Jamestown – America’s Roots, Uprooting!!!

Jamestown

Jamestown, the English settlement that originated along the James River in present-day Virginia in 1607 has a great deal more history to tell.  Believed to have been eroded into the river centuries ago, the fort at Jamestown was revealed by archeologists in 1994.  The triangular shaped walls of the fort described in written accounts of those who occupied the colony so many years ago was the first discovery, one that many thought was only a coincidence, as the location was too close to the banks of the river and could not have possibly survived the years of erosion.  As the dig continued, the triangular shape and layout could no longer be denied, it was indeed the fort of the Jamestown Colony of 1607.

Since the discovery, historians and archeologists have been uncovering the details of the colony.  Near-by the dig-site are the reconstructed ships and fort of the Jamestown colony.  Today, as they uncover artifacts and structures, the written accounts become reality.  When they find that the reconstructed colony does not match the dig site, maybe a building is in the wrong location, they move and adjust the reconstructed site.  Currently, they are in the midst of constructing a reproduction of the governor’s quarters, a large, two-story structure located next door to the church.  During excavation, they unearthed high quality china, decorative buttons, and other artifacts that lend to the probability that the structure was occupied by someone of higher social status.  The written accounts left behind by the colonists gave historians a good idea of the design and lay-out of the fort, but finding the actual remnants leave little room for debate on where and how the colonists lived.

The reconstructed Jamestown colony and Native American village provide opportunity for hands-on history like no other.  Visitors young and old are allowed onto the recreated ships and throughout the village and fort.  Unlike most museums, touching is not only allowed but highly encouraged.  Kids can try on armor, haul some water, lie down on beds, and walk around in clothes similar to those that the colonists wore.  All they ask at Jamestown is that “you put your toys back where you got them”.  The experience is absolutely invaluable as kids not only get to see up-close how a musket is fired, but can touch just about anything they might question throughout the facility.  The learning experience is one that not only stimulates all of the senses, but allows kids to learn though their own discovery.  An absolutely outstanding learning experience is available to visitors of all ages.

The Powhatan people are descendents of the native inhabitants of what is now Virginia.  Native peoples to the area date back 2,000 years, equivalent to the early civilizations of Chaco Canyon in the Southwest.  With the arrival of the Europeans came changes for both the native peoples and Europeans.  The cultural differences brought about both increased trade and conflict.  The Europeans depended on the experience and knowledge of the natives and the Indians eventually became dependent upon European technology and guns.  Miscommunication and mistrust led to conflict while at the same time acculturation led to many peaceful unions between the Indians and the Europeans.  The infiltration of Europeans to native lands permanently altered both the physical and cultural landscape that the continent had known for centuries.

The Jamestown experience is not to be missed.  As more and more of the original colony is uncovered, historians and archeologists will have even more about 1607 to share with the world.  The experience is exciting and much like a mystery, unfolding at every turn.  Jamestown…..to be continued!!!

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Mount Vernon – The Home and Retreat of Our First President

Mount Vernon

The most impressive 18th Century estate museum has got to be the home of our first president, George Washington.  Mount Vernon began as a rather modest home for a dignitary into one of grandeur by the time of Washington’s death.  His favorite place to be, Mount Vernon tells a great story of the Washington’s.  George and Martha were opened their home visitors from around the country and sometimes the world.  But running an army and then a nation took Washington away from his home far more than he would have liked.  During the eight years of his presidency, Washington only visited Mount Vernon a total of fifteen times.

Today, Mount Vernon looks much like it did when Washington entertained his guests (which was a lot, he complained that at times if felt as though his home was more like a hotel).  The estate was always owned by the Washington family and turned over for historical preservation in the 1800’s.  The exterior of the home was constructed of wood, but sand was mixed into the paint to give it an effect of stone.  Painting the home and all of the fourteen out-buildings on the estate was a continuous necessity and Washington had a storage building just for paint.  Stables, barns, a smokehouse, and a replicated “necessary room” are a few of the surrounding buildings that Washington had built to create a beautiful estate and one of the most impressive 18th Century homes in the country.

Washington was a private man who more than not found himself entertaining guests for sometimes months at a time.  He had additions added to the home as the family needs and desires changed.  His office and sleeping chambers were separated from the rest of the house and it was uncommon that anyone besides he and Martha were allowed into them.  Today, located in his office are both the desk and chair that he used in New York as president along with the trunk that accompanied him throughout his travels during the Revolutionary War.  Standing on the beautiful veranda and looking out over Mount Vernon, imaging the thoughts and decisions that must have crossed Washington’s mind becomes almost effortless.  The home tells a great deal about George Washington, not only as a president, but as a man.

The National Holocaust Museum, Washington D.C.

June 19, 2010

National Holocaust Museum

Propaganda was the most powerful tool that Hitler and the Nazi party used to manipulate not only the minds of Germans, but people world-wide.  How do you prophesize and convince millions of people that if a second world war was to break out, the Jews would be held responsible?  Hitler managed to coerce a generation, mostly the younger population, especially students, that the Jews were the enemy and that trusting in the Nazi party would propel them and their superior Aryan Germany into powerful world leaders.

Hitler provided government funded numerous programs that provided not only necessities, but sports and leisure activities beneficial to Nazi followers.  Promoting health and Nazi education, the Nazi party was able to strengthen their forces and move forward with Hitler’s plan to exterminate the “evil and dangerous” Jewish people.  Crowds of thousands gathered to hear Hitler speak and his power grew with the help of propaganda and political manipulation.  Jews were depicted as tyrants and it was much easier to accept that they were the cause of another world war as German wounds from the lash of punishment over World War I were still bleeding.  The Nazi party produced posters and films, gave speeches and lectures, and created an anti-somatic state that encouraged and pursued genocide.

The National Holocaust Museum highlights in one exhibit the influences of propaganda and how this particular historical aspect of Jewish persecution took hold in Europe from the years between 1939 and 1945.  Hitler was a master manipulator.  His and the Nazi party tactics succeeded in destroying the lives of thousands of European Jews through imprisonment in concentration camps, torture, and insurmountable death.  The fate of so many Jewish men, women, and children succumbed to the evils of the Nazi’s, led by the real tyrant, Hitler.  His propaganda against the Jews hid the truth and attempted to deceive an entire world.  Thousands were tortured, starved, and died before the horrific truth exposed Hitler and the Nazi’s as the monsters.  History reveals the propaganda tactics, but nothing can reverse the atrocities or recover the losses.

June 14: Women’s Rights, Abolition, the Erie Canal, and Ice-Cream!!!

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony blazed a path for women in this nation and across the world.  Women’s rights were not always protected in America.  “All men and women are created equal” was a fight, not a gift.  Today, women vote, own property, manage wealth, drive, and anything else they choose.  This was not always the case.  Women had to fight for their rights to do so, and it took a major battle.  Women would not vote in this “progressive” nation until the year 1920.  Ladies, that is but a mere 90 years ago.  My great-grandmother never had the opportunity to cast a ballot until her life was half over.  My own grandmother was 11 years old when women’s right to vote became a reality.  Unfortunately, Stanton and Anthony never lived to see the day when their fight gave women the right to elect those who served them.

The most interesting part of the day was the Underground Railroad information.  It was amazing to see the door to the basement of Seward’s home knowing that it was the entrance that fugitive slaves used to wind their way through the backwoods to freedom in New York.  As we quickly walked through the Harriet Tubman house, it was a thrill to know that it was the location where so many bound to the shackles of slavery from birth sought freedom, support, and help.  Harriet was an incredible woman and that was the real theme of the day…incredible women who changed history!

It was a whirlwind day, but filled with the most crucial period in women’s history.  The right to vote was only the beginning, but it sparked the flame for an ever-growing woman’s movement that is still necessary today.  It is 2o1o and men still make more money for doing many of the same jobs that women hold.  Discrimination based on sex is by no means eradicated and women continually face obstacles in places like the workplace, institutions of higher education, and even the home.  Domestic abuse and violence is still rampant, and now more than ever, the pressure women face to be breadwinners, nurturers, and homemakers is overwhelming at best.  We pay tribute to the foundation that women like Stanton and Anthony carefully placed and must look forward to the paths that we today blaze for our own daughters.  Thank you ladies for making history, one that has provided a voice.

The most enjoyable highlight of the day was most certainly the ride up the Erie Canal.  Passing through the lock was really a treat and the calm enjoyable weather along the quiet canal was a great opportunity for some much-needed serenity after over a week in bustling New York City.  As we made our way through the calm waters of the canal, it was fun to contemplate all of those who went before us, maybe pulled by mules, maybe carrying goods or hearts full of dreams and promise for a bright future.  As the ride neared completion, the worn and tired looks on the faces of our group began to fade and when everyone entered the ice-cream shop, it was clear that the day, long as it was, ended on a high note.  The perfect end to an inspirational day.

June 13: Take Me Out to the Ballgame and then Home to the Farm!

Today was an experience in American culture at its finest.  It all began in Cooperstown, NY at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  From the backyard ballgame to the major league, the Hall of Fame captures the essence of the game and its impact on a nation.  Americana at its best, the stories and tributes to the greatest ball players on earth.  Babe Ruth held not only the greatest records of his era, but the hopes and dreams of so many young boys who revered him as an American hero.  The Hall of Fame is a museum that pays  tribute to the greatest all-American sport, a sport that helped shape America.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth

Beyond the fanfare, the Hall of Fame possesses an amazing site filled with lesson plans and ideas for teaching by using baseball as the subject matter.  Economics, history, math, and physics all come alive when applied to the subject of baseball.  The economics lesson for example can cover a range of concepts from supply and demand, to consumer spending and cost ceilings.  How much will a family sacrifice to see the game? Socially speaking,  how has the rising cost to attend a game created more of an elite market, who has been excluded?  How has this impacted the sport?  It used to be that an average  family could attend major league ballgames on a fairly regular basis, but today, the cost to walk into major league stadiums is generally no less than round $30 per person and moves upwards from there.  How often will the average family of four spend $120 just to attend a baseball game?  What families are automatically priced out of attending the game?  The lesson possibilities are seemingly endless and the good thing?  They all hover around subject matter that lights kids up.

Not far from the Hall of Fame was the Farmer’s Market where there you can take a peek back to days gone by.  Designed like a functional 19th Century farm town, this visit is one enjoyable by “kids of all ages”.  Equipped with antique farm equipment, an inn, the community church, a schoolhouse, a printers office, the community doctor’s office, and a functional blacksmith’s shop, the experience is educational as well as entertaining.  But the excursion would be incomplete if you missed taking a ride on the carousel.

The carousel at the Farmer’s Market is probably one of the most unusual.  It is called the Empire State Carousel as it is a museum and history to the state of New York.  I counted only about 4 horses on the entire ride.  Most of the animals were unique, each representing a little bit of New York history.  The ride was collapsible so that it could travel from one venue to another which made it fairly remarkable given its detail.  Get on and take a ride and watch adults turn back to kids in an instant.  What a great experience to have done this with out entire group!!!

June 12: Theodore Roosevelt – Don’t Let the Teddy Bear Fool You, He Was A Man’s Man

The most interesting fact that I did not know about Teddy Roosevelt?  He hated being called Teddy.  After visiting his home, I can see why.  His home was absolutely beautiful, but every room was a testament to his devotion to hunting.  He was aggressive and that aspect of his personality was displayed throughout his home.  The rooms where T.R. was most comfortable were dark and subdued.  In every room were animal skins, heads, tusks, and birds.  In his entry way was his most prized water buffalo head.  The story goes, T.R. was on safari and this particular water buffalo charged him.  He shot and killed the animal and explained, if any animal had the tenacity to charge and attempt to kill him, that it deserved an honorable location in his home.  T.R. was no force to reckon with and his life as a public leader mirrors the same philosophy.

No worries guys, I didn’t break the rules, this came from an on-line brochure!

T.R. was a family man.  He loved his children and his devotion to his first wife was the stuff out of fairy tales.  Regardless of what he was doing, 4:00pm was his time with his children.  His wife explained that he was the biggest child in the household; riding horses, playing games, and rough-housing with his family.  He loved being home and being with his children.   T.R. did demand that his children be disciplined in academics and required that they read a book a day.  They would only be welcomed at the dinner table if they had discussion topics from their readings readily available for conversation.  They had to be on time and well-mannered during the dinner hour or they would be dismissed to eat with the servants in the kitchen.  While he was strict with regard to education, he was not overly bothered by naughty childhood behavior including the time his most mischievous son, brought a pony into the White House.  Some suggested that he was too lenient, but for T.R., childhood was intended to be enjoyed.  Family was intended to be cherished.

After having visited the FDR home and now, the T.R. home, it is interesting to compare the two Roosevelt families.  T.R. appeared to be much more in charge of his destiny.  FDR always looked  (or possibly succumbed) to the direction of his mother.  His relationship with his family did not appear to be as strong as T.R. had with his family.  Both men made their marks in their presidencies.  They each changed the face of politics one as a conservative and the latter as a liberal.  Each were trend setters, T.R. and his “Square Deal”, and FDR and his “New Deal”.  America is a changed nation thanks to the both of them.  Teddy seemed to make decisions more independently than did FDR, but in the end, FDR had a much more successful political run.  Both men are icons who shaped and forever molded American policy.  Compare and contrast is an excellent critical thinking exercise, this comparison would be a good one for the classroom.