Lincoln’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home, Kentucky

The “Gollaher” cabin at Lincoln’s boyhood farm

We knew Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky but never gave it much thought until we wandered that way last fall.

Rule #7 above urges us to choose a direction not a destination and remain open to new opportunities as we travel through life.  We wanted to see Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park.  Lincoln’s Boyhood Home at Knob Creek near Hodgenville was just a little off the way, and Lincoln’s birthplace is not much further.  Well, we were still headed in the direction of the cave.

Inside a frontier cabin typical of the early 1800s

Lincoln’s grandfather [some family members used the name Linkhorn and his grave has both names] was a pioneer who brought his family through the Cumberland Gap in 1771 and was subsequently killed by First Americans [Indians] in 1786.

Lincoln’s father Thomas was a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker and listed among the top twenty percent of the county’s taxpayers.  By those standards, Lincoln was not “poor” but Kentucky “middle class” even though family lived in a one-room log cabin common there at the time.

The first memorial building to honor Abraham Lincoln was dedicated in 1911 on the site of Sinking Spring, the family farm where he was born in 1809.  Architect John Russell Pope [who later designed the Jefferson Memorial] incorporated the same neo-classical style later used in Washington, D.C.  Fifty-six steps, one for each year of Lincoln’s life, lead up a hill from the spring to a temple-like building that houses a log cabin.

Plat of the Lincoln boyhood farm

The log cabin’s authenticity was questioned when the Park Service took over the site in 1933, and it subsequently proved to be “only symbolic.”  In an interesting twist, it includes logs purported to be from the birthplace of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, also born in Kentucky.

An 1895 entrepreneur purchased the land, some nearby land and a cabin in order to develop a tourist site.  That did not work out, so the cabin was sent on tour with the Davis cabin.  After more travel than many people do, the cabin logs were bought and reassembled by the association creating the memorial.  Finally examined by the University of Tennessee in 2004, it turns out not only were the “Lincoln” and “Davis” logs intermingled, the oldest only dated to 1848, twenty-nine years after Lincoln’s birth.

The first Lincoln memorial

It is hard to find the true story of what occurred so long ago in a then ordinary family. Lincoln, the successful railroad lawyer, probably did not boast of his humble background to his wealthy clients.  But the story of the poor “rail-splitter” was true and was publicized  in political campaigns.

Literature and signs suggested Thomas Lincoln moved to Knob Creek when he was sued over the land title to Sinking Spring.  But a volunteer at the birthplace said he believed the Lincolns moved because the land at Knob Creek was superior for farming and noted the suit was not adjudicated until three years after they moved.  It was over an undisclosed lien on the property at the time Thomas Lincoln bought it.  The judge gave Thomas Lincoln the opportunity to keep the land and pay the lien, but he chose not to do so.  They lived at Knob Creek until moving to Illinois in 1816.

Log cabin made of logs taken on tour as Lincoln’s birthplace — or were they Jefferson Davis’?

The cabin now at Knob Creek was built on the Lincoln property from logs on the Gollaher property.  Austin Gollaher, a boyhood friend of Abraham, rescued Lincoln from almost drowning.  Research is planned later this year to determine if the cabin dates from the period.

Of the two, Knob Creek was the more interesting to me.  Lincoln’s earliest memories were of Knob Creek.  There he got the little formal education he ever had.  There he likely witnessed slavery.  While there the family attended a church opposed to slave ownership.  Except for a building used as a tavern, gas station and tourist center, the property has not changed in over two hundred years.

It was interesting just to stand there and imagine the small Lincoln boy helping his parents, planting pumpkin seeds in the field and wading in the creek.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  For readers outside the U.S., Abraham Lincoln was one of our two most important Presidents.  Without Washington, the republic would not exist.  Without Lincoln, the modern unified United States would not exist.

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A gratitude attitude makes the season bright.

We wish all who read RalieTravels a wonderful holiday season whether you celebrate Christmas, are of another religion or no religion at all.  We truly do wish for “peace on earth, good will toward men.”

In some ways, it was a challenging year.  But we got through it with a gratitude attitude.

That attitude was made easier as we hung ornaments on the Christmas tree.  Alie may have seen much of the Caribbean from a wheelchair, but she did visit these places, and we saw them together.  Then, not only did we have the luxury of two cruises, we also had great road trips to see the eclipse in August and to a reunion in the fall.  We were very fortunate this year.

Our Christmas ornament collection is now supplemented by ribbons on which we hang National Park pins; this year we added a new pin from Mammoth Cave and some pins for parks we visited before we started the collection.

[For those of you who just started reading RalieTravels this year, we buy Christmas ornaments on our travels.  We are reminded of those trips each time we decorate our tree.  You can see ornaments from past years here, here and here.]

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In 1991 when arthritis made it too difficult to write Christmas notes, we started sending a printed annual letter and tried to add a little humor.  Although we have not met, I regard many of you who follow this post as friends, so I am sharing our 2017 annual letter  even though it is long.  You might note it refers to trips that became RalieTravel posts.

Dear Friends and Family,

We hope this finds you happy and well.  The same can be said for us even if the “well” part gets challenging now and then.  Alie’s October 2016 surgery went well — she says she is thrilled to have X-ray proof her head is screwed on tight.  Furthermore, recent X-rays have confirmed that, contrary to reports, she does not have a screw loose.

Unfortunately, the recovery process was long and may have aggravated her arthritis which complicated things into mid-summer this year.  This was followed by shingles in October and November.  Our GP is a delightful guy but always under control.  You know you have a problem when he takes a look and says “Oh S—-!”.

Nonetheless, we did get in a couple short cruises and a road trip to Pennsylvania for Ray’s 55th high school reunion.  Unable to drive in a straight line, we went to Hershey via West Virginia and returned via Kentucky.  By the way, C.J. Maggies in Elkins West Virginia has a terrific pizza and a “to die for” chicken pot pie.  Who would have guessed?  Ray took Alie to a glass blower who created a vase for her as we watched.

On one cruise, the average age was so old the Captain held his farewell party the first night — just in case.  We met a honeymoon couple from New Zealand who found each other on-line.  He was nervous about using his real name, so he used the pseudonym Justin Case.  It took his bride three months to catch on.  She married him anyway.

As always, we kept watch for interesting signs:

  • Americus, GA Hair Salon: Mane Street Salon
  • Cowboy Church sign: Free Horseback Rides Sunday at 4:30; Church Service at 6:00 (It turns out that there are a lot of “Cowboy Churches” around the country.  Who knew?)
  • Bar name: Fried Pigeon – presumably a secondary definition of fried.
  • Signs on I-75 advertise “low cost vasectomy” — is that really where you want to economize.
  • T-shirt in Paint Bank, VA: “End of the world, 9 miles; Paint Bank 12 miles.”
  • Sign on a septic tank truck: We’re #1 in the #2 Business.
  • Zephyrhills, FL bank sign: Herbal tea tastes so much better when it’s coffee.

As with the signs, we’re always looking for sayings:

  • Ray was taken with the wisdom (?) of Jimmy Buffet “…most are fine as oysters while some become pearls.” But he had his own addendum: “It takes a lot of irritation to make a pearl.”
  • The wife of a friend who likes to wander calls him a “meanderthal.”
  • But when someone asked what gift was appropriate for a 75th anniversary, Alie replied “marble — a tombstone.”

Friend Pat wasn’t expecting to see us when we ran into her after several years apart.  Then she exclaimed to Alie: “I didn’t recognize you until you opened your mouth.”

We had to buy a water heater this year.  It has a computer that studies our habits, uses less electricity in “off” times and heats the water up again when it thinks we are likely to need it — it is smarter than some people around here.  But perhaps computers have become too big a part of our life; a tired Ray tried to enter a password into the microwave.

A great thing about computers is that when a strange question enters our minds as we drive down the road, all we have to do is pull out the phone and say “OK, Google.”  One time this year, we wondered if any college had a team name the “Foxes.”  None do, but when we researched the subject, we found Marist Red Foxes and these others:  [We are not making them up!]

  • C. Irvine Anteaters;
  • Scottsdale Artichokes;
  • C. Santa Clara Banana Slugs; [a friend replied it is Santa Cruz.]
  • UNC School of The Arts Fighting Pickles;
  • USC Sumter Fire Ants;
  • Austin Community College Riverbats;
  • Richmond Spiders;
  • Mary Baldwin and Union Colleges are both Squirrels;
  • Wisconsin-Sheboygan Wombats; and
  • Akron Zips.

We wonder what a “Riverbat” is?  We also want to go to a U.C. Santa Clara/Cruz game so Alie can yell, “Go Banana Slugs!”

We like to travel in order to meet new and interesting people and see new and interesting places.  But time in the car together also gives us a chance just to talk without life’s daily pressures — and perhaps without pressure to be serious.

It was a busy Red Cross year for us both.  We helped respond to two wildfires, a serious flood and, of course, Hurricane Irma.  We spent Irma in what amounts to a huge garage listening to the walls bang.  We slept with 30 other folks, all about our ages.  This means frequent nighttime forays to the john, more snoring than you can imagine, the sound of c-pap machines and of  course the frequent passing of the incontinent dog we had in the shelter.  Alie was so tired, she actually fell asleep at the height of the storm.  Fortunately, our condo was on the other side of the storm and came through with flying colors.  We had a couple of ceiling leaks and power was restored in under 18 hours.

After some angst, Alie “retired” from the Red Cross this November.  (She was amused to discover that Red Cross computers do not actually allow you to retire.  You just go “inactive”.  Well, “inactive” is what she has in mind.)  We both began before 2004’s Hurricane Charlie.  While the Red Cross was perhaps not the source for many funny stories, the people we met along the way made it a very enriching experience.

We sincerely hope that as you travel through life this next year, many things will be enriching and many will give you a laugh — or at least a chuckle.

Happy Holidays!

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Christmas at Fishermen’s Village, Punta Gorda, Florida

Flip-flops on a tree.: click to enlarge.

Developer Isaac Trabue had Punta Gorda platted in 1885 as a typical Florida town to serve winter visitors, agriculture and fishing at the mouth of the Peace River.  For a brief period until the railroad moved further south, it was the leading phosphate shipping point in the world.

Fishermen’s Village opened in 1980 on the site of the 1928 Maud Street City Dock.  Two fishing companies built the dock out into the wide Peace River mouth emptying into Charlotte Harbor and Gasparilla Sound.  Today, the dock is a shopping, dining and resort complex.

A marina has slips for over a hundred vessels up to sixty feet long.  The pier has two levels with over thirty shops and restaurants on the first level and time-share apartments on the second.  Boat and kayak rentals and guided tours are offered as well as occasional free concerts.

We enjoy waterside dining, sunsets, and just browsing among the shops with their very aquatic Florida feel.

During the holiday season last year, we were amused at a Christmas tree decorated with flip-flops, so we went back to see what they had done this year.  No flip-flops were seen but it was a fun display of lights and decorations well worth a visit.

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PS: San Francisco has more to offer than Punta Gorda, but Fishermen’s Village was more fun than Fisherman’s Wharf.

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Blenko Glass, Milton, West Virginia

Blenko Glass 2009

October saw our third visit to Blenko Glass in Milton, West Virginia.  The company has been around since 1893 — we are old but haven’t been here that long.

Our first visit was while pulling a trailer around the country in 2002.  Alie, in particular, likes what she calls the “ballet” as the glassworkers’ hands swing or rotate the pipe.  She says she watches their hands more than the glowing glass.

Although William J. Blenko, trained in England, founded the company in Indiana in 1893, Americans felt European glass was better so he shuttled his business back and forth to Europe so he could sell Americans “imported” glass.

In 1921, he opened a factory in Milton for its abundant natural gas, good rail system and hard-working laborers.  He moved it to its present location in 1923.

An unusual architectural use for Blenko Glass

Blenko has produced stained glass since it was founded.  During the Great Depression, they expanded into household items such as dishes, bottles and vases.  They produce ornaments.  They have even produced the small glass discs one sometimes sees in pavements.

Their method is to blow the glass into molds before finishing it.  In some ways the operation is like a small production line.

Fine glass is a difficult business in a modern multi-national era.  Many small glass companies have gone out of business.  Even the giant public company Corning Glass no longer makes its Steuben line.

In 2002, we were told the business was on the rocks until a television documentary revived interest in the art.

I use the word “art” deliberately.  It is a craft that takes many years to perfect.  But in the hands of a master, it is an art.

Comments on last week’s post demonstrated many have seen glassblowers.  Nonetheless, if you have the opportunity to see one of these old masters, I urge you to take it before they are all gone.

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Ron Hinkle, Glassblower

We visited Ron Hinkle’s Buckhannon, West Virginia glass studio shortly after the January 2006 Sago Mine disaster that claimed 12 miners’ lives. Alie talked with the brother of one of the victims and his wife, a friend of the sole survivor; I’m not sure we talked with Ron.  We did buy a Christmas ornament.

This September we went back to Hinkle’s just to see a glassblower work, but  it became a unique experience.

Arriving early on a Tuesday, we were the only visitors.  Ron stopped work he was doing on a trailer and invited us into his studio.  He asked Alie her favorite color “today.”  She said green, and he replied he would make the base color a forest green.  [The most popular color is cobalt blue followed by red and then purple.  Green didn’t make the normal list.]

Ron Hinkle’s studio.

He invited us to stand close so we could see better; standard practice is to make people stand behind a barrier, both for safety and so that a few don’t block the view for others.  While he worked, his assistant for the last two years, Aaron Harvey, explained what he was doing.

After gathering glass on a “blowpipe” from the main 2400 degree furnace, he rolled it in carefully laid out lines of crushed colored glass on a flat steel “marver.”  He then used tools to pull swirls and streaks in the molten glass. Blowing a puff of air into the glass and letting it expand made a hollow spot in the center.  Between each step, he inserted the work into the “glory hole,” a 2300 degree fire, to keep it at the correct temperature.

At this point he cooled the glass slightly before inserting it back into the first furnace to gather a layer of clear glass over the colored glass; this way the heat of the new glass would not collapse the air bubble inside the piece.  He continued to work the glass making it bigger with the blowpipe and shaping it with a wet ladle-like cherrywood “block,” a flat “paddle” and “jacks,” steel tweezers.

With the help of Aaron, he reversed the work onto a long solid steel “punty” so that there was now a small opening facing out.  This he enlarged with another cone-shaped air pipe and continued to shape and work the piece.

Finally, again with the help of Aaron, the piece was removed from the punty and the rough spot on the bottom smoothed.  A maker’s mark was stamped in.  Then, to keep it from shattering while it cooled, it was put into an annealer to slowly cool over 12 hours . The final step was to sign and date the piece with an engraver.

The finished product, a Ron Hinkle vase, 2017

Hinkle grew up on his family’s farm.  When he was 16, rather than doing hay in the summer, he asked for a job in the Louie Glassworks.  He was told to sit down and do whatever he was told.  Two weeks later they asked him for his name and social security number and paid him.  He stayed with Louie and its successor for more than 19 years before becoming an undercover investigator for his brother-in-law in New Jersey.  After two years in New Jersey, he returned to the family farm and built his own glass furnace.  He has had his own business for 24 years but also worked two years as a Vice President at Blenko Glass for whom he still consults.

In all, Hinkle has 44 years as a glass blower.  He made glass peaches to be given to dignitaries and guests at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.  His ornaments have been on trees in governors’ mansions and at the Pageant of Peace at the White House.  He has been featured in national publications.  He has 8 children, 22 grandchildren and a great grandchild.  But most of all, I am pleased to say he is a really nice person.

View the slide show to see how the vase above was made:

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Sand sculpture follow up.

An extra-large sculpture, not part of the competition, greets spectators.

After my post two weeks ago talking about the 31st Annual Fort Myers Beach Sand Sculpting Championship, several people asked about the techniques they used.  One local friend asked if they just scooped sand off the beach – no.  Blogger Sue Slaght asked how they achieve the smooth finish — after sculpting compacted wet sand, they protect it from the wind with a spray of water and white glue.

I thought by going the first Sunday I could learn about the tools and techniques.  However, the organizers found people were disappointed to attend the first weekend and find very little finished work, so they held the master sculptors’ solo competition early.  Doubles masters’ and amateurs’ competition followed this week.

As a result, with the exception of one man working on a piece that had fallen apart during the competition and a couple of others doing some touch up work, I again needed to use a few older photos to illustrate the work in process.  But here are some pictures of this year’s master solo competition work too.

Click on a photo to enlarge tools of the trade:

2017 Masters Solo Competition:

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Detouring deliberately

1916 Clover Hollow Bridge across Sinking Creek

Click on photos to enlarge.

Rule seven says to choose a direction rather than a destination.  You should be open to what life offers.

Driving from Florida to Pennsylvania, we took extra time in order to arrive refreshed and better able to enjoy seeing our friends.

The fastest route would be I-95, but that is stressful, so we drove back-roads.  Somewhere in the Carolinas, I noticed Seneca Rocks, West Virginia on the map.  That appealed and was only a couple hundred miles out of our way.

Mountain Lake Lodge

In Radford, Virginia, we decided to see Stafford Art Glass on US 460.  On the way, we decided to drive into Blacksburg, home of Virginia Technical University, the beloved alma mater of a former colleague.

The art studio clearly had not been open for some time, so we took turned onto Virginia 42 which went the direction we wanted.  That took us through the charming little village of Newport where we saw a sign pointing to a covered bridge.

We went to see the bridge but rather than retrace our steps continued on the winding road.  It took us to county route 700 on which we discovered the Mountain Lake Lodge, opened in 1856.  It turns out the 1987 version of the movie Dirty Dancing which takes place in New York’s Catskill Mountains, was partially filmed at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia.

Forks of John’s Creek Christian Church

The road north from the lodge was closed, so we took county 600, looped back to Newport and continued north on 42 until county 658 which seemed a shortcut to Elkins, W.V.  Near Senaca Rocks, Elkins was now our destination because it had a motel.

On the way, we had a picnic lunch at a table on the lawn of the Forks of John’s Creek Christian Church before turning on VA 311.

311 took us to Paint Bank, a small town that caters to tourists looking at the fall leaves.  In the general store, we saw a T-shirt that read “End of the world 9 miles; Paint Bank 12 miles.”

Finally reaching Elkins, we found a very nice little town and an excellent restaurant.  The town decorated its parking signs for the “Third Annual Elkins Main Street Scarecrow Festival.”  We decided to stay an extra night, saw Senaca Rocks and found a most interesting glassblower, the subject of my next post.

We had not even known about most of these places when we left Florida.  We would go back — except that a detour might take us someplace else.

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