September 10, 2009

Guest Post: Kauffman Memorial Gardens - Kansas City, MO

Today I have a guest post by the illustrious blogger May Evans of May's Machete! On her blog, the beautiful and brilliant geeky goddess May shares her thoughts on the world and her personal life. (Fair warning: May's blog is for adult audiences. You have been warned.) A special thanks to May for her amazing work! And I encourage everyone to check out her wonderful blog!


One of the places tourists often go in Kansas City (MO) is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. A slightly-less well, known, but beautiful jewel located just across the street from the museum is the Kauffman Memorial Gardens. Gifted to Kansas City by Ewing and Muriel Kauffman, this two-acre garden now has has 65,000 visitors annually, and it's no wonder why! The place is positively bursting with plant life and busy insects taking advantage of the feast!

One of the things my boyfriend and I were most impressed with was the massive array of bugs you could see, busily pollinating all the different types of flowers. If you're scared of insects, this is the perfect place to go because they're so distracted with the flowers that you can eyeball them up close without them ever evening noticing. I was amazed at the number of bees present, but we also saw crickets, grasshoppers, several types of moths, two types of butterflies (including a lovely Monarch), and even one bug that looked like a hybrid dragonfly-shrimp-hummingbird... We're still not convinced that bug isn't wasn't an alien because it looked too otherworldly to even be real!

The garden features 7,000 plants, with more than 300 varieties that include vintage and modern perennials, annuals, shrubs, bulbs and trees. The flowers ranged from wildflower varieties to more formal flowers like roses. The colors and types were mixed and matched in an innumerable amount of beds that wandered around pathways so that at any point in the garden, you could only see about one-fourth of it.

Another delightful feature of the garden were several fountains. The largest seemed to be popular for wedding photos, because we saw four different wedding parties lined up there for snapshots.

My favorite fountain was the one with three dancing girl statues.

Each turn of the path brought something new and surprising into view, but I have to say I was the most surprised by finding the graves of Ewing and Murial Kauffman within the garden walls! The area was flanked by benches, so I guess if you wanted to you could sit and meditate on how quickly life passes and all that... I personally chose to move on and spend my attention on the amazing life all around us.

The Kauffman Memorial Garden is located at 4800 Rockhill Road and is free to the public. It's open from 8 AM to dusk. I suggest you go there now while all the flowers are in bloom, before autumn and winter start to take a bite out of the amazing color.


A special thanks again to the lovely May! Now go check out her blog May's Machete!


September 8, 2009

Giant Sewing Needle and Button - Kansas City, MO

My first attempt to find the giant sewing needle and button in Kansas City almost turned into a disaster but my second attempt, as you can see, was quite successful. I had assumed from the description of giant sewing paraphernalia that something like this would be easy to find. That's not the case. They actually blend into the urban surroundings quite well and are located in a small plaza so it isn't easily visible from the main streets. It's something you have to really be looking for and I can't really say the effort is entirely worth it.

The steel sculpture was erected in 2002 in the urban park to remind people about the history of Kansas City's garment district. While it may be a reminder, it is not particularly awe-inspiring. At about 19 feet tall, it is not the largest needle or button in the world. It isn't even the largest such commemoration of a garment district. In the Fashion District of New York City at W. 39th St. and Seventh Avenue, you can find a much larger button and needle. It marks the Fashion Center Information Kiosk. Built in 1995, the sculpture has a 31' long needle and the world's largest button. Comparatively, the Kansas City version is dwarfed both in size and appeal.

As far as the park goes, it is more of an open concrete space than anything I would traditionally consider a park. Beyond the fountain, a few trees and a bit of shrubbery, it seems more like a place you would sit to grab a quick lunch then really linger for any extended period of time.

The district was placed in the historic registry in 1973. The urban park is meant to be a reminder of the garment industry's glory days as an important part of Kansas City's development. But the structure is not very informational. There's not much to learn about the history of the garment industry beyond a few plaques with some names and dates. Not being familiar with the garment industry, those names didn't really resonate with me as to who they were or what they might have done. To really learn something, you would need to make an appointment with the Historic Garment District Museum located at 801 Broadway. The museum is only open by appointment.

Total Trip Time: 45 minutes
Total Travel Distance: 44 miles
Soundtrack: "Rockferry" Duffy


September 3, 2009

Sam Houston Statue - Huntsville, TX

Anna and I left the prison museum and decided to go see the giant statue of Sam Houston, commonly known as "Big Sam." Of course, we should have taken into account our inability to navigate. She and I have an amazing ability to get lost no matter where we are and no matter where we're going. This led to our discovery of Homeland Security in Houston and our brief visit to a Texas prison in Hunstville. Yes, Anna and I technically went to prison. We were trying to find the guest center for the statue when we pulled into a parking lot. We then noticed the large fences with barbed wire. And the sign indicating we had just made a big mistake. We promptly freaked out (who wouldn't after learning about what really goes on in a Texas prison for the last hour?) But we escaped quickly and got our bearings. Eventually, we found the welcome center and it looks nothing like a prison.

Big Sam is actually named A Tribute to Courage by David Adickes. Sam is 67 feet tall, made from 30 tons of concrete and steel and stands on a 10 foot sunset granite base. That makes him the world's tallest statue of an American hero. Although comparatively, he really isn't that tall. Not counting its pedestal and foundation, the Statue of Liberty is 151 feet tall - taller than two Big Sam's standing on top of each other. Still, its an impressive site. Big Sam can be seen for 6.5 miles from the south.

For those unfamiliar with American or Texas history, Sam Houston was an important figure during the Civil War. He was opposed to Texas seceding from the Union and was removed as governor when Texas did secede and he refused to swear and oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. He was a leader of the Texas Revolution and eventually supported the annexation of Texas into the United States. Some interesting things to know about him include that he was the only man in American History to be elected governor of two states (Tennessee and Texas) and he was a citizen of four nations (United States, Cherokee, Mexico, Texas.)

A Tribute to Courage was originally intended to be finished by March 2, 1993 for Sam Houston's 200th birthday. But the colossal nature of the project took longer to complete then expected so the final statue was not dedicated until 1994. Given the sheer size of the honor, I doubt Sam Houston minded the extra time needed.


September 1, 2009

Texas Prison Museum - Huntsville, TX

Texas is very proud of its prison system. I mean really proud. They're proud to the point it is a little bit creepy and terrifying. That is why they have built an entire museum dedicated to the history, development and prominence of their prisons. If you have ever thought about committing a crime in Texas, I encourage you to visit this museum. You'll rethink that plan pretty quickly.

Our introduction to the museum was a twenty minute video about the history of the prison system in Texas. It reassured us on two points. First, prisons were not as barbaric as they had been in the past. And second, Texas does not have "country club prisons." Again, I became sure I never want to go to prison in Texas.

The exhibits that followed focused primarily on objects made and works done by prisoners. There was an entire display of contraband and items such as toothbrushes that had been made into deadly weapons. There were also crafts made by inmates including board games such as a prison version of Monopoly and "Parole Pals." Parole Pals are dolls, very much like the Cabbage Patch baby dolls I had when I was a little girl, that were made by death row inmates and sold by the prison. I'm not sure what twisted parent gave a Parole Pal to their child on Christmas morning, but thankfully they are not made or sold anymore.

There was also a significant portion of the museum dedicated to Texas' death penalty. As Ron White said, "In Texas, we have the death penalty and we use it!" You can see Ol' Sparky, the real electric chair where many Texas criminals were put to death. Now, I'm not going to get into an argument on whether or not the death penalty is a good thing. That's not what this blog is about. But I will say, it was very disturbing. There was an art exhibit about the death penalty including photographs and final statements of those who had been put to death along with statements and photographs of surviving victims who had seen their tormentor put to death. I was not so much sickened by the electric chair though as I was my the labeled syringes that had been used to put a man to death by lethal injection. There is one small display about the anti-death penalty movement but little in the way of information. It is mostly just some pictures and a protest sign.

I was more interested in the twisted historical facts, such as those about Bonnie and Clyde. They aided an escape from a Texas prison and Clyde had spent some time enjoying the hospitality of a Texas penitentiary. But not all the facts are in order. For example, there is a gun on display that was supposedly used in Bonnie and Clyde's last stand against the police. But researchers found the gun wasn't manufactured until after their death. So where's the real gun? Who knows. The one thing I am sure of - I don't want to go to prison in Texas.

Total Time Traveled:
Total Distance Traveled:
Soundtrack: Country radio!