Guyon-Lake-Tysen House c. 1740 with kitchen addition in 1820s.

Visiting Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island

Before this month I’d never heard of Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island. The place isn’t heavily advertised and the carpenter in the recreated shop there told us that he wasn’t surprised, because a lot of people that live there in Staten Island have never heard of the place either. You almost wouldn’t know it was there if you rode by on the bus or in in a car. Maybe that says more about the quality of buildings on Staten Island in general than it does about the site, though, that it’s hard to tell buildings that are almost 300 years old apart from the rest of what Staten Island has to offer.

Getting to Richmond Town from Upper Manhattan was a little bit of a struggle. The A train kept stopping in the tunnel and then went local below 59th Street. I know they’ve been doing some construction on the tunnels during the week, at night, but it would be nice if the city could keep the trains running on time when they’re not doing work on the tracks, otherwise what’s the point of the new construction schedule the city pushed? The ferry ride was nice, at least. I always enjoy the views of the city from the boat. The bus ride from the ferry to the town was about 25 minutes, which isn’t too bad.

When we got to Richmond Town we were afraid it was closed because the place was so quiet and empty. I guessed that it was because this is Memorial Day weekend and most people probably stayed home to relax or went out of town for barbecues. When we got to the ticket counter in the gift shop, the clerk there said that Memorial Day weekend is usually really quiet and cited the same reasons I suggested. I didn’t really care that the place was empty of people. Getting away from the crowds in New York City, seeing some trees, grass, fresh air and open spaces was just fine with me.

The fact that most of the buildings were closed was a problem, though. No one there was in costume. When we went on the 3:30 tour, our guide used a set of keys to open up each building we went into and had to take time to open the shutters so there would be light inside. She kept mentioning that the buildings saw regular, period-style use during the week. I wonder who has time to go out there during the week? I’m going to have to do some research and make some phone calls to find out if we can go back on another weekend and see the place completely up and running.

That being said, the tour was really good and our guide knew quite a bit about the houses she was showing us. She was also ready to answer random questions about the facilities and other buildings we were walking by. I was not disappointed at all. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the place:

Better quality images and more details can be found in my Historic Richmond Town Flickr gallery.

The ABCs of Children’s Books Exhibit at the New York Public Library – 42nd Street/5th Ave

The ABC of it: why children's books matter

On the 6th of this month, my wife and I met up with friends of ours to check out an exhibit on children’s books at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. I love going to that library! Right now, it’s just a reference library, meaning you can’t check any books out to take home, though there’s a chance that could change soon. There are plans being made to move a lot of the reference works to a storage facility in New Jersey and open up the area that is now called “the stacks” to the public as an area with books that can be taken home, though these plans are meeting heavy opposition from scholars who have filed lawsuits to block the removal of reference materials from the site.

Lion Statue in front of 42nd Street New York Public Library

The Fifth Avenue library branch regularly shows exhibits with different themes. Last year, we went to see an exhibit on old Automat restaurants.  I think you’d call them restaurants anyway. The exhibit we saw this time was on children’s books.

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I wasn’t expecting much, but I was surprised by how well the exhibit was set up and the diversity of books on display.

Dick and Jane!

Dick and Jane!

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A Japanese Faerie Tale

A Japanese Faerie Tale

They had everything from traditional American textbooks to Hindu comic books to Japanese faerie tales.

Little Golden Books in a case shaped like a Giant Golden Box

Little Golden Books in a case shaped like a Giant Golden Box

A few of the books on display were books I remembered reading as a kid, like the Little Golden Books series. Most were older. Some were a lot newer, though, like the Harry Potter series. I’ve seen the movies and I’d like to read those books when I get a chance too. According to the display, Harry Potter books are the fastest selling of all time. My wife says it’s because the books appeal to kids, teens and adults, so the audience buying them is a lot bigger. Makes sense to me.

I’ve always been fascinated by books. I guess that’s a good thing, considering the field I chose to pursue in college. I just placed an order for 17 books for one master’s history class for this Fall semester. Woot woot! I have so many books I’ve run out of shelves to put them on. I’ve given away lots of books to charity in the past when my collection became too cumbersome to take with me when moving, but this time most of my books are history books or books on religion, politics, sociology and anthropology. In other words, they’re all books I’ll probably need in the future as a student and teacher. I suppose there are worse things to have too many of in your house!

Gallery of more photos from the children’s book exhibit:

The Tupelo Elvis Experience

Between semesters, my wife and I went to Tupelo, Mississippi to visit some friends who are about to move abroad for a few years. I didn’t know anything about Tupelo before planning the trip. I had to look the place up on a map just to figure out where it is. Tupelo isn’t a large or bustling city. According to the town’s Wikipedia entry, it has “a population of 37,559, with the surrounding counties of Lee, Pontotoc and Itawamba supporting a population of 146,131.” It’s a one traffic-light kind of place. It did have a mall and a Barnes & Noble, which was nice. What surprised me most, though, was when I saw a sign directing people to the birthplace of Elvis Presley. I was thinking, ‘Wow! Elvis was born here?‘ I’d just always assumed he was from Memphis, probably because that’s where he became famous.

Anyhow, we didn’t go to Tupelo to see Elvis; we were there to spend time with our friends, so when I saw the sign for the location, I didn’t mention it. But, when they suggested we stop by Elvis’ birthplace one evening, my wife and I were happy to agree. I mean, why not? It’ll probably be the one and only time we’ll ever see the place. I can’t imagine ever having a reason to be back in Tupelo. Not that it’s a bad place to be, but travel is expensive and there are plenty of places to visit in the world.

Replica of the 1939 green Plymouth sedan that carried Elvis' family to Memphis.

Replica of the 1939 green Plymouth sedan that carried Elvis’ family to Memphis.

The first thing we saw when we pulled up at the Elvis birthplace site was an old car sitting out front. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a replica of the 1939 Plymouth sedan that the Presley family drove when they left Tupelo for Memphis, which is where Elvis became famous.

House Elvis Presley was born in.

House Elvis Presley was born in.

Also close to the parking lot is the actual house where Elvis was born. It was in good shape. The only odd thing about it was the large air conditioning unit hooked up to the back of it. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have one of those when Elvis was growing up!

The house is surrounded by a “Walk of Life” which is a rounded set of paving stones with important years and events noted. Since it circles the house, I was humming the Lion King tune, “Circle of Life” to myself while looking at it. It’s pretty informative. I was surprised to find out that Elvis had a twin brother who was stillborn and that his father had spent some time in jail.

Elvis' Birthplace

Elvis’ Birthplace

The grounds are fairly nice. They’re certainly well-maintained, which is understandable. I imagine a lot of revenue enters Tupelo because of its connection to Elvis Presley.

Fountain at Elvis' birthplace with key dates.

Fountain at Elvis’ birthplace with key dates.

This fountain had plaques inset into the walls showing key dates in Elvis’ life, including his birth, move to Memphis and death.

Grove of trees around a statue of 13 year old Elvis Presley

Grove of trees around a statue of 13 year old Elvis Presley

Statue of Elvis at 13 years old.

Statue of Elvis at 13 years old.

In a grove of trees a bronze statue was set up of Elvis when he was 13 years old.

Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child.

Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child.

The Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child was moved to the location, so visitors could see the where Elvis received some of his inspiration. Other plaques set up around the area mentioned that Elvis was inspired by African-American music and rhythms. He was born poor, so he spent most of his time on the “wrong” side of the tracks where the poor African-Americans lived. The area was referred to as Shake Rag.

When we visited the site, the museum was already closed, so we didn’t get to look around inside. The Elvis Presley memorial chapel was also closed. I thought that was interesting, that a chapel was included at a museum. You don’t see religion mixed with much of anything these days. It was probably justified by the large influence that gospel music played in producing Elvis’ style.

We did get to look in the outhouse, but inside the door there was a plexiglass shield, probably to keep people from actually sitting down and relieving themselves.

Tupelo, Mississippi City Hall

Tupelo, Mississippi City Hall

Elvis is a pretty big deal in Tupelo, so he isn’t just represented at his birthplace; he also has a bronze statue in front of City Hall. The statue replicates a photo taken by Roger Marshutz (shown below) during Elvis’ 1956 homecoming concert.

Bronze statue of Elvis in front of Tupelo City Hall

Bronze statue of Elvis in front of Tupelo City Hall

Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi October 26, 1956 © 1978 Roger Marshutz

Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi October 26, 1956 © 1978 Roger Marshutz

I’m not the biggest Elvis fan. I don’t have a favorite Elvis song and I can’t remember the last time I looked up Elvis music online. Still, he’s an American classic and his music is still good. I don’t think I’ll suddenly become a die-hard Elvis fan, but I think I’ll spend some more time listening to his music and I’ll maybe even understand it better, now that I have an idea of where he came from.