Winston Churchill is reputed to have once said that Americans always end up doing the right thing, but only after they’ve exhausted all the other possibilities. It sounds a bit mean, but it’s really more of a compliment, if a backhanded one. Besides, Churchill was half-American, so he gets some license to provide insight about the country of his mother’s birth. Anyway, I’ve always thought this quote is one of the most astute I’ve heard about the United States, and its veracity is borne out by the building that more than any other encapsulates everything about what this country is about, or at least supposed to be about: Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.
The National Constitution Center celebrates the idea that Americans can still come together to tackle national problems as a unified people. Unfortunately, that quaint notion puts it squarely at odds with more and more elements of the news media that dominate our public sphere today.
In my early days in America I knew very little about Colonial Williamsburg. What little impression I had formed of the place was not particularly positive. Somewhere along the line I’d got it into my head that it was little more than a cheesy colonial Disney World. I was wrong about that. Colonial Williamsburg is actually a worthwhile endeavor, if a little pricey. Still, there is a whiff of Disney about the place, and it can’t be avoided.
I love the Freedom Trail. It’s basically just a red brick path that runs through historic Boston, but its existence transforms the visitor’s experience of that city. It is very cool.
I felt a familiar Lincoln buzz the first time I walked up Washington, DC’s 10th Street NW to visit Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site in Washington, DC. The street has changed significantly since the 1860s, though the theater and the Petersen House are still there. Both are now run by the National Park Service.
Fort Sumter in South Carolina is a good example of how times change in historical commemoration. Just as surely as the Confederate bombardment of the Union fort marked the start of that war on April 12, 1861, the calendar marked Sumter’s position at the leading edge of Civil War centennial commemorations in 1961 and the sesquicentennial in 2011. And that most recent, 150th anniversary provided new opportunities for South Carolina, and the rest of the country, to reconsider the relationship between the catastrophic clash between North and South and the institution of slavery that propelled that clash.
If you find yourself visiting the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood, you’re likely either a hard-core Revolutionary War buff, a National Park Service completist, a Polish tourist or a Polish-American. And unless you’ve brought a friend you’ll probably be the only visitor there. The lone park ranger on duty will be happy to talk with you because visitors are so rare and she’ll be glad of the company.