Monday, October 14, 2013

Auburn, New York: William Seward's Grave

It seems very appropriate that William Seward's final resting place is located only a couple of hundred yards from the burial spot of Harriet Tubman.

Seward, the Secretary of State under Lincoln, was a strong abolitionist. His house in Auburn was indeed a stop on the Underground Railroad, which Tubman used to guide slaves to freedom. Considering that Seward was a well-known politician (once the Governor of New York), it's impressive that he'd take such a strong stand on this issue.

Seward is buried in Fort Hill Cemetary, located just west of South Street where Seward lived for much of his life. He is surrounded by his relatives.

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Auburn, New York: Harriet Tubman's Grave

When it comes to distinguished women of the 19th century, it's tough to top Harriet Tubman. No wonder Auburn is proud to claim her.

Tubman was a slave as a child in Maryland but eventually escaped. She returned to free other members of her family, one at a time. From there it was an easy jump to helping others via the "Underground Railroad." When Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Tubman helped get the slaves all the way to Canada to find freedom.

From there, she later worked for the Union Army - eventually serving as a spy. After the war, she retired to the family home. Eventually, Tubman became involved in the woman's suffrage movement, which was more or less formally born down the street in Seneca Falls.

Tubman is buried in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn. Head south from the middle of the city on South Street, take a right on to Fitch Ave., and look for an entrance. Harriet is in West Lawn C on the far western edge of the grounds.

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Auburn, New York: Seward House

If history had bounced in a different direction, William Seward might have been President of the United States. He was a top contender for the Republican nomination in 1860 after serving as Governor of New York. But he couldn't get a majority of the delegates' votes, and eventually lost to someone named Abraham Lincoln.

Seward, not being a sore loser, joined Lincoln's cabinet as Secretary of State. Doris Kearns Goodwin is very appreciative of that. He helped the Union win the Civil War in a variety of ways; later he came up with the idea of buying Alaska from Russia. That worked out well for the American side.

But Seward always liked returning to his home in Auburn. He kept it throughout his political career, and it stayed in the family for a couple of generations after he died. However, the building eventually was donated to a non-profit agency for display, thus making the Seward House a nice stop in the middle of Central New York.

Pictures aren't allowed inside, but the structure still has plenty of items that Seward actually used when he was alive. Particularly impressive is the upstairs hallway, filled with pictures (some autographed) of diplomats and royalty from that era. The Seward House also has a flag with 49 stars in it. The State of Alaska gave it to the collection when it joined the United States in 1959. Sort of a thank-you gift.

Tours are available frequently; check the website for hours of operation. Our tour was given by the official county historian; she really knew her stuff.

Just think how close we came to seeing a movie called "Seward." By the way, in the 2012 "Lincoln" movie, David Strathairn prepared for his role by coming to Auburn and looking at the house. Good idea.

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Oneida, New York: World's Smallest Church

It seems as if every town in America, or at least every state, has the world's, or country's, smallest church. Here's a contender from Oneida, New York.

The sign adds some helpful information. This was built in 1989, and seats two. Yes, visitors are welcome, but you'd better talk to the owners first. The church is in the middle of a lake. And swimming doesn't look like such a great idea at this time of the year. It's not on an island but rather built on a platform.

Be sure to notice the cross, also on its own platform, next to the church.

To get there, head south toward Oneida from Thruway Exit 33 (Verona). Take a right on Sconondoa Road, which is not quite in town. Go for maybe a mile until Sconondoa Road bends to the left. Don't go left, go straight on to Mason Road, and immediately slow down. You'll see the church on the north (right) side. We're talking a three-mile detour one way at most from the Thruway.

Feel free to do a computer search for other small churches.You'll find other contenders.

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Oneida, New York: Oneida Community Mansion House

It's easier than you think to stay in a National Historic Landmark. It's not too expensive either.

The landmark in question is the Oneida Community Mansion House, located between Syracuse and Utica. It's just down the street from Turning Stone Casino in Verona, if that helps.

Back in 1848, John Noyes founded the Oneida Community. A few hundred people lived together in this mansion as Noyes hopes to point Christianity in a new direction. There was a lot of this stuff in upstate New York in the 1800s, including the Mormons and the Shakers. Obviously, the Mormons are the ones that survived.

As for the Oneida Community, the people are famous for a couple of things. First, they believed in "complex marriage" among all believers. You'll have to ask the people there how they managed to avoid a population explosion during the 32 years or so they were all together.

Noyes fled the mansion, and the country, in 1880 when there were reports that he was going to arrested on statutory rape charges. While the residents stayed in the mansion for the most part after that, they changed their ways a bit. They also went into the silverware business shortly after that, and Oneida Silverware became a popular dinner table accessory for more than a century.

The rooms are big and old and beautiful, with high ceilings and noisy radiators. Each stay includes a free tour of the building, which has some areas that are set aside for museum-like purposes. The mansion also has some apartments.

I could show you a picture of the beautiful exterior, but the library seems like a better choice. It's open to all, and books go around the walls of the room in cases - thousands and thousands of books. It's particularly nice in the daytime with the room's skylight windows. There's no better place to read a book or magazine.

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Forestport, New York: Wigwam Tavern

Ever have someone visit, and you say to them, "Just crash anywhere"?

Apparently someone took it literally.

This is a special from the good folks of Roadside America. Someone must have been coming down Route 28 to or from the Adirondacks, and saw this sight - and spread the word.

The Wigwam Tavern has its own Facebook page - naturally - but there's no explanation for the airplane. You have to go to a newspaper article for that.

It seems a plane crashed at the airstrip that's out back, and some local residents took the back of it and attached it to the tavern when the owner wasn't around. It became a landmark. The tail got replaced in 2005 by one of the patrons.

What's more, the food is said to be good too.

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Blue Mountain Lake, New York: Adirondack Museum

Care for a course on the Adirondacks? This is your place. The Adirondack Museum bills itself as a place for an epic visit, and it isn't kidding. We stopped for about three hours to see it, and then had a leisurely lunch overlooking Blue Mountain Lake, which is spectacular.

This has buildings big and small spread over a large campus. Sample subjects are boating, logging, recreation, and transportation. You can climb a fire tower and see a luxury railroad car.

It's all very well done, telling the story of the region in relatively complete fashion. I'm not sure if kids will have the patience to spend three hours here, but they will certain learn some things if they do.

The picture here is of the Marion River Carry Pavilion, which looks pretty nice in the fall. Or any other time.

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Saranac Lake, New York: Lake Flower

Plenty of people come to the Adirondack Mountains in the summer, when everything is open and the warm days and cool nights are refreshing. They come in the winter to enjoy winter sports such as skiing.

And they come in the fall, because of the trees. Like these.

This is Lake Flower, which is located in Saranac Lake. This was the view along the lake one frosty October morning, when steam was coming off the lake on a 25-degree start to a day. Click on it for a larger view.

By the way, springs are a little less attractive. There are some nasty bugs up there for a few weeks in May or June. Outside of that, it's a very good spot for a vacation.

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Saranac Lake, New York: Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage

Saranac Lake is a charming location, just down the road from Lake Placid but with a bit more quiet. Tourist attractions aren't exactly common within the village limits.

One that qualifies, though, is the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage. You've probably read some of his work - "Kidnapped" and "Treasure Island" qualify.

He spent the winter of 1887-88 in Saranac Lake at this cottage. Stevenson must have made an impression. They kept his place as is as a tourist attraction, and named the street after him.

Imagine what would have been done if he stayed a while longer!

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Lake Placid, New York: Speedskating rink

Some sports history was made here, believe it or not.

The title of the post gives it away. This was the setting for speedskating during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. It's where Eric Heiden became a legend.

Heiden went five for five in gold medals. He won in sprints, and he won over long distances. It might just be the greatest single performance in Winter Olympic history.

There's a large sign just to the right of this picture against a hill that has a tribute to the legends of this oval. As you'd guess, Heiden is one of them. (The sun was in the way of a picture of it, so you'll have to take my word for it. This is more impressive.)

The nice building up the hill is actually Lake Placid High School. It is across the street from the Olympic Center. So if the teens need inspiration to succeed, they don't have to go too far.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Lake Placid, New York: Olympic Center

Drive to Lake Placid, and it's easy to wonder how this little village hosted the Winter Olympics ... twice. Those two-lane roads couldn't have been much in the middle of winter. Yes, the Games weren't such a big deal in 1932, but they sure were in 1980. But this place did it, and it rightfully proud of it.

The Olympic Center is in the middle of town, right across the street from Mirror Lake. There's a museum here, and some ice rinks. But it's also the place where one of the most famous hockey games in history was played. Perhaps you have heard of the "Miracle on Ice," in which the United States beat the Soviets in the medal round and eventually went on to the gold medal.It's worth taking the tour just to sit in that arena and chant "U-S-A," as if it is 1980 all over again.

By the way, this building is right on Lake Placid's main street, and it's worth a walk. There are plenty of interesting shops and restaurants there, including an outlet for USA Hockey. The area has become a little more upscale in recent years, for what its worth.

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Harrisville, New York: Oswegatchie River

Need a place to stop while driving between Watertown and Lake Placid in order to stretch your legs?

Welcome to Harrisville.

It's a cute little village on Route 3, and I do mean little. The population in 2010 was recorded at 628.

The city leaders did do a nice job on this park, which is located on the Oswegatchie River, which runs 137 miles from the Adirondacks west and then north to Ogdensburg and the St. Lawrence River.

This picture was taken on a very bright day in the fall, so it looks a little like snow on the water. It wasn't, but no doubt this area sees its share of it.

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Syracuse, New York: NBT Bank Stadium

Welcome to the relatively new home of the Syracuse Chiefs, the AAA baseball team that's in the International League.

The Chiefs played in MacArthur Stadium for years and years, but finally got a new playpen some years ago. It's in the same location, more or less as the old place. NBT Bank Stadium seats more than 11,000 fans. I particularly like the "Chiefsville" sign out front.

By the way, the facility is located on Tex Simone Drive. Simone was the longtime general manager of the team, and the Simone name was associated with the franchise for many decades.

Downtown ballparks usually are more to my liking than ones away from the middle of the city. To be fair, this one is near Destiny USA, a huge, huge shopping center, and Interstate 81, so it gets points for convenience in that sense. Parking is plentiful.

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Syracuse, New York: 24-Second Shot Clock

The National Basketball Association had a problem in the 1950s - the games were getting boring.

Teams that thought they were outmatched realized their best chance to win was slow the pace of the game to a crawl. When one contest ended up 19-18, it was time to do something.

Danny Biasone was the owner of the Syracuse Nationals of the NBA at the time, and he attacked matters in a most logical way. A shot clock had been discussed by the league, so Biasone and general manager Leo Ferris counted the number of shots in a well-paced scrimmage staged in a local high school. Sixty shots per game per team seemed about right, so he divided that into the number of seconds in a game. It came out to be 24 seconds, and that became the time limit for shooting.

You probably could argue that it saved the league, which was still struggling financially. The plan was eventually adopted by leagues around the world, and even made it into the college game after a few decades.

Biasone was recognized for his good work with this display near Armory Square in downtown Syracuse. All surviving Syracuse Nationals were invited to the dedication ceremony in 2005. It's on South Franklin St. By the way, Armory Square now houses a museum, and is quite an interesting neighborhood these days with all sorts of restaurants and shops. Looks like it's worth a good-sized visit.

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Syracuse, New York: Tipperary Hill

There are all sorts of odd attractions on this web site for visitors. This one is the first one that features a traffic light.

You'll have to look closely through the fall foliage. The top light is lit, but it's green. The red light is on the bottom.

But why? It helps to know that the settlers of this region were mostly Irish workers on the Erie Canal. They weren't too fond of Great Britain at the time, and not too fond of Britain's imperial red color. They took it out on the stop light in West Syracuse but knocked it down or shooting out the light.

A compromise was reached that is unique - the green light was placed on top. It's stayed that way ever since. As you can imagine, this is definitely the place to hang out on St. Patrick's Day.

The intersection is located at Tompkins and Milton in Syracuse, a bit south of I-690 and fairly close to the Zoo.

By the way, while standing on the sidewalk to take this picture, I had the odd urge, if asked what I was doing, to say, "I'm waiting for the light to change."

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Buffalo, New York: Colonel F.G. Ward Pumping Station

It's always fun to go inside of buildings that aren't usually open to the public. Such was the case with the Colonel F.G. Ward Pumping Station, which had an open house.

The building itself is about a century old, and right at the entrance to LaSalle Park along the waterfront in Buffalo. (Where else should a water pumping station be?) It's a striking structure from the outside.

The citizens of Buffalo thought they deserved better water in the 1890s. It took until 1907, but the state of New York finally took action and started construction. The facility opened in 1915.

Pictured above is the main room, complete with the old five steam-driven engines. Each is capable of sending millions of gallons of water per day through the pipes of Buffalo. Electric pumps were installed in 1938, but the old units were used as backups until 1975. The facility received a modernized look with new controls in 1983.

The old engines still grab your attention, though. They look like something out of a Fritz Lang movie - even with the black-and-white look.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Minneapolis, Minnesota: Mary Tyler Moore Statue

No trip to the Twin Cities is complete without a visit with Mary Richards.

That was the character name of Mary Tyler Moore in her classic television series. It was set in Minneapolis, and the opening credits were finished with a shot of Mary throwing her hat in the air at a street corner. The next time you see it, look for the woman sneering in the background when the freeze frame starts.

TV Land put up a statue of Fonzie in Milwaukee, and then did this one. It's right outside of Macy's in downtown Minneapolis. The show will last forever in re-runs, and viewers will always come here to see the person who turned the world on with her smile.

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St. Paul, Minnesota: Midway Stadium

I could start by describing the experience of going to see the St. Paul Saints at Midway Stadium, but it's better to start with the picture.

Yes, that's a pig in costume, on the field, in a professional game between innings. The umpire seems to be thinking, yup, business as usual in St. Paul.

The Saints are an independent league team, and play a good caliber of baseball. They also have a sense of humor that's unmatched in the game. This is not surprising since Bill Murray owns a share of the franchise. He is listed in the club directory as team psychologist. And Mike Veeck, of THAT Veeck baseball family, is a special advisor to the chairman.

It's an old ballpark, located halfway between Minneapolis and St. Paul, I would guess by the name. The first thing that strikes the visitor is that there are a lot of different beer brands on sale. I've seen good-sized bars with fewer choices. It's still ballpark-priced, but I don't think many go away thirsty. The concessions have some other unusual items by baseball standards.

Let's see - there are comic characters walking around the place, interacting with customers. And every half-inning has some sort of contest for fans on the field. I think the tire rolling contest was the most exciting. The pig comes out every other half-inning in costume. Naturally.

Oh, and the souvenir stand sells shirts with the word "TRAIN!" on them. There are train tracks just outside the left-field wall. When a train goes on them, and I saw about one an inning this night, the p.a. announcer and fans yell "TRAIN!" Sometimes the engineer waves. Great stuff. A little sorry I didn't buy a shirt.

I heard that a new ballpark is coming to St. Paul next year. I'll bet a lot of people, and one pig, will miss the old place.

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Minneapolis, Minnesota: Walker Art Center

It doesn't take Claude Monet to figure out what the high point of the Walker Art Center is. You are looking at it.

We dropped by the place late on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The place was crowded with people, enjoying the sculpture park (the art gallery had already closed, but this was what we came to see).

This work is called Spoonbridge and Cherry, and it is described on the website as iconic. I'd say they got that one right. But there are several other striking pieces on the ground. I wish I could put about 10 pictures up here. Walking around the place is a great exprience, a highlight of any visit to the Twin Cities.

While we were there, the museum had a special display as artists used their imaginations to create miniature golf holes. It's a case of imagination gone wild, as pipes and bumpers go in all sorts of directions. There was an hour and 45 minute wait to get on the course - call it a bag line, if you'd like - so we didn't make it.

Buffalo definitely needs to do something like this on a grand scale.

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St. Paul, Minnesota: State Capitol

I've been to almost 30 state capitals over the years, and visited many state capitols (amazing what a difference a letter can make). Minnesota has another good one.

It has the usual features. The building is up on a hill overlooking St. Paul. It is the setting for the legislature and the state's Supreme Court as well as some other offices. And, it is made of all sorts of fancy marble with elaborate designs. No matter where you go, it's always impressive.

The Governor also has a reception room in the building, which sounds nicely done. Alas, it was closed on the Saturday afternoon of our visit. We missed the guided tour as well. It's said to be free but the "suggested" donation is $5 per person.

By the way, there was one name I recognized in the building. Alan Page is a judge on the Supreme Court. Football fans remember him from his days with the Minnesota Vikings.

St. Paul is a little more working-class than Minneapolis, and it was nice to see a little of the "other" Twin City. Wonder if I'll ever make it to Pierre?

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Minneapolis, Minnesota: Target Field

Welcome to Target Field, the beautiful home of the Minnesota Twins. This stadium was only a few years only when we visited, but everyone did a really nice job on the place.

The Twins weren't in town when we visited, but we were delighted to find out that tours of the park were offered. What's more, our tour guide was the Springsteen of his field, taking more than two hours to show the place.

What's on the tour? You get to see the suites, the press box, the rooftop area down the left field line, the visiting clubhouse, and the club seating right behind home place. We didn't get to go on the field or dugout because teams from the Twins' Fantasy Camp were playing a game at the time of our visit; that's who is shown in the picture.

Oh, and naturally at the end we finished at the right-field gate - at the team store. Plenty of Twins' souvenirs there.

The Twins have won awards for "best fan experience" in Target Field. It's easy to see why.

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Bloomington, Minnesota: Metropolitan Stadium's Home Plate

It's another impressive addition to my collection of photos of home plate markers from destroyed ballparks.

Surely you remember my shot of the plate at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

The Minnesota Twins played at Metropolitan Stadium for a couple of decades or so. Then it was time to move into the Metrodome, and the Met came down. The land was later used for the Mall of America.

Someone must have been a baseball fan when the Mall was built. The spot where home plate was is marked in the Mall. In fact, it's in the corner of the Nickelodeon Universe. As I recall, the Peeps Store would be a bit down the first base line from it.

Speaking of landmarks, there's a stadium seat hanging from the wall in the most distant corner of the amusement park, near the log flume ride. That's where Harmon Killebrew's longest home run landed in 1967. It's said to be 522 feet from home plate, although I had to take someone's word for it.

By the way, the Met Center - the home of the North Stars - also was in Bloomington. I didn't hear about any markers from that place.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bloomington, Minnesota: Mall of America

Stating the obvious, this is one big mall.

With an amusement park in the middle of it.

The Mall of America, located outside the Twin Cities, is indeed the largest such shopping destination in the country. It covers 96 acres. Picture the park in the middle, with three rings of stores (and a fourth level in one portion) surrounding it. While you are at it, throw in a hotel, aquarium, etc. adjoining it.

The amusement park might be the most impressive part. It's shown above. Nickelodeon Universe has something like 27 rides for all ages, including some ones that are downright scary. It's crammed into a relatively small place, making it that much more overwhelming - whether you are looking from above or at ground level.

There are a couple of big parking ramps - I had to take a picture of a sign to remember where I was - on either side. It looks like they aren't done either, as IKEA is in a separate building on the grounds and other construction going on. I wonder how many places you can buy shoes here? I guess there are about 520 stores in the place.

I have been in the West Edmonton Mall, and found that a little more spectacular. That facility is grouped into more themes, and seems more of a destination. But this is all well done as these things go.

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Austin, Minnesota: Spam Museum

Just mention that you've been to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, and you get the same reaction from most people - a giggle.

Spam - the name was thought up as something of a contraction of spiced ham - is a soft meat-like product known mostly because it doesn't spoil. It was introudced in 1936, and first became popular as war rations in World War II. Millions and millions of cans have been sold over the years. (Production now tops out at 44,000 cans per hour.)

Museums are associated with items worthy of deep historical study, so it almost seems like a contradiction in terms to have a Spam Museum. But here it is. Since Hormel Foods is based in Austin, this is the logical place for it, and it's become the town's top tourist attraction after its opening in 1991.

And deservedly so. The museum is put together with a great sense of fun. Visitors are greeted with a great wall of spam cans and a video on the food. Then there's a self-guided tour that shows how spam is made, how it is used, its history, marketing, etc. Along the way, people serve samples - excuse me, "spamples" - of the various types of spam. I had the turkey.

Like any good museum, there's a gift shop at the end of the tour. It's a big one - filled with Spam-related products. T-shirts? Key chains? Post cards? Bowling shirts? Toques? Cookbooks? They got 'em. I heard about someone who spent $180 there on a recent visit.

It's not easy to be a fun company when you are killing almost 20,000 hogs per day just down the street. Hormel has pulled it off nicely.

Here's a video on the place:


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Austin, Minnesota: Hormel Historic Home

There's no bigger family name in Austin, Minnesota, than Hormel.

George Hormel started the food production company that still bears his name more than a century after its beginning. Its biggest plant and headquarters are still located in Austin.

Is it any wonder, then, that the town tries to remember his legacy when possible?

Toward that end, the house that George and his wife owned has been turned into a museum. The contents have been preserved from the time when the Hormel family lived in it. Everything's not the same, but he'd recognize it in a visit. Tours are available for a small fee. The house is right on the edge of downtown on 4th Ave. NW.

Some remodeling has taken place over the years, such as the columns in front shown in the picture. A banquet/meeting area in the back is fairly new, and helps the non-profit organization stay solvent. It's a popular place for weddings and receptions, as you'd expect.

By the way, it was funny to hear the reaction when we mentioned we were from Buffalo. George Hormel was born in Buffalo, and his parents were buried there.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Clear Lake, Iowa: Buddy Holly Crash Site

You could argue that rock and roll music changed forever on February 3, 1959. That was the day the music died, in Don McLean's memorable phrase in "American Pie."

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were in a chartered plane going from their last gig in Clear Lake, Iowa, when conditions turned ugly. A combination of bad weather and pilot error forced a crash, killing all aboard.

It's more than 50 years later, and the location is something of a shrine -- even though it's in the middle of a working farm.

Getting there was a bit of an adventure in the summer of 2013. An Interstate is nearby the Northern Iowa location, but it takes a little work on dirt roads to get there. Construction on the usual route to the site didn't help either. But eventually we found it. A pair of huge glasses, like Holly's distinctive style, greet visitors at the entry.

Then comes a quarter-mile walk, surrounded by crops, through the field. Finally, visitors are greeted with a makeshift memorial, as trinkets have been left by fans over the years. Even the pilot is remembered. You can see a cleared out area behind the memorial. It's tough to say if the land was damaged by the crash, or if the owner just hasn't grown anything there.

A popular trivia question centers on who didn't go on that plane trip. Two famous musicians on that tour who stayed on the ground were Waylon Jennings and Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts. Holly was well ahead of his time musically, and was only 22 when he died. We can only guess what he might have done in the years to come.

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Blue Earth, Minnesota: Jolly Green Giant

Ho, ho, ho.

Yeah, that one was easy.

Blue Earth may be the place where the Eskimo Pie was more or less invented (it was originally called the Chocolate Dream), but it's famous for the big fella.

Green Giant/Seneca Foods had been involved in the Blue Earth area for many years. When the Golden Stripe was placed on the Interstate in 1978, the town marked the occasion by hauling out a new statue of the Jolly Green Giant. It was a big hit, so to speak. The company didn't chip in to pay for it, but the structure did get built.

Eventually, the Giant found a home in a park just off the Interstate ... although, let's face it, it's too bad you can't see it from the Interstate. It might lure more motorists and their wallets off the road. Then again, the sight of a 55.5-foot green guy might cause some drivers to lose control. So, we're forced to drive a mile south to see him. There is a little souvenir stand near the structure.

Oh, and you probably can't see the platform that is placed between the Giant's legs. Thus, everyone can pose for a picture between his size 78 shoes.

Green Giant doesn't own the packing plant any more, but the namesake watches over the town anyway. When I put this photo on Facebook, people seemed to love it. It looks like the Giant's head is literally in the clouds. So be sure to stop.

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Blue Earth, Minnesota: The Golden Stripe

That's a pretty exciting picture of an on-ramp, don't you think? Right in focus and well-cropped?

Well, this isn't just any on-ramp. It has the Golden Stripe on it.

Interstate 90 is more than 3,000 miles long, and for whatever reason the road was repaved from Boston to Seattle in 1978. The east crew met the west crew in Blue Earth, located in southern Minnesota.

You've heard of the Golden Spike in Utah, where the transcontinental railroad was finished. Here in Blue Earth, a ceremony was held to mark the finish of the project. Miss America even showed up. As a marker, the highway authorities thought a golden stripe, like a golden spike, should be added to the rest areas on either side of the highway. Here's the eastbound version; I got the idea quickly and didn't need to go on the other side.

For those seeking the official story, there is a highway marker at each rest area.

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Welcome, Minnesota: Drinking Fountains

Welcome to Welcome, which reads like a typographical error but is in fact true. It's a very small town in southern Minnesota.

Here's a look at the top tourist attraction of the village: the water fountain on Dugan St.

There are two fountains here. One is for horses, which is to the right of the center "pole." The other, on the left and slightly obscured, is for people. Nice of the builder to put stairs on the structure so that people of different heights can use it.

As the sign says, this was built in 1914. I wonder if there will be a big celebration in 2014. Welcome is just off Interstate 90 - go south toward town, and head a block west to reach the main street and the fountain.

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Valley Springs, South Dakota: Three-state marker

Some people like to view maps and look for interesting little quirks from geography. There's only one place in the United States in which four states meet at the same point - the Four Corners. But there are several places where three states comes together.

And this is one of them. Sort of.

Head for the Grand Falls Casino Resort in northwest Iowa, and head east up the road. In about three miles, you'll come to a three-way intersection. There is a marker on the side of the road, and this is it. It's easy to miss, but it's just past the bridge.

There are no "Welcome to Iowa" signs in the area. Oddly, the streets have different names depending on the side. One person's 110th St. is his neighbor's 268th St. Same road.

The actual point of contact is in the middle of the intersection; the marker is located in South Dakota, which is why this post is labeled this way. Be careful around the marker; the land is very uneven and it's easy to turn an ankle (ahem). The marker has taken a pounding by the weather, as the picture shows, but it did get a cleaning as recently as 1980.

However, there is very little traffic in the midst of the corn fields, so it's easy to stand in the middle of the road and be photographed standing in three states at once. Allegedly there is a surveyor's spike at the actual point, but I didn't notice it.

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Sioux Falls, South Dakota: USS South Dakota

OK, what is a battleship - sort of -  doing in a park in the middle of Sioux Falls?

The good folks of South Dakota had a problem when the USS South Dakota went out of service. They wanted to have it in their state, but there was no obvious place to put it.

So ... they took some parts of it, and placed it within a cement outline that exactly matched the dimensions of the boat (as in 680 feet long). Presto - instant tourist attraction.

It does take a little while to recognize what you are seeing when pulling up to Sherman Park. But eventually, the purpose becomes apparent. There is a small museum/gift shop on the grounds. And it's free.

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Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Falls Park

You probably wouldn't know this without visiting it, but waterfalls are a big reason why Sioux Falls is the biggest city in South Dakota.

There aren't many waterfalls in that part of the world. The area is flat enough to hold a world-class marathon, but that didn't help those in the 19th century that needed water power.

However, Sioux Falls greeted visitors with just the right type of rock to get worn away in just the right away. Industry grew around the falls of the Big Sioux River, and a city grew around the industry starting in 1856.

Water power isn't so important these days, so the city fathers (and mothers) of the city turned it into a park in the middle of town. The rocks give it a nice quality, and you can walk all around the water thanks to a bridge. I guess they string holiday lights all over the place in December. This picture was taken near an observation tower; city souvenirs are sold at the bottom in a Visitor Information Center.

The park also is a stopping point for a free trolley that takes a 25-minute tour of Sioux Falls. It's an easy way to see what it looks like, although you should know that there is no narration.

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Montrose, South Dakota: Porter Sculpture Park

There's no way to do justice to a visit to the Porter Sculpture Park. Let's just say it is unique.

The sky was threatening and thunder was in the background when we drove on the dirt road that's just off Interstate 90 east of Mitchell, South Dakota. Owner and sculptor Wayne Porter was taking away the "free" sign in front of the shed at the park containing his creations and replacing it with one that had prices on it. But when we asked about pricing, Wayne said it was raining so there was no charge.

Off we went. There are more than 50 pieces in the park. The one that attracts the most attention overlooks the Interstate - a 60-foot Longhorn that draws attention to the area. The other work, though, might be more interesting. Porter brings a sense of whimsy to his work, as he often adds silly little poems that are posted nearby the art. We liked the work shown here. The fish bowl is about 20 feet high, and it's complete with fish. It was a very interesting little walk, even if the occasional rumble of thunder kept us moving along.

Porter said he lives in a more isolated part of South Dakota - more isolated than this? - about 2.5 hours away to the west. He comes down in the summer to run the park. Porter had heard of the sculpture park that is located in Buffalo, so he obviously keeps up on things. Apparently Porter does give personal tours, although staying in the shed might have been the prudent thing to do on this particular afternoon.

When we were done, we bought a few post cards of his work - and wanted him to keep the change as a thank you for not charging us. One of the reviews said Porter didn't like touching other people's money, so we weren't surprised when he told us to just put the money into a cashbox ourselves.

We weren't sure what to expect when we pulled into the park, but we took bunches of pictures and had a fine time.

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Mitchell, South Dakota: McGovern Legacy Museum

It's said that any child can grow up to be President of the United States. George McGovern didn't quite make it to the White House, but he sure came a long way after growing up in a very small town in South Dakota - even smaller than Mitchell.

McGovern went to college at Dakota Wesleyan University, and that's where he has a library named for him. In fact, his old house is just down the street.

There's a relatively small museum within the library that pays tributes to McGovern. He narrated videos about such topics as his work in the House and Senate, his Presidential campaign, and his personal background. The man sure had a lot of political buttons made for his campaigns over the years.

McGovern is remember by some for a one-sided loss to Richard Nixon, but no one ever questioned his integrity and he brought a lot of new people into the political discussion. McGovern should be remembered for that too, and he is here.

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Mitchell, South Dakota: Corn Palace Mascot

The Corn Palace has a mascot.

Its name, according to Roadside America, is Cornelius. I'd call him Corny, but we only just met.

Cornelius figured to be on the actual grounds of the Corn Palace, but actually he is in a small plaza across the street from the main entrance. This serves a couple of purposes. The photo opportunities are better there because of the extra space. It's also a way for merchants on that side of the street to sell typical tourist items (although the sports collectibles sold in one store did seem unusual).

Anyone who reads this blog probably would instantly reach for a camera upon seeing this, and ordering a companion to take a picture. An endless stream of people do exactly that.

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Mitchell, South Dakota: Corn Palace

It's easy to scratch your head when pondering the name "corn palace." At first glance they don't seem to be words that go together.

But they certainly do in Mitchell, South Dakota. About a half-million people per year walk through the front doors of the place, making it one of the state's biggest tourist attractions.

The outside of the structure is the main attraction. It is topped by architecture that would feel right at home in the Kremlin in Moscow. But the murals on the outside walls are the big story. They are created with colored corn, and changed every year. You can see some samples on the pictures here.

Most people don't know what is inside the Corn Palace - at least we didn't before our visit. It's actually more of a hall. There are a few thousand theater-type seats, and a stage. A few concerts were booked for the week we were there. Between the stage and the seats is a basketball court, so obviously this is the glamor spot for teams of the state. I don't know if teams from Mitchell High School - the Kernals, of course - play their games here. The walls have more corn murals, except that they are permanent.This is the third such structure with the Corn Palace name, opening in 1921.

You'd think that this would be a great place for several educational exhibits on corn, but it's limited to a video. There are guided tours if your timing is right (ours wasn't, sadly). The souvenir shop is reasonably sized and has some good items. I found the caramel popcorn bar in the shape of a corn husk a little chewy, but it sure was fun to buy it.

The Corn Palace is easy to find - follow the signs from the Interstate - and it's located in the middle of downtown next to City Hall at Sixth and Main. And it's free. If you need an hour break from driving, this will work perfectly.

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Wahpeton, North Dakota: Giant Catfish

Admittedly, it's tough to get a sense of the size of this sculpture. But it's called by the locals the world's largest catfish at 40 feet long and 12 feet tall, and who are we to disagree? It's a big one.

The fish is on a man-made hill in Wahpeton, which is south of Fargo. The town and the fish are both on the banks of the Red River. This makes up the border between Minnesota and North Dakota for long stretches, flowing north into Lake Winnipeg and eventually heading for Hudson Bay. 

One report on said when the river floods, it looks as if the catfish is swimming. But we're happy to report that the water level was at a safe level during our visit.

It's about 10 minutes off the Interstate, and located in the Kidder Recreation Area. Nearby is a fine-looking sign, welcoming people to Wahpeton when they cross the bridge from Minnesota.

Just a reminder - click on any picture to get a bigger view.

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Fargo, North Dakota: Big Bruce the Bat

The distinction of "world's biggest bat" depends on how you define your terms. Obviously, the huge bat in front of the Louisville Slugger factory in Kentucky is much bigger than the one shown here.

But "Big Bruce" has been verified as the world's largest wooden baseball bat by Guinness. It's 13 feet, 5 inches long with a circumference of 40 inches. That's a mighty big bat.

The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks own it, and put the bat in their stadium in Fargo. Newman Outdoor Stadium is shared with North Dakota State. The bat was named after Bruce Thorn, the president of the RedHawks.

You can take a look at it during a game, or when visiting. It's close to the Maury Wills Museum, making a trip a two-fer.

By the way, the place's name comes from the Newman Outdoor Advertising Company, which bought the naming rights in 1998.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fargo, North Dakota: Maury Wills Museum

Maury Wills was one of the most influential baseball players in recent history. That's not to say he wasn't good, because he clearly was - maybe not Hall of Fame level, but very good at times.

But like a rock band that was more influential than popular (think Little Feat), Wills opened up new possibilities in baseball. He stole 104 bases in 1962, changing the game forever. No longer would the home run be the only offensive weapon. It was a throwback to the early 1910s, when no one went deep. Wills helped to make it a more exciting game, and that's true to this day.

Fargo is obviously proud of its native son, and he's honored in a ballpark. This little museum is on the ground floor of Newman Outdoor Field, located in North Fargo. The park hosts an independent league team and is on a college campus - North Dakota State. There is a variety of items from Wills' career on display, including a video. If you like baseball, it's worth a little detour.

Here's what you will see:


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Fargo, North Dakota: Roger Maris' grave

It's often interesting to visit the graves of famous baseball players, if only to see the trinkets that fans leave behind.

Roger Maris certainly qualifies as famous, thanks to his record-breaking performance in 1961. Maris went to high school in Fargo, North Dakota, and is buried there only a few miles from his museum in downtown.

It was an interesting trip to see the grave. We had the address (it's near the airport) but at first thought it was located just off an area that was going through massive road construction. A couple of walks convinced us otherwise.

Eventually we found Holy Cross Cemetery, located at 1502 32nd Ave. North. It's at the west end of the street near a dead end, bordered to the east by other cemeteries. There are no signs pointing it out, but it's under a tree fairly close to the unoccupied part of the facility. Look for the black diamond pictured above.

Our respect for Maris seems to grow with the passing years, so it's nice to salute his memory.

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Fargo, North Dakota: Roger Maris Museum

This is a fine tribute to a great St. Louis Cardinal.

At least that's how Yankee-haters remember Roger Maris.

But every baseball fan has plenty of respect for Roger, who still holds the non-steroid-added record for home runs in a season with 61 in 1961. He was a modest, quiet man who was uncomfortable with all of the attention.

Maris was born in Minnesota, but moved to Fargo at a young age and always called it home. He hosted a celebrity golf tournament there. Sadly, he died of cancer at the age of 51.

Maris did live long enough to see this hometown tribute, located in the West Acres Shopping Center in the middle of town. He wanted it in a place where people would see it. The family donated a variety of trophies and other items of memorabilia, and they stretch out over the display case shown above. In addition, you can sit in old Yankee Stadium seats and watch a video about Maris in a room at the end of the case.

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Fargo, North Dakota: The Celebrity Walk of Fame

You know you've made it big when you go to Fargo and you are asked to leave your footprints in cement before you go.

More than 100 celebrities have left a good impression on the residents of Fargo (sorry). They are part of the Fargo-Moorehead (Minn.) Celebrity Walk of Fame, located outside of the visitors center in Fargo. Get off at exit 348 on Interstate 94, and head a little north. You can't miss it.

It is an interesting group of celebrities, one after another. You can see the cement blocks stretching below the sign pictured above, along the grass. Bet you never linked Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Phil Jackson together, but they are side-by-side here.

My guess is that many of these celebrities have musical connections, mostly in the form of country music. But others are here too - George W. Bush, Oliver North, Bob Costas, Bert and Ernie, John Updike, Art Linkletter, Meadowlark Lemon, and Jesse Ventura.

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Fargo, North Dakota: Movie woodchipper

This may not be the most appropriate way to welcome tourists to North Dakota.

The good city of Fargo, located right by the Minnesota border, doesn't bother with one of those welcome centers that are just off the highway. No, they have a full-fledged information center in town.

What's more, the most famous woodchipper in movie history is the main attraction. You know, the one used to, um, dispose the evidence in the movie "Fargo."

Here it is. You can't read the autographs of the Coen brothers, the brains behind one of the best movies in 1996, but they are there. The woodchipper is joined by a copy of the movie script, and a scrapbook.

There are the usual maps, tourist guides and rest rooms here, but I'd bet plenty of people come in just to see the woodchipper. By the way, there's also free popcorn - if you didn't see the movie. But if you didn't, treat yourself and get it.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Rothsay, Minnesota: World's Largest Prairie Chicken

Tourist attractions are a little tough to find off Interstate 94 in Western Minnesota. It's mostly an agricultural area.

But Rothsay is definitely worth a stop, if only to see this sculpture in a park right off the road.

Prairie chickens have been known to wander around in this part of the world, although the habitat is shrinking. These make a sound that is called "booming" because it can be heard for quite long distances, so some call them "booming" prairie chickens.

In 1975, Rothsay became the "Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota." The community helped chip in some money, and Art Fosse built it. Nice job - unless you have to move the 9,000-pound object. Luckily, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. The chicken is too busy feasting on innocent visitors like the guy here.

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Fergus Falls, Minnesota: Continental Divide Marker

Here's an example of the power of positive thinking.

This nice little tourist attraction opened in 2000 in Fergus Falls, down from the commercial center of town just off the Interstate at exit 61. Look for it near the restaurant.

It's a tribute to the fact that the Continental Divide goes through this part of the world. Now, the Divide usually is associated with Glacier National Park and other such areas in the Rockies. However, another Continental Divide separates water that flows into the Mississippi watershed with the one that goes into Hudson's Bay.

This little area was set up as something of a history lesson. Until 1818, all such property on the north side of the divide was owned by Great Britain, but at that point it moved over to the United States.

How to mark such a spot? Get a really big surveyor's transit, and add a plumb bob. Then add a shed with more information, and a Native display.

The idea, according to a newspaper article, was to give a boost to tourism in Fergus Falls. Not sure it ever accomplished that goal, but I did learn a bit about the area by stopping. That's worth something. The plumb bob has disappeared, but it's worth a quick stop.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fergus Falls, Minnesota: Otto the Big Otter

When you live along the Otter Tail River, I guess you need to have some sort of tribute to the otter. This is one big tribute - 40 feet long, in fact. The natives call him Otto.

According to Roadside America, which did much of the leg work for us on this trip, teenagers put it together about 40 years ago. Those teenagers went to a high school which had sports teams named - wait for it - the Otters.

The work of art is located right along the river in Adams Park. It's a bit of a drive from the Interstate, so make sure you do your homework and find South Burlington Ave. on a map before venturing off to see Otto.

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Fergus Falls, Minnesota: Historical Society

The Otter Tail County Historical Museum is on the main road (Lincoln Ave.) into town from Interstate 94. And in case you were wondering, the Otter Trail River flows right through town, which does have some charm attached to it.

If you want to get a history lesson on the area, the museum is clearly the place to go. It has a variety of exhibits on life in the town a century ago.

But if that's a little too much history for you, then you should at least stop and gawk at the goose sculpture. It's located on the grounds near the museum, and it's extremely well done. The landscaping is top-notch as well.

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Sauk Centre, Minnesota: Boyhood home of Sinclair Lewis

Speaking as someone who does some writing for a living, we need to pay more attention to the background of the really good writers. You'd have to say Sinclair Lewis is one of the really, really, really good ones.

After all, he was the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Lewis wrote a novel called "Main Street," which was a thinly-disguised look at his own home town and its attitudes.

Lewis was raised in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, which is located west and north of the Twin Cities just off Interstate 94. As you could guess, the town wasn't too happy with its characterization. However, fame has a way of changing attitudes, and now Sauk Center embraces the connection. Here's what the house looks like now. Tours are available in the summer months. There's an "interpretive center" just down the street that has more information - as does this link.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lake George, New York: Magic Forest Theme Park

Any traveler who enjoys seeing odd attraction is used to the idea of making quick turnarounds after speeding by something that might be interesting.

Such was the case when we went by the Magic Forest Theme Park in Lake George (although it's right outside the north of Glens Falls on Route 9). A 30-foot statue of Uncle Sam always deserves a close look. Here he is, much bigger than life and towering over Santa Claus.

The park wasn't open when we went by, but the descriptions seem to indicate that it's an area mostly designed for very young children. In other words, adults need to brush up on their fairy tales.

The reviews of the facility range widely. It's an old-time park, which has its charms but probably could use a makeover in spots. Yes, there are bigger and newer parks down the street in Lake George, so it's fair to say that this will basically appeal to those who are so young they might find The Great Escape rather intimidating.

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Ticonderoga, New York: Fort Ticonderoga

The American Revolution might have come out differently had it not been for Fort Ticonderoga, located in New York State along Lake Champlain.

With the Americans in trouble in Boston, Colonel Henry Knox led the transport of 60 tons of supplies from the Fort to the eastern end of Massachusetts. Think about what a logistical nightmare that must have been in 1775-76, including the lack of roads and the many mountains. The cannons forced the British troops to evacuate Boston, and the Continental Army moved in.

That's the most well-known part of the Fort's history, but there is more to it. The location was an important one during the French and Indian War as well as the Revolutionary War. The area was originally called Fort Carillon, but the French abandoned it in 1759 and the British took over. The fort was renamed for Ticonderoga, and it grew in importance when Crown Point fell victim to a large fire in 1773. Near the start of the revolution, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold thought Fort Ticonderoga was an easy target, and they were right.

The Fort has now become a good-sized tourist attraction for those visiting the Adirondacks. It's a great setting, with a fine view of the lake, and it's in a park-like area. There are all sorts of special events planned during the course of the year. One note - it's a short season in that part of the world. If you visit before mid-May or after mid-October, the gates are likely to be locked. So plan ahead.

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