Friday, May 14, 2010

The Man Who Gave Us Memorial Day

You've probably never heard of John A. Logan, but he was well known in his day. He's mentioned in the Illinois state song along with Lincoln and Grant, and he's one of only 32 people ever to have lain in state in the U.S. Capitol. A successful general in the Union Army during the Civil War, he became part of the "Radical Republicans" in Congress, where he personally managed the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. In 1884, the Republicans made him their vice-presidential candidate on an unsuccessful ticket with James G. Blaine. He is best remembered today as the man who led the call for the establishment of Memorial Day as a national holiday. He is himself memorialized by a bronze equestrian statue, dedicated in 1901 by President William McKinley, in the middle of Washington, D.C.'s Logan Circle Park.

The Ballad of Casey Jones

One hundred and ten years ago this month, railroad engineer and hero Casey Jones was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery his hometown of Jackson, Tennessee. Several days before, he had headed out from the Poplar Street Station in Memphis on a run down to Mississippi that ended in tragedy. Encountering another train sticking out from a siding, Jones stayed at the brakes until the very end, saving the lives of everyone on board except himself. A popular ballad of his exploits made his name famous worldwide. Today, the Casey Jones Village in Jackson lets visitors tour Jones's home, now part of a railroad museum that includes an authenic steam engine, passenger car, and caboose from back in Casey's day.

Photographic Memories

That sinister-looking image on the left is actually the earliest known photographic negative. It was taken in 1835 at England's Lacock Abbey, and you can stand and look at that same window today. Or you can click here to see what may be the earliest existing photograph of the game of baseball. And if you're ever in Orange Park, New Jersey, be sure to visit the Edison National Historic Site (NOT Menlo Park), Edison's last home and place of death. On this very spot, Edison perfected motion pictures and filmed the world's first commercial movies in the world's first movie studio. This is also where he invented the alkaline battery and manufactured the world's first phonographs.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

MLK's Last Days

On April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee (top left), renowned civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I have been to the mountain top" speech, in which he seemed to prophesy his own death. The next day, less than a mile away, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray while standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel (top right). The Lorraine is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, which includes a view of King's room and an underground walkway to the rooming house from which the fatal shot was fired. For a complete list of spots related to Martin Luther King, Jr., click here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Shakespeare Was An April Baby

On April 26, 1564, the newborn William Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity Church (left) in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. On April 25, 1616, the literary legend was buried in the chancel of the same church, which is now open for public viewing. Other Shakespeare spots in Stratford include his birthplace, his wife Anne Hathaway's childhood cottage, and the former site of his last home. Click here for a complete list of Shakespearean travel spots.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Serious Side of St. Patrick's Day

In America, St. Patrick's Day is all about parades and green beer, but in Ireland it is still viewed primarily as a religious holiday. March 17, AD 461 is believed to be the date St. Patrick drew his last breath. The site of his death is believed to be Saul Church in Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland, which is where St. Patrick had founded the first Christian church around 432. The patron saint of Ireland is traditionally believed to be buried two miles away, where Down Cathedral (above) has since been erected in his honor. According to legend, a team of oxen pulling a cart carrying his body came to rest here, signifying that God had chosen this very spot for St. Patrick's burial.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Origin of Captain Fantastic

That impish leprechaun on the left is music legend Elton John, who celebrates his 62nd birthday on Wednesday, March 25. The self-styled "Captain Fantastic" was born Reginald Dwight in his grandparents' home at 55 Pinner Hill Road in Pinner, a suburb of London. (Click on the link and you'll discover that something happened on this very spot that laid the groundwork for Elton's wild costumes and stage performances.) Right around the corner is Frome Court, where Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote early hits like "Your Song." For more spots related to Elton John, click here.

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