LEAP Welcomes Back Students (And Faculty, Too)

By Jessica Northam

To kick off to the semester the LEAP Center opened up its doors to incoming freshman, transfer and current students to come by and see what LEAP is all about. With about roughly 70 students throughout the night, we enjoyed delicious ice cream, cookies, sweet tea, and the chance to see school friends again.


In preparation, we set up The Holcombe Room with decorations, a prize wheel…

Brian Aldaco As Pat Sajak
Brian Aldaco As Pat Sajak

…and, of course, ice cream and other snacks and refreshments.

As might be expected with free food on campus, there was a line awaiting the open of the event.  Later, we would have a packed house.


We were happy to note that, in addition to many students…

Alexis Gordon and Alex Galvan
Alexis Gordon and Alex Galvan

…Dean Zink, Dean Nardone, Dr. Waggener, Dr. Mahoney, Dr. Svenson, Dr. Bittick, Dr. Enia. Dr. Haase, Dr. Wang, Dr. Evans,  Kristin Trojacek, Belinda Myers, Deanna Briones, and Jennifer Knapp all attended as well.


Although folks seemed to enjoy the prizes, the t-shirts were definitely the most wished for. But even after the prizes were gone, many of the students hung around, catching up on their summer activities and their plans for the fall.


We hope that some of those plans will involve LEAP Center events, the dates for which were provided at the ice-cream social.  For those of you who missed it, here’s a calendar for the next month or so:

  • September 12, 19, 26, and October 3: heART of Huntsville
  • September 14 (4:30-6:00): LEAP Open House (LSC Art Gallery)
  • September 20 (2:30-3:45): Legislative Staff Panel
  • September 21 (6:00-7:15pm): Pre-Law Society Meeting
  • September 30 (6:00-8:30): Walter Brennan/John Wayne Film Festival
  • October 8 (9am-1:30pm): Mock LSAT



Speeding through Indianapolis

As we wend our way home from “The Motor City,” we stopped in Indianapolis to see a heap of historic sites, from extensions of our research on The Vagabonds, to the Indy 500, to a presidential home, a capitol, and a fine art museum.  Although it was our second-to-last day on the road, it promised to be a full one.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

We have friends who have been to the races here, and they indicate it’s pretty incredible.  The Museum, however, is not incredible.  It’s actually quite boring.

The Museum itself consists of approximately three rooms: a large show-case style room, a smaller room beyond the main room, and a room to the left which houses “special exhibits.”  The main room has a timeline, which consists of a series of photographs on the walls, and then the winning cars from the past 100 years of races.

Indianapolis Speedway Museum
Indy-Winning Cars on Display at the Speedway Museum

Although it is of some interest to see the evolution of cars from long ago to today (mostly, the long-ago cars were cooler), there wasn’t a whole lot of context or the interesting tidbits you can learn from even small museums.

After looking around and wondering, “Is this all there is?”, we opted for the “short video” that provided “background.”  It was short–about 8 minutes–but it provided almost no background.  It was an eight-minute commercial for the special “spirit” of the Indianapolis 500.  It provided little or no substantive information about the origin of the race, why Indianapolis became home to racing, or how things have changed over the years.  It, too, was a disappointment.


Indiana State Capitol

Undaunted by the Speedway disappointment, we sped out of there and had breakfast at the City Cafe in downtown Indianapolis before heading to the Indiana State Capitol building.

Upon entrance to the Indiana capitol we noticed the nice but fairly typical exterior…

Indianapolis State Capitol Building
Indianapolis State Capitol Building

…but we were truly struck by the interior.

Indianapolis Capitol Dome
Indianapolis Capitol Dome

Interestingly, it houses all three branches of government; executive, legislative, and judicial. Thus we were able to see the working Governor’s office…

Governor Mike Pence's Office
Governor Mike Pence’s Office

…the House and Senate chambers, and the court room of the Indiana Supreme Court, which doesn’t resemble a lot of the past statehouse tours.

Indiana Supreme Court
Indiana Supreme Court

The interior of the Indiana Capitol is made of smooth, polished Vermont marble and Indiana limestone. The architecture is evocative of the Italian style. The rotunda at the heart of the building boasts an impressive stained-glass ceiling, and two wings that extend outwards in each direction.


The wings mirror each other, and have large open areas that go four floors upward before terminating in a glass ceiling that lets natural light filter down to the floor. Each open space is surrounded by walkways set into the walls and supported by columns in a colonnade fashion. Of special note was the fact that all three of the classical Greek styles of columns were represented. The first floor showcased doric columns; the second floor was supported by imposing, almost un-ornamented ionic columns; and the third floor was held up by thinner, more artistic corinthian columns. All of the columns were made of grey-white marble, and lacked fluting (vertical lines running up and down the length of the column).

Our tour guide led us through this pleasant architectural feat, showing off various interesting busts of famous Hoosiers.


He also made sure to impress upon us some pertinent facts about Indiana. We learned that the state bird is the cardinal, the state flower is the peony, the state tree is the tulip poplar, and the state song is “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away.” Most importantly, he told us that Indiana is one of only four states with an official state pie, which for Indiana is the sugar-cream pie.  It was a nice tour, with a very nice tour guide.

And although we missed seeing Governor Pence at the Capitol, we did see people protesting Pence.

Trump/Pence Protestors at Indiana State Capitol
Trump/Pence Protestors at Indiana State Capitol

Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial

But before heading to our next historic home, we decided to go to the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ memorial.

Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial, Indianapolis
View of Indiana Solders’ and Sailors’ Memorial from the Capitol

This edifice boasts a pool and fountain beneath a circular, raised dais decorated by various sculptures. Soaring above it all is a tower that rears upwards toward the clouds.


You can actually climb up a set of 330 stairs on the inside of the obelisk, or take an elevator to the top for a small fee. Prof. Yawn elected to pay, while Brian and Paul adventurously took the stairs all the way to the top, compelled to do so after all of the vertigo-filled adventures of the trip. It was a beautiful view from up above, making the climb up worth it.

Brian and Paul from atop the Memorial
Brian and Paul from the Memorial’s Observation Deck

Our feat of athleticism was soon rewarded by a short visit to the Chocolate Cafe right across the street from the memorial. While sipping on a very sweet, creamy Chocolate Chai and nibbling on a very rich caramel sea salt chocolate, we people-watched.  This was made more interesting by the gathering of people in our midst.  There was, for example, a convention of sorts for Mennonites, who sang on a town square…


Circling them, on a pedal-powered bar (“The Pickled Pedaler) was a party of some sort (perhaps a wedding based on the sign on the back, which read, “Congratulations Tom & Ed”).


How you effectively avoid Mennonites and traffic in a town the size of Indianapolis–while drinking alcohol–is beyond us.  It’s also not clear how this doesn’t violate some drinking and driving ordinance.  Presumably, the steering-wheel operator doesn’t drink, but the people providing the power do.

Amidst all of this, it was also Gen-Con, a convention of strange people dressed as super-heroes and other characters.


It wasn’t quite the bar scene in Star Wars, but it wasn’t far off, and it wasn’t what we were expecting from Indianpolis, “The Crossroads of America.”

Benjamin Harrison Home

Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States of America, was a native of Indiana. He raised a regiment during the Civil War, and fought as a general on the Union side. Interestingly, he was preceded in the presidency by Grover Cleveland and was, oddly enough, succeeded by the same man! Other aspects of his presidency were how his federal spending exceeded $1 billion for the first time in American history; he started the process of preserving places of natural beauty; and he strengthened the United States by modernizing the navy, making it the 5th most powerful in the world. This later may have come in handy for the coming First World War.

As a very interesting president, his home was just as special in that 70-80% of the furniture is both authentic (not replicas) and on display.

Benjamin Harrison Home, Indianapolis
Benjamin Harrison’s Parlor

You can see his prodigious library, the many of the gifts that he was given in life, including a strange chair given by a Texan…

Benjamin Harrison's Chair
Benjamin Harrison’s Chair

…made of Longhorn horns, a bobcat hide seat, and the overall look of Texas tacky.  We also saw his death bed, which was covered with the same comforter he used…

Benjamin Harrison Bed, Indianapolis
Benjamin Harrison’s Bed

…which was not Texas-Tacky, but was tacky-cool.

Harrison was a volunteer fireman, and the staircase was fashioned from a fireman’s hose…


…the home’s foyer was adorned with a 38-star flag (reflecting the number of states when Harrison took office)…


…and his desk was the height of 19th-century organization which, in our book, beats 21st century simplicity.

Benjamin Harrison Desk, Indianpolis
Benjamin Harrison Desk

However, such an artifact was in no way detrimental to the rest of the home’s beauty…

Benjamin Harrison Home, Indianapolis
Paul Oliver and Brian Aldaco at the Harrison Home

…almost comparable to our next item on the day’s itinerary.

Indianapolis Museum of Art

After leaving the home, we soon reached the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The art museum, to our pleasant surprise, shared a few similarities with Harrison’s home in that within the halls were exhibited works by Jacob Cox. Cox’s works were also present inside the Hoosier president’s parlor room. He and other Indiana artists were being commemorated in the “19th Stars” special museum exhibit which included renewed artists of talent such as T.C. Steele, Robert Indiana, and George Rickey among others.

George Rickey, Indianpolis Museum of Art
George Rickey Art

After appreciating sights of silver mobiles, beautiful landscapes, and painted canvases with the intent to reflect on society’s morals, all from the creativity of Indiana natives, we continued on through the halls of the museum.

Nearing the first exhibit room we noticed that the art had been arranged in chronological order, allowing us to view a sort of art evolution. Beginning with the realist school of American painters such as Charles Wilson Peale…

Charles Wilson Peale, George Washington
“George Washington,” by Charles Wilson Peale

…Albert Bierstadt…

Albert Bierstadt, Alaska, Indianapolis Museum of Art
“Alaska” by Albert Bierstadt

and John Haberle, we were further schooled in the art of capturing the essence of reality. Such an aspect in art was truly captured in Haberle’s depiction of American currency in U.S.A. (1889). The oil painting was mistaken for real money upon unveiling which caused near tremulous sensation as viewers claimed the artist had glued money on a canvas. We later saw paintings of other American artists which we had seen on previous museums such as those by Georgia O’Keefe and a very expressive Norman Rockwell by the name of The Love Song.

Norman Rockwell, Love Song, Indianapolis Museum of Art
“Love Song,” by Norman Rockwell

Throughout the other rooms we viewed other artists of remarkable ability, one of which was George Seurat who rightfully deserves the description.  His pioneered pointillism-style of expression inspired fellow talented impressionists of his time such as Paul Signac, Henry Van de Velde,  Camille Pissarro (these being among Brian’s favorites), and Van Gogh.

Vincent Van Gogh, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Van Gogh Landscape

Wandering through the other rooms we were delighted upon nearing a ver peculiar modernist painting by the name of Man and Woman. In a style resembling that of Picasso’s cubism, the shapes of color and shadows form two figures, a man and a woman, embracing each other’s kiss. Even though the depiction in itself was phenomenal, it was the man behind the brush strokes, Fernand Leger, that caught our attention. Between the years of 1948 and 1950 a young Huntsville artist by the name of David Adickes traveled to France to study art under the teachings of Leger. Adickes, as any Hunstvillian may know, was the talented sculptor who erected the Sam Houston statute which towers at the town’s edge. Satisfied that we were able to identify with one of the celebrated artists, we toured some more of the halls to later exit onto the grounds. With a scenic gushing fountain, the grounds were decorated by sculptures by Roy Lichtenstein…

Roy Lichtenstein, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Brian and Roy Lichtenstein

…and Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture, which we have seen at three or more art museums throughout the US.

Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Robert Indiana and Roy Lichtenstein’s Artwork on the Lawn of Indianapolis Museum of Art

Robert Indiana, interestingly, was born Robert Clark.  But he changed his name to honor his home state.  Interestingly, one of his pieces, a 12-foot LOVE sculpture (which are obviously not unique) recently sold for 4.1 million dollars.

After enjoying the green fields of artistic delight, we regrouped in our mini-van and buckled up for our stretch towards the end of our trip. As we only have one more day left in our Mid-Western tour, we arrived in our hotel late at night eager to get some rest and prepare for an exciting last day of our odyssey, in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Robert Indiana, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Brian Aldaco Contemplates a Robert Indiana Piece


Inventors and Presidents: On the Road with the LEAP Ambassadors

The LEAP Ambassadors are on the road again as we return from Dearborn, Michigan. Even though we left yesterday, our trip back to Huntsville is, in LEAP style, exploiting the learning opportunities along the way. Driving through the Midwest, we have been enjoying fields of green, skies of blue and white ornamented with sunny streaks, while visiting locations of historic prominence. From the birthplace of one of the fathers of the modern age to the resting place of our nation’s 29th president, we knew that our Friday itinerary would be as fun as any of the previous adventures in our Vagabond trip.

Edison Home, by Brian Aldaco

Speaking of the Vagabonds, our first historic site of the day was the birthplace of Thomas Alva Edison in Milan, Ohio.

Thomas Edison's Birthplace, Milan Ohio
Thomas Edison’s Birthplace

Constructed along the banks of the Milan Canal in 1839, this modest home was where young Edison spent his childhood until he was  seven-years old. Even though the family left in 1854 due to the town’s low job opportunities, the home would be owned again by the original family when Marion (older sister of Thomas) bought the home. Eventually the home was bought by Tomas Edison and efforts from his wife and sister were later made to turn the home into a historic site. These finally came to fruition in 1947 when the home was inaugurated as a museum on 100th anniversary of Edison’s birth.


Upon arrival to the restored home along Edison Avenue, seemingly as common as the neighboring homes, we stepped into the birthplace of one of the most important inventors of all time. On the living room stood a cradling bench, one that would have been used to cradle young Edison. What was of greater interest was the adjacent room. In a small, four-walled enclosure, intended for the younger children’s living quarters, stood a complimentary rope bed. Mother Nancy Edison moved to the warmer, oven-heated space on which she gave birth to her youngest child. We stood on the threshold of where Thomas Edison had been born on a February evening in 1847. As we stepped upstairs we were able to sense young Edison’s childhood.

The first bedroom we went into would have been young Marion’s room, now decorated with her christening gown and a knitted tapestry on the wall which she chose not to finish. We then crossed to the opposite room which Thomas and wife Mina Millar used as a bedroom after purchasing the home. Various pieces of apparel owned by the Wizard of Menlo Park were exhibited in the closets. One garment which we found amusing was a pair of slippers, the preferred footwear for the insomniac inventor who would often nap on the strategically placed cots located around his laboratory in Orange, New Jersey.

As we walked downstairs into the parlor room we spotted a portrait which depicted Edison on a fireside’s edge telling a story to a group of children and friends, on of which we recognized as a very attentive man with the name of Henry Ford. As we had spent a week researching the pairs’ 1915-1926 trips across the nation, it was exciting to view signs of their great friendship. We were further amazed, however, by the small space behind the parlor room. On this small storage room stood dozens of artifacts that the inventor had patented during his lifetime. As T. Edison held a list of over 1000 patents, it was rewarding to view artifacts such as the electric pen and the talking doll (the first toy of its kind in the US.) Other items included one of his first successful lightbulbs of bamboo filament (the lightbulb still works), a Western Union telegraph machine which he sold for $40,000 after its creation, and Edison spark plugs, which further helped solidify his connection with Ford.

With our tour ending at the home’s basement, in which artifacts from the period such as a pole latter and a waffle maker were shown to us, we took our last glimpse of the home and started on our way towards Marion, Ohio.


Before reaching the home town of William G. Harding, however, our homesickness was too strong. Along the road, we came across Tackett’s Southern Bar-B-Que. After overlooking the menu, Paul ordered a brisket sandwich, Professor Yawn chose a plate of pork, and Brian ordered a meal of St. Louis ribs, a bit incongruous considering the venue’s advertised title. Regardless of the cut’s name, the ribs of mouthwatering delight, along with the other meats, were savory to our southern palates. Accompanied with a side of coleslaw and beans (which were bathed in barbecue with a trace of meat) our lunch was more than enough to satisfy our appetite for Texas cuisine.

Warren G. Harding Historic Sites, by Paul Oliver

After lunch we headed to the Warren G. Harding home. Harding was President of the United States after Woodrow Wilson. This meant the he had to oversee the period immediately following the First World War. Importantly, for the purposes of our trip, Harding was also a Vagabond camper, having joined Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone on their 1921 trip.

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Warren Harding, Harvey Firestone, Vagabonds
Ford, Edison, Harding, Firestone “Camping”

Unfortunately for us, we were running short on time, therefore, could no take the tour of the home, only visit some of its exhibits, tour the grounds, and look over the gift shop.

Warren G. Harding Home
Warren G. Harding Home

However, we did manage to head down the street to the Tomb of the both President Harding and the First Lady.

Warren G. Harding Tomb
Warren G. Harding Tomb

The tomb is a beautiful structure. Circular columns form the exterior. These columns themselves stand upon a massive base of what appeared to be white marble or polished granite. Inside the pillar arrangement was a walkway, shaded by an overhang above. This overhang was in turn supported by an interior range of columns, of the slight ornate iconic order. In the center of the tomb was a circle of green grass, bushes, and a tall tree whose branches seemed to reach upwards towards the sun, with roots streaming down on to two large grey sarcophagi.


Behind the twin stone coffins of Mr. and Mrs. Harding was an inscription carved into the back wall which contained their names and dates of death. It was an impressive monument to a President from a bygone era.


Ohio Capitol, by Paul Oliver

After touring the monument, the three of us jumped back into the van, and set off towards Columbus to tour the capitol of Ohio. We arrived just in time to join the tour, and were treated to an hour-long walk through of the grand statehouse.  Interestingly, unlike most capitals, the Ohio capitols is not domed, at least not from the exterior.


Rather, it was built with a towering cupola perched atop its roof. The interior of the capitol, however, offered a view from the rotunda of what appeared, from the interior, to be a dome.


The capitol was built earlier than most capitols (construction began in 1838), so it was somewhat less grand than many others (say, the Texas Capitol).  But it offered interesting exhibits and interactive features…


…as well as some interesting interior art.


Interestingly, for a state that produced eight presidents, the large portraits on their walls were dedicated not to these presidents but to Thomas Edison on one side…


…and the Wright Brothers on the other side.


Aside from the art, we were able to visit both the House…


…and the senate.


Although not a spectacular capitol, it was a stop well worth our time, and we enjoyed the tour very much.


As we finished our capitol tour to step outside and view a little of Columbus architecture, we  continued on our 160-mile journey towards Indianapolis, Indiana. We arrived at the city accordingly for we were already getting hungry. Therefore, we stopped for dinner at a deli which served exceptionally good subs. Paul enjoyed a 12” Italian sandwich, while Brian and Professor Yawn shared an Italian and a Reuben sandwich between them. After a cookie desert, tired from a long trip and days’ adventure, we retired to our hotel.  We contemplated how tomorrow we would have a long day of sight-seeing and total of 7-hours of driving. But with the proper LEAP attitude, we greet tomorrow and days to come, anticipating the best of adventures.


Holy Toledo–Art at the Toledo Museum of Art

By Brian Aldaco

After four days of researching the Vagabonds with Jeff Guinn and Jim Fuquay at the Henry Ford Museum, other attractions were bound to be something of a let down.  But the Toledo Museum of Art offered a surprisingly nice collection and a truly inspired special exhibit by Jaume Plensa.

With a Greek entrance of white marble pillars, artistically grand in its own right, the art within was just as impressive. However, before viewing the fine arts we examined the art of the political campaign thanks to the museum’s special exhibit I Approve this Message: Decoding Political Ads.

Political Ads, Toledo Museum of Art
Paul Oliver Examines Political Ads at the Toledo Museum of Art

As political science majors, Brian and Paul ventured through the floor to examine such ads as Reagan’s “The Bear” ad . This ad showcased a prowling bear through the forest and a man who forces the beast to retreat by standing up to it. Thanks to the exhibit’s captions we discovered that the bear was a symbol for Russia, thus the ad implied that Ronald Reagan’s strong will would be able to defeat the Russian menace of the time. So being we went over our president’s ads and those who had gone against them during the age of Television.

Toledo Museum of Art
                                            Brian Aldaco Runs for Office with Unfortunate Results

Leaving the floor we walked to the east wing to view the contemporary art. There we saw works by various renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso…

Picasso, Toledo Museum of Art
Picasso, in his Blue Period

…Chuck Close…

Chuck Close, Toledo Museum of Art
Chuck Close Artwork

…Childe Hassam…

Childe Hassam, Toledo Museum of Art

…Claude Monet…


…as well as Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and Louise Nevelson.


There was a sense of satisfaction in being able to recognize these and other artists from within the collection.

To appreciate the sculpture garden, we stepped outside to view a George Rickey silver mobile…


…Tony Smith’s Moses…


and other sculptures…


…most notably those of Jaume Plensa (who had a whole floor dedicated to his work inside the museum.)


But before examining the indoors art, we sat on a very peculiar Polar Bear Bench by artist Judy McKie.


Not only did this sculpture offer an appropriate resting spot, it also allowed us to find a glass walled building from which the interior glistened with hues of clear, colorful glass. Upon further inspection, with a silver Chihuly hanging from the ceiling…


…we entered the museum’s annexed Glass Pavilion. Inside we found a wide assortment of glass sculptures from the quirky glass moquettes of modern venues by Emily Brock to Roman glass decor dating back to the 4th century (all in the pristine condition from when it was first blown!) It was clear that the glass blowing techniques of the time were advanced, a technique that we witnessed inside the pavilion.


Apart from the beautiful art within the exhibit hall, there is also a glass blowing workshop.


Inside the room stand ovens heating up to a temperature of about 2150 degrees fahrenheit, undoubtedly no ordinary oven. However, these high temperatures are essential for molding the crystalline medium. So much is the nicety to keep the glass at near melting condition that if its temperate cools off before the intended time, the modeling tools can break the glass and ruin the whole sculpture. As the team of sculptures, on who molded the glowing vase and another who blew at it to expand it from the rod’s other end, continued their process of inserting the glass in the oven followed by a spinning of the material to give it its shape, we left the workshop to view the rest of the museum on its main campus.

Upon entrance to the museum we turned to the opposite wing of which we had already toured. With pieces from Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Paul Signac…


…and Piet Mondrian.


…we wandered through the canvasses of bright colors, swift burst strokes, and dream-like landscapes onto a grand hall of a more a classic collection. Under the twinkling chandelier the prominence of the works exhibited were accentuated to create an effect of awe. With works by Ralph Albert Blakelock, El Greco, and   we moved through the hall into a vast room with elongated heads of women.


Even though the sight may sound a bit macabre, the warmly lit room featured the works of Jaume Plensa and created a near meditative trance.


Perhaps the most appealing may have been Silent Rain. With fragments from poems attached to wires hanging from the ceiling, creating an effect of raining phrases, we were astounded.


We felt a similar pleasure and wonder from Plensa’s See no Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil


…but whether it was a sculpture or painting from Plensa the same was true.


His works are successful in priming the viewer into a meditative reflection on the human spirit and expression.


So much were we drawn to each piece that soon the doors around us were being locked, lights were being shut off, and halls were flooded with darkness. The museum was closing, therefore we left the campus to complete our evening’s drive to our resting spot. After driving through the night scene of Rutherford B. Hayes’ home in Fremont, Ohio, we reached our hotel in Milan, Ohio. So being, we finished another exciting, educational day of our return-to-home part of the trip, with high spirits and persistent a strong will to continue our LEAP adventures.

Jaume Plensa, Tree Huggers, Toledo Museum of Art
                                                                            Jaume Plensa’s Tree Huggers

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


The Vagabonds: Ford, Edison, Firestone, Burroughs, Harding, Coolidge

Adventure is to LEAP trips what innovation is to Henry Ford, a process waiting to happen with unexpected ways of achieving it. During today’s visit of the Henry Ford research center and museum, we continued on our Vagabond quest, a three-part odyssey that includes: (1) to assist Mr. Jeff Guinn with research on the Vagabonds, (2) to learn as much as possible about the research process, and, (3) when possible, supplement our academic learning with additional learning from the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.

“The Vagabonds” Project

Our project is to assist Mr. Jeff Guinn, who has written almost twenty books over his career.  Although Guinn uses a professional research (Jim Fuquay), he invited us to give us the opportunity to learn by doing and observing.

Jim Fuquay and Jeff Guinn
                                                                                                            Jim Fuquay and Jeff Guinn

His current book project is on “The Vagabonds,” a group that consisted of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, John Burroughs, and, later, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.  These men gathered once a year to travel parts of the country while camping.

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, Harvey Firestone
             L-R: Ford, Edison, Burroughs, Firestone

Our research primarily took place at the Benson Ford Research Center, which has some 26 million artifacts, all but one million of which are paper documents.  Mr. Guinn assigned us several tasks:

  • itemizing the Vagabonds’ itineraries across the period 1915-1924;
  • itemizing Mr. Ford’s major achievements;
  • reviewing Mr. Ford’s newspapers, The Dearborn Independent
The Vagabonds
                          Paul Oliver, Ryan Brim, and Brian Aldaco Researching

To complete these tasks, we had the run of the archives, which included a library, endless storage space, and the Museum itself, which had its own artifacts on display.  We made use of all three.

Henry Ford Museum

But we also had a chance to break and enjoy free time, which doubled as a foundational education to both Ford and American history.  In the Ford Museum, for example, there are wings for the history of the automobile (including buses), the locomotive transportation, air transportation, civil rights, furniture, clocks, and electronic devices in the home.  It was a massive museum.

In the automotive section, for example, we were able to see Ford’s first vehicle, the “Quadricycle” of 1996.

Henry Ford, Quadricycle
                                                                                    Ford’s Quadricycle

We also saw the famous Model T, the speed-setting “Goldenrod”….

The Goldenrod, Henry Ford Museum, Land Speed Record
                                     “The Goldenrod,” Holder of the Land Speed Record from 1966-1991

…and plethoric presidential limousines, including those that used by Teddy Roosevelt…

Teddy Roosevelt, Brougham, Henry Ford Museum
                                           Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidential “Limousine,” the Brougham


FDR's Presidential Limousine, Henry Ford Museum

…John F. Kennedy, which was used for 11 years after his death…

John F. Kennedy Presidential Limousine, Henry Ford Museum
                                            The Limousine in Which Kennedy was Assassinated

…and Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan, Presidential Limousine, Henry Ford Museum

Interestingly, while on the trip, John Hinckley was released from his court-mandated asylum-cum-prison.  When he shot at Reagan, one of the bullets hit the limo, ricocheted off, and hit President Reagan under the arm.  It was a timely trip in many ways.

We also had a chance to see a special exhibit on The Beatles.

The Beatles, Henry Ford Museum
                                                                                           The Beatles

It included authentic memorabilia, original instruments and cases, music samples…


…and even a section where you can become a Beatle.

The Beatles' Exhibit, Henry Ford Museum
         The Beatles, 2016: Yawn, Aldaco, Oliver, Brim (note: Ryan’s hairdo is more or less the same)

We advantageously stuck our heads through the opening of the exhibit and in between the Beatles’ mannequins and wigs, ready to take the very amusing photograph. Although small, this temporary exhibit was well put together and informative by capturing the rise of the Beatles, along with their overwhelming fame, innovative methods of recording music, and legendary status.


Next to The Beatles’ exhibit was the Dymaxion House, the house of the future from the late 1940s. The lightweight aluminum circular house with its own rainwater collection system, a downdraft air system, and the ability to withstand high speed winds was designed by architect Buckminster Fuller. It is the last remaining model of two total units, which Fuller hoped would become the all-American home.


The exhibits were educational, but so was the research.  On one afternoon, for example, we had the chance to sit in on an interview Mr. Guinn conducted with Bob Casey, the former curator of automobiles for the Henry Ford Museum. He was immensely generous and helpful, sharing insights from his many years with the Museum.

Such generosity was the norm.  Mr. Guinn generously invited us to accompany him on this research trip, the Research Center staff were professional, generous and knowledgeable, and the people with whom we met went above and beyond their duties.  It was a learning experience not only for the factual knowledge we gained, but also for the ability to witness the professional norms of the research and Museum business.


Greenfield VIllage

Late in the afternoon, we also had a chance to explore Greenfield Village. Our first stop there was the Model-T station, where we could hop onto an authentic Model-T!

Model T, Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum
                                             Brian and Ryan (B-Ryan) Enjoy a Model T Ride

Brian and Ryan got on first and drove off merrily, while Prof. Yawn and Paul waited for the next one. The latter pair got to ride in a 1914 Model-T.

Greenfield Village, Model T Ford, Henry Ford Museum
                                      Driver and Paul Oliver Discuss the Model T and Avoid Oncoming Traffic

The driver was extremely helpful and full of fascinating information. For instance, she explained that one way to distinguish a 1914 was to note the brass used in its design. After 1917, brass was no longer used on the exterior because it was needed for the American war effort in the First World War. She also told us that the Model-T was designed to be the “universal car,” designed to compete with the horse and buggy as opposed to other motor companies. This was a good sales strategy until the outdated Model-T started to slide the way of the horse and buggy as a transportation relic!  Although, it should be noted that despite the Model T falling out of fashion, the machines did not stop working.  Indeed, one of the cars on which we rode had more than one million miles on it!

Following our Model-T ride, we went our separate ways, each exploring a different part of the village. Paul returned to the frozen custard place for a second go at the delicious dessert before wandering aimlessly down to the “Porches & Parlors” district of Greenfield Village. In true tycoon style, Henry Ford would arrange for various houses or buildings that interested him to be purchased and placed in Greenfield Village. This undertaking, and the subsequent efforts of the Henry Ford Museum to continue this tradition, have left the village as an eclectic hodgepodge of American history. In the part that Paul wandered through, he saw the home of Noah Webster, creator of the first American dictionary, and a home owned by the great poet Robert Frost.

In the tradition of taking the road less traveled, Paul continued on to see some of the slave quarters from the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home, as well as the cabin of George Washington Carver. His longest stop was at the Daggett Farmhouse, which is an authentic edifice from 1760, originally located in Connecticut. The owner was a dilettante in the extreme, being a butcher, a carpenter, a farmer, and a home-builder all-in-one!

Meanwhile Ryan and Brian boarded an authentic steam engine train on Firestone Station. From there they toured through the perimeter of the Village, trailing through homes and warehouses of nearly every time period in American history. With the clickitty-clack of the track and the roaring whistle of the engine, the locomotive ride provided an authentic sensual experience for what a trip in such a machine would feel like during the 1800s. But after completing the full circuit, as the last ride of the day, with great sorrow we saw the Village and Museum close for the day.

Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum
                                                             Greenfield Village Train Ride

We then left the grounds en route to meet with Mr. Fuqua and Mr. Guinn for dinner.

Dinner: Lue Thai Cafe

After the short drive to Dearborn we met for dinner at a place called the Lue Thai Cafe. We had the crispy rolls, followed by huge entrees of Thai food. Paul had the peanut noodles, Ryan had the udon noodles, and Brian the jub chai, not knowing what to expect from this foreign cuisine. Over dinner, Mr. Guinn and Mr. Fuqua lamented the current cost of college tuition (a subject dear to Brian and Paul), while comparing to the “back in the day” cost. They also regaled us with tales from their time working at the Fort Worth Star Telegram. With plates half empty, for even though we very much enjoyed the spicy taste of thai there was no more that would could take from the bountiful serving, we departed with a “see you later” and went back to our hotel. Both of these men really are chock-full of great stories, and it is a pleasure to be able to work with them for a week!


Our Kind of Town–Chicago

On our Sunday Chicago adventure, the LEAP Ambassadors continued on the path of artistic enlightenment by visiting the Chicago Institute of Art and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie Home. This as part of our Vagabond Research Trip which would lead us our first meeting with New York Times bestseller author Jeff Guinn, which we would soon meet with in Dearborn, Michigan. However, to shake off our morning drowsiness we climbed up Willis Tower to hover over Chicago in the skyscraper’s Skydeck.

Willis Tower Skydeck–by Brian Aldaco

Upon entrance of the tower, with grounded pillars exposed so as to view the building’s essential elements to its prominent stature, we  joined the crowed who anxiously await the hundred-and-three-story ascent to the glass viewing enclosure. Huddled inside the elevator we arrived at our floor of destination after a minute long ride (the same climb which takes ninety seconds to complete during windy weather). At the top of the 1,730 ft building, a size comparable to 283 vertical Barack Obamas, the view of the Windy City was breathtaking.

Willis Tower, Skydeck
Chicago Skyline from Skydeck at Willis Tower

Whether this was caused by the vista from the clouds or the vertigo of being on their level, our hearts were firmly set on forcing our bodies to step over the ledge onto the clear-glass viewing deck. Suspended over the city, with feet seemingly floating over the ground, sweaty palms, and throbbing heads nervous about the deck’s ability to keep us safely enclosed…

The LEAP Guys on the Skydeck
The LEAP Guys on the Skydeck

…Professor Yawn wisely suggested that we create a photo-op by jumping upon the skydeck.  This turned out to be more fun than dangerous, but ultimately futile as a photo-op because the skydeck photographers couldn’t time the photos correctly.

Art Institute of Chicago, by Brian Aldaco and Paul Oliver

Having experienced our elevated adventure, our next stop was the Art Institute of Chicago; a sprawling, labyrinthine art museum that contained art from a myraid of different cultures and ages.

Art Institute of Chicago
Paul Plans his Route in the Art Institute of Chicago

We had the opportunity to see several famous pieces, such as Grant Wood’s American Gothic…

Grant Wood, American Gothic, Art Institute of Chicago
American Gothic, by Grant Wood

Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, and of course, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

 After viewing Nighthawks together…


…we went our separate ways. Paul traveled back in time to Ancient Greece and Rome, looking at the Roman statuary, Greek pottery, and Byzantine pieces on display. Of special note in this section was a Roman reproduction of the Aphrodite of Knidos. The original Aphrodite was a Greek statue, and it was contentious in its time, for it was the first instance of a goddess being depicted in the nude. Also of interest were the Greek amphoras, kylixes, and other pottery pieces. The amphora is a larger container that presents a larger space for the artist, whereas the kylix is a smaller, but broad object, that was used as a wine goblet. The amount of wine that could be held by a kylix looks substantial, but the Greeks believed it to be a mark of the barbarian to drink wine unmixed. Therefore, they would add water to it, which perhaps justifies the size of the kylixes. The pottery itself takes two styles generally; black figure and red figure. The color refers to what hue the people depicted are, so on a black figure amphora, the heroes or gods represented are black, and the background is red. The reverse is true for a red figure work. Paul also went to see the Medieval Arms & Armor section, but unfortunately it was not open yet!

Simultaneously on the Modern Wing of the museum, Professor Yawn, Brian Aldaco, and Ryan Brim viewed multiple works from artists of diverse periods in art history. The turn of 20th century was captured by works of artists such as Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, and James Whistler, the latter of whom helped usher in impressionism in the United States.

James Whistler's Nocturne, Art Institute of Chicago
James Whistler’s “Nocturne–Blue and Gold”

In further floors we also viewed works from Great Depression artists such as Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and Edward Hopper whose desire to capture everyday rural and urban American life was astonishing. We also attempted to study the abstractions and surrealism behind the works of Salvador Dalí, Rene Magritte, and Pablo Picasso.

Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, Art Institute of Chicago
Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist”

To further strain our left analytic hemisphere, we viewed the works of conceptual artists such as Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and other contemporary artists.

Jackson Pollock, Number 17A, Art Institute of Chicago
Jackson Pollock’s “Number 17A”

Millennium Park, by Brian Aldaco

Having completed our journey through a century’s worth of art, we joined the pedestrian throng towards Millennium Park. As we passed Jaume Plensa’s Crowne Fountain, where happy children frolicked under the spewing gush of water (which shot from the mouths of the fountain’s face-depicting pillars); its refreshing spray was welcoming against the city’s heat. Going along the park we found its signature Cloud Gate sculpture, most commonly known as “The Bean.” With its mirror image of the surrounding skyline which warped as the rounded angles revolved around the sculpture, we neared it’s metal surface and seemingly became part of the picturesque vista. Soon after taking a couple of pictures of us LEAPing by the sculpture…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

…we ordered a Chicago-style hotdog at a nearby stand. Thus, we lunched in true Chicago style over the city’s patrimonial treasure.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s “The Robie House,” by Ryan Brim

After some the authentic Chicago-style hot dogs in Millennium Park, we headed over to the campus of the University of Chicago, where we toured the Robie House, built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909. Like many of his other homes, Wright built the prairie style house by accentuating long horizontal lines to draw one’s eye across the house.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Robie House, Chicago, Prairie Style
Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Robie House”

Before we entered the front door, we were met with a low ceiling that was similar in height and in material to the one just inside the greeting area. This created a sort of transition space that allows a guest to have a seamless transition between the outside and inside. Once we went up the stairs to the main living area and dining area, the ceiling became taller, and the room brighter. This is another one of his techniques called “compress and release,” forcing people out of the dimly-lit greeting area and into the bright living space. Although there are no doors separating the dining and living areas, there is a fireplace that breaks up the two spaces.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Robie House
Living Area in “The Robie House”

Mr. Wright believed that there should be as few enclosed rooms in a house as possible, so he made an opening at the top of the fireplace so that someone in one room could see the continuing ceiling across the whole floor. He did this by diverting the smoke into two separate chimneys, leaving the middle open from obstruction. There were also many windows and French doors all along the room connecting the exterior with the interior and making the room seem much bigger. In the dining area, there would have been a dining table with pillars as legs extending above its surface on which one could set lights. Similarly the table was fashioned with high backed chairs, so when people would eat dinner together there they would have sufficient lighting and the high chairs made the table seem to be a space within a space. On the third level were the bedrooms and bathrooms, each with natural lighting from many windows. The servants quarters and kitchen were on the second level, keeping them level with the rest of the family for according to Wright’s philosophy everyone was of equal worth. Just above the servant’s quarters was the car garage where the gift shop is today.

Moving On

After leaving the beautiful home, we made our way through Illinois and Indiana to finally reach Michigan. Somewhere along the state in need of a place to switch drivers and stretch our legs, we stopped at Coloma, Michigan, to go to the Chocolate Garden. The small business which specializes in chocolate truffles, according to one of the ladies working there, was started in 1998 as an online business. The eventual physical location was built in an old barn, but quickly expanded. Notably, the Chocolate Garden has been featured on the Food Network, which helped propel it to fame.

In addition to the Chocolate Garden’s wide assortment in chlorate truffles, it also has a “tasting bar.”

Chocolate Garden's Truffles at the Tasting Bar
Chocolate Garden’s Truffles at the Tasting Bar

It is here where for a small fee it is possible to taste up to three different types of these truffles of chocolatey delight. Professor Yawn lamented that the LEAP ladies were not along on this trip, as they surely would have enjoyed this stop. With this in mind, we joyously sampled the rich, delectable chocolate truffles. The “Darkest Dark” truffle and the “Vanilla Rose” were both exceptionally scrumptious. It was truly a must-stop for any chocolate aficionado and a tragedy that the ladies were not with us.

As we left, Professor Yawn, in a seemingly magnanimous gesture, proffered us a truffle he had purchased. Brian and Paul both took the sample from him and enjoyed the chocolate taste for a brief second.  As it turned out, though, the truffle was a “Cayenne Kick,” which packed a nasty spice that only becomes apparent after a few seconds. Needless to say, Professor Yawn got a kick out of our reactions.

After our sweet treat we continued on our trip where we eventually entered Dearborn ready to soothe our growling stomachs at Rex’s Golden Grill. With a diner menu of fish and chips and burgers, we were very much satisfied with the evening’s repast. It was so that we finished our Sunday evening in Dearborn, ready to start our first day of Vagabond research early in the morning.