Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

Tour the claustrophobic tenement where the famous author fell in love with his future wife and published his second book.

Edgar Allan Poe is among my favorite authors, but his life wasn’t without controversy. As a young man, Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army and served several years before applying to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Before going to West Point (and subsequently getting booted out), he stayed at the home of his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, where he met her ten-year-old daughter Virginia Eliza Clemm.

Their narrow red brick duplex stood at No. 3 Amity Street in Baltimore Maryland. Today, it is the Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum. Poe lived in this house with the Clemms for approximately one year before attending West Point. Besides his aunt and her daughter, Maria’s ailing mother and possibly her 14-year-old son Henry also lived there (Henry died at a young age at an unknown date).

Touring the small rooms and claustrophobic passages to the second floor and the attic, I can’t imagine what it was like with four people living there without electricity, air conditioning, or plumbing. Despite these conditions, Poe managed to publish Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems in 1829.

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Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, North Carolina

This majestic mansion and gardens transports you back to the Victorian Era.

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Built for a prominent North Carolina slaveholder and his family, the Bellamy Mansion on Market Street in Wilmington’s Historic District is slowly being restored to its former glory. Today, you can tour the mansion and nearby servant quarters, and purchase souvenirs in the former carriage house. It’s a fascinating glimpse at a bygone era.

Designed by Wilmington architect James F. Post in 1859, this 22-room Greek Revival and Italianate-style mansion took nearly two years to build. It was completed in 1861, just as North and South were embroiled in civil war. Dr. John Dillard Bellamy (1817-1896) commissioned the home for his large family and their closest servants and slaves. Dr. Bellamy was an ardent secessionist who owned over one hundred slaves throughout North Carolina.

In early 1865, the family fled Wilmington during an outbreak of yellow fever, but wouldn’t return until the fall because the Union Army had occupied the city and were using their mansion as a headquarters. Union General Joseph Roswell Hawley wasn’t keen on returning the property to an unabashed rebel. He wrote, “having for four years been making his bed, he now must lie on it for awhile.”

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National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

This eclectic museum brings the African American experience to life, but some sections are definitely not suitable for children.

As a fan of both history and wax museums, I was thrilled to discover this museum in Baltimore’s struggling northeastern neighborhood of Oliver. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum features over 150 life-sized wax figures representing a range of personalities from African American history, as well as a few ancient ones as well.

The museum’s depiction of ancient history is, for lack of a better word, imaginative. In the entryway, a large figure of a dark-skinned Hannibal the Great sits on a war elephant. Hannibal, a Carthaginian leader who fought the Romans circa 218 BC, was ethnically Phoenician, not from Sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise, the museum depicts Egyptian pharaohs as black when they were actually Middle Eastern in origin. Some even had red hair.

Perhaps the most controversial exhibits have to do with the Atlantic slave trade, lynching, and racism. It’s estimated 12 to 12.8 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic over a span of 400 years under horrible conditions. The wax exhibit leaves nothing to the imagination.

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Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York

This small historic site and museum in New York’s Finger Lakes region commemorates the birthplace of American feminism.

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In 1848, a large group of Quaker women gathered at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York for a three day convention aimed at discussing women’s rights. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was also in attendance and spoke at the convention. Only women were invited on the first day, but both men and women could attend the following days.

What resulted was the Declaration of Sentiments, a document advancing the cause of greater social, political, and religious rights for women. It was signed by 68 women and 32 men in attendance. It was considered quite radical at the time, and called for women’s suffrage as well as legal reforms making wives more independent from their husbands (in English common law, the practice of coverture meant a woman’s legal rights were subsumed by her husband).

This was the first of several early women’s rights conventions, and it is considered a landmark of First Wave Feminism, which focused on winning legal equality with men, particularly the right to vote. Today, the site is commemorated as Women’s Rights National Historical Park. The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel has been rebuilt on the foundation of the old, which had deteriorated over the past 160 years. A small but informative museum exploring the history of women’s activism in the United States is also on site.

Women’s Rights National Historical Park, at 136 Fall Street in Seneca Falls, New York, was established in 1980. It is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00pm, but closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Entrance to the museum is free. There is a small parking lot behind the visitor’s center, as well as street parking. Call (315) 568-2991 for more information.

National Museum of the United States Air Force

Aircraft fanatics and lovers of all military history will enjoy this collection of historic aircraft. See the airplanes that made history, including one that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945.

It’s no secret I prefer my feet firmly planted on the ground. I love military history, but air warfare holds no particular appeal for me. Still, it was hard to pass up an opportunity to see the National Museum of the United States Air Force on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in western Ohio. I was thoroughly impressed by its collection of historic aircraft, particularly from the Second World War. The WW2 bomber “Memphis Belle” was finally on display.

Photo by Michael Kleen

The museum spans several large interconnected Air Force hangers and features examples from all periods of militarized flight. You could spend hours getting lost among the displays. The Early Years Gallery includes a World War 1 era British observation balloon, and a dog fighting German Fokker Dr. I and U.S. Thomas-Morse S4C Scout.

Photo by Michael Kleen

The World War II Gallery is the most interesting and expansive. The museum has examples of a wide variety of fighters and bombers, including experimental German jet aircraft like the Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet and the intimidating Me 262A Schwalbe, the world’s first operational turbojet aircraft. Fewer than 300 saw combat. Pieces of the “Lady Be Good,” a Consolidated B-24D Liberator bomber that went down in the Libyan desert, are on display.

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Troupville Battlefield at Sodus Point, New York

This unassuming strip of Lake Ontario shore was once the scene of a destructive British raid during the War of 1812.

The Battle of Troupville was fought on the evening of June 19, 1813 between a British raiding party and American militia commanded by Captain Elias Hull at Sodus Point, New York during the War of 1812. It was initially a victory for the Americans, but the next day British troops returned and successfully raided and burned the village.

Lake Ontario was a strategic conduit for ships and supplies during the war, and both sides sought to control it. The American government kept military store houses at various points along the lake. On June 15, 1813, the British destroyed one storehouse in the village of Charlotte (today a neighborhood of Rochester), at the mouth of the Genesee River.

Two militia units were called out, and residents of Troupville buried anything they thought the British might steal or destroy. On the morning of June 19, however, since no British ships had appeared, the militia disbursed. As fate would have it, that night under cover of darkness approximately 125 British soldiers came ashore and around 60 men from the village grabbed their rifles to meet them. They initially chose Elder Seba Norton, a preacher and veteran of the Revolutionary War, as their leader, but Captain Elias Hull of the militia soon arrived to take command.

The battle was short. The American militia, hiding in the woods, exchanged fire with the British, but neither side could see how many men they were facing, and both sides retreated after firing a few rounds. Two British soldiers were killed, and two Americans were mortally wounded and three captured. An unknown number were wounded. The next day, British ships fired cannon into the town and landed unopposed. They burned every building but the tavern (where they had left a wounded militiaman the night before) and sailed away.

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1969 Woodstock Festival and Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

The 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, hosted by Max Yasgur on his 600 acre dairy farm northeast of Bethel, Sullivan County, New York, has become an iconic moment in recent American history. The three day concert was, by many accounts, the defining event of 1960s counterculture. Over 300,000 people came out to see iconic musicians like Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Santana, Grateful Dead, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, and Jimi Hendrix. Today, a concrete memorial marks the location of the sound stage.

In 2006, the sleek Bethel Woods Center for the Arts opened nearby, which features a concert venue and museum of 1960s counterculture. The museum is quite nice, but I got a chuckle out of seeing a bunch of elderly baby boomers holding a corporate event there, complete with waitresses serving hors d’oeuvres. A far cry from the ideals they promoted in their idealistic youth.