Carriage ride in Williamsburg
The best 18th century way to see an 18th century town
Monday, May 24, 2010 - Appomattox, Richmond
Another grey morning but somehow emblematic of Appomattox - it was a grey, rainy day on which the famous surrender occurred. It is a small restored spot, out of the way, famous only for what ended there. We meet a couple of enthusiastic rangers who engage us in 15 minutes of Civil War minutiae, e.g. exactly which regiment was where, and it’s fascinating to watch grown men with such passions. You get a sense of the sadness and pathos of the ending to what both sides saw as a great, patriotic endeavor…and relief that the war was finally over.
In Richmond, at the Museum of the Civil War (a true monstrosity of 1960’s brutalist architecture), it is amazing to see the carefully preserved artifacts…the coat Lee wore at Appomattox, his camp bed, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s sword (he who was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan) and continue to see the interwoven patterns of American history…Thomas Jefferson’s grandson George Randolph was the Confederate Secretary of War.
Monday evening - Wednesday, May 26, 2010
And finally on to Williamsburg! It’s been five decades since I’ve been here but my memories
are so strong of that wonderful visit. I must have been 10 or 11 at the time and it was a great summer road trip with my mother and sister. My mother was always a great fan of Williamsburg - her bedroom was painted Williamsburg blue, with the curtain and slipcovers from a Schumacher Williamsburg print and our everyday china was a Williamsburg colonial flower pattern. I remember that we spent one night at the Williamsburg Inn, just so my sister and I could experience sleeping in a tester bed - it was one of the highlights of the trip. I still have the old horseshoe with my name pounded into it - a souvenir of a memorable trip.
This time we’re staying in one of the old restored houses in Williamsburg, the Nicholas Tyler House. When we get into the house, we are greeted with the faint aroma of a wood fire from the massive fire place in the living room and find ourselves ensconced in 18th century luxury. Steve has never been here but as I look around all those wonderful memories come flooding back and I can’t wait to walk around and enjoy seeing the town
Rockefeller's home in
anew again. We enjoy our dinner at one of the Williamsburg taverns - the Kings Arms- but then return to the 21st century in our 18th century abode to catch the series finale of 24 - it almost seems a bit surreal to be watching it here.
Tuesday and Wednesday we enjoy leisurely days seeing the town - taking a carriage ride, watching a wonderful re-enactment of George Washington, a tour of the Wren building at the College of William & Mary, seeing the Rockefeller home Bassett Hall (my mother and Mrs. Rockefeller had the same taste in china), the Capitol, a bravura re-enactment of Mr. Jefferson discussing the Declaration of Independence, Bruton Parish Church and George Washington’s pew, a candlelight chamber music concert at the Governor’s Palace, the marvelous 50 year old Jack Lord movie Birth of a Patriot and more and more…..
I won’t get into a debate about the overall merits (or lack thereof) of the Rockefellers but their commitment to the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg is admirable and has resulted in a living showcase for American beginnings that it is hard not to value. It would be hard to imagine such a philanthropic gesture
today….but then again John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was worth $1 billion in 1910, in an era before income taxes, so perhaps the concept of philanthropy was a bit easier in those days. Nonetheless, for every school child who visits here, for every adult who enjoys remembering long lost history, for every re-enactor who truly lives their role, I do believe we owe a debt of gratitude to the Rockefeller family.
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