Race and the ties that bind at Monticello

There is an article in today’s New York Times about Monticello. Not so much about Monticello, but about how the decedents of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, and Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave who he supposedly had children with, have come to see the house as a place that binds them together. Jefferson, however, is buried in the graveyard, but Hemings is not. No one knows where Hemings is buried. Still, Jefferson’s grave holds importance, and like many places with historic value, people aren’t allowed to go near it. It has something to do with messing up the grass.

Monticello, according to the essay, is an indication of the complexity of United States history and the relationship between the people whose lives have been affected. It has become a place where healing can take place. One of the people mentioned in the article is from Gahanna, Ohio, not far from Columbus. She is a descendant of Hemings, and thus, possibly of Jefferson. For her, Monticello is a place that fosters the idea that folks ought to learn to get along since they may be related to each other after all.

The essay brought to mind the idea that places have meaning when the people who go there understand its importance. Otherwise, one might be walking through just another fancy house with gleaming wood furniture and fine china.

San Antonio Missions need a restoration fix

Even though there is National Park status for the San Antonio Missions, and they are of the 14 U.S. sites on the tentative list for possible World Heritage distinction, the money to restore them and preserve them is not enough—yet. So far $4 million dollars has been raised with another $11.5 million to go.

The missions were established almost 300 years ago, as Catherine mentioned in her post on them in our series of the World Heritage tentative list. In U.S. history–(not counting places like the Hopewell Culture sites or Anasazi ruins like Mesa Verde) that’s ancient. One thing I enjoyed about these missions when I visited them is the chance to learn more about the Spanish and Catholic influence on the development of the U.S. When one grows up in the midwest or the east coast of the United States, these are details that can be overlooked. Places like Mt. Vernon and Boston Harbor get more press.

The fund raising effort for the missions is being done by Las Misiones. The organization has the right idea about caring for those things that are important. Although World Heritage status would be terrific, not having it yet is not the worse thing. The missions included in the fund raising effort are: Mission Conception, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada.

Philadelphia puts on the steam to attract tourists

Grant recently waxed poetic about Philadelphia. In August, I posted about a 24 hour walking tour of the city that proved to be a rousing success. Two Decembers ago, Kelly offered a list of suggestions for a Philadelphia New Year. These are not even all our Philadelphia mentions. Here’s yet another reason to head to the land of the Liberty Bell. Their is a promotion going on to attract more visitors.

Starting from today through January 9, 2008, if you book a hotel through Philadephia’s tourist Web site, gophila/holidays.com you’ll be able to get a $50 discount on a hotel room in the form of a gift card. (The room needs to be above $150 which means you’ll get it for $100. That’s my understanding.) You need to use the code holidays when booking. Also, there’s a place on the site where you can enter the Winner Wonderland contest to win a slew of prizes.

I don’t think this link is up yet, because I couldn’t find it–and I looked around, but perhaps, I just missed it. The promotion starts Thanksgiving Weekend. If you find it, let us know how this works. I do know that when you shop in Philadelphia there aren’t an taxes on shoes or clothes. Also, here’s a link to half-price tickets for various entertainment and cultural venues.

As I was looking though the Web site, I noticed how many tour options there are. You can pick one that suits your interest level and time frame. One I found particularly intriguing is The Constitutional Cell Phone Tour. A map shows you historic sights to go and, when you stop at each one, you use your cell phone for the recorded message descriptions. That’s handy and clever. This tour can accommodate more than one cell phone.

Memorial Day Type Place: Gettysburg

If you live anywhere near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania perhaps you were one of those kids I saw on a field trip when I was on my own fifth grade outing. Here, on what now is pristine rolling hills and wooded countryside, 50,000 people died in three days during the American Civil War. A friend of mine, a Civil War buff, considers Gettysburg his most favorite place on the planet. He swears the place has some sort of vibe he can feel.

It’s been awhile since I was in the 5th grade but I still have the blurry photos I took and clearly remember the Electric Map (at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitors Center), the wax museum, and the site where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. The Electric Map, still part of the visitors’ center, shows the movements of the northern and southern armies with colored lights that represent each side.

The wax museum, now called American Civil War Museum doesn’t seem like it’s changed much from its Web site description. I remember one exhibit scene had a wax soldier whose chest moved in and out with his breathing. Another scene I remember, Jennie Wade baking bread in her sister’s kitchen where she was shot and died, is also there. I forgot about her until I read the Web site for the museum.

Hovering somewhere between history and kitch, Gettysburg knows what people like to see. In a world where many places don’t stay the same from one year to the next, it’s comforting to know that in some corners things are like we remember. Here’s a read from The Washington Post about traveling to Gettysburg with some well-put commentaries.

Iditarod, the Premiere Dog Sled Race, is Mushing Ahead

And they’re off! The Iditarod is into Day 3 of its 1130 mile race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. There are several check points along the way; I counted more than 20. According to last year’s finishing date, there are about 9 more days left. Last year’s winner came in on the 15th.

The race follows the Iditarod National Historic Trail every year, but switches which stretch of it is in the race. One year it’s the northern route. One year it’s the southern. This year is the southern route’s turn. This back and forth switching gives relief to the small towns that that take part in it. Mushers, press and volunteers have a way of taking a toll on small town Alaska. Every other year for a town is plenty.

Years ago, when the trail first opened, not for the race, but for trade and whatnot, dog sleds were used to deliver goods from coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the interior mining camps like Ophir and Ruby and communities like Nome. Everything from the mail to furs and gold made the trip.

The Iditarod website offers a map of the race, a comprehensive history, updated results, videos and photographs, so even if you are in the tropics somewhere you can feel connected to the excitement. Photo is courtesy of Kayak ’49 on Flickr. Check out his other shots of Alaska.