The thing about Traveller’s Rest… Well, the main thing about Traveller’s Rest is that there’s not any place where they loudly proclaim that the place used to be called Golgotha. It’s not until you’re way at the back of the house looking at the sign that faces the railroad switchyard parking lot and the sign mentions the fact that this is also a Mississippian site that you slowly turn around and look up the hill at the house and think of the slaves, and hell, the Judge, calling it “Golgotha” because they pulled so many skulls out of the basement as they were digging it, and you get the big old heebie-jeebies. But by then, it’s too late. You have to walk back by the house. You have to walk up the hill. You and the Indian Burial Ground and the old house.
No, the thing about Traveller’s Rest is that it’s not quite perfect. I would have liked to have seen more about the lives of slaves there. But it’s pointing in a direction that shows you what a historical tourist destination like this could be. There’s good discussion and incorporation of women’s lives. The Civil War stuff is well-laid-out and well-mapped. The house and what out-buildings remain are preserved without feeling like they’re not old. And the roof was done like they did the roofs at New Salem–on that big old house!
I tell you. One thing about having Bridgett not only as a commenter but as a friend and historical resource is that I feel like I look at things differently now. I want to see whatever it is I can see, because I know if I don’t understand it, I have someone I can ask.
I know it will never happen, but I wish we had public historians like that. I don’t know what they’d do all day. I guess work on their own stuff. But I would love to schedule an appointment with a public historian who would tell me all about the Allens, you know?
They had wonderfully secretly nerdy docents there, too. There was the guy who helped me discover that they don’t know how the Martha that married Ben Allen’s uncle fits into their family. They had like eight Martha Overtons in their book, but none of them were the right one. And then there was the red-bearded guy who took me through their museum.
And people–they have Shy’s casket. At the museum. With its big hole from where the grave robbers broke in. And the red-bearded guy told me all about it. It was so awesome. So very gruesome and so awesome. In thanks, I told him about the British tradition of killing a dog and making it the first burial in a church yard to keep grave robbers away, which he was delighted about because he’s reading Arthur Conan Doyle right now.
So that was nice. And nerdy. And lovely.
Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that it’s not overly “rah-rah, the South!” which has the effect, I think, of letting the contradictions stand. Maybe that’s the thing–in the past, we wanted our historical places to resolve their contradictions into a story that let us feel like there was a moral or a lesson. And now it seems like we’re starting to test out what it would mean to tell stories about places in which things don’t resolve into a moral.
I think this has been the way of historical scholarship for a long time, but it’s nice to see it trickling down into public history.
Oh, history people.