Only, it wasn’t a state park, not anymore. Arriving at the Visitor’s Center, I saw that it was closed and that it had a large piece of cardboard that stated: “INFO and TOURS at the TEMP. VISITOR’S CENTER ACROSS FROM MCCONKEY FERRY INN (NEAR BRIDGE).” So I left the large brick visitor’s center, which I assumed had things like maps and books and bathrooms, and went along toward the bridge, where I saw a trailer that had four flags in front of it. In I went, and was ushered into a back room where I watched a fifteen minute video showing a George Washington that bore a disturbing likeness to the guy that took Barney Fife’s place after he left the Andy Griffith Show, Warren Taylor. Warren, or George, would sit at his table, think about how precarious the situation was for his people, and then bang the table in frustration.
When I was done with the video, a lady in period dress asked if I wanted a tour. Told that it was five bucks, I signed up.
The tour was straight out of the trailer and to a couple of the buildings that were nearby. The tour guide, Connie, was nice enough, though, and she knew her stuff. But the most interesting thing she told me was that the National Park Service had stopped funding the park two years earlier. She was a part of an organization called “Friends of Washington Crossing Park,” a group of citizens who had gotten together to keep the place going. When I asked why they had pulled their funding, she went into the diatribe about a lack of funds but an even greater lack of priorities. “Of course, all those folks who voted to stop their funding keep their fancy cars and their assistants…” Maybe it would take an economy as dreadful as the current one to get people back into the spirit of 76. Over on the Jersey side of the Delaware, things were a little better. At least there was a bathroom in the visitor’s center.
Driving home, I called my daughter to tell her about Pennsylvania’s short-sightedness, and was greeted with a baffling silence. She couldn’t really see why it was such a tragedy that Pennsylvania wasn’t funding the spot of land where Washington took sail. She thought it was more important that money be spent on schools to teach kids about the battle than protecting the patch of grass from whence it started. My wife felt the same way. Was I the only one who thought this place was important? Perhaps. But if so, it was not going to change my mind. We need to keep certain places set apart as shrines. Buddhists flock to the place where the Buddha figured out that one could achieve inner transformation anywhere. It doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have to. It is a simple human yearning that shows our priorities, and to stop taking care of the place where Washington made the most daring and transforming ploy of the war is to continue the act of forgetting about the ideals that made us a country in the first place. We want to see the place where important events took place, and we don’t always know why that is. To pick up the vibes, to see what others saw before us, to try to gain a greater understanding of an event, an understanding that cannot be garnered from books.
But it is more than that. It is also to pay tribute, tribute to the departed ones who gave us the lives we live. We owe them something, don’t we? I’ll always remember the story a politician in southern Virginia told me. He was at a legislators meeting, and one of the members rose and requested that an antiquated piece of legislation that had been long ignored and had no relevance to modern times, be stricken from the books. There was a long pause before the Chairman rose. “Well, uh, Ah believe that Mr. Jefferson had a part in drafting that legislation…”