Texas

Texas Roundup (Yee-Haw!)

IMG_20150925_193404399   IMG_20150925_171120274_HDR

Now it’s time to talk about all the other stuff we did/ridiculous fried stuff we ate during our few days in Texas. (Translation: This is just an excuse for me to bitch about the Texas State Fair.)  I apologise for two posts in a row that are mostly angry rants, but I do love to complain, so this is what you get.   One of the things I was most excited about was attending the Texas State Fair on its opening day.  I used to look forward to the Geauga County Fair every year, so I thought a State Fair that is one of the biggest (the biggest?) in the country must be even more awesome.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.

IMG_20150925_183756288   IMG_20150925_171502135

To begin with, the fair is expensive.  Like, super expensive.  $18 per adult, plus an additional $15 for parking.  We managed to get half price entry by bringing a 20 oz. Coke brand product (for the homeless apparently, which is really bizarre.  I would have been happy to bring some tins of beans or jars of peanut butter or something else with actual nutritional value, but collecting a nutritionally devoid beverage on behalf of needy people felt wrong.  If they had just wanted an empty bottle, like if Coke was sponsoring it and they wanted you to buy their products, that at least would have made sense.  Donating something that unhealthy made me kind of uncomfortable, but I guess empty calories are better than no calories?  I dunno, maybe I’m being too judgy), but we still had to use the stupid ticket system to buy food and junk.  Yeah, you can’t just pay with cash at the stalls like a normal fair, you have to get tickets for everything.  I mean, rides, sure, but food?  I think it was just an excuse to jack up the prices and hope you wouldn’t notice how much everything cost, because tickets.

IMG_20150925_170921277   IMG_20150925_190412433

And can we talk about the food?  The Texas State Fair is famous for deep-frying any kind of weird shit they can put on a stick, so I imagined they’d have all the fryers fired up, and the stuff would at least be fresh.  Not so.  I don’t know when they fry this crap (I mean, it was the first day of the fair, so it couldn’t have been sitting around for that long, but that’s not what the taste would have you believe), but it was definitely not fried to order like all the stuff at the Geauga County Fair is.  If someone tried to give you an hours-old funnel cake there, you’d tell them where to shove it.  Here, that was just standard procedure (although I don’t even think I saw any funnel cakes there.  Not strange enough I guess).  My boyfriend was more adventurous than I was; after eating a stale old fried Snickers, I’d had enough, but he tried the fried coke (disgusting.  It was soaked in some kind of cold Coke syrup that made the balls all soggy and gross) and a fried chicken and waffle on a stick, which he said tasted a week old.  So we struck out on the food.  Well, except for the free pudding samples Kozy Shack was giving away.  I’ve never been a big pudding person (in the American sense of pudding), and eating a free tub of chocolate pudding that was just sitting out seemed kind of gross to me, but it was actually still cold, and damn, that shit was tasty.  Made up for the unpleasant vaguely coconut flavoured cotton candy (seriously, how do you mess up cotton candy?!  It’s just sugar!).

IMG_20150925_193904426   IMG_20150925_174909840

The attractions were not much to speak of either.  Except for wooden roller coasters, I don’t really go on rides (because they make me hurl if any spinning or loops are involved), but I do enjoy all the baking and craft competitions they normally have at fairs.  Well, not here.  Instead, they only had grim warehouse-like expo buildings full of pushy people selling various useless crap.  There were a few attractive art deco-y buildings, some of them used by local museums, including a music exhibit put on by the historical society, which was ok, albeit too crowded, but the rest of them were just full of new cars and other boring junk.

IMG_20150925_184443559_stitch   IMG_20150925_200915101

And the animals, which are usually the best part of this sort of thing, were limited to cattle, horses, goats, and a few pigs.  I know there’s some poultry disease going around this year, which is why none of the fairs were having chickens or ducks, but what about the rabbits?  Or sheep?  Normally the horses all have names, and are really well groomed, but these horses were nameless, and kind of dirty and sad looking, with unkempt manes.  Clearly, these were not owned by 4-H kids like the ones in Ohio, as no pride had been taken in their appearance.  They weren’t even that many animals there overall; at a fair that’s meant to be one of the biggest, I was expecting a lot more.

IMG_20150925_195135918   IMG_20150925_201234321

Because it was the opening night, they did have fireworks and a little parade of Texas themed floats, with Texas themed music, which was cute.  And of course Big Tex was there in all his glory, and he was pretty great.  As we were about to leave, we discovered where all the cute animals were hiding; in something that was labelled a children’s barn, which is why we didn’t go in at first, but it turns out it was open to everyone, and you could buy food for a dollar a cup to feed the animals.

IMG_20150925_202711507   IMG_20150925_202342240

The problem is that all the cutest ones had already been fed by every child there, so they weren’t much interested in eating (plus I felt bad that they’d already been harassed by everyone, though that obviously didn’t stop me petting them).  I couldn’t get the tiniest baby goats or the Highland calf to come over, so I just ended up giving all my food to the buffalo calf, as he was the only enthusiastic one (and he was still pretty adorable).  The fair was not great (understatement of the year), and if you’ve never been to an American fair before, I’d definitely head to a nice county one before wasting your time here.  It was way too commercial, and completely devoid of that homespun feel I’d usually associate with fairs.

IMG_20150926_104439467   IMG_20150926_111359828

The only place I did like in Dallas was a doughnut/biscuit joint called Hypnotic Donuts.  We had to wait for about twenty minutes just to get inside, but their biscuits (biscuits in the American sense, just to clarify, so picture big fluffy buttermilk scone-y things, rather than dry cookies) were nearly the size of my head, and awesome (though if you don’t eat meat, you’re limited to peanut butter and honey or jam as toppings, which was not a huge problem since I usually just have honey or lemon curd on biscuits anyway), as was the Peace-taschio doughnut with brown butter icing and roasted pistachios.  My boyfriend can recommend the fried chicken sandwich on a glazed doughnut, with bonus sriracha.

IMG_20150925_131434609   IMG_20150925_132837121_stitch

Going back to earlier in the trip, after we left the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco, we saw signs for a Mammoth National Monument.  Being a geologist, my boyfriend is pretty keen on fossils and such, so we stopped off at this National Park Site.  For $5, we were given about an hour long tour and explanation of the site by a knowledgeable ranger (or maybe just employee? He wasn’t wearing the hat, so I dunno).  Even though the billboards kind of made it look like a tourist trap, it wasn’t that at all.  Just a legit prehistoric site where the ranger seemed to really know his stuff and the mammoth bones are remarkably well preserved, so this is probably worth a stop if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

IMG_20150925_095442012   IMG_20150925_095541042_HDR

We also stopped at Round Rock Donuts on our way out of Austin (what can I say, I LOVE doughnuts), which you may have seen featured on Man vs Food and other shows for its super huge “Texas-sized” glazed doughnuts.  For once, this is a place that does live up to the hype.  I only had the normal sized doughnuts, but they’re served warm, and are pretty damn amazing.  I just don’t get why they’re orange.  Not in flavour, but colour.  Their website says it’s because of the fresh eggs they use, but that doesn’t explain why the glaze is orange as well.  Whatever, they’re good, and I can deal with ingesting some artificial colouring (Cap’n Crunch Berries is one of my favourite cereals, so I’m apparently ok with quite a lot of artificial colouring!).

IMG_20150924_145821088   IMG_20150924_205109619_stitch

Continuing on the subject of fried things, Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods, and it’s quite a hippie kind of town, with lots of health food stores (which is why it was my favourite place we went, by far.  Not that I eat healthily (see above), but health food stores generally have crackin’ vegetarian options, which is not something that be said for most of Texas).  The Whole Foods flagship store is there, and it’s giant and really nice, but there’s also Wheatsville Co-op, home of the world famous (in the veg*n blogging world) popcorn tofu (as in, fried like popcorn chicken, not covered with actual popcorn). In fact, Wheatsville Co-op was all around pretty cool, especially for those of a vegetarian persuasion (you can’t beat homemade agua fresca and Zapp’s Cajun Crawtaters!).

IMG_20150924_211211345_stitch   IMG_20150924_211258632_stitch

Also in Austin is the State Capitol building.  This beautiful building drew our eye at night on our way back to our hotel, because it was all lit up.  We went closer to take pictures, not expecting it to be open as it was nearly 9, but it turns out, it’s open until 10 at night, although most of the public rooms are only open during the day.  Some friendly rangers (I think they were rangers this time, they did have hats) waved us in (after we went through metal detectors), and the building is just as gorgeous from the inside as the out.

IMG_20150924_211009363_stitch   IMG_20150924_210807611_stitch

We felt a little uncertain about just wandering up the stairs, but no one seemed to mind, and it’s the best way to get pictures of the floor and ceiling of the rotunda area (and admire all the portraits of former governors, including (sigh) Dubya)  I’d like to go back when they actually have tours on to see some of the Victorian offices, but even without it, it’s a stunning building, and I highly recommend stopping by.

IMG_20150924_205451880   IMG_20150924_211436744_stitch

Well, that about sums up Texas.  Basically, Austin was my kind of place (aside from the heat) and Dallas definitely wasn’t, but I’m glad I got to see a state I’d never been to before, even if I didn’t always enjoy it.  Next up, a few posts from my old home state of Ohio.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Dallas, Texas: The Sixth Floor Museum and the Old Red Museum

Accidental Camouflage    IMG_20150926_112155952

When you think of Dallas, you think of the Kennedy assassination, right?  I mean, judging by the queue at the Sixth Floor Museum (the former Texas School Book Depository), I have to believe that JFK getting shot is the only thing people associate with Dallas.  Morbid as I am, and as much as I enjoyed the music of Danzig-era Misfits in my youth (and still do, around Halloween), I was actually not all that keen on seeing this museum, since I have very little interest in the history of the  second half of the 20th century, and I assumed (rightly) it would be a tourist trap.  But in the end, we thought we might as well go, since we might never be in Dallas again, which is how we found ourselves in a breezeway next to an overpriced parking lot, standing in the world’s longest queue.  Well, not really, the one at Dismaland for non-ticket holders was definitely longer, but this was probably the longest I’ve waited for something I wasn’t all that interested in in the first place (lines for rides at Disney World don’t count; I wanted to ride those).  The only benefit was that at least we were out of the sun, since it was about a million degrees outside, and I don’t really cope with heat very well.

IMG_20150926_125818357_stitch   IMG_20150926_125741695_HDR

When we finally (FINALLY) got to the front of the stupid queue, which probably took over an hour, we then had to part with the absurd $16 admission fee, and join another line to take the lift up.  Of course, you can avoid most of this queuing if you have the foresight to book tickets online (dunno whether there’s a booking fee).  We clearly didn’t, and when we saw the online ticket people skipping to the front, we briefly thought of booking them then and there on our phones, but were quickly warned off by one of the employees, as you can apparently only book them at least two hours out from the time you want to go, and I was certainly not coming back to this place.  So we eventually got up to the Sixth Floor, with our free audio guides (they’d better be free, after paying $16 to get in), only to be met with the mass of people who were in the queue in front of us.  There was no way you could get close enough to most of the signs to read them, so we were left pretty reliant on the audio guide, which you know I hate.  Anyway, even if we could see the signs, this was a lame museum.  The only artefacts to speak of were a model of the assassination site, and a suit one of the cops escorting Lee Harvey Oswald was wearing when Jack Ruby appeared and shot him (Oswald that is, not the cop).  The actual corner where Oswald stood and fired those shots (depending on what you believe I guess, though conspiracy theories are given fairly short shrift in the museum) is behind glass, so you can’t get close to it, though you can see roughly what his view of the grassy knoll would have been from the window a few feet over.  Today the grassy knoll (really just a small patch of grass in the middle of a plaza) is full of idiots who dart between gaps in the traffic to stand on the x in the middle of the road that marks the spot where Kennedy was shot.

IMG_20150926_130539771_HDR   IMG_20150926_131700578_HDR_stitch

The whole thing was grim really, and not because of the assassination.  I hate being forced to part with that kind of cash for something as uninspiring as this.  The seventh floor, which was the only place you were allowed to take pictures, was even more of a bust.  All it had was some murals of the Kennedys, and another window where you could try to capture the view.  This was an awful tourist trap, and I would not recommend it to anyone, which is really a shame, because they could have done so much more with a building with this kind of history.  Just take a picture of the plaque in front of the building acknowledging that this was the Texas School Book Depository, and spend the money you saved on an ice cream or something else that would actually be enjoyable.  1/5.

IMG_20150926_144910167_stitch   IMG_20150926_133056429_HDR

I was more enthusiastic about the Old Red Museum, simply because I’d spotted the building from the highway without knowing what it was, and thought it looked really cool.  Turns out it is both a working courthouse, and a Dallas history museum.  I immediately got annoyed, however, when the guy at the admissions desk disappeared right after we walked in.  We waited around for ten minutes, and were just about to take our chances heading up the museum without a ticket, when he reappeared and sold us our $8 tickets, complete with a hefty free dose of attitude problem (I know that’s rich, coming from me).  There was a temporary exhibit on the ground floor about Mexicans living in Texas that sounded pretty good, but it was just a couple of Mexican dolls in a small room.  Dallas was not going well.

IMG_20150926_134106593   IMG_20150926_134230605

The actual museum upstairs was a bit better, but still fairly meh.  We ended up watching a couple of the videos, just because our legs were tired from queuing so long over at the stupid Sixth Floor Museum, and we wanted to sit for a while.  One of them promisingly opened with a line about how, “John Neely Bryan was the founder of Dallas.  He would eventually be committed to a mental institution, where he died, but for now he was just a farmer.”  With an intro like that, my expectations were high, but it just gave a very boring history of the early years of farming in Dallas, and never said anything more about Bryan’s alleged lunacy.  This summed up my problems with this museum.  It promised a lot, but it didn’t really deliver.

IMG_20150926_142324016   IMG_20150926_142504540

Sure, they had Clyde Barrow’s gun, the handcuffs used on Lee Harvey Oswald, and Larry Hagman’s hat from Dallas, the TV show, as promised on their website, but most of it was just your standard local history museum affair, albeit on a slightly larger scale (everything is bigger in Texas, after all).  I would have been fine with that if we’d only paid maybe $3-$5, but for $8, I was expecting something more.  And one of the world’s first frozen margarita machines wasn’t going to cut it, much as I find frozen margaritas the only vaguely palatable way of drinking tequila (perhaps if they’d been giving out free samples of margaritas, it would have improved my mood).

IMG_20150926_142858603   IMG_20150926_143339264_stitch

So it’s fair to say I was not overly impressed with Dallas’s museum offerings.  I do hear very positive things about the Perot Museum, but we could go to a natural history museum anywhere; this was why we opted for things more Dallas-centric, which was clearly a mistake.  The Old Red Museum fared slightly better than the Sixth Floor Museum, because it was half the price, almost empty, and contained more artefacts relating to Kennedy than the stupid Sixth Floor thing did, but it still wasn’t anything I’d go rushing out to see.  Maybe just skip them both and buy two (or four, at least ice cream is affordable here) ice creams.  You’ll need them in that heat.  2.5/5.

Waco, Texas: The Dr. Pepper Museum

IMG_20150925_111705339   IMG_20150925_111929100

Can I talk about blogging for a minute?  Even though I’ve only been posting once a week for a while, I’m at a point right now where even that feels like a chore (although I have no pressing obligations, so it’s not a question of finding the time to do it, because I have loads of time.  I’ve just lost interest).  I don’t know, it’s just when your stats are never quite as good as you’d like them to be and you’re not even sure people are actually reading your (admittedly overly-wordy) posts, it’s hard to summon up enthusiasm to write them.  I’m not sure why I’m telling you this, because I have enough posts stored up that I can get away with doing nothing but editing for another month or two, and I have no plans to stop blogging or anything; I guess it’s just so if you notice a slip in quality, that’s why.  Ennui.  Anyway, let’s move on from my listlessness to the always effervescent Dr. Pepper.

Thanks to David Koresh, you’ve probably heard of Waco before (unless you’re a young person, and then maybe not?).  However, over twenty years have gone by since the siege, and all that remains of the Branch Davidian compound is a small marker by the side of the road that people aren’t really encouraged to stop at.  Happily, there is another, much less depressing attraction in Waco, in the form of the Dr. Pepper Museum.

IMG_20150925_111911591   IMG_20150925_112342276

I don’t really drink pop very often anymore (not because I don’t like it, but because it’s pretty calorific, and I’d rather save those calories for dessert), and when I do, Cherry Coke tends to be my soda of choice (only the full sugar version please, I HATE diet), at least whenever I don’t have an overpriced imported bottle of Stewart’s Key Lime or Oranges ‘n’ Cream to hand.  However, I’ve nothing against Dr. Pepper; in fact, I probably stunted my growth as a teenager thanks to my frequent consumption of “Dr. Thunder,” the Wal-Mart version of Dr. Pepper, so it was high time I knocked one back in the place of its birth.  Yes, Dr. Pepper was invented right in Waco, Texas, at Morrison’s Drug Store, by a pharmacist named Charles Alderton, aka “Dr. Pepper.”  In fact, in soda jerk slang, you used to be able to order a Dr. Pepper by saying “shoot me a Waco,” which I probably wouldn’t recommend doing today.  But to learn all this inside the museum, I first had to part with the rather steep admission fee of $8 (dollar off coupon available on their website, and I suggest you use it).

IMG_20150925_112405104   IMG_20150925_112552575

One of the only parts of this three floor museum that seemed even vaguely worth the admission price was right by the start, inside the mock-up of an old-timey pharmacy.  They had an animatronic Charles Alderton who would long-windedly tell you the story of how Dr. Pepper came to be, which was amusing if only to hear how he spent most of his profits on cigars (Texas seems to love its animatronics).  They clearly kept emphasizing how Dr. Pepper is NOT a cola, which I would think is fairly obvious to anyone who’s ever tried it, and if you haven’t, then what the hell are you doing paying $8 to see this museum?!

IMG_20150925_112856974  IMG_20150925_113349798

Ok, I confess part of my motive in parting with that much is that I was secretly hoping it would be like the Mr. Pibb Factory in American Dad, and it was not even remotely close, but then again, the museum is in an abandoned bottling plant, rather than a working factory.  The closest operational bottling plant was in Dublin, Texas, but that appears to have recently shut down, so I’m not sure where the soda fountain is sourcing their “all-sugar” Dr. Pepper from (more on that later).  Anyway, the ground floor of the museum, other than the animatronic Doc, mostly consisted of a collection of glass bottles from throughout history, and an old artesian well that was blocked up until recently (you can buy chunks of the bottles that were disposed of in it at the shop, if for some reason that should appeal).

IMG_20150925_113538077   IMG_20150925_113709612

We only really knew the museum had three floors because the woman at the admission desk told us; otherwise, it wasn’t terribly clear.  We were scared to take the only stairs, because they looked like a fire exit (as in, an alarm might have gone off if we opened the door to them), and the lift wasn’t particularly well-marked or inviting, but we eventually just ended up using it.  The first (second in Americanese) floor proved to contain a temporary exhibit about promotional thermometers put out by soda companies (I’m not gonna lie, I’m intrigued by Squirt and gin, since I used to really like Squirt.  Do they even still make it?), and some weird half-assed attempt to explain how weather worked.  The Dr. Pepper memorabilia section was slightly better, even though we didn’t understand why there was a foot-shaped ashtray until we got up to the next floor.

IMG_20150925_113856243   IMG_20150925_114431199

The rest of the floor space here was taken up with a “Western” theme, including the Dr. Pepper cowgirl (well before my time), a horse made of bottle caps (I think), and a collection of Western themed pop cans ranging from mildly to extremely racist (such as the cringing “Heep Good Soda,” complete with Native American caricature).  Alright, there was a Doc Holiday (sic) soda too, which I would drink just because I love Val Kilmer’s portrayal of him in Tombstone so much, but from what I hear he was pretty damn racist in real life too (Doc Holliday, that is), so I guess he fit in with the rest of the cans.

IMG_20150925_114925679   IMG_20150925_115736476

We decided to take our chances on the stairs for the trip up to the top floor, and the door ended up not being alarmed, to our relief, just obviously disused (the stairwell was rundown and kind of smelled).  Here we were greeted with a video projection of “Foots,” an enterprising Dr. Pepper salesman who eventually became the president of Dr. Pepper, so named because of his enormous feet, apparently.  Which explained the mysterious ashtray downstairs, as well as all the other foot themed memorabilia (I admit to being relieved that it wasn’t just the result of some employee with a raging foot fetish).

IMG_20150925_114617193  IMG_20150925_114043007

There were a few interactive games up here (not that fun, especially the marble one, which was really hard), and some crap about Foot’s Christian work ethic, but I rather enjoyed the cinema that was playing videos of retro Dr. Pepper commercials.  Some of those Dr. Pepper songs were damn catchy, even if it was all too painfully obvious which demographic they were attempting to appeal to with each one.

IMG_20150925_115750787_HDR   IMG_20150925_121708206_HDR

Back downstairs, there was a shop where you could buy Dr. Pepper merchandise and that elusive sugar-not-HFCS pop, which apparently you can get all over the place as “Throwback Dr. Pepper” anyway (you’d never know from all the hype about it in the shop), but whatever, it wasn’t too expensive.  I was most excited for the vintage soda fountain, where they still make drinks with the actual syrup, but it was ultimately kind of a bust.  I mean, my float tasted good and all, but the girl making it was not very enthusiastic, and I was most disappointed that it was just served in a crappy plastic cup, instead of an actual soda glass.  Every other vintage-style soda fountain I’ve been to has used real glass, so why can’t this place, especially when that’s the vibe they’re aiming for? I don’t know, this museum was way overpriced, and not particularly impressive.  If you really like Dr. Pepper, it might be worth stopping if you’re in the vicinity to try something from the soda fountain (because who am I to tell you to turn down a delicious float; just don’t count on an actual glass), but you can probably skip the museum.  Although that said, I don’t regret going, because if I didn’t check it out, I’d be worried I was missing out on something cool.  It’s not every day you get to go to a soda museum, and it was definitely a uniquely American experience.  2/5.

IMG_20150925_121244462_HDR   IMG_20150925_121751112

 

 

Austin, TX: LBJ Presidential Library and Museum

IMG_20150924_165023584   IMG_20150924_151004745_stitch

I’ve always gotten the impression (probably from my mother, who hates the man, even though she was a bit too young to have been part of the whole Vietnam/hippy generation) that Lyndon Baines Johnson is one of the more reviled modern presidents, after Nixon and George W Bush, at least, depending on your political leanings.  But you all know I adore presidential history, and given the other presidential museum options in Texas (the Bushes…I’m sorry, but it happened too recently…I just can’t bring myself to give money to Dubya), LBJ was really looking pretty good.  Besides, we share a birthday (August 27), so I’ve always felt an affinity with the man, despite some of his unsavoury personal habits.  And Austin is pretty much the only city in Texas with a reputation for being vegetarian friendly (and how!  You must get the “popcorn tofu” from Wheatsville Co-op), so that settled the matter.  LBJ it was.

IMG_20150924_151844833   IMG_20150924_151744598

Unlike some other presidential sites, because the LBJ Museum is also a library and archives, it is run by the National Archives and Record Administration, rather than the friendly rangers from the NPS.  So they made me pay the full $8 for admission, even after I mentioned that we share a birthday, which I still think should have been good for some sort of discount (though I did learn that the museum is free to all on our birthday, and you even get cake (which I will keep in mind for future birthdays)).  Anyway, the museum is on three different levels (the rest of the building is archives, as you will see), and they have a special exhibition space on the ground floor for temporary exhibits somehow relating to LBJ’s presidency.  Currently, it is on the Beatles, since he was president in the 1960s and all.

IMG_20150924_152037666   IMG_20150924_152155100

I like the Beatles fine, but I’m not a super Beatles fan, like some of the people visiting the exhibition clearly were, so it was good for a quick walk-though (to be honest, I probably liked Elvis’s guitar better than the Beatles’ stuff) to admire those excellently mod Beatles sneakers (they even had a pointy toe, and I LOVE a pointy toe) and get a drum tutorial from Ringo (though I was afraid to give it my all because people were looking at me), but I didn’t feel the need to spend a whole lot of time in there, especially since we only had about two hours before the museum closed.

IMG_20150924_153433472_HDR   IMG_20150924_153648355

So I fairly dashed through the timeline of LBJ’s life on the ground floor, and headed straight for the animatronic LBJ.  You may remember the animatronic William and Ida McKinley from my post on the McKinley Museum, but LBJ blows them out of the water.  His whole head and hands move, just like a real person’s, and he tells a variety of the mildly raunchy stories he was known for.  It had me wishing they had an animatronic FDR at the FDR museum, so I could have experienced this magic with my favourite president (maybe there’s one in the Hall of Presidents at Disney?  I don’t remember, I haven’t been there since I was a kid).

IMG_20150924_153623948   IMG_20150924_153922594

Speaking of FDR, it soon became obvious that LBJ loved FDR just as much (possibly even more, since he actually knew the man) as I do.  This is also the point when I began to warm to LBJ, because no one who liked FDR that much could have been all bad.  LBJ worked for the WPA (too many acronyms?), as a young man, and was offered a fairly prestigious position in it by FDR himself, which LBJ respectfully declined because he wanted to run for the House of Representatives instead (and he did, and won).  It seems like all his life he tried to emulate FDR and further his policies, making him rather socialist in his leanings (at least in his zeal for making healthcare more accessible to all), which was probably influenced by the time he spent teaching in poor Mexican schools in his 20s, and the poverty he saw there.

IMG_20150924_154039887   IMG_20150924_154832476

Having gone over LBJ’s personal life and marriage to Lady Bird in the timeline, this floor was devoted to his political career, starting with the FDR days, and ending with his own presidency.  So it of course addressed all the major controversial stuff, like Kennedy’s assassination (which you will hear a lot more about in future posts, this being Texas) and the Vietnam War.

IMG_20150924_155018148_HDR   IMG_20150924_155241823_stitch

I think divisive political issues are always a difficult thing to cover, especially in a museum that ultimately aims to honour the presidency of a particular leader, and though the museum was somewhat apologist in its view on Vietnam (LBJ was opposed to it, and saddened by it, but he couldn’t find a way out, blah blah blah), they did make some effort to show the horrific consequences by showing letters written to LBJ by parents whose children had been killed in the War.  I mean, there was pretty much a whole gallery on Vietnam, but it was still clear the museum preferred to focus on his efforts for civil rights rather than the huge negative that was the Vietnam War.

IMG_20150924_154622089   IMG_20150924_160306479_stitch

To that effect, there was a lot in the gallery about the evils of segregation, and what LBJ did to fight it, as well as a little annex at the back of the floor with biographical details about various people who achieved prominent roles in society as a result of LBJ’s policies, as well as all the ways LBJ’s legacy has benefited us today, which was perhaps laying things on a little thick.

IMG_20150924_160752482   IMG_20150924_160947997

The only way to the top floor, as far as I could tell, was by lift, since it’s a good six stories up (you can see all the books and papers that fill those floors in the picture two paragraphs up).  This held more items relating to LBJ’s personal life, as well as some material pertaining to Lady Bird.

IMG_20150924_161459583_stitch   IMG_20150924_161329949_HDR

There was a mock-up of the LBJ-era Oval Office that was pretty neat, complete with a voice over telling you about all the objects in there (he had a custom-made marble-topped table with a pull-out phone in it), and outside the office, a different phone where you could listen to examples of the “Johnson treatment,” whereby LBJ would try to charm/intimidate people.  Listening to his conversation with a female reporter really drove home that the ’60s were a very different time…I don’t think a president telling you he wished he wasn’t married so he could take you up against a fence post like an animal would be seen as “charming” today.  More sexually harassing, if anything.

IMG_20150924_161928928_HDR_stitch   IMG_20150924_162135987_stitch

Nonetheless, it must have worked somehow, as he managed to win over Lady Bird, who was very intelligent, and frankly, much too attractive for him, especially when she was young (she kind of looked like a prettier version of Ruth Goodman as she aged, not to dis Ruth, because I enjoy all those “Insert Historical Era Here” Farm shows).  There was, again, a mock-up of an office in the corner, this time Lady Bird’s, and a collection of some of Lady Bird’s (whose real name was Claudia) personal items, including dresses and china, because that’s of course how most people think of first ladies, even though she had much more to her than finery, being well educated, a shrewd investor, and providing the charm needed to smooth over her husband’s brashness.

IMG_20150924_162849789   IMG_20150924_160244232

Heading back downstairs again, on our way out, we got to check out LBJ’s presidential limo, and the rather impressive shop.  I mean, they not only had an excellent range of refrigerator magnets and postcards (both of which we collect), but a big old heap of retro presidential campaign buttons (not actually dating back to LBJ, but I spotted a couple Nixon ones in there.  I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy one, but it was still cool), and a collection of presidential bobbleheads.  I couldn’t resist the one of FDR with Fala (I think I have a problem).  Although the LBJ museum was, perhaps out of necessity because of the very nature of a presidential museum, apologist at times, I learned a lot about a president I’m not that well versed on (not being the biggest fan of 20th century history, particularly the latter half), and I was in general pretty impressed with the quality of the displays, and, of course, all the bonus FDR stuff.  3.5/5.

Houston, TX: The National Museum of Funeral History

IMG_20150924_101724615  IMG_20150924_101721632

It seems like late summer/early fall is always such a travel whirlwind for me (and the blog).  First Italy, and now the US, specifically, Houston (which I’m always tempted to mispronounce Hoos-ton in Matthew Kelly style, since I’ve watched far too many old-ass episodes of Stars in Their Eyes).  My boyfriend had to travel there for work, and as soon as I found out, my first thoughts were of the National Museum of Funeral History, which, as readers of my Places I’d Like to Visit page will know, I’ve wanted to go to pretty much forever.  Fortunately, my boyfriend agreed that it and many other things in Texas were worth seeing, so we arranged to meet there for a few days after he was done with work stuff, before flying up to Cleveland for a bit to see my family ‘n’ junk.  The Funeral Museum was my top (only?) priority in Houston, so that’s where we headed my first morning there.  Which is convenient, because in lieu of anything spookier, it’ll have to serve as my Halloween post this year.

IMG_20150924_101917019   IMG_20150924_101917019_stitch

The museum was not that easy to find, being located in a nondescript building on the outskirts of town, but I’m happy to say that it was both massive and deserted when we got there.  Admission is $10, which seems kind of steep until you see the size of this place.  The main gallery is dominated by a splendid collection of hearses, including some that pre-date the automobile.  Numerous other smaller galleries split off from there, focusing on funerals of celebrities, the popes, and the presidents, among others.

IMG_20150924_102334989   IMG_20150924_102727034

Even though I was dying (pun intended) to see the presidential gallery, I thought I’d restrain myself and save that for last, so I started in the opposite corner of the museum with celebrity funerals.  There was a large display about the Wizard of Oz, primarily about the recently deceased actors who portrayed various Munchkins, with a replica of the Coroner’s outfit, as well as an old video of the actor who played him explaining why he was given the role (he could competently deliver a few lines, basically, having had some experience in show business.  He had previously worked for Oscar Mayer, travelling around the country in the Wienermobile as the “World’s Smallest Chef,” which is a story in its own right).  There was also a Walt Disney corner, but most of the space in this gallery was devoted to some guy’s collection of funeral memorial booklets.  You know, those little pamphlets they give out at a memorial service, usually with a picture of the deceased on the front and some information about their life inside (actually, I’ve never been to a funeral where those were handed out, since Catholics tend to favour those little prayer cards, but I’ve seen them before).

IMG_20150924_102851204   IMG_20150924_103057520

These were worth remarking on mainly because many of them belonged to people who I thought were kind of cool, such as Jack LaLanne and Al Lewis.  There was also a quiz on the epitaphs of various famous people, which I should have known since they were also actors I liked, including Leslie Nielsen and Walter Matthau, but I did not excel at it.  (I also love Jack Lemmon and Burgess Meredith, primarily from Grumpy Old Men, but I can’t watch the sequel without crying when Burgess Meredith dies.  I also get weepy at that one Twilight Zone, because all the poor guy wanted to do was be left alone to read.  I can sympathise.)

IMG_20150924_103921350   IMG_20150924_104101532

We accidentally went through the funeral history section backwards, getting to the Egyptians last, but that didn’t matter, because I was most interested in all the Victorian mourning paraphernalia anyway.  I’m already very well acquainted with hair art and mourning jewellery, but the mourning clock was a new one.  I actually think it’s a lovely idea, though obviously I don’t want any of my friends or family to die anytime soon, so perhaps acquiring an antique one would be best (or I could have one made in honour of my grandparents maybe?).  I am definitely goth enough to hang something like that in my house (it helps that the picture on the one on display was Edward Gorey-esque).

IMG_20150924_103839707   IMG_20150924_104503686

The Egyptian stuff was fine; they had a very blinged-out sarcophagus (I’m a pretty good speller, but I always have to try that one a few times before I get it right), but it was mostly just laminated print-outs hanging from the walls, and not quite up to the standard of the other galleries.

IMG_20150924_104851296_HDR   IMG_20150924_105040795_HDR

Especially the Papal Funerals.  Oh my gott.  This was much much larger than I was expecting; every time we thought we were done, we turned a corner and it kept going.  I am, as I’ve mentioned before, an EXTREMELY lapsed Catholic (lapsed all the way into atheism), so I can’t pretend I’ve any particular interest in the popes or their funerals (other than the fun of saying Papa Francesco with an Italian accent), but I was surprised by how much I learned in here.

IMG_20150924_105144797_HDR   IMG_20150924_105852104

From what the colours of the hats mean about the various ranks of clergy, to what happens to the pope’s ring after he dies, and how the whole red shoe thing got started, it was unexpectedly fascinating stuff.  Did you know the pope is buried in not one, not two, but THREE coffins?!  It’s like they’re scared he’s going to turn into a vampire and escape or something.

IMG_20150924_110101319_stitch   IMG_20150924_110121493_stitch

My boyfriend was probably most keen on the Ghanaian coffins, which were kept in a slightly hidden-away room about funeral customs world-wide.  Basically, some guy in Ghana started making coffins in shapes that reflected either the dead person’s personality, or something the dead person loved when they were alive, and it caught on and became a whole craze for anyone who could afford one.  On an episode of An Idiot Abroad, Karl Pilkington had a giant Twix made, which we both agreed is the best one we’ve seen (it helps that Twix is probably the best candy bar, tied with Snickers), but the ones here were pretty good too, especially the big ol’ crab (let’s face it, if it’s meant to represent one’s personality, that’s probably what I should be buried in).  There was also some stuff about Japanese and Mexican funerals.

IMG_20150924_110635682   IMG_20150924_104735590

It’s time to talk about some of the displays in the main gallery; the coolest thing (in my opinion) being a funeral bus (above right).  It was built in 1916, and meant to be a solution to the problem of extended funeral processions tying up roads, since it could hold the coffin, up to twenty mourners, and the pallbearers.  Unfortunately, when they tried it out, it proved to be unbalanced, and flipped; the coffin opened up, the mourners all fell out, and the whole thing was a bit of a disaster, so it was never used again. But apparently some guy lived in it for a while; if you have to live in a bus, I think a funeral bus is probably the way to go.

IMG_20150924_110741052   IMG_20150924_110455055

Other noteworthy objects included a 1921 hearse with beautiful wood carvings made to resemble drapes on the side, hearses used to carry the bodies of Grace Kelly and Ronald Reagan, and a money casket, with slots on the side to donate coins (I guess in theory to help pay for funeral costs, although it’s just used for fundraising events, and not to actually hold bodies).  Personally, I’m a fan of the old-school body shaped coffins, which weren’t really well represented here, but no matter; the depressing story of the coffin built for three (it was meant for a couple who planned to kill themselves after their child died, so they could all be buried together, but apparently changed their minds, as it was never used) made up for it.

IMG_20150924_110749171   IMG_20150924_111345767

I finally made it over to the Presidential Funeral section, which was not as big nor as extensive as I’d been hoping (especially compared to the papal one), and focused mainly on Lincoln, I guess because he had the most public and extravagant funeral.  Because he was the first to be assassinated AND he was president during such a pivotal time in American history, the American people really went all out for his funeral, arranging for his body to be embalmed (which really began to become more mainstream because of the American Civil War) and carried on a special funeral train throughout major Northern American cities on the way home to Springfield, Illinois, where he would be buried.  One of the stops was Cleveland, and I definitely would have turned up to see it, you know, had I been born 150 years earlier or so, but since I don’t own a TARDIS or other time machine, I enjoyed looking at the miniature model of the train.

IMG_20150924_112133226   IMG_20150924_111432370_stitch

You all know how much I love FDR, and I confess I was hoping for more on his funeral than the brief treatment it got, but alas, that was the fate of most of the presidents, save for the assassinated ones and Ronald Reagan.  A brief blurb if they were lucky (and maybe only ten of them even got that much), and maybe a newspaper article relating to their death.

IMG_20150924_111750318   IMG_20150924_112720111

The final section was a tribute to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the soldiers from all the various wars who have been buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  There didn’t appear to be a special exhibit at the time we visited, although future ones on the myths and legends of the graveyard and the history of cremation in America look pretty interesting, and I’m sorry to have missed them.

IMG_20150924_104829477   IMG_20150924_113537440

I was a little disappointed in the shop (they could have had a better selection of souvenirs relating to the museum, like postcards and books, instead of generic skeleton stuff), and I do wish the presidential section could have been more comprehensive, but overall, the museum more than lived up to my expectations (which were admittedly pretty damn high).  I’m fascinated by morbid stuff like this, so I loved it, especially the Victorian funeral history section and the casket and hearse collection.  In fact, I think there could have been even more funeral history, since that gallery seemed to skip over most of the advances in preservation between the Egyptians and the Victorians, which is a big time period to exclude.  For example, I think the work of early modern anatomists and preservationists like Frederik Ruysch (there he is again), was revolutionary, and well-worth a mention.  Those things aside though, the National Museum of Funeral History really delivered, and I’m thrilled I can finally cross this one off the list, since I’ve been waiting to see it for so damn long.  4/5.  And because I won’t have another post out until next week, and I can’t neglect my favourite holiday, I’ll use this as an opportunity to wish you all a happy (scary?) Halloween!