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.
One of the less well-advertised walking tours available at Independence National Historical Park takes visitors to a section of Philadelphia’s Old City loved by local residents but usually overlooked by visitors on their way to see Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell. This is a Philadelphia city park, just yards away from these more famous sites, that combines a quiet, shady respite from city hustle with an intriguing historical monument to the dead of the Revolutionary War.
If I had to name one historic site of truly national significance that should have been taken over by the National Park Service long ago but wasn’t, I’d have to plump for Washington’s Crossing. Right now the site is split between two states, neither of which seems willing to put in the resources a site like this deserves.
If you’re visiting Washington, DC and find yourself standing at the southern edge of Lafayette Square, chances are you’re there to get a good view of the White House, just across Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s about as close as you can get these days without going through a security screening. The park is a pleasant, landscaped public green space near the very heart of the U.S. Government. It also contains some rather interesting and surprising statuary.
Not so long ago I watched on PBS a documentary about founding father Alexander Hamilton, hosted by historian Richard Brookhiser. At one point in the documentary Brookhiser headed off to the battlefield site at Yorktown, Virginia, where in 1781 a French-American army had scored a huge victory by defeating and capturing the main British army in the South. There was one part of that documentary I found to be unexpectedly cool.
The third occasion on which I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC it was dark. I was with my wife, and we were at the memorial wall, trying to find her uncle’s name, which was inscribed on that wall along with 58,255 others. We knew generally where it was—an index book near the entrance to the wall provides location information for each name—but in the dark we were struggling to find it. Suddenly a small LED flashlight beamed white light onto the wall. It wasn’t ours—we’d neglected to bring one with us. I turned to see a small, slightly built park ranger aiming his flashlight at the section we’d been looking at.
For years I have found Veterans Day in the United States to be a little depressing—not because of the occasion itself but because of the way it is commemorated here. In the United States, most people don’t seem to pay much attention to the day. It sometimes seems that the most popular public acknowledgement of November 11 is the announcements by stores of their Veterans Day sales. Why is this?