Gorgeous hand laid rock walls all along the drive, courtesy of the Civilian
Conservation Corps in the 1930's.
Wednesday we started the day out in Harpers Ferry - on another cold, grey morning - walking the historic downtown area and the site of John Brown’s raid. The National Park Service is doing an increasingly excellent job with its museum exhibits and at this time of year we frequently have the place to ourselves. One of the most interesting exhibits was about the Niagara Movement, from the first decade of the 20th century, founded by W.E.B.DuBois, which was the first major organization demanding equality for all blacks. It was the predecessor of the NAACP and held Harpers Ferry as sacred ground, as a result of the John Brown raid.
Albeit with lousy weather, we still tootled off down the Skyline Drive in Virginia and it was aptly named as we were sometimes above the clouds, sometimes in the clouds and sometimes below the clouds. Nonetheless it is still a lovely, peaceful 35 mph drive for 105 miles through the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains. We made a short detour to Luray Caverns, remembered from a childhood visit. The good news is that the caverns themselves are simply spectacular. The less than good news is that, since they are run as
Above the clouds
a commercial enterprise, it’s expensive and tacky in its presentation. Both Steve and I were remembering our wonderful visit to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota last summer, with its simple and memorable cave tour with a ranger….and wishing that the National Park Service had gotten here first.
When you visit a place that is historic hallowed ground, do you sometimes think about the people who have come before you there? At Monticello today the sense of Thomas Jefferson is so strongly felt that you can truly sense his presence. Today we had a 200 year old link to Mr. Jefferson with the chimes from his clock. As we walking through Monticello a clock began to chime and our tour guide mentioned that this clock was one that Jefferson himself had owned and so he had heard the same chime we were hearing today. Suddenly you were transported back 200 years to when Jefferson came back to Monticello after his presidency and you knew that mystical link was really there.
Monticello was as awe-inspiring as ever - it had been about a decade since I had been there. The classic Palladian architecture never fails to thrill and
Fascinating caverns...wish the NPS had gotten there first.
the gardens were in the full beauty of their late spring bloom today. It was a stunning spring day in Virginia - mid-70’s, blue skies, warm breezes. The tour guides have updated their patter to talk about Sally Hemmings in a very politically correct way…without ever coming right out and saying that Jefferson fathered her children. It is interesting to think about the issue of slavery as it was perceived 200 years ago - even Jefferson himself said that it would be for a future generation to solve that problem. And yet you read some of his comments about slaves and slavery - including the death of his body slave with whom he had been connected for 50 years - and there is still a sense that he saw it more as an economic issue, but not a social issue. The economics of Southern farming were so inextricably linked to slavery that even our founding fathers feared to tread that path. We walked from the house to the parking area through a heavily forested area that you had the sense that Jefferson himself might have walked. Although Monticello is run privately, it is done so in a sensitive and responsible
Mr. Jefferson's Monticello
The elegance of Palladian symmetry
manner…not like certain aforementioned caves.
Lovely lunch outdoors in Charlottesville - did you know they paint a large orange V in the middle of the streets around the university - and then the afternoon at James Monroe’s home Ashlawn - much more modest than Monticello and lovely in its own right. I suspect that this house was much more representative of the Virginia gentry than Mr. Jefferson’s.
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