Vacation Suggestions: A Rich Legacy of History Worth Visiting (Part One)

by Peggy Chong, Albuquerque, New Mexico

As DIALOGUE readers know, my articles are often about blind people who passed on a long time ago. Although many have left a mark on our lives, little remains of their memories, where they lived and worked or the places they built. When thinking of historical sites related to blind people, we tend to think of the schools for the blind, Homes for the Blind, agencies (both private and public), or maybe Coupvray, France–the birthplace of Louis Braille.

For me, a vacation based on the hidden, yet rich, history of the blind of the United States takes a whole different turn. We have many choices, some almost unknown.

We start on the west coast of the United States with a trip to Livermore, California, and Ravenswood. The Ravenswood Historic Site, one of Livermore’s historical landmarks, was built by Christopher A. Buckley, Sr., who is known as “The Blind Boss” of San Francisco politics in the 1870s and 1880s. Buckley was blind much of his adult life, yet he controlled who was elected, got public jobs and benefited financially from his political clout in San Francisco. Ravenswood Historic Site is also one of the larger early vineyards in the Livermore Valley.

When you visit this lovely 1885-era Victorian country estate in Livermore in August, there is an old-fashioned Ice Cream Social. During the holidays, there are special Victorian Yuletide celebrations. To join the free public tours or to learn more information about the estate of Christopher Buckley, visitĀ www.larpd.org/rentals/ravenswood.html.

Now, off to St. Louis, Missouri, where they have several venues that host exhibits from time to time about Joseph Pulitzer. We have all heard of the Pulitzer Prize–but did you know that Joseph Pulitzer himself was blind?

As a young man, Pulitzer wanted to be a soldier, but he was rejected by the Austrian Army, the French Foreign Legion and the British Army because of his poor eyesight. The USA’s Union Army in 1864 was far less picky. Pulitzer was recruited from Hungary to serve in the Civil War, which is how he came to America.

The Missouri History Museum has a bust of Mr. Pulitzer and, on the centennial of his death, they hosted a presentation of his life. As he was a famous Missourian, they will have information included in many of their exhibits regarding Mr. Pulitzer’s impact on the state of Missouri. A drop-in at the museum could be fun. They are located at 5700 Lindell Boulevard, St Louis, Missouri 63112.

The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63108, usually does not have an exhibit to promote the on-site museum and the man who funded it, but it will give you a taste of the deep passion that Pulitzer had for the arts. (The building, currently undergoing a renovation, will reopen in May, 2015.) After his death, many art museums across the country benefited from his generous gifts of paintings and sculptures, yet few people would think of a blind person as a major collector of art. Their web site isĀ www.pulitzerarts.org.

Writing about dead people often means a trip to a graveyard. I find graveyards fascinating and fun, and I hope you will as well. Let’s now go to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Forest Home Cemetery.

William Cramer was the founder of the EVENING WISCONSIN, now the WISCONSIN JOURNAL. Not only blind in adulthood, but deaf as well, he built the newspaper and was its editor from 1847-1905, the longest concurrent editorship of a newspaper in the country.

William Cramer, born in New York, was a man who loved learning. In his lifetime, he became known as a walking encyclopedia to the residents of Milwaukee and was active in politics as well. At the age of 52, he married a 21 year-old woman who, after his death, took over the paper before she sold it to a shell company for the William Randolph Hearst newspaper chain. As a side note, Cramer Street in Milwaukee is named for William’s brother, Elephalet, not for him, as some may tell you.

A plaque at the cemetery bears an old photograph of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL, where Mr. Cramer worked for so many years, as well as a picture of him. Once a year, around Memorial Day, the Forest Home Cemetery has a walking tour of the graveyard, with volunteers dressed in period costume, telling the story of the person whose grave they are standing by. Each year, William Cramer continues to be a featured character, telling his story to those who tour the graveyard. The cemetery has a plaque for William Cramer hanging in the “Halls of History” building, which has a section in the lower level for famous Milwaukee people, often beer barons (Pabst, Blatz, etc.) as well as others. Forest Home Cemetery is located at 2495 West Forest Home Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53215.

Then it’s off to Ann Arbor Michigan, for a visit to the Chemistry Building at the University of Michigan and a walk past the nearby Edward DeMille Campbell houses in the Washtenaw Historical District. Mr. Campbell was a blind chemistry professor at the University of Michigan, and his historic homes are just a few blocks from campus.

Edward Campbell was a young, promising chemistry professor whose family had much to do with the early years of the University. One spring, just two years into his teaching career, an experiment in his classroom blew up and glass flew into his eyes, causing permanent blindness. Professor Campbell took a few days off from school before the spring break that was about to begin and was back at his desk teaching for the rest of the school year.

Mr. Campbell’s career at the school and in chemistry was remarkable by any standards. His students remembered him with love and respect as he had made such a strong and lasting impact on their lives. A large plaque in the chemistry building denotes his importance to the Chemistry Department and to the University.

Both of the Campbell homes are currently in use as single-family homes. The first home Mr. Campbell had built in Ann Arbor, before he was blinded, is located at 1310 Hill Street.

The second, located at 1555 Washtenaw Avenue, was built after he was blinded. It was said that Edward had special features built to make navigating his home easier for a blind person, but there is no indication what those features were. This home is currently owned by Robert and Holde Borcherts. Mr. and Mrs. Borcherts have assumed the role of caretakers for this landmark on the Michigan Historic Register. They are open to private, pre-arranged tours, which can be arranged by calling Holde Borcherts at 734-663-6758.

The home is more commonly known as one of the designs of famous architect Albert Kahn, who designed innovative concrete factories and motor plants for the automobile industry. Mr. Kahn was a friend of Mr. Campbell’s before he became famous.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To be continued in the next issue.