For some reason, in my head I’ve always imagined the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in a kind of faceoff, vying for top dog position on the National Mall. Both commemorate presidents held in the highest esteem among the American people. Both are, in their own ways, big imposing monuments. But they are also very different from each other.
The time I visited the George Mason Memorial I stumbled across it almost completely by accident. If there was ever a memorial in Washington, DC that seems like it was intended to be hidden from view, this is it. Just as well it’s so darned charming.
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.
Maybe it’s because of my background as a seasonal park service employee, but in recent years whenever I’ve seen photos or newsreel footage of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, I’ve taken a moment to wonder about the identities of the park rangers standing just to King’s left. That’s also got me thinking more about King himself.
Lunch counters seem like a quaint piece of early 20th century Americana, and I have long loved them for that. But as with so much of the iconography of Americana, the ugly shadow of racism has tainted our memory of lunch counters and their place in the culture. And when I say lunch counters, I’m really thinking about one lunch counter in particular: the one that once stood in the Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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.
It’s hard to overstate how much difference a good interpretive guide can make to your experience of a historic monument. I’ve had visits to great monuments spoiled by poor interpreters and visits to less well-known sites really brought alive by inspired historical interpretation. Longfellow House is a happy example of the latter category.