American History gets me down. I have noticed over the past few years — perhaps coinciding with our going mobile and RV’ing all over the country — that I’m less and less interested in viewing historical sites. The problem with history is that; it tells you what happened. Being retired, I have more time to “enjoy” the sites — meaning I have more time to read the legends and absorb the content. Which results in becoming terribly depressed about the way we have treated the First Nations on this continent, the way we have treated slaves, and pretty much the way we treat each other. Consequently, every time I heard the Tump slogan about making America great again I kept wanting to ask when WE are going to make America great for the First Time?
So, here’s my original thoughts as modified by a little post visit reflection…
We should have spent more time getting in shape before arriving in Minneapolis to visit Melanie and Drew! Those youngsters (Melanie [granddaughter] & Drew[new husband, as in elapsed time not subsequent husband] ) are hikers and we are a couple of not-so-great walkers. Still, they were very patient with Peg & I as we went exploring with Kathryn (our daughter) around Minneapolis and St Paul. I fear we held them back a bit on our explorations on Saturday, but I’m sure we weren’t any worse than how much my parents, or Peg’s parents slowed US down 50 years ago when we were the newlyweds! I guess that’s part of life and aging — for a while we’re the frontrunners, and then we aren’t!
Fort Snelling is now operated by the Minnesota State Historical Society. We heard the interesting story about how money to fund the site has been batted about like a shuttlecock at a badminton game but that’s a story for another day, though it’s part of my disillusionment.
It’s hard to visualize the site area the way it would have been 200 years ago when it was frontier. Then it was all grasslands and prairies. Now it’s thickly wooded and you can barely see where the river flows, much less use the site as a warning post for impending marauders or gathering armies. Even thinking about the way in which the Twin Cities developed is hard to imagine. We are more familiar with the area where the “kids” house is and that was once the extent of the city. They live 3/8 ths of a mile East of Nicollet Avenue. It was the first street to have had public transportation back in the day. Their neighborhood was a logical development in the history of the city, just as Fort Snelling was a logical site from which to protect what was then the furthest explored extent of the Louisiana Purchase and the U.S. Settlers were still forbidden in this area when construction of Fort Snelling was begun; it was off limits to citizens.
In the realm of history, Fort Snelling is a “new” old site. Compared with the military fort at St. Augustine FL, Fort Snelling is a relative babe-in-the-woods. It’s been a place for an awesome 200 years; while St Augustine has been a fortress and city for over 400 years now. History is all about relativity. And that is what got me to thinking….
It seems that several of the men in charge of building the fort, and those in command of the fort even after the civil war were slave owners. The details are all there in the plaques, legends and the spoken narrative by the docents. Officially, this area was never part of the land where slaves were bought, sold, and owned, but commanders and public officials kept their slaves from when they had been living and stationed further south, and brought them along to their new postings there at Fort Snelling.
That part of the story kind of turned my stomach. But much of the interpretive space at Fort Snelling is dedicated to telling yet another gut wrenching story, that of the Japanese internment camps — or more accurately called Concentration Camps — operated by the U.S. government during WWII for those “suspected” of being dangerous; namely people of Japanese origin or heritage — whether or not they were born in the U.S. or were U.S. citizens.
By the time I reached the end of the display I wanted to sit down and cry; to weep over the record of how this nation has treated the First Nations, and slave, and the Japanese, and today Muslims; how we inject our opinions on the world and have never been a nation of peace, but have wrought havoc on much smaller countries at our will, and served as armorers to the world. When I am reminded of how we have repeatedly treated other ethnic groups I want to say, “forget about making America great ‘again'”, let’s make it great for the first time! I am posting just a few of many, many personal stories that were displayed on the walls.
Okay, it’s a nice “place” to spend a summer’ s day. There are fields on which to walk, and pathways. You can see the river and enjoy the birds and the critters. Little boys (and maybe girls too) will love climbing on cannons, and watching the little military reenactments that are scheduled. There’s plenty to absorb if you’re a good citizen and proud of your country. There are touchstones to history if you are a member of the armed forces, or served in them. Yeah — it’s a patriotic site. And a beautiful one at that. In it’s way. But I don’t think we ever dare forget the horror and the cruelty we exerted over our fellow humans.
If that was not enough, at the portion of the Fort designated as the Indian Agency the historical society has made room for a Native American — a member of the Lakota Tribe — to tell the story of how the U.S. treated Indians. She’s pretty direct in her telling of a not very pretty story. If your stomach wasn’t turned by the rest of the visit and you make it through her history lesson without wrenching a few times then I am afraid you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Much more to my liking we drove past the Wiseman Gallery, housed in an interesting Frank Gehry structure. I have a special love for Frank Gehry’s architecture. He surely sees things the rest of us don’t and as compared to Frank Lloyd Wright’s structures which all seem to have maintenance issues because of his choice of materials and techniques, Gehry’s seem to wear their age much better.
So there you have our Saturday in Minneapolis. Delayed by several weeks, yes. Appreciated for what it was, yes. To be repeated? Well, not the Fort Snelling portion, but I’m sure we’ll be back to see the Weismann from the inside, and some day soon, I hope.