Phoenix, Arizona has plenty of golf resorts that attract thousands of visitors, but ask someone who established the first course in the state and they’ll be hard pressed to tell you it was actually a Midwestern veterinarian who had more grazing land than he could manage…..
Phyllis Hall was a nurse at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and she was on duty on November 22, 1963, the day JFK was assassinated. Her account of that day is riveting, and at times disturbing, and she sat down with Andrew McCrea to talk about it on our latest episode of The Scenic Route.
A lot of visitors to St. Louis may catch a Cardinals game, take in the world-class zoo, or ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch. But after Andrew took a look at the history of St. Louis in some recent programs, we decided to delve a little deeper and bring you some of the best spots for history buffs to visit in The Gateway to the West.
You’d never know it to look now, but the vast expanse of green in St. Louis was a bustling city for a while in 1904. Forest Park was home to the 1904 World’s Fair, which included 12 temporary exhibition palaces and one permanent building known collectively as the “Ivory City.” Today, you can still see that permanent structure when you visit the St. Louis Art Museum, which it houses. Park volunteers even lead visitors on a “Then and Now” tour that takes a look at some of the park’s extensive history. And Civil War buffs will find several statues and memorials of interest to them, as well.
Missouri Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden is an oasis in the city, and is one of the oldest botanical institutions in the United States. History buffs will also be interested to know that it’s a National Historic Landmark. The garden was established in 1859, and covers nearly 80 acres within St. Louis. It includes a wide variety of gardens — including a recreation of an English Woodland Garden, and a Japanese Garden with lawns and a walking path around a central lake. Its Climatron dome also houses a simulated rainforest.
Before the great city of St. Louis sprang up — even before Columbus the Americas — another great city dominated the Midwest. Today, visitors can see what’s left of that city and learn about its history at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Illinois. Archaeologists believe Cahokia was actually larger than London in 1250, and was the biggest city in the Americas north of Mexico. Today, you can learn about the impressive infrastructure that helped make such a large city possible, and find out more about the people who lived there.
St. Louis locals know Laclede’s Landing primarily as a home for the city’s nightlife. But during the day, when the area is less crowded, the brick-paved streets tell the story of St. Louis history. French merchant Pierre Laclede Leguest landed in the area as he looked for a spot to build a trading post in 1763. That trading post eventually grew into the city of St. Louis. Today, history buffs can use their smartphones to follow along with a free walking tour that points out historical and architectural highlights of the area.
The St. Louis Arch gets the glory, but what’s underneath it may be even cooler. The museum beneath the Arch, operated by the National Park Service, examines the history of St. Louis as a “Gateway to the West.” That includes a look at the westward expansion that began in earnest with the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition of Lewis and Clark. For those interested in that world-changing journey, there may be no better place to soak it all in.
Missouri Civil War Museum
One of the newest attractions in St. Louis is a Civil War historian’s dream. It’s the Missouri Civil War Museum, located in Historic Jefferson Barracks, the oldest active military installation west of the Mississippi. Both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee trained there, making it an ideal home for a museum that examines and honors the men who fought the Civil War. The museum focuses on Missouri’s unique role in the war, as a central battleground over the political question of slavery that helped fuel the war.
In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue. And ever since, people have been building monuments to him. In fact, one Internet site has a list of nearly 600 monuments to the European explorer.
Since we’re celebrating Columbus Day this week, we thought it would be interesting to help you find a few of the best Columbus monuments and other Columbus-related sites across the American Countryside.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan is one of the first places Columbus encountered, on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. Puerto Rico is a great place to take a relatively inexpensive Caribbean vacation, and there’s still lots of history to see there. The sites include a huge stone fort built to withstand attack from both the sea and land. The fort is open to the public, and gives a glimpse of the world as Columbus experienced it hundreds of years ago.
Salt River Bay, St. Croix
Speaking of the world Columbus inhabited, you can get a great look at it in its natural form at Salt River Bay in St. Croix. People lived in Salt River Bay for 1,500 years before Columbus showed up, but to this day, you can see the natural ecology of the place. A national historic park preserves marine estuaries and mangrove forests. And you can also see the remains of a fort built by French explorers in the 1600s. You can also see the precise place where European explorers met and clashed with natives of St. Croix.
Columbus might never have visited Ohio, but one of the best places in the country to connect with his voyages is in the Ohio city named for him. For the 500th anniversary of the explorer’s first visit, Columbus, Ohio, built a 98-foot-long replica of the Santa Maria, one of his ships. Today, tourists can walk through the ship, and even book events there. The real Santa Maria never made it back to Spain, crashing off the coast of Haiti before the return trip.
Columbus Circle, New York City
One of the busiest spots in the world features one of the most well-known monuments to Columbus. “Columbus Circle” is a traffic circle with a marble statue of Christopher Columbus set atop a massive column. It was erected in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his voyage. Tourists in New York City almost always stumble across the monument, even when they’re not looking for it, because it’s right in the heart of New York City at the edge of Central Park and just north of the Theater District.
Baltimore’s Inner Harbor
Another of the largest monuments to Columbus is at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Carved out of Italian marble, the monument was dedicated in 1984. It includes intricate scenes of Columbus’s voyage and arrival in the New World, carved into the side. The statue is set in the middle of a larger area known as Columbus Piazza, dedicated to the memory of the explorer’s voyages.
I was just in the nation’s capital gathering audio for our daily broadcasts. For tourists, the government shutdown means many of the sites they planned to see are now closed. However, there is still plenty to see and do in the D.C. area. Here are my ideas for a great visit to the city.
Arlington National Cemetery, which is operated by the military, remains open. That means a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns should be on any visitor’s list of planned activities in Washington. The Changing of the Guard ceremony is held every hour on the hour at this time of year. You can get more information about a visit to the cemetery at its website. And the cemetery even has a mobile app that allows visitors to locate specific grave sites on the grounds during their visit.
Two Executive Mansions. Let’s face it, the chances of you getting inside the White House were slim anyway, so go to Lafayette Park (on the north side of the White House) and enjoy the view. The last time I was there, I watched the arrival of a visiting head of state. Just a couple of blocks to the southwest, you can visit the Octagon House, the executive mansion used by President Madison after the British burned Washington in 1814. The American Institute of Architects owns the building, but call ahead and they can usually give you a tour. And for an added bonus, the Octagon House is supposedly one of the most haunted in the Washington DC area.
Mt. Vernon is privately owned and still open. When I spent more time in D.C., I actually had an annual pass to Washington’s home. I loved to go there and simply walk the grounds. The home on the Potomac and its museum are great to see anytime of the year.
You might have seen that the parking lots at Mt. Vernon were briefly barricaded by overzealous federal employees, even though the site isn’t owned by the federal government. Mt. Vernon has gone to great pains to make sure everyone knows that was just a fluke — updating their website to include the words “We’re Open!” right on the front of the page.
The International Spy Museum provides a glimpse at the secret world of espionage. There are lots of artifacts, hand-on displays and you can even play the role of a spy and compete against others in your group to successfully complete your mission.
The museum isn’t just about real-life spies, either. Right now, they have an exhibit called Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains, where you can learn more about the bad guys who’ve squared off against James Bond on the Silver Screen.
Alexandria, Virginia is an easy metro ride from the city. Get off at King Street station and walk around Old Town. Many sites in this city are still open. Log on to get maps for walking tours and hours of these sites. It’s also a great place to catch lunch or enjoy a nice dinner along the Potomac. The local tourism bureau even has a list of free things to do in Alexandria.
The main sites are closed but…remember places like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the Washington Monument are, after all, outdoors. So while there are fences keeping people from going “inside” the site, you can still get a great view, albeit from a bit farther back. It’s also a great time to take a bus tour of the city, or a boat tour on the Potomac. The guides will help fill in the pieces you can’t currently see.
Remember, some of these sites do charge admission, others are free, but ALL are open and are worth a visit, even when the government eventually does reopen for business.
Pierce Allman was working as a young man at a Dallas radio station in November 1963. He was only feet away from President Kennedy when the first shot was fired. He not only witnessed the assassination — but he also talked to the assassin a short time later. He told his story to Andrew McCrea on this edition of The American Countryside.
This week, Andrew will take a look at Ella Ewing of Scotland County, Missouri. She was once known as the tallest woman in the world, and was known as “The Missouri Giantess.” By the age of 14, she was 6’10, and some accounts put her height at over eight feet tall. The Guinness Book of World Records documented her height at 7’4″. You can read all about her here.
But Ella Ewing isn’t the only person from Scotland County to find fame. Tom Horn, a lawman and outlaw (both?!) in the Old West was born near Granger, Missouri, in 1960.
George Saling, who went on to win the gold medal in the hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics, was also from Scotland County.
And Adrienne Wilkinson, an actress who had a role on Xena: Warrior Princess, was actually from Scotland County, too.