7:20 AM / Monday December 4, 2023

8 Sep 2011

Seeing the elephant

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September 8, 2011 Category: Travel Posted by:

By Renée Gordon


Legend has it that in the early 19th century, when circuses announced their presence with a grand parade through town including the elephants, a farmer heard their eerie roar coming from a town close by. Having never seen them in the flesh, and it being a market day, he loaded his wagon and headed for town. The excited farmer rode straight to see them and he was thrilled. Unfortunately his horses were not as delighted, they began to buck and snort and eventually upended the wagon destroying all it contained. The townsfolk expecting the farmer to be distraught gathered to commiserate with him. To their surprise the man was still excited and exclaimed,” Oh I don’t care about my wagon, I have seen the elephant!”


An early American written version of the tale dates from 1835, penned by A. Longstreet in his “Georgia Scenes.” The expression may have derived from a British expression from the 1500s regarding “seeing the lions.” Early tourists to the great city of London, to prove they had been there, made a beeline to see the lions that were on display in the Tower of London. The expression, “seeing the elephant,” was used during the Gold Rush Era but gained common acceptance in the American lexicon during the Civil War when soldiers used it to denote sites and experiences that were beyond the commonplace and took the viewer to the next level of experiences.


A true traveler, and not just a person on a trip, is up for just about any adventure, whether it be discovering ancient truths in a museum or being among the first to soar across the treetops on a zip line. To assist in your quest to “see the elephant” I have listed events, books and products that will help. Read, enjoy and then seek out the elephant.




“Imagine Africa with the Penn Museum” is an innovative program slated to run September 18, 2011 through September 16, 2012. Programming is designed to incorporate the museum’s outstanding 20,000 item African collection gallery exhibitions and regional community interaction through scheduled activities, lectures and exhibits. Community members will be asked to discuss their viewpoints on how to reinterpret and revise the African Gallery for a contemporary audience. The main exhibition installation area is the Sharpe Hallway Gallery where eight themes, Beauty, Changing, Creation, Divinity, Fashion, Healing, Power and Strength are presented through a series of objects. On September 18th the Opening Celebration will be held from 1-4 PM featuring food, music, storytelling, and dance. The complete schedule and an interactive website are available online. Community and school groups are encouraged. 3260 South St.


“Excavating Ground Zero: Fragments from 9/11” will be on display at The Penn Museum. From August 20th until November 11, 2011. On exhibition will be 15 items excavated from Ground Zero including glass, a computer keyboard and visitor badges. Additional special programming designed to enhance the exhibition will be presented on September 11th and October 12th with the museum offering pay-what-you-want admission on Sunday, September 11th.


Programming on the 11th includes a 1 PM lecture, “Making a Monument: The Fall and Rise of the World Trade Tower” and a 3 PM performance of Joseph Addison’s 1713 “Cato: A Tragedy” featuring Reg E. Cathey.


On November 19, 1863 David Wills, a Gettysburg lawyer and personal friends of Abraham Lincoln, asked him to make “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Lincoln would deliver a two minute speech consisting of only 272 words that would be considered one of the greatest speeches ever written. On the 148th anniversary of the Dedication visitors are invited to attend commemorative activities in the cemetery.


Two members of the US Colored Troops (USCT) are interred in the National Cemetery and homage will be given to their bravery through a program that includes keynote speaker Harriet Tubman and a troop of USCT re-enactors.


Philadelphia’s annual Live Arts Festival will celebrate its 15th year with more than 1200 presentations over a 16-day period from September 2nd through 17th. More than 2,000 artists will be featured in dance, theater and interdisciplinary art performances in venues citywide. Complete information on schedules and prices is available online.




CityPASS, still one of the best ways to save money while traveling to key cities, has expanded into Philadelphia. The pass saves 47 percent off admission to major attractions and, in most cases, avoid long lines at the entrance and includes enough attractions to complete the average vacation. I recommend the Philly pass to folks who live here and want to have a staycation or as a wonderful gift for your out of town guests. You can really see the elephant by purchasing a pass in any of five other cities, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York City, and Toronto. Pricing and attraction info can be accessed at


Travelujah is a comprehensive website designed to connect faith-based travelers and Christian Holy Land pilgrims through a social network that provides current information and tips on travel to religious sites in the Holy Land. Created by Elisa Moed, an experienced travel consultant, the site offers more than basic trip planning but includes blogs, itinerary building, a sites directory, reservation services and educational information. Details and an opportunity to sign up for a free newsletter can be found online.




Travel seems to become more of a hassle daily so I am always on the lookout for products that will make it easier. This month I came across two items that are worthy of note.


My Airport Butler, just the thought of a personal butler makes me tingle, is a portable, book-sized tray, that expands to form a flat, tabletop surface. It is designed with a cup holder and to function as a surface to hold your basic paraphernalia. It folds for easy storage and is steadied by being placed beneath your luggage handle.


The Smart Snacker was created for travelers who need more space than the average cup holder provides. This delightful product fits anywhere there is a cup holder as well as on flat surfaces. It consists of a place for a drink and a container and a snap-on lid for both containers. It prevents spills and provides a carry case as well.




A quick way to discover where the elephant is that you want to see is by doing background research. The computer has made this easier than in the past but sometimes the fastest way is not that interesting. I have found that you can learn a great deal about the history of an area by reading historical novels. They tend to present a more rounded picture of women, minorities, socialization and domestic affairs than many websites. When using novels to understand social history it is imperative that you select the novels carefully and read about the author and how much research went into the book. That said, here are my suggestions.


“A Free Man of Color” is the first Benjamin January novel by Barbara Hambly. She is the master of storytelling about ante-bellum New Orleans. January is a freed slave born of an African mother who became the mistress of a white planter. He moves through all levels of society and all the novels are remarkable.


Margaret Clark’s “I Left My Heart in Harlem” paints a picture of the Harlem of the 70s as seen through one who lived it. You will not be able to put it down.


Who can resist a courtroom mystery especially a historical mystery based on the true 1793 trial of the century? Two members of Virginia’s most influential family, the Randolphs, are accused of adultery and infanticide. In “Just Deceits” Michael Shein recounts not only the trial but also the everyday lives of the aristocracy, the farmers and tradesmen and the slaves. Don’t wait for the movie.


Each individual has a concept of what they consider stunning and astonishing. I hope you get to see your own elephant.


I wish you smooth and visual travels!

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