Saturday, July 31, 2010

On To a Higher State

Magnet # 306: Colorado Landscape

Material: Metal

Purchased By: Dad

Tomorrow, the state of Colorado marks the anniversary of its joining the Union on August 1, 1876. Considering that it gained its statehood exactly 100 years after the United States was created, it has come to be known as the Centennial State.

The first Europeans to make it to what would become Colorado were Spaniards in search of gold in the 1600's. They found nothing and established a settlement that would later fail. The French were the next to venture there, claiming areas east of Spanish claims. The United States was later able to obtain their holdings with the Louisiana Purchase. Zebulon Pike explored the area for the country and Pike's Peak was named in his honor, but he ran into trouble with the nearby Spanish and was taken by them all the way to Mexico before being released. When Mexico was able to win its independence from Spain, it took over that nation's holdings , only to loose it to the United States after the Mexican War. Even then, few came to the area until gold was discovered there in 1849. Before long, there was a full-scale gold rush in Pike's Peak. In 1861, the Territory of Colorado was established - it had been previously proposed as the Jefferson Territory, but that never came to be, as it ignored Indian claims in the area. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the territory's first bid for statehood, but his successor, Ulysses Grant was able to force statehood through a less enthusiastic Congress, making Colorado the 38th state.

I have set foot in the state of Colorado - literally. Yep, when my family was vacationing in Santa Fe, we drove north through the state of New Mexico all the way up past the border so I could hop out, set foot, and say I'd been to Colorado. It was the middle of nowhere, with just dirt and desert. Obviously, I wouldn't mind seeing more of the Centennial State, and there is certainly plenty to see. Once place I have wanted to see for quite some time which Colorado is a part of is the Four Corners. It's where the state converges with New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah and it's the largest meeting point of any states in the nation. When you're there, it's possible to arrange your body to be in four states at the same time - pretty cool. Plus, it's a pretty touristy place, so I might even be able to find magnets from all four states there, which would obviously make me pretty happy. Beyond that, this state is filled with all sorts of stunning outdoor venues. In the southern part, there's Mesa Verde National Park, where the Anasazi built intricate cliff dwellings about 700 years ago. They are some of the best preserved homes that the ancient cultures who once lived in the United States have left behind and they're supposed to be very impressive. Conveniently enough, it's located near the Four Corners. It's also close to Telluride, a city that dates back to the late 1800s and was once a boomtown for gold and silver miners. It was the first place Butch Cassidy was known to have robbed, but it later fell into decline. Luckily, it has been restored and is now home to a picturesque small town resort with snow-capped mountains in the distance. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, which contains the tallest sand dunes on the continent, is also in the southern region. It contains a very wide variety of habitats, including tundra, grasslands, and wetlands. To the north, there's Glenwood Springs Hot Pool, the world's largest hot mineral pool. It's longer than three city blocks and is around 90 degrees all year, allowing its visitors a relaxing experience. And the northern part of the state is also home to perhaps its most beloved natural venue - the Rocky Mountain National Park. This area consists of sixty stunning peaks and has the highest average elevation of all of the national parks. In addition, there are all sorts of lakes and creeks for visitors to enjoy. It's also close to Estes Park, where the Stanley Hotel that inspired Stephen King's The Shining is located. With so many stunning natural areas, it's easy to understand why Colorado has some of the most active residents of any state in the country. But if visitors would like to check out more urban settings, it can also accommodate them with cities like Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder, all of which have plenty of parks and outdoor areas as well. Colorado is a majestic state, filled with seemingly endless natural areas of mountains, plains, mesas, and canyons and one day, I'd like to check out the high life there for myself.

Friday, July 30, 2010

More Eats and Treats

Magnet # 305:  Hard Rock Cafe Baltimore Surfboard

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Me

Today marks the anniversary of the day in 1729 when the Town of Baltimore was founded in the Province of Maryland.  It was strategically located just off of Chesapeake Bay along the Patapsco River and the Inner Harbor that was later built at its port would become a very important shipping destination, with manufacturing springing up all around it.  During the War of 1812, it rose to prominence when forces at its Fort McHenry fought off a British naval attack.  It was while this battle played out that Francis Scott Key watched from aboard a British ship where he was trying to negotiate the release of an American prisoner.  Inspired by the sight of his country's flag, he later penned what would become the lyrics to our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."  After the Battle of Baltimore, as it came to be known, people came in droves to Baltimore, helping to transform it into a major shipping and manufacturing center.  Since then, it's had its ups and downs, but Baltimore is still hanging on, perhaps most notably with the restoration of its Inner Harbor, and it has the distinction of being the nation's largest independent city.

The Hard Rock Cafe in Baltimore is in a pretty unusual location - it's in a historic, converted power plant in the popular Inner Harbor.  The smokestacks are still on top of the building, and in front of them is a 68-foot red neon guitar. Yep, it's easy to spot from a distance.  While I didn't get a chance to eat there, I did have enough time to stop by and pick up this magnet, which is a little odd, given the location - I don't think they do much surfing at the Inner Harbor.  Other than the very nice breakfast buffet at my hotel, the only place I ate at in Baltimore was the Papermoon Diner, a rather unusual restaurant located near Johns Hopkins University.  I had learned of it while watching, of course, the Travel Channel, where it was featured on Diner Paradise.  Each eatery featured was pretty exceptional but, oddly enough, Papermoon appealed to me the most.  It just looked so interesting - it was covered with all sorts of toys all over its walls and ceilings and was painted in all sorts of bright colors.  Plus the food was also supposed to be pretty eclectic and that sounded neat, as well.  So when I ran across it in a travel guide and realized it was located in a stop during my Mid-Atlantic trip last year, I prioritized it as one of the three places I had to see.  The shuttle driver at my hotel had never heard of it before, but found it nonetheless.  And he wasn't able to pick me up for several hours, so I had plenty of time to check the restaurant out.  Before I even got in the door, I noticed a bathtub and sink outside with plants growing in them.  And the interior was incredible - there really was all sorts of stuff all over the place.  Bright colors were painted in stripes all over the walls and there were lots of mannequins covered with toys.  It wouldn't surprise me if there are a million toys in there - it was stunning to see them all.  I was lucky enough to get a table near the counter, so I was able to watch all of the activity.  There really was a mixed crowd there - art students, families, business sorts, and so on.  Even the menus were unusual - all of the covers appeared to be handmade, with no two the same and they had odd images on them.  I ended up ordering a bowtie pasta with salmon and capers, and it was delicious.  Plus, the staff was very nice to me, even if they were stuck with me for awhile.  I was not disappointed by the Papermoon Diner and I doubt you'd be, either, so if you're in Baltimore, give it a try!

I know I've mentioned on here how Baltimore was a little big and scary for my tastes and I'm not sure if I'd go back there again sometime or not.  But it is located just off I-95, so if I were to head up North again, it might make for a good place to stop by, especially if I can book the same hotel I had last time.  And I still would like to see Fort McHenry, which I missed on that trip.  So will I give Baltimore another shot someday?  I'm not sure one way or another, but I'm definitely not crossing it off my list just yet.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Terror in the Skies

Magnet # 304:  Empire State Building

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

I must admit, back when the Twin Towers were hit in 2001, I didn't realize it wasn't the first time a plane had struck a major skyscraper in New York City. I've since learned that on this day in 1945 a shocking event occurred when a B-25 Mitchell bomber hit the 78th floor of the Empire State Building, then the tallest building in the world. Of course that incident differed from the one at the World Trade Center in that it was an accident, not a deliberate attack, but the fallout was nonetheless sobering.

World War II was coming to an end and Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Jr. was one of its heroes. A West Point graduate, he had gone on to pilot more than 30 successful bombing missions and had participated in over 100 combat missions during the conflict. His mission on July 28, 1945 was to pilot a trainer bomber from his hometown in Bedford, Massachusetts to Newark, New Jersey to pick up his commanding officer. From there, they would go on to South Dakota, their home base. Unfortunately, Smith and his crew of two were not able to make it very far. When they got to New York City, they encountered a thick fog. Smith contacted LaGuardia Airport, was advised of zero visibility, and was recommended to land there. Back then, however, pilots could choose to ignore advice and Smith did so, continuing with his flight to Newark. Ironically enough, the last comment that the air traffic controller made to him was that he couldn't "see the top of the Empire State Building." For some reason, Smith descended to 500 feet, but he made it as far as the Chrysler Building, where, rather than kicking the left rudder, he kicked the right, an act which doomed him and 13 others. He narrowly missed the RCA Building and sped over 34th Street and 5th Avenue at over 200 mph before he realized, to his horror, the Empire State Building was directly in front of him. At that point, he shot straight up and tried to climb above the building but it was too late and he only got as high as the 78th floor before impact. On the street, panic had erupted - many people had seen the plane disappear into the clouds and heard the explosion and thought it was a Japanese Kamikaze attack in downtown New York City. In the building itself, eight relief workers at the Catholic War Relief Office perished in the accident, along with Smith and his crew and three others. One of the plane's engines shot through the building, landing on a nearby building and burning down a penthouse. The other was lost down an elevator shaft, along with some of the landing gear. Nearby, an elevator operator named Betty Lou Oliver had been burned. After she was given first aid, she was put on an elevator so she could head down to rescue crews. However, a sound like a gunshot erupted from the elevator - damaged from the impact, its cables had snapped. Oliver plummeted alone in the cab from the 75th floor to the sub-basement, a fall of over 1,000 feet. And yet, she miraculously survived and was later cut free from the cab by rescue workers. Hundreds of firemen arrived at the building and were able to control the fire - it was the only fire ever extinguished at such a height, a record which stands to this day.

Although what occurred at the Empire State Building that was was most definitely a tragedy, some have pointed out that it could have been worse. An 18ft x 20ft hole was left in the facade, but luckily the plane struck on the weekend, when far fewer workers were in the building. Also, as the B-25 was intended for training, it was not equipped with weapons that could have produced far more disaster. By Monday, parts of the building were opened for work as usual. And the building was eventually repaired. The accident also helped to pass the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946 which had been long-debated and made it possible for the victims of the crash to sue the government. Perhaps most shocking of all, just about a year later, another plane nearly hit the skyscraper. But laws and technology have changed in the time since those days, making downtown New York City safer from other plane crashes - at least unintentional ones. Yes, the Empire State Building took a heavy blow on this day back then, but it survived and it continues to stand proud, a testament to the power and prosperity of the Empire State.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Empire Rising

Magnet # 303:  Retro Greetings from New York

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Congratulations are in order to New York, which celebrates the 222nd anniversary of its statehood today.  It was the 11th state to join the Union, but it has gone onto become one of the most densely populated and economically prosperous in the nation, thanks mostly to New York City, the largest metropolitan area in the United States.

Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano, who set sail for King Francis I of France, was most likely the first European to make it to what would later become the state of New York.  Later, in 1609, Henry Hudson explored the area for the Dutch, sailing up the Hudson River in search of a Northwest Passage to Asia.  His voyage ended in failure and his death, but the river is now named in his honor.  At around the same time, Samuel de Chaplain, a French navigator, also came to the area and likewise had a body of water named after him - Lake Champlain.  It was the Dutch who finally began to settle the area around 1613, establishing fur trading posts in the Hudson River Valley and eventually forming New Netherland there.  Peter Minuit, its leader, acquired Manhattan Island from the natives and had a fort built there along with a fur trading settlement.  The area would temporarily be known as New Amsterdam.  But English settlers from nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut began to settle in the area and tensions grew between the two nationalities.  In 1664, the British captured the Dutch holdings in the area, renaming it New York in honor of the future King James II, who was then the Duke of York.  France had begun to take over northern parts of the area with the intent of obtaining all of New York.  When war broke out between the two nations in Europe, it spread over to New York, where four wars broke out until Britain finally emerged victorious.  And as we all know, once Britain took control over the area, the colonists there grew angry over their policies,  joining with the rest of the colonies to declare independence.  Plenty of battles of the American Revolution were fought there.  However, when the time came to join the new nation of the United States, New York hesitated, fearing an overly powerful federal government but joined nonetheless.  After it joined the nation, it became perhaps the most prosperous state of all, an empire in its own right.

I've been to the Empire State several times in my life and I know I've mentioned on here that I've visited New York City twice.  But I've been able to see a bit more of the state as well.  On my first trip to the state, we visited relatives who live in Long Island and even stayed at the somewhat notorious hotel where Long Island Lolita Amy Fisher met up with the married Joey Buttafouco.  I don't think that's why we booked it, and I sure hope we didn't stay in one of the rooms they used.  It was interesting to see my relatives' home there - space is at a premium, so it was narrow, but stretched out over several stories.  And it was the place where I first tried true New York style pizza - I was definitely impressed.  I remember after we left there and headed toward Connecticut being surprised with just how long the state of New York seemed to stretch out and how small and idyllic the towns we passed through were.  I guess before then I just thought New York City and large metropolitan areas accounted for most of the state, but I no longer have such mistaken beliefs.  I know realize that the city is only a tiny part of the state and there are all sorts of different places to be found there, from rural farm areas toward the center to the lovely Adirondack Mountains and Hudson River Valley to the spooky Sleepy Hollow to industrial Buffalo.  The furthest north I've been in the Empire State is Niagara Falls, where I had a great time.  I didn't see much of nearby Buffalo, however, and I'd like to check out some of its historic sites, including the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.  Also, I'd be curious to see Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands, a six-story 120-room home made of stone - it sounds very impressive. And I'd love to see the stunning State Capitol Building in Albany, which is at one end of the Empire State Plaza, a very impressive complex joining many of the downtown buildings.  And yes, I'd also like to see more natural areas of the state, like the Adirondacks and the Catskills.  Of course, there's also more that I could see in New York City, but there is so much spread out over the rest of the state, I think it merits its own trip.  Someday, I'm sure I'll make it back there to check out all that the Empire State has to offer outside of the Big Apple.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Beautiful Dreamer

Magnet # 302: Maxfield Parrish's Contentment

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

The incredibly talented American illustrator Maxfield Parrish was born in Philadelphia on this day in 1870. His birth name was actually Frederick Parrish but he later chose to take Maxfield, the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, a Quaker, first as his middle name and later in place of his first name. Unlike many artists, he was actually born to another artist, Stephen Parrish, a painter and etcher who had spent the early part of his life working in the mercantile industry. He became his son's greatest influence, inspiring him to continue with art and even taking him to Europe to see the works of the masters. While architecture was his first field of study, he soon turned his attention to a more realistic, idealized style of illustrative art. Later, Parrish attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Drexel Institue of Art, where he studied under the great American artist Howard Pyle. He also married one of the school's painting instructors, Lydia Austin, with whom he would have four children. Not long after Parrish began working, he found great success in creating advertisements and images for magazines and children's books. By the turn of the century, Parrish had become the most beloved American artist, an honor he would hold until the 1940s, when Norman Rockwell's popularity eclipsed his own. In 1900, however, he contracted tuberculosis, a disease he would continue to battle over the years, and suffered a nervous breakdown. But he persevered, realizing the creation of his dream home, The Oaks, in Plainfield, New Hampshire, where he would spend the rest of his life. In the summer, it was a popular gathering place for friends and family but during the frigid winters, he was able to focus solely on his art. In 1905, a 16-year old nanny named Susan Lewin was hired to look after his children and the two formed a deep connection. She became his assistant, his muse, posing for many of his works, and eventually his lover. While Parrish and his wife would become estranged, Lewin would stay with him for over fifty years. Eventually, he began to do less commercial work, living off of royalties and painting more fantastical paintings of figures in idyllic settings. For the last 30 years of his career, however, he simply painted landscapes and while they were lovely, they were never quite as popular as his earlier works. Parish continued to paint until the age of 91, and he passed away four years later. Although he had never been part of any particular artistic school or movement, he had created a truly unique style and his work would inspire and influence future generations of artists.

I think I'd like to live in a Maxfield Parrish painting like this one. It may not be one of his most famous images, but it is characteristic of his paintings of somewhat classical figures reveling in a majestic landscape. In these paintings and in so many others, Parrish's subjects are truly in love with life - they're not afraid, angry, or feeling any other negative emotions. Looking at them makes it possible to push aside the banalities of everyday life. Parrish really had a talent for giving his viewers a sense of escapism in his work. I've never seen one of them in person, but I'd really like to one day. And it seems I might be in luck - his former home, the Oaks, in New Hampshire has been privately owned since 1985, but it is now being opened to the public in a limited capacity. Some of the garden is now open to the public, and there is a museum in part of the house itself where more Parrish paintings are currently on display than anywhere else in the country in two gallery halls. Even two of his huge murals are part of the collection, along with works by other artists, including his father. Unfortunately, the studio building where he created so many of this most beloved works is not a part of the tour - what a shame. I hope that will change eventually. Nonetheless, it is an excellent reason to stop by Plainfield, New Hampshire someday. Even now, 140 years after his birth, Parrish continues to be one of America's most popular artists, contributing greatly to the Golden Age of Illustration and creating some of the most unique and magical images of any artist throughout history.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hidden Above the Clouds

Magnet # 301: Machu Picchu, Peru

Material: Ceramic

Purchased By: The Spinks Family

Today marks the anniversary of the day in 1911 when a historic city that had nearly been forgotten by the rest of Peru was brought back into the modern world. It was when Yale scholar Hiram Bingham III was led to first see the ruins of Machu Picchu. There are others who traveled to that area before he did and hold that they saw the site before his visit, but their claims hardly matter. Thanks to Bingham coming forward to tell of his journey, one of the world's greatest secrets was discovered and the city was opened to the public for study and sightseeing.

Machu Picchu dates all the way back to around 1450, when the Incan Empire was at its most powerful. Some truly impressive work went into the creation of the city - almost no mortar was used, the bricks were all different sizes, and yet they fit some of them together so tightly that not even a knife blade can be forced between them. The builders also added onto existing rock formations as they created their city. It's believed that Machu Picchu was not intended for military or commercial pursuits. About 140 buildings were created there, and most were residences, although a few other structures were erected there, such as a temple. Given all of the labor that went into the creation of the city, it's unfortunate that it was only inhabited for about a century before it was abandoned. Many of the Incas weren't even aware of its existence and when smallpox spread to the area, it pretty much wiped most of the residents there. The collapse of the local government and civil war in the rest of the empire cleared out those who were left. By the time the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived with his forces, most had forgotten the area had ever existed. Thus, as the Spanish plundered and destroyed much of the rest of the Incan Empire, Machu Picchu went untouched and it would remain mostly so for centuries to come. Although it was never truly a lost city, as the nearby inhabitants were aware of its existence, the rest of the world hadn't a clue about this incredible site - at least, not until Hiram Bingham III impulsively explored the area on his way home from a trip to Chile. He only saw Choquequirao, a city near Cuzco that was similar to Machu Picchu and had hardly been forgotten. But the prospect of finding lost cities in Peru captivated him and three years later he returned, intent on realizing his dream. With the assistance of a local guide, he climbed to Machu Picchu, dubbing it "The Lost City of the Incas." When he came forward with his news of the site, it brought Bingham a great deal of celebrity and respect. He went on to become a United States Senator, although his tenure was marred by scandal. Nonetheless, he received an honorable burial at Arlington National Cemetery and some claim that he helped inspire the creation of Indiana Jones. As for Macu Picchu, or "Old Mountain," it has gone on to become Peru's most visited tourist attraction and has brought the country a great deal of revenue. Many consider it to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. And it has also provided a great deal of insight into the lives of the Incan empire - it's rare for archaeologists to come upon such a well-preserved historic site as Machu Picchu.

I'm sure there are those who wish that, like others before him, Bingham had kept the existence of Mahu Picchu to himself, but for better or worse, he didn't. While visitors from all over the world are able to enjoy the majesty of this place, they are also a threat to its continuation. And when cable cars made it possible for more to make the journey to these incredible ruins, concern grew that more damage would be done to them. There are also those who are angry that Bingham took so many artifacts from the area and took them on loan to Yale University, which didn't return them until decades later when the Peruvian government forced the issue. But I suppose some might say it's still better to deal with these concerns and have the world aware of this incredible city's existence. Machu Picchu can certainly not be called a lost city nowadays, and it will likely never again be forgotten. But the discovery of such a place certainly poses the question - what other magnificent places are out in the world, just waiting to be uncovered? I'm sure they exist, and I hope to see more surface, be they under the sands, beneath the sea, or, yes, above the clouds.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Get Ready To Scream

Magnet # 300: Blue Bell Ice Cream Container

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: The
Kibby Family

Yep, today is a great day for everyone to scream for ice cream. Not only is July National Ice Cream Month, July 22 is Vanilla Ice Cream Day. And whether you want yours plain or packed with extras, this is a great time to grab a cone, dish, or what have you and join in the fun!

Mankind's love of ice cream actually goes back all the way to the Persians. By 400 B.C, they had developed a frozen confection that resembled pudding and consisted of rose water and vermecelli and was flavored with items such as fruits and spices. It's still served nowadays in Iran under the name of faloodeh. Frozen ice dishes were also popular with the Romans, who served snow flavored with honey and nuts at their often opulent gatherings. The Chinese developed a frozen delight similar to sorbet that Marco Polo later took to Italy. And when the United States was formed, ice cream dishes proved to be very popular here and was even eaten by Presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, as it was so expensive and difficult to make, the dish was largely reserved for the rich. But eventually, advances were made in freezing technologies and ice cream stores became very popular during the Victorian era. In fact, the first ice cream store was opened in 1776 in New York City. Finally, we've come so far that we can now buy a container of ice cream at nearly any grocery store here in the United States and take it home, where it will last for weeks - even months, - in our freezers. What was once a luxury for the affluent is now a daily treat for nearly everyone. And in 1984, thanks to its overwhelming popularity all over the nation, President Ronald Regan named July National Ice Cream Month and designated the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. Considering just how hot this part of year can be, he couldn't have picked a better time.

The average American eats about 6 gallons of ice cream a year, and I know I contribute more than my share to those statistics. I love ice cream! I don't do much vanilla or other simple flavors, though. I like lots of stuff in my ice cream that I can chew on, so I tend to go with flavors like Rocky Road and Cookies N' Cream. And one of my favorite flavors has actually been introduced during my lifetime - Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, which was invented in 1991. There are so many good brands of ice cream out there like Haagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry's. For me, Blue Bell, which appears on today's magnet, is a beloved brand of ice cream. Whenever we would go visit my extended family in Texas, they would have it, and it was a special treat. But finally, they were able to bring it all the way out to grocery stores in Alabama, and I was thrilled. I'm also a big fan of Braum's Ice Cream, which has stores in Texas. Recently, though, I've been buying mostly Eddy's (or Dreyer's) Slow Churned Ice Cream. It uses a special processing method that allows it not to be frozen after it is churned, which produces a grainy texture that is smoothed out by adding more milk fat. By avoiding this, they save lots of calories and fat, so I can indulge without feeling too bad. And if I'm feeling particularly guilty, I buy some ice cream treats from Skinny Cow. Each portioned-controlled serving of their products, which include cones, bars, and sandwiches, run about 150 calories and two or three grams of fat each. It makes it possible for me to enjoy some ice cream with as little guilt as possible. Of course, neither brand is as tasty as a heaping scoop from Cold Stone Creamery, but I try to eat them instead of the good stuff so I can keep on fitting into my clothes - I guess that's what's most important to me.

Well, if you haven't noticed, today's post is my 300th. Another milestone and this too, seemed to happen faster than I had expected. But I've decided not to dwell too much on this today, as I have an even bigger milestone coming up very soon. Still, I think this accomplishment merits a reward of some kind and I know just what I want - a cone of ice cream - the tasty kind that I usually avoid. Maybe I won't feel quite so guilty having it this time!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Matter of Honor

Magnet # 299:  Robert E. Lee Quote

Material:  PVC

Purchased By:  Me

It was on this day in 1975 that, more than 105 years after his death, a Joint Resolution passed Congress to reinstate the citizenship of General Robert E. Lee. By August 5, a ceremony was held at Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetary, Lee's former home, where President Gerald Ford signed the Resolution, making it public law. Virginia's Governor at the time and several of its congressmen were in attendance, as well as about a dozen of the General's descendants, including his great-great grandson, Robert E. Lee, V. It marked an important occasion in the memory of one of the country's most beloved, but sometimes maligned, figures.

Robert E. Lee was born to an upstanding, even famous, Virginia family descended from some of the earliest settlers in its days as a colony.  His father was a leader of the American Army during the Revolutionary War.  Unfortunately, he fell on hard times, became impoverished, went to prison, and abandoned his family.  He was wounded while protecting a friend during a riot in Baltimore and later died when his son Robert was only 11 years old.  He may have learned from his father's mistakes, as he went on to become a man of exemplary character.  He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point ranking second place in his class and receiving no demerits during his time there.  Lee first distinguished himself in the Corps of Engineers and when he fought in the Mexican War, his commanding General called him "the greatest military genius in America" and credited a large part of their success to him.  However, he paid very little interest to politics and by the time the Civil War broke out, he found himself facing a very difficult decision:  whether to stand by his state of Virginia or his nation.  He was against secession and did not believe in slavery and President Lincoln offered him command of the Army, but he ultimately left the Union to fight what was seen as a second war of independence.  At first, he was not given a position commanding troops, but advised Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  But before long, Lee had become a full general and began to prove that he was indeed the shrewdest battlefield tactician of the conflict, overcoming one seemingly impossible task after another.  He gained the respect and devotion of his troops and the attention of both nations.  However, for a time Stonewall Jackson actually overshadowed Lee in popularity, especially when he was injured by friendly fire and died of pneumonia.  And Lee went on without his trusted friend and most valued subordinate.  He faced General Grant for the first time during the Wilderness campaign and held out against difficult odds, including exhaustion and hunger.  In 1865, Lee was finally named general in chief of all Confederate troops, but within months, he was forced to to surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.  He said goodbye to his men, assured them he had done his best for them, and rode home.

Lee paid a heavy price for his decision to side with the Confederacy.  His family home, the Custis-Lee Mansion, was occupied by the Union Army during the war and when their dead needed burying, it was turned into a cemetery.  This decision was made by Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, who had once fought beside Lee but hated him for turning against the country.  He had graves placed just outside the front door and tore apart Lee's wife's rose garden to bury soldiers there.  Eventually, the government seized the property outright, and it wouldn't be until Lee's son filed a lawsuit and the Supreme Court intervened that the family was properly paid for their home and its grounds, which is now Arlington National Cemetery, one of the most distinguished graveyards in the nation.  As for Lee's citizenship, he applied for an amnesty and pardon, singing an Amnesty Oath but the State Department blocked his efforts and the document was seemingly lost for over a century until it was stumbled upon by an archivist at the National Archives in 1970.  In just five years, Lee had received the pardon he was due, retroactively effective June 13, 1865.  Finally, one of the nation's most beloved figure's dignity had been restored.  Lee didn't always make the best decisions, but he did what he thought was right, gave it his all, never backed down, and treated his fellow men with respect, making him an example all of us would do well to follow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What'll Ya Have

Magnet # 298: The Varsity Orange

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Dad

Considering today is National Junk Food Day and National Hot Dog Day is coming up on the 23rd, you might want to have a hot dog. I think that would cover both bases pretty well. While these encased delights stem from German frankfurters, they were developed here in the United States on Coney Island in the late 1800s. They've gone on to become one of the most beloved fast foods in the nation - as a nation, we can put down as many as 20 billion hot dogs a year.

As I've mentioned on here before, I'm a big fan of the Travel Channel and I've seen their hour-long exploration of Hot Dog Paradise so many times I've practically memorized it. And, yes, the Georgia restaurant the Varsity is featured on the show, as it is the largest hot dog stand in the entire world. Around 15,000 hungry customers visit it each day but that number can double when the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets are playing a home game. The lines can be long, but they tend to move quickly and when customers get up to the counter, they're greeted with a "What'll ya have!" to hurry them along. It might not be a bad idea to decide what to order while you're in line. There's also a drive-in service that can accommodate as many as 600 vehicles. Some of the car hops have been there for decades, singing and dancing to entertain their customers. The Varsity was the creation of former Georgia Institute of Technology student Frank Gordy who, disgusted with cafeteria food, decided to give his fellow students another option and opened a hot dog stand, The Yellow Jacket, nearby. The concept caught on better that Gordy could have imagined. Soon, he was expanding into a whopping location that would span two city blocks and reopening under the name of the Varsity. It's gone on to become a part of Atlanta culture known all over the world. I've eaten there myself on a couple occasions, but I've never tried the Varsity Orange, which is featured on this magnet - it's one of their signature drinks. Maybe next time. I'm sure the Varsity will be around for quite some time, so I can try everything on their menu, if I'm so inclined.

There are a couple of places featured in Hot Dog Paradise that I haven't been to, but would really like to try one day. First off is Hot Doug's, a Chicago eatery that elevates hot dogs to an all new level. The owner is Doug Sohn who was inspired to open a hot dog restaurant when a friend of his complained that he'd had a bad hot dog. Sohn couldn't imagine what someone would have to do to make a bad hot dog, and I seriously doubt he's ever served one in his restaurant. Instead, he's expanded onto what a hot dog can be, offering game and gourmet meats in his sausages, while still including traditional choices like a Chicago Dog on his menu. A few examples of his wares are rattlesnake, bison, duck, and alligator. There's even a hot dog that is topped with foie gras. With so many incredible offerings, Sohn has amassed quite a following and the line to get one of his sausages can take as long as an hour and a half. Still, he doesn't take himself too seriously, always working at the counter and giving his hot dogs unusual names like The Salma Hayek, The Elvis, and The Game of the Week. Sounds like a great place - hope I make it there someday. And on the other end of the country in Miami is another innovative hot dog restaurant chain, Franktitude. This place was founded by Aru Wurmann, a Chilean native who started making hot dogs from salmon, as was done in his home country. Apparently, they're not fishy at all and are quite tasty, packed with omega-3s, and only have 90 calories apiece. They also offer hot dogs made with tofu, turkey, and 100% beef, so there's no excuse not to be healthy. Plus, they offer tons of toppings - over 50 in all, including hummus, sauerkraut, avocado spread, and potato strings. And if you're not feeling like having a bun for your hot dog, you can choose to put it on a panini, wrap, ciabatta, or even a salad. Franktitude is all about options. Best of all, if you really like the food, you might be able to open a Franktitude of your own - they are open to franchising and are looking to expand across the Southeast - maybe we'll get one in Savannah eventually.

Well, I guess it's a little obvious that I'm not really into more traditional hot dogs, but I think I might try to have a more unusual variety to celebrate, maybe a spicy chicken sausage that I like. But that's part of what makes hot dogs great - that they are so open to variations. So pick your favorite, top it with whatever you like best, and dig in. Even if you can't make it to a hot dog paradise like the Varsity, Hot Doug's, or Franktitude, that's no excuse not to join in!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Papa Would Be Proud

Magnet # 297: Key West Scuba Diver

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Amy

I'm not sure if too many folks are going to be diving for treasure in Key West today. They'll probably all be up on the surface to join in the revelries at Hemingway Days, the annual festival held in honor of the area's most famous resident. The event kicks off today, will run until the 25th, and is scheduled to coincide with Ernest Hemingway's birthday on July 21. One of the most beloved activities is the look-alike contest, which has been held at Sloppy Joe's since 1981. The bar was frequented by Hemingway back when he lived there in the 1930s and he even helped contribute to the creation of its name. Quite a few of his doppelgangers will be on hand, some hoping to win this year, others who have won in the past. There are men who have entered the competition for years on end before finally winning, making for a friendly rivalry amongst some of the more than 100 contenders who compete each year. And the judges are all former winners of the contest, so they have all been through the process themselves. That really seems like a fun and totally unique event. Other Hemingway related activities will also be going on, such as a mock Running With the Bulls, an Arm Wrestling Contest, performances of a one-man play about the writer's life, a 3 day marlin fishing tournament, readings of his works, and an awards ceremony for a literary competition. Finally, there will be special ceremonies to commemorate Papa's 110 birthday this year. Sounds like Key West is going to be a pretty exciting place to be for the next few days.

I've never made it all the way down to Key West, so beloved by Hemingway, but I hope to someday. Even though I probably won't be able to attend for his annual celebration, I can still have a brush with the writer by visiting his home there, which has now been converted into a museum. It's located at the center of the island's Old Town and near a lighthouse. Hemingway lived there with his family from 1931 to 1939 and worked on some of his most beloved tales there, such as "A Farewell to Arms," "To Have and Have Not" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." His second wife's uncle bought it for the pair as a wedding present, and I suppose when they divorced in 1940, Hemingway didn't want to keep it as a reminder. He had four wives in all over his 61 years of life. His work was beloved by many and won him a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a Nobel Prize in Literature. He had a plain, yet powerful style of prose and a vivid dialogue with a precise description of places and events that really drew his audience in. Since his time, many have either followed his example or intentionally avoided it. He made friends with other noteworthy writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. Hemingway also had a love of adventure that set him off traveling all over the world, setting up homes in Cuba, France, and Idaho. Bullfighting fascinated him, he loved fishing for marlins, and he even traveled to Kenya on a safari, suffering injuries in two plane accidents that would be with him the rest of his life. For about the last decade of his life, he was bedridden until he finally succumbed to what was likely a family illness and took his own life with a blow from his favorite shotgun to his head. His father had also committed suicide, as did his sister and brother, and his granddaughter, Margaux. It's believed the disease hemochromatosis, the inability to metabolize iron, which produces mental and physical deterioration, may be responsible for the five instances of suicide in four generations. And though Papa may be gone, his work remains and is still very beloved in his home of Key West. One of the most interesting details about the Ernest Hemingway House there is the abundance of cats. There are about 60 in all and some of them are polydactyls with six and seven toes. Some claim they are descendants of Hemingway's own cats, but there's not much evidence to back that up. But the urinal he obtained from Sloppy Joe's and converted into a fountain remains there, is authentic, and it's used by the many cats on the grounds. If you ever get a chance, stop by and see Papa's old stomping grounds. He lived a blessed and troubled life and his colorful personality and contributions to American literature ensure there will be Hemingway Days held in Key West for many years to come.

Monday, July 19, 2010

When the Games Began

Magnet # 296:  Georgia Welcome Sign

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Me

Fourteen years ago on this very day, the 1996 Summer Olympic Games were holding their opening ceremonies in Atlanta, Georgia. The city had seemed like an unlikely choice to many, as Los Angeles had recently hosted the Summer Games, but it still managed to beat out rivals including Athens and Toronto to emerge victorious. Plenty of preparations were made for the event, including the creation of the Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, which is still there today. And when the Games finally began, there was some drama, most notably when a bomb went off in the park, killing one and injuring over 100 more. Atlanta also took some criticism for supposedly over-commercializing the games and including pickup trucks and cheerleaders in the opening ceremony. When Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee congratulated the city with a "well done" at the closing ceremony, calling the Games "most exceptional," he stunned some. It was the only time he ever broke with the tradition of calling the current Games the "best Olympics ever." Regardless, the state still takes a great deal of pride in hosting the Games that year, as evidenced by this magnet, an accurate replica of the actual welcome sign posted on I-85 at the Alabama border. Even though I didn't live here in Georgia at that time, I did live right next door in Alabama, where people were also pretty excited about the event. I didn't go over to see any of the competitions, but I did bring some of the younger kids I was taking care of out to a local exhibit set up by the Olympics to teach kids about the Games before they kicked off. We had a fun time there, and it was the first time I remember ever seeing anything official dealing with the Olympics in Montgomery. They even held preliminary soccer matchups in nearby Birmingham. I know I'm not much of a sports enthusiast, but I guess those Olympic Games are the ones I've felt the most connected to.

One of the more memorable features of the 1996 Summer Olympics was its mascot, Izzy. I still remember seeing the funny little blue guy all over the place back then. His full name was Whatizit (or What is It?) and it wasn't really much of anything. It was just a blue creature with big eyes and long limbs wearing high-top sneakers. Creating it was a significant departure from the traditional use of cute little animals or humans that are representative of their country, but it did mark the first time a mascot was created by computer. The character took a lot of criticism from the press, adults didn't care for it, but kids seemed to like Izzy somewhat. And with the next Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, the use of cute national animals returned when the characters were modeled after a platypus, an echidna, and a kookaburra. China really set the bar high with their mascots, the Fuwa, for the 2008 Beijing Olympics - they had five characters in all to stand for the five Olympic rings. Each also took on traditional Chinese features or those of the Olympics. They proved to be pretty popular, as they were quite cute, nicely designed, and even went on to star in a television series. But some conspiracy theorists claimed they were cursed and linked each one to regional unrest and misfortunes. Personally, I think they're adorable and have seen them in other magnet enthusiasts' online collections and wouldn't mind adding them to mine. But I think the 2012 London mascots are going to accomplish a feat I never though possible - make Izzy look good by comparison. At least he had two eyes - the pair of these ghastly creations only have one apiece. They're called Wenlock and Mandeville, after locations in England that have been important to the Olympics and Paralympics, but if I lived in either place, I'm not sure if I'd be all that flattered. These things look kind of like really ugly, yet shiny, aliens and their story is that they were formed from the final two droplets from the steel that was used to create the Olympic stadium. It's hard to believe that concepts using a teapot, pigeons, and even Big Ben with arms and legs were passed up in favor of this duo, but they will soon be merchandised on shirts, mugs, and even stuffed toys for kids. I certainly don't want a magnet of the two to post up here. Again, thanks London, for creating Olympic and Paralympic mascots so terrible that we here in Georgia can be less ashamed of Izzy.

To date, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta are the only cities in the United States that have hosted the Summer Olympic Games, not that other ones, such as New York City and Chicago, haven't tried. And we've also hosted Winter Olympic Games here, most recently at Salt Lake City, which occurred after the Atlanta games. But with the 2012 London games now 739 days away, I guess bids will be coming up for more future games. For now, the United States seems uninterested in bidding again, as they have claimed the International Olympic Committee has made it clear they don't want the games to be in our country. However, I imagine the Summer Games will return here again someday - even my beloved Dallas, Texas has expressed interest in hosting them. Until then, we'll have to make good with the memories of the follies and triumphs of Atlanta's 1996 Summer Games and the promise of the London games almost exactly two years away.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Tale Of Two Capitols

Magnet # 295:  Baton Rouge Steamboat

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Me

I spent the third and final night of my time in Louisiana at the state capitol, Baton Rogue.  I had never been there before, but had read up on its somewhat notorious State Capitol and was really looking forward to seeing it in person.  And I was very excited to check out the area between New Orleans and Louisiana's state capitol, better known as Plantation Alley, which I've mentioned before on this blog.

I only saw a bit of Plantation Alley on my way to Baton Rouge, but I would definitely like to go back sometime in the future to tour more of the lovely plantation homes there.  Unfortunately, it was sweltering by my standards - and I'm cold natured - so I only toured a couple of the homes.  I bought plenty of magnets, though, so I may wait to say more about my travels there later.  But I do think any trip a tourist takes from New Orleans to Baron Rouge or vice versa is incomplete without stopping by at least one of these stunning mansions.  If you just stay on I-10, you're doing it wrong.  When I got to Baton Rogue later that day, I decided to drive downtown, as I thought the LSU Museum of Art at the Shaw Center for the Arts was open until late.  It wasn't, but I still had fun traveling up to the observation deck there and having a look at the city and the Mississippi River.  I also had a nice meal downtown before heading back to my hotel, a SpringHill Suites east of downtown that I would definitely book again.  The next day, I made to yet another state capitol - the Louisiana State Capitol.  There are only four state capitols that are skyscrapers buildings and, oddly enough, two of them were the only state capitols I saw on my trip.  Yep, both Louisiana and Florida have pretty tall capitols, and it was fun to compare them.  Louisiana actually has the tallest capitol of any state in the Union, and it's a very attractive Art Deco masterpiece that resembles both the Empire State Building and the Nebraska State Capitol, a high-rise that preceded it.  I must admit, the Louisiana building is not only taller than that of Florida's, it's also much more impressive.  Each of the 48 steps to the front door are carved with a state in order of when they were admitted - Hawaii and Alaska were later added at the top.  And when I entered the building, I found it held marble from all sorts of states, including my home here in Georgia.  And the floor in the Memorial Hall is made with polished lava rock.  There are lovely murals painted over the entrance to the Senate and House of Representative chambers and the images of all of the early Louisiana governors are carved on the elevator doors.  This is a truly opulent state capitol and it was created in only 14 months during the Great Depression.  Tours aren't offered there on a regular basis, but I spoke with an employee about the highlights before making my way around.  There were all sorts of expensive little details all over and the Senate and House of Representative chambers very very nice.  I also traveled all the way up to the Tower Observation Deck on the 27th floor.  It's about half the size of the Observation Deck at the Florida State Capitol and, unlike that one, it's unenclosed and not on the top floor.  The winds were whipping by me while I was up there and I held onto my camera tightly - it was a little unnerving.  There was a gift shop just inside on the same floor and I was able to pick up a few magnets there.  I later headed down to the Old Louisiana State Capitol about a mile away and was also very impressed by what I found there.  That building was modeled after a castle and it was stunning, especially thanks to a spiral staircase under a stained glass dome.  I guess it was a little on the small side compared to the new capitol, but it's hard to believe anyone would want to leave such a nice place.  At least it's still open to the public, now as a museum featuring state history and politics.  Before I headed on, I went back to the Shaw Center for the Arts, where I was able to see LSU Museum of Art before having sushi on the top floor.  I decided to be adventurous and try a completely different kind - a Ragin' Cajun Roll, complete with alligator.  It was really good.  Finally, I headed out of town, pleased with my time there.

If you've never been to Baton Rogue, it really is a great place.  It has some of the flavor of New Orleans, but with a much more laidback attitude.  Plus, I would have to say two of the nicest and most unique state capitols can be found there.  Neither one has a dome or pediment, proving that attractive state capitols don't have to mimic the national one.  And even though it's no longer in use, the Old Louisiana State Capitol is no doubt nicer than some of the state capitol buildings out there that are currently active.  Maybe they could take a cue from the Pelican State.  So if you're interested in visiting New Orleans someday don't forget it has some great neighbors less than an hour away.  I don't think any trip to Southern Louisiana would be complete without checking out Baton Rouge and Plantation Alley.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

So Close, Yet So Far Away

Magnet # 294:  New Orleans Montage

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Me

I spent the second and third nights of my trip in New Orleans, Louisiana and had a pretty good time there.  I had been down to the Crescent City a couple of times when I was growing up, but wasn't quite sure what to expect since Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005.  Driving in on I-10, there was still some damage visible and when I first entered the French Quarter, I was somewhat stunned to find an area very resemblant of downtown Savannah, but much rougher.  There was a certain degree of graffiti and decay that I just don't see around these parts, and I have no idea what was left from the storm and what was just part of New Orleans.  And because both cities have open container laws, at least in downtown areas, I wasn't shocked to see revelers walking the streets with open plastic containers.  What did amaze me was the plethora of somewhat sleazy strip clubs lining Bourbon Street, some with very revealing photos posted in the windows.  Scantily clad women and male announcers occasionally stood in the doorways and while one didn't even try with me, just asking how I was doing that evening, another tried to get me into his club - twice.  Really, do I look like the kind of person who wants to see what's going on in there?  I certainly think not!  I suppose New Orleans had a slightly familiar feeling of home, but with a somewhat disturbing twist.

I really did have a good time during my stay in New Orleans.  I tried three local eateries and all were very nice.  On my first night, I stopped by Galatoire's, a restaurant serving French-Creole cuisine that had been recommended by a family member.  It was very nice, upscale, with a large dining room lined with mirrors.  I had my own little corner and was able to watch all of the action.  Wanting to have a local dish, I ordered crawfish etouffee, which was very tasty.  And I had to have a po'boy, so the next day, I stopped by Johnny's Po'Boys for lunch and ordered up one with soft shell crab.  It was big and delicious.  There was so much food that I had it for dinner as well.  And the next morning, I stopped by perhaps New Orleans' most iconic restaurant, the Cafe du Monde, to try their beignets and chicory coffee.  I wanted to eat there as it's featured on the Travel Channel and I always have fun when I'm watching and I see a spot where I've been.  When I wasn't eating, I walked all over the French Quarter, where my hotel was located.  I wasn't crazy about my hotel - pretty much all of those in the French Quarter have exorbitant parking rates and, at twenty-five a night, it was no different.  Plus, their idea of a continental breakfast was croissants, fruit danishes, apples, and oranges - that's it.  But I didn't spend much time there, anyway.  One of the main reasons I wanted to visit New Orleans is that I knew it would be a magnet buying paradise and it didn't disappoint.  I must have visited over twenty souvenir shops - maybe thirty - and I'm still not sure if I saw them all.  It was easily the best place I've seen for magnet shopping.  As usual, I traveled all over the area, checking out the selection and prices before buying.  The most expensive were easily on Canal Street, where about seven bucks was average.  Bourbon Street was a little better, at about five bucks a pop.  But the best shops I found were between Bourbon Street and the French Market, around Cafe du Monde.  There, I was able to pay around three bucks apiece and I made the most of my money, thank goodness, scoring plenty of additions to my collection.  When I wasn't hunting down magnets, I checked out the sights of the Crescent City, such as the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral and nearby Jackson Square (I still think our squares are better!).  I took a streetcar out to the incredible New Orleans Museum of Art, a three-story Greek Revival building outside of the French Quarter, in City Park.  They have an impressive collection that seems to go on forever and one of its highlights was an original by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, one of my favorite painters, and I was thrilled to see it in person.  Best of all, I stopped by on a Wednesday, when there is no admission -what a lucky coincidence!  This is a great place to see in New Orleans and it was also interesting to get a look at the locals who exercise in the grassy areas around the museum - it was a very lively place.  Finally, I also stopped by Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, where many of the parade floats are made, and went out for a ghost tour one evening.  All told, my trip to New Orleans was anything but uneventful.

Would I go back to New Orleans again sometime?  Perhaps, but it is so similar to downtown Savannah that it seems odd to travel that far to see it.  But there are places I'd still like to see there, such as the Saint Louis Cemetery, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, right next to the New Orleans Museum of Arts, and the Garden District.  I guess I'd recommend this locale to a more lively crowd, or perhaps those who'd like to see a Southern city with more Parisian accents.  Savannah is a somewhat more-polished, less-French version of New Orleans that would appeal to a tamer traveler.  Both cities have their virtues and their vices, but I think I'm in the place that suits me best.

Friday, July 16, 2010

View From the Top

Magnet # 293:  Tallahassee Capitol Complex Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Well, I did it again. Last month, I hopped in my car, headed out on I-95, and took another road trip all on my own. This time I headed west on I-10 toward Louisiana. I had been wanting to check out New Orleans and see the Louisiana state capitol, Baton Rouge. I decided not to try to make the 10-hour trip to the Crescent City all on the first day and instead drive four hours and spend the night in Florida's capitol, Tallahassee.

From what I saw, Tallahassee is a fairly modern city with some links to its past. Although the Spanish founded missions there in the 1600s, the area went mostly overlooked until it became the territory's capitol in 1824 because it was pretty much midway between St. Augustine and Pensacola. So most of the historic buildings that are left there were built between 1821 and 1824. The first place I visited on my way into town was the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park. They were built back in the early 1900s by Alfred Barmore Maclay and his wife Louise, wealthy individuals from the North who traveled down to Florida each winter. Unfortunately, I think that's the best time to visit this home they left to the state, as that is when the house they once lived in is open to the public and their plants, which include azaleas, camellias, and wisteria, are in bloom. By summer, not too many flowers were visible and it was a little hot trekking around, but I can imagine that it would be a lovely place to see at the right time. I then made my way toward downtown Tallahassee, where I stayed at a Best Western off of Apalachee Parkway, which dead ends at the state Capitol Complex.  The two main parts of the complex are the Florida State Capitol and the Old Capitol.  The Old Capitol was completed in 1845 and is a more traditional style, complete with columns, a pediment, and a dome.  It was the third Capitol building for the newly-created state, and yet even it proved to not be enough to serve the rapidly growing population.  It was expanded four times and a debate to relocate the Capitol stretched on for years.  Finally, it was decided that the Old Capitol was not able to meet the needs of the state government any longer.  Construction on the fourth and, for now, final State Capitol began on November 8, 1973.  This building was a dramatic departure from the many state capitols who take after the features of the U.S. Capitol, including the former Florida capitol.  Instead, it was a more modern structure rising 22 stories.  On either side of the tower, wings with domes were placed.  It's odd to believe that all of those involved in the creation of the capitol, including an architectural and engineer firm, never noticed, but these features, when combined, gave the building a very masculine appearance.  In fact, it has been dubbed the most phallic building in the world.  I found that when I was very close to the building, it wasn't very noticeable but when traveling down Apalachee Parkway down to the State Capitol, I had to wonder what the builders were thinking.  Regardless, I still ventured in to have a look around.  Regular tours aren't offered at the State Capitol, but they do give out pamphlets for self-guided tours.  I headed straight up to the Observation Deck on the top floor.  It was pretty large, with both east and west wings, was enclosed by glass windows, and offered an impressive view of the city.  On my way back down to the Plaza Level, I checked out the House and Senate chambers.  Both had lovely murals painted at the entrance to the chamber floor featuring Florida history.  There were also two impressive murals at the Plaza Level, along with a Heritage Chapel that can be used for meditation, weddings, and baptisms.  I also checked out the Old State Capitol, which was saved when the new one was being built thanks to citizens of Tallahassee and now houses the Florida Legislative Research Center & Museum on its ground floor.  It was nice to see how it's been utilized and is still around for the public to appreciate.  It's been restored to its 1902 appearance and is directly located in front of the current State Capitol.  The next day, I visited the nearby Museum of Florida History and was very impressed by what I saw there.  But I have a magnet from that stop, so I think I'll wait to discuss it further when I post that.

I had a nice time in Tallahassee and I was glad to check out another state capitol building, as I've decided to try and see them all someday.  It really is interesting to compare the Old Capitol with its traditional appearance with the new one, that is much more modern, despite its curious overall look.  If you're ever in Tallahassee, you'll likely have a good time seeing them yourself.  And remember, the Observation Deck not only offers one of the best views in town, it's also completely free to visit - just another reason why I love state capitol buildings!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Viva La Revolution

Magnet #292: Famous Monuments of Paris

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Jasmine & Matt

The French are celebrating one of their most important holidays today, Bastille Day. To kick the festivities off, a huge crowd gathers every year in the morning to watch a parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue. French troops march in the parade, beginning at the Arc de Triomphe and ending at the Place de la Concorde, while aircraft from their Patrouille de France soar above. It's the oldest and the largest annual military parade in the world. Nowadays, France has begun inviting units of troops from its allies to participate - both Britain and Germany have joined in. There has also been a change in Bastille Day traditions since Nicholas Sarkozy became president in 2007. He has neither given interviews with the press to talk about his country's present and future, nor has he pardoned criminals, a tradition that dates back to 1991. Usually only small crimes, such as traffic violations, are wiped from the records. Well, at least he rode in this year's parade, despite a heavy downpour of rain. But the fact that he has invited soldiers from 13 African nations to march in the parade to mark that they have had 50 years free from being colonies of France has offended some human rights groups, who claim some of these governments are pretty much dictatorships. And I suppose what amounts to the French Independence Day is a poor time to bring in corrupt governments, given that it celebrates the death of the monarchy in the nation and the creation of rights for all citizens of the nation.

Bastille Day has origins that date back to the beginning of the French Revolution. Tensions had grown to the boiling point between the peasants, who were often poor and starving, and the aristocracy, who tended to flaunt their wealth. Some progress had been made toward equality, such as the Tennis Court Oath, which pledged to bring a constitution to France, and it was becoming clear that King Louis XVI was not as powerful as his predecessors had been, as he had to make concessions toward other governing bodies. But when the monarch fired his appointed Director-General of Finance, Jacques Necker, for suggesting he and the royal family have a budget, it sent his people into a frenzy. They feared that foreign soldiers were arriving to shut down the National Constituent Assembly, their best shot for equality, and they began to break out in rebellion. After looting and rioting, they organized and centered their attention on one of the most hated symbols of the Ancien Regime - the Bastille fortress. It held a great deal of weapons and ammunition to help them in their cause and it was often used to hold political prisoners unjustly imprisoned. On July 14, a crowd of under a thousand gathered at the fortress, demanding its surrender. Negotiations began, but before long fighting broke out between the crowd and those guarding the Bastille and went on for several hours. Finally, when it became apparent that a massacre of both parties might occur, the commander of the fortress, Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay, opened the gates to the inner court. In a somewhat gruesome foreshadowing of the bloodthirsty carnage that would erupt during the Reign of Terror, when the revolution was at its worst, he was beaten by the crowd, stabbed repeatedly, decapitated, and his head was carried on a pike by the mob through the streets. But the people of France considered this to be a very important moment in their quest to bring about a more equal country. Not long after that day, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was published. And by 1790, the French were celebrating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille with a grand feast and official events. In 1880, the first official Bastille Day was introduced.  For a time, the event wasn't as popular as it now is, sharing its attention with occasions like Joan of Arc Day and May Day. But when the Nazis took over France, they banned the celebration of Bastille Day, and when they were finally free, the French saw a new importance in the day.  It's since become a much beloved day to the nation and as the French have migrated around the world, countries such as South Africa, Hungary, and the United States all have their own variations of the celebration. So join in the fun - grab a good bottle of French wine, whip up a French dish such as a cassoulet or ratatouille, and get excited over the end of the monarchy and the beginning of equality in France!