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Circus Trip 2018: The Soldier’s Home

Day 62, Saturday, September 15, 2018
President Lincoln and Soldier’s Home National Monument, Washington, D.C.

Visiting the Lincoln Cottage at the Soldier’s Home has been a dream of mine for years.  The cottage first came to my attention when I read Lincoln’s Sanctuary, a book by Matthew Pinsker, in 2012. The book documents Lincoln’s use of the home during the summers and early falls of 1862-1864.

Lincoln was bereft after the death of his beloved son Willie in February 1862, of typhoid fever.  So that summer, he and Mary moved to a cottage on the grounds of the Soldier’s Home, a retirement home for aged and infirm war veterans.  Little did they know, it would be a respite for three summers, and would be where he undertook some of the most important decisions of his Presidency, including firing McClellan and drafting the now famous Emancipation Proclamation in the summer of 1862.

Lincoln’s cottage was only declared a National Monument on July 7, 2000, and opened to the public in 2008.  It is still on an active military installation, known today as the Armed Forces Retirement Home, Washington.  As a result of its fairly recent designation, many people, even Lincoln enthusiasts, have not heard of this important Presidential site.  Interestingly, Presidents Buchanan, Hayes, and Arthur also used the home as a summer retreat during their Presidencies.

The home was built between 1842 and 1843, by George Washington Riggs, who later went on to found the Riggs National Bank.  He sold the home and 251 acre property to the government in 1851, when they were looking to establish a home for veterans.  Lincoln and his family fell in love with the relaxed atmosphere of the home.  It was only three miles from the White House, and afforded the President a relatively easy commute on horseback.  Tad made friends with the soldiers who lived there, and was accepted as their mascot of sorts.

Poet Walt Whitman lived along the route of Lincoln’s daily commute, and the two took to greeting each other with a bow each day as Lincoln rode by.  And in a sad ending to his time at the home, the President and Mary were actually there before they took their last carriage ride to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

As the cottage is on an active military installation, you have to go through a check point and show ID to get there.  While you are onsite, you can only visit the cottage and its Visitor’s Center.  There you can purchase tickets and view exhibits, mostly related to the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Outside, there is a statue of Lincoln and his horse.  Perfect for selfies!

But the cottage is the real star.  Cottage is a bit misleading of a term, since it is actually a fairly large home.  It is built in the Gothic Revival style, with ornate gingerbread and gables everywhere.  So pretty!

The tour was fascinating, with the docent sharing stories of Lincoln entertaining people in the sitting room, late at night, in his pajamas and slippers.  Or writing at the desk; the desk here is a replica of the desk that sits in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House.  The cottage is unfurnished, but you can imagine what it would have been like in Lincoln’s day.  I am always in awe when I get to walk in the footsteps of such a great leader.  My visit here was nothing short of incredible, and truly a bucket list item fulfilled.

Circus Trip 2018: More of DC

Day 61, Friday, September 14, 2018
The White House and The Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Wow, I was just seeing how long it has been since I posted a travel post.  Time to try to break through this writer’s block!

On one of my days of sightseeing in Washington, D.C., I wandered over to check out both the US Capitol and the White House.  They are such impressive symbols of our nation and democracy! 

The city also has some amazing architecuture, and you can see I clearly like horse statues.  I mean Ulysses S. Grant did win the Civil War, and General Pulaski represents my Polish heritage as one of the most important figures of the Revolutionary War!

Enjoy the photos and I’ll try to get back on track with my trip posts!

Circus Trip 2018: National Air and Space Museum

Day 60, Friday, September 14, 2018
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, National Mall, Washington, D.C.

I had one more day to spend in Washington, D.C. that summer, and I got to spend it at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum!

There are so many cool exhibits there, including the original 1903 Wright Flyer, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5B, a Lunar Lander, a space program reentry pod, TWA jetliners, replica hot air balloons and more!

It is such an awesome museum to spend time in – and I really enjoyed it! 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Smithsonian Museum of US History

Day 60, Thursday, September 13, 2018
National Mall, Washington, D.C.

While I was in Washington, D.C., I was able to check out some more of the Smithsonian museums.  I took some time to check out the Museum of US History.  It was so cool! 

I really enjoyed the exhibits there.  I got to see the First Ladies’ gowns, along with Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat.  The museum also includes the U.S. flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.  It was the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner! 

I also got to visit Winchester; Philip Sheridan’s horse during the Civil War.  It isn’t every day that you see a taxidermied horse!

The furniture that Generals Grant and Lee used to sign the surrender at Appomattox is also included in the collections of the museum.  These unassuming chairs and table played a role in the cessation of hostilities after four years of bloody fighting at the end of the Civil War.  If they could only talk!

I also saw the gunboat Philadelphia, which was used during a battle against the British on Lake Champlain, during the Revolutionary War.  Under the leadership of Benedict Arnold, the Americans fought the British to a standstill in October 1776, but the Philadelphia was sunk.  She was recovered from the bottom of Lake Champlain in 1935, along with the 24 pound ball that sunk her.  It is really neat to see how well preserved she is!  Of course Benedict Arnold later went on to become the country’s most famous traitor, but at the time, he was still well thought of by General Washington and many others in the American command. 

There were a lot of other exhibits, and I spent quite a bit of time checking everything out!  This is a must-see museum!

Circus Trip 2018: D.C. Monuments

Day 60, Thursday, September 13, 2018
National Mall, Washington, D.C.

One of the things I really wanted to do the second time I was in Washington, D.C. was to visit the National Mall again and see the monuments that I missed the first time.  I always say that there is never enough time to do everything, and I was excited to see more! 

The Washington Monument, of course, is iconic, and featured in so many photographs!  I was completed in 1885, and stands 555 feet tall.  It is always a favorite!  One day I want to go to the top…

This Doric temple style memorial is the District of Columbia War Memorial, that honors the residents of Washington, D.C. who died in World War I.  It was erected in 1931.  The day that I was there, a couple was getting married! 

The Korean War Memorial was placed in 1995, which several soldiers walking through junipers, meant to represent the terrain they walked through during the war. 

 

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is a relatively new addition, added in 2011.  There are a number of King quotes places on the walls of the monument, and the impressive likeness of Dr. King stands in the center. 

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial honors the President who guided the country through the Great Depression and most of World War II.  A polio survivor who was often confined to a wheelchair, I was glad to see that the memorial represented him as he was in real life.  There are several statues making up this memorial, including men standing in a breadline, and a man listening to one of FDR’s fireside chats over the radio.  I was also happy to see that Eleanor Roosevelt has her own statue here, as she did much to benefit the country separate from FDR.  This memorial was placed in 1997. 

Finally, I visited the Jefferson Memorial, which was completed in 1943.  It has a huge statue of Jefferson, contained within a Neoclassical style building.  It is so beautiful and has a prominent location looking out over the tidal basin. 

I wasn’t the only one enjoying the monuments, of course.  I saw lots of birds there too!  Dozens of ducks, a couple of Great Blue Herons and a Great Egret! 

I enjoyed wandering and seeing all these tributes to strong, influential Americans!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Gadby’s Tavern, Alexandria, VA

Day 59, Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Gadby’s Tavern, Alexandria, Virginia

After I left the Boston area, I had plans to visit a friend of mine who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.  I was going to spend a few days there, and use that as my jumping off point for visiting Washington, D.C.  I had left Quincy, Massachusetts, and embarked on a long drive through multiple states to get to Alexandria.  I split it over two days, as it is a total of about eight hours driving, through a lot of traffic.  Heading from Massachusetts to Alexandria meant I had to skip some great locations, but you can’t possibly see everything on a trip, I suppose.  It was tough to drive through so many great places and just pass them by!  Connecticut, New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Delaware, and more!  I so very much want to go back and see all these places!

All that said, I rolled into Alexandria about 4 in the afternoon, and headed to Jason’s house.  He had planned a surprise for my visit! He knows how much I love history, so he made reservations at Gadsby’s Tavern!

Gadsby’s Tavern was originally built in 1785 by Marylander John Wise, and opened the building next door as the Federal City Tavern in 1792.  There was another tavern on the site before the current building though, which reportedly was in business from around 1770.  An Englishman named Gadsby leased the tavern in 1796; the current name is a nod to him. 

Back in the late 1700s, several notable guests frequented the tavern, including Founding Fathers and Presidents!  George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette were all known visitors to the taverns here.  A banquet was even held in Washington’s honor here in 1801; how cool to be in the same place where these men talked politics. 

Gadsby operated the tavern until 1815, and then passed through various hands and it was various businesses, until it fell into disrepair and abandonment.  In 1917, in this sad state, some of the ballroom woodwork was sold to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, where it apparently remains today.  However, this was the catalyst for the historic preservation.  Gadsby’s Tavern was restored to the period of the late 1700s, and reopened as a restaurant in 1976.

There is a fine dining atmosphere, with delicious food and ambiance.  I had the herb encrusted grill salmon, finished with a balsamic glaze, and served with jasmine rice and sauteed spinach, and a glass of white wine.  To add to its charm, period actors make their way around the room, reciting the words of our Founding Fathers and engaging restaurant patrons in discussions on the governance of our young, budding country!

It was so much fun getting to see Jason and watch the actors engage with people!  An amazing experience for a history nerd like me!  

After dinner we wandered around Alexandria and got ice cream nearby, just chatting and catching up.  I certainly want to go back and see more of this fascinating and historic city!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Adams NHP

Day 58, Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Adams National Historical Park, Quincy, Massachusetts

Our second President John Adams lived almost his whole life in Quincy, Massachusetts.  Which makes it easy for a person who wants to see most of the homes a President has lived in, in one tour!  In actuality, Adams was born in 1735 in Braintree, Massachusetts, but the part of Braintree where he was born eventually became Quincy.

The Adams National Historical Park contains an incredible amount of Adams family history, and in a small area around Quincy.  The visitor’s center is downtown, and from there you can book a trolley tour that takes you to the John Adams birthplace home, the John Quincy Adams birthplace home where John and Abigail raised their family, and finally, Peace field, the home that John and Abigail purchased as their retirement home.  The tours are on hiatus due to COVID, so you can come along on mine!

The John Adams Birthplace home is a saltbox style home, originally built in 1681.  It was purchased in 1720 by John Adams’ father, Deacon John Adams, and John was born there in 1735.  It is the first stop on the tour, and you get to go inside and check out the first floor rooms.  There is such history here!

The John Quincy Adams Birthplace home is also a traditional saltbox style home, originally built in 1663, and purchased by John Adams’ father in 1744.  John Adams inherited it when his father passed in 1661, and moved Abigail to this home, right next door to his own birthplace home.  Their son, John Quincy Adams, was born in this home in 1767.  John Adams also drafted the Massachusetts State Constitution from this home in 1779.

In 1787, John and Abigail Adams purchased Peace field, a home that was to be their retirement home, and moved there in 1788.  It was built originally in 1731, and at that time consisted of two first floor rooms, two bedrooms and an attic.  John and Abigail had purchased it sight unseen while they were living in London, after the loyalist owners left Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War.  Abigail was dissatisfied by the home, and set about enlarging it.  Now, Peace field is much larger than the other homes, and more modern.  Four generations of the Adams family lived here, from from 1788 to 1927.  The home was donated to the Park Service in 1946. 

The homes are all incredible, but one building on this tour really takes the cake.  The Stone Library was built in 1870; it was stipulated in John Quincy Adams’ will in 1847.  It took his son Charles another 23 years to finish it, but now about 10% of the books it contains belonged to John Adams, and the majority were from John Quincy Adams’ collection.  The Adams family children between 1870 and 1927 were able to use the library to read and write, and at least four books were written here.  Charles Francis Adams wrote portions of the ten volume, Diary of John Adams, the twelve volume, The Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, and The Letters of Abigail Adams in this library, and his son, Henry Adams worked on his History of the United States here too.

What a wonderful tour to see these historic sites!

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: The House of Seven Gables

Day 57, Monday, September 10, 2018
The House of Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts

First off, I must admit, I never read this book in high school or college.  I did read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s other well-known classic – The Scarlet Letter.

This home in Salem, Massachusetts, was the home of Hawthorne’s cousin during the 1800s; she entertained Hawthorne at the home often.  It is widely believe to be the inspiration for the home in the book.  In the House of Seven Gables, the home plays a large role and takes on the quality of a distinct character.  The dark shadows and creaking floors, the hidden staircase, and rooms tucked into the gables of the home added to the dark ambience of the story.  The cent shop that created the occupation for Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon provided a backdrop for the local children to mock and tease the old woman.  So given all that, what literary nerd wouldn’t want to see the home that inspired this fascinating story?

The House of Seven Gables was originally built in 1668 in Jacobean and Post-Medieval architectural styles, and its original owner, Captain John Turner I, was well off enough to expand it twice while he owned it.  During this period, it was originally believed to have had seven gables.  Future owners updated the interior in the Georgian style, with thick wood paneling, and removed four gables to make it appear more as a Federal style home, which was popular in the late 1700s.

The home was purchased in 1908 by Caroline Emmerton with the intention of preserving the home and opening it for tours, in order to support her work of assisting immigrant families who were settling in Salem in the early 20th century.  Emmerton had the exterior of the home restored to what is believed to be its original appearance, with seven gables.  She also added the cent shop that is currently a feature of the home, as an attraction for the tours. The hidden staircase from Hawthorne’s story was also added at this time.  Over the last hundred years or so, I can only imagine the numbers of people who have toured this home!

It is incredible to me to think about the people (and fictional characters) who have made this their home for the last 350 years!

The tour was really neat, with a couple of bonuses.  You can take photos inside!  And the tour takes you up the hidden staircase!  It was narrow and steep and oh-so-wonderful!  If you are uncomfortable making your way up a steep, narrow, claustrophobic staircase, you can take the regular stairs up.  I think every home should have a hidden staircase!

The grounds and a few other historic homes are on the property and open; visitors can do a self-guided tour.  One of them is the home that Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in.  It was built in 1750 in the Georgian style, and was moved to the House of Seven Gables site in 1958.  Be sure to check out this home!

Of course the gift shop sells copies of The House of Seven Gables, and Hawthorne’s other works, and I did buy the book and read it.  You can read my review here.

This was such an interesting tour for anyone who enjoys historical homes, literature, or both.  At $15 in 2018, it was on the more expensive end of history home tours, but I thought it was worth it!  So whether you read the book or not, I hope you check it out.  I would love to go back!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Salem Maritime NHS

Day 57, Monday, September 10, 2018
Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Salem, Massachusetts

I was excited to spend the day in Salem, Massachusetts.  It is home to historical sites extending back about 350 years! 

Salem Maritime National Historic Site was the park system’s first National Historic Site; it was designated on March 17, 1938.  It preserves and interprets multiple eras in history, including the Triangle Trade (the trade in cotton, rum, slaves and sugar) between England, the colonies, and Africa, privateers during the American Revolution, and global trade after Independence.  There are several homes and commercial buildings surviving from these periods, and some are open to the public! 

The Narbonne House was built in 1675, and is an example of the Saltbox architectural style.  Saltboxes are defined by the existence of a lean-to built onto the back of the building.  I toured the Narbonne House, and it was interesting to see, as it has not been modernized.  It was built by butcher Thomas Ives, and from 1750-1780, the Narbonne House was owned by Captain Joseph Hodges, and then in 1780 it was purchased by Jonathan Andrew, a tanner.  Descendants of Andrew owned and lived in it until 1964, when it was donated to the park service.  I enjoyed the guided tour of the first floor.

The Custom House was built in 1819; it was the 13th Custom House in Salem. It was here that taxes were collected on imported cargoes. You can see the inside on our own. Check out that gold eagle on top of the building!

The Derby House is the oldest surviving brick home in Salem.  It was built in 1762 by Richard Derby, Sr. for his second son Elias Hasket Derby, a wedding gift.  Hasket became a successful merchant and privateer during the American Revolution, which allowed him to buy a mansion in town and sell this home in 1796. 

The Hawkes House was also begun by Elias Hasket Derby; construction began on the 5,000 foot home in 1780.  It was originally going to be the home that he moved his growing family into, but when the exterior was nearly finished he decided to move to an existing mansion.  It must be nice to have that kind of money! It stood unfinished and vacant for 20 years before it was purchased by Benjamin Hawkes and his business partner.  His business partner had his half of the home removed and moved, so the remaining home is the 3,200 square foot Hawkes House. 

The West India Goods Store was built in 1804, and probably initially was used as a warehouse.  It operated as various stores throughout the 19th century.

The Derby Wharf is the longest wharf in Salem, at 1/2 mile long.  It was originally built in 1762 and then lengthened in 1806.  When it was in use, warehouses lined the sides of the wharf, but they are all gone now.  The Derby Wharf Light is still at the end of the wharf though; it was built in 1871.  It is a square tower that extends 25 feet above the mean high water line.  It originally had a sixth-order Fresnel lens, the smallest order, and was one of only 17 sixth-order lenses in lighthouses around the world.  The light still operates today when a red flashing automated beacon. 

I had lunch at the Brodie’s Seaport restaurant.  I had a Sam Adams Oktoberfest beer (it seemed fitting for Salem, Massachusetts) and fish and chips. 

I also had a chance to wander one of Salem’s original cemeteries, and see the memorial garden that honors the victims of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.  I find it interesting to ponder the circumstances that led Salem’s residents to ostracize and persecute their neighbors.  In writing this, I see similarities between what happened there and the climate in the United States today.  Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.  We best be careful to not continue down this path. 

I would love to return to Salem and see more of its history, and visit more of the Salem Witch Trial sites.  There is never enough time on a trip! 

I ended my visit with a trip to the National Historic Site’s Visitor Center to get my passport stamp and see the exhibits.  It was interesting to connect the sites that I saw with a bit more of the context!

I also visited the House of Seven Gables; the home that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book of the same name.  I’ll post about that next! 

Circus Trip 2018: Boston Freedom Trail, Pt.4

Day 56, Sunday, September 9, 2018
Boston Freedom Trail, Boston, Massachusetts

Stop 13: Old North Church

“One if by land, two if by sea.”  We probably all learned these lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Paul Revere’s Ride, when we studied the American Revolution in elementary school.  Now I got to see where the words were inspired!

Christ Church, aka Old North Church, is the oldest standing church building in Boston, opening on December 29, 1723.  The 191 foot steeple is also the tallest in Boston.  Just before the beginning of the Revolutionary War, British General Thomas Gage made plans to capture the munitions stored by the rebels at Lexington and Concord, and to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams.  However the Sons of Liberty discovered the plot and had time to hatch their own plan to warn of the arrival of the British Army.

On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere instructed Christ Church sexton Robert Newman to light lanterns in the steeple to signal the path that the British troops were taking in their advance.  One if by land, two if by sea…  Although the two lanterns only hung for a couple of moments, it was long enough for patriots in Charlestown to learn that the British were crossing the Charles River.

The original steeple was destroyed by a hurricane in 1804, and a replacement was destroyed in 1954, so Old North Church is now on its third steeple.  It doesn’t detract from the beauty of this historic site.  When I was there, there was construction going on and the street that leads to the church was fenced off.  The base of the Paul Revere statue in front of the church was covered in plywood to protect it.  On the way back though we were able to take a photo from the other side.

Stop 14: Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground was Boston’s largest colonial cemetery, dating from 1659.  Most of the people here are ordinary Bostonians; merchants, artisans and craftspeople who lived in the North End of Boston.  A few are notable.  Cotton Mather and Increase Mather, son and father, Puritan ministers who played a large role in the Salem Witch Trials, are buried here.  The sexton of the Old North Church who raised the lanterns, Robert Newman, is also among those who rest here.  It is also believed that approximately 1,000 free African-Americans lie here.

It isn’t all peaceful however.  The British used the burying ground as a vantage point and placed cannons here, in order to bombard Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775.

Stop 15: USS Constitution

The USS Constitution, nicknamed “Old Ironsides”, is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world!  She was built over the span of four years, and completed in 1797!

The USS Constitution was rated at 44 guns, but usually carried between 50 and 60 guns.  She also had a larger crew than many ships she came up against.  That combined with her top speed of 13 knots gave her a competitive advantage.

Old Ironsides got her nickname in the War of 1812, when she battled against the British Frigate HMS Guerriere, and cannonballs seemed to bounce off her as if she were made of iron.  This was due to the three layers of white oak and live oak she was constructed with.  Her copper fastenings were made by Paul Revere.

The USS Constitution is berthed at the Charlestown Navy Yard and she heads out into Boston Harbor several times a year for demonstrations.  The Navy Yard and the USS Constitution are part of the Boston National Historical Park, and there are several passport stamps!  Because she is still a commissioned warship, she still has a crew of naval officers and enlisted personnel.  Clara and I were able to tour her, and it was so fun to check her out!  Watch out for the low ceilings!

Stop 16: Bunker Hill Monument

The first major battle of the Revolutionary War was the Battle of Bunker Hill, on June 17, 1775.  Interestingly there was confusion about which hill was supposed to be fortified.  So it was actually Breed’s Hill that was incorrectly fortified due to an incorrect map, and the Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed’s Hill.

During the battle, it took a force of 2,200 Redcoats three different assaults to dislodge the rebels from the hastily constructed redoubt on top of the hill.  Although the battle was a British victory, the battle showed how well the Colonial troops could fight.

A Bunker Hill monument was laid in 1825 by the Marquis de Lafayette on the 50th anniversary of the battle.  The granite obelisk that memorializes the hill is 221 feet tall, and was completed in 1842.  You can climb the 294 steps inside the monument and see some beautiful 360 degree views of Boston!  That was fun, but did show me that even though I’m in pretty good shape, Clara is much younger than me!

The Bunker Hill Monument is a part of the Boston National Historical Park as well, so there was another chance to get a stamp!  It was at this point that the official stops of the Boston Freedom Trail ended.  But Clara and I were certainly not done for the day!  We still had to retrace our steps to get back to Boston Common and the parking garage where I was parked.

Clara wanted to check out Mike’s Pastries on our way back, so we got chocolate mousse cannoli, tiramisu, and strawberry cheesecake and shared them all.  They were so delicious!

It was now evening, and Clara and I said our goodbyes and I made my way back to the parking garage, then back to the campground.  The good news was that I missed the evening traffic as well!

I had so much fun in Boston, and it was so much fun to have someone to sight-see with!  Boston was easily one of my favorite days on my trip.

Note: If you would like to see the other stops on the Boston Freedom Trail, see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.