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Circus Trip 2018: National Museum of the Air Force

Day 34, Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dayton, Ohio

The National Museum of the Air Force is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. It is the oldest and largest military in the world, and it has 360 aircraft and missiles on display. The museum was first created in 1923, with technical artifacts being collected for preservation. In 1954, the museum first opened to the public.

The museum has many rare aircraft and other memorabilia. They have the only surviving North American XB-70 Valkryie, as well as the Bockscar, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki in 1945.

They have a huge collection of planes with interesting and beautiful nose art, which I have long been fascinated with.

One of the artifacts that I love are the goblets and bottle of Cognac given by the City of Tucson, Arizona to the Doolittle’s Raiders. The brave men who participated in the raid each had a goblet with their name engraved on it. When each man died, their goblet is turned over in the case; some men’s goblets were always overturned, as they were killed after they crash landed in China and were captured by the Japanese. The intent was that the last living survivor of the raid was to open the bottle of Cognac and toast the other raiders.  The bottle was from 1896, the year their Commanding Officer, Doolittle, was born.

Several years ago, there were 4 remaining raiders and they decided they wanted to complete the toast before they were down to one; three of them were able to travel to the museum and participate. The museum live-streamed the ceremony and the toast and I had the opportunity to watch. It was powerful to see, and impacted me greatly.  The last Doolittle Raider, Retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, died on April 9, 2018.  What a brave group of men they were!

The museum also had a special exhibit on the Holocaust; artifacts and information related to the concentration camps. The exhibit had information both on civilians and the airmen who were captured and held at the camps.  It was hard to walk through the exhibit and see the faces of those who died or whose lives were destroyed.

There are uplifting exhibits at the museum as well.  According to the Museum’s website, John Silver was a homing pigeon “used in World War I to deliver messages when other means such as telephones, telegraph, radio or dispatch riders were unavailable. They proved their value carrying messages from front line outposts to pigeon lofts at command centers, which they returned to by instinct and training.  John Silver was hatched in January 1918 in a dugout just behind the lines in France. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, he was one of the most active pigeons in the Army, and his barrage-dodging skill was apparent in many exciting flights from the front line trenches to divisional pigeon lofts.

On Oct. 21, 1918, at 2:35 p.m., this pigeon was released at Grandpre from a front line dugout in the Meuse-Argonne drive with an important message for headquarters at Rampont, 25 miles away. The enemy had laid down a furious bombardment prior to an attack. Through this fire, the pigeon circled, gained his bearings and flew toward Rampont. Men in the trenches saw a shell explode near the pigeon. The concussion tossed him upward and then plunged him downward. Struggling, he regained his altitude and continued on his course. Arriving at Rampont 25 minutes later, the bird was a terrible sight. A bullet had ripped his breast, bits of shrapnel ripped his tiny body, and his right leg was missing. The message tube, intact, was hanging by the ligaments of the torn leg. Weeks of nursing restored his health but could not give back the leg he lost on the battlefield. The pigeon became a war hero and earned the name “John Silver,” after the one-legged pirate in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. He was retired from active service and in 1921 was assigned as a mascot to the 11th Signal Company, U.S. Army Signal Corps, Schofield Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii. John Silver died Dec. 6, 1935, at the age of 17 years and 11 months.”  He was a hero! You can read more about him here.

John Silver, the homing pigeon

Outside, they have monuments and sculptures dedicated to various units of the Air Force.

 

I was there for a few hours in the afternoon, but you could easily spend a couple of days here. After two visits, I’m still nowhere near seeing it all, I’m sure!

Circus Trip 2018: William Howard Taft NHS

Day 34, Saturday, August 18, 2018

Cincinnati, Ohio

On my way through Cincinnati I stopped at the William H. Taft National Historic Site.

Taft was the 27th President of the United States, as well as the 10th Chief Justice of the United States.  He was born in 1857, and lived at his family home in Cincinnati, Ohio until he went to Yale University in 1874.  Even before he was President, he achieved many notable accomplishments!  Taft rose quickly through the ranks, becoming a judge while he was still in his twenties and then he was appointed as a judge of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.  He also served as the civilian governor of Philippines, from 1901 to December 1903.

William Howard Taft (from Wikipedia)

Roosevelt spoke with Taft about appointing him to the Supreme Court in 1902, but Taft didn’t feel like his work in the Philippines was finished, and he also still had a desire to run for the Presidency.  One of Roosevelt’s goals that year was to eliminate Taft as a potential rival to the Presidency, as Roosevelt wanted to run himself.  Taft did accept the role of Secretary of War in 1904, and added Presidential Cabinet member to his list of accomplishments.

In 1908 he was elected President against William Jennings Bryan with Theodore Roosevelt’s assistance.  Taft and Roosevelt’s relationship deteriorated due to political disagreements during Taft’s Presidency and ultimately Roosevelt decided to run for President as a third-party candidate and split the vote, resulting in Woodrow Wilson’s win in 1912.

Several years after Taft left the Presidency, he did finally realize his dream of becoming the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1921, and served until his death in 1930.  He was the only person in our nation’s history to serve both as President and as Chief Justice!

The National Historic Site is located in Taft’s birthplace and childhood home in Cincinnati.  The home was built in the Greek Revival style and is believed to have been built in 1842 in the Mount Auburn neighborhood of the city.  At the time, Mount Auburn was a popular place for wealthy residents of Cincinnati, where they could escape the heat and humidity of the inner area of the city.  Taft’s parents lived in the home until 1889, when they moved to California to benefit from the better climate.  The home was leased for ten years, then finally sold to a local judge in 1899.

The exterior of the Taft family home

The home went through the usual decline in the time period after it was sold out of the Taft family.  Outbuildings were destroyed, the home was divided into apartments, and by the time it was acquired by the William Howard Taft Memorial Association in 1953 for $35,000 it was in a sad state of disrepair.  The home needed restoration, and once it was completed, the home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

The home has been restored to the period when William H. Taft lived there during his childhood.  The first floor of the home has rooms decorated in period furnishings, and it’s beautiful!

The upstairs rooms are set up as exhibits, with information on Taft’s life and career.

The home is open as a part of a tour, but you are welcome to go through the upstairs exhibit areas at your own pace and take your time.  The Visitor’s Center has an interesting movie on William H. Taft and his life and career.  Be sure to check it out!  The day that I was there, there was a large bus tour of elderly women, but they were on the tour in front of me; my tour was fairly small.  You can see it all in about 90 minutes; and keep in mind, I go slowly…

Taft wasn’t a President I knew much about, but the William J. Taft National Historic Site provided an interesting overview of an accomplished man.

Circus Trip 2018: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Day 33, Friday, August 17, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

My two days in Lexington were spent at the Boonesboro State Park.  It is a nice wooded park in the tent camping area, with plenty of space between sites.  The bathrooms were large and clean too!  The one thing that the park could not control though, was the rain!  My second night there, it poured.  All. Night. Long.  Everything that I left outside got muddy, and had to be washed off.  My tennis shoes were soaked!  I was really glad that I was snuggled in warm and dry in my car bed that night!

After I wiped down my stuff, packed up and gave my shoes a good wash in the campground shower, I headed out for the day.  I was in the land of Kentucky Bourbon, so I figured that I needed to do some sampling!  Keep in mind that I’m not a Bourbon drinker, so I decided on a distillery that had some history.

Buffalo Trace claims to be the oldest continually operating distillery in Kentucky.  They say that they have been distilling on this site since 1786, which is the same year that Hancock Lee received the title to this land at what was then known as Lee’s Town.  A commercial distillery has certainly been operating here since 1858!

Ready to taste whiskey!

A lightning strike in 1882 burned the distillery, but it was quickly rebuilt using the insurance money (and then some), and kept right on going.  During Prohibition, the distillery got a license to make medicinal liquor, and was able to continue operations when many distilleries shut down.  Today Buffalo Trace Distillery makes a number of whiskey brands, including, Buffalo Trace, Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, Sazerac, Stagg, Wheatley Vodka, and others.

Tours are free and include a tasting at the end, if you are over 21 of course!  Ashley was the docent for my tour; she was fun and had a good sense of humor.  The tour began with a nicely done video about the history of Buffalo Trace and the distilling process.  Then we got to see the aging warehouses, and the bottling line – the day I was there, they were hand-labeling bottles of a limited edition Blanton’s whiskey that was being shipped overseas to Poland of all places!

Then the tasting!  Each person got to choose two samples, and got a dessert sample if you wanted it.  I chose the Buffalo Trace and the Eagle Rare – I figured I was at a whiskey distillery so I should pick whiskey’s instead of the vodka!  I think you could choose the White Dog Mash too, but considering I thought mash was a byproduct and not a liquor, it was not my pick…

Tasting!

 

My samples!

My assessment: The Eagle Rare was smoother and easier to drink.  Both were better with water.  Neither were a drink that I would voluntarily choose…  The Bourbon Cream dessert liquor was good though!  It went quite nicely with root beer!  If I had to choose, that’s what I would have come home with, but I didn’t buy any.

What did I leave with, you ask?  Blanton’s bottle toppers!  Yes, Blanton’s has a signature bottle topper; a race horse, and there are seven different styles to collect.  And here at the distillery you can collect the bottle toppers for $3.50 apiece instead of shelling out $65 for a bottle of Bourbon!  They also had adorable Blanton’s mini-bottles (sans booze) (also $3.50) with adorable mini race horse toppers!  Yes, it’s ok, I’m a nerd and I know it, but I was so excited!

After my tasting, I headed to the onsite sandwich shop, The Fire House, and ordered a pulled pork sandwich with sweet BBQ sauce and potato salad.  So good!  It was nice sitting outside in the warm sunshine, now that the rain had gone.

I had a great sandwich here!

 

Pulled pork and potato salad

That night I made my way to Cincinnati for an overnight stop and since there aren’t that many campgrounds in or near Cincinnati, I had a rare night in a hotel.  I did my laundry, and watched TV!  It was a nice break from camping!

Circus Trip 2018: Henry Clay’s Ashland

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington was home to another prominent historical figure of the early to mid-1800s; a contemporary of Mary Todd Lincoln’s father, and definitely where she picked up some of her interest in politics.

Henry Clay, Sr. was born in 1777, and was influential in a long career in U.S. politics, from 1803 to his death in June 1852.  Henry Clay served in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, the U.S. Speaker of the House, a United States Senator, and Secretary of State during John Quincy Adams’ Presidency.  He became known as the Great Compromiser, for his role in diffusing a number of charged political disagreements during his career.

Despite his impressive political career, Clay’s ultimate goal eluded him.  He was a candidate for the Presidency three times: in 1824, 1832, and 1844.  In addition, he also sought the nomination in 1840 and 1848, but did not gain the support to be selected as the nominee.

Clay held a moderate view on slavery that was popular at the time; he believed slaves should be gradually emancipated, and he also promoted the idea of colonization, that is, returning freed slaves to Africa.  Clay inherited slaves as a young child and owned them his entire life, but historical documents of the time period show that he treated his slaves relatively well.  He was known to rarely split up families, and no evidence of him raping any of his female slaves or fathering children with them exists.  He freed his slaves upon his death in 1852.  Clay also consistently supported the recognition of Haiti as an independent nation; it was founded through a slave revolt.

At Clay’s estate in Lexington, Ashland, he was a farmer and innovator.  He imported the first Hereford cattle to the United States in 1817, and was an early enthusiast of horse racing.  He bred and refined race horses, and raced his own under buff and blue colors (the colors of the Whig party).  Eleven descendants of Clay’s horses have won the Kentucky Derby, which was first run in 1875.  He grew hemp, and manufactured hemp rope for the cotton industry.

Henry Clay also had a huge influence on an idol of mine – Abraham Lincoln. The first time Lincoln voted for a President, he voted for Henry Clay in 1832.  He campaigned for Clay in later elections, and heard Clay give a speech in 1847.  Abraham and Mary stopped in Lexington for three weeks in 1847 to visit her family on their way to Washington after Lincoln had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Although the historical record does not say if Lincoln and Clay met during his time in Lexington or had corresponded before or after, I would like to think that they did.  A book of Clay’s speeches was recently discovered, showing that Clay had given it to Lincoln with this inscription, ”To Abraham Lincoln with constant regard to friendship H. Clay 11 May 1847.”

Lincoln delivered a eulogy of Clay in Springfield after his death in 1852, and frequently quoted Henry Clay in his later speeches.  Clay’s son John sent Lincoln a snuff box owned by his father in 1864; Lincoln’s letter to John indicates that he treasured the gift.

The home at Ashland was built in stages, with the center section of the home originally completed in 1809.  By 1811, Clay planned extensions, and the side wings were completed in the next year or two.  The home was designed in the Federal style, with the wings designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.  Unfortunately, after Clay’s death in 1852, his widow Lucretia moved in with their son John, and the home was purchased by another son James.  The home was in such a state of disrepair that James felt that his only option was to raze and rebuild it.

James saved all of the pieces that he could from the original home, then had it rebuilt on the original foundation using the original architectural drawings.  After his death it was sold out of the family but returned when Clay’s granddaughter purchased it 16 years later.  They owned it until it was opened as a museum in 1950.  The home now contains features as originally designed, as well as Italianate, Victorian and Eastlake styles.

The tour is interesting, focusing on Henry Clay’s life and the features of the home.  You can visit the grounds, including an original ice house and the reconstructed formal garden, on your own.  And let me just say, you have no idea how many photos I took of that bumblebee trying to get one in focus!  I give myself a B-, but an A for effort (ha!)…

Unfortunately, no photos are permitted inside, but it is still well worth the visit!

Circus Trip 2018: Mary Todd Lincoln House

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

The Mary Todd Lincoln House itself was built between 1803 and 1806, and originally served as an inn.  If you don’t know Mary Todd Lincoln or why you should care about her family home, she was the wife of our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. Mary’s father, Robert Todd, purchased the 14 room mansion in 1832 and lived here until his death in 1849.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House

 

Mary Todd Lincoln – 1846 – from Wikipedia

Mary was born in 1818, and didn’t move here until 1832, and even then, spent much of her time living in a boarding school for girls about a mile away.  Even though she could have traveled back and forth to school from home, she felt that staying at the school was a better option; she described the school as being more of a home for her than the home with her father and stepmother.  In her late teens, Mary moved to Springfield to live with her sister.  That’s my long way of saying that Mary Todd Lincoln really didn’t spent much time living in the Mary Todd Lincoln House, even though it was the family home during a part of her childhood.

Unfortunately, legal disputes after Todd’s death meant that the home was auctioned.  In the days after it left the Todd family, it was used as a boarding house, a grocery store, and even a brothel.  By the 1950s, the home was in rough shape, and a grassroots campaign began to save the home.  It was opened as a museum in 1977, making it the first museum dedicated to a First Lady.

Due to the fact that it is dedicated to Mary Todd Lincoln’s life, it tells a different story of her than is frequently depicted.  They are honest about her struggles with grief and mental illness but they also share that Mary was a very intelligent woman who played an enormous role in shaping her husband’s political career.  Abraham Lincoln married up; Mary Todd came from the upper class – high society of the West.  She knew politics, was very ambitious, and was not a woman content to wait in the wings in what was a society controlled by men.  The docents let visitors know about Mary’s qualities and her genteel upbringing.  They share openly about her trouble with her stepmother, and the fact that her father was often absent.  It was Mary’s sisters who felt more like mothers to her.

The home has been restored to what it would have looked like when Mary Todd Lincoln lived here, and they have been able to acquire some of the original Todd furnishings and household goods that were in the home.

They also have artifacts from Mary’s later life, including an original advertisement announcing the last night of Our American Cousin from its run at Ford’s Theatre, the play that Mary and Abraham attended the night Lincoln was assassinated.  If you read the date, you see that it was advertising the last night as Friday, April 14, 1865, the very night Lincoln was shot.

An advertisement for Our American Cousin

The docents at the home really do a great job of telling the story of Mary as her own person, rather than an extension of her later President husband.  As I have said, they are honest and candid about her shortcomings.  However, they also explain that her own and President Lincoln’s opponents painted an unfair portrait of her in the media, and their later “tell all” books.  Sensationalism drives sales; this hasn’t changed since the 1800s, and what better way to make a buck?

They allow photos within the home (yay!) and allow enough time in each room for guests to see everything and ask questions.  They really encourage questions even!  This was my second visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln Home, and it is still one of the best home museums I have been to.  If you are in Lexington, do visit!

 

 

 

Astoria Weekend: A Fort and a Column

Day 3, Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sunday morning of our Astoria trip, we found a little breakfast place called Arnie’s Cafe, just south of Astoria (in Warrenton) and stopped for a bite. The food was delicious, and there was no wait! We must have gotten there at just the right time though because it got busy after we were seated!

After breakfast we headed to Fort Stevens State Park to explore. I have blogged about Fort Stevens before, home of the Peter Iredale shipwreck, and a historic battery dating from before World War I. We checked out the beach first, and of course explored the shipwreck! The kids had fun writing their names in the sand and looking for shells and interesting rocks. Unfortunately, this stretch of the beach, on the open ocean, isn’t known for having many intact shells.

The kids took off their shoes and waded in the water, despite the fact that it was a pretty cool day! That’s par for the course in the Pacific Northwest I suppose, having your hood up and tightly cinched around your head, while wading barefoot in the ocean. It was windy!

After we had our fill of the beach, and needed to warm up, we headed over to the battery. The Fort Stevens battery was built between 1863 and 1864, an earthwork battery meant to stand as a sentry to the threat of invasion by sea, and to stand guard over the mouth of the Columbia River.  They were more concerned about invasion by the British though, as there were long standing territorial disputes in the region. The fort was expanded and the current concrete batteries were constructed in 1897.

Thankfully, invasions never came, but the battery was shelled by a Japanese submarine on June 21, 1942.  The shells fell harmlessly away from the fort, and no damage was done; the Fort Commander did not allow his men to even return fire.  The battery was decommissioned after World War II and the guns were removed by 1947; it became part of Fort Stevens State Park. It is open to the public, and young and the young at heart can climb up on its walls and explore its rooms and stairways.

And if you are like me, you can step off a step, suddenly discover you stepped wrong, twist your ankle, fall down, and skin your knee. Yep. Not often, but sometimes, I’m a real klutz. Oops. It really hurt! Of course, it also hurt my pride as the flash of pain left me unable to get up for a few minutes, and the nice man down below watched me hit the concrete and called up to ask if I was ok? Yeah… I will need to sit here on my butt in the middle of the path for a minute though! I was undeterred in my adventure seeking, and not willing to give up on our day, so I soon powered through the pain and walked it off. OUCH!

Our next stop for the day was the Astoria Column. Built in 1926 as a way to showcase the history of the area and its discovery in 1811, the column is 125 feet tall and has an internal staircase rising 164 steps to the top. You can buy balsa wood airplanes for $1 at the Visitor’s Center; the kids enjoyed climbing to the top of the tower to launch them off the top. What fun and the views are spectacular!

That evening, we endured a long wait at Buoy Beer Company, but the kids were entertained by the plexiglass in the floor that allowed them to watch a huge male sea lion lounging on the dock below. The adults were entertained by the ability to enjoy a beer anywhere in the brewery, so we could relax with a cold one while we waited for a table. The food was amazing – I loved my fish and chips! The Champagne IPA was delicious!

Our last adventure of the day was to catch the sun lowering in the sky, and to drive over the Astoria-Megler Bridge into Washington. The bridge was opened in 1966 and is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America at 4.067 miles long. The sunset was beautiful, and a nice end to a great long weekend, as the next morning it was time to head home and back to real life.  What a wonderful getaway!

President’s Day Weekend 2020

It’s late, and time for bed, but I just wanted to check in.  I got home a few hours ago from a wonderful, fun, relaxing, energizing weekend in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  Jeff and I spent the weekend at Champoeg State Park in a little cabin; it was just what I needed.  Here’s to a short work week!

P.S. And a happy belated birthday to my favorite President, Abraham Lincoln.