Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Artistic Pursuits Early Elementary - Book 1 (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

 ARTistic Pursuits is a homeschool art curriculum for students of all ages.  With a total of 13 books, ranging from preschool to high school levels, there is a program for every student.  For the past two months, Jude has been working with the book, ARTistic Pursuits, Early Elementary K-3 Book One. This book is for students aged 5 and up, and is a good beginning art curriculum. 

What I enjoyed was how simple the lessons are.  Because they are for beginning students, they are only about ten miutes long.  I think this is great because young attention spans aren't much longer, so I felt like we were getting a good lesson on art in with each day.

The first part of the lesson is a one-page reading about a topic.  The range from the most basic "What does an artist do?" to different styles of art.

This is followed by a major work of art to be studied for these qualities.  I think it's wonderful that the presentations are so varied.  There is exposure to just about every kind of artist in this volume, from Degas to Demuth, Kiyohiro to Claude Monet. Art history was a core requirement when I was in college, and I loved the different styles of paintings.  Art is subjective - so while I can appreciate a Dali painting, he's not one of my favorite artists.  However, it would be very easy for me to put together a course on the medieval Van Eyck and Hans Holbein the Younger.  I think it's important for Jude to decide what type of art he likes, and the only way to do this is to be exposed to many different types.

Finally, the unit concludes with a Student Project.

One particular project he enjoyed was wandering the house searching for things to sketch.  I found it really interesting to see the things that caught his eye:

However, some were more difficult for him.  This particular watercolor comes from Lesson 5 - Artists Use Photographs.  This is the inspiration image he chose.

 I'll admit, I did help him with the figure in this one.  He got frustrated easily, because he struggled with not being "right."  If I were to do this again, I think I'd be more inclined to do the instruction, then the project, finishing with the artwork study.  I think he often felt intimidated by what he saw, and felt that was what he needed to create, not what was in his imagination.  The text does stress that the parent/teacher should encourage imagination, not copying ideas, when drawing, but Jude became fixated on the artworks presented.   He seemed to do better when he could be in control.  (Which is pretty much the story of this kid's life.)

This was Jude's favorite drawing - a Power Rangers Megazord.

One thing I like about ARTistic Pursuits is the creators expect you to use quality art materials.  I'll admit, I'm more of a "crayons and copy paper when kid wants to color" kind of mom, but I think using real materials is a good thing, and creates a more intentional process.  Watercolor crayons are more expensive than basic ones (or basic watercolor pans), but having separate "these are your school art supplies" did generate a different level of respect.  It did take a while for Jude to get the hang of how much pressure to put on the paper so that the colors didn't bleed into one another.  Other media used in the program include pencil, oil pastel, and air-drying clay.

Last year, Matthew worked with ARTistic Pursuits, using the Elementary 4-5, Book 1: The Elements of Art and Composition.   I was impressed with that program, so I was excited to use this younger level for Jude.  In addition,  previous experience with the curriculum meant I already had an idea of what the program entailed.  When I filled out the Crew form to request this book, I said:
I'm in the process of re-configuring my game plans to more of a unit-study thing.  I think Jude is finally ready for more than just absolute basics, but the thought of doing a history course and science and art and...and...and...just seems overwhelming.  What I'm considering is using this (at least for the review period, and we'll see how it works before committing to it "forever") as a spine for a unit study.  We can do "art history" instead of history-history, and then use the work of art we're studying to rabbit trail by adding books/videos about a topic...

This wasn't impossible, but it wasn't as simple as I thought it would be.  Some works are easier to find things to build upon.  For example, Lesson 3's "Artists Look at Nature" work, In Flanders Field - Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow is fairly easy to build upon. 

We studied the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, and pictures of what Flanders Field looks like today.

Image Source

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

We recently visited Arlington National Cemetery, so we talked about how Flanders Field was another cemetery for soldiers.   We added a book or two, and a video about Belgium, and we had a week long "taste of" unit study.  Not too hard.

But then we were a bit at a loss when it came to trying to add to the unit on Imagination, which used Marc Chagall's The Birthday as its inspiration.  We wound up doing more of a unit study on France - French foods, the Eiffel Tower, etc. - but that missed the point of wanting to use a piece of art as our center. I'm not sure that the first half of the book will truly work how I had intended to use it.

However, the second half of the book actually does a better job at being part of a unit study.  The second section is entitled "Where We Find Art" and it is a much better resource for unit studies.  Cave art, pottery, frescoes and mosaics, and medieval tapestry and stained glass become the focus.  For the K-3 set, I think this is wonderful.  It serves as both a history lesson and a way to bring the culture of a people or an era to life.  Create a mural of your daily life like the Ancient Egyptians did, or a clay animal sculpture as you study Rome and the gilded bronze sculpture of Marcus Aurelius atop his horse.  We are currently working on a unit study of the Middle Ages, and looking forward to trying to create some illuminated books and "stained glass" pieces. In fact, the stained glass windows featured in ARTistic Pursuits are from the Chartres Cathedral, featured in the in the PBS/David Macaulay film Cathedrals we just watched.  Jude is excited to work on this section because not only is the window something Jude is now familiar with, but it's a chance to really look up close and see the details in these beautiful "glass storybooks."  I think this second half is a better section to use as the base of a unit study, and will likely use these styles/eras of art as starting points.

My only true complaint about this text is that I wish that there was an index that listed the artists/styles in one place, so that the textbook would be more teacher-friendly for referring to particular paintings of an era. For example, if we were doing a nature study, it would be nice to have In Flanders Field... to refer to, or George Caleb Bingham's  The Jolly Flatboatmen to go along with a study of the role of the "Might Mississippi River" in an American History unit.  I think this would extend the useable life of the book beyond grades K-3.  I think the price of the book ($47.95) is fair for the curriculum, but it's really hard to justify a nearly $50 textbook for a kindergarten student.  Knowing there was a way to easily use this as a reference for long beyond the primary years would make it a more frugal purchase.

My main plan was for Jude to do the bulk of the "learning" from this program, with Damien (just starting Kindergarten work) sitting in as he desired.  He enjoyed looking at the pictures in earlier chapters, and even answering the questions that went with them, but he couldn't sit through the "lecture" (it was too much words/being read to and not enough picture to help tell the story), and he didn't have the patience/fine motor skills to work on the student projects that focused on color or line, etc..  However, I think he will enjoy the second half of the book because there is less instruction and more focus on creating from the imagination than imitating a particular style. For example, the lesson in Mosaics is more about creating pictures with small bits of paper glued into an outlined shape instead of copying an image in front of you.  For him, I think we will work backwards, working on the projects in the back of the book, and then switching to the more theory-heavy front as he gets older.

I am thoroughly impressed with ARTistic Pursuits and the quality of the program.  I was concerned that the concepts would be watered down for a younger crowed, especially having used the program for older students. However, the ideas are brought down to an age appropriate level, not watered down, and they still use amazing artwork as their examples.  Now that he has seen many of these examples in a book, Jude would like to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art so he can see some of the works from these artists person.  While my initial plans to use this program as a base for a unit study did not work out, it sounds like we'll be changing the plans to "field trip study," and I think that's an even better ending!

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Epcot's Stavkirke: Did the Disney Imagineers Get It Right?

Note: Luke has been studying church architecture for his visual arts credit.  One of the church styles studied is the Nordic stave church.  When we recently visited Disney, he was asked to examine the stave church in Epcot and compare it to what he learned in his course lecture.


Christianity started to develop in Norway in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Norwegians were skilled in woodwork, so naturally their churches, known today as stave churches, would be built of wood and decorated with ornate wooden carvings. At the climax of construction of these churches, there were more than 1000 of these wooden churches built, but due to the natural tendency of wood to decay over time, only about 28 stave churches remain standing today. The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida created a life-size replica of a stave church in the Norway pavillion of their EPCOT World Showcase. On our recent vacation to Disney, instead of cruising by and heading for the patisserie in the France showcase, I purposely stopped and explored the details of the Norway stavkirke to see how well Disney recreated one of these striking buildings.

During the Middle Ages, over 1000 stavkirke, or Stave Churches, were built, and now less than 30 remain.  How well did Disney's Imagineers recreate the Stave Church in Epcot's Norway Pavillion?

The word “stave” comes from the Nordic word stafr and means “pine tree trunk“. Traditionally, the churches are made from huge staves that were already hundreds of years old when harvested, and were carved by craftsman to form the interior pillars of a central nave. There was also an aisle on each side (similar to the Roman basilica style churches). Then, at least four central pillars are driven through a wooden interior floor and then are then sunk on a stone platform. The builders left a small gap - about a finger’s width - between the stone and the wooden floor. This small, finger width space provides for airflow underneath the church, helping preserve the floor and provide a natural cooling mechanism for the churches in summer.

These stave churches were decorated in a variety of ways. Some of the decorations are similar to medieval, western European art that was brought with missionary religious. However, much of the decor is unique to local Norse heritage. Like most new nations that adopted Christianity, they took elements of their own culture, traditions, and pre-existing religions and adapt them to use in the Christian buildings they construct. The inspiration for these designs is not fully known. Some believe the Norse people copied English churches, while others believing they are a wooden reinvention of the traditionally stone Christian basilicas. Still others feel Stave churches are their own indigenous style.

The exteriors of the churches are imposing. The very steep-pitched roofs and unique shingle patterns are designed so as to withstand heavy snowfall throughout the year. Perches and old Viking prowls are found along upper parts of the exterior. Are they just an architectural piece, and a reminder to the Norse people of their Viking heritage? Or is there some symbolism, such as the perches being a resting place for the Holy Spirit (often symbolized as a dove) and the prowls symbolic of the dangers or power faced by Christians? Much of the initial interpretation of these symbols are lost today, and little written records remain.

Larger churches contain an ambulatory, which is a small, exterior porch-like walkway encompassing the perimeter of the church.

 Exterior doorways, known as “portals” due to their unique shaping, were outlined with hand-carved friezes.

portal and frieze of Stave church

I was impressed with the placement of the handle for the door.  It's lower than modern doors, because people were shorter then.  

 Look at the detail in the carvings.  The vine-like entanglements are actually the intertwined tails of animals.   Symbolically, they represent the intertwining of our lives, and they have no visible beginning or ending -- like the eternal nature of God.

Interior architecture and designs are just as detailed as the interior. Unique wooden carvings and imprints decorate the staves.

Though most were expected to stand during Mass, hand-carved benches for the ill and expectant were placed in the church. Light from small windows was augmented by candelabras. (There were no large or stained glass windows like we are used to seeing in churches, likely because it wasn’t practical in the often bitterly cold Nordic climate.) While the exterior roofing is sloped, interior ceilings were a “tray ceiling” design, mimicking the underside of a tea tray.

Stave church interior

As I walked around the building in EPCOT, I went through a checklist of all of these details, and pointed them out to my mother (the photographer). I was impressed that most of the things I expected to see were present. Very few were not as I expected, and the biggest one mostly has to do with building codes -- lawyers and insurance companies much prefer electric light to candles.

Aside from this difference, I noted that the ceiling heights weren’t quite right. Traditionally, the central nave’s ceiling would be much higher than the side aisles. In the church at EPCOT, the ceiling height has been standardized across the building, with the central areas even with the sides. I wish that they had gotten this detail correct, but given the need to add electric light and air conditioning, it makes sense that the ceiling is kept lower to reduce utility costs.

Often there were courtyards to handle larger crowds, or for outdoor ceremonies.  While there was a landscaped garden around the church, there was not a great courtyard, likely due to space constraints.  There was a covered patio area behind the church, but it was more behind the Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe and used as a seating area for the restaurant rather than a courtyard for the church.

Overall, I would give Disney a solid A for their recreation of a Norwegian stavkirke. Craftsman put great effort into the exterior design, especially the carvings around the nave exteriors and the portals. The interior overall is quite good, with some details modernized due to building codes and space constraints. Truthfully, I'm not surprised at how accurately it was built, because Disney imagineers are well known for their attention to research and details.  If you visit EPCOT, definitely take a few minutes to explore the Stave Church at the Norway Pavillion!

Disney Epcot Norway Stave Church accurate

©2012- 2015 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Orphs of the Woodlands (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

We've reviewed a few story-type programs in the past, and they're always a hit.  When the Crew offered us Orphs of the Woodlands from Star Toaster to review, Matthew and Celia were thrilled to be chosen.  "Orphs" is an interactive storybook experience that combines reading, comprehension, vocabulary, math, science, and other subjects into a game-like program.  It's geared to 4th through 7th graders, which puts 5th grader Celia right in the middle, and 8th grade Matthew just above the target range.

 The Treasure of HighTower, the first book in what I hope is to be a series, begins with an "application" to become a secret agent.  Already they were hooked.  Each chose his or her online persona - Matthew used his nickname, Zilla, while Celia chose the pseudonym "Bob". 

From the very beginning, I was delighted with the whimsy of the program.  Check out the directions at the bottom for where to put your application!  I adore little details like this. 

From the beginning, this story is a fun read.  Don't misunderstand me -- it is very hefty on the content, with loads of vocabulary and plot.   However, that doesn't mean it's boring. From the very beginning, the story is fully of whimsy.

After each chapter, you are called on to work on a series of projects to earn coins to move on. Not all subjects are part of each level, which helps keep the tasks interesting. 

And again, the bits of whimsy continue.

I do think they have a point.  After all, "Cenam coqui, ut non opus insanimus," does sound more exciting than "I better cook something for dinner before they drive me crazy."

Speaking of cooking dinner, I love how there's not just academic application of information, but practical as well.  So often I hear "But why do I need to know this? There's no point..."  Studded through the story were recipes for different dishes.  Well, if you want to know how to make something, you need to know vocabulary...and math...and science...hmm.   The recipes were definitely cause for excitement here.  When I went to go through the screenshots Celia took as she read/played, there were 72 pictures.  Over half were recipes. Matthew called me over when he got to this one, and begged me to make it.

I looked at it and cringed. The only ingredient on that list Celia can have is salt, and Matthew is allergic to nuts! (Plus all of our baking is gluten free so I don't have wheat flour flying around my kitchen.) Matthew looked at me and said, "But you can make anything!"  I guess after 10 years of allergy cooking and recipe adapting, he's got faith in my skills.  After some strategizing, I think I've figured out how to replace the unsafe ingredients so that he can try making the recipe.  There will be No-Nuts Nutty Nut Bread, but that's another post. 

In addition to academic activities, there were short character training bits.  I have seem some character learning activities that feel like "be smart...know how to act..." is being bludgeoned into you.  Not here at all.  Presented as a "science" lesson, Matthew and Celia learned about qualities of animals worth emulating.

We absolutely loved this program.  A normal subscription is for 60 days (with discounted 30 day extensions), but Crew members were generously given a year's subscription.  (You can also sign up for a free trial here.) At first, I was a bit skeptical that the two months' time was just a way to get an extra renewal from parents.   Celia is a strong reader, so I expected her to get through most of the program in two months, but I was shocked when Matthew was almost as fast as she was.  Both were done in less than two weeks.  Why? Orphs.

AHA!  The Orphs.  These poor creatures are what turns Orphs of the Woodlands from academic exercise to fun game. The goal of answering questions and fulfilling tasks isn't just for the sake of being tested, but so you can earn gold starts to help save the Orphs.

Now you're asking, "Ooooh-kay.  What's an Orph?"  An Orph is...wait for orphan.  Yeah, pretty obvious, huh?  It took me a until into the story and a "Duh, Mom" look to catch on - I was expecting something grand and mystical.  In the story, Orphs are orphaned Woodland creatures.  When you sign up as a spy, you're working with the secret WAK Underground group to stop the evil Night Creatures who are killing the adults and leaving the young animals orphaned.  As you go through the story and activities, you earn stars that can then be spent on taking care of Orphs. However, critical thinking skills come into play -- there are plenty of orphs, but you can't just collect them like trading cards.  You need to spend your stars carefully, so that there is enough food, shelter, and protection for the Orphs.  If you aren't careful, your Oprhs will wander off in search of one of these, and you'll lose them.  Matthew started before Celia, and was laid back about the program.  Celia came home, and got started, and suddenly had practically an army of Orphs.

Game. On.

Matthew, being homeschooled, would work in the daytime and greet Celia at the door when she got home from school -- "I have 20 stars and two Orphs."  Suddenly my laptop would disappear for an hour, and then Celia would shout, "I've got 30 stars and twelve Orphs AND and an orphanage!" Back and forth they went!  One day, Celia didn't make great choices with her stars, and some of her Orphs wandered off while she was at school, and yes, there were tears.

Matthew was upset that at the last minute, his Orphs disappeared.  He's really hoping there is another installment of the story.  (He'll also pay better attention and not race through tasks, so he can beat his sister. Once they're done, they're done, so if you fail at a task there's no way to go back later and get a second chance.)

I loved this program, and hope there is a new installment soon, too.  It was a fun way to combine several subjects into a single program that neither child could wait to play on, and would be an excellent summer reading program.  I woke up one Saturday morning at 7:00 and found Celia already at work, reading so she could get enough stars to feed her Orphs.  Secret agents Zilla and Bob are ready for their next assignments!

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

First Start Reading from Memoria Press (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Jude is plodding along reading, and Damien is showing signs of being ready to start something more sophisticated than Super Why! videos.  When the Crew gave us the chance to review the complete  First Start Reading  program from Memoria Press, I thought it would be perfect for us.  Since we would receive the Teacher Guide and and one complete set of student books A-D, I thought Damien could start at the beginning, and Jude in the middle.

Memoria Press is well known for their classical-style homeschooling programs.  This curriculum teaches:
  • consonants
  • short and long vowels
  • 45 common words
  • manuscript writing (printing)
Though Jude's penmanship skills are actually pretty good (copywork is a staple here), I really thought reading-wise that he'd be ready for Book D, given all he had been "taught" were short vowel sounds.  (Book D adds long vowels, diagraphs and common blends into learning to read.)    I glanced through the very introductory Book A, just to see what it was like, before handing Jude Book B.  I was sure this was below his level, but I wanted to just take the five minutes to be certain he didn't have any holes in what he knew, plus I wanted to give him the confidence of "I'm too smart for that book." Apparently, he's picked up enough other rules and patterns in reading/being read to that he just started and kept on going!  The books also contain a total of 31 short stories to practice reading skills.  He read a few passages and then the final passage easily, so I handed over Book C...and then D...and then asked him to read the final passage.  When he read that with reasonable ease for a cold reading, Neal and I looked at each other in amazement.  

While he's figured out all of the sounds in Book D on his own, it put Jude in a really awkward spot with several of the other programs that we have.  I'm not certain where he actually is, but basing placement from "knows everything in Book D" is very difficult with all of the programs we do have.   I'm not overly familiar with the rest of Memoria Press' offerings, but at a quick glance, it looks like Memoria Press' first grade complete curriculum includes phonics work that would build on what is learned in Kindergarten level First Start Reading.  However, since we are not doing a complete packaged curriculum with Jude because of his skill range, I found it a bit awkward to transition to higher levels of the other programs we already have. first bit of advice is if you're a brand-new-to-phonics student, this is a good choice. Lucky Damien now gets the entire program to himself!

I like the simplicity of the program.  The teacher’s manual and student books (along with pencils and crayons) are all that you need -- I don't have any prep work to do.  Additionally, we've tried a lot of different programs with Jude, and they've run the gamut from literal bells and whistles (for online programs) to other paper-and-pencil ones that were exceptionally austere.  While I prefer a simpler program where the focus is on language and not guessing from the pictures, I liked that this had a little bit of picture to help engage Damien's interests (the program is for Kindergarteners, after all), but not so much that he became focused on the program as a coloring book, or that the child starts to be able to decode from the pictures and not the words. 

 We worked in Book A three, sometimes four, days each week - not every day. First, though we are dipping our toes into kindergarten work, Damien is still only four.  The opposite of his brother (of course!), he's doing well with phonemes but struggling a bit with fine motor skills.  Because of this,  we're working on pre/non-writing skills as well. I think a lower-key approach for younger children is better - I'd rather go more slowly and build confidence than try to push through and have him in frustrated tears.

In addition, in the teacher's manual there is a comprehension guide with questions.  I have a separate comprehension book for Jude, so after he showed he could read the passages, I didn't go back to see if he could read them for content.  However, I liked that comprehension was part of the program, because it doesn't really matter much that you can read a story if you can't figure out what is going on in the story!

 I'll admit that it's not my favorite program - but then again, if I was an average homeschooling parent who had only tried one or two programs, it likely would be.  (We are a bit odd here -- how many parents need three hands to count all the phonics programs they've attempted in search of THE ONE that will work for their child's abilities?)  Overall, I think this is a good program, and one we will likely continue to use with Damien.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tragedy and Legacy at Ford's Theater

Tragedy and Legacy at Ford's Theater

Have you ever had the opportunity to visit Ford's Theater in Washington, DC?  We recently did and I was really amazed at how wonderful this gem is!  It's a little bit off the "beaten trail" of the National Mall (about a 10 minute walk) but well worth the side trip.   Free timed tickets meter guest entry, allowing you plenty of time to look around without feeling overcrowded.  We visited thinking we'd only get to see the theater itself, but were very pleasantly surprised to find two full museums as well that gave us a very unique perspective on that fateful night.

When we first arrived, we were ushered into a museum underneath the theater.  This was our first surprise.  The Lincolns' guests on the evening Abraham Lincoln was shot were Miss Clara Harris and Major Henry Rathbone (who was stabbed as well).  The pair eventually married, and their son, Illinois Congressman Henry Riggs Rathbone, worked with Congress to authorize the government to purchase the Osborn Olydroyd Collection of Lincoln memorabilia, including many items from the Lincoln assassination itself. This is one of the most extensive collection of Lincoln artifacts we've ever seen!

Hope to the World Abraham Lincoln

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln
First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln by Francis Bicknell Carpenter

(Next to the painting was this legend, so we knew who was who.) 

There is an entire section dedicated to the Lincoln family during the Presidency, including this engraving by Samuel B. Waugh and William Sartain.

Waugh Sartain Lincoln family engraving

This family portrait (engraving) includes a portrait of the Lincoln's son, Willie, who died during Lincoln's first administration.  Most exhibits on Lincoln focus on his public/political persona, and we really liked seeing this glimpse into the human side of the family.  Willie's death greatly affected the family, and it was really interesting to learn about this very human side of Lincoln.

William Lincoln mourning

 (As an aside, Mom and I were even more impressed with the movie "Lincoln" that we had just watched.  Often, actors tend to get the "general appearance" of a character right, but perhaps not the finer details.  After seeing this portrait, we were shocked at the almost identical look of the actors to the family!)

Lincoln's stress diversions

After a history of the Lincoln Administration, the museum segues into the the Assassination. 

John Wilks Booth's plans change

 There are a number of artifacts on display, including the murder weapon.

Pistol assassinated Abraham Lincoln

At the end, you move on to the theater itself.  Hanging on the walls of the hallway leading there are two timelines: placards on one side describe President Lincoln's day, and the other side outlines the assassins' activities.  We learned a major reason why Booth was able to get so close to President Lincoln -- he was an actor who worked in Ford's Theater.  He was not part of that evenings' production, but so well known to everyone that he had run of the building and nobody suspected a thing.

We found this final moment almost heartbreaking, especially after having watched the movie "Lincoln."  At the end of the movie, Lincoln jokes that his wife will be very upset if he doesn't get there before the curtain rises.  He'd have preferred to finish the task and not save it for morning, but he'd defer to her wishes and get to the theater on time.

The Presidential Box, where Lincoln sat, is easily found by its stately decor. 

The Presidential Box Ford's Theater

It couldn't have been any easier for Booth to find Lincoln's seat.  The evening of April 14, 1865 was the first time it had been decorated with flags and George Washington's portrait, signifying it as the "Presidential" box. The furnishings that are there now are from the correct for the era, but not the original ones.  However, he portrait of President Washington, however, is the original portrait that hung there when the Lincolns occupied the box.

Lincoln's view Ford's Theater

This view was pretty thrilling, and one we only were able to see through the camera lens. There isn't enough space to squeeze a person behind the chair, but by holding my camera in the smaller space, we were able to get an idea of what President Lincoln's view of the play, Our American Cousin, might have been.

Today, Ford's Theater is an active theater, and the theater major in Mom was in love with the fly space.  She wished they had given backstage tours, because she would have loved to have seen all of their tech equipment. 

In addition to Ford's Theater itself, the tickets allow entry to the Petersen Boarding House across the street.  Physicians knew that Lincoln's wounds were mortal, and only palliative care was needed.  However, not knowing where Booth and his cohorts were, they were too afraid to return President Lincoln to the White House.

Abraham Lincoln death Petersen boarding house plaque

Abraham Lincoln's death bed

While again the furniture is original to the period, and this bed similar in size and design, the furniture is not original to the house.  The original bed on which Lincoln died is on display at the Chicago Historical Society in Chicago, IL.  If it looks too small for Lincoln (who was six feet four inches tall), it's because it was.  Lincoln was placed on the bed diagonally so that his entire body would fit.

The museum continues through the house and into the building next door.  First is an exhibit on Lincoln's funeral...

permission to return Lincoln's remains to Illinois

Followed by an exhibit on the hunt for Booth and his co-conspirators.

It also explained the trials and sentences of those involved.  We learned that Mary Suratt, the proprietor of the boarding house where Booth, Suratt's son, John Jr., and other co-conspirators met, was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging - the first white female executed by the federal government.

Finally, there are two floors of exhibits on Lincoln's legacy.  While he's almost universally considered one of the greatest Presidents by Americans, it's interesting to see how he's affected citizens of other countries.

Lincoln belongs to mankind

Jude used to think George Washington was probably the second greatest American, behind Benjamin Franklin.  This exhibit on how Lincoln has invaded pop culture has him thinking Lincoln must have been pretty good, too, if he became a comic book superhero.

As we exited the museum, we walked down a two-story staircase, supported by a center pillar.

As we circled the tower, we noticed a few books that we own.  A particular biography of Abraham Lincoln was one of my favorite books as a child - I think I checked it out of the library at school at least three times a year, so this looked like an absolute treasure trove to me!

When most people think of visiting Washington, DC, they think of the Smithsonian museums, or the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln Memorial. We'd encourage you to head a few blocks away from the National Mall and check out Ford's Theater National Historic Site.  Explore the place where one of our greatest national heroes died, and discover his legacy to both America and the world.

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