Posts Tagged fieldtrip

D.C. Field Trip: My Grumpy Saga

Quick Overview:

  • Yesterday I left my house at 10am and did not return until 9:30pm.
  • Rain.
  • Wind.
  • Lots of walking.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Grumpiness.
  • Nap in Ford’s Theater.
  • Library of Congress was awesome.

At 11am we began our walking tour that took us around to the places that Walt Whitman worked at and wrote about, i.e. The U.S. Treasury Building (formerly the Attorney General’s Office where Walt Worked), The Willard Hotel (where Walt occasionally visited and now there hangs a sketch of him in the bar), and The White House and Ford’s Theater (feeding into Walt’s super-man-crush on Lincoln). The highlight of the walking tour, at least for me, was Walt Whitman Way, which is between 7th and 8th streets on F. This is where Walt worked at the Patent Office (now the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery) and had previously tended to soldiers in this same building, and also lived in various boarding houses around the same area.

This image is from flickr, and most certainly not taken the day we were there– note the blue sky.

After a lunch break, we all went to Ford’s Theater. At this time I was at the precipice of grumpiness and tiredness. Here’s a brief overview of what interested me:

  • John Wilkes Booth’s actual gun used to assassinate Lincoln.
  • The Ranger who spoke to us looked like Drew Carey.
  • The inside of my eyelids.

And that’s all I got.

Then, lots more walking in the rain. A quick trip into the Starbucks that used to be Alexander Gardner’s daguerreotype studio (shout out to Matthew Brady!) and then on to The Library of Congress. Here’s where I, and it seemed like everyone else, came alive.


To see the actual sheets of paper with Walt’s handwriting scrawled on it, his little edits in the margins, to see his letters the same way his recipients saw them– amazing! Of course, the piece de resistance was Whitman’s leather messenger bag, now falling apart and preserved in a special box, revealed to a crowd of gaping mouths, sounds of shock, and a couple sets of teary eyes. Plenty of pictures to come of this bag, we were like the paparazzi catching sight of Paris Hilton with that thing. It was truly incredible to see what the Library of Congress has preserved: locks of both Peter Doyle’s and Whitman’s hair, George Whitman’s small diary, Whitman’s journals from the hospitals, Whitman’s eye glasses, his cane, his pen, a cast of his hand, and lots more. It was overwhelming. Sam Protich, at some point, said excitedly, “this is awesome! Who gets to study like this?!” And of all the many intelligent, insightful, some times long winded, comments I have heard Sam make, this one is the most profound to me.

I’ll admit that I complain about my “Walt Whitman Class” all the time, to the extent that my friends call him my “Needy Boyfriend” because I spend so much time “doing” him, but I’m going to keep it real for a second: I love this class. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, I was extremely tried, cold, hungry, and grumpy during our field trip. However, walking away from the Library of Congress, I felt good. I felt enriched. This class is not only worth my tuition money, but worth my time and mental vigor. I am actually learning. And I like it.

Reflecting on this feeling of “good” and enrichment, my mind was drawn to Paulo Freire’s essay “The Banking Concept of Education” (shout out to Jim Groom). Freire’s essay describes how limiting education can be, how the teacher/professor can fall into a pattern of narration, while the students become “containers” that mechanically memorize facts and promptly forget them after spewing them out on a test: “Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.” This, sadly, is the mode of education that is most familiar to us. However, this course breaks that mold, nay it shatters it! What we have developed in this class is what Freire calls “authentic thinking,” which, “does not take place in ivory tower isolation, but only in communication.” Communication is our middle name; in class, students are speaking 80%-90% of the time. We are physically connecting to what we’re learning about. Instead of mindlessly “consuming” Whitman’s letters, we went out and saw them, were inches away from them. The reason we all feel personally connected to Walt Whitman is because he has become more than information and we have become more than “containers.” This is what it feels like to be a student.

Along with their comments about Whitman being my boyfriend, my friends will joke, “wow, you’re going to be, like, an expert on Whitman by the end of this semester.” To which I respond (not-jokingly), “yeah. I f–in’ will.”


Fredericksburg Fun!

Posting now, immediately following our Fredericksburg field trip, while everything is fresh and easily flowing from my fingertips.

Our first stop was the battle ground on Sunken Rd, which was the site of an extremely bloody massacre of Union soldiers. The geography of Marye Heights gave the Confederates at easy victory, despite the fact the Union had more troops and had been stationed in Fredericksburg longer. However, none of this is really that interesting, lets be honest. Far more interesting was the wedding party taking photographs nearby as we commented on their ironic existence in the space. Where thousands upon thousands of men were killed 150 years ago, now hosted a group of well dressed young adults smiling, laughing, and embarking on new life. I believe it was Professor Brady who made the Whitman reference saying something like, “how Whitmanic, new life springing from a place of death.”  Then later, Professor Groom alluded to “This Compost!” The foul meat that perhaps remained beneath the shiny leather shoes and high heels of the wedding party, reminding us that the Earth, “grows such sweet things out of such corruptions.”

Chatham House, formerly known as The Lacy House, was our next stop. This was where Whitman spent time nursing wounded soldiers. The house is beautiful, though one room was painted in an off-putting Pepto Bismal pink color, and the grounds surrounding the property are perfectly manicured and stunning. Again, the irony played within my mind. Where hospital tents had stood before, now grows flowers and grape vines.  We watched the informational DVD on a flat screen TV in the room that had formerly been the amputation room. The chasm between the past in the present seems alienating and inescapable. However, there was a specific moment when that chasm was bridged (perhaps like the pontoon bridge built by the Federals over the Rappahannock?), and when we all experienced something tangible in 2009 that Whitman experienced in the 1860s.

Still standing outside the Chatham house are the two tangled Catalpa trees where Whitman saw a pile of amputated limbs. The trees are directly outside the windows of the amputation room. Our tour guide was kind enough to read Whitman’ words about the trees. It seemed a sobering moment for everyone as we all realized that this was the “closest” we have been to Whitman so far; we connected his words to our physical surroundings. After this moment, I found myself looking around with new eyes, wondering if Washington, Lincoln, and of course Whitman, looked over the Rappahannock River and Fredericksburg as I was at the same time of day, on the same day of the year, many years ago. Maybe that’s nerdy… but we were all a little bit nerdy today.


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