I’m on the road, traveling from Berkeley to Kansas City and back via Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Along the way I’ve stopped at several museums: the Pony Express Stables, the National Airline Museum, and the National World War I Museum. Each has its lessons.

In the Pony Express Museum, I examined a Conestoga Wagon up close. They look large in the movies, but these were extremely narrow vehicles, just large enough to hold the supplies. Rickety and drawn by oxen over difficult terrain, I’m surprised any of them made it through. Folks must have been made of sterner stuff in the early 1800s.

The World War I Museum reminds one of the horror of war. Mud. Disease. Horrendous casualties. Extreme suffering. Millions of lives. The films and displays emphasized how the “war to end all war” was the dying gasp of the era of monarchs who called all the shots. It struck me how recent all this was. My grandfather fought in WWI. As a Boy Scout, I learned to fire a WWI rifle and slept in WWI shelter halves and eating a meal cooked in a WWI mess kit.

That war took place 100 years ago, only thirty years before I was born. The blink of an eye in time. How were people so crazy?

Looking at the artifacts — pistols, machine guns, gas masks, mortars, uniforms, and a tank — make it all more real than simply reading.


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