Those heady days of the 1980s seem so long ago. Well, they were, more than 30 years past now. It was just another decade, I guess. We got married part of the way through the decade, 1983 to be exact. We’ve seen and done quite a bit since then. Two wonderful kids now, both married and happy and productive. One of them is about to become reproductive, in July, with our first grandchild. Life is good, and I am thankful for all that has come our way.
To celebrate our third anniversary, we took a trip out to the Black Hills of South Dakota, to see Mount Rushmore and get a little time away from home to see some of this great country. We loved that trip, and took a lot of pictures, as people do when they see awesome stuff for the first time. It surprised us how much wide-open space there was to South Dakota, before hitting the western part of the state where the Black Hills are home to so much beauty and scenery.
Yes, we did stop at Wall Drug – it feels like an obligation after you see a billboard or some kind of signage urging you to do so with nearly every blink of the eyes.
Our hotel was new, and it was comfortable. At the edge of the parking lot, you could even see the four fellas, Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, off in the distance, staring off into the distance, wondering when the rest of their bodies would show up. Across the highway from our hotel was a wax museum that housed all the Presidents, this time fully intact, but made of wax, thus the name. A sign beckoned me all week long, and I promised Rhonda that before we left, we would visit. I’m not sure why I promised her that, she would’ve been fine if we would’ve not gone in, but this is my story, and I get to add layers of intrigue and mystery if I want.
The sign out in front of the wax museum read, “Know Your Presidents, Win $10.” I am usually first in line for such a challenge. I was pretty certain that I knew my presidents, as I am a history guy, and I like knowing that kind of stuff. I still get fuzzy about that string starting with Martin Van Buren running through to Lincoln – William Henry Harrison (he of the 30-day presidency), John Tyler (the Tyler to WH Harrison’s Tippecanoe), James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan – all who kept the chair warm for one term or less and pretty much allowed the country to slide toward the Civil War… I can bore the socks off you with Presidential history, but let’s not, ok? If you want ample proof of why my family doesn’t allow me to play Trivial Pursuit, I have that in spades… but let’s head back to the Black Hills.
We would stop by the wax museum to visit all the chief executives before heading back to the land of cheese. We weren’t sure when, but I can’t let a challenge like that go by. Our week was winding down, and with a little over a day left of our South Dakota hiatus, we decided it was time to scratch my Presidential itch and see what we could see. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, so the list was five Presidents shorter than it is now. There was no internet yet, so I had to just know them, I guess. I don’t remember if there was any prep involved or not. We went in and bought our passes. Two things surprised us – one, the wax museum of presidents was pretty cool, well done, and worth the price of admission.
The second thing that surprised us was that they didn’t need for you to know the presidents upon entering, but before you left. Well heck, I got a free study session. I got to shine up that other batch of less than memorable presidents from U. S. Grant through McKinley, without showing off, there is a possible tripping point because Grover Cleveland served two terms, but not consecutively. He was 22nd and 24th, his run interrupted by a single term by Benjamin Harrison. We get through all the displays, and we are favorably inclined to say nice things. I recite all the Presidents without much hesitation, and congratulations, sir, you have successfully named them all, here is your $10. Cold hard cash. Nice, that wasn’t too hard.
One unsurprising thing about the wax museum: after touring the museum, you will find the gift shop. I’m the kind of guy who is not averse to picking up a shot glass or some appropriate keepsake of a visit to a place like that, and after all, I had house money to play with too, right? As we wandered about, seeing some ok stuff, but nothing that lit our hearts on fire… we found ourselves being escorted by two well-meaning, yet a bit overly aggressive employees of the wax museum. “How about this?” or “How about a nice set of postcards to remember your visit?” They were persistent. It started to get a bit irritating, and my urge to part with my hard-won ten bucks was waning. They wanted me to spend it there too much, they thought that I owed it to them. I’m pretty sure that I had something to do with the development of “good for in-store credit only” type promotions.
We left without buying anything. I can be fairly confident that without their urging, I probably would’ve spent at least some money there.
Once I felt like I owed it to them to give it back in the form of a purchase, I wasn’t interested. We didn’t see their noses pressed up against the glass as we drove away, but it’s safe to say that we probably brought down curses upon the whole of the state of Wisconsin as our Pontiac Grand Am wheeled out of the parking lot. Nice wax museum though. I’d check it out again if I ever go back.
The next day, the Grand Am all packed and our maps all studied for the trip back to the land of milk and homies, we left the Black Hills. Behind us was a sign on the wax museum: “Know Your Presidents, Win $5.”