Annie Oakley And The Garst Museum

Did you know that Annie Oakley was from Ohio? She’s buried here too.

I made the pilgrimage to Greenville to visit the Annie Oakley exhibit at the Garst Museum Saturday. Afterward, I left flowers at her grave before winding my way through some small towns and backroads to come home.

The Garst Museum is a fascinating place, packed with all sorts of items related to local and regional history. I went for the Annie Oakley exhibit but thoroughly enjoyed the rest too.

We tend to think of Annie Oakley as a larger than life figure and remnant of the Wild West. In reality, she was just five feet tall and a true product of her Midwestern upbringing. She was a Victorian lady who appreciated nice things and who believed it important to behave like a lady.

She had a surprisingly tough start in life though. Born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860, she was about six years old when her father died. Since the family was already struggling, this loss pushed them further into poverty.

She picked up her father’s muzzle loaded rifle for the first time at age eight and was such an excellent shot she was able to hit small animals in the head to preserve the meat.

Sadly, when Annie was ten, her mother surrendered her to the county children’s infirmary. She was sent to live with a family that treated her cruelly, causing her to nickname them “the wolves.” She eventually ran away and was able to return home.

Annie went on strengthening her sharpshooting skills – most likely for the practical reason she needed to hunt for the family’s food. She also gained a reputation as an excellent sharpshooter.

I don’t want to recap her entire life story here. I would prefer you go to the museum and learn it for yourself. But I do want to mention a few things.

It was her reputation as a marksman that helped her meet her future husband, a man named Frank Butler who was a traveling champion marksman. She beat him in a competition. They spent much of their married life traveling the globe and performing together. He recognized her skill and star quality and quickly gave her top billing in their act.

Her trick shots are impressive- she could shoot a cigarette from her husband’s mouth and the cork out of a bottle. The list is long and pretty darn cool.

She saw the world, performing for royalty and heads of state across Europe and the United States as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This experience had to be an incredible one for a girl from such a humble Ohio background.

She left the Wild West Show in 1901 after a serious train wreck left her badly injured. It’s said that her hair turned snow white within 24 hours of that accident.

Annie and Frank spent most of their life together living out of trunks and traveling but they did eventually come back to Dayton before returning to Greenville where she died at the age of 66. Frank died just 18 days later. He had already been ill but stopped eating when he learned of her passing.

They are buried together at Brock Cemetery, just a couple of miles from her birthplace and not far from Greenville.

There’s an Ohio Historical Marker next to her grave, making it easy to spot. People have left bullets, coins, rocks and other assorted stuff. I took a small bouquet of cheerful yellow silk dianthus.

After all, she wasn’t just a rugged marksman- she was a lady who enjoyed nice things. You’ll see some of her pretty dishes, clothes and other personal items at the Garst Museum. I’m sure she would enjoy some cheerful old fashioned flowers.

It’s interesting to me that she wasn’t an advocate for women’s suffrage and was even against it. She believed women should all know how to shoot and she believed in equal pay. She also was out living the principles that suffragettes were fighting for but she never actually joined the movement. Obviously, that was her right but imagine the boost to the movement with Annie Oakley on their side.

Despite these choices, she was and continues to be an icon for women moving forward in a world and professions dominated by men.

Annie was a fascinating person – both as a legend and as a very real human. I sincerely hope you’ll be inspired to learn more about her. The Garst Museum is a great place to start.

This quote is another as it provides tremendous insight into her world view.

“Aim for the high mark and you will hit it. No, not for the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s-eye of success.”

Want to learn more about Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show? There’s a museum near Denver which I recently wrote about. Want to visit the Garst Museum? You really should. Get your information here.

1950’s: Building the American Dream

If you’re interested in knowing more about the 1950s in America, you’ll find a decent overview at Ohio History Connect, the Ohio historical society. It’s called “1950s: Building the American Dream.”

The exhibit covers a number of topics ranging from music and popular baby names to polio and McCarthyism,

The Crosley station wagon we looked at earlier this week is part of this installation. There’s also an Airstream camper pulled by a 1957 Chevy Bellaire.

The highlight though is a Lustron home that is staged to represent a nuclear family’s home in central Ohio in the fifties.

Lustron was one of the first prefab homes in the country and manufactured in central Ohio. The company was short lived but some of these homes can still be found around the country.

Visitors are encouraged to take a hands-on approach in this space. You’re invited to look through the closets, open the kitchen cabinets or sit down and watch Ozzie and Harriet on the television in the living room.

They have a number of interesting things here but this was hands down my favorite feature of this museum.

It is a popular destination for school groups. I felt rather smug, getting there early and exiting just after the first class of kids spilled out everywhere.

If you’re interested in seeing the fifties exhibit, don’t drag your feet. It closes at the end of 2020. Learn more here. They also have an exhibit about sports history that I didn’t go near as well as a lot about Ohio’s native peoples and something to represent each of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Reflections On The Rosa Parks Bus

When planning a day at the Henry Ford Museum, there was one thing I really wanted to do. I wanted to have a few uninterrupted minutes on the Rosa Parks bus.

To make this wish a reality, I was there when they opened and then headed straight for this exhibit.

For the benefit of my international friends, Rosa Parks was a pioneer in the American Civil Rights movement. In 1955, when segregation ruled the American south, she refused to relinquish her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. The police were called and this mild mannered African American seamstress was led off to jail.

She became the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for over a year and forced the desegregation of the city’s buses.

The Henry Ford Museum confirmed the authenticity of the bus and outbid some major players (including the Smithsonian) to the tune of $492,000. However, after sitting outside for about thirty years, the bus required a massive restoration project that cost another $300,000. As you can tell, they really wanted to preserve this piece of history.

And honestly, they did a great job.

Sitting there, I kept thinking it could be 1955 just as easily as it was 2019. The bus is immaculate but it’s not just a museum piece. You are welcomed aboard and invited to sit a while. You can even sit in her seat.

The docent was good at his job, answering my questions and relating the story for me. He even took my picture.

However, he also gave me time to sit quietly and absorb the magnitude of this space and of the actions of one woman, who on that one day, said enough is enough. History was made with that split second decision, made under the glare of a white driver who was known for being unfriendly to his black passengers on a good day.

A hastily organized boycott crippled the city bus system and forced changes into law. She wasn’t seeking fame or money or publicity of any kind. She didn’t appreciate the attention she received but later said she was just tired of giving in.

With all that is happening in our country today and with leaders who seem to encourage the divide between races, there was something reassuring about sitting in her seat. It was a great reminder that a 42 year old seamstress could start a revolution because she was tired of giving in.

The moment felt both sacred and peaceful.

I had that bus all to myself for several minutes before anyone else arrived and I was grateful for every passing second. Still, it was gratifying to walk by later in the day to find the bus full of a diverse group of people who wanted to have the experience too.

The bus is part of a larger exhibit that covers segregation and the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. At the same time the museum bought the bus, they also acquired a scrapbook containing a number of news clippings you can read. There are some interactive features here and some truly disturbing things including a flier for a cross burning that sounds like an invitation to a Sunday school picnic rather than a hate rally.

I felt sorrow that our country hasn’t advanced more than it has and I felt gratitude for the progress we have made, even knowing there are plenty of people who would look at such hateful materials and think they’re ok.

If you find your way to the Henry Ford Museum, make time for this exhibit. Read the materials, watch the videos, listen to the songs and think about what it all means.

Sixty-five years ago sounds like a long time but it isn’t that long at all. We have plenty of people living in this country today who remember all too well not being allowed to eat in a restaurant, drink from a water fountain or use a waiting room because of the color of their skin.

After Rosa Parks stood up for her beliefs by sitting down, close to another decade passed before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law changing all of that for good.

But while the law guarantees equality, racial divide is still far too great in this country. I’m as white as can be and I do not take responsibility for things that happened before me but I do think it’s my right and duty to contribute something positive to the world I live in now. I can’t change the past but I can help change the future by showing kindness and empathy and by celebrating our similarities rather than complain about the differences.

The last words today go to Rosa herself.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”

Road Trip to the Henry Ford Museum

My last road trip of the year took me to Detroit to visit the Henry Ford Museum. This museum of innovation features all sorts of things I love – artifacts from history, cars, planes, trains, machinery, furniture, dollhouses…. the list goes on and on.

This was not my favorite road trip but this museum is incredible, making it all worthwhile. I’m going to tell you about a few special exhibits in the coming days but for today I’ll leave you with a handful of pictures.

That last picture is of a train snow plow from Canada. That’s right friends – this museum is so big it has a set of railroad tracks to accommodate a collection of trains. Not to mention the airplanes hanging from the ceiling and the acres of other cool stuff at ground level.

Check back tomorrow. There are stories to tell.

At Home with the Frick Family

Imagine being so wealthy that your child’s playhouse is a full size home with a bowling alley addition.

When you buy a Rolls Royce, you have your monogram added to the door. You buy one, not just for yourself, but for your wife and daughter at the same time.

Your art collection is museum worthy and your homes are decadently furnished with the most expensive decor of the day.

As a contemporary of industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, you dabble in manufacturing and financing and build an empire the envy of businessmen everywhere.

This is the story of Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick. His family’s story is fascinating and it’s told every day thanks to the forethought, planning and generosity of his daughter Helen who saw to it that the family’s Pittsburgh home and art collection would be accessible to all.

Today, it’s simply known as The Frick. You can walk the grounds, enjoy the hot house flowers, marvel over their car collection and be inspired by their art collection for free. For just a few dollars you can tour the family home as well as whatever special exhibition they have at the time.

When I was there, it was decorated for the holidays and the docent related stories of how the family celebrated Christmas as well as stories of their everyday life.

They also had the traveling Katherine Hepburn exhibition for which there is an additional fee.

I benefited from the generosity of my friend Nichola who purchased a membership for her family, gaining me free access to everything.

If I lived in a city like Pittsburgh, I would have memberships to the Frick and many of the museums I love. Alas, I live in the sticks where museums are rare.

If you go, allow plenty of time to enjoy everything. House tours sell out pretty quickly so it’s best to arrive early to schedule your tour. There’s plenty to do including a cafe and gift shop. However, we had lunch in nearby Shadyside which I wrote about earlier this week. Check it out!

I’ll soon tell you more about the Katherine Hepburn exhibit as well as my friend’s happy place – the Phipps. Come back tomorrow for more!

Aboard the USS Requin

USS Requiem

Walking aboard the USS Requin is a little like stepping into another time and place. It’s now a part of the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh but was once a very active submarine and home to eighty men at a time.

Commissioned in 1945, she entered service just days after the war ended and remained in service until the early seventies. Today she’s a floating museum and was manned by a very informative veteran the day I visited last year. He gave us a nice tour and overview of life aboard a submarine. If my memory is correct – he had served on a similar ship but not this specific one.

To say that the quarters are tight is an understatement. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t fare well in the Navy. My goodness, everything is so small! I can’t imagine sharing this space with ten people that I know well – much less 79 shipmates. But that’s exactly what went on here for more than 25 years.

You get a glimpse of life in the kitchen, in the captain’s quarters and in the life of the sailors who kept the ship running for each mission.

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It made me appreciate our nation’s veterans more than ever. Those active duty men and women who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way every single day deserve better than our nation and our people give them.

After leaving the submarine, I felt bad that I didn’t have more questions for our host but, frankly, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere and the close quarters. I was in awe of anyone who could live under the sea in this tin can for weeks and months at a time. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t imagine volunteering to serve here or in any number of dangerous and uncomfortable places that our nation’s military go everyday. Worse yet, I also can’t remember if I thought to thank him for his service to our country.

If you are a veteran, please know that I am grateful for your service. Thank you.

And if you talk to a veteran today, be sure to say thanks.

Want to touch a piece of military history? Click here to visit the USS Requin.