Tag : virginia

Yorktown, Petersburg, and Old Confederate Cemeteries

I was gonna do some big write up about the CSA, but I guess I don’t care that much. Going to the south is like going to a foreign country where they speak English. They have their own history and aristocracy and culture and symbols and clearly none of these are mine/yours (unless you’re from there, I imagine).

And for as extremely polite as they are to your face, southerners are the most impolite drivers in the country. There, it’s been said.

Meanwhile, cool battlefields and cemeteries:

This is an artillery piece from the Yorktown National Battlefield. For as important a battle as it was (it was the last major action in the Revolutionary War), there wasn’t a whole lot to look at. OTOH, the movie was informative and didn’t make me hate George Washington like Mt. Vernon’s did.

Some monument commemorating the battle. The setting is pretty, fwiw. I’d rather have died of a musket shot here than most places.

This artillery is from the Petersburg National Battlefield. There was a lot to see there. It was sort of the South’s last hope at keeping the North out of their one industrial center in Richmond. Was struck by how similar the tactics here were to those employed in World War I (a lot of trenches, stalemates, and unfortunate runs across no-man’s lands). Also thought that the whole thing with the Pennsylvanian miners digging tunnels under the Confederate lines in order to blow them up with dynamite was pretty cool, even if it wasn’t decisive or anything.

On a side-note, Petersburg is as run-down a town as I’ve ever visited, but otoh lunch specials at the Chinese place in town were under $6. There may be a correlation.

Here’s what the Blandford Cemetery looks like:

It was kind of cool. The church there was, after the war, turned into a “memorial chapel”. The Tiffany Company donated stained glass windows for it, with one window for each state that was aligned with the South (including Missouri and Maryland). I pointed out to the tour guide that the windows’ backgrounds corresponded with the actual direction you were facing (e.g., the western windows had mountains in the background, eastern had ocean), which apparently had never occurred to her. Maybe they don’t get many visitors.

Her: That *could* be what it is.

Me: Well, the sun is rising over the ocean in the eastern windows.

Her: Or is it setting?

Me: Assuming that’s the east, I hope it’s rising.

Although it’d be interesting if the earth started spinning the other direction. Kudos to her for keeping that dream alive.

Jefferson Davis’s grave:

Seems weird he was buried in Richmond rather than in Mississippi, where he was a senator. I dunno, whatever. He moved around a lot.

The cemetery is called the Hollywood Cemetery. There are some CSA generals buried there, IIRC, and a couple of forgettable US presidents as well. They also have this:

You just don’t hear much about the Jewish Confederate experience.

Monroe and Tyler Too were the presidents. I guess there are more forgettable ones out there.

And then driving out of Richmond, I cruised down Monument Boulevard, which includes monuments to six of Richmond’s favorite sons (most of whom were not from Richmond):

  • (Gen.) Robert E. Lee
  • (Gen.) J.E.B. Stuart
  • (Pres.) Jefferson Davis
  • (Gen.) “Stonewall” Jackson
  • Matthew Fontaine Maury (renowned oceanographer (?!) and Confederate “Chief of Sea Coast, River and Harbor Defences” in Virginia)
  • Arthur Ashe (the tennis player)

One of these kids is not like the others. Nice houses on the street, though. A lot of statues of guys on horses. One statue of a guy with a tennis racket.


The Museum and White House of the Confederacy

Main reasons for going to Richmond: (1) I’d meant to spend a day there on my road trip last year, but it got squeezed out; (2) $36 a night at a newly renovated Holiday Inn. Also it was within a six-and-a-half-hour driving radius from Pgh (barely). Plus there’s nothing to do there that requires you to use your hands to grab stuff.

That’s the White House of the Confederacy. The exterior is pretty unprepossessing. The side shown above is actually the back — the front is plainer. Supposedly the back was done up more because it’s the side that faces the (James) river and the place where guests would have hung out. Richmond city planners didn’t exactly go out of their way to preserve the “sanctity” of the location. The brick hospital that surrounds it on all sides is one of the uglier hospital complexes I’ve ever seen in my life.

For that matter, Richmond’s an aesthetically disappointing city generally. The topography should lend itself to something cool, but it hasn’t happened. Probably because all the good stuff got destroyed in the war (although they’ve had 145 years to recover).

The white house is a nice mansion. The stuff inside was cool. Plenty of smoking parlors, very tasteful. George Eastman and I could’ve hung out there and felt at ease, although I guess we both probably would’ve been weirded out by the slaves there. The tour guide looked like he was half-man, half-bloodhound, but he knew the heck out of that mansion, Richmond, Jefferson Davis, and the Confederacy. And fwiw, Davis didn’t really live here very long. Three years IIRC.

It  also didn’t cost much compared to less historically-relevant mansions (I think the museum + mansion ticket was $12; I mean, not *cheap*, but not hilariously awful either).

The museum was all right-to-good. It didn’t hammer home the Civil War story of the Confederacy like I thought it would — mostly just short write-ups on key battles posted next to displays of flags and uniforms. They had some cool artwork that I liked though. I think this is the most famous Confederate painting that exists:

Depicts the last meeting of Generals Lee and Jackson — before Jackson died from pneumonia at Spotsylvania.

My favorite part of the museum, though, was the more proletariat-focused art. Like this:

These are just a couple of pencil sketches done by some confederate soldier. I’m guessing they’re depicting one of the better days in camp (fishing with your buddies, hanging out by the fire smoking your pipe), but I think it explains a whole lot more about the Civil War experience than does Stonewall’s revolver — not just in terms of content, but in terms of perspective. It also supports my thesis on humanity that even the most horrendous situations become normal to people over time. Yep.


National Museum of the Marine Corps: New Addition

Went back to the Marine Corps museum when I was in NoVa a couple weeks ago. They added a couple new areas to it since I went there last year, one on “the early days” (pre WWI) and one on World War I. Now that those areas are open, it’s hard to imagine the museum without them.

Of those two areas, I think I dug the early years part the most, maybe just because it’s a more-forgotten time. It covered a lot of “expansion era” Marine Corps activities, where the Corps acted as an expeditionary force in securing colonies in, frex, the Philippines.

Like the rest of the museum, these new areas do some cool stuff to help the visitor experience the history they’re viewing. Like in the Philippines occupation area, you walk through this “tent” and through one “wall” of the tent, you can see shadows of marines hanging out by the fire, wearing expedition hats, whittling sticks, and smoking pipes. It’s simple and not very data-rich, but it’s ingenious in its ability to convey how it might have felt to actually be a marine stationed in the Philippines at the turn of the century (minus the heat and humidity). No plaque could have conveyed that.


The World War I exhibit was also strong, although it started off with a short, made-for-museum video loop of a kid dressed up like in the old days hawking newspapers on an in-studio streetcorner. Hated that. The kid actor was terrible, like he was trying to channel Meeno Peluce. Children should *never* be allowed to act. I don’t know why I’m the only person who seems to have realized this universal truth. I guess this kind of intro might appeal to blue-hairs, but man it was tacky and over-the-top. To me.

The rest of World War I was good, though. They had a short Belleau Wood reenactment video (yes, made-for-museum) that I liked a lot. They did with it what I always thought every war movie always should have done (but did the opposite instead) in that I think they saturated the colors on the film. Most (recent) war movies (e.g., Private Ryan, Band of Brothers) have de-saturated the color (= made the colors less vibrant) in order to give them an “authentic”, sentimental, old feel. OTOH, every first-hand account of front-line warfare that I’ve read has expressed that, in battle, combatants’ senses have been in overdrive. In that sense, it seems to me like an over-saturated color palette would best convey the image of warfare and I think that’s what they did here. (I can’t prove that they saturated the colors, but they definitely didn’t de-saturate.)

They might have shifted things a little to the blue, too.

And for the sake of playing copy editor (how fun!), they had a sign there that referred to German soldiers calling the marines “teufelhunden” (sic). That’d be capitalized in German and pretty sure it should’ve been on the sign, too.

Also watched the museum movie this time (I guess I didn’t last time — it was totally new to me). It’s a great, engaging, and moving ten-minute branding video that hits everything it should and does it without feeling too sentimental, although it did include senators John Glenn and John Warner saying (in effect) that without the Marine Corps, they wouldn’t have become senators, which to me seems like a case *against* the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps: we make politicians! Yikesnothankyou, etc. IMHO. Perhaps Sens. Warner and Glenn also appropriate(d) funds for museums, which doesn’t lessen the problem.

The Marines are still really good at telling stories and this is still very possibly the most cogent, most nailed-it museum I’ve been to. With the new galleries, it’d be kind of a long day to go all the way through in one shot. I’m not sure who my audience is for this post.

Ending so with,


National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

The best thing about the Udvar-Hazy Center and the one thing that they do that no other flight museum has yet accomplished is that they give the airplanes enough room and enough light and provide visitors multiple viewing angles. There, I said it.

I can’t go to an aerospace museum without trying to rank it within the pantheon of aerospace museums and there were some times walking through Udvar-Hazy that I was thinking yeah, this is the best flight museum there is and that was based in large part on how easy they make it to see and photograph the planes. The USAF Museum in Dayton, for instance, is really dark so in order to take photos without a tripod, you have to do flash-fill and be happy with taking a photo of one small part of the plane. And in most flight museums, including Dayton, it seems like they looked at the arrangement of displays as a Tetris variant. Udvar-Hazy gives the planes their due space. Well, except for in the commercial airplanes area, but those planes are kind of big, so I suppose it makes sense.

And if you could combine the National Air and Space Museum component on the mall in DC with the Udvar-Hazy Center, you definitely would have the greatest flight museum in the world. But they’re too far away, so you can’t. It’s like saying if you combined Seattle and Portland, you’d have the second largest city on the west coast. True but moot. Like most of life.

Enterprise, the real fake space shuttle.

The Concorde sees you.

A B-29.

Wouldn’t dream of it.

A galaxy of satellites. Maybe just a cluster.

It couldn’t fly very fast because the propeller was so small.

Hey look, an airplane!

The F-22 is a better value. (This is an X-35.)

A Ju-52.

The well-stocked commercial wing.

Which leaves only bullet points:

  • I think the Top Tier of aerospace museums is this one, the one on the mall, the USAF, and probably Pima/AMARG.
  • It’s interesting how they don’t tell many stories in this museum — they mostly let the plane speak for itself. There are no big panels explaining the Wright Bros. or anything like that — I think most of that is on the mall.
  • Without a doubt the least impressive gift shop of any top-flite aerospace museum.
  • Walking through the museum, you start feeling like there are planes that should be there but aren’t, and then you remember that the other half of the collection is an hour away, which is sort of comforting in that you know that they know that this isn’t a complete something.
  • They have a bunch of “last one like this that still exists” planes there, including some bizarre-awesome German WWII examples, like the late-war gigantic fighter plane with fore and aft props. Too bad those airplanes are evil.
  • For some reason the only planes missing their wings were German WWII planes. There was no explanation.
  • They put plexi-glass up around the Enola Gay so no one could throw stuff at it. Apparently that’s happened before.
  • Hooray for flight.

So yeah. ICYDK, the Udvar-Hazy Center is located right by Dulles Airport in Virginia. The Smithsonian (or whoever) built it in order to house planes that wouldn’t fit in the regular museum on the mall. They have elevated walkways along parts of the perimeter that afford the top-down views. The museum is free, but parking is $15. The only food inside is McDonalds. There’s very little to buy in the gift shop.


PS, If you combined Seattle and Portland, it would still only be the third largest city on the west coast.

Driving from Pittsburgh to Northern Virginia

And back. Uh, here, this is sort of interesting:

The car overstates its mileage by a little bit, but still, 51.1 for a 217-mile ride is probably as good as it’s ever going to get. And, uh — yeah, shoot, I got nothing. Here:

  • There are about 18 different ways to get to the DC/NoVa area that all take about the same length of time. On the way down, I took scenic Highway 51, eventually routing through Uniontown, Cumberland, and Winchester. Took 4:15, got 51.1 mpg.
  • On the way back, I took the Cadillac route: interstates all the way, including the fantastic Pennsylvania Turnpike: 4:15. And 20 extra miles or so and only 46.8 mpg.
  • The car overstates mpg by 2-3 points.
  • When I got off the dumb toll road, the tollbooth lady told me it’d be $7.25, so I handed her a ten, two ones, and a quarter and she says, “Did you know you gave me $12.25?”. I had no comeback for that.
  • If I hadn’t known, would she have denied it ever happened and then not given me the five back? We’ll never know. We’ll never know.
  • The hotel I stayed in for $40/night (plus 20-percent tax) was a real-live, genuine three-star Hilton Garden Inn.
  • While I was there, I went to the Udvar-Hazy part of the National Air & Space Museum, the National Museum of the Marine Corps (they had some new stuff there), Mt. Vernon, and the National Firearms Museum.
  • People who leave Yelp reviews for Bethesda, Md. restaurants are kind of catty. I’m not speaking of myself. Yet.
  • I should have taken the Reader’s Digest book of road trips so I could have hit some highlights on the return trip. There appear to be a lot of forts, battlefields, historic transportation sites, and houses built over waterfalls.