Sunday, August 24, 2014

Travelogue – mixed legacy

When I was researching this trip my Triple-A guidebook listed “gems” of Vermont. One of them was Wilson Castle, near the town of Rutland. It sounded pretty good. Also nearby was the Vermont Marble Museum. It didn't get a top rating by Triple-A, but the description sounded intriguing. Yesterday, I began to think today would be too crowded, so decided to see what TripAdvisor said about the Marble Museum. The reviews were quite favorable. I then looked at the reviews for Wilson Castle. Um, not so good. Reviewers talked about decayed splendor. It was obviously a fine place at one time, but clearly falling apart now with skimpy resources for restoration. Those that rated it well saw the splendor, those that gave it low marks saw the decay. So I decided to skip the Castle.

The Vermont Marble Museum was, indeed, pretty good. It showed how marble was mined and cut. Displays showed some of its uses – church interior, statuary, public monuments, big buildings, bathrooms. There was a hall with reliefs of all the presidents (up to Bush I). Another display showed what processes in the earth created marble. There was a display showing how a sculptor worked from a plaster model to the actual marble. There was also a downside – the little town of Proctor was a company town. Everything was owned by the guy who owned the marble company. By the time payday arrived a worker's deducted rent and his bill at the grocery store meant he didn't actually receive any cash.

I still had morning left, so headed south of Rutland on a minor road, Vermont Route 133. It was a beautiful drive down a wide valley with lots of farms. It was an enjoyable trip. Taking a photo was a challenge because of so few places to pull over. Even so, I got this one:

I had lunch in the little town of Manchester, then drove to Hildene, the estate of Robert Todd Lincoln. He's the elder and surviving son of the Prez. Hildene is the summer home, completed in 1905. The main house is of good size. It has a small pipe organ that had used the old paper rolls similar to a player piano. The rolls are getting fragile and their music has been computerized. Here is the back of the house, showing a bit of the garden.

Robert worked in the gov't under a couple presidents, then in 1897 became the head of the Pullman Railroad Company when George Pullman retired (or maybe died). He led the company in one form or another for over 20 years. The estate, run by a foundation since about 1978, was able to get a Pullman train car, restore it, and have it on display on the grounds. Here is a bit of the interior of the car.

The displays around the car discussed the mixed legacy of the Pullman cars. All the porters were black men. The job paid better than most others available to blacks, allowing some to approach a middle-class life, but it was still difficult, exhausting, and demeaning work. The question is raised whether Robert continued the oppression of the people his father freed. There are many aspects of the question, so there isn't a simple answer. Even so, Robert was asked if he banned the tipping of the porters, would that require him to raise their wages? He allowed that it would. Which meant the real people benefiting from the tip were the shareholders (pay attention, restaurant owners!). Here is a cartoon showing that.

I'm puzzled by one detail – the place is described as Robert's ancestral home. Huh? If his father and mother never lived there, how could it be? It is true that Robert's granddaughter inherited the place and lived there until she died in 1978. But that wouldn't make it Robert's ancestral home.

In front of the house is a square of bricks set into the lawn outlining the size of cabin Abraham grew up in. If I'm generous, that square is maybe 20 feet on a side. That's about the same size as the portico of his son's summer house.

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