Happy New Year with a thank you for following. Enjoy our father’s favorite cookie, the Spice Krinkle. This is not too sweet and ideal for a Super Bowl party or nosh. The wonderful aroma from the spices while the cookies bake is a warm welcome for family and friends.
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup softened butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup molasses
Directions: Combined softened butter and brown sugar. Beat in egg and molasses. Sift together the remaining ingredients except the granulated sugar and stir into the batter. Wrap the mixture in wax paper and chill 2 hours or overnight. Break or cut pieces of dough big enough to form into balls the size of walnuts. Dip tops in sugar and set on baking sheet 3″ apart. Bake 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until set, but not hardened. Cool.
Note: Some of you may prefer the cookies baked at 350 degrees as they do bake quickly.
(Sources: Our mother & The New York Times Magazine)
“…Should it cause even one heart to feel a deeper trust in God’s goodness and love, or aid any in weaving a life, wherein, through knots and entanglements, the golden thread shall never be tarnished or broken, the prayer with which it was begun and ended will have been answered.”
Mary Mapes Dodge, Preface to “Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates””
Widowed and impoverished with two small children to support, Mary Mapes Dodge, 1831-1905, wrote the beloved story “Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates” at her father’s Newark farm, Mapleridge. Using her imagination and research, she unearthed such Netherlands tales as “The Little Dutch Boy,” popularizing them in the United States. The 1865 immediate best seller saved her struggling family, and she became the most popular children’s author of her day.
Married at 20 to lawyer William Dodge, Mary had a few short years of domestic happiness in New York City where she grew up. After experiencing a financial reversal, William left and then drowned. Mary was a widow at 28 when she began to support her boys, neither yet school age, with her writing. Ms. Dodge first achieved notoriety with “Irvington Stories” in 1864. Following this success, her sons Harry and James urged her to write down the skating bedtime stories that she made up for them. When published in 1865, the serialized story “Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates” was so popular that worldwide sales brought it an award from the French Academy with a monetary prize that helped Mary’s family.
Ms. Dodge dedicated Hans Brinker to her father, a renowned chemist who developed modern agriculture, Professor James Jay Mapes, remembered today with Mapes Avenue in Newark. Mary initially assisted him with editing agricultural journals. It was the warm-hearted James who “believed children could appreciate good literature” in the age of children’s primers. Mary’s mother, Sophia, was an accomplished artist. The future writer and her siblings had had the foundation of a happy childhood and an excellent education filled with art, music, and creativity.
The story of Hans not only moved readers but thrilled them with their introduction to Dutch speed skating, even more intriguing with its setting on picturesque frozen canals. Ms. Dodge shares travel and customs in Holland with readers. St. Nicholas is a patron saint and protector of children who arrives in grand style on December 5th, welcomed with songs, poems, and traditional dishes, and exits “with a shower of sugarplums”. On December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, children awake to find their wooden shoes overflowing with presents save for the Brinkers, who find their joy in each other’s company.
Having a Dutch-American grandmother, and later, friends who helped as resources for the book, Ms. Dodge aimed to familiarize Americans with Dutch culture in a positive way as it was sometimes misunderstood. What appealed immensely to Mary was Dutch ability and the miracle of Holland itself, the “marvel of its not being washed away by the sea”. Not surprisingly, engineers are heroes in Dutch history.
Two of Ms. Dodge’s resources were the well-known “The Rise of the Dutch Republic” and “The History of the United Netherlands” by historian John Lothrop Motley, whom she heralds in the story. Though Mary had not traveled to the Netherlands when she wrote “The Silver Skates,” her work was so imaginative that the book was, and is, popular in Holland.
In Hans Brinker, readers meet siblings Hans and Gretel, 15 and 12, with names alluding to the fairy tale, who have lived in poverty for most of their childhood. Their father Raff’s illness after an accident and the mysterious loss of the family funds leave them not only destitute children but his caretakers, a duty they assume along with their mother with a persevering love. This is the Holland of windmills and charm, but also a reflection of a real-life world where other children mock the brother and sister for their ragged clothing. Talented skaters, the siblings have only wooden ones, not iron, and cannot compete in the grand December race for the prized silver skates. When Hans earns some money through his wood-carving skill, he puts aside his hopes and buys his sister skates so she may compete. Eventually acquiring proper skates of his own and entering the race, Hans leads. When the skate strap of his loyal friend Peter breaks, Hans gives his to someone who wishes for the silver skates even more than he. Peter goes on to win the boys’ race.
Mary Mapes Dodge brings life to goodness, a character depiction sometimes dismissed as being one-dimensional. She touches readers with Hans’ decision to help his sister: “Hans turned the money thoughtfully in his palm. Never in all his life had he longed so intensely for a pair of skates for he had known of the race and had fairly ached for a chance to test his powers with the other children. He felt confident that with a good pair of steel runners he could readily outdistance most of the boys on the canal… On the other hand, he knew that she [Gretel], with her strong but lithe little frame, needed but a week’s practice on good runners to make her a better skater…. As soon as this last thought flashed upon him, his resolve was made…she should have the skates.” Gretel would win the girls’ race.
The happy ending brings the recovery of Raff Brinker, after a risky surgery, who restores the family finances, allowing the children to return to school full-time. He and his wife see Gretel win. The selflessness of Hans, who at another turn offered to give his skate money to pay for his father’s surgery, melts away the cynicism of the family physician, Dr. Boekman. Through him, Hans grows up to become a surgeon “in a reverence for God’s work” and marry his childhood sweetheart Annie. The miracle of Hans is that he experiences hardships without becoming hard-hearted.
Hans makes decisions from a generosity of spirit that shows us one touched by God’s grace. He inspires, which is undoubtedly why the book is still read today, passed down through generations.
Mary Mapes Dodge went on to become an associate editor for Home and Hearth magazine under Harriet Beacher Stowe in 1868. In 1873, Ms. Dodge received the honor of being the first editor for the prestigious St. Nicholas Magazine, which she named, and featured work by major writers like Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain. Having grown up in a home where accomplished scientists and artists added to a lively household, Mary’s sons, too, knew the delight of these writers’ company. Mary, who was modest about her accomplishments, was an ideal editor who encouraged Rudyard Kipling to write down the adventure stories that he shared with friends. The result was “The Jungle Book”.
Ms. Dodge helped to launch the careers of young writers with the St. Nicholas League, a monthly magazine for young readers. The affiliated magazine awarded publication and monetary prizes to Edna St. Vincent Millay, E.B. White, Stephen Vincent Benet, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, with his own New Jersey connections. Ms. Dodge continued to write for St. Nicholas Magazine collected in “Baby Days,” “Baby World,” “Poems and Jingles,” and “Rhymes and Verses,” some written in her Catskills home. All of these stories and poems were immensely popular, but it is “Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates” that timelessly resonates.
In Lord Durham’s rare book collection is an autograph calendar book inscribed by Mary Mapes Dodge from in the Orange Memorial Hospital library, formerly in Orange, New Jersey, with a date of December 16, 1902:
“Greetings. ‘Good day!’ cried one who drove to West | ‘Good day!’ the other, Eastward bound; – | Strong, cheery voices both, that sang | Above their wagons rattling sound. | And I within my song home nest, | ‘Good day!’ ‘Good day!’ still softly sang. | I saw them not, yet well I knew | How much a hearty word can do; | How braced those hearts that their way, | Speed, each to each, a brave ‘good day!’ Mary Mapes Dodge.”
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays as we travel into 2020.
“What you do will show who you are.” Thomas Alva Edison
From the rainbow beneath the Earth to the stars in the sky, Sterling Hill Mining Museum encompasses every aspect of science. Described as a “gem” by Fodor Travel Guide, the nonprofit museum combines geology, history, and magic in a place that fascinates visitors of all ages as they experience one of the best tours in the state – or anywhere. On the National Register of Historic Places, the museum’s fluorescent minerals are on display in both the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Natural History. The incredible Rainbow Tunnel, part of what is the largest collection of fluorescent minerals in the world, and the mining museum are about an hour’s drive from New York City and slightly longer from Scranton, as is the neighboring Franklin Mineral Museum.
The Mining Museum
Dedicated to learning for all ages and the inspiration of future scientists and engineers, Sterling Hill Mining Museum is continuously evolving as its new website shows. Return tours like the one I enjoyed in the late summer bring more discoveries. In operation for more than 300 years, Sterling Hill Mining Museum is the fourth oldest mine in the country. Passing through picturesque Ogdensburg and going up the museum’s long driveway, visitors experience the awe-inspiring sight of the sky-high conveyor of the former working mine.A visit begins with a warm welcome when buying tickets for the two-hour museum and mine tour and/or Discovery Digs (fossil and mineral), sluice mining, the GeoSTEM Academy, or periodic special tours. Observations that staff share on the tours and in museum YouTube videos are, “If you can’t grow it, you have to mine it…” and “almost everything man-made depends on mining for its production,” capture the breadth of what the museum has to offer.
Touring the mine means walking through a 1/4 mile of white marble tunnels where the temperature is about 56 F (13 C) year-round. Of the 35 miles of tunnel, only the ground level remains open to the public. The mine floors are not perfectly smooth, but the tour is stroller and wheelchair accessible. Wearing layers and water-resistant clothing and shoes is helpful as is bringing protective eyewear for digs. The mine tour includes a simulated blast among the representative sights.
The tour begins in Zobel Hall Museum, which was the miner’s change house during the era of the New Jersey Zinc Mining Company, 1852-1986. Striking among many treasures in the room are the giant dinosaur skull, the incredible periodic table, and miners’ helmets in the glass cases. The fluorescent minerals in the curtained corner room give a preview of the remarkable display to come. Behind the miners’ helmets is the Oreck Mineral Gallery with beautiful minerals from around the world showcased with state-of-the-art lighting.
The tour also includes the original mine and the Warren Museum of Fluorescence with a collection of more than 700 specimens of glow-in-the-dark minerals. (Interestingly, different kinds of ultraviolet light, longwave and shortwave, bring out different colors.) Wonderful in itself, the Warren Museum sets the stage for the remarkable Rainbow Tunnel. Of the 356 minerals found in Sterling Hill Mine, the discovery of as many as 80 fluorescent ones in the early 90s brought Sterling Hill Mining Museum worldwide renown.
In Zobel Hall at the start of the tour, miners’ lockers remain with photos of those who contributed to the development of the museum. Miners’ work clothes hang from the ceiling as they did nightly to dry out for the next day. Jobs at the mine included: drill runners or lead drillers, muckers “who moved the blasted ore,” cage men who transported men and supplies on the “man cages” or elevators which descended at 900 feet per minute, and the shift bosses. Recovered footage of daily life at the mine in the 1930s is available in Sterling Hill Mining Museum videos on YouTube with links on the museum’s homepage. Extracting zinc, used to make pennies, paints, shoes, boots, ceramics, vitamins, sunblock, tires, and brass among other things, made a profit until the 1980’s when the costs of running the mine exceeded those.
White lung disease was the hazard of working in the zinc mines as black lung was of the coal. The miners of the late 1800’s came from Poland, Russia, Hungary, and other Slavic countries, some directly from Ellis Island. The new website shares the diaries of miner John Kolic, who worked in the mine from 1972 until the mine closed in 1986, and contributed to the museum from 1989 until 2014. To follow newly released diary chapters, events, and topics ranging from chemistry to geology to ghosts, sign up for the Sterling Hill Mining Museum Newsletter. Having family on our father’s side who worked in the coal mines in Northeastern Pennsylvania, visiting the mine and following its history is also of personal interest.
Thomas Edison, with ties to Ogdensburg, had a mining business, the Edison Ore-Milling Company, that traversed between there and Sparta following the company’s origin in Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania. Mr. Edison invented what came to be known as the Edison Cap Lamp for the Mine Safety Alliance Company (MSA) in 1914. Battery operated, the cap allowed miners to see for as long as 12 hours without the danger of using flammable gas. Thomas is honored by the Edison Tunnel at the museum. This weekend, the film “The Current War” about the competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse & Nikola Tesla will be released. In addition to the Sterling Hill Mining Museum and Thomas Edison National Park in West Orange, science and history buffs can also visit the charming Queens home of another light bulb inventor Louis Howard Latimer, post in progress with a link to come, part of the Historic Houses of New York
From Mine to Museum
Brothers Richard and Robert Hauck bought the closed mine in 1989 with the generous thought of sharing it with the public as a museum. The moving addition of the steel remnant from the World Trade Center is a donation from an area company that assisted after 9/11, also giving visitors an idea of the character of those behind the museum.
Ongoing projects include a railroad caboose restoration. The museum offers a snack bar (with rock candy 😉) and a gift shop both of which help support this educational nonprofit. Donations of minerals, fossils, and mining artifacts are welcome as are memberships and gifts of support. The museum is a sponsor of a STEM Scholarship Award for college students.
The popular museum has about 40,000 visitors a year. Groups are welcome for tours scheduled two weeks in advance. Please call (973) 209-7212. The ticket prices for the two-hour tour are incredibly reasonable for this area: adults, $13, senior adults $12, children (4-12) $10 ($9 on a group tour), and free for under 4. Tours are daily at 1 p.m. till the end of November, weekends at 1 December through March, daily at 1 April through June, and daily at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. July through August. Sterling Hill Mining Museum welcomes anyone with interest in science or engineering who would like to be a guide. The next GoSTEM Academy is Saturday, November 2nd for those who would like to register.
Posted with thanks to @sterlinghillminingmuseum for following on Instagram. In addition to the museum’s Instagram and Facebook pages, you may enjoy their informative YouTube videos.
A new discovery on a brief follow up trip this month was the intriguing Ellis Astronomical Observatory. Far from city lights, the Ellis Astronomical Observatory offers clear views of the night sky with reflector telescopes and safe views of the sun through a Hydrogen-Alpha one.
The next viewing is for the transit of Mercury on the morning of November 11th, which is the sighting of the silhouette of Mercury against the sun. In each century, there are 13 transits of Mercury. The next one will be November 3, 2032. To make a reservation for this November, contact Bill Kroth (973) 209- 7212 or Gordon Powers: (973) 209-0710.
The Mine’s Namesake
Following the initial Dutch entrepreneurs who sought copper, Lord Stirling, 1726-1783, often spelled as “Sterling” in records of the 1700’s, was one of the early owners of the mine. Serving in the Continental Army from 1775 until his death in 1783, he first led the Battalion of East Jersey and then the 1st Maryland Regiment to win the Battles of Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. Like many of his wealthy compatriots in the war, William used his own money to provide supplies and weapons for his men.
Considered flamboyant by some for his pursuit of a Scottish title, New Yorker William Alexander, Lord Stirling walked away from it without hesitation to serve his country in the fight for independence. With respect, General Washington called his brigadier general “Lord Stirling” as did William’s officer peers throughout the Revolutionary War. The issue of the title may have reflected the historical Scottish-English and English-Colonial tensions of the era. A Scottish high court granted William the title, which the English House of Lords later rescinded. The title would have given William ownership of a great deal of coastal land in New England and Nova Scotia.
Loyal, William helped stop the Conway Cabal, the 1777 conspiracy by General Conway and some Continental officers to remove George Washington for being a “weak general”. Appalled by such “wicked duplicity of conduct” (ushistory.org), William informed General Washington of the plot and supported him as he had done his previous commander General William Shirley, also an early governor of Massachusetts, in the French and Indian War. William’s courage at the Battle of Long Island earned him a newspaper headline, if not an official title, and the praise of General Washington as “the bravest man in America”. General Washington left William in charge of the Continental Army in the general’s brief absence and before the war had given William’s daughter Catherine away at her wedding. Catherine’s mother and William’s wife was Sarah Livingston, sister of William Livingston from Union’s Liberty Hall, who was a signer of the US Constitution and the first governor of New Jersey. Sarah accompanied William to Valley Forge and, a capable accountant, acted as William’s agent in managing properties.
Accomplished in mathematics and astronomy, William founded King’s College, precursor to Columbia University, of which his grandson William Alexander Durer was later president. William died shortly before the official end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, which is why he is not well-known today. In some ways, William’s attitudes were reflective of his peers, in other ways, not. Historically, Lord Stirling may best be remembered as a brave man of the American Revolution. The Lord Stirling Festival returned to Basking Ridge earlier this month at Lord Stirling Park Environmental Education Center to honor William for his contributions. William’s gravesite is in Trinity Churchyard in New York City, along with his wartime compatriot Alexander Hamilton. Today, William’s love of mathematics and astronomy echo in the scientific pursuits at the museum.
Franklin Mineral Museum
Franklin Mineral Museum is another geological treasure trove near Sterling Hill Mining Museum, both in the Franklin District. Also known for its florescent minerals, the Florescent Room at the museum celebrates this geological bounty of the region as it does the miners.
Displays in the museum begun by a local Kiwanis Club also include types of zinc that was the basis of the Franklin District’s mining from the mid-1800s, as Sterling Hill also notes: Franklinite, discovered in the Franklin District mines, zincite, rare except in the Franklin and Sterling Hill area, and willemite. The museum literature explains that the discovery of fluorescent minerals came about when sparks from early electric equipment in the mines made the rocks glow.
For visitors with children who like digging, dinosaurs, and tunnels, this is a wonderful complement to Sterling Hill. Another warm welcome from staff who enjoy sharing all that the museum has to offer is in store, though kindly ask permission regarding taking photos inside the museum.
A fascinating surprise was Welsh Hall, named after Wilfred “Bill” Welsh, a teacher who had served with the Navajo Code Talkers during World War II. Mr. Welsh donated his collection of Native American artifacts and fossils to the museum as well as his worldwide collection of minerals, acquired with his wife Mary.
Sussex County has beautiful family farms offering fall events and Christmas tree farms and skiing as the weather changes. For warm weather fans, the Sussex County Miners baseball team plays in Augusta. Off-season at their Skylands Stadium home there is a Christmas Light Show & Village, which takes visitors from fluorescent to holiday bright.
(Sources: sterlinghillminingmuseum.org, franklinmineralmuseum.com, youtube.com, americanhistory.si.edu, ethw.org, falconerelectronics.com, Ogdensburg Journal, nytimes.com, abc7ny.com, northjersey.com, mountveron.org, sterlinghistoricalsociety.org, lordstirling.org, ushistory.org, battlefields.org, brownstoner.com, tripadvisor.com, njherald.com, smithsonianmag.com, Franklin Mineral Museum pamphlets, tworivertimes.com, nyu.edu, William Alexander by Paul David Nelson, Past and Present: Lives of New Jersey Women, tapinto.net, americanrevolution.com, iment.com/maida/familytree/henry/bios/lordstirling.htm, Wiki)
The most expensive piece of real estate that we may own is sweetness. As fortunate as we all may be while navigating through life, it would be far easier to let go of a quality that exudes vulnerability. Sweetness is usually not provoking, quite the contrary, but it may be catnip to some in this month of mischief. Like consideration or politeness, a kind disposition may come across as weakness to the wrong people. They see it as an invitation of an unsociable kind.
One may contemplate a life where sweetness goes underground, which could stir a Hallmark-ian imagination to think of hidden acts of charm. On the road, however, we see sweetness all the time. A father drives his dirt bike down a long driveway in South Jersey to get the mail prompting whoops of glee from his toddler son on his lap as they hit every bump, a woman places dozens of small flags on a town hall lawn against a dewy sunrise downashore for Veterans Day unaware of passers-by, a mother alongside the Carranza Memorial in the heart of the Pinelands shares the story of the heroic aviator Captain Emilio Carranza with her daughters, families and pets 🐾 don costumes in town-and-city proud Halloween parades, a mother listens to her child play the flute on a family farm as they keep each other company while the pumpkins are on sale, and green-thumbed urbanites’ window boxes overflow with autumn rainbows of flowers New York City way.
The sweetest person whom I have known, and I am fortunate to know many, was our grandmother Helen, whose name meant “light”. Though she was exceedingly shy, people gravitated to her kindness and warmth. She was a five-star baker, a reflection of her Bavarian heritage, and the house we all lived in was full of the conversation and laughter of family and friends who often dropped in to visit at the cozy home by the firehouse in Vailsburg. Though there was a fine dining room table, we all gathered around the small Formica kitchen one. While the coffee brewed, the percolator often going haywire somehow, everyone gabbed in overlapping dialogue and non sequiturs like that fabulous family in “While You Were Sleeping,” taking leave only to sing songs around the player piano in the foyer. Casey had the girl with the strawberry curls, and our grandfather had his girl with her hazel green eyes.
When a kind reserve was once mistaken as hesitation when I was a child, someone remarked to me, “You’re spending too much time with your grandmother”. Meaning that I was becoming like her, my thought then, as it is now, is, “I hope so.” In the wayof the good having consideration over the bad in making life decisions, this is a roundabout avenue to arrive home to sweetness, no better place to be in this Anti-Bullying Month of October.
“Friendship is the golden thread that ties the heart of all the world.”
Adapted from John Evelyn
A breathtaking view changes perspective. “Belvedere,” Italian for a “beautiful view” captures not just the sweeping panorama of Central Park and the New York City skyline, but the sight of the magnificent Belvedere Castle itself. Faithfully restored to its original 1869 plan by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the landmark now includes a spectacular new wooden tower. The castle is magical for children and adults alike.
On a wonderful preview day for Central Park members, dedicated staff and volunteers gave visitors a warm welcome. A friendly Walt Whitman, who has roots in the area, was in town for the Pride Celebrations. Now a visitor center as well as a destination, Belvedere Castle was initially a folly as NY1’s Roger Clark noted in his coverage. Decorative follies are buildings that were especially popular in England and France in the 1700 and 1800’s when Romanticism in art influenced landscape architecture.
From the castle, visitors will experience not only a welcome
breeze and singing birds but the creative sounds of construction for new sets
at the nearby Delacorte Theater.
The Delacorte Theater
and Shakespeare in the Park
Summer is the season of theater in Central Park. There is the amphitheater at Summit Rock, its endowment fund dedicated to a beloved friend of the park, Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, landscape designer, preservationist, and founding president of the Central Park Conservancy. Better known is the Delacorte Theater, the home of Shakespeare in the Park, next featuring“Corolianus,” July 16th-August 11th. The open-air theater, a gift of George Delacorte, gave a summer residence to Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare workshop, founded in 1954. Originally, the performances were on the nearby lawn and went on to include “The Pirates of Penzance” by Gilbert & Sullivan whose work Mr. Papp also admired. The troupe’s year-round home, The Public Theater, opened in 1967 in Greenwich Village and both theaters have sent productions ranging from “Hair” to “Hamilton” to Broadway.
Friendship takes every form in Central Park. On summer picnics or dining outdoors, the meal tastes better with friends. At the ball fields throughout the Park, friends gather in team spirit and sporting rivalries. Children leap through playground fountains with squeals of delight. Owners take their dogs for walks, or charmingly, vice versa. Some pass the pinnacle of “man’s best friend,” Balto, indeed ever friendly and vigilant as he stands a few yards from Tisch Children’s Zoo. Named after the Norwegian-Sami explorer Samuel J. Balto, the Siberian husky’s statue, created by Frederick George Richard Roth, honors the hero who saved the children of Nome, Alaska in 1925. During a diphtheria epidemic, Balto led a team in minus 40 degrees on the last 53-mile leg of the “Serum Run” from Anchorage. Friend to all, people now enjoy posing for photos and selfies with one of their Park pals.
The Garden of Friendship
Would that we all had “forever and a day” to spend in the Shakespeare Garden, lovely year-round with thanks to the staff and volunteers who paint in flowers. Through a shared love of the arts, friendship can flourish without ever speaking in personal ways.
As we near the International Day of Friendship, July 30th, and Friendship Day in the US, August 4th, it seems that things do come full circle. Having more pen pals than Beatles albums around the world by the age of twelve, (our mail carrier retired early), is not unlike the rapport I experience with others on social media. Post at #CentralPark and one joins a community, follow @CentralParkNYC, and one relives a trip with beautiful daily photos long after returning home. For those who call Central Park their backyard, instant notice of a concert or the unveiling of new artwork like the “Tilted Head” of Mark Manders makes the city feel like a neighborhood. For both Central Park and the broader community, there is #NYCParks and @NYCParks, part of New York City Parks with Fourth of July events.
On the note of artists, Joseph Papp was a genuine friend to Czech playwright Vaclav Havel before he ever knew him. Mr. Papp produced the US premiere of “The Memorandum” in 1968 during the first season of The Public Theatre. Both men immediately connected when meeting in New York City for the play’s opening. Vaclav had a rare dual privilege after the Prague Spring: seeing one of his plays produced and traveling outside of then Czechoslovakia. “The Memorandum” received the Obie Award for Best Foreign Play after the author left. Years later, Mr. Papp and his wife Gail Merrifield bravely traveled to Vaclav’s Czech country home, where the playwright lived under house arrest with his wife Olga, to deliver the award. Joseph Papp had offered help to Vaclav when he was in prison by finding him an artistic or academic residency in the US. Mr. Havel declined out of respect for his peers, also knowing that he would not be allowed to return to his homeland.
Though Vaclav Havel later became the first president of the Czech Republic, he remained an artist and friend of the founder of Shakespeare in the Park, who was also the man who helped save the Broadway Theater District. In the same generous spirit as Joseph Papp, President Havel encouraged artists in his country. Reading Vaclav Havel’s “Summer Meditations” and his thoughts on a civil society took me to Prague, and it was an inspirational experience to live there while he led the country.
A beautiful aspect of Central Park is that it brings people of disparate views together through a shared love. Even if one avoids the news, it is clear on a summertime stroll almost anywhere that a divisive time has begun again. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the park inspired by a democratic ideal. Central Park is the place to go for snapdragons in lieu of snap judgments, and common ground is the definition of civility. Looking out from Belvedere Castle, all things are possible.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone, Which three till now, never kept seat in one. Sonnet 105, Shakespeare
From the Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge,
the Hudson Valley views are breathtaking and with
the array of May green, celebrate spring. Blossoming dogwood trees greet visitors at Wilderstein,
the home of Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, a distant cousin of both
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
The Suckley family home at Wilderstein is incredible, a beautiful model of Queen Anne Revival style, and cheerful with its bright colors. Photography is not permitted inside the mansion, but all the more reason for a tour. You will enjoy seeing elegant rooms ranging in style from English Revival to Louis XIV with stained glass windows by Joseph Burr Tiffany, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s cousin. Interestingly, the first portraits visitors see are of the maternal Montgomery matriarchs, including Alida Livingston, part of the extended Livingston family which includes the first governor of New Jersey, William Livingston, who resided at Liberty Hall. The name of this National Historic Landmark is from a petroglyph, a stone found on the property with a rendering of a figure smoking a peace pipe. “Wild man’s stone” is a term that conveyed fascination with Native American culture in 1852.
The Suckleys (which rhymes with “Book-ley” as articles note) hailed from England, and Daisy continued the tradition of daily tea at 3 p.m. year-round. The family fortune was from shipping, a similar source for a number of prominent Hudson Valley neighbors. Summers growing up on the Hudson River featured parties, sailing, and tennis, a sport in which Daisy won numerous trophies that are on display. Charming, too, among the elegant first floor rooms are a collection of glasses with the New York Giants’ logo. Once the staff at the gas station knew that Daisy was a Giants fan, they gave her glasses on each visit, sweet mementos of both her charm and the warm community. The upstairs with the turret and Hudson River views is undergoing restoration.
The Suckley Hudson River idyll experienced a ten-year disruption. Though Daisy was close with her father, Robert Browne Suckley, his noted profession was “gentleman,” which did not enhance the family fortune. Upon a reversal of that fortune in the 1893-1897 economic depression, the family moved overseas to Switzerland where it was less expensive to live at the time. The Suckley’s resided in a hotel, an isolating experience for children used to playmates. Several of seven Suckley children were born there and felt invested in European life. After their return to the United States, Daisy’s older brother, Henry, with whom she was close, volunteered to drive for the American Ambulance Corps on the French front, known through the writing of Ernest Hemingway and others. Capable and respected, Henry had become commander of the section sponsored by the members of the New York Stock Exchange. A few days before the United States entered World War I, Henry, 31, died in a bombing raid while transporting a wounded soldier, a remembrance of both on this Memorial Day.
As a young woman, Daisy studied successfully at Bryn Mawr College for two years. Her father had championed the completion of a degree for his bright daughter, but Daisy’s mother Elizabeth thought that would make her less appealing as a prospective bride. Nevertheless, Daisy did serve as a nurse’s aide on Ellis Island during World War I and, after her father’s sudden death in 1921, found herself in the role of companion to an aunt and caretaker of her family.
When FDR was recovering from polio that same year at his nearby Springwood home, his mother Sara invited Daisy to tea to lift her son’s spirits. FDR welcomed intelligent and charming company, and this began his closeness with her. Their relationship evolved to the point where he included Daisy in the original planning for Top Cottage, or “Hill-Top Cottage,” which she initially believed they would share after his retirement. FDR’s trust in Daisy remained if not his romantic interest. She not only became the confidante of the president of the United States for twelve years, 1933-1945, but she helped him plan the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, the first presidential library which FDR created to offer public access for documents of U.S. history. Daisy was one of the library’s initial archivists.
From the brief film interview with Daisy before the Wilderstein tour begins, some people might dismiss her as being a character. Daisy had not had the house painted since 1910, and it was then the 1980’s. She wore cat-eye glasses and used “patrician” speech. Beloved by her neighbors, however, who thought she needed help in later years, they suggested that Daisy take in a boarder, which she did, and also rented out the carriage house. As someone on the tour kindly noted, FDR had provided not only the nation but his cousin with Social Security following her retirement. After Daisy’s death at nearly 100 in 1991, it turned out that she had a rainy day fund of $900,000 that she was afraid to spend having experienced the loss of most of the remaining family fortune in the Great Depression. Two relatives received this money, and one, returning the love, put this aside as funds to begin the restoration of Wilderstein after her own passing.
What one also takes away from the video is Daisy’s empathy with FDR as she remarked on how incredibly tired he was before he died at his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia. He could get away from the public eye, but never the burdens of public life that had weighed on him for twelve years. As his health declined, FDR had asked Eleanor to stay with him as Springwood, but unfortunately too much had passed between them.
As a confidante, Daisy listened without judgment. When Franklin died, Daisy arranged for Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd’s departure to spare Eleanor’s feelings and Franklin’s reputation. After FDR’s death, his daughter Anna found Daisy’s letters to her father; he had saved them in his stamp collection box, which he always had with him. Both the stamps and the letters were sources of comfort and a turn of mind away from office. Whether or not she read them, Anna kindly returned the letters to Daisy. The discovery of these letters in 1991, along with some of FDR’s correspondence and Daisy’s diaries, was a revelation to most as no one knew of the closeness between them. The letters that remain characterize their relationship as a friendship with sometimes romantic overtones, but friendship is what it was though Daisy never married.
Admirably, even after FDR’s death, Daisy never revealed his confidences which ranged from opinions on foreign leaders, Winston Churchill was “an English mayor LaGuardia,” this in one of his letters, to his thoughts about declaring war on Japan. With the perspective of national security of 2019, it is extraordinary to think that at least some, if not all, of their letters traveled through the US Mail. What is even more telling is not necessarily what FDR wrote to her, but the constancy and the intimacy – he shared his innermost thoughts sent from international summits like the Atlantic Charter Conference on the Battleship HMS Prince of Wales in Newfoundland and the White House, where Daisy was a frequent guest. They took drives together in the Hudson Valley when FDR returned to the respite of home and adoration. Daisy took two of the rare photographs of FDR in a wheelchair, both at Top Cottage, another testament to their closeness and his trust in her.
Thank you and credit to our wonderful guide, who noted that Daisy was “smart” and “witty,” with a dash of research added. A nice couple on the tour asked great questions, which always adds to the experience. Thank you, too, to my friend from school, and reader, who shared Sonnet 105 with me, and we pass the gift along to Daisy.
Wilderstein is holding another of its wonderful art exhibitions on the grounds, and it was a pleasure to meet James Meyer, one of the artists who was installing his work “Undercurrent”. The show opens June 1st, 5-7. Be sure to pick up a brochure about the art and artists on your Wilderstein visit.
Before Daisy’s death and the discovery of her closeness with FDR, she was known as the cousin who gave the president his beloved Scottish terrier, the darling of both his owner and the nation. At times, Fala was the president’s political avatar as in the famous “Fala speech” of 1944 in which FDR expressed Fala’s disdain for false rumors generated about him by political opponents. Reportedly, the joke stemmed from a suggestion by Orson Welles.
The celebrated Fala was born in 1940 on the Wilderstein estate where Daisy kept kennels, one of her many interests, and she picked out the charmer to lift her cousin’s spirits. FDR named him after an ancestor, “Murray the Outlaw of Falalahill”. Before Fala became a White House resident, Daisy trained him to perform tricks, even appearing to smile, which should have gotten him a place on a ballot. As it was, Fala so popular that he had his own secretary to handle his fan mail. If you, too, are a fan of the adorable dog, you can also read more about him in Margaret “Daisy” Suckley and Alice Daigliesh’s book “The True Story of Fala,” available on Amazon, the FDR Library blog, and “Hyde Park: The Year From the Top”.
Fala’s image is everywhere in the cheery gift shop along with a book by Ken Burns’ collaborator, Geoffrey C. Ward, who wrote many of the award-winning scripts for Mr. Burns’ historical works, including “The Civil War”: “Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley”. His book is the source of information about the FDR-Daisy letters in various articles. Look forward to reading this, and you can also find it on Amazon.
Calvert Vaux and Central Park
If you enjoy Central Park and Prospect Park, both part of New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Wilderstein is another wonderful place to visit that Calvert Vaux designed. Daisy’s father engaged Calvert Vaux, known as one of the Central Park co-designers to plan the grounds in the “American Romantic style” for Wilderstein. The Central Park Conservancy Institute for Urban Parks carries on the generous tradition of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted. The Conservancy park professionals support their fellow urban park colleagues across the country by sharing best practices for maintaining beautiful open spaces for everyone to enjoy. Central Park’s Belvedere Castle, designed by Mr. Vaux, will reopen soon after its restoration. For news of the restoration, NY1’s Roger Clarke @RogerClark41 on Twitter will have updates.
The rains which brought us the beautiful greenery this year made Calvert Vaux’s Wilderstein Trails better suited for exploration on another visit, though it was delightful to have made the hours on this trip (12 – 4 Thursday through Sunday in the summer). Among the structures Mr. Vaux planned for the grounds, the Potting Shed by Lord and Burnham is newly restored. The beautiful plants on the grounds are also a credit to Calvert Vaux’s partner on this project Horticulturalist Samuel Parsons of Queens, New York. Though the original 100-plus acre estate is now three, visitors can walk down to Suckley Cove on the river for more beautiful views and the petroglyph from which the estate gets its name. As they say, the third time’s the charm, an ideal excuse for another visit to Wilderstein.
Hamlet of Rhinecliff
A few photos of charming Rhinebeck with thanks to @RhinebeckGuide for following on Instagram. You can enjoy wonderful photos and remembrances of their Memorial Parade there and on Facebook.
The Rhinebeck Post Office
Avid stamp collector President Franklin Delano Roosevelt opened the Rhinecliff Post Office on May 1, 1939, and Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark placed the cornerstone in this hometown WPA historic marvel of chandeliers, fieldstone, murals, and museum. Present, too, were Treasury Secretary Henry Morgantheau and Postmaster General James Farley with whom FDR sometimes designed new stamps as well as Dutchess County post offices and public buildings. Newspaper photos often pictured FDR serenely working on his stamp collection. As a boy, stamp collecting had introduced Franklin to the world. In the role of president during WWII, the calm and orderliness of his past-time appealed to a shaken public who viewed him as a paternal figure putting the world in order.
FDR oversaw the design of the post office, on the National Register of Historic Places, requesting that it represent “Kipsbergen,” the home of his Beekman ancestors. The name may be familiar from the town’s historic Beekman Arms, also in the are designated as the “Rhinebeck Village Historic District”. Formally designed by architect Rudolph Stanley Brown, the post office is built in Dutch Colonial Revival style, popular in the area and favored by FDR. The building incorporated some of the stones from the original Beekman home that had burned down. Rhinebeck artist Olin Dows, both a painter and chief of the Treasury Relief Art Project, funded by the Works Project Administration, created the murals for both the Rhinebeck and Hyde Park post offices.
FDR Library and D-Day Exhibit at Hyde Park
This weekend, “D-DAY: FDR and Churchill’s ‘Mighty
Endeavor'” opens with ongoing events throughout the summer. The FDR Library will honor friend of the
library Ralph Osterhaudt for his service and lifelong commitment to the legacy
of his fellow servicemen in World War II. You can sign up for newsletters about
the library’s exhibits and events.
Thank you again to the FDR Library for retweeting “Hyde Park: The Year from the Top”. Pictured are some recent photos of the library and the beautiful grounds at Hyde Park where you can also visit Springwood, the resting place of the president and first lady, Top Cottage, and nearby Val-kill, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, as well as enjoying the delightful town.
“Spectacular,” “fun, “romantic,” “amazing”. There are many wonderful places to visit for New York City views, but it is the Empire State Building that has stirred imaginations over successive generations since its launch in 1931 as the world’s tallest building. “King Kong,” “An Affair to Remember,” and “Sleepless in Seattle” are a few of the more memorable films featuring this National Historic and New York City Landmark, “the most photographed building in the world”.
From childhood visits and those with guests from out of town, I think of the cinematic glamour, the breathtaking views, the bracing air, and the warm staff. All were in full measure on trips this spring to comprise what still is a unique experience. The marvel at the top of the building is not just the views, but that one feels so free in a relatively compact space. This is thanks to the building’s design, its management, and the staff.
The Birth of the Modern Skyscraper
What did the Empire State Building mean to people when it opened in 1931? Construction meant jobs during the Great Depression, and it began in good fortune on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1930. As “the largest commercial venture and investment ever,” the Empire State Building was a symbol of commerce in a bleak time. The building also represented a feat of engineering – 4 1/2 floors went up each week with new “fast track” construction. The building of the 102 floors took just over 18 months, completed one and a half months early and under budget by approximately $5 million. The Empire State Building (ESB) ultimately stood at 1,250 feet tall, 1,454 including the metal tower. The tallest building represented the “Empire State” of wealth and power. To feel hopeful and proud, New Yorkers only had to look up.
The 80th floor with the “Dare to Dream” exhibit, and the first opportunity for views, covers the building’s evolution from blueprints to construction with dramatic enlarged photos. For forty-one years, ESB held the title as the tallest building in the world and still is one of the tallest. The main deck on the 86th floor wraps around the spire for views of 360 degrees and 80 miles on clear days. With 1,000 offices, including LinkedIn, the ESB has its own zip code: 10118.
Beauty was not only Faye Wray in the classic 1933 “King Kong”. The Empire State Building catches our eye and captures our imagination for its Art Deco design by architects Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates. The five-story marble and granite lobby with brushed stainless steel has a gold and aluminum ceiling. Refurbished in 2008, the lobby with its mural is so remarkable that it has separate registration from the building with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee. Large bronze medallions on the ground floor commemorate the craftsmen who helped build this icon. Another distinctive feature is the metal tower that is both the 102nd-floor observatory and a zeppelin mooring mast, though only one airship ever docked.
In 2008, the building underwent a $500 million renovation removing changes from over the years and restoring ESB to its original Art Deco glory. As a complement to the burgundy marble in the walls of those restored hallways, ESB guards received handmade uniforms in Art Deco style of the 1930’s that add to the glamour of a visit. The uniforms, by I. Buss, have a logo “the building against a starburst pattern” and chevrons on the sleeves. Those “V’s” are from heraldry and represent building rafters, suitable for wear in the number one edifice on the list of “America’s Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects” and one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Why It’s Relevant
The Empire State Building is part of our psyches in ways that we do not realize. Going to work, we see it, while shopping, or visiting the city. While dining at Flatiron Square or ice skating in Bryant Park, it is there over our shoulders, a reassuring presence throughout our lives. Sometimes we do not notice it until we look at our photos. Or until it is out of sight.
Traveling into the city one day from New Jersey via the Lincoln Tunnel, the inconceivable and yet inevitable happened – the Empire State Building disappeared behind a high rise. The drive suddenly felt like trying to run to home plate with one of the bases missing. The skyline view of New York City from across the Hudson River is an iconic one that everyone associates with images of the United States. Even when commuting on the bus to some less than ideal stints in the city, my heart did and still does, soar a bit when seeing that celebrated, unique skyline.
As the Statue of Liberty wears her crown, so is the Manhattan skyline bejeweled in the night sky with the Empire State Building as its centerpiece. No one in New York City or the surrounding area needs reminding about sudden loss, but a loss by degree devastates in its way because we let it happen. Travel pieces are as much about traveling through life as seeing the sights. The new everyplace, anyplace skyline is a topic of conversation on city buses, in coffee shops, and around the city.
Driving home another evening on the New Jersey Turnpike after Notre Dame of Paris had burned, the blue, white, and red lights of the Empire State Building shone through the night across the Meadowlands in solidarity with France. What was apparent to the eye is only a blurry iPhone photo, but words may suffice where photography fails – as much as the Empire State Building is an international travel destination, it is also a beacon that connects us here in its tri-state neighborhood.
Not just a fixture in the New York City skyline, the Empire State Building steps up as a neighbor – it celebrates, comforts, and brings awareness. Prior to the lights for Notre Dame, the building was lit up in honor of Easter Seals‘ 100th anniversary. The LED lights installed in 2012 have featured everything from endangered animal species on the sides of the building to the NCAA Final Four and Championship winners to college commencements. And what other building features Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton rocking, “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” with a choreographed sparkling light show?
At a time when all of us share fewer collective experiences with exceptions like watching the Olympics or “Game of Thrones” (with New Jersey talent: actor Peter Dinklage and writer George R.R. Martin), the Empire State Building with its Tower Lights Calendar connects like a community bulletin board, and inspiringly, it moves us to care. For the informative and the entertaining, you can follow ESB on social media, which is, along with Central Park, one of the most generous New York City accounts with continuous retweets, photo contests, and promotions: @empirestatebuilding. Everything from the sunrise and sunset weddings on Valentine’s Day to launching the careers of new photographers is uplifting.
Indeed glamorous, exciting, and fun – iconic, but evolving, the Empire State Building is always finding new roles. These range from the practical like becoming a LEED-Gold “green” forerunner with a makeover in 2011 to the imaginative and celebratory lighting of the building by stars drawn from Hollywood, Bollywood, Broadway, the World Cup, and NYC sports teams.
The ESB Inspires
At ESB last week, a mother and son from South Korea delighted in asking other people in line where they were from and chatted in newly practiced English with fellow tourists from Italy and Florida, all excited first-time visitors. For those who remember the ’80’s and tourists bypassing the Big Apple, it is heartening to see people enjoying a visit to this wonderful city. Ideally, they will leave loving it, as we do, both residents and neighbors. The wonder and cordiality of the Empire State Building experience are an important part of that goodwill.
Having left practicality in the rear view mirror many miles ago, I returned for a second visit to ESB for the leafier photos that Central Park deserves, though the views are beautiful year-round, and to see if my words to date were up to task for this American treasure. This trip was by train, throwing off the metaphor, but it offered a nice walk featuring Greeley Park, another of the welcoming New York City Parks.
A return trip was well worth it for witnessing the precision of the staff following the spring break influx of visitors. The informal atmosphere pre-Easter and Passover that allowed for chats with staff members was now all business. This post-holiday organization, however, still includes a warm welcome that extends to those with strollers and wheelchairs. The 102nd-floor observatory is under renovation and closed until July, but special experiences on the main deck like the summer saxophonist, the Sunrise Tour, the Premium Experience, and the All Access Tour are available online along with City Pass with an Empire State Building app for an audio tour. Ever cutting-edge, the ESB offers free WiFi to share those photos and selfies with the amazing views. The Empire State Building is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. in the city that never sleeps.
In Chinese culture, 88 is auspicious, symbolizing good things to come. In the Empire State Building’s fortunate 88th year, may the sun never pass behind the clouds.
The museum opens with a dramatic entranceway filled with Grammy Awards through the decades. Visitors then enjoy a photo profile timeline of the Grammy Awards highlights since the start in 1958 with performing artists like Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Bruno Mars, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Elvis Presley, and milestones like the founding of the Latin Recording Academy in 1997.
There are also video interviews with singers like Halsey, from Edison, New Jersey and Ed Sheeran. Fun, interactive exhibits “Ray Charles and Raelettes” and two with Newark roots, “Drum with Max Weinberg” and “Wyclef Jean’s Rap Interactive,” are hits with children.
The art at the Prudential Center, known as “The Rock” from the Prudential Insurance Rock of Gibraltar logo, features sculptures as one enters the building: “The Salute,” honoring Martin Brodeur and “The Iron Man,” the latter on Championship Plaza, both by sculptor Jon Krawczyk, a New Jersey native and a Devils’ fan. Indoors is “The Mural,” the largest sports mural in the world by ambidextrous sports artist Tom Mosser from neighboring Pennsylvania, paying homage to New Jersey Devils Martin Brodeur, Ken Daneyko, and Scott Stevens. Commissioned by the NJ Devils, The Mural generously includes other Garden State greats in different sports like Althea Gibson, Richie Regan, Terry Dehere, Tony Meola, and iconic New Jersey landmarks: Newark’s Prudential Building, Barnegat Lighthouse, Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, and the dome of the state capitol. Mr. Mosser’s “Vintage Stadium Series” on Suite Level One, includes all four NJ Devils arenas in which the team has played. Additional works are by Samantha Wendell, Laurie Campbell, Michael Nighswonger, Dane Tilghman, Larry Ketchum, and Andy Bernstein.
New Jersey Legends
From the fourth smallest contiguous US state comes a remarkable amount of musical talent, reflected in the exhibition “New Jersey Legends”. The names are likely familiar: Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, the Jonas Brothers, Gloria Gaynor, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, and Les Paul. Either they or their families have generously donated personal items from their careers for visitors to enjoy. There are also traveling photographic exhibits of Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra via the Grammy Museum LA. The exhibit notes the Asbury Park dynamic with many New Jersey musicians.
Grammy winner Taylor Swift, from Reading, Pennsylvania, spent childhood summers in Stone Harbor at the Jersey Shore. Though Ms. Swift is not part of the New Jersey exhibit, a proud note for the state is that she spent childhood summers in Stone Harbor at the Jersey Shore. The museum featured her in an exhibit last year at this time.
After writing these modest travel pieces for a few years, an impression is that for a legacy to continue, it is invaluable for the artist’s memory to have a home. Having a physical place for children to learn about the artist, inventor, or leader helps them connect through a shared experience like playing with a new interactive baseball exhibit at the nearby Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State University, or reading about how Mr. Berra overcame bullying, which serves as an insight into his empathy for others. At their best, such visits not only inform but inspire.
With “Whitney!” at The Grammy Museum Experience, Whitney Elizabeth Houston’s legacy has found a home – at least through June of this year and hopefully longer. “The most awarded female artist of all time,” Ms. Houston remains “the only artist to have 7 consecutive U.S. #1 singles.” Known as “The Voice,” Whitney won six Grammy Awards, two Emmy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards. Her second album “Whitney” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first female artist to do so. To this day, “The Bodyguard,” 1992, in which she co-starred with Kevin Costner, is the best-selling film soundtrack and “Waiting to Exhale,” 1995, is No. 8, reflecting the staying power of Ms. Houston’s talent. Whitney’s single “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton, also a Grammy winner and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, remains the No. 9 bestselling recording in the world. Even more significantly, Ms. Houston’s success in “The Bodyguard” opened the door for African-American women as leads in blockbuster films. The soundtrack of “The Preacher’s Wife,” wonderful to revisit in writing this, went platinum three times and was and still is a best-selling gospel album.
Whitney, now a member of the Grammy Hall of Fame, reached an achievement even beyond multi-gold and platinum records. According to Forbes, the Recording Industry Association of America recognizes 22 artists with “Diamond certification,” that is, two albums “that have shifted at least 10 million equivalent copies between pure sales and streaming”. Whitney is one of those artists whose debut “Whitney Houston” album and “The Bodyguard” each sold more than 10 million copies, 12 million and 11.8 million, respectively. During her career, Whitney sold over 170 million “albums, singles, and videos”. What is immeasurable is Ms. Houston’s artistic influence on singers like Jennifer Hudson, whose tribute is included in the exhibit, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Adele and those still to come.
On exhibit are performance and interview videos, album covers, costumes, and designer gowns from award shows and film premieres. Charming, eclectic things like the magazine covers from Whitney’s modeling days to the fairy godmother tiara that she wore in Disney’s televised “Cinderella,” all create a warm connection with the star for visitors.
Before Whitney’s red carpet experiences, her mother Emily “Cissy” Drinkard Houston, who led the New Hope Baptist Church Youth Inspirational Choir in Newark for decades, was a Grammy winner. Cissy was part of the Gospel singing group the Drinkard Four, later the Drinkard Singers. As a founder and member of Sweet Inspirations, Cissy was a session singer, a backup singer, or both for Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Bette Midler, and Elvis Presley in addition to recording her own albums. Her nieces are Dionne and DeeDee Warwick and opera singer Leontyne Price is a distant cousin.
The Whitney Houston exhibit opened in October 2018 attended by her family, including her cousin Ms. Dionne Warwick. Ms. Warwick grew up in East Orange as did Whitney where both had the honor of having their former grammar schools named after them, the Whitney E. Houston Academy for Creative and Performing Arts and the Dionne Warwick Institute of Economics & Entrepreneurship, respectively.
The videos of Ms. Houston’s performances and interviews with producers who worked with her underscore her virtuosity. So gifted, Whitney sang her acclaimed 1991 rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” perfectly on the first take for Super Bowl XXV with a talent that surprised even the most experienced producers. Whitney, her arranger John L. Clayton, and anthem producer Rickey Minor slowed down the anthem from 3/4 time to 4/4, which increased the technical difficulty, but also made it more dramatic. This arrangement added to the anthem’s resonance in a time of heightened national security after the Gulf War. A few criticized Whitney for not singing the anthem live which she had done at a Nets-Lakers game, but the thought was that the cheering might not allow her to hear the first notes. Whitney did sing live, actually, though the microphone was off. An estimated 79.6 million people viewed her performance. Ms. Houston donated the proceeds of “the highest charting rendition of the national anthem on the Billboard 100 chart” to Gulf War veterans and their families.
Whitney supported many charitable organizations including her foundation. With her rendition of “A Song for You” at her “Welcome Home Heroes Concert” for those troops returning from the Gulf War, Whitney accomplished what every great singer does – each person in that audience believed that she was singing directly to him or her. We choose such songs for important life events, their words resonating with us. The songwriter Leon Russell, himself a Grammy winner, pitched it and Whitney hit it home as she did in her “One Moment in Time” video for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
The Whitney Houston Foundation has generously shared personal items of the artist reflecting her start as a soloist at age 11 in the choir of the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, the city of her birth. In the collection is her high school diploma. With such talent and natural teenage inclinations, Whitney reportedly was eager to start her career as soon as possible and took lessons throughout those years. In high school, I saw Whitney only in passing and make no claims of having known her except to write that before I heard about her singing, I was delighted to discover another tall girl at school. Whitney carried that height gracefully, and I remember a lovely, willowy girl who later blossomed into a beautiful woman. As it turned out, we both had spent our first years in Newark.
An absolute thrill was when the “How Will
I Know?” video came out. My former
classmates and I called each other (on landlines) in excitement. Years later,
we read that Whitney was not as happy with it, perhaps not having had the
creative control that she did once her career soared. Both the song and video deliver the charisma,
however, of a breakout star. Being world famous, Whitney’s career in music and
film were everywhere when I was living overseas.
A wise and long-time friend has shared the quote that people remain the same age for us as when we first met them. From Whitney’s amazing songbook, it would be difficult for any of us to choose a favorite, but “How Will I Know?” takes me back to the sweetness of the beginning.
You can experience the celebration of Ms. Houston, her fellow New Jersey artists, and other Grammy winners at the Prudential Center, Tuesday through Sunday, 11-6 and also find more information about Newark sights at the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau where you will receive another warm welcome.
age-old wisdom when choosing a partner is to see how he treats his mother and
servers. One might add, travel with
him. If you both are excited by
things you experience, fantastic. If the
trains never run on time, which make you both laugh, even better – that
person’s a keeper. Maya Angelou included one more prong on the test: spend time
with that special someone when it rains.
Does he light up your day?
To these, one might add another test learned in youth, crucial
if you are a movie lover. Share a
favorite film with your partner and see what happens. When Robert Redford’s “A River Runs
Through It” from Norman Maclean’s novella came out on the now nostalgic
videotape, I brought home the movie to watch again with two roommates as one
does with things too good not to share. “You’ve got to see this. It’s a beautiful film.”
While watching, one woman, feeling hoodwinked, stomped out halfway through and complained, “Nothing happens.” The other fell asleep. To the list, add the “A River Runs Through It” test. Perhaps this was a lesson in not imposing one’s taste on others, and such a reaction has happened rarely, in fact, but it’s good to be excited about great work.
The Main Feature: Central Park
With love, like the view from Belvedere Castle, all things seem possible. Paraphrasing for St. Valentine’s Day, but the love of devotion is evident in the park as much as romance. A cheerful volunteer smiling and offering passers-by park maps from a windowless booth on a day of frozen park waters reminds us that the beauty of Central Park is not just cinematic. Those who remember “A River Runs Through It” would also recall the park at that time, and how the Conservancy and staff have transformed it.
As Bow Bridge takes us across the Lake, Central Park’s beauty carries us serenely back into our day. The love in the details of Central Park’s design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux delivers the romance of nature every day. Artists who paint the park, musicians who set it to music, and photographers and filmmakers who capture it, share their inspiration. Both New Yorkers who enjoy the park daily and visitors remind us of how special a place it is. As park-goers know, hearing first-time explorers’ exclamations of delight is lovely.
One place that draws people now is the Pond where visitors have come for months to see the Mandarin duck. The bird-watching at the Pond is Central Park at its best. On a recent weekend visit, a crowd had gathered at the water’s edge. Around the Pond, there is the shared excitement of spotting Mandy, then following his movements, speculating where he will go next. Then there is the romance of experiencing something beautiful and unique with others. Two men charmed women with talk of the duck, which was both delightful and impressive. Couples came and went, some reaching for each other’s hands upon sighting Mandy. This sweetness may go back to our childhoods. Earlier at Harlem Meer, a young father had taken his elated son to see his friends, the ducks. For many, ducks were a memorable first contact with wildlife.
A photographer proudly and warmly shared that he had first captured “Mandy” (a description which hopefully is not too revealing), and a lovely woman mentioned that she had come from a distance to take the duck’s photos as well. Others climbed up on the rocks or dashed to Gapstow Bridge for a better view animatedly talking about the duck in several languages, all understood. Some in the group composed entirely of adults remarked on his stunning appearance with color block feathers of blue, russet, brown, purple, black, orange, white, and grey.
What is the draw of a bird? There is the intrigue of the Mandarin duck. Why has he come? Why has he stayed? Was he ever an ugly duckling? Like a gift twice over for photographers, his savvy in selecting one of the most picturesque spots in the park to hold court enhances a stylish panache that rivals Fashion Week. The gentleman charms wearing the Savile Row suit of plumage in the duck world.
Photographers compared notes about the best lenses to capture Mandy’s detail. People politely took turns to take pictures, civility much like that at fellow park New York Botanical Garden events. The inexplicable appearance of the duck is one of the special park experiences like Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates,” which thrilled when I lived in the city. Coincidentally, wonderful photos of this were tweeted today @CentralParkNYC, a reminder to anyone who writes that tweets make the new deadlines.
Looking back while leaving, were it not too revealing with faces, the photo that I would have taken for “It’s the People” for the warm #CentralParkLove hashtag this Valentine’s Day week would be the small, warm circle gathered around the tiny bank of the Pond that Mandy was favoring that day. If you live in New York City or plan a trip to the park and want to feel good, have a visit with the Mandarin duck.
Thank you to Manhattan Bird Alert @BirdCentralPark on Twitter for keeping us posted on the whereabouts of this celebrated resident.
In Central Park, there is the romance of childhood revisited with one’s children. Those who grew up going to the park can return to take their children to play in the same playgrounds, go ice skating, ride the Carousel, climb the big rocks, visit the zoo, and see a play at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater with “Yeti, Set, Snow!” presently on the marquee.
In terms of a plot at Central Park, there is not much to tell – people go there for walks, recreation, nature — and sometimes to see a duck. Aside from being a cinematographer’s dream, regarding feeling in the park, there is everything. Nothing, but everything, happens.
Thank you to Central Park for creative inspiration. Enjoy the park’s Instagram @centralparknyc and Central Park on Facebook with beautiful photos of the Mandarin duck and the park.
December and the holidays bring joy and sometimes reflection, but it is January, the heart of winter, that can become the month of rumination. The start of the year, however, is also when the days grow longer, and we appreciate the sun in a bright blue sky glistening on the snow – usually. If accustomed to snow, the absence of it offsets in that inexplicable way that setting the clocks forward and back sometimes does. January can become like this one a month played in minor key depending upon where our paths take us. With travel, like life, we may say that the timing is not right and never go, but think of 2019 as the year of heading out.
One such trip would be to the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Parks in Hyde Park, which offer not only history but the beauty of the Hudson Valley. For those interested in history, Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” brings home the relatable parts of the family story as well as world events: Teddy, a young man who lost both his wife and mother within a day, Franklin, a favorite son of a doting mother and the privileged man struck by illness, Eleanor, a girl who felt that she never fit in with her peers, and Eleanor & Franklin and the dynamics of a marriage.
Library and Museum, and Top Cottage
Springwood estate in Hyde Park, New York is the birthplace and home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which the family referred to as “Hyde Park” and the “Big House”. The house is impressive, but the sweeping view of the Hudson River rivals it. One could see why FDR returned to Springwood often during his three terms as president. On the grounds are also the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the burial site of the president and first lady. The estate is beautiful with trees that FDR, a conservationist like his cousin Theodore, had planted. Top Cottage, the president’s retreat, is about two miles away and accessible via the park shuttle.
Our first visit was on an impromptu stop while traveling to the Berkshires where my friend spent summers as a boy and enjoys returning as we both do. Hyde Park in Dutchess County, part of the Mid-Hudson Valley, however, is a destination in itself with FDR’s home, the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Park and the nearby Sixteen Mile Historic District in Columbia County, all part of The Hudson River National Landmark Historic District, the largest historic district in the continental US.
On this initial Springwood trip in June, we had a chance to tour FDR’s home. Among the fascinating accounts that the park ranger shared on the tour, a few stood out. Sara, Franklin’s devoted mother who owned the house and Franklin’s New York City home, interestingly, revamped Springwood to look more “presidential” years before Franklin was president with an idea like dressing for the job to which one aspires. Franklin assisted with the designs that transformed the exterior of Springwood from a pleasant “clapboard farmhouse” to Colonial Revival Style. Visitors, many political allies, could easily envision FDR in the White House.
The president, the “Great Communicator,” delivered two of his famous fireside chats from Springwood with his Scottish Terrier Fala, a favorite of children across the country, including our mother, by his side. Grown-ups, too, seemed to enjoy Fala. The FDR Library blog shares that sailors got the idea of cutting off locks of Fala’s fur for good luck on one of FDR’s WWII battleship visits. Fala had a habit of dashing off to the decks below to get treats, and he slipped by his “walking officer” on the USS Baltimore. The sociable Fala did not bark while being clipped, but FDR had to put a stop to this as the terrier looked quite shorn.
Before Fala’s antics, along the tree-lined driveway to his boyhood home, the 39-year-old Franklin pushed himself to walk farther and farther each day after being stricken with polio. Researchers speculate that the president may have had Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a nerve disorder and not a viral disease, but that did not change what FDR dealt with in 1921. Franklin never made it to the end of the driveway, but he continued to try.
For our mother and many of her peers, FDR was president throughout their childhoods. Our mother recalls that Mrs. Branigan, a Vailsburg, Newark neighbor and an Irish immigrant, got off the bus from work one day and walked along the street sobbing. When Mrs. Branigan passed our mother’s house, she saw the little girl sitting on the porch glider, and between tears, said, “Our president is dead.” Hearing this, our mother, too, burst into tears feeling a family attachment to the man whose voice had come into their homes to reassure them during the Great Depression and World War II.
A familial warmth is part of the delight of visiting historic sites in Hyde Park and the area. Many residents knew the families who were also part of their community, and they shared life stories. After each winning election, neighbors carried torches up to the front of the house at Springwood to wish FDR well. The wonderful feeling of community in Hyde Park remains to this day.
The elegance of the Rose Garden, here blooming with peonies, befits its stately purpose as the resting place of Eleanor and Franklin. The beloved Fala is also buried nearby and daughter Anna’s German shepherd.
On another visit, we enjoyed exploring the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, the first US presidential library, which we enjoyed exploring ohas the compelling pull of history. Seeing the president’s memorabilia from his White House years has a resonance beyond his delightful boyhood collections and the family photographs in his home. Historic photos come to life in the library. FDR was the first president to donate his letters to the public, leaving them to the National Archives. The innovative design of the entrance celebrates this historic boon. At FDR’s request, the library also includes the letters of the First Lady. The library also has virtual tours. Given park budgets, Top Cottage has limited tours, and after our wonderful library visit, we looked forward to seeing FDR’s retreat another time.
Top Cottage was the second home that FDR designed with architect Henry Toombs with the thought that the president would retire there after his second term. The fieldstone Dutch Colonial Revival home, in keeping with the historic houses in the area, is one of only two buildings designed by a US president and one of the first in the United States with wheelchair accessibility. Primarily, it was a peaceful getaway. Springwood was often hectic during FDR’s presidency, and well-wishers entered the grounds hoping to see the president, unimaginable with 21st-century security.
Like Springwood, Top Cottage had many famous visitors: Winston Churchill, CanadianPrime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Princesses Juliana and Beatrix, Norway’s Crown Prince Olaf and Crown Princess Martha, and interestingly, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. On the first visit to the US by British monarchs, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were guests at the celebrated Top Cottage “hot dog summit,” where the president introduced the royal couple to American dishes at a picnic and took the king and queen on one of his hurtling car rides. The picnic had a serious and successful purpose in making the British monarchs seem relatable and more democratic as they ate and drank beer with Hyde Park staff. Months later, FDR was able to send supplies to help England after their declaration of war on Germany. All of FDR’s guests appreciated this woodland retreat from the public eye as he did and the warmth of being entertained in a home.
If we drove like FDR, we may have made it on time to tour Top Cottage, but missing the shuttle bus went from our running joke about timing, somewhat akin to having missed the rocket launch for life, to a lesson in saying good-bye to perfectionism, a good resolution. Travel writing should make people want to go to a place and enjoy it – informative fun does not have to be a dutiful treatise. And yet, we still tried. Top Cottage closes in the winter, another discovery on a different visit, which meant a great excuse to enjoy the beautiful tulip poplar trees outside the library and have lunch in the café before driving home. Other trips to the FDR historic site have brought more walks and gift shop stops for ornaments at the holidays. So a missed shuttle bus here and there has led to making the FDR historic site a regular stop like walking the grounds at the Vanderbilt Mansion.
Posting, too, went the way of the elusive Top Cottage. Even with the buffer of history, a post in the fall of 2016 was not the best time. Over the holidays, rethought this with the idea for Top Cottage as a metaphor for new beginnings, still the timing was not right, but better now with thoughts of spring visits.
Val-Kill, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s historic site, is two miles from Springwood and a little over four miles from Top Cottage. Perhaps that is part of how Eleanor and Franklin’s marriage lasted or that the demands of public life required personal space. A warm June sun, chirping birds, and beautiful flowers, show the simple residence as what it was, a haven for the first lady. With the exhibits planned by the park rangers, visitors feel Eleanor’s uplifting spirit. Practically, Val-Kill gave the first lady opportunity to work on her own projects including the development of off-season jobs for local residents, which became Val-Kill Industries. The name “Valley Stream” is from the Dutch for both the valley location and the wonderful stream that offered the Roosevelt family swimming in the summer. The grounds are beautiful with a charming footbridge and a wonderful garden with peonies in season. Val-Kill later went to Eleanor’s son Elliott, who had attended the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, a Garden State connection.
If you enjoy history, the tours are where you get the great tidbits. Our park ranger, part of the esprit de corps of rangers like those at Springwood, brought the beautiful mansion to life.
Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius, along with his wife Louise commissioned Charles McKim, a name partner in the country’s top architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, to build their Neoclassical-Beaux Arts home. As the Historic Resource Study for the site notes, the elegant architectural combination was unusual for a country home and is the only one of its kind in the Hudson Valley. With a newly restored exterior, visitors can now enjoy river views from the balcony in warm weather. Completion of the 54-room mansion brought the top craftsmen for woodwork and stone design, many from Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. The interior is incredible as you can see from the photos. Much of the furniture and art was brought from Europe, a trend at the time, and Stanford White was Frederick’s antique dealer. James Greenleaf designed the Italianate garden, which we look forward to seeing on another trip.
During the two years it took to build the mansion, 1896-1899, Louise and Frederick periodically stayed in the Pavilion, now the Visitor Center, to oversee building. The Gilded Age families were the generation that spent the fortunes that their grandparents had made. In the case of Frederick and Louise, they were generous as opposed to frivolous. Frederick had architect McKim build the Howard Mansion at Hosack Farm across the road for his niece Rose Anthony Post Howard and her husband Thomas Howard, a descendant of the founder of Rutgers University and Revolutionary War general, John Neilson. Rose and Thomas were the maternal grandparents of Thomas Howard Kean, the Governor of New Jersey. Well-liked in Hudson Valley, Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt did not have children and enjoyed giving gifts to those of their staff in addition to showing their appreciation for their work. Though they had their bedrooms designed as if they were European royalty, the fashion of the day, the Vanderbilts were warm and accessible. Louise herself oversaw gift-giving for the staff. They left a great deal of their fortune to charity, loyal staff, and a niece. The ultimate donation of the mansion to the public, like that of Springwood, was FDR’s idea.
The estate provided local jobs year-round with the mansion, the grounds, garden, greenhouses, dairy, vegetable garden, orchard, and a dock where guests could arrive on their yachts. The ice box is representative of how eco-friendly the property was. Long after the invention of refrigerators, Frederick kept these efficient ices boxes in use. Not only did the ice boxes operate without electrical power, but the staff who maintained the ice remained employed.
The beautiful holiday welcome, done at the initiative of the park rangers, is breathtaking. Like other Gilded Age families, the Vanderbilts had several homes where they usually spent different seasons. The mansion was their country home where they celebrated Easter and visited in the fall, though they did give Christmas gifts to staff. New York City was their primary residence and Newport, Rhode Island, Bar Harbor, Maine, and the Adirondacks, their summer retreats. (Springwood also has Christmas decorations.) In warmer weather, visitors may go out on the balcony, opened after the restoration.
The Hyde Park Drive-in,opened in 1950, is across the street from Hyde Park. An in-season classic, it is another reason to stay over in the area to enjoy the sites and charm. If you enjoy these drive-in photos, you may want to follow the wonderful Cinema Treasures on Instagram, which documents movie venues all over the country.
At the Vanderbilt Mansion, a number of loyal Poughkeepsianstalked up their town, which called for a return trip first to enjoy the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. The views matched “The Queen City of the Hudson,” as Poughkeepsie on the east bank is also known, which is across the river from the charming Kingston. Even on a minus-degree wind chill December day, the Hudson River was spectacular. An active park group takes year-round advantage of the trails and you can connect with them on their social media. During the holidays, the nearby Franklin D. Roosevelt Mid-Husdon Bridge is lit in red and green lights at night.
The all too brief visit to the City of Poughkeepsie led to stops to admire the fine architecture and an informal tour of Vassar College. Look forward to visiting the charming Mid_Hudson Children’s Museum and more on the next visit to the city, which also has a drive-in, the Overlook.
A delight of the December return trip was the holiday cheer and navigational expertise of the area toll takers. GPS is not the same as directions shared with smiles and the admiration of a cheerful holiday pin or Santa Claus gel nails. Our family knows the area from growing up, a story for another day, but these quick chats were not only helpful, but reminders of nice visits and family stories.
As a Seven Sisters graduate, it was delightful to visit Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie. Now coed, the beautiful campus has a wonderful atmosphere and delightful shops and restaurants nearby.
Named after English poet John Milton, the hamlet in Ulster County delights with historic homes, churches, and welcoming shops in a scenic setting. With such a brief visit, look forward to another. A fun tidbit is that Marlon Brando’s “A Fugitive Kind” was filmed here in 1959. Enjoyed spectacular river views from the Milton Landing Dog Park with a truly merry Christmas tree out on the dock.
Rhinebeck charms in every season. The former “Violet Capital of the World,” later renowned for its anemones, Rhinebeck is known for its hospitality, and to this day, a warm welcome awaits visitors. FDR gave campaign speeches from the porch of the historic Beekman Arms, 1766, which hosted everyone from Founding Fathers George Washington and Robert Livingston to New Jerseyans Frank Sinatra and Jack Nicholson. A further New Jersey connection goes back to Robert Livingston’s brother William, who signed the Constitution and was the first governor of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. William resided at Liberty Hall, Union. Liberty Hall, now part of Kean University, was sold to Kean relatives, family of New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean on his father’s side. Alexander Hamilton was a guest at both Liberty Hall and the Beekman Arms.
German settlers from the Bavarian Palatinate named the beautiful area “Ryn Beck” in 1714, because it reminded them of their Rhine Valley home. Rhinebeck dates back to the Sepasco and Eposus, Lenape Native Americans who were later joined by Dutch settlers in 1686. The Dutch brought the Sinterklaass tradition now celebrated in an annual December nondemoninational festival. Well-known residents like John Jacob Astor IV followed the Dutch and Germans to what became “Rhinebeck”. The village, a National Historic District, is remarkable in that so much of its original architecture remains.
The photos here are from a December trip to the Village of Rhinebeck within the larger town both within the “Sixteen Mile Historic District”.
A well-known resident, Hilarie Burton, who stars in one of my favorite holiday movies, “Christmas on the Bayou,” is an active sponsor of a local charity Astor Services for Children and Families and has invested in a town business, Samuel’s Sweet Shop, both co-starring her husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan and friends Julie Yeager & Paul Rudd. Rhinebeck is also the hometown of Rufus Wainwright, whose performance at the Asbury Park Convention Hall on his tour for “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu” was so incredible that it was like being transported out of time and place. In real time, however, my friend stepped out for a snack on the boardwalk and returned for the encore. Mr. Wainwright was in competition with the PGA Tour, which is not to slight a true artist who had sold out the venue, but it helps with perspective when putting work out there.
Wilderstein and the Hudson Valley
The Hudson Valley has so much to see and do that we may never make it to Top Cottage. We look forward to discovering other sights that range from the High Falls Conservation Area to the Culinary Institute of America, which our mother has enjoyed with friends. Wilderstein, where FDR’s cousin, confidante, Fala gift-giver, and one of the first archivists of the FDR Library, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley lived, was and is on the visit list. Though arriving after dark on the most recent Mid-Hudson Valley visit, still took a loyal fan photo at the Victorian mansion with its grounds designed by Calvert Vaux, because all roads lead to Central Park and New Jersey at one time or another.
Home Travels with You
Once in a surprising turn of events, while traveling with a summer study group, we rode in a boat taxi along the Grand Canal at sunset in Venice. The sun splashed a million shades of gold along the colorful palazzi in “La Serenissimo,” the “Most Serene Republic of Venice”. Inexplicably, most of the students were arguing over the rooms, but the wonderful sound of rushing water and the steady hum of the engine could still be heard between sharp words. Looking across the boat, another classmate, like me, marveled at the panoramic beauty before us. She smiled serenely. We did not know each other well. From our remarks in class, we had different opinions on things, but we both had an appreciation for our good fortune. Our classmates missed the sunset, not having noticed, or not having minded. Later, when we all returned to school, work, and occasional turmoil, my fellow traveler and I would sometimes look at each other and smile. We had shared a love of beauty.
People will surprise us. Before going on the trip, our Uncle Ray, a comedy writer for Steve Allen, Bob Hope, and Phyllis Diller, and at times, presidents of both parties, whose favorite movie preferences were lighthearted ones featuring Laurel & Hardy and Hope and Crosby’s “Road pictures,” suggested, “Watch David Lean’s ‘Summertime’ before you go. Venice looks like a dream.'” The film, if you have not seen it, is a visual love letter to the city as much as it is about lost opportunity and timing. For our uncle who was so talented that he did not easily fit in, which ultimately led to full-time work in a factory, the film may have had a particular meaning. Generous, his career advice was his life advice, “Cheap shots are easy, it’s the clever jokes that are hard.”
In a pessimist’s theory of reductionism, Serenissimo is
overcrowded, Fala was the invention of wartime propaganda, and Teddy’s bad side
is on Mount Rushmore. On a certain level, these assertions may seem
true, but it would be like describing Venice
without the light. Happy New Year.