We left the hotel this morning excited to be attending the historic inauguration of Greg Abbot and Dan Patrick. For it being our first inauguration, we were fortunate to get some of the best seats, right behind the VIP section. Standing for hours before the event…
…we had the opportunity to watch the audience fill in, witness anxious news reporters parade around, and get views of snazzy Texan attire.
The festivities helped put us in the political spirit, with an F-16 flyover, the UT band playing patriotic songs, and a choir performing Texas-themed music. Karla Rosales, one of our freshmen members, was also interviewed for television!
We watched as Dan Patrick and his wife strutted under the swords and across the stage, to a solid round of applause. Governor-elect Greg Abbot and his family, however, received resounding applause, and the crowd—and the candidates—were ready.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was sworn in by his son, Judge Ryan Patrick. Prior to his speech, he greeted the crowd with a selfie, and vowed that every day would be a “New Day in Texas”…
…while also suggesting he would be the “best Lieutenant Governor ever.”
Governor Abbot’s inaugural speech was preceded by a 21-cannon salute, and the cannons had a loud, percussive effect. Our cameras shook. Abbott focused on his family and inclusion, stating that “Family everything,” and congratulating his wife on being the first Latina First Lady. Abbott discussed his injuries, which resulted from an accident some thirty years ago, and gave thanks go God and the upward-mobility culture of Texas for his ability to rise to Governor.
The inauguration was followed by a BBQ on the front lawn. Being a Texas BBQ, it was big—with helpings for 17,000. We ate picnic style in front of our state’s capitol building—what a tale for our kids one day.
After enjoying the Inaugural Barbecue lunch, we headed into the Capitol building for a quick tour. Awed by the architecture of the building, we noted how intricate many of the details were, such as the door hinges and the ornate wooden molding. We traveled up one of the historic staircases to the second floor to enter the House of Representatives and then the Senate. Since the legislature was not in session today due to the Governor’s Inauguration, visitors were able to admire the chambers.
We also searched among the Governor’s portraits in the rotunda, finding our favorites (Sam Houston, of course!). We also visited the courtroom where the Texas Supreme Court met until 1959 when the Supreme Court moved to a building of its own near the capitol.
We took the opportunity of conveniently being at the Capitol during legislative session to visit some of the legislative interns from Sam Houston. We visited the office of the second-longest serving member of the Texas legislature (Rep. Senfronia Thompson), where Jessica Rodriguez is interning. We also visited Lexi Gonzales in Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez’s office, and stopped by to Melva Gomez and Sadie McLaughlin in Representative John Otto’s office.
We also stopped by to see Ariel Traub, but she was hobnobbing at the Inaugural Parade, but we were fortunate to get a tour of the office by Senator Charles Schwertner himself! Very personable and friendly, Senator Schwertner was a great person to end our tour of the Texas Capitol and such an awe-inspiring day.
We left the Capitol, sadly, to head back to Sam Houston and Huntsville. On the way out of town we had the chance to stop at Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery. There we re-caffeinated for the drive home and enjoyed some delicious treats, such as their Raspberry Tart and Ginger Crinkle cookies. We then embarked on the three-hour drive home, reminiscing about our fast-paced trip to the Capitol and looking forward to our chances of maybe representing Sam Houston as interns on the hill one day soon.
We left Huntsville excited about the prospect of learning more about our great nation’s past and being present for history in the making-Governor Greg Abbot’s Inauguration. We split up the three-hour drive by stopping in Elgin, Texas for some lip-smacking Meyer’s barbeque. Here we enjoyed a large variety of different meats, including brisket, sausage, chicken, ribs, turkey, pulled pork, and chopped beef. To accompany the excellent protein options, we tried their tasty sides, of which potato salad was a group favorite. The wooden furniture and rustic décor made the food taste even better, as the atmosphere transported us back in time to the Wild, Wild West. The staff at the restaurant was very friendly and respectful; we could not have asked for a better pit stop during our journey.
Finally we made it to our first stop in downtown Austin, where we visited the LBJ Presidential Library. Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th president of the United States. The museum was fascinating in that every aspect of his life was displayed. His greatest impact on the political system was the Great Society, as the legislation covered issues such as Medicare, Immigration Act, and voting rights. President Johnson impacted civil rights and worked directly with Martin Luther King Jr., while their movement continues to prevail today. Following an interesting eleven minute video…
The infrastructure of the library consisted of ten levels, some of which contained the presentation of the Whistle Stop Tour, The Oval Office, and The Tragedy and Transition of President Kennedy, as well as hundreds of thousands of documents related to his presidency.
Throughout the museum we observed many unique historical artifacts tied to LBJ and his family.
Along with these artifacts were audio recordings of LBJ’s phone calls, serving as perfect examples of the “Johnson Treatment”. Before departure, we stopped by the gift shop to purchase a souvenir to commemorate this portion of our Austin trip.
We rushed from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum and Library to arrive at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum about two hours before closing. Located just down the street from the Capitol Building, the Texas history museum welcomed us with much commotion as the staff prepared for one of the many inaugural celebrations. We navigated through the hustle and bustle to reach the main event, three floors of dense Texas history.
The first floor covered much of early Texas history, from the Native Americans that originally settled the Lone Star State to early Mexican conquests. From movies to interactive recordings, we learned of early colonial life and of the hardships that living on the land created. Strolling through each room, we journeyed through time to study the different Indian tribes that originally settled the land we now call Texas. From the Alabama-Coushatta tribe to the Cherokee people, it was evident that the “white man” took unabashedly what was not his to take. Both white settlers and Mexicans alike wronged the Native American people.
Leaving the first floor behind, we made our way upward to discover the history behind the Republic of Texas and later the State of Texas. Finding much information on our great former President and later Governor, the honorable Sam Houston, we studied mission life in Texas during the early 19th century, when Texas was recognized as independent from Mexico, only after defeating Santa Anna at the 18 minute-long Battle of San Jacinto. This section of the museum particularly struck a chord in LEAP Center students, as Sam Houston stands as the namesake of our school.
We also saw a model of the intriguing “Goddess of Liberty,” the statue that sits atop the Texas Capitol. Up close, her features are exaggerated, even grotesque, but this is necessary to give definition to her features from hundreds of feet away, which is how she is typically viewed when atop the Capitol Building.
With just a few minutes to spare, we made it to the third floor. Here, we explored the more modern aspects of Texas history, like ranching, oil, rice, NASA, and woman’s rights. Interestingly enough, most Texans know of the ranching and oil history, but most do not understand the role of rice in the Texan economy and the national impact Texas made on woman’s rights. Rice fields added value to marshy lands in the Beaumont area, where many thought hope was lost to cultivate and prosper. Also, Texas was the first state in the South to adopt the 19th amendment and give woman the right to vote. We finished exploring the third floor after quickly reading up on the Women Air force Service Pilots, who legally flew in the military during World War II, and perusing the exhibit about the place space exploration holds in Texas history.
We left the vast history museum after just barely quenching our thirst for knowledge and in search of the Driskill Hotel for a coffee pick-me-up. We were awed by the grace and majesty of the 5 star hotel. The selections on their menu were delectable to read, much less enjoy. After giving our multiple options much thought, we decided on things like caramel lattes and decadent chocolate cake. Some of us even indulged in The Driskill’s smooth and savory banana split. The architecture of the hotel complimented our afternoon snack perfectly, with ornate ceilings and plush floors.
While in Austin, we had the chance to network with fellow Sam students who are interning at the Capitol this legislative session. They met us on the corner of Lavaca Street to participate in a downtown Segway tour. What an exciting opportunity, to tour downtown Austin on a Segway, after such a history intensive day. Each LEAP Center adventurer was personally trained by an expert on how to maneuver a Segway. Although we all were coerced into wearing protective gear, that did not stop the fear of possible injury. Throughout the tour, we learned about the history of downtown Austin. We bore witness to the State Capitol…
…the Governor’s mansion, and many other historic buildings, such as the first ever “sky scraper” in downtown. After about 2 hours of dodging traffic, we finally mastered the skill of segwaying and headed to Fogo De Chao to soothe our aching stomachs.
For our group’s final savory food stop we dined at an all you can eat Brazilian steak house, Fogo de Chao, in downtown Austin. This restaurant was fine dining, quite a treat for everyone in attendance. Dinner began with a visit to the world class salad bar, consisting of many delectable salad ingredients. Once we finished our salads, we began the meat portion of the dinner. By showing a green or red card, we signaled to the wait staff whether we were ready for the next option. The green card caused all of the wait staff to ambush us with their signature cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken. Once the cut was presented to us, we had the option of choosing the way the meat was cooked. Once we finished with the main course and had all of the meat that we wanted, it became time to choose which coffee and dessert met our fancy. The desert menu was just as overwhelming as the main course, but we handled ourselves appropriately and ordered cheesecake, crème brule, chocolate mousse cake, and papaya cream. Fogo De Chao defied all expectations and left us feeling stuffed beyond imagine.
And it was in that full and exhausted state that we retired to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow’s inauguration.
After an exciting afternoon meeting David Berg, attorney and author of Run, Brother, Run, we packed up two cars and headed for Nacogdoches! We could feel the excitement build the closer we got to Nacogdoches, anticipation of our observation of a Moot Court Scrimmage and, more immediately, an adventurous evening of zip lining.
We arrived in Nacogdoches around 7:10pm and headed for the Zip Line course, ZipNac. The tour guides quickly suited us up and instructed on how to use the equipment safely and the proper procedures for a fun zip line. It was exciting to say the least.
I won’t forget the adrenaline rush I felt on that first drop down or walking over a suspension bridge in the dark.
Or the fun time we were able to spend together, whether it was Sura Omar and Ariel Traub…
…or Constance Gabel and Jessica Martinez….
…or Jasmine Moss and Megan Chapa…
…or the whole group….
…or whether it was Kaitlyn Tyra flying home in record time…
…we all had a great time.
After zip lining we made our way to a local restaurant called Jalapeno tree, to enjoy a nice Mexican dinner. The appetizers consisted of chips, salsa and queso. My main course was chicken enchiladas, homemade rice and charro beans. The food was authentic and very delicious. At the restaurant we met with Gene Roberts, an attorney who is the Director of Student Legal Services at SHSU. He is in Nacogdoches to judge the Moot Scrimmage, and he will be helping us understand what to expect at the scrimmage, how the performances are judged, and tips for law school.
I am looking forward to another exciting day tomorrow watching the Moot Scrimmage and looking back at the wonderful memories made. It is moments like these that make me appreciate all that the LEAP center and Sam Houston State University do for us…
…After a short night of sleep, we were able to watch numerous Moot Court Scrimmages, which turned out to consist of a series of intriguing contests.
In all, we watched four contests. The morning contest was the most competitive. The students were highly skilled and very knowledgeable. The speakers displayed knowledge of the material, confidence, and spoke articulately about the legal matters they have been given to study. It could have been intimidating.
The second panel wasn’t as intimidating. The students struggled at times to articulate their ideas and occasionally seemed to struggle with the facts of the case. We learned later that we had seen the most and least prepared of the students, giving us a strong sense of the range of competition at these events.
A moot court competition is designed to mimic the appeals court process. Incidentally, the LEAP Center hosts four trials from the 10th Court of Appeals on campus every year, so many of us had seen that action. What we hadn’t seen was students try to replicate the work of appeals attorneys. Even the students who struggled helped us understand the process and, as always, we sympathized with those who have speak in public, a difficult task in almost any circumstance.
The afternoon groups fell within the range we had seen in the morning, and all of the teams taught us something about the law, the process of the moot court scrimmage, and ourselves. We are particularly grateful for Dr. Donald Gooch, the pre-law advisor at SFA, and Gene Roberts.
Following our observation, the general consensus was that we should form a Moot Court team at SHSU, and that many of us were game for the competition!
The last day of our Midwestern Tour arrived, and we were able to visit the beautiful Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The beautiful museum was designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, and the funds for the museum were provided by Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress. Although open for fewer than ten years, the Museum is one of the most ten visited museum in the United States—despite being location off a major highway, and hours from a major airport.
But it is worth the effort to get there. The Museum grounds are beautiful…
..and the art was amazing.
Among the favorites were political works, such as Charles Wilson Peale’s famous portrait of George Washington…
..and a piece by an artist who is becoming a favorite of ours, Georgia O’Keefe:
Not only is there no entrance fee to the Museum, but the Museum offers free audio guides, which highlight hundreds of works of art, providing background and instruction for those of us who are not already art connoisseurs. In the piece above, for example, we were able to see connections in the white crown of the Radiator Building with many of O’Keefe’s work focusing on the southwest, particularly animal skulls, which take on a similar color and shape.
We learned how Benton used similar contour lines depict the sky, human/animal life, and the ground to make a connection between life and its environment, a connection hat would have been particularly salient in the 1930s in the midwest.
The Museum also allowed us the opportunity to engage in some “performance art”…
It was sad as we ended the trip, with a final look at the Museum…
The end of the trip, however, also offered a time of reflection on what we learned and experienced. Accordingly, we voted on our favorites, with the following results:
In general, our favorite cities were (1) Madison, WI, (2) Kansas City, and (3) a tie among Chicago, Bentonville, Little Rock, and Spring Green. Madison was the big surprise, impressing us all with its beauty and many shops and amenites.
Identifying our favorite sites was more difficult. The Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park was a favorite…
We started our day in Independence, Missouri, with hot chocolate, mocha, coffee, and various pastries at Home Sweet Home Bakery in town. The hostess was welcoming, had an interesting haircut, and was very helpful.
Following breakfast, we headed to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, starting with a short movie that introduced us to how Truman came to be, from his life in Independence as a young boy up until his career as 33rd President of the United States.
The Library features various exhibits, including parts of his personal diary, and pictures from his presidency.
One favorite picture of the group was the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” news headline in which Truman holds the Chicago Daily Tribune with an erroneous headline that indicated Dewey had defeated Truman in the 1948 election. Truman is laughing in the picture, clearly celebrating his victory and ready to begin his second term. The Library also features an original of the newspaper that was published in 1948.
The Library’s largest exhibit is “The Presidential Years,” featuring videos, Truman’s personal diary, newspaper covers, and other artifacts depicting his presidential years. One interesting feature of the Library was the replica of the Oval Office during Truman’s presidency. Also interesting was a documentary on the Cold War, which was very informative.
Another favorite exhibit, also of the newspaper variety, included a display of enlarged newspaper covers, presented in chronological order, and featuring headlines such as “ROOSEVELT IS DEAD: TRUMAN TAKES OATH,” and “FIRST ATOMIC BOMB DROPPED ON JAPAN.” Finally, we took pictures with Truman’s statue…
…and we visited the graves of him and his wife, Bess Wallace.
After visiting the Library, we headed to the Truman Home. Even though the Trumans were not wealthy, the house is far from modest. In fact, the house belonged to Bess’s family, which was wealthy. A wraparound porch surrounds most of the house, and stained glass windows front the house.
The guide led us into the kitchen, which is very modest, with furniture and wallpaper that reflect 1950s style. The chairs, counters, table, and cupboards are all painted apple green, a popular color at the time.
The rest of the house is filled with wooden furniture and golden interiors. The second floor is closed to the public, so we only visited the dining room, Truman’s studio, the two living rooms, and the main hallway. In the larger living room, used for special occasions and guests, is a portrait of Harry, while in the family living room hangs a portrait of Bess. The portrait liked most was in the main hallway, of Margaret Truman, their daughter and only child. At the end of the tour, more pictures in front of the house, and then on to our next destination, Kansas City.
It was lunchtime, and we had to eat Kansas City style barbecue! Our research led us to try Oklahoma Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue, rated the number one place for barbecue in KC. We arrived at a very long line outside the restaurant and decided to utilize our backup plan. We headed to Fiorella’s Jack Shack.
Fiorella’s Jack Shack was voted by The Zagat to be one of the best places to eat in Kansas City; but, we were not impressed. We faced a wait of 30 minutes, at least that was the story according to the waittress. An hour and fifteen minutes later, and after some slight vocalization of our displeasure, we were seated. Overall, the food was average. The sliced pork was above average and the beans were good, but the bulk of the meats were no better than you can find in Huntsville.
We had a negative experience at lunch, but we would not let lunch defeat us! We headed over to the World War I Museum with full stomachs, armed with curiosity. The Museum was beautiful and showcased the Monument in a spectacular way.
The inside of the Museum had a glass floor that led from the main entrance to the museum exhibits, showcasing poppies commemorating those fallen in World War I. Each of the 9,000 poppies in the display represented 1,000 fallen soldiers. Walking across the glass floor and seeing the poppies below really demonstrated the vastness and destruction of World War I.
There were several great exhibits. One of the most interesting and informative was on wartime weapons development. The war started with very basic weapons; however, many developments were made in terms of weaponry and battle strategy. One particularly effective strategy was camouflage. The British would paint their ships in various patterns that they pulled from Cubist paintings to confuse enemies and make it harder to track the ship’s speed and course.
In terms of weaponry, countries were still in the early development stages. The first machine guns were poorly designed and very slow – but the Germans developed the German Maxim machine gun that performed fast, concise and very well. Grenades were also introduced in World War I and made trench warfare brutal. Various gases were used as well, making World War I a chemical war. Other developments such as tanks and submarines changed transportation for troops during the war and helped improve reconnaissance efforts.
We closed down the World War I Museum and continued our exploration of KC starting from the top of the museum, which is the bottom of the 265-foot tall Liberty Memorial. We walked up the stairs to the Liberty Memorial and were astonished at the view: the entire skyline of Kansas City.
After taking several pictures of the skyline (selfies and groupies), we walked the several blocks to Union Station. On our walk, we encountered a large field of grass with an American Flag in the middle: the perfect place for a race. We had tried a race the night before, but because Professor Yawn left Silvia in the dust, he agreed to run backwards against her this time. It was much closer this time, and Silvia edged out Yawn in a photo finish.
During the race, though, we stumbled upon a beautiful tree in full fall foliage, displaying red, orange and brown leaves like a proud peacock. The tree served as a perfect backdrop for more pictures of us as a group…
We finished our stroll in the brisk Kansas City air at Union Station, an historic train station. Built in 1914, the train hub is home to Amtrak, museum exhibits like Science City, and theaters. Awed by the extravagant architecture and design of the interior, it was interesting to learn that after being closed in 1985, $20M was spent on restoration of the building to recover it from its solitude and dilapidation. Intriguingly, it’s still an active train station.
Historically, the KC Union Station was the second to be built in the country and followed Second Empire Style and Gothic Revival. After consuming all available space in the 1878 location and eventually flooding, the decision was made to move the station to its current location. Designed by Jarvis Hunt, the great hall with three massive chandeliers and ornate ceiling adornments is what we see today.
We were fortunate enough to be spectators to all the 100th year celebrations the Saturday evening held for Union Station. Drinking our coffee, we watched patron after patron stroll past, determination in their eyes, dressed in authentic 1920’s regalia. Unsure of what was happening, we followed a few to find, to our surprise, swing dance lessons going on. We watched, thankful for such perfect timing for something so entertaining.
With the sun setting…
…we hightailed it out of the enormous train station and headed back to the car in search of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Sighting a Chihuly, we knew we had arrived at the home to many inspiring pieces of modern art.
We wandered through the museum, admiring exhibits such as Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu, full of poignant, politically vocal pieces about communistic China, and Miss Your Mark, which sought to allow artists to make their mark using the manipulation of different materials.
We even explored the museum’s café, full of art by Frederick James Brown, which paid tribute to many artists throughout time. Our artistic appetite not quite satisfied, we left the Kemper and walked to the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, to appreciate the pieces by moonlight. Among those seen, our favorites included Shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Rodin’s Thinker. Although we had filled one appetite, our hunger made an appearance, so we left in search of sustenance.
An all-time favorite of our own Professor Yawn, we walked into Grunauer’s, not knowing what to expect. We quickly learned of the many Austrian delicacies available but had trouble narrowing it down to just a few. We began the meal with an assortment of sampler appetizers, including different kinds of cheeses, bratwursts, meats, and breads. Some of the unusual choices included currywurst, liverwurst, and brie. We downed the wonderful, new foods in preparation for the main course. Among some of the delectable entrees we enjoyed were Hungarian Beef Goulash, Cordon Bleu, Kasespatzle (noodles and cheese), and Fisch im Strudelteig-a fish baked in pastry adorned with spinach and mushrooms.
Stuffed to the gills, we surprisingly found room for apple strudel, chocolate cake, and nutella crepes for dessert, much to our full bellies’ dismay. Such an enjoyable end to an exciting day, we loaded up in the car to make our way to Bentonville, Arkansas for our final day of the Midwestern Tour.
Today was the second day of the 2014 Film & History Conference. As yesterday, the featured panels were many, and the titles all appeared to be interesting topics. What appealed to me the most was a panel titled “Jimmy Stewart for president and Ronald Reagan for best friend: Star Image and Political Campaigning,” by Amit Patel. Amit began his presentation by introducing Ronald Reagan’s initial career as a B movie star. In fact, he starred in low-budget films such as Love is on the Air and Santa Fe Trail. In 1942, the film Kings Row finally gave him some recognition as a movie “star.” Interestingly, Reagan was initially a Democrat, but later switched to the Republican party. In 1976, he embarked in a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination against incumbent Gerald Ford. Amit focused on Ronald Reagan’s use of Jimmy Stewart in his campaign. In fact, Stewart strongly supported Reagan, and even participated in a political ad were he stated that Ronald Reagan was his friend, therefore, the American public should vote for him. Reagan lost the nomination, but campaigned again in 1980, and became president. I thought it was an interesting panel because a candidate’s image is probably the most important thing during a campaign, and if the candidate was a known public figure beforehand then that plays in his favor. In addition, the use of famous actors or public figures to support a political candidate is common nowadays, and it is interesting that it was used in Reagan’s campaign, too.
A tour guide showed us the most important features of the Capitol, and shared the details of its construction. What interested me most was that Madison had previously had other two state capitols, but they both burned down. The second time around, the Capitol had recently discontinued its fire insurance, so the state did not have enough money to rebuild it. Ingeniously, the state had the idea to tax railroads that were passing through Wisconsin at the time, and with that revenue, they rebuilt the Capitol between 1906 and 1917. The architecture of the capitol is mesmerizing, featuring marble from many different countries, such as Greece, Italy, France, and Germany, as well as some beautiful mosaics.
Perhaps most interesting, the capitol staff apparently have a very liberal speech code in the building. Numerous exhibits were posted around the capitol rotunda protesting the performance of Governor Scott Walker, and one impressively vocal protester’s shouts could be heard throughout the building.
After the tour, we decided to go to the observation deck at the top of the building, and experienced true cold for the first time on our trip.
The winds were so strong that it was hard even to close the door behind us. Nonetheless, it was worth it because the view was beautiful.
Leaving the Capitol, we took a stroll in the brisk Wisconsin air to find ourselves some nourishing lunch. We finally settled on Marigold’s, a local deli, where we reveled in the many options available. Among the delights we delved into were lavender white mocha and grilled ham and cheese with a hint of strawberry jelly. Packed with locals, Marigold’s was definitely a winner.
Out into the invigorating weather we went again to make our way to another of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, the Monona Terrace. Opened in 1997, the Terrace was built posthumously and served as the cause of much strife and contention during his career. Using Wright’s design of the exterior, Wisconsin contractor J. J. Findorff and Son Inc. carried out the great architect’s dream, while his previous apprentice, Anthony Puttnam, designed the interior.
Once inside Madison’s event center, we explored the gift shop full of Wright memorabilia before embarking on a tour with guide, John.
Pointing out certain Wrightian things, such as the dome on the west side of the building and the arches in the grand ballroom, John proved to be a formidable docent as he never ran out of interesting facts and stories to regale. Braving the gusty winds, we had the chance to view Lake Monona, which Monona Terrace balances precariously over, thanks to the intricacies of Wright’s design.
Awed by the view and many selfies taken, we headed inside to embrace the warmth it offered and finish our tour.
Seeing it was getting late, we rushed back to the car in order to make it to a few last minute shops, original to Madison. Among those, we re-caffeinated and browsed a wonderful cheese boutique, Fomagination. Overwhelmed by the many options and tastes, we took in Wisconsin’s finest and tried to contain our enthusiasm at all that was available. It was incredibly exciting to see so many things unavailable in the great state of Texas. We loaded up on cheeses and cheese accessories before tumbling back into the car to begin the final leg of our trip.
We admired the beautiful fall landscape of Wisconsin; the rolling hills and deep yellows, greens, and reds created the perfect ambiance for our drive to Dubuque, Iowa. There, we enjoyed the Fenelon Place Elevator, or Dubuque Incline, claimed to be the shortest and steepest railroad in the world.
Gripping the seats…
…up we went on the side of the hill to eventually reach one of the most inspiring views of the trip so far. Known as “the magic hour” in film circles, we caught the sun setting on the horizon, creating beautiful red and orange tones in the sky and on the trees off in the distance.
Proud to say we had viewed three states at once (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin) from the top of the incline, we got back in the cable car built in 1882 to return to our vehicle and carry on to the next leg of the journey.
After a short drive, we arrived at our final destinations: The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the Des Moines capitol building. The 4.4-acre sculpture garden is unique and home to 28 sculptures from 22 different artists. Various paved paths provided a route for us to take through the garden, however, curiosity and the lure of new art, propelled us forward.
Many of the sculptures were created by artists that were foreign to us, however, one sculpture in particular provided us with the comfort of familiarity: Painted Steel by Mark Di Suvero. Di Suvero also has an art piece called “Proverb” in Dallas, Texas, which we were able to relate to. “Painted Steel” was made out of steel and painted in the same red that “Proverb” is painted. Both statues have similar characteristics, but varying dimensions and structure.
Another interesting sculpture that we saw was, “Back of Snowman (Black)” and “Back of Snowman (White).” These sculptures were created by artist Gary Hume and were located side-by-side in the middle of the park and held a spectacular gleam given off from the surrounding lights. Each of the statues consisted of two round pieces of bronze covered in enamel, one in white enamel and one in black. These statues were especially appealing because each round piece of bronze was perfectly symmetrical and smooth, giving the piece a unique trait of looking seamlessly perfect.
The last sculpture that really caught our eye and our interest was “The Thinker on a Rocky” created by Barry Flanagan. This piece was a large rabbit sitting upon a boulder in the same pose as Rodin’s “The Thinker.” The piece was clearly a satire on Rodin’s famous statue, which only added to its appeal!
While the statue garden was a fantastic experience, we had to continue our night and head to the Des Moines capitol building. The Renaissance style capitol, designed by John Cochrane and Fred Piquenard, was absolutely stunning! The capitol building featured a 23 carat gold dome in the middle of the building and was accompanied by two smaller domes on either side of the building. The capitol took expansive resources and large amounts of time to build and open to the public. The building took fifteen years and a staggering amount of $2,873,294.59 to complete. On June 29,1886, the capitol was ready to be open for use!
Both the capitol and the sculpture garden trips were the perfect ending to day five of the trip!
The most interesting one that we attended, however, was about classical Hollywood film musicals of the 1930’s and 1940’s. During this panel, two separate professors, Brent Phillips and Gail Sheehan spoke about their research on the topic. Gail Sheehan spoke about voice dubbing in films during the 1930’s as well as gender and race in the American musicals during that time period. Gale focused on two films in particular: “Gold Diggers of 1933” and “Professional Sweetheart.”
Gail Sheehan spoke about voice dubbing in the film, “Gold Diggers of 1933.” In the film, Joan Blondell is the female lead and has several musical numbers throughout the movie. Mrs. Sheehan showed several scenes from the movie in which it appeared that Blondell was singing, however, the voice was actually Etta Moten’s voice. Voice dubbing was a common practice during that time period because it was often difficult to find a woman that fit the necessary physical appearance of character as well as superb singing capabilities to accompany the looks.
Sheehan also spoke about gender roles in the film, “Professional Sweetheart.” The title of the film changed several times throughout the filming process with the final product resulting in a controversial title because the woman goes against convention and the title insinuates prostitution. The video is a satire about radio personalities during the 1930’s. The main character is played by Ginger Rogers and her name is Glory, a radio personality. Her African-American maid, Vera, played by Theresa Harris, is constantly by her side and living in her shadow. However, when Glory decides to quit the radio, Vera gets her chance to shine. In the end, Glory takes her job back and steps on Vera in order to achieve her reinstatement. This film really portrayed how African American women were treated during that time period especially because Theresa Harris was never credited for her role in the film.
The last presentation of the panel was about Charles Walters’s career by Brent Phillips. Charles Walters lived an extraordinary life and was both a movie director and a dance director. Charles Walters did not like to be called a choreographer because he felt that in order to orchestrate a successful number, you had to have the right angles and cater the dance number to the actor/actress’s abilities. He composed several numbers throughout his career with notable actors and actresses of that time such as Grace Kelley, Debbie Reynolds, Lucille Ball and Judy Garland. The first dance number that he created occurred in the movie, “Let’s Face It.” While he loved to create dance numbers for films, he had a burning desire to do more; a desire to direct the films himself.
Charles Walters began directing films in 1947 and was able to insert his own dance numbers into the movies. Charles Walters also directed several films and he had a unique directing style. Walters absolutely could NOT direct from the chair. He would often insert himself in both male and female roles and play each of them the way he had envisioned in his mind. This allowed the actors and actresses a better understand of what he was looking for as a director. His skills behind the camera and on the dance floor really set him apart from other directors in the industry and made him truly memorable.
After the conference, we took a meandering drive through the Wisconsin countryside in pursuit of the home of the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. After a mere forty-five minute drive, we pulled up at the visitor’s center for the home of one of the most influential American architecture prodigies. Surrounded by farmland and the Jones-Wright valley, we took a van up a scenic drive to the home on the side of the hill. We pass a crisp water garden and tumbling waterfall along the way, providing the imagery for Wright’s thoughts that falling water is the music of architecture.
Finally up the steep driveway, we made our way towards what we think is the front door, as Wright is known for hiding the entrances to his homes. Guided by his subtle hints in architecture, we came to the see the rest of the valley on the left and the front of the home on the right. Our sweet tour guide, Kate, did an impeccable job of clearly indicating the signs of Wright’s style as we made our way up the steep stone steps and into the architect’s office. Interestingly enough, this was the home that served as a classroom, as well, to the Fellows Wright brought in to instruct. This was seen through the many places utilized for drawing and creating along the walls and the many windows available to bring in the natural light of the countryside. Wright is known for utilizing every space, but also making it strikingly beautiful or unique in the same right.
We sat with Kate in front of the fireplace, just as Wright did with many of his Fellows, and reflected on the many things that could have happened in this room. From drawing to measuring and building windows, learning under Frank Lloyd Wright would never leave a moment dull.
Awed by his eye for detail and strange geometric shapes, we moved from his office building and back outside to view the garden. The lush green grass and harsh stone rock provided the perfect contrast for the eye to digest, although it was easy to see that the view would be even more picturesque in the spring. We finally were able to enter the home and make our way down a tight passageway, which highlighted Wright’s use of compression. From this tight passageway, we opened the door to enter a large open room (“The Great Room”), exemplifying the expansion technique Wright demonstrated in his other structures.
The Great Room is a large living room, used by Wright for parties and social gatherings. Three walls of the room are glass, allowing for an amazing view of the countryside surrounding the property and of the water gardens below. Almost every furniture piece in the room has more than one use to it. In fact, along the glass wall, are lines of flat couches, divided by wide wooden armrests. The wooden armrests are movable and can be used for various purposes, such as a small table for two people. Next to the fireplace, on the left side of the Great Room, sits a couch that serves also as a bed, and as a desk or table, because its armrest is fairly large and can be used for various purposes.
Wright liked to use Taliesin as an experiment in architecture, and he frequently modified it and added to it. Interestingly, when he was 88 years old, a famous magazine wanted to come and take pictures of the property and, despite his advanced age, Wright designed an entirely new room, with glass on three sides. Because the room is exposed to the harsh winter elements, the preservation staff periodically moves out the valuable pieces of art and furniture of the room and stores it in a safer place until spring. The room is located and designed to not only admire the countryside from it, but also the entire house. In fact, a long hallway that is the entrance to the room, also holds the entrance to the Great Room, and on the sides, entrances to the guest room, and all the other rooms of the house.
It was interesting to visit Taliesin. Kate was an excellent, knowledgeable, and amicable tour guide. Thanks to the tour we gained a better understanding of Wright’s point of view on how to admire and interpret his architecture. He knew very well what he wanted to achieve with his work and how he wanted people to see it and admire it.
Our Midwestern Trip second day was especially busy. After a short night and a hearty breakfast, we headed to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, located in Webster, Missouri.
First, we watched a short video that covered Grant’s life and career, emphasizing the loving relationship between him and his wife Julia, as well as covering his military and presidential careers.
Grant was originally from Ohio, and later graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he met his roommate and future brother-in-law, Fred Dent. He actually resigned from the military to be closer to his family but re-entered when the Civil War began. He rose to prominence with excellent military skills and led the Union to victory. A few years later, he was elected President of the United States.
The National Historic Site features White Haven—his residence—which, incidentally, is green.
It was Julia’s childhood home, and home to Ulysses and Julia for many years of their marriage. Julia’s father, Fredrick Dent, named it White Haven in honor of another property he had; subsequent caretakers of the house during Grant’s ownership painted it green. Inside, as we walked through the halls and rooms filled with pictures and quotes from the Grant family, we imagined how life was over a century ago.
After lunch we ventured deep into St. Louis to tour the Gateway Arch. The closer we got to the Arch, the more intimidating the monument became – it was stunning, elegant. The panes reflected the light so as to make it look iridescent.
We made our way underground to the visitor’s center where we bought our tickets to ride to the top. The Gateway Arch was designed by the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen; it took $13M and a little over three years to complete. Comprised of stainless steel, it reaches a staggering 630 feet high, making it the world’s tallest arch. To get to the top of the Arch – and the spectacular views – we traveled in a small pod (emphasis on small) that offered a rocky trip up the arch.
After checking out the beautiful views…
…it was, back down to the visitor’s center to begin our next adventure to the Old Courthouse.
The Courthouse looked much like a capitol in that it had a large dome and several levels that were separated by beautiful spiraling staircases.
On a more substantive level, this is the building in which Dred Scott sued for his freedom, winning in state court, but losing when his case made it to the Taney-led Supreme Court.
This much we knew going into the building, but what we didn’t know is that Mr. Scott was granted his freedom by his “owner” and, although he died a short year later, he died a free man.
Feeling rather free and adventurous ourselves, we walked through several local parks, took a picture with the “running man…”
…and, of course, took selfies…
…and then ventured through several historical buildings. We saw the Wainwright Building, which was constructed in 1981 by Ellis Wainwright and designed by Louis H. Sullivan, who would go on to mentor Frank Lloyd Wright. The Wainwright Building became the father of the contemporary skyscraper and was a turning point in architectural history.
We learned about the difference between modernism, which has an accompanying slogan that “less is more,” and post-modernism, with the slogan that “less is a bore.” Modern buildings consist largely of glass windows and steel, whereas post-modern buildings have unique designs and shapes—often incorporating many styles from the past—that make the buildings one-of-a-kind.
Regaining energy with a Starbucks break, we left to further our learning in the state of Illinois. We arrived in Springfield just in time to eat and take a nighttime tour. We mollified our hunger at Lake Pointe Grill where, according to Silvia, there is such a thing as too much arugula on a pizza. Lake Pointe Grill boasts the only wood-burning grill in Springfield, clearly showcased by the delicious fare we enjoyed. We did not dally at dinner, as the Capitol was drawing us in, in all its glory.
Our first night stop was in front of the Capitol building, where our architecture lessons continued. Showcasing a French Renaissance style, the building lit at night seemed spectacularly imposing. The current capitol building happens to be the sixth Capitol building since Illinois became a state. Designed by Cochrane and Garnsey out of Chicago, the immensity of the building begged exploration. Even though we were not able to enter, we were successful in taking a photograph with Abe Lincoln before making a regrettable leave to our next stop.
Lincoln’s influence in his hometown does not end at the Capitol. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln’s home sits smack in the middle of town. After searching the park full of many historical homes, we finally found the former President’s home on the corner of Eighth Street. The home clearly fit the spacial needs of the Lincoln family, compared to its original (smaller) size when they bought it from Rev. Charles Dresser.
To finish our nighttime explorations of Springfield, Illinois, we juxtaposed the very proportionate and grand architecture of the state house with a Frank Lloyd Wright home. Mr. Wright built the early 1900s home for Dana Thomas, with imposing walls and sunken bricks representing the change from the open, trusting social life to the more guarded, private lives of the early 1900s. Even though it was dark, we could clearly make out his trademark hidden front door, taunting us with what is inside. So different from the vertically enhanced capitol building, Wright’s horizontal home seemed to sink into the ground and succeeded in representing the plains of America.
Back in the van, we headed to Chicago to continue our journey in the “Windy City.” As we ended another long day, we anticipated a chilly, activity-packed day –to hopefully fulfill our goal to learn more about the art and architecture the White City has to offer.