This Day in History: the Battle of Mill Springs

Today, January 19th, is the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Mill Springs, fought between Union and Confederate forces in south-central Kentucky in 1862. It was the first important Federal victory of the war after the terrible defeat at the (First) Battle of Bull Run the previous July.

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My Time as a VIP and the National Park Service

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Stones River.  I could do a long post about what happened on this day in 1863 but instead I want to talk about my own personal experience with the National Park Service, which is currently suffering from the government shutdown, and how that shutdown affects the NPS.

For over a decade I was a member of the Volunteers-in-Parks program for the National Park Service and really enjoyed it.  I spent most of my time at the Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, although I also spent some time at other nearby parks, especially Fort Donelson National Battlefield and Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.

When I first joined the National Park Service as a volunteer, it was so I could join the living history program at Stones River.  My first year I probably put in something like 150 to 200 hours of volunteer work, and afterward I was probably regularly doing at least 75 to 100 hours a year.  Even after I moved back to Huntsville and lived 2 hours away, I still managed to put in some hours for the NPS.  Why did I do this?  Because it was wonderful.  In fact, I view my time with the NPS as one of the most positive experiences I have ever had.  The people were just great, and I truly enjoyed interacting with visitors and the public in general.  Although I had done some public speaking before, I really developed that skill with the NPS.  It also gave me the chance to interact with some great historians, like Ed Bearss.

But right now, the NPS suffers from being massively understaffed.  The Trump administration apparently thought they could alleviate some of the effects of the shutdown on the National Parks by allowing them to be open during the shutdown, as opposed to closing them like the government did back in 2013.  It sounds great, at least on paper.  But allowing the public to continue to use the parks even though most park service employees are absent means that no one is cleaning the bathrooms, or handing out maps, or emptying the garbage cans.  It also means no one is collecting admission fees or enforcing rules.  And so the amount of wear and tear that is taking place is pretty bad.  And so many sites are being forced to close their doors.  A recent article from a Nashville TV station showed that many of the Civil War sites where I had volunteered are being affected by the shutdown.

So I hope that the shutdown does not last too long, as I hate to see so many of these parks get wrecked with no one to do any cleaning up.  And maybe one day I will be able to do some history volunteering again.  We’ll see.

~Geoff

History, material culture and life at Downton

Kelly and I have been watching this final season of Downton Abbey.  I have to say, I have warmed to the show a bit, especially since they have developed some of the characters a little more fully.  I am particularly pleased that they have made Thomas Barrow out to be more sympathetic and less of a villain.

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Fire at our favorite hotel

Kelly and I don’t stay in hotels very often, but there is one hotel that we try to stay at once a year.  It’s the closest we get to a regular vacation.  Every May during the big antique show in Brimfield, we try to go for a long weekend and we stay at the Publick House in Sturbridge.  We truly love the place.  We bring our dogs with us, and they have a good time too.

So obviously we were quite alarmed when our friend Carron told us that she saw on the TV news that there was a fire at the Publick House.

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Shop Local- your holiday shopping calendar

As much as I try to pretend otherwise, it is November.  And while this does mean that there is a lot of really good music happening this month, it also means that it’s time for Holiday Craft Show Season to really get underway.  My schedule is packed with great shows.  If you need gifts for people who are interesting, quirky, hard to shop for, or just want something one of a kind, look no further.

Seriously, click on that link below.  It’s right down there.

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When good causes go awry

Good people make mistakes.  It happens.  No one is perfect.  How we acknowledge those mistakes, and how we try to make amends, that is what’s critical to getting along with everyone, especially those who are harmed by our mistakes.  It makes a world of difference whether we recognize the harm we sometimes do as individuals, as organizations, and even as nations.

And that is why it truly pains me to see groups that I believe in make bad, even horrible mistakes, and then fail to do the right thing afterward.  It is just heartbreaking.  And lately it seems like it is one after another.

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