As our nation’s 241st birthday approaches, where can you find attractions that not only pay homage to the United States of America but also expose your children to a bit of history? Right here. NAPA AUTO PARTS presents a dozen patriotic destinations from the East Coast to the West, representing the country's first inhabitants and following the history trail all the way to the late 20th Century.
Plimoth Plantation: Plymouth, MA
Here you walk straight into the year 1624, with costumed interpreters assuming the identities of the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower. Want to ask about the first Thanksgiving? If so, you’ll learn the Pilgrims didn’t dine on turkey but on roast goose, codfish and venison. In the Separatist Church, you’ll learn how the Pilgrims worshipped. In dwellings you’ll see bread being baked in clay ovens and clothes being stitched by hand. In the fertile fields you’ll watch crops being planted and harvested 18th-century style.
A full-scale replica of the Mayflower II, the vessel that brought 102 Pilgrims and 26 crewmen to Plymouth in 1620, normally berths on the Plymouth Waterfront, but it's currently undergoing restoration at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut ahead of Plymouth's 400th commemoration of the Pilgrims' arrival in New England.
The Statue of Liberty, whose torch towers 984 feet above New York Harbor, is designated as a National Monument. Part of the fun of visiting is riding the ferry through the historic harbor’s waters.
Among the facts and figures the National Park Service Ranger leading your tour on Liberty Island may share is that this world-famous landmark’s original name was “Liberty Enlightening the World.” A gift of the people of France, the statue was dedicated in 1886 and became the ultimate symbol of freedom to immigrants from overseas.
Within the pedestal is a museum crammed with interesting odds and ends. But for the hale and hearty, nothing can compare to climbing the 354 steps to Lady Liberty’s windowed crown, where the view of the Manhattan skyline and beyond is unforgettable. (Book your reservation for access to the crown well in advance.)
Women’s Rights National Historical Park: Seneca Falls, NY
Calling parents of young daughters: Seneca Falls is the town that will teach them about 19th-century women’s fight for the right to vote. It was here that the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848, and the organizers were local resident Elizabeth Cady Stanton and four other passionate suffragettes.
Your first stop is the Visitor Center on Fall Street, where you’ll see The First Wave Statue Exhibit. comprised of life-size bronze replicas of Stanton and other women who launched the convention, plus four men who enthusiastically offered their support (one being abolitionist Frederick Douglass). Other key locations are the Wesleyan Methodist Church, the site of the convention; Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home, now a museum; and two houses 3.5 miles west in Waterloo: M’Clinton House, where the Declaration of Sentiments (the suffragettes’ “Declaration of Independence”) was drawn up, and Hunt House, where the convention planning meetings took place.
An illuminating 45-minute tour begins with "Out of Many One," a short film describing how Americans come together as a nation to govern themselves. The guide then leads you into The Crypt, a circular room with 40 sandstone columns and 13 statues memorializing a statesman from each Colony. Next you’re off to the Rotunda, with its eight huge niches set with historical paintings. High above is the eye-popping dome, with a frescoed frieze just beneath its 30 windows and, centered at the very top, the mural The Apotheosis of Washington.
The tour ends in the National Statuary Hall, which from 1807 to 1857 housed the rowdy House of Representatives. The National Statuary Hall Collection contains statues of 100 notable people, two from each state, including the likes of founding father Samuel Adams (Massachusetts); agronomist Norman Borlaug (Iowa); and Spanish missionary Junipero Serra (California).
National Museum of the American Indian: Washington D.C.
In 2004 the Smithsonian Institution added yet another jewel to its D.C. crown: The National Museum of the American Indian, a sand-colored five-story building surrounded by the four main landscapes you would have found in the Chesapeake Bay region prior to European contact, including wetlands and a hardwood forest. Its collection of Native artifacts and archives, one of the world’s most extensive, is drawn from the Arctic Circle to the southernmost tip of South America, with an emphasis on North America. Items on view range from everyday tools used by Paleo-Indians to ceremonial objects to contemporary artworks. The first-floor Potomac Atrium soars four stories high, and there you can enjoy hands-on demonstrations, traditional dances and other forms of Native expression.
In the Mitsitam Native Foods Café, you can choose from indigenous cuisines from the Northwest Coast, Northern Woodlands, Great Plains and Mesoamerica. And what does “mitsitam” mean in the language of the local Delaware and Piscataway peoples? Aptly, “Let’s eat!”
The giant bell commissioned by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly in 1752 and cast in London cracked the first time it was rung in Independence Hall (then the Pennsylvania State House), but that didn’t keep it from becoming the best known bell in the nation that took shape three decades later. Inscribed with part of a Biblical verse from Leviticus — ”Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” — it was adopted by suffragists, abolitionists and other social reformers as a symbol of freedom.
Today the Liberty Bell is housed in a soaring, light filled museum steps from Independence Hall. Science-minded kids will be intrigued by the X-rays that throw light on the 1-ton bell’s inner workings and its world famous crack. And after touring other exhibits in the Liberty Bell Center they can take the tour at neighboring Independence Hall — two American history lessons in one!
Williamsburg was founded in 1699 as the capital of the Virginia colony, and Colonial Williamsburg recreates the town just as it was in the year 1770. On the 173-acre site stand more than 500 period buildings, from the magnificent Christopher Wren-designed Governor’s Palace to the lowliest woodshed. Interpreters in costumes authentic down to the last pewter button speak in present-tense 18th-century English, a reminder to adults and children that they have stepped some 250 years back in time.
Dozens of exhibitions along the cobblestone streets invite visiting families into 225 authentically furnished period rooms, while in the shops, fields and yards, skilled artisans are seen practicing various historic crafts and trades. As the military drills on Market Square proceed, the sounds of fifes and drums waft through the air — the music of a nation soon to be born.
On this sacred ground Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. He was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers.
The tour starts with exhibits devoted to pivotal events in Civil Rights history, one being the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 to 1956, which grew out of Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a city bus. It moves to the motel, where visitors take a solemn peek through the door of the room where King spent the last night of his life. Last comes the Legacy Museum, in the old boarding house where James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot. Housed here are a Civil Rights Movement Timeline and exhibits on the movement’s impact on global human rights efforts.
No war memorial in the world exhibits more World War I relics and documents than this one, and there is no shortage of drama. Entering the vast Main Gallery, visitors walk across a glass bridge suspended over a symbolic Western Front field of red poppies, offering a poignant reminder of the combatants who lost their lives. In the Gallery itself, a Chronology Wall traces the course of The Great War through photographs, artifacts, documents, soldiers’ first-person accounts and more — all in all, an education in what triggered the war, the pitting of America and its allies against the nations known as the Central Powers and how the war affected civilians as well as military forces. Among the interactive exhibits are six recreations of French, British and German trenches, each with audios taken from the writings of soldiers recounting their experiences in trench warfare.
The Big Easy’s top tourist destination tells the story of how the war that changed the world was fought, how it was won and what it means to us more than 70 years after it ended. After Americans joined the war in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Adolf Hitler’s attempt to conquer Europe ended in May 1945, and the War in the Pacific ended three months later.
The museum has something for everyone: military history, life on the home front and reflections on the price of freedom. The Salute to the Home Front exhibit tracks the road to war with personal narratives and evocative relics, and its nine galleries include exhibits on the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Manhattan Project and the human side of war: pre-war stories, domestic debates and the recruitment of young men and women willing to risk their lives for their country.
The history of the Lone Star State’s most famous shrine has been the focus of so many books and movies that many travelers may think they know all they need to. But setting foot in the small mission-turned-fort can pay big rewards — so “Remember the Alamo!” A one-hour guided tour brings to life the heroes and events that have enthralled generations of Texans and out-of-staters. (The cannons on the courtyard are the No. 1 attraction for kids.)
The adjacent Long Barrack Museum traces the history of the Alamo from its earliest days to the present. Perhaps the most striking exhibit is an upright sheet of thick glass mounted on black granite and etched with the names of the 189 Alamo defenders in the 1836 late-winter battle that preceded the Battle of San Jacinto by six weeks — the fight that won Texas its freedom.
What better place for a museum devoted to war veterans than San Diego, home to one of the largest bases of the United States Navy? This Balboa Park museum celebrates their service and honors the fallen. In the fountain in front of the mission-style building is a pedestal topped by a 1/6 scale replica of a B-52 Liberator, the heavy bomber of World War II. Inside, the B-52 Room is where their pilots’ stories are told.
All branches of the service are honored in a unique collection of artifacts, memorabilia and artworks. Displays range from enlisted women’s uniforms from World War I onward to a Vietnam retrospective complete with dioramas, slide shows and videos. Visitors can dig even deeper in the Military History Reference Library, which stocks more than 11,000 volumes.