Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Museum of the American Revolution

How much do you really know about the Revolutionary War? While touring the Museum of the American Revolution, I learned some things I hadn't known (or had forgotten since my high school US history class) and untangled some deeply held misconceptions from actual history. Perhaps I should have paid better attention...

And that's why this is a must-see museum for all of us!

The museum follows the Revolutionary War from the roots of conflict in the 1760s to the rise of armed resistance and the writing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and then through the final years of the war. You learn (or relearn) the story of the Revolutionary War through a variety of immersive exhibits, special presentations or shows (such as the Tent Show and an explanation of the Battle of Brandywine), large-scale tableaux, interactive story screens, and "typical" museum artifact displays. None of this feels like your father's museum, because of the mix of interactive displays and mini-presentations that take advantage of today's technology.

The beginning of the exhibits starts with a curved screen that tell the story of
the beginnings of popular discontent with our British colonial overlords.

The museum's collection of several thousand objects includes artwork and sculpture, textiles and weapons, manuscripts and rare books. The collection started by Rev. W. Herbert Burk in the early 1900s makes up the core of the museum's holdings. This museum was his dream, realized a century later.

Throughout the exhibits, the museum discusses the diversity of revolutionary-era Americans and their opinions, for example by viewing an Oneida Indian council house, and the 1773 volume "Poems on Various Subjects" by Phillis Wheatley, America's first published black female poet.

Slavery is addressed in several exhibits, noting that slave owners often let their slaves enlist in the war with false promises of freedom, but many were forced back into slavery after the conclusion of the war. The British promised freedom to slaves who left rebels to side with the British. In New York City, which the British occupied, thousands of refugee slaves had migrated there to gain freedom.

In April 1775, at Lexington and Concord, both free and enslaved black Americans responded to the call and fought with Patriot forces. Notably, free blacks in the North and South fought on both sides of the Revolution; enslaved individuals often were recruited to weaken those masters who supported the opposing cause.

One surprise for me was the opportunity to view General Washington's original sleeping and office tent, which was carefully preserved by generations of the Custis and Lee families following the deaths of George and Martha Washington. Twice a day there's a presentation about the tent and its importance; then the tent is unveiled in low light to preserve it for future generations. No photography is allowed, so below is one of my cheats: a photo of a photo (from the museum). I found this presentation touching, pulling on my patriotic heart-strings.

Photo of a photo by the Museum of the American Revolution (it was on a poster advertising the Tent Shows).

Several immersive gallery experiences feature a full-scale replica of Boston's Liberty Tree (including a slice of the original tree that you're invited to touch), the recreation of an Oneida Indian Council, the Battlefield Theater featuring the Battle of Brandywine, a recreation of Independence Hall, and the kid-friendly large model of an 18th-century privateer ship.

Boston's Liberty Tree -- you can actually touch a real
piece of it, directly connecting you to history.

Know before you go 1: The museum is located in the middle of Philadelphia, the city that kind of is the heart of America's founding. The site is across the street from the First Bank of the United States and two blocks from Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, Carpenters' Hall, the Liberty Bell, and more.

Know before you go 2: This is a VERY kid-friendly museum, with numerous exhibits geared to appeal to childrens' level of knowledge and attention span. :) This museum makes learning about the Revolutionary War fun, for kids and adults.

Getting there: 101 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Parking: You're in the middle of Philadelphia; parking is problematic. There are several parking garages located within a mile from the Museum:
  • Bourse Garage, 400 Ranstead Street
  • Park America, 27 South 3rd Street
  • Parkway Corporation, 36 South 2nd Street
  • E-Z Park, 36 Front Street
  • Short Parking Corp, 37 South 2nd Street
  • The Autopark at Olde City, 125 South 2nd Street
  • Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District
  • Patriot Parking, 101 Market Street
  • Central Parking, 800 Market Street

Hours: Daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; closed on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

Website: https://www.amrevmuseum.org/

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Elk Life Day Trip

Elk Country says it all. Elk Country, straddling Clearfield and Elk counties, is home to the largest elk herd in the northeastern United States. And that's where you go to catch a glimpse of these incredible beauties!

Elk Country is by definition in the middle of nowhere. The best place to start this daytrip is in Clearfield County, where there are plenty of restaurants and places to stay.

Before the European invasion, elk roamed freely across what came to be known as Pennsylvania. European settlements, habitat destruction and hunting threatened the native Eastern woodland elk as early as 1750. In less than 100 years, the Eastern woodland elk had disappeared from many parts of Pennsylvania. In 1867, the last known elk was killed.

The story of the herd that exists today parallels other stories I've covered for MidAtlanticDayTrips: unfettered and wanton destruction of the environment -- Dolly Sods, Schuylkill River, and Susquehannah River all come to mind -- turned around by the dedication of individuals, private organizations, and governments.

In 1913, the PA Game Commission imported elk from Yellowstone National Park and from Monroe County, PA. Now, a herd of more than 1000 elk live in Elk Country, the largest herd in the northeastern United States. Over the past 20 years, the PA Game Commission, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, as well as other organizations, have worked to conserve and protect elk and their habitat.

We took a fairly direct, although leisurely approach. Out of Clearfield, we traveled on Route 879/Quehanna Highway to a right turn onto Route 555. During the drive, we appreciated the hilly scenery -- Clearfield County and Elk Country really are beautiful.

Along Rt 879/Quehanna Highway, we drove slowly, hoping to see some elk along the road -- often folks do see them! But the day was too hot (low 80s), and the elk were probably bedded down in the cool shade of the forest. Elk spend summer days relaxing in the shade, so your best viewing opportunities are at dawn and dusk.

If you follow the same route we did, you also pass some wildlife viewing areas, such as Hoover Farm Wildlife Viewing Area, Wykoff Run Natural Area, Beaver Run Dam Wildlife Viewing Area, and the Marion Brooks Natural Area. There are ample hiking opportunities here as well.

We stopped briefly at the Marion Brooks Natural Area to pay brief homage to the stand of white birch trees, one of the largest stands on the east coast.

After we turned right onto SR 555, it was only a short drive before we turned left onto Winslow Hill, which we followed through Benezette to Homestead Drive and the entrance for the Elk Viewing Center. One of the most popular locations in the entire PA Wilds, the Elk Country Visitor Center is a 245-acre site near the village of Benezette and a premier elk watching and conservation education facility.

The visitor center plants several fields with alfalfa and other elk favorites, increasing your likelihood of seeing them. Inside, there's an exhibit about the elk and other native wildlife in the area, as well as a viewing area. However, you'll increase your chances of seeing elk if you walk quietly along some of the pathways leading out to the fields.

We were rewarded with a small group of cows (female elks) bounding across the field, white tail deer fleeing in alarm -- and giving notice of the elks' arrival -- in front of them.

It was still fairly warm and we decided to go sample some wines at the Benezette Winery and then enjoy dinner at one of the local Benezette restaurants -- there are a couple to chose from. One of the area's newest wineries, Benezette Winery shares its fame with the Pennsylvania elk. This winery has an outdoor patio that backs up to a 200-year-old oak tree and borders State game lands. Its gift shop displays photos and memorabilia of the history of the Benezette Area.

Like several other local eateries, the Benezette Hotel offers elk burgers, obtained from a Pennsylvania herd of farmed elk. Experiencing a delicious elk burger is an attraction in itself, and ironically, complements the day spent enjoying the wild animals. (If you're not into eating the elk, then there are the more generally accepted chicken and beef offerings as well.)

After dinner, with the Elk Country Visitor Center closed, but dusk rapidly approaching, we headed to the Winslow Hill Viewing Area to try to see more elk. We were rewarded with a view of a big group, casually grazing on the hill side below.

To reach the public viewing area, start at the Benezette Hotel and travel north along Winslow Hill road 3.5 miles. Follow the signs to the viewing area.

I'm still looking for Moose Country, btw!

Know before you go #1: Elk are wild animals, and there are no guarantees you will see them. The fields surrounding the center are planted with alfalfa, timothy, clover, and winter wheat to attract the elk. The best times to view are early in the morning, just after day light, and in the hours before dark. Elk do not like the heat, and they will bed down in the shade where it is coolest during the day. Be sure to bring a camera and binoculars for better viewing!

Know before you go #2: Make this a day-long day trip by having dinner at the Benezette Hotel or Medix Hotel or sampling some local wine at Benezette Wines.

Know before you go #3: Cell phone coverage is limited in Elk Country. Sorry, pets are not permitted. For a map of the Elk Scenic Drive: https://www.visitpago.com/wp-content/uploads/Elk_Scenic_Drive_0001.jpg

Getting there: Elk Country Visitors Center is located at 134 Homestead Drive, Benezette, PA; Winslow Hill Viewing Area is located at 2313 Winslow Hill Road, Benezette, PA. Benezette Wines is located at 196 Second St., Benezette, PA 15821.

Hours: Elk Country Visitors Center is open Thursday thru Monday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Benezette Winery is open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Websites: Elk Country Scenic Drive -- http://pawilds.com/journey/elk-scenic-drive/; Elk Country Visitor Center -- http://elkcountryvisitorcenter.com; Benezette Winery -- www.benezettewines.com.

In between elk viewing, check out all there is to do in Clearfield County through the articles below:

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Updated September 2020

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Browsing Bellefonte's Spirits, Boutiques and Antiques

Bellefonte was named by a French diplomat on a land-speculation visit to central PA in the 1790s. He named the crossroads "la belle fonte" for the natural spring -- "Big Spring" -- in town that provides the town its drinking water. 

Bellefonte’s Big Spring was awarded the "best tasting water in the state" by the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association. One of Coca Cola’s Dasani water divisions is sourced from Bellefonte’s Big Spring -- it’s that good.

With many examples of Victorian architecture and a plethora of antique shops and boutiques to help you while away an afternoon, Bellefonte is just 12 miles from Penn State, and makes a neat little side trip if you're really not that into football! In addition, Bellefonte boasts having two stops on the Central PA Wine and Spirits Taste Trail: Big Spring Spirits and Good Intent Cidery.

Start out at Cool Beans for a hot cup of joe and a breakfast roll or bagel -- you'll need the energy to shop!

Then cross the street to Plaza Centre for three floors of antiques in an old theater building. 

Climb to the top of High Street, and turn right onto Allegheny Street, and you'll encounter several more amazing antique stores and quaint boutiques. 

It's a great way to spend a day.

Don't forget to check out the cute park at the foot of High Street!

Around the corner from the park are two excellent stops for when you get thirsty: Big Spring Spirits, in the old matchstick factory building complex, and Good Intent Cidery!

Photo courtesy Big Spring Spirits

In fact, Bellefonte's big spring and its excellent water -- as good as or better than Kentucky's limestone filtered water -- made Bellefonte the perfect location for Big Spring Spirits. This boutique distillery offers a variety of gin, vodka, whiskey, and rum.

One of the most intriguing tastings offered by Big Springs is tasting a white whiskey product next to the same product with some age. Many brown whiskey drinkers are unfamiliar with the process and this comparison is enlightening as to the impact of oak and time. Much of what brown whiskey drinkers enjoy most about the darker whiskeys are also present in the white whiskeys, but younger and less developed. Learn where the flavors of vanilla, baking spices and fruits start and how they mature.

The distillery tasting room is comfortable whether you're there to relax with a few friends or try some new spirits!

Know before you go: For more information about the Central PA Tasting Trail, check out http://www.visitpennstate.org/eat/central-pa-tasting-trail/

Getting there: 198 March Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823

Hours: Contact Big Spring Spirits to ensure they're open.

Website: https://www.bigspringspirits.com/

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This stay was provided by Comfort Suites and the Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Johnson Victrola Museum

Most of us, of a certain age that is, are familiar with record players. Growing up in the 1970s, I enjoyed a series of them; each, upon breaking, being gradually replaced with higher quality and more sophisticated versions.

The origins of those record players were the victrolas, made possible by the inventiveness of a native son of Delaware, Eldridge Reeves Johnson, who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company and was a pioneer in the sound-recording industry.

The Johnson Victrola Museum highlights the life and achievements of this businessman, innovator, philanthropist and progressive employer; exhibits include phonographs, recordings, memorabilia, trademarks, objects, and paintings that highlight Mr. Johnson's successful business enterprises and chronicle the development of the sound-recording industry.

Ironically, this genius inventor was not considered smart enough to go to college. Instead, he was encouraged to learn a trade. Johnson went on to become a machinist, working in Camden, New Jersey. Eventually, Emile Berliner, inventor of the gramophone and disc record, approached him, asking him to turn his talents to inventing a motor that would play discs at a continuous speed, eliminating the need to constantly crank a gramophone by hand. Johnson's spring motor invention was a success.

By 1901, Johnson founded the Victor Talking Machine Company. The company grew to encompass 10 city blocks in Camden, grossed millions annually, and produced some of the most famous recording artists in the world. Johnson's invention led to development of Victrolas, the iconic box with a huge horn coming out. The museum details other innovations -- early ways to control the volume, and so forth.

Some of the Victrolas were quite ornate!

If you visit the museum, you'll also learn the origins of the phrases -- still used today -- of put a lid on it and put a sock in it!

Victrola is indelibly linked to the iconic image of a dog, with his head cocked, staring intently into a Victrola.

The dog's name was Nipper and he was a mutt -- probably a bull terrier/fox terrier. Almost everyone I know -- of a certain age that is -- recognize the image of the dog intently staring into and listening to the phonograph. The image was still on records produced by RCA, which had by then bought the rights to the image, up until the 1970s. 

Nipper was a real dog who lived in England whose hobbies were chasing rats, and listening to music. Artist Francis Barraud apparently saw the dog listening to music, and thought it would make a great painting; he painted Nipper listening to "His Master's Voice" in 1899.

Nipper salt and pepper shakers.

Berliner, a genius in his own right, purchased the painting and copyright for use as the trademark for The Gramophone Company in London. The original painting featured Nipper listening to a cylinder phonograph but Berliner insisted it be changed to a Berliner Disc Gramophone as a condition of the purchase.

E.R. Johnson acquired the U.S. rights to the painting from Emile Berliner in 1901, leading to a merger with The Berliner Gramophone Company to form The Victor Talking Machine Company. Johnson, an astute businessman, launched Nipper's image and company name to world-wide fame by branding everything from Victrolas and recordings to salt and pepper shakers.

You learn all this at the museum, as well as see (and hear) still-working Victrolas and gramaphones. You see what a Victrola store would have looked like in the early 1900s, and learn about the life and achievements of Johnson, who is an American genius. One of the coolest things is that Johnson was well ahead of his time. When a fire broke out at a neighboring factory, he installed fire alarms in his factories. He also brought in child care for working mothers, right onsite of his factories. 

The second floor of the museum, the Heiges Gallery, offers an extensive collection of artifacts from the Victrola industry, including an comprehensive collection of Nipper statues.

Getting there: 375 S New St, Dover, DE 19901

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and most holidays; closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Easter.

Website: https://history.delaware/museums/jvm/jvm_main.shtml

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