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London 2018: Royal Observatory Greenwich

Day 4, Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Our last destination on our fourth day was the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, where you can see the Prime Meridian…

Everybody learns about the Prime Meridian in school, but perhaps you are like me and its significance loses its meaning over time.  Short answer: it is critical for the navigation of ships.

For thousands of years, sailing has been a very dangerous business.  If you don’t know where you are, you can easily get lost out there in a gazillion square miles of endless ocean.  Latitude was apparently easy to calculate.  I’m not sure I agree with that statement, but there you go.  All you need to know was the calendar date, and then calculate with your instrument how far the sun rose above the horizon that day.  Then, you just looked up that information in a book that had already been compiled for you and voila, easy peasy, you know where you are…

The longitude was way harder, and meant that for thousands of years, mariners had been using a method called dead reckoning…  Perhaps the emphasis should be on the “dead,” because it was notoriously inaccurate on long voyages where you couldn’t see land.  Remember how Columbus thought he was on mainland North America but he was actually on Caribbean islands?  Yeah, that.  That is actually a fairly successful outcome of dead reckoning.

First and foremost to calculate longitude, you needed to know what time it was.  For longitude calculations, you needed to know the exact time; a set standard time, say Greenwich Mean Time.  And clocks and watches of the day weren’t particularly accurate or reliable.  A few seconds off and you were basically screwed.  And when your clock wound down and stopped, who would you ask for the time?  Yep…  On land, you could ask the neighbor, but out on the open ocean, there was no one around to tell you the time.  See?  Screwed.  Not to mention that all that pitching and rolling on ships made it very difficult for the clocks of the day to work accurately.  Longitude was pretty much a matter of having a very accurate, very reliable clock, that would be accurate and reliable even on a ship that was getting tossed around on the open ocean.

The Prime Meridian Clock

The Longitude Act of 1714 attempted to change that accurate/reliable issue.  Queen Anne was in power when the Act was passed, establishing a Board of Longitude (sounds like a super exciting volunteer opportunity), and a reward for finding a simple, way to determine longitude that would work on ships.

John Harrison felt up to the challenge and started working around 1727 on such a clock.  His work produced four iterations, not always improving, and eventually, in 1761 he tested his fourth clock successfully.  There is a lot more to the story than that, but I’ll spare you, since longitude really isn’t that thrilling, even for me.

However, even though his fourth clock was successfully tested, the Board of Longitude for whatever reason decided he should only get half of the prize money, or 10,000 pounds, awarded in 1765.  That was a lot of money in the day, but Harrison had been working on this for over 35 years, and was, understandably, pissed.  There were also lawsuits because Harrison felt that his methods should be protected, and the Board of Longitude wanted to publish them for mass production.  I guess they weren’t super clear about patents and trade secrets when they drafted the act…  There were other prizes awarded for other advancements as well, but Harrison made the most significant contribution and won the most money.

So long story short, a meridian is just an arbitrary line set to establish a base from which time can be calculated as you move east or west.  It could have been anywhere, and arguments were made for lots of other places, but ultimately Greenwich won out in large part because the Royal Observatory was there, and because of the Longitude Act of 1714 and the fact that prize money was awarded to the winners.

Now, in the days of radar and GPS, the Prime Meridian in Greenwich is more of a tourist opportunity to stand on the line, sit on the line, pose with the line, and say you have been to the place where time begins, arbitrarily…  So we did.  Just so you know, the jumping photo was Taryn’s idea – that might explain my less enthusiastic liftoff…

The museum also explains all the nuance of calculating longitude, the 1714 Act, displays Harrison’s H1, H2, H3 and H4 prototypes, and other navigational instruments and telescopes.  It is pretty interesting!  The Observatory also has a pretty nice view of London across the Thames River, since it is located on a hill.

A navigational aid

The view of London from the Prime Meridian in Greenwich

Costs: Royal Observatory – free with London Pass.

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Atlanta 2018: Martin Luther King, Jr. NHP

My last day in Atlanta, I only had a partial day, because I needed to make my way back to the airport.  I went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park.  I walked there, as it was only about a mile from my hotel, and was a really simple walk – with only a few turns.

I got there about 10 am and went to the Visitor’s Center.  They explained that I wouldn’t be able to go inside the home where MLR, Jr. was born, because they had a big tour group at the site that day who had taken up all the tickets.  Sad…

I checked out the Visitor’s Center and the exhibits.  Martin Luther King, Jr. lived a fascinating life.  The Visitor’s Center touched on all the major points; King following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and becoming a Reverend, his early Civil Rights work, his time in the Birmingham Jail, the bus boycott his work with the lunch counters and sit ins, and his work on the Poor People’s campaign and the sanitation worker’s strike at the end of his life.

There was an exhibit on his funeral service and the mule drawn cart that carried King’s body in his funeral procession.  At the time, it was no longer common to have mule drawn carts, but they wanted to symbolism his commitment to working with the poor and disadvantaged.  They ended up “borrowing” a cart and leaving a note about where it had gone.  The owner was more than happy to have helped in the end.

There are also many of his speeches playing on TV screens, and I watched those for a bit.  He really was a very charismatic orator; I can see why people were drawn to his message and his methods.  I also walked the Freedom Walk, with lifelike statues depicting some of the men and women who marched with King for their own rights and freedoms.  I take these freedoms for granted, both being born white and in a later time; it was powerful to reflect on the people who had to fight hard for the rights that I enjoy without effort.

I saw the outside of the house he was born in, which had belonged to his grandparents at the time (his parents were living there).  It is a middle-class two story home for the 1920s, similar to so many of the day.  I also visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached.  I could imagine his booming voice delivering the sermon to his congregants.  The church is actually fairly large.  It did seem odd to me to have Park Rangers answering questions and directing people in this sacred space though.  The church was busy enough, that it still felt like it must have an active congregation, although I don’t think it does.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta are entombed in a reflecting pool at the site; there is also an eternal flame burning.  Before I visited, I didn’t know this and wasn’t expecting to see their graves.  I would want a quieter place for my eternal rest, but I guess we all want something different.

After my visit, it was time to walk back to the hotel; the same mile long walk through the historic black neighborhood that King lived in.  I got an unmemorable sandwich for lunch, picked up my bags at the hotel, and made my way to the airport on the subway.

My flight home was uneventful except for one laughable statement.  The young woman seated in the window seat (I was in the aisle seat), commented to my neighbor that we had experienced little turbulence because the pilot had taken us on a southerly route in order to miss the Rocky Mountains.  Hmmm… Atlanta to Seattle… I didn’t have the heart to tell her she needed to brush up on her geography…

And with that, another vacation concluded…

 

Atlanta 2018: Atlanta History Center Homes

In my last post, I told you about the indoor exhibits at the Atlanta History Center.  After seeing them, I then headed outside to check out the historic homes.  There are three historic homes, from two different periods in Georgia history on the site.

The homes there are amazing.  When you head outside, first you come upon the Robert Smith Family Farm, which was an antebellum hog farm, built in the 1840s.  The family was well off for the times, owning about 800 acres, and up to 13 slaves.  They raised six children in their small home.  They had sheep, goats and a house cat on site at the history center, but no pigs.  Pigs are probably harder to deal with on a museum farm…  You can tour the cabin, and see an old slave quarters, which is original but was not originally on the Smith Farm.  You can also look at the goats and sheep and even see cotton growing.

 

Next I went over to the Swan House, which was built in 1928 by Edward and Emily Inman.  Edward was a very successful businessman, and Emily was known for her work for charitable and civic causes, including women’s suffrage.  The house has period docents, in character, playing the parts of Edward and Emily, their maids, and the home’s architect, Philip Trammell Shutze.  You can wander the house at your leisure and ask questions of the docents.

The home is very nice; it was acquired by the Atlanta Historical Society in 1966 with almost all of the family’s original furnishings.  It has all the bells and whistles, including an intercom system, and my favorite, historic toilets!  This is the first time I have seen a wicker toilet.

 

Downstairs in the Swan House is an exhibit on the collections of Philip Trammell Shutze, the architect.  He had quite a fascination with Chinese culture and collected furniture, ceramics and other artwork, and had an extensive variety of items.  It was neat to see, and nice that they explained the connection to the Swan House, because otherwise it would have seemed out of place.

The last building on site at the Atlanta History Center is the Wood Family Cabin. The cabin was built in the 1840s, and was originally located in Piedmont, Georgia, before being moved to the site.  Even the Elias Wood family was considered fairly well off, at least well off enough to own a slave; they farmed and hunted. I was unable to find out any more about the cabin though.  It is located off in the woods of the history center, and I didn’t see anyone else on my walk there.

I really enjoyed these historic homes at the Center!

Circus Trip 2018: In the Land of Lincoln

This morning I am in Springfield, Illinois.  I have been touring some of the Lincoln sites for the last two days, and loving it!  I did throw in a Frank Lloyd Wright house too, for good measure – it was really cool!  I am so enjoying this!

The last couple days have been hot, hot, hot – temps at 90 with high humidity, but it’s been ok.  It did mean I set up the tent because the car would have been too hot!  I have been serenaded with a cacophony of cicadas, and the birds start up about 5 am.  My earplugs come in handy!

My view on 8/6/2018 – Springfield, Illinois

Yesterday I visited Lincoln’s tomb, which is one place I didn’t get to on my only other trip to Springfield.  It was humbling to stand where Lincoln is buried (safe from the graverobbers now…).  Of course, I had to rub his nose for good luck!  I made a wish, but I can’t tell you, or then it won’t come true!

Who wouldn’t want to rub his nose for luck!? I made a wish…

I’m off to see some more sights – just wanted to update everybody on my progress!

Atlanta 2018: Atlanta History Center Exhibits

Day 5, Friday, January 26, 2018

Friday was my last full day in Atlanta and I decided to head over to the Atlanta History Center.  I took the subway over – the furthest distance I had traveled on the subway so far, and then had to walk about a mile to get to the Center.  It is an easy walk through a busy neighborhood with a sidewalk, but there was lot of traffic on that road, passing lots of big hotels, chain stores and strip malls, so it isn’t really much of a leisurely, scenic walk.

The center has multiple parts.  A full museum inside, an annex building with a special exhibit, and three historic homes outside, two of which have been moved to the property.  This place is fascinating!

Inside the museum, there were exhibits on Atlanta’s history from its founding to the present day.  It touched a little bit on the Civil War, but focused more on businesses and industries in Atlanta, its civic pride, and daily life.  I have to admit the KKK shield was disturbing, but an important reminder of the dark side of our history.

 

Another exhibit went into detail on the Civil War and had a lot of great artifacts.  The exhibit explained which major events were happening during each year of the war.  It told about life in camp, life at home, the customs of mourning the dead, and about the occupation of the south by the Union Army.

 

Another exhibit explored the Trail of Tears, and the removal of the Cherokee and other tribes, but it didn’t go into as much detail as I would have liked.  They did have a lot of first-hand accounts from Native Americans about their present-day experience and the experience of their ancestors.

Another exhibit was on folk art objects and they had a lot!  There was crockery, from the 1600s all the way up to present day, musical instruments, furniture, and tools.  It was really interesting to see how some items have changed over time, and others really haven’t!

 

I did skip the exhibit on golfer Bobby Jones; I have just never been much into sports and I am really not into golf…  I am sure that golf enthusiasts would find it fascinating, but there are a few things that I just can’t muster up the motivation for…

I had lunch at Souper Jenny, the onsite café, and it was really good.  I had a soup and salad combo, which came with a roll and cookie.  It was so much food that I saved my roll and cookie for later and ended up eating those for dinner instead of going out.

I would have liked to see the special exhibit on the Doughboys of World War I, but I wanted to see the historic homes outside first and by the time I was finished, I was a bit worn out.  Sometimes you can’t see it all, but I will share about the center’s historic home exhibits next!

Atlanta 2018: Margaret Mitchell House

Day 5, Thursday, January 25, 2018

After the High Museum and lunch, I made my way over to the Margaret Mitchell Museum; if you don’t recognize the name, she wrote Gone with the Wind.  She was an affluent, very intelligent and ambitious woman who started writing the book as a distraction as she was recovering from a broken leg.

The “Dump” – Mitchell’s apartment was in the lower left corner of the house

My guide at the museum was excellent; he was a graduate student studying Mitchell for his thesis.  I was all alone on my tour (fortunately I got there right after the big bus tour departed), and we had some pretty interesting conversations about Mitchell and the book.  He encouraged me to think about Scarlett O’Hara, and imagine her coming of age in the flapper era, which of course, was exactly when Mitchell was writing the book.

Scarlett and Margaret Mitchell were both women ahead of their time, of course you know about Scarlett’s story, but Mitchell divorced an alcoholic, abusive husband at a time when divorce was uncommon, and later married her ex-husband’s friend (the best man at her first wedding).  She worked as a journalist, but actually talked her way into the job with no experience.

Mitchell’s second husband was a business manager, so she wasn’t really very affected by the Great Depression, which was occurring during the time as well.  The guide and I talked about the fact that Mitchell’s grandfathers were Civil War officers for the Confederacy, so of course her view of the Old South, the war, and slavery were deeply shaped by the stories that she heard growing up.  Gone with the Wind is one of the books that is often considered for book ban lists, but it is important to learn about all perspectives on history, not just the one that is politically correct now. Despite your viewpoint, it was a pivotal novel of the time and remains so today.

Interesting, the guide and museum exhibits shared that the US military took copies of Gone with the Wind over to Japan after the defeat of Japan in World War II. They thought that the story would resonate with the Japanese people – rising up from the ashes and overcoming obstacles to rebuild your life.  They suspected (and were right), that if he could give the Japanese people something to connect with, they would be more likely to maintain the motivation to overcome their hardships and rebuild their lives.  Gone with the Wind is extremely popular to this day with the Japanese market – and the bus tour I mentioned earlier was filled with Japanese tourists! I never knew that!  A quick internet search couldn’t corroborate this story, so who knows, but it seems plausible, given the popularity of the novel in Japan.

Mitchell’s writing process was interesting – she wrote the chapters of the book out of order and then stashed them all over the house in manila envelopes.  She stuffed envelopes in drawers, under couch cushions, and sometimes lost them.  She started her book at the end.

Mitchell’s living room (not her furniture)

 

Margaret Mitchell’s writing area (not her furniture)

The tour takes place in the apartment that Mitchell lived in after marrying her second husband.  She called it “The Dump”, but it was a fairly nice apartment for the time, and she did have a black servant.  The house it was in contained several apartments, and was abandoned after she lived there and later in was purchased in order to renovate it for the museum.  When the historical society was almost finished, someone set the building on fire, but fortunately the area of the house that contained Mitchell’s former apartment wasn’t badly damaged and they rebuilt it after the fire.

Mitchell’s Kitchen, looking into the bedroom

 

Margaret Mitchell’s Bedroom (not her furniture)

The furniture is period, rather than having belonged to Mitchell, but you still get an idea of what it would have been like when she lived there.  I thought it was actually a pretty decent, and pretty large, apartment.

Once I got back to the hotel, I went out to eat at Pitty Pat’s Porch, just around the corner from my hotel. I sat in the bar, and ordered a German Riesling, which I ended up getting for free because the bartender forgot about me for a while.  Oops.  I ordered the Shrimp and Grits, which came with their version of a salad bar.  There were all sorts of traditional southern “salad” foods – including pickled watermelon rind.  To be honest the pickled watermelon rind doesn’t taste like much, and was kind of weird.  The shrimp and grits were amazing though!

 

Atlanta 2018: The High Museum of Art

Day 5, Thursday, January 25, 2018

Thursday morning I got up early and took the subway over to the High Museum of Art.  The High Museum was founded in 1905 and its first permanent home was a residence that had been donated.  Today it has a home in a complete art center, and the museum is home to over 15,000 works of art, and is considered one of the premier art museums in the south.

I started on the top floor, like the woman at the ticket counter suggested, but found that it was the modern art exhibit, and not really what I like.  It was weird, but at least it wasn’t bizarre!  I really liked the second and third floors that had more traditional art.  There were paintings and sculptures, cut glass, majolica, furniture (including lots of Frank Lloyd Wright furniture).  They had a room of religious art and icons, and a lot of portraits.  They also have a collection of mid-century home décor.  The High Museum really has an interesting and widespread collection and I really enjoyed wandering through all the rooms.

I have chosen a few of my favorites to show you in photos – I hope you enjoy them as well!

After I saw the collections, I went across the courtyard to have lunch at Twelve Eighty Café, which is named after the address number for the Woodruff Art Center, which includes the High Museum.  I had the Deviled Eggs appetizer (5 for $5), and the Baja Signature Mahi Mahi tacos with fries.  I also had a Pom Collins cocktail, which had Tito’s Vodka, Pomegranate Liqueur, house-made sour mix, simple syrup, mint and pomegranate seeds.  The deviled eggs were good, the fries were just ok, and the tacos and Pom Collins were excellent!

Costs: Museum admission is $14.50.