Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ground Control to Michelle: Do You Read?

This is my second installment of my blogs focus on Freedom Tour 2009. For those of you unaware Freedom Tour 2009 is (was) a trip around New England that my friend Chris and I took with a main focus of visiting the grave sites of the signers of the Declaration of Independence from New England. The trip is part of a series of trips that Chris has taken across the country, taking pictures of every grave site of every signer. I was without computer access for most of the past week so will be retroactively blogging about each of the past three days in separate blogs and will address some over arching themes in another blog. I envision a full 5 blog series if you include the Adams posting from last week. Also while we visited the signers, this blog is more about the trip itself and my observations then the signers. Chris will be working on a much larger project on the signers and I do not want to jump ahead of him on that (so minimal pictures of the actual signers graves on this blog) if you want to know more let me know.

Friday morning was the start of the road trip and we headed out the door in the pouring rain to head for Connecticut. We had a GPS but it was not operational due to my power adapter in the car not working so a decision was made to use my cellphone, which has GPS capability for the navigation portion of the trip. The voice on the GPS was named Michelle on the phone and I began to wonder if she knew what she was doing. On the agenda for the day was to visit the sites of the four Connecticut signers: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams and Oliver Wolcott. These guys all lived in far reaching parts of the state so we started off with the farthest away and moved our way in. By early afternoon we had reached Litchfield CT for the first signer.

Upon reaching the Litchfield exit we rode through several miles of side highways each smaller then the last. It was also about this time that Michelle began acting funny and was more quiet then usual. She had failed to inform us that we were almost out of battery power because the GPS had been draining the battery the whole time we were driving down the major highway for miles and miles, she was not smart enough to stop calculating while we were going between long periods. Luckily we were on a main street near multiple stores so decided to just pick up a map and make out way over the old fashioned way, after all we were sure we could just charge the phone during lunch. Much to my surprise CVS did not have of the state, the supermarket did not have a map and the auto supply store did not have a map to purchase either. They all had the same answer "No we do not have maps, we used to about a year ago but not anymore. Did you try XYZ." It was at this moment that I realized the state of the world we were in. We are becoming addicted to the internet and computers, so much so that local stores no longer carry maps like they used to, I remember maps being a staple at CVS and Walgreens. It is not until you lose your technology that you realize the addiction has taken hold. We finally found the maps at a gas station down the street, a random older man who heard us looking for a map told us to try it once we got outside CVS. Small town stores are up on the times enough to take out the maps, it is good to know some of the older folks are still keeping track of where the rest of the maps are. Upon leaving the gas station I saw a site that was akin to the graves we would be looking at later in the day, something I thought had moved on long ago but was still alive and kicking, all the way down here in Litchfield CT. If your curious read the blog I will post later on this week about overall themes, I currently do not have the pictures I need for this to mesh out because you see my cellphone was my camera and was dead so I need to wait for Chris to upload.

The rain finally ended as we approached the first site but notbefore turning the whole state of CT into a giant humid swamp. In what would become a theme for the four signers in CT we came across the cemetery , on the side of a small highway. Oliver Wolcott is buried in a cemetery right out of a Steven King book. The trees were all overgrown, there were numerous tombstones haphazardly strewn across the land and the tombstones had a black patina that had formed on their surfaces but had then begun melting off of the stones. I am assuming the patina is due to the soot and pollution from the nearby highway mixed with the subtropical haze I felt over the whole city of Litchfield. Wolcotts were buried on a small mound and were guarded by a short fence surrounding the family plot. The town center seemed quite nice and Wolcotts home is still standing although I am not sure what it currently is.

Upon leaving Litchfield out next mission was to make our way to Yale University where Roger Sheman was buried on the outskirts of the campus at the time. New Haven reminded me of Cambridge to a degree, mainly because of the presence of Yale. Being lucky we found a parking spot right near the cemetery , which was professionally administered, a stark contrast to the Wolcott site. The large cemetery had little pathways just like a more moder cemetery but still had many interesting graves. Eli Whitney is also in the same neighborhood making it a fairly popular place. This was my first siting of a revised tombstone on the trip where the original stone was hard to read due to erosion over time but a more moder granite slab was added nearby to replicate the tombstone. After visiting the sites we headed over to the Yale campus and I noticed one thing immediately, the Yale tshirts. Working in Harvard Square I see many people with Harvard shirts on but they are all mostly tourists or possibly a random cheerleader wearing the sweatpants with the little Harvard Insignia on them, but never a student. At Yale I saw dozens of people who were obviously students sporting Yale shirts. I found it to be odd because Yale and Harvard are so similar on many other levels.

The Yale campus is very Gothic, everything looks like an old European church even the gym. the walls bled down to the pathways which were also the same color. The entire place had a religious feeling and the sea of paved pathways is something I am not used to. Yale does beat Harvard on secret society buildings. Lampoon Castle is imposing but right outside the cemetery there is a building with a snake themed wrought iron fence and appeared to be a white square temple type building with no windows. Then there was the Skull and Bones building which looks like it has not be spruced up for years. The grass is overgrown, the granite pilings out front are broken and there appeared to be garbage strewn about. This all adds up to make it appear a little more mysterious but I do want to implore anyone who knows a member or ex member that they really should consider hiring a landscaping service, I'm sure they could afford it.

While lunchtime had come and go Chris and I decided to get as far away from major cities as possible before rush hour started. This brought us to Branford CT where we took in some excellent seafood from a slightly tacky fish place right near the water. While driving down the highway we saw a sign that said "Best Seafood in CT" so we decided to make a go of it, after all if a billboard says its the best seafood in the state who am I to argue. After making our way to the exit the signs stop and we are left to our own devices to figure out where this place is. After paying so much for a sign on the interstate you would think they would get themselves one of the little signs with an arrow on it... Long story short we ended up going the wrong way for a few miles before turning and coming back. When we saw the giant lobster in a bucket on the roof of a building we knew we found the place, USS Chowder Pot III .

Upon entering the restaurant, tired and sore from driving, we were immediately seated in a room that saw its best days in 1975 based off of the portholes on the wall and the wood paneling around the room. I enjoyed the decor for its charm, it gave me confidence in the quality of the outcome. My main objective was to get my phone charged which proved to be more difficult then I had thought it would be. The woman who seated us told me they had no spare plugs in the whole restaurant, even as she pointed to an 2 socket wall unit with only one thing plugged in. As she seated me I asked if she could inquire with a manager for us, we never saw her again. Annoyed but determined I asked out waitress who I knew would be easier to persuade, after all SHE is the one that depends on our tips. She was happy to help, took the phone and told her manager we were out of state and I desperately needed my phone for the next leg of our trip for the GPS (truth be told I also was missing my camera abilities and of course access to my email.) She seemed annoyed with the woman who seated us when she even noted there was a plug in the booth behind us where she could have sat us before 2 new customers came in. The bread was smothered in some sort of sugary butter that gave the bread a sweet savory taste. Chris overheard a woman two tables over talk on and on about how great the bread was and how she came over to CT from some western state just for the bread at this place. If you ever go the food is great, the scallops are fresh and make sure you ask for Kelly, she was a great waitress and even made sure my phone got charged for the next leg!

Making our way back east, now with my camera capability and GPS we find another roadside site , this time it was for William Williams . Michelle was back on track helping us find the next stop she had rested up slightly and was doing well this time around. I felt bad for William Williams for many reasons, first off was stuck with the same name twice. It reminds me of the Newsradio quote "Jimmy James, the man so nice they named him twice", which also goes to prove I can work a good Newsradio or Simpsons quote into any conversation. His grave is on the side of a rural highway and worst of all he went and married the daughter of someone with more power then him. Jonathan Trumbull was the Governor of CT and went on to erect a large mausoleum style grave for himself and his wife with Williams and his wife being delegated to being literal hanger ons , their stones erected on the side of the mound that made up the earthen mausoleum for his father in law. Also unlike other signers in CT he lacked a formal badge that stuck into the ground to signify his status as being involved in the revolution or an American flag, he also played second fiddle to his father in law on the sign out on the road. It should be noted that Trumbull did have a flag and a plaque stuck in the ground for him. Is this an over site or is this due to Williams late involvement in the signing of the document (check the wikipedia article.) Determined to be done with CT by nightfall we head out to the last stop.

Samuel Huntington is not in a cemetery on the side of the road, in fact it is not even on the main road. The main entrance was accessible only by a small alley sized street that ended with the cemetery gates. Upon entering the gates this cemetery is a mix of all the others we had seen already. It was well kept but a little haphazard as well. French soldiers were honored in a series of grave sites and it became clear that this cemetery had some interesting history to it as we approached a plaque and a site that had candles in front of it.

We had found the grave stone of Benedict Arnold's mother. The very thought of it was a little shivering as I had known him to be buried in London due to his back stabbing of the country during the war. The plaque was erected by named benefactors, and it claimed to be at the spot where Arnold was when they lowered his mother into the ground. The reason behind the plaque is a mystery to me, as are the candles. Who is still holding Arnold's mother in such high regard as to replace her candles every so often? I realize the sins of the son are not the sins of the mother but it still makes you think. The plaque does mention the razing of the stones of Arnold's father (I believe) and son after his treason was uncovered.

There was a large Huntington grouping of stones a hundred feet back from Arnold's mother but no Samuel. We ended up finding a babbling brook and found a bridge that took us across to a very large monument structure, we found Samuel Huntington. The local historical society is trying to get the federal government to recognize Huntington as the first US President as he was President of the Continental Congress. This could explain why the brick was new and the whole area was so well kept, it was redone in the past decade. In addition it appears that the babbling brook we heard had been re routed from an earlier meandering brook earlier on the grounds as to creating a more gushing and impressive area.

After saying fair well to Huntington we made our way to RI for the second leg of the tour. Michelle was wearing down once again and chose to stop talking to us, the GPS was still working but the battery was low once again. We took 138 and made our way to Newport RI, crossing an impressive bridge we saw a giant church like building with only the word SLOTS written on it. I knew I must have been seeing things so we started looking for a place to spend the night...

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