Spanish American writer and philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
In the current climate, perhaps no time is better than right now to learn or recall important lessons of American history. Some of those lessons, for example, the shameful internment of Japanese Americans during World War II at various locations in the U.S., provide a cautionary tale, as much of today’s xenophobia stems from the “us versus them” mentality.
While not everyone is interested in taking a road trip and many cannot or will not, here is a way for armchair travelers of all ages to embark on a trip covering a dozen American heritage sites, some lesser known, though strikingly important. From the comfort of one’s home, one can take a journey that will further understanding of how history and those who shaped it contributed to this country and its social fabric.
On Aug. 1 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the nonprofit The Pursuit of History offers the free, live stream “America’s Summer Road Trip 2020” at AmericasSummerRoadtrip.org. (It will be archived on The Pursuit of History’s Facebook page, so West Coast viewers can sleep in and view later at their convenience.)
The trip across the country and through our nation’s history includes 12 hour-long livestreams from 12 leading historic sites.
Each tour is conducted by a leading expert guide; an added benefit of the streams is that each destination will include a behind-the-scenes look at particular items not part of the site’s regularly exhibited collections or tours.
If learning about the Salem Witch Trials is of interest, tune in to the 10 a.m. episode from the preserved Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, Mass. to learn about the conviction and execution of Nurse, a victim of the 1692 Salem Village witch hunt.
War buffs will enjoy acquiring information about the 1775 opening battle of the Revolutionary War during the episode on Minute Man National Park in Concord, Mass. A separate episode covers the historic New Bridge Landing in River Edge, N.J., another strategically important Revolutionary War battle site that included military headquarters and intelligence gathering.
The American Heritage Museum in Hudson, Mass., is explored separately. It covers World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, 9/11 and the War on Terror. If all manner of military vehicles are your thing, you won’t be disappointed.
Another episode covers Boston’s Faneuil Hall. Its consciousness as the “Cradle of Liberty” of the American Revolution meant that in years following, some of the most important meetings, protests and debates took place at Faneuil Hall’s Great Hall. Crucial American figures including suffragists and labor unionists met here and debated the most pressing issues of the day, many of which have had a lasting impact. It also was the site from which John F. Kennedy’s last campaign speech was televised during the 1960 presidential race.
In the episode at Heart Mountain Interpretive Center in Powell, Wy., viewers will learn or relearn about one of the darkest periods of fairly recent American history. During World War II at this location alone, more than 14,000 Japanese Americans were unjustly imprisoned. It would be decades before the government came to terms with this terrible era.
Heroes who created the secret network enabling the enslaved from the south to escape to freedom are celebrated in the segment about Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The center covers not only the American abolitionists’ stories, but also educates and gives a voice to those who suffered slavery in other parts of the world.
Famed Titanic survivor, the unsinkable Molly Brown, née Margaret Tobin — an avid world traveler who wrote travel stories, survived that Titanic debacle and became a suffragist, social justice champion and cultural icon – is explored at The Molly Brown House Museum, a Victorian-era palatial manor in Denver.
If the origins of flying float your boat, tune in to the hour at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Here at this site, Wilbur and Orville Wright’s early experiments, as well as the first successful powered flight, took place.
Viewers may be electrified by the laboratory complex at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, N.J. Constructed in 1887 to facilitate Edison’s inventions, the park also includes a 29-room Victorian-era mansion.
Seeing a UNESCO World Heritage Site will never be easier than tuning into the segment on Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Nageezi, N.M., now part of the U.S. National Park Service. Built over 1,000 years ago, Chaco preserves the enormous and sophisticated engineered structural feats of the Ancestral Puebloan people.
Finally, if shiny, glimmery things are important to you, you’ll want to raise a glass to James W. Marshall at the hour on Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, near Sacramento. While building a sawmill, Marshall discovered a piece of gold here on the South Fork of the American River on Jan. 24, 1848.
This commenced the California Gold Rush, resulting in the largest population mass movement in the Western Hemisphere. This enormous economic growth that followed forever altered California and in combination with the ever-present springtime golden poppies, produced California’s nickname: The Golden State.
Santayana also said that “Sanity is madness put to good uses.” As COVID-19 continues to grip America and test our limits – psychological and physical – there could be few pursuits better for any free time one now has than learning or being reminded of important lessons of the past on the hope the same mistakes won’t be repeated.
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney and legal columnist and the author of the award-winning travel memoir “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/.