Monday, March 31, 2003

The Blog of Ashurbanipal.

Sure, they’re outgunned and surrounded, and fighting like cornered barbarians. But you have to admit, the Iraqis have cooler army names than we do: the Medina Division, and of course the Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar divisions. Even better — though I don’t think this is an actual name — would be the Belshazzar Division, which would see the hand writing on the wall.

Over the last few years, business travel has taken me a few places, though I’ve never had in a job that required me to be on the road too much. In 1999 and 2000, when I edited “Midwest Real Estate News,” I took about six or seven trips in 15 months. At “Fire Chief” magazine the pace of travel was somewhat less, and at “Real Estate Chicago” even less, since the magazine is locally focused. I’ve never shied away from doing the business I go to do, but that’s not what I remember about these trips. If possible, I make an effort to see something in the area.

The effort has been rewarded. For example, I’ve made it to places in or near Atlanta, Columbus (Ohio), Detroit, Grand Rapids, Orlando, Kansas City (Mo.), Las Vegas, New York (City and State), and San Diego. The best thing I’ve yet seen on a business trip was a Saturn V rocket. It was an elaborate side trip: I rented a car in Orlando one evening and early the next morning drove down the Beeline Expressway to Cape Canaveral, only to return in the early afternoon. NASA has a number of interesting things to see, including an actual Saturn V hanging from a very large ceiling.

On this Indianapolis trip, I didn’t have much spare time. But on the last day, I had about an hour. So I hobbled to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, about two blocks north of the hotel. It is a big war monument in the old style, about valor and fortitude and glory.

It’s also about the wars before World War I. Mentioned on various sides of the monument are the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the “War for the Union,” the War with Spain and the Philippine Insurrection. Later wars have other monuments; this one was built after the Civil War, with Spain and the Philippines added. I suppose after that the city fathers didn’t want to burden the monument with any more wars.

Soldiers and sailors in various uniforms emerge in stone all around the basic shape, which is an obelisk on a squarish base. The base is quite broad, with a number of steps leading up to a door on the south face. Early the first day I was in town I saw that the door was open, and that intrigued me. I'd seen the outside of the monument before, but didn’t know that you could go inside. Naturally I wanted to go in.

It turns out that there’s an elevator in there, up to an observation deck. Tickets: $1. I was warned that there were some stairs to climb after the elevator, but that didn’t stop me. According to one of the postcards I bought, the observation deck is about 230 feet above the street. A respectable height even now, but no doubt it was taller than anything else in town when it was built in the 1880s.

It was a postage-stamp sized elevator. The steps I’d been warned about were a squeeze too, but I made my way up. It wasn’t too crowded, and the staircase was narrow enough that I could buttress my weight against the walls if need be. The steps themselves were iron, painted battleship gray, and worn by countless feet.

The observation deck was almost as claustrophobic as the way up, despite its windows. These were small, and still covered with grime from the winter. Not one of the great views of the world, but a view worth a little climbing.

An old plaque at the base of the monument caught my attention. It commemorated the first National Encampment (convention) of the Grand Army of the Republic, held in Indianapolis in 1866. What an occasion that must have been — solemn memorials & full saloons. The plaque went on to say that the last National Encampment of the GAR was in Indianapolis too. In 1949. A different sort of occasion, I imagine. A little research via Google told me that the total membership of the GAR in 1949 was 16. I wouldn’t have expected even that many.

Sic transit gloria mundi.


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