The Delaware Water Gap

A friend who owns a second home in the Poconos thoughtfully offered us the opportunity to spend a day or two at her property. We gratefully accepted her offer partly because we thought we could all benefit from a mini-break and also because we normally only take day trips to the Poconos so it meant we would have longer to explore. Furthermore, I have also wanted to visit the Delaware Water Gap since we moved here (I cannot even recollect precisely why) and having my friend’s house as a base presented us with the chance to go that bit further afield and spend an entire day poking around in that area, which is governed by the National Park Service.

On our first day, we decided to focus on relaxation and quality family time. We spent time in the house together – playing card games, watching shark documentaries – and we walked to a nearby lake to spend some time there. We had planned on going swimming but it was a little bit too chilly at that time of day even for paddling so we just enjoyed the scenery, people watching, ice cream, and playing more card games. After dinner on the shore of another lake, however, it was time to head out and go for a hike.

My husband and I visited Hawk Falls several years ago now but we have never managed to take the boys there because the parking situation has always been horrendously swamped. Because we had the ability to hike in the early evening this time, however, we found a parking spot with ease and headed to the falls. It’s a relatively easy hike to the falls – though a little steep for a stretch on the return – and I like the way the path winds through the woods and across streams. I just really like being in the woods.

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There are definitely more impressive waterfalls but Hawk Falls are pleasing enough. Running water is always lovely, right? Except in relation to natural disasters or domestic pipe failures, of course. While we had met other visitors on the path, by the time we reached the falls, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was really peaceful. The boys had fun leaping around on the rocks. The 15 year old even scaled the rock wall on the opposite bank.

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We had a leisurely start to the next day. We also decided to start with a big breakfast because we knew we would have few and far between (if any) opportunities to stop for a bite to eat for the rest of the day. Our 18 year old ordered a massive sandwich stacked full of any breakfast meat you can think of and slathered in sausage gravy. His digestive system is in training for that $27 a day college meal plan he had to sign up for.

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I had devised an itinerary for our travels through the Delaware Water Gap and the first stop was my happy place: an old cemetery. Obviously I like to wander around in cemeteries regardless of any personal connection to the place but, on this occasion, my husband and kids actually have some relatives buried there. Only my 12 year old agreed to come and find the graves with me. Everyone else stayed in the car. You will observe from the accompanying photos that this became a common occurrence on this particular trip. My youngest son was my exploration buddy while the others opted in and mostly out of most itinerary items. Anyway, we found the two relevant Shellenberger graves with ease.

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Next up on the itinerary was visiting the view points on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware. Now I had conducted a decent amount of research on the Delaware Water Gap in order to draw up my itinerary so I was surprised and disappointed to discover that the view points were, quite frankly, totally duff. The first one we visited, we literally could not even glimpse a sliver of water through the trees and across the railroad tracks. What we could see was the interstate on the opposite side of the river and the sheer face of a small mountain. The same proved true of the other two view points we visited – though I did manage to see a patch of water from one of them. What I came to realise was that the National Park Service had taken photos of the views using either drones or cranes. Therefore, any human of normal height stood absolute zero chance of seeing the view, especially since there seemed to be no management of the foliage on the river banks.

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After that failure, the kids were growing ever more cynical about the purpose and merits of the whole trip. I decided we should boost up the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River and focus on all the bits and bobs on the New Jersey side I was hoping to see. Incidentally, all of the Visitor Centers and Ranger stations were closed and none of the historic buildings were open for visitors so it was just as well I had conducted all of my research in advance. What my research did not tell me was just how arduous navigating the roads was going to be.

The first stops were all fine as they were within the boundaries of still functioning towns. First there was the Foster-Armstrong House (usually open the public but not recently) which was a ferry-side tavern and inn for tired 19th Century travelers. Then there was the Minisink Dutch Reformed Church, the oldest church in the county and still going strong today. And there was the Nelden-Roberts Stonehouse.

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After those three historic buildings, my itinerary took us onto the Old Mine Road. Well, this proved to be quite the challenge. The road dates from the 1600s but I had expected the surface to have been improved since then. I am obviously exaggerating but the surface was seriously bad. It was extremely crumbled, full of deep pot holes and eroded at the sides – and it was single track as it was for very long stretches – and just incredibly rickety. It got worse the further we ventured down the road and the more committed we were to just plunging onwards. It actually got to the point that Mr Pict and I were making mental note of routes for one of us hiking back off the road on foot and where the nearest lived in property was for phoning for help should the axel of the car break. I feel like we should have earned badges declaring “I survived the Old Mine Road”.

Anyway, first stop on the Old Mine Road was the Westbrook Bell House. While my oldest two sons trekked back along the road to a ruined barn my 15 year old wanted to photograph, my youngest son and I headed down a grass covered path through the woods in search of the house. It felt like a fairytale with maybe a witch’s house at the end of the trail. We soon reached the house, which is the oldest extant structure in the Delaware Water Gap, dating as it does from 1701. We were wandering around the exterior of the house and peering into barns that looked like they might collapse at any moment when I smelled and then spotted what looked to my non-expert eyes like pretty fresh bear poop. We, therefore, decided it might be a smart idea to skedaddle back through the woods to the car.

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After another bone-jangling stretch of the Old Mine Road, we rejoined a proper road to visit what was once the village of Bevans. This rural hamlet has been transformed into the Peters Valley School of Craft so there were art and craft galleries and artisan workshops operating out of the old buildings.

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Tempting as it was to stay on these proper roads, I was both determined (some might say foolishly) to see the other items on my itinerary and I was convinced (some might say foolishly) that the final stretch of Old Mine Road could not possibly be as bad as the stretch we had left behind. Yup. Foolish. If anything, it was worse because this stretch also involved uphill stretches. I swear I could hear our car wheezing. I think everyone was relieved when we reached the Van Campen Inn and could pull over the car and take a break from all the bumpy driving. I had spotted on one of the maps I had looked at that there was a cemetery for enslaved people in the vicinity of the inn so my youngest son and I set off trying to find it. We were wholly unsuccessful. I think mostly we were determined to try just to avoid getting back in the car for a while longer.

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The Delaware View House was in a very sorry state. It had served as a hunting lodge and a hotel in its prime. Now it is clearly deteriorating rapidly. We very carefully walked around the wraparound porch before losing our nerve and getting ourselves back to solid ground.

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The penultimate planned stop was at Millbrook Village. This is the site of a genuine settlement from the 1830s but the few remaining historic buildings have been expanded upon with reconstructed buildings that create the impression of what the village looked like in the 1870s. I think it would have been fun to visit at a time when visitors were permitted to enter buildings. This was probably the most engaged the boys were on the trip but they were fed up and jaded from all of the previous stops and from the nerve-shredding travels on that road so they were pretty resistant to finding anything of interest at that point.

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The penultimate actual stop was at the request of my 15 year old. He has apparently inherited my love of dilapidated buildings so he wanted to take photographs of a barn that was falling apart at the seams. My 12 year old stood in the window of a gable end that had fallen, Buster Keaton style, while the 15 year old gave me palpitations by climbing over piles of planks in search of better camera angles.

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We made one final pit stop in the Delaware Water Gap as one final attempt to see the Delaware. Kittatinny Point Overlook suggests being in an elevated position that provides a view out over the Delaware. Well nope. Not that we could find anyway. The best we could hope for was descending some stairs in order to be down on the shore. Unfortunately this spot was the end point for the scores of people who had rafted down the river so it was very busy and there were boats everywhere. Therefore, even that close to the water, it was nigh impossible to really take in let alone appreciate the view.

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As you can no doubt tell, my trip to Delaware Water Gap was somewhat disappointing. I am sure it is a fantastic area to visit if one wants to interact with the water in some way but I don’t do water sports. I really wanted to engage with the history of the area and to take in the landscape. I believe, therefore, it was a case of too high expectations and a lack of delivery. The whole “view” point debacle really set the tone for the day. When Mr Pict gets hacked off on an excursion, things are really not going well. I happen to like old, abandoned, decaying buildings so I definitely got far more out of it than anyone else in the family but I cannot say that was worth the investment of time. The condition of the Old Mine Road was probably the nail in the coffin of the trip. It set our nerves on edge and meant there was too much focus on the function and mechanics of driving rather than taking in the surroundings. It also simply slowed us down and made a long day out even longer. I am glad I finally visited the Delaware Water Gap after years of wanting to do so but I don’t think I could recommend a visit there to anyone not wishing to float down the river and I don’t envisage a return visit.

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Brandywine Battlefield

Living in eastern Pennsylvania as we do, we are never too far from a Revolutionary War site. We are surrounded by the stuff. Despite that, I really don’t know as much as I ought to about the Revolution. It just doesn’t engage me as a subject so I really only retain the scratchiest general knowledge about it. This is not because I am British. Nope. I am totally on the side of the Americans. I am just really not into military history unless it intersects with some other genre of history that I am into. I only know as much as I do about the Civil War because I am married to a big Civil War nerd and learning osmosis happens.

Anyway, one of the local Revolutionary history sites we had not visited in the almost 8 years since moving here was a pretty big one: Brandywine. It was the biggest battle of the War, with the most troops fighting and doing so continuously for 11 hours over 10 square miles. The battlefield is only open seasonally and on particular days so we have just never gotten around to making a plan to visit work. Mr Pict, however, was determined we should finally visit so we got our act together and went.

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We started off at the Visitor Center where some friendly, chatty staff placed the battle within its wider context for us. Mr Pict also got deep into the weeds of a conversation with them about why the site doesn’t have National Park status. The rest of us scuttled off into the adjoining museum. Small as the museum was, the information boards were some of the clearest and most informative I have encountered. I was actually finally able to grasp the chronology of the conflicts that occurred in our region and why the American and British sides manoeuvred that they did. I always love a diorama and they had several. Meanwhile the 12 and 14 year olds entertained themselves in the dress up corner.

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The rest of the trip was a driving tour. We could have hit up a couple of dozen points of interest along the route but nobody was really enthralled at that prospect so we kept to the highlights. We started at the house of Gideon Gilpin, a Quaker farmer. It was the property that Lafayette used as his quarters and where he returned after being shot in the leg during the battle. Incidentally Lafayette turned 20 days before Brandywine which kind of blows my mind. I personally just like old buildings so I enjoyed wandering around and looking at the shapes and the stonework. Near the house is a massive sycamore tree that is over 300 years old which means it was around during the battle. I kind of love that living connection to the past.

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The next stop was the Benjamin Ring house that Washington used as his HQ. The interior was not yet open so we just skirted its exterior. I didn’t find it too interesting to look at. However, we got chatting to a volunteer guide who, while telling us that his hobby is making replicas of historic guns, revealed that he lives in the house that was the site of the last witch trial (more of an interrogation) in Pennsylvania. Obviously I had to steer the conversation in that direction. Much more interesting to me than battles and military leaders.

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We went to find Jefferis Ford, which is the spot where the sneaky British forces managed to cross the river. American troops were defending all of the other fords along the river but, for some reason, neglected to protect Jefferis Ford. Quite the oops. Anyway, we cross the bridge that now spans that area and looked down at the dun brown water and then we went on a trek up hill and down dale trying to find a spot with decent sight lines where I could do a three point turn. So that was annoying.

The final stop was at the Birmingham Quaker Meetinghouse. This was the location of some ferocious fighting and fallen soliders from both sides are buried in a mass grave in the small walled cemetery that abuts the meetinghouse. As much as military history is not my thing, cemeteries very much are. After visiting the walled graveyard, I therefore wandered off into the adjoining larger cemetery. Most of the stones are very small and simple, since Quakers traditionally do not approve of ostentatious memorials. I went in search of the grave of artist NC Wyeth but really stood no chance of locating it since his family’s stone is a simple one set into the ground. Our kids were all out of tolerance for this parent-driven excursion as it was so were not up for entertaining my cemetery wanderings.

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While the cemetery largely comprised standard grave markers, there were some very elaborate memorials. Just outside the gates were monuments to Lafayette and Casimir Pulaski, neither of whom is buried in Pennsylvania let alone that cemetery. Inside the cemetery, however, is a large monument containing a marble statue that really is quite at odds with the rest of the graves. It marks the plots of the family of John Gheen Taylor. Want to know why he got to break the rules? That would be because he was the cemetery president.

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So that was our trip to Brandywine Battlefield. I don’t think I will feel the need to return but, surprisingly, I did actually learn something through my visit. Plus it is always nice to go for a wander somewhere new. Now I am actually keen to visit the Museum of the American Revolution so that I can put together some more of the details of the war. Because goodness knows I am not going to sit down to read a book about it or even watch a documentary. Once I feel ready to return to museums, that one is going to be high on my list.

Arlington National Cemetery

This Spring Break, my in-laws flew over from England and rented a house in Vienna, Virginia.  We, therefore, travelled down to spend a few days with them in Northern Virginia.

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As you know, I love to visit cemeteries.  I had not been to Arlington National Cemetery since the summer of 1995 and, as such, my kids had never been.  I, therefore, decided that we should go visit Arlington National Cemetery given its significance.  I drew up a list of 40 graves that I thought we should aim to visit, 20 of which were prioritized, and I plotted them on a map according to the section and grave numbers.  Some of these were family graves but most were the final resting places of people of historic significance.  Despite all of my preparation work, however, my missions were largely not to be accomplished.  Mostly this was simply because of the vast scale of Arlington Cemetery.  It was created on land that had been the estate of Robert E Lee’s wife and covers over 600 acres.  There was simply no way we could ever hope to cover every section of the cemetery.  I, therefore, culled from my list any of the graves that were not plotted in the centre of the map.  The other factor that complicated my search for individual graves was the peculiar numbering system.  Sometimes it was easy to follow because the numbers were in clear consecutive order but, in other sections, the numbering system was erratic with graves in the 4000s being sited adjacent to graves in the 8000s and the 3000s nowhere to be found.  There absolutely has to be some logic to it but the puzzle confounded and defied me.  As such, we did not find a single one of the graves of Mr Pict’s family members, not even the one who is famous enough to have a Wikipedia entry.  Oddly enough, however, we did find the only one of my family members who is interred in the cemetery, Elizabeth Brown Levy, nee Stout.

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Arlington contains only two equestrian memorial statues and we happened to visit both of them.  One of them is for Field Marshall Sir John Dill, who was the first non-American to be buried in the cemetery.  The other is for Philip Kearny, a Major General killed during the Civil War.

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On the subject of the Civil War, of course we had to visit a number of the graves of prominent Civil War Generals because that is where the Venn diagram of my love of cemeteries intersects with Mr Pict’s interest in the Civil War.  These included George Crook, John Gibbon, William Starke Rosencrans.  We had hoped to locate Frederick William Benteen, since we had visited the Little Bighorn last summer, but we were unsuccessful.  My 9 year old, however, did find the grave of Dan Sickles.  He served in the Civil War, was a Member of Congress, and a Diplomat, but what the kids and I know him for is his murder of Philip Barton Key and his successful use of the temporary insanity plea, its first use in American judicial history.  We had visited the grave of his victim in Baltimore in 2017.  We also stopped by the grave of John Lincoln Clem, a drummer boy in the Union Army who holds the record as the youngest noncommissioned army officer in US history.  I asked my kids to imagine what it must have been like to experience war as a 10 year old, though I don’t think it is possible to really grasp it.

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We took the kids to pay their respects at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  We felt it was extremely important that the boys visit that site to appreciate the sacrifice these unidentified people represent, the symbolism, the poignancy, the tragedy of it all.

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We also visited the grave of Thurgood Marshall, Civil Rights lawyer and Supreme Court Justice.  I had hoped to make it to Medgar Evers’ but I was thwarted.  We also saw the grave of John Glenn, Senator and astronaut – the first American to orbit the earth and the oldest person to fly in space.  The connection for the kids was having been to Grand Turk in December since that was where John Glenn arrived back on earth following his orbit in 1962.  As someone who has an interest in pandemics and the history of disease, I was pleased to find the grave of Albert Sabin, the medical pioneer who developed the oral polio vaccine.  We also visited the oldest grave in the cemetery, that of Mary Randolph who died in 1828 and was buried long before Arlington was established as a National Cemetery.

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For most of our time in the Cemetery – with the noted exception of the Tomb of the Unknowns – we barely encountered other people.  Such a massive space can, of course, absorb masses of people.  The area that was most crowded, much more so even than the Tomb of the Unknowns, was the grave of President John F Kennedy.  It was packed with people and I had the distinct impression that many people clamber off of tour buses just to come see this grave site and then they return to their buses and move on.  Kennedy, however, is not the only President buried in Arlington: the last grave we searched for was that of President William Howard Taft.  Somewhat surprisingly, his memorial obelisk was more challenging to locate than one would imagine.  I persevered, however, because I have decided that one of my side travel missions will be to see the presidential graves.  The kids, however, were beyond flagging by this stage (my father-in-laws fitbit informed us we had walked 11,000 steps) so they were doner-than-done with our explorations of Arlington National Cemetery and ready to go back to the rental house to soak in the hot tub and not remotely receptive to the notion of visiting a whole load more presidential graves.

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Family history in Buffalo cemeteries

Something I am certain you know about me is that I love cemeteries.  Even when I don’t have any sort of connection or personal interest in a cemetery, I love to wander around and explore cemeteries and graveyards.  I enjoy the restful tranquility and appreciate the memorial symbolism and funerary sculpture.  Something you may know about me is that I am a total family history nerd and, therefore, when a cemetery has personal significance to my genealogy then it is all the better.  When we were visiting family in update New York, therefore, it was the perfect opportunity to have some family history fun while exploring cemeteries.  I do not have to have a DNA connection in order to be absorbed in a family’s history.  I have researched the genealogy of my step-grandfather, for instance, and when Mr Pict and I became parents, I decided to take on his family history as the custodian of that information for our children – whether they like it or not.  The dead folks I was pursuing in Buffalo, therefore, were not my own but were indeed the ancestors of Mr Pict, specifically his Strickler ancestors.

The Stricklers had arrived in America from Germany at the turn of the 18th Century, fleeing persecution and discrimination for their Mennonite beliefs.  They settled in Pennsylvania (so I have lots of Strickler adventuring to do in future) but, two generations later, Mr Pict’s 4x great-grandfather, Ulrich Strickler, set out with his family north, first to the Niagara River area before settling in Clarence, in New York’s Erie County.  It was in Clarence that we found Ulrich.  Finding the cemetery was a challenge.  It doesn’t appear in GPS listings because it is disused, was never a public cemetery, and now sits on private land.  My research had narrowed the search area and happily my 12 year old caught a glimpse of a distant sign flashing white in the sunlight as we drove a circuit of the relevant streets for the second time.  We disembarked from our cars – as there were 10 of us on this mission – and in no time at all we were in the shady spot where Ulrich Strickler (1767-1838), his wife Magdalena, and various of their relatives are interred.  We had three generations of Stricklers gathered at the grave of their direct ancestor.  That was pretty cool for me as a family history nerd.  The name of the cemetery incidentally is the Strickler Pioneer Cemetery and we also stopped off on Strickler Street for a quick photo of my husband, his mother, and her cousin.

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Next up was Forest Lawn Cemetery.  When I got the other family members on board with the idea of my cemetery trip, my mother-in-law and her cousin had thought they were signing up to visit two cemeteries.  Forest Lawn was the one they had not anticipated and they seemed stricken at the thought of a visit there.  That is because Forest Lawn is a vast city cemetery, covering almost 270 acres and containing over 150,000 graves.  It is where many of Buffalo’s wealthy, successful, and famous residents ended up and is, therefore, home to some spectacular mausoleums and statuary.  I agreed, however, to focus my attention on finding the Strickler graves and I, by and large, kept my promise.  I think the relatives anticipated we would be in the cemetery until dark trying to locate the graves but – thanks to the wonderful volunteers of Find A Grave – I was prepared with the two lots where the most direct ancestors were buried.  It was my father-in-law who found the graves of Daniel Strickler, his second wife and children from both marriages.  Daniel (1809-1901) was the son of Ulrich so these were the 3x Great-Grandparents of Mr Pict – or a full six generations above our kids if that makes more sense.  My mother-in-law has just entrusted me with caring for a blanket made by Daniel’s wife, Eliza Faust, so it was great to see her grave too.  In a nearby lot, it was my mother-in-law’s cousin who almost literally stumbled upon the grave of another of Mr Pict’s 3x Great-Grandparents, this one being Sarah Augusta Tyler, nee Clapp (1831-1920).  It is she who is the connection to John Alden and Priscilla Mullins who came to America on board the Mayflower.

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Despite my commitment to stick to the clusters of Strickler graves in Forest Lawn, I am afraid I did break my promise.  Since we have found ourselves visiting a number of Presidential graves, it did not seem right that I should be in Forest Lawn and not stop off to see Millard Fillmore.  The 13th President is certainly one of the more obscure ones, and perhaps would be even more so if not for his memorable name, and he frequently appears in lists of the nation’s worst presidents.  He is also controversial for a number of reasons but especially his enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Still, I thought I would pop by to have a gander.  In contrast to the more elaborate presidential graves we have seen, Fillmore’s was a simple obelisk.  Nevertheless, it was easy to find thanks to the flag flying above it.

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I also visited the grave of Red Jacket.  I had, however, successfully convinced everyone of a family history connection so they were agreeable to seeing his grand statue, which is sited near one of the cemetery entrances.  Red Jacket (Sagoyewatha) was a Chief of the Seneca and is, of course, famous in his own right.  However, his connection to Mr Pict’s family history involve his remains.  Red Jacket – and many other Native Americans – were originally buried in an Indian Burial Ground that was on land opposite the Stricklers’ houses.  Not being keen on this, the Stricklers successfully petitioned for legislation that led to the closure of the burial ground and the removal of all of the remains, most of which ended up in Forest Lawn, including those of Red Jacket.  Therefore, Red Jacket is only commemorated in Forest Lawn because of the prejudices and insensitivity of Mr Pict’s ancestors.

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All of which is a neat segue into the next location of the family history trip which was to Buffum Street, where generations of Stricklers had owned property and lived and where the original Indian Burial Ground was located.  One of these, at number 49, is currently the focus of a restoration project given its significance as the oldest extant house in South Buffalo.  My mother-in-law and her cousin explained some of the history of the house and then we all wandered along the street to see two other houses that had once been Strickler residencies.  While the older family members chatted with the current occupants, I took the kids across the street to the Indian Burial Ground.  I felt it was important to impress on them the connection between their family history and local history.

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The final cemetery of the day was Woodlawn, where the more recent generations of Stricklers are buried.  Among others, we visited the graves of Allen Darius (1845-1938) and Emma Augusta Strickler (nee Tyler, 1851-1946) who are Mr Pict’s 2x Great-Grandparents (five generations above my boys), and their son, Herbert Arthur Stickler (1881-1951) and his wife Lily, nee Styles (1886-1962).  When figuring all the graves we had visited, not just the direct ancestors but also the collateral ones, we had visited the graves of Stricklers from seven generations.  Now I really must visit the graves of the even earlier Stricklers in Pennsylvania!

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Ambling in Annapolis

For reasons too tedious to explain but involving leave entitlement, ceaseless winter storms, and rolling rescheduling, Mr Pict and I found ourselves spending a weekend driving to and from Washington DC.  My in-laws had flown in from England and met us there in order to then take our four children on a Spring break vacation.  Mr Pict and I, therefore, found ourselves unexpectedly child-free in Washington DC.

We spent the evening catching up with friends over dinner and wine.  Before I earned that grown up treat, however, I had to trail my husband around some Civil War sites he had never visited.  As I have previously explained, my husband spent his early teens living in the suburbs of DC.  How he managed to live there for years plus have us return from the UK to visit his parents several times without ever visiting these sites is beyond me.  However, as a Civil War nerd, it is on his bucket list to visit just about every obscure Civil War site in the nation so I was happy to indulge him and his bucket list collecting.

First up was Fort Stevens.  I don’t know why I made any sort of assumptions but I had expected the site to be a little more grand or at least cared for than it clearly was.  Instead, what I found were some mounds of earth on a patch of scrappy grass in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, a couple of canons surrounded by litter and broken glass, and the noise of a construction site that abutted the remains of the fort.  Fort Stevens’ significance rests in the fact that it was the site of the only Civil War battle to take place within the limits of the nation’s capital and it was the only time when a serving President came under enemy fire.  The history is that, in July 1864, Jubal Early’s Confederate troops decided to march on the capital following a battle in nearby Frederick.  They encountered Fort Stevens – one of a series of forts protecting the city – and there was a brief battle that repelled the Confederate soldiers.  Lincoln and his wife visited the fort and witnessed the battle, hence his coming under fire.  A rock with a bronze plaque marks the spot where Lincoln stood on the earthworks.

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I was underwhelmed by Fort Stevens but the next stop on the itinerary was a little more my cup of tea in that it was a cemetery.  Battleground Cemetery contains the graves of the 40 soldiers who died in the defence of Fort Stevens and others who fought there – the last to be interred being buried there as recently as 1936.  Again there was a Lincoln connection since Abe attended the burial cemetery and dedicated the land, which makes it one of America’s smallest national cemeteries.  It was indeed a modest cemetery.  There were a few regimental memorials within its walls but the graves themselves were very small and simple and arranged in a circle.  It was well-maintained and a tiny pocket of peace and quiet despite being within a major city.

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The following day we decided to stop off in Annapolis as we wended our way back to the Philly suburbs.  Being a bitterly cold Sunday in March, there was not an awful lot for us to do but wander around and absorb the charm of Annapolis’ historic district.  To give our pit stop a little more focus, we decided to visit the Maryland State House.  Occupied since the 1770s, it is the oldest state capitol in continuous use and once served as the nation’s capitol.

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I started out my visit there by stopping by the statue of Thurgood Marshall.  It depicts Marshall as a young lawyer at the start of his career and behind him are pillars reading “Equal Justice Under Law”.  The sculpture also contains three other related statues: one of Donald Gaines Murray, whose case was one of Marshall’s early victories in the fight to desegregate schools, and two children who symbolise Brown V the Board of Education.  It used to be the case that a statue of Roger Taney stood on the grounds but his statue was removed last year.  I personally was glad to see Marshall celebrated at the State House and to see Taney’s absence.

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Once inside, we explored the various rooms on a self-guided tour. We had the whole place virtually to ourselves so it was very relaxing and informal.  We had a peek into the current Senate and House chambers.  Mr Pict enjoyed seeing the voting buttons on each desk whereas I was enamoured of the Tiffany skylights.  The Caucus room was very dark but was filled with gleaming silverware.  This was a service from the USS Maryland which is designed with lots of references and symbols relating to the state.  I like things that are shiny but the silverware was all a bit fussy for my taste.  I wouldn’t want to keep it polished either.  Just as well I will never own a silver service set then!  Probably the most historically significant room in the State House is the Old Senate Chamber.  It was in this space, in December 1783, that George Washington resigned his commission as Commander of the Continental Army thus establishing an important precedent for America’s democracy.

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Back out on the cold streets, we wandered around and poked our noses into the odd shop.  We spent a lot of time rummaging in a very cluttered, very musty, but entirely wonderful book shop.  We then wandered down to the Dock area.  There I found the statue commemorating Alex Haley, author of Roots, and Kunta Kinte, the fictionalised African ancestor of Haley’s that is the starting point of his saga.  We sat there and people- and duck-watched for a bit before walking back through the old streets and back to the car.

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This was my first visit to Annapolis since I first visited in 1995 and I had forgotten how quaint and attractive it is.  At some point we will have to return with the kids, in warmer temperatures, and when there is more to do.

The Liberty Bell

We had a day out in Philly on Saturday to celebrate my birthday.  Last year I chose to visit a historic cemetery and this year I decided we should consume more local history.  I thought it was entirely ridiculous that I had been living in the suburbs of Philadelphia for four years now (as of 17 October) yet had never been to see the Liberty Bell or been inside Independence Hall.  That, therefore, was my selection for the first part of my birthday trip.

The lines to get in to see the Liberty Bell – part of the Independence Historic Site – were long but not as ridiculously long as they have been on other occasions when we have considered viewing it.  We, therefore, joined the line and found that it moved at a reasonable pace.  We all had to remove layers of clothing and place our possessions in boxes to be scanned for security purposes but, even so, it only took about half an hour between joining the queue and being allowed to go and view the bell.  There were displays outlining the bell’s history, its symbolism, and how it has been cared for and restored.  The boys had zero interest in lingering long enough to read so Mr Pict and I had to skim and scan.

The bell is, of course, famous for its crack.  This appeared as soon as it was rung for the first time in Philadelphia.  Poor workmanship it seems.  It was recast a couple of times by men whose names – Pass and Stow – appear on the bell and then the bell cracked to the extent it appears now in the 19th Century.  It was probably one of the bells that was rung when the Declaration of Independence was read publicly for the first time on 8 July 1776 but really the rest of its history was pretty insignificant.  Its real importance emerges from its symbolism, particularly for the abolitionist movement.  Its use as a symbol is really why I wanted to see it: the bell is used all over the place locally and nationally so I thought I had really better see the real thing.

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After our visit to the Liberty Bell, the plan was to go and explore Independence Hall.  However, all of the tickets for the day were already gone.  Completely bad planning on our part.  Tsk tsk.  We will have to return another time.  We, therefore, had to content ourselves with the adjacent Old City Hall.  Its significance rests in the fact that it housed the Supreme Court until the nation’s capital was relocated to Washington DC.  We had a quick gander and then we moved on.

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Sticking with the theme of America’s founding, our next pit stop was to see the grave of Benjamin Franklin.  There was a charge, however, to enter Christ Church Burial Ground.  Despite the modest fee, we decided not to pay so I had to content myself with a glimpse through the railings.  Oh dear.  Our planning for the day was really not going too well at all.  Happily none of this was the main event for my birthday day out.

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Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore

Our second day in Baltimore was dedicated to all things Edgar Allan Poe.  I have been a fan of Poe’s writing since I was a tween – not a super-fan by any stretch but his work is something I have returned to frequently through the years.  Poe was rather itinerant so Baltimore was only one of many cities where he lived and worked.  Indeed, there is a Poe house in Philly that I really must visit some time soon.  It was, however, in Baltimore that he died.  If you have read my blog enough then you will know me to be an avid wanderer of cemeteries and graveyards so the prospect of visiting Poe’s grave was an opportunity I could not pass up.

Westminster Hall and Burying Ground is a charming little spot in an otherwise not so charming area.  The small graveyard predates the church building by over half a century and, as such, the Gothic Revival building straddles the ground below by being placed on top of piers.  The result is a sort of crawlspace under the church.  We could get under it by stooping.  It was pretty fascinating to see since I have never seen anything quite like it.  My kids enjoyed exploring all of the nooks and crannies the space had to offer which was fine by me as it gave me more time to read the memorial inscriptions and study the grave architecture.

Poe, in fact, has two grave sites within the burying ground.  We visited them in reverse chronological order as the second site is imposing and just inside the entry gate.  Poe died in 1849 at the age of just 40.  His death was rather confounding as nobody could figure out why he was in Baltimore and he was in too delirious a state to explain.  He was also wearing clothes that did not belong to him.  Even his cause of death has been lost in the mists of time.  In the end then, Poe’s death was as mysterious as one of his stories.  Apt but sad really.  Anyway, in 1875, with Poe’s literary reputation posthumously established, a group raised enough funds to establish a more impressive memorial in the graveyard.  Poe’s remains were exhumed and he was re-interred at the site, a large block of pale marble on a granite base and a medallion portrait inserted into its face.

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There having been no challenge in locating Poe’s memorial, the boys then scuttled off to see who could find the original grave first.  In such a small space, it again was not difficult to find.  This burial spot had a much more modest headstone with a carving of a raven on it.  This had been a family plot so the grave of Poe’s grandfather was nearby and his brother was also buried in the vicinity.  Poe’s cousin/wife and aunt/mother-in-law had also once been laid to rest in this spot but – like their famous relative – had been relocated to the memorial site.

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Poe is not the only famous resident of the graveyard, however.  Tucked against an exterior wall is the grave of James McHenry.  He had served as Secretary of War under Washington and Adams, had signed the US Constitution as a delegate representing Maryland, and Fort McHenry named in his honour.  Also of particular interest to me was the grave of Philip Barton Key.  Key, an attorney, was an attorney and the son of Francis Scott Key.  See how niftily I managed to tie up so many of the elements of our Baltimore trip!  He was having an affair with Teresa Bagioli Sickles which very much displeased her husband, despite his own notorious philandering.  The husband, Daniel Sickles, shot Key repeatedly after confronting him on a Washington DC street.  Mr Pict’s ears pricked up at that part.  Not only was the murder victim somewhat famous but so was the murderer.  Dan Sickles was a New York politician and lawyer who later became infamous for almost causing a Union disaster at the Battle of Gettysburg when he moved his troops without orders and with catastrophic results.  The Civil War nerd was, therefore, suddenly interested in the grave.  The murder, however, is interesting for another reason: it was the first time in US legal history that a defence of temporary insanity had been attempted and by gum it worked because Sickles was acquitted.  This was in 1859, before Gettysburg and the loss of his leg, and before his congressional career.

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There were other interesting graves in the grounds too, including several more people of historical significance.  One area of the burial ground, very near the underside of the building, was covered in graves belonging to one tragic family.  They were the graves of John and Sarah Brown and four of their children.  Six of their ten children died young, many in early infancy, and Sarah also died prematurely in one of the city’s epidemics.  It was a poignant reminder of the high mortality rates in times past.  There was also a bowed grave, marking the resting place of a veteran of the Revolutionary War.  The raised slab of marble, which was atop four pedestals, had been eroded by the elements and by pollution in such a way that it had buckled into a curve.  I had not seen anything like that before in all my visits to cemeteries.  There were also large, above-ground vaults for various families.  They had fancy looking facades to them but it was interesting to note that the rest of the vault looked rather like a large pipe.

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Having seen both of his grave sites, it was a hop, skip, and a jump to go and visit one of Poe’s houses.  The house in Baltimore is actually the earliest surviving house in which Poe lived.  It almost did not survive as it was slated for demolition in the early 1940s but was saved thanks to a Poe society.  It was, therefore, preserved and stands at the end of a terrace of 1930s houses.  It was quite the juxtaposition.  Among the stories Poe wrote while resident in the house were ‘M.S. found in a bottle’, ‘Morella’, and ‘Berenice’.

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The house was rented by Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, who lived there with her mother (Poe’s grandmother), her daughter Virginia (who Poe would marry when she was just 13), her son Henry, and nephew Edgar.  It was a very small house to have accommodated all of those people and it was explained to us that the women would all have slept in one of the rooms while Edgar and Henry shared another room.  The rooms were decorated as they would have been in the 1830s but there was no furniture as part of the reconstruction.  This was probably fairly lucky as there was very little space in each room as it was.  The room the males would have slept in did contain some items linked to Poe, including a chair and his lap sized writing desk.  From that room, a tiny, narrow, winding staircase led up to an attic garrett room which contained a bed, chest, and chair.  The spaces inside the house were dark, gloomy, and more than a little claustrophobic but that actually felt completely apt for Poe’s house.

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I was thrilled to have visited one of the three remaining houses that Poe once lived in.  I was even more thrilled that the visit inspired by youngest sons to become interested in Poe.  They have subsequently watched a series of animations of short stories and have read the pop-up book of Poe writings we own.

Laurel Hill Cemetery

Peculiar though it might seem, for my birthday trip I chose to go for an explore of Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Although I don’t think I qualify as a taphophile, I have always loved cemeteries.  Along with museums, art galleries and libraries, they are my favourite places to visit.  Cemetery trips feature not infrequently on this blog as a result.  It is only surprising, therefore, that it has taken me three years of living in the suburbs of Philadelphia before visiting one of its historic cemeteries.

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Laurel Hill Cemetery sits on a hillside above the Schuylkill River and covers a huge expanse of land.  With all the Autumn colour in the trees, it was a rather beautiful spot for a wander even regardless of the history and funerary sculpture.  The cemetery was founded as a garden cemetery in 1836, originally rural but soon eaten up by the growing city.  In some ways it was reminiscent of the huge municipal London cemeteries I always loved visiting (Kensal Green being my favourite) but it was a little more organic in design and not as regimented in its organisation.  Happily, I had done my usual over-planning thing.  I had printed off a map of the cemetery and used the Find A Grave website to plot the location of the graves I was particularly interested in visiting.  This proved useful because not only were the individual plots not numbered but neither were the different areas of the cemetery.  Thanks to my map, however, we were able to locate almost every grave we were searching for.  Annoyingly one of the graves I missed was that of Scottish born John Notman, the architect who had designed the cemetery.

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We began our trip by popping into the office where a helpful young man provided us with a bigger version of the map I had printed out and some scavenger hunt activities for the kids.  The scavenger hunt was a great idea as it not only kept the kids occupied but also engaged them with subjects such as the symbolism of monumental masonry.  Directly opposite the Gatehouse was a sort of grotto containing a statue depicting Old Mortality, his horse, and the author Sir Walter Scott – plus a bust of their sculptor.  In Scott’s story, Old Mortality wanders around Scotland preserving the memories of Covenanters by carving the inscriptions on their headstones.  Thematic connection to tombstones aside, it was a tad obscure.

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Just behind the statue was our first famous grave of the trip.  In the shrubbery was the Deringer family plot, including the grave of Henry Deringer, the innovative gunsmith known for the Derringer pistol.  Just a short wander away, I found the unassuming grave of Sarah Josepha Hale.  An author and activist, Hale is now principally remembered for two things: it was she who wrote the nursery rhyme ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ and who successfully campaigned for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday.  Although I am not American, I love Thanksgiving so I shall be sure to raise a glass to Hale in a couple of weeks’ time.

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I visited the graves of a couple of photographers because one of my nerdy interests is the history of photography (partly because I am descended from a Victorian photographer).  First up was Frederick Gutekunst, one of the most famous American photographers of his era.  His studio particularly boomed as a result of the Civil War as soldiers, including Generals such as Ulysses S Grant, stopped in to have their portraits taken.  I was more excited, however, to find the grave of Robert Cornelius.  Cornelius was a photographic pioneer who, while experimenting in order to perfect the daguerrotype, in 1839 took a self-portrait which is the first photographic portrait.  Cornelius’ grave was small in its own right but was especially small compared to the grand tombstones in that particular area of the cemetery.  I was, however, able to spot it from a distance precisely because of that famous selfie because a small oval copy of it was stuck to the fascia of the grave marker.

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My 11 year old is currently learning about Explorers at school so I dragged him down a few flights of steep stairs past lots of marble mausoleums to find the tomb of Elisha Kent Kane.  Kane, a naval medical officer, was part of two Arctic expeditions launched (in vain) to locate and rescue explorer Sir John Franklin.  The second search led him to travel further north than anyone had previously managed, thereby paving the way for those Arctic explorers who came after him.  Sadly, the site of Kane’s tomb was overgrown and rather neglected.  This was because it was positioned right by the roadside on a fairly steep slope and was, I assume for safety reasons, fenced off from the rest of the cemetery.

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When Laurel Hill Cemetery was in its infancy, the founders found it a challenge to attract business.  People were too used to being buried in graveyards next to whichever building they attended for religious services.  They, therefore, had the interesting idea of having the remains of some famous Philadelphians exhumed and then reinterred in the cemetery.  As a business practice, that is a tad ghoulish.  It meant, however, that I got to see the grave of Thomas McKean, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, and David Rittenhouse, astronomer, surveyor, and first director of the US Mint.

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The cemetery contains many military graves, including those of over 40 Civil War Generals.  As you may recall, Mr Pict is a Civil War nerd so he was particularly interested in spotting the Civil War graves.  The two most significant of these that we visited were those of Generals Meade and Pemberton.  General George Meade was a career military man involved in many conflicts but he is known to me for his part in Gettysburg where he led the Army of the Potomac, helped secure the Union’s victory, and contributed to that turning point in the war.  Because Mr Pict takes us all off to Gettysburg at least once a year, Meade was one of the Generals I could have named from the top of my head.  John Clifford Pemberton, on the other hand, is the only Confederate General buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Despite being a northerner and having two brothers fighting for the Union, Pemberton had chosen to fight for the Confederacy for personal reasons.  As a Confederate, his internment in Laurel Hill had been controversial.  Among those who campaigned against his burial there were the family of General Meade.  Ultimately he is there, albeit in a far flung corner of the cemetery.

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Finally, we visited the graves of several people associated with the sinking of The Titanic.  I almost literally stumbled over the plot where Lily and Olive Potter, who survived the sinking, were buried.  We then found the Widener Mausoleum on the stretch of the cemetery known as Millionaire’s Row.  The Mausoleum is actually dedicated to Peter A B Widener, the wealthy Philadelphia businessman and philanthropist.  His son, George, and grandson, Harry are also commemorated there.  Both men drowned when the Titanic sank and their bodies were never recovered.  George’s wife Eleanor survived and she established Harvard’s famous Widener library in memory of her son, a passionate collector of rare books.  Lastly, we found the mausoleum of William Crothers Dulles.  Dulles’ was one of the few bodies recovered from the Atlantic and identified, this due to his monogrammed tie clip.

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I recognise I have filled this blog post with the potted histories of dead celebrities.  This is because that is something I find it interesting to do when pootling around in cemeteries.  I like the way cemeteries and graveyards intersect with history, whether that is family history, social history, national or global history.  It is in large part because I am a history nerd that I love to visit cemeteries.  However, I also love cemeteries simply because they are lovely spots of wander around in, an oasis of calm and serenity away from the hustle and bustle of the town or city.  Laurel Hill had plenty of that to offer too.  The views across the river and to the rest of the city were pretty impressive, especially when we got onto higher ground, and the Autumn colour in the trees was magnificent.  The boys particularly enjoyed playing in a huge pile of orange leaves.  They rolled around in them, threw leaves in the air, jumped into piles of them, and made “leaf angels” in them.  My 9 year old also made several insect and invertebrate friends on his travels.

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The kids also enjoyed having the freedom to roam.  Normally on trips into the city, I have to rein them in a bit in order to keep an eye on them and stop them getting lost.  But in a quiet cemetery, it was possible to let them wander around and explore and be their feral little selves so long as they didn’t wander too far.  Them having a bit of freedom also afforded me the opportunity to seek out the graves I was interested in and also enjoy the monumental sculpture in the cemetery.  One of the most impressive of these was the sculpture on the Warner grave.  The sculpture depicts a soul emerging from the tomb which is being opened by a female figure.  The tomb was sculpted by Alexander Milne Calder, fellow Scot and originator of the Calder sculpting dynasty.  The other tomb I really liked was one for a family named Berwind which is marked by a beautiful figurative sculpture titled Aspiration by another local sculptor, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth.

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As you can no doubt discern, I was in nerdy cemetery heaven at Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Had I been on my own, I could have kept meandering around the vast cemetery for hours longer.  As it was, Mr Pict and the Pictlings were very tolerant and allowed me plenty of time to explore, locate graves, and take photographs.  After the cemetery, we headed into the city centre for my birthday meal.  We ended up ditching the booking Mr Pict had made at one restaurant because we were too early for the full menu to be available and instead ended up at a Chinese restaurant where we had an amazingly delicious feast and the boys sampled and enjoyed things they might otherwise have not tried.  All in all, therefore, it was a very successful birthday trip.

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Road Trip #18 – Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee

It was “Unlucky 13” for the thirteenth day of our road trip.  All the plans we had for the day were dispensed with and we scrambled to make new plans for two reasons: the avoidance of any more car sickness and the weather.

We had planned to drive the Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah Valley.  However, all of the winding roads of the previous day had used up all the children’s reserves for tolerance for anything other than straight roads.  I had driven the Skyline Drive back in 1995 so I accepted that I was not getting to do it this time.  Our first replacement event plan was to drive to Foamhenge.  This is a replica of Stonehenge built out of foam.  Since we visited the actual Stonehenge with the kids last summer, we thought it would be funny to visit Foamhenge.  However, when we arrived at the spot there were no foam stones to be seen.  It transpired that, in anticipation of Natural Bridge being bestowed with National Park status, they had evicted hokey Foamhenge from the site and it had yet to find a new home.  Frustratingly, this had all happened in the last couple of months – after I had done all my research and planning for the trip.  This time doing my homework so far in advance had not paid off.

After that annoying waste of time, Mr Pict proposed a plan: we should visit the graves of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee in Lexington, Virginia.  That way he got his Civil War fix, I got my cemetery fix, and – as it transpired – the kids got an opportunity to moan and rebel.

It all started well.  We found the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery with ease and it was impossible to miss Jackson’s grave as it dominated the cemetery.  Despite him being a Confederate, Stonewall Jackson is our 9 year old’s favourite Civil War general.  I think this has rather more to do with his horse Little Sorrel than anything else.  Indeed, we almost went to visit the stuffed corpse of Little Sorrel but ran out of time.  Famously, Stonewall Jackson died as the result of “friendly fire” during the battle of Chancellorsville (and we plan to visit the grave of his amputated arm there some time) and his last words were the beautifully poetic, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees”.  This was quite fitting since Jackson was notorious for sleeping during battles.  Jackson objected to fighting on Sundays but ironically ended up fighting more often on Sundays than any other day of the week.  Another interesting story about Jackson – probably exaggerated over the years – was that he ate lemons before battles.  As we approached the grave, we could see that people had deposited lemons around its base.

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The cemetery itself was rather pleasant, quiet, calm and green and set on a lovely street.  We had a bit of a wander and looked at several other graves, including many other Confederate graves, some of notable military men and others of ordinary soldiers.  These included two brothers killed in their teens.  We may not agree with their politics or the side they chose to fight on but the graves of so many young men were still evocative and poignant.

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A very short drive later brought us to Washington and Lee University.  This was a beautiful spot and I could imagine that the students there find it a very pleasant place to study.  We were there for the Lee Chapel which houses the remains of Robert E Lee and his family members.  The Chapel was built under the auspices of Lee when he was President of the University following the Civil War.

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The building itself was rather pleasant with a red brick exterior and a fresh white interior with a large organ.  Where one would normally find a pulpit was a stone effigy of Lee, lying on his back in his uniform as if sleeping through a battle.  This is not his tomb, however.  To see that we had to descend into the crypt where Lee and his family members are interred.

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The crypt level also housed a small museum.  The museum had recreated the study of Robert E Lee exactly as it looked on the day of his death in 1870.  In another, larger room there was one of those rotating planetarium thingummys and beneath it was a plaque indicating the spot where Lee’s remains had originally been buried.  All around this central feature were items that had belonged to Lee, from weapons to embroidered slippers to a watch “chain” made out of hair from Traveller’s mane.  The basement museum was the precise point at which the boys bottomed out of tolerance.  As so often happens when in a place that requires a degree of stillness and a solemn demeanour, they all kicked off, one by one, toppling like dominoes.  We, therefore, did not manage to view all the artifacts as we had to hurry them out into the open air again.

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At the exact spot where we exited, however, we stopped to pay our respects to Traveller, Lee’s beloved horse.  Our 9 year old is obsessed with horses and for him the Civil War is as much about Old Bob, Little Sorrel, Cincinnati and Traveller as it is about Lincoln, Jackson, Grant and Lee.  Traveller had died the year after Lee, at the age of 14, having contracted tetanus from standing on a nail.  Poor Traveller’s body was not well treated.  At first he was buried in a ravine but then he was dug back up and his skeleton underwent a preservation process that apparently was not very effective.  His skeleton went on display but was vandalised by students writing or carving their names into his bones for good luck in their exams.  It was not until the 1970s that his poor old bones were placed in their current position.

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It was obvious that part of the the kids’ grumpy attitudes were caused by them being “hangry” so we stopped off for a good, filling lunch.  The plan was to proceed from Lexington to Harpers Ferry.  Mr Pict and I are always finding ways to sneakily educate our kids and get them to philosophise and interrogate facts by stealth.  The kids had noted that it seemed a little peculiar that two Confederate leaders were so revered given that they had been not just on the losing side of the War but arguably on the wrong side of history morally and ethically.  We tried to explain that, yes, peculiar though it was, history is not always so black and white and people are far more complex than being “goodies” and “baddies”.  For instance, the Lee Chapel museum was clearly presenting an argument that Lee’s pragmatism in fighting for the Confederacy plus his good deeds after the War mitigated against his commanding the Confederate Army.  We, therefore, wanted to extend this learning to thinking about the Union side and their supporters so were keen to teach them all about John Brown and his raid at Harpers Ferry so they could contemplate the moral complexity from the other side of the War.  It was not meant to be, however, as the rain was absolutely lashing down as we set off on the next leg of our day’s activities.  We could barely see out of the windscreen in order to take in the view and, in fact, having to drive slowly for the conditions meant that we arrived at Harpers Ferry just as the National Park was closing.  Despite being Scottish and familiar with rain soaked summers, the kids point blank refused to get out of the car and do some walking in the rain.  Harpers Ferry was abandoned.

Mr Pict, however, did manage to find another Civil War site to visit.  He (suspiciously) always seems to have a Civil War plan up his sleeve.  Not too far away was Cedar Creek Battlefield.  This is a spot – and another National Park – set in the area around the Belle Grove Plantation and the site of a battle in 1864.  It was the culmination of several battles and, when the Union under Sheridan managed to repel the Confederates under Early, it effectively ended the Confederacy’s attempts to take the North and secured Washington DC against attack.  As thoroughly interesting as all of that was to Mr Pict, I could see nothing of interest in the site.  As he was busily reading me information from his phone’s Civil War app, all I could see was rain pelting against the windscreen.  We were also about to experience our own rebellion from the kids sitting behind us in the car so it was a case of quickly dashing out to grab Mr Pict his “I was here” Civil War site photograph and then back into the car and off again.

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After a brief nostalgic tour of two of Mr Pict’s childhood homes, in Chevy Chase, we arrived at our Washington DC hotel in early evening.  It was in the North East area of the city, an area that we used to avoid visiting as much as possible.  We could see that the area was slowly gentrifying but the hotel was right on the border of nice and, shall we say, not so nice.  The hotel itself was very swish and we found ourselves thinking that even a year from now, when the area has completed its renovation, we probably would not be able to afford to stay there.  For now, however, it was a bargain for a Washington DC hotel room.  The boys loved that our room had one whole wall that was just a window overlooking the city, including a view of the Capitol’s white dome.  Looking downwards, we could also see people swimming in the hotel a dozen floors pool below.  That was where the younger Picts headed, the rain having finally stopped.  It was a restful and relaxing end to what had been another frustrating day of wasted time and thwarted opportunities.  After two bum days on the trot, we needed to get our acts together for Washington DC so we could end our road trip with a bang rather than a damp fizzle.

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Road Trip #3 – Cuyahoga National Park & Lake View Cemetery

Having started off the second day of our road trip in Evans City Cemetery, we began the afternoon by crossing the border from Pennsylvania into Ohio.  Ohio was not only the second state of our travels but was also my 26th state visited.  As I am sure I have shared before, I have a rule for claiming states in that I have to do two of three things in that state in order to be able to “bag” it: pee, eat, sleep.  I have been stuck on 25 states – the halfway mark – since 2002 since every state I have visited since then was one I had already claimed.  I had, however, never been to Ohio before so I was pleased to snag a new state and shift off the halfway mark on just the second day of our road trip.

First stop was Cuyahoga National Park, which is Ohio’s only National Park.  We stopped in at the Boston Store to get our National Parks passport stamped.  Now the park’s visitor centre, it was once a store (as in warehouse rather than shop) with boarding rooms for workers and dates from the 1830s.

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The park is essentially a large recreation area with a focus on the history of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which runs through the land.  We, therefore, popped over but not into the Canal Exploration Center which sits on the bank of the canal at a point where there is a lock.  My oldest son and I went to have a brief wander while the other three continued filming their zombie movie under the supervision of Mr Pict.  In addition to us having lived beside the Crinan Canal for over ten years, my in-laws owned a canal boat for a decade, so there was really nothing new or diverting to see at least with that particular stretch of canal.  To be honest I was much more engaged in watching the insect life in the adjacent meadows, including some glorious dragonflies.

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We did not malinger very long in Cuyahoga National Park because we had plans for Cleveland.  Alas, so did the Republican Party since, of course, the Republican National Committee was being held in Cleveland that very week.  Our plans were, therefore, thwarted since the entire city centre was on lockdown for security reasons.  I, however, was able to quickly come up with an alternative plan – another cemetery.  We began the day with one cemetery so why not bookend with another?

The cemetery in question was Lake View Cemetery, an absolutely massive cemetery dating from the 1860s and containing over a hundred thousand graves.  With a site that vast, we had to give our visit some focus so we decided to concentrate on searching for some “celebrity internments”.   Mr Pict and I noted that this cemetery was much busier, seemingly much more popular, than any other cemetery we have visited in the past – and we have visited loads.  Then we observed that almost all of the other visitors were staring at their phone screens.  The penny dropped: people were playing Pokemon Go and were searching for animated characters throughout the cemetery grounds.  Funny.  It made it quite a different experience than our usual explorations in cemeteries.

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Most prominent among these was President James Garfield.  I am pretty sure Garfield is not one of the first names anyone thinks of when asked to name a US president.  However, because he likes to be obscure, my 10 year old had elected to present a research paper on Garfield when studying presidents in second grade.  He, therefore, was pretty chuffed to be getting to visit Garfield.  Garfield is, in fact, probably most notable precisely because of his death, having been assassinated.  He died, after suffering for several weeks, just 200 days into his presidency.  He was also notable for being an authentic “log cabin president” having had a very humble start in life.  The monument is an imposing building not too far into the cemetery.  A rotunda just inside the door contains a statue of the president.  We then descended into the crypt where we viewed the coffins of the president and his wife, Lucretia.  We then ascended a spiral staircase to an exterior balcony that afforded us wonderful views over the cemetery and to the skyscrapers of Cleveland’s city centre.

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A mere hop, skip and a jump away, we found the obelisk marking the grave of billionaire oil tycoon John D Rockefeller and, on the way to it, I passed the grave of a man who had been born in Inverness, a fellow Scot.  We also saw the graves of Eliot Ness – and someone had plonked a bottle of beer beside it – and graphic novelist Harvey Pekar which was studded with pens.  Having just finished reading Bill Bryson’s book about the summer of 1927, I was eager to find the graves of railrood tycoon brothers Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen and US Ambassador to France Myron Herrick (fantastic names all).  I was also very keen to locate the grave of Charles Chesnutt, one of my favourite American authors, but between the sweltering heat and the tired children, I had to abandon my quest.

A favourite grave, however, was that of an individual named Haserot (who a bit of googling tells me was a big deal in canned foods).  The grave is marked by an arresting sculpture of an angel with spread wings, hands resting on an upside down torch to symbolise a life that has been extinguished.  The sculpture is quite spectacular enough but what adds to its charm is that the bronze has discoloured so much over time that the angel appears to be weeping black tears.  It really is very striking.  It was also a great way to end our explorations of the cemetery.

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Our rest for the night was in a motel in a town in Cleveland’s orbit.  Booking non-chain accommodation can always be a bit of a lottery.  As we pulled up and noticed that this was one of those motels where the room doors open up onto the road, the kids started muttering about being terrorised and murdered in their sleep despite having never seen Psycho or any other slasher movie.  We parents were more concerned about the fact it was right on top of a building site and the car park was strewn with loads of beat up vans and utility vehicles.  Our rooms – we needed two – were very basic, spartan even, but were clean and tidy and the beds were adequately comfy.  Asbolutely no frills but that reflected the budget price.  The kids, however, did enjoy the outdoor pool and the fact that the motel was next door to a 7-11.  Despite having lived in America for almost three years, this was the first time they had ever been to a 7-11.  They each picked a gigantic slurpee.  I guess that was another American cultural institution checked off the list.