I’ve always been a beachcomber, followed in my mother’s footsteps.  Shells, drift wood, beach glass.  I once found a note in a bottle, return to a Cuban address.  I did, with a touch of Cold War anxiety. Somewhere I have several decorative pieces of iron but the completely intact sea gull skelton was consumed by our dog, Luz.

Last week I couldn’t pass up buying several books in the NJ Maritine Museum at Beach Haven.  “Fortuna” by Carole Bradshaw caught my eye.  The cover was a photograph of a red tile washing in the waves.  The back cover read, “A shipwreck, an anchor, and a baby.  What do they all have in common?  When Carole Bradshaw found a small piece of red tile tossing around in the surf on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, she was about to find out.”  This sounded like a history adventure I would enjoy.


I immediately thought of Colin Fletcher’s “The Man from the Cave”  (1981).  Fletcher, a backpacking guru, stumbled on an abandoned camp in a remote section of Nevada.    An old wooden trunk, personal belongings in a cave, fragments of a 1916 newspaper.   Fletcher uses these historic traces to identify the camper — “Chuckawalla” Bill Simmons from Braddock, PA.  On his search he met family members and others who filled in Bill’s story including the Nevada camp.


Then there was the discovery of the identity of a 1910 North Pownal, Vermont child mill worker photographed by Lewis Hine.  Two amateur historians identified her as Addie Card.  An article in the September, 2006 Smithsonian tells their story.  After following leads in all types of records, they learned Addie’s history and even found and met with two of her adoptive descendants.

Naturally I purchased “Fortuna.”  Carole was your average beachcomber.  She and her daughter were walking the beach at Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island (LBI) in 1970.  She found several red tiles.  Years later she showed the tiles to a Manahawkin friend.  On some she could read, ARNAUD ETIENNE & Cie ST HENRY MARSEILLE.  Her friend, Lydie identified the tiles as debris from the ship Fortuna.  As a child, Lydie had seen the grounded ship.

The shoals off LBI were known as the graveyard of the Atlantic.  It was not uncommon for ships to run aground.  The Fortuna floundered in 1909.  An Italian ship out of the port of Trapani in Sicily.  The ship’s captain and owner was Giovan Adragna.  Aboard was his wife, two young daughters, and a baby born in Barbados weeks before.  His wife, Maria didn’t want to be left at home during the two year voyage.

“LBI’s first lifesaving station was built in Harviey Cedars in 1848.  All U.S. Life savings Stations were built. Exactly the same.  The shape and size of the building, both inside and out, were all alike.  There was a large boat room,  a kitchen, two sleeping compartments and a storage room.”   By the 1900s, the stations were staffed  by trained, paid  professionals.

Lifesaver Horace Cranmers discovered the stranded Fortuna  on January 18, 1910 while on patrol.   The Ship Bottom crew were first on the scene followed by other stations.  Lines were unsucessfully shot from a Lyle gun.  If established the line would be used to rescue individuals in a breeches buoy.  We have a personal interest in Lyle guns since Diane’s grandfather made them during World War II.

Life savings boats were launched.  But Captain Adragna was initially reluctant to abandon the Fortuna.  The lifesavers insisted and eventually all 17 on board were rescued, including the recently born Adragna baby.  They would be brought to the Ship Bottom station where they lived until transit back to Italy was arranged.

In April 1983, Carole and her husband, Greg, discovered more tiles but also the skeleton iron frame of the Fortuna.  Then there was a cannon like ball — could it be the anchor?  Carole became convinced that it was the ship’s anchor.

She mobilized local political and historical forces. The anchor was removed from the sand; fundraising financed a memorial in front of Ship  Bottom’s borough hall.  But for Carole, something was missing.  What happened to the baby?

Letters to Sicily lead to the discovery of two of Captain Adragna’s children, Giuseppe and  Severia (the baby born on the Fortuna in 1909).  Carole travel to Sicily and then brings Guiseppe and Severia to Ship Bottom for the dediation of the anchor in honor of their father.

Fortuna was a great story.  I need to go see the anchor in Ship Bottom and a mast that is used as a flagpole at the Beach Haven Little Egg Harbor Marina.  And I’ll continue to walk the beaches looking for traces of history.


LBI in mid-June


Sitting on the front porch of the Victoria Guest House.

Teens (actually actors) on the square, the swat of a softball, screaming, laughing, and clapping.

Laughing gulls cavorting and squalking on the beach.

Young boy and girl runs toward the waves; quick retreat.

Families quietly cycle by on deserted streets.

A gentle southeast breeze cools the hot afternoon sun on the beach.

An early evening storm blows through with lashing winds and rain.

Chicken and turkey sandwiches at Barry’s Do Me a Flavor

Salty, seaweed soaked, humid air on the bay.

Sitting on bench watching the ocassional passing boat in Sunset Park, Ship Bottom.

Victorian homes, basic gingerbread, cedar shakes, whites and gray; ocassionally Cape May colors.

White wicker, chairs, rockers and couches.

Petunias, day lilies, blue and white hydrangea,

Breakfast bowls of fresh fruit and homemade French toast, orange juice, coffee.

Barneget Lighthouse standing tall.

A still, quiet, broken by a distant chirping sparrow.

Horseshoe crabs seemingly mating in the surf.

Thousands in ocean beach chairs;  two young surfers; one daring jet skier.

Sun and heat waves glisten in a small backyard pool.

Church bells at noon in the distance. Again at six.

Footloose in the  reopened Surflight Theatre.

An elegant dinner at Stefano’s — local  Barneget scallops, BYOB.

A bucket of steamed clams at Polly’s Dock Clam House on the bay.

Reading the Beachcomber and Sand Paper.

An afternoon swim in Victoria’s pool.

Reading John Baily Lloyd’s History of LBI — Six Miles at Sea or Eighteen Miles of History.

Wandering through the many exhibits in the NJ Maritine Museum.

Photographs of Ship wrecks.

Bench sitting on the ocean at dusk.

Hearing stories of hurricane Sandy.

Chatting with some fisherman on the bay.

Memories of Mignoni-Profy Beach Haven vacations, flounder fishing with cousin Bill.

Ordering new shorts from L.L. Bean.

Chilly wind when the sun slides behind clouds.

Soft Shell Crabs at the Black Whale and Mud City crab cakes at Parker’s Garage.

Pistacchio ice cream one afternoon.

Elegant dining at Stefano’s — local Barneget scallops.

Clams Casino in honor of uncle.

Lunch at Ship Bottom Shellfish and Pearl Street Market.

LBI telephone memory chat with cousin Ellen.

Flashes of Uncle Frank and Aunt Ellen’s Harvey Cedars house.

Mignoni-Profy reunions.

Older women slowly walk the beach collecting shells.

Beach House, awful dinner. Sent rubbery tuna back.

Engleside hotel; photographs of original Engleside.

Flea Market on the square.

Take home clams and scallops from Surf City Fish Market.

LBI memories.

Sitting on the front porch of the Victoria.









In the Library


From the children’s collection, “Library Lion ” by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.  Published in 2006, it was a New York Times bestseller.  Everyone knows that you must be quiet and there is no running in a library.  But what will happen when a lion has the audacity to enter Mrs. Merriweather’s  library.  When her assistant, Mr. McBee came running down the hall, Mrs. Merriweather, called, “No running.”  “But there is a lion,” said Mr. McBee, “in the library.”  But he wasn’t “breaking any rules” so Mrs. Merriweather said,  “Then leave him be.”

Can you picture Mr. McBee and Mrs. Merriweather.  He is wearing plaid pants, a yellow suit coat, poka dot bow tie, close cropped hair and large glasses.  She is wearing a blue-gray frock, with lots of buttons and a belt, sensible shoes, a bun hairdo and oval glasses that she wears on the end of her nose.

After exploring the card catalog and stacks, the lion settles down for story hour.  But when the story hour ends, the lion roars, raahhhrrrr!  Corrected, he promises not to roar and Mrs. Merriweather says he can return tomorrow.  The lion begins to do all kinds of library chores, dusting encyclopedias, licking envelopes with overdue notices, helping children get books.  He always laid down with the children for story hour.


One day Mrs. Merriweather “stretches a little far for a book on the top shelf.  She falls.  The lion runs down the hall and roars at Mr.McBee.  McBee gasped, “Your breaking the rules.”  The lion knew what that meant and left the library.  McBee finds Mrs. Merriweather on the floor and calls the doctor.


Days pass. The lion does not return.  He was missed.  McBee decides to search the neighborhood; he eventually finds the lion and brings him back to the library.  Mrs. Merriweather runs to greet him.  “No running” Mr. McBee says. Everyone learns a lesson.   “But sometimes there was good reason to break the rules. Even in the library.”


Lions in front of the New York Public Library

I was in early elementary school when my father first took me to the Dorrance (Campbell soup family) street library in Bristol.  It was an old wood frame building; the librarian resembled Mrs. Merriweather, but had gray hair.  I was soon checking out books myself.  One strong image is finding that there was more than one “Wizard of Oz” book.  And the library’s copies were beautifully illustrated, first editions I believe.   I worked my way through the Hardy Boys, then Tom Swift, and other “boys” series.  I even tried a few Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books.

I also remember the librarian guiding me in late elementary to a new area labeled Junior classics.  There were Jules Verne books, “Robinson Crusoe,” “The Swiss Family Robinson,” “Huckleberry Finn,”  and “Tom Sawyer,”‘ possible some Dickens.  New worlds to explore.

The old Bristol Free Library was replaced by the Grundy Library on Radcliffe Street in the early 1960s.

Privately funded, it is probably one of the best libraries in the County.  I used it when it first opened, and when I first started teaching, off and on since then.  They had a great selection of LPs (many of historic interest) that I would check out for classroom use.  For years I borrowed a 20 plus set of blue bound,  facsimile books in early new world history to teach about primary sources (some were in Latin or languages other than English languages).  In the 1980s the librarian contacted me.  Since I wás the only one who used the books, would I like them. They are now part of the HGP collection. I’m sure they are checked out regularly.

My High School library at Holy Ghost Prep was a disappointment.  Father Curtin, later Brother Dominic served as librarian. Someone was buying easy to read series– biographies, books about saints or books about states.  I checked out a lot of books but also bought many paperbacks because I knew the school library offerings were not great or challenging reading.  In the summer of my sophomore year I took an American literature course at Neshaminy HS.  In my senior year, Father Dave Marshall taught a good literature course.  I began to read Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Twain, and other American authors.

I loved the Bapst Library at Boston College Library.

Although required reading books were usually purchased, library  books were used for research papers.  The subject of my first paper was Hemingway.  I read every book of criticism and biography in Bapst, even doctoral dissertations.  I then traveled to Boston University to supplement BC offerings.  No question I was a library person, a book person.  Bapst with its antique furnishings, low lights, long tables was also my favorite study venue. Footnote: after reading so much Hemingway criticism, I felt everything had been written.  Fortunately my professor, John McCarthy, helped me develop a topic —  “Huckleberry Finn and the Nick Adams stories.”  A well-known Hemingway critic stole the idea a year or so later?

When we moved to Yardley, the “Old Library on Lake Alton” became a special place.

It had been started as a private subscription library in the mid 1800s.  By the 1970s it was part of the County system.  It was small.  Books were two deep on the shelves.  But it was always an exciting place to visit.  They were purchasing new titles but also had a lot of older volumes — sometimes dusty.  The librarians were pretty typical.  But there was nothing better than walking to the library on a snowy evening for a good winter read.  When the County built a new local library in Lower Makefield township, the “Old Library” became the home of the Yardley Historical Association.  For many years I was active with the Association and presented quite a few slide programs on Yardley history.  It’s probably one of the most painted and photographed buildings in Bucks County.

In 1974 I was hired by Headmaster Francis Hanley as librarian at Holy Ghost Prep.  A Spiritan brother, Dominic Reardon, was the librarian. The library had been moved from a room on the third floor in my student days to the former first floor gym.  It was a good size room, nicely furnished but most of the books were not labeled with clear call numbers, there were few, if any, new purchases.  Donations were accepted from other libraries, even donated card catalog cards.  I disposed of thousands.    I don’t think many books were checked out.  The library pretty much served as a study hall for classes. (Ironically, since I’ve retired some faculty tell me the library is again a silent study hall.)

Hanley wanted me to run a more open library.  Let in the lion. Sometimes it roared.   I began taking courses for a MA degree in educational media.  Libraries were becoming labeled media centers.  I established a music center (problematic as kids would talk loud with earphones); a room for AV equipment and the software (film strips, tapes, slide programs) was set up for faculty. I established a relationship with the BCIU to borrow 16 mm films.  Sometimes I would feature a film  in the library.  I also managed several other small rooms — one as an audio lab, a darkroom and eventually a video room for taping.

I served as HGP’s librarian (always taught 3 courses, so it was not full time) for several years but was appointed Assistant Headmaster in the late 1970s.  For several years the library was managed by volunteer mothers until we hired a librarian, Jan Showler.  I went on to serve as Assistant Headmaster for over ten years but was destined to return to the library.

In 1989-90 I took a sabbatical to research and write my dissertation for an Ed.D program in educational leadership. When I returned I was offered the position of librarian. Since I was writing my dissertation (another story),  it was a good fit.  Several years later the HGP library moved to the first floor of a new building, Founder’s Hall.  Arlene Buettler was hired as a part-time assistant and I would continue to teach 2, sometimes 3 classes.

The new Holy Ghost Prep library was an extremely pleasant environment.  I was teaching several courses at LaSalle and Holy Family in the evenings and I continued to teach several courses at HGP.  What I enjoyed most was exposing students to a new book, a new idea, a new question.

For me a library has always been a special place, a space to think, to read, to write, to explore new worlds. There were rules but also reasons to break the rules.  It was good to let the lion into the library.    I would finish my education career as a librarian and part time classroom teacher.


New worlds, new ideas, even a bit of magic — all found in libraries.  You just need to look, listen, and read.                                              “Old Library on Lake Afton” Yardley.




City in a Park


I still find books on local history hard to resist.  My most recent read is “City in a Park: a history of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System,”  by James McClelland and Lynn Miller.  Temple University Press, 2016.  It’s a good coffee table book, lots of pictures, but unfortunately a rather bland text. The authors lack a distinctive perspective or style.  There is no strong personal story.  Still it is a good overview of Philadelphia’s Park system.


William Penn wanted to create a “greene countrie town.”  Fairmount and other city parks fulfilled that vision.  The beginning of the current Fairmount Park dates to the waterworks that was built in the early 1800s, on the “faire mount” that is shown along the banks of the Schuykill River on Thomas Holmes’s 1684 Plan for the City of Philadelphia.  The Plan also shows the four squares, one in each quadrant of the city, and one in the center. I discovered this plan- map from a company, Historic Urban Plans.  For years it was the only textbook for my Local History class at Holy Ghost Prep.


Center square became the site of a water pumping station.  Schuykill water was held in a reservoir on the mount, water was gravity fed to Center Square, and then it was pumped throughout the city.  Mid-century, after the Civil War, the City began acquiring land up the Schuykill, eventually on both sides, to protect the watershed from industrial development, pollution.  Philadelphia would have safe, good, clean water.   In the 1830s, a “rural garden for the dead,” Laurel Hill Cemetery was built in the watershed.  Victorians wanting to escape the heat, congestion, and filth of  the city would visit the waterworks and Laurel Hill.

Some of the land the city purchased came with country estates.  The first was Lemon Hill  (initally developed by Revolutionary War financier, Robert Morris — Morrisville in Bucks County.)  Some of these estates are now known as the country houses of Fairmount Park — Mount Pleasant, Strawberry Mansion, Woodford, Sweetbriar, Cedar Grove, Belmont, Rockland and Stenton. Some are decorated and opened to the public for a Christmas tour; we did it one year with Rob and Lisa Buscaglia. Beautiful.


A few houses stand out.  Solitude, the home of Penn’s grandson, John, is still standing in the Philadelphia Zoo.   John Bartram, the first American botanist’s house is very unique.   Several years ago we took a boat ride to Bartram’s, there was time to tour the house and gardens.  In the gift shop, we were drawn to several whimiscal botanical illustrations by MF Cardamone.  We noticed that the artist’s studio was on Righter’s Mill road in Gladwyne —  Jen and Rob live on Righter’s.  We visited the artist’s studio and purchased a print; a few weeks later, we purchased two for Jenny at a show Cardamone was having at the Academy of Natural Science.  Very neat; and local.


Many years ago we visited Rittenhouse Town, a colonial paper mill complex on the Wissahickon creek — it feeds into the Schuykill and is part of Fairmount Park.  I believe they had paper making classes.  Another place we visited many years ago was the Japanese House and Garden, Shofuso, in western Fairmount.  They hosted tea ceremonies; I should see if they still have them.  Nearby is Memorial Hall, one of the few buildings left from the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Festival.  It served as the city art museum and more recently is the Please Touch children’s museum.  We’ve taken Eli and Viv to the museum.  Maybe we should do it again  — they’re getting too old.  The only other extant Centennial building is the Ohio house, now a small cafe.  Delightful place for  lunch.


The Schuykill is known for boating, the club houses of Boathouse Row, the Schuykill Navy was the first amateur athletic association, the statue of John Kelly, who was ruled ineligible to compete in Britain’s Henley Regatta because he worked with his hands.  He went on to the Olympics. We have never attended a Schuykill regatta.  This should be high on our local field trip list.  The Smith Memorial Playground is another interesting place in the park that we have never visited.  Grandkids may have been there; We should  take them again.

On a number of trips, we’ve explored the  Wissahickon Valley part of the Park.  There is a road along  the creek, Forbidden Drive.  No cars.  Valley Green, a way station on the trail,  now a restaurant, lunch stop for walkers.  Jenny lived and went to college nearby at Philadelphia University has many memories associated with the Forbidden Drive walk.


“City in the Park” devotes several chapters to sculpture in Fairmount Park, in fact sculpture throughout the city.  Philadelphia has an ordinance that requires certain types of new construction to contribute to public sculpture.  Much of the older sculpture was memorials to the famous — George Washington, General George Meade, Benjamin Franklin, Marquis de Lafayette,  Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, even Joan of Arc. The list goes on.

Then there are the classical inspirations.  Alexander Calder’s “Fountain of the Three Rivers” at Logan Circle; (where I shot some of Jenny and Rob’s pre-wedding pictures);   or “The Wrestlers,” in Fairmount; and “Prometheus Strangling the Vulture” at the Art Museum.

Rodin’ “The Thinker” is in front of the Rodin Museum; “Rocky,” yes, Stallone from the movie, is currently in front of the Art Museum. It is one of the most visited tourist spots in the City.  My grandson, Eli recently, celebrated something by running up the museum steps and posing with Rocky.


There are many modern, sometimes abstract, and sometimes controversial sculptures.  The most famous in Robert Indiana’s “Love.”  It’s a classic Philadelphia photo op — looking down (or is it up) the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Across from City Hall is Claes Oldenburg’s “The Clothespin,” and at the entrance to the Benjamin Franklin bridge is Noguchi’s “Bolt of Lightning” —  Franklin, kites, lighting; very Philadelphia.

The “City in a Park”  has a chapter on the original squares that date to the Holmes 1680s plan.  Today they are called Franklin, Washington. Rittenhouse and Logan.  Originally Philadelphia Quakers would not honor individuals, so the squares were know by compass points — northeast, southwest etc.  Another  chapter is about the creation of the turn of the century, “City Beautiful” movement that created the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (modeled on the Champ Elysees).


When I read a book like “City in the Park” I am ready for local field trips. I want to explore and photograph the Park from my perspective.  It will take more than onE trip.  Maybe a summer project!  Well, summer and fall. Maybe.





Isaac’s Storm


I recently read or heard a headline “Atlantic hurricane season to be more active than normal.”  I get fear flashes.  My first hurricane experience was as a young kid in Bristol, Connie (missed us) followed by Diane (hit the Delaware Valley).  Both in August 1955.  I was eight years old.  I remember my father protecting our store’s plate glass windows with plywood, the winds howling down Mill Street,  the river rising, into the Mill street parking lot, then our warehouses filled with  the store’s GE appliances.  There were rows of refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and stoves.  The day after,  my father and an employee, Harry, moved the damaged goods to a building up town on higher ground.   I have a strange recollection that Harry was working in his undershorts.  Strange but vivid?    Were they insured?

In the late 1970s, Diane and I had bought a small riverside house in Yardley Borough.  We bought directly from the owner, I don’t remember any talk about flooding.  Certainly nothing had happened since Diane in 1955.  But it soon became obvious Diane’s waters had flooded our new house.  Windows were wracked; mud crusted beams in the basement.  Later renovations showed flood waters had reached about 3 feet on the first floor.

Years passed.  Ocassionally the river rose, particularly in the spring snow thaw.  We learned to read the Trenton station — on the telephone then the Internet. .  Normal river height was 9-10 feet.  At 17 feet water was crossing River road in Yardley.  At 20 it was in the back yard — up through storm drains.   At 23 our basement was filled with water. In 1996 there were high levels in the neighborhood but no damage to us.   The worse never happened.  Until 2004.

For the next three years, we flooded.  Some due to hurricanes.  Our basement filled with water, destroying electrical, furnace, and whatever we had left ground level or below.  So now when I hear “Atlantic hurricane season to be more active than normal,” I perk up.

For some reason, last week, I decided to reread, “Isaac’s Storm: a man, a time, and the deadliest hurricane in history.”  The author, Erik Larson, tells an amazing tale.  He writes, “This is the story of Isaac and his time in America, the last turning of the centuries, when the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself. ”


A short summary:  1900, a storm develops off Cuba, the National Weather Service reports it will track up the Atlantic Coast.  Cuban forecasters who  are not respected by the NWS are blocked broadcasting an alternative route. Isaac, the NWS man in Galveston, Texas, follows the Washington-party line. The storm must turn to the northeast.

The storm, a major hurricane, heads west, not northeast, and hits Galveston. About 6,000 die, the city is destroyed, Isaac’s  wife is lost in the waters, could we have predicted, prevented this?

Galveston rebuilds.  Just as New Orleans would rebuild after Katrina.  And on a smaller scale Yardley, my Rivermawr neighborhood, would rebuil after three floods in three years.  Some due to hurricane waters.

I worry about the coming hurricane season even though we elevated our house.  Our flooding is made worse (higher) by man made dams on the river in New York.  They are kept at 100% capacity and spill water in heavy rains.  Should the dams in NY be kept at less than 100% to povisde  space for some upriver rain?

And then there is global warming, higher ocean waters, hurricanes and increased flooding.  Should we have policies to slow man’s impact on global warming?