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Archive for the ‘National Historic Site’ Category

I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they asked a very legitimate question, “where are you?”

liberty bell

liberty bell

Michael and I have been residing in Harrisburg, PA since we ended our trip in December 2005, just a few months ahead of schedule. Bags were unpacked, the ‘Tima got a car wash, items were pulled out of storage and a new home was found (a few blocks away from the old one).

Since then, one of us went back to work, one of us found a new job, we both wrote for a few other places, and in between we’ve gone back to some of our favorite park sites to give them a second look, like Independence Hall National Historical Park, the Liberty Bell and our beloved Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial.

New sites were given National Park site designations since we created our original list, like the Carter G. Woodson House National Historic Site in Washington D.C. This was one of our final stops, but our visit was still a little premature. The African Burial Grounds National Memorial in New York is another newbie we have to add to our “still to see” list.

Did we reach our goal of Every. Single. NPS site in the Continental United States?

Almost.

Did we reach our goal of rediscovering America and answering the question, “what, exactly, does it mean to be American?”

We’re not sure if America ever becomes a static answer, or if the discovery ever ends. We found a lot of different answers, and had the time of our lives trying.

And it ain’t over yet.

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Can You Find the Secret Service?Why rise at 5 a.m. to drive across Georgia from Macon to Plains, population 700? Among Plains’ residents are Rossalyn and Jimmy Carter, and the former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner was teaching Sunday school that morning.

We were thrilled and excited, but we had doubts. Would we be welcome in this small town? The Maranatha Baptist Church is tiny, with room for only 300. Would there be room? It is not our denomination. Is it ok if we attend?

We arrived at the Church at 8 am. The Greeter smiled, laughed and erased our worries, The Secret Servicemen took our picture to ensure that our camera really was a camera and then urged us in, “you never know when the buses will show up.” We were fine.

Once seated inside, the pews filled around us, save the few cordoned off for active members. Before we knew it, a quiet man had slipped through a side door. Jimmy Carter was standing just six pews away.

He asked where we were all from. California, Uganda, Poland, Germany, Florida. People from dozens of countries and states had made the same pilgrimage. Gab eagerly yelled out Pennsylvania. Jimmy’s response, his warm wide smile of acknowledgment, made us all feel loved.

President CarterHis lesson’s topic was Joseph’s part in the Christmas story, but his lesson invoked elections in Mozambique, vacationing with his grandchildren and a profound biblical knowledge. We felt blessed and thankful for the teachings of such a pious, humble and great man.

Jimmy left saying, almost apologetically, that in two weeks he would be unable to teach in Plains. He was going to Palestine to oversee an election. He reminded us of what Anwar Sadat told him at Camp David that “regardless of religion, we are all sons of Abraham.” We must learn to live together.

Click Here to Read More about Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.

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Hand in HandHappy Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Day. Wait a sec, I don’t have off work until Monday. What gives? Well, today is his official born on date, January 15, 1929. He would have been 79. What should you do to celebrate, either today or Monday?

Today has already happened so there’s little wiggle room there. But on Monday you could go to his National Historic Site in Atlanta! It’s encompasses terrific museum, Dr. King’s birth home, and the the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

We really enjoyed our time there amidst the healthy crowds and exciting energy. It was wonderful to see so many people of all colors, age and nationality remembering and learning about the incredible life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. together. So even if you can’t travel to Atlanta, remember Dr. King’s message of togetherness, hope, and promise for a more peaceful future.

Click Here to Read More about Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

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Pick Me a Winner

Last Week we delved into the National Parks of Harry Potter, imagining the little magician as written by Park-honored American writers. This week we’re looking at another cultural phenomenon and another hit summer film: The Simpsons Movie. But which National Park Sites will we choose? Parks that honor Simpsons? Er, couldn’t come up with any? Does Ulysses S. Grant count? Parks in Homer, Alaska? Haven’t been there yet. No, this week we’re traveling to Park Sites located in our heroes’ home: Springfield. First up: Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

Springfield, Illinois is America’s only Springfield capitol. It’s also home to America’s most famous historical figure, Abraham Lincoln. We have a fleeting memory of the Railsplitter appearing in a few Simpsons episodes. Confirmations, anyone?

We enjoyed our time in Honest Abe’s hometown. The Park Site consists of a few blocks and houses sequestered from automobile traffic and successfully suspended in time circa mid-19th Century. We sauntered down the shaded lanes, entered a few Lincoln museum buildings and imagined the life of a young frontier lawyer. He couldn’t possibly have known what the future had in store.

Downtown Springfield, Illinois offers even more Lincoln attractions. You can visit the Old State Capitol where Abe worked as a state representative, plead cases as an up-and-coming attorney, and gave campaign speeches, including the “House Divided” speech, which vaulted him into the national spotlight. The newly opened Lincoln Presidential Library is located just a few blocks from the Old State Capitol. Visitors have flocked by the millions to see this ornate look into Great Emancipator. We’re planning a trip back.

Click Here to Read More

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Goats!In recognition of the 8.3 million Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows books sold last weekend, this week we are looking at National Park Sites that honor authors. Earlier this week we imagined the new Harry Potter book as written by Eugene O’Neill and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Today we turn our attention to America’s greatest poet Carl Sandburg.

We don’t have to imagine how Carl Sandburg would have stylized The Deathly Hollows. Why? Because Sandburg would have had no interest in lionizing an upper middle class precocious British hothead. Sandburg wrote only about the common American. He might have imagined a half-blood elitist wizard to be an inappropriate hero, especially to impressionable adolescents.

We also don’t have to imagine Sandburg’s take on Harry Potter because he authored an equivalent book, The Rootabaga Stories, which, similar to the Deathly Hollows, can be downloaded page for page on the Internet. These tales attempt to create wholly American fairy tales and originated from bedtime stories Sandburg told to his daughters.

Unfortunately, The Rootabaga Stories don’t compel the reader like the Harry Potter opuses and won’t be beelining to the cinema screen.

Click Here to Read More about Carl Sandburg NHS.

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Godric Hollow?In recognition of the 8.3 million Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows books sold last weekend, this week we are looking at National Park Sites that honor authors. On Monday we imagined the new Harry Potter book as written by America’s only Nobel Prize for Literature winning playwright: Eugene O’Neill. Today we see Harry through the quintessential American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

How would Longfellow’s Deathly Hollows be like? It would have: a) taken epic poem form; b) been unbearably long; c) reeked of sentimentality; d) fostered a new mythology; e) been loved by children and adults en masse; f) followed easy themes; g) been queasily patriotic and uneasily offensive in parts; h) sold outrageously well; i) been roundly dismissed and panned by critics; and j) been endlessly parodied. Hey, wait a sec. I think we might have found a copy.

The Dark Lord?From the magic of Godric’s Hollow
Through the hallowed halls of Hogwarts,
Stands Harry, the troubled adolescent,
Pointing with his finger westward,
O’er the Azkaban pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.

Fiercely the red sun descending,
Burned his way along the heavens,
‘Tis beloved Dumbledore aloft,
setting the sky on fire behind him,
Death Eaters, when retreating,
Burn the moors on their war-trail;
With Ron and Hermione at his side,
Stalwart and ready for the fight,
They shall follow fast those bloody footprints,
Follow in that fiery war-trail,
With its glare upon his features.

And Harry, the troubled adolescent,
Pointing with his finger westward,
Spake these words to Ron and Herme:Harry was Here
“Yonder dwells the great Dark Lord,
Voldemorte, the Magician,
armed with the mysterious Horcrux,
Guarded by his fiery Muggles,
Guarded by the black pitch-water.
We must find the remained Horcrux,
We must slay Dark Voldemorte,
We must restore the peace,
O’er the Azkaban standing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset!

“He it was who slew my father,
By his wicked wiles and cunning,
When he from the moon descended,
When he came on earth to seek me.
He, the mightiest of Magicians,
Sends the fever from the marshes,
Sends the pestilential vapors,
Sends the poisonous exhalations,
Sends the white fog from the fen-lands,
Sends disease and death among us!

Perhaps we got a little carried away with the excerpt. Hopefully, Bloomsbury won’t sue. Nevertheless, one of those four paragraphs is an EXACT duplicate of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha. Should the Longfellow family be searching for some Rowling’s royalties or should the next epic J.K. series revolve around daring Ojibwas? Hard to say.

Click Here to Read More

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Aaaaaaah!In recognition of the 8.3 million Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows books sold last weekend, this week at we are looking at National Park Sites that honor authors. First up is the only American playwright to win the Nobel Prize for Literature: Eugene O’Neill.

Harry Potter rumors and spoilers are everywhere and have elicited scores of questions. Is it really the last book? Which characters die? What will happen to Harry? Well we’ve wondered what would The Deathly Hollows be like if it were written by O’Neill…

It’s been years since we last saw Harry struggling through his troubled adolescence. He’s just attended Dumbledore’s funeral and has decided to leave Hogwarts. Flash forward 15 years. The Hog’s Head, Hogsmeade. Harry’s at the bar. Head down. Full of despair. He’s here every day. An alcoholic, mired in depression. His youthful dreams now seem so distant so out of reach so naive.

He enjoys it here. The dirt floor, the smell of goat. He especially enjoys the darkness…and the company. Soon Uncle Damocles Hickman, the traveling potion salesman will be coming. His visits bring joy, free drinks, and escape. The other patrons discuss their service in the Second Wizarding War. One, a Death Eater, insults his Order of the Phoenix friend. Their discussion never ends. Their side was right, their motivations were pure. They always will be.

In the meantime Harry thinks of his past, how it all went wrong. His scar, the constant pain, the reminder, the torture. He waits. He wonders.

Click Here to Read More

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Part of National Capital Parks – East
Washington, D.C.
Visited: November 11, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 330 of 353
NPS Website

The Black CabinetWHAT IS IT?
Stately Victorian-era home of Mary McLeod Bethune and longtime headquarters of the organization she founded, the National Council of Negro Women.

BEAUTY (4/10)
This three-story Second Empire Victorian house blends benignly with the other townhouses along Vermont Avenue. Its only distinction is a cream-colored sign standing next to the tiled walkway leading to its wrought iron door. You might walk right past the Council House if you are busy admiring the other manicured gardens or doorways in the neighborhood.

A 1966 fire gutted the interior of the Council House and forced the NCNW to find a new home on Connecticut Avenue for eleven years. Once the Site was placed on D.C. Register of Historic Places, NCNW was able to raise funds and begin an extensive restoration. Mary McLeod’s formal front parlor, where she received dignitaries and friends like Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Council’s functional upstairs Conference Room were restored to their former glory before the National Park Service even stepped foot inside the building.

Two Great WomenHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10)
Bethune-Cookman College founder, advisor to four U.S. presidents, founding member of FDR’s New Deal-era Black Cabinet, federally-appointed director of the National Youth Administration and founder of the National Council of Negro Women. This rudimentary listing of Ms. Bethune’s accomplishments does not do her justice. Her pioneering work and pragmatic genius in a time of rapid political change and violent societal upheaval cannot be underestimated.

One only needs to look at the picture of the Black Cabinet on display at the Site. The 1930’s-era Black Cabinet consisted of FDR’s African American federal appointees, the first set of African Americans ever nominated for these prestigious positions. In their photo, Ms. Bethune is the anchor. She stands in the middle. She is the focal point. She is also the only woman. She is unmistakably in charge.

CROWDS (7/10)
Less than 10,000 tourists pass through the Council House doors every year, making this Site one of the Park Service’s ten least-visited destinations. Odds are that your guided house tour will just be you and the Ranger.

The only-us crowd suited us well because we had known nothing about Ms. Bethune. The visitor dearth allowed for in-depth answers to our sometimes ignorant and sometimes probing questions. We might not have learned as much or asked such basic questions about Ms. Bethune’s life had there been other tourists.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The Site is located at 1318 Vermont Avenue between Thomas and Logan Circles, five blocks northwest of both the White House and the nearest D.C. Metro station, McPherson Square. The Site warns that street parking is limited and suggests mass transit.

Operating hours are Monday-Saturday 10-4. The Park’s website incorrectly lists 9 a.m. as opening time. Trust us. We were there at 9:01 and the doors were locked.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The small bookstore stocks a meager assortment of Bethune, local history and Women’s History texts. While we did not visit the carriage house behind the main building, home of the National Archives for Black Women’s History, we assume the bookstore is not representative of the scholastic treasures that might be found there.

COSTS (5/5)
The Site is free and includes a Ranger-led guided house tour.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
Our superb Ranger was the only staff person on site. House tour and spatial dynamics would have changed dramatically if another set of tourists had arrived during our stay.

The Council HouseTOURS/CLASSES (9/10)
The excellent non-NPS produced video serves as a perfect introduction to the Site’s little-known honoree. The video quickly convinced us that Ms. Bethune was an extraordinary person with accomplishments and a story as amazing as other more famous 20th century figures. The trailer to the video showed us it was one in a series of historical profiles; had this series introduced us to Frederick Douglass at his National Historic Site, perhaps our review and our opinion of that Site would have been higher.

Had the film ended at the ten minute mark, after Ms. Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla. and as anecdotes told us, peacefully and cleverly fended off Ku Klux Klan attacks on her students, we would have been sold on the merits of the Site. But just as we were suitably impressed with her achievements, the video would continue to roll and another phase of her amazing life and work would unfold.

While the video was superb, this Site’s highlight was its Ranger-led house tour. Our Ranger’s knowledge was surpassed only by her passion and love of history. As she answered our questions, she had the casual air of someone who really knows what she is talking about and enjoys the stimulation of discussing rather than dictating interpretations of history. Her thoughtful responses set the scene for an extended discussion about the importance of archives and the value of advisory committees which we continued long after we said goodbye to the Ranger and left Logan Circle.

FUN (8/10)
Our Ranger gave us as much time as we wanted to explore the Council House and pore through the documents (some of them originals) resting on the long conference table in the second floor Conference Room. The room was restored to look as it did as the NCNW was preparing for a huge fundraiser, benefit dinner and show with the aging, yet still stunningly beautiful, Josephine Baker. We were instantly transported back in time as we tried to decipher the scribble of personal notes, phone messages and meeting minutes and visualized the stately and, frankly, physically imposing Ms. Bethune at the head of the table, directing audio traffic and planning for the visit of yet another V.I.P.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (?/10)
A Site that we thought would take a few minutes to survey actually kept us engrossed for almost two hours. While we thoroughly enjoyed our time spent at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS, we understand it might not hold the interest of the average D.C. tourist, particularly one carting around young kids eager to see some more marquee attractions.

TOTAL 54/80

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Part of National Capital Parks – East
Washington, D.C.
Visited: November 11, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 329 OF 353
NPS Website

A Historian's Dream

WHAT IS IT?
1915-1950 Shaw neighborhood home of Carter G. Woodson: professor, pioneering historian and founder of Black History Month.

BEAUTY (1/10)
The Woodson House is an abandoned row house in a not so picturesque part of NW Washington, D.C. A trompe l’oeil mural opposite the Site paints a curtained windowsill and a vase of flowers onto another abandoned building. Underneath the faux window reads, “Bienvenue à Shaw. Slum historique.

Painted a little further down the same wall is a much less disconcerting and far more inspiring mural dedicated to Mr. Woodson. In it, his proud likeness sits next to an idealistic quote proclaiming that history should not be subdivided into selective race-based studies but should emphasize everybody’s role without prejudice, bias and hate.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (7/10)
Carter G. Woodson’s achievements, vision and historical influence are monumental. Woodson was born to former slaves in 1875 Virginia during the height of Reconstruction and just ten years after the Civil War’s end. Over the course of his life he would, the Park brochure states, “almost single-handedly establish African American historiography.”

Before Woodson, little to no written history concerning the nearly 400 years of African American contributions existed. In much of the South, black literacy was punishable by death. Woodson created not just a field of study or a month of remembrance; he asserted and inserted the lives and accomplishments of a displaced people into their rightful place in American history. He made it imperative for us to listen to the voices that weren’t allowed to speak.

When Woodson died in 1950, there were no African American studies departments, graduate or undergraduate majors at any university. Academia only taught the classics, western history and the thoughts and accomplishments of those in power. What would Woodson think to know that now all the Ivy League schools, the apex of the American ivory tower, have African American studies program and that Woodson’s history doctorate alma mater, Harvard, now offers an African American Studies doctorate degree?

His Shaw neighborhood mural indicates that he might not agree with this genre-ized direction. Was Woodson’s goal to integrate African American history and the history of the muted voices into the general American history canon? Has that happened and can it happen as long as Gender, Gay, Lesbian, Native American, Asian American, Latino, Bisexual, etc… Studies programs exist?

Hard to say. But these are just a few of the many questions that could be addressed when the Carter G. Woodson Home NHS opens. Which, by the look of things, won’t be for at least ten years. We do know that through Woodson’s inclusion into the National Park System he and his dream has officially become a part of the canon. And not a moment too soon.

CROWDS (1/10)
There were a lot of homeless people milling about the abandoned lots that border the row house. We weren’t that scared until a man who appeared to have a mental illness began repeatedly screaming “get out of here” in an urgent, territorial and garbled voice. He didn’t stop until we were three blocks away.

In Need of RemodelingEASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The Home is located at the corner of 9th and Q Streets NW near their intersection with Rhode Island Avenue. There are currently no Park facilities, just an inaccessible building awaiting renovation. Lots of renovation. You can drive outside the Home and take a picture of the mural but that is about it. We walked but a car would probably have been the best choice for a fast getaway.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS, located just four blocks away at 1318 Vermont Avenue NW, is the temporary location for the Woodson NHS Visitor Center.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
The Bethune Council House NHS bookstore carries two versions of Woodson’s famed treatise The Mis-education of the Negro, whose title was notably appropriated by Lauryn Hill’s multi-million selling 1998 album.

We have been repeatedly disappointed by the quantity and quality of books found at the NPS African American sites. We fully hope and expect that when the Woodson Site opens in the distant future it will stock a definitive selection of historical texts. If not at the “Father of Black History’s” Site, then where?

COSTS (2/5)
There’s no charge but there’s also nothing to see.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
We will count our wonderful Bethune Council House NHS Ranger. Had we asked about Woodson she would have had answers. We would probably still be talking.

TOURS/CLASSES (3/10)
Only a non-glossy brochure and one cursory exhibit panel at the Bethune Council House. But we knew nothing about Woodson before our trip here except his role in the creation of Black History Month. Our visit sparked our interest and changed our opinion from “why does he have a park site?” to “he should have had one sooner.”

FUN (1/10)
We had fun once we knew we were out of danger.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10)
Not just yet. Wait until the “No Trespassing” comes off the Site’s front door. Once that happens, the Site has no shortage of interesting topics and themes to explore. Historians rarely get the credit they deserve. Heck, Henry Adams, the greatest historian of the 19th century, isn’t even mentioned at his family home’s Park Site.

Ironically, Woodson is a man whom history has unfairly overlooked. We love the idea of his commemoration and hope the Site does not languish in disrepair and without rightful federal appropriations forever.

TOTAL 21/80

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Cambridge, Mass.
Visited: July 28, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 321 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

It Was All Yellow=WHAT IS IT?
The quintessential American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, lived in this yellow Georgian mansion from 1837 to 1882. The house also served as temporary headquarters for George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

BEAUTY (2/10)
In the 1800’s painting your house a blandish yellow equated to wealth and success. We are glad that went out of style.

The insides of Longfellow’s mansion represent the worst of Victorian-era excesses: unending clutter, elaborate showiness and more marble busts than we could keep track of. Each room we entered got progressively uglier. “It can’t get any worse than this one,” we kept thinking. Oh yes it can. Our tour guide’s insistence on the room’s absolute beauty only made the situation more comical.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Poet, teacher and creator of American legends through his grand epics Song of Hiawatha, Evangeline and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.

Or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Glorified limerick writer, nostalgic, sentimental hack whose ridiculously dumb-downed themes and simplistic rhyme schemes are appropriately read primarily by first graders. We know which judgment we tend towards.

CROWDS (3/10)
Bad news all around. We missed the 11:30 a.m. House tour by 3 minutes and were not allowed to catch up meaning the next tour was at 1:00 p.m. We tried to piggy back onto a special college tour after an invitation from two considerate undergrads. No dice. Their leader ratted us out, told us to leave and we were left to wander the sweltering streets of Cambridge. Oh, if eyes could shoot daggers.

Washington Slept Here...No, ReallyEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The Site is about a half-mile from the Harvard Square Red Line T (Subway) Station. So that’s where we went. We enjoyed our unexpected lunchtime break on the Harvard University’s library steps and in a few Cambridge book stores. Time well spent.

Park literature recommends the T because street parking can very very difficult and time limited. From the Harvard Square Stop, travel west on either Church and then right onto Brattle. The House is located at 105 Brattle; the pleasant walk will pass Radcliffe College.

The Site is open only Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. Six tours leave daily: at 10:30; 11:30; 1; 2; 3; and 4. Harsh Boston weather shuts the Park down from October through the end of May; the Polar Bears and Sabre-toothed Tigers migrate back to Canada around Mother’s Day.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
Its literary merits aside, the title of Harold Bloom’s anthology Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages (for sale here) captures the mood of the Longfellow NHS perfectly. Unbearably pompous, condescending and superior despite the fact that its subject matter is meant for children.

The historical fiction novel, The Dante Club, in which Longfellow is a character is on sale here in its best-selling glory as is the more intriguingly-titled Longfellow’s Tattoo’s which examines the body art and physical art Longfellow’s son’s collected while living in Japan in 1871.

COSTS (3/5)
Tours of the house run $3 per person, free with the National Parks Pass.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Six Ranger-led tours a day with a max size of 15 is not bad. Unless you are the 16th and 17th persons that is. Walking around Cambridge at noon was nice, it really was.

TOURS/CLASSES (1/10)
We might have forgotten about our meandering time had the tour been worthwhile. But like the Victorian designs, our lessons got laughably worse as we moved from room to room. We were not the only disappointed ones; we think the husband who dragged his pregnant wife onto the tour is still repaying her for her visible anguish.

Did we learn nothing or was there just nothing to learn? The Site has no intro film and no museum to answer that question.

Side ViewFUN (1/10)
Longfellow NHS successfully completes the trifecta of un-fun Historic Sites: 1) Dubiously distinguished dude; 2) Dreadfully dull discourse; and 3) Disastrously disgusting decor.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (1/10)
The 1:00 p.m. tour was not the first time we had to return to the Longfellow NHS. We came here on a gorgeous April, 2004 afternoon only to find out the Site does not open until May. You, good tourist, don’t have to worry about when the Site is open or not open because there is no need to come here.

TOTAL 25/80

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