Memorial Day: Gone But Never Forgotten!

What does Memorial Day mean to you? A day off from work to relax? Well we all love a nice day off but we should all take a moment from our day to give thanks to those that we are supposed to remember. Now I know many people that don’t have people in their lives that have been in the military. For me that is far from the truth. I have relatives that have fought in the U.S. military in every war since the Civil War in 1861. I learned recently that my great great grandpa Richard McIntosh was a part of the battle at Gettysburg.

Part of what I have been doing on my whirlwind tour of the US is learning about how the country came to be. I have been learning about Presidents, Wars, Forts, Independence, etc. This year 2011 is the 200th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Something that I have become fascinated with is the people that are so resolute about their opinion that they are willing to die for it. I don’t really have any opinions that I believe in so firmly that I would die for it. I have people I love that I might die for but if someone put a gun to my head and told me to change my opinion about something in all likelihood I would give it up. I just don’t hold my truths to be that important, then again I am not fighting for the rights of my nation. My grandfather was.

To give you a little background on my grandfather you may begin to see why he went to war. In the early 1800s Richard went out one night and being a good Scot he went down to the pub and got a little loaded. Well a little might be off a little. He passed out from his imbibing and the next morning he awoke on a vessel headed for the New World. Upon his arrival he was enslaved and forced to work on a tobacco farm in Virginia. Well being the good Scot that he was he was not going to have any of that. Scotsmen are not known for being a submissive sort so he worked it out and escaped from his captors. He ran off and lived in the countryside until he heard tale of a war for the freedom of slaves. Being a kind-hearted (if persnickety) soul he made his way to Pennsylvania to sign up with the Union. Recently the National Archives in Washington D.C. allowed all of the Civil War documents to be scanned and added to the National Registry. This allowed me to actually see the document where Richard had signed up to fight against the slave owners in the South.

He was not known as a calm person. He was quite boisterous. The Battle of Gettysburg may have been his first battle. We are not quite sure but we do know that he fought there and was shot in the leg. He survived the bloodiest battle in American history but he did not get off without damage. Damage to his leg that nearly lost him the limb but also to his psyche.  After the war he was given land by the government and moved out to Kentucky where he would live out his years. He was known to shoot at anyone that knocked on the door without announcing themselves first. I imagine he was always concerned that the people that shanghaied him would come back. His house still stands in the mountains of Kentucky with gunshot holes through the door. A testament to an era gone but never forgotten.

Thank you Grandpa for making the world a better place. If you had not sacrificed yourself for a cause you believed in I may not have had an adopted little brother named John McIntosh who is African American. You helped make that possible. Gone but never Forgotten!

It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill

The title of this blog entry is a quote that is attributed to Wilbur Wright. Today we spent the day in a location that is a testament to that fact that man needs knowledge and skill to fly. We spent the day at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It goes without saying that the Air and Space Museum is an incurable place. It contains everything from the Lilienthal Hang Glider through the Space Shuttle Enterprise and many things in-between.

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum contains the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world. The museum has two locations, the first location is in downtown Washington, D.C. The other location is a couple of hangers at Dulles International Airport called the Udvar-Hazy Center. Many of the larger artifacts are Udvar-Hazy Center.

We arrived at the downtown location just as the afternoon tour was starting and we joined it at the Apollo 11 Command Capsule having missed the talk on the Mercury Freedom 7 (first American in space) and Gemini 4 (first American spacewalk). From there we took a 3 hour tour that took us thru a number of exhibit rooms in the museum. The tour was only supposed to be a hour and half, but it was a small group and the guide was having blast showing us around. This is another case of someone that really loves their job and enjoys sharing his information. 

After the tour we watched Cosmic Collisions in the Einstein Planetarium and Hubble 3D in the Smithsonian IMAX Theater. The IMAX presentation was really cool showing film that was shot during the various repair missions along with pictures taken by the Hubble telescope of distant galaxies and stars.  We also spent some time wondering thru parts of the Museum some more.

Some of the highlights of the day included seeing the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules that flew in space, Lunar Lander 2,  the spacesuit that was worn by Eugene Cernan(last man to walk on the moon), a Minuteman missile, the Spirit of St. Louis, a plane flown by Amelia Earhart, the 1903 Wright Flyer, various early commercial planes, World War II planes, X-15 that set numerous speed records.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

D.C. Trolley Day Two

Today we went back into Washington, D.C. to continue our trolley tour adventures.  Old Town Trolley Tours basically runs two lines one does the downtown loop (which has a shuttle to Arlington National Cemetery) and the other does what they refer to as uptown and Georgetown. Today we did the uptown loop.

The uptown loop has fewer stops than the downtown loop. The major stops are for the National Zoo, the National Cathedral, Georgetown and the White House. We figured we did not have time to do the National Zoo on this trip, so our first stop was for the National Cathedral. The 1792 plan for the Federal City drawn up by L’Efant set aside land for a great church for national purposes. In 1893 the United States Congress charted the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia to build the Cathedral with a number of stipulations. These included stipulations that no public or national church funds would be used to build or maintain the Cathedral and that all faiths would be welcome to use the chapels within the Cathedral. The Cathedral is the sixth largest in the world and the second largest in the United States. Construction began in 1907 and did not complete until 1990.

The Cathedral is truly amazing with tall arched ceiling and many beautiful stained glass windows.  Being the nations’ Cathedral there are many influences of United States history within the building. A number of the stained glass windows depict historical scenes. The Space Window even contains a piece of moon rock in the stained glass.  The organ at the Cathedral is made up of 10647 pipes and we were lucky to be there on a day when demonstrate the playing of three songs on it. The Cathedral has hosted many notable events including state funerals for four Presidents (Wilson, Eisenhower, Regan, and Ford), and was the last place that the Reverend Dr. King delivered his final Sunday sermon of his life a few days before being killed.

National Cathedral

National Cathedral

National Cathedral Stained Glass

National Cathedral Stained Glass

From the Cathedral we boarded the tour trolley and went to Georgetown by way of part of Embassy Row. Once we got to Georgetown we partook of we think might be the best hamburgers we have ever had. After the fine lunch we stopped to tour the Old Stone House. The Old Stone House is well – an old stone house. It is the oldest standing building in Washington, D.C. and is the last pre-Revolutionary Colonial building on its original foundation.   Unlike the rest of the memorials to national leaders and significant events, the Old Stone House celebrates the lives of the ordinary American.  The Old Stone House was completed in 1765 and withstood the forces of development and commercialization (although it was a used car dealership for a number of years before the National Park Service purchased the property).

Old Stone House

Old Stone House

After Georgetown it was back on the Trolley to see a few more Embassies on our way to look thru the iron fence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Our Trolley Driver told us that if we mistakenly went to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue SE we would dine with Ronald McDonald.

Best National Park Ranger Talk Ever

We decided to take an Old Town Trolley tour of Washington D.C. The Old Town Trolley is one of those tour buses that takes you around to all the sights in a city and lets you get off and then grab another one of the buses to continue the tour. They have a special – pay for one day, ride for two. Today was the first day of our tour.

The other day we took a look around the United States Naval Memorial Plaza but did not go inside the facility to check out what they had. Today we started the day by going inside to see what was inside. We watched a really interesting and informative movie on the submarines and surface ships that make up today’s navy. From there we went and started our tour. We like taking the tours because we learn little pieces of information that we might not have heard otherwise. Today we learned that when President Lincoln was in office he would come to the lobby of the Willard Hotel to listen to the requests of the average citizen. This where the term lobbying and lobbyist come from.

To tour the White House you have to contact your Congressman in advance to make a request months in advance to get approved. We were not aware of this so no tour of the White House for us. The Visitors Center for the White House is located across the street in the Department of Commerce Building.  We stopped in the Visitors Center and learned a lot about the White House. I did not know that in 1948 the entire inside of the building had to be reconstructed because of rot of the load bearing wood structure of the building. As part of this reconstruction they took apart a bulldozer and re-assembled it inside the structure to dig out a deep basement.

From there we went to see Union Station. When it was built is was the largest train station in the world. I believe the tour guide said it now the second largest after New York City’s Grand Central Station. In addition to all the trains that make stops at the station it also houses the largest food court in Washington, D.C.

After lunch in Union Station we again boarded our tour bus and headed out to Arlington National Cemetery. There really aren’t words to describe the emotions as you look across acres and acres of land that hold the remains of so many that have given their lives to defend our country and the principles it was founded on. We visited the grave site of JFK and witnessed the precision of the “Changing of the Guard” at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

We then visited the Lincoln Memorial for the second time (we stopped there the night we arrived in the area). National Park Rangers give tours or talks in many of the sites that are maintained and administrated by the National Park Service. We have attended a number of the tours or talks over the last few months and have had some good and interesting talks.  As we were walking down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Park Ranger Lowell Fry was standing on a landing having recently started a Ranger Talk. His talk focused on Civil Rights in the United States from before the Civil War through the time of President Lincoln and continued through to the current time. His talk was incredible – this is a man that loves his job and sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with others. All I can say is, I wish I knew when he was going to do the talk again – I would show up with my video recorder.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

We then visited two of the War Memorials located on the mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. We stopped at the Korean War Memorial and then walked over to the World War II Memorial. 

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

Our last stop of the day (except for dinner) was the Washington Monument.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Between Arlington National Cemetery and all the Memorials it really was a day of remembering those that have given their lives for the United States.

(Leslie’s comment: It was great being able to go to the National Registry and see my grandfather’s name listed with what he did. It was very sad to see all the death that is caused by war. The Navy memorial movie talked about the good the Navy is doing by working with third world countries and going into areas with their floating hospital and helping them with surgeries they would not have access to any other way. I can continue to hope that these types of actions will lead us to a more peaceful time.)

Oh Say Can You See

Saturday we went to the Smithsonian American History Museum and saw THE Star Spangled Banner. The actual flag that was flying over Fort McHenry back in 1814. Today we started the day by driving to Baltimore to visit the fort.  The new visitors’ center at the fort opened in early March and is very nice and informative. There is a movie about the battle for Baltimore and the writing of the song along with what the song means to the nation now. At the end of the movie with the Star Spangled Banner playing the screen raised and through a wall of windows there was Fort McHenry with the Flag over the fort waving in the wind.

It is really amazing. We have toured a number of forts over the past few months although there are many similarities between a number of them, they are each so different. Fort McHenry is a star fort that was built after the United States won its independence to protect Baltimore Harbor. During the war of 1812 the British attempted to take control of Baltimore Harbor. On September 13, 1814 a British fleet of 19 warships started bombarding the fort. The pounding of the fort continued all day and through the night. After 25 hours the British gave up and retreated.

Francis Scott Key, a Washington lawyer and amateur poet, was on a ship in Baltimore Harbor attempting to negotiate the release of a civilian prisoner of war that was being held by the British during the bombardment.  When the battle ended and Francis Scott Key looked to see whose flag was being raised over the fort, he was so moved to see the Stars and Strips of the American flag he wrote a poem titled “The Defence of Fort McHenry”.  In the years following the battle the poem would be put to the music of a British drinking song, renamed “The Star Spangled Banner” and would eventually become the national anthem by a resolution of Congress in 1931.

Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry

After exploring the Fort for a while we drove out to visit the Hampton National Historic Site. Hampton is a plantation in Maryland that was owned by the Ridgely family. Over the years a mansion of about 25,000 square feet was constructed and passed down thru a few generations of the family. As the years progressed and times changed the family was no longer in a position to maintain the property.  Through a lucky turn of events the core property was acquired by the Avalon Foundation (now part of the Andrew Mellon Foundation). In 1948 the estate including the Hampton Mansion and remaining acres were designated a National Historic Site based on its architectural significance as the finest example of Georgian architecture in the United States. Today the mansion, its furnishings, slave quarters, and other out building provide insight into the life of wealthy landowning aristocracy of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Hampton National Historic Site

Hampton National Historic Site

After our visit to Hampton we ran some errands which included picking our bicycles up, picking up a few tour books for upcoming stops, got some dinner and then returned to our 400 square foot home on wheels.

Today and for the past few months – I have seen and continue to see what an amazing country we live in.