Archive for September, 2005

Fort Scott, Kans.
Visited: September 2, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 246 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Swank QuartersWHAT IS IT?
Partially restored and partially reconstructed U.S. Army Fort that played a role in the 1840’s Indian frontier, the 1848 Mexican War, 1850’s Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Fort Scott looks more pompous that practical, more ostentatious than utilitarian. Its Greek-revival style buildings are painted wonderfully white, its pillars steadied by travertine supports. Exterior stairways promenade up to the second floor, the main floor, where breezy porches and green shutters suggest a comfortable domestic life.

A glistening seven-pillared white canopy tops the Fort’s interior well and looks mightily out-of-place on the Kansas frontier. A restored tallgrass prairie surrounds half of the Fort, serving as an unsuccessful buffer to the speeding cars on U.S. Route 69. The charming 19th-century structures of downtown Fort Scott surround the actual Fort’s other half. The town initially sprung up to serve the military’s needs and to this day maintains its delightful Victorian feel.

Troops stationed at Fort Scott were involved in a number of historic events but their role was never primary and the Fort’s connection sometimes tenuous at best. The Park brochure cites four historical occasions as important to the Park’s past: the Kearny Expedition, the Mexican War, Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War.

Col. Kearny’s dragoons, forerunners to the U.S. Cavalry, did march across the High Plains in 1845 and repeated the march to Santa Fe, during the Mexican War, in 1846. Kearny was headquartered not at Fort Scott, but at Fort Leavenworth. Companies from Fort Scott joined Kearny’s men in Mexico, just as they had during his expedition.

Sneaky Missourians
Bleeding Kansas began in 1854 after the passage of Stephen Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Act. This law mandated popular sovereignty in the Kansas Territory, meaning that the Territory had a right to choose whether it would allow slavery. Floods of immigrants, both abolitionists and proslavery advocates, poured into the Territory resulting in two Constitutions, two governments, massacres committed by both sides, extreme bloodshed and absolute chaos.

Most of the problems occurred well north of Fort Scott (we did not realize this before our visit). The Fort did not play that active a role in the drama, despite the rabid violence. Federal troops had actually abandoned the Fort in 1853 (bad timing, it seems) and did not return until 1857. Only rarely were troops dispatched to protect the local citizenry.

During the Civil War, Fort Scott served mainly as a supply depot.

CROWDS (6/10)
The only other people roaming the Fort Scott parade grounds at 9:00 a.m. were Park workers preparing for the weekend’s “Highlights in History” program. The Program involved costumed Rangers explaining frontier life at Fort Scott and occurred three times this summer. We are guessing that there was a time when the “Highlight in History” program was the daily norm rather than a special event.

Fort Scott NHS is located in downtown Fort Scott, Kans, just west of the Missouri border. The town sits at the crossroads of U.S. Routes 69 (north-south) and 54 (east-west). Fort Scott is 90 miles south of Kansas City, Kans.; 60 miles north of Joplin, Mo. and 150 miles east of Wichita, Kans.

The books selection, like the Site, is spread a little thin. You can still find many great and unique titles like Lincoln and Kansas; Jennison’s Jayhawkers; Kansas in the Sixties (the 1860’s) and the entire Covered Wagon Women series, diaries and letters from women traveling along various western trails. A trading post reproduction wall sells Union hats, bonnets, tin cups and miniature cannons.

Tallgrass GabCOSTS (3/5)
Entry is $3 per person, free with the National Parks Pass.

We saw people walking around the Site who did not look like tourists, but they were not wearing the familiar green uniform either. One Ranger is posted at the bookstore, collecting fees, but all of the exhibits are in different buildings, some located a good distance from the bookstore. If you have questions, you are out of luck.

The Park brochure lists eleven reconstructed or restored Fort Scott buildings that include exhibits, explaining either the broad history or military life. The Park also includes a nature walk through a restored tallgrass prairie (wear bug spray).

There is too much to see and do in too large a surface area. Our minds wandered…and we really like this stuff. You should start your visit with the Infantry Barracks Museum. The bottom floor shows a very old cartoon slide show that explains the Fort’s long history. “Enough about food storage, officer’s wives and horse stables,” we thought aloud, “what about Bleeding Kansas?”

We were going to have to wait. The Barracks Museums second floor did have a Bleeding Kansas exhibit, but the explanations were reduced to cartoon drawings and short sentences. Meanwhile you have the whole building to yourself. No one is there to elaborate or answer questions about the complex history.

The other buildings are also self-guided and each enjoys a unique set of confusions: since Fort Scott was involved in so many historical periods it is perpetually unclear what year and which historical theme each building represents. The panels offer little help. Our brains shut off after a few trips on the pilot-less whirlwind time machine.

Sunflower State
FUN (3/10)
Fort Scott NHS disappointed us. We anticipated an in-depth look at the fascinating Bleeding Kansas crises, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, relations with Missouri and the build up to the Civil War. Instead, the Fort was a mish-mash of many historical periods and themes with an emphasis on day-to-day military and cavalry life on the frontier.

A number of NPS Fort Sites tackle frontier military life, all with more geographic merit; Fort Scott was hardly a remote post as its bustling 19th-century-built downtown proves. Fort Scott NHS was not a bad place to visit; it just did not live up to our expectations.

If you want to learn about John Brown, Bleeding Kansas and the Missouri rivalry, we suggest Constitution Hall in Lecompton, Kans., located 120 miles to the north, near Lawrence. The Museum, located in the building where the Lecompton (proslavery) Constitution was signed, has terrific exhibits, a great guide and may be one of the most important historical sites west of the Mississippi.

If you want to learn about day-to-day frontier military life, we suggest Fort Larned NHS, located 300 miles west near Larned, Kans.

TOTAL 33/80


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near Shanksville, Pa.
Visited: September 7, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 248 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Flight 93 FlagFour years ago a plane carrying 40 people crashed into a rural Pennsylvania field located adjacent to an abandoned strip mine. It is unnecessary to elaborate; the events of September 11 2001 are etched indelibly into our collective psyche.

In September 2002, Congress and the president set aside the crash site land for the purpose of creating a memorial to honor Flight 93’s heroic passengers and crew.

The National Park Service seems to have done little since. There is no official memorial. There is no museum facility, no bookstore, no exhibits and no displays to distinguish the hallowed ground. There are no brown NPS signs to help the visitor find this out-of-the-way Site.

There is no visitor center, only a barren weather shelter donated by the staff at the Assateague National Seashore. Local residents designated as “Ambassadors” man the shelter and answer questions. They provide a first person perspective of the day that only Shanksville, Pa. residents could. No Rangers staff the site.

No matter. 100,000 people somehow find there way here every year. Busloads travel down the still unpaved Skyline Drive. The temporary Memorial that they find is elaborate, heartfelt, haphazard, overwhelming, organic and highly personal.

Both sides of a ten-foot high, thirty-foot long chain link fence are littered with thousands of personal items, donations and remembrances: a local firefighter’s jacket, license plates, flags, personalized crosses, quilts, hats, photographs and thankful letters.

Park benches emblazoned with the names of the deceased face the crash site. In between stands more remembrances: 40 individualized hand-painted wooden angels, granite blocks with biblical verses, crying ceramic angels, the American flag, a Pennsylvania flag and an eight-foot high cross, its horizontal section draped with a white cloth.

The parking lot’s guard rails have been inundated with magic-marker written notes of thanks, “Support Our Troops” magnets and bumper stickers.

A permanent Memorial is years from reality. In fact, the design contest winner was announced the day of our visit, September 7; local news stations filmed segments during our stop. Their conclusion was, “citizens want to know why the plans for a permanent Memorial have taken so long.”

We initially felt the same way. Heck, the Oklahoma City N MEM broke ground in 1998, just three years after that tragedy, and its massive interactive Museum opened on the bombing’s five-year anniversary. Is September 11th still too fresh in our memory? Are its implications still too powerful? Can we understand it objectively and analyze the situation like other NPS historic sites?

The temporary Memorial achieves a level of individuality that cannot be realized at an official federal government site. The religious paraphernalia on Site is astounding. Passionate crosses, angels and Christ figurines could never appear at a National Park Site.

As Americans, we are a very religious people. Most of us cannot understand the events of Flight 93 without our belief in God and/or Jesus Christ. In that sense, this National Memorial feels real, as if it is a spontaneous response from the masses. It feels powerful, so much more than a stylized walkway or artsy symbolic granite monoliths.

The Flight 93 temporary Memorial is more a pilgrimage spot than Park site. The emphasis stands more on what people have brought and given than on the distant fallow field.

Temporary MemorialIf you wish to make the pilgrimage, be careful. It is very easy to get lost. Take PA Turnpike Exit 110, Somerset. Go northeast on Pa. Route 281, Stoystown Road, for about 10 miles until you reach U.S. 30, the Lincoln Highway. Turn right. Travel east for 2½ miles on Route 30, then turn southward, right, onto Lambertville Road. A makeshift sign should point you in the correct direction (if you have quick eyes).

Travel southward on Lambertville Road for about 2 miles until you reach Skyline Drive. Another makeshift sign should point you towards the memorial. Skyline Drive soon becomes unpaved. No worries, the Memorial is just 1 mile from the turn.

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Springfield, Mo.
Visited: September 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 244 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Funny Meeting You HereWHAT IS IT?

Site of an August 10, 1861 battle, the first major Civil War fight west of the Mississippi River.

BEAUTY (3/10)
The Battlefield is located on an anonymous southwestern Missouri field, about 10 miles from downtown Springfield. A shallow, slow-moving creek meanders its way though the overgrown fields, hillsides and orchards. The Park’s 5-mile auto tour-loop road is self-contained and inaccessible to through traffic. There are no stone monuments marking fallen officers and fierce fighting. The Battlefield has changed little since 1861. The grounds are preserved and protected, but are they beautiful? Not one bit.

Missouri. Oh, Missouri. During the Civil War, from 1861-65, no state was more compelling, more vexing, more fascinating or more insane. To historians and Civil War buffs, Missouri was almost like the United States in miniature, except it does not have that helpful Mason-Dixon Line. Pro-Union (as in the Army), pro-Confederacy, pro-union (small u, as in the country’s unity), anti-union, pro-slavery and anti-slavery interests mixed and matched and varied from county to county, person to person. Missouri is always the exception rather than the rule.

Missouri’s proximity to our country’s largest river system, the Mississippi-Missouri, gave it strategic importance. Lincoln needed the State, which had legal slavery, to join the Union. Luckily for Abe, the most strategic and populous city, St. Louis, was largely pro-Union. The governor, Claiborne Jackson, however was pro-Confederacy and defiant to Lincoln. In April 1861 he seized the Kansas City arsenal, took control of the St. Louis police and sent a Missouri State Guard to seize the St. Louis arsenal.

Secretly, wily U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon had moved the arsenal to Illinois. Lyon was not satisfied despite his logistical victory (he had protected the muskets). On May 9, he surrounded the State Guard’s encampment and captured 700 men. Not the subtle type, Lyon marched the prisoners through the St. Louis streets. Mobs threw rocks at Lyon’s men, they shot back, 28 civilians died, riots started and panic enveloped Missouri.

Lyon declared Civil War within Missouri’s boundaries. Interestingly, Lyon and Jackson attempted to close the borders to Federal and Confederacy troops; they wanted the fight to themselves. Within four days, Lyon captured the capital, Jefferson City, and forced the governor to retreat to Springfield with his State Guard, now led by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price an experienced soldier whose allegiances changed after the St. Louis mayhem.

By the time of Wilson’s Creek in August, Price received 5,000 Confederate soldiers but lost control of his Army to a Confederate general. Lyon’s marauding army too was made an adjunct of larger forces, when Lincoln named famed pioneer John C. Fremont head of the western Federal forces.

Price’s forces won a decisive victory at Wilson’s Creek and Lyon died in battle. Nevertheless, Price could not follow the retreating Federal force and finish the job because the Confederate hierarchy did not care much about Missouri. For that matter, neither did the Federals. The last major battle of the Missouri theater came in March 1862 at Pea Ridge, Ark. After that fight, all soldiers were sent eastward.

Missouri became a void filled with guerrilla warfare, raiding vigilantes, marauding cavalry forces and years more of bushwhacking havoc. Somebody should really make a movie about this period of American history.

Another Cannon
CROWDS (6/10)
A North Carolina Civil War buff joined in on our hour-long Wilson’s Creek discussion with a Ranger and then retreated with his wife into the Park’s excellent on-site Civil War library. We did not see many other people during our visit.

In the Springfield News-Leader, the day of our visit, we read that friends of the Park recently purchased a few tracts of surrounding land in order to prevent a planned housing development from bordering the Battlefield. The News-Leader suggested that Wilson’s Creek was an “endangered battlefield” soon to be caught in Springfield’s unending sprawl. Our journey, later that day, to the Park proved this notion incorrect.

The Battlefield is ten miles from town and feels like the middle of nowhere. The quickest path towards it follows country roads without signs pointing towards Wilson’s Creek NB; it is a wonder we even found the place. From Interstate 44, take Exit 70. Go South down Missouri Route MM. Soon after you cross U.S. Route 60, the road becomes Missouri Route ZZ. The VC is at the corner of ZZ and Elm Street.

If you are coming from Branson, Mo. and U.S. Route 65, take the James River Expressway Exit and go west. Continue west along Missouri Route M. Turn south (left) onto Missouri Route FF. FF become Elm Street a/k/a Missouri Route 182. The VC is at the corner of ZZ and Elm Street.

Wilson’s Creek NB’s book collection is slight compared to most Civil War Site bookstores. The Site focuses on local Civil War history books instead of the normal overwhelming barrage of titles. There are ten books about the Wilson’s Creek battle alone.

The Site’s narrow selection is buoyed by the adjacent Hulston Library, which boasts 5,500 Civil War books, microfilmed soldier lists and maps galore. If you are looking for any fact related the War’s western fighting, you will find it here. You must do all your research in house, meaning you cannot check out books, many of which are rare and/or signed volumes. You can search the library at www.coolcat.org.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $3 per person, $5 per vehicle or free with the National Parks Pass.

It took a wonderful hour-long give and take discussion with a super Park Ranger for us to achieve just a slight grip on the Missouri hornet’s nest. Our Ranger talk was equivalent to a full semester’s graduate course due to the sheer amount of information parlayed and understanding achieved. It was a lot cheaper, too.

Aforementioned CreekTOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
Michael loves electric maps and gets really excited whenever we get to see one. Wilson’s Creek’s map is very good. The intro film is so old that the Ranger lamented that we should have skipped it. He was right; it added confusion to an already confusing topic.

There is a fascinating display of battle artifacts located near the Library that includes: a rifle used in battle and unearthed during an archaeological dig; an original tattered Union flag and Sterling Price’s personal engraved pistol!

FUN (7/10)
Tombstone-like historical markers have been sunk in the pathway to the Visitor Center. They remind the visitor of the topsy-turvy history of compromises and elections that led to the Civil War and the Missouri skirmishes that led to Wilson’s Creek. It is always nice to have your visit contextualized before you step into a new period of history.

These markers are clear evidence of Wilson’s Creek NB’s stellar attention to detail and its dedication to thorough education. We had a great time learning about Missouri and are eager to know more.

If you got through our entire seven-paragraph HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE section than the rating shoots up to about a 7. If you just skimmed the brief 1860’s Missouri history lesson than you should probably just breeze through Springfield, Mo. along Old Route 66 without stopping here.

TOTAL 50/80

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Diamond, Mo.
Visited: September 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 245 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website


The birthplace and boyhood home of George Washington Carver, one of America’s greatest inventors and one of her most remarkable men.

In ThoughtBEAUTY (6/10)
The George Washington Carver National Monument landscape is calming, quiet and lends towards introspection. From the VC, the Carver Trail passes George’s birthplace, the ruins of a tiny cabin, and descends into the forest until reaching the remarkable Boy Carver statue. The statue portrays a young George deep in thought, his head tilted slightly towards the sky caught in a daydream, an idea and with a relaxing peace of mind.

The statue hurtles you into the Carver’s natural world, a world of necessary escape but a world of opportunity. Carver saw it as God’s world; he believed that the Creator spoke to him “through flowers, rocks, animals, plants and all other aspects of His creations”. While walking in Carver’s common, but extraordinary woodland oasis you might become one with his understanding and experience a flash of his genius.

How can you quantify the life of George Washington Carver? His story, his life and his absolute loving, humble Christian demeanor are so unbelievable.

Carver was born a slave in 1864 in Missouri, perhaps America’s most volatile and violent state. Shortly after his birth, Missouri bushwhackers kidnapped both him and his mother. His slave owners recovered George, at the time nearly dead from whooping cough, but never found his mother.

Carver spent his youth painting, learning about the plants and animals that surrounded him and teaching himself to read. The Carvers, formerly his owners, were illiterate and unable to assist George’s learning. He left home at eleven, moving from school to school, through sickness, extreme prejudice, violence and difficult jobs. In 1890, he found his way into Iowa State University’s agriculture program, where he would become their first African American graduate in 1894.

Carver then moved to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute where his remarkable scientific career blossomed. Carver invented hundreds of food products, including peanut butter, and transformed the Southern farmers’ agricultural methods. By the 1920’s he had become friends with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

Carver died in 1943. Later that same year, FDR honored him with a National Park Site. This honor is especially remarkable when you consider that the nearby Arkansas schools did not begin desegregation until 1957 and in much of the South denied voting rights to African Americans until 1965.

CROWDS (6/10)
Just us. The Site should see waves of school group visitors any day now.

Pumpkin HarvestEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Carver birthplace is located in southwestern Missouri, about 20 miles from the town of Joplin. Take Interstate 44, Exit 11 and travel south down U.S. Route 71 for 5 miles. Turn east (left) and go down Missouri Route V for about 5 miles until you reach Carver Road. Turn south (right) and signs will point you to the Park.

The NPS has resurfaced the part of the Carver Trail from the Visitor Center to the Carver Statue with an environmentally friendly material made from recycled tires. This portion of the trail is fully accessible.

The store carries ten Carver biographies, five Carver children’s books and reprints of five separate Carver agricultural pamphlets. The bookstore also vends posters and Booker T. Washington biographies but the shelf entitled African American history is conspicuously bare.

African American history scholarship has flourished over the past 25 years. We should have run across a definitive collection of texts at one of the 15+ African American history-related sites we have visited. Instead, we run into bare shelves and self-help books. It does not make sense why there are more black history books at Civil War sites than at sites honoring Martin Luther King, the Brown v. Board of Education decision and George Washington Carver.

COSTS (5/5)
From the Park’s website: George Washington Carver once said, “The Lord charges nothing for knowledge and I will charge you the same.” Entry, as Mr. Carver wanted, is free. Free Ranger-led tours of the Site leave twice a day.

We had a personal Ranger tour albeit a rushed tour since she needed to get back to the Museum in order to give another Ranger a lunch break. The Carver Discovery Center was closed.

None of the Site’s educational offerings, the 40-year old film, the Mission ’66-era Museum and the rushed Ranger tour, was particularly compelling. The interactive Carver Discovery Center was closed during our visit and, although aimed at children, could have been fun.

In retrospect, we should have wandered both the Carver Trail and the Contemplative Loop Trail on our own, sans Ranger. Rocks bearing meditative GW Carver quotes appear during the entire journey giving an insight into his tremendous life. The Park’s trees, insects, animals, birds, ponds and pathways were Carver’s education. Nature was his personal teacher; we must learn to make it ours.

Quiet Nature WalkFUN (5/10)
Carver NM is Part One of the saga. George’s boyhood, while amazing, is the least interesting part of his story. The agricultural discoveries at Tuskegee, his aristocratic friendships and even his determined post-Missouri educational path are all more appealing than his boyhood. George left here at eleven and never again called it his home.

Touring the Carvers’ house also elicits odd emotions which we cannot come to grips with. The fact remains that they owned George in 1864 Missouri, two years after the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Missouri remained a slave state until the War’s end because it was pro-Union. How is that for irony? George never wrote about the situation with any animosity or mixed feelings, only thanks and appreciation, so why should we feel differently?

It is no wonder that rural Missouri life 150 years ago spawned the complicated race-probing writings of the greatest American author: Mark Twain.

We enjoyed the George Washington Carver Museum at the Tuskegee Institute much more. Nonetheless, if you are driving westward down I-44, the path of the classic American road, Route 66, then a quick stop to Carver’s birthplace is in order. It could be the last eastern woodland-forested landscape your cross-country trip will see.

TOTAL 45/80

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