In celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary this year, adventurer Mikah Meyer is traveling across America with the goal of visiting every one of the more than 400 sites within its jurisdiction. And VOA has been following him every step of the way.
Mikah spent part of September traveling to several sites in the state of New York where he was once again steeped in U.S. history, but also managed to squeeze in some good clean fun at the spectacular waterfalls on the U.S.-Canada border.
An instant president
Of all the museums he’s visited so far, Mikah Meyer said Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in Buffalo, New York, has been one of his favorites.
The site preserves the home of Ansley Wilcox, a New York political insider and friend of Theodore Roosevelt, one of America’s best-known and influential presidents. It was here, on September 14, 1901, that Vice President Roosevelt was sworn into office as America’s 26th commander in chief after the assassination of President William McKinley.
Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office here in the library, which has been renovated to reflect how it looked at the time.
Not quite 43 when he took the oath of office, Roosevelt was the youngest president of the United States, serving from 1901 to 1909.
A Disney-like experience
“Because it is just a house,” Mikah said about the site, the folks at the museum “wanted to make it a special place to really engage the community.”
So they brought in a museum consulting firm from Boston, and came up with what he described as "a lot like a Disney experience."
Docents lead tours around the house, stopping in each restored room to talk about Roosevelt's place in history and explain the significance of the items on display. Compelling audio-visual presentations and interactive exhibits help tell the story of Roosevelt's presidency.
“They did a great job of making it more than just rooms with artifacts,” Mikah said. That artful storytelling “really helped the story come alive, which they recognize they needed to do, or else people might not want to come to this place.”
A written account of the circumstances leading to Roosevelt’s sudden entry into the presidency ends with these words by Ansley Wilcox in October, 1902: “It takes less in the way of ceremony to make a President in this country, than it does to make a King in England or any monarchy, but the significance of the event is no less great.”
Another highlight for Mikah was the opportunity for an interactive exercise that he and other Millennials on the tour happily engaged in...
At a mock presidential desk, visitors used a computerized screen that asked a series of questions about pieces of legislation and whether they wanted to veto or sign them.
“And then it would show you what Roosevelt did with those exact pieces of law. And then it would take your picture and put a fake headline and email it to you.”
Anyone can have a presidential moment at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.
“That was very cool,” Mikah said, and was a memorable keepsake of a museum experience he says was made “interesting for my generation.”
Legendary Niagara Falls
While in Buffalo, Mikah couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit nearby Niagara Falls... an enormously popular tourist destination.
While people may assume that the breathtaking waterfalls straddling the U.S.-Canada border are part of the National Park Service, Niagara Falls is in fact a state park -- the oldest one in America.
Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that straddle the international border between Canada and the United States.
“Even though it wasn’t a national park,” Mikah said, “it’s obviously such a cultural piece of America that I had to go. I couldn’t be that close and miss it.”
And although it’s “made for tourists,” Mikah said for him and his companion Andy, it was fun.
A communal smile
“We went on the Maid of the Mist and took the boat down which was really cool," he recounted enthusiastically, "and we did the Cave of the Winds which takes you right up against the falls so you can feel them and get drenched.”
Visitors can get up close - and wet - at the falls.
“Everyone was giggling, everyone was hooting and screaming when the water came and the wind came and it was this communal smile essentially,” he said. “It was touristy in the sense that there were people everywhere…but it was still a pleasant experience.”
He said he suspects that the falls are not part of the U.S. National Park Service because “to preserve it as it looked before man developed it, you’d have to get Canada on board and the Canadian side is very developed and it’s probably a huge economic boost so I doubt they would do that. And likewise on the United States’ side, I heard that the state of New York makes so much money off of it that of course they wouldn't want to hand that over.”
Human rights are women’s rights
“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” Former first lady and the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party, Hillary Rodham Clinton, famously said that in her remarks to the 1995 U.N. World Conference on Women in Beijing.
That is the central theme at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York. It was here, in 1848, that the first women's rights convention was held, and where 68 women and 32 men signed a Declaration of Sentiments, which set the agenda for the women's rights movement.
This plaque, in Seneca Falls, New York, marks the site where the women's rights movement was set in motion.
Based on the American Declaration of Independence, the Sentiments demanded equality with men before the law, in education and employment.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
In a speech to Congress, nearly 50 years later, Declaration co-author and women's rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “If we consider her as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members, according to the fundamental principles of our Government.”
Those rights included the right to vote, which women were not granted until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1920.
Mikah said that as someone who grew up with three older sisters, “all very feminist,” he learned at a young age about women’s fight for equality. It set the groundwork for him, he said, to be curious about and “to get to the Women's Rights National Historical Park.”
“So when I was there, a lot of what I thought about was my sisters and how I wish they could be here and they can experience this.”
“For women just to be somewhere where their women's rights movement began in this country and to know that at some point hundreds of years ago people thought it was important for women to have these rights that we take as basic today -- and that we're still continuing that fight -- was really fascinating.”
The First Wave statue exhibit in the lobby of the Visitor Center features Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the far left.
A highlight of the historical park is an installation of life-size bronze statues by Lloyd Lillie that features Cady Stanton and the four other women who organized the Convention, and a few of the men who came in support of their cause.
Mikah noted that Frederick Douglass, a renowned leader in the anti-slavery movement, is among the men represented “because he was there the day that the women had this convention where they signed the Declaration of Sentiments.”
“I thought it was interesting - somebody who was a minority himself understood what it was like to not have all your rights was there in solidarity with other people pursuing that,” he said.
To follow Mikah and learn more about the places he’s traveling to, he invites you to visit him on his website.