Stephen Mather & The Good That You Have Done

After being off for a couple of weeks, I’m back from a great vacation in New England!  This was my first trip ever to Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, while my wife and I also spent time in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.  As always, we took in some pretty awesome historic sites, along with checking off a bucket list item, seeing the Red Sox at Fenway Park! There’s a lot of pretty amazing highlights of this trip that I could talk about for hours, but I’ll try to narrow it down to a top five before getting to the point of today’s post:

5. The Breakers Mansion, Newport, RI - A beautiful example of the Gilded Age, this enormous 70 room mansion reveals the incredible wealth of the Vanderbilt Family.  Parking is tough to find, and the admission price is a touch high at $26/person, but it is an amazing place to see. Listen to the children’s tour for a much more entertaining audio trip through the house.

4. Nantucket Whaling Museum, Nantucket Island - Really need to plan for a beach day and get out to the island early here.  My favorite history author, Nathaniel Philbrick lives on this island and I had wanted to see it since reading In the Heart of the Sea a few years ago.  Very much a tourist place now, with a bit of a steep price of $70 round trip for two to get to the island via 2-hour ferry, but the museum is a fascinating look at how the whaling industry shaped the community and the United States.

3. Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT - A restored 19th Century seaport village, this museum is an immersive dive into the life of coastal communities.  In addition, the restored whaling ship Charles W. Morgan gives you a chance to step on board and get a sense of the life firsthand.  Very much a less commercial Colonial Williamsburg, it is well worth the day trip from Boston.

2. African-American Heritage Trail, Boston, MA - A great side trip from the Freedom Trail in Boston, this short walking trail takes you through the emergence of the abolition movement in Boston in the early to mid 19th Century.  The tour can begin or end at the Museum of African-American History, which I wish I’d had the time to visit, but some simple Googling of the homes (which are now private residences), can give you some insight into the significance of these homes on Beacon Hill.

1. The Beehive, Acadia National Park, Maine - A short, half-mile hike that involves some climbing up using iron rungs, and walks along narrow ledges was a real highlight.  As someone who hates ladders, this was scary, but worth the exhausting hike to see the view from the top! Definitely not for the faint of heart, but truly adventurous, just get going early!

So that brings us to the focus of this post.  One of my personal heroes is Stephen T. Mather.  Mather was the first director of the National Park Service, after making a fortune in advertising, marketing, and selling Borax.  He complained about the lack of concern in the early 20th Century for the National Parks, and wrote a letter complaining to the Secretary of the Interior, who told him that if he thought he could do better, then come down and do the job.  Sure enough, Mather showed up & took the job.

He hired a staff and set the policies and rules for the management of the parks, pushing for as many parks as possible.  His frenetic pace led to a series of nervous breakdowns, ultimately leaving his assistant, Horace Albright, in charge. His death in 1930 of a stroke, left the service in Albright’s hands.  In his honor, they named numerous locations after Mather, and placed bronze plaques in the parks stating:

“He laid the foundation of the National Park Service, defining and establishing the policies under which its areas shall be developed and conserved unimpaired for future generations. There will never come an end to the good that he has done."

While we know as teachers that it is extremely unlikely for any plaque to be erected in our honor, the statement on the Mather plaques (which I try to find in each park I visit), is one I keep close to my heart.  The final sentence I believe should be our striving goal as teachers: To have such an impact on young people that there will never come an end to the good that we have done.  

Each of you have done amazing things, and continue to do so, so share it all with the world! I’ll leave this post with a simple question: 

If there were to be a plaque for your work, what would you want it to say?

Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I want to shoutout my wife Katie! She happily shares my adventures, being okay with visiting a bunch of historic sites each year for vacation, and putting up with my extreme nerdiness. This year we celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary on this trip, and I would not be the teacher or person I am without her. This site is also due in large part to her work, so I want to thank her for being my rock and support system whenever obstacles appear on my journey. Thank you for everything sweetheart!

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