Saturday, November 5, 2016

Lincoln In Decatur

If you've ever been to the central region of Illinois, you know that there is no one bigger than Abraham Lincoln. He's certainly the biggest tourism pull in the area and just about every city tries to make some sort of connection to our 16th President.

Decatur has one of the stronger cases of actually being connected to Lincoln as he moved to the small town in 1830 with his family and it was the first home for him in Illinois. He was 21 at the time and it says so on the statue to Abraham on the campus of Millikin University, Decatur's main college. I can't help but think that someday my statue will say "At Thirty-Seven I Came To Illinois."

Here is the monument which has him at 21 with an axe and some fallen timber.

Here's the plaque on the monument which gives some more detail on Lincoln's Decatur story. There is another Lincoln statue in the downtown Decatur that highlights where Lincoln gave his first political speech on the streets of the town and I will highlight that in another post.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Green Aisles

Moving to Illinois has been an interesting transition as my new town of Decatur reminds me a lot of Lawrence, Kansas but the cornfields around the town remind me of home in rural Wisconsin. Here's a view from the road leading to the kennel where we board our dog from time to time.

Driving around these roads reminds me of one of my all-time favorite songs "Green Aisles" by Real Estate. If you aren't familiar with the band, they make a type of music described as "dream pop" with a real calm and mellow sound. I typically listen to music or a podcast while going to sleep and the album that "Green Aisles" is on, Days, is an album that has helped me reach dreamland many times.

All those wasted miles
All those aimless drives
Through green aisles
Our careless lifestyle
It was not so unwise, no 

That is the chorus that the "green aisles" lyrics can be found and it speaks to me as our non-traditional lifestyle these past few years has led us to Ukraine and back and across the United States has proven to be a wonderful and life-changing experience. I wouldn't go so far as to say our lifestyle was "careless" as the lyric goes but it has been unconventional and full of unexpected twists. I will admit though that a return to "green aisles" is a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What Have I Done?

I realized that as a Green Bay Packers fan I was treading on some dangerous ground moving to Decatur, Illinois. But I had no idea what exactly I was walking into until seeing the sign welcoming me to my new home. 

Before the Chicago Bears were called the "Chicago Bears" they were founded as the Decatur Staleys in 1919. An odd name for a team, to be sure, they were named after the parent company that started the team, A.E. Staley, which was a corn processor. The company still exists today as a part of the larger collection of companies known as Sysco.

The Decatur Staleys were run by George Halas and played one season in Decatur as a part of what was called the American Professional Football Association [APFA]. They would move to Chicago and become the Chicago Staleys in 1921 and became the Bears when the APFA became the National Football League in 1922.

So that's more Bears knowledge than I thought I would ever know or am comfortable with...other than that Jay Cutler is 2-11 lifetime against the Packers.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

What A Long Trip It's Been

What started out as a "for the summer" relocation to Washington DC, turned out to be a summer filled with adventures all across the East Coast and our new home in Decatur, Illinois.

Many posts will follow about our adventures but a brief rundown of the highlights we saw along the way including:

The Appalachian Mountains in rural Pennsylvania
State Capitols of Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Hampshire
The Baseball Hall of Fame
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Downtown Manhattan
Laura's hometown in New Jersey
My brother-in-law's wedding near Burlington, Vermont
The Atlantic Ocean coast in Portland, Maine
Lake Ontario and Toronto, Canada

And we finally arrived in Decatur, Illinois, which was the location of Abraham Lincoln's first home in Illinois after moving here with his family from southern Indiana when he was 21. It is said he gave his first political speech here which attracted the attention of Illinois political leaders. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The View From My Window #23: Vermont

Don't let the the cactus in the foreground fool you, those rolling hills in the background are located in the Green Mountain State of Vermont near Mount Mansfield. I'm here for a wedding and the wedding venue on top of a hill has amazing views as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Free Stamps From The Postal Museum

When Laura and I started making lists of what to see during our time in Washington, she laughed when she came upon "The Postal Museum." "That's one museum I think I will skip," I remember her saying. But my interest was peaked and last week I got a chance to visit it (along with Union Station which is located right across the street). 

While it doesn't compare to the Smithsonian's other museums, it is a time capsule of how the Post Service has changed since our nation's founding. The museum location itself was Washington's main post office from 1914 until 1986. The building architecture is the Beaux-Arts style which was popular in the United States from 1880 until about 1920.

One of the neat things about the museum is that in one of the rooms where you can design your stamp, you can also dig through a big pile of stamps and take home six to jump start your stamp collection.

Here are my six stamps (including two foreign stamps.) We begin with two presidents, Woodrow Wilson (the only political scientists to ever be President) and Abraham Lincoln (who lost every public election he took part in before being elected president). The 4-cent Lincoln stamp was issued in 1954 and the Wilson $1 stamp produced in 1938 .

I also picked up two space-related stamps, one honoring Project Mercury and the other featuring Skylab. The Project Mercury stamp was issued in 1962 and has John Glenn's space capsule as it orbits the Earth for the first time. The Skylab 10-cent stamp is from 1974 and was produced in honor of the first anniversary of Skylab's launch.

My two foreign stamps include one from East Germany and one from Israel. As you might expect from a communist country, the stamp is in honor of a worker. The bright red Israeli stamp features Nahal Baraq Canyon located in the southern district of Israel.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Visiting the Watergate and the Deep Throat Parking Garage

Last week I wrote about visiting the Library of Congress to try to replicate a famous scene from All the President's Men and this week I'm on the road again to visit a few more spots made famous by the movie and the Watergate saga.

We start at the Watergate Hotel and business complex which recently celebrated its 50th birthday. This view of the famously circular buildings is from the Kennedy Center which sits next next door. Back in June 1972, five men broke into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate and a little more than two years later President Richard Nixon would resign over the coverup. 

The building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places and so it will remain mostly the same because of its historical significance. The same isn't true for the next spot on my Watergate tour. 

In the parking garage under this Rosslyn, Virginia office building, Bob Woodward met his government informant that helped him uncover the conspiracy around the Watergate burglary. Unfortunately, the building and the garage will soon be demolished for new buildings. The decision was made back in 2014 but the building couldn't be changed before 2017, so I was able to get a chance to take a look at the famous parking garage.

Woodward met Mark Felt who was the Deputy Director of the FBI and served as deep background on what was happening inside the federal government as the scandal was building.

They met in the shadows of spot D32 which was occupied by a Ford truck when I visited. I have to imagine that at the time there was nowhere near the lighting level that there is today and I do know that Felt was able to exit out the side door that is now covered by a metal fence on the right .

Here are some shots from the All the President's Men film of Robert Redford meeting Deep Throat who was played by Hal Holbrook. It appears in the film that the parking garage they used isn't attached to a larger building as it is in reality. 

The parking garage was much more deserted and darker but even with the fluorescent lights in the parking garage today, it was still a creepy place and I was glad to get out of there as quickly as possible.

And here is Deep Throat in the shadows, a scene that has inspired political thrillers for decades.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Use My Camera Classic: Uncle Remus and the Song of the South

**In this series of posts, I revisit interesting locations and sites that I never got around to posting about when I originally visited them.**

Eatonton, GA July 2015

One of Georgia's most famous native sons was Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus anthologies of stories featuring the character of Brer Rabbit which were incredibly popular at the turn of the 20th century. 

Harris was from Eatonton, GA which is about 50 miles south of Athens, Georgia and from driving around the small town, they clearly are proud to be the birthplace of Harris.

The collection of fables and stories attributed to Uncle Remus included philosophical stories which were a combination of original ideas by Harris and folklore and traditional stories attributed to African-American culture. His style of telling the story in Uncle Remus' voice would later be famously seen in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

Modern criticism of Harris' work is that he took many of the stories from slaves and newly freed African-Americans without attributing the sources. Interestingly, another author born in the very same town of Eatonton is Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. It is hard to imagine two authors more different yet covering similar topics of race in the South. Walker wrote an essay on her thoughts on Chandler's work entitled "Uncle Remus, No Friend of Mine" and I think you can understand her opinion by the title alone.

Eatonton also boasts an Uncle Remus Museum a little ways from the downtown.

It features a period cabin reminiscent of something Uncle Remus would have occupied at the time of Chandler's work.

The Uncle Remus tales were brought to the silver screen in Disney's Song of the South. The film is a combination of animation and real actors interacting and it is famous for the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." Because of the subject matter, Disney has stopped releasing the film and it is not for sale currently. 

Although the movie is out of print as far as Disney is concerned, the complete film is currently up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. I'm sure it will be taken down as soon as Disney notices that it has been posted so see what all the hubbub is about while you can.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Supreme Court With Eight Chairs

When the Supreme Court isn't in session (they wrapped up for this term a few weeks ago) you are able to take hourly tours of the chamber where the Supreme Court holds their hearings. You aren't able to take a photograph inside the room during the tour but you can take photos of the room from immediately outside of it.

With the death of Antonin Scalia and Senate's failure to move on President's Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, the Court currently only has eight justices and so if you visit now you have the rare view of only eight chairs sitting behind the bench. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Scariest 10 Seconds In Washington

The Scariest 10 Seconds In Washington from Matt Flaten on Vimeo.

This is Trump's new hotel being built on Pennsylvania Avenue. The size of sign has been controversial around Washington as it seems like it is way too big based on city advertising laws. The city says they can't do anything about it because the sign sits on federal land as it sits on the Old Post Office Pavilion where the hotel is being built.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Doing My Best To Recreate All The President's Men

While the exterior of the Library of Congress isn't one of Washington's most memorable building, the inside is certainly the most beautiful library you'll ever find in the United States. The library is the oldest federal institution, dating back to 1800, and currently the collection has more than 23,000,000 books.

As a tourist visiting without a reader card, you'll be hard pressed to see any of the Library's huge collection, but in one area you can ascend a set of stars to see one of the famous circular reading rooms.

The reading rooms gained pop culture fame with a notable scene in the Oscar-winning film All The President's Men. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) go to the reading room to sort through receipts after being told to "follow the money" by their informant Deep Throat.

The camera pulls back to reveal the whole room from above and simultaneously shows the small nature of the two reporters researching the Watergate story and demonstrating the size and scope of the American government.

Here's the brief All The President's Men clip that features the Library.

The iconic scene was featured in the Simpsons in one of the series' best episodes, Sideshow Bob Roberts. Lisa is researching the election results from the Springfield mayoral election and the camera pulls back in a similar fashion to reveal that Springfield Library's reading room rivals that of the Library of Congress. 

Thinking about it, I believe I saw the Simpsons episode well before All the President's Men and so it was probably years before I really understood this joke.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Oldest Structure In Washington DC

Let's celebrate July 4th with a building that was standing long before we declared our independence from England. The oldest unchanged structure in Washington DC is this stone home located surprisingly in the middle of the Georgetown shopping district. It was built in 1765 and has been logically dubbed the Old Stone House. It was originally a one-story home built by the Layton family who only lived in the house for three years before selling it to Cassandra Chew who expanded the home to a second floor and a separate kitchen area. 

But how was it that this little house was spared the wrecking ball as every other building around it was replaced or updated? This was due to the stories surrounding the home that say that George Washington and Washington DC's original city planner Pierre L'Enfant held meetings at the house when they were planning the layout of the capital's city streets. After the National Park Service purchased the home in the 1950's, they attempted to verify the historic claims but could find no evidence that showed that those meetings ever took place in the house after all.

The house is now a part of the Rock Creek Park National Historic District so bring your National Parks passport to get it stamped! 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Scarlett's New Frenemy

By far the most difficult aspect of our move to Washington has been the changes our dog Scarlett has had with our new place. We went from a suburban townhome next to a middle school with a huge green space to an apartment building with people and other dogs around every turn. The first week was pretty difficult as she is very excitable and interested in everything that is going on in the apartment building (people leaving, people talking in the hallway, a dog going for a walk, a toilet flushing, someone moving furniture, someone breathing, etc...)

Thankfully, she has mellowed out a lot except that in the building across from us a black-and-white cat has decided its favorite place to sit is in the opposite window. It took about a day but Scarlett finally noticed the cat sitting there and the two have shared many an afternoon locked in a staring contest, imagining what would happen if they could get at each other. I'm predicting Scarlett to leave with quite a few scratches.  

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Five Questions For Washington DC

Here are five questions I have for Washington DC after being here for a few weeks.

What is behind his gate at the National Cathedral?

What's in this door-size safe at Woodrow Wilson's house? 

What goes on in the back of this truck?

How is this still a thing that is made?

 What's at the top of the Supreme Court's spiral staircase?