September 1

I’d like to tell you a story.

It starts way back in 1866, with the birth of a fourth-generation Irish-American named Bernard Hendrick White. Bernard lived in Beckley County, West Virginia and was married to Lula May Slaughter. Together, they had eleven children, and after working in the coal mines in his early teens, Bernard worked his way through the National Normal University in Lebanon, Ohio, selling bicycles, typewriters and sewing machines. After finishing college, Bernard worked primarily as an educator, teaching in various schools throughout West Virginia and Virginia.

Bernard Hendrick White (1866-1947)

In 1911, Bernard and Lula May welcomed their tenth child (the seventh daughter) named Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a bright child, excelling in school and after Kanawha City High School, she proceeded to Capitol City Commercial College in Charleston, WV. She worked as a stenographer for a local wholesale dry goods company until the early 1930s.

Elizabeth White, c.1930's

One of Elizabeth’s older sisters, Evelyn, was engaged to a charming young man named Bill. He was from South Carolina, and on one of his many trips to visit his girlfriend/fiancée/future wife, he brought one of his younger brothers, Ed, along for the ride.

Ed Cromer, c. 1930

At the time, Ed had a girlfriend, and Elizabeth was engaged, but their hearts must not have been totally invested, for they soon found themselves emotionally attached to each other. (Later, Elizabeth would say of her former fiancée, “On some of our dates, I would read a book or magazine or even take a nap while my boyfriend worked a jigsaw puzzle with my sister Gail”). Soon thereafter, Ed and Elizabeth were engaged.

The happily-engaged couple.

They were married on June 22, 1936, in a ceremony performed by Elizabeth’s Uncle Charlie (Charles A. Slaughter, minister in the Southern Methodist church) in Barboursville, West Virginia.

Wedding Day: June 22, 1936.

Ed & Elizabeth, with her Uncle Charlie Slaughter relaxing in the background.

Elizabeth left her home and family to begin a new life in South Carolina. She and her husband opened a grocery store, and by the early 1940’s, their family had expanded to include both a daughter and a son.

Elizabeth, Carolyn & Steve

In the 1940’s, the United States was deeply involved in World War II, fighting a war in both the Europe and the South Pacific. It was a time of personal and national sacrifice, and in 1944, Ed left his pregnant wife, his daughter and his son to attend basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. After completion, Ed served with the Signal Corp in Europe, spending time in both England and Germany. In 1946, he returned home to Elizabeth and his youngest son (now 3 years old) that he had never seen.

Ed, 1944

Easter, 1962

The years passed, and the kids grew, and left home, and married other young adults and proceeded to give Ed & Elizabeth six grandchildren. Ed retired and closed the grocery store in 1974 and they enjoyed the golden years of their life.

Christmas, 1991

In 1993, after 57 years of marriage, Ed passed away. Fifteen years later, on August 22, 2008, Elizabeth followed him into the afterlife.

You may have figured it out by now, but Ed and Elizabeth were my maternal grandparents (we called them Papa & Nana) , and I was fortunate to be able to spend my growing-up years in the same town as both my sets of grandparents.

Nana, 2008

Nana passed away last Saturday, at the ripe old age of 97, after a long and rewarding life. Some anonymous author in ages past wrote, ““From our ancestors come our names, but from our virtues, 0ur honor.” In this case, I’d disagree. Members of our family were lucky enough to get both from this virtuous, honorable woman and she made a lasting, positive impact on many people in her 97 years on this earth.

Nana was buried next to my grandfather in Spartanburg.

Landmark of the Month (August): The National Museum of American History

Rather than highlighting one particular landmark this month, I'd like to take the opportunity to take about the re-opening of a significant DC landmark.

The National Museum of American History

After an extensive 18 month, $85 million dollar renovation, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is set to re-open on November 21. This is a significant event because A) it's a great place to visit and B) I'll be working as a volunteer Docent at the Museum! That's right...on the first and third Saturdays of every month, I'll be leading "Highlight" Tours of the NMAH. Stop by if you are in the area.

A look at what will be the main hall in the NMAH.

The Smithsonian Institution was founded by a gift to the United States by a British scientist James Smithson (1765-1829), who had never even visited the United States. In his will, Smithson stated that should his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, die without heirs, the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States for creating an "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men". After the nephew died without heirs in 1835, the gift resulted in 104,960 gold sovereigns, worth US $500,000 (roughly $9 million in today's dollars) being bequested to the US. In 1846, Congress passed an act establishing the Smithsonian Institution, a hybrid public/private partnership, and the act was signed into law by President James T. Polk.

James Smithson

The Smithsonian is a unique institution, funded by both federal funds and money from the original funding endowment. The nominal head of the Institution is the Chancellor, an office which has always been held by the Chief Justice of the United States at the time. The Smithsonian has a 17-member Board of Regents; eight of the Regents are United States officials: the Vice President (one of his few official legal duties) and the Chief Justice of the United States, three United States Senators, and three Members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Smithsonian Institute has 19 museums, 9 research centers, and one zoo (The National Zoo, here in DC).

The original Smithsonian building, known as "The Castle"

The National Museum of American History opened to the public in January 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology. It was the sixth Smithsonian building to be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. On June 28, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill authorizing $36 million for the museum. Groundbreaking took place on August 22, 1958 and the building is approximately 750,000 square feet. The building's location on the National Mall also qualifies it as a National Historic Landmark.

In 1980, the Museum's name was changed to the National Museum of American History to better represent its basic mission-the collection, care, and study of objects that reflect the experience of the American people.

The Museum has more than 3 million artifacts in their collection (only a small percentage is shown at any time). The collection is diverse and extremely broad, covering subjects in Science/Medicine, Entertainment, History, Pop Culture, Sports and Military, among others.

Here's some of the most famous and widely viewed items:

Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from the "Wizard of Oz"

A signed baseball from Babe Ruth

The hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing on the night he was shot.

One of George Washington's military uniforms.

You can visit the Museum's extensive website here:

You can see some photos and more details about the renovation here: