Friday, May 28, 2010

"Taps" - Memorial Day

Here’s a high school band student about to play “Taps” on his trumpet at a Memorial Day service at the Quabbin Park Cemetery in Ware, Massachusetts.

We think of the Civil War era as a more romantic age, but the following poem by Walt Whitman shows us that beyond Victorian sentiment, there lay a cold realization of the horror and cost of war. “Taps”, like Memorial Day, was a legacy of that war.

“Come Up from the Fields, Father”

By Walt Whitman

Come up from the fields, father, here's a letter from our Pete,

And come to the front door, mother, here's

a letter from thy dear son.

Lo, 'tis autumn,

Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder,

Cool and sweeten Ohio's villages with leaves

fluttering in the moderate wind,

Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and

grapes on the trellis'd vines,

(Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines?

Smell you the buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing?)

Above all, lo, the sky so calm, so transparent

after the rain, and with wondrous clouds,

Below too, all calm, all vital and beautiful,

and the farm prospers well.

Down in the fields all prospers well,

But now from the fields come, father, come

at the daughter's call,

And come to the entry, mother, to the front door come right away.

Fast as she can she hurries, something ominous,

her steps trembling,

She does not tarry to smooth her hair nor

adjust her cap.

Open the envelope quickly,

0 this is not our son's writing, yet his name

is sign'd,

0 a strange hand writes for our dear son,

0 stricken mother's soul!

All swims before her eyes, flashes with black,

she catches the main words only,

Sentences broken, gunshot wound in the breast,

cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital,

At present low, but will soon be better.

Ah, now the single figure to me,

Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio with all

its cities and farms,

Sickly white in the face and dull in the head,

very faint,

By the jamb of a door leans.

Grieve not so, dear mother (the just-grown

daughter speaks through her sobs,

The little sisters huddle around speechless and


See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will

soon be better.

Alas, poor boy, he will never be better (nor maybe

needs to be better, that brave and simple soul),

While they stand at home at the door he is

dead already,

The only son is dead.

But the mother needs to be better,

She with thin form presently drest in black,

By day her meals untouch'd, then at night

fitfully sleeping, often waking,

In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with

one deep longing,

0 that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent

from life escape and withdraw,

To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Two Graves of Civil War Soldiers

Here are two graves of Civil War soldiers, neither of whom survived that war. With Memorial Day approaching, we will be caught up again with a sense of urgency to pay meaningful tribute to the fallen of recent wars or wars still within the memory of those living today. A scene such as this photo, with two companionable graves in a quiet cemetery reminds us, by contrast, that urgency pales with time, and truly meaningful, lasting tribute may be beyond our abilities.

Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, was a by-product of the American Civil War and the then very urgent need to commemorate the service of thousands and thousands of fallen, in some cases, the entire male population of many small country towns, north and south.

These two men are Ruggles B. Palmer, and William Palmer. Despite the close proximity of the graves and the same surname, I am not certain at this time if they were related. They certainly may have been.

Ruggles served in the Massachusetts 27th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which arrived first in Maryland in 1861, and then after two months’ training, sailed to North Carolina, where they fought under General Ambrose Burnside in many minor battles. We can see by the date of death on his headstone that Ruggles died before the advance on Richmond in 1864 and the bloody battle at Cold Harbor and the Siege of Petersburg. It is possible Ruggles was killed in one of the minor skirmishes when they were still in North Carolina, though it is more likely he died of illness. More than twice as many men in this regiment, some 261, died of disease than of battle wounds (128). This was a common statistic during the Civil War.

William A. Palmer served with the Massachusetts 37th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which left for Washington, D.C. in 1862, fought at the horrendous Battle of Fredericksburg, at Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg among the most famous battles. As we can see by the death date on William’s headstone, he died just a couple days after the third battle of Winchester began in the Shenandoah Valley. We may well guess that William was a battle casualty, and strikingly, more men of the 37th died of mortal wounds, 165, than of disease, 92.

A lot to consider when inserting the flag into the metal holder, and leaving the flower by the stone.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Susan B. Anthony Birthplace and Museum

The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace and Museum opens this month in what had long been a vacant building. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Susan B. Anthony was born here in 1820, two years after the Adams, Massachusetts farmhouse was built. She lived here as a small child, the daughter of a Quaker (see this post from last year about the Quaker Meeting House in Adams), who according to Quaker beliefs and practices, gave young Susan the education most girls did not receive in the early 19th century.

Her family worked for the causes of temperance, anti-slavery, and women’s rights, for which women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony would eventually become famous. In November 1872 she was arrested and put on trial, found guilty, and fined for attempting to vote in the presidential election (in which Ulysses S. Grant won his second term in office). She refused to pay.

Six years later, she wrote what afterwards became the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which gave women the right to vote. It was ratified in 1920, some 14 years after Susan B. Anthony’s death in 1906.

Carol Crossed, president of the museum, bought the house at auction. The restoration took two years, and the project promises to be a valuable resource for Adams, and for students of American history.

Note: these photos were taken last year before restoration was completed.

For more on the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace and Museum, have a look at this website.

For more on Susan B. Anthony, have a look here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Suffield, Connecticut Water Fountain

This is the water fountain on the town common in Suffield, Connecticut.  The topmost font is for bigger people.

The middle font to the right is for littler people.

The lowest font on the left, down near the ground, is for dogs.

When you come here for a drink, your choices are many.  But decide which category you fit in first.  And leave enough water for everybody else.  I'm talking to you, Fido.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Southeast Lighthouse - Block Island

Now that summer is fast on our heels, we’ll return to a few lighthouse posts in the next few months. Standing sentinel on Mohegan Bluffs is the Southeast Light of Block Island. This Victorian Gothic structure was built in 1874.

The Hurricane of 1938 wreaked terrific damage on the lighthouse, as it did on pretty much everything else in the southern New England states, but even this mighty storm was nothing compared to the simple, slow ravages of time on the seacoast, when the ocean reclaims the land.

In August 1993, this building was moved back about 250 feet to save it from erosion. At that time, it had stood only 55 feet away from falling into the ocean, when once it had stood about 300 feet away from the bluff. The Block Island Southeast Lighthouse Foundation was responsible for raising the funds to have it moved.

The light had been deactivated in 1990, but the restored lighthouse was relit in August 1994. It is now a National Historic Landmark, and the renovations continue. There is a small museum here, and tours of the light.

For more information and history of the Southeast Light on Block Island, have a look at this website, and also this one.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry - Oldest Ferry Service

This quiet little river crossing is the ferry on the Connecticut River that links Rocky Hill with Glastonbury in Connecticut. It is the oldest continuously operating ferry service in the United States, some 355 years this year.

If you were on the road hereabouts in 1655, you could cross on the raft, propelled by the crew using long barge poles. They tried using a horse on a treadmill once, and then steam power in the 1870s, but today you’ll cross on the barge called the Hollister III, towed by a diesel-powered flatboat, the Cumberland.

She holds three to four cars or trucks (depending on the size of the vehicle) at a time, and if you’re fifth in line, why you just wait your turn. Plenty of people do, as the ferry makes between 80 and 100 crossings a day, especially at rush hour. “Rush” hour may not be exactly the right word, but if you’ve got ants in your pants, that’s just too bad for you.

It’s $3 per vehicle, and $1 for walkers or bicyclists. The ferry runs from May 1st through October 31st. There is no service in the winter. The river tends to freeze. Tough to get the boat through. You understand.

But, it’s May now, so as with so much in life, enjoy it while you can.

For more on the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry, have a look at this website, and this one, too.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rockport, Mass. and Motif #1

This is Rockport, Massachusetts from The Headlands, and the eye-catching red shack on the wharf is unmistakably Motif #1.

It stands on Bradley Wharf, and what was originally a fishing shack where sails and tackle and boats were stored has since become reputedly the most favorite subject in the world of scenic landscape art. Painter Lester Hornby is credited to have dubbed it Motif #1 in reference to its popularity among artists.

It was built in the 1840s, and was destroyed in the Blizzard of 1978, but a replica was built with all due haste that year to keep alive Rockport’s cherished tourist trademark. Rockport has owned the building since 1945, when the town purchased it from artist John Buckley, who used it for his studio.

The 1938 WPA Guidebook for Massachusetts refers to the color of the building as brown. It would be interesting if know if anyone has knowledge of it being any other color than red.

For more on Motif #1, have a look at this website, and also this very interesting essay on its history.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New England Train Routes

New London Amtrak station

This Saturday marks National Train Day sponsored by Amtrak. There are a number of events tied to the celebration, the purpose of which is to foster education and interest on train travel in this country.

Interest in future commuter and high-speed rail systems has accelerated, if you will, with federal rail stimulus funding appropriated to Massachusetts last fall to rebuild the rail line to Vermont. A feasibility study may be conducted on a high-speed link from western Mass. to Boston.

Commuter rail service is spotty in New England where once train travel was proliferate. The new scheme to improve commuter service from Connecticut to Vermont recalls the days of over 40 years ago and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, when commuter rail linked Springfield to New Haven. The new projected route through Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield to Vermont is being referred to as the Knowledge Corridor.

Part of the rail stimulus funs will also go to extending Amtrak’s current Downeaster route beyond Portland to Brunswick.

Amtrak currently offers several regional routes which service New England. Have a look at these pages on the Amtrak website for more detail:

The Vermonter, the Downeaster, the Lake Shore Limited, the Ethan Allen Express, the Northeast Regional, and of course the only "high-speed" route, the Acela Express.
Looking down the corridor of a sleeper car.

New England also has a variety of tourist excursion trains which use restored cars from bygone eras to remind us, or give us our first taste, of what train travel was like when it was much more common. Here are a few train adventures you might like to try:

The Essex Steam Train of Essex, Connecticut. The Green Mountain Railroad in Vermont. The Cape Cod Central Railroad in Hyannis, and the Berkshire Scenic Railway from Lenox to Stockbridge, Mass. New Hampshire can boast the most scenic railroads out of any New England state, and here is a website that will link you to a variety of them. The Conway Scenic Railroad in Conway is one of them.

The Green Mountain Railroad at the Bellows Falls station.

Maine has its Maine Eastern Railroad from Rockland to Brunswick, and even little Rhode Island has its Old Colony and Newport Railway. If you’ve traveled on any of these trains, let us know what you thought.

For more on National Train Day, have a look at this website.