We're all familiar with Mount Rushmore and the Washington monument. But have you ever been driving down the highway and seen a sign for a less well-known historic site? Let's see if this sounds familiar. "Hmm...I can go to the boyhood home of Merriwether Lewis, or I can travel another 2.5 miles and go to Arby's instead. Now that I think about it, I am pretty hungry. If I make another stop, that will push back my estimated time of arrival at Arby's...." And just like that, a rumbling stomach prevails over the chance to learn about one of our nation's historic sites.
Our country has many beautiful and educational treasures that are often overlooked. Today, many are deteriorating due to lack of interest and neglect. The current Administration has created a Millennium Fund, which aims to educate and enrich American citizens as we move into the 21st century. To raise awareness for Millennium Fund projects, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton recently completed a tour entitled "Saving America's Treasures." The tour was designed to raise awareness of historical sites and help to preserve and restore them.
The First Lady's trip began in Washington D.C. at the National Museum of American History (NMAH). The museum houses the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 and inspired America's National Anthem. How big is the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem? Ponder this. Each of the 15 stars adorning the flag measures two feet across! The museum plans to construct a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory, complete with windows so that visitors can see the restoration taking place. If you think that all you'll see at the NMAH is a collection of old, yellowed documents penned by our founding fathers, think again-- the museum currently has exhibits on Ella Fitzgerald, Wine, Tool Chests, and the Electric Guitar.
Fort McHenry, the aforementioned battle site, is unique in that it is recognized as both a National Park and a National Monument/Historic Shrine. After speaking at the fort, Mrs. Clinton visited the Thomas Edison Invention Factory in West Orange, NJ. Thomas Edison was the kind of innovative thinker that would have today's venture capitalists drooling. He was one of America's first prominent figures to recognize the important role of research and development in business. Edison's first patent was for an improvement on the stock ticker, and he registered 1,092 more before he died in 1931. Unfortunately, many of Edison's notes and photographs are decomposing because they lack proper storage and climate control. A new visitor center is proposed to adequately house the artifacts.
In Lenox, Mass., the First Lady visited the home of great American author Edith Wharton. Wharton was the author of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Fromme, and she was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Everything on the Lenox property, known as "The Mount," was designed by Wharton, including the gardens, stables, and house itself. The Mount is one of only a handful of National Historic Landmarks dedicated to a woman. Today, the exterior of the building, the interior of the building, and the grounds could all afford restoration.
Harriet Tubman's home was another stop on the tour. Tubman was born a slave in 1821 and gained freedom by escaping to Philadelphia in 1849. She is remembered as the leader of the Underground Railroad, where she lead approximately 300 southern slaves to freedom. Later in life, she moved to Auburn, N.Y., where she founded a home for the aged. The Harriet Tubman home is in dire need of restoration.
A great virtual tour is available for what is probably America's most famous treasure, the Statue of Liberty. A wonderful photo tour takes you from Manhattan to the statue by ferry and provides lots of interesting facts (did you know that the statue was originally conceived as a gift to mark Egypt's Suez canal?). And what could be more American than baseball and apple pie? There's a great recipe for the all-American dessert at the Searchable Online Archive of Recipes. Baseball is our national past-time and a treasure that is 100% American. The Baseball Hall of Fame currently features exhibits on the Red Sox World Series and 19th Century baseball.
If you want to visit some less traditional American treasures, you'll find plenty of these on the Web as well. The famous World's Largest Ball of Twine is located in Cawker City, Kansas. The ever-growing ball of twine was started by Frank Stoeber in 1953. America seems to be a nation obsessed with "bigger and better," so it's no surprise that we also house The World's Largest Catsup Bottle. The bottle was built in 1949 and stands approximately 70 feet tall. Catsup-lovers, breathe a sigh of relief. The bottle was repainted and restored in 1995, making it one American treasure that isn't in need of repair.
If your hunger for off-the-wall landmarks and sites is not yet cured, then visit The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices. If you visit the actual museum in Minneapolis, you can literally "have your head examined" by a Psychograph, which reveals your personality by measuring the bumps on your head. Luckily, the menacing-sounding Scarificator, a bloodletting device, is not available for visitor testing.
From the breathtaking to the inspirational and bizarre, America has no shortage of treasures. Hopefully current efforts to preserve these sites will succeed. That way, our children will experience the varied relics that our country has to offer, from from The Smithsonian to the Quackery Hall of Fame. Let's just hope they have the motivation to delay that trip to Arby's....