Friday, December 16, 2016

Mounds State Park: Anderson Indiana


Early one morning we enjoyed walking the trails through the mounds area at the beautiful Mounds State Park, just outside of Anderson, Ind.    

The Adena tribe, the earliest Native Americans to construct  mounds here, were  primarily hunter-gatherers, but they also planted crops such as squash, gourds, sunflowers and maize. 

At the large Great Mound, the centerpiece created about 160 BC,  plaques explain its astronomical alignment related to learning the timing of the solstices and equinoxes.  

The Giant Mound has astronomical alignments to time solstices and equinoxes

The mounds were community gathering centers where religious rituals were performed and burials took place. A mound was usually built as part of a burial ritual, in which the earth of the mound was piled immediately atop the ashes of a burned mortuary building. In honor of the dead, tools, weapons, pottery and other clay items were involved with the burning and were buried with the dead.

 Some sources suggest that the Hopewell culture replaced the Adena around 100  BC.  Kelly, a state park ranger who is an archeologist, told us that others are  still working to understand the relationship between the Adena and Hopewell.   At this point they were not sure whether they were continuous or separate

 The Hopewell tribe continued the tradition of creating mounds, but were more sophisticated than the Adena in making objects. The Hopewell disappeared around 500 AD, with no clear explanation of what happened to them

They were both agriculturists and hunter-gatherers, but what was so remarkable was their trading range around the continent.

They had goods such as bear teeth and obsidian from the Rocky Mountains, mica from the Carolinas, seashells from the Gulf of Mexico, and copper from the upper Great Lakes.  Since they had no form of transportation but their feet, it meant some of them had to do a tremendous amount of walking. 

This also suggests that there was a great exchange of knowledge between the different Native American tribes and this allowed for some real advances in living styles as the knowledge from different cultures were exchanged.

The Adena were skilled potters and sculptors, making pottery and small effigy sculptures out of clay and stone, and bowls and other household utensils from wood and stone. The Hopewell stone and clay items had a refinement that indicated their sculptors and potters were more skilled than the Adena.

We had previously been impressed by how many other Indian tribes in what is now the United States had constructed mounds copying those of   the Adena-Hopewell tribes. The largest we have visited are the Cahokia Mounds outside of St. Louis, but we have visited mounds in Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and now Indiana.

At one point when Europeans first arrived in America there may have been thousands of mounds, but many mounds have been leveled for farm land or raided for artifacts.  This area was saved from destruction by the Bronnenberg family, who preserved the area for future generations.  Their two-story brick farmhouse is open for visitors. 

We were impressed with the scenery along the wooden boardwalk that took us around the park and back to the visitor’s center that has a small but well-chosen set of displays on the wild animal and plant life of the area.

 Kelly told us the park had been started in 1930, but the visitor’s center and display were not added until the 1990s.  She took us into the glassed viewing room, overlooking a rich range of plants and scenery seated us on comfortable couches and opened herself to questions.

A variety of bird houses were visible, some of which she said were for bats, who use the local trees for their resting place.  Kelly said the bats are endangered and steps are being taken to preserve them. Humming birds were just returning to the area when we visited in the spring--an especially good time to enjoy the setting and learn some history.

A walking trail goes through the mounds area

A viewing room in the visitor's center lets you watch different birds and bats in the area

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Living History Museums

Living History Museums: An Overview

Throughout the U.S. my wife Carla and I have been able to visit  a bountiful number of museums and historical sites  that capture  the history of our country, finding them engaging and educational experiences.

   For sixty-four years we have traveled extensively, even more often as we are now both retired psychologists.   For the past  nineteen years I has written a weekly Venture Bound travel column for the Columbia Daily Tribune.  For the last ten years Carla has been co-author.

One of the benefits of this kind of traveling is that adults along with children (we have four) learn more about our history--the struggles and the progress we have made to reach this point in history-- and also to appreciate in many ways how fortunate we are in living at this time. 

At Conner Prairie we interacted with authentic member of the Delaware tribe who spoke the original Delaware language.

  The staff at living history  museums strive for authenticity as they drop us back into the past.  Many of the museums are original buildings, often transported in from around the state at considerable expense.  They are filled with original furniture and tools, and if more artifacts are needed, they are made on the grounds using original techniques.  Most living history museums limit themselves to one period in history. 

 We are impressed by the variety in the approaches taken by the staffs to entertain and teach us.  We especially enjoy talking with re-enactors who take on the characteristics and dress of someone from the past and discuss with us what their lives were like--what they were proud of, what problems they were struggling with, and what dishes, tools,  and equipment they used.

  We enjoyed seeing how the children were treated, for example, the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Indiana, where children can drop back to the 1830s to dip candles, play with hoops, and get a chance to pump an old fashioned lathe to help a wood worker make table legs.   Children can pet the animals, the only jarring feature from the future was the hand sanitizer to use after the petting.

In Old Bedford, Pennsylvania, we went back to the 1820s where we discussed burial customs with the cabinet maker, watched the pharmacist mix his meds for the day and attended a church service.  

Most of the  museums focus on a particular time period.  There is a great deal of interest among over 50-year-olds in studying their family history. They are able to get a very clear picture of how those  ancestors lived and the kind of problems they faced.

We were delighted to talk to the costumed re-enactors  from different periods of time at the American Frontier Culture in Staunton, Virginia.  Farm buildings had been brought in from five foreign countries and showed how their cultures and way of life converged to create an American farm of the 1850s. 

Eight state history museums or sites, on the other hand,  presented a broad view of the states' histories using a variety of modern techniques for educating and entertaining  visitors. Most states have magnificent displays of original artifacts often in striking new buildings that also include the states' historical archives.

At various sites we saw costumed manikins who could talk, listened to audio tours, watched short movies that captured real events in the state's history, and saw newspaper clippings, posters, and even an occasional holograph that made the figures more real than 3D.

For more recent history we are now presented with oral recordings and movies made since the twenties that inform us about life in the depression, laborers revolting against management and the problems with race relations. 

 Most state history museums take us back in time to at least the time of Native Americans, and some like the Indiana State History Museum go back in time to the development of coal and a museum  in Arizona goes back to the age of the dinosaur. 

Other history museums took us to a specific critical event in our history such as the development of the atomic bomb at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Brown vs. the  Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas.  These also use a multitude of devices and methods to bring us into a sense of the past so we leave feeling we really understand what happened there.

Some like BitterSweet Cabin Village in Kentucky and The Pioneer Women Museum in Oklahoma confine themselves to a narrow range of history. The John Deere Museum in Illinois and the McCormick Farm in Virginia deal with a specific inventions that changed the nature of agriculture in America.

Making History Real for Children

Experiences with people and life from the past will broaden a child's ability to understand the world.  Classroom experiences are frequent in living history museums, but they are often brief being no more than an hour of two of what the classrooms were like in the past.

 One of the best we've seen was in Oklahoma where the children came for the day, dressed, as their teachers did, in turn of the century clothes, with a home-packed lunch.  Boys were seated on one side of the room and the girls on the other.  They spent the whole day in class learning the subject matter of the time with the teacher using the tools and methods of the time.

At other places we have met with re-enactors who stayed in role, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Andrew Johnson and many common people who could tell us about their time period.

 For these contacts the children need some preparation so they know who they are dealing with and can ask the appropriate questions.  It helps if these experiences are intergraded into their classroom studies.  Actually getting involved and doing something is better than watching someone do it, and watching someone do something is better than reading about it. 

We have visited one excellent  site where children lived for five or six days to get an immersion experience in what life was like for their ancestors, but we will probably talk about that in another book.

We have been very pleased about what we have learned by traveling to living history museums and historical sites.

At Conner Prairie we watched a re-enactor, make moccasins. As we admired the size and quality of a beaver skin he was working with, he explained the process the Native Americans used to prepare it.

At the Ark Encounter a manikin Noah tells the visitor about his work.

Monday, December 5, 2016

McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture

McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture

The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville was one of those experiences that filled us with awe at the quality of the historical artifacts and offbeat displays that often elicited smiles. 

Early hominids

We got both a bit of shock and a chuckle at the exhibition, Human Origins: Searching for Our Fossil Ancestors, where on a large TV screen we saw the face of a primitive ape- like creature slowly evolve into that of a modern human.


           Under the TV screen was a large globe where fiber optic lights pinpoint the places where the fossils have been found that support the reconstruction of our origins and how over the last two million years humans have spread out of Africa to populate the rest of the world.

 Some scientists in the overview noted that hominids-- our ancestors--existed six million years ago.  

One impactful display had  on one side casts of archaic homo sapiens skulls and a skeleton.  On the other side were the skeleton of the one-and half-million-year-old Turkana Boy and the three- million-year-old skeleton of Lucy.

A reconstructed portion of the 17,000-year-old cave painting at Lascaux, France on the ceiling of the exhibition room with its colorful animals and symbols added to drama of our experience.

We were also charmed by the Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee exhibition that is based on 65 years of research by archaeologists from the University of Tennessee as they trace 15,000 years of Native American life in this area.  What most impressed us were the five murals arranged around the 3,200-square-foot gallery that showed the different cultural periods giving us touching views of their  lives.

Native people were here in the age of mammoths

 It was also fun to see the displays built into the floor of an earth oven and fragments of tools of the time.  We also saw large displays of flint objects we had never heard of before.  One display noted:  "This rich collection of ceremonial artistry is known worldwide as the Duck River Cache. The swords, maces, hooks and discs were not used as weapons, but as symbols of leadership or authority, perhaps ceremonially as seen in the gorget in this case."

We were surprised to find a small Ancient Egypt exhibit that  included a coffin that had belonged to a priestess and some animal mummies.  In one of the cases were hair combs, shoes and writing implements, and on a wall nearby a copy of the Rosetta Stone.

More expected in a museum in Tennessee was the exhibition of the Civil War in Knoxville that focuses its on the Battle of Fort Sanders and East Tennessee with artifacts provided by families in the area and items excavated from the battlefield.

Other displays covered Decorative Arts from Around the World, and Freshwater Mussels.  The museum is in a new building and while small by museum standards it compactness lends charm to the varigated exhibits. 

Parking and entrance are free, and the day we were there very few visitors joined us.  As usual for museums of this type we saw it has great potential as a learning experience for grade school children as well as adults.

The museum is accredited by American Association of Museums and an affiliate  of the Smithsonian  Institution.   

Stone tools of the period served many uses

Farm Girl

The Farm Girl

On a recent visit to my daughter, Stephanie Stegall, in Chattanooga, Tenn., I  found myself unusually relaxed and having flashbacks to my childhood.  What could be causing this unusual reaction? 

The settings seemed very different, at least superficially. My childhood house was small, maybe 800 square feet.  My daughter's house is 4,200 square feet if you don't count the basement area where she has set up a gym. We had a hand pump for water, and I was five before we got electricity.  At my daughters home we had all of the modern conveniences.

Sitting on the back porch watching the cows graze, it hit me.  My daughter, despite being extremely busy as a pediatrician, spent much of her time at home doing what my mother did as a farm wife.   The similarities crowded in on me.  It was obvious, coming here to visit was a "going home" experience.

Watching the cows brought back memories of childhood.

The cows I was watching were beef cattle, the one at home was our milk cow, but a cow never the less. 

Stephanie has a chicken coup and a fenced in area her husband had built for her where she had a dozen chickens of three breeds, who lay different colored eggs that she collected regularly from their nests 

As a child I collected eggs from a much larger coop that had several dozen chickens, mostly leghorns with a few Rhode Island reds.

When I saw my daughter watering the variety of plants and flowers around the house, she was using a fancy hose that sent out a variety of sprays. My mother used a pail with water from the pump for the same purpose.

And a garden? Ours was large with enough food to can for the winter; my daughter's was small with just enough variety to be used as the new vegetables came in.  By now the similarities were washing over me.

Animals?  At home we always had a cat, dog, canary, and a small bowl of fish.  Here I see three dogs, two cats, and a large aquarium of multicolored fish.

 Stephanie's house sits on 65 acres with a great view with deer, coyotes, and a multitude of birds  We sat next to open country with wild animals as part of our scenery.

Why had it taken so long for me to make the connection?  I guess most of us don't usually think of visiting a daughter as a going home experience; it is when she visits you that she should be having a going home experience and having flashbacks into her childhood.

I'm a strong believer that certain behaviors run in families and see certain talents that showed up in aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Artistic and musical talent are common, storytelling is frequent, but the farm wife had been so common because that's what women did, that I had not considered it to have any kind of genetic base. Yet here was my daughter replicating her grandmother's behavior, a woman she had never met.          

Stephanie had shown a need to do this as a child, but received inadequate training from me.  We tried gardening and raised the smallest tomatoes and corn I had ever seen.  Our fish tank was a death sentence for the fish we put in it. Farming even in our backyard was not my thing.  Freed from my supervision she found she had the talent.

Recognizing the family connection, I passed up a chance to gather a couple more Venture Bound stories and just told myself--relax, you're home again.

Gathering eggs was part of my mother and my daughter's life styles

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Kentucky Science Center

Kentucky Science Center full of hands-on exhibits

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The Kentucky Science Center in Louisville, Ky., might be geared more toward children and teens, but adults also can find fun in the innovative presentations.
            We only paused briefly at the first-floor exhibit “Science in Play,” where younger children and families were puzzling rather successfully with strange equipment and interactive activities.

            The second floor featured an area where Wayne designed a bicycle for an imaginary company looking for a more marketable design. He combined several materials and features on a screen, aided by the screen guide, which then told him it was a moderately innovative design that could be put on the market.

Taking the opportunity to create a new design for a bicycle

            Another interactive area allowed you to play with differently shaped plastic and wood pieces, stacking them into a tower on a platform. Pushing buttons, the structure is subjected to different levels of earthquake-like shaking. The goal was to build the tallest tower possible that could withstand a 10-second shaking, which we accomplished.

            We next entered a booth meant to simulate a space capsule where a woman on the screen offered us a chance to go into space and study the effect pollutants have on the hole in the ozone layer. With a fire button on a joystick, we “flew” ourselves into space over Antarctica, where we could view the existing hole.

            When the guide showed it to us as it had been 20 years ago, we got the message we might be in serious trouble, so, of course, we headed back to earth immediately to do something about it.

            At a “body watch,” a cluster of life-size mannequins with TV sets in their stomachs allowed us to see what happens in the body under various conditions, including seeing a fetus in the womb, food being digested and the cause of hiccups.

            In another room, the screen guide, which was proud of the Egyptian mummy and sarcophagus on display, gave an educational presentation on how it was found, almost destroyed by a heavy object falling on it and how it ended up in the museum.

            The center also features a chemistry kitchen, which is geared to children, for a show on electricity and ways of creating electrical effects.

            An overhead line featured 23 products made in Kentucky and visitors tried to name them with the answers eventually appearing on a board.

            The third floor has a large space devoted to “The World Within Us,” a series of displays about how our bodies work, including an especially vivid section on reproduction. We were surprised, given the number of children we encountered, how few were studying the human body that day. It would be difficult and expensive for individual schools to have anything close to what science museums have available to explain these concepts to children, making it all the more advantageous that so many cities have made these facilities available.

            The interactive displays received much attention from young people but large posters simply providing information about different aspects of science were often passed by, seeming to stress the importance of hands-on learning for children.

            The center also has an IMAX theater where five movies were being shown.

            We are fortunate to have two outstanding science museums in Missouri. The St. Louis Science Museum has been ranked No. 5 on the Parents Magazine top 10 list, and Kansas City Union Station has made their “best of the rest” list.

A display at the Kentucky Science Center in Louisville, Ky., shows a fetus developing in the womb.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

University of Kentucky Arboretum

University of Kentucky Arboretum

            We have always enjoyed visiting various universities to explore unique and useful attractions. At the University of Kentucky in Lexington this summer, we stopped one early morning at the 100 acre Arboretum that is a joint project of the University and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.

            The parking lot had many cars, the trails were active with mothers and one grandfather pushing baby carriages, people walking their dogs and runners keeping in shape.

The assistant at  the visitor center said the Arboretum covered a hundred acres and that the two-mile trail gave a sampling of seven landscape regions of Kentucky.  She stressed that they grew native plants and had 70 native species growing in the area. 

            A major offering of the Arboretum is the home demonstration garden.  Much experimentation goes on here with master gardeners trying new or unusual vegetables and new techniques of growing them.  Lessons are given on a regular basis to locals who want to learn more about growing their own gardens.

            On our walk around the garden, we met a young student repainting the trim on one of the tool storage buildings.  She said that the produce grown here is given to God’s Pantry as part of the national “Plant a Row for the Hungry" program.  They also cooperate with  minimum security federal prisoners who start seeds in greenhouses and provide them for spring and summer plantings at the Arboretum. 

            In some sections we especially enjoyed some of the smells from herb gardens, but there was more than herbs for foods.  Some medicinal plants  have been used by physicians for centuries and are still in use in modern medicine, such as St. John’s Wort, Foxglove (digitalis), Valerian, and Purple Coneflower (Echinacea).

Herbs for food and medicinal plants are gown at the Arboreturn

            One of the goals of the garden is to teach and show methods of gardening that make it assessable to those with various handicaps.  Some subjects covered were how to create paths that are hard enough to be assessable by wheels and how to adapt tools so they can be used by people with physical limitations.

            On one side of the Arboretum stands a large memorial of 49 steel birds flying into the sky.  We a asked a young man working the area, and he said it was to  honor 49 citizens of Lexington who were killed in a plane crash ten years ago, that resulted from a combination of pilot error and an exhausted plane control agent.  Sealed inside each of the birds was a memento chosen by the student's family.   We also talked to two young students who were part of a group of 25 summer interns assisting the regular staff in the maintenance of the area.

49 birds commemorate the 49 citizens of Lexington who were killed in a plane crash

            In another section of the Arboretum is The Kentucky Children’s Garden that we missed.  What we did enjoy was the Story Walk along the trail, a series of story plaques with poems  that children read and then give their reactions.  For example, some poems over the course of the walk focus on Gramdpa baking an apple pie showing the influence of the sun, the clouds, the rain, the soil and various other factors that go into the pie that Gramdpa bakes.

            The University Of Kentucky uses the area for a wide variety of classes during the school year including: forest ecology, horticulture and art.  To return to the original Kentucky ecosystem much attention is being paid to the elimination of invasive species of which they listed 18, seven of which have been successfully eradicated.

            All in all, we found it an informative and pleasant morning experience.

The Kentucky Arboretum serves many purposes

Toyota Manufacturing Plant, Georgetown, Kentucky

Toyota Manufacturing Plant, Georgetown, KY

We have unusual luck at arriving at venues at the right time.  It happened again at the largest Toyota manufacturing plant in the world in Georgetown, KY, just north of Lexington. 

We had been impressed with the plant's size as we drove around to find Entrance 2 for visitors,  one of seven entrances.  This is an 8.1 million square-foot facility, or the equivalent of 169 football fields. The plant employs 8,000 team members and produces 550,000 cars a year that are sent all over the world.

We arrived to find tours are booked days, if not weeks, ahead.  We were so informed.  Then the administrator said, “We just had a group arrive one member short.  Do you want the single?”  Carla said, “Wayne, take it. I’ll stay and read.”   A few minutes later he was  motioned over and told there had been another cancellation.

We produced picture ID, underwent a security check, relieved ourselves of cameras and cell phones and were added to a group.

The first Camry built in America stands in the lobby, a 1988 car that has 26 miles on the speedometer. A brief movie provided background on the Toyota company with an emphasis on how It was partly made successful because of its use of teams workers who could exchange tasks with each other and who were free to make suggestions to management to improve both their work arrangements and the cars.   

Many of their management ideas came from the American W. Edwards Deming who had trouble selling his ideas on how to use teams to improve production to the large American automobile companies.   Shortly after  Toyota's use of the team concept, the company established the reputation for well built cars and took over a leadership role in quality control.

Our group, divided into three smaller groups, were seated in carts with safety glasses and ear phones and began the tour in the Lexus section of the plant.  Emphasis was placed on how much of the work is done in the plant and how much of the materials come from America. 

This includes the steel sheets that are stamped into car parts, a mostly automated process.  The largest number of robots in the plant were used to weld the metal parts into cars that were then put in a bath of paint.  We were not allowed in that section because the smallest foreign particle can cause problems.

What we did see in great detail was the actual construction of the cars where human talent is still a major factor.  We saw both long lines of Lexus and Camrys in all states of being put together.  Over the workmen was a cord that can be pulled at any time if something was wrong or needed fixing.  We were told it was often used.

 The cars on the track were sometimes loaded high, sometime at mid section and sometimes low depending on what was being added to them.  Engines were being installed in 45 seconds.  The engines by the way are made here with an additional 50,000 to be sent to other factories.

Our guide stressed how well workers are taken care of.  Overtime is measured in 6 minute segments and is frequently given because of the demands of the job.  There is onsite child care and educational opportunities.

No car is built unless a request has been made for it and that car is made to fit that request.  Special arrangements are made for the parts, including doors to arrive at the just right moment to be put on the car.  Given the range of colors of cars that seemed remarkable.  Each car is carefully tested at the end of the line, and we saw cars being driven for the first time.

We have not often seen a factory in full operation and found this interesting and in a way exciting.  Although we would not want to be one of the people working on the line, we are impressed by how they are treated very respectfully.

Outside the Toyota Manufacturing Plant in Georgetown, Kentucky

Friday, November 4, 2016

'East Tennessee History Museum


The Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville describes life in three centuries in a 35-county region that has had a marked influence in the development of our nation.    

The main exhibit, "Voices of the Land: The People of East Tennessee," provides an overview of stories in the words of the people who have lived there throughout the area's history.

 The following exhibits with stories and artifacts focus on specific historical periods starting with "The Land Beckons," the struggles between the Cherokees and the immigrants settling in their land.     

 In "A Land Divided" we learned that, like Missouri, both sides in the Civil War were represented with east Tennessee being mostly for the Union.  Blacks in East Tennessee were more likely to be skilled artisans rather than field slaves, making the area easier to integrate.

The Tennessee Valley Authority introduced electricity to the area with electric lights, and modern home appliances making life easier.  One display shows the changes that took place in how we run our homes by showing what was used pre TVA and what was used after.  A modern electric iron is sure an improvement over a flat iron heated on the wood stove.

Some major historical events occurred here, probably the most important was turning the surrounding area into Oak Ridge, a "secret city," where atomic material was processed for the first atomic bombs.   

Not only the community but the workers did not know exactly what they working on.  "We train you to do what is needed, but we cannot tell you what you are doing.  I can only tell you that if our enemies beat us to it, God have mercy upon us."  This is a quote in the section that discusses how the Oak Ridge area became a secret.

The museum takes five main approaches to capturing our attention and informing us about what has happened here.

1.  The visitor at some displays can pick up a listening device and hear a re-enactor reading a letter, a diary, or a written report, sometimes short, sometimes long.  The longest was of the Clinton Twelve, a group of black students who integrated a high school in the area.  Some of the letters and reports from the Civil War, on the other hand, were quite short.

2. On multiple choice screens the visitor can chose to view from six people's stories of a particular event along with accompanying pictures.  For example, in the Civil War section visitors are offered: For or against secession: six views.

3. Movies and TV are used to take us back to the past.  At the entrance we viewed a movie about the area with background voices reading comments from people who had lived here in the past.  The most complete of this kind of presentation were the films of the development of the music of the area that led to the growth of the music industry in Tennessee leading to the development of Nashville as the center for country music.

4. At many of the exhibits there are materials on posters that was written by people of the different periods along with old pictures to give a feel of what life was like.

5.  Finally well chosen objects are on display to bring the visitor an even better feel for what life was like during a particular period. Among the objects are Davy Crockett's rifle, a real log cabin, a pioneer road wagon, a well stocked corner drugstore and Dolly Parton's red dress.

The multiplicity of methods used to present the history of East Tennessee makes this an especially valuable asset for enhancing the classroom experiences of schools in the area.      

Country Music got its start in East Tennessee

East Tennessee took part in the Revolutionary War

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Henry "Box" Brown: an escape from slavery

Henry 'Box' Brown a liberating tale of slavery

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The enslaved Henry “Box” Brown in 1849 escaped from Virginia by being nailed into a box with a bladder of water, and then mailed to Philadelphia where abolitionists picked him up.

We learned about this on visits to several former Underground Railroad sites. But we never had heard the amazing life Brown lived after his escape and how he became a major entertainer in England.

Jeffrey Ruggles, a historian and photographer who wrote “The Unboxing of Henry Brown” (2003), was a lecturer at the Road Scholar Chautauqua program we recently attended in Staunton, Va.

From the age of 15, Brown worked for a tobacco company, the major crop in Virginia. He saved some money from his small salary to make his escape. His wife and three children belonged to another slave owner who decided to sell them.

This major turning point for Brown, 33 at the time, motivated him to work with James Smith, a free black dentist and shopkeeper, and Samuel Smith, a white local shoemaker, to arrange the mailing of the box. The box was 3 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2½ feet deep. At times, it was not right side up as labeled as it was shipped by wagon, steamboat, rail, and ferry for 26 hours. After getting out of the box, he sang a song based on Psalm 40 demonstrating a powerful voice.

Unfortunately his arrival in the box hit the newspapers, which ended this means of escape for others. Once in Philadelphia his innate genius became apparent. He designed a stage show with James Smith, consisting of a moving panorama of large murals that showed what slavery was really like. This was a great success, but the federal law changed, and escaped slaves could be captured and returned to their owners. Brown’s solution was to flee to Liverpool, England, in 1851.

Ruggles went to England and managed to track down newspaper accounts of Brown’s performances across the country. At the time of his research, Ruggles had to find and read the original records, with no short cuts. He said that today you easily could find a hundred more stories about Brown because newspaper records are computerized.

Ruggles continued the story of Brown’s success. The first 10 years Brown toured with his antislavery panorama, the Mirror of Slavery, doing several hundred shows a year. Then he performed as a magician and still later as a mesmerist (hypnotist). In England, he was known as Professor H. Box Brown and The African Prince. While there, Brown married a Cornish woman, and she and one of his daughters became part of the act. In 1875 he returned to the U.S. with a family magic act. Brown died in Toronto, Canada in 1897.

What struck us as so remarkable was, that with no formal education and so few resources, Brown was able to develop performances that attracted large audiences. He might have spoken about slavery to more people than anyone else living during that time.

A number of books and plays written about Brown, including two by Brown himself, and a metal reproduction of his escape box is part of a monument to him on the Canal Walk in downtown Richmond.

Ark Encounter

The Ark Encounter
Photos used with permission from Answers in Genesis
The ark from the Ark Encounter is 510 feet long, 51 feet high and 85 feet wide.
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Prepare to be astounded if you visit Noah’s Ark in the Ark Encounter park, which opened July 7 near Williamstown, Ky. The ark was built based on the flood narrated in Genesis in the Bible.
We had a great time and had reservations about only one exhibit, which we will mention later.
The parking lot was a mile or so away from the ark, but we could clearly see this magnificent structure that is 510 feet long, 51 feet high and 85 feet wide. It is seven stories high, including three decks of exhibits, and is the world’s largest timber-frame structure.
We arrived at noon to see hundreds of cars already parked and busloads of visitors being carried from the visitor’s center to the ark and its surroundings, which include a petting zoo, a large restaurant and an Ararat Ridge Zoo with yaks, kangaroos and ostriches. We stopped at the restaurant and found it filled with what we at first thought were stuffed animals. Where in the world had they found so many?
On the ark, the guide said the animals in cages were like what Noah carried on the voyage. We again were impressed with how realistic they were. Was it possible they were based on skeletons of real bears, for example? We learned they were created by artists who made the animal forms by using digital 3-D computer programs. Once the bodies were created on screen, they could be printed using foam in a 3-D printer.
Adding the final fur, scales or skin was a longer process. In a film, the artists stressed that the animals’ covering was the real problem, and they put the hair or fur on one hair at a time. The reproductions were realistic.
We were, however, a little put off by the presence of dinosaurs in several of the cages.
To add a sense of validity, food and water supplies surrounded us in some parts of the ark.
At the beginning of our tour, we saw a diorama of the family: Noah, his wife, three sons and three daughters-in-law in prayer. Dioramas were on every floor. The reproductions of the family members were so realistic that we almost expected them to be able to speak to us. In fact, in one of the settings a recording of Noah talks about his tasks on the ark.

Noah explains the purpose of the Ark
Living quarters on Deck 3 were magnificent. The guide explained that because family members worked hard feeding, watering and cleaning up after the animals, they deserved a place to relax and needed good nourishment to keep up the hectic pace.
The life-size scene where Noah climbs a ladder to put a dove into the air to find land, as his wife looks on, nearly took our breath away.
How could Noah and his family have done all of this? One section on the second floor shows all of Noah’s skills working with wood and metals. Again, life-size dioramas told the story.
At home, Wayne had seen a YouTube feature that showed this ark being constructed, with use of major hoists, cranes, modern tools and 1,000 craftsmen. When we asked one of the docents how Noah could have accomplished something this size, we were told Noah was 480 years old when God told him to build an ark. He was 600 years old when the flood came, so during that 120-year period he built the ark. The docent added that Noah’s children were not born until his 500th year.
Ark Encounter is operated by a group called Answers in Genesis, which also runs the Creation Museum 45 miles away in Petersburg, Ky.
We suspect most of the visitors believed that the world was created 6,000 years ago and that, for them, this was a realistic presentation of what happened.
Visitors do not need to be believers in this particular interpretation of creation to appreciate what has been accomplished here.
Fundraising for the project was helped by a debate in 2014 between Ken Ham and TV personality Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Ham, who also founded Answers in Genesis, does try to answer all of the questions raised by evolutionists and scientists who believe otherwise.
An exhibit is given over to Ham disputing scientist Nye about evidence for multiple ice ages based on drillings in Greenland.
Ham counters Nye’s evidence with a reinterpretation of what is being discovered.
In another source we found Nye’s response to Ham: “It’s all very troubling. You have hundreds of school kids here who already have been indoctrinated and who have been brainwashed. This is about the absolutely wrong idea that the Earth is 6,000 years old that’s alarming to me.”
Depending on your beliefs, prepare to enjoy the particular exhibit or skip it and enjoy the rest of the exhibits as an interesting story from the past.
Considerable thought has gone into the creation of this attraction, including some court battles. Although it probably will not change anyone’s basic beliefs, it is a presentation of the other side of the story.
Life Sized Animals on the Ark were made on a 3D Printer