Museum hopping in Little Rock
The words “little rock” are Choctaw for “the place where there are so many museums you can’t swing a cat without hitting a docent.” At least that’s how my wife and I saw the city.
We like museums for several reasons. Chief among them is that they are climate-controlled. It’s also fun to look at household items that are older than the things we have to use.
We recently journeyed to Arkansas to address a convention of county agent guys and gals. I spoke about my book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” and about Mel Kloster, the “guy” part of its title. Afterwards, I chatted with county agent guys and gals from across the nation. It was like a miniature version of the UN, except for it only involved extension people who were from the United States.
Our hotel sat next to the Old State House Museum, a Greek Revival structure that has soaring white columns and a colorful history. In 1837, a pair of representatives became embroiled in a fatal knife fight on the floor of the House in what could only be described as “a frank exchange of views.”
Who says that politics have become less civilized? Nowadays, that conflict would be resolved with a series of snarky tweets.
The Old State House Museum featured a display of classic bicycles, including a spiffy Schwinn that sported a headlight and a gas tank. I would have given my right leg to ride such a bike back when I was a kid.
They also had a wooden bicycle. I don’t know if it made from wood out of necessity or if some carpenter simply got bored and decided to build a bike.
Next we visited the Historic Arkansas Museum, where we were able to view numerous historic items. One of the most striking was a Spanish breastplate, helmet and sword that are reminders of de Soto’s visit to the area in 1541. As I studied the ancient armor, the lyrics from the song “Conquistador” popped into my brain. (One has to be of a certain age to appreciate this. You whippersnappers will just have to YouTube it.)
All of this museum excitement left us frazzled, so we decided to calm our nerves with a trolley ride.
Little Rock has an excellent historic trolley system. It’s an elegant way to see the town, although not an especially speedy one. On the other hand, the streetcars are climate-controlled and never get lost in a strange city.
As we rumbled across the Arkansas River, my wife pointed at a large black object. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked.
I studied the thing. “Yup,” I replied. “That’s a submarine.”
One doesn’t expect to see a submarine in the middle of a city. A quick Google revealed the vessel to be the USS Razorback.
I learned that the sub is named after the whale and not the hog. This was surprising, as I hadn’t realized that there’s a species of deep-sea leviathans that were named for wild pigs.
Built during WW II, the Razorback served our nation for nearly three decades. The Razorback was transferred to Turkey in 1970, a factoid that begs for a joke regarding poultry and pork, but I choose not to stoop to that level.
The city of North Little Rock purchased the Razorback for $37,500 in 2004. Based on raw tonnage, this is one of the best transportation bargains in history.
The Razorback was installed in a permanent berth on the north shore of the Arkansas River and is now part of the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum. Sadly, the Maritime Museum was closed that day. We don’t often get an opportunity to score a museum triple play.
The next morning we hurled ourselves into the merciless maw of the air transportation system.
Things didn’t begin well. My wife’s purse was flagged and found to contain a small flashlight. There’s probably a TSA file on her that says, “Is known to carry suspicious portable light sources.”
Our first plane was late, so we missed our connection. We were informed that the next flight home was full and that we had no choice but to wait on standby.
A river of misery rolled past us: haggard parents with screeching toddlers, dazed vacationers unsure of what time zone they were in, Ken doll businessmen galloping for their planes.
Thanks to our laptop, we knew the second that two seats became available for our flight. Moments later, my wife was clutching boarding passes.
We got back to the farm seven hours late, dazed and haggard and wondering what time zone we were in. As we stumbled into the house, my wife mumbled, “This is the lamest museum yet!”
If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at email@example.com. His new book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.