Thursday, June 29, 2017

History from a Tourist Perspective

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
Several of my blogs have been the result of an impulsive response to a highway sign directing my husband and me to some historical site off the beaten path.  Sometimes those side trips occurred as we were traveling to a planned historical destination, and along the way we discovered something else worth seeing.  Brent Glass, Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, has written a book to assist Americans in learning about their country by traveling to important places, and many of the destinations described in his book include nearby or related sites worth including in the visit.  Titled 50 Great American Places, it represents what Glass considers Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S.  

We met Brent Glass at the recent Cather Conference in Red Cloud, Nebraska, where he was one of the speakers.  Naturally, I was eager to read his book!

First, I was pleased by how many of the sites he recommends are places we have visited.  Perhaps that should not have been a surprise, since we both enjoy learning about history and plan many of our trips for that purpose.

Second, I was tempted to add more of his recommendations to our bucket list of future trips, as well as being affirmed in my hopes to visit places already on our list.

Several of my blogs have emphasized the lessons history has to teach, as well as pointing out that history has a way of repeating itself--not always directly but certainly in ways that share common issues.  Consider, for an example, the struggles of Isaac Werner and other farmers and working class people in the late 1800s during which time another group of Americans were living in what came to be known as the "Gilded Age."  In Chapter 38, Glass shares a quote from Will Rogers speaking in 1931:  "The only problem that confronts this country today see that every man that wants to is able to work...and also to arrange some way of getting more equal distribution of the wealth in the country."

While considering the similarities of the economic issues of those two historic periods, reflect on some of the things we are hearing in the news of today.  The ability of Will Rogers to use humor to address serious social issues remains as relevant today as it was during his lifetime, and the state of Oklahoma has recognized his ongoing contribution to the nation's dialogue by naming Route 66 "Will Rogers Highway."

Route 66 opened as a federal road in 1927, and Glass points out the significance of multistate roads in giving Americans greater independence and mobility.  However, Route 66 also became the pathway to California taken by the Dust Bowl farmers migrating west.  During the Steinbeck Retreat about which I have written in recent blogs, we spent a great deal of time discussing The Grapes of Wrath, from which Glass quotes:  "...the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads."

Yet, many of us think of Route 66 as the theme of Nat King Cole's rendition of the popular lyrics urging a generation to 'get your kicks on Route 66' or we think of the TV show in which the Corvette was as important as the characters.  Route 66 was decommissioned as a highway in 1985, but Clinton, OK has a museum that preserves memories of the road's glory days.

At the end of the chapter, Glass suggests the following places to include in your visit in addition to The Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch, and the Museum in Claremore (  Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (, Gilcrease Museum (, Woody Guthrie Center (, Rogers County Historical Society (, and Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program (

This blog shares only one of Brent Glass's recommendations, but there are 49 more in his book!
(Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.)

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