Sunday, August 9, 2009

Forgotten History

National Geographic Traveler's Intelligent Travel blog has been running an intriguing new history-related blog series.

Andrew Carroll is visiting obscure historic sites in all 50 states, and then writing about his travels. Carroll is also tweeting about the project, all the while promoting an upcoming book on this same topic, Here is Where: In Search of America's Great Forgotten History. (Carroll previously founded the Legacy Project, and has published several books on war correspondence.)

Alas, Philadelphia will not get a mention in Carroll's new effort. He already visited Pennsylvania, choosing Pittsburgh's launching site of Lewis and Clark for this state's contribution. Other posts to date describe the memento-laden wall of Chicago's Tribune Tower, Charles Lindbergh's Maui grave, and the site of the Gunnison Masacre in Nevada.

I love Carroll's idea, but I do have one quibble: should a site count as "forgotten" if an individual or a group has gone to the trouble of erecting a marker?

Carroll has apparently decided that "little known" is a fine stand-in for "forgotten" when it comes to historic sites. All of the locations he has highlighted so far have text markers either large or small explaining their significance. I hope he'll get around to some posts about unmarked significant sites. And yes, I know that's a lot harder.

The importance of place is not new in public history. For obvious reasons, the field of historic preservation is especially focused on the value of place (for example, see the National Trust for Historic Preservation's This Place Matters project).

But back to Carroll's project: I wonder what he might have visited in Philly?

I have Napoleon on the brain at the moment (I just visited the Napoleon exhibit at the National Constitution Center), so I was happy to hear that Philadelphia has its own Bonaparte connection.

Napoleon's older brother, Joseph Bonaparte, lived at 260 S. 9th Street in 1815-1816. The house still stands (see photo above), but most passers-by probably ignore the state historic marker that stands out front. The building was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1961.

Like Carroll's sites, not quite forgotten, but certainly obscure.

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