Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Beauvior in Biloxi, MS

PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: A CONFEDERATE PRESIDENT’S HOME

Welcome! This is the tenth installment in a series about destinations associated with American presidents. Last week I paid homage to Lincoln, but today I’m going to take a little detour South. Do you know which president lived at Beauvoir? The President of the Confederacy: Jefferson Davis.

A Little History

Before anyone gets their nose bent out of shape, let me tell you that I think slavery was awful.  No human being should ever own another and no one should have to suffer the way many slaves did in the South.  However, I cannot hate everything that the antebellum South stood for.  Beauvoir represents many of the things that are worth remembering.

Though the means did not justify the ends, Southern planters created a genteel society among themselves.  The genteel aspect encompassed only the interaction between plantation owners and their families, but Southern hospitality is famous for a reason.  I grew up in the South.  Southern manners, Southern cooking and Southern accents are dear to my heart.  These are also alive and well, so they are independent from the travesty of slavery.  In the coming weeks we’ll be visiting Mount Vernon and Monticello.  Much that is memorable about these landmarks is more closely related to the Southern traditions of Beauvoir than to the White House.

Beauvoir is located in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Though it’s better known for casinos now, in the seventies, when I visited,

History almost as ancient as the Civil War.  Scenes from the pre-casino, pre-Katrina, pre-BP spill Biloxi.

Beauvoir

Biloxi was more of a sleepy little beach town.  Beauvoir is situated right on that beach.  I remember driving along the coast road and parking next to a comparatively modest house.  I’d seen plantations with slave quarters grander than Beauvior.

Beauvoir is not exactly an antebellum home.  Davis moved there after the Civil War.  With his cause defeated, he searched for a place where he could write his memoirs and a defense of his way of life.  At first he merely rented a couple of pavilions on the Beauvior estate, but fell in love with the home as he wrote and contracted to purchase it.  Climbing the steps at the front of the house and turning toward the sea, you can certainly understand why.

A Little More History

Slavery was wrong, but there was a deeper issue that I still support – states rights, and beyond that, the rights of the individual.  It is my opinion that the federal government has grown entirely too big for its britches.  I’m for sending the czars home and closing down most of the government agencies.  I’m not sure exactly how that could be accomplished and I can only imagine my liberal friends gasping in horror, but that’s at the heart of what I believe.  Jefferson Davis would have agreed with me.

The history of Beauvior after Jefferson Davis’s death tells a story of how we Southerner’s look after one another.  Mrs. Davis sold the property to the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the stipulation that as long as there were any Confederate veterans or widows who needed it, they had a home at Beauvior.  It served in that capacity until 1957.

The American Civil War is a sad chapter of our history, but slavery did need to be eradicated from the land of the free.  However, the Restoration was a sad chapter, too.  What Lincoln intended for good, John Wilkes Booth’s bullet  turned into a horror.  The Restoration is an example of government policy run amok.

Just as individual freedoms are suffering under an onslaught of government policy now, Beauvior suffered the wind and water of Katrina.  If you visited Beauvior today, the architectural  restoration is well underway – and more than just restoration.  A brand new Jefferson Davis Library and Museum is being built – thank you FEMA/MEMA.  Everything should be finished by May 2012, so you might consider a visit this summer.  Not only would you see the new and improved facility, but you’d be giving a boost to the Gulf Coast, which is still recovering from the BP Oil Spill.

We’ve reached an interesting place in the history of our world.  From the day Cain slew Abel and set out in the wider world, men who were uncomfortable with the status quo could embark on settling a new land.  They could go beyond the next mountain or the next sea and run things their own way.  The earth has no new horizons, so today’s Pilgrims have no where to go.  We are finally going to have to learn how to live with one another.  I’m not sure how all of that is going to work out, but I hope the world will be able to find a compromise that includes a little Southern hospitality and protects our heritage of the rights of the individual.  What do you think?

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

The Life of Lincoln

Anticipating Lincoln’s actual log cabin birthplace

PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: THE LIFE OF LINCOLN

Welcome to the ninth installment of a series about destinations primarily associated with presidents of the United States. Last week we went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the grave of JFK, a president who was assassinated. Today, another assassinated president, Abraham Lincoln, will be our focus.

My 1969

It just so happens that I saw both JFK’s grave-site, discussed last week, and the Lincoln birthplace on the same vacation in 1969.  For most of my elementary years, we lived in Georgia and vacation meant a wild ride back to Texas to visit family.  We finally moved “home” in August of 1966 and in the summer of 1969 Mom wanted us to experience a traditional family vacation focused on important American landmarks.  Before we got home, I’d fainted on the streets of Williamsburg, eaten my first lobster at a restaurant next to the Gettyburg battlefield and waded in the Atlantic Ocean, but we started with Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln’s Birthplace

A few weeks back FDR’s beloved Springwood was my subject and if ever a president was defined by his birthplace, I’d say it was Roosevelt.  Seeing his childhood home helped me understand the man.  That’s not how Lincoln’s birthplace made me feel.  My photos show my mom, my sister and I, full of anticipation by a large National Park Service Sign announcing Lincoln’s birthplace.  Another picture shows us standing  before a smaller sign explaining why the cabin we are looking at is not exactly Lincoln’s birthplace, but a reasonable facsimile.  Quite frankly, I was not impressed.

Going to the NPS website for Lincoln’s birthplace preparing for this blog, I saw the picture of a large memorial that is completely unfamiliar to me.  I’m sure my dad drove by it, but I guess I was already disgusted with the cabin’s facsimile.

Speaking of driving by sites, I’m afraid that’s the way I saw most of Washington D.C. on that trip, zipping by in the family car.  I appreciate my parents making the effort, but the Capitol, the White House, and all the Memorials – Lincoln’s Jefferson’s and Washington’s were merely viewed through the window of a baby blue Pontiac Catalina.

Discovering the cabin was a reasonable facsimile – not the real thing.

Fortunately, I’ve been to Washington D.C. since then.  My job flew me up there and then a business colleague served as tour guide for several days.  I still didn’t get very close to the White House and the Capitol, but I actually made it inside the Lincoln Memorial.  That was a WOW moment.

I understand Lincoln’s contribution to America.  It seems inevitable to me that slavery would have eventually been abolished one way or another, but without Lincoln, I doubt if the United States would have been preserved.  He was an incredible man, destined to serve his country at a critical time.  His memorial in Washington D.C. is sufficient to the cause of honoring him.

Washington D.C. the second time

The statue of Lincoln inside the memorial is huge, gigantic, enormous – just like Lincoln’s legacy.  Everything I did not feel as I stood by a facsimile cabin or rode past the memorial in the family car rolled over me when I finally stood next to his massive statue.  Though I had not anticipated them, tears overwhelmed me.  I’d already been to several other sites by the time I got to the Lincoln Memorial.  Parking was a real hassle and I wondered as we got out of the car if it was going to be worth the frustration and the climb up all those stairs.

Let me assure you that it is.  As I stood inside the memorial,and read his words on the walls, the hair on the back of my neck stood out.  Then as I left the memorial, I stood at the top of the stairs and other words echoed in my ear, “I have a dream…”  I wonder if Lincoln had any idea how long it would take for emancipation to become equality?

I often hear God criticized for the faults of Christians and it angers me, because God should not be judged by his frail followers.  I feel the same way about America.  We Americans don’t get everything right.  In fact, we do a lot of things wrong, but that does not diminish America.  Our Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the checks and balances of our government – these are the real America.  Even a president with his four or eight year of power are merely a blip on the face of our great nation.

Lincoln knew that.  Martin Luther King knew that.  Do you?

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Arlington National Cemetery

PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

Welcome to my series on presidential destinations. We’ve been visiting a lot of residences, libraries and museums, but today we’re going to Arlington National Cemetery.

More Than Merely Presidential

Arlington National Cemetery transcends being called a presidential destination.  The lives represented by the tombstones there are one of the greatest legacies we have as Americans.  If you’re wondering whether our country is worth fighting for, look at the testimony of these men and women.  If this is not convincing multiply those tombstones by our military cemeteries on foreign battlefields, by other National Cemeteries in our country and by the many veterans you find buried in public and private cemeteries throughout our nation.

Presidents Buried at Arlington

There are two presidents buried at Arlington Cemetery, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy.  Taft was a one-term president hand-selected by Teddy Roosevelt as a successor.  Roosevelt’s blessing was not enough to overcome the apolitical policies of Taft’s administration, but Taft went on to have a significant career in the judiciary branch.  Few of us could list a significant result of his off the top of our head, even though he was a task-oriented man who accomplished many things in his administration and then went on to serve our country for many years in other roles.

John F. Kennedy‘s legacy is completely different.  A charismatic man cut down in the prime of his life, he’s still mourned as a hero.  Even now, decades after his assassination, pilgrims from all over the world congregate at his graveside to honor him.  Visitors to Arlington Cemetery, who are not visiting someone from their own life, most often come to see  the Tomb of the Unknowns and/or the Kennedy Memorial, then move on to other Washington D.C. attractions more compelling than the Taft Monument.

Though I would love to go, I have not yet visited the JFK Library and Museum in Boston.  I have been to his graveside.  I was only eight when he was shot and I have no actual memory of him before that day.  I have seen so much about him over the years that I know his history almost as well as I know my own.  Perhaps since he became real to me with his death, it is fitting that I visited the grave first.

One of the saddest things about the early death of Kennedy is that he died before those who could tell his secrets did.  There is no doubt that he was a great man from a great family, a family devoted to America.  The politics of the Kennedy family are more liberal than mine, but this does not diminish my admiration for them.  However, it seems as if every year or so someone comes forth with secrets which can only serve to tarnish his name.  I wonder if they think they are doing anything of value when they reveal their tawdry trash.  He was human and none of us humans are perfect.  Though I am aware of reality, I choose to remember Camelot.

If you want to explore the life of Kennedy, there are other locations beyond his Library and his grave to visit.  Living in Dallas I frequently drive by Love Field, Dealy Plaza, the Texas School Book Depository, the Grassy Knoll and Parkland Hospital, but he was only at these sites for a few fleeting moments.  The site I associate most with JFK would be the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.  Perhaps someday it will be available for tours, because it was  recently donated for charitable use, but it’s future is still being determined.

To me, a grave is an odd place to commemorate a life.  It’s easy to find out where all the presidents are buried.  Several sites list them all with dates of death and grave-sites.  Many are buried next to their Library.  Others are taking their eternal rest near a residence that was important to them.  I’ve been to several of them, but I do not think of these men in relation to where they died or where they were buried.  It is where they lived and what they accomplished that captures my heart and my mind.

What do you think?  Do you find burial sites compelling?  Do you like to go where someone died or was buried?  Do you attach a significance to final resting places?

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Libraries, Museums, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Gerald Ford Presidential Museum

PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: GERALD FORD PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM IN GRAND RAPIDS MI

Welcome to my series on Presidential Destinations. We’re about halfway through the list of libraries, museums and residences I’ve visited. For the last two weeks I discussed destinations associated with FDR, who was elected to more terms as president than anyone else. Now, I’m going to take you to Grand Rapids, Michigan to visit the museum of a president that served, but was never elected, Gerald Ford.

Visiting the Museum

When I asked my husband for his impression of the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, he focused on how  approachable the facility was in comparison to the overwhelming magnitude of other presidential destinations.  “When you walk up to it, you can see the whole thing,” he said.  This can be attributed to the fact that Grand Rapids only has the Museum.  For the Library you have to go to Ann Arbor.  Also contributing to the scale of the facility is the short time Ford actually served as president.  For this reason it might be a good place to begin if you’ve never visited a Presidential Museum.

The Ford Footprint

Not only did Gerald Ford serve a partial term as president, he also left a smaller footprint on history.  His contribution to our country during a time of great need was invaluable, but instead of a long resume on the world scene, Gerald Ford was somewhat of a mystery when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace.

Back in those days the media was not quite so pervasive.  We read the paper in hard copy and watched Walter Cronkite on TV.  There was no cable news network.  There was no 24 hour source for news.  There were no blogs or websites.  Even though Gerald Ford had been a congressman for almost twenty-five years, eight of them as Minority House Leader (the same position Nancy Pelosi holds now), no one knew who he was.

“When you walk up, you can see all of it.”

Today, in order to fill up all the hours of programming, the media gives the general public more frequent and wider exposure to our legislators.  The media also spends a whole lot more time speculating on what might happen than Walter Cronkite did.  Old Walter made it his job to report the news, not dream up what might be news next week or next year.  Speculations on the future were left to conversations around dinner tables, at cocktail parties and perhaps at Sunday School.

A Picture of the Times

What the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum does offer is an excellent picture of the Seventies.  Often when you’re living through a time, it is easy to miss the state of the world, because you’re too busy with your own life.  During the Seventies I graduated from high school, attended several years of college and tried to establish a career while dancing disco in the nightclubs of Dallas.  I remember listening to Nixon resign on the radio during a family vacation to Louisiana.  I also remember being shocked that Americans would choose Carter over Ford in the next election.  I understood their disgust with the Republican Party, but not with Gerald Ford.  Few men would have had the wisdom to guide our nation through the mess he inherited from Nixon.

Gerald Ford’s life had many twists and turns.  A quick perusal of his Wikipedia page reveals he was an Eagle Scout and war hero, had an abusive birth father and alcoholic wife, and was threatened by two assassination attempts.  His legacy to America includes serving on the Warren Commission, pardoning Nixon, finally getting Americans out of Vietnam and support for the Women’s Equal Rights Amendment.

Other Michigan Attractions

Because I was visiting relatives in the Flint area when I drove over to Grand Rapids to see the Museum, I can’t give much in the way of advice concerning accommodations and eating establishments, but I can tell you that seeing more of Michigan is on my short list of vacations – and not just because of my darling grand-niece and grand-nephew.  The Detroit area is chock-full of interesting things to see which are associated with the automobile industry, like the Edsel Ford home and the Henry Ford Museum.  Driving around the shoreline of Michigan is not only a visual feast, but there are unique attractions all along the way, like Mackinac Island with it’s Grand Hotel and Holland with its tulips.

Were you even alive when Nixon resigned and if you were, do you remember where you were and what you were doing?  How do you think that event compares to the assassination of JFK?

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Libraries, Museums, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Warm Springs, FDR’s Little White House

A day at The Little White House

PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: FDR AND WARM SPRINGS IN GEORGIA

Welcome to this series on Presidential Destinations. Last week we delved into the rich history of FDR’s birthplace and life-long home, but there is another residence you must explore to understand FDR – Warm Springs.

FDR’s Impact on History

Trying to convey the impact of FDR on American and World History is not within the scope of this blog, but it is a huge legacy.  The countless books, TV shows and movies devoted to the subject demonstrate how curious people are about him.  One of the most highly acclaimed endeavors of this sort was the made-for-TV movie, Warm Springs.  I remember watching it with great interest, but unlike many people it was not my first encounter with Warm Springs.

Family Visits to Warm Springs

My family lived in Georgia during most of my elementary years and Georgia is a long way from Texas, which we all called home.  Whenever we could, we’d make the long drive to visit our Texan roots, because hopping on a plane for travel was a phenomena of the future.  Sure there were planes, but middle class families like ours never even considered them as a possible means of transportation.  But it was two long days of driving to get to Texas and two long days back to Georgia, so unless my Dad could get off for two weeks and we could afford the trip, we had to make do with vacations close by.

This meant that we swam on Myrtle and Edisto Beaches in South Carolina, shopped in Macon and Atlanta, escaped to Callaway Gardens and visited important historical sites in Georgia.  One of the historical sites we visited while I was in first or second grade was Warm Springs.  History didn’t mean as much to me then as it does now, so what I remember most from that trip was the overpowering peace I felt strolling through the pines with my mom, dad and sister.  It seems I can remember Mother trying to impress on me the importance of the man who came there to recover his health and also some lessons about not being handicapped by whatever befalls you, but all that was a long time ago.

Later Visits

However, once I’d been introduced to Warm Springs, like our Thirty-second president, I found reasons to return.  Perhaps the trip to Warm Springs I remember best came in my late twenties.  We’d returned to Texas when I was eleven, but I was in Atlanta for a convention.  I used the convention as an excuse to visit favorite places in Georgia, so Warm Springs was on my list.  History was very important to me by that time and I remember solemnly considering all the historical matter available in the park.  I saw the car Roosevelt traveled in to hide his polio.  I studied pictures of his servants and read tributes written by them.  I walked through modest buildings which were hard to connect with an illustrious name like Roosevelt, even before I’d seen Springwood.  It was interesting, but I found nothing that re-ignited the warm spot in my heart.

Then I walked away from the historical displays and into the pines again.  I was immediately transported to that peaceful happy time with my family.  I like to think that I shared that feeling of happiness and peace with FDR.  The therapeutic remedies of the natural springs could not cure his polio, though they did offer him some relief, but I think Warm Springs offered more than physical relief.  There were plenty of cottages he could rent, if all he needed was a dip in the springs, but while he was still Governor of New York, before he became president, he built a home at Warm Springs.

They called Springwood the Summer White House, but Warm Springs was the Little White House.  The Summer White House was where FDR entertained the world, but I think the Little White House re-energized his soul.  Many of FDR’s best ideas are purported to have originated in Warm Springs.  He actually died at Warm Springs.  Perhaps his soul didn’t want to leave that quiet place again.

More in Georgia

Though Texas will always be home, there’s a warm place in my heart for Georgia.  It is a beautiful state with a lot to see.  Visiting Atlanta requires several days if you want to see it properly, but if you get to Atlanta, save a few of those days to travel southeast of the big city.  Callaway Gardens will take your breath away – especially in the spring, when the azaleas are blooming and you don’t want to miss the Little White House.

Why do you think FDR worked so hard to hide his polio from the American people?  Could a modern day president hide anything that important?  Would the media cooperate with the cover-up?  Do you think FDR was right or should he have opened up and shared his story with the world?

TRAVEL

Travel Here: Sampling Spring in Dallas

Welcome to Everything Else! Mondays I blog about Travel and Wednesday about Faith, but on Fridays I blog about Everything Else!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Thanks to Mark Cuban, Dallas’ Greenville Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade will march out at about 11 am Saturday morning and to quote About.com “festivities continue into the night.”

If you’re not into green beer and general rowdiness, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.  The Dallas Museum of Art recently opened it’s exhibition, “Youth and Beauty.”  A lot of what we think about as being modern comes out of America’s Roaring Twenties and this exhibition offers visual avenues into these ideas.  At a Sustainer+ party earlier in the month, patrons were encouraged to wear Twenties era costumes, take dance lessons and get a sneak preview of the exhibition.  The spirit of  fun Gaultier brought to the DMA seems to be alive and well.  If you’ve never been to a Late Night at the DMA, tonight’s the night.  You’ll find everything from food to films to frolicking all the way to midnight.  But if you can’t make it tonight, get there sometime soon, because Youth and Beauty closes on May 27th.

Or if arty types are more in the mood for a Fort Worth kind of day, head over to the Kimball Museum.  Their current exhibition is The Age of Impressionism.  “The 73 paintings in the exhibition include 21 Renoirs and six Monets, along with works by Degas, Manet, Pissarro, Sisley, Morisot, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and other prominent French painters of the period. Among them are some of the most familiar masterpieces of the Impressionist era.”  Don’t lollygag!  It’s only here until June 17th.

You have an even shorter window of opportunity to see Dallas Blooms at the Dallas Arboretum.  It will wrap up on April 8th.  This year’s theme is “It’s a Work of Art.”  The theme is underlined by an exhibit called “Small Houses of Great Artists,” which helps you imagine a place Van Gogh, O’Keefe or three other artists might live.  The five Small Houses were all created by local architects.  If you go this weekend, you’ll have the extra benefit of Artscape, a fine art show and sale, right in the garden.  Speaking of art, installations by Chihuly will arrive on May 5th and you won’t want to miss that!

The cover of April’s Texas Highways explodes with bluebonnets and with the mild winter we had, I’ve been hearing wildflower reports since the first weekend of this month.  The cover story highlights wildflower related events all over the state beginning in late March.  Sounds like a road trip to me!

That’s just a sampling of Spring in the DFW Metroplex.  What’s your best suggestion for Dallas-Fort Worth fun?

Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Springwood, FDR’s Home

National Park Service Brochure chock full of great information on FDR & Springwood.

PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS;  FDR’HYDE PARK HOME, SPRINGWOOD

Welcome to Travel Talk and installment number five of Primarily Presidential Destinations. In the previous blogs of this series I discussed destinations related to modern presidents like LBJ, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Now, we’ll step back in time a little bit and for the next two weeks we’ll visit with FDR, beginning with Springwood, his birthplace and life-long home.

The Hyde Park Area

Beginning in the 17th Century family estates developed along the Albany Post Road, now Highway 9, which runs parallel to the Hudson River.  During the late nineteenth century, robber barons made their fortunes on Wall Street down in New York City, while their families luxuriated in opulent Hudson River Valley mansions.  As the properties and homes had passed from one family to the next they’d grown from rustic farms to Beaux Art Palaces of the Gilded Age.

In 1895, Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt purchased an estate with a rich history and beautiful gardens.  The Vanderbilts admired the many decades of development which had gone into their new estate and hoped only to enhance the site with its already beautiful gardens.  The result is the Vanderbilt Mansion.  Just up the road, Ruth Livingston Mills,  inherited a 25 room Greek Revival home, called Staatsburgh, from her parents,  and in 1895, along with her husband, Ogden Mills, a noted financier and philanthropist, transformed the already stately home into a 65 room mansion with 14 bathrooms.

Another family, famous for both their financial successes and political connections, the Roosevelts, bought another estate on Albany Post Road named Springwood in 1866.  They would make many improvements on the property before

Bill and I enjoy Springwood and the FDR Library

The FDR Connection

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born there in 1882.  Hyde Park was the center of FDR’s world until he was seven, and what an elegant world it was.  In 1905, he married Eleanor and brought her to his Hyde Park estate.  Eleanor’s place in the family is easy to imagine, because when FDR undertook a final major enlargement and remodeling of the home, which his parents had lovingly developed over the years, his partner in the effort was his mother Sara, not his wife.

Springwood is everything you would expect of a mansion from the Gilded Age.  I could wax eloquent for paragraph after paragraph extolling it’s beauties.  For a while it was literally the center of the world, so much so that Roosevelt bought some property several miles from Springwood and built Top Cottage as his retreat.  Elizabeth too, needed a place of her own and Val-kill, also a few miles from Springwood,  would become hers.

Visiting Springwood

When you go to Hyde Park, as you should, don’t make the mistake I did.  I read the websites and ordered brochures which promised I’d only need an hour or two here, perhaps an hour some place else and another hour over there.  Adding it all up, I thought I’d be able to see all these magnificent homes in a day.  That was a optimistic to say the least.  You might be able to breeze through these Hyde Park properties in a day, but you wouldn’t absorb anything.  I’d planned to take in the FDR properties in the morning and get to Staatsburgh and the Vanderbilt Mansion in the afternoon.  We spent the morning at the FDR Presidential Library and the afternoon at Springwood, but even at that we rushed through faster than we wanted to.  FDR’s story has too many threads to comprehend with merely a cursory glance.

Another brochure I picked up in Hyde Park

My greatest miscalculation was the time it would take to see the FDR Library and Museum.  Having been to LBJ’s library, I figured FDR’s would be a lot to take in, but I hadn’t really understood the magnitude of FDR’s legacy.  He actually planned the Library himself towards the end of his second term and used a study in it as his office during his subsequent terms, the only sitting president to so use a presidential library.  As you wander through the museum you will not believe how much of American history belongs to FDR.

So, plan on spending several days in the area.

Where to Stay

On the night before we visited the FDR properties, we stayed in a quaint bed and breakfast inn in Highland, NY, not far away from Hyde Park.  We arrived at Stonegate early in the afternoon and inquired how we should spend our time, since we would be celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary that evening.  The hosts, Neil & Jan Thomas (who by the way are still there) recommended Mohonk Mountain House and it was a delightful experience.

Mohunk Mountain House

We enjoyed the grounds, hiked up  to a peak, practiced our putting and rocked on the porch before having a memorable dinner.  Stonegate is a lovely property with period antiques and huge private rooms.  I can easily say that the breakfast we had there was not only one of the most delicious we’ve enjoyed at any bed and breakfast inn, it was also one of the most congenial.  As anxious as we were to get to Hyde Park we lingered at the table and then went on a tour of the gardens.

After Springwood

After our FDR experience, we wolfed down a delicious meal at the Eveready Diner and headed up to the Adirondacks – an adventure I’ll share some other time.  What you need to know is that when you’re in Hyde Park, you’re only a couple of hours from New York City, the Catskills are just across the Hudson River and the Hudson River Valley itself boasts more lovely homes to tour, important connections to American Art and more history than you can shake a stick at.  Like the area surrounding the LBJ destinations, you could easily fill up two weeks in the Hyde Park environs.  The scenery alone is worth the trip.

It’s been eight years since I visited Springwood and the FDR properties.  In writing this blog I have leaned heavily on Wikipedia to remind me of dates and details.  Also helpful were sites associated with Staatsburgh State Historic Site and the Hudson River Valley Institute.    Brochures from the National Park Service were useful and the NPS websites are always very informative.  I recommend that you follow these links and continue your investigation into this area.

What do you think makes presidential homes and libraries such important destinations?  Do you think a president’s upbringing influences his presidency or do you thing the presidency is more likely to influence his home?

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

And did I ever take a camera with me when I went to the Reagan Library? NO!

PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: THE RONALD REAGAN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY & MUSEUM

Welcome to the fourth installment in this series about Presidential destinations.  Since I’m a Texan you might THINK I would have been to presidential destinations in Texas,  like the LBJ Library and Ranch or the Bush Library,  than destinations in other states, but you’d be wrong. I lived on the Central Coast of California for six years and almost everyone I knew came to visit.  When they came, they wanted to see two things: Hearst Castle and the Reagan Library. While  I lived there, I was going to the Museum so often I was afraid they’d think I was casing the joint.

President Reagan

Given the frequency of my visits, you might think I’d never want to cross the threshold of the Ronald Reagan Presidental Museum again, but you’d be wrong about that, too.  For one thing, since my last visit, they’ve built a brand new wing to house an Air Force One Jet you can actually tour.  I’d love to  visit that.

Perhaps, more importantly, the Reagan years were good years.  The Vietnam War was behind us and something like 9/11 was unthinkable.  Yes, The Cold War,Vietnam, Watergate and the Hostage Situation in Iran left the country in a pretty big mess, but Reaganomics lifted us out of the mire.  Detente was in the air and life was good.  There’s a joyous, almost carefree atmosphere to the Reagan Library that makes it more enjoyable than some others I’ve visited.

But here’s the centerfold from a brochure I picked up about Presidential Libraries and Museums

Reagan’s life story was The American Dream.  A small town boy plays football in college, becomes a radio announcer and then graces the silver screen with top starlets like Barbara Stanwyck, Doris Day and Bette Davis.  That he later became the president of the Screen Actors Guild and Governor of California was just icing on the cake.

The Reagan story has all the benefits of a good movie:  A handsome leading man, an exciting plot and a great romance. In fact, I’ve probably listed those in the wrong order.

Mrs. Ronald Reagan

If there is one thing you know when you’re through visiting the Reagan Library and Museum, it’s that he was married to Nancy.  Just for fun, I often referred to it as the Nancy Reagan Memorial Museum.  The exhibits do cover Reagan’s life before he met Nancy, but it was a black and white silent movie until she came along.  Then suddenly it becomes a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in 3D with Technicolor and Dolby.  As pervasive as Nancy’s influence is on the museum, it’s not the most memorable thing.

The Grounds of the Library & Museum

When you’ve toured the museum you are invited outside.  There you will find a piece of the Berlin Wall, a testament to his contributions toward the wall’s demise.  Further down the walk, you will find his grave.  But what you will love is what he loved, the view.

The Museum shares the same kind of scenery as his beloved Rancho del Cielo.  Just as LBJ had his Texas White House, Reagan had the Western White House there at Rancho del Cielo.  It is easy for me to imagine that Reagan dreamed up his big ideas looking into this horizon.  There is no doubt that he loved the ranch and seeing the landscape surrounding the museum anyone can see why.

My Ronald Reagan Museum Christmas Ornament

And Don’t Forget the Gift Shop

One more highlight.  The Gift Shop is great.  Just as most of the libraries boast an Oval Office, they also have gift shops.   But at Reagan’s Library I could rarely pass by without finding something which begged me to take it home with me.

Once it was a book of Reagan quotes, another time a red, white and blue Christmas ornament and yet another time it was a First Lady Cookie Cookbook.  I admired Reagan, but whoever buys for their gift shop deserves accolades and whoever created the displays should have gotten a raise, because I really didn’t like him as much as all my Reagan paraphernalia would suggest.

Have you been to Reagan’s Library?  Have you been since the Air Force One was there to see?  Have you seen other presidential libraries?  How does Reagan’s stack up against the others in your opinion?

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

George H.W. Bush Library

Having a "chat" with one of my favorite presidents!
Having a “chat” with one of my favorite presidents!

PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: GEORGE H.W. BUSH LIBRARY

Welcome to the third installment of Primarily Presidential Destinations. In the first two blogs of this series, we discussed destinations important to LBJ’s presidency. Since we’re in Texas, we might as well mosey over to College Station and visit the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

George H.W. Bush from My Point of View

Let me warn you, I’m a big fan of the elder Bush.  If all you know about him is that he was the forty-first president of the United States, then you’ve missed quite an adventure story.  Part of what makes this such a great presidential library and museum is the many roles he played, both personally and politically.

George Herbert Walker Bush was born into a life of privilege.  Some might call him a one-percenter, but perhaps the most important thing he inherited from his very patriotic family was a sense of duty to his country.  When World War II began, he volunteered for the Navy and became one of those pilots that risk their lives every time they land on or take off from an aircraft carrier.  After the war he married Barbara Pierce, which just might be the most important thing that ever happened to him.  He went to Yale and became a wildcatter out in West Texas for a while, to make his own way in the world without tapping into the family fortune.

His political career started when he became Congressman Bush from Texas.  Next was the Ambassadorship to the United Nations.  At a time when Nixon had dirtied the very idea of the Republican Party, Bush became Chairman of the Republican National Convention and brought the party back from the brink.  He served as the US Ambassador to China and then as the Director of the CIA.  After giving Ronald Reagan a run for his money in the 1980 primaries, Mr. Reagan chose him as a running mate.  In this very exciting life, his four years as the leader of the free world seem almost as an afterthought.

The Museum & Library

Each of these facets of Bush’s life is fully fleshed out at his museum and library, so don’t think you’re going to be in and out in under an hour.  You’ll be quickly captured by the history of his early days and won’t want to miss a single detail.  Even if you know everything there is to be known about the man, you’ll find yourself surprised at every corner and you’ll want to cheer his successes.

Bill “assisting” the guards in the China section of the museum

As you can tell from the pictures in this blog, there are some great photo ops at the museum, so don’t forget your camera.  Unfortunately one of the greatest photo ops wasn’t available on the day we were there.  We became quite friendly with one of the docents and he told us the Bushes are very involved with the facility, visiting frequently.  I would have loved to shake any of the Bushes’ hands and have my picture taken with the real McCoy.

Presidential Sightings

Like LBJ, I saw President Bush once while he was in office.  I went to some event I can no longer recall at the Cotton Bowl, but it wasn’t a football game.  When President and Barbara Bush came out onto the field, I was standing just a few feet away from him.  He passed by so quickly that it was over before I knew it was going to happen.  I could have reached out and touched him if I’d realized what was going on.

I’ve seen Mrs. Bush a few more times.  Once at a Texas Rangers game, back in the days when her son owned the team and again I was just a few feet from her, but this time I was in the stands and she was on the field.  I was even closer at a literacy event at SMU.  Unfortunately, it was one of those occasions where everyone is safely in their seats before the luminary personage comes into the room and then you are required to sit until they are whisked away again.

If I sound like a groupie for the Bush family, I guess it’s because I am.  I admire all of them more than I can say.  I found the library and museum to be an excellent and entertaining summary of a great man’s life.  Have you been?  What did you think?

Accommodations, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

LBJ Ranch

LBJ used this small Air Force One so he could land at the ranch.
LBJ used this small Air Force One so he could land at the ranch.

PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: THE LBJ RANCH

Welcome to number two in a series about presidential homes, libraries and other sites. Last week I talked about the LBJ Library which was the first presidential library I ever visited. By coincidence, on my last vacation we visited the LBJ Ranch, so that seems like it should be next.

Where to Stay When You Visit the Ranch

The most logical place to stay when you visit the LBJ Ranch is Fredericksburg and it’s a destination worthy of at least it’s own day, so don’t skimp on time when you head to the LBJ Ranch.  Austin, the State Capitol; Bandera, Cowboy Capital of the World; Luckenbach, made famous by Waylon Jennings; New Brunsfels, home to Wurstfest, Schlitterbahn and tubing on the Guadalupe; and even San Antonio, my favorite vacation destination are all nearby, so  you could easily plan anything from a long weekend to a two week vacation in the area.

The area is full of great little bed and breakfast accommodations, but my favorite place to sleep is the  4 Sixes Pullman Train Car.  In fact, of all the hotels, motels and other places I’ve called my temporary home on the road, the 4 Sixes is one of my current favorites.  Usually when I stay somewhere I enjoy, I’m eager to recommend it, but if I go back to the area I’ll want to check out something else.  No chance of that in Fredericksburg.  This great big, huge train car, complete with sitting room, two bathrooms, a dressing room, bedroom, dining room and kitchen is all yours.  It’s cute and quaint, but it’s also historical.  Quanah Parker and Theodore Roosevelt are just a couple of the famous people who slept there.  But on to The Ranch

That tiny person is me in front of the 4 Sixes Pullman Car.

Visiting The Ranch

The LBJ National Historic Park actually has several different areas.  You can visit his boyhood home, the Ranch and the Johnson Settlement, which traces the history of the Johnson family back to a log cabin.  I recommend it all, but if you only have a limited time, the Ranch is what you want to see.

At the Ranch, you’ll need to stop at the Visitor’s Center.  It wasn’t so long ago that you could only see the ranch through the windows of a bus boarded at the Johnson Settlement, but now you can drive through on your own.  You must have a pass to tool around the premises and they’ll give you some goodies, like a CD, to enhance your visit.  Just past the visitor center, we stopped at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, which actually had nothing to do with LBJ, but was an interesting interpretation of farm life at the turn of the 20th century.

Then it was all LBJ – a Head Start School, Trinity Lutheran Church and a reconstruction of his birthplace.  Bill and I lingered in the private cemetery contemplating the public and private man who lay beneath the pink granite monument. Not far past his grandparent’s house we made a left turn and drove along next to his private airstrip.  Turning left again we arrived at his show barn and made a brief stop to better understand the Rancher President.  Finally we arrived at the Texas White House Complex.

The Air Force One Jet which used to bring LBJ to Texas was parked next to the house.  We took a tour through the large, yet modest, home of the 36th president.  Comfortable, but not opulent, the house was obviously a well-loved family home, not a showplace for foreign dignitaries, though it certainly entertained a whole herd of them.  Back in our car, we could understand why a man would say, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President,” so he could be home in a place like the LBJ Ranch.

Have you been to the LBJ Ranch?  Did your visit change your impressions of the president?  I’d like to hear what you think.