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The Anti-Climax: August 29 – September 30, 2012

Our original plan was to start The Journey with a one month visit to the New England area.  But my back injury just three weeks before our departure changed our itinerary.  We high-tailed it to St. Augustine instead for two months of medical attention and recuperation before settling in Gulf Shores, Alabama for the first winter. So we tacked the New England visit on the end.

There was plenty of adventure in 2012 in our first 35 months, as earlier chapters of the travelogue attest.  But the final month was different. While we enjoyed the opportunity to see friends and family, we found ourselves entertaining daily and traveling through overly-familiar territory, both of which made it feel like it was already over. Nor were we excited about the cost for lodging for the final 24 days — it was 82% higher than the nightly average for the balance of the trip!

To summarize:  We spent Labor Day week in the northwest corner of Massachusetts (Bernardston), then we moved on to the Boston/Cape Cod areas before spending time in the Connecticut River Delta, our most “connected” spot in New England.  Finally, we parked for a week just a few miles south of Philadelphia in Clarksboro, NJ.  That last stop gave us the opportunity to have a reunion with both Dot’s mom and stepdad, Grace and Bill, who live in eastern PA, and with her brother and his partner, Stan and Ray, who live near Sandy Hook, NJ.  

And yes — we did get to get some new education!   

Massachusetts

We started with Historic Deerfield, not far from Bernardston. It’s known today for both its historic preservation and for Deerfield Academy, a prestigious private high school. Deerfield dates back to circa 1670, when colonists to the east were issued questionable grants for this territory about 80 miles inland. The area at the time was occupied by the Algonquian speaking Pocumtuck tribe, who were soon routed by the Mohawks.  At the turn of the 18th century, during Queen Anne’s War, the French descended from Quebec and, with assistance from local Native Americans, devastated the village, killing over 50 of its citizens and marching another 112 north in something akin to a shorter Trail of Tears.  Most of the captives were eventually repatriated, and Deerfield grew quietly, along with surrounding communities, for the next century and a half — famous only for its bellicose beginning.  To this day, no one is sure why it suffered so, since there’s nothing strategic about the area.

In the Colonial Revival years of the late 19th century, an association was formed to preserve the historic roots of a portion of the community and to commemorate the military deprivation it suffered. The biggest impetus to their effort was the return to town of descendant Charlotte Baker. She sponsored one of the earliest colonial restorations in New England by revitalizing and timely furnishing of her family homestead, Frary House.  Today, there are approximately a dozen association properties open to ether self-guided or conducted tours.  In addition, there is a visitor’s center, a full-service inn, a museum, an apprentice workshop with craft exhibits, gardens, other collections and workshops — and, of course, a gift shop. The Academy sits in the middle of it all, and numerous privately owned and occupied homes are interspersed throughout.

No photography was allowed within the properties, but there was plenty of stuff to shoot in the museum.  A sampling is below.  Henry and Helen Grier, philanthropists from Greenwich, Connecticut, took a fancy to the town when they delivered their son to the Academy in 1936. They bought up many of the houses and thousands of antiquities, which today enrich the exhibit. With ever-limited museum floor space, Deerfield cleverly exhibits its warehouse behind glass. The first picture is an original volume of the seven volume epic by Rev. Cotton Mather, The Ecclesiastical History of New England, published in 1702.  The last picture includes some old Nantucket Lightship Baskets!

The next adventure took us to Shelburne Falls for a pair of fascinating exhibits. Shelburne Falls is a village linking the towns of Shelburne and Buckland, located on opposite sides of the Deerfield River.  An old iron bridge connected the two.  In 1896, the Shelburne Falls and Colrain Street Railway began service to connect the two towns and run north to Colrain on the Vermont border.  In order to travel its seven mile route, it had to cross the River, and, while the iron bridge was sufficient to handle the Railway,  Buckland selectmen refused passage.  So freight was laboriously barged across the river until 1907, when SFCSR built its own span next to it. Commuters, schoolchildren, farmers and merchants rode the rails for about 25 years, when “progress” and the automobile forced the Railway into receivership in 1927.  Its workhorse car, #10, the only one purchased new, was sold off to a farmer who used it as a chicken coop.

Sixty five years later, #10 was donated to the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. The Museum, founded for the purpose of restoring both #10 and its “age,” is based in the old Buckland freight yard.  In 2009 the fully-restored car started a short run back and forth to Main Street with tourists and a historian aboard.  One track over, young and old alike are invited to hop aboard a pump car and make it go along a parallel route under the stern leadership of a retired schoolmarm.  Also received and restored is a wooden caboose, CV-4015, built in 1910.  Museum exhibits themselves are lagging behind rolling stock, but they are the focus of the future.

 An what of the bridge? Abandoned by the railroad, it became an eyesore but still served as an aqueduct, carrying water across the River to Buckland.  Its future was sealed by the ingenuity of one Mrs. Antoinette Burnham who, along with husband Walter, proposed that the bridge become a garden. The Fire District purchased the span, and over the next two years, the Women’s Club led the charge to raise dollars and inspire volunteers to turn it into a floral delight. Today, the Bridge of Flowers Organization maintains and enhances it yearly, despite such plagues as Hurricane Irene and early/late snowstorms!

We moved on to Littleton, Mass, where we availed ourselves of two area landmarks never before visited. (You know how you neglect stuff in your own back yard.) The first was the city of Salem, which yielded two venues: The House of the Seven Gables and The Salem Witch Museum.

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Roger Conant

 

First things first. If you enter the core of the town, at the common, you witness an imposing statue of a very strange looking man. He’s right next to the Witch Museum, so you might quickly think he’s a sinister part of that experience. But he isn’t; he’s Roger Conant, the founder of Salem.  Arriving in Plymouth around 1623, he moved north to Cape Ann within a couple of years, most likely because of the harshness and vindictiveness that had risen in the original Colony.  In 1626, he was named the first Governor of the English settlers in Salem.  

 

 

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Salem Harbor

The House of the Seven Gables is actually a historic district consisting of half a dozen buildings interspersed with beautiful strolling gardens.  It is located adjacent to Salem’s prosperous harbor.  The “House” itself was built by sea captain and merchant John Turner in 1668 and occupied by three generations of his family before being sold to Captain Samuel Ingersoll in 1782. When Ingersoll died at sea, title passed to his daughter Susanna, whose friendship with her cousin Nathaniel Hawthorne led to the author’s glorification of the property in his immensely popular novel.  Fast forwarding to 1908, philanthropist Caroline Emmerton bought the property and teamed with architect Joseph Everett Chandler to return it to original form.  At this time, three of the gables were gone!  Emmerton eventually brought five other buildings to the site for restoration, including Hawthorne’s birthplace.  They are still in various stages of completion. A docent gave us an intimate tour of the Seven Gables house itself, including a building block model that shows its de-evolution in stages and its return to birthright.

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The Salem Witch Museum

 

Returning to the spookier part of town, we signed on for the program in the Salem Witch Museum. Seated on benches along the sides of a large room, we experienced the story through a series of life-sized dioramas that were lit in turn as the tale unfolded. The trials, in 1692, led to the hanging of 19 presumably innocent people. One of the chief judges in the trials was Justice John Hathorne (not a typo).  He was the only one who didn’t renounce and repent for his involvement once the hysteria was over.  The great grandfather of Nathaniel, it is believed that the author inserted the “w” into his name to dissociate himself from his illustrious forebear.

 

 

Our second excursion from Littleton took us to Lowell, Massachusetts, a thriving industrial city that sits on the Merrimack River about 30 miles northwest of Boston. Born in 1820 as the Lowell Experiment, it became America’s textile center and the first factory town in the Nation. It has been referred to, in fact, as the Cradle of the American Industrial Revolution. A century later, it was devastated as its industries shrunk and relocated. While it still has an identity crisis of sorts, it has become a model for the rebirth of former manufacturing centers; it has a lot of toney features and is a suburban residential community.

Our destination involved Lowell’s artistic side.  Today, it is an enclave for the arts, and those roots go back as far as James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The famous “mother-painter” was born in Lowell in 1834, where his father, a West Point civil engineer, was Chief Engineer of the Proprietors of Locks and Dams.  James’s tenure in Lowell was brief; within three years his father became firmly implanted in the railroad industry.   Over the next few years, they lived in other New England cities, then moved to England and on to Russia in 1842, where James studied drawing at the Imperial Academy of Science.  His father became a consultant on the building of Russia’s first major railroad.   He returned to America after his father’s death, where he flunked out of West Point and pursued a career in technical drawing.  By 1855, however, he was committed to a fine arts career and returned to Europe for the rest of his life.

Adjacent to the house is a lovely park, presided over by a statue of the artist by international sculptor Mico Kaufman.  It is surrounded by a circular set of keystones that chart Whistler’s life that are enhanced with spacious grounds.

Whistler painted his best known work, Arrangement in Grey and Black, in 1872. The story goes that the original model for the work did not show up and Whistler convinced his mother to pose.  The work was originally meant to have the model standing, but Anna was too frail to stand for the whole session. Thus we have Arrangement in Grey and Black, #1: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother.  It was followed a year later by #2, a portrait of Thomas Carlyle.

 

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The Whistler Home/Museum

Today, Whistler’s home is the Whistler House Museum of Art. It contains no original Whistler paintings, but the second floor does display a major collection of his etchings. Dominating the parlor is an exact scale copy of the painting of his mother executed by Edith Fairfax Davenport, a cousin of the artist, in 1906.  In the Grand Hallway, Main Gallery and Portrait Gallery, there are numerous oils from the late 19th/early 20th century by New England representational artists, including a fine portrait of the artist’s father, George Washington Whistler.

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Bernie

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Bill

Behind the house is the Parker Gallery, which houses contemporary and historical fine arts exhibitions and sponsors community and educational programs.  The exhibit in place during our visit was entitled Bernie and Bill; it highlighted the work of two local stalwarts.  

 

Bernie is Bernard Petruzziello, born in Boston, graduate of the MFA School, teacher, and exemplary producer of fine figure drawings and paintings. Now 76, he lost his sight in the nineties from retinosis pigmentosa, but he continues to work, though now more abstract. “Although I can no longer see, I still vividly remember colors,” he says. “My painting feels freer to me now. Before I felt like I had to adhere to the “rules” of painting. Now, with the help of other artists and my wife, I mix my own colors, measure my canvas, and think about what colors to use. My painting is much more emotional now.”

Bill is Vassilios Giavis, born in Lowell in 1929. He graduated from Mass. College of Art and is a member of the prestigious Copley Society. He illustrates and paints scenes that often develop into series, such as churches, town halls, diners or historic buildings. He once did a series on Jack Kerouac, another Lowell native son, including birthplace, high school, haunts and memorial park. Their works, interspersed, were something we became infatuated with. I was impressed enough to borrow the above two images from the gallery’s advertising card, Bernie’s Model Resting and Bill’s Lowell City Hall.

Bill Giavis has a studio in Lowell’s Brush Gallery. We didn’t get there, but we have been at similar facilities, including the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA and the Foundry Art Centre in St. Charles, MO.  Each is an artistically but minimally converted factory building holding exhibition and studio space for artists in residence.  Some artists post regular hours, but often it’s hit or miss on who you get to talk to!

Cape Cod and Connecticut Reunions

Both Cape Cod and Connecticut were people stops rather than adventure stops. It was nostalgic driving down to Woods Hole to pick up my longtime friend Mary Jean Miner, who ferried over from The Vineyard to see us.  (I made dozens of trips on that ferry — and its sister ships to Nantucket — during my years living in New England.)

I said earlier that the Connecticut River Delta was our “most connected spot.” The explanation is a bit long, but I hope you’ll bear with me.  As a young person, growing up in the NYC area in the fifties, I sailed the New England coast many times with my family.  When Mom and Dad moved to the Hartford area, the boat’s home port became Saybrook, CT,  just inside the mouth of the Connecticut River.  One of my favorite harbors was Duck Island Roads, a tiny island nearby. 

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Duck Island Roads in Long I. Sound

I met Don Fowler, an art director from Meriden, CT, when I was living in Boston in the late 60s. We quickly became close friends.  He rented a summer place — “Kitch’s Cottage” — from an old family friend each September — at which I misspent much of my early middle age.  The cottage was on the Long Island Sound shoreline in plain view of . . . Duck Island Roads!  In 1972, he met and married a lovely woman, Marilyn Lee, and that made the good times even better!  He died too young in 1984, but I still visited Marilyn and her kids. She also kept up the tradition of renting the Cottage each September, until she passed on in 2008.

I first met Dot about the time that Don died. By sheer coincidence, she had roots in the same Connecticut area; she’d lived in Middletown, about 30 miles north.  She often traveled up there with me, and she re-kindled a relationship with her cousin Bobby Gay, giving us another compelling reason to travel more to our area of apparent destiny!  Bobby and his wife Hazel welcomed us warmly into their home; we felt like members of their already large family.  They possessed a lifetime of RVing experience, and we delighted in swapping stories about our adventures.  Bobby also has encyclopedic knowledge of the area, especially the River itself.

 This past summer, Dot wrote to Bobby and Hazel now in their 90’s, to let them know of our plans to visit. We hadn’t been in touch since before we left. Shortly before our arrival, we learned from their daughter, Linda, that physical problems had forced Bobby to move into a continuing care facility.  When we visited with him, he was totally sound of mind and delightful as ever — happy with his computer, surrounded by artwork of boats on the River, and dictating an oral history to his children and grandchildren.  Linda met us there, making the visit even more special.  

At the same time, Hazel had surgery complicated by a heart attack.  She was still in ICU when we visited but destined to have her own room in the same facility when released. She made it to her room across the hall.  The day after her arrival, they took a joint wheelchair spin through the facility. He tucked her in bed that night, but she never woke up again.  God, in his mercy, gave Bobby a special opportunity to share those final moments with his beloved Hazel.

New Jersey/Pennsylvania

Dot’s mom (Grace) wasn’t very mobile; she’d had to undergo minor back surgery shortly before our arrival. But she gamely sat through a car ride from Pottstown, PA while the boys drove south from their home on the New Jersey shore for a Dot ‘n Don cookout. A fun time was had by all, including seven – count ‘em – Schipperkes. Stan and Ray brought along Sadie, Neptune and Frederick (aka Lucifer, the demon dog) to visit with our gang. Fred and Schip-Dude spent a lot of time outdoing each other, but no one other than the demon was found repeatedly in the middle of the dining table! They are all just plain fun to watch.

Dot made several visits back over to see Grace. At just about the mid-point of that trip was Valley Forge, which neither of us had ever studied. So we gave it a day and visited the Valley Forge National Historical Park — skipping the Premium Outlets, 5-star restaurants, trendy bistros, hotels (sixty of ’em), romantic inns, and the USA’s largest retail shopping mall. Oh, if George and Company could see the place now . . .

The site is 3,500 acres, hardly a walking tour. We began at the Visitor’s Center and partook of the introductory movie, which served to debunk much of the myth surrounding the settlement.  Often viewed as a destructive, demoralizing disaster that virtually wiped out the fledgling force, the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge was actually a period of reincarnation. No one would claim that the winter of ’77-’78 was a bed of roses.  Standing in snow in bare feet with comrades around you succumbing to disease was not looked back upon as your favorite time.  But Washington had amassed a crew of devoted patriots, and they were not about to give up.  There were frequent and repeated supply convoys from the north and west, keeping up the spirits of gallant men who were fresh from somewhat successful combat.

Each company built its own accommodations, with prizes for quickest completion, and they varied greatly depending on the geography of the team.

Firmly entrenched, General Washington implemented the next step. Aware that his army could not beat the British on their terms, he enlisted the services of Baron Friederich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben, a tactical genius, to anneal his men into a proficient marching machine. Von Steuben spoke no English; he taught through example and occasional translation.  And the results quickly became evident.

Commander Howe and his British regulars fought hard to take Philadelphia that fall, and Washington’s army stationed itself close enough to observe and keep the British confined while far enough away to avoid a surprise raid.  The French duly recognized the United States and promised help in May, 1778, after which the British evacuated Philadelphia and ran into the new American force they’d never seen before. The rest, as they say, is history.

Surveying the many artifacts at the museum, we learned — among other things — the origin of “pieces of eight” and of “two bits” (last two pictures).

Driving the grounds, we stopped at numerous points of interest and then wound up at the Valley Forge Railroad Station, which contained a number of graphics highlighting Washington’s command.

It was from there that tours formed to visit the nearby Washington’s Headquarters, a stone house owned and loaned by Isaac Potts.  A docent tour was provided there, but no one could explain how it could possibly accommodate as many as 25 staff members at a time!  Being in the presence of the very place where discussions and planning preserved the birth of our Nation, however, was one more awe-inspiring experience to crown our trip.

The Park was rife with monuments and memorials to the heroes of the Revolution. The National Memorial Arch heralds  all the officers and soldiers of the Army.

The  The Pennsylvania Columns contain four plaques commemorating officers from the Keystone State. The plaque shown below, right features Brig. Generals John Armstrong and Peter Muhlenberg.

The statue is of General  Anthony Wayne (1745-1797).  A thriving tanner in Pennsylvania, he began military training in 1765 and was appointed a colonel at the start of the Revolution.  Five months later, he was promoted to Brigadier General and ordered to join Washington’s army.  He led his troops into many battles, and in June of 1779, he recorded one of the more notable victories of the war.  He was appointed Commanding General of the Legion of the United States in 1792, a force that fought in the Indian Wars.  His nickname — “Mad” Anthony Wayne — was related only to his temper.  He was abundantly competent and called upon to lead many of the toughest assignments by his Commander in Chief.

Maryland

We made the short trip to Churchton on the 30th and stayed over at a campground near our house, wanting to visit before actually reclaiming it.  While the exterior had not received as much TLC as we might have hoped, the interior was spotless and ready to move back in. Ensuing time revealed a few surprises, but we could not have selected a better tenant. On Monday morning, we brought our home-on-wheels to our home-on-foundation and began re-assimilation.

My funk deepened.  It actually began back on April 30, the day we left Elko, Nevada and turned east. It took an unhealthy dip when we crossed the Mississippi, and it tanked when we entered the eastern time zone.  Truth be told, my druthers were to continue the trip perpetually.  Not so fast, says Dot, who yearns for a bit less temporal existence, at least for a while.  So we’ve gone home.  

No, wait – we’ve only gone home for 85 days, after which we’ll chug off to Florida for the winter.  

So we’re certainly not done traveling.  Stand by . . . . . . . . .

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