The Hermitage, Home of President Andrew Jackson

Date of Visit: October 9, 2013

After leaving Memphis much later than I expected I wasn’t sure that I would make it to The Hermitage today. I did! I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t the last tour of the mansion, then I was the next to last tour.

I don’t know why I was surprised by the size of the property, but I was. There was gorgeous weather in Nashville today, so I had no problem walking around the property for an hour and a half. Confession time: I didn’t visit the museum. I just visited the mansion and the grounds. I’m a terrible museum visitor. I also don’t feel too bad about this fact.

View of the mansion from the front drive

View of the mansion from the front drive

What to say? Umm. The grounds were great? Okay. Let me just say this: I’ve never been a fan of historic house museums that have a plexiglass barrier in the doorways that stop you from stepping in to the room. That make you just stand in the hallway. (Huh. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t get that job I interviewed for last year. Sorry. Tangent.) That being said, I understand from a tour guide and curator’s POV how the barrier is beneficial. If you can’t tell, The Hermitage has barriers in the doorway.

All of that said, the rooms are set up extremely well. As one of our tour guides told us, the first two rooms on the tour are all original pieces of furniture and not reproduction. I didn’t think to ask if the textiles were original or reproduction. Dang. If they were original they were in amazing condition. I want to know how they store them and if they rotate them. (It’s awkward asking those kinds of questions  on a tour with other people though.)

There is an interesting tour guide system in place at The Hermitage. During my tour, I had three tour guides. One for the public areas (downstairs only – guests would never go upstairs) which were the front hallway, sitting room, and another room, a parlor, maybe? The second tour guide was for the private spaces on the first floor, which included the bedroom of Andrew Jackson. Our third, and final, tour guide was for the bedrooms upstairs.

One thing that I really like was that the audio tour (included with price of admission) told the story of Rachel, Andrew Jackson’s wife. Rachel died before the interpretative period of the mansion, so they don’t talk about her on the tour. This can be a problem for historic houses, having a person the visitors want to know more about, but that person is outside of the period of interpretation so they aren’t mentioned. So, I liked their solution with the audio tour.

My opinion? The grounds are great. I learned things I didn’t know before. All in all, things a museum is supposed to do for you.

@ajreed001 on Instagram

@ajreed001 on Instagram

Visit their website here: President Andrew Jackson’s Home

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

Date of Visit: October 9, 2013

As I was planning my trip Google told [reminded] me that the National Civil Rights Museum was in Memphis. I told my mom when I [re]discovered this fact that I had applied for a job there. I waited a beat and then said, “Obviously, I didn’t get it.” Like she didn’t know that fact. I’m bad about saying that. You probably shouldn’t watch Mysteries at the Museum with me.

Currently, and until the end of 2013, the Lorraine Motel portion of the museum is under going renovation, so I didn’t get the full experience. Which I’m almost grateful for, but I am curious what I missed. Let me explain why I’m grateful: I got there at 9:15 and left at 12. I don’t know if that’s generally how long a visit lasts or if it was just me. It didn’t feel like 3 hours, so I was really surprised when I got in my car and saw the time.

@ajreed001 on Instagram

@ajreed001 on Instagram

If you don’t know (or remember), the Lorraine Motel in Memphis is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. As part of the Civil Rights Movement it was (and still is) a pretty big deal. I studied the Civil Rights Movement quite a bit at Alabama. We focused mostly on SNCC and SDS in one of the classes, but it’s pretty much impossible to take any class on the Civil Rights Movement and not talk about Dr. King.

It was easy for me to turn off my museum brain for this visit. Maybe because I had studied the subject before my museum training? Who know. I’m just happy that I was able to be a visitor.

I was thinking about how I would word this blog post during my entire drive from Memphis to Nashville today. Eight hours later, as I’m sitting down to write this, I’m still not sure. This was a powerful visit. (My eyes watered at least twice.) This is a museum that made good use of video and audio and you realize that fact right away. After you watch an intro video you are told to take the elevator to the second floor. When the elevator starts moving you get surprised when police radio chatter from April 4, 1968 starts playing. I started grinning when I head that because 1) it’s awesome and 2) I knew it would be a great visit.

I learned a lot of new things during my visit. Like I mentioned, my classes focused on SNCC and SDS mostly. I did not realize until today how much controversy there was surround James Earl Ray and him being guilty of the assassination. The National Civil Rights Museum did an excellent job of presenting you with the facts about the controversies and letting you come to your own conclusions. Which can be extremely tough, especially if there is an accepted narrative to an event.

The building that the exhibits are in is the old Legacy Boarding House where James Earl Ray fired the gun from. They have the room he rented and the bathroom the gun was fired from and it is set up exactly as they were in 1968.

The exhibits themselves were mostly text panels, but there are some artifacts. Like the rifle. The bullet that was removed from Dr. King’s body and his autopsy report. What few artifacts they have on display are important. And the good thing is you find you still learned things without seeing artifacts. It was well done.

Room 306

Room 306

During the renovation visitors are allowed to go up onto the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Which means that today I stood in the spot that Dr. King was standing in. You don’t realize how powerful something like that can be until afterwords. Room 306 is also set up chronistically accurate (did I just make up a new phrase?) and the drapes are open so you can see inside the room.

I don’t know what I missed by not being able to see everything, but I have a feeling it would be more overwhelming than this morning was.

All in all, GO VISIT.

National Civil Rights Museum

Memphis Rock n Soul Museum

Date of Visit: October 8, 2013

How about a new series on the blog? I think I’ll call it…I Visit. Yes. Sounds good to me.

First off, do you know how hard it is for museum people to go to museums? Huh? It’s hard. You spend X amount of years training and working in museums, you know the standards, exhibit design, etc. and then you visit a museum for fun? It’s hard to turn off the museum side of your brain and just be a visitor. (ASIDE: This can be good sometimes. Like when you’re in a job interview and they ask you about the last historic house you visited and what you though they did well and didn’t do well. True story. Happened to me in August.)

@ajreed001 on Instagram

@ajreed001 on Instagram

The inaugural blog post in the I Visit series is the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum. I’m making my way across Tennessee this week to go to a college roommates wedding and decided to stop in Memphis and Nashville along the way. Hey, if you’re able to turn a trip to a wedding into a vacation, why not? (7 states in 6 days!)

The museum was awesome. It’s in downtown Memphis in the FedEx Forum (where the Grizzlies play) and a block away from Beale Street. It has amazing hours, 10-7 EVERY DAY, which is great for those vacationers who roll into to town at 3:45 (like me).

There’s a video at the beginning to give you an overview of the musical background of soul and rock’n’roll (Elvis! Carl Perkins! Jerry Lee Lewis! Otis Redding! Howling Wolf! Sun Records! Stax Records!) and the history of Memphis and the South. Then you begin the tour. Your price of admission includes a free audio guide. This is what makes the price worth it, in my opinion. In each room there’s a panel with around 20 songs on it from that era. The best part? You can listen to these songs on your audio guide! Of course, the audio guide actually does have audio about other panels, artifacts, musicians, and history. According to their website there is over 300 minutes of information and over 100 songs.

The museum covers the history of soul music beginning with how it was sung by field workers in the field and then transitions to the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power movement. I never think about the music during those two, for some reason. It really is a great experience. I knew some of the info already. I took an American Studies class my senior year at the University of Alabama that covered the beginnings of soul in the fields and Sun Records, but we didn’t go in depth into soul and rock’n’roll (like the museum did). But, for someone who always makes sure she has her Definitive Hits of Sun Records CDs on her phone, this was great fun.

Sun Records exhibit

Sun Records exhibit

And bonus? I was able to turn off my museum brain, just a little. I did notice their environment monitors, and I took a picture of the way they displayed two passports, because that was interesting and a method I hadn’t seen before. But, other than that, I was able to just be a visitor.

Another bonus, even though the museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate the government shutdown is not affecting it. And, the employees were all very knowledgeable of the other sights to see and very, very friendly.

Note from publishing time: I discovered during my vacation that 1) I don’t like the WordPress iPad app and 2) it’s easy to procrastinate posting posts when you’ve already written them out in a journal. :) That’s why I’ve got the Date of Visit at the top of the post!

Visit their website here: Memphis Rock’n’Soul Museum

A Gathering of Links

Wow. There was some cool stuff on the internet this month.

MentalFloss has quite a few links this month. In honor of the World War I posts this month, I discovered that they have a WWI Centennial section. This is pretty cool, because I love when blogs or Twitter accounts do things like this. I follow so many #CW150 accounts on Twitter because of this. You can find MentalFloss’ section HERE.

Lots of articles about slang too! 56 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms You Should Be Using15 More Excellent Victorian Slang Terms You Should be Using. Some Choice Bits of Slang From American Soldiers Serving in WWII.

Now here’s something amazing that I found out about through the sci-fi/fantasy book podcast I listen to. The Shelley-Godwin Archive. Here’s their about section on the website:

The Shelley-Godwin Archive will provide the digitized manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft, bringing together online for the first time ever the widely dispersed handwritten legacy of this uniquely gifted family of writers. The result of a partnership between the New York Public Library and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, in cooperation with Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the S-GA also includes key contributions from the Huntington Library, the British Library, and the Houghton Library. In total, these partner libraries contain over 90% of all known relevant manuscripts.

The most amazing thing? FRANKENSTEIN. They have all of the known copies of Mary Shelley’s manuscripts of Frankenstein, which is definitely my most favorite science fiction book. Ever. These are scans of the handwritten manuscripts of Frankenstein. Which, honestly, is pretty darn awesome.

Four-Minute Men

When you hear the term “wartime propaganda” I bet that you don’t think of propaganda that the United States produces. Okay, maybe you do (“I WANT YOU” Uncle Sam posters, anyone?) I can tell you that that is not my first thought. My first thought is usually Germany and Joseph Goebbels in World War II.

I never would have known about this propaganda group if it wasn’t for my exhibit, The Great War. During World War I, the Committee on Public Information used a group of men called the Four-Minute Men. As you can imagine from their name, the speeches that they gave were supposed to be four minutes long. Four minutes is not an arbitrary number either. There were a few reasons that this length of time was chosen: according to the Committee on Public Information four minutes was the average attention span for spoken word. Also, many of these men gave their speeches in movie theaters and four minutes is about how long it took to change out the movie reels. Theaters were not the only place that this group gave speeches, they also went to churches, music halls, schools, and other public spaces.

Four-Minute Men pin

Four-Minute Men pin

There were 75,000 speakers across the United States who gave over 750,000 speeches about the war. Although, this is the information that I had last year when I wrote the exhibit text, Wikipedia now says: “It was estimated that by the end of the war, they had made more than 7.5 million speeches to 314 million people in 5,200 communities.[7]” (The link to the footnote does work.)

The Committee on Public Information is very interesting too. The committee was found in 1917 and disbanded in 1919. The chairman of the committee was George Creel, who was an investigative journalist and a politician. The functions of the CPI was that they released government news during the war, sustained the morale of the American citizens, and they were the administrators of voluntary press censorship. George Creel said that it was “not propaganda as the Germans defined it, but propaganda in the true sense of the word, meaning the ‘propagation of faith’.”

Another interesting thing is that the CPI sent the Four-Minute Men “bulletins” which suggested themes that their speeches should talk about. Which, I believe, as a listener, I would appreciate that. Depending on how many of theses speeches I had to listen to, I would appreciate them being different. As it is, I appreciate (presently) that while there may be the same sound bites in speeches the rest of the speech is different. Of course, you may not know that with our 24-hour news cycle, when all you hear is sound bites. But that’s a rant for a different day…