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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Strawberry Picking

That time of year again, so brief, so miraculous, one can only look at a small basket of these things and think, “Jackpot!”

Amherst, Massachusetts native (and classmate of Emily Dickinson), Helen Hunt Jackson, novelist and Indian rights activist, found a few more words to express it in her poem, “My Strawberry” published in “Verses by H.H.” in 1882 (Roberts Brothers, Boston).

O marvel, fruit of fruits, I pause
To reckon thee. I ask what cause
Set free so much of red from heats
At core of earth, and mixed such sweets
With sour and spice: what was that strength
Which out of darkness, length by length,
Spun all thy shining thread of vine,
Netting the fields in bond as thine.
I see thy tendrils drink by sips
From grass and clover's smiling lips;
I hear thy roots dig down for wells,
Tapping the meadow's hidden cells.
Whole generations of green things,
Descended from long lines of springs,
I see make room for thee to bide
A quiet comrade by their side;
I see the creeping peoples go
Mysterious journeys to and fro,
Treading to right and left of thee,
Doing thee homage wonderingly.
I see the wild bees as they fare,
Thy cups of honey drink, but spare.
I mark thee bathe and bathe again
In sweet unclaendared spring rain.
I watch how all May has of sun
Makes haste to have thy ripeness done,
While all her nights let dews escape
To set and cool thy perfect shape.
Ah, fruit of fruits, no more I pause
To dream and seek thy hidden laws!
I stretch my hand and dare to taste,
In instant of delicious waste
On single feast, all things that went
To make the empire thou hast spent.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Lettie G. Howard

From ferries this week, we move on to sailing ships. The Lettie G. Howard is currently a New Yorker, owned by Manhattan’s South Street Seaport Museum, but she is a New Englander by birth, built in 1893 in Essex, Massachusetts. Here she is shown berthed in Salem, Mass.

A wooden schooner, this kind of vessel was used by American fishermen, and the Lettie G. Howard worked first out of Gloucester, and later was put to work for many years in the waters off the Yucatan Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. She came to the South Street Seaport Museum in 1968, and began restoration in 1991 as a training and museum ship. Declared a National Historical Landmark in 1989, you can find her sailing along our New England coast.

The Museum offers courses in sailing, navigation and seamanship alongside a professional crew. For more on the details of this beautiful schooner and the programs offered by the South Street Seaport Museum, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ferries to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard

There is that look of expectation on the faces from the people on the wharf as your ferry pulls into the harbor. Something quite unlike the faces of people meeting you at the train station, or the airport terminal, or the bus depot. It might be a glimmer of amusement, of enjoying the novelty of meeting someone, and being met, at the wharf.

There are some places in New England where these meetings are not novelty, where they are commonplace because for so many years, a passage over the water -- of minutes or hours -- was the only way to get there.

Traveling by ferry makes one feel that one has traveled through time as well as many miles. Perhaps it is due to the leisurely aspect of taking a ferry ride that allows us to decompress.

You may travel 20 hours by air and cross several time zones, but only arrive jet-lagged and never have that same sense of time and space travel that you do by boat or ship. We've gone to Long Island by ferry (see here), but today we're off to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

Here are some landings at Nantucket, and at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. You can fly to both places now, of course, but with the convenience of air travel you lose that enticing greeting at the dock, where all faces turn toward you, whether you know them or not, and suddenly they all belong to you, and you belong to all of them. You are both loved one and stranger, as they peered at you from behind sunglasses, or squint through the reflection of sunlight sparkles on the water to identify you.

The ferry pulls in very slowly, gives blasts, and your anticipation makes it seem that it takes a much longer time to moor up than you think possible. Walking down the gangplank is a silly, innocuous thrill you don’t get at the airport or the bus depot.

Below, an excerpt from New Yorker Walt Whitman’s poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”

Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west -sun there half an hour high -I see you also face to face.
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are
more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and
more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

For more on how to get to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard by ferry, have a look at this website.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

Above we have an idyllic postcard scene, typical of idyllic postcards scenes, of a place with an anything but typical name. This serene lake in the rural hinterlands nestled between those two great New England cities of Boston and Hartford, is sometimes called Lake Chaubunagungamaug.

Although, at other times, if you take a deeper breath and are feeling up to it, the lake is called LakeChargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.

It’s located in the town of Webster, Massachusetts, right on the border with Connecticut, and some people who are syllable-challenged, prefer to call it Webster Lake.

The Nipmucs of the Algonquin tribes are responsible for this formidable place name, supposedly the longest in the United States, which is said to mean: "Fishing Place at the Boundaries - Neutral Meeting Grounds". Several tribes met here at the convergence of many tribal boundaries, so diplomacy was important. And, you are apt to have less wars if it takes all day to pronounce the name of the meeting place.

Two songs about the lake have been written, one dating back to the 1930s, and the other recorded by Ethel Merman and Ray Bolger in 1954.

The older version: "By Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg" (Is that a catchy title or what?) written by Will Heagney, Will Mahoney and Bert Reed was published by the Harry Von Tilzer Music Co. of New York in 1935. Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians once gave it the old college try. Here are the lyrics below if you want to have a whack at it, but listen first to this delightful video by Webster’s own Bartlett High School Alumni Choir to coach you through it.

After a few tries, you can go to Webster and pronounce the lake’s name like a real townie. Or, if you really can’t manage it, you can still call it Webster Lake. Probably nobody will mind.

What a place to see, what a place to be when the summer is here
You can spend all your time at play, blues will soon disappear.
Every day will be one big holiday, you'll be living at ease,
From early morning till late at night, you can do as you please.

When you hear the rippling water, it will set your heart a gogg,
At Lake Char-gogg-agogg-manchaugg-a-gogg-cha-bun -a-gun-ga-maugg
And the rhythm of the bull frogs, with their love-lorn dialogue,
At Lake Char-gogg-agogg-manchaugg-a-gogg-cha-bun -a-gun-ga-maugg.

Oh, there is such a lot to do, you lose all track of time
Nobody knows it's Sunday till they hear the church bells chime.
You can find out where this place is, if you look up your geog,
It's Lake Char-gogg-agogg-manchaugg-agogg-cha-bun- a-gun-ga-maugg.
It's Lake Char-gogg-agogg-manchaugg-agogg-cha-bun- a-gun-ga-maugg.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Israel Putnam Monument

Above is a shot of the monument to Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam in Brooklyn, Connecticut. This 1888 equestrian statue stands on the town green, with Putnam’s sarcophagus placed in the massive foundation. His remains had been moved here from the South Cemetery due to his popularity and the great number of visitors who came to pay him tribute.

Perhaps Putnam, like many men of his generation, have become lesser known with the passage of time, and their elevated status as heroes in our society has diminished, but impressive monuments like this serve to illustrate for us that great art and great heroes seemed to go together at one time.

Here is an 1864 black and white photo in the collection of the Library of Congress of the portrait done by Jonathan Trumbull, another Connecticut Revolutionary War figure, of Israel Putnam. Though once an idol in a younger Connecticut, Putnam was actually born in Salem Village in Massachusetts (now the town of Danvers). He moved to Connecticut as a young man, became a fairly prosperous farmer, and took part in the French and Indian War with Rogers’ Rangers and with the regular British troops. One interesting story involves his capture by the Caughnawaga Indians, tied to a tree and nearly burned alive, but rescued by a French officer.

He also survived a shipwreck on a British expedition on Cuba, and legend has it Putnam returned with tobacco seeds from the island which was responsible for the propagation of the later Connecticut Valley tobacco farms.

By the time of the Revolutionary War, Putnam, like most of the colonists, traded his red coat for the uniform of the Continental Army. Legend also has it that it was Putnam (though some conjecture it was actually Colonel William Prescott) who hollered the famous warning to his troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”

Putnam was known for being well liked among his troops, a bombastic, rough-and-ready soldier. His exploits in the Revolutionary War ended in December of 1779, when encamped in Redding, Connecticut, at the present day site of the Putnam Memorial State Park, he suffered a paralytic stroke.

He died at his farm in Brooklyn, Connecticut in 1790, living to see the new nation born. The magnificent monument is the work of Karl Gerhardt.

Here is a link to an interesting website all about Israel Putnam.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mystic Seaport Lighthouse

Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut (which was covered on this previous post), has among its charming features to illustrate life in a seaport town from a bygone age, this small wooden lighthouse.

Only 25-feet high, it stands sentinel in the re-created village two miles upriver from Noank, but has never been an official aid to navigation. Built in 1966, the Mystic Seaport Lighthouse is a replica of the Brant Point Light Station on Nantucket.

For more on the lighthouse, have a look at this website, and also here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Toto's Zeppelin Nightclub

Today we visit a place that’s long gone and by probably most forgotten. It’s a 1930s nightclub in the shape of a zeppelin.

No, really. Have a look here at the photo posted by our friend John at his blog Robert Frost’s Banjo. These photos were taken by his roving amateur photographer father, and the caption he wrote notes it is a nightclub “outside of Springfield”. The photo was taken in 1938. Later that same year, in November, the restaurant caught fire and was destroyed (one wonders if there were morbid analogies to the Hindenburg disaster of the year before - see this post on the famous newsreel covering the event on Another Old Movie Blog).

Located in the neighborhood known as Smith’s Ferry on Route 5 in Holyoke, Mass., the nightclub in the shape of the world famous Graf Zeppelin was aluminum-coated, 100 feet long with an upper and lower deck. It was built in 1933, damaged in a 1934 fire. Under new ownership by Salavtore “Toto” LoBello, it was re-christened “Toto’s Zeppelin”, one of the most popular dine and dance restaurants in an age when aviators were heroes and “roadside” architecture a sign of the times.

According to an article by Springfield historian Larry Gormally in the now defunct Springfield Journal from 1998, Toto’s Zeppelin was popular for college dances, high school proms, weddings and a great place to stop and have a meal if you were on your way north or south in western New England. Before Interstate 91, Route 5 was the main artery from Connecticut to Vermont, occasionally hopping the Connecticut River which it followed like tag-along sibling. Likely John’s father found the restaurant as an unexpected discovery on his way either back to Vermont or leaving for the Cape and the sites of his other great photos (see John’s blog - Robert Frost’s Banjo).

Toto’s Zeppelin, however, was destroyed in the November 19, 1938 fire, possibly not long after the picture was taken, but rose from the ashes as a refurbished, rather Art Deco-looking modern restaurant without the zeppelin shell. The business was situated on six acres, and so there was an expansion of the building in 1947, including a picnic grove, a softball field, shuffleboard and handball courts.

According to Mr. Gormally’s article, Toto’s Restaurant was famous for its steaks, seafood, a menu of 40 different sandwiches, and rousing group sing-a-longs with the orchestra. John F. Kennedy, before his days as a Senator, was a guest here, as well as singers Vaughn Monroe and Patti Page.

Perhaps the only reference to the days of the restaurant’s former zeppelin motif was in the three triple-decker grinders (for those not from western Mass., a “grinder” is a submarine/torpedo/hoagy/po’boy/fill-in-the-blank sandwich), named for the three zeppelins owned by the United States Navy. You could order an Akron, a Macon, or a Shenandoah.

The ad for Toto's above was taken from a 1947 theatre program from Holyoke's The Valley Players (for more on The Valley Players, see this Wednesday my blog Tragedy and Comedy in New England). Thanks so much to John at Robert Frost’s Banjo for reviving the memory of Toto’s Zeppelin in the photo taken by his father.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hampton Beach - New Hampshire

Above we have a World War I-era view of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. The popular beach was just as popular then, even though it looks as though only a few brave souls splashed in the waves in their modest bathing costumes.

By “brave”, for those not familiar with northern beaches, I mean the ability to submerge one’s warm body into water cold enough to elicit physical as well as mental shock. Every summer thousands of New Englanders standing chest-deep in temperatures cold enough to keep your tuna fish sandwich from spoiling in the car on a hot day, shout with shaky voices to their apprehensive loved ones on the beach, still in the stages of removing sweatshirts:

“It’s all right once you get used to it!”

I’d often though this should be the slogan on the tourism brochures for our beaches in the summer: “It’s All Right Once You Get Used To It.”

But others on the beach, by the looks of this postcard, have no intention of disrobing. The ladies sweep the beach in their long white dresses (the days when everyone, man, woman, and child switched to uniform white after Memorial Day), and sip perhaps a lemonade under wide straw hats to keep cool, lifting their chins to catch the salty breezes.

Here we have the rates for the Hampton River Bridge toll of the same period. Automobiles, those such as were around, could pass for 5 cents. Same for a bicyclist, a horse and rider, or a single horse drawing a carriage. Two horses would cost you another nickel. If you were to drive your herd of cows across the bridge, you’d be out one cent per head, same as for sheep or pigs. According to this interesting article, it is reported that the Hampton River Bridge was the longest wooden bridge in the world at the time.

It seems to me I’ve not seen any herds of cattle, sheep or swine crossing the current bridge these days, which replaced the old wooden bridge in 1949. Could be I just wasn’t paying attention.

Hampton Beach developed into a summer vacationer’s Mecca probably in the late 19the century. Hotels along the coast had opened in the decades before, but it probably wasn’t until trolleys, and later the automobile that made getting to Hampton Beach easier for common folk, newly discovering what wealthier classes had enjoyed for decades. Some time around the turn of the 20th century, the year-round inhabitants of Hampton Beach must have seen the handwriting on the wall and developed the Hampton Beach Village District to create infrastructure and attractions to bring the beachgoers.

Today there are festivals and sand sculpture competitions, and still that tangy ocean breeze to lick from your lips under the seductive wide brim of your straw hat. Here, and also here, are a couple of sites to learn more about Hampton Beach, and to make your summer plans.

Remember your bathing costume. It’s all right once you get used to it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Off Topic - Happy Anniversary

Happy one-year anniversary to my twin brother's cartoon blog: Arte Acher's Falling Circus!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Palabras Como Rosas Award

Our friend John at Robert Frost’s Banjo recently passed on an award to this blog called the Palabras Como Rosas award, which had been passed on to him by Cheryl of Lizzy Frizzfrock. John quotes Cheryl’s description of the award, “The award is for words that like roses, leave a wonderful perfume, lingering for a while.”

A lovely sentiment, and I’m deeply grateful to John for his kindness. Choosing who to pass the award on to next is always a difficult decision, so many great blogs. You all know that. You read them and you write them.

Since I can’t pass this award right back to John, which I would because his is a blog I truly admire and read every day, I’ll forward this award on to:

Tony Mateus of In The Valley, which creates an intricate photo essay more eloquent than words on the universe of Western Massachusetts, whose images always seem to linger with me.

Moira Finnie of TCM’s Movie Morlocks blogger team, specifically for her insightful, and eloquent biographies of the often complex lives and careers of Hollywood’s classic film stars. She displays a combination of shrewd analysis and compassion that lingers with the reader, sharing as much emotion as information. Among her biographical reviews, here’s Part 1 and Part 2 posts on Dorothy McGuire that fans of both McGuire and Finnie enjoyed.

Finally, to Moira’s co-Morlock blogger, “Medusamorlock”, specifically for her series on “Faces from the Blacklist” back in March. Written accounts of Hollywood’s forays into McCarthyism are intriguing, but the simple gesture of posting photos of the actors (and directors and writers) as they were forced to appear before the committee is remarkably moving. Here they do not wear the familiar guise we recognize from their roles as actors; they are just citizens here, with a lot at stake. I admire Medusamorlock’s ability to convey so much with the deft use of these photos.

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