Category Archives: Museums and History

Poor Boys & Pilgrims: My Visit to Graceland

When my father would take me to elementary school, we had something of a tradition: We would listen to music to set the mood for the morning. It was through these early morning music sessions that I was first exposed to classical composers such as Vivaldi and Brahms, as well as the guitar magic of Fernando Sor and Enrique Granados. One of the albums that made its way into the mix was Paul Simon’s, Graceland.

The entire album is fantastic, but there was something in the catchy bass hook of “Graceland” that really resonated with me. This was the first time I had ever heard of the place, but I didn’t know what it was. My father informed me that Graceland was the famous residence of none other than the legend himself, Elvis Presley.  

Recently, I had a chance to finally follow in the footsteps of the King. Paul’s Simon’s eponymous theme played through the speakers of the rental car on the way there, as it should. The Graceland Museum is right across the street from the mansion itself. It is filled with all manner of Elvis artifacts, ranging from his cars, including the famous Pink Cadillac, some of his Army gear from the time he was drafted, and tributes and various personal possessions. His signature jumpsuits and golden records are also on display, though I wasn’t able to see them this time around. It’s good to have something new to see next time I’m in Memphis, however, since I already want to go there again.

Where I was fascinated, however, was in the mansion itself. Elvis bought the estate when he was just 22 years old, and he lived there for the remainder of his life. He modified the grounds extensively, adding the iconic guitar gates, an outdoor pool, a trophy building, and an indoor racquetball court.

The grounds there are peaceful. Part of me was captivated by the trees on the green in front of the house. I went in with the tour group, just one more pilgrim in the crowd. While luxurious, even decadent in places, I was struck by just how small the house was. Elvis was arguably the first international megastar. Musicians nowadays with a fraction of his star power live in megamansions that could dwarf Graceland. That Elvis chose this place as his main residence, and didn’t have a string of much larger places, is something that’s worth noting.

The Graceland Mansion has been frozen in time from the era when he lived there. His living room with a grand piano and stained glass peacocks, his yellow basement lounge with its three TVs and a (for the time) state-of-the-art RCA sound system, the world-famous Jungle Room with its carved wooden furniture and green shag carpeting on the floor and ceiling — it’s all in the state that Elvis left it.

It’s here that I had my ‘oak tree’ moment (a phenomenon that happens to me often enough at places like this that it really deserves its own blog post). Basically, it’s the dawning realization that the place you’re standing in isn’t a reproduction or facsimile; it’s the very real place where this person lived. This is where they sat down for dinner, spent time with family, took important phone calls, made tough decisions that are now lost to the sands of time — where the quiet moments of their life took place. In Elvis’ case, it’s also the place where he passed away. Heavy stuff, man.

The second floor of the Mansion is roped off. The audio tour, hosted by John Stamos, tells the visitors that the upper floor is kept private. I suspect that’s largely because having people see the place where he died just should not be on display. And, you know, I’m fine with that.

The next day, I went into Memphis proper to see the place where Elvis’ recording career first began its meteoric rise to prominence. Just as I would recommend the tour of Graceland, the same is true of Sun Studio, the birthplace of rock and roll. The likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, and so many others made their careers at Sun Studio.

The space where Elvis recorded “That’s All Right,” his first runaway hit, is right there on the first floor of Sun. You can see the spot where he recorded the single that began his rock stardom. The story goes that Elvis had a fateful recording session with Sam Phillips, Sun’s owner and record producer, one that did not go so well at first. After a few hours, Sam decided to call it quits. The guitar and bass players began putting their instruments away when Elvis started singing “That’s All Right.” Something in it really grabbed Sam’s attention, and he asked Elvis to sing it again. The bass and guitar players pulled their instruments back out and they spent the rest of the night trying to get the song down.

Once they finally had it in the can, Sam sent the record over to the “Red Hot & Blue” radio show hosted by legendary DJ, Dewey Philips. “That’s All Right became an instant hit. A few days later, Elvis signed his first recording contract with Sun. His first record came out two weeks later, and so begins Elvis’ path to becoming a fixture in American pop culture. He inspired a generation of artists, and his fame paved the way for many other musical legends. As Buddy Holly put it, “Without Elvis, none of us would have made it.”

Buddy Holly would, in turn, go on to inspire many others, including the Beatles. So, the impact that Elvis has had on music cannot be understated. As an aside, I once knew a lady who had a collection of pristine liquor decanters in the likeness of Elvis, complete with microphones and necklaces gilded with real gold. I mean, that’s a little on the weird side, but how many other musicians are ever enshrined in such a way?

Yet, when I think of Elvis, not the one we see on black velvet but the man himself, I can’t help but feel pity for him, especially in the final years of his life. Increasingly isolated, with most of his musical rights sold, divorced, performing constantly, with years of bad habits taking their toll, he died alone at the age of just 42.

There’s a piano in the lounge adjoining the aforementioned racquetball court. That was the last instrument that Elvis ever played, on the day he died. According to his cousin and member of the Memphis Mafia, Billy Smith, the last songs Elvis sang were “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain and “Unchained Melodies,” the latter of which was one of the last live performances he ever gave. Both songs, especially when sung by Elvis, have that poignant, yearning quality to them, which I can only conclude encapsulated his state of mind at the time. Listening to them now is haunting.

I didn’t know this before I arrived at Graceland, but Elvis is actually interred on the grounds, near a fountain in the Meditation Garden. He’s there along with his mother and father. Tragically, his only daughter, Lisa Marie, now lies there in a mausoleum next to her son, Benjamin Keough. It’s difficult to stand there and not be moved, yet the peaceful nature of the grounds I spoke of earlier is a balm to this.

You know, in many ways, I have been on my way to Graceland for a long time, ever since those trips with my father as we zipped down the country roads in his ’72 Datsun pickup truck. Trips like this are transformative in many ways. Where I thought the visit would be for the glitz and glamour of one of America’s brightest stars, I came away with more of a feeling of introspection for having been there, a cause to ask the important questions of life, death, and existence. My trip to the Buddy Holly Museum had a similar effect on me.

Even still, Elvis had a personal mantra in the ’70s, summed up in this logo. Believe me, it is everywhere at the Graceland Museum.

The gates of the Graceland Museum.

It stands for “Taking Care of Business in a Flash,” or often shortened to simply “Taking Care of Business.” I believe this was Elvis’ way of telling us that time is short, to stay focused on what’s most important, get stuff done with style, and live a life worth remembering.

Not bad advice from the King, really. And considering everything that was going on in my life when I took this trip, they are sentiments I needed to take to heart. So, from me to all of you out there reading this…


Thank you. Thank you very much.

Return of the Mummy: My Second Brush with Ramses the Great

Halloween is just around the corner! In honor of that, this blog is about a mummy. No, not the Universal Pictures mummy (though I love me some Boris Karloff), nor one of the Brendan Fraser variety, but a real, actual mummy.

Namely, Ramses the Great.

My first brush with Ramses was as a kid in 1989 when his exhibit came to the Dallas Museum of Natural History at Fair Park. The man himself was not there, unfortunately — he was still in his resting place in Cairo, but a lot of his artifacts made the trip over. The exhibit included carved statues of his likeness, incredible jewelry, cups, bowls, personal implements, you name it. Not all of it was tied to Ramses himself, but much of it belonged to those who lived in that general era of time, some 3,300 years ago. 

Several of these artifacts were included in the 1989 exhibit, especially the stone slab depicting Anubis.

Considering in my heart of hearts I wanted to be an archaeologist back then, this was both a figurative and literal treasure trove for me. Egyptology was a field I considered going into, and it remains an interest of mine to this day. So, to say this trip had an impact on me as a kid is an understatement.   

At that time, my grandmother was a schoolteacher, and there was a whole unit in social studies that taught us the basics of life in ancient Egypt, about the 19th Dynasty when Ramses reigned, and so forth. After the fact, I wound up with teacher’s resource guide used to teach the lessons. I put it with my other books on archaeology. Here’s a photo. We’ll get back to this book in a moment.

That logo, though.

Now, fast-forward to last December. I was passing through Houston and saw a billboard for a new exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science: Ramses The Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs. I knew immediately that this was my chance to revisit the time of Ramses II. So, after the holidays, I loaded up the family and that’s exactly what I did.

This is what greeted us as we walked in.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science already has a wonderful Egyptian exhibit on permanent display there, which is definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. This particular temporary exhibit was an extension of that section. The artifacts of the Ramses exhibit were incredible. I’ve included some pictures here, but trust me when I say that they don’t do them justice.

Beyond that, the technical side of the exhibit was flawless, and I say this having worked on exhibits in museums previously. The lighting, the flow from one display cluster to the next, even the music playing throughout the various spaces was everything I could have asked for. The display that explained the famous Battle of Kadesh, in particular, had a cool back-projection effect that looked nearly holographic. (Unfortunately my photos of it didn’t come out well, so I can’t show what it looked like.)

At one point, I came across a magnificent golden necklace. This one, the Gold of Valor belonging to Psusennes the First, a pharaoh of the 21st Dynasty.


It looked really familiar, as did a number of the pieces of jewelry in the case, all of which are breathtaking. It was at that point that I wondered if some of these artifacts had been on display back in 1989.

Later, when I got back home, I unearthed the teachers guide that had been in my collection for years. In the back of the guide, there was a list of the artifacts on display back then. I put that next to the official exhibit book I picked up in the Houston museum’s gift shop. Turns out, it was the same necklace I had seen as a kid.

It struck me that in the intervening 33 years, the necklace had made the trip to Egypt and back and likely been on display in number of other exhibits. As I leafed through the teachers guide and the official companion book, I realized that I had seen many of the other artifacts before as well. While it had been most of a lifetime for me, what was a mere three decades compared to the three millennia these artifacts had seen since their creation? They were ancient in a way that my fellow Americans often have a hard time comprehending.

As we left the exhibit, we found a bench and started talking amongst ourselves about our favorite moments and displays. That’s when a gentleman from Egypt approached us and asked if he could ask us a few survey questions. I was too happy to oblige. The questions were mainly along the lines of ‘how did you enjoy the exhibit, and what could be better?’ I had nothing but glowing things to say. The question that really stuck with me, though, was the last one he asked me: “Why do you think people are interested in Ramses today?”

In my excitement, I was probably pretty rambling, but my answer was to the effect of: “When most people think of an Egyptian pharaoh, everyone knows the name of King Tutankhamen, but the kind of epic figure they are probably thinking of is likely Ramses himself. Immortality was something Ramses sought in life, and the fact that we are still thinking and talking about him three thousand years later means that, in many ways, he succeeded.”    

The gentlemen from Egypt seemed to really enjoy that answer. I didn’t remember until later that I had snapped a picture of an ancient Egyptian prayer as I left the exhibit. I’ll let it speak for itself here.

Perhaps memory really is the closest thing to immortality we can achieve in life. At the risk of this post straying into melancholy waters, I know that the last few years have been ones of loss for many of us, myself included. Yet there is something comforting, something eternal in those words: “Speak the name of the dead and they will live forever.” Thanks for reading…and Happy Halloween!

Perhaps we’ll meet again someday.

The Day the Music Died: My Visit to the Buddy Holly Center

I’m a big believer in the power of art. Whether it’s books, TV, movies, video games, or other media, I think that the creative arts represent humanity at our best. I’ve also spoken about the healing power it’s had for me personally in a number of places on this blog. I’m sure you, the reader, are no stranger to being uplifted by a well-timed song on the radio, a silly comedy when you’re feeling down, or any number of other examples that come to mind. Art and the act of creation are, to me, the defining trait of our human-ness.

I didn’t realize until posting this that you can see me holding up my phone in the reflection.

Not to get too Maximus Decimus Meridius on you here, but I do think that what we do in life does, in fact, echo in eternity, especially for artists. Some folks, like Stephen King or Willie Nelson, have had long careers, and have had a hand in defining and redefining their genres more than once. They are the pillars on which several generations of future artists may find inspiration while they continue being legends of their respective media. We are so lucky to have them.

Sadly, there are artists who leave us far too early, often tragically young. These are the comets of the artistic world, blazing a path through the heavens before the sudden absence of their light leaves us cold in their wake. Don Mclean’s famous song, American Pie, speaks about one of these comets, referencing February 3, 1959 — the day the music died.

His plaque on the Walk of Fame.

That’s when a plane crashed in a corn field near Clear Lake, Iowa that resulted in the deaths of, among others,  Jiles Perry “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Jr., Ritchie Valens, and Charles Hardin Holley, better known by his stage name: Buddy Holly. I remember hearing about the plane crash as a kid, especially when La Bamba, starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens, premiered in 1987. The movie ends with the now-famous coin flip between Ritchie and Tommy Allsup to determine the seat on the plane.

Exterior of the museum.

Last year, I travelled to Buddy Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas to learn more about this icon of the ’50s and early rock legend. The West Texas city is surrounded by miles and miles of cotton fields, studded with towering metal windmills. Travelling there at night from Dallas, I remember the hypnotic red lights on those windmills the most, as they always appeared in the distance without ever seeming to get closer.

The next morning, I went to the Buddy Holly Center in the heart of the city’s Depot District. The Center is situated in an old train depot. Across the street, you’ll find the famous Buddy Holly statue at the West Texas Walk of Fame. The statue was much taller than it looked from the photos, but it’s fitting for a figure who casts such a long shadow in the music world. His signature look is all accounted for there in bronze: the suit, the guitar, and (of course) the glasses.


Speaking of the glasses, the sign at the front of the Center is a giant-sized pair of Buddy Holly specs. The museum itself consists of two main galleries. One is a recreation of Buddy’s bedroom, including several pieces of furniture he owned. Opposite that display are tributes from many other famous musicians that have made the pilgrimage to the museum. The other gallery contains a host of memorabilia from his personal life, his performances, and a timeline of his career. Photography is not allowed inside the exhibits, but there are photos on Google.   

Before you go in, you are treated to a short movie about Buddy’s life and legacy. A notable personality who shows up in that presentation is Paul McCartney, who talks about how the concert that Buddy Holly played in Liverpool was a catalyst to form the Beatles. Even the name of the Fab Four’s band was a reference to Buddy’s own band, the Crickets.

A wider shot of the West Texas Walk of Fame.

Of course, Buddy looks young in all the photos we have of him, but I didn’t realize just how young he was. When that plane crashed on February 3, he was just 22 years old. Twenty-two. His entire musical career lasted only around 18 months, but in that time he left an enduring mark upon the world. A comet, indeed.

That realization stung me pretty hard as I stood there looking at the actual glasses, which were recovered from the crash site. It really drove home what a tragedy it was to lose such a gifted musician at the dawn of his career. The Big Bopper had been oldest of that trio at 28, and Ritchie Valens was only 17. Yeah, the lump that I got in my throat as That’ll Be The Day played through the hall is roughly equivalent to the one I’m feeling now as I write this.

I didn’t take this photo. It’s from Wikipedia.

While the Center does not shy away from the circumstances of Buddy’s death, the museum itself is far from a solemn place of remembrance. Quite the opposite, in fact — it’s an upbeat and lively space. It’s a fitting testament to the man who, by all accounts, brought such an energy and fire everywhere he went, to everything he did.

You know, the act of creation is sometimes like throwing pebbles into the still waters of a pond. For many of us who create, the ripples we cause are small, barely noticeable most of the time. But as I stood there on the museum floor, surrounded on all sides by artifacts from his life, I found myself in awe of just how big the ripple Buddy left behind truly is.

So, should you find yourself out in Lubbock, Texas one day, I highly recommend that you make a visit to the Buddy Holly Center to learn not only about the legend but also the man behind the myth. As long as we remember him, a part of him endures. As Buddy himself put it:

Love to last more than one day,

Love is loving and not fade away.

My Journey to the Place of Red Corn

Late last year, I had the pleasure of visiting my first Mayan ruins at Chacchoben in the forests of Mexico’s coastal state of Quintana Roo. My tour group set out in the morning from Costa Maya on an hour-long trip by van inland to the ruin site itself. Our tour guide was a gentleman by the name of Gabriel, or Gabo for short.

Photos don’t do it justice. Trust me.

Gabo is an interesting guy for a number of reasons. First, he is the answer to the question he gets a lot from tourists: “Where did the Mayans go?” 

“We’re still here,” is his usual answer. Gabo is himself of Mayan descent. In fact, Gabo came from a place in Mexico where the Mayan language is spoken primarily. He learned Spanish as a second language as a kid in school. En route to the ruins, he gave us a bit of history on the Mayan culture, his heritage, and even the Mayan counting system, which used lines and dots with dividing lines to represent escalating multiples of 20, 400, and 8,000.

The leaf/football symbol represents zero.

We arrived at Chacchoben, which means “The Place of Red Corn.” It is located next to a brightly colored traditional Mexican cemetery. I’ll come back to that in a moment. The ruins were rediscovered in 1972 and subsequently excavated in 1994. The area still has places that have not yet been excavated. Occasionally you could see this with an otherwise ordinary hill revealing a fragment of a stone wall peeking through gaps in the dirt. 

This ficus tree is likely more than a thousand years old, possibly more.

Chacchoben is not nearly the largest set of Mayan ruins in Mexico, but they are in remarkable shape considering their age. They date back to the Classic Period of Mayan civilization from about 250 to 900 CE. I’ve heard different estimates of when these ruins were built, but it is likely around 500–700 CE. It can be hard to wrap your mind around just how long ago that was. I had to remind my young son that the buildings there were the oldest that he had ever seen, by quite a large margin.

The people give you a sense of scale.

We toured through plazas and temple complexes in a large loop that goes around the entire site, up and down stone staircases that are narrow enough that it’s easier (and safer) to traverse them sideways. Next to the main temple, there’s even an ancient cieba tree. The branches that grow straight out from the trunk were thought to represent the levels of the heavens, earth, and underworld.    

This is the Cieba tree near the temple in the picture above.

Oh, one other thing that Gabo mentioned, something he was very passionate about: Ancient aliens didn’t build Chacchoben, the Mayans did. None of us had asked him that particular question, but he said it early on in our conversation, almost as if to get it out of the way. I can definitely see why this might be a point of contention for him, especially since there are so many History channel specials out there that talk about ancient aliens.

One place I found of particular interest was one of its most mundane. There was a market square with rows of open stone bleachers that formed a perimeter around a large open space. Gabo explained that this would have been used for town meetings and ceremonies, as well as a farmers market. What struck me most about them was that they still could be used as a market today. Much like the Agora in many Greek cities, this was the beating heart of the community. Almost every citizen would have interacted with it at some point in their daily lives.

Just imagine what life was like here.

Gabo further explained that most of the stone would have been covered in a type of bright white paint. This would allow tradesmen to bring in goods at night when it was cool using only a tiny bit of moonlight.

Speaking of paint, the ruins would have been covered in plaster and painted all sorts of vibrant, almost neon colors. As magnificent as the ruins are as they stand today, we are just seeing the dull under layer. There was one place, at the back of one of the temples, where there is still a tiny bit of the original pigment and plaster. Here it is:


Even in that state, however, there is a definite sense of wonder that you get standing there. These buildings aren’t just for ceremony. No, this is where thousands of people made their home. The echo of their lives still resonates through that place.

Remember the cemetery I mentioned earlier? It’s possible that bright colors we see there are an echo of this tradition. Many of the paints used there are made from natural pigments, so it gives us a potentially tantalizing clue as to the amazing palate the Mayans might have used to paint their buildings.

Once again, photos don’t do it justice.

It certainly makes you wonder why the Mayans might have abandoned this place if they had taken such pains to build them in exacting alignment with the sun and stars. I asked Gabo that very question. He was of the belief that it might have been something as simple as an extended dry period. A crop failure of just one year could have been devastating enough, but if it had gone two or three years in a row, the Mayans might have been forced to find a new place to live just to survive.

This is the back of the of the temple next to the cieba tree. In fact, you can see it in the back ground, just to the right of center

Sooner than I would have liked, it was time for us to load up in the van and head back out to the port. I have to tell you that seeing these ruins has really reignited my interest in Mesoamerican cultures, something I’ve had since I was a kid. At some point in the future, I would dearly love to take a tour of the Mayan and Aztec ruins throughout Mexico and Central America.  

I don’t know if I will ever again have the chance to visit the Place of Red Corn, but I can tell you that I am incredibly grateful to have visited it this once, and walk in the footsteps of the ancients.

My (Most Recent) Trip to the National Museum of the Pacific War

Down in the South Texas hill country, situated between vast open green fields and numerous vineyards, sits the picturesque town of Fredricksburg. Many of the buildings are built of white stone flecked with streaks of orange. The people are friendly, and the whole place just has a good vibe to it, with rows of antique shops, restaurants, and boutiques along the main strip. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend stopping over there.

Fredricksburg also has the distinction of being the hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II. In fact, there’s a large bronze statue of him right next to the old hotel where he grew up, which is now the Nimitz Museum. Just look for the distinctive ‘steamboat’ structure off the main street — you can’t miss it.


The man himself.


The Old Nimitz Hotel (Now the Admiral Nimitz Museum).

If you circle that block, you’ll also find that the town is home to the National Museum of the Pacific War. The place is enormous. It contains hundreds of displays and exhibits, models of ships, uniforms, presentations, and mini-featurettes. It starts with the roots of the conflict between China and Japan, and then takes you all the way through the Pacific War, from Pearl Harbor to the U.S.S. Missouri. Every major engagement and landing is covered here, and in pretty extensive depth. If you tried to read every panel and display, it would take you days to get through it all. Believe me, I’ve tried.


Just around the corner.

Full disclosure: This latest outing to the museum is my fourth trip there. Each time I go, something new resonates with me. The last time I went was when my son was two. The thing that moved me the most then was the famous “Bloody Saturday” photo of a baby crying amid the ruins of a bombed out train station in Shanghai. It’s still a powerful photo, and indeed the entire museum is a moving experience. It’s hard to look at the dizzying scope of the conflict, along with the countless examples of courage and valor, and the loss of so many lives, and not feel something.

Case and point:  Just after the presentation about Pearl Harbor, there is a little alcove that contains a rusty metal hatch. There is a noticeable black stain across the middle of it. Above those black lines is an egg-shaped hole cut into the metal.

At first, it might seem an odd artifact – that is until you realize that it is a hatch from U.S.S. Arizona. The black line is where the oil floated at the waterline. The hole was cut by Navy divers to see if there were any survivors in the compartment. Powerful stuff. Just seeing it is enough to make me tear up.


Every. Time.

We see it all in black-and-white photos and newsreels, but the time that has passed disconnects us from it. This one piece of rusted metal has a way of bringing me back to one of the darkest days in U.S. naval history.

I hasten to add that, though the museum does present the war from the USA’s point of view, it does not balk at showing the devastation and loss that Japan endured. There’s always the temptation to downplay that aspect of the war, but the museum does not. When a warship went down in the Pacific, several hundred people died, regardless of which flag it was flying, hundreds or thousands at a time.


In fact, on this trip the image that struck me the most was a photo of two dead Japanese soldiers washed up on the shore at Guadalcanal. Both were half-buried in the tide, and looked painfully young. I can’t imagine they were older than 18 or 19. I won’t display it here, but you can find it easily enough on Google.

Now I’m not trying to diminish the impact of those photos of dead American soldiers, such as those taken from the Bataan Death March, just simply reflecting that wars have a cost on both sides. Every one of those boys that didn’t go home left a hole in someone’s life. A mother, a father, wife, son, daughter – you name it. You don’t have to go much farther than the exhibit about the five Sullivan brothers aboard the U.S.S. Juneau to see what I mean.

But, as an anodyne to these feelings of loss and pain, there is one other feature of the grounds that is a ‘must see’ as far as I’m concerned. Just behind the Nimitz museum, there is a Japanese peace garden, a gift to from a group of retired Japanese admirals.


May peace endure.

It is absolutely stunning. There’s a koi pond, with a flowing water course that winds around the periphery to a replica of Admiral Togo’s study. In the middle of the garden there is a Zen garden made of raked white stone. It’s…pretty sublime standing there, a place of tranquility and introspection.



If you’re ever at the museum and things get just a little too intense, stepping into the garden is a good way to reaffirm the beauty that people can create, even between those who were former enemies. I always like to end a tour of the museum with a stop here. Just my personal preference. It’s the cleansing breath that brings you back to center.


Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Again, if you’re ever in the area, I can’t say enough good things about Fredericksburg and the Pacific War Museum.  I hope that you find it as illuminating, emotional, and powerful as I have.

But don’t take my word for it…

Some Thoughts While Aboard the U.S.S. Lexington

I recently made my way down to Corpus Christi, Texas to visit the “Blue Ghost” of World War II, the U.S.S. Lexington. She’s the oldest aircraft carrier in the world, and one of only three remaining Essex-class carriers. Lexington was decommissioned back in 1991, but despite being inactive for that long a time, she’s a beauty. There is a quiet strength and majesty to her that resonates in the ocean air. Trust me when I say that the pictures don’t do her justice.


Wow…just wow.

When I visit a place like this ship, a place so weighty with history, I get all introspective. This isn’t so I can look brooding, or so that I can recite some sort of inner monologue, but simply because I can feel the echoes. I took the ‘hard hat’ tour, which allows you to go into spaces that are usually off limits to the public. I walked just a fraction of her labyrinthine interior, through rusted hatches, up stairwells, and past any number of compartments lost entirely in darkness. People lived and died here.


Crew berthings.

I went up to the flight deck and stood at the rails overlooking the ocean. The waters are a deep forest green there. In the distance someone rode a jet ski. I scanned the beach to see people fishing off the wave breaks, swimming, and enjoying their time at the beach in the shadow of a colossus. My feelings were bittersweet as I stood there.


Up on the flight deck.

On the one hand, I am glad that Lexington survived the war, and avoided the breakers that claimed Enterprise and so many others. She’s a part of history, and the historian in me is overjoyed that she’s still around. Even beyond WWII, any number of factors could have ended with her at the bottom of the ocean, or torn apart. But she bucked the odds at every turn to eventually find a permanent home in Corpus.

The Blue Ghost

Historical marker.

But on the other hand, she’s warship who will never see active duty again. Once she was one of the mightiest vessels on the ocean, and now bored teenagers scratch their initials into her paint. There is a movie theatre built into the forward part of her aircraft hangar and a cafeteria built into the aft. While she needs the touristy stuff (like the gift shop) to sustain herself, it strikes me as a little sad that she’ll never sail again.

Families came and went on the shoreline, many of whom did not spare the ship even a passing glance; Lexington sat like a giant metal grandmother, watching as grandchildren played at her feet.

The Blue Ghost

The view from the bridge.

That’s when I realized that this was exactly what U.S.S. Lexington had fought for, her enduring legacy—peace. So, to everyone who has served aboard her in the past, and to all the custodians of her presently, you all have my thanks. Every. Single. One.

And should you find yourself in Corpus Christi, I highly recommend paying the Blue Ghost a visit. Definitely go for the hard hat tour. Take it from this guy, it’s worth every penny.

Get the T-shirt.

My new writing shirt.

[Check out The Backwards Mask on Kindle.]