Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cavendish, Vermont: Phineas Gage Plaque

Every town has a claim to fame, as we've discovered on this blog. Cavendish, Vermont, has an odd one.

It's about a guy who had a 13-pound rod go through his head, and he lived to tell about it.

Phineas Gage was working on a railroad line in 1848 when disaster struck. A rod went under eye, into the brain, and out the top of his skull. He was not only alive, but never lost consciousness. Gage lived until 1860, although his personality was changed.

Cavendish "celebrated" the 150th anniversary of the event in 1998 with a plaque at Route 131 and S. Pleasant Street. It has a timeline of events. By the way, although the plaque is vague on the subject, doctors did remove the rod.

Railroad workers of America -- be careful on the job!

Hillsboro, New Hampshire: Franklin Pierce Homestead

Future President Franklin Pierce was born in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. The place he was actually born was a little shack that fell apart and is now under water (nicely named Franklin Pierce Lake). Little Franklin moved into the family homestead after a few weeks, which was under construction at the time.

Franklin's dad, Benjamin, was a rich guy who was at one point Governor of New Hampshire, so Franklin followed in those footsteps and surpassed Dad. It's a nice house, right on the turnpike way back when, with plenty of room for guests. The house doesn't get much public support, so it's a battle to keep the place looking good, but the staff is friendly and enthusiastic. Our tour guide was a real character, a woman who doubles as a snowboard instructor.

Franklin Pierce might be our most anonymous President. He was in office from 1853 to 1857. He wasn't even renominated by his own party, and the forgettable James Buchanan took his place. When I mentioned to the guide that no one was going to do a good job of President in 1853-1857 because of the upcoming Civil War, she seemed relieved that someone noticed.

Every little boy can be President. Even in Hillsboro.

Goshen, New York: Historic Track

The harness races in Goshen started in 1838, and they are still taking place today. The half-mile track still hosts some workouts by area horses, which can be seen by visitors to the adjacent Hall of Fame.

If you turn up in Goshen in the correct week, though, you can see racing. In midsummer a week of racing is held. The grandstand, which looks as if it holds a few hundred people, no doubt turn out to see the action. There's no betting, but there is a hand-powered scoreboard in the infield.

It really does feel like the 19th century while walking on the grounds. Which, no doubt, is the idea.

Goshen, New York; Harness Racing Hall of Fame and Museum

If you want to take a trip back to the 19th century and its genteel world of harness racing, Goshen is the place to go. It's a pretty old town just off Route 17 in the Catskills. It's all the place where harness racing started in America.

Thus, it was a natural place for the Hall of Fame to go. Better yet, it's free.

There are a couple of floors of exhibits in the building. The highlight is a 3-D ride that takes visitors on a simulated trip around a track in a race. It's nicely done. There are also opportunities to pose for pictures and participate in interactive exhibits. Oh, there's the usual material by Hall of Fame standards. Who knew Hambletonian was an actual horse?

Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania: Raymondskill Falls

According to the story, the federal government at one time planned a dam for the Delaware River. The flood plane was projected to submerge much of the area where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet, so houses and property were purchased. Then, the dam was never built.

And so the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was created. Here's one of the highlights, a waterfall that is only four feet shorter than Niagara Falls. Of course, there's a lot less water going down it -- especially in a dry August -- but it's still pretty and worth a stop if you are in the area. It's just off Route 209, a few minutes from Milford.

Milford, Pennsylvania: The Columns

Welcome to the biggest (well, "most unusual" would be a better description) tourist attraction in Milford, Pennsylvania. It's a flag with Abraham Lincoln's blood on it.

OK, it's not Mount Rushmore. It seems when Lincoln was shot, somebody grabbed something, anything, to cradle the President's injured head. A flag qualified. Lincoln went across the street shortly after that, and the flag fell into private hands. Then it was donated to the Pike County Historical Society, which has it right off the entrance.

The museum goes through two floors, and has the usual variety of local history on display. Baseball fans might remember Smokey Joe Wood, who was a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox about 95 years ago until he blew out his arm. There are some nice clippings about this native son.

The museum is at 608 Broad St. in Milford, right in the midst of the major commercial district of the village.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bethel, New York: The Museum at Bethel Woods

Face it. If you are of a certain age, you want to see the spot where the famous Woodstock rock concert was held in 1969.

Up until a few years ago, you could go to the spot where the concert was held in pretty much its natural state. It was easy to picture the natural amphitheater formed by the rolling farmlands in the Catskills. (Note to those who have forgotten: Woodstock, N.Y., was the original host town for the show, but it was moved to Bethel relatively late in the process.) A plaque was placed by the corner where the stage was.

However, in the past few years, the landscape has changed. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts has gone up on the top of the hill. The highlight is the museum, which is said to mark the Sixties and Woodstock, but it's mostly there for the concert. The picture is of the non-museum part of the facility, used for small concerts, dinners, fund-raisers, etc. Very nice.

The museum has the usual assortment of memorabilia posted, with plenty of audio/visual displays. There's even space for those attending to write down or record some memories of the famous weekend. I think you could argue that the museum romanticise the concert a bit, and I thought it was a little pricey at $13 in 2010 dollars. But it's still worth a visit, especially if you wore out the record or watched the movie ... which you should have done by now.

One footnote: The gift shop has very few items with the name of Woodstock, due to licensing issues. You can buy all sorts of stuff with "Bethel 1969" on it, but it's not the same.

Meanwhile, the grounds have been developed. There is a concert facility that can hold 15,000 people, and some good-sized acts play there in the summer. That must be fun for some of the acts involved.