Cruise Final Days & Daredevil Bill NOV 27, 2022

The day after the Dominican Republic was our final day at sea. As if the off-road vehicle ride wasn’t enough excitement, Bill wanted to enjoy some of the ship’s outside activities. First up was the ship’s ropes course and zip line. Yes, they actually have that on top of the ship. While Bill got harnessed up, I figured out the best positions to get pictures.

It was very windy and it felt like my phone was going to be ripped from my hand. But despite the wind, coughing and wheezing, I managed to get some pictures. I did notice that Bill was the oldest person up there doing this!

Flying Through the Air

Walking the Plank Over the Edge

One section was actually a zip-line, flying through the air suspended!

Next up was the red waterslide. Bill said it felt like he was in that dark tunnel going round and round a long time before coming out the other end. Again, the oldest person there too!

We celebrated his survival from those activities with some time in the hot tub and enjoying the poolside. Quite a few people had the same idea. 

Here is our last sunset from our cruise ship.

We got up early the next morning for the sail into Port Canaveral.

This is Jetty Park Campground

Other Ships Waiting to Leave

We could see the condos where we lived from 2020-2021.

We also saw one of the SpaceX recovery ships: Shannon. This ship is a recovery ship, that is used to recover the Dragon space capsule, the astronauts and then travel back to Port Canaveral. The vessel is equipped with a medical treatment facility and helipad for emergency situations. The name is in honor of NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, the first female astronaut that SpaceX flew.

It was a quick drive home. End of a great trip. 

Next: We have some great trips planned in 2023 beginning in March. Stay tuned. Happy New Year and thanks for following along! 

 

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic NOV 26, 2022

After a day at sea, our last port of call was Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. Amber Cove is a private resort used by cruise ships. It is located on the north coast of the country.  Amber Cove is near Puerto Plata, first discovered by Columbus in the 1490s and the site of one of the first forts in the Americas. Amber Cove and Puerto Plata are located on the Atlantic north coast of the island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti on the west.

There was a very long walk on the pier to get to the cruise terminal. The local pier authority provided free rickshaws for those not wanting to walk. We thought the long walk would be good for us after that huge Thanksgiving dinner.

Bill wanted to do a dune buggy/off-road excursion. A group of us took an open air bus to the location where we picked up the Polaris off-road vehicle (ORV).

Each ORV has a driver and passenger side-by-side.

The guides warned us we would probably get dirty. Little did we know! After some brief instructions on operating the ORVs, our convoy set off with several guides leading us. We did not have bandanas, so we bought two.

We rode through tiny towns and down dirt roads, some very muddy.

Cattle grazed on the sides of the road.

We stopped briefly at a little store where they offered us free coffee and of course the opportunity to purchase souvenirs.

We were soon headed back on the road, headed for the beach. Bill and I had just commented to each other that, except for the dust, we had not gotten very dirty. Up ahead was a huge mud puddle that stretched across the road. Bill sped up so we wouldn’t stall out in the deep water. (At least that is what he claimed) And then…..

We were covered in mud and whatever else was in that water. My side of the ORV seemed to get the worst of the mud.

The ORV was covered in mud that quickly dried in the sun.

Thankfully our destination was not far away. Bill and I got in the water and tried to wash some of the nastiness off our arms, legs and face. Luckily the bandanas and sunglasses helped keep it out of our eyes, nose and mouth.

Then it was back in the ORVs for our drive back to the bus. And we were grateful for no more deep puddles.

We Survived!

Back on the ship we got some interesting looks from other passengers on the elevator and hallways. It was quite a job getting ourselves clean and rinsing out our clothes the best we could so we could at least get them back home.

A Beautiful Gazebo As We Sail Away!

Next up: Our last day at sea and Bill is a daredevil !

Bonaire NOV 24, 2022

Our next port was Kralendijk, Bonaire on Thanksgiving Day. Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved in 2010. The island then became a special overseas municipality within the country of the Netherlands. Confusing, I know. Kralendijk is the capital of tiny Bonaire. 

Bonaire lies fifty miles off the coast of Venezuela and is outside the Caribbean hurricane belt. It has a warm, dry climate with ocean breezes and temperatures between 78 and 86. In other words, perfect. 

Bonaire’s main economy is tourism. It is best known for snorkeling and scuba diving because of multiple diving sites and easy access to coral reefs. In fact it is recognized as one of the world’s best diving destinations. There is little agriculture and most of the island is covered in shrubs and cacti. The island is about 24 miles long north to south and 3 to 5 miles wide east to west.

The population is approximately 20,000. January 2019 saw approximately 71,000 tourists, a record, visit this island by ship and air.

Knowing that Bonaire doesn’t have a great bus system like Aruba, and is best explored by car, we booked an excursion. Walking from the dock to the bus it started to rain hard, not a good sign. 

On the way to our first stop, we passed through the small town and into the countryside. At one point we had to stop and wait for some goats to get out of the road. They were not fazed by the bus and not in a hurry.

We could see more of the cacti fencing around the homes, similar to Aruba.  

When we got to our first stop it was pouring rain. But we all know if you wait awhile, the weather will change. Sure enough the rain slowed to a light drizzle and we could get off the bus. Unfortunately even though this was known to be a very scenic spot on the island, it was not the best weather to take pictures.

The Millennium Cross Monument is located here at the Seru Largu lookout, one of the highest hills in Bonaire. The cross was built between 1999 and 2000 by the Catholic Church. On the monument are the words “Kristu Ayera Awe Semper” which means Christ, today, yesterday and forever.

Next up was the salt flats. As you can see, the weather improved quickly.

Kite Surfers

The low lying geography and Dutch dike design made much of the southern half of Bonaire into a giant system of ponds and pools which evaporate seawater to produce salt. The salt flats of Bonaire have been used for the extraction and exportation of salt for centuries. These natural ponds were first worked by African slaves who were brought to Bonaire to work the salt pans and plantations. Today, Bonaire’s salt works produce between 300,000 and 500,000 metric tons of industrial grade salt per year. After collection, the salt is washed and stored in pyramid shaped piles.

The ponds are a natural habitat for numerous species of brine shrimp which feed flocks of hundreds of pink flamingos and other migratory birds. This is the location of a flamingo sanctuary. We could see flamingos in the distance as we traveled down the road.

And One Donkey

Along the shoreline are four obelisks, one red, one white and one blue for the colors of their flag and a pink one representing the royal family.

Salt is Loaded on Ships at this Dock

The West Indies Company forced the island’s original inhabitants, the native Americans, to work in the salt flats before they eventually managed to escape to nearby Venezuela. We saw the slave huts, constructed in 1850 and which served as camping facilities for slaves working in the salt ponds.

The huts were used as sleeping quarters and a place to put personal belongings. Many black slaves from Africa worked in the salt ponds and on plantations. The slaves lived in the middle of Bonaire, a seven hour walk to the salt ponds. The West Indies Company built the huts so the slaves would not have to walk home each night. About 500 slaves worked here. Each small hut, meant for two, sometimes had as many as six slaves sleeping in one house.

In 1863 slavery was abolished in the Antilles.. The West Indies Company also used Bonaire as a penal colony for soldiers who misbehaved, forcing them to work in the salt flats.

Our next stop was at the Willemstoren Lighthouse located on the southern tip of the island. Bonaire has five lighthouses and this is Bonaire’s first lighthouse, built in 1837. It is now automated.

Bill quickly found a geocache just a short walk from the lighthouse.

Finding a Hidden Geocache

Our final stop was at Sebastian’s Beach restaurant, a little beach shack where we could get a snack and something cold to drink.

We really liked Bonaire, finding it smaller, less congested and with more of a quaint charm than Aruba. 

Dinner in the dining room was a grand Thanksgiving dinner. The servings were much too large, truly fitting the term of a Thanksgiving feast. I ate and ate and still had a lot of turkey left on my plate. Dessert was pumpkin or pecan pie, or both.

They had a beautiful Thanksgiving display on the Garden Café deck, including an ice sculpture. It was obvious the staff had put a lot of work into the display, making Thanksgiving Day for the Americans onboard something truly special.

Next up: Getting dirty in the Dominican Republic

Aruba, NOV 23, 2022

The day after Jamaica was Bill’s birthday and a day at sea. He chose one of the speciality restaurants on the ship, a Japanese restaurant for his birthday dinner. The chef prepared the food at our table and even wrote “Happy Birthday Bill” using egg yolk. After dinner they surprised him with a big slice of birthday cake.

The next day was the port of Aruba. The cruise ship port is located at Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. The flat island is known for its beautiful white sandy beaches. The continuous trade winds keep the temperature at a constant 81° year round. It has a dry climate with a yearly rainfall that does not exceed 20 inches and is located outside of the Caribbean hurricane belt. 

It is one of four countries that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands. All the citizens of Aruba are Dutch nationals. The island measures twenty miles long and six miles wide.

This Trolley Circles Around The Local Shopping Area

It is densely populated with about 108,000 residents, with most of them living on the western and southern coasts. Dutch is the official language though English is widely spoken.

The Dutch influence is obvious in the tall multicolored houses with carved wooden doors and Dutch tile patios. 

We had read that Aruba was safe and easy to explore on your own using their excellent bus system called “Arubus”. So when we left the ship we asked at the tourist Information desk where we could find the bus station. It was a little tricky to find and we had to stop a couple more times and ask for directions, finally locating it behind a building. For $10 each we were able to buy a day pass to ride the bus all day.

Our main destination was the California Lighthouse on the northwest tip of the island. The main problem was the closest bus stop to the lighthouse was about a mile uphill walk. The very nice bus driver made sure we understood where the bus would pick us back up. Normally a mile walk each way is no problem for us but I was still sick with bronchitis and had a terrible cough. It was also a warm day and the 80° was pretty hot in the cloudless sunshine. That mile walk felt endless.

The California lighthouse was constructed in 1916 and named for the steamship California, which wrecked nearby in 1891. At 98 feet, it is the highest structure on the island. I was thrilled when Bill found a shortcut back to the bus stop from the rear of a restaurant located next to the lighthouse.

Before we caught the bus back we stopped at a little beach shack restaurant for lunch. The cold drinks sure tasted good. It was nice sitting in the shade watching families enjoying the beach.

On the way back we got off the bus once more to grab a couple geocaches.

A small geocache container hidden here

Don’t move the tree move the sidewalk!

The buses come by frequently so it is always easy to catch another bus. The bus drivers were so friendly and helpful. We were so surprised to see the cactus strewn landscape, with very large cacti. Many people use cacti instead of fencing.

When we arrived back at the bus terminal we decided to put our day pass to good use. We changed to a bus that would take us to San Nicholas, at the southern tip of the island. But we got more than we bargained for, with the bus frequently stopping to pick up passengers, local high school students and people getting off work. It took over an hour to get to the far end, which meant over an hour back to the bus terminal. It was a great way to see the island and the locals, but we were more than ready to get off the bus! 

As we walked back to the ship Bill gave our day passes to a local lady. The buses ran until 9:00 pm so hopefully someone used them the rest of the day. 

It was nice to get back to the ship and have some cold drinks and ice cream!!

Next up: Bonaire

Ochos Rios, Jamaica NOV 21, 2022

When we arrived home from our November road trip to Pennsylvania, we had one day to unpack, do laundry and repack for a ten day Southern Caribbean cruise to celebrate Bill’s birthday. Problem was, after the cold, windy and rainy weather, I arrived home sick. I immediately took a home Covid test which was negative. The next morning I was no better and took another Covid test. It too was negative. I put in a call to my doctor to see if she could fit me in, explaining I was leaving the next day. Fortunately she could see me. In the parking lot the nurse came to the car and administered two tests, one for Covid and one for influenza. After a fifteen minute wait the nurse called to tell me they were both negative and I could come inside and see the doctor. Diagnosis: bronchitis. I was cleared to go on the cruise but boy did I feel rough! 

The next morning before leaving for the port I took one last Covid test, just to be sure. Negative. I was really looking forward to sitting on the balcony in the warm sunshine and breathe in the salt air. 

Our ship, the Norwegian Getaway, departed from Port Canaveral, very near the condo where we lived in 2020-2021. This was our first time on a Norwegian ship. We usually cruise on Holland America. This ship was quite a bit larger than Holland America ships and we really felt much less movement of the ship. Usually I have to take motion sickness medication daily. On this ship I never felt I needed it, so I took it occasionally.

After a day at sea, our first port was going to be Great Stirrup Cay, a private island owned by the Norwegian cruise line in the Bahamas. Bill booked a zip line excursion and was really looking forward to it. I was still feeling under the weather and was going to just get off the ship and enjoy the island. That morning we were ready to leave the ship and heading to breakfast when the captain announced the port was canceled due to high wind and rough seas. Because the water in the port is shallow, tender boats are used to take the passengers from the ship to the shore. With the high wind and rough seas, it was too dangerous to load passengers on and off the tender boats. Bill was disappointed to miss his zip line excursion. Instead we had an extra day at sea to enjoy the ship and our balcony. 

The next day we stopped at the port of Ochos Rios (Spanish for Eight Rivers) on the north coast of Jamaica. A former fishing village, in the last decade it has become a major cruise port destination and resort area lined with beaches and hotels. Obviously tourism is its main source of income with the government spending over $21 million in a revitalization project which included building airports and dredging Ochos Rios Bay. Ochos Rios has a population of approximately 17,000 and exports sugar and limestone. 

Jamaica is about 170 miles in length from east to west and 70 miles north to south. It is 87 miles south of Cuba and 118 miles west of Haiti. A ridge of mountains from east to west makes part of the island hilly and mountainous. Christopher Columbus landed here in 1494 and claimed the land for Spain.

Their Columbus Statue Has Been Ignored and Has a Plant Growing Out His Head!

The Spanish named the area “Chorreras” meaning rapid rivers, probably because of all the waterfalls. The indigenous people living there were obliterated by disease, slavery and war.  Lacking gold or silver, it was used primarily as a supply base for Spanish ventures into the Americas. Spain brought the first slaves here in 1517 to work on plantations throughout Jamaica. 1655, British forces seized the island from Spain. The English misinterpreted the Spanish name Chorreras and named the area Ochos Rios. A mistake because the area does not really have eight rivers. There were repeated skirmishes between the English and Spanish for the island over the years. During the late 17th century the area was often used by pirates.

Slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1838, 27 years before slavery ended in the U.S. The newly freed slaves slowly turned their town into a peaceful fishing village. In the 1950s they also exported sugar and bauxite (aluminum) and raised cattle. 

In 1962 the first James Bond film, “Dr No” was shot here followed by the Bond film “Live and Let Die” in 1973. 

Since Jamaica is known for having high crime rates, we decided to take a ship excursion rather than explore on our own. The night before our arrival, at dinner our waiter asked what we planned to do the next day in Jamaica and cautioned us to be careful. We had never had that happen on other cruises. Our room steward was from Jamaica and was really looking forward to seeing his daughter. After doing his morning duties, he had arranged to have a few hours off in the afternoon to spend time with her. He proudly showed us her picture. He is only able to see her when the cruise ship stops in Ochos Rios. Cruise ship workers often spend long months on assignment, usually working seven days a week.

Wanting to get a feel for Jamaica, we booked an excursion that took us through the surrounding lush, tropical countryside. We stopped at Konoko Falls, which really wasn’t much of a waterfall, but the surrounding area had nice ocean views.

On some excursions you climb the waterfalls and we snapped a picture of a group celebrating reaching the top of the falls.

Konoko Falls included a nature area where a guide showed us plants native to the area such as bananas and coffee, as well as many colorful flowering plants.

This large koi pond had strings stretched across the pond to protect the fish from birds and other predators.

We also saw rose-ringed parakeets, scarlet macaws, as well as budgies which are native to Australia. They also had tortoises, barn owls and even a crocodile.

We always try to take pictures of new places that give you a feel for the people. It was hard to take some of the pictures from a bus window.

At one point we drove by a school and a group of little girls came running to the fence to wave at us.

So cute. Later we took pictures of older students probably walking home from school. We noticed school children wore uniforms. Our guide told us this was to prevent social class distinction in the schools.

We were also told there is no postal home delivery. Everyone has to pick their mail up at the post office. The average Jamaican yearly salary was $4,800 in 2021.

Seems no matter what country we visit there are always recognizable fast food restaurants, including a Starbucks.

Next up: Bill’s birthday and a day in Aruba

Valley Forge, PA NOV 13, 2022

After staying the night near Philadelphia, we left the next morning for Valley Forge National Historical Park.

It was windy and very cold, the coldest day of the trip. It was a bit of a hike uphill from the parking lot to the Valley Forge Visitors Center, and the biting wind took our breath away.

The Visitors Center had many wonderful exhibits and a film, “Determined To Persevere, the Valley Forge Encampment”. The park has over 2 million visitors a year. 

Valley Forge is where General George Washington and the Continental Army wintered from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778.  In December, 1777, 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children marched into Valley Forge to build what would become the fourth largest “city” in the United States at that time. Many of the women were married to the soldiers or had been widowed in the war. They cooked, did laundry, gathered wood, guarded weapons, served as spies and served as nurses. The Valley Forge encampment lasted six months with two miles of fortifications and 1,200 log huts made of wood with straw walls, tightly packed clay and wood burning fireplaces.

The men had limited supplies and tools, dragging logs, some weighing hundreds of pounds, through cold mud. Much like any city, there were free and enslaved African Americans and Indians, the wealthy and impoverished, immigrants from England, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Prussia and Scotland, as well as those of different religions. Nearly 35 percent of the Army did not speak English as their primary language. 

At the time the British had taken over Philadelphia and General Washington decided to winter his troops at Valley Forge, a day’s march from Philadelphia.

While at Valley Forge they could train the soldiers and recoup from the year’s battles, while sitting out the winter weather and waiting for more supplies. Even before fleeing Philadelphia, the Continental Congress had struggled to support the war effort with sufficient food, clothing and equipment. One of the displays said a letter written by a soldier said half the men were almost naked with tattered clothing, walking barefoot on frozen ground with neither coats, hats, shirts or shoes. While at Valley Forge, conditions reached their worst. While it was beneficial to have all the troops together for training and to resist British attack, it was detrimental when influenza, dysentery, smallpox, pneumonia and typhoid spread throughout the encampment. Nearly 2,000 people died of disease and malnutrition, many using clothing and blankets from infected people. Dirty water, contaminated with human waste, contributed to disease. Washington, though a controversial decision, ordered mass inoculation against smallpox. Valley Forge was the site of one of the first state mandated mass immunization programs in history.

During the first month of the encampment the soldiers mainly ate fire cake, a mixture of water and flour baked over a fire. The Continental Army’s prescribed daily ration included one and a half pounds of meat, a pound of bread and two ounces of alcohol (2,700-3,000 calories). However for much of the encampment, the soldiers received a fraction of this, often no meat at all (often less than 500 calories daily). Winter weather and impassable roads made getting food and supplies to the encampment very difficult.

During this time Washington continued to persevere and inspire his troops. He brought in experienced officers such as former Prussian officer Baron von Steuben, who spoke no English but volunteered to teach the soldiers new military skills, improved hygiene to fight disease and instruct them how to fight as a unified army. These reforms in fighting tactics and army organization became the foundation for today’s modern United States Army. Steuben’s regulations, called “The Blue Book” is used as the Army’s basic training manual today.

Benjamin Franklin and other ambassadors traveled to Paris in 1776 to court France as an ally. In May 1778,Washington received word that treaties of alliance with France had been secured.  This alliance helped change the course of the Revolutionary War. The British evacuated Philadelphia and Washington and his united troops marched in pursuit. 

One interesting note is that history books do not always adequately convey the impact of war on those whose land the war is fought. After the Valley Forge encampment departed, a ruined land was left behind. Soldiers had cleared forest for many miles and demanded for military purposes farm animals, food and supplies, paying with worthless Continentals currency. This left farmers and their families with little food to eat or sell. The winter weather and activity of thousands of people had turned the fields to deep mud. The fields were so damaged that no crops could be planted that first summer. The farmers quickly got to work to dismantle the huts and plow the fields so they were able to grow crops again by the next summer. General Washington returned to the site in 1787, pleased with how the land and agriculture had been restored.

These Huts Represent The Originals

We spent quite a bit of time at the Visitors Center and since it was bitter cold, we didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the outside displays. We did stop at the National Memorial Arch, dedicated in 1917, to honor the soldiers’ perseverance.

We also stopped at Washington’s Headquarters and office, a stone house that was the residence of Washington and his staff. In the rooms were furnishings and clothing from that time.  In the distance was a statue of George Washington.  

The Kitchen

There are 52 monuments and markers in the park. Nearby the house was a pretty covered bridge.

Valley Forge became a state park in 1893.  On July 4, 1976, on the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence, President Gerald Ford visited Valley Forge and signed legislation establishing Valley Forge National Historical Park. President Ford said, “Grateful Americans will come to this shrine of quiet valor, this forge of our Republic’s iron core”. 

Near Washington’s Headquarters was a train station that is no longer used. In 1950 and 1957 the Boy Scouts held their National jamboree at Valley Forge.

Thousand of Tents for the Boy Scout National Jamboree

A Typewriter In the Depot

With better weather it would be easy to spend an entire day or two here. There is a ten mile auto tour, trails, ranger tours and a tour by trolley to enjoy. 

Leaving Pennsylvania we stopped briefly at the gazebo in Stephens City, VA where we were married eleven years ago, the first time we had been there since our wedding.

We spent two nights in Lexington, VA with a good friend and former coworker. We had a wonderful lunch visit with another former coworker in Marion, VA. Cold, rainy weather followed us. Our last night was in Lancaster, SC where we had a nice dinner with Bill’s sister and her husband. 

We arrived home on November 16th, just in time to repack for our next trip. 

Next up: One of us arrives home sick. Cruise or no cruise? Stay tuned! 

 

Philadelphia, PA NOV 12, 2022

The reason for our November road trip was to attend the wedding of our friends’ son in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  We left DC and headed for Bethlehem. Unfortunately the November hurricane was moving up the East Coast so we had heavy rain and fog on our drive to Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful wedding and we had a great time. 

The next day we headed to Philadelphia for a day of sightseeing. First stop was Independence Visitor Center where we saw a film and looked at the exhibits. We had booked a tour of Independence Hall online which was a good thing because it was pretty crowded. Much more so than in DC. I overheard a park ranger tell someone that all tickets had been given out for the day.

We had an excellent tour guide who obviously loves his job. Independence Hall, the birthplace of our nation, is where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were debated and adopted by the Founding Fathers. The Assembly Room is where they met.

This is the desk and chair where George Washington sat.

Top Section of the Rising Sun Chair

The building was completed in 1753 and was the principal meeting place of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1781 and the Continental Convention in 1787.

Realistic Painting “Congress Voting Independence

Jefferson is the tall man standing holding the Declaration of Independence with Franklin seated in front to Jefferson’s right.

Supreme Court Room

The most recognizable part of Independence Hall is the 168 foot tall bell tower and steeple.

The Centennial Bell rings every hour. When Lincoln’s body was being taken back for burial in Illinois, the train stopped here and Lincoln’s body was placed in the east wing of Independence Hall overnight. Over 300,000 mourners passed through to pay their respects, some waiting five hours. Our tour guide was so entertaining we could easily imagine our Founding Fathers debating in that historic building. 

Next we visited the West Wing to see the Great Essentials Exhibit which included original printed copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. A special exhibit on view was the Declaration of Common Aims, signed in Independence Hall and modeled on the U.S. Declaration of Independence. This document proclaimed independence for the nations of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Romania, Albania, Armenia and Ukraine and autonomy for all the peoples of Europe. One of the guides mentioned this is not a document Russia would want to see.

George Washington

We waited in line for about 30 minutes to get into the Liberty Bell Center. There was no timed entry here and this was the longest line of the day. The Bell summoned members to colonial meetings and rang during important events like the coronation of George III. As discontent increased before the American Revolution, it rang to call citizens to protest Parliamentary oppression. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that it rang on July 4, 1776 to proclaim independence, probably because by this point the steeple was rotted and the swinging and vibrating of the Bell was feared would topple the steeple. The Bell weighed 2,080 pounds. In 1777, the Bell and other valuables were taken to safety just before the British captured Philadelphia.

As a side note, the patriots also took anything that could have been of use to the British army, including blankets, carpets, clothing, anything made of lead including pipes, 4,000 head of cattle and most of the horses they could get. This left the city and remaining inhabitants destitute and in poor shape. Basically they did everything but burn the city. 

The Bell, made in London, England in 1751, was composed of a mix of metals that made it brittle.  The inscription on the Bell, “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land unto all its inhabitants thereof” came from the Bible (Leviticus 25:10).

It first cracked soon after arriving in Philadelphia in 1752. Twice local craftsmen were hired to recast it. The crack in the Liberty Bell we see today was the result of an attempt to fix a thin crack that destroyed the Bell’s tone at some point after the Revolution. There is no record of when the crack developed. It was repaired some time before 1846. The Bell was so popular that metal filings produced during the repair were made into souvenirs and given to public officials and sold to the public. When the Bell rang for George Washington’s birthday anniversary, the original crack reappeared and lengthened, silencing the Bell forever.

Inside View of Crack

Today the Bell is well protected, they even monitor the temperature and  humidity at the Bell. This area was the most crowded and there was a really obnoxious park ranger constantly barking at people to “take your pictures and move on”. I can understand there is a line of people waiting outside, but after waiting 30 minutes plus to get in, I didn’t appreciate being told to move on in a loud, obnoxious voice. 

After a lunch of snacks in the car (thank you Aunt Barbara) we walked down to the Benjamin Franklin Museum. We had originally planned on visiting the Betsy Ross House until I was told that Betsy Ross did not make the first flag. That was just a story made up by her grandson and passed down in the history books. Contrary to what we were taught in school, there is no evidence that Ross made the first flag. It is now considered a myth. And, there is no evidence that Washington cut down his father’s cherry tree and said “Father, I cannot tell a lie”. One of my favorite stories from history.

So we skipped Betsy Ross and went to see Benjamin Franklin. We stopped by his burial site at Chris Church Burial Ground.  Buried next to him is his wife Deborah. There are tens of thousands of coins thrown on Franklin’s marker every year because of his famous adage, “a penny saved, is a penny earned”. In fact the marble marker developed a crack because of the weight of all the coins and a fundraising campaign was started in 2016 to repair the damaged gravestone. Do you see the crack?

From there it was a brief walk to the Benjamin Franklin Museum. This museum had many artifacts and interactive displays on Franklin’s life. Franklin was one of 17 children in a family of Boston tradesmen. His father was a chandler: a candle and soap maker. Franklin wanted to go to sea and threatened to run away. Because of his love of reading, at the age of twelve  his father apprenticed him to his older brother James in a print shop. He was a quick study and learned all aspects of the trade, but because of his brother’s harsh treatment, he ran away from home but kept in touch with his family, frequently writing to them with news of his life.

In His Youth He Created Swimming Fins

Arriving almost penniless in Philadelphia in 1723, Benjamin worked in a print shop and eventually opened his own printing shop in Philadelphia, printing all kinds of things including currency, his own newspaper and Poor Richard’s Almanac. He communicated his ideas and expanded his network of friends and political connections both in the colonies and England. He was rewarded with government printing contracts and the position of deputy postmaster for the Colonies in 1753. Sedan chairs were used by Franklin the oldest member of the Constitution Convention, who was ill and in pain.

Sedan Chair

He improved the postal system by introducing home delivery, printed forms and customer credit. For the first time the Colonial Postal Service turned a profit. He saved enough money to retire from printing at the age of 42.

1760 Painting of Franklin, Stolen During Revolutionary War

This Odometer From Franklin Shows 1,600 Miles

I will say that Bill was more interested in visiting this museum than I was, but I certainly left with a greater understanding and appreciation for this brilliant man.

1847 Franklin Urging the Claims of the American Colonies Before louis XVI

Many Electrical Words He Introduced

Depicts the 1752 Kite Experiment

Some thoughts on Philadelphia. We were apprehensive about visiting Philadelphia. We had heard from several people, including former residents, as well as what we had seen on TV, that Philadelphia was not a safe city to visit. Research before we left home showed that there was a secure, underground parking garage right under the Independence Hall Visitors Center. It wasn’t cheap to park there, but no parking in a large city is cheap or reasonable. But it provided safe parking and was just an elevator ride up to the Visitors Center. We did stay in the safe cocoon of the tourist area, but we did have to walk several blocks to the Benjamin Franklin Museum. We felt safe and didn’t wander further mainly because we ran out of time and we were tired. We did see some homeless, but not many and no panhandling. Granted we were not in the downtown area or neighborhoods, but we were pleased with our experience there.

Franklin Designed the Fugio Cent Coin 1787 with Chain of 13 Circles

1789, Last Portrait of Franklin

We drove by the Philadelphia Eagles stadium on the way to our hotel on the outskirts of the city. Another great day with lots of walking.

Next up: Valley Forge

Touring D.C. Day 3 NOV 10, 2022

Our last day in D.C. we again set out early on a chilly morning. We took the metro and got off at the stop closest to our first planned visit, Ford’s Theater. We had booked a tour of the theater ($5 each) and arrived about 45 minutes early. We asked one of the guides if we could take an earlier tour and he agreed.

Other than reading, one of Lincoln’s favorite forms of recreation was going to the theater. On the evening of April 14, 1865, President and Mrs. Lincoln, sitting in the Presidential Box, attended a performance of the play “Our American Cousin”. At intermission the President’s bodyguard left and went to Star Saloon for a drink and did not return for the beginning of the next act. A stagehand let Booth in through a back door. Booth wedged the door of the Presidential Box open with the leg of a wooden music stand he left there earlier in the day. John Wilkes Booth shot the president in the head. Booth jumped from the stage, got entangled in the balcony decorations, and landed off balance, breaking a bone in his leg. He ran out the back door of the theater, mounted his horse and escaped from the city.

John Wilkes Booth, an actor and native of Maryland, was very familiar to Washington audiences, having performed in area plays. In fact, in November, 1863, President and Mrs. Lincoln went to Ford’s Theater to see the play, “The Marble Heart”, starring John Wilkes Booth. During the play, Booth looked up at the Presidential Box when delivering his most threatening lines. One of the people watching with Lincoln in the presidential box commented that Booth seemed to be saying those lines to the President and Lincoln agreed.

In July, 1864, Booth met with some Confederate agents in Boston and hatched a plan to kidnap Lincoln and hold him hostage in exchange for the release of southern prisoners. On Inauguration Day, 1865, Booth and five of his co-conspirators stood a few feet from Lincoln as he talked about healing the nation. After Lee’s surrender, Booth had to quickly change his plans and he and his conspirators made plans to assassinate Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.

After breaking his leg from his leap from the balcony, he rode to the house of a doctor who set his leg. Booth had planned on escaping through the Maryland countryside to Virginia and then south where he thought he would be a hero. Along with a co-conspirator, and slowed by his broken leg, they were given food and shelter by Southern sympathizers, though many refused to help. On April 26th while hiding in a barn near Port Royal, VA, Union soldiers surrounded them. His co-conspirator surrendered immediately while Booth was shot and died three hours later. He asked the soldiers to “tell my mother I died for my country”. The other co-conspirators were soon arrested, received the death sentence and were hung. Among them was the first woman executed by the federal government. The stagehand who let Booth in the back door received six years of hard labor. The doctor who set his leg was given a life sentence. Initially the doctor said he had not recognized the injured Booth that night. However it was discovered that the doctor had met Booth on three occasions, twice at his farm and once in D.C. He worked on the Confederate underground, failed to notify authorities that Booth had been at his farm, and lied about the direction Booth traveled when he left the farmhouse. President Andrew Johnson pardoned and released the doctor and stagehand in 1869.  They had been sent to Fort Jefferson in Florida. While they were there, the doctor helped many prisoners stricken with yellow fever. He was pardoned for his work at the prison.

President Lincoln, unconscious, was carried to the Peterson house across the street and placed in a back bedroom. The rooms in the Peterson house are 1865 period pieces but none are original to the house. The bed on which Lincoln died is in the Chicago History Museum. The bed was short for the tall president so he was placed diagonally on the bed.

Mrs. Lincoln and their oldest son Robert were with him. Over 90 people would pass through the house to pay their last respects to the dying president. The doctors knew the wound was fatal and Lincoln never gained consciousness. He died the next day, April 15, 1865. Days earlier, General Robert E Lee had surrendered at Appomattox to General Grant. After four + years of struggling to preserve the Union, President Lincoln did not live to see the beginning of the healing process.

Our self guided tour included Ford’s Theater as well as the Petersen House, the house where Lincoln died. Along with us on our assigned tour was a group of high school students. These two historic places really had some interesting displays and facts about the Lincoln assassination. Unfortunately the students were more interested in running around and horseplay. Typical high schoolers. I wish they had taken the chance to learn about this history more seriously.

Last Formal Photo taken February 5, 1865

The museum had Booth’s gun on display. After Lincoln’s death the War Department kept it. In 1931 they received a request to display it at the Ford’s Theater museum. The War Department denied the request saying displaying the gun would “create interest in the criminal aspect of the great tragedy, rather than in the historical features thereof, and would have more of an appeal for the morbid or weak-minded than for the students of history”. The War Department transferred the gun to the National Park Service in 1940 where it has been displayed ever since.

The museum had a replica of the funeral train which took Lincoln’s body on a 14 day, 1,700 mile journey where over seven million Americans viewed the casket as it made its way to Springfield, Illinois for burial. Bill and I visited his tomb in Springfield in September, 2013.

Today Ford’s Theater is a national historical site but also an active theater. In 1866 the federal government bought the theater and in 1932 opened the Lincoln Museum.  It was entrusted to the National Park Service in 1933.

It underwent extensive restoration in 1964. While we were there workers were busy preparing for the next performance.

A portrait of the Lincoln family was painted by Samuel B. Waugh. The print showing Abraham Lincoln, sitting in chair at the left end of a table with Thomas sitting next to him, Mary Todd is sitting on the right, and Robert Todd is standing behind the table.

Painted one Year After Lincoln’s Death

After leaving Ford’s Theater we decided to grab a geocache before our next stop. We found one at the US Navy Memorial Plaza. There have been many times where finding a geocache has taken us places we would not have ordinarily found. This is one of those times, made even more special by the group of Navy veterans visiting that day.

Next up was the National Archives Museum. We did not need a timed pass for this museum.

We came here to see the original documents of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. They are located in an area called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. The three documents are known as the Charters of Freedom. They are located in a cool room with dim light to prolong the life of the documents. No photography is allowed for the same reason. The writing on the Declaration of Independence is very faded and hard to read. The parchment document had once been proudly displayed for 35 years in a window of the Patent Office Building where it had been exposed to sunlight. We waited in a short line to get in since they only allow a limited number of people in the Rotunda at a time.

Picture from Condé Nast Traveler

Today, the documents are sealed in glass “in the most scientifically advanced housing that preservation technology can provide”. There is a guard standing by the four-pages of the Constitution of the United States and he will scold you if you lean on the glass for a closer look. (I know from personal experience.) When Bill visited here many years ago he was told that at night they lower the documents into underground vaults for safekeeping. When Bill mentioned that to one of the guards, she said she could not confirm or deny that. Times have changed! 

Picture from Condé Nast Traveler

After a quick lunch at the food court in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, we headed to our last stop of the day, the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian. We also did not need an entry pass for this building. We had really looked forward to visiting this museum but it was later in the day and I think at this point we were really tired after three days of sightseeing. We didn’t spend as much time as originally planned and toured the three floors of exhibits/artifacts rather quickly. The first floor had Inventions, American Enterprise and the Value of Money.

Adding Machine from 1927

An Early Portable Computer by IBM, “SCAMP” 1973

The second floor had American Democracy, Many Voices, One Nation and a very interesting Star-Spangled Banner exhibit.

George Washington’s Surveyor Compass

George Washington at Princeton

The third floor had The Price of Freedom, (Bill’s favorite) and the American Presidency and First Ladies exhibits. This was my favorite. Unfortunately all my pictures from the museum are gone from my phone as well as some of Bill’s. We can’t figure out how that happened. 

From the Revolution War Exhibit:

General Charles Cornwallis; letter of surrender and sword.

General Charles Cornwallis was so Mortified by Defeat sent his Second in Command to Surrender and Offer the General’s Sword to Washington.

From the Civil War Exhibit:
From the World War II Exhibit:

We were glad to sit down on the metro and get back to the hotel. Another day of walking 5+ miles had caught up with us. 

Some closing thoughts on D.C. We were really pleased with our D.C. experience. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, from the workers in the metro to the U.S. park rangers and guides in the museums. Everyone seemed really glad we were there and wanted us to have a great experience. The city itself was clean and felt safe. Even the traffic was tolerable. Unlike other U.S. cities in our recent travels, we did not see homeless encampments, people sleeping on the street or panhandlers. 

Next up: a day in Philadelphia

Touring D.C. Day 2 NOV 9, 2022

While visiting Washington DC we stayed at a hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The hotel was conveniently located two blocks from a metro station. One new thing to know when touring DC is that now many tourist attractions have a timed pass entry, meaning you can book a reservation online up to a month before you visit. The Washington Monument (National Park Service) charges a $1 processing fee for each person. The positive side of this is you do not have to wait in long lines to get into the most popular attractions. The negative is you have a set time to be there which takes away the flexibility of changing your plans or want to stay longer at one place. We found ourselves often checking the time and calculating how long it would take to get to the next place. The National Mall is 700 acres with fourteen monuments and memorials and there is a lot of walking from one place to another. When planning our trip we tried to get reservations at places close together each day, but there was still lots of walking both days. 

We got up early and after breakfast at the hotel we walked to the metro and had an easy ride into DC. It was another cold morning! First stop was the Washington Monument. We had a short wait until our timed entry. We heard a park ranger tell some tourists that all tickets had been given out for the day. Their options were to try to book online for the next day or show up tomorrow around 7:00 AM and get in line to see if there were any tickets available.

First we had to go through security. A tourist from France was stopped when security discovered small fingernail clippers in her purse. She was confused when she was told to throw them away or not go in. She left and came back so I assume she threw them away or gave them to someone outside.

Years ago you could walk up the steps to the top of the Washington Monument but that is no longer allowed. Now you have to take an elevator. I overheard a woman tell the park ranger she walked up the stairs with her parents many years ago and wanted that experience with her child. The park ranger kindly said no. 

Work began on the Monument in 1848. Originally the plans called for a statue of Washington on a horse but the design evolved into a towering obelisk. By 1854 the stone structure reached 152 feet. War and lack of money halted construction and it stood incomplete for twenty years.

During this time the Monument was used as a fort and training ground for Union troops. A soldier named David C. Hickey carved his name into the stone wall and it is still visible today in the lobby of the Monument.

The top of the Washington Monument is made of aluminum, which at that time was considered a precious metal because it was so difficult to mine. In the 1800’s it was considered more valuable than gold or silver. The 100 ounce aluminum cap also serves as a lightning rod. 

When it was dedicated in 1885, it was the world’s tallest building at 555 feet. It lost that honor in 1889 when the Eiffel Tower was opened at 986 feet. However today the Washington Monument is considered the world’s tallest freestanding stone structure. There are over 36,000 stones in the Washington Monument. There are 193 stones lining the Monument ‘s stairwell symbolizing the idea “Out of Many, One”. The Washington Monument Society asked for donations of carved stones to honor George Washington. States, cities, countries and civic groups sent stones to be part of this famous Monument.

These Stones line the Stairwell. From the Elevator You Can Glimpse Them.

This Stone Given by Kentucky

We rode the elevator to the observation level which took 70 seconds. It seemed crowded on this floor and the windows were very small so you had to patiently wait your turn to look out. There were several windows with views overlooking DC to the north, south, east and west.

Our next reservation was for a tour of the U.S. Capitol. We had also booked this online about a month ago. No charge per person. I must say planning to visit these sites would be difficult for people without computers and internet access! It was a bit of a hike to get from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. Bill grabbed a quick lunch at a food truck on the way.

Security was tight with no food or drink allowed, along with the usual banned items.  We could see discarded food and drink items in the nearby trash can. Even unopened food packages were not allowed.

The original Capitol cornerstone was laid by President George Washington in 1793. In 1800 the government moved from Philadelphia to Washington DC. and moved into an unfinished building. By 1814 two wings had been added for the House and Senate. The Capitol and other public buildings were burned in 1814 during our second war with Great Britain, the War of 1812. The exterior walls survived but the interior was gutted. By 1819 the wings were reopened and the center building reopened in 1826. By 1850 many new states had been admitted to the Union so new, larger wings were added by 1859. The old House wing became Statuary Hall and Congress invited each state to contribute statues of its most notable citizens. Today these statues are found in Statuary Hall, the Rotunda and throughout the Capitol building. 

In 1857, an American sculptor completed the plaster model for the Statue of Freedom, which weights 13,000 pounds and is 19.5 feet tall. The statue has been restored and is on display here. The plaster model was cast into bronze. In 1863 the Statue of Freedom was placed at the top of the dome.

Many additions and renovations to the Capitol have continued over the years. 

The Rotunda is the heart and center of the Capitol. It is a ceremonial space where state funerals have been held. Visiting heads of state are met here and historic events have been observed.

Our tour began at the Capitol Visitors Center where a large group of us was shown a thirteen minute film called “Out of Many, One”. We were then divided into groups and assigned a guide. Our guide gave us each headsets so we would be able to hear him as he led the tour. The guide talked about all the statues provided by each state.

The National Statuary Hall was used in the past by the legislators and many statues today.

Florida state Civil rights pioneer Mary McLeod Bethune is the first Black American to represent a state in Statuary Hall.

Congress Honored Morse for his Message “What Hath God Wrought!”

Our last stop of the day was The Library of Congress and once again we had a pre-booked timed entry. We were getting tired but fortunately it was close by.

The Thomas Jefferson Building is the oldest of the four United States Library of Congress buildings

They didn’t offer guided tours here but you still needed a timed entry pass. The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library.

Twelve figures that decorate the dome is a mural of twelve seated male and female

The ceiling of the main reading room is a mural that represents twelve countries as of 1897:

  • Egypt represents Written Records.
  • Judea represents Religion.
  • Greece represents Philosophy.
  • Rome represents Administration.
  • Islam represents Physics.
  • The Middle Ages represent Modern Languages.
  • Italy represents the Fine Arts.
  • Germany represents the Art of Printing.
  • Spain represents Discovery.
  • England represents Literature.
  • France represents Emancipation.
  • America represents Science.

It has over 173 million items with collections in 470 languages. Among the collections are more than

  • 51 million cataloged books and other print material
  • 4 million recordings
  • 17.5 million photographs
  • 5.6 million maps
  • 8 million pieces of sheet music and
  • 75 million manuscripts

WOW!

Presiding over the Library of Congress from a central position is Minerva, the Roman Goddess of learning and wisdom.

The Great Hall has paintings and sayings all around. These are a few that we liked.

Also located here is the U.S. Copyright Office, the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, the Congressional Research Office and the Law Library of Congress. 

The Library of Congress was originally established in 1800. It was burned and destroyed by the British in 1814. At the time it had 740 books and 3 maps. Thomas Jefferson, retired and living at Monticello, offered his personal library as a replacement. Congress appropriated $23,950 to purchase Jefferson’s collection of 6,487 books. This helped the Library but also helped Jefferson who was deeply in debt by this time. The Thomas Jefferson Library is located on the 2nd floor.

Facing a shortage of space and wanting to protect the collection from fire, a new Library was built and opened in 1897. And what a beautiful building it is!

We really enjoyed walking around the building. We encountered a friendly, helpful docent we talked with for a while. He answered our questions and obviously loved what he was doing. 

The Gutenberg Bible is considered one of the Library’s greatest treasures. It was produced in Mainz, Germany in the mid 1450’s. It is the first book printed using movable metal type in Western Europe.

It had been a busy, fun day. We walked to the metro station and then the two blocks back to the hotel. According to our watches we had walked over six miles. We were tired but what a great day!!!

Next up: Our last day in DC

 

Jefferson Memorial & Arlington National Cemetery NOV 8, 2022

The weather in Charlottesville had been warm and mild, but the morning we left it was cold and blustery. We wouldn’t feel warm again until we arrived back in Florida many days later. 

We headed to DC for three days of sightseeing. The first day we visited the Jefferson Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, both easily accessed by car rather than metro. As with all major cities, finding a place to park can be a real pain. And DC is no exception. After driving around a little, sharp eyed Bill spotted some metered parking behind an indoor tennis center. It was chilly so we sat in the car and had a lunch of ham rolls and other snacks (thank you Aunt Barbara!). 

The Jefferson Memorial was a reasonable walk nearby. There is a two year project to improve accessibility and visitor services at the memorial so with all the construction it was difficult to get a good picture of the outside. But from the granite steps of the Memorial there are impressive views of The Washington Monument and the White House.

White House in Center

Built between 1939 and 1943 on the shore of the Potomac River, the inside of the Memorial is beautiful.

Multiple quotes capturing Jefferson’s ideology and philosophy are on the walls including quotes from The Declaration of Independence, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and Notes on the State of Virginia.

One of his quotes, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man” is prominently inscribed on, and encircles, the frieze below the dome. 

The focus inside is the 19 foot bronze statue of Jefferson.

Next up was Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive away. In 1862, Congress passed legislation authorizing the federal government to purchase land for national cemeteries for military dead. It is one of two national cemeteries run by the United States Army. All other national cemeteries are run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly 400,000 people are buried here in its 639 acres. There are about thirty funerals conducted on weekdays and seven on Saturday.

We paid to ride a tram ($17.95 each) around the cemetery, and considering the size of the cemetery, it is the best option. Driving through the cemetery is not allowed unless you are attending a burial. The open air tram stops at the Kennedy gravesites, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington House. At each stop we got off, knowing another tram would come by every 30 minutes. If you didn’t get off the tram, the loop around the cemetery took about 45 minutes. Every tram had a guide who talked about the cemetery and each time we got off and on we had a different guide. When we first got on the tram the guide warned everyone if we came near a active burial service we were to remove our hats, all talking would cease and absolutely no pictures were to be taken of the service. 

It was a cold, windy day and it was really chilly on the open tram. Even with a hooded coat and gloves, we were chilly.

First stop was the Kennedy gravesites of John and Jacqueline Kennedy and two of their children born in 1956 and 1963. This site was chosen instead of Massachusetts because ironically Kennedy had visited the cemetery on Veterans Day mere weeks before his death and remarked on the peaceful beauty of the location. At the time he remarked the views were so wonderful “I could stay here forever”. Due to the sunlight it was hard to get a good picture of the eternal flame. Located nearby are the graves of Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy, marked with simple markers and white crosses.

We saw rows of “Unknown Solder” and “Unknown” buried during the Civil War.

The USS Maine Mast Memorial is a memorial honoring those who died aboard the USS Maine on February 15, 1898, after a mysterious explosion destroyed the ship while at anchor in Havana Harbor.

The next stop was The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We spent the most time here and timed it perfectly to see the changing of the guard. This Monument was dedicated to deceased U.S. servicemen whose remains have not been identified. The first unidentified American serviceman was buried here in 1921.The changing of the military guard is an elaborate ceremony occurring every hour on the hour from October 1st through March 31st and every half hour from April 1st through September 30th. A military guard is on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without exception regardless of weather. Since Veterans Day was this week, we saw a lot of Veterans visiting here as well as around DC.

Many Veterans in Attendance (Yellow Coats)


Our last tram stop was the Arlington House. The house was built between 1803-1818 by George Washington Parke Custis, the step grandson of George Washington.

The house was built at a high point, called Mount Washington, overlooking Washington DC. Constructed three years after the death of George Washington, it was to be a living memorial to George Washington. Visitors here have included Lafayette, Washington Irving, Andrew Jackson and Franklin Pierce.

Custis’ only living child Mary Anna Randolph Custis married Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Lee and his wife lived there for 30 years. At the start of the Civil War, Lee left to lead the Confederate Army. He had been asked by Lincoln to lead the Union Army but Lee turned down the offer saying he could not “raise my hand against my native state, my relations, my children, and my home”. General Winifred Scott said, “Lee, you have made the biggest mistake of your life”. Mrs. Lee was forced to leave due to the advancing Union Army and moved throughout Virginia, eventually settling in Richmond.  Before leaving Arlington House the Lees managed to save the most treasured family heirlooms including the bed where Washington died. Arlington House was seized by Union soldiers and served as U.S. Army headquarters during the Civil War and Union soldiers were buried on the grounds. Union soldiers stole family heirlooms as war souvenirs and wrote graffiti on walls throughout the house, even on wooden beams in the attic.  In 1862 the U.S. government imposed a tax on all insurrectionary land and required all taxes be paid in person. Lee and his wife, behind Confederate lines, could not pay the taxes on person so the government seized the property for nonpayment of taxes.

Robert E. Lee never visited the house again. His wife visited one time after the war and was dismayed at the condition of the house and quickly left. In 1874 Lee’s eldest son sued the government to regain the property. It ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court who ruled in favor of Lee. Lee was more interested in the money than the property and sold it to the US government for $150,000 ($4,362,321 in today’s money) . It is thought the government was eager to buy the land and turn it into Arlington National Cemetery to ensure that Lee’s family would never live there again.

In 1955 President Eisenhower signed legislation making Arlington House a permanent national memorial to Robert E. Lee. As punishment for fighting for the Confederacy, Lee, like all Confederates, lost his rights as a US citizen. In order to regain those rights, Lee submitted a request for a presidential pardon two months after he surrendered at Appomattox. His request was denied and he died without having his rights restored.

In 1975 President Gerald Ford pardoned Lee after discovering Lee’s amnesty request from 1865. Ford signed the pardon using Lee’s desk at Arlington House.

There are beautiful views of DC from throughout the Cemetery, but the best views are from Arlington House. In the distance you can see Arlington Memorial Bridge. When the Civil War broke out, the Potomac River became the dividing line between the North and the South. Sixty years after the end of the war the bridge was built connecting the Lincoln Memorial to the Arlington House, a symbolic uniting of the country and a monument to the sacrifices of our nation’s soldiers.

My only criticism of the tram tour is it moves rather quickly making it hard to get pictures. We passed the tombstone of another President buried at Arlington, William Howard Taft, but his grave is not located close to the road so it is hard to focus and take a decent picture.

Same for other notables like Ruth Bader Ginsberg. We actually rode the entire tram route twice to get pictures we missed.

We were able to photograph the tombstones of General Alexander Haig (on left) and General of the Army (five stars) Omar Bradley (on the right).

That evening we met a friend of Bill’s from his Boy Scout days for dinner. It had been 50 years since they last saw each other!! 

Next up: Day 2 sightseeing in DC