Vanderbilting

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Completed in 1895, the Biltmore is the largest privately-owned home in the United States. Built by George Vanderbilt, the heir to the Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt fortune (ya know Staten Island Ferry guy), this home has everything a gilded age gentleman would want. Biltmore boasts 250 rooms, mountain views, a swimming pool, bowling alley, Renoir paintings in the breakfast room, 8,000 acres of land, and formal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (yeah, THAT Olmstead, the one who designed Central Park in NYC). This is the GOLD STANDARD of house museums in the US. And Literally the closest thing we have to a castle experience and I was ready to take that place by storm!

Here is are the top 3 things you need to know about staying at The Biltmore!

  • One walk through the house is never enough.

The crown jewel of Biltmore is clearly the house. However, if you think that you will be able to walk through the house just once and see everything you are wrong. It’s impossible. So, I would suggest planning on going through a few times and picking what you’re going to focus on. For my first time through the house I chose to JUST focus on the architecture of the house, the second time just on the art and textiles, the third just the servant’s quarters. I was lucky to have the luxury of a few days and unlimited access to the house but if you only have one day pick which is more important to you.

  • Schedule a Tour

Biltmore Estate is freaking HUGE. Don’t worry about seeing everything on your own, there are tons of special activities and tours to help you see everything in a fun way. If you want to know more about the house you can sign up for a specialty tour. I took the rooftop tour (which to be honest was super interesting but not for the faint of heart. This tour takes you really high into some tight fit and adventurous spaces. If nature is more your deal sign up for a Legacy of the Land tour to learn more about what it took for Olmstead to return a forest that had been stripped of its resources into a lush and healthy natural oasis. Long story short there are tons and tons of tour options to help you get the most out of your Biltmore experience.

  • Eat, Drink, and be a Vanderbilt

Can we take a second to talk about food…. Yeah, I don’t think I found ANY bad meals while visiting Biltmore. This joint even has ITS OWN WINERY! Yep, and it’s the most visited winery in the entire US. What’s the Biltmore secret? Well, Biltmore is a fully sustainable estate. Many of the meals you eat at Biltmore come from the estate. The eggs are from their chickens, the meat from the cattle, the vegetables from their gardens.

Biltmore is so good at sustainability! While driving through the estate you may see fields of yellow flowers well the seeds from these plants are where canola oil comes from, that oil is what they use in their fryers, the byproduct of that oil is compressed down to become feed for the animals, and then the manure from those animals go back to fertilize those same canola fields!!

Now, this sounds all grand but if you really want the full Vanderbilt experience, I would suggest booking yourself some spa time. The Spa at Biltmore is a demi spa but packs a full punch in service. Get yourself that Carolina mud wrap before you head home to your normal non-Vanderbilt life. If you have a chance to visit the Biltmore Estate it will not disappoint and there really isn’t a bad time of year to visit.

Now go and live your best Vanderbilt life!

Museum Haunts

When there’s something strange in your museum who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!

I feel like if you’re in the museum business inevitably you will work in a location that is supposedly haunted. Full disclosure, every museum I have ever worked or volunteered at has had claims of paranormal activity. I jokingly refer to myself as a daytime ghost hunter because I think it’s so much fun to believe in ghosts. I think anybody who loves history would love an opportunity to interact with someone from the past which is what I think makes museum ghosts so appealing to me!

Growing up I was always told that the U-505 submarine at the Museum of Science and Industry was haunted. So, I took two of my fellow daytime ghost hunters on an adventure into regions beyond.

Here is what we know…

MSI was originally built as the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 Colombian Exposition. Since it held priceless works of art is was built soundly enough to stay standing after the exposition was over. With this type of history, the museum allegedly is haunted by at least three ghosts!

  • Clarence Darrow- Remember him from the Scopes Monkey Trial? Well, he lived in Hyde Park and the bridge in the lagoon nearby is named after him. Supposedly employees have seen him wondering about. Not sure if I’m buying this one but okay.
  • H.H Holmes- Well, I HOPE this guy isn’t haunting MSI!
  • The Commander of the U-505

The U-505 came from Hamburg Germany where it served in World War II until it was captured by American forces in 1944. While we know there were multiple commanders of the U-505 the most popular candidate for hauntings is the second commander who committed suicide on the U-Boat. During an attack by British forces the commander, believing this to be the end, took to the control room and ended his life. It is believed his spirit has never left the U-Boat since. How true is this? Honestly, I can’t attest to this. Our docent was hesitant to speak on the supposed hauntings of the ships but did admit that the ship is particularly scary at night time with all the lights in the museum off.

We heard that the commander tends to pick on girls, who wear pigtails, and while this sounds like something made up to scare little girls we thought it was worth a shot and donned some pigtails. Alas, by the end of the tour we remained un-haunted.

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So, is the Museum of Science and Industry haunted by a German U-Boat commander? I think not. However, check it out for yourself and don’t be too surprised if you run into a ghostly presence.

The Tapestry of Bayeux

Taking DIY to the next level. 

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to the Normandie region of France for work. Talk about living the life. While preparing for my trip one of my co-workers and art history enthusiast pulled me into her office and started raving about this tapestry I simply HAD to go see while there. As she frantically googled the location and how many miles, hours, steps I would be from this tapestry I silently nodded. This is because I simply had NO CLUE what she was talking about.

I enjoy a good art museum, I’m looking at you Met Museum, but I wouldn’t consider myself self an art history expert. I took one class on art history in college and honestly, I don’t remember too much. However, once I started learning more about this tapestry I became obsessed! So, follow me down the rabbit hole of my new obsession…THE TAPESTRY OF BAYEUX.

Long Story Short

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The tapestry of Bayeux is a medieval tapestry that tells the story of William, the Duke of Norman (aka William the Conqueror) and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 which will eventually lead him to become the first Norman King of England. It’s known as the Tapestry of Bayeux because the first mention we have of the tapestry in history is in an inventory list in the Bayeux Cathedral. It’s technically NOT a tapestry at all but an embroidery but ya know details. This thing is a marvel, even if you aren’t into medieval embroidery techniques, it’s nearly 230 ft long and dates back to the 11th century. That. Is. Insane! Imagine this tapestry has survived centuries and two world wars completely intact. There is a theory that an additional 7 yards of tapestry showing William’s coronation is missing but nothing has been proven. I mean talk about taking care of things France.

City of Bayeux 

Upon arrival in France my co-worker Ana and I met up with our host Marie. Her house was beautiful and one of the first things I noticed was a section of the Tapestry on her dining room wall. Marie explained to me how she had made this herself and sat on the cultural board of the city of Bayeux. Super neat, I personally am a quilter so we had a lot to talk about. While eating in Bayeux the following day Marie quickly pulled me aside and told me to follow her. Ditching the group, we dashed across Bayeux to the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux where the tapestry is held today. Okay, before anybody gets too excited, I never got around to seeing the actual tapestry while in France. Buzzkill. However, I WAS taken across the street from the museum to a tiny little store called the Bayeux Broderie that specializes in the Bayeux stitch. Quickly, I bought my own Tapestry reproduction and shoved it in my bag.

DIY Medieval Tapestry

I was lucky before I jumped into this project that I had a Bayeux stitch master class from Marie. It lasted about 10 minutes but it gave me enough confidence that when I arrived home I felt pretty confident to jump into the project. The Bayeux Stitch is made of four simply stitches.

  • Le Point de Tige Stitch (Stem Stitch)
    This stitch outlines all the images. The first step is to outline the WHOLE tapestry.
  • Points Lances (Long Stitch)
    This fills the space, kind of like coloring in the lines.img_1238
  • Les Barrettes (Couching Stitch)
    This one holds down all of your long stitches.img_1247
  • Les Picots
    This is pretty much a secondary couching stitch that holds down you previous couching stitch.img_1439

In total it took me about two years to finish my very OWN Tapestry of Bayeux. Now every day while sipping my tea I can be reminded of my time in Bayeux and William, the Duke of Norman kicking the ass of Harold, the Earl of Wessex at the Battle of Hastings.

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William Wallace Monument

Stirling, Scotland

 

Ah, Sir William Wallace, the guardian of Scotland, patriot, martyr, and NOT Braveheart.

Let’s get this out of the way super quick. Robert the Bruce, ya know the Scottish guy who had a heart to heart with a spider in a cave, not William Wallace, is the real Braveheart. Robert the Bruce killed a lot of people in his lifetime and was super concerned that when he died, he wouldn’t be admitted into heaven, a legit concern. So, he told his son, when I die take my heart on a crusade to the holy land so I can get into heaven. Along the way his son got into a huge fight and took his fathers heart and threw it onto the battlefield and shouted, “lead the way, brave heart!” Which is unfortunate because they lost and had to go find the trampled heart on the battlefield. Okay now that we got THAT confusion out of the way let’s talk about William Wallace. Not going to lie, I’m super interested in the Wars for Scottish Independence and was so excited to visit the location of the Battle of Stirling Bridge where William Wallace and Andrew Moray defeated the British! So here are the top three highlights from the William Wallace Monument!

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Robert the Bruce and his spider  BFF

The William Wallace Sword

Coming in at about 5.5 ft long and weighing in at 7 lbs. this sword I’m sure landed quite the wallop. The sword was most likely wielded on the ground to take down Calvary horses.

Here’s the catch…soooo it may or may NOT have been the REAL sword of William Wallace. While it is indeed from the era and it was recorded to have been kept after his capture, the sword does fall off the map for quite a few years before reappearing. Does it matter if William Wallace wielded this sword in battle? Not really if you ask me the sword is a potent symbol of, for lack of a better term, freedom. My favorite story I learned was that during the suffrage movement the sword was stolen by suffragettes as a rallying cry for the freedom of women.

How Many Steps to the Top?!

Listen, I love a good hike, but this one is tiring. It doesn’t feel like it should be hard but here I am writing that I was TIRED. I knew getting into this that to see the sword and get to the top of the monument you’d have to do some stairs. After hiking uphill, in the rain because ya know, Scotland, you make it to the monument. Then it’s an additional 246 steps to the top! Did I mention they are narrow winding stone stairs? I made LOTS of new friends navigating how two people could pass in the staircase.

Hall of Heroes…and Heroines!

One of the highlights is to stop in and see the Hall of Heroes! This gallery features the busts of some likely suspects in Scotland, spider whisperer, Robert the Bruce, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott. Well, move aside GENTS it’s time for the ladies. Soon fourteen women are being added. I’m looking forward to returning to learn more about these remarkable women!

 

I give the William Wallace Monument a perfect score of five Irn Bru’s!

 

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The Least Visited Gallery

Where are all the people?

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Now, I don’t have any scientific evidence supporting the above claim but I think I found the least visited gallery at the Field Museum. It was holiday break and I was standing in the center of Stanley Field Hall needless to say it was crowded. There were people clamoring around Sue the dinosaur, running crazy through the Mummy galleries, and I don’t even want to talk about the lines to the bathroom. In the middle of this mess, I found myself wondering to areas that looked empty. That’s how I found the ONE empty gallery in the entire Field Museum.

The Plants of the World!

I counted a total of SIX people in the exhibit and I’m pretty sure some of them were lost and looking for the China exhibit.

After spending some quality time with the plants of the world I was pleased to discover that this gallery was actually pretty amazing. Hang on tight because I am about to reveal how COOL this exhibit is.

Imagine this it’s 1909 and you are the first Curator of Botany at the PRESTIGIOUS Field Museum in Chicago. You desperately want to share the wonders of the natural world with the people of Chicago but turns out that idea is hella expensive! For botanists, the only way to share plants, at that time, would be to build a hothouse in the museum to store and care for these tropical plants all year-round.

Well, this is the real-life problem of the first curator of botany at the Field Museum, Charles Frederick Millspaugh.

Never fear though, our boy Charles didn’t let that get him down. Oh no, he had a plan! He sent scientists to travel all around the world to start collecting plants, photographing plants, and taking extensive notes on plants. Some dried flower samples were sent back to the Field Museum and leaves were often used to make molds on the spot. Then Charles went out and hired a denture maker to build models using this research. You heard me a DENTURE MAKER.

Model makers used glass, wax, wire, latex and later plastic to painstakingly create these life  like replicas. The result is amazing! Some of the plants have slightly yellowed leaves and even little holes where bugs may have nibbled on the plant. The project lasted from 1909 to 1968 and the end result is a collection of 300 models making it the largest collection of plant models in the world.

The next time you are wondering the halls of the Field Museum in Chicago do yourself a favor and stop by Plants of the Word. While it may not look as flashy as the dinosaurs and mummies it is a gallery full of love for the natural world…and fake plants.

Lincoln the Loser

Have you ever looked at a list of Lincoln’s losses?

It’s absolutely my favorite thing about Abraham Lincoln, the fact that for a huge chunk of his life, he was a loser. I mean just stop and think about it the man is born into poverty, his mother dies, he failed in business, was rejected from law school, spent 17 years of his life paying off his bankruptcy, suffered the death of his sweetheart, had a nervous breakdown, by 19th century standards the guy is goofy looking and too tall, and I haven’t even gotten to all the times he ran for office and lost or wasn’t reelected. Don’t feel too bad for Lincoln, I could accompany this list of losses with an equally long list of successes but that’s not the point of this post. Lincoln is my hero because despite his losses he never stopped trying to do good in the world. Every time the world hit back, Lincoln stood back up and just kept swimming. In 1860 Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States and for years to come, he will consistently be voted the most popular US President.

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I’ve spent a good chunk of my life visiting Lincoln-related historic sites and artifacts. So, you can imagine my excitement when I was invited to get up close and personal with some Lincoln letters. Included in the batch was a letter written by Lincoln’s oldest son Robert Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln. Mary Lincoln’s is easy to spot as it was lined in black. This lets us know that this letter was written after Lincoln’s death as it is considered mourning stationery. The letters were written to Joseph Medill, co-owner and manager of the Chicago Tribune, and an important member of the Republican party. Medill helped secure Lincoln the nomination for President. Many of the letters, as a result, were about…The Chicago Tribune. No Gettysburg Address level stuff here but still a great reminder that while we all are going to face failures in our life we also can accomplish amazing things if we, as Lincoln once said, “…have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

I’m Dreaming of a Museum Christmas

C’mon Grinches it’s Christmas time!

I don’t know about you but literary the SECOND after I am done eating that Thanksgiving turkey I am in full on Christmas mode. I’m talking the NKOTB Christmas album, The John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Special, my favorite Mickey Mouse Christmas sweatshirt, and an absurd amount of Christmas decorations.

Full disclosure I have two Christmas trees.

So, it’s no surprise that when you marry my two favorite things, Christmas and museums, that I go a little berserk. So here are my two favorite museum holiday activities that you can enjoy the whole holiday through.

Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum

There aren’t words for how much I enjoy this event. What is so unique about the Tree Lights is that it actually isn’t a Christmas event at all. At its heart and soul, this event is a celebration of the beauty of wintertime. My initial thoughts walking into the arboretum was that it was going to be a pretty standard Holiday light display, a la Candy Cane Lane, I couldn’t be more WRONG.

This mile-long hike takes you through various displays each highlighting something beautiful about the forest during winter. But guess what, THIS EVENT IS INTERACTIVE! There are buttons you can push to change the colors of the lights. Dials to spin to makes the lights dance in time to music, Trees that BREATH. While each was great in its own unique way, there was one that was quickly my favorite.

HUG A TREE

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The first thing I stumbled upon was a small grove of trees plainly lit with signs that said: “Hug Me” wrapped around their trunk. Never being one to NOT play with an interactive, I promptly waited in line with all the children to hug a tree. This was where the magic started because when you hug the tree, it went from a dull white light to a colorful light, but wait, there’s more. If you got a group together to hug the tree the tree threw itself a light disco party. I mean that tree lit up red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ocher and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and lilac and gold and you get the picture.

Tips:

  • Dress for the weather: While there are firepits along the route and warm beverages, it’s still outside. The trail is about a mile long so anticipate being outside for about an hour.
  • Weekdays are your friends: This is a VERY popular event. If you insist on going on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday anticipate large crowds. They have been known to have upwards of 4,000 guests in one night. If you are able to go on a Wednesday, you should.

Christmas Around the World at Museum of Science and Industry

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) to see their tree display. What’s not to love about 54 trees decorated to represent different countries from all around the world. What does this display have to do with Science, absolutely nothing. What does this display have to do with industry, not a damn thing. This is an event that is what museums are really all about: bringing families and communities together by sharing knowledge and culture. Get into all those museum feelz cause this is going to give you that mooshy holiday spirit.

The Christmas trees at MSI started in 1942 at the onset of America’s involvement in World War II. With the country at war, the museum decided to celebrate and educate Chicagoans about our allies. What better way to unite us than with a Christmas Tree.

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The museum set up one tree in the museum that volunteers would decorate using traditional ornaments from one of our allies. At the end of the day, the tree was undone, and another group of volunteers would redecorate the tree in the style of another ally. It quickly grew from just one to over 50 trees and additional displays recognizing different cultures and seasonal religions celebrations. This year MSI is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the trees, and there is no time like the present to see this beloved holiday tradition.

Tips:

  • Stay for the show: There is so much more to do at this event than just the trees. Check the schedule as there are often musical and dance performances from various Chicago cultural groups. There are also crafts and snow in the lobby.
  • Ice Cream: To complete the holiday festivities don’t forget to stop by the museum’s oldie timey Ice Cream parlor and grab a sweet treat. Also, you can stop in on select days to get a photo with Santa!
  • MOLD-O-RAMA: Are you sitting down…good. There is a special Christmas Tree Mold-O-Rama for this display. I mean come on!

Got any tips on other great museums that know how to do Christmas?

Leave them in the comments below.