Writing New Jersey Life

People and places of New Jersey…with some travels.

Category: Lifestyle Page 1 of 4

“National Cookie Day: Norwegian Sugar Cookies”

As this year’s Happy Holiday thank you, enjoy a favorite gift for friends, Norwegian Sugar Cookies. Almond extract works well as a substitute for alcohol, though Grand Mariner adds a light and sweet flavor. A variety of holiday cookie cutters make for fun, but you will have your own spin on this recipe. The caraway seeds are part of the traditional recipe, though I make them without. A festive gift that everyone enjoys.

Good Housekeeping’s Norwegian Sugar Cookies


2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup granulated

1 egg, well beaten

3 tablespoons brandy (or Grand Marnier or almond extract)

1 1/2 teaspoon caraways seeds (optional)

Powdered sugar

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt.  Work shortening with a spoon until fluffy and creamy.  Then gradually add sugar, while continuing to work until light.  Beat in egg. Stir flour mixture and brandy into shortening mixture.  Stir in caraway seeds.  Refrigerate until batter can be handled easily.

To bake:

Start heating oven to 350 F. Then roll out cookie dough on floured board to 1/8″ or thinner. Cut into small stars, circles, etc. Place 1/2″ apart on greased cookies sheets; sprinkle with powdered sugar. Bake 6-8 minutes or until a light brown. Makes about 12 dozen 1 1/2″ cookies.

(Source: Good Housekeeping / Photos: Kathleen Levey)

“Central Park: The North Woods”

Harlem Meer, sunset view from the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”                                                                                 Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman, with New York and New Jersey ties, shares wisdom that lights the way in autumn.  At this time of year, the earlier darkness may not be welcome, but the fall offers a different kind of beauty with autumn leaves, a sometime #Snowvember, and a greater appreciation of the day.  At night, the stars shine more clearly in the sky.

Nature’s palette in Central Park

Fall splendor and autumn blooms in a celebration of nature’s palette mark autumn in Central Park.  And then there are the greens, vibrant after this year’s rain.  On a splendid day of second summer in the park, a walk in Central Park North brings the cheers of children playing soccer, strollers on their lunch breaks, friendly chats with fellow park admirers, and the fragrance of the flowers on the last of the warm breezes.

Untermeyer Fountain, Three Dancing Maidens by Walter Schott

Chrysanthemums, daisies, and asters in the Conservatory Garden

A young mother lay on one of the giant boulders with her newborn sleeping on her chest, looking at the sky while her infant slept in a perfect moment of contentment and connection.  This sight brought to mind a wondrous thing about Central Park that the Conservancy has revitalized from the park’s original vision: park-goers know that there is no judgment in the park, which is one of the keys to its serenity.  On a wonderful early fall tour of the North Woods, park staff mentioned the Bible as a source for Frederick Law Olmsted in creating a pastoral setting, his touchstone for a shared utopia. By looking to Heaven, he connected people with Earth.

Visual poetry

We all have our favorite parts of the park, and the Park Conservancy encourages us to explore and enjoy all of it.  The park is, impressively, 843 acres (341 hectares) and a six-mile (9.6 km) around its perimeter, its inception detailed on a springtime visit in “Central Park: A Template of Beauty”.  On another visit, while circling somewhere on a wooded path in the North End, when asked which way was a central landmark, a hiker responded with a smile and a shrug that in the nicest way possible expressed, “Why would anyone head where visitors flock when there are these great woods?”  She knew the paths of the northern park expertly and shared that knowledge with enthusiasm.  Everything is about perspective.

Springbanks Arch

North in the park 

The North End includes the North Meadow, Harlem Meer, the North Woods, the Great Hill, in season, playgrounds, baseball fields, and the seasonal pool/ice hockey Lasker Rink.  The Conservatory Garden is a few blocks lower than the start of the North End at 100th Street.  Designed by Gilmore Clarke, who created the Unisphere at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it boasts three gardens in English, French, and Italian style.  Distinguishing the garden is the Vanderbilt Gate by George Browne Post, who designed buildings for the nearby City College of New York, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and the New York Stock Exchange, and who later lived in Bernardsville, New Jersey.  The Conservatory Garden is its own paradise thanks to dedicated gardeners.

A highlight on a recent trip was chatting with people fishing at Harlem Meer.  Fishing of bass, perch, and carp is catch and release with respect to NYC fishing regulations, but the sport is no less fun. Our grandfather, an avid fisherman, would have delighted in the fishing and have known the questions to ask.  A kidder, however, whenever anyone asked him what was new, he always answered, “New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and New Mexico” often accompanied by a friendly swat on the arm. Straightforward was not his way, but fun was, and through a love of fishing, he made friends easily as his fellow sportsmen at the Meer seem to do, too.

The Ravine

A tour of the North Woods offers a thoughtful combination of art, history, ecology, geology, good company, and a poetry reading, a sublime mix for those who love nature and art. The North Woods, designed to evoke an Adirondacks experience, features rushing cascades, leafy paths, and stone and rustic bridges with inspiration by Maplewood, New Jersey artist Asher Durand whose work embodied the counterpoise of “naturalism and idealization,” seen in “Kindred Spirits”.   The tour starts at the northeast corner of the park by Duke Ellington Circle, sometimes referred to as “the Gateway to Harlem” at East 100th Street at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.  From the center, situated on Harlem Meer, the group traverses the woodland to The Loch, “lake” from Scottish Gaelic like the Dutch “Meer,” the Ravine, and The Pool on the West Side. The water experiences were part of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s original “Greensward Plan” for the park. In an impressive feat of engineering, the two created the Pool, The Loch, Harlem Meer, and three cascades from Montayne’s Rivulet, once a passageway for Revolutionary War troops.  The Meer surrounds a promontory with the remnants of a lookout from the War of 1812. The Conservancy commissioned the center and restored the area to its original beauty in 1988-1993.

With this fall’s sensation of the sighting of the Mandarin duck, and now the saw-whet owl, it may reassure us at the holiday season to know that people will rush past cynicism to experience simple wonder, which is why the park is so important.  The North Woods is also a bird habitat, noted with appreciation to others on the walk who had brought binoculars and shared some of their delightful sightings.  All park tours, now also available in Spanish and French, are a way to learn about new parts of the park, to have a deeper appreciation for favorite places or an opportunity for children to discover.  Thank you to our knowledgeable guides.

Dedicated park staff members

Finding the way

If you live in New York City, you will experience friendly neighbors waving and calling out your name from across the street, which no one to this day believes in any of my out-of-state retellings.  “New York, New York City?” they ask, but the divine wordsmith Nora Ephron always recounted stories in both interviews and her work of how New York is a city of neighborhoods.  The apparent effortless serenity of the park, devotedly designed and developed, increases that warmth exponentially in New Yorkers’ splendid front yard where visitors are cordially welcomed.

For those fellow Central Park explorers whose sense of direction needs a little navigational nudge now and then, though the paths are clear, the fallback GPS works in the North Woods.  Better to enjoy walks with friends that offer visits on log benches or hikes with a tempo that pick up with camaraderie.

On such visits, we enter the woodland with the known behind us and explore the paths.  In the heart of the woods, we look back in thanks and forward in anticipation, a Thanksgiving with a view to a new year.

(Sources: centralparknyc.org, centralpark.org, centralpark.com, nycgovparks.org, metmuseum.org, watercourses.typepad.com, nytimes.com, Wiki)

“Central Park: The North Woods” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

Fishing at Harlem Meer

Downashore with Gramps, second, left, and firehouse buddies in Brielle with a champion catch that made the “Newark Evening News”

Charles A. Dana Discovery Center

Dana Discovery Center

Autumn gold at Harlem Meer

The Pool

A side trip to the zoo with a thank you to staff. Pictured is a delightful red panda.

North Meadow

North End flowers

“Heart, Mind, and Soul: The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir”

The temple exterior and entranceway. The interior temple resembles the style of the marble arches.

This magical-looking place nestled in the rolling green fields of Robbinsville, New Jersey is a Hindu temple, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.  The temple, or mandir, is one of approximately 100 in the United States and 1,000 globally. The grand exterior, or mandap, houses the inner sanctum, the actual mandir, and the entire complex is is an “akshardham”.  By definition, “mandir” in ancient Sanskrit means “means a place where the mind becomes still and experiences inner peace“. The atmosphere upon arrival is immediately uplifting and reflected through pleasant exchanges with devotees and visitors on the way into and within the mandir.

Beautiful floral entry

Magnificent temple sculptures

Art, Architecture, and the Divine

The Robbinsville temple is in the Nagara style of Hindu mandir architecture found in Northern India.  Nagara style temples are square with graduated projections and towers that give the mandir height.  Characteristic features in addition to the towers are domes, golden spires, flags, the sanctum, and pillared halls. Each has symbolic meaning like the pinnacles, aspiration, the golden spires, the immortality of the soul, and the flags, spiritual attainment. The inner sanctum is where one will find the most important deities. These elements of temple architecture combined create a link between devotees and the Divine.

The temple’s style is not purely architectural.  The Robbinsville mandir is built according to Scripture as are all traditional mandirs.  This influence of religion on architecture echoed in a recent tour of Central Park when the staff guide mentioned that the landscape designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux took inspiration directly from the Bible to create serene pastoral settings, though the mandir follows specifications for scared architecture.  These sacred temples are not exclusively traditional. More modern temples, hari mandirs, are smaller, and ghar mandirs, shrines within devotees’ homes, are where families perform rituals and discuss scripture together.

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is made of white marble, white limestone, and pink sandstone, selected to last in this cooler climate. As the mandir’s introductory film notes, the use of natural stone is similar to that of iconic spiritual centers like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Angkor Wat. The stone-carving process is extensive and fascinating.  For an idea of the undertaking, artisans in India created the sculptures. Many volunteer, but the carving also provides work to skilled artists whose talents are not in demand as they once were.  The marble is primarily Italian Carrara, totaling 68,000 cubic feet, and the limestone is from Bulgaria and India.  The sculptured stone, some 13,499 pieces, arrived in Robbinsville 98% complete after a journey of 21,500 miles. Additional volunteers finished the work. All this is breathtaking, but it does not prepare one for the splendid interior of the mandir with white marble and golden statues that appear silver in the lamplight. The sacred images, or murtis, within the mandir and on the pillars in the mandap are not just deities, but “living works of art” and “liberated souls…ancient sages, and exemplary devotees” that are models of spiritual inspiration.

What may surprise visitors is that the grand, beautiful temple holds fast with interlocking stone.  Quotes from the Rig Veda, hymns in ancient Sanskrit, are inspiring poetry in stone that one can read throughout the temple.  Skylights and white marble floors add to the lightness of the interior.  The tradition of the lamplight in the mandir pre-dates electricity and skylights and once provided the only light in the temple within the temple. Among the sculptures, visitors will see peacocks, particularly at the entrance gate, which are the national bird of India, and elephants, which represent “resolve, grace, and nobility”.  One devotee mentioned that the elephant is honored for the many centuries when it carried stone to build the mandirs in the days before other transportation.  Ganesh, the popular deity known as the Lord of Good Fortune, the Lord of Beginnings, and the Remover of Obstacles, who is also important in Bhuddism, is depicted with the head of these beloved animals that reflect different accounts of his origin.


BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) is a branch of Swaminarayan Hinduism.  Devotees believes that Bhagwan Swaminarayan, or the yogi spiritual leader, was God on earth and his Divine presence continues through succession.  The Swaminaryran, also referred to as “Swaminaryran Lord,” was born as Ghanshyam Pande (1781-1830). His philosophy led to social reforms in India. His follower, Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951), a sadhu and Sanskrit scholar, or holy man of ancient Hindu letters, formed BAPS on June 5, 1907 based on his interpretation of the Swaminarayan’s teachings.  One of his successors, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, blessed this site in August 2014. The present spiritual leader of BAPS, His Holiness, Mahant Swami Maharaj, bestowed his blessing in September 2017.

BAPS in Robbinsville continues the ancient Hindu tradition of “worshipping the Divine through murtis, or sacred images, enshrined in mandirs”.  The BAPS communities worldwide focus on spiritual living, family values, and community service.  Though the mandir has a respectful quiet on a visit, rituals and festivals involve music.  The mandir also offers Indian cultural events and celebrations for devotees in the great hall.

“A place of paramount peace” is an apt description. While walking through the beautiful inner mandir, devotees brushed aside concerns about interrupting them at prayer.  The devotees warmly shared aspects of their faith and excitement at the near completion of the spiritual center. Construction on this mandir began in 2010 and though it is complete, the mahamandir, a greater temple, reportedly the largest in the world, is under construction adjacent to the mandap where there will also be a youth center and an exhibition hall which will feature “Indian history and culture”.


The mandir is an active house of worship.  Visitors are welcome to take photos outside, but the temple kindly requests a respectful covering regarding clothing and no photo-taking inside.  Please respect their wishes.  For visitor information, please see BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.

The visit is free, but donations, however modest, are welcome as a thank you. Reservations are not required for individuals or families, but do call for larger groups: (609) 918-1212.  Upon arriving, you will be asked to remove your shoes as a respectful courtesy.  The welcome is most cordial with the gift of prasadam (“prasad” grace and joy), a sanctified sweet, for each visitor.  An introductory film and a free guided tour with a volunteer will add to your appreciation of the temple.  If a guide is not available, the audio tour is excellent, and the book available to visitors at the welcome desk is helpful as an introduction to both the mandir and Hinduism. There is a snack shop and café.

To the right of the entrance, one may participate in the ritual of abhishek, or pouring water over the “sacred image of God,” here, Shri Ghanshyam Marahaj, the childhood form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.  Though the deities may seem confusing initially to those who are not familiar with Hinduism, the belief is that there is one supreme God, Brahman, the creator.  Along with Shiva, who preserves the earth, and Vishnu, who destroys the earth so it can be created anew, the three are both one and separate in a mystical way like the Holy Trinity. All the deities and even devotees are the Divine presence on earth.  “That which we call the Hindu religion is really the Eternal religion because it embraces all others.” The temple guidebook complements this thought, “Without the deities, the mandir would be no more than a beautiful building.  With them, it becomes a sacred place of worship wherein God resides”.

There is so much to see and the atmosphere is so peaceful that you will want to return. We had wonderful practicing neighbors while growing up, but my knowledge of Hinduism is more academic going back to incredible studies as an exchange student at Bowdoin College. This visit is was a welcome opportunity to talk to people about their faith without being intrusive. Devotees were warm and gracious in doing so as well as proud and excited to share their beautiful spiritual home. By no means is this modest travelogue definitive about BAPS or Hinduism, so please do enjoy a visit yourself to learn more.

In researching, this Hindu proverb stood out as a cornerstone of many faiths, “There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man.  The true nobility is being superior to your previous self.”  The faith that brings the mandir’s stones to life is indeed at the heart of its beauty.

(Sources: www.baps.org/Global-Network/North-America/Robbinsville.aspx, BAPS publication for visitors and visitor film, bbc.co.uk, definitions.net, kashgar.com.au, Swami Sivananda quote, Sri Aurobindo quote, iasmania.com, americanshipper.com, Britannica.com, Wiki)

Beautiful grounds

Behind the striking temple exterior (mandap), the construction continues to complete the center (akshardham).

“Imagination: Isamu Noguchi”

“The Letter,” 1939, Haddon Heights Post Office

“Everything is sculpture. Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.”

The Artist

Isamu Noguchi, 1904-1988, was a Japanese-American artist who felt most at home in New York City.  His neighboring New Jersey legacy is one of sublime beauty, “The Letter,” a WPA era sculpture at the post office in Haddon Heights, near Philadelphia.  The elegantly simple figure of a reclining woman writing a letter floats cloud-like above the grounded, wooden post office decor, reflecting her dreamy reverie as she writes what may be a love letter.  Mr. Noguchi’s work conveys mystery, sharing his imagination while he challenges ours. The letter writer has a serene smile that suits the friendliness of the town-proud residents by an artist who loved creating work for the public to enjoy.  This included sculpture, gardens, fountains, playgrounds, and furniture.  His art combined the best of American and Japanese aesthetics.

“News,” 1940, stainless steel bas relief, 50 Rockefeller Center, the former Associated Press Building

As one of the great figures of the twentieth century whose 84 year-long life spanned the globe and whose artistic work included Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, there is so much to learn about Isamu Noguchi.  His mother, Leonie Gilmour, from New York City, was a Bryn Mawr graduate who once taught at the Academy of Saint Aloysius in Jersey City.  While later working as an editor in New York City, Leonie met the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi.  After the relationship ended, upon realizing that she would become a mother, Leonie joined her mother in Los Angeles where Isamu was born in 1904.  A few years later, following Yone’s invitation, Leonie and Isamu moved to Chigasaki, Japan, where Isamu grew up in a house with a garden by the sea while his mother supported them by teaching, his father, by that time, having begun a relationship with another woman.  When he was 14, Leonie sent Isamu to the US to attend a progressive school that she had read about in Rolling Prairie, Indiana, while she remained in Japan with his half-sister.  The school founder and a host family in La Porte, Indiana befriended him, and he later graduated from the local high school.  Though his childhood was far from traditional and included the disappointment of a distant father, Leonie encouraged his artistic talent and seemed to be a devoted mother.

Excelling as a student, Isamu enrolled in pre-med studies at Columbia University. Once introduced to sculpture, he had such a natural ability that he pursued art exclusively.  Ironically, his skill was so incredible that it held him back initially, his work criticized for being too perfect.  With a Guggenheim Fellowship that funded an apprenticeship with the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi in Paris, Isamu’s work became more personal freeing him from that criticism.  Interestingly, they had no mutual language in common except art, but understood each other perfectly, a welcome experience after a fraught relationship with Gutzum Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore.  Perhaps realizing a longing for the father whom he never truly knew, or asserting a new identity, Isamu dropped his surname “Gilmour” and took “Noguchi” when he became publicly known as an artist. Remarkably, it was not until his early 40’s that he received widespread recognition for his artistic talent.  Regrettably, when traveling to Japan as an artist, he learned that his father did not want him to use his surname.  On the last visit while his father was still alive, Isamu did not call.

“Childhood,” rough-hewn with a smooth heart, Noguchi Museum

Worldwide travels over six decades as a working artist included friendships with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico and Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning in the US, Greenwich Village neighbors, and collaborations in Japan and Italy.  His global works include architecture, perhaps most meaningfully, his design for the Peace Bridges at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, one symbolizing the past and the other, the future.  To his disappointment, his design for the main memorial could not be accepted because he was American.

While maintaining a studio in the village of Mure on the island of Shikoku in Japan, where he received inspiration from the Zen gardens, he fell in love with the beautiful actress and singer Yoshiko Yamaguchi (known in the US as “Shirley Yamaguchi”) whom he married in 1951. An anecdote in the museum’s excellent film shares that Isamu wanted the worldly Yoshiko, who worked with Akira Kurosawa and US filmmakers, to wear a kimono at home.  She found these uncomfortable, so he designed her a type of pantsuit that had the look of a kimono, but offered more modern comfort. Clothing styles aside, they spent several happy years together in Japan.  Sadly, upon returning to the United States for professional reasons, their careers drove them apart.

One account that may best describe the complexity of Isamu’s life was his noble impulse to join fellow Japanese-Americans during their internment in World War II. Living in New York, and not on the West Coast, Isamu, whose name means “courage” in Japanese, was free from this but volunteered to go with the thought of teaching art to boost spirits and develop talent as Brancusi had done for him.  Before leaving, actress Ginger Rogers of Rogers & Astaire dancing fame had contacted him to commission a bust.  The day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, she invited him to her home for an initial sitting, and he stayed on the grounds for a month as a guest in a studio she had made for him.  He finished the celebrity’s sculpted portrait in pink marble while living in the Poston, Arizona internment camp, on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, during which time he wrote two letters to her about the work’s progress.  As The Washington Post notes, his work may have come to the dancer’s knowledge through his set designs for the Martha Graham Dance Company with which his sister, Alies Gilmour, was a dancer. Despite his good intentions, Isamu found that he had little in common with the farmers, shopkeepers, and laborers in the camp and asked to leave, a process which took several months.  One detainee recalled how Isamu would wander out into the desert alone to collect wood to carve. Ginger Rogers treasured her Noguchi portrait, which was a centerpiece in her home until she died and now is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

The Isamu Noguchi Museum, New York City

Art at its best is transporting like incredible music, film, or literature that takes us out of ourselves and into the world of the artist’s imagination. As someone who experimented throughout his life by expressing different styles and working with a range of materials (marble, basalt, ceramics, steel, cement, paper, wood, aluminum), Mr. Noguchi risked failure and experienced rejection, but his striving makes the successes soar in a way that defies time and space.  Ideal, then, that the complementary works of Spanish sculptor Jorge Palacios, are presently on view along with Mr. Noguchi’s in the latter’s museum in Long Island City, Queens.

Noguchi Museum banners

Jorge Palacios sculpture “Link” at Flatiron Plaza North, sponsored by Noguchi Museum

Second floor museum gallery with view to Akari lights

Second floor museum gallery

At the Isamu Noguchi Museum, which the sculptor helped plan, many of the National Medal of Arts recipient’s sculptures relate to time.  The Zen Garden, rooted in a serenity that stands outside of time, is beautiful and enjoyed by visitors.  One can also admire it from the staircase exit on the second floor as well as from eye level.  Flowing water, important to Isamu, creates serenity with the fountain. Central, too, was the artist’s relationship to the material, including an almost spiritual connection to natural elements like wood, clay, and stone, describing carving as a “process of listening,” a quote from his obituary in The New York Times.

There is so much to take in at the museum that it calls for at least a second visit. Everyone will find pieces that stand out. The impermanent things, the interplay with light, water, and nature, appealed to me most on this first visit, perhaps because they are so novel. The beautiful trees are interwoven with Mr. Noguchi’s art.

Zen Garden

View into the garden

Partial garden view from upstairs

The museum’s film about his life features interviews with people who knew Isamu, including a befriended half-brother, and that is also worth a revisit to see in its entirety.  A common touching thread in the interviews was that being American and Japanese in the era when Isamu Noguchi grew up, and later, a citizen of the world, were both often lonely paths for the artist.  By living in New York City, however, he returned not to another place, but a home with fellow artists and kindred spirits in the realization of the life he had imagined for himself.

Akari lamp exhibit

Going up the stairs, where you will find the film, and entering into the world of Akari light was a heavenly surprise.  These lamp creations use “electrical light as a sculptural element”. For those interested in reading more about his life, Mr. Noguchi wrote an autobiography Isamu Noguchi: A Sculptor’s World with a foreward by his close friend architect R. Buckminster Fuller.  This is available at the museum and on Amazon, which is on order and calls for an Isamu Noguchi 2.0 revisit in “Writing New Jersey Life” and #FridayReads.  There is, however, momentum with things, and better to post an introduction before the flurry of the holidays and the Akari and Palacios exhibitions end on January 27th.

“The Kite” stainless steel and reminiscent of “Bolt of Lightning,” 1984, Philadelphia, in honor of Benjamin Franklin. Mr. Noguchi’s plans were on hold for years until a 1979 retrospective of his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art renewed interest in his art.

Whether visiting as a family, a couple, or on one’s own, and there were one and all, the Long Island City museum is a delight. There is a nice café with a select, good menu including coffee and beverages. You can reach the museum by public transportation or car.  For those driving, there is street parking, and someone kindly suggested finding a nearby store lot, which you did not read here, but a good faith purchase will put you in good standing. The Socrates Sculpture Park  across the street has a free exhibit on through March 10th. A blocks up is a new, charming neighborhood place, Flor de Azalea Café, which has some Wifi in a pinch and thank you to the museum staff for mentioning it.

For travelers, Isamu’s former Japanese studio is now the Noguchi Garden MuseumOther notable public works include the UNESCO Gardens in Paris, the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden in Jerusalem as well as works throughout the United States pictured in the online gallery of the Noguchi Museum.

The nearby Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park views

Backpack book exchange

The Letter

As the museum notes, “The Letter” is a “mural relief” in magnesite, once again displaying Isamu Noguchi’s versatility as a sculptor.  The post office has a display case sharing information about what we might call a “3-D mural”. There is a wonderful atmosphere in places that preserve their treasures. Both their appreciation that they are such and their pride in them emanates in a generous spirit. The US Post Office itself released stamps of Isamu Noguchi’s works in 2004, which are still in use.

Under the New Deal, the Public Works of Art Project that brought about “The Letter” and through which it came to my attention, aimed to give work to artists in the Great Depression and existed under the supervision of the US Treasury’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. The intent was for the art to reach as many people as possible, which brought the commissioned artists to the WPA’s newly constructed post offices throughout the country to share their work for the public’s benefit.

“The Letter” in context with a display case (right)

Haddon Heights still charms on a rainy day

Halloween spirit in Haddon Heights

Out and about in friendly Haddon Heights

Town clock, Haddon Heights

Named to honor Algonquin chief and meeting place of New Jersey legislature, historic site, Haddonfield

Haddon Heights

Halloween spirit, Haddon Heights

Returning to South Jersey, picturesque Haddon Heights where “The Letter” floats timelessly, shares a scenic beauty with Haddonfield and Haddon Township, all the namesakes of Elizabeth Haddon.  An English-born Quaker, she sailed to the Colonies alone to begin the settlement of a large area of land in Southern Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, and Delaware, bought by her father who had envisioned a peaceful new start for Quakers, unwelcome in England at that time.  Too ill to make the journey, his dream was realized by Elizabeth and his name carried on with “Haddon’s Field” where she and her minister husband created a beautiful home and helped to establish the Quaker community. Their courtship, brought to the public’s attention by Lydia Marie Child, a writer and abolitionist who authored the Thanksgiving poem “Over the River and Through the Wood” that became the popular Christmas song, inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write “Elizabeth,” part of a long poem “Tales of a Wayside Inn”.

Elizabeth Haddon had a shared worldview with fellow Quaker Sarah Norris, who renamed her establishment “The Indian King” in gratitude to the “Sachem” in Algonquin, the elder or chief of the Unlachtigo Lenape, the southernmost of the three Lenape tribes in the state. With their knowledge of survival skills, the Lenape, particularly Sachem Ockanickon, were responsible for keeping the Quakers alive through their first winters. Later, when that generosity was not reciprocated, Sarah called her establishment “The Indian King” in gratitude and posted a highly visible sign as a reminder to the settlement’s debt to the Lenape. It was here at the Indian King Tavern that the New Jersey legislature read the Declaration of Independence into the minutes in 1776, and New Jersey became a state on September 20, 1777 with the changing of “colony” to “state” in its Constitution. On this site, the legislature adopted the Great Seal with the cornucopia for the bounty of the Garden State, designed by a Swiss-born artist Pierre Eugene Du Sumitiere.

In the Empire state, the path to find Isamu Noguchi’s works in New York City embraced the city he loved starting with chats with people uptown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park to midtown to downtown in Manhattan.  These began with directions when the iPhone and mini bemoaned the number of photos, which led to the delightful surprise of fireworks downtown and the Diwali Festival. There was the added warmth of Long Island City, people smiling on the streets, leafy parks, roses and flowers growing skyward through garden gates, and Halloween decorations set up early in happy anticipation.  Queens visits were welcome excursions in my Manhattan shoebox apartment days and still are.  Being able to dine anywhere in the world in Astoria and shop working my way out from Broadway, especially at the holidays, was a Saturday well spent.  Thank you to all the gracious navigators along the way.

(Sources: Noguchi Museum, “Central Park: A Template of Beauty”, WashingtonPost.com, pcf.city.hiroshima.jp, Rockefeller center.com, Haddonfield history: @kathleenhelen15, now @kathleenlevey, 2015, theartstory.org, muse.jhu.edu/article/686375/, nytimes.com, summarylevins.com, IndianKingfriends.org, njwomenshistory.org, Avalon.law.yale.edu, A-Z Quotes, Wiki)

“Imagination: Isamu Noguchi” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

Sunken Garden at the former Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, downtown

Fireworks, Festival of Lights, South Street Seaport

Diwali Festival, Southstreet Seaport

“Landscape of the Clouds,” 666 Fifth Avenue

“Unidentified Object,” 1979, basalt sculpture created in Shikoku, Japan, at the Met and Central Park

“Red Cube,” 1968, downtown

Jorge Palacios sculpture “Link” with a view of the Empire State Building

Long Island City, Queens

“A Sunday with the Shakers”

Entry view towards the Round Stone Barn, National Historic Landmark, 1826

“Simple Gifts”

“Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”

by Elder Joseph Brackett, 1848

Simple gifts like friendship, community, work, nature, even dancing as “turning” marks a step in a dance tune, were aspects of Shaker life that brought those in harmonious step back to the start of the dance, the place “just right”.  Composed to sound like a folk song, this tune which also served as a hymn may seem familiar as Aaron Copland used it in “Appalachian Spring”.  A wide-range of performers have recorded the song or used it as part of one of their works: Jewel, Judy Collins, R.E.M., Weezer, and the Toy Dolls. Take a few minutes to listen to the version Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma, who perform each season at nearby Tanglewood, and Aaron Copland’s version, and you will realize how familiar it is. (Kindly bear with a few moments of You Tube ads prior to each.)

“Hands to work, and hearts to God”

As a living history museum, Hancock Shaker Village in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, a National Historic Landmark, holds talks and demonstrations throughout the day, sharing the music, craftsmanship, and other talents of the Shaker community. If you know “Simple Gifts,” but not much about the Shakers, the community came to the United States from England in 1774 to seek religious freedom. Founder Mother Anna Lee and her followers referred to themselves as the “United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing”.  The name from “Shaking Quakers” is a description, not initially flattering, given by outsiders for the members’ animated physical expression during worship when they “shook off” sin.  Dance was considered a form of worship. They did not marry and referred to each other as “sister” and “brother” in their familial communities with an estimated 6,000 members from New England through Kentucky by the mid-1800.  Shakers are known today for their beautiful music, architecture, and furniture.

At its height, the Hancock Shaker community had 300 residents who peacefully co-existed and contributed to the surroundings towns through their sale of hand-crafted goods and furniture: “hands to work, and hearts to God”. At the largest Shaker village in the eastern United States, visitors can see as many as 20 buildings.

“City of Peace” 

The Shakers believed in gender, ethnic, and racial equality as well as education working to create a pacifist “Heaven on Earth”. At a time when orphaned children had few options for care, the community took them in and educated them without obligation to remain, though some did.

At the community’s heart was the strikingly beautiful Round Stone Barn, built in 1826 and restored in 1968.  Though practical in purpose, it was a working community barn. My first thought upon seeing it through the frame of the entry gate, surprisingly, was its similarity to the Taoist Temple of Heaven in Beijing.  Though from different cultures and eras, the Shakers considered work to be a form of worship and the barn as a temple may not stray in concept.  The interior of the barn is a harmony of line, space, and purpose.

Round Stone Barn

Round Stone Barn interior

View of some of the other village buildings, both stately and charming

Interior views of residential buildings

For long-time admirers of Shaker furniture, seeing this and all the elegant architecture firsthand will be a pleasure.  A filmmaker’s dream, the doorways provided wonderful frames to view the landscape in different ways in a play on perspective. At the Stone Barn, my friend gamely complied to reenact John Wayne’s role in “The Searchers” in an irresistibly incredible door frame that would have set John Ford’s heart alight.  On a quiet June day between school groups and summer tourists, we could indulge ourselves thanks to a professional staff that reflects the welcome serenity of the original community.

Reenacting the end of “The Searchers” 🎥

The charm of the village includes friendly animals that are part of the Discovery Center for children and the working organic farm that offers monthly “farm-to-table” dining with “Food for Thought” and organic farming community farming.  Sweet miniature donkeys run up to greet visitors, clearly used to people.  Though traditional farmers, the Shakers embraced technology.  They did not file for patents, so inventive ideas like putting gardening seeds into paper packets for distribution and creating flat brooms and circular saws cannot be traced specifically to them. Today, there are still some Shakers living in Maine.

Children can wear clothes from the period, learn to weave, milk a cow, and tend to a beehive at the Discovery Center.

The Shakers may have originated the sale of garden seeds in packets.

One of the adorable and friendly miniature donkeys. The barnyard animals are a delight for children.

Furniture-making machine shop

Newly made furniture

Beautiful and popular oval boxes

August 4th marks the annual Summer Gala.  Though we actually visited last June, a revisit lends itself to mention this wonderful event that raises funds for the upkeep of this National Historic Landmark, which also features summer concerts in the Stone Barn, Shakerfest on August 18th, a Country Fair on September 29th and 30th.  For more information on this site in Hancock (Pittsfield), Massachusetts, open daily 10-4 through the summer, Makers Days (crafting), recipes, premium tours for children and adults that include scary Halloween fun, online shopping, and ways to support, watch the orientation video, or also see the calendar of events.  An excellent café is onsite. One tip to enjoy the visit is to wear good walking shoes as the grounds are extensive and the pathways are preserved to reflect the era.  Reserve several hours to enjoy this serene and beautiful place.

(Sources: hancockshakervillage.org/, www.nps.gov/nr/travel/shaker/han.htm, Wiki)

“A Sunday with the Shakers” All Rights Reserved @ 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

Village entrance

View from across the street

“‘Work Lovingly Done’: Two Exhibitions at The Clark”

The Clark Art Institute viewed from one of its mountain trails.

The Clark Art Institute, nestled in the Berkshires in Williamstown, Massachusetts, has four summer exhibitions: “Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900,” “The Art of Iron,” “A City Transformed: Photographs of Paris, 1850-1900,” and “Jennifer Steinkamp: Blind Eye,” the first two shared here from a June visit.

“Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900”

Each of the featured 33 female artists has her story, but striking similarities run throughout those, primarily, each woman’s commitment in relocating to the Parisian artistic epicenter to develop her talent and to connect with other artists. In 1857, the School of Fine Arts (Ecole des Beaux-Arts) opened its doors to women, creating an unprecedented opportunity. Whether the women were students at the school or protégés of great artists as Berthe Morisot was of Camille Corot, their collective style had a profound influence on Realism, Impressionism, and later, Symbolism.

Works in each room revolve around themes like “The Art of Painting,” “The Lives of Women” and “Picturing Childhood”.  Themes such as “History and Everyday Heroism” marked departures from traditional subjects for female artists. Some of the artists like the crowd-pleasing Mary Cassatt and Morisot are familiar names today, the equally successful Rosa Bonheur, a Swiss artist, who favored realism in her painterly style, perhaps less so, though she was also the daughter of a well-known artist Oscar-Raymond Bonheur. New for this visitor were the Scandinavian artists like Anna Archer, Denmark, and Elin Danielson-Gambogi and Ellen Thesleff, Finland.  Many of the artists continued to paint after returning to their home countries, a number teaching to support new, young artists.  Some found encouraging partners in marriage, others discovered that painting was not complementary to domestic life. A common thread is that most of them found a way to continue to do what they loved. For a complete list of the artists, visit Women In Paris.

A successful Danish artist, Anna Archer, lived in the northern artists’ colony Skagen, with her painter-husband Michael. At the time Anna began her career, the Royal Danish Academy did not admit women, which led to her discovery of the works of Vermeer abroad, an influence here in “The Harvesters,” 1905, where she depicts a family.

In the innovative “History and Everyday Heroism,” this military portrait by Eva Gonzales inspired by Edouard Manet’s “The Fife Player of 1866” is striking.

Berthe Moriset, French, Impressionist scenes were often from daily life. Here are her husband and daughter: “The Lesson in the Garden,” 1886.

Mary Cassatt,  “The Reader,” 1877:

Elin Danielson-Gambogi, part of the Finnish “painters sisters” generation along with Helen Schjerfbeck, painted “Girl and Kittens in a Summer Landscape,” 1892.

Ellen Thesleff, “Echo,” 1891, in which a young girl finds her voice

Notable American painters were among the group.  Elizabeth Nourse, Cinncinati, Ohio, detail from “A Mother,” 1888.  The depiction of a working class mother and child was a bold statement at the time.

And self-portrait, 1892.

“Ernesta (Child with Nurse)”, 1894, by Cecelia Beaux, both student and instructor at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Lilla Cabot Perry, from Boston, Masschusetts and Hancock, New Hampshire: “Open Air Concert,” 1890.

Rosa Bonheur, painted by her partner Anna Elizabeth Klumpke, San Francisco.

“The Art of Iron, Objects from the Musee Le Secq Des Tournelles, Rouen, Normandy” 

As the exhibit notes, at a time when many people could not read, ironwork signs for shops had a practical purpose.  Pictured in the forefront of the exhibit is “At the Two Fish,” 1750-1800, from Alsace.  The details and craftsmanship of these works for everyday raise these works to an artistic level. One person who appreciated this was artist and photographer Jean-Louis Henri Le Secq Destournelles, 1818–1882, who began to collect these often cast aside wrought iron works in Paris.  His son Henri continued this, ultimately donating their collection to the city of Rouen in Normandy, France, where they are on display in a former Gothic cathedral converted into a museum.

Both The Clark Art architecture and nature contribute to showcasing the works.

Work lovingly done is the secret of all order and all happiness.” A few months ago, The Clark posted this wonderful quote by Pierre Renoir that describes fulfillment in art and life.  The shared artist’s spirit that transcends gender and life station as seen in “Women Artists in Paris: 1850-1900” and “The Age of Iron” resonates with visitors.  For more information, visit The Clark.

Museum Building

Campus reflecting pools outside Clark Center

Museum Building extension

Campus life: outside Manton Research Center

On the way up the hillside

View from artist Thomas Schutte’s Crystal

“Work lovingly done is the secret of all order and all happiness.” Pierre Renoir

(Photo credit: “Apples in a Dish”, The Clark)

The Clark grounds, referred to as the “campus” are beautiful with trails to enjoy as part of the visit.  “Women Artists in Paris: 1850-1900” is through September 3rd and “The Age of Iron” is through September 13th. (Sources: Clark Art, Wiki)

“‘Work Lovingly Done’: Two Exhibits at The Clark” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey


“Hildene: Robert Lincoln and His Family”

Hildene Mansion entrance with brick outline of the log cabin of Abraham Lincoln’s birth

“Hill” and “Dene (Valley)” Old English Thesaurus

Tucked away in beautiful Manchester, Vermont is Hildene, the family home of Robert Todd Lincoln, 1843-1926. The only child of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln to live to adulthood, Robert distinguished himself as the Secretary of War for two presidents, a Minister to Great Britain, and the general counsel, president, and chairman of Pullman Railroad which made the fortune that created Hildene. Robert also served in the Civil War on the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant and was present at General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Happily married to Mary Harlan, daughter of a US Senator, he had three children, and the atmosphere of the house reflects their harmony.

The quote most commonly attributed to the reserved Robert about his famous father is a regretful one, “During my childhood and early youth he was almost constantly away from home, attending courts or making political speeches. In 1859, when I was 16 … I went to New Hampshire to school and afterward to Harvard College, and he became president. Henceforth any great intimacy between us became impossible….” Visitors can see, however, the love for his father, even before they enter what Robert called “the family’s ancestral home” that harkens back to their English roots. A 12 by 17 foot (3.6 x 5.1 meter) outline of the Kentucky cabin where his father was born is directly in front of the entrance of the impressive 1905 Georgian Revival mansion, which along with the United States and Vermont flags signals to visitors that they are crossing a threshold of both history and the American Dream.

Full view of Hildene Mansion

The Lincoln family’s Manchester connection predates Hildene. Mary Todd, Robert, and brother Tad had spent part of the summers of 1863 and 1864 at the nearby historic Equinox Hotel to escape the heat of Washington, DC and the Civil War, where reportedly a special suite was created for a presidential stay the for the next summer. Robert later frequented the hotel’s golf course, playing on occasion with President Taft, also a guest at Hildene.

The Gilded Age mansion’s stunning floral arrangements created by volunteers and the personal touches: photos, letters, personal items, books, and teddy bears give Hildene the warmth of a lived-in home. Of the 24 rooms, 17 are open so there is a great deal to see. Some furnishings are former possessions of Mary Todd Lincoln’s family and almost everything is original to the house.  A happy family lived here, and the dedicated staff and volunteers have conveyed that with thoughtful detail. The soundtrack to the visit is a rare and wonderful one with the music of a “1,000 pipe Aeolian organ”.

Family dining room

Child’s bedroom

Robert, his wife Mary, and his parents

President Lincoln’s stovepipe hat

A compelling and unexpected aspect of the visit to Hildene is an archival room dedicated to President Lincoln’s presidency “The American Ideal: Abraham Lincoln and the Second Inaugural”. President Lincoln addressed accountability and healing at the end of the Civil War so that the country might go forward.  Some items on display are his stovepipe hat, Ford Theatre photos, a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation and a related diary entry of Lincoln secretary John Hay.  The experience is like looking into the soul of a man and a nation.  After viewing the exhibits, without exchanging words my friend and I both sat down on the room’s bench in silent reflection. Other archival material is available at the Charles Woodberry McLellan Collection of Lincolniana at Brown University, preserved in memory of graduate John Hay, for those who are interested.

The mansion with its history and charm are only part of the Hildene visit. Beyond the splendid French parterre garden is a jaw-dropping view of the Battenkill Valley.  Frederick Todd, an apprentice of Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park renown, planned the Hoyt Formal Garden “to resemble a stained-glass Romanesque cathedral window” according to the design of daughter Jessie Lincoln as a surprise for her mother. Peonies are a garden highlight with more than 1,000 blooming in mid-June. In the front of the house, the observatory, though not large, has a remarkable and restored refracting telescope, state-of-the-art in Robert’s day to enable the stargazer and fellow astronomy enthusiasts to take advantage of fine hilltop views in a clear night sky.

Hoyt Formal Garden with peonies in full bloom and the dramatic Battenkill Valley backdrop

Partial view of Battenkill Valley

Hildene peonies

The welcome Vermont respite of Hildene was a true getaway for the Lincoln family who left their Chicago home base and sometimes stayed for as long as eight months, and it was here that Robert passed away on July 26, 1926. Of Robert, his loving wife Mary wrote that he “was a personage, made his own history, independently (underlined 5 times) of his great father, and should have his own place ‘in the sun.'” This quote is from a request for his burial in Arlington National Cemetery where both she and their son Jack, Abraham Lincoln II, who died at 16, were laid to rest. Robert’s last public appearance was on his father’s behalf in 1926 at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial where both the Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address are inscribed.

The last Lincoln family member to reside at Hildene was Robert’s granddaughter Peggy Beckwith who made the estate more self-sufficient, which one can see today with the goat and cheese-making farm. The 412-acre estate, which still retains its original cutting and kitchen garden, is ideally situated between the Green Mountains and Taconic Mountains.  In addition to the farm, Hildene offers wonderful hiking trails for those who wish to enjoy nature along with history. The house reflects the different periods of residence, Peggy’s, upstairs, and Robert’s, downstairs. After Peggy’s death in 1975 and a pending sale to developers, The Friends of Hildene fought to save the estate.

“Sunbeam” Pullman Palace Car

Part of the “Many Voices” Timeline of the experiences of the Pullman Porters

A 1903 Pullman Palace railroad car, the Sunbeam, came to Hildene after a national search and a meticulous restoration process. The luxurious sleeper car, used by President McKinley, reporters for Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 campaign, and a part of FDR’s funeral train is 75 feet long vs. today’s 60. A timeline “Many Voices” begins with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which links directly to the hiring of the first Pullman porters who were freed slaves through the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. The long view of history is that the job of porter offered opportunity, social exposure, and income, which led to the creation of an African-American middle class and respect for the porters within their communities. Access to newspapers provided information for family and friends on jobs and conditions in the North. The day-to-day reality was that it was a difficult job with sometimes humiliating anonymity and no room to advance. The informative staff offer in-depth information about the period and Friends of Hildene notes the website of the Vermont African American Heritage Trail for those who are interested in learning more about similar historical sights.

One aspect of New Jersey history for regular readers connects Robert to Jersey City where Edwin Booth, the most famous and distinguished stage actor in the country and founder of The Players in New York City, saved his life. Changing trains in the early 1860’s, the 17 year old Robert, pushed in the crowd, fell between the platform and a departing train. Edwin pulled him up, not knowing who he was. Robert gratefully recounted the incident to Colonel Adam Badeau on General Grant’s staff who sent a letter of thanks to the famous actor. Edwin, ironically, was traveling with John T. Ford, owner of Ford’s Theatre. After President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 by Edwin’s younger brother John, when Robert was by his father’s bedside when he passed, the letter reportedly gave Edwin comfort.

Replica of casts of Abraham Lincoln’s hands shortly after receiving the presidential nomination in 1860. Cast by sculptor Leonard Wells Volk, these are the models for his hands in almost all week-known statues of him. His right hand is slightly swollen from shaking hands of well-wishers.

Walking around the estate is a pleasure, but there are also trams for visitors. For an accessibility guide, tour arrangements for the visually impaired, group tour reservations, guided tour, archive tour, lectures and events, and ways to support, visit Hildene. The lovely grounds with an event tent make it a popular place for weddings and other celebrations. The estate is open daily from 9:30 to 4:30 except Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, the 24th-26th. Admission is $20 for adults, $5 for children. Children under 6 and members are free.

Thank you to the staff, volunteers, and Friends of Hildene for a wonderful visit.

(Sources: Hildene.org, EquinoxHotel.com, Biography.com: quote, historynet.com, VermontHistory.org, Smithsonian.com, Telegram.com, NewEngland.com/newsarticles/Lincoln, Wiki)

“Hildene: Robert Lincoln and His Family” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

Hoyt Formal Garden view from second floor

Garden view of Hildene home

Edison & Ford Winter Estates

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” 

An admirer of Thomas Paine, who once lived in Bordentown, New Jersey, Edison’s remarks sometimes revealed a revolutionary soul, “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”  Perhaps that is one aspect that he had in common with his lifelong friend Henry Ford, a fellow trailblazer in innovation and mass production, who often visited at Edison’s Glenmont Estate in New Jersey.  Nevertheless, they both enjoyed some luxuries, not opulent in comparison with their peers, but elegant just the same.  One of those was their winter getaway to Fort Myers, Florida, designed by Thomas, which includes the Edison & Ford Museum, Seminole Lodge (main house, guest house, caretaker’s house), the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory, Edison Botanical Gardens, and The Mangoes, the Ford home.

The Botanic Research Laboratory was the result of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone’s concern about the United State’s dependence on suppliers overseas for rubber. After trying 17,000 native plants to produce rubber, Thomas found success with Goldenrod, though he did not live to see the completion of the experiments.  The lab is now a National Historic Chemical Landmark, designated by the American Chemical Society, one of few in the country, others commemorating the work of Rachel Carson and George Washington Carver. The extensive museum includes a Smithsonian Spark! interactive lab, a timeline of innovation, movies & music, and more.  Children’s activities include rainy day learning.

The more than 20 acres of botanical gardens includes trees planted by Edison and Ford themselves as well as a moonlight garden, 1929, designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman.  The banyan tree and royal palm allee are standouts among many gardens of interest.

Tours, lectures, and events are ongoing at the Winter Estates.  The estate is also available for corporate and private events. For more information and to take a virtual tour, visit: Edison and Ford Winter Estates.

If you enjoy bringing history to life, and simply making good recipes, try one of the favorites from Edison’s Family and Friends Recipes.

Ginger Snaps

2 cups brown sugar

2 cups molasses

1 cup shortening

4 cups flour

1 1/3 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

Heat and bring to a boiling point sugar, molasses, shortening (part of which should be butter), ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.  Remove from fire and cool.  In the meantime, mix and sift the salt and flour and stir part of it in the cooling mixture. Dissolve the soda in a tablespoon of warm water and beat into the mixture then stir in the remainder of flour.  Roll out to about 1/4 inch-thickness on a floured board and shape with a floured cutter.  Place on small buttered tins allowing space for spreading.  Preheat oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Put in oven and bake for 7 minutes.

As a firefighter’s granddaughter, I decided to use the microwave instead of boiling, and an ice cream scoop and a pizza tray replaced the cookie cutter and tin.  (Things are fast and loose in this kitchen, especially with a deadline.)  The batter has a consistency like taffy and the cookies taste like gingerbread.  If you prefer a sweeter cookie, a couple of sweet recipes are coming in the summer and the Martha Stewart’s peanut butter and jelly cookie recipe is still up. Our father’s favorite cookie was a molasses-based spice crinkle, and he would have enjoyed these ginger snaps as well as Thomas Edison’s overalls quote in the preceding post.  The ginger snaps may be a fun cookie surprise for Father’s Day along with a visit to an Edison site.

Mina Edison’s Ginger Snap Cookies

Sincere thanks to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates for their kind permission to use this recipe from Edison’s Family and Friends Recipes that features family favorites.  This is more like a booklet and only costs a few dollars.  Other recipes are: Mina’s “Light as Air Muffins,” Egg Croquettes, Mina’s Deviled Crab, Hot Slaw, Hickory Nut Cake, Chocolate Caramels, and Mina Miller Edison’s Holiday Punch.

You can purchase the book online with the Winter Estate or in the Thomas Edison Historical Park gift shop where I did.  Since we were in touch late last summer, the nonprofit Winter Estates came through Hurricane Irma.  In what seems like characteristic generosity, they are offering wood from downed trees to local woodworkers.

(Source: edisonfordwinterestates.org)

All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

“Vision: Thomas Alva Edison”

The distinctive Queen Anne Victorian architecture of Glenmont Estate, Edison Family home, West Orange, New Jersey

Thomas Alva Edison, 1847-1931, was world-famous during his life with a name and an impact from his 2,332 global patents that are part of our daily lives to this day.  He was not only an inventor but a premier businessman who helped “build America’s economy during the nation’s vulnerable early years”. Some of his inventions are the incandescent light bulb, alkaline storage batteries, the phonograph, the stock ticker, the telegraph, the Kinetograph (a movie camera), concrete, and miners’ helmets that helped save lives.  Today, we also know him from the photos of the preoccupied man in endearingly wrinkled suits and his insightful quotes of hard-won wisdom.

Young Edison

“I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Born in Milan, Ohio, he was brought up there and in Port Huron, Michigan. As a child, he showed a remarkable liveliness and curiosity which served him well in life.  A bout with scarlet fever resulted in some hearing loss, but in spite of this, he demonstrated his enterprising nature at only 12 years old. When selling newspapers to railroad passengers to fund his boyhood experiments, he created his own paper with local news – his first success. While conducting lab experiments on a train car, he started a fire, and though the story varied over the years, a conductor reportedly hit him on the side of the head causing further hearing loss.  Though his experiments did not sit well with the conductors, his hearing loss was likely congenital as one of his sons had the same. This makes Edison’s later invention of the phonograph all the more remarkable.

Though accounts vary, Thomas had only a few months of formal schooling.  Due to his hearing loss and incredible energy, formal schools of his time were not a fit.  His mother, a former teacher, instructed him at home and instilled in him the habits of research and continuous learning.  Much of his knowledge was self-taught, derived from his ongoing experiments at all hours of the day and night.  Thomas felt that his lack of hearing helped him work long hours, not distracted by background sound, and to sleep better.

The railroad was Thomas’s making combined with his own heroism.  When he was 15, he saved a three-year-old from being run over by a train. A grateful father showed Thomas how to operate a telegraph, which opened the door to the world of electrical science. 

At 19, Thomas went to Boston to work for Western Union to help support his struggling family back in Michigan. He invented the Electrical Vote Recorder for the city legislature, which they rejected because it worked too well. The machine counted the votes quickly and this left legislators with no opportunity to “change minds” before voting. Though the context may have its humor, this resulted in financial failure for Thomas.  The experience taught him a valuable lesson in business – one should create things for which there is a clear market.

After Thomas’s success: Brewster Ford Town Car, 1936, Edison family car at Glenmont Estate at Thomas Edison Historical Park

New Jersey

Elizabeth and Newark

“We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.”

Boston led to New York in 1869, where at 24, Thomas Edison invented an upgraded stock ticker for which there was a definite, immediate market. As he did later with the light bulb, Thomas improved upon the basic idea of another inventor that gave the invention practical, everyday use.  Edison developed his Universal Stock Ticker in the company he formed with inventor and mentor Franklin Leonard Pope.  Pope had allowed the young man to live in his home in Elizabeth, New Jersey when the struggling young Thomas had arrived two years earlier.  The success of his stock ticker prompted Thomas to quit his job and start inventing full-time at his own lab in Newark, New Jersey.  In Newark, Thomas discovered “‘etheric force’ —the electromagnetic waves later used in wireless and radio transmissions.”

Thomas Edison Memorial and State Park

Menlo Park, renamed “Edison,” New Jersey

“I haven’t failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The Newark lab quickly expanded, resulting in a move to Central New Jersey and the Menlo Park neighborhood of Raritan Township. Raritan Township later became Edison Township, named after Thomas Edison in 1954.  Interestingly, his original surname was Dutch and spelled, “Edeson,” and his father’s family had lived in New Jersey years earlier.

In the Menlo Park laboratory in 1878, after much trial and error, Thomas heard a recitation of his childhood favorite “Mary, Had a Little Lamb” return to him in his own voice.  Replayed on simple tinfoil, this achievement was to memory, experience, and perhaps identity, what Princeton’s Albert Einstein’s gravitational waves were to infinity. From this, Thomas became known around the world as “The Wizard of Menlo Park” and Menlo Park as the “Birthplace of Recorded Sound” and “The Invention Factory”.  The ripple effect of invention resulted in world fame for another New Jerseyan, Princeton and Somerville’s Paul Robeson.  Thomas Edison’s phonograph took Paul Robeson’s voice beyond concert halls into homes in an ideal partnership of technology and art.

Art Deco style of Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower designed by Gabriel Francois Massena and Alfred E. duPont.

Thomas Edison Memorial Tower, dedicated on February 11, 1939, what would have been Thomas’s 91st birthday.  The tower marks the site of the world’s first research laboratories.

Edison, New Jersey honors the inventor not only with the city’s name, but Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower in Edison State Park with its gleaming light, a beacon to invention on the site of Thomas Edison’s first research center where he perfected the light bulb for everyday use.  At the Menlo Park lab, he acquired 400 patents in six years and made the cement that laid the foundation for the first Yankee Stadium where New Jersey residents Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, and Phil Rizzuto played. Sadly, Thomas’s young wife Mary died, leaving him with three small children.  The laboratories fell into disuse until the last two were moved to Dearborn, Michigan at Henry Ford’s request.  For more information on the Menlo Park lab, visit: Thomas Edison Memorial Tower and Park.

Thomas Edison bust at Thomas Edison National Historical Park

 Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Laboratory and Film Studio, West Orange, New Jersey

 “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

What you might not expect at Thomas Edison’s West Orange research complex is an incredible, elegant library.  The laboratory itself looks more like a warehouse, but does not disappoint. As it was at Menlo Park, it was not unusual to find both staff and Thomas Edison working all night. The collegial atmosphere included a pipe organ and a pool table for breaks.

Library at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, West Orange

The world’s first film studio onsite was a small, rotating box with a retractable roof, the Black Maria, another marvel at Thomas Edison National Historic Park. The nickname for the studio came from Edison’s staff because of its resemblance to the horse-drawn police wagons of the time. The name now commemorates not only the studio in West Orange, but short works by diverse young filmmakers throughout the state, sponsored by New Jersey City University.

One of the first movie cameras, Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Annie Oakley and her husband Frank E. Butler, who once had a home in Nutley, New Jersey, starred in a Thomas Edison movie that Mr. Edison made in West Orange.  Frank threw glass balls in the air, and Annie shot right through each one.  In their Buffalo Bill act, “the splintered balls released feathers and colorful powder that sprinkled down from the sky. Annie would shoot, six-seven-eight balls at a time, switching her gun from hand to hand and jumping on horseback.”

Model of first phonograph, laboratory, Thomas Edison National Historical Park.

One of the world’s first feature films “The Great Train Robbery,” 1903, set in Milltown, New Jersey, with the original “Broncho” Billy, descended from Thomas Edison’s inventiveness. Director Edwin Porter had learned his craft at the Black Maria Studio and an excerpt from the film is shown as the Historical Park.

For more information visit: Thomas Edison National Historical Park.

Floral arbor at Glenmont Garden

Glorious Glenmont: The Edison Family Home

West Orange, New Jersey

 “What you are will show in what you do.”

Glenmont Estate deserves singular attention for its beauty.  The name comes from its scenic location, a summit over a valley, or glen.  An integral part of its appeal is that it was, overall, the home of a happy family which one senses in the visit. The estate, also in West Orange, is across the street from the laboratory and up a long driveway.  Part of Llewellyn Park, the home was built between 1880-82 in the Queen Anne style of Victorian architecture with stained glass windows, a pipe organ, and much of the original interior by the New York designers Pottier & Stymus.  Thomas bought the home fully furnished for his new bride Mina Miller from the original owners. A limited number of the 29 rooms are open to visitors, but enough to experience the charm.  The home’s decorative arts collection includes works by Tiffany and Hudson River School artists. The grounds are idyllic.  After a visit, you will feel as if you have been away as Thomas Edison himself must have felt, remarkably, simply by crossing the street. Impressively, the same architect designed the home and laboratory, Henry Hudson Holly.

Visitors to the home included US presidents and Henry Ford, George Eastman, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs with whom Thomas took annual camping trips, John Muir, Helen Keller, Maria Montessori, the Kings of Siam and Sweden, among others.  Mina, the daughter of a prominent minister, knew how to handle a public life, which allowed Thomas time alone to invent.  Thomas was impressive, but as a self-made man of stature, was tough in business, often unavailable, and demanding of excellence from his children.  His six children, for the most part, fared well.  The best known were Charles, who had the same hearing challenge as his father, and was briefly Secretary of the Navy under President Roosevelt and then governor of New Jersey, and Theodore, an inventor.  The estate is also the resting place of Mina and Thomas.

What is also wonderful at Glenmont as you will experience at all of the national historical sites and parks, is the esprit de corps of the park rangers who are proud to share information about the Edison family and their life at Glenmont. The estate consists of the main house, the greenhouse, and garage that Thomas built with the extraordinary cars of the Edison family.

Greenhouse at Glenmont Estate

Visits to Glenmont are on Saturdays and Sundays from 11-4 with tours on the hour. Tickets are sold at the Visitors Center at the laboratory on a first come, first serve basis, so consider arriving early at 10.  (The laboratory is open 10-4, Wednesday through Sunday.) Photographs are not permitted in the house, but the scenic grounds offer opportunity for photo and social media enthusiasts. For more information, call: (973) 736-0550 x 11.

A note that the visits to these Edison historical sites were over a two-year period.  The Glenmont photos and videos are from last May.  Though the hours are not as extensive as those of the laboratory, do not miss the chance to see the one of the most wonderful places in New Jersey, especially in the spring.

Sterling Hill Mining Museum

Ogdensburg, New Jersey

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

This incredible museum will spark the imagination of any child with Edison’s spirit.  The history of the mining industry here is a world unto itself and worthy of another blog, but the museum mention here is in regard to the Edison Tunnel, named to honor the man who improved safety for miners.  In 1914, mine engineer John T. Ryan Sr. and George H. Deike, pioneers in mining safety, founded the Mine Safety Appliances Company (MSA) after numerous tragic deaths of miners. Torches and oil lamps had proven dangerous in the mines, so they sought the help of Thomas Edison who, rather than wiring the mines for lighting which was a prohibitively expensive alternative, created a rechargeable battery that provided light for 12 hours straight.  The Edison Cap Lamp was in use here in Sussex County at the mine when Thomas was a part owner in the 1880’s.  Thomas also developed innovative methods of blasting and separating minerals. The museum and tour share display the helmet and cap lamp with visitors. Edison’s mining conveyor line reportedly inspired Henry Ford’s assembly line at his car factory. For more on this New Jersey “gem,” a quote from Fodor’s, visit: Sterling Hill Mining Museum.  Edison also had cobalt silver mining ventures in Ontario, Canada.

Thomas Edison: Inspirational Figure

 “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Trenton’s Thomas Edison State University, which emphasizes independent learning, bears the inventor’s name as does Edison Bridge. For someone who experienced hardship and setbacks in his life, Thomas Edison’s accomplishments are remarkable.  His inventions keep him in mind today, but so does his example of lifelong learning and perseverance.

Incandescent light bulb sculpture, Menlo Park, Edison, New Jersey. In season, there are flower gardens by each sculpture.

(Sources: menloparkmuseum.org/history/thomas-edison-and-menlo-park/, biography.com, goodreads.com, thomasedison.org., nps.com, npshistory.com, americanhistory.si.edu, invention.si.edu, ethw.org, inc.com, mininghalloffame.org, newnetherlandinstitute.org, brainyquote.com, Britannica.com, Wiki)

“Vision: Thomas Alva Edison” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

“Central Park: A Template of Beauty”

Spring ambience, Cherry Hill

“…there is…a pleasure common, constant and universal to all town parks…in other words, a sense of enlarged freedom is to all, at times, the most certain and the most valuable gratification afforded by the park”.   Frederick Law Olmsted

The sounds of Central Park: birds singing, children laughing, musicians playing, and water trickling are all the melody of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s harmonious vision of the park. Their artful landscape design draws one into a retreat with nature that inspires painterly artists and sculptors alike.  More recent tunes like those of the Delacorte Clock and the Carousel have added to the park’s charm.

Delacorte Clock

Happy park goers at Cherry Hill

The National Historic Landmark in the heart of Manhattan began with a city competition in 1857. The prize went Frederick Law Olmsted, park superintendent, and Calvert Vaux, an English-born architect. The philosophy of Frederick Law Olmsted, considered the father of American landscape design, was to create parks that instilled a feeling of community within cities. His parks included not just fields, but diverse recreation for wide appeal. Olmsted’s principles of landscape design visually drew in park goers to varied landscape themes that brought a sense of tranquility.  Calvert Vaux, co-architect of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, implemented their aesthetic vision of Central Park, to render landscape into art.  With this principle in mind, Vaux designed Bethesda Terrace and the park’s iconic bridges.

Cherry blossoms on Pilgrim Hill

Some fun facts about the park: A stroll through the two and a half miles (4 km) from north to south in the park represents traveling from the city, containing landmarks, to the wooded countryside of New York state. Walking all the way around the park’s 843 acres (341 hectares) is a six-mile (9.6 km) trip.  Topsoil brought in from New Jersey and Long Island helped create the rolling landscapes of the park. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created harmonious oases throughout the city, including Manhattan’s Riverside Park and Morningside Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Fort Greene Park, Carroll Park, and Herbert Von King Park.  Frederick designed parks in Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, the grounds of the US Capitol, and Mount Royal Park in Canada. Together with Calvert, he created a plan to protect the natural beauty of Niagara Falls.

Cherry Hill

San Remo Building

The Olmsted-Vaux design

Olmsted and Vaux in the Garden State  

With the success of Central Park, other commissions for Olmsted and Vaux followed, including nearby Newark, New Jersey. Branch Brook Park, envisioned by Frederick, was the park of our childhood.  Cherry blossom season meant family poses in Easter best beneath branches of flower petals that gently caressed our newly bared arms in the spring sunshine. The breeze carried the crunch of crinoline, the jingle of the ice cream truck, and the rustling of robes as proud graduates also posed beneath swaying blossom branches.  The flowering cherry trees were and are the special occasion trees for New Jerseyans, spring in itself celebratory after a long winter.  Caroline Bamberger Fuld, who shared the Olmsted-Vaux vision, brought the trees from Japan and nurtured them on her own Orange estate before having them planted in the Newark-Belleville park.

Of the parks and grounds throughout New Jersey attributed to Frederick Law Olmsted and his sons, John Charles and Frederick, Jr., known professionally as the Olmsted Brothers, the Twombly-Vanderbilt Estate, now Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Florham Campus, Madison, The Lawrenceville School campus, and Cadwalader Park, Trenton, Frederick personally designed.  Verona Park, Maplewood Memorial Park, Anderson Park, Montclair, and Warinanco Park, Roselle and Elizabeth were projects carried out by the Olmsted firm. Among the private residences Calvert Vaux planned, the Wisner Estate in Summit, now Reeves-Reed Arboretum on the National and State Registers of Historic Places, is where visitors enjoy scenic walks and gardens.  If the rare person does not recognize the names of Olmsted and Vaux at Garden State stops, the mention of Central Park sparks immediate admiration.

Central Park and Verona Park with the Olmsted design that draws us in: curving paths, a varied landscape of rolling hills, playing fields, meadows, and water.

Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Hennessey Hall, the former Twombly-Vanderbilt Mansion in Madison

Wisner House and daffodils on the Bowl, Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit

A Lifelong Park

Central Park is a park for our lifetime.  The exploration of the big rock by the American Museum of Natural History marked our first family visit, the site summited again on a field trip with young classmates. The late 70’s brought James Taylor and his concert for Sheep Meadow, which may be news to my mother-reader.  On city excursions with girlfriends, the 80’s had the fun of JFK, Jr. sightings whether he was tossing a football, throwing a Frisbee, or doing pretty much anything in a boyish way.  A walk through the park on visits back to the States in the 90’s felt like officially coming home. The anchor was not only the park’s beauty, but people in harmony with nature in a way that seemed unique by being both within and away from the city.

West 72nd Street entrance

A few years into the new millennium came the unexpected thrill of living in New York City, and the park, a former destination, was now a neighbor.  Cozily tucked into a living space, I appreciated Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of a place for everyone to go and feel free.  At one point, I was fortunate enough to walk through the park to go to work, which meant that I arrived with a smile for others and returned home with cares left in green fields.  If I completed enough work on Saturday, the reward was a Sunday morning spent in the park, reading the papers by the Conservatory Water, applauding the nearby roller skate dancers in warm weather or the sledders on Cedar Hill in cold, or dropping by the Met or the 92nd Street Y to meet friends in a bounty of good fortune. We all have memories like these with more to come thanks to the Central Park Conservancy, dedicated staff, and volunteers.

People travel the world for bucket list experiences, but there is nothing like passing beneath a fragrant canopy of delicate flowers.  The cherry blossoms have given turn to the crab apple blooms in the symphony of spring in Central Park.  Welcome spring with a walk in the park.

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” by Jose de Creeft, commissioned by George Delacorte

Monument to John Lennon, gift of the City of Naples, designed by Bruce Kelly; Strawberry Fields commissioned by Yoko Ono

Cyclists everywhere enjoying spring

Cascading blossoms

Vibrant spring colors

Every view is like a movie still, throwback to last spring

(Sources: centralparknyc.org, olmsted.org, fredericklawolmsted.com, centralpark.com, nycgovparks.org, nytimes.com, smithsonian.com, branchbrookpark.org, tclf.org, ci.columbia.edu, biography.com, eyeofthedaygdc.com, nps.gov, neh.gov, metmuseum.org, amnh.org, modernfarmer.com, aoc.gov)

“Central Park: A Template of Beauty” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey

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