Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cotton Castles

America's CastlesI hadn't particularly intended to continue what I started after last week's Chapultepec Palace post, but I felt compelled to share yesterday's episode on the castles that cotton built. It sparked my interest because three of the four castles are located in areas where hurricanes have hit in recent years.

First, a brief history of cotton itself. If you like, turn on Sousa’s King Cotton March for background music as you read.

Perhaps you've heard the expression King Cotton like I had. The Story of Cotton was quite an eye-opener to me. Little did I know that cotton history goes back at least 7,000 years and that by 1500 cotton was known generally throughout the world.

Cotton has endured as an agricultural crop that has consistently produced income for cotton farmers, and has undergone many changes as technology has changed all crops in the way they are planted, grown and harvested.

High Cotton!We had noticed crops in South Baldwin County and how important agriculture continues to be where the land is fertile and mostly flat, with plenty of rainfall and a long growing season. This seems to mean everything grows bigger and better than what we had been accustomed to.

One cotton field we noticed this week has already been defoliated in preparation for picking. Yesterday we pulled off on a side road to take photos of how big and beautiful a cotton field is. It had many boles yet to open, but the plants themselves were probably at their peak growth. One photo we took shows Wendell standing among the cotton plants with them up to his chest in height. We have not seen a cotton gin in South Baldwin County, so it is still a mystery as to where the cotton will be taken for processing.

Cotton itself is a story on its own, but one phase of the story has to do with the wealth it brought to cotton planters which paid for the construction of magnificent showplaces as homes. Many of the older homes endure to this day and are available for tours.

The four mansions featured by the America’s Castles tapes are a very small example of the homes cotton built. Three of them are located in areas hit by hurricanes in recent years. The fourth is located too far inland from the Coast to receive the assault of hurricane-force winds.

Built in 1895, the 31-room Moody Mansion was purchased for $20,000 after the hurricane of 1900 damaged it,and the Moody family remained there until 1986. One of its features is an 800 square foot dining room. William Jennings Bryan was among those who visited the mansion, and a foundation was established for its preservation and use.

The Bishop’s Palace, also in Galveston, was first built by Colonel Walter Gresham. Besides cotton, Gresham had other financial interests, including being involved in bringing the Santa Fe Railroad to Galveston. The cost of construction was $250,000, and it took 61 craftsmen three years to carve and assemble the staircase. Colonel Gresham also served in the Texas State Legislature and later became a member of the United States Congress. The residence includes many examples of the works of Mrs. Gresham, a trained and accomplished artist. Later it was sold, and a bishop lived in it, becoming known as The Bishops Palace. The Roman Catholic Diocese maintains this structure, which is available for tours.

Longue Vue House in New Orleans was the home of Edgar and Edith Stern. They began living there in 1942. After Edgar’s death in 1959 at age 73, Edith continued to live there until her death in 1980.

Swan House is the only cotton castle featured on this episode that has not had to endure hurricane force winds since it is located on a 28 acre estate in Atlanta, Georgia. It required two years to build at a cost of half a million in 1928 when the average home cost $2,000 to build. Edward and Emily Inman moved into Swan House in 1931. Edward died in 1949, and Emily continued to live there until her death in 1965. The Atlanta Historical Society purchased the home and maintains it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chapultepec Palace

Chapultepec Castle
Photo Credit: Beyond the Underground

A container of VHS tapes has been uncovered. It includes some of my favorite 1990's A&E TV shows, such as America's Castles and Bob Vila's Guide to Historic Homes. So now when I feel like it, I can be an airchair traveler or tourist. Today I viewed an episode featuring Chapultepec Palace in Mexico City. This is a castle I'll not likely ever visit, so I particularly enjoyed the show. It was full of Mexican history, going back to the Aztecs.

These videos were recorded before I even had a home computer, so surfing the internet for more information is an aspect of viewing I didn't have when I taped them. From what I can tell, A&E is no longer showing America's Castles, but my search uncovered lots of photos on flickr. Along with the program I saw, they gave me a pretty good feeling for what it would have been like to visit Mexico City's grand palace.

Chapultepec Stagecoach · by Luis Alberto Cantu on flickrChapultepec Terrace · by itinerantlondoner on flickrChapultepec Patio Garden · by javierdoren on flickr on flickrChapultepec Stained Glass · by harmonica27 on flickr

Chapultepec Palace postcard · by Savissivik on flickr

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings

Why couldn't yesterday have been like this instead of rain, rain, rain?

We were bound and determined to make a visit to the mystery vessel ruins Ike helped uncover near Fort Morgan. We needed a day like this yesterday.

Have you ever noticed how the weather affects your day? I've been aware for a long time that it impacts my mood in a very noticeable way. It's almost like a real cloud is hanging over me and following me around all day.

Today my former boss' youngest daughter, or Daughter No. 3 as he referred to her, is to be married. I hope their weather in Florence, Mississippi, is as beautiful for Kim's wedding day as it appears to be here. Now it is really time for them to have the "empty nest syndrome." They'll probably handle it fine since they have recently become grandparents through another daughter.

Next Saturday is the 25th Annual WellsFest in Jackson, Mississippi. I'm sure praying for good weather for that outdoor event.

Footnote added four days later:
Orley Hood wrote such a good article on WellsFest that I want to include a link to it here.

A leap of faith: Festival, no booze? You bet

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Turtle or Tortoise?

As we arrived home today, we could see something in the road at a distance. At first I thought it was a small dog or cat. As we came closer, I recognized it was a fairly large turtle or tortoise. It moved on out of the road at a slow pace and I caught up with it in a neighbor's carport. I did not want to frighten it but was able to get this photo.

Later I talked with a neighbor about it. He said he had been trying to encourage it to go back to where it came from, a freshly plowed field to the north of us. As I looked more carefully at the photo, it is obvious the reptile had been covered with dirt, and I think I can even see a mark on its shell where a farm implement may have scraped it.

I thought it was wandering about looking for a new home after such treatment, but Smitty reminded me it carried its home around with it. :)

I do wish the turtle well. Do you suppose all that dirt is not healthy? Do you think it needed a bath?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Red Lion

We were speeding through Baton Rouge along I-10 at 70 MPH when my eyes landed on the ugliest hotel I had ever seen.

Photo Credit: Examiner.com

I am now convinced I will have to go back there and get a photo in the daytime for people to understand what I am writing about.

It isn't worth the trip.

Upon further investigation, I am convinced Red Lion Hotel in Baton Rouge provides excellent accomodations, in spite of my initial reaction to the gaudy exterior colors that aren't revealed in this nighttime photo. I totally understand why they chose to show their hotel in this dim light because it conceals the building's bright orange and yellow.

That's all ...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Gustav Evacuation

The TV Weather Channel made us decide to evacuate on Sunday, August 31st, and Smitty apparently chose a really good route because the traffic was surprisingly light on the way to Olive Branch, Mississippi. We could see lots going east in the early part of our trip. At the time we were going west. The east side of Mississippi is by far the best way to travel to Olive Branch. The only heavy traffic we encountered was for a brief time on I-20 in the Meridian area.

We did not choose the best way to return today, and were joined by lots of cars with Louisiana tags returning home, along with lots of utility trucks, all going south on I-55 with us. The good news is we got home safe and sound, and there didn't appear to be any obvious damage to our home in Alabama.

Our hearts went out to those we saw fleeing and returning who were from Louisiana.
A little side comment:

We saw our first Bear Crossing sign in Washington County, Alabama, just above Mobile County. It really surprised us.