Category Archives: East Coast

New York City

Last Stop  │  Next Stop (Coming Soon)

On the way to New York City, I dreaded the anticipated traffic nightmare and white-knuckle driving. There was a pause at the tunnel but nothing too bad. And the city streets seemed just fine. Of course, this was Sunday. Our escape from New York would be a much different endeavor.

Our hotel was squeezed in amongst the concrete jungle. It was as if someone purchased a little patch of land and built a tiny square floor plan straight up as high as umpteen stories. The width of the building made me feel like I could wrap my arms around it. Inside we were greeted with the most friendly hotel staff we had ever encountered.

“How un-New York like,” we joked privately at the broken stereotype.

When we exited the elevator, we could literally walk 12 paces either way and be at the end of the hall which turned and continued around the square interior. The hallway was very narrow, too.

We unloaded and decided we had time to explore Times Square. Unlike D.C., we decided not to hoof it, heading for the subway instead. That was more of a stereotypical New York experience. But we enjoyed it and marveled at its efficiency. There was one recurring problem. It may have been user-error, I don’t know. But whenever we used the subway, we had to purchase tickets and I always seemed to get shorted.

Times Square was just as it seems on television. It was full of pedestrians – mostly tourists like us – and digital advertising everywhere you looked. I spun in a 360-degree turn with my video camera to try and capture it all. That’s when life-size Elmo walked up and put his arms around my two kids and motioned for my wife to snap a photo.

“Oh, how fun is this,” my wife smiled and took the photo op.

Then Elmo, rather un-Elmo like, made arm motions demanding money for his services. So much for Elmo seeming like the good-will ambassador of Times Square. I reached in my wallet and gave him a bill. His body-language suggested dissatisfaction. He didn’t hesitate to grab a couple of other kids in a bid to shake down more tourist-parents.

Our mission at Times Square was laser-focused on going to M&M Headquarters to find out what kind of M&Ms we were. This little adventure resulted from a word-of-mouth campaign that came from a kid my son knew back home. It somehow made it onto our must-see list. Not on my list mind you but I was outvoted 3-1. So it goes.

Every turn inside and outside was met with shoulder-to-shoulder bodies hustling and bustling as you may expect from a stroll through Times Square. The M&M building was even more crowded. Finally, we located the screens that would reveal our inner M&M. One by one, we were analyzed and then our color and personality description posted to the monitor overhead for all to read. Really, it was just a high-tech version of those vintage, wooden, carnival fortune-telling machines.

Another stop was to the 9/11 Memorial. It’s complicated emotionally to be at a place that marks such tragedy and yet is a tourist attraction. In this coveted and jam-packed real estate space in Manhattan, the vast openness of no skyscraper looming immediately overhead is noticeable.

Instead of something extending skyward, the perimeter of what was the foundation of the old World Trade Center’s twin towers streamed almost glasslike downward. Black granite walls went straight down along with water pumping gently down all four sides from just underneath the memorial railings. They were topped with flat angled displays with the names of the unfortunate etched in plaques that stretched around where both towers once stood. The water pooled but there was yet another descent. In the middle of the pool, another square of granite walls went straight down again, appearing to the eye, infinitely so. And again, water seeped over the edges in glasslike fashion.

The design is called “Reflecting Absence”.

We stood silently among hundreds of other quiet onlookers surveying the scene and pondering the loss and the enormity of it all. There is a spirit there. I think everyone standing at the edge of the abyss senses it. But that spirit soars in the open air above, much like the two new nearby towers casting shade on the old site.

You can knock us down but we will always rise again – stronger than before!

As we walked some more, our path met with what became known as The Survivor Tree. The Callery pear tree stood right there at ground zero and inexplicably survived the terrorist attack. Roots snapped, branches broke and burned, yet it clung to life. It was rescued, rehabilitated and returned. It is a symbol of our resilience.

Although our children were too young to reflect on that infamous day in human history, they appreciated the 9/11 Memorial just the same. And it opened a thoughtful dialogue over dinner at a nondescript New York eatery that we enjoyed so much it served us two nights in a row.

The next day we were very happy that we pre-purchased tickets for the ferry ride to Liberty and Ellis Islands months ago. The incredible droves of people standing, waiting in line boggled my mind. We got to walk right past them.

As we left the dock and drifted toward the Statue of Liberty, the view of the skyline in our wake seemed to make New York look like a cozy town instead of the mega-metropolis it is. Then, we floated by the Statue of Liberty making a turn toward her harbor. It was a sunny day with blue sky and just a smattering of fluffy white clouds to accent the canvas that was air.

With Lady Liberty standing tall just a stone’s skip away, I just stared, thinking, “That’s the Statue of Liberty – That’s the Statue of Liberty – Hey kids, that’s the Statue of Liberty.”

“Duh, Dad!”

I tried to see the statue through the boyhood eyes of my grandpa as he approached this new world. My wife was trying to see it through her mom’s childhood eyes. The symbolism and hope must have been immense.

What I enjoyed most about our visit to Liberty Island wasn’t the fascinating stories told to me through my audio tour headphones. It was the many interesting views of Lady Liberty that you don’t normally see in photos or video (see the photo montage below).

Over at Ellis Island, I had the cool opportunity to walk in my grandpa’s footsteps and see what he was met with upon his arrival to America as a young boy with his family from Sicily. Oh, how his eyes must have been like saucers. But the surreal sensation that that must have had on the imagination of a great life ahead in the land of the free was sure to have come crashing down when the reality of Ellis Island hit him. Ellis Island was either a house of horror or just a quick processing to the promise of a better life. The preserved graffiti on walls transcended the timeline as much as the old architecture from original ceilings to staircases – some parts haunting and others liberating.

At Ellis Island, we were pretty much limited to exploring one building, grand as it was. But the adventurer in me wanted to roam the island and explore the other buildings and grounds. Still, the museum inside the main building was excellent. It tells the stories of the immigration process in vivid detail. You can even look up your immigrant ancestor’s records and see a photo of the boat they came in on and the manifest with their name.

The main building was built in 1900 and was the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection station for much of its time before closing in 1954. Between 1892 and 1954, some 12 million immigrants funneled through Ellis Island.

Once we had had our fill of appreciation for the roots that brought us to these shores, we went outside to fetch a return ferry. There was not a pre-purchased ticket line this time. The line was four wide and wrapped from the front of the main building around the side and beyond the back. The wait between ferries was long. When a ferry filled up, the line moved sluggishly forward. It took three or four ferries before we could board.

When we left NYC the following morning, it was the nightmare – only worse – that I had expected upon arrival. Fighting from lane to lane with New York cabbies during the midweek morning rush hour in Manhattan made me revert into “Travel Dad.” This was a nickname given to me by my kids earlier in the trip. I become “Travel Dad” when I become super intense behind the driver’s wheel under stressful traffic conditions.

Once I could breathe easy, away we went to what would become our favorite stop of our Magical History Tour but notably the least attractive attractions. Go figure.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: Coming Soon next right
last leftLast Stop: Philadelphia


Upper New York Bay

Ellis Island Main Building

Ellis Island Graffiti

Ellis Island

Ellis Island Main Building

M&M Store in Times Square

Freedom Tree at 911 Memorial & Ground Zero

Philadelphia Freedom

Last Stop  │  Next Stop

With the U.S. Capitol in our rear view mirror, rain pounded the windshield all the way to our nation’s first capital – Philadelphia.

We waited in a long snaking line under umbrellas outside of Independence Hall (originally it was known simply as the Pennsylvania statehouse). This was the heart of America. It was where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of The United States were signed by the nation’s Founding Fathers. It was only a day ago that we saw both of these original documents, guarded and under glass, in Washington D.C.

Our “magical history tour” up the East Coast connected place-to-place in ways that made the past very present.

The rain made the colors all around Independence Hall pop vividly, including the cobblestone road, green grass and brick building topped with a white steeple that housed a clock and bell tower. This is where the Liberty Bell was hung and rung to call to session the Founding Fathers to hammer out The Constitution.

Inside, we stood in the very room where formidable debate by one of the greatest assembly of men in history created a model of freedom that would ring for centuries and spread across the globe. I listened intently, along with my wife, to the stories told about those crucial times.

Then I glanced at my kids and saw them yawn big and in slow motion. I fought like hell to ward off the infectious power overtaking me. I pressed my lips closed, squinted my eyes and felt my neck and nostrils expand but I refused to open my mouth to let in any air. I probably looked like a blowfish.

Did I just make you yAWn?

The line for the Liberty Bell – in a building next door – was down a long outdoor sidewalk and wrapped back the same distance on the inside of the building. At least the rain had stopped.

The Bell was perhaps most famously rung on July 8, 1776 for citizens to gather and hear Colonel John Nixon publicly read the Declaration of Independence. But the Bell was ordered 25 years earlier to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s Constitution. It did not reach its historic status or gain its historic name until abolitionists used it as a symbol for their cause, renaming what was merely known as the statehouse bell to the, now iconic, Liberty Bell.

The first signs of the Bell’s famous crack are debatable. It was on George Washington’s birthday in 1846, he had died in 1799, that it was finally deemed unable to ring any longer.

The Bell is fascinating to look at up close. It may no longer ring in our ears but it rings in our hearts. But it was the condition of the massive dark brown wood beam that holds it that caught my attention. It was like I was staring at the deeply wrinkled face of an old and weathered soldier who had gripping stories to tell.

For all of the history that happened in Philadelphia and all of the great men who came here to forge a beacon of freedom that would capture the attention of the world, it is really one man’s town – Benjamin Franklin.

Ben Franklin’s fingerprints are everywhere. He may have merely fancied himself a printer but he was a renown inventor, scientist, postmaster, politician, author, Founding Father, civic activist, statesman, diplomat, Grandmaster Freemason …and playboy. He invented the lightning rod, Franklin stove, bifocals, Glass Armonica musical instrument and even new swimming strokes. He helped create the first library and the University of Pennsylvania. He charted the Gulf Stream. And his list of titles and achievements goes on and on.

So, it was with this in mind that we wandered down a cobblestone road and saw a peculiar high rise brick building with a tunnel carved through its lower level.

We walked through and came to an open courtyard on the other side with several Ben Franklin options to explore. We entered a tall brick building that served as a time capsule. Tourist-like scaffolding went many floors high. It allowed us to scale the opposite brick wall (all protected by the same roof). The best way to describe it is that of a perpendicular achaelogical site. Lodged in the wall was the history of one of Ben Franklin’s stomping grounds. Markers pointed out where there was a flue for a fireplace and what went where in the rooms around. Displays featured other findings from the preserved façade of the brick building as we climbed to examine it further.

Another brick building seemed modern because it is so well maintained. But it’s where Ben Franklin, George Washington and others worshipped. A cobblestone road alongside Christ Church ran parallel to a tall wrought iron fence. Above it were the grand glass windows of the church, framed by brick. To the eye, there may have been more glass than brick facing us. Gorgeous!

Inside were crisp and clean wooden pews – painted white but with dark brown stained trim along top – that were waist high and walled on three sides leaving open the entry from the aisle. The most elaborate one was marked with a brass plaque saying “Washington Pew.” It was up front, large and with padded bench seating on multiple sides. Further back was a normal, narrow pew with one bench facing front. It was marked with a modern plaque as “Franklin Pew.”

We finally checked into our hotel before eating at a famous Philly steakhouse. A plaque on its exterior wall cited it was the original site of the founding of the University of Pennsylvania. The whole town is chock-full-of-history and all that the kids wanted to do was hit the rooftop pool! I’ll admit, it was very inviting but it would have to be reserved for our nightcap.

After freshening up, we walked around the corner and to the Christ Church Burial Ground where Benjamin Franklin and other Founding Fathers are laid to rest. Two marble topped slabs were immediately on the opposite side of a tall wrought iron fence. Beneath one lies Benjamin Franklin, the other his wife, Deborah. Mounted there in the brick wall between sections of fence were these words:

The Body of
B. Franklin. Printer.
Like the Cover of an old Book.
Its Contents torn out.
And Stript of Its Lettering & Gilding.
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be lost.
For it will as he believ’d
appear once more
In a new and more perfect Edition
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.

The cemetery also laid to rest other signers of The Declaration of Independence. The burial site had many slab-like stone burials, normal looking headstones and creepy waist-high casket-like stone tombs resting above ground. Many stones are so eroded that the writing on them is no longer legible. In many cases, plaques have been bolted to their surface with words that can be read once again.

I started to notice a pattern of imagery at the top of many headstones. Although, it wouldn’t enter my active imagination until we’d visit historic cemeteries in Boston. Together, the old graves made me very curious about the fascinating designs etched in them. Some of the more common images showed an hour glass, skull and crossbones or angel with wings spread. Others had a genie-like lantern or bending tree. Rare were old-time compasses or pyramids with an eye.

So here we were embarking on a new mystery when we still hadn’t solved that of the weird graffiti of robot-alien-petroglyph-looking stick figures from some of Washington D.C.’s crosswalks. But we were about to.

Before we solve this mystery, let’s eat!

A good traveler will always seek out the food a town is best known for. In Philly, that meant a Philly Cheesesteak. And by the looks of it, Jim’s Steaks must be the place to get a good one. A line stretched out of the building, down the side walk, around the corner and down another sidewalk. Before long we were in front of the shiny black and white lower portion of the building. There was a brick upper. We could see the magic happening through the windows. People came out expressing pure satisfaction. Our mouths watered with anticipation.

Inside, the line wound back and forth wrapping like that of a line at an amusement park. I studied how people were ordering and just as I stepped to the counter to rattle off what we wanted and how we wanted it…

Shift change!

I hated being next. I was next for darn near an eternity. It felt like I was holding up the line. I heard grumbles from deeper within like, “What’s the problem up there?” Maybe I was imagining it – Ya, let’s go with that. The shift change took a very long time. A completely new crew had to set up their own operation.

Finally, things moved again and we got what was ours and moved upstairs. There  were big round tables near windows that opened to the streetscape intersection providing a wonderful urban view of surrounding buildings. This was our perch. And we were ready to dig in.

I laughed after my first bite because my kids have bland taste. These hefty steak sandwiches had meat falling out of the side and had red peppers piled on and were stuffed with honking wide onion curls. I was shocked that my kids said it was one of the best sandwiches they had ever had. I grunted agreement with another mouth full, my wife nodded her head too while she chewed. And nobody else said a word until our plates were clean.

Now, let’s wrap up that graffiti mystery.

As we navigated the streets of Philadelphia, I saw a sticker of our weird “stick man” slapped aside a metal newspaper box.

“Imagine that!” I pointed for the rest of the family to see.

Then, there he was next to another crosswalk just like in D.C.  We snapped photos of the robot-alien-petroglyph in a hurry before we could get run over.

Gazing at the phone photos while we waited in the long line wrapping around Jim’s, my wife explored the Internet in the palm of her hand to solve the mystery.

Soon thereafter, she yelled, “Stikman!”

And so it was.

A street artist was littering this thing dubbed “Stikman” everywhere he went; Washington D.C, Philadelphia, Boston and other cities. But he and his creation were largely a mystery.

In this trip of incredulous sights, Stikman stuck with us.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: New York Citynext right
last leftLast Stop: National Mall in D.C.



Christ Church where founding fathers worshiped

Christ Church where founding fathers worshiped

The Liberty Bell

Independence Hall

Inside Independence Hall

Inside Independence Hall

Ben Franklin’s Pew at Christ Church

National Mall & Memorial Parks

Last Stop  │  Next Stop

korean war monument wall soldiers statues

Vacation Unexpected

Got it all planned out. Go there, see this, eat here and all that. But something is going to happen that wasn’t planned. And that is what’s going to be remembered.

Hustling from one attraction to another in a sightseeing frenzy, zipping around Washington D.C., something just outside the crosswalk lines caught my attention. I stopped and looked down. A mini robot painted yellow on the pavement stared up at me.

I pointed it out to my wife and kids and said, “That’s a strange sight.”

“Looks like an alien,” my son said, nonchalantly.

“It reminds me of a petroglyph,” my wife added.

“It looks like we’re going to get run over if we don’t move,” said my teenage daughter.

I figured it had to do with marking the power lines under the street or something like that.

Later, we saw this peculiar fella painted by another crosswalk. Our imaginations went into overdrive, exploring other possibilities for this thick stick figure that was about the size of my hand. It was strange. It didn’t quite belong and we all knew it. But our curiosity dissipated as our other activities mounted.

The mystery of the strange stick figures littering the city will be revealed in the next story when we visit the “The City of Brotherly Love.” Yes, they showed up there, too!

Anyway, after we crossed another crosswalk, I made sure to have the traditional photo snapped (of me) giving a smiling, one-finger salute to the IRS building. Who can resist?


Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was shot, was a grim but interesting stop. It was a little eerie to think of this place as “living” history, in a sense, considering such a horrific event occurred so long ago. I stared at that balcony and then panned down to the stage – so close and personal – and imagined how stunning the sequence of events were for the theatre crowd that fateful night of April 14, 1865. Things got more eerie when we crossed the street and entered the Peterson House to see the bed in which Lincoln died. It is where several soldiers rushed the President to await the doctor’s arrival. The bed is a replica of the original which is on display at the Chicago History Museum. However, the bloodstained pillow and pillowcases were the actual ones used on Lincoln’s death bed.


Upon leaving the Petersen House, which is part of Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, there was a staircase that wrapped around a stack of books that was incredibly high. The stack wasn’t one book on top of the other. Rather, it was a wide cluster. Every book in the bound spire was about Lincoln. Someone said these only represented half of the books published about the 16th President of The United States. I don’t know if that was true but the visual before us was nonetheless astonishing.

tower of lincoln books at peterson house in washington d.c.

One of the most beautiful sights in Washington D.C. is the ornate architecture inside of the Library of Congress building. It wasn’t even a planned stop. Right when we walked in our family let out a collective gasp.

All of the Smithsonian museums and national monuments we visited were impressive to see in person as you may expect. Four of the monuments really struck a note. But first, I need to mention the best hot dog I ever had. Or so it seemed. It was at a nondescript concession stand along the National Mall, simply titled, “Refreshments.” We were famished. Sitting in the grass, we bit into deliciousness. So tasty it’s worth mentioning. Now it could have been one of those, I’m so hungry I could eat cardboard, moments. I can’t say for sure.

What I can say is that this little pit stop gave us the energy it would take to walk, walk and walk some more.

When we were at the Jefferson Memorial, I had my family walk ahead and up the sprawling steps so that I could get a distance shot of them. Now, mind you, my eyes are tricky these days. I need bifocals but don’t have any. I wear “computer” glasses for midrange, driving glasses for far range, no glasses for up close and subscription sunglasses for outside. In fact, my wife was sick of me asking her to stop every time that we went from outdoors to indoors so I could fetch the right glasses from her purse. I felt like Fred Sanford from the old TV show, Sanford and Son. Anyway, I removed my shades to see the LCD display on my camera.  I proceeded to snap great shots of my family on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, resting. I even zoomed in and got great candid close-ups of my wife and kids.

Jefferson memorial silhouette

Later, when we were marveling at the photos of the day while sitting on a curb, my wife sounded a peculiar tone in her voice when she questioned a series of photos I had taken.

“Who are these people? Why so many pictures of them?”

I looked and realized I had filmed a strange woman and her two kids. All of whom resembled members of my family. We had a hearty laugh.

I never knew about the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. But I’ll remember it because of the water fountain that allowed us to replenish our drinking bottles. The memorial is subtle, tucked away and more like a stroll through a park. It spans 7 ½ acres. It was beautiful and surprisingly a favorite of all of ours. Water cascades down rocks in one section. Then you pass into another area and sit for a while admiring the art, architecture and nature wrapped harmoniously together.


In yet another section, I took photos and noticed a Great Depression soup line. Gray, poor, sad statues with heads hung low lined up in a row against a drab brick wall. Then, in my viewfinder, I panned into a colorfully clothed girl with her head hung low standing like the other statues in line. It was my daughter! It turns out, looking at Google images; this is a popular pastime and photo opp at the FDR Memorial. I guess the humor is that starvation seems so far-fetched for most Americans today. That and other contrasts made the people passing by do double-takes and then laugh.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was nice to visit because it’s a long overdue honor for the civil rights icon. After more than two decades of planning, it finally opened in August of 2011. The quotes carved into marble launched wonderful conversation with the kids. But for some reason, the memorial seemed smaller compared to others’. Also, it is from this area that I first peered closely at the Tidal Basin body of water in which many of the monuments surround. It is disgusting. It is an absolute shame that our nation’s capital cannot keep such a central body of water clear from the embarrassing amounts of litter collected in it. It is also a shame that people litter it to begin with.

mlk memorial

One of the best sites for me was the Korean War Memorial. It had a similar black wall as the Vietnam Memorial but leading to it were statues of soldiers coming through a marshy area. It just loomed in my mind with symbolism that made me think of those servicemen. And photos just didn’t capture what my mind did. Then, as I neared the end of the wall, chance timing put an Asian woman (I’d like to think she was Korean), in front of an inscription in the flat black, stone wall. Next to her was a small Asian child. The inscription she pointed to read, “Freedom is not free.”

Freedom is not Free - Korean War Memorial

I said we had four favorite stops and so far mentioned three. I’ll get to the heart-wrenching fourth in a moment.

Remember, this was a blistering hot day and we had covered many miles on foot.  So soaking our bare feet in a huge fountain with shooting water along with many other weary pedestrians ranked right up there with our more memorable stops.

When we left the mall for the long trek back to our hotel on foot (should have used the subway), we were desperate for hydration. Our water supply had long run dry. That’s when I spotted what may have been a mirage. We all rummaged for any remaining change in our pockets. My wallet was cashed-out other than plastic, which was no good at the moment. We scrounged up just enough coin to splurge on one five-dollar frozen lemonade from a mobile stand to share curbside. At home we could get a whole   box of these for less money. Nonetheless, desperate times called for desperate measures. We needed some sort of hydration to make the trek back to the hotel. Our day started with plenty of water reserves but the “Gestapo” over at the Capitol building had us pour out every last drop before entering. Anyway, the four of us lined the curb with our precious refreshment. Each of us took a spoonful of heaven and passed it down. Hawk eyes made sure nobody took more than that in a single turn. Later, if asked what was the best place we ate. The answer was that damn curb. Go figure.

It’s also where we looked at another family’s vacation photos. The ones I took at the Jefferson Memorial.


Later, I bribed my kids with ice cream into writing their most memorable moment of the long trip (which this was only about the halfway mark). Both of their writings were about D.C.

“The thing that brought tears to my eyes was the Vietnam Memorial. To some people, it’s just a wall with names. To others, it’s the place where the memory of a loved one lives on. But to me, it’s where the soldiers that died for the country’s safety are remembered. Just walking through, looking at all of the names on the marble black wall and the presents given from loved ones to the lost lives all lead to one sentence – Freedom is not free.”
– Written by my 11-year-old son.


“Time is probably the most valuable thing on earth. You can always get more money, but time is limited, once you spend it, it’s gone …so you better spend it on something you love. In just one day I was able to see the White House, the Capitol building, the Supreme Court and ALL the Washington monuments …and that was just one day. Imagine what I could do in a week, or a month, or a lifetime. This trip has taught me that you have to make each moment count, so that someday you can say …I spent my time wisely.”
– Written by my 13-year-old daughter.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: Philadelphia next right
last leftLast Stop: U.S. Capitol Building


Jefferson Memorial

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

split rock at martin luther king memorial
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

dr. martin luther king jr memorial statue
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

mlk monument washington d.c.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Vietnam War Memorial Wall

Vietnam War Memorial Wall

Vietnam War Memorial Wall

Vietnam War Memorial Wall

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution

National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution

Ford’s Theatre

Peterson House

Peterson House

World War II Memorial

Washington Monument


Walk of Shame

Last Stop  │  Next Stop

U.S. Capitol Building Dome

Walk of Shame at the U.S. Capitol Building

Long before 9-11, terrorism was in my consciousness. When I was overseas, posters of the most wanted terrorists were prominently hung in our barracks. Those of us who drove were taught to examine the underside of vehicles for bombs.

Once, I had to fly out of Frankfurt, Germany to the U.S. on the Fourth of July. Just prior to my trip, a broadcast warned of a terrorist threat planned for July on just such a flight. I remember expecting a boom the entire trip – and it was a long one – over the Atlantic Ocean to New York.

With that backdrop and the world we live in today, I can understand the precautions that are necessary when we use airports, government buildings, and other public places. Sometimes, I complain about the loss of freedom but I’m really complaining about my personal inconvenience.

While we were in Washington D.C., we stayed at the same hotel where, just outside, a sniper’s bullet almost killed President Reagan. We woke early to get a head start on a busy day. We had a pre-scheduled tour of the Capitol Building, located at the far end of The National Mall. This would kick off a full day of walking through the Mall and visiting many of the museums and monuments. Heat was definitely going to be a problem. In recent days, the temperature had been in triple digits, and more of the same was expected. So, like a good Boy Scout, I was going to be prepared and filled up my camel pack (a small backpack that only holds water). Then I filled plastic bottles to go inside my wife’s and kids’ backpacks. Since we’d be on the go all day and well into the evening, I also threw in a fist full of snacks consisting of granola, crackers and trail mix.

My wife mentioned something about restrictions and security checkpoint at the Capitol Building. I blew it off. I mean c’mon – it was going to be a hundred degrees! We only had water and snacks. Open the packs, take a look, let us through. There was no doubt in my mind that that would be the extent of it. It’s not like we live in Russia (my mind sometimes sticks in the 1980s).

“Subway?” My wife suggested.

“Let’s hoof it. It doesn’t look so bad,” I said glancing at a map.

I definitely underestimated the time it would take, something I am not known to do.

“Look kids, White House,” snap-snap and we had our pic to show we were there. Then we were gone.

The White House exterior with fountain

Once we were on The Mall, we ran in spurts in order to meet our time slot for our scheduled tour. The length of the Mall was grossly underestimated.

“Damn map maker,” I muddled.

My wife didn’t let it slide. I was to blame. Little did she know, I was just warming up.

We joined the line, which was already snaking outside, and waited. It was already getting hot outside.

The kids asked for water and I said, “No, we need to conserve it.”

You know kids, no foresight. They would deplete our water supply by the time we got inside and then complain they needed a bathroom. That was my thinking anyway.

Every now and then as tourists entered into the building, we noticed they were sent back out to dispose of things not approved for entry.

“We should dump out our water,” my wife said.

I looked at her like she was crazy, “Are you kidding me – it’s going to be a hundred today. It’s water!”

When we finally entered the building, there were scanners and commotion everywhere. We had to remove bags, belts, shoes, you-name-it, for inspection.

“This can’t go in,” said security.

I was directed to take my camel pack outside to pour it out and return. A guard at the door would let me in and out. But I wasn’t permitted to dump water just outside the door. I had to go into the grass off to the side of the long line of people waiting to get inside. They looked at me like I looked at others coming back out earlier. As I poured, I saw some couples exchange words resulting in either water being dumped or a shake of a head, no.

When I got back inside, my wife was smiling and security was frowning.

“This has to go, too,” security said, handing me a bowl full of snacks.

I made a basket out of the front of my shirt, dumped in what I considered lunch to save a few bucks and headed back outside. This time, I was directed to the other side of the line where the dumpsters were located. I felt self-conscious on this walk of shame.

The U.S. Capitol Building in D.C.

Back inside, my wife and security guard were both frowning. Now I had to go dump the water bottles. I could have kicked myself for not thinking to dump them when I dumped the camel pack. As I poured away hydration in the greenest grass I had ever seen in July, I couldn’t even bear to look at the crowd of people who certainly recognized me by now.

A guard at the door smiled out of familiarity when I re-entered.

My wife and son were standing in the clear on the other side of the metal detectors. It struck me as a little off that my daughter was still on my side so I nudged her forward, anxious to put this freak-show behind us.

“Hold up!” came a voice I was growing to despise.

“Gotta take it out,” I was told.

“Really?” I gave a look of c’mon!

I didn’t mind the three shame walks because it was my fault for trying to get over. But they got me on all my goods. Yes, I was an idiot for thinking I was sensible. What could possibly be the hold-up this time, I wondered. Security pulled out sun screen from the bottom of my daughter’s back pack.

“The dumpster is just over there, outside the doors,” I directed my teenage daughter.

She looked startled. I had rattled her from her comfort zone. I was sacrificing my flesh and blood so that I could avoid a fourth strut down shame alley. Reluctantly, she complied. The doors and wall were glass so I could watch her the entire way.

Meanwhile, my wife and son were shooed off to keep the throngs of people flowing.

Commands echoed, directing us and others, “Clear the area, keep it moving.”

“We’ll catch up inside,” I called out to my wife as she and our son disappeared from sight.


“You too, sir,” said security putting a hand on me, pushing but not shoving.

I stood pat and explained, “I have to wait for my daughter, she’ll be right back. She had to dump something outside.”

“Doesn’t matter, you have to move on,” he said pushing against me again.

I understood rules and why water and crackers had to be thrown out to keep large crowds from being bogged down by deeper inspection. It was easier and efficient this way, especially considering it was the Capitol Building. But there was no way I was leaving my 13-year-old girl to fend for herself in that crowd.

“She’ll be here in a second, sir,” I said with a pleading smile.

As he started to repeat himself, my look changed. Something about it made the guard step to the side as if I had complied and wasn’t there anymore.

I felt terrible for wimping out on a fourth trip outside, but I was so familiar with the surroundings by then, I had convinced myself that my daughter would be just fine. Standing there was the most shame I felt. Although each second seemed like a minute, my daughter was by my side again and we entered the U.S. Capitol Building, safe and sound.

The Supreme Court may ponder whether they are an equal branch of government because by the time we entered that building, we had replenished our water supply, compliments of a drinking fountain. Security looked at everything we had and let us through without having to dump anything.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: National Mall & Memorial Parks next right
last leftLast Stop: Arlington National Cemetery







Lindy Clairborne Boggs Congressional Womens Reading Room

US Capitol dome

Arlington National Cemetery

Last Stop  │  Next Stop

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Changing of the Guard

On the road to Arlington National Cemetery, the traffic congestion caused me to go into “travel dad” mode. This is a nickname my kids came up with to describe me when I become intense behind the driver’s wheel during family trips.

We entered the roundabout just outside the entrance to Arlington Cemetery. I began to circle. Suddenly, a police car whipped in and cut me off, halting traffic without warning to allow a funeral procession the right of way. To my wife’s dismay, I complained about the raw deal an extra second made. As she was pointing out my selfishness another funeral procession entered the roundabout. I couldn’t help but gasp, “For crying out loud …you have got to be kidding me.”

My wife wasn’t happy with me and my kids just shook their heads, shaming me. “Travel Dad” quickly retreated, realizing as he should have all along – this isn’t really a tourist attraction, it’s a place for solemn respect.

Arlington Cemetery Motorcycle Funeral Procession

I am an Army veteran who had served in peace time Germany. Many of my friends stayed in or were called back for Operation Desert Storm as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A close cousin of mine enlisted a few years after I left the service and has since done five tours of duty in the two wars. Fortunately, my visit here would not include seeing the fallen of anyone I knew personally. But as soon as you enter these hallowed grounds and see the seemingly endless rows of white marble headstones, it dawns on you the magnitude of true sacrifice required to maintain the ideals of our nation.

arlington national cemetery headstones

I stared at the lush green lawns checkered with marble headstones sprawling to towering trees, over hills and beyond. The perfect rows of nondescript, uniform, white headstones went in every direction creating beautiful symmetric patterns. All of the stones I could see had a cross outline etched in the top center. I dropped to a knee and did a quick sign of the cross as a reaction to the flood of emotion overcoming every fiber of my being.

I heard my children express their awe with one word that came from under paused breath, “Wow.” But the word carried long and low. Everywhere we walked it was all that we could see. It was a heavy price for a place that charged no admission. Our path went uphill and our feet became as heavy as our hearts.

white headstones at arlington national cemetery

Our chattering voices discussing the impact and history of Arlington came to self-hushed whispers when we heard the clicking of shoe heels. It was a serviceman in dress uniform, marching alone, with a weapon angled upright over his shoulder.

The large marble cube he was guarding had the following words carved into it:

Here Rests In

Honored Glory
An American
Known But to God

It overlooked manicured green space bordered by shrubbery as high as trees.

Tomb of The Unknown Soldier

We were at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier.

Remarkably, it has never been officially named and is also referred to as The Tomb of The Unknowns. It is guarded 24/7/365. The original tomb lay to rest the remains of an unidentified WWI soldier. It symbolizes the resting place for all who have fallen in battle but were never identified. In front of it are three white slabs at ground/plaza level. These were added later. One has the remains of an unknown soldier from WWII and another from Korea. The third had the remains of an unknown soldier from Vietnam until DNA testing in 1998 identified him.

We counted the tomb guard’s paces at 21 in one direction and then 21 in the other. This symbolizes a 21 gun salute. The guards do their pacing for 1-2 hours at a time before there is a changing of the guard. The shift depends on the season and time of day. They march on a rubber mat that gets worn through about twice per year and is then replaced. From the looks of the path worn deep into the rubber mat as we looked on, it must have been near the end of its service. When the ceremonial changing of the guard occurs, there are three soldiers involved. The stone walk next to the rubber mat is stained by the soles of the shoes by the relief commander and new guard from the precise and repeated footprints made visible by time.


Complete silence is required during the changing of the guard ceremony and everyone in the area must stand. The snap precision of the procession is remarkable. The incredibly fit soldiers, polished shoes, pressed uniforms, serious faces, dark sunglasses (worn due to the glare off of the surrounding marble) and shiny bayonets at the ends of the two rifles all resonate with respect for the occasion. The relief commander and new guard face one another and the relief commander inspects the new guard and his weapon. There is a bit of theatre in this ritual as the weapon is flipped and spun impressively and then the commander’s head snaps down or to the side to further inspect the weapon.

We were mesmerized.

The old guard and relief commander marched off. The new guard paced slowly and deliberately. The steel in his shoe soles clicked for emphasis when he did an about face after marching 21 paces one way. He turned to march 21 paces back and would continue this for the next hour until the next changing of the guard. We faded away from the scene but the scene would never fade from our memories.

Many of the services conducted at Arlington National Cemetery are done so at the Memorial Amphitheater. It is adjacent to the Tomb of the Unknowns and accommodates approximately 5,000 people. Ground was broken in 1915 and it was dedicated in 1920. Previously, a smaller wooden structure was used for services. The present one is grand in scope and architecture. It hosts special occasions such as Memorial Day services but most of the time it’s open for visitors to peruse.

The amphitheater is made of Vermont-quarried Danby marble. A cornerstone contains a bible, copy of The Declaration of Independence, copy of the U.S. Constitution, and a 1915 U.S. flag among other things. Inside is a klismos which is a type of throne dating back to ancient Greece. It is a definite photo opportunity to have family members take turns sitting in it while the camera person stands at the far opposite end of the amphitheater.


“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,” are words from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which are inscribed above the amphitheater stage.

On our way to the Marine Corps War Memorial also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, we heard Taps being played. Off to the side of our pathway were just a dozen men in their dress blues. They snapped their posture and weapons to parade rest. They were laying to rest one of their own.

Yes, this is an active cemetery, not just a historic site.

We paused for a moment of silence and then quietly altered our course to avoid coming any closer to this private ceremony.


The Iwo Jima monument was a decent trek and I’m not even sure if it’s actually inside Arlington’s grounds because we had to cross a road and open grassy areas to get there. This was one of those works of architecture that stood high but also had intricate detail. It depicts the iconic WWII photo taken of Marines in the Pacific planting the American Flag. We snapped a lot of photos because it really captivated us, as it does all onlookers. But none of the photos gave it the majestic feel we had seeing it firsthand. Not even close.

Next, we were struck by the simplicity of the Kennedy brothers’ graves.  Robert Kennedy’s humble grave is marked by a small white cross and plaque that reads only of his name and the year of his birth and death. That’s it. President John F. Kennedy’s grave is marked by a flickering, eternal flame. Standing there made me think of all of the old television footage I had seen of that tumultuous time in our nation’s modern history. I felt connected in a way I hadn’t before.


After a day of walking – lots and lots of walking – we rested our weary heads on pillows at the Washington Hilton Hotel. This is the infamous site where President Reagan and others in his entourage were shot. Again, we whispered about the price of freedom. The days ahead would bring that price further into focus. Our “magical history tour” grew roots in our hearts and minds.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: Walk of Shame next right
last leftLast Stop: Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon

Last Stop  │  Next Stop


Our GPS wanted us to drive to what later looked to be Mount Vernon’s original driveway. The sprawling grounds in front of the historic 21-room mansion were only interrupted by a short red brick wall and white wooden gates. Then the green lawn sprawled again to a tree line and grassy narrowing. The white gates were open with one side sitting picturesquely cockeyed. It was a perfect family photo op with Mount Vernon’s white façade and red shingles in the very distant background.

Red shingles on roof at Mount Vernon

At first, the kids (myself included), had been thinking, whoopee, another historical building. But that soon changed. This was more than a house. It was 50 plantation acres that included a distillery, slave cabin, blacksmith shop, gristmill, greenhouse, beautiful gardens, tomb and even a dung repository.

“That’s right kids! I’ll bet this trip really stinks now,” I said. Then I paused and scratched my head silently lipping, “Wait-what?”

Washington’s estate once spanned 8,000 acres and his total land ownership topped 50,000 acres. At the time, it made him one of the country’s top land owners.

River side view of back of Mount Vernon

It was nice to be there early for our tour because by Noon, you’ll see just how popular George Washington is to this day. For a man considered one of the greatest Americans of his time and all-time, he sure suffered from humility. Among the highly educated founding fathers, he had no college education. In his career, he lost more battles than he won. He never had children of his own. And his dental misery began at the young age of 24.  His cosmetic attempts to hide his chronic teeth and gum problems included false teeth made of bone, ivory, lead, and other material. Washington’s account books even have an entry showing he purchased nine teeth from “Negroes” for 122 shillings. But never did he have wooden teeth!

Another legend that I hoped couldn’t be true was that of Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac River. On a leisurely walk I found myself at the river’s edge. While the family rested, I picked up a small rock and heaved it as far as I could. Then I tried skipping a stone. I was left thinking either my muscles were as bad as Washington’s gums or the first President had supernatural strength. In case you are wondering, the river is about a mile wide at Mount Vernon.

Potomac River at Mount Vernon

Towering over the mansion is a tree said to be a sapling when Washington lived at the estate. When I heard this, I was intrigued. My mind loves absorbing little known things that lead to a profound appreciation that otherwise wouldn’t have been obtained. As I stood in the shade, I admired the trunk, bark, branches and leaves of this living connector of time that I could now touch, and that our first President no doubt also touched. Small talk ensued with others marveling at this tree we all could have cared less about minutes earlier.

Washington Tree at Mount Vernon

Then, someone in our randomly formed gathering pointed at the octagonal cupola at the center of the mansion’s roof and said it was influenced by the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg. Having just come from there and next going to Washington D.C., it fascinated me how many of these stops would weave together our “magical history tour” up the east coast.

Washington was known to be an excellent dancer, the best horseman of his day and the foremost farmer of America. He was unanimously elected first President of the United States in 1789 by the Electoral College. There was no popular vote for president then. And he was the first to sign the Constitution.

Although the White House was under construction at his namesake, Washington D.C., which is only 16 miles north of Mount Vernon, George Washington is the only president not to occupy it. He served his two terms, before volunteering to not run for a third, at, then, the U.S. capital in New York City followed by Philadelphia.

excavation at Mount Vernon

Washington laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol Building in 1793. The building was later supposed to entomb his body but instead, he is now resting in peace with Martha, his wife, at Mount Vernon. Visitors can view the tomb. To see the two sarcophaguses next to each other inside the tomb seemed to transcend time again in the most peculiar way.

Washington Tomb at Mount Vernon

Washington’s Will directed that all of his slaves be freed upon his wife’s death. There were about 300 slaves at Mount Vernon upon his death. His first slave was inherited when he was just 11-years-old. Upon Martha’s death, some 153 remaining slaves were indeed freed. He was the only president to have all of his slaves freed. I thought back to Monticello. It struck me as odd that Jefferson didn’t do the same, especially considering some of his slaves were, literally, family!

Mount Vernon Slave Memorial

In 1983, a slave memorial was added to Mount Vernon, close by the president’s tomb. A gray granite column represents “life unfinished.” Three steps and brick circles lead up to it, each step with an inscription.

The first is “Faith,” then “Hope” and finally “Love ”.

These are said to represent the virtues that sustained those living in bondage. It overlooks an unmarked slave burial site. Legend says the bodies below were buried with their feet towards the east to symbolize their return to Africa.

We left Mount Vernon on that somber note for …Arlington Cemetery.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: Arlington National Cemetery next right
last leftLast Stop:  Colonial Williamsburg


Washington Carriage Mount Vernon

Slave Quarters at Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon Virginia

Building on grounds of Mount Vernon

Slave Burial Site at Mount Vernon

Colonial Williamsburg

Last Stop  │  Next Stop

Colonial Williamsburg Virginia Horse and Carriage

Walking down the pathway was definitely better than the shuttle offered. I felt we were slipping away from the modern rat race and into a living history.

Before reaching the former capital of Virginia, we stepped off the path to see an outlying homestead. The pause aided the transition to the historically accurate, eighteenth century community spanning 300 acres. Gone were the sounds of automobiles. Here were residents in costume and the original and reconstructed buildings of Colonial Williamsburg. It features some 500 buildings of which 88 are original structures.

Colonial Williamsburg Brick Buildings

Our next stop set the mood and expectations for a day like no other. In the Governor’s Palace, we gathered to hear a story by a young lady who seemed peeled from the history books and presented before us with exuberant life. This was no tour, it seemed real!

War currents swirled in the air. Revolution was on the horizon. And we were part of it. In fact, it was during the Revolutionary War that the capital of Virginia was moved to Richmond.

Colonial Williamsburg Houses

Marveling at the architecture and gardens as we walked along white picket fences cooled by the enormous shade trees, an unruly gathering occurred in the sprawling lawn before the Governor’s Mansion. We joined the rapidly growing group of tourists and discontents. The plentiful reenactors throughout Colonial Williamsburg worked, socialized, dressed and talked just as people did in colonial times, never breaking character.

Arguments broke out in the crowd. The tension was thick.

“Liberty or death! Liberty or death!” began chanting a young man raising his sword into the air shouting at the top of his lungs.

Within minutes we were swept up in a crowd, nearly trampled, as about a hundred people walked with men carrying muskets and swords while several banged on their war drums. As we approached the Governor’s Mansion, the governor was seen fleeing to the rooftop.


After the crowd dispersed, the unlikeliest of all sites lay before our historic eyes. It was Santa Claus. Well, more like Santa on vacation. With his full white beard and a bowl full of jelly, he also sported bright red shorts. He even laughed like Santa. But Santa on vacation also came with a ball cap, sandals, map and shopping bag.

“Oh-ho-ho,” we definitely snapped a photo of that!

Santa Claus at Colonial Williamsburg

The walk into downtown was nostalgic to say the least. Stylish colonial ladies waved the heat away with their fancy fans. Another lady in a dress sat side saddle on a horse, resting beneath a tall tree at the edge of a dirt road. Laughter from a parked carriage bellowed into the street from a young colonial couple yacking it up with pedestrian friends whose paths crossed by chance. A nearby British flag flapped in the breeze. We continued down a brick sidewalk. A lady came out a front door and beat the dust out of a rug. We were headed to see a fencing lesson.

An elder gentleman gave stern instruction to a younger man eager to learn from the expert swordsman. Both wore knee high leather boots and three quarter length coats. Metal clanged and the crowd around grew larger with each clank of the swords.


Once the streets, sidewalks and storefronts were bustling with intrigued visitors, and costumed colonials littered the crowd, a man on horseback came barreling down the road kicking up clouds of dust shouting for all to hear.

“Blood has been spilled in Massachusetts! British regulars seized gun powder from the magazine in Lexington!”

An ear piercing shriek came from a woman mixed in the crowd, “That’s the same as they did here! It is a conspiracy just as some of us suspected.”

Each actor wore a tiny, nearly unnoticeable microphone that made every word ring with drama that captured everyone’s attention and interest.

A man appeared on the porch of a tavern arguing, “We are only to assume a posture of DEFENSE. Not offense! We cannot be so eager for violence and retribution!”


Later, around a corner, “black folk” were having a conversation. They contemplated what freedoms a revolution may bring them. But after reading more from a bulletin out loud, they realized that any resulting freedoms would not include theirs. The fate of their people was best surmised by a towering man that burst into the surrounding crowd with sudden disgust, “DAMN!”


Our day was filled with such “random” gatherings and outbursts albeit pinpointed by place and time in our visitor’s guide.

After we ate a very tasty colonial lunch in one of the taverns, we explored the courthouse in the midst of a trial. The kids became prisoners in the stockade. We admired the authenticity of those working their trades in shops, including shoe repair, blacksmith, printing, gunsmith, wig maker and plenty more.

stockade at colonial williamsburg

A rather elegant carriage led by two horses came to a halt, was tied off and a wealthier looking colonial couple got out to fetch their repaired shoes from inside.

The rows of wood houses were painted in pleasing colors from reds to yellows to whites. The architecture of the old rooftop shingles, wooden shutters and brick chimneys was fantastic. The vastness of the town was quite a lot to take in but we managed. Inside and out, there was constant buzz. The kids stood on a crate to peer into a window here and there. This truly was living history.

colonial williamsburg chimneys colonial williamsburg rooftops

Then there was the call to sign up and fight. Young as our children were, they were old enough to enlist. So they signed their names into a ledger and entered an area where there was a gathering of arms. Young men gathered in social circles dressed for war, resting against trees, muskets in hand. Stacks of cannon balls grew next to rows of cannons.

cannons cannon balls at colonial williamsburg

Before there was any bloodshed, we took a few more tours of historic buildings and learned the stories of their inhabitants. And near the end of the return path out of Yesteryear, there was a plaque in the sidewalk that had these words, “What difference will you make?” We put our feet around it and snapped a photo.

Colonial Williamsburg pathway

Once we were back at the visitors’ center, we noticed the signs for the restrooms were cleverly designed. Each had a colonial person standing, like a woman in colonial hat and dress. It also had a colonial person sitting in a wheel chair. My wife thought it was a photo we needed but every time she snapped the shot, someone walked out the restroom doors, looked startling at her and then behind them, pondering, “What the hell…”

colonial williamsburg bathroom signs bathroom-sign-men-women-colonial-williamsburg

When she finally got her uninterrupted shot, we turned and noticed a trend she started. Other women were also trying to capture the signs with their camera phones. Anyone coming out of the rest room must have felt the Paparazzi-effect – something very un-colonial but always in mind when we reflect back on Colonial Williamsburg.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: Mount Vernon next right
last leftLast Stop:  Jamestown


governor's palace colonial williamsburg

garden at colonial williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg clock-tower

shoe repair at colonial williamsburg

militia at colonial williamsburg

horses at colonial williamsburg



Last Stop  │  Next Stop

Historic Jamestown Settlement

My daughter had decided that she wanted a photo of her mimicking statues at each site we visited. When we arrived at Historic Jamestown Settlement, there to greet us was Pocahontas with outstretched arms.

My daughter stood at the statue’s feet and tried to get her posture and hands right. Exiting was an Asian family. The tiny grandmother whisked over to my daughter and directed her. But the feisty grandma’s words were not English. The spoken language barrier was no barrier at all. Not when body language was universal. The little old lady posed to show my daughter how she should look. Then, the little old lady took her hands and physically started positioning my daughter’s feet, hands and hips. When she was pleased, she flashed a big smile, nodded her head and said something upbeat before scurrying off to rejoin her family.

Spontaneity and kindness always translates into a memorable moment anywhere you go. We laughed about it among our family as the little old lady did with hers as we walked our separate ways.

The site of the first permanent English settlement in America was alive. Something made it talk to me as I watched archeologists busy excavating in a roped off section of tiered dirt plateaus that plunged below normal ground level. It made the history seem that much more real. Kitty corner from that spot was a brick shell of a recreated 1608 church. Earlier excavation uncovered the original remains of what is known to be the earliest Protestant church in North America.

It was surreal to stand at the marker of a nondescript water’s edge and know that this was the landing spot of a people who would change a continent dramatically in a short while. With the beating heat, it was nice to retreat into the museum where fascination over the artifacts taken from the land right outside were displayed and explained.

Jamestown 1

Jamestown was founded in 1607 and was the capital of Virginia until 1699 when it moved to Williamsburg. The three ships that transported the first settlers were named Susan Contsant, Godspeed, and Discovery. The colony was started by 104 men and boys who survived the trip across the Atlantic in addition to 39 crew members. One person died on the journey.

Captain John Smith was going to be put to death upon arrival for mutiny but when they landed, sealed orders were opened naming Smith a member of the governing Council.


Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, was credited for saving Smith’s life from the Opechancanough. She was later abducted by Englishmen, converted to Christianity and took the name, Rebecca. After marrying John Rolfe, they traveled with their young son to England where she became ill and died.

The “Starving Time” spanned 1609 – 1610 when the combination of drought, supply ship delays and severely curtailed Indian trade caused a brief abandonment of the colony. Only 60 of the 500 colonists at that time survived the hardship.


The first Africans appeared in 1619 as indentured servants. Indentured servants, white and black, served for a time, earning their own way. William Tucker was the first black man born in the colonies and was considered a free man at birth. Around 1640, court records indicate the first known slave. His name was John Punch. He was an indentured servant who ran away and was captured. He was then sentenced to lifelong servitude.

As we walked along we were puzzled by the fake coyotes stuck in the ground that swayed slightly with the breeze. We learned that this was an effective way of controlling the amount of goose poop deposited in unwanted areas.

I checked the bottom of my shoes. Dammit!


Separate from Historic Jamestown, the actual historic site, was the nearby Jamestown Settlement which depicted a living history of the community with reenactors. I got a kick out of the number of Caucasian Native Americans (Powhatan Indians) demonstrating the skinning of animal hides and other practices for survival.

Jamestown Settlement

The kids loved the many hands-on experiences taught by knowledgeable and personality rich, costumed historical interpreters. But it was alone with my family in the harbor that I enjoyed a particular hands-on experience my two kids tried desperately to do. It was a fail. Over and over, it was a fail. And over and over, I chuckled at their determination in trying to hoist a full bucket of water using ropes from the dock. It was heavy. It would get stuck on the cross ropes forming a fence of sorts. They would shout at each other while trying to work together. A few times I started to consider what to do to treat severe rope burns but fortunately I never had to hash it out.

Ah, the little things, right?

Jamestown Settlement Tall Sail Ships

The three replica ships that sailed the original settlers, docked in the harbor, were great photo ops. We boarded and enjoyed exploring the vessels. When the captain emerged from his quarters, he looked every bit the part. He sounded it too. And he was more than happy to pose for family photos as he anchored himself between the kids.

That’s when Mother Nature had a word with us followed by park employees.

“Head for shelter! A big storm is rolling in!”

But we had more of the settlement to see outside so we lingered. How bad could it be? How long would it last? It didn’t matter because all of the employees buttoned up the colonist’s fort and headed indoors. Reluctantly, we had no choice but to follow.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: Colonial Williamsburg next right
last leftLast Stop: Monticello


Last Stop  │  Next Stop

Monticello Thomas Jefferson Home

Before we all awoke to set out to see Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, I was counting sheep. Then I started counting cookies. After dinner the night before, we went to Subway just to get cookies and made it there right before they closed. They gave us more than a dozen for free.

Whether it’s cookies or ice cream, I have zero will power. So, even though I felt guilty, I devoured every last cookie and crumb sitting on a table at the foot of the hotel bed, hoping my crunching wouldn’t wake anyone else up.

There was hell to pay in the morning. I cowered out of shame like my dog does when he knows he did something he should not have done.

Anyway, all was right in the kids’ world after indulging on chocolate pancakes. Now we were ready for our magical history tour.

One of the fascinating things about the trip was how history wove connections up the coast as we went. For example, Jefferson had an incredible personal library of books. But only a fraction of which remained at Monticello. When the Library of Congress burned – destroying its collection of books – during the War of 1812, Jefferson restarted it with his own personal collection. Later on in the trip, we visited the Library of Congress – such an astonishingly beautiful place – and saw Jefferson’s original book collection. To think, it was once the entire collection for the Library of Congress.

Going into the tour of Monticello, I knew the tales about Jefferson’s promiscuity with his female slaves.  But what I didn’t know is that DNA proved a slave by the name of Sally Hemmings mothered at least one child by Jefferson. More interesting was that Hemmings was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha. Hemmings was inherited with Martha’s father’s estate. Another interesting note, in light of Jefferson’s “closeness” to his slaves is that he did not free them all in his will as George Washington had.

Monticello was designed with some very unique characteristics. Two stuck with me. The first was his bed built to divide two rooms, his bedroom from his office (called cabinet). This set-up was designed to save space. And it had the first skylights in the U.S.  The second was a peculiar clock in the entrance hall. It was powered by cannon ball-like weights on ropes but it was too long so a hole was cut into the floor allowing it to extend to the cellar below. Therefore, all of the plaques with days of the week weren’t visible at once. Later, we made it our mission to explore the cellar to find Saturday.


Before departing this historic wonder, and its grand gardens, landscaping, architecture and past, we marveled at one last incredulous footnote in American history.

On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1826 – the last two founding fathers, former Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died. They had been friends, fellow revolutionaries and adversaries. In 1796, they ran against each other in the nation’s first contested presidential election. And it got ugly!

On his death bed, Adam’s last words were, “At least Jefferson still lives,” but Jefferson had actually preceded him in death by several hours.


Later while unwinding, I happened across the kids’ journals we were “forcing” them to keep. Their entries thus far made it sound like we were on the vacation from hell! Entries included, “We have spent the past few hours listening to Dad play his terrible music,” and “Look kids, history …more history …more history …can’t wait until we get a day at the beach!”

This was not what I had in mind for journals of a vacation costing an arm and a leg. So I confronted the kids about it. They laughed and said when we set out, they decided to keep a spoof journal that did nothing but make fun of me and this trip. I wasn’t exactly down with that but since it was all in good humor, I let it slide. Much as they tried to diss the vacation for comedic relief, their journals later produced some real gems that I would save and cherish for years to come. The first sign of profound things to appear later was a simple acknowledgement that said, “I like the small things but appreciate the big things. The big things bridge it all together.”

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: Jamestown next right
last leftLast Stop:  A Slap Happy Start


A Slap Happy Start

To The Magical History Tour

Last Stop  │  Next Stop


A Slap Happy Start to an East Coast Adventure

Two things are sure when you plan a vacation. One is you’ll come out the other side remembering things you didn’t seek. The other is that it is always more expensive than any estimate going in.

When we shared our plans to zigzag up the east coast on what we dubbed our “magical history tour,” others didn’t understand this type of vacation.

“Wow, that’s aggressive” or “You’ll need a vacation after your vacation” capsulate the comments we heard. Oh, another was that we wouldn’t be anyplace long enough to truly experience it.

But we were veterans of such family road trips to see America. So we knew full well what we were going to experience was the unexpected and that was what our trips were about. Littered in were the usual, and some unusual, tourist attractions and traps.

We started with a long day’s drive to get to Virginia. By suppertime, we were slap happy. Our vacation had just begun and already a relatively well-mannered family was about to slip on a banana peel of inappropriateness.

That proverbial banana peel came in the form of a sign across from our restaurant sporting two O’s next to each other with a small center darkened low in each. The name of the place was lit in neon and had the letters b,o,o,b,s but not in that order. We didn’t care. And when we started play-asking each other directions to “Boobs Bakery” in a Swedish accent, we grew louder and louder with roaring belly laughter.

“Thut might nut beee thu wooord dey say in theeez country, yaw?”

It was okay while we were the only patrons but when the place filled in, our attempts to hold back made matters worse. One snort instead of letting a laugh out loud and we were all four doubled-over. I hate people like that! And here we were those people!

One thing led to another and as the kids today say, “That was random.” And so it was when the conversation turned, setting sights on my tattoo.

I have a silly tattoo on my arm of a mouse I got years ago in the Army. The 18-year-old me thought it was a design I could live with for the rest of my life. The middle-aged me thought differently.

So in our melee of a good time in this restaurant, my kids took rare notice of my exposed tattoo. My son quipped, “Can you make your drunk mouse dance?”

My daughter literally shot soda (I’m from the Midwest so I really want to say “pop” not “soda”) out of her mouth and made a scene with her uncontrollable laughter.

“Why was that so funny?” I asked pulling my short sleeve down a bit over my mouse.

She revealed that what she had heard was, “Can you make your junk dance?”

We all lost it!

“Come on now, we’re not over there at Boobs!”

I honestly thought we were going to be shown the door.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: Monticello next right

last leftLast Stop: East Coast