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!

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.

Stanley Hotel

Come play with us, Danny…

Ermahgerd, It’s the Stanley Hotel, epic historic hotel and a notorious hot spot for paranormal activity. I was super excited to tour the Stanley during my recent trip to Denver, Colorado. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, this ghostly destination was built by the turn of the century inventor F.O. Stanley. Now, where did Mr. Stanley get all this money to build a fabulous hotel in the Rocky Mountains? Good question, I had NO idea. In fact, the only thing I knew, pre-tour, about this hotel was that it served as the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Steven King’s “The Shining.” So, let me SHINE some light on Stanley Hotel. See what I did there?

Here are some frightening facts about the Stanley Hotel.

Stanley helped create the Stanley Steamer. 

NO not Stanley STEEMER, ya know the carpet cleaners, totally different people. I’m talking about the Stanley Steamer Motor Car. It was a motor vehicle that was powered by a steam engine. In Fact, F.O Stanley took a Stanley Steamer up the mountain to get to the Stanley Hotel.

F.O Stanley was a twin.

F.E Stanley was the identical twin to F.O Stanley. Apparently, they got a kick out of dressing identically as it helped their sales. The Stanley Steamer was really a passion project for the twins. F.E Stanley was known for creating the dry plate which revolutionized photography.

The Stanley Hotel served as the inspiration for Steven King’s “The Shining.”

Legend has it that after a long night, of excessive drinking at the bar, Steven King was inspired to write a story about a ghost bartender. This story would eventually become “The Shining.”

Steven King has never confirmed that he had a ghostly experience at the hotel. However, Steven King stayed in room 217 which DOES have claims of activity.

The Stanley Hotel is best known for ghostly apparitions.

The place is Haunted! There are multiple hauntings at the Stanley Hotel. Some of the more famous ghosts are the ghosts of children on the 4th Floor, the spirit of a cowboy, and the ghost maid of room 217. Not going to lie the ghost maid sounds awesome, she is known to clean up behind guests in the middle of the night.

NOBODY WAS MURDERED AT THE STANLEY!

Yep, and there is the truth, the Stanley has a very happy and peaceful past. Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. Any ghosts at the Stanley are probably due to it being an AWESOME historic site. Who wouldn’t want to spend the afterlife in the mountains?

Travel Tips:

  1. Drink lots of Water: Drink ALLLLLL the water when visiting high altitudes.
  2. Sign up for a tour: Only hotel guests have access to the more famous haunted locations. Plan to take a tour if you would like to see the Steven King Room 217.
  3. Take a trip to the bar: There is a restaurant, and café, on the property. Just beware of ghostly bartenders.
  4. Rocky Mountain National Park: Double the museum double the fun! You can easily do both sites in one trip.