A week ago, I was driving back to Washington D. C. after a fun weekend in NYC where I saw a live episode of the popular radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, hosted by its new host and a favorite of mine, Chris Thile from The Punch Brothers. Also that night, one of the guests was one of my top artists right now, Marcus Mumford from Mumford and Sons. Marcus came on and sang two of his songs from his Bob Dylan lyrics collaboration effort called the New Basement Tapes as well as two additional Bob Dylan songs and a cover of Radiohead's "I Will."
When I go up to NYC for the weekend, I primarily drive because, while it's at least 4 hours in normal traffic, it ends up being more convenient and sometimes less expensive than the train - especially when I have my dog with me. Last Sunday, on my way home, I had no urgency to get back, so I thought I would take the opportunity to get some more cancellation stamps in my National Park Service passport book. These books are a fun way to document your visits to national parks. This year, with the centennial celebration, there is often an additional stamp at each ranger station. My cousin and I are in a very loose and unofficial competition to see who can get the most quantity or the coolest stamps. She got a really neat one up in Acadia. I obtained some unusual ones this year too, but I'm winning on quantity with my unfair advantage of being on the East Coast with access to more parks than where she is in California. When I left NYC, I had identified a minimum of 3 NPS locations I wanted to visit for sure, and a few others if time permitted. The first stop was Thomas Edison's Laboratory in West Orange, N.J.
This multistory laboratory is where Thomas Edison and his team explored new concepts after Edison made the move to West Orange from Menlo Park in 1887. This laboratory is where Edison created the beginning of the modern movie projector, as well as innovations on the delivery of sound over phonographs and through the creation of recordings. Nearly half of his 1,093 patents were based on things invented or experimented with on this campus. At its peak, around 10,000 employees worked in the buildings and it was one of the first and the largest designated research and development facilities. In addition to the machine shops housed in the large building, there are other buildings for chemistry projects, metallurgy, and pattern cutting. In the research room is Edison's desk, left pretty much the way he last had it organized because it remained closed and locked for many years after his death.
Just a half mile away from the laboratory is the Glenmont Estate, Edison's home with his second wife, Mina. The house is located in a gated community, one of the first of the time. Edison was not its original owner. He came upon the house for cheap when a bookkeeper for a large department store was caught embezzling, the money from which he used to build this ornately decorated home. Rather than going to jail, the bookkeeper was given the option to forfeit the home back to the company, who later sold the property to Edison. Just before the purchase, Edison had asked his wife if she wanted to remain in the city or retire to the country. Since the couple were both from Ohio, the country was her selection. The house had all of the modern conveniences of the time - central heating, hot and cold running water, indoor toilets, and refrigeration. Edison, of course, made sure that it was also wired for electricity - with the DC electricity being fed from his laboratory generators down the hill on underground cables. In the separate garage on the property, the electricity was used to recharge batteries for his cars. Being close friends with Ford and Firestone had its perks, as Edison was always supplied with models of the latest cars, if desired.
Heading a little south in New Jersey, the next stop on my NPS tour was Morristown to visit the home George Washington occupied with his staff during the months of December 1779 through June 1780. This is also the location, highlighted in the Broadway hit Hamilton ("1780 a winter's ball and the Schyuler sisters are the envy of all..."), where Alexander Hamilton met his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler who was staying with her uncle down the street. This home was owned by the Ford family. Mrs. Ford, a widow when her husband died in the war in 1777, and her children occupied four rooms in the mansion while the other rooms were "rented" for offices and accommodations for the General, Martha Washington, and his aides-de-camp like Hamilton. Washington's troops were encamped 5 miles away at Jockey Hollow (see the photo at the top of this post or reproduction camp shelters).
The dining room turned aides-de-camp work room.
Finally, going a little backwards in time, I made my way down to Pennsylvania to Valley Forge National Park where Washington spent the winter and spring of 1777-1778. The highlight of the 3500 acres is the restored stone house where Washington set up his headquarters. Near this house is a set of reconstructed soldiers huts, one of several sets on the park land. The soldiers held a contest with monetary prizes to see how quickly they could build their temporary homes. I'm sure that the cold weather also provided adequate motivation to build them fast as well.
I have to admit that I didn't know much about the encampment before I came. In fact, I naively equated the location with the famous crossing of the Delaware, not realizing that not only are the locations 45 miles apart but the crossing occurred a year prior to the encampment. Another example of why you should never stop learning! Sadly, or fortunately, the Park Ranger said it is a very common question people ask her.
Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge.
Aides-de-camp work room.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn't again mention how this historical site made it into Broadway's Hamilton. Can you tell I love that show?? In "Stay Alive," Hamilton sings "I have never seen the General so despondent. I have taken over writing all his correspondence." These lyrics were actually from the original song by Lin Manuel Miranda called "Valley Forge," but it was cut and the bars condensed into the song now in the show. "Valley Forge" was officially published in a remastered demo version on the Hamilton Mixtape album released earlier this month.
By the time I finished with Valley Forge, the sun was setting and the remaining parks on my list were closing, so I'm going to have to save those parks for the next trip up I-95 that I have planned in the new year. Stamps!!!!!