Thursday, December 29, 2022

Montgomery, AL (day 1)

We haven't been very good about planning adventures lately. We used to be quite good at it, making sure to fit in x-number of family adventures per year, but the pandemic put a stop to that habit. We're still inching our way back into society. Anyway, the point of that preamble is that we went on another somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip to Alabama after Christmas. We'd been talking about maybe doing it for some time and had a few things on our mental bucket list, but really Andrew just looked up hotels on Boxing Day (Monday, the day after Christmas) and then we left on Tuesday morning and drove straight to the Rosa Parks Museum.

Andrew went ahead and paid for the whole experience—both wings of the museum! Probably just the main part of the museum would have been fine for us. That involved a little video/reenactment experience of Rosa Parks getting arrested, and then a walk through the exhibits. Things were a little glitchy (doors that should have been closed were open, and then when those doors should have been closed they slammed open and shut for quite some time) and we were often rather confused about where we were supposed to be, when we were formally "excused" from a certain portion of the exhibit. Lights would just turn off and we'd all be left in the dark...and then would...make our way to the next section. It was weird. But it was good; we learned a lot!

No photos are permitted within the exhibit itself, but here's Phoebe on a bench with Rosa Parks in the lobby:

The "children's wing" of the museum sounded promising, but was nothing like we expected. The exhibit was just a walk-through timeline. Rather boring, but plenty of seating and a great place to sneak in a nursing session, I guess. We were really there for the "time machine" experience. 

Zoë and Alexander were impressed by all the pomp and circumstance, and the ride did jostle us around a little for a true time-machine bus feel, but overall I was unimpressed. It was definitely not worth the extra $5 (per person, which adds up quick in a family this size) so I would recommend just saving your money and spend time doing other things—because there's quite a lot to do in Montgomery that is much more interesting!

Andrew and Reid went back to the vehicles to move them to a new parking spots (all the street parking is paid parking only, but it's quite reasonably priced...although you can't "reload" your parking spot so once your meter expires you have to move your vehicle). I walked up Dexter Avenue with the kids.

Here we are with Rosa Parks at Court Square (which was once an active slave market, so...that's...neat):

We were surprised by how empty the city was. Maybe it's just that we're true city folk now, but...the streets were eerily quiet. Many of the buildings—a surprising number, really—in the downtown area have been deserted and are in some state of disrepair.

Here's Benjamin looking across the street at the Dexter King Memorial Baptist Church, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once served as pastor:

I thought the crosswalk was interesting here—it's footprints, to memorialize the walk from Selma to Montgomery. Here are the kids with a marker explaining the significance of the walk:

This is about where Daddy and Grandpa met up with us.

Call us naive (because we didn't do half as much research before this trip as we should have) but we had no idea Montgomery was considered the Cradle of the Confederacy. And yet it's here where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the president of the Confederacy:

I knew about Richmond (and the girls went to the Confederate White House there, or at least passed by it, on their way to DC this summer), but I didn't know Montgomery was as well (or I had forgotten). Montgomery was the first capitol of the Confederate States (for three months). Something about being "neutral" territory to vote in a traitor president...or something like that.

Built in 1850, the capitol building predates Jefferson Davis (who took, quite literally, office in 1861). Our docent was Tim Lennox, a retired news anchor, and rather enthusiastic historian. It was a wonderful tour! Here's a glimpse of the rotunda:

And here's Benjamin going up the stairs:

He's so good at asking for what he wants! We were led to the elevator, rather than the stairs, which Mr. Lennox explained are cantilever stairs, with seemingly nothing supporting them, constructed entirely by hand in the 1850s. So I figured...we just weren't allowed to use the stairs. But Benjamin said, "Aw, man! I wanted to walk up the stairs!" 

"You could have!" Mr. Lennox said. "I just figured with a group this size, and with the little ones, the elevator might have been easier. But if you want to use the stairs, you can!"

So, we used the stairs to get to the third floor (which we also went to because Benjamin said, "Oooh! Can we got on the balcony, too?!" when we were inside the chambers), and then to return to the ground level. They were pretty grand stairs, swirling down on either side of the entrance!

Here we are at the second level of the rotunda:

And here are the kids gazing down on the chamber:

Rachel was particularly impressed by the trompe-l'œil finish on the wall. The walls are flat and are simply painted to look as if they have intricate wood work (it 'tricks the eye,' so to speak):

Here's Zoë by this plaque lauding Jefferson Davis (there is so much Jefferson Davis love around this city; it was quite shocking):

Here's a view looking down Dexter Street:

The tour was marvelous and I guess we're just lucky we showed up on a slow day because ordinarily you're supposed to make reservations for a tour (we just walked on in). Everyone was so helpful, pointing out extra things for us to see. One of the workers walked us halfway around the building to help us find the "moon tree":

It was grown from a seed that journeyed to the moon with the 1971 Apollo 14 mission:

That was pretty cool to see; there's an entire registry of moon trees to be found around the United States (and beyond)!

Phoebe chose this trip to really get into babbling and her favourite thing to babble about was Dada. "Dadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadada!" was constantly on her lips, so she ended up in his arms a lot!

The First Whitehouse of the Confederacy looks across the street to the Capitol Building (though this was not its original location; it was moved here in 1921). Here we all are on the front porch:

Through gritted teeth, Grandpa prompted us, "Everyone say, 'traitor!'" rather than "Every say, 'Cheese!'"

Rachel immediately noticed—and gushed over—the porch ceiling, which is painted 'haint blue,' a colour that the Gullah believed would keep ghosts away from a house because it would trick them into the thinking the ceiling was sky and they'd just pass right on through, rather than going inside. She really wants to paint our porch ceiling like this (I'm not entirely opposed to the idea):

Picture courtesy of Rachel

The house is truly darling, built by William Sayre in 1834, then leased by the Davis family in 1861. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald and great-grandniece (or great-great-grandniece? Great-great-great??) of William Sayre (her great-grandfather's brother) donated a lot of the furniture in the house that had been used by the Sayre family.

Phoebe had a blast exploring the place:

It was actually a nice place for her to roam around in because anywhere they didn't want people accessing was very well baby-proofed.

The docent was, once again, very well informed about things (though I do wonder how a Yankee with "no skin in the game," as he said, comes to work at such a...Confederate place). He gave the kids each a bullet from the Civil War (which I have to figure out what to do with...since they're led?) and Benjamin was very excited about that (right now his bullet is double-bagged in his bedroom but we might work on a better solution). More on that later...

Here's Phoebe exploring a room that was a veritable shrine to Jefferson Davis:

She kept clutching her head and saying, "Ahhhhh!" as she ran underneath these display cases:

Benjamin was especially intrigued by a pair of bloody socks that Jefferson Davis had been wearing when he was wounded at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican-American War. A number of the children were interested in the nursery. Just look at that beautiful crib that my children would refuse to sleep in:

Missing from the exhibits were any sort of condemnation of the Confederate rebellion and/or how slavery was a (the) cause of the Civil War. Like I said, it felt like a shrine to Jefferson Davis, which some ways appalling. But, it was also probably a very accurate view into what an antebellum...or just bellum...household looked like (at least a very wealthy household).

From there, we headed next door to the museum at the Alabama Department of Archives & History:

(There was a sign saying that you were allowed to walk on this map; we checked first because we're rule-followers like that):

We didn't have much time before the museum closed, but we did have just enough time to visit the children's room (which was geared for children this time) and the big permanent exhibit. First we decided the children should all use the toilet, so we found the restrooms and then proceeded upstairs to the exhibit floor. The whole time Benjamin was repeatedly wishing for more "free stuff."

"I wonder if they'll have free stuff here!" he said. "I hope they do! I like free stuff!"

We, uh, rarely purchase souvenirs for our kids and Benjamin was super excited that they had just given him a Civil War bullet at the First White House of the Confederacy. 

"The museum is free," Andrew pointed out. "They're not going to have free stuff to hand out. Just enjoy being here."

We, uh, seek out free tourist attractions as much as possible. Government-funded ones tend to be well-done. And technically you're already paying for them, so you should definitely seek them out to visit as well!

"The last place was free," Benjamin said. "And they gave out free stuff!"

"But this place probably won't," Andrew said. 

"Well, I hope they do!" Benjamin said. 

"They won't."

And with that, Benjamin took off running ahead of everyone, skipping up the stairs two at a time. When the rest of us arrived on the second-floor landing, Benjamin was standing beside a table draped in a red table cloth, absolutely smirking (with his eyes...since he was wearing a mask). The sign on the table read: FREE STUFF!!

They had pins and magnets and stickers other little souvenirs left over from their 200th anniversary of statehood (in 2019). The kids were delighted to help them get rid of some of their stock!

We could not believe that Benjamin's wish was granted...and with the exact wording: FREE STUFF!!

Here's a view of "Grandma's Attic," which was full of hands-on activities for kids:

Like writing with a feather pen:

And grinding maize:

The other exhibits at the archives were lovely as well. Here's Benjamin learning about land use in Alabama:

The exhibit on indigenous cultures was pretty sparse, which was nice because they're renegotiating how to best include indigenous artifacts in the museum. Evidently most of the artifacts they previously had on display were those involved in funerary practices, which wasn't altogether appropriate to be gawking at, so those exhibits are currently out of the public eye, awaiting their return to their home cultures. The museum plans to create better exhibits with the council of various nations weighing in on how things should be displayed. For now, here are Alexander and Zoë exploring what might have been kept in this giant pot:

And here's one (of four or five) signs explaining what I just explained above:

When Benjamin saw it he said, "Huh. I guess the museum has ADHD as well!" 

So close!

Here's Benjamin becoming best friends with this hog:

And taking a turn behind the plow:

The museum closes at 4:30 and we were just finishing our walkthrough of the Alabama Voices exhibit when some museum employees started ushering us toward the exit, so our visit was timed fairly well! 

We spilled out of the archives and into the most beautiful sunset light, which was a lovely treat.

The day had been so warm that I left Phoebe's sweater in the car, but by the evening I was wishing we had it again. Luckily the car wasn't parked too far away. We hurried over to Dexter Street...

...passed by the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church...

...and headed over to our hotel. Alexander was thrilled to have "Old MacDonald's" for dinner because he hasn't had a "tiny mac" in such a long time. That's what he calls McDonald's and happy meals. Still.

He really wanted a happy meal so that he could have chocolate milk with it, but they didn't have any chocolate milk, so it was a "plain milk's fine" situation. 

We tried to get him to say that line but he's such an easy-going kid that...he wouldn't.

"I'm perfectly happy with plain milk!" he insisted. "Plain milk is great! That's just what I'd want if I didn't have chocolate milk! I'm happy with plain milk!"

He absolutely refused to sulk for us, sweet boy. 

He doesn't have fast food that often, or soda pop, either. In fact, the other day he was looking at a bottle of 7-UP (which we have in our house because it's the holidays; I didn't say he never had such things, only that he rarely did) and asked why it was "seven and up."

"I don't think it's very fair for this drink to be seven and up," he said (rather sulkily). "What if I want to try some? I can't! Because I'm only five. And I just don't think that's very fair because Zoë and Benny and everybody else can have some! I'm the only one who can't!"

"That's 7-UP," Miriam explained. "Just 7-UP. No 'and.' And that's just the name of the drink. It's not a rule."

"Oh," Alexander sniffed. "Then I try have some?"

"When we open it!"

We still haven't opened it, though it's sure to make an appearance at New Year's. I think it's cranberry 7-UP or something fancy like that. 

Speaking of silly children and not getting out much, Zoë and Alexander shared a bedroom in our little suite and ended up waking up earlier than either Andrew, Phoebe, or I did in the morning (which was impressive, given that breakfast only ran from 6–8, so it's not like we were have a royal sleep-in). When they heard us getting up they came in to tell us that they had been quietly playing hide-and-seek in their room because they'd found the best hiding spot ever (pretty much the only one in the room). 

"You know that wall of mirrors?" they asked. "It's not just a wall! It opens!!!"

Here they paused and Zoë opened the door of our mirrored closet door a crack. 

"Yes! Like that!" Alexander squealed. "You have one, too!"

"Yeah!" Zoë said. "It's not just a wall of mirrors! It's a hidden closet!"

"Wha-ha-ha-hat?! No way!" Andrew and I feigned surprise (and also allowed some very genuine laughter because, of course, we'd known all along that those were closets). "That's just wild! Who ever would have guessed?!"

The hotel breakfasts were pre-packed, which was nice because I wasn't keen on the idea of eating in the lobby, anyway. We took the breakfasts back up to our room where our haven't-ever-had-school-lunch children fumbled with the cartons of orange juice—what a novelty!

After breakfast we packed up and headed to Selma...

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