Whitman Field Trips

aggregating posts from project site visitations

Archive for the ‘64’ Category

Searching for Whitman in DC

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Walking back to my apartment on October 24th, 2009 after twelve hours of “Whitman Searching” in the DC rain, my body was tired and aching but my mind was racing because I had discovered a new dimension to Whitman that I had never experienced before. Walt Whitman was once a name that I would glance over in a book, the name “Whitman” would blend into Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the millions of other American canonical authors. But after trudging through the streets of DC the name Walt Whitman would was no longer a historical author who wrote American poetry, but, finally for me, he was an actual human being just like you or I.

Sometimes when we talk in class about Whitman, I feel as though we are honoring this perfect nonhuman being. Prior to the field trip, it was hard for me to fathom the fact that Whitman was someone who had human faults and weaknesses. Rather, I always believed Whitman was this ideal prophet-like individual with awe inspiring ideas and who could foresee the future of America.

The picture of the Bust of Whitman created by S.H. Morse and the street sign depicted my view of Whitman prior to the field trip.


I thought of Whitman as this statue like person who was greater both physically and mentally than any other human. I associated Whitman as a Moses like figure leading his people. At the same time however, Whitman’s names was still associated as a “historical figure” who happened to be recognized for his talents and who like many other famous individuals had streets and buildings named after him.

But, this misconstrued idea of Whitman was slowly broken down throughout the day. Walking down Constitution Ave, standing at Freedom Plaza, and entering into the grand Willard Hotel I began to see how Whitman too had to walk these same streets. Although DC in 2009 is much different than the DC Whitman experienced from 1863-1873, these lines from Brooklyn Ferry stand out in my mind when trying to put into words how Whitman’s humanity was discovered.

“Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the
bright flow, I was refresh’d”

This discovery of the human Whitman continued as I saw firsthand Whitman’s personal possessions. Although I was deeply moved at the unveiling of the haversack, what captivated my attention the most was Walt Whitman’s glasses and pen.


This picture of Whitman’s glasses show how Whitman had physical ailments and was affected by the outside world around him. The right eye is frosted over and as Barbara Bair, the librarian at the Library of Congress told us, his loss of eyesight in an eye could have been due to the multiple strokes that Whitman had during the later years of his life. So seeing these glasses made me realize that Whitman although brilliant was not perfect.

The pen is a reed that was Whitman’s in 1891. The simple reed pen, changed my perception of how Whitman did not miraculously create his works, but rather, he tirelessly labored pen in hand over paper. Much like what we, as students, do today. So, although Walt Whitman’s work is under the category of canonical American literature, Whitman is no longer a name to me. After this trip Whitman is human just like you and I.

Written by jpike1

November 8th, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Washington D.C. through new eyes

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All I was able to think about during our trip to Washington D.C. was how much Whitman would be smiling if he knew how devoted we were to uncovering his life’s work.  Walking through D.C., a place I have been many times in my life, became a new experience for me as I looked at the area through “Whitman-colored” glasses.  Buildings, grassy areas surrounding buildings, even roads became something new that I had never seen before.  Things I had previously taken for granted as ordinary became fascinating as I thought about the ways that particular place functioned for Whitman. 

Whitman was not merely ”under [our] bootsoles” (88), he was everywhere – Lafayette Park, the White House, Department of the Treasury, the Washington Monument, Hotel W and the Red Robin Bar, Constitution Ave., etc.  Everywhere we went he was around the corner, or he was the corner:

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Being in these places made me a believer in Whitman’s insistency that time need not be as much a disconnector as we would often have it.  In “Song of Myself” he writes, “Distant and dead resuscitate, / They show as the dial or move as the hands of me….and I am the clock myself” (63).  If Whitman is the clock, then we were keeping time through and by him as we journeyed through D.C.

This particularly hit home for me while visitning the Library of Congress, an experience which render even words insufficient descriptors of its impact.  As our class greedily gathered around the tables to see handwritten letters, pictures, books, a pen, a watch, a “Calamus” staff, glasses, his haversack, etc. it struck me that Whitman’s historical preservation consciousness was one of, if not the only, reasons why we had the fortune of viewing any of those things.  Whitman transcended time; he was aware of his surroundings, his potential legacy, and he succeeded in sharing them with others, even across a century.  A group of undergraduate students “oooh”ed and “aahh”ed over artifact after artifact because Whitman cared enough about preserving history to give us that.  We have become the ‘gymnastic learners’ he desired and we, in many ways, are forever connected to him because of that.

I thought Whitman would appreciate this sign:

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Written by chelseanewnam

November 7th, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Frederickburg Battlefield / Chatham Manor field trip post…

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As other people have been posting a lot of pictures of places themselves, I thought it would be interesting to post a few that had our class interacting with and existing in them.  A lot of my thinking about the field trips have been in how much going to the same places Whitman himself occupied and wrote about was fulfilling his vision that everyone is connected through space and time through place.

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These are both the lovely Meghan Edwards examing the bullet holes at the Innis House. 

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My attempt at artistry: The information sign at the Innis House.  The house was probably owned by Martha Stephens who refused to leave her home (the Stephens’ House marked by the foundation nearby the Innis House) during the battle.  She provided drink to both Union and Confederate soldiers, an act of promoting peace between the two sides during a time of war.

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“Leaves of Grass” near the Confederate Cemetery.  Looks like a beard to me… 

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Walt Whitman gang sign? (outside Chatham Manor)

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Ouside Chatham toward what was originally the front of the house.  The entrance was eventually changed to the garden side, the side we entered before our tour.

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Jim Groom examining one of the catawba trees Whitman wrote about in Specimen Days.

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Whitman, nestled in the crook of the catawba tree.  The passage in the second picture is from “Down at the Front” in Specimen Days.  It reads, “Out doors, at the foot of a tree, within ten yards of the front of the house, I notice a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, &c., a full load for a one-horse cart.  Several dead bodies lie near, each cover’d with its brown woolen blanket” (736).

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Ben Brishcar & Sam Protich: a new kind of frontispiece (near the catawba trees at Chatham) 

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The ghost of Whitman? or Erin Longbottom? (looking out from a window at Chatham Manor toward the catawba trees)

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Whitman, are you under my Converse-soles too?

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Sam Krieg looking out over the Rappahannok a few hundred yards away from the Chatham House.

Written by chelseanewnam

November 7th, 2009 at 3:15 pm

More Videos from 10/3 Field Trip

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Written by brady

October 6th, 2009 at 10:21 am

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