Some things that we have seen or experienced on our RV trip are fun and easy to share. Others take more time to process. Visiting the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, TN last month was challenging to process. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about it. However, the more time I’ve had to marinate on the experience, the more deeply I’ve been affected. And that my friends, is when it is time to write.
First impressions of the titanic museum
From the road, the Titanic Museum could have easily blended in with the visual cacophony of “tourist trap” businesses. I’ve never seen a town quite like Pigeon Forge before. Businesses bested for our attention in amazing style. Mini-golf, Wax Museums, even an upside-down house called to our children begging them to ask their parents to pull over and spend money. We could practically feel dollar bills floating out of our pockets as we drove along. Had we not specifically heard it was worthwhile, we would have driven right past the Titanic Museum proclaiming, “Look away children, look away!” However, long before we’d crossed the Tennessee border, this museum was on our itinerary.
To be honest, my first impression was of disappointment. Pulling into the parking lot, I noticed that the Titanic Museum’s neighbor was the upside-down house. While it did look cool, the museum was comparatively smaller and frankly, less upside-down-amazing. To be fair, we had recently walked through a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark. Somehow, I’d erroneously assumed the Titanic Museum would also be built to-scale. It’s not. Instead, it looks like a mid-size ship cut in half and turned into a museum. If I seem disgruntled disappointed, I don’t want you to worry, I’m over it now.
What doesn’t matter
We purchased our tickets (which I’ve read are occasionally available on Groupon) and proceeded into the ship-building. From here my interest level rose. Each member of our family was given an audio tour headset. The content for the children was catered to their level and we proceeded through the museum at our own pace.
I could get sidetracked and tell you that there were 75,000 pounds of fresh meat, 100 grape scissors and 12,000 dinner plates aboard the ship. I could share the touching letter sent from a passenger stating, “It’s been a beautiful day here, and my neck is aching with looking up at the Titanic so I haven’t seen much of the weather.” But while these things are interesting, what really touched me in a place that no list or artifact can reach was the reaction of the passengers who offered everything they had in the moment of deepest need.
This is what mattered
Mrs. Straus (whose husband was the co-owner of Macy’s) gave her seat on a lifeboat as well as her fur coat to her maid and said, “I won’t be needing this.” She then turned to her husband and said, “Where you go, I go.” They were last seen standing together arm and arm on the deck.
The water was only 28 degrees. Colder than the freezing point of ice. Yet the warmth in her words brought tears to my eyes. Sacrifice is most meaningful when it is costly, is it not?
Reverend John Harper knew something of sacrifice as well as opportunity. While submerged in the frigid Atlantic waters, he swam from person to person sharing the love of Christ and praying with them until his death. Even now, I cannot envision the image of this sodden man encumbered with the weight of the water, yet driven to offer his only hope to those perishing around him, without tears in my eyes.
Is this not a picture to enfold within our hearts creating an inferno of passion and purpose? This. This is what matters. Not the grape scissors or the fancy plates. Not the grand view that makes our neck ache. It’s the opportunity. It’s the chance to wisely throw off what easily entangles and run the race with purpose.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV
This week we dipped our 21st century fingers into the pot of the late 1700s past to test and try to understand what it was like to live in a fort forged by men who were masters of skills that most of us don’t even have the vocabulary to explain. Stopping at Historic Manskers Station, just 20 minutes north of Nashville in route to Kentucky, was an ideal way to sample this life of the past.
Visiting Mansker’s Station
According to some online reviews, we anticipated costumed interpreters and expected to spend about 1-2 hours touring the recreated fort. We arrived just after they reopened from the one hour lunch break at 1:00 and discovered, much to our delight, that we had the place to ourselves. Upon our entrance to the fort, we were met by a burly mountain of a man who was enthusiastic not only about the fact that we were homeschoolers (“they ask the best questions,” he said), but about his historical knowledge. Like a pot of well warmed soup, he bubbled over with bits of information and interesting tidbits while showing us around. Any questions we asked were met with a knowledgeable answer.
The difference between a station and a fort (while they are often used interchangeably, the former typically refers to a settlement of civilians while the latter usually indicates a military presence).
How to card wool by hand.
Where the term “nit-picking” came from (picking out small impurities from the wool–best accomplished by small fingers).
The origin of the term “sleep tight” (from the desire to keep rope supported beds snug and firm).
That iron nails were so important at that time houses were being burnt to the ground in order to retrieve and reuse nails for future building projects (until an ordinance was passed outlawing this potentially dangerous practice).
Blacksmith apprentices began their education around the age of 8 when they would move out of the house and live under the blacksmith’s tutelage.
The 8 primary skills that a blacksmith obtains as he hones his skills.
Often the blacksmith would also be called on to be your dentist!
Switching back to our initial guide, we were invited into the woodworking shop for a demonstration of his lathe (see the video below) and shave horse skills while explaining details of his craft and tools. The kids were invited to partake in some of the activities (sans sharp objects).
Next we were escorted into the nearby 200-year-old Bowen Plantation home (the longest standing brick structure in middle Tennessee) and given a tour and explanations of various antique medical equipment (because the home was at one time owned by a doctor). In addition, we were given a demonstration of various textile machines for the development of fabric from hemp, cotton and wool. It was also here that we saw our first cotton plants in bloom and had the chance to attempt seed removal by hand (think cotton wrapped around velcro). The afternoon was a plethora of one-on-one experiential learning.
Overall our experience was fantastic. I could not have asked for a better value for the time, knowledge and expertise demonstrated through their patient staff. I’d highly recommend stopping by for a visit should you find yourself in the area, you won’t be disappointed.
Mansker’s Station Travel details:
Nearby:Mansker’s Station is located adjacent to a park which we intended to visit but ran out of time. This would be a great place to eat if you happen to come during the 12-1 hour that they are closed or just to let your kids burn off some energy.
Parking: easy. We were able to park both our van, truck and 40′ RV without a problem using the park loop driveway which has designated parking areas throughout. Exiting was also easy due to the loop design.
Time to tour: Some may be able to tour this place in 1-2 hours, but that would require moving much quicker than we did. We were there for at least 3 hours–I guess we ask good questions ;).
Prices: $8 for adults (which begins at age 13-super lame in my opinion) and $4 for kids ages 6-11. For some reason I could not find any pricing info online before we arrived so I was thankful to see that they were so affordable. There are AAA, senior and military discounts.
Hours: They are open weekdays from 8:00-4:30 with the last tour beginning at 3:00.
As we shimmy our way across the map with our little house on wheels, I’m struck by a strange reality: people live over here too. Obvious I know, but it stands out in my mind just the same. Perhaps I’ve been reading too many early American stories with my kids. But I feel like a pioneer traveling to new land only to discover we are not the first ones to travel here. Perhaps the trouble is that we are headed East instead of West? That must be it.
We are currently in eastern Indiana. What has previously only existed as an empty, orange-colored section on my laminated state map is now multi-dimensional and bursting with fall foliage, lovely landscapes and an occasional southern accent. Our little Idaho license plate is a lonely minority among our neighbors on Hwy 74. We are swimming in new seas folks. Countless times when we are asked, “Where are you from?” we are met with the response, “Oh, we don’t get many from Idaho around here.” We’ll do our best to represent you well Idaho!
For the last three days we have crossed over the Ohio river and dipped down into Kentucky. Two days were spent at the Creation Museum and one at the Ark Encounter. While its difficult to summarize the past three days into an encapsulated description, I can touch on some of the highs and lows from our kid’s as well as our parent’s perspective.
The Creation Museum: kids perspective
At both locations we discovered that the enjoyment went up proportionally with the kid’s ages. After the first day at the museum, Quinten (age 7) exclaimed, “Well that was a waste of money.” At the end of the second day however, both he and his younger 5 year-old brother were more optimistic, partially due to the fact that they were allowed to play longer with the plastic dinosaurs in the gift shop before leaving. For our youngest three kids, the highlight was the petting zoo which featured a variety of animals such as goats, chickens, sheep, alpacas, a cow, camel and even a zorse and zonkey (yes, you read that correctly).
At the top end of the age scale, Hunter (13), was so enthusiastic about his visit that he begged to stay longer on the first day and was first to be ready to leave for the museum the next morning. He was like a sponge soaking up all the information the displays had to offer and summarizing some of his favorite discoveries. Borrowing my phone and ear buds, Hunter also found the audio tour a great way to learn additional details as he moved through the museum. At the end of the day we ordered the first Answers book for Teens (affiliate link) because his interest was spiked so high to learn more.
The Creation Museum: Parent perspective
As a parent, I enjoyed that many of the displays were created interactively with kids in mind. Asking Noah questions or helping to build the ark by answering questions via a computer touchscreen drew them right in, as did a little museum scavenger hunt page offered at one of the first displays (bring your own pencil). I noticed rooms for nursing mothers, changing stalls in the bathrooms and easy ramp and elevator access if you are using a stroller (provided it wasn’t too crowded). However, may areas of the museum, while impressively designed, relied heavily on reading and attention inevitably waned soonest with the littles.
Final thoughts on the Creation Museum: Definitely worth our time, however very pricey for a family of 6. Everyone over the age of 5 requires a ticket and kids 13 and over are charged the adult rate. Our ticket did allow us to return a second day which proved to be helpful in seeing everything with younger kids in tow. I would really love to see lower prices for the kids and I’d like to see the adult rate match adult ages.
Some tips if you plan to visit:
Be aware that there are several “add on” attractions (zip lines, camel rides, special talks, planetarium shows, etc). I’d recommend looking these over on their website ahead of time so that you can decide what you plan to do while there. A few weeks before our visit we informed our kids that a $5 camel ride would be optional if they wished to save up their money for it. Two of our kids saved and enjoyed their bumpy ride.
There are a few free 60 minute lectures offered a few times a day. They are interesting and worth it for teens and up however, because of the labyrinth design of the museum, it is not easy to exit quickly once you have begun touring the displays. Should you wish to attend a lecture, plan accordingly.
We saw two videos while there. The Last Adam contains some images of the crucifixion that may upset younger viewers. The Men in White video was appropriate for all ages and included some sound/light/water effects that were fun for the audience.
Both days we found that the crowds were heaviest before lunch. I’d recommend avoiding the weekends or holidays if at all possible.
You can purchase your tickets ahead of time online. While standing in a long ticket line, we regretted not doing that. However, it did appear that your online purchase might be scannable on your smart phone so you could possibly even purchase your ticket while standing in line if you forget like we did.
There are nice outside picnic tables. We brought our lunch to save money. However, there is a café on site if you prefer to go that route. They also have an ice cream stand as well as fudge made on site that smells divine.
They have free (very fast) wi-fi so be sure to look for (or ask) for the password to use that as it wasn’t prominently displayed and we could have easily missed it.
The Ark Encounter
By faith Noah, after being warned by God about events not yet seen, constructed am Ark in great reverence for the saving of his family. In doing this, he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. ~Hebrews 11:7
Located about 45 miles south of the Creation Museum is the Ark Encounter. Here a life-size full-scale replica of Noah’s ark stands. 510 feet long, 85 feet across and a total of 110,540 sq feet (with three levels). It is the largest timber-frame structure in the world and is astounding to behold. As we approached the ark my kids could be heard saying,
“I know its going to be huge. . . oh my!”
“It so big!”
It’s difficult to articulate what it was like to walk beside and then into such a structure. Awesome seems appropriate, yet it is an overused statement, that has unfortunately been watered down in our culture. It humbled me and made me feel small in light of the powerful God that skillfully directed its construction. The interior displays were both impressive and informative while also being incredibly intricate in detail.
I’ve previously spent a good deal of time on the Answers in Genesis website so several of their displays contained content familiar to me. I’d highly recommend checking it out for yourself if you have any questions related to how the book of Genesis (the first book of the Bible) relates to the topics of origin, evolution, the flood, aliens, fossil layers, carbon dating, age of the earth, etc. They have a very extensive database of articles so you can easily search for any topic you have questions about.
Final Ark Encounter thoughts:
After our visit, I asked the kids to rate their impression of the Ark Encounter on a scale of 1 to 10 and what could have made it better.
Hunter (age 13): rating of 10: nothing could have made it better.
Quinten (age 7): rating of 3: the ark was ‘too big’ so it took too long to walk through (i.e. if God could have made the ark smaller, it would have been a lot easier on him today).
Tanner (age 5): rating 5: he was ready to leave at lunch time but had a good attitude when we returned for a few more hours.
We unanimously agreed that if had to choose between visiting the Creation Museum or the Ark Encounter, we would choose the Ark. Our reasoning was based on our opinion that both offered great content but being inside the ark was an experience that you can’t get any other way.
Some tips if you plan to visit the Ark Encounter:
We spent about 6 hours total at the Ark Encounter including our time returning to the car to eat lunch. Be aware that you are shuttled to the ark from the parking lot, so if you bring a lunch and leave it in the car it will take you longer to get to it.
Again, the crowd was much smaller after lunch. Some of the displays that required more reading had a line. We skipped them and returned after lunch when the lines were slower. We visited mid-week on a Wednesday. I suggest avoiding the weekends or a holiday if possible.
You can purchase Ark Encounter tickets online (including parking which is $10 if you can park in one spot, $20 if you take up two spots).
There is a petting zoo and zip lines at this location as well as camel and donkey rides. We did not visit the petting zoo at the Ark Encounter but I assume it is free while the other activities likely require an additional payment.
Tomorrow we will venture into new territory as we retrace Daniel Boone’s steps and stay at the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. For the first time on our trip we have NO planned activities for a solid three days! We are looking forward to some downtime that hopefully includes the beautiful outdoors.
“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” ~Abraham Lincoln
You can’t even cross into the border of Illinois without becoming immediately aware that Lincoln is a pretty big deal here. “Land of Lincoln” is proudly declared from every license plate, while cities and streets claim his name and murals of his liking adorn the side of buildings. As Idahoans I must confess that our knowledge of Abe was sparse at best briefly bolstered by the fact that we had a recent reintroduction in South Dakota upon seeing his likeness carved into Mount Rushmore. We are no longer ignorant. Our hearts and minds are now bursting with a love and deep respect for this man who shouldered more in his lifetime than most can ever imagine.
“The promise being made, must be kept.” ~Abraham Lincoln
Our visit began in New Salem, Illinois at the state historic site where we strolled the streets of the recreated 1830’s town that Lincoln lived in as a young adult. It was here that we discovered how lye is made, saw the kind of boat Lincoln floated down the Mississippi River in and stood in front of the store he once owned. It was also here that we learned of several early failures that he experienced such as lost elections and failed businesses. I love living examples of perseverance. The peaceful atmosphere as we meandered the streets allowed our minds to wander and imagine what it would have been like to live in that time. I was struck by the fact that women routinely gave birth to 10-12 children and most commonly died of childbirth, infection from a fireplace burn or fatigue (in that order). It was also not uncommon for those who lived outside of town to go years without seeing another woman. How much I take for granted in this time of information, travel and communication.
“To be fruitful in invention, it is indispensable to have a habit of observation and reflection.” ~Abraham Lincoln
The next day we drove into Springfield where the kids earned their Jr. Ranger badges as we toured the home that Abe and Mary Lincoln lived in before Abe was elected president.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
The decor replicated what it looked like in 1840’s thanks to photographs that had been taken and many pieces of furniture were originals. I was amused by the whimsical wallpaper and astonished at the ornate carpets found throughout the home considering the muddy streets that would have been right outside their front door. One story our tour guide told that I especially loved was that of a eleven-year-old girl named Grace Bedell who wrote Mr. Lincoln suggesting that he grow a beard. He took her advice and later met Grace in person and asked how she liked his new look.
I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. ~Abraham Lincoln
That afternoon we drove to the site of his tomb where we were able to walk around inside and see the place where he was buried next to his wife and three of his sons (two of which died before his assassination). His fourth son is buried in the Arlington Cemetery.
“Unless the great God, who assisted him [George Washington] shall be with and aid me, I must fail. But if the omniscient mind and the same almighty arm that directed and protected him shall guide and support me, I shall not fail–I shall succeed.” ~Abraham Lincoln
The following day we returned to Springfield and spent over four hours at the Lincoln Presidential Museum. The caliber of interactive displays was astounding and the two hologram movies that they showed truly amazed us (some of us even opted to watch one of them a second time). A highlight was seeing one of the three remaining hats that Lincoln owned on display. The brim was worn thin in two distinct places where his fingers gripped it to tip to passers by and the inner band was stretched (mostly likely from storing speeches and notes inside). Many things were new to me as we toured the museum. I was shocked to learn that Lincoln let his kids run amuck playing games with the ink wells and stacking books into towers before playing atop them while he sat idly by. Outside of the White House, I never realized the amount of mixed support and outright opposition that Abe was up against during his time in office especially from the media. Most felt he was either not doing enough to end slavery or pushing the issue of emancipation too far, too fast. It was not until after his assassination that people truly came together in support and admiration of his leadership. Also new to me was the realization that his second son to die did so while Abe was living in the White House, one year after the Civil War began. I cannot fathom the weight of grief that laid upon Abraham at this time in his life. That said, the number of tragedies that Mary, his wife endured was beyond imaginable. After losing two of her sons, her husband was shot and six years later a third son died. It’s quite honestly beyond my comprehension.
Before coming to Illinois, I purchased a small pocket sketchbook for myself and each of our kids with the idea that we could jot down info we may wish to remember from what we see. I’ve never used a tool like this before. However, I found it to be so useful to keep record of some of my favorite bits of information. One area I used for quotes that spoke to me and on another page I created a timeline of Lincoln’s life. As we visited different areas and learned more I simply added additional details. Now I have a personal record of our time here that I can reference and add to later but because I wrote it down with my hand, I am of course more likely to remember it in my heart. Which happens to remind me of one of the quotes I recorded today which said, “Writing is the great invention of the world. . . ~Abe Lincoln”
Should you ever find yourself in Illinois, I encourage you to take some time getting to know Abe. I think you will find it worth your time. For the rest of you looking to dig a little deeper into the life of Lincoln, I can recommend two wonderful living books to check out from your library or purchase to own. The first, Abe Lincoln Grows Up, is well suited for middle school through adult ages. This is one we plan to read together later this year. The second, Abraham Lincoln by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire is a 1940 Caldecott Award winner and for good reason. I LOVE the illustrations in this book but the words are also dripping with beauty. Although it is considered a picture book the length (64 pages) makes it perfect for a multi-sitting read.
Tomorrow we head to St. Louis where we plan to stay for a few days before heading East to Kentucky.
–Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site is open 7 days a week 9-5 with free parking and admission (suggested donation of $10 for a family). Plan on 1-3 hours depending on how much time you want to take reading about each house and the history who lived there. They also may have an interpretive costumed worker on site who can explain in more detail and answer questions you may have.
-We camped in their RV park for $10/night (no electricity). Water is not at every site but if you stay during the week you might have your pick of spots like we did and can position yourself right next to a water source. They do have a dump station on site. The grounds are quiet and beautiful. Sites with electricity are $20/night (prices are higher on holidays).
–Lincoln’s tomb Free (Plan on at least 15-30 min to walk around both outside and inside).
–Lincoln’s home was free to visit/tour. Parking was $2 and hour unless you have a National Park pass in which parking was $1 an hour. Plan for at least 1 hour (maybe more if you wish to have time for completing your Jr. Ranger booklet).
–The Lincoln Presidential Museum (Located just down the road from Lincoln’s home) We opted to purchase the annual family pass for $85 which will allow us to use the Time Travelers Passport granting a free or discounted admission to many other places we may visit as part of a reciprocal relationship. We parked in the library parking lot for $0.75/hour. Plan to stay at least 3-4 hours (we stayed about 4.5).
A homemade jumprope made from bailing twine was constructed by each child using a hand crank machine used at the end of the 20th century.
Need to go potty? An outhouse with side-by-side seats is available. One of my children decided to make use of this opportunity and said the door was almost fully closed when latched. No sooner had he sat down, when visitors came by to see the authentic little john. “Occupied!” he hollered hoping no one would be able to see through the crack in the door.
Nearby a washboard, rinse station, and wringer awaited my children’s curiosity and soon they were practicing washing hand towels and hanging them to dry on the line. After they had perfected their technique, Hunter asked if he could wash is own shirt. “Why not?” I responded. Soon, all three boys were grinning, shirtless and elbow-deep in wash water.
Once their clothing was flapping in the breeze on the clothes line they discovered the water pump. This provided more timeless entertainment and gayety.
We had intended to leave by mid-afternoon however, around wash time we realized that the fun had only just begun and decided to cancel our travel plans for the day and just be.
It was at that moment that the day became my favorite. A perfect combination of adventure, new experiences, learning, curiosity and fun minus a rushed schedule. This was when I first tasted the freedom of this new lifestyle. Granted, we always have the power to take control of our day but how often do we let our day control us? On September 10th we controlled our schedule and I’ll remember the image of my kids pumping water while Trent and Hunter laid on the grass looking at the clouds for a long time to come.
*Affiliate links were used for the Little House books on Amazon.