Charlie and the Magical History Tour

Part 1 of 3…with the demise of soaps, I thought I’d try my hand at writing a serial….

Last summer, I finally got around to doing something I had wanted to do for years–spend time visiting historic sites.  The purpose was twofold:  to enhance my understanding of how the past has been interpreted at historic sites and to take pictures that could enliven my lectures (so that the students would have visual representations of what I am talking about instead of just hearing me drone on).  It started with the Memorial Day walk along the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park and ended with a visit to Saratoga National Historical Park while returning from Maine.  In between, it involved a lot of walking, a lot of sweating, and a lot of pictures, some of which actually have made it into my lectures.

SIgn for Joseph Plumb Martin trail. I'm sure he would have loved to participate in the forbidden activities.

It was while doing the Memorial Day walk that I got inspired to travel.  The park ranger mentioned how public perception of the suffering at Valley Forge did not match reality; she said that the suffering that has been portrayed as occurring during the winter encampment actually occurred two winters later at Morristown.  So–what I eventually called the “magical history tour” was in some ways inspired by a park ranger, although it ended up being a way to connect with the past in some rather unconventional ways.

Fast forward to early July, and I finally made the trek to Morristown.  But I am not alone in this adventure; accompanying me on the “Soldier Hut Trail” was JoAnn Skov, someone from the area who I met through participating in Charles Shaughnessy’s “Only Connect!” blog.  It was at Morristown where I was reminded of how different people perceive the past; for instance, what I envisioned as a parade field where rows of tents were set up or troops were drilled, Jo saw as a place where Girl Scouts camped and marching bands performed.  We ate lunch near the soldier huts (the photo at the top of this blog was taken that day) and enjoyed getting to know each other.  Morristown would be the beginning of another adventure, however, one that would end up at another national park that was related to the Valley Forge encampment.

It was while hiking at Morristown that I also learned how devoted (and protective) Charlie’s fans are.  When I found out the next day that Charlie would be performing in “Spamalot” at Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine last summer, the “magical history tour” expanded a bit from just visiting historic sites related to the American Revolution (which was the original purpose) to one that included properties related to early 19th century U.S. history.  My mother, who regularly travels with me, probably began thinking she was on one of the “Road” movies with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope (although I suspect she would have preferred to be Dorothy Lamour) with all of the sites we visited before the big trek:  Independence National Historical Park (with my sister Lisa and my nieces), Fort Stanwix, and Hopewell Furnace, along with seeing interns at Drake Well Museum and French Azilum.

But it was the trip to “Spamalot” that proved to be the biggest adventure, in addition to a true learning experience.  The first stop on this–the final leg of the “magical history tour”–was Old Sturbridge Village, one of the field trip destinations while going to 5thgrade in Enfield, Connecticut, and had visited twice while attending the University of Connecticut–once with the History Club, and the last time on the weekend between the written and oral comprehensive exams.  It had changed a bit since 1988, becoming a bit more ‘fan friendly’ (lacking a better description), as it was a far more interactive outdoor museum than it was more than 20 years earlier.  The next day, we went to where the Revolution began:  Lexington and Concord, as well as toured the nation’s industrial heritage at Lowell, Massachusetts.  On the return trip to Mansfield, we stopped at Saratoga National Historical Park, where I found an artifact related to one of my ancestors who fought there–unfortunately, he belonged to the Hesse-Hanau regiment, so my only ancestor who fought in the Revolution was taken prisoner at Saratoga (and remained in the states after the war ended).

Cannon at Saratoga National Historical Park, Caspar Spohn was one of the wagoners who worked on the caisson

In between Lowell and Saratoga, though, came “Spamalot.”  While “Spamalot” is a musical version of Monty Python’s revisionist interpretation of medieval history, as someone who does teach about history and popular culture (and who has shown Monty Python and the Holy Grail in class), certainly “Spamalot” fit into the “magical history tour”…and this is where the title of this blog post originates.  In all likelihood, Lexington and Concord, Lowell, and Saratoga would still be on my “bucket list” of historic sites to visit if it weren’t for my desire to meet Charles Shaughnessy (face it–after hiking on the “hottest day in human history” with Jo, I just had to see him perform live and meet him).  “Spamalot” was everything I expected it to be and then some, certainly a Broadway-caliber performance by the entire cast.  Meeting Charlie after the play was pretty special, too–as is evident by my WordPress gravitar.

This year–the “magical history tour” continues, as I’m going to be going to Boston for the first time (between elementary school and grad school, I lived in Connecticut for 6 1/2 years–yet never went to Boston).  The trek will include stops in Salem (both the national park and the historic village) and to Plymouth (which I did visit in May 1970–but this time I’ll sort of be serving as a tour guide).  But the main purpose of the trip will be seeing Charlie perform as Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady.”  Yes, once again, Charlie will be “responsible” for another “magical history tour,” indirectly encouraging this history professor to go out and explore our nation’s past (and to take photos that will enliven my dull, boring lectures).  And, like occurred at Morristown, when I meet with some other Charlie fans for the Plymouth adventure, I’ll get to experience learning about history from different perspectives, this time with people from different parts of the world, all of whom have one thing in common with me–support for an actor whose “Only Connect!” blog brought us together and who are willing to travel from all corners of the globe to see him perform.

More to come…in the next installment (scheduled to appear Thursday morning), a review of “My Fair Lady,” one that undoubtedly will be different from any other review of the play (and not just because I don’t want to be accused of plagiarism).  Oh, in case anyone is wondering about the Valley Forge/Saratoga connection:  While the Battles of Saratoga took place before the encampment began, it was the U.S. victory that led to the French alliance–which greatly improved the morale of the troops at Valley Forge.


About Karen

History Professor. Baseball fan. Author of two books, one of which I force my students to buy and read. You want me on your Trivial Pursuit team.
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6 Responses to Charlie and the Magical History Tour

  1. Beverly Tomek says:

    I found your point about how you saw the battlefield and how your friend (the non historian) saw it very interesting. It makes me wonder if how you see Charlie’s role in My Fair Lady, given your career, will be different than your friend’s as well. That will be interesting.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Looking forward to parts 2 and 3. I still wish I could go again.!

  3. JoAnn(ZMT) says:

    @Beverly, I grew up in that area, and it has been “rented out” to the Girl Scouts since I was small(we’re talking the LBJ years). So to me, Jockey Hollow is a Girl Scout camp! I’m afraid we learn about the Revolutionary War in our national, state, AND local history courses, and of course kids hear “blah blah blah”(a la Charlie Brown’s teacher). Now as an adult, I appreciate the historical significance much more.
    Everything in my area is named for one of 2 things…Governor Morris or the Lenni-Lenape Indians. There are a lot of interesting sites to visit….we can truly say “George Washington Slept Here”.

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