Friday, December 16, 2016

Mounds State Park: Anderson Indiana


MOUNTS 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

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

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.



          
















Friday, November 4, 2016

'East Tennessee History Museum


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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Veterans of Foreign Wars new Quartermaster General





Our Daughter Breaks a Glass Ceiling
 We always have enjoyed traveling to visit family. Our latest trip to beautiful Charlotte, N.C., to see our daughter, Debra Anderson, was outstanding.
On July 27, we basked in the admiration of thousands of people as Debra was elected the quartermaster general of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. She is the first woman to break that particular glass ceiling.
The VFW is a not-for-profit veterans service organization with 1.3 million members. The quartermaster general serves as the chief financial officer and is responsible for a variety of functions, including information technology and asset management.
“I am thrilled that this position gives me an opportunity to use my diverse skills developed over many years while serving a great organization and our country’s veterans,” Debra said.
As parents, we were impressed with the number of activities Debra participated in during her time at Rock Bridge High School. We were even more impressed when at dinner one night she announced she was to be the valedictorian of the school’s first graduating class.
She attended the University of Missouri, joining the ROTC and in her senior year becoming cadet battalion commander.
She graduated cum laude and earned the George Marshall award.
She served as an Army officer at a time when leadership opportunities were opening for women. She was commander of an equipment repair company in Nuremberg, Germany, and inspector general at Fort McPherson, Ga.
Her combat experience came in Desert Storm, and she received a bronze star for her work as a division strength management officer in the 1st Infantry Division. She also received two meritorious service medals, four Army commendation medals and various other honors.
She left the Army as a major and for years held various management and administrative jobs in private industry.
Her husband, Steve Bourque, took a teaching job at Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College, bringing the family to Kansas City. She took a job at the VFW National Headquarters, quickly moving up the ranks and gaining recognition for her innovative ideas on improving the VFW’s effect on the lives of veterans.
Charlotte was a beautiful city for a convention. Like Kansas City, it has many fountains and statues with the addition of half dozen quality art museums. Fine hotels and restaurants line the streets around the city’s convention center.
While we were there, several thousand veterans crowded the elevators and lobbies, most from the Vietnam War. We were impressed that they all knew our daughter and some even recognized us as her parents based on our name tags.
Debra had the opportunity to get her picture taken with presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who spoke at the convention on separate days. Those pictures will join the photo of her with President Barack Obama on our dining room wall.
During her installation, her nephew, Sean Anderson Harper, a marine lieutenant, and her husband, Steve, were both part of the presentation. Her acceptance speech that emphasized the future of the VFW received a standing ovation.
My two older sisters and my aunts were all talented women born at a time when few doors were open for women to develop that potential. We have been so pleased to see all four of our daughters achieve their goals in life.
Debra Anderson with her husband Steve Bourque and Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton
Debra Anderson with Presidential Candidate Donald Trump and Vice Presidential Candidate Mike Pence



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Casy, Illinois and Guinness World Records


Big things in a small town


The largest chair in the world is Casey, Illinois



How did residents of a small town — previously overlooked by tourists — call attention to their community’s attractions and businesses?

In Casey, Ill., they built eight remarkable objects.

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The town of less than 3,000 people 135 miles east of St. Louis off of Interstate 70 constructed the landmarks, each to be the largest of its kind, according to the Guinness World Records book. They plan to build more massive attractions.

During a fateful stop at an Illinois tourist information center on I-70, a guide encouraged us to stop in Casey to view some of the unusually huge objects. To pique our interest, she told us the tale of the giant rocking chair.

Fanning, Mo., originally laid claim to the largest rocking chair in the world. Jim Bolin, vice president of the family-run Bolin Enterprise Inc. in Casey, spent three years working with a crew to win the title.

They used old telephone poles as the basis for the chair and eventually to build not only the world’s largest rocking chair, but it also is considered the largest chair in all of America at a towering 56½ feet. Fanning workers painted the chair red, making it the largest red chair in the world.

Despite their towering size, it was actually pretty difficult to find all eight of Casey’s wonders. We found the largest mailbox in the world off main street, its giant maw waiting for a big delivery from the post office, although a bit too high off the ground to actually receive a package. A giant birdcage was across the street, though the cage wasn’t large enough to set a world record.

World's largest mailbox

Being new to town, it took a bit of time to find the 55-foot wind chimes that weigh 8½ tons. They were hiding in a small park that in turn was in front of a workshop where the items are made.

The young man working there said his boss, the aforementioned Bolin, thought Casey could improve its economy by attracting visitors off the highway to see various world record-holders. He recognized that quite a few towns have one item that is the world’s largest, noting the attraction became an icon for those communities.  Bolin started to think that Casey didn’t have an icon. Instead, he thought an abundance of items listed in the Guinness World Records book might put the town “back on the map.”

With help from his family, co-workers and volunteers, they created eight big winners and a number of smaller objects. Visitors have been a draw to Casey, and Bolin continues to think up new creations.

Inside the shop, we could see a giant rocking horse. The horse doesn’t hold a world record, but it certainly was large enough that any children strolling through the store would stare in amazement and ask for a ride.

As we searched for the giant wooden Dutch clogs, several groups of teenagers were covering the same territory.

The town also has the world’s largest pencil, golf tee, knitting needles and crochet hook and pitchfork. As we left town, we drove past the world’s largest wooden token in front of a restaurant.

Has it worked? Our informant said the gargantuan creations have led many people to from the highway to view the free attractions. Town officials expect that draw to only increase as more of Bolin’s ideas become reality.



Giant rocking horse in Casey