- Historic Sites
Letter From The President
April 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 3
At American Heritage we believe in ghosts. We think they make good company—particularly when you travel. And that’s why I find this special issue so exciting; it’s brimming with spirits—the spirits who inhabit battlefields and monuments, city streets and desert cliffs. the ghosts of history who bring travel alive.
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are here, splashing drunkenly in the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel. The essence of FDR’s personality is mirrored in his mother’s home at Hyde Park. The long gone and distant people who cut their homes into the rock of the Southwest stare at us from across centuries. And in the pages here we can feel the pulse of those who have gone before us even where there are no physical reminders to jog our memories.
At battlefields and military cemeteries a sense of history is inescapable; visiting them is an homage to the past. We are drawn to them as symbols commemorating great struggles and blood sacrifices. We recognize their importance. But how much more moving is Gettysburg if you’ve read Bruce Catton. Then you can stand on Cemetery Ridge and catch a glimpse of what one Union soldier saw: “… an overwhelming restless tide of an ocean of armed men sweeping upon us! … on they move, as with one soul, in perfect order … over ridge and slope, through orchard and meadow and cornfield, magnificent, grim, irresistible.” The landscape springs to life. The boulders and crags of Devils Den become the terrifying killing ground they were for the men of the 124th New York and the 5th Texas.
Even apparently plain city streets can begin to yield riches. In Before the Trumpet , his biography of the young FDR, Geoffrey Ward describes Warren Delano’s New York townhouse at what was then 39 Lafayette Square. For seven years I’ve commuted uptown from lower Broadway via Lafayette Street, a dingy stretch of sooty loft buildings and garages. It was only after reading of what it had been more than a century ago that I noticed beneath the grime an unusual group of buildings with imposing Doric columns. That they once composed the most fashionable and magnificent block of houses in the city is hard to imagine; without history it would be impossible. 1 cannot pass them now without thinking of that elegant past, and the echo of it enriches my day. An old Spanish proverb puts it this way: “He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.”
It’s such a simple thing to look beyond the immediate present when you travel—;what you can find and who you might meet along the way is amazing. There are ghosts everywhere. And if you don’t agree already that they make the best traveling companions, we think you will after reading the articles collected here.
This issue is special in another way too. With it we mark a change in frequency for the magazine. This year instead of six issues we are delighted to be publishing seven. Our November 1987 issue will be a bonus to subscribers. This increase affords the editors greater scope and authority even as it gives you, our readers, more value. Enjoy!