The Ides of March: don’t beware, be nice

15 03 2012

“Beware the Ides of March” is a well-known Shakespearean quote from Julius Caesar. Although “Ides” was the ancient Roman way of signifying the middle of the month (reference), the connection to Caesar’s assassination and that one word – “beware” – give it an ominous tone and may bring a sense of foreboding.

The pleasant bit of graffiti below was found on the streets of another ancient city, Athens, Greece. On a day when people commonly think “beware,” isn’t it preferable to “be nice” instead?

Be nice





A vibrant home to African American history in Macon, Georgia

21 02 2012

For African Americans living in Macon and central Georgia in the early 1900s, entertainment options were few. For entrepreneur Charles Douglass, this was an opportunity. In 1912, the successful African American merchant, banker, and investor opened the Douglass Theatre. It quickly became a popular destination for blacks in the region and is today a popular destination for all.

The original theatre – with 350 seats – opened in 1912 as part of a complex which also included the Douglass Hotel. Vaudeville acts and other live performances were offered as well as film screenings. In 1921, a new theatre opened adjacent to the original, bringing seating capacity to 750-800 and offering a visually stunning space for patrons.

Douglass Theatre exterior

A Macon landmark, the Douglass Theatre offers a range of entertainment options for residents and visitors

The Douglass was an entertainment mecca. Bessie Smith and Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, the Mother of the Blues, performed here, as well as the vaudeville comedy duo Butterbeans and Susie. Other shows included sacred dramas, church benefits, and “handcuff king and escape artist,” M. Martinelli.

Movies, first silent films and later “talkies,” were a staple of the Douglass’s schedule. The films of Oscar Micheaux, the first African American film maker, were shown at the Douglass. Filmgoers were treated to a gold fiber screen, which gave a warmer sepia hue to images rather than the plain black & white tones of most movie screens of the day.

Well into the 1960s the Douglass Theatre remained true to its roots as a showplace of African American talent. Untold numbers of theatergoers witnessed the performances Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, James Brown, and Little Richard. In 1958, disc jockey Hamp Swain introduced a live Saturday morning talent show broadcast from the Douglass. It was on this show that Otis Redding, born in Dawson, GA, and raised in Macon, was discovered.

The Douglass Theatre closed its doors in 1973, after the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Douglass. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and remained vacant for many years. In 1997, after years of restoration, the Douglass opened its doors and is once again home to a variety of stage & screen offerings for patrons of any race and culture. Jazz, blues, opera, 3D films, dramatic plays, and family-friendly fare await visitors to this treasure of African American history.

For more information and performance schedules, visit the Douglass Theatre’s website. The theatre is located at 355 Martin Luther King Blvd. in downtown Macon.





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.





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.





1,000 words, image two

27 05 2011

(Second 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. What does the picture below say to you?

Asheville, NC

This picture of a statue was taken in Asheville, North Carolina. The defect below the eye makes it appear as if the woman is crying. The curled hair on her shoulder could look like the fingers of a lover’s caress.

Asheville, in western North Carolina, is perhaps best known for the Biltmore Estate, a privately-owned country estate of the Vanderbilt family. Beyond the estate lies a bohemian city with renowned restaurants, vibrant shops, a lively music scene, and a spirit that’s surprisingly different from one’s assumptions of a “mountain” town.





The customer experience

24 05 2011

In the old days, the only place to shop was a physical store (aka “bricks & mortar” stores). Going way back, most folks purchased their goods from a handful of different store types, including the grocery store (or “market”), the pharmacy, the department store, and maybe a “five & dime” store that carried a little bit of everything. Going way, way back, folks made purchases from the local general store and the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

When the business of retailing started getting into full swing, retailers began emphasizing service. There are many storied references to amazing customer service moments, including the clerk at Seattle-based Nordstrom who took a return of tires even though the store never sold them. Or, department store magnate Marshall Field, whose Chicago department store was a bastion of fine service and whose slogan was “give the lady what she wants.” These retailers – and many others – understood that providing exceptional service was part of the shopping experience.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia

Travelers on their way to destinations across the globe

The service economy of the 21st century is one that emphasizes so much more than simply providing exceptional customer service. In fact, “customer service” is often defined as nothing more than the basic operational functions of a clerk taking an order; a bellman handling one’s luggage; or a bank teller handling a deposit. Rather, “service” has evolved into “experience,” where experience includes all aspects of a consumer’s interaction with the business or brand. The two often work hand-in-hand, but it’s ultimately the experience that makes the difference it today’s competitive, consumer-driven environment. From the moment a business is entered, a web site is visited, or a passenger arrives at the airport, it’s time for the business to begin delivering on its marketing promise and reputation.

Air travel is rarely exciting or an adventure any longer; for many people, it’s even a commute to work. Asian air carriers and airport operators understand this, though, and work hard at delivering a unique & memorable experience for travelers. Malaysia Airlines, consistently ranked as one of the world’s top airlines, lets travelers check their luggage at the downtown Kuala Lumpur train station. From there, luggage and their passengers travel in comfort by train to Kuala Lumpur airport, ranked one of the world’s most beautiful airports by Travel & Leisure magazine. At KUL, passengers have an array of international shops & restaurants from which to choose, or they can simply relax in the atrium with its own greenhouse of tropical plants. The airport’s services, architecture, layout, and staff all come together to make a typically unpleasant experience something exceptionally enjoyable.

While customer experience is built on many factors, employee interaction with consumers can make or break the experience. For many, the best price, a great location, or a wonderful design can be ruined by a poor interaction. Department store retailer Kohl’s understands this. Its employees make it easy for shoppers to redeem discounts and are even known to accept an expired coupon when a customer asks.

Even online or over the phone, the human interaction is critical and customers expect quick responses and accurate answers to questions. L.L. Bean knows, and makes the customer experience very positive with its unconditional guarantee and free shipping everyday. In 2010, the retailer was named #1 in terms of customer service by BusinessWeek.

Experience matters. For businesses that depend on customers, the experience can be a matter of success or failure.








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