(Dec. 31, 2017) It’s a snowy New Years Eve. We got more snow here where my brother’s family lives in Huber Heights, Ohio, today. Not much, but it was a lovely dusting this morning that added at least half an inch over the landscape.
A white Christmas and a white New Years. Temperatures over much of our country have fallen to record lows not seen in 50 years…and, to be funny by way of illustration, much of the U.S. is colder right now than the surface of the planet Mars!
Got a few odds and ends from my sojourn in Kentucky that never quite fit into other columns, so I thought I’d wrap them up tonight.
Let me start by taking you back to Hodgenville, the town outside of which Abraham Lincoln was born. I’ve already gone over the two farms Lincoln on as a baby and toddler. I neglected to mention the Lincoln Museum or the redoubtable Laha’s Red Castle cafe.
The Lincoln Museum is a small, private establishment that has a series of the best dioramas I’ve ever seen. These are life-sized tableaux that recreate specific moments from Lincoln’s life. The attention to detail is simply astounding. For example, the first tableaux recreates a scene in the Lincoln cabin in Indiana with young Abraham reading, his mother working on mending, and his father coming in. The cabin background itself is built of wood salvaged from an early 1800’s slave cabin in Kentucky.
The figures are exceptionally impressive. Lincoln’s face is rendered with frightening accuracy. The figure of his father was carefully crafted using the one known photograph of Thomas Lincoln, right down to the hairline. His mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died early during their Indiana years, and there are no images of her. However, the museum staff and volunteers crafted a very creditable idea of what she looked like from the fact that Abraham, while he got his hair line, eyes, and even that famous mole from his father…the rest of his face he evidently got from his Angel Mother. Therefore, using Abraham’s own face as a model, the staff sort of “reverse-engineered” a face for the Nancy Hanks figure, and they did a spectacular job creating a believable idea of how she may have looked.
The museum only has a small admission cost, which is remarkable considering the amount of money invested in the life-sized dioramas alone. The upstairs area is chock full of artifacts and books about Lincoln himself, as well as the history of Hodgenville’s celebration of its most famous native son. Even if you don’t have a lot of time, stop by. You can tour the whole place in less than an hour and still come away learning a great deal about Mr. Lincoln. The life-sized tableaux give you a genuine idea of his height, and each scene does imparts a real sense of stepping back in time. These figures are so life-like you really feel they could start moving.
If you have time, once you’re done at the museum, walk across Hodgenville’s town circle. The Hodgenville courthouse used to stand in the very center of town. It was burned during the Civil War, and later rebuilt. Early this century it was finally demolished and the current roundabout constructed. On the other side of the roundabout is Laha’s Red Castle, a family owned-cafe that’s been in operation here since 1934. In fact, the flattop grill they used was installed during the 1950s, and is still going strong.
It’s a tiny place with only a counter to sit at, but give it a shot. The cheeseburgers are out of this world, and the chance to rub elbows with Hodgenville natives is a wonderful way to get to know the modern life of this historic little town.
Now, let’s drive northeast to Fort Knox.
Yep, the Fort Knox made famous by the nearby United States Gold Depository. First note—the gold depository is not part of the fort. The depository is on Department of the Treasury land, and they do not offer tours. Visiting the depository literally requires permission signed by the President of the United States. So, I’m sorry, no stories or photos of the gold depository.
Fort Knox itself is rather a historic place in its own right. Originally founded as Camp Knox (named for Revolutionary War general and first Secretary of War, Henry Knox), the post sprang up outside the small town of Stithton as a World War I training center in April 1918. Very quickly the facility grew and the War Department bought the entire town of Stithton, expanding over the land. During World War II the fort housed original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Gettysburg Address following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Two historic buildings caught my eye. The LST building and the Lincoln Main Post Chapel.
The LST building is long, oddball-looking wooden structure built in 1942 as a joint venture between the U.S. Army, Navy, and British Ministry of Defense. It was a full-sized mock-up of a Landing Ship, Tank (LST) well deck and was used to overcome many design challenges, such as the ventilation problem of running up a bunch of tanks below deck prior to an amphibious landing. After the war the building was a classroom before being turned over to the Patton Museum. It is rather derelict today, but if you are on post find it. It’s the only building of its kind in the world and its very existence is a monument to one of the first truly joint operational collaborations between the U.S. and Great Britain. (Unfortunately the Patton Museum itself, telling the life of General George Patton, was closed for renovations until May 2018).
The last building that I stopped to really see was the Lincoln Main Post Chapel. This building is the only building of old Stithton left. Besides the tie to the former community of Stithton, this chapel’s history is a unique one for the Midwest. It began life in 1899 as St. Patrick’s Parish, a Roman Catholic church. This is remarkable because, due to the nature of most of the religious migration to the United States, the country is largely Protestant as far as Christianity goes. Roman Catholics are still very much a minority today. Finding a historic chapel that started life as a Roman Catholic church in the heartland is a very singular find.
The upshot is to always look around. Even on a place like Fort Knox, there are stories and history to find. They might not be the biggest or most spectacular site, but they are unique to the places you find them, and each one is a small detail that helps fill in the overarching story of our world.
Time now to wrap this up for the year. I look forward to sharing more next year, but it’s time for 2017 to wind down. Of course, being that it’s 10:20 p.m. New Years Eve sort of makes this whole “close down for the rest of the year” idea rather undramatic. But, there it is.
Happy New Year!
#Kentucky #FortKnox #romancatholic #catholic #worldwarii