorite Medal of Honor Winner, Audie L. Murphy who initially tried to enlist at 17, then won the medal of honor for valor he showed in battle when only 19, and then became the most decorated hero of WWII (33 different awards) when he finally left the military at age 21; and if that weren’t enough, he then went on to be a fairly successful hollywood star who even performed in a few movies that went on to become classics, including as himself in “To hell and back” his own life story.

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