Cemeteries are places to honor loved ones, learn history, and celebrate life

31 10 2011

Cemeteries range from small, simple church yards with little adornments to well-manicured & perfectly symmetrical national military sites to elaborately outfitted and whimsically-designed Victorian affairs. In Macon, GA, the city’s historic Riverside Cemetery is an example of an elaborate affair where life is meant to be enjoyed. The 125-acre park on the banks of the Ocmulgee River is the ideal setting for a walking tour of Macon’s history and even a peaceful picnic under the shade of a large tree.

Macon, GA

The full moon peeks over distant trees to the right of a family mausoleum

Home to nearly 18,000 residents – 77 of whom are buried standing up – the grounds of Riverside Cemetery were designed by Calvert Vaux, architect of New York City’s Central Park. The private cemetery was established in 1887 and was intended to be a place full of life as opposed to the more common burying grounds of 19th-Century America. The cemetery is designed as a park, with gardens, rolling hills, and magnificent views. The monuments, markers, and mausoleums throughout are architectural & design masterpieces that provide context and information for visitors.

At the main gatehouse, an original half-timber structure, maps may be obtained and cars parked; the grounds are best explored on foot. An extraordinary tale is that of Hugh Smalling (#69, 1919-1943). Smalling was a World War II hero who died when the U.S.S. Nausett was struck by enemy fire off the coast of Italy. His brother dreamed of the ship’s sinking that night and woke his fellow soldiers in the German countryside by screaming, “Swim, Hugh, swim.” Smalling’s body was never found.

Areas of special interest include Babyland, which was established in the 1950s, and Educators’ Row, where many professors and college presidents are buried. Other affiliated groups are represented as well, commonly by special symbols or architectural elements; the markers of the 76 Woodmen of the World buried here are unmistakable for their tree trunk-like form.

A number of structures dot the cemetery and occupy prominent places on its grounds. The Macon Public Mausoleum is the largest with 300 crypts. It sits at one of the highest points in the park and is often home to special events and activities. Near the Ocmulgee River sits Pine Fort, a Confederate redoubt during the Civil War and place where troops once waited for General Sherman on his famous “March to the Sea.”

Riverside Cemetery’s landscaping includes many specimens of trees and flowers, many of which are unique to Middle Georgia. The giant arborvitaes planted throughout were once common features in cemeteries since their name means “trees of life.” Trees from Central Park and places such as Newton, Massachusetts, were part of the landscaping scheme. Flowers such as rose, daffodil, and magnolia are a few of the many species planted here.

The cemetery is operated by a private, not-for-profit corporation. The non-profit Historic Riverside Cemetery Conservancy is the public relations and preservation arm of the cemetery. The grounds are open for public enjoyment year-round, and many events are held on its grounds. A unique night-time photography session, Full Moon Euphoria, is a popular spring activity as is the cemetery’s Spirits in October tour and activity series in the fall.

Across the United States, many cemeteries offer historic tours and events to connect residents and visitors to local history. To find information about a historic cemetery in your area, search for “historic cemetery (city name)” or the city’s visitor’s information bureau.

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Learn how the Fed works by visiting a money museum

15 08 2011

The Federal Reserve – aka the Fed – is the central bank of the United States. Established by Congress in 1913, the Fed is responsible for the stability of the nation’s banking system; managing monetary policy with an eye toward a sound & stable U.S. economy; and providing services to the U.S. government and financial institutions, such as check & electronic payment processing. At times, it may seem the Fed is acting in strange & mysterious ways, but much of its practices and the methods by which it conducts its business is quite open and readily accessible in the form of visitor’s centers and online information.

Atlanta, GA

The bronze eagle sculpture outside the visitor's entrance to the Atlanta Fed weighs more than 2,800 pounds

There are 12 Federal Reserve banks and 24 bank branches in the United States. Many of the banks and branches have visitor’s centers with informative money museums inside. The museums’ exhibits range from displays of older forms of money no longer in circulation to interactive multimedia displays which allow visitors to test their own skills at managing monetary policy. Exhibits also provide a history of banking in the United States covering topics such as the country’s earliest experiences with private banks that issued their own currency or how the Federal Reserve influenced & managed policies during the Great Depression of the early 20th century.

To help visitors understand the business of the Fed and its impact on everyday lives, displays cover topics such as inflation’s impact on prices and the economics of supply & demand. The centers also explain the face of the Fed – its Board of Governors – and each banks’ Board of Directors as well as what the Federal Open Market Committee is and how it operates. A favorite exhibit at each museum is seeing millions of dollars of currency on display, being moved by robotic forklifts, or physically sitting in the bank’s vaults.

The Federal Reserve Bank’s money museums are free – taxpayer money at work – and generally open during normal business hours. Group tours are generally available with advance reservations, and visits by scholars studying economics & finance may be possible, too. For school groups, banks may offer special tours to satisfy curriculum requirements and study publications may be available. The Chicago and Richmond Federal Reserve banks operate virtual money museums online.

When visiting a Federal Reserve bank, ask if they are giving away any money today: You might be rewarded with a bag of shredded currency no longer in circulation.





1,000 words, image three

28 06 2011

(Third in a series of eventually 1,000 images).

It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Or that one picture can tell the entire story. Art is full of emotion. What emotions do you feel when viewing this sculpture? Or, what emotions do you see in the subject?

Andersonville, GA
This sculpture by Donna L. Dobberfuhl is titled, “The Price of Freedom.” It symbolizes the emotional toll of being a POW and is a powerful reminder of the bravery of men and women taken captive in the name of protecting America’s freedom. It depicts pain and suffering while also depicting strength and pride.

The POW museum details the prisoner of war experience through artifacts, memorabilia, and incredible stories told by men and women who suffered as prisoners of war. It is part of Andersonville National Historic Site, the location of one of the largest Confederate Civil War prisons, where more than 45,000 Union soldiers were interred over a 14-month period. The site also includes, Andersonville National Cemetery, final resting place of the 13,000 POW soldiers as well as military veterans and their dependents who request to be buried there.





The Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas makes every visitor a winner

7 06 2011
Las Vegas, NV

Vintage pinball machine ready for play at the Pinball Hall of Fame

Most of the millions of people who visit Las Vegas annually go home having lost at least a few dollars at a casino or two. For the few folks who who get off the beaten path and visit the Pinball Hall of Fame (PHOF), though, each quarter spent is a winning experience.

Operated by collector Tim Arnold and members of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club, the game of pinball rises to art form at this hands-on collection of more than 150 pinball machines. From Bally’s Heavy Hitter (1947), to Stern’s CSI (2009), each machine is fully restored and operational, giving enthusiasts and newbies alike the chance to capture an elusive match play or high score. The collection is rounded out with 50 or so classic arcade games such as Donkey Kong and Asteroids.

In the 1970s, Tim and his brother operated a string of pinball parlors in Michigan known as Pinball Pete’s. The chain was a huge success well into the 1980s. By 1990, Tim had amassed a collection of close to 1,000 pinball machines and was ready for a change of scenery. He and his collection landed in Las Vegas, where he began work on restoring the machines at his own expense and with the help of good friends.

Eventually, enough machines were in working order for Tim to show off the collection. He sponsored “Fun Night” events to thank friends for their efforts and raise money for local charities. The events grew into a twice-a-year, two-night party with 1,000 or more people in attendance.

During this same period, the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club was established, with a mission to bring together pinball enthusiasts and eventually open a facility devoted to the game of pinball. In 2006, the Pinball Hall of Fame opened, giving residents and visitors an opportunity to explore an American pastime hands-on.

Though PHOF is more arcade than museum, each machine has a note card which tells its history as well as providing information about the manufacturer. Readers can learn about historic moments in the history of the game, technological improvements made over the years, or the story behind a specific machine and related marketing efforts, such as Gottlieb’s Canada Dry machine. The best feature of this museum, however, is that every exhibit virtually screams “touch me.”

Admission is free and visitors are welcome to play until closing time or their supply of quarters is depleted. All proceeds are donated to local charities and donations to support PHOF are welcome. More information about PHOF, hours of operation, pinball history, tournaments, and links to other pinball fan resources are available at www.pinballmuseum.org and www.pinballhall.org.





Honoring America’s infantrymen and women

31 05 2011

Military museums are an excellent way to learn more about the history of America’s military and the roles each branch plays in protecting America’s borders and interests around the world. The Army’s National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia, on the grounds of Fort Benning, honors America’s soldiers and tells their stories through spectacular multimedia exhibitions.

Columbus, GA

Soldiers marching off to battle as part of a multimedia display at the National Infantry Museum

The Army is the oldest and largest branch of America’s military. Infantrymen are specially-trained soldiers whose mission is to engage the enemy in combat and defense. The men and women of the infantry are truly at the front line of war and have been since the earliest days of American history. The museum’s mission is to preserve the legacy of the infantry and its role in protecting the nation.

Covering three floors, the museum contains an IMAX® theatre, gift shop, restaurant, and exhibits that pay tribute to Medal of Honor recipients as well as halls dedicated to specific eras, such as World War I and II. And, there is a rifle range simulator in which participants can test whether or not they qualify for entrance into the infantry.

Probably the most awe-inspiring exhibit, though, is the “Last 100 Yards,” which takes visitors on a soldier’s journey of the final 100 yards of historical battles. The exhibit features video footage, actual military vehicles, and artifacts donated by soldiers and historians. The exhibit ends in the Fort Benning Gallery, which documents the Army’s near 100-year relationship with the Columbus area.

The National Infantry Museum is open daily, with extended hours when special exhibits or events are taking place. Allow a minimum of two hours for a visit. The museum’s Fife and Drum restaurant is open for lunch, dinner, and brunch. The museum’s website provides specific information, a current exhibit schedule, and details about the National Infantry Foundation, a non-profit which operates the museum.





Las Vegas’ Neon Museum shines, day or night

5 05 2011

There’s so much to do in Las Vegas. The casinos, entertainment, and seemingly unlimited dining options are big draws, but how many folks can say they’ve visited The Boneyard, a collection of historic neon signs in downtown Las Vegas?

Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas

A forlorn sign waiting for its rebirth

Neon (which produces a red-orange glow, other colors are produced by other inert gases) was once the primary medium for Las Vegas signage. The 1940s through 1960s saw spectacular growth in the neon sign industry, and particularly those designed by the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO). Many of the storied signs of today, such as the still-standing Vegas Vic in downtown’s Glitter Gulch, or the now-decommissioned Stardust sign on the Strip, were installed during this period.

As Las Vegas continued to grow and signage technology changed, signs were dismantled and left to bake in the desert heat or fall into disrepair at the hands of a new business owner. In 1996, that changed with the founding of the Neon Museum.

The Neon Museum is a non-profit organization devoted to collection, preservation, and exhibition of neon signs for the purpose of educational and cultural enrichment. The museum showcases this very unique art form by restoring the signs to their original state and lighting the night sky with these bold displays. The museum officially opened November 15, 1996 when The Hacienda Horse and Rider was lit at the intersection of N. Las Vegas Blvd. and Fremont St.

The collection is showcased in two areas, along Fremont St. from Las Vegas Blvd. to 3rd St., and at the under-development Neon Boneyard Park at 821 N. Las Vegas Blvd., adjacent to the relocated La Concha Motel. A third gallery is along the Las Vegas Boulevard State Scenic Byway, which runs from East Washington Ave. to East Sahara Ave. Each of the collections captures Las Vegas history vividly and splendidly.

Aladdin’s Lamp, Nevada Motel, and Dot’s Flowers are only a few of glowing artworks on display at the Fremont St. gallery, which is open 24 hours daily as a self-guided walking tour. The scenic byway collection includes the Silver Slipper and original Binion’s Horseshoe; these signs are in the medians of the road so are most easily viewed from a distance.

The Neon Boneyard Park is perhaps most interesting even though it is currently under development and the signs are stacked in a parking lot behind chain-link fence. These signs are raw, weather-worn, and lonely with no glow or dazzle. Each has its own story to tell, but the visitor has to imagine it for themselves or perhaps relive an earlier time when they visited a particular casino or sight themselves. Eventually, the signs will be restored to their full working glory and will be displayed in similar fashion to the other installations around town. Plans are underway for the La Concha – a mid-century architectural delight with its own special history – to be the museum’s visitor’s center and main gateway.

Visit the Neon Museum’s website to learn more about the collection and monitor information about the opening of the visitor’s center. To learn more about the history of neon signs in Las Vegas, visit YESCO’s historical timeline and click on “The Golden Age of Neon.” Visit www.byways.org to learn more about the Las Vegas Blvd. State Scenic Byway.








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