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Entries in museum (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: Maryhill, Washington

Unfolding the Map

We stop for a walk with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) in Maryhill, continuing to ponder on some large questions of life and time.  In this case, why do we bother to try to realize dreams that crumble and blow away over time?  Sounds depressing?  I don't think so.  I think it just is. Navigate over to the map to pinpoint Maryhill.

Book Quote

"Sam Hill had many plans - some shrewd, some cockamamie - and he had money to try them.  His plan for Maryhill, Washington (first called Columbus), was to find a narrow zone where coastal rains met desert sun; that belt, he believed, would be an agricultural Eden....He talked some Belgian Quakers into considering settlement, but when scouts for the group came, they saw and left.  To them, Hill's ideal zone was the fiction of a creative road engineer more adept at theory than practice when it came to agronomy and climatology.  And they were right.  The town lay in the rain shadow of the Cascades.

"Hill continued building the big and costly stone manor, often called, with some accuracy, 'Maryhill Castle.'  At one time he said it was for his wife Mary, but she apparently refused even to visit the place....

"....But Hill died....Hill's dream had passed, and now, but for the museum, monument, and the ruined rock walls, the desert slope was as vacant as ever."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 10

The Maryhill Museum in Maryhill, Washington was built originally as a mansion by Sam Hill. Photo by "Cacophony" at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Maryhill, Washington

What happens to our plans, our dreams, and when we realize them, our creations?  I have been thinking a lot about his as I have been writing these posts in this blog.  LHM's account in this chapter of Blue Highways about Sam Hill and his ideas have brought these thoughts back to me recently.

I have to frame this question by first asking: What's the point?  What's the point of creating things, especially if they will end up like Sam Hill's vision of Maryhill, Washington?  He had great plans.  Plans that were, as LHM says, "some shrewd, some cockamamie."  He put his plans into effect.  He built a large "castle" for his wife.  He hoped to build a settlement that made use of what he thought might be the perfect meeting place of aridity and humidity for an agricultural wonderland.  Instead, the settlement didn't happen.  The climate was not right for agriculture after all.  His wife didn't want to go anywhere near Maryhill.  All that is left, according to LHM, are a few buildings, a ghost town, and a facsimile of Stonehenge up the hill.  What was the point of that?

What was the point of the great civilizations whose remnants are crumbling under our feet over the millenia?  The Hittites and Babylonians.  The Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians.  The Mayans, Aztecs and Inca.  The Cahokia Mound Builders, the Chacoans and the Mesa Verdeans.  The Mongols and the early Chinese empires.  What was the point of their civilizations if now all that is left is what can be saved through archeology?

Percy Bysshe Shelley summed up the hubris of pride and of civilization in a memorable way in what is one of my favorite poems of all time, Ozymandias.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Rosalind and Helen, a modern eclogue, with other poems

I am but a bit player in these things, but I have been realizing that even my small contributions to our current civilization are but tiny blips that will burn briefly and then die.  Living in the present, it is easy for us to believe that things that we produce are timeless - our writings, our art, our music.  Yet only a fraction of the literature and art that has been produced through the millenia of human existence has survived.  How many wondrous works of art might there have been that we have missed?  How many amazing pieces of literature have been lost over time?  What lost symphonies or masterworks of song have had their notes briefly sound and then disappeared?

As I write these lines that will be saved electronically on the internet for you to read, I am conscious of a number of things that could happen.  They could be lost due to a catastrophe with the server.  I could run into dire straights and find that I cannot pay my bill to keep my account on this provider.  As we move forward in time, perhaps the provider might not survive and go out of business, taking my posts with it.  As we move forward through years, decades, centuries, how do we know that the internet will survive beyond a brief flowering?  How will we know that our civilization will survive - civilizations up to now, even those that seemed in the midst of their greatness to be guaranteed to last forever, eventually fall and die away.

So why do I, the Sam Hills, the architects of civilizations dream and create works that will eventually dissolve in the relentless march of universal time and movement?

I can only answer for myself.  I wite these posts because it pleases me.  I also write the occasional poem, make Facebook posts and dream of writing a book someday because it is my one little sound in the vast cacophony of the universe, my one word in the encyclopedia of creation, my one spark of energy to add to the immense energy of the wider cosmos.  Of course, I would love for my creations, for my small part to play in the ongoing history of humanity, to last and have some relevance.  But that is just my bit of hubris.  What I create may be relevant or not, but eventually my creations will disappear and my voice will fade.  Just like Maryhill, the great civilizations, and all our arts, literature and music will eventually follow Ozymandias and crumble forgotten into the infinite and unrelenting cosmological desert.  Other towns, civilizations, arts, literatures and musics will follow and in their turn disappear and be replaced.  And that's just fine, and just as it's meant to be.

Musical Interlude

I had a hard time picking this song.  I looked up music that might have something about Ozymandias, and though Jefferson Starship, the Sisters of Mercy, and Qntal all had songs with that name (and I am really partial to the Jefferson Starship song), I kept coming back to this song by Midnight Oil, even though it really has nothing to do with what I'm writing about.  I even went to songs about time's passage, and looked briefly at another song I like, Steely Dan's Black Friday.  But this kept popping back in my head.  So, if it's supposed to be in this post, it will be in this post.  And I think it can fit, because when all is said and done, isn't life and all our creations like a dream that will one day fade and end?  Enjoy Dreamworld!

If you want to know more about Maryhill

Maryhill Museum of Art
Maryhill State Park
Sam Hill's Stonehenge
Washington Stonehenge
Wikipedia: Maryhill

Next up: Roosevelt, Whitcomb and Paterson, Washington