US State Department Funds Thai Monument Restoration

The United States State Department’s Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation recently bestowed a $131,800 grant to the World Monuments Fund for restoration work at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a historic Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

According to WMF President Bonnie Burnham, “Support from the State Department’s Ambassadors Fund will assist the Thai Department of Fine Arts with continuing efforts to protect the site in light of increasingly severe flooding in the region and will advance conservation activities at the temple.”

Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was once the capital of the Thai Kingdom of Ayutthaya, better known as Siam. For several hundred years, Ayutthaya flourished as one of the world’s largest cities, until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767.

Today, the remnants of the city are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the elements have taken its toll on Ayutthaya’s ancient Buddhist temples and monuments, particularly the widespread flooding that devastated much of the country in 2011. Restoration on the monuments began in 2012, and the project is ongoing.

Correction, 2/19: This article initially stated that the grant was bestowed to the Thai government. It was in fact provided to the World Monuments Fund.[Photo Credit: World Monuments Fund]

Nagasaki, Japan: More Than You Think

Outside of Japan, the port town of Nagasaki is simply known for one thing – the bombing that ended the second world war. There are plenty of reminders around the city, such as the striking single-legged torii gate (below) whose other half was blown off in the atomic blast, the stirring statues scattered about town and numerous memorials. It’s an important site in world history and worth going to for that reason alone.

Of course, no trip to Nagasaki would be complete without visiting Peace Park or the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, but there is so much more to Nagasaki.Yellow ceramic oragami paper cranes in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Yellow origami ceramic cranes in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

A monument under where the atomic bomb hypocenter was located.

Peace Park being visited by an elementary school field trip.

Nagasaki played an extremely important role in Japan’s history prior to World War II as well. For over 200 years, between 1633 and 1853, Nagasaki was the only port in all of Japan that was officially allowed to conduct trade with foreign countries. The impact of this role can still be seen today in the city’s food and architecture.

Megane-bashi, the spectacles bridge.

Megane-bashi, Japanese for “spectacles bridge”, is named for the reflection it creates in the water, is a very popular and romantic spot. Visiting around sunset is key and so is finding the heart-shaped brick in the stonework.

Castella, one of Nagasaki’s unique foods.

Today, Nagasaki is probably best known within Japan for its food. The two most popular dishes are castella (above) and champon. Castella is a simple cake that was brought in by the Portuguese. It’s rich with egg flavors and can be purchased virtually anywhere in the city. On the right is the original flavor and on the left is a green tea variation. Champon is a very popular pork and seafood noodle soup that was inspired from Chinese food. There is even a popular chain restaurant called Ringer Hut that sells Nagasaki champon throughout Japan.

The cute streetcars of Nagasaki.

Much like in the U.S., most cities in Japan used to have thriving streetcar networks. Today, most have ceased operation in favor of subways and making more room for cars. However, most of the big cities in southern Japan have held onto their streetcar tradition, including Nagasaki. It’s a convenient and fun way to get around the city and their bright colors are adorable.

Onboard a Nagasaki streetcar.

A row of torii gates at a local Shinto shrine.

Nagasaki is certainly not a main attraction in Japan, and quite a ways from many of the big name sights, but it’s worth it. It’s a quiet and quaint seaside town. It’s a great place to wander around and get lost in, to stumble across small neighborhood Shinto shrines and handicraft stores. There’s an important history to Nagasaki, without a doubt, but there’s a wealth of sights to see and things to do.

[Photo credits: Jonathan Kramer]

Weird monument in Wales has interesting history


If you’re staying in Aberystwyth, Wales, you can see it from pretty much everywhere–a tall tower on a bluff to the south of town. At first it’s hard to see what it is, so my wife, five-year-old son and I decided to walk there and have a look.

It was an easy two or three kilometers from town through a wooded trail up a fairly steep slope. What greeted us once we made it through the trees was rather surprising–a giant stone cannon pointing at the sky. The bluff gave a commanding view of the town, a horse racing track, and the open sea. A little plaque declared that this was a monument to the Duke of Wellington, who beat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo with some timely help from the Germans. It was erected c. 1852.

WalesBut. . .why? What’s the connection between a Welsh seaside report and one of the British Empire’s greatest heroes? There isn’t even a statue of the Duke duking it out with the undersized French dictator. From town it looked for all the world like the smokestack of some Victorian factory.

The owners of our B&B, the Seabrin Guest House, told us the tale. It’s called the Derry Ormond Tower, after the local landowner who first came up with the idea of the tower. Ormond was a veteran of Waterloo and wanted to honor the general he served under.

Originally the cannon was supposed to serve as the base for a statue of the Duke of Wellington astride a horse, looking suitably imperious. Money ran out, however, and some say the statue languished in a stonemason’s yard in Cardiff until someone with deeper pockets took it off their hands.

So Aberystwyth is left with half a monument. Ah well, at least the view was nice.

What’s your favorite odd monument? Tell us about it in the comments section!

First look at the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in DC

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial On August 28, 48 years to the day that Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech, the nation’s capital will dedicate a memorial to him on the National Mall. The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial will be the first memorial on the Mall dedicated to an African-American and the first solo memorial for a non-president.

The MLK Memorial is located on four acres on the Tidal Basin, site of Washington’s famous Japanese cherry trees, and sits within a “line of leadership” between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. The line ties Dr. King to President Lincoln, author of the Emancipation Proclamation and on whose memorial Dr. King gave his “Dream” speech, and Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. “Peace” and “independence” are two of the main themes of the MLK Memorial, even down to the Memorial’s official address. The street number in the address 1964 Independence Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20024 refers to the Civil Right’s Act of 1964.

Although it does not open for another week, would-be visitors can watch the construction cam to watch workers put the finishing touches on the King Memorial. The video below also provides more information about the memorial, its location, design, and landscaping.




[Photo credit www.mlkmemorial.org]

The Old Leather Man: controversy over digging up a legend

Leather Man, Leatherman, Old Leather Man, The Old Leather ManInvestigators in Connecticut are planning to uncover a local legend, but they’re facing a backlash of public sentiment.

An archaeological team will open the grave of The Old Leather Man, a mysterious wanderer who from 1883 to 1889 walked a 365 mile loop from the lower Hudson River Valley into Connecticut and back. It took him 34 days to make the journey and he was so punctual that well-wishers used to to have meals ready for him when he showed up. He spoke French but little English, slept only in caves and rock shelters, and never revealed information about himself. He got his name from his homemade, 60 lb. suit of leather.

His grave in Ossining’s Sparta Cemetery brings a regular flow of the curious, but local officials are afraid it’s too close to the street and is a safety hazard. They plan to dig up The Old Leather Man and move him to a different part of the cemetery. They also want to take a DNA sample. Legend claims he was a heartbroken Frenchman named Jules Bourglay, but Leather Man biographer Dan W. DeLuca says this is an invention of a newspaper of the time.

The DNA might prove a clue to who he really was and that’s where the controversy starts. History teacher Don Johnson has set up a website called Leave the Leatherman Alone, saying that his privacy should be respected. Judging from all the comments on his site, he seems to have a fair amount of backing.

As a former archaeologist I love unraveling a good mystery but I have to agree with Mr. Johnson on this one. The Old Leather Man obviously wanted his identity to remain unknown, and just because he was a homeless man why should his wishes be ignored? He never committed any crime besides vagrancy, he died of natural causes, and there are no known inheritance issues, so what’s the need?

As a teenager growing up in the Hudson Valley, I loved the mysteries of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states–the strange rock constructions, the Revolutionary War ghosts, Mystery Hill, and, of course, The Old Leather Man. Most of this is the stuff of imagination, but The Old Leather Man was real, living person.

And because of that, we should let his mystery remain buried.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]