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Entries in monument (2)


Blue Highways: Crisfield, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

As people across the United States settle down today to tuck into turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce on this unique American holiday of Thanksgiving, I will reflect on some other unique relics of America: it's small town museums and monuments.  If you're traveling back from the holidays, consider stopping in to some of these places if you run across them on the way (and if they're open!).  If you want to see where you can find the Great Pyramid of Crisfield, locate it right here on the map!

Book Quote

"'...There's the sight of sights in Crisfield.'


"'Right there.  The pyramid.  An exact scale model of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Cairo, Egypt.  Orientated exactly the same.  On the twenty-first of December, the tip of the shadow falls at the same compass point just like in Egypt - except for a small difference caused by latitude.'

"The Great Pyramid of Crisfield was six feet three inches high - not as tall as an NBA guard.  Goldsmith and his sons had designed and built the poured concrete monument to commemorate the national bicentennial; inside they had placed photographs, Nanticoke arrowheads, phonograph records, and other items."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 13


A photo of the Great Pyramid of Crisfield. Photo at the website. Click on photo to go to host page.

Crisfield, Maryland

Some of the most interesting places that I've visited, in my years of traveling in the United States, have been the monuments and museums that are found in small towns.  Unlike other places that you might travel to when you're making your vacation trips, these are purely local and often might seem to be only of interest to the local residents.  But you are missing out on a lot if you miss these sights.

The small-town museum, for example, is a vanishing piece of Americana that can range from informative to just weird.  Many of them look like someone just started collecting stuff, and put the stuff in the building.  The better ones are usually organized around a theme.  For instance, if a town made its name as a mining town then the ongoing theme throughout the museum would be one where mining is the common thread that links all the exhibits.

However, that is not always the case in the small-town museums.  Some of them look like someone just collected knick-knacks and other junk and called it a museum.  The theme may be lost or nonexistent.  There may seem like there is no rhyme nor reason to exhibits.  Examples of local minerals might sit in a display case next to a 1920s radio that sat in someone's house before it was donated to the museum, next to which is displayed a tire that was replaced on a celebrity's car as he passed through in the 1950s.  I know that some people get a little put off or even annoyed by such disorganization, but I don't.

The reason I don't get annoyed is because my life is often organized in that kind of haphazard manner.  In that kind of disorganization, I feel at home.  Also, when things aren't organized according to any kind of discernible system, you can find incredibly interesting and sometimes very strange things just by taking your time and poking around.  Perhaps, poking around in the dusty corners, you might come across a stuffed two-headed calf or sheep that was born on a ranch 50 years prior and which was taken to the taxidermist after its death, displayed at the rancher's home until he died, and then given to the museum.  Or, you might find something gross and disgusting sitting in a 70 year old bottle of formaldehyde.  Perhaps you'll find letters written from a town society girl at the turn of the 20th century, in language that was racy for the time, to the mayor with whom she was having an affair right under the nose of her physician husband and the mayor's respected wife.

Often these types of museums are presided over by one of two kinds of people.  Either they are extremely garrulous, willing to tell you about every little thing that happened in the town in the past 150 years, or they might be extremely introverted, and annoyed if you ask them even the smallest question.  The latter type of person seems to want nothing more than for you to leave so that they can go back to passing time with the ghosts and relics of their town's past.  Both types of persons seem to be relics themselves.  They seem to be an indelible part of these little museums, and they are as much on display for anyone who cares to visit as any of the other items scattered around the rooms.

In other words, you'll find the scrapbook of life in these small town museums.  As you walk through the dusty corridors, you'll turn pages of memories of little moments and what seemed at the time to be momentous events, frozen in time in a dusty, forgotten corner of a small town museum in an out of the way corner of a small town in a corner of a rural state.

Similarly, the small monuments to this or that in little towns are also filled with meaning, sometimes just not the meaning we can immediately understand.  There are always the monuments to the wars, which one can find in various little places.  Obviously, these memorialize townspeople lost in world conflicts.

But then, one can find things like the replica of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Crisfield.  If you wonder why the monument and time capsule was turned into a replica of the pyramid, so do I.  The answer is only in the mind of the creator.  When my wife and I were traveling across Florida, a state full of weird and strange things and creations whose full purpose were only known to their creators, we found a "Monument of States" in Kissimmee, where each state of the union contributed a rock to build a 50 foot or so high column.  It sits there, sort of forgotten.

The true treasures are the little exhibits, monuments and museums truly off the beaten path.  Near Cedar Crest, New Mexico, you can find the Tinkertown Museum, which was the brainchild of an artist who created whole little worlds made up of carved wooden figures and found objects.  It has a cousin in the UCM (Get it?  You-See-Em?) Museum in Abita Springs, Louisiana which was modeled on the same idea.  Sometimes, people just put up their own little museums in their yard, like the Bone Lady near Cerillos, New Mexico (though I'm not sure that she is still there).  There are weird little places everywhere, like the National Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin or the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California.  I still remember stopping in Virginia City, Nevada, a major tourist trap made out of a picturesque former mining town, and just off the main strip where t-shirt and trinket shops reign, there was a Museum of Radio History that was small, unpretentious and fascinating.  My wife, just beginning to get into radio journalism, loved it.

I would encourage you, if you're ever traveling, to seek out these strange places and exhibits and marvel at the care and creativity that goes into preserving the past and creating for the future.  You can find a great guide to unique attractions at Roadside America's website.  I check it out whenever I head someplace just to see if there's a sight that is unique or interesting.  Get out there and see some of this stuff, all of you Littourati out there, if only because it's uniquely, fantastically and weirdly American.

Musical Interlude

What a find for this post!  Strange Museum by Paul Weller.  Go see a few of them, people!

If you want to know more about Crisfield Crisfield
City of Crisfield
Crisfield Area Chamber of Commerce
Crisfield Events
Wikipedia: Crisfield

Next up: Ewell, Maryland


Blue Highways: Stonehenge on the Columbia, Washington

Unfolding the Map

I feel like this post might ramble a bit, but I think LHM was really trying to make sense of time and space and put it all together in the context of his trip.  I don't think he expected to run into a replica of Stonehenge in southern Washington, and frankly, I didn't expect that we'd have such a thing either.  I mean, I know that there is Carhenge, made out of cars, and there is a henge made out of old refrigerators. But a full replica?  That's pretty cool.   To see where Stonehenge on the Columbia sits, see the map - be sure to zoom in with satellite mode to actually see it!

Book Quote

"A little before sunset, in the last long stretch of light, I saw on a great rounded hill hundreds of feet above the river a strange huddle of upright rocks.  It looked like Stonehenge.  When I got closer, I saw that it was Stonehenge - in perfect repair....

"....In truth, the circle of menhirs was a ferro-concretehenge, but it was as arresting on its hill as the real Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 9

Stonehenge on the Columbia River, near Maryhill, Washington. Photo by Gregg M. Erickson and in the public domain at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to site.

Stonehenge on the Columbia, Washington

There is an awful lot of self-reflection on the part of LHM in this chapter when he finds Stonehenge on the Columbia.  It affords us a good time to do some reflection as well.  I'll give a short synopsis of what LHM reflects upon.

When he finds this Stonehenge, quite unexpectedly, LHM is first struck by the convergence of past and present, which happened to him once before at the Navajo petroglyphs of Hickison Summit.  He remarks that this Stonehenge was built by a Sam Hill to commemorate the sacrifice of American doughboys in World War I, and how some graffiti on the monument gave it a kind of historical authenticity even though it was simply a mask of another more authentic monument far away.  He finds a Polaroid of a naked woman posing by some of the stones...her pendulous-breasted pose in the fading light hearkens to something more primal and elemental.

LHM then discourses on time.  He discusses how when we look at the stars that we look into the past, and speculates that when a telescope is built that can look back to the beginning of the universe, astronomers will be looking at the beginning of time and at the matter that now makes up the human race.  The original Stonehenge, he says, was an attempt at a time machine, one that could take the starlight - straight out of the past - and use it to predict future seasons and astronomical phenomena.  He begins to connect all that he sees around him in the universe and concludes that to escape his ego, that narrowness of now, and achieve concord or union with all things he has to reach outward - to embrace the past and the future.

I remember having this sense of things interconnecting in, of all places, New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, in a wing all its own, is the reconstructed Egyptian Temple of Dendur.  This temple was given to the United States by the Egyptian government because it was to be submerged by the waters of the Aswan High Dam and because the United States had assisted in rescuing other sites of archeological significance.  One thing that captured my attention when I saw it was the grafitti on the temple.  One in particular stood out - an inscription by a man in the 1800s who was from Brooklyn.  I can imagine that, in the middle of the African desert, the man who carved his name into the temple in the 1800s thought that it would remain there in perpetuity.  Instead, his name ended back up in New York City three generations later.  I laughed at the irony of it all, a cosmic irony that shows that nothing in our world is permanent and fixed even when we "build it to last forever."  I realize now that the places that I've carved my name, physically and in the virtual world, will also fade over time and that any remembrance of me might also end up being a delicious bit of irony if it survives at all.

I am also struck by how the original structure of Stonehenge, in England, was built as somethat that was functional.  We are still trying to decipher the exact function of Stonehenge, but theories include an astronomical observatory, a religious center, a place of healing and a place of burial.  However, nobody quite knows.  Regardless, it did perform a function, and in its longlasting mystery gained prominence as the last remnant of a millenia-long-dead and unknown culture.  In a way, it serves as a gravestone for that culture it represents, and its mystery is the epitaph.

On the other hand, the Stonehenge on the Columbia was built specifically as a memorial.  It has no other function.  There is no mystery.  It was never used as an observatory other than those who, like LHM, looked out at the stars and pondered the mystery of time and space from within its concentric circles.  It is not used to predict planting and harvesting seasons, or to foretell eclipses.  We have much better ways for doing those functions now.  Nobody brings themselves or their loved ones to Stonehenge on the Columbia for healing, unless somehow the hope of the founder in establishing the memorial somehow has some healing effects on long-standing and vanishing pain from the First World War.  Sam Hill, who built the monument, was mistakenly told that the original Stonehenge was used as a sacrificial site and he wanted to memorialize the young men of Klickitat County, Washington who were sacrificed to the god of war.

There are many places of past function that have turned into monuments.  Almost every monument we are left with once had function.  Yet, I have to wonder if the functional structures that we have built today, our modern buildings of concrete and steel, will one day become monuments.  Just as the pyramids rise above Egypt, will our Empire State Building and Sears Tower, or their remains, become tourist sites for tourists trying to capture a dead culture.  Just as we read about the Alexandria Lighthouse, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, will people in the future be awed when they learn about the Golden Gate Bridge, a monument to our civilization's current and maybe past greatness?

I've never heard of a monument turning back into something functional in other ways.  That was before I went to the Star Axis in New Mexico.  It is a work of art being built into the side of a mountain.  Aligned with the axis of the earth, it allows one to walk through past alignments of the Earth with the stars, and future alignments also.  Because the Earth wobbles on its axis, the North Star of the time of the Egyptian pyramids was a different star, Thuban, than our North Star today, Polaris, which is different from the North Star of 10,000 years from now, Vega.  I wonder if after our civilization is dead, and if there is a time when humanity enters a period not unlike the Dark Ages when knowledge is not widely disseminated as now but is perhaps kept alive by small groups devoted to learning, if this huge sculpture will become functional and serve a purpose other than as a sculptor's long-envisioned project?

If we look to the past, we can certainly take pride in our accomplishments as a civilization.  We see where we've come from and how we've progressed.  But we can also possibly see our future in the past.  Civilizations die, and are replaced by new civilizations, just as if we gaze into the cosmos, we look into the past and see our future in the stars that have been born and have died before our star and world existed.  We live in the now, and think it will never end, but all that seems permanent will fade.  As LHM says, our present will become our past and our future will become our present, and try as we might to fight it, change renders all impermanent.

Musical Interlude

One of the funniest scenes in the mock-documentary, or rockumentary, called This is Spinal Tap is the scene where the titular band performs their song Stonehenge.  I am putting the full version of the song here, but if you want to see the scene in the movie where the band's grandiose plans to have a giant version of Stonehenge lowered to the stage end up hilariously wrong, look at this YouTube video.


If you want to know more about Stonehenge on the Columbia

Columbia River Images: Stonehenge
Images of Columbia River Stonehenge
Legends of America: An American Stonehenge in Maryhill
Wikipedia: Maryhill Stonehenge

Next up: Maryhill, Washington