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Letter From the Editors

Where We Came From

May 2024
1min read

This is our sixteenth annual travel issue. When we started, in 1987, we were motivated partly by knowing that no other magazine was doing this; tying an American passion for travel to an equally intense interest in the nation’s history. Years later I suspect we still own this franchise and at a time when those interests are even more closely entwined. In the months after September 11, the travel industry took a major hit, but America’s sense of self, fed by the wells of its past, has grown only stronger. And as our zeal for travel comes back to life, it will be fueled by our need to better understand our history.

“We knew we didn’t want to travel too far from home this year, and then we realized there was a lot we had never seen in our own state,” a Mississippi native told a New York Times reporter in November. “With everything going on, we just figured it was time to learn where we came from.”

A group of 900 adventurous Portlanders flew to New York City from Oregon in early October. Sho Dozono, the president of a Portland travel agency, had introduced the idea to the city’s civic and business leaders. “I asked them to help me lead a movement east,” he said. “We have a pioneer spirit here in Oregon. This would be like the Oregon Trail, but backward.” Vera Katz, the city’s mayor, remembered her own history. “As a former New Yorker, I am looking forward to leading this delegation. . . . New York took care of me 60 years ago, when the . . . city embraced me and my family as we emigrated from Europe,” she said.

Mayor Katz is talking about New York and, by extension, about America, as safe haven. The Westerners’ visit was so generous a gesture because when they made it, the city, and America, didn’t seem very safe at all. But in many ways this country’s promise of security was bred in the bone. What Mayor Katz said made me think of something I happened on in the early days of putting together our travel stories.

I was in Newport, Rhode Island, to report on its Christmas festivities in 1988 and found myself at the famous Touro Synagogue, which was celebrating its 225th anniversary that week. There I first encountered, and I’ve never forgotten, George Washington’s 1790 letter “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport Rhode Island.” The government, the President wrote, will give “bigotry no sanction . . . persecution no assistance,” and “everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

As you read the articles in this issue, we hope you’ll be inspired to take to the road again—and the air. Rent a canoe to investigate the waterways of the Great Dismal Swamp—far lovelier than its name implies; hike Hawaii’s ancient trails; eat gloriously on a brand-new cruise ship whose ornately carved dining-room walls were salvaged from an Edwardian liner. Or ride the ferry to Hoboken, once a powerful engine of American industry, and glance back at the questing skyline of a great city—my city—still and forever in the making.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.