Ellis Island like you’ve never seen it, the City of Brotherly Love, and a baloney sandwich

After a successful stop in DC we headed back to the beach. Since this is our second visit to the Jersey Shore this summer, I’m going to treat it like reruns of the MTV reality show of the same name – and not bore you with a dozen more pictures of our family on the same beach. (Apologies to those who come here for Monica’s body surfing videos.) We stayed at a campground we found on our last visit, and used the area as a home base for schooling, beaching, marathon training and visiting nearby cities.

At this point of our travels, the bond of brother and sister were strong. We were constantly capturing sweet moments like this one of them sharing a blanket at the pool. The campground had a convenient little cafe and when I asked about a “pork roll” on their menu, the owners acted as though I’d never heard of pizza or hamburgers. They promised me a life changing experience. They served me a bologna sandwich. To be fair, it was a very good bologna sandwich, but New Jersey’s signature sandwich has nothing on their neighbor’s Philly cheesesteak. A day or two later I encountered a breakfast bagel sandwich with the same Taylor “ham” (bologna) on it that was possibly life changing – if not life-shortening.

Next on the list of educational field trips was Philadelphia. Since we were studying colonial history, we couldn’t miss it, even though we knew many sites would be closed. Philadelphia is one of those cities that might get a bit of a bad rap in our culture, a bit unfairly (like another favorite of ours, Cleveland). Everyone knows about Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Rocky. But they’re also known for unruly sports fans who once threw ice chunks at Santa Claus, a habit of cheering when opposing players get hurt, and the need for a courtroom in the old Veterans Stadium.

But even crusty people in Philly were wearing masks, so they can’t be that uncivilized. In fact, we had one of our most normal restaurant dining experiences (outdoors) of the COVID-19 era. The Liberty Bell was closed, but we caught a glimpse through a window. Independence Hall was also shuttered, but we got to enjoy it from outside. The National Constitution Center was open, so we got to get the history lesson and see a cool statuary of the signers. These days Alexander Hamilton no longer takes a back seat to Franklin and Jefferson.

Old buildings, cemeteries, art? What more does this family need? A giant statue of Sylvester Stallone! Last time I was there, the statue was in its rightful perch atop the museum steps – but they had to move it out of the way because tourists had taught local pigeons to say, “Yo, Adrian!”

The main attraction we had our hearts set on for this leg of the trip was Ellis Island. Our school curriculum included some great books about immigration, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and our kids are the perfect age to appreciate this. We were worried that COVID-19 would make the trip impossible. Instead of impossible, we felt like dignitaries who got to enjoy a major historic site all by ourselves.

My primary memory from prior trips to the Statue of Liberty are the lines. On this day, we shared the boat with about a dozen people. An abandoned rail station stood frozen in time, with the track destinations still listed the track assignments like they were running yesterday (it closed in 1967).

This is not what Ellis Island normally looks like.

Both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty offered their handheld audio tours for free. The museums were pretty empty and at the end of the day we met a baby coyote.

“Hi, I’m in Delaware.”

School on the road is not all statues and historic sites. There’s classwork and normal life. And, yes I lied, here’s a shot from the beach.

Our jaunt over to Ellis Island was just a taste of what was to come. While we were tooling around Liberty State Park, with the Financial District just across the Hudson, I wondered, “Is there a place to camp near Manhattan?” The answer is… in the next blog post.

“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Jon’s 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at jkilewrites@gmail.com. Monica is a non-profit consultant, grant writer, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker. Also, don’t forget to follow our Instagram feed for stuff that doesn’t make the blog.

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