Category Archives: Places to See List

In the Footsteps of Claudia and Jamie

Fromthemixedup

Twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid is fed up with her family, so she enlists her little brother Jamie to run away with her to the Metropolitan Musuem of Art in New York where the two sleep in one of the beds on display, bathe in the museum’s fountain, and uncover an art mystery involving a Michelangelo sculpture. That’s the plot of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg, one of my favorite childhood books and now one of my daughter’s favorites, too.

On our recent trip to NYC, we made a point to get to the Met to follow in Claudia and Jamie’s footsteps. There’s not much need for arm-twisting to get our kids to go to museums, but the fact that we were visiting a place from a book just added a layer to the experience. In addition to all the specific rooms and areas we wanted to visit, we looked for Claudia and Jamie places. Could this be the fountain where they took a bath?

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When conversation about or interest in the art waned, we could always revert back to talking about the book.We were nearly at the end before we found the bed we imagined they must have slept in (in the book).

We were even able to tie in some interest in another book: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Bailett, another art history mystery that was inspired by From the Mixed Up Files. The Met has five Vermeers, the largest number in any collection. Since both the kids had listened to Chasing Vermeer in the audio book version, it made seeing the paintings more meaningful and they even remembered obscure facts about Vermeer that I couldn’t have told you.

I wrote about traveling to “literary locations” with kids in the this piece in Bootsnall and of course in 101 Places. Any ideas for others?

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Go Big or Go Home

I ‘m excited to have my first guest blogger! Traci Suppa of Go Big or Go Home shares my affinity the superlative places and very big things that I put on my 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! list. She’s got a fantastic blog following her families travels to visit said places, a few of which she recounts here- Enjoy!

High and Low and Away We Go!

I have a strange affection for quirky roadside attractions. The bigger, the better. My unfortunate family falls victim to the road trips I organize seeking sites claiming to be the “biggest,” “largest,” or “tallest” in the state, country, and even the world. Over time, they have come to enjoy, or at least tolerate, these fun outings full of great photo ops.

Generally, and expectedly, most of the sites we’ve seen are offbeat, and lowbrow. A few standouts, however, do earn marks in the highbrow category for their educational or spiritual character. On both extremes, these are the places which have really captivated my 10-year old son and 3-year old daughter.

The Largest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere, Carmel, NY

The largest Buddha statue in the western hemisphere rests in situ at the tranquil Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, a mere 20 minutes from our house.The monastery, belonging to the Buddhist Association of the United States, is a collection of seven Asian-style buildings seemingly out of place in this New York suburb, but lovely nonetheless.

Our mother-son adventure began by following a stone path lined with statues of Buddha’s chubby, bald disciples up to the Great Buddha Hall. We removed our shoes, entered, looked up, and gaped. At 37-feet tall, the “Great Buddha Vairocana” sits serenely in lotus pose, commanding the silent respect of the 10,000 small Buddha statues encircling him. Filled with brilliant daylight, the spacious hall provides an unobstructed, pillar-free view — an architectural homage to the Tang Dynasty.
We availed ourselves of the free literature in the back of the room, and left a small donation. My son was thrilled with his colorful Chinese bookmarks, and even took a small book about Buddhism so he could learn more about it.

World’s Largest Light Bulb, Edison, NJ

A monumental replica of Thomas Edison’s first practical incandescent bulb, the world’s largest light bulb is nearly 14 feet of Pyrex glass segments. It sits on top of the 117-foot concrete Memorial Tower at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, and was built in 1937 by former Edison employees. While you’re here, devote 30-60 minutes to visiting the adjoining museum, where you can see historic photographs, early light bulbs and other inventions, and even listen one of Edison’s phonographs.
Edison’s laboratory was located on this tract of land from 1879-1884, before he moved to a more well-known site in West Orange, NJ. Still in his 20’s and relatively unknown during his time here, Edison was already churning out patents at the unbelievable pace of a sheer genius. Besides the phonograph and the light bulb, he came up with 400 other patents.
History museums can be hit-or-miss with kids, but this site delivered an accessible and engaging experience. The highlight? When our guide played an antique phonograph just for us. Even my pre-schooler stood still long enough to listen to the scratchy melody. Getting that little first-hand taste of history was well worth the trip.

Traci L. Suppa has a strange compulsion for roadside attractions. She drags her small-town family to see the world’s largest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or GO Home. http://GoBIGorGoHomeblog.com

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Remembering Sadako

Sadako Peace Park in Seattle

August 6 marks the 65th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb. On that day, two-year-old Sadako Sasaki and her family survived, but 10 years later she was diagnosed with terminal leukemia due to exposure to radiation. In her final months, Sadako folded origami paper cranes with the goal of reaching 1,000 (there was a Japanese legend that if you reached 1,000, your wish would be granted). Sadako’s wish: world peace.

Sadako never reached that goal: she died at age 12 in 1955. But after her death, her school friends carried on with her quest, and eventually were able to raise support to build a peace memorial in her honor in Hiroshima.

Senzaburu: chains of paper cranes

Today, children from around the world send folded paper cranes to the memorial and to members of the 1000 Crane Club at Hiroshima International School. The club members place them at the memorial. There’s also a Sadako Peace Park in Seattle. Communities all over have created parks and “gardens for peace” (click here and here for a map and list). I was excited to see that a group in Atlanta [my hometown] a group put together a downloadable map of all the peace gardens and monuments in town: you can download the Atlanta Peace Trails map here).

A member of the 1000 Crane Club placing chains of cranes at the Hirocshima Children's Peace Memorial

I don’t know if we’ll ever get to visit one of Sadako’s parks, but last year we decided to make a peace garden of our own in the backyard. A peace garden could include anything, but I always liked the symbolism of the peace pole, so we made one. You can find instructions on making your own peace pole here, as well as templates with “may peace prevail” written in a dozen languages.


Sadako and the Paper Cranes is an great book to introduce kids to Sadako’s story. It’s really inspiring for them to know that kids can have an impact. The World Peace Prayer Society also has a web site with stories from around the world about people, instructions about doing a peace pole project, and a link to the Peace Pals project for kids.

So, today we’ll make some paper cranes (instructions here) and remember Sadako and her do what we can to make her wish come true.

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Wanderous Strange

Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, photo by sashafatcat, flickr

I have a thing for eccentrics, outsiders, oddballs, etc. There’s something very brave about taking your own peculiar vision of the world and putting it out there for all to see. I included folk art environments in 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! because I think it’s great for kids to see people who follow their creative bliss, whatever that may be, and because so often, folk art environments are created from stuff that others consider to be junk (a great lesson in reusing, and recycling!).

Sculpture at the late Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens in Georgia

While writing for my undergrad college newspaper, I took a trip up to see renowned folk artist/preacher Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens in teeny, tiny Summerville/Pennville, Georgia and was lucky enough to interview Finster himself. That sort of started my ongoing interest, and while researching the book, I found out about places like the Watts Towers (see Bonnie Boatwright’s post on her visit there), Orange Show in Houston and the Land of Evermor in Baraboo, Wisconsin (Travels with Children has a great post of a family visit there, with great pics). On a sidenote, Wisconsin–hands down–appears to the have the highest concentration of creative eccentrics in the US: does anyone have an explanation for that?

Recently, I came across Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, the creation of Isaiah Zager, who started the project as a way to revitalize his South Philadelphia neighborhood. It’s now operated as a nonprofit with frequent workshops and events, including mosaic-making classes for kids. There’s also Tyree Guyton’s recent and growing Heidelberg Project in Detroit, which is transforming a run-down street into an art project (named after the street). (On another sidenote: Detroit seems to be the place for a lot of cutting-edge stuff going on these days).

House, part of the Heidelberg Project, Detroit

One of my favorite writers for children E.L Koningsburg has a book that explores the idea of outsider artists: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. It’s about a girl who comes to the defense of her eccentric uncles who have built a series of junk art clock towers in their backyard, much to the chagrin of the neighbors.

If you’re interested in folk art or outsider art places, there are a few great sites you have to see, starting with Detour Art, UCM Museum, Insiders Out, Interesting Ideas, and Narrow Larry, who has a map of folk art environments in the US.

And speaking of maps, I just found the most incredible site for odd or unusual places: Atlas Obscura. I could spend days there. I already knew about a lot of the places, but there are some that I’m sure will factor into future travels. Also by part of the same team is Curious Expeditions. One of the most recent posts is about insect art. What kids doesn’t love that?

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Lovin’ the Ruins

Bannerman Castle in the Hudson Valley, New York

One of my stand-out childhood memories is this: climbing all over a crumbling Norman castle up the road from Aunt Bridie’s house in Ireland. I remember being amazed that a) people had castles down the street from their houses b) we were allowed to play there. Back home in Atlanta, nothing was more than a few decades old, and anything with any history to it was off-limits. For kids, I think there’s something especially intriguing about ruins:  there’s some context about what was once there, but they can fill in the rest of the blanks with their imaginations.

For now, visiting the ruins of ancient Greek and Roman temples, Inca cities, and Scottish castles will have to wait. But I have found some great ones right here on this side of the pond.

The photo above shows Bannerman Castle, built around the turn of the 20th century by a Brooklyn retail magnate. It’s on a private island in the Hudson, about 50 miles north of New York City. Isn’t it fabulous? Miss M. says that this is what Hogwarts looks like in her imagination.

A big section of it collapsed in 2009, but efforts are being made to repair it and tours are available through the trust that preserves it. Not too far away in Montgomery, New York (Orange County), the Colden Mansion Ruins are not as impressive, but older.

Windsor Ruins, Port Gibson, Mississippi (near Vicksburg)

You can’t beat the South for romantic ruins. I love the look of the Windsor Ruins south of Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was built during the Civil War and burned down in 1890. Then there’s the Barboursville Mansion ruins in Virginia, the Bulow Plantation ruins in Florida and my favorite: the Dungeness ruins on Cumberland Island. Once a Carnegie mansion, it’s now frequented by the wild horses that live on the island.

Dungeness ruins (Carnegie Mansion), Cumberland Island, Georgia

The Midwest has its share of ruins, too. There’s the Snyder Mansion ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Missouri and as sad as it is to say it, there are so many ruins in Detroit that there’s even a web site which features the “ruin du jour,”although most of them are not things you would want to take kids to see.

Knapp's Castle Ruins, Santa Ynez Mountains (near Santa Barbara), California

The Knapp’s Castle ruins outside Santa Barbara look intriquing: they’re all that’s left of a home built in 1916 by Union Carbide founder George Knapp. And a much more recent ruin: the Tropical Terrace ruins in Soltice Canyon near Santa Monica.

Where there are ruins, there are rumors of hauntings. The Summerwind Mansion ruins in Wisconsin and the Hermitage Ruins outside of Toronto come with ghost stories and even ghost tours.

Madame Sherri's 'castle,' West Chesterfield, New Hampshire

The cool thing about many of these ruins is that they are either contained in state parks or preserved in ways that makes visiting them safe. When we lived in Vermont, the treat at the end of one lovely hiking trail just over the river in New Hamsphire were the ruins of Madame Sherri’s castle, which was really just a quirky old house. If kids ever need motivation to go on a hike, the promise of an intriguing ruin can be just the inspiration they need.

Any other ruins you can recommend?

Update: Just found this great video of Bannerman Castle. Now I really want to go there!

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Firefly Season


The season’s first firefly just blinked through our backyard last night, announcing the start of that brief, magical time of the year when the kids race around the yard in the twilight each night in pursuit of those little blinks of light.

We’ve always been content to watch them in our own yard, or maybe at the park, but I just found out that there are actually a few firefly destinations, one quite close to home.

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a (group? swarm?) of synchronous fireflies appears in the area of the park near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Each night for about a week, their rare talent is on display: they blink in unison, creating perfectly choreographed patterns of light.

One of the only other known places where this phenomenon occurs is in the mangrove swamps of Kuala Selangor, just outside of Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. There, the fireflies flick more in a rhythm, and stay congregated in “firefly trees.” You can take firefly boat tours to see them.

The Park Service closes off the Elkmont entrance to traffic, and visitors can take a shuttle to see the fireflies each evening. This year, peak firefly viewing is June 5 to 13. That’s two days from now: how can we not go?

Another cool firefly-related activity: the Museum of Science, Boston has a firefly watch program that allows you/your kids to contribute to their research. Just go to their web site for details on how you can register your backyard as a firefly habitat.

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Opportunities for (Old) Growth

One thing can be said for all those early American loggers: they were thorough. From 950 million acres of virgin forests that stretched from the east coast to the Mississippi when the first Europeans arrived, they managed to do away with almost all of it. Almost.

While they’re not as quite as impressive as those otherworldly giant cedars and redwoods out west, there are stands of old growth from Maine, Ontario, the Adiondack wilderness, Virginia and Texas to here in North Carolina at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest: all accessible to the public.

Old growth white pine at Douglas Woods in Wisconsin

Kids love superlatives. Visiting an old growth forest has lots of them: biggest, oldest, tallest, last. It’s a small-scale adventure: a little hiking, a little science and history, built-in bragging rights: “we saw the oldest, tallest, coolest trees in (insert name of your state/region).”

We took Ms. M to Joyce Kilmer for a New Year’s hike a few years back and the trail was easy enough even for her (four at the time, I’d say).

American Forests has a registry of the “biggest in species” trees all over the US with an online database you can search by zipcode to find the biggest trees near you (note that these are single trees, not forests). So you can do a quick after-school drive to see a “champion” tree or a weekend drive/hike to a see whole forest of them.

The 'treehouse tree' in Bradford County, PA

One more superlative: these  unassuming bristlecone pines in Utah and California are the longest-growing organisms on earth (one was just discovered that was over 4,600 years old!).

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