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Where they went

History vs. Six Flags

Email|Print| Text size + By Diane Daniel
Globe Correspondent / August 9, 2003

Like the Lewis and Clark expedition some 200 years earlier, Randy Chatterjee and his sons, Colin and Oliver McNeely, ages 5 and 10 respectively, headed west.

For 15 days in June, they crossed from Somerville to Saint Louis, camping, canoeing, and occasionally coming face to face with giant roller coasters at the variety of Six Flags amusement parks they visited. Like Lewis and Clark, they documented their journey, but with digital video cameras instead of journals.

Chatterjee, an independent filmmaker with an adventurer's spirit, was eager to share with his sons a taste of what Meriwether Lewis and William Clark faced during their search for a waterway passage to the Pacific Ocean. His plan was to visit as many Corps of Discovery historical sites as possible on the 3,600-mile road trip. (He hopes to complete the western portion to Oregon next summer.) Along the way, Chatterjee taught his sons about the expedition's challenges and accomplishments, and threw in some hands-on lessons in cooking, canoeing, botany, and geography.

Oliver's appetite for Lewis and Clark was whetted last year at the Morse School in Cambridgeport, where the expedition was a two-week unit in fifth-grade social studies. Nonetheless, kids being kids, Chatterjee figures the highlights for the boys were the multiple trips to Six Flags parks and the almost daily swimming stops.

Their mode of transportation was Dad's 1986 Volkswagen bus, which he equipped with a 13-inch television.

They cooked most of their meals, taking "historically accurate food ideas" from Lewis and Clark cookbooks. "We skipped bear, dog, and horse dishes in favor of brisket, trout, and turkey," Chatterjee said. The first stop was in Virginia, at President Jefferson's home in Monticello, from which he sent a letter in 1803 asking Congress for $2,500 to finance the expedition.

"Monticello was excellent. The whole entry hall is devoted to Lewis and Clark," Chatterjee said. "There was a kids' tour that was really well done."

Heading west, they crossed the Cumberland Gap, the original passage across the Appalachian Mountains. "Now it's just a highway," said Chatterjee. Following the Ohio River, they passed Louisville, Ky., and, across the river, Clarksville, Ind., then home of William Clark.

Chatterjee's favorite exhibit was at the center at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. "One could spend hours walking through the expedition timeline, with journal excerpts and wall-sized images to match the text," he said. Throughout the trip, Chatterjee acknowledged, the boys could be heard saying, "not Lewis and Clark again." "But I think, I hope, they'll remember it fondly." Send suggestions to ddaniel@globe.com.

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