Deep In the Motherlode

1. I spent Wednesday to Friday nights this week in Salt Lake City, attending the American Association for State and Local History annual meeting, because Salisbury House & Gardens won a national award for a preservation project that was planned and executed before I actually started working at the House. So hats off to our Curator and Director of Education, Leo Landis, for managing the preservation work, writing the nomination to AASLH, and then accompanying me to Utah to receive the award. It was great to see his hard work and expertise recognized and rewarded. Yesterday, he and I decided to do a quick dash across the northern part of Utah to see the Great Salt Lake, visit the Bonneville Speedway (on the last day of the 2012 Land Speed Record competition, as it turned out, though we got there too early to see it), and then pop over into West Wendover, Nevada, so Leo could nab a new state. (I’d been in Nevada already, and had some world class experiences there, but was happy to return with Leo). Bonneville Speedway is truly mind-blowing: you arrive via a paved road that carries you out into the salt flats, and then it just ends . . . and there are lines of orange pylons running out into the barren whiteness as far as the eye can see, eventually leading to you to the site of the measured mile, where land speed records are officially recorded. Here are some snaps from the trip:

Eric Endless . . . getting ready for the AASLH Awards Ceremony, with too many mirrors . . .

Leo at World’s End . . . Bonneville Salt Flats and Raceway, Utah.

Me with our rental car, out on the salt flats at Bonneville Speedway.

Enola Gay Memorial, West Wendover, Nevada. The plane that dropped the first atomic bomb was based out of Wendover Field, on the Nevada/Utah border, near Bonneville. Enola Gay Tibbetts, who lent her name to this most famous of planes, spent much of her life in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, Iowa.

2. One of the breakout sessions I participated in during the AASLH conference had to do with the importance (or lack thereof) of objects when it comes to interpreting history. There was a healthy discussion about whether historic objects have intrinsic value in a vacuum, or whether they need to be linked to specific people or places to gain historic resonance. I sit right on the razor’s edge in this argument, as I do believe that some objects are intrinsically valuable simply because they are beautiful or haunting or cool or unique, though I also believe that some objects gain value only when they are used to connect the past to the present through specific personal or physical associations. My contribution to this discussion in Utah centered on how it’s not just enough to connect objects to their places or people from the past . . . as we also have to connect those objects to relevant concepts or ideas in our present culture or society. I used our social media initiatives at Salisbury House as an example: at staff meeting every Monday, we look at what’s going on in the world around us, and then try to tap our collections to find unique Salisbury House-specific objects that link our founding collectors (Carl and Edith Weeks) with current issues of impact and import. This week, to cite but one example, was the 30th annual recognition of Banned Books Week. So Leo and I did a bit of research, and found objects in our library that demonstrated how the Weeks Family not only collected banned books in the early 20th century, but also how those works influenced their intellectual development. Here are three galleries in Facebook that show some of our findings:

Banned Books Week I: Steinbeck and Hemingway

Banned Books Week II: Oscar Wilde’s Salome (with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and Andre Derain)

Banned Books Week III: Baudelaire, Dreiser, Zola and Shaw

3. I’ve been totally grooving on the studio version of Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan” over the past month or so. It’s a monster, 32-minutes long jazz jam from 1969 that’s built around the bass riff from “A Love Supreme,” as an act of tribute and honor to John Coltrane. I think Sanders is the greatest tenor sax player active in my lifetime, and Leon Thomas’ vocal performance on this song is also an inspired creative act for the ages. I listen to some pretty extreme music, but there’s a passage in this piece around the 21 to 24-minute marks that is simply terrifying in its intensity, as voices and acoustic instruments reach a degree of frenzy that I don’t believe has ever been reproduced with electric instrumentation. The sense of catharsis and relief that occurs when the “A Love Supreme” motif returns is palpable and wonderful. I highly recommend that you find a 40-minute block to sit and drink a glass of your favorite libation and listen to this piece beginning to end. It’s worth it. Truly epic. Promise.

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