Blog Archives for the ‘Museums’ Category
By Robert N. Jenkins
BALDWIN CITY, Kansas — Fireflies beckon to each other in the darkness accentuated by the trees and the rural countryside. But rough-spoken men break the fairy-tale cheer with threats that reek of hatred – hatred of each other and what the others stand for.
These men are on the frontier of the still young United States — indeed, their looming confrontation is based on whether the barely settled swath of rolling prairie and forest known as the Kansas Territory should be admitted to the Union as a state where slavery is legal or is forbidden.
And tomorrow at daybreak, these men will stage what many historians consider the true first battle of the Civil War — almost 5 years before the Confederates will fire on Fort Sumter, more than 1,150 miles back east.
History a few miles away
This re-enactment, along with others plus museums and an active Army base, recount not just the tortured history of what became known as “bleeding Kansas” but also the state’s role in the challenging creation of the frontier in the mid-19th century. A driving trip of less than 150 miles reveals a rich vein of America’s history. But few sites are as dramatic as the Battle of Blackjack Springs, just a few miles from quiet Baldwin City.
The re-enactors include those angry men and one woman — now a sorrowful widow and grieving mother victimized by the blood lust along the Kansas-Missouri border. They re-create events before and during a three-hour firefight on the grassy hillsides split by a creek along the Santa Fe Trail.
The re-enactment is held on the anniversary of that battle on June 2, 1856, when an estimated 75 Missourians ultimately would surrender to about 25 Kansans led by John Brown, an Easterner who would become a lightning rod for abolitionists.
On the night before the re-enactment, visitors sit on hay bales on the site of the actual three-hour battle, to hear Brown — cradling a rifle, his eyes blazing – decry the “abomination” that is slavery.
He recounts the history of thousands of pro-slavery Missourians moving across the Missouri River into Kansas, where fewer thousands of anti-slavery Easterners and Northerners had already settled.
Battling the Jayhawks
Many arrived just to take part in the vote that would decide Kansas’ status. Many of the Missourians terrorized the settlers — called Jayhawks, after an imaginary combination of those two birds — robbing and beating them.
The raiders also set fire to the town of Lawrence, a hotbed of abolitionists. Five townspeople were killed.
Brown, leading a group that included some of the five sons who had preceded him into Kansas, crossed into Missouri. On May 26, 1856, the group committed what is known as the Pottawatamie (cq) Massacre, using swords and pistols to slaughter five farmers.
The showdown at Blackjack Springs abut a week later was to avenge the massacre, but Brown’s vastly outnumbered forces were victorious. Oddly, no one was killed in the firefight before the Missouri force, led by a deputy U.S. marshal, surrendered.
For the annual re-enactment just yards from the actual battlefield, Brown briefly summarizes the reasons for the fight. Then for about 20 minutes, a few dozen re-enactors including some on horseback have at each other, firing their rifles and pistols.
When it’s time for the surrender, firebrand John Brown (enactor Kerry Altenbernd (cq) tells the crowd: “Everyone heard of Blackjack — it was civil war!”
Later, Altenbernd, the law librarian for Douglas County (site of Blackjack Springs and Lawrence), tells me in a surprisingly soft voice, “I feel I understand Brown. He was dedicated, not crazy” — addressing a concept most people have when they hear of the massacre.
“There were 4-million of his brothers and sisters in bondage, and he couldn’t free them.”
Different play, different troupe
Another set of folks offers their version of the history that led to the nickname “bleeding Kansas” in the tiny town of Lecompton, briefly the territory’s first capital and just 30 miles from Baldwin City.
A repertoire troupe of about 30 takes turns portraying Brown, as well as the sheriff who torched Lawrence, the Pottawatomie widow and several more historic figures, in a play written 17 years ago by a resident.
Their preferred venue is in the main hall of a former college building, now the Lane Museum. There, the re-enactors send visitors into either side of the main aisle and encourage them to shout out huzzahs or boo the actors, depending on whether the visitors are sitting on the Missouri or the “Free State” side. This group, which also bought or made their costumes and props, performs up to 50 times a year, often for school groups around the state.
On the road west
Less than an hour’s drive southeast, in Olathe, more of Kanssas’ history — without the emphasis on the bloodshed – is recounted by costumed docents at the Mahaffie (cq) Stage Coach (two words cq) Stop and Farm. Occupying original and recreated buildings, plus a 4-year-old museum, the story of America’s westward growth is told through artifacts — from a child’s plate to farm implements to a Colt revolver – and reproductions and a timeline mural that begins in 1845. That’s 12 years before James Beattie (cq) Mahaffie arrived in Olathe with his wife and five children and created a 600-acre farm along the Santa Fe Trail.
That wagon path was used by Midwesterners as the trade route when Mexico won its freedom from Spain. It went from Missouri’s Mississippi River towns to what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Uncle Beattie” Mahaffie first built his stone farmhouse, which still stands, and operated an inn and then a stop for stagecoaches. His wife and daughters would feed 75 to 100 passengers daily — the coaches rolled 24 hours a day between 1865 and 1869.
Owned by the city of Olathe and covering 11 of the original 600 acres, the attraction includes a blacksmith shop, livestock barn for oxen and horses that pull the reproduction stagecoach that carries visitors around the buildings. In the farmhouse, they can watch a docent cook using authentic kitchen equipment and even try their hands at churning butter.
But 30 years before the Mahaffies arrived, the federal government needed to protect the traffic along the Santa Fe and Oregon trails and the early settlers from attacks by Native Americans. The government erected a series of forts about 100 miles apart along the frontier, and one of them is the oldest, continuously operating, military base west of the Mississippi. It has a familiar name: Leavenworth.
Touring an Army base
Laid out on the tree-covered bluffs high above the Missouri River, Fort Leavenworth opened in May 1827 and as usually happened, a village grew up nearby.
It wasn’t long before a 14-year-old from the village named William Cody began working for a freight shipper, riding along the trails to help protect the wagons and to provide the drovers with fresh meat. His prowess with a rifle earned him a nickname he cherished: Buffalo Bill.
Nowadays, visitors to Fort Leavenworth are passed through a security checkpoint and can follow a self-guided tour of the base, a handsome facility of red brick buildings that date back a century but are also are as new as the 21st century.
Immediately after the Civil War, newly freed blacks comprised about a fifth of the U.S. Army, By 1867, Leavenworth was home to one of the regiments of African-American cavalry known as the Buffalo Soldiers. When he was commander of Leavenworth in the early 1990s, Gen. Colin Powell had erected two handsome statues commemorating those units.
Visitors learn that the famed Leavenworth prison now has both military and civilian components. Prohibition-era gangsters such as Machine Gun Kelly were imprisoned here. So was Robert Stroud, a murderer who gained fame because he kept birds in his cell, Thus he was later – but incorrectly — referred to as the Birdman of Alcatraz, where he did serve time.
While the prison buildings are not open to the public, the base does hold the Frontier Army Museum, which traces America’s growth even before there was a United States. Among the artifacts are a1763 French musket, surveyors’ tools from the late 18th century and on to the 20rh century — including a biplane like those used to chase Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa in 1916-17.
Among the extraordinary pieces on display: a Medal of Honor awarded in 1875, and a paymaster’s ledger showing that in 1881, the highest paid non-commissioned officers were chief musicians, who earned $228 total for a five-year enlistment.
The signs claim this 200-acre swath of serenity is in the unremarkable community of Delray Beach. But, in truth, the Morikami Museum does a marvelous job of re-creating a slice of Japan.
True, it’s an idealized view: The Morikami (pronounced MOOR-ee-CAH-me) and its adjacent gardens are designed to present Japanese culture as a bridge between two nations. What is here are two distinctly different exhibition buildings and a fine example of the delicate, less-is-more gardening that ushers your average flowerbed into the Gaudy category.
The overall effect is to make you feel deliciously alone in the gardens, enlightened in the museums.
The history of this unusual place is told by exhibits in the Yamato-Kan, built in the style of a traditional Japanese villa. The history explains the museum/park’s benefactor and moving spirit.
The museum’s architecture is inspired by traditional Japanese design.
George S. Morikami arrived in Seattle from Japan in 1906, bound for the sandy palmetto barrens a few miles inland from Florida’s Atlantic coast. His way was paid by a speculator who promised Morikami room, board and a $500 payment – after he had labored for three years growing pineapples.
The crops were to be shipped north; Morikami was joining the 3-year-old colony of Yamato (YAH-muh-toe), an ancient name for Japan.
But blighted crops and cheaper, Cuban-grown pineapples soon forced the farmers to shift to other crops. Having brought over wives and having begun their families, the young workers increased the population of Yamato to about 50 by World War I. However, by the early 1920s, most of the Japanese had left.
Young Morikami, however, stayed on, farming and buying land. When World War II began, he was so respected that he was not interned — as tens of thousands of other Japanese-Americans were. The museum displays a letter signed by a federal judge in Miami allowing Morikami to cross county lines in 1942.
Following the war, Morikami continued to prosper. He decided he wanted to increase the understanding between his native land and his adopted country.
George Morikami, who arrived in America to farm pineapples, persevered, prospered and gave back to his adopted homeland.
Although it seems difficult to believe now, Morikami was rebuffed four times in nine years when he tried to donate land to Delray Beach and to Palm Beach County. The reason: The prime farmland was considered too remote from the coast to be of any use.
Finally, the county accepted a parcel in 1974, and work was begun on the museum and park soon after. George Morikami died at the age of 90 in 1976, the year before the attraction opened.
The original building was the Yamato-Kan. Inside its graceful walls are a series of small rooms that provide historical background on the farming colony – and similar Japanese enclaves elsewhere in turn-of-the-century Florida – and display typical furnishings for a home this size.
Old meets new here, with one room holding the traditional bathing tub and another decorated as a modern teenager might do it, with posters of a baseball player and two of the Westernized cartoon teens made popular in Sailor Moon and racier animated films.
Outside the Yamato-Kan are a small garden and two stylized bridges. Beyond the bridges are three graceful gardens, sand-and-shell pathways featuring patterns of stones of one color bordered by those of another.
Here is a tiny fountain created just for its sound; over there is a large, artificial waterfall.
There is also a display of bonsai, the craft of growing stunted trees in small boxes, that includes some native Florida miniatures.
The park's grounds and gardens create serenity.
A stroll around these grounds removes the visitor from the bustle of the highways that ceaselessly feed Florida’s crowded Gold Coast.
The Morikami expanded its offerings, It both displays traveling exhibitions and has other permanent features that offer readable explanations and photos of Japanese culture. Another imaginative room allows an audience to view a traditional room in which the stylized tea ceremony is regularly demonstrated.
In addition, the Morikami has a 1-mile nature trail, shaded picnic areas, a restaurnat and an active program of demonstrations as well as major festivals celebrating Japanese tradition.
If you go
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens are in Delray Beach. The park is just off Jog/Powerline/Carter Road, a north-south street between the Florida Turnpike and I-95. From the turnpike, exit at Atlantic Avenue and head east to Jog/Carter, then turn south. From the interstate, take the Linton Boulevard exit west and head south on the same road.
The attraction is open daily except Mondays and on major holidays. Admission is $12 for adults, $11for those 65 andolder, and $7 for those ages 6-17 and for college students.
The museum and most landscaped areas are accessible to wheelchair-users, but some paths are not paved.
For information, call (561)-495-0233 or go to www.morikami.org.
VENICE — Oversized, languorous figures in the richest of colors and reaching toward Heaven are splashed across the ceilings and walls of the Doge’s Palace in this beguiling city. What space is not covered with Renaissance masterpieces is gilded, or it erupts in sculpted plaster flourishes.
It was good, a few centuries ago, to be a resident of the rich city-state of Venice.
Good, indeed, as long as you were behaving in a manner approved by the all-powerful figures who controlled commoners, kept a suspicious eye on each other and even had their watchdogs matching strides with the head of state, the appointed-for-life doge (pronounced DOHzh).
But if three of your fellow citizens were willing to give secret testimony about your morals or activities, you would see a part of the Doge’s Palace that Venetians and visitors learned to dread. The decorations were far less grand, though one room had a unique feature: a rope hanging from the ceiling.
Unlike those who lived for centuries near the Palace’s secret rooms, today’s visitors can leave when they want to.
The “Secret Itinerary of the Doge’s Palace” is a 75-minute guided tour that starts in the sun-splashed courtyard but moves quickly through back stairways into the darkest places, not merely of the palace but of the mind and heart.
Your guide begins innocently enough: She says you will learn about the “administration of justice” from the early 1300s until 1797, when splendid Venice fell to Napoleon’s ambition.
The Palace of the Doge held offices of the bureaucracy, the courts and the doge’s residence. The Palace presents to the throngs in the Piazza of St. Mark’s an almost delicate, lacelike facade of arches and tracery that belies the iron grip the presiding merchant/nobles had.
As the tour moves away from a second-story loggia, or arcade, the guide capsules the intricate overlap of departments and councils created by Venice’s governance by suspicious aristocrats.
Much of the ultimate decisionmaking was held by the Council of 10, so powerful that it dictated the political and moral behavior for the citizens.
Council members decreed, for instance, that no one could even meet with a foreigner without first seeking permission. Then, debriefings were held after such meetings.
As moral watchdogs, the city’s judges and bureaucratic rulers decreed how much jewelry was too much and also decided that the one-upsmanship in lavishly decorating the nobles’ gondolas would stop: Henceforth, gondolas would be painted a simple black. They still are.
Climbing four stories of back stairways, the Palace tour participants step on treads worn from seven centuries of use.
One of the tour stops is in the Secret Archives, an airy, wood-paneled room. Here, scribes copied reports from the government’s spies, from the willing citizenry and from those persons who had not volunteered information the rulers considered pertinent.
Crime and punishment
Another room on the Secret Itinerary is not much bigger than the bedroom of a modern house but is two stories tall.
On two walls, doors have been cut in the wood, with a metal grate in each door at about eye level. These are the doors to the cells for suspects. At one end of the room is a table on a raised platform and behind it, chairs for the inquisitors, for this is the Torture Interrogation Room.
There is no chair for the suspect facing the inquisitors. Instead, hands tied behind his back, the suspect stood facing the inquisitors. Through his arms would be passed a rope, which had been fed through a hook on a beam overhead.
First the prisoner was raised off the floor by pulling on the rope. Then the inquisitors would put a question to him, and the suspect would be lowered, to answer. If there was no answer, the rope would be yanked again and the prisoner raised up.
Another question, another release of the rope and a pause for an answer. If need be, there would be another yank on the rope. And another . . .
This was simply the trial, not the punishment. Those who were found guilty of repeatedly stealing would have their right hand cut off. Those who lied had their noses cut off. Those who blasphemed had their tongue cut out.
Not every guilty party was mutilated. There were jail cells for the lesser offenders. And that is where perhaps the most famous Venetian of all, Giacomo Casanova, was sent.
After spying on him for eight months, the government did not charge Casanova with what was to gain him fame: his romantic conquests of the married and unmarried (he is said to have had more than 140 lovers).
Instead, Casanova was imprisoned for cheating at cards and for speaking against the church. He was sentenced to five years in an attic cell.
A plan, of sorts
One day when Casanova was taking his exercise in the palace attic under its lead roof, he found a metal tool, which he was to hide in an armchair a patron had provided. He began calculating an escape.
And on the night of Oct. 31, 1756, Casanova made his move to join the merrymakers out that Halloween night.
He and another inmate went up, through the roof of his cell. But while they were able to get down into hallways from the attic, they found themselves locked inside the sprawling palace.
So the two simply waited near the main door for the guard to unlock it the next morning. They bolted past him, ran through St. Mark’s Square, grabbed a boat and rowed to the mainland. Casanova was not to return for 18 years.
If you go
Tour prices for adults start at about $25. To book, go to www.tickitaly.com/tickets/itineraries-tickets.php. Specify the English-language tour.
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Every night, tourists in this farming community, site of the bloodiest battle ever fought in North America, stroll city streets on commercial ghost tours.
But visitors don’t need to pay to hear about ghosts. They only need to walk the 6,000 acres of battlefields, or simply step inside the brilliant new visitors center. Ghosts are everywhere.
These ghosts are the sad, soulful memories of the more than 34,500 young Americans killed or wounded by other young Americans on the first three hot – and horrific – days of July 1863. Anything beyond a casual reading of that bloody to and fro causes you to mourn the victims, almost 150 years later.
More than 1.8-million people come each year to Gettysburg National Military Park, a swath of rolling Pennsylvania countryside, to roam the land. A visitors center opened in 1974, but it could accommodate less than a fourth of the tourists. Its technology in displaying just a fraction of the million artifacts – diaries in fading ink, soldiers’ Bibles, rifles and cannon – was out of date.
Cemetery Ridge, the objective of the ill-fated Pickett's Charge.
Worse, though, was the realization that an adjacent parking lot and a building housing a deteriorating 1880s wrap-around painting of a famed battle sat atop the land where an estimated 971 soldiers had been killed.
After years of planning and construction, in 2008 a $103-million museum and visitors center replaced it, on land that saw no major combat.
The financing came from an unusual blend of public and private funds, with nearly three-quarters of it from individual and corporate donations.
“We have absorbed all the operating costs of the visitors center and museum,” said Dru Anne Neil, director of communications and marketing for the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation, “freeing the Park Service to spend its dollars to interpret this place to the visitors.”
That interpretation includes more than an hour of films that explain not just the battle but also the history of America, from the Revolution to contemporary times.
A 22-minute film has a few scenes with costumed actors, but largely depends on the filmmaking techniques that Ken Burns made so familiar in his PBS series The Civil War.
In this introduction, narrator Morgan Freeman gently intones, “Freedom, like power, will always be contested.”
Deftly, his closing lines repeat one of the phrases from President Lincoln’s immortal speech, delivered a few hundred yards away: “Now, we are met on a great battlefield of this war . . .”
Beyond twin theaters showing this film are 12 galleries covering about 24,000 square feet. Each gallery uses a phrase from the Gettysburg Address as its theme.
But first, a sign tells those entering: “The Civil War was fought over three issues – survival of the Union, the fate of slavery and . . . what it means to be an American.
“The war resolved the first two issues. The nation struggles with the third to this day.”
Strokes of lightning
The museum makes strong use of writings from the period. Some of these are audio narrations, most are presented as signs by various displays.
Nowhere is this more effective than at the entrance to the galleries:
“The South is determined to . . .make all who oppose her smell Southern (gun)powder and taste Southern steel.”
— Jefferson Davis, in his inaugural speech upon becoming president of the Confederate States of America, in February 1861.
“Every name (of a dead soldier) is a lightning stroke to some heart and it breaks like thunder over some home, and it falls a long black shadow upon some hearthstone.”
— The Gettysburg Compiler newspaper, four days after the battle.
I found a couple of galleries distinctive. One features actor Sam Waterston, the museum’s voice of Lincoln, reading the Gettysburg Address in a raspy tenor.
Lincoln didn’t give that brief speech until more than four months after the two armies had withdrawn. The Confederate wagon train carrying the wounded stretched an estimated 17 miles.
But left behind in the fields, orchards, rocky clefts and forested hillsides were 7,708 dead or dying soldiers, and thousands of dead horses and mules. So another memorable gallery describes this unimaginable aftermath thrust upon the 2,400 residents of the crossroads town.
See their faces
The display of artifacts is imaginative and helps the visitor understand facets of war or a soldier’s life:
- Gen. Lee’s camp cot, writing desk and small stove show how simply the Confederate commander lived.
- Three vertical plastic cases filled with shell fragments front a timeline and explanation of Union weapon efficiency at the famous Pickett’s Charge.
- A small wooden slat bears the scrawled name of a dead Union soldier. It had been tied with a leather thong to his wrist, identifying him for burial. Around it are letters written to his father by the soldier’s colleagues.
Tied to a dead solider's wrist, this tag named the victim.
Wall displays hold rank upon rank of rifles from among the 28,000 recovered on the battlefield. About 23,000 of them were still loaded — and had not been fired by their wounded or frightened owners.
One wall is covered with photographs of 1,000 soldiers, 500 from each side. Each of these men was killed, wounded or captured. They represent all who fought here.
“We want people to get out and walk the battlefields, experience it and leave wanting to learn more, to come back.
“This place is so special in our history.”
If you go
The Museum and Visitor Center is open daily, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Entrance to the museum is free. Timed tickets to the 22-minute A New Birth of Freedom have varying fees for different age groups.
BURANO, Italy — A few minutes after stepping off the ferry to this island, you start looking for the people with clipboards, the ones asking your opinion of the brilliant colors into which every house and shop has been dipped. This must be where paint manufacturers challenge the sun to fade their most audacious colors.
Wonder what a 40- by 25-foot wall of raspberry looks like? Look at the house over there, between the tangerine and lemon, just across from the chocolate. You want to lick this village.
Brilliantly painted Burano houses.
? Take the big
boat, over there,” advises the water-bus ticket-seller near Venice’s famed St. Mark’s Square.
He is indicating the two-deck boat that is headed first for the beach island of Lido, then the little-visited island of Torcello, and 70 minutes after the lines are first pulled in, Burano.
This Sunday morning the boat is crammed with couples pushing strollers, people carrying fold-up beach chairs, pretty young things and too-cool guys wearing the darkest of shades and bobbing to the beat coming from earbuds plugged into iPods. There are tourists, too, clutching maps and guidebooks.
The boat docks at Lido, and almost everyone gets off, but we head toward the sherbet-colored island.
“Boo-RAH-no! Boo-RAH-no!” shouts the muscular young deckhand on the boat as it docks. The men living here have broad shoulders and thick forearms from hauling in fishing nets. Their wives and daughters operate tourist shops or embroider or, much less frequently now, make lace.
For centuries, Burano has been distinguished by its contrary signatures: loudly colored houses and dainty needlework.
Small fishing boats are tied along one of the narrow canals that criss-cross Burano.
The island is all narrow streets, tinier alleys and canals just wide enough to tie up narrow boats on each side. The houses are built in rows, with precious little space for privacy.
That’s what caused one resident to reach across the alley this morning and pound a broom handle against the wooden window shutters of a neighbor, protesting the volume of the rap music pouring from that house.
Bam bam bam, went the broom handle, without success. Bam BAM BAMMM!
However, that is the only jarring note in this ice-cream parlor of a village, as lunchtime arrives.
Dozens of residents, and more than a few visitors, set up small tables in the dockside park for picnics. The maitre’d of the well-regarded Al Gatto Nero-Da Ruggero cheerfully turns away would-be customers because the entire canalside restaurant, short blocks from the tourist-filled main square, is reserved for lunch.
That means more business for Da Romano, which for more than 60 years has been on the plaza. Operated by the fourth generation of its founding family, Da Romano has a menu that is an eye-opener as much for its illustrations as for its dishes:
Reproduced on the menu are the autographs of such customers as Ernest Hemingway (“To Romano, a friend of the arts – too few of them now”), Charlie Chaplin, Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, Giorgio Armani and Federico Fellini.
The shrimp risotto, for about $20, is pretty impressive, too.
Colorfully painted homes frame the leaning campanile of Burano's main church.
Just around the corner from the restaurant, and across the plaza from the old church with its dizzily leaning bell tower, is the Scuola del Merletti. For 98 years, it was the School of the Lacemakers
, a government effort to preserve a once-legendary skill and to rejuvenate the island’s sagging economy.
In the 16th century, the lace made in and around Venice was so prized throughout Europe, it was known as punta in aria, points (or stitches) in air. But there was much competition to decorate the finery of the well-to-do. And by the early 19th century, machine-made lace and embroidery reduced the area’s share of the market. Handmade lace, exquisite but time-consuming to create, became too expensive to support any sizable number of artisans.
In 1872, the government created the school to teach again the graceful art. The school was closed in 1970 and was later converted to a museum. Now, village women demonstrate the work to tourists in the museum, where cases display marvelous pieces of handiwork dating nearly 400 years.
Though shopkeepers say vaguely that “hundreds” of islanders still sew, most of them are embroidering, which is quicker and far easier on the eyesight. Prices in the shop L’Orchidea demonstrate the commercial value of the two skills:
A standard linen tablecloth with colored-thread embroidery is about $195; the same cloth with an insert of Burano lacework is about $1,200. And an all-lace tablecloth, which took four groups of women three years to make, is about $7,100.
A visit here fills no more than a half day, and then it’s time to catch the ferry. The boat moves slowly from the dock, which is a few hundred yards from the square, the leaning church tower, the lace museum, Da Romano.
Visible for several minutes, though, are the houses, painted so many vivid colors: That visibility, the story goes, is to help fishermen spot their homes as they motor in with their catch.
Some less-charitable people, allof them living in glamorous Venice, say the full-palette treatment has been utilized simply to brighten dreary winter days on Burano.
Either way, it would seem to work.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This city has made its mark on America.
It gave us Walt Disney and Walter Cronkite, Jesse James and Joan Crawford, Count Basie and Calvin Trillin. It’s where Rival created the CrockPot, where McDonald’s invented the Happy Meal.
Hallmark Cards and Applebee’s have headquarters here.
But none of that is likely to draw more than casual attention from a tourist. Nor are the 100 barbecue joints or 200 fountains the city boasts.
Rather, it’s the wealth of memorable museums that forces the visitor to split the available time, and maybe to regret not planning a longer trip.
To save you some of that angst, here is a guide to just four of the special museums.
Treasure under that field
Dressed in a plaid shirt, hands tucked into the pockets of his workday slacks, Bob Hawley clearly hasn’t let his find of treasure go to his head. He or one of his sons still greet visitors at the Arabia Steamboat Museum and tells them how they became sunken-ship salvagers – in the middle of a farm field in the middle of America.
“They say the Missouri River (he pronounces it Miz-ZURE-uh) is too thick to drink and too thin to plow,” said Hawley, whose family has a refrigeration repair business.
Son David had been on a service call at a farm on the Kansas side of the river when he heard a story that apparently had been making the rounds for more than 130 years, about how a steamboat was buried beneath the farm – more than a half-mile from the river bank.
David told his father and brother. They decided to dig up the ship and whatever treasure it had gone down with. (David sometimes lets on to the visitors he greets that, “We just wanted an excuse to drive heavy equipment.”)
A wall map in the museum shows the sites of 162 steamboats sunk between St. Louis and Kansas City in the mid-19th century, when the way to move goods to the frontier was by riverboat.
The fact that the Arabia was now under farm land was one of those peculiarities of the Earth’s constant reshaping of itself. The Missouri had carved a new course through the farmland and then through recurrent flooding, covered the land with what turned out to be a 45-foot-deep layer of rich silt.
A film relates that the pdaddlewheeler Arabia, 171 feet long, 54 feet wide, was loaded in late August 1856 with about 220 tons of goods to be delivered to 54 merchants as far north as Nebraska.
But the ship hit a submerged tree trunk and sank. All 130 passengers got off; the only fatality was a mule, tied on deck.
The Hawley team had to sink 20 wells to drain enough of flowing underground water to accomplish the recovery.
A film shows the men pulling odd items encased in mud. Cleaned and restored, thousands of everyday items that pioneers needed to live on the frontier are now in floor-to-ceiling display cases:
Here are whale oil lamps, 1,200 shoes, ink wells, mirrors, cuspidors, schoolroom slates, utensils, gun parts from Belgium, beads from Italy.
ut the salvors did find money: a coin purse that held 25 cents, and also a single penny.
War to end all wars
Hundreds of thousands of doughboys passed through Kansas City’s huge Union Station railway hub after the United States entered World War I. Within two weeks of the Armistice in November 1918, the area’s populace agreed to contribute $2.5-million to build a Liberty Memorial to the soldiers’ sacrifices.
In 1926, President Coolidge dedicated the imposing hilltop plaza and its 217-foot-tall Memorial Tower.
After taxing themselves for a multimillion-dollar refurbishment in 1998, residents passed a bond issue to raise $102-million to construct, and acquire artifacts for, a World War I museum.
Built beneath the memorial, the National World War I Museum opened in December 2006, designated by Congress as the nation’s official WWI museum.
Visitors enter by walking on a glass floor above 9,000 artificial red poppies, each representing 1,000 dead soldiers. Presentations range from newsreels to recordings, from interactive exhibits (make your own propaganda poster and e-mail it home) to more than 50,000 artifacts.
An opening film explains the shifting power, disparity of wealth and erosion of monarchies throughout Europe. In booths, visitors can hear American fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker describe a dogfight, or listen to period music.
Visitors can pass through a clever, if chilling, series of life-sized constructions showing how wretched trench warfare became.
On the walls are quotations, including:
“It cannot be that 2-million Germans should have fallen in vain . . . No, we do not pardon, we demand – vengeance.”
– Adolf Hitler, 1922
“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”
– H.G. Wells, 1935.
About six blocks from the intersection of 12th Street and Vine, made famous in the rock ‘n’ roll song Going to Kansas City, is a pair of museums enshrining Americana:
- The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum utilizes period photos, uniforms and equipment to explain a facet of segregation that probably escaped the notice of most whites, then and still.
From the late 19th century past the middle of the 20th century, thousands of young black men played baseball, for money, on hundreds of teams. Except for the rare exhibition game, even the best of these men never played against whites.
This compact museum recounts the long journey to equality via a film and 12 galleries that roughly circle the clever centerpiece – a mock baseball field with life-sized statues of legendary players, in action poses at their positions on the field.
- Popular music has long transcended the nation’s racial divide, and no part of popular culture is more uniquely American than jazz.
When the Depression shuttered much of the nation’s nightlife, political “Boss” Tom Pendergast simply decided he wouldn’t let it close down his city. He ordered public works projects to keep people employed and he ignored Prohibition to keep them content. More than 100 nightclubs, dance halls and vaudeville houses featured blues and jazz.
Bands were formed and legends made. Regulars included Louis Armstrong, Big Joe Turner, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and a local fellow, Charlie Parker.
Within the Jazz Museum, visitors can listen to Armstrong, Ellington, Fitzgerald and Parker, each of whom has a separate gallery. One of Parker’s special saxophones is on display.
The museum shares the building with a nightclub, the Blue Room; the Baseball Museum is just up the block.
If you go
- The Arabia Steamboat Museum, 400 Grand Blvd., in the River Market. Open daily except for major holidays. (816) 471-4030.
- The National World War One Museum, open Tuesday through Sunday except for major holidays. (816) 784-1918.
-The American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum share the address 1616 E 18th St. Both open Tuesday through Sunday except major holidays. The Jazz Museum is at (816) 474-8463; www.americanjazzmuseum.com. The Baseball Museum is at (816) 221-1920; www.nlbm.com.
GREENWICH, England — Kings and queens vacationed here for nearly five centuries. The world sets its watches from here. Sailors successfully navigate using a device on display in this town. All of it is a half-hour’s narrated boat ride down the Thames from the Tower of London.
And vivid history lessons about science and exploration await visitors who walk a few blocks up from the river.
One of the first buildings is the handsome Royal Naval College, originally designed by famed architect Christopher Wren to be a hospital and retirement home for sailors. The building known as the Painted Hall has a ceiling mural so vast that carts with mirrored surfaces are placed in the room so visitors can look down to view the paintings, rather than crane their necks and arch their backs.
Beyond the college and the twin wings of the Queen’s House, originally built in 1638, later enlarged and now an art gallery, is a statue of William IV, at the edge of the vast lawn that is Greenwich Park.
King, yes, but none then to the irreverent as Silly Billy or Sailor Bill. Those nicknames referred to his legendary drinking and womanizing — his mistress bore him 10 children, his wife bore none who lived — and his obvious lack of maritime skills.
Visitors who climb the hill through the lovely green park past the picnickers and scampering children reach the Royal Observatory. From the hilltop, you can look back to London and see the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, six miles upstream.
In the late 1600s, Greenwich was already a desirable location for London’s well-to-do, easily reachable via the Thames yet clear of the smoke and crowds of the working class.
It was King Charles II who decreed that his Royal Observatory be situated on the hilltop. Who else but Wren, himself an astronomer, would be chosen to design a home and work space for the royal astronomer, John Flamsteed?
More than 325 years later, Flamsteed House is still lovely to look at and intriguing to tour, because it is a museum that chronicles mankind’s effort to chart time, the heavens and our place anywhere on this globe.
This last chore was largely accomplished over 40 years by a nonscientist, the clockmaker John Harrison.
On display are the “sea clocks” Harrison fashioned. He wanted moving parts that would neither freeze nor shrink in the extreme conditions through which Britain’s military and merchant ships sailed.
The clocks finally allowed navigators to determine their position east and west. The clocks’ accuracy led to drawing the lines of longitude and, in the 1770s, won Harrison a prize of 20,000 pounds, a fortune then.
The continued study of measuring time is told in other exhibits, including a version of an atomic clock judged to be accurate within 1 second over the passage of 15-million years.
Outside the observatory, many visitors pose for a gag photo, with one foot in the western hemisphere and one in the eastern. They can do this because first British and then international authorities decreed that the prime meridian, the line of zero degrees longitude, would pass through the observatory grounds.
The nearby National Maritime Museum, which chronicles the history of the greatest seafaring nation ever, is not only imaginative but fascinating. You can easily spend an afternoon learning not only why Great Britain established the empire “upon which the sun never set” but also how it was created — often through invasion and slavery.
From the 2-million-plus items in its collection, the museum displays ship’s models, figureheads, ancient navigational aids and maps.
One gallery displays maritime paintings and even clips from a color documentary on vacation cruising from a half-century ago.
Another gallery is a fascinating discussion of exploration. This is highlighted by remarkable film of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914-16 voyage to the Antarctic. His ship Endurance was locked in the ice for about nine months in 1915. Viewers watch its demise: as ice floes come together, the vessel is crushed and sinks.
Shackleton and the 27-member crew made it to an uninhabited island. He and five others then went for help. Not until August of the next year were all of them rescued.
Yet another gallery is devoted to the empire’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Surely millions of tourists to London have passed Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square without understanding why it was erected. The answers are in this gallery.
In October 1805, off the coast of Cadiz, Spain, the 47-year-old Nelson led an armada of 33 ships against a force of equal size from the Spanish and French navies. In about two hours, the British sank or disabled 18 enemy vessels, killing or wounding 6,000 of the enemy.
The British lost no ships, though some were no longer worthy as fighting ships, and suffered casualties of 1,700.
Among those killed was Nelson, shot through the shoulder and spine by a sniper perched in the mast of the French ship that Nelson’s Victory was battling.
On display is his uniform; you can see the bullet hole below his left shoulder.
Consider the following qualities attributed to Nelson: decisive, courageous, a leader from the front, unconventional in his attack plans, adaptable.
The admiral, who had previously lost his right arm and the sight in one eye during various battles in which he captured at least 26 vessels, once wrote:
“Difficulties and dangers do but increase my desire of attempting them.”
If you go
GETTING THERE: From London, you can reach Greenwich the slow, picturesque way, by a narrated cruise down the Thames, or the fast and impersonal way, connecting with the Docklands Light Railway, an elevated commuter train, from the Bank Tube stop near the Tower of London.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go the Web site, ; each of the museums has a link from this page.
LONDON — Career paths, marriage or divorce choices, perhaps even whether to continue with life itself … surely all of these issues are contemplated time and again in the spring sunshine that caresses London’s glorious St. James’s Park.
One end of the park’s 93 acres cushions such government buildings as the Foreign Office and the Admiralty. The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey are just a couple of blocks away. The lawns, lake, shade trees and flower beds in between have soothed bureaucrats and politicians – and everyone else from romantic couples to overworked merchants — for more than three centuries.
But how many tourists would interrupt their schedule to sit on a bench and watch the ducks and pelicans? After all, this is one of the world’s most cultured cities, where history is on view most everywhere.
Well, visitors should take time to sit here, and stroll here. St. James’s almost forces calmness on you — the perfect tonic to hectic sightseeing. And while you’re relaxing here, double-check your itinerary to make sure it includes these places:
The Banqueting House: Both historically important and, on the inside, glorious. Designer Inigo Jones built this half-block-long palace for James I in 1622. Jones, having just returned from Italy, eschewed the prevalent ornate architecture for the symmetrical simplicity of Italy’s Palladian style.
But the reason to enter is to marvel at the series of paintings on the ceiling of the upstairs grand hall, which is 110 feet long. James’ son, Charles I, commissioned Peter Paul Rubens to glorify his father in those paintings, 55 feet above the floor. Ironically, Charles practiced few of the virtues alluded to in the ceiling murals, and in 1649 he was executed for treason — on a scaffold erected outside these second-story windows.
The entrance fee includes a helpful audio guide. Located on Whitehall, at Horseguards Avenue.
Westminster Abbey: Central to the history of England, as both a place of coronation and burial. The British empire’s greatest naval hero, Horatio Nelson, used to rally his men during battle by shouting, “It’s Westminster Abbey or victory!” Admiral Nelson, however, was not buried here.
Every coronation since 1066 has taken place in the Abbey, which is still a functioning church. Visitors can almost touch the Coronation Chair, created in 1308.
There is so much here to see — and it becomes crowded with tour groups – that it is well worth paying the for the Abbey’s own narrated, 90-minute tours or audio guides.
The Abbey is immediately behind the Houses of Parliament, but the main entrance is off Broad Sanctuary, a continuation of Victoria Street.
The Wallace Collection: An engrossing collection of European porcelain, paintings, furniture, clocks and armor. The family gave the nearly 5,500 pieces, gathered by four generations, to the government with the proviso that it never be divided.
The items are displayed in 25 rooms of what had been the family mansion, more than a little off the beaten path. But here, the paintings alone include works by Rembrandt, Titian, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Watteau, Fragonard and Canaletto.
Entrance is free, though donations are suggested.
In Hertford House, on Manchester Square; from Selfridge’s department store on Oxford Street, go north on Duke Street for six short blocks.
Other worthy stops in London:
/ Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park
/ St. Paul’s Cathedral
/ British Airways London Eye
/ Victoria and Albert Museum
/ National Portrait Gallery
/ Tate Modern
/ Highgate Cemetary (by tour ony)
/ Central Criminal Courts
And if you want to learn about the city from street level — and sometimes from observation points a few floors above — be sure to book one of the charming narrated tours offered by THE specialist, London Walks.
New Orleans is defined by the cliché: So many choices, so little time.
That holds true for those visiting this great American city before or after a cruise. No matter how much time you can spare, there is something here to entertain you. And while many cruise ship passengers prefer to eat all their meals onboard, even when in port, few cities offer so many tempting restaurants.
Museum treats like no other
Your kids may think television and the Web have shown them the world, but wait until they come face-to-snout with a white alligator. A short walk from the cruise terminal at Julia and Erato streets is the wonderfully imaginative Aquarium of the Americas on Canal Street, where a vanilla-colored gator named Spots can be seen. You also can enjoy a pair of delightful sea otters –- fed daily at 2 p.m. -– penguins, a rainbow of tropical fish and a display of sea horses. (if you’re a member of AAA or AARP, show your membership card for a discount on admissions.)
The city’s stereotypes don’t call to mind fun for kiddies, but the Louisiana Children’s Museum, 420 Julia St., offers a range of interactive exhibits. One of the special treats here for everyone who’s read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi: the computer that lets you steer a ship down the Big Muddy.
Even if you’re not in town in the late winter for the legendary Mardi Gras celebrations, you can experience the glitter and colorful history of that pageant year-round at two places unique to New Orleans:
/ On the edge of the famed French Quarter is the Presbytere (751 Chartres), a National Historic Landmark and part of the Louisiana State Museum system. It has a permanent exhibit on Mardi Gras, including spectacular costumes, tiaras and necklaces.
/ On the riverfront near the convention center is the new home of Blaine Kern Studios, 1380 Port of New Orleans Place. Since 1947, these artists and craftsmen have created the majority of the colorful floats used in these parades and many others elsewhere in the country. The vast complex — 400,000 square feet — is home to Mardi Gras World, which offers tours, plus special event venues and corporate offices.
New Orleans is one of America’s few cities still using streetcars. Here, one runs parallel to the river, from the French Quarter to the Warehouse District, which has been revived with art galleries and artists’ studios. The Canal Street line heads from the river out to City Park, with its Storyland amusement park. The St. Charles Avenue line is a fine ride past fashionable homes in the Garden District.
For something slower-paced, horse-drawn carriages are available for narrated tours of the French Quarter.
A buffet for grown-ups
Mardi Gras is restricted to a few weeks of parades, but the French Quarter exists to feed, tempt and entertain 365 days a year.
Beyond the bars, risqué nightclub shows and ubiquitous carts selling Lucky Dogs to the hungry are retail shops. Royal Street is famed for its quality antique stores. The French Market (1008 N. Peters St.), one of the nation’s oldest public markets, offers original artwork and regional specialties.
The Quarter also boasts art galleries, shops specializing in voodoo items (including custom-made specialties) and a city landmark, Jackson Square.
A short stroll from the cruise terminals is the Riverwalk Marketplace on Poydras Street. Browse more than 100 shops and pop into the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
For night-time adventure, explore Bourbon Street or try your luck at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino on Canal Street.
You’re sure to find good times at Tipitina’s, a concert venue at 501 Napolean, and Mulate’s, the established Cajun food and dance hall, at 201 Julia St.
For something different, put on your dancing shoes and head to the Mid City Bowling Lanes, also called the Rock ‘n’ Bowl, at 3016 S. Carrollton Ave., which offers live music most nights.
Time to eat
There simply are way too many fabulous restaurants to consider without devising a plan. Several standards should be considered first when time is limited.
For breakfast, there’s the legendary Café du Monde on Decatur Street, at the edge of the French Quarter. The bustling Cafe is famous for its bite-sized, powdered-sugar-covered beignets and its chicory coffee.
Of if your appetite can wait until you reach the far end of the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, pop into the charming Camellia Grill, 626 S. Carrollton Ave., and try the pecan waffles. Don’t be deterred if there is a line of people waiting to get in — that’s just confirmation of your wise choice, and the patrons do move in and out quickly.
It’s tough to beat a New Orleans’ muffaletta -– a round loaf of crusty Italian bread sliced and typically filled with Provolone cheese, Genoa salami, ham and green olives. This meal-on-a bun, a city landmark, was created in 1906 at the Central Grocery, 923 Decatur St.
For the city’s other sandwich staple, try Johnny’s Po-Boys at 511 Saint Louis St., where sandwiches are stuffed with a variety of meats or seafood.
Regional cuisine favorites include Creole -– emphasizing seafood prepared with a mix of West African, French, African-American and Spanish influences -– and Cajun, which is typically more spicy.
Can’t-miss Cajun dishes are served at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, 416 Chartres St.
For Creole cuisine, consider a trip to Royal Street for either Mr. B’s Bistro or Brennan’s. Another good choice is Galatoire’s, 209 Bourbon St. For Creole in simpler surroundings, it’s the Gumbo Shop near the St. Louis Cathedral on Saint Peter Street.
If it’s Sunday, take a cab to splurge on brunch at the beloved Commander’s Palace, 1403 Washington Ave.
Whether in town for a few hours or a couple of days, plan ahead so you can enjoy all New Orleans offers.