Thoughts on Memorial Day

Chicago Memorial Day Parade on State Street. (City of Chicago photo)
Chicago Memorial Day Parade on State Street. (City of Chicago photo)

With so many events canceled and people staying home to be safe, we may barely note that Memorial Day Weekend is upon us. But some places such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon have procedures in place to again allow visitors and other destinations are planning to reopen. So with that in mind think of where you might want to go to recognize the meaning of Memorial Day.

The following article is a reprint of one I did for the Chicago Tribune when I was a regular contributor to Features and Travel. It is “Military Museums: Fit one into a long weekend or summer destination.”

Heads up vacationers, you know that Memorial Day, May 25 (in 2015), and not the Summer Solstice, June 21, marks the start of summer vacations. But Memorial Day really is a time to honor people who lost their life while serving in the United States armed forces.

As a long weekend or the start of a summer journey it’s a perfect time to visit military museums to find out more about wars in which the US was engaged, their eras, battle conditions, leaders and places. And it’s simpler than you may guess because military museums dot the US from California to Florida. They range from huge displays of lifelike dioramas to small gems of plane and vehicle-filled hangers. And they often are near vacation destinations. Here are just some of the places to put on your do now list.

 

Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL

If you have watched in wonder as the Navy’s Blue Angels have zoomed overhead during the Chicago Air and Water Show, you can see them up close inside a hanger at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL and practicing outside.

But that wouldn’t be the only or even main reason to go there. Walk under and around a combat F-14D Tomkcat or a rare SBD Dauntless Bureau No. 2106 from the Battle of Midway. Glimpse the Western Front in a World War I diorama. Or see the replica of the WW II USS Cabot aircraft carrier’s Island and flight deck and go to its main deck to try the ship’s anti-aircraft gun battery. Memorial Day is also about people so look for vintage uniforms and memorabilia such as flight logs.

But don’t miss the Cubi Bar Café. Way more than a place to relax while touring the museum, the café replicates the mid-twentieth-century Cubi Point Officers’ Club that was in the Philippines. Known for its bar lined with squadron plaques started during the Vietnam War, the plaques here are the real ones sent to the museum when the Officers’ Club closed.

You will want a place to rest tired feet. The museum has 350,000 square feet of exhibits and covers 37 acres. NAS, as the base is known, dates from 1914. It handles Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard flight personnel. As museum historian Hill Goodspeed pointed out during a recent phone interview, it is an aviation museum but the people who serve are important. “You will see more than flying machines. Look beyond the machines and focus on the individuals in the cockpit. We have memorabilia, but really it’s about those who served of various ages, including those in their teens, who were and are willing to fly into a dangerous situation and serve in the military to protect our freedom,” Goodspeed said.

Lyon Air Museum, Santa Ana, CA

In contrast, the Lyon Air Museum, tucked into the Martin Aviation corner of John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, CA is tiny. At a mere 30,000 square feet, its planes, jeeps and memorabilia, mostly from WWII, are easy to slip in a sightseeing jaunt when visiting Orange County, CA’s Irvine area.

“Visitors who come here don’t feel rushed. They see how small we are so they feel they can take their time to really see what’s here,” said Museum President Mark Foster.

However, finding the museum is a challenge on the airport’s winding back roads unless you are persistent and the GPS is working. But once there you find a gem.

It’s not hard to find the B-17 Flying fortress used in the Pacific, a Douglas A-26 “Invader” or the B-25 “Mitchell,” named for General “Billy” Mitchell. The museum isn’t just a good place to visit for its machines and memorabilia, it’s the docents. Many of them are military retirees

“We get letters from visitors who say they spoke to someone who served in the same squadron or area as a grandfather,” Foster said. He added, “Talking with our docents is like finding old letters from a family member. You hear their stories.”

Retired USAF Major General William Lyon who flew during WWII and Korea founded the museum so current generations would have some idea of WWII era vehicles and battles and stories. lyonairmuseum.org/

National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredricksburg, TX

Tourists coming to Fredericksburg, Texas for its very western look and shops, its nearby wine region and its abundant flower and peach fields will arguably be surprised to find a museum dedicated to the Pacific War and its veterans while walking down Main Street.

But Fredericksburg was where Admiral Chester Nimitz was born in 1885 and the congressional district that appointed him to the U.S. Naval Academy. A career naval officer, Nimitz was Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet and of the Pacific Ocean Areas for U.S. and Allied sea, land and air forces during WW II.

The background is important because it was the Admiral Nimitz Foundation that set up a museum in the former Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg in 1971.

Today, that museum is one of several stunning places to visit on the National Museum of the Pacific War’s six acres. Stop in the Nimitz Museum to learn of the Admiral’s career and see the historic hotel.

Iin the 33,000 square foot George H. W. Bush Gallery, follow the battles and America’s involvement on the Pacific Front beginning with Japan’s mindset that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Walk outside to the Japanese Garden of Peace, a gift from the Japanese military to the U.S. in honor of Nimitz. Also outside, see plaques honoring Pacific War heroes that line the Memorial Courtyard’s limestone walls.

Be sure to visit the Plaza of Presidents made up of stone and bronze monuments to the 10 U.S. presidents who served during WWII. A separate program, the Pacific Combat Zone, re-enacts engagements in a field two blocks east of the museum campus.

National WW2 Museum, New Orleans, LA

When looking for a fascinating way to work off at least some of New Orleans’ famed cuisine, check out the National WW2 Museum, a 220,500 square foot campus in the former Warehouse District known now as the Arts District.

Opened on the 56th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2000 and affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the building was called the D-Day Museum until the U.S. Congress officially designated it America’s National World War II Museum in 2003.

As with the Lyon Air Museum, the volunteers you encounter are likely to be war veterans. But you will need a good half day to experience this museum. Its galleries and movies cover all the fronts, from Home to Europe to the Pacific Islands in several pavilions and theaters.

The feeling of awe starts in the museum’ s multi-level atrium where you see a Douglas C-47 Skytrain and SBD Dauntless, a Supermarine Spitfire and Messerschmitt BF 109 hanging from the ceiling.

You are in the US Freedom Center: The Boeing Pavilion. While exploring the Boeing Pavilion do the “Final Mission: The USS Tang Submarine Experience.” Similarly to major Titanic exhibits, it assigns participants an actual name of someone on board. Learn at the end if your person was lost or captured by the Japanese.

You can see the planes from an observation deck on the third floor of the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. The original museum, the Louisiana Pavilion is the place to learn about Normandy and other beach landings.

Be sure to go to the new Campaigns of Courage Pavilion. Its “Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries” opened early 2015 with fantastic dioramas such as a blown-out German bunker and the forested “Battle of the Bulge” in the “Breaching the German Frontier” section.

Also look for a village and other scenes as the armed forces marched up the Italian boot. They are battle sites that have been recreated with bombed out roofs backed by the sounds of war and newsreels.

The remaining Courage Pavilion build out, “Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries,” opens in late 2015.

“It’s amazing,” said Owen Glendenning, associate vice president of education and access. “It’s immersive. It’s realistic and environmental. You can believe you are there,” said Glendenning.

Save time to see “Beyond All Boundaries, a 45 minute 4D film in the Solomon Victory Theater narrated by its executive producer, Tom Hanks. The movie takes you from battles to the Home Front using a variety of animation and sound effects. Personal accounts are read by Brad Pit, Gary Sinise and other celebrities.

For a recreation of USO style entertainment, think Bob Hope or the Andrew Sisters, try to catch a show at the Stage Door Canteen.

Perhaps the most forceful feature of the National WW2 Museum is the personal connection to people, places and time. Glendenning pointed out that the museum has four-full-time historians who are finding and recording personal stories of WWII veterans and their families. “It’s the compelling way we tell the story. It’s through personal narratives from citizen soldiers,” he said. www.nationalww2museum.org

First Division Museum, Cantigny, Wheaton, IL

A visit to Cantigny Park, the estate that Robert R. McCormick’s will decreed as a public space after he died in 1955, is a delightful Chicago area destination. Its gardens and museums are particularly fun to browse from late spring to early fall. What Chicagoans, and indeed, out of town visitors are likely not to know is that Cantigny (pronounced Canteeny (silent g), is home to a terrific museum that honors the Big Red One, the nickname of the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division. BTW, the 1st Division celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2017.

Talk about you-are-there dioramas, at the First Division Museum you don’t walk by them, you enter them and are fully enveloped by sight and sound as you connect from trenches and beaches to jungles and sand while going from World War I to Desert Storm. The museum plans to add a section depicting contemporary conflicts.

“It’s very powerful and compelling,” said Exec Director Paul Herbert, discussing the museum’s depictions.

What he hopes visitors will take away though, is an appreciation for the high price paid by people who serve in the military.

“It’s not just Division One, but all who serve our country. “Our soldiers have paid a high price for our freedom over the years. We’re telling the story of everyone who serves to defend our democracy,” said Herbert.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

See great American museums from very old to new and historic to live

 

T-Rex Susie and other dinosaurs reside at the Field Museum. (J Jacobs photo)
T-Rex Susie and other dinosaurs reside at the Field Museum. (J Jacobs photo)

Settle in for an unusual video that takes viewers from the Charleston Museum founded in 1773 to when Chicago’s Field Museum obtained Sue in 1990.

Thanks to “Riches Rivals and Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America”  a part of the Great Museums film series, you can travel from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “live” museum to the 2004 Smithsonian Museum of The American Indian with stopovers at the National Museum of Air and Space, The Isabella Stewart Gardener in Boston, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio and the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

Add in NYC’s Met and MOMA, Pittsburgh’s  Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Boston’s Children’s Museum, Michigan’s Greenfield Village, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the US Memorial Holocaust Museum in D.C., New York’s Botanical Garden, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the National Zoo to see the breadth of the definition of museum and how museum architecture has changed.

It’s all on You Tube, so, refill the morning beverage cup, get comfortable, and visit youtube/watch/feature.

 

 

Three no passport spring vacation ideas

Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, MI (J Jacobs photo)
Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, MI
(J Jacobs photo)

 

Don’t wait for the first robin or crocus to pop up to plan what to do or where to go for a spring vacation. Hotels and good B and B’s may already be booked and airlines will have few seats at the price you want. Make plans now

Good as Washington DC is, student groups may already have plane seats and hotel rooms so consider that destination for another time. Instead, Spring Break is a good chance to splash in a pool, visit and cross off a presidential museum or find an unusual children’s museum in a town not yet visited.

The suggestions listed here are Midwest destinations within a day’s drive of Chicago. The city’s schools are out April 6-10 and most suburban districts are out March 23-27 in 2020.

 

African themed Kalahari Resort at the Wisconsin Dells. (J Jacobs photo)
African themed Kalahari Resort at the Wisconsin Dells. (J Jacobs photo)

Indoor Pool

Arguably among the best indoor water parks are the ones at the Kalahari Resorts. If living in the Midwest, consider the African-themed one at the Wisconsin Dells. The resort really is a combination amusement park, movie and dining destination and games emporium.

I like the Dells as a summer or fall escape when the weather is predictable but spring is a good time to enjoy a resort that has so much to offer, guests might not feel the need to leave.  Also check out other Wisconsin Waterparks for a spring Break.

An old time streetscape in the Grand Rapids Public Museum (J Jacobs photo)
An old time streetscape in the Grand Rapids Public Museum (J Jacobs photo)

Fascinating presidential and public museums

Located in Grand Rapids, MI, the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum combines his University of Michigan background, Nixon’s resignation, Betty Ford’s contributions and a replica of the Oval Office.

Across the road is the Grand Rapids Public Museum which has fun explorations and a merry go round ride. From American Indian displays to inventions, an old-time streetscape and a giant clock, there is enough here to spend the day.

 

An orangutan climbed down from his perch to try a computer game with a scientist at the Indianapolis Zoo. (J Jacobs photo)
An orangutan climbed down from his perch to try a computer game with a scientist at the Indianapolis Zoo. (J Jacobs photo)

Where a dinosaur and orangutans hang out

People outside of Indianapolis may not know the city has a remarkable Children’s Museum charmingly guarded by a huge dinosaur and that the Indianapolis Zoo is one of the few places in the country that boasts a specialized orangutan center where visitors can watch these intelligent animals play and practice their cognitive game skills.

I love the Childeren’s Museum’s Take Me There exhibits. When I visited it was to China. Currently it is to Greece. And there really is a simulated flight there.  And I was fascinated by everything the orangutans could do.

Also worth a visit when in town are the Eiteljorg Museum of American indians’ Western Art and the Indiana State Museum next door that has a wonderful Rube Goldberg inventions exhibit. See Visit Indy for more information.

 

Enjoy spring at Camelback Ranch or Sloan Park

 

 

At Wrigleyville West. (J Jacobs photo)
At Wrigleyville West. (J Jacobs photo)

Instead of waiting for spring to descend on Chicago and the Cubs and Sox games, enjoy both this month in Arizona.

Go online to pick up Cubs  or Sox tickets, book a trip to Phoenix, find a hotel in the Phoenix-Mesa area and enjoy the more casual MLB games in the Cactus League.

At home in Sloan Park, the Cubs will take on the Oakland A’s Feb. 22, Colorado Rockies Feb. 25, KC Royals Feb. 26 and Milwajukee Brewers Feb. 29

Their away games (sometimes easier to get tickets) are the LA Dodgers, Feb. 23, Seattle Mariners Feb. 24, Texas Rangers Feb. 27 and San Diego Padres Feb. 28

For tickets and the calendar visit MLB/Cubs/schedule2020 

Camelback Ranch in Glendale is the spring home of the Chicago White Sox. A suburb of Phoenix, visitors get all the advantages of Phoenix’s museums, hotels and its famed Botanic Garden but are close to White Sox action.

The Sox have a home game against the LA Angels Feb. 22 and are awayh against the Cincinnati Reds Feb. 23, LA Dodgers Feb. 24, have a split squad against the Indians away and the Giants at home on Feb. 25, then away against the KC Royals,Feb. 26, are at home against the Mariners Feb. 27, Indians Feb. 28 and away against the Rangers on Feb. 29.

For ballpark info visit WhiteSox/springtraining/ball park. For White Sox season info see Sox schedule..

The Desert Botanic Garden is a popular Phoenix destination. (J Jacobs photo)
The Desert Botanic Garden is a popular Phoenix destination. (J Jacobs photo)

If you go

The excellent Sheraton Mesa at Wrigley West places you right at Sloan Park. But check Visit Mesa to see other accommodation choices. It’s also a good referral to restaurants and attractions.

While in the area try to get to the Desert Botanical Garden and hike Camelback Mountain or Pinnacle Peak Park. Do visit the famed Heard Museum for fine Native American arts.

While visiting one of the Cub’s or White Sox’s away games in or near neighboring Scottsdale, browse fine art galleries in Old Town and visit Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

So get away from Chicago’s winter. Relax outdoor with a margarita or cold draft beer while shouting Hey! Hey! at Wrigley West. You will feel right at home because the border streets  are Waveland Avenue, Clark Street and Sheffield Ave.

Or enjoy a Chicago hot dog (no ketchup please) at Camelback Ranch and watch the newly rebuilt Sox team take on old rivals. 

 

 

Snow sculptors face off in Lake Geneva

 

Snow Sculpting Championship, in Lake Geneva, WI. (Chamber of Commerce photo 2019)
Snow Sculpting Championship, in Lake Geneva, WI. (Chamber of Commerce photo 2019)

To see some the country’s best snow sculptures and vote for your favorite, drive up to Lake Geneva, just over the Illinois border into Wisconsin on Hwy 50, this weekend.

Fifteen award-winning teams from across the United States are competing in the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship for the national title, this week.

They start work midweek when snow is delivered to their stations in the Riviera Plaza , 812 Wrigley Drive abutting Geneva Lake (Yes, that is the lake’s name).

The teams sculpt their creations through Friday night to be ready for the judging after the “tools down” bell at 11 a.m. Saturday. Visitors can vote for the People’s Choice Award, Saturday until 2 p.m.

The snow sculptures are amazing but also stay to see ice sculptures in town. Youngsters may want to stop at a children’s tent at 201 Wrigley Dr. in Flat Iron Park where there are games and the Boy Scouts are selling cider donuts and hot dogs.

Visitors who stay over Saturday will want to see the free Laser Light Show on the ski slopes of the Grand Geneva Resort, just south of the downtown at WI7036 Grand Geneva Way.

The light show goes from 8:30 to 10 p.m. For more information call (312) 218-3848 or visit Laser fusion shows.

For more Winterfest events visit Lake Geneva/Winterfest.

 

Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrations

Martin Luther King Jr memorial in Washington DC. (J Jacobs photo)
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington
DC. (J Jacobs photo)

Cities from LA to Memphis and Chicago and New York to Washington DC and Atlanta are celebrating MLK Day today, the third Monday of January. The day has been officially observed to honor the civil rights leader in all 50 states since 2000.  It is an American federal holiday so schools, banks, post office and some business are closed.

Celebrations to honor Martin Luther King Jr range from service projects and parades to concerts and free museum visits.

If in DC go to the Marin Luther King Jr Memorial and watch the Peace Parade from 11 a.m to noon ET on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Milwaukee Place. The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade features musical performances, dancers, and members of civil rights organizations fighting for equal rights.

If in Chicago, you can spend quality time at one of the following events:

Continue reading “Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrations”

Consider theWit for a downtown holiday staycation

Ice skating the Ribbon in Millennial Park is easy when taking a staycation. (City of Chicago photo)
Ice skating the Ribbon in Millennial Park is easy when taking a staycation. (City of Chicago photo)

You’re in The Loop when you stay at theWit.

Well situated at State and Lake Streets, the hotel is close to Macy’s shopping, Walnut Room tree and holiday windows, Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” Millennial Park’s Caroling at Cloud Gate and ice skating rinks, the Chriskindle Market, a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago’s holiday-decorated Thorne Miniature Rooms and a short bus ride to the Auditorium theatre to see Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” Continue reading “Consider theWit for a downtown holiday staycation”

Discovering a great way to vacation in Central Florida

Pools and golf courses at Omni Orlando resort. J Jacobs photo)
Pools and golf courses at Omni Orlando resort. J Jacobs photo)

Sometimes my family stayed on a Disney property. Other times we stayed at a nearby  resort but rented a car. This time, I decided to accompany a small group whose aim was to check out a variety of attractions and travel options in the Kissimmee area.

The result was one surprise after another.

This was to be a no-car rental vacation. Yes, renting a car will likely be an option for some families and couples but we wanted to see what could work without that choice.

Continue reading “Discovering a great way to vacation in Central Florida”

A Wisconsin fall getaway

 

Fall in Ephraim, (Photo by John Nienhuis and Door County)
Fall in Ephraim, (Photo by John Nienhuis and Door County)

Picture a small town where goats on a restaurant roof can cause a traffic jam in a county where visitors to its scenic towns often gather around huge outdoor pots to watch traditional fish boils.

It is Door County, a peninsula that separates the calm waters of Green Bay from turbulent waves of Lake Michigan and where the must-take-home items are chocolate covered cherries or cherry pies and the must-visit time of year is fall.

An easy drive from Green Bay’s airport, the route on the way to the Sturgeon Bay, the first vacation town on the peninsula, is dotted with the crimsons, golds and pinksm of changing leaves. And, as TV ads say, “But wait.” The colors keep intensifying, driving northwest along curving roads through picturesque villages.

Continue reading “A Wisconsin fall getaway”

The Wright trip for stage and scenery

Peck's Farm Market is a definite stop when visiting Spring Green in Wisconsin. (J Jacobs photo)
Peck’s Farm Market is a definite stop when visiting Spring Green in Wisconsin. (J Jacobs photo)

A fall vacation that is not the same-old, same-old awaits 189 miles (about 3 hrs., 20 min.) northwest of Chicago in Spring Green, WI.

Water bottles, check. pillow ( I like mine), check. Phone, cords and bathing suit, check. Well, there is a lap pool at The House on the Rock Resort, my weekend retreat.

On the agenda is see a show at American Players Theatre which everyone calls APT,  tour Wright’s Taliesin, explore the hilly countryside and stop at Peck’s Farm Market East on the way home for yummy, fresh corn. The town is surrounded by farmland so visitors will be treated to true farm-to-table products that are not just a nod to today’s popular menu phrases. Continue reading “The Wright trip for stage and scenery”