Friday, January 31, 2014

Great Georgia Getaways: Some Savannah Museums for Military Buffs

By Jeff Burns

Savannah Georgia has long been recognized as one of the most romantic and charming cities in America, and it’s full of history.  The first city in Georgia, and the first planned city in the United States, Savannah has figured prominently in all the big events in American history.  It offers plenty to do for everyone of every interest, especially for military history buffs.
There are three forts with rich Civil war history:  Fort McAllister, Fort Jackson, and Fort Pulaski .  Fort McAllister, now a state park, is the best preserved example of a Confederate earthworks fortification.  It withstood fierce bombardment by Union ironclads, only to fall to Sherman’s March to the Sea.  Fort Jackson is located near downtown on the Savannah River, and Fort Pulaski is located at the river’s mouth, 15 minutes away.   Each site is administered by a different agency: the state of Georgia, the Coastal Heritage Society, and the National Park service, respectively.  However, each one features a gift shop, a small exhibit or museum space, and helpful staff, and there are regular historical demonstrations and re-enactments.

The Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum is located in the William Scarbrough house, built in 1819.  The house itself is worth the admission, but the collection is very interesting too.  There are nine galleries of ship models, maritime paintings and artifacts designed to interpret the rich story of Savannah's maritime history.  The collection of models includes, colonial vessels, ironclads, ocean-going steamers, and modern navy ships, many with a direct connection to Savannah.

The Mighty 8th Air Force Museum is located in Pooler, a Savannah suburb.  Weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Mighty 8th Air Force was officially activated in Savannah.  Soon, the Mighty 8th numbered 350,000 men and was stationed in England, charged with the mission of conducting the relentless bombing of Germany that crippled that country and its resolve to fight the war.  In 1983, veterans of the 8thstarted planning a museum to commemorate the organization and the 26,000 men who died and 28,000 who were taken prisoner.  They settled on Savannah, and the museum opened in 1996.  It’s a wonderful museum that does a great job of telling the World War II experience.  Many of the docents are either veterans of the air force or the children of members of the original Mighty 8th.          

The visitor first enters a small gallery that gives an overview of the war, and then a smaller room devoted to the 8th.  From there, visitors go through a mission simulation experience which does a great job of humanizing the men who served, in the air and on the ground.  After the mission, there are other exhibits including numerous models, planes, and a POW exhibit.  The latest addition is a B-17 bomber that dominates the main exhibit space and is being restored.  Outside, there are more planes and a beautiful memorial garden and chapel.  The whole museum is very well-done, and it is a great tribute to the Mighty 8th in particular and the greatest generation in general.

Whether you enjoy Naval history, Civil War history, or World War II history, Savannah has something for you.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Great Getaways in Georgia: Nacoochee Valley

Looking for a great getaway? Want something that appeals to your family or friends? The Nacoochee Valley has the answer for your all of your needs. Whether a weekend or a day trip you have plenty of choices.
This valley is home to some unique history in the state of Georgia. Here you can find the site of America's first gold rush, the home of the Cabbage Patch Kids, and a hidden alpine village. You can pan for gold in Dahlonega and celebrate Oktoberfest in Helen. This area does a good job at combining history with tourism.
Helen is an alpine village in the foothills of Georgia. It adopted this theme in the late 1960's and is now a slice of Bavaria just a car ride away. Here they celebrate Oktoberfest and Fasching and give you the chance to see, hear, and sample German culture. You can have brotchen at Hofer's or wurst at the Bodensee all before walking to the festhalle.
Cleveland is home to the Cabbage Patch Kids. This toy is the creation of Xavier Roberts. It was his work that gave this small town a needed economic boost decades ago. Today you can visit the place where every Cabbage Patch Kid is born Babyland General.  Here you can learn about the history of these toys and watch a doll be born. It may even be the doll you take home with you. This is a fun place to ignite the imagination of young kids and learn some economic history.
In Dahlonega you can find Georgia's gold rush. The exciting period in state history that lead to an influx of immigrants and increased pressure to relocate the Cherokee people. Today you can tour Consolidated Gold Mines and trying panning for gold yourself.  Activities that engage the mind and the body. Panning for gold is not as easy as it looks. You can also learn about the history of gold in the region with a tour of the Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic site. A museum in the center of town that will give you a sense of the impact gold can have on a region.

Still looking for something else to do? Local vineyards and artisans offer tasty options for your enjoyment. You can also enjoy the outdoors with a visit to Unicoi State Park or spend some time tubing in the summer.
No matter what you do get out and enjoy history and let them know the Histocrats sent you.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Traveling with History: Chicago

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

Do you like to travel?  Do you like History?  Do you like combining both?  One of the places to visit with an eye towards history is Chicago—the city built on the railroads and slaughterhouses, the birthplace of the Ferris Wheel at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, the home to the world’s first skyscraper, the city that suffered a Great Fire but was rebuilt. Yes, Chicago is one of our largest cities and has a myriad of things to see, but it is also a great city built on a wonderful historical foundation.  So, you can head for the Sears Tower (Willis Tower) for a photo op, or see the Water Tower, or even sit and eat a famous Chicago Hotdog.  However, I recommend seeing a few of the historical happenings that Chicago has to offer.

Chicago History Museum—at the museum you can explore both Chicago and American history, but with an emphasis on the development of the city. Learn about Chicago's rise from a desolate frontier outpost to the bustling city that hosted the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.  Also, be prepared to learn all about the Great Chicago fire.

Haymarket Square—take a walking tour of the area made famous by the labor demonstration that turned deadly when police were murdered by anarchists in the crowd.  Start your tour at the sculpture by Mary Brogger marking the precise location where the historic events occurred.  Walk around the area to learn about the struggle between Labor and the Police and afterwards head down to the Haymarket Pub & Brewery.

Riverside—tour this suburb of Chicago to see what is considered to be one of the first planned communities in the United States.  Built on the railroad line it was designed in 1869 by Frederick Law Olmsted.  The main area still boasts the local water tower, community railroad, and prominent Victorian homes. 

Oak Park—another Chicago suburb and best known for its architecture, thanks to prominent resident Frank Lloyd Wright.  Wright lived in Oak Park and many of the local houses were designed by him.  Many of the homes are in what would become his Prairie style. 

Also, in Oak Park is Ernest Hemingway's birthplace home, boyhood home, and the Ernest Hemingway Museum.  I must admit I have never been an architectural buff or fan of Hemingway.  However, touring Oak Park and the Wright home gave me a new appreciation and insight. 

Chicago Historical Boat Tour—when in Chicago be sure to indulge in an historical boat tour. Tours will take you out onto Lake Michigan and down the Chicago River. Tour guides will point out dozens of buildings and describe the evolution of Chicago architecture throughout the 20thcentury. 

Downtown Architectural Walking Tour—if you take a boat tour, be sure to also take one of the walking tours of Chicago from the Architecture Foundation.  Tour guides will be able to define the skyline and the evolution of the downtown area.  It is rather amazing that so much of this city had to be rebuilt after the Great Fire.  The city skyline was built by architects like Jenney, Root, Burnham and Sullivan. 

Hull House—Chicago's first social settlement house was started by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr.  The museum is comprised of two of the settlement complex's original thirteen buildings.  Sadly, all the rest of what was once the Hull House complex were destroyed to make way for the University of Illinois Chicago.  The same university that now runs the museum.

Wrigley Field—hard to imagine being in Chicago and not seeing Wrigley Field.  The baseball park was built in 1914 and has been home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916.  At Wrigley Field you can watch a baseball game at the historic stadium or simply take one of the tours or both. 

Finally, you can head to the Jackson Park, where the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition was located.  However, be warned that it is hard to imagine the Great White City when it is now a soccer field.  One of the remnants that does remain today is the Japanese area. 

Also know, any historic tour of Chicago will include every tour guide quoting Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.  So, I do suggest you read this awesome book before you begin your Chicago history tour.

These are just some of my Chicago historical highlights.  What would you include in your historical tour of Chicago?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Visit a Natural History Museum

By Nina Kendall

Want to get your kids hooked on history? Planning a trip with friends or family who isn’t as excited about history as you? Then it is time put a visit to a Natural History Museum on your calendar. From Mastodons to precious gems, a Natural History Museum has exhibits that appeal to all ages.

I love Natural History Museums. They are adventures and learning combined. Who hasn’t stood in awe in front of the Hope Diamond or marveled at the skeleton of an Argentinosaurus? My little brother fell in love with museums spending time in front of dinosaur skeletons and placing his hands inside fossil impressions. The exhibits from the natural world with a focus on change over time are the perfect blend of science and history to intrigue anyone.

 Inside a Natural History Museum, you can learn the history of DNA and stand in the shadow of a Giant Snake.  The movie Night in a Museum was based on the exhibits in the American Museum of Natural History. Some exhibits highlighted how different cultures around the world interact with the environment or other showed the exploration of the American frontier.  Special exhibits in Natural History Museums have given me the chance to pet a hissing cockroach, see the treasures of King Tut's tomb, and trace the travels of Marco Polo and Genghis Khan. 

Below are a few Natural History Museums you should consider as destinations. I recommend you do a little planning before you go. Each of these museums has theaters and expansive exhibits. You may want to look at the special events or activities planned for the day you plan to visit.
1.  American Museum of Natural History -New York, New York
2.  Field Museum – Chicago, Illinois
3.  Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History  - Washington, DC
4.  Fernbank Museum of Natural History - Atlanta, Georgia