Over the past five years or so, my wife and I have traveled around the U.S. quite a bit. For evidence, just look at our refrigerator.
We now have nearly 150 magnets from 28 states plus a generic magnet of a Mountie that we got in Vancouver that says “Canada.” The magnets are from places as large as the Grand Canyon to as small as Pop’s soda shop in Oklahoma, crossing the country from Olympic National Park in Washington state to Universal Studios Florida.
We added the five most recent magnet states on our drive to New York City and back to see “Springsteen on Broadway” over the Fourth of July weekend. Before leaving, we knew it would be a challenge because we had to drive 1,000 miles and back in just over four days. But we met our ultimate goal of securing magnets for Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
Our plan was to stop at some kind of tourist attraction in Ohio on our way back, so that left West Virginia as the first chance to get a magnet. (We already had magnets from sites in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, the first three states we drove through.) Interstate 70, which we took most of the way, only goes through West Virginia for a short time.
Normally, I would say it’s a good thing to only spend a short time in West Virginia, but we needed to find a tourist attraction that had magnets. I’d hoped to get one at the New River Gorge when we visited West Virginia last year, but the visitors center and gift shop were closed because of COVID-19.
Luckily, Wheeling, the only decent-sized city we went through in West Virginia on this trip, had a hidden gem. We learned about West Virginia’s Independence Hall on the state’s episode of “Aerial America,” our favorite show on the Smithsonian channel. It was the site where West Virginia seceded from (surprise, surprise) Virginia in 1863.
We quickly checked out all three stories of the museum, including a nice flag display on the second floor and a restored historic courtroom on the third floor.
They had one magnet design specifically for Independence Hall (with others that just said “West Virginia”), but that was good enough for us.
It was a nice attraction and, best of all, free.
We’d originally hoped to make it to Pennsylvania earlier that Friday and possibly see the U.S. Independence Hall, but we were clearly running behind. I stopped at the Pennsylvania Welcome Center to try to get ideas for someplace to stop and get a magnet.
I overheard one of the employees tell a woman the site of the Flight 93 crash on Sept. 11, 2001, was just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike exit. That was someplace I’ve wanted to go for a while, so we decided to go for it.
Unfortunately, the crash site was actually 20 miles off the exit in Somerset, and it was getting near closing time for the visitors center. Fortunately, we were able to get to the visitors center minutes before it closed at 5 p.m. and got a nice magnet and even a T-shirt.
We then walked around the site, which goes on for several miles in a beautiful area of the Allegheny Mountains. We went down to the memorial for the victims near where they forced the plane to crash before it could hit Washington, D.C. We also went to the Tower of Voices, which chimes as wind hits it (and is pictured on our magnet).
The memorial, which is run by the National Park Service, is a must-see for anyone in the area. It’s also free.
Since we were hitting sites frequented by Bruce Springsteen, we went to the boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on Saturday morning.
Some shops were open as we walked though the Convention Hall. We picked up a magnet designed to look like a “Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey” postcard. The postcard also happens to be the cover of Springsteen’s first album.
We made it into the city Saturday evening, marking my wife’s first visit to New York. After checking into our hotel, we headed for the Empire State Building, for which I had made reservations online.
It was my first time in the building, which looked really nice for being nearly 90 years old. They have you walk around quite a bit before you can take the elevator to the 86th-floor observatory. But you learn a lot about the history of the building, and as you go up the elevator, the ceiling displays a video so it looks like the building being “built” around you.
The rain cleared by the time we got to the top, and we had a nice view of Manhattan and the surrounding areas. It wasn’t cheap, though. Two tickets, with fees, cost $95.82.
They had a wide variety of magnets. We got a metallic-looking one but avoided a magnet shaped like the Empire State Building itself. Having to go through Broadway security afterward, I was concerned the tiny spire on the magnet could be considered a weapon.
Sunday morning, we headed to lower Manhattan to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It was an extremely moving experience as we descended below the slurry walls of the original World Trade Center.
I loved the parts where they paid tribute to the victims and the rescue workers. In one section, photos of nearly all 3,000 people killed lined the walls. The photo display surrounded a room where they showed video images of the victims, and you could hear family members and co-workers talk about them.
They also had a photo exhibit of dogs who assisted rescue workers. The photos were taken years after Sept. 11 but before the dogs passed.
I was touched to learn that the only rescue dog who died at the World Trade Center was named Sirius, the same name of our dog we recently got from the shelter. (I’m pretty sure our Sirius was named for the Harry Potter character, but it was still interesting.)
The part of the museum where you relive Sept. 11 was a little intense for me. As you start, they play video of the now-disgraced Matt Lauer on “Today” as the towers were hit Sept. 11. Having to listen to him along with the sounds of sirens blaring was intense.
They have many artifacts taken from the buildings that day, including several heavily damaged emergency vehicles. The total for the museum was $56 for two people. It took about two hours to go through.
Although it seemed like an odd place to get a refrigerator magnet, the gift shop did have a tasteful selection, including a magnet with a painting of the recovery dog Sirius.
We decided to get a magnet with a quote that takes up part of a large wall that separates the 9/11 Museum from an area where the unidentified remains of thousands of victims are kept. It is from Virgil’s “Aeneid” and reads, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”
We made it to the Gettysburg National Military Park, in Pennsylvania, that evening. We got to see some memorials, but unfortunately the visitors center was closed.
Some gift shops downtown were open, but the town was packed for Fourth of July fireworks, so we decided not to look for a magnet there.
We still needed to get a magnet in Ohio as we headed home. I wanted to stop at either the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force or a Wright Brothers site in Dayton, but we were in a hurry to get home and pick up our dogs from the pet sitter before it got late.
My wife was thinking fast, though, and picked up an “Ohio” magnet at a truck stop. It features three cartoonish cows waiting around a farm and reads, “Ohio: What happens here ... stays here! But nothing ever really happens here.”
It’s not quite the same as actually visiting an Ohio tourist attraction, but it will do in a pinch.
Eventually, we’ll get back to Ohio and see more, but for now, we have a nice placeholder.
In the meantime, there are plenty of other states to get magnets from. Right now, we have Iowa and Wisconsin in our sights.