Help me bring Valley Forge alive for teens
May 21, 2018 6:56 PM   Subscribe

Teach me about the story of Valley Forge so I can get some teen-age boys (and a few girls) excited about it, please. I am going with a Boy Scout troop (plus families) this weekend to visit Philadelphia, including a visit to Valley Forge National Battlefield. We have a long van ride, and I want to get them interested in its story instead of being b-o-o-o-o-r-e-d.

I just saw this old AskMe, which taught me about the "The American Crisis" series of Thomas Paine pamphlets; I may be able to get another dad to read them with me. :7) (HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS BEFORE??)

I have a shallow understanding of the area's role in the Revolutionary War, mostly courtesy of listening to the audibook of David McCullough's 1776 a year ago. I see this page on the web site that seems accessible.

What other stories should I know?

Thanks in advance!
posted by wenestvedt to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There's a cut song from Hamilton about Valley Forge. Might be interesting to listen to to the demo version and talk about it. And hell, teenagers seem to love Hamilton, so maybe listen to some of the other songs about the Revolutionary War. "Stay Alive" (which ended up with a lot of the Valley Forge lyrics) and "Here Comes the General" are two good songs about what a hard slog the war was for the American side.
posted by lunasol at 7:31 PM on May 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

My teen son recently read the historical novel Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson, about Valley Forge, and really liked it. I doubt you'd have time to read the whole book on the van ride, but a couple of passages from the book may be of interest. And it would be a good book to recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about Valley Forge after the trip.
posted by BlueJae at 7:52 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I read a history once about the encampments at VF. It said the soldiers felt so horribly mistreated that they felt like animals. So every night as they settled in to sleep, somebody would start mooing. Then others would bark and others would make chicken sounds until the hills resounded with the noise. Then they'd settle down and go to sleep. Such a really human thing to do. Made the place come alive. Especially as I could throw a rock into Valley Forge from where I'm writing this. Valley Forge Park is literally my backyard. I think about that story when I'm out on my deck at night all the time.
posted by lpsguy at 7:55 PM on May 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

Netflix just did a series called Turn starring Jaime Bell that was set in this period with lots of historical characters. I found it to be a very engaging series.
posted by effluvia at 8:43 PM on May 21, 2018

This clip from America: The Story of Us explains the conditions and primitive small pox vaccinations at Valley Forge.
posted by gnutron at 6:59 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Your students will lose their blasé-ness once they get a load of how haunted Valley Forge is.
I visited there and the hair stood up on my head the whole time. (Please note: I am the least "woo" person in the galaxy.)
That'll beat down their faux-boredom.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:01 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I find it surprising that Washington felt fairly secure just 22 miles from the British in Philadelphia. That shows how difficult it was to move an army in winter.

You want to include the story of how the Baron Friedrich von Stuben turn the ragged Americans into a real army.

Also learn about the MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE. Sarah Vowell's book Lafayette in the Somewhat United States has the story.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:37 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recently was reading about Valley Forge with renewed interest because I was looking for a specific guy - trying to find out if he had been there. I had his military unit for part of the war, and he started with the Flying Camp, which I had never heard of before. This guy then went into a unit that was involved in some bad defeats right before Valley Forge, I had the names of some other guys he was with, etc.

At any rate -- point is, having one specific person or unit you're trying to track can make it a lot more interesting. Do you know if you or any of the kids had ancestors who were there, or was there a unit from your town there? I may be able to help you track this down if you want.

This site has lists of the Rhode Island regiments that were there and their officers. There will be other lists online that include all the soldiers in the regiments - could probably find someone who's from your city or even your area of the city. That site also has maps etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:48 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, I am just back, and it was awesome -- thanks, you all!

We went to a bunch of museums on a steamy-hot (91!) Saturday: the National Constitution Center (pretty good, with a great live speech/multimedia performance, and cool life-size figures of the Signers to walk among and pose with), Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell (OK, I guess, but the wait is long and there's no bathrooms inside), and Betsy Ross's house (very weak tour), and then Benjamin Franklin's House (just before it closed, so we couldn't go in), followed by dinner at Jim's on South Street (please do not use the empty bread boxes along the sidewalk as umbrellas), and finally an evening showing of the new Star Wars movie "Solo" (because it was still hot and raining and no way did we want to go back to that cabin at the Scout camp in Jersey).

On Sunday we went out to Valley Forge and watched its film in the visitors' center. Then we used the pamphlet published by Philadelphia's Cradle of Liberty BSA council to guide ourselves around the Valley Forge Historical Trail. It has a couple of spots where we needed to guess at the directions, but it was fine. That took, oh...over six hours, because you loop back and forth and read every damn monument and plaque in the place. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED if you have time and want to hike like 11 miles. (Some of the moms also drove down but demurred when we set off hiking; they drove the tour road, and enjoyed that.) The Valley Forge visitor's center has a terminal where you can type in the name & state to look up soldiers who were quartered there; this is also available online now.

We saw no ghosts at Valley Forge.

A few of us had stuff to share about the history, but that trail booklet combined with the historic markers to tell a good tale that the kids listened to. (The time we tried the cell phone tour, the person went on and on and on and the kids zoned out.)

Monday we went back into the city and spent three hours at the new (opened in April 2017) Museum of the American Revolution. It was really good! The multimedia is super good, they make wide use of still images with some video or animation overlaid to to be surprisingly lively, and there were several short film experiences that were cool. They have plenty of things to touch, and lots of things to walk among & around -- it's great for kids and teens. Also, they have Washington's war tent, and the video (with voice work by MetaFilter favorite Peter Coyote!) that leads up the big reveal of the tent is good. The gift shop has nice stuff but is crazy expensive.

Monday afternoon was Memorial Day, so we headed to Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, NJ; one of our troop's ASMs had a soldier who's buried there, and we walked among the headstones to where he lies. He said a few things about the man whose grave we surrounded, and then we left hm to sit quietly for a time while the Scouts watched the end of the parade that ended at the cemetery's gates.

(My car battery gave out in a Wawa parking lot in Jersey and I had to call AAA and buy a new battery off a great guy named Eddie. I drove through NYC on Interstate 95 -- you New Yorkers are terrible drivers -- and finally got home a little later than I had planned. Not the fault of the good people of Pennsylvania & New Jersey, of course!)

The docents, interpreters, and park rangers at every site were, of course, friendly and informative and patient. I met a nice young woman at Washington's Headquarters who is excited to take over school outreach programs, and who talked to us about her sweet hatband; an interpreter at the MotAR who is a drumming teacher taught us a lot about muskets, and then suggested we go to the kids' room and "make a cartridge"; and I chewed the ear of several others for longer than they re probably used to. Such good people!

I bought some cool pins in the gift shop of the Museum of the American Revolution, and I would have gone back to the shop at Valley Forge but it closed at 5:30. The Betsy Ross house shop had some fun stuff about strong omen, but I didn't know my sister's t-shirt size. I have been looking for a real felt tricorn hat for years, but all the shops sold the same crappy plastic-and-flocking things, and only in youth sizes.

We went to D.C. in April of 2016 and the security was insanely tight. This weekend we had to pass our stuff through metal detectors a few times (at Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and...maybe one other?), but they didn't make us discard our water bottle & lunches. (And thank goodness for that: we were able to bring our own lunches and then just buy cold drinks and some lemon ice at Betsy Ross's house. This saved money and time, which were both in short supply.

That was a damn good trip. Thank you, Ask MetaFilter!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:18 PM on May 29, 2018

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