We started in the small, immigrant-packed city of Hamtramck, Mich., and ended up in the woods of Canterbury, N.H., where we attended an unusual Christian service. Over the course of our trip, we met many people intent on preserving and spreading traditions of all kinds.
In Hamtramck, Mich., a tiny city enveloped by the state’s largest, more than 30 languages are spoken. It is, in many ways, a microcosm of America — a place where people from all over seem to fit.
On a Friday in August, a Yemeni man wearing a traditional white dress, with a dagger tucked into his belt (it’s just an accessory), runs through the city’s main thoroughfare on his way to a summer wedding. As he passes by, a motorcycle gang pulls up to the local bar, parking their bikes in a tidy row. In the distance, Ukrainian church bells ring.
Across the street from a towering statue of Pope John Paul II, a Bengali couple purchases a new bed from a furniture store.
For the last 100 years, this place — sometimes called “the world in two square miles” — has been an introduction to this country for immigrants and refugees from all over.
Inside a convenience store in Hamtramck.
The doner kebab at Balkan House.
A relatively new arrival is Balkan House. The owner, Juma Ekic, was born into a Muslim family in Bosnia in 1980. When she was 12, she fled with her family to Germany to escape the Bosnian Genocide. The Ekics resettled in the small town of Glan-Münchweiler. Trips to the doner kebab shops, which were growing in number with the population of Turkish immigrants, became a source of comfort for her and her nephew, Dennis.
Their stay was brief. In 1996, the German government ordered an expulsion of the country’s 320,000 Bosnian refugees; in 1999, the Ekics left for Hamtramck, which was absorbing refugees and immigrants from the Eastern Bloc. With them came the notion to open up a kebab shop of their own.
“It was the closest thing to our childhood,” Mr. Ekic, 28, says. “You never lose that taste.”
The restaurant opened in March. “This is a starting point for all immigrants. There’s a piece of everybody left here,” Ms. Ekic says, speaking of the city broadly, “and we want this to be a starting point for somebody too.”
Muad Nouman sits to eat a late-night shawarma wrap at Boostan Cafe in Hamtramck after a game of soccer. Originally from Yemen, he’s been living in Hamtramck since the ’90s. He went to Hamtramck High School. He loves it here. But his family, his wife, some of his kids (he has six) are back in Yemen, where a civil war rages on.
The Central Congregational Church was established in 1953 on Detroit’s west side by the Rev. Albert Cleage Jr. His idea was to build a church that spoke directly to African Americans, with sermons that preached self-determination and black separatism: “A nation within a nation,” as he put it.
Bishop Mbiyu Chui, who leads the Shrine of the Black Madonna. His church was the birthplace of the Black Christian Nationalist Movement, and has retained some of that group’s ideologies.
In 1967, the church was renamed the Shrine of the Black Madonna, and became the bedrock of the Black Christian Nationalist Movement in the United States. Its members were a political and social force in Detroit; they helped elect the city’s first black mayor, Coleman Young, and challenged the dominant white Christian narrative. At the altar, a painting depicts the Madonna as a black woman.
Bishop Mbiyu Chui, who joined the congregation in 1971, says the mission was for parishioners to defend “their right to human decency, to create a better community than the one we inherited.” It’s an idea that, for him, extends far beyond these walls, or the city limits.
“My hope is that it’s not too late for the majority of the country to take back what’s rightfully theirs — ours: the political process,” he says. “The democratic process is supposed to be by the people, for the people, so we need to make that happen again.”
Inside the Alfonso Wells Memorial Playground stands Detroit’s Eight Mile Wall — a stark, physical reminder of the history of segregation in this city and its reverberations. It was built in 1941 to separate a white neighborhood from a black one.
“The same idea that propelled this wall, is the same idea that is propelling his idea of a wall.”
Jamon Jordan leads a tour at the Eight Mile Wall.
Jamon Jordan, 48, is the founder of the Black Scroll Network, a tour company focused on the social, political and cultural history of African Americans in Detroit. The Eight Mile Wall is a stop on many of his tours. Mr. Jordan sees it as both an artifact and a contemporary symbol.
“Even the whole idea of walls has become a new thing because the political leader in the country is talking about walls,” he says, referring to President Trump’s campaign promise of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “The wall is meant to divide, it’s meant to dehumanize a certain group of people, it’s meant to say that they’re less than, and you’re more than.”
The homecoming festival in Dearborn, Mich.
The massive Marathon Petroleum refinery appears alongside the Davison Freeway, just past the Detroit city line. Its slogan, “An American Company Serving America,” is emblazoned with an eagle on a silo. The refinery overlooks what a University of Michigan study has deemed the state’s most polluted ZIP code; its population has recorded high rates of asthma and cancer.
Homemade pies are the specialty of Schmucker’s Restaurant, a family-owned diner in Toledo, Ohio, just off Interstate 475. We order the Caitlin Mae, a pie named after the owner’s first grandchild. It is made of pillowy strawberry chiffon cream and loaded with fresh berries.
The landscapes along I-90 are lush and green. The occasional American flag peeks out over the trees. There are car dealerships and manufacturing plants for days.
The Islamic Center of Cleveland, in the city of Parma, Ohio, is a large, interethnic mosque where a storage room was transformed earlier this year into a free health clinic. Similar facilities have popped up around the country, a boon for the uninsured.
“Healthcare is not a privilege, it is a fundamental human right,” says Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, the medical director of the Ibn Sina Clinic, where more than 20 physicians volunteer. He hopes to see this model spread and, ideally, inform policy.
“You have to believe in a mission,” Dr. Ahmed says. “You need to create practical examples.”
As we near Cleveland, three blush-pink smoke stacks appear in the distance, with the words “cocoa,” “milk” and “sugar” spelled down the side of each. It’s Malley’s Chocolate, opened in 1935 by Albert “Mike” Malley. The company is still owned and operated by his family. Inside, everything is pink and green.
Marsha, 72, works the counter at Malley’s. What she loves about this job is the exchange that takes place with each sale, but she sees that happening less and less often in retail. “No one goes to malls anymore,” she says.
A pentagram necklace on display at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick.
“Witchcraft is always a way to be a rebuttal for the patriarchy,” says Steven Intermill. He and his wife, Jillian Slane, are the founders of the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland. Some locals object to the institution’s premise.
“I get hassled by fundamentalists,” Mr. Intermill says. “But you know what? I’m not going to stop doing it.”
Inside the house where “A Christmas Story” was filmed, in Cleveland.
Fatuma, 15, at the Ohio City Farm in Cleveland.
On a busy Saturday afternoon in Cleveland, a woman picks up her produce from a purple shipping container turned farm stand, where baskets brimming with kohlrabi, carrots, and onions are lined up on a table. “Are there tomatoes in there?” she asks as she’s handed her bag. “Just what I like.”
Just behind the stand is the sprawling six-acre Ohio City Farm, one of the largest contiguous urban farms in America. A project of the nonprofit Refugee Response, it employs refugees from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Myanmar and Nepal. Most speak little to no English, but the farm hopes to provide opportunities for their first steps in self-sufficiency.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is Cleveland’s most popular attraction, drawing more than 500,000 visitors each year. In 2019, Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks and the Cure were inducted.
On the way out of Cleveland, a furniture store sign’s big, bold letters can be seen from the freeway: “GOD BLESS AMERICA.” Churches dot the landscape along the 306 highway. Everything is flat.
We stop at the Aurora Inn’s Six Horses Tavern. Above the bar is a “God Bless Our Troops” sign. We try the house chips, potatoes cut with a meat slicer before they’re fried and salted. They’re crispy, but also so thin they practically melt in your mouth.
Twins Days in Twinsburg, Ohio.
Every year since 1976, the town of Twinsburg, Ohio, has celebrated Twins Days. The meaning is self-explanatory: Approximately 3,000 twins from all over the world gather at the festival for a weekend filled with games, attractions and even genetic research. The name dates back to 1819, when a set of twins bought 4,000 acres here and began selling it on the cheap. Today, more than 18,000 people reside here.
Western Pennsylvania is all forests, mountains and rivers, which once made getting around here a headache.
William Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie tried to build a railroad from Eastern Pennsylvania to the West, but the project was abandoned. In the 1930s, this route was turned into Pennsylvania Turnpike, with support from F.D.R.’s New Deal.
Before we reach Pittsburgh, we pass through a handful of rural cities, including Ellwood City. Outside a Baptist church, a sign bears the message: “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters.”
Older gentlemen play cards in Pittsburgh’s Little Italy.
In Bloomfield, known as Pittsburgh’s Little Italy, you’ll find many relics of the city’s immigrant history. But the best Italian-style coffee shop in the city — La Prima Espresso Co., founded in 1988 — is actually outside of the neighborhood, in the Strip District. It looks like a European corner cafe; retired Italian men sit outside and play cards.
The ark at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh.
The garden of the Rodef Shalom Congregation, in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, contains more than 100 plants mentioned in the Old Testament, including dates, figs, apricots, mulberries and olives.
Rodef Shalom is Pittsburgh’s oldest Jewish congregation. Security in the building has been high after the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue last October. The temple has housed those congregants, too, ever since.
There are 30 Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, all designed and paid for by committees. The rooms are meant to show the ethnic diversity of the region and how immigrants have contributed to the richness of America. In each room, there’s a wall switch that triggers a tune meant to represent the stated heritage: Armenian, Austrian, German, Korean, Lithuanian, Syrian-Lebanese, Filipino, Yugoslavian and so on.
At the Kollar Club, a 107-year-old members-only club for Slovak Americans in Pittsburgh’s South Side, you can smoke indoors, listen to loud music from a jukebox and drink knowing that your fellow patrons will make sure you get home safe. It was originally founded as a school for Slovak immigrants who needed to learn English. Now, their descendants gather in hopes of keeping the club alive.
“We’re the last of a dying breed here,” says Jeff Oravetz, whose grandfather and father were both charter members. “They don’t care about tradition, culture and all that,” says his brother, John, of millennials and Gen Z. “They’re so Americanized, it’s left them.”
Mary Konieczny and Anthony J. Golembiewski at Kollar Club.
As White Claw cans are passed around and Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” plays from the jukebox, Anthony J. Golembiewski, a 63-year-old retired government worker, talks about his political leanings. He was a staunch Democrat for 40 years before the 2016 Democratic National Committee email leak and the “Clintonistas” got involved and destroyed Bernie, he says.
Now he’s a Republican. He voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Regardless of his party, one issue has always remained important to him: the Second Amendment. Mass shootings and gun violence are fresh on people’s minds. Tree of Life was only a year ago. (In the week we spoke, in the span of less than 24 hours, there were mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Tex.)
Ms. Konieczny’s gun.
Mr. Golembiewski reiterates the horror of the Tree of Life shooting, but he says that doesn’t justify the newly enacted gun control ordinances by the city of Pittsburgh.
“Because a sick person with a gun performed a nightmare act, they’re going to take my gun away from me,” he says. “They’re going to prevent me from defending myself.”
Mary Konieczny, a 55-year-old nurse and mother who identifies as Libertarian, joins Mr. Golembiewski. Along with two other plaintiffs, they have recently sued Pittsburgh’s District Attorney for refusing to accept their complaints over the new ordinances. She has a handgun tucked in the back of her jeans and a “Trump 2020” rubber bracelet hanging from her wrist.
Ms. Konieczny has been coming to the Kollar Club for 25 years. “You can walk in this door and you can disagree, but at least you can talk about,” she says. “It’s not like how it is out there.”
She voted for Trump and plans to do so again in 2020. “Who didn’t know he was a billionaire playboy? That matters less to me than what he’s doing, which is instilling pride back in being American and giving opportunities to the working class again,” she says. “I’m an educated female, I’m everything that they say doesn’t go for Trump — and I do.”
“I’m the exact opposite of her,” says Paul Timms, “but we can still have a drink and socialize.”
“He can buy me a drink because he’s a socialist,” Ms. Konieczny retorts, to roaring laughter.
Mr. Timms identifies as a Democratic Socialist and considers climate change to be a big issue. So far he sees potential in the Democratic candidates Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bennet.
“My hopes for the future is that I’m glad I’m old, because I don’t think there is any future,” Mr. Timms says.
“We agree on that one, man,” Mr. Golembiewski says after a pause. “We agree on that one.”
As summer wanes, the Logan Valley Mall in Altoona, Pa., fills with back-to-school shoppers taking part in one of America’s most widely practiced traditions: consumerism. While parents search for deals on clothes and backpacks, their children try to drag them toward Tilt Studio, an empty video game arcade.
At Original Waffle Shop in State College, Pa., the home of Penn State, we order some of the menu’s more ascetic items — two hard-boiled eggs with sliced tomatoes and an English muffin, and a lone bowl of strawberries and cream — plus a Georgia Pecan Waffle, stuffed to the brim with pecans and served with whipped butter.
Mifflin County is 97 percent white, according to the latest census data, and majority Republican. This is the heart of Trump country in Pennsylvania, where white working-class voters contributed to his 2016 win.
One of the area’s biggest summer events is the Mifflin County Youth Fair, held in Reedsville, Pa., since the 1950s. The idea is to connect young people to agriculture, with livestock exhibits, amusement rides, pie contests and produce competitions.
Entries in the cake decorating competition at the Mifflin County Youth Fair.
The fair is a campaign stop for local candidates and party groups. Attendees can also register to vote between competitions.
Separated by tables with decorated cakes ready for judging, and poster boards from the local dairy feeder club displaying facts about cows (“It takes around 3,000 cows to supply the 22,000 footballs the NFL uses every season”) are the Republican and Democratic booths. They’re both encouraging fairgoers to register to vote, but that’s where the similarities end. The Democrats, with a sign that says “Build Bridges Not Walls,” are a minority here and their presence is mostly ignored, says Teresa Hobbs, 59, the Mifflin County Democratic chair.
Outside the fair, she says, there’s more confrontation. Ms. Hobbs says that someone once spat tobacco juice on her car, and that during the 2016 run-up, people would steal her Hillary Clinton signs to use for target practice.
Brenda Funk, 73, has recently joined Ms. Hobbs’s coalition. Once a Republican, she changed her party registration after President Trump’s election.
“I feel so differently than I did two years ago,” she says, sitting in front of a “Mifflin County Democrats: Liberty and Justice for ALL” banner. “I worry about more things. I scream at the TV, I just did that yesterday. It has changed me.”
As people around the table talk about unions and tariffs, Ms. Hobbs says she feels that the country has reached a point of no return.
“There’s a major division going on, and I don’t feel us finding our way, what we used to call ‘back.’ We’re going to have to find that new way, that new thing of living peacefully together,” she says. “I fear for our next election, because I think whatever outcome it is, it’s going to be contested, especially from the other side.”
Across the room, Trump 2020 signs lean against the Republican booth. Jim Smith, 72, is the party’s county chair. He seems to share a lot of Ms. Hobbs’s concerns, though he’s not sure the Democrats are open to seeing their similarities.
“They don’t just hate Trump anymore,” he says. “They hate us for supporting him.” He says that the economy is on “fire” in the region because of Mr. Trump. “You wonder, where is this going to end, where do we reach a point where we’re going to come together. They want everything their way. To be honest, we would like everything our way, but if we could just sit down at the table, we could, maybe you know, work things out.”
Starr Corson wears a “Make America Great Again” trucker hat and a pin that says “Deplorables for Trump.”
Ms. Corson says she’s decorated every room in her house with paraphernalia related to the president, and is on the search for matching bed sheets.
“Did you see my driver’s license?” Starr Corson asks. It’s a spoof, with Trump’s face, that describes the cardholder’s hair as “thin” and eyes as “calculating.”
“I love him, I would take a bullet for him,” she says.
And what about the upcoming election?
“If he doesn’t make it, I’m going to be in the psychiatric ward,” she says, chuckling.
Driving along Route 322, a figurine appears in the Susquehanna River: a mini Statue of Liberty, 25 feet tall, originally erected in 1986 as a joke but now a permanent fixture.
In Harrisburg, Pa., we stop to eat at Kanlaya Thai in the Asia Mall, an indoor shopping plaza that opened in 2009. The Asian population of the city increased 24 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to census data. (The city is 50 percent white, and African Americans are the second most-represented demographic.)
The mall is more or less empty. After generous helpings of Panang curry, pad see ew and Thai iced tea with tapioca pearls, we hit the road again, this time for Gettysburg, Pa.
The site of Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 “Gettysburg Address” is both rife with tourist traps and jam-packed with essential Civil War history. The Jennie Wade House on Baltimore Street is named for the only direct civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg, who was killed by a stray bullet. Just a couple blocks down, souvenir shops carry T-shirts screen printed with the Confederate flag and the word “Heritage” written across the top, Civil War-era accessories like bonnets and hats that say “Iraqi Freedom Vet” hang side by side.
At the Gettysburg Heritage Center, a framed quote from Sam Watkins, a writer who fought in the Civil War, reads: “America has no north, no south, no east, no west. The sun rises over the hills and sets over the mountains, the compass just points up and down, and we can laugh now at the absurd notion of there being a north and a south. We are one and undivided.”
In the gift shop, red Trump hats, ornaments, socks and plates emblazoned with the president’s face are for sale. (There are also Mike Pence mugs.)
As we leave the former battlefields of Gettysburg and drive toward York, Pa., there are cornfields as far as the eye can see. We pass towns with names like Heidelberg and East Berlin, which nod to early settlers of German descent.
“Is it well with your soul?” a roadside sign asks. Another advertises donut peaches. We pass a street that says “No. 45 Donald Trump Boulevard” and a house with a Confederate flag hanging outside.
The Agricultural & Industrial Museum in York tells the stories of this city’s many exports, including the York Peppermint Patty, invented in 1940. The Stauffer Biscuit Company, which has made animal crackers since 1871, also began in York, so it is called the country’s snack food capital.
William Goodridge, who was an enslaved person and a commercial rail car operator, was also a conductor on the Underground Railroad. The house where he lived and hid escapees from slavery before arranging their emancipation is now a museum; the cellar where they took refuge between flight and freedom has been preserved.
Kelly Summerford, the director of the William C. Goodridge Freedom Center in York, Pa.
Inside the William C. Goodridge Freedom Center is a census map from 1850, which names the states that were free and those that weren’t. Kelly Summerford, the director of the museum, sings “Ashé” as he enters the room where the cellar can be seen through the glass in the ground. It’s a Yoruba word meaning “power” or “authority,” and it refers to spiritual life forces or energy.
“If your spirit isn’t nice, this house will not treat you well,” Mr. Summerford says.
Holding a cotton plant, he tries to explain what freedom meant to those who were not free. He gives examples of young men in shackles, of legs being cut off so men couldn’t escape, of women being used as wet nurses (“to them she was a cow”).
“Only then can you imagine why people risked their lives for freedom,” he says. “To feel human.”
Daguerreotypes made by the Goodridge family.
Amish Village is a guided farmhouse tour that seeks to give insight into the beliefs and lives of the Amish. It takes visitors through living quarters, bedrooms and kitchens (where a May 2019 edition of the “The Budget,” an Amish-Mennonite newspaper published in Sugarcreek, Ohio, is on the dining table). Our entire tour group consists of Russian and Chinese tourists.
Before we leave, we stop to eat at Good ’N Plenty, a restaurant in the area that serves Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. We have the World-Famous Fried Chicken; brown buttered noodles; Chow Chow, an Amish dish made of vegetables left over from canning drenched in vinegar and sugar, red eggs with beets; and cracker pudding, which is made by blending coconut, sugar, milk and saltines.
A gas station in Strausstown, Pa.
Vraj Hindu Temple is set on a 300-acre plot in Schuylkill Haven, Pa.
Schuylkill Haven, Pa., about 90 miles outside Philadelphia, is home to the Vraj, one of the largest Hindu temples in North America. Founded in 1988, it is a unitarian temple; Hindu sects of all kinds are welcome here, and many people make yearly pilgrimages. The temple is dedicated to the worship of Shrinathji, the reincarnation of Krishna.
The temple serves roughly 175,000 meals every year, to anyone who passes through its doors. We arrive just as a bus full of devotees are heading back home to New Jersey. Before we can even talk to anyone, we’re ushered toward the food. Then we met Pramod Amin, the co-founder of Vraj, and talk among people praying and meditating.
Vraj holds the largest fireworks display for 4th of July in the county: between 3,000 and 5,000 people show up each year. “It is our share of being Americans,” Mr. Pramod says. (Since the 1960s, America’s Indian population hassurged, from 12,000 to 2 million.)
On the way into Allentown, Pa., a huge thunderstorm brings traffic to a halt. The city is home to an old, significant Syrian-American population. Most of them are Christian. They made national headlines for their support of Mr. Trump and for being divided over the matter of accepting Syrian refugees.
We head to a bar called F & S, on the city’s South Side. It’s a classic American dive bar frozen in time, with plenty of food. That’s all frozen too.
Mike, the owner of F & S.
Mike, the owner, is Syrian-American, he came to the U.S. 40 years ago. Ten years after his arrival, he bought this bar. Mike serves everyone, he says, whether they’re gangsters, drug addicts or just regulars who want to talk about their latest failed relationship, which is a pretty good summation of the clientele at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday.
The building was built in 1890, and as far as Mike knows, it has always been a bar, even back when people were riding in horse-pulled buggies. “We left it the way it is,” he says. “You don’t want to fix something that’s not broken.”
In between playing card games on his iPad, Mike goes to the back of the bar and emerges with a frozen bag of Mrs. T’s pierogies. He whips up a plate of dumplings, and deep fries mac and cheese triangles and greasy onion rings.
“No one complains about my food,” he says.
He makes jokes with his patrons, mixes drinks for two men who have waltzed into the bar requesting “Red Death,” a saccharine vodka cocktail not for the faint of heart.
He loves this bar (“I’m not going nowhere unless I’m going to the cemetery”) and will talk about it endlessly. As for the subject the 2020 race: “I’m not saying nothing.”
At 9 a.m. we drive to Holy Land USA, a 17.7-acre theme park in Waterbury, Conn., filled with miniature reconstructions of biblical landmarks. On the way into town, a billboard on the freeway reads: “My President, Your President, Our President: Trump 2020” just under the “Sultan’s Turkish Restaurant.” We know we’re close when we see a large, glowing cross.
Father James Sullivan inside the chapel at Holy Land USA.
Holy Land, opened in 1958, was the vision of John Greco, a Roman Catholic attorney born to Italian immigrants. There was a time when tens of thousands of visitors flocked here each year, but in the last few decades, the park has fallen into disrepair.
The cross is the dominant feature of Holy Land USA. In 2017, vandals defaced it with explicit graffiti, which led to expensive repairs.
Since 2012, Neil O’Leary, the mayor of Waterbury, has been part of an effort to revive the park. The steel cross, installed just before Christmas in 2013, stands 60 feet tall (if you count the base) on a hill overlooking Interstate 84, where an estimated 130,000 vehicles travel on each day. As we make our way to the top of the hill, Mr. O’Leary mentions how Holy Land has become a symbol for the whole city, no matter what faith or background residents come from. The Albanian Muslim community, for example, held fund-raisers for the cross at their local mosques. Every piece of the cross was a donation, he says — the lighting, electrical work, steel and even the welding.
“There hasn’t been one single project since I’ve been here that united the city like this project,” Mr. O’Leary says. “This property is not specific to any denomination. This property is for anyone. Everyone is welcome, it does not matter.”
Fayez lives in New Haven by way of Syria. “I don’t want to come here to have fun,” he says. “If Syria is good, we make fun in Syria.”
In New Haven, a Syrian asylum seeker named Fayez invites us into his apartment and serves coffee made with grounds from Damascus. The Syrian Civil War has shaken up his life: His sister was killed. Many of his friends have died or disappeared. His wife and two children are still in Syria, and President Trump’s travel ban has made it very difficult to bring them to the U.S.
Syrians come to the U.S. to survive, Fayez says. “I don’t want to come here to have fun. If Syria is good, we make fun in Syria.”
He’s physically here, but his mind is always thousands of miles away. He gets only four hours of sleep a night, he says, because he’s constantly keeping up with the news and contacts on his phone.
“I don’t go out, I have too much stuff in my head,” he says.
“I don’t want to have a good time while my people are under attack. I can’t, I feel like that’s not fair. I’m enjoying my time here, and they’re worrying if they can survive until tomorrow or not.”
Malik Cruz of the 2 Steps Away dance crew, rehearsing in Boston.
The next stop on our journey is Boston. We start the day in the North End, also known as the city’s Little Italy. We pass St. Leonard, a Roman Catholic church, which has an interesting plaque: “The first Roman Catholic Church in New England built by Italian immigrants.”
We end up at Cafe Vittoria, established in 1929, which serves potentially the best cappuccino and definitely the best tiramisu that I have ever tasted.
At Silk Road Uyghur Restaurant in Cambridge, we indulge in cold noodles, pumpkin manti dumplings and cucumbers with garlic dressing.
In the afternoon, we drive from Boston to Salem, Mass. Tourist shops line the main cobblestone street: exhibits, witch-pun businesses, etc.
We visit the Witch House, the only structure that still exists in Salem with direct ties to the trials. Jonathan Corwin, who sat on a panel of judges who tried the accused women and sent many of them the gallows, lived here. The house is big but narrow, and creaky.
The rooms contain artifacts and displays, as well as explanations of what American life in 17th-century Massachusetts was like. One of them refers to Judge Corwin’s wife: “Elizabeth Corwin gave birth to 10 children in this house between the years 1678 and 1691.” The placard also mentions that “women would have gathered here during the emotionally charged, often dangerous time.”
In the nearby Broad Cemetery where Judge Corwin is buried, we meet Susan DameGreene, a past-life regression therapist, and her service dog Penny. She guides us to Judge Corwin’s grave.
Just a couple blocks from the Witch House, Col. Bailey’s 2nd Massachusetts Regiment revisits the lives of soldiers and women for the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. Its members participate in battle re-enactments, parades and set up camp in various cities to connect history with the present. They’re an all-volunteer crew (with children) and have been doing this since 1974.
Spurred on by the last election cycle, Katey Corrigan joined 3 years ago to learn the ins of outs about America’s foundations.
“I wanted to better understand how we got to where we are now, what the vision was supposed to be for this country, and what happens if we stray from it,” says Ms. Corrigan.
Joining her is Joan Laxson, a former college professor who now loves teaching the forgotten stories of historic America, especially about the lives of women. She draws parallels to the past and present of the U.S. with a reference to Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who said that the American war might have been over but the American Revolution had just begun: “On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed.”
“We are in another chapter now,” says Ms. Laxson. “We don’t know where it will lead, but the people who came before us had to face the same issues and doubts.”
For a while it looks like we’re on a highway that’s sponsored by Cracker Barrel. We pass Derry, where one can visit the home of the poet Robert Frost. We reach Manchester, N.H., a city on the Merrimack River which is named after the original Manchester in England by a man named Samuel Blodgett who wanted to recreate the original Manchester’s industrial success in America. The current mayor is Joyce Craig, the first-ever woman to fill the role.
We stop at Red Arrow Diner, a 24-hour New Hampshire institution that was opened in 1922. The Red Arrow has become a required campaign stop for presidential candidates when they visit New Hampshire and they’ve got photos of them all over the walls, including Trump, who visited in August 2016. When President Trump ate here, a woman reportedly yelled, “Enjoy your burger, racist!” Hillary Clinton stopped by on the campaign trail, too.
It’s also a big stop for celebrities. We grab poutine and one of their homemade Twinkies (called “Dinah Fingers”) in a booth that says “Adam Sandler sat here.”
Early the next morning, we make our way through the winding forests of Canterbury for an esoteric but emergent Christian service at the Church of the Woods, which was founded in 2014 by Stephen Blackmer, an Episcopal priest. Every Sunday, a group of people, some from as far as a two hours’ drive, gather to honor the environment and express their love of Christ.
Rev. Hannah Anderson opens the service with Psalm 33 and a Rumi quote: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.”
The theme today is: “How do we reconnect with what we love most?”
“Our greatest gift is that we are surrounded by God’s creation,” she says before telling everyone to go into the woods to meditate.
When the congregants return, each has brought back a memento: a leaf, a rock, a pine cone. They are placed on the altar, near the sacramental bread and goblet of wine.
“This has been an extraordinarily difficult week in the life of our nation,” Rev. Anderson says, referring to the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. “We stand with you, full aware of the fragility of life, of the uncertainty of life. We stand with those struggling to make sense of the unnecessary loss and violence. We spread our love and good will towards them.”
“For those forcibly separated from loved ones,” one congregant says as the trees sway. “For an awakening about how much we have in common,” says another.
Farah Al Qasimi