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Sharpsburg, Md.
Visited: June 2, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 297 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Antietam Panorama

WHAT IS IT?
Site of a September 17, 1862 Civil War Battle; the bloodiest single day battle in United States history. The North referred to the battle as Antietam, the creek that runs through the grounds, while the South referred to the fight as Sharpsburg, the nearest town.

BEAUTY (3/10)
Gab insists that the hazy, anonymous, rolling farmland terrain of Maryland is her least favorite genre of American scenery. Amid the panoramic nothingness, Antietam NB does have it hidden charms.

The land sinks into unexpected gullies and rises to form deceptively steep hills. These shifts are unseen from the wide angle where everything looks flat. The terrain’s disguised whimsy defined the battle’s shape. The fight most famed locale’s name, the Sunken Road, attests to this mystery.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
The Battle of Antietam is a tragic American story. Over 20,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured here in the course of a few hours. The slaughtering grounds of the Sunken Road, the Cornfield and the Burnside Bridge remain. Our Ranger talk told us that the Battle was a draw. No gains and no progress made towards the War’s end. Just tens of thousands of tortured souls.

History tells us that the Union won a slight tactical victory here, their first of the war. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln’s two sweeping Antietam inspired actions trumped any importance achieved by the quickly gained and quickly abandoned Maryland farmland.

Burnside BridgeThese two actions were: 1) the removal of the incompetent George McClellan from command of the Union Army and 2) movement towards issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Antietam brought the Decision 1 because McClellan’s ridiculous insubordination to Lincoln and cowardly slow command reached an apex at Sharpsburg. Had McClellan been even the slightest bit aggressive, the War might have ended that September.

Decision 2’s relevance to Antietam is slightly more specious even though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued just five days after the battle. History will forever speculate on Lincoln’s motivations and reasoning. But Antietam revealed to Lincoln that he had to do something. His Army could not rout the enemy’s and end the War, even with more men and countless other advantages.

Sharpsburg’s stalemate had delayed a rumored British entry into the war on the Confederate side. But John Bull’s pro-South leanings were real. The only way to sway their leaders against the Southern cause would be to issue the Proclamation. Antietam was a major Civil War turning point, its importance more intangible and speculative than most battles despite the massive carnage.

CROWDS (6/10)
Not to say that the place wasn’t crowded, but we expected a lot more people – Gettysburg-type numbers. There were no reënactors and to our snooping ears, it sounded like the crowds were a lot less Civil War-savvy that the average battlefield visitors.

Perpendicular ThreeEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
Antietam NB is located about 80 miles west of Baltimore, Md. or 80 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. Interstate 70 and Hagerstown, Md. are located 10 miles north of the Park.

The easiest way to the Park is from the north via I-70, Exit 29A, and then south on Maryland Route 65. The Park entrance will be on your left, bordering Route 65. If you wish to weave your way from Frederick (the east) or Martinsburg, W.Va. (the west) to Antietam via backcountry roads just make sure you have a map.

The Battlefield itself is enclosed and separate from exterior traffic. You will only be driving with other Civil War enthusiasts. The one-ways could get confusing but no one is going to get mad at you for driving at a snail’s pace.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
Antietam NB’s book selection was stellar but not up to par with most Civil War Battlefields. The souvenir selection ranged from the standard coffee mugs, T-shirts, maps and DVD’s to the downright macabre chintzy plastic toy soldier recreations of the Dunker Church and Burnside Bridge. Wave upon wave of Union soldiers died from sniper fire while trying to cross that fateful bridge. Let’s play again!

COSTS (3/5)
$4 per person, $6 per family, free with the National Parks Pass.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
A good number of Rangers wandered the Visitor Center halls and were ready to answer questions.

Explosive SparrowTOURS/CLASSES (3/10)
We were lucky enough to arrive at the Park just as a Ranger was beginning her talk. Problem was, she was speeding through her discussion at an alarming rate, presumably so that she could finish before the intro film started. She should have slowed down, not just because slowness makes for better learning, but also because the film is not very good.

The tiny museum is big on artifacts, including George McClellan’s presentation sword (hardly unique) but small on information and historical explanations. We left the Visitor Center knowing less and feeling more confused than when we started. Regrettably, we failed to heed our on advice: Always bring a companion Civil War book when you travel to a battlefield. We really missed our Battle Cry of Freedom.

We skipped the newly opened Pry House Field Hospital Museum for fear that we would go queasy and pass out because that is what nearly happened at the Chimborazo Medical Museum in Richmond, Va. The Pry Field Hospital Museum is sponsored by and affiliated with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine located in nearby Frederick, Md.

FUN (3/10)
If we had to choose one word to describe our Antietam experience, it is Disappointing. All day, we had geared up for the big Park Experience we were expecting. We feared we wouldn’t have enough time to see and experience everything. We wondered if we should skip Antietam and dedicate an entire day just to this Site.

When it was all said and done, we spent a little more than an hour and a half here. That’s with the Ranger talk, the movie, a thorough review of the museum, the driving tour and a few short hikes, all less impressive than they should have been. We admit we left the movie early; there are only so many scenes of cannons firing, reënactors charging and dropping that we can take.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
If you asked the average Joe to name at least two Civil War battles, Gettysburg and Antietam are probably the two that come to mind. The carnage that occurred at Antietam is legendary, its significance hard to dispute. Why then, did we walk away feeling none of that?


A trip to Gettysburg is almost overwhelming and that’s even before the additions of the renovated cyclorama and multi-million dollar Visitor Center. We were shocked when we realized Antietam’s museum extended no further than the four walls we were already viewing and had NO ELECTRIC MAP. Sad Michael.

What you do gain in your trip to Antietam is a better understanding of how the seemingly mundane terrain put the troops in such disarray. A few wrong turns gone right and the ending could have been different. We are not fans of speculation, but one can only imagine how moving Antietam could be if it were given the proper Park Service presentation.

TOTAL 42/80

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near Rocky Mount, Va.
Visited: November 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 278 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

WHAT IS IT?
Site dedicated to Booker T. Washington, a man born into slavery in 1856, who became a major figure in turn of the century United States history. Washington is best known as the longtime president of Tuskegee Institute and intellectual adversary of W.E.B. Du Bois.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Beautiful rolling, rural Virginia countryside nestled next to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. On this farm, horses roam, geese squawk, pigs slop and sheep lounge.

The reconstructed slave quarters, tobacco barns and meat curing rafters are not as extensive as they must have been 150 years ago. The horrors of slavery are hard to imagine when everything feels so pleasant. Only when you read and hear stories of the intensive labor it takes to harvest tobacco does the situation fall slowly into perspective.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
Interestingly, Booker T. Washington’s exploits and achievements are neither the primary nor the sole focus of his eponymous Site. Instead, the Site delves into a much wider reaching and historically vital topic: Virginia and Carolina tobacco farming and the institution of slavery, a subject widely ignored at other relevant National Park Sites.

CROWDS (7/10)
We pulled into an empty parking lot. In the time it took to collect the camera and Passport book and lock the car, the lot had suddenly spawned several more cars. Where did everyone come from?

We hurried inside to beat the rush only to find Rangers setting up a special presentation for the afternoon’s Elderhostel tour. They welcomed us and invited us to grab a seat and tag along for the special talk on tobacco cultivation and tour of the grounds.

Have we mentioned we love Elderhostels?

ColorsEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Site is located along Virginia Route 122 in a very rural part of the Commonwealth State about 22 miles from Roanoke and the Interstate 581 spur of I-81. From I-581, you have two choices: 1) Go South along U.S. Route 220 for 17 miles south until you get to the Va. Route 122 intersection at Rocky Mount. The Site is about 15 miles to the northeast along this road; or 2) take Virginia Route 116 south for 15 miles to the Route 122 intersection at Burnt Chimney. The Site is four miles to the northeast.

Choice one is longer, but might be faster. Choice two is the scenic route. Once you get to the Site, an easy grass path, called the plantation trail, meanders from the Visitor Center through the farm where Booker T. was born.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
The Site has one of the better collections of African American-related history texts we have seen thus far.

COSTS (4/5)
No admission fees whatsoever.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
We spent time with three different Rangers during our short visit. One who gave the tobacco talk; one leading the walking tour. and one who discussed Tuskegee, Booker T. and the lack of an NPS site dedicated to W.E.B. Du Bois at the bookstore.

His response to why no Du Bois site? Because he was a socialist. Michael’s quick response: What about Eugene O’Neill and Carl Sandburg? You know, you make a good point, he added while laughing.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
On the day of our visit, we were treated to both a Ranger talk and a Ranger-led tour of the grounds. Neither of these are daily occurrences at the Site but neither were that substantial. We learned more chatting casually with the Ranger left behind to manage the bookstore.

On the FarmWhat the Site lacks in daily Ranger-led events and museum space, it compensates for with special events like book signings and lectures from guest speakers held at least twice a month. The Site has even started a Booker T. Washington Book Club which held its first meeting this month.

April 1st marks Booker T. Washington´s 150th Birthday and the Booker T. Washington National Monument´s 50th Anniversary. An all day celebration is scheduled.

FUN (5/10)
The Booker T. Washington NM provides an enjoyably rural setting for a peaceful afternoon. We found ourselves lingering even though we had seen and done everything that was offered. We even took advantage of the tables and benches next to the parking lot and had an impromptu picnic.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10)
A trip to the Site can easily be fit in your road trip vacation itinerary because it lies just off the heavily vacationed Blue Ridge Parkway. This important historical destination honors a fascinating great American and enjoys a diverse staff of Rangers, all with unique pedagogic specialties.

TOTAL 53/80

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Flat Rock, N.C.
Visited: October 26, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 270 of 353
NPS Website

Goats!WHAT IS IT?
Longtime home (and goat farm) of Carl Sandburg, famed 20th-century American poet and Abraham Lincoln biographer.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The Sandburg’s whitewashed clapboard house is probably the least impressive home along the streets of Flat Rock. Its interior is equally drab, save for Carl’s thousands and thousands of books. Furniture and wall hangings are sparse, at least that’s what we were told. Much of the home’s items were under plastic wrap during some necessary restoration work on windows and walls.

If we lived in the Sandburg home, we would spend much of our time where Carl did: outside. Connemara’s 245 acres overlooks the rolling pastures dotted with Mrs. Sandburg’s prized goats, a lake stocked with trout and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
Carl Sandburg wrote about a 1/3 of his literary output here at Connemara. Sandburg is remembered as singularly American because of his populist poetry, his Illinois prairie roots and his vast and iconic Lincoln biography, often called the best work written about America’s most-written-about hero.

Lovely ConnemaraCROWDS (7/10)
Tours of Connemara max out at 15 people. Our 9 am tour of the house reached capacity and felt even larger since we had to squeeze past several NPS employees already working inside. We were carefully herded through the halls and around the protected belongings of the Sandburgs. Space was tight. This house tour is not for the claustrophobic, especially when there are acres of pasture, forest and a lakefront to enjoy.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
Flat Rock, NC is just south of Asheville, NC and north of Greenville, NC along I-26. Carl Sandburg Home NHS is reached via exit 22, US-25. Once you are on US-25, turn on to Little River Road which is between the post office and the Flat Rock Playhouse (Flat Rock is a very small town), go just 0.1 mile and the parking lot will be on your left.

The Site’s brochure says just follow the signs to the Sandburg Home NHS, but if you are coming up from Greenville, signs are less prevalent and the exit is easy to miss. We did.

The walk from the parking lot up to the Sandburg home and Park VC is a steady incline which may prove difficult for elderly visitors or those with physical disabilities. Luckily, there is a small information building at the foot of the walk with a phone. You can call up the hill and, if staffing allows, a Ranger will come get you in a little shuttle.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
The best bookstores are ones that offer treasures to every budget range. Mr. Sandburg’s writings were available in lovely hardbound editions as well as dollar paperback versions.

COSTS (2/5)
A tour of the Carl Sandburg house runs $5 per person, free with the National Parks Pass. During our tour the House’s star attraction, Sandburg’s vast book collection, was hidden behind dust-resistant covers for cleaning and inventory purposes. If we had paid the $5, we would have been very disappointed.

The SandburgsRANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
We found two Rangers at the Goat Barn letting the goats out to graze. After oh so many goat portraits, we wandered back to the house where another Ranger invited us in the basement Visitor Center, gave us our tour tickets and settled us in for the film. We assumed she would be giving the tour. Not so.

A kind, but less than knowledgeable volunteer escorted us through the Sandburg home. With a limited timeframe and a tour group that tended towards tangential questions, we would have appreciated a more dexterous and informed guide.

We were even more frustrated by this bait and switch when we peeked through half-opened doors to find several Rangers engaged in inventory inside Connemara.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
The Park’s introductory film is a must-see whether you are a Sandburg scholar or are just taking a side trip from your Asheville fall-colors vacation. The film is just a rebroadcasted Carl Sandburg interview done by famed journalist Edward R. Murrow. Sandburg sings, recites poetry, speaks philosophy, plays with his goats over the course of 20 minutes. His personality jumps off the screen and pleasantly frames the rest of your visit. You see Sandburg’s quirks and whimsies in his books, his farm, his views, his house and his life.

The volunteer-led tour was not so great. Your experience could be different. Sandburg 14,000 books were covered; you could not even see the titles. Had we known, we would not have taken the tour.

FUN (8/10)
Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats! Goats!

Well, HelloWhat is more fun than running around a stunning Appalachian mountain estate with friendly goats? We say nothing. Well, maybe listening to Gab’s impressions of Carl Sandburg reading his poetry. Maybe she can upload a .wav image, because you cannot capture her mimicry skills in print.

The wonderful thing about Carl Sandburg’s vast estate is that it is now Americas to enjoy. He has given it back to the people. Five miles of trails weave through the mountains and pastures. His views are now our views, his inspiration now ours.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10)
The NPS’s roster of literary-related sites will do nothing to dispel the myth that writers are bonkers. Edgar Allan Poe, Eugene O’Neill and now Carl Sandburg. While Poe and O’Neill’s sites might throw you into a severe depression, Sandburg’s will just make you feel good. He was kooky and lived in a separate planar dimension but he loved life, humanity and America. It is impossible to leave Flat Rock without a warm feeling towards the bard, his wife, his wonderful prize-winning goats and even yourself.

TOTAL 52/80

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Diamond, Mo.
Visited: September 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 245 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website


WHAT IS IT?

The birthplace and boyhood home of George Washington Carver, one of America’s greatest inventors and one of her most remarkable men.

In ThoughtBEAUTY (6/10)
The George Washington Carver National Monument landscape is calming, quiet and lends towards introspection. From the VC, the Carver Trail passes George’s birthplace, the ruins of a tiny cabin, and descends into the forest until reaching the remarkable Boy Carver statue. The statue portrays a young George deep in thought, his head tilted slightly towards the sky caught in a daydream, an idea and with a relaxing peace of mind.

The statue hurtles you into the Carver’s natural world, a world of necessary escape but a world of opportunity. Carver saw it as God’s world; he believed that the Creator spoke to him “through flowers, rocks, animals, plants and all other aspects of His creations”. While walking in Carver’s common, but extraordinary woodland oasis you might become one with his understanding and experience a flash of his genius.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
How can you quantify the life of George Washington Carver? His story, his life and his absolute loving, humble Christian demeanor are so unbelievable.

Carver was born a slave in 1864 in Missouri, perhaps America’s most volatile and violent state. Shortly after his birth, Missouri bushwhackers kidnapped both him and his mother. His slave owners recovered George, at the time nearly dead from whooping cough, but never found his mother.

Carver spent his youth painting, learning about the plants and animals that surrounded him and teaching himself to read. The Carvers, formerly his owners, were illiterate and unable to assist George’s learning. He left home at eleven, moving from school to school, through sickness, extreme prejudice, violence and difficult jobs. In 1890, he found his way into Iowa State University’s agriculture program, where he would become their first African American graduate in 1894.

Carver then moved to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute where his remarkable scientific career blossomed. Carver invented hundreds of food products, including peanut butter, and transformed the Southern farmers’ agricultural methods. By the 1920’s he had become friends with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

Carver died in 1943. Later that same year, FDR honored him with a National Park Site. This honor is especially remarkable when you consider that the nearby Arkansas schools did not begin desegregation until 1957 and in much of the South denied voting rights to African Americans until 1965.

CROWDS (6/10)
Just us. The Site should see waves of school group visitors any day now.

Pumpkin HarvestEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Carver birthplace is located in southwestern Missouri, about 20 miles from the town of Joplin. Take Interstate 44, Exit 11 and travel south down U.S. Route 71 for 5 miles. Turn east (left) and go down Missouri Route V for about 5 miles until you reach Carver Road. Turn south (right) and signs will point you to the Park.

The NPS has resurfaced the part of the Carver Trail from the Visitor Center to the Carver Statue with an environmentally friendly material made from recycled tires. This portion of the trail is fully accessible.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The store carries ten Carver biographies, five Carver children’s books and reprints of five separate Carver agricultural pamphlets. The bookstore also vends posters and Booker T. Washington biographies but the shelf entitled African American history is conspicuously bare.

African American history scholarship has flourished over the past 25 years. We should have run across a definitive collection of texts at one of the 15+ African American history-related sites we have visited. Instead, we run into bare shelves and self-help books. It does not make sense why there are more black history books at Civil War sites than at sites honoring Martin Luther King, the Brown v. Board of Education decision and George Washington Carver.

COSTS (5/5)
From the Park’s website: George Washington Carver once said, “The Lord charges nothing for knowledge and I will charge you the same.” Entry, as Mr. Carver wanted, is free. Free Ranger-led tours of the Site leave twice a day.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
We had a personal Ranger tour albeit a rushed tour since she needed to get back to the Museum in order to give another Ranger a lunch break. The Carver Discovery Center was closed.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
None of the Site’s educational offerings, the 40-year old film, the Mission ’66-era Museum and the rushed Ranger tour, was particularly compelling. The interactive Carver Discovery Center was closed during our visit and, although aimed at children, could have been fun.

In retrospect, we should have wandered both the Carver Trail and the Contemplative Loop Trail on our own, sans Ranger. Rocks bearing meditative GW Carver quotes appear during the entire journey giving an insight into his tremendous life. The Park’s trees, insects, animals, birds, ponds and pathways were Carver’s education. Nature was his personal teacher; we must learn to make it ours.

Quiet Nature WalkFUN (5/10)
Carver NM is Part One of the saga. George’s boyhood, while amazing, is the least interesting part of his story. The agricultural discoveries at Tuskegee, his aristocratic friendships and even his determined post-Missouri educational path are all more appealing than his boyhood. George left here at eleven and never again called it his home.

Touring the Carvers’ house also elicits odd emotions which we cannot come to grips with. The fact remains that they owned George in 1864 Missouri, two years after the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Missouri remained a slave state until the War’s end because it was pro-Union. How is that for irony? George never wrote about the situation with any animosity or mixed feelings, only thanks and appreciation, so why should we feel differently?

It is no wonder that rural Missouri life 150 years ago spawned the complicated race-probing writings of the greatest American author: Mark Twain.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
We enjoyed the George Washington Carver Museum at the Tuskegee Institute much more. Nonetheless, if you are driving westward down I-44, the path of the classic American road, Route 66, then a quick stop to Carver’s birthplace is in order. It could be the last eastern woodland-forested landscape your cross-country trip will see.

TOTAL 45/80

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