Gail Hilton pumped her fists in the air with glee at the sight of Park Ranger Justin Monetti on Thursday morning.
Justin had just reopened the Washington’s Headquarters Museum after the 16-day government shutdown.
“It wasn’t a wasted trip,” said Gail, a Connecticut resident whose sister, Sherry Hakes, had come all the way from California for this historical pilgrimage to Morristown.
They explained that they are descendants of the Ford family, whose mansion–now part of the museum site–had served as George Washington’s winter headquarters during the Revolutionary War.
Their great, great, great, great grandfather, as an 11-year-old boy, had delivered wood to the General, they said.
“We were glued to the TV last night, hoping it would open today,” said Sherry. “We know some of the history. We just wanted to see the house and get a real view of the way it was.”
The sisters were luckier than tourists from England and Colorado, who were turned away on Oct. 1, 2013, when Congress pulled the plug on almost everything over a budget dispute.
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Except for fallen leaves on the usually immaculate walkways, the museum grounds showed no signs of neglect. A skeleton crew of four law enforcement Park Rangers had kept an eye on the site, along with Fort Nonsense, Jockey Hollow and the Cross Estate, the other pieces of the Morristown National Historical Park.
“This community cares about this site so much, and because of that, there is very little vandalism or littering here,” said Justin Monetti, chief of interpretation for the park. He spent the shutdown catching up with friends and cleaning his house. “There are a lot of very clean federal homes right now,” he quipped.
The Park Ranger said it felt strange being cut off from a job he loves.
“You become so amazingly connected to what you do, and you’re trying to connect people with what we’re caring for here, and when you’re separated like that, it’s like losing a close friend or family member, a member of your home,” he said. “I’m glad to be back today. It’s an uplifting feeling.”
The morning’s first visitors, Jo and Bill Bergman, ventured from Michigan for sight-seeing with their son David, a Morristown resident.
“They wanted to see historic sites in New Jersey,” David said. “We had planned to see this place, Jockey Hollow, Fort Nonsense, little places like that. When we found out it was closed, we were pretty crushed.”
His mother chimed in: “Congress found out we wanted to come, and got together. We had the pull!”
Who’s to blame for grinding the federal wheels to a halt?
“We voted them into office,” David Bergman said. “It’s a team effort. You succeed as a team, you fail as a team. We have to be more vocal about what we want.”
“It shouldn’t have happened,” Gail Hilton said.
Her sister Sherry agreed.
“When families can’t get along, that’s what happens. They should be understanding of everybody,” she said.