“It’s like musical chairs except everybody sat down around 1964.”

Crawling along West 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, I gaped at customers who milled around one crowded store after another, bartering with fast-talking salesmen standing behind showcases packed with rows upon rows of diamond jewelry. Dressed in colorful silky shirts and double-pleated dress pants, many of these workers accessorized their outfits with rimless glasses, a lone diamond earring, thick gold chain bracelets, massive pendants and flashy pinkie rings. Meanwhile, other clerks arranged more glittering bling under the blazing lights of window displays, enticing passers-by to come inside and part with some cash.

An interminable traffic snarl in the heart of Midtown Manhattan’s Diamond District offered a front-row seat to a real-life version of a scene straight out of Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler’s new movie about a scheming, gambling jewelry dealer who works on “The Street.”

Welcome to the opening scene of our latest New York City adventure.

Once we escaped the traffic and hit the sidewalks, the itinerary we executed was heavy on traditional holiday fare. In no time, we had seen the Christmas tree, the TODAY show and the Swarovski New York Apple at Rockefeller Center and watched ice-skaters at Bryant Park. We checked out the holiday window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue, with its Disney Frozen 2 frenzy of a light show complete with a soundtrack; “Bergdorf GoodTimes,” Bergdorf Goodman’s tableaux of games designed as if they were viewed from overhead; porcelain mice toting boxes of luxuries from Tiffany’s; and Macy’s, with interactive video games, kaleidoscopes and a larger-than-life Golden Retriever who scratched its ear when visitors pressed its nose.

We also revisited some evergreen favorites, including the original Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends at the New York Public Library; Hamlet VIII, the Algonquin Hotel’s current resident cat; Brooks Brothers’ headquarters at 346 Madison Avenue; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we can’t get enough of the magnificent floral arrangements in the Great Hall and the twenty-foot Christmas tree adorned with dozens of Neapolitan Baroque angels, cherubs and 17th-century figures in a Nativity creche scene.

When you keep a running list of things you haven’t seen in New York City, there’s always the need to check off a few. First was 640 Fifth Avenue, the former home of Mrs. Cornelia Vanderbilt, where Pamela Mountbatten, the younger daughter of the 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Prince Philip’s cousin, stayed during World War II. Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s tweet on July 24, 2019, the feast day of Saint Charbel Makhlouf, a 19th-century Monk of the Lebanese Maronite Order, encouraged us to check out the Saint’s beautiful mosaic shrine in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “Everybody loves him because he always answers his phone,” Cardinal Dolan said in his video greeting that day. “When you pray through St. Charbel and ask for his help in interceding with God, he always comes through.”

Then came the former sites of Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman retail store at 29 W. 34th St. and the editorial offices for The Craftsman magazine at 41 W. 34th St. Artistically arranged as a group of model living rooms, Stickley’s store invited potential buyers to see his practical Arts and Crafts furniture displayed in comfortable surroundings and complementary color schemes. A quick overhead glance at a revolving Christmas decoration inside Macy’s helped us discover some Herald Square history. The square where Macy’s is located was named after the New York Herald newspaper. All that is left of its Stanford White-designed headquarters is the monument to the paper’s founder, James Gordon Bennett, which incorporates two clocks from the old building and a group of sculptures from the building’s pediment which depict the goddess of wisdom Minerva, an owl and two blacksmiths nicknamed Stuff and Guff, who spin around and swing their hammers to strike a bell on the hour. Plus, did you know that Macy’s red star logo was inspired by the forearm tattoo that the store’s founder, Rowland Macy, got when he was a whaler?

New York City always offers some kind of excitement, and this time we found ourselves in the midst of the annual headache known as SantaCon. Throngs of people dressed as Santa Claus descend on the streets of New York City for a massive day-long bar crawl that begins at Father Duffy Square, a section of Times Square between West 46th and 47th Streets and Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Wide awake from blaring pre-dawn car horns, I now understand what Jerry Seinfeld meant when he wrote in Seinlanguage, “Everybody in New York City knows there’s way more cars than parking spaces. You see cars driving in New York all hours of the night. It’s like musical chairs except everybody sat down around 1964.”

Spending time in New York also provides the opportunity to make some great new discoveries, like the beautiful plantings outside the Harvard Club and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed living room on view in the American Wing of the Met Fifth Avenue. Created for the Francis W. Little House in Wayzata, Minnesota from 1912 to 1914, the summer-home living room that once overlooked Lake Minnetonka incorporates Prairie School characteristics like leaded-glass windows on all four walls, elongated horizontally-laid bricks and custom-made furniture and decorative accessories.

Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 1, 2020, is a spectacular assembly of clocks, jewelry and other lavish objects collected by European princes of the 16th through 18th centuries. We sought out the precious statuettes and the rare 41-carat “Dresden Green” diamond hat ornament from Augustus the Strong’s collection from the Green Vault of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in Germany. Most amazing were the automata, like the German clock with the arrow-shooting, always-watching goddess Diana on her chariot; the perambulating penitent monk; the mechanized Swiss draughtsman that draws and writes poems, which inspired Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, adapted by Martin Scorsese into the award-winning film Hugo; and the creepy chess-playing figure in Turkish dress that I read about long ago in Tom Standage’s book, The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-century Chess-playing Machine. Watch this playlist of 15 of these automata in motion here.

Riding the M4 to the northern tip of Manhattan was the perfect place to see examples of “The Mystery Font That Took Over New York.” It also provided a glimpse of Columbia University and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Protestant Episcopal church on Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem that has been under construction for over a century. One of these trips, I’m going to check out the tiny replica of the collapsing twin towers of the World Trade Center that was carved in 1990 on the western facade of the church’s main entrance and was recently restored after it was mysteriously destroyed.

Making our way up the steep, winding road to the hilltop in Fort Tryon Park, we arrived at our much-loved The Met Cloisters. Medieval Christmastide decorations of holly boughs, ivy, hand-polished lady apples, hazelnuts, rose hips and pine cones adorned the great archways in the main hall.

With the place virtually to ourselves, we wandered the interior walkways, now transformed into a conservatory where tender Mediterranean plants like bitter orange, myrtle and bay laurel spend the winter. We sought out special items from this magnificent collection, like Christ Is Born as Man’s Redeemer, the 16th-century South Netherlandish tapestry that is more than 13 feet high and 25 feet wide (watch this video about its conservation). In my favorite “Unicorn Tapestries” gallery, the Book of Flower Studies, an illuminated manuscript by Master of Claude de France circa 1510-1515, was opened to an image of a jaybird with a branch of hazelnuts (learn more about this 2019 purchase here). Best of all, I talked to Xavier Seubert just before his presentation on the Unicorn Tapestries at Advent, in which he discussed how the tapestries reveal both Advent symbolism, as well as ancient and Christian understandings of the unicorn.

Recall how much I appreciate my windfall of Advent readings? Ever since reading something about St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in The Little Blue Book for the Advent/Christmas Season 2018, I’ve devoted more than my obligatory six minutes of quiet time contemplating the life story of this Italian-American nun who became the “Patroness of Immigrants,” her prayer for peace of mind and the shrine at Fort Washington Avenue and 190th Street, right on the M4 route. Offering a quiet, peaceful respite from the frantic holiday crowds of Manhattan, the Cabrini Shrine turned out to be the highlight of my trip.

Born in Italy in 1850, Francesca Cabrini dreamed of becoming a foreign missionary nun. Repeatedly turned down by convents because of her poor health, young Francesca finally was accepted to an order, where she spent several difficult, discouraging years teaching and patiently tolerating her tedious companions. In 1880, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Seven years later, she unsuccessfully sought Pope Leo XIII’s approval for her order to conduct missionary work in China. When the Pope experienced a change of heart two years later, he told her to take six fellow nuns with her and go “not to the East, but to the West.” A Catholic church in New York City needed Italian nuns to minister to the Italian immigrants who lived difficult lives in Little Italy’s dreadful tenements. Many of them were illiterate in English and injured from their difficult work as manual laborers. Worst of all, the language barrier and cultural differences had led many of these devout people to become estranged from their faith. This little group of Italian nuns was a Godsend.

Within a matter of years, Mother Cabrini had established social gatherings after Sunday Mass, schools, hospitals, convalescent homes and orphanages for New York City’s Italian immigrants. She and her Sisters visited prisons, instructed children in both catechism and in Italian language and culture, and started a needlework trade school for young women. Her mission also spread to dozens of schools, orphanages and hospitals in New Jersey, Chicago, New Orleans, Europe, and Central and South America.

Despite the lifelong fear of water she developed after accidentally falling into a river as a child, Mother Cabrini crossed the Atlantic Ocean 25 times in her missionary work. She became a naturalized citizen in 1909 and continued her work until she died in 1917. She was beatified in 1938; in 1946, she became the first American citizen to be canonized, and she was declared the patron saint of immigrants in 1950.

There are three major shrines to St. Frances Cabrini in the United States; the one in northern Manhattan is located in a scenic wooded site overlooking the Hudson River, chosen in 1899 by the Saint herself, where she had lived and worked. The mid-20th century chapel features a stained-glass window portrait of the Saint, as well as a beautiful mosaic mural made of Venetian glass and Italian marble tiles that depicts scenes from her life. A glass reliquary built beneath the altar holds a wax likeness of the Saint that contains most of her remains. A small museum at the shrine includes personal items that once belonged to the Saint, including her habit and nightdress, spectacles, shoes, fountain pen, dresser set, and a copper etching plate of her calling card.

Today, the Missionary Sisters continue ministering to immigrants, children, the sick and the elderly on six continents and 16 countries throughout the world. Every year, the shrine celebrates her November 13 feast day with five Masses, in five languages, over two days, and a prayer service on December 22, the date of her death. A prayer for immigrants is offered at the conclusion of every Mass. The day of our visit featured a concert of liturgical music for Advent and Christmas liturgical music on harp and flute, sung by Ruth Cunningham, one of the founding members of Anonymous 4, the female quartet known for Medieval chant and polyphony.

You can find images of Mother Cabrini at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, both on the bronze doors that open onto Fifth Avenue and on the wall by the gift shop inside the cathedral. Earlier this year, she received the most votes in a public poll to honor noted New York City women with a statue, but the committee responsible for the project did not choose her in the end. Now, a statue in her honor will be placed in Battery Park City’s South Cove, overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

To hear how magical Anonymous 4 sounds, check out some of the 20 albums the group recorded on the harmonia mundi label, such as Three Decades of Anonymous 4, 1986-2016; The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols and Ballads for Christmas; On Yoolis Night: Medieval Carols and Motets; and Wolcum Yule: Celtic and British Songs and Carols, with Andrew Lawrence-King, harp.

For a unique look at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, read Red & Lulu, by Matt Tavares. Spend some free time with a New York City crossword puzzle and word search by Scholastica Travel, as well as this Manhattan, New York City word search puzzle. Check out Motherless Brooklyn, the film I saw advertised on some Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus-stop shelters, and read Introducing Henry’s Unsuitable Adventures, by Mike Reiss, that we paged through at Brooks Brothers. Start your own sightseeing wish list with I Never Knew That About New York, by Christopher Winn. The Met Cloisters shop has a fantastic selection of books, like Afoot and Lighthearted: A Journal for Mindful Walking, by Bonnie Smith Whitehouse, New York in Bloom, by Georgianna Lane, and The Cloister, by James Carroll.

Travel vicariously to the Met Fifth Avenue with A Bouquet from the Met: Flower Arrangements by Chris Giftos at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Barbara Plumb, with Page Starzinger. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Watson Library, the recorded Christmas music that plays in the gallery with the Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche is a rotation of two albums: A New York Christmas, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s holiday-themed jazz CD; and Gregorian Chant Christmas, from the monastic choir of St. Peter’s Abbey, Solesmes, France. Recreate the “Ute Lemper: Weimar Holiday” and “Moya Brennan: An Irish Holiday” concerts held this month in The Met Fifth Avenue’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium by checking out cabaret singer Lemper’s albums, Berlin Cabaret Songs, and Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill. I can’t get enough of listening to Affinity, a recording in which Brennan is joined by Irish harp virtuoso Cormac De Barra.

For more on St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, read Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini: Cecchina’s Dream, by Victoria Dority and Mary Lou Andes; Frances Cabrini: A Saint for America, by Sergio C. Lorit; St. Frances Cabrini: A Passionate Life, by Mark Davis; Frances Cabrini: Remembering the Journey, 1850-2000, by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and Catholics in New York: Society, Culture, and Politics, 1808-1946, edited by Terry Golway.

Posted in Art, Churches, Holidays, Museums, Music, New York, Travel | 1 Comment

“Why let the Wets bluff you? Be informed!”

One of my favorite movie scenes is from On Moonlight Bay, when 11-year-old Wesley Winfield watches a silent movie about the Evils of Drink, uses the plot as an excuse for falling asleep in class the next morning, and then cleverly escapes the consequences of the tall tale that he told his teacher.

The 1951 Doris Day musical and its sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, are based on Penrod, Booth Tarkington’s 1914 collection of stories about an 11-year-old boy growing up in the pre-World War I Midwest. I had a whole new appreciation for that scene, inspired by chapters 7 through 11 of Penrod, after recent visits to the Westerville History Center and Museum at the Westerville Public Library, Temperance Row Brewery and the Temperance Row Historic District.

Prohibiting the sale of alcohol in 1858 led Westerville to develop a reputation as a dry village following the Temperance Movement. That reputation became famous in the 1870s, when Henry Corbin attempted to open two saloons, both of which were destroyed by fellow Westerville residents who opposed his intentions. The New York Times and other newspapers reported on the incidents, calling them the “Westerville Whiskey Wars.” The Anti-Saloon League (ASL), a temperance organization formed to create and maintain anti-alcohol sentiments and legislation, liked what it heard about this wholesome small town located just a half-hour’s train ride from Ohio’s capital city and decided to make Westerville its headquarters. True to its motto, the ASL came to Westerville in 1908 “to solve the liquor problem” and its accompanying evils, caused by declining morals and increased industrialization, urbanization and immigration. It believed that a strong moral society was possible only if a Constitutional amendment was passed to prohibit the evils of drink.

Fulfilling this big assignment was no small task. Many ASL supporters were ordained Protestant ministers, using pulpits to share the messages of and solicit financial support for their grassroots effort. Howard Hyde Russell, who founded the Ohio ASL in 1893 in Oberlin, even enlisted support from Columbus religious leaders like Catholic Bishop John Watterson and Washington Gladden of First Congregational Church.

Russell and other ASL leaders like Rev. Purley A. Baker moved to Westerville, purchasing 11 acres of farmland and building 27 Craftsman-style homes for ASL staff on a few streets just south of Otterbein University. The residential district designed to help establish higher American ideals of architecture and home life soon became known as “Temperance Row.”

Baker called his home at 131 W. Park St., at the corner of S. Grove St., “Greendale,” referring to it as “the last stop this side of heaven.” It also featured a greenhouse, from which he sold tomato and cabbage plants, and a milk house, from which he ran a dairy delivery service. Before he died in 1924, Baker donated his home to the ASL to use as an editorial office and a community library that would eventually become the Westerville Public Library. It was sold in 1935 and was owned privately until 1947, when it became the home of Otterbein’s president. It is used today as Otterbein’s Office of Alumni Relations.

Russell’s home, 79 S. Grove St., was later the home of Ernest Cherrington, an Ohio Wesleyan University graduate and journalist who believed that education would solve the alcohol problem. Today it is Otterbein’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house.

From its national headquarters at 110 S. State St., the ASL promoted the evils of liquor through its publishing company, The American Issue. It printed over 40 tons of anti-alcohol literature every month; in fact, it sent out so much mail that Westerville became the smallest town in the country with a first-class post office.

Under Cherrington’s editorial direction, The American Issue produced a slew of persuasive promotional literature using techniques suggested in How to Write Advertisements That Sell, a 1912 book it owned. “Liberal white space about a headline prevents anything else from competing with it,” it says. “Use clear face type, rather than a letter which is hard to read. A picture is probably the best attention-getter.”

Posters, pamphlets, fliers, advertisements, songs, poems, cartoons and children’s stories all appealed to readers’ morals. A magazine, newspaper, yearbooks, and its six-volume Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem shared facts and statistics from economic and scientific studies to demonstrate that people would lead better lives without alcohol.  “Why let the Wets bluff you? Be informed!,” urges its Prohibition Quiz Book: Vexing Questions about Prohibition Asked and Answered.

All this made the ASL a significant player in the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that prohibited the manufacture, sale and transport of alcoholic beverages, although it was legal to sell alcohol for medicinal purposes. Westerville, the “Dry Capitol of the World,” became the seat of this national issue that led to organized crime, the rise of jazz music, and greater societal involvement for women, who helped the adoption of Prohibition in 1920 through establishing groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Several factors led Prohibition to be repealed, including the government’s inability to enforce the law and the impact of the Great Depression on the economy, After the 21st Amendment was passed in 1933, allowing Americans to legally buy alcohol once more, financial support for the ASL dwindled. It changed its name in 1934 to the Temperance Education Foundation, devoting itself to education, research and data collection on the problems of alcohol.

The foundation gave its headquarters building to the Westerville Public Library in 1973, including over 200,000 books related to temperance, making it the largest collection of anti-alcohol literature in the world. Today, the building houses the Anti-Saloon League Museum, the Westerville Local History Center and the John R. Kasich Congressional Papers. Its Prohibition! Expectation vs. Reality exhibit explores the ASL’s role in the passage of the 18th amendment, 100 years later, and is on view now through 2020.

In 1999, state law changed to allow Westerville residents to vote individual businesses in their precincts “wet” or “dry.” On January 12, 2006, the first beer since 1933 was served in Uptown Westerville. Now, “wet” Westerville is home to Temperance Row Brewery. Earlier this year, the Westerville Visitors & Convention Bureau started using a new slogan: “Anything But Dry!” In front of Westerville’s administration building, a statue depicts a broken whiskey barrel on a metal wedge, with water trickling down over it. One side displays newspaper headlines announcing the onset of Prohibition; the other side marks its repeal.

Purley Baker and his wife, Lillie, are buried in Otterbein Cemetery, a block south of their home. Their custom-built cobblestone mausoleum, inscribed with “He that soweth righteousness hath a sure reward” (Proverbs 11:18), is easy to find.

Temperance Row Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. To recreate my visit there, download the registration form here.

Posted in Columbus, History, Libraries, Museums, Ohio | Leave a comment

“Happiness is being a Buckeye.”

That’s what many are saying this year, as The Ohio State University celebrates its 150th anniversary. In this Buckeye’s case, though, happiness was seeing my relative’s dress on display as part of exhibitions celebrating the traditions and experiences that have made campus life at Ohio State so memorable for generations of students.

Remember Ruth Weinman Herndon, the other CSG girl in my family who lived in a Frank Packard-designed home in Marble Cliff and was a member of the River Ridge Riding & Polo Club of Columbus? A black silk dress with ribbon work embroidery and lace that she wore in 1925, during her first year studying sociology at Ohio State, is front and center in “Campus Fashion: 150 Years of College Style,” an exhibit from Ohio State’s Historic Costume and Textiles Collection.

Dozens of garments highlight what students wore to class, football games, special occasions, and in their dorms. The formal silhouettes of bustled dresses and morning coats worn during Ohio State’s early days in the 1870s progressed to shorter, yet still appropriate, attire of the 1920s and 1930s.

Also on view are samples of Ohio State football program advertisements the Varsity Men’s Store at the Union and the Lazarus Collegienne Shops ran to target students. Following the fad of the 1920s, Frances Ingwersen bought this long raccoon fur coat at The Union to wear to Ohio State football games. It’s displayed alongside the letter sweater Floyd Henderson, member of the Class of 1928, earned for managing the OSU cross-country team.

While there was no official campus dress code, Residence Hall and student government association handbooks provided suggestions about what was best to wear, as this 1957 example shows: “For dinner on school days, including Saturdays: Dresses, or skirts with either blouses or sweaters. No slacks, bermudas or jeans. No shirt tails out and no sweatshirts.”

“Since OSU is a casual place, wardrobes are made up largely of skirts, jumpers, sweaters, and blouses,” another example from the 1950s continues. “To complement these outfits and add a touch of interest it is good to have a supply of scarves, collars, and tailored jewelry. Always a favorite anywhere, loafers and saddles are popular at OSU.”

While an exchange student in Ireland, Anne Clark Foltz wore this circa-1955 two-piece dress of a turtleneck and matching skirt, hand-knit by her aunt, Virginia Woolpert.

White cotton nightgowns and a blue chambray at-home gown from the late 19th century, together with Asian-inspired silk sleepwear from the 1930s, capture changing tastes in what students wore to unwind in their dorm rooms.

White dresses were traditionally worn for initiation ceremonies into honor societies and sororities because they both created a uniform look and underscored the significance of the occasion. Ruth E. Moore wore her 1922 high school graduation dress for her circa-1924 initiation into Delta Sigma Theta sorority; other white dresses were worn by Anne Clark Foltz for her 1954 initiation into the Mortar Board Society, an honor society recognizing seniors for their scholarship and service, and Margaret Jacob Dombey, OSU’s May Queen in 1927 and Rosebud in 1924, for her initiation into Kappa Kappa Gamma and for her 1928 graduation.

Projects students made for design, construction, pattern-making and tailoring classes in the Department of Home Economics, now known as the College of Human Ecology, close the exhibit.

Three dresses Susan Hunter Beall made during Home Economics classes she took at Ohio State in 1948 and 1949, including her wedding and going-away dresses, are on view in Thompson Library’s Highlights from Special Collections exhibit space. A Bergdorf Goodman advertisement in the May 15, 1948 issue of Vogue inspired the style of the dress she would wear for her marriage four days after her graduation. To make it, she used parachute silk, embroidered eyelet silk, and silk satin which her father and brother brought home from Japan.

“Scarlet and Gray: The Student Experience,” an exhibit in Ohio State’s Thompson Library Gallery, features items from the University Archives collection that highlight student life on campus.

A scarlet-and-gray bow tie worn by a member of the Class of 1888 illustrates the class rivalry that characterized Ohio State’s early years. “Ye expose your idiocy with every word and action,” an example of the good-natured teasing reads. “We came to glorious O.S.U. to learn, and to associate with cultured upper classmen. Alas! we find our guides (?) the Sophomores, to be a pack of DRIVELING IDIOTS.”

The exhibit wouldn’t be complete without the uniforms of a Buckeye cheerleader, marching band member, football player and Ohio State’s mascot, Brutus.

Next to the “fan cave” and its display of Ohio State football memorabilia, an eye-catching wall mural includes almost 40 different archival images, including songbooks, programs, ads, pennants, Homecoming buttons, football tickets, a photo of the first “Script Ohio” from 1936, and a calendar created by acclaimed artist George Bellows, a member of the Class of 1905.

“Campus Fashion: 150 Years of College Style” continues at The Ohio State University’s Historic Costume and Textiles Collection, 175 Campbell Hall, through December 13, 2019. “Scarlet and Gray: The Student Experience” is on view in the Thompson Library Gallery through January 19, 2020. For more, read Time & Change: 150 Years of The Ohio State University, by Tamar Chute, University Archivist and Head of Archives at The Ohio State University — and my archives classmate.

Take Buckeye Biography: 150 Years of Ohio State, a free online course based on the popular History of Ohio State course. Learn at your own pace through nine modules illustrated with videos, archival documents and photographs. If you finish the course, you’ll get a digital badge to show you’re a Buckeye historian. It will be available through December 18, 2020.

Posted in Fashion, History, Ohio State University, Special Collections | Leave a comment

Wrap up New England at “a beautiful place by the sea”

There’s a three-mile stretch of sand and dunes at Ogunquit, Maine, so named by the Abenaki Indians as “a beautiful place by the sea.” It curves alongside the Atlantic Ocean’s rugged coastline and continues past 70 oceanfront acres atop Bald Head Cliff.

This particular beautiful place by the sea was one spectacular place to spend our last night in New England. Welcome to the Cliff House on Cape Neddick, along the southern coast of Maine.

In 1866, post-Civil War reconstruction efforts included establishing a coordinated railway system. When the Boston and Maine Railroad added a spur to York, Maine, Captain Theodore Weare and his wife, Elsie Jane, invested in land on Bald Head Cliff upon which to build a resort. Using wood from family acreage that was milled in the family’s sawmill in Ogunquit, the Weares opened the Cliff House Hotel in 1872. Soon, well-to-do families like the Biddles of Philadelphia, the Havemeyers of New York, and the Cabots and Lodges of Boston were vacationing at the Cliff House, enjoying its performances of amateur theater and entertainment. A new generation of Weare family members modernized the resort in the decades to come, adding indoor plumbing, electricity, a bowling alley, and accommodations for guests’ automobiles. During World War II, guests were replaced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who built a radar station at the property and watched around the clock for Nazi submarines in the coastal waters.

Today, the Cliff House offers custom-designed, nautically inspired luxury accommodations, each of its 226 rooms having private terraces on which to take in beautiful oceanfront views. Slide open the door to let in refreshing breezes and the soothing sounds of the sea while sleeping under Maine-sourced Cuddledown comforters and indescribably soft Comphy Company sheets. Cozy checked bathrobes complete the picture.

Take it from us: Ledges Room 465 was incredible.

Lobster chowder, followed by Maine salmon on a warm grain salad with roasted tomatoes and rainbow chard, and finished off with an ice cream sandwich, never tasted so good as it did in The Tiller, the main dining room offering panoramic views of the Atlantic. In the morning, try the pear chutney with your breakfast.

Cliff House sends you on your way with some special souvenirs: the Wildflowers of Maine seed collection postcard series. Next season, we’re planting wild blueberries (“where rivers meet the sea”) and evening primroses (“nature’s tapestry of color”).

A luxury spa, swimming pools, an art gallery, a movie theater, a lobster shack, and access to golfing, biking, hiking, sea kayaking, fishing and lobstering are all available to Cliff House guests.

To recreate the experience of arriving at the Cliff House, watch the video on this page that was playing when we walked in our room.

Posted in Food/Restaurants, History, Maine, New England, Travel | Leave a comment

“I turned and looked another way, and saw three islands in a bay.”

The scrapbook my mother made for me reminded me that when I was there in 1973, I played chess by the fire, was fascinated by a glass-topped table that displayed shells, had “superatious” blueberry pancakes for breakfast, and stayed in room 6.

Those are the highlights of my visit to the Whitehall Inn in Camden, Maine, where the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was discovered.

While attending a party at the inn on August 29, 1912, Millay recited “Renascance,” her recently published poem she had written on the top of Mount Battie, her favorite getaway, rising in the distance behind the inn. A guest was so taken with the young poet that she paid for her education at Vassar College.

“All I could see from where I stood was three long mountains and a wood. I turned and looked another way, and saw three islands in a bay,” “Renascence” begins.

Those lines are inscribed on the wall of the Camden Public Library’s rotunda. They come to mind again, after passing the U-shaped Camden Amphitheatre on the grounds of the library and crossing Atlantic Avenue to Harbor Park. There, a seven-foot-tall bronze statue of Millay gazes beyond the boats in Camden’s harbor.

Camden had established itself first through shipbuilding and later through woolen mills, which were active when the 11-year-old Millay, her sisters and her mother moved to Camden in 1903. She lived in Camden for the next ten years, inventing games and songs to entertain her and her sisters as they tidied their home, swimming in the bay, picking blueberries, keeping a diary she called Rosemary, and writing the first examples of the easy-to-memorize, relatable and understandable poetry that would make her famous.

Despite living in New York in later years, she maintained her fondness for Maine and the sea. As she wrote in “Exiled,” “I should be happy! – that was happy/All day long on the coast of Maine;/I have a need to hold and handle/Shells and anchors and ships again!”

Camden was just as charming this time around. Once again, I shopped at The Smiling Cow, but I also discovered Swans Island, a Maine craft business. Skeins of yarn — as well as handwoven blankets, throws and Maine balsam-filled sachets — are all made from local New England fibers, hand-dyed to signature rich tones using natural pigments.

The movie Peyton Place was filmed in Camden. Between Camden and Rockport, see grazing Belted Galloway cows and a statue of Andre, the seal who swam home to Booth Bay in Maine every summer. For more on Andre, watch the movie Andre with Keith Carradine and read A Seal Called Andre, by Lew Dietz, and Andre: The Famous Harbor Seal, by Fran Hodgkins.

For more on Edna St. Vincent Millay, read Poetry for Young People: Edna St. Vincent Millay, edited by Frances Schoonmaker. While reading Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Nancy Milford, I discovered that in 1939, Millay was under the care of Dr. Connie Guion for three weeks in New York Hospital. Guion, a graduate of Wellesley College, was a chemistry and physics teacher at Sweet Briar College from 1908 to 1913. For more on Dr. Guion, click here.

Posted in Books, History, Maine, New England, Travel | Leave a comment