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The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley


In Winchester, on the land of the historic Glen Burnie estate, is one of the finest small museums I've ever had an opportunity to appreciate it. This is one of those small places with an obvious deep love of their topic, run by people dedicated to it.

The Museum of the Shenandoah valley is relatively small, having a single floor of exhibit space with additional space for meetings, a library, a small gift shop, and an unusually fine cafe that specializes in a variety of tea and scones. with a couple of offerings for actual meals.

The exhibit floor has five major divisions. One part of it is dedicated to the antiques and collectibles assembled by the most recent owners of the Glen Burnie house. These run from paintings, statues and furniture to quilts small textiles and handicrafts.

Adjacent to what might be termed the "fine art" wing is a superb collection of textiles (quilts) artifacts, furniture and items that breath life into the the frontier life and rural life of the Shenandoah valley. There are antiques from the local area crafted by local artisans or owned by local families for a long period of time.

A third area attempts to chronicle, a a small space some of the events of the history of the Shendoah valley and some of the culture of the area. This space is remarkably successful considering its compressed nature. The history stems from the ancient Native American peoples thought to the early nineteenth century touching upon such subjects as distilleries, the humble abode, and the nature and purpose of cow-bells. What's really nice is that this area is highly interactive with computer games for the kids and a number of videos. In addition there is a "cowbell" song that most visitors are reluctant to pursue because it makes such noise--but the Irrepressible with whom I travel eschews these mere mortal concerns.

The fourth area is dedicated to changing exhibits. In the case of our visit, it was dedicated to the photography of a person who might well be called the Ansel Adams of the Shenandoah--Hullihen Williams Moore. Beautiful black and white photographs of the national park really demonstrate the art of photography.

Finally, there is a small gallery of miniatures, and for those who like doll-house like things and miniature furniture and such, these are a treasure. Personally, I don't find these nearly as interesting as the female visitors who were accompanying me--as so we early parted ways with them spending some significant time in the miniature gallery and tea-shop and me visiting much of the rest of the museum.

Your museum visit starts with a context-setting film in a room built from recovered timbers of a 19th century barn. The docents and guides are extremely helpful, well-informed, and a real delight to talk with.

Right next door is the historic Glen Burnie house and gardens--also worth your time if you haven't visited them. This trip we did not take them in, wanting to spend some time instead really observing what the museum had to offer. But I've been through both before and it was among the more interesting tours of a house I've had the opportunity to participate in.

So, if you live in the area and you're looking for a day trip--you might consider a trip out to the Museum of the Shenandoah valley and Glen Burnie house and Gardens. It would reward your investment in time and money. One suggestion for the dedication of a Patsy Cline museum was that the people who ran this museum might also run the Patsy Cline when it was built and dedicated. I could think of no more felicitous decision. The work of the curators and staff in this small museum is far above and beyond what one might find in many more well-known institutions. The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley has much to be proud of.

(Oh, and the day we were there, the lawn beneath one large tree was covered with what looked (from a distance) like green apples and up-close looked like Osage oranges. They were, in fact, the commodious seed-pod coverings of black walnuts. What a wonderful autumnal welcome!)

For official site information--see here.

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Autumn at Mount Vernon


It had been some time since last I visited Mount Vernon. During my recent trip back to visit my wife's family, we made an excursion over to see the newly updated Mount Vernon Visitor's complex.

A while back, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association had spent a good deal of time and effort updating the shops that flanked the entrance to the estate. They did this while retaining the Colonial feel of the Mount Vernon Inn and created a pleasant mix of the modern and the historical.

Since that time, they have spent a great deal of time and effort building a magnificent new annex and entrance to the estate. Entering one is exposed to a wonderful statue of the Washington Family--George, Martha, Martha Custis, and John Parke Custis (Martha's daughter and son by a previous marriage). (I must admit these last two identifications are speculative because in later life the couple raised at least one, and I think two grandchildren.)


In this wing one can watch a brief film that traces some of the high points in the life of George Washington--Fort Necessity, the Death of General Braddock, etc.

What is most wonderful of all about this, is that the new wing was build without any obvious intrusion upon the estate itself. What was once a lengthy gravel road walk is now an entrance through the visitor's center and from the grounds the center is not visible.

In addition to the new visitor's center, the estate has added two small buildings that represent the living conditions of the slave workers on the plantation. Over time awareness and acknowledgment of Slave life at Mount Vernon has increased and so has the willingness to own up to this problematic situation.

One final and truly magnificent addition to the grounds is a small museum complex that features something like 12-15 audio-visual presentations of different lengths on different aspects of George Washington's life and life at Mount Vernon. Among these are four short clips about slavery, a short clip about George Washington and Religion. As short film about the relationship of George and Martha Washington, some information about George Washington's Spy network, and a nicely realized account of George Washington as military leader, from the debacle of Fort Necessity, to the triumph at Yorktown that secured for us our initial independence.

Along with these presentations there are stunning forensic recreations of George Washington at various periods of his life for which there is scant extant documentation of appearance, etc; his "false teeth", which are, in fact, real teeth secured in a metal plate that looks like a truly arcane torture device, and various artifacts both from Mount Vernon and from the time period.

In addition to the permanent exhibit, there is an exhibit hall for rotating exhibitions.

In all, a stunning change from previous visits, and a welcome one. All of this was done and the price of entry was essential the same as it was some five or six years ago, the last time I went to the estate. It is one of the finest small museums you are ever likely to see. What is truly notable in it is the attempt to be as impartial as being part of MVLA could possibly allow, including some clips and moments in movies that actually levy some criticism of George Washington as general and as slave-holder.

What the complex now does is finely balance the true veneration, devotion, and respect always exhibited by MVLA with the (sometimes) unpleasant historical facts to create an all-round picture of the life of George Washington that only embues more respect and appreciation in the visitor.

One last note, MVLA has added a round of historical personalities who show up on the grounds. I was able to visit with Martha Washington and with the chief of George Washington's spy organization for about half an hour. Each gives a short presentation and then engages in conversation with the audience in character and in time. Thus, they can't answer question about events after 1799, the death of Mr. Washington.

If you're in the area, or you plan to visit the area, you really need to stop by the new complex. It is fascinating, detailed, and multifaceted. With the house, the grounds, and the museum, you have the equivalent of a theme park, with a great deal more grit, gusto, hard and fast reality, and in some ways entertainment. (And this you're hearing from someone who truly enjoys what Disney has to offer us.)

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From The Roving Medievalist and English Catholic, this marvelous account of the first dried milk and other less-than-delectables. Recounted by the Friar Willem van Ruysbroeck of the Friars Minor.

This cosmos [Willem's spelling of kumiss], which is mare's milk, is made in this wise. They stretch a long rope on the ground fixed to two stakes stuck in the ground, and to this rope they tie toward the third hour the colts of the mares they want to milk. Then the mothers stand near their foal, and allow themselves to be quietly milked; and if one be too wild, then a man takes the colt and brings it to her, allowing it to suck a little; then he takes it away and the milker takes its place. When they have got together a great quantity of milk, which is as sweet as cow's as long as it is fresh, they pour it into a big skin or bottle, and they set to churning it with a stick prepared for that purpose, and which is as big as a man's head at its lower extremity and hollowed out; and when they have beaten it sharply it begins to boil up like new wine and to sour or ferment, and they continue to churn it until they have extracted the butter. Then they taste it, and when it is mildly pungent, they drink it. It is pungent on the tongue like râpé wine [i.e., a wine of inferior quality] when drunk, and when a man has finished drinking, it leaves a taste of milk of almonds on the tongue, and it makes the inner man most joyful and also intoxicates weak heads, and greatly provokes urine. They also make cara cosmos that is "black cosmos," for the use of the great lords. It is for the following reason that mare's milk curdles not. It is a fact that (the milk) of no animal will curdle in the stomach of whose fetus is not found curdled milk. In the stomach of mares' colts it is not found, so the milk of mares curdles not. They churn then the milk until all the thicker parts go straight to the bottom, like the dregs of wine, and the pure part remains on top, and it is like whey or white must. The dregs are very white, and they are given to the slaves, and they provoke much to sleep. This clear (liquor) the lords drink, and it is assuredly a most agreeable drink and most efficacious. Baatu has thirty men around his camp at a day's distance, each of whom sends him every day such milk of a hundred mares, that is to say every day the milk of three thousand mares, exclusive of the other white milk which they carry to others. As in Syria the peasants give a third of their produce, so it is these (Tartars) must bring to the ordu of their lords the milk of every third day. As to cow's milk they first extract the butter, then they boil it down perfectly dry, after which they put it away in sheep paunches which they keep for that purpose; and they put no salt in the butter, for on account of the great boiling down it spoils not. And they keep this for the winter. What remains of the milk after the butter they let sour as much as can be, and they boil it, and it curdles in boiling, and the curd they dry in the sun, and it becomes as hard as iron slag, and they put it away in bags for the winter. In winter time, when milk fails them, they put this sour curd, which they call gruit, in a skin and pour water on it, and churn it vigorously till it dissolves in the water, which is made sour by it, and this water they drink instead of milk. They are most careful not to drink pure water.

Link to full article

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In Celebration of the Day

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The historical revisionism that has assaulted the Founders of our nation has turned upon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and has tarred him with every brush that could be found. Not a saint, not a perfect human being; however, a man who tried to do good for those around him--a man who tried to raise up a beleaguered people, a man who tried to bring us to a place of equality, and a man through whose efforts we approach that freedom.

To this man I owe a debt of great gratitude--without him my present family arrangement would be well-nigh unthinkable. His efforts allowed us to begin to look upon people and see people--all equal in the eyes of God, of equal worth, equal dignity, equal importance by their human dignity. May his dream see fruition within my lifetime--we're not there yet; however, we are a good deal closer than we had been before he dared to dream.

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St. Therese is often noted as having said that we do not need to seek out mortifications, they are there in abundance in everyday life. And yesterday's gaffe with the World Series is just one case in point.

Also yesterday, I was reminded of the dreadful shortcomings of what was really, relatively speaking, a fine education. I discovered amidst the fuss and flurry of a bunch of research the Sarmatians and their near cousins the Alani and the the Narts.

When we think of the corners of history that we individually know so little about, it is really a prompt to humility. Sometimes it may seem like we are at the helm--but the reality is most of us are belowdecks and struggling just to keep dinner down.

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This Day in 1823

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The Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and told him to reestablish God's Church on Earth.

I've always found this and the golden tablets to be of particular interest along with the doctrine of blood atonement, invoked by Brigham Young to justify the Mountain Meadows Massacre. (Typified here as the first 9/11.)

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and the horror of the disfigurement.

from Hiroshima Diary
Michihiko Hadhiya, M.D.

[From the entry for August 6]

Clad in drawers and undershirt, I was sprawled on the living room floor exhausted because I had just spent a sleepless night on duty as an air warden in my hospital.

Suddenly, a strong flash of light startled me--and then another. So well does one recall little things that I remember vividly how a stone lantern in the garden became brilliantly lit and I debated whether this light was caused by a magnesium flare or sparks from a passing trolley.

Garden shadows disappeared. The view where a moment before all had been so bright and sunny was now dark and hazy. Through swirling dust I could barely discern a wooden column that had supported one corner of my house. It was leaning crazily and the roof sagged dangerously.

Moving instinctively, I tried to escape, but rubble and fallen timbers barred the way. By picking my way cautiously I managed to reach the roka and stepped down into my garden. A profound weakness overcame me, so I stopped to regain my strength. To my surprise I discovered that I was completely naked. How odd! Where were my drawers and undershirt?

What had happened?

All over the right side of my body I was cut and bleeding. A large splinter was protruding from a mangled wound in my thigh, and something warm trickled into my mouth. My cheek was torn, I discovered as I felt it gingerly, with the lower lip laid wide open. Embedded in my neck was a sizable fragment of glass which I matter-of-factly dislodged, and with the detachment of one stunned and shocked I studied it and my blood-stained hand.

Where was my wife?

A small memorial to a monumental folly that we still try to think of reasons and ways to justify. We had entered into the age of almost unimaginable cruelty at the beginning of the century, but this marked a new plateau, a plateau that has stayed with us from that day to our own. A plateau that it were better had it never been reached.

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Cinco de Mayo


In the midst of all of this immigration brouhaha and opinionating, I take time out to celebrate my favorite cuisine. (In case the beginning of my spiritual Autobiography did not make this clear, food is clearly designed by God to speak to the heart!) So, what precisely is Cinco de Mayo?

Well here's the explanation according the Encyclopedia Brittanica's This Day in History

1862: Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla
On this day in 1862, Mexico repelled the French forces of Napoleon III at the Battle of Puebla, a victory that became a symbol of resistance to foreign domination and is now celebrated as a national holiday, Cinco de Mayo.

So, what exactly is the proper greeting for Cinco de Mayo? Vivo Mexico! Vivo Zaragoza?

The famous El Grito is associated (incorrectly) with this date, but given that it is a staple of some celebrations, perhaps a word of explanation is in order:

from the publication of the Consul General in Austin

The next day, September 16, [1810] the peasants from the surrounding area responded to the ringing of the church bell. They gathered in the courtyard of the church, were Father Hidalgo inspired them with a fiery cry: "Long live religion!, Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Long live the Americas and death to the corrupt government!". This was the famous GRITO which triggered the long struggle for independence. The Cry of independence is repeated again and again, every year, in Mexico City from the balcony of the National Place in Mexico by the President of Mexico, and it is echoed by the governor of each state throughout the country.

One more rabble-rousing priest--will there be no end of them?

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the History category.

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