Traveling Review: Mark Twain House and Museum

The outside of the Mark Twain House & Museum, courtesy of ctpost.com

The Mark Twain House & Museum is the place to tour the home where Samuel Clemens, better known by the pen name Mark Twain wrote several of his books including the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, respectively. What I did not know is a later house belonging to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is also on museum property.

Madeline Beecher Stowe's later home.
Madeline Beecher Stowe’s later home.

First we toured the Stowe house, which is not where she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This house is actually where she moved later in her life, though the house itself is skillfully adorned with several items belonging to her, including the desk on which she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The museum also had copies of her original handwriting, which was pretty cool.

20150428_155948 20150428_155955The Mark Twain house was quite impressive in the respect that Twain actually wrote many of his masterpieces there in that house. The inside resembled the insides of some of the Newport Mansions such as the Breakers, but further therein were nooks and rooms I could definitely imagine myself hunkering down to write in. The home also boasted electricity, a sizable patio and an indoor garden. This home was truly an inspiring place. Unfortunately for Twain, he invested poorly at some point and was forced to sell the home.

20150428_173957Logistically, both houses were only available by tour, and there were pros and cons to both. Our guide at the Stowe home seemed young and inexperienced, growing somewhat uncomfortable in lapses of silence and lack of questions from our group, while our Twain house tour guide seemed quite knowledgeable in comparison. At the Stowe house, photography was allowed, while in Mark Twain’s: no photos please. Amazing works of fiction written in the Twain house. The Stowe house, more of a retirement home for her.

One thing I can’t say much about is the museum itself: we arrived at the Twain museum and hour and a half before closing, which was just enough time to tour the two houses and nothing else. However, the little bit I was able to glance off entering and exiting, there is much to see there and perhaps I have a reason to return.

All in all, I think any writer will get a kick out of visiting the homes of two masterful American authors. Thanks for reading.

Traveling Review: Mark Twain House and Museum

Traveling Review: Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea

In the town of Mystic (yes, the very same Mystic in Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts) Connecticut is the Museum of America and the Sea, or simply, the Mystic Seaport. Our original purpose of visiting this site was to see the Charles W. Morgan, the last surviving American wooden whaling ship. With that being said, there is a lot to be seen at this gem of a place.

The Mayflower II, replica of the original Mayflower
The Mayflower II, replica of the original Mayflower

First off, Mystic Seaport is a working restoration yard which routinely repairs and restores wooden vessels of all sorts, employing local men and women and versing them in the skills of a truly dying art. Docked at the seaport during our visit was the Mayflower II and the Sabino, a 1906 steamboat under restoration until 2016.

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Cutaway models of the Charles W. Morgan.
Cutaway models of the Charles W. Morgan.

On the gravel path to the shipyard is a long building holding the key components to the structure of a wooden ship, including the keel, ribs and frame as a lesson in how wooden ships are put together. Inside the shipyard itself is an a exhibit revisiting the restoration of the Charles W. Morgan, and using that restoration as the vessel to educate visitors on the tools of the restoration trade, the materials and types of woods used in shipbuilding, and the hazards to wooden ships to include weather, reefs, and wood-boring marine worms. The back drop to the exhibit are the sounds of power tools as Mystic shipwrights work on restoring the Sabino.

The Sabino under repair.
The Sabino under repair.

The Charles W. Morgan was open for viewing and proved to be a pretty impressive vessel in it’s own right. Add to this an extremely knowledgeable volunteer eager to school us in the history of American whaling and it made for a very cool experience.

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As with the USS Constitution, we happened to luck out and stumble on the seaworthy replica of the slave ship La Amistad, subject of the movie Amistad, berthed at the Seaport for the winter and shipping out the very same day for New London.

The Amistad
The Amistad

There’s more to Mystic Seaport than the ships though: the Seaport also runs the traditional shops and buildings dedicated to 19th century seafaring, to include a smithy, shipping agent’s office, and nautical instrument shop, to name a few of many. Mystic Seaport is another one of those places where visitors should dedicate at least three hours to see everything there is to see there.

Traveling Review: Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea

Travel Review: the Norman Rockwell Museum

During the middle of our trip, my companions and I veered off the Revolutionary War path and stopped in Stockbridge, Massachusetts to partake in the Norman Rockwell Museum which bears works by the man it’s named after. If you don’t know who Norman Rockwell is, you may have seen his work on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post or at the very least, maybe this image in a history class:

“The Problem We All Live With,” a commentary on public school desegregation.

Norman Rockwell is an American artist defined by his works which have captured the state of the country for over half a century, a large portion of that work for the Post from 1916 to 1963. Originally, Mr. Rockwell worked with live models until photographs became available for him to use instead.

Rockwell’s take on Rosie the Riveter

The Museum itself is packed with artwork: canvases of works submitted for use as magazine covers, portraits, and a donated collection of the magazines themselves. Rockwell was inspired by J.C. Leyendecker, an amazing artist in his own right. We had the fortune of being at the museum while it hosts an exhibition of Leyendecker’s work as well.

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The museum is easily traversable, and unlike any other place we visited on our trip, had free wheelchairs and strollers for patron use. The lower floor had large photographs of Rockwell himself, as well as a viewing room for an informational video about his life.

20150427_150031It was not a bad place to visit, though I have to admit it was personally not one of my favorite parts of the trip. Still, the Rockwell Museum is an amazing collection of art and imagery and a testament to the creative skill of a great American artist.

Travel Review: the Norman Rockwell Museum

Traveling Review: Boston Freedom Trail

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While there are several different versions of freedom walks and trails, I’m referring to the walk I took with the Freedom Trail Foundation‘s self guided audio tour. MP3 downloads and players are available for $15 USD, and takes you on a tour of 41 significant sites in Boston. Each location has its own track on the MP3 player, and includes commentary and input from subject matter expects and several notable Americans such as longtime Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, among others. The player comes with headphones and runs off of the larger watch style batteries.

The tour begins at the visitor center on Tremont in the Boston Commons. From there you follow the typically red brick path from point to point. Each site has information placards which nicely complement the information on the audio tour and often nearby are other points of interest not on the tour. What’s nice about the self guided tours is you can take it as slow or as fast as you like, where with a tour guide, it’s hit or miss on the extra knowledge the guide may or my not have while you are definitely limited to his or her schedule. As such, we broke our tour down over two days.

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Personal Highlights: The cemetery containing the resting places of Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Samuel Adams among others.

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The site of the Boston Massacre:

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The Monument to the one of the first African-American Civil War units and the subject of the movie “Glory,” the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment:

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Bunker Hill:

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The USS Constitution (which went into dry dock the day after we visited, hence the lack of armament and rigging.

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The Constitution definitely made the Boston walk for me.

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In closing, if you have the time, go, with or without the guide or player. You’ll find something to enjoy both on and off the path. Thanks for reading.

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Traveling Review: Battleship Cove

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So if you happen to love history, are in New England touring Revolutionary War/Pre-World-War sites and have the thought about taking a break from it, turn and burn to Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts and get ready to commit to several hours of naval goodness at the home of US Battleship Massachusetts. Entry and exit to the museum is through the gift shop, and just beyond sit two helicopters like a pair of old guards on the path to the first major stop, the Patrol Torpedo (PT) boat exhibit. Here also sits the hull of the a landing craft.

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The PT Boat exhibit rests in several buildings combined into one, and house two actual PT boats, several scale models and dioramas, an engine, a theater devoted to the subject, and a wealth of PT boat knowledge throughout, covering everything from specs, to armament and ammunition.

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Each boat has a staircase on the starboard (right) side and sections of the starboard hull replaced with plexi to allow visitors a glimpse inside each vessel. History buffs will recall a young John F. Kennedy commanded a PT during World War II, and subsequently lost the ship after a collision with Japanese Destroyer Amagiri. The urge to climb on and explore these boats was there for me, yet was not allowed. My climbing fix was addressed at the next stop in the tour, the US Destroyer Joseph P. Kennedy.

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Affectionately called the “Joey P.” by some who crewed her, the USS Joseph P. Kennedy was named after JFK’s older brother, a naval aviator. Upon boarding the ship, you realize the how massive these ships are, only to turn to the port (left) side and behold the massive Battleship Massachutsetts, also known as “Big Mamie.” We were given free reign of the ship, which is to say any unlocked door, or unblocked stair ladder was ours for exploring.

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Other parts of the ship for viewing pleasure consisted of original doors replaced by plexi: many of these were crew offices, barber shops, the ship store, etc., meant to approximate what those rooms would have looked like while the ship was manned with 200 and  away at sea. Highlights of her duties: bombardment runs during the Korean War, recovery operations for Gemini 6 and 7, and part of the naval blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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The next stop is the BB-59, the US Battleship Massachusetts. Like Joey P., visitors are given mostly free reign of this gargantuan ship, able to travel at least two levels of the superstructure and into the bridge, and down four decks of the ship. Open doors are free for exploration, and larger rooms serve as museums dedicated to everything from Pearl Harbor, to D-Day, and rooms with extensive collections of intricate models.

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Anti-aircraft guns are open for exploration, as are at least one of the 5″ gun turrets, and the aft (rear of the ship) turret holding three of it’s massive 16″ guns.

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The Massachusetts has the distinction of firing the first American 16″ shells of World War II at Casablanca during Operation Torch, where she also received damage from shore batteries. She also fired the last 16″ shell of the war in the Pacific Theater.

Because we arrived before tourist season actually starts, we were not able to gain access to the USS Lionfish, a WWII era submarine, and the Hiddensee, a Soviet made East Germany missile corvette acquired by the US Navy after Germany reunified. However, I will say by the time we were done on the Massachusetts, I don’t know we would have had it in us to explore two more ships. I lamented anyway.

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In addition to the rest of the awesomeness of the three major exhibits were two points of nerdgasm for me: the first, in the PT Boat buildings sits a submersible designated GIMIK built by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, or for the less historically, more movie saavy, the guys who made Captain America (stop watching movies and read some history please)).

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Eventually moved to the CIA when the OSS deactivated, and the vehicle itself declassified in 2010(!!!!), the “Gizmo” was barely big enough for a pilot and two Korean infiltrators and was designed to deposit said infiltrators onto the Japanese islands for espionage and sabotage actions. Very cool.

The second egg of nerdy goodness sits in the aft section of the Joseph P. Kennedy, where inside the helicopter bay are two Gyrodine drone gyrocopters used on the ship for anti-sub duties.

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While I knew drones have been around since the 1900’s, I did not know I’d find a pair of 1950’s drones sitting on Joey P. Again, very cool.

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From an logistical perspective, again travelling with two seniors, and a wife with baby in a carrier harness, movement is slow and steady up and down decks. Moving too fast has potential to miss exhibits, and if you have troubles moving around, I’m truly uncertain what accommodations the museum has as I saw no elevators and few ramps. Groups on the Massachusetts would do well to plan out places to regroup as my group ended up separated several times, and often could not resort to text or phone contact due to the lack of signal. At least twice we ended up moving to ports leading up to the outside deck to regain phone coverage and doubling back the way we came to gather our wayward party member. Other visitors, specifically unruly children darting out of doorways are also something to watch out for.

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Still, if you have the time, I highly recommend this museum. Even with two ships closed off season I highly recommend this wealth of naval history and knowledge. It was a great show, and a fantastic change of pace away from Revolutionary sites. Thanks for reading.

Traveling Review: Battleship Cove

Traveling Review: The New Bedford Whaling Museum and Fort Rodman/Fort Tabor

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New England debatably being the the heart of the American whaling industry, there was no way I could pass up stopping at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, though if I were any of you with an interest in American history and the artifacts that come from it, I would devote a few hours to this museum as it contains a vast amount of information.

20150422_101207[1]From the get go, visitors are greeted by quotes out of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” as Ishmael sets off on the Pequod from New Bedford. Just beyond are the massive skeletons of four whales hovering above. As you traverse the railings leading upstairs you are entreated to the story of these animals and factoids about the whale species represented up there. Progressing through the building, visitors encounter exhibits which take the viewer through a trip to whaling’s beginnings from the sustenance hunts of Alaska Natives, to the whaling industry in full swing, along with the weapons of war. The exhibits do a fine job of explaining why whaling was so profitable by displaying many examples of products produced from whales, from corsets propped up with baleen to meat and grease. 20150422_103127_4_bestshot[1]

Other exhibits show the tools of the trade, photographs of whalers conducting their business, ships, paintings, videos, and artifacts right down to a Gilbert Island Sharktooth sword (!!!). The museum also touches whaling from a multicultural perspective, featuring a great deal of information on whaling as it applied to the Azore, Japanese, Alaska Natives and more. The museum also touches on the relationship between scrimshaw and whaling, and comes full circle with a discussion on preservation and research of whale species, which like most of oceanic life, we know only a fraction about.

The museum also boasts two other exhibits dedicated to New Bedford artists and their work during their travels. Again, my party of 4.5 walked the halls of the museum for at least an hour an a half and found it impossible to take in everything with the time we alloted ourselves.

The same could be said of our next stop, the Fort Rodman/Fort Tabor Military Museum. Housed in what used to be the Post Exchange (think a military base’s mall or shopping place), the free to enter-donations accepted establishment is manned by willing and able veterans of our Armed Services ready to set the stage for the flow of the museum. Beginning with a diorama of the fort and it’s humble origins (the protection of American whaling vessels and designed by Robert E. Lee,) the museum takes visitors through a tightly packed, exceptionally thorough tour of the fort’s past beginning with the Revolutionary War and progressing into the military roots of New Bedford, Massachusetts and those who served from the area in the World Wars to present.

Just a taste of the military history in this place...
Just a taste of the military history in this place…

Again, tons and tons of artifacts, pictures, insignia, maps, military orders, newspaper clippings and more, so much so that one could miss whole sections of historical memorabilia if one forgot to turn around. Outside the museum building lie several small monuments to the casualties of the wars of the 20th century, along with a tank commemorating the casualties of Operation Tiger (a mission designed to train our soldiers for the D-Day invasion) and the actual fort itself, which sadly is not open due to safety concerns as the site runs off donations and volunteers.

Two excellent museums in one day: the time we allotted for each did not do them justice, yet I stand impressed. Our time spent at each was rushed, and in hindsight, a day could have been made of each location separately. The Whaling Museum is definitely kid friendly, while the Military Museum is kid (and adult) protected via plexiglass cases. If your travels ever take you to New Bedford, I highly recommend both institutions. 20150422_094224[1]

PS: The Whaling Museum is located on the same street as the chapel described in Moby Dick. So cool.

Traveling Review: The New Bedford Whaling Museum and Fort Rodman/Fort Tabor

Traveling Review: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox vs Baltimore Orioles)

Today, day 2 of my travels took us to Fenway Park in Boston for the Red Sox vs the Baltimore Orioles. My perspective is of one who is not into major league sports, and who has been to a single other MLB game as a young boy. As with yesterday, I traveled with my wife, my 6 week old son, and two seniors.

Finding the parking lot was slightly problematic as we’re not familiar with the area and the parking location we selected was underground, underneath the huge and beautiful reflection pool of the Christian Science Center, where people were hand feeding a pair of ducks, several persons walked dogs and a gentleman sailed a remote control boat.

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Traveling from there to Fenway took a matter of minutes as pedestrian egress appears to be well established in Boston, complete with bicycle lanes. Entrance into the park was relatively simple: get in line, place metal objects in the tray, place your bag, purse, etc onto the scanner and be on your way. Our seats were adjacent to the first base line under a covered mezzanine.

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As you can probably guess from the picture above, we were in the shade for the duration of the game, approximately 3.5 hours. With temperatures in the sun topping out at 50 degrees, I’d guess it was in the 40’s in the shade, not counting wind. If we hadn’t brought jackets just in case, we definitely would have been sucking.

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The entirety of the game day was as American as Apple pie, and everything I remembered it was with a splash of the modern: surprisingly comfortable old style wooden bleacher chairs to sit in, the smell of hot dogs and popcorn from the aisle traversing vendors, and the person operated scoreboard on the green wall.

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Above and beyond, flat screen monitors and enormous LED sign screens along side the Jumbotron displayed game and player statistics, instant replays, as well as tributes to local Massachusians, the color guard/singing of the national anthem,  and wounded warriors set to run in the Boston Marathon tomorrow. As someone who is easily distracted by TV’s, I expected the displays to take away from the game: instead they complimented the game unfolding before us quite nicely. Home players approached the plate to bat accompanied by theme music, adding a cool vibe to the feel of the overall game.

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The three and a half hours progressed nicely, again surpassing my expectations and pushing on my fun buttons. Innings of course, are three outs long for each team which we all know can vary, while the intermissions between were timed between two to three minutes. Seventh inning stretch called for the singing of “The Old Ball Game.” The end of the game came rather fast as fellow spectators, sure of the Red Sox defeat,   left the stadium to get a jump on traffic.

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Again, as a self proclaimed non-sports-type of guy, I had a blast, and preparedness between my wife and I really saved the day from being a cold miserable experience. From the very beginning, I couldn’t help picking a team, hoping for a win, and just having a good time win or lose.

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Traveling Review: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox vs Baltimore Orioles)