National Postal Museum

The Smithsonian National Postal Museum was built in 1914 and served as Washington D.C.’s post office through 1986. It houses a research library as well as exhibit space and gift shops.

The museum portion opened in 1993. You can get to it by taking the red line Metro to Union Station. This was one of the most interesting museums I’ve visited. Our niece accompanied us.

Postal Museum

The history of the U.S. Postal Service was presented by means of staged displays, a mail train car, a stagecoach, vintage airplanes, postal trucks and much more. We could sit in the driver’s seat of a truck or check out a mail train car, stare at Owney, the preserved mascot dog, and see a variety of uniforms.

mascot

I found the postal police section very intriguing. I didn’t realize we even had a Postal Inspection branch that investigated related crimes.

A gift shop and stamp shop are present, plus historic examples of stamps through the years. No café, though, but you’re right across the street from Union Station with its food court and restaurants. We could have spent more time here browsing through the exhibits and reading all the informational signs, but it’s a lot to absorb in one day. Be sure to put this on your list of places to visit next time you’re in our capital city.

  

Outside, we trundled past the gleaming capitol building to view the United States Botanic Garden. We arrived at the Garden Court entrance and veered to the right with a section on Rare and Endangered plants.  We walked through sections with orchids, tropical foliage, medicinal plants, desert cacti, Hawaii, and other collections. While amazed that this conservatory could be built in the middle of our capital city, I’m spoiled by the many gardens in Florida.

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South Florida History Museum

Located in downtown Bradenton, Florida, the South Florida History Museum offers two levels of exhibits. Short on time, we bypassed the Bishop Planetarium which is included in the admission price ($19 adults, $17 seniors). Our first stop was the Parker Manatee Aquarium, where a guide demonstrated the qualities of several manatees under their care. These huge, intelligent creatures were impressive. They prefer warm water and can be sensitive to cold temperatures, pollution, and boats that get in their path.

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From here, we moved on to dioramas and displays of native habitats, shell collections, and pine uplands with a pioneer cabin.

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There’s a Spanish house with a chapel that has a lovely stained glass window.

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My favorite was the Medical Gallery with an ancient operating room, dental suite, torturous looking instruments, and an apothecary shop.

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You could easily spend a couple of hours here or more. It was an unexpected bonus of our trip to the west coast, and I’m glad we could enjoy this attraction. Note there’s a gift shop but no café on premises.

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History of Food Sources in SE Florida

What did the early peoples of southeast Florida find to eat? Recently, Michelle Williams from the Florida Public Archaeology Network gave a talk about “Weeds and Seeds: Dining on the Riches of Southeast Florida.” Any errors in this report are due to my interpretation.

Archaeologist

She mentioned how the early people build pyramidal shaped mounds as symbols of power. About 2000 years ago, papaya could be found here, although it probably came to these shores via bird poop. Zoo archaeology is examining animal bones to study our history. She is a paleoethnobotanist. This discipline studies plant remains to understand how people lived.

In southeast Florida, we have environmental interfaces where there’s an overlap of more than one type of ecological environment (if I understood this correctly).

The Everglades has tree islands. The trees there have a specific orientation in a teardrop shape based on water flow. Every island has evidence that people used to inhabit the land. Animals lived there, too, and provided food. Plants and trees provided wood and other resources including a type of flour. Among other things, people ate tubers, alligator meat, fish and birds.

Another environment here is the Ocean, including the ocean’s edge and mangrove swamps. There people ate conch, dolphin, seaweed, seagrapes, and cocoplums.

Another system includes Rivers and river banks, with turtles, fish, muscadine grapes and prickly pear cactus.

Lake Okeechobee is another region with snakes and fish. Catfish was popular there and now it’s bass. Elderberries and other plants grow there. The Kissimmee River feeds Lake Okeechobee, and this in turn feeds the Everglades. So Southeast Florida had hunting and gathering but no agriculture. Yet the abundance of plants and animal life supplied enough provisions for these early peoples.

Some of the current problems are Burmese pythons in the Everglades, giant African land snails and green iguanas.

Kindle Countdown Day 4

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True adventures of a hitchhiker on a 12,000 mile journey across the U.S. in 1929

Excerpt #4 from Thumbs Up by Harry I. Heller

The enthusiasm with which I had started to climb Pike’s Peak gradually died as time passed. My progress slowed as my strength ebbed away. The strenuous climbing began to show its effects on my legs. More and more of an effort was required to raise and lower them as I gained altitude. The grades became steeper and steeper. In order to surmount them, I had to bend over so far that it seemed, at times, as if my forehead would touch my shoes.

Pikes Peak

The day blended into an inky night whose black curtain seemed to cut me off from the rest of the world and left me alone in a wilderness. Silhouettes of high mountains reared their heads into the very heavens and hemmed me in on all sides like a prisoner. Escape lay in reaching the very pinnacle of them all.

On and on, ever upward, I urged my leaden feet. At the end of every struggle to ascend a few more paces, I stopped to allow my overtaxed and pounding heart to recuperate. How good it felt to lie on the bare and windswept ground, but over the enjoyment of these rest periods, just like a sword of doom, hung the thought that they were brief interludes in an agonizing attempt to gain more altitude. Hour after hour, I continued to struggle onward.

Intermittent flashes of blinding lightning turned the night into weird day before they faded. The only sounds to be heard in all the emptiness were the threatening rumble of thunder and the occasional patter of rain. I came around a curve and there before me was a big orange moon that scurrying clouds soon hid.

Sitting on a rock high up on the mountainside and away from the civilized world, whose lights blinked faintly in the valley below, I realized the insignificance of a puny human in comparison to the rest of the universe. Many questions framed themselves in my mind, but I ran against an unassailable stone wall when I tried to answer them.

When I got above the timber line where the earth is strewn with boulders, the clouds broke and the moon came out in its entire cold splendor. A frigid wind howled, searching for victims to assault. My nose became numb, and my ears followed suit. It was necessary to massage them vigorously to keep the blood circulating.

Tower

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Kindle Countdown Day 3

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True adventures of a hitchhiker on a 12,000 mile journey across the U.S. in 1929

Excerpt #3 from Thumbs Up by Harry I. Heller

Cars  Harry_Heller2

At seven o’clock, after a hearty breakfast, I was again engaged in my duties in the kitchen. Dishes piled up in an endless stream. As soon as one batch was cleaned, a new one replaced it. The chef yelled continuously for pots and pans, and I felt like crowning him with one of them.

Lunchtime came and passed. The rush gradually decreased so that I was able to catch up with my work. When the chef saw my present job would soon be completed, he gave me another assignment that I undertook with a great deal of pleasure and anticipation. I was shown a big electric ice cream freezer and a tub full of crushed ice and told to feed the latter, mixed with salt, into the opening of the machine. The ice was cold, and when I saw a closely meshed wire tray on a nearby table, I had the bright idea of using it to convey the ice from the tub to the freezer.

What followed as a direct result would surely mean the separation of an efficient worker from his position. The tray slipped out of my hands and into the opening where it caught in the revolving cylinders of the machine. After a noisy squawk of protest, the machine gave up its ghost and stopped. It was a predicament that called for deep thought, and I wondered what story I could invent that would sound credible to my boss.

I decided to tell him part of the truth and said that shortly after the freezer had started, it made a funny noise and stopped. Circumstances helped to support my story. It seemed that an unsatisfactory employee had been discharged the previous evening. The chef, upon being informed about the presence of the tray by a mechanic who examined the machine, immediately blamed the ex-employee for having purposely caused the damage in a spirit of revenge.

I felt greatly relieved when the chef accepted his own explanation, and I returned to my dishes and attacked them with much energy. I continued the freezing operations after the machine had been repaired, but since the crushed tray was no longer serviceable, I had to use my hands to transfer the ice. The freezer, as if to punish me for my carelessness, liberally sprayed me with icy salt water, and I was not sorry when the ice cream was frozen.

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Kindle Countdown Day 2

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True adventures of a hitchhiker on a 12,000 mile journey across the U.S. in 1929

Excerpt #2 from Thumbs Up by Harry I. Heller

We had been advised to take the trail homeward that passed Vernal and Nevada Falls. Although it was eleven miles long, the greater part of that distance was downhill. Our informant, well acquainted with the trail, told us it should not take more than three hours for the trip.

It was early afternoon when we began the hike back to camp. We were convinced we would have no difficulty in reaching our destination before dark. We made good speed to the bottom of the first hill, and the sign there indicated we had already covered nearly a third of our trip. Under the impression that we were heading in the right direction, we continued straight ahead and, as the sign told us, over the Buena Vista Trail.

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The bed of the forest we passed through was strewn with leaves, pine needles, and cones, and made a soft and silken carpet for our feet. We had eaten the two boxes of fig cakes early in the morning and had not had anything to eat since. As a result, we were ravenously hungry. However, we were in excellent spirits and thinking we were not far from food, we teased each other by describing various tempting dishes that appealed to us.

Three and a half hours passed without a sign of the Falls. Another hour followed, and we began to get worried. If our information had been reliable, we should have already reached Yosemite Valley. Another thing that entered into the situation was the fact that we had been, for the last few miles, gradually going uphill. Of course, we thought it was only a temporary change and that before long we would be going downgrade again. Nevertheless, the fact that we were ascending did not help our peace of mind.

Not a sign of habitation could be seen in any direction, but only an endless stretch of forest whose deathly silence was scarcely disturbed by the noise of our progress. Freshly-made impressions of horseshoes showed us that a number of humans had been in the same neighborhood recently, and that fact bolstered our hopes. Each time we came to a clearing in the woods, we thought we had reached the top of the trail, but upon traversing the open space we were invariably mistaken. After we had repeated the same experience an untold number of times, we began to feel disheartened.

When we had been pushing forward for five hours, we knew for certain something was wrong, and that we were as far from home and food as ever. How gladly we would have welcomed a sign post assuring us we were on the right path, but such things evidently did not exist in this part of the park. We began to have difficulty finding our way. The trail was not well defined, and we had to depend upon the blazed trees for guidance. Things did not look very promising, but we moved steadily ahead.

Night gradually descended and covered everything with its mantle of darkness. The trees assumed vague and, at times, terrifying shapes. Our searchlight at first brightly penetrated the black void and then, as if weary of life, it slowly expired and died. Still we blundered on. We continuously kept peering into the darkness with the hope of seeing a glimmer of lights but in vain. Only the crackling of dry branches upon which we stepped disturbed the calm serenity of the lonesome forest.

It had become very cold with the setting of the sun, and we were dressed in our shirt sleeves without any other protective covering. As we subsequently learned, we were nine thousand feet above sea level and to sleep at such a height without plenty of blankets was attempting to do the impossible. Fortunately, my companion in misery had three matches and with one of them, we built a big, roaring, crackling, cheerful blaze and took turns watching it and sleeping.

I was jumpy and super sensitive to noise. The least disturbance in the surrounding woods startled me. My imagination worked overtime, and I seemed to see, just beyond the fringe of the clearing, big grizzly bears whose tongues hung from mouths that watered as they looked at their two prospective victims separated from them by a frightening red monster.

The few times that I slept during my reliefs, I dreamt we were continuously running into cowboys who told us how to return to camp. Upon awakening from such pleasant wanderings of the mind, it did not take me long to realize we were about a million miles from nowhere.

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Kindle Countdown Deal

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True adventures of a hitchhiker on a 12,000 mile journey across the U.S. in 1929

“I felt like I was on the road with Harry. There were places he went that I had never heard of so I had to look them up to get more information. It was fascinating to travel the world by foot though the eyes of someone back in 1929.”

Harry Heller

Excerpt #1 from Thumbs Up by Harry I. Heller

When I stood between the rails upon which the caboose rested so as to get a better look through its open rear door, it was without realizing the roadbed was a hazardous place on which to stand.

The car contained a young man who, judging from his attire, was a member of the crew who occupied the home on wheels during its travels. He obligingly answered my questions pertaining to his business. Then an unknown duty summoned him to the front, and he disappeared from view behind a partition. Thinking his absence would be temporary, I waited for his return. However, he had forgotten all about me.

As I stood there, no ringing bell or whistle warned me of impending danger. One moment all was quiet and peaceful. The next moment, I was face-to-face with death.

A terrific crash shattered the silence. Simultaneously, the caboose seemed to leap toward me.

Being a few feet away from the end of the car at the time it had started to move, I instinctively raised my hands as if to thrust it back. Extending outward from the end of this caboose was a short, thick iron bar that resembled a battering ram. As this met my hands, the same thing happened to me that might occur to a person shoved backwards by a playful friend. I staggered, tried unsuccessfully to recover my balance, and then fell heavily to the ground between the rails.

A person’s mind is never more alert than when he is in physical danger, and mine was no exception. In this emergency, I thought and acted with lightning speed. The caboose was so close when I fell that I was unable to rise to my feet and run out of its way. I had fallen on my side but managed to turn over on my stomach. Extending my feet toward the North Pole and my hands in the opposite direction, I hugged the ground closely and tried my best to imitate a pancake. If it not been for my pack, still strapped to my shoulders, the imitation would have been a perfect one. I had a chill of apprehension as my pack, scraping along the bottom of the caboose, caught on a projection. With a feeling of relief, I heard the sound of tearing canvas, and it jerked free.

A feeling of unreality attached to the whole adventure until I heard the puffing of an engine. It seemed to be someone else lying between the tracks and hugging the ground so fervently. But the noise, connected with the progress of the engine, penetrated my mind and made me realize the seriousness of my predicament. There is very little clearance between the undercarriage of a locomotive and the road bed. Perhaps there is enough room for an outstretched person but hardly enough space for one as burdened as I.

These were my thoughts as I watched, through the corner of an eye, the passage of two more cars overhead and saw a third approach. It was when this last one was directly above me that a way of escape presented itself.

On the bottom of this car was a row of brake rods, something the other cars had lacked. What I did, when I became aware of their presence, was done intuitively. By twisting my body around, my hands were able to grasp the rods. My legs were dragged for some distance over the wooden ties before I managed to twine one of them around the rods and then the other. With my pack bumping along the ground, I held on for dear life and rode the brake rods in a new and novel manner.

I heard the sound of pounding footsteps on the wooden platform alongside of which the train was passing, and my attention was attracted to a runner keeping up with the train under which I swung. A white face appeared, and I recognized the horror-stricken features of my friend from the caboose. When he saw me unharmed, his worried look was replaced by one of surprised relief. He was not very coherent when he spoke to me, but I gathered he was making inquiries regarding my injuries. I assured him I had none. He had expected, he later informed me, to find my dismembered body strewn along the tracks.

The speed of the train was gradually decreasing. When it had almost ceased moving, the brakeman succeeded in relieving me of my pack and then helped me from my precarious perch to my shaking feet. He then hurriedly explained how his absentmindedness had nearly resulted in my premature demise. Upon making his abrupt exit from the caboose, he had gone to signal the engineer of a nearby locomotive that the track was clear. The latter, being ignorant of my presence on the tracks, had immediately backed into the cars.

Upon returning to his caboose, the brakeman had suddenly remembered me and realized the probable consequences of his forgetfulness. He had jumped to the moving ground at the same instant that he signaled the engineer to stop the train and, not at all enthused with the task, had gone to look for my remains.

Probably not more than two minutes had elapsed between the beginning and end of this experience. Because of the fast-moving action, it was not until afterward that I was able to appreciate the narrowness of my escape from a frightful death or serious injury. When I thought of what might have happened and listened to the brakeman’s stories concerning individuals less fortunate than myself, it was hard to believe I had suffered only a few scratches.

Thumbs Up

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A Hitchhiking Adventure

Thumbs Up by Harry I. Heller

As August is my father’s birth month, it is appropriate that I announce the publication of his book-length travel journal at this time. Harry I. Heller wrote a 70,000 word account of his adventures in hitchhiking 12,000 miles across the United States in 1929. I’ve edited his work and added a selection of photos from his album. It’s a project dear to my heart. In his waning years, my dad asked me to help him publish his book. As I explain in the foreword, it took me this much time to satisfy his wish. It is with great pride that I announce the publication of Thumbs Up. If you’re a history buff, armchair traveler, or Americana enthusiast, or if you like reading about adventure travel and exploration, this is the book for you.

Thumbs Up

Story Blurb

After taking his exams for the New Jersey Bar, twenty-four year old Harry I. Heller set off on a hitchhiking cross-country adventure. Relying upon his wits and not his wallet, he traveled across the United States without paying a dime for transportation. In the days when a job paid one dollar and seventy five cents per day and seeing a movie cost ten cents, he hitchhiked his way from New Jersey to California. Among his many escapades, he got lost in the Yosemite Mountains, confronted hungry bears, raced downhill in a moving van with burnt-out brakes, jumped on a speeding train, and climbed Pike’s Peak on foot. This true coming-of-age tale shows the courage, fortitude, and determination of a young man following his dream and learning to rely solely on himself.

Excerpt 1

Suddenly, I found myself wide awake. Something had disturbed me. I listened intently but heard only the rustling of the wind through the trees.

I felt certain an unseen presence lurked nearby.To investigate and assure myself of the absence of visitors was the proper course to follow. Although I realized the tent held no protection from danger, it nevertheless gave me a false feeling of security. The prospect of leaving the canvas covering was an uninviting one. I therefore remained stationary and hoped my nervous condition was due to an overactive imagination.

I soon discovered this was not the case. The breaking of a dried twig, as if by the weight of a heavy object; faint sounds resembling the movements of a body through the woods with a minimum of noise as if to avoid detection; and the unmistakable grunts of some animal, abruptly brought me to a sitting position. A short interval of silence followed. My uncertainty regarding the identity of the intruder, the possibility that perhaps a wild animal was sneaking to within striking distance, were not conducive to feeling calm. I became more and more frightened.

The disturbances were repeated but this time, as if the unknown had succeeded in its efforts to gain ground quietly, the sounds emanated from uncomfortably closer quarters. By then, I was not only very thoroughly scared but also paralyzed with fright.

 

Excerpt 2

When I stood between the rails upon which the caboose rested so as to get a better look through its open rear door, it was without realizing the roadbed was a hazardous place on which to stand.

The car contained a young man who, judging from his attire, was a member of the crew who occupied the home on wheels during its travels. He obligingly answered my questions pertaining to his business. Then an unknown duty summoned him to the front, and he disappeared from view behind a partition. Thinking his absence would be temporary, I waited for his return. However, he had forgotten all about me.

As I stood there, no ringing bell or whistle warned me of impending danger. One moment all was quiet and peaceful. The next moment, I was face-to-face with death.

A terrific crash shattered the silence. Simultaneously, the caboose seemed to leap toward me.

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Thumbs Up is an inspirational travel adventure about a hitchhiker’s journey across America that offers a glimpse into our nation’s past. It’ll make readers nostalgic for this era and more appreciative of family, friends and home.

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Tombstone, Part 1

If you’re a history buff or a fan of historical recreations, you’ll want to visit Tombstone, Arizona. This site of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral has been remade into a tourist town with quaint shops and restaurants, museums, and a reenactment of the gun battle that resonated throughout history.

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We stayed at the Landmark Lookout Lodge, an easy ten minute drive from the heart of town. The oldest house dates back to 1879. The town started when a cavalry scout discovered silver. When he proposed exploring the hills, he was told, “The only thing you’ll find out there is your tombstone.” Hence the town name.

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The Good Enough Mine is open today but we didn’t have time to go. This one has a vertical shaft and is located off Toughnut Street, so-called because if you could walk outside without being shot or stabbed, you were a tough nut. The mine went down 600 feet where it hit the aquifer, so water had to be pumped out. It closed operations when silver prices dropped.

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Along this street worked the attorneys who served the courthouse, now a museum. There’s still a gallows in the backyard where seven men were hanged. The white fenced house a little further down used to be a pleasure palace, if you know what I mean.

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We took a trolley tour, and our friendly guide wearing a brown cowboy hat explained the sights along the way. There was Doc Goodfellow’s house. He signed an outlaw’s death certificate and lived on Toughnut Street. The sheriff’s house was here, too. A couple of thousand Chinese used to live in Tombstone. They worked as merchants and miners. Their women ran prostitution and opium rings. The guide pointed out many of the historic buildings, telling stories that went along with them.

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Back on the main street, we shopped in the interesting gift shops, ate in the saloons, attended a historical diorama in a little theater, and bought tickets for the infamous gunfight reinactment. If I got the info correct, 30 shots were fired that day and 3 men were killed. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are the featured heros. Here is my first attempt at a video.

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How does this relate to the story I’m writing? In Peril by Ponytail, Marla and Dalton visit a dude ranch run by his cousin, Wayne. Wayne’s father is renovating a nearby ghost town. Guess what I used as a model? My fictional town is loosely based on a combination of Tombstone and Jerome (Oct. 30 post).

Coming next: Tombstone, Part 2—The haunted Bird Cage Theater and Boothill Cemetery.

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See all the trip photos here: http://fw.to/SB2DmEH

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