I cannot help but break into a huge grin as I approach the promenade of the ultra-iconic Brooklyn Bridge, which I have seen so many times on screen – and am thrilled to now be seeing in real life, on a glorious sunny day.
As I make my way across, in the shadow of its two vast arches, I stop occasionally to admire the view across the water and back over to Manhattan.
The structure also has a truly fascinating history; a marvel of engineering whose main span of about 1,600 feet was the longest in the world until – seven years after its 1893 opening – the completion of the Forth Bridge.
The US landmark was the brainchild of John Augustus Roebling, but following his death, duties were taken over by his son. When Roebling Jnr took ill, his own wife Emily Warren Roebling took the reins, and was the first person to cross the bridge, carrying a rooster for good luck.
It also must have been one of the first US landmarks seen by the many immigrants to the US who arrived at Ellis Island. In fact between 1892 and 1954 the Island saw more than 12 million arrive from across the globe – and their descendants incredibly now account for almost half of the American population.
A sign on the way to the ferry to the island pertinently displays a quote from President John F Kennedy stating: “Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.”
Indeed, famous names to have arrived into the country at the site include songwriter Irving Berlin, magician Harry Houdini and physicist Albert Einstein.
The immigration museum allows you to make your own way round with a self-guided audio tour. The attraction is in fact pleasingly lo-fi – I imagine the Great Hall has barely changed from when crowd after crowd arrived, often speaking no English.
There are so many fascinating stories – such as heart-warming tales of communities clubbing together and flourishing, and the crafty literacy test asking the reader to pick up a pencil at the end to prove they’d understood the text.
My only issue is that I visited towards the end of the day and didn’t leave myself enough time to see everything.
Many immigrants sailed into the US at other ports, such as Boston, with one of its greatest attractions its famous Fenway Park baseball ground – home to the Red Sox. Dating back to 1912, it’s the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball,
While I can’t claim to be a huge sports lover, I’m as engrossed as a hardcore fan on game day by the tour – including its Hall of Fame, with Babe Ruth tribute and the Fisk Pole, named in honour of a momentous shot in 1975.
I’m also very taken aback to hear that the baseball ground – which has hosted concerts by the likes of Bruce Springsteen – was almost torn down.
It has also played host to many a match between Ivy League universities Harvard and Yale, and both offer tours by current students of their leafy campuses.
Harvard, in Cambridge – a short journey from central Boston – was founded in 1636, and it’s the oldest higher education establishment in the US.
Our guide points out dorms that have housed former alumni including Natalie Portman and Mark Zuckerberg (although he dropped out) – and we also hear about an elaborate prank by Tonight show host Conan O’Brien when he attended the university.
Rival Yale is located in New Haven, Connecticut, with graduates including Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Meryl Streep. My tour is taken by the down-to-earth and knowledgeable Bryan, who tells us he chose to study there because it “immediately felt like home”. He gives a fascinating glimpse into historic and contemporary life at Yale, which can trace its roots back to the 1640s, and was founded in 1701. I hear about its focus on inclusivity, its legends and its traditions, which include rubbing the protruding foot of the bronze statue of Theodore Dwight Woolsey, the university’s president from 1846 to 1871, for good luck.
Yale is also home to the incredible Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world. Its modern, graphic exterior is at odds with the rest of the university’s architecture and belies its breathtaking interior, an architectural marvel storing and displaying the likes of courtroom sketches of the Black Panthers from 1971 and its Walt Whitman Collection.
Yale is also the owner of a selection of George Washington’s maps and the key historical figure is naturally a central part of the Museum of the American Revolution – located in Philadelphia, known as the City of Brotherly Love. The vast attraction has the Declaration of Independence embedded in its external brickwork.
It opened on 19 April, 2017, the 242nd anniversary of the “shot heard round the world” that ignited the Revolutionary War. It’s a highly engaging experience whose “crown jewel” is George Washington’s Revolutionary War Tent, deemed the “first Oval Office” for being the site of key historical decisions.
We get a first-hand glimpse as the tent gradually reveals itself from behind the screen in a dedicated cinema during a short film detailing its history, while the museum’s other immersive experiences include a simulation of being on the front line of battle.
The museum is also currently offering a range of online activities, such as virtual tours, as is the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.
The Peabody features African, American, Asian, maritime, Native American and Oceanic art – and I really like its ethos that the connections you make at the museum, “because of your own experiences inspire a journey as important as the artworks themselves”.
The town of Salem is easily accessible from Boston and is also, inevitably, home to many an attraction encompassing its notorious history of witchcraft. I didn’t know for example, that some men were executed as well as women a result of the Salem Witch Trials.
As well as the macabre aspects of its history, Salem also has modern boutiques and relaxing places to eat – I stop off for a lobster roll with a huge side order of tater tots for lunch.
Furthermore, it sits on the coastline looking out, as I did in New York, across deep blue waters that could easily be a backdrop for a Ralph Lauren advert – or, within easier reach, an elegantly relaxing boat trip.
All in all, it would be quite a road trip along the east coast to all of these locations, although equally, each one would be a good base to explore the surrounding area, and provide its own compelling insight into American history and culture.
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