While I’m on the subject of seaborne memorialization, it’s worth drawing attention to an upcoming anniversary with a naval theme. October 26, 1993 saw the launch of the USS John Paul Jones, a guided missile destroyer of the Arleigh Burke class. Wikipedia notes that she is currently assigned to Destroyer Squadron 23 as part of the U.S. Navy’s presence in the Pacific. But I’m less interested in the ship’s current deployment than in its name.
Richmond, Virginia was the capital of the Confederacy for most of the duration of the Civil War. The city today has a number of sites to commemorate that conflagration. Down on Richmond’s riverfront is a National Park Service site that includes what for my money is one of the better (private) interpretive museums I’ve seen.
I remember the first time I heard about the Appalachian Trail. It was in the fall of 1991. Some friends were heading out for an extracurricular weekend of hiking and camping along a portion of something called the Appalachian Trail. I had the opportunity to join them but I hesitated. What kind of trail is this? I inquired. It certainly goes up and down mountains, as a decent trail should, but its main defining feature, I gleaned, is its length. The Appalachian Trail is very, very long—much longer than a trail has any right to be, or so I thought.
One summer a couple of years ago, when I was working as a living history volunteer at Valley Forge National Historical Park, I had just finished a presentation on Continental Army soldiers’ living conditions at the park’s Muhlenberg Huts. A member of the audience, an older man with a buzz cut and rigid bearing—probably ex-military—asked me where I was from. When I answered he looked at me with a very curious and slightly combative expression on his face and asked me, “Why is it you do this when you have so much history in your own country?”
Though my main job is college professor, I’m also a seasonal park guide/ranger, working intermittently at a historical park in Pennsylvania. So how the hell did a Scottish immigrant end up working for such an iconically American outfit as the National Park Service? I’ve often asked myself that question.
When I’m not teaching college—or at any rate when I’m not at home for parts of the summer—I work at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. This is worthy of note, because Philly holds a weird and exceptional place deep in my memory bank.
I think a little biography is in order. My story as an American—and as a serious investigator of cultural memorials—began on July 4, 2005, at the Genesee Country Village (above), a living history museum in Mumford, NY.