More Than A Ghost Story: Harpers Ferry

This weekend, I took a drive with some old friends and visited Harpers Ferry, WV.  Known for it’s rich Civil War history (John Brown’s raid, anyone?), this pretty little town–a population of only 285–is perfect for a hike and a history lesson.

We started our day trekking up the most popular trail, Maryland Heights. Topping at 1,600 feet, Maryland Heights features picturesque views from the Blue Ridge mountain range.

We passed the Naval Battery, which protected Harpers Ferry from Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign in 1862. At the top of the mountain is the Overlook, where most of the pictures of the day were taken.

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A train came through the mountain while we were exploring!

From this height, you can see where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers combine, making the cusp of the town of Harpers Ferry. If hiking isn’t your ideal of fun on a humid summer day, there are a variety of tubing and kayaking tours that take you down the Potomac River.

After the hike, we made our way back down the mountain to explore the town. The main focus of downtown is the history of John Brown, the abolitionist who attempted to start an armed slave revolt by appropriating a national arsenal in town.

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The “fort” John Brown and his men barricaded themselves inside after they failed to retain the arsenal.

While some buildings are open and functioning as restaurants, shops, and inns, most are used as self-guided museums, allowing visitors to learn and visit at their own pace.

Downtown Harpers Ferry

Downtown Harpers Ferry

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White Tavern Hall

There are several exhibits throughout town, devoted to Storer College, the water conservatory, John Brown, Meriwether Lewis, and Civil War history. I was especially excited to see that Thomas Jefferson was a presence here, having visited briefly in 1783 while traveling to Philadelphia with his daughter, Patsy.

Jefferson stood on a rock, which still stands today, and commented on the view that he saw in his only published book, Notes on the State of Virginia. 

“The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature.”

Full quote can be found here.

The view Jefferson described.

The view Jefferson described.

Jefferson Rock

Jefferson Rock

Harper House, where the Jeffersons stayed while in Harpers Ferry.

Harper House, where the Jeffersons stayed while in Harpers Ferry.

But another story from Harpers Ferry that’s lurking around every corner are the ghost stories. It seems that every soul that has stayed here has found it impossible to leave, from the likes of John Brown to John Wilkes Booth. The Harpers Ferry Ghost Tour has been rated #1 Ghost Tour on Trip Advisor, and they run every day at 8:00pm.   A selection of ghost stories from the area can be read here.

There’s no doubt the town is spooky, half the buildings look abandoned and there seems to be a permanent mist hugging the mountains, but we saw no paranormal activity on this trip.

Harpers Ferry is the perfect day-trip for those interested in hiking, history, or just looking to be transported back in time for a few hours. Though a lost cost trip–parking is $10, but everything else, excluding meals and souvenirs, are free, you’ll leave with far more than the chill down your spine.

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Panorama of Maryland Heights

Panorama of Maryland Heights

 

 

“…all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.”

If you’re a fan of Thomas Jefferson or just American History in general, put Monticello on your next-to-visit list. The gorgeous plantation was built on top of a 850 foot high mountain in Charlottesville, Virginia, about an hour outside Richmond, starting in 1769. It wasn’t finished until 1809, though Jefferson continued to work on it until his death in 1826.

I was lucky enough to visit Monticello this past Saturday and was completely in awe of this amazing home.

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Jefferson went to William and Mary to study natural philosophy, but in his downtime he learned law, languages, and architecture.  And yes, Monticello’s design came out of the brain of a man who was untrained but not uneducated. Jefferson was obsessed with architecture and Monticello (which is Italian for ‘little mountain’) was heavily influenced by neoclassical design.

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The house itself is a sight to behold, a beautiful 43 room structure, but the grounds are equally as magnificent.  Unlike any other plantations, Jefferson built long L-shaped terraces jutting from each wing and placed the necessary servant rooms (kitchen, smokehouse, wine and beer cellars, etc.) underneath each terrace.

South Terrace

South Terrace from below

North Terrace from above

North Terrace from above

Jefferson first moved to Monticello in 1770. The house was far from being completed and Jefferson lived in a one room building, called the South Pavilion.

South Pavilion

South Pavilion

When Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772, he brought his new bride to Monticello’s South Pavilion. Their first child, Patsy, was born there in late 1772.

South Pavilion interior

South Pavilion interior

After Martha died, Jefferson left for France in 1984 as America’s Ambassador. While living abroad, Jefferson fell in love with European architecture and rebuilt Monticello to fit this new obsession. Monticello’s most noticeable addition was a dome that capped the top floor. A beautiful apartment, the dome was rarely used because it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

Inside, Monticello boasts thirteen skylights (the first house in America to do so), 18 foot high ceilings in various rooms, eight fireplaces, and a dumbwaiter which brought wine from the cellar to the parlor, to name a few attributes. Today, about 1/3 of the glass in the houses windows and doors is original.

Jefferson's greenhouse off his private wing.

Jefferson’s greenhouse off his private wing.

Monticello started its life as a tobacco plantation, but due to the damaging effects of the plants on the soil, Jefferson later switched to wheat.  He also grew over 300 different types of vegetables, various herbs, and ran an orchard and a vineyard.

Vineyard

Vineyard

Vegetable garden and Garden Pavilion

Vegetable garden and Garden Pavilion

View from the Garden Pavilion

View from the Garden Pavilion

Monticello was also home to at least 200 slaves during Jefferson’s life. They lived on Mullberry Row, named for the Mullberry trees planted along the path. More than 20 structures were built along this small stretch of land. Unfortunately, all that stands today are stone foundations and the fireplace from the joiner’s shop.

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Jefferson died in his bedroom at Monticello on July 4, 1826. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness for days and it’s believed he held on only to die on the 50th anniversary of our country’s independence. Jefferson requested to be buried at Monticello and even wrote his own epitaph. He is buried alongside his children and wife.

Jefferson's grave marker

Jefferson’s grave marker

Jefferson’s presence is felt throughout the house and the grounds, whether or not that presence is actually him or not is up to the visitor to decide. In a few pictures I took, though it was a clear and beautiful day out, orbs and hazy blobs show up in the photographs. Could it be Jefferson himself coming back to check on the house he loved so dearly? Take a visit to Monticello and decide for yourself!

Further reading:
Monticello website
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello by William L. Beiswanger
Twilight at Monticello by Alan Pell Crawford

Reasons Why Thomas Jefferson is Cooler Than You

As I’ve said in a previous post, Thomas Jefferson was a total babe. Tall, ginger, athletic, and brainy, he’s probably tied with Hamilton for foxiest Founder. Yes, the water starts to get murky when it comes to slavery and his ancestors, but take that (granted rather large) section out and you’ve got a pretty snappy dude. I mean, the fact that he’s the Founder that people turn to time and time again to attribute false quotes to stands the test of time. (For future reference, literally every single Jefferson quote can be checked here, Facebook and meme users!) So before you chalk TJ up to being just another stuffy dude in a wig, keep these in mind.

  • He pretty much invented “foodies.” Jefferson loved food. He loved it so much, he’s responsible for some of our favorites today. Macaroni and cheese? You can thank Jefferson, not Stouffer’s.
  • He was an inventor. What? Is writing the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia not good enough for you, Tom? Swivel chairs? Jefferson. Helped improve a letter duplicator? Jefferson. Granted, it wasn’t modern in the slightest, but for someone who wrote as much as he did, it let him have two copies of each letter and saved his hand from cramps.
Thomas Jefferson's letter duplicator- a polygraph

Thomas Jefferson’s letter duplicator- a polygraph

  • Hand cramps were important to Jefferson because he broke a ton of bones throughout his life. In the summer of 1785, he broke his right wrist in Paris while jumping over a fence. He was trying to impress Maria Cosway, a married woman he was attempting to woo. He was 42 years old. For the rest of his life, the wrist was deformed. In 1821, at age 75, Jefferson fell off a step at his home, Monticello, and broke his left wrist.
  • He built and rebuilt Monticello numerous times throughout his lifetime. When he died, he considered it still to be unfinished.
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Monticello today.

  • He was probably the most passionate person in the world about the separation of church and state. (Rule of thumb, if you’re using a Jefferson quote to defend religion, he didn’t say it). He founded UVA as one of first non-religion affiliated universities in the United States. He also read the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran. In his Bible, he cut out any inconsistency he could find within the New Testament and rearranged them in another book in, what he believed, was a “more coherent narrative.”
  • His bed was too small for his 6’2″ frame and had to sleep partially sitting up or curled up. He slept between 5-8 hours a day and always rose with the sun. Sometimes he’d get up even earlier and just study books for fun.
Jefferson's awesome alcove bed.

Jefferson’s awesome alcove bed.

  • Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died in 1782, when she was only 33 and her husband 39 years old. On her deathbed, Jefferson promised he would never remarry. After she died, it is reported that he had to be forced from the room to his library by his sister, where he fainted. After the funeral, he didn’t speak for three weeks. It is during this time that it is believed he destroyed every portrait and letter from his wife, effectively erasing all memories of her.  Shortly after her death, Jefferson started remodeling Monticello once again. He never spoke of Martha’s name again.
  • He could speak French, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Italian. When he read the classics, he read them in their original language. He loved books so much, he drove himself into debt. After the Library of Congress was destroyed in the War of 1812, he donated 6,487 of his own books to establish the new library.
Jefferson's books in the Library of Congress

Jefferson’s books in the Library of Congress

  • Thomas Jefferson died in 1826. On the Fourth of July. His last words are reported to be, “Is it the Fourth?”

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What Hogwarts House Would The Founding Fathers Be In?

Everyone loves Harry Potter and the only thing that people love more than Harry Potter is trying to determine what house they’d be placed in. Remember when Pottermore was released and the site crashed over and over as people clamored to get sorted and the promptly abandoned their accounts? Exactly.

So let’s clamp the sorting hat onto the Founders’ heads and see where they place.

George Washington
Gryffindor

Ah, Mr. Washignton. The big kahuna. Of course he’d be Gryffindor. He led the thousands of his soldiers to defeat the British, the strongest army in the world. He was known for keeping his cool under pressure (or just keeping his cool at any time–the man wasn’t known for his emotions). He was chivalrous, a completely perfect example of a Virginia gentleman. Washington was not nearly as avid a reader as Jefferson but he was far more skilled in horseback riding and dancing. He was a leader, not only to the people of his time, but to the millions of Americans today.

Other Gryffindors: James Monroe, John Adams

Thomas Jefferson
Ravenclaw

Bookish and silent, but with a pompous air, Jefferson is the dictionary example of a Ravenclaw. If drafting the Declarations of the Rights of Man and the Declaration of Independence wasn’t enough of example of his brains, perhaps his innovative inventions of a letter duplicator and the world’s first example of the office “spinny chair” will convince you. Instead of people who complain of the lack of things to make their lives either, Jefferson not only drafted them, but made them himself. His habit of reading and buying books literally helped put him in millions of dollars in debt (by today’s standards) by the end of his life. He was incredibly knowledgeable about other cultures, and is the person who introduced such food as creme brulee, champagne, macaroni and cheese, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and peanuts to the States.

Other Ravenclaws: Benjamin Franklin, James Madison

Alexander Hamilton
Slytherin

Some may argue that Hamilton belongs in Gryffindor, but the two houses are different sides of the same coin. Hamilton’s drive and cunning nature (hello–slandering Aaron Burr) makes him lean more towards the snake. He was also more self-centered than his Gryffindor counterparts.  But Slytherin isn’t all Malfoys and Voldemorts. It’s thanks to Hamilton’s determination that he left Nevis on a scholarship and went onto become a part of history. And of course, along the way were a variety of scandals (like Maria Reynolds) which makes him lean more on the Slytherin side. He was brave, of course, but the combination of his desire for power,  brains, and ambition keep him in the green and silver.

Other Slytherins: Sam Adams, Aaron Burr, Edward Rutledge

Marquis de Lafayette
Hufflepuff

Sweet, sweet Lafayette. Never seen a day of battle, and yet ships himself to help fight a war in a country he’s never visited before. Such good intentions and so, so friendly and helpful, the Marquis belongs in Hufflepuff. He was Washington’s personal cheerleader and the picture perfect sidekick. Imagine his little French accent screaming support for freedom. Adorable. But he’s also a perfect example that Hufflepuffs aren’t useless. Mr. French Enthusiasm’s dedication rallied thousands of French troops which helped us actually win the war.

Other Hufflepuffs: Richard Henry Lee, Rev. John Witherspoon

4 Songs Historical Figures Would Have On Their iPod

Thomas Jefferson
“Come On Get Higher” by Matt Nathanson

I miss the sound of your voice
Loudest thing in my head
And I ache to remember
All the violent, sweet
Perfect words that you said

After Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died, he became extremely introverted and he was already a man who preferred communicating with paper rather than with his voice. He never remarried and destroyed all likenesses of his wife in a rage after her death. The only person he confided in was his daughter, Patsy.

Marquis de Lafayette
Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus

Got my hands up, they’re playin’ my song
And now I’m gonna be okay
Yeah! It’s a party in the USA!
Yeah! It’s a party in the USA!

The lyrics might be simple and juvenile, but the message is strong and clear. Parties? In America???? America’s Number One Fanboy would be all over this, keeping it on a constant loop as he prepped for battle.

And imagine his adorable little French accent singing along. Perfection.

Alexander Hamilton
Go The Distance from Hercules

I have often dreamed
Of a far off place
Where hero’s welcome
Would be waiting for me
Where the crowds will cheer
When they see my face
And a voice keeps saying
This is where I’m meant to be

Born a poor bastard in the West Indies, Alexander Hamilton came from nothing. Orphaned in adolescence, Hamilton worked as a clerk where he impressed his bosses so much, they started a fund to send him to America for school. He arrived in America at the ripe old age of 16.

Growing up, he found he had a talent for words and yearned for a place where he would fit in. Even as Hamilton got older, this would be the song he’d go back to to remind him of how far he’d come.

(I was tempted to give him Mumford and Sons, “Little Lion Man” but that would be too easy.)

John Wilkes Booth
“Some Nights” by fun.

This is it, boys, this is war – what are we waiting for?
Why don’t we break the rules already?
I was never one to believe the hype
Save that for the black and white
I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked

I’m sure if JWB gave this song a listen, he’d be drawn in by the catchy hooks. But upon second listen, he’d probably realize this song is unintentionally his bio-song. The music video is even Civil War themed.

The mention of an upcoming war? Check.
Using women as a means of repressing your sense of self? Check.
The doubting of yourself? Check.
Even the mention of a sister’s children. Check.

Someone might want to check to see that Nate Ruess wasn’t using the infamous assassin as his ghostwriter.