National Book Awards Come to SHSU

The National Book Award Festival (NBAF) at SHSU is the product of hard work by Dr. Amanda Nowlin-Obanion, who has once again brought a group of award-winning authors to Sam.  Sponsored by the CHSS, the NBAF featured the young-adult trilogy March, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell.  The three spent 24 hours or so at SHSU, mingling with students, faculty, and staff at a reception, formal presentation, and a breakfast.

The evening kicked off with a reception for 80 or so stakeho0lders in the Lowman Student Center, where Lewis, Aydin, and Powell patiently shook hands…

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis


National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

…discussed politics, literature, and the weather…

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

…and, of course, signed books.

From there, the authors migrated to the LSC Ballroom, where they took turns discussing their book and life experiences for about an hour and a half.  Introduced by Dean Abbey Zink, Benjamin Samuel (NBA Director of Programs), and President Dana Hoyt, the three authors spoke to a packed house of approximately 650 people.

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

Illustrator Nate Powell discussed the challenges of drawing pictures that not only advanced the narrative, but also captured the raw emotions of the events: violence, courage, and passion.

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

Author Andrew Aydin discussed his career with Congressman Lewis, from his beginnings handling mail to working with emergent digital technologies.  He also took credit for the idea of a graphic novel, as a means of achieving Lewis’s goal of reaching a younger audience.  Pushing a “comic book,” he noted, was a tough sell, but one that Lewis warmed up to over time.

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

The crowd was clearly there to hear Rep. Lewis, who responded with a moving biographical discussion and rousing calls to action. He reminisced about his days on a farm in Alabama, his lack of access to college education, his parents’ admonitions “not to get in trouble,” and his own tendency to push the envelope for the right cause.

It’s a strategy that has served Lewis well over some six decades in public life.  He has served in elective office for 46 years, 41 of them in US Congress.  And he encouraged the young people in the audience to heed a similar call: to pursue activism for the right cause, to “get into trouble” for a good cause.

Whatever your thoughts about getting in trouble, the night was clearly a good cause, one supported by hundreds of staff, faculty, students, and locals, who offered thanks with multiple standing ovations and the purchase of probably 200 books.

LEAP students were privileged to be a small part of the proceedings, serving as somewhat ineffectual ushers (people sat where ever they wanted mostly, irrespective of instructions).

Following the event, we were able to pose with a group shot of the authors, the Dean, and event organizers, a special coda to a special evening.

National Book Award Festival, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, John Lewis

Many kudos to Dr. Nowlin-Obanion, Dean Abbey Zink, and the staff of CHSS for putting on a first-class event.

Riding Through Time With Jeff Guinn and Henry Ford

As the LEAP ambassadors’ research drew to a close, still more adventures await them on the road. Although the various activities we got to engage in on the way to Detroit were elucidating and interesting, the true focus of our trip was as stated previously, to help Jeff Guinn in researching the Vagabonds.


For that effort, from Monday to Thursday, we followed the same routine; getting to the Henry Ford Museum’s research library around 9 a.m., researching for a few hours, getting lunch with Mr. Guinn and Mr. Fuquay, researching some more, and finally spending an hour touring the museum or the adjacent Greenfield Village.

This was a phenomenal opportunity to see a best-selling author in the research environment. Additionally, we got to hear many stories and see many amazing artifacts.



One highlight was being taken back into the conservation section of the Henry Ford, where we were shown a Lincoln refrigerated truck that was being restored.

1922 Car Used by Vagabonds
1922 Car Used by Vagabonds

Incredibly, this was the very refrigerated truck that Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison had taken along with them on a few of their camping trips! We got to stand next to real history, and see how the team of the Henry Ford is working to preserve and restore such artifacts for future generations to enjoy.

Henry Ford Museum, Conservation

Another special treat was being able to help Jeff Guinn pick out pictures for his book from the Henry Ford’s digital collection.

The Vagabonds, Beson Ford Research Center, Jeff Guinn
Reviewing Vagabonds Photographs for Mr. Guinn’s Book

We sat down and looked through 231 pictures, narrowing these down to about 40. Mr. Guinn will look through other sources before settling on which ones he wants to see appear in the book. At that point, the marketing team for Simon & Schuster, Mr. Guinn’s publisher, will dissect his choices, and they will make the final decisions.

During our breaks, where we could wander freely in the museums. Following our first day, which we spent focusing primarily on the Beatles Exhibit and automobiles in the Henry Ford Museum, we spent the last couple of days looking over planes, civil rights exhibits, Americana, and even furniture.

Henry Ford Museum

But this was no ordinary furniture; many of the pieces were owned by highly accomplished gentlemen. We saw a desk used by Edgar Allen Poe for most of his adult life, for example. It is possible that some of the stories and poems that are so loved today, like “The Raven,” “The Telltale Heart,” or “The Pit and the Pendulum,” were scribed at this very desk.

Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Ford Museum, Writing Desk
Edgar Allan Poe’s Writing Desk

We also got to see John Hancock’s card table and Mark Twain’s writing table!

Mark Twain, Writing Desk, Henry Ford Museum
Mark Twin Portrait & Writing Table

In the planes section, the Museum had a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane…

Wright Brothers, Henry Ford Museum, Kitty Hawk
Replica of Wright Brothers’ Plane

…and a little known Ford plane, which never really proved successful commercially.

Ford Plane, Henry Ford Museum
Ford Company’s Unsuccessful Plane

In the Americana section, they had a copy of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”….

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, Henry Ford Museum
Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”

… and the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated.

Abraham Lincoln, Assassination, Ford Theater, Henry Ford Museum
The Abraham Lincoln from Ford Theater

As the above suggests, some of the artifacts were unusual, even unsettling.

On a more inspirational level, the Museum had the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to take a back seat, both literally and metaphorically.

Rosa Parks, Bus, Segregation, Henry Ford Museum
The Bus on Which Rosa Parks Refused to Take a Back Seat

Amazingly, people were even allowed to sit in the seat she refused to relinquish.  The Museum also had guidelines of the “Montgomery Improvement Association” (led by Martin Luther King, Jr.) distributed to African Americans which helped them stand for their rights without putting themselves or others in undue danger.


Wrapping Up

Finally though, Thursday afternoon rolled around, and our time at the Henry Ford drew to a close. We said our goodbyes to Jeff Guinn and Jim Fuquay while thanking them for giving us the opportunity to work with them for a week.

L-R: Jim Fuquay, Brian Aldaco, Jeff Guinn, Paul Oliver
L-R: Jim Fuquay, Brian Aldaco, Jeff Guinn, Paul Oliver

Besides being a great researcher and a great teacher, he is a very personable and amiable man, who really does love his work. The joy he takes in his research is reflected in both his books and in his interactions with others. After spending a week with Jeff Guinn, you can’t help but be interested in whatever subject he’s writing about!

Jeff Guinn and Paul Oliver
Jeff Guinn and Paul Oliver


Gateway to (Mid)West: St. Louis

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

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.

Ambassadors with Cameron Ludwick and Blair Hess, Authors of “My Old Kentucky Road Trip”

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.

Dred Scott Courthouse, Missouri, St. Louis
The Old Courthouse, Where the Dred Scott Case Originated, St. Louis, MO

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!

LEAP Ambassadors Re-Enact Dred Scott Case
LEAP Ambassadors Re-Enact Dred Scott Case

Apart from its historic value, the courthouse is a beautiful structure, with a beautiful dome designed by William Rumbold.

Old Courthouse, St. Louis, Dred Scott
Old Courthouse Dome, Designed by William Rumbold with Murals by Karl Wimar

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

Gateway Arch, St. Louis,
Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Designed by Eero Saarinen in 1947

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.

Gateway Arch Elevator St. Louis
Gateway Arch “Elevator” or Travel Pod

It was tremendously fun to be able to enjoy the arch’s view…

Gateway Arch
Beatriz, Kaitlyn, and Karla at Top of Gateway Arch

…and see parts of St. Louis that we looked forward to exploring.

Gateway Arch, Dred Scott Courthouse, Wainright Building
St. Louis from the top of the Gateway Arch

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.

Richard Haas, St. Louis, LEAP Ambassadors
LEAP Ambassadors in front of Richard Haas Mural

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…

Union Station in St. Louis, Double Tree
Union Station in St. Louis, MO

…even the entrance to the bathrooms were interesting!


But the grand hall was the most beautiful part.

Doubletree, Union Station, Grand Hotel, St. Louis
Grand Hall at Union Station (Doubletree Hotel) in St. Louis, MO

Across the street is the Milles Fountain, which is also impressive and offers a nice view of the exterior of the Union Station.

Milles Fountain at Aloe Plaza, Union State, St. Louis, MO
Milles Fountain at Aloe Plaza

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.

Amighetti's, in The Hill Section of St. Louis, MO
Amighetti’s, in The Hill Section of St. Louis, MO

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.

Little Taste of Italy, Amighetti's, The Hill, St. Louis, MO
A Little Taste of Italy, at Amighetti’s in St. Louis, MO

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.

Kraus Homee, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ebsworth Park
Frank Lloyd Wright Home at Ebsworth Park

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).

Frank Lloyd Wright, Kraus Home, Ebsworth Park, St. Louis, Architecture

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…

Kraus Home, Balcony, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ebsworth Park
Balcony of Kraus Home at Ebsworth Park, Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

…and the exterior.


St. Louis Art Museum

Meanwhile, in the St. Louis Art Museum, Ryan and Alex were being exposed to various forms of art.

SLAM, St. Louis Art Museum
St. Louis Art Museum

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…

St. Louis, SLAM, Art Museum, Water Lillies, Monet
Monet’s “Water Lilies” at the St. Louis Art Museum

…van Gogh, Picasso, Seurat…

George Seurat, Pointillism, SLAM, Outer Harbor
George Seurat’s “Outer Harbor” at the St. Louis Art Museum

…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.

Henry Moore's "Two-Piece Reclining Figures" at St. Louis Art Museum
Henry Moore’s “Two-Piece Reclining Figures” at St. Louis Art Museum

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…

World's Tallest Fork, Springfield, MO
World’s Tallest Fork, Springfield, MO

…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.

Seafood Dip, Fried Avocado, Cafe Cusco, Springfield, MO
Seafood Dip and Fried Avocado at Cafe Cusco

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.

Rabbit Entree, Cafe Cusco, Springfield, MO
The Rabbit Dish at Cafe Cusco

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.



Rocking In Memphis: LEAP Ambassadors Visit Tennessee

July 7, 2016

After a long hike last night, and a much-needed sleep, we began the second day of our Midwest/Southern Tour with what is now a traditional scenic stop at The Old Mill, the final extant set of Gone With the Wind.


Most of us had been to The Old Mill before, but we were still very excited to jump out of the van and take in the beauty The Old Mill has to offer.  Moreover, Beatriz actually hadn’t been there, so she got her first taste of The Old Mill.


Interestingly, the LEAP Center and Junior Fellows have photos at The Old Mill dating back to around 2006, making it almost a ritual among the organization.


After some exploration, and a few photo ops, of course, we all hopped back into the van for our next destination: the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

On the way to the museum, though, we stopped by Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, to leave a few messages on the stone wall.


And take a group photo.


We began the tour of the National Civil Rights Museum…


…with a special exhibit by artist Baret Boisson. Her work, themed “Inspiring Greatness through Words and Deeds,” focuses on portraits of heroes such as Mahatma Ghandi, Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, JFK, and her most recent–Martin Luther King, Jr.

The museum portrayed the process of the civil rights movement from the beginning to present in a very detailed and educational manner, and really emphasized the important role that civil disobedience and non-violent protest played thought the years.


The museum’s first exhibit focused on the beginning of slavery. Slaves were considered property and were sold in exchange for items such as 40 pounds of gun powder, two iron bars, one copper bar, or even a mere five pieces of cotton cloth (an average cost of about $200 in the early 1800s). As they were bought they were expected to do heavy labor such as tending acres of tobacco plants.

The slave trade lasted about 366 years, and we were able to see the process of change in America through the museum’s many exhibits. The exhibits were displayed in order beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycotts…


…followed by Freedom Rides, and the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.


The final exhibit included the two hotel rooms where MLK was staying at the Lorraine Motel when he was assassinated.  The rooms have been restored to what their actual state at the time, including a clear view of the balcony where he was assassinated.


After touring the National Civil Rights Museum, we made our way through a stretch of decorative Memphis buildings to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. We were astonished by how many visitors were crammed inside the small building. With elbows grazing, eager tourists and locals ready to indulge in the restaurant’s signature hot and spicy fried chicken, we LEAPsters pondered whether this chicken was worth the claustrophobia. As tables were cleared and re-filled and waiters rushed through the cracks of the narrow table arrangements, we took our seats.

Soon after ordering, our waiter made his way towards us with an arrangement of fried chicken, coleslaw, fried pickles, beans, fried okra, and seasoned fries hovering over his hand. As his arm motioned this behemoth lunch to float down to the table’s center, our senses where overwhelmed by the scent of fried heaven. Our hunger took hold of us, and after taking a second to strategize distribution of our food, we went through legs, wings, and breasts until there was only left some bones and a some shavings of breaded fibers. Each bite was an experience in itself, with the spice piercing, but not stabbing, at every taste bud, the layer of breading just right. It was clear that this meal was not the typical greasy chain-restaurant type of fried chicken. As our empty plates were lifted and our tables cleared it seemed that we were in need of more bites from this joint’s menu. We satisfied this with a shared slice of chess pie – the sweet, creamy treat was perfect to send us off onto our next Memphis adventure.

Memphis, also known as “Home of the Blues” and the “Birthplace of Rock and Roll,” boasts a small gem that has contributed to music we love and cherish, Sun Studio.


Sun Studio recorded legends during the 50’s and 60’s that most of us still know and love. After a bit of looking around on our own…


…and going through old records…


To begin the tour, we learned about Sam Phillips, founder of Memphis Recording Services, which later became Sun Studio. Phillips originally opened the recording service using only a tape recorder to create recordings! Phillips primarily recorded blues music with artists like Howling Wolf, country music with a familiar name, Johnny Cash, and later transitioning into rock-n-roll with names like Jackie Brenston.


Even though many legends got their big break at Sun Studio, the fact that the most famous star to get his start at Sun Studio was Elvis Presley is hardly ever argued. In 1952, Memphis Recording Services transitioned to Sun Studio and began producing their own labels. Shortly after graduating high school in 1953, Elvis recorded his first tape at Sun Studio with a sliver of hope that he would be “discovered” by Sam Phillips. It took time for Elvis to win over Phillips, who was interested mainly in blues music, but with a push from Phillips’ secretary (who actually recorded the future “King of Rock-n-Roll”), he finally decided to give Elvis a chance.

Mixing old blues and country, a combination that hadn’t been experimented with yet, Elvis finally got his shot when his song (“That’s All Right (Mama)”) was played on the radio one afternoon in Memphis. The radio station’s phones were ringing off the hook.  Finally, Sam Phillips knew that he had someone special in his studio.

We visited the actual studio where Elvis recorded his music, on the last part of the tour.  Our ears were ringing with joy while listening to the original recordings of some of Elvis’ songs! Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis were also discovered by and signed with Sun Records. Known as the “Million Dollar Quartet,” or the “Class of ‘55,” these four musicians would all shine fame on Sun Studio.

To end the tour, we had the opportunity to take pictures with the only original piece of equipment left from the heyday of Sun Records, a microphone that was most likely used by the members of the “Million Dollar Quartet,” and Elvis himself!

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In the spirit of historical research–which has nothing to do with the fact that she finds him handsome–Megan searched out a  photo of Elvis to pose beside.


After rolling through the ages, the spirit of rock-n-roll stayed with us as we headed to Nashville and the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. We began with the art museum in the Cheek mansion, which is not only large and beautiful, but is also graced by a large Steve Tobin sculpture in the front yard.


The home was previously owned by Leslie and Mabel Cheek from 1933-35. Their daughter, Huldah Cheek Sharp, then offered the home to be used as a botanical garden in the 1950s. Now, the mansion is home to and furnished with many elegant works of art.

The current exhibit allowed us to roll through the various ages of art, from American Impressionism to abstract work. Also, like musicians’ attempts to provoke sensations in their audiences, these artists’ works are a direct translation of their life experiences — evident throughout the museum. Perhaps most interesting to us was a chandelier by Bruce Munro, an artist we saw at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta last year…


The compositions that filled the 55-room home were moving and memorable. Artists such as Childe Hassam used impressionistic paintings of nature that struck a different chord with art enthusiasts and provided a lasting respect for self-interpreting environmental art.

Megan: “My favorite painting was called, “Outskirts of East Gloucester.” The loose brushstrokes of a countryside brought a sense of home to me and happened to be a theme of the Cheek mansion. How often does one have the opportunity to look at beautiful art in a beautiful mansion? The garden and museum were definitely a “top hit” with the LEAP Ambassadors.”


Still in the spirit of rock-n-roll, we began rocking the trails in search of the Carrell Woodland Trail’s sculptures (pun fully intended). The botanical garden was beautiful. Instead of arrangements of beautiful flowers, the parts we visited reminded us more of a state park. With cedar trees standing tall and proud, the sweet melody of the birds chirping and the cicada drone, we meandered across the trails looking for the sculptures.

As part of the trail, we passed the Cheekwood Prime Matter, Untitled, Steeple Dance, and Glass Bridge, among others.


Last on our list was James Turrell’s Blue Pesher. The whole purpose of this chamber was to create a space where one could reflect by making their perceptions more sensitive. We sat inside, staring up the hole in the ceiling, into the sky, pondering on how to face the music of our lives. As the plaque outside the Blue Pesher puts it, “In this room, discover a commentary on the heavens and what it looks like from the inside of the chamber.” (Interestingly, “commentary” is the definition of the Hebrew pesher.)

The sky at dusk as seen from the floor of Turrell’s Skyscape, Blue Pesher

With the sunset, the symphony within ourselves had to come to a slow and soft end, as the sky could no longer be seen. We headed back to the van knowing that the melody in our hearts had been heard and that our self-perspectives would be seen in a new light.


To continue enjoying our Nashville evening, we had dinner at Mitchell Delicatessen. Housed within a wooden facade that resembled a country home, the deli offered an eclectic assortment of sandwiches. From tofu to BBQ brisket to a Tennessee Tuna Melt to an Asian flank steak, it was a challenge to narrow down which to choose.

Megan: I chose the Asian flank steak. This renowned deli magnum opus (which was apparently featured in the Travel Channel) was unlike any other sandwich I had ever had the honor to taste. With steak smothered in provolone cheese on a bed of sliced bell, banana pepper, celery, carrots, and olives, this deli delicacy was enough to send my palate down a ride of flavorful delight. To make the experience even more interesting and add tad of an effervescente ride, my meal was accompanied by one of the eatery’s own draft cola.

We rounded out our second day of the trip with a very satisfying repast from Nashville’s culinary spectrum and headed to our hotel for a good night’s rest.