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  • Writer's pictureAlaina

Road Trip Week 6: Armchair Explorer

We're in the homestretch of our Adventure Across America, but we've got a lot of states to visit before we get home to Maine. This week we're visiting Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.


Illinois is home to all things Abraham Lincoln - there's the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, and the burial place of Lincoln - Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.


Take some time to explore the collections at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. One of the highlights is the the tour of their Powerful Women exhibit given by the curator of contemporary art, which includes some really moving art.

If you love cars (and racing!), then Indiana is the place for you - there's the Studebaker National Museum, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, the National Automotive and Truck Museum, the RV/MH Hall of Fame (which looks really neat!), and, of course, we can't forget the Indianapolis Motor Speedway!


We've already visited the Smithsonian Institute earlier in our road trip, but the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids is a Smithsonian affiliate museum. Not only does the museum have an online collection of artifacts worth checking out, they also have an extensive video series featuring music performances, guest speakers, exhibit overviews, and more.


The historic Monroe School in Topeka is now home to the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, where you can learn more about the segregation of Topeka's public school system, read about the five separate court cases that came to collectively be known as Brown v. Board of Education, learn about related cases, and even see the rehabilitation process of the Monroe School to turn it into the site it is today.


One of the names you might associate with Michigan is Henry Ford. Ford is one of the most innovative Americans of all time, but it's important to recognize that he also had anti-Semitic views, and as one of the most influential men in the country, his views helped legitimize the anti-Semitic views of others. Michigan is home to a number of museums tied to Henry Ford, including The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, which has not only Henry Ford memorabilia, but items celebrating other innovative American's, as well. One of the most interesting items in their collection is the Rosa Parks bus - check out how they found and restored it before putting it in the museum.


The two most prominent tribal nations in Minnesota are the Dakota and Ojibwe. The Minnesota History Center offers some educational videos about the Dakota and Ojibwe homelands, family research guides, and cultural objects to explore. You can also learn about and watch the traditional Jingle Dress Dance. It's fitting that the Ojibwe Jingle Dress Dance, which originated as a dance of healing during the flu pandemic in 1918, is now celebrating 100 years during our current pandemic.


St. Louis is the "Gateway to the West", and that's where you'll find the famous Gateway Arch. Did you know it takes four minutes for a tram to reach the top of the arch? Learn more in this virtual tour of the monument, which includes a feature all about taking a trip to the top.

Mark Twain was born and raised in Missouri (as a side note - Twain died in Connecticut and the virtual tour of his house is amazing!). Jim's Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center is an African History museum that also plays homage to Jim, the fictional character from Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the real-life inspiration behind the character, Daniel Quarles.


The Pony Express, which only lasted from April 1860 to October 1861, ran from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. The nearly 1,966 mile-long route contained over 190 stations, usually located every 5 to 20 miles, where riders could trade horses. The largest portion of the route (565 miles) was located in Nebraska. Today, the route is recognized is as the Pony Express National Historic Trail, and there is a re-ride of the trail every year.

The Homestead National Historic Park commemorates the Homestead Act of 1862 and is located on one of the first parcels of land claimed under the Homestead Act. Check out their photo gallery and videos to a learn a little more about what life on the frontier would have looked like.

One of the most recognizable landmarks along the Oregon Trail is located in Nebraska - Chimney Rock. Did you know the deep ruts from the wagon wheels are still visible today along parts of the Oregon Trail?

North Dakota

The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, which follows the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition, is 4,900 miles long and crosses 16 states, including North Dakota. While in North Dakota, Lewis and Clark met Sacagawea, who joined the expedition with her husband Toussaint Charbonneau and famously carried her son on her back throughout the journey.

Theodore Roosevelt, who was also known as "the conservationist president", is recognized for his conservation work at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Roosevelt said "I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota" - those experiences include hunting bison and time spent at both Maltese Cross Cabin and Elkhorn Ranch.

South Dakota

Easily the most recognizable landmark in South Dakota is Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which you can explore virtually. You can also learn more about the history of the monument and its construction, including why Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt were the presidents selected for the memorial.

Another recognizable memorial in South Dakota is the Crazy Horse Memorial, a work-in-progress which honors all North American Indians. Construction first started on the monument in 1948 - and there's still a lot more to go! Check out this pictorial timeline to learn more about the history (and future) of the memorial, which is the largest mountain carving in progress in the world.


The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located in Cincinnati, right near the Ohio River, which marked the line between the southern slave states and free states in the North. Through the Freedom Center, you can explore their virtual exhibits and celebration of heroes to learn more about the past, and also learn about the modern day abolition of slavery. In addition to learning about the Underground Railroad, the Freedom Center offers a video library and additional resources to help you learn about implicit bias.


One extremely famous Wisconsinite is Ehrich Weiss, also known has Harry Houdini. Although he was born in

Budapest, he always claimed Appleton, Wisconsin as his hometown. Houdini was a master escape artist and was known for his daring stunts and freeing himself from straight jackets, handcuffs, a water torture cell, and more. In 1922, when spiritualism was all the rage, Scientific American launched a contest offering $5000 to any medium who could provide scientific proof of ghosts under test conditions. Houdini was part of the committee to investigate the claims of people who entered the contest, and would use his knowledge of illusions to debunk fraudulent mediums, most famously Margery the Medium.

The town of Sparta, Wisconsin is famous for two reasons - it's the Bicycling Capital of America and it's the home of Mercury 7 astronaut Deke Slayton. Deke Slayton was originally slated to be the fourth astronaut in space, but a health issue kept him grounded for 10 years until he was assigned to the first international docking mission between the USSR and America.


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