Tag Archives: Museums

Nebraska Gothic

Gothenburg, NE – There isn’t much to Nebraska, at least along the I-80 corridor, which stretches clear across the state. Its sheer length and monotony is in and of itself a head game. Mile upon mile of flat, endless farmland that before long causes the eyes to go out of whack, as if you’ve stared too long at a fixed point. No amount of blinking or shifting around can bring the world back into focus. It’s nearly as bad as driving at night. Pulling over to stretch and gather your bearings is the only remedy. After fighting my eyes over… Continue Reading

The Unlucky Civilian

Gettysburg, PA – Mid-afternoon on July 1, 1863, a young seamstress named Virginia Mary “Jennie” Wade, along with her mother and two younger brothers, left her home in the center of Gettysburg to be with her oldest sister, who earlier that day endured a horrific childbirth, as Confederate soldiers marched on the 2,400-resident town. The Confederacy’s push into Union territory was the first salvo of what would later be seen as the most decisive battle of America’s Civil War. For three days Gettysburg shook as nearly 94,000 Union and 72,000 Confederate troops slaughtered each other with bayonets and close-range shooting.… Continue Reading

The World’s First Modern Prison

Eastern State Penitentiary was the world's first modern prison. Its Gothic architecture was intended to scare prisoners and the public alike. Fairmount, Philadelphia – Eastern State Penitentiary was conceived in 1787, in the living room of Benjamin Franklin, a leading member of the Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. The reformist group was appalled by conditions at the recently opened Walnut Street Jail, located behind Independence Hall, where guards sold liquor to inmates and often made women available. The reformers believed that a policy of strict solitary confinement would better encourage spiritual development. In 1790, the society convinced… Continue Reading

Final Days in Philly

Philadelphia schools have made dispiriting headlines lately. Last year, more than 6,000 students and 500 teachers were assaulted. This elementary school sign near my house is emblematic of the tatters the city and its schools are in. At last, April is here, which, for me, means shoring up life’s odds and ends in preparation for another journey around America. Namely, this entails getting Purple Thunder, my trusty Ford E-150 Conversion Van, in proper working order. Those that follow this blog regularly will recall the electrical mishaps that put a wrinkly in an otherwise spectacular adventure last summer. While that issue… Continue Reading

Turning Bones into Art

Skeleton of Harry Raymond Eastlick, who suffered a progressive condition that turned tissue to bone. A few Sundays ago, I was at Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum viewing the Hyrtl Skull Collection, an ensemble of multi-ethnic craniums collected from throughout Central and Eastern Europe by Dr. Josef Hyrtl during the early 1800s. Hyrtl, a professor of anatomy at the University of Prague, believed that racial and intellectual traits could be determined by studying the cranial bone structures of various groups. The museum acquired Hyrtl’s 139 skulls, along with thirty-six placentas and six sets of genitals, in 1875. Beneath each skull is a… Continue Reading