Monday, April 21, 2014

Mel's # 20 - Visit the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

On a late winter morning, Erica and I ventured out to take a tour of one of Indy’s most historical homes: the home of President Benjamin Harrison in the north downtown area.

The life and Presidency of our 23rdPresident is truly fascinating. As someone who is a bit geeky when it comes to Presidential history, I loved having the opportunity to tour Harrison’s home and hear the stories about his life, family, and service to our country.

The home is a truly beautiful site. The expansive front porch of the home was the very place where Harrison gave speeches to various delegates visiting Indianapolis during Harrison’s campaign for the Presidency. I know it’s nerdy, but I thought it was remarkably cool to stand in the very spot where a 5’6” man gave speeches that must have been so compelling that they elevated him to the position of Commander in Chief.

As we stepped inside, we were greeted by the warm and friendly staff that oversee the home. It was nice that Erica and I were the only ones on the tour for quite a while, as I think we were given an excellent tour that included some truly candid facts about Harrison and his home.

The home is beautiful and quite large, as Harrison made an excellent living as a lawyer and legislator in Indianapolis.

One of my favorite rooms was Harrison’s private study, which contained a massive bookshelf with all kinds of reading material. Also in the study were the many gifts presented to the President while he was in office, including a chair made out of the horns of longhorn cattle, and a walking cane with hand-carved portraits of all the Presidents up to Harrison’s administration. The room was dark and had the feel of a hybrid of a well-used, serious study room and a room where a man could be himself. It was truly President Harrison’s man-cave.

I also enjoyed seeing the formal dining room, set with the formal dining ware that the Harrison’s used for entertainment. We learned that Harrison’s 2nd wife, Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, was quite the accomplished artist who painted intricate works of art on many of the pieces of china in the home. We also caught a glimpse of the Harrison Presidential china.  

As we went upstairs, we were told that the fixture at the bottom of the banister was from an old firefighting hose and had been remade into a lighting fixture that was a gift from a local firefighters battalion. It was a very unique lighting fixture that was one of Harrison’s favorite items in the home.

We toured the upstairs rooms, learning about life in the late 19th century and of Harrison’s devotion to his family and children. I was fascinated by the fact that Harrison was the grandson of our 9thPresident, William Henry Harrison, but he never seemed to feel that this entitled him to hold a greater office. He truly worked hard and earned the lifestyle he and his family lived. Similar to President Truman, Harrison worked tirelessly at the White House, but wanted desperately to return back to the home he loved when his term was over.
Our final stops in the home were the upstairs ballroom that has been transformed into an educational room designed for school field trips and contains many artifacts from the Harrison family history. We ended our tour of the home in the kitchen, which may not have been in the exact historical condition of the original home, but contained many of the items commonly found in similar kitchens of the time.

The tour was wonderful and we were so glad to get the opportunity to learn a little more about the personal life and history of one of Indiana’s greatest historical figures. If you get the chance, I highly recommend stopping in the home and taking the tour.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Erica's #69 - Go to the top of the monument in Indianapolis

Like many cities large and small, Indianapolis has, at it's heart, a monument.  The monument is actually called the Soldiers and Sailors monument, and is a tribute to the Hoosiers who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Frontiers War, and the Spanish-American War.  The very first time either of us had taken the 284 foot journey to the top of the monument was on our very first date, over 5 years ago.  It was August, and there was no air conditioning up there.  Yes, I'm more than certain we smelled lovely when we stopped in for dinner at a nice downtown dining establishment later on...

We hadn't been back since then, but I thought it would be fun, plus they remodeled the interior space a couple of years ago,so we wanted to see how it had changed.  The tiny elevator seems not to have changed (yes, you can choose to walk up the narrow staircase all the way to the top, but yes, we decided the $2 fee was worth it to skip the 270 steps), but the interior at the top is slightly better, with at least new glass to peer through from your perch in the city center.  The space up there is still very small - good thing there were only a few other people up there with us at any given time!

We lucked out and picked a gorgeous February day to head out to the monument, and we had a fabulous view of the Capitol, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the War Memorial.  The architecture inside the monument is also pretty neat!

We also took time to tour the war museum in the base of the monument - something we've been meaning to do forever, and finally got around to. It's a pretty decent museum for being limited to a small space.  And we stopped in to check out the Central Library after lunch.  Not to mention that earlier in the day, we toured the Benjamin Harrison House, which Mel will blog about later since it was on her list.  We had a pretty decent day playing tourists in our own city!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mel's #50 - Go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I was super late getting into the Harry Potter game.

When the Harry Potter books were first released, I was in high school and I can’t remember any of my friends reading the books or making a big fuss about them. This may have been due to my entrenchment in a faction of American Evangelicalism that believed that the Harry Potter books were the new manifestation of evil in our sinful world. It wasn’t until I was at college in Minnesota that I noticed some friends had the books on their bookshelves, which was surprising since I went to an Evangelical Christian university.

I’ve never been one of those people to argue about books, or board games, or television shows, music, or movies being “of the devil.” In fact, I tend to roll my eyes whenever I hear pastors blame culture for the deteriorating state of humanity.

Let’s fast-forward a bit to my first job out of college, at a non-denominational church in western Colorado. It was summer and I had a house full of interns to look after and a new town and job to adjust to. The final Harry Potter book was to be released and some of my interns and students from our church youth group were planning on going to the local bookstore for a sort of release party. I thought it would be fun to come along and we all had a great time together. Again, I found myself scratching my head as to why this whole thing was so taboo among the community of believers we were a part of. The next day at work in the church, the youth pastor mentioned something in passing about praying for the kids who had exposed themselves to witchcraft through reading the Harry Potter books, which eventually led to a really weird conversation that ended in me completing a reading assignment…I was to read a book called “Shadowboxing,” which was a book about spiritual warfare. In the conversation I found out that this particular church was very against the Harry Potter series and culture, and believed it was a sort of gateway drug that would lead to teenagers becoming satan-worshippers. Weird, right?

Well, rebel that I am, I decided to read all of the Harry Potter books. It was difficult for me to understand how this pastor could take such a serious stance against a children’s book, but had never actually read any of the books for herself. I knew that I had to do this in secret, out of fear that if the youth pastor found out I was reading the Harry Potter series, I could lose my job. Yes, I know that is ridiculous. So, I became a 25 year old top-secret Harry Potter reader and managed to read all of the books within 7 weeks. And yes, I was hooked, and no, I wasn’t compelled to go practice witchcraft or sorcery.

Fast forward another 7 years, and I found myself posing for a photo on a bridge in front of Hogwarts at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Smiling with a frosty cup of Butterbeer in my hand. Erica and I decided to trek up to Orlando after our Cayamo trip to extend our vacation a bit. Here’s the review that this 32 year old, formerly secret Harry Potter reader gives this place:

Seriously, I’ve never seen anything like it. Universal Studios did a really incredible job of transforming a section of the park into a real-life version of the best parts of the Harry Potter books and movies. I was so impressed with the recreation of Hogsmeade as the theme of the area surrounding the Harry Potter themed attractions. Of course, the coolest thing was the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction that takes place in the mock-up of Hogwarts Castle. The attraction is incredible, giving visitors a tour of the castle, which includes really cool interaction with props and settings from the series, ending with a thrilling ride using elements of simulated flight and animatronics. It was a truly incredible experience. We stopped in to a couple of the shops in Hogsmeade, and marveled at the line of people waiting to get in to Ollivanders wand shop, which is in and of itself, a superb attraction. I had a really great time and the joy I felt might be childlike, but it was so cool. I hope I never lose the ability to feel that way, and I know that as we walked through the rest of Universal Studios, Erica and I both were thinking that we can’t wait to bring our children here someday.