Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Holidays, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Visiting the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We went to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center yesterday.

They have free admission on 1/17/22 for MLK Day, but we were worried it would be too crowded, so we went the Sunday before.

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“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”, Winston Churchill wrote. Everyone has a bias, even the history books and museums; we wanted to expand the kids’ views and to expose them to all different views of history so that they could learn, research, think for themselves, and listen to all points of view. Each museum has been a different experience, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect of the Freedom Center.

I will say we were pleasantly surprised. I thought the spacing throughout the Center was very nice and that there was nice mix of props (statues, cotton bales, buildings, maps, a few artifacts). There was a lot of factual information, along with some personal anecdotes.

The third floor is where most of the exhibits are and where they recommend you start your visit. The Center did a pretty good job with decorations around the exhibits and movie screens to set the scene. There is an outdoor terrace that has a great view of the Ohio River and Suspension Bridge. It also has Freedom’s Eternal Flame (a gas fueled flame). The Terrace was closed while we were there; of course, it was about 28 degrees outside.

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The 3rd floor also had an modern day slavery exhibit that went over Forced Labor, Child Labor, Sex Trafficking, Bonded Labor, and Domestic Servitude. The crazy statistic that I saw was that 59% of online recruitment for sex trafficking victims was on Facebook.

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The second floor had a Pavilion, which is currently closed. There was a Slave Pen (an original structure brought into the Center) that you could walk into. The inside was very empty, other than a wooden box that had some shackles in it. There were several films available on the 2nd floor. You first walk into a waiting room and listen to a short film with Oprah Winfrey. The doors automatically open to go to the next theater. I thought the movies were well done. One of the theater rooms was even decorated with trees to help set the mood for the film.

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There were only a few interactive exhibits. I think there is a lot of opportunity to do several more interactive exhibits. (For example: an example of hidden stairs and rooms that you could walk through, touching cotton plants.) There were some visual aids, but it was mostly reading. It was definitely an older child/adult type of museum in terms of attention level and retention. It would have been nice to see a map of known Underground Railroad stops in Cincinnati. Ben and I both knew of two, but I’m sure there plenty more.

There is small store on the main floor. (The postcards were $3 each, which I think is the most expensive postcard we have bought!)

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202
  • HOURS: Wednesday to Sunday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • COSTS: $15/adult, $10.50/children ages 3-12, under 3 free. (Family Season Pass is $65)
  • PARKING: Yes (Paid parking available on-street or nearby parking garages.)
  • BATHROOM: Yes (On our visit, only the 3rd floor bathrooms were open.)
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 2-3 hours
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: Masks are required (as of January 2022).
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.

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Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

The Voice of America Museum: Exploring Ohio

We have driven by the Voice of America Museum for years, but have never gone through it. As part of our New Year’s resolution to act more like tourists in our own home state and to see more local things, we finally made it there.

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As you turn onto the long driveway, you get a great view of the Museum building. The museum is housed in the former Voice of America Bethany Station. There is parking along the front and side of the building. They are only open Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. During your visit, you can walk around on your own or go on a guided tour with a docent (included with admission). The Docent provides a lot of helpful information and can answer questions you might have during the tour. The Voice of America Bethany Station (named such due to its proximity to the Bethany phone exchange) opened in 1944.

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The Voice of America began broadcasting different radio programs in 1942. The purpose of the radio station was to send news and the “truth” to other countries where information was limited and outside radio contact was frequently banned. Although you can hear the broadcasts (including a program where they teach basic English), the broadcasts are meant for international audiences.

During World War II, Germany sent out propaganda over the radio. To counteract Nazi propaganda, The Voice Of America sent out broadcasts through five different transmission stations, including the VOA Bethany Station. All content was created in Washington and sent out via special lines to the Bethany Station. The broadcasts were sent out in over 50 languages. The VOA Bethany station would send out the programs through their multiple antennas, including two curtain antennas (a new type of antennae at the time that could send radio waves out farther than before). There were also several relay stations located throughout the world.

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During the Cold War, the radio broadcasts were aimed at countering Soviet propaganda. One of the coolest relay stations during this time was a Coast Guard vessel called the USCGC Courier. This wartime vessel was converted to be an unarmed ship with the ability to transmit strong enough signals to get through the Iron Curtain. It was stationed at Rhodes, Greece from 1952 to 1964. It received the VOAs signals and would then broadcast them into the USSR and nearby countries.

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There were a lot of entertaining things to look at during our tour. They had a mix of informational signs and original equipment (control room, transmitter room) from the days when the station was still up and running. There was even some of the original copper grounding throughout the building, including in the floor.

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Behind the museum building, you can walk out and see the antennae switch station. When engineers had to go outside to switch the antennas, they could only be near the switch station for 10-15 minutes a day! They had to do this even in the cold and rain. Could you imagine having to be near those electrical currents while it is raining or snowing around you?

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Click To Enlarge. WLW tower Corona Ball. It sat at the top of the tower. The holes are from lightening strikes.

Because of the changes in technology, the Bethany station became outdated and closed in 1994. The antennae towers were removed beginning in 1997. The Voice of America still transmits programs, but it is now done digitally and by satellite. The original land of the Voice of America Bethany Station has been converted to a shopping area, a county owned park (Voice of America Metro Park), and the Voice Of America Museum. You can still see some of the concrete antennae bases throughout the Voice of America Metro Park.

If you really want to see a large radio antenna, you can still see the huge WLW tower further down on Tylersville Rd.

There were other exhibits at the museum as well, including a room full of inventions made by the man who helped make VOA Bethany possible. Crosley was a native Cincinnatian who began in his work in the automotive industry. He then transitioned into radios, where he made radios cheaper and more available for everyone. He began his radio station WLW radio. WLW had its first broadcast in 1922 and also helped with broadcasting during World War II. After World War II, Crosley began making appliances, including a refrigerator with an ice maker.

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There was also a History of Radio and Broadcasting in Cincinnati room. It had items from several local shows like the Uncle Al show, Ruth Lyons, and Nick Clooney. Ben even starred on one of the Uncle Al shows and it was fun to show the kids something from the past.

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The museum is also now home to ham radio/amateur radio enthusiasts. Their current set-up includes ham radio, Morse Code, digital, and a high-powered broadcast. They use about a dozen amateur radio satellites. The white dish that remains outside the museum is used to bounce the signal off of the moon! There are competitions for amateur radio and the current VOA amateur radio has quite the cool collection of QSL postcards from around the world. These postcards are from around the world, from South America to Asia!

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There is a small gift shop in the museum. It has some note cards, books, etc. No postcards though!

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 8070 Tylersville Rd., West Chester, Ohio 45069
  • HOURS: Saturday and Sunday, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
  • COSTS: $10/person. Under 16 free.
  • PARKING: Yes
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 2-3 hours
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: Masks are required (as of January 2022).
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.

If you would like more information on The Voice of America, check out these sites:

Posted in: Exploring Massachusetts, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Exploring New Bedford, Massachusetts

We ended our stay in Massachusetts by going to New Bedford to see the Whaling Museum. (Questions we got: What about Nantucket and Boston? My sister lived in Boston for awhile and we had visited her and explored the city. The main goal of the trip was to see new things. Ben really wanted Nantucket, but the ferry itself was $300, plus whatever we would spend in town.)

New Bedford is a fishing town. They were big in the whaling industry and now do a lot of commerce in scallops.

We managed to find parking on the street (it looks like it is all resident pass or pay parking) near the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park. The Visitor Center was closed and only had a table open to get a map and Junior Ranger material. (The boys did not get their badges yet because the Visitor Center closed by the time we were done walking around. The ranger told us we could mail the booklets in to get the badges.) The National Park Service museum had a lot of outdoor signs around the town. The map had a nice outline of where the park’s boundaries were.

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We stopped at the other New Bedford Whaling Museum. This one was not part of the National Park Service and had paid admission. However, when we went to check it out, they told us the lobby was free to look around. The lobby had skeletons of different whales and some really neat information. The one skeleton has a piece of tubing attached to the skull and it leads to a beaker. It has been collection oil for 10 years!

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Next, we headed down to the Fishing Heritage Center. It was also free the day we were there. It ended up being surprisingly good! It was very interactive with a movie, multiple buttons to push to hear different sounds and fishing stories. There was even a fishing bucket the kids could pull up. It gave a nice detailed history of fishing, especially in the New Bedford region. It was really well done and everyone enjoyed it.

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The town was pretty cute. However, I would stay near the museums. The farther out of the touristy area we got, it got to be a rougher part of town.

Posted in: Exploring South Carolina, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina

Although Fort Sumter is part of the National Park Service, there was not an admission fee. However, the only way to get to the fort is by boat, and the ferry ride does cost money.

The boat ride was similar to other boat tours we had taken. They pointed out other sites and talked about the history of Fort Sumter. There was a Park volunteer on the ride to and from that handed out maps and the Junior Ranger programs and badges.

We had a windy, cold, drizzly kind of day, so the water was a little rougher. Once we were docked, there was a ranger led talk that lasted about 15 minutes and went over the history of why Fort Sumter was built and its role in the Civil War. Even after the Civil War, they upgraded the Battery to keep it as a coastal defense. After the talk, we were free to read all the signs and explore around the fort. However, we only had an hour once we docked before the ship left again. It definitely felt rushed. We definitely could have spent a little more time reading and learning, at least another 1/2 hour to an hour would have been nice.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Fort Sumter, $0. Boat rides were $30/adults, $18 ages 4-11. (Our total for 4 adults was $127.20, as there was an additional $7.20 fee on the online booking receipt.) COVID Restrictions: masks required
  • HOURS: Visitor Center 9:00am-5:00pm (in Charleston). Boat rides vary per season and per location When we went boats departed Liberty Square (Charleston, SC) at 9:30am, 12:15pm, 3:00pm, and Patriots Point (Mount Pleasant, SC) at 10:45 am and 1:45 pm.
  • PARKING: Pay parking on street or nearby lots. It was $5 for the day at Patriot’s Point, which was where we departed from.
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-2 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.

Posted in: Exploring South Carolina, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Kazoobie Kazoos Factory Tour

While looking for things to do around our campground, I found Kazoobie Kazoos in Beaufort, South Carolina. They offer, as you may guess by the name, kazoo factory tours. We had so much fun on this adventure (even Ben and he was skeptical when I told him about it).

Our kazoos, Nick’s pressed penny (double sided!)

The tour consisted of two videos, an impressive kazoo demonstration, and a peek at how the kazoos are put together and embossed. Did you know that there are only 3 kazoo factories in the world! Or that the kazoo was originally called the Down South Submarine (probably for its shape)? There are two in the US (South Carolina and New York) and one in the UK. At the end of the tour, we got to pick out our kazoo body and resonator cap colors and then put together our own! There was a small museum, which had some really neat information. The gift shop was also fun with different kazoos and kazoo type items for sale.

Making our kazoos
Museum items

We bought a couple of things from the shop. Nick also made a pressed penny, which was double sided! We had so much fun, I would definitely recommend going there and taking the tour!

Awesome finds at the gift shop

YouTube Video: Kazoobie Kazoos Factory Tour

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: $9/adults, $7/child (ages 4-11) COVID Restrictions: masks required.
  • TOUR HOURS: Monday-Friday at 10:00 am, 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 2:00pm
  • PARKING: Yes
  • BATHROOM: Unknown
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-1.5 hours (45-60 minutes for the tour, then browsing the museum and shop)
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Louisiana, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Walking with History: National World War II Museum (Will’s Blog Post)

            The WWII Museum is amazing. If you haven’t been there and are going to New Orleans for a little bit then you should visit this place. It has all sorts of cool exhibits, and artifacts about World War II. There are four main buildings which are the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, the Hall of Democracy and US freedom Pavilion, the Solomon Theater Building, and the Campaigns of Courage building. We stayed here all day from about 10AM to 5PM. It was great, but if you don’t want to stay the whole day reading, I’ll explain all of the exhibits here so you can plan your trip.

            Louisiana Memorial Pavilion: This area is where you sign in and get an introduction via a fake train taking you off to “war.” On the second floor is the Arsenal of Democracy which goes over some of the statistics and overall look at the countries their armies and their weapons. It explains more on the US home front. The third floor is the D-Day exhibits which have first hand accounts, weapons used, and a cool demonstration of one of the German lookout towers with a model instrument. The First floor also has a little history on The Higgins Boat and has a motorcycle and artillery gun near the side.

            The Solomon Theater: We walked across this quickly and only saw a little, but it mostly consists of the movie theater, a fun, quick look at the marines and some of the supply ships the US used in the war and a gift shop.

            Hall of Democracy: This is where we went for lunch at The American Sector Restaurant and Bar. It was nice enough and actually pretty nice for being at a museum. I got an Oreo sundae which was delicious and chicken and sausage gumbo. My dad got a double cheeseburger with fries. We also visited their special exhibit about the distraction part of the army that was made to keep the Nazis guessing and that made the inflatable tanks and guns. This exhibit was called Ghost Army the Combat Con Artists of World War 2.

            Campaigns of Courage: This was really cool. The top floor goes over the process of taking down Japan and has a really cool building structure that first looks like a ship and then a jungle. The first floor goes over the defeat of the Nazis and looks like a desert and then the ruins of a city. This goes more in depth into the defeat of the Axis powers and has fun videos that go over most of the reading.

            US Freedom Pavilion: This is a really cool exhibit that lets you see  some of the vehicles used during World War II including a B-17E Flying Fortress called MyGalSal. It also has a jeep with a gun attached and an amphibious car that has a rifle rack in the front.

Outdoor statues
Admission button (acts as proof of ticket), stylus for exhibits, Dog Tag card (You are assigned a person to follow at the beginning of your visit in the train. You collect information along the way and can review it later. You can even log on once you are home to read your experience.)
Social Distancing Signs

DETAILS: *

  • TICKETS: Due to COVID, you need purchase tickets ahead of time for a timed entrance. Tickets are available online. Face coverings are required. There are several ticketing options, including private tours. The General Admission Tickets are $28.50/adult, $18/child K-12. There are discounts for military, seniors, college students. WWII Veterans and children under 5 are free. The Campus Pass includes General Admission and the 4-D Beyond All Boundaries movie. $35.50/adult, $25/child K-12, $7/child under 5. There are discounts for military, seniors, college students. WWII Veterans are free.
  • HOURS: Daily 9 am- 5 pm. (Closed Mardi Gras, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve/Day)
  • PARKING: Pay parking on street or nearby lots. The Museum also has a paid lot.
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: several hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Louisiana, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Confederate Memorial Hall Museum

One of the reasons for going on this trip was to learn/see new things and to expand the boys’ views of the world. We wanted them to be able to think and research, listen to both sides, and come up with their own conclusion, to not just take everything at face value.

And so we found ourselves one Saturday morning at the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum.

The museum is in a really neat building and is the oldest continually running museum in Louisiana.

DETAILS:

  • TICKETS: Due to COVID, you need to email the Museum to make a reservation for the day/time you want to visit. You pay for your tickets once you arrive ($10 adults, $5 kids ages 7-14). It was only open Thursday to Saturday when we were in New Orleans.
  • PARKING: Pay parking on street or nearby lots
  • BATHROOM: Yes, downstairs
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours

The museum is on the main floor of the building, with the bathroom downstairs. They had some neat pieces of history on display. It was mostly reading with one video. There was a small gift shop as well.

We started on the left side of the museum and one of the first exhibits we saw contained a Dix! New Orleans has history to the city. Being on the water, the city had plenty of trading with ships coming and going. At one point, the city was separated into French and American sides. Canal Street separated the French and English speaking parts of New Orleans. Each side had their own currency (French bills and American/English). Per our tour guide at Sazerac House, people met in the middle of Canal Street to do business, as it was considered neutral ground. One bank there decided to create a new currency, the Dix (French for 10). It was printed in English on one side, French on the other, and was a $10 bill. It later was nicknamed a Dixie, and hence the name for the South was created.

Battlefield trees with shrapnel embedded
Top: Uniform and gloves of Daniel Merwin. He lost his right arm in battle. His “Invalid Fork”, and 2 Left Hand gloves. Bottom Left: Sucession Badge image.
We find the mention of Ohio in the strangest places.
Different artillery shells.
Silver crown given to Davis, link of chain (boats), Stonewall Brigade Medal, Seal of the Confederacy

It was interesting to see this perspective on the Civil War. There were some signs that definitely had a Southern slant to the way they were worded. There was no real addressing the issue of slavery, it was mostly facts and information about battles, soldiers, and Jefferson Davis. It did give us a few good talking points to go over with the boys.

The gift shop was an interesting mix of wooden toys (chess board, 9 pins, chalkboard, Jacob’s Ladder etc.), hats and t-shirts, patches, stickers, quill pens, and the Confederate flag.

Posted in: Exploring Louisiana, Food, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Sazerac House Tour

While looking up things to do in New Orleans, I came across the Sazerac House. They offered several different types of events: tastings, demonstrations, virtual events, and even a free tour with a tasting. The free/complimentary tours were limited to 6 people of the same household, so we had our time slot all to ourselves.

It was honestly one of the best museum type of tours we have been on and it was FREE! They have been open about a year and have some cool technology in their exhibits.

We entered on the main floor and were given disposable gloves. They also had disposable masks available. All staff wore gloves and masks as well. After you had your gloves and mask on, you went to the temperature taking station. Once we were cleared, we headed over to the desk to check in with Tim (he was a fellow Ohioan!) and received a map of the facility, a wrist band for the adults (after checking ID’s), and a touch screen key.

Our tour guide was Kristine Lou. She did a great job during the tour and pointed things out the boys might like to try (the interactive exhibits).

We took the elevator up to the third floor to the history of “coffee shops”, which were apparently upscale bars where women were not allowed. Along one wall, there was a projection screen with a moving illustration of an 1800’s scene. There were history facts and displays along the wall.

We learned about bitters and moved on to the bitters tasting room. They also bottle the bitters here. Bitters are aromatics and seasonings steeped in alcohol, then filtered and added to cocktails. We tried three types: Hellfire (jalapeño), Xocolatl Mole (chocolate), and Peychaud’s bitters. They make bitters on-site and had several barrels of rum aging on-site as well. The bourbon gets shipped to Frankfurt, Kentucky for aging.

We moved onto another room where we learned about the official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazerac. We also learned about Absinthe. It was in a lot of cocktails and was banned in 1912 for health concerns. A man recreated it and substituted the wormwood (the ingredient they thought was causing problems) and renamed it Herbsaint (used all the letters in Absinthe and added an R, according to our tour guide). This room also had information on Prohibition and how New Orleans kept the drinks coming. There were these really fun interactive tables here as well. There were three different shapes of coasters (round, square, hexagon). You placed your coaster on the table and it told a story based on the coaster shape. You tapped the table to go to the next information screen.

Video

We had our first drink tasting of a Sazerac and watched a short video. Our tour guide poured the boys a limeade, that they make on-site as well.

We walked down to the second floor and had fun “ordering” drinks from the interactive bar. There were four different stations/bar types. There was also an option to take a selfie with your bartender at the end!

Our second tasting was of a rum drink called Aku Aku and limeade again for the boys. This one was a nice mix of sweet and sour. We moved on to the Bourbon room where we learned about charring the barrels to release the sugars in the wood and to add color to the drink. There were some really cool displays with interactive glass windows. You could even tap over a bottle of their alcohol and have a recipe sent to you. (Here is the link to the drink I choose.) We walked through the Rum section, where we saw some barrels sitting to age. There was another short video to watch as well.

Interactive screen bottom right: getting a recipe sent via text

The tour ended with you back on the main floor to see the distillery, where we had our last tasting of straight Sazerac Rye Whiskey and got to see the equipment. After the distillery, you end up in the shop area, where you checked in. The bottle prices didn’t seem that outrageous compared to going to a liquor store.

Note: Kristine Lou had her mask on the whole time until the picture. We were the only ones there and maintained a 6+ foot social distance. Gotta love the zoom feature on cameras!

Everyone enjoyed the tour. It was a fun history lesson with lots of things to read for Will, tastings for the adults (although the limeade was good too!), and interactive screens and videos for those with a shorter attention span. Everything was super clean. I thought they did wonderful job with the tour and the museum. I would definitely recommend it!

DETAILS: *

  • TICKETS: Due to COVID, you need to make reservations online ahead of time. We took the Complimentary tour (free), but they do offer other tours and events ($30 and up).
  • HOURS: Tuesday to Saturday. Tour times vary (usually 11:00 am to 4:20 pm)
  • PARKING: Pay parking on street or nearby lots
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: Ours was about a 90 minute tour, others may vary
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.