My son, brother, and I were up at our camp retreat in the Adirondacks, begun by our dad 36 years ago. Just six miles away is one of the most famous forts in colonial America. After breakfast, for fun, we thought we might see if it was possible to re-visit the fort, having heard that a few things had changed since our last time there.
Sure enough, there was now a new entryway, complete with an admission booth. I pulled the truck up to it, and inquired whether we might proceed to the bookstore, which had always stocked a fair amount of titles, where one could peruse the stock, before deciding whether today would be the day to pay the full admission to check on any updates in the exhibits inside.
Not today. Not anymore. No money up front, no visit to the bookstore.
Having served on an authentic historical site as a board member, I understand the desperate need to raise funds, but I did not have the $52.50 in my pocket that morning. We had not planned to spend the entire day there.
As the nice woman shrugged and turned us away, my brother said, “you should have told them who you are”.
Ha. He was having fun with me, and joking, of course. But it kind of brought forth a sense of wonderment about my experiences this summer the authentic historical sites I visited all over the world.
I thought some about it. The bookstore that I had wanted to visit this morning stocked titles that featured my work as a history teacher and avocational archaeologist. I’m actually written about in some of the books.
I remembered I had a similar experience at our first major stop on the Holocaust Resistance tour in Europe a few weeks back. As twenty five educators toured the site, all of my colleagues chose to give up part of their lunch hour for a private introduction by a key staff member who took the time to explain my role in helping that museum/memorial site create a special exhibition on the evacuation transports that left that concentration camp in April 1945. As we boarded the bus at the end of the day, someone opened the Bergen Belsen official guidebook they had purchased in the bookstore (which in my excitement I had overlooked)- and there was the Benjamin photo, and summary of my work.
Later in the tour at another authentic site, concentration camp Ravensbruck in Germany, after an intense day I spied a different title and pulled it off the shelf, and showed it to another colleague. It’s the story of a survivor that I know, and this book probably would not have been written had it not been for the efforts that I had made in my teaching career.
The following week in Poland, the same thing happened to me with another title. I was able to open the book and point to my name in the credits and acknowledgments, and show where my work made a significant impact for the author and his thesis.
Pretentious bragging? I really, really hope not. In fact I wrote this post weeks ago, not at all anxious to share, but as I process what has happened this summer, I figure stunned realization is more like it .
To visit authentic historical sites, some halfway around the world where I have never been before, and see the impact of this passion on others, is something both profound and humbling. I feel it has been transformative at some base level, yet I have not even completed my own book yet (it just keeps changing in my head- and believe me, it is up there). So it goes up to be added to the archive of happenings that occasionally knock me on the head.
In the end, getting turned away from the bookstore didn’t matter at all, except maybe to kindle a flame… though it is always a thrill to hold the book in your hands, and thumb to the page with your name on it.