Friday, April 30, 2010

New England Air Museum - Windsor Locks, Connecticut

The New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut is an absorbing trip through time and technology. Visitors learn about man’s experience with flight from the earliest attempts, and view enormous modern day aircraft in an impressive array of displays.

Owned and operated by the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association, a private, non-profit educational institution organized in 1959, the first of the Museum's existing five buildings (Civil, Military, 58th Bomb Wing Memorial and Restoration Hangar and storage building) was erected in 1981. More than 80 aircraft are exhibited here, accompanied by an extensive collection of engines, instruments, aircraft parts, uniforms and personal memorabilia.

Here you’ll find the last remaining four-engine American flying boat, the Sikorsky VS-44A, donated by its previous owner, actress Maureen O'Hara and restored to original condition. Here there is a massive B-29 Bomber; the Silas Brooks Balloon Basket (1870), the oldest surviving aircraft in the United States; the Bunce-Curtiss Pusher (1912), the oldest surviving Connecticut-built airplane; the Sikorsky S-39, the oldest surviving Sikorsky aircraft; and a Kaman K-225 helicopter, the oldest surviving Kaman-built aircraft.

There are reproductions of the famous GeeBee planes of the Granville Brothers of Springfield, Massachusetts, and the sister plane to the last plane flown by Amelia Earhart. There are exhibits on the Tuskegee Airmen, the Flying Tigers, a DC-3 Airliner. You can try your hand at a computer flight simulator which puts you over Bradley International Airport, or Logan, or LaGuardia -- virtually, of course.

There are special exhibits on Connecticut’s contribution to aviation, including Pratt & Whitney, the Sikorsky exhibit, and the 58th Bomb Wing of World War II Memorial. 

For more on the New England Air Museum, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Early Days of Baseball in Western Mass.

One of the first historical references to the game of baseball would seem to indicate that the game was being played in Pittsfield Massachusetts as early as 1791. That year, during President George Washington’s first term in office, a bylaw in town in prohibited the playing of baseball too close to Pittsfield's meetinghouse.

"…for the Preservation of the Windows in the New Meeting House . . . no Person or Inhabitant of said town, shall be permitted to play at any game called Wicket, Cricket, Baseball, Football, Cat, Fives or any other game or games with balls, within the Distance of Eighty Yards from said Meeting House."

Baseball enjoyed a long century of amateur status where local legends ruled the roost before national heroes, when it was still only a national “pastime.”

In 1866, the weekly Springfield Oracle recounted in typical flamboyant manner a typically flamboyant baseball challenge in western Massachusetts between Chicopee team, the Hampdens, and a team from the Northampton village of Florence called the Eagles. It was not merely the season championship, it was a heroic joust.

“So to Florence last Saturday, they went full of beer and courage,” the writer wrote of the underdog Hampdens. Fortified, the Chicopee boys quite unexpectedly clobbered the champions “in the wilds of Florence”.

“It would be difficult to find a happier set of men than are the Hampdens at the present time.” In their celebration, full of more beer, we can only hope they made their way back to town safely. It was not an easy trip then, no matter the amount of beer or courage.

It was surely a different game then. Batters could request high or low balls to be pitched to them. It took nine pitches and not four to get a base on balls. It was a time when gloves were only thin, tight slips of leather.

It wasn't until the 1870s that bunts were played, or runners leading off base could be thrown out. Stealing was new. Some weren't even sure it was moral.

In his “A.G. Spalding and the Rise of Baseball” ( 1985), author Peter Levine notes the famed Cap Catch rule of 1873, where players were no longer allowed to catch fly balls in their caps. They did it because their gloves were so thin it hurt to catch the baseball.

It was a rugged game, a manly game more metal was tested in Homeric contests, and dramatized by some wonderful sportswriters who viewed men like Springfield’s Rabbit Maranville and A.G. Spalding with blatant hero worship. The white knickers, mustachioed chaps were gods.

A.G. Spalding, Bain News Service, Library of Congress, photo now in public domain.

In 1874, the Boston Red Stockings was the best team in the country. Their star pitcher was Albert Goodwill Spalding.
In 1875 Spalding moved over to the Chicago White Stockings. It wasn't quite like the curse of the Bambino, but nobody in Boston was too happy about it. Spalding would later help establish the National League, and he was posthumously selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

While still a player he became involved in sporting goods. In the summer of 1890, he came to the manufacturing town of Chicopee, Massachusetts, home to the former courageous and beer swilling Hampdens, to negotiate with the Overman Wheel Company to market bicycles. He later manufactured tennis rackets, dumbbells Indian clubs, baseball and golf equipment at the Spalding’s factory established here in 1904. Spalding's moved to a more modern plant on Meadow Street in Chicopee in 1948 which later focused on golf equipment. Now a division of Russell Corporation, the company has offices in Springfield and Holyoke.

The turn-of-the-century was an important time for amateur sports. Being amateurs they were taken away from the game by war by jobs and personal commitments, and our hero worship shifted to professional ballplayers.

For more on Pittsfield’s place in early baseball history, have a look at this website.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Marginal Way, Ogunquit, Maine

The Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine is a footpath running alongside the ocean cliffs for about a mile and a quarter. It is not a strenuous walk, but a most lovely venue.

This strip of land that follows the sea was given to the town in 1923 by Josiah Chase. It begins in the village of Perkins Cove and offers spectacular views of the Atlantic surf bashing on the rocks, on a path that in some spots is a bower of beach roses, cedar trees, and honeysuckle.

A fund has been established to maintain The Marginal Way. Have a look here for more information on the geological history of this natural attraction.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Adams National Historic Park - Quincy, Massachusetts

Since yesterday was Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts (and Maine), let’s have a look at some genuine patriots. We have endured many ersatz self-proclaimed ones of late.

Adams National Historical Park tells the story of four generations of the Adams family (from 1720 to 1927). The park has two main sites: the birthplaces of 2nd U.S. President John Adams and 6th U.S. President John Quincy Adams, and also Peace field, which all together were home to four generations of the Adams family

At the corner of Franklin Street and Presidents Avenue in Quincy, Massachusetts, there stand companionably close together two small salt-box style houses that date from the 1700s. John Adams was born in the older house, the weathered-looking, unpainted structure, in 1735. In the painted newer house, closer to the road, he lived with his wife, Abigail, whom he married in 1764.

That was all before he became President, before these roads were ever named Franklin and Presidents streets, before the town of Quincy came into being. This was still part of Braintree then. Today these two homes on this triangular plot of land form an island in otherwise noisy, hectic sea of 21st century traffic, high tension wires, and convenience stores. Yet, here it is still, believably, the 18th Century.

John Adams wrote in his diary a year after his marriage, on Thursday, December 26th, 1765, “At Home by the Fireside viewing with Pleasure, the falling Snow and the Prospect of a large one.”

It was a peaceful moment in the otherwise dramatic, tumultuous, and history-making life of the farmer-lawyer who rode circuit on his horse through all kinds of weather, snow included. As the years progressed, he would take a leading role in a Revolution, forge ties as a diplomat between Europe’s oldest monarchies and this new American country that was the first democratic republic in the world. He would become its first Vice President, and its second President, and his own son would be the 6th President.

Another house, about a mile away, is the more genteel manor President Adams and his remarkable wife Abigail moved to in 1788. Here they would spend their retirement years, and several generations of their family maintained the property until these three sites were turned over by the Adams descendants to the National Park Service in 1946. This country estate is called Peace field.

The Adams National Historical Park, which comprises these three homes in Quincy is a view not only on American history, but of its culture and artistry, and its ingenuity. There are thousands of artifacts here from the Adams family, including works of art, a library of over 12,000 volumes, furniture, and Abigail’s old bullet mold. She had melted down her pewter spoons to mold into bullets for the Continental Army.

John and Abigail Adams’ dramatic adventures during the Revolution and presidential years were chronicled in historian David McCullough’s “John Adams”, which won the Pultizer Prize and was made into the critically acclaimed HBO miniseries in 2008. In that year, after the miniseries was shown, the Adams National Historical Park was overwhelmed with visitors who had suddenly discovered John Adams through that program and now wanted to re-visit him and Abigail again in the best place that was possible.

Now that the crowds visiting these three homesteads have thinned out, it’s a great time to visit. Also down the street is the United First Parish Church where both President John Adams and President John Quincy Adams, and their ladies, are buried. More on that another time.

For more on the Adams National Historic Park, have a look at this website. For more on the HBO miniseries, have a look here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nantucket Parking Space

On Nantucket, you are perhaps just as likely to tie the dory or dingy or motorboat up to the back porch as you are to park the car in the garage when you get home from work.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Titanic Historical Society - Indian Orchard, Massachusetts

RMS Titanic photo 1912 from New York World-Telegram, now in the collection of the Library of Congress, public domain.

Ninety-eight years ago tomorrow, on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg and sunk in the frigid north Atlantic. Over the decades fascination with the tragedy has prompted several books, several movies, and a very active historical society in a modest museum in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The Titanic Historical Society in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard began simply with a young man’s fascination with the story in 1963, and through his persistence, Edward S. Kamuda has provided a gathering point for serious researchers and armchair historians who share his interest in the doomed Titanic. Mr. Kamuda and his wife, Karen, also served as consultants on the 1997 film version, and appeared as extras in the movie.

Sketch of the Titanic disaster, New York World-Telegram, 1912, now in the collection of the Library of Congress, public domain.

At the time of its construction, the RMS Titanic, owned by the White Star Line, was the largest passenger ship in the world. Four days out on its maiden voyage, it struck an iceberg late in the evening of the 14th and sunk in the wee hours of the 15th. Of the 2,223 passengers on board, only 706 survived. At this time, there are no remaining living Titanic survivors; the last, who was a baby at the time of the disaster, died in 2009.

The museum in Indian Orchard is currently situated in the rear of a family-owned jewlery store. It is tightly packed with display cases filled with original Titanic artifacts and photos. Mr. Kamuda has collected written or audio or video recorded interviews with about 100 of the survivors over the years. There are donated letters by Titanic survivors and documents in the collection. The Titanic Historical Society, whose membership numbers in the thousands, publishes a regular newsletter, sponsors Titanic-related history events, and conventions known as Titanic Sail Away Parties.

Screen capture from "Titantic" (1953).

The museum received a flurry of interest after the 1997 “Titanic” movie was released, and it was, coincidentally, an earlier movie on the disaster that was responsible for the museum’s existence. Mr. Kamuda, whose family owned the Grand Theater across the street, saw the 1953 film “Titanic” with Barbara Stanwyck there as a boy, and became immediately fascinated by the historic event. For more on the Grand Theater, have a look at Thursday's post on Another Old Movie Blog.

For more on the very interesting Titanic Museum, have a look at this website.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Clark Art Institute - Williamstown, Mass.

The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts is an art museum of elegant distinction in a rustic surrounding, unique just for that, and well worth the trip out to the Berkshires.

Sterling and Francine Clark began the museum after years of adding to a personal collection that dates from 1910. The Clark Art Institute was founded in 1950 as a museum as well as a center for research and higher education.

The white marble building dates from 1952, and the campus has grown and developed to include additional galleries and an expanded library. The Williamstown Art Conservation Center was founded on this campus in 1977. The campus includes walking trails and picnic areas, a beautiful environment to experience great art.

For more on The Clark Art Institute, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Earthquakes in New England

Devastating earthquakes, most recently in Haiti and in Chile, draw our sympathy and response with aide to the anguished people suffering these mysterious events, and renew our curiosity about the peculiar horror of shaking earth.

The recent earthquake in the Baja Peninsula reminds earthquake-prone areas that these natural phenomena are always a factor. New England has its own, obviously much milder, history of earthquakes. An earthquake off Cape Ann, Massachusetts was noted by future President John Adams in his diary on November 18, 1755:

We had a severe Shock of an Earthquake. It continued near four minutes. I was then at my fathers in Braintree, and awoke out of my Sleep in the midst of it. The house seemed to rock and reel and crack as if it would fall in ruins about us. Chimnies were shatter’d by it within one mile of my fathers house.

It was fairly severe quake, and knocked the weather vane off the roof of Faneuil Hall in Boston. That month the plates under the Atlantic Ocean seemed particularly active, as earlier that month on November 1st, the city of Lisbon, Portugal was destroyed by an earthquake.

It is conjectured that the earthquake recorded in 1638 was an even bigger one, scaring the Puritans silly. Another famous diarist, John Winthrop, noted many aftershocks in the following weeks.

We’ve since had a fair scattering of smaller quakes through the late 1800s and 20th century, one of the larger probably being the January 10, 1982 quake that reached about 5.9 on the Richter Scale, followed by several days of minor aftershocks and a second quake on the 19th, reaching 4.8. Another that hit Quebec and was felt in all New England states occurred November 1988, reached 6.0 on the Richter.

During those shaky moments, diners at the Top of the Hub restaurant on Boston’s Prudential Center got as rattled as the dishes; the ceiling shook at the old Boston Garden where the Celtics were just about to play the Milwaukee Bucks; and in western Mass., the old 10-story control tower at Westover Air Reserve Base was evacuated.

Hardly the stuff of disaster such as what victims of very destructive earthquakes must endure. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Happy Easter

With this being Good Friday and Easter fast approaching, here’s another look at the impressive Old First Church of Bennington, Vermont, last seen in this post. Happy Easter.