Harrisburg hosts the National Civil War Museum and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Large or small, one museum a day is enough. So which was it going to be?
The decision was made for me. The State Museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Wikipedia describes the Civil War Museum as a non-profit educational institution.
I just learned that it has a fairly colorful history itself. Apparently it was formed during the term of Harrisburg’s previous mayor, Stephen Reed. The building sits on top of a commanding hill in the city’s Reservoir Park.
The view is spectacular. There was an agreement that the museum could rent the ground for $1 a year.
The mayor had amassed a Civil War collection for the city and offered to sell it to the museum well below the city’s cost.
New mayor. Begin feud.
According to an editorial on a news website, pennlive.com, the new mayor, Eric Papenfuse, once called the museum “a monument to corruption,” and wanted to shut it down.
Things have cooled a bit and both parties have struck a new deal. The museum will begin paying rents that will start at $45,000 a year and eventually grow to $100,000. The new mayor had at one time threatened to raise the rent to about $600,000 a year.
The museum can buy the city’s Civil War collection if it can raise $5.25 million in five years.
If the museum can’t do it, the city will offer the collection on the open market. Harrisburg paid about $10 million to buy it all.
I knew none of that when I visited. The editorial was posted the next day, on the 13th.
Outside the museum there is a life-size bronze of a Confederate sergeant giving a drink of water to a fallen Union soldier. Called “Mission of Mercy,” it depicts an actual event. After the repulse of a Union charge at Fredericksburg, wounded men lay on the field calling for help.
The sergeant, Richard Kirkland, gathered several canteens and went onto the field. Some of the Union soldiers started to shooting at him, but when they saw what he was doing, they were ordered to hold their fire. “That man is too brave to die,” the officer said.
As museums go, this one is pretty well organized. You start at the top of the stairs in a room that deals with a history of American slavery and the issues that led to the Civil War.
This is where you are introduced to a video of several characters, including a Massachusetts blacksmith who is an escaped slave, his wife, and three brothers who take different paths. One is a Union officer; another is a Confederate cavalryman; the third takes off to Montana to look for gold.
This room leads to the next, about secession and the beginning of the war. Each room leads to the next in chronological order.
There are artifacts of various kinds, weapons, uniforms, flags, tools, pocket hymnals, and whatnot. There are mannequins dressed as typical soldiers and sailors on both sides.
The captioning is generally good, although sometimes there is a curious object without an identifier. From time to time, an article was described but I couldn’t find it. Maybe it had been removed from the case.
Some rooms contain videos that check in on the characters at different stages of the period. The blacksmith joins the Colored Troops, for instance. He complains about the unequal treatment of black and white soldiers, but decides he is doing the right thing.
Other rooms run videos of a historian (didn’t get the name, but it’s not Shelby Foote) describing some of the more horrific battles of the war.
A tableau of a Union camp has a soundtrack behind it that includes a parody of “Dixie” in which the rebels are called children who should “listen to your Uncle Sam.”
The highlight of the place for me is all the information posted on the walls with the exhibits. The detail was just right. It was a real subject review for me.
I got there around one, figuring four hours would be plenty of time. I was little more than half-way through when an announcement over the PA system said the museum would close in 10 minutes.
It was that absorbing.
On the way back to the hotel, I noticed a steakhouse called Leeds Ltd. It hadn’t turned up on my Google searches.
Its website looked promising. First thing on the menu was something called Oysters Louie. This could be interesting.
I sat at the bar and working my way into a Medocino County pinot noir when I saw something listed as Creamy Crab soup. What would that be? Maybe like clam chowder, but with a different invertebrate?
Not quite. It wasn’t soupy at all but instead was a thick pink almost-pudding with lumps of crab meat. It may qualify as a bisque. It had a little sweetness somewhere in there, but nothing cloying or offensive.
Second course was an appetizer, Spinach Crepes Alfredo, which were filled with spinach, Romano, and Mozzarella. The crepes came smothered in an Alfredo sauce.
That was better even than the crab chowder.
Most bizarre, though, were the Oysters Louie, which I had for dessert. The oysters are lightly battered and fried. They are served on the shell with something Leeds calls Rockefeller sauce, but tasted nothing like Oysters Rockefeller.
The dish had a good hit of hot chiles, and the oysters were covered with blue cheese dressing, which counteracted the capsaicin. It was terrific.
The pinot noir was unusual. It had a lot of sharpness, almost like the tannins in Chianti. I never tasted that in a California pinot before.
It was OK, but I liked the Argentinian Malbec that followed it better. I had two of those before I left.
Wednesday morning I left La Quinta around 10:30 and was back in the old neighborhood a few minutes after one. There was a little rain on the way, but it was mostly smooth sailing all the back.
Stay well, everybody. This run is over.