Saturday, June 27, 2015

Offbeat Museums of America

I came across a list showing an interesting cross-section of weird and offbeat museums in America.  Since we are now into the summer travel and vacation season, if you find yourself in these cities, you might stop and check it out.

Pizza Brain is the world's first museum dedicated to pizza.  And guess what—it's also a restaurant serving (you guessed it) pizza.  It's the brain child of Brian Dwyer, the Guinness World Record holder of pizza memorabilia.  It is located in Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood.

Located in the heart of New York City's Lower East Side, the Tenement Museum pays homage to New York's immigrants.  It traces the history of a single tenement building constructed in 1863 and located at 97 Orchard Street.  From the outside it doesn't look any different from any other building in the area, but inside is the story of the waves of immigrants arriving in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.  The building was condemned in 1935, which is where the museum's focus ends.

Located in Washington D.C., the museum was created in 1976 by the Department of Agriculture as a result of Japan's Bicentennial gift to the U.S.  It now contains three pavilions—Chinese, Japanese, and North American—with approximately 150 living sculptures among viewing stones and strolling paths.  What makes this museum a special treat is its tranquility…a moment of Zen.

There are several museums dedicated to this topic.  Our fascination with crime and forensics is obvious.  Just check out the number of televisions shows—both entertainment programs and documentaries—that deal with solving crime using forensics, all the cold cases that have been solved and wrongly convicted people released from prison since DNA became part of our reality.  Glore Psychiatric Museum located in St. Joseph, Missouri was once housed in State Lunatic Asylum No. 2.  Founded in 1903, the museum is a history of treatment of mental illness including treating patients possessed by witchcraft or demons.  The National Museum of Crime and Punishment is located in Washington D.C. and opened in 2008.  It contains artifacts and interactive exhibits including an FBI shooting range, high speed police chase simulator and various forensics techniques.  There are also historical exhibits, forensics workshops, and CSI summer camps for teens.

Located in Bellingham, Washington, the museum has been around in various stages since 1985 and moved to its current home in 2001.  You'll find lots of gadgets and complicated objects that look like they came out of a steam punk scenario but in reality changed the course of history and modern life, items paying tribute to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Enrico Marconi and Nikola Tesla.

Located in Las Vegas, Nevada, the museum houses the neon signs no longer being used by casinos, chapels, restaurants and other businesses. Vegas' iconic art used to be sent to the scrap yard.  In 1996, the non-profit Neon Museum began preserving the city's legacy in a 3 acre lot referred to as Neon Boneyard.  At the moment, you must call ahead and make a reservation to visit the Neon Boneyard.  The museum has assembled an outdoor gallery along the east end of Fremont Street and is available free to the public 24 hours a day.

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, this innovative museum houses such oddities as an enormous ball made out of more than 18,000 bras, a replica of the ill-fated Lusitania constructed of nearly 200,000 toothpicks, a floor mat created out of hundreds of toothbrushes, an extensive Pez collection, and sculptures made from Styrofoam cups.  In the spring the museum hosts the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race where entrants create wacky sculptures that travel on both land and sea on a 15 mile dash.

Located in Roswell, New Mexico (where else?), it is the result of the famous (or infamous) UFO crash in Roswell in 1947.  At first identified as a UFO by the Air Force, they quickly recanted and declared it a downed weather balloon thus beginning decades of cover-up accusations.  The furor finally died down until 1978 when a UFO researcher started interviewing locals who claimed to have seen the debris and said it was part of an extraterrestrial craft.  From that, the stories expanded and Roswell became the world's most famous UFO crash.

Other museums to get honorable mention are three Barbed Wire Museums—the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead & Historical Center in DeKalb, Illinois; The Devil's Rope Museum on Route 66 in McLean, Texas; and the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in LaCrosse, Kansas.  And final honorable mention goes to the Museum Of Bad Art in Dedham, MA, which houses…you guesses it…a collection of bad art.

Have you come across any odd or unusual museums in your travels?

Saturday, June 20, 2015


These will forever change your concept of time.  This list puts historical moments into a time-line context that will surprise you when you discover which one of two happenings is older.  Most of them surprised me. :)  I did verify the founding date for Harvard and the date the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series, but I didn't verify anything on this list beyond that.

1)  Betty White Is Older Than Sliced Bread
1928 is the date when bread was first sold commercially as sliced rather than the traditional whole loaves.  Prior to that, bakers didn't believe that sliced bread could stay fresh.  Betty White was born in 1922, six years before the invention that became the benchmark for greatness with future inventions being heralded as the greatest thing since sliced bread.

2)  Harvard University was founded before calculus was invented
Originally called the New College, 1636 is the date for the founding of Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher education in the new world—in an area that is now the United States of America.  It should also be noted that physicist, mathematician and astronomer Galileo was still alive during Harvard's early years.  He died in 1642.  The invention of calculus didn't come about until 1684 with Gottfried Leibniz's publication of Nova Methodus.

3)  The Ottoman Empire still existed when the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series
1908 is the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.  The Ottoman Empire, founded in the 13th century, came to an end in 1922 with Mehmed VI being the last sultan of the empire before the Turkish government abolished the sultanate and took governing control of the new republic.

4)  The Pyramids of Giza were built before wooly mammoths became extinct
It's believed that the last wooly mammoths died out approximately 1700B.C. on Russia's Wrangel Island.  The Pyramids of Giza, in Egypt, were built approximately 300 years earlier (about 4,000 years ago).  There are some claims that the pyramids might be even older than that.

5)  The fax machine is the same age as the Oregon Trail
1843 is the year Alexander Bain, a Scottish mechanic, invented the first fax machine.  The same year the Great Migration on the Oregon Trail began when a wagon train of approximately 1000 migrants attempted to travel west but probably died of dysentery along the way.

6)  Jewelry store Tiffany & Co. was founded before Italy was a country
1837 is the year Charles Tiffany and John Young founded Tiffany & Young which became Tiffany & Co. in 1853.  1861 is when General Giuseppe Garibaldi led a successful campaign to bring the various city-states together as one nation, although Rome held out for a number of years after that.  Macy's was founded in 1858, also prior to Italy becoming the nation we know today.

7)  France was still using the guillotine when the first Star Wars movie was released
1977 is the release date of the first of the Star Wars movies.  A few months later is when France conducted its last execution by guillotine.  The guillotine had been used in France for approximately 200 years.  And another French time line fact to boggle the mind:  1889 is the year of the Eiffel Tower, the same year Nintendo was founded (the company originally made playing cards) and Van Gogh painted The Starry Night.

8)  Two of President John Tyler's grandsons are still alive
1841 to 1845, John Tyler was America's tenth president.  And, surprisingly, two of his grandsons are still alive.  December 2013, both Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., and Harrison Tyler, were only in their 80s…as verified by Snopes…and are still alive today.

And there you have it…a few surprising facts from history.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The History Of Father's Day

Sunday, June 21, 2015, is Father's Day.

Mother's Day was, indeed, the inspiration for Father's Day, but it was a long time before Father's Day became an official reality.  The governor of the state of Washington proclaimed the nation's first Father's Day on July 19, 1910.  It was not until 1972, 58 years after President Woodrow Wilson made Mother's Day an official holiday in 1914, that President Richard Nixon gave Father's Day its official federal holiday status.

The campaign to celebrate Father's Day did not meet with the same type of enthusiasm as Mother's Day.  One florist explained it as fathers not having the same sentimental appeal as mothers.  In 1909 a Spokane, Washington, woman who was one of six children raised by a widower was successful in establishing a day for male parents like Mothers enjoyed.  The state of Washington celebrated the nation's first statewide Father's Day on July 19, 1910.

The idea slowly spread.  In 1916 Woodrow Wilson honored the day.  President Calvin Coolidge urged state governments to observe Father's Day, however many men continued to scoff at the idea claiming it was a sentimental attempt to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving and also claiming it was only a commercial gimmick to sell more products often paid for by the father himself.

In the 1920s and 1930s there was a movement to do away with both Mother's Day and Father's Day and create a Parent's Day in their place, their idea being that both parents should be loved and respected together.  The gathering enthusiasm for this idea was basically stamped out during the depression.  Struggling retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Father's Day a gift giving holiday for men.  With the onset of World War II advertisers set forth the argument that celebrating Father's Day was a way to honor American troops.  By the end of the war, Father's Day was a national institution but not yet an official holiday.

In 1972 Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father's Day a federal holiday.  It's estimated that there are more than 70 million fathers in the United States and that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father's Day gifts.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Who Almost Played The Role?

Casting for the lead role in a movie can be a lengthy process with many qualified candidates to sift through before making that final decision.  The choice of actor in a role can sometimes end up making the difference between a box office success and a mediocre film.

Through the decades there have been many starring roles that were almost cast with a different lead, possibly changing the audience response to the character and the movie.  In retrospect, trying to visualize someone else in the role sometimes leaves us scratching our heads and wondering what in the world they were thinking of with their first choice.

Here's a sample list of films and the stars that almost didn't get the role, some of the second choices earning an Oscar for their performances.

Pirates Of The Caribbean:  the role of Capt. Jack Sparrow in that first movie was originally intended for Jim Carrey, but when a scheduling conflict forced him to bow out the role went to Johnny Depp who put his own indelible stamp on the character in a series of successful Pirates Of The Caribbean films.

Drive:  Hugh Jackman was originally signed for the role that ended up being Ryan Gosling's.

Lord Of The Rings:  When Sean Connery turned down the role of Gandalf, it went to Sir Ian McKellen.

American Psycho:  It was originally Leonardo DiCaprio who was eventually replaced by Christian Bale.

Men In Black:  Chris O'Donnell was originally cast but due to the director's insistence Will Smith replaced him.

Basic Instinct:  Kelly McGillis was considered before the role went to Sharon Stone.

Dirty Dancing:  Val Kilmer was considered but the role eventually went to Patrick Swayze.

The Shining:  The iconic Jack Nicholson role almost went to Robin Williams.

Pretty Woman:  Molly Ringwald turned down the role that was a career maker for Julia Roberts.

Silence Of The Lambs:  Michelle Pfeiffer almost had the role that won Jodie Foster one of her Oscars.

Indiana Jones:  George Lucas was pushing for Tom Selleck but Steven Spielberg held out for Harrison Ford. And in addition to that, Tom Selleck but had done a pilot for Magnum P.I. and the network wouldn't let him out of the contract.

The Matrix:  Ewan McGregor was cast first, but turned down the role in favor of Star Wars Episode 1.

Gladiator:  Mel Gibson turned down the role that won an Oscar for Russell Crowe.

Titanic:  Matthew McConaughey was first choice, but the role ultimately went to Leonardo DiCaprio.

Forrest Gump:  John Travolta turned down the role that earned Tom Hanks one of his Oscars.

Chicago:  John Travolta also turned down the role of Billy Flynn with the role going to Richard Gere. (I saw an interview with John Travolta where he was asked why he turned down the role. He said he had seen the Broadway production and couldn't visualize how they could turn it into a good movie. He was then asked if he regretted that decision and he gave what I thought was a very gracious answer. To paraphrase, he said that the movie audience was treated to Richard Gere's excellent performance.)

Iron Man:  Tom Cruise turned down the role due to script issues. It was then offered to Robert Downey, Jr., along with Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3.

Rebel Without A Cause: Marlon Brando lost out to James Dean.

The Sound Of Music:  Mia Farrow lost out on the role of Liesl.

Superman:  Stockard Channing lost out to Margot Kidder for the Lois Lane role.

Star Wars:  Kurt Russell lost out to Harrison Ford for the role of Han Solo.

East Of Eden:  Paul Newman tested and was turned down for the role of James Dean's brother.  Joanne Woodward lost out on a role in the same movie.

Octopussy (James Bond):  James Brolin tested for the role of James Bond, then Roger Moore decided not to leave the 007 franchise.

Valley Of The Dolls:  Judy Garland was cast in the movie.  After production began, she was fired and replaced by Susan Hayward.  Interestingly—it was rumored that in her book, author Jacqueline Susann based the Patty Duke role in this film on Judy Garland's life.

Godfather:  Robert DeNiro tested for the role of Sonny (went to James Caan) and was considered for the role of Michael that went to Al Pacino who had dropped out of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight to do the Michael role. DeNiro took the role in The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight that Pacino vacated.  In Godfather II, when Marlon Brando dropped out over salary disputes, the role of the young Vito went to DeNiro.

And now let's go back several decades to some movies from the 1940ish time frame.

The Wizard Of Oz:  MGM wanted to borrow Shirley Temple from 20th Century Fox to play the role of Dorothy.  When that negotiation didn't work out, the role went to Judy Garland.

Robin Hood:  Jack L. Warner wanted James Cagney cast in the title role that went to Errol Flynn who seemed born to play the part.

Gone With The Wind:  Every leading actress in Hollywood (over thirty actresses including every top name) was tested for the coveted role of Scarlet O'Hara and all were rejected.  And when I say every leading actress, that's not an exaggeration. Even totally unlikely candidates were tested including Lucille Ball, Gloria Swanson, and even Mae West (who was 43 years old at the time which made her at least twenty years older than the Scarlett character). The movie had already started filming before a British actress named Vivien Leigh (married to Laurence Olivier at the time) was finally cast as Scarlet. A year after Gone With The Wind, Vivien Leigh tested for the lead role in Rebecca and lost out to Joan Fontaine who had tested and lost out on the role of Scarlet O'Hara.

The Maltese Falcon:  George Raft turned down the role of Sam Spade because he felt it was 'not an important film.'  To director John Huston's delight the role went to Humphrey Bogart.

Casablanca:  Ronald Reagan was first considered for the Humphrey Bogart role in one of the all time classic films.

Citizen Kane:  Orson Welles was turned down for a studio contract at Warner Bros.  So, he took a script he had co-written to RKO and made the film in which he starred and also directed, a film that is considered by many to be the finest film ever made.  And Orson Welles was only twenty-five years old at the time.