Wednesday, November 21, 2012

President Bush Presidential Library & Museum


George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

We walked away from the Presidential Library and Museum of George H. W. Bush in College Station, Texas, with the feeling that he had had almost an ideal background as preparation to serve as our president.  Before his inauguration in 1989, he had been a war hero, a Congressman, an Ambassador to the United Nations, a Director of Central Intelligence and a Vice President—all of this experience giving him a multi-sided view of the world and considerable ability to deal effectively with negotiations and crises.  

On the audio tour the commentary by George, Barbara and their daughter Dorothy gave friendly, intimate information including the couple’s love-at-first-sight meeting in college.   He had already been a World War II bomber pilot who flew off aircraft carriers, had been on 58 combat missions, been shot down, lost the other two men on his plane, been rescued at sea, and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. One exhibit includes a life-size model of his Grummam TBM Avenger aircraft hanging from the ceiling, a model of the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto, and a model of the submarine that rescued him. 

After the war Bush went to Yale on the G.I. bill, graduated Phi Beta Kappa in two and half years and still starred on the baseball team, playing in the college world series of baseball—a picture shows him receiving recognition from Babe Ruth.  

His early life with Barbara is recorded on a big television screen.  Through her writings we could understand the strong effect on them of the death of their daughter Robin at 3 from leukemia.  The family moved to Texas where he started an oil drilling business that made him a millionaire.  He felt that “any definition of a successful life must include service to others.”  He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966 and 1968.

In 1971 and 1972 under Nixon he became the Ambassador to the UN, an experience narrated by his daughter. After some illegal activities had been exposed, Bush took on his next job as Director of the CIA and worked to restore the agency’s reputation.  Reagan beat him for the Republican nomination for president but asked him to be his vice president.  While Vice President from ‘81 to ‘88 he did much traveling around the world meeting leaders from other countries, covering 1,300,000 miles or the equivalent of 52 trips around the world. 

            We had forgotten how much had happened when he served as president from 1989 to 1993: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the revolution in Eastern Europe, German reunification,  the end of the Cold War, more freedom in the Baltics, the coup against Gorbachev, the dissolution of the USSR, the invasion of Panama, the protests in Tiananmen Square, and Desert Storm.  By touching screens we could see the news stories and learn of Bush’s policies and reactions.

            In the reproduction of the White House Situation Room visitors could experience how the president could consult with his advisors.  A Desert Storm barracks room had been rebuilt to show how the troops lived and a video gave Bush’s reactions to the war.  Outside the room the manikins dressed as troops included a woman, which we appreciated since our daughter Debra had served as an army major in active duty in Desert Storm.  On the home front we learned about the passage of bills such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

 When he left office Bush had a 91 percent approval rating.  However, he lost his bid for re-election in 1992 to Bill Clinton, partly because of the economic recession and Bush’s reneging on his pledge: “Read my lips: no new taxes.”  In the last display Bush and Barbara talk about their lives after the presidency and how they have continued to be involved in a variety of activities including the Library and Museum dedicated in 1997.  In retrospect we feel that Bush is among the most ethical of all our presidents.


A memorial to the fall of the Berlin Wall at the George Bush Library and Museum

Especially impressive to me was the sculpture, The Day the Wall Came Down, in the central courtyard of the Library and Museum of George H.W. Bush in College Station, Texas.  Seeing the five horses, leaping over the rubble of the demolished Berlin Wall commemorating the November 9, 1989, fall of the barrier between East and West Berlin, brought back memories of the Cold War and the two and half years I was a civilian instructor at Air Force bases in Europe

The sculptor, Veryl Goodnight of Santa Fe, New Mexico, said after she saw the people streaming through the collapsed wall, she dreamed of horses escaping into freedom and used them as a symbol of that freedom.   Some family members had not seen each other for 28 years. In some places the wall had been doubled and the space between had been called the “death strip.”  Goodnight had placed the stallion, symbolic of man, entirely in what would have been East Berlin, and the four mares, symbolic of family, as passing the “death strip’ and entering to freedom.       

Another casting of the sculpture, a gift of the American people to the German people, was delivered by the US Air Force on the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, was installed by the German army in the Allied Museum in the former American sector in a reunited free Berlin, and was unveiled by George H. W. Bush in 1998.  

The second memento in the Bush Museum is a four-foot-wide section of the Berlin Wall bright with graffiti on the West Berlin side, gray on the other.  It is protected from visitors’ need to touch by a transparent covering. 

Carla and I and our children lived in Europe at a time when tensions were high, and we could feel a sense of danger all around us.  The pilots I worked with seemed to be anticipating the Russians coming across the border at any time.   At one base there were 21 F-4 Phantom Jets, each loaded with a nuclear bomb ready to take off at a few moments notice.  At other bases pilots practiced getting into the air in minutes in order to meet the threat of Russian bombers crossing the danger line.

When we were stationed in Germany, Carla and I made a visit to Berlin.  We had to leave anything that identified us as being with the military at our apartment near Wiesbaden and used only our passports for identification.  The Wall was 14 feet high, 105 miles long and was built in 1961 to keep the East Germans from escaping to West Germany.  Like the sample piece at the Bush Museum the West Berlin side was covered with colorful graffiti, but the East Berlin side was grey and undecorated. 

We passed through the wall into the dismal section that was East Berlin, with unsmiling people moving furtively past dimly lit under stocked stores.   It was an unhappy place.  That 900 people were killed trying to escape was understandable.

George H.W. Bush was influential in ending the Cold War and the Berlin Wall fell during his administration.   It is fitting that he gets recognition for what was a major world event.

After retirement Bush continued his active life by skydiving

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

Reagan museum surprises visitors with diverse displays

A statue of Ronald Reagan greets visitors at the entrance to the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

When I first visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum north of Los Angeles in 2001, a special exhibit featured 40 paintings Norman Rockwell made for The Saturday Evening Post and Look magazine. Art critic David Hickey wrote that Rockwell "portrayed a world in which the minimum conditions of democracy are made visible, a world where decency, tolerance and basic goodness are manifested and lived daily."

That these folksy paintings were on display at the Reagan museum was appropriate because Reagan and Rockwell had similar values and were both accused of "cornball sentimentality." I don’t know if Rockwell was Reagan’s favorite artist, but I suspect he was.

I have visited most of the great art museums of Western culture. I really love them, but the atmosphere is often hushed, and a sense of great significance hangs in the air. Rockwell might have been dismissed as only an illustrator, but the audience visiting the Reagan museum talked about the pictures and laughed with recognition at situations. The friendly nature of the visitors’ interaction, along with the impact of Reagan’s speeches and the historical memorabilia on display, contributed to an emotional experience.

In 2004, I returned for a second visit. The Air Force One Pavilion was under construction. The Boeing 707 first used by President Richard Nixon in 1973 and then by Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Reagan and the first President George Bush would be housed there. Also included were Reagan’s presidential parade limousine and a Marine One helicopter.


The pavilion was the future, but I continued to find the museum impressive in its own right.

Visitors start their tour by watching a movie of speech excerpts, with Reagan giving background commentary. As I listened, I remembered how he could bring out strong feelings in others with his own emotional responses, which sometimes included tears. In the film, the faces in his audiences convey a symphony of feelings. Another short film gives an overview of Reagan’s life.

On my second visit, the temporary entry display contained great paintings of all our presidents, accompanied by short biographies.

In the museum, much is done with montages. One is a collection of the posters of Reagan’s films. In other areas are mementos from his radio and Army days and costumes from his movies. One display mirrors his family’s kitchen from his childhood, where he developed a taste for his favorite foods: eggplant lasagna, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and split-pea soup.

Reagan’s life was frequently recorded on film, and throughout the museum, televisions and movie screens play the important moments in his life. In one room, an ancient TV shows him in the early days of campaigning for office. Another plays excerpts of his films, with some emphasis on his favorite roles as George Gipp in "Knute Rockne" and as Drake McHugh in "King’s Row."

The display that put the biggest lump in my throat was the film on the assassination attempt by John Hinckley. It is little known how close to death Reagan came; his humor and good will were important in handling a critical situation.  As he lay in the operating room with a bullet an inch from his heart, doctors reported that he grinned and murmured, "Please tell me you’re Republicans."

There are films of most of the great events of his administration, such as his Brandenburg speech: "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

To emphasize his success in dealing with the Cold War, outside the back door of the museum is a section of that wall covered with graffiti by Germans unhappy with being forcibly divided by the Soviet Union.

A replica of Reagan’s Oval Office

In a replica of Reagan’s Oval Office, a guide relates how the president hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union and pushed for the rebuilding of the military. Here, as in other places, are guides who answer questions and give short presentations.

A large area is devoted to Reagan’s love of physical activities, with mementos of his horseback riding, ranch work, swimming, target shooting and golf and many gifts from sports heroes. Through it all, there is much emphasis on Nancy and the important role she has played in his life.


Staff members say their goal is not only to educate and entertain, but to stimulate visitors’ involvement in historical events. These goals are demonstrated by the choice of special exhibits. For example, I would have liked to have been there to see "Spies: Secrets From the CIA, KBG and Hollywood."

When we were there, a 4,000-square-foot gallery inside the new 25,000-square-foot Presidential Learning Center featured "Lewis and Clark: A Discovery for All Ages."

As the museum’s publicity materials say, "This hands-on exhibit incorporates movie-set-style replicas for visitors to explore: look at a 40-foot replica of their keelboat; walk up the Missouri River dock and examine the trade-goods Lewis and Clark brought with them on their expedition; peer inside a full-scale Teton Sioux tepee and learn what was used inside them; enter the gates at Fort Clatsop and see how the group spent their winter before returning home; and much more."

Even for visitors who are not fans of Reagan as an actor or a politician, this is an interesting and at times surprising experience.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan unveils the cornerstone for the Air Force One Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on “February 6, 2004.

Reagan’s legacy elicits feelings of loss for many
A few months after my visit in 2004 Reagan died and I wrote the following column for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Last week millions of people who didn’t know President Ronald Reagan personally, even some who were not alive when he was president, showed strong emotional reactions to his death. The media have done numerous recaps of his life and contributions and gave complete coverage to the funeral.

I’ve been asked a number of questions, such as, "How come such a strong reaction?" "Isn’t all this emotion unusual?" "Why are even teenagers who weren’t alive when he was president showing grief?"

Each of us has a different combination of reasons for mourning, but some common factors are related to our basic nature as human beings.

Most of us are by nature cooperative because alone we are relatively helpless. As part of this willingness to cooperate for mutual benefit, we respond positively to leaders who can get us to work together toward a common goal.

Reagan convinced us he wanted only the best for us, and even his detractors didn’t question his sincerity. As the "great communicator," he acted as a unifier of the citizens, not a divider.


A charismatic leader often projects an image that might have little to do with who he or she is as a person. Because he had been an actor, Reagan was accused of playing the role of a lifetime as president. I would suggest that the presidency is a role regardless of who fills it and that to do it right, it is necessary for a person to act presidential. The incumbent becomes the role.

Leaders with a charisma that includes much charm, humor and touches of humanity, such as Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan possessed, elicit special feelings of loss when they die, and a whole nation mourns. A rush to memorialize them includes naming streets, schools and public buildings after them. A movement already has started to put Reagan’s portrait on the $10 bill.

This need to memorialize a dead leader also seems to go with our human nature. This behavior can be found in our earliest recorded history as communal mourning when a leader died. Even prehistoric remains found in graves suggest that leaders were buried with special ceremonies and often with the sacrifice of wives and servants buried with them.

Super parent

Some psychological factors are related to leaders in general. By reason of their personalities, they become parent figures to us, and we place a great deal of faith in them to take care of us and see to our welfare. For most of us older than 30, Reagan is an integral part of our history. We were reminded, by sound bites from his speeches and tributes by other important leaders, of our anxieties at the time he served and how he calmed them. His death brings closure to a time we lived through, and so a part of what we are is gone.

Many people will feel as if a close relative has died. In some cases, we mourn more at the death of a leader than we do for a relative. I remember the public showing similar feelings of personal loss when Roosevelt and Kennedy died.

Finally, young people who didn’t know him as president probably are showing a sympathy response. When others around us are sad or showing strong emotion, most normal people will respond with similar feelings. I suspect that if a 15-year-old is feeling a sense of loss, he or she probably caught it from relatives or by watching too much television.

Grieving a loss is normal when we have felt a connection to a person. Part of Reagan’s legacy is the number of people who felt a strong connection with him, even people such as me who disagreed with many of his policies.

Friday, August 17, 2012





 My wife Carla and I took a step back in time to the 1880s at Old World Wisconsin a living museum at Eagle, Wisconsin with costumed interpreters doing the tasks of people who settled in the area.  The 1800s were a time of immigration to Wisconsin from northern Europe and the Wisconsin Historical Society has collected over fifty buildings from around the state built by different immigrant groups in that period and distributed them in naturalistic settings in a square mile site.  Some like the crossroads village area and the German farming area have many buildings and others like the African American area and Polish area have only a building or two.

 Crops of the period were growing in the fields when we were there and the animals the settlers would have used were in the fields and barns. Behind one of the barns were two large black oxen who at times are used to pull equipment, but on our visit were just trying to find enough shade to cover themselves from the sun.  At thrashing time horses are used to walk on a treadmill to run the thrashing machine. 

 The powerful impression a tour of the area leaves is because of the costumed interpreters spread throughout the area who not only demonstrate skills of the period but know and relate the history of the people who owned the buildings in which they are working.  It was these stories of struggle for survival in what was basically a wilderness that was so impactful. 

 At 576 acres the area is so large trams passing every fifteen minutes are needed to move visitors around the area.  The tram drivers are also guides who give explanations of what we were seeing.  When we were there several bus loads of forth and fifth grade children were also making the rounds and several smaller groups of middle school children were taking part in some of the activities to learn what life in the nineteenth century was like.  We heard the children’s leaders explaining such things to them as how to use the pit toilets (outhouses).

 The first home we visited was the Sanford Farm, the richest home we would visit.  A Yankee, he could afford servants and a large piano for his wife.  It was in the Crossroads Village area and next door servants were working in the vegetable garden. We stopped at the blacksmith shop for a demonstration of making hangers for the wall and the Thomas General Store where the manager explained what was needed by farmers when they grew most of their own food and groceries were not something in demand.  The original immigrants were into wheat and wool and the dairy products for which the state became famous came later.  We also stopped at St. Peter’s Catholic Church where a costumed woman gave us a history of the Church and background on the religious objects in the room.

The blacksmith gave us a lesson in hanger production

 We learned early that the interpreters was so knowledgeable and entertaining that if we were to see the area in a day we needed to skip some of the attractions such as the Four Mile Inn, the Peterson Wagon Shop and the Sisel Shoe Shop. 

 The bright eyed lady at the Kristen Pedersen Farm in the Danish Area related Kristen’s hard luck story.  He took a homestead in the Northern part of the state where weather conditions gave him a short growing season and he had many trees to cut down before he had land to grow winter wheat and flax.  He had lost two wives and was responsible for taking care of his elderly father and three daughters.  His goal was do what was not possible in Europe at that time, own land.  Both wives had died in childbirth and it was left to his oldest daughter to do much of the house keeping and care of the old father and the other two daughters. 

 While we were at the Danish homestead the Wisconsin Historical Society had brought in a group of young teenagers to experience cooking on the frontier.  They had picked the vegetables from the garden, gathered eggs from the area, and were cooking over a black coal stove using cast iron pans.  I noticed the cake was burned on one side, but they seemed to be doing well with the other foods they were preparing.

 The largest neighborhood was the German Area with three farms ranging from poor to more upscale.  Here we became aware of how the houses in each area were build using the materials and methods the people brought with them from the old country.  In the Schyottler farm the young woman re-enactor was baking rye bread in the Bake House that was separate from the main house.  The bread was rising covered with cloth to protect it from the many flies in the room.   She had constructed a fly catcher of the period: a bowl with sticky stuff in it covered with a cloth with a hole in it so the flies could get in but not get out. She admitted that she got rid of the bread she baked by feeding to the pig out back who really enjoyed it.

 The bread is rising under the towel and flies are being caught in the cloth covered pot

 In one area a demonstration of how flax was spun into thread and then made into cloth on a loom.  In another area wool was being processed and visitors could take part in turning it into thread.  A special feature in the Schulz home was a “Black Kitchen” an all purpose room with a pit in the floor that gave heat for baking oven and for heating a kettle with the smoke being used for curing meat.  It was fuel efficient but not safe since house fires were evidently common.

 The Koepsell farm was the biggest and had the most going on and the children visiting there were the most excited.  For example there were several dozen leghorn chickens who seemed to lay their eggs randomly around the grounds and children were allowed to find one and bring it to the kitchen.  It looked to me they were finding more eggs than there were chickens.  The tools for splitting wood also seemed to be attractive to them and several were taking lessons from an interpreter.. 

 At the Norwegian Area we first went to the one room school to watch the teacher give a lesson to a group of the visiting students using the forth grade reader of the time.  The level of vocabulary in the book was quite high and evidently a lot was expected of the children who mostly would end their educations at the eighth grade.  Norwegians were noted for starting schools as soon as possible for their communities and publishing Norwegian Newspapers as soon as a critical mass of readers was available.

 Visiting fifth graders get a taste of one room school

 The two farms in the area were a study in contrasts and showed the differences that arriving with little or no money and arriving with some financial backing could make in the life style of the immigrant.   At the Knud Fossebrekke Farm our first contact was a big boar pig.  The interpreter said that this was first animal most farmers got because pigs could scavenge off the land and gave birth to many offspring.  He said the Norwegians came as fish eaters who had no experience with pork and had trouble adjusting to the new foods available, but hunger helped them adjust. 

 Our Norwegian guide took us into the small cabin made of rough hewn logs where over a fire in small black stove he was frying a squirrel for lunch that the he skinned and gutted.  This was a demonstration of the kind of food settlers would have eaten.  He also had a garden when he gathered potatoes, corn, cabbage, beets and pumpkins.  Outdoors was an open fireplace with a large kettle for cooking large pieces and a flat steel pan where lefse could be fried.   He said that as small as the cabin was at one time as many as 16 bachelors wintered there and small pigs had been kept in a pen inside the house to protect them from predictors.  Along the back wall were the skins of seven or eight animals including one of a black bear.   Our guide said the furs were often used as trading goods.

 At one time as many as 16 Norwegian bachelors winters here

 The other farm was owned by Anders Kvaale who came to America with a thousand dollars that allowed him to buy outright 160 acres of land, hire a carpenter to build him a proper house with a barn and other outbuildings, and buy all the animals he needed to stock a farm.  The interpreter there was demonstrating spinning and working with wool and had visiting teen agers getting wool ready for the spinning wheel. 

 In one day we didn’t have time to visit the Polish or Finnish Areas.  Each of the areas had it own garden area that grows plants and flowers of that particular ethnic group.  As usual at these living history sites I found my self enchanted by the opportunity to drop back for a few hours to the life of my immigrant ancestors.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Cherokee story recounted onstage

On a pleasant evening in Cherokee, N.C., I scrambled up a quarter-mile mountainside staircase to an open-air amphitheater to watch "Unto These Hills," a historical drama that traces the Cherokee from their years as a great American Indian culture in the early 1800s through the tragic Trail of Tears in 1838 to the present day.

With the Smoky Mountains, huge trees and a rock ledge in the background, this theater, which seats 2,800, is impressive. The Cherokee story has been dramatized here since 1950 by the descendants of the Cherokees who avoided the Trail of Tears by hiding in the mountains. The actors do double duty by becoming re-enactors during the day at Oconaluftee, the nearby Cherokee village.

The first act moved somewhat slowly, probably because I was familiar with much of the early history, but there were some interesting twists. For example, during the War of 1812 at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the Cherokee leader Junaluska saved Col. Andrew Jackson's life, and Jackson gave the Cherokees credit for the victory. Later in the play, we learn that when the Cherokee pleaded with Jackson not to force them to the reservation in Oklahoma, he rejected them brusquely. I hadn't previously been aware of the impact of the discovery of gold in Georgia hastening the increase of white settlers in the area.

After the Cherokee were herded into stockades, they soon began the 1,200-mile march, which resulted in much suffering and death. Some of them escaped into the mountains, among them the leader Tsali. When he and his family were captured and mistreated, he killed two soldiers and escaped.

Col. William Stanhope Foster, the U.S. military leader, made a deal with the Cherokee that if Tsali was captured and executed, the Cherokees who escaped into the hills would be allowed to stay in the area. Tsali gave himself up, but he insisted that he and his sons be killed by his own men. The rifle that killed him is part of the artifacts in the museum I had visited earlier.

Besides the military action, the play features many songs, such as the one performed by an American Indian woman describing an awareness that danger is coming. Along with the war dances, which look authentic, are some fun-filled dances, one of which looked like it was straight out of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and another similar to something from "West Side Story." Still, I found the play an educational and worthwhile experience. It runs through Aug. 18.

"Unto These Hills" is the premier show, having been viewed by more than 6 million people. However, other shows by American Indians also are produced. This summer, "Unto these Hills" alternates with a new production, "Cherokee Family Reunion." There also is a pre-show of singers playing both country and Cherokee music.

The outdoor stage on which Unto These Hills is performed

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Museum offers view of Cherokee history

Our visit to Cherokee, N.C., was prefaced by our drive through the very beautiful Cherokee National Forest. Much of the way, we were running alongside fast-flowing rapids filled with rocks and vacationers in rubber rafts. Later, on our way to Cherokee, we passed an area indicating 10 miles of slow rapids, and this was even more crowded with rafts. Many places along the way offer raft services. The great forest and mountains made me feel peaceful and relaxed, almost as if the surroundings were cuddling me.

Cherokee is a small town and makes a big deal of its casino, which we did not visit. We bought a combined ticket for the three main American Indian attractions in the area. Our first visit was to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, a large museum that claims to be the most complete collection of Cherokee artifacts anywhere. We were surprised when we entered that we were met by an older Cherokee man who offered to sign our museum guide. It turns out he was the sculptor, Jerry Wolfe, who made the life-size statue of a Cherokee medicine man in the museum.

 Cherokee Medicine Man by Jerry Wolfe

 The museum is state-of-the-art, with a variety of methods of presenting its material. It opens with a five-minute film telling the Cherokee story of the creation of the earth. From the theater, we stepped into a series of artifact rooms, with some dating as far back as 13,000 years. Each of the periods is carefully explained.

In some of the rooms, we were given information about the different historical periods: the Paleo-Indians; Archaic Indians; Woodland Indians; Mississippian Indians; and Hopewell Indians, when the tribes around the continent had a high degree of product exchange.

The most innovative displays were two holograms. One was of a medicine man who explained the Cherokee story of how animals held a meeting and decided humans were getting too dangerous and each was to give humans an illness. The plants, however, liked men and gave them a plant to cure each illness if only they could find it.

In some rooms, large paintings cover the walls with life size manikins in front of them tell the story of their history.

A display with life sized manikins tells of some of the problems in the Trail of Tears

Another section tells of Sequoia's invention of an alphabet and gives examples of a printing press and books produced.

The Museum tells the story of Cherokee leaders visit to Europe

An unusual feature was detailed newspaper stories about American Indian visits to London and visits of white men, such as Henry Timberlake with the Cherokees. Among the exhibits was the rifle that executed Stale in 1838. We were to learn more about his death at the outdoor play "Unto These Hills."

There also other displays of costumed mannequins at critical points in history. As I have a small collection of masks from around the world, I enjoyed the collection of masks carved from buckeye and basswood that were used in dances and ceremonies to frighten away evil sprits. It amused me that masks have been invented throughout the world independently for similar reasons.

Cherokee ceremonial masks

Across the street from the museum is the Qualla Arts and Crafts cooperative, made up of 300 artisans. We found displays of modern stone and wood sculptures and a wide variety of baskets and pottery.

Saturday, July 7, 2012



At the Oconaluftee Indian Village women demonstrate belt and sash weaving

 The Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, North Carolina is one of the best staffed rebuild villages or towns that I have visited.  Staffed by Cherokees Indians who are descendents of the group that resisted the move to Indian Territory by hiding in the mountains and arranging a special deal to stay in the area, they have reconstructed a very realistic replication of a Cherokee village from the late 1700s and early 1800s.  Although not very large it is heavily staffed with re-enactors who play their roles well. 

 We started our visit with a tour of the handcrafts and arts of the Cherokee as they have been done for hundreds of years.  A guide led tour starts every fifteen minutes, and it took us 40 minutes to visit the shops where these original crafts were being demonstrated.  At each point two or three workers chatted with us and explained what they were doing: we visited weavers, bead workers, mask and other utensils carved out of wood, basket makers, and arrow chippers.  The baskets are made from local wood and reeds and are expensive, 150 dollars for a small one, 300 for a larger one. These were definitely not made in China prices. The arrow maker also demonstrated his skills with a blow gun that he made out of reeds.  

 Following the craft tour we were turned free to visit the various exhibits at our own speed.  Each building or display had a staff member to answer questions and make explanations.  For example one man was making a canoe out of a giant tree by burning and then chopping the ashes out.  The best presentation was of family life and war by a woman in the Council House where the business of the village took place.

A weapon’s maker demonstrates a blow gun

 A novel addition to the attraction is an on going story about a situation that almost ruined the relations between the English and the Cherokees.  Lt. Henry Timberlake was negotiating with them when a party of British Soldiers were spotted doing things they should not. We see this event re-enacted.  An hour later we go to the square where a battle takes place where the three English soldiers and their Inidan companion are killed.  Timberlake is taken by the Cherokees to the council hut where he will be tried for misleading the tribe.  An hour later we are the council house to see him tried and by clever detective work by the local trader is found not guilty since the supposedly English soldiers were French soldier sent to cause trouble. 

Lt. Henry Timberlake is informed some of the British troops are causing trouble in the area

The village is on a reservation so we were in Cherokee territory.   The Cherokee land owners rent their land so that outsides can run businesses in the area.  Most of the business we saw in the area was for the tourist’s trade, motels, restaurants, and gift shops and white water raft businesses.  The casino business is good and Harrods takes 52 percent of the profit and Cherokees get 48 percent that essentially pays for schools, hospitals, police and other services that most of us pay taxes for.  When the casino came in 1947 the government stopped its support of those services.  As a result the Cherokees now teach their own language both oral and written and expose their children to their history as a people.

 Next to the village is a botanical garden that has plaques on trees and plants explaining what kind of tea could be made to cure which kind of illnesses.  Many of the teas seemed to be to treat different kinds of stomach disorders.  An herb garden is also along the walking tour.  The Cherokee medicine men claimed to have found a cure for everything except smallpox. 

 A Cherokee warrior turns a log into a canoe

Thursday, July 5, 2012



Reconstructed Fort Loudoun is 17 feet higher than the original because of the Tellico Dam.

            I am often amazed in retrospect at how a series of small events can have a huge impact.  An illustration can be found in the history of the Fort Loudoun State Historic       Area in a state park on the banks of the Tellico Lake in Vonore, Tenn.   Without the fort to protect the southern frontier for the English from the French from 1756-1760, we might all be speaking French instead of English. At the time the British and the French were fighting the Seven Years’ War in Europe, and here in North America we were in the middle of the French and Indian War (1754-1763).  

The Cherokee had opted to fight on the side of their trading partners, the British; but they were afraid if their warriors went off to battle, other tribes might raid the camps where they had left their women and children.  Built at the request of the Cherokee, Fort Loudoun helped keep the Cherokee loyal to the English while English soldiers in the North were winning the battles that eventually gave them control of eastern North America and left us speaking English.

            A 15-minute film in the visitor’s center gives a history of the fort and its eventual burning by the Cherokee.  At first the relationship went well.  The fort became a center for trading with the Cherokee exchanging food and skins for what they considered modern marvels: guns, metal cooking pots, beads, paint and cloth.

The relationship began to break down when the Cherokee felt they were not being treated fairly by the British. After some settlers killed some Cherokees, the Indians killed an equal number of settlers, and the relationship broke down.  The Cherokee believed that if some tribe killed a member of your tribe, they owed you a death that could be paid by any member of the other tribe. 

            A leader of the Cherokee was arrested under false pretentions, and other Cherokees were taken hostage and killed.  In retaliation, late in 1759 the Cherokee surrounded the fort and by early 1760 had starved them into submission.  The Cherokee negotiated to allow the British to leave the area in safety if they would leave the fort’s cannon and gunpowder behind.   The British buried the gunpowder and ruined the cannon.   As they marched away, the Cherokee accompanied them, but during the night disappeared.  The next morning the Cherokee attacked them and killed 24 (one report said 30) of the troops--the same number as their own tribal members who had earlier been killed.  The rest of the British, which included women and children were captured and some died in captivity, some were returned to the English and a few decided to remain with the Cherokee.

            At this point the Cherokee burned the fort.  In 1936 the Works Projects Administration had an appropriation to restore the area.  After digging to find the former post holes, old plans and letters helped to start the rebuilding of a an accurate reproduction.  The Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River was built in 1979, the site of the fort was raised 17 feet, and the fort reconstructed. 

            We passed through the visitors’ center and walked about 100 yards to the fort with its small cannon, barracks, blacksmith shop and other buildings of the period.  To add to the ambiance there is a Cherokee encampment outside the gates and a barrier outside the wooden palisades of pine lotus with its prickly thorns that provide additional protection.  

One weekend a month re-enactors recreate the period when the fort was in use.  The fort is located on an island in a highly attractive setting that also serves as the center of much boating and fishing activity.

 A display in Fort Loudoun’s Visitor’s Center of weapons of the period

A reconstructed Cherokee Village outside of Fort Loudoun

Tuesday, May 29, 2012



A manikin of Sequoyah with his daughter at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee

            At the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee the first object you meet is a carving from a wild cherry tree by Virgil Ledford of Sequoyah the famous Cherokee leader.  Across from the statue is a walking stick with the 38 letters of the alphabet he created carved around it. Genius shows itself in many ways and one of the rarest ways I’m aware of is the creating of new alphabet to help ones people read. Sequoyah, a Cherokee Native American saw the need for his people to be able to communicate by writing, and as he worked at his blacksmith shop he began to visualize a way to put sounds on paper.  It is the only time in history that one man, not literate in any language developed a system for writing and reading a language.

            We were visiting the attractive Sequoyah Museum with our twin granddaughters and they found the short film fascinating on one of his difficulties in creating a new alphabet by which his tribe could take advantage of the leaves that talk.   His fellow Cherokees though he was either crazy or a witch because of his preoccupation with developing a form of writing. His wife who resented him because he was spending so much time working on his system and some neighbors burned some of his talking leaves setting his work back two years. 

When he had completed his work with developing letters for sounds his tribe decided a test for him.  His daughter would be kept at a distance while the Elders dictated a message for him to write on his talking leaf.   When she was brought back she quickly read the message and within a short period of time thousands of Cherokees had learned to read and write and by 1825 the Bible had been translated and printed and by 1828 they were publishing a bi-lingual newspaper.

            Born in 1776 he died in Mexico in 1843 while trying to find a lost band of Cherokees.  The giant redwoods in California are named after him.

            The Museum is much more, however, than a tribute to Sequoyah it gives an abbreviated, but impactful history of the Native American’s who lived in this area.  Each group starting with the Paleo-Indians 12,000 years ago, followed by the Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian and more recent Historic Indian has a section with artifacts from their time in history.

            The first room has five impressive displays about Cherokee mythology each starting with the phrase, “This is what the old men told me when I was a boy. . . .” We then learned the forming of the mountains, origin of disease and medicine, the animals and plants, and the forming of the Milky Way.  Because we killed them the animals got together to plot revenge, with the deer being responsible for rheumatism.  Fortunately for the Cherokees for each disease there was a plant that will cure it if then could find it.

            I am well aware of the important of fur trading in the north and west of the U.S., but had not realized its importance in the south.  Trading for deer furs brought many European products to the Cherokee along with guns (35 deer skins) that made them very powerful as a tribe and also moved them toward taking on a European’s life style with houses, farms, and like Sequoyah jobs such as blacksmithing. 

            Despite the fact the Cherokees had fought on the side of Jackson at the battle of Horseshoe Bend he was a major factor in their removal to Oklahoma during the notorious “Trail of Tears.”

            A rebuilt blacksmith shop like the one used by Sequoyah stands outside the museum along with a theater where shows are put on every September the first weekend after Labor Day with Indian dances, music, food and Native American crafts and products. Also on the grounds is a Cherokee Memorial with the remains of Native Americans recovered during the archaeological digs on the sites of the 18th Century Cherokee towns.    

The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Gerald Ford Presidential Museum

Ford museum presents fresh view of president
The Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Surrounded by water, flowers, statues and green lawn, the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., gave me the feeling this was a friendly place. Outside, Carla and I took time to enjoy the Betty Ford Garden, with its 257-foot-long reflecting pool and fountain that recycles 77,000 gallons of water with a jet shooting water 40 feet high.  

Our first stop was to see a 20-minute movie of important events in President Ford’s life, which reintroduced us to one of the least discussed and perhaps one of the least appreciated leaders in recent history.

At the top of the staircase on the second floor, we entered a display room where we were surrounded by three large screens playing scenes of important events of the early ’70s. Movie and music posters, headlines from newspapers and life-sized models dancing to "The Twist" bordered the screens.

It wasn’t the Beatles or "Saturday Night Fever" posters that grabbed me. What really brought the period back was the broad-striped, double-knit jacket, much like the one I wore in the ’70s.  After my tour, I thought that just as I had changed my taste in jackets, perhaps I should reconsider Ford’s stature as a president.

The main tour starts with the crisis of confidence in the presidency as multiple screens and headlines retell the story of President Richard Nixon’s resignation and Ford’s rise to the presidency.  In the next rooms, I felt as though I were walking though a very personal autobiography that started with Ford’s tiny baptism shoes.

It soon became apparent that this is a man who started with little but by dint of hard work, intelligence and integrity became a major player in U.S. politics.  He was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Neb., to a father whom Ford’s mother soon divorced because of his abuse. She moved to Grand Rapids and married a man who formally adopted Ford.  It wasn’t until he was 16 that Ford again met his father, who dropped by where he was working to say hello and give him $20 - little compensation for the child support he had never paid.

Gerald Ford had a tough start in life

Ford’s preparation for the presidency struck me as ideal: He was a football hero at the University of Michigan, worked his way through Yale law school, spent two years aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific in World War II and spent 25 years in the U.S. Congress, many of them as a leader of his party.

As I went through the displays, I could see his strengths lay in cleaning up other presidents’ messes, such as Vietnam and the Nixon scandals, and doing the groundwork so other presidents could look good, such as the fall of the former Soviet Union and peace - at least temporarily - in the Middle East.

Why didn’t he win another term as president? One plaque pointed out he was better at governing than he was at campaigning.  Another plaque said, "With Gerald Ford’s inauguration, the White House became a more relaxed, open place. Hence forth, the Marine Corps band was instructed to play the University of Michigan fight song rather than the more stately ‘Hail to the Chief.’  "The White House itself was referred to as the ‘residence’ rather than the ‘executive mansion,’ and the Oval Office was immediately swept clean of all electronic listening devices."

In a replica of the president’s Cabinet Room, a video presented background on three of his major decisions, and visitors were given a chance to vote electronically as to what they would have done or what they felt the impact of the decisions were.

Two unexpected display items were Squeaky Fromme’s .45-caliber pistol, with a pencil-written note apologizing for trying to kill him as a person but not for trying to kill him as president, and a rostrum from which the visitor can read the TelePrompTer script of one of Ford’s campaign speeches.

Ford kept naysayers in his Cabinet and on his staff who played devil’s advocate on major decisions - something we could have used more of with presidents who came after him in office. In retrospect, I feel he was better than I had originally thought because he brought decency and inclusiveness, as opposed to the pervasive distrust and alienation we see in current politics.

Betty Ford was more outspoken than the five first ladies who had immediately preceded her. Several walls note her contributions, and one room displays dresses she wore for different state dinners.

Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., there is a small fee for adults but none for children under 15.  For further information, see

Ford served aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during World War II

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

ATLANTA - When we visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Georgia, what we enjoyed most were the quotes in the special temporary exhibit, "First Ladies, Political Role and Public Image," developed by the Smithsonian Institution.

A multimedia presentation, it included old radio talks, A&E presentations on the wives’ lives and roles, some of their clothes and personal items, and posters with biographic data, photos and paintings.

Among our favorite quotations was one by Florence Harding, who organized and ran her husband’s campaign for president: "Well, Warren, I have got you the presidency. What are you going to do with it?"

Unfortunately, he turned out to be one of the worst presidents ever. She’s the one who should have had the job.

Here are some other examples:

● Betty Ford: "I do not believe that being a lady should prevent me from expressing my views. Being ladylike does not require silence."

● Rosalyn Carter: "A first lady is in a position to know the needs of the country and do something about them. It would be a shame not to take full advantage of that power."

● Dolly Madison: "To see the great and celebrated people of our country is a very great gratification to me."

● Bess Truman: "I have nothing to say to the public."

The pièces de résistance were the A&E movies playing at various places in the exhibition that showed the changing roles of women and how they helped and extended presidential power. The movies also demonstrated how they have changed their relationships with the press and what some of them have done to modify the décor of the White House.

Many of us are so familiar with the styles of the different women that no label would have been needed on many of the sample costumes, such as those of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.

The complex that is the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is impressive. The large, round buildings are designed to fit into the ambiance of the surrounding park. We would have been more impressed with the inside of the museum if we hadn’t already visited five other presidential libraries and museums.

We were somewhat disappointed comparatively in terms of the emotions it aroused in us and in the sense it gave us of being in touch with some important historical moments. For example, the presidential museums of both Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman left us drained, with the feeling that we had just relived some very important events in history.

The Carter museum is quite straightforward and traditional. In the auditorium, a 25-minute movie explains how the power of the presidency has changed through the years. A walk down a hall features life-size cutouts of recent presidents who influenced the office. A large central area has an ongoing town meeting, with people interacting from a number of large televisions.

Various alcoves contain information about the major presidential decisions made by Carter and his life history. Carter’s major accomplishments were turning the Panama Canal over to Panama, achieving peace between Israel and Egypt, confronting the nuclear threat, strengthening ties with China, negotiating the hostage crisis in Iran and emphasizing the conservation of resources.

Television sets spread throughout the museum play speeches by Carter, but they lack the emotional impact of those by Reagan. This has nothing to do with our political beliefs because we both voted for Carter and not for Reagan.

The sections leading up to Carter becoming president have large, black-and-white murals made from old photos, comments by Carter and some items from his life.

The first response many people had to Carter’s presidential campaign was "Jimmy who?" When we met several of the volunteers who were working for him, it was hard for us at first to understand their enthusiasm. But that enthusiasm carried him into the White House. He has continued to play a role in our national consciousness with his international volunteer work and the large number of books he has written since leaving the White House.

This statue on the grounds of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta shows a boy leading a blind man by carrying a stick between them. The statue is symbolic of the Carter Center’s goal to break the cycle of disease and poverty that grips many of the world’s countries.