National Portrait Gallery: Washington, D.C.

America’s National Portrait Gallery [NPG] was created long after many of the other museums in the Smithsonian collection.  It was not authorized by Congress until 1962.  An early problem was finding portraits, and over the years, it has had its share of controversy.

Since 1968, it has been in the “Old Patent Office Building” constructed between 1836 and 1867 of sandstone with a marble facade.  There had been a proposal to tear down that building in 1957 and replace it with a parking garage.  Fortunately, that proposal was rejected and the NPG now shares the building with the Smithsonian Gallery of American Art.

In my opinion, the gallery is as much about U.S. history as it is about art.  That is not a bad thing.  The other half of the building is devoted to American art and the National Gallery of Art has a fine collection.

I did not attempt to show a representative example of the collection.  It has portraits in many media from painting to photography to engraving.  I paint portraits and figures [it was not an accident our hotel was across the street], so these are just a few among the many that caught my eye.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 5 Jun 19

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Revisiting an old friend: Washington DC

National Archives

We lived and worked in Washington, D.C. for thirty-one years except for a brief period in New Jersey.  For a long time, the only sight-seeing we did was with friends and relatives from out of town.  We would try to see everything in a short time — it left us exhausted and slightly disappointed.

We learned not to try to see everything but just spend an hour or two seeing one thing at a time.  It was much more satisfactory.

We became involved in a Florida business in late 1995 and moved there.  Since then,  we passed through D.C. many times, but our visits were consumed meeting friends who lived in the area.

This spring we decided to spend a few days just sightseeing again — but we wouldn’t try to see everything.  We stayed at a hotel near the center of the city and just saw those things we could reach on foot.

Here are a few images from that visit.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Dates of our visit:  3-5 Jun 19

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Chihuly at the Franklin Park Conservatory

“Persian Window”

We had a day free in Columbus, Ohio, the weather was beautiful, and we chose to visit The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens [you can read about our May visit here.].

I am posting this today even though it interrupts our spring trip posts because the Conservatory has a special exhibit of glass-maker Chihuly’s extraordinary creations until 29 March 2020.  If you should be in that part of Ohio, you might want to visit.

In 2003, the Conservatory had a special exhibit of Chihuly’s work.  It was such a success, Friends of the Conservatory, a private non-profit group, bought his work for the Conservatory’s private collection.  Since that time, most of the collection has circulated to other venues for viewing.  This is the first time it has all been brought back together.

We are not particular Chihuly fans [although we love some pieces] but we enjoy glass blowing and actually sat through a long video explaining his various techniques.  Born in Tacoma, Washington, he studied glass making at the University of Wisconsin, the Rhode Island School of Design and in Venice, Italy.  He continued to travel to many places around the world to meet with master glass blowers.  An accident in 1976 left him blind in one eye, but it was another accident damaging his shoulder in 1979 that stopped him from actually blowing glass.  He hired others and became a designer and supervisor.  But it is in his role as an innovator and  entrepreneur that he really excelled.  His works are large-scale sculptures and are now found throughout the world.

The Conservatory grounds were decked out for fall.  We enjoyed a walk around them, especially the children’s area which featured carved and decorated pumpkins all wired for special after dark presentations the last two weekends in October.

Click on photos to enlarge; click to return to the post.

Date of our visit: 20 October 2019

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Hershey Park: An amusement park with an unusual owner

Last week, I wrote about our favorite amusement park.  After visiting Knobels, we stopped for a day at Hershey Park, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Hershey is probably the most widely known brand of chocolate in the United States.  It does not have a strong international presence, however, and readers from other countries might not know about it.

Milton Hershey founded the company.  He failed in business five times before succeeding making caramels.  He sold the caramel business and used the proceeds to build his own model town in the Pennsylvania countryside and a chocolate factory.  He built the amusement park for his employees and residents in the town.

In 2019, a large area was fenced off for new construction.   It is for a fifteenth and largest roller coaster and new section known as “Chocolatetown” to be opened in 2020.

1919 Philadelphia Toboggan Co. carousel: 42 jumping horses; 24 stationary, 2 chariots – 2nd largest of its type.

“Hershey Chocolate” became the basis for Milton Hershey’s fortune, now estimated at over fourteen billion dollars.  The fence is lined with photographs illustrating his life, the town of Hershey and Hershey Park.  There is a photograph of Milton Hershey and about 18 of his “boys” [some barely visible].  The park is owned by a trust for the benefit of the thousands of Milton Hershey’s “children.”

Thousands of children, you ask.  During his life, Milton Hershey called them “my boys.”

In 1909, he and his wife Catherine, unable to have children of their own, created The Hershey Industrial School for boys who had lost a parent to give them a home, a trade and a high school diploma [a diploma was held by only 10% of the people at the time].

The carousel still uses a 1926 military band organ with 164 pipes and 16 bells.

In 1918, Hershey quietly with no publicity transferred the majority of his company to a trust for the school.  That trust owns the majority of The Hershey Company.  The trust owns all of the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company, the parent company of Hershey park.  Milton Hershey continued to oversea his company until 1945 when he passed on at age 88.

Now known as Milton Hershey School, it is open to girls as well as boys and children of all races.  The child no longer has to have a deceased parent.  The goal is to “break the cycle of poverty” by giving low income children a stable place to live and an excellent education.  The school accepts children between the ages of 4 and 16 and takes full responsibility for them.

Today, the school is home to over two thousand children.  It offers post-secondary school help as well.  Vocational education is still available, but more than 60 percent of the students go on to a four-year college.

When you buy a Hershey product, and indeed, while you are enjoying yourself in Hershey Park, you are supporting one of Milton and Catherine Hershey’s “children.”

 

In this day of “fake news,” I have seen items on Facebook and elsewhere saying Hershey chocolate has moved or is moving to Mexico urging people not to buy Hershey products.  It is fake news.  By the 1960s, the company had become stagnant.  It had no international presence, it did no advertising.  Management changed course.  It acquired other candy companies and their plants across the country [Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are its best seller].  It acquired the rights to make foreign brands like Cadbury in the United States.   It opened plants in California and Canada and Brazil.  It has operated in Mexico for forty years, and some manufacturing in California and Canada was moved to Mexico in 2008.  However, the company remains centered in Hershey, Pennsylvania where it built a new and expanded chocolate plant in 2012.  Its most recent expansion was construction of a facility to produce Kit Kat products in Hazel Township, PA.

Click on photos to enlarge; back click to return to the post.

Date of our visit: 31 May 19

P.S.  If you know of a child that might benefit by going to the school or are interested in working at the school, especially as a houseparent, visit MHSkids.org.

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Our favorite amusement park: Knoebels, Elysburg, Pennsylvania

Many rides at Knoebels are restored old rides, but somethings are very modern.

We enjoy Disney World and visit there often.  But we wonder how an average family with small children can afford it.  There is the huge cost of admission, a charge for parking unless you stay on the property, and expensive food.  That is the business model for most amusement parks today.

Wandering with our fifth-wheel trailer in 2000, we came across an exception, Knoebel’s Grove in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, now known as Knoebels Amusement Resort.  It is run by the same family that founded it.  The fact that it has survived nearly a hundred years suggests it is profitable, but it is the “largest free-admission amusement park” in America.

That is correct: entrance is free.  Parking is free.  It is family-friendly.  I remember a sign when we entered the park from the adjoining campground: “No offensive T-shirts, and we will determine what is offensive.”

Knoebels began as a natural swimming hole in the creek on “Peggy’s Farm.”  Farmer Henry Knoebel charged ten cents for admission and use of the bath house and 25 cents to feed and stable your horse.   Later, he sold ice cream, sodas and snacks and began to lease plots along the creek for cottages [some of which can be rented today].  In 1926, he opened a restaurant, bought a carousel and replaced the muddy swimming hole with a concrete swimming pool with filtered water.  A campground was added in 1962.  Today’s park map lists 64 rides, 14 “attractions” including a free carousel museum, 33 dining and refreshment locations, 27 games, and 24 gift shops – all in a pleasant wooded valley.

Amusement parks are first and foremost for children.  But again, I wonder how the average family can afford a visit without going into debt.  I suspect most put those expenses on credit cards.

Twenty years later, as we crossed central Pennsylvania, we wondered if it was still true.  I am happy to say it is.  Entrance is free.  Parking is free.  There are picnic tables where you can eat the food you brought with you to the park.  There is a separate charge for each ride, but you can buy a “ride all day” pass.  Children under 48″ pay less than half price.  We split a steak sandwich for eight dollars, about the most expensive item on their menu.  The park is clean; the staff is friendly and helpful.

Amusement Today gave Knoebels their 2018 “Golden Ticket” award for the best carousel, The Grand Carousel, and another for the world’s best wooden coaster, The Phoenix.

It is not as big as new theme parks.  The rides are often older and bought second-hand from other parks.  But that did not seem to make any difference to the hundreds of school children who were there.

Family-friendly standards still prevail.

There are some changes in 20 years, of course.  There are new rides.  There are a couple “new” roller coasters since our last visit, another wooden one and a more modern metal one.  A sign that actually encouraged you to bring your own food is gone.  That sign I saw in 2000 is no longer hand-painted.  But it still prohibits offensive T-shirts even if it doesn’t  say the park will decide what is offensive.

Date of our visit: 30 May 19

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  Does Alie like roller-coasters?  In 2000, she rode the Phoenix three times but did not tell me she cracked a rib on the first ride because she knew I would insist we get off.

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National Comedy Center: Jamestown, New York

Jamestown is certainly not on the beaten path, but the National Comedy Center is well worth a visit.  Perhaps if your travels take you to the more famous Niagara Falls, you might consider a side trip.  You might even decide it is worth a trip on its own.

When we stopped in Jamestown, I had a vague recollection there was some comedy connection.  It turns out Lucille Ball was born there.

The National Comedy Center opened in 1996 with two museums, one dedicated to Lucy and her husband Desi Arnaz, and the other the more broadly-based National Comedy Center.  We recognize the unique skills of Lucy and Desi, but neither of us is really a fan.  On the other hand, we always love a laugh, so we took an extra night in Jamestown and visited the Comedy Center.

It was unlike any other “museum” we have been to before.

I am 75, have memories too old for many readers, and am by no means au courant.  We all differ.  Your taste is likely be different.  But the Comedy Center has us all covered.  There are over fifty exhibits.  You can even try your own hand at stand-up comedy.

What is more, the museum is interactive; it puts emphasis on what makes you laugh.  After paying our fee, we were given a wristband with a microchip embedded.  Holding it to the first kiosk, our picture was taken, and we were given lists of comedians, movies and TV programs to choose among for our favorites – as many as we liked.  Our comedy profile was created.  Some profiling is a good thing.  As we proceeded through the building’s exhibits, that same profile meant they often showed us films and videos of those comedians we were most likely to enjoy, even some whom were new to us.

You can review the history of late night television.  You can watch a hologram of a young Jim Gaffigan [now 53] as he ages and his stand-up routine evolves.  There is a bit of everything from the silent films of Charlie Chaplin to cartoons, the Internet, YouTube and memes.

And if you are 75, you can be nostalgic — I’m not joking.

The photos, of course, reflect my interests.  Click on them to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 28 May 19

Click here to see my post about Bob Hope in Viet Nam.

Bob Hope’s shirt, MACV patches and military IDs

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Toronto

CN Tower and Sharp Centre for Design

Toronto was not our destination.  We just decided to stop on our way from Florida to Washington, D.C.  That’s how we prefer to travel: making plans as we go along.

There is a price, of course.  The price was we had other places we wanted to see too, so we really only had a quick tour of Toronto.  But now we will have a better sense of the place when we go back.

Thinking we might also visit Niagara Falls, we chose a hotel closer to Burlington.  Were we to do it again, we would either stay in town or near a commuter train.  The greater Toronto metropolitan area has nearly six million people and the fastest growing population in North America.  There is the traffic to go with that growth, even on a weekend.  Not wanting to fight our way in on a workday, we visited the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington on Friday, went to the Art Gallery of Ontario on Saturday [a rainy day] and took the Hop-on, Hop-off bus and accompanying boat ride on Sunday when the weather was nicer.  The bus was crowded, so my photos did not come our as well as I would have liked.

Toronto probably has the most diverse population of any place we have been.  We were told that about fifty percent of the population comes from one minority group or another.  Over two hundred ethnic backgrounds are present, and more than one hundred and sixty languages are spoken.   Most people, however, also speak English, the primary language.

There are many distinct neighborhoods, and in 1967, surrounding municipalities were merged into a larger configuration.

The 29-mile long waterfront is sheltered by the Toronto Islands and Port Lands near the downtown area.

We finished our day at a sidewalk table outside a small Indian cafe.  It was not fancy, but the food was terrific.  With that diverse population, it is not surprising Toronto offers every form of dining as well as a rich cultural life.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Dates of our visit: 25 and 26 May 2019

P.S.  Everyone knows Toronto is on the way from Florida to Washington, don’t they. 🙂

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