August 2012


When I got the opportunity to tour the CANDLES Holocaust Museum with a group of Lilly Grant recipients, I had no idea what I would find. Initially, I didn’t think it compared in size and scope with others I had seen, but the CANDLES Museum offered a treasure no other Holocaust Museum could offer: Eva Mozes Kor.

Eva describing her family

As a bit of back story, since I was a child and my dad visited Israel, I have had a special love for Jews (I did my eighth grade research paper on Jewish Persecution), so when we had the chance to tour the CANDLES Museum as a workshop, I took the opportunity without hesitation. CANDLES stands for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deathly Lab Experiments Survivors. Eva Mozes Kor, herself a survivor of Dr. Mengele’s Twin experiments, founded the Museum in 1995 after she and her twin sister (both of whom survived Auschwitz) had located 122 survivors of the experiments. As we sat in that small two room museum and listened to her story, we were spell-bound. For a little over an hour, Eva shared her journey with us.

Yet, it wasn’t until we turned to look at the back wall that my real shock came. When Eva moved to that side of the room, I turned and gasped as I saw a movie poster from “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbDyc4WNU6Y) Suddenly, everything slid into place. This woman was the star of an amazing video I had seen earlier that year which had challenged me on so many levels. Her message of forgiveness is incredibly relevant to so many today.

One of the most serendipitous things about this time was the opportunity that a fellow teacher had. Eva had come to her school when she was a seventh grader in the midst of being an outcast and bullied. Eva’s message of forgiveness had given this teacher hope as a young girl–now, almost 20 years later, she got to meet her again and thank her for helping her survive the experience of being bullied and go on to become a teacher herself.

Meeting this unforgettable lady!

According to the staff, Eva is at the museum six days a week, has an incredible two hour presentation for students, and works tirelessly around the place. She also survived a current hate crime when the museum was defaced and burned in 2003. She saw it rebuilt in 2005 and continues sharing the truth of the healing power of forgiveness. One of my favorite quotes from the evening is “Anger is the seed of war; forgiveness is the seed of peace.”

If anyone is in the Terre Haute, Indiana, area, be sure to add The CANDLES Museum at 1532 S. 3rd Street to your itinerary. It will be well worth your time!

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View from the Mountain Road

Today (7/20/12) we began the thirteen hour drive home. Later, my mom would say, “I hope you had sense enough to go the way you know instead of follow the GPS.” Nope. I guess not. But, as usual, I love seeing things along a different road. So while this journey took us through the mountains around constant curves, it also afforded us one of the best views of the trip.

Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Another detour we took was to Point Pleasant, West Virginia. One of my student’s girlfriends had been reading the legend of the Mothman and was intrigued by it, so he wanted to check it out. Since it wasn’t too far out of our way, we decided to detour. Though my students thought the town looked like the perfect backdrop to a horror movie (which the Mothman kind of is), we met a number of friendly people who were more than willing to help us out and answer questions. For those unfamiliar with the Mothman, he is supposedly a man-like creature with ten foot wings. He apparently appeared in the late 60’s, had several sightings, then disappeared when the Silver Bridge collapsed, giving rise to the belief that he was an omen of bad times. For those interested in the paranormal, the 10th anniversary of the Mothman festival is September 15, 2012. Our group enjoyed the sites, though they did feel lucky to get out alive, especially after dining at Ironsides, which has incredible food, but quite the horror film atmosphere. We definitely made a memory–the conclusion of MANY on this trip.

The man . . . Jackson

For our last day (7/19/12), I decided to pursue my favorite person in history: Stonewall Jackson. I love General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, despite the diverse opinions of him, because of his amazing courage. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “I am as safe on the battlefield as I am in my own bed. My life is in the hands of the Almighty.” I know talk is cheap, but he lived it. In the Mexican War, he single-handedly dragged a cannon out and fired it on a fort while the rest of his men cowered in a ditch. He then yelled for their help, and when a cannon ball rolled between his legs as he was walking said, “Look, I’m not hit!” I LOVE this man. So, we headed to the Fredericksburg area to pursue sites related to Jackson.

Monument to Sergeant Kirkland

Our first stop was the Fredericksburg National Battlefield. This is a relatively small park, but it offers two amazing sites. The first is a statue of Sergeant Kirkland. This incredible soldier was 19 years old in the battle of Fredericksburg. After a night of relentless fighting where the Confederates held the high ground, and an eerie reverse of Pickett’s charge (North charging instead of South, and getting mowed down in just as gruesome numbers…), the landscape was littered with dying men. Kirkland couldn’t stand listening to the cries of the dying, so he climbed over the wall and brought water to the wounded on both sides. He was initially shot at, until the enemy realized what he was doing. Both sides honored him. What’s incredible to me is that he was made a lieutenant at Gettysburg and survived, only to be killed a month after his 20th birthday in Chickamauga.

Innis House wall

Another surreal experience at Fredericksburg is the Innis House. Looking through the windows of this house, which was right in the pathway of the Northern charge up the hill, visitors can see the wall riddled with bullet holes. It quite literally brings the war home. After perusing the cemetery there, we had some time to kill before our tour at Chancellorsville, so we headed to Ellwood.

Monument to the wounding of Jackson (Chancellorsville)

For those unfamiliar with the story of the wounding of Stonewall Jackson, the short version is that he had fought the first night at Chancellorsville, and was going out to determine where the enemy was and in what strength. His men were skittish from that battle and had been scared by running into enemies they weren’t expecting to be so close. When Stonewall returned from checking out the situation, his own men fired on him, thinking he was the enemy. In the process, he was wounded three times. The battle erupted anew, and Jackson had to be carried out amidst gunfire. He was also dropped from shoulder height twice as men tried to get him out of the area. Because of the bullet woundings and the two falls, his left arm had to be amputated. The Ellwood Estate is the place Jackson was taken. His arm was amputated there, and the brother of the owner of the house had it buried in the family cemetery. It’s the only marker in the plot.

Jackson’s arm marker–the lemon is a tribute because he liked sour things–he always criticized his wife’s lemonade for being too sweet…

After seeing the Ellwood house, which has been redone and is now an excellent museum (it was under reconstruction last time I was there–pun intended.), we headed to Chancellorsville, which is the actual location at which Jackson was shot. The tour covers a short area, but we were able to have a friend of mine from reenacting as a tour guide, and she did an amazing job. I love that the National parks allow college students who are passionate about history to come and share that passion with others. In a day and age in which so much looks bleak, it is nice to pause and remember the heroism of old.

Early marker indicating the place where Jackson was wounded

Finally, we headed back to get packed and ready to leave for the thirteen hour drive home. This trip has truly been an amazing journey!

Mom and I at Dad’s grave in Arlington

Today (7/18/12), we went back into Washington D.C. The trip into the city confirmed our suspicions that Sunday really was the best day to go. Weekday traffic was definitely bad. We began by heading to Arlington. Arlington is still an active cemetery, and we noticed two funerals being prepared as we got there–one with the full band and caissons. Having been to my father’s memorial at Arlington, I always feel a connection with those in the same situation. We had planned to just stop by and see my dad’s marker, which I have had the opportunity to do every year since he died, but as we were at the visitor center, one of my students got a text from his mom that he may have a relative at Arlington. I had the privilege of walking to the main visitor center with him and showing him the ropes on how to search for an ancestor. For those who may have relatives there, if the person has died since 1999, you can search the computer in the lobby area and print a map to their grave. If they have died prior to 1999, the attendants can help you locate the site. It was a surreal moment when my student’s relative’s name popped up. After visiting my dad’s grave, we were able to find my student’s great-uncle, discovering that he had served in World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam and received a bronze star. It was a profound time for him to sit and connect with a relative he hadn’t known he had. An amazing experience indeed.

The Capitol Building–Not to be confused with the White House

After Arlington, we drove to the Capitol where we went to Pete Visclosky’s office (in the House of Representatives building) to pick up our tour. We opted to go with him, rather than the Speaker of the House my mom had arranged, because one of my student’s dads worked on his campaign, and he’d gotten to march in the parade with him. The tour began by meeting Pete for pictures on the steps of the Capitol building (Cool free souvenir).

Painting of Washington on the interior Dome

Then, our tour guide took us around the building. Some of the highlights included the inside view of the dome and the wishing star (stand on it and make a wish–apparently, it’s referred to in The Lost Symbol), the hall of statues, the original areas of Congress, and the current location. Being here always reminds me of National Treasure where Nicholas Cage gets profoundly moved by unrolling the Declaration of Independence in Independence Hall. There is just something about standing in the places where so much history has taken place. We got to stand on the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s desk sat when he was a young Congressman…Incredible!

Spot where Abe Lincoln’s desk stood

We had planned to stop by Manassas on the way home, as it was nearby, but once we navigated our way through the “out of the city traffic,” we had had as much as we could take. Tomorrow is our last official site seeing day before we have the long drive home…Who knows what we’ll see on the way 🙂

Side path for Pickett’s Charge

We spent July 16-17 exploring Gettysburg. There is so much to be seen, one could spend years and never experience it all, but for those looking for the highlights tour, there are a few things I’d recommend.

The first day, we bought tickets to the museum, cyclorama, and film–definitely worth the $12.oo admission fee. Having visited many Civil War sites, I have seen many museums and films on the Civil War. Gettysburg is exceptional in both respects. But, the cyclorama is a wonder to behold. It is 27 feel high and 359 feet in circumference. A painting alone of that size would be magnificent, but the cyclorama blends from the canvas into reality the same way dioramas do, but on a much grander scale. It is an incredible experience to just pause and savor the scene.

Devil’s Den

After enjoying the visitor center (and the air conditioning), we set off to tour the area. For our first day, we chose to just drive around, really discovering the scope this battlefield had to offer. We also used the time to decide where we wanted to spend our second day. The big highlights for my students were Little Roundtop, which is an incredibly scenic hill with a castle-like watch tower, and Devil’s Den, a breathtaking arrangement of boulders which generations of boys have been tempted to climb. My students were no exception. In addition to the site actually referred to as Devil’s Den, the area across the road, aptly named “The Slaughter Pen” also offers a variety of boulders which are fun to climb and offer a marvelous view of the area. This was definitely my students’ top priority to revisit.

The Slaughter Pen

On the second day, we returned to Devil’s Den, this time taking the podcast tour from http://www.civilwartraveler.com. A friend and I had discovered this website when we were visiting Gettysburg and saw a couple taking a tour using their Iphones. This website offers podcasts to a number of different battlefields, and they are absolutely amazing. I love them especially because they not only physically walk you through actual events of the battle, but also take you “off the beaten path.” The tour for Devil’s Den takes the listener off-roading, down the backside of the hill, through the woods, and over the rocks on a re-creation of the path actually taken by soldiers. The thing I loved most about these tours is discovering places where so few people get to go. I love seeing things outside the traditional tour–quite literally seeing what the soldiers saw. It is a surreal experience, and we loved it! This site offers tours for a number of major battlefields, and I’d recommend them for anyone.

Letter to Chamberlain at the 20th Maine Monument–Love the “comrat”

We had planned to take 4 tours, but the heat made us cut that number back. After Devil’s Den and more climbing, we headed to Little Round Top. One of my students is a huge fan of Chamberlain, so we took the little trail off to his memorial. We were able to sit in the shade and listen to that part of the podcast, so we could learn more completely what Chamberlain actually accomplished. I also appreciated the notes left by fans. Additionally, Little Roundtop is one of the most scenic spots in the park for photography. It truly is breathtaking.

View from Little Roundtop

From their we drove to both sides of Pickett’s charge. It begins at the Virginia Memorial and ends at the Bloody Angle. The podcast tour from http://www.civilwartraveler.com on this one is awesome too, but we were too hot and worn out to walk it. But just standing at both sides of the route the soldiers took as the charge was made helped us to appreciate the men who had the courage to walk across a wide open field, costing about 7,000 men their lives in one fell swoop. It truly is an amazing piece of history.

Bloody Lane at Sunset

Though there was so much more we could have explored, we decided to call it a day. I discovered that an extra 10 minutes on the drive home would take us by Antietam Battlefield–the site of the bloodiest day in the Civil War. We decided it was worth it and headed out. Though we arrived after the visitor center had closed, I was able to take my students around to some key sites, including Dunker Church and Bloody Lane. We took time to climb the watchtower and get a bit of the layout of the battle. Then, each of us took time just to walk or sit in Bloody Lane as the sun was setting and think about the valiant men who had sacrificed their lives on this soil. Truly a full day of amazing exploring.