Travel to Seneca Falls, New York, the hub of women’s history in the U.S. for an education on the history of women’s rights and a hefty dose of historic charm.
The struggle for human rights never seems to end. Yet, in Seneca Falls, New York, you’ll find inspiration when you learn about the historic leaders of women’s rights. Located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, at the tip of Seneca Lake, the town makes a great stop on your tour of the area.
Seneca Falls was the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention held on July 19-20, 1848. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park commemorates that event and depicts women’s struggle to gain the right to vote and for other rights that come with equal citizenship in this country.
One of the meeting’s organizers, Seneca Falls resident Elizabeth Cady Stanton, began the event with a speech on the convention’s goals and purpose:
“We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.” The Convention culminated in the Declaration of Sentiments, which is full of ideas that were quite revolutionary at the time.
The Women’s Rights National Historical Park is actually a collection of historic sites, all within easy walking distance. Start at the Visitors Center (check the hours they’re open!) which presents a great film on the first convention and its leaders. Exhibits further explain that event and women’s progress since then. The Visitors Center also has an excellent book shop. Other buildings in the park include the Wesleyan Chapel where the convention took place and the houses of other prominent leaders of the movement including the homes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mary Ann M’Clintock. The Park offers outdoor ranger-led tours.
Beyond the Park
Down the street from the National Women’s Rights Park Visitors Center, you can also tour the National Women’s Hall of Fame, where plaques and photos pay homage to America’s most famous women. In addition a stroll along the The Cayuga–Seneca Canal (which links to the Erie Canal) is a must.
Finally, many believe that Seneca Falls was the inspiration for Frank Kapra’s fictional town of Bedford Falls in the classic film It’s A Wonderful Life. There’s even an It’s A Wonderful Life Museum. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the movie so they’ve got big plans for a festival December 8-22, featuring anyone and everyone who is still alive and connected to the movie such as the actors who played the Bailey children, including Zuzu.
A Wyoming vacation delivers gorgeous western scenery, Native American art, cowboys, polo players, hiking and open spaces. Read these great books to conjure up the spirit of the west before you go.
You won’t find many people in Wyoming. At about 600,000, the Cowboy State tallies the smallest population in the U.S. That’s around six people per square mile. Cattle outnumber humans by far. So, if you come from a more populated place—such as either of the U.S. coasts—Wyoming’s open space in itself makes an amazing sight.
Though low on people, Wyoming’s emptiness is packed with some of the most unusual sights and citizens in the U.S. That includes the beloved and often crowded Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Parks. They’re great, but be sure to include other destinations in your road trip to experience some of this most iconic spots in the American West.
All those unblocked vistas leave plenty of room for the imagination. Its no wonder so many classic western novels are set in Wyoming—Shane, The Virginian, and My Friend Flicka to name a few. More contemporary authors also find inspiration in Wyoming’s rugged plains, mountains and canyons. Wyoming crime solvers such as Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire (books and Netflix series), C.J. Box’s game-warden-hero Joe Pickett and others (usually on horseback) always get the bad guys and stand against corruption despite any challenges nature throws at them. The region also inspired Annie Proulx’s story collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories of which “Brokeback Mountain” is one. Finally, I have to add Hank the Cowdog, our boys’ road trip favorite when they were little.
Close Encounters with Devils Tower
On our recent Wyoming road trip we drove from east to west along the state’s northern tier starting at Devil’s Tower, one of Earth’s most impressive geological features. Rising 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, the monolith creates a sight so unusual it made the perfect location for aliens to land in Steven Spielberg’s classic sci-fi movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Watch it before you go.
From the highway, you can see Devil’s Tower off in the distance but don’t just pass by. It’s worth a closer look. Hike the 1.3-mile Tower Trail around the base to see how different it looks (often resembling a giant bunch of rocky pencils from various sides and in different light. You’ll see small, colored bundles of cloth around the base of Devils Tower that are sacred offerings left by Native Americans for whom the tower is a cultural and religious focal point.
Cowpokes, Polo Ponies and Art in Sheridan and Big Horn
Not far from Devils Tower we veered north on I-90 to visit Sheridan, a town of almost 18,000 people set next to the 1.1 million acres of forested mountains and rolling grasslands of the Bighorn National Forest.
We enjoyed a tasty lunch at Frackleton’s then headed down Main Street to King’s Saddlery which carries tack any “cowboy, cowgirl and city-slicker” could need such as saddles, ropes, bridles, bits, headstalls, reins, halters, roping equipment, barrel racing equipment, saddle bags, saddle blankets and slickers. Even if you’re not in the market for a new saddle, you have to see King’s. In the back of the store you’ll find folks finishing ropes and working on saddles to customers’ specifications.
Ask to see the Don King Museum, a little gem out behind the store. It’s free. You’re welcome to explore the collection of old west memorabilia including a collection of hand-tooled saddles for which Don King, the store’s founder, was famous along with wagons, coaches, Indian artifacts, guns, Western tack and original artwork.
Head down the street to take a peek at the famous Mint Bar, the watering hole that’s been wetting whistles in Sheridan since 1907. I felt like I should be wearing cowboy boots and spurs. The ultimate in farmhouse decor, the Mint’s walls feature over 9,000 cattle brands from around Wyoming.
In its early years Sheridan’s social life centered on bars, pool halls and brothels around Main Street. The Sheridan Inn must also have been a lively place then. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody used it as his headquarters during tryouts for his Wild West show. You can stay at the Inn where each room is themed around the iconic Western personalities.
Stroll down Main Street and you’ll soon get the idea that, despite its western roots, Sheridan is no mere “cowtown.” An abundance of terrific statues line the street and other areas. The city’s public art project has brought at least 60 unique pieces of outdoor art to the downtown and made it something of a community phenomenon.
In the tiny town of Big Horn, right next door to Sheridan, they focus more on polo ponies than cattle horses. The posh sport of polo seems a bit out character for this rugged region, yet Big Horn has been a polo hub since the 1890s when aristocrats from England and Scotland made their way to Wyoming. For example, William and Malcom Moncreiffe settled in Big Horn and established a successful business raising registered sheep. They also played an important role in bringing the sport of polo to the area. Now, notable players from all over the world head to Big Horn every year for the summer polo season.
Also tucked back in the Big Horn area, we found the elegant Brinton Museum located on the 620-acre Quarter Circle A Ranch that originally belonged to William Moncreiffe. You can tour the historic ranch house as well as the museum dedicated to Native American art and culture as well as American fine and decorative art.
We left Big Horn and headed south on I-90 toward Buffalo, the town upon which author Craig Johnson’s modeled his fictional town of Durant in his Longmire crime series. Take special note of the landscape in this area. You’ll see the terrain of “Absaroka” County that Sheriff Walt Longmire and his smart-alecky crew inhabit. Buffalo celebrates “Longmire Days” annually.
Traveling from Buffalo, we took U.S. 16 which becomes the stunning Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway. It rises over the southern portion of the Big Horn Mountains and offers breathtaking scenery, worth all the chugging our little RV did as we climbed to the peak at 9,666 feet. Then the road winds through the spectacular Tensleep Canyon. Thankfully it offers plenty of pullouts so even the driver can stop and ogle the view.
We’re members of Harvest Hosts, a program for RVers that allows members access to a network of wineries, farms, breweries, museums and other unique attractions where they can stay overnight. We spent the night at a farm near Shonshoni, on the Wyoming prairie with the mountains off in the distance.
Land like this is the setting of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow by Olivia Hawker, set in the 1870s. In the story, a man kills his neighbor after he catches him “in flagrante” with his wife. He then goes to jail, which leaves the two wives alone with their children to fend for themselves during the brutal Wyoming winter. It’s action-packed and gives a pretty good idea of the hardship of life in Wyoming at that time.
On the westernmost side of the state, we arrived at our final destinations of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. We visit those places over and over, but we were happy that this time we had also included in our trip a few of the other great destinations–and that wide open space– that Wyoming offers.
The Battle of Franklin near Nashville, Tennessee, may not be the most famous battle of the American Civil War. Yet, for lovers of historical fiction, the story told in Robert Hicks’ novelThe Widow of the South is gripping enough to inspire travel to Franklin, Tennessee, to see Carnton Plantation and other sites where the story takes place. If you go, you’ll discover why the Battle of Franklin is considered the last great battle of the Civil War.
And, you’ll find plenty of modern-day activities that make Franklin a great destination above and beyond the battlefield. It’s so cute, it even inspired a Hallmark movie, based on Karen Kingsbury’s The Bridge.
The True Storyand the Fiction
The Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, was one of the worst disasters of the war for the Confederate Army, with nearly 7,000 casualties. (For a detailed explanation, see the Battle of Franklin Trust website.) During the battle, which raged not just in fields but also in people’s back yards, Carrie and John McGavock’s plantation, Carnton, served as a field hospital for hundreds of injured and dying Confederate soldiers. Today, you can tour their the Greek Revival house and the adjacent cemetery. (See my previous post on the Carter House where the battle also raged.)
Robert Hicks served on the board of Carnton Plantation and became fascinated with its story. He says in the book’s author’s note, “Carrie McGavock became a ‘living martyr and curiosity.’ She became famous without ever leaving her farm, renowned for her daily wandering in the cemetery, for her mourning clothes, for her letters to the families of the bereaved, and most of all, for her constancy. From the day the last of the dead was buried in her back yard, she never really left her post in the cemetery, continuously checking her book of the dead.”
Hicks constructed his book using letters and diaries but added a number of fictional characters to the factual mix, including Zachariah Cashwell, a young soldier from Arkansas whom Carrie nurses back to life– and she falls in love with him. Serious Civil War buffs no doubt roll their eyes about the book’s fictional additions.
Hicks says in the book, “I submit my sincerest apologies, to those who require it, for meandering from the history in the interest of telling a story. Other than Carrie and her immediate family and slave, most of the other characters are either composited of historical figures from Franklin’s past or were born in my imagination.”
As you tour, you’ll discover that the Battle of Franklin was anything but imaginary. Here, the blood stains remain on the floor.
Outside, the cemetery that Carrie created and tended for the rest of her life contains the graves of 1,481 young soldiers, a staggering reminder of the epic battle.
Updated and More Inclusive
The Carnton tour used to somewhat glorify the business acumen of Carnton’s white owners. That neglected the horror of slavery and the fact that all of us could succeed in business if our laborers worked for free. I’m happy to report that the plantation has added a Slavery and the Enslaved: Tours at Carter House and Carnton.
So, I maintain that quality historical fiction serves an important role to spark interest in historical events and sites, even though it may not be 100 percent accurate. I, for one, had never have heard of the Battle of Franklin before reading the book. More importantly, historical sites must present their stories from multiple perspectives and with an eye in include the facts, not just those with a nostalgia for the old South.
…And While You’rein Franklin
Yet, everything in Franklin isn’t about war and death. The charming town makes a great girls’ getaway or weekend trip, not just for history buffs. There’s unique shopping an abundance of live music and some charming inns, too. Don’t miss Landmark Booksellers, inspiration for Karen Kingsbury’s novel, The Bridge.
Where to Stay
The new Harpeth Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton luxury hotel, is the only hotel in downtown. There are also a wide array of charming B&Bs.
Clarence and Grace Hemingway purchased their cabin on Walloon Lake in 1898, before their son Ernest was born. Here, he grew up immersed in the manly world of hunting, fishing, and boxing. He met lumberjacks, bootleggers and hobos–and quite a few lovely young women, too. These experiences became fodder for his Nick Adams short stories.
He said of the area, “It’s a great place to laze around and swim and fish when you want to. And the best place in the world to do nothing. It is beautiful country. And nobody knows about it but us.”
Torrents and Tours
Many readers associate Hemingway more readily with Cuba, Key West, Pamplona and Paris than Petoskey, Michigan. Yet, he spent 22 summers in the resort area of Petosky/Walloon Lake and he was married (for the first time) in nearby Horton Bay. You can read about this early life and marriage in Paula McLain’s best seller, The Paris Wife. It’s also where he began to hone his minimalist, staccato style and storytelling that later earned him the Nobel Prize.
If you’ve read The Torrents of Spring, you’ve read about Petoskey; the story and locales are based on the town. Petosky is understandably proud of its Hemingway connection and as you stroll the town, perched above Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, you’ll see historical markers outside locations where he spent time. Hemingway fans can download a list of some of the places young Hemingway frequented: Horton Bay General Store, Stafford’s Perry Hotel, and City Park Grill, to name a few. At City Park Grill, you may want to sit at the lovely Victorian bar where Hemingway raised a few glasses.
The Michigan Hemingway Society annually hosts a Hemingway Weekend in the Petoskey area, usually in October. The weekend brings visitors from across the country together for readings, tours and exhibits. The national Hemingway Society also provides a great way to meet other Hemingway fans. The group meets every two years and in 2018, in contrast to the wild country of Michigan, the organization will meet in Paris. It’s a chance to experience Hemingway’s “moveable feast” in person.
While you’re in Petosky, be sure to stop in at McLean & Eakin Booksellers where you’ll find plenty of works by and about about Ernest Hemingway, books by local authors and booksellers who are happy to suggest great reads. I mentioned the shop in a previous post about how much author Ann Patchett loves reading and travel.
Join Off the Beaten Path in welcoming Terri Peterson Smith, author of Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways. Smith will take us on a tour of America’s most fascinating literary destinations and will provide inspiration and suggestions to plan your own literary getaway.
It’s the time of year when retailers ramp up for the holidays with ornate holiday displays. Nowhere in the U.S. is the holiday decor more fantastic than in New York City. And, in New York you’ll find the most fabulous of all in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman.
I’ve been lucky enough for the last several years to be in New York during the holiday season. The corner of 5th and 58th is always my first destination to see what wonders they’ve come up with for the year. (I also enjoy touring the wonders inside the store, but window gazing is much more economical.)
The theme for last year’s windows was the arts, including architecture, theater, painting, music, and my favorite, literature–all absolutely and delightfully over the top. The Creators Project blog has an article about last year’s windows.
I’ve done a lot of traveling this summer, but I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, so I have plenty stored up to tell you about.
I’ll start by sharing my new article on the USA Today travel web site. It’s about the pulchritudinous pumpkins of Half Moon Bay, California, and all the food-related activities there are to do there even after all the orange orbs have been made into pie.
Speaking of travel, I also had a great time interviewing Ann Bancroft, the famous polar explorer, for the Minnesota Women’s Press. She’s off on a new adventure in October, this time to India where she and Liv Arnesen and their team will navigate the length of the Ganges River. This hot, dirty, overpopulated trip seems an unlikely choice for someone who is used to the isolation and the pure, crisp air of the frozen poles. Yet, the more we discussed the perils of such a trip, the more her eyes lit up with anticipation of the challenge. The trip is part of a series she plans to undertake that will bring attention to the crisis of fresh water around the world. Find out more about the expedition at yourexpedition.com
Last week was a big one for literary events here in Minneapolis. I attended Pen Pals, an author series presented by the Friends of the Hennepin County Library, in which famed librarian Nancy Pearl interviewed Judy Blume about her new novel, In the Unlikely Event. Blume is chiefly known for her middle grade girls’ novels such as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The new book for adults is fiction based on the true story of the series of three commercial plane crashes that occurred in her home town in 1952. I haven’t read the book yet, but it sounds like it could put me off air travel for a while.
Finally, Faith Sullivan launched her new book, Goodnight Mr. Wodehouse at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I aspire to be like Faith, not just for her literary expertise, but for her vivacious personality, humor and grace. She alternated reading from her book with short pieces of music from the time played by her friend Michael Anthony.
Set in Minnesota around the turn of the last century, the book is the story of a woman who has more than her share of tragedy in life, but keeps on going, buoyed by the diversion and humor of British author P.G. Wodehouse. Readers will love her comments about the joys and life-saving aspects of reading:
“Life could toss your sanity about like a glass ball; books were a cushion. How on earth did nonreaders cope when they had nowhere to turn? How lonely such a nonreading world must be.”
And, on retiring from teaching, the heroine hopes she “left her charges with a love of reading, one of the few things they could count on in life. The years could rob them of friends and farms, of youth and health, but books would endure. She eased deeper into the chair and turned the page.”
When I’m done reading Faith Sullivan’s book, I’m stocking up on a few volumes by P.G. Wodehouse.
From Seattle’s busy waterfront along Alaskan Way, it’s only a forty-minute ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island but it’s a voyage to another world and a slower time.
The island was the inspiration for David Guterson’s bestseller, Snow Falling on Cedars, called San Piedro Island in the book. Guterson makes his home on the island and used to teach school here. We hop off the boat in Winslow, a cozy seaside town located on Eagle Harbor. It’s a great place to explore on foot. For those who want to go further afield, bikes are available to rent between June 1st and the end of September right by the ferry terminal at Bike Barn rentals.
Winslow began as a timber and shipbuilding center and was, for a time, larger than Seattle. Today it’s a bedroom community for Seattle and the picturesque harbor, the trees, the greenery, and the misty hills give it just the right rich ambiance for romance and drama, like that in Snow Falling on Cedars, but it certainly isn’t “downtrodden and mildewed,” like Amity Harbor in in the book.
Yet, fans of Snow Falling on Cedars or anyone who wants to understand the history of the island will find the most satisfaction in exploring the island’s history so head to The Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. Housed in a red 1908 schoolhouse, the museum tells the story of the island’s history, particularly the Japanese internment as it really played out on the island, the true story at the heart of Guterson’s book. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans became the focus of suspicion, even though many were second-generation citizens. They were rounded up and sent into exile in military-style camps such as Heart Mountain in Wyoming and Manzanar in California.
It’s a half-hour bike ride or a ten-minute cab ride to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, around the bay from the ferry landing. This is the site from which Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and sent to Seattle and then to internment camps on March 30, 1942.
Who doesn’t feel like they know just about everything there is to know about 9/11? We’ve seen the video tapes of planes crashing into the World Trade Center on September, 2001 countless times and viewed special reports and documentaries without end. Yet, when I stepped into the new National September 11 Memorial Museum I found that there actually was more to learn, but more importantly, to remember.
Located underground in the heart of the World Trade Center site, the museum tells the story of what happened on 9/11, including the events at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the story of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. The exhibition explores the background leading up to the events and examines their aftermath and continuing implications.
Even though we’ve seen them so many times, when those video clips and films of what led up to the attack played in the museum the people watching them with me all had the same reaction: “Oh my God.” There are video taped stories from people who were there, displays of artifacts ranging from fire trucks and twisted metal beams to personal objects of people working in the towers that day (really personal things like shoes and purses), papers that rained down, and a portion of one of the stairways from which survivors escaped the building.
As one would expect in such an emotionally and politically charged situation, many parts of the museum have been controversial. Some people object to the the way one exhibit connects Islam and terrorism and the simple fact of tourists gawking at what is essentially hallowed ground offends some of the families. Nonetheless, I felt like the curators struck the right balance.
Many survivors of the attack on the World Trade Center and their families are very involved with the museum and give tours and talks at the complex. I felt lucky to be there for a presentation by an NYPD officer who was on site that day and a young woman whose father died trying to get people out of one of the towers. Their stories made it all very personal. Not a dry eye in the house.
I left the museum to stroll around the 9/11 Memorial outside with its two square waterfalls surrounded by the names of those lost in the attacks. The newly opened One World Trade Center–the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth tallest building in the world–towers, symbolically, over it all. I’m sappy enough to feel proud of the way the city and the country has moved on, but still remembers.
If you go: Admission, $24 for adults. Go to 911memorial.org to reserve tickets, download the free 9/11 app to enhance your tour and for directions.
Read up: As usual, I recommend a bit of reading before you go which adds immensely to enhance your experience. And, as usual, I recommend fiction books for their ability to layer events and emotions to create a story that is almost more real than non-fiction. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close– Jonathan Safran Foer, Falling Man, Don DeLillo. For nonfiction, check out an anthology of New Yorker articles, After 9/11– edited by David Remnick.
The bar, the courthouse, the house on the Mississippi river where “I could step right in the sucker, an easy three-foot drop, and be on my way to Tennessee.” For authors such as Gillian Flynn in her huge fiction bestseller Gone Girl, the setting of a novel plays as crucial a role as the characters themselves. It creates atmosphere, foreshadows what is to come, and sets the pace. But when director David Fincher and his location scouts set out to make a movie based on the novel, it was a challenge to find real world places to match those of Flynn’s imagination. They found them in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
The movie, released today, has received some pretty great reviews. So, between the book and the movie, I’m betting that plenty of Gone Girl fans will be looking for her in Cape Girardeau, a lovely river town in southeast Missouri, where the movie was filmed.
In case you’ve missed it all, in Gone Girl, Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike) disappears from the North Carthage, Missouri, home she shares with her philandering husband Nick (Ben Affleck) on their fifth anniversary, leading him to be investigated for her (maybe) murder. “If there are married couples here, maybe you should change seats” rather than sit together, said Ann Tenenbaum, the chairman of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, when the film premiered in New York. “Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.’ David Fincher will personally escort us there.” As the story progresses, we learn that this is one crazy couple and we find that the narrator isn’t necessarily giving us the straight story. (To see a fun discussion among readers of the book, see Book Journey‘s spoiler page.) The realistic setting adds to the tension.
Stacy Dohogne Lane of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau told me, “North Carthage doesn’t actually exist, though there is a Carthage, Missouri. The Mississippi River plays such a big part in the book that they wanted to capture a true Missouri river town. Steve Mapel, the film’s location scout, came to Cape Girardeau in the Spring of 2013 and spent quite a bit of time here doing a very intensive search for specific locations. We had such a good time sitting around our conference table with Steve…he’d say ‘I’m looking for a place that has x, y and z’ and we’d all brainstorm a variety of places that fit within those parameters.” David Fincher has said that the view from the Common Pleas Courthouse stairs overlooking the river is what sold him on Cape Girardeau as North Carthage. Gillian Flynn later told Fincher that Cape Girardeau was the place she had in mind while she was writing the book, and he joked in an article that he wish she’d told him that sooner and saved him some time.
Alas, Gone Girl fans probably won’t find Ben Affleck or Rosmund Pike on the streets of Cape Girardeau but the river town makes a great weekend getaway (about two hours from St. Louis). Beyond Cape Girardeau’s movie role as North Carthage, you’ll find intriguing historic and outdoor sites, antiques and shopping, and it makes a great spot for a girls getaway weekend with wineries, spas and more.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.