Friday, August 28, 2009

Requiescat in Pace - Teddy and Eunice

The initials “E.M. K.” coincidentally stand for both brother and sister Edward Moore Kennedy and Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver. In this Associated Press photo, they playfully run the first steps of a race in support of the Special Olympics in 1975. She leads, he follows; both are smiling, perhaps laughing, and enjoying the effort, enjoying the race, happy warriors, both.

The race is over. Another golden sunset has fallen upon Cape Cod. Requiescat in Pace.

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

From “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Presidents on Martha's Vineyard

President Barack Obama’s family vacation on the island of Martha’s Vineyard will play big in the news this week, but perhaps the Vineyard residents, even the tourists, may take it in stride after all. President Bill Clinton’s family vacations here through the 1990s gave them a little practice in dealing with the traffic of tedious motorcades and tight security. Other sitting US Presidents, and would-be presidents, and former presidents were visitors here, under vastly different circumstances.

For a detailed retrospective on these presidential visits, have a look at this article in Martha’s Vineyard magazine.Two that spring to mind as the most interesting, and in some ways coincidental (not just because they were also in August) and ironic as times of political turmoil, are when John Adams came for a court case in 1765. Lawyer Adams rode circuit at the time and the Vineyard was part of his jurisdiction.

In his diary, John Adams wrote, “After the 14 of August this Year 1765, I went on a journey to Martha's Vineyard, on the Tryal of a Cause before Referees, between Jerusha Mayhew and her Relations. The keen Understanding of this Woman, and the uncontroulable Violence of her irascible Passions, had excited a quarrell of the most invidious, inveterate and irreconcileable nature between the several Branches of the Mayhew Family, which had divided the whole Island into Parties.”

The “uncontroublable Violence” of “irascible Passions” was nothing compared to what was going on back in Boston as Adams waited to board his ship in Falmouth for the crossing to the island. His cousin Sam Adams, really annoyed at the Stamp Act, led the Sons of Liberty to riot against the stamp master on August 13th, and then on the 26th, burned down the fellow’s house. The Act had been voted on in Parliament that March, but wasn’t even going to take effect until November.

John Adams briskly summarized, “I forgot to mention that while We were at Falmouth waiting to be ferried over to the Island the News arrived from Boston of the Riots on the twenty fifth of August in which C.J. Lt. Governor Hutchinsons House was so much injured. My Business at the Bar was so The Stamp Act was repealed, and the Declaratory Act passed: but as We expected it would not be executed, good humour was in some measure restored.”

Well over one hundred years later in the nation that Adams helped to establish,
President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife visited the Vineyard in August 1874 at the Methodist Campgrounds. He was the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Vineyard. The previous year, the Panic of 1873 (they don’t call them Panics anymore even if we still panic a little), brought economic ruin when banking firms collapsed, the stock market crashed, and the depression that resulted (we don’t even like to call them depressions anymore if we can help it), lasted a good six years.

In the congressional elections that fall after President Grant’s vacation, the Democrats (Grant was a Republican you remember), took the House for the first time in many years in one of our many typical political shudders as a response to trouble.

These days we, too, are experiencing “uncontroulable Violence of…irascible Passions,” exciting “a quarrell of the most invidious, inveterate and irreconcileable nature.” Perhaps a little vacation is what we all need. May “good humour” in some measure be restored.

For a look at the town of Oak Bluffs, have a look at my article on Another Old Movie Blog on the Strand Theater. For a look at John Adams’ autobiography, see this site by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Butler-McCook House - Hartford, CT

The Butler-McCook House is nestled on Main Street in Hartford where it’s been since 1782. Four generations of one family lived here, 189 years, watching the neighborhood around it change in an astounding evolution.

The house and garden are now open to the public under the auspices of the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society. The family of industrialists, physicians, missionaries, artists and educators have left the modern visitor a peek into Colonial to mid-20th Century American life in furnishings, paintings, Victorian-era toys and objects.

All around, Main Street bustles with 21st century urban havoc in automobile traffic, towering buildings, cell phones and BlackBerrys and iPods, while inside the grounds, inside the old house so well preserved lies a world we might have forgotten.

Have a look here and here for more on the Butler-McCook House, and have a look here for a fascinating detailed article on the history of the house and the family by Beverly Johnson Lucas.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Maine's Portland Head Light

Out on Cape Elizabeth, Maine, there stands the Portland Head Light. If this lighthouse seems familiar to you, it may be because it is one of the most photographed and painted in the US. The oldest lighthouse in Maine, it was commissioned by George Washington and completed in 1791. It is one of four colonial lighthouses that have never been rebuilt.

Portland’s native son, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow dropped by the lighthouse many a time, and it is possible this was his inspiration for his 1849 poem, The Lighthouse:

The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
and on its outer point, some miles away,
the lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.

Even at this distance I can see the tides,
Upheaving, break unheard along its base,
A speechless wrath, that rises and subsides
in the white tip and tremor of the face.

And as the evening darkens, lo! how bright,
through the deep purple of the twilight air,
Beams forth the sudden radiance of its light,
with strange, unearthly splendor in the glare!

No one alone: from each projecting cape
And perilous reef along the ocean's verge,
Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
Holding its lantern o'er the restless surge.

Like the great giant Christopher it stands
Upon the brink of the tempestuous wave,
Wading far out among the rocks and sands,
The night o'er taken mariner to save.

And the great ships sail outward and return
Bending and bowing o'er the billowy swells,
And ever joyful, as they see it burn
They wave their silent welcome and farewells.

They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
And eager faces, as the light unveils
Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.

The mariner remembers when a child,
on his first voyage, he saw it fade and sink
And when returning from adventures wild,
He saw it rise again o'er ocean's brink.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same,
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light!

It sees the ocean to its bosum clasp
The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace:
It sees the wild winds lift it in their grasp,
And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece.

The startled waves leap over it; the storm
Smites it with all the scourges of the rain,
And steadily against its solid form
press the great shoulders of the hurricane.

The sea-bird wheeling round it, with the din
of wings and winds and solitary cries,
Blinded and maddened by the light within,
Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.

A new Prometheus, chained upon the rock,
Still grasping in his hand the fire of love,
it does not hear the cry, nor heed the shock,
but hails the mariner with words of love.

"Sail on!" it says: "sail on, ye stately ships!"
And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse.
Be yours to bring man neared unto man.

Be yours to bring man neared unto man. If you’ve not been, come and have a look for yourself. If you have, let us know.

Look here at this website for more on the Portland Head Light, and here, too.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden - Springfield, Mass.

At the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, children wander around familiar characters, and entire families line up to have their picture taken with big old Horton the elephant in the background.

It seems like Horton, and the Grinch’s dog Max, and Lorax, and Sam-I-Am with his Green Eggs and Ham, are just like family anyway.

Commissioned after cartoonist and children’s book author Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, died in the early 1990s, the bronze statues made of his characters was accomplished by artist Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, Geisel’s stepdaughter.

You can find them at the Quadrangle where the Springfield Library and Museums Associated form a protective ring around the green common where the Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two, Thidwick, and a menagerie of others play.

Dr. Seuss is here himself, musing over his drawing table, grandfatherly while his creations come to life, and real-life children look over his shoulder to see what he might be drawing next.

Theodor Geisel was born here in Springfield, and on the occasion of his homecoming visit in 1986, the idea was first hatched to honor the native son whose funny, and poignant, and socially conscious, and big-hearted imagination taught and entertained generations of children.

For more on the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden, have a look at this site.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nantucket Cobblestone Square and Fountain

This fountain standing sentinel in the center of a quiet (for the moment) square on Nantucket dates from the mid-19 century. Moments are possibly the best souvenirs we bring back from vacation.

The cobblestones, so identified with Nantucket and other New England seaport towns, were nobody’s idea to create some picturesque photo-op for future tourists, neither a plot to break the ankles of future tourists. They were ballast to stabilize the cargo of the whaling ships. With typical New England frugality, they were re-used to pave Main Street where the heavy carts would haul the whale oil from the ships. After the whaling industry died out, it took those future tourists, stumbling along the cobblestones, to set the depressed Nantucket economy right again.

Have a look at these two sites for more on the Main Street Square fountain, and Nantucket.

Friday, August 7, 2009

North Light - Block Island

The remote lighthouse on the north side of Block Island is accessible only on foot. Take the sandy stroll, it’s worth it.

The Block Island North Light, shown here, is the ancestor of many attempts to save and preserve mariners on some very dangerous waters, and from grounding on Sandy Point. Many ships were wrecked along here, and a few continued to be even after the first light was constructed in 1829.

This is the fourth light, opened in 1868, a granite building with an iron tower. It was automated in 1956, deactivated in 1973, but the lighthouse was re-lit in 1989. Renovations continue, and a museum occupies the first floor. Eventually, it is hoped that the lighthouse may be opened for overnight accommodations.

For more on the Block Island North Light, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Shopping at Albert Steiger, Inc.

On this blog entry from last year about Springfield’s Forbes & Wallace department store, a commenter expressed an interest in seeing some photos of the other great family store of that city, Steiger’s.

Still unable to find my own photo of the distinctive Art Deco style building that once stood on Main Street in Springfield, here is one from Albert Steiger, Inc., published in a Springfield Sunday Republican special section on the 100th anniversary of Steiger’s, in April 1993.

The original Steiger's building in Springfield. From a postcard on the Image Museum website.

Albert E. Steiger, an emigrant from Germany, founded his first store in Port Chester, New York in 1893. Around the turn of the century, he expanded his stores to Holyoke, Fall River, New Bedford, and Springfield, Massachusetts. A store in Hartford, Connecticut followed in 1918. Eventually, all the stores except Springfield, Holyoke, and Hartford were sold, the latter sold in 1962. A store in Longmeadow, Mass. was opened, and on the occasion of its centennial, some 10 stores made up the chain as rented property in malls rather than freestanding downtown stores. The year following its centennial in 1993, Steiger’s closed its stores and went out of business.

Rather than being a department store in the manner of Forbes & Wallace or Hartford’s G. Fox, Steiger’s was predominantly men’s and ladies’ apparel. It was estimated that 85 percent of the shoppers were women. The downtown Springfield store is remembered for its Colonial Tea Room. The shopper’s lunch include soup and an entrĂ©e for 45 cents in the 1940s, most of their clientele the white-gloved ladies who lunched as part of their shopping trip.

Several generations of the Steiger family participated in the business, and several generations of customers shopped there.

If you’re one of them, let us know.