Archive for February, 2008

Can You Find the Secret Service?Why rise at 5 a.m. to drive across Georgia from Macon to Plains, population 700? Among Plains’ residents are Rossalyn and Jimmy Carter, and the former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner was teaching Sunday school that morning.

We were thrilled and excited, but we had doubts. Would we be welcome in this small town? The Maranatha Baptist Church is tiny, with room for only 300. Would there be room? It is not our denomination. Is it ok if we attend?

We arrived at the Church at 8 am. The Greeter smiled, laughed and erased our worries, The Secret Servicemen took our picture to ensure that our camera really was a camera and then urged us in, “you never know when the buses will show up.” We were fine.

Once seated inside, the pews filled around us, save the few cordoned off for active members. Before we knew it, a quiet man had slipped through a side door. Jimmy Carter was standing just six pews away.

He asked where we were all from. California, Uganda, Poland, Germany, Florida. People from dozens of countries and states had made the same pilgrimage. Gab eagerly yelled out Pennsylvania. Jimmy’s response, his warm wide smile of acknowledgment, made us all feel loved.

President CarterHis lesson’s topic was Joseph’s part in the Christmas story, but his lesson invoked elections in Mozambique, vacationing with his grandchildren and a profound biblical knowledge. We felt blessed and thankful for the teachings of such a pious, humble and great man.

Jimmy left saying, almost apologetically, that in two weeks he would be unable to teach in Plains. He was going to Palestine to oversee an election. He reminded us of what Anwar Sadat told him at Camp David that “regardless of religion, we are all sons of Abraham.” We must learn to live together.

Click Here to Read More about Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.


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Herbert Hoover BirthplaceIt’s that time of year again…President’s Day and President’s Week! We have been counting down the days to when we can tell you about some of our favorite U.S. President-related National Park Sites and Presidential Libraries. First up is the long reviled and somewhat misunderstood Herbert Hoover.

Was he a great president? Not at all. Was he responsible for the Great Depression? Not nearly as much as he has been credited. In fact, the lessons we learned at the Herbert Hoover NHS and the adjacent Herbert Hoover Presidential Library were very surprising. Hoover grew up orphaned and very poor. He entered Stanford University in 1891, that venerated school’s first year of existence. Hoover received a degree in geology; surely a unique specialty among his presidential brethren.

Hoover didn’t teach with his degree nor did he go directly into politics. Instead he traveled the world working as a mining engineer whose specialty was finding gold, silver, zinc, and other precious metals. And find he did. By the time he turned 30 Hoover had built up considerable wealth given his uncanny ability to unearth metals. In the meantime, while on many Pacific Ocean-crossing trips he and his wife mastered numerous languages, Mandarin Chinese included, and authored the first English translation of the 16th-century mining bible De re metallica.

When the Great War began in 1914 Hoover directed his efforts towards humanitarian work, the most notable being a widespread and successful effort to feed war-ravaged Belgium. Hoover’s magnanimous humanitarianism continued throughout the 1920’s while he was U.S. Secretary of Commerce. So what went wrong? How could someone with so much experience in feeding people and aiding communities post-disaster be such a failure during the Great Depression? The short answer is that all of Hoover pre-Depression efforts depended on capital from private interests; Hoover didn’t believe in spending the government’s money. His Great Depression remedies while solid in theory relied on private donations which, despite many promises, never came.

Click Here to Read More about Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

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Newest Park Service Addition Happy February. The month that has become synonomous with Black History. We wonder what the founder of Black History Month would think about his creation’s longevity and lasting importance. He would probably be brimming with pride.

Who created Black History Month, you ask?

Meet the latest addition to the National Park Service family and the Site that honors his legacy: Carter G. Woodson National Historic Site.

Currently, only an official NPS marker and a No Trespassing sign are up at the Site’s NW Washington D.C. location. To find out more about this distinguished historian you have to walk a few blocks down the road to the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS .

While the historical significance of some Park Service acquisitions are dubious at best, this purchase feels long overdue. What we learned about Mr. Woodson at the Bethune Council House left us a little ashamed that we knew so little about the man who changed the course of history and how it is taught.

The Woodson House NHS is closed to the public “pending restoration.” The Park Service isn’t even speculating when it will be open. We hope we don’t have to wait too long.

Click here for the full review.

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Jelly Bean ManTadeusz Kosciuszko isn’t the only beloved American hero who challenged the Russians that’s celebrating a birthday this week. That’s right, today would have Ronald Reagan’s 97th birthday. His Dixon, Illinois boyhood home isn’t a National Park Site yet although its pending Park status was established by law six years ago today. Our didn’t take us to just National Park Sites, we also visited all but one Presidential Library. Reagan Simi Valley memorial was not the exception.

Do Reagan (and his library) and Kosciuszko (and his house) share anything more in common? Nothing whatsoever. Kosciuszko’s Philly home is one of the least visited National Park Sites with about 16 visitors per day. At the Reagan library, you will probably be in line behind 16 other people waiting for your ticket. And if you pick the right day (May 3, 2007 or January 30, 2008 for example) those 16 people might all be vying for the Republican Presidential nomination.

Yes, McCain, Huckabee, Romney, et al love debating near Reagan’s final resting place. Who can blame them? The Site is situated on a hilltop above California’s Simi Valley and the Library’s backyard offers unobstructed views of the Santa Monica mountain range, its rolling hills and the palatial estates nestled in its valleys.

They also might keep coming back to see the new Air Force One exhibit. The Reagan library doesn’t try to recreate the President’s plane Disney style a la a few other Presidential Libraries. Nosiree. They built an ersatz hangar, procured a decommissioned Air Force One, parked the famed flying machine in said hangar, and opened it up for tours. It’s the closest any civilian, except Harrison Ford, may ever get. As a result, the Library’s entry fee has risen from $7 to $12 per person. We are sure it’s worth it.

Click Here to Read More about the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

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A Pleasant Corner Lot for the Dashing PoleToday is February 4th, a/k/a Tadeusz Kosciuszko’s Birthday. Sure, we mentioned him everyday last week but that matters little. If you thought we wouldn’t honor our great Polish hero on his 262nd birthday than you would have been wrong.

Why should we continue to honor him? Well, after an early Revolutionary War setback, our dashing Polish Patriot never lost another fight on American soil, unlike New England’s kicker Stephen Gostkowski. You might say that poor Stephen never got a chance, that during the third quarter on 4th and 11 he should have been able to try that 49-yard field goal. We say perhaps now he knows what it was like for gallant Tadeusz. During the 1775 Battle of Fort Ticonderoga he beseeched his generals “Build fortifications here! The British can reach this point with cannons!” His generals unwisely ignored him and the battle was lost.

Tadeusz never made it to the warm sunny climes of Arizona; we’re sure his tan would have been spectacular. Instead he choose a small humble home in Old City Philadelphia. Given his Philly roots there’s no way he could have been rooting for the Giants. Nevertheless we are sure he would have admired New York’s stellar defensive tactics.

Defense was Tadeusz’s specialty! His tactics, engineering, design, and artistry were all pure genius. The best this country has ever seen. You couldn’t with fellow Slav and defensive genius Bill Belichick? Let’s see. First of all, Kosciuszko never needed any videotape to know what the British were doing. We admit that he too might have had spies but he also had to counteract much more menacing traitors. Benedict Arnold vs. Patriots’ videotaping assistant Matt Walsh. You decide.

Tadeusz did retreat pretty quickly at Fort Ticonderoga but he had to…he was facing cannon fire! What was Belichick’s Super Bowl exit excuse? Deadly confetti? Here’s some more reasons. Tadeusz was always impeccably dressed. He wrote the Polish Consitution. He successfully defended his motherland against Russia. And even then his Polish King betrayed him, surrendered to Russia, and Tadeusz was imprisoned in Siberia. Siberia! Where’s Belichick headed to after Super Bowl XLII, a McMansion in Boca Raton? His yacht in the Keys? Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

So our conclusion and message to Michael’s beloved Los Angeles (hopefully soon) Rams is fire Jim Haslett, exhume Tadeusz, clone his DNA, and thusly create the greatest defensive football mind known to man. Super Bowl XLIII here we come.

Click Here to Read More about the Tadeusz Kosciuszko National Memorial.

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