Points of Interest | Travel | Smithsonian

Points of Interest

This month's guide to notable American destinations and happenings

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Jefferson's Dig
Union, Kentucky—To Thomas Jefferson's impressive résumé, add paleontologist. In September 1807, a year after the triumphant return of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery, Jefferson again commissioned William Clark, this time to organize the first excavation of fossil vertebrates in the United States.

The site of Clark's dig, now Big Bone Lick State Park, was a large salt marsh in northern Kentucky. About 15,000 years ago, mastodons, woolly mammoths, ten-foot-tall ground sloths and other large mammals with a taste for salt fed at the swamp; many sank in the bog. Word of the astonishing remains was spread by pioneer Robert McAfee, who in 1773 had found rib bones so long he used them as tent poles.

Clark's crew unearthed hundreds of specimens and shipped them to the White House. Jefferson kept a few for his Monticello collection, sent some to Paris to show off America's supersize animals and shipped the others to Philadelphia, where they remain at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

"Everyone back then based their scientific conclusions on Bone Lick specimens," says Cincinnati Museum Center paleontologist Glenn Storrs.

Today, the 546-acre park exhibits fossils, tusks, vertebrae and two-pound mastodon molars. Replica mammals struggle in a re-created swamp, and a herd of live bison grazes near mineral springs. Talks by a Clark reenactor will mark the 200th anniversary of the historic dig.
by Julian Smith

Life on the Levee
Locke, California—Bikers roar into this four-block town for the grilled steaks served with peanut butter at Al's Place, but many visitors come for a taste of history. Clinging to a levee on the Sacramento River 75 miles from San Francisco, Locke (pop. 80) is the nation's only surviving town built by and for Chinese-Americans.

Constructed in 1915, it was home to Chinese farmhands and produce packers, whose immigrant predecessors helped build the railroads and the Sacramento Delta levees that helped turn central California into a farming paradise. Though some of the original frontier-style wood-frame structures lean precariously, most are still in use—four as art galleries. Over one shop, rows of seven and eleven light bulbs hint that it was once a dice hall. The Dai Loy Museum (meaning "big welcome") resembles the gambling lair it once was, with a box of Prince Albert tobacco open for roll-your-own cigarettes and tables set up for Pai Gow, a game played with dominoes.

Though Locke's Chinese-American population has dwindled to a dozen, the town is struggling to reclaim its ethnic heritage. This fall a Chinese lion dance will herald the unveiling of a monument with bronze panels depicting the lives of Chinese workers in the delta. Designed by Elyse Marr, a Chinese-American and Stanford sophomore whose father grew up in Locke, the monument is the brainchild of Connie King, 84, a Locke resident for 58 years. Her cottage yard is adorned with planters made of porcelain toilets scavenged from bordellos that flourished in the town's raucous heyday. She gives tours of the museum and a one-room schoolhouse that still displays a portrait of Sun Yat-sen, who became the first president of modern China in 1912. "I want to preserve something in memory of the Chinese who built Locke," King says.
by Kevin Roderick

A School's Hardest Test
Little Rock—Minnijean Brown Trickey was one of the Little Rock Nine, the African-American teenagers who 50 years ago this month braved angry mobs at Central High to desegregate the school under the protection of an Army escort. Crowded assemblies were harrowing, she recalls: "It was easy to be kicked without knowing exactly who did it. The soldiers could not accompany us into the auditorium, so we felt particularly vulnerable."

On September 24, the Little Rock Nine will be on hand for the opening of a new visitor center adjacent to the school. A two-day commemoration includes speeches, a fundraiser and an exhibition of the Emancipation Proclamation at the Clinton presidential library in the city. Former president Bill Clinton and civil rights veteran Representative John Lewis (D.-Ga.), among others, are scheduled to speak.

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