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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: 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: River Raisin NBP

Day 65, Tuesday, September 18, 2018
River Raisin National Battlefield Park, Monroe, Michigan

Remember the Raisin!

Seriously though, who remembers the raisin?  I’m quite confident that I never knew about it in the first place, making it impossible to remember the raisin.  If this is a thing, and they assured me at River Raisin National Battlefield Park that it is indeed a thing, its reach has been limited, at least in the last 200 years.

The War of 1812 was the impetus for the Battle of Frenchtown.  It had been occupied by the British, as a part of their larger occupation of the area around Detroit, Michigan; of course that was before Michigan was a state.  So the British occupied the area and the Americans, under the command of Brigadier General James Winchester, decided to try to drive the British out of Frenchtown on January 18, 1813.  Of course, Winchester was defying orders; he was supposed to be remaining within supporting distance of Major General William Henry Harrison’s (yes! the later President) column about 30 miles south.  Oops.

So Winchester went rogue and allowed Lieutenant Colonel William Lewis to attack Frenchtown with 666 troops, most of them inexperienced regulars and volunteers from Kentucky.  They crossed the frozen Maumee and Raisin rivers and after a brief battle, they did manage to take Frenchtown.  Harrison didn’t like that Winchester and Lewis defied his orders,but he was pleased that Frenchtown was back in American hands.  The British were less than pleased.

The British, as you can guess, set about sending troops from Fort Malden and got to Frenchtown on January 22.  The locals tried to warn Winchester that a large column of British was coming, but he ignored the warning, thinking that the British would need more time to prepare an attack.  Big oops.

The British and allied Potawatomi tribe attacked and basically annihilated the Americans.  In less than an hour, over 300 were killed and about 500 were taken prisoner.  Anyone who could walk was force-marched to Fort Malden; those who fell behind were killed.  But those left behind at Frenchtown didn’t suffer a better fate.  The Native Americans set fire to the homes that housed the injured soldiers; those that could escape were shot as they exited the buildings.  The others were burned alive.

Winchester screwed up in not heeding the warning of the impending arrival of the British.  If he had moved his troops away from Frenchtown, it is likely that the reinforcements from Harrison’s Army would have arrived and changed the outcome of the battle.  As it was though, news of the massacre traveled far and wide and incited feelings of horror among Americans.  In fact, Kentucky, having lost many prominent citizens in the battle and massacre, encouraged many new enlistments for the war.

The National Battlefield Park is relatively new and there isn’t much there.  It officially opened in 2011.  The Visitor’s Center had some interesting exhibits and a movie on the battle, and you can walk an open field with some historical markers.  They have plans to reconstruct some of the buildings and acquire surrounding lands to protect more of the battlefield.  They are making progress, as they opened a new Visitor’s Center since I was there – it’s huge!  It will be interesting to visit again in another 10 or 20 years to see how it has changed!

Circus Trip 2018: Antietam

Day 64, Monday, September 17, 2018
Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland

I was due to start heading west to Michigan for my cousin’s wedding and to spend some time with family.  But along the way, of course, I planned to sightsee!

Antietam National Battlefield was on my list.  I had visited back in 2008, but a freak snow storm deposited approximately 1/4 inch of snow that had shut down the Visitor Center (and I thought we were bad about snow in Washington state).  I was determined to return.  Too bad the rain this time was insane!

Antietam (called the Battle of Sharpsburg in the south), was a Civil War Battle that occurred on September 17, 1862, and remains to this day the bloodiest day in American history.  22,717 Union and Confederate solders were killed, wounded or missing that day.  Of course, it also has other historical significance.  Although it was technically a draw, General McClellan and his Union troops were able to stop Confederate General Lee’s advance into Maryland.  That was enough of a victory for President Lincoln, and he used the opportunity to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, which would take effect on January 1, 1863 in Confederate controlled areas.

The battlefield land was established as a park on August 30, 1890 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Approximately 385,000 people visit each year.

I first stopped at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, which was supposed to be open that day.  It was just starting to rain.  The Pry House was General McClellan’s headquarters during the battle and now has Civil War field hospital exhibits inside, so I was very interested in seeing it.  Unfortunately, it was locked up tight – thwarted again!

So I headed over to the Visitor’s Center, and was happy to find it open.  I sat in on a Ranger presentation about the battle; where things happened, and how the battle unfolded.  The Visitor’s Center has a viewing area for these presentations on the second floor, so you get a good view of the layout of the field and can see a visual of what the Ranger is discussing.  It was interesting!

Then I went out on the auto tour.  I stopped by Dunker Church and took a peek inside. 

I drove through Miller’s farm, where the fighting began on the morning of the battle.  I climbed to the top of the Observation Tower.  By this time, it had started to rain really hard, and the wind was kicking up, creating quite a sway at the top of the tower!

By the time I made my way over to the Burnside Bridge, which I REALLY wanted to see, it was a torrential downpour.  I was sad, but ultimately decided to skip it, as I’m not even sure I would have been able to see it if I walked over to it.  Which just means I will have to go back!  One day, I will see Antietam as it should be seen.

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.

COVID Diaries: Day 577

Sometimes, I day dream to maintain my sanity.  I think about all the things that I’ll have more time for once I retire.  All the things I want to do, or do again, or see.

Travel: I cannot wait to get back on the road and travel regularly again.  A new job a few years ago, then COVID, and I’m itching to stretch my wings again.  I have so many places on my bucket list!

Reading: Admittedly, I read a lot now.  But there are so many books and so little time!  History, historical fiction, biographies, novels… So many books sitting on my shelves and on my IPod just waiting to be picked up and loved.

Rock-hounding: This is a new pursuit.  I mean, I have always loved rocks, but I have gotten way more interested in the last year. Probably because it’s outdoors, and away from other people.  You can walk gorgeous beaches, or meandering rivers, and see what you find.

Photography: I have enjoyed photography for a long time.  Ever since that day at Yellowstone National Park when I was about six, and my dad told me I could take one photo of anything I want.  I chose an elk carcass.  Yes, that somewhat morbid nature has remained with me.  Yes, I still take photos of carcasses…  But I also take photos of beautiful landscapes and live animals!

Hiking: Getting out and enjoying nature and exercising has been so healing and grounding for me.  I dream of taking new trails and going to new parks.

Puzzles: I have so much fun working on a puzzle!  Enough said.

Family: My job has meant long hours, and sometimes a long commute.  I’ll have more time to spend with family and friends!  Hopefully, coupled with traveling, hiking, rock-hounding and puzzles.

Maybe I’ll pick up some new hobbies too.  I have always wanted to cook better; maybe it will be a time to work on my skills. I would like to do a vegetable garden too!

That day is getting closer all the time…

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!