Monday, September 16, 2019

Sugarcreek, Ohio: World's Largest Cuckoo Clock

Sugarland has the nickname of "Little Switzerland." A visit there will never be confused to a trip to a village in the Alps. Still, there's a big reason for a detour to its downtown area.

Yes, the world's largest cuckoo clock is here.

The structure was first built in the early 1970s for a restaurant in Wilmot, Ohio - just up the road from Sugarcreek. When the restaurant closed, it moved to Sugarcreek and received some TLC.

Now it's on the main intersection of the town. Every half-hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. - from spring to fall - the cuckoo clock performs for audiences. It's all very well done.

For whatever reason, videos won't post on this site. So go to Plan B and click on the link.

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Berlin, Ohio

Want to see a horse and buggy? Berlin, Ohio, offers a good chance of it.

Berlin was formed around 1816, and first was known for immigrants from Germany and Switzerland. However, it didn't take long for Amish settlers to start moving in the region in good-sized numbers. The number is up to 56,000 today, a jump of about 60 percent in the past 27 years or so.

While the countryside is quiet - not as many cars on the road as in other similar sized cities - downtown in on the active side. That's because Berlin has become something of an attraction for shoppers. If you want to buy a quilt or furniture - all hand-made - this is the place to do it.

Ohio wasn't particularly original when it came to city names, but picking Berlin was almost too obvious. Several other states have a Berlin on their map. If you have a bucket list filled with planned trips to Berlin, well, this sign might help.

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Mansfield, Ohio: Ohio State Reformatory

Time for a photography tip - sometimes it's a good idea to take more than one photo of a place, particularly if you aren't likely to see it again.

My photo of the Ohio State Reformatory was taken through a wire fence after closing time. Sure enough, the shot didn't come out. So I use this here with the hopeful courtesy of Ohio Magazine; I'll pull it if I hear about an objection.

The prison has become world famous in the last 25 years or so, and for an unlikely reason. After more than a century of use, it closed in 1990. So it was sitting vacant when a movie called "The Shawshank Redemption" came in and filled within its confines during filming in 1993.

The movie became a surprise hit in 1994 after a slow start at the box office (it found an audience on cable, and still pops up a lot), and ranks with many as one of the most popular movies of its time. That means people wanted to see where it was filmed, and the good folks of Mansfield, Ohio, realized they had a windfall on their hands. The facility is now open for tours for much of the year, including ghost tours. Mansfield apparently needs some economic help, so this was a nice bit of economic news.

The building has a classic architectural look - even through the wire fence.

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Dublin, Ohio: Field of Corn

It's easy to think that no one needs to create a fake field of corn in Ohio. After all, there is plenty of it growing in the rural areas of this diverse state.

Still, this makes some sense when put in context.

Dublin, Ohio, is a ways northwest of Columbus. It didn't used to be a suburb of the state capital, but it is now. That means land use has changed considerably in recent years.

That got Malcoln Cochran to thinking. He decided to take the land that was donated by a former corn farmer, and contribute to Dublin's "Art in Public Places" series. Naturally, he put corn on the land. In fact, he put 109 ears of the stuff on the ground, all about eight feet tall.

The park is surrounded by offices and residential areas, and some have thought it to be an odd fit in the neighborhood. On the other hand, public art is designed to cause a reaction, and Cochran apparently succeeded. Besides, you think tourists would come to Dublin to see an office park?

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Marysville, Ohio: Honda Heritage Center

It's always fun to see how things are built. That's particular true when it comes to the automobile. We've been fascinated by the giant plants and assembly lines for more than a century.

The good folks at Honda capitalize on those feelings by offering plant tours at the factory in Marysville, Ohio - northwest of Columbus.

The first stop is the Honda Heritage Center, where displays tell some of the history of the company. Here is the N600, a 1971 vehicle that was Honda's first car in the American market. I'm sure the 58 dealers in the USA were busy moving these babies along. The center also has a variety of vehicles and displays on the history and future of the company.By the way, the Heritage Center had a couple of associates who were very, very friendly. They must make a lot of friends for Honda.

Then it is on to the plant tour, in our case in East Liberty. It takes about 75 minutes to walk around the plant's designated areas, and it's a bit overwhelming. The robotics are amazing, and parts come from all sorts of angles on their way to become a full-fledged car. One of the many amazing facts given out - there is more technology now in the inside door handle than there was in the entire car in 1982.

The tour could have used an introductory film to explain what was going on, but it's still a great experience. Make reservations ahead of time, and take a look at how Hondas are built.

(And no, you don't get a free sample.)

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Bellefontaine, Ohio: Highest Point in Ohio

Visit the highest point in most states, and you'll see why poets no doubt rushed off to write down their thoughts about the magnificent views.

Such is not the case in Ohio.

Campbell Hill is only 1,549 feet above sea level, and it is not that much higher than its surroundings. But it is good enough to earn the title in Ohio.

A flag marks the high point, which was once used by NORAD during the Cold War days. They are trying to raise money for a museum here; we'll see how that goes.

The best surprise of the visit, besides the "no sledding" signs noted in the Roadside America article,  is a small box on the walkway to the high point. There, you can find blank certificates that can prove you actually visited this spot. What a nice touch for the silly tourist.

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Bellefontaine, Ohio: America's Shortest Street

It's not easy to photograph an entire street's length ... unless you are in Bellefontaine, Ohio.

Just a couple of blocks off of downtown is McKinley St., whose usefulness - like its namesake as President - was cut short. It checks in at a less-than-mighty 15 feet.

The area at the end of the street - top left on the photo - has now been filled by a railroad track. My guess is that McKinley St. ran at least a few blocks before the track went in and cut it off. Two roads intersect to the right, and instead of filling in the rest of McKinley to form a V, the city fathers just left it alone. Thus, you have a street that is as long as a five-yard penalty.

McKinley used to be the shortest street in the world, but it lost that title to a road in Scotland. It's only 6 feet, 9 inches - or about as long as LeBron James.

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Bellefontaine, Ohio: Oldest Concrete Street in U.S.

All American cities like to celebrate its unusual parts, and Bellefontaine, Ohio, is no exception. Based on the landmarks in town, its top attraction is Court St.

As the photographed sculpture says, Court St. is the first cement street in the country. It was built in 1891 under the suggestion of George Bartholemew, was - no surprise here - in the cement business. He guaranteed that the street would be useful in five years.

Here we are, more than 125 years later, and the street is still holding up nicely. A statue of Mr. Bartholemew looks over the entrance to this street to this day, secure in the knowledge that his work has passed the test of time.

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Wapakoneta, Ohio: The Temple of Tolerance

The Armstrong Air and Space Museum is the obvious choice as the best spot for tourists in Wapakoneta, Ohio.

Talk about a hard act to follow.

But what's second?

According to the tourism guide, it's "The Temple of Tolerance." This is one odd attraction.

The Temple essentially is a rock garden, placed in an oddly shaped piece of land behind a house. There are literally millions of pounds of rocks on the property. The main "pile" is toward the back, which offers a good view of the area - although the trees, etc. make it a little difficult to have the full view.

I suppose the idea is for people to come into a peaceful spot and do some thinking. We didn't talk to the owner, and frankly found the whole place a little creepy. But TripAdvisor has no rankings below three stars, so apparently this sort of attraction has an audience.

Roadside America has this story on the place. We also have a bird's-eye view from a drone; it may not have sound:

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Wapakoneta, Ohio: Armstrong Air and Space Museum

I'm fond of saying that genius can be found just about anywhere, and this Midwestern trip certainly proved that. After all, the odds of Wapakonetea, Ohio, to host a man who will be remembered on Earth forever were pretty small.

But that's exactly what happened to this little town in Western Ohio (an hour north of Dayton). Wapakoneta was the birthplace and childhood home of Neil Armstrong, who you certainly remember as the first man to step on the moon's surface. It's hard to imagine what sort of fuss that caused back home, but the 1969 parade after the landing looked huge in the newspaper clippings.

The Armstrong Air & Space Museum was built as a tribute to this native son. Considering that Wapakoneta probably didn't have a great deal of money at its disposal, it's a nicely done exhibition.

Visitors go through the history of the space program quite logically, starting with a science fiction exhibit and then going through Project Mercury and Gemini. Armstrong flew on Gemini 8, a mission that had to be aborted because of mechanical trouble. Armstrong's cool head under pressure might have led to his selection on Apollo 11. The Gemini 8 spacecraft is on display, and again it seems impossibly small as a home. Then comes a room filled with Apollo artifacts, and another on the lunar mission.What fun it is to see Armstrong's suits from Gemini and Apollo as well as a moon rock.

Then comes the Infinity Room, an area of mirrors designed to display what it is like in space. Then there's a theater for a 25-minute film on Apollo 11, and a gallery of art work about Apollo 11 essentially completes the tour.

This is small-town pride at its best. Armstrong may not have been the best person from a public relations standpoint to be first on the moon - he was something of a recluse after leaving NASA - but he got the job done. That can't be underestimated. 

Here's a television news report on the place:

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Dayton, Ohio: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

One word came to mind when walking through the National Museum of the United States Air Force: Overwhelming.

Picture five large hangers full of airplanes - some of them hanging from the roof - and then mix in plenty of kiosks and other displays of memorabilia.

That's a lot of material, and most of it is of high caliber - along the lines of the Smithsonian. Walking around the place is history in many forms.

Just for example, the plane shown above is the Memphis Belle. That vehicle was the one that dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki that essentially ended World War II. Then there's the Air Force One vehicle from the Sixties and Seventies. You can stand in the spot where Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President shortly after John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Nearby is the plane taken by Harry Truman on his business trips, and the plane Franklin Roosevelt used to go to Yalta for the summit conference with Churchill and Stalin.

There's more, much more - with planes dating back before World War I. There are vehicles from the Wright Brothers, and a B-2 bomber. How about the plane that took two loads of prisoners of war home from Hanoi to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War? ICBMs from the Cold War era? It's all here. There's even the command module from Apollo 15, which went to the moon. It adds up to 19 acres of space.

For more information, guided tours of each of the hangers are offered during the day. A movie theater offers films on a wide range of subjects.  Yes, there's a big gift shop too. Best of all, there is no charge, and there are volunteers all over the place to answer your questions.

Most of the videos for the Museum are more than 10 minutes long. You are welcome to search YouTube for one that does this place justice. I'll settle for a quick overview:

I'm not sure how I missed hearing about this place, but it's really a national treasure. If you are anywhere near Dayton, make the drive and visit it.

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Dayton, Ohio: Erma Bombeck's Grave

The Wright Brothers certainly are the big attraction as Dayton's oldest and biggest cemetery, Woodlawn. But what gravesite is in second place?

It might be Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African American writer from more than 100 years ago. But it also might be another writer that did her work closer to the present - Erma Bombeck.

If there was ever a woman of the Sixties who displayed that housewives had untapped potential, Bombeck was it. She spent 10 years as a full-time homemaker, more or less, but had the chance to write some humor columns for the local Dayton newspaper. They caught on, and became nationally syndicated in almost no time. By 1969, 500 newspapers were printing her columns.

From there, books and speaking engagements followed, and she and her husband moved to Phoenix. Eventually Bombeck was a regular on "Good Morning America," and even tried to write and produce television shows. Bombeck was the Grand Marshall of the Tournament of Roses Parade in 1986.

However, she about out to coming to the end of a long battle with a genetic disease. Bombeck eventually lost the use of both kidneys, and when a transplant didn't take she died in 1996. Bombeck was returned to Dayton for burial; the large rock in the background is from the Phoenix area.

I'm not sure how her gentle wit would play today, but this funny lady deserves to be remembered.

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Dayton, Ohio: Wright Brothers' Graves

Orville and Wilbur Wright were quite a team back in the day. They worked together perfectly and methodically in order to solve the problems of motorized flight.

It's no coincidence, then, that the two men will spend the rest of time together. They are buried in a family plot at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, which is up a hill on the east side of the river and near the University of Dayton.

By the way, maybe it's time for a clean-up crew to visit the gravesite. The plants seem to be taking over.

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Dayton, Ohio: Wright Cycle Company

A trip to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina is inspiring. There you can see where man first left the earth through the power of a machine. The Wright Brothers changed transportation forever that day in 1903, and it is definitely worth a visit.

If you need more inspiration in this area, Dayton might provide it. That's where Orville and Wilbur worked on their flying machines. Luckily, some of the spots are well preserved there as well.

The Wrights had a few occupations before they became preoccupied with flight. They had a printing press, and they created and sold bicycles. The brothers' fourth "office" is their cycling workship, and it's still standing. It's a great feeling to stand in the very room where the Wrights may have gotten the inspiration to start coming up with a motorized airplane

For more information, you only need to cross a street. The National Park Service has a visitors' center set up there. A film sets up the historical significance of the place nicely. You can learn more about the Wright's adventures, including the printing business. There are other stops on the trail of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. It includes a visit to Huffman Prairie Flying Field, which could be considered the world's first airport, and the Wrights' home.

If you want a quick lesson on how the Wright Brothers took this huge step, the University of Dayton is here to help:

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Indianapolis, Indiana: NCAA Hall of Champions

You could argue that the NCAA had its origins because of the "Flying Wedge" formation. That's why a statue of it is at the entrance to its "Hall of Champions."

When football was getting started in the early 1900s, the flying wedge bundled several players together in front of the ball carrier. They literally ran over everything (such as defenders) in their path. And the price was high, as players were dying in the process.

President Theodore Roosevelt called on the sport to reform itself, and the colleges soon got together to form the NCAA to change the rules and become a governing body for intercollegiate sports. That's what we have today.

The group's headquarters moved from outside Kansas City to downtown Indianapolis some years ago, and it brought the "Hall of Champions" with it. There are two floors. After a short film, visitors get a look at panels that give a brief look at all of the sports under the NCAA umbrella. A Hall of Honor is attached; it salutes the various award-winners of the NCAA who have made major contributions to college sports or who have prospered after graduation over the years. Upstairs is a section for "play." It contains a small gym where you can practice your basketball skills (note: the balls were pretty flat during our visit), and has other interactive devices set up.

Here's what it looks like in less than a minute:


It's unusual that attractions leave a flat feeling to a visitor, but I came away feeling that this could have been done a lot better. There's not a great deal of space here, and some of the exhibits didn't work well. The retail area had a few items, including some leftover shirts from previous NCAA events. Add it up, and it probably wasn't worth the time or money to visit.

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Indianapolis, Indiana: Monument Circle

It's easy to figure out the center of activity in Indianapolis. Look for the statue that's almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty in the midst of downtown.

The Soldiers and Sailors' Monument fits that description, and it's the focus of Monument Circle - just a couple of blocks from the Indiana Statehouse. As city structures go, this is as impressive as it gets - it would like right at home in a big European city.

This was dedicated in 1902. It began as a way to salute the Civil War dead, but other wars before the dedication were added to the list later on. It is said to be the first such monument in America that was dedicated to the common soldier.

There is an "inside" to the structure, as a museum is hidden away in the bottom of it. There also is a gift shop, and an observatory at the top. You can pay a couple of bucks for an elevator ride, or you can walk up 330 steps for free. Your choice.

The area is decorated for Christmas, which must be spectacular. However, this is worth a look at any time of the year.

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Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Statehouse

The capitol building for Indiana needed a little time to get to its current location. Corydon, near the Ohio River, was the first capitol of Indiana because that's where the people were when statehood was granted in 1816. But people soon moved to the rest of the state, and a more central location was needed. That site was called Indianapolis, where a couple of rivers met, and the state government moved in around 1825.

The first building designed for state government fell apart relatively quickly, so a new one was constructed on the same spot. It opened in 1887, and that's the one you see today. It went through something of a renovation on its 100th birthday, but it still looks good.

What is striking during a visit is that there's isn't a great deal of activity. The House and Senate don't meet that often, compared to other states, and many offices apparently are in nearby buildings. But the legislative bodies are there to debate and vote, and the Supreme Court of Indiana is there too. Guided tours are available for those who want one, but it's an easy place to grab a brochure and look around by yourself.

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Indianapolis, Indiana: Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

It's always interesting to see how our Presidents lived, and Indianapolis offers that exact chance. It's the location of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, where the 23rd President spent much of his adult life.

The three-story mansion stayed in the Harrison family for the most part since 1875, when it was built. A non-profit group runs the place now. Therefore, many of the furnishings are originals and date back to Harrison's time there. It's funny to walk into an ex-President's office, complete with some memorabilia. But remember that ex-Presidents didn't have pensions then, so Harrison kept working after he lost an election to Grover Cleveland.

There's a little parking behind the building for visitors, provided construction isn't taking place on the approach road.  A visitors center has a small display area and a gift shop. The National Park Service doesn't control this building, so don't expect to get your NPS passport book stamped here. But certainly the place is maintained at that level of excellence.

Benjamin probably won't mind if we take a look around.

It's nice that we continue to keep alive the memory of most of our Chief Executives.

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Indianapolis, Indiana: Crown Hill Cemetery

Crown Hill Cemetery might be the largest place of its kind I've ever seen - third in size in the United States. It's huge, old and beautiful in the manner of many big-city cemeteries.

Not every famous person in Indianapolis history is buried here. It just seems like it. Start with a President in Benjamin Harrison, who spent most of his adult life here. There are Vice Presidents in Thomas Marshall, Thomas Hendricks and Charles Fairbanks. You can add author Booth Tarkington. Dr. Richard Gatling, inventor of the Gatling Gun. Poet James Whitcomb Riley. Football owner Robert Irsay. Pro basketball player Roger Brown. And on and on goes the list.

Why, then, did I post this particular photo? After all, John Dillinger was one of the most notorious crooks of his day. After he and his gang robbed 24 banks among other crimes, Dillinger was finally cornered in the Biograph Theater in Chicago - where he was killed in a shootout.

I have no idea why someone chose to leave a flower on this particular man's grave. But it was odd enough to justify the photo.

Let's take a look around on a windy day:

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Indianapolis, Indiana: Hinkle Fieldhouse

There aren't many "barns" left in college basketball these days, so we have to cherish the ones we have.

Hinkle Fieldhouse, on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis, is such a place.

It's been open for business for more than 90 years, with its first game in 1928. The place used to hold 15,000, but that number has been cut down to 10,000 or so through remodeling.

Take a look at the windows at the far end. There are windows at the other end as well. The court used to run the other way, but was moved because the players complained about the sun in their eyes at certain times of the day.

This place became immortalized through the 1954 Milan High School basketball team's effort. The team from the tiny town reached the state finals, which were played on this very court. Milan won it all on a last second shot, an incredible achievement.

But here's the fun part. Not only was the game played here, but the movie "Hoosiers," which told the story about that team, used this fieldhouse for the climatic game scenes. Therefore, anyone who has seen the movie more than once wants to see the host gym in person.

This gym was rather intimidating to the Milan squad when it showed up before the game. This scene from "Hoosiers" gets the idea across nicely.

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Speedway, Indiana: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

You don't have to go to a race to see the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, although it's the preferred method. The track has a good-sized museum that is open for almost all of the year.

The track has a charitable foundation that maintains a museum on the grounds. It is located between Turns One and Two, and drivers have to use a tunnel to go under the actual race track to get there - which itself is quite cool.

Once inside, visitors get a quick course in racing. When we were there, part of the main hall of devoted to Mario Andretti on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his only Indy win. Andretti's vehicles are well represented in the display, and he had a lot of different types of cars over the years. He'd drive almost anything, and drive it well.

The other part of the hall is devoted to some of the top race cars in Indy history. I believe that's Johnny Rutherford's car in the front. You can see the evolution of motor racing just by walking around. All parts of the hall have displays and memorabilia as well. Sadly, the Borg/Warner Trophy wasn't there for our visit. Apparently it was damaged accidentally and was being repaired.

In the back are some interactive opportunities for fans, who can even sit in a replica of an Indy car. (Note: it is cramped.) The front of the building has a good-sized gift shop with tons of stuff available for purchase. It was difficult to get out of there without buying something.

Let's take a nice walk around:

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Speedway, Indiana: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

This is one of the most familiar views in the world for auto racing fans. It's a look at the front straightaway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Speedway holds close to 350,000 people on Memorial Day weekend for its annual Indianapolis 500 race. The place is almost overwhelming in its scope. Usually you have to be part of the race to get this view, which includes a look at the tower where the standings are posted during the event.

Luckily, though, the Speedway allows others to get up close to the track. It offers several tours to visiting fans. We took the "Kiss the Bricks" tour. That includes a one-lap trip on a bus around the track at a not-so-death-defying 20 miles per hour. Coming out of Turn Four gives the passengers a view of a near-tunnel of bleachers that provides a huge rush.

The bus stops at the start/finish line, and everyone piles out for about 15 minutes of fun. Everyone has to get a photo of themselves "kissing the bricks," the yard of bricks that are a link to the track's past. A NASCAR driver won an event here about 25 years ago, and he led the crew to the bricks for a smooch after the race. It started a nice tradition. I can report that I could not taste any motor oil, even though a stock car race was held the day before my visit. By the way, the stripe of brick extends all the way through the pits and into the entrance area to the big tower. It also has a couple of small plaques - one for A.J. Foyt's fourth win, the other for the 100th running of the race.

The tour takes about a half-hour, and includes admission to the museum. Pay it now, and thank me later when you are in Central Indiana.

The IndyCar vehicles go a little faster than the bus did.

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Columbus, Indiana

You may not have heard of Columbus, Indiana. It's time to bring you up to date.

It's a town of less than 50,000 people located about 30 miles south of Indianapolis. However, it often has made lists of the nation's top cities for architectural treasures.

It seems that the Cummins Engine Company dominates the local economy, and management wanted to do something for the city. It set up a trust fund around 70 years ago to pay for top architects to come to Columbus and design public buildings such as schools, offices and parks.

It seems to have worked. Some of the best work is concentrated on Fifth Street, also called "The Avenue of the Architects." Other buildings are scattered around the city, most concentrated in downtown. The list includes Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Richard Meier and Robert Venturi. We're talking some heavyweights of the business here.

As you'd expect, plenty of people come here just to walk around. One of the sites if the Veterans Memorial, shown here. What makes this particularly haunting is that the memorial has portions of letters home from military personnel ... just before they died. It's a wonderful idea, particularly in a small city like this one.

I'd like to post 25 photos here, but this video will have to take its place:

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Columbus, Indiana: North Christian Church

In a town filled with impressive architecture, the North Christian Church might be the best of the bunch - although it probably comes down to personal choice.

Eero Saarinen was picked to design this church, located a bit away from downtown. It features a 192-foot spire with a cross on top. Saarinen had done a number of great works, including Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo. He wanted something that would force people to expend some effort to worship God, so you have to go up a flight to get to the church.

It was difficult to decide whether to use an interior or exterior shot for this blog, but I went with the inside. The panels of the exterior guide your eyes upward, and skylights are used to provide illumination. It's rather breath-taking - and it cost about $1 million to build in the early 1960s.

Sadly, Saarinen - a Finnish-American - died just after finishing the plans for this structure. This was his last project - finished right after his St. Louis Arch.

A staff member saw us walking around the building on a Sunday afternoon and invited us in for a look at the place. We couldn't thank her enough.

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Columbus, Indiana: Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor

They don't make ice cream parlors like they used to, but Zaharakos in Columbus shows that the styles of the past work pretty well in the present.

This business is located in downtown Columbus, and looks like it would fit in nicely in a 1900 downtown. That's not surprising since that's when three brothers from Greece opened the place. It's been a fixture ever since, with a restoration project done in 2009.

Yes, you can eat typical luncheon fare here, but really, you come here for the ice cream cones, and sundaes, and sodas, and floats, and so on. The ice cream for cones is served in a small bowl, so you get to scoop it into the bottom of the cone yourself. It was terrific. And you eat it with old-time musical instruments playing in the background.

The photo shows the ice cream bar, where the fun part of the business takes place. A museum of sorts runs parallel to the parlor. There are banquet rooms in other parts of the building. Here's a look around:

Just try to walk into this place and not be charmed. It's impossible. It's also impossible not to order ice cream. So don't say you weren't warned.

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Mitchell, Indiana: Gus Grissom Monument

It's easy to figure out who the most famous person is who was raised in Mitchell, Indiana, south of Indianapolis. It's Virgil L. "Gus" Grissom, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts.

There are two main tributes to Grissom, who qualifies as an American hero in anyone's book. One is a Memorial at the State Park a few miles east of town. There you can see some personal belongings that were donated by the family, as well as the actual Gemini 3 capsule that Grissom used to go into space in 1965. A movie about Grissom's life also is shown. I'm not sure why this is in the state park, since you have to pay an admission fee to get into the area. Maybe the state of Indiana built it. Anyway, space fans will like it.

Back in town is a more personal tribute. This is a limestone replica of the Gemini 3 spacecraft. It's located on the spot that formerly hosted Grissom's elementary school; the bricks from that building surround the rocket model. Grissom has a street named after him, and his childhood home is available for tours at times.

In 1967, Grissom and two others lost their lives because of a fire during a test of the new Apollo 1 spacecraft. It is simply hard to imagine what a shock that news bulletin must have been to the residents of this town. It was thought at the time that Grissom might end up as the first man to walk on the moon. Hopefully his contributions to the space program won't be forgotten.

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French Lick, Indiana: French Lick Resort

Care to guess where tomato juice was invented? Yes, you are looking at it.

It seems in 1917 that the French Lick Resort had run out of orange juice. Louis Perrin needed a substitute in a hurry, so he came up with tomato juice. Too bad he didn't keep the "residuals."

That's one of the interesting facts about this complex, which covers hotels in French Lick and West Baden (I believe they touch each other).

This is one of those classic complexes that date back to the 19th century. You can picture people of different generations sitting on the porch and relaxing over the years. The lobby of the French Lick facility is a beauty, forcing visitors to look up a lot at the decor. The West Baden hotel had the largest free-standing dome in the world until the Astrodome came along in Houston in the 1960s. A casino is part of the facility, as are two top rated golf courses.

One photo isn't going to do it here.

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French Lick, Indiana: Larry Bird Statue

Larry Bird accomplished a great deal in his basketball career. One of his accomplishments was to put the little town of French Lick, Indiana, on the basketball map.

Bird grew up in that part of Southern Indiana, and "The Hick from French Lick" showed rather quickly that genius can come from anywhere. A pilgrimage there is necessary for many hoop fans.

French Lick doesn't overdo it. A street is named after him. In fact, the high school is on that street - the road that Larry used to walk and dribble his way to school each day. A bust of Bird is placed on the front of the teen center near Larry Bird Blvd.

You can look at the outside of Bird's childhood home and some other places with connections to him - such as the spot where the Converse commercial with Magic Johnson was filmed. Still, you'd have to say that French Lick really should have a Larry Bird Museum.

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Clarksville, Indiana: Lewis and Clark Statue

Sometimes you can get lucky with a camera.

We visited the Lewis and Clark Statue in Clarksville, Indiana, just before sunset. The angle of the sun made it difficult, so we took this photo with the statue blocking out the intense light. It worked better than we thought, so here it is. The sculpture was unveiled on the 200th anniversary of the duo's journey.

You know about Lewis and Clark and their fabled journey to explore the area of the Louisiana Purchase. In a sense, that trip started in Clarksville, where Lewis and Clark agreed to make the trip and hire help for the journey. They did a memorable job.

The statue is located around the Falls of the Ohio (as in River), and is on the grounds of the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center. This was just added to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, extending it from St. Louis. This handshake between Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, which sealed the attempt to go to the Northwest, might be the biggest moment in Clarksville's history.

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Louisville, Kentucky: Col. Sanders' Grave

When Harlan Sanders had gone past his 60th birthday, it seemed unlikely that he would become famous. He apparently had a number of professions over the years, but didn't seem to be good at any of them. The Colonel was an honorary title.

Sanders was living off a pension when he decided to open up a restaurant featuring a special type of fried chicken. You may have heard of it - Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Just to make the story more unlikely, Sanders did it in ... wait for it ... Salt Lake City. To be fair, Sanders' franchise strategy was the key part of the business equation. In any event, KFC took off worldwide.

Sanders died in 1980, but he is still remembered. A statue of him is in the State Capitol in Frankfort. And KFC is again using a Col. Sanders character in its advertising.

Sanders is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery, on the other side of the facility from Muhammad Ali. When we pulled up to the grave site, we saw about four others who were there to pay their respects. By the way, fresh flowers had been delivered earlier that day to honor his wife, Claudia.

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Louisville, Kentucky: Muhammad Ali's Grave

It is difficult to think of Muhammad Ali at rest. During the time when he was internationally known as a boxer, Ali was a man in constant motion - in and out of the ring.

Ali is said to have wanted something simple for a grave site, but apparently the family upgraded the plans once he died in 2016. This is the final result, a pleasant spot in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

Ali did get his way in one important area. He is buried on his side and facing east, as is the Muslim custom.

During our visit, there were several others in the area who wanted to pay their respects to the champ. I would guess this will be a busy site for several more years.

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Louisville, Kentucky: Muhammad Ali Center

Not many six-story buildings could be filled with images and tributes to a single person.

However, Muhammad Ali was hardly a typical person.

It cost $80 million to build the Muhammad Ali Center, located near the Ohio River in downtown Louisville. It does an excellent job of taking a look at the life of this influential and complicated athlete.

After watching a short orientation film that reviews Ali's life, visitors wind through a variety of exhibits throughout the building. There's an area dedicated to Ali's core principles - confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality. A large display is devoted to Ali's boxing career, fight by fight. And there's an interactive exhibit in which people can pound a speed bag (it's tough!) or bounce around a ring while receiving a boxing lesson from Ali's daughter.

Before going down a floor, the museum has a nice touch. A video on Ali, that can be watched from above, is projected on to a boxing ring (shown in photo). The ring is the one used in the movie "Ali," starring Will Smith. That leads into a video area in which you can see some of Ali's famous fights in their entirety. The museum also has plenty of photos, paintings and memorabilia along the way. Yes, the torch Ali used to light the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996 is there.

The messaging here can be a little heavy-handed, but that's probably to be expected. Ali taught us a number of lessons over the years - everything from "I don't have to be who you want me to be" to "Use the name for me that I use."

It takes a few hours to go through everything, but it's worth it. This is a wonderful tribute to one of the most influential athletes and personalities of our time.

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

North Bend, Ohio: Benjamin Harrison's Birthplace

You probably know too much American history if you know what town can claim one President was born there and one President is buried there.

That town is North Bend, Ohio, located a bit west of Cincinnati. The Presidents are the Harrisons.

Here's where Benjamin Harrison was born, at least in terms of location. At the time it was a farm house that was established by William Henry Harrison; now it's a private residence.

It's easy to wonder what it's like to have tourists stop on your peaceful street to take photos of the historical marker by the sidewalk. When we did it, no one came out of the house with a gun ... or brownies.

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North Bend, Ohio: William H. Harrison's Grave

William Henry Harrison probably wasn't planning on returning to North Bend, Ohio, so soon.

Harrison. the ninth U.S. President, is best remembered for his short tenure on the job. He gave the longest inaugural address in history, but couldn't be bothered to wear an overcoat. Thus, he caught a cold, which turned into pneumonia, which killed him. John Tyler took over.

At least Harrison had a prime spot of real estate for his burial site. He was placed on a hill that at the time overlooked the Ohio River. Harrison was eventually joined by several relatives. The area is quite ornate, although it doesn't lend itself to a classic photograph.

The location of the grave is just south of U.S. 30 in North Bend. For those traveling west on that route, you will need to go right at the marker in order to cross an overpass to get to the site. Here's the view from the road, although there is a parking lot around the corner for those who want to take a closer look.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: Library Fountain

It pays to advertise.

For example, let's say you are trying to spread the word about your public library. A fountain of gigantic books ought to attract some attention.

Therefore, say hello to the Cincinnati Public Library.

Greeting vistors is the Amelia Valerio Weinberg Memorial Fountain, by Cincinnati sculptor Michael Frasda. It was dedicated in 1990.

The library says it is dedicated to the free flow of information. That works for me.

On-street parking is plentiful around the library, so feel free to feed a meter, talk a short walk, and snap a photo.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: Taft National Historic Site

History has not been too kind to William Howard Taft.

By all accounts Taft was a very intelligent man and an excellent lawyer and administrator. He first achieved public notice for his good work in running the Philippines after the U.S. gained possession of it in the Spanish-American War.

That earned him high marks from his boss, Teddy Roosevelt. When Teddy decided not to run for re-election in 1908, Taft was a logical choice to replace him. But Roosevelt became disenchanted with Taft in the follow four years and ran against him in 1912. That led to the election of Woodrow Wilson as President. Taft eventually earned a job that he really wanted - Chief Justice of the United States. He is the only person to have both jobs, which you'd have to admit looks good on a resume.

Yet Taft basically is remember for one thing. He was fat. Big in the "got stuck in the White House bathtub" a few times sense. No one said fame is fair.

Taft grew up in this home in Cincinnati. His house has been preserved and is available for touring. The future President moved out of the place around the time of college, so the tour tells more about what the place was like during Taft's childhood. It would be better if Taft had been there for the latter stages of his life, but at least this covers a period of time in the life of this noteworthy American.

Here's more on the place:

The mansion is located up a hill from downtown Cincinnati, as Taft's parents wanted to get away from the industrial riverfront and take in the good air of the hills. The National Park Service has a small office across the street and leads guided tours of the building.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: American Sign Museum

Who knew that signs could be an attraction for a museum?

The people behind the American Sign Museum did. They have established a cute little niche with a part of Americana.

The facility is located in an industrial part of Cincinnati called Camp Washington. The parking lot has some signs of its own, which nicely serve the task of telling visitors they are in the right place.

Those visitors need only to walk in the front door and be charmed. The light show begins right away, and the path winds through all sorts of signs from the distant past to the present.

Most of the signs on display are relatively small, and offer a chronological history of the art. But a few are nice and big - like signs for McDonald's and Howard Johnson's. Baby boomers will love the place.

The best way to see it all is to take a guided tour; check the web site for dates and times. Our guide knew his stuff and was willing to poke a little fun at the museum and himself along the way. And at the end, you might be able to go inside "Neonworks of Cincinnati," which is located in a corner of the same building. There the staff will show you just how a neon sign is made these days, which is a rare treat.

Here are some more views of the place:


This is location No. 2 for the American Sign Museum, and apparently there are plans to double the size of the exhibit space in the near future. What they have now, though, is pretty interesting. I couldn't resist getting a t-shirt on my way out. This is definitely unique and worth a stop in your travels if you are in the area.

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Utica, Ohio: Velvet Ice Cream

Interested in some ice cream as part of breaking up a summer drive?

This is the spot.

It is the home of Velvet Ice Cream, a product that is sold throughout Ohio. It's about an hour northeast of Columbus, and located in a pleasant country setting.

The big attraction is the chance to see ice cream made. They have factory tours from May to October; be sure to check the website for times and dates. About 150,000 people turn up here for an education in the making of this traditional summer treat,

The rest of the complex centers on this converted mill. There's a big ice cream parlor at the bottom, and it is next to a gift shop. Some old machinery is on display on the grounds, and a room is dedicated to telling the company's story through a video and displays. It's in a park-like setting, complete with a grove of trees and some birds. You can even take a walk on a nature trail.

Supposedly the facility does host weddings. You wonder if ice cream must be served with wedding cake at such functions.

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Mount Vernon, Ohio: Ariel-Foundation Park

You can almost hear the ghosts of Ariel-Foundation Park while walking around the 250-acre.

Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) opened a factory on this site in 1907. It was one million square feet, and certainly many residents of Mount Vernon received a paycheck because of that plant - directly or indirectly.

But the factory close in 1976, and a number of companies tried to use parts of the facility - only to fall short of become a long-term resident. Finally, the buildings were gutted in 2012 and the city took over the area.

The land was given to a foundation, which has turned it into a park. The quarries have been filled with water to form lakes, and the land has some trees and trails for visitors. But it is the leftover material that still fascinates.

For example, there is "the River of Glass." It's something of a tribute to those who worked PPG Works No. 11, with chunks of glass and crushed glass on display in a art-like setting. The sheets produced here were called "ribbons of glass." it was an easy rhetorical jump to river. Then there's the Rastin Observation Tower, a converted smokestack that has an observation deck about 140 feet up - halfway to the top. The views of the rest of the park, and even the town itself, are quite nice. (Just look out for bees and wasps on the way.)

There's also a building that can be used for events, as well as a labyrinth that surrounds a half-circle pond. Other portions of the factory can be found on the grounds as well. It makes for some unusual photos.

Still, there's some sadness associated with the place. It's a throwback to the days when big industrial plants were the backbones of local economies, and they are obviously missed. If you'd like a clue as to why Donald Trump carried Ohio in 2016, well, this is one. But no matter what is said, the good old days aren't coming back in the near future.

Let's look around from above:

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Monday, August 12, 2019

Jamestown, New York: National Comedy Center

If you build it, they will come.

That was the idea behind the National Comedy Center. Jamestown had enjoyed some success with its Lucy-Desi Museum, thanks to the happy coincidence that comedy great Lucille Ball happened to be born in the upstate New York City. Why not think bigger? Why not a celebration of comedy in all its forms?

Those thoughts came up around 2010. It took several years and several million dollars, but the National Comedy Center opened for business in August 2018. That means as of this writing, it is celebrating its first anniversary.

And after touring it, you'd have to say everyone involved did a wonderful job in creating a fabulous tourist attraction.

Jamestown remodeled an old utilities building for the Comedy Center, and also took over the old train station for its gift shop. (Be sure to look up at the railroad markings while you are searching for souvenirs.) It looks small, but it takes several hours to visit it minimum.

There are sections devoted to business leaders, cartoons, television, film, internet, awards, etc. There's even a "blue room," devoted to those who have pushed the envelope of good taste over the years. It's all done in a state-of-the-art way, beginning with your entrance into the Center. Visitors answer some questions, and then tap a wristband that has a computer chip attached. That is supposed to personalize the experience somewhat.

Along the way, there are bunches of exhibits, videos, audio clips, etc. You can see the Smothers Brothers' suits, Harpo Marx's trench coat, and Rose Marie's pink dress from the Dick Van Dyke Show. A room currently is devoted to the work of Ernie Kovacs, who was born in 1919. That exhibit will stay up for a year.

It adds up to a wonderfully entertaining experience. If you are in the neighborhood, go - and stop in on Lucy and Desi down the street if you have time. Let's hope this new museum helps make Jamestown "the Cooperstown of Comedy."

Let's look around:

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Buffalo, New York: Batchelor Contemplative Garden

You never know what you might find while taking a walk.

Recently we tried to take a stroll on the full length of the Bird Island Pier, only to discover that much of it had been closed for repairs. So we walked through Broderick Park, and stumbled on something that was totally unknown to us.

The Lillion Batchelor Contemplative Garden popped up right behind the food hut in Broderick Park. It was dedicated in 2016 as a tribute to one of Buffalo's leading historians. Batchelor has been studying the stories that make this spot the last stop on the famous Underground Railroad. In fact, she's managed a recreation of the voyage of some of the ships.

It could use a little care, but the view is excellent and it looks like a nice place to sit and watch the water go by.

Besides, you never know who might drop by. In our case, one of Lillion's daughters was showing a friend the park area. We asked if she did this a lot and the response was, "Not as much as you might think, or as much as I probably should."

There is a small amphitheater nearby, and the sidewalks are in good shape. It's a great spot for a summer stroll.

Gerry, New York: Gerry Rodeo

A rodeo ... here?

Indeed. Once a year, Gerry turns into the rodeo capital of Upstate New York.

You should know for starters were Gerry is. It is a few miles north of Jamestown in the southwestern corner of New York, not far from Interstate 86.

Back in 1945, it seems that Jack Cox, an ex-cowboy, moved to Gerry. He thought the rodeo would be a great way to raise money for the village's volunteer fire department.

The idea was a hit. An area was put together in almost no time (70 days), and Gerry was in the rodeo business. The 2019 edition was No. 75 in its history, quite an occasion.

The event goes from Wednesday to Sunday and has the usual rodeo events - bareback and saddle riding, bronco busting, tiedown roping, etc. You get the idea.

It was also a chance to have some fresh barbeque in an enclosed dining room with some special sauce, naturally. The formula apparently worked well.

We were about a week late in visiting Gerry. Oh well. The rodeo area itself has grandstands on both sides of a dirt area that is probably a bit longer than a football field. One of these years ...


Saturday, June 22, 2019

Niagara Falls, New York: Old Stone Chimney

Say hello to the Old Stone Chimney, which is a piece of history in Niagara Falls. The structure dates back to 1750, and it stayed there for about 150 years. The Chimney was right along the portage road in Niagara Falls, as goods and people had to use land to get around the Falls.

The Chimney has been moved a few times in its history. Until recently, it was in Porter Park in order to help save it. However, when a decision was made in 2015 to remodel the road leading from Interstate 190 to the Falls (part of the Robert Moses Expressway), it was decided to move it there. The Chimney was marked, taken apart, moved a few miles, and reconstructed with some improvements made in the process.

There's one problem here. The Old Stone Chimney is not easy to see, unless you know it is coming. It's just off the highway going away from the falls, and it features a couple of historical signs and a parking lot. In other words, no one will stumble upon it while walking. You'd think a better place could have been found, so the parking lot generally is rather empty. Oh well.

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Rome, New York: Fort Stanwix

Fort Stanwix took a small but pivotal role in the American Revolution. The colonies took it from the British, and held on despite a siege from enemy forces that lasted more than three weeks. If Fort Stanwix falls, well, maybe we'd be speaking with British accents.

The Fort is located in in Rome, relatively close to Utica. There is an Air Force base up the road a bit. Rome is rather flat, but the base is located on what could be called the high point of the area. That made it a good spot strategically, since it was between the waterways leading to Lake Ontario in one direction and the Mohawk River in the other.

There is a nice welcome center on the land nearby, which has a nice exhibit and a movie about the facility. From there it is a short walk to the Fort itself; the contents have been recreated to show what life was like for the soldiers.

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Oriskany, New York: Oriskany Battlefield

Here's a spot that qualifies as a little-known but crucial turning point in American history.

In 1777, the British hoped to take control of New York State in its effort to put down the rebellion of the Americans. New England thus would be cut off from the rest of the colonies. To do that, one group would come down from Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, while a second would come up from New York City.

To make it work, a third force was needed from the West. General Barry St. Leger led his troops across Lake Ontario and toward the area we call Rome now. It was a short hop from there to the Mohawk River and an easy trip to Albany. However, the British had trouble with the pesky Americans there, and needed help. Those reinforcements ran into more American forces, and fought a bloody battle in Orisky. The British took off, St. Leger gave up, and the British eventually suffered a huge loss a few months later in Saratoga. Did the course of the war change here? Quite possibly.

The grounds have been cleared and turned into a memorial to those who lose their life. The monument extends well into the sky, but the base is worth the photo. The area is a National Historic Landmark.

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Augusta, Maine: Maine State House

I have stopped at a number of state capitals over the years, and this might be my favorite. Before telling you why, here's a little history.

The first capital was in Portland, which remains the largest city. However, it was considered a little too far south by the rest of Maine, so it was moved north to Augusta. It was still a long way for the border with Canada, but apparently people in 1827 were satisfied. A capitol building was constructed around that time, and it has been remodeled several times over the years.

It's a rather standard building as these things go, with a Senate and a House of Representatives. The middle portion has a Hall of Flags, complete with historic banners (or copies) and paintings of well-known residents like George Mitchell, Ed Muskie and Margaret Chase Smith.

Here's the neat part - even in a post 9/11 world, the place is quite open. Yes, you need to go through a security check. But once you are inside, it's a remarkably free area. Visitors can sit in the balcony of the House and watch legislators in action. Even better, though, is the fact that the Senate has seats available on its floor. That means anyone can walk in, sit down only a few feet from the working legislators, and watch the proceedings.

When we were there, a controversial discussion on gun control was taking place. We saw lobbyists scurrying around, and one legislator actually running in the halls so he didn't have to talk to reporters. In other words, we felt like we could have been working there - it was a close-up look at how government really works.

The grounds are nice too, with a replica of the Liberty Bell that was handed out to all of the states at one point. If you are in the neighborhood, be sure to stop for a visit.

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Bristol, Maine: Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

Got a quarter?

If it's the right quarter, you have your own image of the lighthouse at Pemaquid Point.

It's sticks out into the water in Boothbay. A lighthouse first went up on that spot in 1827, but it wasn't built so well and lasted about eight years. The replacement has lasted much longer.

The structure has become something of an icon - to the point where it was chosen to appear on Maine's official state quarter.

The lighthouse is in a state park, and you can get a good view of the area from there. As you might have guessed, the rocky coast of Maine is on full display - as is some historical information about the structure inside the lighthouse. The part is located at the end of a peninsula located south of Damariscotta.

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Bristol, Maine: Fort William Henry

Plenty of forts were built on this spot, a beautiful one overlooking Pemaquid Harbor and John's Bay in Maine. None of them lasted too long.

The first one went up in 1630, only 10 years after the Pilgrims showed up down the road in Massachusetts. That one, a trading post, lasted three years. Fort Pemaquid and Fort Charles followed, but neither made it out of the 1600s.

The English built Fort William Henry in 1690, and that structure is the model for what is in the photo. The French and Indians attacked the area in 1696, and the English fled. It was rebuilt and called Fort Frederick in 1729, and lasted for 30 years until a new fort was building in a different location.

Now comes the interesting part to tourists. The facility that was Fort William Henry has been partially rebuilt. The tower serves as something of a museum on the area for visitors. The second floor has an exhibit on the fort's history (1666-1761). Meanwhile, excavation efforts has revealed part of the fort; it's in the foreground of the photo. The tower offers some splendid views of the harbor, and the inside of the "fort" looks like a great place for a picnic.

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Middletown, Rhode Island: Prescott Farm

Need a place to walk in Middletown during a visit, without seeing water? It's a little difficult, and may not be the popular option because of all of the views of the ocean and the bay in the area. Still, the Prescott Farm is a pretty good spot for a short visit.

There are a few old buildings, including a windmill, on display on the farm. The University of Rhode Island's Master Gardeners also use part of the land for some demonstration projects. If you prefer the land to be a bit more wild, there's a small forest adjoining the display area that has a nice walking path. Just be prepared for some wet spots for your feet along the way.

Prescott Farm is located on the the West Main Road in Middletown, which is the major route for those heading to Newport. It's not a big attraction, but a pleasant one.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019


Here's my favorite fact about Monaco, the tiny nation tucked along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea: It has more people in its Philharmonic orchestra (100) than in its army (80). Thank you, Rick Steves, for that.

Monaco is unique. It is carved out of the hills that drop dramatically into the ocean. Land is at a premium in the entire region, but when the entire country is three-quarters of a square mile, well, it can get crowded. Monaco has done some projects involving landfill, but still real estate is mighty, mighty expensive. There's no income tax here, so some of the rich and famous have a residence here.

The photo here shows the main region of Monaco; to the west (on the other side of the royal palace and other attractions) is the rest of the country. Monte Carlo is the name of one of those regions; it's not a separate city. That's where Monaco's famous casino is, where people go to "break the bank at Monte Carlo." By the way, you need to be well-dressed and pay an admission fee just to get in the door of the casino.

Monaco's big sporting event is the Grand Prix, held in May. The course was set up during our visit, and you can imagine what it does to the country - makes a crowded country even more cramped.

A visit is something like going to Disneyland - it's almost like someone made it up. But Monaco is very real, and certainly worth a stop. Here's a look around by the experts:

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