We both like food. Anne likes history. Before we headed home, it made sense to make time for a little food history.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.
We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…
After a morning of mini-donuts in Monroeville, we made our third expedition into the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. Our primary destination was the headquarters legally known as the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, which has been an institution since 1879. When they moved into their current digs in 1996, they were cosmetically rechristened the Senator John Heinz History Center. Their namesake Henry John Heinz III was a local politician whose father was heir to the vast Heinz food empire. U.S. Senator Heinz died in a tragic 1991 collision between a helicopter and a small plane carrying him and six other passengers, two of them children.
(Nearly irrelevant trivia that demonstrates the unexpected interconnectedness of any and all random things: Heinz’ widow Teresa later remarried in 1996 to an almost-President named John Kerry. They remain married today, 22 years and counting.)
With a full six stories’ worth of exhibit space (plus a seventh for administration), the Heinz History Center is touted as the largest history museum in all of Pennsylvania. From a purely content standpoint, this sounds about right. The facilities we’ve seen in Philadelphia contained hundreds of thousands of square footage, but a tremendous amount of those comprised walking space and distant, vaulted ceilings. Two of those six levels are the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, which had nothing to do with us and were an automatic skip. We skipped another half-floor that appeared to be typical General U.S. History, which is a fine subject that tends to look alike from one history museum to the next, and our visiting time was somewhat finite.
Half of the first floor was closed off to prepare for a forthcoming exhibit on Apollo 11, scheduled to open two months after our visit. I’m sorry we missed it, because perhaps it would’ve helped us appreciate Damien Chazelle’s First Man more than we did. (More about that in a future, severely procrastinated entry.)
Despite all that skipping, we had plenty of history to check out. We arrived fifteen minutes before they opened, but were cheerfully allowed to wait in the main lobby until we could run wild around the place like Martin Prince at the box factory.
Our logical starting point was the grand salute to the H. J. Heinz Company. You might recognize them from such grocery products as their famous ketchup, their steak sauce that doesn’t hold a candle to A1, their baked beans, Bagel Bites, Classico spaghetti sauce, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, Ore-Ida frozen-potato side dishes, Wyler’s knockoff Kool-Aid, and more, more, more.
Though we’ve used a few Heinz products in our times, mostly we found ourselves fascinated by the selection of Heinz foodstuffs aimed for other countries and palates. I have no idea if any of the following were rousing successes, household staples, major fads, momentary aberrations, or deadly misfires later outlawed by overseas authorities.
Full disclosure: we weren’t here for the food. In the summer of 2018 the museum held a special exhibit honoring another beloved Pittsburgh institution, way more significant than that dopey Mr. Aristocrat.
To be continued!
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