Memphis, Tennessee

Graceland

I thought I would kick this off with the famous photo of Nixon and Elvis. In 1970 Elvis decided he would like a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge, and at 6:30am with no notice, he personally delivered a handwritten note to the White House security gatehouse in Washington D.C. Within hours he was meeting with President Nixon and extolling to the President the virtues of his capacity to influence kids to say no to drugs.

Like most big attractions in America, I had to walk through a detector of some sort, usually a metal detector, in this case an ‘Elvis fan detector’.

Front of Graceland mansion.

It was very interesting to visit Graceland on what would have been Elvis’ 77th birthday.

A computer generated image of what Elvis may have looked like in 2012 at age 77.

It was fascinating to see what the most powerful and richest celebrity in the world in 1977 would buy and adorn his house with. There were state of the art TVs and stereo systems, and stereo speakers to see. Now they all look very dated, but at the time, this was state of the art.

This is Evlis’ jungle themed lounge room. Just as he left it.

Elvis believed in playing pool. (Note, that is an ‘in joke’ in reference to the time when Governor Schwarzenegger said that exact same phrase in his broken english when he opened a restored historic mansion in Sacramento. My brother and I have laughed about his choice of phrase ever since. I even joked about it with a Californian I met on a bus a couple of months ago). Believed in playing pool.

This is as close as you can get to upstairs, where Elvis died. It has been sealed like a vault since 1977, and the only people who have had access are Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, and one time, actor Nicolas Cage, who was married to Lisa Marie for a short time. A lifelong Elvis fan, Cage is said to have tried on a jacket, sat on Elvis’ toilet, and assumed the prone position on the floor where Elvis died. What exactly it looks like upstairs is something many people would like to find out, it is the last enigma of Americana in a nation that likes to put so much on display.

I was fascinated by home security technology from a young age, I remember being 8 years old when my Mum got a home alarm system. It was very interesting to me to see this 1977 state of the art home security system. Elvis was by far the richest and most high profile celebrity entertainer in the world, the richest man in Memphis by far, and he lived through an era of high profile assassinations. Surrounded by his ‘Memphis Mafia’ at all times, and security patrols of his mansion grounds, it evidently turned out that the greatest threat to his life was himself.

The pool at Graceland.

It seems Elvis also believed in playing racquetball. This racquetball court building was built for Elvis on the grounds of Graceland in 1975. He enjoyed this facility for 18 months or so before he died. He played a game of it hours before he died. He would frequently stay awake all night and sleep all day. On the day he died, he called some friends to play a game in this building at 5 in the morning. Can you imagine pushing your heart to race so fast playing fast paced sports at all hours with a system full of heart rate increasing prescription drugs? That really sounds like pushing the limits of the human heart.

Which brings us to Elvis’ grave. Click on the photo to enlarge it and read the detail.

Elvis’ home brings in tens of millions of dolars a year in tourist money. But I still found it jarring to see a copyright symbol on the grave. Where else in the world could you see a copyrighted grave?

Elvis’ target shooting range. I thought it would be a TV set.

Elvis last drove this 1976 Stutz Blackhawk into his driveway hours before he died.

‘Get set to dig me you cats’.

Elvis had this oil painting of himself commissioned in 1976.

Near to the racquetball court facility, Elvis had built a large storage and display building for his numerous awards. Here can be seen a panorama shot of his gold records. There were about 10 times as many as can fit in this photo, lining the halls.

An award to commemorate 400 million albums sold. No one knows how many albums Elvis sold. Estimates range from 600 million to a billion. For certain he is the only lone artist to compete with a band for the title of best seeling musical artist, competing with The Beatles.

The leather suit worn in the ’68 comeback special.

A display of charity donation cheques signed by Elvis.

Various Elvis jumpsuits.

Elvis’ pink Cadillac. Bought for his mother when he was in his 20s.

Satellite radio, is a broadcasting medium we do not have in Australia. Subscribers can get 250 channels of crystal clear radio anywhere in the United States, one of those channels or stations, plays Elvis music 24/7. It broadcasts from Graceland.

Lisa Marie, Elvis’ private jet. In the late 1970s, Elvis flew in better style than even the President’s Air Force One of the time. It is fascinating to note that this plane was for domestic travel only. Elvis was offered millions for just one date tours in other countries. He turned them down. The most likely and tragic reason for this is that his manager, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, was an illegal Dutch immigrant to the United States, and there was a question mark over whether he would be allowed to return to the United States. Parker had served in the US military, and been charged with desertion. Elvis firmly credited Parker’s smarts with being the reason behind his success and his loyalty can be seen in the fact he never toured the world. It will always be unknown how long Elvis would have kept up his decision not to perform outside the United States. It became the case that over half of Elvis’ record sales come from the rest of the world.

Interior conference table aboard the Lisa Marie.

Elvis’s personal motto was ‘Taking Care of Business’. He named his show band after this motto. Here it is on the tail of his plane. I saw a young man with the ‘TCB’ and lightning bolt tattoo on his arm in the crowd on this day.

Here is a general shot from the streets of Memphis, a psychic. Maybe we should ask her what Elvis makes of all this from beyond the grave. To be sure, Elvis seems to make a lot of people happy. There were people there with old Graceland jackets on, and you could tell they had visited many times. I think it is clear that with the age of the internet, we will never see such huge stars ever again. The stranglehold of the old media is over, and record companies are far less powerful. I had not planned to travel through Memphis at all, I left Syracuse NY, and took a break and stayed a night in Memphis. All in all it was interesting to see this piece of Americana.

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Manchester, New Hampshire

New Hampshire is the ‘live free or die’ state, and home to the liberty activist movement, and the Free State Project, a project which aims to get 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire to form a voting bloc and influence the local government here. A few thousand have already moved here. I met up with some of these ‘Free Staters’ and it was yet another fascinating facet of American society to see.

Zimmerman House

The Zimmerman House, an example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian style homes, is something I toured in Manchester. A childless couple, the Zimmermans lived in the house for 40 years until the early 1990s and then donated it to the Manchester Currier Museum of Art.

A model of the home.

Currier Museum of Art

Picasso, Woman Seated On A Chair, 1941, painted while living in a small apartment in German occupied France during WWII. An anonymous gift to the museum.

Richard Anuszkiewicz, Primary Contrast, 1965. American artist still living in New Jersey. Jarring to the eyes example of ‘Op Art’ or optical art.

332 year old sugar box.

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Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Park Plaza streetscape.

Bunker Hill Monument Obelisk. In memory of the siege of Boston battle of Bunker Hill, early in the American Revolutionary War in 1775.

I enjoyed visiting with Oryx Cohen and the team at the National Empowerment Center, an organisation that does some good critical alternative mental health work. I also spent Christmas Day with Oryx and his family which was great.

USS Constitution

This 44 gun frigate, also known as ‘old ironsides’ is the oldest US Navy ship still afloat. Built in 1797, she participated in three wars, the Quasi War, First Barbary War and the War of 1812. In 2012, the bicentennial of the War of 1812 is being celebrated, and she will again sail under her own power in a ceremonial voyage around Boston. To this day, it is still an official US Navy ship staffed by active duty naval officers.

Don’t Tread On Me: a Gadsden flag flying on the USS Constitution.

As you can see, the list of captains for this ship dates back a long time.

The manufacturing of old handguns in Boston.

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Washington, DC

I spent a long time in Washington, DC seeing everything I could. A very special thanks to Rebekah and her roommate Soo for being so generious in hosting me, I had a great time in Washington.

There were many places I visited where photography was not permitted, where possible I have found substitute photos of the interior of places where I was not permitted to photograph. Unless otherwise noted, all photos taken by me.

The Washington Monument, seen through reflection of the World War II memorial fountain pool at night. Sadly, the giant reflecting pool in Washington is empty of water right now due to upgrade construction. But I still found some water to take this photo at the World War II memorial.

I saw so much in Washington, that I am going to test the attention span of you all, by including a great many photos.

The National Christmas Tree, near South Lawn, White House.

Secret Service sniper on roof of White House.

White House, north lawn.

White House guard house.

The Lincoln Monument, beautiful monument. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech was delivered here. The monument is around 100 years old and is visted by 6 million people a year.

And introducing, the newly discovered panorama feature of my camera. When you see a flat, wide, panorama photo, click on it for a closer look, then hit the back button on your browser to return to where you were.

The Washington Metro rail system, which I became very accustomed to by the time I was done in Washington. It is a blend of subway tracks, elevated tracks, ground tracks.

Panorama photo of the US Supreme Court.

Very serendipitously, I arrived at the Supreme Court just in time for an in courtroom lecture, went up this lovely marble hallway and was one of a very small group of only five people who had turned up. I never even thought the public were allowed inside the courtroom itself, to my suprise I was an arm’s length from where the justices sit. The US Supreme Court is a place where huge legal decisions have been made, that filter through to the whole world in terms of what rights and laws are to become the status quo in modern society. Sometimes, like in the case of the 2000 election, the Supreme Court decides who wins the Presidency.

A stunning marble spiral staircase in the Supreme Court building.

Photography was banned inside the courtroom. But here is an interior photo taken from online. The top sections of all four walls are decorated with marble friezes depicting historical people and mythical figures related to justice and the law.

I was in the restroom and was stunned to find that every inch of the Supreme Court seems to be covered in marble.

The Vietnam Veterans memorial.

Martin Luther King memorial, opened in 2011.

Washington Monument by night, with tree.

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial panoramic.

United States Capitol Building by night.

Interior of United States Senate chamber, as seen during the lying in state of Senator Robert Byrd. A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd served as a U.S. Representative from 1953 until 1959 and as a U.S. Senator from 1959 to 2010. He was the longest-serving senator and the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress.

I attended the public gallery of the US Senate at night, night sessions sometimes stretch to as late as 2AM. I had a surreal experience, being the only member of the public there for an hour or so. Nobody but the Senators, the guards, and myself. The ornate interior is quite stunning.

Arlington National Cemetery, a beautiful cemetery where soldiers from all of America’s wars are interred, along with two Presidents.

All sorts of decorated Generals and Colonels are buried here.

As I looked around, I noticed it was common to see the gravestones of soldiers who had fought in multiple wars.

Some of the graves are very ornate, here can be seen the grave of Senator Kellogg-Davis who was instrumental in the peace talks that ended the Spanish American war of 1898 over Cuban independence.

Metal bas relief on the Senator’s grave, showing him at the peace talk table.

Panorama photo of President Kennedy’s grave and memorial site.

The Kennedy grave site and memorial is adorned with various quotations from his speeches. Here can be seen “ask not what your country can do for you…”.

John F. Kennedy’s grave, with eternal flame. To the right, out of frame, is buried Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, either side of them, are the graves of son Patrick who died 2 days old the same year Kennedy died in 1963, and also the grave of their stillborn daughter Arabella. Nearby are buried Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy.

Arlington Cemetery memorial for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing air disaster. With a very sad recently delivered bunch of flowers for Christmas from the parents of one of the young victims. An interesting aside about the Lockerbie bombing is that Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten narrowly missed boarding that plane due to delays caused by his wife taking a long time to pack their bags.

Memorial for the Astronauts lost in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

And the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

An interesting Astronaut grave not related to a disaster. Astronauts can choose to be buried at Arlington too.

The Tomb of the Unkowns, where sunglasses are part of the uniform for the ‘sentinels of the tomb’. To serve as a sentinel of the tomb is considered one of the highest honours in the US military, and the changing of the guard occurs every hour, all day, all night, even when the cemetery is closed to the public at night, in all weather. It is customary for the guard to walk 21 steps on the carpet in front of the tomb, the number 21 alluding to a 21 gun salute.

I was mesmerised to discover yet another lucky break, because I had been walking around Arlington cemetery all day, and happened to stumble upon the Tomb of the Unkowns at just the moment not only the changing of the guard was taking place, but when the Japanese Foreign Minister was visiting the tomb for a wreath laying ceremony on the occasion of his first visit to the US since the recent 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor which officially occurred a couple of weeks before this wreath laying. Japanese Foreign Minister Kōichirō Gemba had bilateral talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about North Korea.

I took the following video with my camera, which does not shoot very good video, and is mainly a still camera, but here it is… I thought this was fascinating to watch, because of the forever intertwined military history between Japan and the United States.

A photo I was very happy with, Tomb of the Unknowns with sentinel’s bayonet in foreground.

Close up of the ‘circle of the sun’ Japanese flag themed wreath laid by the Japanese Foreign Minister.

International Spy Museum

Aston Martin DB5 with James Bond enhancements added by the museum for effect.

Tyre slasher.

There are more spies in this city than in any other city in the world. I went to the Spy Museum but photography was not allowed. See this excellent video of it instead…

The National Archives

The Charters of Freedom rotunda, home of America’s founding documents, where no photography was allowed. Somehow I managed to get a photo and video taken by others from online.

Here is where displayed to the public, surrounded by armed guards, one can see the real, signed original documents of the beginning of the United States. Here I saw the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

These documents, three of the most important documents in world history, are stored in glass fronted encasements containing the highest document preservation technology developed by NASA and the National Archives.

The National Archives also contains a museum section, where photographs are allowed, so below, more of my photos…

A civil war era telegraph from Abraham Lincoln responding to a request for a stay of execution for an alleged traitor.

“Instrument of downfall”. An amazing object, Richard Nixon’s oval office tape recorder.

Evidence tag from Watergate investigation still attached to the tape recorder.

Smithsonian Museum of American History

Actual filing cabinet from the psychiatrist’s office of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg broken into by the Nixon White House ‘plumbers’ digging for dirt files.

Nuclear ‘football’. The US nuclear weapons arsenal launch codes satchel from the Clinton era, handcuffed to the wrist of an American soldier travelling with the President at all times.

The ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz film.

Bill Clinton’s saxophone.

Thomas Jefferson’s polygraph, a device that would hold two pens and make a copy of a letter on the left as a letter was written on the right hand side piece of paper. He called it ‘the finest invention of the current age’, from the early 19th century.

Michael Jackson’s hat.

Farrah Fawcett’s swimsuit. Interesting that it is actually located in the museum right next to Michael Jackson’s hat, and that they both died on the same day in 2009.

George Washington used this telescope during the American War of Independence. One can just imagine him putting his eye to this and seeing the British ‘redcoats’ advancing.

This microscope and light box was used by the CIA to examine satellite photos during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This wall of televisions from the 1960s and 70s was part of a great Vietnam War section at the museum, one of the best displays in my opinion that I have ever seen. It was set out like a 1960s lounge room in a home, and because this was the first time a major war had been televised, the exhibit has a focus on the TV coverage of the Vietnam war. There is an old couch and coffee table where you can sit and watch the walls of TVs as they play original broadcasts of the time.

Secret Service equipment.

Plastic figurines of every president.

Kennedys board game, circa 1960s.

Lincoln Logs, childrens construction toy named after President Lincoln, invented by John Wright, son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Slave Collar, which would have been fitted with a bell on the hook, to locate the slaves on the plantation.

I grouped this photo here, but it is not from the Smithsonian. It is from Arlington House, a historic home overlooking Washington. This is the slave quarters.

Interior of the slave quarters of Arlington House.

Other large museums I went to included the Natural History Museum, Portrait Gallery, Crime and Punishment museum, but I did not take photos at these, for some, photography was banned, for others, I neglected to bring my camera, and one very annoying time, I left the photo memory card in the laptop, and was left with a camera that could not store any photos.

As with the New York City post, I have saved the best for last again…

National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Dulles, Virginia

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, named in honour of the billionaire philanthropist and airline magnate who donated $65 million to the Smithsonian to help build this $300 million facility, it is part of the Smithsonian museums, and located about 30 miles away from Washington, in Dulles, Virginia. I had read about this place a couple of years ago and was very keen to see it. I spent all day there, from opening to closing, and even when there was 10 minutes to closing, I was still running around trying to see everything.

The exterior of the hangar complex with its observation tower. The facility is located right near the Dulles International Airport, and the tower enables visitors to watch aircraft coming and going from the airport. A live feed of the air traffic control radio can be heard in the observation tower. This place is the premier aviation museum in the world.

Housing over 100 aircraft and over 122 space objects, it has sections on modern military aviation, sport aviation, aerobatic aviation, extensive sections of WWII combatant nations’ aircraft, business aviation, commercial aviation, interwar military aviation, pre-1920 aviation, human spaceflight, satellites, rockets, missiles, space probes, hot air balloons and blimps, world record attempt aviation, and more.

The aircraft are on the ground, perched high on pillars, and many even hang down suspended from the ceiling. I took 475 photos at this museum, so I cannot include them all, and even some of the best ones have been excluded from this blog.

A Vought F4U Corsair from the Korean War.

A general panoramic shot of the interior of the hangar.

Another general shot, showing the Air France Concorde and the prototype of the Boeing 707, America’s first jet airliner.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird Spy Plane. Capable of flying at 85,000 feet, and speeds of up to 2,193 mph or 3,529 km/h. This very plane in the photo flew from Los Angeles to Washington in 64 minutes on its final flight in 1990. A dangerous plane, over one third of those ever built were lost to accidents.

Panoramic shot of the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter F-35 B Lightning II. Fifth Generation figher, and the most modern example at the museum. This $400 billion program will produce two and a half thousand of these aircraft for the air forces of the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, The Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark. This one is the B variant, which is worth $300 million a piece. It is the short take off / vertical landing version. Why is an advanced, new, fifth generation fighter in a museum already? this one was used in the research and development phase with test flights and then donated to the Smithsonian.

The short take off, vertical landing engine of the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 B Lightning II, a very advanced engine that will see this variant put into service on aircraft carriers for the next 30 years.

Panoramic shot of Space Shuttle Enterprise. There were not many visitors on this Monday when I went here, and I was alone with the Space Shuttle. Just me and a Space Shuttle, thank you very much.

Next year, this Space Shuttle is moving to the New York City Intrepid Air and Space museum, as seen earlier on this blog. In its place here at the Udvar Hazy Center, will go the retired Space Shuttle Discovery. Both will be flown on top of 747s to reach their new homes.

Panorama of the Enola Gay, this bomber is the one that launched the world’s first nuclear strike in combat, the first in a series of nuclear strikes against Japanese cities that would culminate in the ending of World War II. Named for the pilot’s mother.

I found myself having a moment of pause as I stared at the bomb hatch doors. When these doors opened up the world would not be the same…

A newspaper from the time, and below, a video about the Enola Gay pilot who died aged 92 only last year.

Now, when we think of high technology from World War II we often only think of the atomic bomb. In the final months of the war, the Nazis had developed jet aircraft and rocket powered fighters. Here, a Nazi Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket powered fighter.

A panorama of a wall of military aircraft machine guns.

A shot of a WWII era plane’s nose with machine guns. I cannot remember the specifications of this plane.

Panorama of a Lockheed Constellation or ‘Connie’. Civilian airliner and military transport during the Berlin Airlift.


Air France Concorde Panorama shots.

The only surviving example of a Boeing 307 Stratoliner. The world’s first pressurised cabin passenger aircraft. This one has Pan Am livery, and seeing this made me picture Alec Baldwin playing the Pan Am boss Juan Trippe talking to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes through a door in the film The Aviator.

Panorama of a Soviet Mig.

Below, some assorted shots of aircraft engines and engine parts from the propulsion exhibit.


Below, a selection of space suits, helmets and gloves from the space exhibit.


A child sized astronaut suit designed for a publicity tour in the 1960s.

A space suit test dummy.

This is the control panel of a very early computer used by NASA. It reminds me of the computer from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where the computer prints out a statement that reads “what would a computer do with a lifetime supply of chocolate?”.

This control console was used by NASA to communicate with, fly and move a planetary probe.

More consoles and control panels from various space experiments.

A science module, placed in the payload hold of a Space Shuttle, where Astronauts carried out experiments during a shuttle mission.

Five years old, This is a Raytheon RIM 161 Standard Missile 3 anti-ballistic missile defence missile. This ship based missile is a three-stage antiballistic missile that carries a Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile Kinetic Warhead in its nose. This warhead homes in on and destroys other missiles, and also this missile system has been used in antisatellite missions to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit. Of course, the one you are seeing here has been rendered harmless.

Interesting to note the evolution of the missile, here is an early German missile with wooden fins.

The theme of advanced weapons from World War II continues, with this Yokosuka E14Y seaplane from Japan. It was held on board Japanese submarine aircraft carriers. Yes, there were submarines that had planes inside them, in World War II. I did not know this. The captain of the submarine that housed this plane visited the Udvar Hazy center museum a couple of years ago, I was told by a tour guide. He told museum staff that the only purpose of this aircraft carried on his submarine was for kamikaze suicide attacks against US warships. This example was captured by the Americans at the war’s end.

This is a Japanese balloon bomb from World War II. Launched from Japan and designed to be unguided and be carried by the jet stream across the pacific to America, between November 1944 and April 1945, Japan launched over 9,300 of these balloons. About 300 balloon bombs were found or observed in North America, the single lethal attack was the killing of a pregnant woman and her five children, who discovered the balloon in an Oregon forest. The only known deaths in the continental United States from enemy action during World War II. Hawaii excluded. It is figured hundreds of these may lie unxploded and undiscovered deep in rarely trafficked parts of the Oregon and California forests.

A CIA transmitter disguised as dog poo, used during the Vietnam war.

A Japanese Kamikaze ‘manned missile’. Designed never to land.

These are the floatation devices attached to the Apollo 11 module upon return from the moon, it needed to float while the astronauts waited for the ship to come pick them up from the water.

The actual quarantine trailer that the first men on the moon had to live in for a few days upon return from the moon. It was erroneously thought that such a thing as ‘moon germs’ might exist. And to be safe, this precaution was taken. The practice was later abandoned as NASA learned there was no such thing as ‘moon germs’.

Apollo 11 Quarantine Trailer, interior.

An early concept model from NASA for the space shuttle, late 1960s.

One of the most fascinating sections of the museum for me was the one on the golden age of airships. A hundred years ago, the rich could float slowly over days-long journeys from New York to Berlin. These blimps had giant cabins, sometimes three stories high, with ornate lounges and dining areas. Even grand pianos were to be found on board. Here we have some fine china salvaged from the wreck of the Hindenburg disaster.

Airship over Manhattan early 1930s.

Charles Lindbergh’s flying goggles.

Like I said, I stayed there until the place closed. Lights out.

If you read and looked at ALL THAT, you officially have a good attention span. Washington was wonderful. It is a place of monuments, museums and artifacts, where you can see all of America’s achievements and history all in the one place.

Scroll down for a SHORT blog post on Philadelphia.

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Philadelphia

Independence Hall, formerly the colonial legislature and later the Pennsylvania state house, was built in 1753, at the time it was the largest building in North America. It is the site of the debating and signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Inside also, not pictured, is a court room. This court room was an English colonial court room, where the defendant was required to stand, not sit, there were no chairs, in the dock for the duration of his trial. This is the origin of the phrase ‘to stand trial’. Black statue out front is Washington.

In this very room on the July 4th, 1776, the United States came into being. Here on this day, the Declaration of Independence was signed. It was awesome to stand in the room where the American revolution began, an earth shaking event. For the next 8 years, 137 days America would fight tooth and nail for her independence.

This is where founding father Thomas Jefferson sat, at the Virginia table. Drafter/Author of the Declaration, he was America’s foremost son of the Enlightenment.

Tomb of the Unknowns of the Revolutionary War. This monument is in Washington Square, Philadelphia, a park where thousands of Revolutionary War soliders are buried in mass graves.

The Liberty Bell. 262 years old, this bell was hung in the steeple of Independence Hall, it reads “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This bell is a famous and iconic symbol of American liberty, and was rung to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776. 89 years later it was placed next to the casket of recently assassinated President Lincoln as hundreds of thousands shuffled through Independence Hall as he lay in state. The bell became a symbol of the slavery abolitionist movement, and later the civil rights movement. Thousands of people stream by it daily and there is always a waiting line of people.

Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin bridge.

Philadelphia is famous for its Cheese Steaks.


The National Constitution Center is a museum dedicated to the founding charters and principles of the United States. Here is pictured a room sized collection of brass statues of the signers of the constitution.


This is the actual signed pardon of President Richard Nixon, pardoned for any and all crimes, signed of course by his successor Gerald Ford.

Mütter Museum

The Mütter Museum is a world famous medical museum in Philadelphia. It contains a large collection of medical oddities, human anatomy specimens and so on. Many of the specimens were evidently obtained without the consent of the deceased, as prisoners, suicides, and so on, are represented here. Photography is banned inside, except during special pre-arranged occasions with professional photographers. I have therefore sought out examples of photos taken of the interior by others. A slice of Einstein’s brain is on display, and again, his brain was famously taken from his body and kept by a pathologist without consent upon autopsy. Even luminaries are not safe from the biological determinists. Of course after decades of slicing and dicing this human being’s remains, they have proven nothing they set out to prove.

The exterior of the Mütter Museum.

Interior of the Mütter Museum, with the wall of skulls, the Hyrtl Skull Collection, which consists mostly of 19th century accident deaths, suicides, murders, and executed prisoners, along with some extreme examples of unusual shape and size variance in human skulls.

There is a piece of the thorax of Linoln’s assassin, a nine foot long diseased human colon, siamese twin body parts, a multitude of fetuses and birth defects in jars. Some of it is nasty stuff.

The giant and the dwarf skeletons. In a rather undignified display, visitors are told that this dwarf skeleton is that of a 19th century prostitute who died during childbirth. I wonder if she consented to the donation of her remains.

Heart from the Gretchen Worden room. She was the curator here until her death in recent years. She regularly appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman exhibiting samples of the collection on television. I recall seeing this.

New York Times described the “Gretchen Worden Room”:

“There are jars of preserved human kidneys and livers, and a man’s skull so eaten away by tertiary syphilis that it looks like pounded rock. There are dried severed hands shiny as lacquered wood, showing their veins like leaves; a distended ovary larger than a soccer ball; spines and leg bones so twisted by rickets they’re painful just to see; the skeleton of a dwarf who stood 3 feet 6 inches (1.07 m) small, next to that of a giant who towered seven and a half feet. And “Jim and Joe,” the green-tinted corpse of a two-headed baby, sleeping in a bath of formaldehyde.”

Various shots from the medical museum.

This brings to a close both the Washington and Philadelphia posts. Thank you for reading/viewing this huge chunk of blog content, and Merry Christmas everybody.

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New York City, New York


Times Square. Busy place. Definitely gives you a jolt when you first stand before it. Let’s just say the atmosphere is electric.


Steam rises up from manhole cover around subway. It originates from a power plant to do with the subway system.


Wall Street, New York Stock Exchange.


The Trinity Church cemetery is located right at the end of Wall Street. It is the only operating cemetery left in Manhattan and dates back to 1697.


When 26 year old Sarah Henderson died I bet she never imagained that more than a quarter of a millenium later her grave would be nestled between skyscrapes in the financial capital of a globalised world economy.


These gravestones are so old, many have simply withered away and are no longer readable.


Wall Street is no longer really a public street. It is a street divided, with various inner sanctums for Wall Street employees, the police, and finally a small slither left for the public.


Passing the Occupy Wall Street protest, where the whole Occupy protest movement began, I was surprised to see what may be a police captain, or some kind of high ranking cop, actually protesting on his day off. Of course not pictured are the line of police opposite him, watching, waiting.


The site of Federal Hall, now demolished but built as the first city hall of New York City in 1700, this is where Washington was inaugerated as first president.

Relief sculpture of President Washington on wall outside the Federal Hall memorial.


On this day, President Obama was in town, on the same day as the Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Plaza. Here out the front of Fox New Channel the police gather to hear their orders as they take part in locking down the streets for Obama to come through the city.


The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center the afternoon before the lighting.


The New York Public Library, a huge marble library, it has the famous twin lion statues out the front, it has been featured in many films, you would have seen it in Ghostbusters.


A copy of the Gutenberg bible from the 1450s. The first major book to be printed using the moveable type printing press, which set off the printed book revolution. A seriously beautiful object, and a very significant historical artifact.


The reading room at the library. I spent an afternoon exploring some of the millions of books held here, and it was a very interesting environment.


An original invitation to Mark Twain’s 70th birthday.


Times Square by night.


A whimsical store window display showing a business suited lion weightlifting.

The 9/11 Memorial


There are twin memorial pools, and there are stringent security measures to view the memorial. You must book a spot online before turning up. Many were not aware of this and were turned away.


This photo gives a better sense of scale.


This sign is necessary because as seen two photos before you looked at this one, if you look closely, people have been treating the 9/11 memorial as some kind of wishing well, tossing coins into it.

There are electronic kiosks to look up the names of those who perished in the attacks. Here, a man who hailed from Geelong is pictured.

The cascading water evokes a sense of falling and descent.


On the site, just next to the memorial pools, skyscraper One World Trade Center is under construction. It will be 1776 feet tall, and stands to overtake the Sears Tower as the tallest building in the United States when completed. It is ascending at a rate of one floor per week. Here in the photo, it is about half as tall as will eventually be.

This is a computer rendering of what the tower will look like when completed.

United Nations


The exterior of the United Nations headquarters complex.


The interior of the United Nations General Assembly hall. It was interesting seeing the booths for the interpreters, and the benches and seats labelled with the name of each country.


I was surprised the tour took us in to the UN Security Council chambers, this is where they vote on resolutions to authorise military action. This is the room where the fate of Gaffadi’s Libya was sealed earlier this year.

Me inside the UN General Assembly.

A machine gun that has been fashioned into an electric guitar.

This is what a million petition signatures looks like.

Land mine.

A Nobel Peace Prize.


The Intrepid, decomissioned World War 2 era aircraft carrier now serves as an impressive museum.


CIA reconnaissance aircraft, Lockheed A-12.

British Airways Concorde. This very plane is the world record holder for passenger aircraft, it flew from London to New York City in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds during 1996.

This is how much a car detail costs in NYC.


Rupert Jee’s Hello Deli. I had breakfast here and a good conversation with Rubert Jee and Letterman stagehand Pat Farmer, who often appears in skits on the show.


I had a good seat in the first few rows of the Letterman audience for the Monday, December 5 show. Jonah Hill was the guest. Alan Kalter aka ‘Big Red’ the announcer, was there, but was sadly unavailable to record my voice mail message for me. But below you can see Alan Kalter singing Don’t Cha, a very funny clip.

New York City Helicopter Ride

I saved the best for last. I think the photos speak for themselves… breathtaking. My 30th birthday over the skies of Manhattan.

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Chicago, Illinois

I arrive in Chicago. All photos taken by me except diagram and video.

Occupy Wall Street Chicago, again, the Occupy Protests are in every city, in Chicago they’ve been prevented from camping in any park, so here they are protesting the ‘banksters’ out the front of Bank of America.

Chicago is world famous for its architecture, but it surprised me to see this prison remand centre in the middle of downtown. It has an exercise yard on the roof for inmates. This is probably where former Governor Rod Blagojevich will be held initially in a few weeks when he is sentenced. For a couple of years now the former Governor’s crimes have dominated the news, after he was exposed as trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacated senate seat. Imagine exercising as an inmate in the rooftop exercise yard, with the view of the skyline around you, when you used to be the most powerful man in the state! what a fall from grace. He is due to be sentenced in early December, it will be all over the news when it happens.

Sears Tower, the 108 story 1,451-foot (442 m)  supertall skyscraper, was ranked as the tallest building in the world from its 1973 completion, until 1998, nearly a quarter century. It remains the tallest building in the United States. Two years ago it was officially renamed the ‘Willis Tower’ when a British insurance company bought the naming rights, however, most Chicagoans ignore that renaming, and remain opposed to it, so I am going to join in and keep calling it the Sears Tower.

It is really several skyscrapers in one, as seen in the above diagram.

The Sears Tower Skydeck is on the 103rd floor, the elevator travels at something like 60km an hour. There are 104 elevators in the building.

Elevator ride, video taken by someone else, from youtube.

Spectacular Sears Tower Skydeck view. The tall black building in the middle is the John Hancock building. It also has a skydeck, an interesting photo of the Sears Tower could be taken from there.

My feet standing on the glass bottom skybox. Recently erected in the last couple of years. The glass was dirty from foot traffic. But I could see clearer with my own eyes. Many people were scared of walking out there.

They employed the same architectural firm that originally designed the whole building 40 years ago to build the glass skyboxes. They came up with a unique way to have a seamless glass strucure that could hold 3 tons of weight 103 floors up, they are not taking any chances.

These kids didn’t seem to be afraid of heights at all. This is very good shot.

Fire escape plan for the 103rd floor. I got a sense of what it must have been like to be trapped so high during the terror attack in New York ten years ago. The World Trade Center was almost as high as the Sears Tower. I spoke to a guy who was having a smoke outside on the ground level, who works high up in the bulding. He said he had worked there for years, and just this morning, the most interesting event in his time at the building had happened, when a police helicopter appeared very close to his office window, just like the movie True Lies. It was no emergency, just something interesting that happened.

Window cleaners appeared while I was on the skydeck. Out of 100 photos of the skydeck, I culled them down for you, and this is clearly one of the best. These guys were working outside on the 103rd floor, and they clean higher than that. Listening to their ipods, getting paid danger money washing the windows of one of the world’s most iconic structures.

The Sears Tower even has its own Lego set sold in the gift shop.

Sears Tower, seen between the twigs of a tree. Man-made contrasted with nature.

This retro 1970s vending machine will mold a plastic miniture replica of the Sears Tower before your eyes. They come out piping hot, I saw a kid cry when his mother bought one for him they were so hot.

My awesome hotel, the Essex Inn, hallway.

Don’t forget to scroll down for Salt Lake City.

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