[Be aware that this travel journal is full of Civil War minutiae and has little of real interest. The pictures may take a little while to load.]
Having finally resolved to attempt another cross-county tour (although hardly as young as formerly), I purchased a Dodge minivan and arranged for my favorite roommate to sublet the apartment for a year, with her new husband. We spent one week together before my heading out. She has been nicely redecorating the place while I’ve been gone. My one-year-old but completely unused REI camping mattress turned out to be unable to retain air, but my friend Lisa came to the rescue with a surplus pillow-top mattress. Cut down to size and laid across four storage bins filled with clothing and cooking supplies, it’s very comfy. Unlike the camping pad that I used last time around, the mattress keeps me from slipping off the bed and into the bicycle while parked on an uneven surface. How the spongy material might fare inside a tent in the rain is frightening to consider.
After reaching my first stop at Lisa’s and Rob’s in Norwalk, CT, I made a daytrip to West Point to view their manuscript collection. Driving there wasn’t much of a problem, but getting into the library turned into a pageant. Even after stopping by security, I was met by sign after sign on how only authorized personnel could pass a given point. I somehow made my way to the guardpost outside of the library, just to be told that I could not enter the locked building, nor knock on its door, nor enter with another individual . . . nor nothin’. As phone calls and e-mails failed to reach anybody inside to escort me in, I was stuck outside for a half hour with no solution in sight. Finally, the guard decided to call for reinforcements and, after another long while, two uniformed soldiers with machine guns chaperoned me the 100 feet to the entrance and permitted me inside.
On my way east toward Boston, I stopped at the main library on the beautiful Yale campus. Among their holdings, I photographed Congressman Elihu Washburne’s diary for the first days of Ulysses S. Grant’s Wilderness campaign. As with almost all of the Civil War materials that I’ve acquired on this trip, these detailed entries from the vantage point of General Grant’s headquarters remain almost completely unanalyzed (there will be years’-worth of work by the time I return). But a brief reading indicates their importance, and I’m surprised that they don’t seem to be cited in the various battle histories and Grant biographies. The continued journey to my sister’s home was interrupted by a stop at a Civil War roundtable meeting in Old Saybrook. They kindly invited me to give a presentation at some future date.
After a short visit with family, I headed out to Maine. The first stop was at Norlands, the old homestead of the Washburn(e) family. The helpful archivist there gave me a tour of the old house as a bonus. Finished with the pertinent parts of their collection early in the afternoon, I headed to Acadia National Park. Although my itinerary is rather late in the year for optimal warmth and comfort (as several chilly nights and mornings have made abundantly clear), the foliage has more than made up for it. Pictures don’t do it justice.
This was the start of car-camping (or whatever one calls it), with two nights parked on the streets of Bar Harbor and six at various branches of the Hotel Walmart. A truck stop provided a much-needed and comfortable, but expensive, shower. In the middle of four days of biking (Rockefeller’s carriage trails are a joy to cycle) and sightseeing there—but no hiking—a two-day detour inland to Bangor offered a trifecta: research at the University, a serendipitous visit with a relative I’d never heard of before (who coincidentally happened to have an intense interest in the Civil War), and a seafood dinner with Diane and Ned Smith, a lovely couple of Civil War authors. Days later, they took me on a personal tour of the Joshua Chamberlain house in Brunswick about which they are experts (Diane having written his biography). There was a Civil War roundtable meeting that night. The following day, I took a bike ride to the photogenic South Portland lighthouse and the city’s art museum (complete with a statue of General Grant) and, in the evening, en route to Boston, attended yet another Civil War roundtable in Lynn, MA.
After a somewhat longer stay this time at my sister’s, I headed to Montreal. On the way, there was biking on rail-trails outside of Keene, NH, and St. Albans, VT, with a nice overnight stopover in between at my friends’ in Montpelier.
The weather in Canada, however, started with days of plentiful rain. Fortunately, my friends in Montreal had arranged for me to stay in their empty two-family house while they were in Alberta. I stuck pretty much close to home, however, outside of some walking and biking around.
Ottawa offers a discount on any three of six major public museums. I tried to do all three in one day, and came rather close to succeeding only because the extensive “Canadian” portions of the art and history museums were closed in preparation for national celebrations. The latter institution did feature a fine exhibit on Napoleon in Paris. I reached the military museum via a pleasant waterside path, but barely an hour remained to visit it.
I Walmarted that night before driving west to Moe and Wanda Daoust’s lovely home (which they have since sold for an Ottawa abode), for more Civil War discussion and an extensive artifact collection. As the venue for my first presentation of the trip, Toronto’s Royal Canadian Military Institute had traded in its old building and air rights for a portion of an upscale hotel. This gave them restaurant and bars, meeting rooms, lodging, a library, and exhibit space. My room was quite lovely, but not nearly as pleasant as my hosts—some of the nicest people around. They took me for a drink and then dinner before the talk, and the audience purchased copies of Grant Under Fire, leaving me with too much Canadian currency, as I was leaving the country within 24 hours. Never having been to the city previously, I wandered Toronto’s streets and biked along its lakeshore.
Before crossing the border, the waterfalls at Niagara still impress, even in a time of CGI and major motion picture spectacles. The next morning in an Upstate New York Walmart parking lot, incessant rain promptly drove me to my hometown for days of needed rest and relaxation (and a Halloween-themed musical event, featuring a number of great bands and several sideshow attractions).