Thursday, May 31, 2012

RT12 Day 9: Montgomery

Hard to believe it was only yesterday that I woke up in Austin. I'd planned to stay somewhere outside of New Orleans last night, but I ended up making the 800-mile drive to Montgomery, Alabama instead. Something about 14 hours of interstate driving clears the head, I guess. So since I was almost a whole day ahead of schedule, I got to sleep in this morning and spend all afternoon exploring Montgomery. I drove around downtown and followed every historical sign I saw, and there are tons of them. I visited the first White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis lived with his second wife (who was 18 years his junior. Just sayin'!).

It's a cool little museum, self-guided and donation-based. A surprising percentage of the furniture in the house is original, and there are lots of little relics, like gold pens used to sign big-deal documents, desks where other big-deal documents were drawn up, handwritten letters, etc. And apparently he played backgammon.

Jefferson Davis slept here!

This is the flag that was draped over his coffin as his body was transported via funeral train to Richmond, Virginia.

The present-day state capitol building is right across the street:

And next door is the Museum of Alabama:

The Rosa Parks Library and Museum is also a few blocks away, but I didn't go to it because I was hungry and got a sandwich instead. Am I a bad American for going to all the confederate stuff but skipping out on the Rosa Parks thing and the Freedom Riders museum??

The Alabama River flows through the city, and there's a park on its banks. I parked in a parking garage in a weird place, and it was ridiculously difficult to find pedestrian access to the park. 

Eventually, I got there, after walking through two fenced-in parking lots, going up an elevator in a parking garage (not the one I parked in), walking across a pedestrian bridge, and then taking two flights of stairs down to the riverbank. And guess what. It wasn't even that fun. 

The train station by the river:

I don't remember what church this is. I took the picture because I thought it was pretty, but now I think the windows on the left-hand side look like a face...

En route from somewhere I don't remember to somewhere else I forget, I saw a little sign for the F. Scott Fitzgerald home and museum. So I made a left turn down a quiet, out-of-the-way residential street and found this:

Apart from that sign on the corner of the lot, the house wasn't marked in any way, and there was no one else parked outside. At first, I didn't think I was in the right place. But when I opened the front door, I was greeted by an extremely attractive -- and extremely married -- tour guide. Worth the $2 student price. I mean the tour is worth it. There's an 18-minute video followed by a 30-ish-minute tour of part of the house. (The rest is rented out as apartments.) Geez, Zelda was a total nutcase. Incidentally, one of her relatives was the original owner of the Confederate White House!

Since I was the only visitor there, I chatted with the guide for a few minutes after the tour. When I mentioned that I'm about to go to Jordan, he said he went there on his honeymoon and told a cautionary tale about taking hash on a bus to Jerusalem. I forget where I was trying to go when I made the detour to see the Fitzgerald house, but where I ended up next was the parsonage for the Dexter Baptist Church. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived here for a while. For some reason there's only one tiny sign that says so, and you don't see it until you're right on top of it. You'd think they'd make a bigger deal out of it?

A few blocks away is the church where MLK Jr. preached and where the Montgomery bus boycott began:

Across the street from the church is the Civil Rights Memorial. It was designed by Maya Lin, the same woman who designed the Vietnam Memorial. And she's from Athens, Ohio of all places!!

Around the disc are names of people who died between 1954 and 1968 in the pursuit of racial equality. When I was a kid learning about the civil rights movement in school, it seemed like ancient history, in the same way that 30-year-olds are "old" when you're 8. Of course I know better now, but it's still jarring to realize people were being slain by the KKK only a couple generations before me. The date in the middle of this picture -- June 21, 1964 -- was my mother's second birthday. (Sorry, Mom, but everyone already knows you're about to be 50.)

As I left Montgomery to head north to Tennessee, I saw signs for the Confederate Memorial Park. I guess since I was in stop-at-nothing mode yesterday, I made up for it today by stopping at everything, even ridiculous things that are 15 miles off the freeway:

There was a little museum that I was a little too creeped out to visit. So I looked at a bunch of Confederate flags and left. 

Now I'm in Chattanooga for the night, up too late for Eastern time because my body's still operating somewhere between Mountain and Central time...

Speaking of mountains, getting all that driving done yesterday gives me time to explore mountains and caves tomorrow!


  1. This is such a great tour of Montgomery. I have never been there. You were in the land of your mother's birth and didn't stop to see her town, though.

  2. I would have but it was a couple hours out of my way. Sorry.