Dunnottar - Ruins above the North Sea

Of the Scottish castles we visited, none had a more dramatic location than Dunnottar perched on an isolated rock hundreds of feet above the North Sea. The approach is through rolling fields, until the land falls off and the castle rises above the ocean.

The Mearns

The Mearns

Dunnottar Castle headlands - the tall Keep in the foreground

Dunnottar Castle headlands - the tall Keep in the foreground

The location had likely been a religious spot for hundreds of years before the chapel was built in 1276, and is now the oldest of the buildings remaining on the site. Two decades later, English troops fled here from their defeat by William Wallace at Stirling Bridge and were massacred by the chapel or thrown off the cliffs.

The first stone castle was constructed in 1392, and church leaders excommunicated Sir William Keith for building a fortification on consecrated ground. Pope Benedict gave approval after Keith agreed to pay.

13th century chapel

13th century chapel

Chapel and quadrangle behind and graveyard in foreground

Chapel and quadrangle behind and graveyard in foreground

Over the next three centuries, the castle would play a role in much of Scottish history, visited by Mary Queen of Scots in 1562, and a century later by Charles II after his father had been beheaded by Oliver Cromwell. Charles’s return caused Cromwell to invaded Scotland and the Honours of Scotland—the crown, sword and sceptre—were smuggled from Edinburgh for safekeeping at Dunnottar.

After Charles died in 1685, his brother James VII of Scotland and II of England became king, and Protestant Convenantors rebelled against him. 167 of them were imprisoned in wretched conditions in a vault at Dunnottar.

The Whigs’ Vault

The Whigs’ Vault

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By 1719, the castle was abandoned and fell into ruin. In 1919, it was purchased by the Cowdray family who began to maintain and preserve the ruins. A view from the sea shows how imposing it is from that vantage. The castle had originally been connected by a narrow neck of land to the headlands, but that approach was also dug down, so any land approach to the castle would be across a narrow, treacherous causeway.

Seaview of Dunnottar castle

Seaview of Dunnottar castle

Dunnottar vista

Dunnottar vista

For photography geeks—the final image is 24 individual shots. 6 vertical images were stitched together for the panorama. Each of the vertical images are comprised of 4 exposures that were blended to control the dynamic range from sunlit clouds to deep shadow. Caroline spotted the vista and modeled!

The Beasts of Mull

I’m posting as the remnants of Hurricane Dorian are pouring down outside on the already wet Island of Mull in the inner Hebrides of the east coast of Scotland. As I was hiking a trail that, as many do here, was crossing through a farm field, the farmer was working on repairing a fence because, as he said, “The beasts were coming through.” Also, much of the land is open grazing, so as challenging as the single track roads are—with blind curves and hills, sharp drops, muddy shoulders, 60 mph speed limits—there are also occasional sheep or cattle on or near the road. So between the roads and hikes, I’ve encounter a few of the beasts of Mull. They are splendid, and it appears the frequent rain has kept them clean for portrait sessions. How about we start with a horse.

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Sheep are everywhere! (Except on the menu. Pork sausage, ham, bacon seems to be on every plate, but I’ve not seen a pig in Scotland. Mutton has never been offered once. Hmmm, what’s in haggis?) The sheep on the trail are pretty shy, and run away easily. And then there was this ram, I named Harold, the guard of the stone circle in Mull.

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The white stones more or less made a path that was probably the driest route through the wet, soaked, soft pasture, over streams, through three gates, and near farm animals. Some cattle were grazing nearby and a bull and cow were doing bull and cow things. The final gate opened to pasture, and there were the standing stones in the distance. With a ram nearby who I figured would scamper off. But as I walked close to Harold, he’d walk in circles near me. Then he’d walk in circles around me. Had he been influenced by the circle of stones?

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I thought I’d just ignore Harold, and stand and look at the stones that I was getting closer to. And soon Harold was standing next to me and looking at the stones, too. Eventually, we both moved on for a closer look.

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I put my hand on the tallest stone, but had no Outlander moments. Harold had moved on to eating with the ewes, and I returned to my soggy hike back. However, the cattle were now on the path. So I got a shot of the loveliest cow in that crazy green grass.

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Then one of the bulls comes up to me, and starts pushing me with his head. I tell him there is no need for that. He displays great curiosity with my camera backpack. I saw what he did when he got behind a cow and said you’re not getting behind me. I had a few more words with him until I could back away with him not following.

I got back on the road to head to my B&B at the end of the road. Some dramatic skies and impressive loch visitas caused me to look for safe places to pull over on the single track to get some images, and the sky showed promise of great sunset. Then I turned a corner, the sun broke through, and herd of Highland cattle were moving on the road and grazing aside it, and I’d made it to Scottish heaven.

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Storming the castle(s)

So far eleven castles and one palace while visiting Scotland and off to see another castle this morning when I finish this post. We’ve really been struck by the variety, and had great fun climbing the winding stairs, finding secret rooms, and ducking my head which is far too tall for life in a medieval castle. Here’s view of the three we visited our first day.

Scotland has lots of rain, sheep and wind. Our first castle stop was Lochleven castle in the middle of, well, Loch Leven. Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth here shortly before Elizabeth arrested her. Unfortunately, the high winds prevented the ferry from taking us to the island so we had to be content with the view from shore.

Lochleven castle

Lochleven castle

We then had luck getting into Elcho castle along the RIver Tay. We were the only visitors, and had great fun figuring out where we were when exiting a door from the spiral stairs in one of the towers. This L-shaped castle was built around 1560 by the Wemyss family who had lived on this land for at least two centuries earlier. All castles in this post are under the care of Historic Scotland. If you ever will do extensive travel across the country, get a membership (and over age 60 you get a “concession”). Just visiting Edinburgh and Sterling castles will pay for the membership, and you can skip the admission lines, too! You can get the membership on-line, but allow a few weeks to get cards in the post. Also, they have costumes if you want to get into medieval garb when doing your tour.

Elcho castle

Elcho castle

There’s a wonderful orchard next to the castle. The caretaker said for a donation we were welcome to pick, and he gave a map to show which apple and plum varieties were ripe. Unfortunately, we were early for the pears.

Orchard at Elcho castle

Orchard at Elcho castle

When you are queen of the castle, you can climb to the top, enter a turret and enjoy the view of your kingdom.

Elcho castle skyline view

Elcho castle skyline view

Our final castle on day one was Huntingcastle. The caretaker at Elcho told us that it was OK we missed Lochleven, since the oldest tower in Huntingcaste was nearly identical to the one at Lochleven. The old tower is the one to the right in the image below.

Sheep in the meadow at Huntingtower castle

Sheep in the meadow at Huntingtower castle

One of the stories of the castle is that in one generation a younger brother built his castle next to his brother’s. The “newer” tower is the closer one on the left side of the image above, though both were built around 1500. In many of the castles or towers within the castle, wooden floors have either deteriorated or never been restored. You then get a nice view of the impressive interior architecture as in the next image of the left tower. The second image below is of the middle section connecting the two towers. Of course, the floors were of different height, so there’s a stairway to get from one level of the right tower to the same level of the left tower. You can also glimpse the spiral stairs in the walls.

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What good is castle if you can’t look out the window and watch your sheep?

Huntingtower castle view

Huntingtower castle view

New River Gorge

The name is ironic since the New River is one of the oldest rivers in the country. Geologists say it is older than the Appalachian Mountains that it courses through. The deep gorge made the area inhospitable to settlement until trains arrived and soon the forests were cut and the area of southeast West Virginia was mined. The New River gorge National RIver was established to protect the area.

New River Gorge National River, West Virginia

New River Gorge National River, West Virginia

Boardwalk to bridge overview

Boardwalk to bridge overview

In 1977, the world’s longest steel arch of 1,700 feet was built to span the 3,000 feet across the gorge. You can also find it on the West Virginia state quarter.

New River Gorge Bridge

New River Gorge Bridge

What most captivated me in the park was the incredible abundance of butterflies.

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Spicebush swallowtail

Spicebush swallowtail

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Wheels Across the Prairie

When we were visiting SW Minnesota with my sister and nephew, we drove by the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum in Tracy, Minnesota, and my train buff nephew suggested we visit the next day.

C & NWR steam engine

C & NWR steam engine

The 1915 Chicago & Northwestern RR steam engine dominates the view from Highway 15. The train station, though bearing the Tracy name, was an original C&NWR station moved from Volga, SD. Stations were first established about every 20 miles so the engine could refill at the water tower seen here. Laura Ingalls Wilder rode here from Walnut Grove, the next eastern stop. In the distance is the 1901 Episcopal Church which can be rented for weddings, though before the ceremony, I assume they move out the moldering casket on display inside.

The museum opened in 1985 after local citizens strove to preserve some of their pioneer heritage. While named Wheels, much of the museum consists of nearby buildings moved to the site and filled with period-appropriate furnishings. We were given a personal tour by a college student who enjoyed sharing his deep Tracy roots.

Post Office, Amiret, MN

Post Office, Amiret, MN

The summer kitchen struck a personal chord. A few days earlier, we stopped by the (now vacant) house in NE Minnesota that my mother and her eleven siblings grew up in. They had a wood burning stove just like the one on exhibit and a summer kitchen to relieve the house of the heat since the stove was always going to keep a family that size fed. The barns and animal pens that surrounded the house are all gone, but the kitchen and the old home that was originally a log cabin still stand.

Cvetan homestead, Soudan, MN

Cvetan homestead, Soudan, MN

Summer kitchen

Summer kitchen

Scandinavians settled much of this part of the country, and the delightful cottage got a wonderful paint job by the owner when it was donated. Though I hope the teacher from the Murray County Schoolhouse was more friendly looking.

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District 91 schoolhouse

District 91 schoolhouse

The museum built a large shed to hold its growing collection, including adding the counter from the local cafe when it closed. Our college student guide was proud to show that stools he sat in as a child were now part of the collection.

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A local resident volunteers at the blacksmith shop, and what Great Plains collection would be complete without some tractors.

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After working up a hunger touring on Americana, we drove into town where the old bank had been converted to Bonnie & Clyde’s Bar & Grill. What’s more American than celebrating outlaws?

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George Washington was here

South of St. Augustine on Florida’s Palm Coast, Washington Oaks Gardens State Park rests between the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River Lagoon. This sign by the Young’s home describes the European and American history of the land.

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Much of the park is left in its natural state of palmetto scrub, cabbage palm, and live oak hammock, with a nature trail going through part of it.

Nature trail at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

Nature trail at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

The main attraction is the formal gardens which fan out from an old Live Oak covered in Spanish Moss.

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Ponds, streams and water fountains meander through the gardens.

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One of my favorite plants is the Resurrection Fern which often covers the massive branches of Live Oaks. The ferns curl up brown and crunchy in the dry season, but a heavy rain transforms them to full green.

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And a bonus image! North of the park on Highway A1A is Butler Beach where I made some images of horses at sunrise in the spring. The evening before I visited Washington Oaks, a rainbow appeared over the ocean, and the dunes of Butler Beach created a pleasant foreground for the bow.

Butler Beach rainbow

Butler Beach rainbow

A Peerless Last Night

Thursday was my last night in the house we moved into in 1973. I had an early dinner with my brother and sister-in-law, and I was thinking of going to a pier on the Indian River Lagoon for sunset, but it was overcast and raining, so I started driving to the theater thinking photos were not going to happen. Before getting to the theater, I noticed the sky was clearing to the west, so thought I’d wait and give the sunset a try. About 45 minutes before sunset, the clouds were heavy and dumping rain, but the clearing sky was getting closer. I hoped for something good and started driving the six miles east to the coast. The clouds stayed thick and the rain got harder. Then a golden light came from the west as the sun dropped into the clearing near the horizon, but the rain still fell and the clouds above stayed thick and gray. I got to the causeway over the river, and saw the sky clearing to the north,. Then a rainbow starting to appear ahead. Maybe it’ll be good one.

I parked by the pier, put on a raincoat, gathered my camera, tripod,a cloth to wipe the lens, and my Tilley hat—to cover my camera, not me. The golden sky to the west was looking promising. A fisherman cast his net off the pier and an osprey flew up to a tree to look over the scene.

Melbourne Beach Pier, Indian RIver Lagoon

Melbourne Beach Pier, Indian RIver Lagoon

Turning around, the rainbow was getting more intense. Looking north along the river, the colors were popping.

Melbourne Beach rainbow

Melbourne Beach rainbow

The rain continued, the sunlight got more intense, and looking west toward the ocean, the rainbow was complete. I’d try to set the camera, compose, wipe the filter, and make some images. I noticed a woman at the edge of the pier looking at the sunset. Her green umbrella was wonderful. I said I’d send her the image if she’d model for me with her umbrella. She said she was trying to stay out of my picture. I told her she was just what the image needed. She came up to the camera, and I asked her to turn, and she said, “Oh my, a rainbow!”

Double rainbow—and the one drop that got on the filter

Double rainbow—and the one drop that got on the filter

Many people from the neighborhood, park, restaurant and bar walked on the pier to enjoy the show. One woman said she’d walked here for twelve years and it was the best rainbow she’d seen.

A couple enjoying the last of the sun

A couple enjoying the last of the sun

After the sun went down, nearly everyone left the pier, but I was pretty sure the show wasn’t over. In high school, I’d go fishing with my brother on his boat on these waters. We’d set out the nets as the sun was setting and fish long into the night. That’s when I first learned the wonderful play of light on the water as the sun went down. Sure enough, with the sun below the horizon, some clouds started blushing. Or send another way, don’t leave until after the credits. There might be some more treats!

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The rain passed, and the day was offering the last of its color.

All the crayons getting used

All the crayons getting used

The rainbow was long gone, the fisherman was still casting his net, the osprey had flown off, and the sky dissolved to blue. I might watch the movie another night.

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Flour Power

From 1880 to 1930, Minneapolis led the country in producing flour. The city was founded on the banks of the Mississippi River by the only major falls on the river. The falls were harnessed to power mills on each bank. Grain from Minnesota, the Dakota and elsewhere was brought in by river, wagon and horse. Below is the Stone Arch bridge built in 1882 for trains and now is a bike and pedestrian bridge. In the distant center is the red sign over the Pillsbury Mill.

Stone Arch Bridge with St. Anthony Falls

Stone Arch Bridge with St. Anthony Falls

The view above is from the top of the ruins of General Mills, which started as the Washburn Mill. The mill was abandoned, but eventually converted into the Mill City Museum.

Mill City Museum from the Stone Arch bridge

Mill City Museum from the Stone Arch bridge

The lower floor of the museum has artifacts from flour production, milling, marketing and transportation. Washburn/General Mills was able to market its flour as “Gold Medal” because it won the top prize at the one and only International Millers Exposition in Cincinnati in 1880.

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In the image above is a sign for the Flour Tower. It is one of the best museum features you’ll experience. A couple dozen people sit in a massive freight elevator that goes up and down seven stories to tell the history of the mill. If you’ve been to the Tower of Terror at Disney, it’s sorta like that, but without a free fall. You exit at the top and get to view some of the ruins of old mill, and imagine the pounding of the machines and the hustle of the workers.

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Voyage Mardi

Ojibwe Village

Ojibwe Village

Kitchi Onigaming is the Ojibwe name for the eight mile trek connecting Lake Superior to the Pigeon River and bypassing the great falls of that river.

The French Voyageurs called it The Great Carrying Place, and it was the fulcrum for the fur trade. The North Men would funnel all the beaver furs they collected through Canada through the waterways on the birch bark canoes that the Indians taught them to build and use. The fur traders from the east—mainly Montreal—would travel the Great Lakes to meet the voyageurs at what today we call Grand Portage.

In late July, the voyageurs, natives and east traders would meet at their annual Rendezvous, exchanging trade goods for furs and have a big party.

By 1784 Grand Portage was the largest settlement in the American West, and the North West Company, owned the Highland Scots, built a palisade and buildings to facilitate the trade.

Palisade and canoe along Lake Superior

Palisade and canoe along Lake Superior

Kitchen and Grand Hall, Grand Portage National Monument

Kitchen and Grand Hall, Grand Portage National Monument

Reenactors demonstrate the skills the voyageuers used such as creating rope, or represent a trader in the Great Hall wearing a beaver hat.

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The warehouse

The warehouse

It took awhile after the Revolution to finalize the border between the new United States and British Canada. The border was finally settled on the Pigeon River about four miles north of the settlement, so the British moved the trading post north of the river and Grand Portage faded into history. Sixty years ago, the Ojibwe donated the land for the creation of the National Monument.

I first visited Grand Portage thirty years ago when I arbitrated a work dispute for the Custom agents. On my drive up the coast, I nearly drove off the road watching a bald eagle swoop down to the lake and grab a fish out of the water. It doesn’t take much effort here to transport yourself back in time.

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Most of the land between the National Monument and the state park right on the national border is reservation. There is also the oldest church in Minnesota established in 1731 by French missionaries. The Minnesota Historical Society published a history of the church and Grand Portage containing more detail than you’d likely want to know. But the wildflowers in bloom around the church and graveyard provide another opportunity to rest in the north light along the Lake.

Holy Rosary Church, Grand Portage, Minnesota

Holy Rosary Church, Grand Portage, Minnesota

Cascading Gifts

I often plan photo shots with some detail, but this morning I hoped for the best. I’m traveling in one of my favorite places—the North Shore of Lake Superior. I got to my hotel—the Cascade Lodge—late and didn’t know what might be good places in the morning to shoot. I found a nice pull-over spot.

Lake Superior sunrise

Lake Superior sunrise

I then drove a short way down to a wayside next to the Lake and walked to the shore. Some folks had laid out a delightful cairn.

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Then I found the nearby state park—Cascade River—and hiked to the cascade.

Cascade River State Park, Minnesota

Cascade River State Park, Minnesota

I wish I could upload the pine smell and the bird song, but here are some of the wild flowers.

Ladyslippers

Ladyslippers

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Lupine

Lupine

And now its time for breakfast and processing the gifts the morning gave. If you’re ever driving the North Shore, I recommend french toast with blueberry compote at the Cascade. And then refresh your soul with all the other gifts that surround you!

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Freedom Riders

One of Barack Obama’s last acts as president was to establish the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Alabama. You can read his full proclamation of January 13, 2017. In May 1961 groups of Freedom Riders boarded a Trailways and a Greyhound bus from D.C. to New Orleans to test whether bus station facilities in the South were complying with Supreme Court cases that struck down state laws compelling segregation in interstate travel, building on Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, . The Greyhound bus stopped in the station in Anniston, Alabama, where a mob broke windows and slashed tires before a police escort was able to clear a path for the bus.

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Greyhound depot, Anniston, AL

Greyhound depot, Anniston, AL

Six miles out of town, the tires gave out and the driver pulled over. The mob threw a firebomb into the bus, and tried to keep the Freedom Riders from escaping. A freelance photographer, Joe Postiglione, captured images that were published across the country forcing the issue before the public.

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The Trailways bus was attacked in Birmingham. By the end of the month, Attorney General Robert Kennedy petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue regulations banning segregation on bus carrier and terminals, and the regulations were issued later that year. Along with the Freedom Riders, other campaigns by the Southern Christina Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee focused attention on voting rights, and my friend and St. Louis labor attorney, Chris Hexter participated in the Freedom Summer in Mississippi to expand education opportunities and mentoring to African-American students.

The National Park Services Civil Rights Trail recognizes and honors many of these efforts. The Anniston bus terminal is not yet open to the public, but I asked to be let in to see how the development was coming. The S&H sign in the photo above and other relics of the events are stored and awaiting display. Below is the old kitchen facilities in the station. Hopefully, in a few years, the facility will be ready to better tell the story. The location where the bus was firebombed will also be developed, though I suspect the current administration is in no hurry to fund these efforts.

Freedom Riders National Monument bus station

Freedom Riders National Monument bus station

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Festival Season

Tis the season for summer heritage festivals. So a cool, rainy weekend in Itasca was a perfect setting for the Chicago Scottish Festival and Highland Games. And what says Scotland more than a Heelan Coo (aka Highland Cow).

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Perhaps you feel like throwing your weight around.

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Or playing pipes

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Rugby seems to be made for playing in the rain, though I wasn’t aware that giving a mate a wedgie was part of the match.

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The Dogs of Scotland Agility Show was great fun, especially for the dogs.

Punkie poodle

Punkie poodle

Shetland Sheepdog, aka Sheltie

Shetland Sheepdog, aka Sheltie

Frankie the Border Collie winning the high jump

Frankie the Border Collie winning the high jump

And a wee taste in the Whisky Tent.

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McLean County, Illinois

Going downstate last week, there were some great stormy skies in Central Illinois. Getting off the interstate helped to find some more scenic foregrounds. McLean County has provided some great subjects over the years, so here are some images from this week and past years. The first are from this week, where you can see the crops are very late this year because of too much rain to get the seeds in.

Gridley farm looking south

Gridley farm looking south

Looking east

Looking east

Looking north

Looking north

Near Funks Grove is a delightful little nature center called Sugar Grove. They put out a lot of bird feeders, so it’s a great spot to find some birds. Hummingbirds were swarming around the feeders at this lovely view.

Sugar Grove Nature Center

Sugar Grove Nature Center

The summer clouds are irresistible.

John Deere tractor plow

John Deere tractor plow

Storm clouds over the crib

Storm clouds over the crib

The McLean County History Museum is in the old courthouse in downtown Bloomington.

Night streetscape in Bloomington, Illinois

Night streetscape in Bloomington, Illinois

Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas

Fort Smith was established in 1817 to help reduce tensions between the native Osage and the Cherokee who were being forcibly removed into the new “Indian Territory.” The fort later served as a supply depot during the U.S.-Mexico War and the western migration. As shown in the exhibit below, the fort sits on the Arkansas River. When I visit on May 1, it stormed heavily the night before and continued raining, and the grounds were wet and the river high. Last night’s news showed flooding throughout Ft. Smith from the storms that continue to batter the central U.S..

Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas

Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas

The oldest remaining building is the Commissary built in the 1830s, to house supplies for the western army throughout the middle of the century.

Commissary

Commissary

The barracks were constructed in 1850s and converted into the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas in 1871. This was the western frontier and the Fort has been featured in many movies. The courtroom has been refurbished to look as it did when “Hanging Judge” Issac Parker presided for over 21 years, hearing 13,000 criminal cases for Arkansas and the Indian Territory. Although he opposed the death penalty, it was a mandatory sentence for federal murder and rape cases, and he sentenced 160 men to death. The jail below the courthouse was a dismal cell with no plumbing or ventilation, and held up to 50 prisoners.

1870s Courtroom

1870s Courtroom

“Hell-on-the-Border” federal jail

“Hell-on-the-Border” federal jail

The former barracks now serves as the National Historic Site visitor center. Across the Arkansas River is the state of Oklahoma. Fortunately, the bridge was open when I visited, so I was able to cross over and visit my 50th state. What a stunning vista. Perhaps the flooding has moved the litter downstream.

Ft. Smith barracks, courthouse and jail

Ft. Smith barracks, courthouse and jail

OK then

OK then

KC WWI

In 1926, Kansas City dedicated the Liberty Memorial museum in commemoration of the Great War. Congress designated it as the country’s official WWI museum in 2004, and it was reopened two years later with an expanded, renovated facility that is thorough and breathtaking. The museum entrance is under the 217 foot memorial tower.

National World War I Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MO

National World War I Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MO

The entrance to the museum is a glass walkway over a field of 9,000 poppies, with each flower representing 1,000 combatant deaths.

Glass bridge to the exhibit space

Glass bridge to the exhibit space

The circular exhibit space starts with the origins of the war, and the first half of the circle captures the conflict before America entered the fight. There are incredible artifacts and life-size dioramas, and interactive exhibits to understand the history.

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British trench

British trench

The first half of the story ends in a dramatic auditorium with screens showing a movie detailing the U.S. decision to enter the war.

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The museum examines the home front as well as the battlefront, and details the peace process that sowed seeds for the conflict to continue in less than two decades.

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The museum is in a park with a dramatic view into downtown Kansas City that is especially scenic at night when you can see the artificial flame atop the memorial.

Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri

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Oliver Brown

Oliver Brown’s daughters attended Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. Kansas had a long history of encouraging former slaves to settle in the state after the Civil War. It’s high schools were integrated and the school board attempted to make its Black elementary schools equal to its exclusively White elementary schools. Oliver Brown, a minister, and other local civil rights activists sued the Board saying their children should be able to attend their neighborhood school.

Monroe Elementary School, Topeka, Kansas

Monroe Elementary School, Topeka, Kansas

Oliver Brown v. Topeka Board of Education was one of five cases consolidated and brought to the Supreme Court by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund seeking to reverse the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case that upheld racial segregation in public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were “equal in quality.” The U.S. District Court in Topeka was compelled to follow the Plessy precedence, but accepted the Plaintiffs’ psychological evidence that African-American children were adversely affected by segregation.

Topeka Federal Courthouse

Topeka Federal Courthouse

Sixty-five years ago this week on May 17, 1954, the Court unanimously reversed Plessy stating the racial segregation in Kansas, Delaware, South Carolina and Virginia violated the 14th amendment to the Constitution (and the District of Columbia, not subject to the 14th amendment, violated the 5th amendment). Brown has now been the controlling law longer than Plessy, but in the last 30 years, segregated schools have tripled in the U.S..

Monroe school is now a National Historic Site. A former classroom is now a Junior Ranger station for children to learn about this history.

Classroom, Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

Classroom, Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

Extensive exhibits review the history of civil rights battles and the on-going struggles. I wondered why the parking lot was overflowing when I visited on a weekday morning. I was surprised to find the Topeka federal court judge in attendance for a naturalization service swearing in 50 new U.S. citizens in the school auditorium. A most fitting historical memorial.

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There is one National Historic Site that is still an operating high school. Three years after the Brown decision, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus stated the federal government lacked the authority to desegregate Little Rock Central High School. President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to ensure the Little Rock Nine students could attend the school. It is a bit jarring to turn the corner and see the ‘50s black-and-white news photos, there in front of you coming to life with parents’ cars and buses pulling up to pick up students.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Arkansas

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Arkansas

Just last year, Topeka unveiled a 130 foot mural by Michael Toombs across from Monroe School celebrating and exploring justice and equality.

Brown v. Board mural, Topeka, Kansas

Brown v. Board mural, Topeka, Kansas

Vicksburg

A remarkable coincidence of the Civil War was the Union victory at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 to stop Gen. Lee’s invasion of the North, and Gen. U.S. Grant’s total victory at Vicksburg the next day. Grant’s relentless campaign in the West got Lincoln’s attention and resulted in his promotion to command the whole Army. The Confederate Army’s control of Vicksburg on a high, strategic overlook allowed them to control traffic on the Mississippi River. The image below shows Vicksburg view of a giant U-shaped bend in the river. This year’s flooding has resulted in the river overflowing the center of the bend.

Mississippi River from Vicksburg, MS

Mississippi River from Vicksburg, MS

Grant’s first assaults in May were brutal but unsuccessful. His army surrounded the city, and began a relentless 40 day siege. Years after the battle, veterans returned to the battlefield and provided detailed descriptions of locations, encampments and battles. Today, the peaceful landscape is dotted with memorials and with blue signs detailing Union positions and maneuvers and red signs for the Confederate troops. A huge portion of the Union Army was from Illinois, and lead miners from the state contributed to one of the most dramatic and brutal events of the war.

To attempt to break through the confederate defense, the miners tunneled under the fortification and filled it with over a ton of gunpowder. The explosion blew open a huge crater that Union troops stormed into. However, they were trapped by Confederate soldiers firing down into the crater. The miners dug a new mine, but the surrender on Independence Day made that assault unnecessary.

Location of the fight at the crater

Location of the fight at the crater

One of the more colorful characters from Illinois commanded an artillery unit in the siege. John Wesley Powell studied at the Illinois Institute, which would later become Wheaton College. As an abolitionist expecting a war, he studied military science and engineering, and enlisted as a private when the war began. He was quickly promoted to captain and would be a lieutenant colonel before the war was over. In the Battle of Shiloh, he lost his right arm, but returned to fight in Vicksburg. After the war, he was a major explorer of the Rocky Mountain region, and despite the loss of his arm completed the first run of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1869 on a wooden boat. He did the run again in two years. After creating the Museum of Anthropology at Illinois State University, he became director of Ethnology at the Smithsonian until his death in 1902.

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The centennial of the Civil War was being commemorated when I started school. I remember the news of an exciting discovery of a sunken ironclad ship in the Mississippi. The U.S.S. Cairo was named after the Illinois city on the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It was the first ship sunk by a torpedo and was buried in the Yazoo RIver mud north of Vicksburg. After discovery, it was raised and preserved. the museum has an incredible collection of the artifacts that were found.

U.S.S. Cairo Museum, Vicksburg

U.S.S. Cairo Museum, Vicksburg

The Union victory cut off Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas from the rest of the Confederacy and crippled the South’s communication and transportation.

Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi

Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi

Double V - Tuskegee Airmen

Posting live from a fantastic National Historic Site dedicated to the Airmen from Tuskegee, Alabama. Starting with an overview of the field and hangar.

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Exhibits in the hangars contain reconstruction of training rooms, artifacts, and best of all, recordings from the men and women who worked and trained there.

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Double V: Fighting for Victory at Hime and Abroad. They left a legacy shaping our country's freedoms.

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Rebuilding churches

Unfortunately, the devastatingly sad news of the fire at Notre Dame in Paris is an old story. The architecture is often daring, the maintenance expensive, and fighting fires, earthquakes and other natural challenges is heightened by the architectural extravagance. In 1950, a fire started in the roof of St. Alphonsus Church on the north side of Chicago while repairs were occurring. It was one of the largest fires Chicago. My future father-in-law, who was baptized and buried out of St. Al’s is quoted in historical record.

From the book  Lake View  by Matt Nickeson, 2014

From the book Lake View by Matt Nickeson, 2014

The church’s interior was rebuilt and has subsequently been restored. It looks better than when I married John’s daughter there!

St. Alphonsus Church, Chicago

St. Alphonsus Church, Chicago

In 2010, I visited Socorro, New Mexico, but when I went to the Old San Miguel Mission, it had been ordered closed the month before. The parish was founded in 1598, and the current building began in 1615. Over the centuries it was damaged and repaired numerous times. However, earlier in 2010, a neighboring pueblo church collapsed. Engineers determined that the efforts to preserve the pueblo churches by covering them in concrete stucco actually trapped moisture and was causing their decay. In this image, you can see where engineers removed stucco at the front of the church to examine the conditions.

San Miguel Church, Socorro, New Mexico

San Miguel Church, Socorro, New Mexico

San Miguel was immediately closed and tested to see if it could be saved. Pastor Andrew Pavlak, who is from Chicago, let me in the church to take some pictures. All artwork and relics and half the pews had been removed. An image I took that day was used on the cover of a regional telephone book (in case you remember those historical artifacts) and the proceeds were part of my donation to the church’s restoration.

San Miguel Interior

San Miguel Interior

The church was able to be restored and reopened in time to celebrate its 400th anniversary in 2014. My donation to Notre Dame will soon be made. I have no doubt that the Easter Mass of Resurrection will one day again be celebrated in that cathedral.

Old San Miguel Mission, Socorro

Old San Miguel Mission, Socorro

York Minster

The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York is one of the most breathtaking structures to experience. A Christian church occupied this space in York, England since the early 7th century. After several churches fell or were destroyed, construction on the current building began in 1220 to compete with the newly constructed Canterbury cathedral. It was completed and consecrated in 1472. How would you like this as your backyard view? The Chapter House, completed in the 1290s is under the conical tower below the central tower which was built in 1420 after the previous tower collapsed!

York Minster as viewed from the York City wall

York Minster as viewed from the York City wall

The religious community would gather for both prayer and business under the ceiling of the Chapter House. Seats were built into the walls. The builders and artists included images of themselves and other in the wall decorations.

Chapter House vault

Chapter House vault

Chapter House canopy

Chapter House canopy

The west front of the Minster is imposing with its great window called the “Heart of Yorkshire.,” is impressive inside and out. The minister has the largest intact medieval stained glass.

York Minster west entrance

York Minster west entrance

West window and the Heart of Yorkshire

West window and the Heart of Yorkshire

East window, restored 2016

East window, restored 2016

The central tower rises 235 feet with the main altar below. Behind the altar is the choir screen which includes statues of the fifteen kings of England from William the Conqueror to Henry VI. I remember these odd faces from my high school European history text.

Main altar looking to the choir

Main altar looking to the choir

William the Conqueror on the Kings’ Screen

William the Conqueror on the Kings’ Screen