Copyright (c) 1997 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Van Tales Chapter 47 - Oct 15 to Nov 24, 1997 Palmyra, VA to Palmyra, VA
Six adults sat around an elongated oval table hidden under a white table cloth. Dirty dishes, cups, glasses, bowls, silverware encircled the centerpiece of orange, brown, and green artifical fruits and yellow clear glass candle holders with tall green candles. Afternoon sunlight filtered in from behind the closed miniblinds giving the entire scene a muted golden glow. We chatted about those things only families can find interesting after a good filling meal. Stevie (6) and Lesley (4) played kids games of hide and seek under the table. The smells of roasting turkey, hot mashed potatoes, steaming squash, and baking pumpkin pie that just a while before were driving our saliva glands into a drooling frenzy no longer held much interest. It was Thursday, November 27, 1997 Thanksgiving Day and we had all just done what millions of folks all across the US would do this day, stuffed ourselves. We now all stared at the pile of dishes sitting around the table each of us knowing but not wanting to acknowledge that there was a similar but larger and messier pile of pots and pans out in the kitchen. Finally, with a sigh we lethargicly rose and headed for the kitchen and the clean-up task awaiting.
That chilly October 11 day when we climbed aboard the VW Westflia with my father to drive that long 10 hour drive from Cazenovia, NY to Palmyra, VA seemed like half lifetime ago, yet it was only six weeks. Six weeks of putting lots of miles and lots of work into the VW. Per our compromise, reached last spring while we were still in Mexico, this 10 hour trek began a six month stint living in the van while traveling around the southerly, warmer climates such as Florida and Mexico. Brian had been looking forward to this day for over a month with much anticipation. He looked upon this change as an opportunity to do something other than bike ride for awhile, such as hike,canoe, and visit places that would have been too dangerous to ride to while biking. Me, well I dreaded this day. No matter how I tried I simply could not rid myself of feelings of sadness, regret, disappointment and loss. Giving up the bikes, even for just the cold winter months, to be just like everyone else, a car loving gringo feels like a part of my life has been stripped away. I was not excited.. But, this was our compromise.. I admit I will be so happy to be back on the bikes in April.
After stops to buy a small crate of concord grapes and to peruse the goodies for sale at the Woolrich clothing factory store we finally arrived at my parent's brand new, to them at least, house well past 11PM. My mother, naturally being quite excited to show off their new purchase, took us on the grand tour right away. I'll have to confess, we were both so tired I suspect we may not have appeared truly appreciative of their new digs. It's hard when your eyes are half closed and you've been sitting for 10 hours squashed between the engine lifter machine my father picked up, for a good price, at the Hersey auto show, a large rock from Cazenovia he'll add to his new wall in the back yard, a basket full of apples, his sleeping bag and clothing bag and our 10 bike bags, sleeping bags, and tent. When we finally got to bed I couldn't keep my eyes open another minute.
We woke to a bright, sunny and warm fall morning and were able to get the real tour at a much easier and alert pace. It's a nice house situated on a private lake in an oddly located gated community. It's odd because it's way out in the country, a good 20 to 30 minutes from the nearest city, Charlottesville. Surely this far out in the sticks there isn't enough theft requiring a guarded gate. Their backyard slopes at a pretty good angle down to a small dock from which I'm confident the grandkids will have many a great summer jumping into the lake. Sure beats their old swimming pool as now mother nature gets to do all the pool maintenance.. The layout of the house is one that they both have been dreaming about for years. There's a large 2 car garage with room to add housing for 2 more and half of the lower level, no less than 1000 sq ft, is all unfinished work space. Just the kind of space an antique car junkie needs.. The rest of the house is bright, roomy, and subdivided into just the right number of rooms for day-to-day living, entertaining, and taking care of household business. The kitchen has so many cupboards you wind up searching through three or four before finding whatever it is you're looking for. Just what my mother has wanted for years. What we liked best was the fact that for once we could settle into a corner to do our own work without feeling like we're in the way. In this house the work space is separated from the bedrooms, a huge improvement.
Of course we did have a lot of work to do. Switching from living on bikes to living in a van actually requires quite a bit of reorganization. We had to pull everything out of the panniers, decide what we'd be using in the van and what could go into hard to reach locations, clean the summer's dust out of the van, and repack it. Add to that having a few items on the van fixed, making the normal 6 month doctor and dentist appointments, restocking on food items, sorting through the mail. We had a lot to do in just a few short days. The most exciting, and most frustrating thing was the integration of our new HP 320LX computer into our electronics suite. For 2 1/2 years I'd been hoping that HP would come out with a new and improved handheld computer. I even went so far as to write letters to both the President and CEO of HP and Bill Gates at Microsoft. I only had a few simple requests, such as, larger keyboard, a Windows compatible OS, MS Excell and Word, color screen, and 2 PCMCIA slots for a modem and memory all in a package weighing around 1 to 2 lbs., costing around $500, and running on AA batteries. OK, so I was asking for the sun, moon, and stars with the hope of getting the moon and maybe the big dipper as a consolation prize. I got letters back. From HP the letter just said, more or less, "we'll take your ideas under advisement". Didn't give me much hope. However, at Microsoft someone in Gates' office forwarded my letter on to a person in charge of their consumer products division and he told me there was something in the works that would answer most of my problems. True to his word I started hearing about the new Windows CE computers just a few months later and HP was to release their version in mid 1997. With that word we waited through spring and then on through summer, finally ordering the computer in August from our favorite mobile computer catalogue, Educalc.
My new toy was waiting for us in Virginia and I was so excited. At last I could leave 10 year old technology and my old 286 equivalent behind. But I soon discovered getting my old periferal hardware to work with the 320 was one of those upgrade stories from Hell we hear about so often. First, I found out my old flash memory card not only wouldn't work, it didn't even fit. I wound up having to buy a new card, an unanticipated additional $105 cost. Next, my old Zoom pocket modem didn't seem to work. I spent frustrating week after frustrating week trying to figure out how to get it to work. HP's technical support didn't make the task any easier as they kept giving me misinformation. Finally, in one last desparate attempt I switched to manual dial and everything fell together. It worked! It's not a clean interface but it does work. I can only hope that since so many more computer manufacturers are hopping on the Windows CE bandwagon my next computer upgrade will be smoother, yeah fat chance.
After getting all these chores done in the short span of about 4 days we headed out on the road in our fully packed VW. We were due back in Palmyra for Thanksgiving and this was just October 15. With time to spare we chose to make a circuit tour of some of the eastern areas we'd missed on the bikes 2 1/2 years earlier and this past summer. First, we headed north to the Phili area where we purchased a small propane heater and a Thule rack and luggage carrier for the top of the van to give us much needed extra space. Getting the heater installed was an ordeal in itself. It took three days to get all the right copper tubing and flare nut fittings, carefully cut and fit the parts together, and screw the pieces together. This done, we'd turn on the gas and stick our noses in the corners of the cupboards sniffing like hunting hounds only to find another leak. It had to all come apart. As with most projects like this it took a good 3 times longer than it should have. It's installed now and works quite well.
>From Phili we headed south to pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway at its start in Shenandoah National Park. For the next 4 weeks we took a leisurely drive down the full 450 mile length of the parkway exploring Shenandoah at its northern portal and Great Smokey Mountains Nat'l Park to the south. We visited all the turnouts, hiked to all the overlooks, visited whatever museums were open, and went out for 4 to 5 mile hikes. It was getting mighty cold, frost and snow flurries were not uncommon. So our time outdoors tended to be limited by how much cold we could tolerate and I am not a cold weather lover. We closed campgrounds to the north as we pushed ever further south.
Shenandoah and Great Smokey Mountains with its connector the Blue Ridge Parkway are perhaps some of the most unusual parks administered by the National Parks Service. Not due to their geography, flora, and fauna which are quite remarkable as far as the east coast mountin ranges are concerned. No. More because of their origin. Long before the parks were established these hills were inhabited by the old fashioned, red necked, whiskey brewing, straw chewing, mountain yokels of Beverely Hillbillies fame. When the best, most fertile and level farmlands of the valleys were taken these folks moved up the canyons and onto the mountain tops. There they cleared a few precious acres of level land, built their small log cabins, barns, corn cribs, and hog pens. They lived a relatively isolated and self sufficient lifestyle. Just getting into the nearest large town usually entailed at least a day's travel over rock strewn, gully ridden buggy roads. It was a trip not to be taken too lightly. They developed their own heritage, culture, music, and crafts many of which have been saved for future generations in the Foxfire book series, available at all the park visitors centors of course. Great smokey Mounains eventually changed from an economy based on these subsistance family farms to great logging industries. But Shenandoah remained primarily in the hands of farmers.
Along about the 1920s a bunch of rich dudes, like Rockefeller for one, decided that the lands around Shenandoah in particular would make for a great National Park. They each put forth a bunch of money and presented it along with the suggestion to Congress that a great eastern park emulating Yellowstone out west be created. The only thing is, they also convinced Congress that there was hardly anyone living there. Now imagine you're a poor farmer living on a small plot of mountain top land passed down from your father and his father before. You're doing reasonably well. Got a nice 2 room cabin, 8 kids, 2 horses, 3 cows, a gaggle of semiwild pigs, chickens, and turkeys, and a still out in the backwoods that easily produces the best moonshine this side of Front Royal. One day, while working in the fields, some fancy dressed man comes huffing and puffing up the rugged trail you call a road, sweat dripping off his brow, persperation stains ruining his nice white store bought cotton shirt. He looks nervously around, shifting from one foot to another, hesitates briefly as if not sure exactly where to start. As if coming to some resolve he quickly reaches into his pocket and pulls out a sweat dampened document. "Yer moving out." He says, "Gov'ment's buying up all the land herebouts to open a new park." What would your reaction be.
Ok, so it may not have happened quite this way. Many people were, in fact, happy to sell and move to the big city where they hoped to get better paying jobs. Working the rocky high lands in the mountains was backbraking and not tremendously profitable. The city could look like a quick way to easy street. Some people decided to hold out. For them the government yielded a bit, giving them a lifetime lease for their former lands. They would be allowed to live on and work the land until their death. Then the land would revert to the park. In the end, though, a way of life was ended and the descendents of these hardy mountain folks now live in the surrounding large towns, probably running the hotels, motels, and restaruants the park visitors frequent.
The geography was an interesting contrast to the mountains of our beloved Wyoming. Many people do not realize that the eastern mountains were once as high and rugged as the Rockies. They're just much, much older. Wind, rain, snow, and ice have gradually eroded the tops making these hills much lower (around 6,000 ft max) and much rounder. Add the softening effect of a layer of lush greenery and you're left with mounstains that look little more than rounded foothills of the Rockies. Traveling along the length of the Blue Ridge, a park that often is no wider than the grass median bordering the roadway, takes you through all different sorts of terrain. To the north, you're in those low green clad mountains. Along the way you reach heights of around 6,000 ft and passes, AKA gaps, as low as 600 ft. Farms and even entire towns sometimes line the parkway and the road itself even can have a small version of "rush hour" at these locations. Finally as you approach the Smokey mountains the altitude once again climbs and the mountains start to look far more rugged as if the effects of weather erosion have not had quite as much impact. We were surprised to see how similar the southern mountains are to the Rockies even if they are much lower.
We did learn something truly amazing about the flora along the Blue Ridge. Standing in one spot and looking all around in the middle of the summer exuhberance of green foliage you will see more different species of plant life within that 100 ft radius than is found in all of Europe put together. This may explain why the fall coloration we find along the N. American eastern seaboard is so much more spectacular than anything found in Europe. Each variety of plant will lend its own unique color to that great overall palate.
A short side trip from the parkway, just southeast of Roanoke, VA, is the birthplace of Booker T. Washington. He was born into slavery in 1856 on the eve of the Civil war and all the great changes it wrough. He was blessed with an insatiable desire to learn. Following the war he and his mother went to live with his stepfather in Malden, WV where he immediatly went to work in a salt mine to support the family. It took some wheeling and dealing with his step father but eventually he was allowed to work days and attend a local school set up for former slave children at night. This was the start of his quest for knowledge. At this point he was taken in as a houseboy for some very wealthy and slightly eccentric lady. This woman had a very strict sense of what a house should look like and how it should be kept clean. He was required to learn how to keep this house to her satisfaction, a skill that was quite usefiul later on. At age 16 he learned of a new school for black children in Hampton, VA called the Hampton Institute. Not having the full train fare, he walked much of the 500 miles from Malden to Hampton where he arrived dirty, tired, with not a penny to his name. Yet he still had to pass an unusual entrance exam before being admitted. The school mistress, wondering what type of character this dirty, unkempt boy was, made him clean a room. I guess to her cleanliness was the mark of a fine upbringing. She was so impressed with his work she let him enroll.. From there his life continued ever onward and upward. He became an instructor at the school, then a principal for Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and was a highly respected educator of any color.
He was also an advocate for black civil rights, at least in the work arena. In fact, looking at his history of words versus his behind-the-scenes activities it is apparent he was a bit of a wiley character. At a time when whites were very leary of letting blacks have much more than the right to work, certainly not the right to vote and participate in other affairs of state, he went along with this idea. At least in his public speaches and writings that is. All the while he was telling white folk what they wanted to hear he was taking their money and putting it into places where it would do the most to forever change these attitudes. Unlike some of his black contemporaries who were much more vocal, much more controversial, and probably much less influential, he followed the popular opinion of the white folk to gain the money to meet his own objectives. Sneaky and smart wouldn't you say. In his later years he did start to come out more with these ideas he'd kept secret for so long. He died in 1915 at age 59 and his birthplace became a national monument in 1959. My main comment to Brian about him was, he was one smart dude both academically and politically.
The farm was nothing spectacular. Simply a small tobacco farm in the western regions of Virginia. Few buildings still stand; a barn, a dining house, smokehouse, corncrib, chicken coop, and tobacco drying barn, and I don't believe any are original. The Burroughs family were not the wealthy slave owners we normally associate with that era. They had perhaps 9 or 10 slaves at most none of which were mistreated in anyway. They just had no individual rights to speak of. Both slaves and the owners worked hard to plant, maintain, and harvest their small tobacco crop as well as maintain all the other aspects of farm life. Following the war, however, most small farms such as this could not succeed. Their profit margins were so small that without the slave labor they could not continue. The Burroughs family eventually gave up and the farm fell into decay until such time as it could be redeemed as a national monument.
Another short side trip from the Blue Ridge Parkway, located in the rolling hills surrounding Flat Rock, NC we discovered the largest and last home of the famous "workingman's" poet, Carl Sandburg, his wife Lilian, their three daughters and two grandchildren. It was a large mountain farm built around 1838 given the unusual name of Connemara in honor of the previous owner's Irish ancestors. Upon entering the National Historic Site you first walk up the slight hill and get your name on the list for the next house tour. The tour takes you through the living room, dining room, offices for both Carl and Lilian, upstairs bedroom including the one where Carl died, and finally the basement/kitchen area. Following the tour you can take a short hike across the hills up to some of the rocks where Sandburg spent many an hour creating his poetry. I mention this house for three main reasons. First, despite being quite successful at this point in his career and having quite a bit of money which allowed him to easily afford this very large house, he was still a very plain person at heart. Eventhough the house could be a quite elegant country farmhouse, Sandburg refused to fill it with anything more than the most basic and comfortable furnishings. The furniture was old, worn, inexpensive looking. It all had that long lived-in look. He filled his house with things that were useful, not necessarily good looking. This becomes particularly clear when you find each room has its own orange crate, turned on end, used as a side table for one of Sandburg's many favorite reading spots. Also, he was a obsessive collector of reading material. Books lined the walls of each and every room. Magazines and books covered nearly every horizontal working space and were formed in disarrayed piles next to the stair case. More magazines filled a fairly good sized room out in the barn as well. He never threw away a piece of reading material. It just got filed out in the barn. When he died the house contained over 14,000 volumes. I ad to wonder, was he a speed reader. How could he find time to read all these pieces, write his poetry, and maintain his active lecture schedule as well. Finally, it turns out Lilian was equally famous in her own right as a goat breeder. She started raising goats when her daughters were young and they were living in Michigan as a way of adding goats milk to their diet. She really got into it. What started out as a hobby grew into a prize winning herd. Which contributed to their moving to a country farm in NC as well. They must have made quite an interesting and odd family to know.
We reached the Smokey mountains towards the end of November having enough time to look around for a few days before needing to head back north. Considering this is the most heavily visited park in the country it was amazingly empty. With the exception of the busy road that goes between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, we found little difficulty getting off onto some fairly quiet trails. That connecting road, however, was incredibly busy for this time of year. I couldn't help but wonder what an unbelievable mess it must be in the summer. Seeing this we both resolved right then and there we'll never, ever visit this park in the peak season.
The time to leave finally came and we made the mistake of heading out through Pigeon Forge after dark. Leaving during the day is bad enough with having to drive over 10 miles through a gautlent of tourist trinket, junk shops, country western shows, hotels, restaurants, and other gawdy attractions designed to keep bored tourists busy and broke. But at night, WOW. Picture driving through the dark underbrush of trees closely hugging the sides of the road. Suddenly you break out into a tunnel of multicolored, flashing lights illuminating everything with that otherworldly glow that comes from far too many neon lights combined with again way too many normal filament lights. It was all made far worse by the fact they had already decorated for Christmas. Every lamp pole had 6 huge lighted snowflakes that would light in series to look like falling snow. There was a lite Welcome to Pigeon Forge Festival of Lights sign at both ends of town, a tunnel of lights on a bridge in the middle, a fake train station with a train all made of lights, light formed toy soldiers, lights, lights, and more lights. We were woefully reminded of Las Vegas, yuch. Add to that the decorations and lights from each business trying to outdo its neighbor and you have an illuminated assault on the optic nerve. I suspect each business must feel that the more they decorate the more they'll attract the clients. Perhaps it worked with some folks. We just wanted to leave.
We headed back north, but not directly to Palmyra. First we needed to return to Philidelphia where we had promised to visit our friends Wendy and Jeffery once again. Naturally we decided to make a few stops along the way, finishing what we feel has been a reasonable historic tour of the east coast. The first was the home of the president Andrew Johnson. Over the past 2 1/2 years we've managed to visit several homes of former presidents. We've learned much about the real history versus what appears in those sterilized high school history books. But I feel this short visit at the Johnson home was possibly one of the most clarifying.
I recall from my old history classes that Johnson was the only president to be impeached by the house. Yet I never fully understood how it was that until Nixon, we'd never had a president leave office early for any reason other than death. These two facts seemed to contradict one another. So to set the story straight we had a long talk with the ranger. Here's what really happened. Johnson had the unfortunate position of being Lincoln's VP and, consequently became President upon Lincoln's assasination. Johnson had the unenviable task of putting a counry torn apart by a 4 year long war back together. His approach was one of moderation. He waned to get the southern states back into the swing of things ASAP both economically and politically. He allowed their congressional representatives back into the union, allowed them to vote. got their banks up and running, got some businesses going once again. However, people of the north weren't at all happy about this. They had just been through a terribly costly war both in terms of money and human lives. Vengence and retribution was what they wanted. Congress, being controlled by these vengefull minded northerners, put roadblocks in Johnson's way specifically with the aim of either making him acquiese or leave office.
The roadblock that nearly cost Johnson his job was a law that limited the President's ability to fire presidnentially appointed people. Specifically the president could not fire any appointed person without approval of congress. Looking at this law today it is quite clear it is in violation of the constitution. It essentially gives the congressional branch control over the executive branch, a violation of separation of government powers. Today this law would find itself before the Supreme court so fast, I hope, no one would ever even consider proposing it. And that is what Johnson attempted to do, get it placed before the court He fired his secretary of war. Unfortunatly for him the Supreme court members at this time were all sympathizers with the northern views. The law never made it to a hearing. Instead the House took and passed a vote of impeachment against Johnson. The way things work, the House can vote to impeach the president but it is then up to the Senate to put the impeachment on trial. One man, and one man only, made the difference between impeachment and not. Edmund Ross of Kansas saw that the Congress was wrong in passing this law and voted against impeachment. And we always think one vote doesn't make any difference. Amazingly it took until 1927, about 60 years, for the Supreme court to finally delcare the law that caused these problems unconstitutional.
Another stop was at the house of Clara Barton, founder of the American chapter of the Red Cross. The house was quite large as it was given to her by a philanthropist with the specific idea she should use it for the Red Cross headquarters. It's situated on a rise overlooking the Potomac river and the C&O canal, although they did not use the canal as it was in its declining years by the time she moved in. Entering the house you find yourself in a huge hall with internal balconies extending 3 floors up. A huge potbelly stove is centered in the main hall and closets and cupboards surround it. Most of the space on the main floor was used for an office, at the back, and storage. She literally kept enough emergency supplies stored in the house such that she could quickly load up wagons and head to a disaster site in a matter of hours. Of course, she didn't have enough supplies for the entire relief effort stored in the house. Just enough to get things rolling. Once on site she had to organize her contacts from around the counry and get more supplies sent in. Her roll was primarily the organizer and facilitator.
Miss Barton was born on Christmas day, 1821 in North Oxford, Mass. She never married and never had children. During the civil war she became involved with aiding the injured soldiers on the field. This was a time when almost no form of medical aid on the battle field existed. Injured soldiers often died where they were shot because of reasons as trivial as a need for water. She became involved with getting aid to these men. For some reason I always got the impression she was actually out there in the field doing the nursing and doctoring, bandaging wounds, performing surgery, etc. Turns out she may have done some of that in the course of her work. But she primarily helped organize the resources needed to get medical aid onto the battle field. She got people to donate food, blankets. bandages, medical supplies. She got the doctors, nurses, and other volunteers together. Basically got the people and supplies to the places they were needed when they were needed. Somehow this doesn't quite fit with the mental picture I have of her working well into the wee hours of the morning bandaging some poor soldier's wounds.
Following the war she went on a tour in Europe. It was here she first heard about the International Red Cross. Much to the surprise of the Europeans, she had never heard about it before. Lincoln was afraid that if he allowed the Red Cross in to help the forces it would be construed as aid from a specific country. Other European counries then might join with the south, something to be avoided at all cost. Ah yes another one of those political maneuvers we never hear about in high school. She became quite active in the Red Cross efforts during the Franco-Prussian war and afterwards brought the idea for an American chapter back home. But she added her own twist to the organization's charter. She started providing aid in other manmade and natural disasters, such as the infamous Johnstown flood. In addition she wanted to start training in areas of disaster prevention, first aid classes and such. This later item never materialized withing the framework of the Red Cross while she was its president as she had a falling out with some of the key players in the organization. She resigned in 1904 with a bit of a bitter note and went off to start her own first aid training organization. An organization whose concepts were later incorporated into the Red Cross following her death. Clara died in that large home in Glenn Echo on April 12, 1912.
Back in Philidelphia we stopped in to visit two National Historic Sites we missed when we visited last spring. One was a house the great poet Edgar Allen Poe once lived in and another house a man named Thaddeus Kosciusko (Ko-shu-sko) rented. Both of these are prime examples of wasteful, pork-barrel spending within the park service that just makes my blood boil. Let's start with the Poe house. It's located about a 1 1/2 miles away from the main liberty square. It's a 2 story brick townhouse of 2 residences. It's surrounded by 1960s style industrial and warehouse buildings that have taken over the formerly residential area over the years. Inside the house is essentially nothing. There's a short movie about Poe's life, a few poster type displays discussing the attitude of his peer writers toward him, and a few books with his and other poets' works for sale. The rooms throughout the rest of the house are vacant, not even finished as if the building were under construction or long abandoned. There's not one single artifact of Poe's in the house. Not a piece of furniture, no clothes, no papers, no pens, nada, zilch, zip!! In fact, apart from knowing that Poe, his wife and mother-in-law lived here for about 2 years, they have absolutely no idea what each of the 6 or so rooms were used for. They have a brochure that gives some vague instructions to just imagine what it may have looked like back then. There was absolutely nothing new you could gain by visiting this house that you could not find in some encyclopedia or other historical reference about Poe. OK I could see making this a National Historic site if it were the best and only site available. However, there are three others: Edgar Allen Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, Edgar Allen Poe cottage in Bronx, and Poe Museum in Richmond, all of which contain true Poe artifacts.
My second example, the Kosciuszko house, or shall I say room as that's pretty much what it was, is just as bad. First we had to find out who the heck was this Thadeus Kosciuszko. He was a Polish military officer who came to the colonies at the start of the American revolution primarily because there were no wars going on in Poland and he was out of work. He offered his services as an engineer to General Washington, who took him up on it after a fair amount of delay and discussion. Kosciuszko was instrumental in designing and building the fortifications at York NY where one of the most decisive wins for the colonies occurred. After the war he returned to Poland where ye helped lead a revolution against the Russian government which failed. He was exciled to the U.S. where he lived in this one room of this small townhouse in Philidelphia for a period of about 8 months in the winter of 1797/98. He didn't get out much as he had been wounded in his battle with the Russians. He returned to Europe in the spring, albeit not to Poland, where he died having never set foot in Poland again.
So he was a war hero and a big help to the colonists. Big deal. There were a lot of war heros from the Revolution who were of European birth, Lafayette for one. Why does there have to be a whole historic site for this one guy. Turns out the house was purchased by a wealthy Polish business man, the guy who owns Mrs. Paul's fish sticks. It was through his effort and initial money that this house and the one room came under the care of the US park service. My feeling is if he wants this historic site so badly then he should have set aside the funds not just for the initial purchase but also for the future upkeep, maintenance, and staffing. Why place the burden on the US taxayer. Also, why not creat a museum dedicated to all the European soldiers who came to the aid of the colonists. There were qutie a few and all are just as deserving.
The two houses are administered as a single unit. Rangers from one house will spend time manning the entrance booth at the other. Yet I counted no less than 4 staff members in the short time we visited. That doesn't even include the management and maintenance people. I'd be willing to bet the annual budget just for keeping these two houses open and on the parks roster is at least $300K per year for salaries, benefits, maintenance, renovation, water, sewer, and electricity. Yet I really questionwhether the US is getting the maximum benefit from these dollars. Wouldn't the money be better spent elsewhere, maybe for that museum dedicated to all of the European soldiers that helped during the revolution. It just seems to be another waste of our money.
Following our short stop at Phili we returned to Bethleham PA to visit Wendy and Jeffery once again. It was the weekend so there'd be time to actually visit. After some debate we decided to head into New York City for the day. I can't help but recall those salsa commercials where the cowboys sit around the fire complaining that the salsa doesn't taste quite right and when they read the label one yells, "This one's made in NEW YORK CITY". the cook gets strung up and dragged behind a horse.
I had some trepidations about going into the city. Having grown up in upstate NY my parents would occasionally take us into the Big Apple for a vacation. My first visit was when I was about 7 and we went to the 1964 World's Fair. I can still recall riding through the original Disney It's a Small World and Carousel of Progress. I remember climbing into these huge red convertible cars and being taken on a tour, the cars were on tracks, of the future of transportation. And I remember the huge globe that was the center of the park and I understand still stands. I also recall there was a garbage man's strike and the city park litter barrels were overflowing throughout the parks. There were mountains of rubbish piled up in some of the alleys. My memories from all my other visits up to the last one which occured when I was about 17, are of a crowded, dirty, chaotic, messy, frightening city. It was exciting, yet terrifying and I never had any good feelings about the city at all. But to be fair I didn't have a good comparison. Coming from a small town of about 5000, a town that was generally spotless, clean, and crime free, a city such as New York was simply overwhelming. The subways, in particular, were most scary. When ever I would hear the horrible rumble of the train approaching I'd want to back as far away as I could. I'd heard stories about people getting shoved onto the tracks and I wasn't about to be one of them. It actually took a visit to Montreal where they have subway trains running on quiet pneumatic tires and clean modern stations before I realized subways weren't so bad after all.
So here I was visiting NYC for the first time in about 20 years and suddenly it just didn't seem so bad. It was basically no different than such cities as London, Paris, Brussels, LA, Mexico City, and Guatemala City. There were the usual tall buildings, people on the sidwalks rushing here and there, street vendors, restaurants offering all sorts of tantilizing ethnic goodies, stores, stores, and more stores. No longer was it this frightening labrynth of maze like structures, filth, crime, and destitution. And amazingly almost no beggers, which is quite an improvement over Mexico City. Certainly it does have its seedy parts like all cities. But having roamed through many of the largest cities of the world my perseption has changed dramatically with all these varied experiences. It was actually quite fun. I wouldn't want to live there as I'm still a country girl at heart. But it's fun to visit as each new block brings more surprises. Oh, I must also give credit to mayor Gulianno. I understand he's done a lot of work to clean up the city over the past several years and the results of his efforts show.
Our whirlwind tour of the northeast completed, we returned to palmyra for that belly stuffing Thanksgiving dinner. It'll likely be our last family Thanksgiving for many, many years and we wanted to make the most of it.
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