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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!

 

 

Book Review: Inferno

Inferno, by Dan Brown

You probably know author Dan Brown, and his main character Professor Robert Langdon from the well known book and movie, the DaVinci Code.  Langdon makes his return in this fast paced adventure novel, featuring more mystery and symbols to decode.

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)

Langdon wakes up in the hospital, not understanding where he is or what has happened for the last 36 hours.  He soon learns that someone is trying to kill him, and flees, with the assistance of the doctor who has been treating him in the hospital.  

He discovers he is Italy, and he begins the slow, erratic process of piecing together the story of where he’s been and what he’s been up to.  That is, in between dodging a well-armed and mysterious militia, and a solitary hitman (albeit a woman).  He knows he can’t get caught before he puts the pieces of the puzzle together, but what is it that he’s looking for?  

Langdon uses his talents to read the symbols, and learn what threat is facing the entire world.  Similar to his other novels, Brown weaves history into the story, with a plenty of historic sites and their stories woven in.  And let me just say, after COVID, this story hit a bit close to home…

And with other Dan Brown novels, this thriller has many twists and turns.  You never quite know where you are heading next!  

4 stars.

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!

 

Book Review: Lincoln’s Spies

Lincoln’s Spies, by Douglas C. Waller

Yes, I have to admit I’m a bit of an Abraham Lincoln nerd and definitely a Civil War buff.  I like reading about the less told stories of the Civil War, both North and South. 

When I found this book at the Barnes and Noble last year with Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket, I knew I had to get it!

Lincoln’s Spies is as its name suggests, a book about the spies and intelligence gatherers employed by the Union Army, either as paid employees or volunteers.  They ranged from excellent agents of information to corrupt and ineffective, but there can be no doubt that these spies helped the Union cause.

The book explores in depth the intelligence gathered by Allan Pinkerton and his agents; both the good information and the garbage.  Pinkerton uncovered a likely plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way in to Washington D.C. after his election, and they were able to protect the President-elect.  However, Pinkerton was a huge supporter of General George McClellan and provided grossly inflated Confederate troop numbers, which contributed to McClellan’s unwillingness to aggressively attack Lee’s Army and significantly prolonged the war.

It discusses Lafayette Baker, whose intelligence was often more accurate, but concerns about corruption and side schemes to cash in on government payouts tainted his positive contributions.  And most importantly, Baker did not ferret out the plot to assassinate Lincoln in April 1865, resulting in John Wilkes Booth shooting the President at Ford’s Theatre. 

The author devotes time to George Sharpe, one of the unsung heroes of Army intelligence.  He brought accurate information in with a ring of agents working throughout the south.  General Grant came to rely on Sharpe’s reports.

And last but certainly not least, Elizabeth Van Lew.  A Richmond society woman, she supported the northern cause and used her own money to collect intelligence, and to support Northern soldiers languishing in Richmond’s Confederate prisons.  She was paid a pittance by the U.S. Government for her work, which Stanton considered invaluable.  She risked her reputation and her life to continue supplying information, even as the Confederate authorities investigated her.  She was shunned and ostracized by her southern neighbors and died deeply in debt after the war.  She was a true hero.

The author weaves these stories in with the battles of the war, and examined these characters with such depth that they were three dimensional.  They all had their motives and they all had positive and negative attributes, and Waller brought them to life. 

It was well researched and well written, with nearly a third of the book being footnotes and bibliography.  It is not an easy read, but well worth it.

4 stars.

 

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

This historical novel is based on a true story, and interviews with Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who ends up being sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex of concentration camps during World War II.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz (The Tattooist of Auschwitz, #1)

Lale speaks multiple languages, so he is chosen to be the one who tattoos prisoner numbers on the new arrivals to the camps.  That is, of course, the prisoners who are selected to live, and are not immediately sent to the gas chambers.

Lale resigns himself to his gruesome task and the fact that he receives privileges as a result of his position that others in the camp do not.  One day, he meets a young woman who captures his eye, and his heart.  He decides in that moment, that he will marry her.  But he does not even know who she is.

Lale seeks her out and courts her, a love story in a place of unspeakable horror.  Lale and Gita vow to remain strong for each other, so they can survive the camp together.  Lale begins to use the relative freedom he has to get extra food for the camp prisoners, but he is risking his life to do it.

This story is one that documents the incredible atrocities that occurred that Auschwitz and Birkenau, but also is the story of hope and survival.

Despite the amazing story and the fact that it is true, I found myself not being able to get into it.  I felt that the writing was superficial and glossed over the weight of what truly happened in these concentration camps.  I had a hard time feeling connected to the characters and the tragedies they experienced, because of the lack of depth in the story-telling.  I learned later that the story was originally written as a screenplay, which may explain the more superficial writing style.

It was still a good book, but I felt it could have been so much more.  

3 stars.

Circus Trip 2018: Gateway Arch NP History

Gateway Arch National Park
St. Louis, Missouri

Gateway Arch is a fascinating park with a unique history.  Located in St. Louis, Missouri, it was first established as a National Memorial on December 21, 1935, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  It commemorates three things: The Louisiana Purchase and subsequent westward migration, the first American civil government west of the Mississippi River, and the Dred Scott decision, the monumental Supreme Court decision on slavery that contributed to the fiery debate on slavery and was one of the pivotal events leading up to the Civil War.

Sadly, in the 1940s when they were clearing the land where the arch would eventually be built, they razed several historically significant buildings, including the 1818 home of fur trader Manuel Lisa and the 1819 home of St. Louis pioneer Jean Pierre Chouteau.  I guess those guys didn’t seem as important.  I wish they would have left those homes, or at least moved them to elsewhere on the property!  I guess I’m one who likes as much history as I can get.

The Gateway Arch itself was constructed between 1963 and 1965, and is 630 feet tall, and interestingly, also 630 feet wide at the base.  There is a tram that takes visitors to the top, where you can get a birds-eye view of the river, the park, and the government buildings below.  The basement has an exhibit about Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the Pacific Ocean from 1804 to 1806, and the later migrations of the pioneers.

But one of the best parts of Gateway Arch National Park is the Old Courthouse, which was built between 1839 and 1864.  The Dred Scott case originated here and was tried in 1846, with enslaved Dred Scott suing his master for freedom, because he had been moved to a free state.  You can see the actual courtroom where the case was argued, although the room has been altered to preserve the integrity of the building.

On February 22, 2018, Gateway Arch was made a National Park by President Donald Trump.  It is the nation’s smallest national park, covering only 91 acres.  It contains the Gateway Arch, the park surrounding it, and the Old Courthouse.  Annual visitation in 2019 was 2,055,309.  That’s a lot of people for such a small park.  There is just so much to see and do here.  I’ll share about my visit next!

Circus Trip 2018: Indiana Dunes NP

Day 73, Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Indiana Dunes National Park
Author’s Note: At the time of my visit in 2018, Indiana Dunes was designated as a National Lakeshore.  To avoid confusion, I am using the National Park designation it currently holds.

From my family in Galesburg, Michigan, I drove about an hour and 40 minutes to Indiana Dunes National Park.  I was back in Indiana and had a chance to do some state sign posing!  It is located along about 20 miles of Lake Michigan, with the western part of the park located in Gary, Indiana.

Indiana State Sign

Indiana Dunes protects the sand dunes along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, located about an hour from Chicago.  This area of the lakeshore had many steel mills, and glass companies at the turn of the 20th century found the sand ideal for their glassmaking.  As a result, the dunes were shrinking from all the sand that was being trucked away, and pollution was a huge problem.

Indiana Dunes was authorized by Congress as a National Lakeshore in 1966, and its designation upgraded to National Park status on February 15, 2019 by President Donald Trump.  In 2020, annual visitation was approximately 2,293,000 people.  As it is only about an hour from Chicago, it makes for an easy day trip.

Indiana Dunes National Park

I checked out the Century of Progress Architectural District, a collection of five homes that were relocated to this area after the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.  These homes are privately owned, so you can’t see inside, but it is interesting to see the outside!  The architectural style of the time was very unique and these are good examples!

Indiana Dunes has several trails to the lake, and is a well known spot for birdwatching.  So I wanted to check it out!  I hiked the Dune Succession Trail, a one mile trail that included some dune habitat, grasslands, deciduous forest and of course, the beach and excellent views of the lake.  There were also quite a few mosquitos – YUCK!

I didn’t do too much exploring that day, as I was getting acclimated to traveling again, but there is lots more to see at the park, including more historic homes and farms and many more trails.  I will have to go back there sometime to check it out!  After my visit I got back on the road and headed south to the KOA campground in Springfield, Illinois.  I was going to be heading west along I-70 and was making my way south to do that!

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: South Haven, Michigan

Day 71, Monday, September 24, 2018
South Haven, Michigan

Monday, my cousin had the day off, so we had the opportunity to take a little day trip over to South Haven, Michigan.  We were ready to have a little cousins relaxing time!

Our first stop was at the South Haven Brewpub for lunch.  I had the Philly Cheesesteak and the Sunset Amber Ale; it was a great lunch!  The sun was warm; by the end our lunch, Megan was already getting sunburned!

After lunch, we headed over to Warner Vineyards for a little wine tasting.  There were lots of options, so Megan and I split our tastings.  Megan and I have different palates for wine; Megan likes the sweeter wines and I like the drier ones.

After wine-tasting, we did a little poking around in shops in South Haven.  I got a Michigan zipper hoodie.  It was fun seeing all the cute items.  

We did one more wine tasting that afternoon, at 12 Corners.  I got a couple of bottles there, including their Aromella, which was really good!  

We wrapped up our day with a walk out to the South Haven Light.  It is a beautiful lighthouse, bright red at the end of the pier!  It was a beautiful, sunny day, but it was so windy!  We had a good time getting selfies with the lighthouse and taking photos of the lighthouse too.  

We ended our day with dinner with my parents, and my aunt and uncle at the Chinese buffet.  It was a good day to a fun day!