Vermont Toy Museum at Quechee Gorge Village

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Every generation has its favorite toys. When I was a kid in the 1980s, we had a lot of action figures and toys based on popular TV shows like G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, and My Little Pony. How those toys change decade by decade can be very interesting, even educational. Toys tell us something about the values of our society at the time, and what kinds of activities we want children to be interested in.

The Vermont Toy Museum at Quechee Gorge Village is a unique window into that world. The museum features action figures, dolls, comic books, lunchboxes, games, and more, plus a huge model train set. Display cases are packed with toys decade by decade beginning with the 1950s, so you can easily see how toys have changed over the years. It also has separate displays for Star Wars, Star Trek, and other popular franchises.

An entire display cabinet shows how prevalent toy guns were in the 1950s, and it’s incredible how realistic-looking toy guns were marketed to children (yet there were no mass shootings at schools back then). My favorite are the metal revolvers that fired caps, but my mom was totally against having any toy guns in the house, so I never got to play with them.

The Vermont Toy & Train Museum is located on the second floor above Cabot Cheese at Quechee Gorge Village, 5575 Woodstock Road, U.S. Route 4 in Quechee, Vermont. They are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Call (802) 295-1550 Ext. 102 or email robin@quecheegorge.com for more information.

Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia

View the most complete collection of artifacts from this famous author’s life at the oldest house in Richmond.

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Though nineteenth-century author Edgar Allan Poe never lived here, this small museum complex in downtown Richmond, Virginia has become more than a record of his life and writing—it is a tribute to both the man and his fans. There is even a garden shrine to the Dark Romantic poet.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is best known for poems like “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” and short stories like “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”. His birth parents were actors who died when he was a child. He was raised by foster parents in Richmond before moving to Baltimore as a young man, where he met his future wife, the young Virginia Eliza Clemm. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.

The newlyweds returned to Richmond, where Poe got a job at the Southern Literary Messenger. His tragic life has been recounted elsewhere, but to make a long story short, he died nearly penniless in a delirium at the age of 40. In 1906, Poe fans formed the Poe Memorial Association. They salvaged bricks from the demolished Southern Literary Messenger building to erect a shrine to Poe behind Richmond’s oldest house, which was then a museum dedicated to colonial history. The shrine opened in 1922.

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Jamestown Settlement in Virginia’s Historic Triangle

Experience England’s first permanent colony in North America come to life at this living history museum.

It’s a place of legend. John Smith and Pocahontas are household names, and they lived and walked near this ground. Jamestown Settlement is an attempt to reconstruct these historic places just over a mile from their actual location. (To see the archeological remains of the original site, you’ll have to visit nearby Historic Jamestowne.)

In 1607, the Virginia Company of London established a settlement in swampy tidewater along the James River. The colony quickly ran into trouble, and a majority of colonists died of sickness and starvation within the first few years. Relations with the indigenous population were troubled, and in 1622, the Powhatan Indians massacred a quarter of the colonists. More misfortune followed when Jamestown was burned during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676.

Jamestown Settlement got its start in 1957 and is run by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, it consists of the re-created James Fort and Powhatan town, replicas of the settlers’ original wooden sailing ships the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, and a large visitor center and museum. The Visitor Center was built for a cost of $7.4 million and opened in 2006.

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Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

Tour the claustrophobic tenement where the famous author fell in love with his future wife and published his second book.

Edgar Allan Poe is among my favorite authors, but his life wasn’t without controversy. As a young man, Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army and served several years before applying to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Before going to West Point (and subsequently getting booted out), he stayed at the home of his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, where he met her ten-year-old daughter Virginia Eliza Clemm.

Their narrow red brick duplex stood at No. 3 Amity Street in Baltimore Maryland. Today, it is the Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum. Poe lived in this house with the Clemms for approximately one year before attending West Point. Besides his aunt and her daughter, Maria’s ailing mother and possibly her 14-year-old son Henry also lived there (Henry died at a young age at an unknown date).

Touring the small rooms and claustrophobic passages to the second floor and the attic, I can’t imagine what it was like with four people living there without electricity, air conditioning, or plumbing. Despite these conditions, Poe managed to publish Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems in 1829.

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Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, North Carolina

This majestic mansion and gardens transports you back to the Victorian Era.

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Built for a prominent North Carolina slaveholder and his family, the Bellamy Mansion on Market Street in Wilmington’s Historic District is slowly being restored to its former glory. Today, you can tour the mansion and nearby servant quarters, and purchase souvenirs in the former carriage house. It’s a fascinating glimpse at a bygone era.

Designed by Wilmington architect James F. Post in 1859, this 22-room Greek Revival and Italianate-style mansion took nearly two years to build. It was completed in 1861, just as North and South were embroiled in civil war. Dr. John Dillard Bellamy (1817-1896) commissioned the home for his large family and their closest servants and slaves. Dr. Bellamy was an ardent secessionist who owned over one hundred slaves throughout North Carolina.

In early 1865, the family fled Wilmington during an outbreak of yellow fever, but wouldn’t return until the fall because the Union Army had occupied the city and were using their mansion as a headquarters. Union General Joseph Roswell Hawley wasn’t keen on returning the property to an unabashed rebel. He wrote, “having for four years been making his bed, he now must lie on it for awhile.”

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National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

This eclectic museum brings the African American experience to life, but some sections are definitely not suitable for children.

As a fan of both history and wax museums, I was thrilled to discover this museum in Baltimore’s struggling northeastern neighborhood of Oliver. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum features over 150 life-sized wax figures representing a range of personalities from African American history, as well as a few ancient ones as well.

The museum’s depiction of ancient history is, for lack of a better word, imaginative. In the entryway, a large figure of a dark-skinned Hannibal the Great sits on a war elephant. Hannibal, a Carthaginian leader who fought the Romans circa 218 BC, was ethnically Phoenician, not from Sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise, the museum depicts Egyptian pharaohs as black when they were actually Middle Eastern in origin. Some even had red hair.

Perhaps the most controversial exhibits have to do with the Atlantic slave trade, lynching, and racism. It’s estimated 12 to 12.8 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic over a span of 400 years under horrible conditions. The wax exhibit leaves nothing to the imagination.

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Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York

This small historic site and museum in New York’s Finger Lakes region commemorates the birthplace of American feminism.

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In 1848, a large group of Quaker women gathered at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York for a three day convention aimed at discussing women’s rights. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was also in attendance and spoke at the convention. Only women were invited on the first day, but both men and women could attend the following days.

What resulted was the Declaration of Sentiments, a document advancing the cause of greater social, political, and religious rights for women. It was signed by 68 women and 32 men in attendance. It was considered quite radical at the time, and called for women’s suffrage as well as legal reforms making wives more independent from their husbands (in English common law, the practice of coverture meant a woman’s legal rights were subsumed by her husband).

This was the first of several early women’s rights conventions, and it is considered a landmark of First Wave Feminism, which focused on winning legal equality with men, particularly the right to vote. Today, the site is commemorated as Women’s Rights National Historical Park. The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel has been rebuilt on the foundation of the old, which had deteriorated over the past 160 years. A small but informative museum exploring the history of women’s activism in the United States is also on site.

Women’s Rights National Historical Park, at 136 Fall Street in Seneca Falls, New York, was established in 1980. It is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00pm, but closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Entrance to the museum is free. There is a small parking lot behind the visitor’s center, as well as street parking. Call (315) 568-2991 for more information.