Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rutherford B. Hayes House and Museum & Maumee Bay State Park: More Food for Seniors' Souls

The Hayes house and grounds; signage and educational panels feature issues like native Americans, the Civil War, and the War of 1812 (also a temporary exhibit is up now); a tattered flag of the 23rd Ohio Civil War Regiment; cameo of Hayes.   
A group of devotees of the Lourdes University Lifelong Learning program took a two-hour bus trip to the Rutherford B. Hayes House and Museum in Fremont, Ohio, then went to Maumee Bay State Park for lunch and a visit to the Nature Center.  They are both beautiful natural environments. The threat of rain and cloudy skies did not diminish the adventure. 

I’m an historian but I never paid much attention to the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.  I knew the 1877 presidential election was hotly contested and that Hayes became president by one vote of a select Electorial Commission in exchange for withdrawing federal troops from the defeated South, thereby ending Reconstruction and strangling the hopes of 4 million newly freed people.  The former slaves were left to their own mercies under the gross unmitigated injustices and cruelties of Southern white losers and haters, the consequences of which were felt for over 100 years and are still felt to this day in spite of changes in race relations and laws. 

But I learned that Hayes, an Ohio-born lawyer, was an honest and decent man, anti-slavery, a Civil War veteran, a friend of Abe Lincoln’s.  He married Lucy Hayes, an advocate for women’s education (not suffrage, however) and fervent prohibitionist (no liquor at the White House, to the dismay of contemporaries at the time). They had eight children, two of whom died early and others who lived to further the Hayes' legacy, founding the first presidential Museum in the country.  Hayes' heirs remain active in keeping his memory alive; several have served on the museum board of trustees, and do to this day.  The museum houses collections of significant leaders of Fremont, Sandusky, Lake Erie Islands and area; manuscripts and research papers of historians like Roger Long and Charles E. Frohman; hundreds of photographs, artifacts and memorabilia (including a pair of Lincoln's slippers replicated for Stephen Spielburg's  Lincoln   (www.historypin.com/channels/view/id/13618491).  It’s a great museum.  

The house, "Spiegel Grove," which the Hayes expanded to 31 rooms over the years and which has been restored to its former Gilded Age splendor in every detail, was interesting, reflecting its owners’ special interests and also the times. The parlors and dining room are grand.  The old-fashioned floor-to-ceiling library holds hard-covered series and precious collected works of Shakespeare, Thackery, Twain, European and American classics, presidential papers.  "They don't have libraries like this anymore," we murmured to each other in awe.  I must say the wallpaper and furnishings are also amazing.  

"I would like to think that if President and Mrs Hayes surprised us and returned to Spiegel Grove, they would find their rooms just as they left them 125 years ago," said Gail Caskey Winkler, the project consultant on the restoration (2012 Annual Report). 

Rutherford Hayes had said he would serve one term as president; he held to that promise. Actually, after four years he was more eager than ever to leave the distasteful political arena to others  “He serves his party best, who serves the nation,” he said in his inaugural addresses.  And he meant it.  He was sick at heart of the partisan politics that ruled Washington, at least as bad as today, maybe worse.  He favored civil service reform, fairness for former slaves, assimilation of native Americans; he was a moderate in all things.  He didn’t get very far in accomplishing his agenda.  

With the triumph of an exhuberant capitalism after the Civil War, the divisions in America grew worse not better as the 19th century turned into the 20th.   Hayes came to believe that the major issue confronting the nation was the growing gap between the very rich and the poor.  Until his death in 1893, he feared this gap would destroy the country if it was not acknowledged and addressed.  We all know how long this took, how reform efforts grew to tinker with it, how, in fact, it is still for many Americans a number 1 issue.  I have a renewed respect for President Rutherford Hayes.  


Maumee Bay State Park.
After reflecting on such somber issues, we headed to the Maumee Bay State Park. The skies turned  dark, the rain fell, but the park looked lovely in a misty haze.  The birds were in their glory. I loved the nature center; it reminded me of my brother Loren and all the nature centers we had visited together over the years: in Tallahassee and all over Florida; from Florida to upstate New York and New England, and dozens of local, state and national parks in between; those in Amsterdam and Costa Rica; in the American southwest, the Grand Canyon, and Utah.  America the Beautiful, through Loren's eyes.  The America Loren loved and fought all his life to preserve and conserve. I stopped to read about the Great Blue Herons, the flowers and trees, the monarch butterflies (threatened), even swamp snakes that Loren (not me or Andy) found fascinating.  Loren was with me.

Then I saw the quote from an Indian chief, Big Thunder: "The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is Our Mother."  Loren nudged me.  Truth is, he said, "The Great Spirit is our Mother, and the Earth is our mother."  

I walked through Maumee Bay State Park with Loren and it restored my soul.

So do these excursions and adventures sponsored by Lourdes' Lifelong Learning, ably organized and led by acting director Lynda Hoffman. There is so much to explore, so much to learn. It's like the quote about aging that says: "Add life to your years, not years to your life!"  Yep, this is the way to go, Loren agreed.  He died while hiking with the Florida Trail Association, along the Aucilla River and nature preserve, died doing what he loved, one with nature every step of the way.  
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