Had Greene and his high school students inadvertently changed history with their field trip to the Philadelphia of 1776? There had been no such repercussions the previous spring when Greene took his class to Ford’s Theater for the fateful performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865. That spring trip had been such a success that his students fell in love with history and begged for another trip for their junior year.
But somehow the Philadelphia field trip had caused a “butterfly effect” in the historical timeline evicting John Adams and John Quincy from the White House and erasing the prominence of the Adams family from American history. The ghost of Harvard Historian Henry Brooks Adams, great-grandson of John Adams, was pitching a fit and now Greene was facing an inquiry by a panel of dead historians led by Thucydides himself. Greene was beginning to rue the day he purchased a strange box at a rummage sale at the Cassadaga Hotel, the cosmic center of Cassadaga, Florida, “The Psychic Capital of the World,” and home to scores of psychics and mediums and a plethora of phantasms, including an overabundance of the ghosts of forgotten historians from Henry Adams to Howard Zinn.
How was Greene to know that the box he bought was a duplicate of Pandora’s? How was he to know that the box contained Nikola Tesla’s prototype for a time travel device that jealous rival Thomas Alva Edison had stolen from the Serbian-born inventor and hidden in the basement of the Cassadaga Hotel shortly after “The Wizard of Menlo Park” received an honorary degree from nearby Rollins College in February of 1930? Tesla’s assembly instructions were a snap to follow, and the initial field trip had gone so well that Greene decided to try a fall field trip to colonial Philadelphia. But something had gone wrong; what had they done? Therein lies the tale.
Has Mr. Greene lost his marbles? Minerva wondered.
“That’s all great, Mr. Greene,” Victor said. “What are you using as our talisman for this trip?”
Greene smiled. “Yes, remember everyone, we used the theater poster from Our American Cousin to effect the transport last spring. Well…Charles and Mary, are you here?”
The ghosts of deceased early American historians Charles and Mary Beard appeared in a transparent glow in the classroom. Charles handed Mr. Greene a riding crop. Mr. Greene handed Victor his cane for Victor to hold.
Minerva’s eyes widened in fright. What was going on?
“Students, say hello to Mary Ritter Beard and Charles Austin Beard. We will be reading their work later on in the semester,” Mr. Greene said. The Beards, who resembled extras from the movie The Great Gatsby in their 1920s fashions, smiled but did not speak. Charles Beard did, however, float over to Mr. Greene and appear to whisper something in the teacher’s ear.
“Hello,” the students said politely.
Mr. Greene continued with his introduction of the Beards. “Mr. Beard’s seminal work was, of course, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution published in 1913. Mrs. Beard collaborated with her husband on their 1927 book The Rise of the American Civilization.”
Charles Beard bowed politely, revealing the part in the center of his hair, and Mary managed a curtsey in her “flapper” dress without floating out of place. Mr. Greene directed his students’ eyes to the riding crop that he swirled in a mesmerizing swoosh like a fencer twirling his epee.
“This is Caesar Rodney’s riding crop,” Greene explained. “Mr. Rodney was a delegate from Delaware who suffered from a debilitating facial cancer, but made the ride from Delaware to Philadelphia to cast a deciding vote for independence. The Delaware delegation was split with one vote for independence and one against it. British Admiral Howe had already landed his seven hundred ships at Staten Island in New York and troops were planning to march the one hundred miles to Philadelphia to hang the rebels. Only if our Founding Fathers could establish that the colonies were an independent nation could the delegates to the Continental Congress shelter themselves in the rules of war. Benjamin Franklin, the wisest man in America, knew that the king of France, hungry for revenge for the loss of his American lands in the French and Indian War, wasn’t going to help the colonies unless they broke with England. Rodney, who was ill, hadn’t expected Delaware delegate George Read to vote against independence. So he wound up riding eighty miles overnight in the rain and mud of the lousy colonial roads from Dover to Philadelphia. Heck, he even survived his cancer, living until 1784. He was a tough old bird, and his riding crop is going to help us get to Philadelphia.” Greene pointed the riding crop to the overhead projection of the colonial Philadelphia map, a bit north of Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th streets on the Dury map. He went to his students and handed them each a 1999 quarter-dollar. “This is Delaware’s commemorative quarter. Victor, what is on the back of the coin?”
“A rider in a tri-corner hat on a horse.”
“Yes,” Mr. Greene said. “What else?”
“Delaware 1787, the first state and good old E Pluribus Unum.”
“Yes, ‘out of many one’ in Latin, anything else?”
“Yes, Caesar Rodney. Delaware revered Caesar’s ride even more than Massachusetts revered Paul’s, ha ha.” No one laughed at the pun on “Revere” and Greene went on with a hint of disappointment on his face. “So Rodney’s ride to cast Delaware’s vote for independence was put on its commemorative coin. Ever since 1999, Rodney’s riding crop has had magical powers for some reason. I like to think it has historical powers gained on the ride for independence. Or perhaps it is the power of a United States commemorative coin.”
“Wow!” said Victor Bridges. He had never thought that a commemorative coin might have some magical power.
Mr. Greene is wacko, Minerva thought.
“Buckle up, students,” he warned before touching the riding crop to the map. He held onto a lectern that was bolted to the floor.
The classroom began to shake. Mary and Charles Beard floated merrily about the classroom, dashing in and out of the students, whose desks remained shakily bolted to the floor of the trailer. The ghosts stared a moment at Minerva Messinger, then nodded to each other. They floated up to either side of Minerva’s face and planted ghostly kisses on both of Minerva’s cheeks.
“Helppppp!” Minerva yelled.
Bette Kromer was rattling back and forth in her desk. “Buck up, Messinger,” she called. “It’s not the kiss of death because they’re already dead!”
The other students laughed. Minerva quickly recovered, and the laughter ceased. The Beards began to whirl about and spin counterclockwise, like ghostly spinning tops, until their images disappeared, only to reappear a moment later dressed in colonial period costumes, Mrs. Beard’s transparent image sporting a hairdo that resembled a beehive atop her head. So that was what it was supposed to look like, Minerva Messinger realized as she evaluated the ghost. Mom, she said to herself, you should be here. This isn’t just nuts, this is cashews! This is right up your alley.
The shaking in the portable classroom slowed and then stopped. Minerva scanned the bulletin board. Where was the Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence? It had disappeared.
As if he were reading Minerva’s mind, Greene spoke up as the trailer came to a halt. “Look, students,” he said, pointing to the bulletin board. “The broadside is gone. What happened to it?”
Bette Kromer’s hand went up.
“It hasn’t happened yet. It’s not the 4th; it is the 2nd.”
“Yes!” Greene replied. He moved to the classroom door and cracked it open, holding up Caesar Rodney’s riding crop. As a breeze from 1776 entered the classroom, Minerva Messinger watched in disbelief as the riding crop disappeared.
“Mr. Greene, the riding crop!” Victor Bridges shouted.
“Yes,” Mr. Greene said evenly. “I believe Mr. Rodney is using it at present, as he is riding to Philadelphia from Delaware at this very moment. We shall need to retrieve the crop later today to return. He may throw the riding crop into the air like a bride tossing her bouquet, so we will have to catch it. Open the shades please, Victor,” he added as he went to the computer and typed in some commands.
Victor nodded to the Anderson twins to help him and each boy rolled up a window shade.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Greene said with a theatrical bow and a swirl of his tri-corner hat. “I give you Philadelphia on the morning of July 2, 1776.”
Actually, they had landed in a summer wheat field on the outskirts of the town, a half-mile from his intended landing spot, but the appreciative History Channelers applauded Mr. Greene. Even Minerva Messinger joined in clapping, although she was still too startled to appreciate the reality that lay just beyond the walls of the portable classroom and the summer wheat field in which the portable classroom had landed: the city of Philadelphia in 1776.