Fall-time cider

The New York Times reported this week that the one upside to global warming is that the foliage in autumn is more vivid. The drought we’ve been suffering means leaves make a vivid shout out to fall and cling to the trees longer.

Today, as I wandered toward B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill, I jumped off the highway to avoid an accident and took some winding roads through scorching hot foliage territory. Spicy reds, sunshine-ing yellows, and sparkler oranges. Thank you, global warming, I guess…?

By the time I got to the Cider Mill though, the trees were already bare. I guess it’s just a tidge cooler there.


Operating since 1881, Clyde’s is the only steam-powered mill still in operation. Six generations of the family have worked the press, and I was there to see the apple cider get made. They can make 500 gallons an hour of cider. That might seem like a lot to you, but when you figure how many people had the same idea as I did today, well, maybe not so much.


The apples are loaded into the chute as you see above. Today’s were Honey Crisp. The cider and baked goods all shift in flavor through the long season depending on the apples that are harvested and used.

Once the apples are washed, they are funneled into a grinder, making a really thick apple sauce. The sauce is raked, yes raked, four times and put on a rack, swung around and pressed until the liquid flows. The smell is just wonderful.


The engine room powers the machinery. This cider mill is a, wait for it, National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, for all this original equipment. They have a little historical display, and I was most taken with the pamphlets and articles on prohibition, one extolling the virtues of drunkenness. What?



Well, Clyde’s makes 8 kinds of hard cider. I visited the tasting area, where a long line formed so that each of us could taste four of the 8.

While waiting, Mary became my guide for all things cider. She had tasted all these various styles of hard cider and knew all about the subtle flavor shifts as the apple harvests come in. What a palette!


Mary also clued me in to the apple cider donuts, which I admit are pretty outstanding. Who knew that a Honey Crisp donut would taste different from a Micun!


I’m most grateful to Mary for turning me on to Shagbark Syrup. Turkeywoods Farm was there selling various syrups they create from hickory trees. Without Mary’s deft guidance, I might have fallen for hickory nut syrup or the hickory ginger syrup. They are wonderful.

Shagbark. That’s the find!

Mystic Hickory Shagbark Hickory Syrup

Now with wine tastings, you have all these descriptors that distinguish the various nose, mouth feel, etc. You know how it goes.

Same thing for syrup. Shagbark Syrup has a complex flavor profile, blending woodsy, earthy, nutty, smoky, even honey overtones. This from the bark of the hickory tree. Not the nut, not the sap like a maple tree.

So yes, I’ll be eating bark with my French toast for some period of years to come. That’s how long it will take me to finish a bottle this size.

Okay, bark with some processing. It is boiled and then aged. Yes, age your cheese and your bark. Then the aged bark is blended with natural sugars. It’s divinely delicious.

And no trees are hurt in the process. The shagbark hickory tree naturally sheds its bark starting at age 7. The bark is harvested when it falls from the tree or carefully removed when loose.

We can thank the Connecticut Native American population, likely the Pequot, for this wonder. They drank tea prepared by steeping hickory bark in hot water, sweetened with honey. It’s supposed to help with arthritis. But who cares? It helps with my spirit.

So did my visit to nearby Enders Island, home to the St. Edwards retreat/monastery.

Enders House at St. Edmund's Retreat

I watched rocks and water for a peaceful retreat of my own.



Framing Space

Talk about getting into the head of an artist.  Go to their home.  Go to their studio.  Three years ago, Donald Judd Foundation completed a $23 million restoration of the cast iron building he bought in 1968.  I got to visit and really get into his head.

At the time, Judd spent a year rehabbing the industrial building in Soho, that he picked up for $68,000–not much for a building, but a clear indicator that the 40-year-old, Minimalist artist was doing well financially.  By the time of his death in 1994, he had created a space here with intentional installations, the way he wanted the space kept and seen. 

Little has changed since that time, other than the rust was removed from the exterior and the interior gleams.  What we can now enter is the artist’s vision for space installed according to Judd’s philosophy and aesthetics.


The two black boxes above are Judd’s work.  He was interested in making us aware of space–framing, capturing, measuring space, using clean lines and simple colors.  He was a theoretician who studied philosophy and carried both over into his work.

Shunning the language of sculpture and architecture, he called his works “objects.”  He wants to make us aware of the space itself as an object.  To make space material.  Are you lost yet?  Being in his living space grounds these ideas out of the theoretical realm.

You can see here the four-ton Judd cube placed in the large open space of his “studio.”  The cube frames a chair facing out toward the windows.  The entire floor is full of contained spaces. 

Judd’s studio was not for making, but rather for thinking, reading, and writing.  I can imagine an idea forming from where we are standing, traveling through the cube, past the reflecting chair, and out into the world.

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The studio wasn’t off limits to his family.  You can make out the children’s desk and chair in the left corner where the children would come do their homework.

In that sense, the house isn’t precious.  It was meant as a family home.  I was delighted to learn that Judd designed furniture, created out of pine and Douglas fir.  His trademark straight lines and straightforward designs transfer to the home.

Here you see the table and chairs of the dining room.  Note that the top of the chairs is flush with the top of the table, creating a pleasing line and another cube-like shape.  Judd himself was very tall, well over 6′, and I wondered how he could tuck himself into the straight-backed, low-to-the-ground chairs.  But they look smashing.

In case you’re curious, you can buy a replica for about $2000 per chair or $10,000 for the table, all still handmade to Judd’s specifications.

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For the same space, Judd designed a banquette on wheels shaped like a cube and a table doubling as a clever storage piece, with hinged doors on top opened to reveal glassware and tableware.

The second floor (of the five we visited) is the most overtly public space with Judd-designed built-ins.  There are two doors flush to the wall, sized according to each child’s height.  They open to closets.  Nearby is another door, again flush, that opens to reveal a puppet theater. 

Judd loved industrial materials and collected gadgets and restaurant equipment for the kitchen.  When they lived in Soho, the area wouldn’t have been full of restaurants.  They would have cooked and entertained in this space, with its huge windows connecting to street life.

He subdivided the spaces with their tall ceilings by designing lofts with ladders for access.  In the bedroom here, he built a loft space for his son, Flavin.  His son was named for Dan Flavin, a good friend and also the artist for the room-long, neon light piece on the right.

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By 1974, Soho had become an artsy area, which for Judd meant the end of its appeal.  He shunned the commercialization of art.  After searching for larger spaces outside of New York, he moved his family to Marfa, Texas.  There he built a compound of buildings that supported his experiments in framing space,  including the vast plains and mountains around the small town.

While his marriage didn’t survive this move, his work and influence grew outside of New York.  Experiencing the space he so carefully crafted, both in Marfa and now in New York, brings his sensibility profoundly alive.

The Sole of Connecticut

Loving the quirky little exhibit here and there and relishing shoes as art, the shoe show at the Connecticut Historical Society is just the thing.


These well-heeled shoes for the well-heeled woman were not only owned, but also made by Hannah Edwards in about 1746.  Looking pretty sharp for 260 years old.  I would let Hannah make me a pair of shoes any day.

Like many Colonials, she made and repaired shoes at home, buying leather tanned by Native Americans.  Vegetarian spoiler alert:  the Indians used animal brains to tan the hides.

Even from early on, when shoes were made in small workshops called tanneries, chemicals from the process were dumped in our rivers.  Sigh.


These shoes were made from a military flag carried in the American Revolution.  Really!  Red silk damask and painted with gold.  Made in about 1780, they are a remarkable blend of patriotism and “waste not, want not.”

These shoes come from an era when many people went barefoot.  See this 1776 ad that offered a $5 reward for the return of an African-American man named London, who had run away with a coat, vest, leather breeches, two pair of trousers, and notably two pairs of shoes.


I’m very committed to flats, so marveled at this wisp of a shoe.

Colonial Ballet Flats

Colonial Ballet Flats

2016-10-13-17-31-49Owned by Ann Francis Darling in about 1865, I don’t see how this shoe could get a lady through a war.  These wedding shoes on the right from 1876 look like they would only last for that special day.


Mid-1800s N. Hayward & Co. shoe advertisement

1888-1893 Colchester Rubber Co. advertisement



Rubber has been big business in Connecticut since Charles Goodyear figured out how to vulcanize it for durability in 1844.






Rubber shoes and boots showed up not long after.  In 1893, displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair, U.S. Rubber displayed these miniatures as advertisements for their full-sized counterparts.  They were sold as tchotchkes, too.  Instant nationwide marketing.

Attach canvas to a rubber bottom, and you get that feeling of walking barefoot.  Yes, back to our roots, when shoes were a luxury good.

Comfort and canvas and rubber and voila!, you get sneakers, a Connecticut invention.  These shoes were dubbed sneakers because the rubber soles allow you to sneak around very quietly.  Shhhh.


In 1916, U.S. Rubber consolidated 30 companies to form the Keds brand.  Soon athletes adopted Keds, as did just about everyone else, me included.  I’ve had some pretty sharp Keds in my day–colors, patterns.  Pretty groovy!

As was the pop culture section of the “Growing Up in Connecticut” exhibit also at CHS (it could have been Growing Up in Anywhere, U.S.A. after WWII).

This tv is so cute, it makes me reconsider having one of my own.


I was a Beatles fan, but don’t recall the baseball cards, like the one here on the left of John Lennon.  My brother and I would have loved those.


We did definitely play with lots of plastic dinosaurs and creepy figures.


Oh what memories!


Savin Rock, CT

Long a fan of the serene West Haven boardwalk, today proved to be just too hot and humid to enjoy it.  But what a perfect excuse to visit the Savin Rock Museum.

Norma gave me a very personalized tour, dappled with her childhood and teen-year remembrances.  She shuttled me from photo to photo, pointing out fun spots, sharing stories from the history of West Haven, and reminiscing about its fantastic entertainment center Savin Rock Amusement Park.  Step aside, Coney Island!

Everything new this year. Safest Amusement.

Everything new this year. Safest Amusement.

The park opened in the 1870s, advertising itself as safe.

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Savin Rock Park.  Yalies supposedly knocked down this tower in a feat of vandalism

By 1925, 60,000 people crowded in for Memorial Day.  Shwew!


Right there on Long Island Sound, people from all around the state enjoyed the amusement park and the beach.  Free, although the rollercoaster and other rides cost a nickel. The first rollercoaster was a “one hump.”  Yes, you understand that correctly.  You ride up over one bump, and you’re done.

Image result for savin rock thunderboltNo wonder the Thunderbolt seized everyone’s imagination, extending loop-de-loops out over the water.

Even I think that looks like fun…remind me to tell you my rollercoaster story.

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Of course, there was a wonderful carousel, with only this horse surviving.


Norma pointed out the cast iron shooting targets, with falcons and other birds and animals.  Real guns were used.  Just like a hunt.  Yikes!  “Imagine that today,” she said.  I can’t.  But rest easy.  Only parents were allowed to shoot…


I would have loved to go through the Funny House.

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When you step into that museum gallery, the Laughing Lady begins howling chortles and guffaws, the same recording as used in the day.  You can hear it in this video.

The amusement park was such a big deal, the whole area became famously known as Savin Rock, CT, foregoing any mention of West Haven, the actual municipality.

At its peak, Savin Rock had 68 hotels along its shore, some with fine dining.

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How many hotels are there now?  You got it.  None.

Prohibition came to the park, of course, but so did the speakeasies.

When this hotel bar was flooded, Savin Rock mechanic and passionate local historian Harold Hartmann disassembled the room piece and piece, brought them home, and placed them with dehumidifiers to dry out.  The process took 2 years.  Then he painstakingly reassembled the room for display at the museum.


You could take the trolley to the park from New Haven.  What fun.  But car culture was coming.

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Roller skating and boxing and car racing.  All popular amusements.


By the 1950s, about 150 buses of New York and New Jersey residents started arriving each day at Savin Park.  Marketing had gone wide.  Bathrooms still numbered 8.  Pretty soon, the park experience grew seedy, and locals stayed away.

Just as the town had blasted through the two-block long Savin Rock to make a roadway along the beach, so too the town intervened with the decrepit park.  Basically nothing is left today, other than the boardwalk and a few fish shacks.

Yes, when you visit the museum, walk along the boardwalk at least to Stowe’s.  You won’t be sorry, with their wonderfully fresh seafood.

Stowe's on the West Haven boardwalk

Stowe’s on the West Haven boardwalk


Although I’m sad I won’t get to hear the opening bell for Savin Rock Amusement Park or try Terry’s Hot Butter-Flake Brand Pop Corn, at least the museum preserves what it can of the experience.





It’s all about the laughs, right?

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Laff in the Dark, in the museum

Laff in the Dark, in the museum

The museum also features local history.  My favorite by far were the late 1800s fire company markers.








When you paid your fire insurance, you placed this marker on your house.  Much more elaborate than the simple star from the Colonial era.  In the event of a fire, you called your own fire company, but unless the insignia was displayed, no dousing.



Kid Governor Rocks!

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 9.56.25 AMI wish our current Presidential candidates had the platform advocated by Connecticut’s Kid Governor Elena Tipton.

She’s all about spreading kindness and has delivered on her “Campaign for Kindness” platform with a three-point plan: add Buddy Benches to school playgrounds, the Kindness is Kool blog, and designating the 13th of each month as Kindness Day.

Practical, actionable, low budget.  Campaign promises that can be delivered!

Brian Cofancesco in his signature bow tie

But first, Kid Governor?  You’re wondering, what is that?  The brain-child of Brian Cofrancesco, part of the Connecticut Public Affairs Network and Head of Education for Connecticut’s Old State House, the Kid Governor is an elected office held by a 5th grader as a result of a democratic process.  The program has also provided 5th-grade teachers with curricula to teach students about democracy, the three branches of government, being a citizen, voting–you know, our old civics lessons.

Participating schools nominate one student.  If more than one student is interested, a primary is held.  The students research an issue and create speeches for the primary.

Then the selected student develops a campaign video, and 5th graders around the state vote to select their Kid Governor.

This inaugural year, four girls and three boys campaigned.  They were from public schools along with one Monetessori, and their issues included gang prevention, standing up to bullying, access to technology, and school spending.  Serious stuff.  There’s also one about how “recess matters,” advocating for more free time for over-scheduled kids.  Right on!

After watching the campaign videos, I can say the issues and solutions were compelling.  It was a tough choice.  I imagine Elena’s exuberance and the actionability of her ideas pulled her through.  About 800 of the state’s 1200 5th graders voted in the election.  What a turnout!  Democracy in action!

Oh, and the Kid Governor got inaugurated at the Old State House last November, swearing an oath and all, with the state’s adult elected officials in attendance.

This year, 15 cities got involved, and Brian is working hard to grow participation now that the pilot year has been so successful.

Kid Governor Elena Tipton

Kid Governor Elena Tipton

I met Kid Governor Elena Tipton at the New Haven Free Public Library, where she presented her three-point plan to a full house of parents and children.  Her poise and ease in front of the room no doubt has been built with a year of traveling around Connecticut; “the funnest” part of being Kid Governor, she said, is “getting to meet people across the state,” made easy with her mom as driver.

Tipton’s plan has led to Buddy Benches in ten schools so far.  This concept comes from Christian Buck, a student in Pennsylvania.  The idea is to spread kindness through inclusion and building friendship.  How does it work?  Go to the bench, and ask someone sitting there to play or to talk and walk.  The concept is simple but effective for counteracting isolation and bullying.

Kid Governor Tipton’s blog has attracted an impressive 1800 views.  In it, she gathers kindness stories from students around the state.  Her blog also extends her Campaign for Kindness with 10 new suggestions each month, posted on the 13th, which as you now know is Kindness Day.  Here are the 10 suggestions for August 13:

  1. Do a chore for your family without them knowing!
  2. Let someone go ahead of you in line!
  3. Donate food to you local food pantry!
  4. Read a book to your younger siblings!
  5. Make someone else’s bed!
  6. Say “thank you” to service worker!
  7. Volunteer at a soup kitchen!
  8. Bring some play dough to a preschool class!
  9. Make a thank you card for your librarian!
  10. Visit your local retirement home and visit a resident!

Pretty good, eh?  Which will you do?

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While at the library, Elena engaged the children there with an art activity where they expressed their acts of kindness.

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Brian told me that the program helps children know they “have a voice and a responsibility.”

Elena comes from an East Hartford school which uses inquiry-based learning.  She’s a member of the Leadership Team at her school.  Her mother told me her interest as she moves to middle school centers on politics.

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This program fosters civic engagement and empowerment.  I got to watch it work!  Suggest the idea to your state today!

Here’s Elena’s campaign video.

Elena's business card

Elena’s business card


Writing on the Wall

Every historic house has stories to tell, which is why I am continually enchanted with them.  Putnam Elms is distinctive in several ways.

First, Cynthia, who took me through the house, is clearly more interested in the history of the people who lived in the 1790s house than the stuff in it.  She is actively researching the who’s and what’s and that’s what she passionately shared.

My geeky delight was sparked by the connection to a couple I know a little something about and who are included in my “Clothes Make the Country” talk.  Here they are.

John Smibert, Portrait of Francis Brinley, 1729

John Smibert, Portrait of Francis Brinley, 1729

John Smibert, Portrait of Deborah Brinley, 1729

John Smibert, Portrait of Deborah Brinley, 1729











They are wonderfully interesting.  Come to the talk and find out.

Here's Catherine

Here’s Catherine


Of the two marriages in the house, one took place in the parlor.  Cynthia and I figured out that Catharine Putnam married George Brinley, the Roxbury, MA Brinley’s (pictured above) great grandson.

So you see Francis, Jr. in Deborah’s lap.  Francis, Jr.’s grandson married a Putnam (more about them below) in the parlor.  Doesn’t that make the people seem more alive to you?  This baby grew up and, who knows?  Maybe he witnessed the wedding here.


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The other wedding was of an African American couple in the Episcopal chapel, a room in the house, pictured below.

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That brings us to one of the other fascinating people who lived here.  Emily Malbone Brinley Morgan, an independent thinker and progressive doer.

She is a descendant of the first owners and vowed to buy the house if it came on the market.  It did, and in 1906, she bought it.  Not to live in, mind you, but to convert it into a vacation home for women.  Working women.  So if you were a teacher or a clerk or an architect, in one notable case, from New York, Boston, or Providence, you might come here to lounge and have fun in the company of other women.

Cynthia shows me the guest book

Cynthia shows me the guest book

Cynthia shows me Emily's picture

and Emily’s picture

Emily was apparently congenial and funny and set up outings for the women guests.  Like a trip to the metropolis of Putnam!  Imagine how nice it would be to vacation with people who get you and don’t judge you for being a working woman.  A relief, I would think.

So back the wedding #2.  The land was purchased as a farm in the 1740s by slave trader Godfrey Malbone, who left it to his sons.  No doubt, they used slaves to work the land.  In 1791, Daniel Putnam (son of the well-mythologized Israel Putnam, who dropped his plow the moment he heard about the shots fired at Lexington and Concord to fight for the rebel cause) married Malbone’s niece and built this house.

So in this one place, we witness the transition of the state from a slave-holding place to one where African Americans would marry and be celebrated in a white person’s home.

Every house has stories to tell.  Here there’s the writing on the wall.  Literally.  Family members signed the wall.  Who knows how that tradition got started, but there they all are.  The wall throbs with energy and laughter and delight.  A guest might sign the guestbook.  But the family?  They write right on the wall.

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Oops, a mistake. I'll just scribble it out...

Oops, a mistake. I’ll just scribble it out…

Colonial Goodwife

Velya Jancz-Urban started her presentation of the not-so-good life of the Colonial American housewife by touring us through her 1770 farmhouse in Woodbury, CT.  She and her family continue to uncover colonial wonders in the house, so far revealing the beehive oven, the original hearth, and a storage area, as well as the “Indian” door–a faux door that wouldn’t fool much of anyone, much less an Indian who would be attacking the house.

The Colonial Goodwife, or Goodie Urban, we might call her, then filled us in on the un-niceties and inconveniences of the life of the Colonial woman, from menstruation, childbirth, child rearing, diseases, and what not.

Here are some tidbits I found especially interesting.

Colonial women typically got their first periods around age 17 and married at about 22, both older than I imagined.  She would have her first child 16 or so months later and continue, presuming she survived, until her last child would be about the same age as her first grandchild–on average 6-10 children.  When pregnant or breast feeding (basically her whole married life), she wouldn’t have a period.

Still she had to be prepared.  If you were to time travel, I’ll share the method of dealing with your period I think you’ll like best.  Take your sheepskin with you.  You can wash it out and reuse it, and it sounds better to me than cheesecloth stuffed with milkweed and moss or some of the less cleanly methods I won’t mention here.

Velya shared several recipes and concoctions for birth control.  I’ll spare you, other than to say, it takes a lot of work, and faith.  So if you do as most did, you’ll be pregnant a lot.

My favorite birthing aid for a difficult childbirth is the “quill baby”–dousing your feather pen with something that will make you sneeze.  A whiff and you’ll sneeze that baby right on out.  Right.

In New England, not just any ol’ lactating woman could be your wet nurse.  For example, if you have a boy, you would only hire a wetnurse who had birthed a boy.  Otherwsie, your boy would be feminized.  You can tell that good help is hard to find.

Child’s Pudding Cap

I knew about swaddling for infant and toddler safety and all children wearing dresses without undergarments to help with cleanliness.  I didn’t know about the ‘pudding’ stage of clothing, to help with those tumbles.  The pudding cap would prevent your child from becoming a puddin’ head, and the big round tube around the child’s stomach and bum, well, that softens the blow.


Small pox left people’s faces pockmarked.  I didn’t know that they used paper beauty marks (often hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs) to cover the the pocks.

Children were given dolls in coffins, to learn about death through their play.

Turnspitdog-1862.jpgI knew about dogs that worked in the home by walking on treadmills that turned spits of meat in the fire., much as donkeys worked in mills to turn the gristmill.  Velya showed us a picture of the now-extinct Turnspit Dogs, which she called household “slaves.”  Indeed their lives were so bad, often forced to walk on hot coals to speed up their work, that the ASPCA was formed in response.


Although this is also cruel, the image is a funny way.  One way to clean your chimney–remember this when you go back in time–is to drop two chickens down it.  Their startled, flapping wings will clean your chimney right up.  Forget poisoning a young boy with soot warts, by lowering him down.  Use your chickens.

So go ahead and set the dial on your time machine.  You now have all the facts you need to make a good colonial life.  Or you can be lazy like me and dwell in the present.


Guns to Apartments

I’m still musing on how I feel about two recent tours and guns pervading every aspect of our lives.  During the Hartford Blooms Garden Tours, I went to the top of the onion-domed Colt Armory–the day after the Orlando shootings.

Having passed the notable landmark so often on the highway, I was both curious and a bit repulsed.  No one else on the tour seemed to make the connection to Orlando.  So I decided to just experience and listen, not share my dis-ease.

We took an elevator almost to the top, only having to climb one flight of stairs.  Then we walked through an industrial, attic-like area to the stairs to the cupola.

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Yes, the view was interesting, as our guide told us how Sam Colt needed the nearby Connecticut River for transporting raw materials and manufactured guns.  She explained how important the horse at the top is to people in Hartford, who clamored, when it was removed from the building, for its return.

Still, I felt restless, just wanting to go back down and get out of the building.

The fact that the factory now has been converted into apartments seems weird and ironic to me.

Who would want to let guns so palpably into the space where they nourish, refresh, restore, and relax?  Their home?

My presumptions were challenged again, with today’s tour of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas and its tour with New Haven Preservation Trust of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.  I have been curious about this site and the transition to living spaces, curious enough to overcome my distaste.

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Yes, at its peak, 30,000 people worked here.  Yes, they produced washing machines and sporting equipment, as well as rifles and ammunition.  And yes, the factory buildings are being converted to office and apartment spaces.

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Yes, I support adaptive reuse and get excited when old buildings find new energy.  Yes, the restoration has preserved a historic character combined with modern sensibilities.  Yes, wonderful Susan Clinard has created art from the wood no longer usable, now hanging on the walls and above the old fireplace (as seen above).

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But somehow, I would rather leave the ruins (knowing that’s not good for New Haven).

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A reminder that guns are not so central to every aspect of our lives.  Or leave some of these dilapidated messes as a balance, a reminder that some things are better left in the past.

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I asked one of our guides about bad juju, cleaning the energy.  He didn’t know what I meant.  He commented on how Winchester labor and workmanship are being celebrated with new life in the old building.  They discovered and restored this ceiling mural from a 1904 wing.  Reinforcing the complex’s past.

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The apartments feature original wood with those fashionable industrial finishings.  And the place is 90% occupied.

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Obviously, many people don’t feel the same way I do.  They aren’t put off by the ground water contamination and hot spots, the lead and asbestos (remediated, of course), the years of water accumulating in derelict structures.

They can look beyond whatever history happened here and throughout Connecticut (Remington was manufactured in Bridgeport) that led to guns, guns, guns, everywhere, all the time.

Maybe I should be celebrating the conversion from guns to apartments.   I just don’t know.  What do you think?

Famous Artists School

Here’s an article just published on The Famous Artists School.  Thank you, ConnecticutHistory.org and Connecticut Humanities!

Group photo of Famous Artists School Faculty

Group photo of Famous Artists School Faculty. Left to right: Harold von Schmidt, John Atherton, Al Parker, founder Al Dorne, Norman Rockwell, Ben Stahl, Peter Helck, Stevan Dohanos, Jon Whitcomb, Austin Briggs, and Robert FASwcett – © Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. All rights reserved.

Elected Dads Elect Fathering Styles

Father’s Day is here, perfect timing for the launch of Joshua Kendall’s book First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama.  I heard his highly entertaining and insightful talk at the New Haven Museum.

Grant and family

Grant and family

President Grant fell into the ‘Sweet Dad’ category, one of six Kendall used to group the 43 Presidents, all of whom had children (5 adopted).

No surprise that Mr. Obama also falls in the Nurturer category.







And so did Truman.  When Margaret was criticized for a concert she gave in 1950, Truman turned ferocious with the media.  The mail that came in overwhelmingly supported the father standing up for his daughter.  Kendall suggests that this fierce, fatherly protectiveness led Truman to make the decision to drop the bomb–to protect American boys from harm.

Just so you know, George Washington was apparently very sweet to Martha’s children, whom he adopted.

The Preoccupied Dads will come as no surprise to you.  Those ambitious politicians focus all on career and little on family.  Linda Johnson had to read the Congressional Record to get LBJ’s attention.


Carter and Amy, 1974

Carter and Amy, 1974

Surprisingly, Carter was tough on his three sons, reflecting his own upbringing, his military training at Annapolis, and the practice of spanking.  Jack didn’t speak with his father for two years, but when he did tell his father of his pain, to his credit, Carter reflected and learned from what he had done:  passing on harsh parenting that he received, without thinking.  We consider Carter a Peacemaker now, and Kendall makes the case linking the personal growth that came from learning about his parenting.

You know I like the Playful-Pal Dads.  Grant loved playing with his children, and Kendall attributes his alcohol problem to missing his children when he was stationed in California.  Teddy Roosevelt was a playful dad, and Alice was frisky right back.  With lifelong asthma, TR couldn’t tolerate cigarette smoking and told his daughter, “no smoking under my roof.”  Alice complied, by smoking on the roof.

Having three daughters may have swayed Woodrow Wilson to finally relent on Suffrage.  I don’t know though.  He was verbally brutal about the protesters, that he found so annoying when he was trying to deal with ‘weightier’ matters.  Kendall also suggests a Freudian interpretation (he does psychiatric research), when one of his daughters married the best dancing bachelor, to mimic her father’s dancing prowess.

Double-Dealing Dads had children outside their marriages.  One of LBJ’s secretaries said the president offered to set her up in an apartment in New York.  While she turned him down, others didn’t.  Harding apparently had sex in a White House closet in 1928.  Careful where you hang your coat!

An older Grover Cleveland married his young ward, not a pleasant thought, and then cheated on her, fathering a child with a mistress.  He verbally slammed the mistress as ‘a drunk and a slut’ when he was the alcoholic with loose morals.  He won the election anyway.  Being promiscuous doesn’t necessarily mean being a bad president.  ‘Grover the Good’ was an honest politician, known for his integrity with a budget.

Now, what’s really cold are the Antebellum cheaters.  Tyler and Harrison both had slave children, and Kendall has tracked paperwork showing Tyler sold his own children, including Sylvanius Tyler, who recorded that Tyler had 52 children.

Tiger Dads are authoritarian, and the tendency seems to get passed down.  John Adams told John Quincy he would be a failure if he didn’t become president.  John Quincy Adams told his son George Washington Adams that JQ wouldn’t attend his Harvard graduation unless he was among the top five.  At age 28, GW committed suicide, likely from mental illness, no doubt exacerbated by parental badgering.

Jefferson was so controlling, he gave his daughters lists of what clothing to wear.

The Bush family, 1964

The Bush family, 1964

The challenge of losing a child either makes or breaks a president, per Kendall.  The grief Lincoln felt over losing beloved Willy made him step up as a war leader, while Piece suffered a breakdown from the loss of his third son, while in office.

As a side note, when Robin Bush died, Barbara, in her late 20s, suffered from depression, and her hair turned white overnight.  George W. turned into a clown to cheer her up.  At least we know the source of that behavior now….

The difference between the public and private man, of course, can be striking.  FDR was like a father for so many.  He saw people through the Depression, through war.  He seemed so strong.  But he leaned on his own son, needy, yet also preoccupied.  His younger sons had to make appointments to see him.  Eleanor was distracted with her many involvements.  Perhaps as the result of their own parenting, the five Roosevelt children had 19 marriages among them.  Chaos!

The Roosevelts, 1939

The Roosevelts, 1939

Kendall said that Hillary Clinton has a male parenting style, whereas Obama’s approach resembles female parenting.  You know, nurturing, involved, inclusive.  Bill and Hillary told Chelsea about disparaging remarks being made about her philandering father.  She was 6.  Chelsea still relates to her parents via politics.  Kendall described Trump’s children as “more normal than he is,” and they are involved in his business as Vice Presidents.  Both sets of children meet their parents on the parents’ turf.

Toward the end of his talk, Kendall differentiated between fathering and mothering.  Traditionally, mothering is about nurturing; fathering is about procreating.  He assured us that things have shifted since the 19th-century origins of those gendered distinctions.

Here’s to all our fathers – human, fallible, foibled, and doing the best they can!




‘Tis the Season, the Summer Season Up the Hudson

Since the early 1800s, flocks of painters would leave New York City in the summer, with its sweltering heat, and head for the countryside.  The first bunch to make a name for themselves doing this were the Hudson River School.  Those intrepid artists ventured up the Hudson River to the Catskills and beyond, when traveling was tough.

In my comfortable car, I followed in their tracks, to visit the upstate New York homes of Thomas Cole and Jasper Cropsey.  I can’t tell you how much you will fall in love all over again with their paintings, when you spend time in their homes.  They become, well, real, and you can see what they saw and feel what they felt.

Thomas Cole came first and became the titular head of the (non-physical) Hudson River School.  Although not a teacher, almost everything he painted and the way he created his compositions informed artists for several generations.

Even though Catskill, NY was already crawling with tourists by the time Cole lived at Cedar Grove, he painted its wilderness.  You get a sense of what he saw from his porch.  Those beloved mountains.

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I could look at that view for hours, dreaming.  I could also meditate on the up close and personal, seen from another porch angle.

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What stories this tree can tell, and knowing that trees were hugely symbolic for Cole–a symbol of the nature we must all work to preserve–I can imagine he heard them all.

The house has been a restoration-work-in-progress.  And you can really see the progress now, compared to my first visit several years ago.  Now it includes Cole furniture, like his working desk.  Notice the handles on the side for portability.

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I have a thing for artist studios, and two of Cole’s are so lovingly recreated now.  He designed them, of course, with that wonderfully consistent northern exposure, here through that window high up.

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Can you make out on the easel below the notches on the side?  That’s so Cole could raise and lower that horizontal stabilizer for his canvasses, which were huge.  Then he could work more comfortably on different parts of the canvas.  Clever!

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You can also get a sense of how large the studio is, and this is the small one.

Cole made use of a camera obscura, which I didn’t know.  The device uses mirror-lenses and light to create depictions (albeit upside down) of a targeted scene.  The artist then has a way to create accurate details, by tracing the projected image.  Maybe you can get a sense of it here.

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I don’t know if Jasper Cropsey used a camera obscura for accuracy, but I’m sure the Ever Rest guide Tony would know.  The Cropsey scholar gave me a private tour of the 1830s house that Cropsey and his wife bought later in life, well after the Civil War.

You can probably see why they were so attracted to this Hastings-on-Hudson cottage, despite the town’s industrial dominance.  This picture, the first approach, makes the house look deceptively small.

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This one gives you a better sense of the scale.

Carpenter Gothic style; this is the ‘front’ of the house with the peekaboo view of the Hudson

The inside is a revelation, particularly the studio Cropsey built for himself.  The house has always been with the family and is now run by a foundation, so all the furnishings and art are intact from when Cropsey lived here.  His presence is palpable.

Unlike so many other artists that wanted privacy and quiet in their studio, Cropsey made his workspace part of the house and the flow of activity.  At one time, two pianos filled the room with music and laughter from his daughters’ playing.

Now the room has only one piano, and the walls are filled with his canvasses.  All the paintings had to be repurchased.  When he died, his wife sold off all remaining his paintings to pay off their debts.  Unfortunately, the Hudson River School artists in 1900 were out of fashion, and she sold them for a song.  By the 1970s, descendants began buying their family heritage back, still for depressed prices.  They have recreated the atmosphere of the studio when Cropsey worked there.

Ever Rest Studio of Jasper Cropsey

And boy, is there ever atmosphere.  Every object has a story, and Tony knows them all.  But the space is commodious and certainly doesn’t feel crowded.  He and I could talk for hours in there.  What fun that would be.

So your homework now is to go look up these two quintessentially American artists and plan a trip to see what they saw.  Who knows?  You might want to paint it all, too.

P.S. If you hurry, you can see this marvelously evocative Cole painting “Architect’s Dream” at the newly opened exhibition space on the site of his second studio.  The painting apparently never leaves the Toledo Museum of Art, but Cedar Grove snagged it for this inaugural exhibition featuring Cole’s architectural work.

Thomas Cole. The Architect’s Dream. 1840.

That’s likely Cole lounging in the foreground with his architectural drawings, in this dreamscape of architectural styles.  The patron refused the painting (!), which is why it hung over Cole’s mantle in Cedar Grove through several descendants.  The patron wanted more landscape.

I reveled in this painting, with its Grand Tour of architectural stylings.  It’s truly a must see.  A rare and delightful display of Cole wit and whimsy!

150 years and things

Time to stretch my brain with a visit to the Peabody Museum of Natural History, now celebrating its 150th anniversary with 150 distinctive objects from the collection.

You know me and science.  When people ask what a particular plant or tree is in the garden, I usually reply, “pretty” or “yellow.”  Astute, don’t you think?

So you can imagine how accomplished I was during the behind-the-scenes tour today.  My group visited mineralogy and anthropology (I thought I might have a chance with something humanish).

2016-06-02 16.43.51I liked the mineralogist, Stefan Nicolescu, short in stature, tall in passion.  Fortunately, he didn’t tell us about the 40,000 specimens in the collection, but focused instead on some history of the museum and a couple of good local stories.  He explained his accent, since he is from Transylvania.  One of the tour participants noted Transylvania was the origin place of the Unitarians.  Another quipped, “aren’t they the ones that stay up all night?”  Smart group.

They tracked with Stefan on all his explanations.  I played on the surface, liking the story of the meteor that landed nearby in Connecticut – yikes – which allowed Yale scientists to deduce for the first time that meteors are extraterrestrial.  And the explanation that 9 new species of minerals (minerals have species? Yes!) were discovered in the nearby Branchville quarry.  Each specimen makes the reference point for all other identifications!

Spodumene-top shelf, on the right

Spodumene-top shelf, on the right



There you go.

When you need to identify spodumene, I suggest you take your sample and compare it to this beauty at the Peabody.





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How do you talk about two million objects in 20 minutes?  I’m not sure, and maybe Roger Colton, curator, wasn’t either.  We found ourselves deeply admiring the 1930s storage compartments, which could be a study in themselves.  Dovetailed just like a good piece of furniture.

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A behind-the-scenes tour that is object-based would probably last 3 hours.  And that truly would be amazing here.

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One fact that stuck with me is the interesting find from a nearby rock shelter–a dolphin vertebrae.  Now how did that get here?  Deer bones, fish skeletons, fossilized birds, yes.  But dolphin?  There’s always more to discover with science.



Richard Conniff, author of House of Lost Worlds, then told us stories about the museum.  I liked the movie stories.  How the brontosaurus at the Peabody served as the model for the dinosaur Cary Grant’s character in “Bringing Up Baby” works on for years and years, before Katharine Hepburn brings it crashing to the ground in love for him.  Did I mention that Hollywood created a bone-by-bone replica?

The Peabody’s work on dinosaurs provided source material for Godzilla, Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones, based on the Yale explorer Hiram Bingham.

Life magazine’s cover from 1953 that excerpted from the 110′ long mural at the Peabody inspired a generation of budding scientists, including Richard himself.

You can glimpse the mural in the background, by looking through the dinosaur bones.

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From the exhibit, I was enchanted by Stumpy, the Archelon fossil of the largest marine turtle species ever found.  Incredible to be in its presence.  Richard calls this mammoth turtle Stumpy, due to that missing foot, taken off by a shark perhaps?  The Archelon may have eaten giant clams that grew up to 4′ wide.  Yes, the clam that ate New Haven is on display nearby.  I suggest you run…

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No need to run from this Olmec Colossal Head.  This king doesn’t scare anybody, not even this pint-sized girl with her stuffed animal.

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I have a particular fondness for statues with tongues sticking out, so you can imagine how much I like this debating stool from Papua New Guinea.  Carved from one piece of wood, his eyes are made of shell.

The stools are not for sitting but for formal debates.  The speaker strikes the stool with a bundle of leaves to reinforce a point.  Maybe Hillary needs one.

For most of my Peabody visit, I felt just as wide-eyed as this guy!



Freedom, Tolerance, Acceptance

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The oldest surviving Colonial American synagogue is in Newport, representing Rhode Island’s commitment to religious, political, and personal freedom.  With the contentiousness and ridiculous attack on civil liberties by the presumed Presidential candidate, how refreshing to reconnect to principle American values.

Even George Washington thought so, writing a letter to the Hebrew congregation of Touro Synagogue stating “To Bigotry, No Sanction.”

With the Spanish Inquisition, specifically the Alhambra decree after their civil war declaring that all Spaniards must be Catholic, some Jews converted (Conversos), others pretended to convert but dangerously still practiced Judaism (Cryptos), and others fled.  This diaspora generally took Jews to Portugal, which soon found the similar need to Catholicize, and then Amsterdam, famously tolerant until the Portuguese took it over.

Fleeing the Portuguese again, the first Jews came to New York in 1654 and were barely tolerated by Peter Stuyvesant who enacted severe restrictions on Jewish involvement in civic life.  The next group decided to test Rhode Island, known for its separation of church and state.  Soon Cryptos were coming out by leaving Spain for Newport.  By 1677, the Newport group had enough demand to buy land for a burial ground.


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By 1763, the Sephardic congregation wanted a Rabbi and couldn’t find one willing to come to the hinterlands from progressive Amsterdam.  Until Isaac Touro, who hadn’t finished his training, came and became the namesake for the newly built synagogue.  The location is not off in some periphery, but adjacent to Newport’s historic center (just as its congregants were central to Newport life).

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What a beauty!  I’m a complete sucker for anything Palladio-inspired, and so was the architect Peter Harrison.  The Italian architect Palladio created pattern books, so his style spread through the European-connected cultures.  The secret was to know how to place the parts from the patterns.  Balance, symmetry, harmony are the principles.  Nice with the freedom, tolerance, and acceptance that Rhode Island embodied.

You can see how lovely the space is, with its dentil molding, arched Palladian windows, the ancient-Greek-inspired pediment, balustrades, and Ionic columns on the men’s level and Corinthian columns on the women’s balcony (yes, this was always and still is an Orthodox congregation).  Each column is a solid tree, smoothed before painted.

Harrison had to work with more than Palladio’s pattern books to design for the needs of the congregation.  He may be turning over in his grave with the asymmetrical placement of the President’s box, where important people including JFK, Eisenhower, and presumably George Washington attended services. When the President of the congregation has been a woman, she, alas, sits upstairs, not in the downstairs box.  Some things just can’t be tolerated apparently.

The raised bemah placed in the center of the space for the Rabbi is a Sephardic tradition.  Opening the ark housing the Torah and bringing it to the Rabbi for the reading involves a short procession.  This synagogue’s Torah was already 200 years old when it was brought from Amsterdam in 1763, and we got a quick glance at its browned pages.

1760s eternal light and candlesticks bought for a bar mitzvah, by the bimah

1760s eternal light and candlesticks bought for a bar mitzvah, by the bimah

Throughout the centuries and today, the pull to America has been about freedom and the chance for a better life.  What a nice reminder that at some points in our history, those ideals were gloriously met, for the greatest good of all involved.

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The Housekeeper’s Dance

Lizzy WillsIt’s 1887, and Lizzie Wills has offered to take us through the house.  Miss Lizzie is a maid in the Mark Twain House, and boy, does she have stories to tell!  She always seem to have been conveniently hiding in a closet or cleaning in the next room…well, you get the idea.

Nobody is allowed to touch the piano, except the five family members.  But when the family’s away, Lizzie has no qualms about running her fingers along its keys.  She’s happy to take a break from her work and dream of romance when one of the girls plays “The Sweet By and By,” the song Sam Clemens (Twain was his alias) and his wife Livy sparked to.  Lizzie read to us from a letter that just happened to fall to the floor while she was dusting.  It tells us just how romantic Sam and Livy are.

Three to five formal dinners are held in the house every week.  Dinners with many more courses than our largest meals today.  And the cook has to start at 5 a.m. making the servant’s breakfasts.  The long days, plus Clemens’ was notoriously crotchety about food.  No wonder the average tenure for a cook is only a month.

But Lizzie sticks around, listening in on the jokes told by Twain at these dinner parties and equally happy to gossip away with us.  Believe me, she’s less than happy that the china cost $150, as much as she makes in a year!

So she feels more than justified in telling tales.

Twain travels a lot, and once staying with the cartoonist Thomas Nast, a Twain quirk came out.  He hates a ticking clock, and as Nast’s guest, he went around the house and carried all the ticking clocks to the front lawn.  When he missed his train the next day because his own alarm clock was on the lawn, Nast made this cartoon.

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Miss Lizzie is proud of her employer though.  She shows off his inventions in this very modern house.  The annunciator is the call-system for servants, working off push buttons.  Annunciator, as in annunciate.  Lizzie had us touch the pages of the self-pasting scrapbook, Twain’s most successful invention, which earned him $50,000.  Clever, right?  (He later would bankrupt the family by investing all their money in a failure that also cost them this house.)

The burglar alarm of his invention was the source of many a story.  Controlled from the master bedroom, once Sam and Livy were awakened by the cellar’s alarm.  Livy was worried a burglar had broken in.  Sam replied, “Well, I don’t think it was the Sunday School Superintendent!”  Funny, even in the middle of the night.

Lizzie has Clemens to thank for that burglar alarm doing its job.  Her gentleman caller Willy Taylor was supposed to leave the house before 10 p.m., when the alarm was set.  When he triggered it, Sam forced him to marry Lizzy that very night.

The house and the Clemens family’s Hartford years were happy times, and Miss Lizzie tells us many stories of the 3 daughters and their adventures in the house.  Clemens had the girls home schooled.  Their German governess Rosa Hay taught them in her native language.  Although Rosa was beloved, Suzy complained she didn’t understand anything the teacher said.  Lilly Foote, neighbor Harriet Beecher Stowe’s cousin, soon took Rosa’s place.

The girls would study in the morning, but then the afternoon, they teamed up with neighbor children, playing piano and singing and putting on plays.  Miss Lizzie’s favorite was the Shakespeare Club, particularly the Balcony Scene (side note: Happy 400th-death-day, Shakespeare!).  At one point, the girls tried public school, but Clara racked up 13 detentions.  They were spoiled for conventionality.

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Girls will be girls, and these daughters fought so continually, that a reward system was devised.  For every day they didn’t argue, they earned a piece of candy.  A piece for peace, I say.  Lizzie tried it for the quarreling servants, with a shot of whisky.  That idea didn’t fly.

Yes, the servants squabbled a lot.  Clemens commented that the staff had “all the makings for warfare,” with their different countries of origin, languages, backgrounds, and religions.  They could insult each other in Russian, Polish, Irish, and Southern English.

Only George, the butler, seemed to get on with all the girls.  Get handsy with all the girls, we could say.  Sam said he’d have to hire girls “who were strong enough and wide enough to withstand his affections.”

2016-04-23 12.09.27Lizzie seemed much more interested in telling stories than complaining about her tiny room off the servants’ stairwell, the four flights she regularly had to run up and down, the 12 fireplaces she had to stoke, or the 7 bathrooms that needed cleaning.

She was also happy to show us something most people don’t get to see–the basement, her own private, if grim, workspace.  Since the house had no electricity, the space is woefully dark, she says.  But Miss Lizzie?  She’s anything but woebegone.  She even taught us a little dance she favors.  And if you’re willing to listen, she has a story to tell!

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Vassar Delights

If I could have my favorite day, it would include like-minded people exploring art, literature, music, history.  Wait?  That happened today!

The intrepid New York Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America traveled to Vassar for an almost unbelievably pleasant and stimulating day.  This was my first trip to the 150+ year old campus.  No surprise, it’s lovely.

2016-04-09 12.03.20We first met in the art history building where refreshments were in a room that resembled a little, red schoolhouse, only really the little, red-chair school room.

But the lectures that kicked the day off were in a very comfortable, modern auditorium.  We would have to travel into history in our minds.

Marilyn Francus, a Professor of English from West Virginia University, regaled us with her work from Chawton House, a research center on early women’s writings.  She admitted to geeking-out on manuscripts and books that Jane Austen wrote in, sussing out from that her mentoring relationship with young writers, particularly her nieces.  She investigated the family’s charades and riddles and shared how the love of language was reinforced in everyday life in the Austen home.  More about that below.

Francus wrapped by deciphering the advice Jane Austen would give to new writers.  Essentially, know the canon (read, read, read), write what is real, and practice your craft.  Good advice indeed.

And that got put into action with our next set of presenters.  Susan Zlotnick, a Professor of English at Vassar, is currently teaching a course on The Gothic Novel (including Austen’s parody Northanger Abbey).  She gave us an introductory talk, then invited seven of her students to read us their “3-Minute Gothic Projects,” reflecting their learning on the tropes of the genre.

What you need to know is that Gothic novels draw upon the philosophical underpinnings of the Romantic Sublime, by Edmund Burke–the awe of God, nature, and our emotional selves that fuels literature, music, and art of the period; Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ centering on re-surfacing unconscious desires, the return of the repressed, and the Self confronting itself; and the female Gothic, which penetrates patriarchal power by using male villains to threaten the heroines.

The latter is an intriguing take on the genre.  Zlotnick suggests that when men labeled strong women, with challenging and uncomfortable ideas, as ‘mad’, the woman would be imperiled in a number of thematic, violent ways.  The woman reader could become aware of how women lacked personal power and rights, when male domination is threatened.

There was much more to these ideas, beyond the scope of a blog, but clearly offering very fresh ways to understand detective fiction, thrillers, and Gothic romances.

The students were tasked with writing Gothic stories that take place on the Vassar campus, not necessarily today.  The results ranged from exceedingly clever to outright hilarious.

I loved Christian Lewis’ story about the mysterious disappearance of Meryl Streep (an esteemed Vassar grad) from a production of “The Cherry Orchard” that is repeated by a contemporary in the current production, literally on campus now.  He is playing with early detective fiction with his funny, funny “The Mysteries of the Martel” and its sly references to Streep films that show up as ghostly Meryl hauntings.

Jennifer Ognibene, an English major who is pre-med, read her “Demolition of Mudd Chemistry,” referring to the current tear-down of the chemistry building.  Her fantastical story of a woman student who is a chemist murderer would even make Edgar Allen Poe laugh.  The trouble starts when the student runs an experiment, injecting herself with black widow spider venom, and it all does downhill from there.  Seriously, it’s ready to be filmed.

Lexi Karas’ clever “A Strong Girl Displaced” was more serious, delving into notions of the Self and doubling from Freud’s theories.  The plot twists and taut writing would make Austen proud.

None of these students is a creative writer per se.  They put into action Austen’s code–know the canon first.  They have read a lot of Gothic novels.  Candidly, better them than me!  I can leave the Bronte’s and Bram Stoker on the shelf.

Concert in the chapel

Concert in the chapel

After lunch, we were serenaded by the Vassar College Women’s Chorus, with madrigals and other traditional British songs.  But noteworthy were the two sets of Austen writings put to song.

The Three Prayers by Jane Austen have been put to music by Amanda Jacobs, who wrote a wonderful Pride and Prejudice musical I saw in 2011.  Today, Jacobs directed the chorus in the US premiere of these works.  Here’s a tiny sliver.

What tickled me were the parlor game songs, commissioned by Vassar College Music Department for the Women’s Chorus and put to music by Eleanor Daley.  The three poems survived when Austen copied them into a letter in 1807.

Jane, her sister Cassandra, and their mother played a game where they devised poems where every line ended in a rhyme with the word rose, in “Verses to rhyme with ‘Rose’.”  Jane’s was clever, Cassandra’s romantic, their mother’s so funny.  Here’s her poem:

This morning I woke from a quiet repose,
I first rubb’d my eyes, and I next blew my nose;
With my stockings and shoes I then covered my toes,
And proceeded to put on the rest of my clothes.
This was finished in less than an hour, I suppose.
I employ’d myself next in repairing my hose.
‘Twas a work of necessity not what I chose;
Of my sock I’d much rather have knit twenty rows.
My work being done, I look’d through the windows,
And with pleasure beheld all the bucks and the does,
The cows and the bullocks, the wethers and ewes.
To the library each morning the family goes,
So I went with the rest though I felt rather froze.
My flesh is much warmer, my blood freer flows,
When I work in the garden with rakes and with hoes.
And now I believe I must come to a close,
For I find I grow stupid e’en while I compose.
If I write any longer my verse will be prose.

She seems destined to be a model for the Twitter-verse!

We wrapped the day with a visit to the campus art museum.  Much too short.  Lots of great works.  I’ll share just one, in honor of the day.  A woman artist, of course.  Adele Romany, a French artist, and her 1804 “A young person hesitating to play piano in front of her family.”  Shame on her!  No Austen heroine every would!

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What is Papa thinking? Paintings like this could be used to put a young lady's advantages forward. Hung in a pre-modern version of match.com

What is Papa thinking? Paintings like this could be used to put a young lady’s advantages forward. Hung in a pre-modern version of match.com

What is she thinking?

What is she thinking?


Arsenic and Old Lace in Connecticut!

Did you know that the beloved play and movie “Arsenic and Old Lace” was based on fact?  Yep, it was.  A woman serial killer in Connecticut, Amy Archer-Gilligan was the inspiration.  She has even made Murderpedia!

Thanks to Diana Ross McCain of “Come Home to Connecticut” for the story last night at the Hamden Library.  Never forget that money will drive some people to do desperate things.  Do tell, you say.  Okay.

Having worked as elderly caretakers, Archer-Gilligan and her first husband opened a convalescent home in Windsor, CT.  When her husband died, she married again.  Her second husband died 3 months later from a “bilious attack.”  Ahem.

Compare this to the house in the film. Shivers!

They charged weekly rates of $5 to $25, with a special lifetime deal of $1000.  If you stayed in the home more than four years, this was a great financial deal.  Only…no one stayed longer than four years.

In 1914, Franklin R. Andrews was on this ‘life care’ plan.  He was so healthy that he puttered in the home’s garden in the morning, before dying of gastric ulcers that evening.  His sister in Hartford complained, and an investigation began.  The body was exhumed and a secret autopsy was conducted in the cemetery tool house.  Even after two years, the body was in good condition, a symptom of arsenic poisoning.  Apparently, Andrews was dosed 10 hours before his death and again shortly before.

Archer-Gilligan was accused, and she denied the charges, stating she used arsenic to control rats.  Her second husband’s and three more bodies were exhumed, revealing both arsenic and stricknine poisoning.

In 1917, the trial commenced.  One witness was Mr. Gowdy.  He and his wife wanted to move into the home, as long as they could get a particular room.  Archer-Gilligan told the Gowdy’s the room would be available on June 1, and they agreed to take it.  That room was occupied by, you got it, Franklin Andrews.  He died on May 29.

Mrs. Gowdy was one of 60 deaths in the house between 1907 and 1917.  Hmmm.  Not all her victims were men.  She convinced widows to leave their estates to her.  Talk about buyer-beware!

Archer-Gilligan was convicted, but was granted a new trial. She was found guilty of second degree murder with an insanity plea and went to jail anyway.  This was July 1919, five years after Andrews was killed.  After suffering from “prison psychosis,” she was institutionalized at Connecticut Valley Hospital until her death in 1962.  She has been remembered by employees there as very ‘sweet’.  Sweet, indeed.

By the way, she died after “Arsenic and Old Lace” came out, opening on Broadway in 1941 and as a film in 1944.  I wonder what she thought of Cary Grant?

The Irish Problem

Refugees fleeing untenable situations at home.  That heartbreaking reality seems to recur with uneasy frequency, but I had never made the connection between the Holocaust and the Great Famine in Ireland that lasted from 1845-1852.  But Murray Lender, of Lender’s Bagels and a New Haven native, did.


Low ceilings and wood planks meant to mimic steerage

He funded the Quinnipiac University collection of materials and art about the famine, which after collection growth, opened in a new home three years ago.

Even the building tells the story.  The exterior is meant to resemble the stone-faced hovels the Irish lived in, and the first floor exudes the cramped feeling of steerage on the ships coming to New York.  Only the upstairs, which references a ship’s topside, has high ceilings and windows.

Alexander Williams. Cottage, Achill Island. The museum facade resembles a stone cottage.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum presents the painful facts of the famine and now has an exhibition of Daniel Macdonald’s paintings.  The show features a rare depiction of the famine by any artist during the Great Hunger itself.

Daniel Macdonald. An Irish peasant family discovering the blight of their store. 1847.

The painting shows the severe distress of a family that has discovered that their storage pit has been ravaged by the fungus that rots the potato, killing it from the inside out.  When an average man ate 12 to 14 pounds of potatoes per day (perhaps supplemented with some buttermilk and herring) and the usually hearty crop could last a family for almost a year after working an acre, the blight was devastating.

Macdonald otherwise made fairly ordinary scenes of angelic children, dances, and fairies.  But the Great Hunger that ravaged his people compelled him to make this painting when not only was Realism of everyday people considered unworthy of fine art, but his principal patrons in London would be repulsed by the subject.

The English condescended to most of their colonists, but perhaps none took it quite so hard on the chin as the Irish.  During this famine, unbelievably, Irish food was still being exported to England.  Absentee landlords raised rents so that subsistence, potato-reliant tenants could no longer afford to stay.  The landlords converted their lands to pasture for the more lucrative grazing of cattle.

For those who had nowhere else to go, they dug pits called scalps, roughly covered with a roof of sticks.  Others hit the road.  Who cared if eviction essentially meant death for the poor family?

Daniel Macdonald. Eviction. Crawford Art Gallery, Cork City.

Racist attitudes that relied on stereotypes of the Irish as lazy wastrels justified the lack of action; these evicted families didn’t deserve aid.  It was the Irish Problem, and the British government responded with “systematic neglect.”

Some charity existed.  The workhouse, where 750,000 displaced and homeless families crowded together, fomenting deadly disease.  Many more were on the waiting list.  Three million a day went to soup kitchens run by Quakers.  Other Protestants exchanged soup for conversion.

So you can imagine why emigration appeared to be the only reasonable action.  Two million left Ireland, some stymied by disease before and during the crossing.  Along with the one million who starved or died on the roads, the population of Ireland was decimated and has never recovered to the pre-famine levels.

But the Irish fighting spirit has been there, too.  Emasculated by British imperialism, Irish men long acted out, through rebellious acts and fighting, often spurred on by alcohol.  Factions formed and ritualized fights both were glorified and were killers.  Here’s Macdonald’s heroic take.

Daniel Macdonald. The Fighter. 1844.

The poignant film at the museum suggests how the Irish spirit still bears the wound of the Great Hunger.

Kieran Touhy. Thank you to the Choctaw. 2005

Kieran Touhy. Thank you to the Choctaw. 2005


How ironic that 16 years after their own forced removal to Oklahoma, the Choctaw Native American tribe in 1847 raised $170, sent to Ireland for famine relief.

This moving tribute to that extraordinary act of generosity is in the museum’s contemporary art gallery.

The modern painting below by Lillian Lucy Davidson captures the alienation and grief still felt a hundred years after the Great Famine.


Lilian Lucy Davidson. Horta. 1946.









I understand this ongoing wound.  For me, the Holocaust still seems close.  The Somali’s and now the Syrian’s remind us that the world, or more accurately, human nature doesn’t seem to change.  Painful.


Could be Anatevka…

Historic Pie

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 12.56.49 PMRobert Cox has gone where no man has gone before…well, that’s probably not true.  But he’s done it well, compiling a history of pie in his book New England PieI had the delectable pleasure of hearing him roll the dough at the New Haven Museum.

Affection for pie came from England. Makes sense.

But in New England, pies as we know them weren’t eaten until the 18th century.  Why the delay?  That has to do with the formation and function of pie.  Yeah, really.  The function wasn’t to relish the deliciousness of pie as we know it.

Instead, flour and water were mixed together to make a thick pastry boat, if you will, for cooking your contents.  You know, your squash, your rhubarb, your poultry.  The flour-water mixture made a tough, impermeable shell that worked well in the wood fire, but also was easy to move around.  So it was your cooking dish, serving dish, and potluck transportation, all in one.

The third crust on top?  That kept out insects and crows.  Useful.  Plus keeping air out of the contents of the interior meant you had your Colonial Tupperware, storing contents and even preserving them against rot.  Who needs a refrigerator?

In the early 18th century, butter and lard were added to the flour-water mixture, and something really, really good emerged.  Pie.

The fillings however, were different than today’s pie.   No blueberry pie then.  Blueberries weren’t domesticated until the 1920s.  Instead your Colonial pie likely mixed savory and sweet, with sugar, spices, and  herbs, all together.  The result was a ‘high style’ pie in the 1690s.  The Puritans, whose austerity included rejecting bodily pleasures and presumably delicious foods, then started to lose their power over pie.

The battle of the crust began.  By 1796, Amelia Simmons wrote the first American cookbook by an American, published in Hartford.  The cookbook featured nine different crusts.

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Shepherd’s Pie

Plus there were false pies and mock pies.  What?  Those aren’t the same?  Oh no!

False pies include shepherd’s pie, also called a cottage pie.  Lots of potatoes, mashed in a crust.  Your Maine-inspired Whoopie Pie is false, as is the Washington pie.

GW Pie


How did George Washington inspire this pie?  The Parker House Hotel‘s celebrity chef named this pie, although it’s actually sponge cake with raspberry or strawberry jam and powdered sugar on top.  Another version of this pie, with cream and chocolate is the Boston cream pie, another falsie.  In 1824, when Lafayette made his triumphal return to the United States,  he got a pie named for him that’s similar to his friend and mentor Washington’s treat.

Trivia:  at the Parker House Hotel, Ho Chi Minh worked in the kitchen, and Malcolm X was a busboy.  Between them and the GW Pie, something there sparked revolutionary spirit!

Mock pies refer to a ‘culinary mockery.’  Mock turtle soup does have turtle in it.  Mock apple pie?  You guessed it.  No apples.  Before our supermarkets made produce available year-round, pie makers had to content themselves with seasonal everything.  Ritz crackers to the rescue!  Add lemon, butter, and cream of tartar, and you get a taste like apples…  Really?  Don’t take Cox’s word for it.   See below for Corporate America’s recipe.

You can also make mock cherry pie with the more readily available cranberries.  Appearing in an 1890 Chicago cookbook, mock cherry pie took off!  Just add lots of sugar and vanilla.

Women competed to make the best pies, the best crusts, at fairs and beyond, as well as for recognition of their economy, during wartime and beyond.  Mock was the real deal.

Until freezers and processed foods.  You know, our world today.  In New England, the classic pie is simple, heightening its purity.  Simple ingredients, harmonious combinations. Really?  No.

Mince pie

The classic mince pies were a collision of the proverbial kitchen sink–cranberries, rhubarb, chicken, turkey, whatever you had, all in one pie.  That was culinary high taste.  So even the idea of the classic New England pie is a delicious myth.

But really, who cares?  Enjoy!

And in case you’re daring, here’s the promised recipe:

Ritz Mock Apple Pie
The classic pie, featuring Ritz crackers baked in a golden crust,
is perfect for the holidays.

Pastry for two-crust 9-inch pie
36 RITZ Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1 3/4 cups crumbs)
1 3/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Grated peel of one lemon
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Roll out half the pastry and line a 9-inch pie plate. Place
cracker crumbs in prepared crust; set aside.

2. Heat water, sugar and cream of tartar to a boil in saucepan
over high heat; simmer for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice and peel;

3. Pour syrup over cracker crumbs. Dot with margarine or butter;
sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll out remaining pastry; place over pie.
Trim, seal and flute edges. Slit top crust to allow steam to escape.

4. Bake at 425 F for 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is crisp
and golden. Cool completely.

Makes 10 servings

413 calories, 3 g protein, 63 g carbohydrate, 17 g total fat,
3 g saturated fat, 339 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber.

Preparation Time: 45 mins.
Cook Time: 30 mins.
Cooling Time: 3 hrs.
Total Time: 4 hrs. 15 mins.


Riffs on Art and Quirky Toys and Games

As you know from Artventures! Game, I’m so happy to play with the over-seriousness of art.  One thing we need more of in the world right now is laughs.  So I’m delighted to introduce you to Bjorn Okholm Skaarup’s work currently on exhibit at the Bruce.

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Riffing on Degas.






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Ingres’ Odalisque

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Sphinx cat and Nefertiti







Just what I needed after a tough day.

Being a game inventor now (really?), I was especially interested in the look at historic Connecticut toys and games today at the Connecticut Historical Society.

I know that you like me can’t wait to play these games!

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In particular, I can hardly wait to play the board game ‘Connecticut’s Great Blizzard’.  Not.  Today, temps reached into the 60s.  Global warming has given us an incredibly mild fall.  Imagine during that first big storm calling out, “honey, want to play the Great Blizzard?”

The game is about getting all your errands done before Snowmageddon.  Really.

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Maybe in the 1980s, people loved just this kind of thing, cuddling up with a big mug of tea.  Would that be more fun than, say, ‘Campaigning for Election’–a game that seems to be about fundraising, too.  Both are a little too Reality-Showish for me.  Hilarious nonetheless.

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I’m getting a sense of my age, because toys from my childhood have hit the historic ranks.  We played telephone, my brother and I.  And with the Erector Set and Silly Putty and Whiffle Ball–all Connecticut-made.

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In that era of gendered toys, I’m pretty sure my brother had a chemistry set.

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We definitely had the toys that teach about the world of work–banks, fire trucks, and peculiarly here, a delivery truck of G. Fox & Co.  Maybe to help children to grow up to aspire to work there?  Or just good ol’ fashioned promotion.


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I’ve always found dolls creepy, and this c1902 doll in its underwear is absolutely no exception.  But below may be the first Teddy Bear I have ever found off-putting, this one made by the German Steiff Company.

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Gilbert was a New Haven company

Gilbert was a New Haven company





Some toys don’t seem to go out of favor and even become timely again–the Star Wars Pez dispenser heads, Barbie Dolls, and this James Bond Action Figure, strongly resembling the young Sean Connery.

Tough enough for boys, buff enough for girls.

How do you like that ad slogan I just invented?


I’ve written before about the Frisbee game invention that started with Yalie’s tossing the Frisbee’s 2015-12-12 14.28.25Pie tins.  What I didn’t know is that the Frisbee was originally called the ‘Pluto Platter’, a tie-in to the craze from Pluto’s discovery.  Which do you think works better–Frisbee or the Pluto Platter?

These hotly-debated questions fill my mind as I curl up with my hippo odalisque.





Revolutionary Stuff and Stories

We’re all starting to think early Colonial, big thanks, and bigger turkeys, but today I immersed in the end of the Colonial era, with the behind-the scenes tour of Revolutionary War stuff and stories at the Connecticut Historical Society.

You may have hea2015-11-21 14.10.47rd of Nathan Hale, wishing he had more than one life to give for his country.  He certainly could have used more than one.  This Yalie made a terrible spy, hanged at age 21.  George Washington had recruited Hale to carry messages behind the lines, but he was found out either by the British Major Roberts who pretended to be a patriot or by his cousin Samuel Hale, who exposed him.  I don’t know if this diary gives any clues to his cluelessness, but it’s there to be read.



Who wouldnCHS 1896.9.1‘t love the battle of the red’s?  This red coat belonged to Redcoat Munson Hoyt, a Connecticut loyalist fighting for the British.  The coat, as you can see, is in remarkable condition, given that Munson fought while wearing it.  After the war, he moved to Canada, taking advantage of the reward for his military service of a plot of land.  That didn’t keep him out of the new United States though.  He moved back to Long Island, where he met his wife and settled.

Somehow the bright red cloak of 22-year-old Deborah Champion not only retained its brilliance, but also didn’t get in the way of her spying activities.  Red is a color that catches the eye, a 2015-11-21 14.22.37notoriously bad choice for sneaking around.  But Deborah, who carried messages from her father to George Washington, apparently was all success.  Whenever she felt threatened, she could hide under a calash bonnet, also known as a ‘bashful bonnet’, with its broad hood, disguising herself as an old lady.  Of course, we all know that old ladies couldn’t possibly be spies!

Although Connecticut didn’t see a lot of battle action as the ‘provision state’ (supplying all of George Washington’s armies’ needs), some memorable battles did happen here.  In 1781, Benedict Arnold betrayed his home state and his mentor Washington with his insider knowledge.  He knew that the signal for an enemy ship along the Connecticut River was two cannon shots, with three for a friendly ship.

The hole on the right shows where he was stabbed.

The hole on the right shows where he was stabbed.

When a British ship was sited and two shots were fired, Arnold had the third fired as well, delaying the patriot army’s response.  Also outnumbered, the patriots lost the battle at Fort Griswold at New London.  Even though the patriots surrendered, fighting continued.  Imagine this vest on Colonel William Ledyard, who in the act of surrendering his sword, was bayoneted 14 times by an unnamed British soldier.  Yikes!  So much for a gentlemanly engagement of war.

The vest came to the Historical Society, blood and all, in 1841.  A diligent curator thought the blood stains would upset the ladies and had the vest cleaned.  All curators since have been turning in their graves and sighing, including the two interns leading our tour.  Still you can clearly see where the bayonet penetrated, making this soldier’s unjust fate all the more real..

Imagine the day-to-day life of a patriot soldier.  You had to “grab your gun and go” to war, bringing your squirrel-hunting rifle, or whatever was handy.  Wear any garments you had that might keep you warm and dry.  Not like the British soldiers who were outfitted in red coats and the latest armament technology–the flint-lock rifle.

Imagine marching with a gun as big as you are!

Imagine marching miles and miles with a gun as big as you are!

You would wear your shoes out marching, so that you’d be better off barefoot.  Your clothes would be in tatters.  Why?  Not only are you carrying a 10-pound rifle, but also your bedroll and all your supplies.  With malnutrition and disease limiting growth, the gun might be as big as the man.  That was verified by the tiny red coat on display and the 5’2″ intern with a rifle.

What a life.  It did help to believe in the cause.  In Connecticut, only 50% were patriots, while 20% were loyalists.  30% probably wanted to see who would win.


Phineas Meigs’ broad-brimmed hat

Phineas Meigs would never find out.  Ostensibly the last Connecticut soldier to die in the war, his hat made it to the Historical Society in 1859 and clearly shows the entrance and exit sites of the bullet that killed him.

Age 73, this private fought in the Battle of Madison on May 19, 1782, when the war was winding down.  Meigs left his home to respond to the alarm.  Armed British ships had been chasing a merchant vessel that sailed for cover in Madison.  The resulting skirmish left one British soldier and Meigs dead, the latter close to his own home.  Someone included his hat when returning his body home.  The family clung to if for 75 years.  It’s chilling to see in person, taking the war out of the history books and onto a real guy’s head.

2015-11-21 14.30.23Maybe one of the last things he would have seen would have been his regimental flag.  Here’s a remarkable flag that was “raised 1640” and still flew in the Revolutionary War.  Its red color suggests it was a state militia flag originally, then appropriated later by the patriots.  Betsy Ross didn’t make any kind of flag in time for the war.  That’s all myth, and another story.  But this flag is the real deal.  Its silken tatters are a reminder of the remarkable stories that make the past seem like just a moment ago.



Bonus!  Non-Revolutionary-War gowns being staged for an upcoming Downton Abbey exhibit

Bonus! Non-Revolutionary-War gowns being staged for an upcoming Downton Abbey exhibit