De­light­ing in the his­tor­i­cal de­tails

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

“I don’t want to bore you with the de­tails.”

It’s hard not to reach out a com­fort­ing hand any time I hear this. Sto­ries are ev­ery­thing. They can’t be bor­ing — not if you’re lis­ten­ing closely and ask­ing the right ques­tions. I bathe in de­tails, swim in de­tails — seek them out like prized shells on a long stretch of beach. And if they’re his­tor­i­cal? Well. Grow­ing up just south of the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, my par­ents liked ex­plor­ing “learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties” on week­ends. Mu­se­ums, his­toric neigh­bor­hoods, ex­hibits: noth­ing was off-lim­its. My dad has since be­come a tour guide in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., if that gives you an idea of what we’re work­ing with here. Mom and Dad? Knowl­edge buffs.

As kids, of course, my sis­ter and I found it all hope­lessly bor­ing. But as an adult? South­ern Mary­land is a trea­sure trove. We just need to make the ef­fort to dive in.

Like many great ed­u­ca­tional love af­fairs, my pas­sion for his­tory was even­tu­ally ig­nited by a great teacher. As a fresh­man at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land, Dr. Chris­tine Arnold-Lourie made colo­nial Amer­ica come alive. While I’d lis­tened to sto­ries of his­tory’s he­roes and foes be­fore, I re­called lit­tle and stud­ied even less. My col­lege class was a pre­req­ui­site, and I went in with few ex­pec­ta­tions.

With her lively lec­tures, Dr. Arnold-Lourie opened up a por­tal to the past like I had never ex­pe­ri­enced it be­fore. Her en­thu­si­asm and knowl­edge were con­ta­gious, and I found my­self in­de­pen­dently re­search­ing top­ics I’d never even heard of un­til then. Where had this ver­sion of his­tory been hid­ing? I took a sec­ond class in the spring. I was hooked.

Though we live in a rel­a­tively new coun­try, we still have cen­turies’ worth of amaz­ing sto­ries close to home. I never tire of find­ing off-the-grid nooks, build­ings and parks to see — even if they lack mod­ern air-con­di­tion­ing, a non-ne­go­tiable in sticky South­ern Mary­land. By the time I trans­ferred to the Univer­sity of Mary­land, I’d cho­sen to mi­nor in Amer­i­can his­tory. Ge­neal­ogy, cul­tures, iden­tity, divi­sion of wealth and power: so much is wrapped up in our col­lec­tive story. One we’re all still writ­ing.

Mount Aven­tine within Chap­man State Park was my de­tour on a re­cent sunny Fri­day. If you haven’t been to the park, a beau­ti­ful and se­cluded re­treat along the Po­tomac in In­dian Head, consider it your moral duty to take a guided tour on a Sun­day af­ter­noon. Any­one who has ad­mired Mount Ver­non, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s his­toric Vir­ginia home, will find much to love right in Charles County (sans the crowds).

Friends of Chap­man State Park, the vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tion car­ing for the prop­erty, have worked ex­ten­sively with the state to re­store Mount Aven­tine and make it ac­ces­si­ble for all to en­joy. Hear­ing ac­tive Friends mem­bers Linda Dyson and Nancy Me­gas dis­cuss the home and their hopes for its fu­ture was in­spir­ing.

And if you think the man­sion is stun­ning? Well, walk around back.

Me­gas de­scribed the view as “the most mag­nif­i­cent view of the Po­tomac River in all of Charles County” — and she wasn’t over­selling it. Step­ping onto the porch with the wa­ter sparkling on the hori­zon, it’s easy to see why so many have fallen in love with Mount Aven­tine and oth­ers have worked so hard to pro­tect it.

In our fast-paced world, ap­pre­ci­at­ing the past still mat­ters. Long-ago res­i­dents of our home­towns shaped them into what we know to­day. It’s fun to pic­ture the Chap­man chil­dren slid­ing down the orig­i­nal wood ban­nis­ters or the Count­ess Mar­git Bessenyey — the last pri­vate owner of Mount Aven­tine — strut­ting in her stun­ning beaded dresses. They were a part of its story, and so are we.

Be­ing in these places, walk­ing where so many oth­ers have walked . . . well, it’s not the same as re­search­ing it on Wikipedia or peer­ing at old books. It makes an im­pact. It fills you with awe.

I feel that ap­pre­ci­a­tion at Sot­ter­ley Plan­ta­tion, too. At Thomas Stone Na­tional His­toric Site, Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Point Look­out. At Cove Point Light­house and Small­wood State Park. It’s rev­er­ence. Thank you to the many vol­un­teers who ded­i­cate their time and en­ergy to­ward keep­ing the lights on at our lo­cal trea­sures. Most are “paid” only in ap­pre­ci­a­tion — and your pas­sion does not go un­no­ticed. We’re grate­ful for your ca­pa­ble hands!

(And, of course, for air-con­di­tion­ing.)

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