- While I’m a true blue yankee, my mother is a daughter of the South and has bequeathed two articles of her heritage to me: the inexplicable habit of peppering my speech with ‘y’all’ and the ability to make the best cheese grits…ever. Now that I’ve gone south of the Mason-Dixon line and tried what they’ve got I feel pretty confident in making that claim.
- Late September is the time to go for a visit. The weather is nice (a bit hot, actually, this year), the schools have just started back so you aren’t bombarded with vacationers or student groups.
- There’s a very interesting dynamic going on in the Williamsburg area. There, in what they term the ‘Historic Triangle‘ is a fascinating mix of federal sites (Jamestown and Yorktown), state facilities (Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center) and a privately owned location (Colonial Williamsburg) that cover almost two centuries of history in a very small area. Given the potential for collaboration and these tough financial times you’d think these groups would welcome the opportunity to coordinate their efforts. It doesn’t seem to work out that way…
The National Park Service seems to regard the state facilities with a bit of contempt. As one ranger told me, ‘Oh, they’re fine if you like that sort of thing. It’s an interpretation of history.’ And, to be fair, it’s clear the state wasn’t being totally historically accurate (I detected plastic sheeting under the reed mats that made up the huts in the Powatan village). And while the National Park Rangers gave amazing tours (especially a Ranger ‘Linda’ at Yorktown who gave a most excellent account of the battle) the state employed historical ‘interpreters’ were quite knowledgeable and very approachable.
Colonial Williamsburg seemed to suffer from the lack of fulfilled potential the most. It’s still very beautiful but I seemed to detect a slow decent into theme park-ism which, in all fairness, might just be a bit of curmudgeon coming out of me. I did, however, speak with a couple of the locals who indicated that the site has begun hiring actors in place of expert craftspersons. I suspect there’s a natural tension between a profit making enterprise and doing history.
That being said, we went to an evening performance titled ‘Cry Witch’ that was very good. It was a trial, based on an actual witch trial (with some liberties taken in regards to its conclusion) and it had the most interesting aspect where some of the audience played the role of counselors and could question the witnesses while the ‘governor’ used the examinations to provide instruction on the legal system of 17th century Virginia. It was quite fun and, dear reader, you would have been quite proud of my performance.
And overall, I was reminded with disappointment that there’s a similar nexus of American history that has gone essentially overlooked. I’m speaking of Washington Crossing, the battlefields of Princeton and Trenton, and Valley Forge (not to mention Philadelphia). Virginia has been able to leverage their historic sites to complement each other (even if they don’t actively cooperate). Here, the sites are left on their own, particularly in the case of Washington Crossing, to wither and fade into obscurity.