Saturday, February 22, 2014


From Monticello we headed towards Staunton, Virginia, via Charlottesville so that my husband could take a quick look at the University of Virginia. (He has a weird affinity for university campuses.) A block or two from the campus we ran across this majestic statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The proud and resolute eight-foot-tall figures stand on a six-foot-tall base. At the center of an intersection, it is hard to miss.

Wait! Who is that peaking shyly out from behind them?
It's Sacagawea, their Shoshone Indian translator and diplomat. Apparently there are critics who think this subservient pose is demeaning for a woman who played such a critical role in the Louisiana Purchase expedition.
Two of those critics are painted on a mural on one of the buildings facing the statue:

Our next stop was the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton, Virginia. This is the museum:
. . . and this is the house next door where our 28th President was born on December 28th, 1856.
The family lived in this house for just over a year until January 1858, at which time Woodrow's Presbyterian minister father accepted a call to lead a congregation in Augusta, Georgia.

We started in the museum, where the biggest attraction is definitely this fully restored (and fully operational) 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine that picked Wilson up from the dock when he returned from France after negotiating the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
Wilson loved this car so much that his friends purchased it for him after his second term as President ended in 1921.

Other than the automobile, the focus of this museum is the war that dominated Wilson's Presidency. Wilson was very reluctant to enter the war, perhaps because he lived in the South during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War. In his formative years, he saw first-hand what war does to a country:
He spent much of his first term as President trying to keep the United States away from the fighting in Europe. In fact, his campaign slogan for his second term was "He kept us out of war." However, on April 2, 1917, just few months after his inauguration, he declared war, partly in response to Germany's untenable submarine warfare, which threatened the United States' economic interests in Europe.

World War I represents the beginning of modern warfare when chemical warfare, airplanes, submarines, tanks, and machine guns were used for the first time. The museum highlights these innovations and others in an excellent World War I trench exhibit.
Sound and lighting created an eerie ambiance as we joined the troops behind their earthen barricades:
The Allied and Central Powers troops dug more than 450 miles of trenches, most of them at least six feet deep. I learned that the trenches zigzagged every ten yards so that the enemy couldn't jump into a trench and fire down its length.

Displays illustrate various aspects of the war. This reproduction of an army hospital highlights the desperate conditions medical personnel faced. There were over 16 million deaths (10 million military and 6 million civilians) and 20 million wounded in the war, making it one of the deadliest conflicts ever.

Typical of Presidential Libraries, there is also a lot of memorabilia from Wilson's presidency on display:

In addition, there are displays about his life before the Presidency, including his time as the President of Princeton University. (Interesting trivia: Wilson, one of our most intellectual presidents, may have been dyslexic. He did not learn to read until he was ten years old.)

Compared to other Presidential Museums we've been too, the museum here is fairly small, but it's well-worth a stop. We took a 40-minute tour of the house, which is filled with period furnishings not necessarily belonging to the Wilson family, although I believe they do have the bed where Wilson was born and his crib.

Yet again, we were not allowed to take any pictures, even without flash. So annoying.

I really enjoyed listening to A. Scott Berg's Wilson on my iPod during our trip (and afterwards, as it is an 832-page book). Berg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Charles Lindbergh, graduated from Princeton, the university that Wilson elevated to its current status when he was the school's president from 1902 to 1910. Berg analyzes Wilson's childhood, education, life in academia, family life, two marriages, and two terms as President of the United States. He also analyzes the impact of the crippling stroke that Wilson suffered in October 1919. His condition was hidden from the general public for about four months, during which time his wife essentially took over his Presidential responsibilities. When his condition became more widely known, many expressed great concern over his fitness for the Presidency, but there was no mechanism in place to remove him from office. (The 25th Amendment, enacted in 1967, deals with disability and succession issues.)  Who knows how history might have been changed if Wilson had been up to the task of post-World War I peacemaking. (Berg believes he was already significantly impaired during the 1919 peace conference because of one or more smaller strokes.) Wilson was against the heavy reparations being demanded of Germany, and had he been in top form, perhaps World War II could have been avoided.


  1. Like other presidential libraries, this does help to give a better sense of history for the time with the period information and historical memorabilia.

  2. I must agree-I'm not impressed by Sacagawea cowering there in the background. That mural is fantastic.

    I didn't know there was a "Wilson house". I have loved almost every presidential biography I've read or listened to. I'll have to add Wilson's to my list.

  3. I visited the Woodrow Wilson house in Washington DC at Christmastime, and it had some interesting Christmas decor, as well as many artifacts from his time there in DC. I think it would be quite interesting to visit the birthplace as well as see the displays on WWI (which of course, given NPRs programming this week, fresh in my mind). Thanks for this personal tour, via the web.

    I'll keep reading, but did Bob like the University of Virginia? Because of our visit there, I have a "university chair" in my front room.

    1. It was a very quick trip, mainly to see the building Jefferson designed. It's a beautiful campus.

  4. NOTE: This morning I came across some information on the April 6, 2014, posting of The Writer's Almanac, a website sponsored by American Public Media, that helps to explain Sacajawea's subservient position on the Lewis and Clark Statue:
    "It's the birthday of the Shoshone woman Sacajawea, born in Idaho (sometime around 1789). She was kidnapped at age 10 by the Hidatsa tribe, sold into slavery, and bought by a French-Canadian trapper who made her one of his two wives. When Lewis and Clark hired the trapper to guide them to the Pacific, Sacajawea — a teenager with her two-month-old baby on her back — was part of the package. She was the only woman to accompany the permanent party to the Pacific Ocean and back.
    Officially she acted as interpreter, since she could speak half a dozen Indian languages. But she also knew which plants were edible, and she saved the explorers' records when their boat overturned. In his notes, William Clark pointed out that tribes were inclined to believe that their party was friendly when they saw Sacajawea because a war party would never travel with a woman, especially one with a baby.
    When the trip was over, Sacajawea received nothing. Her trapper husband got $500.33 and 320 acres of land. She died on December 22, 1812, of a "putrid fever," according to Clark's records. She was 23. Eight months later, Clark legally adopted her two children — the boy who had been a baby on the expedition, Jean Baptiste, and an infant daughter, Lisette."
    As we romanticize history, we probably see her as a much more honored figure than she was. We have to remember that she was 1) a woman, and 2) an Indian.