…Continued from Part I:
During our time in Virginia, we have made time to take care of ourselves, our plans for international travel and sightseeing. Lots of sightseeing!
Luray Caverns – We spent my birthday at Luray Caverns, located in Luray, Virginia (about a 90 minute drive from Springfield). On this particular day, it was raining pretty hard, and we decided a cave would be the driest thing we could do besides a museum. The drive to Luray takes you through Shenandoah National Park and the famous Blue Ridge Mountains. The beauty on the drive up awed us, and we knew we would go back on a dryer day. Luray caverns were discovered in 1878 and have been impressing visitors from all over the world since, in fact over 500,000 visitors each year in recent years. You walk about 1.5 miles in the cave, seeing the famous Dream Lake, Pluto’s Ghost, Wishing Well, Fried Eggs, and the Great Stalacpipe Organ. We enjoyed the cave, and were able to stay dry. Our admission to the cave also included admission to the small car museum next door. Steve couldn’t miss an opportunity to look at old cars, so we made a quick stop to check it out. It was an interesting museum, though I wouldn’t make a special trip just to see it.
Manassas National Battlefield Park – Depending if you are Confederate or Union, the first battle of the Civil War was the “Battle of Manassas” or “Battle of Bull Run”. A year later, a second battle was fought in the same location. The first battle occurred on July 21, 1961. Both sides believed this would be the only battle of the war. In fact, many citizens from both sides came from Washington DC and nearby Virginia cities, and setup with picnics on the surrounding hills to watch the battle. Both the Union and Confederacy had young, inexperienced soldiers who believed that they would be heroes of their cause. Most of the Union solders were only on a 90-day volunteer summons. Much to the shock of the solders, officers, and the country, the battle lasted just over 10 hours, and 900 young American lives were lost. This battle was also famous for the quote “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” – making General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson infamous for his courage during battle chaos. The Union lost this battle and many more including the second battle at Manassas.
We watched the video in the visitor center. The video is 45 minutes long, but well worth the watch. It depicts the entire two battles, including the story of one civilian casualty, and was narrated by Richard Dreyfus! We took the time to view all the exhibits. One thing that caught my eye was that across both the Union and Confederacy there was little consistency in the uniforms. In fact, some of the uniforms from opposing sides were very similar. It is no wonder why there were times you accidentally shot at your own, it was very confusing. We also enjoyed walking around the battlefield, and checking out the “Stone House” which served as a hospital during the war. Steve and I enjoyed visiting this significant battlefield.
Mount Vernon – One of my all time favorite places to visit during my stay in Virginia is Mount Vernon. For me, it is a special place. During college, my younger sister Alicia worked there. On my visits at Christmas, my sister had to work, so our family would spend our day visiting George Washington’s home. It is always so festive at Christmas – multiple Christmas trees, candles everywhere, snow on the ground, and even a camel in the yard (yes, George Washington brought a camel home for Christmas one year). At Mount Vernon you can get a tour of the mansion, the gardens, the farm, the graveyard, and you have to check out the education center. The education center has amazing videos, exhibits and artifacts – including his wooden teeth! Gross! It bums me out that Alicia doesn’t work there, but I can’t get enough of this place. If you make it to Virginia, Mount Vernon is a MUST at least once.
On this particular trip, we went to Mount Vernon’s annual Fall Wine Festival! We got to enjoy walking around the grounds and his house, but also sat along the Potomac River and enjoyed Virginian wines. Steve was pleasantly surprised to find a local wine he enjoyed and bought a few bottles for us to sip throughout the night.
Ford’s Theater – I went to Ford’s Theater about 10 years ago, but was excited to go again and see their massive makeover. Ford’s Theater is where Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865, and is now a National Historic Site. You have to get timed tickets for entry into the historic site; you can do this either online prior to your visit, or there are limited day of tickets at the ticket counter. The theater is a functioning theater, so you should check the calendar before making arrangements to make sure there isn’t a show playing while you wanted to tour the theater. Once you enter, you first walk downstairs below the theater to the Lincoln museum. The museum has changed a lot since I had last been, with enhanced videos provided from The History Channel, and bigger exhibits that not only cover the day of the assignation, but also Lincoln’s entire political career up to that fateful day. It also contains exhibits on the conspirators behind the assassination – yes, there were more than just John Wilkes Booth. The timeline of the exhibits lead you up to morning of the shooting, at which point you enter the ramp leading you to the theater level. On the ramp there is a day of timeline for both Booth and Lincoln, up to the hour of the shooting. You are allowed to walk in the theater and see the Presidential Box, but are not able to go inside. A few things really stuck out to me: Booth shot Lincoln at point blank range, and the theater is quite small. I imagine the entire audience was mortified. Also, that jump from the box to the stage had to have been 15 feet. No wonder why Booth broke his leg. Once you are done taking in the theater you exit and head across the street to the Petersen house. After Lincoln was shot, things did not look good and time was of the essence. Luckily, a good samaritan across the street realized the gravity of the situation and ushered Lincoln’s entourage into their home. Inside, in a few small rooms of the house they held emergency cabinet meetings, had doctors in and out to provide assistance, and family gathered. In a matter of hours, Lincoln was dead. You are allowed to walk through the rooms, including the room he died in. After, you take an elevator up to the 4th floor of the education center in the next building. Here there are timeline exhibits, which start with his death. There are 3 floors of exhibits, which discusses his funeral, the government after his death, what happened to those who conspired with Booth, as well as the effect Lincoln had on this country and world, still today. This new layout triples the exhibit space from when I last saw it, and I found the content to be engaging. We spent 2-3 hours here. Ford’s Theater is easy to get to from Metro, and should be on your to-do list if you are ever in Washington DC.
**To be continued…**