11 cities where you can honor veterans in the United States
Nearly 30 years after armistice was officially declared, formally ending World War I, a veteran named Raymond Weeks suggested turning the relatively new national holiday dedicated to world peace into Veterans Day to honor all US service members. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself a World War II veteran and five-star general, officially signed the observance of Veterans Day on November 11 into law in 1954.
Veterans Day joined Memorial Day, established in 1868, and Armed Forces Day, first observed in 1950, as opportunities for Americans to honor the men and women who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard. But you don't have to wait for a national holiday to learn more about the contributions of veterans to US history – indeed, there are numerous museums, memorials, national parks, and national cemeteries around the country dedicated to telling the story of the country's military.
Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.
The US Navy has had a significant presence in Hawaii for 200 hundred years, particularly on the island of Oahu where Pearl Harbor naval base was developed in 1899. When the infamous Japanese attack on December 7, 1941 drew the United States into World War II, it cost 2,403 U.S. personnel their lives and another 1,000 were wounded.
Today you can learn more about the history of the US Navy in Hawaii, and honor the casualties and veterans of Pearl Harbor at several sites throughout Honolulu, including the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum Park, the USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, Battleship Missouri Memorial, and USS Oklahoma Memorial. There are also numerous tours you can take that combine several of these sites together with expertise from a local guide – and even offer line-hopping privileges so you can stay focused on the history at hand.
Window Rock, Arizona
Native Americans enlist in the military at five times the national average, with the highest per-capital participation of any other population group in the country and a history of service that dates back to the first days of the United States' existence. Learn more about the contributions of Indigenous veterans at the Navajo Veterans Memorial Park, which honors the Dine code talkers who were the backbone of Marine Corps efforts to use Indigenous languages to create secret, uncrackable transmissions during World War I and World War II.
Note: the Navajo Nation has currently closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City is home to the National World War I Museum, selected in 1921 in part because the city's rail station had proved quite the crossroads for thousands of soldiers criss-crossing the country as they prepared for, shipped out to, and returned from the front.
Indeed, the handsome art deco Liberty Memorial Tower sits right across from Union Station. But it's the museum itself where you can really linger – rather than focusing only on the US troops, the museum's collection includes items from every nation which participated in World War I and is one of the largest collections of WWI artifacts in the world.
In 1866, Congress passed the Army Organization Act, allowing for the formation of four regiments of Black calvary who initially served out of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and soon spread across the western frontier. The men serving in these units soon came by the nickname "Buffalo Soldiers" when they encountered Native Americans across the plains, and the name stuck to the 10th Cavalry from the Civil War through numerous other conflicts, including the Spanish American War and Philippine-American War, and on through the Korean War.
Some of the most famous Buffalo Soldiers include boxing great Joe Louis and ground-breaking baseball player Jackie Robinson. Even after the traditional regiments were effectively disbanded and integrated with white troops, their legacy lived on in songs by musicians like Bob Marley, The Flamingos, and Quincy Jones. You can learn more about the proud and complex history of these tenacious troops at a museum dedicated to their achievements in Houston, Texas – the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.
Gettysburg remains an important touchstone for Americans even 157 years after one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War was fought here and President Abraham Lincoln's famous address on national unity. At the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, you can learn more about why it was such a significant – and bloody – campaign that cost 8,000 soldiers their lives.
Take a tour of the battlefield itself, whether self-led, with a park ranger, or on a guided bus tour, and pay a visit to Dobbin House, an important stop on the Under Ground Railroad in the region and the oldest surviving home in the area. Last but certainly not least, pay your respects to the 3,500 Union soldiers who are interred at the Getysburg at the National Cemetery.
While it's just an hour and a half from Washington DC to Gettysburg, you can make a day trip or a weekend of it by booking a stay at the nearby. You can actually rent abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens' log home – built in 1790 and beautifully restored as a vacation rental – which is close to numerous historic sites like the Shriver House Museum and Jennie Wade House.
Best known as the home of the Chicago Bears, it's sometimes easy to forget that Soldier Field is a memorial to those service members who gave all in World War I. But that's not all Chicago has to offer veterans or those who want to learn more about service members' contributions.
Pay a visit to the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, founded by Colonel Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG as a non-partisan institution dedicated to increasing public awareness and understanding of military history and the many individuals who played a part.
You can also visit the National Veterans Art Museum, which for 35 years has collected over 2,500 artworks by those who have served in combat, not only in the US, but around the world. The powerful works in the collection range from paintings and sculptures to intermedia pieces and installations that reflect on themes from PTSD to portraiture, reentry to revolution.
New Orleans, Louisiana
You might be surprised that the National World War II Museum is in New Orleans rather than, say, Washington DC. But it was Louisianan workers who designed and constructed the amphibious Higgins Boat landing craft that helped US soldiers succeed in campaigns like the famous storming of Normandy on D-Day.
Today, the World War II Museum has a slew of artifacts in their collection, from preserved documents and footage to a restored watercraft, aircraft, submarines and more. If you really want to immerse yourself in history, you can book a tour that includes a ride on the PT-305 torpedo boat on Lake Pontchertrain.
Fort Lee, Virginia
While women weren't officially allowed to join the military until the Army Nurse Corps was created in 1901, countless women served served their country since the American Revolution – and some like Cathay Williams even disguised themselves as men to get into active combat. You can learn more about the long history of women in the military at the the US Army Women's Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia.
This unique institution first got its start in 1955 in For McClellan, Alabama, but has since lived a few different lives in a few different locations before settling down in Fort Lee Virginia in 1999 and expanding in 2018. Today, it's home to over 1.5 million documents, as well as uniforms, photographs, and other artifacts that paint a vivid picture of the oft-overlooked heroines of the US military.
Go back to the beginning of US military history at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It's one of the most popular attractions in a city already packed with history, and goes beyond what you might have read in your elementary school textbooks to include the stories of women, African-Americans and Native Americans.
You can get a broad overview of the Revolution and how it unfolded, as well as more personal, in-depth look at figures like Richard St. George, who is the focus of a new exhibit called Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier.
Last but certainly not least, the nation's capitol is, naturally, full sites honoring veterans lives and contributions. From the National World War II Memorial to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Women's Memorial to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, many are well-known, thoughtfully designed tributes to those who lost their lives fighting for their country.
Others, like the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial honor a different sort of sacrifice, while the United States' oldest and best-known resting place for veterans endures at Arlington National Cemetery. There are also tours that combine some of the city's most significant memorials and give you a chance to hear their stories in detail from a knowledgable guide.
But there are numerous museums, too, where you can learn about US military history and the veterans who took part. The African American Civil War Museum tells the story about the men for whom military service was not just an act of patriotism, but also a path to freedom. For a particularly moving experience, opt for an African-American history city tour of DC that includes a stop at this unique museum.
The National Guard Memorial Museum encompasses nearly 400 years of this unique wing of the Department of Defense – and you can even take a virtual tour, too. American Sailors are honored with their own collection, too, at the National Museum of the US Navy, though as of October of 2020, the museum is closed while a new campus is constructed outside the current location in the Washington Navy Yard, allowing improved access. And, of course, the National Air & Space Museum and National Museum of American History have much to offer those interested in military history, too.
Does Abraham Lincoln's ghost haunt The White House?
The White House is one of the USA's most iconic buildings. Imagine how much its walls have seen since it opened in 1800. The spirits of countless scandals, wars, assassinations, and other political skullduggery are commonplace. But what if other spirits haunt the walls of The White House? As it turns out, multiple people report being haunted by one particular ghost - that of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, who was assassinated on April 14, 1865 and died just a few blocks from The White House, has been said to haunt the halls since his death. The first reported haunting of Abraham Lincoln's ghost happened in 1870. A photographer named William H. Mumler took a photo of the widowed Mary Todd Lincoln. When the photo was processed, the ghost of her husband can be seen standing behind her. Sharp minds might dismiss this as an accidental double negative, or some other type of trick with film. But, consider these other reports.Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of her husband. Photo by William H. Mumler (public domain) Several First Families have reported hearing footsteps pacing the hall outside the Lincoln bedroom. Eleanor Roosevelt reported that her dog, Fala, would often bark at what she presumed to be Lincoln's ghost. Harry Truman's daughter Margaret reported hearing a specter tapping on the door of the bedroom. President Truman himself reported being jolted awake in the middle of the night by taps on the Lincoln bedroom door. Other White House employees have reported seeing shadows of Abraham Lincoln sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom, or pulling on his boots. People also claim to have seen Lincoln's ghost directly. First Lady Grace Coolidge was the first person to report physically seeing the ghost - she saw Abraham Lincoln standing at a window, staring outside. On one occasion, FDR's personal valet ran screaming from The White House after he saw Lincoln's ghost. President Lyndon Johnson also reported seeing Abraham Lincoln's ghost, in times of distress. Johnson reportedly asked the ghost of Abraham Lincoln how to handle war, and reported Lincoln's response to be "don't go to the theater." The Lincoln Bedroom. Source: Library of Congress.Lincoln's presence doesn't just haunt Americans. In 1942, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands claims to have heard footsteps outside the bedroom she was staying in at The White House. She answered a knock at the door, and then found Abraham Lincoln, in his coat and top hat, standing before her. Winston Churchill reportedly met Abraham Lincoln's ghost while naked. Churchill was fresh out of a bath, where he loved to drink scotch and smoke a cigar to relax. He walked into his White House bedroom fully naked, still smoking a cigar, only to see the apparition of Abraham Lincoln standing near the fireplace. As Churchill told it later, he tapped the end of his cigar and said "Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage." Reportedly, Lincoln laughed to himself and disappeared.
How to safely celebrate Halloween in the US this year
Let’s face it, Halloween is going to be different this year. Because of the pandemic, the CDC recommends skipping trick-or-treating and in-person parties in favor of lower-risk activities like carving and decorating pumpkins with your family or having virtual costume contests with friends. If you’re willing to wear a mask and stay at least six feet from others, moderate-risk activities like outdoor costume parties and visits to pumpkin patches are fine, but indoor costume parties and traditional haunted houses are now considered to be higher-risk. While theme park favorites like Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World have been cancelled—die-hards can still attend socially distanced Halloween-themed events at Hersheypark, Dollywood, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and select Six Flags theme parks as long as they book tickets ahead of time, wear a mask and have their temperatures checked upon entry—communities around the country have been forced to get creative and figure out fun ways to keep the spirit of Halloween alive this year. Here’s how you can still celebrate safely. Salem, Massachusetts While Salem is best known for its witch trials of the late-1600s, it’s also a hot spot for all things Halloween. This year, however, Salem will be closed the last weekend of October and its Haunted Happenings events are moving online. Visit the Virtual Haunted Happenings Marketplace to see and buy creative wares from local artists, tour a historic home on a virtual house tour and tune in to see who wins the Halloween at Home Costume Contest. Hudson Valley, New York While most of Sleepy Hollow’s Halloween events have been cancelled due to the pandemic, some, like the All Shorts Irvington Film Festival and Tarrytown Music Hall’s Harvest Hunt and Virtual Ghost Tour are moving online this year. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Walking Tours and a few other in-person events are also being held with Covid-19 restrictions in place, though you’ll need to book tickets online since no last-minute walk-ins will be allowed in this year. Nearby in Croton-on-Hudson, don’t miss The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, happening now through November 1, then Nov. 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time online and mask wearing and social distancing are required. Long Island, New York In Old Bethpage, you’ll find the second location of The Great Pumpkin Blaze, operating at limited capacity now through November 1, then Nov. 4-8. In Yaphank, fans of drive-thru haunted houses can brave The Forgotten Road in Southaven County Park. Purchase tickets and download the audio tracks before you go, then play them as you drive up to each of the marked signs in this immersive 30-minute Halloween experience. Washington, D.C. From ghost tours and scary drive-in movies to pumpkin-centric celebrations and Halloween happy hours, there are plenty of ways to celebrate safely in the capitol this year. Yorktown and Norfolk, Virginia For a real treat, head to the Paws at the River Market pet costume parade at 1 p.m. on Oct. 31, part of Yorktown Market Days. Nearby in Norfolk, it’s Halloween at the Chrysler Museum of Art, where staff members dress up as their favorite works of art and kids can create their own glass-blown pumpkins (timed tickets are available online). Spooky virtual tours are also happening via Facebook Live at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Oct. 31, as is a virtual Mystery at the Museum Zoom event starting at 7 p.m. Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia The Savannah Children’s Museum is hosting “Tricks, Treats, and Trains,” at the Georgia State Railroad Museum. The Children’s Museum of Atlanta also has a number of Halloween themed activities happening from October 24–31, like a costumed dance party, spooky exhibits about spiders in The Science Bar and Halloween themed arts and crafts in the Creativity Cafe. Tickets must be booked in advance and all children ages five and up are required to wear a mask. New Orleans, Louisiana Pick up a pumpkin from Lafreniere Pumpkin Patch, dress up for the Jefferson Community Band Halloween Concert on October 29, watch Ghostbusters from your car at the Pontchartrain Center, and visit the New Orleans Nightmare Haunted House, among other themed events this year in Jefferson Parish. Chattanooga, Tennessee This year, Chattanooga Ghost Tours is running its Murder & Mayhem Haunted History Tour as well as a neighborhood Halloween decorating contest, listing the most spirited houses on its website so people can check them out from their cars. Louisville, Kentucky Don’t miss the Jack O’Lantern Spectacular drive-thru experience at Iroquois Park, happening now through Nov. 1 from dusk until 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Be aware that there may be up to a 2.5-hour wait, so bring along your favorite Halloween movie to watch in the car until it’s your turn to go through. Miami, Florida Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables is hosting a special Yappy Hour and pet costume parade on Oct. 29 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Both humans and their dressed up fur babies will receive complimentary snacks during the ticketed event. Over in Miami Beach, restaurants along historic Española Way are offering Halloween night specials on food and cocktails, making it a great spot to grab some outdoor grub. Chicago, Illinois Chicago’s popular Crypt Run is a virtual 5K this year, so sign up through the website and run it on your own terms. This year’s iteration of the Music Box Theatre’s annual scary movie marathon will take place at the Chi-Town Movies Drive-In through Oct. 31. Fans of The Shining will love Room 237, an interactive pop-up experience and lounge at Morgan Manufacturing. You’ll be a guest at the Overlook Hotel, with its giant hedge maze, Gold Room cocktail bar, photo-ops based on movie scenes and specially themed drinks like “Redrum” and “Come Play With Us.” Hocus Pocus fans should stop by the “I Put A Spell On You” pop-up bar and kitchen at Homestead On The Roof now through Nov. 8, where you can taste cocktails and dishes inspired by the film. St. Louis, Missouri Celebrate Halloween at Union Station now through Oct. 31, by wearing your favorite costume, spending 30-45 minutes walking through the tent maze and four historic train cars—all decked out in spooky decorations featuring witches, skeletons and other creepy creatures—and taking home some candy and a pumpkin to decorate. Book your tickets ahead of time online, where there’s also an option to add a scenic ride on the St. Louis Wheel. San Diego, California Mostra Coffee is hosting Movie Nights Under the Stars, where you can catch a showing of Casper or Coco on Oct. 29 or Oct. 30, enjoy dinner and dessert, and win a $50 cash prize in the costume contest. Each adult ticket comes with a Mostra beverage, while each children’s ticket comes with a trick-or-treat bag full of candy. Those with little ones should check out Gyminny’s Spooky Drive-Thru, where you can safely catch a circus show, dress up in your favorite costumes, and get some goodie bags from your car.
Take an adventure in Door County, Wisconsin
There are fields upon fields of lavender, and orchards ripe for cherry picking. The root beer floats sold in the 1950s-era diner are known across state lines, and the beaches are some of the finest in the midwest. But to get to this spot in Door County, Wisconsin, you'll have to hop on a ferry and cross Porte des Mortes, AKA Death's Door. It's a stretch of treacherous water linking Lake Michigan with Green Bay, and it sits between Washington Island and the tip of the peninsula. Below the water - where your fancy ferry crosses - is literally an underwater cemetery. More than 250 ships sank on this short turbulent stretch of beautiful water, which today is home to the most stunning vacation cottages, lavender gift shops and historic hotels that money can buy. It all started in the 17th century, when a battle between Potawatomi Indians left the islands north of the Door County peninsula to attack the Winnebago Indians on the mainland. Poor weather and ridiculously strong currents capsized the ships, hundreds of people died and the stretch of water was deemed “Porte des Mortes.” But that’s not all. Legend has it that unpredictable weather and rough waters have capsized many a shipwreck since. The tally? No one knows, but it’s believed that thousands of ships have sunk on their short journey through Death’s Door. There's a tour for those interested in Door County’s deadly maritime history: the water here is so frigid that many of the sunken ships are still intact, and some can be spotted by snorkelers in the shallow depths. But if you want a less gruesome vacation - as long you don’t visualize the literal skeletons under the water - you can hop on the Washington Island Ferry which transports people year-round from Door County to the 22-mile Washington Island ($14 per person) in 30-minutes flat. In 75 years of operation, they haven’t had any near death experiences. Once you get to Washington Island, you’ll see why so many people attempted crossing Death’s Door to arrive. Continue your relaxing journey by heading to Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop (the island is tiny, so nothing is too far away). The lavender farm was created by Martine Anderson, who lived in the south of France and dreamed of one day owning a lavender garden. Dreams have a way of shifting and changing, so it wasn’t until she retired and moved to Wisconsin’s Washington Island with her husband, that she finally opened her lavender garden - which is actually a field containing 20,000 lavender plants, complete with a UPick lavender section. And yes, the scent is so heavenly, that if you look at the ground, you’ll see all the bees that are literally passed out drunk from it, no joke. About a minute away from the lavender fields by car or bike (cycling is a very popular form of transportation on the island) is the Stavkirke, a church inspired by one built in Norway in 1150 AD. This newer version was built by hand taking about a decade, and while it’s closed due to COVID, you’ll be at peace simply by wandering around the outside of the building, which is a work of art. Reward yourself post-ferry ride back to Door County’s mainland (you made it once again across Death’s Door!) with the most legendary root beer float in the midwest at Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, a classic since 1906. Lautenbach’s Orchard Country, you can snag all things cherries, along with cherry wine. Not sure which wine to buy? Here, they offer five wine samples for just $3 - or try a wine flight for $10. Cheers to Door County survivalists.
The face in the courthouse window
In Carrollton, Alabama, west of Tuscaloosa, almost to the Mississippi line, sits the Pickens County Courthouse. This courthouse was built in 1877, after it was destroyed several different times during the unrest of the civil war and reconstruction. People who visit the courthouse today can still see a ghost of these times - the terrified face of a man, etched permanently in a window. Legend has it that the face belongs to a Black man named Henry Wells, a freedman who had previously been enslaved nearby. In 1878, Henry was arrested for allegedly burning down the previous courthouse. He was taken to the courthouse to await trial. After word of his arrest spread through the town, a mob of drunken white men gathered outside the courthouse. Henry, watching the mob gather outside, is rumored to have yelled "I am innocent! If you kill me, I will haunt you for the rest of your lives!" At just that moment, a bolt of lightening struck the courthouse. The flash illuminated the scared look of terror on Wells' face. The face in the courthouse window. Photo by Brian Collins (Flickr). The mob eventually forced their way into the courthouse, where they took Henry Wells outside and lynched him. When the light of day arose the next day, people noticed that Henry's face and the look of fear, that had been illuminated by the lightening, was somehow etched on the window of the courthouse. The face remains there to this very day. In the centuries since, people have tried to wash the face off the window to no avail. They even tried to replace the glass, but nothing has been able to remove the terrified face of Henry Wells from the window.