Thursday, March 19, 2009

Saratoga National Historical Site, New York

The best stories about war monuments often are the ones left unsaid. Remember that when you visit the battlefield in Saratoga, which is located eight miles south of Schuylerville north of Albany. (Note, it's a ways from the Interstate, if you are driving in that direction.)

Saratoga is remembered as one of the turning points of the American Revolution. The colonies defeated the British in 1777 and prevented them from taking control of the Hudson River, which would have split the colonies in two.

One of the central figures on the American side was a man named Benedict Arnold, who fought the British with great valor. Therefore, this monument was raised ... but if you look carefully, you'll notice that Arnold's name is never mentioned. Only his achievements are discussed. As you might remember, Arnold tried to hand West Point over to the British in 1780. His name has gone hand-in-hand with the word traitor in the U.S. ever since.

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Saratoga Springs, New York: National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame

There's no better place in America to lose your money than the Saratoga race track during its late summer meeting. No wonder part of "Seabiscuit" was filmed there.

If you do visit Saratoga Springs, you should stop by the Racing Hall of Fame just down the street. The inductees get a nice room of honor, and there are plenty of exhibits, videos, etc. Secretariat gets his own courtyard in the museum ... as well he should.

You'll feel really good about the sport when you are done with Saratoga, which can't be said about too many other places these days.

Saratoga Springs, New York: Saratoga Race Track

I'm not sure if Saratoga should have the slogan "Horse racing the way it ought to be" or "Horse racing the way it used to be." Both work.

A trip to the Spa in August is a little like going back more than 100 years. The grounds are filled with families, with vendors giving it a county fair atmosphere. People bring picnic lunches and spend the day. The horses usually are top notch. Horse players get a little teary when discussing the place.

Seneca Falls, New York: Women's Rights National Historic Park

In 1848, several women gathered in Seneca Falls for the first women's rights convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton might be the best-known member of the organizing party. It set in motion a series of events that eventually led to full voting rights, property rights, etc.

The events is marked by this historic park, right in the middle of Seneca Falls (very easy to find, well marked, and the town isn't very big). A Declaration of Sentiments was written at the meeting, and it is preserved on the wall shown.

The area also has a visitor center, complete with films and exhibits. It's all pretty well done, and doesn't take much time. If you have more interest in the subject, there are places such as Stanton's home that are available for touring.

Seneca Falls is a few miles south of Interstate 90 between Syracuse and Rochester.

Seneca Falls, New York: "It's a Wonderful Life" house

According to local legend, film director Frank Capra once came into Seneca Falls and was enchanted by the place. So, when he was coming up with the story for "It's a Wonderful Life," he turned Seneca Falls into the fictional Bedford Falls.

Remember the drafty old house that Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed moved into? This is supposedly the model for it. It's right on Route 20, a little east and north of the main business district. Yes, I know it's the back, but it was tough to take a picture of the front from a busy street. You get the idea; there does seem to be a resemblance.

Seneca Falls has a festival every December honoring the film. It's quite a party - Zuzu herself even shows up to sign authographs.

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Sterling, New York: Renaissance Festival


This is just one of the odd sights of the Renaissance Festival, held on summer weekends in Sterling (near Lake Ontario northwest of Syracuse). The idea is that visitors go back to the Renaissance to see plays, puppet shows, crafts, games, etc. My particular favorite the time I went was a comic/acrobat/juggler. He'd crack jokes while doing impressive stunts.

One warning: There are a great many ways to spend money once you get inside the door, even though it costs money to get in. It's worth a visit once, though, simply because it's such a different attraction.

Tonawanda, New York: Joe McCarthy's Gravesite

One of the most successful managers in baseball history is Joe McCarthy. McCarthy is one of the few managers to win a pennant in the National (Cubs, 1929) and American (eight with the Yankees) Leagues. He won 2,125 games against 1333 losses for a winning percentage of .615. Not too shabby. No wonder he is in the Hall of Fame.

McCarthy is buried in St. Anthony's Garden, Lot 46, of Mount Olivet Cemetary on Elmwood Ave. in Tonwanda, NY. The gravesite requires a little searching since there was no marker. I was tempted to put a Red Sox flag there in 2005 as he was once a manager in Boston. By the way, the site has a view of Interstate 290 to the north, if you ever pay a visit.

Oh, and if you were looking for the grave of Senator Joe McCarthy ... sorry.

Troy, New York: Uncle Sam's Gravesite

The idea of Uncle Sam essentially is a marketing campaign.

Sam Wilson was a meat packer in Troy when the United States bought his products to feed the troops during the War of 1812. Each crate was stamped "U.S." Somehow, that became known as an abbreviation for "Uncle Sam." It was an easy jump from there to the image of the guy in the star-spangled hat, who wanted YOU to join the U.S. Army.

Good old Mr. Wilson is buried in Troy's biggest cemetery, which overlooks Troy and the Hudson River. There is a statue of him downtown.

Troy, New York: Joe Bruno Stadium

Many cities name stadiums after famous dead people. Not Troy, New York, a city that knows who is buttering the bread.

Its new baseball stadium, located at the community college, is named after Joseph Bruno, the long-time State Senate majority leader.

Every state has one of these people -- a legislator who has been around forever and who knows how to deliver the bacon to the home district. Nice little park, at least.

Waterford, New York: Pebbles Island State Park

Don't look for this sign on an Interstate. It's actually located at the point where the Hudson River, the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal all meet in Waterford. It was the answer to a question while looking at a New York State map -- "Is there anything interesting around the point where the two rivers meet?" Pebbles Island is right at that point. It's a state park and has some state offices located inside a nice old factory. There are hiking trails and picnic grounds as well.

The Erie Canal separates from the Mohawk River briefly at this point. The canal has come a long way from its days as the most important public works project in America history. Now it's used more for recreation than shipping.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Waterloo, New York: Birthplace of Memorial Day

Another example of the "every town has its claim to fame" theory of American life.

Waterloo, New York, is a quaint little town in the middle of upstate New York (Seneca County). As you may have guessed by the above picture, it is the birthplace of the concept of Memorial Day.

The idea dates back to just after the Civil War. The good citizens decided to honor those who paid the ultimate price just after the War's conclusion. The May holiday was held over in the late 1860's, and slowly gained momentum until eventually the whole nation celebrated. By the way, President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation saying that Waterloo was the official birthplace for Memorial Day.

Waterloo definitely needs to do a little public relations work about this. It's not even listed in the AAA Tourbook.

Watkins Glen, New York: State Park

It's another lesson in the continuing series, "Erosion can be fun." Watkins Glen does indeed have a glen. The water works its way down 400 feet over a couple of miles or so, according to AAA.

There are all sorts of waterfalls and cliffs along the way; it's another one of those places where you can't take a bad picture. The one here came out pretty well.

By the way, the town gets a little crowded when the race track is open for business, so you might want to avoid those weeks to see the glen.

Wilmington, New York: Whiteface Mountain

Whiteface Mountain became a bit famous in 1980 when it served as the site of the skiing competitions for the Winter Olympics. The complex is still very active, of course, and tourists can take a gondola ride (and who doesn't want to do that as often as possible?) up in the summer to take a look around. They get views like the one above.

Things to do list: take this ride in late September. I'll bet the fall colors are truly spectacular.

By the way, cars can drive up to the top of the mountain on a highway that runs up the other side. Give me the gondola ride anytime.

Akron, Ohio: National Inventors Hall of Fame

It's a little tough to get your hands around the concept of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. It's not like dads excitedly tell their children, "Today we're going to find out about the guys who invented coaxial cable." However, it's good to see these men and women honored in some way for their work, and that's the case in this interesting building in downtown Akron.

The top floors overlook an atrium, and they have pictures and descriptions of the honorees. At the ground floor is a workshop that mostly has children in mind, although there are some exhibits for adults too. As you'd expect, it's nice and noisy during school field trips.

A couple of warnings: it could have much more material on the subjects of inventing; this is a surprisingly underrepresented area. And it's not up to date either. In 2007, information on the 2006 inductees was not in place. That inexcusable and frustrating, particularly if you have a distant relative who was inducted. We'll have to see if improvements are on the way to this worthwhile idea.

(P.S. Improvements were not on the way. The exhibit closed a few years after this was written, and the Hall of Fame was moved to Alexandria, Virginia. Wonder if my distance relative is represented now.)

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Beachwood, Ohio: David Berger Memorial

It was the day everything changed.

Terrorists attacked the Israeli living quarters during the Olympics in Munich, Germany, in September, 1972. One of the 11 athletes to die in the attack was David Berger, who grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, emigrated to Israel, and competed as a weight-lifter.

This memorial was constructed in honor him and the 10 others who died. The sculpture represents the Olympic rings, broken into pieces.

This memorial is located in a slightly odd place -- an office park of sorts that's off Interstate 271 in northeast Ohio (Beachwood). The sculpture is near the Mandel Jewish Community Center. For those who collect National Park Service passport stamps, the Center has it.

Canton, Ohio: Pro Football Hall of Fame

If you've paid attention to pro football over the last few decades, the picture no doubt will look familiar. The Pro Football Hall of Fame's entrance has become something of an icon, and it's quite a tourist draw to Canton, Ohio. The NFL was essentially invented in a car dealer's showroom there in the 1920's, and this is a way of remembering those roots.

Those roots start at small-town America and extend to big cities with full stadiums today. The Hall of Fame has the usual memorabilia, displays on great players, teams and the Super Bowls, and a theater. The induction ceremony in August is always a highlight on the football calendar.

That all said, pro football's hall can be a small disappointment. Despite several expansions, it's easy to get the feeling that the place needs more room. There are a lot of pictures of memorabilia (Super Bowl programs, for example) instead of the items themselves. And the location, right on an Interstate, is convenient but less than charming. Contrast that to baseball's Cooperstown, which has a 19th century-style village out the front door.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is still worth a stop. Just don't go in with huge expectations.

Canton, Ohio: McKinley Memorial and Gravesite

The McKinley Memorial makes quite an entrance.

Visitors drive up the mall-like setting, with a giant hill topped by a dome staring at them after turning the corner. After climbing the 60 or so steps to get to the top, they can enter the building that's the final resting place for William McKinley and his wife, Ida. Some of his words are carved into the dome.

It's a very impressive complex. The view from the top of the stairs is shown. No word on how many visitors from Buffalo drop by to apologize for that last trip there in 1901. Usually we treat our visitors better.

A museum and gallery is located in the same complex, right at the bottom of the hill. The memorial, though is the star. It looks even better in this video:

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Canton, Ohio: First Ladies Historic Site

As "national parks" go, the First Ladies Historic Site is an odd one. For starters, it consists of two buildings ... a block apart. The tour starts at the Education and Research Center, which is in a converted bank building (in fact, visitors see the vault). There are some exhibits there, some dealing with clothes and dishes, and a small auditorium. The research library is in the upper floors. Then it's back down the street to Ida McKinley's family house, which shows how the former First Lady lived.

Paying tribute to First Ladies isn't a bad idea, of course. Still, this facility concentrates on Mrs. McKinley, at least to the public side. Would it be cynical to suggest that the Site seems like a way to get federal dollars to fix up an old building used by a First Lady and pump some money into downtown Canton? Maybe a little. While the Saxton McKinley House is impressive enough, it's fair to say that the potential audience for this Site is limited.

Cleveland, Ohio: John D. Rockefeller Gravesite

We paid a visit to the Lake View Cemetary in Cleveland in search of James Garfield's grave. After all, when you are in the neighborhood of a President's last resting place, you should stop and pay your respects.

The place isn't exactly in the best part of town - obviously things have changed in 100 years - but we found it. Garfield has a nice enough spot, but the authorities lock it up a bit early so we didn't get to say hello. From there, we looked at the map of the place and noticed that John Rockefeller was buried there. One person asked, "Where would he be?" The response came back, "Let's look for the biggest monument with the best view."

A quick search turned it up. We felt pretty clever. And here it is.

I believe there are a few other celebrities there, like Mark Hanna, the political kingmaker of his time.

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Cuyahoga Falls National Park, Ohio: Ledges Trail

One of the most popular places in the park for a walk is the Ledges Trail. It takes about 90 minutes to complete the loop, and the rock formations and tree growth along the way are surprisingly interesting. Well, it is a national park.

Pictures is one of the "natural" staircases along the way. The Ledges Trail is located by the Happy Days Visitor Center, which is off Route 303 near Peninsula and Route 8.

Cuyahoga Falls National Park, Ohio: Brandywine Falls

This is one of the nicest spots in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Imagine if there was more water falling over it.

That's what happens if you visit during a dry spell.

Brandywine Falls is located just off Brandywine Road, and it is relatively close (although not accessible to) Interstate 271. There is a nice old inn nearby, as well as a couple of hiking trails.

It's all part of a park that's more pleasant than spectacular, but definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. It has 33,000 acres along 22 miles of the Cuyahoga River, according to the Park Service handout.

Fremont, Ohio: Hayes Presidential Center

If you need to know something about Rutherford B. Hayes -- with the possible exception of why he was never called Rutherford Hayes, but always Rutherford B. Hayes -- Fremont, Ohio is the place to go.

The entire grounds are known as Spiegel Grove, and they feature trees that have been around for decades. In fact, Hayes used to let important visitors put their names to trees. It's a beautiful piece of property, and it's easy to see why the ex-President liked it so much.

Above is Hayes' final resting place. His wife is with him, and his son in the other side. The Hayes homestead, a nice 31-room mansion that was being restored during the summer of 2007, is on the grounds. Also not shown is the Hayes Museum & Library, which was the first such Presidential library in the country, which opened in 1916.

Hayes is best remembered for the 1876 election, which ended in absolute chaos, and the end of Reconstruction. He promised to only serve one term, and kept his word by heading home from Washington when he was done.

Mentor, Ohio: Lawnfield

James Garfield didn't get to be President of the United States for very long -- an assassination took care of that -- but at least he's remembered at his home east of Cleveland in Mentor, Ohio. The facility is very well preserved.

The visitors' center has the story of his life, including a replica of his swearing-in ceremony. Tours are available of his house. When we were there, the place was fixed up really nice for a wedding scheduled for that night -- complete with Mrs. Garfield in period costume.

Here's a picture of the front of the house. You could argue that modern political campaigning started here. During his Presidential run, Garfield made long speeches from his front porch, a departure from having associates speak for him. Reporters came from far and wide to write down Garfield's words.

Put-in-Bay, Ohio: Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

Tourists have to take a ferry in order to see a National Parks Service attraction in very few places across the country.

This is one of them.

The Perry's Memorial is located in Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island in the Lake Erie Islands near Sandusky. It's a tribute to Commodore Oliver Perry's stirring win over a British fleet in Lake Erie during the War of 1812. If the battle had gone the other way, part of Ohio and Michigan might now be part of Canada. Perry sent a famous message, "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

It's odd to have a peace memorial on such a spot, but the idea is to mark the way the United States and Canada settled their differences and now live in peace, side-by-side.

In 2007, a person was standing near the memorial when she saw a 500-pound boulder fall from the observation desk. The NPS quickly closed the deck, and engineers have been working on what went wrong. Supposedly, it's a spectacular view that can extend to Ontario.

Put-in-Bay is a cute little town on a small island, usually accessed by tourists by rented golf carts. It feels right and is a great way to explore the place.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon: Crown Point

Go for a drive on the old Columbia River highway (as opposed to the Interstate, which in spots covers the same ground), climb up the windy part west of Multnomah Falls, and eventually you'll come to Crown Point. You get out and take a picture of the mighty Columbia, just like we did.

The Vista House is located here, but when we were here in June of 2005 it was still undergoing renovations. It should be completed soon. The facility was built for the original highway in 1916, and it's 733 feet up.

By the way, take it from someone who has been there -- don't drive this route with a rental car in which the power steering keeps shorting out. It's a little scary.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon: Multnomah Falls

The tourbooks say this is the most photographed waterfall in Oregon. I have no reason to doubt them. You have to work really hard to take a bad picture of this place.

As you can perhaps by this picture of the waterfall along the Columbia River gorge, it's a double, there a pool below the bridge, so the effect is particularly spectacular. It's 620 feet from top to bottom, too big to cram into one picture.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Allenwood, Pennsylvania: Clyde Peeling's Reptiland

Anyone who drives down Route 15 in north-central Pennsylvania has seen the sign at left. Some even stop in for a visit. It's Reptiland, and it's between Williamsport and Interstate 80.

The attraction has an assortment of reptiles, including turtles, snakes, etc. Oddly, I found the most interesting animal to be an emu, who doesn't really fit in with the rest of the group. Darn cute, though.

By the way, there are a few souvenirs on sale. I still have my mug.

Bradford, Pennsylvania: Zippo/Case Visitor Center

Yup, that's one big lighter. Imagine the cigar that it could light.

Welcome to the Zippo/Case Visitor Center in Bradford, Pa. There is a museum in Bradford and an historic district of sorts, but let's face it, this is the place most people want to see. There's a very large collection of Zippo lighters inside, as well as plenty of history about the company. The lighters are famous for holding up over the years, no matter the circumstances.

Plus, the lights in the parking lot look like lighters. Be sure to stop the next time you are on Zippo Drive.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Memorial

When the battle of Gettysburg was over, the various states that had soldiers in the battle couldn't wait to put up some sort of monument to honor their particular representatives. The finished products are all over the park. Pennsylvania figured it should have one of the grandest, since the battle was fought within its borders. Here's what the residents came up with.

This entire park is worth a long, long visit, no matter what you think of military history.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Little Round Top

One of the interesting parts of visiting Gettysburg National Military Park is that the place has been more or less left alone since 1863. Yes, they cleaned up a bit, but otherwise it's about the way the soldiers left it. Therefore, it's easy to picture what both sides encountered during the course of the most famous battle in the Civil War. Here's the view of Little Round Top, subject of some fierce fighting in the battle.

If you do take a driving tour of the battlefield, be sure to buy a tape/CD for your car. It will explain what you are seeing at each stop. Besides -- as one person put it, you can almost feel the ghosts during a visit.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Eisenhower National Historic Site

It's always nice to drop in on Ike and Mamie. They've been waiting for you.

Dwight Eisenhower was never much for private property. Most generals aren't. Therefore, the only place he ever owned is pictured above. It's in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, quite close to the battlefield.

Here's a picture of the back of the house. I think it was taken right about where the practice putting green is located. Ike used to sit on the back porch and read, as I recall from the tour.

Inside, the place has been pretty much left alone, and it looks like an ex-President's house should. There are plenty of mementos scattered around the house, but it still feels more like a house than a museum.

Churchill visited here. DeGaulle as well. You should too if you are in town to see the battlefield.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Gettysburg Address Site

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg. The historic battle had taken place only a few months before that, and Lincoln came to be part of the dedication of the cemetery.

With politicians in the area, you can bet there were speeches. In those days, speeches tended to go on and on and on. So when Lincoln took the podium, around the Soldiers' Memorial pictured here, everyone expected another long address. Lincoln's words were short in number, as photographers of the day didn't even have time to get their cameras ready. While images of that day are few, the words of Lincoln have stood the proverbial test of time: the Gettysburg Address.

Intercourse, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Dutch Country is a unique little area around Lancaster. Most people associated it with unusual names of towns, such as Intercourse, Bird-In-Hand, and Paradise. There aren't many chances in life to bowl at the Blue Ball Lanes in Blue Ball, Pa.

You can learn about Amish and Mennonite life while visiting, and even take a horse-and-buggy ride during your stay. It's not a bad place to shop for quilts, either. I'm not sure if there's enough to keep the kids entertained for long in the region, but it's a charming area for the grown-ups.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wheatland

One of the great things about the study of American history is that we preserve everything Presidential. If someone is lucky enough to rise to the office of President of the United States, we take care of all of his major landmarks of life.

Take James Buchanan, for example. If you prefer, take James Buchanan ... please. He was President from 1857 to 1861. Granted, times were tough then, and it would have been difficult for anyone to keep the country together at that point. Buchanan can't be blamed for the Civil War, of course, but historians generally aren't impressed by his efforts leading up to it.

Buchanan's house in Lancaster, Pa., is shown here. He ran his 1856 campaign from the parlor, but didn't stand for re-election. His burial site isn't nearly as well preserved. When we went to the cemetary, the area was overgrown and rundown, with stones tipped over. Hope that's been improved, because a President, any President, deserves better.

Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania: Jim Thorpe's Gravesite

The story of the town of Jim Thorpe might be more interesting than the memorial. Mauch Chunk and West Mauch Chunk offered to join together and change its name to Jim Thorpe if the remains of the legendary athlete could be buried there. The family accepted, and that's where Jim is today ... even though he had no real connection to the place. Drive to the Poconos, hop off Interstate 476, go through the center of town, going uphill and away from the river, and you'll find it.

Thorpe is one of the great athletes in American history, participating in the Olympics (it took 70 years because of an eligibility question, but his family finally got his medals from the 1912 Games) and also playing pro baseball and football. Still, this did not start a trend among American towns. Otherwise, we'd be visiting Mickey Mantle, Oklahoma, on our next trip.