Field Trips, exploring the nearby



In his introduction to this year’s commencement speaker at Holy Ghost Prep, Rev. James McCloskey reflected on how John Buettler, class of 1964, took him and his English class on a field trip — a play in Center City Philadelphia.  For Jim the experience opened up his eyes to the theatre.

There is a pyramid of learning experiences.  At the bottom is textbook learning and lecture, at the top is actually teaching.  In the middle are experiences like field trips, not virtual trips on the computer but actually visiting a place.  If you want to learn about France, travel there.  Interested in the American Revolution, visit the sites. Unfortunately in today’s educational environment field trips (usually the most memorable and meaningful experiences for students) don’t happen due to finances, an emphasis on classroom time, or the tyranny of standardized testing.

Some years back I was involved in The Greater Philadelphia Partnership, a program that linked a city and a suburban school.  One year modeling our experience, our team linked a Charter school from southwest Philadelphia with an elementary school in the Pennsbury district.  The students exchanged letters, photographs and video footage throughout the year.  They got to know students different from their friends. In May we brought the city kids to Yardley for a field day.  It was a great program.  The next year, the Pennsbury teacher was on maternity leave, so I called the district to find another interested teacher.  In fact I think  I  knew a former student from Holy Family who wanted to participate.  “No,” the Principal said, “we don’t have time for that,  our schedule is very tight due to State testing.” I got a similar answer from the Bensalem school district.  Standardized testing trumped letter writing.  Standardized testing trumped getting to know kids different from yourself. Sad

I recently counted up the number of field trips I led or participated in as a teacher at HGP.  Over a hundred.  That’s more than two per year (40 year career).  And these are the class time field trips.  There were also camping trips with our Explorers club, a few forensic tournaments, overnight trips to Harrisburg in the 1970s with the basketball team, and an assortment of other after school or weekend activities.  When I meet Alumni and they talk about important educational experiences, field trips are frequently mentioned.  Another big one is extra-curricular.  Unfortunately even  at HGP, field trips are frequently put on the back burner.  In recent years there have been a few but nobody teaching today is going to notch up over 100 as I did unless the pendulum swings back as frequently happens in education.

Since I am not working every day, I will be taking more field trips.  I took two this week.  On Wednesday I went on one of my urban adventures.  Train from Yardley to Philadelphia.  Picked up my senior citizen card at A SEPTA office  (buses free, trains $1.00 aride).




My my next stop was Cuba Libre in Old City.  A mango mojito and Mama Amelia’s empanadas, Latin music, a table open to the street.  I could have been in another country.  My destination, however was a history and beer cemetery tour sponsored by Christ’s Church.  Many buried in the cemetery ran taverns, made beer, and all probably drank it.  Robert Hair made porter that President Washington liked.  Hopkinson, flag designer, wrote a poem, Battle of the kegs.  Benjamin Rush thought there was too much drinking and published a temperance chart. There is  even a Heineken buried there.   A fun perspective on local history.


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The surprise of the tour were the samples of Yard’s founders beers  — Franklin’s Spruce, Washington’s Porter and Jeffeson’s Ale.  I wish HGP’s St. Arnold’s Society was with me. Miss them.

My second tour was closer to home.  Yesterday I walked down to the Continental Tavern in Yardley.  It is the 150 anniversary of this Yardley institution.  The owner, Frank Lyons gave me a fantastic tour of the building which he recently renovated — including the addition of a historic porch missing since the 1930s.  In addition to being a tavern keeper, Frank is a historian and renenactor.  As part of the restoration, he began an archaeological dig in the basement.  To date, because the project continues, he has discovered a basement room that may have been part of the Underground Railroad.  Over the years  the space was filled with a variety of bottles — many whiskey bottles from Prohibition years.  The dig has also uncovered a whole range of artifacts.  But let me save more details for  another post.  I plan  on returning. Until then, I encourage you to visit the Continental.  Throughout the restaurant, Frank is displaying artifacts, pictures and historic documents related to the tavern and the town’s history.



I raise a glass to toast the value of field trips to learning.  Some in our backyards.  I hope to take many more.


Next to music, beer was best.



“Next to music, beer was best,” was yesterday’s quote of the day.  It’s from Carson McCullers, Georgia writer, whose first book was “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940). My taste in music like beer depends on the season, the time of the day, the weather, and my mood.  My tastes are eclectic.  In music though I favor Folk, Rhythm and Blues, Classic 60s, show tunes, and movie themes.

A rainy morning today, I will save my walk for this afternoon. I’m listening to “Over the Edge” by Professor Louie and the Crowmantix.  For years the Woodstock, N. Y. Professor worked with The Band (Dylan tour fame).  A few years back my son-in-law’s band Cabin Dogs (formerly Kwait Brothers Band) worked with Louie on one of their CDs.  But wait I am getting ahead of my story.

Like photography, writing, teaching, local history, music has be a prt of my life — more minor than I would probably like.  But it’s time to peel back the music layer, look at its role in my life and more importantly it’s role down the road.




Your probably over 50 even 60 if you remember 45 rpm records.  But in the 1950s, my friends and I bought them at Premier, the record store on Mill Street in Bristol.  I think years later, Craig Whitaker, a 1969 Holy Ghost Prep graduate, opened another record store  on the street.  On weekends we got a record player and played singers like Ricky Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) and Jerry Lee Lewis — saw him at the Grand Theatre on Mill Street — look up local historians and check out the building today with its fantastic Mayan architecture.  We (all boys) usually met in a  small courtyard off Mill near a grove of trees called  Petey’s Woods (remember this was the 50s).   We danced and danced — practice I think for the 6th through 8th grade dances run by the nuns of St. Mark’s school (pretty progressive).

By the 1960s, in High School, I was buying LPs , the 10 inch, 33 1/2 rpm records with their fantastic covers and liner notes.  I have boxes of them today — time to listen or sell.  I hear Barbara Cavanaugh has retired from teaching to sell records.



Most of my first LPs came from Columbia record company offers.  Ten or more records for a dollar if you agreed to by 6 or something more.  I joined many times but rarely paid full price for the additional records.  Many of the albums I bought were popular singers like Barbara Streisand, show tunes (South Pacific, Music Man) or movie themes played by Ferrante and Teicher on piano.  It was also around this time that I was exposed to Folk music.




I can’t remember the name but there was a Folk Club in that opened in the Levittown Shopping Center.  The Lambertville Music Circus was another date venue.  Will never forget the Righteous Brothers, Unchained Melody.

In college,, my tastes and exposure to music developed.  Malcolm Gladwell (the Tipping Point) writes about trend setters — for music in college it was a friend from Patterson NJ, Ted Furrey.  In our first two years, Ted led us from Folk, to R and B, Rock and Jazz.  The records that lined up on his shelves followed the progression.  An early favorite for me was Bob Dylan.

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There was several Folk clubs we went to in Boston.  Most memorable was the Club 47 in Cambridge.  Performers like Dylan, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Marianne Faithful, Jim Kweskin and The Jug Band played these small venues.  Sometimes we would hitch hike to New York City and go to clubs in The Village.   The first big concerts I remember were Donovan (in flowing white robes, Mellow Yellow) and The Stones.  For many The Beatles were it. I liked them but leaned much more to Jagger and the boys —   Jumpin Jack Flash, Under My Thumb, Let’s Spend the Night Together, (I can’t Get No) Satisfaction,  You Can’t Always Get What You Want.




But most music was listened to in our rooms.  I will never forget one evening, alone listening to Dylan, Mike Honan came into my room.  Mike was a quiet kid, seemed to follow some of us around, never said much.  Now here he was.  But over coffee (small two cup pot) and Bob Dylan, Mike and I stayed up much of the night.  We became close friends — All Along the Watch Tower, All I Really Want To Do — yes,  The Times They Are A Changin.

In the years right after college music seemed to retreat a bit.  I remember playing The Who’s Tommy for a seventh grade class.  Also for an American History class I put together a mix of the music that led up to Rock and Roll.   From slave hollers, black southern blues, To Bill Haley and The Comets — Rock Around the Clock.  I think the kids loved it.

In the 1980s, Diane took over buying most of the records.  She liked a lot singer song writers like James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Judy Collins.




LPs turned to cassettes.


And cassettes turned to CDs.


I  even became interested in the 78 rpm records from my parents era.



Sometime, maybe in the 1980s, I bought a new stereo system with a Dual turntable, capable of playing 78s and LPs.  Attached cassette and CD players.  Our musical tastes flowed from format to format, artist to artist, band to band, genre to genre, Bob Marley, Phillip Glass, Chieftans, Windham Hill,  Santana, Buena Vista Social Club, Aaron Copeland, Tony Bennett, Mozart and Pink Martini.  What we listened to depended to the season, the time of day, weather and our mood.  Diane tending to do a lot more buying and listening than me.  My favorites would be 60s throw backs like Bruce Springsteen and U2.  And I could always turn to Woody Guthrie, Dylan, The Doors and The Stones.


Diane and I don’t go to a lot of concerts.  Stadiums are daunting.  Recently we have seen Springsteen, Crosby Stills, Leonard Cohen, Dylan, The Chieftans, and Natalie McMaster.  But we prefer smaller venues, actually saw Maria Muldaur, from The Jug Band.

Our favorite band these days has to be the The Cabin Dogs — keep it in the family.  We go to quite a few Cabin Dog gigs.  Sometimes with the grand kids — Eli and Viv.    Cabin Dogs have played all around the Philadelphia area but particularly exciting were two years at the Newport Folk Festival.  Imagine daughter Jenny, calling me from back stage, “Dad I’m talking to Doc Watson.”  This year Cabin Dogs will be playing at the Philadelphia Folk Fest.  We haven’t been in  years; maybe we will camp this year.  Why not join us.

As I look around the corner! I want to listen to more music in all it’s forms.  I will bring out the 78s, the LPs, tapes and CDs.  I might even try the new  mp3 format. The times they are a changin.




Wildlife on the Delaware Canal — a morning walk.

This morning on my Delaware Canal walk I focused my lens on wildlife.  Walking slowly, alert to movement, sounds, exploring the natural environment.  I was rewarded with views of deer, a Great Blue Heron, Canada Geese, Ducks (one I haven’t identified yet), songbirds, a small swallow under the I-95 bridge, a frog and turtles.  And a big splashing fish. I’s the one that got away.  Over a foot.  Amazing and beautiful what you can see when you proceed slowly with eyes open.


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Traces of History — all around us!



On my walk around Yardley Borough this morning, I was jolted when I saw a large tree to the right of Borough Hall had been removed.  The tree was planted after WW I  to honor Edward Doyle,  killed in the war.  About eye level in the tree was a small metal  tag with Edward’s name.  A identical tree on the left side of Borough Hall had been removed many years ago.  It honored the second local killed In the war — Miriam Knowles.  Both their names are on a plaque on Borough Hall and guess what the local American Legion Post is named– Knowles-Doyle.

As far as I know, no one involved with the tree removal  knew about the tag.  Not surprising since we pass traces of history every day, all day and never notice.   I am not being critical, I do the same thing.  But unfortunately we miss the opportunity to be in touch with our past.  And remember its the past that got us to the present.  I learned about the  trees and the tags when I began reading the minutes of Yardley Borough Council meetings.  I rushed to look at the  trees and tags  and found Doyle’s.   I had walked passed that tree hundreds of times and never noticed.

My first  exposure and interest in local history was growing up in Bristol Borough.  Sometime — seventh grade, freshman year in high school — I  discovered two books by Doron Green in the old Bristol library.  The first was a general History of Bristol.  The second totally intrigued me — Old Homes  on Radcliffe Street.  I walked passed the homes regularly, now aware of  who lived there in the past; some of my friends lived in the homes.  This was pretty neat.

Around the the same time my father took me to Independence Hall in Philadlephia.  He had a small jewelry section in the family GE appliance store on Mill Street.   Weekly he traveled to Jeweler’s Row.   I loved the gilt painted names on the windows and the old oak cabinets with many drawers filled with watch and clock parts (unfortunately like Edward’s tag, most of that is gone today.)

The highlight of these trips (along with taking the El from Bridge Street) was our weekly visits (in the summer for me) to Independence Hall.  This was the late 1950s and the federal government had just taken over the responsibility for this iconic building. What blew my mind was the display of how the restorers were peeling away the layers of paint to determine the original color.  I think there were 18 layers of paint.  Wow.   I was hooked.

And so in the 1950s, local history, historic restoration and preservation became another layer to who I am today. Pentimento.

About 10 years later at Holy Ghost Prep,  I began to turn to local history when I taught a  course titled American Studies, later  Local Studies.   The course jelled  when I participated in a National Endowment for the Arts program in Local History at the University of Pennsylvania.  Walter Licht, the program director, lead us down a path that involved New Social History (common people and everyday life) and local history  (in this situation Philadelphia).  Every day for  a month I took a train into the City, walked to Penn, exploring the City and took photographs.  The program transformed the way I would teach Local Studies at HGP.   Now students would explore their own communities or neighborhoods — using primary as well as secondary sources, field trips, photographs and maps (historic and current), interviews.  Some students did excellent research, in fact, I only recently threw out a some papers and projects. — returning a  few to their authors.  Those in the class will remember my admonishment on field trips (at least two per class, take note current HGP administration)  look up, look down, look for the traces of history all around you.

In the 1980s, my fascination with Local History took a curious turn — looking around the corner maybe.  I was on Yardley Borough Council and one night at a council meeting I asked if anyone had read the old minute books stored in a safe on the second floor.  I began to read the minutes — handwritten beginning in 1896 — the year Yardley was incorporated.  The minute books lead to turn-of-the-century newspapers at Spruance library, photographs and other material at the Yardley Historical Association, walks around town, interviews, and eventually minute books from the School District,  Fire Company, WCTU,  and a variety of other sources.  I began to publish the results of my research in the Yardley News (thanks Jeff) approaching and during the Borough’s centennial.  A few year s later I published an Arcadia Press book on Yardley, I had earned the title of Yardley historian in local papers.  Cute.Teachers can go stale.  Notes and handouts yellow. Lectures sound canned.   For a number of years, I stopped teaching my Local Studies course at HGP.  Recently I returned and  taught a few sections.  As In the past,  some students had or  caught the bug.  They  did interesting, meaningful search; others (like most of us) didn’t see the value in Edward’s tag.

For much of my life Local History has informed my vision of the world.  As I peel away the layers of who I am and seek new directions, I suspect I will continue to look up, look down, and look around at all the traces of history that surround me.  I encourage you to do the same.

If the tree service still has the logs, see if Marian’s tag is there.







A morning walk in Yardley Borough – traces of history!


During my walk around Yardley this morning I photographed traces of history– buildings, signs, architectural details.  The story of the past is all around us.  But usually we walk by without noticing.  My interest in local history was fueled by walks like this around Yardley, Philadelphia and other towns in Bucks County.

Consider this a scavenger hunt.  How many sites can you identify?  And can you explain the significance.  Anyone with 100% , should apply to teach my local history class at HGP.  On second thought if your interested in local history, apply for the position.  Remembrance of things past — we shouldn’t forget.



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Finding Vivian; Searching for Vince




Last Thursday Diane and I went to the County Theatre in Doylestown to see “Finding Vivian Maier.”  Although I knew the outline of the story, I was intrigued and excited at what I saw.  Vivian was discovered, found by a young  historian John Maloof.  He purchased a box of negatives in 2007 at a Chicago auction.  When Maloff looked at the negatives he had a suspicion that they were pretty good.  That would prove an understatement.  Maloof would eventually uncover over 100,000 images  many negatives but many never developed still in film canisters.  As he explored a variety of material purchased with the negatives — newspapers, letters, bills, and a variety of strange collections, he found Vivian Maier.  She was New York born, French ancestry and had worked much of her life as a nanny for wealthy families.  Her legacy was a collection of photographs, few printed, none published but photographs that put her in the company of the greatest street photographers  — Eugene Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus.  Maloff has created a small cottage industry, selling prints, publishing books, and making the documentary, “Finding Vivian Maier” with Charlie Siskel.  In the film, photographers Mary Ellen Marks and Joel Meyerowitz attest to the quality and uniqueness of Vivan’s images.  The parents who hired her and the children she watched helped Maloof tell Vivian’s story.  An unfortunate disclosure was her erratic meanness to some of the children.  But most puzzling was why take all these pictures and never print or share them.  Maloof suspects that Vivian knew she was a good even a great photographer.

Vivian’s story grabbed my attention because of my personal interest in photography. And as I begin my retirement chapter of life, I am looking to discover who I am.  What have I done; what will I do with the time I have left.  So in my next few blogs I will search a bit into my past.  Peeling away the layers, pentimento imagery.  Teacher, writer, local historian, parent, grandparent, photographer.  These and other have roles have defined my point of view; my perspective.

My first camera was a small Kodak brownie.  I still have some of the square black and white pictures — many of my sisters, candids but just as often in model poses.   In college I borrower my father’s 35mm Argus.  Both cameras were gifts from my Aunt Carol, a bit of a tomboy who shared her many hobbies with us.  But I never took many pictures with the Argus.  At Boston College, I became interested in moving pictures, bought a movie camera and made several very amateur films.  The most developed was a 45 minute documentary about the Harcourt leather book bindery where I worked for several years.  Unfortunately I recently mailed the footage to  CA company to have it digitized and they lost the film.    They did transfer my Peace Corps training film.

In the early 1970s , when I began to work at Holy Ghost Prep, I returned to still photography.  Then Headmaster Father Hanley actually gave me an old enlarger that was not being used.  I set up a darkroom in our New Hope  rental.  Eventually I bought new equipment at HGP, set up a darkroom and had several Pentax cameras to lend to students.  For years we had a fairly active camera club.

I also began to shoot all kind of pictures.  Often on my way home from school I would take back roads photographing rural and small town Bucks County.  In 1974′ Diane spent the summer with friends in Maine.  My intention was to write.  I didn’t but at the end of the summer I signed up for a  week long workshop at the newly opened Maine Photographic Workshop.  We spent a week on a Maine Island working  with National Geographic photographer Bill Curtsinger.  Bill influenced me in many ways.  I would  then usually use slide film (a standard for Geographic photographers); shoot, shoot, shoot (film was the cheapest part of being a photographer).  Bill also taught me a lot about composition, lighting, focal length of lens.  We returned to the mainland, developed our film and critiqued each other’s work.

The next year I returned to the Workshops for two programs.  The first was with Bruce Dale, another Geographic photographer.   Bruce took one look at my portfolio and said “you don’t have any pictures of people.”  My response was that my only people pictures were family — i.e. not part of my “creative” work.   Bruce said that had to change.   I spent the week on the streets of Camden and Rockport shooting people.  With Bruce’s help I learned to sneak pictures but more frequently to engage the subject, spending time with them, getting to know them.  It had a tremendous influence on my photography.

The second workshop in 1975 was with Ernst Haas, at the time one of the best color photographers in the world.  His most famous image is the original Marlboro Man pictures.  The first day Ernst had us sit in a circle and think about talk about color.  We didn’t touch a camera or take a picture.  At one point he said there should be the point of a nail on the shutter so you really wanted the picture, knew it was right, before you pushed the shutter with a bit of pain.  Ernst gave us several color related assignments — I remember spending one day at a rural fair.  Or the series of pictures I did — blue and white.

The experiences at the Maine Workshops lead to several developments in my photography.  The first was Diane and I went to England in 1976.  My purpose (I always thought there had to be a purpose to travel) was to photograph people.  And I did.  We met all kinds of people on the street,  on farms, on bicycles, young people and old people.  Were were invited inside apartments and houses.  It was an amazing experience.  The second development was I began to send photographs (slides) to stock agencies.  One was Shostal in New York and the other was H. Armstrong Roberts in Philadelphia.   I never sold a lot of pictures but a few hundred here and there was always appreciated.  Although both companies were sold, my images are still with a stock agency and I occasionally get a royalty.

For several years, I considered photography a business.  Along with the stock sales, I did a few weddings and yearbooks.  I mounted a few shows and briefly tried to sell at craft shows.  But by the mid 1980s, I was busy with work and classes at Temple and my photography business faded.  My shooting became limited to family and travel.

It blossomed again in the 1990s, with Ayudanica, the service project Rob Buscaglia and I ran to Nicaragua for about 10 years.  I spoke virtually no Spanish.  So my camera (thanks Bruce) became a means of communication.  I photographed the people in our village of Monte Rosa, especially the kids.  My favorite was exploring and meeting people in the markets, workers in shop, artists, homeless kids, street people.  I came back every year with rolls And rolls of slides, some color film, and near the end some digital.  The following year I would take copies of the pictures to Nicaragua and give them to the subjects.  When you do this year after year, you develop friendships that go beyond the photographic exchange.

As our Nicaraguan project came to an end, I made an abrupt transition to digital.  My small digital was upgraded to a Canon Rebel ( gift of  Diane and my daughter, Jenny).  But my photography became limited to the typical family shots and some travel pictures.  I used the camera much like my first brownie — point and shoot.

As I look back on my interest in meeting people and communicating through photography, I am looking to learn more about digital and the modern dark room — computers.  But I may also explore using some traditional film.  Like phonograph records or written letters, older technologies have a unique quality sometimes lost with newer technology.

In any case, photography has and will be a part of my life.  Exploring my past photographs may guide my future work. And of course there are other interest, more layers to who I have Been that I need to explore peeling back the layers covered in time.  Only then can I look around the corner.



Pentimento — many layers in a life . . .


Yesterday’s graduation at Holy Ghost Prep was the best in my memory.  The weather was beautiful, John Buettler gave a great commencement speech, lots of nostalgia for a retiring teacher like me.  But what made it such a memorable day was the valedictory address by Jack O’Connor.  Jack used the image of pentimento taken from a memoir of that title by Lillian Hellman.  I recognized the word, had heard of the book, but confess have never used the word nor would I have been able to give a definition.

Webster defines pentimento as “a reappearance in a painting of an original drawn or painted element which was eventually painted over by the artist.”   Jack used the image to describe the layers of painted symbols and words that appear each year on the walkway from the field house parking lot to the school.  The art is the work of each graduating class.  (A newer version of painting the HGP dog that sits in front of Spiritan Hall.)  Jack’s address skillfully built on the image.  HGP, it’s essence, in heart and mind, is no less that the layers of experience, achievement, and friendships left by each graduating class.  The image reminds me a bit of ceremonial time — the uniting of past, present and future — that I wrote about in a previous blog.

For me, Jack’s address was the best in my 40 (no 39, I missed one) graduations at HGP.  There have been good speeches in the past.  HGP is known for its Forensic talent.   But Jack’s address left me with a fantastic new image.  He taught me.  And that’s the best part of being an educator — when your students become teachers.  It’s a bit like being taught by your grand kids.  Mine teach me all the time.

Pentimento will become an image in my vocabulary.  It will help me understand myself, the many layers laid down in the past 60 plus years.  It will help me understand friends, my community, the world.  Pentimento will join a short list of “Profy’s principles.

Thanks Jack O’Connor.  Please send me a copy of your address and keep thinking, writing, speaking, particularly about the values and issues that are important to you.  You and the other graduates of the class 2014 have added a unique and very special layer to Holy Ghost Prep.  Thanks.