Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Another year, another road trip.  Maybe you're reading this because "Intercourse" is in the title, but I'll get to that later.   Chicago to Niagara Falls to New York to Newport to Pennsylvania--2500 miles in all in 10 days, but we had wonderful adventures.


One of the greatest natural wonders in North America is, of course, Niagara Falls.  You stand and gape at the thunderous waters and then think, "what do I do now?" A lot of people have that thought, and some ask, "where can I get a barrel?"  Many people went over the falls in a barrel and by other means, and a few survived. 

In 1960, one kid, 7 year old Roger Woodward, fell out of a boat and was swept over the falls wearing a life jacket but no barrel.  I suppose the question should be, why would his family be boating there?  The good news is that he was rescued.

There are a lot of daredevils out there, and the authorities on both the U.S. and Canadian sides are cracking down.  If you get caught (and survive, of course) there is a hefty fine. 

The first person to go over the falls in a barrel was Annie Edson Taylor, a 63 year old grandmother who, in 1901, outfitted a barrel with pillows, a mattress and an anvil (for ballast).  She survived the plunge with a few cuts and bruises, hoping to cash in.  She posed for photos and gave a few speeches, but fame and fortune eluded her.  Between 1901 and 1990, fifteen people went over in barrels and ten survived.

People also went over the falls in other, creative ways.  The first person to jump was Sam Patch in 1829.  He survived, but died shortly thereafter jumping off a different falls.  The Great Blondin, a French tightrope walker walked over the falls several times in 1859, once while carrying his manager on his back.   In recent years, one brave dude, Jesse Sharp went over in a kayak.  They never found the body.  Another, Robert Overacker went over on a jet ski.  At least they found his body.

Then there was Capt. Matthew Webb who won fame as the first person to swim the English Channel--in 1875.  Eight years later, with a $2000 reward at stake, he attempted (unsuccessfully) to swim through the whirlpool rapids below the falls.  He didn't even have to go over the 166 foot plunge.  No matter, it's still dangerous.  No word if the reward was paid to his estate. 

Can you imagine the pioneer fur traders and explorers canoeing down the Niagara River and then encountering the falls!   Oh @#$%!

Two cities called Niagara Falls sprang up on both sides of the border.  Niagara Falls, Ontario is a tourist town with quite a few high rise hotels within sight of the falls.  You can't see the falls as well on the less opulent American side.  We stayed at the Hilton in Canada--our room was on the 45th floor with a view of the falls as well as a large casino. 

We took the boat ride to the falls.  The Maid of the Mist is the more famous boat, but it launches from the American side.  I had purchased tickets for it on the Internet.  Then we discovered that it is very time consuming to cross the border--it can take an hour each time.  So we blew off the 34 bucks and took the Canadian boat.   If you don't want to get wet, don't go.  They give you a clear plastic slicker to wear over your clothes. 

The Canadian side also has a tunnel under the falls which we took an elevator down to see. It has several viewing points where you can't see much except for pouring water.  If you want to train for waterboarding, you can stand under it like I did.

After a couple days we drove up North on Queen Elizabeth Highway to Niagara on the Lake, a touristy Canadian town on the shores of Lake Ontario.  This area is known for its many vineyards and wineries.  The day we visited was the day of the annual Peach Festival.  Queen Street, the main drag was blocked off for the street musicians and booths selling everything relating to peaches, including wine.  Many offered wine tastings and street food.  Since I had to drive back to our hotel, I had to pass on the wine.  A young man on a unicycle was juggling flaming torches.  The crowd gave him a wide berth.

We then drove South on the QE Highway to Fort Erie where they were staging the annual re-enactment of the Siege of Fort Erie which took place in 1814.  This is a major extravaganza each year.  We saw a sea of white pup tents with campfires outside and the uniformed soldiers carrying flintlock rifles. On the street outside the campground the soldiers' cars lined both sides for a mile or more.  Most Americans don't realize that the U.S. invaded Canada twice during the War of 1812 and were driven back.  They learn their history from the John Candy movie, Canadian Bacon.   This battle was the bloodiest on Canadian soil.  After that war, Fort Erie flourished and eventually, prior to the Civil War,  became an important terminus of Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad--The "Tubway", as actor Robert Guillaume called it. 


Rochester, NY is strongly influenced by its largest employer, the Eastman Kodak Company.  We visited the George Eastman mansion and museum.  Eastman (1854-1932), an innovator who founded the company, made millions by building a handheld camera that the masses could afford.  He developed the snapshot.  Until that time, people would have to sit motionless for long periods of time
posing for the photographer.  In old photos, people rarely smiled for the camera--it was an ordeal!  The museum houses a terrific collection of 19th Century cameras. 

Eastman was an astute businessman who figured out that the real money was in roll film, chemicals and paper, not cameras.  He even made film that would fit his competitors' cameras, thus making them his de facto partners.  Cameras would last a long time, but people went through rolls of film very quickly.  He sold the cameras cheap to create a bigger market for the film.

Eastman, who never married, was devoted to his mother.  He went into a fit of depression when she died in 1908.  Eastman was a generous philanthropist who gave $100 million to educational institutions including the University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, M.I.T., and the historically black colleges, Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute.  In later years he suffered from a degenerative spinal disease, and he ultimately killed himself, leaving a note reading, "My work is done, why wait?"

Kodak was a made up name and didn't mean anything.  Eastman liked the letter "K", a "strong, incisive sort of letter."  He and his mother toyed with an anagram set and settled on "kodak", a truly original word.  It was short, easy to pronounce, and was not associated with anything else. 


To drive across New York State you generally have to follow the path of the Erie Canal, as we did,  from Buffalo to Rochester to Syracuse.  The Erie Canal was one of the greatest engineering feats ever completed, and it's almost 200 years old.  They didn't have steam shovels in those days.  These guys dug it by hand.  The original canal was 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep and stretches 363 miles across New York state from Albany to Buffalo where it enters Lake Erie, 570 higher than the Hudson River in Albany.  It crosses mountain ranges with 83 locks. 

Oh, the Er-i-e was risin'
and gin was a-gettin' low
and I scarcely think we'll get a drink till we get to Buffalo.

During the construction, skeptics attacked the project as another boondoggle by the Clinton Administration.  Supporters called Governor DeWitt Clinton a visionary.  Indeed, the project created thousands of jobs between 1817 and 1825 when it was completed.  Many of the workers were European immigrants.  The canal made New York City the nation's most busiest port and most populous city.  People heading West could make the trip to Buffalo in 5 days in relative comfort.  It used to take 2 weeks by stagecoach.  The cost of shipping freight from the West dropped by 90%. 

It also brought many eccentrics--19th Century hippies, if you will--to the canal corridor.  Utopian communities, many founded by European immigrants, sprang up, and unconventional (for that time) religious movements prospered, like Joseph Smith's Mormons.  Crazy new ideas like abolitionism, women's suffrage and free love  were promoted--with a lasting impact on the nation's development.


We turned South toward Binghamton where we stayed in a nice Doubletree Inn.  The City of Binghamton has seen better days, but it has some gems worth visiting.  For example, we had dinner at Cortese's, a wonderful Italian restaurant with a warm neighborhood feel and good and plentiful food.  Binghamton used to be an IBM town where the computer giant operated a large manufacturing facility for many years. 

The other thing about Binghamton which caught our attention is its rich baseball history.  For many years, the Binghamton Triplets (named after the cities of Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott in close proximity) was the minor league farm team for the New York Yankees in the glory years of the 1950's and '60's. Future stars like Whitey Ford, Thurman Munson, Joe Pepitone, Marvelous Marv Throneberry and Bert Campenaris played baseball there on their way up.   One interesting factoid:  the all time home run record by a Binghamton player was set by--wait for this--Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, the long time Chisox announcer.   The Hawk hit 38 homers in 1962, with 138 RBI's.  His lesser known teammate that season was future Hall of Fame Manager Tony LaRussa.

Every year the Yankees would play one exhibition game in Binghamton.  Over the years, the locals got to see the greats like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle show off their talents in their little stadium.  Today, the Binghamton Mets are a farm team for the New York Mets. 


The Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton. PA was another unexpected pleasant surprise for us.  It was established in 1986, and is run by the National Park Service.  This is a mecca for railroad buffs.  The park displays a collection of steam locomotives, freight and passenger cars assembled 50 years ago as a hobby by F. Nelson Blount, a New England seafood processor.   In 1984, years after Blount's death, the Steamtown Foundation brought the collection to Scranton, the site of the largely abandoned Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad yard.  Many railroads went broke in the mid-20th Century, and the Lackawanna was one of them.

The park features a 90 foot turntable and a roundhouse, built in 1902.  The museum traces the history of railroads back to the early 1800's when railroads were constructed as an efficient way to move passengers and freight.  After the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, the nation went on a canal building binge,  but the age of canals was relatively short lived.  By the 1850's, it was apparent that railroads could transport goods and passengers much more efficiently and at lower cost. 

The beginning of the end for coal powered steam locomotives came in 1925 with the introduction of the diesel locomotive.  The diesel burned fuel cleanly and with less labor--they didn't need a guy shoveling coal.   Demand for anthracite coal declined rapidly when homeowners and businesses switched to gas or oil which was easier and cleaner to store. 

The handwriting was on the wall.  Railroads in the Eastern states were on a one way trip to bankruptcy because their most profitable business had been hauling coal.  The D L & W merged with the Erie Railroad in the 1960's and much of the Scranton facility was shut down.  It was closed for good by Conrail in 1980. 


We spent a cool August afternoon with our friends at the famous Jones Beach on the South shore of Long Island.  The beach was named after Maj. Thomas Jones, an Englishman with a checkered history who came there in 1692.   Up to that point, Jones made a living as a privateer, or a pirate, depending on which side you were on.  The British were fine with privateers as long as they didn't raid British shipping.  Once Jones did so, the British Navy captured his ship and scuttled it in the West Indies. 

Jones apparently redeemed himself when he married the daughter of an influential Englishman who gifted her the acreage around Jones Beach.  His wife's name was Freelove Townsend, and with an unusual name like that, any husband might be skeptical.  But Tom Jones declared, "It's Not Unusual", and they settled down and built the first brick house on Long Island.  In later years Jones became the Sheriff of Queens County. 

Today, Jones Beach is distinguished by a landmark 200 foot brick and stone water tower and a 2 mile boardwalk.  For us, the weather was too cold to swim

We spent the night in Garden City, L.I. with the intention of driving to the Eastern end--Orient Point where we would catch the Cross Sound Ferry to New London, CT.  Overnight it rained, and rained, and rained--13 inches worth.  Many of the roads were flooded and closed, including the Long Island Expressway.  It looked like Long Island might float up to Connecticut.  I should have been suspicious when I saw a guy building an ark in his yard. 

Fortunately for us, later that morning, the road finally opened, and we drove the 80 miles or so to Orient Point and caught the ferry.  It was not crowded.


Newport is famous for the mansions of the New York society folks who built their summer "cottages" there.  They called themselves, "the 400".  Their houses are over the top, and the amazing thing is that the owners stayed in them for only 6-10 weeks each year.  Most also had houses in New York, Florida and elsewhere and were constantly traveling between them.  Their servants traveled with them. 

During the summer season, their calendars were filled with dinner parties and formal balls virtually every night.  Each homeowner was expected to put on at least 6 lavish dinner parties (for 60 people) and 2 balls (for 600 people) each summer.  We're talking a half million for entertainment expense each summer in 1902 dollars. 

The Newport experience was largely created by Ward McAllister (1827-1895), who made his fortune as an attorney in California during the Gold Rush.   McAllister moved back to New York and ingratiated himself to Mrs. Caroline Astor (THE Mrs. Astor)(1830-1908) and made himself the arbiter of who belonged and who didn't.  He coined the term, "The Four Hundred" which was popularly believed to be the capacity of Mrs. Astor's ballroom.  He wrote stuff like, "If Chicago society hostesses wanted to be taken seriously, they should hire French chefs and 'not frappe their wine too much'" (huh?)   The Astors spent their summers at the 16,000 square foot Beechwood on Bellevue Avenue in Newport.  Beechwood is not on today's Newport tour--it was purchased in 2010 by my old high school classmate Larry Ellison for $10.5 million (or was it billion?), and he plans to use it as an art museum. 

The thinking went:  If THE Mrs. Astor summers in Newport, the Vanderbilts should do so also.  And if the Vanderbilts go there, the herd mentality applies--the other 390 or so will have to build houses there too. 

Today, at least 11 major mansions are open to the public, almost all on Bellevue Avenue.  Back in the 1950's there was a movement to level them all and built parking lots, but the Newport Preservation Society was organized to preserve them.  Many people thought the ostentatious display of wealth was vulgar and best forgotten.  We purchased tickets to visit our choice of 5 houses.  We hit 4 before time ran out.  Each one takes an hour or more to properly visit. 


The guy who started all this was Cornelius Vanderbilt, a ship captain.  They called him Commodore Vanderbilt.  His first business was operating the Staten Island ferry from Manhattan.  He hit it big by ferrying people out of town during a cholera epidemic.  Then in the 1860's he got into land transportation--railroads.  He created the New York Central Railroad which became the family business.  A prolific gentleman, he had 13 kids, so there are a lot of Vanderbilts out there.

Both the Breakers and Marble House were built by Vanderbilts.   Marble House was first.  William (Willie) Vanderbilt had the house built for his wife Alva for her 39th birthday.  The architect was Richard Morris Hunt and modeled after the Petit Trianon of Versailles.  Mrs. Vanderbilt was the doyenne of polite society and controversial.  She was the trendsetter, the first socialite to divorce her husband.  After she divorced Willie, it was OK for everyone else to obtain a divorce. 

She then married a man with the audacious name of Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont who became a Congressman.  That's Belmont, as in the racetrack, the Triple Crown race, or even as Dion and the Belmonts.   Belmont's father, financier August Belmont was a Jewish guy from Hesse in Germany who made big money as an associate of the banking Rothschilds.   The Belmonts were happy together until Oliver died in 1906.  After that Alva became a cause fighter.  She held large conferences for women's rights and suffrage on the spacious lawn of Marble House.  Belmont had his own "cottage" down the street called Belcourt which is currently under renovation. 

What's interesting about Marble House is a Chinese"Tea House", which Mrs Vanderbilt constructed in 1914 on the lawn next to the ocean.  The 24' X 45' pagoda provided a nice backdrop for her women's conferences.  Today it is used for conferences and events with seating for up to about 80 people. 

The decorations on the wall include couplets written in Chinese.  It's apparent that Mrs. Vanderbilt couldn't read Chinese because some of this stuff is downright silly for people who do.  For example one writing says "The words of the lady is like a truck load of ghosts", and another says "She has the heart of a beast.".       

Be that as it may, Mrs. Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont didn't get to her social position by being stupid.  She knew that THE Mrs. Astor didn't accept her as equal because Vanderbilt money was earned, not inherited.  The money wasn't "old" enough.  However, in 1883, Mrs. Astor had to acknowledge her.  Mrs. Vanderbilt planned an elaborate costume ball but dis-invited Mrs. Astor's daughter because Astor had never formally "called" on Vanderbilt.   You had to do that before the days of telephones and email.  Mrs. Astor soon figured out the Vanderbilts would be useful allies because they had more money than anyone else.  She got over there pronto to make peace.

Mrs. Vanderbilt Belmont (1853-1933) was originally from Mobile, Alabama where her father, Murray Smith was a cotton merchant.  He used to send the family up to Newport for the summer.  When the Civil War broke out, he had to get out of Dodge.  The family fled to France where she received her education.  She later had her kids home-schooled and made sure French was their first language.  Her daughter Consuelo (named after her childhood friend who introduced her to Vanderbilt) was forced to wear a metal beam down her back so she would sit up straight.  Then poor Consuelo was coerced, against her wishes to marry Charles Spencer Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, Winston Churchill's cousin. 

The deal was that the Marlboroughs were going broke and couldn't properly maintain Blenheim Palace in England.    Willie Vanderbilt coughed up over $1 million to bail 'em out and buy his daughter a title, Duchess of Marlborough.  After they had a few kids in a loveless marriage, Consuelo divorced the Duke, married Jacques Balsan, a pioneering French pilot who worked with the Wright Bros. (and also inherited a textile fortune), and lived happily ever after. 

The Breakers was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II (the Commodore's grandson) whose wife Alice wanted to out-do her sister in law.  The architect was also Richard Morris Hunt, and he designed the 70 room  cottage in the style of the European High Renaissance.   The Breakers is the must see mansion in Newport--the most opulent of all, and the largest tourist attraction in Rhode Island.  After Cornelius died in 1899, Alice continued to live in the house until her death in 1934.  She married off her daughter Gladys (Countess Gladys Szecheny) to a Hungarian count, and they appeared to be happy.  Gladys lived in the house until 1948 when she leased it to the Newport Preservation Society for $1 per year--she didn't want to maintain it.    Gladys' daughter, Countess Sylvia Szapary lived there until her death in 1998.  The family still lives in the top floor which is not open to the public. 


Rosecliff was built in 1902 for Mrs. Tessie Fair Oelrich who was from Virginia City, Nevada.  The house was designed by Stanford White and modeled after the Louis XIV's Grand Trianon at Versailles.  Her father was an Irish miner who, with 3 other guys, discovered the Comstock Lode in Nevada.  She came into New York society with $40 million which was a lot of money in those days.  Mrs. Astor's influence was waning by that time, and Mrs. Oelrich was able to buy her way into the neighborhood despite her origins on the West Coast.

The significance of Rosecliff was that Hollywood chose it to film at least two major movies--Great Gatsby (1974 version) and  True Lies, the 1994 movie starring Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Built in 1901, The Elms was the summer home of Edward J. Berwind who made his money supplying coal to Vanderbilt's New York Central Railroad.     The house was inspired by the 18th Century French Chateau d'Asnieres near Paris, and designed by American architect Horace Trumbauer.   The house, of course, is beautiful, but for me, these houses were starting to run together, although every one was impressive in its own right. 

Berwind was considered "new money" because his folks were middle class German immigrants.  However, his good buddies were President Theodore Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany before he started World War I.  Berwind was hailed as one of the 58 men (no women) who ruled America.  With his clout, nobody was going to turn him away at the door. 

Berwind's wife died in 1922, and he brought in his younger sister Julie Berwind to serve as hostess of The Elms.   She eventually inherited the house and shocked many in Newport when she drove around town in her luxury car.  The car wasn't the problem.  The fact that a woman was driving it was the shocking part.  That was considered un-ladylike.


Perhaps to the dismay of the good citizens of Fall River, Massachusetts, their most popular tourist attraction is the Lizzie Borden house.  In January, 1892, the mutilated bodies of the wealthy (textile mills and banks, not the dairy) Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were found in their beds.  The police charged their spinster daughter Lizzie with the axe murders.   In the sensational trial that ensued, Lizzie, The Nineteenth Century O.J. Simpson, was acquitted by the all male jury after only 90 minutes of deliberation.  Her legend lives on, however.  Today, the Andrew Borden house on Second Street is a bed and breakfast where brave souls can relive the experience. 

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks,
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Not true.   Lizzie's mother, actually her stepmother,  got 19 whacks and her father got only 11.  Whatever the case, the Chad Mitchell Trio expressed the sentiment in song, "You can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts, Massachusetts is a far cry from New York." 


The bridge over the Delaware Water Gap was out, and we had to drive around Easton, PA for a half hour until we could find the place.  Everyone has colored with crayons in school and this is the factory where they make them.  The Crayola Experience is a kiddie show, but we enjoyed the gift shop and the graphics.  This is a 4-story artsy craftsy adventureland for 5 year olds where they can draw on IPAD, print their own crayon labels, melt and mold their own crayons and create drip art.  They even have an indoor playground.

They hit up adults for 18 bucks a head to follow their kids around.  Many complain because the crowds create long lines for the activities.  A good idea would be to visit on a Tuesday during the school year. 

After talking to the attendants, Dianne and I quickly figured out it wasn't worth the money unless we had our grandkids with us.  The gift shop was free, and I elbowed aside some 5 year olds to fill my $14 box with about 100 different colors of the spectrum.  A bin of multi-colored golf balls appeals to other adults although I'm not sure why anyone would want a green golf ball. 


Lancaster County is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country.  Intercourse, a town of 1200, used to be called Cross Keys when it was founded in 1754 because it was located at the intersection of two highways.  They changed the name to Intercourse in 1814.  Nobody laughed about that for probably another 150 years.  The Amish locals think of intercourse as in fellowship and peaceful interaction.   However, they have to tie down the road signs because people like to steal them.  We visited the post office in town.

Down the road is a larger town, Blue Ball and also Virginville which we didn't visit, as well as Paradise and Mt. Joy.  Stop me before this gets out of hand.   Anyhow, we did drive the few miles down Old Philadelphia Pike from Intercourse to Bird in Hand where we had a wonderful family style dinner at a rustic Amish inn, the Plain and Fancy Farm.  This restaurant had been featured on Man Against Food, on the Travel Channel, starring Adam Richman.   Their specialty is fried chicken, and it is better than the Colonel's.  All the food is fresh from farm to table.  They cater to families with buggy rides.  The large gift shop sells t-shirts with sentiments like "I love Intercourse, PA."  The "PA" is in small letters. 

Many of the locals drive horse drawn buggies which don't go very fast, and you have to watch out for them.  The roads have a paved shoulder which is a separate lane for the buggies.  The horses often leave evidence as a reminder.  It was not clear who is responsible for cleaning the road. 


The three day Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War.  It marked the high point of the Confederate advance into the North.  It was also the bloodiest battle of the war, claiming 8000 lives as well as over 40,000 wounded soldiers.  The two sides squared off about a mile apart, on parallel ridges.   Gen. Robert E. Lee's army camped on the West, with 75,000 troops on and around Seminary Ridge.  Gen. George Meade's 91,000 Union troops faced off on the East on Cemetery Ridge.  Nearby was the small town of Gettysburg where, presumably, the caterers were doing a land office business. 

Two Union generals deserve mention here.  Gen. Meade had, just a few days earlier replaced Gen. Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker as the Commander of the Army of the Potomac.  Hooker's name is etched in history, not for his great performance on the battlefield, but to describe the party girls who accompanied his troops.

As for the other, during the Battle of Gettysburg, Gen. Meade demoted one of his subordinates, Gen. Abner Doubleday for alleged poor performance early in the battle.  Doubleday, who was once credited with inventing baseball (in his Cooperstown barn), harbored a lifelong grudge against Meade. Historians later determined that Meade may have axed the wrong guy--Doubleday's division had actually performed better than the other divisions.

On the third day of the battle, General Lee, attempting to break the stalemate, ordered his troops under Gen. James Longstreet, Gen. George Pickett and others to charge up the middle of the Union lines.  The term "charge" is misleading.  The 12,000 troops actually walked in formation for several miles to engage the Union troops, and the "charge" would have been for only the last hundred yards or so.  Whatever the case, the entrenched Union lines held and the Confederates suffered heavy casualties--over 50% in one hour.  They straggled back to their lines, and Gen. Lee led the retreat back to Virginia. 

Gen. George Pickett's name achieved immortality as a result of the disastrous charge, and in later life he bristled at having it named after him.   Actually his men fought bravely, perhaps more so than those of the other Confederate divisions in the infamous charge.   Perhaps the media picked up on the fact that Gen. Pickett had been the bottom man in the Class of 1846 at West Point.  Well somebody has to be at the bottom. 

On the following day, July 4, 1863, the Siege of Vicksburg was broken by General U.S. Grant.  We visited the Vicksburg Military Park a few months ago.  (KENSUSKINREPORT, March 6, 2014) .Those two battles spelled the end of the game for the South.  Yes, the war continued for more than a year, but the South was running out of men and supplies. 

Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address didn't take place until November 19th, several months later.  The occasion was the dedication of a national cemetery to provide the dead soldiers with proper burial.  The featured speaker, former Massachusetts Senator and Governor Edward Everett delivered the long winded version of the Gettysburg Address, a brilliant two hour oration filled with flowery language and classical allusions.  After a commercial break, somebody needed to wake up the audience, and Honest Abe stepped up and delivered his Gettysburg 2.0, a two minute, 272 word spiel, which is today considered one of the greatest speeches in the English language.  It transformed  "a scene of carnage into a symbol, giving meaning to the sacrifice of the dead and inspiration to the living", as described in the National Park brochure.    They also said Lincoln didn't really write the Address on the back of an envelope on the way there, but had spent days preparing and rehearsing.  "Fourscore and seven years ago...,"--well you've got the idea. 

The military park has a museum and a 24 mile drive past the monuments to the military units of the various states.  If you're a Civil War buff, you could spend days analyzing it.  We aren't, but got all the information we needed from the Cyclorama painting and the narration.  The Cyclorama is a colorful painting which circles around the spectators, like a 19th Century IMAX theater.  It is 42' high by 377' long and weighs 6 tons.  .The painting, by French artist Paul Philippoteaux depicts the Battle of Gettysburg and Pickett's Charge.  It was competed in 1883 and then lost until 1965.  The artist actually painted 4 versions, of which only 2 remain today.

At the 50th Reunion in 1913, the veterans re-created Pickett's charge.  Unfortunately he lost again.  The 75th Reunion in 1938 was attended by an amazing 1,845 veterans of the Civil War (out of 8000 then living).   Of those veterans, 25 had actually fought at Gettysburg.  Hey, these guys were all in their 90's.  The Union and Confederate veterans shook hands over a stone fence.  You can buy the video.  It has been shown on the History Channel. 

The park runs some interesting programs to bring in tourists.  The day we visited was the Gettysburg Music Muster, featuring groups like the Susquehanna Travellers, the Libby Prison Minstrels and the Irish Volunteers performing Civil War era music with guitars, banjos and other instruments.   They researched and performed the songs that soldiers would sing around campfires. 

It's a wonderful experience to relive American history.




Wednesday, September 3, 2014



After our experience in Russia, we cruised through the Baltic Sea to the Scandinavian countries.  Finland and Estonia have much in common because their languages are similar to each other but have no resemblance to other Scandinavian languages.  Grammatically, they are closer to Hungarian and Korean. 

Although the Finnish and Estonan languages have a common root, there are differences.  For example, the Estonian word for "wedding" is the Finnish word for "problems".  These words are called "false friends".  You can see this even in the same language.  Did you ever see a New Yorker trying to communicate with a Texan?  More on that later.

We arrived in Tallinn, Estonia, the last day of May and we wished we hadn't.  It was a cold, dreary, rainy day.  The temperature was in the low 40's.  We were shivering.  I've never been so cold since last July in San Francisco.  Maybe it's fitting, but Tallinn is known for displaying the first recorded Christmas tree--in 1441!  The locals would dance around it and then burn it after the celebration, presumably to keep warm. 

There are two things to see in Tallinn.  First is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which dominates the city skyline.  The other is the Kadriorg Palace.  Tallinn was a major trading center in the 14th and 15th Centuries as part of the Hansetic League trading empire.   In their salad days, the Estonians built some impressive fortifications which are still there.  For example the impregnable Fat Margaret's Tower was named long before the days of political correctness.  According to the locals, it was named after either the large cannon in the tower or a long forgotten horizontally challenged cook named Margaret. 

The Baroque style Kadriorg Palace was built in 1718 by Peter the Great of Russia as a summer home for his wife, Catherine I (not Catherine the Great).  Kadriorg means "Catherine's Valley" in the Estonian language.     Peter had purchased a Dutch style manor house on the site just after the Siege of Tallinn in 1710.  Russia defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War, and the prize was Estonia.  Later, Nicholas I greatly expanded and renovated the palace in 1827.  Over the years, the building became neglected and rundown.  Estonia was off the beaten path, touristwise, and someone figured out that a nice palace could attract foreign tourists--and revenue.  The Estonian government stepped in and restored the palace in 2000.  Today, the building is significant for its extensive art collection, much of it Dutch masterpieces.  It's not in the same league as the Hermitage, but it's pretty impressive. 

The grounds around Kadriorg include a beautiful park with a lagoon, bike path and other museums.  We stopped by the modest cottage where Peter the Great stayed when he was in town.  He liked to mingle with the people, so he stayed out of the fancy neighborhoods.  The 6'7" Peter was easy to spot in a crowd.  Peter's wife got to stay in the palace although she didn't like it in Estonia.   After Peter's death in 1725, she never came back.  The Estonian president (Toomas Hendrik, in case you didn't know) lives next door in the Presidential Palace.  We didn't visit. 

Who is Alexander Nevsky and why did they name a cathedral after him?  He has a fashionable street named after him in St. Petersburg also.  Nevsky lived in the 13th Century and was revered for defeating the German and Swedish invaders.  For his accomplishments, he was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547.  The Soviets invoked his legacy when fighting the Germans in World War II.  In 2008, the Russian TV station conducted a poll and majority declared him the Greatest Russian, the "main hero" of all time.   Apparently Mr. Putin was asleep at the switch when the poll was taken.  Thirty years ago, the pollster probably would have been shot. 

Nevsky also has churches named after him in Sofia, Bulgaria; Belgrade, Serbia; and Tbilisi, Georgia.  He died in 1263.  Since then, the most prominent Estonian we could determine is the inventor of Skype, Jann Tallinn. 


Estonia has Skype; Finland has Nokia.  It also has Angry Birds and saunas.   The saunas make sense because it is cold and snowy in Finland for about 9 months of the year.  Many Finns came to the U.S. and settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where it is just as cold with even more snow.   There are millions of saunas in the U.P.   While relaxing in the sauna, they play Angry Birds on their smart phones. 

Angry Birds is the hot app that millions of people worldwide have downloaded on the smart phones and computers.  It was created in 2009 by Peter Verterbacka of the Finnish company Rovio Entertainment.  The game features wingless birds with scowling faces.  It is described as comical and addictive.  Personally, I don't play Angry Birds, or Mad Cows, or any other computer games, but to the Finns, its the greatest thing since sliced bread--or the sauna.

Finland used to be part of Russia, at least until 1917.  Russia acquired Finland by treaty during the Napoleonic Wars.  The great nationalistic Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius was instrumental in preserving the Finnish heritage during that time.  His most famous musical composition Finlandia was banned by the Russians along with some of his other works because they allegedly stirred up nationalistic emotions.    The Russians lost World War I (which wasn't called that at the time), and Finland declared its independence.   

The Russians wanted Finland back, and in 1939, they invaded in what is now called the Winter War of 1939-40.  The Finns fought more bravely than anyone would have expected, and they drove the Russians back.   The Finns were expert skiers, and their troops skied rings around the Russians in the deep snow.  The hero of the Finnish resistance was Marshal Gustav Mannerheim who was later elected president of the country.  The Finns built a museum to honor him. 

We observed that old Helsinki has a strong Russian influence, but since 1917, Finnish architects have developed a modernistic style of their own.  Architects such as Eino Saarinen led the cultural change, creating buildings of steel and glass which are seen all over the Finnish capitol as well as making their mark in Europe and the U.S.

After a boat ride through Helsinki harbor in the cool drizzle, past the Sveaborg, the Swedish built fortress, we enjoyed our day shopping at the Torget--the market square, not the discount store.  The Kauppatori Market Square consists of probably 100 booths where vendors sell fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, flowers and handicrafts.  We were not allowed to bring local food on the cruise ship.  You can buy it, but you have to consume it at the market.  Finnish street food features salmon soup and reindeer meat.  Poronkaristys--reindeer casserole is a local favorite.   We decided to eat on the ship instead.  The vendors sell beautiful fur hats and scarves in preparation for the long winter. 

By and large, the Finns are a friendly people.  Most speak English.  They obviously see a lot of American tourists and they appreciate the business. 


We next sailed to the island city of Stockholm.  It was our second trip there.  Last time, we marveled at the Vasa Museum.  The Swedes dredged up and restored a sunken warship from the 17th Century and built a museum around it.  The 226 foot long ship, with beautiful polished wood, was top heavy and sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628.  Apparently nobody checked to see if the ship was seaworthy.  The rations for the sailors included 8 bottles of beer per day.  No word if the captain was charged with SUI:--Sailing Under the Influence. 

The name Stockholm means "log island" in the Swedish language.  The story behind the name is that, according to legend, the previous capital, Sigtuna was often attacked by armed gangs and the decision was made to move the capitol to a defensible location.  The leaders took a hollowed out log, filled it with gold, and floated it on the water.  After a couple days, it landed where Stockholm stands today.

Our guide briefed us on Swedish customs and language.  The taciturn Swedes use a lot of one word phrases to express themselves.   For example, when you bump into someone, you say oy.  Not oy gevalt, or oy vey is mir, but just oy.   The Swedish language is similar to Norwegian and Danish but not exactly, although they can understand each other.  So "false friends", similar words in Norwegian, Danish or Swedish have completely different meanings.   However, none of these are even close to Finnish.  For this purpose the Finnish are finished.  Other words we learned on the street are torget which means "square" as in market square, and slott which means "castle" or "palace".


Recently the Swedes created the ABBA Museum, and this is a must see.  They took 4 artists of divergent musical backgrounds and created ABBA, a musical group which went on to sell 370 million records.  ABBA consisted of two men and two women who were married to each other (the men were married to the women.).  The group was notable as the first from a non-English speaking country to enjoy consistent success in English speaking countries.  They also did well in Latin America. 

The exhibits displayed profiles and photos of each artist.  Bjorn was a folk singer who fronted the Hootenanny Singers, a Swedish folk-skiffle group.  Benny Andersson was a member of the Swedish pop-rock group Hep Stars which was locally compared to the Beatles.  They performed cover versions of international hit songs.  Andersson set up Hep Shop which was the Swedish equivalent of the Beatles' Apple Corps, to manage and produce his compositions.  He recorded and placed many songs on the Svensktoppen, the Swedish Top 40.  Until recently songs on the Svensktoppen had to be sung in Swedish. 

Agnetha was a singer-songwriter who composed and recorded a number one hit (in Sweden) at age 17.  Besides her own compositions which made the Swedish charts, she recorded cover versions of foreign hit songs and traveled around the country, singing them at folkparks.  She also took up acting, starring as Mary Magdalene in the Swedish production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Anna-Frid worked as a cabaret singer from the time she was 13 and won a talent contest singing a bossa nova song.  She was rewarded with a record contract with EMI Records.   She met Andersson who also competed in that contest, and they later married.

The group came up with the name "ABBA" in a 1973 contest.  Something fishy was going on.  The "ABBA" was a play on words--the first initial of each performer.  It was also the name of a well-known Swedish fish cannery which was not generally known outside the country.  The result was the group had to buy the rights from the cannery to use the name.  Some other entries in the contest were stuff like BABA and ALIBABA. 

The ABBA Museum is interactive, so visitors like us could do karaoke and dance on the stage with holograms of the ABBA artists behind us.  You probably don't want to hear my karaoke recording. 

The same building with ABBA also houses the Swedish Music Hall of Fame which was formed in 2013.  I'm embarrassed to say that other than ABBA, I could not name a single member of that Hall of Fame.  Most Americans could not either.  This year's inductees include Evert Taube, a well traveled folk singer who introduced music to Sweden from the far corners of the world.  He is honored in a large statue in the waterfront park across from the Stockholm City Hall.  There appeared to be a Chicago connection when the Latin Kings were inducted, or was it indicted.  As it turned out the group was not the Chicago street gang.  Other inductees included Roxette, Cornelis Vreeswijk and the heavy metal group Entombed.

Actually, until I visited the museum, I didn't know the names of the ABBA performers either.  For the record, Aagnetha and Bjorn were married to each other until 1979; and Benny and Anna-Frid were married to each other until 1981.  After their respective divorces, they continued to work together, at least for awhile.  The group split up in 1982 to pursue separate careers. 


We roamed the ancient cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan--Old Town where the Royal Palace is located.  The original city of Stockholm dates back to the 13th Century.  The King no longer lives there, but they perform the Changing of the Guard each day for the tourists.   We stood by and watched the colorful horseguards, some playing trumpets, and lines of marching soldiers dressed in brightly colored blue and white uniforms.  They marched past the Gustavus Adolphus monument in the square. 

Next door is the Nobel Prize Museum.  The banquet honoring the Nobel laureates is held each December at the Stockholm City Hall.   I didn't go inside--my invitation appears to have been lost in the mail. 


Although the crime rate is low in Sweden, at least compared to Chicago or Los Angeles, the Prime Minister Olaf Palme was shot and killed in 1986 on the street.  He was walking home from the theater with his wife late one night with no bodyguards.  A lone gunman came up behind them and shot both at point blank range.   Palme was killed, but Palme's wife recovered from her wounds. 

After that, 130 people confessed to the murder.  The police charged one guy, a petty criminal named Pettersson who confessed to the crime and was convicted.  However, the conviction was overturned on appeal because the murder weapon was not found and no motive could be ascertained.  The guy was officially acquitted.       As in the Kennedy assassination, there are many conspiracy theories floating around--the Yugoslavian security services, pro-apartheid South Africans, right wing Chileans, Kurdish revolutionaries, even a conspiracy by right-wing Swedish police.    Palme was a socialist who leaned to the Left and probably offended many people.  The bottom line is that the crime is still officially unsolved.   


The most popular tourist attraction in Copenhagen, Denmark is, for whatever reason, the iconic sculpture of the Little Mermaid.  It stands on a large rock on the shore of the Baltic Sea.  All the tourist buses stop there.  The sculpture, by Edvard Eriksen,  commemorates Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish writer of children's stories.  He was played by Danny Kaye in the movies.  Andersen's secret ambition, growing up, was to be a ballet dancer.  However, he was tall and clumsy, and his feet were too big.   With those big feet, maybe he should have been a circus clown.   In any event, his school counselor told him to find another line of work.   Cartoons and children's stories were his forte, and he created fanciful figures like the Little Mermaid. 

Because it is such an iconic sculpture, it has been the target of vandals numerous times.  Its head was cut off twice.  Its arms were cut off.  It has been spray painted.  It has been covered with feathers.  The day we visited, it was OK.

Copenhagen is also famous for its world class opera house which was built in 2005 by Sir Maersk Moller, the owner of the huge shipping company, the largest company in Denmark.  The cost was $442 million.  The building stirred intense controversy among the Danes who don't like being told what to do, with the powerful Maersk calling the shots.   The building's architect Henning Larsen constantly threatened to quit the job because Moller kept submitting change orders over Larsen's objections.  The bubble shape design offended many people who thought it resembled a flying saucer.  The Danes were hoping the building would resemble the Sydney Opera House, also designed by a Danish architect.  Most assumed it would be a massive white elephant, but on the other hand, no taxpayer money was used in the construction.   The building as it stands today is a unique 14 story structure which includes 5 stories underground, and 1000 rooms.  The main hall seats 1500 people.


The other tourist attraction of Copenhagen is the famous amusement park, Tivoli Gardens.  The Danes were pioneers in the amusement park business.  Tivoli Gardens was the world's first amusement park as we know them today.  It was built in 1843.  It was the creation of Georg Carstensen  who had a vision to create a magical place of fun and joy for the Danes.  Today we call that an amusement park.  People lived drab lives in the mid-1800's, and the park was a diversion for them, like a fairy tale.  Carstensen built Chinese and Japanese gardens with fountains and colorful flowers.  He created a theater and a concert hall.  Pantomime was especially popular at that time   The good thing about pantomime was that if you couldn't speak the language, it wasn't a problem--it was pantomime.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, they started building thrill rides.  We went on 2 rides during our visit.  The first was the Himmelskibet, a/k/a The Star Flyer in which I sat in a cloth chair, feet dangling while the ride swung me around in a circle at 50 mph, 300 feet in the air  While I was up there, it started raining.  I was never so scared in my life.  The other ride we took was the Golden Tower where we once again sat in a seat, feet dangling while they lifted us about 300 feet in the air and let it go.  We dropped in free fall.  I was relieved to get back on the tour bus.  We didn't buy an all ride pass, so the rides were very expensive--about $15 apiece.  It's one thing to be terrified, it's another to have to pay for it. 


Everywhere you go in Denmark are pictures of the beautiful Crown Princess Mary, with or without her husband, the Prince.  She is a brunette in a country where most women are blondes.   Mary (formerly Donaldson), is from Tasmania, Australia.  Prince Fredrik met her in Sydney where she was a marketing executive during the 2000 Olympics.   He actually picked her up in a bar.   She didn't know who he was--he didn't wear a crown on his head.  He didn't drop names.  That wouldn't have helped anyway--she probably didn't know Queen Margrethe from Queen Latifah.   He simply introduced himself as "Fred".  The good news is that the relationship worked out.  They got married in 2004  and have 4 kids today.  She learned to speak Danish and endeared herself to the Danish people.  They live in the Rosenborg Palace in Copenhagen where the crown jewels are displayed.      


I saw a bumper sticker today, "The few, the proud, the Norwegians".  Oslo is the capitol of Norway, the richest country in Europe (oil wells) , and maybe the most expensive also.  The pier is across the road from Akershus Castle, a large fortress built in 1290 to protect Oslo.   Indeed, it has survived 9 sieges over the centuries, mostly by the Swedes.

We did a lot of hiking in Oslo.  We explored Akershus Castle and then proceeded downtown pasts City Hall, the National Theater and the National Gallery which is know for its Edward Munch collection.    The City Hall is best known for the annual ceremony where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded.  The other awards are given in Stockholm. 

The Henrik Ibsen Museum, named after the Norwegian playwright is on a commercial street across from the Royal Palace in a double storefront, down the street from the 7-11.  The small museum features Ibsen's apartment where he lived modestly, maybe surprisingly so,  because he is considered the greatest playwright in the Norwegian language.  Norwegians compare him to Shakespeare.

The Royal Palace and its extensive grounds are nearby. The King and Queen live there, and it was not open for tourists on the day we visited.  For the record, their names are King Harald V and Queen Sonja (formerly Sonja Haraldsen) .  The King has relatives in high places.  His first cousin is King Philippe of Belgium, and his second cousins include Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Elizabeth II of England and King Carl XIV Gustav of Sweden.  The Royal Palace was built in 1849 and is somewhat smaller than, say, the ones in St. Petersburg or Versailles, but is still impressive.  The verdant public park surrounding the palace covers hundreds of acres.  They do the Changing of the Guard every day at 1:30 PM.

We visited Norway 10 years ago and previously saw the popular tourist attractions Vigeland Sculpture Park , the Viking Ship Museum and the Ski Jump (with a zipline) ,  built for the 1952 Olympics.    Vigeland was a sculptor who sculpted nude people, especially plump kids in every contortion.  His 200 or so sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron are featured all over that park.  It attracts over 1 million visitors each year by appealing to their prurient interests.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, the people we met were friendly, and we look forward to more trips.  There's a cruise available to the North Pole, but Dianne refuses to let me go.