A behind the scenes Journal

By Charlie | April, 24, 2010
Cherry Blossom Festival Journal: A Tribute to our Veterans and those that brought us Independence
You will be Inspired by what it is like to visit Arlington National Cemetery, the WW Memorial, the Cherry Blossom Parade, Monticello and much more. Edgerton's Group Travel Host Charlie Adams shares a Behind the Scenes Look in this Journal

photo, Charlie Adams

Every other April, Edgerton's crafts a Group Travel Experience to D.C. that is a stirring tribute to our Veterans and those that brought this nation to independence. I had the opportunity to host this particular trip in April of 2010, and was often moved to tears as we visited sites such as the Vietnam Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. I wrote this Journal to describe to others what a moving experience it is to visit those places. It is amazing how many of us go years or decades without visiting our nation's capital. And with fairly new Memorials such as the WWII Memorial and Pentagon Memorial, there is always a need to go back. I had no idea how inspiring this trip would be for our entire group!
 
Our group of just about 50 left on a motorcoach early on the morning of April 8th. Tour Manager Sherrill Lee had all the details of the week planned out, based on the way Edgerton's had lined up each day. Sherrill exemplifies the Customer Service Edgerton's has been known for since 1924.

Edgertons D.C. group
As host, I introduced myself early on and shared some of my background as a TV News sports anchor and positive news reporter at  television station WSBT, and what I do now as motivational speaker.
 
Upon getting close to D.C., cell phone service tended to go in and out. Our motorcoach driver Doug said he felt it was because we were somewhere near Camp David. I asked him where Camp David was located. He said most people really don't know.

Edgerton's had secured the Marriott Westfields Hotel in D.C. for the first three nights. After a night of rest, the excitement was evident as we prepared for three unforgettable days of seeing D.C., including premium seats to the Cherry Blossom Parade. On the morning of Friday April 9th, we met walk-on tour guide Jim Heegeman. Jim is a native of Wisconsin. He served in the Navy and worked at The Pentagon for many years. A bundle of energy, his ability to know everything about D.C. and walk like the Energizer Bunny would have us hopping! As a certified master guide, his depth of knowledge inspired much of the writing below. Edgerton's always makes sure to get tremendous guides on trips. That makes a world of difference, when you have someone like Jim that sets the stage for each part of the visit.


Our first stop was Arlington National Cemetery

(photo below), a deeply moving experience. Everything became quiet as we boarded shuttles to see the grounds.


Arlington

Among our veterans on this trip was Rodger Hendrickson of Auburn, IN. He had served in the Army or National Guard for 25 years, and was in combat in Vietnam. I asked him what it was like to be here at Arlington. He said, "This is hallowed ground." Rodger had been in choppers that had been shot down in Vietnam. He has a permanently injured knee from service. Combat left scars with him, not all physical. Canoeing has become a kind of therapy for him. At age 50, he canoed the AuSable River Canoe Marathon from Grayling, Michigan to Oscoda, Michigan. That's 120 miles. It is the longest non stop canoe race in North America. In addition to paddling for 14-19 hours straight, competitors must also make portages over six dams along the river race route. He did it in 8 days at age 50. At age 60, he did it in 7 days. He will be in another big canoeing experience in Arkansas soon.

He told me his wife had once wanted to put up his war medals on display. He couldn't let her because there were too many bad memories. He said he had been able to exercise most of his demons, but that so many came back as "walking dead." He said the Vet Center in Fort Wayne had been so important for him because it was a place he could go and talk. Rodger said he could not have dealt with Vietnam had it not been for his wife Patricia, who was on this trip along with their son, Alan.

It is an unforgettable experience to go through Arlington National Cemetery and see the rows of markers. To this day there are 27-30 burials a day. Jim, our guide, said the major criteria to be buried there is to have died on active duty or to have high honor or to have served honorably for at least 20 years. Rodger qualified to be buried there. When I asked him if he would be, he said no. He wanted his ashes to be scattered on the river he has canoed so much in his life.

Edgerton's arranged for us to experience the Tomb of the Unknowns. We arrived at the Memorial Amphitheater and watched as impeccably dressed sentinels marched with precision. We saw the Changing of the Guard, a time honored ritual, executed with great precision and filled with American pride. I took the picture below of the Changing that we were able to witness.


Changing of the Guard

If you have never experienced this, I strongly encourage you to make it a priority to one day see it. When they play Taps, and everyone takes off their hats and places their hand on their hearts, it is one of the most patriotic moments of one's life.

We also saw the where President Kennedy was laid to rest. For the gravesite, the family selected irregular Cape Cod granite paving stones, which had been quarried in 1817 from near the president's home. The Eternal Flame burns on over the grave.

We visited Arlington House, where the view of the city is spectacular. We saw the statue of U.S. Army officer Phillip Kearney, who fought in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. In a calvary charge in the War with Mexico, he suffered a grapeshot wound and had to have his left arm amputated.

In the Civil War, he led his Union troops onto the field shouting, "I'm a one-armed Jersey son-of-a-gun, follow me!" He led the charge with his sword in hand and reins in his teeth. He used to inspire his troops by saying, "Don't worry, men, they'll all be firing at me!"

In the Battle of Chantilly in 1862 he went to check on a part of the line, despite warnings of danger. He said the Confederates had yet to mold a bullet that could kill him. Sadly, he rode into Confederate troops and ignored their demand to surrender. A single bullet in his spine killed him.

He is laid to rest at Arlington. His statue is one of just two equestrian ones on the grounds.

Kearney statue

As a young man, Kearny inherited over 1 million dollars in 1836. He could have led a life of luxury. Instead, he joined the military to serve his country, ultimately giving his arm and then his life. Seeing statues like that and learning his story makes a visit to Arlington life changing. You come away so appreciative. As Jimmy V said, it makes you think.

Upon getting back on the motor coach, we asked all our veterans to rise, and honored them with applause. In a reflective state, we were driven to the Smithsonian Museums. Our guide Jim said that visitors from Europe are often surprised to learn the Smithsonian Museums have free admission. They are used to paying to enter their Museums over there. Jim said the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History one vie to be the most visited Museums in the world.

As we came up on the National Mall, Jim shared a funny story. He often guides 8th graders around D.C. One time he said they were coming up on the National Mall. He said the teen girls shrieked, "Mall!? There's a Mall!!? Where!?"

Everyone had time to visit the Museums of their choice. I went into the Natural History one. There was a line out front so I went around back and was able to go right in and spend a couple of hours looking around. I was able to see the Hope Diamond and made a mental note to myself to purchase something similar for my wife when I got back home.

Edgerton's then had us driven to the Washington National Cathedral.

A photo of the interior is below. The first stone was laid in 1907. It took 83 years to build. In Europe, it takes hundreds of years to build a Cathedral. You know how we are in the U.S.! We have to be fast!! By golly, get it done in 83 years! None of this 200 year business!


Wash Natl Cathedral

The famous are laid to rest there, like President Woodrow Wilson, and the not-so-famous. The story goes that during construction, a carpenter's wife passed away. He asked a Bishop if she could be buried there. While respectful, the Bishop said she did not meet qualifications. A few weeks passed and the carpenter passed the Bishop and told him everything had been taken care of.

"What do you mean?" the Bishop asked.

"Oh, my wife had asked to be cremated. She was, and then I took her ashes and mixed them in with the mortar here. So, she is buried here. Have a nice day, Bishop."

The cost of the Cathedral ended up being much higher than expected. Some people had issues with that, but Master Mason Billy Cleland sized it up this way: "What does a Stealth Bomber cost? In 20 years, it would be obsolete. This Cathedral will stand for 2000 years."

He is right. To walk through the Cathedral, the 2nd largest in the U.S. and the 6th largest in the world, is an indescribable experience. The Cathedral has conducted funerals or memorial services for ten of the fourteen presidents who have died. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr preached his final Sunday sermon there. Billy Graham preached there.

Saturday April 10th was a gorgeous day. Edgerton's had arranged the weather and premium seating for the Cherry Blossom Parade

These were the best seats in the parade! The TV announcers booth was across the street. All the floats stopped in front of us to perform for the TV cameras. I took the photo below from our vantage point. Getting seats like these shows that Tom Edgerton is truly the John Wayne of Travel Service.


Cherry B parade

Entertainers that performed right in front of us included American Idol finalist Justin Gaurini and R&B vocalist Deborah Cox. I took the photo below of a funny group. Actually, after all the great meals we are having this week, that would be us in a few days!



CB parade photo


Giant balloons included Kermit the Frog, Elmo, Veggie Tales, cherry blossoms, and Japanese lanterns. The Youth Choir and All-Star Tap Team showcased the talent of approximately 750 and 350 youths from around the country, respectively. 

So many of our travellers commented on all the hard working young people in the Parade. The News today is so negative, that you don't realize how many good kids there are out there. 

The military was in the parade. There were classic Mustangs. All in all, a first class event! The photo I took below shows the nicest smile that came our way.

CB parade photo

The Shriner's Clowns arrived, and a man in the bleachers next to us said, "Here come the current members of Congress!" That got a big laugh. 

After the Parade, Edgerton's had it arranged for us to tour the Capitol Building. I took the photo below as we approached the entrance. Look at that blue sky! I had not been to D.C. in decades, and had forgotten just how big the Capitol is there at the end of the National Mall! This dome, completed during the Civil War at a cost slightly more than one million dollars and composed of 8,909,200 pounds of cast iron, is a marvel of architectural engineering.

photo Cap Bldg DC

Inside, the Rotunda is so big that the Statue of Liberty could fit in it with 30 feet still to spare. Construction on the Capitol was begun in 1793. The British burned it down in 1814. It has been rebuilt, extended, and restored over the years. To walk inside it is to truly feel the history in the hallways. We saw the area where President John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke while speaking to the House of Representatives. 

Next, our guide Jim took us on a brisk walk to the Library of Congress. Then, it was over to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and dinner. The wind was still fairly strong. As we drove past the Washington Monument, Jim told us of the time an 8th grader asked him how they were able to get all the U.S. flags to fly in the same direction at the same time.

8th graders may ask an occasional goofy question, but it was so good to see so many of them in the city during our trip. 8th grade is the year U.S. History is taught. My son Jack and daughter Abby went to D.C. in May of their 8th grade years with Grissom Middle School. I went on many of their school trips but there was no way in you know where that I was going to be on a bus for several days with a slew of 8th graders (!).

We then visited the White House. I took the photo below of our travellers as we made our way along Pennsylvania Avenue. You can see the Washington Monument in the background.

white house photo

Along the way on the entire trip, I shared "Presidential Trivia" with the travellers. For example:

President Grover Cleveland personally answered the White House phone. Can you imagine calling there today and getting the President on the line?!

When England's Prince of Wales visited the White House in 1860, so many guests came with him that President James Buchanan had to sleep in the hall.

To set a good example for the country, President Rutherford B. Hayes banished liquor and wine from the White House.

President Benjamin Harrison was the first president to use electricity in the White House (1889 - 1893). After he got an electrical shock, his family often refused to touch the light switches and sometimes would go to bed with the lights on. 

Theodore Roosevelt was the first to call it the White House, in 1901. Before, it was called the Executive Mansion or the President's House.

During Woodrow Wilson's presidency a flock of sheep was raised on the White House lawn. The wool was used to raise money for the Red Cross during World War I.

President Calvin Coolidge refused to use the phone while in office in the 1920's. I doubt he would take well to Tweeting and Texting today. 

Harry Truman used to get up 2 hours early there to practice the piano.

Richard Nixon talked to astronauts on the moon from the White House by radio-telephone on July 21, 1969.

Standing there, all that history catches up to you. To be able to look at the West Wing and the Oval Office and think about all of the decisions made there is quite the experience.

With the sun going down, Jim guided us to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On the way, Jim told us of the origin of the Wall, and the criteria that went into the design:

There were four:
1. be reflective and contemplative in character;
2. harmonize with its surroundings;
3. contain the names of those who had died in the conflict or who were still missing;
4. make no political statement about the war.

By the deadline of March 31, 1981, 1,421 design entries had been submitted.

The Memorial (wall) was designed by an undergraduate at Yale University, Maya Ying Lin, born in Athens, Ohio in 1959. Her parents fled from China in 1949 when Mao-Tse-tung took control of China, and she is a native-born American citizen. She was 21 years old. Jim said. She learned of the opportunity to enter her design when she was in a Funerary Art class at Yale. Her Professor entered as well. She won. He lost. She ended up with a B + in his class.

The Wall has been very healing for many who served in Vietnam. While there, Jim helped our Rodger find the name of a fellow soldier who had died in Vietnam.

At night, we went on an enchanting drive of D.C. We went past a Hotel where former President and Civil War hero U.S. Grant used to visit. It is said Grant used to escape from the White House and visit the Willard Hotel, at which he would smoke cigars and drink whisky. People seeking jobs, contracts, and particular positions in legislation would approach Grant in the lobby of the Willard. Grant is said to have referred to them as "those damned lobbyists" So, you can attribute that word to him!

One of the most vivid memories of the trip would be that night when we crossed the Memorial Bridge in pitch darkness. You could see the Eternal Flame way up ahead on the hill below Arlington House. I had no idea the flame stood out that clearly. 

On Sunday April 11th we continued this wonderful group travel experience. The day started with a trip to the Pentagon.
Our guide Jim took us back in history to Sept. 11th, 2001. He showed us the flight direction of Flight 77 that went into the Pentagon. He said there were 59 aboard the flight that was to have gone from Dulles to LAX. They all perished along with 125 military and civilians in the Pentagon. We saw the beautiful Pentagon Memorial. The 22 million dollar shrine was paid for by friends, relatives and supporters.

One of the reasons the explosion was so terrible was that there was so much jet fuel, since it had just taken off. That caused most of the damage.  

The Pentagon Memorial park consists of 184 memorial units (photo below), each of which are dedicated to an individual victim by its unique placement within the collective field. The field is organized as a timeline of the victims' ages, spanning from the youngest, three-year-old Dana Falkenberg, to the oldest, 71-year-old John D. Yamnicky.

photo bench at Pentagon

The memorial units representing the 59 lives lost on Flight 77 face so that when reading the name of the victim to whom that unit is dedicated, the visitor to the memorial park faces the sky. When standing at a memorial unit dedicated to a victim who was inside the Pentagon, the visitor will see the victim's name and the Pentagon in the same view.

I can't emphasize enough how touching it was to visit these Memorials on this very special trip, especially when you have such a good walk-on guide like Jim. As Jimmy V had said earlier in the speech we watched on the motorcoach, we should try to laugh, think and cry each day. No doubt, on this trip we spent a lot of time in reflection, and hardly any of us had a day where we didn't cry when we visited Memorials like this one.

From there, Edgerton's had it arranged where we visited the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial (photo below), often referred to as the Iwo Jima. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in the defense of the United States since 1775.

The island contained 3 airstrips that the Japanese had been using for their Kamikaze attacks. As Jim told us, Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles in WWII. There were 26,000 U.S. casualties, including over 6000 dead. The toll was deep, but taking Iwo Jima was instrumental in ending the war. Strategically the island of Iwo Jima was crucial to continue B-29 raid on mainland Japan.

One of the most famous photos ever taken was that of the 5 Marines and 1 Navy Corpsman planting the flag at Mt. Suribachi after taking control of it.

Iwo Jima photo

The photograph by Joe Rosenthal became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication.

Of the six men, three did not survive Iwo Jima. Mike Strank was among three of the men who later died there. He was hit by a mortar as he was diagramming a plan in the sand for his boys. Strank is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, not far from this Memorial.

Franklin Sousley was one of the flag-raisers to later die on Iwo Jima He was just 19. When word reached his mother in Kentucky that Franklin was dead it was said that you could hear her screaming clear across the fields at the neighbor's farm. 

That is what is so sobering and important about this Cherry Blossom trip. We have been constantly reminded of the brave souls that laid down their lives to help build and defend our nation. 

Next, Edgerton's had it arranged for us to visit the

World World II Memorial.

This has been a fairly recent Memorial, dedicated on Memorial Day of 2004. As Jim explained to us, after the Vietnam Memorial was so successful as well as the Korea Memorial, the WWII vets said, "What about us? What about the Big One?" Fundraising started and almost 200 million dollars were raised. Tom Hanks and Senator Bob Dole were among those leading the way.

Jim said over 16 1/2 Americans were in uniform in WWII. We lost over 400,000. They are honored at this Memorial, which is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west.

A field of 4,000 sculpted gold stars on the Freedom Wall commemorate the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives.

I took this photo below as our travellers made their way around the entire Memorial.


WWII mem photo

There are two large pavilions, one dedicated to the Atlantic Theater and the other to the Pacific. We saw the bronze ropes that are symbolic of connecting all the states together. 

The Korea Memorial was next.

As Jim explained, North Korea invaded South Korea over the 38th parallel. The war, though technically not over, went 38 months. US Platoons on patrol were usually 38 men. When the Memorial was designed, they wanted 38 men in it. After review cycles, they were told 19. What they did was put up 19 larger-than-life men, and a wall nearby where you can see their reflections, making it 38. I took the photo below. You can see the comparative size of the soldiers to those walking by them.


photo Korea Memorial

Next, our group was led to the

Lincoln Memorial.

What can you say about a Memorial to a man born in a log cabin in Kentucky that went on to keep our nation together after the Civil War and that issued the Emancipation Proclamation? To walk in there and reflect on his accomplishments is a powerful experience. Two of Lincoln's best known speeches are inscribed within. The Lincoln Memorial has been immortalized by great men and speeches, made at the site. These include '"I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King Jr.in August of 1963.

Edgerton's had secured tickets for us to attend a performance at

Ford's Theater.

Lincoln was assassinated there on Friday, April 14, 1865 - Good Friday. We sat there and looked up at the balcony where the tragedy took place. What a time of High and Low in our country. The Civil War had ended days before. Lincoln was so happy. Then, an unreal Low, as he was shot. He died the next day across the street at the Peterson House. There has been no sadder event in Washington D.C. history.

As this unforgettable day continued, we visited the

Jefferson Memorial. 


It was completed in 1943. President Franklin Roosevelt had come to the Dedication, which was on the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birthday. President Roosevelt even had large trees cut down so that he could see the Jefferson Memorial from the White House. Jefferson had helped to design the White House.

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever." Thomas Jefferson
From there, it was over to see the FDR Memorial. Many forget that he was President during the Depression and WWII, and his Memorial reflects that lengthy time (term limits came after him). There are many waterfalls, reflecting his time in the Navy and his love of water. He often got relief from his polio by going to Warm Springs, Georgia.

 

His wife Eleanor has a statue at the Memorial. She is the only First Lady to have such a statue. Their dog Falla also has one.
Next, a real treat awaited. Edgerton's had us taken to the Potomac River for a brunchtime cruise on The Odyssey III Cruise Ship. The photo below was taken as we boarded.


photo The Oddyssey

The food was scrumptious. Travellers then went outside and soaked in the sights of D.C. from the river. Later, the band struck up and dancing began. Tour Manager Sherrill Lee was such a good dancer that the consensus was that she would someday soon be on "Dancing with the Stars." Moments after the picture below was taken, Sherrill (on the left) did the Michael Jackson moonwalk, whirled into a Break Dance routine, grabbed a ceiling fan and spun around the room, and then let go to do a triple back flip. She then landed in her seat and engaged in conservation with travellers. Amazing!

Just kidding.

She danced a quiet dignified dance representative of a distinguished Travel Manager.

Sherrill Lee dancing photo

This concluded three days in Washington, D.C. Our travellers talked about how patriotic they felt after having been visibly moved by these Memorials, and the history. As one said, you hear so much negative today, that you forget about the valor and honor. To come to D.C. is to be restored in that area. I know it changed me in many ways, and I left much more grateful to those brave men and women who forged the way for us.
 
Edgerton's then took us down the road to Richmond, Virginia. On the way, one of the funnier moments happened. On most of the traditional Edgerton's Group Travel trips I host, the ages of the travellers range from the 50's to the 70's, with some folks in their 80's. One of those was Mona, who travelled with two friends. Mona was a go-getter. She kept up with us as we walked all over, including a fairly lengthy walk from the motorcoach to the Capital to the Library of Congress. Many in the group watched over her to make sure she was okay. She kept plugging along fine.

Well, on the way to Richmond, we stopped at a mini mart and people got various snacks while the motorcoach fueled up. Mona was inside and some well wishers saw her near the milk. One caring lady went over and said softly, "Mona, do you need help getting the milk? Perhaps you need it for later tonight to be warmed."

Mona looked at her directly and said, "Milk?! I'm looking for the wine!"

I shared humor and inspiration as we drove to Richmond where the next two nights we would stay at The Jefferson. As one traveller said, they would never stay in a nicer Hotel in their life.
 
No less than twelve Presidents. Harrison, McKinley, Wilson, Coolidge, Taft, both Roosevelts (Theodore and Franklin Delano), Truman and Reagan, both Bushes and Obama have stayed at the hotel. Elvis once stayed there. Now, THAT makes it an important Hotel!
 
Other celebrities that have stayed there include Robert DeNiro, Tom Landry, Tony Bennett, ZZ Top, Prince, Mac Davis, Debbie Reynolds and Richard Simmons.
 
Charles Kuralt loved it. Forbes Magazine once named it the "Best Hotel in America." The Rotunda was stunning. The grand staircase (photo below) was rumored to have been the inspiration for the staircase used in "Gone With The Wind."


photo of The Jefferson Hotel

Edgerton's does such a remarkable job of finding unique places to stay. In the lobby, there is a statue of Jefferson. There used to be a small pool around it with alligators. Word was that the people of Richmond would bring back small alligators from trips to Florida. When they got too big for their bathtubs, they brought them down to The Jefferson. It was that way until the late 1940's.
 
On the morning of Monday April 12th, Edgerton's had us whisked to Jamestown, where we went back to the early 1600's. Jamestown is really where the USA began. Those that came over on the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery were there 13 years before the pilgrims at Plymouth. On May 14, 1607, 105 colonists disembarked and established the first permanent English settlement in North America. I liked what they said John Smith said: "If you will not work, you will not eat."
 
We toured a Powhatan Indian village and saw what it was like for them to live in their hut-like structures (photo below).


Jamestown Photo

Life expectancy wasn't long back then. People often married at age 12 or 13.

We then took the short trip to Colonial Williamsburg, where we felt we were back in time just before the Revolution. To visit the Governor's Palace and the Capital Building is to feel the energy of a time when our nation was determined to take shape. Well, not quite everyone was on board. They said at that time 1/3 wanted independence, 1/3 wanted to remain loyal to England, and 1/3 were set to go with the winner!
 

Think about it! We were going to break away from the greatest empire in the world - Great Britain! As you walk the Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg, re-enactors give speeches just like back in the day. You might hear Patrick Henry or George Washington. It is riveting stuff!
 
In the afternoon, we visited Yorktown, site of the final battle of the Revolutionary War. We saw a cave where it was rumored Cornwallis hid out during the shelling of Yorktown. We saw Surrender Field, and homes that to this day still have cannonballs in their side. Sadly, we also saw the Hill of Tears, where slaves were brought into Virginia. On that very hill they were beaten, whipped and sold. To stand there and look at that path and think of the sorrow was sobering, to say the least.
 
As always, Edgerton's had arranged a special place for the group to eat. It was The Carrot Tree in Yorktown. Built in 1720, the house is a carefully preserved, three-story cottage built by one Cole Digges. Digges, son of the area's most successful tobacco grower, owned most the waterfront at one point.
 
When we came out, several deer were playing in the field across the way. I am not sure if Edgerton's arranged the deer or not, but it was neat to see them.
 
On April 13th, Edgerton's had a visit to the state capital
arranged. The capital building in Richmond was planned by Thomas Jefferson. This building hosted the first representative government in the western hemisphere. It was the first government building to use a classic style of architecture. Of course, the Confederacy occupied it during the Civil War, or The War Between the States, or - as they like to say down South - The War of Northern Aggression.
 
There was a bust of Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate General whose tactics were so brilliant they are still taught at military academies around the world today, and were used by Rommel against us in WWII.
 
From there, Edgerton's had us driven up to Monticello, the mountaintop home of Thomas Jefferson. I took the photo below as our group arrived at the Charlottesville, VA home. When Jefferson was a young man, he picked out the site from his father's estate to one day build his home. He had the mountaintop cleared, and it took 40 years to build, redesign, tear parts down, and finally finish the home.

photo Monticello

Monticello, in Italian, means "Little Mountain." It is a fascinating place to visit. You get a sense for how unique Jefferson was as a leader and as a man. He had a voracious desire for reading. Our guide said he could read in six languages other than English. He had more than 7000 books in his library.
 
As we walked through the home, we saw his inventions. He created all kinds of things including a polygraph machine that allowed him to make exact copies of letters as he was writing them. In the dining room, we learned they would have breakfast at 9 and dinner at 3, where there was better light. Jefferson didn't allow fires lit unless it got down to 55 degrees in the house. We went through one room which was octagonal. That way, there were no dark corners.
 
We saw the last chair he sat in before he died. Ironically, he died on July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
 
Outside, travellers spread out to tour the grounds. From his house, you can see the famous Rotunda at the University of Virginia, which Jefferson designed. As an older man, he used to observe the construction with a telescope from his home, and give instructions on how to make it better.
 
On the grounds, the 1000 foot garden is captivating. Jefferson grew over 300 varieties of vegetables. He once wrote this: "Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth."
Many of our travellers walked down the hill to see his final resting place before we left for our short trip to the University of Virginia. As Senior National Speaker for the National Collegiate Scouting Association, I help families and young people connect with College athletic and athletic/academic scholarships. Being on the campus of the University of Virginia was stimulating because you could feel the energy and optimism of being a College student again. The original student dorms designed by Jefferson were so interesting. For the longest time, there was no heat and students had to keep fires going to stay warm. They say there is central heating, but students still have fireplaces. Edgar Allen Poe was once a student in one of these dorms.

After a short stop there, we were driven up to the Shenandoah Valley and Winchester, Virginia for a night at the historic George Washington Hotel. Edgerton's had arranged a dinner at the nearby Piccadilly Public House. Tom Edgerton made sure complimentary wine was waiting for the travellers as a special 'thank you' for going with Edgerton's.
 

Winchester is where George Washington spent his formative years. The George Washington Hotel was yet another example of the kind of unique places Edgerton's finds for travellers to stay on group travel experiences.
 

The GW Hotel has welcomed  Presidents John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman, film star Joan Blondell, big band leader Harry James, Explorer Admiral Byrd  and the Beatles. Some of our travellers stayed in a room once occupied by Lucille Ball.

Morning arrived, and we made the journey home. We made stops in Fort Wayne, Elkhart and Mishawaka to drop off travellers. On the way back, everyone reminisced about the sights and the history we had experienced. I shared humor and inspiration along the way. It was a very special trip. Here is what some of the Edgerton's travellers had to say:

"We were moved by the changing of the guard as well as witnessing one of our group finding a war buddy's name on the Vietnam memorial.  Ron as a student of history greatly appreciated visiting the various historical sites especially Jamestown and Monticello."

Ron and Willa Henry

"We were very pleased with the guides we had on the trip. Their depth of knowledge about American history and the sacrifices made to keep it glorious were outstanding. Linda and I were very touched at each of the war memorials especially and also the Arlington experience with it's silent message to all Americans. Truly a tribute to those that have gone before us preserving the liberty we enjoy, sometimes without a second thought. EVERY American should see these treasures of valor. Thanks for the Histories of the Presidents you shared with us on the trip."

Bob and Linda Horvath

I hope you have enjoyed this Journal of a remarkable experience. Edgerton's manages a trip to D.C. for the Cherry Blossom Festival each April.

Charlie Adams
  
Professional Speaker and Edgerton's Group Travel Host
 
 

Cherry Blossom Festival photo

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