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Circus Trip 2018: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP

Day 31, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hodgenville, Kentucky

I have for so long wanted to visit the site where our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln was born.  I have seen where he was a young man, where he was a lawyer, where he was President, and where he died…  It was so humbling to stand at the place where this great man began his life!

Sign Posing!

Lincoln was born here at Sinking Spring Farm (named for the water source) on February 12, 1809; he lived here for the first two years of his life.  His parents, Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln made their living as farmers, and contrary to the usual story, Lincoln didn’t grow up particularly poor, by the standards of the day.  He did move around a lot though, as the family had to leave Sinking Spring Farm after a dispute about the ownership of the land.  They moved to nearby Knob Creek Farm in 1811, when Lincoln was two years old.

The Lincoln family Bible

The birthplace memorial here was completed in 1911, a few years after the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  A huge marble and granite Memorial Building was built between 1909 and 1911, in Greek and Roman architectural styles.  It has 56 steps up to the building, to represent the 56 years that Lincoln was alive. Sixteen windows on the building and sixteen rosettes on the ceiling represent the fact that he was our nation’s 16th President.  Inside, a symbolic birth cabin gives visitors an idea of what the cabin where Lincoln was born might have looked like.

The symbolic birth cabin was moved to the site when the Memorial Building was constructed, and had to be made smaller to fit inside the building, and to more accurately represent what Lincoln’s first home probably looked like.  At the time the Memorial Building was constructed, many people actually believed that this was the cabin where Lincoln was born.  Later technology allowed them to do dendochronology (tree ring analysis) in 2004 to determine that the cabin was not built until the 1840s, so it could not have been Lincoln’s birthplace.

When I first arrived, it had been pouring down rain, so I hurried into the Visitor’s Center and then hurried over to the Memorial Building.  When I went back outside, the sun had come back out!  I went down the 56 steps of the Memorial Building to check out Sinking Spring, the water feature which gave the farm its name.  Sinking Spring is an underground spring, with an outlet to the surface set down into a hole; this was certainly the first water Abraham Lincoln ever drank!

Knob Creek Farm is also part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park; it is located ten miles away from Sinking Spring Farm.  Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, this portion of the park was not staffed, so I didn’t get to see inside this cabin.  It was also not original to Lincoln or his family, but belonged to the family of one of the Lincolns’ neighbors.  The young boy who lived in this cabin is thought to have once saved young Abe Lincoln’s life when he fell into Knob Creek.  The cabin was moved here when the historical park was created.  It was peaceful and quiet and interesting to see another place where Lincoln spent time as a child; he lived here from the ages of two to seven.  Another land ownership dispute caused the family’s move to Indiana.

There were several signs posted indicating that Copperhead snakes make their home in the area.  I didn’t see any, but also didn’t go tromping off through the field to the creek!

After leaving Lincoln behind for the day, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, where I would be stopping for the night.  I saw a highway sign advertising Wildside Winery and decided to check it out!  They had good wines, and a nice selection of both dry and sweet wines.  I enjoyed talking with my server – it was his first day working at the winery – but he had lived in Brookings, Oregon for eight years, so we had the Pacific Northwest in common!  I purchased four bottles; one was their Wild Duet.  Sadly, they are all long gone now – but they were delicious!

That evening I camped at Boonesboro State Park in Lexington; the first of two nights I would spend there!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mammoth Cave NP

Day 30, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

I was excited to visit Mammoth Cave National Park!  I drove down from Louisville for the day and entered the Park on the Flint Ridge Road.  Note: the Park’s website warns visitors to disregard GPS directions, which can take you the wrong way.  My GPS took me this alternate way, but still managed to get me to where I needed to go, with a bonus of seeing a section of the park that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise!

The drawback was that I either somehow missed the entrance sign or there wasn’t one.  I saw a sign on the main road on the way out, but it wasn’t like the typical National Park entrance sign – it left a lot to be desired.  I guess that’s just a reason to go back!

This was the only sign I found!

The Flint Ridge Road takes you by the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church and Cemetery.  The original church was built in 1827; the current building is from 1927.  It is in rough shape, with a hole in the back door, no electricity or other conveniences, and a very old, rustic outhouse in back.  It was very remote, just a few miles from the main Visitor’s Center for the park. I got out and checked it out; the door to the church is not locked, so anyone can go inside.  It was so eerily quiet there, it made me a little nervous…

I wandered the cemetery and read some of the headstones as well.  Floyd Collins is buried in the cemetery.  He died in 1925 after a rock collapse trapped him in Sand Cave, a newly discovered cave nearby; attempts to rescue him made the national news and kept people waiting for word for over two weeks, but ultimately he had died of starvation by the time rescuers reached him.

Sadly the church was vandalized with orange spray paint in September, about a month after my visit.  The trail to go see the entrance to Sand Cave is here too, but I didn’t take the opportunity to hike it.  I’m kicking myself now!

When I got to the Visitor’s Center, I chose to do the Historic Tour.  It was interesting, and explored the long history of cave use.  Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world with over 400 miles of explored cave passages.

Native Americans used the cave for thousands of years and then stopped.  In the late 1700s, Americans in the area began to use the cave for saltpeter mining; saltpeter is used in the manufacture of gunpowder.  They couldn’t get it anymore from the British due to the Revolutionary War, so local suppliers could make a good profit!

After the war the need for saltpeter dried up so they opened the caves up for commercial tours.  They had used slaves to mine the saltpeter; the slaves learned how to navigate in the caves, which was helpful in their later work as tour guides.  The tour takes you by some of the old saltpeter mining equipment, which was left in the cave after the commercial viability of the venture dried up.

Mammoth Cave was also used for a brief period as a tuberculosis sanitarium – unfortunately it proved ineffective at helping people with tuberculosis.  Total darkness experiments in the cave were also short-lived.

Unfortunately for me, the “Historic” section of the cave isn’t really all that pretty.  This section of the cave has the largest rooms, but there aren’t a lot of beautiful “cave features” that you see in other caves. And you will certainly be disappointed in my photos; it is very dim inside and they don’t let you use flash…  I did enjoy seeing the “graffiti” from the early 1800s; I saw one signature from 1839!

On my next visit I want to do the “Domes and Dripstones Tour”; this tour shows visitors the stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a huge dripstone section called Frozen Niagara, named because it looks like Niagara Falls when it is frozen in the winter.  The Extended Historic Tour is also on my list, because you get to see the stone huts that remain from the period when Mammoth Cave was used as a tuberculosis sanitarium.  That would be cool!

I really enjoyed my visit, but would also love to do more hiking there.  Temperatures were in the 90s with high humidity the day that I visited so I opted not to hike.  It would be fun to stay and camp there too!  You can also float the river, or kayak there!

I stayed that night at the Glendale Campground in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, a convenient jumping off point for my explorations the next day!  This family owned campground was only $20, and my campsite was right near a pond where a Green Heron was fishing!

Mammoth Cave NP History

Mammoth Cave National Park is located in central Kentucky.  It is named for its huge size; it is the largest cave system known in the world, at over 400 miles of explored passageways.  Cave exploration continues today, and new passages are found and mapped each year, so it really is anyone’s guess who large the cave system really is.  The whole area has many caves, so it is likely that some of these other caves are really just part of this one giant cave system!  The park was created on July 1, 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the cave at that point had close to 150 years of exploration and commercial exploitation by then.

Mammoth Cave was first discovered by white settlers in 1797; the owners of the land discovered this and several other caves nearby.  It has been known to Native Americans for thousands of years; they were known to enter the cave to extract the gypsum deposits here.  Native Americans also buried some of their dead in the cave, the cool, dry conditions of certain areas in the cave were perfect for mummification; several Native American mummies were discovered in the cave during the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the mummified remains of a man who was crushed by a boulder while mining in the cave.

Mammoth Cave first became a commercial venture during the War of 1812, when British supplies of saltpeter were unavailable; saltpeter is a component in the manufacture of gunpowder – pretty important when we were at war with the British!  Slaves were brought in to mine the saltpeter deposits, but after the war, the demand dried up.  Enterprising owners decided to try their hand at the tourist trade and Mammoth Cave was opened up to tours by the 1830s.  Slaves guided many of the tours, and even after the Civil War, African American guides played an important role in the tourism industry and the exploration of the cave.

In the early 1900s, interest began mounting for the creation of a National Park; however, like many of the parks in the East, the land here was already long settled with thriving communities.  The process of buying these settlers out of their land and seizing other parcels through eminent domain created lots of bitter feelings that lasted years after the park’s creation.  As a result, Mammoth Cave still has the remnants of these communities, including old churches and cemeteries.

The cave system is a limestone cave, with many different features; parts of the cave are very dry – so dry in fact that one of the commercial ventures that was attempted in the 1800s was a tuberculosis sanitarium (it was short lived).  Other sections are wet areas, and the Green River even runs through a portion of the cave.  The cave is home to several species of bats (which are struggling with white nose syndrome, a fungal infection), eyeless fish, and a cave specific species of eyeless shrimp.  I know you are wondering, and no, there have been no woolly mammoths discovered in mammoth cave; it really is named for its giant size.  Caves are so interesting!

Mammoth Cave has several types of tours, from the Historic tour where you can see the original entrance to the cave and see the old evidence of saltpeter mining, to lantern tours and caving tours.  There is also camping and hiking on the surface as well!

Despite its easily accessible location, Mammoth Cave only receives about a half million visitors each year (approximately 533,000 in 2018).  I’m not sure why, but it was busy the day that I was there.  I will tell you about my visit in an upcoming post!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Churchill Downs

Day 29, Monday, August 13, 2018

Louisville, Kentucky

Most years, I sit in my living room on the first Saturday in May and watch the Kentucky Derby on TV.  Live from Churchill Downs, the field of colts and a few fillies attempt to become the winner of the Derby and have a chance at winning the Triple Crown, a title which has become the most prestigious in horse racing.  The Kentucky Derby is the first race of the Triple Crown, which also contains the Preakness and the Belmont, raced at other tracks around the country over a five week stretch.

I have always wanted to visit Churchill Downs, especially on Derby Day, to see the crazy hats and feel the excitement of race day!  I spent a few days in Louisville and had a chance to visit the racetrack, although there wasn’t any racing going on that day.  For $15, you can visit the track’s museum and get a tour of the track.  Considering that pre-sale event prices to the infield for the Kentucky Derby start at $65 and $85 on the day of the race, $15 is pretty good!  Of course, other racing days at Churchill Downs aren’t so expensive, so a typical day at the track can be pretty affordable if you aren’t betting and losing!  One day, I will be there on Derby Day!

Churchill Downs opened in 1875; after Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. (William Clark’s grandson) leased the land from his uncles John and Henry Churchill, a prominent Louisville family for many years.  Clark sold subscriptions to the racing club, and used the money to develop the track.  Racing has occurred here since that time, with a number of changes to the track over the years.  The first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875, which means that 2020’s Derby will be the 146th running!

The iconic twin spires on the grandstands weren’t placed until 1895, but have survived weather events since that time, including a tornado that damaged the stables.  The grandstands seat about 50,000, but it is standing room only on the infield on Derby Day and the crowds can grow to almost 170,000 people!

My tour ticket included an interesting movie on the history of the track.  They usher you into a large oval shaped room, and you sit on swivel stools to watch the film, which is projected on the wall above you all around the oval room.  You can swivel on your stool to get a better view of the scenes, and because it is above you, nobody’s head is in the way!  Then the docent took us out to the track – you get to see the grandstands, the saddling area, the track, the winner’s circle and the other views you see on television when you watch the Derby on TV.  They have plaques showing all of the names of the Kentucky Derby winners over the years, and marking the names of those who won the Triple Crown.  Of the 146 winners of the Derby, only thirteen of them have also won the Triple Crown.  Three of the Derby winners have been fillies.

The tour was a bit canned; they clearly have memorized a script and move the tour groups along pretty quickly, but it was really interesting to see the track!  The museum was cool too, with exhibits on the history of the track and the horses that have raced there.  They had a display of hats and the tradition of crazy hats at the Derby, a display of the horseshoes that race horses wear, and an exhibit on the history of African Americans in the Churchill Downs racing industry.  Thirteen of the fifteen horses in the first Kentucky Derby were ridden by African American jockeys, and fifteen of the first twenty-eight Derbies were won by black jockeys.  Of course, it took a long time for them to be recognized for these accomplishments.

One of the Derby’s three winning fillies

After the tour, I did enjoy the restaurant at the track.  They had a special where you could try a Mint Julep and keep the commemorative glass (which actually turned out to be a Kentucky Oaks stemless wine glass, rather than a traditional mint julep cup, but I liked that too).  I use it all the time!  I learned that I’m not a fan of Mint Juleps – I don’t think I’ll ever be a Bourbon girl…  I did learn that I love Louisville Hot Brown though!  It was a very messy sandwich, with Texas toast, turkey, bacon, tomato, cheeses and herbs all cooked together in a casserole dish, and it was so delicious!  The one at Churchill Downs was so full of gooey goodness I didn’t even know it was supposed to be a sandwich until I looked up the recipe.  I haven’t had it since, but maybe I should try to make it at home sometime!

Louisville Hot Brown and a Mint Julep

After my visit to the track, I drove around Louisville to check out some of the historic homes, and then went back to my campground to relax at the pool.  It was a fun day!

The pool at the Louisville KOA

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Lincoln Boyhood NM

Day 28, Sunday, August 12, 2018

Lincoln City, Indiana

After I left the Indiana Military Museum, I had one more stop I wanted to make in Indiana.  I was headed to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

The site was home to Abraham Lincoln and his family for 14 years, from 1816 – 1830.  Lincoln was only 7 when Thomas Lincoln moved the family to Indiana, after losing his previous homestead due to bad surveying and challenges to land titles.

Unfortunately for the Lincoln family, white snake root plant grew widely in the area; cows ate the plant and their milk and meat became contaminated and poisonous to humans.  Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, ended up dying of the milk sickness in 1818, when Lincoln was 9 years old.

Lincoln’s older sister Sarah became Lincoln’s caregiver, until Thomas Lincoln remarried another Sarah, Sarah Bush Johnston, who nurtured Lincoln’s children as if they were her own.  The blended family and one of Lincoln’s cousins all lived in the one room cabin together.

Lincoln lived in the settlement until he was 21; in 1830 Thomas Lincoln moved the family to Central Illinois.  The homestead faded into obscurity until interest was renewed in 1879.  Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s grave was discovered, as well as the graves of several others who had died over the years at the settlement.

In the 1920s, funds were raised to do an archaeological study to learn more about life in the community during the time Lincoln lived there.  The site became Lincoln State Park in 1932 and ownership of the land was transferred to the National Park Service to create the National Memorial in 1962.  The living farm on site was created in 1968.

When I visited, I checked out the Memorial Building, which has a movie about Lincoln’s childhood, as well as exhibits about the Lincoln’s time in Indiana.  The Park Service has a few of Thomas Lincoln’s possessions on display.  After I saw the Memorial Building, I walked down the trail to see Lincoln’s mother’s grave, and the reconstructed settlement site.

The cabin where Lincoln lived with his family is long gone, but flagstones and a reconstructed hearth mark the outline of where the cabin was.

Me with the foundation of the original cabin

Reconstructed barns and cabins provide visitors a sense of what life was like on the frontier during Lincoln’s time there.  Historical interpreters are there to answer questions and describe what they are doing during their days.

There is also a trail where you can see various stones from important times in Lincoln’s life.  There is a stone from the store Lincoln owned in New Salem, Illinois, as well as a stone from the boarding house where Lincoln was taken after he was shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.  There are twelve stones in all, with explanations of where they came from.

A stone from the Berry-Lincoln store

It was interesting to see what life would have been like for Lincoln as a child and young adult.  The site has been planted with new trees that better represent what the land would have looked like 200 yeas ago, and about 150,000 people visit annually.   I enjoyed checking it out, and talking to the interpreters.  It was so profound to be able to walk where Lincoln had walked as a child and young man!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Indiana Military Museum

Day 28, Sunday, August 12, 2018

Vincennes, Indiana

Sunday morning was my last day in Vincennes.  Although I loved the town, I needed to keep moving east!  I did want to visit one last place before I headed out; the Indiana Military Museum.

This museum is obviously a labor of love for a military collector.  They had thousands of artifacts displayed, packed in a series of display cases and floor space.  They had weapons, vehicles, uniforms and other military artifacts.  They also had crossover items, including needlepoint and sewing made by the spouse of veterans, military movie memorabilia and an assortment of eclectic items that once belonged to Indiana Veterans.

The highlight of the museum was Sergeant Carey, a Veteran volunteer who showed me around.  He served from 1957 to 1963, then rejoined 20 years later and served for another 13 years.  He took so much pride in his volunteer assignment, and truly enjoyed pointing out some of his favorite pieces.

The photographs of New York City and the Twin Towers taken by astronauts orbiting the earth on the morning of 9/11 made me emotional.  Watching the smoke swirl up into the sky from space was heartbreaking.  There was a cargo dump truck that is one of only three known in the world.  They even have a glass eye from the late 1800s!

An antique glass eye

Outside the museum, there are a number of planes, helicopters and tanks on display.

I enjoyed wandering among the exhibits and seeing pieces of military history up close.  I could have spent much more time there, but I needed to get back on the road!

Circus Trip 2018: Vincennes State Historic Site

Day 27, Saturday, August 11, 2018

Vincennes, Indiana

Just steps away from Grouseland is the Vincennes State Historic Site.  The site preserves a few original buildings from the early 1800s, as well as a few replica structures.

The Visitor’s Center for the site is in an 1830s cabin.

The original Indiana Territorial government building (the red building above) was where the bicameral legislature met.  One part of the legislature met downstairs and the other met upstairs.  It isn’t fancy but it served their purpose!  Fourteen men were elected to the houses of the territorial government and made decisions to be implemented across the territory, which was an enormous area of land!  The building served as the government building from 1800 to 1813.

The Elihu Stout Print Shop is a replica building that housed the printing press, used to print the news that was coming in from the East Coast.  The Indiana Gazette began publication in 1804, using a Ramage printing press.  It often took a month or more for information to make it as far west as the Indiana Territory, so people were eager to hear what was going on in the rest of the nation.

The Jefferson Academy building is a replica built to look like the first school of higher learning in Indiana; it is the predecessor of Vincennes University.  The school began teaching students in 1801!  The school taught only boys at the time, when people largely considered girls’ learning to be exclusively in the home.  It is interesting to think about how children learned at the time, with very few supplies, and none of the technology that we have today.

Jefferson Academy

Desks at Jefferson Academy

The site also contains an old frame house, where Maurice Thompson, author of Alice of Old Vincennes, was born.  It’s likely you haven’t heard of the book; it was written in 1900 and is a novel about the Revolutionary War and an orphan named Alice Roussillon.  Fun Fact!  It was the second best selling book of 1900, and it is still in print and available on Amazon, if you are interested in checking it out.

Old Frame House at Vincennes SHP

I also got to visit the Old French House, built circa 1806.  It is basically just that; an Old French style house.  It was built by a French fur trapper, in the French architectural style of the day – posts on sill.  It has a unique feature in how the framing was done, the upright posts sat on a horizontal beam (the sill) at the base of the structure, instead of the posts being sunk into the ground.  This apparently ensured that it stood the test of time better than a lot of other 200-plus-year-old buildings.  The Old French House also has an antique box bed (known as a lit clos in French).  It is an enclosed bed!  Back in the days before central heating, being able to close yourself up in a box bed meant that you would stay warmer; plus it provided some privacy when many homes only had one or two rooms and the whole family slept in the same room.

The buildings on the site are open only on a tour, and there was only one guide the day I was there, so you might have to wait outside while the tour guide is conducting the tour for others.  Don’t get discouraged – it is worth waiting!  The Old French House isn’t always open, and is a few blocks down the street, so I felt pretty lucky to get the tour of it.  I enjoyed chatting with the guide about some of the area’s history while we walked down there.

It was neat to see these historic buildings, even if some of them were replicas.  We just don’t have many buildings this old on the West Coast!