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Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 33: Scenes from a Revolution

Harvard Yard brawl!

That time in December 1775 in Harvard Yard when an insult match between soldiers turned into a snowball fight, which turned into a big brawl that George Washington had to break up. That escalated quickly.

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?

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Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 32: Broad Stripes and Bright Stars III

Betsy Ross flag!

Historically accurate recreation of actual flag treatment In the 18th century before the invention of the United States Flag Code. For stricter modern audiences, you can just barely seen the extra cloth placed beneath the flag technically keeping it off the floor.

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.

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Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 31: They Forged a Flock of Founding Fathers

George Washington!

Obligatory George Washington statue. We lost track of how many times his face appeared in metal on this trip.

The voluminous main floor of the National Constitution Center was interesting and educational in and of itself, but an unusual display awaited us on the second floor in the George H. W. Bush Gallery, a room in which the momentous signing of the U.S. Constitution takes on real-life proportions and surrounds visitors in history and metal.

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Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 30: Our Constitutional Sights

Kennedy v Ford!

Is the American version of democracy a viable system, or is a world where citizens love JFK more than Gerald Ford an utter travesty? YOU make the call!

Among our nineteen official annual road trips, we’ve had a few experiences in which we found ourselves falling short of our goals, not quite exploring our targeted locations to the fullest, and promising ourselves to keep them in mind in case we had time in the future to call do-over. Some of the cities and states we’ve visited are extremely unlikely to see us return, for better or worse. But we like the idea of arranging second chances where possible and merited.

Once upon a time, Philadelphia was supposed to be the center of our 2010 road trip. As I wrote in the present-day commentary for that particular travelogue:

Some of our road trips simply needed more days that what we allotted. We thought we’d learned that lesson on our 2005 drive to San Antonio, when we spent more time in the car than we did on foot in Texas, because their state is like a separate continent compared to home. Our trip to Philadelphia encountered similar issues but for a different reason. We’d found so many interesting sights to see near Philly that we barely left any time for the city itself…

This year we had a few different ideas what to do after leaving New Jersey and entering Pennsylvania. Two contenders rose above the rest: either head southeast for our introductory foray into the first state of Delaware, or go back to Philadelphia. We wouldn’t have time to venture too far into Delaware, but any attractive excuse to step foot inside its border would’ve been nice, if only to cross another state off our bucket lists. After a considerable amount of research on its nearest regions, our hypothetical Delaware to-do list looked like this:

1. Check out their capitol dome
2. Visit the gravesites of the exactly zero Presidents buried there
3. Reenact the “Hi! We’re in…Delaware” scene from Wayne’s World

…and that’s the story of why our next several chapters feature our grand return to Philadelphia. And what better way to dive into the original capital of the United States of America than to visit a giant museum dedicated to the Founding Fathers and some of their most important words that made America work?

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Of Gods and Gilding: Gamboling (Not Gambling) in French Lick

hotel hallway!

Probably our deepest selfie ever.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Twice each year my wife Anne and I drive down to southern Indiana. Usually it’s for the sake of visiting relatives, helping family keep in touch, doing something nice for others, that sort of thing. Usually it consists of one three-hour drive down slow highways behind lackadaisical drivers, four to six hours of sitting and chatting and letting the older folks enjoy each other’s company while we might or might not nod off, then another three-hour drive home. We’re adult enough to accept not every weekend can be a convention or even a trip to the movie theater.

Dateline: October 24, 2015. My aunt suggested we break routine and get together for a bit of Indiana tourism. We headed out to the twin towns of French Lick and West Baden. When I was a kid we drove through them frequently but rarely stopped in either of them except for gas. Fast-forward four decades later, and now each town has a special attraction to boast as their own. For West Baden, it’s the enormous West Baden Springs Hotel, a structure with a history dating back to 1855 filled with frequently changing ownerships, periods of disuse, extensive restoration funded by multiple donors, and a new life today as a premier getaway in the southern Indiana area…

Next door to the West Baden Springs Hotel is their sister establishment, the French Lick Springs Hotel. Though they occupy adjacent lots, together they’re a joint resort as inseparable as the two towns themselves, united around a single establishment: the French Lick Springs Casino.

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Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 29: Crossing the Delaware

Crossing the Delaware block!

Once again our intrepid explorer is hot on the trail of that one really popular President.

The image of General George Washington leading troops in boats across the Delaware River is one of those iconic moments in the Revolutionary War that’s ingrained in the consciousness of every American student at a young age, even if teachers don’t necessarily explain the full context. Like many other scenes from Washington’s life, travelers can visit the area where history happened, tread the same treasured ground our forefathers did, and of course learn more about their feats from whatever museum, park, visitors center, statue, or plaque sprang forth to mark the spot.

In the case of this particular moment in time, visitors also need to make sure which “Washington Crossing” park they want to see.

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