USA

Bloodletting and Trepanation: A Tour of the International Museum of Surgical Science

12 fascinating, freaky facts about early medical science.

 You can’t miss the strange statue in front of the International Museum of Surgical Science just north of the Magnificent Mile shopping district

You can’t miss the strange statue in front of the International Museum of Surgical Science just north of the Magnificent Mile shopping district

We had heard about the International Museum of Surgical Science’s spooky Halloween tours for years and had passed by the colossal figure holding a limp and seemingly lifeless body out front numerous times on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

So when something called Morbid Curiosities showed up as a suggested event in our Facebook feed, we couldn’t resist. The museum smartly offers tours year-round, though their Halloween event is legendary.

We were surprised to hear that George Washington died from bloodletting.

The reason this was prescribed? He had woken up with a sore throat.
 The tour starts in the coolest room in the museum: the hall of statues of famous physicians

The tour starts in the coolest room in the museum: the hall of statues of famous physicians

Housed in a mansion built in 1917 near the shore of Lake Michigan, just north of downtown Chicago, the museum contains three floors of macabre medical paraphernalia. For this event, a guide walked us through the displays, calling out gruesome fun facts about the various medical techniques of the past.

Here are a dozen creepy cool things we learned on our tour.

 Doctors swear to healing gods that they will obey certain ethical standards in the famous oath named for the Greek physician Hippocrates

Doctors swear to healing gods that they will obey certain ethical standards in the famous oath named for the Greek physician Hippocrates

1. Ancient doctors believed illnesses were attributable to an imbalance of the four humors.

This notion dates back to Ancient Greece and the teachings of Hippocrates. Often referred to as the Father of Medicine, his code of ethics, known as the Hippocratic Oath, is still used today. Hippocrates developed the theory of the four humors and their influence on the body and its emotions.

 This woodcut from Leonhard Thurneysser’s  Quinta Essentia  (1574) shows the four humors

This woodcut from Leonhard Thurneysser’s Quinta Essentia (1574) shows the four humors

Humor: Black bile

Organ: Spleen

Trait: Melancholic


Humor: Phlegm

Organ: Brain

Trait: Phlegmatic


Humor: Yellow bile

Organ: Gallbladder

Trait: Choleric

Humor: Blood

Organ: Heart

Trait: Sanguine

Hippocrates believed that by paying attention to the balance of these four humors, we could maintain a healthy body and mind — and an imbalance could result in disease or death.

2. One of the best-regarded doctors of the Dark Ages recommended a medical bath involving the blood of blind puppies.

In Flowers of Bartholomew, written around 1375, the monk and doctor Johannes de Mirfield wrote:

Here is a bath which has proved to be of value. Take blind puppies, gut them and cut off the feet; then boil in water, and in this water let the patient bathe himself. Let him get in the bath for four hours after he has eaten, and whilst in the bath he should keep his head covered, and his chest completely covered with the skin of a goat, so he won’t catch a sudden chill.

If you decide to try it, let us know how it works! (Kidding, obviously.)

 If you get poisoned, don’t expect the bezoar, which comes from a goat’s stomach, to be a miracle cure

If you get poisoned, don’t expect the bezoar, which comes from a goat’s stomach, to be a miracle cure

3. A stone that grows in a goat’s stomach was thought to be the ultimate antidote to any poison.

The bezoar comes from the Persian word for “counter poison.” And while the bezoar works miraculously in the world of Harry Potter, it doesn’t have quite the same power in real life. The French surgeon Ambroise Paré decided to put the bezoar’s antidotal properties to the test (with the help of an unwilling condemned criminal). The poor fellow was given sublimate of mercury, a nasty poison, to see if a bezoar would counteract it. Things didn’t work out too well. Paré wrote about the experiment in Apology and Treatise (1575):

An hour after, I found him on the ground on his hands and feet like an animal, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, his eyes wild, vomiting, with blood pouring from his ears, nose and mouth. Eventually he died in great torment, seven hours after I gave him the poison.

 Patients risked blindness (and suffered a lot of pain) during the earliest cataract surgeries in India

Patients risked blindness (and suffered a lot of pain) during the earliest cataract surgeries in India

4. Cataract surgery can be traced all the way back to the 5th century BCE in India.

I’m not sure what current cataract surgery involves, but its origins are downright disgusting. The procedure started out pleasant enough, with an oil massage and a hot bath. But that’s when things got icky. The patient was tied down because of the excruciating pain to come. A knife or needle would dislodge the cataract — you’d know when this had happened because you’d hear a pop and see a gush of water. Surgeons would seal the cut with breast milk and a salve of clarified butter. If the patient could see after, it was considered successful. Not surprisingly, this didn’t happen all that often.

 The most infamous book bound in human skin,  Burke’s Skin Pocket Book,  put a serial killer to good use

The most infamous book bound in human skin, Burke’s Skin Pocket Book, put a serial killer to good use

5. There are books — mostly medical texts — that are bound in human skin.

The practice of binding books in human skin was once fairly common and has a fancy name: anthropodermic bibliopegy. The poor suckers whose epidermises have been cured to cover books were typically prisoners and other cadavers used for dissection. It’s tough to know if that leather-bound ancient tome is from a cow or a criminal.

 How many books from the museum’s library are bound in human skin?

How many books from the museum’s library are bound in human skin?

A famous (and morbid) example is Burke’s Skin Pocket Book. William Burke and William Hare were serial killers who murdered 16 people and sold the cadavers for anatomical study and dissection.

Burke was found guilty and hanged. He received a just punishment: His corpse was dissected, and some of his skin was used to fashion a small book, now part of the collection of the Surgeon’s Hall Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland.

 An early C-section in Latin America, where they actually gave woman pain relievers, unlike Westerners at the time, who thought childbirth was supposed to hurt like hell (thanks, Eve!)

An early C-section in Latin America, where they actually gave woman pain relievers, unlike Westerners at the time, who thought childbirth was supposed to hurt like hell (thanks, Eve!)

6. People didn’t think women should have anesthesia during childbirth because of a Bible passage.

Yes, there’s a lot of crazy shit in the Bible (read the story of Lot sometime, who offered up his daughters to be gang raped and was then seduced by them). In Genesis 3:16, God punishes Eve for her part in convincing Adam to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, declaring, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.”

 Sorry, moms-to-be! Childbirth is gonna hurt — though a lot less than in the past

Sorry, moms-to-be! Childbirth is gonna hurt — though a lot less than in the past

In South America, at least, when a woman was to give birth, they’d use a sea sponge drenched in wine and mandrake root as anesthesia. It had one mild side effect, though: The woman would hallucinate and trip her balls off.

 The first surgery ever was to create literal holes in the head, during a practice known as trepanning or trepanation

The first surgery ever was to create literal holes in the head, during a practice known as trepanning or trepanation

7. The first surgery involved poking holes into the skull.

This fun practice, known as trepanation, seems as necessary as a hole in the head — pun intended. It was performed by Incan priests to let out evil spirits. They’d chew coca (the same plant from which cocaine is derived) and spit it into the open wound. What’s most shocking is that more than half of the victims, er, patients survived.

 A portrait of Vesalius from  De Humani Corporis Fabrica  (1543)

A portrait of Vesalius from De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543)

8. Andreas Vesalius, the father of modern anatomy, took to grave robbing for corpses to dissect.

Vesalius, who lived during the 1500s, used the bodies of convicted criminals to create his seminal works on human anatomy. But when that wasn’t enough, he started digging up bodies in graveyards. To be fair, many cemeteries were a mess at the time. Dogs would often be found gnawing away at the bodies piled up in mass graves, and Vesalius would have to fight them off for his prize.

 Who’d’ve thunk a sore throat would lead to the death of the United States’ first president?!

Who’d’ve thunk a sore throat would lead to the death of the United States’ first president?!

9. Bloodletting was a popular practice — and led to the death of none other than George Washington!

For 3,000 years, surgeons have thought that blood gets old and stagnates, and that the best way to refresh it was to open a vein and start to drain. We were familiar with the practice of bloodletting but were surprised to hear that the first U.S. president died from complications of a bloodletting procedure in 1799, in which nearly 40% of his blood was drained. The reason this was prescribed? He had woken up with a sore throat.

10. Blood transfusions didn’t work so well in the past.

This surgical procedure had a high rate of mortality before blood groups were discovered by Karl Landsteiner in 1901. In fact, sometimes animal blood was used in transfusions because it was thought to be cleaner (in part because they don’t drink booze).

 Dr. Liston, the Fastest Knife in the West End, was a master of amputation (though he had quite a few misfires as well)

Dr. Liston, the Fastest Knife in the West End, was a master of amputation (though he had quite a few misfires as well)

11. Amputation used to be the most common surgery because of infection.

There was even an amputation superhero: Robert Liston, who earned the nickname the Fastest Knife in the West End in the earlyish 1800s. The London surgeon proudly wore his bloody apron and could hack off a limb in 90 seconds flat. Fast was good, what with the lack of anesthesia.

 Nice gams! Check out these early artificial limbs from the museum’s collection

Nice gams! Check out these early artificial limbs from the museum’s collection

Of course, the downside was that Liston had a high mortality rate. In fact, one of his surgeries killed three people: the patient, an assistant whose fingers were accidentally cut off and later became infected, and an elderly doctor watching the procedure whose coat was sliced in the excitement and died of a heart attack.

12. Maggots are still used to clean out wounds.

These disgusting little creepy-crawlies are actually really good at finding necrotic tissue and dissolving it. On top of that, they have antibacterial saliva. Maybe you should make out with a maggot next time you’re feeling sick? –Wally

 If you’d like to learn the creepy origins of medicine, book a tour of the Chicago Surgical Museum

If you’d like to learn the creepy origins of medicine, book a tour of the Chicago Surgical Museum

International Museum of Surgical Science
1524 N. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60610
USA


More Strange Stuff

The Sea Pines Shell Ring Mystery

Hidden in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve on Hilton Head is a 3,500-year-old Native American archaeological treasure.

 An archeological team excavates the Sea Pines Shell Ring to better understand what it was used for thousands of years ago

An archeological team excavates the Sea Pines Shell Ring to better understand what it was used for thousands of years ago

Whenever we visit my parents on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, we like to explore the forest preserve. As we wander the trails, we cross boardwalks over pitch-black bogs covered in neon green flora. We’ll see a line of horseback riders plodding along on an excursion from nearby Lawton Stables. Families throw lines in the water in the hopes of catching a fish for dinner.

And if we head between Lake Joe and Lake Thomas, we’ll come upon the Indian Shell Ring, as we did one day a couple of years ago. It’s usually a quiet spot under the cover of trees — but on this day, we stumbled upon the midst of an archeological dig.

Our best guess is that the ring was a place where people lived year-round and would occasionally hold large-scale gatherings in which they feasted on shellfish and other foods.
— Matthew Sanger, Binghamton University, New York

The man in charge of the excavation is Matthew Sanger, assistant anthropology professor and co-director of the public archaeology program at Binghamton University in New York. He came right over and told us all about the mysterious shell ring. He obviously has a passion for the project.

 Matthew Sanger, a professor at Binghamton University in New York, leads the project

Matthew Sanger, a professor at Binghamton University in New York, leads the project

What first drew you to the Sea Pines Shell Ring?

I have worked at other shell rings located in Georgia and had heard about the one at Sea Pines. There are at least 50 known shell rings spread across the coast between South Carolina and through the Gulf Coast to Mississippi.

The Sea Pines Shell Ring is well known for being one of the most accessible (others are often on uninhabited islands or well off the beaten path) and being one of the best preserved (many others are under parking lots, have been disturbed or destroyed by rising sea levels, etc.).

 A team of students gets hands-on experience unearthing artifacts at the Sea Pines Shell Ring

A team of students gets hands-on experience unearthing artifacts at the Sea Pines Shell Ring

Tell us a bit about how the project works.

I bring a crew of students to Hilton Head every summer as well as occasionally during our other breaks (Winter and Spring Breaks are the most common). The crew works with me over a month or so as we excavate the site in search of clues to how the ring formed, who lived there, etc.

 

Where will the artifacts end up?

We bring all of the artifacts back to Binghamton with us at the end of the summer. We then spend the rest of the year processing and analyzing the artifacts. We will hold onto the artifacts for the next few years, but plan on ultimately transferring them to a local institution in South Carolina.

 

What’s the timeline?

We are currently planning on continuing to do excavations at the Sea Pines Shell Ring for the next two to four years, depending on funding and what we find.

 

Hurricanes Matthew and Irma caused Hilton Head Island to be evacuated in recent years. How did the hurricanes affect the project?

We were very lucky that the ring survived both hurricanes unscathed. We had some downed trees, but really almost no damage at all.

 Archeologists attempt to solve the mystery of the shell ring and the house that might have once been situated inside it

Archeologists attempt to solve the mystery of the shell ring and the house that might have once been situated inside it

What’s your best guess about what the ring was used for?

So far, our best guess is that the ring was a place where people lived year-round and would occasionally hold large-scale gatherings in which they feasted on shellfish and other foods.

The Sea Pines Shell Ring is one of the smallest shell rings, so it may have been a year-round home to a small group of families — perhaps only four to six households.

But on occasion, the ring might have hosted events that brought together dozens, perhaps more than 100 people.

 

What type of people lived in this area at the time of the shell ring?

Roughly 3,500 years ago, when the Sea Pines Shell Ring was forming, the South Carolina coast was inhabited by Native Americans. It is impossible to characterize these Native Americans as belonging to a particular modern tribe, but their progeny likely includes members of a wide number of tribal groups, including the Yemessee, Escamacu, Edisto, Coosa, Pee Dee and Sewee, to name a few.

 

What was the biggest surprise you found on the dig?

Last summer we came across what looks to be the remains of a house inside of the ring. The evidence is very ephemeral — which is not surprising, considering that the house has been gone for more than 3,000 years. But we came across some stains in the soil that look like where a few walls might have been located as well as an area that looks like it could have been a floor. We are returning to further excavate this area this coming summer to see if this is indeed an ancient home.


Note: For the past couple of years, the Sea Pines Shell Ring has been off limits due to hurricane cleanup in the forest preserve. –Wally


Heading to Hilton Head?

Gambling Advice

Before you hit the casinos in Vegas, these gambling tips could improve your odds. We’d be willing to bet on it.

No matter what your game, we’ve got some tips to help you get started gambling — and they just might help you hit the jackpot

When in Rome…you drink wine and visit ancient ruins.

When in Vegas…you might as well try your hand at gambling. Brandon knows his way around a casino. It’s not all about luck. Here’s his advice.

If you want to win a jackpot, you’ll have to play max bet. And the higher the pull, the better the payout — but the more potential to lose your money quickly.


Brandon cruises the Strip like a badass — but he’s a high roller in the casinos

Start early.

Brandon has a routine that begins early every morning (10 a.m.is early in Vegas) with a trip to the sports bet. Because of the time zone difference, the games are played earlier in Vegas. So he gets his free Jack & Coke, sits at the sports book and places a few bets. He checks back after lunch to collect his winnings, which he’ll then use toward his gambling efforts in the evenings…

 

Remember: high risk, high reward.

For slots, you’ll want to bet between $2-$3 a pull so you don’t lose your money quickly, while still having the potential to win a decent pot.

If you want to win a jackpot, you’ll have to play max bet. And the higher the pull, the better the payout — but the more potential to lose your money quickly.

 

Don't go during prime time.

As for tables, they can be intimidating if you’re not usually a table player. Brandon recommends getting to the tables at an off-hour. That’s basically any time during the day, especially on weekdays. Sunday nights are good, too. Because the tables aren’t busy, the dealers are typically super nice and will show you how to play.

Brandon’s love affair with craps started one Sunday night at a table at the Wynn…

 

Booze it up.

And whenever you’re gambling, remember the drinks are free. While you don’t have to tip, if you leave your server a nice tip, she’ll usually be sure to find you and bring you drinks with better liquor.

 

Good luck — and if you still lose big, please don’t blame us. –Wally

The Gullah History of Hilton Head Island

A Civil War battle in Port Royal, South Carolina, the first ex-slaves to be paid wages and a Reconstruction village all play a part in this African-American community’s heritage.

The Gullahs of Hilton Head Island were descended from African slaves and are a key part of the history of the Civil War and Restoration

We liked him right from the get-go. He had a great sense of humor and has been a part of the Gullah community his whole life.

“My name’s Irvin Campbell — but you can call me Irv,” he said.

The blacks on Hilton Head Island were the very first former slaves to earn wages and actually get paid for their labor.

My mom had suggested we take the Gullah Heritage Tour, a two-hour bus ride around Hilton Head Island, South Carolina that highlights a vibrant African-American community.

“The Gullah people are the descendants of the slaves who worked on the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia,” said historian Joseph Opala. “They still live in rural communities in the coastal region and on the Sea Islands of those two states, and they still retain many elements of African language and culture.”

The Gullah Heritage Corridor stretches from St. Augustine, Florida up to Wilmington, North Carolina, and Hilton Head Island played a key role in the community.

Not so long ago, Gullahs owned much of the land on the 26,880-acre isle. Today, they own less than 1,000, Irv informed us.

 

The name Gullah comes from a corruption of their original African tribe.

These descendents of West African slaves take their name from the Gola or Gula tribe from Liberia and Sierra Leone. They settled on the 100 Sea Islands in the Hilton Head area. After the Civil War, more than 1,200 freed slaves remained.

 

Gullahs are also called Geechees.

The word is synonymous with Gullah. It means “living by the water,” according to Irv.

Gullah tends to be used more often to describe those living in South Carolina, and Geechee for those in Georgia.

 

Union troops quickly took over Hilton Head Island from the Confederacy during the Battle of Port Royal

The heart of the Battle of Port Royal only took about five hours.

During the American Civil War, Union troops wanted to stop trade in the Confederacy, which led to an attack at Port Royal Sound, off of Hilton Head Island.

It didn’t take Union troops long to gain control of the island, according to Irv. “They didn’t have any opposition,” he said.

 

The Port Royal Experiment involved paying freed slaves for the first time — right near the start of the Civil War.

When the Union Army occupied South Carolina’s Sea Islands, including Hilton Head, on November 7, 1861, it freed about 10,000 slaves. Keep in mind that this was all near the beginning of the Civil War.

The Confederate Army and the white plantation owners hightailed it out of there, and the Union Army found itself in possession of a region famous for growing cotton.

It decided upon the novel idea of an “experiment”: Try paying wages to these contrabands (the awful word used to describe slaves freed by Union forces as well as for those who had escaped). The blacks on Hilton Head Island were the very first former slaves to earn wages and actually get paid for their labor.

Missionaries, teachers, doctors and ministers came from New York and Pennsylvania to educate and help shape the African-American community.

 

The Gullah community used to look after its own.

In the Gullah communities that developed on Hilton Head, everything was shared, and everyone knew each other.

“We’d catch enough fish to feed those families who didn’t have a boat. We took care of each other,” Irv told us.

That's not the case any longer, he added.

 

Hilton Head Island really changed when the bridge to the mainland was built. (And changed again with the Cross Island Parkway.)

After the Civil War ended, Union soldiers auctioned off the island, according to Irv. Northern businessmen, called carpetbaggers for the soft-sided bags they traveled with, bought the entire island and sold it off. Many Gullah families purchased acreages, and for nearly a century, they farmed their land.

But once the bridge that connected the island to mainland was built in 1956, there was an influx of people to the island.

“That’s when families started locking their doors” (which comes out sounding like doe), Irv told us.

There used to be just one paved thoroughfare on the entire island. “We called it the Tar Road,” Irv said.

Later, in 1989, the Cross Island Parkway was constructed, making Hilton Head even more accessible to the vacationers (many from Ohio, as it’s about the max you’d be able to drive in a day) that now flock here every summer.

 

A Mitchelville family poses with a Union soldier

The Reconstruction after the Civil War began on Hilton Head Island at Mitchelville.

In what is now called Fish Haul Creek Park on the “heel” of the island, the community of Mitchelville was created. The government provided freedmen a quarter of an acre of land and the materials to build a 22-by-18-foot house. I couldn’t get over how small that really is. I had a hard time imagining even one person having room to lie down to sleep in a space of that size — especially if there was a stove or table or any other piece of furniture, never mind if an extended family lived together.

The government gave former slaves the material to build small houses and a plot of land to farm on in Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island. It was the first freedman’s community after the American Civil War

Mitchelville lasted from 1862 to 1877, when it finally dissolved.

“Many people realized they could move anywhere else,” Irv said.

Irv’s involved in a project to restore Mitchelville.

 

Harriet Tubman, famous for her involvement with the Underground Railroad, had to see what the Mitchelville hype was all about

Mitchelville’s most famous visitor was none other than Harriet Tubman.

“These industrious new citizens built homes on neatly arranged streets, elected their own officials, developed laws, built an economy and implemented mandatory education for their children,” Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park reports. “In fact, the reports of the success of Mitchelville were so glowing, that the famous Underground Railroad freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, was sent to Hilton Head to see this bustling town, so she could share the story of Mitchelville’s self-governed success with future freedmen towns.”

 

The most successful local Gullah family would sail off to trade goods.

One plantation was named Spanish Wells for the freshwater wells dug by the first European invaders.

In the 1920s to the ’50s, Gullahs would trade fruit, veggies and wild game on the Simmons family’s property in Spanish Wells. Whatever was left was given to Simmons, who would sail off to Savannah, Georgia once a week to sell the goods. It was a 45-hour journey — and sometimes the winds weren’t favorable, so they couldn’t make it Savannah, and the perishable goods would be lost.

 

Indigo Run Plantation was where the healers lived.

The neighborhood once known as Gardner was home to the Aiken family, the “medicine makers,” according to Irv.

There weren’t proper doctors on Hilton Head, and this father and son handled medical cases — at least the ones the midwives didn’t attend to.

“But Mr. William Aiken took his recipes with him when he died,” Irv said.

 

One of the main crops was rice, which led to fatal diseases — among the white folk, at least.

Rice cultivation needed freshwater ponds, but these bred hordes of mosquitoes, which in turn carried malaria and yellow fever.

Thing is, only the whites were affected; because South Carolina has a similar semitropical environment to Africa, and the Gullahs had sickle cell immunity, slaves didn’t get sick, Irv told us.

 

Many early structures were constructed of an unusual material.

Irv drove us past the ruins of part of a plantation owner’s home — that of William Pope, known as “Squire” because he had so many properties.

The structure looks like an art project, as if there are shells stuck all over it. And indeed, there are: Buildings of this era were made of tabby, which consists of lime, sand and oyster shells.

Squire Pope is the largest Gullah neighborhood on the island. Its original inhabitants were known for fishing and shrimping.

 

Gullah cemeteries are placed by the water.

We passed a small cemetery, which Irv points out is atypical, as it’s situated inland.

"You see, Gullahs bury their dead along the edge of a waterway because they believe that's the only way we can get back to their homeland,” Irv told us. “It’s so spirits can take the waters back to West Africa.”

 

Most homes and schoolhouses were built on stilts.

You’ll see stacks of bricks propping up the buildings. This was because people kept chopped wood underneath so they’d always have some dry wood to cook with and keep them warm.

 

Beach pavilions were once quite a scene.

In the Chaplin neighborhood, Irv told us about beach pavilions. Back in the day, the pavilions would have changing rooms, showers and a dance floor, all under one roof.

We stopped at Driessen Beach Park and headed down the boardwalk to take photos by the water.

“They used to bring in Motown singers, from 1957 to ’70,” Irv reminisced. “We’d drive right on the beach. In 1965, Ike and Tina Turner were here. I remember that one well. I was 18 years old.”

 

Hilton Head natives like their privacy.

When I first came to the island as a kid, I learned that McDonald’s had to build a brick restaurant to fit in with the Hilton Head aesthetic, and that they weren’t allowed to put up their trademark golden arches. I thought that was the coolest thing — a town telling a huge company like Mickey D’s to follow their rules or shove it.

Strict rules remain when it comes to construction projects.

“People come to the island and complain they can’t find anything!” Irv said. “On Hilton Head, we believe in setbacks and buffers. It's the law on Hilton Head that nothing can be built to the curb. And there are strict tree laws. Gotta be setbacks and buffers.”

 

The Stoney plantation was once the main drag.

“This used to be our downtown,” Irv said.

There were four Gullah general stores that sold gas, along with a vast assortment of other goods.

“You could get anything at these stores, from penny candy to a piece of equipment for your horse harness,” he told us.

Then Irv regaled us with a tale from his childhood.

“You could buy all-day jawbreakers there. You’re too young to remember Sugar Daddy [caramel pops]. You could suck that for two days! We’d save the wrapper, suck on it all day, then put it on our windowsill. Next day, what would it be covered with? Ants! We’d take that candy to the water pump, wash off those ants and start sucking on it again!”

Tip: We found a $2 off coupon in one of the free publications, Island Events. Tickets cost $32 for adults; $15 for kids 12 and under.

If you’re spending some time on Hilton Head, there’s much more to do than play golf and go to the beach. Consider hopping on the bus for an insightful tour of the island’s fascinating Gullah heritage. –Wally

8 Things to Do in Vegas Besides Gamble and Party

Visit the Las Vegas sign, the neon Boneyard, Old Las Vegas and other places on and off the Strip — no blackjack skills required.

Vegas is for lovers. Why not get married here — or renew your vows like Herminia and Brandon did?

Sure, Las Vegas, Nevada is known for its debauchery, its “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” bacchanals, its windowless casinos filled with gamblers hoping to win big.

But there are lots of other things you can do on a Las Vegas vacation if you’re not into gambling or partying. Here are our eight favorites:

You can’t have a trip to Vegas without the requisite picture in front of the sign.

Herminia and Brandon renewed their vows for their five-year anniversary at the old Vegas sign, with Elvis presiding over the ceremony

1. Head to the Las Vegas sign.
You can’t have a trip to Vegas without the requisite picture in front of the sign. We actually hired an Elvis impersonator and renewed our vows for our five-year anniversary here.

See the old signs of Vegas past at the Boneyard. The best time to go is at dusk to see some of the signs lit up

2. Visit the Boneyard.
Ever wonder what happens to all the cool neon signs when they tear down or implode an old hotel? This Las Vegas group collects the old neon signs, preserves and restores them. The best time to go is at dusk, when some of the restored signs are turned on.

The Golden Nugget was once a Vegas hotspot, as this photo from 1952 attests

3. Check out Old Las Vegas.
So many people visit Las Vegas and only stay on the Strip. While we enjoy the Strip more, it’s cool to see the old-school casinos like Golden Nugget and Binion’s.

Just walking the Strip is a lot of fun. Be sure to see Fiori di Como, a floral glass sculpture on the ceiling of the Bellagio’s lobby by the famous artist Dale Chihuly

4. Walk the Strip.
You’ll need comfortable shoes for this, as the casinos seem a lot closer than they actually are. But it’s fun to walk the Strip and tour all the casinos. Each has its own schtick, and there’s usually a cool art installation or permanent exhibit to check out.

5. Pamper yourself at a spa.
There are so many great spas, especially at the nicer hotels. What better way to kick off a Vegas weekend (or recover from one)?

6. Golf.
If you enjoy golfing, the Wynn has a great 18-hole course.

The Grand Canyon is less than an hour from Vegas — if you take a helicopter!

7. Visit the Grand Canyon.
While the West Rim is a four-hour drive, you can take a helicopter tour and be there in under an hour.

8. Window shop.
So many designer shops — all within minutes of your hotel. And they keep late hours, since you never know when you’ll win a jackpot. –Hermina and Brandon

7 Vegas Restaurants for Foodies

Where to eat when you’re on a Vegas trip — from world-class restaurants to fast food.

 

Some of the best-known restaurateurs open locations in Vegas — and why not? From bachelor and bachelorette parties to conferences, plenty of people make their way to this glittering oasis. They’ve got to eat, too, right?

Herminia and Brandon are old pros at Vegas (despite their young age). Here are their seven favorite spots to grab a bite in one of their best-loved cities, from fancy-schmancy to fast food.

“We have a nice crop of restaurants we rotate between, but we always try to go to at least one new restaurant each trip,” Herminia told me. “But here are a list of our faves and why.”

Great sushi and more in a lush garden setting at Mizumi, located at the Wynn hotel in Vegas

1. Mizumi at Wynn

It’s a gorgeous Japanese restaurant offering a few different cuisine options and a beautiful view of the Wynn’s lake. The black truffle teriyaki steak is one of our faves.

 

Mediterranean cuisine from the famous chef Todd English + the best views of the Bellagio fountain show make Olives a hot spot on the Strip

2. Todd English’s Olives at Bellagio

Come here for lunch and request a table on the terrace. You’ll get the best view of the fountain show, every 30 minutes.

 

Famed French Laundry chef Thomas Keller serves up Parisian-styled sweets and baked goods at Bouchon in the Venetian hotel

3. Bouchon at the Venetian

Our favorite brunch place on the Strip. The hot dishes are amazing, and the baked goods are so scrumptious. Brandon’s favorite dish is the corned beef hash, while I love the chicken and waffles.

 

Vintage Hollywood glam at the Barrymore — check out the movie reel-lined ceiling!

4. The Barrymore

This one is a little off the Strip but really close to the Wynn. It’s a great American-style restaurant with an old Hollywood vibe.

 

Holsteins Shakes and Buns dishes up gourmet burgers and boozy milkshakes

5. Holsteins at the Cosmopolitan

Delicious burgers and boozy milkshakes. Need we say more?

 

In-N-Out Burger is famous for its secret menu — here are some burgers and fries “animal style”

6. In-N-Out Burger

Off the Strip, but so good. There’s one near the airport, so that’s usually our first meal after we pick up the rental car.

 

Jean Phillipe Patiisserie has two Vegas locations — the Bellagio and Aria — and claims to have the world’s largest chocolate fountain

7. Jean Philippe Patisserie at Bellagio and Aria

Such a great little bakery. The very best crême brulée and other desserts are perfect for the sweet tooth. They also have great savory sandwiches for a quick bite to eat after a tiresome craps game.

 

Don’t gamble when it comes time to eat in Vegas — take the experts’ advice. –Wally

 

MORE ON VEGAS! The Ultimate Las Vegas Vacation: The Best Hotels, Shows and Nightclubs

The Ultimate Las Vegas Vacation: The Best Hotels, Shows and Nightclubs

Las Vegas is known as Sin City, but there’s a variety of vacations you can have here. This shot was taken from a room at the Cosmopolitan — the only hotel on the Strip with balconies

Vegas, baby! Before you plan Las Vegas travel, learn the hottest spots in Sin City — and how to score the best deals.

 

The epitome of glamor. That’s the best way to describe Herminia and Brandon. They have a timeless chicness you can’t help but admire.

Many people think of Vegas as Sin City, a destination for debauchery. And while it certainly has its seedier side, turns out there’s much more to it than over-the-top spectacles, legalized prostitution and an obsession with gambling.

Vegas is also a place where you can have a relaxing getaway, go on a foodie adventure, enjoy art installations or even explore the outdoors.

I decided to get to the bottom of Herminia and Brandon’s fascination with Las Vegas. I honestly don’t know if there’s anyone who knows the city as well as they do. Here are their secrets to getting the best Vegas has to offer. –Wally

Herminia and Brandon, the chicest couple on the Strip

 

How often do you make it to Vegas?

We go to Vegas at least once a year, but some years we’ve gone as much as three times. But if Brandon had his way, we’d go every three months… He doesn’t get his way often.


What draws you there time and time again?

Bright lights city, gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire. –“Viva, Las Vegas,” Elvis

What we love most about Vegas is that you can tailor your trip to however you’d like. Most people see it as a party destination, which it most definitely is. But it’s also a place where you can have a relaxing getaway, go on a foodie adventure, enjoy art installations or even explore the outdoors (Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon are not far drives). There’s something to do for everyone, with activities to match the theme of your trip and your budget.

We’ve been for a bachelor party (Brandon), a wedding, Halloween, a 30th birthday celebration — those were all very much party trips and a ton of fun, but our favorite trips have been just the two of us. We like to stay at nice hotels, eat fabulous dinners, lay out by the pool, gamble, shop (providing the aforementioned was successful) and of course people-watch. (The people-watching in Vegas is like no other. Because there are so many adventures to be had in the city, there are so many different types of people.)

We have a rhythm when we go, and we’ve been so often that’s it’s not a surprise. We know what to expect, and every trip, the bright lights welcome us back right when we land. Oh, and Elvis. We love Elvis.

What are your fave hotels?

Our absolute favorite hotels are the Wynn and Encore. They’re connected to each other, but the Wynn has a more traditional feel while the Encore is more modern. Both are beautifully appointed five-star hotels, with an amazing crop of restaurants. The pools and spa are top-notch as well. It typically has a slightly older crowd, which means it’s a little more chill (except when XS nightclub empties in the wee hours of Sunday morning).

We also like to stay at the Cosmopolitan. Definitely a younger, more partying vibe, but the hotel rooms are well appointed. And, if you’re Brandon, you can talk your way into a suite with a balcony overlooking the Bellagio fountain show. Fun fact: The Cosmo is the only hotel on the Strip with balconies, since the property was initially built as condominiums.
 

What are the hottest nightclubs and pool parties?

We’re not big clubbers…anymore. But every now and again we can be swayed with a free cover. XS at Encore is beautiful, as it spills out onto the hotel’s pool area. We went for Halloween once and saw DeadMau5 spin.

Hakkasan I think is the latest hotspot on the Strip, and Marquee is an oldie but a goodie as well.

Tip: All you need is to post a photo with #vegas, and all of these promoters will try to get you into any club you want for a better deal — especially if you’re a group of girls.

I personally think pool parties are giant cesspools, so we do not go. But all of the big clubs typically have a dayclub version. Just watch out for heatstroke and gonorrhea.

At the Cosmopolitan, you can have drinks inside a massive chandelier

The Chandelier bar, while not a club, is a great place to get a few drinks. It’s a three-level bar set inside (yes, inside) of a giant chandelier at the Cosmo. At level 1.5, they have a few secret drinks that are fun to order.

Also, you get free drinks at every casino, just for gambling.

What are the best shows?

Our very first trip to Vegas, we went and saw a topless revue because…well, when in Vegas. I don’t think that specific show is on anymore, but it was kind of a fun, kitschy thing to do in Vegas.

The Cirque du Soleil shows are great (there's a Michael Jackson one we’ve been trying to go see), but more and more artists are doing residencies there. So it’s awesome to see who’s on when we’re there. We’ve seen Britney and she’s great, but can’t wait for Backstreet Boys next year (**Herminia currently shrieking with delight**).

Any tricks to score great deals?

We get the best deals from Brandon’s players cards (casino loyalty cards). You can get one at each casino, and you present it when you gamble at the tables or put it in the machines if you’re doing slots. They track your wins and losses and will always invite you back with some great hotel deal. The more you gamble, the better the deals. All the MGM hotels are connected on the same card, and will even offer you credits for any shopping or dining you do on the property as well.

Traveling during the off-season is also great. We usually go at the end of January for Brandon’s birthday. Hotels and flights are typically cheaper. And while the pools aren’t open, everything else is — and not quite as busy. Plus, the weather is always better than Chicago.

 

If there was one thing about Vegas you could change, what would it be?

Never change, Vegas.

Tip: All you need is to post a photo with #vegas, and all of these promoters will try to get you into any club you want for a better deal.