Reckoning with a Troubled Past

The main motivation for our recent trip through south Georgia and Alabama was to visit civil rights sites. To that end, we spent four nights in Montgomery, Alabama, which has them in thought-provoking, overwhelming abundance. The photo is of the marker for Martin Luther King’s church, with the Alabama State capitol only blocks away and visible on the right. 

First, we drove an hour west to Selma, to see the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march in 1965 that focused national attention on the civil rights cause. There were three attempts at a Selma to Montgomery march. The first ended with Bloody Sunday when marchers, including the young to-be congressman John Lewis, were attacked with billy clubs, whips, and tear gas. Many were injured. Two days later, Dr. Martin Luther King led several thousand protesters back to the bridge. They crossed it then turned around to return to their starting point. It was a symbolic gesture of their determination, as well as a necessity, given a court order prohibiting the march.

Two weeks later, the march was allowed to proceed to Montgomery, with ample protection from military police and US Army troops. Some 25,000 people joined for the last stretch into the city and the Alabama State Capitol. Three months later, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (a law Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has dedicated his career to dismantling).

As of this writing, the Lowndes Interpretive Center, located on US Hwy 80, the route of the march, is temporarily closed due to a water main break, but should reopen soon and be well worth a visit. The National Park Service also maintains a small but powerful National Voting Rights Museum on the Selma side of the Pettus Bridge.

Several days are needed to properly take in the civil rights sites in Montgomery itself. We started with a visit to The Legacy Museum, a project of Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. (If, in the unlikely event you are not familiar with this profound thinker about US race relations, start here.)

When you enter the museum, you find yourself in a large space dominated by the sight and sounds of the sea, whose overpowering waves were filmed at surface level. It’s a dramatic and creative opening. It certainly put me in mind of the terrifying experience of Africans wrested from their homes for a perilous journey across a wild ocean. Throughout the museum, the curation is remarkable, from the recreation of the transatlantic slave trade to the domestic slave trade, to the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the push for Civil Rights. The museum employs many compelling ways to tell these complex stories.

A second powerful EJI project is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in 2018. In words and sculpture, it commemorates the lives of African Americans who were victims of racial terror lynchings, in order to more truthfully and completely reflect the nation’s history. Each of the more than 800 hanging steel monuments represents a county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. Each bears the names of the victims.The accompanying photo is the monument for McLennan County, Texas, whose county seat is Waco, where my mother was born in 1908. My grandparents and great-grandparents lived in the county during the years when many of these lynchings took place. These events had to be known to them and their children, but the family never spoke of them, at least not in my presence. That’s one reason the Memorial is so vital, to connect us to this past.

While some white Americans oppose exhibits like these, because they believe the experience will make children (and, possibly, themselves) “feel bad about themselves,” I believe the opposite should be true. By not hiding the past, we can see it more clearly and avoid being stuck in its destructive attitudes and behavior. We can see how ideas about right and wrong have evolved, acknowledge how far we have come and the importance of honoring and preserving those gains. At the same time, we can recognize the work that still needs to be done. Deliberate ignorance of the past only perpetuates wrongs.

We visited the Dexter Avenue Memorial Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King’s home church in Montgomery, as well as the Parsonage Museum on South Jackson Street, where the King Family lived from 1954-1960, and which was bombed several times.

The tour of the house let us walk the floors Martin and Coretta walked, see the rooms they saw. We were fortunate to have as our tour guide the granddaughter of R.D. Nesbitt, deacon of the church and chairman of the pulpit selection committee, and he recruited Dr. King to Montgomery. She knew everyone in every photograph! Nesbitt said, King’s “major strength, in my opinion, was his ability to get along with people.”

The Rosa Parks Museum, part of Troy University, includes a nice recreation of the famous bus ride in which she refused to give up her seat for a white person. This led to the 13-month Montgomery bus boycott, a key event in ending segregation.

Also in this Georgia-Alabama travel tips series:
Brushes with Literary Fame (Lee, Capote, O’Connor, and more)
“Bloom Where You’re Planted” (US Presidents in rural Georgia)

“Bloom Where You’re Planted”: US Presidents in Rural Georgia

Our swing through the southeast included visits to sites associated with two U.S. Presidents—Jimmy Carter and Franklin Roosevelt. It’s refreshing to think about Presidents of the past, on this day especially when a former president will be arraigned on criminal charges. They may have had flaws, but their vision and strength of character brought the country through dark times. Both men valued contact with “ordinary Americans” in rural Georgia and never lost their sincere interest in and connection to them.

We spent a night at the Plains (Georgia) Historic Inn, in Plains, Georgia, which Jimmy and Rosalynn helped refurbish and which was loaded with charm. Each of the seven rooms is decorated in the style of a decade from the 1920s to the 1980s. (It would be a perfect place for a mystery story. The old building’s squeaky floors provide a challenge to anyone trying to sneak up on a victim, and the building’s former use as a funeral home—complete with a special, still-working elevator to move caskets between floors—imparts the right ghostly vibe.) Ellen, the innkeeper, was most welcoming, had breakfast options available, and went above-and-beyond by returning the raincoat I left in the closet. The rooms contained presidential-related memorabilia and some have views of Plains’s Main Street, possibly three blocks long.

The Jimmy Carter National Historical Park includes the visitor’s center, housed in the Carters’ high school (pictured), with numerous displays of their lives and times, plus an excellent video. The Plains Depot museum commemorates its role as Carter’s 1976 Presidential campaign headquarters. The boyhood farm, two and a half miles outside town, showed what life was like in 1938, when Carter was 14. Lots of work, starting before dawn and lasting until suppertime. It prepared Jimmy to be hands-on with his aid to Habitat for Humanity. He knows through experience which end of a tool is the working end.

When Carter was a teenager, his uncle in the Navy wrote him letters about his experiences, inspiring Jimmy to attend the Naval Academy. When he first applied, his would-be Senate sponsor said his high school was too small, he’d never make it. So Carter went to Georgia Southwestern College in Americus for a year, excelled, and tried again. Once more, the school was deemed too small, so he went to Georgia Institute of Technology for another year, and again he excelled. More senatorial foot-draggin. After church one Sunday, Carter and his father visited the Senator, unannounced, and talked to him until late that night. Finally, the Senator said, “If you’ll just go home, I’ll put his name in for the next Annapolis opening.” A good lesson in persistence! The news that he has entered hospice care has prompted a lot of reexamination of his career, including how, as a Navy lieutenant, he saved a Canadian nuclear reactor from a catastrophic meltdown.

Warm Springs, Georgia, was a favorite retreat for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as the 88-degree spring-fed pools there (now empty and in need of renovation; model pictured–sorry about the reflections!) allowed him some relief from the debilitating effects of polio. In 1927, he founded Roosevelt Warm Springs rehabilitation center to treat polio patients; it continues today as a comprehensive rehabilitation center for people with disabilities. The photographs of him playing with the kids in the water show his love of life, children, and his indomitable spirit.

We also toured the FDR State Historic Site visitors’ center and Little White House. The visitors’ center museum houses a variety of memorabilia, including FDR’s 1938 Ford convertible retrofitted with hand controls, and a large display of canes sent him by supporters. The Warm Springs retreat gave FDR a chance to visit with neighbors in the area’s rural communities and learn about their problems, which inspired some elements of the New Deal. When we were there, in recognition of the concept of service to the country, the museum included an exhibit about military chaplaincy, including commemoration of “The Four Chaplains.”

The Little White House was built in 1932 to make his recuperative stays more feasible, given the demands of the governorship of New York, soon to be superseded by those of the Presidency. The house still displays the chair where he died April 12, 1945, mere weeks before the end of the War in Europe, which he’d worked so hard to bring the country through successfully. That afternoon, he was posing for a portrait by Madame Elizabeth Shoumatoff, and the “Unfinished Portrait” is a highlight of the museum.

Also in this Georgia-Alabama travel tips series:
Brushes with Literary Fame (Lee, Capote, O’Connor, and more)

Brushes with Literary Fame

On a recent 10-day trip to south Georgia and Alabama, we covered a lot of ground. The trip had many profound highlights. These are the literary ones.

Monroeville, Alabama, was the hometown of author Harper Lee (1926-2016) and the setting for her indelible novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s where her long friendship began with Truman Capote (1924-1984), who lived in Monroeville for most of his childhood and became the model for Lee’s character Dill.A fascinating and quirky (in the way of small museums) tribute to Lee and Capote is housed in the Old Courthouse Museum, site of “the most famous courtroom in America” (pictured).

The actual courthouse wasn’t used for the Mockingbird movie, but the set designers arrived from Hollywood to inspect and measure, and their recreation copies the original almost exactly. Apparently Lee thought Gregory Peck was too youthful to play Atticus Finch—that is, until he went into a dressing room to try on his costume: three-piece suit, glasses, and pocket watch. “He came out a middle-aged man,” she said, realizing he’d be perfect.

Montgomery, Alabama, is where Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (1900-1948) grew up and where, in 1931-1932, she and her husband Scott (1896-1940) lived. That house, in the Old Cloverdale neighborhood, is called a “museum,” but it’s more impactful for knowing you’re walking where this star-crossed literary couple walked, seeing what they saw, knowing he worked on Tender Is the Night in that period and she on her only novel, Save Me the Waltz. Some gilded age clothing (pink suit!) and evening gowns, Gatsby edition memorabilia, and biographical profiles of people they hobnobbed with are on display, along with handwritten pages, and Zelda’s artwork. Is it really 98 years since The Great Gatsby was published?

The house is an Airbnb and a party venue, so it’s enduring quite a bit of wear. We arrived at the same time as a trio of women and were put off by the “closed for private party” sign, but they’d encountered that a few days before. We collectively decided not to take it seriously and all walked in. No problem. No party.

Montgomery is also home to the Hank Williams Museum, a magnet for country music fans. It has a few nice touches: his music plays throughout. On view are his baby blue Cadillac, some of his gorgeous Western-style suits, and a selection of the romance comics he liked to read. “Why do you read that junk?” friends would ask, and he’d say they gave him most of the ideas for his songs. “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” comes to mind. Is this stretching the notion of “literary” too far?

Milledgeville, Georgia, was home to one of the greatest Southern Gothic authors, National Book Award-winner Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). We visited Andalusia, the farm where she lived in the last years of her life and where she raised her prized peacocks. There’s now a museum there dedicated to her work. We also saw from the outside the house in Milledgeville where, as a teenager, she lived with her mother’s family while her father’s health declined.

When her letters were published in 1979 (The Habit of Being), I read them and it was painful to see in the museum the kind of typewriter she used. Like her father, O’Connor had lupus, and in the days before word processing, revisions to stories and novels required retyping—a massive chore for her. However, the trials of the disease were integral to her experience. As writer Alice McDermott said, “It was the illness, I think, which made her the writer she is.”

In Atlanta, Georgia, we saw Roundabout Theater’s production of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize winning (1982) story, A Soldier’s Play, directed by Kenny Leon. The production has a great cast, with Norm Lewis and Eugene Lee in the leads. Some of the themes are a little dated, but the overall message about the effects of racism is not. Even if the play hadn’t been so good, it would have been worth it to see the renovated Fox Theatre, with its fabulous Moorish interior. The picture can’t do it justice!

(The Amazon links to books above are affiliate links. I receive a small compensation for the recommendation if you click through on them and make a purchase. The product cost is the same to you whether you use an affiliate link or not.)

All photos: Vicki Weisfeld

Travel Tips: Central Michigan’s Cops & Doughnuts

Are you interested in crime, policing, food, or colorful roadside attractions? You’ll want to know about Cops & Doughnuts bakery in Clare, Michigan. Yes, it’s for real!

For many years, the bakery was a favorite stop for the members of the Clare Police Department. But, in 2009, after 113 years in business, the bakery was within weeks of shutting down. And it would have closed, if all nine members of the Clare Police Department hadn’t come to the rescue. They saved it, expanding the business to a second store-front, The Cop Shop, and now a third, with outposts in Gaylord, Bay City, Mt. Pleasant, and Midland, Michigan.

Named after Ireland’s County Clare, the town contains Lake Shamrock, as well as a branch of the less salubrious-sounding Tobacco River. The town (population 3,254) is pretty near the geographic center of Michigan’s lower peninsula. The largest nearby city is Mt. Pleasant, 15 miles south. As it’s located on a main route to the popular year-round Michigan vacation spot, Houghton Lake, Clare seems like it would be an attractive stop for a leg-stretch, bathroom break, and chocolate glazed.

Even more to the point, Clare has underworld connections. Reportedly, Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang occasionally hung out there once upon a time. In the Prohibition era, this criminal mob of mostly Jewish bootleggers and gangsters was the principal gang in the city of Detroit. Some 25,000 illegal saloons in the city created a large market for bootleg liquor. Rumor has it, gang members would hide in the bakery’s basement coal bin when the heat was on.

Cops & Doughnuts today? It’s reportedly very safe.

Out and About in my (Almost) Back Yard

A walking tour of the architecture and sculptures on the Princeton University campus is an enticing event. I’ve taken this kind of tour many times, but this one promised something new. Typically, it began at easy-to-find Nassau Hall, the largest building in the American colonies at the time of the Revolution and briefly, even, the nation’s capital. Some walls on the inside still bear pockmarks from British cannonballs fired during the pivotal Battle of Princeton.

Our guide, Jeanne Johnson, a docent at the Princeton Art Museum (closed temporarily for a construction project that will double its gallery space), is a dedicated gardener. So she was eager to point out the Beatrix Farrand quadrangle, recently renamed in honor the university’s long-time landscape gardener (her preferred term).

While we were there, Jeanne pointed out that two of the dormitory buildings framing the quadrangle are named for alumni who died during The Great War, Howard Houston Henry and Walter L. Foulke. Those buildings and the triple archway that connects them (shown) are considered the apogee of collegiate gothic architecture, a style popularized in the late 1800s and early 1900s when American universities went to great lengths to look as permanent and substantial as their English counterparts. The architect of these dormitories personally oversaw the cutting and placement of every piece of stone, alternating red, grey, buff, and other colors. A completely pleasing effect.

These popular sites dispensed with, Jeanne trotted us to an area of south campus where two new colleges (as Princeton terms sets of dormitories) have sprung up, seemingly overnight—Yeh College and New College West. The 15 or so members of our group all said exactly the same thing, “We’ve never seen this before!” This new area includes several whimsical outdoor sculptures, including the enormous coral-pink concrete sofa.

Finally, we looked at the construction site for the new museum, which will two new floors, doubling the space for exhibitions and study but retaining the same footprint as the original. It’s due to be occupied in March 2024 and open to the public that fall. Fingers crossed. The architect is David Adjaye, whose firm designed the Smithsonian’s museum of African American history and culture and many notable buildings around the world.

All this new construction is being done in the midst of a huge project to make the university environmentally sustainable, with respect to energy consumption, landscape practices, stormwater management, waste reduction, and reduced water use. It’s hard to walk anywhere on campus without encountering the construction of these new environmental systems.

The University may date to 1746 (and one of my ancestors was in its first graduating class), but there’s always something new!

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Travel Tips: The Poe Museum, Richmond, Virginia

Contributing stories to Quoth the Raven (contemporary works inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s writings) and Sherlock Holmes: Adventures in the Realms of Edgar Allan Poe rekindled my interest in the much-misunderstood poet, literary critic, and inventor of the detective fiction genre. A recent Virginia trip (history, Busch Gardens, genealogy) offered an occasion to visit the Poe Museum, a tiny jewel of a museum located in several small Richmond houses connected by gardens.

The house where you enter and buy tickets has a nice selection of Poe souvenirs and books. When you leave that, you cross a small lawn whose paths lead to a memorial (pictured). The granite benches along the paths came from a rooming house where Poe once lived, and the ivy lining the paths originated with cuttings from Poe’s mother’s grave—a fittingly macabre touch. Two black cats laze about, darkly.

Possibly you remember that Poe was the middle child of three born to actors David Poe and English-born Elizabeth Hopkins. Their father abandoned him when he was about a year old, and his mother died of consumption when he was three. He was taken in, but never adopted, by the family of John Allan, a successful Richmond merchant, who paid for his education in Scotland and London before the family returned to Virginia. At 15, Poe served in a youth honor guard during a visit to Richmond by the Marquis de Lafayette. Poe was admitted to the fledgling University of Virginia, but his gambling debts cost him place at the university, as well as his relationship with his foster-father. He lasted only a year there.

The main building of the Museum is the “Old Stone House,” built around 1740 and the oldest original residence in the city (several major fires destroyed much). It contains some furnishings—bed, desk, fireplace mantel—from Poe’s boyhood home, as well as his sister’s piano. The memorial building contains original copies of his writing and editing, including editions of the Southern Literary Messenger, which he edited for several years. A bound collection of that magazine was open to one of Poe’s own short stories—“Berenice”—which coincidentally was the inspiration for my two Poe-adjacent stories.

The museum displays some pages in Poe’s own hand (tiny writing) that are hard to read, as they can’t be subjected to bright light, pictures of some of the women he allied with, including his cousin and much-loved wife Virginia who, too, fell to the ravages of consumption. Thirteen years his junior, she died at age 24, after an eleven-year marriage. (Yes, married at 13.) Her death was a considerable blow to Poe, who believed nothing was more romantic than the death of a beautiful woman, and clearly was a partial inspiration for some of his melancholic poems and stories, including “Berenice.”

Upstairs in this house is a “reading room” with books by and about Poe and artists’ interpretations. Lots of ravens. In another building you can find items from closer to the time of Poe’s death (in Baltimore, age 40), including a portrait of Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Poe’s literary executor, who took advantage of the death of his rival to sully Poe’s reputation. Not for many years were Griswold’s scurrilous accusations of madness and depravity seen for what they were—the product of an intense jealousy. The recent Julian Symons biography, The Tell-Tale Heart (reviewed here) is a well-researched, highly readable summary of a complicated and sad life.

More Information:

The Poe Museum 1914 East Main Street, Richmond. Open Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10-5; Sundays, 11-5; free parking. Tours, educational programs, shop.

For Quoth the Raven (contemporary stories and poems inspired by EAP), click here.

For Sherlock Holmes: Adventures in the Realms of Edgar Allan Poe (Holmes and Watson on the case), click here.

Memories of a Queen

Maybe it’s having been named Victoria, but the history and doings of the British royal family have always fascinated me—not the scandals so much as, in the present day, the Queen herself. Like her predecessor, Elizabeth I, she took on a tremendous responsibility at the age of 25 and bore it with grace during good times and bad (Victoria was 18).

I have never seen any of the royals up close—except once. In May 1985, we were visiting the town of Reims, with its famous cathedral, in the heart of France’s champagne region—reason enough to stop over there. Reims is also the town where Colonel General Alfred Jodl signed Germany’s unconditional surrender at the end of World War II. Coincidentally, we were there the day before the fortieth anniversary of the signing, a bit proud that General Eisenhower declined to attend the signing. Not only did he outrank Jodl, but he’d seen the camps. He knew what had been done.

As we wandered the cathedral aisles, practically the only visitors, one aisle to our right I saw a smiling elderly woman wearing a pale blue suit and matching hat. A few well-dressed men orbited in her vicinity. “Look! It’s the Queen Mum!” I whispered. My husband, knowing how poor I am at recognizing people, took a closer look. “Oh, my god, it IS!” I discreetly took a couple of pictures, now rather faded, and the headline from the newspaper the next day confirms the presence of the “reine-mère.”

In 2012, we again stumbled into royal doings, when we visited London to take in the special exhibits for the 200th birthday of favorite author Charles Dickens. They were quite fun. The photo is of the writing retreat he used, probably to escape the clamor of his many children. Coincidentally, again, we arrived right at the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee—her 60th year on the throne. We saw a great deal of Jubilee-related pageantry, a Royal Air Force flyover, and thousands of cheering Britons. I saw a dress I liked too.

Dickens
Dickens’s writing retreat in Rochester, England (photo: vweisfeld)

Missed Me at All?

I missed you! Attentive readers may have noticed my absence from social media and blog posting for the last month. A thought that may have crossed the minds of really attentive readers is, “That’s crazy! Her book is coming out soon, and this is exactly when she should be posting like a madwoman!”

A Great Tour

You’re so right. Let me explain. My husband and I booked a 10-day trip to Portugal for fall 2021. Alas, cancelled by covid. We rebooked for May 2022. My book, Architect of Courage, was scheduled for publication June 4, and though the timing wouldn’t be great, the initial flurry of activity would be after our return home.

We flew to Lisbon a few days early in order to adjust to the five-hour time difference and see more of the city, as our tour wasn’t planning to spend much time there. We’d booked at the Avenida Palace Hotel (anything with “Palace” in the name is worth checking out. Picture above is of the lobby). It turned out to be the tour hotel too. Perfect.

Eight congenial Americans were on this Food & Wine tour, which was mostly in the countryside. We visited wineries, a cork factory, the cherry-growing region, a sheep farm where cheese was made, had a cooking lesson and—overall—a wonderful time. Our guide Matthew was brilliant. P.S. Everything in Portugal is uphill.

A Thrilling History

If you’re a World War II thriller reader, like me, you’ll recall that because Portugal was neutral, it was a crossroads for espionage, not to mention the wartime base of Ian Fleming. It was the place European Jews and other refugees were desperate to get to. There, they had a chance of escaping Europe while other departure points were closed to them. In the movie Casablanca, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband are desperate to reach Lisbon. In real life, the Avenida Palace was a Nazi hangout and, supposedly, the place where plans for a plot to assassinate Hitler were hatched.

Now the Low-Points

I developed a little cold on the tour, but it hardly slowed me down. I generously shared it with my husband. The night before our departure we checked into the Avenida Palace again and had the covid test required within 24 hours of our departure. Both positive. So much for “a little cold.” By then I was well, and definitely not contagious, but I quarantined with my sick partner in our hotel room for the next week.

Knowing that some people test positive weeks and even months after recovery, CDC authorized an alternative: a letter from a “licensed medical professional” stating we were recovered and cleared to travel. This proved impossible to get. Every interaction with the Portuguese public health system produced conflicting advice, culminating in the candid assessment from one worker, “We can’t help you.”

Finally, I tested negative and flew home the day before my book launch, but my husband was still positive. He stayed another three days until, on Monday, I asked our primary care physician to intervene: “My husband is stranded in Portugal, and I think you can help.” He did. But would United Airlines accept a letter from a doctor who was thousands of miles away? They did, and he flew home the next day, in time for my launch party! Just a few days later, these documentation requirements were rescinded.

Topped Out? Tapped Out?

So, not only was I out of the office for an unexpectedly long time, when I returned I was under a wee bit of stress and had a long list of to-dos for the book launch (friends to the rescue!). A few projects, including blog posts, had to be set aside. Now you know.

Recommended Reading:

The High Mountains of Portugal – by Jann Martel author of (The Life of Pi). No question, this is a strange book, the middle part a little too theological for me, despite the extended comparison between religion and Agatha Christie.

Dark Voyage – by Alan Furst. The port of Lisbon features in this WWII spy thriller. Furst is a long-time favorite!

The Lisbon Route – by Ronald Weber. Real-life tales from “the great escape hatch of Nazi Europe.” (The cover photo is of the funicular car that still operates near our hotel.) Haven’t read this one, but it sounds fascinating.

An Inside Look at Commercial Airline Flights

This week, we had a behind-the-scenes look at a fictional flight from Newark Airport to Dallas-Ft. Worth. Robert Zyriek, a former Air Force fighter pilot, now an experienced commercial pilot with more than 20,000 hours of flying time, made the presentation. I’d describe the process as an inevitably frustrating exercise in precise planning amidst a sea of unpredictable circumstances.

Flight 001 was scheduled to leave Newark at 7:30 am Eastern Time and arrive at DFW around 10:45 Central. Leaving, of course meant “doors closed, no latecomers allowed,” and arriving meant “doors open for deplaning,” not when the wheels touch the ground.

That’s a hard-and-fast rule. An excruciating TSA line in San Francisco prompted a couple of guys to prevail on me to let them go ahead, because they were about to miss their flight to Chicago. I of course said “sure,” and as a result, arrived at the gate for my Newark-bound flight just as the door closed. “But the plane is sitting right there.” “Yes, it is, and the door’s closed.” I’d run afoul of the stringent rules of the Federal Aviation Administration, which cover every aspect of your flight, as Zyriek explained.

Planning for a particular flight begins hours before you’re even headed to the airport. For our 7:30 departure, the dispatcher starts around 2 a.m., working up an overview of the flight, condition of the plane, the anticipated weight of the passengers and their luggage, and, most important, the amount of fuel needed.

As the dispatcher does the calculations, the captain, first officer, and flight attendants are still sleeping. The FAA even prescribes when they need to leave their hotel to begin being “on duty.” For a 7:30 a.m. flight, that’s probably about 6:15. We’ve all been on flights where a late inbound flight made the scheduled crew late for our outbound flight. If the combination of the delayed flight and the planned outbound flight will exceed their allowed hours on duty, there must be a new crew altogether.

It’s in implementing the flight plan that the captain contributes to the airline’s bottom line. Pilots can’t control the number of seats sold, but they have some control over the amount of fuel used. The plan covers the route, anticipated weather, whether an alternative landing airport is needed because of weather uncertainties, and the amount of fuel required. The FAA also requires a fuel reserve for 45 extra minutes of flying time, extra fuel for the backup landing airport and for anticipated on-ground delays, and so on. On a short flight, these extra fuel allotments may exceed the amount of fuel needed to reach the original destination.

When the crew arrives at the airport, each member has a job to do. The gate agent hands off the the dispatcher’s plan to the captain, tracks the number of passengers and any special requirements, like wheelchairs, whether there will be animals on board, and the like. The Captain is the nexus of information, and the First Officer (whom Zyriek called “the doer”) turns on the power, programs the navigation computer, and walks around the outside of the plane looking for problems. The flight attendants check their safety equipment, attempt to adjust the cabin temperature, make sure the seats and overhead compartments are working, and take on board food and beverages.

The first changes to our carefully worked out flight plan occur when the first officer’s walkaround reveals ice on the wings. While dispatch planned extra fuel for this, the captain is told the DFW weather forecast is tanking and may require landing at the backup airport (Tulsa), which requires additional fuel. This creates a delay, while fuel is added (time for the wings to ice up again), and dispatch creates a new timing, and a new fuel load calculation. This is why your mom has been waiting at the airport for two hours already by the time you arrive.

In flight, the Captain is anticipating the next moves and monitoring some sensors, but most of the monitoring duties fall to the First Officer. Generally, they take turns “flying” the plane and working the radio. While they might use autopilot during some portion of the flight, Zyriek maintains that autopilot is only as good  as the information it’s given. That’s up to the crew. Over Kentucky the plane encounters a patch of turbulence. Ordinarily, the captain would increase the altitude to avoid it, but the added fuel make the plane too heavy to do that.

During our flight, the cockpit receives reports of worsening conditions at DFW, and Tulsa looks to be in our future, but at almost the last possible moment, the weather moves out, and we land around noon. Whew!

“America’s Westminster Abbey”

Established in 1757, Princeton Cemetery, owned by Nassau Presbyterian Church but nondenominational, has been called “the Westminster Abbey of the United States.” It certainly contains a microcosm of American history. By Zoom and a walking tour today, the Princeton Historical Society provided a fascinating overview of its history. Perhaps 23,000 people are buried in its approximately 19 acres, and efforts are nearing conclusion to digitize the disparate burial records—scribbled in ledgers, on file cards, and the like.

Among the many luminaries buried there are one U.S. President—Grover Cleveland (left above)—and most presidents of the University, but not Woodrow Wilson, who’s buried at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The graves of Cleveland and his wife are often decorated with leis, as the people of Hawaii revere him for opposing Hawaiian annexation. Among those University Presidents was Aaron Burr, Sr., whose namesake son (of Hamilton notoriety) is also buried nearby (center above).

John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the children of Richard Stockton, another signer, are there. In a literary and artistic vein, you’ll find John O’Hara, African American artist Rex Goreleigh, and Sylvia Beach (right above), founder of the Paris bookshop, Shakespeare & Company. Milligan Sloane (d 1928) is buried there, founder and first president of the U.S. Olympic Committee. When the Olympic Torch came through Princeton en route to Atlanta for the 1994 Games, the entourage made a stop at the cemetery to honor him.

A large section of the cemetery is occupied by African Americans, many of them freedmen, former slaves, war veterans, early graduates of local schools after integration, and prominent citizens. Among them are the parents of Paul Robeson. Their graves have a clear view of the church where Robeson’s father preached and the street where they lived (Robeson himself is buried in New York State).

Princeton was originally a Presbyterian school, and Old Opequon (Presbyterian) church was the Valley of Virginia’s first place of worship. Its minister, the Rev John Hogue, graduated in the first class, “fresh from (Princeton’s) Nassau Hall.” (He’s my first cousin, seven times removed.) In addition, Moses Hogue, the sixth President of Hampden Sydney College, is another Princeton graduate who became a Presbyterian minister. He’s my fifth-great-half-uncle. I’m more pleased at how genealogy has enabled me to calculate these relationships than in their very attenuated existence!

You might have the impression that Princeton is the last bastion of WASP America, but the names in the newer part of the cemetery demonstrate a much wider heritage than you might expect.