Road Trip 2013 Finale
As I mentioned in the previous post, the last day of the trick hit a glitch. The original plan was to slip across the Chattahoochee River into neighboring Alabama and explore the history of Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and The Tuskegee Airmen. However, the Federal Government in Washington is caught in a struggle between spending on Republican pet projects and President Obama's insatiable desire for incessant government growth. So they created a sequester. And instead of cutting subsidies for corporations or the chronically lazy, the sequester closed these two learning opportunities to us on Sunday.
Faced with such an obstacle we did what any football fans would do. "CHECK TWO, CHECK TWO!!! SET, HUT!!!!"
We called an audible. Take that, Washington.
Ironically, we took the opportunity to learn about one of the champions of government spending. A man named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
an Cordele to Columbus. We made a stop at the overlook at the Callaway Country Store. Breathtaking. The morning was cool and the mist clung to the mountains and the stillness of the Georgia morning was pure peace. There was no way this was July.
Easing up the road, we took in even more views at F.D. Roosevelt State Park. The visitor's center is a beautiful stone structure built by one of the groups created by Roosevelt's "New Deal". There are miles of hiking trails, a swimming pool, camping sites, cottages to rent - many outdoor opportunities. The park is beautiful. My favorite part was the stunning view
at Dowdell's Knob, Roosevelt's personal picnic spot when he was in Georgia. His stone grill is still sitting on the perch atop Pine Mountain. In this setting, he used table linen and real china to dine on many a glorious Georgia afternoon. Standing in that spot, Roosevelt the politician began to take a side role and Roosevelt the man stepped forward. This was a moment that I needed to prepare me for the next stop.
Warm Springs remains a quaint Southern town, much like FDR found it after he was stricken with polio. Touring the museum at the Little White House showed a side of Roosevelt I had never seen before. This was the man that my grandmother's generation revered well into this century - people who voted for Democrats no matter what and Republicans never at all - not because of anything either candidate in any given election said or did but because The Democratic Party was the Party of Roosevelt. I saw that Roosevelt's policies, while misguided and unconstitutional, were brought on by a genuine concern for people that were struggling through the Great Depression. Seeing him stopping to talk to Georgia farmers about their crops, their prices, their hopes and their needs really impressed me. Learning that this governor from New York chose to announce his candidacy, not in the Empire State but in a small town in the western woods of the Empire State of the South took me aback. And then seeing him swimming and playing in the pools in town with children that knew polio's scourge...that showed me his humanity.
This was not a ploy. I've seen ploys out of most of his successors - especially the current one. What Roosevelt did went far beyond what would be needed to secure Georgia's electoral votes. The vulnerability involved in a man trying to hide a disability swimming in a pool with disabled children who could not help but notice one major thing they all had in common outpaced any ploy.
The house. Wow. It's not imposing. It's not elaborate. In fact, there are two small houses out front so that his butler, maid and visiting dignitaries would have a place to sleep. The main house had only three small bedrooms - one for FDR, one for his secretary and one for Eleanor, who rarely visited. This bedroom was often used by the Roosevelt children who visited their father in Warm Springs. The small shacks along the perimeter offered shelter to the company of Marines that kept the home secure during the president's visits. The house sits as it did the day Roosevelt died, shortly after collapsing while sitting for a portrait in the living room.
Through the museum and the house, my 9-year-old son completed the scavenger hunt that is available in the visitor's center. It really helped him learn about the site and the people involved in the history there. It was a high point for him as he really enjoyed looking for the answers to each clue. It's a must for the youngsters.
After the house tour, the path leads to a one last exhibit - the Legacy Exhibit Hall. There you can see the text of the Jefferson Day speech FDR was scheduled to deliver the day after he died. Many items related to fundraising for the war effort are also on display. The emotional photo of Graham W. Jackson playing "Goin' Home" on the accordion as the train carrying the president's body departed Warm Springs is hanging on the wall and the song is playing softly over the speakers in the ceiling. But the most touching exhibit in the hall is the unfinished portrait - the very painting Elizabeth Shoumatoff was working on when FDR collapsed. The face on the canvas reveals a tired man. One whose personal illnesses, the stress of leading a nation through a depression and a world war and who knows what other stress had worn down. The once strong and athletic man was now tired, compassionate, visionary and hopeful, but tired. And in that moment my strong Antifederalist/Libertarian heart ached for the father of humongous government - not because I longed for his form of government but because I had connected with him as a man and I saw in his eyes the feeling that I could not help but have compassion for.
We left the museum and headed down the hill into town to tour the pools, which are included in the price of museum admission. My feelings there were mixed. The overall feeling is sad. The ramps and equipment communicate the terrible entity that made such a place necessary. But there was a happiness in knowing that such a place was available. The pools aren't in use any longer. They are filled once a year for a special event that is likely nearing the end of its run. Visitors can walk down the ramps into the pools and rinse their hands in the springs, which we did.
Overall, the pools were a sad place for the journey to end. So many events and sights would have been more fitting as a finale for such a great trip. But I'm glad that we experienced this place. The pools have been replaced by a more modern treatment and rehab hospital next door where the work continues of alleviating the pains of disabled people and working toward cures for the illnesses at the root of the issue. So, even in the somber moment, all things considered, there is hope in Warm Springs. I highly recommend a visit, even if...no especially if you do not agree with Roosevelt's policies. Allow yourself the opportunity to hear the stories, to see the evidence, to connect with FDR as a man.
And so we covered a wide range of history, from the earliest people to settle in what is now Georgia through major wars, agricultural advancements, treatment of disease, all the way up to the ongoing work of a living former president. We travelled over 1000 miles through 29 counties. We visited sites for three presidents from two different American nations. We saw a rat scurry out of a engine compartment of a car. We brushed gnats out of our faces. We kept pretty close quarters. We survived and grew together as a family.
And that last fact, of course, was the reason for it all.
Time to change base of operations.
Cordele served us well for the southernmost legs of the trip but on Day 4 our adventures began to lean us back in the direction of the Appalachian foothills, albeit gradually.
That being said, there is a lot of nothing between Cordele and Columbus. We passed through a few small towns but mostly it was farms, fields, trees and nothing. It was inconceivably glorious. It was "see antonyms under 'Atlanta'". It was so much more green, rural and natural than our lovely corner of the state. And the only reason anyone would ever take that route would be to do a road trip such as this.
Therefore, you have to try it.
Ah, Columbus....I wasn't joining the Army. Neither was my wife. Nor any of the boys. Contrary to popular belief there is more in Columbus than the fort. So we found the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus. It was directly across the street from a cemetery...but it looked a little new for my taste and the temptation waned.
Now, the Naval Museum is nice. Very impressive exhibits. The full-scale representation of USS Water Witch, the remnants of the CSS Chattahoochee, the much more substantial remnants of the CSS Jackson, partial replicas of the USS Monitor, USS Hartford and CSS Albemarle anchor the museum. Exhibits of uniforms, small arms and demonstrations of the delicate methods of preserving artifacts recovered from marine environments are found everywhere in between. And they have one of the most impressive flag collections of any museum I've toured. It took all morning to complete the phone tour offered by the museum. There is that much to see.
Now for some lunch.
In historic downtown there is a place called Picasso's Pizza and you do want to eat there. We walked in the door, saw the three booths and about nine bar stools. About half the place was filled with young men in US Army standard issue. "This is the place". We sat down in the vacant booth and that is when I noticed the outdoor seating area out the side door. The wobbly table confirmed my suspicions. The pizza is delicious, the staff is friendly and you will not leave hungry.
And then we headed to the fort. It's not the only thing in Columbus but it is substantial.
The main attraction there is the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center. For a $5 per person recommended donation you can see a world-class museum. It is recommended by museum staff (and by the research team at All the Biscuits in Georgia) that you begin your tour with "The Last 100 Yards Ramp" - quite possibly the finest museum exhibit I've ever seen anywhere. The history of American Infantry soldiers is recalled through the battles of Yorktown, Antietam, Soissons, Normandy, Corregidor, Soam-Ni, LZ-XRAY and Iraq. The figures are incredibly realistic and the action is almost frightening, considering
you are right in the middle of it. The music and sound effects draw you in emotionally and you realize what all soldiers have done over the past 238 years. Stunning isn't quite strong enough of a word to describe it. The details all come together and you can feel like you are a part of what's going on - like a bystaander caught in the action. From looking down the barrel of a Confederate rifle to seeing footage of Normandy projected into the open canopy above an Airborne soldier to the looks on the faces of the soldiers themselves. It is very moving.
You come back down to enter exhibit areas dedicated to American wars throughout the history of the infantry. Weapons, tactics, letters home, spoils of war - the typical war museum stuff. But there is also the details. This is not a museum about generals and politicians. The experiences displayed are those of the soldiers and you get to understand the wars from their points of view.
In short, if you are in Columbus, check this one out.
The next stop is an audible. Washington D.C. intervened on our original plans. True to form, we told them they were "#1" and had fun any way....
...until next time
Day 3 of the road trip found us headed south on 75 from Cordele en route to the furthest southern point on the trip. Tifton.
The destination in Tifton was the Georgia Museum of Agriculture on the campus of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. This museum has both indoor and outdoor facilities that tell of Georgia's agricultural past and the cultivation, harvesting and marketing of the major cash crops of the region - cotton, tobacco, timber and turpentine. These stories are told through historic interpreters in various settings including a doctor's office, a blacksmith's forge, a cotton gin, a print shop, the Victorian home of a wealthy man and farms from different eras of Georgia's past.
I was quite impressed with the feisty lady that gave us the tour of the Tift Home, the Victorian mansion of the man for whom Tifton is named. The preserved home is an excellent example of what I call "they don't make things like that any more." The house itself is a work of art. The original furnishings and decor make the home a museum unto itself. I'd have to admit that my favorite part is the lone closet in the house - covered, as it always has been, by a curtain to avoid paying the taxes on the additional door. Sounds like Mr. Tift was a man after my own heart.
And so we learned about forging farm tools, printing newspapers, ginning and baling cotton, raising livestock and crops and making turpentine. That was life in South Georgia around the turn of the last century. It was simpler and yet more complicated leaving me wondering where the tipping point of good thing/bad thing in that scenario is. The work was hard and the comfort level was much lower than we are accustomed to but a lot of the hustle and bustle (i.e. TRAFFIC) was non-existent
The trip back to Cordele carried us through Irwinville to visit one of my disappointments of the trip. In 1865 Jefferson Davis was fleeing to the west to wage a guerrilla war against the occupiers of the South in hopes that Southern Independence could still be a reality. (Incidentally, it was about this same time that Alexander H. Stephens - all 100 pounds of him - was sitting in his parlor at home playing cards when the Union /Army knocked on his door.He asked to see their arrest warrant and then replied, "If y'all had let me know you wanted me I'd have saved you the trip all the way out here. Let's go". But that's another story for another day.)
Davis met for one last time with his cabinet in Washington, GA and then they went their separate ways. Two units of the Union Army pursued him to a campsite just outside the minuscule town of Irwinville. The adept military professionals actually shot at each other for a spell before they realized that they were on the same team. Davis, realizing the Yankees were on his tail, beat a hasty retreat. But it was too late. And there in a pine thicket in the dead of night the 16th President (from Georgia's perspective) became a prisoner of war.
Some years later, the State of Georgia dedicated a monument and state historic site on the location. A few years ago the operation was turned over to Irwin County. The building is headed toward disrepair, the grounds show signs of neglect. It is a testament to the event it commemorates. The economic system established in the absence of the Southern delegates to Congress does not make for wealthy farmers. Money is for bankers, industrialists and railroad tycoons. Farmers can have money when they get real jobs - like working in a bank, factory or maybe on the railroad. So money is not plentiful in Irwin County. And let's face it, a county full of farmers, service industry workers catering to farmers and the handful of rangers that work at the site just do not have the resources to appropriately maintain such a site.
I'm not sure what led Georgia to the decision to jettison this park. It has added several newer, more elaborate parks in various locations since discarding the Jeff Davis site, so it doesn't appear to be budget related. The site is not far from the interstate so it doesn't appear to be logistical. That brings me to the fact that rural South Georgia gets the short end of the stick from the state on a regular basis and the ever growing evil of political correctness that is constantly trying to sweep clean any remnant of the South's past.
Davis would be held in terrible conditions for two years. During that time he received encouraging gifts from Pope Pius IX, his legal representation was the former governor of Maryland. His official charge was treason but he would never stand trial as the Union knew there was no hope of conviction as he had committed no crimes. He was released on bond which was posted in part by Horace Greely, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Gerrit Smith.
Yankees helped post his bond and Georgia hung his park out to dry. What a shame.
I'll say this before leaving the topic of the politically correct assassination of Southern History - "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set." - Proverbs 22:28.
This verse may or may not be talking about such landmarks but the tone is explicit. Don't destroy memorials. They point to where we came from and therefore teach us where we are and where we are headed. Only an ignorant man would be offended by such a memorial.
All in all, day 3 was a great educational outing filled with the stories of Georgia's identity. It taught us about the work ethic, the ingenuity, the grit that it took to survive in the Georgia of 100 years ago. We learned a little about where we came from and who we are.
That's two presidents for those who are counting....
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire