Sunday, August 4, 2013

Give Your State Capitol A Chance!

For our last overnight trip of the summer we decided to go to visit the capitol of our commonwealth (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). I can’t remember the last time I was in the city and there were a couple of things that piqued our interest namely the state museum and the state archives. So with those two things on the agenda we made the two hour drive to the seat of Commonwealth politics.

Fortunately, our drive was uneventful and we made great time getting to the hotel. The Crowne Plaza was packed on Friday night and it took a little bit of weaving through the lobby to check in but once we got up there things went smoothly and we were on our way to the room. When we walking into the lobby we noticed immediately that it seemed a little dated but it was well maintained and clean so it really wasn’t an issue and when we got to the room we were downright amused. Opening the door we were immediately transported back to the mid 80’s which led me to give the establishment its new nickname, the “Back to the Future” hotel.

We didn’t stay in the room long before we were back out the door as I had arranged for a quick meeting a few blocks away. It only took us about 10 minutes to make our way to State Street and while Samantha was simply humoring me, I enjoyed the very quick tour of the State Republican Headquarters located a block away from the capitol building. After about 15-20 minutes we were out the door and on our way again. This time we headed to a more recent addition to our agenda that we came across the previous week when we picked up some brochures at one of the many rest stops we have visited over the last few months, The Midtown Scholar Bookstore, a new and used book store on North Third Street.

While my wife was unable to find any books that she wanted to pick up, I was able to find a few volumes that I know I will be using in the near future both as free reading and for genealogy research. I picked up a couple of Samuel Hazo poetry collections, my favorite poet, and a collection of Civil War naval correspondences both of which I am looking forward to reading. We did eventually find a book for my wife – it wasn’t Wizard of Oz but it was by Baum. A pretty good, and inexpensive, haul.

Books in hand and camera at the ready, we decided to walk across to the Susquehanna River and walk along the bank back to the hotel.

The streets and paths were beginning to quiet down…

…the bridges seemed almost void of cars…

It was a perfect evening for walking…

…as the summer heat had faded to something that felt more like late September rather than early August…

…the breeze was swaying the trees along the river’s edge…

…and the sun highlighted both the water and the sky with yellow and orange hues.  

That was our evening entertainment as we made our way down the winding coastal path. As we turned back in toward the reenergized city center the quiet of the river dissolved into the distance. Soon we found ourselves back at the hotel and after a not so quick dinner we headed off to bed to rest up for the next day.

The following morning we got off to a nice easy start by going down to the lobby for breakfast before heading over to the misnamed State Museum of Pennsylvania located across the street from the capitol building. After checking out and leaving our luggage at the front desk, we made our way out the front door and over to Third Street. This is when we discovered that Harrisburg turns into a ghost town on the weekend which was a bit eerie but it made for a pleasant stroll and the freedom to stop and take pictures every once in a while without getting run into by other people.

When you enter the museum you are immediately greeted by a large statue of William Penn

…with a mural wrapped around his shoulders on the second floor landing.

After paying the admission fee we climbed up to the third floor (of three exhibit floors) and started making our way down. The first series of showcases focused on the natural aspects of the land such as topography, geology, and the wildlife that was and is part of the commonwealth. For us, this is not of much interest so we made our way rather quickly from one end to the other and took the escalator down to the second level where we spent much more time going from one display to the next.

Beginning with the Indian tribes that lived in this land we walked through full sized models of dwellings and cases of artifacts collected and excavated from various parts of the state. One interesting example of bead work clearly demonstrates the modern day bastardization of what once had a completely different meaning and definition. What was once used by tribes to represent a wandering clan (Hopi)or as a symbol for a whirling log (a sacred image used in healing rituals by the Navajo) is now associated with one of the greatest forces of evil that this world has ever known.

Moving forward in time, the exhibits shifted into a more modern era as different modes of transportation were on full display ranging from the classic Conestoga wagon

…to Andrew Carnegie’s opulent coach…

…with its plush interior and ornate details…

…to an electric powered ice truck.

And, of course, there was a rather large room set aside to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I will limit the details as this was the central topic to my previous travel post and, because flash photography was prohibited, many of the pictures did not fare well in the poorly lit room. So I will simply leave you with another picture of a cannon which greeted us as we passed through the threshold and into the unique collection.

Having one more stop to make in the day we sped things up a bit and made our way down to the ground floor and into the art gallery (no pictures) and through the colonial street recreation which was a very dark night type scene.

This led us back to the entrance and after a quick walk through the gift shop we made our way next door. Overall, the museum is a decent overview but is in dire need of an overhaul both in content and concept as many research developments have been made and public interests have changed since 1972.  

The rest of our afternoon was spent at the State Archives with the purpose of both familiarizing ourselves with archive work and attempting to do some genealogical research. While we feel much more comfortable with the process and have a better understanding of the time it takes to sift through the panels, pages, and files of records we didn’t find much in the way of family documents. We will be making some local county trips in the near future to further our research.

With a few photocopies in hand it was time to head back to the hotel, pick up our bags and our car, and go home. It wasn’t the best trip we’ve been on and it certainly wasn’t the worst. And just like many other destinations we have been to over the year, it may not have been the most beautiful place to go but it had its moments.