Posts Tagged ‘Writers’

Lexington and Concord, Mass.
Visited: April 18, 2004
Second Visit: July 27, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 27 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

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Click Here for Gab’s 2004 Patriots Day Open Letter to Boston
Click Here for Michael’s 2004 Patriots Day Open Letter to Boston

The Minute ManWHAT IS IT?
Battle Road, Hartwell Tavern, the North Bridge and other sights preserved to commemorate the events of April 19, 1775, Patriots Day. The day that the American Revolution began. Also included at Minute Man NHP is The Wayside, the Concord home of Louisa May Alcott, later purchased by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Minute Man NHP is situated along Boston’s outskirts, in between the city’s urban sprawl and the beginnings of the Massachusetts countryside. In fact, the Battle Road portion of the Site ends before it reaches Lexington because of U.S. Interstate 95, the road that is effectively Boston’s beltway. The Site itself is not particularly beautiful; it looks like a pleasant suburban park. The significance is historical, not natural, as are the visual draws: the Lexington and Concord Minute Man statues, the oft-rebuilt North Bridge and the period structures that still stand along the Battle Road.

The place where the American Revolution began. That’s the popular, understood and correct contextualization of the events of that fateful April day. At the time, however, the event was purely a local phenomenon. A single national consciousness and determination began to form over a year later when the Declaration of Independence was signed. And even then the solidarity was dubious and pragmatic at best.

Bostonians wanted the British out of their backyard. Simple as that. At no time did these unruly and violent rebels see themselves as either a part of a greater national whole or catalysts for a world-quaking governmental revolution. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, William Dawes and thousands of Bostonians probably never thought they were starting a War. The British only thought they were seizing contraband rifles.

The notion that the United States of America, in every sense, began and exists today due to a few Minute Man who fired back because they (mistakenly) believed the Redcoats were burning their rural town is overwhelming. We wonder if those Minute Man are the epitome of the American spirit: determined, hot-headed, reactionary, delusional, resourceful and stubbornly successful. They started it all, right?

If that is not enough, the Site also includes the house where much of Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” took place, perhaps America’s most beloved children’s novel.

Crowded StatueCROWDS (6/10)
Our first visit to Minute Man NHP came on Patriot’s Day, 2004. Understandably the crowds were large and the excitement was tangible. A whole lot of people were wearing three-cornered hats. If you can visit Boston during their Patriot’s Day holiday, do it.

Our next visit was a lot less hectic, although there were no open spaces in the Minute Man Visitor Center parking lot (too many bus spaces). On Patriot’s Day everyone parked on the grass. On a mid-summer weekday, however, the crowd tended more towards babysitters and their obligations, local joggers enjoying their park and (gasp) foreign, even British, tourists.

Most out-of-town Boston vacationers appear to stay downtown where they slog the Freedom Trail, relax at Boston Common and enjoy the city from their centralized hotel. Few venture out to the sticks to see where the Revolution began and that’s a shame. But who can blame them, Boston’s subway does not drop you off here and the traffic can be horrific.

The Site’s Minute Man VC is located right off U.S. Interstate 95, about 20 miles west of Boston. Take I-95, Exit 30 (Massachusetts Route 2A) and go west. The Minute Man VC will be on your right in about a quarter mile. The Site continues westward from the Minute Man VC along the Battle Road. A driving route parallels the Battle Road Trail for about four miles until you get to the town of Concord and the North Bridge Visitor Center.

There are five parking lots located along the Battle Road Trail if you wish to walk the historic trail. The trail itself consists of crushed stone and might be difficult in a wheelchair. Both the Hartwell Tavern, a restored tavern that sits along the Battle Road, and The Wayside are only open from May through October.

The Minute Man NHP Visitor Centers vend a good selection of Revolutionary War books as well as books by and about the Concord-area writers: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

COSTS (4/5)
Battle Road and all Minute Man related sections of the Park are free. There is a $5 per person charge (free with the National Parks Pass) for entry into The Wayside and the mandatory Ranger-led tour.

The Rangers were working hard on Patriots Day weekend. Most were dressed in period costume. Lectures were plentiful. We spoke to the musket-shooting Ranger about Revolutionary War-era Tavern culture and the events of April 19 for about 20 minutes. After his lecture, we saw him walking with about seven other people explaining incidents along the Trail. He was wonderful. He had a nose for people who wanted to ask questions.

Our second, less eventful visit, happily brought the same level of Ranger surplus and attentiveness. And a few were still dressed in period costume! They probably dress in modern clothing when off-duty. Then again, who knows?

We really enjoyed the multi-media Road to Revolution theater presentation shown at the Minute Man VC. The show, which combines electronic maps with set pieces, video screens and a moving clock, does a terrific job at establishing the complicated geography and time frame of the day’s events. Michael had been inculcated with the “one if by land, two if by sea” story since he could read but never fully grasped its complete topographic meaning before the multi-media presentation. Start your visit here.

The best part of the Site is that Minute Man NHP posts a few of its Rangers at the important Battle Road locations, instead of just at the Visitor Centers. We love this method and wish that more Parks would put there knowledgeable staff at the places where the questions are sparked. The Rangers at Minute Man NHP know their history and are immediately engaging. Our interactions delved into historical theory, legend creation and 18th-century tavern life. And yeah, they all shoot muskets too!

We were disappointed by the confusing, abstract designs of the Minute Man VC and in the lack of substantial learning opportunities at the North Bridge VC but the Rangers and the intro film more than made up for any static display shortcomings. The Wayside Tour was a little under whelming and very slow; perhaps the privately-run Concord area writers’ museums (Louisa May Alcott’s The Orchard House and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Old Manse) offer more engaging tours.

On the Road to FreedomFUN (9/10)
Pictures of the North Bridge and Daniel Chester French’s Minute Man statue are so ubiquitous in tourist photos and history text books that seeing them in person feels revelatory. The distant past, the reckless bravery, the fiery chase down the Battle Road, the manic urgency and the epic drama become inescapably real. The ‘Shot Heard Round the World’ is instantly imagined; this is a place where the World’s political path irrevocably changed, moving towards a system of representative government and away from the monarchy not because of political decisions, voting solutions or protracted thought but because an angry farmer fired a rifle.

The Battle Road from Lexington to Concord, with its leafy shade, forested turns, restored buildings, oft-pictured statues and famous bridge, is the real Freedom Trail. Don’t be distracted by the moniker of downtown Boston’s wonderful tourist walk. No visit to New England is complete without a visit to Minute Man NHP and no place offers a better visceral understanding of the American Revolution and the American character.

TOTAL 62/80


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Danville, Calif.
Visited: June 17, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 204 of 353
NPS Website

Aaaaaaah!WHAT IS IT?
Home where Eugene O’Neill, our country’s only Nobel Prize-winning playwright, wrote his last six plays which included Long Day’s Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh.

BEAUTY (5/10)
Eugene O’Neill and his third wife, Carlotta, designed their house in accordance to both Taoist principles and their own personal fancies. The O’Neill’s so-called Tao House is more interesting than beautiful.

Taoist influences include outdoor paths and indoor hallways that turn sharply at right angles. There are false doors, protruding walls and colored mirrors, all designed to keep the bad spirits outside. Some personal touches include recessed windows, spine-tingling masks and dormitory-like white brick walls. It is hard to remove Eugene O’Neill’s soul grabbing black mirror and his frightening devil masks from our consciousness.

The Tao House sits atop the East Bay hills overlooking the San Ramon Valley. The House’s grounds offer beautiful views of Mount Diablo, the area’s highest point.

Eugene O’Neill is undoubtedly America’s greatest playwright but his plays were much more personal than political. His focus was his own inner demons. The tour goes into great depth about O’Neill’s troubling past and fails to analyze his plays and their impact.

CROWDS (8/10)
There are no casual walk-in tourists at the Eugene O’Neill NHS. The mandatory advanced reservations stop that. Instead, everybody on the tour has some sort of interest in Eugene O’Neill. One woman on our tour had been to O’Neill’s house in Connecticut. Her personal knowledge of the playwright enhanced our experience.

O’Neill’s Tao House is located in the Oakland Hills very close to the quaint town of Danville. You cannot drive to the site because it is located within a gated community. As a result, you must arrange your visit ahead of time. The phone number is (925) 838-0249.

A Ranger leads tours of the house twice daily. Meet at the Danville Park and Ride, located just off the I-680 Sycamore Valley Exit, and pile into the NPS minivan. The Ranger chauffeurs you through Danville and up to the House. There are no tours on Monday and Tuesday. Tours fill up; plan accordingly.

Good but not great. Copies of all O’Neill’s plays are for sale as are a few DVD’s and videotapes of his plays’ performances. We wish the bookstore carried plays and/or books written by his contemporaries. We felt lost in a literary sense during our entire stay because of the tour’s emphasis on O’Neill’s life. A more comprehensive bookstore would have helped us place O’Neill among his peers.

Here the Demons Will Be Confused
COSTS (5/5)
Eugene O’Neill Tao House must be visited via a guided Ranger tour. Both the tour and entry are free.

The same tireless spitfire of a Ranger does both the Eugene O’Neill NHS and Port Chicago Naval Magazine N MEM tours. She is amazing and seems to be the only Ranger on educational staff at both sites. Because the tours’ numbers are limited, she is able to avoid being completely overwhelmed.

First, we must embarrassedly confess to never having read an O’Neill play. Before our visit to this Site, our perception of O’Neill was limited to the fact that he had won a Nobel Prize and colored by Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of him in Reds.

NPS assumes, and not unjustly, that if you have gone through the trouble of securing reservations, getting yourself to a Park and Ride lot and allow yourself to be shuffled into a shuttle van that you have at least a cursory knowledge of the man whose home you are about to visit for the next two hours.

By the time the O’Neills built and moved into the Tao House, 35 of Eugene’s plays had been published; three Pulitzers and a Nobel Prize had been won, O’Neill’s greatness as a literary figure well-established. This is the starting point of the tour.

We wandered the gardens and toured each room of the house, learning a little more about O’Neill’s parents, his relationship with Carlotta, his children and his vices with each step. Touring the Tao House gives you an introspective look at the man behind the pen in the setting where he wrote his five most famous and autobiographical works. We learned a lot; we would have learned more had we done a little homework before the tour.

Since Michael occupied the front seat in the van, he used the ten-minute ride both to and from the site to fill in some blanks. Why have O’Neill’s plays declined in popularity over the years? “Well, it’s not fun stuff. Nobody really wants to be depressed, do they?” was the Ranger’s frank response.

Where The Iceman was WrotethFUN (6/10)
Two of O’Neill’s sons committed suicide. He disowned his only daughter because she married an actor, namely Charlie Chaplin. He suffered from a laundry list of unrelated but serious illnesses. One of these, a rare degenerative disease similar to Parkinson’s disease disabled him from the physical act of writing. O’Neill, being an impossibly stubborn man, refused to write at all once he could no longer transfer his words from “head to hand to paper”. He produced nothing in the last ten years of his life. Not exactly fun stuff.

What was fun was the chauffeured drive through a lovely town and up the hills into a gated community, a guided tour of a quirky house whose inhabitants interpreted Tao philosophy to suit their decorative needs and the opportunity to see the writing space and into the psyche of one of America’s greatest artists. Did we mention it was free?

Are you interested in the life of Eugene O’Neill? If you are not, then a tour of his house might not be a day well spent. If you are an admirer, then you owe yourself a visit.

TOTAL 50/80

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 24, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 4 of 353
NPS Website, Local Website

Want More? Read About Our Phun Philled Philadelphia Phoray.Click Here for the In-Depth Recount of Our Day.

Poe’s Basement (Blurry for Spooky Intent)WHAT IS IT?
Brick building lived in by American author Edgar Allan Poe in 1843 and 1844.

BEAUTY (2/10)
How nice can an unfurnished house that was rented over 150 years ago by a broke writer be? The house is also situated in a light industrial zone amidst many a factory, union office and warehouse.

Edgar Allan Poe only lived here for a year and a half. And how historically interesting is Poe anyway? But he did live here and the site is evocative of his spirit. The basement in particular seems to have been the setting for his story, The Black Cat.

CROWDS (8/10)
We happened onto a group of 13 or so giddy 5th graders. A park volunteer indicated that the site’s most common constituency is school children. The kids were ecstatic to see the house as they had just read many of Poe’s stories. They were well-behaved, asked superb questions and elicited a few shrieks and eeeews when the Ranger’s story got spooky. This group of kids enhanced our trip.

Parking is free on the streets but not particularly reassuring. Lots of broken glass everywhere. The site off of a major road and clearly marked, but every street is one way and not that easy to navigate. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

No food or drink. The bookstore has a great deal of Poe’s works as well as books by other 19th-century authors.

COSTS (4/5)

There were two Rangers and an extremely helpful volunteer. Our experience was enhanced a tremendous amount by the generosity and knowledge of the staff.

Poe Has Damned Me!TOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
The intro film on Poe’s life was interesting, but it opened up just as many questions as it answered. A bland recreation of Poe’s life and works. But, we piggy-backed onto a Ranger-led tour of a 5th Grade class and it was wonderful. The Ranger told a ghost story in each room that mixed Poe’s stories with a little bit of history and background of both Poe’s life and the room itself. A spooky joy.

FUN (8/10)
We had a lot of fun. And if we had had more time (as well as an inclination to re-read Poe’s works) there was a lovely quiet reading room with all of Poe’s works.

I can’t imagine a museum about an author that could be more fun. And we’re not even big fans of Poe. Still, he only lived here for a year and none of the rooms have any furnishings, just stripped down walls. It is only a short bit north of the Independence NHP site and if you are able to get a Ranger-led tour your stay will be worth the trip to an industrial part of Philly.

TOTAL 49/80

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