Graveyard Shift

Under a huge, radiantly golden, full moon tonight, I went with the graveyard shift to tour the Mark Twain House with the specter focus.  No pictures were allowed inside, but according to The Atlantic Paranormal Society or TAPS, photos don’t tend to survive an encounter.

2015-08-29 19.10.12With one exception.  This upstairs window on the left equates to the Clemens’ daughters’ bathroom.  One photo caught a girl looking out the window when no one was in the house.

Alas, my photo is quite ordinary.

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As you can tell from this sunset photo, the house is very grand.  Inside, it’s also very dark and was barely lit for our tour.  Easy to imagine the spectral encounters reported by guides and visitors.




Here are a few.  The three girls still sit on the center hall stairs, where apparently they hung out to eavesdrop on their parents’ entertainments in the dining room.  Susie, who died in the house, floats from room to room in her white, Victorian dress.  Then there’s the loud, unexplained bang in the library.  The silver tray thrown at a security guard, clattering to the ground.  And the playful taps on the shoulder and sensations of fingers running through your hair.

Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain

I was most intrigued by Sam Clemens’ belief system.  He was born in 1835, the year of Haley’s Comet.  Victorians believed that births during a natural phenomenon made the child more sensitive to psychic phenomenon.  Clemens not only believed that “two freaks came in together” (he and the comet), but would also go out together.  As indeed happened.  He died in 1910, with the return of Haley.

One vivid experience confirmed his beliefs about himself.  He dreamed of his brother’s death, including seeing his body in a morgue with a wreath of white roses on his chest and a red rose at center.  The next day, Twain’s brother was killed in a freak accident, and the would-be author was brought to the morgue to see his brother.  All the victims were laid out together.  You can guess what he saw.

Clemens also believed he could smoke out fakers.  He had an enormous print of his palm and hand made, which he then sent anonymously to psychics and mediums.  He would judge from their return reading whether they were genuine.  Famously, one he debunked had read the palm and declared that “the owner has no sense of humor.”  Obviously, a fraud!

Part of the TAPS method, with their Ghost Hunters television program, is to use equipment to measure electromagnetic currents.  Certain spots in the house were hot.  The investigators also spent a night in the house, not to prove that there are spirits, but attempt to prove there are not.  Debunking is their approach.  They couldn’t at the Mark Twain House.

During Twain’s era, Spiritualism was a serious practice, and the Clemens’ and their neighbors, the Beecher Stowe’s, held seances.  Clemens wanted to connect with his dead brother.  Victorians believed that spirits lingered, likely a comforting thought with such high mortality rates among children, their mothers, and Civil War soldiers.  Yes, shrewd fakers took advantage of a culture of grief.  I certainly did my own investigation of Spirit Photography.


Spirit Photo

Daguerreotype of Rena, as a writer with her spirit guide

Who’s to say the Victorians were wrong?  Certainly TAPS couldn’t.  Check out their video.


Sloth: Exhibition Opening and ReceptionMaybe the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum curators were being witty with their exhibit-portion of the 7 Deadly Sins.  Seven museums are participating, and I had already enjoyed the thoughtful exhibit on Gluttony at the Bruce.  I was surprisingly unamused by the Sloth exhibit at the Aldrich.

The whole show was comprised of a porch rocker and inside, three recliners in front of tv monitors playing a video of the other museums’ exhibits of the Deadly Sins.  This exhibit was deadly!  Come on, curators!  Just because the exhibit was on sloth didn’t mean they had to be lazy.  What a delicious art historical topic and certainly one for contemporary artists.  A real missed opportunity.

Fortunately, I had already had a wonderful visit to the Storm King Art Center, a place that requires the opposite of sloth.  More than 100 sculptures dot the landscape, over 500 acres of picturesque, upstate New York countryside.  Past visits had me tromping all over the place.

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Today, despite the picture-perfect weather, I slothed out.  I took the tram all over the site.  No, I didn’t see as much as slowly as I would have liked, but my real objective was to get to the Lynda Benglis Water Sources sculptures.  Benglis has always been interested in texture and expressionistic, organic shapes, so she makes a wonderful fit as the featured artist in an environment where the sculptures play off of, complement, intrude, and create landscapes, as you can see in this slide show.

Most of the Benglis outdoor pieces are bronze and were not created site specifically for Storm King.  Some elements were added to North South East West for the site.  Regardless, all I could see was Bernini, especially in relationship to those columns.

Lynda Benglis North South East West 1988/2009/2014-5

Lynda Benglis
North South East West

Bernini, Fountain of the Four Rivers, 17th Century, Rome

See what I mean?  That same earthy, crusty, twisting, Baroque sensibility.  I’d love to ask Benglis if she thinks of Bernini, tooi.

You can see how her works fit in the landscape.  All those verticals reaching to the sky.

Lynda Benglis, Crescendo, 1983-4/2014-5

Lynda Benglis, Bounty, 1983-4/2014-5

Sound is an important element for the works, so enjoy a listen in these videos.





Crescendo actually reminds me of the natural history museum.  A primordial ooze emerging out of the water becoming a dinosaur.  Do you see it, too?

Like most sculpture, you get different impressions by walking around any of these works.


This last video of Pink Ladies shows that Benglis is experimenting with materials.  In addition to bronze, she uses polyurethane that she also casts and then pigments.  The poly allows the pink to shimmer in the sun.  It becomes translucent, too.  Mesmerizing and meditative.

With these works, and the lovely day, I enjoyed a bit of slothfulness.

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As a culture, are we slothful?  Inside Storm King’s museum was a small exhibition of the emerging artist the museum has supported–Luke Stettner.   His still untitled work demonstrates how archaeologists may look back at us: ‘Hmmm.  This garbage suggests that back in the day, people valued these gizmos for a moment, before discarding them for the next thing.’

A definite case for recycling!



A little bit of hope in the impossible

Houdini's stone at his grave was stolen 3 times, so it's on loan here to protect it.

Houdini’s stone at his grave was stolen 3 times, so it’s on loan here to protect it.


Although I can’t recommend it, the quirky, magic realist film “Little Boy” put me in the mood for the Houdini Museum in Mew York.  In the film, magic gives an unfortunate boy hope and the ability to believe the impossible, much like Houdini did.

The magic store Fantasma Magic, on the third floor of a nondescript building kitty corner from Madison Square Garden, houses the museum, and John was quite the guide.




2015-08-23 12.51.30He told me about the Substitution Trunk, a trick still in use today.  First, the audience came up to examine the trunk, making sure it was sound.  Then Houdini’s brother was handcuffed, put in a bag, and locked the trunk.  Houdini stood on the trunk and raised a curtain.

When the curtain came back down, Houdini was locked in the trunk and his brother was on top the trunk.

Later Houdini’s wife took the place of his brother.  Regardless, I have no idea how they did this, and John wasn’t telling.

Houdini would respond to two challenges–a punch in the gut and willingness to escape 2015-08-23 12.57.15from anything.  In Boston, in 1907, it was this coffin,  secured with six-inch nails.  In 66 minutes, the magician escaped.

How did he do it?  Houdini was a locksmith by trade, so he knew little tricks and hid little lock picks.  He knew the handcuffs would pop open when banged against a shin-shaped metal plate that he conveniently kept up his trouser leg.

Soon he was stripped for his tricks.  The naked magician.  Houdini would swallow his picks, yes, really, and regurgitate them once the trick started.  I want to know how he avoided punching holes in his stomach.  Ouch!

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Hand from a seance, used to tap out the answer from the spirit

Hand from a seance, used to tap out the answer from the spirit

After his mother died, Houdini went to seances to contact her.  Finding the mediums to be hoaxes, Houdini revealed their secrets and methods.  He decided to conjure the spirits himself, as part of his magic act.  Different from the debunked seances, his audience knew his work was illusory.  No deception of the heart.  Or so Houdini stated.

John didn’t know how the teakettle related to Houdini’s act, but he told me how Steve Cohen uses it now at the Waldorf.  This ‘Magician to the Millionaires’ asks six people what they like to drink and then pours their preferred drink from the teakettle.  Margherita, Diet Coke, a brandy, whatever.  One after another.  Even professional magicians like John can’t figure out how he does it.  In case you want to catch his act, he’s at the Waldorf on weekends in a suite.

John doing a little magic on me

John doing a little magic on me


Probably anyone could figure out how John did the two tricks for me.  I just laughed and laughed.

As I did with this Mickey Mouse magician from the 1950s at Disney World in Florida.  Apparently the only one in existence, John remembers seeing this automaton as a child with his mother.  And now he works where it’s exhibited.  I couldn’t even figure out how it works, although you might be able to in this video..

So I turned to Isabella, feeding her a dollar for my fortune.  Listen to what she has to say here.  (You might also make out the Rena ghost in her window.)

My yes or no question turned up the disappointing response, “ask later.”  Ah well.  Maybe the lucky numbers she predicted for me will pay out.  A little bit of hope in the impossible.

Give while you live

Definitely keep an eye out for the new documentary “Rosenwald,” opening soon around the country.  Another love project by Aviva Kempner, who made the documentary “Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” and another on Hank Greenberg, this film on Julius Rosenwald is deeply touching and profoundly inspiring.

JR believed ‘give while you live’, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that by doing so, he changed the culture and future of the U.S.   He promised his young wife that he would save $5000, spend $5000, and give $5000.  That was just the beginning.

Son of an immigrant peddler, he manufactured men’s clothing in Chicago, making his first fortune in men’s suits.  Richard Sears was intrigued, ran an ad for JR’s line, and was swamped by over 1000 orders.  Rather than pay his bill, he made JR a partner.  Rosenwald’s business acumen perfectly balanced Sears’ marketing brilliance.

Then the real philanthropy began.  First, JR funded YMCAs for African Americans.  Young men who moved for a job needed a place to live, and Jim Crow eliminated their options. In Chicago, JR put up 1/3 of the money ($25,000) to build a Y, as long as the black community raised the rest.

Twenty-seven Y’s popped up around the country following this model.  Booker T. Washington then showed JR how critical education was to changing the life of American blacks.  JR had no trouble associating the KKK with the pogroms in Russia.  He was outspoken in criticism of white America, and then he acted.  Build schools for black children.

Again using the 1/3-2/3 funding split, this time, 1/3 came from the states’ board of education.  Separate but equal.  Washington rejected JR’s offer of using Sears Prefab buildings for the schools.  Pride would come with community sweat equity.

JR was touched by the photos of the schools and the students

Lots of fish fries and collections of pennies, combined with the states’ and JR’s funds, led to an astonishing 5357 new schools across the South.  Reportedly, one in three African American children attended a Rosenwald School.  Some were burned by whites, but were rebuilt, often more than once, until the dominant community accepted the schools, and its concomitant risk of shared power that education promises.  The whole process was a study in community resilience.

Image result for rosenwald aviva kempner

Several commented on how nice their Rosenwald Schools were

You would be astounded by all the cultural icons that attended a Rosenwald School, not limited to Maya Angelou, John Lewis, and James Baldwin, to name a shortlist few.

JR also funded the Tuskegee Institute and its later Airmen, who returned from the war with confidence and a sense of self that led to the Civil Rights Movement.  Rosenwald’s Fund kickstarted the emerging careers of young artists like Aaron Douglas and Augusta Savage, dancers such as Katherine Dunham, and writers including James Baldwin, Rita Dove, and Langston Hughes, along with singer phenom Marion Anderson.

Jacob Lawrence, Great Migration Series

Jacob Lawrence created his Great Migration series under a Rosenwald Fellowship.  Gordon Parks got his start, before his FSA funding.  And Woody Guthrie got a fellowship to travel through the South.

JR funded museums, housing communities, Jewish charities, and more, before passing away in 1931.  The Fund depleted in 1948, after gifting over $70 million (consider the era!).  Give while you live.

Influenced by his Rabbi, the powerful social activist Emil Hirsch, and the visionary Washington, JR personified tikkun olam–repairing the world with all his heart, proudly not becoming a man of his times.

Here’s a sneak peek of the film:


Interesting small spaces

When you think about home renovation, kitchen and baths probably pop to mind. But my hunch is you’re not considering the privy.

From the rear Wethersfield, CT, 6-4-14

Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, from the rear

The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum has you there. Executive Director Charles Lyle proudly took me on a privy tour of the meticulously-restored privies for the three houses. After all, they date back to the late 18th century and that makes them historically significant. Yes, they are listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Plus they’re interesting.

Juxtaposing the historic privy with the modern apartment building next door.  Viva history!

Juxtaposing the historic privy with the modern apartment building next door.  Viva history!

Turns out, two of the privies were moved over time, to the Congregational Church and Old Academy building. A soil test helped bring the Deane House privy home, with its chemical match. All three are now behind their respective houses, although apparently on slightly different sites. No longer used for storage, the privies tell their own stories now.

2015-08-12 11.27.06I have to say that the most sophisticated of the three, a seven-seater, was practically as big as my New York apartment. Charles doesn’t think the family sat together, if you will, though they likely had assigned seats, ranging from papa- and mama-sized to child-sized





Rat-tail lock hanging loose here, and note the heart-shaped bolts above the door handle.

Rat-tail lock hanging loose here, and note the heart-shaped bolts above the door handle.

These are not your grannie’s privy. Truly fancy—hipped rooflines and cornices, paneled doors, and hardware. Note this wonderful rat-tail lock.

I know it’s hard to imagine that a privy might need a new roof. But the three dilapidated structures did. And the Webb House Privy now proudly sports its finial on top again, along with its new cedar shakes.


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Does your privy have a paned window with a view? These do, and the original glass was salvaged for the restoration. Applying a plaster wall and ceiling now is almost a lost craftsman form. But these privies have a new hand-brushed, skim coat of plaster applied over the old.

Yellow pine salvaged from other historic properties, provided by Armster Reclaimed Lumber in Springfield, MA, allowed Charles and the contractor JHS Restoration to match the aged patina of the replaced floorboards to the original. You might also notice the stand for a candle, for those middle-of-the-night runs. These interiors are truly remarkable.

A privy at one end of the garden.  Note the finial at the top of the roofline.

A privy at one end of the garden. Note the finial at the top of the roofline.

Painted colonial red, the privies are coated in the color that Charles thinks signaled the service aspects of home life. The back of these houses are painted red, too, while the fronts are the more fashionable yellow. The back of the house is where slaves and servants worked. Distinctions were made, and so it makes sense for the privies in the rear of the houses were painted that same red.

The base of a privy has been damaged, where a shovel repeatedly knocked the wood to remove the, ahem, fertilizer. Good for composting and for the garden. And the gardens are looking lovely this summer, thanks to the hardworking volunteers.

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So on your next visit to Wethersfield, not only can you visit what’s up front and center, but also the necessities out back. There may even be an idea or two for your next bathroom renovation.

A New Musical

Another small space, the Normal Terris Theater of Goodspeed, currently has a big production. “My Paris” directed by Kathleen Marshall, of “Anything Goes” and many more Broadway hits, is a world-premiere musical about Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.


Clever staging put the actor playing Toulouse-Lautrec one step down from the others, to communicate the artist’s damaged legs and short stature. Plus, the costume designer lengthened his coat and the crotch of his pants, so that his legs looked shorter. Subtle, but noticeable.

Here red doesn’t get relegated to the back, but lives boldly as red wants to do.  Fun to watch the paintings come to life, as you’ll see in this video.

The can-can, the red scarf. It says, vivre la vie, a Lautrec mantra. Well-paced, with a variety of nicely sung songs, I’m guessing this one is Broadway bound in no time. There the spaces will hardly be small and the whoops and twirls will no doubt be broad. Keep a look out.

Growing Old Gracefully

As I’ve been thinking about growing old gracefully, examples pop up everywhere I look.

Today, I visited the historic house where Valerie is on the Board.  The Ward-Heitman House is the oldest in West Haven, built around 1684.  Unlike so many historic homes that find themselves in the way, this one has been allowed to age gracefully in place.  It hasn’t been moved or changed since the early 20th Century.

1 of 5 still-working fireplaces

1 of 5 still-working fireplaces

The house even survived the Revolutionary War when the British attacked West Haven, seemingly because the owners were Loyalists and Church of England.  Ultimately, they were on the losing side, of course,  My guide didn’t comment if that’s why there was a change of ownership.

Original front room, with a Colonial color scheme

Original front room, with a Colonial color scheme

Lydia and her brothers

Louisa and her brothers

The house was built as a stock 2-over-2, two rooms down, two rooms up, until later generations added on for their own purposes.  Louisa Ward married a Heitmann, merging the two families in the house.  While her seafaring brothers (and husband?) were at sea, she decided to build an addition, a proverbial one-room schoolhouse, called a “Dame’s School.”  I don’t have a good explanation for the term, but we can speculate.

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Teacher’s desk complete with a geography book, class bell, hickory switch, and apple

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Every classroom had to have its George Washington picture











At the same time, out of one of the original downstairs rooms from the 2×2 days, the owners ran boutique businesses, first an antiques store, then a tea room.  Not at all uncommon in the early 20th century and through the Depression.

The Ward-Heitmann House seems to have a lot of unanswered questions from its history, but A.R. Gurney wraps up all the questions in his play “Love and Money” quite neatly.  In its current production at the Westport Country Playhouse, the program quotes Gurney, now 84 years old, as thinking this was his last play.  But, he states, the old saying is that Jews say goodbye and then don’t leave, so he’s going to become Jewish and write a couple more.  Power to him!

And this one has legs, moving after tonight’s performance to Signature Theatre Off Broadway, to open with the same cast and set at the end of the month.  Signature is happy to call it their Wold Premier, even as it started here in Connecticut.

“Love and Money” addresses issues Gurney seems to have on him mind–principally, how to be a WASP, as he and his lead character self-define, in an ever-diversifying America.  With his trademark, gentle humor and tight, fast-paced writing, he does it again.  Gives us a smartly-conceived, easy-to-swallow take on a big question.

Cornelia, the character at the heart of this play, has certainly aged with verve, as you’ll see in this video, and the actor Maureen Anderman had a great moment of sharp ad lib.

At one point, the lights went completely off.  The stage was utterly dark.  Anderman said, “I guess we forgot to pay the light bill.”  It was so in character that the audience laughed appreciatively and waited for the play to continue.

Until we learned it wouldn’t.  Some quirk in the lighting board had to be reset, not a new problem at the theater apparently.  The actors had left the stage, and we were entertained by the stage manager with a congenial to-and-fro with the audience, until the lights were back in order.  Then the play picked up just as it left off, not a beat missed, all clearly pros.

Plot-wise, while I was thinking, “uh oh, here comes ‘Six Degrees of Separation’,” Gurney allows Cornelia to out-con the con and have great fun with everyone doing it.  She sums up his apparent philosophy at the end.  She ad libs again, this time in character, about their dinner party for the evening, with a diverse group of guests “who will all do the dishes.”   The play ends as she declares it an opportunity for everyone to get along just fine.

And so she does, and the Ward-Heitmann House does, and we do, too.  Get along just fine, as we age with grace.

Native Connecticut

I started my Native Connecticut experience today at the Pequot Museum of the Mashantucket tribe.  My first impression was, this is a lot of museum for the experience.  The excess of architecture was even more exaggerated by the long walk through open space–“follow the paw prints”– to the long ramp going down to the exhibits.  I was already a bit visually exhausted.

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Then there were the generic exhibits on the Ice Age, the arrival of the People, tools, medicine, agriculture, you probably know the drill.  And I was the only person for miles.
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When I wandered into the Pequot Village, with its sounds of birds, crickets, and rushing water and the smell of the fire and cedar, everything changed.

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I won’t say I suspended my disbelief enough to really immerse.  After all, there’s something about fake humans that just doesn’t send me.  But this experience was much livelier and more interesting, plus it’s apparently what draws visitors and puts this museum in the ‘gem’ category.




So enter into late summer of 1550, to the uninterrupted, idyllic, daily life of the Pequot.

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­­­­­­­­­­­ My interest was captured by the wigwam.  I liked being able to go inside one and site down to contemplate life is such a small space.  I liked how the newlyweds were shown, 2015-08-06 16.36.14building their new home together.  How they bent saplings to create the structure, then covered it with bark, as you see here.  A vertical log cabin.  No windows, but the People spent very little time inside.

One to two families would share a wigwam, with the hearth at the center and sleeping platforms around the periphery.  The beds were covered with pelts of red fox, mink, skunk (yes, really), and the rare black wolf.  Deer skin would cover the open doorway, and when it rained, the smoke hole was covered with a piece of bark.

No space was wasted, and this wigwam had drying corn, hemp for twine and fish net, snow shoes, antlers ready to make into tools, arrow wood for the shafts of arrows, and a fish spear with a 3-pronged head.

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2015-08-06 16.44.42Until Europeans arrived, there were about a dozen Pequot villages.  With white people and more aggressive Native tribes (that led to the disastrous Pequot War) came fortress-like fences.  At least the Europeans did some trading, bringing bronze tools, pots, and jewelry.

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In the years after, we witness their lifestyle disappearing.  The housing style changed, became Anglicized, as did the clothing.

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I enjoyed the sense of pride of the tribe today, with several galleries devoted to its life today.  The gallery-wide oral histories added a personal touch, too.

So the museum is a funny mix of oooold stuff and new museum technology.  A bit curious.



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I must admit to being completely puzzled by these items in the gift store.  Expensive at $180, these dresses represent…what?  I don’t want to speculate.

Hmmm.  There’s even one in the front window.  So I’m clearly missing something.

But time waits for no traveler, so I left my puzzlement behind and moved on to the next Native Connecticut adventure–an author reading in the tiny town hall of Voluntown, an event that was part of the Connecticut Authors Trail.  Some people there were serious Trail groupies, traveling around the state to hear local authors speak about their work.  Others, like me, were attracted to this particular reading.

Wabanaki Tribal member Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel brings New England Native stories to life with her young-adult/crossover book Wananaki Blues.

This standing room only crowd knew the Tantaquidgeon family, an old Wabanaki name, and many knew Melissa’s great aunt, a revered herbalist (read Medicine Woman).  They oooh’d and ahhh’d about the Tantaquidgeon Museum of “Indian traditions” in Uncasville, which darn it, I learned about too late to visit today.  Thank goodness for tomorrow.  This was a bit of a love fest for Melissa, which was delightful.

Here’s an important bit of hierarchy I learned.  Wabanaki is the umbrella name for all the New England tribes, Pequot, Mohegan, etc.  Waba means east or dawn and naki means land.  So People of the Land of the Dawn.  Nice, eh?

Mona Lisa (yes, really), Melissa’s main character learns about her New England native heritage through the course of the book, while also solving a cold-case murder.  Way to go, Mona!  The book is a chance for us to learn, too, about the woods of the ‘North Land” and the history, mysteries, and culture of these People connected by canoes and toboggans on the superhighway that is and was the Connecticut River.

So much of this is new to me, so I’m adding Wabanaki Blues to my reading list to fill in my Native New England gaps!



Local Passions

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And now for something completely Colonial.  As a belated celebration for Penny’s birthday, we went to the Pardee-Morris House, for a taste of Colonial history…and beer.

The house dates back to 1750, when the Amos Morris family was making its fortune in flax and with their salt works.  Its location was auspicious, on LIghthouse Road on Long Island Sound, convenient for shipping goods.  This house was no rough-and-tumble shack.

Look at the size of this fireplace.  2015-08-02 15.35.24Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lust after such a thing, because, after all, to cook here, you’d have to walk around the fire.  Fireplace cooking was the second leading cause of Colonial women’s deaths, after childbirth.  Cooking was a dangerous activity!

The house didn’t have just one cooking fireplace, but three.

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Here’s a later iteration that’s a tidge safer.  Narrower and with a separate, high bake oven, technology was definitely improving.

This room also features the extra-wide “coffin door,” for bringing your dead in and out.  Cooking and death.  They just seem to be linked, as prevalent companions in Colonial life.

2015-08-02 15.39.28You can tell how spartan the house is now, but in its day, this was one fancy place.  It featured a central hall, creating a larger house and a show-off place for wealth.  And then there’s that third kitchen on the other side of the house.  It was used in the summer, to keep the cooking heat away from the rest of the living space, separated by a breezeway.

In between was the staircase to the ballroom.  Not a fancy staircase, but still besting what anyone else had at the time, I’m sure.  Upstairs, in that big open room we couldn’t access, we could still peek up and see the chandeliers.  Again not elegant, but a step up from oil lamps.

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Our guide was in love with the tea-brick, the way tea was shipped from China.  One brick?  About 200 cups.  Densely packed tea leaves, pressed 2015-08-02 15.37.07in a mold to achieve pretty patterns, and the black tea aroma lingers.

As a tea fan, I loved the brick, but also this lemon press.  I’d like to have that right now to make some lemonade, contemporary or Colonial.

So that’s your well-equipped kitchen in a wealthy New Haven house.  That wealth, and the ability to provide supplies, is what got both Amos Morris Senior and Junior in trouble.

Here comes the Revolutionary War.  The Morris father and son provide the rebel soldiers with supplies.  The British are not going to take this

Prosperous Amos Morris II

Prosperous Amos Morris II

too lightly.  They capture the Morris’ and throw them in jail and burn this house to the ground.

The year–1779.

By 1780, the son had apparently escaped and the father was released, to rebuild the house as we see it today.  The 1750 fireplaces survived, as did some beams.  The rest you can think of as a Colonial renovation.

Remarkably, the Morris family lived in the house until 1915, even doing the late 19th century thing of running a boarding house to make ends meet.  Pardee bought the house with the intention of creating a Colonial museum, but died before pulling it off.  He left it to the New Haven Museum, which has had it for over 100 years.  A caretaker stayed in the house until 15 years ago, and now, it is in the shape as you see it.

First up, save the roof.  I hope they can manage the money to do more with this house that tells such an interesting story.

2015-08-02 15.54.35After the hard work of touring the house, it was time for Penny and me to learn about Connecticut beer, from the Morris period to today.

Author and beer-columnist Will Siss told us all.  New Haven was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony initially, and the English settlers loved their ale.  Of the two kinds of beer, ale and lager, ale was easier to make, faster to ferment, and successfully brewed at warmer temperatures.  Colonial women were the typical brewers, making ale at home.  Ale was necessary at a time when water wasn’t safe to drink.  Boiling the water to brew beer also killed off the bacteria.

In 1659, New Haven had its first “Ordinary” or tavern, a social place to meet, drink the local brew, and exchange news.  By 1885, New Haven had 8 breweries, each with its own personality and neighborhood following.  German immigrants were contributors to the growth of the brewing world here, and they became known for the lagers, which required refrigeration and were crisp, cold, and clear.  Of course, some breweries became huge, like Budweiser.  But others held that local sway.

With drink comes the inevitable backlash.  Lack of responsible drinking fueled the mid- 19th century Temperance movement, of which the Hartford Beechers were key advocates.  Connecticut attempted a state-wide ban on drinking in 1854 (when the Morris house was 100 years old).  Well, that didn’t work.  By 1872, the state tried the “local option” law, where each town could vote ‘wet’ or ‘dry.’  This approach was received pretty well in the country, with one town, Bridgewater, holding out until last year.  But the city dwellers wouldn’t have that law either.

With Prohibition and the rise of speakeasies, crime and public drunkenness actually increased.  Repeal in 1933 brought the slow resurgence of breweries.  Jimmy Carter helped the cause (and Billy Beer brewed by his brother) by passing a law that increased the allowed amount of production that could still be labeled ‘home brewing.’

And so we go full circle.  Back to highly localized, boutique breweries, that can be enjoyed in local restaurants and bars, just like the Colonials did.  We got to taste several samples from two new breweries.  Erector Brewing Collective is just getting started, with an IPA (India Pale Ale) and a lager, both strong and bitter.  Penny called the lager chocolatety.  Now that’s a civilized taste bud for you.

I preferred the four beers by Black Hog Brewing Company from Oxford, CT.  Before you ask, black hogs are a kind of pig you will find in the Berkshires.  There’s this link to your barbecue (of the pig) and beer…  Okay.  Now that we’re past that, Penny and I shared tastes of four kinds of Black Hog beer: one made with rye, another with oatmeal, the third with ginger, and their new beer, with a grapefruit peel finish (not pictured).

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The lesson from this day?  Stick to your passion, whether it’s letting your house be burned down for a cause or blending your brew with fruit.  Do it!