From Teachers To Trash Collectors, This Is The Week To Tell Them “Thank You!”

The first thing I admired about Ed Shevlin was his hefty right forearm, all tatted up with the most magnificent portrait of Saint Patrick, Celtic knots and a proud declaration of the Irish word “Saoirse,” which means “freedom.”

To someone whose right forearm is tatted out with shamrocks and Celtic swirls — but just on Halloween and Saint Patrick’s Day — this love of our shared ancestry brings new meaning to wearing your heart on your sleeve.

But the more important thing about Mr. Shevlin is what he’s accomplished, both during and after his career in public service. Not long ago, this husky, cigar-smoking man was a New York City sanitation worker who spoke Gaelic to the locals as he hauled away their trash along his route in the Rockaways in Queens. In his down time, he participated in Irish-American cultural events, worked toward a bachelor’s degree in Irish studies, and studied Irish, both at home and abroad. Now that he’s retired, he’s pursing a graduate degree in Irish and Irish-American studies, and he’s writing about an Irish republican from the Rockaways who fought for Irish independence in the 1916 Easter Rising. No wonder the New York Times chose to profile him first in 2011 (complete with a must-see video) and again this past March.

It’s time to pay tribute to people like Mr. Shevlin who have chosen to spend their careers serving the public. Welcome to the first day of Public Service Recognition Week, the annual celebration during the first week of May that honors federal, state, county and local government employees.

For those of us who help to provide public employees with a secure retirement, celebrating public service is something we do every day. But in 2000, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio developed some special ways to honor Ohio’s public educators that continue to have meaning today.

To celebrate its 80th anniversary that year, STRS developed Discovery Park, an area at its headquarters that stretches alongside South 5th Street, between East Broad and East Oak Streets.STRS Discovery Park

Water features and an abundance of gingko trees make Discovery Park a very pleasant place to visit, especially during a lunch hour on a beautiful day — once the fountains are turned on for the season.


The park’s most recognizable feature is its “Journey to Learning” statue. Sculpted by George Danhires, an STRS member, the statue celebrates the relationship between students and their teachers. The wall, blocks, numbers and letters incorporated into the piece stand for the challenges children face as they develop an understanding of the fundamental concepts of learning. Students are depicted accepting the challenges that come with learning, with teachers standing by to help and encourage them in their educational journey.Journey to Learning

Look around and there’s plenty to see, but what really matters lies under your feet. Take a closer look at the bricks on the ground and you’ll see that they’re inscribed with the names of thousands of former and current STRS members who have served the public by helping others discover the joy and the value of learning. The brick contributed by my mother, Suzanne Heinmiller Butler, a Columbus Public Schools Kindergarten teacher for 40 years, is located in section D of the park.

STRS Discovery Park

The park was dedicated on August 27, 2000.  Here’s my mother posing with her brick at the dedication.Suzanne Heinmiller Butler with her brick at STRS Discovery Park,, August 27, 2000

Two more Downtown features celebrate the value of public service through teaching. For its 75th anniversary, STRS members and retirees commissioned two bronze bas-relief statues in the Map Room of the Ohio Statehouse. Both reliefs were created by George Danhires of Kent, Ohio, and dedicated in November 1995.

One relief depicts a teacher reading with her students in a one-room schoolhouse. Spencerian script, a copy of Ray’s Arithmetic and a McGuffey Reader, all products of Ohio, are in the background. A list of presidents from Ohio appears on the chalkboard.

Bas relief at Ohio StatehouseThe other portrays a modern classroom scene in which students receive instruction in social studies. A teacher in the background signs the words “to learn” in recognition of the nation’s first state school for the deaf founded in Ohio in 1829. The background celebrates the achievements of Ohioans, including astronauts Neil Armstrong, from Wapakoneta, and John Glenn, from New Concord, as well as Dayton aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Bas relief at Ohio Statehouse

Public Service Recognition Week officially ends on May 7, but there’s no expiration date for showing your appreciation of the public servants you know.

Posted in Columbus, Miscellanea | Leave a comment

Granville’s Daffodils Mean The Sweetness Of The Year Is Here

In March 1980, we joined the throng that flocks to Granville during one April weekend for the annual Granville Garden Club Daffodil Show.

Granville Daffodil Show, 1980

The show has been a spring tradition since 1945, when the Granville Garden Club decided to cheer up their fellow villagers, all weary from World War II. Club members picked 94 different specimens of daffodils, placed them in bottles down the center of the Granville Public Library’s reading room, put daffodil arrangements in the windows, and invited Granville residents to see the free display. The show has moved to different locations around town, but its purpose remains constant – to encourage the study of classification, hybridization, planting and arrangement of daffodils.

Granville Daffodil Show

This year, we revived our family tradition and attended the 71st Annual Granville Garden Club Daffodil Show at Bryn Du.

Granville Daffodil Show

There, we studied the rare specimens of the over 400 varieties of daffodils that bloom in Granville…Granville Daffodil Show

and admired the creative arrangements of Granville-grown daffodils made by Garden Club members.Granville Daffodil Show

The show’s theme — A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Greener Earth — encouraged attendees to practice and enjoy the beauty of sustainable gardening. Information sheets were provided on attracting birds, bees and butterflies to a garden, as well as how to create your own herbicides and pest repellants easily and inexpensively.

After strolling through Shakespeare’s Enchanted Wood, we entered the mansion’s large living room, which features mahogany trim, a medallioned ceiling and bookcases filled with examples of all sorts of tantalizing early-20th century bookbindings.  The walls were adorned with hand-lettered banners with quotations from Shakespeare plays, such as “When daffodils begin to peer, why then comes in the sweetness of the year,” from Act IV, Scene II of The Winter’s Tale.

Granville Daffodil Show

Charming miniature flower arrangements were displayed on deep windowsills.

Granville Daffodil Show

In one room devoted to fairy gardens, a couple of winged fairies channeled Titania and Oberon as they served complimentary homemade cookies and chilled spa water flavored with raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and cucumbers. Other club members took orders for daffodil bulbs that will be available for pickup in October for fall planting. This year’s show specials included Barrett Browning, Grower’s Pride, Brooke Ager, Puppet, Blushing Lady, Tristar, Wisley, x odorus Linnaeus, Candy Princess and Geranium daffodil varieties.Granville Daffodil Show

Children gathered on the patio to make a wreath of silk flowers to wear on their heads. Adults joined them to select six daffodils and tie a peach-colored satin ribbon around them to make a complimentary take-home bouquet.Granville Daffodil Show

Attending the show also gave us the long-awaited opportunity to explore Bryn Du, the historic Granville landmark that we have only been able to admire from afar.

Henry D. Wright, a local general store owner, originally built an Italianate villa on the 52-acre site in 1865, using sandstone quarried from the property. Several other owners followed, including John Sutphin Jones, a successful executive in the railroad and coal industries who purchased the property in 1905. Jones hired Columbus architect Frank Packard to renovate the mansion into a Georgian Federal-style home, construct several outbuildings and create a 32-acre polo field across the front of the site. Jones christened his home Bryn Du, meaning “black hill” in Welsh, recalling how the hills behind the house were the source of its sandstone walls. Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Lillian Gish, Paderewski and Rachmaninoff all visited Jones at his home.

Granville Daffodil Show

After Jones died in 1927, his daughter, Sallie Jones Sexton, a breeder and trainer of show horses, inherited the property. In 1976, facing debts estimated at $1.6 million, Sexton divided and sold Bryn Du Farm at a sheriff’s sale. The 52-room mansion was renovated into a restaurant in 1979; ten years later, it became the headquarters of Quest International. Dave Longaberger purchased it in 1995, renovating the estate to include game courts and field house facilities until his death in 1999. In 2002, the village of Granville purchased the property to use for community events.

Granville Daffodil Show

Watch the Granville Garden Club’s website for information about next year’s Daffodil Show and other upcoming events.

Posted in Architecture, Flowers, History, Ohio | Leave a comment

Can You Hear Them? Can You See Them? Yes, You Can, At The Robbins Hunter Museum!

I turned the doorknob of the fanlighted side door of the elegant building at 221 East Broadway in Granville, and a lady rushed up to greet us as we walked in.  “Are you here for a tour?,” she asked excitedly, then hurried to the foot of the stairs and called for a backup docent.

She scampered back to a group of several other visitors in the next room who were standing spellbound as they turned little sticks topped with paper circles.  An equally enthusiastic guide whisked us through to the front hall, and our tour began.

Standing underneath a cobalt blue-and-white glass light fixture at the foot of Robbins-Hunter Museuma curving staircase following the form of William Hogarth’s Line of Beauty, we discovered that we were in a home built by Alfred Avery in 1842.  Today, the home is considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the nation.  The historic house museum is furnished with 18th and 19th century decorative arts acquired by the original owners, as well as collectors.

Three years after Avery built his 27-room house, he sold it to his cousin, Sylvester Spelman, a local doctor.  The home remained a private residence until 1903, when a Denison University fraternity acquired it.  In 1956, Robbins Hunter, Jr., an antiques aficionado, made it his home until his death in 1979.  His will provided for his home to become the Robbins Hunter Museum in 1981.

One room to the front of the house served as Dr. Spelman’s office, with its own exterior door for patients to use.  Here, we learned about the revolutionary whale oil lamp, with a round wick and round chimney that fostered a flame that burned nine times brighter than a candle.  We also heard about the horrors of patent medicine, those potent, powerful concoctions of turpentine, camphor, ammonia, cloves, sassafras and at least 50 percent alcohol.Robbins-Hunter Museum

“Can you see Dr. Spelman talking with a patient as they sit in these chairs?  I can!,” our guide exclaimed.

In the parlor, we got the message that Dr. Spelman wanted to tell us loud and clear.  Expensive lamps, a beautiful clock made in Lancaster, Ohio and a rug woven in England were all designed to reveal how wealthy and accomplished his family was to visitors who attended teas, parties and weddings in this room.

Robbins-Hunter Museum

“Can you see the Spelmans and their guests singing around the Christmas tree? I can!,” our guide exclaimed.

The enthusiasm that the docents had for this terrific place was contagious.  Before long, I was as hyped up as they were.  What did it was what I saw in the ladies’ parlor.

Robbins-Hunter Museum

In this bright room, Mrs. Spelman and her daughter entertained their friends over tea and needlework.  As I surveyed my surroundings, I noticed several handwork projects that made my fingers itch to make some myself.

A penwiper in the form of a beaded butterfly rested on the desk in front of the window.  A watch pocket intended to hang beside a bed and keep a watch safe overnight sat beside a compact fashioned from shells and a pair of small embroidered felt shoes.  All were made from actual patterns printed in Godey’s Lady’s Book, the popular women’s magazine that was a fixture in the Victorian-era home.  Since our guide was the creator of these wonderful things, out came pictures of more sensational projects from Godey’s pages.  Toothpick holders made from lobster claws!  Ornamental stars made from fish scales!

Robbins-Hunter Museum

I dragged myself away, pausing to gasp over a Gothic Revival Berlinwork child’s chair, and made my way to the sitting room, where the Spelmans congregated to read aloud from classics like Gulliver’s Travels, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Christmas Carol and The Scarlet Letter.  

“Can you hear them reading these books to each other? Can you see them? I can!,” our guide exclaimed.

What I saw were those curious little sticks topped with paper circles.  Thaumatropes!  Based on the scientific principle of the persistence of vision, a disk with a picture on each side is attached to the stick.  When the stick is twirled quickly between the fingers, the two pictures appear to blend together into one.

Robbins-Hunter Museum

Next, I spotted a stereoscope, which transforms a pair of separate images depicting left-eye and right-eye views of the same scene into one three-dimensional image.  And then…a magic lantern!  Used to project scenes drawn by hand on small glass plates known as lantern slides, a magic lantern casts the enlarged image on a flat surface.  I’ve loved those things ever since discovering a collection of hand-tinted lantern slides of American gardens at the Library of Congress.  Photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston used them to illustrate the lectures that she gave to garden club members, museum audiences and horticultural societies from 1915 through the 1930s.  Click here to see them.

Still hyperventilating over thaumatropes and lantern slides, we collected ourselves enough to move to the next stop on our tour: the Octagon Room.  Robbins Hunter thought that every Greek Revival house needed one of these, and he outdid himself on it.

The room features a stained glass window from a church in Gambier, gilded brackets from a Mount Vernon home, and Palladian windows that began life at the Maramor Restaurant in Columbus.  It appears as it might have been when Mr. Hunter lived here.  A banjo clock and Ohio-made side chairs complement a box of items he purchased at auction that rests on his work table, alongside auction catalogues and other artifacts of his trade.  A Harris Tweed hat like he always wore hangs on the coat rack with his umbrella.

Robbins-Hunter Museum

Remembering to take some deep, calming breaths, I moved to the museum’s special events room. Robbins-Hunter Museum There, I found a watercolor that one of my heroes, Ralph Fanning, an Ohio State University history professor, painted of the home in 1944.

Robbins-Hunter Museum

As I tried to pull myself together, our guide described the big plans under way outside.  The museum is in the midst of creating three historic gardens representing three periods of significance to the house.  It includes a Greek Revival performance pavilion, as well as 5,000 daffodils, so that it can become a sanctioned American Daffodil Society display garden.  Robbins-Hunter Museum

“What time is it?,” our guide suddenly asked.  “When it’s 3:oo, we’ve got to get outside!”

I started hyperventilating again as we scurried out the door.  This is what I had come to see.

On the west exterior wall of the museum, above the side door, you’ll find the only monument in the United States to America’s first female presidential candidate.  A hand-carved statue of Victoria Woodhull glides out of the tower of a fabulous restored clock on the side of the museum’s building every hour, on the hour, from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.  After the clock rings, the Festive Day organ processional, composed by Dan Mitchell in 2013, announces Victoria’s appearance.Robbins-Hunter Museum

“Celebrating Victoria, The First Woman to Run for President,” the museum’s special exhibit for 2016, traces Victoria’s life.

Born in the Licking County, Ohio community of Homer on September 23, 1838, the seventh of Buckman and Roxanna Claflin’s ten children had a rocky start in life, despite being named for the newly crowned Queen Victoria.  The family’s scant supply of money came from performing odd jobs, telling fortunes and selling a potent mixture of alcohol, laudanum, herbs and molasses called “Life Elixir.”  In 1847, Mr. Claflin insured a gristmill that he owned, but never operated, which then mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground.  Not long after, he disappeared, and his Homer neighbors organized a fundraiser so that the rest of the family would also disappear.

Before Victoria turned 16, she married Dr. ChanningGranville libraryWoodhull.  Two more husbands followed.  In 1868, she and her sister, Tennessee, moved to New York City, where they told fortunes and pushed magnetic healing.  One of their customers was Cornelius Vanderbilt, who gave them enough money to start a stockbrokerage firm.  They also began their own magazine, in which they called for equal rights for women.  Victoria’s zeal for women’s suffrage and equal rights led her to run for president in 1872 with abolitionist Frederick Douglass.  She lost the election to Ulysses S. Grant.  In 1877, she moved to England and spent the rest of her life there until she died in 1927.

While music from Song of the Suffragettes, a CD from Smithsonian Folkways, played, we discovered information about Victoria’s presidential campaign platform, read newspaper articles about her, and scanned her biographies, including The Terrible Siren, published a year after her death, and more recent works like Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, by Barbara Goldsmith, and The Renegade Queen, a new work of historical fiction by Eva Flynn.

Before we left, we collected our complimentary “Celebrating Victoria” button…

Robbins-Hunter Museum

then wandered next door to the Granville Public Library, where more displays of archival materials and circulating books about Victoria await.Granville library

At neighboring Alfie’s Wholesome Food, we could purchase this clever commemorative tee shirt.Robbins-Hunter Museum

Special exhibit programming taking place at the museum includes “To Judge Her By Her Heart: Victoria C. Woodhull,” on Thursday, May 12 at 7:00 pm, and “The Dilemma of Sex: The Free Love Debate Within Victoria Woodhull’s Writings,” on Thursday, October 6 at 7:00 pm.

The Robbins Hunter Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.  Admission is free.  It offers an annual antiques show in September, followed by December open houses for the public to admire its holiday decorations.


Posted in Architecture, Crafts & Hobbies, History, Museums, Needlework, Ohio | Leave a comment

The Buxton Inn Has A Transfixing New Look

“You transfix me, quite.”

This divine line comes from a confusing, but oh-so-swoonworthy, conversation between Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre in the 2011 film version of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, Jane Eyre. To witness this exchange between the heart-sore, soul-withered man and the gentle stranger whose society revives him, watch the minute-and-a-half clip here.

Long ago, something else quite transfixed me — the mysterious hats that the Buxton Inn’s waitresses wore as part of their uniform. Dressed in long calico frocks protected by white aprons, these ladies topped off their period look with a tall, narrow hat made from matching calico, with an eyelet trim rimming the ruffle.  You would have to leave me a huge tip to wear some weird thing like that every day, my middle-school mind thought.

What was in those hats to make them stand up so tall, I continued to wonder, as the waitresses rushed around a dimly lit dining room loaded with feline bric-a-brac. My conclusion: A Campbell’s soup can. But was it full or empty? That perplexing question went unanswered.

When I took my seat for lunch in the inn’s newly redecorated Lincoln Room recently, something quite different transfixed me.  The knickknacks of old have been 
replaced by an uncluttered look, with sage-green walls and white woodwork reminiscent of Colonial Williamsburg’s famed taverns. The tablecloths have been whisked away, revealing beautiful antique wooden tables with slick finishes, offset by comfortable black Windsor chairs. Simple wrought iron chandeliers and sconces enhance the natural light that pours through the deep-set windows. Antique clocks and transferware porcelain plates provide decorative period touches. The result is just perfect.

Buxton Inn

Located in Granville, Ohio, the Buxton Inn is our state’s oldest continuously operated inn still located in its original building. In 1806, Orrin Granger, a pioneer from Granville, Massachusetts, purchased some land in this new settlement upon which to build a tavern. By 1812, Granger’s establishment had become a stop on the stagecoach line between Columbus and Newark. Beneath a dining room and a ballroom on the ground floor, stagecoach drivers slept in a cellar with hand-hewn beams, a stone fireplace and stone walls.Buxton Inn

After Granger died in 1818, his inn changed hands and became the subject of plenty of renovations. An east wing was added in 1829; in 1851, a two-story wing was constructed to form a U-shaped building with a center courtyard. The inn earned its present name in 1865, when Major Horton Buxton became its owner until 1902. Major Buxton’s cat became the inn’s symbol, and a feline presence has remained through subsequent owners.

Buxton Inn

William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William McKinley, Henry Ward Beecher, John Philip Sousa, Henry Ford, James Whitcomb Riley, Van Johnson and Yo-Yo Ma have all crossed the threshold of the salmon-colored clapboard structure that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Buxton InnOver the years, the inn expanded to become a five-building complex. Overnight guests can stay in two dozen rooms, each of which have been updated as part of an ongoing million-dollar makeover by Robert Schilling, owner of Columbus-based Urban Restorations, and his daughters, Adrienne Molnar and Jennifer Valenzuela, who bought the inn in December 2014. New bathroom fixtures were installed. Carpeting was removed, hardwood floors were refinished or replaced, and wallpaper was stripped in favor of modern shades of paint.Buxton Inn

A new reception area is under construction, but it will still feature the desk and hutch from the days when the inn served as Granville’s post office.

Buxton Inn

The inn serves dinner, Saturday lunch and Sunday brunch in the Lincoln Room and two other dining rooms. Dinner fare includes chicken cordon bleu, prime rib, fresh Faroe Island salmon, and seafood Chesapeake, a tantalizing-sounding mixture of shrimp, scallops and fresh crab in a pecan cheese sauce over rice, served with a side salad. Eggs Benedict, pancakes, quiche, sandwiches and more are in the current Sunday brunch lineup. Choose between salads, hamburgers, bison burgers, and several sandwich options for lunch; the Reuben and club sandwiches we ordered were giant. Starting May 3, the inn will also be open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm. New menus are on their way.Buxton Inn

The Buxton Inn is located at 313 East Broadway Street in Granville. For more information, click here.

Posted in Food, History, Ohio | 1 Comment

In The New York City Habitat Of Three Bull Moose, See A Sparring Pair And Another’s Hip Cowboy Duds

When former slave Frederick Douglass arrived in New York City as a free man, he found himself in the midst of a mighty throng of people, surging to and fro between the lofty walls of Broadway. We found ourselves in the midst of another mighty throng of New Yorkers surging to and fro, this time between the lofty walls of the American Museum of Natural History.American Museum of Natural History

It’s common for teeming thousands to escape the noisy, crowded streets of the city at this place that celebrates the beauty of the natural world. Twenty thousand visitors were expected at the museum the day we visited, and 19,000 of them must have been there when we were.

Our game plan for negotiating the throngs that swarmed the museum’s marble corridors resulted from last December’s pilgrimage to Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill – a natural history museum in its own right.

The American Museum of Natural History traces its history to 1861, when the treasurer of Central Park recommended in his annual report to establish a natural history museum in the park’s vicinity. The Civil War prevented any fundraising to develop the idea, but by 1869, the time was right for a group of New York millionaires to fund the purchase of some European natural history collections that would form the core of a natural history museum for New York City. That year, J. Pierpont Morgan, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. and 17 other men — many of them amateur naturalists who collected their own natural history artifacts — gathered at Roosevelt’s East 20th Street home to found and sign the charter for the American Natural History Museum. The museum’s first home was in the Arsenal Building in Central Park, and it opened to the public in April 1871.

It wasn’t long before the museum petitioned the New York State legislature for a new home. It received 16 acres of undeveloped land known as Manhattan Square, adjacent to Central Park on West 79th Street in an isolated area of run-down farms, rugged outcrops and stagnant pools. It tasked Calvert Vaux, the architect of Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with designing a monumental building that would convey the importance of science. On June 2, 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant laid the cornerstone for the new building. It opened to the public on December 22, 1877, with President Rutherford Hayes presiding. Vaux’s design was so monumental that it is still only two-thirds complete today.

The museum’s remote location made it difficult for the public to visit, but its poor attendance had turned around by the early years of the 20th century. New collections poured in, including some of the finest examples of Northwest Coast Indian art and spectacular gems like the Star of India, a golfball-sized star sapphire that Morgan donated to the museum.

American Museum of Natural HistoryTheodore Roosevelt, Jr. was one of the museum’s earliest donors. In 1872, the young boy gifted the museum with the skull of a red squirrel, followed in 1876 by a Snowy owl from Oyster Bay and a trio of plovers the 14-year-old collected during a family vacation to Egypt, all of which he mounted himself. In the years that followed, our 26th president made many donations to the museum, including a now-extinct Passenger Pigeon and one of the eight African elephants at the center of the museum’s African Hall. He also gifted the museum with the skin and dung of a giant ground sloth, a bamboo flute and a palm nut bead necklace, all from his expedition to South America in 1913 and 1914, a trip so arduous that it almost killed him.

The museum’s self-guided “Theodore Roosevelt Tour” introduces visitors to the president’s keen observational skills as an amateur naturalist, his love of studying wildlife in their native surroundings, and his concern for their conservation.

On October 27, 1931, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then governor of New York, laid the cornerstone of a two-story memorial to his famous cousin on the museum’s Central Park West facade. He told the crowd that when he was a boy, Theodore had told him, “Franklin, you can learn more about nature and life in the museum than in all the books and schools in the world.”American Museum of Natural History

In the Roosevelt Family Hall, a sculpture depicts Theodore as he looked during a 1903 trip to Yosemite that he took with the famous naturalist John Muir.

American Museum of Natural History

Cultural artifacts like his cowboy jacket and archival photographs and film footage illustrate his lifelong interest in nature, from keeping a journal on insects when he was 11 and camping in the Adirondack Mountains to observing the birds on Oyster Bay and going on international safaris.American Museum of Natural History

A corridor devoted to another famous naturalist, John Burroughs, includes a photo of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt on a July 1903 visit to Slabsides, Burroughs’ cabin in New York. Theodore used the Dutch term for uncle when he gave Burroughs the nickname of “Oom John.”American Museum of Natural History

Inscriptions on the walls of the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda convey Theodore’s thoughts on nature and other subjects important to him.

American Museum of Natural History

Three giant “Milestones in Public Life” murals in the rotunda depict his leadership in building the Panama Canal, his role in negotiating the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth between Russia and Japan, for which he became the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906; and his 1909-10 expedition to Africa.

American Museum of Natural History

The museum uses more than one exhibit to call attention to how concerned Roosevelt was about the plight of endangered birds. In 1903, he established the first Federal Bird Reserve, on Florida’s Pelican Island, showing his commitment to stopping the sale of endangered bird plumes to the millinery trade to use on their fashionable creations.

Looking at these display cases, I remembered what my friend Tutti told me a few days before my New York City adventure. “I’m not really a diorama kind of person, but the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History are just exquisite,” she said. It wasn’t long before I figured out just what she meant.

The museum’s painstakingly created, lifelike habitat dioramas are superb depictions of an animal’s native habitat, complete with indigenous flora and wildlife. The featured habitats are real places, carefully selected and recorded with photographs and sketches made by museum artists during a visit the actual site. For those of us who can’t take an exotic expedition to encounter a creature in its habitat, seeing these dioramas is a transformational experience.

The museum’s habitat dioramas consist of three things: a life-sized sculpted form, on which is mounted the animal’s preserved skin; the foreground, a three-dimensional recreation of trees, shrubs, flowers and other vegetation indigenous to the particular habitat; and a curved background painting that provides the illusion of witnessing an actual scene from nature. All three are presented within a glass-fronted alcove case, like a window through which visitors see the recreation of a real place.

For example, the Alaska Moose diorama in the Hall of North American Mammals presents a typical scene during mating season in the forest: a pair of bull moose battling with each other, surrounded by aspen trees portrayed in fall color.

American Museum of Natural History

The nearby Grizzly Bear diorama is well-known not only for its artistic nature, but also for what happened during its creation. Raymond de Lucia was an artist at the museum who collected and assembled the habitat surroundings of the dioramas who also loved to prank his colleagues. While creating this diorama in 1941, de Lucia put on a torn-up shirt, splashed red paint on his chest, picked up a large bowie knife and climbed under the form of the female grizzly bear before a rotten log that she was supposed to be pawing was installed, so it looked like the bear was attacking him.

American Museum of Natural History

Visitors are also treated to immersive experiences at the museum. We soared over canyons, hurtled down steep mountain peaks, and climbed up columns of ice during a screening of National Parks Adventure, a film narrated by Robert Redford that celebrates the legendary features of America’s national parks in their 100th anniversary year. Click here to listen to Greg MacGillivray, the film’s director, talk about making the film on All Sides with Ann Fisher. The program originally aired February 8, 2016, but was rebroadcast the day before our New York City adventure.

After we parted company with the swarms that were still pouring into the museum, we embarked on four more stops on our Theodore Roosevelt-themed tour of New York City — the buildings that had once been Roosevelt family homes.

At 55 West 45th Street, in a narrow townhouse that’s now the home to a barber shop and a pizzeria, Theodore and his first wife, Alice, lived as newlyweds.

TR home, 55 W. 45th St.

The Roosevelt home at 6 West 57th Street was where three Roosevelts died. First came the death of the future president’s father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., in 1878. While Theodore was away in Albany working as a New York State congressman, his pregnant wife, Alice, lived here with his mother, Martha. On February 14, 1884, Alice died less than two days after giving birth to their daughter, whom they also named Alice. Martha died later that same day. 

TR home, 6 West 57th Street

After that fateful day, Theodore retreated to his North Dakota ranch, but maintained a residence at 422 Madison Avenue from 1884 to 1886. His sister Bamie lived here while taking care of baby Alice.

TR home, 422 Madison Avenue

Theodore, his second wife, Edith, and their children lived at Bamie’s home at 689 Madison Avenue when he was New York City’s civil service and police commissioner.689 Madison AvenueFor more on the American Museum of Natural History, check out American Museum of Natural History: 125 Years of Expedition and Discovery, by Lyle Rexer and Rachel Klein; Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion Into the American Museum of Natural History, by Douglas J. Preston; A Gathering of Wonders: Behind the Scenes at the American Museum of Natural History and The American Museum of Natural History’s Book of Dinosaurs and Other Ancient Creatures, both by Joseph E. Wallace; Gems & Crystals from the American Museum of Natural History, by Anna S. Sofianides; Next of Kin: Great Fossils at the American Museum of Natural History, by Lowell Dingus; From the Land of the Totem Poles: The Northwest Coast Indian Art Collection at the American Museum of Natural History, by Aldona Jonaitis; Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections From the American Museum of Natural History Library, edited by Tom Baione; and Windows on Nature: The Great Habitat Dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History, by Stephen Christopher Quinn. Watch Night at the Museum and its sequel, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, to see Ben Stiller play a night shift security guard at the American Museum of Natural History who finds out that the museum’s inhabitants come to life at night.

Posted in Animals, Architecture, History, Museums, Nature/Outdoors, New York, Travel | Leave a comment

Find Matilda the Cat – And The Best Company In The World – At The Algonquin Hotel

When he was growing up, John Fitzgerald Kennedy had three wishes. He wanted to be a hero like aviator Charles Lindbergh, to learn Chinese and to become a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a legendary literary landmark that made a hotel at 59 W. 44th St. in New York City famous.

Algonquin HotelThe Algonquin Hotel opened in 1902 and was so named because the land on which it stands is said to have been inhabited by Algonquin Indians. Ever since, its oak-paneled lobby has been the place to be to watch the comings-and-goings of famous actors, musicians and writers.

Famous guests of the Algonquin have included J.D. Salinger, the Irish dramatist Lady Augusta Gregory, and William Faulkner, who wrote his 1950 Nobel Peace Prize speech in his hotel suite. Gertrude Stein, H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis all lived at the hotel for a time. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford honeymooned at the Algonquin; while promoting Robin Hood in 1922, Fairbanks showed off for reporters by shooting arrows from the hotel’s roof. Orson Welles wrote his book, Everybody’s Shakespeare, there, then returned to propose to his future wife; the couple had their honeymoon dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. In 1956, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe composed My Fair Lady in Suite 908, working 24 hours while writing “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Maya Angelou began to write the screenplay of her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, on Algonquin stationery.

Actor John Barrymore often stayed at the Algonquin while performing at the neighboring Hippodrome Theater, the largest theater in the world. Often, Barrymore breakfasted with Frank Case, who bought the hotel in 1927 and owned and managed it until his death in 1946. He also frequently borrowed Case’s shirts, since they wore the same size. When Prohibition ended, Case reopened the hotel’s bar, located in an annex that began in 1878 as a carriage house and stable for trotting horses owned by William H. Vanderbilt and John D. and William Rockefeller. Recognizing that people look more attractive under blue lighting, Barrymore persuaded Case to place blue gels over the lights in the bar. The Blue Bar has been a popular feature of the hotel ever since.

Algonquin Hotel

“All my life I have wanted an enormous house far beyond my means in which there was one wing reserved for myself, while the rest of the house was kept filled with excellent company,” wrote Louis Bromfield, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who owned Malabar Farm in Mansfield, Ohio. “I shall never own such a house because in these times it is impossible, but the Algonquin is just as good. At noon, at cocktail time, at dinner, or late in the evening one only has to go downstairs to find the best and most stimulating company in the world….For me the Algonquin supplies virtually everything I ask in life….”

Algonquin Hotel

The Algonquin is equally famous for its feline mascot. Its first cat was named Billy and was followed by Rusty, who was eventually renamed Hamlet when John Barrymore suggested the cat needed a more dignified name. Ever since, male hotel cats have been named Hamlet, and female cats are called Matilda. The current cat, Matilda, presides in the lobby, resting on her personal chaise longue, behind the computer on the front desk, on a baggage cart, or in her very own Pet Tree House, made especially for her.

Algonquin Hotel

One day in the summer of 1919, a group of struggling writers who worked nearby came to the Algonquin for lunch because it was inexpensive and convenient. To keep the group coming back, Case seated them at a large round table in the center of the dining room and provided complimentary popovers and celery. For the next 10 years, they returned for lunch every day, and the group came to be known as the Algonquin Round Table. The ideas and opinions that they shared during those lunches would eventually influence writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Visitors can still dine at that very same round table.Algonquin Hotel

The original Algonquin Round Table members included Franklin Adams, who contributed to the New York Tribune, New York World and New York Evening Post and was best-known for his columns,“Always in Good Humor” and “The Conning Tower.” Robert Benchley, the first managing editor of Vanity Fair, went on to work for Life and then became an actor. His short film, How to Sleep, won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject in 1935. Robert Sherwood first worked as editor at Vanity Fair and Life, then as a Pulitzer Prize- and Oscar-winning playwright. Alexander Woollcott, theater critic for The New York Times, wrote his reviews in a third-floor room at the Algonquin. George Kaufman was a columnist before becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Heywood Broun was a sports writer for the New York Tribune and the New York World.Algonquin Hotel

But it is Dorothy Parker who may be the most well-known member of the Round Table. She began her career as a theater critic for Vogue and Vanity Fair; then, she wrote for Life, becoming known for the witty phrases that she incorporated into her short stories, poems and screenplays. If terms like “birdbrain,” “pain in the neck,” “scaredy-cat,” “wisecrack” and the expletive, “Shoot!,” are in your vocabulary, thank Dorothy Parker for introducing them into the American vernacular.

Many of the Algonquin Round Table’s members helped launch the career of a caricaturist named Al Hirschfeld. We arrived just in time to see “The Hirschfeld Century,” an exhibit of artwork in the hotel’s lobby based on The Hirschfeld Century: A Portrait of an Artist and His Age, a book by David Leopold. The exhibit included Hirschfeld’s drawings of Mary Martin in Peter Pan (1954); Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding (1951); Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! (1964), and other Broadway and Hollywood stars drawn by Hirschfeld during his nearly century-long career.

The Hirschfeld Century, Algonquin Hotel

After a big win in a Round Table poker game, Harold Ross used his earnings to create a magazine called The New Yorker in 1925. Its first office was located at 25 W. 45th St., from 1925 to 1935; that year, it moved a block away to 28 W. 44th St. and stayed there for almost 60 years, until 1991.

The New Yorker’s first office, at 25 W. 45th St.

The New Yorker’s first office, at 25 W. 45th St.

For more on the Algonquin Hotel and the Round Table, see Tales of a Wayward Inn; Do Not Disturb; and Feeding the Lions: An Algonquin Cookbook, all by Frank Case; Algonquin Cat: A Story, by Val Schaffner, with drawings by Hilary Knight of Eloise fame; A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York, by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick; The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide, by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick; and Bon Mots, Wisecracks and Gags: The Wit of Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, edited by Robert E. Drennan. A Friendly Game of Murder; You Might As Well Die; and Murder Your Darlings are all “Algonquin Round Table Mysteries” by J.J. Murphy.

The grandfather clock in the Algonquin’s oak-paneled lobby is as old as the hotel and is wound by hand daily.

The grandfather clock in the Algonquin’s oak-paneled lobby is as old as the hotel and is wound by hand daily.

Gloria Dumler, a professor at Bakersfield College, has even developed a punctuation exercise based on the Algonquin Hotel. Click here for the quiz and here for the answer key.

For more on the New Yorker, check out The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker, by Janet Groth; Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and the Golden Age of the New Yorker, by Thomas J. Vinciguerra; Covering the New Yorker: Cutting-edge Covers From A Literary Institution; About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, by Ben Yagoda; Ross and the New Yorker, by Dale Kramer; and The Years With Ross, by James Thurber. E.B. White, who started his writing career in New York during the 1920s, returned to the city during the summer of 1948 to lend a hand at the short-handed New Yorker. While he was there, he wrote Here Is New York, which captures the essence of the city at that time.

Mary Norris, a copy editor at the New Yorker, talked about her book, Between You And Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, on All Sides with Ann Fisher on March 31, 2016. Click here to listen to it.

Posted in Animals, History, New York, Travel | 1 Comment

Seeing The Grolier Club Was Like Landing On 63

If I were as adventurous as my friends Elkin and Judy, one thing would make me consider moving to New York City — being able to attend Royal Oak Foundation programs held at some of the city’s best cultural institutions.

This spring, this partner of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is offering 15 programs for New Yorkers to learn about historically and naturally significant places throughout the United Kingdom. For example, if I were in the city on May 23, I’d be first in line at Bonhams to hear the Duchess of Rutland present “Capability Brown and Belvoir Castle: Discovering a Lost Landscape,” a program about the famed 18th-century landscape designer’s plans for Belvoir’s garden that were recently discovered hidden in the castle’s archives.

Grolier ClubIn previous years, programs on the Art Deco in Britain and Kim Wilson’s At Home with Jane Austen have been held at a tantalizing place called the Grolier Club. I might have missed those lectures, but I was determined to see this landmark of the rare book world for myself.

In 1884, nine New York bibliophiles founded a club devoted to the book arts through studying, collecting and appreciating the art, history, production and business of books. They christened the club after Jean Grolier de Servières (1489-1565), treasurer of France, who began amassing a library during his tenure as ambassador to the court of Rome. Grolier selected the best copies of different works, sometimes having several copies of a book printed especially for him with colored frontispieces, fine bindings and covers featuring gilded ornaments that he designed. Grolier bindings can be found in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the British Museum, the New York Public Library, private collections and of course, the Grolier Club.

Originally located on Madison Avenue, the club moved first to East 32nd Street in 1890, then in 1917 to its present location, a six-story Georgian-style townhouse on East 60th Street in Midtown Manhattan.  Today, the Grolier is the oldest existing bibliophilic club in North America, with about 800 members, all who have been nominated for membership on the basis of their accomplishments as collectors, scholars, librarians, printers or in some other “bookish pursuit.”

Open only to members, the club’s library contains 100,000 volumes about the book arts, from histories of printing to a teaching collection of illuminated manuscripts and private press books. Its core is a 60,000-volume reference collection of bookseller and book auction catalogues spanning four centuries, a treasure trove for research on the antiquarian book trade and book collecting.

Occasionally, tGrolier Clubhe club publishes books that describe and promote the book arts. It is best known for its “Grolier Hundred” catalogues, bibliographical roundups of 100 important books on specific topics. More frequently, it sponsors four exhibitions a year on topics like modern fine presses and Victorian publishers’ bookbindings, all open to the public free of charge. Two of those exhibitions were on display during my visit.

In honor of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, Brush Up Your Shakespeare: Miniature Designer Bindings from the Collection of Neale and Margaret Albert presents designer bindings of miniature editions of plays, sonnets, and books inspired by Shakespeare. On view through May 28, the exhibition includes almost 100 miniature books, all no more than three inches tall. 

Sonnet Truck, Grolier ClubContemporary artists were commissioned to create bindings for miniature versions of several Shakespearean plays, such as The Tempest; King Henry IV, Part I; King Lear; The Comedy of Errors; Macbeth; King Henry VI, Parts II and III; and Hamlet.

Miniature Shakespeare binding, Grolier Club

My favorite was a binding for Cassal & Co.’s 1906 edition of Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden featuring beautiful needlework.

Miniature Shakespeare binding, Grolier Club

Another exhibition features more than 70 different versions of The Royal Game of the Goose, one of the earliest printed board games, on view through May 14. Players roll the dice and move along a spiral track, hoping to land like a lucky goose on the winning space numbered 63 and avoid “death” by landing on space 58.

Beside the Broad Ocean (circa 1890) includes charming illustrations of the bathing machines and Punch and Judy shows that were characteristic of the Victorian seaside.

Board game, Grolier Club

Visitors can try their hands at playing the Mansion of Happiness, the first board game published in the United States, in 1843, and its British predecessor. Players race around the game track, hoping to land on virtuous spaces like “Honesty” and “Temperance” and bypass spaces like “Poverty” and “Perjury” in their quest to be the first player to reach the Mansion of Happiness, the result of virtuous Christian living, in the center of the board.

Board game, Grolier Club

By the 1880s, board games celebrated materialism rather than morality, with the most competitive players being the most successful ones. The Game of the Errand Boy (1891) tests how well players can rise through the ranks from humble messenger boy to successful bank president.Board game, Grolier Club

Jules Verne, author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days, loved to play The Game of the Goose with his uncle. In 1898, that inspired him to write The Will of an Eccentric, a serialized adventure story in which people compete for a Chicago millionaire’s fortune.  To win the prize, the players had to visit places across the United States by moving across a game board that represented a map of the country. The Noble Game of the United States was the board game developed to accompany the book.

By a very lucky coincidence, Verne’s book and game were the subjects of “Cast Aside into the Public Domain: The Resurrection of an Esoteric Jules Verne Adventure Novel,” an April 7 webinar sponsored by the Northern Ohio regional chapter of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Jared Bendis, the creative new media officer for Case Western Reserve University’s Kelvin Smith Library and game designer for the Cleveland Museum of Art, described how he resurrected this out-of-print rare book by making a derivative copy of it. Now, he’s working on a board game based on The Noble Game of the United States; two different versions of the game will be released.

Grolier Club bookplate, from the cover of the Spring 1985 issue of The Journal of Library HistoryThe Grolier Club’s 1894 copperplate-engraved bookplate was featured on the cover of the Spring 1985 issue of The Journal of Library History; an article by Robert Nikerk, librarian of the Grolier Club at the time, describes it on pages 196-199. Measuring just over 5 by 2 inches, the elaborate Baroque design is packed with iconography like Grolier bindings; Grolier’s coat of arms; a miniature version of Grolier in the House of Aldus, a painting that still hangs in the club; and book arts-related scenes adapted from woodcuts depicting the papermaker, printer, designer and binder in Jost Amman’s 1568 Book of Trades.

For more on games, see The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games, by Margaret K. Hofer, featuring examples of historic board and table games from the New-York Historical Society’s Liman Collection. “Curious Bible Questions: Discovering Connections in Special Collections,” my article in the Summer 2009 issue of AASLH History News, describes how an 1868 card game that presented a six-question lesson taught religion and helped players com­mit scriptural passages to mem­ory.

Click here to play an online version of Mark Twain’s Memory Builder: A Game for Acquiring and Retaining All Sorts of Facts and Dates, a game that Twain designed and patented in 1885 to help people keep historical facts straight.

Posted in Art, Books, History, Libraries, New York, Special Collections, Travel | Leave a comment