Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Walt Dissney Concert Hall, Los Angeles


Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, designed by Frank Gehry.

    When I first saw the towering curved steel walls of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, they looked like sails coming at me.  My first response was WOW this is different from anything I've seen before.  I'm a real fan of modern architecture and it takes something really different to surprise me anymore. The curving steel walls and contrasting shades of color were eye boggling.

    The architect was Frank Gehry, who has been labeled by Vanity Fair as the most important architect of our age with a number of his attractions like  the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, The Experience Music Project in Seattle, and Walt Disney Concert Hall being world-renowned attractions.

    As we walked around the building, we arrived at a large garden with flowers and trees that seemed be a nice place to visit during the intermissions in the performances.  A center piece is a large rose shaped fountain designed in honor of Lillian Disney, Walt's wife who made the original $50 million donation in 1988 to build the hall.  She loved Royal Delft porcelain so the fountain is covered in broken pieces of Delft porcelain.

    The inside is also breathtaking with large curved open spaces for a variety of activities including a Children's Amphitheater.  Gehry's use of wood was influenced by his interest in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.  He made a point of not meeting Wright in person because of his master-slave relationship with his workers.

    The main hall seats 2,265 people. We did not attend any performances, but we understand the acoustics are excellent having been designed by Minoru Nagata.

    The large underground garage holds 2000 cars on seven levels.  The garage alone cost $110 million.   Construction was stopped for a number of years to raise the money to continue building it.   When it was finally completed in 2003, it had cost a total of $274 million.

    Twenty-five architects were asked to submit plans.   Gehry was surprised when he won, but he was aware that there was resistance to building it according to his plans, and he needed the backing of the Disney family to insure that he got to do the actual oversight of the construction.

    The use of new materials led to some unexpected consequences-- dangerous glare. The curved steel walls caused the focusing of heat on nearby buildings making them overheated,  shooting up their air conditioning costs.  After complaints Gehry came up with a way of sanding the surfaces to reduce the glare. 

    When I decided to do this story, I read a biography on him, "Conversations with Frank Gehry" by Barbara Isenberg.  He was born Frank Owen Goldberg in Toronto, Canada, in 1929.

    Because of prejudice and bullying directed at Jews, he changed his name to Gehry when he became an adult.   It was a struggle to find his potential as an architect and he met much resistance because of his outside of the box ideas. 

    After his stint in the army he went to the Harvard Graduate School of Design.  He lasted one year, but because he had paid for a two year program Harvard allowed him to sit in on whatever classes in the rest of the University that attracted him.  This was a good year for him as a broadening experience.  Years later Harvard gave him an honorary degree.

    I was impressed with his varigated background that included living in Paris and meeting famous artists who became a major influence on his work

    He moved back to Los Angeles in 1962 and began his own practice.  Everything he did seems different from his last project.  One that brings a smile every time I look at is the Nationale-Nederlanden Building in Prague, Czech Republic.  It looks like a slightly off balance women with too tight a girdle standing next to a straight standing man.   Gehry actually based it on a dancing scene of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

    Art museums and concert halls seem to be the main benefactors of new uses of building materials and stately designs.   Examples of outstanding modern building in Missouri include Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins and  the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, in Kansas City, and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis.

      Here in Columbia we can take pride in the Daniel Boone regional Library and the Firestone Baars Chapel at Stephen College.

My daughter stands beside a large rose shaped fountain designed in honor of Lillian Disney, Walt's wife.

The Alamo


The Alamo in San Antonio is Texas most visited attraction.

            Perusing the internet I came upon a listing of: "the worst tourist trap in every state."  I was surprised at what the author felt were not worth a traveler's time or money.  I had seen and written stories about most of his list that included Bourbon Street, Mall of America and Times Square.  Was I out of contact with what's worth seeing?

            On the Alamo he said, "Remember the Alamo? More like, spend a day at the Alamo and you'll remember to never go back.  The Building's remains are so small they consistently disappoint visitors."

            About a week later I came upon: "The one attraction you can't miss in every state." A number of them were sites that had made the worst list, including the Alamo. This author said: "Located on the outskirts of San Antonio, it was originally built by Franciscans in 1744 and was converted into a fort in 1836.  It earned its fame during the Texan War of Independence, when 187 defenders--including Davy Crockett--fought bravely against a Mexican army 3,000 men strong, but ultimately died in take no prisons battle."  (Another report says 2000 men.)

            Given the fact there have been at least 14 movies about the battle in 1836, would suggest it has played a major role in American's opinion about its importance.  The 13 day lost battle became the battle cry, "Remember the Alamo," that pulled Texans together  to win independence from Mexico.

             After Texas joined the union there were disputes about borders of Mexico and the United States that gave President James Polk a basis for starting the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848 that enlarged our country "from sea to shining sea," adding seven states to our borders.

            With three million visitors a year from all over the world the Alamo is Texas's most visited attraction.  Rather than getting a disappointed look we got a smile and then an emotional response to its significance to our country's history.  

            The Alamo has enough to see that it took us a full day to visit it and the surrounding  exhibitions.  In front of Alamo's plaza is a monument designed by Pompeo Coppini, an Italian sculptor who had adopted Texas as his home.   Among the names of the Texans who died at the Alamo are William Travis, commander of the patriots and Jim Bowie and David Crockett.

We took the audio tour of the Alamo area, stopping at 33 points that gave us a good overview of how the battle developed and the consequences.  The Alamo itself, a former church or mission, is treated with a great deal of respect as a sanctified place.  Men take their hats off, and no loud talking is allowed.  Inside the building a docent explains carefully the course of the battle and the movements of the defenders. 

 The memorial area includes a visitors’ center, a barracks and a small park.  Throughout the area docents give information above and beyond the audio tour.  

Outside the barracks a man with some of the weapons used in the battle and other objects was discussing them with visitors.  The barracks is filled with memorabilia and stories of what led up to the battle and what happened afterwards.

  Many of the comments on the audio tour focus on the maps, pictures and other displays in the barracks.  Among the items are Fess Parker’s rifle, used in the movie where he plays Crockett, medical instruments used at the hospital, a large grinding wheel, and a ring that Travis, knowing that he was about to die, gave to a young girl before the battle.   A 20-minute movie presents the story of the battle and its historical importance.  

Later at a nearby mall we went to an IMAX movie, ALAMO, The Price of Freedom, a docu-drama that recreates the battle scenes and heroism of the settlers who defended the Alamo against the Mexican army of Santa Anna.

 I feel the author of "the worst attractions list" failed to understand the importance to many of us travelers to be at a place where history happened and to see and touch those objects that played a role in creating the world we live in today. 

Texas is an exciting state for a traveler to visit since it has so many important sights to see.  I have enjoyed doing stories on 22 of them.

An  Alamo monument designed by Pompeo Coppini with  patriots  Jim Bowie and David Crockett standing in the forefront.



Frontier Village, Jamestown, North Dakota

    Recently while cruising the internet I came upon a slide show on "21 Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next American Road Trip."   To my surprise one of those towns was my home town of Jamestown, N. D.
    A note at the site reports, "If you are looking for interesting, photogenic small towns, you've come to the right place! Here are 21 spots you should stop in, snap lots of pics of, and brag to all your loved ones about. Because these are downright awesome."
    Small towns are interested in getting visitors to stop.  It's good for business, and if you get the right combination of attractions, it can actually bring a dying town back to life.  What works?  I can think of five things they can do, and Jamestown has done all five.
    1. Get the biggest something to draw attention.  As you approach Jamestown on US Highway 94 from Fargo on your way to the capital Bismarck, you will see the "World's Largest Buffalo, " a concrete monument 26 feet high, 46 feet long and weighing 60 tons.  On my last visit I was told that as many as 175,000 visitors a year have stopped to see the town's major sight, and most have had their picture taken in front of it.

The world's largest buffalo in Jamestown, North Dakota
     2.Build a living history museum.  In recent years this has been very popular, and when I see a good one, I always stop to do a story about it. Frontier Village in Jamestown in close by the buffalo.   The village is one of those sites that grown over the years and finally ended up being a significant attraction.
Frontier Village a collection of old building from around the area.
     Someone donated a railroad station from one of the defunct towns in the area. Then a post office and jail were added, and a little later an one-room schoolhouse where a friend of mine taught in the dirty (dust storm) thirties, and a small Lutheran Church that another friend had been confirmed in (at least four varieties survive in North Dakota, mostly Swedish and Norwegian).  Soon came a fire department, saloon, barber shop, sheriff’s office, trading post and an art studio and sales room set up by a locally famous cowboy artist.  
    The original buildings were furnished just as they would have been in the early 1900’s.  Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, local volunteers will tell you histories and stories about each building.   
    A place I was connected with as a child has also been added, The General Store and Post Office from Eldridge .  In the early thirties my Dad used to take me on horseback (he didn’t drive a car) to Eldridge, a small town about 12 miles from Jamestown.  Our big thrill was watching the train rush pass and seeing the crew throw out the incoming mail sack and hook the outgoing mail bag off the post office hanger. 
    3. Find the most famous person who came from your town and put together a site with his/her name on it. Fans of Western writer Louis L’Amour donated an old house that he may have lived in.  
    For you non-western fans, thirty of L’Amour’s 89 novels have been made into movies, and his books have been translated into 26 languages.  University of Jamestown has a separate room at their library given over to his work, including books in foreign languages, and the local library also has a special display of his work.
    4. Find something that exists in few places and hype it up.  Albino buffalo had a special place in the Native Americans' traditions.  White Cloud, an albino that would have been considered sacred by the Indians of the area.  For years it was the only one in existence, but I understand two more have  been born.  With a little walk you can see the whole local herd of 50 buffalo.
    5. Have the only museum that gives the history of a person or event.  About a hundred yards from Frontier Village is the National Buffalo Museum open year around.  The museum features artifacts and artwork of the Plains Indian culture and a video showing the history of American bison.  
     Many of the visitors come in RV’s and trailers as there is a Frontier Fort Campground adjacent to the village.  You can get buffalo burgers at the chuck wagon restaurant above the gift shop on the  campground. 
    Jamestown has an excellent job putting all of this together to make it an attraction.  I realize that North Dakota is one of the least visited states in the union; but if you’re passing through, it’s worth taking a look at an important memento of America’s prairie history.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Museum of World Treasures


    How did one man manage to collect so many artifacts in one lifetime?  We were at the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita, Kansas, surrounded by items from all over the world and  different historical periods.  The collection has a tremendous range from  Logan the Tylosaur, a giant fish who once patrolled the Western Inland sea over Kansas, to vases from ancient Greece to Bios on modern presidents.               

    We were told the collection was started by Dr. Jon Kardatzke, and he had put them into the museum in 2001 with the intent of educating the community.  It was a hit.  As more visitors came in, the collection received more attention from other fanatical collectors who also wanted to share the materials they had obsessively collected. 

    Now the collections have been expanded by 30 major private collectors and additional material from another 300.  No wonder it is such an overwhelming collection.

    What was the most impressive?  The displays on the presidents of the U.S., which included such things as  signed reports, letters and quotations from each.  So impressive I will write a separate story on it.

     The next most impressive displays were the dinosaurs that were the equal of what we have seen in major museums across the country.  The museum had to move to expanded quarters when they added three giant dinosaurs including Ivan the T. Rex.   

Ivan the T. Rex

     The collection of Buddha statues from around the world had a  number of body shapes with several being the expected overweight ones.  For example, the Laughing Buddha weighs two and a half tons.  

     A herd of Cape buffalo carved out of iron wood caught our attention.  How can anyone do an intricate  job like that? How do they keep the legs coming out of the right bodies?

    A small room was filled with materials from Egyptian tombs including two female mummies, some Egyptian coffins, figurines, jewelry, and animal mummies. 

    We were shown the reality of cowboy life, low paid, hardworking and many of them black. Something we were not told in our books and movies that instead conveyed the romantic lives of the American cowboy.

Reproduction of a scene from a WWII Air Force Base

Reproduction of a scene from the Civil War

    America’s wars?  Each is covered with artifacts and stories.  At the entrance to the Civil War we watched a movie on Quantrill’s raid into Lawrence, Kansas, where his  bushwackers killed most of  the men in town and successfully escaped the army who pursued him. 

    One of the collectors must have been obsessed with uniforms for in several collection WWI and WWII we see the uniforms of all of the participants from different countries along with the rifles they used.  Each of the wars also has a scene constructed of artifacts and manikins showing a typical scene of that war.

    "One of a kind display" includes the Scarecrow’s pitchfork from the Wizard of Oz, a portion of the Berlin Wall, the scalp of George Custer’s nephew Henry Armstrong Reed taken by one of the Indians at Custer’s last stand.

    Scavenger hunts are encouraged to get  younger visitors involved.  For pre- kindergarten to 2nd grade a set of pictures are given of objects to be looked for: Logan the Tylosaur, World War II era baby carriage,  Civil War US Cavalry soldier hat. 

    Third grade to fifth graders were asked to find such things as:  What hairstyle does the mummy on the right have? Find the clock in the Famous Authors collection.  What famous author did it belong to?

     For the sixth grade to adult things get harder: What is the laughing Buddha holding in his hands? What did soldiers fighting in Vietnam sometimes use, against regulation, to heat their meals?

    The above questions also gives a taste of the wide range of subjects covered by the collection. 

    This is one of those museums that almost demands the visitor come back to see more.

A Buddha from the Buddha Collection


Barbie: A Little History

      In 1959 the doll toys business began a radical change with the introduction of Barbie dolls developed by Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel.  She did this against resistance from her own company.  "My whole philosophy of Barbie was that, through the doll the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices."

     Three of the Missouri museums we visited last year had sections giving a history of the evolution of dolls. The museums were the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, University of Missouri-Kansas City;  The World's Largest Toy Museum, Branson; and the St. Joseph Museum.

     Originally the focus in the exhibits was obvious that dolls were babies to be cared for.  With the right dolls, girls could learn much about child care and their future roles as mothers.  The major and in some cases the only role that their future held.  Feed, love, care for and in some cases with some dolls change their wet diapers.

Before Barbie dolls were babies to be tended to so girls could learn how to be mothers.

     The first year 350,000 Barbie's were sold, it is estimated that now over a billion have been sold.   The doll was so skinny that some of us thought, "If these dolls are a model of women should be, maybe this is the way to more eating disorders."  

    But Handler was one of the first women to recognize that women were locked in the mother/wife role and needed a broader range of ideas of what they could be.

    In 1963 Betty Friedan came out with the book,  The Feminine Mystique, in which she discusses the limited roles that women are allowed because society had psychologically limited them in the role of wife and mother.  Rather than lead the movement Barbie evolved along with the changes being made in women's roles and encouraged women to believe they could do more.  For example, in 1963 the Russians had the first female astronaut and soon a Barbie astronaut was on sale. 

The possible careers that women could have were endless as far as Barbie was concerned.

    The earliest roles were stewardess, fashion designer, nurse, and business designer.  In 1973 just as women were being allowed in larger numbers into medical school, she became a surgeon. 

    In the 1990's the doors flew wide open and she truly could be in many occupations.  For example there are a doctor Barbie, 1988 and a NASCAR Barbie 1998.   In 2016 she had risen to the point she ran for president.

   The initial Barbie was inexpensive, $3, and company made their fortune selling costumes for her.  As the women's movement grew Barbie's clothes not only represented fashion, but tools and objects were made available to her as she entered different occupations. This includes a pink convertible and a jeep. 

      Over the years changes have been made in Barbie's looks to keep her up to date. This is obvious in most exhibitions I have studied in these museums. This includes hair style and color, waist size and general facial features.  One of these is how she looks at you, early she had a sideways glance, but that was changed to looking directly at whoever was handling her--suggesting a more independent woman.

    Barbie has been given a range of friends by Mattel that you are likely to find in the exhibits dedicated to her: a Hispanic Teresa and a African American Christie. 

    The first attempt to make a black Barbie, they only changed her color and not her features so it was not a success.  More recently they have added several Barbie's with black features.

    Time magazine has listed Barbie number two on its list of most influential toys of all time with LEGO being number one and G.I. Joe being number three.

    In Kansas City a non-profit organization, The United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC) that promotes the collecting of doll and has a museum and a monthly magazine for doll fans.     

    My oldest Daughter Jerilyn has a marvelous collection of dolls including several dozen Barbie's, and she was kind enough to let me take pictures of that part of her collection for this story.

  When I was a child, women worked as mothers, housewives, and around the farm-- full time jobs.  My views of opportunities for women have been modified over the years, but not by Barbie.  My wife, when we dated informed me that she intended to become a professional, which she did.  

    Our four daughters choose occupations that were not open to women when I was growing up.  Now I see Barbie as being a one model to show children the possibilities to explore areas that interested them that would bring more joy into their life.  

Even becoming president was a possibility.  

Saturday, January 6, 2018

World's Largest Toy Museum


The World's Largest Toy Museum is in Branson, Missouri


    When in Branson, MO, last fall I visited The World's Largest Toy Museum with over a million items from the19th century to the present time.  My mind was flooded with memories about my childhood. I remembered the toys I had and the ones I would like to have had if we had had the money.       

    This is obviously a common response, and parents and grandparents bringing children will see a lot things that will trigger memories that can be shared.

    There were toys for every age group.  I could see, however, that some of the kids walking around with an  iPhone in their hands were wondering how anyone could have found some objects interesting enough to spend time with.

    My first strong response was to the National BB Gun Collection, with over 500 guns.  I would have loved to have had a grandchild or two with me so I could tell them about the BB gun wars of my childhood.  

There were 500 BB guns in their collection

    I would tell about my dissatisfaction with my Buck Jones pump and my envy of those who had a Red Ryder lever action.  Those were the days of little parental supervision. and I'm not sure my mother and dad knew the hazards the guns created.

    In the checker museum I could have bragged about winning the nine-year-old checker championship in Jamestown, N.D.

    The Lone Ranger section took me back to lying on the floor in the dark listening to him and his faithful companion Tonto on the radio.

    Dolls play a large role in many people's childhood memories, and the museum has a wide range of them.  My wife Carla especially enjoyed the displays. Our daughter Jerilyn has added several hundred of similar ones in her collection at home.   

    I found a number of special displays. The first group was labeled Vintage Store Front Mechanical Dolls.  Here I saw James Cagney, John Wayne and Jack Kennedy standing with a group of realistic dolls dressed in outfits appropriate to who they were.  They didn't appear to me to be something a child would want, rather something an adult would keep for display.

    The second large display had GI Joe boxes in the exhibits, but the figures were dressed and armed German, Russian and other participants in World War II.  Again I didn't see them as children's toys but as collectables for adults interested in fine details of uniforms and weapons.

    The last group was again GI Joe labels, but were Civil War figures, finely detailed with individualized faces.  More likely again for adult collectors.

    The owners, Tom and Wendy Beck. started the museum in Texas in 1998 and moved to Branson in 2001with a mission "to build a toy museum that would bring people back to their childhoods, bring forgotten memories back to life, and offer opportunities for sharing those recollections with family and friends."  I feel that they accomplished that goal very well.

    As toys have been added, more building has been added and museum now covers three buildings, with 26,000 feet of exhibits.

    It is not all toys.  Space has been given to Harold Bell Wright who wrote "Shepherd of the Hills," a novel that sold millions and became a play that was part of the start of Branson as a tourist center. 

    We watched a movie on Wright's life and saw a copy of the letter written by President Ronald Reagan about the positive influence of Wright's novel on his life.

    In the last building we visited there were several large railroad displays, unlike anything I knew about as a child.  Finely detailed buildings, tracks that intersected and trails built on a special scale.  My contact with this sort of thing was as an adult with friends who had turned their basements into train stations fulfilling a childhood dream.

    For adults this is a very pleasant drop back into our past and for children to have fun  exploring .

My wife, Carla in startled by a masked manikin

A Civil War GI Joe collection

The Museum has a special section on checkers

U-Boat 505 and the Enigma Coding Machine

Capturing the U-505 German Submarine in World War II

    It turned out to be a real adventure when we visited the Museum of Science+Industry in Chicago to explore  the capture of the U-505 German Submarine during World War II.

    Would we find a way to stop the devastation the U-Boats were creating on our supply ships crossing the Atlantic?  Would we capture a U-Boat before its crew could blow it up?  What would be find that would help us end the war? 

    No expense has been spared to provide answers to those and other questions by the use of a remarkable collection of archival film footage, 200 artifacts and interviews and testimony from the survivors, including the German captain of the sub.

    We started down a hallway covered with newspaper headlines about the start of the war and the ongoing battles.  Charts indicated the number of merchant ships sunk each year, peaking in 1942 with 1,150 ships sent to the bottom of the Atlantic.  The subs were working in wolf packs. England was on the verge of starvation.  The subs had to be stopped.

A diorama of survivors of a ship sunk by a German U-Boat

    The Allies had to coordinate their various forces and a central office was developed that took messages from the air, the ground and naval forces.

     With antisubmarine intelligence, electronic tracking and attack aircraft we set up our own Hunter-Killer Task Groups. 

    One of the visuals is a life- sized hologram of six people in a central control center gathering details and putting together an organized approach that led them to a sub off the coast of Africa that destroyers and attack planes surrounded.   

    The wolf pack hunters had now become the hunted.

    Another large display with two ships' officers watching a large screen that shows the film taken at that time of the subs capture.  We see the dropping of a special explosive that will damage but not sink a sub but would bring it to the surface.  

    It works and later we get to watch the members of the destroyer's crew go aboard the sub to get papers, maps and anything else that will tell us about Germany's war plans.

    There is considerable danger because of the 14 timed explosives that should have been set.  Fortunately for the American sailors it had all happened so quickly there was not time to set them to explode. Instead a sea strainer cover had been opened and water was rushing in. The cover was put back on.

The sailors who went about the sinking U-Boat 505 and rescued the Enigma coding machine

    Sacks of materials were taken off, but most important was the capture of the German M4 enigma coding machine.   This was to be a gift without price, since now the Allies could decode German messages.  

    To do this we needed to keep secret the capture of U-Boat and lead the Germans to believe it had been sunk and all of the crew killed. 

    Only one German died, the others were all taken to a secret prison camp in Louisiana.  The boat itself was towed to  Bermuda without being discovered by the Germans.

    One display shows how the captured German crew tried to send messages out that they were still alive, but fortunately failed.

     At the end of the tour a film showed these sailors meeting with their families who had believed they were dead . Being captured probably kept them from being killed because once the Allied forces got its act together, 70% of the German subs were sunk.

The U-505 has been reconditioned and is in great condition.  Tours can be taken through it.

    The U-505 has been reconditioned and looks in marvelous condition.   Tours are available for an extra charge, but so much is going on around the boat that the interior tour is not really necessary.  We had taken the interior tour shortly after the boat was moved to Chicago.

    The children visitors were getting a real thrill using the material on exhibition.   Enigma machines were on display along with a screen on which the visitor could code and decode messages.  The living quarters were there to see what the sleeping and eating arrangements were on board.  Periscopes were available to use.

    Toward the end of the exhibition a film from 1964 is shown of interviews with the German Captain Harald Lange of the U-Boat and Admiral Dan Gallery who had captured him.   They had become friends in the interim. 

    So much more can be seen.   If you are interested in World War II, this is a must see for the vast archives and artifacts that have been drawn on to make this excellent exhibition.

Visitors can operate some of the submarine equipment