Writing New Jersey Life

People and places of New Jersey…with some travels.

Category: US History Page 1 of 2

“Hyde Park: The Year from the Top”


December and the holidays bring joy and sometimes reflection, but it is January, the heart of winter, that can become the month of rumination.  The start of the year, however, is also when the days grow longer, and we appreciate the sun in a bright blue sky glistening on the snow – usually.  If accustomed to snow, the absence of it offsets in that inexplicable way that setting the clocks forward and back sometimes does.  January can become like this one a month played in minor key depending upon where our paths take us. With travel, like life, we may say that the timing is not right and never go, but think of 2019 as the year of heading out. 

One such trip would be to the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Parks in Hyde Park, which offer not only history but the beauty of the Hudson Valley.   For those interested in history, Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” brings home the relatable parts of the family story as well as world events: Teddy, a young man who lost both his wife and mother within a day, Franklin, a favorite son of a doting mother and the privileged man struck by illness, Eleanor, a girl who felt that she never fit in with her peers, and Eleanor & Franklin and the dynamics of a marriage.

Franklin, Eleanor, Anna, and Franklin’s mother Sara (Springwood)

Springwood, FDR Library and Museum, and Top Cottage

Springwood estate in Hyde Park, New York is the birthplace and home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which the family referred to as “Hyde Park” and the “Big House”. The house is impressive, but the sweeping view of the Hudson River rivals it.  One could see why FDR returned to Springwood often during his three terms as president. On the grounds are also the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the burial site of the president and first lady.  The estate is beautiful with trees that FDR, a conservationist like his cousin Theodore, had planted.  Top Cottage, the president’s retreat, is about two miles away and accessible via the park shuttle.

Eleanor and Franklin welcome park visitors

Our first visit was on an impromptu stop while traveling to the Berkshires where my friend spent summers as a boy and enjoys returning as we both do.  Hyde Park in Dutchess County, part of the Mid-Hudson Valley, however, is a destination in itself with FDR’s home, the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Park and the nearby Sixteen Mile Historic District in Columbia County, all part of The Hudson River National Landmark Historic District, the largest historic district in the continental US.

Side view of Springwood with floral trellises and ivy

On this initial Springwood trip in June, we had a chance to tour FDR’s home.  Among the fascinating accounts that the park ranger shared on the tour, a few stood out.  Sara, Franklin’s devoted mother who owned the house and Franklin’s New York City home, interestingly, revamped Springwood to look more “presidential” years before Franklin was president with an idea like dressing for the job to which one aspires.  Franklin assisted with the designs that transformed the exterior of Springwood from a pleasant “clapboard farmhouse” to Colonial Revival Style. Visitors, many political allies, could easily envision FDR in the White House. 

Springwood before the remodeling
Hudson River view from Springwood, now somewhat obscured by the trees FDR had planted, but still beautiful

The president, the “Great Communicator,” delivered two of his famous fireside chats from Springwood with his Scottish Terrier Fala, a favorite of children across the country, including our mother, by his side.  Grown-ups, too, seemed to enjoy Fala. The FDR Library blog shares that sailors got the idea of cutting off locks of Fala’s fur for good luck on one of FDR’s WWII battleship visits.  Fala had a habit of dashing off to the decks below to get treats, and he slipped by his “walking officer” on the USS Baltimore.  The sociable Fala did not bark while being clipped, but FDR had to put a stop to this as the terrier looked quite shorn.

Fala with FDR (Wiki photo)
Fala depicted with FDR at the wonderful Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC, sculpted by George Segal (Wiki photo)

Before Fala’s antics, along the tree-lined driveway to his boyhood home, the 39-year-old Franklin pushed himself to walk farther and farther each day after being stricken with polio. Researchers speculate that the president may have had Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a nerve disorder and not a viral disease, but that did not change what FDR dealt with in 1921. Franklin never made it to the end of the driveway, but he continued to try.

For our mother and many of her peers, FDR was president throughout their childhoods.  Our mother recalls that Mrs. Branigan, a Vailsburg, Newark neighbor and an Irish immigrant, got off the bus from work one day and walked along the street sobbing.  When Mrs. Branigan passed our mother’s house, she saw the little girl sitting on the porch glider, and between tears, said, “Our president is dead.”  Hearing this, our mother, too, burst into tears feeling a family attachment to the man whose voice had come into their homes to reassure them during the Great Depression and World War II.

A familial warmth is part of the delight of visiting historic sites in Hyde Park and the area.  Many residents knew the families who were also part of their community, and they shared life stories.  After each winning election, neighbors carried torches up to the front of the house at Springwood to wish FDR well.  The wonderful feeling of community in Hyde Park remains to this day.

A radiant young Eleanor proud of her accomplishment (Springwood)
An impressive collection of Roosevelt family equestrian prizes
The stable
Daffodils at the stable
Horses had names like “New Deal,” “Lady Luck,” “Pal O Mine,” and “Patches”

The elegance of the Rose Garden, here blooming with peonies, befits its stately purpose as the resting place of Eleanor and Franklin. The beloved Fala is also buried nearby and daughter Anna’s German shepherd.

The burial site of Eleanor and FDR
FDR bust and FDR Presidential Library, the view from Freedom Court. FDR bust by Walter Russell.
FDR Library entrance

On another visit, we enjoyed exploring the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, the first US presidential library, which we enjoyed exploring ohas the compelling pull of history. Seeing the president’s memorabilia from his White House years has a resonance beyond his delightful boyhood collections and the family photographs in his home. Historic photos come to life in the library. FDR was the first president to donate his letters to the public, leaving them to the National Archives.  The innovative design of the entrance celebrates this historic boon.  At FDR’s request, the library also includes the letters of the First Lady.  The library also has virtual tours. Given park budgets, Top Cottage has limited tours, and after our wonderful library visit, we looked forward to seeing FDR’s retreat another time. 

FDR Library entrance, partial view
FDR campaign hat
FDR’s desk from the Oval Office
FDR’s 1936 Ford Phaeton
The library notes that Fred Relyea, a Poughkeepsie mechanic, adapted the car for FDR’s use

Top Cottage was the second home that FDR designed with architect Henry Toombs with the thought that the president would retire there after his second term.  The fieldstone Dutch Colonial Revival home, in keeping with the historic houses in the area, is one of only two buildings designed by a US president and one of the first in the United States with wheelchair accessibility.  Primarily, it was a peaceful getaway.  Springwood was often hectic during FDR’s presidency, and well-wishers entered the grounds hoping to see the president, unimaginable with 21st-century security. 

Like Springwood, Top Cottage had many famous visitors: Winston Churchill, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Princesses Juliana and Beatrix, Norway’s Crown Prince Olaf and Crown Princess Martha, and interestingly, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. On the first visit to the US by British monarchs, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were guests at the celebrated Top Cottage “hot dog summit,” where the president introduced the royal couple to American dishes at a picnic and took the king and queen on one of his hurtling car rides.  The picnic had a serious and successful purpose in making the British monarchs seem relatable and more democratic as they ate and drank beer with Hyde Park staff.  Months later, FDR was able to send supplies to help England after their declaration of war on Germany.  All of FDR’s guests appreciated this woodland retreat from the public eye as he did and the warmth of being entertained in a home.

Winston Churchill by Oscar Nemon in Freedom Court
The Four Freedoms: A sculpture based on FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech that inspired Berkshire neighbor Norman Rockwell. Mr. Rockwell’s famous paintings, now on tour, but based at the Norman Rockwell Museum, raised money for war bonds on exhibit around the country. Speech admires May also enjoy the FDR Four Freedoms Park in NYC.

If we drove like FDR, we may have made it on time to tour Top Cottage, but missing the shuttle bus went from our running joke about timing, somewhat akin to having missed the rocket launch for life, to a lesson in saying good-bye to perfectionism, a good resolution.  Travel writing should make people want to go to a place and enjoy it – informative fun does not have to be a dutiful treatise. And yet, we still tried.  Top Cottage closes in the winter, another discovery on a different visit, which meant a great excuse to enjoy the beautiful tulip poplar trees outside the library and have lunch in the café before driving home. Other trips to the FDR historic site have brought more walks and gift shop stops for ornaments at the holidays. So a missed shuttle bus here and there has led to making the FDR historic site a regular stop like walking the grounds at the Vanderbilt Mansion.

Posting, too, went the way of the elusive Top Cottage. Even with the buffer of history, a post in the fall of 2016 was not the best time. Over the holidays, rethought this with the idea for Top Cottage as a metaphor for new beginnings, still the timing was not right, but better now with thoughts of spring visits.

Val-Kill, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site

Stone Cottage, Eleanor’s residence at Val-Kill

Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s historic site, is two miles from Springwood and a little over four miles from Top Cottage.  Perhaps that is part of how Eleanor and Franklin’s marriage lasted or that the demands of public life required personal space.  A warm June sun, chirping birds, and beautiful flowers, show the simple residence as what it was, a haven for the first lady.  With the exhibits planned by the park rangers, visitors feel Eleanor’s uplifting spirit.  Practically, Val-Kill gave the first lady opportunity to work on her own projects including the development of off-season jobs for local residents, which became Val-Kill Industries.  The name “Valley Stream” is from the Dutch for both the valley location and the wonderful stream that offered the Roosevelt family swimming in the summer.  The grounds are beautiful with a charming footbridge and a wonderful garden with peonies in season.  Val-Kill later went to Eleanor’s son Elliott, who had attended the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, a Garden State connection.

Eleanor’s photo at The Poughkeepsie Post Office
Eleanor’s work space
The beautiful stream at Val-Kill

Vanderbilt Mansion

The Vanderbilt Mansion at the holidays

If you enjoy history, the tours are where you get the great tidbits.  Our park ranger, part of the esprit de corps of rangers like those at Springwood, brought the beautiful mansion to life.

Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius, along with his wife Louise commissioned Charles McKim, a name partner in the country’s top architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, to build their Neoclassical-Beaux Arts home.  As the Historic Resource Study for the site notes, the elegant architectural combination was unusual for a country home and is the only one of its kind in the Hudson Valley.  With a newly restored exterior, visitors can now enjoy river views from the balcony in warm weather.  Completion of the 54-room mansion brought the top craftsmen for woodwork and stone design, many from Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.  The interior is incredible as you can see from the photos. Much of the furniture and art was brought from Europe, a trend at the time, and Stanford White was Frederick’s antique dealer. James Greenleaf designed the Italianate garden, which we look forward to seeing on another trip.

The Neoclassical-Beaux Arts mansion designed by Charles McKim
The mansion restoration
Hudson River view

During the two years it took to build the mansion, 1896-1899, Louise and Frederick periodically stayed in the Pavilion, now the Visitor Center, to oversee building.  The Gilded Age families were the generation that spent the fortunes that their grandparents had made.  In the case of Frederick and Louise, they were generous as opposed to frivolous.  Frederick had architect McKim build the Howard Mansion at Hosack Farm across the road for his niece Rose Anthony Post Howard and her husband Thomas Howard, a descendant of the founder of Rutgers University and Revolutionary War general, John Neilson.  Rose and Thomas were the maternal grandparents of Thomas Howard Kean, the Governor of New Jersey.  Well-liked in Hudson Valley, Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt did not have children and enjoyed giving gifts to those of their staff in addition to showing their appreciation for their work.  Though they had their bedrooms designed as if they were European royalty, the fashion of the day, the Vanderbilts were warm and accessible. Louise herself oversaw gift-giving for the staff.  They left a great deal of their fortune to charity, loyal staff, and a niece. The ultimate donation of the mansion to the public, like that of Springwood, was FDR’s idea.

The Pavilion, now the Visitor Center
The Pavilion was once a guest house for gentleman visitors
Play garden gift from Louise and Frederick. Many gifts generously make their way back to the mansion museum for the public’s enjoyment.

The estate provided local jobs year-round with the mansion, the grounds, garden, greenhouses, dairy, vegetable garden, orchard, and a dock where guests could arrive on their yachts.  The ice box is representative of how eco-friendly the property was.  Long after the invention of refrigerators, Frederick kept these efficient ices boxes in use.  Not only did the ice boxes operate without electrical power, but the staff who maintained the ice remained employed. 

Ice boxes
Household kitchen

The beautiful holiday welcome, done at the initiative of the park rangers, is breathtaking. Like other Gilded Age families, the Vanderbilts had several homes where they usually spent different seasons.  The mansion was their country home where they celebrated Easter and visited in the fall, though they did give Christmas gifts to staff.  New York City was their primary residence and Newport, Rhode Island, Bar Harbor, Maine, and the Adirondacks, their summer retreats.  (Springwood also has Christmas decorations.)  In warmer weather, visitors may go out on the balcony, opened after the restoration.

Grandeur of the entrance hall
Dining room
The beautiful decorations by the park rangers
Magnificent tapestry

Hyde Park

The Hyde Park Drive-in, opened in 1950, is across the street from Hyde Park. An in-season classic, it is another reason to stay over in the area to enjoy the sites and charm.  If you enjoy these drive-in photos, you may want to follow the wonderful Cinema Treasures on Instagram, which documents movie venues all over the country.

The appropriately patriotic diner across the street from Springwood


At the Vanderbilt Mansion, a number of loyal Poughkeepsians talked up their town, which called for a return trip first to enjoy the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.  The views matched “The Queen City of the Hudson,” as Poughkeepsie on the east bank is also known, which is across the river from the charming Kingston. Even on a minus-degree wind chill December day, the Hudson River was spectacular.  An active park group takes year-round advantage of the trails and you can connect with them on their social media. During the holidays, the nearby Franklin D. Roosevelt Mid-Husdon Bridge is lit in red and green lights at night.

Hudson River view of FDR Mid-Hudson Bridge from Kingston side of Walkway
Breathtaking views

The all too brief visit to the City of Poughkeepsie led to stops to admire the fine architecture and an informal tour of Vassar College.  Look forward to visiting the charming Mid_Hudson Children’s Museum and more on the next visit to the city, which also has a drive-in, the Overlook.

The charming yellow building is the Children’s Museum

A delight of the December return trip was the holiday cheer and navigational expertise of the area toll takers.  GPS is not the same as directions shared with smiles and the admiration of a cheerful holiday pin or Santa Claus gel nails.  Our family knows the area from growing up, a story for another day, but these quick chats were not only helpful, but reminders of nice visits and family stories.

The First Day Hikes tradition
Johnson-Iorio Memorial Park and the FDR Mid-Hudson Bridge
Riverside park sponsored by Scenic Hudson, this one dedicated to the conservationist
Teddy Roosevelt display at the Poughkeepsie Post Office. Looking forward to seeing his historic homes.
Walkway holiday decorations

Vassar College

As a Seven Sisters graduate, it was delightful to visit Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie.  Now coed, the beautiful campus has a wonderful atmosphere and delightful shops and restaurants nearby.

Main Gate
Main Building
Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film
New England Building


Named after English poet John Milton, the hamlet in Ulster County delights with historic homes, churches, and welcoming shops in a scenic setting.  With such a brief visit, look forward to another. A fun tidbit is that Marlon Brando’s “A Fugitive Kind” was filmed here in 1959.  Enjoyed spectacular river views from the Milton Landing Dog Park with a truly merry Christmas tree out on the dock.

Milton Post Office
First Presbyterian Church of Milton
Methodist Episcopal Church
A delightful surprise on the dock at the Milton Landing Dog Park


Rhinebeck charms in every season.  The former “Violet Capital of the World,” later renowned for its anemones, Rhinebeck is known for its hospitality, and to this day, a warm welcome awaits visitors. FDR gave campaign speeches from the porch of the historic Beekman Arms, 1766, which hosted everyone from Founding Fathers George Washington and Robert Livingston to New Jerseyans Frank Sinatra and Jack Nicholson.  A further New Jersey connection goes back to Robert Livingston’s brother William, who signed the Constitution and was the first governor of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. William resided at Liberty Hall, Union. Liberty Hall, now part of Kean University, was sold to Kean relatives, family of New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean on his father’s side.  Alexander Hamilton was a guest at both Liberty Hall and the Beekman Arms.

Beekman Arms and Delamater Inn

German settlers from the Bavarian Palatinate named the beautiful area “Ryn Beck” in 1714, because it reminded them of their Rhine Valley home.  Rhinebeck dates back to the Sepasco and Eposus, Lenape Native Americans who were later joined by Dutch settlers in 1686. The Dutch brought the Sinterklaass tradition now celebrated in an annual December nondemoninational festival. Well-known residents like John Jacob Astor IV followed the Dutch and Germans to what became “Rhinebeck”.  The village, a National Historic District, is remarkable in that so much of its original architecture remains.

The photos here are from a December trip to the Village of Rhinebeck within the larger town both within the “Sixteen Mile Historic District”. 

Rhinebeck Savings Bank
Beekman Arms and Delamater Inn
Village Pizza of Rhinebeck
Rhinebeck Department Store

Samuel’s Sweet Shop

A well-known resident, Hilarie Burton, who stars in one of my favorite holiday movies, “Christmas on the Bayou,” is an active sponsor of a local charity Astor Services for Children and Families and has invested in a town business, Samuel’s Sweet Shop, both co-starring her husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan and friends Julie Yeager & Paul Rudd.  Rhinebeck is also the hometown of Rufus Wainwright, whose performance at the Asbury Park Convention Hall on his tour for “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu” was so incredible that it was like being transported out of time and place.  In real time, however, my friend stepped out for a snack on the boardwalk and returned for the encore. Mr. Wainwright was in competition with the PGA Tour, which is not to slight a true artist who had sold out the venue, but it helps with perspective when putting work out there.

World War I heroes remembered
Rhinebeck firehouse

Wilderstein and the Hudson Valley

A brief moonlit stop with just a hint of the “Central Park serenity” of the Calvert Vaux design

The Hudson Valley has so much to see and do that we may never make it to Top Cottage.  We look forward to discovering other sights that range from the High Falls Conservation Area to the Culinary Institute of America, which our mother has enjoyed with friends. Wilderstein, where FDR’s cousin, confidante, Fala gift-giver, and one of the first archivists of the FDR Library, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley lived, was and is on the visit list. Though arriving after dark on the most recent Mid-Hudson Valley visit, still took a loyal fan photo at the Victorian mansion with its grounds designed by Calvert Vaux, because all roads lead to Central Park and New Jersey at one time or another.

Home Travels with You

Once in a surprising turn of events, while traveling with a summer study group, we rode in a boat taxi along the Grand Canal at sunset in Venice. The sun splashed a million shades of gold along the colorful palazzi in “La Serenissimo,” the “Most Serene Republic of Venice”.  Inexplicably, most of the students were arguing over the rooms, but the wonderful sound of rushing water and the steady hum of the engine could still be heard between sharp words.  Looking across the boat, another classmate, like me, marveled at the panoramic beauty before us.  She smiled serenely.  We did not know each other well.  From our remarks in class, we had different opinions on things, but we both had an appreciation for our good fortune.  Our classmates missed the sunset, not having noticed, or not having minded.  Later, when we all returned to school, work, and occasional turmoil, my fellow traveler and I would sometimes look at each other and smile.  We had shared a love of beauty.

People will surprise us.  Before going on the trip, our Uncle Ray, a comedy writer for Steve Allen, Bob Hope, and Phyllis Diller, and at times, presidents of both parties, whose favorite movie preferences were lighthearted ones featuring Laurel & Hardy and Hope and Crosby’s “Road pictures,” suggested, “Watch David Lean’s ‘Summertime’ before you go.  Venice looks like a dream.'”  The film, if you have not seen it, is a visual love letter to the city as much as it is about lost opportunity and timing.  For our uncle who was so talented that he did not easily fit in, which ultimately led to full-time work in a factory, the film may have had a particular meaning.  Generous, his career advice was his life advice, “Cheap shots are easy, it’s the clever jokes that are hard.”

In a pessimist’s theory of reductionism, Serenissimo is overcrowded, Fala was the invention of wartime propaganda, and Teddy’s bad side is on Mount Rushmore.  On a certain level, these assertions may seem true, but it would be like describing Venice without the light. Happy New Year.

Eleanor Roosevelt stamp First Day of Issue, a gift along with a collection from Uncle Ray

Note: Intended for posting in January 2019.

(Sources: nps.gov, fdr.blogs.archives.gov, c-span.org/video/?429257-1/franklin-d-roosevelts-top-cottage “American History TV,” history.com, health.heraldtribune.com, hvmg.com, forbes.com, smithsonianmagazine.com, whitehousehistory.org, ushistory.org, poughkeepsiejournal.com, hrvh.com, rhinebeckchamber.com, rhinebeckmuseum.com, beekmandelamaterinn.com, wilderstein.org, usatoday.com, c-span.org, tripadvisor.com, winstonchurchill.org, providencejournal.com, aboutfranklinroosevelt.com, Wiki)

“Hyde Park: The Year from the Top” All Rights Reserved © 2019 Kathleen Helen Levey

“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

“Washington’s Headquarters at Morristown: A Common Purpose”

The Colonial Revival-style Washington Headquarters Museum, designed by John Russell Pope and built in the 1930’s,  with snowman greeter

With the opening of the new interactive Discovery History Center this week at the Washington Headquarters Museum, we revisit what brought seemingly disparate people together in the fight for freedom in New Jersey, known as the “Crossroads of the Revolution” and the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.  Among the many stations of General Washington during the Revolutionary War, Washington’s Morristown headquarters at the Ford Mansion marks both his longest stay and a bonding among the brave during the coldest winter on record in 1779-1780.  The group, whom General Washington had gathered, had a kinship of vision in the common purpose of freedom: Alexander Hamilton, British West Indies, James McHenry, Ireland, Henry Knox, New England, Don Juan Miralles, Cuba-France and emissary from Spain, and the Marquis de Lafayette, France, helped realize a new country as did homeowner Theodosia Johnes Ford and her children.

Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette, started fighting in the Revolutionary War at only 19 and became like a son to George Washington.  He returned the paternal affection by naming his son “Georges Washington Motier de Lafayette,” the Marquis having lost his own father in the Seven Years War when he was a boy.   Their mutually held ideals of equality are what led the Marquis to his friend upon hearing the American Revolutionaries’ quest for independence mocked by British officers in London.  Mount Vernon adds this historical note to that of Morristown National Park with the credit that though the Marquis was young, he was already a seasoned officer from a lineage of independence with a forefather who fought with Joan of Arc.

Like his mentor, the Marquis had the strength of character to decline an imperial role as a leader of his native country, preferring democracy that he supported again during the French Revolution.  With Thomas Paine, he co-authored the new French Republic’s Constitution that guaranteed equality under the law, “The Declaration of the Rights of Man”.  Though it did not include women in a reflection of the times, the Marquis was an advocate for an immediate end to slavery.  From his contributions in both France and the United States, Lafayette was known as “The Hero of Two Worlds”.  This champion of democracy had the unique experience of later returning to the United States with his son Georges to tour the grateful nation that he had helped create.  With the fanfare, a four-month tour turned into a sixteen-month one of all the 24 states that comprised the country in 1824-1825.

In that fateful Morristown winter, the admirable Theodosia Johnes Ford not only risked the safety of herself and her family by allowing General Washington and his retinue stay in her home, but she generously gave Martha and George the bedroom that she had shared with her officer-husband who had recently passed away.  Sentiment aside, Theodosia continued to care for her children and carried on her husband’s work with the family farm and iron manufacturing business.

The Georgian-style Ford Mansion, built in 1774 by Jacob Ford, Jr., husband of Theodosia Johnes

An often unknown hero of the American Revolution was the Spanish-born Don Juan de Miralles, another friend of General Washington, a resident of Cuba with French-born parents. He worked for a French diplomat, and in that role, urged Spain to support the Colonial Army. Officially an observer, Don Juan de Miralles was, in effect, an advisor to the Continental Congress and helped with negotiations with Spain. The Colonists had offered the return of some Spanish land lost in the French and Indian War in exchange for backing their new currency, which the Spanish did discreetly, as well as making loans all via a world trading company.

Don Juan personally funded many towns in their resistance to the British and through his Cuban contacts he had supplies and weapons sent to the Colonial troops. Sadly, in that harsh winter of 1779, General Washington’s friend contracted pneumonia, and despite receiving care from the general’s personal physician, he died unexpectedly in April 1780.

At General Washington’s orders, Don Juan de Miralles was the first foreigner to receive a U.S. military funeral, one remarked on for its great ceremony accorded to the highest of dignitaries, solidifying the bond between the fledgling country and Spain and the debt of gratitude owed to the Don. The Colonial Army would not have survived that winter without him. The US-Spain connection was so strong that the first US dollars produced with the dollar symbol were similar to Spanish dollars. For the first time, the prospect of victory looked possible for the Colonials.  Don Juan’s death pained General Washington who regretted that his friend would not live to see what he had helped realize.

For information on the new exhibit, just 32-miles via car, train, or bus from New York City, visit Morristown National Historical Park and the  Washington Association.  The program of opening events continues through tomorrow.

(Sources: Adapted from “The Moral Quandary of Heels” Copyright © 2013 All Rights Reserved Kathleen Helen Levey with additional links.)


“Remembrance Day”

Red poppies “Honor the Dead by Helping the Living”. On travels, met a veteran selling the poppy flowers to raise money for his fellow veterans. People passed by him, unfortunately, because they did not know what the flowers meant. With the observation of the 100th anniversary of World War I this year and Remembrance Day in Commonwealth Countries, sharing again the story of their origin in that war.

Red poppies grew on battlefields of World War I, striking amidst rows of white crosses for the many lost lives. Moved by grief, Canadian Colonel John McCrae, a surgeon with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery, wrote a poem “In Flanders Field,” which resounded around the world. Through the work of Anna E. Guerin, France, and Moina Michael, Georgia (US), the sale of artificial poppies helped orphans and others impoverished by the war. By 1920 the American Legion assisted and the “Flowers of Remembrance” were sold throughout the US, Canada, Britain France, Australia, and New Zealand. To expand the support, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) began to sell the “Buddy Poppy” nationally right before Memorial Day in 1922, and this became their memorial flower. Donations help support veterans and the families of those who have died in service.

As you may have seen in ceremonies and exhibits in the news, the United Kingdom has revitalized this recognition. The VFW got a trademark for the “Buddy Poppy” to safeguard that proceeds do indeed go to the veterans who assemble them, veterans’ rehabilitation, related programs, and in part, the VFW National Home for Children. (Sources: VFW.org, VA.gov, Wiki) Photo from Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morris Township, NJ.

(First posted on Instagram 5/30/16 for Memorial Day. All Rights Reserved © 2016 Kathleen Helen Levey)

“Highlights of the John Basilone Parade”

Raritan’s annual parade in Sergeant Basilone’s honor each September is a proud event with many veterans and Marines participating. The link below leads to video of the tossed-candy fun at this year’s parade along Somerset Street. The children, all delightful in this year’s crowd, are mostly off-frame, but they were even sweeter. Our mother, who attended for many years, exclaimed when hearing this, “It’s a first-rate parade if they’re giving out candy!”  In the generous spirit of Sergeant John Basilone, his family, and the local communities, the borough invites everyone to attend.


and sports cars escorting veterans and honorees:

Donald Basilone, Sgt. Basilone’s youngest brother

Andy Martin, Silver Star, Vietnam

Herb Patullo, Grand Marshall

Though the parade itself is light-hearted, the banners along the route honoring the 23 other young men from Raritan who gave their lives in service in World War II are reminders of the parade’s purpose.  These banners are present in towns and cities throughout New Jersey. Sergeant Basilone, born in Buffalo, New York, grew up here with these other servicemen.

Donald Basilone, youngest brother of John Basilone, poses below with US Marines and service members beneath the statue of his brother John, created by John’s boyhood friend Philip Orlando. Sergeant Basilone was the only enlisted US Marine to receive the Navy Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. “The Greatest Generation,” of which John Basilone was a part, was also a modest one.  Our family friend, a fellow Marine who was in the first wave at Iwo Jima when Sergeant Basilone was killed after rescuing others, attended the parade annually until he became too ill.  Like Sergeant Basilone, he would be the first to say that each generation that serves deserves our gratitude.  A proud father attending the event shared that Sergeant Basilone had inspired his son, who had reenlisted in the Marines and come from a distance to participate in the parade and reenactment.

The ceremony included remarks by Donald Basilone and this year’s guest speaker Lt. General Richard Mills.  The Basilone Parade Committee members, all volunteers, honored Herb Patullo, a US Navy veteran and lifelong Bound Brook resident, as Grand Marshall this year.  Mr. Patullo, a dedicated supporter of the parade, attended the original one for Sergeant Basilone on September 19, 1943.  The parade continues each September on the Sunday closet to the original John Basilone Day.  Next year’s parade is on September 23rd.

The wreath-laying ceremony at Sergeant Basilone’s statute followed with the Marines’ reenactment of the flag raising at Mount Suribachi after the Battle of Iwo Jima was won. On the birthday of the US Marines yesterday, November 10th, the museum hosted @52Museums on Instagram.  The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, VA near Quantico, which also honors Sergeant Basilone, has the original flag raised at Mount Suribachi, captured in the photograph by Joe Rosenthal. Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley is an incredible book on the subject.

The Friendly Sons of the Shillelagh-Essex County marching in the John Basilone Parade, Raritan, New Jersey playing the “Marines’ Hymn,” part of the wonderful music in the parade.

St. Ann’s of Hampton


John Basilone Honor Platoon

Marine Corps League #1234, Manville/Somerville

Marine Corps bulldog mascot shielded from the heat

Along the Raritan riverbank, pictured below.  The first annual Patriotic Art Show debuted nearby with tents and tables with concessions and music by Raritan musicians Tommy Grasso & the Spins.  Artists interested in showing their work next year may contact: (908) 581-1917.

In updating information for posting, found articles about John Basilone’s impact as far away as San Diego, where the San Diego Tribune writes faithfully about him. Stationed at Camp Pendleton, John married his wife Lena Mae Riggi, a Marine sergeant in the Women’s Reserve, in Oceanside, California.  The lovely “Piazza Basilone,” dedicated in 2003 with a bust of Sergeant Basilone, is at the heart of San Diego’s Little Italy.  Both locals and tourists enjoy relaxing there daily.

Intermingled with the happy and the casual in the piazza are the grateful.  One article noted that a man sitting on a bench had tears in his eyes and shared that John Basilone had saved his life.  At the Battle of Guadalcanal alone, Sergeant Basilone’s bravery in holding the line was responsible for saving several thousand US servicemen, an incredible legacy of which New Jerseyans can be proud.  If you have not attended the parade, think about going next year.  The parade, which brings the warmth of John Basilone’s personality in his absence, has a wonderful atmosphere where everyone is welcome. 

An added note that HBO is airing “The Pacific” this weekend with Clifton’s Jon Seda, a former parade grand marshal, as Sgt. Basilone.

Posted on Veterans Day with thanks to all veterans, active military, parade planners and participants who help the parade continue. For those who would like to support the parade with a donation, kindly mail a check to: John Basilone Memorial Parade Committee, c/o Borough of Raritan, 22 First Street, Raritan, NJ 08869. Thank you.

(Additional sources: John Basilone Parade (FB), Raritan-online.com, sandiegotribune.com, littleitalysd.com, Wiki)

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