Recommendations for History-Related Summer Travel

If you’re like our faculty, you’ll spend at least some of your summer traveling the United States. If you’d like to indulge your love of history during those journeys, some historians have been doubling as travel writers in recent weeks.

At The Anxious Bench, our own Chris Gehrz and his co-bloggers shared nine favorite historic sites, five to the east of the Mississippi and four to the west. In addition to Minnesota’s own Grand Portage National Monument, Prof. Gehrz recalled his family’s visits to two important sites in Virginia on their Fall 2016 sabbatical:

If you find Colonial Williamsburg overcrowded or overpriced, then brave much smaller crowds for many fewer dollars by touring the two sites on either end of the beautiful Colonial Parkway: Jamestown and Yorktown. One admission fee covers both, and everyone under 16 enters for free. When our family visited them last fall, we reversed the chronology and started with the Yorktown battlefield. (And yes, we sang along to the Hamilton soundtrack as we pulled into the visitor center parking lot.) Even if you bike or drive the full route, the Yorktown site is remarkably small, reminding those of us accustomed to battlefields like Gettysburg or Verdun of the relatively short ranges of 18th century weaponry. And our kids got a kick out of emulating America’s “ten-dollar Founding Father” and storming a not-exactly-impenetrable British redoubt. (“We will fight up close, seize the moment and stay in it / It’s either that or meet the business end of a bayonet!”) But the real highlight was Historic Jamestowne, where the kids roamed the ruins, posed with a statue of Pocahontas (apocryphally a distant ancestor on my dad’s side), sifted through bits and pieces from the archeological dig, and learned about slavery and cannibalism at the Archaearium. All that plus the glass blower just up the road.

The Gehrz children at Jamestown
Prof. Gehrz’s kids at Jamestown last October

Then Time magazine asked ten nationally-known experts to share their favorite historic sites. Several were well-established Civil War sites, but historian Eric Foner recommended a newer landmark dedicated to the aftermath of that conflict:

In the waning days of his presidency, Barack Obama designated Beaufort [South Carolina] a National Landmark devoted to the history of Reconstruction, the pivotal era that followed the Civil War. It was in Reconstruction that the laws and Constitution were rewritten to try to create a society based on equal rights regardless of race, and when interracial democracy for the first time flourished in this country. The emancipated slaves took important steps toward enjoying genuine freedom, but eventually progress was thwarted and reversed by terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. In the Beaufort area, buildings and monuments still stand that exemplify the history of Reconstruction — the Penn Center, where northern women set up a school to educate the freed people; the home of Robert Smalls, the area’s longtime black political leader; plantations where African-Americans acquired land; and other sites. In Beaufort, visitors can learn about what might be called the first civil rights era, a period of our history most Americans know little about but whose struggles over equality and freedom resonate today.

If you do visit a historic site over the summer and would like to share your experience with other students, alumni, and friends of the Bethel History Department, let us know. We’d love to revive our occasional AC 2nd Travelogue series!

The AC 2nd Travelogue: The Land of Lincoln

Last summer sisters Lynae (’08) and Dana (’12) Morrison kicked off our alumni/student travelogue series by recounting their trip to Kansas City, Missouri. Today we’re happy to share their latest historical travels in the Midwest! If you’d like to write for this or our other recurring blog series, please get in touch with Prof. Chris Gehrz.

It seems an annual summer tradition has begun. Another summer, another presidential library for the Morrison clan. Last year’s trip was to Kansas City, Missouri, to visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and the National World War I Museum.

This year’s road trip was to Springfield, Illinois, to visit the sites associated with Abraham Lincoln. Springfield was where he spent most of his life, moving there at the age of 27 to begin his law career up until the time he departed for Washington, D.C. to begin his presidency. The surprisingly small capital city (117,006) is extremely proud to claim Lincoln as its own.

Our first stop on our tour of Springfield was a somber one: the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Lincoln is entombed with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and sons Eddie, Willie, and Tad. (Oldest son Robert is buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.) The obelisk of the tomb towers above the rest of the cemetery and inspires a sense of awe. Inside the tomb, a cenotaph marks the spot where Lincoln is buried ten feet below. In a sign of the times we live in, outside of the tomb there were people taking selfies and smiling for group pictures. It took away from the contemplative atmosphere that burial sites tend to convey. It felt more like a tourist attraction than a place to pay respect. Despite that it was a unique place to start our trip to remind us that he was indeed a real person.

Before leaving Oak Ridge Cemetery we visited the War Memorial State Historic Site. It included the Illinois Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as memorials for the Korean War and World War II.

The next day began with a tour of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. It was the only home that Lincoln ever owned. In 1887 Robert Todd sold the home to the state of Illinois for $1.00 with the condition that it would be free to visitors. Since the Lincolns sold most of their belongings before moving to D.C., most of the furnishings are not original to the house but are of the same time period. It created a quaint and cozy atmosphere.

The Lincoln Family Home

One ranger shared a particularly humorous story. While Lincoln was out of town on the court circuit, Mary made significant renovations to the home, taking it from a one and half story to a full two-story house. Upon returning to Springfield, Lincoln had to ask a passerby if he knew where the Lincoln house was, as he no longer recognized his own home. It was fun to hear anecdotes about family life including many stories about the rambunctious Lincoln boys.

The next home we visited that day was the Dana-Thomas House, one of the earliest homes that Frank Lloyd Wright designed (between 1902-1904). His signature style of horizontal lines, expanding spaces, and brightly patterned glass are prominent throughout. A unique feature of this home is that it was built around an existing Victorian mansion, which was owned by socialite Susan Lawrence Dana. After Wright was commissioned to remodel to house, he proceeded to erase any existence of the former home, save one room at the heart of the home that Dana fought to preserve in the Victorian style.

Dana-Thomas House

The final day of the trip was devoted to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The museum utilizes traditional presentation with artifacts from his life, but also features technological and digital effects.

The museum is divided into two journeys of Lincoln’s life: the pre-presidential years and White House. The pre-presidential years takes the visitor through his childhood in Kentucky up until his departure from Springfield to begin the presidency. The White House Years follows the Lincoln story from his inauguration through his assassination. It pays particular attention to important milestones in his presidency such as the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address.

Much like we experienced at the Truman Museum the exhibit made the attempt to convey that despite the near-mythological status he holds today, Lincoln did have detractors and enemies as presented by The Whispering Gallery. The gallery included newspaper clippings, quotations, and audio recordings of unflattering and downright petty attacks on the Lincolns, from how Abraham was handling the war to Mary’s wardrobe choices. It served as a reminder how little politics has changed over 150 years.

Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

In addition to the exhibits there were two theaters both featuring a technological spin on the traditional film experience. Using digital-projection screens and holographic imaging these shows reiterated the humanity of Lincoln, reminding viewers to distinguish the man from the myth.

A real treat for us was the special exhibit entitled Undying Words: Lincoln 1858-1865, which focused on some of his greatest and most powerful words. Artifacts included the presidential carriage the Lincolns used in Washington, D.C., the gloves Lincoln carried the night of his assassination, and the bed he died in.

For our final evening in Springfield we took a less academic, but no less entertaining, walking tour called Lincoln’s Ghost Walk: Legends and Lore. The tour blended the factual with the paranormal and touched on Lincoln’s spiritual side. Our guide pointed out the church the Lincolns attended while in Springfield. Lincoln was not a member of this or any church, but throughout his life blended Christian beliefs with the spiritual.

Our final stop on the walking tour was the Lincoln Depot where Lincoln departed Springfield for the last time. From this station he addressed the gathered crowd seeing him off to Washington, D.C. President-elect Lincoln left the well-wishers with a heartfelt and ultimately prophetic message:

Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return…

Lynae and Dana Morrison with a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL

Thanks again, Lynae and Dana, for sharing your photos and reflections with us! And congratulations to Dana, who just moved back to North Dakota to start a new job as an interpreter at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan!

The AC 2nd Travelogue: An Alum’s Experience of Our WWI Trip

A week of posts on our recent World War I travel course concludes today with these reflections from Anne-Britt Mulberry ’00, who accompanied her husband, Prof. Sam Mulberry, on the trip for its first two weeks. Anne-Britt had a unique perspective: not only an alum and faculty spouse, but a former student and TA in HIS230L back when it was taught on-campus by Profs. Neil and Virginia Lettinga…

Neil Lettinga in 1994
Neil Lettinga in the October 7, 1994 issue of The Clarion – Bethel Digital Library

In January of 1997 I took the J-term WWI class, taught by Professors Neil and Virginia Lettinga at Bethel College. (It was still ‘college’ back then.) I knew this class was different from most when ten minutes in we were marching and bellowing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” It quickly became one of my favorite classes I had at Bethel.

So much so, I became a teaching assistant for the course in 1998 and 2000. Not only did I learn about the war, but I was immersed in the culture of that era. Unlike many history classes I took at Bethel, WWI spanned a very short number of years. Because of this, the class was able to delve into a cultural breadth that was unique: we sang songs, contemplated visual art pieces, fashion, recipes, and politics of the era, and read poems, journals, and other writings by soldiers, politicians, mothers, intellectuals, suffragettes, and others. It was a rigorous class with a lot of reading and writing. (When I became a TA, I helped grade many papers for the class of seventy plus, which helped later on when I became a seventh grade history teacher.)

But more than the overall knowledge I gained about WWI, the class also helped shape the way I felt about duty, war, nationalism, and what my response to those ideas as a Christian should be.

Eighteen years after taking the class for the first time, I was able to accompany the WWI class to Europe.  I wondered what I would remember from my college class, what new things I would learn, and what differences I would experience.  I quickly realized what a difference seeing the places, monuments, and graves would have on my overall sense of WWI.

The first day in London, students had a scavenger hunt that led them to Trafalgar Square. As we gathered, we were asked to read a firsthand account of the declaration of war, which described the gathering throng of pro-war supporters at Trafalgar Square. Standing there visualizing this event, I was struck with an understanding I did not have previously. Even though in my college class experience we explored the reasons why people wanted to go to war, I still found the lust for war dumbfounding. I kept thinking I would be smarter that these people to get suckered into such a bloody conflict. I’m not sure if this is mostly the result of age, or how much of it was simply standing in that very square, but I finally understood why many felt the way they did.

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square (Angela Stephens)

This happened over and over again throughout the trip. My previous knowledge and understanding of WWI constantly expanded, especially in empathetic and emotional ways.

There were differences between the abroad experience and the classroom.  The abroad class focused primarily on the European experience of the War, specifically the Western Front, whereas the traditional classroom experience was able to spend more time on America, the Eastern Front, and other parts of the world during the war. Another difference was the ability to draw in other references. For example, in the classroom experience we had about 30 different slides (yes, they were slides!) of art that were chosen from all over the world to help us understand the intellectual and philosophical shift during this time.  In the abroad experience we went to several art galleries to actually see first hand some of the same pieces and additional pieces from the era.   Both experiences I gained a better understanding about the art and intellectual world from this era, but the experience was very different.

I went mostly because it meant getting to travel to Europe. I have visited London and Paris in the past, and loved both cities. Having taken WWI before, I knew I would enjoy seeing firsthand some of the things I remembered seeing and reading about. I did not enter into this experience expecting something life-changing, but that is what I got!

A major theme of the class was remembrance. As we walked through cemeteries and past memorials in England, Belgium and France, we were asked to think about what we choose to remember in our culture and how we remember it. This led me to think about how I choose to remember events and people in my life, and in my world. The experience also made me contemplate my choices and my courage to live out my convictions as a Christian in our world. I am still contemplating lingering questions and convictions this experience had me wrestle with.

I was also surprised to discover how emotional the war became for me.  Whether it was in an art gallery, on a busy street looking at a monument, walking through a trench, or in a cemetery viewing row after row after row of nameless graves, I was often overcome with a new sense of the enormity and the impact the war had on so many lives.

In the end, it’s difficult for me to choose one thing about the trip I enjoyed the most. The lame (but true!) answer would be to say all of it, so I won’t do that. But I will say two things:

My favorite thing that I experienced in terms of the class was the three days in Belgium and northern France, where we spent time traveling to memorials, monuments, battlefields, and cemeteries. Contemplating memorials from Canada, South Africa, Wales, America, Australia, France, and many other nations as well as seeing graves of men from places like Germany, China, and India was an amazing, sometimes overwhelming experience. I was able to truly appreciate how indeed the world was consumed with this war. Also, being able to see the devastation and change of the land 100 years after the war was jaw dropping. Viewing the craters, bunkers, and trenches that are still part of the Belgium landscape is rather indescribable. There was one experience in particular where we walked up a hill in Belgium to a serene, beautiful wooded pond. The sun was setting in the distance, and there was a perfect, still image of the surrounding trees, brilliant sky, and birds in the reflection of the pond. As we sat there as a class, wondering why we were there, our tour guide explained that the land we were standing on and the pond was created by the Allied forces mining under the hill and blowing up the top where German forces were positioned.  We sat there a while struck with the beauty and knowing the violence and death that created it.

Mafia in Ypres
A game of “Mafia” in our Ypres hostel — Anne-Britt is the one smiling on the far right with her eyes open

The other thing I most enjoyed and was surprised at was the wonderful relationships I was able to form with the class. Being the wife of one of the leaders, I wondered if I would be able to really get to know the students. I soon discovered that our experiences together helped form a close bond. Even though there was free time spent apart, there was a lot of time spent together exploring the city, traveling, eating meals, playing games, and talking at our hostel. The relationships that we formed there have continued here and I am so thankful for them.

 

The AC 2nd Travelogue: Oxford and Environs

Today we’ll continue our new series of travel writing by Bethel History students and alumni. If you’d like to contribute to the series, please e-mail Prof. Chris Gehrz.

This fall History/Business & Political Science major Fletcher Warren (’15) is spending the semester in England, studying at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS) in Oxford. When he returns we’ll make sure to interview Fletcher about his study abroad experience (here’s our most recent installment in that ongoing series), but for now, we encourage you to follow Fletcher’s personal blog, where he’s been writing detailed, photo-laden posts about his travels in and around Oxford.

Keble College
Keble College, Oxford

The first post featured early impressions of Oxford, as Fletcher visited Keble College, the famed Bodleian Library, Oxford’s botanical gardens, and the Roman ruins of Bath. Then his most recent travel writing found Fletcher exploring the St Giles Fair, the Ashmolean Museum and Bates Collection of Musical Instruments, Christ Church and Magdalen colleges, and the medieval sites at Wells and Glastonbury.

Here’s a taste, from his reflections on attending Evensong at Christ Church (both a college and Oxford’s cathedral, a historical oddity that Fletcher explains):

It’s a beautiful cathedral and the service was likewise beautiful, sung by cloisters from the college and (I think) boys from the Magdalen College School. The homily was somewhat unnerving; the rector spoke on the world situation and the need for peace. Surrounded by flags dedicated to the dead of 1914-18 (not to mention those killed in wars stretching back to the English Civil War when Charles I held court at the cathedral), the clergy’s words managed to bridge the distance between the present and the past. Never before have I so felt in direct continuity with (especially) the past century’s European crash of ruin than in that church as the rector spoke about the Ukraine and the near East.

<<Read the first entry in our series of alumni/student travel writing

The AC 2nd Travelogue: To Kansas City and Back

Today we’re kicking off what we hope will be a recurring series: The AC 2nd Travelogue. Last month two of our alumni, sisters Lynae (’08) and Dana Morrison (’12), mentioned that they were planning a trip from the Twin Cities to Kansas City, Missouri, to see its World War I museum and some other historic sites along the way. When asked if they’d be willing to write a post chronicling their adventures, they jumped at the chance. Here, on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, is what they wrote:

The Day the Music Died, The Great War, and Everything In Between

When we realized Steve Miller Band and Journey were only coming as close as Kansas City, Dana knew she had to see them. Lynae, however, was not sold on the concert. That is until we found out there are more historical destinations on the road to Kansas City, Missouri than at first glance.

Our first stop was unplanned. We had spent the night in Mason City, Iowa, and our dad mentioned that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper had played their last show in neighboring Clear Lake before perishing in a plane crash. We set out to find the memorial dedicated to the musicians and the pilot. The site is literally in the middle of two cornfields outside of Clear Lake and was marked by a statue of Holly’s trademark glasses. A half-mile walk on a dirt path brought us to a small steel tribute, decorated with tokens from fans all across the country.

We met one such fan and his father slowly making the long walk towards the memorial as we left. His steps were difficult due to the fact that he had been mostly bedridden for the past several years, recovering from a brain tumor he had as a child. Now a teenager, he had wanted to visit the site with his dad. They drove seventy miles from the Mayo Clinic, and as they pulled up to the field, “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens started playing on their satellite radio. They were awestruck by the coincidence and took a picture of the radio itself to capture what was for the teenager a dream come true.

Our next stop was St. Joseph, Missouri, where we visited the Pony Express Museum and the Jesse James Home. James and his family had been living in the home in St. Joseph for four months when Robert Ford shot and killed James as he fixed a picture on the wall.

Jesse James house in St. Joseph, Missouri

Independence, Missouri was the next destination. Located just outside of Kansas City, it is home to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Truman worked at the museum after it opened in 1957, giving tours to visitors and even answering incoming phone calls to give directions to his museum. In addition to two permanent exhibits, the museum features a temporary exhibit: “Spies, Lies and Paranoia: Americans in Fear” at the time of our visit.

One thing we both appreciated about the museum was that it didn’t gloss over the hardships and unpopular choices his administration faced. From quotations reflecting on the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both for and against the act, to letters of hate mail sent to Truman after the firing of General Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War, the museum presented his time in office in a realistic, non-idealized way.

After a full day of visiting the Pony Express, the Jesse James Home, and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, it was time to enjoy the Kansas City air with the outdoor concert of Steve Miller Band and Journey. Both bands entertained audiences, just as they have been for the last 40 years.

The final destination on our Midwest tour was the Liberty Memorial, which houses the National World War I Museum. Initial planning for the memorial started almost immediately after the end of the war in November of 1918, with an opening in 1926. But it would be another eighty years before the museum, located under the memorial, opened for visitors.

The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial - Kansas City, Missouri

Immediately upon entering the museum doors, we were welcomed by a field of red poppies below a glass walkway. There were exactly 9,000 poppies below our feet, each one representing 1,000 military deaths during the war. The somber greeting led us to the rest of the museum, a detailed and expansive dive into the global war that raged for four years.

Poppies growing under the entrance to the National World War I Museum

The museum was split into two sections. The first section laid out the causes of war and the types of fighting in Europe during the first three years of the war. A brief film detailing the causes of why the United States entered the war ushered us into the second section, devoted entirely to the U.S. perspective.

 

An interesting tidbit presented at the beginning of the exhibit was how much importance was placed on pomp and showmanship at the onset of the war, specifically in military attire. The French initially wore a bright red and blue uniform originally used in the 1860s; it quickly proved to be an easy target. Also, soldiers soon found there was little need for swords and lances, relying instead on equipment that could be carried more easily and proved more effective.

 

The museum had an impressive collection of artillery, machinery, and weaponry, as well as recreations of British, French, and German trenches. It also featured an interactive section including study stations and booths that played audio testimonies from soldiers. It allowed us to submerge ourselves into the chaos and triumph that permeated through the world 100 years ago.

– Dana Morrison and Lynae Morrison

Thanks to Dana and Lynae! We’d love to publish more posts like this, so if you’re an alum or student and want to write about your encounters with history as you travel, just get in touch with Prof. Chris Gehrz.