I was bored to tears with history throughout primary and secondary school. It seemed to be little more than lists of dates, old white guys’ names, battles, and treaties. Put them together with a droning teacher’s voice and the sluggish afternoon sun, and time slowed to a never-ending crawl.
Recently, I’ve gotten more interested in history, largely due to two podcasts: A History of the World in 100 Objects and Backstory. Both turn my grumpy middle school era memories of history on their ear with interesting topics and playful exploration. At the same time, Ingress has led me and my boyfriend to read more of D.C.’s neighborhood heritage trail signs -since such signs can be registered as portals- while we blast enemy resonators or wait to rehack.
We decided to get to know this other dimension of D.C. and follow a whole trail from start to finish. We picked Brightwood Heritage Trail because it included the only battle of the Civil War fought in the boundaries of the District of Columbia. Over Labor Day weekend, we walked up to the starting point and wandered around Brightwood in the high sun of midmorning.
It was pretty neat. I enjoyed the historical tidbits included on each marker, and the sense of the community through time. They didn’t limit the information to this corporal served under that general and captured these hills in a valiant fight. They talked about the businesses, churches, and schools as well. Highlights for me were the history of Posin’s Deli from 1947 to 1998, Sheridan Street’s row houses built in different architectural styles in 1938, and learning about “Aunt Betty” Elizabeth Proctor, a free black woman who owned 11 acres there in the mid-1800s.
The northernmost marker is one of the smallest national cemeteries in the U.S. They buried 41 Union soldiers here after the Battle of Fort Stevens. Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication, after witnessing the battle first hand. The sandstone building on it now houses a tidy National Park Service office, but no one was in to show us around.
We finished up around the remains of Fort Stevens itself, and hoisted ourselves onto the grassy berms shored up with imitation log fortifications. A deep moat dropped below us and I looked at the neat rows of neighborhood houses across the street. I stuck my hand in the mouth of the rifled cannon and felt the grooves that guided out the cannonballs. A couple lounged in the deep shade of a giant oak tree. The sun was hot, and it was time for lunch.