Our Nation's Treasures

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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

St. Louis

The plan is for Mark to drive from our place in Cincinnati to St. Louis. After visiting the Arch and the Anhauser Busch Brewery, I will drive to Hays, in middle Kansas, for the first overnight of our 19-day trip through the American west.

We leave at 6 a.m. and make it to the arch by 12:30 p.m., thanks to the time difference. Before we cram into the little car to the top, we tour the Lewis and Clark museum below the arch. Journal entries from their expeditions are posted—complete with misspellings, which adds to the authenticity.

The trip to the top of the arch takes four minutes in a small car the size of a golf cart, only enclosed, for five people. The fit was tight for Mark at 6’ 4”, me at 5’ 11”, two large, athletic-looking young men and their petite female companion.

The day is beautiful and so is the view from the top, but we are on a schedule, and there’s only so much to see, so we snap some pictures and head to the Anhauser Busch Brewery for a free tour.

The tour lasts an hour and begins in the gift shop. We pass a Clydesdale colt grazing in the entrance yard on our way to the stable. The Clydesdales’ have an air-conditioned stable cleaner than most college dorm rooms. We are greeted by a Dalmatian taking it easy in the cool barn.

After the stable we see a short film concerning production and distribution of final goods. The next part of the tour is up a couple flights of steps to overlook the production area. The guide says it will be several degrees hotter than at ground level. Already too sweaty, I pass and rest on a bench while Mark continues the tour.

Down from the overlook to the production floor, the group passes me, and I hop up next to Mark, eager for the product tasting.

Finally, we enter an open area with tables with pretzels, an unmanned soda fountain, and an area with alcoholic drinks and bartenders. Mark gets a small cup of Bud Lite, and I get some hard lemonade. Mark’s next taste is of Killarny’s, and I sip some Sprite to dilute that lemonade since I am driving next. Then I decide to try 180, the new drink that’s high in caffeine; being wide-awake while driving in St. Louis traffic is a good thing. Only halfway through the 180, I get a terrible pain under my breastbone. Mark and I leave right away.
I am in too much pain to drive and am glad free samples of the alcoholic beverages were limited. Otherwise, Mark may have imbibed a bit beyond his bounds. Fully sober, he stays behind the wheel and aims us west to Kansas City, where we plan to stop at Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque for dinner. We saw Arthur Bryant’s featured on the Travel Channel months earlier and thought this the perfect opportunity to try it.

We get to KC right at dinner time, and the signs on Interstate 70 direct us to take exit 3C to get to Arthur Bryant’s. We find it on the corner of 18th and Brooklyn. It doesn’t look like much and is in a poorer area of town, but as expected, the food is great.

I get half a barbeque chicken and Mark gets a thick, barbeque pork sandwich. Complete with fries and sodas, it costs just over $20. On the wall is an old, signed picture of Steven Spielberg, Cate Kapshaw and Sally Field eating there together. There is one of President and Mrs. Carter too, and most recently, Emeril Legassi.
Around 10 p.m. we stop at a Motel 6 just east of Hays, Kansas, the exact halfway point between Cincinnati and Colorado Springs, where our western adventure will really begin. We didn’t do much more than drive, but this first day has been exhausting.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site

Way down in Alabama is Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, which sits on the campus of present day Tuskegee University, a school established in 1881 by the state of Alabama to prepare newly freed people and their children for self-sufficiency. As an off-shoot of the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site is the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. Over 1000 proud, African American pilots trained at Tuskegee to fortify the U.S. war effort. The war was the Second World War when segregation yet ruled the nation.

Mark and I have limited time since we’re meeting the family this late afternoon in Destin, Florida for some fun and relaxation, but I do want to get an hour’s worth or so of knowledge about something at Tuskegee.

Like always, our first stop is the Visitor Center, which sits just outside the gates leading onto the Tuskegee campus. I see there is an entire museum dedicated to George Washington Carver, who came to the school to head the Agricultural Department in 1896, having earned his masters degree in Botany from Iowa State Agricultural College, now Iowa State University.

George Washington Carver…” I recall from second grade, “he invented peanut butter.” In the George Washington Carver Museum is where we choose to spend our time.

The museum is a little larger than a basketball court with the right third dedicated to Tuskegee’s history. A theater and a bookstore are also off to the right. However, the left two-thirds of the large room is crammed with displays of Carver’s findings, inventions and discoveries and even his artwork.

Interested in nature from a young age, Carver became known as the plant doctor. It seemed anything he touched would thrive. He collected soils and extracted the pigments to develop paints that interested several commercial paint companies. The paints were used on the Tuskegee campus and throughout the area.

He wrote bulletins for distribution to farming families, instructing them in the ways of crop rotation, deep planting, use of natural fertilizers and recipe variations.

And who can forget Carver’s extensive work with the peanut? The museum has copies of Carver’s lab books on display and some of the ingenious uses he developed for the legume: foods for humans and livestock, medicines, dyes, beverages (peanut lemon punch, anyone?), cosmetics, soap, diesel fuel, insulating boards, linoleum, and the uses go on unbelievably.

He also developed uses like this for the sweet potato, sand and even the burlap sack. Carver was a recycler before the word “environmentalist” even came into the American lexicon.

George Washington Carver is one of our nation’s true early innovators, and a short visit to Tuskegee Institute will introduce you to and flabbergast you with how much he did with so little.