Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Road to Providence

Magnet # 446:  Roger Williams National Memorial

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Boston, Massachusetts received yet another boatload of newcomers on this day in 1631 and among them was one man who would leave a permanent mark on the colonies - the minister Roger Williams.  He had traveled with his wife Mary from England.  And while he was initially met with enthusiasm by the locals, Williams' strong religious convictions and refusal to confirm soon prompted them to drive him out of their community.  Forced to take an arduous journey that might have killed others, Williams was able to survive and establish a settlement of his own in Rhode Island.  And to this day, Providence commemorates its founder and his dedication to religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

Roger Williams was born in 1603 to a merchant tailor in Smithfield, England who later disapproved of his some of son's religious fervor.  But he was undaunted and became a Puritan as he was studying at Cambridge.  Williams also took Holy Order in the Church of England, but he realized his religious views would prevent him from advancing very far in the Anglican Church, which he believed was corrupt.  So he and his wife decided to join the second wave of Puritans that sailed for the New World in 1630.  They came aboard the Lyon and were greeted by a group of settlers eager to have them lead them while their own reverend sailed for England to bring back his wife.  But Williams shocked them, declining the position on the grounds that the church was not separated from the local government and the magistrates punished religious infractions, such as blasphemy and idolatry.  He'd go on to stir up even more trouble, writing a tract that accused the King of illegally issuing charters to the New World and asserted that the Native Americans should be paid for their land.  He moved from Boston to the Plymouth colony but, unsatisfied there, later headed to Salem.  The authorities in Massachusetts weren't happy to have him back and brought him before the General Court in Boston when they learned of the tract he had written.  Williams narrowly avoided staying out of trouble and went on to become acting pastor of the Salem church, but he was unable to put his objections aside.  He went against his word and began speaking out against the charter again, as well as the new oath of allegiance that the colonial government was trying to enforce.  The Town of Salem stood behind him for a time, but when its delegates were shut out of the General Court and Williams called for the church to break free from other congregations, it could no longer back him.  In October of 1635, the General Court  banished Williams from Massachusetts.  However, as Winter was coming and Williams had taken ill, the local authorities did not immediately enforce the order, offering Williams temporary shelter so long as he stopped stirring up trouble.  But Williams was nothing if not a man who firmly stood behind his convictions, and he continued to voice his concerns.  Realizing he would soon be sent back to England, he decided to flee so that he could remain in the colonies.  Three days after he departed, the local sheriff came looking for him.  Williams' trek was not an easy one - he traversed 105 miles in deep snow, despite his illness - and it might have killed others.  Yet somehow he managed to survive the ordeal and the Wampanoag Indians, whom he had defended, took him in and saved his life.  His followers soon joined him and after learning that they land they planned to settle was part of the Plymouth colony, they crossed the Seekonk River and purchased land from the Narragansett Indians.  Williams named their settlement Providence, as he believed God's will had brought them there.  His religious tolerance and appeal to other dissidents attracted plenty more.  Williams and his followers were able to establish the first place modern history where government and religion were separated, and the example set an important precedent for the United States.  And even though neighboring colonies tried to take down what became known as Rhode Island, Williams and those who came after him didn't back down, and eventually it became the country's smallest state, but an impressive one nonetheless.

Though it's been quite some time since Roger Williams set foot in Providence, there are still traces of him there.  On top of the Rhode Island State House dome, there is a gold-covered bronze state known as the Independent Man that pays tribute to Williams' unique spirit.  And a brief walk away is the Roger Williams National Memorial, one of the smallest national parks in the nation. It's located on the site of the original Providence settlement, which is now surrounded by urban development.  The visitor center features a video that points out that no one really knows what Roger Williams looks like.  I thought that was pretty interesting.  And the park rangers there are some of the friendliest I've come across in my travels.  Stop by if you ever get a chance.  There's also many other places that celebrate his memory, like the Roger Williams Park and Roger Williams University, both of which are in Rhode Island.  The United States Episcopal Church also celebrates his feast day today.  So let's remember this man who refused to back down from what he believed to be right and stood up for other's rights and the great legacy he left behind on the anniversary of the day he first set foot on our shores.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chaos at the Capitol

Magnet # 445:  Old State Capitol, Frankfort Photo

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the day in 1900 when Kentucky governor William Goebel passed away after an assassin gunned him down days earlier.  He was shot on his way to the State Capitol Building.  Goebel was a somewhat shady politician who had been engaged in a bitter, fiercely close election to become governor of the state.  Tensions were running high between political parties and some wondered if another civil war wouldn't break out.  But Goebel's death was pretty much the worst of the fighting and when he passed, tensions still ran high but the threat of violence was over.  To this day, he remains the only United States state governor to have been assassinated while in office.

William Goebel was born to a family of German immigrants in Pennsylvania in 1856 and was the first of their four children.  For the first five years, he only spoke German.  He went on to study law at the Cincinnati Law School and practiced in Kentucky.  Before long, he became known as a man who was not particularly friendly or sociable, almost never greeting anyone with a smile or handshake.  He also had a severe appearance that some even called reptilian and was not a very talented public speaker, relying more on force than appeal.  And he remains the only unmarried Kentucky governor. But what he lacked in charm and personality, Goebel made up for in intellect and ambition.  He was an avid reader with a keen intellect and even his many opponents were impressed.  Before long, he turned his attention toward politics, running for a seat in the Kentucky Senate.  The race was close, and Goebel won a narrow victory, running as a member of the Democrat Party.  He won two reelections, but his time in the Senate wasn't without controversy.  In 1895, despite his efforts to prevent it, Goebel ran into one of his enemies, a businessman he had referred to as "Gonorrhea John" in a newspaper article, on the street.  They then engaged in what many consider to be an impromptu duel after both showed he was armed.  The other man was struck in the head with a bullet and died of his injuries while his shot simply tore through Goebel's clothes.  He was acquitted after he plead self-defense, but the shooting would follow mar the rest of his political career.  Four years later, Goebel decided to run for governor of the state. Both the fight to receive his party's nomination and the election itself proved to be brutal, but Goebel was up to the task, even if it meant lying and breaking alliances.  The results were very close once again, and Goebel's opponent was declared victorious until the decision was overturned by the General Assembly.  Accusations of dirty politics were being hurled by both parties, Republicans around the state were incensed, and the state seemed dangerously close to breaking out in civil war.  Goebel was warned that, with tensions running as high as they were, an attempt might be made on his life, but he nonetheless traveled to what has become the Old State Capitol on the morning of January 30, 1900.  He was escorted by two bodyguards but they couldn't prevent shots from being fired.  This time, Goebel found himself on the receiving end of a mortal wound.  He held on for days, and was sworn in as governor the next day, but finally passed on February 3.  His lieutenant governor succeeded him and people across the state began to calm down, as many preferred him to Goebel.  His Republican opponent, fearful of being charged in Goebel's death, fled to Indiana, where he was harbored by their governor and was never even questioned about his role in the assassination.  A handful of people were indicted for the crime, and while three went to trial, authorities were never able to determine just who fired the shots that brought down Goebel.  It remains a mystery even now, and it's believed that individual will never be known.

Kentucky certainly hasn't forgotten its fallen leader.  Even though the building he was heading to on that fateful day was no longer the State Capitol a mere decade after Goebel's death, it has become the Old State Capitol and is a museum and home to the Kentucky Historical Society.  A plaque had been installed on the grounds to mark where the politician fell.  And nearby, an imposing statue of the man himself looks down narrowly at pedestrians.  Also, just down the street at the Kentucky Historical Society, the suit coat that Gobel was wearing is on display.  It's protected by glass casing, but they have a button for visitors to push that will illuminate the bullet hole.  I saw it for myself and it was pretty interesting.  At that time, I hadn't heard the full story about Gobel and it's certainly been fascinating finding out more about the man and his times.  He may have had the shortest time in office of any Kentucky governor, but the Bluegrass State will never forget William Goebel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

All That Glitters

Magnet # 444:  Map of California

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Mom

Life looked bright indeed for California on this day in 1849 when gold was discovered there at Sutter's Mill.  News of the find eventually brought in over 300,000 prospectors from all of the world.  Most of them came from the United States, but plenty were from Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Australia.  They faced great difficulties in their searches, however - one in every twelve of the Forty Niners, as they came to be known, perished.  A few were able to strike it rich, but most often, the merchants made out better than the miners, many of whom saw modest returns for their troubles.  As time passed, the miners' profits dwindled substantially and those who made it there toward the end of the rush often ended up losing most of their funds.  Those who made it home usually had little more than they had left with.  But the boom was huge for California.  At the beginning, the area was mostly undeveloped wilderness but the population surge helped San Francisco increase its size 300 times over, improve travel conditions to the West Coast, and gain California statehood.

It was James W. Marshall who noticed the first specks of gold.  Born in New Jersey, he had made his way further and further West until he finally moved from Missouri to California.  There, he met John Sutter, the founder of Sutter's Fort, an agricultural settlement.  He employed Marshall for a time before the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846 and Marshall left to join the fight.  After the action came to an end, the two formed a partnership to construct a sawmill.  Marshall oversaw the project and when it was determined that the tailrace was not powerful enough to carry the water away from the water wheel, he decided to begin a project to increase the size of the tailrace.  One morning, he was having a look at the results and realized that there were a few shiny spots among the runoff.  He picked them up to have a closer look and when he tested them by flattening them with rocks, but was unable to break them apart, he realized they might be gold.  He shared his findings with his workers and they tested the material to prove it was indeed gold.  At that point, his main concern was operating the sawmill, but he allowed the men to look for gold on their own time.  He also brought some samples to show Sutter, who was able to identify them as very high quality gold, at least 23 carats.  For a time, no one believed that the discovery was real, even though San Francisco newspapers were reporting on it.  But when a shopkeeper from Sutter's Creek began showing off his findings in the town, people changed their minds.  Soon, eager fortune hunters were flooding into the area.  The gold rush proved to be disastrous for both Marshall and Sutter.  Their workers abandoned them to prospect and their land was overrun in the search.  They were unable to run the mill in the chaos the gold rush created.  In an effort to keep his land, Sutter deeded his land to his son, but he was unwilling to go along with his father's plans for it.  He eventually received a small pension from the government for the land and moved with his remaining family to Pennsylvania.  He passed away in Washington D.C. 1880 with very little to his name.  For a time, Marshall fared better, opening a vineyard but increased competition and taxes drove that enterprise under.  He also developed a dependence on alcohol and after a gold mine he had invested in failed, the state awarded him a pension for his role in developing it.  But when they stopped giving him funds, he ended up living in poverty, living in a tiny cabin and planting a garden just to survive.  He passed away in 1885 and five years later, a monument of Marshall himself was placed over his grave site.  It features him pointing to where he made the fateful discovery all those years ago.  It's funny, many might think that finding gold on your land would be great, but in this case, they'd be wrong.

Perhaps no party benefited more from the gold discovery than California itself, which is known as the Golden State.  To this day, it has maintained a reputation of being a place where one can strike it rich and reinvent their life.  Its motto is "Eureka," or "I have found it," and its seal features images from the Gold Rush.  Best of all, the experts believe there is still plenty more of the precious metal to be found in California and there are a good deal of sites where modern day treasure hunters can try their luck.  So go west if you're in the mood to hit the jackpot and give it a try.  The heydays of the California Gold Rush may be behind us, but the possibility to come upon the mother lode still exists out there.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Against All Odds

Magnet # 443:  Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Aerial Photo

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

Few lighthouses can produce such a fearsome image as Oregon's Tillamook Rock Light.  This one actually stands atop a gigantic rock over a mile out from shore and building it was an enormous challenge that wasn't without loss of life.  But it was clear that simply placing the structure on the Pacific Coast at Tillamook Head wasn't going to work - its light would have been obscured by fog there.  So an arduous undertaking was made to construct on the rock and over 500 days went into the task.  At the time of its completion in 1881, Tillamook Rock Light, or "Terrible Tilly" as it's known by keepers and locals, was the most expensive West Coast lighthouse ever built at $125,000.

Congress first appropriated $50,000 for the construction of a lighthouse at Tillamook Head in 1878, but when that area was found to be unsuitable, a survey was made the following year on Tillamook Rock.  It was determined that access to the rock was very difficult, even impossible at times, but the government was undeterred.  For the third survey, John Trewavas, who had assisted in the construction of the Wolf Rock Lighthouse in Cornwall, England, which was similarly perched on a similarly treacherous rock, was brought in.  Even with his experience, Tillamook Rock proved to be too dangerous - while he was attempting to land there, a large wave swept him into the sea.  And though his assistant jumped in after him, his body was never recovered.  The public began to demand the project be abandoned, but Charles A. Ballantyne was brought in to oversee it.  After failing to find any locals willing to work with him, he was forced to bring in a group of quarrymen who had never heard of the Trewavas tragedy.  Ballantyne kept them as far from the locals as possible, hoping they would remain unaware of what had previously occurred at Terrible Tilly.  It wasn't long, however, that they got a taste of the site's horrors for themselves.  In January of 1880, a storm rolled in and the waves began to crash above the surface of the rock.  They claimed most of the men's tools, food, and work spaces, and they were forced to stay in their shelter and huddle together to survive.  Sixteen days later, help arrived and they received the supplies they so desperately needed.   Even after this crisis, work continued and in May, the top of the rock had been leveled enough to make it  possible to begin the lighthouse itself.  All of the materials used to construct it had to be brought in by boat and dragged up the cliffs, so that was a rather difficult task itself.  But the truly awful incidents were over at the rock and on this day in in 1881, the Tillamook Rock Light shone across the waters for the first time ever.  What many had considered impossible was now a reality and the reputation of the lighthouse spread across the nation.  Trewavas was the only death to occur with the structure's creation.

Although it may have had a lighthouse built upon it, Terrible Tilly was by no means tamed.  The team of four keepers assigned to it were forced to be isolated from civilization, live in cramped accommodations, and be exposed to some of the harshest weather conditions imaginable.  When a phone line was installed to connect them with the outside world, it didn't last long until a storm cut it loose.  And with the structure constantly taking a beating from the fierce nearby waters, repairs to it became almost a constant undertaking.  Life there took a toll on workers both physically and mentally.  Feuds arose, and some refused to speak to one another, opting instead to pass notes.  There was even a rumor that one of the men had tried to kill his superior by putting ground glass in his food.  In its first two years alone, it went through four head keepers.  But work there continued on, even after the Fresnel lens was destroyed in one of the worst storms ever in 1934.  All in all, Terrible Tilly was used for 77 years before being deactivated in 1957, when it had become the most expensive lighthouse to operate in the nation.  Two years later, it was sold to Las Vegas investors who just sold it off themselves.  In the 1980s, it was converted into the Eternity at Sea Columbarium, where people could pay thousands of dollars to have their ashes interred.  However, only about 30 urns were placed there before its new owners lost their license.  The fate of the structure remains to be seen.  But this is one site that is nearly impossible to reach - it's only accessible by helicopter, and is off-limits when seabirds are nesting.  So if you want to check it out, having a look at Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, or a boat on the water may be your best option.  But I have a feeling it's not yet over for this storied lighthouse, whose very existence defies the elements. With all of the lives, effort, and time that has gone into creating and maintaining the Tillamook Rock Light, it almost has an obligation to be around for a very long time, defiant of the fearsome waters that surround it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Cheesier, the Better

Magnet # 442:  A Cheesy Vermont Magnet

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

Yes, there are some events that are worth mentioning on here pretty much every year and Cheese Day is easily one of them.  It's coming up tomorrow, so here's your chance to stock up on some of your favorite varieties.  I know my love of this particular dairy item is well documented on this blog, so it's a safe bet I will be celebrating the occasion.  I'm just not sure yet which cheeses I'll be having.  In the past few months I've been craving a selection of them, like on a platter, so maybe I'll put one together for the special day.  Of course, that could be expensive and leave me with plenty of leftovers, so I'm not sure if that's a great idea.  I wonder if there are any places around that can sell me a decent pre-made cheese platter.  But given my aversion of blue cheeses and Swiss, it might be tough for me to find one that would work.  Well, I'm sure I'll figure out something in time for the celebration!

I just couldn't resist picking up this cute magnet when I was shopping at Morse Farm in Vermont last year.  In case you haven't noticed, the cheese is in the shape of the state - nice touch.  Given the Green Mountain State's interest in producing so much of its own food and drinks as well as its abundance of dairy cows, it has some of the nicest artisanal cheeses in the nation.  In fact, it has over forty cheese manufacturers, and even offers a Vermont Cheese Trail.  I imagine some of the most diehard dairy lovers must try to hit every stop on the route.  And while I didn't have the opportunity to travel it myself during my stay there, I did at least order a cheese plate as an appetizer when I dined at Montpelier's Main Street Grill and Bar.  They were kind enough to substitute another cheese for the blue cheese that came with the plate.  All of the varieties were very fresh and I enjoyed every one.  They had a nice selection of both hard and soft cheeses and the bread that accompanied them was also delicious and very fresh.  That appetizer may have been the highlight of my meal.  I also sampled some cheeses at a few other stops I made in Vermont, and they were delicious, too.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to drop by any of the locations on the Vermont Cheese Trail, not even the Cabot Creamery Cooperative, which was just off my route, but I didn't realize I was passing by it at the time.  This company ships their cheeses all over the nation, so it would have been fun to check out their Visitors Center in Cabot, Vermont.  There, tourists can see how their offerings are produced and sample the many variations of their award-winning "World's Best Cheddar."  Personally, I'd be curious to try their Seriously Sharp variety, which is aged for ten months - for comparion, their mild only ages two to three months.  It might be more than I can handle, but I'd still like to give it a shot.  If I ever make it back to the area, I'll have to put this attraction on my itenerary.

While Vermont may be a great destination for cheese lovers, it's hardly the only one.  Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production and is known for its cheddar, and New York and California also produce a good deal.  And, of course, there are plenty of nations around the world that are known for their gourmet cheeses.  France has over 1,000 different varieties of cheese, 56 of which are classified, regulated, and protected by their laws.  And in nearby England, cheese is also a big deal - let's not forget that Cheddar was the birthplace of one of the most beloved types of all.  And plenty of other European nations, like Italy, Switzerland, and Spain, are fantastic places to try out cheese.  But some parts of the world are sadly lacking in the dairy delight, like Eastern Asia, where it's almost never included in any dishes.  It's believed to be partially due to the fact that many of the natives there are lactose intolerant, but I'd sure like to see how nations like China, Japan, and Thailand would handle cheese.  And even if you can't hit the road this Cheese Day, try stopping by your local store to see what cheeses they have to offer from around the country and the globe.  Whether you indulge in an old favorite or try out a brand new variety, this is a great time to unwrap a slice or block and ascend into dairy heaven!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Marble Maiden

Magnet # 441:  Marble House Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

When most women turn thirty-nine, they're probably impressed if their husbands buy them some expensive jewelry or perfume, and I guess some are lucky if they get any present at all.  But, let's face it, the Vanderbilts aren't most women.  So when Alva Vanderbilt reached that particular age on this day in 1892, she received perhaps the gift of the century from her husband, railroad magnate William Kissam Vanderbilt.  He presented her with Marble House, the most opulent mansion on Newport, Rhode Island's Bellevue Avenue.  It reportedly cost him $11 million dollars to create the residence, of which over half went to paying for the marble alone.  I'm not sure if he could find a ribbon large enough to wrap around it, though.

The Gilded Age high society certainly produced some colorful characters, but I'm not sure if any were a match for the woman who finished life as Alva Erksine Belmont.  She was born Alva Smith on this day in 1853 to a moderately wealthy merchant family in Mobile, Alabama.  She was the youngest in her family, and by the time she was born, all but one of her siblings had died.  As she grew up, Alva spent some of her summers in Newport, Rhode Island, a place that would become very important to her as an adult, and was educated at a private boarding school in Paris.  Her family eventually moved to New York City, where her lifelong friend introduced her to William Kissam Vanderbilt, one of the heirs of the Vanderbilt empire.  They wed in 1875 and Alva set out to improve the status of the Vanderbilt family, elevating it higher than it had ever previously reached.  She commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design a palatial home for them on Fifth Avenue using the French Renaissance style and threw a masquerade ball that supposedly cost three million dollars in honor of its completion.  Not only did the event mark the Vanderbilt's official acceptance into high society, it also set the standards of elite parties to a new, far more extravagant level.  Hunt also designed two more homes for the couple, their retreat on Long Island and, of course, Marble House.  They had three children together, and their single daughter, Consuelo, may have received the most attention from their mother.  Alva was hard on her, forcing her to wear a steel rod to improve her posture and even using a riding crop to whip her.  But with years of plotting, she was able to make her daughter a duchess, marrying her off to a British royal and cousin of Winston Churchill who had fallen on hard times.  Their marriage didn't last and neither did Alva's.  In 1895, she decided to divorce her husband, citing adultery as the cause, to set an example that other women could follow.  In those times, no women who had risen in society so far as she had would dare end her marriage.  Her actions may have shocked her circle, but Alva would not remain single.  Less than a year later, she wed Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, a divorcee who had been a bachelor for quite some time and owned a mansion just down the street from Marble House.  Later in life, Alva became devoted to the cause of women's suffrage, paying the bail of picketers who were arrested, hosting fundraising events at her home, and ascending to president of the National Women's Party.  She also became much closer to Consuleo, patching up what had once been a rocky relationship.  In 1932, she was partially paralyzed after a stroke and she passed away the next year.  Her funeral featured only female pallbearers and many suffragists were in attendance.  Alva was buried beside her second husband in a mausoleum designed by - who else - Richard Morris Hunt that is a replica of France's Chapel of St. Hubert.  Even in death, she retains a sense of the opulence that defined so much of her life.

Alva Vanderbilt may be gone, but her legend lives on at Marble House, which is generally considered to be the most opulent mansion on Newport's Bellevue Avenue, home to some of the country's grandest Gilded Age residences.  In fact, its construction there helped transform the area from a quiet, humble summer retreat to a gathering place for the cream of society.  I toured it last year during my visit to New England and I must say, I was blown away by its magnificence.  Its Gold Room is a ballroom that's actually covered in gold and walking into it is almost overwhelming.  And, as its name implies, there is marble everywhere, in all sorts of colors.  Alva was one of the first socialites to design rooms around historical and cultural themes, and Marble House has features such as a Gothic Room, a Rococo Library, a Louis XVI bedroom, and a separate Chinese teahouse.  Some may say it's a little much and is perhaps even be over the top, but this is one place that's worth seeing in person.  It's so rare that such an incredible home as Marble House can be constructed and later opened to the public, and it's worth having a glimpse of what millions of dollars and the best designers in the world can create.  It's a taste of what it might have been like to live the life Alva Vanderbilt with its many difficulties, scandals, and triumphs.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Latter Day Spartan

Magnet # 440:  Walnut Grove Plantation

Material:  Vinyl

Purchased By:  Me

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the Battle of Cowpens, when American forces won a decisive victory against the British during the Southern campaign of the American Revolution.  The troops fought in South Carolina, and the American triumph helped pave the way for the colony's freedom, as it was under British control.  The Battle of Cowpens also produced one particularly interesting hero, Kate Morgan Barry.  She was born in 1752, the eldest of Charles and Mary Moore's ten children.  They were immigrants from Northern Ireland who had landed in Maine and traveled all the way down to Spartanburg, South Carolina by horse and carriage.  There, they established a home, cashing in land grands worth about 3,000 acres that had been issued to them by King George III.  It came to be known as Walnut Grove Plantation after the trees that Kate planted there.  Charles Moore worked as a schoolteacher and by the time she was fifteen, Kate was married off to Andrew Barry, who would later serve as and officer in the American Army and one of the first elders of the Nazareth Presbyterian Church.  A dedicated Patriot, she volunteered her services to the American side when war broke out, working as a scout, a spy, and even chasing some British loyalists off of her property.  But in 1781, when it was clear that the General Daniel Morgan's forces would stand up against the British troops who had been in pursuit of them at Cowpens, Barry truly proved her mettle.  Legend has it she tied her newborn child to a bedpost to keep it safe as she mounted her horse and rode out into the night from home to home to warn the locals that the British were on their way, in a flight not unlike that of Paul Reevere's.  Thanks in part to her efforts, a superior force was assembled to take on the British, and when the Americans won, Barry went on to be known as the Heroine of Cowpens.  Still, the attention that her fearlessness brought her wasn't all positive.  The Tories later caught her and tried to force her to surrender her husband's whereabouts by whipping her, but she refused to give him up.  And in the fall of 1781, she narrowly escaped when some British soldiers came looking for trouble at Walnut Grove.  Their leader, "Bloody" Bill Cunningham was still able to kill three other Patriots there, including John Steadman, an officer who showed promise, but was confined to a sickbed there.  Those times certainly weren't easy on Barry or those around her, but she lived to see the birth of the nation she had done her part to create, finally passing away in 1823.  Her remains were buried beside those of her husband in the family cemetery in Moore, South Carolina.

Kate Moore Barry's former home in Spartanburg has been well preserved over the years and has been open to the public since 1967.  I stopped by Walnut Grove Plantation on my way home from my trip to West Virginia and Kentucky last year.  It's just a few minutes off Interstate 26 and is worth the detour.  Unfortunately, I didn't arrive in time for a tour, and sticking around to take one would have taken too long, but they were nice enough to let me wander around the grounds.  The two-story home the Moores once lived in has been kept in very nice condition and while it's not the most impressive plantation house I've ever seen, it's still very attractive.  And Charles Moore's original school house is still standing there, along with a few other outbuildings.  I also asked the employee at the gift shop if they had any ghost activity there, and he said not really.  But I've since read that some have claimed to spot a young lady wearing a cape walking the grounds, and think it might be the spirit of Kate Barry.  And for many years, some dark stains on the floor in the bedroom where John Steadman perished were said to be his bloodstains, but modern technology has proven that whatever material caused it isn't from a human.  Regardless, this is one place that has seen a great deal of history, and still stands as a testament to the great family that established it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

To the Slopes

Magnet # 439:  West Virginia Skiers

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

Get ready to hit the slopes, even if you never have before, because tomorrow is Learn to Ski Day!  And I'm not sure if it couldn't have come at a better time this year.  We've had yet another cold surge and many areas that never see snow are covered in it.  In fact, I read a couple of days ago that there was snow present in 49 out of the 50 states.  And the only state to have eluded it?  No, it's not Hawaii, as I would have guessed - its actually Florida, which is pretty chilly as well.  So this is a pretty good opportunity for many people to engage in some Winter sports that they usually couldn't try out locally.  And even though it's not all that easy to dabble in, some might even be able to give skiing a chance.

Humans have been skiing for thousands of years and it's believed that the ancestors of the Norse and Swedish people of northern Europe may have first developed the activity.  Carvings made as far back as 5000 B.C. portraying  a skier with one pole have been discovered in Norway, and the earliest pair of skis ever found may have been created as early as 4500 B.C.  Legends tell of early ski races and two Norse deities are said to have hunted on skis.  The current era of skiing didn't really start until the mid 1800s, when the "father of modern skiing," Sondre Norheim invented the first stiff bindings by tying wet birch roots around his boots.  These were more secure than leather straps and gave skiers the ability to try more complicated maneuvers.  Around that time, woodcarvers in the Telemark region were creating lighter and thinner skis.  Thanks to both of these innovations, new techniques in stopping and turning were developed, and the sport became even more popular.  By the early 1900s, the sport was becoming even more widespread and its inclusion in the first Winter Olympic Games only increased its awareness worldwide and nations like Japan gave the sport a try.  And with the introduction of ski lifts, the numbers of skiers grew so much that resorts sprang up across the globe.  What was once a sport limited to a very small portion of the world has now become a global sensation, familiar to nearly all sports enthusiasts.

I've gotta be honest, I've never tried skiing once in my life.  Given my distaste of snow and my aversion to sports, it's not exactly a good fit for me.  But my parents used to have some fun getting out on the slopes before I was ever born.  That was when they lived in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  And even though their neck of the woods wasn't an ideal spot for skiing, as it lacked the mountains that make places like West Virginia and Vermont great venues for the sport, there was a nearby hill they were able to use.  But it wasn't exactly known for its impressive facilities.  Instead of heading up to the top on a chair lift or even a T-bar, they used a tow rope that was powered by an old truck engine.  It wasn't easy to hold onto and skiers often lost their grip on it.  When they did, they had to move aside quickly or the next person would crash into them and a pile up might occur.  Nonetheless, they still had lots of fun there, and considering it was free, it was definitely within their budget.  They mainly kept to the bunny slopes, though.  And a few years later, they realized that they could either invest in skiing or traveling, so they opted to travel and give up the sport.  I wonder how my life might have been different if they had chosen skiing instead, and I'm not sure if we could have kept up the sport living in the usually warm Southeastern climate.  I suppose I could try out skiing for myself someday, but I'm not sure if that will ever happen - I can just imagine being outshone by elementary kids on the bunny slopes.  Still, in the spirit of Learn to Ski Day, it's worth at least considering trying out the sport.  After all, if it's lasted all of these centuries it can't be all bad, right?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hello, Dali

Magnet # 438:  New Dali Grand Opening Photo

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

Once again, posting a magnet up here is a bit easier than usual, as this one is dated.  And unlike some other dated magnets, I'm actually using this one on the exact date that's printed on it.  I must admit, I'm pretty proud of myself for pulling that off.  So, yes, the new Salvador Dali Museum opens today in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The festivities will begin with a parade that runs the route from the old Dali Museum to its current location, a mere eight blocks north at One Dali Boulevard.  And at 11:11 in the morning, there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Dali, with Spanish royalty in attendance.  While these events and other outdoor festivities will be open to the general public, they won't be able to enter the updated facilities until tomorrow.  Today's grand opening event is open to a limited crowd who've already bought their time stamped tickets.  However, members of the museum's elite groups have already had the opportunity to check out the new building.  On Sunday, it hosted a special event that included entertainment, family activities, crafts, and a talk given by actress Susan Sarandon.  And for anyone missing out on the current events, there's plenty more going on through the rest of the month.  The Florida Orchestra will be on hand from the fourteenth through the sixteenth to serenade visitors and family-oriented events will likewise be held.  Also, there's one particularly impressive party that will be held on January 22, Los Suenos de Dali.  This evening affair will feature attendees in surrealistic attire, unusual entertainers, and a variety of gourmet foods and alcohol, with tickets available for 111 dollars.  I suppose that's inspired by today's grand opening date.

I've mentioned on here before that the St. Petersburg Dali Museum primarily consists of the collection of the Morses, an American couple who became intrigued with the artist's work, so much so that they became longtime friends, companions, and patrons of his.  For decades, they stored all of his work that they'd obtained at their home in Cleveland, Ohio until they relocated the collection at a smaller museum in nearby Beachwood.  But even that didn't work and the couple began a national search to find the right home for their art.  And St. Petersburg won out with its eager community and their offer to present the collection in a converted marine warehouse.  It opened on March 10 of 1982 and featured the largest collection of Dali art outside of Europe.  I visited the museum last year with a couple of friends and I have to say, I was a little underwhelmed by its exterior.  For an artist as off the wall as Dali, it was surprisingly dull and could have even served as an office building.  The only hint I noticed to suggest the artist was his signature in letters along a wall.  So when I learned that they were getting new digs and actually saw them on this magnet, I was pleased.  An innovator like Dali almost demands a space that's as unusual as the work he left behind.  He certainly has one in his home town of Figueres, in the Catalonia region of Spain - it's a red structure that almost resembles a castle or a fort covered with details and it's lined with eggs on the rooftop.  It's been around since 1974 and Dali himself is actually buried in its crypt, although it's not certain that was actually his wish.  But now, the people of St. Petersburg have a structure which is twice the size of its predecessor and should really measure up against that of Figueres.  I'm looking forward to experiencing it firsthand sometime.  When I was at the former location, they were offering admission to today's event with a donation.  And while I didn't take them up on it, as I knew it was unlikely I could make it down there, I'm glad I could support them with this magnet.  Here's to the folks behind the Salvador Dali Museum and their bold move to a bigger, better location - the man himself would be proud!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Strong Constitution

Magnet # 436:  Map of Connecticut

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

Connecticut joined the Union on this day in 1788, making it the fifth state.  Europeans had been in the area as early as 1614, when Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sailed up the Connecticut River, making it as far as the present day sit of Hartford.  He claimed the land as part of the New Netherlands territory, but the Dutch wouldn't build a settlement there for almost twenty years.  That was when they established a small fort dubbed the "House of Hope" where Hartford would one day stand.  However, it wasn't a permanent settlement and the British continually encroached on it until they finally able to drive the Dutch out with the 1650 Treaty of Hartford.  The first British to arrive in the territory came from nearby Massachusetts, and they created the first three permanent settlements there - Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford.  In 1636, the three towns united to form the Connecticut Colony.  New Haven actually developed as a separate Puritan colony two years later.  The Connecticut Colony made history by forming the Fundamental Orders, a system of government that allowed the voters to elect government officials, and are often regarded to be the first written constitution.  It wasn't long before the Connecticut and New Haven colonies united, despite some misgivings from the latter.  Between then and the onset of the American Revolution, Connecticut had a couple of interesting moments.  One occurred in 1686, when Sir Edmund Andros, who had been commissioned Royal Governor of the Dominion of New England, attempted to take the charter which had served as the colony's constitution.  But it was smuggled away and legend holds it was hidden in the historic Charter Oak in Hartford.  And another was brought on when Connecticut laid claim to pretty much all of the lands between it and the Pacific.  This didn't go over very well and even led to open warfare with Pennsylvania before the matter could be resolved.  Later, on June 14 of 1776, Connecticut passed a resolution in favor of gaining independence from Britain, paving the way for it to join in the American Revolution and eventually gain statehood.  In the days since then, it's gone on to become one of the most prosperous states in the Union.

I've been to Connecticut twice in my life.  I admit, my first trip through the state didn't make much of an impression on me - I went through it with my family when we were on the way to Maine.  If we made any significant stops, I don't remember them.  So when I traveled there to visit my friend Catherine last year, I wanted to really get a feel for the place.  I must say, Connecticut has some of the nicest homes I saw in all of New England.  In fact, it boasts the second largest amount of multi-million dollar homes in the nation, coming in only after California.  Not only were they impressive, they were also very charming, even picturesque.  The state also had a very small town feeling, with more locally owned businesses than major chains, at least where Catherine lives and in Mystic, which is about an hour away. I was also really appreciative of the fact that I wasn't behind the wheel, so I could better take in the scenic views.  I really did find Connecticut to be a lovely place.  And I enjoyed the food there, too.  We ate at a few local establishments, one that served seafood and two breakfast places, and all of the meals were very good.  The one kind of food I wanted to try, but didn't get the chance, was pizza.  Connecticut is known for having some of the best pizza in the nation.  Of course, there's Mystic Pizza, made famous by a movie named after it, but other parts of the state, particularly New Haven, are known for their delicious offerings.  New Haven's Wooster Square neighborhood is home to the Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally's Apizza, which were opened by members of the same family and both feature thin-crust pies baked in coal-fired brick ovens.  They're two of the oldest and best known pizzerias in the country and customers will wait for hours in line to get a taste of their incredible creations.  I'd certainly like a chance to try out at least one of these establishments.  I think I'll probably get a chance sometime, because I plan on making my way to the Constitution State again.  Not only is it a great place to visit, it's an excuse to meet up with Catherine again.  And while my second trip to the state made a much firmer impression on me, I realize that there's plenty more in Connecticut that I have yet to experience.