Friday, October 13, 2000

We had a date for a free candlelight tour of the Robert E. Lee Mansion tonight. Wow.

The house is a majestic neo-classical house that sits in the middle of Arlington National Cemetery. Driving through a massive cemetery, at night, on Friday the Thirteenth, with a full moon out, staring out the window as row after row after row of fallen soldiers zip by next to you, is an experience I will not soon forget.

The mansion sits atop a hill, across the Potomac from D.C. From the front porch, one looks right down on Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial, with the Wasington Monument next to it, and the Capitol not far away. All of them so close, you feel like you could just reach out and touch them. It’s fantastic.

The house was mostly open to walk through, at least a dozen volunteers were dressed in period clothes and standing around the premises, eager to share their knowledge of Lee and his family. Poor Lee.

And then the formal garden outside…it’s nothing nearly as awe-inspiring as the house or the view, but it’s a lovely symmetrical collection of native Virginia flowers and shrubs. I had to smile; the Lees were genteel, powerful, upper-crust. They simply had to have a garden.

It was…wonderful. Amazing. It was one of those historical experiences where you suddenly want to live in those times and talk to those people. I wanted to know how Lee felt about the war. He’d fought for the South, not because he believed in the South’s causes, but because that’s where he was from. After Appomatox, he spent the remaining years of his life championing re-unification and the strenght of the Union. And in return, the Union turned his beautiful home into a graveyard.

How did he feel?

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