Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 270/365 Oldest House in Richmond

So driving through Richmond the other day we stopped to look at this 18th century house and found this beautiful courtyard.

The little stone house came complete with window boxes, with ravens perched on the front...

And dead flowers left laying in the courtyard.

Know where we are yet? No?

Here's a hint:

"All that we see or seem..... Is but a dream within a dream."

Still no? It's the oldest house in Richmond, probably built in 1737 (read the sign)...more importantly eventually bequeathed to the Edgar Allen Poe Foundation and now home to the Poe Museum.

Poe's foster family raised him in Richmond, and he last visited here two weeks before his untimely death at the age of 40 in 1849. Turns out, contrary to popular rumor, Edgar was not a drunkard - he actually had difficulty consuming much more than a half glass of wine, and that usually sent him to his bed with massive headaches. The exact circumstances of his death in Baltimore are still a mystery - he fell to his knees on a public sidewalk (in front of a tavern),
"in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance". His foster family refused to acknowledge him. His physician assumed custody and provided care. Edgar was never coherant long enough to explain what led to his condition, or why he was wearing clothes that did not belong to him. He died 5 days later.

After his death, an obituary appeared in a New York paper. It's opening line: "Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it." The unauthorized obituary would be followed by an equally unauthorized biography by the same author. The author turned out to be Poe's chief critic, a man with a long-held grudge. Somehow he ended up being Poe's literary executor, and he viciously painted Poe as a depraved madman, addicted to alcohol and drugs, even producing forged letters and diaries. That image turned out to be great for sales of Poe's macabre stories.

Except none of it was true.

To vilify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness. (Edgar Allan Poe)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 269/365 Heavenly Road Trip

The building known to most mortals as The Library of Congress.

Known to me, a mere booklover and bookseller as Heaven...



The Emerald City, so to speak.

Spent this afternoon there, at a special exhibition of Thomas Jefferson's Library. You know, the one Tom donated after the Brits burned our first Library of Congress in 1812, and again in 1814? I actually got to stand surrounded by the Jefferson books, all shelved inside enclosed climate-comtrolled glass bookcases, arranged in a circular seashell spiral pattern. In a wing of the Library of Congress. **Best freaking Christmas present ever**.

No photos allowed (hard on the books). Sorry. Also no touching allowed. Really sorry about that (more for me than you). Still, just being that close to Jefferson's books almost made me cry. They are the Holy Grail of books.

And the titles? Lots of French titles (Tom spoke fluent Francois. I do not.). As well as A History of Mineral Waters, Microsope Made Easy (publiished 1744), History of the United Provinces (that's us), The Workes of Sir Thomas More, Franklin on Electricity (yes, written by his friend Ben Frankin), Natural History of Zoophytes, and Every Man His Own Gardener.

And approximately 3000 more.

While I couldn't take pictures of Tom's books, I did get this view from a secluded alcove in the Library. That's the Capitol, and way in the background the Washington Monument.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 268/365 Best Job in DC

Especially on a windy 33 degree afternoon in December.

Today's happy trail adventure led to the Live Butterfly Habitat on the second floor, just ouside Africa and above The Elephant in the rotunda.

The entry looks like a sci fi space set, with an air lock that keeps the warmth and humidity inside. We needed timed entry tickets and if you're headed that way, Tuesday's are free.

Butterflies live an average of two weeks, so lots of babies are needed to constantly repopulate the habitat. Each butterly's two weeks are spent in what amounts to butterfly heaven. All the flowers and nectar they could ever want, and no predators.

Mist sprays out every few minutes, letting the butterflies float on the moisture and cluster on blossoms.

Humans are told that the butterflies like to land on ledges and the floor. We were told not swat at them, even if they land on heads or bodies (and they did), and before leavinng we had to check ourselves, in case anyone hitched a ride.

My favorite pic...alll golden and glowing...

When this one flies, it exposes the inside of its wings - bright opalescent blue,edged in black...

The volunteers that work here use soft brushes to move the butterfliies away from departing humans. They field questions, guard the chrysallis', and release a daily crop of new butterflies.

Best job in D.C. hands down.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 267/365 Road Trip....Crime and Punishment

It's not every vacation blog that opens with a shot of Ted Bundy's volkswagen, but our family is special that way. Today's itinerary includes serial killers, bones, forensic labs and my ecstatic daughter.

First, courtesy of the Crime and Punishment Museum, a bit of family history. Here you see Jessie's James' gun and the torn scrap of Confederate flag he always carried with him. Also shown, his slate notebook he carried in his coat pocket (Lunch-1 pm, Rob bank 3 pm, evade sheriff 4-6 pm, Remember milk and bread on way home...). I say family history because one of my great aunt's married Jessie's cousin, and was so taken with the idea she promptly named her son Jesse James. As a result he developed a wild side (no surprise there huh?) and ended up driving his motorcycle off the edge of a West Virginia mountain. As far as we know, he was not evading the sheriff (at least not that time).

Found this original 1930's cartoon style map of Chicago, noting each gang's territory: Capone has the largest section. Did they print these to give to tourists?

And the museum has Capone's silverware, and his hotel key.

Ever see Goodfella's? It's the true story of mobster Henry Hill. Now he's retired and considered something of an artist. Last Christmas, I surprised my daughter with a handmade bullet knife made and signed by Henry Hill. Probably not what everyone wants to find under the Christmas tree, but again, we're that way.

I did my senior thesis on serial killers so it's a topic I'm familiar with (and fascinated by). This is Albert De Salvo's knife he allegedly used while he was working as the Boston Strangler. I say allegedly because he was never actually convicted, and there's a lot of confusion and questions regarding his invovement.

And then there's this piece of hand painted baseball memorabilia -signed by many of the greats including Jolting Joe DiMaggio. Then they found out the artist was John Wayne Gacy, and a little of their enthusiasm disappeared.

My daughter in her element -never mind a trip to the mall -all the girl wants is her own coroners office.

Lacking that, we wandered over to the Museum of Natural Science and their incomparable forensics lab.

Currently they are investigating early colonial burials in Jjamestown Virginia. They've found bones....

more bones....

more bones

and the best of all bones, a man and his dog.

We're thinking of staying for another day. Too many bones to count.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 266/365 Road Trip Day 2

This is what vacations are like when you have a child who's into military history.

First you spend the morning at the Holocaust Museum. (No photography allowed, so no preview for you -just go. It's amazing.)

After that, you spend the afternoon briskly walking to all the war memorials on the western end of the Mall. You walk briskly because it's 35 degrees, and your face is frozen in place.

But in spite of your eyes being frozen open, you still notice little corners of monuments you never noticed on previous trips.

Of course, sometimes you skitter to a stop on the icy cobblestone and wait while your child (the one interested in military history) takes pictures of a squirrel.

After remembering to stop and look up friends from the old days just so they know you haven't forgotten them...

You trudge up the steps to see the big guy.

Pausing at the top to realize that this is your umpteenth trip to DC and you still haven't been able to get tickets to the Washington Monument.....and you have approximately a mile to walk back to the Metro station.

Big Guy is still there, impressive as ever...

But have you ever noticed these murals, set up over the Gettysburg Address, in the wings of the Memorial?

And just to the left of the Gettysburg Address is a plain bronze door, unmarked in any way. Go through it, and there's an elevator. It only goes down one level, right into a small Lincoln Memorial museum.

My favorite part was this little alcove filled with multiple screens of the March on Washington and Dr. King, with audio of his speech playing as you watch the changing photos.

There there's the Little Guy, forerunner of the actual sculpture upstairs over your head.

And some of Abe's best words (and most prophetic I think, living where I do)

Afterwards, with numb feet and blue fingers, we trudge appropriately towards Korea, having by this point some small inkling of how soldiers felt over in that frozen muddy cold wasteland.

This is a war memorial that gets up close and personal - you can see the lines in the faces of these battle-weary soldiers. Sometimes out of the corner of your eye, they seem alive.

Wary looks for snipers, the crunch of boots on ice, the crackle of the radio -it's all here.

All that "glory of war".

And the American soldier that gets sent to do the fighting for the old men in the suits.