Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Happy Fourth of July

July 4, 2011

The room in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

Does the Fourth of July mean anything more than picnics, fireworks, and a day off work?  I have to admit that I sometimes wonder.  Now don’t get me wrong — I enjoy a picnic as much as anyone, and I absolutely loved a day off from work before I retired.  But even then there was something special about the Fourth of July.

This day commemorates the day when The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia in 1776.  The Declaration, containing the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”, is one of the most profound documents in history.

It used to be that most people felt this was a pretty special country.  We learned the history of our country — the people and places.  We said the Pledge of Allegiance in school, and the Star-Spangled Banner was played at school events.  We also learned how the song came to be written.  We learned the text of the Gettysburg Address, and knew the words to “My Country Tis of Thee”, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, and “America the Beautiful”.

I grew up on a farm outside a small town in Indiana.  Almost everyone in the area turned out for the Fourth of July parade, and the program before the fireworks display.  The fireworks themselves almost always included a representation of the Liberty Bell or the American flag.  We all felt we were a part of something very special.

The title of this blog is “Senior Moments”, and I’m getting more senior with each passing day.  I guess I’m rapidly becoming a curmudgeon.  If so, please forgive me.  I only wish my grandchildren realize that they, too, are part of a very special country.

I hope you all have a very wonderful — and happy — Fourth of July.

Down Memory Lane: The Ming Tombs (1987)

April 28, 2011

One of the places I visited on my first trip to China in 1987 was the Ming Tombs, which are about 30 miles northwest of Beijing.  The Ming Tombs refer to the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty, which ruled China from 1368 to 1644.

The first two Ming emperors ruled from Nanjing in the south of China, but the third emperor, Zhu Di, moved the capital to Beijing.  It was Zhu Di who began building the Forbidden City and who built the first of the Ming Tombs.

One of the most unusual of the thirteen tombs is Dingling, the tomb of Zhu Yijun.  This tomb in an underground palace complete with a throne room for the spirit of the emperor.  I was fortunate enough to be able to tour Dingling.

The tombs are approached along a Spirit Way, also known as the Avenue of the Animals because of the large stone animals and officials who stand guard along the road.

The Ming Tombs are truly fascinating both for the architecture of the structures and for the glimpse they provide of Chinese culture and history.  If you are ever in Beijing, the tombs are well worth a visit.

To see larger versions of these pictures and others, click HERE.

My World: The John Oliver Cabin

August 31, 2010

Cades Cove with the John Oliver cabin in the background. August 27, 2010.

This is my post for the My World meme.  It is hosted by Klaus, Ivar, Sandy, Wren, and Fishing Guy.  To learn more about our world or to join and share your part of the world, click HERE.

Betsy and I went to Cades Cove in the Smokies on Friday.  We hadn’t driven the Loop Road since it was re-paved and we wanted to see what improvements had been made.  Of course we stopped several times to take pictures.

One of the places we stopped was the cabin of John and Lurena Oliver, who were the first permanent settlers in the cove.  They arrived in Cades Cove in 1818.  Their cabin was most likely built in 1822.

The picture above shows the cabin and its setting in the cove.  The cabin is quite a way from the current Loop Road, but the setting is beautiful.

The John Oliver cabin, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. August 27, 2010.

The cabin was built in a style that was fairly typical along the eastern frontier at this time.  Perhaps the most interesting feature is that no pegs or nails were used to build this cabin.  Gravity locks the logs together and the chinks are filled with mud to seal out wind and rain.  The small windows and doors help conserve heat and maintain the cabin’s strength.

Gravestone of John and Lurena Oliver, Primitive Baptist Church, Cades Cove, Tennessee. August 27, 2010.

John and Lurena Oliver are buried in the graveyard of the Primitive Baptist Church which they helped establish and which is fairly near their cabin.

Westover Parish Church

January 14, 2010

Scenes from Westover Parish Church, Charles City, Virginia. June 23, 2009.

On our anniversary trip in 2007 Betsy and I drove toward Richmond after leaving Jamestown-Yorktown-Williamsburg.  Our route took us parallel to the James River, which was the ‘highway’ of colonial Virginia.

About halfway to Richmond we came to Westover Parish Church.  I knew that Westover was one of the earliest Virginia plantations, so we decided to stop.

Westover Parish was formed in 1613 and a church was constructed between 1630 and 1637 on Westover Plantation.  The present church building was completed about 1730.  Between 1803 and 1833 the church was abandoned and used part of the time as a barn.  But in 1833 the building was repaired and restored and religious services were revived.  Westover Church was badly wrecked by Federal troops during the Civil War, but it was restored again in 1867 and has been in continuous use ever since.

Through the years farmers, plantation owners, slaves and presidents have worshipped at Westover Church.  The presidents include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler (whose plantation is nearby) and Theodore Roosevelt.

To see these pictures and others, click HERE.


I’m grateful to the people who love and preserve the history of this wonderful country.

Down Memory Lane: A Second Day at Williamsburg

January 11, 2010

Scenes from our second day at Williamsburg. June 22, 2007.

A couple of days ago I posted about our first day at Williamsburg.  Betsy and I went back a second day to see more of the historic area.

We visited the Museums of Williamsburg — the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.  Both museums were wonderful and they had excellent collections.  Betsy was especially impressed with the grandfather clocks we saw (she has always wanted one).  Fortunately we had to check our back packs before we went in and she couldn’t fit one in her pocket!

We also visited the College of William and Mary, where we toured the Wren Building, the oldest academic building still in use in America.  Construction on the building began August 8, 1695.  It was destroyed by fire three times, but was always rebuilt.  Today it looks very much as it did in 1723.  It was the first major building restored by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., after he began Williamsburg’s restoration in the late 1920s.

We also enjoyed a military review on Williamsburg’s Market Square by the 2nd Virginia Regiment and the Fife and Drums Corp.  The review included drills, musket firings and the firing of a cannon.

To see these pictures and others, click HERE.


I’m grateful for the blue skies we enjoyed yesterday after a week of dreary gray skies.

Down Memory Lane: Colonial Williamsburg

January 9, 2010

Scenes from our visit to Colonial Williamsburg. June 21, 2007.

In 2007 Betsy and I went to Virginia on our anniversary trip.  We went primarily because it was the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, but while we were in the area we also visited Yorktown and Williamsburg.

Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia from  1699 to 1780, when Virginia was the largest, most populous, and most influential of the American colonies.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and George Mason all spent time in Williamsburg during this time.

In 1780 the capital of Virginia was moved to Richmond and Williamsburg reverted to a simple, quiet college town, the home of the College of William and Mary.  In 1926 the rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg talked to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., about preserving the city’s historic buildings.  That was the beginning of Colonial Williamsburg, which today encompasses approximately 85 percent of the 18th-century capital’s area.

On our first day at Williamsburg we visited the Governor’s Palace, the Capitol, Bruton Parish Church and had lunch at the King’s Arms Tavern.  We also saw a performance by the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drums.

To see these pictures and others, click HERE.


I’m grateful to the young adults in the Sunday School class at Mom and Dad’s church who have taken Mom and Dad under their wing and are helping them with chores around the house.

146 Years Ago: The Gettysburg Address

November 19, 2009

President Lincoln at Gettysburg. Photograph from the National Archives.

“Four score and seven years ago …”

Many Americans my age had to learn that entire speech.  I wonder how many students today even recognize it?

President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the national cemetery at the Civil War battlefield.  After the battle in July, the town of Gettysburg planned to buy land for a cemetery and then ask the families of the dead to pay for their burial.  But David Willis, a 32-year-old attorney objected to this idea and wrote Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania, suggesting instead a National Cemetery to be funded by the states.  Governor Curtin authorized the purchase of 17 acres for a cemetery to honor those lost in the battle.

Willis and the planning committee originally planned to dedicate the cemetery on Wednesday, October 23, and invited Edward Everett, who had served as Secretary of State, U. S. Senator, U. S. Representative, Governor of Massachusetts and president of Harvard University, to be the main speaker.  Everett, who was a widely known and respected as an orator, replied that he would be unable to prepare an appropriate speech in such a short period of time, and requested that the date be postponed.  Willis and the committee agreed, and the dedication was postponed until Thursday, November 19.

It was then that President Lincoln was invited — he received his invitation on November 2.

Everett delivered a two-hour formal address at Gettysburg.  President Lincoln spoke a little over two minutes, surprising many by the shortness of the speech and leaving many others quite unimpressed.  Over time, however, his speech, ending with the words “government of the people, by the people, for the people” has come to symbolize the definition of democracy itself.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln – November 19, 1863

150 Years Ago: The Man on The Flying Trapeze

November 12, 2009



Do children still learn/sing this song?

He floats through the air
With the greatest of ease,
The daring young man
On the flying trapeze;
His actions are graceful,
All girls he does please,
And my love he has stolen away.

There are now many innovative styles of flying trapeze acts, such as those performed by Cirque Du Soleil.  But in a traditional flying trapeze act, the flyer mounts a narrow board and jumps from it so that gravity makes the  trapeze swing.  The flyer waits for a call from the catcher to make sure he or she leaves at the correct time in order for a successful catch to be made.  The flyer usually performs an aerial trick and is then aught by the catcher, who is swinging from a separate catch bar.  The flyer is then thrust back to the fly bar to return to the board.


The first public performance of a flying trapeze act was on November 12, 1859, at Cirque Napoleon in Paris, France.  The performance was invented and performed by Jules Leotard, who also designed the garment named after him.

198 Years Ago: The Battle of Tippecanoe

November 7, 2009

The Tippecanoe Battlefield Monument

Did you learn about ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too’ in school?  I not only learned about  the slogan but I also got familiar with  the site of the battle that gave William Henry Harrison the nickname Tippecanoe.  The battleground was adjacent to a church camp that I attended several years as a youngster.

The Battle of Tippecanoe came about because of the efforts of two Shawnee indian brothers, Tecumseh and the Prophet.  The Prophet led a spiritual movement to encourage the Indians to return to traditional ways, while Tecumseh worked to form a confederation  among the various tribes.  In 1808 the brothers moved their followers to Prophetstown near the Tippecanoe River in the Indiana Territory.  By 1811 such a large number of natives lived at Prophetstown that white settlers in Ohio and the Indiana Territory demanded that the government do something to proptect them.  William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory led an army against Prophetstown in the fall of 1811.

The Prophet, against the advice of Tecumseh who was absent, attacked the Americans after telling his followers that the white’s bullets would not harm them.  The Indians attacked Harrison’s men before daybreak  on the morning of November 7, 1811.  Harrison’s army defeated the Indians, but they suffered heavy losses:  62 men killed and 126 wounded.  The Indian’s losses are not known, but the Americans did drive off the natives and burn Prophetstown to the ground.


The Battle of Tippecanoe

The defeat fatally weakened Tecumseh’s confederation, but Harrison became known as “Old Tippecanoe”.  In 1840 Harrison used his reputation as a successful Indian fighter to  run for President of the United States.  His campaign slogan was “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!”