Yad La-Shiryon is Israel’s main tank museum. Although the Musée des Blindés in France, with over 800 tanks, is the largest tank museum in the world, Yad La-Shiryon’s smaller collection of 160 tanks still ranks among the largest tank museums in the world. This is because no other tank museum has even half the number of tanks as France has.
Yad La-Shiryon means “hand” or “monument” of armor. It is also known as the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum, and is located in Latrun, which is a hill in the Ayalon valley between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. After the British Mandate of Palestine ended in 1948, this area fell under Jordanian rule. However, Israel took control of this strategic location during the Six Day War of 1967. Going back to ancient times, the Ayalon Valley is mentioned in the Bible in Joshua chapter 10 as the location of a battle between Moses’ successor, Joshua, and several local kings. According to this chapter, after Joshua prayed, God stopped the sun in the sky so that Joshua had enough time to win the battle.
During the British Mandate of Palestine, after WWI, the British built a police station on Latrun, because it provided a clear view of the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In 1982, Israel decided to convert the former police station into a museum dedicated to its fallen armored forces. Today, you can watch a movie about the history of tank warfare in Israel inside of the museum. Apparently, there is also a small synagogue and library in the building, but I did not notice either of these when I was there.
The primary attraction at Yad La-Shiryon is its 160 military tanks. These include all of the different types that Israel has used throughout the years (such as the Merkava) as well as tanks from other parts of the world, such as Britain, Russia, and the United States. However, the tanks that I found the most interesting were the two Nazi Panzers. Israel owning Nazi tanks is interesting enough, but how they obtained them was what made them fascinating. Initially, the Russian Red Army captured them from Germany during WWII. Afterwards, Russia sold them to Syria. Israel then captured them from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967. Clearly, the tanks passed through a lot of completely different hands.
All of the tanks at Yad La-Shiryon are parked just outside of the former British police station. Each tank has a sign next to it, written in both Hebrew and English, describing its history. The best part about the tank exhibit is that visitors are allowed to climb on top of the tanks. Yad La-Shiryon is definitely worth a visit for military history fans. In 2019, it was announced that another museum will be built on Latrun as well, so perhaps there will be even more history to see there soon. This museum will be dedicated to all of the Jewish soldiers who fought under the Allied forces during WWII, as well as those who worked in the underground against the Nazis.
About an hour north of Chicago and 10 minutes south of the state of Wisconsin lies a city called Zion. If you were to drive through it, nothing particularly interesting would stand out to you. In fact, the two times that I have been there, it appeared somewhat deserted. However, it had an interesting beginning.
Today, you can learn about Zion’s history at the Zion Historical Society, which is located in a 25-room mansion called Shiloh House. It was built in 1901, the year before Zion’s official incorporation. This home belonged to John Alexander Dowie, the founder of Zion. Dowie was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847, but moved to Australia early in his life. Eventually, he became a preacher and started performing faith healings. This led him on a missionary tour of the United States. After working in San Francisco for a while, he eventually went to Chicago. His fame rose at the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where he set up a station right outside the Fair and allegedly healed people.
After the Fair, Dowie decided to stay in Chicago, so with his many followers, he founded a church. It eventually became known as the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, although it had nothing to do with Catholicism. The church encountered a lot of opposition in Chicago, both from religious and city officials, so Dowie decided to start a theocratic society in a farm area north of Chicago, which he named Zion City. People from all over the world, particularly Europe, came to join this new religious “utopia.” If I remember correctly, my elderly tour guide told me that his grandparents came over from Scotland to join Dowie’s church. Throughout my tour, the guide would occasionally share his childhood memories of growing up in Zion.
Dowie did not live in his city for long. Zion was incorporated in 1902, but Dowie died of a stroke in 1907. Afterwards, his friend, Wilbur Glenn Voliva, came over from Australia to replace him and continue implementing a theocratic society. The rules in Zion included bans on alcohol, pork, tobacco, circuses, movies, silk stockings, and globes. The latter ban was implemented by Voliva, who adamantly believed that the earth was flat. By the mid 20th century, Zion’s inhabitants had become disillusioned with their theocratic government. Eventually, the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church evolved into a more mainstream Protestant denomination. Today, it is Christ Community Church.
Other than Washington D.C., Zion is the only U.S. city that was completely planned out prior to being built. The church was built at the center of the city, and the streets branched off from there. Zion’s streets are all named after Biblical places or names.
During my tour of Shiloh House, I not only learned about the history of Zion and Dowie, but also got to admire a beautiful Victorian-style mansion. One object that especially stood out to me in the house was a Biblical high priest’s outfit displayed near the entrance. Apparently, Dowie frequently wore it. Another interesting part of the house is near the top, where there is a display of different types of lace that were made in Zion. When Dowie planned Zion, he made sure that there was employment for its citizens, so had businesses such as a lace factory built there.
Because Zion has such a strange and unique history, the Zion Historical Society is my favorite historical society that I have visited so far. It is definitely worth a visit.
Off the coast of San Francisco, a city in California, stands a rocky island aptly nicknamed “The Rock.” However, it is officially known as “Alcatraz,” based on the name “Isla de los Alcatraces” (Spanish for “Island of the Pelicans”), which is what a Spanish explorer called it in 1775. Today, Alcatraz Island is a popular tourist destination, primarily because it served as a federal prison for some of the United States’ most dangerous criminals from 1934 to 1963.
Today, the U.S. National Park Service owns Alcatraz Island, which still contains the aging prison buildings used by notorious criminals in the mid-20th century. Tourists must book a ticket through Alcatraz Cruises in order to ride a boat to get to the island. There are different touring options available, but the cheapest (which is still pricey) includes the basic Cellhouse Audio Tour. The audio tour is available in several languages, and allows you to learn about the history of the island at your own pace. If you have the time, and are willing to pay, it is worth the visit.
Alcatraz’s most famous inmate was the Chicago gangster, Al Capone. Capone lived on Alcatraz from 1934 to 1939. The goal of keeping dangerous criminals on the isolated island was (1) to isolate them from the rest of the world (Capone was still involved in criminal activity while in a mainland prison), and (2) to make it more difficult for criminals to escape. Several dozen inmates did attempt to escape Alcatraz, but none succeeded. However, a few disappeared, so there is room for doubt.
Prior to becoming a federal prison, Alcatraz Island served as a military prison. After it closed in 1963, due the growing expenses of general maintenance, it was left abandoned. From 1969 to 1971, a group of Native Americans occupied the island as a form or protest, because they desired the land which they claimed was theirs based on a former treaty. Instead, the U.S. government gave the land to the National Park Service.
Alcatraz has captured the imagination of many, thus leading to the creation of dozens of films and books about it. Some famous films include the 1962 film with Burt Lancaster, Birdman of Alcatraz; the 1979 film with Clint Eastwood, Escape from Alcatraz; and the 1996 film with Sean Connery, The Rock. There is even a children’s book series called Tales from Alcatraz by Gennifer Choldenko, which describes a fictional account of a boy and his family who live on Alcatraz Island, because the boy’s father is a prison guard. Alcatraz’s prison guards actually lived on the island with their families.
Although Alcatraz’s name comes from the Spanish word for “pelican,” sea gulls are the birds that seem to be swarming all over the island. The deteriorating stone buildings and screeching sea gulls definitely make you feel as if you have walked into a creepy movie, albeit an interesting one.
Although the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was born in the state of Kentucky, Illinois is commonly called the “Land of Lincoln.” In fact, even the Illinois license plate has this phrase on it, as well as a depiction of Lincoln’s head. This is because Lincoln lived in Illinois longer than he did in any other state.
In 2005, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened in Illinois’ state capital of Springfield. Originally, it was the Illinois State Historical Library, which first began collecting materials regarding the history of Illinois in 1889. Since this library had a large Abraham Lincoln collection, people and the state eventually raised enough funds to transform it into the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. However, despite its new name, it continues to collect non-Lincoln materials from Illinois history as well.
In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt was the first U.S. President to donate his materials to the Federal Government specifically to create a presidential library. Soon after that, it became mandatory for U.S. Presidents to do so. Today, the U.S. National Archives runs the presidential libraries of Roosevelt, his predecessor Hoover, and every U.S. president after them. A handful of earlier U.S. Presidents have their own presidential libraries, but these are all independently run by different groups, not the federal government. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is run by the state of Illinois.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum provides visitors with an interactive experience that makes the visit enjoyable to people who do not typically like museums. For example, it includes a variety of lifelike dioramas from Lincoln’s life displayed throughout the Museum. There is also a neat hologram movie that visitors can watch about Lincoln. The Museum begins with Lincoln’s early years, continues through his careers as a clerk and lawyer, and eventually leads into his involvement with Illinois politics. The second half of the Museum describes Lincoln’s presidential years, involvement in the U.S. Civil War, and eventual assassination. Among the noteworthy items on display at the Museum are an original copy of the Gettysburg address, the quill pen Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, and the bloody gloves Lincoln wore at the time of his assassination.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is a separate building across the street from the Museum. As previously mentioned, it includes documents about Abraham Lincoln, but also has materials about the history of Illinois, including an oral history collection and useful resources for Illinois genealogists. Additionally, the climate-controlled library building functions as the archives for the Museum, meaning that it also houses museum objects.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum recently joined the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI). Since I used to work for another CARLI library member, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending two librarian events at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. While there, I had a tour of their conservation lab, where they work on repairing documents, books, maps, etc. The staff demonstrated how to wrap and carefully submerge stiff, rolled documents into water, in order to soften them up enough to eventually unroll them. The staff also showed us the Museum’s archives, where we saw a few interesting items. It fascinated me how they treated a jersey worn by a Chicago Blackhawks hockey player during a recent Stanley Cup win with the same amount of caution and precision as they did a handmade Civil War violin from 1863.
If you have enough time in Springfield, you should also visit a few other Abraham Lincoln spots in the area. The home that Lincoln lived in prior to his presidency is not far from the Museum. It is owned by the National Park Service, which provides free 20-25 minute tours of the home daily (except during COVID-19, so take a virtual tour). Also nearby is Lincoln’s large tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Finally, about thirty minutes away is New Salem. New Salem is a reconstruction of the small town that Lincoln lived in prior to living in Springfield. It is now a living history museum, so you can walk inside the reconstructed log buildings while learning more about life in the town from the staff, who are dressed in nineteenth-century garb. Interestingly, New Salem was reconstructed in the 1930s and early 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a governmental program that provided unemployed young men with jobs during the Great Depression.
The most famous museum in Israel is the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Founded in 1965, it was primarily built to display the numerous archaeological finds from throughout the country. It is located across the street from the Knesset, Israel’s government building, and houses approximately 500,000 items.
Perhaps the most popular display at the Israel Museum is the Shrine of the Book, which is a smaller building on the Museum complex that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. More information about the Dead Sea Scrolls can be found in my Previous Post. These First Century A.D. era scrolls are the oldest Biblical texts ever found (not including a tiny Biblical inscription found at Ketef Hinnom).
Right outside the Shrine of the Book building, visitors can see a huge model depicting Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period, the time that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. The model was originally built for the Holy Land Hotel in 1966, a year before Israel took of control of the Temple Mount area. People, including my dad, would visit the Holy Land Hotel just to see the model. However, the model was disassembled into 100 parts and moved to the Israel Museum in 2006.
The Israel Museum’s archaeology wing is probably its second largest attraction, after the Dead Sea Scrolls. It not only houses archaeology found in Israel, but also archaeology from other areas of the world, especially the Middle East. One famous item displayed there is the Ketef Hinnom inscription, which I mentioned above as being the oldest Biblical text ever discovered. In 1979, Dr. Gabriel Barkay found two silver scrolls that contain the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:23-27. He found them in a burial cave in Jerusalem’s Hinnom Valley. (Fun Fact: the word Gehenna is an anglicanized version of Gei-Hinnom גֵי־הִנֹּם, which means “Valley of Hinnom.” Because it was used as a dump and a place where evil kings performed child sacrifices in ancient times, the word came to be associated with Hell.) Today, you can visit the burial caves where the Ketef Hinnom inscription was found by going into the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and asking if you could see their archaeolgical garden.
In addition to archaeology, the Israel Museum has also become Israel’s main art museum. However, I am less knowledgable and interested in art, so do not know what famous pieces they have there. While at the museum, I did not have enough time so sped through the art wing.
One other wing at the museum is called the Jack, Joseph, & Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art & Life. This wing houses Judaica from throughout the centuries and throughout the world. My favorite part of this wing is called “The Synagogue Route.” This exhibit is a reconstruction of four synagogues, using pieces from the originals. It includes synagogues from 18th century Italy, 16th century India, 18th century Germany, and 18th century Suriname. From what I remember, as you walk into each of the gorgeously recreated synagogues, you hear Jewish music playing from that synagogue’s country and time period.
During the mid-20th century, over 900 Jewish texts were discovered at Qumran, which is located in present-day Israel’s Judean Desert. These scrolls are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, because of Qumran’s close proximity to the Dead Sea. They date to the last few centuries B.C. and first few centuries A.D., and are primarily written in Hebrew, with several texts in Aramaic and Greek. The scrolls’ content includes Old Testament books, the books of the Apocrypha, and texts written by the Essenes, a Jewish sect of the time. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest Biblical texts ever discovered (not including the Ketef Hinnom scrolls) and include fragments from every Old Testament book except for the book of Esther. However, the book of Isaiah is the only complete Old Testament book found in the collection.
In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd accidentally found seven of the Dead Sea Scrolls in clay jars in a cave in Qumran. During this time, Israel was part of the British Mandate of Palestine. Since the Bedouins could not read Hebrew, they did not know what to make of the scrolls. Eventually, a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church who lived in the area learned about the scrolls. He thought that the script might be in Syriac, the script used for modern Aramaic. Since Syriac is the script used in the Syrian Orthodox Church’s liturgy, he brought the scrolls to his archbishop, Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, who oversaw the Monastery of Saint Mark in Jerusalem. (For more information about the Monastery of Saint Mark in Jerusalem, see my Previous Post.)
After Mar Samuel looked at the seven Dead Sea Scrolls, he immediately realized that they were written in Hebrew, not his cognate language of Aramaic. He ended up buying four of the scrolls, including the one containing the full book of Isaiah, and took a few fragments as well. Eleazar Sukenik, an archaeology professor at Hebrew University, purchased the other three scrolls. When Israel’s War for Independence began in 1948, Mar Samuel fled to New Jersey, where he eventually posted an ad in The Wall Street Journal offering to sell the scrolls. Sukenik’s son, the archaeologist, Yigael Yadin, learned about the ad, and ended up purchasing Mar Samuel’s scrolls in 1954. However, Mar Samuel kept his few fragments. To this day, the fragments remain at St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck, New Jersey, under the ownership of the Syrian Orthodox Church (Home #1).
Yigael Yadin’s scrolls and Mar Samuel’s scrolls ended up going into the new Israel Museum, an archaeology museum built in West Jerusalem in 1965. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls are not in the main building, but in their own climate-controlled building called the Shrine of the Book (Home #2). The building is shaped like the clay jars that originally housed the scrolls. Today, visitors to the Israel Museum can still see the first seven scrolls, as well as most of the others ever found, on display there. Only a few scrolls are displayed at a time, though, in order to minimize the amount of light exposure that they receive. Some of the scrolls have been digitized and can be viewed online here: http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/.
In 1938, when Israel was still under British rule, the British built the Palestine Archaeological Museum to house the discoveries of the archaeological digs that were being conducted at the time. The American philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. helped finance the museum, so today, it is known as the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum. When Israel gained its independence in 1948, the city of Jerusalem was divided in half. Israel owned West Jerusalem and Jordan owned East Jerusalem. The Rockefeller Museum fell into the jurisdiction of the Jordanians. However, an international team of archaeologists managed the museum. As more Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956, they were added to the Rockefeller Museum.
During this time, a few of the Dead Sea Scrolls were moved to the Jordan Archaeological Museum, which was built in Amman, Jordan in 1951. This included the “Copper Scroll,” which is made of copper instead of parchment or papyrus and contains a mysterious treasure map. When I visited Amman in 2010, I saw the Copper Scroll at the Jordan Archaeological Museum. However, when Jordan built the Jordan Museum in 2014, the Copper Scroll was moved there instead (Home #3). I am thankful for this, because the Jordan Archaeological Museum’s displays looked outdated, lacked descriptions in some areas, and had questionable climate control.
After Israel took control of East Jerusalem in 1967, during the Six-Day War, it also took control of the Rockefeller Museum, which is now owned by the Israel Museum. Any Dead Sea Scrolls found there were transferred over to the Shrine of the Book. You can still visit the Rockefeller Museum today, free of charge, to see archaeology found during the British Mandate era. However, it does not house anything particularly famous. Additionally, the building’s age shows, and the displays are not as impressive as the displays at the Israel Museum.
In addition to the Shrine of the Book, the Jordan Museum, and the Syrian Orthodox Church in Teaneck, NJ, a small number of Dead Sea Scrolls are located in several academic institutions in the United States, as well as in a private European collection. When the Museum of the Bible opened in Washington D.C. in 2017, it allegedly had 16 Dead Sea Scroll fragments on display. However, since then, investigations have revealed that the Museum was deceived, and that the fragments are all forgeries.
Although Qumran no longer has any known Dead Sea Scrolls there, people can visit the archaeological site today. It is owned by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and has some interesting videos that you can watch at the visitor center, if you want to learn more about the scrolls and the group (possibly the Essenes) who may have written them. The site itself contains the archaeological remains of the mysterious group who wrote the scrolls.
The city of Jerusalem has a 16th century Ottoman wall surrounding its Old City. The area within these walls is allotted into four sections: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Although Armenians are Christian, they were the first country to nationally convert to Christianity, so they have kept a presence in Jerusalem for centuries. That is why they have their own quarter. Despite the name, none of the quarters are solely made up of one group of people. In fact, hidden away in a narrow street of the Armenian Quarter is St. Mark’s Monastery.
During the first few hundred years of Christianity, before the Catholic and Orthodox churches even split, churches from across the globe held ecumenical councils. During the fourth ecumenical council in A.D. 451, called the Council of Chalcedon, the churches excommunicated those adhering to monophysitism, which states that Jesus only had a divine, not human, nature. Those expelled included the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church, and the Syriac Orthodox Church. Today, these latter churches claim that their theology was misrepresented at the Council, and that they did still believe in Jesus’ humanity. Regardless, because of this early split, these Eastern Churches developed on their own.
Most people from the Syriac Orthodox Church (also known as the Jacobite Church, because of one of their bishops, Jacob Barradaeus) lived in what is present-day Turkey. They built a church in Jerusalem in the sixth century A.D., which became St. Mark’s Monastery. According to Syriac Orthodox tradition, it was built over the Upper Room where Jesus had his last supper. Today, anyone can visit the church and have a tour with the caretaker. Fortunately, when I visited the church, the caretaker allowed me to go downstairs to the site of the earliest church. The current church was built on top of it. Archaeologists did not discover this earlier church until 1940.
The Syriac Orthodox Church’s liturgy is in a modern dialect of Aramaic. That is because, prior to the Islamic invasion of the Middle East in the seventh century A.D., the Middle East’s lingua franca was Aramaic. After the Islamic invastion, those who did not convert to Christianity kept their Aramaic language and did not replace it with Arabic. The modern Aramaic script is called Syriac. If you attend a service at St. Mark’s Monastery, you can hear the Aramaic liturgy and see the Syriac prayer books used.
If the Syriac Orthodox Church is not confusing enough, I would like to add one more confusing element to it. Today, many adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church consider themselves ethnically Aramean, because they speak the Aramaic language. Since they lived in the Middle East before the Islamic conquest, they are certainly not Arab, even if most of them can speak Arabic today. However, it is only in the 20th century that the Syriac Orthodox Church adopted the Aramean identity.
The identity of the Syriac Orthodox Church remains a controversial topic today. Whereas some, but not all, from the Syriac Orthodox Church consider themselves Aramean, others call themselves Assyrian. In fact, one of the founders of Assyrian Nationalism in the early twentieth century, Naum Faiq, was born into a Syriac Orthodox family. Assyrian nationalists claim that they are descended from the ancient Assyrians and want to build an Assyrian homeland.
Members of the Assyrian Church of the East also believe that the Syriac Orthodox Church is descended from the ancient Assyrians. Similar to the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East is an ancient Middle Eastern church that speaks Aramaic (although an Eastern dialect, unlike the Syriac Orthodox Church’s western dialect). It was excommunicated from the mainstream church at the third ecumenical council in A.D. 431 (the Council of Ephesus), because its members were associated with the heretic Nestorius. According to those from the Assyrian Church of the East, who also identify themselves as descendants of the ancient Assyrians, the reason why the Syriac Orthodox Church stopped calling itself Assyrian in the twentieth century was because it wanted to distance itself from the Assyrian Church of the East. This was not only for religious reasons, but primarily because they did not want to experience the same fate as the Assyrians, who were massacred in Simele, Iraq in 1933. At Simele, between 3,000 to 6,000 Assyrians were killed by the Iraqi government, both for political and religious reasons.
Although the Syriac Orthodox did avoid its own massacre, it did not escape massacre earlier in the 20th century. Approximately 200,000 members of both the Assyrian and Syriac Orthodox churches were massacred during WWI, along with the one million Armenians murdered during the Armenian Genocide. Many Syriac Orthodox people moved to Israel after that, and still live there today. Throughout the 20th century, many others moved to Sweden and the United States. If you are interested, a Syriac Orthodox Group in New Jersey has recently uploaded over 2,000 Syriac Orthodox and Assyrian books online here: https://archive.org/details/bethmardutho.
St. Mark’s Monastery has a connection with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. I plan to write about that soon. (September 20 Update: Here is the Post about the Dead Sea Scrolls.)
Most people visit museums to learn new information. However, memorial museums often add an emotional element to the visit. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is no exception. After visiting, the experience will probably stay in your mind for at least the rest of the day.
When a country experiences a disaster, most people remember the day vividly. For example, most people living in the United States in 1963 can remember what they were doing on the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. A more recent example is September 11, 2001, when the United States experienced the largest terrorist attack on its soil. On that day, four planes were hijacked by terrorists, with one (United Airlines Flight 93) crashing into a field in Pennsylvania, one crashing into the Pentagon building in Washington D.C., and two crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
The highest casualties of the 9/11 attacks occurred in New York City, since both of the skyscrapers tumbled to the ground. When the World Trade Center was completed in 1973, the towers ranked as the second and third tallest skyscrapers in the world, after the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) in Chicago. Prior to the attacks in 2001, they were the second and third tallest buildings in the Western Hemisphere.
Because the damage was so extensive, cleaning the debris from the New York attacks almost took a year. Afterwards, people debated what to do with the eerie space, eventually deciding to make most of it a memorial/museum, which was completed in 2014. Additionally, a new skyscraper, known as the One World Trade Center, was built in the damaged vicinity. It is currently the tallest building in the United States and Western Hemisphere.
The bases of the World Trade Center towers now act as memorial fountains. Walking around the fountains helps bring perspective on how wide the towers were. The memorial fountains include the names of those killed in all of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as those killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. You can search for the location of the victims’ names on the memorial at the museum’s website: https://names.911memorial.org/#lang=en_US
The actual museum is located underground, in the foundations of the twin towers. As soon as I entered the building, I felt uneasy. The entire museum has a creepy vibe. It does not help that you can see a remaining staircase going up to nothing, or pieces of distorted metal frames on display.
The museum provides a chronological experience of what happened on 9/11, using signs, video footage, and objects to help tell the story. This not only includes the stories of the victims, but also of the first responders who came to help. One disconcerting room is dedicated to the Flight 93 hijacking that landed in Pennsylvania. In it, you can listen to the phone calls people made before the plane crashed.
Because 9/11 is still a recent memory, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum struggled with what should and should not be on display. An especially contentious issue was whether the 19 hijackers’ photos should be displayed in the museum or not. Ultimately, their photographs are on display at the end of the exhibit, as is security camera video footage of some of them successfully going through airport security checkpoints.
Although it might dampen your mood, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is undoubtedly worth the visit. The exhibits are top notch and the content extremely important. Due to COVID-19, the number of visitors cannot exceed 25% capacity (When I visited in 2016, the museum was packed.). Because of this, the museum is currently offering live virtual tours on Sundays for $25: https://www.911memorial.org/visit/virtual-tours.
If you walk around the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, you might notice a large, domed building with a minaret located across the street from former U.S. President Barack Obama’s home. Until a larger sign was added to the front lawn, most people assumed it was a mosque. However, it is actually KAM Isaiah Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in Illinois.
In the early nineteenth century, German Jews began settling in Chicago. By 1847, enough Jews arrived in Chicago to start a synagogue, so Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv (KAM for short) was founded. Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv means “Congregation of the Men of the West” in Hebrew. As more Jews continued to settle in Chicago, more synagogues emerged. The current congregation in Hyde Park, KAM Isaiah Israel, is a merger of several of Chicago’s oldest synagogues: Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv (KAM), B’nai Sholom (which originally formed as a split from KAM), Isaiah Temple, and Temple Israel. That is why the current name of the synagogue is KAM Isaiah Israel. KAM began as an Orthodox synagogue, but soon joined the newly formed Reformed Jewish movement.
KAM Isaiah Israel’s current building at 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd. was built in 1924 by Isaiah Temple, before it merged with the other synagogues. The reason why it looks like a mosque is because Byzantine Revival architecture was popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This style tries to imitate the mosques and churches of Constantinople (the capital of Byzantium). Byzantine Revival architecture that specifically mimics Islamic architecture is known as the Moorish Revival style. Many Jews built their synagogues in this style during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a way of hearkening back to their Middle Eastern roots. Because of its architectural significance, KAM Isaiah Israel’s building was designated a Chicago landmark in 1977.
I went on a tour of KAM Isaiah Israel during Open House Chicago, an annual event in Chicago in which different museums, public buildings, houses of worship, etc. open their doors to the public for a weekend in October. Unfortunately, this year, the event will be limited to online and outdoor events, due to COVID-19: https://openhousechicago.org/. Prior to COVID-19, KAM Isaiah Israel also offered private tours of the synagogue upon request. Currently, the synagogue has been livestreaming its services, and plans to continue doing so for the upcoming Jewish High Holidays. On my tour, I was told that because of the domed ceiling, the acoustics of the synagogue are beautiful, so it might be worth listening to a livestreamed service.
As an added bonus, here is a photograph of another Moorish Revival building in Chicago, located at 600 N. Wabash Ave. It is of the former Medinah Temple, built in 1912 as an auditorium for the Shriners, a group related to the Freemasons, which often employs Middle Eastern terminology and designs. Currently, the building houses a Bloomingdale’s department store, but that was supposed to end in 2020, so we shall see what happens. The building became a Chicago landmark in 2001.
The last time I visited a museum, before COVID-19 caused the United States to shut down, was on March 1, 2020. On that day, I visited the Civil War Museum of Kenosha, WI. Located a little over an hour away from Chicago, Kenosha has certainly been receiving a lot of national attention this week due to police/racial tension. I am not sure if that is the reason why the Civil War Museum’s website is currently not working, but that is why I wanted to write some positive news about Kenosha.
The key states in the American Civil War were the eastern ones since that is where most Americans lived during the mid-nineteenth century. However, the American Midwest also played a role in the War, even though no major battles occurred there. Built in 2008, Kenosha’s Civil War Museum focuses on the experiences of the seven upper Midwestern states that sent their men to the battlefield: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
A highlight at the museum is a 10-minute 360-degree movie called “Seeing the Elephant,” referencing a phrase soldiers used for seeing a battle. Visitors watch the film standing up on a heightened platform in the middle of the room. Meanwhile, the film uses the entire top perimeter of the room as a screen, so that you need to keep turning around to see everything. The film provides a brief overview of a battle from the perspective of three Midwesterners. The 360-degree aspect of the film helps make you feel as if you were there.
The museum’s main exhibit provides visitors with a chronological view of the American Civil War, emphasizing the experiences of soldiers and other participants from the Midwest. That means that most of the artifacts at the museum have a Midwestern connection, as do most of the stories told on the signs. The design of the exhibits includes a recreation of a town, and a recreation of a battle camp, which help make the museum feel more interactive.
Upstairs, the Civil War Museum has a library filled with books about the American Civil War, with a special emphasis on the American Midwest. The library also includes a play area for children, where they can dress up in different Civil War-era clothing. Due to COVID-19, I wonder when that activity will resume. Downstairs, across from the main exhibit, is a darkened room that serves as a war memorial to those who perished in every U.S. war. The room’s ceiling is filled with lights that look like stars, and the walls each memorialize a different U.S. war. There is still room for more wars to be added onto the walls.
Since Kenosha is located on Lake Michigan, you might be tempted to walk around the area outside the museum, which includes two lighthouses and a path along the Lake. Additionally, if you drive about five minutes away, you can visit the oldest of the Kenosha Public Library buildings, which has a Winged Victory Civil War memorial in front of it. Both the library and the memorial were built in 1900. The Gilbert M. Simmons Memorial Library was actually built by Daniel Burnham, the man responsible for planning Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Approximately, 750,000 men from the American Midwest served in the U.S. Civil War for the Northern (Yankee) cause. Since the Midwest is often overlooked when studying the American Civil War, it is nice that Kenosha tried to make sure that they were not forgotten.