The game is afoot or look for the lantern.

I took the train from Devon (or is it Yardley) to the City.  Holmes (or someone) had asked me to spend time at Baskerville Hall with Dr. Mortimer and Sir Henry but I felt I needed to get back to London (or is it Philadelphia).  Strange how past and present; real and fictional seem to blend.  I arrive at Paddington (or is it Jefferson Station).  Yes, I am going to the theatre but before the performance, I need  some dinner.   There is a new place run by a Mexican immigrant (El Vez).  But as I worked my way up the street, I notice a small pub sign, then the name spread across the front of the building, “Moriarty’s.”  Forgetting the Mexican, I was drawn inside. The fiend, the Napoleon of crime, he had the audacity to have his name emblazoned on a pub sign.  My how times have changed.

I sat down at one end of the bar, close to the door. I cautiously looked around. There was a mixed crowd, young and old,  couples, singles, a few large groups.  Were any of them Moriarty’s accomplices. I ordered a fairly local (Chambersburg) beer, Roy Pitz, sour.  The bartender, a woman, brought three beers, one for me and the others for the couple next to me.  A few minutes later, the guy next to me asks, “I think she has your sour.”  Sure enough the drinks were mixed up.  We both said it was ok and kept the mixed up beers.  I checked on my phone Internet and read that Roy Pitz Hound Sour was no longer being made.  Was the bartender telling me something? Was this a clue? The play I was going to was “The Hound of the Baskerville,” based on a book by my friend Doctor John Watson, who writes under the alias, Arthur Conan Doyle.  I ordered a second beer, Roy Pitz sour and a Reuben.

As I bit into the pastrami,, I recalled a case Watson wrote about, “The Adventure of the Priory School,” and a character Reuben Hayes. “Holmes and Watson find themselves at the Fighting Cock Inn, and meet the innkeeper, Reuben Hayes, who seems startled indeed to hear that Holmes wants to go to Holdernesse Hall, the Duke’s nearby house, to tell him news of his son. The two men have lunch there, and Holmes suddenly realises something: He and Watson saw lots of cow tracks out on the moor, all along their line of investigation, but never at any time did they see any cows. Furthermore, the patterns of the hoof prints were quite unusual, suggesting that the cow in question walked, cantered, and galloped – very unusual behaviour for a cow.” Reuben, a clue maybe.   Strange.


I got into a discussion with the couple next to me.  I told them I was headed to a production of the “Hound,” carefully watching their response. “Do you know about the new Sherlock movie,” he asked, “Mr. Holmes.”  I said I had heard about it but was getting a bit tired of Holmes movies.  It’s like every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he can be Holmes “Between BBC’s Sherlock, CBS’ Elementary, and Warner Bros.’ ongoing film series starring Robert Downey Jr., we’re practically drowning in Sherlock Holmes adaptations at the moment. The last thing we need is another one. Or at least that’s what we would have said before seeing the excellent trailer for Mr. Holmes. In the new film by Bill Condon, Ian McKellen plays the classic character near the end of his life though he’s now living out a peaceful retirement among his beloved bees, Sherlock remains haunted by the circumstances of the case that put him into exile.”   Exile, bees, the end of my life?

The couple was leaving for their table but before they left, I asked her for an email address.  She told me she was moving to Washington, D.C. to become the principal of a High School, named after the American President, Woodrow Wilson.  Movies, Washington, D.C. — was there a connection.  I remembered:

Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson travel to Washington D.C. in order to prevent a secret document from falling into enemy hands.

Director: Roy William Neill
Writers: Arthur Conan Doyle (characters), Bertram Millhauser (screenplay), 2 more credits »
Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Marjorie Lord

You may wonder how I remembered all that.  Doctor Watson wrote about me in “A Study in Scarlett.”

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.” Actually I used IMBD on the Internet.  It frees up a lot of brain attic space.

The couple left for their table.  I paid my bill, took a long look around the room.  Moriarity — his tenacles reach thoughout the city (London or is it  Philadelphia).  But he is leaving me clues.  He wants to engage me in the chase, the hunt. He lives and dies for it.

I headed out to the Lantern Theatre and their production of “The Hound of the Baskerville.”  Adapted from  John Watson’s (Doyle’s) story by Steven Canny & John Nicholson.

Nicholson, I knew I had heard that name before.

“‘Departed’ No More? Robert Downey Jr. Desperately Trying To Woo Jack Nicholson Out Of Retirement For Sherlock Holmes Role” Retirement. Bees. Suffolk. New movie, “Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” Things are coming together.

The Lantern Theatre production was fantastic.  Holmes. Lantern. I knew there had to be a connection.


The Mann Music Center: why do we remember; why do we forget?


Last week Diane and I went to the Mann Music Center with Susan and Jerry Taylor.   The program was The Philadelphia Orchestra “A Night of Gershwin.”  There was a bit of rain in the forecast but basically a beautiful cool summer night.  We brought chairs and sat on the lawn.  In the first part, selections from “Girl Crazy” ending with “Rhapsody in Blue.”  I shot a few illegal pictures and illegally recorded Rhapsody to share.  After intermission, there were selections from “Porgy and Bess” (a favorite) concluding with “An American in Paris.”  In the closing minutes the rain came in torrents.  We were soaked, but warm, and feeling good.

Experiences like this bring on a flood of memories.  It was in the 1980s (maybe 1981 according to the Mann’s online performers list), that we saw Russian dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikow and Natalia Makarova.  Not only did it rain, but thunder roared, and lightning flashed and flashed,  behind, and around the dancers.  I don’t recall if we sat in the rain or grabbed empty seats under the roof, but I will never forget that dancing and lightening.  It was as  if it was choragraphed.   Simple unforgettable.

Another memory imprinted is Bob Dylan in 1997.  Ani DiFranco was the opening act.  She was strong, moving, a powerful voice.  Dylan came on and shuffled a bit, his head bobbed up and down, gravelly phrases piled on and on.  But OK this was Bobby Dylan. I’m not a big music person.  But wondering now, where is DiFranco today?

The origins of the Mann go back to 1935 when Robin Hood Dell concerts in Fairmount Park were started as the summer venue for the Philadelphia Orchestra.  In 1948, Fredric Mann saved the venue from closing by offering free tickets to anyone who mailed in a coupon published in local newspapers.  I’m  not sure how that saved the Dell but I do remember mailing in the coupons in the early 1960s through the 1970s.

Memory is strange.  What imprints are left on our mind.  I definitely remember in my high school years, going to Profy’s store to clip Dell coupons from the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Not once but many times.  Why not. They were good for free tickets. When I dig deeper into memory, I remember driving to Robin Hood  Dell on Roosevelt Boulvard.  At the Huntington Park fork, I  took Route 13, to Fairmout Park and the Dell.  I remember knowing the route, driving it many times.  But . . . . what car was I driving?  My father’s maroon Tempest or my grandfather’s white Cadillac?  Who was with me?  Was it a date, or some high school friends?  And what was on the program?


Diane remembers that during the early 1970s, we clipped coupons, got free tickets, and went to the Dell.  Probably on Route 1 to .  .  .  I suspect for all of these performances, it was classical music, The Philadelphia Orchestra, or maybe  a visiting Orchestra?

In 1976, the concerts moved across the river, in what would be known as Robin Hood Dell West, later the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.  In addition to Dylan and the Russian dancers, I think we saw other performances at the Mann.  But what?  Robin Hood Dell East has been renovated and is now a venue for pop, jazz and folk artists. I should pay more attention to what’s playing at both venues.  Even if there are no more free tickets.

Gershwin, 1920s musicals, Broadway, hit songs, Tin Pan Alley, “a musical kaleidoscope of America'” jazz and the blues, the folk opera “Porgy and Bess.”  Will I remember this evening at the Mann, five years, ten or twenty years from now.  Will I remember the traffic jam on I-95 getting to the Park, dinner at Vetri’s Alla Spina on North Broad Street before the show, or the torrential rain that soaked us on the way back to the car.

Why do we remember; and why do we forget?


Here is  a photograph from the Mann website.  Van Cliburn.  I think we may have seen him there?

Maybe .  . .  When . .  . Memory . . . .


Taking a risk!

Last weekend Diane and I went to Terrain at Styers on Route 1 not far from Chadds Ford.  Trips to the Brandywine Museum are usually followed by a stop at Terrain. owned by Urban Outfittes, Terrain is an ultimate yuppie garden center.   They practice what I  call thematic marketing, a table offers local honey, ceramic honey pots, books about honey, plants that attract honey bees.  I admit I soak it up.

Almost immediately, Diane called me, “Here’s a fig tree.”  In Italy last month, I was taken by fig and olive trees. Maybe I could grown one.   I have strong memories of Sam Mignoni’s fig tree in his Mill Street yard across from our apartment.  It was always amazing to me, each winter Sam dug up the root, wrapped the tree, laid it down and covered it with dirt — protection against the cold.  Growing a fig tree in the Philadelphia area wasn’t easy.  But my genetic code said, “do it.”

I had read a bit.  Some varieties were more hardy.  Some were sweeter.  The tree Diane saw was a Celeste.  When I talked to one of the gardeners, he showed me Brown Turkeys.  Not as sweet at the Celeste but they had a selection.  Should I buy one?  It’s risky.  Might die.  Wrong time of year to plant.  Can I keep in in the pot and move it indoors in the winter.  Finally I decided to make the leap and buy the fig tree.

Leaping, taking a risk, operating outside my comfort zone — not me.  I usually look carefully before leaping, I am small town, not a big risk taker.  I settled a few  miles upriver from where I grew up in Bristol Borough.  We rented for a few years, but still live in our first house purchased in 1979.  I worked for just two employers in my adult life, several years at St. Michael’s in Levittown, then 40 years at Holy Ghost Prep. I am intrigued with people that pack up and move to a new area, that look for new employment opportunities, change careers.  But it’s not me.

I usually drive within the speed limit.  Safety.  But also I am usually not in a hurry.  I plan on arriving early.  Give yourself time.  Be prepared; don’t leave anything to chance.  I’m not passing a value judgement. Not yet anyway.

In the 1980s, I volunteered on the Gazela, Philadelphia’s tall ship.  During one work session, I was charged with the task of climbing up and scraping the mast.  I had a harness and a guide.  We started up; my legs  turned to jelly.  I called to my mentor, “Go easy, Vince, up or down, it’s your choice.  Do whatever you want.” I climbed to the first small platform, tried scrapping the mast, but pretty soon  decended — slowly.  That was my last climb in the rigging.

I grew up in a family business.  But I don’t think I have an ounce of entrepreneurial spirit.  Back in elementary school, I though I did. I solld coins (to student collectors), operated a snow cone stand on Mill Street with my cousin, even took extra supplies (like batteries) to scout camp and sold them.  In college I worked in the Harcourt Bindery, my employer Fred Young, allowed me to purchase interesting books, we bound them in leather and offered them for sale. A small business.  Fred actually wanted me to take over the Bindery but Diane and I were headed to the Peace Corps.  That was probably my last business venture.  I often have “great” ideas for businesses but . . .   I really enjoy hearing and reading about inventive, creative entrpreneurs. who do it.  But it’s not me.


All History is Local


When I use the term local history, I am usually referring to Yardley, Bucks County, Philadelphia, maybe Pennsylvania history.  But local history is everywhere.  When I travel I like to read about the area, city, or state that I am visiting.  I think the first time I ever did this was on our post Peace Corps training trip across the northern tier of the United States, heading east from Seattle.  I bought a paperback copy of The Journals of Lewis and Clark and took great pleasure reading pages that corresponded  to areas we were traveling through.

Sometimes before a trip I will seek out local titles and I frequently buy books from independent bookstores in the places we visit. They usually have a good selection and I like supporting independents.  University presses frequently publish local books. Check out Princeton’s selection of NJ books or the University of Virginia’s area books.  Closer to home, University of Pennsylvania and Temple University publish many books related to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.

Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1970s, quipped, “All Politics is Local.”  I hadn’t really put it in those terms until today but, “All History is Local.”  Writing the Declaration of Independence is national history but in Philadelphia it’s local.  The Holocaust is World history but visit Dachau or Ravensbruck and it’s a local story.  Last week in the Library, I noticed a book, “The Archaeology of Home: an epic set on a thousand square feet of the lower east side” by Katharine Greider.  It caught my attention because several months ago, Diane and I, with John and Barbara Paglione, explored the Lower East Side in New York City.  One afternoon, we hired a guide to give us a personal two hour tour of the neighborhood — it was fantastic. We also took an evening tour — behind the scenes — at the Tenement Museum.  We had dinner a few blocks away at Russ and Daughter’s new cafe.  If you are unfamiliar with R & D, it’s a classic Lower East Side Jewish deli.  About a year ago, I read, “Russ and Daughters: reflections and recipes from the house that herring built” by Mark Russ Federman.  Local history and food history with recipes in the same book.  Can’t ask for more.


Greider’s book, “The Archaeology of Home” is classic local history in the way it explores one specific property.  When I taught Local History at Holy Ghost Prep, one assignment was often to document a building.  It could be a “historic” building — independence Hall, Growden Mansion (Bensalem).  But wait every building has a history.  I recall one paper, about a student’s grandparents’ Kensington row home.  He video taped many details related to stories that made the property his grandparents home.  Another fantastic paper was a documentation of the old Biberry Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia. The HGP student in my class, was given a tour by several  14-15 year old kids high on drugs.  I choked when I looked at the photographs he took from the rafters of one abandoned building (teacher liability).  But his paper was the best.  He compared the historic mentally ill inmates with the current flying high denizens.  Local and ethnographic research at it’s best.  Unfortunately, I no longer have a copy of the paper.

Katherina Greider and her husband David, with two young children, owned and lived in a floor of a Lower East Side row home (former tenement) at 239 E. 7th street.  An architect hired to guide them through renovations called one night with catastrophic news.  Digital photographs revealed that the building was unsafe.  Katherine, her family, and other building residents, were advised “to get the hell out.”  They did.  Part of the book is the struggle to find a new place to live, deal with the multiple ownership, financial issues, family life and a law suit.  But  Greider also became  a local historian as she begins a project to discover the history of 239.  Her research details the marsh where the house and neighborhood was built, Lenap occupation of the area, German and later Jewish immigrants that lived in and formed the character of the neighborhood and house.

Greider wasn’t the easiest read for me. Maybe I just dozed off too frequently in some hot afternoons. But I loves the thread of her story, her passion to find out who lived there, why, what happened.  The excitement of putting the pieces together.  Connecting the story of the residents of 239 with the neighborhood, city and broader national and international happenings.  In short, doing local history.

My own formal exposure to Local History was a National Endownment for the Arts program at the University of Pennsylvania in 1980s.  Walter Licht, a Penn history professor, taught the month long workshop.  Walter was a new breed of 1960s historian who did what was labeled “New Social History.”  NSH simple was the history of “everyday life as lived by average people.”  Traditional history was the story of the rich, famous, politically and socially important. New Social History dove-tailed with local history, family and community history, ethnic history, African American and women’s history.   So a more political  defination of NSH would emphasize the daily life of the marginalized, women, African Americans, and other racial and ethnic groups.

In the 1990s, National History Standards took a New Social History focus.  Activities related to core standards consistently used examples from Women’s and African-American history. Critics screamed  that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were left out (not really true) and substituted their story with the story of slaves.  Yes, there was  a liberal bias, a slant to the story some historians thought was not traditionally taught.  Congress (who had funded the project) condemned the new standards.  The standards were re-written (basically eliminating the suggested activities).  In a few years the history standard controversy became a footnote in the the history of America’s culture wars.

Walter Licht, formally a labor historian, opened my eyes to New Social History and Local History.  For the month I took an early train to Philadlephia, camera in hand, explored the city until our class started at  about 9 p clock.  Most days involved morning lectures and afternoon field trips — The Pennsylvania Historical Association, The Library Company, Temple’s Urban Archives, Clivedon and other Germantown sites, Franklin Court and Old City, independence Hall, Elfreth’s  Alley, the African American Museum, Balch Institute and Atwater Kent Museum.  My final project was a slide presentation of Philadlephia Local History.

After the National Endowment program, I began to teach a Local History course at HGP.  In a way it became my signature course — I probably taught close to 20 classes. Every year I used the final project slide project.   The heart of the course, however, was students doing research on a specific neighborhood or municipality. In Pennsylvania, you live in the state, a county (Bucks, Philadelphia, Montgomery), a municipality (city, township — like Lower Makefield — or borough, like Yardley, Or Bristol).   You may also use a neighborhood name — in  Philadelphia — Kensington, West Philadelphia, Torresdale, in Lower Makefield Township — Dolington or Woodside.  And/or you may identify with a development — Yardley Commons, Polo Run.  Confused. Many students were confused.  But they picked an area and learned something about it’s istory.


For me one of the best part of the Local History course was that we took two field trips — until the administration at HGP decided that field trips were too much trouble, not worthwhile, disruptive to learning. I was never sure why,  they were eliminated for several years.  But for most of my Local History classes we took a field trip to Philadelphia and one to Bucks County (sometimes never getting beyond Bristol borough).

I taught for over 40 years.  Traditionally, teachers don’t get a lot of feedback from students.  But of all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years, a lot has been related to local history. Frequently, former students tell me how they are interested in their community history, how they look up at the original facade of commercial buildings or down at the plated in the sidewalk.  They see historic markers, different architectural styles, and ask questions about who lived here, what was life like, what did they eat and drink.  They are junior new social, local historians.  Which is good, I think.  History surrounds us; all history is local.


Is there a cultural significance to t-shirts?


In February, John Paglione and I spent a day in the Library of Congress. We toured the building, even signed up for a library card.  Of the many book related, tempting things to buy in the gift shop, I bought a t-shirt.  It was black, with a row of leather bound books, Thomas Jefferson’s Library across the books and beneath that a Jefferson quote, “I can’t live without books.” Jefferson sold his personal library (6487 books) to the Congress for $23,950.  Of course there was fiery debate before the money was appropriated. In 1851, a fire destroyed about 35,000 books in the Library of Congess collection; about 2/3 of Jefferson’s collection. Copies of over 4000 books have been recently located and purchased.  Under 200 remain to be found.  Recently the Library opened an exhibit  showcasing the Jeffererson books.  And created a t-shirt to market.

I recently wrote about having too many books, seems the Jefferson Tee-shirt is a great reminder-symbol of too many for me– – books and T-shirts.  During my Spring clothing purge, I counted over 50.   T-shirts are ubiquitous. They come in all colors, with sayings, slogans, advertisements, photographs.  Some are made for small organizations, even family, or individuals.  They are sold everywhere.  Entire stores are devoted to them.   If you don’t believe T-shirts are a significant

art of the twentieth-first century cultural American landscapes, you may want to read a 1990 Memphis State dissertation, “T-shirts as Wearable Diary: an examination of artifact consumption and garnering related to life’s events.”  If you digest the meaning, let me know, I’m not even sure of the title.


T-shirts fall into several categories.  Some are given as gifts or prizes for participation or donations to a specific cause.  I have several Alex Lemonade Stand shirts given for participation in the Lemon Run– an obvious color is yellow but I have an eye catching orange one from 2011.  Similarly the Four Seasons Cancer Run for CHOP gives T-Shirts to participants.  One year Eli created  a “Team Gusto” shirt for donors to his Alex Lemonade fund.  Along the same line I have a bright orange “Pennsylvanians for Obama” that I got for a specified donation to the campaign. I think New Jersey Best Brews came from a beer festival on the Batlleship NJ (my son in law’s group Cabin Dogs play at the festival).   University of Pennsylvania, Radiation Oncology gave me a shirt on completion of my proton radiation — a reminder of the thousands of dollars insurance paid for the treatment. I have two James Madison Montpelier shirts awarded for participation in an archaeology dig and a slave cabin building project.  Since I had two, one Montpelier is covered in paint, worn when I am house painting.  This adds a personal touch.


I have quite a few Holy Ghost Prep t-shirts.  Most given out for participation.  HGP Homecoming for several years, HGP forensics (actually usually blue polos,  not t-shirts), HGP color day.  I also have a Holy Family University shirt.  T-shirts were created for HGP German Exchange program (2001), a dingy green with uninspired graphics.  Better are Philadelphis High School Partnership, Students United in Service shirts —  there are several years from this University of Penn program.  Ayudanica, the Nicaraguan service project and later non-profit I was involved with for 10 years, created several shirts, I only have one left

Some organizations create t-shirts to sell as a fundraiser.  I have shirts from Friends of the Delaware Canal, Friends of Lake Afton, Yardley Borough -1895-1995, Audubon Ecology Camp, Rockies, Briny Breezes (trailer park community along ocean in Florida where Smiths lived for several winters).  Some businesses sell, or give away shirts as advertising —  they range from  a local CBM (hardware and fuel oil business in Bristol) to Mike’s Bikes in Munich (a fantastic tour). Other businesses I have are the Stone Barn Center (Hudson Valley, NY, organic farm), Cisco Brewery in Nantucket, St. Arnold’s Brewery in Houston, TX (the patron saint of beer and the name of HGP’s Friday afternoon society). I even have a 76ers shirt.

Many t-shirts are sold to vacationers.  I have one from Petrified Forest National Park, Monument Valley, AZ, Hudson River Valley, Granada, Nicaragua and a colorful bird on a white shirt, Nicaragua.  Other purchased shirts include a Sherlock Holmes ( got this at William Gillette’s castle in Connecticuit), a purple Sing For Pete’s Sake (from the Philadelphai Folk Festival), Thomas Eakin’s rower image (Phildelphia Museum of Art), Coppis (DC restaurant) with the Shepard Fairey’s  Obama Hope image on the back, Seremon Como el Che!  (Image of Che Guevera bought on the street in Nicaragua, probably the only amateur screened shirt in my collection).

Some shirts have clear messages, for instance The American Cancer Society’s Great American Smoke out.  And some are just a plain t-shirt — black, gray, green, blue and brown.  I even have a few whites at the bottom of a drawer.  There may be some cultural meaning or significance in all this or it may be I just have too many t-shirts.  Too many books; too many t-shirts.  Im still happy I bought the Thomas Jefferson’s Library t-shirt at the Library of Congress.


Building a slave cabin in Virginia

It was a Wednesday this past February. The temperature at dawn was below zero. John Paglione and I were in Virginia, at President James Madison’s estate, Montpelier. We were part of a eleven member volunteer team, four professional carpenters, and several archaeologists, reconstructing a field slave cabin.

I stood astride a 12 foot log, swinging a broad axe, hewing the log into a cabin beam. In theory anyway. Because nothing was happening. I swung the axe but no chips, nothing was coming off the log. Again and again. Nothing. Chris, one of the professional carpenters, approached, “Vince, do yoYu want to make some pegs.” In a few minutes, Chris had me sitting at a spokeshave bench turning square pegs into round pegs. I fantisized, “Master , master, I can make these pegs, don’t sell me down river.”

Montpelier has a public archaeology program. Volunteers from students to the general public participate in a variety of programs. It’s pretty unique. In September, Diane and I participated in a traditional dig. We spent a week — much of that time on our knees — with a trowel scraping away layers of soil in our unit. Artifacts — bone, ceramic, iron, brick, mortar — went into bags labeled with the depth and unit designation. Large objects were photographed in site. We learned to look for changes in the soil strata — color, composition, maybe the outline of a feature. Scrapped soil was deposited in 5 gallon buckets and taken to a screening area where even smaller artifacts were recovered. We worked from  7 in the morning until late afternoon. Then most days we had a field trip or tour– the mansion, burial grounds, gardens, Freeman’s cabin, Civil War encampment.

On both trips we stayed at Arlington House, a old, bit run down plantation house that can house about two dozen volunteers and interns. Except for the first night and final dinner, we prepared breakfast, lunch and dinners.

Athough Diane enjoyed most of the excavacation week, she wasn’t interested in reconstructing a slave cabin. So that’s when I recruited John Paglione. Our first day’s morning session introduced us to the program– specifically the archaeology done on slave quarters. Previously skeleton shells had been built representing several cabins for house slaves. One larger cabin, closer to the main house, the Granny Milly’s cabin, had been reconstructed In 2015.   We were building a cabin for field slaves. Matt Reeves, the director of archaeology and founder of the public archaeology program was proud that archaeology on the sites revealed differences in the cabins. He was also excited to be able to reconstruct cabins to give a fuller experience to visitors.

Trees — Carolina pines — has been felled and limbed before we arrived. The first day we worked outside, learning to strip the bark and begin the process that would transform the log into a square hewn timber. It was cold and snow began to fall. So the next day we arrived to find our logs had been moved inside a large shed.

imageWe created four teams of three or four members. Each team was responsible for one side of the cabin. John and I teamed up and fortunately recruited, one of the younger volunteers (actually a working carpenter). Later in the week he told us he finally understood our decision to invite him to be part of our group. Maybe we weren’t real strong with an ax but we weren’t stupid. We recognized youth, strength and a good man with an ax.

Monday, Tuesday, work went well.  We were tired but amazed at our progress.  Wednesday i hit a wall.  The broad ax I was using to hew a log was just too heavy. Chris, one of the professional carpenters,  knew that I was hurting and gave me the peg project. With this small act of understanding, he made, saved my week.  The next day, I got to the site early and located a smaller, lighter broad ax that I had used Tuesday.   The chips flew as I hewed a log with John. I refused to let go of that ax and we worked all morning christening the beam, ” the senior.” Only those over 65 had worked on it. Eventually became the beam just over the door on the front wall.

Our team of volunteers were guided and instructed by Craig Jacobs and four of his carpenters — Stephen, Chris, Martin and Barry.  Craig’s company Salvagewrights: architectural antiquities is headquartered in Orange VA, not far from  Montpelier. The company website reads, “We specialize in the dismantling, moving,mane reconstruction of pre-Civil War structures.  This process includes numbering, dismantling, and cataloging the components, as well as the repair or replacement of parts as needed.”  The shop in Orange sells all sorts of salvaged building material.  But Craig and his crew also build new timber frame structures.  They had recently build slave quarters on Jefferson’s Monticello and now we’re guiding volunteers to do the same at Montpelier.  Craig took seriously teaching and mentoring.  on Monday mornings orientation he’s described what we would be doing, the tools we would be using, and safety precautions.  His crew were not only good timber frame carpenters they were excellent teacher.  At the closing dinner I told them this and joked that I thought if they weren’t good teachers, they wouldn’t keep their job.  Smiles and laughter, “That’s right,” they all agreed.

After the trees are cut down and branches removed, we used a chain saw to cut the log to correct length.  Marks are mode on each end to make a 5 inch thick beam.  Some of bark is stripped with a with a draw knife so that a chalk line can be drawn, end to end.  This is basically a templet for removing, squaring the log.  A chain saw was used to make cuts between the lines.  One of the carpenlogs– ters joked that if MAdison’s men had chain saws they would have used them.  But we are trying to use traditional tools and methods as much as possible.  It was important not to chain saw the cuts too deep, this created chain saw lines which has to be cut out later.  The interpretative staff don’t want to explain chain saw lines in a recreated slave cabin.

The end cuts are knocked out with a froe and wooden mallet.  The an ax is used to wack out the blocks squaring up the logs — rough cut.  This is where Tyler, our recruited third team member paid off.  He loved to swing that ax. Small chunks of wood flying in all directions.  Sine Tyler was a carpenter working with his father, Craig was particularly attentive to mentoring.  Crain had been taught by a master and would pass on what he knew to a younger generation.  It’s fair to say that the subtitles of what we were doing would be lost on John and I.  The next step was to score both cut sides of the log and then using a broad ax chop a nice smooth flat.  We’ve all seen hand hewn beams in historic buildings with evidence of this scoring.


Logs were then moved to the actual cabin and fitted and notched to create a log cabin wall.  A door and window.  The end notches could be cut with a chain saw or an ax.  Martin offered me to cut one with a chain saw.  I told him of my nightmare when I didn’t cut a notch but cut off 8 or more inches of the log.  Being a great teacher, he later showed me how and helped me cut a notch with an ax.

By Friday all four walls were constructed. rafters were set for a roof (my pegs were used in the rafter construction).  We learned to chink and daub, wood pieces and a lime-sand mixture to fill in the spaces between the logs.  Since our cabin would be moved on site in the Spring, we dig not chink and daub the entire structure.  But we learned how to do it.

In th Spring our cabin was moved to a site where archaeology had revealed field slave cabins. The professional team moved the cabin, finished everything, including the construction of a chimney.  I believe house slave cabins were larger and were build on a corner stone foundations with a wooden floor.  Our field cabin sat on the ground.  Visitors to the Madison’s could be impressed with the slave quarters close to the house, wooden floors, quite nice.  Ironically, the wooden floor cabins were probably harder to heat as cold air circulated under the floor.  And if dry the dirt floor of the field slave cabin could be quite clean.  But James and Dolley wanted to impress visitors.  And Orange County


imageJohn and I stayed in Arlington House an extra night.  We went into Orange is see Craig and visit his salvage store.  I discovered that in September, he and his crew will be at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. For a program that involves kids in hammering nails, building brick walls,and of course learning about timber frame construction.  Should put in on the calendar.

Temperatures during the week had dropped below zero and we had snow several days.  Sunday night,  there was a good snowfall.   But by  mid morning we decided the roads were safe and we left Arlington House, Montpelier, and Orange County.  We headed South toward Yorktown, revolutionary war battleground.

The experience of doing archaeology and participating in the reconstruction of a slave cabin at Montpelier was  a fantastic experience.  I’ll admit not easy for those of us over 65.  Would I do it again?  Not sure, there are many possible experiences.  And yet I also enjoy establishing on ongoing relationship with a program.k

Interested in in the program.  Check out the Montpelier Archaeology website. Contact Matt Reeves, Director of Archaeology.  Or give me a buzz.



Who is Steve Tobin?


In March, Diane and I spent several days in Manhattan with our friends, John and Barbara Paglione.  One day we took a trip to the new 9-11 Memorial Museum.  After our tour of the museum (very emotional) we walked several blocks to Trinty Church.  We wanted to see Steve Tobin’s “Trinity Root” sculpture.  According to Tobin, the story of the sycamore tree that protected Trinity church from the fall out of 9-11 was the only upbeat story he read.  He obtained permission to dig  up the root of the tree and  eventually cast it as a sculpture.  As with all of Tobin’s work it’s pretty amazing — a red bronzed root pulled from the soil, hanging, dangling — roots, so many associations, metaphors.


My first encounter with Steve Tobin was last year  at a  Mitchener Museum exhibit “Out of this World.”  I was amazed  — what a range of mediums — glass, ceramics, bronze, steel.  Large root-like sculptures, ceramic exploded worlds, back lighted glass tombstone doors, bronze reliefs.  This guy was unique; his work was — it must be seen.   The museum was offering tours of Tobin’s studio but unfortunately they were booked.  I shot many photographs and posted some on Facebook.  We purchased a small exploded world ceramics.  End of story.  Not quite.

imageA few months ago, we were at the Mitchener and saw some mugs labeled Steve Tobin.  We thought the mug would complement our small exploded world and so we purchased one. We later learned that the mugs are actually the work of Greg White, one of Tobin’s major atelier associates.  But we also learned that the museum was sponsoring a Tobin tour in June.  Sign us up.

As we drove to Tobin’s Quakertown studio,  I didn’t have any expectations.  On arrival I was a bit taken back by the huge industrial building surround by Steel Root  sculptures.  Tobin’s Steel  Roots are quite different from the Trinity Root and similar bronze cast  root sculptures. To make the Trinity Root, Tobin actually dug up the root and make a naturalistic bronze casting of the actual root.  It looks like a root.   But the experience of the Trinity root was so intense,  he moved to his modernistic Steel Roots which are made from steel pipe welded together.  Different process; different feel.

Steve Tobin was born in Philadelphia in 1957.  He studied theoretical mathematics at Tulane University.  He has never taken an art course. In 1993, he created an installation of tall glass sculptures and an  amazing waterfall from strands of glass.  He then retired from glass since he thought he  could never top the work.  Another early major work reflects his drawing inspiration from nature and his melding science and art.  At the Fulller Museum in Massachusetts, he created a series of bronze casting of Ghanaian termite mounds.  I have never seen an example but the photographs are fantastic.  His root sculptures which ended with Trinity Root and bone castings and Earth Bronze doors are related works.


More recently Tobin has placed small charges in blocks of clay with glass before firing in a kiln.  These  are the amazing “Exploded Earth” sculptures which range from the small one we purchased at Mitchener for about $100 to huge pieces that are moved with a fork lift and may cost 30 to 50,000 dollars.  Each is unique and the interior of the irregular rounded ceramic can be dazzling colored volcanic like glass.

The two hour tour of Tobin’s studio we took in early this June was was led by John Connelly (seems to function as Tobin’s manager, salesman, promoter).   About 20 people gathered around what looked like a showroom.  Small pottery plates platters of various shapes, earth colors, the clay pressed with something — maybe a piece of lace, something from nature — were displayed on a table.  There were mugs similar to the one we purchased at Mitchner; and some small Exploded Earth sculptures.  On the table and on some shelves around the room were heavy cast high heel shoes (these were the one series Diane didnt like; saw one used in the studio as a door stop)  and small Bronze Squeezes — all abstract shapes, almost something a child might squeeze from play dough, only much more sophisticated. I missed the discussion of these pieces, nature inspired, just imagination at work; I’m not sure.  Most of these pieces in the show room were priced from 20 to 1500 dollars. I said this looked like a showroom because it’s not regularly opened.  In fact it was only recently that Tobin held an  open house and offered these small pieces for sale.  Hundreds showed up and according to Connelly, Steve said, “If all these people wanted to see the studio, why didn’t they just knock.”


I think the open house, the Mitchener sponsored tours (the only tours formally given) and two local exhibits — the one we went to at Mitchener and one we somehow missed at the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ — may mark a new local outreach for Tobin.  His kiln (which is huge) is on his home property not far from the studio.  And he is in the process to moving to another house.  Hopefully he is settling in to Bucks.  The writer James Mitchner, born in Doylestown, traveled the United States and the World researching and writing his monumental novels.  He visited Bucks County and was finally persuaded, decided to establish an Art Museum.  The Mitchener Art Museum has been fantastic is making the county and world aware of our rich artistic heritage.  Tobin is a contemporary example and should be known by more local people.


The exhibit at the Grounds for Sculpture featured a few Tree Roots (remember a bronze cast of a real root) but many of the more modern “Steel Roots” made from welded steel pipe.  Just as Tobin abandoned glass for a while, he moved to Steel Roots after casting “Trinity Root.”  It was a powerful experience for him dealing with a memorial to 9-11 and he wouldn’t repeat the root style.  I suspect there were some smaller pieces displayed in the buildings at the Grounds but most of their sculpture is outside and massive.  What do you do with all those huge pieces after the show.  They all don’t sell.  Tobin  followed the example of the John Steward Johnson at the Grounds.  Many of Johnson’s towering, iconic, realistic sculptures are installed on properties leading up to the sculpture garden.  Tobin installed many of the Steel Roots on properties  near his studio.  And of course both artists have work on their studio property.

In a small room off the “show room” were tombstone like, swirling colors, glass sculptures that Tobin calls Doors.  I believe he is inviting the viewer to enter a door into another world.  And I believe Tobin wants the viewer to help construct that world.  None of his works have names which may allow for more audience participation.  Not sure when the doors were created.  Post tour, in reflection, I have many questions about Steve’s work.

The hallway to the larger studio spaces is lined with pizza sculptures.  Each decorated with something different. to our surprise, after the tour, we went for lunch at the Karlton Cafe in downtown Quakertown.  The wall behind us was filled with Tobin Pizzas.  If I got the story correctly, the Karltons, who have a farm, are into organic, local produce, you know the type; they once owned Tobin’s studio as part of a catering business.  Great place for lunch.

There is no way I can describe everything we saw in the studio space.  In reality most of the area was display or storage or works.  Usually grouped together. There was a small work area but remember kiln is located at his house and given the processes some pieces are formed outside.  Not a good idea to explode a huge piece of clay indoors.  All the series I’ve mentioned were represented in the studio  (except I didn’t  see a Termite Hill).   There were also several bronzed lattice works of deer bones.  It seems Steve had a friend or friends who hunted.  What can you do with piles of deer bones. I really liked one large deer bone sculpture.

Steve Tobin finds things, many in nature, but he also visits flea markets.  The day we were doing the tour, we were told he was in China, probably at a flea market buying things.  One sculpture in the studio was a house made out of hundreds of lantern slides — the glass photographic slides were  popular to illustrate explorations and lectures in the early days of photography.  Another house was labeled Matzoh House — didn’t get the story.

Understanding how Tobin crates his sculptures adds to appreciation.  At the Mitchner, I liked, was amazed at the Earth Bronzes (above).   Like the glass doors, Earth Bronzes are shaped like large tombstones.  They are bronze casts of just about anything — corn cobs, litter form the forest floor, bread, my favorite was several of fish, buckets of them picked up in South Philadelphia.  I can’t describe all Tobin’s works.  His versatility is just amazing.  Check out his website or visit the studio grounds to see Weeds and New Nature Series — both are large, rusting outdoor sculpture.  Another unique series is Syntax — I think bronze, green, letters, welded together in large shapes, many circles.  Finally I will mention Torsos — back lighted moulded sculpture of the upper torso — real people.  Again, amazing.


I don’t think I can recall an artist whose work has intrigued me more.  Tobin’s output (ok he has several apprentices), his medium variety, his vision, inspiration, just too much.  I look forward to Tobin continuing his Bucks Couty outreach.  I want to return to the studio, with questions and insights.

And and I couldn’t resist, we bought another Tobin sculpture from the display table.


Some additional photographs from the tour.  Wal-mart didn’t like the crucifix and refused some deal.


Organizing — are you sequential or random; concrete or abstract?


imageDue to my teaching at LaSalle University, I often used the Gregoric Style Delineator when I taught methods classes.  Gregoric set up two dimensions. First, how do we perceive information — concrete or abstract.  Second, how to organize information —  random or sequential.  Crossing the dimensions, he developed four learning, teaching styles — concrete sequential (CS), abstract sequential (AS), concrete random (CR), and abstract random (AR).  Through word choices, subjects plot their scores on the four styles. No one is 100% one style; no style is better than the other.  But we learn (and teach) differently.  CS is the most common; AS is the least common.  Some of us may be very strong on one style; others balanced between several.  CS people follow directions, how do you do this?  What is expected of me?  They plan, organize things in a logical order.  They don’t like to get too personal.  They are your typical  math or foreign language teachers.   In contrast AS people are readers, like authority, work independently, like to debate, always have the correct answer.  Maybe a HS forensics coach?  AR and CR types have problems with deadlines, following directions, following the plan.  CR people like working together, sharing, projects and motions.  Social Studies teachers tend to be more CR and AR.

You can check on line for a fuller explanation of each style. In my college class I sometimes established a CS group and an AR and CR group.  Assignment: plan a trip to Europe.  The CS group came back with a detailed itinerary, costs, times, places to visit.  The Random types said they agreed to fly to London and then see what individuals wanted to do.  No other plans.  In another activity, an CS group kept asking directions, “What are we suppose to do? What does the instructor want?   Is this correct?”  The Randoms agreed quickly, who cared about directions, we just need to give some answer, it really doesn’t matter what we do.  You probably remember both types from school. There is  teacher who deducts points for a late paper (CS) and the teacher who says turn in the paper  in when your done or it doesn’t matter if it’s late (CR).  What I am; what are you?

There are experiences in my life that point to a CS type of person.  My family ran an GE appliance store in Bristol Borough in the 1950-60s.  The first job I remember doing (self initiated, I think) was to organize  light bulbs.  First those displayed in the store; later boxes stored in the basement.  They were mixed up on the shelves, I organized them in neat rows from 25 watt, through 150 watt.  Little soldier bulbs in a row.  Some years later I worked in O’Boyles Ice Cream plant in Bristol.  One of my main responsibilities was to help unload product in a freezer (20 below) from a conveyor belt — ice cream sandwiches, chocolate pops, pints, 1/2 gallons, and the list goes on.  We had to organize and stack product so that the older product would be moved out first; every product line had to be accessible.  Kind of a CS task, I think.



My first and last position at Holy Ghost Prep was librarian. You know, Dewey Decimal System, organizing books on shelves sequentially, in order, according to rules laid down by the American Library Association.   When I first got the position in the early 1970s, the school’s library was pretty disorganized.  Many books had been donated and just shelved.  I spent quite a few hours my first summer (unpaid, no less) labeling and shelving books in Dewey order.  This was before computers and programs, call numbers were determined by consulting a cataloging book and labels were typed out on a manual typewriter.  Wonder how many of those books are still in the HGP library; does HGP even have a library?

My personal life may also exhibit some CS behaviors.  In HS, I (on a typewriter) I  began to catalog everything in my room — it may have started with books, but  continued to collections, stamps, coins, LPs, soon it was everything, even clothes.  I had a book that documented everything in my room.  Practical?  Strange?  Not sure.  For better or worse this activity was repeated when I was in my 30s.  It started again with books — my local history collection, then all my books, then LPs and cassette tapes, collections, of course, clothes, everything.  The HS catalog was lost, possible in a Yardley flood; the adult catalog was on a computer that became outdated and the data was lost.

I currently have have a very limited record of my things — several bibliographies of books, children, good reading in social studies, a DVD collection.  More importantly I have a record of our art (paintings and other prints), good craft pieces, and some of Diane’s jewelry.  There are investment and financial reasons for these lists, right?

Despite what seems to be a lot of CS tendencies in my life, when I take Gregoric’s inventory, I come up strong CR and AR (about equal).  My attitude toward deadlines — I was thrown out of Temple’s doctorate program because my time had expired; my favorite card from a close friend, Susan Taylor, quotes Mark Twain, “Don’t put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow.”  I like the 1960s, talk about you feelings, collaborative-cooperative education.  My dates for student assignments are movable; I’ve never penalized a student for a late paper project (maybe the extra time produced a better product).  This doesn’t sound like a typical CS learner-teacher.


This question of style — sequential, random, concrete or abstract — came up as I recently began my annual  Spring cleaning and organizing.  I am a collector, I like old things, I always believe there might be a use for something, better not throw it out (sometime I think I have 1930s Depression complex, don’t waste; or maybe it’s from the 1960s, recycle, think small.  Some might call me a hoarder.  We’ve lived in our Yardley house since 1978 — going on 40 years.  I will admit, we (no I) have a lot of stuff.  The Spring cleaning project is ongoing and repititive.  Go through clothes, what can be given to Good Will or turned into rags.  I refuse to get rid of the Harris Tweed sports coat I bought in Ireland in 1977.  Maybe I will lose weight and can wear it again. Maybe Eli can wear my BC sweatshirt (it’s almost new), the red dashiki, or the off white-ruffled Nicaraguan shirt.  These are part of history.  This year, before finishing clothes I moved to several drawers containing  rings, watches, pins, buttons, penknives, my father’s dog tags, Boy Scouts medals, assorted coins and other jewelry like items.  Fortunately I save, buy, and  collect a variety of containers and boxes.  It  can be a carved wooden box or a Prince Albert tobacco tin.  Most of the jewelry items are now organized and collected in these containers.  My justification for the containers is that my granddaughter, Vivienne, loves containers to save things in.  She will inherit may collection, maybe.

I moved to the balcony office.  There are 20 feet of floor to ceiling shelves.  Most are packed with books. There is some space for what might be called knock knacks.  Diane has a stronger name.  I work to integrate some new books onto the shelves or into piles near the shelves.  So many books have returned from my office at HGP (I am selling a few on Amazon and I sold 20 boxes to the Princeton bookstore, but that just the tip of the book iceberg).  I try to group the books, local history, books I haven’t read, books I might want to reread, books that should be lent, sold or given away.  This is a rough organization at this time.  Another day I attack the dirt and dust on shelves and the floor.  I remove all the non-book items, clean shelves and display some things on available space.  A row of Mercer tiles, pipes — Sherlock Holmes calabash,  hash, just an old tobacco pipe.  There is a antique microscope,  small framed photographs of family, ceramic statues that belonged to my mother or grandmother. It’s personal  history.   Most coins, stamps, postcards, political and other buttoms are placed in boxes or file drawers containing similar objects.  These are collections to be organized at some later date.  Remember, this is a rough go through.

The Spring cleaning and organizing has just begun.  It’s a bit more intense since we are retired.  What’s going to happen to all this stuff in ten, twenty years?  We have a bedroom that is still filled with Jenny things.  Rooms and rooms filled with our things.  From the bedroom and clothes, balcony office, I plan to move to our shed and our ground level garage and workshop.  These are areas that can flood.  In the past year I have moved boxes and boxes of stuff from HGP (some moved to school during previous floods) and I recently brought many of my father’s tools from storage.  There are hundreds of books, LPs, VHS , DVDs  and CDs.  And a wild assortment of teaching props, tools — you name it.

I’ve often invoked Socrates, ” Know Yourself.”  Sequential or random; concrete or abstract.  What am I?  How have these dimensions influenced my learning and teaching?  How will they influence my retirement?  Not just how I organized the things but how I organize my life?  How I spend my time?  Maybe I am randomly sequential.

More later, maybe, when. . . .









Crossing the River: Exploring New Jersey




Years ago — actually several decades ago — I was teaching an undergraduate social studies class at Holy Family University.  One assignment was to develop a lesson plan.  One young woman submitted a lesson about the Delaware River.  I asked her to explain what she was teaching about the river.  She answered that “the Delaware River seperated Pennsylvania and New Jersey”  I responded “yes, what else.”  She drew a blank.  She knew nothing else about the river.  From then on, my lesson plan templet had a section labeled “content.”

I have lived along the River (PA side) for most of my life.  Grew up in Bristol in a Mill Street apartment that looked out on the river; since 1978 in a riverfront house in Yardley.  Most families in the Philadelphia area cross the river at least annually for a vacation at the Jersey shore.  Philadelphians may go to Atlantic City or Wildwood; most Bristolians go  to Long Beach Island — LBI.  Whenimy sisters and I were young, we spent a week at Beach Haven on LBI.  We rented a house with my Aunt and Uncle, Ellen and Frank Mignoni.  We shared a house with  4 adults and at least 5 kids.  I remember my father driving a truck over the Bay bridge, with all our summer gear, including a second refrigerator.  My Aunt and Uncle ever eventually bought a breachfront house in Harvey Cedars.  During my HS, college, and the years immediately after, I spent many days visiting.  They were always extremely generous; we would call for a key off season; in 1977, pregnant with Jenny, Diane stayed at Harvey Cedars with my Aunt, August through September.




This past year, Diane and I discovered the $75 NJ park pass.  A great bargain. We frequently go to Island Beach, not just summer trips  but off season.  Winter brings out the Island foxes.  This year there was a snowy owl which unfortunately we didn’t get to see.  Many days we find a secluded area and Moe can run free.  Our trips  to Island Beach are often on back roads.  What will we discover? On the way home we like to stop at a seafood market and bring fresh fish home for dinner. One of our favorite discoveries  is Shore Fresh in Point Pleasant Beach — a bit of a ride from Island Beach but worth it.  This summer we were pretty amazed at the continued recovery from hurricane Sandy.  On other trips, particularly on the bay side we have discovered restaurants, farms and seafood stops.  Or maybe, birding at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

There were only a couple of NJ destinations when we were kids.  My father liked Batsto othe bog iron village in the Pine Barrens. We visited quite a few times.  Diane and I rediscovered Batsto and its hiking trails several years ago.  My parents also liked a shopping village in Rancocus.  They was a hardware/furnishings store; colonial style; a bit of an 1950s version of Restoration.  Seems like we visited frequently.  A few times Dad crossed over to Burlington, if for no other reason than to look across the river at Bristol.

During the late 50s and early 60s, I did some NJ explores with the Boy Scouts.  I remember camping at Lakehurst.  We were told the story of the Hindenburg airship disaster of 1937 and I think we got to go inside a blimp.  Most memorable on the trip, was breakfast cooked by Mr. Lodge on a huge iron grill.  He had been an army cook and took orders, a wiz short order cook.

Another scout trip was canoeing on one of the Pine Barren rivers — Wading or Mullica? I remember moving through different landscapes — marshes, forests, open river.  I was in a canoe with Andy Romano and as we approached the end of our two night trip, his brother, Chris, attacked us, capsizing the canoe.  Several years ago Diane and  I, Taylor’s and Rosenthals rented canoes for a trip down the Mullica.  It was several days after heavy rains and the river was running fast.  Trees blocked clear runs and trying to slide under them was  a big challenge –trying not to get beheaded or captize.


Another High School  NJ experience was going to John Terrell’s Lambertville Music Circus.  I went several times.  First a dinner date at a restaurant in town — I think it was Riverside or River’s Edge?  Quick internet check, it was River’s Edge and post cards are available on eBay for $3.00.  After dinner, off to the the Circus, with its tent box office and huge tent outdoor seating.  In 1964, I saw the Rightous Brothers  (You Got that Loving Feeling) and the following year Dave Brubeck. The Music Circus closed sometime in the 1970s

In the early 1970s, Diane and I rented a house with John and Barbara Paglione, outside of downtown New Hope.  We crossed the New Hope-Lambertville bridge frequently to explore  NJ.  Lambertville was basically a working class town — the New Yorkers, galleries, shops and restaurants came later as New Hope turned into a T-shirt, tattoo, chain store, and tacky tourist destination.  The artist culture migrated across the bridge.

Our favorite Lambertville restaurant (because it was affordable) was, Phil and Dan’s.  The couple literally took the front room of their row house and turned  it into a dining room.  The pasta was always good and it was a BYOB.  A few years ago, the Paglione’s were visiting.  We decided to go to Phil &  Dan’s — now it’s called Rick’s.  A few weeks later, I mentioned this in a Holy Family class.    After class, a young teacher approached, “Mr. Profy, Phil and Dan were my grandparents.”  They were still alive but had  crossed the river and we’re living in Bucks County.

Today Rick’s has the same BYOB, red checked table cloth,  home cooked pasta and meatballs atmosphere.  We’ve been back several times.  Another Lambertville restaurant from the early 1970s was the Swan Hotel.  Anton’s at the Swan was and is a pretty up-scale expensive restaurant. We may have been there once but more often have  gone to the Swan bar – – more affordable, then and now — its  a delightful, intimate space.

We go to Lambertville quite a bit.  Sometimes we wander around town, taking in the galleries, many with local artists. Some years we attend the Shad festival.  Shad migrate upriver in the spring to spawn.  The Lewis Fishery in town still license and can be seen seining for shad. I have been told that Delaware River shad taste of mud and what’s sold locally comes from Connecticut.  The roe is prized but I can’t interest Diane.  Eating shad becomes a bit of a dream for me.  But the festival is always fun.  This year I won a historic walking tour of Lambertville.

Today many of our Lambertville explores are culinary.  El Tule is a Peruvian-Mexican BYOB.  Some  traditional but also quite a few interesting dishes.  They have outdoor tables.  Another Mexican we like is Tortuga’s Cocina, located in Mitchell’s bar.  But they may have closed.  Fairly new is Cafe Galleria in a Victorian house, porch seating, fresh, organic, health conscious offerings.  Refreshing comes to mind.  Brian’s is well reviewed and rated.  We’ve eaten there once.  The Lambertville House has been redone and we recently had nice lunch there — the atmosphere is classic.  In the early 1980s, we spent New Years with the Gallaghers and Chapmans (HGP staff) at the Lambertville House. Memories.

There are quite a few Lambertville restaurants on our check it out list — Bell’s Tavern, Siam Thai, and the French, Manon which always seemed closed.



Currently our favorite Lambertville restaurant is Hamilton’s Grill, located on a small alley courtyard.  Back in the 70s, owner Jim Hamilton and his family lived in an old mill around the corner from our New Hope rental house.  Jim was a NYC  set designer; his wife was French.  They hosted annual glitzy parties in the historic mill.  We weren’t invited but knew people who attended.  For us they were part of the New Hope art and culture scene. The Grill has been around for decades; Jim is now in his 80s.  One daughter, Melissa, publishes a series of cookbooks — “Canal House Cooking.” His other daughter, Gabrielle, is one of the better  known woman NYC chefs.  On a recent trip to NYC (with Pagliones) we had dinner at her East Village restaurant, Prune.  It met all expectations.  John and I had pigeon!  We also have a copy of Gabrielle’s cookbook, “Prune” and her 2011 memoir, “Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of A Reluctant Chef.”  A interesting story, particularly as we feel we know her.

In recent years, Hamilton’s Grill is where we go for our anniversary dinner.  We have also attended what Jim describes as cooking classes.  They are really demonstrations in a small apartment near the restaurant.  We attended a seafood dinner and an Italian Christmas seven  fish dinner with guest chef, Andrew Abruzzese and his son (Pineville Tavern). Both meals were fantastic.

This past year we also went to Hamilton’s Grill for their New Jersey shore meal — clams, mussels, lobster, tomatoes obviously.  Wow.  And for Thanksgiving we sat at the counter watching chef Mark Miller grill shrimp and tuna.  What a meal and experience.  Not to be outdone by her father, Melissa hosted a Sunday breakfast in an apartment she maintains for test cooking and I guess parties. We have never had lighter, more delicious pancakes.  The Grill is a BYOB but in the courtyard is The Boathouse, a small funky bar, with outdoor seating — the place to begin your Hamilton Grill experience.  Oh, regulars also know that off hours, you can park in the nearby lumber yard, along the canal.

Another NJ city to explore is Princeton.  We have many associations.  In the 198os and 1990s we subscribed to McCarter Theatre and eventually McCarter Dance — when Jenny was enrolled in dance classes.  We went so frequently, we even contributed a few dollars.  By the 90s, most pre-show dinners were  at Teresa’s — a small, very busy,  Italian style restaurant near the Nassau Inn.  Reasonable priced and tasty pasta dishes, pizza, brought us back again and again.  Another Princeton tradition is Christmas shopping.  I hate malls  — refuse to go to them unless absolutely necessary.  Princeton is enchanting at Christmas.  Although over the years the shops have changed,  there are still some that are quite classy and interesting.

There are a lot of reasons to go to Princeton.  Great shoes stores — my Birkenstocks, Clarks, and other shoes have come from Princeton.   In fact my grandfather ran a shoe repair shop on Nassau Street.  Address in hand, I found the location this year.  This summer I sold 20 boxes  of books to Labyrinth Books.  I hope to return with more and eventually I want to sell some of my LPs to the Princeton Record Exchange.

We have also found some great food stops — on the way to Princeton there is Tehune Orchard.  A variety of crops and kid friendly activities.     On Route 206, don’t miss Lucy’s Kitchen.  Homemade  ravoli and pasta (fresh, dried and frozen).  Heaven.  Can’t believe we only discovered Lucy’s  a few years ago.  We also like to stop at Nassau Street Seafood.  Fresh fish and usually varieties that we don’t find locally.  Next door to the market is the Blue Point Grill.  Recently we had octopus — it was fantastic.  And we learned that the same could be had with pre-cooked, frozen octopus from Buckingham Valley Seafood (ops that’s in PA).  There are many other good restaurants in Princeton — check out Mediterra (same owners as Teresa’s) and Agricola.  The Nassau Inn is always a classic lunch stop.

In the past few years, our drives to Princeton are on back roads.  We avoid I-95 and wander through Pennington and Hopewell. These NJ explores have turned up a number of interesting discoveries. Food wise, we go to the Brick Farm Market in Hopewell.  Meats, cheese, some fresh produce and a small, expanding cafe.  A great find. We also enjoyed tea class and a few breakfasts in Paint the Roses — unfortunately I think it just closed.  Another farm market is Blue Moon Acres.  They grow a variety of micro-greens (also have a farm on route 413 near 202 in PA).  At the Pennington market in addition to their own produce they feature anything local — honey, meats, cheese, popcorn, just anything local.  You can get a Griggstown pot pie or Cherry Grove Farmstead cheese.  Both NJ farms.

Actually if you want to explore NJ farm products, go to the Trenton Farmer’s Market. Cross the river at the Calhoun Street bridge and head north.  The market has all NJ produce and a few speciality stores.  The butcher made pork roll from Cartlidge is amazing. There is a good baker and an Italian deli.  Olsen’s cheese was there until they moved to Palmer Square in Princeton.  I usually  buy a lot of my garden plants at the Trenton Market. My other garden plants come from  NJ — Dragonfly Nursery and Mazur Nursery and Garden Center.  The later family owned has a good selection of Fall plants.  A good place to know.

And there are still things to do in Trenton.  I went to a lecture about the gardens of Jefferson’s Monticello at the Trent House. There was a tour of their garden led by Charlie, a volunteer who lives a block away from us.  Diane and I also went to the Trenton Barracks, built for Bristish soldiers during the French and Indian War.  Both of these sites host a variety of activities.  One day after we read a book on the Battle of Trenton, we took a car trip attempting to follow the historic route.  Then  we saw signs, Washington’s March to Trenton.  They took us to the Trenton Battle Monument overlooking the scene of the historic battle, turning point of the Revolution.

On another trip, in  Cadwalder Park, we discovered the Trenton Museum with several interesting exhibits — one was on Italians (Porfirio’s pasta company was mentioned) and another on the Abbot Marsh which we always pass on the way to the shore.

Chambersburg, Trenton’s historically Italian community has shrunk as businesses move out to Hamilton township but I still want to explore it. My grandfather took us to several Trenton restaurants — I believe on was Marsilio’s Kitchen (still open).  And he went to the Italian People’s Bakery every Christmas for cookies.  When I  began teaching Local History in the 1980s, I used a fantastic documentary on the Chambersburg neighborhood.  And I haven’t done it yet, but Abbot’s Marsh is on a list of  this year’s explores.

In the past year we have been doing a lot of driving and walks exploring Mercer, Hunterdon and Somerset counties across the river from Bucks County.  We frequently drive to Stockton (an interesting if expensive Farmers Market), park and walk along the Delaware and Raritan State Park trail.  One destination north is Prallsville Mills, a small collection of buildings opened for special events. continue on to Bulls Island Recreation Area, the beginning of the D &R canal feeder.  Years ago we took HGP Explorer’s Club camping there.  It was part of a Delaware River canoe trip.  The kids crossed the foot  bridge to buy dinner at the Black Bass Hotel.  Next day none of them had money for a soda.

There is Washington Crossing State Park (NJ), we usually go in on back roads where Moe can run free.  Baldpate Mountain and the Ted Stiles Preserve is another great area for walking and dog running.  Our big NJ surprise this year was the Goat Hill Overlook.  It’s a small park area with fantastic views of New Hope and Lambertville.  Also very dog friendly. Moe’s favorite trip, however, is to Rosedale Park near Pennington.  There is a free, no permit, well maintained dog park.  Run Moe, run.

Howell Living History Farm offers a different type of experience.  Saturday activities may include sheep shearing, cheese making, maple syrup making, wagon rides.  Great place for kids.  One day at Howell, we took a tour with Larry Kidder, author of “Farming Pleasant Valley: 250 years of life in rural Hopewell Township, New Jersey.  Serendipitous drives in the area and you feel that you have stepped back in history.

Maybe a stop at Gravity Hill Farm for some fresh produce. Driving north of Stockton on one  trip, we saw a sign, Tullamore Farms, The Farm Cooking School.  In an funny coincidence, Jenny read about the school and for Christmas gave us a gift certificate.  I went to a cooking beer centric demonstration and dinner.  The school’s chefs, Ian and Shelly are fantastic.  In this particular dinner, Triumph Brewery provided beer in many of the recipes as well as beer to drink.  Some were brewed specifically for the dinner.  A month later, Eli went to a class, Latino breakfast. They made everything and then served it to parents who came to pick them up.  At events like this, there are always interesting participants.  We will return to the Farm Cooking School.

Back in the 1990s, I read a book “Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike.” It was a fun book.  The Garden State gets mixed reviews.  Is NJ chemical companies,  dying marshlands, a stop on the Interstate, an asphalt strip between NYC and Philadelphia.  I  think our NJ explores reveals more. These local field trip show just how much there is close to home in NJ.   I suspect there will be many more explores in Retirement, year two.


Goat Hill Overlook

Goat Hill Overlook


Remembering school field trips?

imageWho remembers school field trips?  Did you  want to sit in class, read from a textbook, listen to a lecture or would you rather go on a field trip.  I suspect most students would choose the field trip.  And if well planned and organized, the trip would probably be  more memorable and a richer educational experience.  This is not to say there aren’t interesting texts to read and captivating lectures.  But seeing and doing will usually trump classroom activities.  

My first field trip as a teacher was taking elementary 7th graders to Gettysburg in the early 1970s.  It was an annual trip associated with a United States History course.  Another teacher organized the trip, so I was pretty much a chaperone.  I remember the big map with lights that showed the movement of troops and battles during the three day campaign but not a lot of specifics.  I participated in this trip several years.

Beginning in 1974, for 40 years, I worked at Holy Ghost Prep. There were many  trips.  They fell into several categories – entire class trips, personal class trips, and trips where I  helped other teachers.  Field trips were usually  to Philadelphia, New York City or Washington, DC.

For several years, sophomores in World History went to the Cloisters in NYC.   The building is impressive and the docent tours were always good.  Kids also seemed to enjoy free time to explore. They also enjoyed going to the gift, book store.

Another annual trip for many years, took Freshman students to Saint John the Devine on the Upper West Side.  Sometimes docents guided the kids through architectural exercises; some years the organizing teacher, Father Chris, prepared a scavenger hunt.  I always enjoyed pointing out the Nakashima altar.  George Nakashima, a Bucks County woodworker,  had a project to create peace altars — one on every continent; one altar is in Saint John’s.

Free time on trips was always important. On the Saint John’s trip, students were allowed to explore the neighborhood at lunch time.   I believe this free time in a new environment was particularly valuable.  For several years, students led me on a trek, blocks away, to what they identified as the Seinfeld Soup Nazi restaurant.  They were correct that “Tom’s” was a favorite Seinfeld restaurant where the gang frequently gathered and Elaine got a favorite Big Salad but it was not the original Soup Nazi restaurant which was located on 55 th street.  But what did I know?

Follow ups to field trip are always exciting.  I have gone to Winter Solstice concerts at Saint John’s for several years.  And it was the HGP field trips that led me the concerts.

One of the most interesting NYC trip I took with students was arranged by a parent who worked on Wall Street.  One big advantage was  that we took a small class rather that all the Freshman or all the Juniors.  Another teacher and I took maybe 15-18 students.  We went to the New York stock exchange, met with bankers from Morgan in a room that had over a dozen TV monitors flashing stock, bonds, and a variety of other indexes. We went to the Federal Reserve — the gold vault was amazing.   After a morning exploring finances, we wandered around Chinatown and Little Italy.  A big advantage is we didn’t need to make a bus and be back in Cornwells by 2:30.  We returned by train or maybe vans in the early evening.

Another great NYC trip (maybe for two years) was to PBS studios.  HGP graduate Joe Quinlan worked for the McNeil-Leher report.  Joe organized a  fantastic tour of the studio for a small class of about 15 students.  We were on sound stages, watched some taping, explored the building and the neighborhood of Rockafeller Center.  For someone like myself who has had dreams of writing and film making, this was a trip.  I wonder what are the memories of the students who made this trip.  Do they remember?

Washington, DC.  For several years, I  accompanied  a teacher (I believe Jan Nolting) who took her students on a DC, political trip.  Other years,  I took political science classes to the Capital.  Although it varied a bit, our itinerary usually included a visit to the Capital building.  I recently found photographs of my class with  Representative Jim Greenwood.  Some years we had meetings at the DNC and RNC.  I remember seeing Newt Gingrich walking out of the RNC one year — he didn’t acknowledge us.  Oh well.

My first Philadelphia Partnership class went to DC after the school year was ended.  We met with some people on Capital Hill who interviewed and photographed students.  Then we went to my cousin Ellen’s lobbying firm to talk with clients interested in service learning.  One of my students (Carl Wentzel) told the group, “Doc Profy didn’t teach us anything this year; but he made us  learn.”  On the way out Carl began to apologize to me.  “Carl, that was fantastic, it was a great compliment, thanks.”  Have any of these kids gotten involved in the political process?

For many years, Jim McCullough arranged a senior class trip to DC.  The morning was spent at the memorials — Lincoln, Vietnam, Korean, Roosevelt.  The kids were pretty much on their own to explore.  We then boarded buses to have lunch at a HGP parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace, in Arlinton, Va.  Ironically, considering recent history at HGP, Our Lady Queen of Peace is considered one of the most gay friendly parishes in the US.  Spiritans do tend to be among the most liberal orders. In the afternoon, kids were free to visit one on the Mall museums.  Most went to the American History museum.

Philadelphia field trips have ranged from docent led trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Archaeological Museum and a few Arden Theatre trips. Then there was my own Philadelphia field trip.

Sometime in the 1980s, I participated in a National Endowment of the Humanities program on local history.  For weeks I took the train to the University of  Pennsylvania.  Walter Licht, a historian, guided us through local and new social history.  It was eye opening.  Amazing.  For several years I had been teaching a course titled  American Studies. During the Endowment  program I took the train to Philadelphia and spent several hours exploring and photographing the city.  Classes  which started at 9 involved lectures by a variety of local historians and of course field trips to sites throughout the city.  Soon my HGP course was titled Local Studies.  Field trips were integral to the course. For many years we took two field trips each semester.  Unfortunately,  in the last few years that I  taught the course, I wasn’t allowed to take the kids on field trips.  Are you kidding?

Its interesting to realize that what became my standard Philadelphia field trip had its roots in an elementary school trip.  In the early 1970s, I recruited parents and older siblings to take my class on a Philadelphia explore.  I gave each guide a handout with stops and ideas, and turned them and a group of ten students loose.  The idea was to explore the city.

I did my  local history tour with many high school classes, college classes and the entire Freshman HGP class.  We would start at Penn’s landing, wandered through Old City — Christ’s Church,  Elfrey’s Alley, through the historic area, Jeweler’s row, Reading Terminal Market for lunch, depending on the day, onto the Rittenhouse neighborhood. Lots of side streets.  Then the death march back to Penn’s Landing.

I also took the Local History class on a Bucks County field trip.  It usually began and sometimes ended in Bristol Borough.  There was so much.  Bristol history echoed Philadelphia history.  Town planning, ethnic groups, different types of architecture. Kids were always amazed when cars drove by and the driver hollered out to me.  Small town. But not something that they experienced in the suburbs.  Some years we went beyond Bristol, to Levittown, Makefield, maybe a bit of Yardley with a lunch at my house along the river.

For  seven years, I participated Ted Hershberg’s University of Penn High School Partnership program. A suburban class (from HGP) partnered with a city class (Philadelphia’s  CAPA).  I will share more about the Partnership program in another blog.  But it was the ultimate field trip experience.  Classes from the schools met at least one a month for the entire  year.  Meetings  initally involved “get to know you activities.”  Other meetings engaged students in community service projects.

Kids seem to remember field trips.  I certainly hold them among my best teaching experiences. What is your memory of field trips?

I still use the term “field trip”  to describe my urban adventures in Philadelphia and explores that Diane and I make in Bucks County and New Jersey.  But that’s another story.