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Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

The Smithsonian is a network of 20 museums run by the U.S. government.  Perhaps the most popular of them is the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.  Completed in 1964, and originally called the National Museum of History and Technology, the museum, unsurprisingly, contains the largest collection of United States history in the world.

The National Museum of American History is huge, so I have not seen all of its exhibits.  However, I have seen one of its most famous exhibits: The Star-Spangled Banner.  As its name implies, it displays the flag that inspired an American lawyer, Francis Scott Key, to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the poem that became the U.S. national anthem.  Key was temporarily held hostage on a British boat during the War of 1812, and watched as the British bombed Baltimore in September of 1814.  After an anxious night, Key saw Fort McHenry raise its 15-starred American flag the next day, showing him that the British had lost the battle.  Out of joy, Key penned and eventually published his poem, which he ironically suggested be sung to a British tune.  Congress did not officially declare “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem until 1931.  The Star-Spangled Banner exhibit is located in a dimmed room, in order to protect the huge flag from light damage.

Another awesome exhibit at the National Museum of American History is called “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.”  This exhibit documents all of the wars the United States has fought in, using artifacts, photographs, signs, and videos.  Across from this exhibit is the Gunboat Philadelphia, which was used in America’s Revolutionary War in 1776, under the command of Benedict Arnold, who later became notorious as a traitor.  The ship sunk in battle, but was later salvaged in 1935.

The U.S.S. Philadelphia is the oldest military vessel in the U.S. that still exists.

Other exhibits at the National Museum of American History include a display of the dresses worn by many of America’s First Ladies (the U.S. Presidents’ wives).  It is fun to see how women’s fashions have changed over the years.  The museum also displays part of the original counter from the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the first sit-in occurred.  That is when four African American men went into a Woolworth’s store to eat lunch, in 1960, and stayed in their seats, even though the store’s policy was to only serve white people.  Their action started a chain-reaction, causing many people to take part in sit-ins throughout the South.  Other exhibits included at the museum are ones on technology, U.S. currency, transportation, and a 200-year-old house from Massachusetts.  Additionally, miscellaneous items from the museum’s collection can be found throughout the building. 

U.S. World War II propaganda posters are displayed in “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit.

The Museum is currently working on renovating a fun exhibit called “National Treasures of Popular Culture,” which includes items from athletes, actors, musicians, etc.  The most famous of these items is still currently on display, even though the rest of this exhibit is closed.  That is the Ruby Slippers, worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.

Apparently, several pairs of Ruby Slippers were made for the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, but this pair at the Smithsonian wasn’t made for each other.

As of July 3, 2020, the National Museum of American History is still closed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, in general, it is free to the public, as are the rest of the Smithsonian Museums.

The exhibits in the National Museum of American History’s lobby rotate. When I was there last, it featured the Batmobile from the 1989 Batman film.

Sources and Further Reading

“The Gunboat Philadelphia.” National Museum of American History. https://americanhistory.si.edu/press/fact-sheets/gunboat-philadelphia (accessed July 3, 2020).

“Mission and History.” National Museum of American History. https://americanhistory.si.edu/museum/mission-history (accessed July 3, 2020).

“The Star-Spangled Banner.” Smithsonian. https://www.si.edu/spotlight/flag-day/banner-facts#:~:text=The%20Star%2DSpangled%20Banner%20has,(1792)%20joining%20the%20Union. (accessed July 3, 2020).

DeKalb, Illinois and Barbed Wire

Most people may not know it, but Illinois has made an important contribution to barbed wire history.  Although different people had been working on barbed wire during the mid-nineteenth century, it was not until 1874 that developments really skyrocketed in DeKalb, Illinois.

According to my tour guide at the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead in DeKalb, Illinois, when three DeKalb farmers visited a local fair, each man was individually inspired to perfect a fence that was on display there.  The fence at the fair was wooden with metal spikes sticking out of it.  Its purpose was to keep cattle away from the crops.  At first, the three men started working on a better fence, unbeknownst to the other, but once they learned about each other, competition began.

One of the farmers was Joseph F. Glidden.  He was from New Hampshire, but made his way west to Illinois, which was then frontier land.  The other farmer was Jacob Haish, an immigrant from Germany.  The third, who was also the youngest, was from New York and named Isaac L. Ellwood.  According to my tour guide, Ellwood’s wife told him that Glidden’s wire was better than his, so he ended up partnering with Glidden, and did the promoting for him. Glidden ended up receiving the patent for his wire in 1874, and created a machine that allowed it to be made quickly.  Despite Glidden’s official recognition as the creator of the barbed wire design we use today, until his death, Haish continued to contest him.

This photo was taken at the Ellwood mansion, and depicts Glidden, Ellwood, and Haish, respectively, as well as the spiky wooden fence that inspired the men to create barbed wire.

Today, you can have tours of both Glidden’s and Ellwood’s homes, which are where you can also learn about the history of barbed wire.  Unfortunately, Haish’s mansion was eventually torn down, so it is no longer standing.  However, you can see furniture from his mansion in the Ellwood Mansion visitor center’s museum. 

The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead is located next to Northern Illinois University, which is a state school.  This is no coincidence, since Glidden donated his land for the creation of the school.  Haish ended up donating money to create the university’s library, as well as to create the DeKalb Public Library.  Ellwood also contributed money to start the university, and built the university president’s house.

The Glidden Homestead is only open for tours on Tuesdays and approximately one Sunday a month.  The tour guide is a knowledgeable historian, who spends a lot of time discussing the history of barbed wire, in addition to the history of Glidden himself.  Although the home was undoubtedly surrounded by farmland in the past, it is now along a busy street, so is easy to miss when getting to it.  Here is the home’s website: http://www.gliddenhomestead.org/index.html

The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead at 921 W. Lincoln Hwy, DeKalb, IL 60115

Ellwood’s mansion is not too far away from Glidden’s, and also offers tours.  However, the tours are offered more regularly than they are at Glidden’s home.  Additionally, the tours have a stronger focus on the home itself, because it is a significantly larger one than Glidden’s.  According to my Glidden Homestead tour guide, this is not because Glidden made less money from his barbed wire patent, but because Glidden used his money to work on tinkering with other inventions, rather than on using the money for himself. Here is the website for Ellwood’s mansion: http://www.ellwoodhouse.org

The Isaac L. Ellwood mansion at 509 N. 1st St, DeKalb, IL 60115

I am not sure if all of the tour guides for the Ellwood mansion do this, but my tour guide also took my tour group inside a mini playhouse that Ellwood’s kids used.  Built in 1891, it was like walking inside a little dollhouse.

This is the 1891 children’s playhouse on the grounds of Ellwood’s mansion.

Located approximately 60 miles west of Chicago, DeKalb is worth a visit if you want to learn more about the history of barbed wire.  For what may have seemed like a small, practical invention for farmers, it certainly caught on internationally, and took on many uses.

Sources and Further Reading

Ellwood House Museum. http://www.ellwoodhouse.org/ (accessed October 26, 2019).

John F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center. http://www.gliddenhomestead.org/homestead/history.html (accessed October 26, 2019).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as “The Met,” in New York City is arguably the best art museum in the United States.  Founded in 1870, the Museum continues to expand as it collects more and more artwork.  This past April, 2020, The Met turned 150 years old.

Published in 1967, the children’s novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the prestigious American children’s literature award, the Newbery Medal, in 1968.  E. L. Konigsburg’s beloved book is about two siblings who decide to run away and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  During my visit to The Met, it did not take me long to want to live there too.

Ancient Babylonian lion panels at The Met

Reminiscent of The British Museum in London, The Met’s collection ranges from ancient archaeology to modern art.  Unfortunately, because the Museum is so large, I was only able to see a small portion of it.  I was especially sad that I was unable to see The Met Cloisters, which is a separate building that opened in 1938 and displays Medieval European architecture and replicated Medieval gardens.  In 2016, the Met opened a third building called The Met Breuer, which solely displays modern and contemporary art.

One of the highlights that I saw during my visit to The Met were its Period Rooms in the American Wing.  These recreated rooms provide you a peak into what certain rooms, such as a bedroom or dining room, would have looked like during different periods of American history.  Items in these rooms include furniture and lamps from varying periods.  Another section of The Met, similarly, recreates historic European rooms.

The Met contains a Musical Instruments section, which includes some Stradivari violins.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to go through these, but The Met has a Greek and Roman Art section, an Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas section, an Egyptian Art section, an Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia section, an Asian Art section, a Photographs section, and many other sections.  However, I did get to briefly go through the European Paintings, 1250-1800 section and The American Wing.  As I went through them, I surprised myself by recognizing many of the paintings, which are obviously famous if I immediately recognized them.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, an 1851 painting by Emanuel Leutze

I spent most of my time in the Ancient Near Eastern Art section.  As its name implies, it has archaeological objects from the Ancient Near East (the Middle East today).  The Met purchased some of these objects, received some as gifts, and acquired other by participating in archaeological digs.  Some of the objects that were acquired from England were dug by Sir Max Mallowan, a British archaeologist from the 20th century, and husband of the famous mystery writer, Agatha Christie.

The Met’s Ancient Near East section contains reliefs and lamassu (winged-bulls/lions) from Ancient Assyrian palaces, which are located in modern-day Iraq.

Because The Met is so large, visitors have the option of taking guided or audio tours.  I am not 100% sure, but I think the guided tours are part of admission, but the audio tours are an additional fee.  The audio tour is available in up to ten languages.  The Met also offers tours, for a fee, to a select number of visitors prior to opening to the public each day.

I want to mention that The Met has a research library, which primarily serves staff members and students.

The Met is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, as of right now, it plans to reopen in August, 2020.  Until then, The Met’s website provides detailed information about the items that it houses.  It also provides a virtual tour through Google Arts & Culture.

An Ancient Assyrian relief of a king and eunuch at The Met

Sources and Further Reading

“American Wing Period Rooms.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/the-american-wing/period-rooms (accessed June 20, 2020).

Gannon, Devin. “The Metropolitan Museum of Art Plans to Reopen in August.” 6SQFT. May 21, 2020. https://www.6sqft.com/the-metropolitan-museum-of-art-plans-to-reopen-in-august/ (accessed June 20, 2020).

“History of the Museum.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/history (accessed June 20, 2020).

Konigsburg, E. L. From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1967.

“Maps.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://maps.metmuseum.org/ (accessed June 20, 2020).

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/streetview/metropolitan-museum-of-art/KAFHmsOTE-4Xyw?hl=en&sv_lng=-73.9624786&sv_lat=40.7803959&sv_h=100.63371660655334&sv_p=0&sv_pid=KeFx8oXHzeuY8L5rfepHaA&sv_z=0.9990314232325763 (accessed June 20, 2020).

“Thomas J. Watson Library.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/libraries-and-research-centers/thomas-j-watson-library (accessed June 20, 2020).

Allen County Public Library

The largest research library focused on genealogy in the entire world is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  However, the second largest genealogy library in North America is the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Both libraries are open to the public for free, however, the first is a private, Mormon library, while the second is a public library.

This is the main hallway of the Allen County Public Library.

The Allen County Public Library functions like most public libraries, in that it has popular books, DVDs, etc. available for the local community to borrow.  However, one large section on the second floor of the library houses the genealogy collection, which does not circulate, meaning that you can only use its resources inside the library, and not take them home.

The library has a large DVD collection for the local community, organized like a Barnes and Noble.

When you walk into the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library, you are greeted by several librarians sitting at a desk.  They are specially trained to assist patrons with genealogy research.  When I visited the library, I went to the desk, and a librarian provided me with a basic orientation of the Genealogy Center.  This means that she explained to me the layout of the collection, provided me with a map, and gave me brochures related to the places where my family originated.  These brochures listed helpful resources to get me started on researching specific topics of interest.  The librarian also provided me with a temporary password so that I could log into any of the research computers and access the genealogy databases.

The Genealogy Center’s website recommends that you do some preliminary research before visiting.  For example, they recommend that you visit their website, http://www.genealogycenter.org/, to see what resources they may have on your topic, thus saving you some time upon your visit.  Additionally, the Genealogy Center’s website provides some orientation videos that you can watch ahead of time: http://www.genealogycenter.org/Services/orientation.

The Genealogy Center’s collection includes books, microfiche (newspapers, books, etc. compressed into rolls or slides of film that can only be read using a microfiche reader), videos, and databases.  The majority of the collection focuses on United States history.  However, there is also a significant amount of resources focused on other countries, since the United States’ population has historically been made up of immigrants from all over the world.  The library’s databases are only available inside the library, but are free to use, and include Ancestry.com and numerous newspaper databases.

The Genealogy Center has a large reading room full of tables, where you can sit and research.  It also has microfiche readers and photocopiers that you can use to scan and copy pages from books.  When you are finished using a book, you are asked to place it on a cart, instead of putting it away yourself.  This not only ensures that the book is re-shelved correctly, but also helps the library keep usage statistics to see how often a resource has been used.

Since it is a public library, the Allen County Public Library has a children’s section.

The Allen County Public Library partners with the Internet Archive to scan print books and place them online.  What that means is that if a library wants to work with the Internet Archive to digitize a lot of books in its collection, but is not located close to the Internet Archives’ headquarters in San Francisco, California, it can work with one of the Internet Archives’ partners instead.  For example, libraries located in the Midwestern United States that want to digitize their books with the Internet Archive would be assigned to work with the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, since that library is located closer to them than San Francisco is.

Any serious genealogist should definitely consider visiting the Allen County Public Library.

Sources and Further Reading

Allen County Public Library. https://acpl-cms.wise.oclc.org/home (accessed May 30, 2020).

Genealogy Center. http://www.genealogycenter.org/Home.aspx (accessed May 30, 2020).

“Scanning Services Digitizing Print Collections with the Internet Archive.” Internet Archive. https://archive.org/scanning (accessed May 30, 2020).

“United States Archives and Libraries.” Family Search. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/United_States_Archives_and_Libraries (accessed May 30, 2020).

The Henry Ford Museum

The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan (part of metropolitan Detroit) probably ranks among the best history museums in the United States.  I have not been there since 2006, so it may have changed a bit since then. 

Born in 1863, Henry Ford became famous for pioneering the concept of an assembly line.  Using this concept, he created the Model T automobile, which became a bestseller.  He helped make the first automobile that was affordable to the general public.  His legacy continues today under the Ford Motor Company, which still makes Ford cars.

A Ford Model T at The Henry Ford Museum

Due to his interest in inventions and innovations, Ford began collecting items that represented this interest.  Eventually, his collection grew to become The Henry Ford Museum.  After his childhood home was almost demolished, he saved it and moved it to an area right outside the Museum.  This triggered an interest in moving and restoring other historically significant buildings from throughout the United States.  Ultimately, this collection of historic buildings became Greenfield Village.

Today, tourists can visit the main Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, and also take a Ford factory tour.  Each of these places have their own admission prices, none of which are cheap.  I have not done the factory tour, but have visited the other two locations.

The Henry Ford Museum is large, so I do not believe that I saw everything there.  However, two exhibits stood out to me the most.  The first was an automobile exhibit that contained a large variety of cars from throughout the 20th century, including some famous ones.  For instance, the Lincoln Continental limousine that President John F. Kennedy rode when he got shot on November 22, 1963 is on display there.

This is the limo that John F. Kennedy was shot in.

The second exhibit that I vividly remember was called “With Liberty and Justice for All.”  It provides a historical timeline of how people gained freedom in the United States, beginning with the American people gaining freedom from England during the Revolutionary War.  The exhibit then proceeds with other movements, such as the Woman’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement.  The former included a display about how women were often arrested for marching for their rights.  Then, while in prison, they often attempted to continue their protests by going on hunger strikes.  In response to this, the authorities would forcefully feed the women by using tubes to stuff food down their throats.  On August 18, 1920, it will be 100 years since women throughout the entire United States gained the right to vote.

The Chair That Abraham Lincoln Was Shot In

Another part of the “With Liberty and Justice for All” exhibit featured the African American Civil Rights movement.  This exhibit included the chair from Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C., which President Abraham Lincoln sat on when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in 1865.  However, in my opinion, the exhibit’s highlight was the Montgomery, Alabama bus that Rosa Parks famously rode.  On December 1, 1955, Mrs. Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white passenger.  This led to the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, in which African Americans decided to stop using the Montgomery buses as a form of protest to their unequal treatment.  Museum visitors can sit on the same seat that Rosa Parks sat on.

Rosa Parks’ Bus

As previously mentioned, Greenfield Village began with Henry Ford’s boyhood home, but eventually grew to become an entire village of historical homes.  It is a living history museum, meaning that it attempts to recreate the past by allowing visitors to enter its buildings of varying ages.  The famous buildings that Henry Ford relocated to Greenfield Village include Thomas Edison’s workshop, where he invented the light bulb; the cabin of George Washington Carver, who invented peanut butter; the home of Noah Webster, who compiled a famous dictionary; and the home of the Wright Brothers, who invented the first successful airplane.  Although moving buildings from their original locations somewhat detracts their historical significance, at least they are being well-preserved in their new location.

You can see this 1832 bridge in Greenfield Village. Ford saved the Ackley Covered Bridge from demolition in 1937.

The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village are definitely worth a visit, especially if you are interested in U.S. history.

Sources and Further Reading

American Experience: Henry Ford. Directed by Sarah Colt. Boston: WGBH, 2013.

“History and Mission.” The Henry Ford. https://www.thehenryford.org/history-and-mission/henry-ford-collector/ (accessed May 29, 2020).

Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago

One of the oldest cemeteries in Chicago is Oak Woods Cemetery, which was founded in 1854, but started burying people in 1860.  Located in the South Side of Chicago, it used to be outside of Chicago’s boundaries, but that changed as the city grew.  What I enjoyed most about my visit there was discovering the diverse range of people buried in it.

When visiting an American cemetery, one of the most valuable websites is Findagrave.com.  It is basically a cemetery database.  Anybody with an account can add graves to it.  Some people actually add graves to it for fun, since it is an invaluable resource for genealogical research.  The more famous the cemetery, the more likely most, if not all, of its graves have been added to it.  What is even more amazing is that for famous graves, people often add photos and coordinate locations, so that you can easily find a specific grave using your GPS.  Before visiting Oak Woods Cemetery, I researched which famous people were buried there, and then used Findagrave and my phone’s GPS to find them.

Perhaps what makes Oak Woods Cemetery most unique is that, according to Rick Kogan’s May 31, 2013 article in the Chicago Tribune, it contains the largest known mass grave in the Western Hemisphere.  Known as the Confederate Mound, this mass grave contains the bodies of approximately 4,200 Confederate soldiers from the American Civil War.  The reason why these Southern troops were buried in the North is because they were prisoners of war living in a military prison in Chicago called Camp Douglas.  The conditions at the camp were terrible, however, a smallpox epidemic caused the deaths of most of the Confederate soldiers buried in the mass grave.  These soldiers’ bodies were actually relocated to Oak Woods Cemetery after the Civil War, because, according to the National Park Service, the U.S. Government had to close their original burial place, due to flooding.

Oak Woods Cemetery’s Confederate Mound

In 1895, an ex-Confederate group in Chicago erected a monument over Oak Woods’ Confederate mass grave.  In response, the following year, a Southern abolitionist erected a cenotaph (empty tomb in honor of a person or group) at Oak Woods in honor of Southern abolitionists.  Oak Woods also has a smaller monument over a mass grave of Union soldiers.

The Abolitionist Cenotaph at Oak Woods Cemetery
Oak Woods Cemetery’s Monument over the Graves of Union Soldiers

Ironically, Oak Woods not only houses dead Confederate troops, but also some famous African Americans.  My favorite person buried at Oak Woods is the Olympic running champion, Jesse Owens.  He famously represented the United States in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, where he beat a German runner, and thus disproved Hitler’s belief in the superiority of the “Aryan” race.  Other famous African Americans buried at Oak Woods include Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American mayor, and Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil rights activist.

The diversity of Oak Woods Cemetery does not end with Confederate soldiers and Civil Rights activists.  Not far from the Confederate Mound is a separate Jewish cemetery.  However, it is maintained by several synagogues instead of by Dignity Memorial, which maintains the rest of the cemetery.  Sadly, because of the huge expense of maintaining graves, and because the Jewish cemetery is older, the graves are in poor condition.

Oak Woods Cemetery’s Jewish Section

Last but not least, another famous person buried at Oak Woods Cemetery is Enrico Fermi.  He is the Italian scientist who created the first nuclear reactor, meaning that he helped create the atomic bomb.

Oak Woods Cemetery clearly shows that once we are dead, we are all truly equal, no matter what notions we may have about it while we are still alive. If only people could get along in life as they do in death.

You may also be interested in my post about Graceland Cemetery.

Sources and Further Reading

“Confederate Mound at Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago, Illinois.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Illinois/Confederate_Mound_Oak_Woods_Cemetery.html (accessed May 29, 2020).

“It Tells His Life Story: Abolitionist Shaft in Oakwoods Erected by T.D. Lowther”. Chicago Tribune. June 9, 1896.

American Experience: Jesse Owens. Directed by Laurens Grant. Boston: WGBH, 2012. 

Kogan, Rick. “Camp Douglas Effort Stirs Ghosts of the Civil War.” Chicago Tribune. May 31, 2013. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-xpm-2013-05-31-ct-ae-0602-kogan-sidewalks-20130531-story.html (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oak Woods Cemetery.” Dignity Memorial. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/chicago-il/oak-woods-cemetery/6248 (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oak Woods Cemetery.” Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/173554/oak-woods-cemetery (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oakwoods Cemetery.” Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois. https://jgsi.org/OakOakwoods-Cemeterywoods-Cemetery (accessed May 29, 2020).

Arlington National Cemetery

In the United States, the last Monday of the month of May is Memorial Day, in which everyone takes off from work to remember those who died in various U.S. wars.  Originally called Decoration Day, this national holiday began in 1868 to commemorate those who died in the American Civil War (1861-1865).  However, eventually, the holiday evolved into remembering those who died in any U.S. war. 

The American Civil War also gave birth to Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, which is arguably the most famous cemetery in the United States.  Although it is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic (except for those who have family members buried there), during normal situations, it provides daily bus tours to visitors.  Because of its vast size of 624 acres, with over 400,000 burials, the tour only covers several major highlights.

Perhaps one of the most important stops on the tour is Arlington House, since it is a mansion located on the cemetery grounds that predates the Civil War.  Once the Civil War began, the United States’ government took over this strategic location near the country’s capital.  However, they chose to make the land surrounding the mansion a cemetery, in order to prevent its owner from eventually returning to it.  Its owner was the Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  He inherited the house from his wife, who was herself a descendant of George Washington’s wife, Martha (from Martha’s first husband). 

During the Civil War, the U.S. government buried soldiers from any rank at Arlington.  However, as time passed, the Cemetery gained prestige, and now has a more selective process of who can be buried there.  Among the famous men buried there (as mentioned on the tour) are General John J. Pershing who served in WWI, President John F. Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Ted (the former two served in WWII, and the latter enlisted after the War), and President William Howard Taft.  President Taft never served in the military, so I am not sure how he ended up at Arlington.  However, he is the only person to have served as both the U.S. president and the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Finally, Audie Murphy is buried at Arlington.  He was the most decorated soldier in WWII.

John F. Kennedy was actually a war hero during WWII. The 1963 film PT 109 tells that story.  After the War, Audie Murphy landed a career in Hollywood.  The 1955 film To Hell and Back is an autobiographical movie that stars him.  I have watched both films a while ago.  I do not remember them well but do remember thinking that they were mediocre but interesting films.

Perhaps the most famous site at Arlington National Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  This tomb began in 1921, with the remains of four unidentified dead soldiers from World War I.  Unidentified soldiers from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were subsequently added to the tomb.  Volunteers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guard it 24/7, in rain or shine.  Seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its guard is perhaps the highlight of the Arlington National Cemetery tour. 

Since the Cemetery is currently closed, you can download the app to have a free tour from home, or find the same information on a site called ANC Explorer:  https://ancexplorer.army.mil/publicwmv/#/arlington-national/ You might also be interested to know that during this pandemic, the Cemetery decided to open its 105-year-old time capsule.

Sources and Further Reading

Arlington: Field of Honor. Directed by John B. Bredar. New York: National Geographic, 2005.

“General Information.” Arlington National Cemetery Tours. https://www.arlingtontours.com/general-information (accessed May 24, 2020).

“History of Arlington National Cemetery.” Arlington National Cemetery. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/History/History-of-Arlington-National-Cemetery (accessed May 24, 2020).

Machemer, Theresa. Arlington National Cemetery Opens Its 105-Year-Old Time Capsule.” Smithsonian Magazine. May 20, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/arlington-cemetery-opens-its-105-year-old-time-capsule-180974924/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&fbclid=IwAR3C6LRxI9DqfUV_Cxd2IP4a1nvDd1zBrzsj-cHAsuPiuGhrYrBHG_Fzyhc (accessed May 24, 2020).

PT 109. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Burbank, California: Warner Bros., 1963.

Sorto, Gabrielle. “What You Need to Know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” CNN. May 27, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/27/us/tomb-of-the-unknown-soldier-trnd/index.html (accessed May 24, 2020).

To Hell and Back. Directed by Jesse Hibbs. Universal City, California: Universal Studios, 1955.

Van Vleck, Jennifer Leigh. “Arlington National Cemetery and the Origins of Memorial Day.” Arlington National Cemetery. May 21, 2020. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Blog/Post/10817/Arlington-National-Cemetery-and-the-Origins-of-Memorial-Day (accessed May 24, 2020).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

The state of Indiana annually hosts one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world: the Indianapolis 500 (more commonly known as the Indy 500).  The race’s name derives from the fact that it is held in Indiana’s state capital of Indianapolis, and that the racers drive around the racetrack 200 times, equaling a distance of 500 miles.  The Indy 500 usually occurs during the United States’ Memorial Day Weekend, so was originally scheduled for May 24, 2020 this year.  However, due to the COVID-19 situation, it has been postponed to August 23rd.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The Indy 500, along with France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race and the Monaco Grand Prix make up the Triple Crown of Motorsports.  The Indy 500 is the oldest of these three automobile races.  Because of its importance to the history of automobile racing, a Museum dedicated to the Indy 500 opened in 1956, known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.  Since 1976, the Museum has been located at the center of the actual racetrack.  Although located on site, it is run by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation, Inc., which is independent of those who run the actual Indy 500 race.

Visitors to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum must drive through the racetrack’s main entrance in order to get to the Museum’s parking lot.  Once at the Museum, visitors can choose different bus and golf cart tours around the track.  However, since I have never even watched an Indy 500 race, I did not bother paying for a tour.  Instead, my visit solely consisted of visiting the actual museum building. 

The Museum includes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, which is a large plaque that contains the names of different race car drivers.  However, the main exhibit at the museum was a room full of race car winners from different decades.  Not every Indy 500 race car winner is there, but many are there, including the first winner from 1911.  Walking around the room is like walking through an Indy 500 timeline. It is interesting to look at how race cares have changed over the years.  The Indy 500 has faithfully occurred every year except during parts of WWI (from 1917 to 1918), and WWII (from 1942 to 1945).  Other points of interest at the Museum are a temporary exhibit section, an 8-minute video about the history of the Indy 500, a race car driving simulator, and a variety of other race cars and suits.

This is the first Indy 500 winner, the Marmon Wasp, which is believed to be the first car to have a rearview mirror. Ray Harroun drove it.

Sources and Further Reading

“1911 Marmon Wasp.” Historic Vehicle Association. https://www.historicvehicle.org/national-historic-vehicle-register/vehicles/1911-marmon-wasp/ (accessed May 15, 2020).

“History of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.” Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. https://indyracingmuseum.org/about-us/museum-history/ (accessed May 15, 2020).

Horner, Scott. “2019 Indy 500: What You Need to Know about the Triple Crown of Motor Sports.” IndyStar. May 14, 2019. https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/motor/2019/05/14/what-is-motor-sports-triple-crown-fernando-alonso-indy-500/3574885002/ (accessed May 15, 2020).

Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant

Did you ever wonder where sewage water goes, or what happens to water that has been flushed down the toilet?  I had the privilege of visiting the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant to learn more about this.  This facility serves approximately 1.3 million residents living in both the northern part of Chicago and in seventeen of its northern suburbs in Cook County.  People can request tours to see this water reclamation plant, as well as others in the Chicago area.  However, I visited the plant during Open House Chicago, which is a weekend event that happens every October in Chicago in which different buildings, museums, etc. open up their spaces for free to the public.

Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant in Skokie, Illinois

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) began in 1889.  Among its early projects was reversing the Chicago River so that it flowed away from Lake Michigan (Chicago’s source of drinking water) rather than towards it.  As Chicago grew in population, so did its need for reclamation plants.  The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, Illinois was built in 1930, and is among the largest in the world.  The Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant was built in 1928, and originally called the North Side Sewage Treatment Works.  It was renamed in memory of a Board Commissioner in 2012.  Although people can tour Chicago’s water reclamation plants, they cannot tour the plant that deals with Chicago’s drinking water, due to security concerns.  This is the Jardine Water Purification Plant, located north of Navy Pier.

My tour of the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant began with watching a video, which provided an overview of the water reclamation process.  This video is available on YouTube.  Next, we walked over to the areas mentioned in the video.

Although we walked to this section last, the first step in the water reclamation process is to remove the largest sewage materials, which, according to my guide, can include strange things like dead rats.  The waste is first removed in the Pump and Blower Building.  From there, the largest material waste goes down a tube, southeast to the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, Illinois.  At that facility, waste is transformed into compost.

Inside Terrence J. O’Brien’s Pump and Blower Building

What does not go to Stickney ends up going through the rest of the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.  First, the water goes into circular vats, where the remaining solids sink.  The secondary treatment includes microorganisms that “eat” away the bacteria.  Lastly, the water gets pumped into an Ultraviolet Wastewater Disinfectant Facility, where UV light helps kill additional bacteria.  Completed in 2016, this is currently the largest UV disinfectant facility in the world.  Once the water treatment process has finished, the water flows into the North Branch of the Chicago River, located across the street from the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.  Apparently, the water exiting the Reclamation Plant is cleaner than the River, which is believable, because the North Branch of the Chicago River never looks clean.

This is Step 2 of the water reclamation process, where the water is aerated so that the microorganisms eating the bacteria can thrive.

People riding the Yellow Line (Skokie Swift) of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), which is the elevated train (the “L”) that connects Chicago to its northern suburb of Skokie, have a great view of the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.  Since this is an elevated train, it passes right over the facility.

Sources and Further Reading

“Facility Tours.” Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. https://mwrd.org/facility-tours (accessed May 8, 2020).

Fore, Allison. “North Side Water Reclamation Plant is Renamed to Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.” Patch. November 16, 2012. https://patch.com/illinois/chicagoheights/bp–north-side-water-reclamation-plant-is-renamed-to-76d7ad1a48 (accessed May 8, 2020).

Garcia, Evan. “World’s Largest Ultraviolet Disinfection Facility Tackles Chicago River.” WTTW. March 23, 2016. https://news.wttw.com/2016/03/23/worlds-largest-ultraviolet-disinfection-facility-tackles-chicago-river (accessed May 8, 2020).

MWRD. “Terrence O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant Video Tour.” March 11, 2019. Video, 7:41. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ4IbCBf7g0 (accessed May 8, 2020).

“One Water Spotlight: Stickney Water Reclamation Plant.” US Water Alliance. http://uswateralliance.org/resources/one-water-spotlight-stickney-water-reclamation-plant (accessed May 8, 2020).

“Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.” Open House Chicago. https://openhousechicago.org/sites/site/terrence-j-obrien-water-reclamation-plant/ (accessed May 8, 2020).

“Our History.” Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. https://mwrd.org/our-history (accessed May 8, 2020).

Stratford-upon-Avon and The Globe Theatre

Every April 23rd is Shakespeare Day, which is a day to commemorate the famous British playwright.  William Shakespeare’s fans chose that day because he died on April 23, 1616, and may have also been born on that day in 1564 (his baptism was April 26, so it is possible).  Although the English used in his plays may not be the easiest to understand, his works have endured throughout the centuries.  Perhaps the main reason for this is because the themes found within his plays continue to remain relevant up to the present day.  Additionally, Shakespeare does a wonderful job of portraying humanity and placing you inside the minds of both villains and heroes.  Finally, whether you realize or not, Shakespearean created many phrases and words that have now entered into the English language.

If Shakespeare fans want to learn more about The Bard, they should visit his birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon, which is about a two-hour drive away from London.  Stratford-upon-Avon is a town along the River Avon, which is why “upon-Avon” is a part of its name.  This distinguishes it from other places in England with the name of Stratford.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace Home at Stratford-upon-Avon.

At Stratford-upon-Avon, you can visit Shakespeare’s boyhood home, his wife’s home, and the home of his daughter and son-in-law.  You can also see the Edward VI School, which is believed to have been Shakespeare’s school.  With the exception of the school, which is still active, the homes were restored by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust still maintains the homes and offers tours of them to visitors.  When I visited, the tour guides wore 16th century garb, and at Shakespeare’s Birthplace Home, even performed scenes from two of Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare’s supposed school, the Edward VI School at Stratford-upon-Avon.

At the home of Anne Hathaway, who was Shakespeare’s wife (not the actress of the same name), the tour guides described why Shakespeare and Anne got married.  About eight years younger than Anne, 18-year-old William had to marry Anne after impregnating her.  They ultimately had 3 children.  However, Shakespeare ended up living in London to work as an actor and playwright, while his family remained at Stratford-upon-Avon.

This is the childhood home of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife.

The home of Shakespeare’s oldest daughter, Susanna, is called Hall’s Croft, and was the largest home in town.  Because Susanna’s husband, John Hall, was a doctor, the top floor displayed medical instruments from the 16th century.  They looked frightening!

Shakespeare fans should also try to visit the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London.  The original Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, burned down.  However, in 1997, a new Globe Theatre was built, with the attempt to make it look as much like the original as possible.  It is a circular, open-air theatre, and stands near the foundations of the original Globe Theatre (another building is on the original location).  The Globe Theatre currently provides historic tours of its building, where tour guides explain what a theater experience would have been like in Shakespeare’s day.  According to my tour guide, poorer people could not afford the seats, so paid an entry fee of a penny to stand in the middle of the theatre.  My tour guide mentioned how that would have been a smelly experience, because people hardly showered then, and because people used the middle of the theatre as the public toilet.  The original Globe Theatre had woodchips on the ground, which helped to cover up the litter, but the new Globe Theatre does not replicate this feature, due to fire hazards.

This is the Millennium Bridge over the River Thames in London. The Globe Theatre is the circular, white building on the left.

Today, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre performs plays at the Globe Theatre during the warmer months of the year.  Visitors may purchase tickets to watch the play standing, just like the lower classes did during Shakespeare’s day.  However, that means that if it rains, those are the people who will get wet.

These are the seats at the Globe Theatre.

Because the Globe Theatre is currently closed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Globe is currently streaming recordings of its older performances online: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/watch/

You can also take a virtual tour of the theatre: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/discover/about-us/virtual-tour/

As Shakespeare says in Act 2, Scene 7 of As You Like It, “We have seen better days.”  However, hopefully, by the end of this year, the Coronavirus will listen to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1, and will have “Melted into thin air.”

Shakespeare is buried at Holy Trinity Church at Stratford-upon-Avon. It might be hard to see in this photo, but you should look up his epitaph.

Sources and Further Reading

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Globe Theatre.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/Globe-Theatre (accessed May 1, 2020).

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “William Shakespeare.” https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare (accessed May 1, 2020).

“Shakespeare Phrases.” Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/shakespeares-phrases/# (accessed May 1, 2020).

Shakespeare Trust Birthplace. https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/ (accessed May 1, 2020).

Shakespeare’s Globe. https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/ (accessed May 1, 2020).