Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thirty Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 3

National World War II Museum and the Civil War Museum (Warehouse District)

                Where to begin? New Orleans is an amazing place to discover museums, big and small. It’s hard to figure out where to start.
                So, we’ll head to the World War II museum. In the scheme of things, it’s fairly new—but that doesn’t take away from the size. We were just there to check on a possible
venue for opening ceremonies for a future con and I was amazed to see the construction going on! It will be absolutely huge. (945 Magazine Street, official address!)
                Huge, we all know, doesn’t mean good. But Nola’s WWII Museum is really both. It’s walking distance from the French Quarter and there’s decent parking when you’re coming from further afield. As the name implies, it tells the story of WWII. There are planes—there are tanks.
There are weapons, uniforms, and more. There are exhibits that grip your heart and don’t let go. Like so many venues in the city, the museum teaches us about the past and makes room for the living—and the future. Walking through the museum, I’m always in awe of the massive scope of what our nation went through and how we contributed and amazed by
some of our allies, as well. I’m also drawn into the small and very human stories of the individual men and women who put their lives on the line. I came across a wonderful story about a Jewish woman who had been in a concentration camp—bound for the death chamber—who managed to escape right at war’s end. She was found hiding along the trail and was terrified at first. The man who found her was an
American soldier. Still frightened, she told him she was Jewish. He told her that he was Jewish, too. They wound up falling in love and marrying and they had a wonderful family and remained happy until his death at eighty-plus separated them.
                The American Sector is a John Besh restaurant and the food is exceptional—and reminiscent of a bygone era as far as the seating, the ambiance, and the food goes. Soup served in tin cans and good old American fare, ice cream, fun stuff—and stuff for those with a healthful-eating life-style as well. Many entrees, naturally, have a bit of local flare, too. If you come to the museum, think about lunch or a cocktail. If you plan your trip, you can have “Dinner with a Curator” and become part of a discussion on specialized topics with a curator and fellow historians. Now, there’s a soda shop, too. 

                You can see a movie at the Solomon Victory Theater, learn what you thought you knew but didn’t, and then listen to the Andrew Sisters inspired Victory Belles; they are great, trust me! You can catch any number of live shows at the Stage Door Canteen, see some of the stars of the era—those who fought, and those who performed for our troops. I’ve seen a tribute to Frank Sinatra there—the voices and performances were excellent. We rented the Canteen for an event once, too, and everyone involved was helpful and wonderful.
They have a pretty decent web site if you want to check out times and what’s showing. Just remember—it’s big! They say you need three hours for the exhibits. You may also want to catch a show and a meal. (I dream some days about the soup and sandwich special!)
                The Civil War Museum is right across the street. (929 Camp Street) This museum opened in 1891 and houses one of the largest collections of Confederate
memorabilia in the United States. I particularly love this museum not because I love war, but because I hate to see history forgotten in any way. The building is beautiful and the exhibits are fascinating and truly part of the American experience that makes us what we are today—still feuding within our states’ rights, but, hopefully, never to face such a tragedy again.
                Here, we see the great scope of things--all that led to our country’s “great divide.” But, more importantly, we see the war through the eyes of those who fought it.  For military strategy buffs, there’s information on who made certain decisions, where plans
were brilliant, and where they went astray. Home life is an important part of the exhibition. And the tragedy that befell our nation becomes all the more evident as we see families torn apart; sons who faced their fathers, brothers who went to war against brothers. Some believed in the sanctity of the nation while others gave their first loyalty to the states. The issue of slavery is not ignored. But the realities are there, too.
                While the National World War II Museum is massive, the Civil War Museum is fairly small. Once again, size means little. It’s one of the best museums on the Confederacy and the “War of Northern Aggression” or the American Civil War you’ll ever see. (Yes, I was in school a while ago; there were still teachers telling it as such back then!)
                There are exhibits here that showcase Jefferson Davis, the one and only President of the Confederacy, and exhibits on the African-American fighting troops. Much to be seen and appreciated—as always, the tragedy of young men fighting and dying, each believing in his (or her, in a few instances!) cause until the true brutality of war sets in. The players in
the great battle that nearly ripped us apart but then made us stronger are seen here—almost as if we were sitting down to tea with them. 
                The thing is, museums teach us. That includes the good—and the bad and the ugly. But, they’re all about the human experience. I grew up in the South so I understand that the economy at the time dictated that the South held the majority of the slaves. I understand as well that some were treated poorly and some were treated well. None of that is the point that we all learned during the war—no man has the right to own another man. The majority of the soldiers fighting for the South did not own slaves—only 4.95 percent of men in the South did. Still, while the Federal government fought the war to preserve the Union, the South was fighting for “states’ rights” and an important right to the South was that to continue with slavery. But history can be strange, too—in New Orleans, men of African heritage sometimes owned other men of African heritage. We now know that no man of any color has any right to own any man of any color, but we learned it all in a very bloody bath. I’m grateful for this museum; it teaches. As I’ve said, we get to see things we did that were not moral; we also see more simply lives, wonderful human beings, and the confusion that will always be the human soul.
                Museums . . . we’ll deal with more later! If you have a chance, these two are excellent! As always, check opening dates and times if you want to go!

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