As a society, the past has molded our present. The past can aid us in the present, helping us make better choices for the future. For good or ill, the consequences of history are the world’s best resource to guide us to improved decisions in the future. Whether it is an object reminding us of the atrocities of the Nazis or the legacy of Helen Keller, our links to days gone by should be cherished.
HISTORICAL EVENT AND PEOPLE
Fortunately for us, many people and the organizations they founded have dedicated themselves to preserving the history of both our country and the world. While there are tens of thousands of recognized historical sites in the United States, not all are landmarks. There are relatively few that have been elevated to the level of National Historic Landmarks as of now. According to the National Park Service, these places are given an elevated designation “…because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.”
Of course, not all places of historical significance reach that rarefied strata. Many are simply well-known locations that played a part, or even places talked about in local legends.
The people, places and things that are links to prior generations come from every aspect of our lives. They can be natural wonders or connected to our martial, religious, social and political heritages.
Past Presidents—Obviously, the scant handful of Americans who have served as POTUS garner a great deal of our attention. These men are chosen to become the “most powerful person on Earth,” and so their actions, words and papers become highly prized. We are all familiar with the larger-than-life names like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and FDR, but there are interesting tidbits about every one of them.
· Woodrow Wilson signed the law creating the National Park Service.
· Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms in office.
· William Henry Harrison served only 32 days in office before succumbing to pneumonia contracted on his Inauguration Day.
To get connected, collect presidential autographs. Holding a physical piece of our history can bring it to life in a way little else can.
Modern Military—One of my favorite places is the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton Ohio. Here, one can walk around a B-2 Stealth Bomber, see aircraft that never made it into production like the XB-70A Valkyrie or go inside the cramped quarters of a WW2 bomber or Apollo-era space capsule. To get connected: build model airplanes. As a child, this museum inspired me to build scale models of the P-51 Mustang, the F-111A Aardvark and the F-15 Eagle.
The Great Outdoors—If being out-of-doors is more your thing, there are many places set aside to explore. The adventures a person can embark upon can connect them to a past as old as the Earth itself. Go spelunking in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Walk along the giant redwoods in Sequoia National Park or the Le Brea Tar Pits in California. To get connected: get a National Park Service Passport and collect stamps for each site visited.
OLD MEETS NEW
Sometimes, a piece of history isn’t connected to a famous person or event. They can be little pieces of the puzzle that make up the mosaic that is the United States of America. Someone will take a passion or hobby based on some nostalgic era and transform it into something new. Examples of these types of enterprises can be found across the country.
· Train cars are converted to restaurants or coffeehouses
· Speakeasies become modern nightclubs
· A 19th century building’s architecture now holds a banquet hall within
· A former stockyard becomes a steakhouse
The possibilities here are just about endless. When a person’s admiration for a part of American collides with their entrepreneurial spirit amazing things can happen.
History isn’t just room after room of old books and parchment rolls (although I admit the researcher within me loves that). It’s as alive as the people who created it. They bequeathed us their knowledge, work products and personal correspondence so that we know what has gone before. In the years, decades and centuries ahead people will look back on the early 21st Century and rely on the documentation on what we’re doing right this moment. Whether they say “thank you!” or “WHAT were you people thinking?” is not something we will ever likely know. But rest assured, they will look back and they will ponder and debate just like we do about our forebearers.