Reading History

Books are an escape to other times, other worlds. Many books are from my library, re-reads; some are new purchases. They cover many genres, but mostly nonfiction, a lot of history.

“The Disaffected: Britain’s occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution” by Aaron Sullivan was an interesting read. I like when a history book covers familiar ground with a fresh outlook or thesis. I’ve read, even taught about the British occupation of Philadelphia many times but I never considered the extent that a significant portion of the population were neither typical patriots or typical loyalists. They were “disaffected” not interested in the war, wanted it to end. There were several reasons.

There were many Quakers in Philadelphia and the surrounding countryside. Even if they disliked British policy they were not going to take up arms in rebellion. Some had close business relations with Great Britain. The Patriots attempted to coerce their loyalty to the rebellion. Some who refused like Henry Drinker were taken into custody and removed to Virginia before the British occupation of Philadelphia. Henry’s wife Elizabeth who remains in the city becomes a focus of someone caught in the occupation.

During the almost nine month occupation, Washington in Valley Forge, the citizens of Philadelphia and the British army all need food. Farmers from the countryside may not have been Patriots or Loyalists. But they wanted to sell their product. They disliked colonial dollars and they tried to avoid Washington’s patrols, gain the city and get paid in British currency. In my study of Bucks County history I recall this activity. “The Disaffected” also has a lot of interesting detail about life in Philadelphia. Always a personal interest. In the end, the British withdraw and the Patriots reclaimed the city.

I also finished reading Doris Kearns Godwin’s “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the golden age of journalism.”  

A long 500 page read but loaded with fascinating detail.  I wonder how anyone could learn what sometimes seems like so many private thoughts and private actions. But then I look at the number of footnotes. 

I had some knowledge of Roosevelt, Rough Rider, President, wilderness man, hunter, Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, reformer, trust buster.  Knew nothing about Taft.  

Roosevelt became President after the assassination of McKinley.  He was a progressive or reform Republican.  Wildly popular with the people, I can make out an image of his waving his hat to a cheering crowd, he is on horseback.  Taft would ride a car.  

Interestingly Roosevelt aligned himself with the muckrakers of S.S. McClure’s magazine; Ida Tarbell, Ray Baker, Lincoln Steffens and William Allen White.  With them he went after the railroads, monopolies, Standard Oil , and the meatpackers.  Remember “The Jungle.”  He fought the robber barons, corrupt politicians and corporate exploiters of natural resources.  But he also could go more middle to the road when necessary.  Is Biden doing this?

Roosevelt supported Taft (who served in his cabinet) for the Presidency after his second term.  They had become close friends.  Taft really wanted the Supreme Court but turned down an offer because of his position in the Philippines.  Taft was not as wild as Roosevelt, but was married to a fascinating woman, Nellie.  He became President, initially following the Roosevelt agenda.  But he drifted away and he and Teddy would become rivals in the 1912 election.  Roosevelt who said he wouldn’t run again, did.  They both lost to The Democrat Woodrow Wilson.  Taft did get appointed to the Supreme Court. 

I enjoyed the chapters on McClure’s having read about the muckrakers in Literature classes.  Comparing then to now was also fascinating.  The President’s relationship with the press, big business, tariffs, political in fighting, corruption.  I also enjoyed Roosevelt campaigning from a train, his long vacations out West or on Safari in Africa.  

Escape to another time. Share your reading escapes.


Florynce “Flo” Kennedy

I recently finished reading a biography “Florynce ‘Flo’ Kennedy: the life of a black feminist radical,” by Sherie M. Randolph. It was published in 2015, University of North Carolina Press. I had never heard of “Flo.” And I don’t remember how I came to order the book. I read several book reviews and sometimes add selections to my Amazon wish list. Whatever the reason I’m glad I read it.

I always enjoy discovering some new historical figure. Kennedy was a fierce civil rights activist. Growing up in Kansas City, her parents taught her “not to take any shit.” Fight for your rights. She was also an extremely vocal feminist. Throughout her life Kennedy attempted to unite civil rights for blacks, feminism and anti-imperialism (Viet Nam).

In 1948, Kennedy applied to Columbia Law School. She was rejected, black and a woman. She threatened legal action and was admitted. When she graduated however, no major NYC firm would hire her, so she went into private practice. Had a partner for a while. In 1950 there were 6,271 women lawyers in the country; 83 were African American. Interestingly Leonard Cohen was a Columbia classmate who raised money for her office rent and hospital bills. Kennedy developed a circle of friends; entertainers, artists and writers. Although she had an unconventional view of marriage in 1957 she married Charlie Dye (in Cohen’s apartment). She was 41. The marriage soon collapsed; Charlie was an abusive alcoholic.

One of her clients was Billy Holiday, who she defended on drug charges. Kennedy had been drawn to Holiday and her political involvement characterized by Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” which Flo first heard at a 1955 benefit performance in honor of Emmett Till. I think a biography of Billy Holliday would be an interesting read. Kennedy became the attorney for Holiday’s and Charlie Parker’s estates. She fought for royalties often denied musicians.

In the 1960s Kennedy was increasingly active in the Civil Rights movement. In 1965 in a story that sounds like today, Kennedy encountered police brutality. Returning home to her apartment in the tony East Forties, she was stopped by the police from passing a barricade. White men were ushered past. Kennedy was furious and spoke out and was eventually charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice.

Kennedy was drawn to the Black Power movement, including the Black Panthers. I enjoyed reading about this period of Civil Rights activism, Adam Clayton Powell, Stokley Carmichael, H Rap Brown, Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins. Names I remember. Around the same time Kennedy became active in the growing feminist movement, NOW. She would not however be accepted by all white feminists. Kennedy wanted to unite black activism, black power and feminists. United they should resist the war. Flo became close friends and a speaking partner with Gloria Steinem. She also became vocal, supporting legal abortion. In 1972 she supported the presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. I didn’t remember Chisholm running. She also defended the Black Panthers including Angela Davis.

I wonder how Flo Kennedy would be viewed today. She was loud, outspoken, determined, she didn’t take any shit. I love her activism and her hats.


Reading Escapes

February, 2021

Cold weather, several snow days.  My afternoons are patterned, build a fire and read.

Recently I  finished two very different novels. The first was  “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles, best known for the fantastic “Gentleman in Moscow.”  Towles has a captivating way with words.  “Rules” is set in New York City, mainly in the 1930s.  The protagonist is Katey Kontent who meets a handsome banker, Tinker Grey in a Greenwich Village jazz bar.  Katey and her best friend Eve both fall for Tinker.  But it’s Eve that ends up living and traveling with him.  I totally enjoy when a writer can transport you to another time and place.  We travel with Katey as she explores life in NYC. I may reread “Gentleman.”

I  enter a totally different world reading, “The Judas Field: a novel of the Civil War,” by Howard Bahr.  Our guide is Cass Wakefield, a veteran who returns to his hometown in Mississippi, only to accompany a childhood friend, Alison twenty years later on a quest to find the bodies of her father and brother who served with Cass and died in a battle at a cotton gin in  Franklin, Tennessee.  Roger Lewellyn who served with Cass go with them.  The trip becomes a series of flash backs between Cass and Roger as they relive the horrors of war. Camp life and waiting are interesting but Bahr’s description of the fears, blood, confusion, pain and dying are riveting.  I don’t recall reading any description of battle so horrific.  Another traveler with them is Lucian, a runaway orphan who wandered into Cass’s unit.  Cass adopted  the young teen and sees that he is accepted into the unit. During the war Lucien fights beside Cass.  Roger is injured and Lucien is shot and dies when they explore a house near the old battlefield. Cass and Alison return home.

I seem to be reading more novels than usual.  Maybe it’s a need to escape.  Since  COVID and with my medical issues,  it’s hard to travel.   I escape to different times and different worlds through books.  Currently i’m traveling with Harry Potter, book 3.


Ghosts of Christmas Past


Instead of counting sheep, I often daydream.  The best are good memories from the past.  The past few nights  my topic has been Christmas.  Here are some random memories.


My father’s birthday is December 23.  So he got two gifts, birthday and Christmas.  For many years, tobacco, pouch or can, was a standard.  He liked Cherry.  When I had more money, I’d get him a new pipe.

We always set up and decorated the tree on Christmas Eve.  Not sure why.  Although Diane recalls at least one year, the tree was used in Cis’s Sport Shop before being brought to our apartment.

In the 1970s I began to buy live trees.  Several were planted in Bristol, then New Hope and Yardley.  We actually transplanted several trees when we moved to Yardley.  Several trees died and 4 came down in storms. A few survive.  

The most memorable tree was a live one I used in my Saint Michael’s classroom.  I got sick and John Paglione had to move it to our house in Yardley. It eventually was planted in front of St. Mike’s.  Several years ago when I was in Penn hospital, a male nurse visited.  He had been a student in the class that planted the tree.  He said that only recently it had been cut down.

Growing up in Bristol our tree was decorated in colored balls and multi-colored lights.  Then silver tinsel finished it off.  Mom was always demanding in how the tinsel was applied, no bunches.  When Diane and I were having our own trees, small white lights soon became the thing.

In Bristol we may have bought trees at the corner of Otter and Bath.  Diane and I initially bought them at Snipes Nursery in Morrisville.  Then Jug Hill in Yardley.  Several years we bought silver tipped fir from Oregon at Terrain.  Very different.  The past few years from Colavita in Yardley or some other local tree farm.

My parents bought Christmas decorations from Nichols Pools who sold Christmas stuff in winter.  Ray Nichols, a close friend went to China annually to buy stock.  For many years Diane and I bought things from Snipes Nursery’s Christmas Shop.  They had very nice German imports.  We still have a small music box with revolving scene, nativity set and several other pieces.  In her later years Mom liked to go to the Winterthur Shop to buy Christmas gifts and decorations.

When I was in high school I would work in Profy’s Appliance Store.  I featured myself in charge of small appliances.  Every year it seemed GE electrified something new — a toothbrush, shoe polisher, hair curler . . .I sometimes went to Tabs Electric in Trenton to pick up Christmas inventory.

“The Store” was open evenings in the weeks after Thanksgiving.  When suburban stores began to offer competition.  Profy’s promised service.  I remember a customer on Christmas Eve bringing in a small appliance that didn’t work asking for an exchange.  My father said, “You didn’t buy it here.”  The guy mentioned buying it at a big suburban store.  My father said, “Well, try to return it there.”

Mill Street had a festive air.  A tree was decorated with lights at the corner of Radcliffe.  It still is every year.  Christmas music played (a bit tacky). Store windows were decorated.  Santa Claus arrived in a parade and held hours in the Businessmens Association building. I did most of my Shopping on the street.

Uncle Tom had a bottle of whiskey in the office.  The Postman and good customers were invited back for a Christmas toast.  Sometime before Christmas he dropped of a bottle of whiskey and bottles of soda at our house. It was one of the few times we had soda in the house.

At home we had a small manger scene.  Christmas cards were hung on a knotty pine wall in the living room.  At some point probably in the 1990s Father took the dimensions of the nativity scene in Saint Marks Church.  He built a scaled down replica and purchased appropriately sized figures.  Dehne’s inherited it.

An alter boy for many years I served at Midnight Mass.  Some years the entire family attended.  Saint Mark’s was beautifully decorated.  Real trees surrounded the large nativity in front of a side alter.  There were lots of poinsettias and greens.  I think we had some breakfast after the Mass. When very young we left out milk and cookies.


Christmas morning we kids got up early.  There were many wrapped gifts under the tree.  It seemed that  there was always one unwrapped gifts to occupy us while our parents slept.  We had breakfast before opening the gifts Santa left and exchanging gifts we bought.

About 11 we headed across the street to visit the Profy grandparents. Uncle Tom and Uncle Frank’s families would show up.   Grandmother Jenny put out Italian cookies from the Italian People’s Bakery in Trenton.  I think the boys/ sons were given a box to take home. The adults were served Manhattans with the cherry.  The kids got coke.   We were also given an envelope with money.  One year after Christmas my grandfather sent me to the house to get something.  My sister Vicky was with me.  We looked in the refrigerator, there was an open coke bottle.  Vicky took it and took a big swig.  Turned out to be extra Manhattan.

Everyone left grand pop’s and came to our house. Frequently as they were leaving my parents close friends, Ray and Mary Ellen Nichols stopped in. Then we left for a round of visits.  Uncle Tom and Aunt Helen in Levittown. We would also stop to see Aunt Marie’s Family (my mother’s younger sister) on Swain Street. She always gave us a small gift.  Unfortunately she died recently from Covid.  Next stop Uncle Frank Profy’s on Radcliffe.  I think he have us a few dollars gift. Christmas was about the only time we visited any of them.

The last and longest stop was Mignoni’s also on Radcliffe. We were closest to them.  William and I were friends as well as cousins.  Ellen and Maryjo matched up with my sisters.    We did exchange gifts.  Uncle Frank liked treats,  pistachios for instance; maybe I would give Aunt Ellen some tea.  Their gifts to us were usually clothes.  When I reached drinking age it was a bottle of Canadian Club.

At home mid afternoon, Mom began dinner.  Frequently ham since we had turkey at Thanksgiving. Lots of food and red wine.   My Gallagher grandmother, Nanny, ate with us or Mignoni’s.  Her spinster sister Aunt Lucy might be with us after her retirement. She was a delight.

After dinner we probably watched some Christmas related TV show.

Many years Uncle Albert, Aunt Carol and cousins Skippy and Paul visited after Christmas.  Both were doctors; lived in Flushing, NY.  At first they stayed in a local motel; later arrived in a motor home which they parked in the Mill Street parking lot.  Kind of exotic for us.  Aunt Carol  always gave great gifts.  My chemistry set, the Invisible Man, Science books, a camera.  She was a photographer/film maker and model train builder.  Opening her gift was always a surprise.

In the difficult times in 2020, it’s great to have such pleasant memories. 

Until I dream again.  Merry Christmas and Good Night.



President Joe Biden


I just finished reading “Joe Biden: the life, the run, and what matters now “ by Evan Oslo’s (2020).  I was familiar with most of the general themes from articles the past year.  The author actually published a lot in the New Yorker.  But there was a lot of new detail.

Biden does seem to be an authentic “average Joe.”  Rough at the edges.  But sincere.  I can’t imagine dealing with his family tragedies. He has made mistakes but seems willing to admit them.

His first months, year as President will be so interesting.  We won’t know the outcome of Georgia for about a week.  Without a Democratic Senate he will meet a lot of obstruction.  I also suspect that Trump won’t go away but will continue to haunt and attack him.

His centrist tendencies do seem appropriate given the divisions in the country.  I’d prefer a more progressive agenda and if it’s possible I think Biden might provide it.

It will be fascinating to watch.  I think our awareness of the Presidency has been heightened in the past four years.  Will we continue to follow Biden so closely.

I think his biggest challenge is showing some of the 70 million that didn’t vote for him that he has a unifying message for the country.  That he’s far from being a socialist.  That the Hunter/Ukraine  ine issue isn’t real. That he is good for the country.





A New Year 2021


Many are writing about how happy they are that 2020 is ending.  No question but Coronavirus has made it an amazing year.  As I wrote in 2019 I don’t make NY resolutions but like to list some goals, ideas for the coming year.  When I look at the 2019 list some things were accomplished; others will be repeated as goals this year.  My 2021 list in no particular order.

I need to decide if I want to buy a new camera, I phone and I pad are also due for replacement.

I walked to the Mary Yardley Bridge this morning but need to get back to walking daily.  1 hour; 1 mile initial goal.  Should also weight lift several times a week.

New glasses are needed.  I cancelled March appointment due to the virus.

Need to either buy a Word Press program or learn how to use the old free version (classic).  They created Gutenberg which I haven’t figured out how to use; it seems to default to it.  Should Blog more.

Last Christmas Diane bought me a portable turntable.  I began to listen to records.  Not enough.  Gave Viv a record player, so she can listen to our records.  Need to set up CD and tape player which were disconnected when we bought a new cabinet.

Continue more selective gardening.  Fewer plants.

Baking and cooking.  Try some new things.  And look at cookbooks.

Organization and selling.  Books, records, stamps and coins, postcards.

Start digitizing slides.  I bought a machine.

Computer backup and organization of photographs.

Look at more movies.  Online or my discs.

Continue eating (take out) as necessary this winter. Probably outside again in Spring.  Exploring some new restaurants.

We didn’t go to Cape Cod this summer.  Thought it best not living with the kids.  We’ve made reservations for this year in August. Fingers crossed.

Several (2 or 3) get-aways would be nice.  And getting to the Jersey shore.  We didn’t go at all this year, amazing.

Continue mix of reading — new books and re-reads.

Would like to see grandkids at least every 10 days.  Since March our meetings have been outside. Hoping by the summer we are back to normal.

Going to NYC at least once.

Getting back to Philadelphia explores.

Keeping in touch with family and friends.  FaceTime with Pagliones has been fun.

I doubt I will be volunteering this year but donations to charity can be increased.

Major basement and balcony cleaning.

House repairs, some indoor painting, deck rehab, reset stone walkways. Will hire someone.

I’d like to say develop a new hobby but I don’t know what it could be.

Get rid of clothes I don’t use.

Yard sale with stuff in basement.

Thanking people for their help more often that I usually do.

Continuing to work on lower carb, more vegetable diet.

Continue farm market food shopping.

Improving my recognization of others needs.

Getting back to meditation.


In 365 days, I’ll review my list.  See what’s done what I still need to work on.






Presidential Election, 2020

Yesterday, Tuesday, November 3 was Election Day. Diane and I had dropped off our absentee ballots at a drop box in Doylestown several weeks ago. Nearly one hundred million voters nationally voted early. About 8 o’clock, I drove to the Yardley firehouse. The line extended up the hill past Abrams Hebrew Academy. Turnout this year would be exceptionally high. Facebook posts, comments, messages and emails. Dozens of Trump rallies in the past two months despite a surge in Coronavirus cases. One rally about a week ago at the Washington Headquarters Farm on Pineville road in Newtown. It complemented car parades, one from Newtown to Doylestown, another over the Washington Crossing Bridge. Large Trump signs and flags were seen on many large properties and farms.

Biden signs were common, if smaller in front of many houses. For months Biden rallies were smaller, auto rallies, distancing and masks due to the virus. Biden and his wife Jill came to Bucks, speaking at the community college.

Bucks and Pennsylvania were described as key battlegrounds. Although Biden led in many polls and some expected a Democratic landslide, most thought it would be a close election. I was hopeful but cautious. I did find it hard to believe, disturbing, frightening, how many Trump loyalists existed after his four year performance. The lies, exaggerations, attacks on opponents, Democratic Governors, the media, fake news, disregard and attempts to manipulate agencies, FBI, CDC, FDA and others. His total dismissal of the epidemic, mocking individuals who wore masks, advocated safety precautions, warned about large gatherings. His encouragement of white supremacists, dismissal of legitimate protests, false claims of Democratic socialism. The list could go on and on, gutting environmental regulations, attacks on immigration, tax cuts for the rich, reactionary educational and social policies. How could anyone but the most fanatical and racist support him.

I began to watch election news about 4 o’clock yesterday. By 8 the first returns were coming in. Florida was the big news but it looked like it would go for Trump. I slept for several hours and turned on CNN around midnight. It was pretty obvious that the election would not be decided quickly. At home in Pennsylvania, mail in votes couldn’t be counted until Election Day. Republicans had blocked an early start to the count and the PA Supreme Court ruled ballots postmarked by November 3 but received days later could be counted. Other states had similar issues.

At six I got up and learned a handful of states were still counting and no winner declared. Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, and the blue wall, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump at 2 it seemed declared victory; “stop the counting.” Reality (not a big thing for Trump) was that many of the uncounted were mail in votes in urban areas and would probably lean Democratic. As the morning progressed this seemed to hold true.

By noon Trump’s lawyers needed a new strategy. They couldn’t continue to say stop counting. Biden would win; he’s ahead in enough states. So Trump will attempt to distinguish between legal and illegal ballots. Illegal will be ballots that support Biden; legal will be votes that support Trump. Trump has predicted fraud for months only he always blamed it on Democrats. It’s clear he’s the fraud. Stay tuned.



Since the 1960s, I’ve been interested in crafts and craftsmanship.  For several years while attending Boston College I worked in the Harcourt Bindery.  It was one of the largest and oldest hand leather binderies in the country, located on the second floor of an old brick building behind the Prudential Center.  On the third floor was a well known stained glass studio.  The owner Fred Young was English.  He took hot tea with his lunch every day. The shop was straight out of the nineteenth century with huge cast iron machines, many run by belts hanging from the ceiling.  There were three full time employees, each at his own bench, books everywhere, scraps of leather, glue pots, and an array of bookbinding tools.  My first job, the day of the interview, was pasting together end papers, some commercial, a few hand dyed papers.  Over the years I learned many other steps in the book binding process.  I didn’t learn how to sew and my gold tooling was limited to personal books.  There were plates that could imprint a design in gold in a full leather binding but there would be a slight imperfection in the plate so it seemed that the design was totally hand crafted with various tools.


My bindery years came back to me while reading recently, “Why We Make Things And Why It Matters: the education of a craftsman,” by Peter Korn.  Peter grew up outside of Philadelphia and went to Germantown Academy. He vacationed on Nantucket and eventually went to work for a local carpenter.  After several apprentice years, he decided to try his hand at furniture making.  He was on the road to becoming a craftsman, using hand tools.

There weren’t’t many craft furniture makers in the early 1960s.  Korn writes about the genesis of “studio craft” specifically furniture making.  It followed the Arts and Crafts Movement lead by John Ruskin and William Morris. Some of the founding fathers of craft furniture making were Art Carpenter, Wendell Castle, Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima and Sam Maloof.

Esherick music stand, studio, house; Alonzo music stand, sculptures,  Justice

Jerry Alonzo who took a sabbatical from law to become a furniture maker introduced me to Esherick whose house and studio are in Chester County not far from Valley Forge.  I’ve visited several times.

I discovered George Nakashima in the 1970s when we lived in New Hope.  Trained as an architect, interred in a Japanese camp during World War II, Nakashima was brought to Bucks County by an architect, Anton Raymond.  He eventually turned to woodworking, furniture making, building a studio, houses and other buildings on a property on Aquetong Road.  His signature designs draw on the natural imperfections in the wood.  A rough slab might be turned into a coffee table.  There are also strong Shaker influences.  We’ve toured the Nakashima workshops and studio several times.  I’ve seen one of his Peace tables in St. John the Devine, New York City. There is a Nakashima room in the Mitchener Art Museum (above).  I’ve always wanted to buy a Nakashima piece (I do have several books).  There was a studio in Fishtown that featured his work.  I did inherit from Ragna Hamilton and treasure a small irregular piece of oak with holes for pens or pencils.  George Nakashima died in 1990, his studio is now run by his daughter Mira.

Peter Korn table; my father’s table.

In the 1960s, Peter Korn was one of many mainstream dropouts that turned to furniture making and other crafts.  I recall sitting with my father at the kitchen table telling him about the explosion of craftsmen and shops in certain neighborhoods, In Boston, South Street in Philadelphia, the Village and SoHo in New York.  My father had always done woodwork, carpentry.  His first furniture making happened when he was concerned about not having extra money to help newlyweds, I challenged him to “just make me some furniture.”  Several months later he drove to our Boston apartment with a “cobbler bench” coffee table and a 4 foot round table that folded into a small seat.  We will probable use the table for a picnic and the cobbler bench is in the shed.  Both came from plans.  In fact at one of the first Philadelphia Art Museum Craft Shows I ever attended, as father and I looked at some beautiful hand crafted furniture, he said  “I cannot come up with designs likes these guys.”  He would always follow plans.

Another 1960s craft experience was our friendship with the Bonnemas.  Melody had gone to Pratt with Barbara Paglione.  She became a potter, apprenticed with Toshika Tokaezu, and opened a small studio in Bristol.  In about 1973 Garrett left teaching and became a potter. They moved to Bethel, Maine.  Diane and I lived with them in the summer of ‘74 or ‘75.  Diane did some pottery; I did some carpentry in the studio and built displays to take to craft fairs.  We went to several fairs that summer.  One was Rhinebeck, NY which is mentioned by Peter Korn.  Most Bonnema pottery is a distinctive functional stoneware.  We’ve picked out their style in a variety of shops, even flea markets.  There is quite a bit in our kitchen.  Some years ago Melody turned to making tiles.  This past year they became semi retired.

When I graduated from college, Fred Young asked if I wanted to buy the Bindery business.  I looked around the shop and thought I wasn’t ready to settle down to the life of a book binder.  When I returned from the Peace Corp, I applied for a job at the newly reopened Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown.  Founder tool collector and craft enthusiast Henry Mercer had willed the Tile works to the County.  They were going to make it an operating museum.  Missed opportunities.  I became a teacher         (the draft threatened).  Over the years I have collected many Mercer tiles.

Initially Korn had difficulty making a living from furniture making.  For a while he had a studio in NYC, later Philadelphia.  His father provided some subsidy and Peter kept making furniture.  He sold some.  In 1981 he attended classes at a woodworking school, Anderson Ranch in Colorado.  Among the faculty were San Maloof and wood turner David Ellsworth.  Years ago I visited Ellsworth’s school and studio in Bucks County.  I thought how great it would be to take a course with him.  I did inherit a wood lathe from my father but have never found the energy to use it.  My cousin, Frank, who does woodworking came once and gave me a first lesson, during my first year of retirement. It ended there.

Following in my father’s footsteps, I did make some furniture.  Shelves were a speciality.  Then there was the pine dry sink, from plans.  It came to Yardley but was warped out of shape in the floods and now is history.  I made a bed and wall unit for Jenny’s bedroom when she was very young.  Pine again but heavy, very heavy.  My father meanwhile went on a clock building binge.  It united his interests in wood working and clock repair. All the kids were given clocks.   When he moved into the Mulberry Street house, his shop shrunk.  He began making wooden toys, cars, trains, boats. These became gifts for kids and grandkids. He did some work on a lathe, subscribed to “Fine Woodworking,” and bought good hand tools.  He also began to do stained glass.

Furniture making, craftsmanship became central to Peter Korn’s life.  Through it he was grounded and found meaning.  Making an object with your hands, giving up some of yourself. He references British potter Bernard Leach (mentioned by Bonnemas in the 70s) who “saw pottery as a combination of art, philosophy, design and craft – even as a greater lifestyle.”  Eventually Peter Korn found his personal style.  What he made would be a Korn piece.   In the 1990s, he moved to Maine and opened a studio and school, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship.  He eventually settled on a property in Rockport.  In the 1970s I took classes at the Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport.

Unfortunately I stopped wood working.  And have pretty much stopped photography.  I miss “making things.”  I believe “it matters.”  In the past few decades my interest in crafts has been attending shows and buying some pieces.  We go to the Philadelphia Art Museum Craft Show almost every year.  And frequently make a purchase.  Another regular show is Tinicum and Prawl’s Mill.  For years there was one in Tyler State Park and going to the Long Park craft show near Lancaster was an annual extended family event. Several years Jerry Alonzo exhibited at the Philadelphia Furniture Show.

“Why We Make Things And Why It Matters” is a classic.  It obviously struck many chords for me.  Memories and aspirations.  I understand a bit more about crafts and craftsmanship in my own life.  If I could only make things again.










Independence National Park


The Fourth of July I checked the bookshelves for something to read related to the holiday.  I found several books and decided to reread “ Independence: the creation of a national park,” by Constance M. Greiff.  It was written in 1989 and I probably bought it then since I was teaching a local history (including Philadelphia) course at Holy Ghost Prep.  I bought any new publications related to Bucks County and Philadelphia.  My copy is annotated with many underlines, a sign that I used it in teaching.


In my first year of retirement (2014) before surgery, I was doing a weekly explore of Philadelphia.  I took the train from Yardley; seniors one dollar a ride.  Some day I had a specific destination but usually just wandered patient for the serendipitous.  Many days were spent around Independence Park, Society Hill and Old City.  Although some days I’d  go to Reading Terminal Market and head west toward Rittenhouse Square or Logan Circle.  Actually I had done similar wandering during a six  week summer period in the 1980s when I participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities program in Local History led by Walter Light, University of Pennsylvania.  Again I took the train and had several hours to explore before classes started about ten o’clock.


My first visits to Independence Park were in the 1950s.  My father took regular weekly trips to Jeweler’s Row for his business.  I’d tag along when I could.  After a Horn & Hardart automat lunch we’d go to Independence Hall.  It was my introduction to the 1776 story and historic preservation.  I was fascinated by the history but totally taken by the restoration work which was ongoing. I’ve written previously about seeing conservators peel away many layers of paint searching for the original color.  For many years now I’ve subscribed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the renewal is on my desk.  Chapters in “Independence” are devoted to the preservation, restoration process.

There are quite a few times that I took students to tour Independence and the surrounding area.  The first was when I taught elementary school.  There were about 100 students in the seventh grade classes I taught.  I recruited teachers, parents, even some older siblings so we could break into groups of 10 or 12 students.  I drew up a map with historic commentary and the groups went off for the day.  I didn’t limit the tour to the Park but believed the students should explore the city.  The events of 1776, Independence Hall and other “historic” building were only part of the story.  Society Hill, Old City, Department stores, and Reading Terminal were part of my tour. I used this model many years later when I was asked to take HGPs 100 student Freshman class on a Philadelphia field trip — small groups, the city experience.

Prior to the 1950s, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were owned and maintained by the City of Philadelphia. It was decided to establish a National Park with federal funding for the restoration, maintenance and interpretation of these icons.  One major question as the feds began acquiring adjacent property was what to do with the many buildings around the Independence Hall.  Many did not relate to the colonial-Revolutionary period.  Williamsburg was a model for those that believed only buildings related to the period should survive.  Another view was that the urban fabric, street configurations and any architectural/historic building no matter the period should be preserved.  The Williamsburg view was adopted.  Independence Park had a open mall and green areas showcasing Independence Hall and related buildings.

In the 1980-90s I took many of my Local History classes on a Philadelphia trip.  I usually had about 10-15 students in the course.  We started in Old City and visited Christ’s Church, Quaker Meeting, Betsy Ross House, and Elfrey’s Alley but we also looked at Girard warehouses, nineteenth century industrial buildings, Arden Theatre, art galleries, even restaurants.  We went to Independence Park, Society Hill but didn’t specifically tour Independence Hall or Liberty Bell Pavillon.  We were exploring the urban landscape not just “historic” buildings.  We always lunched in Reading Terminal Market and in the afternoon, if we had the time, headed for Rittenhouse.  It was always a full day.  Several summers I took college classes in a social studies education course on a similar tour.

The creation of the National Park involved many different personalities, organizations and different views. What buildings should be preserved?  What should be torn down?  How should buildings be restored?   Should buildings be reconstructed?

Historians and craftsmen pioneered work in historic preservation.  They did extensive research, archaeology, and clues from buildings to guide restoration.  Much of what they did was open to the public.  Just before the bicentennial, one of my students did his senior May project on a dig in Franklin Court.  What a great experience.  I attended several archaeological workshops and hoped they would begin a program for teacher volunteers. I frequently visited to the working archaeology section of the Visitor’s Center.

City Tavern was one building that was reconstructed.  A concession was given to run the restaurant and tavern.  The chef Walter Staub promoted colonial cuisine in a TV show.  I have several CDs.  I also have his cookbook and a children’s book on the tavern.  I dined  there several times.  The most memorable was a formal dinner when I was participating in a National Endowment Program on Benjamin Franklin.  The most recent was on one of my post retirement city explores.  Another reconstructed building is the Graff  House on Market where Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.  I haven’t been through it in decades.

What to do at Franklin Court?  There wasn’t a lot of original structure to the Market Street buildings that Franklin had rented.  They were renovated/reconstructed.  One became Franklin’s print shop, another a working post office and the interior of a third was left in the rough with interpretative signs.  An archway leads to the interior court.  Franklin’s house was gone. Rather than reconstruction, the  architectural firm of Robert Venturi created a Ghost House, steel structure over the original foundation.  Viewing boxes look down on archaeological features like the privy, foundation wall, and well.  I always liked this area.  I would sit students on benches and have them imagine what it was like when Franklin lived there.  We never went into the underground interpretative center.

On the night of July 3 1976, the Liberty Bell was moved from the first floor of Independence Hall to a new pavilion on Independence Mall.  I remember visiting, touching the bell in the 1950s when it was displayed near Independence Hall stairs.  My teaching about the Bell was taken from a Teaching With Historic Places lesson plan, “Liberty Bell: From Obscurity to Ikon.” I’ve only been inside to see the Liberty Bell a few times. I remember one visit with students, after hearing the ranger’s speech, I said “Good to see your following the interpretation Teaching With Historic Places so well.” He looked at me very puzzled.  Another year I with touring German exchange students.  When we arrived at the Bell, the area was swarming with rangers and police.  The Bell was cordoned of. We learned that someone had just hit it with a hammer.

How to interpret the Independence Hall Story, including the Liberty Bell was a focus of the National Park Service.  Pamphlets and audio visual aids and movies were produced.  In the early 2000, how to interpret became very controversial. A new building on the north end of the Mall was being built for the Bell. Archaeology of the President’s House where George Washington lived was conducted.  Evidence of the building foundation including the kitchen were discovered.  Washington’s chef Hercules and the other Mount Vernon slaves he brought to Philadelphia were the source of the controversy.  Would they be part of the story told?   The fact that Washington took them back to Virginia periodically to avoid a PA law which gave them freedom after 6 months in the state took center stage.  Initially the answer was no interpretation of slavery.  Historians and some Philadelphians objected.  I went to a lecture given by historian Gary Nash about the controversy.  With the appointment of a new Park superintendent, the decision changed.  Hercules (who eventually ran away) and other slaves would be part of the interpretation of the President’s House site.  I recently read a book about Hercules and wrote a blog.

“Independence” can be a bit dry.  There are so many names of people involved over the years from the 1940s till 1976 which the book covers.  Philadelphia supporters, mayors, architects, historians, archaeologists, superintendents, National Park personnel, legislators, bureaucrats in Washington.  With so many people involved there were plenty of controversies.  Funding was always an issue.

There are however some interesting details.  When the Park Service began to hire guides it was decided women (not overly attractive) were better than men.  They would take guiding tourists more seriously.  Airlines were contacted to get ideas for stewardess like uniforms.  The efforts to collect original Peale paintings from museums and private collections to form the collection now on display in the Second National Bank (above) was fascinating.  Philadelphia Irish resistance to moving the Commodore Barry statue behind the Hall to create a building to display the Bell was classic.   I enjoyed reading about the visit of Queen Elizabeth in ‘76 with the bicentennial bell gift forged in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London where the several Liberty Bells were cast.

Despite all the many times I have been to Independence Park, I feel ready for more explorations.  I only recently went into the Merchant Exchange on Dock Street.  It’s predominately used for Park offices but is an experience to be inside.    It’s been decades since I’ve visited the Bishop White and Dolly Madison houses on Walnut Street.  There is a new interpretative center (for me anyway) in Franklin Court and a new Revolutionary War Museum on the site of the old visitor center.  I’ve never been to a service in Christ Church.


I did take the Independence Hall official tour during the first year of retirement.  Unfortunately it was disappointing; too little interpretation; too quick; more of a promotion for the rest of the park. I had thought of becoming a volunteer at Independence Park before my surgeries.  Since that probably isn’t possible I need to look for special programs, lectures or tours.  The story of Independence is constantly changing; there is always more to learn.