Friday Favorites 6

This town:

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There is a town in Maryland named Chevy Chase.

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Not after this man, although that’s what I thought at first.

This Chevy Chase’s real name is Cornelius.  According to Wikipedia (only the most reliable sources for you, dear reader),

“Chase was named for his adoptive grandfather Cornelius, while the nickname Chevy was bestowed by his grandmother, derived from the medieval English The Ballad of Chevy Chase. As a descendant of the Scottish Clan Douglas, the name “Chevy” seemed appropriate to her.”

And according to the town of Chevy Chase’s website,

“The name … can be traced to the larger tract of land called “Cheivy Chace” that was patented to Colonel Joseph Belt from Lord Baltimore on July 10, 1725. It has historic associations to a 1388 battle between Lord Percy of England and Earl Douglas of Scotland. At issue in this “chevauchee” (a Scottish word describing a border raid) were hunting grounds or a “chace” in the Cheviot Hills of Northumberland and Otterburn.”

Further research into The Ballad of Chevy Chase reveals that actually, it refers to the same battle (mentioned in the previous passage) between Lord Percy and Earl Douglas, a “chevauchee.”

So, both comedian and small Maryland town are named after the same 1388 border dispute in the Cheviot Hills of Scotland.

This is why I love history.

This TV ad:

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t think it’s a good idea to create a flu vaccine that can be sprayed instead of injected.  I’m just saying that I first saw this commercial while SNL was on, and until the very end, I was convinced that it was a skit.  I thought, something this odd can’t possibly be a real flu vaccine commercial.

Boy, was I wrong.  It’s real.

Second 22-25 is my favorite part, but the scene in which the whole family struts down the street wearing those nose superhero masks is pretty great as well.

These memes:

I’ve been a meme fiend this week.  I literally spent a good amount of time googling “Henry VII memes,” “Mad Men memes,” and “Teddy Roosevelt memes.”  Pathetic?  Yes.  Fruitful? Yes.

Here are some of the best I dug up:

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And now, a series entitled “Mean Mad Men:” Scenes from Mad Men captioned with Mean Girls quotes.  I can’t believe it, either.

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I should mention that I am currently working on a full post about Mad Men.  Because if any show deserves a full post (well, aside from Dawson’s Creek), it’s Mad Men.

This angry celebrity:

Given, he’s not very specific about the contents of his “revolution.”  But Russell Brand has some interesting things to say.  And he’s more eloquent than you might think.

This book:

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After a summer-long hiatus following my Honors Capstone Project, I am once again reading Virginia Woolf.  This is my first time through The Years, and I have to say, it’s strange to read Woolf knowing I won’t be back in Woolf Lit on Monday to discuss the latest.  I’ve been doing all right muddling through on my own, although I worry that I’m missing some richness that could only be uncovered in an academic setting. Reading with a pen helps.  Here are some of the beauties I’ve underlined so far:

“Is this death? Delia asked herself.  For a moment there seemed to be something there.  A wall of water seemed to gape apart; the two walls held themselves apart” (44, Harcourt edition pictured above).

“One after another the bells of Oxford began pushing their slow chimes through the air.  They tolled ponderously, unequally, as if they had to roll the air out of their way and the air was heavy” (47).

“Well, since it was impossible to read and impossible to sleep, she would let herself be thought.  It was easier to act things out than to think them … She stretched herself out.  Where did thought begin” (125)?

“For it was October, the birth of the year” (86).

Happy weekend, friends.

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History Worth Shouting About

I tend to think of history as one of those long ropes we were forced to hold on to during kindergarten field trips.  When one kid tripped or veered sharply in one direction, we were all tugged after her.  In short, no one could move without impacting the rest of the group.

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While “rope theory” speaks more to the general ebb and flow of history rather than to the “what a small world” coincidences I’m about to describe, I believe the two are related nonetheless.  After all, we’ve all got hold of the same rope.  Of course we’re going to bump into each other every now and again.

I recently read a biography in which the author insisted on loudly pointing out every historical coincidence.  “How ironic!” he would shout from the pages, “This guy lived and this guy died!  Just imagine if this guy had died and this guy had lived!  How different everything would have been!”  If we ignore the fact that this author would do well to check a dictionary definition of “irony,” his shouting is still obnoxious, because if everyone shouted about every historical coincidence, we would all be shouting.  All of the time.

But it’s fun to shout, especially when the children in front of you and behind you on the rope join in and you wail on and on until your teacher agrees to pass out graham crackers earlier than usual.

So here’s my most recent shout-worthy discovery:

Last night, into the wee hours, I was reading Heather Williams’s Farmer Boy Goes West.  It’s a recently published Little House on the Prairie spinoff, picking up where Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy left off.  I take it upon myself to read all attempts to carry on Laura’s work and to criticize them mercilessly.  This one, however, was well done.  Williams clearly did her research, not only regarding the Wilder family, but also regarding matching her writing style to Laura’s.  This book, I daresay, actually fits in with the rest of the beloved series.

One detail perplexed me, though: at one point in Farmer Boy Goes West, Almanzo Wilder (Laura’s future husband) is reunited with his older brother, whom he hasn’t seen in a few years.  Immediately, his brother remarks on how tall he is.  “That can’t be right,” I said to myself, “Almanzo was a shorty.”  Sure enough, a Google search told me that Almanzo’s adult height was 5 feet 4 inches.  Another Google search told me that average male height in the 1870s (Almanzo’s growing-up time) was around 5 feet 6 inches.  So not such a shorty in those days.  My 5 feet 10.5 inches would have made me the town giant.  For an explanation of why people were shorter in the 19th century, read this fascinating article (scroll down to “Heights” section).

Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder, 4 feet 11 inches and 5 feet four inches, respectively.  (Photo circa 1940)

Almanzo Wilder and Laura Ingalls Wilder, 5 feet 4 inches and 4 feet 11 inches, respectively. (Photo circa 1940)

This was interesting, but not a shout-worthy coincidence.  Here’s the star of the show:

The same website that told me how tall Almanzo Wilder was told me something else: The Ingalls’s and the Bloody Benders’ paths may have crossed in Kansas Territory (setting for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie).

If you don’t know about the Benders, or the Bloody Benders, read here.  It’s a gruesome story, and I don’t want to scare you with it without your consent.  There’s also a Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast about them.  Essentially, they were a family of serial killers who ran an inn and a general store in Kansas in the 1870s and who used these businesses to lure travelers whom they would then brutally murder.

From a speech Laura gave in 1937 regarding the truthfulness of her novels (warning: gruesome):

There was the story of the Bender family that belonged in the third volume, Little House on the Prairie. The Benders lived halfway between it and Independence, Kansas. We stopped there, on our way in to the Little House, while Pa watered the horses and brought us all a drink from the well near the door of the house. I saw Kate Bender standing in the doorway. We did not go in because we could not afford to stop at a tavern.

On his trip to Independence to sell his furs, Pa stopped again for water, but did not go in for the same reason as before.

There were Kate Bender and two men, her brothers, in the family and their tavern was the only place for travelers to stop on the road south from Independence. People disappeared on that road. Leaving Independence and going south they were never heard of again. It was thought they were killed by Indians but no bodies were ever found.

Then it was noticed that the Benders’ garden was always freshly plowed but never planted. People wondered. And then a man came from the east looking for his brother, who was missing.

He made up a party in Independence and they followed the road south, but when they came to the Bender place there was no one there. There were signs of hurried departure and they searched the place.

The front room was divided by a calico curtain against which the dining table stood. On the curtain back of the table were stains about as high as the head of a man when seated. Behind the curtain was a trap door in the floor and beside it lay a heavy hammer.

In the cellar underneath was the body of a man whose head had been crushed by the hammer. It appeared that he had been seated at the table back to the curtain and had been struck from behind it. A grave was partly dug in the garden with a shovel close by. The posse searched the garden and dug up human bones and bodies. One body was that of a little girl who had been buried alive with her murdered parents. The garden was truly a grave-yard kept plowed so it would show no signs. The night of the day the bodies were found a neighbor rode up to our house and talked earnestly with Pa. Pa took his rifle down from its place over the door and said to Ma, “The vigilantes are called out.” Then he saddled a horse and rode away with the neighbor. It was late the next day when he came back and he never told us where he had been. For several years there was more or less a hunt for the Benders and reports that they had been seen here or there. At such times Pa always said in a strange tone of finality, “They will never be found.” They were never found and later I formed my own conclusions why.

According to Deb Houdek Rule’s website, which quotes Laura’s unpublished memoirs (warning: gruesome):

Laura, in her memoirs, says, “…he had had some thoughts of stopping at the Benders’ for the night… Kate Bender came out and asked him to have supper there and put up for the night… Mary and I had those names in our minds, Independence, Kansas and Benders… I heard Pa say ‘dead… Already twenty or more, in the cellar… Benders–where I stopped for a drink. She asked me to come in… They found a girl, no bigger than Laura. They’d thrown her in on top of her father and mother and tramped the ground down on them, while the little girl was still alive…’ Laura then describes Pa riding off, returning to say, ‘Yes, Caroline. Kate Bender with the rest. She deserved it just as much as they did.’

Laura says, “For a long time, even for years, after that, I dreamed about a little girl thrown on top of her father and mother and buried alive. Sometimes I was the little girl.”

She says she was grown before she ever asked Pa about the Benders. The information she records in her memoirs is correct, and the dates and location are correct for her Pa to have passed by the Benders’ house. But the date the Benders were found out doesn’t fit having Charles Ingalls being part of the group who went after them. That took place in 1873, a couple years after the Ingalls had left Kansas–they were back living in Wisconsin at that time. It is somewhat possible Pa made the trip to Kansas, or was there on some business or exploration trip, however.

Asking Pa about it, Laura recounts, “Wasn’t he one of the Vigilantes who went after the Benders, and didn’t the catch them? He only said, ‘We thought you were too little to understand.’ As for what became of the Benders, he would not answer. He said, ‘Don’t worry. They’ll never find Kate Bender anywhere.'”

Mind. Blown.  One of pioneer America’s most beloved, wholesome families neighbors with one of its most notorious.

Of course, the Charles Ingalls/Benders encounters are somewhat shadowy.  The vigilante action dates, as Houdek points out, don’t exactly match up.  And Laura was, after all, a very little girl (four years old or so) when her family lived in Kansas territory.  Too young to have detailed memories, not to mention too young to be told outright by Pa and Ma what was going on.

Maggie Koerth-Baker suggests in an article that perhaps what Laura thought she remembered wasn’t entirely true:

To me, the body of research on false memories suggests that Laura Ingalls Wilder might not have been lying when she told a story about her family crossing paths with the Bloody Benders. If you think about it, it would be pretty simple. A young Laura might simply have heard her parents talking about the Benders, misconstrued the situation, and created memories that fit her understanding. In the course of telling the story to friends and family, her parents might have changed it themselves — a simple “and it turned out they lived right down the road from us!” story became, over time, a story of participating in the downfall of the serial killers. 

I think it likely that the events Laura described did happen, that perhaps she didn’t remember them herself, but was filled in later by her father.  In her memoirs she records only a short, cryptic conversation with him, but that could have been for dramatic effect.  We’ve all done it.  And even if Laura’s family didn’t actually encounter the Benders, they were in the same area at the same time.  Still mind blowing.

The Ingalls’ and the Benders: a pairing only history could dream up.

Hold the rope tightly, kids. The world is only getting smaller.

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Little House on the Prairie, Explained

When I was eight, I asked for a Little House on the Prairie book for Christmas.  I already owned one, and thought I’d like the next book in the series.  On Christmas Eve, in the midst of the annual party, I was given a large gift bag filled with the gingham-bordered books.  All nine of them, including the one I already owned.  The party, needless to say, was lost to me after that.  I plucked out Little Town on the Prairie, because the girls looked the prettiest on the cover.  That was important to me then.  I read as adults flitted about with wine in hand and I ignored Amy when she tugged at my arm, begging me to help her chase our particular favorite adult, deemed “Tim the Alien.”

Ironically, I forgot Little Town on the Prairie at my aunt and uncle’s house that night, and didn’t get it back until I had read through the rest of the series.  I started it first and finished it last.

Once I had read the books at least five times each, had sufficiently cracked the spines and dotted the page corners with peanut butter, I began to make up my own versions of the prairie stories.  Specifically, I liked to make them up alone in my room, using my American Girl Dolls as my daughters.  I had the role of omnipresent mother, and would lecture the dolls as I tugged a tiny plastic brush through their hair.  Things like, “I know you don’t like school, but it’s very important that you have an education,” and “Felicity, you look beautiful.  Any boy in town would be lucky to dance with you” were oft-used phrases.  In fact, I don’t believe I ever did anything with the poor dolls but boss and brush.

When I was twelve or so, mom heard about a pioneer school held in a nearby town for a few days in the summer.  The classroom was a circa 1852 schoolhouse.  Pupils were encouraged to dress as early pioneers.  It was a dream.

I don’t remember much about the lessons, nor about the field trips we took to local historic sites, but I do remember the teacher.  She seemed to me very old and wise, and was almost a cartoon in her elderly perfection.  The throat of her dress was clasped with a large brooch, her hair was an airy puff of white, and one day she drew some of us older children to her.  Her “big girls,” she said, deserved a treat.  In her open hand were three small stones.  They were all alike, save for the varying patterns of gold stripes upon the brown fields.  Tiger’s Eyes, she whispered, as if sharing a great secret.  We took our stones solemnly and pocketed them so that the other pupils wouldn’t see and be jealous.  I showed mine to Amy anyway.  Tiger’s Eye, I told her.  Maybe when you’re older you’ll understand, I said.

Later, the big girls sat on the steps together to eat lunch.  We hadn’t spoken to each other yet, but the stones in our pockets had bonded us somehow.  It wouldn’t take much for us to be friends, but it was difficult to begin.  Amy had been picked up by mom for an orthodontist appointment, so I was without my usual freckled buffer.  I had her can of root beer, though, a great treat.  I offered it to one of the girls.  They offered me a cookie in return.  That was all it took.

The other big girls were sisters.  Laurissa, Katherine, and Emily, I think their names were.  The cookie they gave me was good; it was oatmeal chocolate chip.  I politely said so–we were old enough to wade into friendship slowly–and the girls offered to get the recipe from their mother.

Over a decade later, I still have the recipe.  Laurissa copied it out on two neon orange index cards.  The handwriting is painstakingly neat, and the very last step, punctuated with a period, reads: eat.  I made those cookies tonight, wanting the rustic, pioneer-ish task of stirring together butter and sugar, of patting down cupfuls of flour with my fingers.

I haven’t seen those girls since the last day of pioneer school when they trotted off down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.  The American Girl Dolls are packed snuggly in a large box in my closet.  I still peek in now and then to scold Molly for letting her bangs get so tangled.  My Little House books, still the ones from that long-ago Christmas gift–the new color editions are lovely, but I just can’t bring myself to upgrade–have a place of honor on my bookshelf.  I can’t say for sure how many times I’ve read them, but I suspect at least twenty times each.  I still have my Tiger’s Eye.  Its great significance hasn’t yet been  revealed to me, but I don’t worry about that.  Maybe when you’re older you’ll understand, I tell myself.

Out East Road Trip Day 6: Gettysburg, PA

I expected Gettysburg to look like a battlefield.  To be wide open, possibly filled with uniformed reenactors, and flanked on all sides by tourists with lens-heavy Canons.  And strewn with Civil War bullets, just waiting to be spotted by a sharp-eyed speculator like myself.

More subtle than my imaginings, Gettysburg is a town in Pennsylvania.  Before the battle, it was small.  It contained shops, a seminary, and a few brick houses with porches protruding into thick hydrangeas.  It was a town dissected by roads running from every direction.  These roads made it attractive to both the Union and Confederate armies:  Supplies and men could be brought in easily.  But there was never meant to be a battle, our guide explained.  And somehow it ended up being the bloodiest of all.

Outside of town, the ground slopes up and down softly.  There are hills with familiar names.  I remember my middle school history teacher reciting them to us: Cemetery Hill, Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill.  Between the hills and the advantages they provided to those upon them, are other battle landmarks.  The peach orchard.  The wheat field, which switched occupants–from Northerners to Southerners and back again–four times in one hour.  The boulder-studded field that Pickett’s forces charged across, headed for the clump of trees upon the ridge and the perceived weakness in the Union line.  Wooden fences and rock walls (leftover from some long-ago farmer’s plowing) border fields.  The wooden fences are not original, but are built, so we were told, on the same spots they once occupied.  The crops, too, are in the process of being planted in their pre-battle places.  The peach trees are young.

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The only bits of modernity which have been left alone by the National Park Service are the monuments.  A few decades after the war, veterans returned to the battle site to explain to researchers what had happened where.  And to dedicate monuments to their brave regiments, to their commanding officers.  States built monuments too, so that scattered throughout almost all of Gettysburg are marble pillars and metal statues.  Most northern states are represented, but–unsurprisingly, given the location of the battlefield, the outcome of the battle, and the outcome of the war–there are fewer monuments from southern states.

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In order to know what we were looking at, we went to the Visitors’ Center first.  It boasts a brief film narrated by Morgan Freeman, a museum packed with artifacts, and something called the Cyclorama.  Mom and I decided that the Cyclorama must be a ride of sorts, and spent the first part of the presentation waiting for the floor to move.  It didn’t, but the room-sized, cylindrical painting depicting the entire battle of Gettysburg was impressive.

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Later in the afternoon, we took a bus tour led by a licensed guide.  That’s a federally licensed guide: apparently when Civil War veterans went back to visit the battlefields, they were appalled by the inaccuracies spread by unofficial tour guides.  The veterans managed to pass a bill requiring those who give paid tours in National Military Parks to obtain licenses first.  The process for getting such a license is grueling: application, written exam, training seminar, and oral examination.  It was a good decision to take the bus tour.  Undoubtedly as a result of his extensive testing, our guide was able to go into great detail regarding the battle.  Using landmarks, he explained to us how far the lines of troops extended, where different regiments were stationed, and how both sides moved on each of the three days of the battle.  I typically don’t care much about military tactics, but it was fascinating to learn about the struggle for high ground and the usefulness of the roads and the town.

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Most interesting to me was the aftermath.  Once both sides had moved out–the Confederates first and then the Yankees “in cautious pursuit”–the town was entirely altered.  Wounded men, most of whom were already or would shortly become amputees, filled all corners of nearly every building in town.  Trees and homes were pocked with bullet marks or decimated from cannon fire.  Crops were trampled.  Bodies choked the land for miles.  One witness reported that on July 4th, 1863–the day after the battle ended–one could walk from one end of the wheat field to another without touching the ground.  The dead were buried in shallow graves, many to be uncovered by heavy rainfall.  Horses were considered too difficult to bury, and so most were piled and burned.  Even four months after Gettysburg, when President Lincoln arrived to dedicate the cemetery and deliver his Gettysburg Address, audience members reported feeling nauseous from the lingering stench of death.

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It was a haunting place to visit, more so because it doesn’t look at all as you’d expect the site of 51,000 deaths to look.

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Out East Road Trip Days 4 & 5: Washington D.C.

You can see a lot in two days.  Especially in D.C., where the streets overfloweth with monuments and museums.

Because it would take me about three years to write a witty paragraph about every place we visited, here is a pictorial representation instead, for your convenience and mine:

The Library of Congress, complete with outstanding Civil War exhibit.  I was cruising through it, not very interested in accounts of battles, when all the sudden there was a letter Walt Whitman had written.  There was the signed Thirteenth Amendment.  They aren't overly showy with their authentic artifacts in D.C.  It's up to you to pay attention and discover what's there.

The Library of Congress, complete with outstanding Civil War exhibit. I was cruising through it, not very interested in accounts of battles, when all the sudden there was a letter Walt Whitman had written. There was the signed Thirteenth Amendment. They aren’t overly showy with their authentic artifacts in D.C.; It’s up to you to pay attention and discover what’s there.

Outside the Newseum was a display of state newspapers.  Minnesota was solidly represented.

Outside the Newseum was a display of that day’s front page from every state’s newspaper. Minnesota was solidly represented.

So, there was this house.  And it was white.

So, there was this house. And it was white.

The Capitol, where Minnesota's own Amy Klobuchar set us up with a tour led by one of her interns.  Also, I randomly spotted the Speaker of the House walking into his office, flanked by a few security guards.  No big deal.

The Capitol, where Minnesota’s own Amy Klobuchar set us up with a tour led by one of her interns. Also, I randomly spotted the Speaker of the House walking into his office, flanked by a few security guards. He stopped to chat about the upcoming Bachelorette finale.  He was team Brooks.

The Smithsonian First Ladies' exhibit, where we saw Michelle Obama's  inauguration gown (and shoes, which were refreshingly Holly-sized).

The Smithsonian American History Museum’s First Ladies exhibit, where we saw Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown (and shoes, which were refreshingly Holly-sized (aka about a 10)).

I will interject here to say that my favorite part of the entire D.C. trip was the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s exhibit Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake.  I could have stayed there all day; I have a soft spot for anthropology, and an even softer spot for history and mummies and mysteries.  The exhibit was about the human remains found at early settlements such as Jamestown, and what the bones tell scientists about the person they belonged to.  There were about five different skeletons on display, but before you got to view them and learn their stories, you learned what physical clues archaeologists look for to determine how a person died, how they lived, how old they were, etc.  It was an extremely well-organized exhibit that allowed you to feel, for about an hour, like a real archaeologist.  Truly a dream come true.

The Lincoln Memorial, which we only found after an extended hike.

The Lincoln Memorial, which we only found after an extended hike.

The man himself, looking imposing.

The man himself, looking imposing.

Where MLK stood to deliver a rather famous speech.

Where Dr. King stood to deliver a rather famous speech.

The Vietnam Memorial.  The little girl in the distance was an accidental (but beautiful, in my humble opinion) capture.

The Vietnam Memorial. The little girl in the distance just makes this picture for me.

Other visited spots that didn’t allow photography: The National Archives (The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, LAND GRANT FILED TO CHARLES INGALLS, etc.), and the Holocaust Museum (exceedingly powerful.  Thoughtfully, provocatively arranged.  I almost burst into tears when I saw the piles of shoes which had been taken from concentration camp inmates).

Truthfully, I didn’t expect to enjoy D.C. as much as I did.  I knew I’d like the museums, but I didn’t think I’d like the city.  But it was lively and beautiful.  And filled with friendly people.  I certainly didn’t expect that, but let me tell you, Mom and I never stood on the sidewalk holding a map open for more than two minutes without a stranger walking over to help us find our way.  What’s more, when I somehow rubbed up against something (I suspect an escalator rail) and had black grease streaked across the rear of my white shorts, a woman stopped me to ask if I knew (I didn’t). What greater kindness is there?

Out East Road Trip Day 3: Charlottesville, VA to Washington D.C.

Yesterday was the day we attempted to tackle both Jefferson’s Monticello and Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Our house tour reservation for Monticello was at 9:00 a.m., and our house tour (or “Mansion Tour” as the brochure so elegantly dubbed it) for Mount Vernon was at 3:30 p.m.  The estates are about 2 hours apart by car.  And we needed a lunch/gas stop in between.

We felt a little rushed, a little like we should be humming the Mission Impossible theme as we sped through the Virginia countryside, but for those of you who also want to see both estates in one day, let me tell you that it is entirely doable.  That’s with a Jimmy John’s lunch, Exxon stop, and end-of-weekend traffic included.

Before I get to the Tom Cruise-esque madness, however, I need to talk a little more about Charlottesville.  Or Cville, as the cool cats say.

There were a few pilgrimages to make in Cville.  First, to Thomas Jefferson’s adored University of Virginia.  What a lovely university.  Before driving through the UVA campus, I had been able to keep my post-grad pangs at bay for the most part, but as soon as I saw the clusters of brick buildings, the shaded sidewalks, the Dinkytown, it suddenly felt so wrong not to be buying textbooks and color coding notebooks and folders (not that I’ve ever done that).  While I swallowed the lump in my throat, Mom attempted to locate the famed UVA Rotunda.  We knew basically what it looked like.  Brick.  Pillars. Dome. But even when we spotted this:

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we weren’t convinced that it was the Rotunda.  So we drove around some more, rapidly punching buttons on Bea The Misguided GPS, until we ended up back where we started.  At the Rotunda.

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And Jefferson was all

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I bought a $20.00 mug at the Monticello museum shop to make it up to him.

The next pilgrimage is slightly more creeper-ish.  Kath’s blog is one of my favorites.  I actually squealed loudly in the UMM library upon seeing the announcement of her son’s birth last September, which drew a few glares from those in deeper study mode than I.  I never imagined that I would actually make it to Charlottesville, but since I did, I thought I should swing by the Great Harvest owned by Kath and her husband, Matt.  Alas, they are closed on Sundays.  I settled for a photo of the infamous building (the creeper part).  Wish I could have met you, Kath!  And eaten some bread!

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Here are my thoughts on Monticello:

1. Our house tour time was 9:00 a.m., which was the first tour of the day, and so the grounds were nearly empty.  This meant that we didn’t have to wait in line to peer into various rooms and to read the signs attached to various sites.  As someone who likes to take the time to read everything while touring, I rather liked being there early, and would recommend it for future visitors.

2.  Monticello didn’t feel like a tourist destination. It didn’t feel like a sight that had been paved over with excess pathways or altered for the sake of the public.  It felt like Jefferson’s house, and it was easy to picture the man himself walking around and living at Monticello.  This I appreciated above all else.  Tour guides and signs were candid about what had been restored and/or supplemented, but when they had needed to, say, repaint a room, they were careful to match the color exactly to the original.  Hooray for history buffs who take the time to read through journals and records just to find evidence of a specific paint color.  You make the world a better place.

3. The house tour was phenomenal.  If I ever return, I’d like to do the nooks and crannies tour, which covers the upstairs of the house, but I was plenty content with the standard tour.  The standard tour covered the exterior, entrance hall, sitting room, library, Jefferson’s bedroom/study suite, dining/tea room, formal parlor, Madison Room, and terrace.  Our guide explained what was special about each room and included interesting tidbits that humanized Jefferson as much as praised his character.  I gained a good deal of new perspective about Jefferson that only came from visiting his property.

4. Next we tried the garden tour.  I say tried because we are bona fide tour ditchers.  We are the tourists other tourists look down on.  But we also didn’t care to listen to the guide explain each tree and flower on the property.  I say that respectfully, because the guide was doing a wonderful, thorough job of it.  We just weren’t interested.  So we hung back and then made our getaway and were perfectly content to wander the gardens on our own.  Everything is nicely labeled at Monticello; I never spent any time guessing what the significance of something was, even sans guide.

Here are some Monticello photos:

Monticello means "little mountain."  Naturally, then, views were involved.  This was taken from the practical garden, which grows the same fruits, vegetables, and herbs today as would have been growing there in the 18th century.

Monticello means “little mountain.” Naturally, then, views were involved. This was taken from the practical garden, which grows the same fruits, vegetables, and herbs today as would have been growing there in the 18th century.

The house.

The house (back view).

The house (front view).  I really try to take straight pictures.  I really do try.

The house (front view). I really try to take straight pictures. I really do try.

Part of the storage/workrooms that lay under the terrace.  Jefferson apparently liked to keep those bits hidden.

Part of the storage/workrooms that lay under the terrace. Jefferson apparently liked to keep those bits hidden.  (Sorry about the out-of-focus.  I try to get that right as well.)

The kitchen.  All set up and reading for someone to start mixing up hoecakes.

The kitchen. All set up and waiting for someone to start mixing up hoecakes.  A sign on the wall that I found funny mentioned that Jefferson “never visited the kitchen except to wind up the clock.”

Jefferson's grave, with what he considered to be his three greatest achievements inscribed upon it.

Jefferson’s grave, with what he considered to be his three greatest achievements inscribed upon it.

Thoughts on Mount Vernon:

1. We did successfully make our tour time, but unfortunately, it fell during the hottest part of the day.  The time of day when I am prone to both grumpiness and sleepiness.  It was also a time of day when the estate was crowded and the lines are long.  Hot+grumpy+sleepy+crowds don’t a happy camper make.  So there were parts of Mount Vernon which I perhaps didn’t appreciate as much as I might have had conditions been ideal.  It’s not Mount Vernon’s fault.  Visit early, friends.  Don’t let George see you cry.

2.  Mount Vernon felt a lot like Versailles to me (the only comparison I can think of.  I apologize for whipping out my “this one time, when I was in Europe” line) in that the estate was huge, mostly self-guided, and more often than I would like, I wasn’t sure of the significance of what I was looking at, or whether it was original.  Because of my garden tour ditch, you know that I don’t always jive with guided tours.  But I do like information-laden signs.  And there weren’t enough such signs, in my opinion.

3. The best part about Mount Vernon was the fact that there were various buildings to explore.  Most of them were located in a semi-circle on either side of the “mansion.”  So, for a selection, we peeked into the overseer’s house (and read a brief description), the salt house, the stables, and the kitchen.  Washington’s estate was self-contained, and it was interesting to see its various operations.

4. Most of the Mount Vernon guides were as grumpy as I was!  Perhaps they were merely responding to my chi, but my goodness, people were being barked at left and right instead of being helpfully directed.  I didn’t feel as welcomed as I had at Monticello, which lessened the experience for me.

5. The mansion tour was not the typical small-groups-led-through-by-one-guide tour.  Instead, a continuous line wound through the entire house.  In each room was a stationary guide who repeated a memorized spiel over and over again.  They answered questions, too, but as we were kept moving, there wasn’t much time to ask.  Some of the guides were animated and entertaining, but some recited their pieces in a monotone which again, dampened the quality of the tour.  I didn’t feel Washington come alive at Mount Vernon.  I had trouble convincing myself that we were really in his home, on his lands.  I wish I didn’t have to speak so negatively about an important historical site, but I want to be honest.

6.  Lest you think I hated the experience, here are a few big positives: first, the original blacksmith’s forge is still being used.  The blacksmith was pounding away as visitors watched, and often paused to hand onlookers examples of his work to examine, and to explain the various steps involved in making axe heads or hooks or hoes.  Further (and this is the really cool part), the blacksmith–who again, does his work where it would have been done in Washington’s time–makes all of the pieces necessary for restoration projects on the estate.  The second positive is an honoring ceremony that takes place at Washington’s gravesite twice a day.  The guide pulled two veterans from the crowd to place a wreath on the grave, asked two girl scouts to lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, and asked another audience member to read from a passage about Washington.  I thought it was wonderful that visitors to Mount Vernon are allowed to participate in the honoring of Washington and his contributions. Third, there are animals at Mount Vernon.  Sheep and pigs and cows and horses.  And they smell and lay in the shade and chow down and otherwise behave as naturally as could be.  They lent some authentic ambiance to the place without even trying.

Mount Vernon photos:

The "mansion."  Okay, it really is a mansion.  I'll stop with the quotes.  But why is Monticello a house and Mount Vernon a mansion?  I'll never know.

The “mansion.” Okay, it really is a mansion. I’ll stop with the quotes. But why is Monticello a house and Mount Vernon a mansion? I’ll never know.

Because he had an abundance of timber on his estate, Washington chose to use it for the mansion and surrounding buildings.  But, since stone was considered the classier siding choice at the time, Washington had the wood siding made to look like stone.  This simultaneously baffled and delighted me.

Because he had an abundance of timber on his estate, Washington chose to use it for the mansion and surrounding buildings. But, since stone was considered the classier siding choice at the time, Washington had the wood siding made to look like stone. This simultaneously baffled and delighted me.

The Potomac!  I won't say how much I squealed when I saw it.  It's rawthur a famous river, you know.  I'm partial to the Mississippi, but I have to say that this view from Mount Vernon's backyard was quite grand.

The Potomac! I won’t say how much I squealed when I saw it. It’s rawthur a famous river, you know. I’m partial to the Mississippi, but I have to say that this view from Mount Vernon’s backyard was quite grand.

The stables still smelled like horses!  Amazing!

The stables still smelled like horses!

No offense TJ, but GW's gardens were better than yours.

No offense TJ, but GW’s gardens were better than yours.

The overseer's house.

The overseer’s house.

The blacksmith's shop, where we spent a good deal of time gaping.

The blacksmith’s shop, where we spent a good deal of time gaping.

My sheep friends.  Notice the ones dozing against the cool stone wall.

My sheep friends. Notice the ones dozing against the cool stone wall.

Out East Road Trip Day 2: Dayton, Ohio to Charlottesville, Virginia

Virginia does not look like Minnesota.  I’ll come back to that.

Our day began, as all productive days surely must, with Mom and I accidentally attempting to force our way on to the Dayton Air Force Base.  We were under the impression–thanks to Bea the British GPS–that the Huffman Prairie Flying Field and Interpretive Center was there.  The nice young man with the green eyes and the machine gun who was responsible for checking IDs at the gate pointed us in the right direction.

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What we also didn’t know was that the HPFFIC (as the locals know it.  Not really.) is a national park.  And that inside the Interpretive Center there is an actual park ranger who will teach you how to fly a circa 1911 plane, via video game simulation.

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The left lever could be pulled back for nose up/altitude gain or pushed forward for nose down/speed gain.  The lever on the right (between my mom and the park ranger) could be pulled back for a right turn or pushed forward for a left turn.  Operating both levers simultaneously, the goal was to stay in the air without incident for three minutes.  You had two chances.  Needless to say, I crashed on my first try, and only lasted for three minutes on my second because the ranger next to me was guiding my altitude subtly.  Nevertheless, I was awarded a certificate that henceforth allows me to pilot any plane.  Any place circa 1911, that is.  As the ranger handed the certificate to me, he said ceremoniously, “If you can find it, you can fly it.”  I pray that I’ll get my chance someday.

Outside, there was the Wright Brothers Memorial which overlooks the Huffman Prairie Flying Field.  Huffman is where Orville and Wilbur perfected their plane (having had the first successful flight in North Carolina).  Huffman is referred to as the “first flying field in the world.”  Imagine that!  No one had flown in such a way until the Wright Brothers decided to dedicate their time and money to figuring out how to make an airplane work.  And the world thought they were nuts.  But that’s usually how it goes, isn’t it?

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After a few hours of driving, I happened to check the map only to discover that we were very near to the turnoff for something called the Leo Petroglyph.  It sounded too intriguing to pass up, so we wound through three miles of back roads and were stared at by dozens of western Ohioans who were sitting on their front porches enjoying the day.  Then we came to this:

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I thought this was clever, to stick my foot in near the footprint carvings.

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Carved seven hundred years ago.  They look like they were done yesterday, don’t they?

We spent the rest of the day touring West Virginia via freeway and admiring the scenery.  West Virginia is I think the prettiest state I’ve seen thus far on this trip.  Mountains are something we don’t have in Minnesota, though, so there was a lot of: “Are those mountains?  Or just hills?  They’re tall, but I’m not sure … let’s check the map.”  I think I actually Googled “West Virginia hills vs. mountains” at some point.

We entered Virginia at twilight and entered Charlottesville when it was dark enough that fireflies flashed near the tree line.  Admittedly, I mostly wanted to come to Charlottesville because this is Kath’s stomping ground, and she makes it sound quite idyllic.  Having walked up and down the Mall a few times, having had homemade smoked salmon ravioli from Bizou, and having wrapped up the evening with ice cream, I have to say that I like it here.  I have a feeling I’ll like it even better when it’s light enough for me to rave about the historic buildings and to clomp around Monticello like the Jefferson groupie that I am.