Sometimes something just catches your eye. It was 2004 and I was in Lubbock, Texas, touring the Buddy Holly Center. I was enjoying myself — reliving high school days and humming “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be the Day.” I stopped in front of a case in the middle of the gallery and there they were — Buddy Holly’s glasses.
It was such a personal thing and it hit me right in the heart. Since then I’ve looked for glasses worn by other famous people. My collection is small — four pictures — but each one represents a feeling of intimate connection with the owners. Holly’s glasses are particularly poignant. He was wearing them when his plane crashed into a snowy field near Clear Lake, Iowa.
Buddy apparently had terrible eyesight. He originally wore very plain glasses but his optometrist found the heavy dark frames and suggested them to the singer. They became his signature accessory — if you can call a necessity an accessory.
The plane crash that killed Holly also killed performers Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. A number of the artists’ personal belongings were found at the crash site. Missing were Holly’s glasses.
The glasses were found later that spring after the snow melted and were turned over to the local sheriff who put them in an envelope and stored them. They were re-discovered 21 years later and returned to Holly’s widow. They are now on display in the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock.
For a quick trip back to the ‘50s, you can’t beat the Buddy Holly Center. The exhibition of memorabilia itself is in a guitar-shaped space and features a documentary, records, itineraries, even some of the young singer’s homework assignments. On the property is the house that belonged to the parents of band drummer J.I. Allison. This pure piece of the ‘50s is where Allison and Holly worked on their music.
The Center also houses galleries with art exhibits and materials on other Texas musicians and a gift shop. Live music happens here every Thursday night through the end of August. The venue is not hard to find — there’s a giant pair of black-rimmed glasses outside.
Two on a Match in Prague
The next two photos in my collection came from Prague, Czech Republic. First we visited the Antonín Dvorak Museum. A pink-and-cream confection known as the Michna Summer Palace, built in 1720, is home to the museum honoring the composer. Exhibits include the Maestro’s piano, desk, scores, photos and other memorabilia. In one of the historic wooden cases — there are his glasses.
Fittingly, the Bedrich Smetana Museum is on the banks of the Moldau River (Vltava in Czech). In the center of one of the museum’s rooms is an ornate music stand. Around the room are smaller stands with labels indicating different kinds of music Smetana wrote — opera, orchestral, choral, etc. Lifting the baton from the large stand, I cued the orchestral stand and the room was filled with the flowing melody of “The Moldau.”
In a glass pyramid in an adjoining room, hung by an almost-invisible thread, were the composer’s glasses. Standing in the right spot, I could see Smetana’s beloved Vltava through the glasses and window. It was a touching and personal display.
The Hart of the Matter
Since before I even knew the artist’s name, I loved Thomas Hart Benton’s works. Every August my mother and I would catch the streetcar to downtown Kansas City to make a school-clothes-shopping pilgrimage to Harzfeld’s, one of the town’s nicest women’s stores. Above the elevator was a mural which captivated me with its energetic, fluid style. I was clueless about the subject — a Greek myth incorporated into the mid-western landscape — but it made me a life-long fan of the artist. Fortunately, I was able to see other works at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and, as I grew older, learned more about this Missouri native.
A couple of years ago, Jack and I toured the Benton home, a 1903 neo-classic, stone structure where the artist and his wife lived from 1939 until Benton’s death in 1975. His studio was in the carriage house. The furnishings in the house are original and, in keeping with Benton’s character, unpretentious. Beside a chair, on a small table, Benton’s glasses rest atop a book — La Question d’Argent by Alexandre Dumas fils. Benton read both French and Italian.
His studio is as he left it — paints, brushes, clay models which he created as studies for his pictures and record albums he listened to as he worked. He was at work in his studio when he died Jan. 19, 1975, three weeks shy of his 85th birthday. His genius survives in his works. For me, his reality survives in those glasses.
There are so many things I love about travel — seeing new places, meeting new people, learning new things. And I love those little moments of personal connection with history — it can be triggered by something as simple as a pair of glasses.