Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hartford, Connecticut

After getting a diner breakfast in Albany, Rob and I hit the road and drove towards Hartford. It was a short, scenic drive through the hills and forests of New England. The evergreens were coated in frost and the roads were white with salt reflecting the winter sunlight. It wasn’t long before we arrived at our hotel just a short distance outside of the city.

After we checked into our hotel, we relaxed for a little while before driving into the city to get dinner. We decided to go to a place that we had been to once before on our way up to New Hampshire. It was a Mexican restaurant downtown called the Agave Grill, hidden amongst all of the high rises, but luckily parking was not difficult to find. We went inside and were seated immediately.

We ordered tableside guacamole, I ordered chicken enchiladas, and Rob ordered tacos. Our entrees were done and brought to our table before the guacamole was even prepared, and I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the enchiladas. They were just really bland, and that was pretty disappointing considering that I remembered the food being much better in our previous visit.

The next day we got some breakfast before heading downtown to see the Capitol. I visited the Connecticut Capitol once before in August of 2013 when we did the rest of the New England states. Unfortunately, the first time, the entire Capitol was full of a huge group of students that were touring the building, and our only option for an official tour that would grant us entry to the chambers was to tag along with the school group. Now, I normally wouldn’t have a huge problem with that, but because of how many pictures I need to take for my posts, large tour groups aren’t very practical for this trip. Because of that, I was happy that when we returned in February, the building was mostly empty.

When we entered, we spoke to the guard at the front because we were unsure of any security measures. Also, there was a brand new metal detector waiting to be installed right next to the door, but she said, “Not yet. Soon, but not yet. After Sandy Hook, we’ve had to rethink our security policies.”

We continued to the tour office and spoke to the docent that was on duty. She said she’d have to wait another 15 minutes until the official start time, but if no one else showed up, she’d be happy to give us a private tour. We enthusiastically accepted and wandered around the main floor for a little while, passing the time until the tour. I was struck by how different this Capitol's architecture was compared to the common neo-classical styled buildings. Connecticut’s Capitol is reminiscent of a gothic cathedral, with countless arches, ornate carvings, and detailed paintings. It also seemed to have more statues than any other Capitol, around the entire exterior and plenty on the inside as well. It’s one of those buildings that can almost be a little bit overwhelming to walk through because there are so many things to look at all at once.

The tour began with the statue honoring the heroine of Connecticut, Prudence Crandall. She established the first academy for African-American girls in New England in 1833. For 18 months, Crandall and the girls she taught withstood harassment and violence during the school’s short time in operation. Crandall stood trial twice for breaking a law that was designed to make the school close, which it did in 1834 even though charges against her were dropped. Crandall and her students demonstrated inspiring courage in taking a stand against prejudice.

The next stop was at the statue in the center of the rotunda. The soaring female figure is called the “Genius of Connecticut,” and it is the second such statue that has been at the Capitol. The original was 17 feet 10 inches tall, weighed 3.5 tons, and was cast in Munich, Germany. It stood atop the Capitol dome from 1878 to 1938 when a hurricane damaged the statue. The replica was made in 2009, but the state has yet to raise the funds to lift it to the top of the dome, so it remains in the rotunda.

One of the other artifacts displayed on the main floor was the figurehead of the USS Hartford. In 1864 at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut famously ordered the flagship to proceed through dangerous waters with his command, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” This quote has become an iconic symbol of American bravery, although some historians assert that it has been altered with time, or was possibly never said at all. Around the corner from the figurehead is a model of the USS Hartford.

To the left of the model ship, there was a large, old tree trunk peppered with cannon balls standing behind a black metal barrier and supported by the wall. A small sign read, “From the Battle of Chickamauga, September 19-20, 1863.” No Connecticut troops fought in that battle, but the tree was removed from the battlefield by a Hartford interior decorator by the name of E.S. Yergason, and he donated it to the state of Connecticut to ‘show the horrors of war’.

            After looking at a number of other things on the first floor, we ventured upstairs to see the chambers, which are only accessible if you are with a tour guide. First was the Senate Chamber, which is smaller and considered more exclusive. The desks were arranged in a circle around the state seal with the President of the Senate’s desk sitting directly across from the chamber entrance. A gallery stood watch on either side of the room, allowing the public to watch the proceedings. The chairs and carpet were a fantastic crimson while the walls were pale green, and the soaring ceiling had gorgeous wooden moldings and gold details. Overall it was one of the more grand chambers that I have seen on the trip, but I have to admit that I wasn’t wild about the color scheme.

            Next was the House Chamber, which was much more ornate than its Senate counterpart. The Speaker sat on the same wall as the entrance, with the desks of the representatives arranged like seating in an amphitheater, in a semi-circle with each row elevated higher than the one in front of it. There was almost every color imaginable in this room; the carpet was royal blue, the walls and columns were various shades of red, green, and yellow, and the ceiling was a combination of all of those and then some. The stained glass windows along the back wall complemented the color choices, as well as the moldings and gold details on the ceiling. Compared to some other Capitols, the chandeliers were fairly simple, but their simplicity helped balance out some of the chaos of the rest of the room.

            As the tour came to a close we were heading back downstairs when two important looking men began walking upstairs past us. The guide stopped and said, “Governor Malloy!” just as I realized who I was looking at. I immediately stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, my name is Elizabeth Henneman, and I am visiting all of the state Capitols...”

The Governor smiled and said, “Hold on, let’s at least get off the stairs,” and gestured towards the landing. Once we got upstairs I told him about the trip and the blog, and he asked, “What do you think of this one? It’s the only one like it, you know.” I replied that it was one of my favorites, which is true, and he flashed that perfect politician smile again and said, “Let me tell you a story of the first time I dined in the Governor’s Mansion.” He beckoned us toward the railing overlooking a portion of the main floor, and he pointed to the figurehead of the USS Hartford, the ship commanded by Admiral Farragut when he said his famous quote, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

 The Governor said, “The first time I had dinner in the Governor’s Mansion… Have you been to the Governor’s Mansion? No? Well the first time I had dinner there, I noticed a large punch bowl, and it had that figurehead as each of its handles. Apparently I was the first person to ever notice that.”

After Governor Malloy left, the guide told me that it’s very unusual for him to stop and talk to people. “You must have caught him on a good day,” She said, “Normally you’ll get a hello and a wave, but it’s very rare for that to happen.” I was pleased that I had gotten a chance to meet the Governor, even if it was a short encounter, especially because it was purely by chance.

We braved the bitter cold once again to go across the street to see the state museum, and the Supreme Court Chamber. The chamber was beautiful, decorated in blue with a heavenly mural on the ceiling. It was by far one of the largest and most aesthetically appealing of the Supreme Court chambers that I’ve seen. It is definitely worth looking in on if you are visiting the Capitol already.

The museum itself was interesting. The main room of the building housed a number of displays about the Charter Oak, which is an important part of Connecticut history. The story of the Charter Oak goes that when James II succeeded the throne of England, royal forces came to Connecticut to try and take their charter. While each side of the conflict sat in a candle-lit room on either side of a table, with the charter resting in between them, the lights went out and when the candles were re-lit, the charter was gone. Captain Joseph Wadsworth is credited with taking the charter and hiding in the oak on a large estate, therefore keeping it safe. This Charter Oak is a symbol of freedom and rebellion against tyranny in Connecticut’s history, and it is also the official state tree.

I noticed Moravian tile on the floor of this main room, which I talked about in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania post. Henry Mercer famously made Moravian tile in Doylestown, Pennsylvania where his factory still remains. I wouldn’t be surprised if the tile on this floor was some of the same, because it is very similar in style, design, and material, but I haven’t been able to find definitive proof anywhere.

The other exhibits consisted of various historic artifacts, mostly from the Revolutionary Era. The last display, however, was a very large collection of Colt Firearms that took up an entire room. I enjoyed looking at all the different variations from all different time periods. Some were more practical and commonplace while others were more ornate, unique, and collectable. Most museums have some firearms on display, but this was by far the largest collection that I’ve seen. Since Colt’s founding, more than 30 millions firearms have been produced, almost all of them in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Even though it is not something that I would have associated with Connecticut before visiting this museum, it was interesting to see its home state pay homage to the iconic American company.

After exploring the museum we hurried back to the Capitol and stepped inside to warm up from the biting wind before having to walk through the building to the parking lot on the other side. I was thrilled that I had met the Governor, and that another of my favorite Capitols was so close to home. It was definitely a wonderful visit to Connecticut. Now it was time to head home, and prepare for our next segment of our journey when we’d be heading west to the Rocky Mountains, with a few stops along the way.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Albany, New York

Rob and I woke up early on a Tuesday morning and drove up to Albany. The bright winter sun disappeared behind the clouds as we drove steadily north into the forests of New York State, and I contemplated the notion of the two New Yorks.
New York City is the biggest city in America and it’s also the center of the known universe. Things that happen in New York City affect people all around the world, including huge social and economic movements that first gain traction there. NYC is the epitome of the American melting pot. It was where many of our nation’s immigrants began their life here, and it is where all of the ethnicities of America come together as one. It is a magical place, but undeniably urban and fast-paced. Upstate New York has a very different culture. Here is where New England charm seizes the over-stressed city dwellers and coaxes them northward to discover what their soul has been craving: natural escape. And while many people vacation there, those that live in upstate New York are some of the most likeable people on the planet. Imagine small-town hospitality mixed with New York candor and humor. That, to me, is an amazing combination.
            I have been coming to upstate New York my entire life. Like many other New Jerseyans, the Adirondacks are my heaven on earth. Well, at least my “heaven on earth” that’s east of the Rocky Mountains. The summers in Adirondack State Park are some of the most enjoyable, with mild temperatures and gorgeous scenery. It has some of the tallest mountains of the Appalachian range and combined with countless lakes, the outdoor activities available are essentially endless. Unfortunately, it was still winter when I made my journey, and the ice and snow was more than plentiful.
            Rob and I arrived in Albany before 11am. First, we went straight to the New York State Museum. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that the Bar Exam was going on in the building next door, so there was literally no parking within a 5-block radius. Considering that it was 10 degrees outside including the wind chill, we kept looking for parking close by. We circled the area, doubling back to look at every gap that might have been a parking space. We even tried a few of the pay lots, but all of them were reserved as additional parking for the exam. We eventually discovered a block of spaces a short distance from the museum that would become available at 12, so we decided to find somewhere to get an early lunch so we didn’t have to walk too far in the biting cold.
            I searched Yelp on my phone and found the Iron Gate Cafe near the Capitol, so we drove over, parked in an over-priced garage, and then hurried inside. It was a cute little place nestled amongst the office buildings, set back from the street, protected by an iron fence and a small courtyard that was covered in snow. It seemed that this was mostly a to-go place that served many of the state government employees and other businesses in the area. I ordered a BLT with avocado, and sat at one of two tables in the tiny cafe. In the next ten minutes, a few small groups arrived to place their order, and the line was already out the door. Grateful that I had decided to come early and avoided the wait, I busied myself on my phone while my sandwich was being prepared. In no time, another worker appeared from the back with our meals, and we were both delighted with our choices. The ingredients were fresh and tasty, and it was just the thing we needed before we started our day of research.
            After the reviving meal, we drove back to the museum and confidently parked in the previously unavailable spaces before walking inside. The museum was a modern building, and definitely the largest state-funded museum that we have been to so far. Admission was free and the exhibits spanned the massive 1st floor. The rest of the levels were offices, with exception of the carousel on the top floor.
            The exhibits began to the right of the information desk with a private collection of antiques. It continued on into a large archeological exhibit about Albany and the various artifacts that have been found over the years. One of the most interesting displays was a colonial rum distillery that was discovered during the excavation for a proposed parking structure. Peter W. Quakenbush and Volckert A. Douw built the still house in 1759, and it was operational until 1810.
Europeans first learned to distill spirits from the Arabs in the middle ages but it wasn’t until the mid-1650s that commercialized production really began. Molasses, which is a by-product of making sugar, can be used to make rum. This discovery created the “rum boom” of the early 1700s that led to a massive increase in the importation of slaves. The French capitalized on the lucrative molasses trade in the English Colonies, and Britain’s Sugar Act of 1764 was intended to inhibit that. This was one of many restrictions on trade and commerce that aggravated tensions between Britain and the colonists, eventually leading to the American Revolution.
The next few exhibits covered a wide range of topics, including the natural history of New York State as well as the Native Americans that once inhabited the area. The Iroquois, also known as the Six Nations, are comprised up of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations. They were a considerable presence in Canada and the Thirteen Colonies as they occupied a huge region in upstate New York, around the Great Lakes, and to the west of the Colonies. Relations with the Iroquois played a large part in political decisions as well as conflicts such as the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. In the museum’s exhibit, the staff had built a long house, which is the type of shelter the people of the Iroquois nation was known for making. It was an impressive, meticulously assembled structure that had obviously taken a lot of time to create.
As I was photographing the other artifacts, I noticed a man standing in front of a display of clay pots, holding what looked like another specimen. At first, I thought he worked at the museum and was replacing an item that had been removed for cleaning. When I asked him about it, he showed me a similar fragment of clay pottery with a small, carved design on it. He said that he found it in a farmer’s field, and he was trying to figure out which tribe it may have belonged too. After a final glance at the case, he shrugged, wished us a good day, and left.
The next exhibit was a large area dedicated to antebellum New York. New York had the largest slave population of any northern state during Colonial times. The rum boom and other economic demands in the early 1700s led to an increase in slave importation, and by 1750 there were more than 9,000 slaves in New York State, greater than any other state north of Maryland. Over the next 77 years, the abolition movement gained more and more traction. By 1800, a bill was passed in New York granting freedom to all female slaves born after 1799 by age of 25 and male slaves by age of 28. Slavery was officially abolished in NY on July 4th, 1827.
The Champlain and Erie Canals (and later, parallel railroads) were completed in 1823, and the new transportation corridor led to an explosion in Albany’s trade, economy, and population. 13,000 new residents per decade moved to Albany from 1820 to 1880. The sharp rise in demand for housing led to extremely close living quarters, particularly in poor immigrant neighborhoods. There were no regulations requiring certain standards of living, so in order to make a hefty profit, landlords would divide single-family homes into cramped housing for dozens of people. Those living in these conditions were mostly Irish immigrants, who suffered intense discrimination and horrible disease from living in these slums. Afflictions such as Cholera, Typhoid, and Dysentery were very common in these poor immigrant neighborhoods of the mid-1800s.
The remaining exhibits focused on the rise of New York City as a cultural and economic epicenter. In 1830, Delmonico’s in New York was the first restaurant to offer a menu full of items “a la carte” without any set mealtime. Its success fueled a new national past time of going out to dinner, which took off in the following decades. There was also an area devoted to 1920s and 30s Fifth Avenue complete with furniture, fashion, tableware, toys, glass, and silver in art deco style. Described as “Millionaire’s Row,” Fifth Avenue is more than a street in Manhattan; it is the pinnacle of the American luxury and style that New York City itself is most famous for. 
At the end of the exhibit dedicated to NYC, there was a room with remnants from the 9/11 Twin Towers attack. The artifacts included pieces of the buildings as well as a burned NYFD fire truck. I often think of 9/11 as my generation’s Pearl Harbor. I was only 6 when it happened, but I will remember that day for the rest of my life. It was not an easy exhibit to walk through, but I was glad that the state honored the memory of the victims by including a trailer full of photos and memories placed there by loved ones.
The last exhibit was by far my favorite. It was the smallest room of all, but it was packed with a collection of antique fire trucks. It was really cool to see all of the quirky machines that were once used to fight fire, and if you were interested in that sort of thing, I would definitely recommend a visit.
After a long visit to the museum, Rob and I trudged back to the car and drove toward the Capitol. The New York State House was one of the most expensive government buildings of its time, and the most expensive Capitol building in the United States, completed in 1899 to the tune of $25,000,000 dollars. That equals $500,000,000 today, which is even more expensive than the US Capitol building. New York’s is one of the few Capitols that does not have an exterior dome, and it is one of two Capitol buildings with a semi-gothic design.
Once again, we circled the building for several minutes looking for a parking space. We got lucky and found a spot right across the street, parked, and went inside. After complying with security measures, we went to the tours and information desk to pick up a self-guided pamphlet. We began by the Senate staircase, carefully reading all of the informative resources they had available. The stone staircase soared upward towards a massive skylight many floors above, with many Gothic styled carvings and gargoyle-like creatures adorning every arch and railing. It was truly beautiful, and I was beginning to understand why this building had been so expensive.
Next we went to the hall of flags, which is a feature in many other Capitols as well. This was a large room filled with battle flags stacked in glass cases, wrapped in protective cloths to prevent light damage. I was consistently impressed by the amount of educational displays giving all sorts of information about the history of the artifacts and the building. The trend continued as we entered the Governor’s Reception Room, which is home to one of the most impressive murals that we have seen on the trip so far. William De Leftwich Dodge was commissioned to paint murals that would illustrate the room’s military theme. They took 5 years to complete and were installed by Dodge and his assistant Melio Bellisio in 1929. The mural depicts many conflicts in our history, including those between different ethnicities in colonial times, such as Indian-French, French-Dutch, Dutch-English, and English-American. Some of the other panels show the first Five Iroquois Nations (Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Mohawk, and Cayuga), and others depict specific American battles like Gettysburg. The masterpiece is so large that it is difficult to photograph, so you definitely need to see it in person to truly get the full impression of it. This amazing mural makes up for the lack of other paintings throughout the building.
Next we went to the Hall of Governors and then to the Senate Chamber. We tried all of the doors in the gallery, but unfortunately, they were all locked. I managed to take a picture through the glass, but it definitely does not do it justice. Most Capitols leave the galleries unlocked during the day or provide some sort of viewing area inside the room so that the public can see it whenever they wish. I was disappointed that I was unable to see the room in all its grandeur, but luckily the General Assembly’s chamber was open. There was a sign in the gallery asking people not to take pictures of the congressman while they were in session, so I kept my lens angled above their heads. The room was beautifully decorated, one of the most beautiful chambers that I have seen so far. Wooden, carved arches connected all of the columns, and the designs on the walls were colorful and exquisite. This Capitol truly is the hall of arches. I hadn’t seen a single room without them!
Next we went to the Great Western Staircase, which is a massive, ornately carved staircase on the Capitol’s west end. On the lower floors of the staircase, workers were permitted to carve the faces of their family members and loved ones on the walls and corners of the staircase. Those faces are the most representative feature of any Capitol building that I have seen thus far, because they are literally the people of New York. So often there are portraits of Governors and Speakers, but there isn’t another Capitol that has the faces of its people carved into the walls. It is this staircase that solidifies New York’s Capitol as one of my top five favorite Capitol buildings. (It’s impossible to choose just one, they’re all so different and beautiful in their own way!)
Our last stop was at the legislative library, which can sometimes be one of the more ornate rooms in state Capitols. This library had some of the only other murals in the building besides the masterpiece in the Governor’s Reception Room. The ceiling was painted pale green, and three large chandeliers brightened the space. It was peaceful, but there weren’t very many actual books. The space is now largely used as office space, after a major fire in 1911 destroyed the library and most of the west end of the building.
We left the Capitol feeling as though we had learned more about the state of New York than we ever expected. Both the museum and the Capitol had the most extensive informative displays of any other state, and I could understand why the state had put so much effort into the museum to accompany a State House of this magnificence. Now I know how five architects could spend $25 million dollars by 1899 building this impressive structure, and it certainly paid off. This building will remain for centuries as a testament to New York and American history, just as with the ancients and their temples.

The next day we packed up our belongings, and drove to Hartford, Connecticut.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Trenton, New Jersey

         New Jersey is my home. I was born there, raised there, and the vast majority of my life experience occurred within its borders. Like many other people, my feelings about my home state are mixed. I know it better than any other, so its attributes and drawbacks are more apparent to me than those of other states. Unfortunately, most people have a habit of focusing on the negatives of living in New Jersey, but there are definitely some endearing things about the Garden State.
For one, the people are typically very direct and at least a little sarcastic. While some people may not love those qualities in people, I most definitely do, because life is too short to beat around the bush and not tell people how it is. You’ll never be unsure of how someone feels about something in New Jersey, because they will tell you without a modicum of trepidation, regardless of who you are. In a world that struggles with honesty, I see this as a big plus.
Also, people who have not lived in New Jersey just don’t know what a good bagel is. I know you think you do, but you really don’t. You also don’t know what good pizza is. New York City likes to claim ownership of the best pizza in the world, and they’re right, but if you don’t feel like spending a ridiculous amount of money just to get to NYC and get a slice, come to New Jersey instead, because the pizza is just as good. Also, other places don’t have diners like New Jersey does. Real diners are open 24/7, their menus are the size of phone books, and the breakfasts are the best anywhere. Almost anyone who grows up in New Jersey knows and cherishes the ‘diner breakfast,’ and it is one of those things about our state that brings people together.
Other aspects of New Jersey have both benefits and drawbacks. The population density and proximity to New York City creates a culture of intense competition. For every person that does not fill a space, there are dozens of people behind him ready to occupy it. That concept applies to many things in New Jersey, including traffic, jobs, and lines at the coffee shop.  A crazy competitiveness leads to people being very assertive (and sometimes rude), to claim what they want or need. This "rat race” culture can be exhausting at times, but it also makes people strive for a degree of excellence that may not otherwise be reached. Businesses in New Jersey have to be remarkable to succeed, but people also have to work harder and longer to make ends meet.
Considering the chaos created by so many people living in such a small space, intense weather can be even crazier in New Jersey than it is in other places. The best recent example was super storm Sandy, which left over 2 million homes without power in New Jersey and over 300,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Having experienced the aftermath first hand, I can only describe it as post-apocalyptic. The morning after the worst of the storm, my boyfriend Rob and I drove north across the state to check on his parents, a drive that normally takes about 45 minutes. Because of all of the trees that were down, and the subsequent detours, it took us over 2 hours to finally reach our destination. There was no power at the towers, so cell phones weren’t working, and all of the traffic lights on Route 1 were out. The police had put up cones to discourage people from making lefts through on-coming traffic, but that didn’t prevent some reckless people from trying it. The next day they put up metal barriers, typically used at concerts to control crowds, in all of the affected intersections; still, people drove through. The third day, I was driving down Route 202 when I came upon a traffic light that was not operational, and they had lined up dump trucks in the intersection to prevent people from crossing. That seemed to do the trick.
This past winter was also very rough on New Jersey. Typically, we get a few snowstorms per season, but it is very unusual to have more than a couple of storms with an accumulation greater than six inches. This last summer we had at least 8 storms that exceeded that. Plus, it was incredibly cold, with weeks on end reaching lows below zero. It was so cold that my mother’s outdoor furniture cover became brittle and fell apart in tatters around the table and chairs. The potholes that filled the roads were craters, really. It was in the throes of this winter that I visited the Capitol, which sits on the Delaware River in the Capital City of Trenton. Trenton is one of the poorest state capitals, with a per capita income of only $14,631. There are a few wealthy neighborhoods, but most of those homes are on the outskirts of the city, away from the crime and poverty.
Trenton once wielded considerable industrial might, as referenced by its iconic slogan, “Trenton makes, the world takes,” which is emblazoned upon one of the bridges over the Delaware River. Trenton was most famous during the 1800s and early 1900s for its iron, steel, and rubber industries, but it was also known for its pottery. Trenton Iron Co. made wrought iron beams for the dome of the US Capitol Building and the Treasury Building in Washington D.C. John A. Roebling’s Sons Co. produced iron rope that was used to build some of the most famous suspension bridges in America, including the Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. Trenton Rubber Co. produced tires, helping Trenton earn the title ‘the nation’s tire capital’ during the early 1900s. Trenton was once one of the nation’s premier pottery manufacturers, and it produced everything from china to porcelain bathroom fixtures - its products were used everywhere from local diners to the White House. Many people are unaware of Trenton’s robust manufacturing history, as the city’s economy has taken a significant turn for the worse in recent decades. 
One of the things that may have caused the city’s decline was the flood of 1955. The summer that year was long, hot, and dry with temperatures in the 90s during most of July and early August. A severe drought left the ground parched and unable to absorb water, so the deluge that followed was unable to soak into the soil. On August 7th, the first of three storms hit, dropping 2.9 inches throughout the state. In the next two weeks, two hurricanes walloped the region, overwhelming the Delaware’s banks and causing widespread flooding throughout the area. The flood damaged totaled $100 million dollars, which is about $880 million today. In all, 50 bridges over the Delaware were damaged or destroyed.
After the flood, it seemed that Trenton never quite regained its previous influence. The race riot in April 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the final straw that drove business, wealth, and opportunity away from the city of Trenton. More than 200 downtown businesses were ransacked and burned, and over 300 young black men were arrested on charges of assault, arson, and looting. The damage to businesses was estimated at $7 million, but insurance companies dropping coverage in the area destroyed any likelihood that they would rebuild. After the race riot, downtown Trenton never recovered. The fancy shopping district with boutiques and hair salons was destroyed, leaving empty damaged buildings behind that were eventually replaced by modern state government high rises. To this day, state government business is one of the few reasons for non-residents to go to Trenton, including myself.
My grandmother, Rob, and I all went down to Trenton on a sunny winter afternoon to take the state house tour. My grandmother used to be a docent at the Texas Capitol, and she is a fellow Capitol enthusiast, so we were very excited to check another state house off of our list. It was frigid outside and icy snow still caked the ground where it had thawed and refrozen countless times. The entire state had grown weary of this never-ending winter, and the feeling was exacerbated by the usual Trenton gloom. In the words of my brother the first time he came here, “Trenton is a sad city.” Every time I go there, I think the same thing.
We drove the twenty minutes from my hometown of Princeton, and were lucky to find a spot right in front of the Capitol. After snapping a few pictures of the outside, we hurried in to escape the bitter cold. As soon as we entered, we were directed through the security area and asked why we were here. At first we planned to skip the tour and just wander around by ourselves, but we swiftly learned that that wasn’t permitted. If you didn’t have an official appointment, you had to be with a tour guide. That’s a first - none of the other state Capitols we visited had such a rule. When I asked the security guard about the reasons behind such a strict policy, he simply replied, “9/11 changed a lot of things.” That it did.
We met the docent in the rotunda, and I told her about my project. She kindly offered to give our small group a private tour since a very large group was about to arrive to get a tour from her colleague. We thanked her, eager to learn about the building. Jonathon Doane built the original state house in 1792. It was a modest two-story building on a 3.75-acre plot. Since then, the building has been added on to and renovated many times to create the magnificent structure that stands there today. Our tour began in the rotunda, which is the room that connects the oldest part of the building to the first addition. The rotunda had several floors of galleries lined with historical portraits of governors and beautiful stained glass windows. 
We continued past the Governor’s office as the large group filed in, though our docent promised that we would see it at the end of our visit as long as the security officers said it was okay. I was still amazed by the level of security at this state house in particular; some of the other ones you can just walk in and nobody even seems to notice, but I guess it falls in line with the usual New Jersey neurosis (and please understand, I mean that lovingly).
Next was the hall of flags, which displayed historical battle flags from New Jersey regiments. This part of the building had a distinctly different feeling to it, with palely painted walls and bright overhead lights. The hall branched off in four directions, and in the center of the intersection was a glass case entitled, “The Glory of New Jersey.” It included the state tree, which is the red oak, along with the state bird, the eastern goldfinch, and the state flower, which is the violet. The work of art was commissioned by several private companies, and was the clear focal point of the hall. Next, we went to the Senate Chamber, where we viewed the room from the main floor.
The room was traditionally styled with plenty of columns and stained glass. In the back of the room there were two beautiful stained glass windows that faced the hallway, along with two stately fireplaces that were formerly used to heat the room. A rear corridor surrounded the Senator’s desks underneath the gallery, which was supported by columns. Once we stepped out onto the main part of the room, we could see the colorful stained glass dome many feet above. The docent pointed out that the dome features the names of famous New Jerseyans, including Governor William Livingston, inventor Seth Boyden, and Civil War General George B. McClellan. Artist William Brantley Van Ingen created 16 beautiful murals at the top of the wall all around the room. They depict New Jersey Revolutionary victories as well as industries that were important to New Jersey’s economy.
After seeing the Senate Chamber, we went upstairs to see if the Senate Committee room was unoccupied, but unfortunately there was a meeting going on, so we weren’t able to see that room. We walked across the second floor to see the House Chamber, looking at portraits of historical legislators along the way. The House Chamber was far more awe inspiring than its Senate counterpart. 
The Thomas Edison Electric Co. 66-bulb brass chandelier was first installed in 1891. It is the most beautiful feature in the entire Capitol not only for it’s intricate design, but also for its historical significance. It hangs from a metal support in the center of the stained glass skylight in the center of the ceiling, the focal point of the room. When I had finally taken in the chandelier in all of its glory, I noticed that the other features of the room were traditional and tasteful. Gold leaf details accentuate all of the moldings on the walls and ceiling. Portraits of Lincoln and Washington rest on either side of the Speaker’s desk, and the state seal hanging directly above the Speaker's chair. The carpet was deeply blue, and the seats in the gallery were original. After seeing so many state Capitols and their chambers, I was proud of New Jersey’s version.
On the way out of the building, we stopped in the Governor’s Reception Room where Governor Chris Christie signs bills and makes public announcements. The most recent governor’s portraits hang on all walls of the room, and the décor was relatively plain. At the end of the tour I thanked our docent for giving us such a wonderful tour. It was a pleasure to see New Jersey’s Capitol in all its glory, especially because it is the second oldest Capitol in continuous use in the nation. The tour even managed to give a little bit of brightness to that gloomy winter afternoon.
A few days later, we returned to Trenton to visit the Old Barracks, which has been converted to a museum to teach people about the lives of Revolutionary War soldiers. I went to the Barracks once before on a school field trip in second grade. I still had a few clear memories about the tour, and I was eager to take it again as an adult to see what I remembered.
It was another frigid February day in New Jersey, and we were the only visitors at that time. The docents were dressed in period clothing to add to the feelings of authenticity, though I was infinitely grateful that the owners had thought to put in modern heating technology. We bought our tickets in the gift shop, and began the tour with one of the wonderful docents. It started outside the building where she showed us the alterations that were made to the original structure over the years. Then we went to the soldier’s living quarters, which were cramped to say the least. The soldiers lived 4 to a tiny room, with 2 bunk beds and just enough space for a small table and chairs. They had examples of games that they would play to pass the time, and also some of the kinds of food that they would have eaten.
Then we were taken to the officer’s quarters, which were much more luxurious than the common soldier’s. The officers had fine china, delicious meals, and elegant furniture along with more comfortable beds. They also had plenty of alcohol and more forms of entertainment. It seems that life wasn’t so bad if you were an officer, at least not as bad as the common soldiers.
The final stop was the infirmary, where we learned about period methods of fighting infections and whether or not they were effective. I have to admit, sometimes I just wondered how someone thought about trying some of those methods, but it worked for them. It turned out that the infirmary was what I remembered the most from my grade-school visit, and I still think that it was the most interesting part of the tour.
My examination of New Jersey’s history was especially interesting for me because of its relevance to my own life, but New Jersey’s history is entwined with every American. New Jersey played a critical role in the Revolutionary War; the turning point occurred when Washington crossed the Delaware River in a severe storm on Christmas night to attack the Hessians in Trenton. New Jersey industry has played a crucial part in America’s economy before and since we became an independent nation. Also, my hometown of Princeton was the United States Capital from July to October 1783, and Nassau Hall of Princeton University housed the entire United States Government. So much of America’s history happened in New Jersey that every American was affected by it, and it has an irreplaceable presence in our great American puzzle.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Honolulu, Hawaii

My trip to Hawaii began differently than my visit to any other state. First, it was the only state that I had traveled to by air. One would think that the superior technology would make it more enjoyable, but the plane ride from the northeast was 11 hours, also making it the longest travel day of the trip so far. Plus, I was traveling with my family, who had only glimpsed the trip through the blog and my stop in Austin. Now, we were all headed to the island paradise that is perhaps the most unique of all the United States.
Hawaii is one of those states whose history has a huge impact on life there today, especially its recent history during its contact with the United States. Before it was a US territory, Hawaii was an independent monarchy. The first Protestant missionaries arrived on the islands in 1820 and immediately began to undermine Hawaiian spirituality. They outlawed hula, which is a spiritual dance used to communicate legends and life lessons to the younger generations, and in doing so they deprived entire generations of Hawaiians from one of the most important parts of their culture and heritage. With the missionaries and other mainlanders came diseases like smallpox that the Hawaiians had no immunity to, and the native population was rapidly decimated. With few Hawaiians to work the fields, the booming pineapple and sugar plantations drew in large numbers of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Portuguese immigrants for cheap labor, effectively creating the demographics of Hawaii today. One of the reasons that these cultures coexist so well is the Hawaiian idea of Ohana, which is the idea that everyone is family. It is this cultural norm that makes Hawaii so welcoming. 
The Hawaiians greatly admired American democracy, and it was for this reason that they never expected to be taken over by the US. Hawaiians, in other words, made the mistake of trusting that the Americans of the time would respect their freedom more than they wished to acquire the islands. Unfortunately, the economic and military value of Hawaii was more compelling and the Hawaiians' trust was betrayed. Several powerful American business owners were beginning to get frustrated with the Hawaiian government, and in 1898, several companies of US Marines landed on the islands and took up positions around Oahu. Queen Lili’uokalani withdrew from the throne to prevent bloodshed, and although the Wilcox rebellion could have led to an all-out war, the Queen’s actions and the American’s swift response quelled any further rumblings of rebellion. The Hawaiians understandably resented the US for taking away their freedom and trying to convert them to Christianity, and many still feel the same to this day.
Despite the negatives of the American acquisition of the islands, one could argue that Hawaiians have far more advantages now than they would have otherwise. Aside from receiving all of the other benefits of American citizenship, Hawaiian customs have become known and celebrated all over the world. Hula is now performed internationally, and over the years Hawaiian cuisine has become a distinct blend of the islands’ many cultures. Tourism has benefited the islands in many ways, despite the fact that many Hawaiians resent that their homeland is commercialized for the financial gain of wealthy outsiders.
As a tourist there myself, I certainly appreciated opportunity to experience a slice of paradise. The morning after our arrival we climbed Diamond Head, which is a volcano just a short distance from Waikiki. It has been inactive for more than 10,000 years. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the big island (the biggest island is actually called Hawaii, but since we Americans refer to the whole archipelago as such, it is simply referred to as ‘the big island’) has an active volcano that erupts fairly frequently, but scientists believe that the ones on Oahu are unlikely to ever erupt again. As we arrived at the parking area in the crater, I took a moment to marvel at the fact that I was standing in a volcanic crater that formed tens of thousands of years ago. My, what a short glimpse we humans have of the natural wonders of the world! 
            There were many others hiking the trail as well. It is not a particularly grueling hike, but it is uneven in places and occasionally rather steep. I was impressed to see a few locals running up the trail as I trudged slowly ahead, thinking "Wow, what a cool place to take your morning jog, up a volcano!" As we climbed steadily higher, the view became more and more impressive. The sparkling ocean mirrored the clear blue sky as the sun shone down from the heavens, reminding me again of how blessed I was to be here. As the trail got steeper, there were fences protecting hikers adorned with signs that said, “Short cuts cause erosion; stay on trail.” When we neared the top we encountered a dark tunnel that cut through the rock. After a few dozen feet we emerged on the first of three stopping points, which gave us a spectacular view of the crater. We rounded the corner, and discovered that there were several flights of stairs to the top of the coastal auxiliary observation deck that was built in 1908. Once we reached the summit, the view of Honolulu was so astounding that I gasped in amazement. The buildings glistened in the morning sun, surrounded by the deep blue ocean and the rich green foliage of Oahu. The short, half-hour hike was more than worth it, and I was immediately thankful that I had done it.
            The way down was even quicker than the way up and by the time we reached the bottom we were more than ready for breakfast at the Diamond Head Grill. We each got variations on the fried rice platter. I got eggs and bacon on top of fried rice, which I thought was a very Hawaiian version of the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches that I have been enjoying in many of the states I have visited. We all went to a park and sat in the shade of tree to enjoy our hard-earned meal. It was certainly a wonderful breakfast, delicious and filling without being too paralyzing, and soon we were on our way back to the beach.
            The rest of the day we relaxed under the sun, taking occasional trips to the water to cool off or out into Waikiki to get some food. It is impossible not to be in a good mood while visiting Hawaii, not only because it is an island paradise but also because the people are so friendly, welcoming, and kind. The next day, my father and I were going to explore the Capitol and I’olani Palace, which promised to be two of the most distinct buildings of the trip so far. This is the only state that was previously a monarchy, and therefore the only ‘palace’ I would visit. I have to admit, I was really excited.
            The next day, we went to the Capitol in the late morning to begin our research. We parked in a visitor garage just a few blocks away and slowly walked up under the shadow of the clouds. As I approached, I could immediately tell that it was going to be interesting. Columns surrounded the exterior with eight on each side to represent the eight main islands of Hawaii, and reflecting pools at the bottom of the columns to symbolize the Pacific Ocean. Plus, the main floor of the Capitol was open-air! Four floors of covered galleries that shielded the hallways from the rain surrounded the main courtyard in the center, but where the rotunda would be, the room was open to the sky above. The offices were all enclosed with complete walls and ceilings, but the main hallways and the central courtyard were open to the elements. It is not uncommon for Hawaiian buildings to have whole walls that are open to the outside, but standing between the doors to the Senate and House Chambers (which were fully enclosed) and looking up at the sky was amazing. Given the lack of continual, heavy rainfall and the year-round perfect temperatures, Hawaii is the only state that could have their Capitol open to the outside, and it was this feature of the building that is most representative of Hawaiian culture. In the center of the courtyard, there was a blue mosaic representing water, as the Pacific Ocean is one of Hawaii’s most precious resources.
            The chambers themselves were modern, and were cone-shaped to symbolize the volcanoes. The back walls were rounded, with many semi-circular rows of lights on the ceiling, and the gallery was against the back wall, accessible from the main doors. Staircases led down to the floor on either side of the room, their constituents surrounding the congressmen on three sides. Across from the entrances, with their backs to the rounded wall, was the Speaker of the House or President of the Senate. Behind them hung an enormous, traditional tapestry themed in blue on the Senate side and red on the House side. In the center of the room hung a huge chandelier in the form of the pointed sphere. The entire design was extremely tasteful, beautiful, and appropriately representative of Hawaii. While I sat in on the Senate Session for a few moments, the Senate was recognizing a high school student for outstanding scholastic achievement. It was charming how small-town Hawaii feels at times. No matter how populated the area, there is this feeling of mutual respect and caring that is hard to describe in any other way. This part of the trip was when I was truly beginning to understand that the best form of government is local, because it is the only form that can truly cater to the needs of its citizens. How could the federal government ever make laws that were as practical and fair here as they are on the mainland? Most of the time, it can’t.
            The final stop before we left the building was in the Governor’s office on the fourth floor. Up there, the sky seemed so close you could reach out and touch it through the opening in the ceiling. Standing on the balconies on one side of the building, you could see the volcanoes shrouded in grey clouds, and on the other, Honolulu and the sea was laid out before you. Even the view was representative of Hawaii, showing all of the features this land had to offer. The doors to the Governor’s office were breathtakingly gorgeous, richer and brighter than any wood I have ever seen. It is from the Acacia koa, which is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Its name, Koa (as it is commonly referred to), also means ‘brave’ and ‘warrior.’ It is one of the most iconic plants in Hawaii, which has a very large population of native and endemic plants due to its isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Governor’s office and Lieutenant Governor’s office had enormous doors made of Koa wood, and the walls inside were covered in Koa paneling. It was so beautiful that it made up for the general lack of artwork throughout the building, although there were a number of small portraits and sculptures in the offices as well. I felt as if this was one of the most representative Capitol buildings, as every aspect of the architecture and design had a symbolic purpose.
            After exploring the Capitol, we crossed the street to tour I’olani Palace, which promised to be even more interesting than the Capitol had been. Right across from the rear of the Capitol was a statue of Queen Lili’oukalani, Hawaii’s last queen. She had the indignity of witnessing the  conquering of her people, and she was imprisoned in her own Palace for almost a year after the Americans found evidence that she was involved in the conspiracy of the Wilcox Rebellion, which was the beginning of a native resistance. Queen Lili’oukalani, who had already stepped down from the throne to prevent any bloodshed, may not have been involved, but accepted it as gracefully as all the other injustices she was made to endure. Everyone should respect Queen Lili’oukalani, as it was because of her that there was little violence during the American acquisition of the Hawaiian Islands.
            My father and I purchased tickets for the tour in the armory, which has been converted to a gift shop and waiting area. After a few minutes, and short film about the history of the building, a docent arrived and took us along with a small group of others to the Palace. When we arrived we all sat down in rows of chairs on the front porch, and were given an audio player, a headset, and covers for our shoes so that we didn’t scuff the floors. After a few minutes of introductions and instructions, we were told to begin the audio recordings and walk in the front door.
The group began to wander as we all listened to the voices in our headphones, explaining the history and architecture of the building. A large central staircase dominated the main hall with the parlor and dining room on one side and the throne room on the other. Each room was decorated with the most formal furnishings, fit for any monarch. The recording described how luxurious the building was for its time, and all of its inhabitants entertained a wide range of guests, including many world leaders and important, powerful businessmen. Iolani Palace was equipped with electricity before both the White House and the national Capitol building, making it modern and intriguing to each guest. During meals the floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room would be opened to allow in fresh air. Typically, a live band would be playing on the veranda for the entertainment of the guests, and the open windows would allow the music to be heard while still allowing for conversation. I remember thinking how sophisticated the building was (more so than many state Capitols, I might add) and how Hawaiian royalty lived as comfortably as many of their European and American counterparts.
The recording described every room and how the royal family used it. The upstairs was dedicated as the living quarters, and the rooms were arranged as they would have been during the final years of their reign. The two rooms that struck me the most were the ones in which Queen Lili’oukalani lived in during her imprisonment. One of them holds the patchwork quilt that she made during her time imprisoned there, and it exudes the emotional turmoil she must have been feeling. The design is chaotic and colorful, though mournful. I can only imagine the immense sadness that she must have felt, witnessing the end of Hawaii as she knew it at her people’s expense. The dilution of the culture she loved and identified with was inevitably going to continue, and it was through her own wisdom that she did not resist.
            By the time my father and I completed the tour we were both extremely hungry. I feverishly searched Yelp for a place to eat nearby and discovered a lunch place just a few blocks away called Café 8 1/2. It was a little family owned restaurant tucked away among all of the high rises in Honolulu’s business district. Inside, there were only a few tables, and the head chef and owner was chatting with their patrons while his wife served as the hostess and waitress. It was a tiny little place and the kitchen was separated from the seating area with curtain, and dirty dishes were stacked in one corner. Despite being rough around the edges, the place had a certain charm that seems to adorn any local gem. When the rest of the patrons left, it was just my father and I with the owners. We ordered the chicken sandwich with potato salad and greens to share, and it was great! The chef chatted with us throughout the meal about various things, and I couldn’t help but feel completely at home. That seems to be a talent of most people living in Hawaii, even if they haven’t spent their whole life living there.

            Feeling incredibly satisfied, we walked slowly back to our car, talking about all of the interesting things that we had learned about Hawaii. I felt that I was more able to appreciate the essence of the Hawaiian Islands, but I was even more aware of all the things that I still had to learn. I loved hiking to the top of Diamond Head, and how representative the Capitol building was of Hawaii. Everything had a symbolic meaning, enhanced by the presence of I’olani Palace right across the street. Café 8 ½ made me feel at home, and reminded me of the inherently welcoming nature of the state of Hawaii. After a few more days, I’d be returning home, though I promised myself that I’d be back before too long.