My best friend is in town and I am blissfully happy! Four years ago she finished her PhD and started looking for her dream job: professor of Victorian Literature. While I am amazingly proud of all she has accomplished, I was just about devastated when I found out her dream job was 10 hours away in Athens, Georgia. Athens is a truly amazing city, but, well, I did mention it was 10 hours away, right? Up until her move, not only were we living in the same city, but actually in the same neighborhood. Oddly, my husband and I were not even looking at homes in her neighborhood. We were searching a bit closer to the school where I work. After what seemed like the 100th house we looked at, our realtor drove us just around the corner from her house and we loved it. So, for about seven years we were less than two minutes away from each other, and that was only if we walked slowly.
Being so far apart is really awful for both of us. We are insanely close, but also insanely busy and neither of us are exactly independently wealthy thanks to our choice of education as our career. Still, ever since the move, we make it a point to spend at least 3 weeks together each year. My kids and I visit her on our spring break, she visits us for summer break and we take some sort of best friend vacation together each year. First it was Las Vegas, then Nashville, Denver, and Destin. Some of these trips are just the two of us and some include a few of our other best friends. There are five of us who have been best friends for over 20 year and when we get together it is as if no distance and no time has gone by.
This year we decided to visit one of our gang who is a reporter in DC. Although we recently started seeing him at least once a year on our now annual friend-a-cation, it’d been over a decade since either of us had visited him in DC. A visit was well over due.
Not only was this trip a great chance to catch up with one of our nearest and dearest, it was also a chance for me to revisit some other beloved history. When I was 10, my parents took me on a summer road trip to DC. Well, not just DC. We also visit several other historical sites in fairly nearby Virginia and Pennsylvania. Although I don’t really remember my dad being a big Civil War buff, we did a sort of Civil War tour which just happened to include the Washington Monument and a few stops in a Smithsonian or two.
My biggest memory of that trip, aside from getting horribly sick in the backseat of my dad’s car after eating pineapple at a Shoney’s breakfast buffet (an incident my step-mom NEVER let me live down), and my dad getting us more than a bit lost so we kept circling the Jefferson Monument in our car (which we also NEVER let him live down–my family does not let go of things easily), was visiting Ford’s Theater.
In case you are not a history buff, Ford’s Theater is where President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth during a performance of Our American Cousin. Booth, who was an actor, waited for a particularly funny line in the play to help cover the initial sound of the gunshot before leaping onto the stage and reportedly shouting, “Sic semper tyrannis” (Thus always to tyrants) before running off stage and escaping the theater.
Ford’s Theater is also the place where I fell in love with history. I’m not sure what it was about the place that captivated me, but it did. I think part of the draw was the fascination that Abraham Lincoln, a man I’d been taught to revere and admire could be thought of so differently by someone else. Another part of the draw was the idea that someone could do something so horrible that for all of history they would be remembered with complete infamy. I was also drawn to the fact that while the assassination happened over a hundred years ago, people had taken the time to preserve that history. I could look into the theater box where Lincoln was shot. I could walk across the street to the Petersen House and not only see the actual bed Lincoln died in, but his blood on the pillow. Over a hundred years later, I was looking at the blood of Abraham Lincoln. Someone had thought to save that pillow and that bed, knowing they were important and that years from now a little girl would be fascinated by them and want to learn more about history.
Ok, sure, my 10 year old brain didn’t quite process that all at the time. However, the grown up who just went back to Ford’s Theater to revisit that history did think about the draw and the fascination. And, this time I got to share it with my best friend, who also found it riveting. As much as I loved Ford’s Theater as a kid, as an adult it was an even better experience because now I understand so much better the impact of the assassination. I’ve read several books relating to it–my favorite is Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell–and I now better understand how a country can be so divided. Thanks to refurbishments and additions to the theater exhibit and the exhibit at the Petersen House, I also got a chance to learn some cool new information and see amazing displays like this cool book tower. This super groovy piece of art is made up of replicas of the more than 15,000 books that have been written about Lincoln. I had no idea that he was the most written about figure in American history. Pretty cool fact, huh?
My trip back to Ford’s Theater also reminded me of a wonderful, if slightly vomit inducing, trip from my childhood. I remembered walking around the Washington Monument at night. I remember getting astronaut food from the Air and Space Museum. I remembered seeing the Ruby Slippers and the original Kermit the Frog at the Museum of American History. I remembered our trip to Gettysburg and the cool battlefield diorama. But mostly, I remembered how much I loved taking trips with my dad. Walking out of that theater, all I wanted to do was call him and tell him how much I still loved it and thank him for taking me all those years ago.
Since I can’t do that, I’ll just have to plan a trip to take my kids and share that wonderful history with them.