The LEAP Center’s mission is to offer unique educational opportunities for students. An example of this is the Center’s annual trip to the Southern Legislative Conference, to which the LEAP Ambassadors are invited to attend. While the conference offers the opportunity to learn about policies among 15 southern (and near-southern) states, the travel to and from the conference also presents learning opportunities.
Following the students’ 11-day trip across eight states and more than 20 educational sites, the seven students selected their favorite destinations across categories such as food, historical landmark, museums, and cities. The results are below:
Eureka Springs, AR: This quaint little town proved to be the favorite of the group, with almost every student placing it on their top three.
Lexington, KY: The site of our conference also proved popular. With its beautiful horse farms, pretty downtown, and attractive parks, students enjoyed four days in the horse capitol of the country.
Hot Springs, AR: This was a surprise to our professor, but the students enjoyed seeing the springs, the historic architecture, and meeting other SHSU students by happenstance!
Little towns ruled the culinary arts on this tour!
Favorite Works of Architecture:
Frank Lloyd Wright House (Bachman-Wilson House) at Crystal Bridges was the favorite, edging out some other top designs. The large living room won the day!
Anthony Chapel at Garvin Gardens, Hot Spring, AR was one of three Fay Jones’ Chapels the student saw, and it proved the favorite. Although larger than the other two (which are in Bella Vista and Eureka Springs), the three designs are very similar.
Honorable Mention should go to several structures. The students very much enjoyed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Union Station in St. Louis…
…the Old Mill is always a favorite stop.
…and The Parthenon proved a favorite as well.
Favorite Works of Art
The Turrell Skyscape, “The Way of Color” at Crystal Bridges:
Au Cafe, by Stanton MacDonald-Wright was also popular, providing much head-scratching and discussion.
George Seurat’s “Outer Harbor” at the Crystal Bridges Museum
Hiking: The students enjoyed both their hike at Pinnacle Mountain…
…and Devil’s Den State Park…
Ropes Course at Megacavern in Louisville, KY
Tie: Skeet Shooting…
…and meeting Blair Hess and Cameron Ludwick, authors of “My Old Kentucky Road Trip.”
It was another enormously rewarding road trip, providing us with the opportunity to learn about history, art, architecture, civil rights, politics, law, and public policy. It was a happy eleven days!
Rejuvenated from sleep, we woke ready for our day, which would consist of touring the University of Arkansas Law School, hiking and catching a movie to wind down.
University of Arkansas School of Law
When we arrived at the University of Arkansas School of Law, we met with Ms. Kalesha McGraw, the Assistant Director of Admissions, and she welcomed us to the school before taking us to the student lounge for a quick overview of the law school. We learned about the admissions process, the class schedules and sizes, and the student life in Fayetteville. We also learned about notable (former) faculty such as Bill and Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton becomes elected, University of Arkansas -Fayetteville will be the first law school to have more than one faculty member become President of the United States. The rest of the Q&A section with Ms. McGraw consisted of questions that ranged from the cost and the admissions process to the actual courses and the structure of the classes.
After our informative Q&A session, we walked upstairs to observe Professor Day’s Professional Responsibility class. This is a required course and helps students prepare for the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). This exam is a prerequisite for taking the Bar Exam and tests law students’ knowledge on ethics. During the summer fewer students are on campus, but classes are still in session. The topic of discussion for class today was on conflicts an attorney may face during their practice. Throughout the class, the Professor explained conflicts using cases where ethical issues arose. To explain a complicated scenario, the Professor and students even role played a scene which presented the situation in an interesting and clear way. We enjoyed the class and our Professor’s informative teaching methods!
Following class, we took a quick tour around the building visiting places like the courtroom and the library. The law school was even nice enough to provide lunch for us! Satisfied, we stopped to admire the Jesus Moroles sculptures in the courtyard…
…and the front of the school on our way out.
Many thanks to Ms. McGraw and the University of Arkansas- Fayetteville Law School for their hospitality!
After a morning filled with learning and a long trip, some of us decided to take a mental and physical break. Others, however, soldiered on, readying ourselves for a brief bit of shopping and a hike in Devil’s Den State Park.
Before driving down highway 170 into Devil’s Den State Park, we stopped to peak into some shops in town. Once everyone was satisfied with what they had purchased, we began our journey to Devil’s Den. As our second hike of the trip, the first being the climb up Pinnacle Mt. near Little Rock, we felt prepared and pumped up for the rugged expedition that we were about to take part of. With the sun falling on the horizon, the weather was a prime condition to explore inside the woods.
This 2,500 acre state park offers myriad outdoor activities, from rafting to camping to hiking. We chose the latter, embarking on the Devil’s Den Self-Guided trail, which is 1.5 miles round-trip.
As we began on our trail we descended down masonry steps. Such modifications to the trails and other man made structures within the state park were once Civilian Conservation Corps projects from the Great Depression. The engineering talent of these laborers is clear when taking these steps and observing how strong they still are, even after almost a century of its construction! The traces of useful man made structures became fewer as we went deeper into the woods.
Ahead of us stood trails traced through the rocky cliffs with trees filtering the sun and casting a serene shadow over the whole scene. Then, the trail neared a river, waters sonorously rushing through and echoing through the woods. This sound at times kept us focused, as we knew that as long as we kept the river at our left shoulders we were going the right way. Along the trail, at times encountering uneven, slippery and rocky ground, we found caves in which the temperature inside would lower presumably by ten-twenty degrees.
The trail also goes by the more descriptive name of “Double Falls” Hike, so named because of two falls that appear about halfway through the trail. For us, though, the trail could have been named “Triple Falls,” because, hearing water of the main trail, we made tracks over a hill to find a small waterfall.
To get there, we had to cross a log bridge…
…but this only added to the excitement of our discovery.
Having safely traversed the fallen-tree bridge, we frolicked in the waterfalls…
…okay, frolicked may be too strong of a word. But we did have fun.
We found additional falls further along our hike.
Only a few feet beyond these falls was another waterfall, equally as delightful.
From our trek we had worked our selves into perspiration and slight exhaustion. The refreshing, cool water of these natural showers, however, were just the perfect manna we needed to continue on our journey through Devil’s Den.
From the falls, the hike wends it way downhill, which offers another striking view of the falls.
And this perspective provided additional photo ops.
We even found another log bridge on which to climb.
As we completed the 1 1/2 mile hike, ducking our heads to evade pesky spider webs threaded from tree to tree…
…we contemplated our accomplishments. We had finished another hike on our trip! With tiring limbs and sweaty backs, we climbed the van with a sense of victory and ready to relax and catch a movie.
But, first, we made two more stops. We picked up food from Hammontree’s, an excellent grilled cheese specialty restaurant in Fayetteville. We also made our way to Mt. Sequoyah, the highest spot in Fayetteville, where we watched the sunset.
It was, we thought, a fitting end to a wonderful trip.
Movies and Winding Down
Once we had freshened up at the hotel, we climbed back into the van and drove to a near by movie theater to watch the remake of Ivan Reitman’s hit movie, Ghostbusters. Even though the original film is about 30 years old, most of us had previously watched it and waited in anticipation through the previews to see how similar this remake would be to our beloved original.
We found many differences between the new film and the original Ghost Busters film, an obvious one being that women instead of men were playing the lead roles. Most of us focused more attention to the fact that Paul Feig’s film also includes multiple nods to Reitman’s original and Sigourney Weaver, Dan Akroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and even Bill Murray make appearances. After an hour and forty-seven minutes filled with laughs that echoed in the theater (mostly Megan’s), we were ready to turn in for the night to prepare for our long journey home tomorrow morning.
Even as we entered the homestretch, nearing the end of our trip, we remained excited about our time in Northwest Arkansas. With trips to Eureka Springs, the Thorncrown Chapel, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art ahead of us, we were ready for a day of fun and education.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas Written by: Brian Aldaco, Megan Chapa, and Kaitlyn Tyra
After hearing about how great of a little town Eureka Springs was from all of the people that we had met at the Southern Legislative Conference, we were all ready to go see it for ourselves! Before our planned bus tour we visited Fresh Harvest, a fine olive oil shop near the visitors center. None of us had ever been to an olive oil tasting, so this was another “first” to write off in our books! One of the workers kindly walked us through some of the different kind of olive oils and explained the differences among them.
During the explanations of the oils, we were given the chance to taste each one until we had found the ones we loved. They had everything ranging from balsamic and vinaigrettes to jams that contained rich olive oil. We were also informed that they are made in house and are even bottled there. After wandering around the aisles filled with canisters of oil and tasting all of those that sounded appealing (such as white peach and raspberry), we chose some of our favorites, checked out and scurried to our bus tour.
Once we all made it out of Fresh Harvest, we leaped into the bus and began riding through the winding roads of Eureka Springs to tour through a one-of-a-kind city. Eureka Springs is most famously known for its system of freshwater springs that can be spotted all around the town. We began the tour by getting on highway 62, leaving the town behind as the bus snaked it’s way through woods and cliffs. On the roadside one could see various motels curiously built amidst the rocky mountains of what could be perceived as a town of low significance. However, such a statement does in no way describe Eureka Springs. With a rich history of Native American tribes, our guide described the importance of the Osage, the tribe which roamed the area before the Europeans made their way though the hidden Ozark Valley. The tribe, fierce protectors of their territory, would even share their healing spring water with their warring enemy tribes. It was en route to a scenic roadside view of this valley that we could appreciate the rugged terrain these tribes and early settlers of the town would have faced in settling on that land. Through hills of endless forests we continued on to an unobstructed vista of the White River along with its green, vast valley.
Doctor Alba Jackson used the Blue Spring waters to treat Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War after discovering it’s “healing effects” from treating his son’s failing eyes. It was after this destructive time period that many sought healing via Eureka Spring’s natural waters. As word spread through the nation of the town’s natural spring water, (which could allegedly be used to treat and cure any type of illness from the common cold down to yellow fever and more) the once forested Hidden Ozark Valley was cleared in order to build what would become Eureka Springs. From one day to another, the small settlement went from a few cabins to Arkansas second largest city in 1878.
On our way back towards Eureka, we drove though a winding driveway, and through the heavy foliage, one could barley see a towering, gray structure which deliberately blended itself with its natural surroundings known as Thorncrown Chapel. Designed by E. Fay Jones (a student of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright), the forty-eight feet tall wooden chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Design of the Decade Award in the 1980’s.
We all sat in awe of the towering chapel that blended with the surrounding nature and compared it to the Anthony Chapel we had previously seen. After leaving the chapel, we went into the city’s historic loop, Kings Highway, also known as Ojo and Summit and about 10 other names, in true Eureka Springs fashion. Home to only three chain restaurants, the city prides itself in keeping it’s commercial culture untainted by chain food. Such an autonomy has preserved the city as the old town it used to be.
The Crescent Hotel is one of the buildings of the town that has stood the test of time as it still towers over Eureka Springs.
Although the winding roads were scary for some of us, the visit to this historical hotel was the scariest part of the tour. Seated high above “Mysterious” Valley, the hotel is supposedly the most haunted hotel in the country. In 1886 the Hotel was opened at a resort for the wealthy to vacation. Since then, it has changed ownership many times. It served as the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women at one point; at another point, a scam artist took over, making it into a fraudulent cancer hospital.
With this history, it’s no wonder that some guests have reported supernatural experiences. For example, each night between 12-3 am a women dressed in white has been reported to fall from the third story balcony. The story goes that during the hotel’s time as a College and Conservatory, a young woman committed suicide after she learned of her pregnancy, which was frowned upon during her time. Today, this is just one of the stories that tour guides tell visitors from all over the country during the many ghost tours given daily.
After a stop full of fascinating stories (some believable and some not so much) we boarded the bus to visit many of the springs from which the city is rightfully named.
Last week, we visited Hot Springs, Arkansas to learn about the bath houses and natural spring waters. This week, in Eureka Springs, we learned the waters are similar except for one major difference, the temperature! Eureka Springs consists of cold spring fed waters that are much more refreshing than the hot springs whose water is always 100+ degrees. While visiting at least four of the springs (the city is home to many more) our tour guide kindly narrated interesting stories that caught our attention like the reason why doing laundry at the Laundry Spring is now a misdemeanor crime.
We learned that the way to spot a spring is to look out for a garden. The tenants of the springs would plant gardens outside to make their cave more home like. We also toured downtown Eureka Springs, which lies partially underground in the tunnel system that benefits the city by adding additional real estate for the tourist shops and restaurants.
Because the city lies within the northwest Arkansas hills, the streets are extremely winding and occasionally bumpy. This created many strange angles for real estate, but it is also a symbol of Eureka Spring’s unique style. We stopped for a few quick photo opportunities and to admire the view one last time before closing our tour.
Many thanks to Mr. John Thomas of Eureka Van Tours for an energetic, informative, and jam-packed tour of Eureka Springs! Following our informative tour, we headed downtown for a quick lunch at Mud Street Café. This cafe was built in 1888 under the city’s surface. The venue’s name originates from the very street on which it was built. Because of the dirt roads and underground spring, floods were habitual and caused the street to become muddy. The cafe had original limestone walls, oak tables, and Victorian carpet making it exclusive. Orders around the table varied. Megan ordered the Cajun wrap and others ordered a variety of burgers and sandwiches. We even sampled the crème sodas and the coffee with peppermint schnapps!
The food and drinks were delicious, leaving some of us a little drowsy. We managed to fight our sleepiness because we wanted to check out the small shops along the historic downtown Eureka.
With menacing rain clouds forming in the sky, we hurriedly boarded our van ready to drive towards Bentonville.
Crystal Bridges Written by: Beatriz Martinez, and Karla Rosales
Upon arrival, the pitter patter of the raindrops on our heads hurried us into the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. We navigated through the halls in order to reach our tour guide. We eagerly waited for out tour to start because we all knew that we were about to explore another of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpieces; the Bachman-Wilson home.
Similar to the Kraus house we had visited in St. Louis, the Bachman-Wilson home was designed as a Usonian-style home. Derived from the abbreviation of “United States of North America”, this form of organic architecture was invented by Wright to create homes that would be compatible with nature and stand alone as American without other influences. The original owners of the home were Gloria and Abraham Wilson. Having seen the Shavin house, they implored for Mr. Wright to make them a home of their own. After continuous requests to Wright, one day the Wilsons received a telegram saying, “I suppose I am still here to do houses for such as you.”
Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes are well-known for their small, yet comfortable size; compression and expansion of spaces; radiant heat; and clerestory patterns (this one being of a Samara design).
The home was originally built along the Millstone River in New Jersey during the year of 1956, however, after the Wilson’s divorce a year later they decided to sell their home which led to a series of events that ends with the home finding its home at Crystal Bridges. Unfortunately, the location on which the house had been built suffered from the problem of flooding. At one point, the home was 6 feet underwater!
Lawrence and Sharon Tarantino bought the home in 1988. Recognizing the worth of this wonderful home, they decided to sell it to an institution that would preserve and relocate it to a place where it would not be harmed. Interestingly enough, the blueprints of the building were tracked down and unearthed. The endeavor was a tedious task, one that required the home to be taken apart piece-by-piece, individually marked, and bubble wrapped, and transported to its new location.
Although the home wasn’t built at Crystal Bridges, our tour guide argues that it was destined for the site, as it exemplifies the type of architecture of Crystal Bridges (designed by Moshe Safdie) and that of Arkansas’s most famous architect, E. Fay Jones.
Enjoying the work of one of America’s most renowned architects, we continued on inside to take a look at the other forms of American art that Crystal Bridges had to offer.
The first exhibit in the museum displayed colonial to mid-nineteenth century American art titled “From the Colonies to the Civil War”. The time frame begins in 1621 when Mayflower pilgrims found Plymouth colony to 1860 when Abraham Lincoln was elected president. This exhibit displayed a lot of portraits painted in oil on canvas. In that same mid-nineteenth century we got to see artwork by Roxy Paine called “Bad Lawn;” it is a plant sculpture formed from industrial materials that was then painted by hand.
This work, “Bad Lawn,” is very different than her typical stainless steel structures, but like her other work, it is designed to make viewers reconsider their relationship with nature. To emphasize this point, the Curator at Crystal Bridges placed the work in the same room as many of the 19th century’s foremost nature painters: Asher Durand, Thomas Moran, Tom Cole, and Albert Bierstadt.
Then we moved on to Professor Yawn’s favorite exhibit, late nineteenth-century art titled “American Art Flourishes at Home and Abroad.” The time frame for this exhibit ranged from the Civil War to the founding of the NAACP in the early 1900’s. The exhibit displayed an abundance of landscape paintings because landscape painters were interacting with the outdoors and celebrating the natural world.
A key example of this art is Harriet Whitney Frishmuth’s “The Bubble,” in which she pictures a model dancing with an orb.
Before the 20th century exhibit, we stopped to see a small exhibit called “Reel Women, Icons and Identity in Film” which displayed photography of popular actresses during the Golden Age of Hollywood between 1930 and 1960. The 20th century exhibit titled “Depicting Change in a Modern World” displayed great events in history the like the roaring twenties in America, the Great Depression, and World War II. The art in this exhibit was much more modern and colorful.
In this exhibit, Karla found her favorite piece of art by artist Stanton Macdonald-Wright titled “Au Cafe.”
At first it appears to be simply abstraction, but as you look closer you can see the artist with his wife drinking a martini depicted in colorful shapes. The final exhibit was 1940’s to Now, it displayed a timeline of important events during this time frame. Amazingly, we have visited many of the places where these important events took place.
Two pieces of art that made some students cringe and others awe at the realistic figures were pieces of hyperrealism by Evan Penny and Duane Hanson. Penny’s work was a self-portrait, titled “Old Self,” and it was indeed very realistic.
We were fascinated by the detail that Penny put into the piece; indeed, some of us were even started as we entered the room, thinking that it was a real person we were seeing.
Duane Hanson’s “Man on Bench” was just as realistic, but more sad.
It was very interesting how the sculptures looked so realistic!
Another piece that captured the interest of all of us was the “Untitled” piece by Felix Gonzalez Torres that invited us to not only touch, but eat a piece of the art!
After making additional stops to see a Picasso…
…Thomas Hart Benton…
…and Andy Warhol…
…we headed outside to see the sculpture garden.
Here, we posed for a photo next to Robert Indiana’s “LOVE,” which we’ve seen in several locations.
Another sculptor we have seen much of is Louise Bourgeois and Crystal Bridges has a particularly fine sculpture by her, “Maman,” meaning “mommy.” “Maman,” like many of her sculptures, is a spider, this one carrying 20 eggs.
We were especially interested in a sculpture by James Turrell called “The Way of Color.” it is made with stone, concrete stainless steel, and LED lights. The lights inside the sculpture change color as the sun rises in the morning and sets at night. Luckily, we got there right at sunset and were able to view the different colors!
Walking around and through the museum was a timeless journey. The students loved being able to chronologically view the art and watch it change over the decades and adapt to its time. Some of us loved walking into an exhibit and immediately recognizing pieces by artists such as Lichtenstein, Georgia O’Keeffe, Gilbert Stewart, Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell.
Even though it seemed like a timeless journey, once we looked at our watches it was a little past 9 PM, so we knew that our dinning options would be limited.
The Foxhole was our dinner destination and we were excited to eat after a long day of exploring. As one of the highest rated places to eat in Bentonville, we were intrigued by what awaited us. They offered a twist on the Korean dish “Steam Buns.” The group was split on the food, with a majority liking them very much, being particularly impressed by the tender and flavorful meat, which one newspaper described as a “flavor-forward, hand-held entree” that “really shine(s).” We also enjoyed the homemade creme sodas, the chips and aioli dip. After sipping down the little bit of soda left in our glasses, we all gathered into the van and made our way back to the comfort of our hotel for a good nights rest to energize us for our law class in the morning!
It seemed too soon to reminisce about the first half of our trip, which was filled with fun activities and meeting great people. But, as we packed for our next destination early in the morning, contemplated the great people we had met and the fun of visiting Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Louisville, Lexington, and Frankfort.
But with St. Louis on our destination list for today, we hastened to pack and headed out at 4am, a bit groggy, but excited for the Midwest section of the trip.
The Old Courthouse, St. Louis
Five hours later, we were able to make our first stop: the Old Courthouse.
We were out on the road again until we reached St. Louis, Missouri where our first stop was the Old Courthouse. This courthouse is especially important because this is where the famous Dred Scott case was brought to trial. Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, were slaves that filed a suit for their freedom against Irene Emerson, their slave owner. They tried to take advantage of the Missouri law that would allow them to buy their freedom, and after many years of hardship the judges finally came to a conclusion. In 1857, it was decided that they were not to be considered citizens of Missouri; therefore they could not sue for their freedom. Having grown tired of the slave family, the Emerson family sold them to the Blow family where the Scotts were finally set free. Sadly, Dred Scott enjoyed his freedom only for a short while as he died a year later in 1858.
There is an exhibit in the Old Courthouse where the courtroom in which this trial was heard is displayed. It was filled with chairs for the jury, two desks for the attorneys, a desk for a bailiff, and a clerk, a chair for witnesses, and a chair for the presiding judge. We even recreated the trial ourselves!
Apart from its historic value, the courthouse is a beautiful structure, with a beautiful dome designed by William Rumbold.
As part of LEAP, we are always seeking ways to expand our knowledge. So it is only fitting that we visit the monumental symbol of the westward expansion as our next stop.
The Gateway Arch, St. Louis
The westward expansion, aided greatly by the Louisiana Purchase, doubled the size of the United States in 1803. In honor of America moving into a more prosperous and hopeful state, The Arch was built as the “gateway to the west.” The Arch proudly stands at an intimidating 630 feet making it the tallest man-made monument in the nation.
The architect, Eero Saarinen, was an immigrant from Finland and was granted this opportunity after winning a contest by the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in 1947. After studying architecture at Yale, he believed this was the opportunity to establish himself as an architect in America and it was. Although the design for this structure was completed in 1947, the real structure was not completed until 1965! We learned that this monument was brilliantly made with 142 stainless steel triangle sections that are each 12 feet in length held together by tension bars and truss. It took 13 years to raise the 13 million dollars needed to fund this project. In 1967, a trans system was built inside the north and south legs of the arch allowing 40 people at a time to view the impressive view. It was through these same legs that we rode through in our capsules.
It was tremendously fun to be able to enjoy the arch’s view…
…and see parts of St. Louis that we looked forward to exploring.
Once back on the ground, we were also able to watch an informative documentary about the arch and its history. Expansion in 1803 meant a hopeful future for some and that is our motivation as we expand our education in college and on our trips.
Originally, we had planned to visit the city garden that was near the courthouse. With its luscious greenery, sparkling fountains, and marvelous art we were all prepared to relax and enjoy the perfect view of the arch it would offer. Or so we imagined. Unfortunately, time didn’t permit a trip to that destination.
Photo Ops in St. Louis
Remaining undaunted, we decided to go on a photo op adventure instead. Our first photo op stop was a Richard Haas mural. With two of our students having been interns at the Wynne Home, his work has a special meaning to us, and fourteen of his works dot the downtown of Huntsville.
None of the ones in Huntsville, however, cover the 110,000 square feet of the one adorning the Old Edison Stores Building in St. Louis.
Next, we headed over to the St. Louis Union Station Building, which is a beautiful structure, now a Doubletree by Hilton. But its interiors were what we found most intriguing…
…even the entrance to the bathrooms were interesting!
But the grand hall was the most beautiful part.
Across the street is the Milles Fountain, which is also impressive and offers a nice view of the exterior of the Union Station.
Amighetti’s in The Hill, St. Louis
After a morning of westward exploration and photo ops in St. Louis, we took a quick stroll down The Hill to Amighetti’s.
Located in what could be considered St. Louis’ Little Italy, the restaurant provided a prime venue for a satisfying lunch. Under what seemed an authentic tin-lined ceiling, we looked over the menu which included, but was not limited to, the Amighetti’s Special, a ravioli plate, and Little Bit of Italy sandwich.
As for the Amighetti’s Special, the sandwich accomplished its main goal; completely stuff its eater. Made up of ham, roast beef, and Genoa salami, blanketed with a rich layer of brick cheese on a 9 inch loaf of French style bread, it was a near challenge to take a bite. However, the extra effort to open one’s jaw was worth it, for every bite was an opportunity to taste the delicious sandwich. To improve on the experience, the menu presented St. Louis’ own Ritz root-beer. The effervescent, sweet, and smooth root-beer was an enjoyable company to Amighetti’s Special. To close off our lunch we also ordered a round of gelato. Within the group we were able to enjoy a cup of a sour, but satisfying lemon ice, cherry peach, strawberry, and vanilla, all of which we considered of excellent taste. As we stood up from our seat, with a content belly and a cooled off palate, we regained the energy needed to continue our St. Louis exploration at the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kraus Home.
On previous adventures, Alex and Ryan had already encountered this one-of-a-kind home a numerous times. Therefore, Professor Yawn decided to give them the opportunity to explore new land by the name of the St. Louis Art Museum. After dropping them off we rerouted to the Kraus home.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home at Ebsworth Park
Hidden behind lush greenery, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kraus Home is located in the upscale Kirkwood neighborhood of Saint Louis. Taking a short drive from the art museum, we arrived for a special tour. Normally, tours are not available on Wednesday afternoons, but the staff of the home were generous enough to arrange a tour for us today! Upon arrival, we immediately gaped in awe of the unique architecture and the natural beauty surrounding the home.
To begin our tour, we watched an introductory video about the Kraus home and its architect. Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867 and designed more than 500 structures throughout the United States. Represented in the Kraus home were parallelograms, hexagons, and horizontal lines, all of which accentuated the Usonian vision of Wright. The Kraus home sits on 10.5 acres of land now owned by Saint Louis County as part of its parks system.
In the mid 1940’s, Russell Kraus, a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast, wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright requesting him to design a small and less expensive home. Nearly ten years later in 1955, the home would finally reach completion. Mr. Kraus lived there until 2001, when a non-profit raised money to purchase the home and the land was deeded to Saint Louis County.
Throughout the tour, Professor Yawn was quick to point out the horizontal attributes of the home, noting even the grooves between the brick walls were designed to draw the eye horizontally instead of vertically. The Kraus home was designed as two hexagons partially overlapping one another. The entire home is made up of these two hexagons or its subcomponents (parallelograms and triangles).
Even the bed, for example, is a parallelogram.
We were fascinated throughout the entire tour. In order to preserve the beauty of the home, we were not allowed to take any photographs inside the home. However, we finished our tour with a few photos on the balcony…
One of the major aspects Missouri has to offer is the free admission into museums (excluding special exhibits). On the three levels of the museum, there were paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from as early as 500-600 BCE to as recent as present day and everything in between. There were pieces of art from all around the world including Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe. Several famous artists’ works could be found at the museum including Monet…
…van Gogh, Picasso, Seurat…
…Degas, Rodin, Kandinsky, Warhol, Segal, O’Keeffe, and many more. Outside, there was a short path through a small sculpture garden, mostly made up of pieces from Henry Moore.
As we were leaving, a huge storm rolled in, cutting out our trip to a sculpture garden in the downtown area. So instead, we headed towards Bentonville, stopping for a photo-op at the world’s largest fork, and afterwards, stopping for dinner.
Dinner at Cafe Cusco, Springfield, MO
Being the home of the world’s largest fork…
…Springfield appropriately offers numerous eateries from which to choose.
We choose Cafe Cusco, a Peruvian restaurant that has all the attributes of good Peruvian food, without the risk of Zika.
With the buildings soaking in the last rays of the day on Commercial St., we crossed the threshold into the Peruvian cuisine restaurant. As Peruvian folk music sounded its harmonious guitar in the background, we looked through the menu. With a variety of “platos” or dishes, from vegan salads to meaty steaks, the appetite of some of us were attracted to the fried rabbit, fajita saltada, BBQ pork panca, and lomo saltado. First, however, we began our taste of Peru with a seafood dip and fried avocado appetizer.
As the initial dishes were cleared, we readied ourselves for our main course. Soon the table was enveloped in the spicy aromas of the various dishes. As for the lomo saltado, a dish of steak cooked with bell pepper and onions served with fries and rice, each scoop of the fork brought to one’s mouth the zesty spice of Peruvian flavor. Perhaps the best of the dishes, however, was the rabbit, which Ryan enjoyed immensely.
In all, the restaurant was more than enough to make us go back to the corner block venue as we were forever in love with these flavorful dishes. For the meantime however, it was time get back to our traveling van for we still had half a state left to ride through.
Our morning brought excitement with a splash of sadness, both from the prospect of our first day of rain and facing what would be our final day of the Southern Legislative Conference. With that in mind, we vowed to make the most of the day, with experiences extending to the world of politics, liquor, and musical entertainment.
We boarded our ever-familiar tour bus bound for Kentucky’s capital city of Frankfort, and enjoyed the green rolling hills on the short drive from Lexington (~45 minutes). As we neared the bend that would lead into Frankfort’s main street, the trees embraced the city, making it seem every building was surrounded by its own mini forest, an impressive landscape.
The Old Statehouse
Our first stop was the state’s third capitol building, “The Old Capitol,” built in 1803. Its location was the same as the first two state capitol buildings, both of which met their demise through fire. Following the second fire, officials requested submissions for a new design, which would be selected through a competitive process. The winning design was submitted by Gideon Shryock (fresh out of college!) on a dare.
The Greek revival structure was erected as a symbol of Kentucky’s democratic strength, the massive pillars flanking the entry underlining that statement.
The limestone walls, quarried from the Kentucky River, stand as impressive as the day as they were placed. Through this grand, but windowless, entrance, we turned first into the “new” library, relocated from its original second-floor location due to weather damage to the books. In the corner of this room stood a desk that had belonged to then-Governor, Thomas Bramllette. Under his orders, the desk was ordered to contain a secret compartment. However, upon arrival, there was no sign of any such compartment. After complaining to the cabinetmaker and demanding that he be told the whereabouts of the desk’s secret, the designer refused to reveal it for “if [he] were to reveal it then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.” The secret compartment was never found.
We left the library, and gathered under a floating staircase. Reputedly one of the only staircases of its kind in a public building, the whole structure will supposedly stay in place regardless of whether walls stand around it – it requires no external support. As designed by architect Shryock, this is an impressive feat of architectural and aesthetic design. As we walked up the staircase, admiring its simple yet intriguing structure, quite a few tour participants not-so-surreptitiously checked out the number of people on the stairs at once.
Another pleasant detail was found in the plaster floral designs on the ceiling. As with most capitol buildings, the legislative chambers were the largest. At the entrance of the Senate and House chambers, we were greeted with lighting from magnificent gold French chandeliers, as lavish as when they were lit for the first time. In the House, the desks were sectioned for two legislators to share one table. As we walked onto the senate chamber, we entered a much more intimate room. We sat down on both the house and senate desks, taking in the building’s history, imagining what it would have been like in the past. When the visit of the Old Statehouse was over, we were very sad. However, our hopes were regained after remembering that this was only the beginning of our grand tour.
Center for Kentucky History
Because we spent so much time in the Capitol building, our next stop was correspondingly curtailed. Thus, we only had about 15 minutes at the modern Center for Kentucky History, which was clearly not sufficient. Some of us went into the gift shop while others toured the Hall of Governors, which consisted of painted portraits and biographies of Kentucky’s governors. It started with Isaac Shelby, the first governor of the state. He was an interesting character. Even though he served two full terms believing and practicing his constitutional duties, in his autobiography of four hundred plus pages, he only included one sentence of his tenure as governor. Another notable character was Martha Layne Collins, the first female governor. She was known for bringing a Toyota plant to Kentucky, which provided many economic opportunities to the state. Despite the brief time allotted to this portion of the tour, we enjoyed the artifacts and exhibits we saw.
After the tour of the Kentucky History Center, we visited the Governor’s Mansion for lunch with the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky. As we approached the mansion, we were fascinated by the beautiful architecture and colorful garden.
We learned that the architecture was designed to model Queen Marie Antoinette’s villa of the palace of Versailles in France—not the last time we would find French influences in the Bluegrass State. The interior also reflected the French interest of the Beaux-Arts period. Walking into this grand architecture, the Lieutenant Governor, Jenean Hampton, and some of her staff, greeted us. We were then directed to the dining room for lunch.
She welcomed our group very warmly into the governor’s home and spoke about the great state of Kentucky.
After learning we were from Texas, she expressed her love for the Lone Star State.
We felt that she was very genuine and kind! After having greeted her, we then proceeded to eat lunch consisting of a traditional Caesar salad and grilled chicken.
For dessert, we had a light, summery strawberry shortcake.
And as an added desert of sorts, we had the wonderful opportunity to explore the Governor’s Mansion.
Kentucky State Capitol
Following the lunch at the Governor’s mansion, we toured the fourth and current Kentucky state capitol. Our tour began in the rotunda with five large statues, each a famous (or infamous) Kentuckian. These include Henry Clay, Alben Berkley, Jefferson Davis, Ephraim McDowell, and Abraham Lincoln.
The dome that sits above the rotunda is inspired by Les Invalides, Napoleon’s tomb. Interestingly, the interior of the dome changes colors periodically…
The building houses all three branches of government: the executive is on the first floor, the judicial is on the second, and the legislative is on the third. This is one of very few state capitols that still houses three branches. In the state supreme court, the judges convene about three days a month, hearing about only nine cases a month.
The justices can serve as many ten-year terms as they can get elected to.
The Kentucky legislature is unusual in that they only meet for 90 days every two years. During even numbered years, the Kentucky legislature will meet for up to 60 days, and in odd numbered years, the 38 Senators and 100 House members will meet for no more than 30 days.
House members, as well as Senators, have two year terms, but no term limits.
Overall, we were impressed by the symmetrical design of the capitol, both the interior…
…and the exterior…
…as well as the views from the balcony.
In fact, it’s rare in a capitol to even be allowed on the balcony, so this was a treat indeed.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
No doubt the offices of the Kentucky Capitol building were witness to much drinking, in order to, as one politician told us, “lubricate the wheels of governance.” Some of those drinks were likely distilled, aged, and bottled in our next destination: Buffalo Trace. Liquor has been manufactured on the site of Buffalo Trace since 1787, when Willis and Hancock Lee first built a still. Although the companies of liquor and processes have changed, the site—located near the Kentucky Capitol building— has always been dedicated to distilling primarily bourbon.
This was true even during Prohibition. As our tour guide noted, alcohol could still be manufactured for “medicinal purposes.” Each “patient” could be prescribed up to a pint every ten days. During this period, the illnesses must have been both “contagious and chronic,” because often an entire family would need the prescriptions refilled indefinitely. This legal loophole allowed the distillery to stay in business.
Thankfully, that subterfuge was no longer necessary following Prohibition, and the distillery could distribute its liquor the old-fashioned way. In more recent years, there has been a type of anti-prohibition, and bourbon drinking has become fashionable. In fact, Buffalo Trace is in the process of tripling the size of its operations, expanding from 140 to 420 acres.
Some people believe that only Kentucky sells bourbon. That’s not true, but as our tour guide says, most of the bourbon in the US comes from Kentucky. “Kentucky sells 95% of the nation’s bourbon,” he clarified, “and 100 % of the good bourbon.”
Much of that comes from Buffalo Trace. Indeed, they recently manufactured their six-millionth barrel. That’s a lot of bourbon, especially when each barrel contains about 200 bottles.
And it is this process that is perhaps most interesting. To qualify legally as bourbon, the liquor must meet six criteria:
Its content must be at least 51 % corn;
Distilled to no more than 160 proof;
Barreled at no more than 125 proof;
Aged in new, charred barrels;
Bottled at 80 proof or higher;
And, all of this must occur in the United States.
This last requirement stems from the fact that in 1964 the US Congress passed a resolution recognizing bourbon as indigenous to the United States, much in the same way, for example, that Scotch is associated with Scotland.
This was a lot of information to take in, especially for some of the students who had almost no exposure to alcohol. But even for those more familiar with the product, the distinctive and specific process was a lot to ingest.
And speaking of ingesting, our tour concluded with a whiskey tasting. The under-21 crowd skipped this part, but a few of the students had a chance to distinguish (in very small doses!) the difference between four types of whiskey: (1) a blended vodka, (2) a mash whiskey at 125 proof, (3) an 8-9 year old bottle of bourbon, and a (4) 10 year-old bourbon aged on a lower floor of the storage. (The lower floor is a cooler location, which means less mixing with the barrel, which, in turns, less of the woody or caramel flavor.)
Opinions from the group were positive toward the bourbon, but there was general agreement that the 125 proof mash was strong medicine indeed.
Our samples were far too small to lubricate any kind of political deals at the conference, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t interested in expanding our professional networks and seeing what opportunities we could find. To that end, we headed back to Lexington, where we planned to socialize at the state dinner.
Dressed to the nines, the LEAPsters strode into the Rupp Arena Ballroom. Although we were prepared to enjoy the State Dinner…
…we were not prepared for the beautiful sounds of the a capella group acoUstiKats, from the University of Kentucky. They introduced the evening with a wonderful rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Our dinner mates included Senator Floyd Nicholson and his wife, Mamie, who were from South Carolina and very nice!
Later, Kentucky Senator Stivers gave a speech and recognized two different programs for their work under the STAR program. This program promotes the creation of innovative ideas for more programs to help communities. The most proactive are chosen and recognized for their accomplishments.
After the meal was over and we had finished the last bit of cheesecake…
…the entertainment started. Rick Dees kicked off the evening’s entertainment…
…but he soon turned it over to Midnight Star, an R&B band who enjoyed many hits in the 1970s and 1980s, including “Operator,” “No Parking on the Dance Floor,” and others.
Their music soon drew a crowd of dancers, many of whom were elected officials apparently drawn to the dance floor by courage borne of bourbon.
Not to be outdone, the LEAP Ambassadors showed off their adaptability and busted out a few dance moves of their own.
Others, of course, mostly stayed rooted to the dinner table…
Nonetheless, it was an energetic end to a four-day tour of Kentucky and its world of politics, entertainment, and history.
But with a four am departure looming, we posed for a final Kentucky photo op…
…we headed back to the hotel. Our sleep was destined to be brief, but we were eager to awake to the Midwestern leg of our southern/Midwestern tour of the United States.
With a busy day planned ahead of us, we began our morning with a light breakfast at Daily Offerings Coffee Roastery…
…a Southern hipster coffee shop offering several adventurous and traditional options. One of the more daring ambassadors tried the Lavender Honey Latte, and as Alex described it, “it felt like my mouth had just taken a bath.”
Others went for coconut or caramel lattes, and pastries to complement their drinks: coffee cakes, chocolate cookies, and blueberry scones. Once everyone had their fill, we departed for our first destination and activity of the day, a trip to Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill.
The Shakers fled England and first settled in New Lebanon, New York. In 1805, a group of 44 Shakers settled in Kentucky. Today there are no surviving Shakers in Kentucky and only a handful in Maine, but much of their settlement is still intact within the Pleasant Hill site. The historic farms of the village are maintained by the village’s employees, and crops and livestock are used at Pleasant Hill’s restaurant.
Our drive to Shaker Village through the Kentucky countryside was beautiful — a truly pleasant ride to start the day. Upon our arrival, we exchanged our charter bus for a school bus needed to maneuver a narrow, winding road to the Kentucky River a few miles away. There we boarded the Dixie Belle Riverboat for
…a trip downriver through the Kentucky River Palisades, so named for the steep limestone cliffs and scenic outcroppings.
The Shakers used to travel the Kentucky River to New Orleans once or twice a year to trade goods they produced. At the time, this was a significant endeavor and few Shakers actually traveled on behalf of the community. The captain explained that the Kentucky River is 255 miles long and is normally a deep shade of green, but due to the recent rains, the water was a muddy brown (and over 14 feet deep).
We cruised alongside the limestone cliffs and the lush green trees that stood high above the riverbank, ever alert for signs of wildlife. The river is home to many types of turtles (including snapping turtles!) and snakes. Although we weren’t lucky enough to see any river critters, we enjoyed the scenic view and relaxing breeze before traveling back to the Village for the second half of the tour.
The Village tour began with a walk down one of the main streets, the guide noting the limestone buildings among green fields, and explaining to us that during the Shaker’s lifetime in the settlement very little of the land would be left vacant. Shakers did not believe in unusable land, so they worked every plot as efficiently as possible — whether to build family dwellings, grow crops, graze livestock, or build an ice house.
Shakers were a religious group who believed the way to enhance their worship of God was to live as simply as possible and as purely as Jesus Christ. They were not Luddites, though, and believed in using technological advances to help them live simple lives. In their attempts to be close to Christ, one of the sacrifices in joining the congregation was to become celibate. Men and woman stayed segregated among family dwellings, with one half of the buildings dedicated to men and the other half to women. Men and women also maintained an arm’s length distance away from each other and had their own staircase to travel among floors in their living quarters.
The Shakers also preached a need for equality. All Shakers were equal and none deserved more attention than another, a quite different viewpoint in 1805 when several types of groups did not have equal rights. The village’s ministry, the governing religious body for each community, was composed of both men and women from various communities appointed by the Shaker’s central ministry in New Lebanon. This helped remove community ministry leaders’ potential prejudices against other members of the village. The community was further regulated by segregating the leaders to their own living quarters and workshops, both of which we were able to tour. It was an interesting twist to community governing for the political science majors in the group.
Unlike traditional Christian services, Shakers did not believe in one designated leader preaching at all times. Although they did make use of the King James Bible, and participated in prayer, services were led by “whoever was moved by the Holy Spirit” on that particular day. Their religious ceremonies were not constrained by time, with the shortest service in Pleasant Hill recorded at only 15 minutes and the longest at 23 hours!
During worship the Shakers were known to sing songs, especially those who were “filled with the spirit,” and members were encouraged to record their songs (in writing) and share among members of the community and of other villages. Lyrics would come from a member’s need to express their devotion towards God, and reportedly sometimes by God himself, taking hold of a member’s body and using them as a vessel, as our tour guide described it.
Further, Shakers did not believe in using instruments nor in solo demonstrations; they believed that complex musical arrangements only took away from the song’s devotional message. From these lively worships (of which non-Shakers were invited to attend) the group was termed as the Shaking Quakers, for seldom had anyone seen such an enthusiastic mode of worship composed of dancing and singing. After a brief demonstration of a few “Shaker” songs, we were ready for our next Kentucky adventure.
We didn’t have to go far, though. We met up with the other part of our group and walked the two short blocks from our hotel to the street party the SLC had planned for attendees and their families. We reached the 5/3 Pavilion at Cheapside Park and mingled with other guests. While we were there we ran into two new friends, Chris and Marisela Darminin. We had previously met Chris during skeet shooting, and were excited to meet Marisela. They were both from Texas and glad to visit with fellow Texans at SLC, as were we!
After speaking to them for a while and learning much about their careers and the great organizations that they support, we headed to our dinner destination, The Village Idiot.
Local Lexington icon The Village Idiot is in a building encompassing part of Lexington’s oldest post office building, dating back to 1825. We were all eager to try their fare since we had heard great things about the restaurant. Before our food arrived, we enjoyed bowls of fries and the cheese and sausage dip. Some of us had their famous (or maybe infamous?) “Idiot Burger,” a burger patty topped with an onion ring filled with pulled pork and topped off with a pretzel bun…it looked like quite the challenge!
Others shared the duck & waffles (on those, Beatriz said, “The sweet taste of the waffles combined with the succulence of the duck was such a great combination that [she] was left drooling for more”); the Village Idiot Cheese Platter; and a Caprese Burger. With great gusto, we savored these delightful dishes, enjoying this picturesque place rich in food and history. We left satisfied that The Village Idiot had been the “smartest” choice for dinner.
After a filling dinner, we were all ready to enjoy another event, the “preview reception” for next year’s conference, as put on by that host state. In this case, it was – and will be –Mississippi. As soon as we arrived, we were warmly greeted by numerous elected Senators and Representatives (and other representatives) from Mississippi who were handing out warm welcomes (and goodie bags) at the door.
We had arrived in time to hear an enthusiastic, well-written speech from the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, Philip Gunn, who captured our attention and left us wanting to visit Mississippi, the home to great names such as: Jerry Rice, Jerry Lee Lewis, and John Grisham. We even had the chance to chat for a few minutes with him and his wife (who is actually a Texan!)…
and get a quick pic.
We also met up with an acquaintance from the night before, Ms. Leslie Hafner, who was the Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor of Tennessee. She was very nice, and we were grateful to be able to get a photo with her before leaving the conference.
The evening’s entertainment, native-Mississippi jazz singer, Teneia Sanders-Eichelberger, as joined by her husband, Ben Eichelberger, was great to listen to while chatting with other guests.
She had a unique blend of blues, soul, and southern music, and we were able to briefly meet them after their performance, as well.
After an eventful night filled with great music and great people, we left to many cheers of “See you in Biloxi!” as we trudged off toward our hotel, anxious to reenergize for the next day’s activities.
On our second day in Lexington, Kentucky for the Southern Legislative Conference we ventured out into the countryside. Amidst the green fields where Thoroughbreds grazed and galloped, there stood the Blue Grass Sportsmen’s League. Here, the LEAPsters were introduced to the unique sport of skeet shooting. Although most of us had already handled firearms before, never had we shot at moving clay targets shouldering a 20-gauge shotgun.
After a safety briefing on the proper way to handle a gun and other expectations while out at the range, we headed towards the fields, all geared up with eye and ear protection. As we neared our station, the firing instructor kindly greeted us and demonstrated our “duck’s” path of flight, to prepare us on how to direct the movement of our firearm. Positioning ourselves at the station’s front, facing the field, hovering a right index finger over the trigger, eyes sighting over the barrel, calming our breath, keeping our arms sturdy and relaxed, checking our positioning to hold the butt of the stock close to our shoulder, we stood ready to call the clay’s pull. (This is work.)
After giving the mark, the orange disk would take flight, hurrying through the field resembling an escaping bird. After hearing a bang and seeing a smoking barrel, our hopes were that the projectiles would meet the clay target. However, more often than not the disk would fly pristine of any shattering and would only break as it landed on a tree or onto the ground, never having been grazed by our ammunition.
As we attempted, failed, and triumphed at hitting our “sim” ducks, our instructor took note of our gun handling and offered much-needed advice on how to successfully fire the shotgun.
Moving through every station with clay disks flying from left to right, from bottom of the field into the sky (forcing us to point our firearm at a 60 degree angle), to rolling on the ground, the number one rule was to direct the barrel with our left hand while following the target’s path.
Doing this would enable us to keep a more stable firearm, ensure that we properly sight the barrel with the target, and keep a more relaxed posture, all major contributors to skeet shooting success.
After firing the various wooden stock, single-action pump shotguns; synthetic stock, semiautomatic shotguns; and the classic over-under, break-action shotguns at the range, we celebrated our marksmanship experiences over a lunch of fried chicken and bread pudding. With beaten shoulders bearing red marks and bruises, some more severe than others, we boarded the bus back to the Lexington Convention Center to prepare for our next treat – a picnic break with some special guests at nearby Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in Jessamine County, Kentucky.
My Old Kentucky Road Trip–A Conversation With Cameron Ludwick and Blair Hess
In April we began reading My Old Kentucky Road Trip by Cameron M. Ludwick and Blair Thomas Hess to prepare for our own road trip to the Blue Grass State! From this book, we learned much about Kentucky, and we used the book as a guide to our time in The Bluegrass State. Amazingly, the authors agreed to meet with us while we were in Kentucky, and our meeting spot was historic Camp Nelson, a former trading post between the Confederates and the Union during the Civil War.
We were excited to meet the two young women who had helped guide us on our way through the state. We began our picnic-style rendezvous with the exchange of gifts – evidence that both parties were from the South. Coincidentally, we bought each other Kentucky-famous Bourbon chocolates…
…but they outdid us in also bringing Ale8, the official Kentucky soda. After a round of introductions, we proceeded to enjoy a fun afternoon filled with history, laughter, and most importantly, mentorship.
Did you know that Rabbit Hash, Kentucky (yes, that’s correct) has a dog for a mayor? Neither did we, at least not before reading about it in My Old Kentucky Road Trip.
Luckily, these Kentucky experts filled us in on fascinating facts that make Kentucky interesting and unique – and made us want to explore Kentucky even more.
One interesting place we discussed is in Louisville, the Waverly Hill Sanatorium. Waverly Hill is a former hospital for tuberculosis patients that was virtually a city unto itself, turned into a nursing home after the tuberculosis epidemic. Now, one can join a haunted historic tour (at night!). Testimonials have noted that it is the scariest yet most informative tour in the state.
The conversation throughout the afternoon was humorous and interesting. Blair and Cameron had a special way of telling stories. We clung to every word they said because they made us feel as if we had taken trips with them because of all the details they relayed in their book. We were thankful for the time they took to meet with us and share their experiences and encouragement.
A story can be a powerful tool. This pair has used their Kentucky road trip storytelling and insight to rebrand their beautiful state. We can hope – and practice – to write similarly: inspiring, and full of new experiences and opportunities.
Horsing Around in Kentucky
The last evening activity planned for this day (Sunday, July 10) was Family Night at the Kentucky Horse Park, “a working horse farm and an educational theme park.”
In true “Kentucky Derby” fashion, an enthusiastic trumpeter announced our arrival. We were directed immediately to the food, where we found authentic Kentucky fare like brisket, burgers and corn on the cob.
We were lucky to have enjoyed dinner at a table with Mrs. Leslie Hafner, currently Senior Advisor to the Governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, and her husband – who has a political science degree! We had a pleasant conversation and discussed many current issues in government. Mrs. Haslam described her various job duties as a senior advisor to the Governor of Tennessee. She noted the favorite part of her job is being able to not just hear constituent’s concerns but to truly find solutions to be able to assist them.
We also enjoyed telling the Hafners our favorite parts about our trip to SLC, some of which was directly through their home state, Tennessee, and we even shared some info about our organization, and our blogs, at which they insisted they look. (We were all excited about this since we put in quite a bit of effort!). After dinner with our pleasant company, we headed for the dessert table to sample ice cream and shaved ice. We all grabbed some dessert and began looking for the horse riding area. Sadly, when we arrived at the location of the horse rides it was too late to ride horses, so instead we took a few pictures and headed for the horse museum.
Located in the Kentucky Horse Park, the museum had various exhibits, including a timeline of the horse, breeds of the world, and horses in sports. Some of our favorite artifacts were the old carriages and the jockey memorabilia.
Bryan and Ryan even took the opportunity to continue playing the part they had started the previous night at Keeneland by dressing up in jockey gear.
We learned much about a variety of horse breeds from all over the world before running to catch the bus back to the hotel. Although our visit to the museum was short, we enjoyed learning more about Kentucky’s largest industry!
After an entire day spent out, we were all ready for some rest, but not before we had a small birthday surprise for Beatriz! She turned 19 today and we (thanks to Professor Yawn) had a surprise “party” for the birthday girl. We all gathered to eat cookies from a unique place called Insomnia Cookies that just happens to deliver freshly baked cookies until 3:00am! We enjoyed ice cream and cookies and looked at the photos from the prior day before calling it another great day and heading to bed.
Saturday was our first day to awake in “The Bluegrass State,” and we had a full day ahead of us. As part of the Southern Legislative Conference, which is hosted each year in a different city, and brings together legislative members from all across the south for a week of idea sharing and networking.
Our first objective was to hit a couple of sites in Louisville, and then head to Lexington, the host city for the conference. Although there is much to do in Louisville, we first wanted to see Thomas Edison’s home, where he lived briefly while evolving into the inventor he would later become.
Although Edison lived in this home only from 1866-1867, his work there pre-figured his role as an inventor (he was fired for experimenting on the job). Similarly, it prefigures our work in a couple of weeks, when some LEAP Ambassadors will be heading to Detroit to work with Jeff Guinn, who is writing a book on Thomas Edison (and Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and others).
A second must-see stop for us was the Zachary Taylor cemetery, one of seven National Cemeteries in Kentucky.
Although more than 14,000 people–including two medal of honor winners–are interred in this cemetery from six wars, the most notable grave is that of Taylor, who served as the nation’s 12th president.
..and a monument to his service to the country.
We started out with a walking (“plus”) tour of historic downtown Lexington. A few blocks from our start, we arrived in Gratz Park, one of Lexington’s oldest and most beautiful areas. With the help from our knowledgeable tour guide (who was the Curator of the Henry Clay Home), we passed the city park, a beautiful centerpiece for the neighborhood, and several historic homes, such as: Bodley-Bullock House, which served as both the Union and Confederate Headquarters at times when each side controlled the city; Transylvania University, which was the first university in Kentucky. Also on our walk, we saw the Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral where Henry Clay and his wife attended, and the office where Henry Clay practiced law, which was quite a treat for aspiring lawyers.
The visit was a nice precursors to our impending visit to Ashland, the home of Henry Clay, “The Great Compromiser.”
Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate
Entering the ash tree-covered estate, from which the home bears its name, we saw a grand portrait of Clay painted by Matthew Jouett when the Senator was 45. Walking through the estate (which does not allow interior photography), it was impressive to learn that the home had stayed in the family from its construction in 1804 until it was sold to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation in 1959. In fact, family preservation of the home was only interrupted after the Civil War when the house was appropriated by Transylvania University to house its president, from 1865-1882.
One of the parlor rooms, which accommodated the first piano to be brought to Lexington, also held a large portrait of Henry Clay, Jr., and his wife, Lucretia Hart Clay. These paintings were hung in honor of the Clays’ favorite son, who was killed in the battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican-American War, by the woman who is credited with the preservation of the home.
Leaving the front parlors, we turned into the east wing of the home, into one of Clays’ most cherished rooms in the home. Here Clay would have spent most of his time working at his desk, reading his law books, and perhaps preparing his winning defense of Aaron Burr’s trial for treason. The small study now exhibits many of Clay’s personal items, such as a clock from 1832 during his presidential campaign against Andrew Jackson, a bookcase from his law office, a book written by Clay on the subject of agriculture and horse breeding, and some of his correspondence while serving as a senator.
On the subject of horses, he was known as an expert, as he bred his own Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds on the estate. Kentucky, therefore, attributes much of it horse history to the Senator’s fondness for equines. His affection for his livestock was represented in “The Eventful Day of Henry Clay,” a painting by Alvan Fisher depicting Clay and his favorite, prize bull Orizimbo. Legend also has it that in Clay’s study his ghost manifests itself to guests appearing near the mantle.
Even though we did not see his spirit, we did learn much about it. A great orator, Henry Clay was considered a “rock star” of his time. He was depicted thus in a painting in his library, right off his study, in which the vivacious Clay is delivering a speech to an attentive crowd, which includes a very eager Lincoln, cupping his left ear to catch every word of Clay’s speech. Such a sight would be common when Clay delivered a speech – drawing upwards of 100-200 thousand spectators at times.
We learned that not only were his public appearances notable, his deliberations in the Senate were also remarkable. At times, “The Great Compromiser” would stand on the senate floor to for upwards of four hours to deliver his valued opinion on any given piece of legislation. Such may have been true as he developed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Tariff Compromise of 1833, and the Great Comprise of 1860. A man of great social networking skills, Clay was also friends with Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the first American architect, who designed the wings of the Ashland estate and is best known for designing the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
As we stepped upstairs, the oak wood staircase (which replaced the previous staircase, making it the “newest” renovation to the home, in 1892) gave way to a landing upon which the John Neagle portrait of Clay is presented. A rendition of his unsuccessful 1844 presidential campaign, Clay stands with disappointed hands pointed towards a fallen American flag over white stone pillars while his gaze is fixed upon a field of grazing bulls. Although depicted as such, even at an advanced age (67) and having suffered a heart attack, many thought this would have been Clay’s last chance to run for the presidency. However, as Clay was a true, relentless Kentuckian, he ran again in 1848, his sixth failed attempt at the presidency.
One of the most notable facts about Clay was his lifelong feud with President Andrew Jackson. After the alleged “corrupt bargain” between John Q. Adams and Henry Clay, which ensured Adams’ victory in the presidency, both Clay and Jackson harbored similar grudges against each other. The hatred was such that Clay once swore that if he ever saw Jackson again, “he would shoot John C. Calhoun,” (Jackson’s Vice President), “and hang Andrew Jackson.”
In the master bedroom a Freemasons’ apron which was laid on Clay’s casket during his funeral was displayed. It was at this point that our guide informed us that on the day of our tour, exactly 164 years previously, Clay’s body had returned to his estate to reach his final resting place.
As we descended the stairs, with the smell of oak and sound of creaking steps, we ended our tour inside the room where Clay’s casket was likely displayed for his funeral. After a quick gift shop stop and photo op…
we headed back to the conference bus for our next, and last destination on this tour, the Mary Todd Lincoln home.
Todds and Lincolns in Kentucky
Originally built as an inn and not a residence, the Mary Todd Lincoln residence was purchased when Mary was 13. In all, some 16 children would have spent time in the house–Mary and her 15 siblings–not counting cousins and other more distant relatives.
At an early age, Mary began attending a finishing school where she studied literature and became fluent in French. When her father died of cholera, he had no will, so all of the items he owned were liquidated, including their collection of over 350 books. As a result, the museum has very few pieces of furniture original to the house, although they do have pieces that date from that time.
When Mary was about 20, she went to live with her sister, Elizabeth, for an extended period of time. Elizabeth and her husband lived in Springfield, Illinois, which is where Mary met and later married Abraham Lincoln. There was talk about Mary’s visions of becoming a First Lady long before she married Lincoln, and much credit is given to her for his rise up the political ranks.
All was not smooth, though. While in the White House, Mary spent the a large sum of money on redecorating the White House in the first six months of their stay, which led to some talk about how extravagant she was. Some of the President’s opponents tried to use the fact that many of Mary’s brothers and sisters were either fighting for the Confederacy or married to Confederate soldiers against him. In fact, while she was living in her family home, the Todds had anywhere between three and five slaves.
After Lincoln’s death, Mary went into perpetual mourning, and only wore black from then until her own death. She lived in Europe twice with Tad, one of two sons who were still alive at the time, although Tad, too, died young, like both Willy, in 1862, and Eddie, in 1850. In 1875, Mary had a premonition that Robert, her last remaining son was in peril, so she went to him. Given her behavior, he had her declared insane and committed her to a private sanitarium, although she was released after only a few months.
Recently, the Washington Post speculated that her illness might have been caused by a vitamin deficiency, our tour guide explained, although there are many theories as to her mental state, especially after losing two sons and her husband. Altogether, the tour was interesting and informative (and Ryan’s favorite stop on the tour).
Our awesome downtown tour was long (about four hours), so the LEAP Ambassadors had a late lunch at Stella’s Kentucky Deli, a locavore restaurant in downtown Lexington. The options weren’t too exotic, but Brian tried a lamb-burger (“pretty good”) and Kaitlyn loved her fried green tomato BLT. The rest of us were not too impressed with our dishes. As with any new experiences, sometimes it’s a hit and other times it’s a miss. We are always happy to try new things though – that’s part of what keeps our trips interesting!
Keeneland: Betting on Fun!
Later in the afternoon, we were all eager for the bus ride to Keeneland, a Thoroughbred racing facility and sales complex for SLC “family night.” We passed through various luscious green pastures, and were greeted with music, and excited to sample varieties of the well-known, authentic Kentucky bourbon and barbecue. Not to be disappointed, we arrived at the main patio area where different tables and serving areas had been set up.
We piled our plates high with savory brisket and ribs. Next we hit the barbecue sauce table where sweet tea, pineapple ginger and smoked tomato flavored barbecue sauces were available for sampling as well.
After we finished the delicious offerings, we met retired jockey Jean Cruguet, who kindly gave us his autograph and posed with us for a group shot.
Cruguet is a legendary jockey, one who rode Seattle Slew to a triple-crown victory in 1977, the only undefeated horse ever to do so. In the final leg of that crown, Slew was leading by four lengths heading into the stretch, and Cruguet, in an act of bravado, stood on the stirrups, raised his riding whip in the air, and declared victory 20 yards prior to the finish line.
Perhaps inspired by this meeting, both Ryan and Brian (named B-Ryan for the purposes of our trip), got on horse simulators to experience the horse-racing experience.
Brian and Ryan experienced what it would have been like to be a professional jockey, giving the practice horse a tryout ride. Both had great “natural talent” and, perhaps a bit presumptuously, felt ready to take on an actual horse race after their practice.
To see some real horses, we headed to the stables. Everyone took turns approaching the majestic horses for some tender, loving pats on the nose.
Having checked in with the breadwinners of the stables, we moved on to a more educational event Keeneland sponsored, the mock auction. Unfortunately, we arrived late, only in time for the tail end of a Q&A session with Mr. Cruguet.
Beatriz, though, didn’t let the end of the session slow her down. She met briefly with the auctioneers for her own private Q&A, to find out more about the process of horse auctions, as well as the amount one could spend on a horse: Did you know that the highest bid they have ever had for a horse is 3.6 million dollars? Did you know that Keeneland had 500 million dollars in horse sales last year? I found that pretty impressive.
We made some last rounds at Keeneland, enjoying the last round of music by local band Sundy Best, “Home,” as we took pictures in the sunset at the track.
None of us has ever been to a horse race, but being so close to the track does hint at the kind of excitement that might be possible during a two-minute race.
Having a beautiful sunset also helps.
We also posed in Keeneland’s Starting Gates. Incidentally, Brian was stationed in the same gate as American Pharaoh, the last triple crown winner (2015) and, with a victory at the Breeder’s Cup, stands as the only horse to win the “Grand Slam” of horse racing. Fittingly, American Pharaoh was bred in Kentucky.
With one last look around Keeneland, we agreed with the band, Sundy Best, that, “Yeah it’s time to go home.” So we headed back to the hotel!
Before we were fully able to call it a night, we explored the city park by our hotel, Triangle Park. It is a beautiful gathering space, with splash pads, a “democracy wall,” and a beautiful fountain that covers more than an entire city block.
With the calming splash of the water and the peaceful, happy ambiance of the park, and the satisfaction of a full-day of activities, we called it a day.