2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,700 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Charleston, South Carolina: Heart of Antebellum, Beauty of Millinium

One of America’s most historical and beautiful cities, Charleston, SC, inspires as much as it thrives.  As you walk through the streets of this diverse, colorful, and delicious city, its charm and beauty stimulate the senses and energize the historian.

On a walking tour of this robust city, the historic and famous “Rainbow Row” presents itself as both beautiful and historic.  Rainbow Row is to Charleston as the Brooklyn Bridge is to New York, an icon of its essence culture.  In the early 20th Century, It was a woman, Dorothy Porcher,  who in the post-Civil War economically devastated South purchased a section of the row houses and began restoration.  During the process of restoration, the homes were painted in pastel shades, a reminder of the feminine heroine historian who brought a breath of life to this small and once down-trodden street in Charleston, SC.

Today, if one is fortunate enough to be able to afford one of these fantastic homes, it is important to adore the outside color of the home.  The local historic society will no allow a change in the colors of the homes on Rainbow Row.  Dorothy Porcher’s first steps in renovation not only created this famous icon and set a “color precedent”, but inspired renovation around the city of Charleston.

As you stroll through Charleston, senses truly are delighted.  Gardens, tress, and fresh sea air provide a delightful appeal.  Horse-drawn carriages wind through the quaint streets of downtown Charleston and leave behind no “essence” of horse.  The city is clean and gardens line the paths at every turn.  The substantial concentration of wealth is obvious and Southern pride is evident welcoming visitors and locals alike.

Stroll through Charleston, but be sure to look under your feet and watch your step.  Cobblestone streets are scattered around the downtown area, along with stone steps used to help a gentleman down from his horse before industry brought automobiles.  Interestingly enough, no stone is available in the area in or around Charleston.  All of the stone that makes up the cobblestone streets and any other historical structure was brought in on ships from England for the most part.  They were used as ballast on the ships.

The history of slavery in Charleston is evident today.  Traveling through the streets of the city, the gates of the Slave Market welcome all to some exhibits of the early trade through the abolitionist movement.  While the buildings are gone and the market has gone through numerous structural changes, the history of the location is a solemn reminder of America’s past.  The cultural influences of the Africans and African-Americans gives the city flare and diversity with food, sweet grass artisanship, clothing, language, and so much more.

This 18th Century brick building is a slave structure located on Boone Hall Plantation.  It was one of dozens like it that housed the household and skilled slaves on the plantation from the mid-18th Century up until slavery was abolished.  These particular quarters were located on the front side of the property literally in front of the home as an indication of the family wealth.  There were many more wooden and temporary structures located at the back of the property that housed the field slaves and children.  The living conditions were horrific in these crude shelters and the slaves who occupied them were undernourished.

Today, there is a Gullah presentation given that helps to educate visitors to the plantation of not only its’ glorified Antebellum history, but that of the enslaved Africans and African Americas who lived on the property.  Excellent presentation and touring the slave quarters was eye-opening as one tries to envision 15 people living in such a small structure.

The Charleston experiences cannot be complete without mention of the fabulous dining!!!  The food in Charleston is amazing.  Low-country food is the best.  Magnolias and Jestine’s top the favorites list.  This tuna plate was from a bar/restaurant inside of an old church!  Fabulous experience in a wonderful city!

A New Era has Begun

So here it is, March.  Every March for the last 5 years has meant crunch-time for getting the readings done for our summer excursion.  Not March 2011.  History 591 excursions across historical America ended last June with a New York finale.  The education was outstanding but alas, have left me with a desire, a desire to continue my historical excursions.  While they will lack the essence of “the group”, they most certainly will pack the same exciting punch.

Not wishing to jump in both feet first, I am going to ease into this new “groupless” territory.  In fact, it is almost going to seem like old times.  Matt, Jonathan, Kelli, Christi, and 4 others will be traveling to Charleston, SC for a history convention focused on the topic of slavery.  Kelli, Christi, and I did not get our presentation accepted, so we are just going along for the “ride”….yes!!!

So here is the purpose of this post.  It is to announce that I will be posting my excursions with or without the group.  South Carolina is only the beginning.  The family is planning a trip back to, you guessed it, New York and Boston.  This time the posts will be a bit more personal and focused on history through the eyes of my children.  Aside from South Carolina, the last trip that they will not be present, the observations of my children will be the focus.  So look out world, it is by no means over!!!  Yeah!!

New York – The Final Frontier…

Year four of the teacher expeditions have come to a close and New York was the icing on the travel-bug cake.  The city that never sleeps most certainly kept me awake for two weeks, my motto, “I can sleep when I’m dead”.  I wanted to experience as much as I possibly could while in New York and I did everything in my power to do just that.  There were honestly times that I thought I might be a zombie, but it was so worth every minute of lost zzzzz’s.

I have contemplated the most memorable experiences in New York and I have come up with two particular experiences that really touched me beyond all others.  The first, was the magnificence and life that is the Brooklyn Bridge.  I have to say that I did enjoy the McCullough book more than any of the others, but I honestly thought that he was a bit dramatic in his description of an object, not a person, but a man-made object.  It wasn’t until I stepped out onto the bridge that first night in Brooklyn that I truly understood what McCullough described.

The Brooklyn  Bridge is truly alive, with a spirit that you can sense as you stroll the boardwalk.  On our tour, we were told that you can actually hear it hum early in the morning when activity is limited, much like a harp.  As I watched the bridge from my hotel room, it reminded me of a major vein or artery, feeding life into Brooklyn and providing Manhattan with the most beautiful skyline imaginable.

The New York Tenement Museum was an invaluable experience for me.  It gave me a frame of reference, space.  For a number of years now I have lectured on the unsanitary and cramped conditions of the tenements, but until this trip to New York, I never fully understood the true meaning of that foul space that so many Americans called “home”.  The tenements today don’t smell of sewage and garbage as they once did, that aspect of the experience is left to the imagination, but nearly everything else about tenement living comes to life in the Tenement Museum, including the ventilation shafts that were once filled with garbage and waste.  The windows of these shafts opened right into the one and only bedroom, where children were born,  families kept warm on cold winter nights, and where everyone probably gagged from the stench on hot summer days.  The Tenement Museum left little for the imagination, including the bugs and for me, it was just what I was looking for, in your face historical reality!

Four summers of memories, snapshots, lessons and lectures, have provided this history teacher with an education that a classroom just cannot provide.  It has been the most influential experience of my life and I cannot express enough my gratitude and appreciation for the opportunities.  Thank you to Matt, Jonathan, and Scott for all of your dedication and hard work that made these expeditions possible.  Your hard work has changed Southern Colorado for the better.  Signing off on this final formal blog post is heartbreaking, but please know that I am a better teacher and now, a true historian.

Thank You My Dear Friends!!!

The Biltmore Estate – Entrepeneurs from the Beginning

Pure Capitalism – it’s what made this most amazing mansion possible in the 1890’s and what makes its existence today a reality.  The Vanderbilt’s keep the amazing 175,000 square foot masterpiece open to the public.  You won’t be visiting all of the rooms, in fact, you will only see a small portion of the spacious and glorious mansion for your $50, but it truly is something to see.  The tour is self-guided and you can rent headphones for an audio tour for an additional charge.  You will begin your tour with the grand entryway and wind your way up to a portion of the sleeping chambers and complete your tour in the basement getting a glance at the multiple kitchens.  The home is spectacular and every room is a reminder of the power of money and in-turn, the power of the Vanderbilt family in the latter half of the 19th century.  Pure capitalism at its finest.

As we were soaking in the sights, my mother became annoyed at the fact that home is not public domain, but instead,  remains the property of the Vanderbilt family.  The revenue from the tours is largely devoted to restoration of the family home and heirlooms.  My mother explained that the Vanderbilt’s were still nothing more than robberbarons to this day.  I reminded her that nobody twisted her arm to visit the elegant domain, and truly, were they “raping” the public, or had they simply hit on genius?  Seriously, think about it, the most expensive house in America to maintain, still has to be maintained, and the heirlooms have to be preserved, so how does a family do this in a world where wealth is not so divided as it was in the 1890’s?  The answer is brilliance, charge people a ridiculous fee to come and visit only a portion of the mansion and then use the funds to meticulously restore and preserve the home, which remains in the name of the Vanderbilt family.  Not only do they enjoy the profits from the ticket sales, but maintain the insurmountable wealth of the family.   Go for it, if people are willing to pay the piper to get a glimpse of “How the Other Half Lives” in reverse,  more power to them.  This being said, the story should not end here.

The home was spectacular, but in  my opinion, the Vanderbilt’s owe America a bit more than a tour.  There was little to no discussion of the history behind the home.  Aside from the fact that George Washington Vanderbilt built the mansion with the wealth earned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, there was no discussion whatsoever about how Cornelius made that fortune.  There was no mention of the disparities between rich and poor.  There was not a word on the industry or industrial workers who made the fortune that built America’s greatest castle.  Why?  Because the history is reality of the downside of such glorious wealth, it is the story of the workers who were slighted so that one family could prosper and indulge beyond words.  The home today is a celebration of that wealth.  Unfortunately, the family is showing as much concern in 2010 for the disgusting violation of workers rights and crude business practices as they did when their family was building their fortune.    Unlike Carnegie and the other “Roberbarons”, Cornelius Vanderbilt was not known for his philanthropy.  Nothing comes without a price and the term “robberbaron” was certainly earned.  Indeed,  cutthroat means of wealth building were a sign of the times during the turn-of-the 19th Century, but they most certainly were not during the turn-of-the 20th Century.  The Vanderbilt’s owe at minimum, acknowledgment of their family’s role and contribution to the labor and social issues that forced children into the factories, and made tenement life a reality for huge populations of mostly immigrant families in America during the late 19th Century and early into the 20th Century.  They have every right to celebrate the home and their fortune, but have the decency to at some point, at least acknowledge that the home would never have existed had it not been for back-breaking labor of the meaner sort.

Jamestown – America’s Roots, Uprooting!!!

Jamestown

Jamestown, the English settlement that originated along the James River in present-day Virginia in 1607 has a great deal more history to tell.  Believed to have been eroded into the river centuries ago, the fort at Jamestown was revealed by archeologists in 1994.  The triangular shaped walls of the fort described in written accounts of those who occupied the colony so many years ago was the first discovery, one that many thought was only a coincidence, as the location was too close to the banks of the river and could not have possibly survived the years of erosion.  As the dig continued, the triangular shape and layout could no longer be denied, it was indeed the fort of the Jamestown Colony of 1607.

Since the discovery, historians and archeologists have been uncovering the details of the colony.  Near-by the dig-site are the reconstructed ships and fort of the Jamestown colony.  Today, as they uncover artifacts and structures, the written accounts become reality.  When they find that the reconstructed colony does not match the dig site, maybe a building is in the wrong location, they move and adjust the reconstructed site.  Currently, they are in the midst of constructing a reproduction of the governor’s quarters, a large, two-story structure located next door to the church.  During excavation, they unearthed high quality china, decorative buttons, and other artifacts that lend to the probability that the structure was occupied by someone of higher social status.  The written accounts left behind by the colonists gave historians a good idea of the design and lay-out of the fort, but finding the actual remnants leave little room for debate on where and how the colonists lived.

The reconstructed Jamestown colony and Native American village provide opportunity for hands-on history like no other.  Visitors young and old are allowed onto the recreated ships and throughout the village and fort.  Unlike most museums, touching is not only allowed but highly encouraged.  Kids can try on armor, haul some water, lie down on beds, and walk around in clothes similar to those that the colonists wore.  All they ask at Jamestown is that “you put your toys back where you got them”.  The experience is absolutely invaluable as kids not only get to see up-close how a musket is fired, but can touch just about anything they might question throughout the facility.  The learning experience is one that not only stimulates all of the senses, but allows kids to learn though their own discovery.  An absolutely outstanding learning experience is available to visitors of all ages.

The Powhatan people are descendents of the native inhabitants of what is now Virginia.  Native peoples to the area date back 2,000 years, equivalent to the early civilizations of Chaco Canyon in the Southwest.  With the arrival of the Europeans came changes for both the native peoples and Europeans.  The cultural differences brought about both increased trade and conflict.  The Europeans depended on the experience and knowledge of the natives and the Indians eventually became dependent upon European technology and guns.  Miscommunication and mistrust led to conflict while at the same time acculturation led to many peaceful unions between the Indians and the Europeans.  The infiltration of Europeans to native lands permanently altered both the physical and cultural landscape that the continent had known for centuries.

The Jamestown experience is not to be missed.  As more and more of the original colony is uncovered, historians and archeologists will have even more about 1607 to share with the world.  The experience is exciting and much like a mystery, unfolding at every turn.  Jamestown…..to be continued!!!

Mount Vernon – The Home and Retreat of Our First President

Mount Vernon

The most impressive 18th Century estate museum has got to be the home of our first president, George Washington.  Mount Vernon began as a rather modest home for a dignitary into one of grandeur by the time of Washington’s death.  His favorite place to be, Mount Vernon tells a great story of the Washington’s.  George and Martha were opened their home visitors from around the country and sometimes the world.  But running an army and then a nation took Washington away from his home far more than he would have liked.  During the eight years of his presidency, Washington only visited Mount Vernon a total of fifteen times.

Today, Mount Vernon looks much like it did when Washington entertained his guests (which was a lot, he complained that at times if felt as though his home was more like a hotel).  The estate was always owned by the Washington family and turned over for historical preservation in the 1800’s.  The exterior of the home was constructed of wood, but sand was mixed into the paint to give it an effect of stone.  Painting the home and all of the fourteen out-buildings on the estate was a continuous necessity and Washington had a storage building just for paint.  Stables, barns, a smokehouse, and a replicated “necessary room” are a few of the surrounding buildings that Washington had built to create a beautiful estate and one of the most impressive 18th Century homes in the country.

Washington was a private man who more than not found himself entertaining guests for sometimes months at a time.  He had additions added to the home as the family needs and desires changed.  His office and sleeping chambers were separated from the rest of the house and it was uncommon that anyone besides he and Martha were allowed into them.  Today, located in his office are both the desk and chair that he used in New York as president along with the trunk that accompanied him throughout his travels during the Revolutionary War.  Standing on the beautiful veranda and looking out over Mount Vernon, imaging the thoughts and decisions that must have crossed Washington’s mind becomes almost effortless.  The home tells a great deal about George Washington, not only as a president, but as a man.