Tag Archives: History

Cool and collected, Titanic exhibit impresses

I was Mrs. Peacock.

Not the Mrs. Peacock who was strangled with the rope in the library in a game of Clue, the real Mrs. Peacock was drowned with a child in her arms on the Titanic.

“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” uses a clever method to invest the viewer. Each ticket to the exhibition is a copy of a real passenger ticket on the doomed steamship.

Going in, I knew the odds were long that I would survive, as Mrs. Benjamin Peacock was traveling in third class. She, her 3-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son were leaving England to meet her husband in Elizabeth, New Jersey. A mechanical engineer, he had immigrated the year before. Mrs. Peacock, pregnant at the time, had fallen ill when they were due to sail, so she stayed behind and booked passage months later on the Titanic.

Benjamin Peacock never saw his wife and daughter again, and he never met his son. They all drowned when the unsinkable ship hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912.

The exhibition at the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas features actual objects — dishes, luggage, floor tiles — fished out of the sea, refurbished and displayed in all their eerie glory. One enormous multi-ton hunk of the ship fills one room.

Observers employ all their senses. One reads the history. Recordings whisper and shout the stories of the doomed. One room is dark and cold, like it was that night on the deck of the ship. Actual samples of a perfumer on the boat are displayed in such a way as to be able to inhale their scent.

As I completed my journey through the artifacts, I was sad, yes, because Mrs. Peacock, her children and 1,500 other souls perished, but I was enriched because I was impressed with the effort required to rescue and display the artifacts.

“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” is worth the time and money away from the gaming tables because unlike so much else in Las Vegas, it’s real. The victims are not forgotten.



This monument of classical Greek columns, supporting nothing but the sky, rises out of nowhere in the middle of the Florida Everglades as a tribute to Barron Collier, a New York City advertising mogul and real estate developer.

Collier, namesake of the county in which this monument stands, moved into Southwest Florida a century ago and built the Tamiami Trail, an alligator-infested highway that crosses the expansive wetlands that comprise the southern half of the state.

The iconic, perfectly symmetrical architecture is juxtaposed with the surrounding wilderness of mangroves, palm trees and saw grass. I caught a glimpse of it today when I attended the Jammin’ in the Hammock Bluegrass Festival.

A hammock, in ecological terms as it is surely defined here, is a stand of hardwood trees in the midst of a wetlands. Bluegrass and the music for which it is named, as defined here, is native to Kentucky and Appalachia.

All these things — a New York real estate mogul, Greek architecture, bluegrass music and the Everglades — came together under sunny skies this afternoon.

The seasons come, the seasons go.
We get a little sunshine, rain and snow.
Just a way that it was planned to be.

Is the end of the world upon us? I take comfort in small things

Is it possible universal fears of Armageddon change over time?

I’ve been traveling the past few days and taking the opportunity to visit with friends and acquaintances with whom I don’t get to associate on a regular basis.

Strangely, after chatting about kids and jobs, many discussions have veered into talk of doomsday.

(Maybe it’s me that’s obsessed with doomsday, not my friends, so this phenomena might not be strange as much as I’m making fertile ground for such talk. Let’s just state, for the record, that I believe change is constant and doomsday in some form is not only possible but inevitable. Remember the Roman Empire? They were once the world’s superpower and look where they are now — the stuff of Hollywood. Even their numbering system has been reduced to trivia questions. What is D + MIV?)

In any case, the theories on the end of the world or, at least, the end of America that I’ve heard in the past few days include: currency devaluation, governmental debt, political discord, the end of Big Oil, zombies (go figure, he’s a fan of “Walking Dead”) and yeti terrorism.

OK, I made that last one up. My nephews are obsessed with Big Foot so they’re the only ones terrorized by tall, hairy cyphers.

No one I’ve chatted with is afraid of a worldwide contagion (unless it causes zombie-ness) but let’s add that to contemporary doomsday fears.

Interestingly, I ran across a relevant program during a visit yesterday to the local historical society. The typewritten program was for a high school symposium in 1970 titled “Society Today … Tomorrow?”

Note the ominous addition of the question mark at the end.

HS 10

Among the discussion groups outlined in the program was “The People Crisis: After 200,000,000 … What?”

At first, I thought 200 million was a reference to the worldwide population. In fact, 3.7 billion human beings populated the earth in 1970.

Instead, the discussion group pondering our future in 1970 was discussing the U.S. population which had just crossed the arbitrary “200 million” mark in 1968, and China has just begun “encouraging” its citizens to have only two children per family.

My mother said she remembers this was a hot topic in schools during that time frame (she was a high school teacher in the ’60s and distinctly recalls students coming to class braless, gasp, so overpopulation wasn’t the only hot topic back then). In fact, when she became unexpectedly pregnant with my brother (her third child), she felt guilty for contributing to this serious societal concern.

Overpopulation is less “hot” today — shall we say lukewarm? One of the conversations I was party to this week centered around the continuing wisdom of investing in farmland which can be used to grow food for the world’s growing population. Google “is the United States overpopulated?” and the top two returns in order are “The United States is already overpopulated” and “Overpopulation is NOT the problem.” (“The United States is already overpopulated” brings you to the webpage for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, so consider the source.)

For the record, 313 million people live in the United States today. I would side with the “overpopulation is NOT the problem” camp if I had to choose.

Ultimately, that program from the symposium in 1970 comforts me. If overpopulation was the end-du-jour of the world and now ranks a distant 10 or 12, then surely today’s Washington gridlock will someday (soon) be the stuff of historical documents.

Unless the U.S. debt gets us first.

Descendents share more than a name

When [Abraham] was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty God. Obey me and always do what is right. I will make my covenant with you and give you many descendants.”

~ Genesis 17:1-2

I thought of this ancient promise to Abraham this weekend as I enjoyed the reunion of my mother’s family.

Twenty-three of us gathered together, all descendents of my maternal grandparents. As I created a group on Facebook to share photos, I pondered for a moment on how to name this group and finally settled on my grandfather’s name: Harold Kulland Family Reunion.

Perhaps ironically, however, only six of those in attendance actually carry his last name. As I made the mental count, I realized how endangered that last name really is; only one child in the fourth generation — those among my grandfather’s great-grandchildren — carry that name.

It didn’t begin that way. In fact, my grandfather looked to have more descendants than Abraham. Abraham had only one son with Sarah; my grandparents had three sons.

I think of poor Charles Ingalls. He had a handful of daughters, and his only son died as a child. His only grandchild didn’t procreate, and his line ended. If it hadn’t been for his daughter Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and her ownership of the Ingalls name, he would be lost to the oblivion.

Though my grandfather had three sons, one died before having children, one had two daughters and the youngest son is the only one to bear sons. One of those grandsons has not yet had children, so there may yet be more Kullands in my grandfather’s line; the other grandson has one son who, barring the adoption of a new or hyphenated name, carries the Kulland name.

My grandfather had brothers who had sons, so the Kulland name is certainly not endangered. And at the moment, Harold Kulland’s memory and name live on in a lively way among his descendents, who shared memories, devoured Chex mix, posed for pictures and enjoyed each other’s company this weekend. And they hope to do it again sometime soon.

Calling 1998

This archaic bit of technology reminded me of old times the other day when I was traveling through Union Station in Chicago.

public telephone

What’s that, say you teenagers? It’s what we used to have on nearly every street corner, in the rear of many stores and in the entryway of most restaurants, back before we carried our phones with us everywhere we went.

There are about 300,000 pay phones across America, say phone industry officials, but the national total is tiny compared with the all-time high of 2.6 million in 1998, just before cell phones took off, according to a recent story about pay phones in the San Francisco Chronicle.

That silver snake-like thing? It’s a cord, a device to keep you tethered to the phone while speaking (or listening). No privacy for you, no siree bub. That big black U-shaped thing? It’s the handle connecting the speaker for your ear with the mouthpiece. And those finger-sized buttons. Yes, they are buttons big enough to actually press the correct numbers.

Oh, how quaint.

And if I had composed a better picture, you could see the coin slot on top — for collecting money for every call. “Changes may apply” never goes out of style.

Personal presidential count

Generally, 98-year-olds can get away with things the rest of us can’t.

Talking about politics in polite company, for example.

I enjoyed a lively visit with my 98-year-old grandmother today, and at some point in the conversation (I believe it was right after her praise for the “Biography” episode on John Tyler, U.S. president from 1841-45), she observed that she’s lived through the terms of 17 U.S. Presidents.

Grandma was born in 1915, about halfway through World War I when Woodrow Wilson was president.

I marvel about that. She was alive when Woodrow Wilson was president.

She remarked that her favorite presidents were Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Before you dismiss her as a hopeless liberal, she said this about Barack Obama: “I don’t know about him.”

I think she’s still not forgiven him for ruining the chances of Hillary Clinton to be the first woman in the highest public office in the land which, for a woman who’s seen a parade of 16 other men through the Oval Office during her lifetime, probably would have been a nice change of pace.

Whatever her politics, it’s impressive that my grandmother — who still lives by herself (with some help) — follows politics and can form valid opinions about goings-on in Washington. My personal presidential count: I’ve been alive through the terms of nine U.S. presidents, roughly half of what Grandma has seen.

I’ve got a ways to go.

Abe Lincoln Museum brings history to life

The boy grew up in a log cabin — with a stepmother, I might point out, the man led the nation through a civil war, and the legend died in a theater at the hand of a famous actor.

To be reminded — or to learn for the first time — the story of arguably our country’s greatest president makes the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum worth the trip.

Long ago, I read a biography of Abraham Lincoln and I remember crying at the end. Today, I left an exhibit of Lincoln’s casket with tears streaming down my face. I was crying not only for a man killed for his politics but for the hundreds of thousands of men killed in the nation’s bloodiest war.

The museum does an exemplary job of bringing history to life and telling a balanced story of a controversial man and the politics of his time. In front of a life-like exhibit of a slave auction, I was gratified to overhear a child say, “Well, that’s just not fair!” To learn not to repeat the mistakes of history is the value of museums like this one.

The museum in downtown Springfield is excellent and worth every cent of the $12 admission. Allow a couple of hours to absorb the exhibits.