I realize these chapters have been rather spaced apart and there’ve been so many of them, but we’re technically in the home stretch now. After a quick lunch stop in West Virginia, only one state stood between us and home. We’d already paid respects to one American President from Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes, back on Day One. Two more Presidential gravesites lay ahead on the trail before we would cross the final state border.
We had traveled to the Heinz History Center to view artifacts from the life of Mister Rogers. We amused ourselves with the international catalog of Heinz food products. Elsewhere around the other seven floors, a variety of exhibits told more stories about Steel City’s lives, history, and pop culture.
A few weeks after we returned home from this vacation, Anne wore her souvenir Valley Forge T-shirt to breakfast at a Bob Evans. When the cashier asked what that was, Anne spent a few minutes providing a free history lesson while trying not to weep for our school systems. We tend not to buy or collect too many souvenirs, but this became one of the few times she found one useful for educational outreach.
I was out of earshot, so I couldn’t tell you if she also explained how Valley Forge is neither a valley nor a forge.
Our second time in Philadelphia wasn’t meant to be a total retread of our 2010 visit. Just the same, we couldn’t resist walking past a few of the major highlights. We also couldn’t help walking past them — the parking garage underneath Independence Mall was the most convenient place to leave the car for our first few hours in town, adjacent to several new sights we wanted to see. This year we had slightly more time, somewhat better cameras, and far better maps at our fingertips, given that neither of us owned a mobile phone till 2012.
In our long, long drives through 32 states and counting, we’ve seen a version of Jamestown, Civil War battlefields, the National World War II Museum, and memorials honoring the individual casualties from America’s last 105 years’ worth of wars or so. We still have a few official war museums to cross off, which we expect will follow the pattern — lots of artifacts from the era, probably some writing samples, and of course plenty of photos where applicable.
Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution features 18,000 square feet of exhibits covering the trials and tumults of our nation’s infancy, but begins with a severe disadvantage: 240 years ago, no one thought to take photos, or bothered to invent the camera in a timely manner. If a nation rises but no one Instagrammed it, is it still free?
The American flag was a recurring motif on our 2017 road trip to Baltimore. We’d visited Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” in between cannon fusillades; and we’d visited the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, where seamstress Mary Young Pickersgill sewed the very flag to which Mr. Key wrote his long-lasting ode.
Before Mrs. Pickersgill, and before Mr. Key, there was the trailblazer they followed, the grand dame of Old Glory herself — Betsy Ross.
Well…allegedly. Historians dispute the veracity of some or every aspect of the classic tale of Betsy Ross sewing our first flag at the behest of George Washington Himself. We weren’t at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia to examine the evidence and settle the debate once and for all, or to dispel our illusions and tremble at discovering Everything You Know Is Wrong. The truth is, the House just so happened to be along the path we’d chosen to walk down downtown Philly. It was a second-tier option on our to-do list, ranking mostly because we’d read that Betsy Ross’ own grave is on the premises. Ross wasn’t a solid fit into our “Presidential gravesite” theme, but for history’s sake Anne was mildly interested. And I was game.
In the spirit of the House’s presentation, I shall now refuse to type “allegedly” for the remainder of this chapter lest I bore myself out of writing it. Mentally insert if wherever you feel it should fit for your level of comfort and/or dedication to truthiness.