Did you ever imagine touring Washington, D.C., with President Abraham Lincoln? Or witnessing the burning of Washington in 1812 when President James Madison was in office?
Did you ever walk in Ben Franklin’s footsteps in Philadelphia? Recall the epic battles of Gettysburg, Antietam, and Fredericksburg? Share stories about making moonshine in Thurmont, Md.?
These and many other Find Your Park Experiences, taking place this month in the Mid-Atlantic, offer unique opportunities to explore national parks and celebrate the National Park Service, which turns 100 on Aug. 25. (And, Aug. 25–28, admission is free at all national parks.)
Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, Pa.
One way to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial is to take a walk around Ben Franklin’s neighborhood to learn more about this famous American author, inventor, scientist, and politician. (A free mobile app for the “In Franklin’s Footsteps” audio tour is available.)
Begin your tour at the Franklin Court Printing Office and then proceed to the Franklin Courtyard, where there is a steel outline of his large home. Next, visit the library and museum of the American Philosophical Society. Then, head over to Independence Hall and pause to look at the Liberty Bell, which no longer rings, but is a symbol of American independence. (Play the “Ring the Liberty Bell” activity on the app to hear how it sounded.)
End your tour at Christ Church Burial Ground, the final resting place of Franklin, who died April 17, 1790, at the age of 84. Guided tours are offered every Saturday and Sunday through Sept. 4 at 10:00am. (215-965-2305)
Fort McHenry National Monument, Baltimore, Md.
When the National Park Service was created in 1916, the citizens of Baltimore watched the military review of soldiers at Fort McHenry. “Fort! Flag! Freedom!” free living history programs are offered Wednesday–Sunday, through Aug. 21. They feature special musket, artillery, and flag talks, fife and drum concerts, talks on civilian life, and children’s activities.
On the afternoon of Aug. 6, the fort will host a free tattoo ceremony featuring patriotic music, military pageantry, and military history by the U.S. Navy’s band, drill team, and color guard. The drill team will perform modern rifle exercises and precision marching, while the Fort McHenry Guard, dressed in 1814 uniforms, will demonstrate hand-to-hand combat exercises and fife and drum music from the War of 1812.
The program will conclude with members of the audience folding the huge Star-Spangled Banner Flag. (410-962-4290)
Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, Md.
A great way to celebrate this unique park centers on stories about sawmilling, charcoal and iron mining, and moonshining.
Settlers began making whiskey in the area in 1734. A 1929 raid found 25,000 gallons of mash in 13 vats, with the capacity of 2,000 gallons each, at the Blue Blazes Whiskey Still, resulting in the death of the deputy sheriff and the conviction of two moonshiners.
A small still is located at the park’s Distillery Run.
Visitors are invited to a free program, “Moonshine in the Catoctins: Family Stories,” at the Thurmont Public Library on Aug. 9. Then, the history of the National Park Service will be discussed during a free program at the visitor center Aug. 25. Did you know that President Franklin Roosevelt used one of the park cabins, Bear’s Den, during World War II? (301-663-9388)
Monocacy National Battlefield, Frederick, Md.
The house at Thomas Farm was bombarded during the Battle of Monocacy, also known as “the battle that saved Washington, D.C.”
In the summer of 1864, the Confederate Army, under the command of Gen. Jubal Early, waged war on the Union forces in Frederick. Outnumbered three-to-one, the Confederates lost.
On Aug. 20, rangers and volunteers will provide access to the house on Barker Valley Road, and living historians will demonstrate life in the 19th century. The program is free. (301-662-3515)
Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Md.
The Antietam National Battlefield will celebrate Living History Weekend, Aug. 13–14, with military demonstrations at the visitor center and Burnside Bridge and a civilian camp at Mumma Farm.
Artillery Weekend, Aug. 27–28, will feature demonstrations of loading and firing of Civil War artillery, as well as cannon firing.
Both programs are free. (301-432-5124)
Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pa.
Beginning Aug. 25, National Park Service Founders Day, a series of events will celebrate the centennial at Gettysburg.
The National Park Service Centennial Ball, sponsored by the Victorian Dance Ensemble with music by the Philadelphia Brigade Band, will be held Aug. 26 at the museum and visitor center. During Living History Weekend, Aug. 27–28, Civil War historians encamped on the Gettysburg battlefield will share information about the historic site and demonstrate the tools, tactics, and firepower of the Union and Confederate armies that waged war here. (717-334-1124)
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Fredericksburg, Va.
“Solemnity, Grandeur, and Everyday People: 100 Years of National Parks,” the last of three free summer programs this year, will be held on the evening of Aug. 20 at the Sunken Road, next to the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center. Park rangers will discuss the history of the National Park Service around the campfire. Bring lawn chairs and flashlights. (540-693-3200)
Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Va.
The artists of Middle Street Gallery in Sperryville, Va., will celebrate the centennial with a special exhibit at the Skyland and Big Meadows lodges, starting Aug. 4 and running through Oct. 31. The Hawksbill Viewing Platform will be rededicated on Aug. 20. And, on Aug. 27, the Byrd Visitor Center, Mile 51 (snpbooks.org), will host a photography seminar. (540-999-3500)
Centennial Events, Washington, D.C.
“Union Jack O’er the Capitol: The Burning of Washington in the War of 1812” is a ranger-led program about the British invasion of the capital city when President James Madison was in office. This free tour, covering 2-1/2 miles, leaves from the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument at 3:00pm Aug. 6, 13, 20, 24, 25, and 27. (202-525-0337)
“World War II: The American Front” focuses on the battles fought in North America involving submarines and saboteurs and the Japanese invasions of the Alaskan Islands. The free tour departs at 11:00am and 3:00pm Aug. 7 and 21 from the World War II Memorial. (202-359-7080)
“Mr. Lincoln Goes to Washington” is a two-hour walking tour of the president’s life and death in D.C. The free tour departs at 11:00am Aug. 13 from the base of the Washington Monument and ends at Ford’s Theater. (202-308-8148)
Join a park ranger at the Washington Monument Lodge at 9:00am Aug. 13 for an exciting trek around the National Mall and learn about the city’s icons. “Stories of the Wall,” a free program about some of the 58,315 names listed on the wall, will occur at 3:00 and 7:00pm Aug. 25 at the Three Servicemen Statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (202-438-5377 or 202-426-6841)
Carol Timblin welcomes travel stories at email@example.com.