Ronald Reagan’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home

Although Illinois is known as the “Land of Lincoln,” Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, not Illinois.  The motto “Land of Lincoln” came from the fact that Lincoln lived in Illinois for a significant portion of his life, and also became its senator.  Barack Obama also served as senator of Illinois.  However, Ronald Reagan was the only U.S. president actually born in Illinois.

Ronald Reagan was born in an apartment in rural Tampico, Illinois, which is about 2 hours west of Chicago.  It is maintained by the Tampico Historical Society, which provides tours for visitors.  On your tour, you not only see the apartment unit owned by Reagan’s parents, but also have a chance to see the recreated bank that would have been located below it when Reagan was a boy.  Reagan was born in Tampico on February 6, 1911, but did not live in his birthplace for long.  His father was an alcoholic, so the family’s income was unsteady, meaning that they moved around often. 

Ronald Reagan’s Birthplace is above the First National Bank, located at 111 S. Main St. Tampico, IL 61283.

Reagan’s family moved to Dixon, Illinois in 1920.  Dixon is about 30 minutes northeast of Tampico (about 1 hour and 40 minutes west of Chicago).  Even in Dixon, Reagan’s family did not stay in one home for long.  However, one of the homes that he lived in has become a historic site that provides tours for visitors.  Reagan lived there with his parents and older brother from 1920 to 1924.  After that, the family moved around to other parts of Dixon. 

The Reagan Boyhood Home became a historic site, because in 1980, when Reagan was running for president, the local mailman informed the city of Dixon that the home was for sale, and might be a profitable investment if Reagan won the presidency.  He was ultimately correct.

Ronald Reagan’s Boyhood Home at 816 S. Hennepin Ave. Dixon, IL 61021

For both of Reagan’s tours, you learn a lot about Reagan’s life, and how his job as a radio sportscaster eventually led to his career as a Hollywood actor.  Although never becoming a well-renowned actor, his first wife (married 1940-49), Jane Wyman, was an Academy Award winner for the 1948 film Johnny Belinda.  Reagan eventually entered the political arena, and served as a Republican President of the United States from 1981 to 1989.

Admission to the Reagan Boyhood Home has a fee, however, admission to his Birthplace site is free.  My favorite part about the Boyhood Home was that when Reagan visited it after it became a museum, he pulled out a loose brick that was right outside the fireplace hearth, to show that he used to hide his money from his brother under there.  My tour guide then proceeded to pull up the loose brick.  As for the Birthplace site, my favorite part was when the tour guide explained that when Reagan visited there after his presidency, he went through the window of his apartment into the apartment next door, to recreate how his mother used to hand him over to his neighbor through the window when she needed someone to babysit him.  After telling me this story, my tour guide then permitted me to go through the window and recreate this incident.

The Dixon Public Library even has a plaque about Reagan.

If you decide to visit Reagan’s Boyhood Home, try to also stop by his Birthplace site, since they are only 30 minutes apart from each other.  Be sure to check the visitor hours for both locations, especially since they are not open during the colder months.  If you drive to Dixon and Tampico from Chicago using Interstate 88, you may notice signs that say “Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway,” in honor of Reagan. 

P.S. The John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Illinois is only 10 minutes away from Reagan’s Boyhood Home, so may also be worth visiting if you are in the area.  Admission is free.  I wrote about that site here: https://arkeh.travel.blog/2019/08/11/john-deere-company/

Sources and Further Reading

McClelland, Edward. “How Reagan’s Childhood Home Gave Up on Reaganism.” Politico. November 23. 2019. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2019/11/23/ronald-reagan-childhood-home-072935 (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Ronald Reagan Birthplace.” Tampico Historical Society. https://www.tampicohistoricalsociety.com/R_Reagan_Birthplace_Museum.html (accessed November 28, 2019).

Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home. https://reaganhome.org/ (accessed November 28, 2019).

Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago

Chicago ranks among the top three cities with the largest Ukrainian population in the United States.  The first Ukrainian immigrants came to Chicago during a wave in the late nineteenth century, but three more waves of immigration followed throughout the twentieth century.  Many Ukrainians settled in a western area of Chicago, which is now known as Ukrainian Village.  Although several Ukrainian churches are still there, most Ukrainians are now dispersed throughout Chicago and its suburbs, and are no longer concentrated within a single neighborhood.

Ukrainian Village has two Ukrainian museums.  The first is the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, which was founded in 1971.  I have never visited it.  The second is called the Ukrainian National Museum and was founded in 1952.  I have visited the latter one.  It is located across the street from the gorgeous Saints Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, and primarily displays Ukrainian arts and crafts, in addition to some snippets of Ukrainian history.

The museum’s arts and crafts exhibits include a variety of Ukrainian clothing, dishes, etc.  They also contain a variety of beautiful pysanky.  Pysanky are specially decorated Easter eggs.  First, the yolk is removed from the egg through a tiny hole, and then the remaining eggshell is intricately decorated with colorful dyes.

A significant portion of the museum discusses the Ukrainian famine or genocide of 1932-1933, known as the Holdomor.  During that time, Ukraine belonged to the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin.  In accordance with his Communist ideology, Stalin attempted to bring all of Ukraine’s farmland under governmental control.  Many famers resisted giving up their land, and were therefore sent to prison camps in Siberia.  Because the farmers did not reach their required governmental quota of grain, Stalin punished the people by removing all of their remaining produce.  Ultimately, between 4 to 10 million Ukrainians died as a result of the man-made famine.  During this time, Stalin also attempted to discourage the use of the Ukrainian language, and destroy Ukrainian nationalism. 

The museum describes the Holdomor using newspaper clippings, photos, and signs.  Additionally, on the day when I visited the museum, a historian/staff member walked around the museum answering questions that visitors may have had regarding the exhibits.  She recommended that we watch the 2017 film Bitter Harvest, which dramatically portrays the Holdomor.  It did a decent job of describing what happened.  As of 2020, less than 40 countries acknowledge that the Holdomor was a genocide, while Russia continues to deny that the deaths were intentional.

The Ukrainian National Museum typically hosts different events throughout the year (when there are no pandemics).  It also maintains a library and archives, which are available to researchers upon appointment.

Sources and Further Reading

Bitter Harvest. Directed by George Mendeluk. Los Angeles, CA: Roadside Attractions, 2017.

“Chicago’s Ukrainian Village.” Ukrainian National Museum. https://ukrainiannationalmuseum.org/chicagos-ukrainian-village/ (accessed July 19, 2020).

Hrycack, Alexandra. “Ukrainians.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1279.html (accessed July 19, 2020).

Kiger, Patrick J. “How Joseph Stalin Starved Millions in the Ukrainian Famine.” History Channel. April 16, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/ukrainian-famine-stalin (accessed July 19, 2020).

Chinese American Museum of Chicago

The Chinese American Museum of Chicago just reopened its doors to the public on July 1, 2020, after being closed since March, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  A video of the reopening is available on a Chinese website: http://video.sinovision.net/?id=57080&cid=124&fbclid=IwAR1JFmQDCF61-jNvMpIFVFGaAakkRuMxtn4yZFGysYTXGUQN_BPZhh8fWOI

Many people from China began arriving to the United States during the California Gold Rush of 1849.  Afterwards, many of these Chinese immigrants found jobs building the transcontinental railroad, which connected the Eastern and Western coasts of the United States via railroad.  Once the railroad was completed in 1869, a large number of these immigrants then sought work elsewhere.  It is around this time that Chinese immigrants began moving to Chicago, to find better jobs and less discrimination.

The Chinese American Museum of Chicago was founded in 2005 to document Chicago’s Chinese history.  The first floor of the former warehouse displays the Museum’s temporary exhibits.  When I visited, the temporary exhibit was called “The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad – The Railroad Helped Build America.”  This wonderful exhibit showed how much we owe to the hard work of the Chinese immigrants who helped build the United States’ transcontinental railroad in the 1860s.  Unfortunately, the Chinese workers received inferior treatment in comparison to other groups who worked on the transcontinental railroad.  For example, they received lower wages than others and were often the ones made to do the dangerous work of dynamiting the mountains, to make space for the railroad.

The second floor of the Museum is the permanent exhibit that displays the history of Chicago’s Chinese history.  My visit there began with a 15-minute video that a staff member put on for me to watch.  The video is called “My Chinatown: Stories from Within,” and was created in collaboration with the Chicago History Museum.  It not only uses a screen, but also uses props next to the screen as part of the presentation.

After watching the video, I made my way through the rest of the permanent exhibit.  It includes a beautiful diorama from Chicago’s former Wentworth Avenue Ling Long Museum, which closed in the 1980s.  The Ling Long Museum was built during the Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress in 1933-34, and displayed dioramas of famous Chinese stories.  The diorama at the Chinese American Museum of Chicago is beautiful and intricate.  Unfortunately, it is the sole surviving diorama from the Ling Long Museum.  The remaining dioramas burned down when the Chinese American Museum of Chicago experienced a devastating fire in 2008.

Through objects, photographs, and signs, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago documents Chicago’s Chinese history from the nineteenth century up until the present day.  This includes mention of the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1882, which banned Chinese immigration to the United States.  That means that Chinese immigration to Chicago went on hold for several decades.  However, after World War II, the restrictions were lifted.  Many Chinese immigrants began arriving in the United States during China’s political upheaval in the 1950s.  I found it interesting that the last section of the Museum’s exhibit mentions how many of the more recent Chinese immigrants to the United States were Chinese children adopted by U.S. families.

The Chinese American Museum of Chicago is a great place to learn the history of Chicago’s Chinese community.  It is located in Chicago’s Chinatown, in the South Side of Chicago.  While in Chinatown, you can also grab a meal at one of the numerous Chinese restaurants there, and look at some of the Chinese-inspired architecture in the neighborhood.

Sources and Further Reading

“Objects from the Former Ling Long Museum, 1930s.” Chinese American Museum of Chicago. April 26, 2018. https://ccamuseum.org/2018/04/26/objects-from-the-former-ling-long-museum-1930s/  (accessed June 27, 2020).

Fuchs, Chris. “150 Years Ago, Chinese Railroad Workers Staged the Era’s Largest Labor Strike.” NBC News. June 31, 2017. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/150-years-ago-chinese-railroad-workers-staged-era-s-largest-n774901#:~:text=Chinese%20laborers%20made%20up%20a,hammered%20in%20at%20Promontory%2C%20Utah. (accessed June 27, 2020).

“History and Mission.” Chinese American Museum of Chicago. https://ccamuseum.org/history-and-mission/ (accessed June 27, 2020).

Isaacs, Deanna. The Museum that Works. Chicago Reader. October 23, 2008. https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-museum-that-works/Content?oid=1105917 (accessed June 27, 2020).

Steffes, Tracy. “Chinese.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2014. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/285.html (accessed June 27, 2020).

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 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).

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).

Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

April 21, 2020 is this year’s date for Yom HaShoah, or Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Israel commemorates the day by sounding a siren for 2 minutes throughout the country.  During that time, the entire nation is required to stop what they are doing (including driving), until the siren stops.  “Yom” means “day” in Hebrew, and “Shoah,” which is a word used several times in the Bible, means “calamity.”

Yom HaShoah always falls on the 27th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, since that marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  When the Nazis invaded Poland and started WWII on September 1, 1939, they forced all of its Jewish inhabitants to live in certain enclosed areas (ghettos) within their cities.  Since Warsaw is the capital of Poland, that city held the largest of these ghettos.  The Nazis gradually transported people from the ghettos to concentration camps, so in 1943, the remaining survivors in the Warsaw Ghetto had had enough, and revolted against the Germans.  Although the revolt was unsuccessful, it was the largest Jewish uprising during the Holocaust.  The 2002 film The Pianist depicts this tragic event.

Dr. Janusz Korczak took care of orphans in the Warsaw Ghetto. This memorial to him is in Skokie, Illinois, a town that had the largest Holocaust survivor population outside of Israel.

The two largest Holocaust museums in the world are Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., respectively.  Israel’s museum (Yad Vashem means “a memorial and a name” and comes from Isaiah 56:5) began in 1953, five years after Israel became an independent nation.  The United States’ museum was completed forty years later, in 1993.  Both museums are free, crowded, provide tours in several languages, and incorporate the video testimonies of survivors as part of their exhibits.  Both also have amazing websites filled with primary sources such as photos, video testimonies, documents, etc.  Additionally, Yad Vashem has a database of all of the documented victims of the Holocaust, as well as a database of all of the documented “Righteous Among the Nations,” or individuals who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.  Yad Vashem has also planted a tree for every known Righteous Among the Nations, with the name of a rescuer placed on a plaque beneath each tree.  Visitors can see the trees as they walk around the Museum’s grounds.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

Perhaps two of the most visceral memorials at Yad Vashem are the Children’s Memorial and the Hall of Names.  The Children’s Memorial is a separate building on the Museum’s grounds, memorializing the approximately 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.  It contains photos of children, and a candle placed in the center of the room, with mirrors reflecting the candle’s light throughout the space.  The Hall of Names contains books of the names of victims, as well as a domed ceiling with the photos of many victims spread across it. (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum also has a room full of victims’ photos.) However, Yad Vashem’s main exhibit ends in hope. It ends with a large window overlooking the city of Jerusalem, which is a way of showing visitors that Hitler’s goal of annihilating the Jews failed.

The most visceral display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the shoe collection.  It displays 4,000 shoes, on long-term loan from Majdanek concentration camp near Lublin, Poland.  When you hear that six million Jews died during the Holocaust, it just sounds like statistics.  However, when you see 4,000 different types of shoes piled on top of each other, the reality that each one belonged to a unique individual who died makes the numbers sink in more.

Quote located on one of the walls of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I have also written about the third largest Holocaust museum in the world: The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

Sources and Further Reading

“The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names.” Yad Vashem. https://yvng.yadvashem.org/index.html?language=en (accessed April 18, 2020).

Gilad, Elon. “Shoah: How a Biblical Term Became the Hebrew Word for Holocaust.” Haaretz. May 1, 2019. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/holocaust-remembrance-day/.premium-shoah-how-a-biblical-term-became-the-hebrew-word-for-holocaust-1.5236861 (accessed April 18, 2020).

“The Righteous Among the Nations Database.” Yad Vashem. https://righteous.yadvashem.org/ (accessed April 18, 2020).

“Yom Hashoah.” BBC. April 27, 2011. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/holydays/yomhashoa.shtml (accessed April 18, 2020).

Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Founded in 1902, the Egyptian Museum, or Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, is Egypt’s largest museum that houses ancient Egyptian antiquities.  It also currently houses Egypt’s most famous archaeological objects.  Located in Tahrir Square, a central square in downtown Cairo, it experienced some looting and damage during Egypt’s 2011 revolution. 

I had the opportunity to visit the Egyptian Museum at the end of 2010, right before the political turmoil began.  The Museum was built when Britain had a presence in Egypt, so something about it somehow reminded me of the British Museum.  However, it was no British Museum.  It seemed as if half of its objects on display did not have signage, or clear signage.  Additionally, some objects seemed to be stuffed into corners, because of the lack of space.  Many of the objects were out in the open, unprotected, so that you could easily touch them. 

Because of the lack of space and protection, Egypt is currently working on distributing its archaeological objects among two additional museums.  The first is the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, which partially opened in 2017, and has ties with UNESCO.  The second is the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is supposed to open in 2020, however, with the COVID-19 situation, perhaps this may change.  Construction on this latter museum began in 2002, and is located near the Giza Pyramids, which is probably Egypt’s top tourist attraction.  Currently, the treasures of King Tut’s (Tutankhamun’s) tomb are located in the Egyptian Museum, but will be moved into the Grand Egyptian Museum once it is completed.  King Tut’s tomb is famous, because it was the first royal tomb archaeologists found untouched by looters.

In order to enter the Egyptian Museum, you need to go through security.  However, in order to enter the room that stores the valuable treasures of King Tut’s tomb, you need to pass through additional security.  Unfortunately, I went to the Egyptian Museum near closing time, so I had to rush through the room containing his treasures.  Although King Tut’s treasures are currently in the Egyptian Museum, his actual body is in the Valley of the Kings, where he was originally buried and discovered.  When British archaeologist, Howard Carter, discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922, his team had trouble removing Tut’s body from his sarcophagus, so his head is no longer connected to his body.  However, you would not know this by visiting the Valley of the Kings, because King Tut’s body is displayed under a blanket, with only his head and feet visible.

The Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, where pharaohs from the New Kingdom were buried, including King Tutankhamun. I could not take photos at the tombs, so had to take one from the parking lot.

In addition to King’s Tut’s treasures, the Egyptian Museum houses many other famous objects and mummies, including many animal mummies.  The human mummies include the bodies of pharaohs, such as Ramesses II.  He was around 90 years old at the time of his death, and his mummy has red hair (which may be because of the embalming?).  Some scholars believe that Ramesses II was the ruling pharaoh during the time of Moses.  If he was, then Ramesses II’s mummy is the only Biblical character that you can actually still see.

Two other noteworthy artifacts at the Egyptian Museum are the Narmer Palette and the Merneptah Stele.  The Narmer Palette depicts the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt during the Early Dynastic Period under King Narmer.  The Merneptah Stele (a stele is a vertical stone monument) describes Pharaoh Merneptah’s battle victories.  Its fame comes from the fact that one of the defeated enemies mentioned on it is “Israel.”  Thus, this stone is the oldest reference to Israel ever found.  When I visited the Egyptian Museum, the Merneptah Stele was located in a back corner without a sign, and unprotected.  On this tall stone monument, the word “Israel” was easy to identify in the carved hieroglyphic text, even if you could not read hieroglyphs.  This is because the word was worn down by so many people touching it, giving it a different color than the rest of the stone.  Unfortunately, I could not resist the temptation, and touched it too.

Professor Anson Rainey believed that Pharaoh Merneptah’s inscriptions at the Karnak Temple complex in Luxor, Egypt, depict the Israelites that are mentioned on the Merneptah Stele.

Photography is not allowed in the Egyptian Museum.  I did not try it, but I was told that you can bribe the guards if you really wanted a photo.  That rule apparently applied to other places in Egypt as well.  As a final note, I do not recommend females walking through the Egyptian Museum by themselves.  Whenever I did, the security guards would start coming towards me to start an unwanted conversation with me, so I then found a male friend from my group, and stayed with him.

Sources and Further Reading

Mark, Joshua J. “Tutankhamun.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. April 1, 2014. https://www.ancient.eu/Tutankhamun/ (accessed April 4, 2020).

Mullen, Dene. “Will This Be the End of the Legendary Egyptian Museum.” Daily Beast. July 13, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/kushner-stockpile-claim-totally-at-odds-with-trumps-record?ref=scroll (accessed April 4, 2020).

“Project History.” National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. https://nmec.gov.eg/en/story/1096/Project-History (accessed April 4, 2020).

Rainey, Anson F. “Rainey’s Challenge.” Biblical Archaeology Society Online Library. https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/17/6/1 (accessed April 4, 2020).

The British Museum

The British Museum in London is undoubtedly ranked as one the best museums in the world, containing approximately 8 million artifacts.  It was founded in 1753 as the first free, national museum.  Its enormous collection contains items from every continent in the world except for Antarctica.  This is largely in part to the fact that the “sun never set on the British Empire” during the 19th century, meaning that Britain controlled so much of the world then, that the sun was always shining on one part of its Empire.  Because of this, the British were easily able to acquire artifacts from most of the world. Additionally, the Brits were pioneers in archaeology, so a large portion of the British Museum’s collection comes from them.

I had the privilege of spending a few hours at the British Museum in 2009.  Unfortunately, I probably saw less than ¼ of the collection because it is so large.  Entrance into the Museum is free, as are the different tours that they offer, including a tour of the Museum’s highlights.  Additionally, there are audio tour headsets available in 10 different languages that people can pay to use.  Perhaps this is no longer the case, but when I was at the Museum 11 years ago, they offered free tours of specific sections of the Museum.  I did tours of the Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Assyrian collections.

Perhaps the most famous object at the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone.  French soldiers in Egypt found this stele fragment and took it in 1799, but soon surrendered it to the British after experiencing a defeat under Napoleon.  The stone is important because it helped scholars discover how to decipher the long-forgotten Egyptian hieroglyphs, ultimately allowing us to learn more about Ancient Egypt.  Since the Rosetta Stone was created during the Ptolemaic period, when Greece oversaw Egypt, three scripts were written on it (all saying the same thing): Ancient Greek, Demotic (a form of Egyptian script), and hieroglyphic.  Scholars already knew how to read Ancient Greek, so that helped them with deciphering the other two scripts.  Over the years, Egypt has requested the return of the Rosetta Stone to its native land.

This is the Rosetta Stone. Unfortunately, my Kodak film camera did not work well inside the British Museum.

Since many famous objects at the British Museum came there through war or theft, many countries frequently ask for the return of their artifacts.  For example, many of the statues at the Parthenon in Athens are replicas of the originals at the British Museum, so Greece would like them returned.  Similarly, the British army essentially stole the Benin Bronzes from Benin City, Nigeria in 1897, so Nigeria would like them back.  Although I do not believe that countries should be robbed of their artifacts, I do see two positive results of what the British did.  First, the British Museum allows you to view the history of many different cultures all in one place, which is an experience that is not easy to replicate elsewhere.  Second, the British may have helped preserve artifacts that would have otherwise been destroyed later.  For example, in 2015, the group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) destroyed many ancient artifacts in Iraq.  This included using a sledgehammer to destroy a lamassu (Assyrian winged bull).  Fortunately, the British Museum has several lamassu that used to be located in the same area as the destroyed one.  A very disturbing video of the 2015 destruction of Iraqi artifacts can be found Here.

These lamassu (Assyrian winged bulls) were taken from Nimrud, near modern-day Mosul, Iraq (ancient Nineveh), and brought to the British Museum. They were believed to protect entrances. Here is a painting of the archaeologists trying to transport it.

In addition to world-class exhibits, the British Museum also has study rooms (where you can request to study a specific object from the collection), an archive, and a library complementing the collection.  Britain’s national library used to be a part of the Museum, but it became so large that it had to move into its own space.  While the British Library was still a part of the British Museum, famous people used to study there, including Sherlock Holmes’ author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the exiled Karl Marx.

The British Museum has a nice gift shop full of items reflecting the Museum’s collections.  Although it is more fun to browse in person, it is also viewable online.  Unfortunately, my time in the gift shop was cut short due to a situation that I hope is not common at the Museum.  As I was looking at some tiny knick knacks of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, an Eastern European man twice my age came up to me.  He said, “I can buy those for you.”  I think I looked at him confused and said that I did not want them.  He then said, “Yeah. What would you do with those?  They’re garbage.  Throw them down the toilet.  I can get you something else.”  By then, I was too creeped out, so I nervously smiled and escaped from the gift shop.  Perhaps my American flag bag made me a target, but I am not sure.

Thankfully, if you are never able to make a physical trip to the British Museum, you can still view an enormous portion of the collection online.  Amazingly, some objects can even be viewed at 360 degrees, and then downloaded to be printed on a 3D printer: https://sketchfab.com/britishmuseum.  You can also learn more about the Museum’s objects from a series called A History of the World in 100 Objects, which was done by former Museum director, Neil MacGregor.  In 2010, he recorded 100 lectures on 100 different objects from the Museum that best represent the history of the world.  This project is available as a podcast and also on the BBC’s website.

This panel is one of the many Lachish Reliefs, which depict the Assyrian siege of the Judean city of Lachish by King Sennacherib. This scene shows the Judean prisoners prostrating themselves to the Assyrian King.
These are Assyrian siege weapons found at Lachish, Israel, which corroborates with the Assyrian Lachish Reliefs as well as the Biblical account about the siege found in 2 Chronicles 32:9. This photo is from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Sources and Further Reading

“The British Museum.” Sketchfab. https://sketchfab.com/britishmuseum (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Collecting Histories.” The British Museum. https://www.britishmuseum.org/about-us/british-museum-story/collecting-histories (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Collection Online.” The British Museum. https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Rosetta Stone.” The British Museum. https://blog.britishmuseum.org/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-rosetta-stone/  (accessed February 27, 2020).

“A History of the World in 100 Objects.” BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nrtd2 (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Video: ISIS Destroys Centuries Old Iraqi Artifacts.” Al Arabiya. http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/02/26/With-sledgehammer-ISIS-smashes-Iraqi-history.html# (accessed February 27, 2020).