A portfolio of text and photos
WATERFORD, Vt. [6/16/18] - The Waterford Historical Society and the Congregational Church are finalizing plans for their annual joint benefit in June that celebrates rhubarb with a twist.
The centerpiece is an all-you-can-eat rhubarbecue buffet dinner with a culinary theme that extends through a choice of rhubarb-flavored desserts and includes rhubarb switchel as one of the drink options.
Helming the main course of pork and chicken choices is award-winning chef Brill
Williams who moved to this Connecticut River community after an illustrious 42-year career as the chef and co-owner with his parents of the Inn at Sawmill Farm in West Dover. Now enjoying a life of mostly leisure, Williams is the breakfast chef for the Rabbit Hill Inn across from the church.
“Cooking is part of my family heritage,” said Williams who still bakes with his mother
who is in her 90s. He is also contributing a salad of European cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese to the buffet dinner.
Sides by Waterford’s amateur, but avid cooks include farm-made baked beans, freshly sliced cole slaw, a simple green salad, and homemade rolls.
This annual event follows a long-time tradition in Waterford, said Norrine Abbott
Williams, who serves the church as both a trustee and a deacon, but is no relation to the chef. Starting in the 1950s, the Ladies Social Circle hosted hugely successful lobster salad suppers followed by homemade strawberry shortcake with fruit grown in their gardens. Now, as then, the monies go to maintaining the historic building built in 1859.
“We’re five years into establishing a new tradition that highlights old-
growth rhubarb found on the remaining farms here in town,” she added. “We couldn’t be happier to share this bounty with everyone.”
In 2014 the two community groups produced their first food-centric fund raiser that drew on recipes found in a 1955 church cookbook, including the late Irene Nutter’s rhubarb custard pie.
“We’ve updated those recipes and added to our collection of what you
can make with rhubarb,” said WHS treasurer Roberta Smith who has been coordinating recipes and bakers since 2014. Besides pies in which different fruits will be combined to sweeten the tart rhubarb taste, other rhubarb-based dessert dishes are cookies, pies, cakes, and for crunch, a cobbler.
Open to the public on both sides of the Connecticut, the evening’s second feature is
what planners are hoping will be a spirited round of the Vermont Historical Society’s trivia game which is in the final stages of development.
“As a member organization in the VHS, we’re excited Waterford is a beta site for this
work-in-progress,” said WHS president Helen Pike. “We’re working on a bonus round of 10 questions just about Waterford history that’s surprising even us!”
In addition to VHS rewards, planners are rounding up locally sourced prizes for top point winners. So far they include a jar of Chef Williams’s signature homemade chocolate butternut sauce, a pint of syrup from Tom’s Maple, a signed copy of The Countryman Press edition of Spiked Boots: Sketches of the North Country by late Waterford author Robert E. Pike, and a signed copy of The Darkness Under the Water by living author and WHS board member Beth Kanell.
The WHS plans to use its portion of the proceeds to continue its oral history project and buy supplies for its ever-expanding paper and photographic archive.
The dinner is scheduled for Saturday, June 16, in the Community Room located on the lower level of the Lower Waterford church. The Maple Street door opens at 5:30 p.m. and serving starts at 6 p.m.
Tickets are $25. Only 80 will be sold. RSVPs due by Monday, June 11, for food planning purposes. To reserve group seating, call Pike at 802-748-0180.
Council on Aging Explores the Future
ST. JOHNSBURY [11/2/2017] – The Northeast Kingdom Council on Aging unveiled its new Humanitarian Hero Award, honoring Priscilla Bonney-Smith of Greensboro, at its annual meeting held November 2 at the York Street Meeting House in Lyndon Corner.
“Cilla’s care and dedication to her community illustrate valuable qualities we appreciate even more as we get older,” said Executive Director Meg Burmeister about the woman who has, for more than 10 years, delivered Meals on Wheels as well as lead an evidence-based fitness class. Her commitment to live well as she matures includes healthy eating, increasing her physical activity as a member of the Greensboro Walkers, and helping to maintain ski trails by trimming brush every autumn.
Noting the retired Bonney-Smith’s professional background as a high school counselor, Burmeister said her keen listening skills help her tune in to what her community needs to maintain living independently at home, and responds accordingly. She is one of 300-plus volunteers on the Council on Aging’s roster.
“Cilla’s whole and holistic approach to wellness complements our goals at the Council on Aging as well as the integrated goals of the Caledonia-Southern Essex Counties Accountable Health Community,” added Burmeister.
Loosely referred to as the A Team when it was formed in 2013 to look for system-level changes to improve measurable healthy results among residents while reducing poverty, the group’s leaders come from the Council on Aging, Northern Counties Health Care, NEK Community Action and NEK Human Services, Rural Edge, the Vermont Food Bank and Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital.
“The point is to improve our quality of life,” said Paul Bengtson, NVRH CEO, who was the Council on Aging’s guest speaker. To create a healthier community across the region, the team aims to eliminate haphazard, duplicate, and “siloed’ solutions and incorporate methods whose changes can show quantifiable improvements.
Noting there is now an accountable health community team started in Orleans and North Essex Counties, Bengston listed the following five goals intended to bring together health care and human services:
• Improve housing stock. “We have more than 17 different organizations working separately on housing issues, what if we all work together and crack the metrics?” The team reframed the issue of how to make affordable, durable shelter for northern Vermont’s long, harsh winters. When 30 percent of a family’s budget, including a senior living independently on a fixed income, is spent on housing that leaves little money left for other essentials, such as food and health care. Bengston credited the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies in helping the team identify its goals, guide its use of shared measures, and track success.
• Create greater financial security. “I assume everyone wants to live a meaningful life. But parts of the Northeast Kingdom’s demographics compare with Appalachia and parts of Mississippi.” To solve the problem of persistent poverty, the accountable health community is investing in growing jobs with technical assistance from the Georgia Health Policy Center at Georgia State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey. “Bridging for Health: Improving Community Health Through Innovations in Financing” acknowledges factors outside of the traditional health care delivery system—like housing, food access, and education—significantly influence health and well-being. “There’s a lot of potential in the Kingdom. We’re looking for ways to grow jobs.”
• Sustain a well-nourished population. Reliable research points to 20 percent of the NEK population, including seniors, is “food insecure”, meaning they don’t have access nutritious meals. So far, one highly visible solution is the Vermont Foodbank’s monthly delivery of fresh food to the NVRH café for distribution to those who are income-qualified. Dubbed VeggieVanGo, the delivery program has attracted scores of repeat residents who line the hospital corridor upwards of an hour ahead of time and listen to solo musicians provide comforting music while they wait for the doors to open. RCT provides transportation for those who do not have personal vehicles. “If people are eating well, they are more likely to be healthy.” For its part, the Council on Aging supports 14 “community dining rooms” where those younger than 60 can have a well-balanced lunch for an average cost of $5. In the summer, two of its dining rooms participate in providing lunches for school-aged children.
• Improve residents’ physical health. Bengston cited the joint partnership between NVRH and the St. Johnsbury Academy that put the renamed RecFit on sustainable footing after private ownership of the facility ceased. “It’s nice to see that place active and alive.” Meantime, the Council on Aging is getting ready to launch three new evidence-based Tai Chi programs in cooperation with SASH and Tai Chi Vermont in Peacham, Concord and St. Johnsbury.
• Improve residents’ mental health overall. One is to reverse a condition known as Adverse Childhood Experience by addressing the root causes of stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. Another is a specific goal to reduce to zero the number of suicides by 2020. “I’d like to see it lowered to zero sooner.” Bengston also expressed the goal of having more residents to seek out the hospital’s pain management program in order to nip addiction in the bud. “Substance abuse has been around for a long time. Opiod is just the latest name.”
“I think we’re making progress in the Kingdom,” added Bengston who, at 71, describes himself as a “qualified senior citizen who is still working” though he is scheduled to retire in 2018.
Like Bengston, outgoing Council on Aging Board President John Perry sees himself still making valued contributions to his community. Looking back over his six years on the Board, he said, “We are grateful to the many businesses who have invested in our mission. We make house calls. We help you grow stronger with exercise and nutritious meals. We have a staff dedicated to meeting all the basic human needs that help you live well. This is our investment in the Kingdom.”
Welcome Home to Waterford Music
WATERFORD – The sounds of music new and old will reverberate in this Connecticut River town when the Waterford Historical Society and the Lower Waterford Congregational Church host a unique benefit concert on June 18.
“Welcome Home to Waterford Music” features the harmonies of the UnCommon Folk Band, string musicians who chose the post-Revolutionary War settlement as their home base: Samantha Amey who plays upright bass and folk guitar; Paul Amey on guitar, fiddle viola, and mandolin, and Tom Bishop, who not only plays the upright bass and frailing banjo, but also the harmonica. All three sing.
“We started out sitting around the woodstove just jamming on cold winter nights,” according Sam Amey who runs a sugaring operation with her husband. “After a while people started liking our sound, so we formed the band sometime in 2005 in order to play at a variety show... The rest is history!”
Performing a mix of folk and bluegrass, UnCommon Folk is popular at First Night in St. Johnsbury, the Cabin Fever Reliever series in Guildhall, and at open-air festivals throughout the North Country.
Their repertoire of old-time music was exactly what the historical society and the Ladies Social Circle at church were looking for this past winter when they began brainstorming about their third joint production.
Helen Hartness Flanders Records Euclid Williams
The intersection of community interests with broad appeal occurred with the discovery of Helen Hartness Flanders’ 1933 recording of country fiddler Euclid I. Williams, a Waterford dairy farmer and church member. Flanders, daughter of a Vermont governor and wife of a U.S. senator, was internationally recognized as a ballad collector and authority on New England and British folk music.
Her 4,500 field recordings, transcriptions and analyses are housed as the Flanders Ballad Collection at Middlebury College, including the wax cylinders she used to record Williams when she visited Waterford. Those recordings have since been digitally converted, but the sound quality is poor.
Geneva Powers Wright of Waterford who is in her mid-90s recalled, as a child, listening to Williams and his family playing music when they came in from their fields at lunchtime. The Powers dairy farm was the nearest neighbor in an era of rolling pastureland with no trees to stop the sound.
“We could hear their music floating down,” Wright said of their fellow hill farmers.
In all, there were nine tunes that Flanders recorded. To recreate the sound of the Williams Family and make new memories that come from music, the UnCommon Folk Band will include the slightly bawdy “Tim Finnegan’s Wake” in its playlist for the evening.
The historical society will mount a captioned display of Williams family photographs taken at Highland View Farm, today owned by Dr. Clare Wilmot and her husband, poet Peter Goreau. A true hill farm, the historic homestead stands on Old County Road South with views of the Connecticut River valley and the spires and rooftops of Lower Waterford. The display will reference Euclid and Jennie’s son, Leo, who also played music, and his wife, Bertha, a member of the Congregational Church’s Ladies Social Circle.
Repurposed 1818 timbers
The June 18th event is the third joint fund raiser between the church and the history group. Members of the mid-19th century church are redoubling their efforts for contributions, both in-kind and financial, that will help restore the iconic edifice.
One of the three main village structures that give Waterford both its civic and historic identity, the church was built in 1859 using re-purposed timbers from an 1818 meetinghouse on Old County Road South. Earlier fund raisers intended for the sanctuary’s interior were diverted to repair a leaky steeple and part of a rotting foundation on the building’s southwest side believed to have been constructed with beams from that meetinghouse.
For its part, Vermont’s newest historical society is asking for contributions that will help it continue to record Waterford’s early to mid-20th century history by those who lived it. Monies raised at the first joint benefit with the church, “Barn to Table”, were used to buy a secure archives cabinet and materials needed to organize family and business histories. Last year’s hugely successful combined fund raiser, “The Waterford Historic House & Garden Tour & Rhubarb Café”, enabled the society to pay its non-profit incorporation fees.
The church is located on Lower Waterford Road, between Route 18 and Maple Street. Church doors open at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. The concert is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. The historical society is providing light refreshments during intermission.
Admission is at the door: $10, adults; $5, children 12 and younger, kids under five, free. Anyone who cannot make it, but would like to make a donation to either organization’s projects is welcomed to mail a gift to the church: P.O. Box 111, Lower Waterford 05848 or the historical society: P.O. Box 56, Lower Waterford 05848.
Church, History Group to Host House and Garden Tour and Rhubarb Cafe
WATERFORD -- To anyone driving by on I-93 or Route 18, the village of Lower Waterford might seem like a quiet, country hamlet tucked away in the Connecticut River hills.
But on June 20, the town's History Group and the Congregational Church are opening wide the doors to the past in a joint effort to promote Waterford's early history and raise some much-needed monies for the creation of a bona fide historical society and for building restoration.
Eight addresses represent a unique collection of houses, gardens and public buildings, each with its own engaging story that reveals how America developed during those heady decades of growth after the War of 1812. The self-guided driving tour takes visitors to notable homes, some with breathtaking mountain and river views, through beautiful gardens landscaped from early 19th century farm fields, and into the elegantly spare church built with 1818 timbers from a former meetinghouse.
History Everywhere You Look
Also open to the public will be the circa 1797 general store that today houses both the Davies Memorial Library and the Town Office lobby. The latter features a permanent display of some culturally significant, and captioned, Waterford artifacts.
"Everywhere you look, there's history," observed Roberta Smith who has agreed to become the secretary-treasurer of what might be Vermont's youngest historical society. The group needs funds to incorporate as a 501 C-3 non-profit corporation in accordance with state laws. Looking to the future, it would also like to purchase an archival software package known as Past Perfect.
"We're busy identifying a lot of photographs and paper that has been collected over the decades," Smith continued. "We're also able to scan any Waterford-related ephemera so families can keep their originals. We're anticipating that donations will increase in the coming years, and the software will be a big help."
For its part, the church is in the middle of a multi-year capital campaign. At the top of their prayer list for 2015, trustees hope to raise funds to finish the all-important belfry repair begun last year by Robert Morgan Steeple & Building Restoration of Littleton, NH. Then it's on to interior renovation.
"This is really an exciting time," said Norrine Williams, a church trustee. "There's a growing public awareness of the civic role the Congregational Church played in the development of Waterford."
From hosting the annual town meeting and eighth-grade graduation ceremonies during the era of one-room schoolhouses to its iconic place in the internationally photographed White Village, the corner of Lower Waterford Road and Maple Street has proved itself as a community gathering place.
Last June the Ladies Social Circle of the Congregational Church paired with the Waterford History Group to host a hugely successful Barn-to-Table presentation. The event featured a power-point presentation of agricultural buildings the history group catalogued for the state's Barn Census. Farm wives' dessert recipes from a 1955 church cook book were matched to their corresponding family barns to create a taster's buffet.
A Taste of Rhubarb
"People came away knowing the difference between an English barn and a Yankee barn," observed Rev. Ann Hockridge who pitched in and recreated the late Mildred Bullock Hemingway's anadama bread recipe to match the classic Yankee barn the Hemingways put up in 1902.
"This year we're treating visitors to a taste of rhubarb," Hockridge said of the Rhubarb Cafe to be set up in the church vestry. "We did the research and discovered it came to America in 1820. It's loaded in Vitamin C. A lot of the recipes will be made with old-growth Waterford rhubarb.
"And," Hockridge added with a smile, "I think we might be the first in the Northeast Kingdom to publicly celebrate all things rhubarb."
The Historic House & Garden Tour & Rhubarb Cafe takes place from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 20, rain or shine. Booties will be provided at the houses. Last time to start the self-guided driving tour is 2:30 p.m.
Visitors check in and receive maps at the welcome table in the church foyer on Lower Waterford Road, across from the historic Rabbit Hill Inn. Entrance to the Rhubarb CafÃ© is around the corner on Maple Street where the church has a newly refurbished vestry entrance.
Tickets are available exclusively from Catamount Arts. On-line ticket prices are $35. Tickets purchased in person in St. Johnsbury are $32. Deadline for all ticket sales is noon June 19. No tickets will be sold the day of the event at the event. For more information, call 748-2600.
NOTE: From this 2015 event, and by selling tickets "at the door" to the church foyer, we raised just over $3,000. Split between the history group and the Ladies Social Circle of the Congregational Church in Lower Waterford, the history folks used their proceeds to file for 501 (C)(3) incorporation as a non-profit. In 2016 we became Vermont's youngest historical society.
Barn to Table: The Waterford Dish
While elsewhere across Vermont, the locavore movement was taking hold with the Farm to Plate initiative, we turned that opportunity to link Waterford's historic barns to recipes from their farmhouse kitchens.
"Barn to Table: The Waterford Dish" is a joint project of the Waterford History Group and the Lower Waterford Congregational Church. The unique evening takes place in two parts on one night. The first is a seated tour via a power-point presentation of the town’s historic barns. The second is a taster’s sampling of dishes associated with them. On the menu are also food samples from four working farms which have been in continuous production since the mid-19th century. This event takes place Wednesday, June 25  at 7 pm in the church’s community room. Please use the Maple Street entrance. Seating is limited to 80. Tickets are $5. They may be purchased from church members and at the Davies Memorial Library.
When Life Gives You Goats
North Star Monthly
Roberta Gillott surveys her canopied space at the Caledonia Farmers’ Market in St. Johnsbury. Crooked Mile Cheese sign hung neatly: Check. Creamy, herbed samples nesting on ice in garden trug: Check. Price list up for the spreads, Sixpence Chevre marinated in oil, Chevre Block, and tangy Ginger Chevre: Check.
On the circuit of regional farmers’ markets, Gillott this spring hit a milestone when she received an invite to join the prestigious Saturday morning bazaar. It’s now the fourth in a high-visibility, locavore itinerary in which the Upper Waterford resident drives her black pick-up to the greens of Peacham on Thursdays, Lyndonville on Fridays, and to the banks of the Ammonoosuc in Littleton, NH, on Sunday afternoons.
“This is what makes the long hours worth it,” Gillott said in May of her latest opportunity to meet new customers and trade updates with other hard-working, small-farm advocates who rarely get to take time off to socialize.
But it’s not the only achievement for the six-year-old micro dairy. Also in May the Vermont Cheese Council selected Crooked Mile Farm for inclusion on its statewide Cheese Trail. And, it chose the farm for television spots to air throughout August, National Goat Cheese Month.
Never mind that the taping took place after the ferocious June 2 deluge that knocked out power and left her hand-milking her herd. “The farm was picture-perfect before the storm,” she said with a philosophical roll of her eyes.
But who could have predicted those successes six years ago when her daughter Lauren, then 9, expressed the desire to “milk somebody”? Or, that a gift of two milkers would proliferate into a herd of 12 Alpine goats, plus one buck, their annual offspring and a host of assorted other animals would have added to the photogenic charm of what Gillott drolly refers to as her free-range farm?
“Once we brought them home we realized we had no idea what to do with all that milk,” according to Gillott who is using the farm experience, in part, to teach Lauren and her younger brother Benjamin the values of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
For the record: Dairy goats can produce milk 10 months a year, sometimes a gallon or more a day. The statuesque Gillott took to the Internet (still dial-up in 2006), ordered some kits, took courses, and in 2011 received a state license to produce for commercial sale her variously flavored goat cheeses.
If, on a visiting day, you find her standing in front of the 10-gallon, shiny stainless steel machine pasteurizing the latest draw of goat milk, she might comment with a wry smile, “It’s probably the smallest cheese-making pasteurizer in Vermont.”
And it could be, if such statistics were kept. The data that is tracked, according to Dan Scruton, dairy systems coordinator at the state Agency of Agriculture, reveals there are 22 farms that sell goat milk.
“There are a total of 86 milk processors in the state,” he wrote in an e-mail, “22 of these processors process some goats [sic] milk products. Not all of the farms process. It is just a coincidence that the number of farms and processors using goat milk are the same. We do not track the gender of the cheesemakers. I'm sorry to say I don't have that kind of detailed breakdown.”
Women Lead the Cheesemaking Movement in State
It is a woman, though, who is the acknowledged trailblazer of the Vermont cheese movement, Laini Fondilier of Lazy Lady Farm in Westfield. From her mentor Gillott learned how to care and manage the docile and intelligent animals. Fondilier also “made it reasonable to make it small.”
She credits a second mentor, the fifth-generation farmer Neil Urie of Bonnieview Farm in Craftsbury Common, with patiently navigating her through the ever-changing state and federal regulations that affect organic farmers. “It helps to know farmers who will listen to your frustrations and offer advice.”
Pull back and you see a bigger picture emerge, one in which Crooked Mile Farm is less a field of dreams than an on-going adventure through life for the 50-something Gillott. She left Albany in Orleans County to attend the University of Virginia. Her post-college journey took her into the Peace Corps which sent her to the Central American country of Honduras to teach agro-forestry methods.
A change in climate next landed her on remote Bristol Bay in Alaska, teaching high school English to the native Yupik Indians. She met a bush pilot from England, John Gillott. The couple married, had Lauren and Benjamin, and eventually moved across the country to the Northeast Kingdom, choosing an offroad, early 19th century farm about a mile from Moore Dam.
Across the road from the farmhouse that features an herb garden in the front yard, Lauren’s horse shares a lean-to with a couple of pigs who eat the protein-enriched goat whey. Two dogs, a weasel-killing cat, chickens–both meat and egg-laying varieties−geese plus ducks roam freely back-and-forth across the washboard road. Sometimes the goats do, too. Inveterate nibblers, they gnaw through their wood fencing unless Gillott’s husband attaches willow twigs to satisfy their chewing compulsion.
Now a commercial pilot, when he’s home John Gillott is also charged with Crooked Mile’s hay-mowing. He’s been known to do the task with a head lamp to guide him as evening falls on the field that supplies the goats’ daily menu. Goats, it turns out, consume up to seven percent of dry vegetation for every 100 pounds of body weight.
In a separate pen with his own shed, Gillott keeps the ewes’ buck, a male goat her home-schooled children named Mr. Darcy after a Jane Austen character. Other goat names came from the history study of European royalty and expensive sports cars. When they discovered Mr. Darcy “was shooting blanks,” explained Gillott, they found a replacement. His name? Romeo.
"Want to try a sample spread?" Gillott calls out to curious passersby who look like they are visiting a farmer’s market for the first time. As solitary as farming is, working the outdoor markets requires social skills to engage potential buyers who might still think goat cheese is an exotic delicacy. But, says Gillott, it’s also what makes the long working hours worthwhile.
Making Happiness Happen
Living Healthy magazine
Summer Edition 2013
Ever since the U.S. Constitution told us we were entitled to the pursuit of happiness we’ve been on a full-tilt boogie looking for it. As post-war consumers we so identified ‘happy’ with that yellow circular smiley face that we gave it a digital emoticon make-over. When the Dali Lama came along with his book “The Art of Happiness” many of us shifted our focus to a Buddhism-inspired bliss.
Then the Great Recession hit. In its long tail, headlines still spool out misery in every size, shape and psyche from physical health issues such as obesity to anxiety-based emotional challenges, and continued despair over a compromised financial system. Life as we think we know it is bleak. So, have we lost our glad mojo in the Upper Connecticut River Valley? Or, are we in the midst of a sea change in how we pursue happiness?
From Bhutan to Northern New England
Linda Wheatley thinks it’s the latter. At a recent Courageous Conversation on the fiscal cliff at Catamount Arts, Wheatley called for a different yardstick by which to measure progress. As part of a panel that included a development executive, a state economist, a banker and a business professor, she bravely stated her conviction that the globally accepted Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that gauges finished goods and service doesn’t work. A quality-of-life index called Gross National Happiness (GNH) needs to take its place, she said.
GNH is not a new idea. Established in the early 1970s by the tiny Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan, GNH measures citizens’ well-being based on equitable social development, cultural preservation, environmental conservation, and promotion of good governance. In 2011 the United Nations adopted Bhutan's holistic approach. The move has since been endorsed by 68 countries. As it turns out, it is under consideration in Montpelier.
“There’s a subtle paradigm shift away from the traditional units of measurement,” observed Wheatley who, among other civic roles, is president and a co-founder of Gross National Happiness USA (GNHUSA), a Montpelier-based organization working with policy shapers while also promoting public programs to explore how to make happiness happen in lifestyle-altering ways. Added Wheatley, who also produces the Vermont Leadership Institute and Network at the Snelling Center for Government in Williston, “It’s an intention to pay attention.”
Gathering data for an informed discussion about a new economic index for Vermont, Wheatley and Paula Francis, another GNHUSA co-founder, last summer walked 594 miles from Stowe to Washington, D.C., collecting stories about happiness from people they met on their trek. The top three out of five factors affecting one’s mental and physical well-being? Relationships, service to others, and health – in that order, Wheatley noted.
The happiness link between good health and family relations is obvious to Dr. Kathleen Smith, a practitioner at the Ammonoosuc Community Health Services (ACHS) in Littleton. “It’s not about highs and lows, but about finding that middle ground of satisfaction.”
Behavior studies have repeatedly proven a high-carb diet and refined sugar produce the kind of highs that three hours later result in the lows of irritability. “Over-eating, smoking, even manic behavior is about an extreme,” Smith pointed out. But while a parent might have a hard time changing his or her own bad habits, many will change their routines for the benefit of their children.
Smith encourages her patients to take up exercise which, given the region’s varied terrain, has lots of choices: walking paths, mountain-biking trails, water sports from fishing to kayaking. But Smith points out exercise can be an easy as a 20-minute daily walk. Double up on happiness by strolling on the sunny side of the street where it’s easier to reap that all-important Vitamin D that’s missing from so many diets, she added.
There is, of course, a mental health corollary to making happiness happen. St. Johnsbury therapist Kathryn M. Cote says it’s about managing your expectations during every transition in your life such as graduating high school, getting married, having a baby, buying a house, finding your first job, or even a new job.
There was a time when consumers were told that keeping up with the Joneses would make them happy. But market conditions have changed that consumer mantra. According to Cote, “Happiness is now about living within our means. The economy is forcing us to look at our values and recognize what’s really important to us. That kind of self-assessment [also] helps us manage our expectations.”
To achieve happiness means taking time and making an effort to nourish relationships with family and friends, Cote said. “Those are the very people who provide the foundation of our expectations.”
So let’s step back a minute and reconsider whether or not the Upper Connecticut River Valley has really lost its glee mojo. This April 13 saw the second annual birthday bash for colonial-era bon vivant Thomas Jefferson, that Constitution drafter who gave us the phrase “the pursuit of happiness.” No small surprise the fete was billed as “The Pursuit of Happiness Day.” It was hosted by GNHUSA as part of a larger three-day series of workshops devoted to the H word. Despite the unseasonably cold weather, the event experienced a favorable turn out of happiness seekers.
Cross the Connecticut and you find there’s Glad Day! in Littleton. Launched in 2002, the outdoor public party is a triple win for happiness. First, it celebrates the eternal optimism of Pollyanna, local author Eleanor Hodgman Porter’s most famous literary creation. Second, as an event, it recognizes civic and business leaders who’ve made quality-of-life contributions during the preceding 12 months. Third, because it’s always held on the second Saturday of June, it serves as a curtain-raiser on the summer season.
Pollyanna, whose larger-than-life bronze statue poses arms out-stretched on the library’s front lawn on Main Street, vies with Santa’s Village in nearby Jefferson as the most popular attraction in the White Mountains. This year the “little glad girl” celebrates her 100th birthday. True to the tag line of “Be glad. Be cheerful. Eat cake!” cake will be served. If you have any trouble finding the afternoon party, just look for little girls happily dressed in vintage-inspired frocks and straw hats. Just like you-know-who.
Having a mantra is a useful strategy for pursing happiness. If Littleton artist Rick Hunt and his wife professional storyteller Carolyn Black Hunt, had one it might be: Draw. Dance. Tell stories. The couple lives three blocks away from the Littleton library in a light-filled home on the third floor of a Victorian house. Known as The Laughing Couple in Native American circles, the exuberant pair believes happiness is a participatory pursuit. Regularly booked for performances all over Northern New England and New York State they emphasize the priority of locating yourself within a happy community.
“If you’re not in a happy circle, it’s time to rethink the company you keep,” said Black Hunt. “If you’re in a happy community, you’re happy.”
A former therapist for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Hunt has chosen to return to art full time, as a muralist, an album-cover designer and as an art teacher at the Franconia Children’s Center. For Hunt, who has drawn nearly his entire life, art is not only as a means of self-expression, but also a way to help others live in the moment, not for the moment.
Many of his workshops involve putting a pencil or crayon in someone’s hand – no matter their age - and giving them permission to draw across a scroll of paper attached to a wall. It is still surprising to him how many people need that authorization to participate in a creative pursuit. Hunt added, “I tell them it’s better to choose experiences over things.”
How to Store Happiness
Making happiness happen for Ginny Sassaman and other like-minded environmentalists translates into reducing as many carbon footprints as possible. One of the ways Sassaman does this is by opening The Happiness Paradigm Store and Experience every other weekend in her Maple Grove, VT, studio. Tucked behind a red barn painted with a contented cow on a wall is a light-filled A-frame with a deck open to the sun. Here she encourages recycling and upcycling everything from books, clothing and hand-made jewelry to useful crafts made from objects that would otherwise wind up in the dump.
Said Sassaman, who used to work for Common Cause and the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, both in Washington, “I believe strongly in systems change. But people need to do this on a personal level.”
Anecdotally, there’s plenty of evidence that points to the pursuit of happiness is good for you physically and mentally. It’s a deliberate act. And one that Wendy MacDonald, an alternative health and spirituality professional based in Randolph, NH, believes is easy to achieve.
“Often deep despair is an indicator you believe you are not living up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself,” MacDonald observed. “Cravings and avoidance make us unhappy.”
“See what’s already good,” she said. “We can always find one thing to be grateful for. If, for example, you have a broken body, you can be grateful you are receiving care for it.”
Make a ‘gratitude’ jar and add to it three times a day. On the days you feel empty, MacDonald said, pick one slip of paper from the jar to remind of you something that made you happy.
“Step back. See your positive character traits. Be grateful for them. When we discover that nothing from the outside can affect our inner core, then happiness comes.”
With an impish smile, she added, “Happiness is an inside job.”
Don't Miss Miss T's
The North Star Monthly
For just about all of us couch potatoes, the winter was a marathon of snow storms, school closings, and endless mornings of below-zero temperatues.
But for effervescent entrepreneur Terri L. Williams of Concord, the Northeast Kingdom's longest season was an idea incubation period for repositioning her latest business.
To read the rest of my latest interview from northern Vermont, click the link and buy the pdf version of The North Star Monthly!
Feeling Caught Between
Light and Latitude?
Living Healthy magazine
Winter Edition 2013
Whenever you read this, you will be involved – knowingly or not – in a numbers game. No, it’s not the return of illegal betting that flourished during Prohibition. Nor is it the metric-changing theory examined in Moneyball about how the Oakland A’s switched their hiring, and firing, practices.
Instead you – all of us, actually - are participating in a countdown of minutes of light. It’s been going on since June 21, and was accelerated November 4 when we stopped saving daylight. Then, too, here in the upper Upper Connecticut River Valley, with its picturesque hills and tall mountains, the sun appears to set sooner as the earth naturally orbits further away from it.
From those valleys of darkness spans an invisible illness called SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. There is a spectrum of symptoms from the very mild to those requiring medical supervision. While we might not recognize it by its acronym, many of us are aware a shift of some kind affects our decisions as the calendar winds down for the year.
“We used to call it the winter blahs,” observes Holly Hayward, a certified herbalist for 24 years. “Then we called it the winter blues.”
Says the proprietor of Sugar Hill Botanicals, “Now many people know it as SAD. It happens after the last burst of autumn color disappears and our outdoor surroundings turn gray and overcast.
“We spend November waiting for snow,” she adds. Why? Because the crystalline water ice that reflects the sun’s light makes the winter naturally brighter. Point of fact, the shortest day of the year, typically December 21, has a little over nine hours of daylight compared with the more than 14 hours on June 21.
At the end of every fall, Hayward sees a return of clients as well as new customers, looking for natural supplements to boost their outlook and productivity. She checks their medical prescriptions before blending a tincture or recommending vitamins.
“I also talk to them about nutrition,” Hayward adds. “Often people need to change their eating habits, cutting down on sugar, caffeine and alcohol. They deplete the adrenal glands.”
Sitting on top of our kidneys, these glands use hormones to manage blood sugar levels, to regulate the balance of salt and water in our bodies, and to control the “fight or flight" response to stress, among other functions.
Moving to Stress-Less
Stress, a huge presence in many lives, is often exacerbated by SAD. Many experience mood swing as we juggle caring for children and elderly parents, worrying about the economy and international security, and keeping our fingers crossed we won’t experience a winter weather disaster.
Whether you’re self-employed or go to work in an office, relieving stress and changing your mood, especially during the cold winter months, is critical to both your mental and physical health, says Katrine Barclay, founder of Wellness at Work in Franconia.
“Whether it’s a ten-minute walk during your lunch hour or 10 minutes on that treadmill in the basement,” she says, “get those endorphins going.”
After 13 years in the corporate world where she directed organizational development, Barclay moved to New Hampshire and set up a consultancy to help firms and individuals find balance and fulfillment while increasing their output. No surprise part of her mantra is exercise.
“Yoga teaches you to find your inner light,” she explains. “It makes you more mindful of where you are. In fact, I usually perform 109 sun salutations on the winter solstice to honor the arrival of more light.”
Indeed, after December 21, we pick up one more minute of light each day until the quantum leap back to daylight savings time in mid-March. Culturally speaking, the end of the calendar as well as the beginning is marked by ceremonies that “take back” the light, according to Fairbanks Museum Executive Director Charlie Browne.
“It’s no coincidence that December and January are filled with all kinds of light festivals,” Browne says. From the Scandinavian Festival of Santa Lucia, to Hanukkah, Christmas and even the Bahamian tradition of Junkanoo that was imported from West Africa, people turn up the wattage, in a manner of speaking.
“Look, here in St. Johnsbury we do it on New Year’s Eve with First Night,” Browne points out. In fact, First Night celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with 63 different forms of entertainment, including a planetarium show at the museum.
Unlike more urban parts of the country, northern Vermont and New Hampshire don’t have the so-called light pollution that illuminates the night sky, fooling people into thinking it’s not that dark outside in winter. But a lot of people who follow the farming tradition of “early to bed, early to rise” can experience an uptick in productivity as they work while greeting the rising sun.
“I’m originally from Boston where the official start time for corporate work is 9 a.m.,” says children’s psychotherapist Gretchen Hammer of St. Johnsbury. “Here, where school buses pick up students at 7 a.m. many people begin their shift just about the time the sun starts to shine. It’s a great way to get a lot of work done.”
Because depression is often identified at the extreme end of the SAD spectrum, Hammer says medication is usually prescribed and can include the requisition of a high-wattage but expensive light box. “I had a young client who couldn’t get out of bed. With a doctor’s prescription she was able to get a light box and that helped her enormously.
“But I also counseled her to adopt a healthy diet and an exercise program,” Hammer says.
How to Make Your Own Light
With light-box prices averaging $300 and special seasonal lamps $100, some individuals become creative to ensure they remain productive throughout winter’s long nights. Waterford author Beth Kanell swags her second-floor home office with decorative lights.
“It's predictable that more of my writing hours take place in the darker months of the year -- in the bright seasons, I'm often gardening!” she writes via e-mail.
“Moreover, because I write mysteries, I find the stories getting active in my typing fingers either after dark, or during long gray afternoons. It's an issue I watch carefully, because my ‘workaholic’ lifestyle doesn't leave time for feeling depressed or slowing down.”
Kanell’s third mystery is set in 1921 downtown St. Johnsbury. Released in early November, "Cold Midnight", she says, “reflects both my writing conditions (all last winter, late each evening!) and the book's plot.
“Of course, I found myself writing revisions during warmer, brighter months, yet the plot still gave me shivers, and I needed that extra sense of hope that my brave little writing lights bring to me.”
Describing her office, Kanell says, “I work at making my writing space magical in terms of light, color, and space. I turn it into a space of celebration. The tiny white lights that I've strung near the ceiling give me extra light, yes, but more importantly to me, they remind me that the dark months are a season rich with celebration.
“Each time I hit the desk, I want that sense of joy and wonder to fuel my writing soul.”
Geneva Powers Wright: A Missing Link
The Northland Journal October 2012
For years I interviewed people about their families who had put down roots on the Jersey Shore. Hidden in their recollections were missing pieces of shared history, stepping stones that connected generations, and insights that shed light on the actions of an entire community where I was raised. I learned how to do this by watching my father on every trip ‘home’ along the Connecticut River Valley. But each homecoming was a hurried tour, filled with people I rarely saw a second time.
Or, so it seemed.
Geneva Powers Wright was different. We regularly stopped at a trim white ranch built in 1969 just beyond the pasture that belonged to an aging farmhouse on a Waterford hillside. Geneva and Dad did most of the conversing; her husband Gilbert and I sat by as an entire visit filled with names I couldn’t put faces to, buildings I had never seen, and events that happened decades before I was born. Partly out of habit, I stopped by after Dad died in 1997. But I didn’t know how to have my own conversation with Geneva. What to talk about? What shared interests did she and I have? What was our common history?
It was an awkward time as Dad died with questions unanswered and cartons filled with the ephemera of lives I didn’t know about. After 15 years, with all I had to say about New Jersey published, I decided to move to Waterford and open those boxes. I began attending the regular monthly meetings of the town’s history group at the Davies Memorial Library. At nearly every meeting there was Geneva Wright, now 93, and often, her younger brother, Willard Powers, 91. Both of them clear-eyed, he impishly funny in that laconic manner that characterizes a native Vermonter. But just as her now-passed husband Gilbert and I would listen to her talk with my father, the library hushed when Geneva spoke. Hers is a delicate voice that matches her stature. But her matter-of-fact delivery never left room for doubt.
In the spade-drudging work that research can be, I learned people such as Geneva are worth their weight in gold if you know what questions to ask. Two months before October’s annual National Family History Month Geneva and I began exploring the intersection of our shared history.
“Here, I thought you might like a copy of these genealogy charts I found cleaning out a drawer.” She hands me an 11 by 17-inch sheet and another 81/2 by 11-inch page filled with lines for entering ancestors’ names and dates. Hers are filled to overflowing and are neatly organized into ring binders. An impressively large, formal chart is framed and under glass, hanging on her kitchen wall.
Too modest to admit this publicly, the petite great-grandmother is the matriarch of two Northeast Kingdom clans, many of whom still populate this Waterford hillside that looks across the river to New Hampshire. After he noticed her at a dance in the one-room Woods School where High Ridge Road meets County Road, Gilbert Wright, A. I. Wright's son from Lower Waterford, waited for Geneva Powers to turn 18 before asking her to marry him in 1938. His cousin, Rolla Wright, Jr., would marry her younger sister Audrie nine years later. Look in a current phone book and you notice there are 10 ½ inches of listings for Wrights; the Powers, seven. The Pikes can’t make two inches, and I don’t know any of them.
“My children try to help me do this research because they can use the Internet, but often what they find is wrong. It says my great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Powers had 10 children in Lunenburg. He didn’t. He came from Connecticut with two, and eight were born in Lunenburg. I know because I have the records that prove who was born where.”
Geneva and another sister, Theresa Powers Roberts, began doing genealogy in the 1950s, and asking questions of their mother, who was born Eva Page. As local histories started to get printed, “we read all the books. Then we went to Monteplier and looked through as many records as we could find.”
Clues to family histories are everywhere, she continued. Birthday books often have notes cribbed into the margins. Autograph books from the era before telephones, when people went visiting, also testify to the presence of extended relatives and family friends. On a trip up the hill from where I’m renting her sister Audrie’s house, I bring a worn family album. Many photos are unidentified. We turn a page and two black-and-white thumbnail headshots look up as us.
“Oh, that’s the Bumps! Norma and Henry Junior. Their father worked for your Uncle Harley. They moved to Cabot.”
Well, here’s was an unexpected puzzle piece: the Pike homestead in Upper Waterford where my father lived as a child had become the house in which Uncle Harley put up his hired farm hands. Some people told me it was the Walter Crowe house. Others, the Leon Johnson house. With Geneva’s description I realized they all had worked for my father’s uncle.
“He and Ida lived in a nice house,” Geneva said when we came across that picture. “It was yellow with white gingerbread trim. I went there once with my father. They were selectmen together in the 1920s.”
We turned another page. “Oh, that little girl is at a sugar party,” Geneva laughs softly at the child with one arm clasped around a metal bucket, a dipping spoon in her free hand. “I don’t know who she is, but I know what she’s doing!” She paused. “Theresa and I would pick the flowers that grew around Harley’s sugarhouse.”
Geneva was born four years after the seminal event in my father’s life: the last long log drive down the Connecticut River in 1915. So while she grew up with the stories of river logging, she never witnessed the drives. But, like my father, she grew up with a dairy herd, so I closed my eyes for a moment to listen to the universal call to bring in the cows: “Here, Boss. Here, Boss.”
We all shrink with age, and Geneva once stood at over five feet, but not by much, and I can’t imagine her ever weighing more than 100 pounds. By comparison, a single dairy cow can stand just about as tall and average between 300 and 500 pounds.
She smiles, adding a slight shrug from her shoulders. “Theresa and I did it together when we came home from school…around four o’clock. By that time, the cows were ready to go to the barn and get milked. They knew what to do.”
The family had sheep, too. The lambs were sold to the Jewish tourists who summered in Bethlehem while the wool was sent to Maine to be made into blankets for the seven Powers children; blue stripes for the boys, pink for the girls. I nod my head in recognition of the pattern. I had inherited, and then gave away, a pair of brown-on-brown wool blankets.
Like my father and his sister Elizabeth, Geneva and Theresa went across the river to Littleton for high school. “It was a public school and a good school. We didn’t have to pay for books. After the first year we boarded in Littleton and came home weekends.”
Home was the rambling farmhouse on the hill where my father would stop to talk to her father, Glenn Powers, about the changes in Waterford since the power company put in Moore Dam and flooded out the village of Upper Waterford. A couple of months ago I came across a letter my father wrote that indicated the Powers’ Mountain View Farm was originally settled by Luther Pike, the brother of Nathan from whom I’m descended and who inherited the family’s meadowlands along the river. To make his own way, Luther moved up the county road that once connected Waterford to St. Johnsbury, and that decision established a tradition of farming that continues to this day even as elsewhere around Waterford it’s disappearing.
On another visit with Geneva, she pulls out a small black-and-white photograph whose image is a little hazy around the edges. “This is what the house you’re living in looked like before Audrie and Rolla bought it.”
She shows me a shingled camp built by a woman from Connecticut in 1907. For me, this is the closest I’ll ever come to living in Upper Waterford, when the entire hillside down to the river was cleared by farms started in the very early 1800s. But late in the 1940s, the boreal forest was reclaiming the hillside, farms were disappearing, and the camp was nearly engulfed by trees and shrubs. Even now, my landlord, one of Geneva’s many nephews, bush hogs the acreage I don’t use.
Like my father, I have a need to connect with people along the roads of the Connecticut River Valley. As Geneva continues to show me, in their stories are some of my own. It’s a shared heritage. And, if I’m lucky and keep at it, it’s part of a larger community I hope to find.
Concord Opens Its Door to History
The Northland Journal, September 2012
We all have a homing instinct. It’s the desire to return to a place filled with comfort, laughter and a sense of belonging. This yearning might prompt some of us to time travel as re-enactors to an era that resonates on some deeper, unspoken level. Or, to walk in our ancestors’ footsteps, hoping their presence will give us insight about where we came from. So, while Capistrano waits for its swallows and New Orleans Mardi Gras greets revelers, in the southeast corner of the Northeast Kingdom, it is Concord that welcomes ‘home’ the fans of history.
Two years after the nation’s bi-centennial celebration sowed the seeds, the nascent Concord Historical Society, among others, dedicated itself to having a museum to commemorate its richly varied past as a farming community, industrial mill town, summer resort, and site of education’s first “normal” or teacher-training school. The organization chose the last full weekend in September for an annual meeting. Since 1978, hundreds, if not thousands, of people have walked through a door to American history that is more than just local.
First-timers, of course, are the most curious, coasting along the gentle curve of Route 2, peeping at leaves from vehicles with license plates stamped in Texas, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania. If the lower speed limit along the proposed Connecticut River Byway loop tour fails to catch their eye, the traffic jam in Concord village usually does. Some years, the tip-off has been an old-fashioned coin drop by the volunteer fire company or high school seniors underwriting the cost of prom or a class trip. Other years, pedestrians crossing Main Street remind drivers they are moving through a densely populated area after miles of open fields and forests. When out-of-towners spot the three-story working-clock-and-bell tower that tops the tan-colored Town Hall they know they’ve arrived.
Residents and businesses, alike, enthusiastically embrace the historical society’s mission. If you ever wondered what a late 19th century farm kitchen looked like, there’s a room outfitted with all hand-operated appliances, plus the kitchen sink. The only electricity is to the ceiling light bulb. In another room is a companion exhibit of farming and logging tools, pre-diesel. Nearby is part of a telephone switchboard from the days of party lines. Teenagers raised on mobile phones always need a little extra time to fathom that ground-breaking technology.
So, too, those reared on Gameboy, X-Box and Wii. There’s a nifty collection of toys that’s part of a hands-on exhibit in the museum’s combination dining and living room. Visitors find it right next door to the recreation of a country doctor’s office. The historical society gratefully received most of those artifacts when the region’s beloved Dr. F. Russell Dickson died in 1985. Having delivered 1,860 new-borns in his long career, Dickson is remembered by a wall of baby photos, now and then, that is part of an on-going project.
That undertaking is a good indicator of why so many people like to return and participate in Concord’s perennial event. Genealogists come to search for their ancestors and share their findings. This latter fact has grown into a society subcommittee on family histories. Slightly over 51 square miles in size, Concord maintains nine cemeteries. The most famous Hollywood connection to Concord comes via actor Matthew Perry, though he has yet to visit. But you can go to the bank on the Perry genealogy that’s been done here.
Like all reputable historical societies, Concord acknowledges its war veterans. As part of the statewide, multi-year focus on Vermont’s role in the Civil War, naval hero and Medal of Honor recipient Charles H. Smith will be recognized this year with a special display. A blacksmith by trade, Smith lies in the eastern half of the Village Cemetery. Those who want to pay their respect can leave Route 2, take the Cross Road to Waterford, and bear left onto Prospect Street.
Lyndon State College is involved in an on-going project simply called “Original Settlements”. With representatives from the Waterford History Group and a member of the Littleton Area Historical Society, Concord’s historians are into year two of researching and recreating the colonial villages that predate the creation of Moore Lake. If ever there were a persistent query about this part of the Upper Connecticut River Valley, it’s the one about those displaced to slake downstate’s unabated thirst for electricity. A hoped-for guest is the great-great-great grandson of the Pattenville, NH, founder. Last year, he read a delayed article about the settlements exhibit in a local paper, contacted the society, and plans to return in this month to share what he knows.
He and other callers ‘visit’ in the Conversation Corner, part of the yearly two-day expansion onto the first floor of the 1906 Town Hall; the museum is up a flight of stairs. A magnificent theater curtain that depicts the famed Shadow Lake resort neighborhood graces the room’s stage. Drop in anytime between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. September 29 and 30 and you may hear live music from the platform. Admission to Open House is by donation. There’s also the opportunity to buy tickets for the Sunday raffle that always closes the show.
But let’s be honest, this homecoming isn’t just about history. A lot of visitors leave the building with one, or more, of the delectable treats baked by society members and sold to raise funds. Located at tables in the center of the first floor, the bake sale is usually staffed by the history society’s junior members. Point of fact, out-going president, and now grandmother, Kathie Quimby Fisher began her volunteer career, as a teen, sitting at the kitchen tables of founding members Bernice Payeur and Leah Moyes. She listened as the two standard-bearers assembled their research, typed the newsletter, and planned the annual autumn rite. Though both women are gone, the tradition they established enables the much larger Northeast Kingdom community to find their way home.
Sacred, Soul, Rock 'n Roll
Music Lives in Asbury Park
X.it ~ an artzine September 2011
Music has always been a part of Asbury Park’s ethos. Presbyterians sang a capella under ancient pine trees. African Americans brought spirituals. Military bands played patriotic tunes. Ragtime composer Arthur Pryor presaged the arrival of jazz. Opera and musical theater aficionados heard nationally renowned singers touring the summer circuit. And, a city son who trained at Julliard put together a troupe which evolved into the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra.
“Any vacation destination means work opportunities for musicians,” observed A&M recording artist Glen Burtnik who relocated from New Brunswick’s sleepy suburbs after touring with the Chicago-based progressive rock band Styx and in “Beatlemania” as Paul McCartney.
“I don’t naturally like staying ‘within the box’,” added the singer-songwriter who has penned hits for Randy Travis, and Patty Smyth and Don Henley, among others. Changing places enables the multi-talented showman and guitarist to experiment musically, from recording with the high school chorus to later this fall performing with a string quartet for an Asbury Park Musical Heritage Foundation benefit planned at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel.
In this seaside city, “I’m free to let my freak flag fly more.”
Despite urban decay that has lingered for nearly four decades, live music still makes Asbury Park the locus of the Shore music scene. It doesn’t matter which side of the microphone you’re on or if you own the mic. The city has a genre and platform for everyone, even if it’s church.
“It’s your goal as a musician to make people happy, whether your music is religious or pop or rap,” said life-long resident Gladstone Trott, organist and choir director at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church. The versatile Trott conducts New York’s Downtown Glee Club, plays in the Lakewood Jazz Ensemble, and accompanies international jazz vocalist Sandy Sasso of Oakhurst. He fused two of his avocations in 2005 when he inaugurated a 9 a.m. jazz mass at his church every time a fifth Sunday appears in the calendar.
Last year fellow Asbury Park High School alum and noted drummer Chico Rouse, Jr. opened the eponymous Chico’s House of Jazz. One of the surprise audience hits during the most bitter winter in recent memory came from women. Rouse instituted Ladies Night on Thursdays and didn’t charge them admission. Grooving to live R&B performances, they packed the dance floor week after week.
Observed Trott, “That Asbury Park embraces diversity allows musicians to do many things they might not be able to do.”
Nowhere is that more true than Asbury Lanes, the multi-media bowling alley that flies under mainstream culture’s radar. It is home to the city’s punk-rock scene. Even when the ocean’s icy wind blasts from one block away, the nightclub is a hotbed of alternative music, Goth-dressed devotees, and counter-culture programming as varied as a slide show on tattoo art, a burlesque review, and a talk by movie director John Waters.
“There is a familiar sound in this city where the language barrier is broken through melodies of songs,” noted Gidalthi "Gee" Guillen whose Latin rock group, Xol Azul Band, performs at a number of addresses. As testament to Asbury Park’s aspirational status, XAB shot the cover for its debut CD against the boardwalk’s iconic Casino.
The Monmouth County Arts Council’s original founders might not have foreseen either genre when they drafted the arts agency’s support of live music in its 1971 mission statement. But they articulated a commitment to bring artists and audiences together that mirrors a practice of longstanding in Asbury Park.
Covering the standards is not new in the music business. But when the Stone Pony opened in 1974, it established a tradition of having a house band that audiences would come back to hear. Acoustic producer Brenda Wirth remembered how the following winter she and her folk-musician husband, George, came to hear Southside Johnny [Lyon] and the Asbury Jukes, the horn-driven ensemble known for R&B and soul.
“The line waiting to get in was down the block,” she recalled, incredulity still in her voice. “It was January.”
Because heritage is about passing down tradition to the next generation, Lyon, who continues to perform with the Jukes at the Pony, now mentors younger collaborators like Outside the Box, the blues-rock group which just spent its third year as the club’s official Summer House Band.
“We were fortunate enough to get the opportunity to open for some great bands like Gov’t Mule, the Fab Faux, and Southside Johnny,” wrote Jeff Cafone in an e-mail from New York University where he is a student, adding “we went on to develop a stronger musical relationship with [Lyon].”
To the cognoscenti, the rivalry for audience and talent between the Stone Pony on Ocean Avenue and The Saint on Main Street is legendary. Asbury Park’s unofficial music incubator opened in 1994 and adroitly positioned itself as a place where music fans might hear the “the next big thing” whether it’s local musician Quincy Mumford who fuses folk, soul and reggae or nascent national acts such as Jewel, Creed, and Everlast. Last year, singer-songwriter Josh Ritter’s performance attracted fellow musicians Bruce Springsteen and Steve Forbert.
“It’s a give and take with the crowd,” said long-time rocker Sonny Kenn about the musical hook-up between artist and audience. But as a songwriter, “it’s important to find people who will give you a shot at playing your own stuff. There are more clubs in Asbury today that will let you do that.”
Lost to Progress, Rebuilt by Research
The Littleton Courier, September 28, 2011>
To many, the Old Waterford Road in West Littleton isn’t much more than a one-way lane to a recreation area.
But to avid genealogist Carolyn Grass, it’s a well-worn road to one of the lost villages of the Upper Connecticut River Valley that she’s rebuilding this weekend.
“The rise and fall of Pattenville tells us so much about New Hampshire,” said Grass about the hometown of her ancestors she’s been researching for 40 years. “It’s a story about politics and how new technologies changed the regional economy.”
Grass, who grew up on a poultry farm on the then-named Waterford Road, was asked to display her extensive collection of Pattenville photographs and maps as part of the “lost settlements” theme for this year’s Open House weekend to be held by the Concord Historical Society. [September 24-25. FYI: This story was intended for the September 21, 2011 edition.]
Artifacts from Upper Waterford and Concord Corners, where Grass also had forebears, complete the display which will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the old Concord Town Hall on Route 2.
“Pattenville was sacrificed so Littleton could grow,” said Grass, about the advent of railroad transportation and early 20th century plans to harvest hydro-electronic power by managing the Connecticut’s downstream flow. Until the 1920s, “Pattenville was quite prosperous,” she added.
A member both of the Littleton and Concord historical societies, Kinne noted Pattenville boasted the most industries of the three “lost” villages with lumber, cider and grist mills, shoe and starch factories, and the necessary blacksmith shop that supported the local agricultural economy. There were farms for potatoes, hay, and a “sugaring” orchard for maple syrup.
Daughter of the late Norman Kinne, who contributed his Pattenville and West Littleton reminisces to “The Littleton Courier”, and a descendant of the Farr family, Grass used the Littleton Library’s historical resources as well as those found in the Rauner Collection at Dartmouth Library to expand the research she inherited from her parents.
She’s now looking for information about existing buildings in the Littleton area that incorporated doors, windows, and boards from Pattenville houses and barns that had to be demolished before the Moore Reservoir could be flooded with river water.
Said Grass, “The new technology that’s changing the economy is digital, so photographs should be especially easy to show us at the Open House.”
We know a camp in Lunenberg was built with reclaimed lumber from the 3 villages; the front door of Harley and Ida Richardson Pike's house is in Littleton, and Carolyn's great-grandfather's barn boards once lined the tap room in the Thayer Hotel, also in Littleton. Please contact us if you have other examples.
Photos of both Harley and Ida Pike's repurposed front door and barn boards can be found on my Facebook diary. Another Pike barn from down in the village of Upper Waterford has been recycled into two garages: one up the hill at the former Luther Pike now Powers Farm and the other on the vacation estate of actress Bette Davis in Sugar Hill, NH.
From Carolyn Kinne Grass in an e-mail: "John Patten, gggrandson of the original Pattenville dweller, passed thru [Concord, VT] and stopped to see Nate [Drown, historical society veep and program curator of the "lost villages" project], having read about the open house. Someone read that article!!!!"
Eyes That See the Heart’s Desire
X.it ~ an artzine September 2011
Life is too often a chaotic blur of activity. But for Tina Colella, a natural ability to photograph tranquility in the midst of a clamorous panorama provides the kind of grace that both saves and salves the spirit. “I go where the energy is,” explained the Oceanport resident who lives between the ever-changing sea and horses exercising outside the paddocks of Monmouth Park. “Behind the lens makes me centered and happy.”
A lithographer by trade, Colella renders her gallery work in either gliceé, that is, sprayed ink on museum-quality cotton-rag paper, or as metal prints − anodized images printed and laminated on aluminum. In her collection is a dramatic black-and-white scene from winter titled “Mourning Walk”. It shows pigeons taking flight even as a woman calmly walks her equally unflustered dog through the flurry of grey-toned wings. “Black and white is all about the essence of the composition; color is about emotion.”
Always tuned to the environment, Colella, now 55, continually honed her perspective through marriage, four children, and a move to the north Jersey shore. In 2003, when her daughter, Sunshine Falcone, was diagnosed with a rare uterine cancer, the mother picked up a lens to look for solace in a world crashing out of control. “ ‘Take up your camera’,” Colella said her daughter told her. Having just made her a grandmother for the second time, Sunshine added, “ ‘Make memories’.”
So Colella did. The near-fatal cancer retreated into remission, seemingly in proportion to the thousands of camera clicks Colella logged in creating a new portfolio. Embracing the then-emerging medium of digital photography and a Canon camera, Colella stopped buying film and shelved her beloved Nikon. Yet, the new technology brought new opportunity. The Monmouth Conservation Foundation commissioned her to shoot the cover of its 2009 annual report. The stunning color photograph featured a snow-white heron, tail feathers gently open like a cape against the dark green foliage of Fisher Stern in Navesink. The shoot also produced a limited edition of 50 large-format prints.
Born in 1950s Newark, a city in decline, Colella grew up in various neighborhoods and spent her early childhood pasting together collections of images cut from magazines and holiday wrapping paper. “I didn’t know there was a name for it,” Colella said about her collages. “But they gave me something beautiful to look at.”
When she was ten, a relative gave the introspective youngster a plastic camera, and through that lens Colella taught herself how to frame a city’s visual rhythms. “I saw texture in the cobblestones,” she recalled. Years later it would be abstract patterns of light captured from Manhattan and Los Angeles rooftops. “There’s a part of my spirit that likes to be up high like a bird.”
Forty years after setting up her original darkroom, Colella had her first solo exhibit titled “Essence” at Monmouth University’s Pollack Gallery. Her choices ranged from dramatic mountain vistas to quiet interior moments captured in the performances of Alvin Ailey dancers at Brookdale Community College and nightclub singers in Asbury Park. “I shoot every day,” Colella said simply. “It feeds my creativity.”
On the Boardwalk in New Jersey
Stephen Crane Studies *
Volume 18, Number 1, Spring 2009 [pub date: June 2010]
With unbridled energy, blue-black waves swell and crash into white foam on the golden sands of Asbury Park, New Jersey. The tangy salt air breezily finds its way down sycamore-lined avenues. En route it tickles both the hemlines of young ladies and the fancies of their summer suitors. On the spare wooden boardwalk, well-dressed couples from America’s newly minted middle class stroll with pride, showing off their winter-born babies festooned in lace, lying in white wicker perambulators. From the Kingsley Avenue Merry-Go-Round, the jaunty melodies of a carousel’s pipe organ beckon would-be riders for a fantasy trip aboard handsomely carved and majestically painted horses even as one block away, thrill-seekers allow their hearts to jump into their throats as they ride a roller toboggan.
This is not the Asbury Park of rock and roll poet Bruce Springsteen. It isn’t the movie-matinee-filled Saturday afternoons of actor Danny DeVito, either. Nor is it the in-between-address of actor Cesar Romero who played the Joker in the campy “Batman” television series of the 1960s or of syndicated travel writer Lowell Thomas who wrote “With Laurence in Arabia” while his father practiced medicine here. And even though Jack Nicholson used to get his haircut at Red Cardilla’s barbershop on Asbury Avenue, neither is this the Asbury Park of his youth. It is, however, closer to being the Asbury Park of Bud Abbott who was born here in 1895, the baby of a bareback rider for Barnum and Bailey’s traveling circus show and an orangeade hawker.
This Asbury Park of well-appointed Victorian vacation homes, vividly landscaped gardens, a bustling downtown, and an oceanfront divided between the light and airy boardwalk and the enclosed dark rides of Ocean Avenue’s west side was the teenage home of Stephen Crane.
Remembered by scores of high school readers who plowed through his ground-breaking book on the Civil War -- The Red Badge of Courage -- Crane’s Asbury Park was one of many therapeutic seaside resorts that witnessed a different kind of battle. This one, believed by some to be waged still today, was for the very souls of red-blooded men and women.
On one side of the moral struggle stood Asbury Park’s born-again Methodist founder James A. Bradley, the Salvation Army, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. On the other side were the twin enemies of liquor and mechanized amusements which encouraged men and women to ride close together on wooden horses or to sit side-by-side on large wooden disks that, when rocked back and forth, caused the riders to clutch each other in an effort to maintain their balance.
For his part, Founder Bradley owned the mile-long boardwalk and banned rides of any kind that would bring the sexes together. He also forbade the sale and serving of alcohol from all the hotels and restaurants in Asbury Park. Bradley went so far as to endorse a one-mile limit on the sale of beer from the borders of his Christian utopia where he has named the streets after high-ranking Methodist clergy and morals crusaders such as Anthony Comstock.
But on the land-locked side of Ocean Avenue Bradley-the-businessman sold entire blocks of real estate to more flamboyantly entrepreneurial merchants. There, on that west side, painted ponies pranced, new celluloid movies aired in opulently decorated theaters, and mysterious men conjured magic while black-draped women promised to reveal your fortune.
Into this man-made tug-of-war between leisure, liquor, and liturgy came the last child of fervent Methodist reformers eleven-year-old Stephen Crane. With him came his beloved sister Agnes, a schoolteacher, an older brother Luther, and his widowed mother, Mary Helen Peck Crane. Already in Asbury Park was Townley Crane, a correspondent for the Associated Press, his wife, and another brother, Wilbur, a medical student.
Mrs. Crane was already a fierce temperance crusader and writer with as formidable a public life as that of her late husband, the Reverend Jonathan Townley Crane. Three years after her husband’s death in 1880, Mrs. Crane was able to purchase a three-story house at what is today 508 Fourth Avenue. In 1888 she upgraded Arbutus Cottage so there was an extra room for rent on each floor. That summer, one of her boarders was Frances Willard, president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
Both mother and daughter joined the First Methodist Episcopal Church around the corner on Grand Avenue. Her sons, on the other hand, were neither church joiners nor goers. Townley was busy supplying New York and Philadelphia papers with social reports of their readers’ refreshing sojourns away from the hot cities. Stephen, the youngest of the 14 Crane children, took up baseball with a passion.
The post-Civil War influences on Asbury Park were every where. For one thing, the end of the war-between-the-states in 1865 marked the beginning of America’s first golden age of affordable travel for the middle class. It started, in part, as veterans brought their families back to such battlegrounds as Gettysburg to point out where they had fought the good fight. Others, eager to match their battle brawn with business success, found opportunities in new communities popping up around the country as the United States began to rebuild its tattered economy after the fraternal war.
Waterfront resorts – no lakes too small, no oceanfronts too wide – were ideal for shrewd real estate speculators who tapped the vein of newly made money and aspiring second-home owners. Of the thirty-one founding fathers of commerce in Asbury Park, about half had served in the Civil War. Hotel and boarding house owners, in particular, offered special rates to veterans and their families. Bradley installed a statue of a soldier of New Jersey’s 14th Regiment at the foot of Asbury and Ocean Avenues across from the boardwalk. The founder even posed for a promotional photograph dressed in a Civil War uniform, his right elbow on a barrel, his visage deep in thought.
In the summer of 1888 Stephen Crane was 16, peddling his bicycle on miles of hot sandy roads and gathering the latest names and news on vacationers from Asbury Park south to Avon for his brother Townley’s New Jersey Coast News Bureau. These early writing exercises provided critical discipline in training Stephen how to record detail, capture nuance, and even how to find the telling ironies in man’s struggle to define himself. The journalism of the 1880 and ‘90s was not about generalizations, but about reporting what actually happened at any given event. The fiction style that eventually evolved from this form of journalism is called, by turns, impressionism, naturalism, symbolism, romanticism, and realism.
During Stephen’s passage to young manhood, Asbury Park’s seasonal struggle over the character of men and the morality of women escalated. Bradley had named his resort after the fervid 18th century Methodist circuit rider who launched the crusade against gambling, dancing, cussing, and liquor throughout the colonies. Bradley, himself, went so far as to post moral signs regarding the comportment of young ladies and gentlemen, and banned kissing from the boardwalk. He drafted a clothing code for women’s beach attire that included stockings, pants, a heavy blue flannel top with sleeves to the wrist, and canvas shoes. Its detractors called it the Bradley Bag.
But despite Founder Bradley’s ban against booze, businessmen found a way around the rule. By day and by night, produce merchants as well as soda and milk bottlers, sold pints of cheap whisky and beer hidden among their wares in the backs of their horse-drawn wagons. Alcohol found a more respectable way into polite society via the drugstores where cherry stomach bitters were nothing more than cheap whiskey.
By 1889 Asbury Park was thriving with more than 200 hotels and boarding houses. Because of its proximity to Ocean Grove, the enclave of the ultra conservative Methodist tent camp meeting association, the residential resort attracted not only more liberal Methodists with wealth, but other, less strident, yet equally well-heeled denominations as well. Five-and-dime scion F. W. Woolworth summered in Asbury Park. John Philip Sousa brought his band to town. In 1890 the resort city launched a wildly successful baby parade that sent its rival, Atlantic City, into a panic, causing it to retaliate, in the next century, with a virginal beauty pageant named Miss America.
At the official beginning of the Gay ‘90s, Stephen was enrolled in Syracuse University in upstate New York; in the spring of ‘91 he played baseball for the varsity team, and then dropped out of academic life for good. He went to Manhattan to try his hand as a newspaper stringer. In his spare time, Crane roamed the Bowery where he found inhabitants who embodied the tarnished side of the Gilded Age and began making notes for a slim novel that would be published in 1893 as “Maggie, A Girl of the Streets”.
In the summer of 1892 Crane returned to work for Townley in Asbury Park. His dispatches appeared in The New York Tribune, chief among them titled “On the Boardwalk”, “Summer Dwellers at Asbury Park and Their Doings”, and “On the New Jersey Coast”.
It was this last filing that brought Crane the most notoriety. One fateful day in August Townley left his younger sibling, then 20, in charge of the office while he apparently attended a funeral in Newark. The news to be covered was an “American Day” parade sponsored by the Junior Order of United American Mechanics (JOUAM) of New Jersey. With Townley not there to censor him, Crane first lampooned Asbury Park and its residents with his sardonic words: “Asbury Park creates nothing. It does not make; it merely amuses…” He continued with: “The throng along the line of the march was composed of summer gowns, lace parasols, tennis trousers, straw hats and indifferent smiles.”
Crane then took aim at JOUAM, a group of laborers known for their isolationism and bigotry against Catholics and Jews: “There were hundreds of the members; they wound through the streets to the music of enough brass bands to make furious discords. It probably was the most awkward, ungainly, uncut and uncarved procession that ever raised clouds of dust on sun-beaten streets.”
In the parade were supporters of the Republican nominees for president and vice president, respectively, Benjamin Harrison and Whitelaw Reid. In a dig at both residents and Republican values, Crane ironically pointed out that “Such an assemblage of spraddle-legged men of the middle class, whose hands were bent and shoulders stooped from delving and constructing, had never appeared to an Asbury Park summer crowd.”
Amazingly, or not, the story sailed past the copy desk and into The New York Tribune’s Sunday edition of August. 21. Whether this specific article led to the eventual election of Democrat Grover Cleveland as president can still be debated. But what can’t is the immediate effect the published column had on Stephen’s career. His articles never again appeared in the Tribune, so angered was its publisher, Republican vice presidential candidate Whitelaw Reid.
No matter, as he was apparently in the throes of a summer infatuation. The object of his affection was Lily Brandon Munroe, a charming woman from Washington, D.C., who, though married, was summering without her husband at the fashionably upscale Lake Avenue Hotel across from Ocean Grove.
Mrs. Munroe became the inspiration for a slightly fictitious dispatch Stephen wrote and titled “The Captain” in which a confrontation takes place between well-to-do ladies staying at the resort and a burly fisherman who works double time as a resort fireman.
Love and literary inspiration in Asbury Park came together in another “Tribune” dispatch prior to his firing: “Joys of Seaside Life”. The setting was the Hippodrome. More than likely this was the original Palace, or Kingsley Avenue, merry-go-round, Asbury Park’s first carousel that was housed in a specially designed building open on three sides, and owned and operated by Ernest Schnitzler, a German émigré. Designed by Charles I.D. Loof, the noted Coney Island amusements sculptor, the carousel’s carved animals were life-like and dramatically decorated.
Stephen used Loof’s merry-go-round for a second time as the metaphorical center of a love story he penned in 1893 called “The Pace of Youth”. To this day it remains the most romantic, fictionalized love story to be set in Asbury Park. Here are Crane’s words: “Within the merry-go-round there was a whirling circle of ornamental lions, giraffes, camels, ponies, goats, glittering with varnish and metal that caught swift reflections from windows high above them…The summer sunlight sprinkled its gold upon the garnet canopies carried by the tireless racers and upon all the devices of decoration that made Stimson’s machine magnificent and famous.”
Stephen continued his romanticized ideal of Asbury Park: “The electric lights on the beach made a broad band of tremoring light, extending parallel to the sea…In the darkness stretched the vast purple expanse of the ocean, and the deep indigo sky above was peopled with yellow stars…”
Stephen’s young couple – he, the carousel operator, she the boss’s daughter, “walked home by the lakeside way, and out upon the water those gay paper lanterns, flashing, fleeting, and careering, sang to them, sang a chorus of red and violet, and green and gold: a song of mystic bands of the future.”
Here he is describing his young lovers as they leave behind her father and the crumbling conservatism of an age past its prime:
“That other vehicle, that was youth, with youth’s pace; it was swift-flying with the hope of dreams. [Stimson] began to comprehend those two children ahead of him, and he knew a sudden and strange awe, because he understood the power of their young blood, the power to fly strongly into the future and feel and hope again...”
Eighty years would pass before another young man of Crane’s age and similar passion would write a 20th century love story about youth’s freedom flight for the rock-and-roll generation. Equally entranced by the play of light on the water, Bruce Springsteen wrote in “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”: “Oh Sandy, the aurora is risin’ behind us/The pier lights our carnival life on the water/Runnin’ down the beach at night with my boss’s daughter/Well he ain’t my boss no more Sandy.”
A year after “The Red Badge of Courage” was published, and Crane finally received the attention, and adulation, he so long wanted, at the age of 24 he returned for one more summer season in his adopted hometown before departing to cover the Spanish-American War in Cuba. The dispatch was vintage Crane, with his typical ridicule and disdain:
“From the station Asbury Park presents a front of spruce business blocks, and one could guess himself in one of the spick Western cities….The summer girls flaunt their flaming parasols, and young men in weird clothes walk with the confidence born of a knowledge of the fact that their fathers work…
“James A. Bradley does not meet all incoming trains. He is as impalpable as Father Knickerbocker. It is well known that he invariably walks under a white cotton umbrella, and that red whiskers of the Islandic lichen pattern grow fretfully upon his chin, and persons answering this description are likely to receive the salaams of the populace.”
Nearly four years later, and after the adventures that led to “The Open Boat and Other Stories”, Stephen died of tuberculosis in Germany. He was 28. The year was 1900.
Ninety-three years later, and for nearly the same purchase price as Mrs. Crane’s, Tom and Regina Hayes bought the unassuming, ramshackled house with its modest boarding house rooms on Fourth Avenue. With only one other owner in between, the house had remained virtually the same since Mrs. Crane owned it, right down to the ball-and-claw enamel tubs and sandstone floors in the bathrooms and window-paned doors that open off interior corridors. With the help of devoted volunteers and corporate donations, seven rooms on the first floor were restored, becoming the nucleus of the Stephen Crane House Museum. The restoration process also uncovered a period twine baseball located in the soil near the house’s foundation.
In 1996, during the city’s annual April in Asbury festival, the Hayeses opened the ground floor rooms to the public for the first time. The museum’s opening was also marked by an innovative production entitled “The Middle Years” by New Jersey playwright and director Midge Guerrera, then living and working in Asbury Park. Guerrera brought the Crane family to life during their tenure at No. 508 Fourth Avenue, and had the audience move, scene-by-scene, through the rooms as actors recounted their character’s lives, sharing their thoughts about living in Asbury Park and having Stephen as a younger brother.
Liquor and liturgy no longer play the prominent, defining roles they once had. The 21st century tug-of-war in Asbury Park has more to do how and where the public might spend its leisure time, though. Mechanized amusements are no where to be found: In 2004, Crane’s hippodrome was torn down to make way for a far-reaching oceanfront redevelopment plan. Yet a generous donation by Springsteen afforded Frank D’Alessandro, the new owner of the Crane House, the opportunity to create an intimate presentation hall for lectures, live music, and workshops. Indeed, given that there are no traces left of Stephen Crane in his native Newark, Arbutus Cottage stands alone as the only museum to commemorate his presence in New Jersey.
* Stephen Crane Journal is published by the English Department at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.
The original, unabridged version of this essay appeared in Literary Trips: Following the Footsteps of Fame, a travel anthology published in 2001 in British Columbia.
How Green is My County?
X.it ~ an artzine
A block of stone. A clean page. An empty canvas. The virgin shape waits a story. Once told, the new form opens a dialogue between artist and audience. Using the environment as their backdrop, architects also seek a conversation about the relationship buildings have to physical surroundings.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina cut a swath of destruction through the bayous of Louisiana and two years later a tornado leveled 95 percent of a town in southern Kansas. An unprecedented opportunity arose to write a new architectural footprint for the 21st century in the wake of these natural disasters. Green is its vocabulary.
In New Orleans, actor-activist Brad Pitt, long known for his interest in building design, challenged 13 architects to come up with blueprints for affordable, storm-resistant, sustainable homes from which returning residents could chose. By 2009, fifteen of the projected 150 homes were up. In Greensburg, Kansas, elected officials voted overwhelmingly to rebuild as a green town. To rally support for a new environmentally focused master plan and related ordinances, Geensburg offered incentives to home owners and businesses, alike.
Monmouth County hasn’t had a natural catastrophe since the Hurricane of ’44 when the Atlantic’s waves not only breached the stone wall at Sea Bright but also wiped out parts of Ocean Avenue in Long Branch, including the city's amusement pier, and the wind-whipped sea cracked the concrete floor of the Asbury Park Casino Arena. With materials and money earmarked for the nation’s World War II military efforts, infrastructure repairs, along with new construction anywhere in the county, were deferred.
“We couldn’t afford to rebuild until after the war,” said noted architect Jerome Larsen of AIA IDEAS Architects, Red Bank. “When we did, it was all about suburban sprawl,” he added, referring to the 1950s housing boom. “[It was] a time when utility costs were cheap…no one was thinking about wind or solar power.”
Innovative architectural design that sought a dialogue between Mother Nature and modern construction techniques came, instead, from visionaries working in the corporate world. The arrival of some of the foremost leaders in the telecommunications industry signaled the formal start of Monmouth County’s green engagement.
In 1959, Bell Telephone hired avant garde architect Eero Saarinen to model a new laboratory so engineers could be moved out of an aging facility in lower Manhattan. Fresh from designing a woodsy campus for the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, Saarinen’s blank blueprint was 472 acres of gently rolling fields in Holmdel. Hideo Sasaki, an internationally renowned landscape architect and chair of that discipline at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, was Saarinen’s collaborator.
For his part, Saarinen drew a glass-covered cube to reflect the surrounding countryside. On the exterior, mirrored panels allow 25 percent of the available sunlight to pass through while blocking 70 percent of the sun’s heat. At the building’s center, a glass-covered frame of heat-absorbent, self-oxidizing steel encloses the multi-storied space to create a 100-by-700-foot atrium.
Describing the hallways Saarinen designed to parallel the blue-tinted windows, retired Bell Labs vice president Dean Gillette said, “The interior corridors were for walking. If you wanted to see the outside, all you had to do was walk. The offices were designed for work.”
Sasaki lined the facility’s curving driveways with sugar maples, the trees that give fall foliage its vibrancy. He planned three large maintenance lakes along with woods and wetlands. His vision included a water tower whose shape paid homage to a Bell Labs invention, the transistor, that essential high-tech component that amplifies electronic signals.
When Saarinen and Sasaki’s eco-friendly design for Bell Laboratories opened its doors in 1962, America was at the start of a homesteading movement known as back-to-the-land. Its proponents wanted greater contact with nature. Its vocabulary of solar power, wood fuel, wind energy, sustainability, and living in harmony with the land sowed the seeds for the next century’s green debate.
But nearly 50 years would pass before Monmouth County would see another large-scale environmentally sensitive initiative that strikes a balance between nature and human aspirations. Instead of a corporation, the new vision came from the public sector. In 2008, and in a record construction time of 22 months, the Neptune Township Board of Education opened New Jersey’s first completely green elementary school.
Part of a state-sponsored pilot program, the 105,000-square-foot Summerfield School is located, perhaps with intended irony, on Green Grove Road. According to the Schools Development Authority website, “the building and site portray a theme relating to local early American colonial architecture and agriculture including vernacular styling and colonial era sustenance gardens.”
Carroll Gordon of KS Engineers PC, Newark, designed the student-maintained vegetable and flower gardens to complement the Green Acres park located on the property’s perimeter. A nature trail connects the gardens to the park.
EI Associates, Architects & Engineers, PA of Cedar Knolls, executed the school’s geothermal design that minimizes heat loss and maximizes cooled air. The firm also created such core facilities as a music room that opens into an amphitheater and a cafeteria that opens to an environmental patio. Both are located so residents can use the building at night, on weekends, and throughout the summer without disrupting the classroom space.
Most significant of all, Summerfield meets the voluntary Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). In 2008 the township school received the council’s gold certification as a high-performance, environmentally responsible structure. It is only one of a handful of public schools nationwide to earn this designation.
So who’s providing the lead inspiration in the private sector? To find the answer take a look at the cable television listings. There, programs that tap the burgeoning green movement range from the Discovery Channel’s “Plant Green” to HGTV’s “Carter Can,” a home renovation show hosted by carpenter Carter Oosterhouse. Besides practical advice, Oosterhouse offers green-building solutions and design alternatives that conserve energy and reduce environmental waste.
Like Oosterhouse, carpenter and homebuilder Adam Robert Sinclair of Atlantic Highlands could host his own Monmouth County-based cable home show. It could be titled “Adam Able.” Trained and certified by the USGBC, Sinclair believes homeowners can green any blueprints.
“The foundation of a building is where energy efficiency occurs. That’s where you have to start,” he said. “The thermal envelope is the most important design feature so you’re not leaking air. It’s at the core of Energy Star certification.”
As to the green aesthetics for a home’s interiors, Sinclair points out that décor is just as much about personal choice as it is about making the health-conscious decision to install formaldehyde-free cabinets, use low volatile organic compound paints, hang insulated curtains, and buy appliances that carry the Energy Star rating established by the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy.
“It’s a ticking clock,” Sinclair said about the new vocabulary for green architecture.
Monmouth County already has a significant green lead with its award-winning park system that guarantees residents have open space and plenty of recreation no matter where they live. Perhaps now is the time to ramp up the dialogue with public and private property owners to see if the 21st century’s green movement can have some real longevity. After all, why should the conversation just be about New Orleans and Greensburg?
Helen Pike lectures in media development at Rutgers-New Brunswick. She is a columnist for the TriCityNews for which she writes the monthly column on urban places and spaces. She interviewed Dr. Yvonne Thornton, author of The Ditchdigger’s Daughters, and Tom Bernard of Sony Picture Classics for the summer 2008 issue of X.it.
Can Long Branch Regain Its Intermodal Glory?
Spending time in southeastern Australia is an adventure. What’s the diff between being an Aussie and an Ozzie; does it mean biting bat heads or dancing down the Yellow Brick Road?
Where does the British culture end and the Australian begin, I wonder as we pull real poppers at a balmy Christmas lunch?
And, are the Pikes I met at a Nat Geo conference on its global genographic project a missing link that connects my Pikes who are feeding and watering me through Christmas?
I find myself asking these questions on one of the trains I’ve taken into downtown Melbourne. With its lively universities and technical schools (hospitality and maritime are huge here), it’s a bohemian city on the enormous Port Philip Bay with Tasmania and the South Pole somewhere off in the distance.
Thanks to a thriving media committed to civic engagement, it’s a cosmopolitan city that works hard to best at every turn its Gold Coast rival, Sydney. Which is how Long Branch and my TriCityNews deadline wander into my line of inquiries as we pull into Flinders Street Station.
Named for one of Australia’s original navigators, there’s been a station here on the banks of the Yarra River since 1854. It anchors a corner of the city’s landmark intersection that includes St. Paul’s Cathedral and a modern visitors center with architecture you either love or hate. Thanks to the sight lines, you can see the bay and, at the rise on Swanston Street, the river.
The Edwardian exterior, built in 1910, was saved from the wrecker’s ball, largely due to that enviable civic engagement encouraged by Melbourne’s fourth estate. Within 24 hours of its original announcement, the government reversed its decision and agreed to preserve the iconic facade, including the famous clocks that tell the times of pending departures on each track.
Its two-story waiting room is flooded with natural sunlight. Tracks are well-marked; each features an an escalator. There are news and snack stands, and a place designated for sit-down eating. There’s even a ballroom to rent for special functions! The facility swarms with friendly security that will answer any question you have to ask without treating you like a potential terrorist.
Outside the station, there’s more public transport scheduled to get you quickly and easily to any number of destinations that make Melbourne better than Sydney: the CBD (central business district ~ hello shopping on Collins Street!); the docklands (now site of a chic-ed up condo community with fab water views); the unis and original city suburbs, and, south of the Yarra, a whole new neighborhood of immigrants, food markets, and cooking schools.
On an average weekday, more than 110,000 passengers pass through the Flinders Street Station. So, just for a minute, leave aside the political hot potato of carbon footprints.
How many of those people do you think prefer to sit in vehicular traffic, fighting pedestrians and betting on short-timed traffic lights when city trolleys can get them where they want to go more quickly and efficiently?
That question leads me back to Long Branch. Sure, its original train stations mysteriously, or not, disappeared. It’s also well-known secret that public transportation lost the war against the lobbying and marketing efforts by Detroit automakers obsessed with putting a car in every driveway.
But as the new year’s resolutions are starting early with Trenton tightening the fiscal belt on the arts and history, it’s an ideal time to start a civic discourse that explores how to make the public transportation dollar go as far as possible.
For the Shore’s capital city in the midst of a never-ending renaissance that goes in fits and starts that means a multi-functioning train station. Seriously, Mayor Schneider, the time is now to start designing this economic engine.
The intermodal connection comes with regularly scheduled trolleys. A new circuit based on the old tracks would easily facilitate commuters, Brookdale and Monmouth University students, plus those all-important NJ Rep and beach visitors.
Imagine a reliable system that moves consumers in the largest of the tri cities, and its surrounding ‘burbs, in and out of Down Town, Up Town, Pier Village, North Beach, and to any of the health-care pavilions affiliated with Monmouth Medical Center.
Hey, Long Branch Arts Council: Why don’t you sponsor a competitive charette to see what designs architects might come up with? List the criteria as a transportation plaza that complements the hospital’s sprawl while paying homage to the seashore and the city’s presidential history?
Until then, I’ll be on a train, pondering new questions about PM Kevin Rudd and his participation in that backroom carbon deal in Copenhagen, the women without remorse who slept with Tiger Woods, and the journey of one’s genes.
Coffee Bar Coming to the Asbury Park Library?
TriCityNews December 2009
Wouldn’t that be insanely great?!
A shot of espresso would put the library at Grand and First Avenues on the map as a hip place for free thinkers. A rival to the Monmouth County Library System’s eastern branch in suburban Shrewsbury.
‘Whenever [coffee] has been introduced it has spelled revolution. It has been the world’s most radical drink…its function has always been to make people think,” says William Ukers in ~ what else? ~ the book “All About Coffee”.
Libraries have the same effect: Revolutionary thought. They are the level playing field in any community. People of all races, abilities, genders, and religious beliefs can meet there to pursue new ideas.
As library director Bob Stewart and his staff mull the possibility of serving a pot of coffee with their tomes of prose, here’s what else is brewing on Library Square:
Hosting a music exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
That’s right. The Smithsonian. Coming to Asbury Park.
With the hard work of Dennis Carroll from ArtsCAP, Tom Gilmour of the UEZ, Johna Karpinski of the Asbury Park Historical Society (fresh from its uber success with the Morro Castle 75th anniversary commemorative), and an assist by yours truly who’ll loan items from the Pike Archives.
Want to know who else is supporting this revolutionary initiative to bring our nation’s treasures to the shore’s capital music city?
Cindi Donofrio, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. She’s got the perfect drum-beating job to help businesses come up with fresh, new music-related promotions and site events. She’s considering breakfast meetings whose guest speakers come from the music biz. Hey, you guys teaching music management at Monmouth University: Call Cindi if you want the mic.
The Smithsonian’s New Harmonies ~ hard not to insert the word Jersey there ~ highlights the roots of American music. So, we’re reaching out to Tyrone R. McAllister. He’s the man, according to the Director of Good Times (a/k/a Tom Gilmour) who, when not upholding law and order in the city-by-the-sea, is responsible for bringing the heavenly voices of gospel out of the churches and into the public arena.
Speaking of the word of God, we’ve included Trinity Episcopal as a site for musical concerts. Rev. David Stout’s house of workshop shares Grand Avenue frontage with the library. Any other churches want to buy in?
We stretched our reach even further to ask Robert Taylor of the Monmouth County Boys and Girls Club to involve the children because the New Harmonies’ through-line explores the cultural processes that have made America the birthplace of more music than anywhere else on the planet.
Asbury Park’s youngsters have always heard music. Thank the city’s founding families. Once they started birthing babies, a permanent, year-round settlement was established. On Monroe Avenue Taylor offers all kind of after-school programs, including music. The club has a chorus! Holler, Lorraine Stone and M’Zume, if you want to be a part of this!
Also on our contact list is APHS principal Tyler Blackmore. He’s especially instrumental because teachers think ahead when designing lesson plans. Better than any other profession, they know how to motivate teenagers through long-range projects. Especially ones that have a unit on producing work the public can see.
If you own a downtown or oceanfront business, think about how you might collaborate with APHS students so it’s a win-win-win situation. Let out-of-towners experience Asbury Park’s future through the work of its young adults.
Though Boardwalk events maven Pasqualina Delucia wasn’t able to make our strategy session, we got big plans for the Paramount. We’re hoping Madison Marquette will reprise the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. It last performed in Convention Hall in 2007 when the city celebrated its 110th anniversary of municipal independence from Ocean Township.
Because its musical director, Richard Benjamin, owns the largest archive of sheet music written by Arthur Pryor, the touring bandleader who 100 years ago made the executive decision to put his ragtime roots here.
His choice brought the kind of attention to Asbury Park that makes a publicist’s work a cakewalk. Sixty-six years later Bruce Springsteen would repeat the marketing magic with his debut album cover Greetings From Asbury Park.
Which brings us back to the Asbury Park Public Library and why we picked it as a site for the three-month traveling exhibit. Sure, it’s got the Springsteen Collection. And selections from that compilation would make for a brilliant companion exhibit.
More than that, though, the library also meets all the criteria asked for by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, especially the 800 square feet of space needed for the five mobile kiosks.
It’s NJCH that’s vetting all the applications on behalf of the Smithsonian. Yes, it’s a competitive process. We’re up for the challenge which is why we volunteered our time to get this started.
Want to know what other radical idea we fomented?
We picked the first quarter of 2011 as the timeframe for hosting the exhibit.
The reason is simple and two-fold.
First, the obvious: It’s the earliest slot available. Asbury Park would reap the benefits of the initial rush of media publicity. And could then use that attention to promote the next quarter’s worth of events planned for 2011.
Next, the more important reason: We’re drawing a line in the sand to start a long overdue dialogue. We want to shift public perception. We want Asbury Park to be known as a year-round destination. Not just a summer-only resort with some holiday weekends thrown in.
To achieve that long-term goal, we’re borrowing a page from the suburban play book (yes, I’m owning up to that) by inviting the civic leaders (see list above) to participate in this initiative. We’re targeting the late winter/early spring because it’s a season that traditionally is dominated by school programs: Martin Luther King Day, Presidents’ weekend, St. Patrick’s Day, Black History Month.
Now we’re inviting them to buy in to this cultural opportunity intended for the public at large.
It’s a dialogue that begins with what everyone has in common: Music.
After all, it transcends race, gender, age, religious affiliation, and pocketbooks.
Who better than Asbury Park citizens to host the Smithsonian?
Follow up 2010 I returned from the Pacific on January 16 to learn that Asbury Park did get picked to be a site for the New Harmonies exhibit in 2011!
triCity News, February 19, 2009
Not so long ago, noted real estate historian Charles Lockwood analyzed mixed-use development, or what we’re calling MUD.
Lockwood discovered that MUD financially outperforms suburbia’s cookie-cutter standard-use development model. SUD for short.
In other words, MUD makes more money than SUD.
In every measurable rubrique:
office and retail lease rates
residential prices and apartment rents
land value for the site and neighboring properties.
What does MUD look like?
It’s a developed property with combined uses:
businesses that hire local folks
community interaction either through retail or entertainment.
MUD is almost always in a neighborhood that is walkable and is usually close to public transportation.
Take 15 Sea Street in Eastport, ME, as a MUD example.
It’s a 1907 canning factory with brick walls, high arched windows, and tall ceilings. Nine investors pooled their money to renovate this one-time sardine processing plant according to green standards.
Later in 2009 when the make-over is finished, the first floor will include a variety of artisan- and marine-related retail businesses. The second floor will house a boutique hotel with 21 rooms, a meeting space, and a spa. The third floor will feature four penthouse apartments for long-term lease and/or timesharing.
A little retail. A little hospitality. A little residential real estate. A whole lot of ROI (return on investment) from a MUD.
The investors aren’t taking a flyer on this. They’ve already proven MUD can make them money.
With an even older structure.
Five years ago they re-opened a two-story office building constructed in 1887.
They called their first MUD project "The Commons". The ground floor has an art gallery, several offices, and a public-meeting room that can be rented by the day as either a classroom, a studio, or a conference room.
The second floor has two rental units available by the week from June through October (this seaside town’s high season); and by the month or the week from November through May (they’re pitching the units as ideal for professors on sabbatical).
All the way across the country in Oakland, the Northern California Land Trust has renovated an industrial warehouse as a MUD.
Located at 1255 26th St., the Noodle Factory features a rehearsal studio and fully equipped performance space totaling 2700-square feet.
It also has an art café and sponsors single-night events, often functioning as an underground dance club for San Francisco’s East Bay community.
The Noodle Factory also has 11 live-work units, nine below market rate, for qualifying artists. With just $10,000 down, an artist making $27,000 a year can afford to buy a studio that doubles as a residence.
NCLT work crews took the Oakland warehouse down to its original frame and then reused a significant amount of the historic timber in the reno.
They also went green, adding a solar electric grid that now meets 75 percent of the Noodle Factory’s energy needs.
[Heads up: there’s one more month to go in the Tri-City News challenge about finding solar and wind power examples in Long Branch. Who’s looking?]
I discovered the Eastport and Oakland examples because one of my favorite buildings in Asbury Park is the Buchanon & Smock lumber mills…ah, make that mill; the turn-of-the-19th-century property on Second and Langford appears to be disappearing, brick by brick. I was last in there when it was the Vaccaro Guitar Company.
That was a decade ago. Back then I thought Asbury Park would lead the tri cities in the kind of progressive reno of industrial lofts popping up all over Hoboken and Jersey City.
High ceilings, tall windows, exposed brick, lots of light. The Second Avenue property comes with history as well as classic industrial architecture: nearly all the original houses in Asbury Park came from Nelson Buchanon and George Smock’s lumber business.
But authentic mixed use development has yet to happen in Asbury Park.
Maybe it’s because the city needs a bonafide zoning code for MUD. Not a code that says mixed use is restricted to retail or white-collar office use on the sidewalk level and residences on the upper floors.
But rather a code for a real mix of uses that engages the public in an activity, provides jobs for residents, creates affordable living space, and produces a ROI for the investor.
A property that visually retains Asbury Park’s history while demonstrating a builder’s progressive vision for a neighborhood. A code for the future that advances what’s good about the past.
A MUD, because anything else would be a dud.
There’s no doubt about it:
Conventional energy costs continue to climb. In the last six years uranium prices have gone from $7 to $80 a pound; coal from $22 a ton to $55 a ton, and natural gas from $2 per million BTUs to $12. The corresponding escalation in end-users’ utility rates follows those prices. Fees to use another historic natural resource, water, also are rising.
Kick the ball down the hill, and transportation expenses associated with the drive for work as well as mass transit are escalating, too. Even the cost for food and drinks are not immune as suppliers pass the charges along to consumers.
Arguments for offshore drilling, natural-gas pipelines, the merits of nuclear energy, and the promise of more foreign oil some time in the future divert public discussion from pragmatic solutions needed now. It is essential to diversify our fuel choices today so we can earn a return on our investments when the economy rebounds tomorrow.
So, what lessons can we learn from New Jersey history?
Let’s start with the intrepid Dutch trading companies which came here to extend their whaling industry. They built our first settlements. When the whaling business went elsewhere, they adapted and turned to farming, creating new communities in the process.
Fast-forward 300 years and 40 percent of Garden State real estate is occupied by cities, industries, corporate research campuses, and housing developments. Three years ago the U.S. Green Building Council extended its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria for sustainable construction with a checklist for the retrofit of existing buildings (LEED-EB).
Tenants, new and old, will be taking a hard look at energy costs as the 21st century moves ahead.
Commercial and industrial real estate managers owe it to their tenants as well as their bottom lines to adapt more efficiency options in their leases. What are the costs associated with saving water, installing efficient heating and cooling, and using renewable building materials to reconfigure space for new occupants?
Run the numbers on the special promotion run jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency called Energy Star. From light bulbs to appliances, it is also ideal for small to medium-sized businesses looking to maximize their energy savings. Follow the footsteps taken last year by state agencies using Energy Star products.
Known as the Invention State thanks to Thomas Edison, Seth Boyden, Robert Wood Johnson, and John T. Dorrance, New Jersey led the 19th century Industrial Revolution by meeting the demands of a growing nation. In the process they created thousands of jobs.
Again technology is bringing solutions to a nation pursuing new business opportunities and creating employment possibilities in the process.
This time the innovation lies in ecology. The state’s main incubator is the public-private EcoComplex in Bordentown, an environmental R& D facility run by Rutgers University at the municipal landfill.
Research here supports work related to water resources, solid waste management, renewable energy, and controlled agricultural endeavors, including hydroponics and genetic engineering. Three companies have graduated from this facility, generating green-collar jobs as they establish themselves in the 21st century marketplace:
* Acrion Technology cleans landfill gas, converting it to methane for energy use;
* HydroGlobe removes metals from water;
* Terracycle converts worm castings into fertilizer.
Still in the development phase are such diverse start-ups as Four Seasons Orchids, Human Natural, Carbozyme, Internet Creation, MicroDysis, U.S. Biomass, and Garden State Ethanol which could become the East Coast’s first ethanol facility.
It’s obvious the demand for green-collar jobs is here.
It’s in the manufacture, installation, and maintenance of solar panels and wind turbines of all sizes. It’s in performing energy audits. It’s also at the executive level within companies. Want a lead to follow? Two of the largest software companies whose products are used throughout New Jersey are AutoDesk and Adobe. Both have vice presidents of sustainability.
With our crumbling highway infrastructure and long hours spent on the road, hasn’t the time finally come to implement a telecommute strategy?
Innovative managers who can design tasks and projects that utilize laptops, cell phones, and PDAs need to be rewarded for designing new productivity outcomes and shifting schedules so more employees can work from home and offices can save on energy costs.
Our state’s hospitality industry can also go green.
It has to in order to remain competitive with nearby states that have amped up their marketing campaigns to tout organic ingredients in menus, recycled water to maintain golf courses, and the advantages of energy efficient rooms enhanced by solar panels and wind turbines.
After all, we have hotels, B&Bs, and restaurants located in some of the most breathtaking vistas in all of the United States.
Organic farming, too, goes hand-in-hand with hospitality and the state’s longest-running ecology program, Jersey Fresh. Locally grown foods cost less than produce shipped from out-of-state. They also leave a smaller carbon footprint. Furthermore, buying local strengthens local economies. The Organic Consumers Association lists 69 different retailers within 20 miles of my 07724 zip code.
Last, but certainly not least, firms need to take advantage of government incentives.
The state lists 29 different programs suitable to businesses of all sizes in New Jersey Green Programs; 10 are from the Board of Public Utilities including four in partnership with the Economic Development Authority.
Want to make green? Go green first.
Helen Pike lectures in the development of mass media at Rutgers-New Brunswick. She is the author of New Jersey: Crossroads of Commerce, a book that examines how key industries evolved, including the Garden State's green initiatives. She is a member of the Eatontown Economic Development Advisory Committee.
Having Her Say
Xit: Artzene Summer 2008
By Helen Pike
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live” is Hollywood screenwriter Joan Didion’s most quoted line from “The White Album.” In her autobiography of life in 1960s Los Angeles, Didion discusses, among other mind-blowing experiences, her attendance at Black Panther Party political meetings and a Doors’ recording session.
Stories like hers are how we understand the world around us. They open a window to human behavior among people we might not know personally but recognize from headlines or as role models. Large and small, stories that tell of a shared history also illuminate what we have in common more than what’s different. Too, many use Didion’s essays as a lens through which to gain clarity about the chaotic‘60s.
But what if your story that, like Didion’s, also examines parental duty amid tumultuous cultural upheaval, yet can’t find a publisher? If a family narrative that starts before 1964’s Civil Rights Act and 1972’s Title 9 and concludes with six self-sufficient daughters carrying their widowed father’s casket to his grave isn’t deemed compelling? What if your story written two years before Didion’s 1979 book is released attracts no commercial interest?
Who sustains the greater loss: the writer who has written this unpublished story or readers denied the opportunity to read about a part of America’s heritage that is female first and black second?
“Our culture is still more misogynist than it is racist,” observes Yvonne S. Thornton, the third of six sisters initially raised in the housing projects of Long Branch. “If you were a black man in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and you didn’t have a son, you were ostracized by the black community. Daddy was determined we were going to make something of ourselves.”
For 18 years, and with her father’s same tenacity, Thornton, a double-Board certified specialist in obstetrics, gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine, persisted until a publisher finally agreed to print her autobiography. “The Ditchdigger’s Daughters: A Black Family's Astonishing Success Story” recounts how Donald Thornton, a Long Branch High School drop-out and Fort Monmouth laborer, forcefully inspired all six of his girls to achieve independence and noteworthy careers.
“My father was a consummate student of social science,” continues Thornton, who now lives in Teaneck. In 1965 and as a protective parent, he wouldn’t let his 18-year-old daughter attend Barnard College in far away Manhattan. Instead, he walked into the office of then-Monmouth College president William G. Van Note, in West Long Branch, and persuaded him to enroll Yvonne.
“He was a combination of Rocky and Bill Cosby,” Thornton adds.
But as long as it took Thornton to find a publisher, in less than two short years her story was turned into a telefilm. It aired in 1997 on the Family Channel, televangelist Pat Robertson’s hugely popular cable network. The made-for-TV movie prompted Thornton’s appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Today Show,” and “Good Morning America.”
The public will have a chance to see “The Ditchdigger’s Daughters” on the big screen when it airs at 7 p.m. Friday, July 25 at Asbury Park High School as part of the Newark Black Film Festival.
The six-week series, which also travels to Trenton and Camden for the second year in a row, showcases independently made films that tell the stories of African Americans. Admission is free.
The Newark Black Film Festival opens with “The Promised Land,” one of the segments originally broadcast on the highly acclaimed PBS series, “Eyes on the Prize.” The episode from this television documentary looks at the Civil Rights movement. The festival’s historic highlight for this year is “Hallelujah!” the first all-black film made in 1929. It also will be featured in a series of stamps devoted to vintage black cinema that the United States Postal Service plans to unveil in July.
“Hallelujah!” was the first sound film made by legendary director King Vidor, a one-time freelance newsreel cameraman and cinema projectionist from Texas who went on to direct such landmark films as “Stella Dallas,” “The Fountainhead,” and “War and Peace.”
Johnny E. Jensen, a Dane by birth and a cinematographer by training who has worked with directors John Singleton on “Rosewood” and Martha Coolidge on “Rambling Rose,” directed “The Ditchdigger’s Daughters.”
“Being an immigrant in this country and growing up in a time and place without any experiences of racial prejudice, this country was eye-opening,” Jensen wrote via e-mail. “I have taken so much from this story, especially with raising four children [of my own]. This film hopefully will inspire more families to examine the relationships between parents and their children facing the challenges of education.”
Working in the television format presented its own set of technical challenges, according to Jensen, including, perhaps, the toughest one of all, compressing 50 years into 100 minutes.
“One takes certain liberties in regard to production values due to the small screen. I hope the film can withstand the scrutiny of the big screen,” Jensen wrote.
He credits another Long Branch native, the film’s screenwriter, Paris Qualles, with delivering a wonderful script.
“The book was so full of emotion from the whole family,” Jensen wrote, “and pairing it down without losing and sometime even gaining additional strong feelings was a marvelous job.”
Added Jensen, “My hope is the audience will be totally involved in the story about the family headed by Donald Thornton.”
“The Ditchdigger’s Daughters” has gone through 17 printings with more than 300,000 copies in print. In March, Kensington Publishing issued a new edition under its Dafina imprint with an updated foreword and afterword written by Thornton who now divides her time as a medical consultant and motivational speaker. She will be in Asbury Park to talk after the film’s airing and to sign copies of her memoir which will be for sale.
Dr. Thornton paired with Jo Coudert of Califon to write both “The Ditchdigger’s Daughters” and “Woman to Woman: A Leading Gynecologist Tells You All You Need to Know About Your Body and Your Health.” Thornton also wrote a medical text, “Primary Care for the Obstetrician and Gynecologist.”
“I love the smell of books!” adds Thornton, who spent many formative hours reading stories in the Long Branch Free Public Library and later at the college’s Guggenheim Library. By the time she entered Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons College in New York, “I was well read.”
The Big Picture Show
By Helen Pike
Xit: Artzene Summer 2008
The digital age has arrived. We telecommute. We order food for home delivery. We find mates on social networking sites. We have more than 400 channels of cable and satellite available for viewing. Through our computers and MP3 players we can import movies on demand.
So why go out?
For the thrill of discovery.
In a journey of the imagination.
In a darkened cinema.
Months before a film’s magic is reduced to a digital download.
Viewed with friends or complete strangers who share your secret passion for the unknown, you are the millennium’s new intrepid explorers.
“There’s something about watching movies on the big screen and communally that you can’t duplicate at home,” observes Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, the independent film distribution arm of the Japanese media conglomerate.
“Movie goers are having fun because they love finding new films before anyone else.”
The two forums for participating in the big-screen movie hunt are festivals and art houses. Monmouth County is blessed with both.
The newest entrant is the two-year-old Ocean Film and Arts Festival, a multi-organizational partnership which includes Monmouth University’s Urban Coast Institute, the Shore Institute of Contemporary Art in Long Branch, and the Two River Film Festival.
There is also the Red Bank International Film Festival at the Count Basie Theatre, the traveling Newark Black Film Festival, the Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park, and the Two River Film Festival, a multi-venue event in which the Middletown resident is involved.
The Basie and the Paramount in Asbury Park, the area’s two restored 1920s movie houses, have ideal acoustics for cinema, adds Bernard, because they weren’t built as concert halls.
Proof that residents are turning out in record numbers to see art films, sometimes within two weeks of their world premieres in New York City, are in the box office receipts at the Clearview Red Bank Art Cinema on White Street.
According Bernard, who makes new work available there under the aegis of the Monmouth County Arts Council, the intimate Red Bank theater is the second most profitable in Clearview’s New Jersey chain; the first is in the more densely populated northern community of Montclair.
Another thrill of discovery is picking out which films may be nominated for an Oscar. In 2006 audiences had the chance to see “Capote.” That film won actor Philip Seymour Hoffman an Academy Award for his portrayal of the New Yorker writer who cravenly wanted fame in 1965 by recounting the story of the murdered Clutter family.
Nominated this past year, and seen on White Street, have been the Spanish-language “Volver,” the French-Iranian animation “Persepolis”, and the American-made “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
Bernard shares viewers’ pursuit of unique film stories not made with big studio budgets.
“Festivals are a great chance for discovery,” he says from a mobile phone before resuming his bicycled trek between theaters at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. “I’m seeing five or six a day for ten days. I have to sort out which films to buy and bring back to the States for people to see.
“Two or three might be worth buying,” he continues, “because I’m looking for filmmakers with something to say. They have to connect with the audience. They have a message. They have to say it in an artful way.”
Because the Internet has trivialized a lot of cinema, the current crop of aspiring film authors don’t have much originality, he adds. “They just want to become pop stars.”
Still, the Internet is not an altogether bad invention. The on-line world make movie-goers better informed. “Audiences are using the Internet as film schools,” Bernard says, and as a result “they are more sophisticated in what they want to see.”
NJ Rep's Actors' Crib
triCity News September 18, 2008
Cities that thrive with culture are as much known by the arts they support as for the addresses of those who generate it. Boston, Chicago, Austin: To go any one of those destinations means a chance to rub shoulders with genius.
The Players Club on Gramercy Park in New York City is where those who love theater can shake hands with actors and playwrights. It is the home of Edwin Booth, the first actor to claim the title of America’s foremost interpreter of William Shakespeare’s plays. He lived on the third floor of this Stanford White-designed townhouse while allowing the rooms below to be used as a club for thespians and dramatists.
During the mid-20th century, rooms were rented to actors, providing shelter and meals during periods when there wasn’t enough lettuce for the salad days of a career. Today there are still kitchen privileges for members and a roster of lunch and dinner performances, lectures and readings open to the public. Booth’s living quarters remain preserved as a museum.
A lot of us history geeks revel in finding the six (or less) degrees that separate seemingly disparate pieces of cultural history. So we also appreciate Players for its connections to the Jersey Shore when actors came here for a summer’s break from grueling tours, often in poorly ventilated theaters.
Maggie Mitchell, whose house on Norwood Avenue in Oakhurst, is still in private hands, performed with Booth’s brother, John. Circus performer Dan Rice, whose modest farmhouse at the foot of Brighton Avenue on Norwood in West Long Branch, had a brief stint working in the theater company managed by Booth’s first father-in-law, James McVicker. McVicker had sold his summer home to Mitchell.
See how it goes?
Here’s another one from the hurly burly decades before and after the Civil War. Theatrical extravaganzas were the main staple of a still-young nation. For every classically trained actor like Edwin Booth, there was a vaudeville equivalent rooted in ethnic and American nativisim that appealed to the masses.
Those who made it into popular history were fronted by shrewd managers. P.T. Barnum teamed up with James A. Bailey’s traveling circus. Flo Ziegfeld launched his stage career by managing Prussian bodybuilder Eugen Sandow.
Nate Salsbury added sharpshooter Annie Oakley to Buffalo Bill Cody’s all-male line-up.
That might be the extent of what we’d know about Salsbury if it weren’t for a happy coincidence of preservation, philanthropy, and a nine-year-long (and counting) artistic endeavor that is re-instating Long Branch as a national theater destination.
When he was in clover, Salsbury made some canny real estate choices in The Branch. He built a seashore colonial overlooking an estuary that feeds Pleasure Bay, where once a fabled 19th century amusements compound by the same name had a floating stage for Gilbert & Sullivan productions. He married an actress, had four children, and by 1900 was reportedly involved in the city’s civic affairs.
That, too, might be all that we’d know about Salsbury if it weren’t for the growing playbill of Equity actors storming the stage at the New Jersey Repertory Company on Broadway…in Long Branch…and who need a place to stay for the run of a show (and because public transportation in New Jersey isn’t anywhere as ambitious as the theater’s programming, but that’s a rant for another time).
SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas established NJ Rep in 1999, and nurture into production original scripts that professional actors clamor to perform and that local audiences increasingly want to see. Plays which have premiered here are regularly produced throughout the country; a few notables have made it to Manhattan.
Talents scouts come here, too, looking for new properties for star names. The Monday night play-in-hand series when authors, known and up-and-comers, sit to talk with the audience after actors have done a walk-through of their work is the best opportunity to rub shoulders with the creative process. If you missed the night that Israel Horovitz, America’s most prolific living dramatist, showed up for a reading of his play “Sins of the Mother”, well, at least now you know where to look for genius on the Jersey shore.
After crunching the numbers, the Barabases made the economically smart move and bought a house, a dingy, ramshackled, three-story structure sitting on an untended lawn down Liberty Street from the theater. Then Gabe put on one of his better charm shirts to ask the audience for help. And they obliged by the truckload, furnishing the old gal, floor to attic, beds to books while professional restorers tackled the hardware. The actors for the current production of “Poetic License” are now in residence.
But leave to a fellow history geek to unearth the Salsbury connection. Credit goes to Beth Woolley, a trustee of the Long Branch Historical Association and a NJ Rep Guild member who connected the number of degrees between the city’s past and its future.
Question for history fans: What did Maggie Mitchell name her summer estate?
Coaster May 29, 2008
McBride Looks Back at the Boardwalk
The Asbury Park amusement names are legendary: Zimel Resnick and the Palace on Wesley Lake; Abe Ruben and his electric bingo known as Fascination in the Third Avenue Pavilion; Madame Marie and her fortune-telling booth at the head of Fourth Avenue.
“She lived in a rooming house on Lake Avenue,” Lloyd McBride said, “before the bumper cars were put in. She moved her booth to the Boardwalk after the Hurricane of ’44.”
McBride would know. He’s lived here nearly all his life and started working on the Boardwalk in 1949, two years after graduating from Asbury Park High School. His boss? Bob Fountain, who operated Bubbleland, the popular kiddie rides at the head of Third.
Those were the good years after the end of a war: when the black-out curtains were removed from the Boardwalk and vacationing families returned in droves to reclaim childhood’s lost innocence and follow thousands of rainbow-glossed orbs from Fountain’s bubble-making machine.
“The amusements always attracted dreamers,” McBride said.
His own dreams led to buying Bubbleland for $54,000 in 1974 after Fountain died. Back then a quarter bought a child three rides from the nine. McBride described them as the “non-horse or German merry-go-round” rides. There was a train, an airplane, a turtle, a kiddie whip, later replaced with fiberglass fire engines, the junior cars, and the spinning mixing bowls. The named rides were Bulgy the Whale, the Star Jets, and the Traffic Circle.
The most popular? The rides in which children could imitate adults, he said.
Meanwhile, trade shows at Convention Hall captured their parents’ imagination. “The ceramic and boat shows were big,” continued McBride, who was studying communications at Seton Hall University in South Orange, and would later return with a masters degree from Fordham to teach at his alma mater and advise the student-run radio station. But McBride’s summers always belonged to Asbury Park.
The beach and the boards were a reunion rendez-vous, he observed. Third and Fourth Avenues were lined with hotels that catered to families staying for an entire week or two. They’d spend the day on the beach or on the boardwalk benches catching up, and after dinner, the adults would return with their children for the rides.
“Or, they’d sit on the hotel porches and talk,” he added.
It was a simpler time with plenty of people to hire for the fall travel season that lasted until Columbus Day. As Fountain’s general manager, McBride had a list of 100 employees to draw from, adding adults when teenagers went back to school after Labor Day. But once the Garden State Parkway opened in 1956 and vacationers could travel by car instead of by train, the slow trickle away from Asbury Park would gradually turn into a torrent. The parking meters didn’t help, McBride noted; by the 1970s, visitors were coming to the Boardwalk only for the weekends.
“It used to be that 50 percent of our business was done by the Fourth of July,” he continued. Bit by bit, the city raised the Boardwalk rents and the insurance companies upped their policy premiums. By 1987 three rides cost 75 cents at Bubbleland.
Thirteen years after he bought the mechanized rides, McBride lost his Boardwalk dreams to eminent domain and the city’s attempt to revive the beachfront with a hotel whose bridge was to span Ocean Avenue. It was an ill-fated imitation of the walkway that once connected the Berkeley hotel to the Sunset Avenue Pavilion in the 1930s, and it didn’t come to pass.
However, “the city cancelled my lease,” McBride explained, and another high school alumnus, Sam Vaccaro, bought four of the rides and moved them to First Avenue.
But by then the city’s Boardwalk had lost most of its appeal as heavily branded theme parks like Great Adventure with Bugs Bunny, Hershey Park and its candy-inspired rides and architecture, and Disney World with Mickey Mouse and the casts from dozens of popular TV and movie cartoons exerted an enormous influence over families’ vacation decisions.'
Bob Fountain’s oft-repeated line - “I guess we’ll stay in our own backyard” – according to McBride, seemed a self-fulfilling prophecy in retrospect. The parade of increasingly sophisticated travelers passed by a seashore resort that had turned inward, trapped by old habits.
“Asbury Park will come back,” added McBride who can sometimes be spotted at his favorite table at the Adriatic on Kingsley Street. “In five years it will look different than it does now.”
“It will look different in 10 years.”