Tuesday, June 28, 2016

John Wayne Museum

Iowa museum offers a heavy dose of 'Duke'


A life-size figure of John Wayne stands in front of a mural of Monument Valley, where many of his movies were filmed, inside the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum in Winterset, Iowa.

Aissa Wayne, who was present when the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum opened in May 2015 in Winterset, Iowa, introduces a short film about her father to welcome museum visitors.

The legendary actor John Wayne was born May 26, 1907, as Marion Robert Morrison. Long after his death in 1979, Wayne remains atop numerous public surveys regarding favorite actors.

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The first film excerpts focus on John Wayne as the tough hero, using his fists and guns to get results. He famously quipped, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” The latter half of his filmography shows him as a warm hero taking care of women and children.

John Wayne noted that his father, Clyde Morrison, a pharmacist, was “the kindest, most patient man I ever knew.” He described his mother, Mary Morrison, a telephone operator, as “a tiny, vivacious red-headed bundle of energy.” Marion Robert Morrison weighed 13 pounds at birth, and our tour guide pointed to a picture of the female physician who delivered young Marion and probably saved his mother’s life. The family moved to California when he was 7 years old.

It was not until Wayne became a film actor that he changed his name. His friends and many others continued to call him “Duke,” his childhood nickname. He had a dog named Duke as a boy, and the two constant companions were known as “Little Duke” and “Big Duke.” The museum includes his personal 1972 Pontiac station wagon with a special raised roof to allow his 6-foot-4 frame to drive in comfort.

The modern, 6,000-square-foot museum was built to give visitors access to the largest collection of Wayne artifacts and movie posters. The museum was necessary because the nearby four-room house where he had been born already had hosted more than a million visitors since it opened in 1982. The John Wayne Birthplace Society moved the items from the house and restored it as closely as possible to its appearance from 1907. The house had running water and a small hand pump in the kitchen sink.

Wayne, who loved reading, was an outstanding student and received a football scholarship to attend the University of Southern California. He suffered a surfing injury after about a year and lost his scholarship. As the Great Depression set in, he left college to explore working in the theater.

Between 1926 and 1976, Wayne appeared in more than 170 motion pictures, 78 of which were cowboy films. Despite his great box office draw, he was nominated for an Academy Award only three times before finally winning an Oscar in 1969 for his performance in “True Grit.”

One display showcases the costumes and weapons he used in that film along with a black eye patch that was made to be somewhat transparent so Wayne could see with both eyes. The clothes he wore, even in his early movies, were more realistic and rough in appearance compared with those worn by other stars of the 1930s, such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

We were amused by a exhibit of a horse cart from “The Quiet Man” that had a large TV screen on the seat showing all the excerpts from the film in which the cart appeared. We were able to see images of his co-stars — Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald and Ward Bond — who had appeared in several other films with him.

Inside the museum, a life-size model of John Wayne stands in front of a mural of Monument Valley, where many of his movies were filmed. A massive bronze statue of Wayne is outside the museum, and stone inlays around the edges of the museum entrance list the names of many of his more revered films.


Monday, June 20, 2016

1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana

Indiana park delivers an immersive take on a Civil War skirmish

A six-hour drive was all it took to travel back in time to experience a Civil War battle.
The “1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana” offers an exciting and impressive re-enactment at Conner Prairie in the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers, Ind.

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Need an account? Create one nowCreated with assistance from the Smithsonian, this media presentation is available at limited times. We have not seen anything quite like it.

As we crossed the covered bridge into the “small town” of Dupont, we looked up to see a mannequin on a telephone pole informing us that the line soon would be repaired.

Smoke was billowing from a burned-out building to the side, evidence of a recently discharged explosive.

The first building we approached was the Mayfield and Nichols Dry Goods Store. An historical re-enactor playing the store manager invited us inside and said the shelves were bare because a Confederate army led by Gen. John Hunt Morgan raided the store the day before.

Thousands of troops had taken all the food and supplies they could find, burning a number of buildings along the way.

As we talked with her, about 18 other visitors had entered. A young man suddenly appeared outside the store’s windows and shouted the rebels were coming and we were in danger. Almost immediately, some of the store’s windows became 3-D video screens and gave us a view of troops marching across a nearby bridge and toward the building. Rebels troops quickly surrounded the store.

Then the impossible happened. The windows and walls turned into screens, and the troops appeared to be in the room with us, tearing food, clothing and shoes from the store shelves. It was a shocking experience, but we remembered a warning as we entered the exhibit about loud noise and images of war that might not be appropriate for young children. We seemed more startled than the kids in the room.

We had a few minutes to recover from the shock before we moved to a large room in the Porter family home.

We either could sit or stand, facing a hastily erected defense barrier of logs and assorted junk. This was to be our defense when the rebels attacked. About 30 watched a multimedia presentation of the battle interspersed with comments from the people who had been involved.

On one side of the room, 3-D holographs of people brought us messages about the status of the attack and what was about to happen.

On the large screen in front, we could see the attackers and various aspects of the battle.

The screen occasionally would disappear, and we would see a mannequin of Gen. Morgan urging his men toward battle and later telling us about the retreat.

The seamless combination of presentation techniques made our visit a unique experience. Given the Smithsonian’s involvement, we suspect these dramatic ways of delivering a presentation might be used in other museums connected to them.

The day we visited, several other events took place as part of the Civil War Journey. Visitors could help the camp laundress deal with the soldiers’ dirty clothes. A large kettle of water was heating up nearby as the laundress gave lessons about the process.

In another area, guests older than 14 could learn to load and fire either a Springfield or Enfield rifle.
In the end, the exhibit offered a carefully planned immersion into an adventurous piece of history.