World’s Oldest Souvenirs Included All Kinds Of Contraband

berlin wall fragment
Garry Wilmore, Flickr

Who here doesn’t have a collection of mini monuments, fridge magnets, key rings and mugs collected on vacation? For as long as humans have been traveling, we’ve had an inexplicable urge to bring back some sort of object that reminds us of our trip, and that’s the focus of a new exhibit by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. But don’t be fooled, you won’t find any mugs or magnets here.

The collection displays some of the world’s oldest souvenirs and harks back to a time when travelers clearly didn’t have to contend with airport customs officials. You see, back in the early days, there were no souvenir shops attached to museums where you could pick up your trinkets, so tourists eager for a knick-knack just took whatever they wanted. On display is one traveler’s souvenir of a napkin that belonged to Napoleon, and another tourist’s odd collection of hair, including tresses that belonged to George Washington.Other souvenirs that would clearly be illegal to buy or take today include pieces of the Berlin Wall, a fragment of Plymouth Rock and a piece of marble chipped off the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that we started catching on that taking home actual relics and historical objects was a bad idea, and it was this realization that sparked a boom in souvenirs — as shops started manufacturing the kitsch Eiffel Tower statues and collectible teaspoons that we know today.

Still, the abundance of souvenir shops doesn’t stop some travelers from collecting their own unique mementos. Last year, Rome chastised tourists for stealing bits of the city’s cobblestone roads and mosaics, while in Dublin, religious relics were stolen from a historic church. In South Australia, someone managed to walk away with the bones and jaw of a whale that was on display in a tourist park, though at two meters long, we’re not sure exactly how they stuffed that into their luggage.

Do you know of any other strange souvenirs that travelers have collected?

Largest Lincoln Exhibit Ever Opens In California

Kevin Trotman, Flickr

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library just debuted a new exhibit on the most famous Republican. A. Lincoln: From Railsplitter to Rushmore opened Saturday and will run through September 31. With 250 items culled from major collectors, it’s the largest assemblage of the Lincoln family’s personal effects ever displayed.

But other museums have examples of this exhibit’s highlights, such as his stovepipe hats, Lincoln-signed 13th Amendments and his gold pocket watches. There are plenty of blood-stained fabrics from the night of his assassination (curiously, none have been used to yield a sample of Lincoln’s DNA – that doesn’t exist). What makes this exhibit in Simi Valley, California, stand out is the inclusion of sets and costumes from Lincoln, the recent movie by DreamWorks Studios.

If you saw the movie, you’ll recognize the office where Daniel Day-Lewis gave his entrancing soliloquies, Mary Todd Lincoln’s dresses and parts of Peterson’s Boarding House, the building where Lincoln died.

The exhibit, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, plays into the current fascination with Lincoln’s personal life. For decades he was widely perceived as a caricature – Honest Abe, who freed the slaves – and now Lincoln mania is drawing attention to the real man behind the stovepipe hat, his family and his political genius. Who would guess that 40 years ago, there wasn’t vast interest in Lincoln at all? According to James Cornelius, an Abe expert from Lincoln’s presidential library in Springfield, Ill., the 16th president enjoyed a big moment during the Civil War’s centennial in 1965, but then the fever died down until Ken Burns revived pop culture’s interest with his blockbuster Civil War documentary in 1990.

We’re pretty sure A. Lincoln won’t be the last homage for a while, though it will likely remain the largest.

Hong Kong Harbor Invaded By Giant Rubber Duck


Hong Kong’s famous skyline was joined by a 54-foot rubber duck on Thursday. The duck, a traveling public exhibit by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman floated into Victoria Harbour with the help of a tugboat.

The project has seen giant ducks float into harbors around the world since 2007, stopping by New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Netherlands, among others. It’s been well-received in Hong Kong, where local papers have been looking out for the oversized inflatable children’s toy for weeks.

Hofman describes the purpose of the duck as a way to relieve political tensions around the world. According to him, the duck knows no boundaries and “doesn’t discriminate.”

The exhibit will remain on display in the harbor until June 9, 2013. Next stop is an unannounced city in the United States.

[Photo: AP]

Budget Hong Kong: Journey To The Past At The Hong Kong Museum Of History

hong kong history

The Hong Kong Story,” a permanent exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of History, isn’t your standard collection of artifacts. Chronicling more than 6,000 years of natural and cultural history, the massive exhibition occupies eight galleries across nearly 23,000 square feet, with more than 3,700 static and interactive exhibits. The endeavor took more than six years and HK$200 million (US$25.8 million) to complete. And with admission at just HK$10 (US$1.30) per person, it’s a bargain way to brush up on your Hong Kong history, while beating the oppressive afternoon heat.

%Gallery-174071%The exhibition begins with a look at Hong Kong’s natural environment, examining the landforms, flora and fauna that make the territory unique. A full-scale forest recreation showcases the massive trees that have since been replaced by skyscrapers, along with sound bites from the island’s indigenous birds and animals.

The next gallery displays artifacts from prehistoric Hong Kong, with stone tools and pottery dating back more than 6,000 years. From there, guests are led to the third gallery, on Hong Kong’s majestic early dynasties, which grew with influence from mainland China.

The fourth gallery, on Hong Kong folk culture, highlights the customs of Hong Kong’s four traditional ethnic groups: the Punti, the Hakka, the Boat Dwellers and the Hoklo. A highlight is a full-scale recreation of the Taiping Qingjiao ceremony, complete with a 54-foot “bun mountain,” a Cantonese Opera theatre, a parade, a lion dance and a Taoist altar.

The fifth gallery is a slightly more sobering look at the Opium Wars, which led to the cession of Hong Kong to Great Britain. The causes and consequences of the wars are examined through documentation, timelines and an informative film. From there, guests can explore the growth of Hong Kong as a modern city under British rule, with its teahouses, banks, tailor shops, pawn shops and other urban structures.

The seventh gallery takes a brief look at Hong Kong during the World War II Japanese military occupation. Like in other parts of the Pacific, Hong Kong suffered heavily during the three-year-eight-month period. The propaganda video and audio clips are particularly fascinating.

Finally, visitors are introduced to the development of the modern metropolis of Hong Kong in the years following World War II. The gallery includes reconstructions of a 1960s diner-style herbal tea shop, a modern cinema and exhibits from the Hong Kong trade fair, showcasing the development of Hong Kong’s manufacturing industry. With hundreds of modern artifacts and memorabilia, this exhibition has broad appeal, even for non-history buffs.

The Hong Kong Story closes with a showcase of documents related to Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 – as well as a reminder on the final placard that the city’s story is far from over.

The Hong Kong Museum of History is located on Chatham Road South in Tsim Sha Tsui. Admission is HK$10 (US$1.30) for adults and HK$5 (US$0.65) for students, seniors and the disabled. On Wednesdays, admission is free.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Budget Hong Kong” chronicles one writer’s efforts to authentically experience one of the world’s most expensive cities, while traveling on a shoestring. Read the whole series here.

‘Bolivian Mennonites’ Photography Exhibition Begins In New York

Bolivian Mennonites photo exhibitionUnless you’ve followed the horrifying story of the serial rapists who wrecked havoc in the community in 2009, you might not know that the small South American country of Bolivia is home to a large community of Mennonites. Photographer Lisa Wiltse traveled to the isolated colony of Manitoba to capture the conservative community, who shun cars, electricity, and other modern conveniences, and live by a strict religious code. Many of the Mennonites do not speak Spanish, and women typically only speak low German, as the founders of the religion did in the 16th century.

Wiltse’s photographs are a rare glimpse into an insular culture. If you are in New York City tonight, you can attend a reception and slideshow of Wiltse’s work, moderated by the co-curator of The Half King’s photography series. The art exhibition will be on display in the bar until July, and some of the photos can be viewed on the artist’s website.

Photo courtesy The Half King. “Bolivian Mennonites” will be on display May 15 – July 9 in New York.