All posts for the month July, 2014

A cemetery may seem an odd, or even creepy, choice as a recommended site, but Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis is unique.

It’s like a vast, outdoor history museum. The rolling terrain encompasses over 500 acres and 25 miles of paved road.

Crown Hill Cemetery was dedicated in 1864 and now contains over 200,000 grave sites. If you are a Hoosier, you will see many familiar names from local business icons to Mayors, Governors, Vice Presidents – and even U.S. President Benjamin Harrison. The notorious gangster John Dillinger was buried here in 1934. His grave marker was replaced numerous times as souvenir hunters continually chipped away pieces until they were unusable. The grounds also contain Crown Hill National Cemetery. It is the final resting place of over 2000 soldiers from the Civil War through Vietnam.

The National Cemetery began as a relocation of Union soldiers from Greenlawn Cemetery, which no longer exists. The 1.4-acre site in on a hillside behind the Gothic Chapel. The Chapel itself is a beautiful historic structure built in 1875.
But, based on the name, one would assume there’s a Crown Hill in here somewhere? And, you’d be right. Located on the western side of the main cemetery, The Crown was the highest natural point in the city limits, prior to the Unigov consolidation of 1970. If you venture to the top of The Crown, you can pay your respects to beloved Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Riley’s tomb is at the very top of The Crown and is arguably the most visited spot in the cemetery. Standing at the base of The Crown, it doesn’t look too intimidating. But, it’s a nice little workout getting to the top. Don’t worry, you can also drive if walking is too taxing. Riley’s tomb is just beyond view.

Once you’re at the top, you will be rewarded with a fabulous view of downtown Indianapolis.


crown09And a sweeping panorama from south to north. And we’ve just scratched the surface here. You can make a tour of the trees alone. The oldest are tagged and identified. Crown Hill offers numerous guided tours, but free wandering has its own rewards. Again, 25 miles of paved road. You can easily get lost inside. I have been asked on several occasions for directions to the exit by lost sightseers.

The wooded areas are home to 35-40 white-tailed deer. They stay hidden during the day, but I have seen them on numerous occasions. One particular sighting was very memorable. As I was rounding a gentle bend, I noticed movement in the distance. The road was progressing towards the movement and I gradually made out a group of 9 deer huddled together. And I was very aware that 18 eyes were watching my every move as I passed by.

And, don’t forget to check out the original main gates on the east side at 34th Street. Dating from 1885, this gothic portal is no longer the main entrance, but it remains one of the most impressive structures on the grounds.

Beautiful, historic buildings, inspiring landscape and even the occasional wildlife sighting all combine to make Crown Hill Cemetery one of my favorite places.

I have always said that, when it comes to snacks, I prefer salty to sweet. So, for me to recommend a candy company says something about the experience.

At first glance, Schimpff’s Confectionery in Jeffersonville Indiana is very much like many candy shops in tourist areas. What is different here is the history and the charm.

If you have occasion to be in the Louisville area, and have a little spare time, hop back north across the river to Jeffersonville and head to the historic downtown district. Follow the signs to Schimpff’s. It’s tiny. It’s quaint. It’s often crowded. Call ahead to see if you can schedule a candy-making tour. It’s free! Or, just show up on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll most likely join one in progress. Then get ready to step back in time.

Schimpff’s opened in 1891 and, four generations later, this family business is still going strong. Current owners Warren Schimpff and Jill Wagner Schimpff purchased the business in 1990 and continue to offer local favorites that built their reputation throughout Kentuckiana for over 100 years.

Jill hosts daily tours of the 19th century candy making equipment as Warren creates their cinnamon red hots. schimpffs05Schempff’s has been famous for their cinnamon red hots since they opened and the family recipe is still used today. The vintage equipment has been given a modern boost with an electric motor, supplanting the hand crank. Other than that, you truly get the sense of old school candy making and, the best part, you get to sample the goods fresh from the molds.

The store sells all manner of hard candys and chocolates. Try the local favorite, the Modjeska, named after 19th century Polish actress Madam Helena Modjeska. She was asked by a Louisville confectioner, following a performance in Louisville in 1883, if he could name a confection after her. She readily agreed and a local favorite was born. The story alone means you should try them.

Don’t get me wrong, Schimpff’s is not the caliber of destination to plan a day around. It’s a small candy store with a small museum and a candy-making tour. But, if you are passing through the area on interstate 65 and need a break, it’s worth it. I’ve been there four times, so far, and always enjoyed the visit. I can’t recommend the Modjeskas since I’m not a marshmallow fan (my kids like them), but try some cinnamon red hots or chocolate covered cashews, yum.

Visit their website

starbucks400x266The Currency of Battlestar Galactica.

I’m a huge fan of both the original Battlestar Galactica and the new series that debuted in 2003. So let me start off with my favorite photo relating to Galactica. Here you see Katee Sackoff (Starbuck in the new series) meeting Dirk Benedict (Starbuck in the original series) at Starbuck’s. So, literally, Starbuck meets Starbuck at Starbuck’s.

Everything about the new series was epic. It redefined what could be done with sci-fi on television. Time Magazine, The National Review, Rolling Stone and New York Newsday proclaimed it the best show on television. It was sci-fi to be sure, but it was a character-driven drama first. I really wanted prop pieces from this show. Unfortunately, the most desirable items were beyond my skills to create, but I did purchase a few nice replicas. However, the paper currency used on the show had a very intriguing design. This was something I could create. Several fellow fans began making replicas of the bills. But, much of their work was based on guesses since definitive reference material did not exist. But that was about to change.

bsgfirstbills200x304In 2008 with Galactica winding down its final season, it was announced that all the props from the show would be auctioned. The auction site posted a few photos as teasers. One of the photos was a lo-res, watermarked version of the graphic file used to print the currency (shown at a reduced size on the left). They were very small, but the absolute best starting place for recreations. So, I began. The biggest hurdle with these bills was recreating the cityscape. The best reference (right) was a start, but it was difficult to make out details. bsgbuildingsSome fans had simply substituted real cityscape photos while others tried to clean up and actually use this reference graphic. I knew the only way to do this was to build up a new file of this city piece by piece. I even toyed with the idea of building it as a 3D model, but quickly abandoned that. It would be done in Photoshop and it was, by far, the most difficult part of the bills to get right. But, once completed, the work was worth it. bsglayers212x2359It adds a lot to the replicas. To witness my level of insanity, down the right side you can see all the Photoshop layers that went into the creation of the city. This is ONLY the city as I built it in a separate file before compositing it into the bills. And here is a shot of the finished city.

bsgforumSo, my bills were complete. They were a close match to the initial graphic and I offered them for sale at the largest online prop community,bsgfirstbillsmine2 the Replica Prop Forum (the RPF). I sold a few sets and was pleased. Then, the actual prop auctions began. I realized that if I could win an auction for actual, screen-used bills, my replicas could be perfected. So, I watched every week hoping the bills wouldn’t be too expensive. But, they always were. Fans were eager to pay high prices to own a piece of this show. Then I received an email from a fellow member of the RPF. He said he had won a couple auctions for Galactica bills and was hoping to win more. He asked if I’d be interested in refining my bills with his assistance. Certainly! I asked if he could possibly send high-res scans of the bills so I could see all the details up close. He replied back that I was misunderstanding him. He was offering to actually ship the bills to me. I was stunned and readily agreed!

So, over the next few months, he would ship me one bill at a time. In case the shipment was lost or damaged, he would only lose a single bill (which was well insured both ways) instead of all three. I salvaged what I could from my original files, but basically, I was starting over. The cityscape was remarkably close. It did need some revisions based on seeing the details of the real props, but nothing too drastic. However, the color scheme was a big surprise. Either the original graphic posted by the auction house was an earlier version of the file, or it was altered during printing. But the bills I was seeing up for auction, and then in person, were quite different. Also not visible were small metallic flecks throughout the bills. Unfortunately, this was a feature I was unable to duplicate. I searched for a long time (as did others) and could not find a match for the paper with the flecks. But after months of working on every detail, the new, improved bills were complete. Shown below are my replica bills next to the actual, screen used bills. The screen-used bills are on top with my replicas below.
The prop bills from the show were often trimmed so that details were chopped off. You can see examples of that in the originals shown here. Also, the auction house placed a small holographic sticker on the back of the 1000 note. It was not present on the bills used during the show. I sold a few more sets of bills (some to previous customers) now that they were more accurate. Then I received several requests for aged bills. The examples of screen-used bills I received had been in beautiful condition, which was great because I could really see all the details. But, many of the bills in the auctions, and used on the show, were thoroughly distressed and weathered. I too wanted some aged bills for myself, so I began experimenting with various methods. The screen-used bills were not heavily stained or torn, they simply looked well-used. I eventually settled on a four-step process to wear down the bills and give them an authentic look. And here are some samples.
Contact me if you are interested in purchasing a set of the bills.