Summer vacations are a long way away at this point, but they sure sound good at the end of February. It led me to think about the top 10 historical sites I've ever visited, places that really made me stop and think.
I'm not counting such locations as National Parks, or historic sites like the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial. I want to think about places where signs could hung reading "History Happened Here." So here's a quick list:
1. The Oval Office, the White House, Washington -- I was covering the Buffalo Sabres when we (the team's traveling party, that is) were let in for a quick look around. Everyone was afraid to touch the phone. The amount of history to take place, and continues to take place, in that room is staggering, and it really is oval. Nice carpet with the U.S. seal on it, too. I was given some Presidential lifesavers from Mr. Clinton's desk; I've still got them.
2. Independence Hall, Philadelphia -- Where it all began. I dare you to stand in that room and not think about the guts that the people who ratified the Declaration had. Got problems with England? We'll just start our own country, and make it a democratic one. Yeah, right, happens all the time. Oh, and the signers all thought they were going to die by going public when they signed that piece of paper.
3. Appomattox Court House, Virginia -- Tourists can get in the very room where Lee surrendered to Grant. Pictures show the scene as it was, so it's easy to picture how it was done.
4. Jamestown, Virginia -- Where it all began. Considering all that the settlers went through, it's tough to believe we made it to 1608, let alone 2008. The NPS does a very good job of describing life there for the first visitors.
5. The House Speaker's Chair, U.S. Capitol, Washington -- This perhaps should be higher because it's not exactly on the tourist route. A friend of mine worked in the Capitol building. I visited him, and we went through a couple of doors and suddenly we were on the floor of the House. From there it was up the steps to sit in the Speaker's very chair. The old drawers around the desk have all sorts of modern communications equipment, but from the outside it really looks like Henry Clay would fit right in.
6. Texas Book Depository, Dallas -- You can't get in the actual room where Oswald shot (or should I say allegedly shot) Kennedy, but you can go next to it. Therefore, you can look right down on to Dealey Plaza and picture the whole scene, which has been shown countless times to old-timers like me and their elders. You can even see the X that's been painted on the road where the impact took place. The building turned the top floor into a museum, which does a nice job of explaining the events before and after.
7. Kennedy Space Center, Florida -- You can't go right on to Launch Complex 39 and see where Apollo 11 took off for the moon, because it is still in use. You can get a few miles away, though, and it still looks big. You also can walk under an unused Saturn V rocket in one of the museums, which is an amazing feeling. Someday this site might be remember more than most of the others.
8. Vice President's Office, Executive Office Building, Washington -- This was on another Sabres' tour. The Vice President does have a formal office; some use it more than others. (No word on if Dick Cheney has the office in an undisclosed location.) The best part of the office is the big desk. All of the Vice Presidents since Truman, I think, have signed the drawer directly in front of them. It's an instant course in that part of the executive branch. There's glass over the signatures, by the way, so they don't fade.
9. Fort Sumter, South Carolina -- I never knew it was on a small island in the middle of the bay off Charleston until I went there. You need to know the backstory about what happened there. The fort was attacked, and Union forces eventually surrender. Simple, but it changed out history forever. Nice boat ride out there, too.
10. Monticello, Virginia -- Thomas Jefferson was as brilliant as any figure in American history. His active mind is fully on display on the grounds of his home. Walking in the same building as Jefferson once did certainly gives one food for proverbial thought.
Honorable mention: The ones that come to mind are Rosa Parks' bus seat (kept in the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.), Ellis Island in New York, the U.S.S. Constitution in Boston, the Old North Church in Boston. Washington is filled with interesting places -- you can stand under the Spirit of St. Louis, or see the original Declaration of Independence, or visit Ford's Theater (although Lincoln's box is blocked off).
And in Canada: Founders Hall in Charlottetown is pretty nice, and it's always fun to walk around the halls of Parliament in Ottawa.
Any others? I'm willing to revise.