Final Four for This Trip

Trip Start Apr 05, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Friday, July 19, 2013

Up early, very early.  I have experienced the Washington DC traffic and I wanted nothing to do with it if I could help it.  I was headed to Mount Vernon, about 20 miles (30 minutes) from my hotel.  Mount Vernon opens at 8:00 am.  I left at 7:00 and was indeed the first car in the parking lot at 7:30.  I made my way to the front gate with an apple to eat and a newspaper to read.  I was soon joined by a nice older (yea, there are people older then me!) couple from Minnesota.  Nice folks.  We talked about Target Field (my baseball trip), Juicy Lucy burgers, a disgusting dish called lutefisk (look it up...disgusting...they even said they had never had any, but knew all about it) and the fact that I have a Twins hat, not because I'm a fan, I like the hat.

8:00 am and into Mount Vernon.  $17 entry all day.  I also got a self-guided tour device.  Nice, but really not needed.  I was assigned the first tour time, 9:00 am.  Before that, short film on Mount Vernon, and wandering the grounds of a real working plantation, much like Monticello.  Beautiful view of the Potomac River.  The tour of the house was nice, almost all original.  It was short, only 25 minutes or so.  Then you are on your own to wander the grounds, tour the museum and educational center or whatever you want.  You know where I headed; directly to the Washington's Tomb.  I was detoured on my way by a sign that I saw noting the original tomb where Washington was buried while the more substantial tomb was being built.  At the tomb, once again, I found myself alone, well almost, there is a tour guide there at all times.  He didn't seem to mind that I just sat in a bench nearby paying my respects to the Founding Father of all Founding Fathers.  The Father of our Country.  An appropriate, but not ostentatious gravesite for he and Martha.

Washington has always been my favorite President, as he is, I suspect for many people.  But probably for different reasons.  Not because he was the first President, Revolutionary War General, or anything like that.  He is my favorite perhaps for what he didn't do.  He could have been King.  He could have been emperor.  He could have been Dictator.  Instead, first he resigned his commission in the Army giving power back to the people.  Then he gave up his Presidency after two terms, setting a precedent until FDR broke that tradition in the 20th Century.  It meant there would not a son taking over when Washington died.  The people would choose who led them.  This took some great courage it seems to me.  Only a great man is willing to relinquish power once he has tasted it.  A powerful man indeed.  

Most people don't know that he married a woman who had been married before.  Martha Custis had been married to a rich Virginia planter (Daniel Parke Custis) when she was 18.  He died when Martha was only 25 in a cholera epidemic.  That left Martha one of the richest widows in Virginia.  The Washington's were married when Martha and George were 27.  Remember the name Custis, we'll see it again later today!

Washington died at the age 78 in 1899.  First in War, First in Peace and First in the Hearts of his Countrymen...a quote from is funeral.     

I often wonder what they would think about our current political situation.  Remember, candidates for President didn't even campaign for the office until 1828.  And there were no political parties in the beginning, maybe what they called factions, but no political parties that run almost all elections.  Most of them didn't enjoy the office of President.  Most died without much money.  I wonder if they could even imagine our political arena today.  

I was then off to Arlington National Cemetery.  Two Presidents are buried there, but one of them doesn't get the attention that the other does.  Most people know John F. Kennedy is buried there.  And most people file past his grave in reverence and see the eternal flame.  It is a moving scene.  Yes, Jackie Kennedy Onassis is buried next to him.  He was the favorite President of my lifetime.  I feel if he had not been killed in Dallas that day in 1963, history would be very different.  I do not believe he would have allowed us to get so involved in that quagmire called Vietnam.  Yea, he had his faults and indiscretions, but those pale in comparison to the 58,000 US troops who died in that war.  I believe JFK's death to be one of the greatest tragedies of our generation.  

I'll bet very few people looking at the eternal flame know the large house on the hill overlooking JFK's grave is a place called Arlington House.  Currently a Robert E. Lee Museum.  What an interesting history it has.  George Washington Parke Custis (grandson of Martha Washington) acquired the land where Arlington National Cemetery sits in 1802 and constructed Arlington House.  The estate passed to his daughter, Mary Anna who married none other than Robert E. Lee.  It became the property of Robert E. Lee.  When the south seceded, the north needed a place to bury their dead.  One General thought Lee's property was perfect; high on a hill, overlooking the Potomac and perhaps more importantly, by burying soldiers on it, it meant Lee would never live on the land again.  In 1864 Union troops began being buried there.  Eventually the Lee family was compensated $150K (equal to $3.1M today) for their property.  Interesting how two families, the Washingtons  and the Lees were intermingled.    

I also visited the other Presidential grave in Arlington.  Buehler?  Buehler?  Anyone?  It was William Howard Taft.  Taft was the 27th President of the US (1909-1913).  He was just after Teddy Roosevelt and just before the man's grave I will see next, Woodrow Wilson.   Taft was born in Ohio, attended Yale and must have been a pretty good lawyer, for after his one term in office, he later served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1921-1930).  No other President has served in both positions.      

Then I was off to Washington National Cathedral in DC.  What a beautiful building.  After "donating" some money, I was given a wrist band and told I could wander the Cathedral on my own.  She pointed out Mr. and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson's graves.  They are located in a nave of the church about half way down the aisle.  Very nicely done.  Interestingly, the Cathedral is not Catholic, but darned near...Episcopalian.  You can think of them as "Catholic-Lite!"  Now that's interesting because Wilson was a Presbyterian.  So, what's a God-fearing Presbyterian doing be buried in an Episcopal Church?  Well, it seems the Cathedral was being built after his Presidency and he hung around in DC after his Presidency and came up every day and watched it being built.  He like it so much, he decided to be buried in the Church.  

Wilson was a man of intelligence.  As I said, 28th President after Taft.  Born in one of the little towns I had dinner in, Staunton, Virginia.  Great steakhouse.  Wilson was the former President of Princeton University (Yea Laura!)   He is probably best known for leading us through WWI and his attempt for form a League of Nations, the failed forerunner to the United Nations.  Oh, yea, he also signed the 19th amendment to the Constitution so all you women could vote!  Unfortunately, he went on a tour to tout his League of Nations to the American citizens and wore himself out and suffered several strokes and essentially became an invalid after that.  He died of another stroke in 1924.   

Then I was off to Philly to see Laura.  But first hotel and nap....hey, I was up early and had a busy day!!!  Went to dinner with Laura at a great BBQ place, and headed back to the hotel.  

It had been a long day, but a truly great one....Washington, Kennedy, Taft, Wilson and Laura, who could ask for anything more.

Tomorrow I am dropping off some things I brought for Laura's apartment and then heading home.  Probably won't make it until Sunday, but will get a good start!

I am now 32 or 33 if you count Jefferson Davis down and only the six Presidents west of the Mississippi left to go.  I think I'm going to make it!

Been a fun trip and even more fun sharing it with you.  Hope you feel the same!  All the best my friends and family!


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