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Circus Trip 2018: Harry S Truman NHS

Day 75, Friday, September 28, 2018
Harry S Truman National Historic Site, Independence, Missouri

After camping in a small, family owned campground called Hanson Hills (they also do taxidermy!) somewhere between St. Louis and Independence, Missouri, I drove for a few hours across the state.  I was doing a bit of a quick reset through the Midwest so I could get to the West, where I wanted to spend more time.  It meant I had to make some sacrifices!

I ended up in Independence, Missouri at about 12:30 pm, and immediately headed to the Visitor Center at the Harry S Truman National Historic Site.  I signed up for the 1 pm tour of Truman’s Home.

The Truman home is a large, white Queen-Anne Victorian style home that was built by Bess Truman’s grandfather in 1867.  He ran a successful lumber business, so no expense was spared in making the home a showpiece.  It is pretty!

The Trumans were a close knit family, with their daughter Margaret continuing to travel with the Trumans on the campaign trail and spending time at the White House into adulthood.  They enjoyed music, with Harry Truman playing the piano, and Margaret accompanying as a classically trained soprano.

My tour was interesting.  After Harry Truman died in 1972, his wife Bess continued to live in the home until her death in 1982.  She donated the home to the National Park Service at that time, along with all the furnishings and personal items in the home.  The piano and music that Truman loved to play is there.  So is the calendar that Bess had hanging on the wall in the kitchen from the year she died.  The damaged linoleum floor is even original.

Sadly, the tour only includes the first floor of the home, as the second floor is unstable and unsafe for visitors.  You also can’t take photos inside the home…

The last car that Harry owned is in the garage; a 1972 Chrysler Newport.  He only had it for 6 months before he passed away, and then his wife used it until she died.  Even still, it only has 19,000 miles.  The license plate, 5745, was specially requested by Truman, as it commemorates VE Day, the end of World War II in Europe.  It was also a day before his birthday.  The license plate number has been permanently retired.

The historic site also includes other homes in the neighborhood that are open to the public on a self-guided tour, and I checked those out as well.  The Noland, Frank Wallace and George Wallace homes are there; the Nolands were Truman’s cousins and the Wallaces were his brother-in-laws.  It isn’t common anymore for the relatives to all live so close!  They are all much more simple than the Truman home but interesting to see.

I took a walk around the block and checked out some of the other homes in the neighborhood.  It seemed like a nice place to live!  I also saw a mule drawn wagon ride go by with some late season tourists having a good time.  I would also really love to visit the Jackson County Historical Society and their 1859 preserved County Jail.  It looked so cool!

I drove by the Harry Truman Library but decided not to stop, as the price was a bit steep for a quick stopover.  Truman and Bess are buried there, but their graves are inside the museum, so I’ll have to check that out on a return visit.  The ranger had recommended A Little BBQ Joint for good Kansas City style BBQ, so I stopped in there for a late lunch.  I had the combo sandwich with pulled pork and brisket, and it was so delicious!  They had three levels of kick in their sauce; I tried the Sweet Sister and the Mad Housewife.  I also got some ribs to go for the next day.

When I left, I decided to check out the Truman Farm.  Truman moved in with his family on this farm in 1906, giving up a hefty bank salary ($100 per month) to do it.  He lived with his parents, grandmother, sister, brother, and hired hands.  The farmhouse had no plumbing or electricity.  He spent eleven years doing heavy physical labor around the farm, until he left to join the military in 1917, to serve in World War I.  The day I visited, the farm wasn’t open, so I just spent a few minutes outside, taking photos and checking out the place.  I always find it so fascinating to stand where Presidents stood.

Although it was time to get back on the road, there was a lot to see in Independence and I would like to return!

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Ulysses S. Grant NHS

Day 74, Thursday, September 27, 2018
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, St. Louis, Missouri

Just outside St. Louis, Missouri is the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.  This site, with its home called White Haven has a long history associated with President Ulysses S. Grant.

The home was built in 1808 (other sources say between 1812 and 1816), and the property was purchased in 1821 by Frederick Dent, who eventually became Ulysses S. Grant’s father-in-law. Dent built White Haven up as a fairly large plantation; it had 850 acres and grew wheat, oats, corn, potatoes and hay.  They also had several varieties of orchard fruits, including peaches, apples, plums, apricots, nectarines and grapes.  There were still extensive forests too.

Grant met his wife Julia in 1843, when he visited White Haven to visit his friend and classmate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who happened to be Julia’s brother Fred.  At the time, Grant was stationed in the Army at Jefferson Barracks, only five miles south of White Haven.  The two fell in love and eventually married in 1848.  Although Grant struggled with the launch of his career and tried his hand at a number of failed ventures, the marriage was a happy one.  Grant spent long periods of time away from Julia in their early marriage, when he went out West for his Army career.  Julia stayed at White Haven with her family.

Grant suffered from a depressive episode and quit the Army and returned to White Haven from the West Coast in 1854.  Between 1854 and 1859, he lived with Julia and the Dent family at White Haven, while farming, serving as an engineer, and dabbling in real estate in St. Louis.  By all accounts, he was not a particularly successful man at this time.  He did build Hardscrabble, a log cabin on the property with a name that was intentionally chosen to poke fun at the difficulty of their life then.  In 1859, the Grants moved to St. Louis for a short period and then to Galena, Illinois for Grant to go into business with his brothers.

They never again lived at White Haven, but continued to own the property until shortly before Grant’s death.  White Haven served as the home for the Dent and Grant families until 1885 (some sources say 1881), when Grant used it to pay off a debt to William Henry Vanderbilt.

What a fabulous place!  This home was acquired by the National Park Service relatively late in the game; it became a National Historic Site in 1989.  Thankfully, it was saved from becoming an amusement park in the early 1900s.  Hardscrabble was acquired by the Busch family and became a part of the nearby Grant’s Farm theme park; I’ll have to go visit it sometime.

Today White Haven is in much the same condition as it was then; although an attached kitchen was added later by a caretaker of the property.  A summer kitchen remains, which may have also been slave quarters, along with an ice house, chicken house, and a barn that was built in the 1870s.  All are open to visit or peek into, and there are exhibits about Grant’s life and the Dent’s life on the plantation.

The exhibits don’t mince words; although historic accounts indicate that the Dents and Grant were most likely fairly kind slave owners overall, Julia seemingly was completely unaware of the hard work these men and women provided for the family.  She spoke about the slaves being able to partake in all food products grown by the farm, as well as several types of meat and fish, without any recognition of the fact that these enslaved people had no freedom to directly benefit from their labors.  Grant himself is known to have owned one slave during his time at White Haven and while working his Hardscrabble Farm.  It is not known whether he purchased William Jones or if he received Jones as a gift; the historical record does show that he freed Jones in 1859.

Oh, and surely you have noticed the bright green paint on the house.  Yes indeed, that paint color was selected by U.S. Grant and his wife Julia when they painted White Haven in 1874; it is called Paris Green.  Do you love it or hate it?!?

And in unrelated news, I happened to have taken one of my favorite selfies here!

I enjoyed wandering around on the farm and seeing the buildings and exhibits.  It was an informative visit!

Circus Trip 2018: Gateway Arch NP

Day 74, Thursday, September 27, 2018
Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, Missouri

In my last post, I explained the history of Gateway Arch National Park, but I was so excited to visit again!  My first visit had been in 2006 with friends, but this would be my first visit by myself.

My first order of business was to purchase my ticket to go up to the top of the arch in their little pod unit.  There is always a bit of a wait for tickets, but going solo means they can fit you in more easily!

While I waited, I checked out the Westward Expansion museum in the basement of the arch.  It is a great museum dedicated to telling the story of the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the West Coast, and the stories of the later pioneers.  It was definitely worth a return visit!

In short order, it was my turn to get into the pod.  I climbed in, and to be honest it is a little bit claustrophobia inducing.  It’s really tight in there, but it helps to look out the window in the pod to see the inside wall of the arch and the machinery that moves the pods up and down through the arch.

Soon I was at the top, and I got to see the incredible view!  The windows in the Arch are very small, but they give a great view of the buildings down below, and the river nearby.  I found the small windows to be good for not making my fear of heights flare up!  There are also some displays that give you some interesting facts about the arch.  Did you know that the Gateway Arch is 630 feet tall, and also 630 feet wide at the base?  You can stay up in the Arch for as long as you want, and then you just line up to catch the next pod going down.  

Afterwards, I headed over to the Old Courthouse, to check it out once again.  It was built between 1839 and 1864, and was the place where the Dred Scott trial first started.  So this courthouse was one of the pivotal places leading up to the Civil War.  The building has been renovated to stabilize it, but many of the historical features are still intact, and it is an incredible building.  I wandered around for a while, checking out the architecture of this amazing courthouse.

There was a lot to see and do here, even though it is a small park.  Soon enough though, it was time to get on the road; I had more I wanted to see nearby!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Kalamazoo, Michigan

Day 72, Tuesday, September 25, 2018
In and around Kalamazoo, Michigan

After more than two months on the road, my car was a bit of a mess.  Staying at my Aunt and Uncle’s place gave me a great opportunity for reorganizing!  You get a few weird looks anywhere when you are laying all of your possessions out on the driveway, but at least this way I could put it out on the concrete and not on campground dirt.

Mom and Dad had 16 jars of cherry preserves that they wanted me to fit in the car, since they had flown out to Michigan on that trip.  Cherry preserves are tough to find out here in Washington – it is apparently a regional flavor!  So I spent a few hours retucking, consolidating, folding and rounding up strays that morning – soon enough I had a neat, controlled environment in the camping car again!  Then it was time for an afternoon of fun with my cousin!

Megan and I headed over first to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts to see some of their exhibits.  Some of the art was very sexually risque, with an entire exhibit of contemporary art of naked men with erections.  Not really my thing, but I guess art offers something for everyone.  There was plenty of other art that was more to my taste, with elaborate blown glass, Western art, and some interesting sculpture.  At any rate, it was a good visit to an art museum I hadn’t seen before.

Next up we did a quick stop at Henderson Castle, a Bed and Breakfast in Kalamazoo.  It is a ten bedroom, seven bathroom castle that was built in 1895 for Frank Henderson and his wife Mary.  Frank’s company made uniforms and regalia for secret societies, fraternal organizations and the military.  It is a beautiful home and it would be fun to stay there!

We ended our afternoon with a couple of stops at wineries in Paw Paw.  We went to St. Julian; the wines were good, but sadly our server was very disengaged.  It was unfortunate, because I always like hearing about the wines and talking with the server.  I did buy a couple of their wines to take home; their sparkling Brut was delicious and I wish I had some now!

Last but not least we went to Lawton Ridge, which was a winery I have visited before in Paw Paw.  We shared our flights so we could try more wines, and enjoyed several.  I ended up buying a bottle and a cute wine t-shirt.  It was a fun visit!

After our day out, we went home to my Aunt and Uncle’s house and had burgers with pickles and olives, and corn on the cob.  Yum!  We watched TV for a bit, but then I went to bed early in order to do some route planning, so I could resume my travels the next morning.  After a week with family, I would be hitting the road again!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Historical Museum of Bay County

Day 67, Thursday, September 20, 2018
Bay City, Michigan

The Historical Museum of Bay County is operated by the non-profit Bay County Historical Society, and is located in Bay City, Michigan.  My Dad grew up in Bay County, living in Munger, a tiny little town that is no longer incorporated.  He attended high school in Bay City because the Catholic School in Munger didn’t go past 8th grade.

The Bay County Historical Society was first created in 1919, and is located within the former National Guard Armory building, that was built in 1910.  The building itself is a beautiful historic structure.

But Mom and I had a different interest in visiting the museum that day.  My grandfather, served in World War I in the Ambulance Corps.  Yes, you read that correctly.  World War ONE.  You see, my grandfather was already well into middle age when he married my grandmother at the age of 48; he was born in 1887.  And when he was serving, they were still using horse and mule drawn ambulances.  My grandfather, having grown up on a farm that used horse drawn plows, would have been a hot commodity on a horse drawn ambulance crew.  

My Grandfather, Circa 1918 in World War I

The Historical Museum of Bay County happens to have a World War I ambulance among their collection that was from my grandfather’s unit.  It was so cool to see!  This ambulance is a motorized one, and we aren’t sure if my grandfather ever used it, as the end of the war was a period of transition from horse drawn to motorized vehicles.  So it might not have been an ambulance that my grandfather used, but wouldn’t that be neat if it was! 

Either way, it felt like a step back in time to experience just a tiny bit of what my grandfather would have experienced when he was in the War.  He also was stationed in France for nine months after the Armistice, as the wounded were still being treated and evacuated back to their home countries.  There was a lot of work to do for a soldier in the Ambulance Corps even after the war ended.  

We checked out the other exhibits at the museum, including Bay County’s history in the logging industry, historic nursing uniforms and the history of the fire service.  We only had a limited amount of time, and there was way more that we didn’t get to!  It was a worthwhile stop, and there is no charge to see it!

 

I never met my grandfather, as he died in 1960, long before I was born, and I never got to hear any of his stories.  It was nice to have some small connection to him. 

Circus Trip 2018: The Soldier’s Home

Day 62, Saturday, September 15, 2018
President Lincoln and Soldier’s Home National Monument, Washington, D.C.

Visiting the Lincoln Cottage at the Soldier’s Home has been a dream of mine for years.  The cottage first came to my attention when I read Lincoln’s Sanctuary, a book by Matthew Pinsker, in 2012. The book documents Lincoln’s use of the home during the summers and early falls of 1862-1864.

Lincoln was bereft after the death of his beloved son Willie in February 1862, of typhoid fever.  So that summer, he and Mary moved to a cottage on the grounds of the Soldier’s Home, a retirement home for aged and infirm war veterans.  Little did they know, it would be a respite for three summers, and would be where he undertook some of the most important decisions of his Presidency, including firing McClellan and drafting the now famous Emancipation Proclamation in the summer of 1862.

Lincoln’s cottage was only declared a National Monument on July 7, 2000, and opened to the public in 2008.  It is still on an active military installation, known today as the Armed Forces Retirement Home, Washington.  As a result of its fairly recent designation, many people, even Lincoln enthusiasts, have not heard of this important Presidential site.  Interestingly, Presidents Buchanan, Hayes, and Arthur also used the home as a summer retreat during their Presidencies.

The home was built between 1842 and 1843, by George Washington Riggs, who later went on to found the Riggs National Bank.  He sold the home and 251 acre property to the government in 1851, when they were looking to establish a home for veterans.  Lincoln and his family fell in love with the relaxed atmosphere of the home.  It was only three miles from the White House, and afforded the President a relatively easy commute on horseback.  Tad made friends with the soldiers who lived there, and was accepted as their mascot of sorts.

Poet Walt Whitman lived along the route of Lincoln’s daily commute, and the two took to greeting each other with a bow each day as Lincoln rode by.  And in a sad ending to his time at the home, the President and Mary were actually there before they took their last carriage ride to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

As the cottage is on an active military installation, you have to go through a check point and show ID to get there.  While you are onsite, you can only visit the cottage and its Visitor’s Center.  There you can purchase tickets and view exhibits, mostly related to the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Outside, there is a statue of Lincoln and his horse.  Perfect for selfies!

But the cottage is the real star.  Cottage is a bit misleading of a term, since it is actually a fairly large home.  It is built in the Gothic Revival style, with ornate gingerbread and gables everywhere.  So pretty!

The tour was fascinating, with the docent sharing stories of Lincoln entertaining people in the sitting room, late at night, in his pajamas and slippers.  Or writing at the desk; the desk here is a replica of the desk that sits in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House.  The cottage is unfurnished, but you can imagine what it would have been like in Lincoln’s day.  I am always in awe when I get to walk in the footsteps of such a great leader.  My visit here was nothing short of incredible, and truly a bucket list item fulfilled.

Circus Trip 2018: National Air and Space Museum

Day 60, Friday, September 14, 2018
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, National Mall, Washington, D.C.

I had one more day to spend in Washington, D.C. that summer, and I got to spend it at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum!

There are so many cool exhibits there, including the original 1903 Wright Flyer, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5B, a Lunar Lander, a space program reentry pod, TWA jetliners, replica hot air balloons and more!

It is such an awesome museum to spend time in – and I really enjoyed it! 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Smithsonian Museum of US History

Day 60, Thursday, September 13, 2018
National Mall, Washington, D.C.

While I was in Washington, D.C., I was able to check out some more of the Smithsonian museums.  I took some time to check out the Museum of US History.  It was so cool! 

I really enjoyed the exhibits there.  I got to see the First Ladies’ gowns, along with Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat.  The museum also includes the U.S. flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.  It was the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner! 

I also got to visit Winchester; Philip Sheridan’s horse during the Civil War.  It isn’t every day that you see a taxidermied horse!

The furniture that Generals Grant and Lee used to sign the surrender at Appomattox is also included in the collections of the museum.  These unassuming chairs and table played a role in the cessation of hostilities after four years of bloody fighting at the end of the Civil War.  If they could only talk!

I also saw the gunboat Philadelphia, which was used during a battle against the British on Lake Champlain, during the Revolutionary War.  Under the leadership of Benedict Arnold, the Americans fought the British to a standstill in October 1776, but the Philadelphia was sunk.  She was recovered from the bottom of Lake Champlain in 1935, along with the 24 pound ball that sunk her.  It is really neat to see how well preserved she is!  Of course Benedict Arnold later went on to become the country’s most famous traitor, but at the time, he was still well thought of by General Washington and many others in the American command. 

There were a lot of other exhibits, and I spent quite a bit of time checking everything out!  This is a must-see museum!

Circus Trip 2018: D.C. Monuments

Day 60, Thursday, September 13, 2018
National Mall, Washington, D.C.

One of the things I really wanted to do the second time I was in Washington, D.C. was to visit the National Mall again and see the monuments that I missed the first time.  I always say that there is never enough time to do everything, and I was excited to see more! 

The Washington Monument, of course, is iconic, and featured in so many photographs!  I was completed in 1885, and stands 555 feet tall.  It is always a favorite!  One day I want to go to the top…

This Doric temple style memorial is the District of Columbia War Memorial, that honors the residents of Washington, D.C. who died in World War I.  It was erected in 1931.  The day that I was there, a couple was getting married! 

The Korean War Memorial was placed in 1995, which several soldiers walking through junipers, meant to represent the terrain they walked through during the war. 

 

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is a relatively new addition, added in 2011.  There are a number of King quotes places on the walls of the monument, and the impressive likeness of Dr. King stands in the center. 

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial honors the President who guided the country through the Great Depression and most of World War II.  A polio survivor who was often confined to a wheelchair, I was glad to see that the memorial represented him as he was in real life.  There are several statues making up this memorial, including men standing in a breadline, and a man listening to one of FDR’s fireside chats over the radio.  I was also happy to see that Eleanor Roosevelt has her own statue here, as she did much to benefit the country separate from FDR.  This memorial was placed in 1997. 

Finally, I visited the Jefferson Memorial, which was completed in 1943.  It has a huge statue of Jefferson, contained within a Neoclassical style building.  It is so beautiful and has a prominent location looking out over the tidal basin. 

I wasn’t the only one enjoying the monuments, of course.  I saw lots of birds there too!  Dozens of ducks, a couple of Great Blue Herons and a Great Egret! 

I enjoyed wandering and seeing all these tributes to strong, influential Americans!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: The House of Seven Gables

Day 57, Monday, September 10, 2018
The House of Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts

First off, I must admit, I never read this book in high school or college.  I did read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s other well-known classic – The Scarlet Letter.

This home in Salem, Massachusetts, was the home of Hawthorne’s cousin during the 1800s; she entertained Hawthorne at the home often.  It is widely believe to be the inspiration for the home in the book.  In the House of Seven Gables, the home plays a large role and takes on the quality of a distinct character.  The dark shadows and creaking floors, the hidden staircase, and rooms tucked into the gables of the home added to the dark ambience of the story.  The cent shop that created the occupation for Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon provided a backdrop for the local children to mock and tease the old woman.  So given all that, what literary nerd wouldn’t want to see the home that inspired this fascinating story?

The House of Seven Gables was originally built in 1668 in Jacobean and Post-Medieval architectural styles, and its original owner, Captain John Turner I, was well off enough to expand it twice while he owned it.  During this period, it was originally believed to have had seven gables.  Future owners updated the interior in the Georgian style, with thick wood paneling, and removed four gables to make it appear more as a Federal style home, which was popular in the late 1700s.

The home was purchased in 1908 by Caroline Emmerton with the intention of preserving the home and opening it for tours, in order to support her work of assisting immigrant families who were settling in Salem in the early 20th century.  Emmerton had the exterior of the home restored to what is believed to be its original appearance, with seven gables.  She also added the cent shop that is currently a feature of the home, as an attraction for the tours. The hidden staircase from Hawthorne’s story was also added at this time.  Over the last hundred years or so, I can only imagine the numbers of people who have toured this home!

It is incredible to me to think about the people (and fictional characters) who have made this their home for the last 350 years!

The tour was really neat, with a couple of bonuses.  You can take photos inside!  And the tour takes you up the hidden staircase!  It was narrow and steep and oh-so-wonderful!  If you are uncomfortable making your way up a steep, narrow, claustrophobic staircase, you can take the regular stairs up.  I think every home should have a hidden staircase!

The grounds and a few other historic homes are on the property and open; visitors can do a self-guided tour.  One of them is the home that Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in.  It was built in 1750 in the Georgian style, and was moved to the House of Seven Gables site in 1958.  Be sure to check out this home!

Of course the gift shop sells copies of The House of Seven Gables, and Hawthorne’s other works, and I did buy the book and read it.  You can read my review here.

This was such an interesting tour for anyone who enjoys historical homes, literature, or both.  At $15 in 2018, it was on the more expensive end of history home tours, but I thought it was worth it!  So whether you read the book or not, I hope you check it out.  I would love to go back!