Deep Dive in History: The Life and Times of John Brown

The Civil War was the darkest time in US history, but the war that nearly tore the country apart was preceded by years of turmoil and tension that increased until war broke out in 1861.

One of the events that further divided the country was the actions led by revolutionary abolitionist John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, and his execution on December 2, 1859.

Let’s take a look at the life and times of John Brown, and see his influence on the Civil War and freeing of enslaved people in the United States.

John Brown was raised in a religious family that believed slavery was abhorrent and should be actively opposed. As an adult, he supported a violent overthrow of slavery, as he felt peaceful opposition was ineffective. History lessons barely talk about Brown, but he was famous in his time. He even worked with famed abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman!

Farm at Lake Placid, New York

In 1850, Brown and his family moved to the Lake Placid area of New York, to start a farm where he could teach freed people how to farm. They also built an area to hide people traveling on the Underground Railroad.

Brown intended for the farm to be a safe haven for his wife and children while he left them to fight against slavery in Kansas and other places.

It was here on the farm that his body was buried after he was put to death on December 2, 1859. The farm is now a National Historic Landmark, and is open to visitors year-round, even during the long, harsh winter months.

John Brown Farm State Historic Site (Birds Eye)
John Brown Farm State Historic Site

Battle of Black Jack, Kansas

In the 1850s, the US Congress passed a law that said the new states could decide whether they would be “slave” or “free” states, and Kansas became a hotbed of struggle between the two sides.

Brown moved to Kansas to fight slavery in 1855, and became famous for his role in a three-month period of raids and massacres as pro-slavery and abolitionist forces fought.

The Battle of Black Jack was fought on June 2, 1856, and the “Free State” fighters won. The battle helped give the territory the nickname “Bleeding Kansas” and Brown a reputation as a radical leader in the abolitionist movement.

The area has several signs commemorating the battle, as documented by one of its survivors.

Black Jack Battlefield (Google Maps)
Black Jack Battlefield

Historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Rather than find satisfaction with his actions in Kansas, Brown was fueled to commit even more significant, and violent, actions against slavery. He raised funds from noted abolitionists including Harriet Tubman in his efforts. The plan was to raid the armory at Harper’s Ferry with a large group, and move south, starting an uprising along the way.

Harper’s Ferry, a small town in then-Virginia was selected because it provided convenient access to the south, and would draw attention from people all over the United States. But mostly, the armory had thousands of weapons he would need for his revolution.

These days, Harper’s Ferry is most notable for Brown’s raid, and is a nice summer getaway from nearby Washington, D.C.

Historic Harpers Ferry (Birds Eye)
Historic Harpers Ferry

John Brown’s Fort, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

On October 16, 1859, Brown and his army of 21 men (a far cry from the thousands he had hoped to recruit) raided the town’s armory, and temporarily halted a train. Eventually the train was allowed to pass, and the train’s conductor alerted others of the raid. Police quickly showed up and began a standoff with the revolutionaries.

After initial fighting at the armory, Brown and his men holed up at the fire engine house, which was later renamed “John Brown’s Fort”. They fought from that position until October 18, when a group of US Marines, overseen by Robert E. Lee, charged the building and quickly ended the uprising. Brown was wounded, and two of his three sons there that day were killed.

John Brown's Fort at Harper's Ferry (Google Maps)
John Brown's Fort at Harper's Ferry

Jefferson County Courthouse, Charles Town, West Virginia

Brown was captured and put in prison in the nearby county seat of Charles Town, West Virginia. He was put on trial on October 27, and the prosecution lasted a week. A jury deliberated for 45 minutes on the charges of murder. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death.

After the requisite one month waiting period, Brown was executed in a field near the courthouse on December 2, 1859. Many famous people spoke out in his defense, including Victor Hugo.

Jefferson County Courthouse (StreetView)
Jefferson County Courthouse

John Brown’s Bell, Marlborough, Massachusetts

The Marines that broke up the raid took memorabilia, including weapons, books, and the arsenal bell, which was put on display in Massachusetts, and remains to this day.

John Brown's Bell (StreetView)
John Brown's Bell

While Brown awaited his death sentence, he spent days talking with reporters and others about the diabolical institution of slavery. He felt that his time in jail made his sacrifices all the more valuable, because he was able to draw attention and sympathy to the cause for an entire month.

His trial gathered more attention than even he could imagine, and his execution by hanging did indeed go a long way to ending slavery in the United States.

We remember Brown for his courage, and hopeless efforts to free the slaves, and recognize him for bravery and dedication, even if his methods were controversial. And, he did indeed move events forward to their inevitable conclusion in the Civil War.

Here are the last words he spoke before he was beheaded:

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.

Deep Dive into History: The Gettysburg Address

There are some ideas that have been spoken and written by American leaders that have become woven into the very core of the American identity. The words spoken by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, are some of the most powerful.

Let’s dive in and learn more about the Gettysburg Address, and what led Lincoln to declare that America is a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg is a small town in Pennsylvania, on the border with Maryland. On July 1, 1863, it blasted into history as the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, and a turning point in the fight.

In the days leading up to the battle, Confederate soldiers occupied the town of about 2,500. The battle crossed right through the city, with little regard for the civilians who lived there. Remarkably, only one civilian death was recorded: a woman killed by a stray bullet.

News of the battle quickly traveled across the country. To this day, the small borough is one of the most famous places in the United States.

Gettysburg (Google Maps)
Gettysburg

Cyclorama at the Visitor’s Center

The battle at Gettysburg lasted three miserable days and involved nearly 200,000 men. A French artist Paul Philippoteaux created a cyclorama, a circular work of art, depicting Pickett’s Charge, the last push of the battle before the Confederates retreated. It is a stunning and educational work that can be viewed in the recently-upgraded visitor’s center.

The visitor’s center is a great place to stop and learn about the battle, get a feel for the size and scope of the events, and get a map before beginning a driving tour of the actual battle, which covers about 10 square miles.

'Cyclorama Center' by Richard Neutra (Birds Eye)
'Cyclorama Center' by Richard Neutra

The battle started early in the morning on July 1, 1863 when Confederate soldiers moving through the area encountered advancing Union soldiers, and the fighting began. After an entire day, nothing much was determined and the soldiers hunkered down for the night.

Devil’s Den

Some of the worst, and bloodiest, fighting of the entire Civil War took place on July 2. Solders from both sides attacked and defended territory all around Gettysburg. If the Confederates could gain a foothold at Gettysburg, they could invade further into the North.

Efforts to flank (go around) the Union Army led to struggles at places such as Devil’s Den, where fighting broke out across rocky, uneven ground. Of the 5,525 Confederate troops in that struggle, 1,814 soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing. Of the Union’s 2,423 soldiers, 821 were killed, wounded, or missing.

There were dozens of other sites on the battlefield that left as many wounded and dead: Peach Orchard, Wheatfields, and Culp’s Hill are a few sites famous for their bloody battles.

The Devil's Den (Birds Eye)
The Devil's Den

Little Round Top

The Union side was losing the struggle at Devil’s Den. From the vantage point on a small hill later known as Little Round Top, it was clear that Confederate troops were about to cut through the Union line and more soldiers were needed. A small group of soldiers from Maine, about 385, were told to “Hold the line at all costs” until others arrived. This meant they were expected to fight to the very last man.

After significant fighting, Union Colonel Chamberlain knew his men could not hold out much longer, so he ordered a brave and daring attack with bayonets. Amazingly, and with some help from other groups, the charge succeeded and the Union army was not encircled.

Now, Little Round Top is known as the site of one of the fiercest and bravest struggles in the entire war.

Little Round Top (Birds Eye)
Little Round Top

Pickett’s Charge

And yet, after two days of brutal fighting, no clear victor had emerged. Early on the morning of July 3, General Lee ordered one last charge against the Union line. First with cannon, then with soldiers, he ordered his generals, including Major General Pickett, to attack by running nearly a mile through an open field.

The soldiers suffered terrible casualties, with nearly half of the 12,000 soldiers killed or wounded. This charge, brave and bloody and useless, was the peak of the Confederacy, though it would take another two years for the war to end.

Pickett's Charge - Battle of Gettysburg (Google Maps)
Pickett's Charge - Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg National Cemetery

After the battle, the town was left to clean up the mess of war. They were responsible for removing the abandoned equipment and burying the dead soldiers and animals.

The town residents, along with Pennsylvania state leaders, quickly decided to create a state-funded cemetery for the dead Union soldiers, aptly named “Soldiers Cemetery”. In it were buried 3,512 Union soldiers, including 979 unknown.

Later the cemetery, on the battlefield itself, became part of the national historical site, and was renamed “Gettysburg National Cemetery”. Soldiers from other wars have been buried here in more recent times.

Gettysburg (Google Maps)
Gettysburg

Speech Site

On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg for the cemetery’s consecration.  It’s unclear exactly where the president stood, but historians have settled on this place as the most likely for the gathering.

Lincoln was not the main speaker that day, and his two-minute speech was far short of the hours-long orations given by others. But when the words were printed in newspapers around the country, their true value was recognized.

Speaking about the battle, the war,  and the struggle for freedom, Lincoln said “We here resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Probable actual spot where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address (Google Maps)
Probable actual spot where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address

May we too pledge that we will “never forget” the work advanced by these men, and the countless men and women who have fought for freedom elsewhere. And by our actions, ensure that freedom shall not perish from the earth.

Happy Birthday, Jimmy!

Jimmy Kimmel, the long-standing late night television talk show host, is turning 55 today, so let’s take a look at the life and friends of this amazing comedian.

Main House in Los Angeles, CA

Jimmy, his wife Molly, and his two younger kids live in a gorgeous mansion in a celeb-filled neighborhood. The 5,500 square foot house has four bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms, a gorgeous open interior, and a pool. It also has a guest house that Jimmy uses for all sorts of work purposes. Jimmy bought the house back in 2008 for around $6 million, which was NBD to the entertainer worth $45 million or more.

This neighborhood is full of celebrities. Kendall Jenner, Dakota Johnson, Johnny Galeki, and others live nearby. Kimmel and his former neighbor, John Kransinski, used to play all sorts of pranks on each other; one year Kimmel had the entire Kransiski house wrapped in gift wrap!

Jimmy Kimmel's House (Google Maps)
Jimmy Kimmel's House

Home in Hermosa Beach, CA

Jimmy owns two homes (or more, it’s hard to tell) in trendy Hermosa Beach. This beauty is only a block from the beach. Kimmel bought this house in 2004, shortly after he took on his late-night TV hosting gig. He paid around $2 million for the 2,200 square foot home. Homes in this neighborhood are all home, no yard, because of their high property value, and their proximity to the one really important feature: The beach.

Jimmy owns another home in the area, but it seems his sister-in-law lives there.

Jimmy Kimmel's House (Birds Eye)
Jimmy Kimmel's House

Sarah Silverman’s House, Los Angeles, CA

Before marrying Molly, Jimmy dated actress and comedian Sarah Silverman for several years. She appeared often on Jimmy’s show, and played a role in the long-running gag he has with Matt Damon.

Sarah now lives in a gorgeous, modern mansion in LA. She paid $3.5 million for the Los Feliz home, with four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, that was built in 2020. She probably had the home custom designed, as it was never on the market and never officially for sale. Even though the lot is relatively small, there’s plenty of room for a pool!

Sarah Silverman's House (Google Maps)
Sarah Silverman's House

Martha Stewart’s Home, Bedford, NY

Jimmy appeared on the PBS television show Finding Your Roots and was told on-air that he is related to hosting maven Martha Stewart. Surprised, he joked that he would be coming to her house for the holidays.

Martha lives on a gorgeous working farm in Bedford, New York. While it’s only about an hour outside of Manhattan, it feels like an entirely different world. Her 150-acre farm is the perfect residence for the homemaker supreme, with gardens, greenhouses, barns, horses, chickens, and other animals, and more. The main residence dates back to 1925, and there are multiple other structures, including tenant homes and guest houses.

She paid about $15 million for the property in 2000, and has continually worked on it to make it perfect for her needs and desires. Maybe one day she’ll host Jimmy for Christmas dinner!

Martha Stewart's House (Google Maps)
Martha Stewart's House

El Capitan Entertainment Center, Los Angeles, CA

Jimmy Kimmel got his his start in show business on radio. Then he got a gig with Comedy Central. Eventually, he got his own late-night show on ABC, and has been there for twenty years!

The show has been filmed in Los Angeles, at the historic El Capitan Entertainment Center (formerly the Hollywood Masonic Temple). The venue is used for movie premiers and entertainment events in addition to being the home of Jimmy Kimmel Live! for the past 20 years.

Hollywood Masonic Temple (Google Maps)
Hollywood Masonic Temple

SoFi Stadium

Oddly enough, Jimmy Kimmel actually has a college football bowl game named after him. The Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, as it will be called for the next few years according to the contract, will be played at the SoFi Stadium, the home of the NFL Rams and Chargers.

The stadium opened in September 2020, and is one of just a few stadiums that is shared by multiple sports teams.

Kimmel hosted the first LA Bowl in 2021, which is part of college football’s efforts to expand the post-season bowl series to involve more teams. He literally hosts the game, much like a celebrity hosts a parade or event, making it an entertaining and funny sports event.

SoFi Stadium under construction (StreetView)
SoFi Stadium under construction

Jimmy has it all, and turning 55 has to be exciting for the continually successful entertainer. From a wonderful, loving family, to a successful long-running television show, to a college football bowl game, and even new cousin Martha Stewart, this guy seems to have it all.

Happy Birthday, Jimmy! Maybe if your birthday wish is for Matt Damon to come on the show, it’ll finally happen this year!

Put on Your Skates, It’s Hockey Season!

Fall is in full swing. A perfect time for watching others skate around on ice chasing a three-inch disc for money. The National Hockey League is a $5 billion industry, with 32 teams in two countries, and players from all over the world. Let’s take a look at some of the places where the action will be taking place this fall and winter.

Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado

Ball Arena in downtown Denver, Colorado will be a great place to watch hockey this season. The Colorado Avalanche won their third Stanley Cup championship in 2022, and their fans are looking forward to another awesome season.

Ball Arena, which was built in 1999, was previously named the Pepsi Center, but the name changed in 2020 when the Ball Company (which makes jars) bought the naming rights. The NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the National Lacrosse League’s Colorado Mammoth also play at the arena.

The Avalanche have a great record since moving to Denver. They won the Cup their very first year in Denver, which is quite a feat. And they’ve won it twice more since then.

Ball Arena (Birds Eye)
Ball Arena

Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay, Florida

The Amalie Arena opened in 1996 as the Ice Palace, hosting the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as various other sports and entertainment events. The arena is in downtown Tampa, and a big part of the city’s downtown economy. It’s one of the busiest arenas in the US, with all the events and activities it hosts.

It was in this arena that the Avalanche beat the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in 2022, and has been where the Lightning played the Cup-winning games in 2004 and 2021, as well as some games in their road to the 2019 victory. It was also the home-game arena for the Toronto Raptors during the 2020-2021 season due to Canadian COVID restrictions.

Amalie Arena (Birds Eye)
Amalie Arena

Bell Centre, Montreal, Canada

The most successful team in the National Hockey League resides in Canada, the home of ice hockey as we know it today. The Montreal Canadiens are the oldest NHL team, and have won the Stanley Cup more often than any other team.

The team plays in Bell Centre, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in downtown Montreal. The arena is the largest in professional hockey, and is owned by the beer-making Molson family, one of Canada’s oldest and most prominent business families.

Bell Centre (Birds Eye)
Bell Centre

Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan

Detroit, Michigan takes hockey seriously. Nicknamed “Hockeytown”, they have the team that’s won more championships than any other American team. The Red Wings, one of the most famous and lucrative teams in hockey, got a new arena in 2017.

The Little Caesars Arena named, obviously, for the Little Caesar’s pizza company, has been called the “Pizza Box”, the “Pizza Palace” and more. There’s a giant Little Caesar’s logo on the top of the arena, so it can even be seen from the sky. The Detroit Pistons also play at the arena.

The tradition of throwing octopus on the ice after the anthem or after goals which originated a long time ago in the Joe Lewis Arena still continues to this day in the Pizza Box.

Little Caesars Arena (Google Maps)
Little Caesars Arena

Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, Washington

The newest team in hockey is the Seattle Kraken, whose first season was in 2021-2022. The team is named after the Scandinavian mythical creature, which looks like the region’s giant octopus. Interestingly, the mascot is not an octopus, but a sea troll.

The Kraken play in the Climate Pledge Arena, which is also home to the WNBA team the Seattle Storm, as well as a few other sports teams.

The naming rights are owned by local company Amazon. Instead of naming the venue after the company, Amazon saw it as an opportunity to raise awareness for climate change. The venue has a goal of being zero-carbon, and is powered by renewable energy.

The venue is one of the oldest functioning arenas, and has been revived and renovated over the years. It’s been used for many things, like when in 1964, the Beatles played here!

Climate Pledge Arena (Google Maps)
Climate Pledge Arena

Original Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup is the trophy awarded to the team who wins the NHL playoff series each year. The award itself is so famous, the entire competition itself is often referred to as the Stanley Cup.

The team who wins gets to take the gigantic trophy. Tradition holds that the winning team drinks champagne from the giant cup on top, and members take it around with them, and do crazy things with it all year. Several babies have been baptized in it, dogs have been fed from it, and who knows what else.

The names of the players and team members are engraved on the Cup each year, memorializing the honor of winning the Stanley Cup. There are a few versions of the Cup, but the original is on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, in the Vault Room.

Original Stanley Cup (StreetView)
Original Stanley Cup

Hockey is one of the most popular sports in the world. The fast pace, the intense play, and the exciting fans make it almost impossible not to enjoy. May your team out hustle, out work, out think, out play, and out last their opponents and have a winning season.

Celebrating National Adoption Month

Did you know November is National Adoption Month in the United States? It’s a great opportunity to shed positive light on adoption, where kids and parents can find each other and become a family, even if they weren’t together from birth.

Let’s take a look at some awesome people who were adopted, and went on to do amazing and awesome things!

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs changed the world over and over. From the iPod to the iPhone, he made technology an everyday part of our lives. And he made himself incredibly wealthy in the process, with an estimated wealth of at least $10 billion!

Before he passed away in 2011 from cancer, the visionary CEO of Apple lived in a beautiful 5,800 square foot mansion in Palo Alto, California. The understated but beautiful home was a great fit for the functional inventor. The 1930s home sits on a half acre, and has seven bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms, and beautiful trees and landscaping.

Steve was adopted as an infant. He knew he was adopted, but felt strongly that Paul and Clara Jobs were his parents “1,000%”. Later in life, he connected with his birth family but always cherished the parents that chose him as a baby.

Steve Jobs' House (former) (Birds Eye)
Steve Jobs' House (former)

Jamie Foxx

The award-winning actor and singer grew up in Texas, adopted shortly after birth, by his maternal grandparents. His talent for entertaining was clear by the time he was 8. After college, Jamie got a job on In Living Color. The rest is history.

He has earned Academy Awards, and countless other awards, and is one of the best entertainers in the business. Along the way, he has earned an amazing $170 million!

He lives in a 17,000 square foot house in the Hidden Valley area of Los Angeles, with a 40-acre estate complete with tennis court, swimming pool, ten bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, plenty of space for entertaining. And, a master suite with a sitting room, two fireplaces, and two bathrooms!

Jamie Foxx's House (Google Maps)
Jamie Foxx's House

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, an influential and important South African leader, was raised by his mom until he was seven. Because of changing circumstances, he was then sent to live with tribal leaders. He always said these second parents treated him as their own child, and that he felt part of the family.

Mandela fought for equality in South Africa, and became the first Black president of South Africa, after spending nearly 20 years in prison, as a result of fighting for equality and against apartheid.

Mandela was loved in his country, and around the world. After decades of public service, “Tata” retired to a beautiful estate in his hometown of Qunu. He was buried here after he died in 2013.

Nelson Mandela's House (Google Maps)
Nelson Mandela's House

Snooki

Snooki became a household name as a member of the show Jersey Shore, where a group of outspoken young adults live large on the Jersey Shore. She turned that bit of fame into a career, and is still involved in show business.

While the show often highlights Snooki’s Italian-American culture, Snooki was actually born in Chile, and was adopted by Italian-American parents as a baby. While she may not be Italian by blood, she’s 100% Italian by family, and makes it clear all the time.

She and her family live in a gorgeous $2.5 million mansion in Florham Park, New Jersey. The custom-built home has five bedrooms, six bathrooms, 9,300 square feet of living space, with a gourmet kitchen, gorgeous fireplace, and beautiful decor. It’s a perfect place for Jersey’s queen and her family!

Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi's House (Google Maps)
Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi's House

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, rose from humble beginnings to become the “leader of the free world.” His father died in a car crash before Bill was born. His mother remarried, and his stepfather adopted him as a child.

By his teenage years, Bill formally adopted the last name “Clinton”, but never had fond feelings for his adoptive father, who he said hurt him and his family members.

Bill went on to Yale Law School, was elected governor of Arkansas, and eventually elected President of the United States. He and his wife Hillary, a presidential candidate in her right, own a few homes, including one in Washington, D.C., but their main residence is in Chappaqua, New York.

They have lived here since 2000, when Hillary ran for senator. The beautiful 5,000 square foot white farm house has five bedrooms, a pool, detached guest house, and sits on over an acre.

Bill Clinton's House (Birds Eye)
Bill Clinton's House

These are just a few famous and influential people who had a unique start to their childhood, and it serves as a great reminder that our experiences make us who we are, and we can do great things because of, not in spite of, unique circumstances.

The True Story of Count Dracula

It’s October, a month full of spooky stories of undead villains, haunted castles, and battles between good and evil. And the story of Dracula has all of that, for sure! Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the most famous stories ever written in English, and one of the most-often told.

Let’s take a look at the man, the legend, who probably inspired Bram Stoker to write one of the world’s best horror stories, and whose real life has villains, castles, and battles galore.

Birthplace of Vlad III, Sighișoara, Romania

Vlad III was born the grandson of the Voivode (something like an appointed count or duke) of Wallachia, a region in present-day Romania that played an important role in Middle Ages Europe. Wallachia was at a crossroads between the Muslim-ruled Ottoman Empire, the Christian Holy Roman Empire and the kingdom of Hungary.Vlad was born and raised for a short time in Sighișoara, which was one of the most important cities in central Europe for hundreds of years.

His house, in the old town center, is now a restaurant and tourist attraction, dedicated as much to the undead myth as the brutal ruler.

Birthplace of Vlad III the Impaler (Dracula) (StreetView)
Birthplace of Vlad III the Impaler (Dracula)

Curtea Veche, Vlad’s Royal Residence, Bucharest, Romania

Vlad III joined the Order of the Dragon (Dracul in medieval Romanian), a Christian order of knights sworn to fight Muslims, and took on the name “Dragul” or “Dracul”, which the creative Bram Stoker turned into “Dracula”.

He earned his other nickname, the “Impaler” because he decapitated diplomats and citizens and soldiers alike, and stuck their heads on pikes as warnings to his enemies. Even before his death, the legend of Vlad the Impaler spread throughout Europe. Rumored to have impaled tens of thousands, his story was told in some of the earliest printed literature.

While Vlad was ruler over Wallachia, he built a fortress, Curtea Veche, in Bucharest,  to defend his northern border from Hungary and his southern border from the Ottomans. He was the first of many rulers to recognize Bucharest’s strategic position, and it eventually became the country’s capital.

Curtea Veche has fallen into disrepair, but there is a large bust of Vlad III watching over his castle, and his lands.

Curtea Veche (Birds Eye)
Curtea Veche

Dracula’s Castle (Bran Castle), Bran, Romania

While this castle was a fortress rather than a palace, Vlad did stay here a few times both as a ruler and as a soldier seeking to protect and then restore his fiefdom.

Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes' Bran Castle (Google Maps)
Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes' Bran Castle

Another View

This castle, on the border between Wallachia and Transylvania, serves as an excellent base for planned invasions into new territory, and a great fortress for defending against invasion.

Dracula's Castle (Bran Castle) (StreetView)
Dracula's Castle (Bran Castle)

Courtyard

The grounds of the castle were in a prime defensive location, so leaders have had forts here for more than eleven hundred years. One fortress was razed to the ground by Genghis Khan’s invaders. More recently, the castle was an official royal residence for the short-lived royal family of Romania after World War I.

These days, the house is available to visit, but don’t expect to learn a lot about the written character of Dracula; the castle was not ever seen by Bram Stoker, nor was it an inspiration for the castle in the book. Descriptions of Dracula’s castle are entirely different from the actual castle.

Bran Castle Courtyard (StreetView)
Bran Castle Courtyard

Corvin Castle, Hunedoara, Romania

Wallachia in Vlad’s time was tumultuous and violent. Leaders seized power, and family members fought each other to the death for the right to rule. After Vlad’s father and brother died, a cousin took power. Vlad overthrew the cousin who took control, and then spent the rest of his life as ruler, a prisoner, or soldier.

After being deposed, Vlad was held for about a decade at Corvin Castle. The Castle is one of the largest in Europe, but the current castle probably doesn’t resemble the original, as reconstruction has been whimsical and not followed historical records.

Corvin Castle (StreetView)
Corvin Castle

Torture Room

The castle was a typical Gothic structure, with tall towers, colorful roofs, many courtyards, and plenty of place for a political prisoner. It even included a torture room, which may have been known to Vlad during the time he was there.

Torture was unfortunately common in medieval times, as a way of punishing people, extracting information, and seeking vengeance. The castle has an exhibition on torture, to help us understand what happened, and hopefully help us be more kind to one another.

Torture room - Corvin's Castle (StreetView)
Torture room - Corvin's Castle

Snagov Monastery, Bucharest, Romania

According to legend, after Vlad died in battle in late 1466 or early 1467, and was buried at Snagov Monastery in Bucharest. While there is no actual proof, the local government loves to encourage the idea, and promotes tourism to the small island.

Snagov Monastery (Google Maps)
Snagov Monastery

Vlad III was a brutal leader, but he is remembered as a hero of Romania for protecting the homeland at any cost against the Ottoman invaders, who conquered so much of Europe during the 1400s.

Vlad Dracul may not have been an undead vampire, but it’s certain his legend will live on in eternity.

Hotels Famous for Celebrity Deaths

No matter what they say, celebrities live very different lives than the rest of us. Many spend time jet setting around the world, staying in or even living in fancy hotels, and living a life of luxury most people can only imagine.

From time to time, things go horribly wrong and celebrities experience tragedies that many of us would never imagine either.  When things go wrong, they can go very, very wrong; like it did for these celebrities who each died in a hotel, often alone and under tragic circumstances.

Samarkand Hotel-Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix, though only 27 at the time of his death, is largely regarded even today as the most influential guitarist in history, and potentially the greatest guitarist in rock music of all time. He rocketed to fame in 1967 and quickly was ranked among the most well paid and well regarded musicians at the time. He headlined the Woodstock festival, becoming an icon of the rock and hippie movements.

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

At the height of his career, Hendrix suffered from personal doubts, fatigue and exertion from overworking. After a day of partying with friends, he was found on September 18, 1970 in his room in the London Samarkand Hotel, dead from an apparent suffocation from his own vomit while intoxicated with barbiturates and other drugs.

It was later revealed that he had ingested nearly ten times the recommended dose of medicines, and his death was investigated for criminal activity, but Scotland Yard never pursued the case.

Samarkand Hotel (StreetView)
Samarkand Hotel

The Landmark Hotel-Janice Joplin

By the time of her death in 1970 at age 27, Janice Joplin was one of the most famous musicians of her time, having five number one hits and performing at Woodstock in her short career. Even now, she is one of the best selling artists of all time.

Photo Credit: JaniceJoplin.com

Joplin died in her room in the Landmark Hotel in Hollywood, where she was staying while recording an album. She died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol. Several other people who bought heroin from the same supplier died that week, and it is therefore assumed that the batch was more potent than intended.

Joplin’s death was more tragic because it came just days after the untimely death of Jimi Hendrix, also from a drug overdose.

Landmark Motor Hotel - Janis Joplin Death Site (StreetView)
Landmark Motor Hotel - Janis Joplin Death Site

 The Chateau Marmont-John Belushi

John Belushi was a comedian and actor, one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live and one of the most famous actors of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Photo Credit: bestclassicbands.com

On March 5, 1982, Belushi was found dead in his hotel room in the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles California. Aged 33, he died of a drug overdose and was discovered by his personal trainer. He had been partying with different friends, including Robin Williams, Robert Di Nero and Catherine Evelyn Smith. Smith later pled guilty to manslaughter for having injected Belushi with the drug cocktail that led to his death.

The Chateau Marmont (StreetView)
The Chateau Marmont

Beverly Hills Hilton-Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was a famous American singer and actress in the 1990s and 2000s. Her amazing vocal range and tone, as well as stage presence and persona, made her an absolute sensation. Her performance in the Bodyguard movie in 1992, and hit single from that movie, I Will Always Love You, guaranteed her legacy in pop music. That song and album still hold records for sales even today.

Photo Credit: WhitneyHouston.com

On February 11, 2012, Houston was staying at the Beverly Hills Hilton in advance of her performance at the Grammy Awards when she was discovered in her hotel room’s bathtub unconscious. She was later pronounced dead and was found to have several drugs in her system.

Her death had a profound and negative impact on her family, and only three years later, Bobbi Kristina Brown died after long complications from a bathtub accident, tragically similar to her mother’s death.

Beverly Hilton Hotel (Whitney Houston was found dead on February 11, 2012) (StreetView)
Beverly Hilton Hotel (Whitney Houston was found dead on February 11, 2012)

Fairmont Pacific Rim-Corey Monteith

Corey Monteith was a Canadian actor who rose to fame as part of the ensemble cast of the hit television show Glee. His career also included movies such as Final Destination 3. He was also famous for his relationship with fellow Glee alum Lea Michele.

Photo Credit: IMDB.com

Monteith was open about his struggles with substance abuse as a young teen, and the problems recurred in 2013. He checked himself into rehab, and appeared to have beaten the problem once again.

However, on July 13, 2013, he was found in his hotel room at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver Canada, dead from an apparent drug overdose. An autopsy ruled the death an accident as there were no signs of foul play and Monteith had several drugs including heroin and alcohol in his system.

Fairmont Pacific Rim (Google Maps)
Fairmont Pacific Rim

While celebrities often appear to lead lives of glamour and happiness that most people envy, their fame often comes with sadness, addiction and tragic consequences that no one ever seems to expect, and their deaths are sad reminders that addiction, suffering and pain can reach even the most successful and talented among us.

 

 

Happy Birthday, Hugh Jackman

He’s handsome. He has an Australian accent. He has a smile that lights up Broadway. He can sing. And dance. He has it all. And today it’s his birthday!

Let’s take a look at the dashing Hugh Jackman, and wish Hollywood’s nicest superstar a happy 54th  birthday!

NYC Penthouse

Hugh Jackman is an actor’s actor; he can sing and dance, perform on Broadway or on the big screen, and everything he does is a hit. Over the course of his nearly 30 years in show business, he has done it all. And it has made him very, very rich.

In 2009, Hugh and his wife Deborra-lee Furness bought a custom three-story unit in a high-end luxury building in downtown NYC. The home was originally on the market for $40 million, but they got it for a steal at $21 million. At more than 11,000 square feet, this mansion has picture-perfect views of the Hudson River, an entire floor dedicated to the main bedroom suite, and tons of amazing upgrades.

The couple put the house on the market in late 2021, with an asking price around $40 million, but there’s no word on if it’s sold yet.

Hugh Jackman's Apartment (StreetView)
Hugh Jackman's Apartment

Bondi Beach Apartment

Hugh is an international star, but his roots are still clearly in Australia. He and Deborra-lee maintain a property in downtown Sydney, on gorgeous Bondi Beach, where Hugh loves to go running. And it’s a good thing he stays in shape, because he rescued his son and some other swimmers on the beach a few years ago!

The patio doors open all the way, removing any barrier between home and ocean. The three-bedroom unit is incredibly private and understated, to avoid attention when the family is able to visit, but the upscale design, with marble, open spaces, and hardwood, make it feel like a luxurious retreat for the lucky family.

Hugh Jackman's House (Google Maps)
Hugh Jackman's House

East Hamptons Dream Home

Deborra-lee dreamed for years of designing her own home, and planned every detail in her mind. She and Hugh turned her dream into reality when they built a custom-designed home in the East Hamptons. It took six years to turn the vision into reality, but it was worth it!

The property right on the bay was designed as a “minimalist dream” in a monochrome color scheme. Floor to ceiling windows are included in most rooms, including the main bathroom, which is entirely marble.

It has a gorgeous outdoor pool just steps from the house, with views of the bay, an outdoor shower structure, access to the water, and more, all in black and white, stone and wood.

During the six year project, the family lived in a small existing structure lovingly nicknamed “the Shack”.

Hugh Jackman's House (Google Maps)
Hugh Jackman's House

Nicole Kidman’s Australian Ranch

Hugh Jackman isn’t the only Aussie who reigns supreme in Hollywood. His costar in Australia (filmed in 2008) Nicole Kidman is a longtime star, who lives much of the time on her expansive Australian ranch.

The ranch, worth about $4.5 million, has more than 100 acres, a working farm with alpacas and cows, an orchard, and an 11 acre garden! It has a guest cottage, a swimming pool, tennis court, and trampoline. The main house has six bedrooms, plenty for the family of four, as well as a cedar staircase, ten marble fireplaces, and an Australian marble veranda that wraps around half the second floor.

Nicole Kidman & Keith Urban's House (Google Maps)
Nicole Kidman & Keith Urban's House

Mike Tyson’s Nevada Mansion

Hugh’s big breakthrough performance was as Wolverine in the X-Men series, starting in 2000. He was extremely dedicated to the role, and spent countless hours watching footage of Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson, and especially Mike Tyson, to learn how to fight, and how to be tough and intimidating, all without uttering a word.

Mike Tyson has had as many ups and downs as Wolverine, but these days he lives in a nice mansion in Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas. He paid about $2.5 million back in 2015 for the place, and lives a relatively modest lifestyle, considering he blew through nearly $400 million during his career!

Mike Tyson's House (Google Maps)
Mike Tyson's House

Carnegie Hall in New York City

While many people know of Hugh as a movie star, his first love was acting and singing on stage. His love of theater endures, as seen with his great successes The Greatest Showman and Les Misérables. He has sung on stage all around the world, including at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Performing at Carnegie Hall is a life goal for artists of all talents. The building was brought to life by Andrew Carnegie, a wealthy steel baron-turned-philanthropist during America’s Gilded Age. The structure is as beautiful as the art produced inside, and at night the brick comes alive, inviting all to come and enjoy a beautiful evening of artful entertainment.

Carnegie Hall (StreetView)
Carnegie Hall

No matter where Hugh is celebrating this year, he’s going to have a good time. With his 100-watt smile and amazing voice, he’ll probably sing his own birthday tune, and as usual, it’ll be amazing. He’s turning 54, and he’s at the peak of his career and life. What more can he wish for? Happy Birthday, Hugh!

 

Deep Dive into History: Life and Times of Mahatma Gandhi

More than 150 years ago on October 2, a boy was born in a small Indian village, the son of a successful though uneducated father and his fourth wife. He was the fourth child and third son from the marriage, so it would have been understood if he had stayed close to home all his life.

And yet, this boy grew to become one of the world’s most influential, memorable, and revered advocates for freedom. He was so loved and revered, he was called “Mahatma”, which is a name of respect and honor in Sanscrit.

His legacy lives on, and his influence is still felt, and appreciated, to this date.

Let’s take a deep dive into the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi.

Watson Museum, Rajkot, Gujarat, India

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in a small town in western India. When he was a young boy, his family moved to  Rajkot in what is today Gujarat.

Here, he was married (in an arranged marriage) when he was 13. He graduated from high school, and at 19, left his wife and young child to attend law school in London.

The Watson Museum in Rajkot is an outstanding museum, with amazing collections of crafts, coins, sculptures, and temple statues, and other artifacts from the Indus valley. It provides a wonderful education of India’s history and context for the man who changed the country, and the world.

Watson Museum (Google Maps)
Watson Museum

Railway Station Memorial, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

As a young lawyer, Gandhi moved to South Africa. Here, he was often forced to confront racial discrimination. While traveling, he was beaten and kicked off a train for refusing to leave his seat among the “European” passengers to sit on the floor.  Later, outside Pietermaritzburg, he was kicked off the train for refusing to leave first class.

In South Africa, he, like all other Indians, was not permitted to walk on the sidewalk. This inequality enraged Gandhi, and he spent more than 20 years in South Africa fighting for the rights of Indian immigrants and others. Motivated by progress, and a longing to return home, he eventually decided to move back to continue the fight for equality in India.

This monument to Gandhi outside the Pietermaritzburg Train Station, was dedicated by Bishop Desmond Tutu, himself a great advocate for equality and human rights.

Mahatma Gandhi statue (StreetView)
Mahatma Gandhi statue

KwaZuluNatal Museum, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

An amazing educational experience, the KwaZuluNatal Museum in Pietermaritzburg has exhibits focused both on the natural history of the region, as well as the cultural history.

It also includes an exhibit on the significant Indian population of the region, which grew in numbers during the hundreds of years that both countries were British colonies.

Natal Museum (StreetView)
Natal Museum

Yerwada  Central Jail, Maharashtra, India

Gandhi moved back to India and immediately began agitating for India’s freedom from Great Britain. He preached a message of non-violent protest. He encouraged all Indians to stop working with the British government, and to be willing to suffer and die for the cause of independence for India, all without harming another person or property.

This policy deeply frustrated leaders, and Gandhi was often singled out for punishment. He was jailed at the Yerwada Central Jail in Pune twice over his protests.

The jail is still used today, and is often reported to be overcrowded and unsanitary. It is a great reminder that Gandhi’s sacrifices were real, the struggle for freedom was easy, and is not over.

Yerwada Central Jail (Google Maps)
Yerwada Central Jail

Assassination Site, New Delhi, India

Gandhi and the people of India sacrificed a great deal, and shortly after World War II, Britain agreed to leave India. India, the second-largest country in the world, is made up of devout religious followers of many traditions, which haven’t always gotten along. Gandhi hoped Indians could find a way to coexist, but shortly after independence, the country broke up along religious lines, creating what is now India, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh.

Millions of people moved between the countries, much to Gandhi’s dismay. On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was gathered at a mansion in New Delhi, part of a multi-religious prayer session. He was approached by a Hindu nationalist, who shot him three times up close. He died shortly thereafter.

The site at Birla House, renamed Gandhi Smriti, is marked with a beautiful canopy that evokes peace and acceptance.

The Martyr's Column (assassination of Mahatma Gandhi) (Google Maps)
The Martyr's Column (assassination of Mahatma Gandhi)

Raj Ghat Memorial, New Delhi, India

Followers of Hindu teachings are often cremated, to release their soul as quickly as possible, so they can be reborn. Gandhi was cremated the day after he was assassinated, in downtown New Delhi. At the site of his cremation, a memorial was later created to honor India’s “Bapu” or father.

The memorial represents a funeral pyre, with a black platform and eternal flame.

Raj Ghat and associated memorials (Google Maps)
Raj Ghat and associated memorials

National Gandhi Museum, New Delhi, India

A museum to Gandhi is nearby, helping Indians and visitors to learn more about the man, his mission, and his impact around the world. It is also a treasure of information and history of the country Gandhi lived, and died, to create.

National Gandhi Museum (Google Maps)
National Gandhi Museum

Gandhi Memorial Museum, Madurai, India

After his death, people in India wanted to honor Gandhi, and elected to build a museum in his honor. The funds for the grand structure were collected by citizens of India, from the poorest to the richest.

It was dedicated by then-former president Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959. The museum includes a piece of the cloth Gandhi was wearing when he was killed, as well as pictures, artifacts, and information about Mahatma, the sage of India.

Mahatma Gandhi Memorial (Google Maps)
Mahatma Gandhi Memorial

These days, there are so many things we can learn from Gandhi, from his desire to treat people equally, to choosing non-violence to achieve his goals, and his desire for religious cooperation. On this anniversary of his birth, let us strive to adopt the best parts of Gandhi, and make our world a better place.

Deep Dive into History: William the Conqueror

The history books tell us that in 1066, William sailed to England from Normandy, fought a little battle, and took his rightful place on the throne of England. But there’s so much more to the story! On this anniversary of William’s invasion of England, let’s take a deep dive into the life and legacy of the man we know as William the Conqueror.

Birthplace Falaise, Normandy

William was born around 1028 in Falaise, Normandy. His father was the duke of Normandy, and his mother lived in the household. Despite his insecure birthright, he became duke of Normandy when his dad died in 1035. At the time, William was only about 7 years old. William ruled over his duchy from Falaise for years, even after he conquered England.

The current Chateau de Falaise was built about 50 years after William died. It remained a seat of power for Norman and English rulers for another 100 years, before King John (the villain of Robin Hood lore) lost the castle, along with most of his French territories, to the King of France.

Château de Falaise (StreetView)
Château de Falaise

Pevensey Castle, Pevensey, England

After King Edward the Confessor died without an heir, William claimed he had been promised the English throne by the monarch, and determined to take what he saw as his birthright.

He began making plans to invade England from his duchy by crossing the English Channel, which was no easy feat due to strong currents and terrible weather. All summer long, the English waited and watched the southern coast for any sign of invasion from William, but none came.

Long after it was considered safe for fleets to cross the Channel, William took a risk and set sail in late September, landing at Pevensey on September 28, 1066.

Immediately, William order his men to secure the old Roman fortress at Pevensey. The large fort had walls, gates, and towers, which withstood attacks by English defenders. Later, it was further enhanced for protection against insurrection, and to serve as a trade and travel route between Normandy and England.

In World War II, the area was considered a potential invasion point from Germany, and the fort was again used to protect the homeland. These days, the castle and grounds are open to the public.

Pevensey Castle (Birds Eye)
Pevensey Castle

Battlefield, Hastings, England

The pivotal battle that changed the course of history took place on October 14, 1066. King Harold marched from the north of England all the way to the southern tip to defend his country and his crown against what he considered a usurper.

Harold and William fought all day and into the afternoon. It was only after Harold was killed that the English army began to fall apart, and William was able to claim a victory.

On this little battlefield outside the town of Hastings, the course of England’s history changed completely, from one of domestic rule and Ango-Saxon heritage, to external rule, constant battles with France, and a Norman cultural influence. Even the language changed, becoming what we know as “English” today.

Hastings battlefield (StreetView)
Hastings battlefield

Hastings Castle, Hastings, England

Right before the decisive battle, William ordered the construction of a fortification at Hastings, which was later turned into a castle and church. It was used for a few hundred years before falling into disrepair as a result of coastal erosion and weather changes.

It was further damaged during World War II, but has been restored and repaired somewhat. Tourists can visit the castle in the summer months.

Hastings castle (Google Maps)
Hastings castle

Bayeux Tapestry, Bayeux, France

Surprisingly, there are no detailed, accurate accounts of the invasion, battle and aftermath of the war.

Nonetheless, we do have an interesting, if not always accurate or clear, recording of all these events. Sometime shortly after the conquest, a tapestry was commissioned to tell the story of William’s victory. This stitched cloth tells the story in picture form, which was important as most people in that time were illiterate.

The tapestry was a massive undertaking, running 230 feet long, with 58 scenes and intricate detail throughout. Since at least the 1400s, the tapestry has been stored in Bayeux, a small town in Normandy. These days, tourists can view the tapestry in a local museum dedicated to the embroidery.

Bayeux tapestry museum (Google Maps)
Bayeux tapestry museum

Westminster Abbey, London, England

Defeating Harold wasn’t the only thing William needed to do in order to secure the throne. He had an entire country to appease, and getting crowned was an important step in that endeavor. After further skirmishes and intense negotiations with the nobility and church, William was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066. This started the tradition of all English coronations taking place in the Abbey.

The selection of the location was important. Construction on the church had begun under Edward the Confessor as his burial church, and was another way of making it look like William was the natural heir.

The current structure was not constructed until the 1200s, but it has been the seat of royal and religious authority in England for more than a thousand years!

Westminster Abbey (StreetView)
Westminster Abbey

Burial Place, Abbaye-aux-Hommes, France

While William spent some time in England after becoming king, he still viewed Normandy as his seat of power, and gave the French region most of his attention. He and his wife Matilda had bequeathed a large sum to the church in Caen, France, to construct a monastery and nunnery.

Upon his death in 1087, when he was around 59, he was buried in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes. Legend has it that when he was buried, his rotund and rotting corpse did not properly fit inside the casket. When it was closed, his body burst and all the attendees ran from the cathedral in an attempt to avoid the terrible odor. Not quite the ending he envisioned, to be sure.

Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Birds Eye)
Abbaye-aux-Hommes

No matter the state of his funeral, William is without doubt one of the most impactful actors in European history, changing England’s culture, language, and borders, and changing the course of history in France and Europe as well. There’s a lot more to the man, and the story, of William the Conqueror in 1066.