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Friday, February 27, 2009

Mark Twain House - Hartford, Connecticut

Here is the magnificent 19-room Victorian mansion of author Mark Twain in Hartford, Connecticut. Mr. Twain, or Samuel Clemens, moved his family here in 1874, two years before “Tom Sawyer” was published. He wrote most of his major works here. Twain once described his house as a “combination Mississippi River steamboat and cuckoo clock.”

He also, more lovingly depicted the house in a letter to Joseph Twichell, reprinted in Mark Twain: A Biography, (Harper, 1912) “To us our house was not unsentient matter--it had a heart & a soul & eyes to see us with, & approvals & solicitudes & deep sympathies; it was of us, & we were in its confidence, & lived in its grace & in the peace of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up & speak out its eloquent welcome--& we could not enter it unmoved.”

Twain also, in his customarily crusty puckish humor described Hartford as, “A city whose fame as an insurance center has extended to all lands and given us the name of being a quadruple band of brothers working sweetly hand in hand--the Colt's Arms Company making the destruction of our race easy and convenient, our life insurance citizens paying for the victims when they pass away, Mr. Batterson perpetuating their memory with his stately monuments, and our fire insurance companies taking care of their hereafter.”

This was from a speech he made in the same year he moved here. Hartford was among the nation’s wealthiest and grandest cities in the late 1800s, but Mark Twain’s fortunes as a writer did always keep up. In 1891 he moved with his family to Europe for a less expensive lifestyle for time, and after resettling in the US, sold the house in 1903.

Today the house is a magnificent museum and a repository for study on this great American writer. From the grand veranda to the third story billiard room, the home is rich with 19th century décor and evocative of the opulence of an age. Visit when you can, and support this New England treasure.

For more on the Mark Twain House and Museum, please have a look at this website.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Paczki Day

Happy Pączki Day!

You’ll have to get your own. The above pączek is mine. Keep your mits off it. I’m saving it for after I finish this post.

For those who live in Polish communities, not just in New England, but across the US, this celebration of the supersized hybrid jelly doughnut extraordinare comes to us from the immigrants of Poland, where these confections were made since the Middle Ages. Very rich, very tasty, and oozing with a fruit or custard filling.

Back in the old country they were popular on the last Thursday before Lent, to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs, and fruit, forbidden during Lent. In the US, probably because of all the Mardi Gras hoopla, Fat Tuesday has become Even Fatter Tuesday with the addition of this Polish heaven-on-earth treat. Hie thee to a Polish bakery.

Post over. Let the pączki eating begin.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Butterflies in Winter

From the noisy quacking of ducks, we move to the whispered flutter of butterfly wings. A lush and green world awaits us, even in the so-called “dead” of winter, in Deerfield, Massachusetts at Magic Wings.

Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens, opened in October of 2000, an 18,400-square foot facility filled with butterflies, moths, and tropical vegetation. The sound of the waterfall and hundreds of butterflies fluttering freely through the air, landing whenever and on whomever they choose, is a wondrous and most serene adventure. Exhibits also include tropical birds, reptiles and amphibians, and a few exotic insects. The quiet, along with the sight of the colorful, free-flying butterflies, is soul restoring.

For more information, have a look at this website.

And for some terrific photos, see Tony Mateus’ post on Magic Wings in his excellent “In the Valley” blog here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feeding the Ducks

This week we have a couple of different glances at a couple of different kinds of wildlife, in two very different environments.

First, the duckies. Ducks are rather companionable in the winter. Sure, they want the bread we toss to them, but maybe they just like our company, too. In the summer they don’t waddle up to you, quacking hello, and lift their faces to take a good look at you (and the bread you have in your hand).

They’re too busy in summer, we’re too busy, to sit down and chat. In winter, the pace of life slows, and we may concentrate on the little things, like ducks.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Prudence Crandall Museum - Canterbury, CT

The quiet crossroads of Canterbury, Connecticut where this stately building sits has changed a little bit through the years, but changed mainly in the things we cannot see. It is now the junction of route 14 and 169, but over 175 years ago, it was the center of a legal and philosophical whirlwind.

This is the Prudence Crandall Museum, once the home of a schoolteacher who turned it into an academy for the girls of local wealthy families in 1832. The following year, she admitted 20-year old woman in training to be a teacher herself. Sarah Harris was black, and the community protested.

When other African-American students were admitted to the school, Miss Crandall was arrested, having broken the newly enacted state Black Law, spent a night in jail, and became the defendant in three trials. Though the case was dismissed, a mob attacked her school, forcing her to close it finally for the safety of the students.

It was the first academy for African-American women, and the brave and resolute schoolteacher became Connecticut’s State Heroine.

The museum is open only by appointment in the winter months, but opens again to the general public for regular hours in April. For more information on Prudence Crandall and the Prudence Crandall Museum, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Majestic Theater- Massachusetts

The Majestic Theater in West Springfield, Massachusetts thrives not through nostalgia, but through adaptation. Once a neighborhood second-run movie house, the Majestic is now one of the best places in western Massachusetts to see live theatre.

Because of the coincidental overlapping of blog subjects, this post will be featured on all three of my blogs this week precisely because it conveniently (for me) dovetails the purposes of discussion of old movies (Another Old Movie Blog), New England history (New England Travels) and theater in New England (Tragedy and Comedy in New England).

At the informative Cinema Treasures site, the Majestic is noted as opening in the 1920s. The ads here are for second-run films in the 1940s when the Majestic continued to be a popular neighborhood movie house. The top ad for “Brewster’s Millions” on a double bill with “Alias Billy the Kid” is from April 1946. Note how though the war has ended, we are still encouraged to buy war bonds.

The ad for “Good Morning Judge” and “Gorilla Man” is from October 1943. Note the “vermillion rose dinnerware for the ladies” at the top. For our past discussion on Depression glass and movie “dish night” please see this post from February 2008.

The third ad features Gary Cooper in “The Westerner”, along with “The Mummy’s Hand” and a “The Adventures of Red Ryder” short. This is from January 1941

The Majestic re-opened as the Paris Cinema in the 1960s showing foreign films, and became the Elm Cinema in the 1980s, but the mid-1990s brought its most drastic, and welcome, change. Danny Eaton, who brought his Theater Project to a new home here in West Springfield, became the founder and artistic director of a re-born Majestic Theater.

Later this month, their production of William Inge’s “Bus Stop” opens.

Nostalgia for the past is a wonderful thing, but without the vibrancy of modern purpose, we are left with little more than an entertaining scrapbook, as fun to look at but as out of date as these movie ads. We’ve seen on this blog how many old-time theaters are demolished. It is pleasing when some can be converted to modern use either as movie theaters or as small businesses.

But when they can be successfully transformed into theaters for stage plays, then the theater building becomes more than a beloved town relic. The production of stage plays involves a lot of people. People working on and off stage, people spending, people volunteering, a community that comes together when people are the engine that drives the product. People have always been the business of show business.

For more on the current season of the Majestic Theater, here is their website.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sea Gods, Fishermen, and Whalemen

Continuing with our look at a couple of statues this week, above is a statue from New Bedford’s Tonnessa Park, on the “Dock Walk”. We move from an historical figure to a representation of a mythical one. The 10-foot sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington was described as a mythical sea god when she offered the statue to the city in 1962. Neptune isn’t mentioned in the description, but if it’s not of Neptune, perhaps he had brothers.

The mighty myth, whoever he is, holds a cod in his left hand, and a sturgeon in his right, with a collection of marine life at his feet. More than a fanciful work of art, it is a memorial, according to the sculptress, of “those seamen whose only graves are on the ocean floor.”

Standing before a working harbor, the “Memorial to Whalemen and Fishermen” is a reminder that a life, or a job, at sea carries great risk. It also reminds us that those who are lost are not forgotten.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Miles Morgan statue, Springfield, Mass.

Miles Morgan, who braved the western Massachusetts wilderness in the 1630s, is not bothered by a little bit of snow on his rakish cocked hat.

Sculpted by Jonathan Scott Hartley, the statue stands in Springfield’s Court Square, with the Campanile piercing the big blue sky in the background on this clear, cold day.

Morgan was born in Bristol, England in 1616, and traveled as an adventurer to Boston in 1636. He married a girl named Prudence who was a fellow passenger on his ship. Settling in the new plantation of Springfield on the Connecticut River, Miles Morgan built himself a fortified blockhouse, which became the fledging community’s fortress of safety when the settlement was burned during King Phillip’s War.

Eventually, young Springfield’s young hero went back to the mother country, where he died in Wales in 1699. But here in Springfield his image stands, forever ready for action, his musket on his shoulder, fearing nothing.

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