National Museum of Funeral History

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Yes, you read the title right. There is a National Museum of Funeral History in Houston. I visited there yesterday to write an article for work. The museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary this fall.

The museum truly lives up to the “history” part of the title. I interviewed the president of the museum, and I told her that there were similar items in the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C.

Someone might say, who the heck wants to go to a funeral museum, but it really was fascinating. There are many different exhibits, all focusing on a different aspect.

For instance, there was an extensive collection of hearses and coffins, and some of them were really ornate like a white children’s hearse from the 1800s.

There was also a section dedicated to famous people who have passed on, a Day of the Dead altar and a section about presidential funerals. I loved seeing more artifacts from Abraham Lincoln’s funeral! They even have the hearse that carried Presidents Regan and Ford!

Visitors to the museum can also learn about the history of embalming, starting with the Egyptians and then during the Civil War.

The biggest area of the museum was an exhibit on the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II, and a look at Popes in general. This was a collaboration with the Vatican itself, so a lot of the items were authentic.

I was surprised in a good way by what I found, and learned, at the museum. If you are looking for something to do in Houston that is different, look no further.

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Day Trip to San Antonio

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Last week we went to San Antonio for the day. We met up with my friend from high school that lives in Austin, which was a nice bonus. I can honestly say we had the perfect day. We did everything we wanted to do, and some more. The weather was amazing too.

Even the drive out there was great. It took three hours and it was on a two lane highway at 75 mph. I haven’t seen a two lane highway since Pennsylvania! We passed fields and fields of wildflowers, farms, and even some patches of cactus! It was peaceful.

Our first stop was the Alamo. I wanted to get there right when it opened. I had heard  that supposedly a lot of people are disappointed when they see the Alamo because it is so small. So knowing this information, the Alamo seemed like the perfect size to us! You cannot take pictures inside the main church building, which I had already known about, but still disappointed me. The expansive courtyards, with the mini museums in the barracks and the living history set ups, more than made up for it though. We spent over an hour here taking everything in. I really consider it a privilege that there are places of history that are preserved and we are able to still see them today.

Our second stop was the River Walk. It really is a beautiful area of the city. We walked around the main loop of the River Walk, but it goes out a few miles in both directions. We had thought about taking a river cruise, but we didn’t, and it honestly wasn’t needed. We saw everything just fine by foot. We were slightly disappointed because we had expected shops along the River Walk, but it was only restaurants and hotels. If we had known that, I probably would have eaten lunch on the River Walk.

We ate lunch at Mi Terra in El Mercado, (The Market Square) which was a street lined with Mexican shops and restaurants. Mi Terra was highly recommended online in different discussion forums. After lunch we took some time to browse around the craft vendors. So much cool stuff!

After lunch we headed back to the Alamo a second time. This was actually a good call because it had been overrun with school kids earlier in the morning, so now it was more quiet.

The last two things we did, Mission Espada and Mission San Jose, wasn’t even a definite thing on our to do list. I figured if we had the time in the afternoon, we’d go, but no big deal if we didn’t. These two missions ended up being my favorite part of the day. The architecture was amazing!

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Mapping Texas

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A few weeks ago I wrote an article for the paper about an exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science. The exhibit is called Mapping Texas: From Frontier to Lone Star State.

I got to go see the exhibit for free, instead of paying for a ticket, which was really cool.

There was a collection of about 50 maps, most of them on loan from the Texas General Land Office. The maps range from the year 1513 to the 1900s.

One of the highlights in the exhibit is the huge 7 feet by 7 feet Stephen F. Austin “connected map” of Austin’s Colony, drawn by Austin himself.

The oldest map, from 1513, is by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. It is supposedly one of the first maps to show the gulf coast. The countries are all disproportionate, and it took me a few minutes of studying it to figure out what I was actually looking at!

I enjoyed looking at the older maps when Texas wasn’t Texas; when it was still a part of Spain or Mexico. It was interesting to see the 13 colonies on some maps, and then out west was wide and open. Sometimes I still forget that I am “out west.”

There were also some maps that showed the early grids of Houston. I wonder if the men who founded it ever realized that it would become such a larger city!

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Stephen F. Austin’s map.

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The 1513 Waldseemüller map.

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Holocaust Museum

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Last week I went to the Holocaust Museum. It is much smaller than the one in Washington D.C., but no less powerful. They had quite the collection of interesting artifacts.

I was not able to take photos within the exhibits, but I took notes of the things that I found to be interesting, or moving:

A German passport stamped with a big “J” to identify the person as Jewish,

A baby spoon with a Swastika engraved in it,

Propaganda books for children. There was a photo with a caption that read, “He who fights against the Jews wrestles with the devil,”

Cobble stones from the Warsaw, Poland ghetto,

A deportation notice from a Benjamin Wassermann, donated to the museum from Wassermann himself, (Could you imagine holding on to that all those years?)

A Zyklon B gas canister that was used at Auschwitz, (Zyklon B is what was used in the gas chambers)

And perhaps most moving of all, was the soil from camps in the memorial room, with the inscription “The soil from these six concentration and extermination camps contains the ashes of those who perished in the Holocaust.”

One thing that will probably stay with me for the rest of my life is an image taken by one of the liberators at the Buchenwald concentration camp: It was a photo of the crematorium, and you could see rib cage bones still intact among the ashes.

Outside, there was a rail car like one of the ones that would have transported the Jews to the camps, and a Danish fishing boat like the ones that helped the Jews escape to neutral Sweden.

I am interested in the Holocaust, so I am always trying to learn about it. After being to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. three times, I have to admit that I expected to not learn anything new. I was wrong though. One thing that I found particularly interesting was that college students at the University of Munich formed a resistance group called The White Rose. The leaders of the group were executed. I’m really glad to live in a world today where we have the freedom to protest.

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George Ranch Historical Park

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I love history. And I love photography. I discovered a place where I could combine my love of both: The George Ranch Historical Park.

The GRHP is 26 miles southwest of Houston, perfect for a day trip. The park features four homes belonging to four generations of one Texan family, ranging from the 1830s to the 1940s. It is a whole lot of history packed into one area!

The first home is an 1830s cabin. The second home is an 1860s home with a chuckwagon set up outside. The third house is an expansive Victorian 1890s home (with a second sharecropper home off to the side.) The last home is from the 1940s. At each home, a costumed person takes you through the rooms of the house and explains what life would have been like for the family back then. Extras included a working blacksmith shop and cattle demonstrations. There was so much to look at! The park really outdid themselves in the details.

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