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.





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.


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.



September of my years.

It’s been four months sine I retired. It’s been a good 4 months. Although I started this blog the day of  my retirement and continued for several weeks I failed to keep it going. I am determined to change that. I want to record the good life. An update of the past quarter year of retirement.

We did get to travel quite a bit — Boston, Hudson Valley, Cape Cod, Nantucket, Vermont, DC and Montpelier Virginia, and the Blue Ridge.  Our trip to Maine this month had to be cancelled.  I could say all the travel  is why I didn’t blog but that would be a lame excuse.

In addition to travel, I have tried to do a Philadelphia explore (often by train) about once a week. Diane has joined some trips — Constitution Center, Ebenezer Maxwell House in Germantown, the Parkway walk this past Sunday. Most of my city explores have been serendipity — no plans, wander the city, lunch (Alma De Cuba, Vietnam). Would like to expand this to NYC explores. One day trip was the Paglione-Profy beer Fest. John and I went to four brew pubs and quite a few bars.  We have also done quite a few NJ explores or Bucks County field trips.

Some routines have been established. Most mornings I walk on the canal — 2 or 3 miles. Some reading in the afternoon and movies at night. Trying to play more music. Actually dug out some tapes — inspired by a book I was reading that profiled a WV group, Trapezoid. We had tapes. Have also continued to cook, particularly bread baking. King Arthur class in VT was fantastic.  Some routines have not been established. On the table are bike riding, yoga and meditation.

The garden took a lot of time this year. About 300 pounds of tomatoes. And similar harvests of lettuce and other greens, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, some cucumbers, radishes and giant sunflowers. Our herbs did not do well. The gardening is one thing, cooking and preserving is another. Freezing things led to canning when the freezer was filled. In addition to the canned vegetables, I made blueberry jam and a peach-apricot jam. More to follow. The big advance was getting in a fall garden. A few weeks late but hopefully we will get some harvest and the gardens are prepared for Spring.

People contact has been a a real fun part of retirement. We have spent time with Viv and Eli — regular baby sitting gigs. I have been in contact with HGP alumni, close friends have visited, and I just meet more people. Whether it is someone on a canal walk, in a garden center, downtown Yardley, riding the train or walking around Philadelphia. I think this is because retirement allows moving at a slower pace. Time to talk, time to smell the flowers.

There is a lot that I have not done.  Projects that I should start.  And there is  a lot more I want to write about and detail more but enough for this morning.  I

I saw three Blue Herons on the canal this week.  I watch them stand, walk slowly, deliberately, pause, stand still, look, another step, then dart forward catching something to eat.  My image for today is the Great Blue.



Field Trips, exploring the nearby



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

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

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

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

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




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


image image image

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

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



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