My Travel Memories: Detroit, Michigan

I’ve been to Detroit twice — once in 1980 and then again in 1987.  The city declined sharply in the seven intervening years.  My impression of Detroit in 1980 was of a nice little city and in 1987, my impression was of an empty little city.  As with Cincinnati, my only pictures of Detroit were from our 1987 trip, so you’ll just have to trust me that in 1980 Detroit was pretty nice.

The one thing I remember about Detroit wasn’t in Detroit proper, it was Deerfield Village in Dearborn.

Greenfield Village is an open-air museum that is part of a complex known as “The Henry Ford.” .he Henry Ford what is unclear.  I get the impression that it’s a ford (as in low-water crossing of a river) named “Henry.” Greenfield Village was dedicated in 1929 at a ceremony that was attended by historical figures including Marie Curie, Orville Wright, and Will Rogers.

Greenfield Village is now home to a large number or historic buildings, including the home of Noah Webster and the bicycle shop of the Wright Brothers.  There is also a reconstruction of Thomas Edison’s laboratory from Menlo Park, New Jersey.  The original laboratory had been destroyed and so the people who created Greenfield Village moved the two remaining buildings and measured the foundations on the site so that they could recreate the other buildings as closely as possible.

I am not under any kind of misapprehension that the 1880s were anything like a “golden age.”  Too many of my relatives and ancestors were living in tenements for me to do that.  As a result, some of the “let’s go back to a simpler time” stuff is lost on me. It wasn’t actually simpler. However, as an educational destination, Greenfield Village is fun, particularly as a way to look at the work of the innovators of the past and looking forward to the innovators of the future. At 90 acres, it’s also a nice place to get some fresh air.

I went to Google Maps to see if it would look like I remember, and I discovered that they let the Google Street View car into the museum.  This is another one of those situations where the amount of time it’s been since my last visit has come back to me.  This coming August will be 29 years since my last visit, which I remember was a nice temperature, but was very sunny.  It’s not nearly as sunny as I remember, because the trees are nearly 30 years older than they were my last visit.

The sidewalks of Greenfield Village were designed with accessibility in mind, but some of the historic buildings have steps and the people of The Henry Ford, perhaps to preserve the landmark nature of the building, have not installed ramps.  On some of the buildings, however, the presenter can come outside to do his or her presentation so that wheelchair users can get the information even if they cannot come into the buildings.

My Travel Memories: Cincinnati, Ohio

Finally, we get to Cincinnati.  Cincinnati is not a perfect city by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s in the “rust belt,” which (for those not in the United States) is a reference to the region that used to rely heavily upon industrial jobs but where the industrial jobs have disappeared, sending the economy and population of the region into something of a tailspin.  Cincinnati also has, from what I have read, a great deal of racial tension.  Chicago is not free of racial tension, but I grew up in an area that had had been dragged kicking and screaming into racial diversity and now I live in San Antonio, which is more diverse than not (the 2010 census reports that the population of white non-Latino residents in the city proper is 26.6%).

So, Cincinnati is not exactly heaven on Earth or anything like that (despite being the place where a family friend had a conversion experience). What Cincinnati has that makes it worth the trip?  Is Cincinnati Union Terminal (now home to the Cincinnati Museum Center).

I have actually been to Cincinnati twice. The first time was in 1980, when Union Terminal was a shopping mall.  My mom and I visited the mall while my dad was working and we had a wonderful time.  The mall was, well, a mall.  But the building?  Is beautiful. The rotunda, the tiny details. Even the pay phones were gorgeous.  This was, of course, back in the days before everyone had a cell phone and we had to call my dad to arrange where he was going to pick us up, so we had to find a pay phone and the phone booths were very Art Deco.  I half-expected Superman to emerge from one.

Speaking of Superman, Cincinnati Union Terminal is also the inspiration for the Hall of Justice from the old 1970s Super Friends cartoon show.  So if train stations aren’t your thing, and neither is Art Deco architecture or museums, perhaps it would be worth the visit for the comics/Saturday-morning-cartoon fan in your traveling group.

When my folks and I returned to Cincinnati in 1987, Union Terminal sat empty.  This was distressing for both my mom and me, since it’s such a lovely building and we’d had such a good time there.  Little did we know (since the Internet wasn’t widely available yet) that plans were under way to turn Union Terminal into the Cincinnati Museum Center.

I only discovered this information around three or four years ago, when a friend was planning a trip to Cincinnati and asked what there was to do there.  I was sad that the station had been empty and looked it up, dreading to find that the building was razed.  Lo and behold, the building had been given new life.  Since 1990, the Museum Center has been home to the Cincinnati History Museum, the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science, and an Omnimax theater.

Of course, I have not returned to Cincinnati since the opening of the Museum Center, but I am planning another trip to Cincinnati in 2017.  My hope is that when Alex and I go to Kentucky for the eclipse we will drive there (stopping in Nashville to see the Parthenon on the way).  Perhaps we will visit Graceland as well; I don’t know what kind of time we’ll have available.  But Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the town closest to the point of greatest eclipse, is only four hours from Cincinnati.  I’ve been in Texas for nearly 23 years now.  A four-hour drive really is “only” to me. So I figure that we’ll start a day earlier, overshoot Hopkinsville by four hours, visit Union Terminal (and take lots of pictures!), spend the night in Cincinnati or in Louisville, and then get up extra early to make it back to Hopkinsville in time for the eclipse.  At least, that’s the plan.  Let’s see how it works out in practice.

My Travel Memories, Lexington (and probably Louisville), Kentucky

This is going to be a short one, because I don’t remember much.  I’m not even sure that Lexington was our next stop after Springfield.  At this point in our 1980 vacation, we took one of my dad’s road trips with him.  The cities he needed to visit and thus we covered were Lexington, Louisville, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Detroit.  Lexington might have been the day that my mom and I sat in the car outside the building where my dad was working.  Or was that Louisville?  Literally all I remember of those two cities was dinner.  In Louisville, we went to an Italian restaurant, I think.

And then there was dinner in Lexington.  We had dinner at a dinner theater in Lexington.  I was a young teenager and had been to the theater, by my count, around four times before, but this may have been my first dinner theater experience. As we left the theater, I saw a sort of receiving line for the actors and, figuring that this was the thing to do, I got in line.  I told them that I had had a good time and that they had done a good job.  My mom was pretty surprised by this, since I was kind of a shy kid.  But I figured “when in Rome,” and the Romans seemed to be doing this, so why not?

Since I don’t remember the order we actually visited the cities in, I threw them into Google Maps and will be doing them in that order.  So, next up (January 12?) will be Cincinnati, followed by Columbus and then Detroit.

ETA: I had the worst time scheduling this post.  First I forgot to schedule it at all, so it appeared for a minute as a new post, and then I accidentally scheduled it for January 4, 2015.  It should be okay now.

My Travel Memories: Nauvoo, Illinois

It is likely that nearly everyone in the United States has heard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more popularly called “the Mormons.” In the 2012 election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney was a Mormon. Well, he still is.  The “was” is for the term of his candidacy, rather than his religious affiliation.

Never mind that. The fact is that my mom was always sort of interested in Mormonism. When my mom was a new stay-at-home mom with a young child, she answered the door when two young Mormon missionaries were at the door. She became friends with them, and, though she did not convert, she found a lot to like about Mormonism, particularly their family orientation.  She and one of the missionaries stayed in touch with one another for the next ten years or so.

So when the time came to plan our 1980 vacation, my mom wanted to go to Nauvoo, Illinois.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was founded by a man named Joseph Smith, in Palmyra, New York.  He claimed to have found a set of golden plates that had the story of the “lost tribes of Israel” having fled to North America and Jesus having visited them there.

Soon after founding his church, Smith and his followers moved to Ohio, then on to settle in Nauvoo, Illinois. While they were living in Nauvoo, Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested and held in the jail in Carthage, Illinois.  While they were incarcerated, they were murdered by an angry mob.

The central part of town, at the time, was the space where the Nauvoo Temple had once stood (the Nauvoo Temple was rebuilt in 2002). We visited a lot of houses, as usual, but the site of the temple really stuck in my head.  Human memory is fallible, but I seem to recall that they asked non-Mormons (I was raised United Methodist, though I’m sort of between churches at the moment) not to walk on the ground where the temple had stood, since it was still considered holy.  I didn’t find out until later that the Mormons had sold the Temple, and, after the Temple had been damaged in a fire, the purchaser had sold it to someone else. The Mormons purchased the land back in the middle of the 20th century.  Maybe they had rededicated it, or whatever it’s called, reconsecrated, maybe? I don’t know.  And maybe I’m misremembering and non-Mormons were able to run around freely on that land. Now that there is a new Temple on the site, only Mormons are allowed to go there because of the nature of a Mormon Temple.

Nauvoo Temple site
The site of the Nauvoo Temple in 1980.

Due to stress between the Mormons and the other residents of the area, soon after the Mormons elected Brigham Young as their new president, they moved on, eventually settling in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I have to admit that there are some things about Mormonism that I find appealing.  Particularly, I like the health codes. I probably drink more soft drinks than is strictly healthy for me, and I’m a moderate consumer of caffeine (which is forbidden to Mormons) but I already don’t drink alcohol or smoke. I come from a family of alcoholics and my reaction to alcohol is more “Really?” than “Whee!” And the plan is for me to spend more time in a Mormon situation next year — Alex and I will hopefully be flying into Salt Lake City, then driving to Yellowstone for our 2016 vacation.