Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Making the Best of a Crazy Day on the Road

Museum and Visitors Center:  Washington's Headquarters in Morristown, NJ

I am in New Jersey this week hitting up a host of different archives related to the consulting work I am doing for the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church and my current research on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.  On Monday we (I am with trusty research assistants Megan and Brianna) spent the day in Elizabeth.  We started with a tour of the Presbyterian Church, the graveyard, and the Academy building which sits on the spot where Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr attended school.  (Our visit here will be the topic of next week's Virtual Office Hours.  Stay tuned).  We also got an insider's tour of Liberty Hall, the home of New Jersey's revolutionary-era governor William Livingston, and Boxwood Hall, the revolutionary-era home of founding father Elias Boudinot.  Despite the pouring rain, it was a very useful day.  I am a firm believer that historians must "walk the land" where their subjects walked.  Sometimes this requires an act of the imagination, but it is till worth it.  I will now look at my work on this project in a whole new light.  The only downside of the day was that I lost my cellphone somewhere in Elizabeth.

On Tuesday, filled with anxiety over my lost phone, we headed down to Princeton University to do some work on James Caldwell, a 1759 graduate of the College of New Jersey and the revolutionary-era pastor of the Elizabeth-Town Presbyterian Church.  We arrived at the Mudd Manuscript Library, registered, and began working through Caldwell's alumni file when, after about fifteen minutes of work, we were forced to leave the building and evacuate the campus due to a bomb scare. 

Megan and Brianna took to their iPhones and found a nearby Dunkin Donuts where we could get some iced coffee, regroup, and rethink the day.  It was here that I learned that my cell phone was found in the parking lot of the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church.  We also managed to make a few phone calls and get an afternoon appointment at the library and archives of Washington's Headquarters in Morristown, NJ.  Thanks to Jude Pfister for accomodating us at the last minute.  We hopped in the car and drove from Princeton to Elizabeth to pick up the phone.  It was a sunny New Jersey day so we were able to add some additional footage to the Virtual Office Hours that we had filmed the day before.  We then followed Morris Avenue most of the way to Morristown.  It was a productive few hours in the archive and I was able to identify a host of mircofilmed material relevant to my work. 

So what turned out to be a wasted day filled with bomb scares and lost phones was eventually redeemed with the help of the good folks in Elizabeth and Morristown.  Today our traveling research road show is headed to Newark, NJ.