Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Video’

Photo Challenge, Rare: 18th Century Carousel

I’m expanding the “photo” challenge by posting a video. While visiting Zaragoza, Spain, a Renaissance Fair was well underway with colorful tents filling the square and the smells of cheese, incense, burning wood, and olives intertwined on whiffs of air. Crowds poured over the Roman bridge, as it seemed the entire population of Zaragoza showed up to visit the varied venders who came to sell their wares. Musicians played drums and a bagpipe troop snaked their way through the crowd. I wandered past the booths displaying pottery, jewelry and clothing as people cued up to get a photograph with a raptor or a snake charmer.

A vintage merry-go-round, cranked by hand by the operator, caught my attention. I watched the children enjoy the quintessential steampunk ride, with airships, balloons and other flying contraptions. A rare sight, indeed.

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare

Sculling on the Schuylkill, A New Adventure and Skill

Did you ever say to yourself, “You’ve got to be young to do that,” and you might have been twenty-something looking at kids jumping on a trampoline? I’ve made up my mind, I’m not going to tell myself I’m too old for a new adventure. Research confirms that learning a mentally demanding skill will improve our thinking processes, especially if we move out of our comfort zone.

A recent bicycle ride along Kelly Drive lingered in my memory as I thought back to that warm afternoon cycling along the river while watching the rowers slide along the water. So when I looked at the courses offered at Mt. Airy Learning Tree, one of the classes, Row the Schuylkill, enticed me to sign up.

How many of us have wondered what it must be like to glide effortlessly along the Schuylkill River in a rowing shell? This course will provide one of the vest vantage point in the city to watch seasons change in Philadelphia.

I tried to ignore my hesitation. I’ve had a hip replaced the other is, well, giving me some feedback now. Regardless, I signed up and returned to the gym for some exercise on the rowing machine.

The Schuylkill River flows through Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, one of the largest city parks in the country. The Philadelphia city scape sets a dramatic backdrop to the river with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Waterworks buildings and the famous boat house row.

Our launching dock is upriver from the architectural landmarks, and from that vantage, trees follow the river on both sides. Only the sound of traffic speeding along the Kelly Drive thoroughfare reminds me that we are in the city. The evening sun is setting and the water takes on the colors of the fading sky. In the distance, a brown stone bridge arches over the river.

IMG_8088Arriving early for my first class, I pause at the edge of the river. What surprises me most is the number of boats on the water–it’s actually crowded with sculls, dragon boats and the small motored vessels transporting coaches next to their teams. Students load and unload along the docks, lifting their sculls over their heads as they return to shore.

Examining the scull on the shoreline, I see an entirely different perspective than watching the boat in the river. The sculls are surprisingly long for just four rowers, the quad size. I thought to myself, how do we ever maneuver such a long craft, let alone sit in that narrow well? Paddlers use two oars in a scull, one in each hand. I thought this is going to take some coördination.


Whatever doubts I had about my first analysis, were soon dispelled by our instructor and coach, Brannon Johnson. With a decade of experience and as a four-year Division I collegiate athlete at the University of Texas, Brannon made beginners feel at ease with her lighthearted approach and detailed instructions. Although I have to say, I was very envious of the experienced group, who just got to hop into the scull and immediately paddle down river. Neubees had to learn a few skills and strategies first.

The first challenge: getting into the boat without falling into the water. Brannon demonstrates how to step in the boat with one foot (an actual diagram of a foot is imprinted there, it’s that important to step correctly.) I envisioned myself stepping on the boat while one foot on the shore and doing a split. I moved my leg over quickly. I noticed when the other rowers rocked the boat just a little, it seems that it could be easily tipped.

Sculling beginning

Want to go fast like the other guys!

Kado holds the tether so that prevents the novice from floating down steam out of control.

Kado holds the tether so that prevents the novice from floating down steam out of control.

On the second lesson, I had the first chance to row in the quad. After managing to get safely in the boat, Brannon patiently repeats the instructions: square and feather. You hold the oars squared when pulling in the water and feather (when face is flat) while returning the oar to the stroke position. What I had the most trouble with is not pressing down on the oars. Pressing down while stroking means the oar is not in the water but rather flying unhappily in the air. Even while feathering, the oar is supposed to stay close to the water. I have slight dyslexic tendencies, so the order of things can sometimes be difficult. I somehow confused the square with the feather and interchanged them from time to time. Yikes! Kado, one of the assistants provides extra guidance on the single scull.

Brannon reports that we all did very well as nobody landed in the water, which did happen during the one of the other classes. Does make a good photo opportunity, she noted.

Lesson three is the most fun so far as we actually row down the river. Rowing demands concentration. I wanted to admire the scenery and gaze at the water; but when I tried that, I found that I became out of sync with my fellow rowers. Sculling demands a cadence, matching the movements of the others. While bending the knees, the seat rolls forward and then rolls back while pulling the oar through the water. I had to remember to place the left hand over right, and since left and right are interchangeable due to my dyslexia, I had to keep my brain focused on that position. Scullers face backwards; in the larger crafts coxswains monitor the direction.

During class four, I return to the quad with two experienced rowers on board, making the skill more demanding as the cadence became faster and consistent. As in the last time, I focus all my concentration on the stroking, repeating to myself the steps as we glide up the river and under the bridge. Rosie, our coach, advises rowers on our techniques. At one point, I “catch a crab,” which means that an oar gets caught awkwardly in the water. Rosie gets me back on track and into the cadence again. My muscles feel the effect of the exercise, but I have graduated to higher skill level!

Lowering Quad

Lowering the Quad

The evening weather continues warm and beautiful for lesson five. Children load off and on paddle boats lined up along the dock. Under the guidance of Brannon, I practice stroking in the single scull.

During the last lesson, Brannon offers to take me out on the launch in the interest of promoting the sport on social media, since I mentioned that I was a blogger and would like to take video footage. Altogether we have two singles, one double and two quads out on the river, and we experience another beautiful evening on the water for our final session.

Check out on Facebook BLJ Community Rowing, “a program that is welcoming to all who want to try (or already love) the sport of rowing.” So if you have thought about learning a new skill, whether rowing or anything else, I’ll leave you with this quote:

Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.
~ Chinese Proverb

Named Dagger for a Reason

After photographing this little critter, I scanned the Internet to find out more about the caterpillar. What was not surprising to learn: their spiked hairs carry a skin irritant, and if one puts hands in mouth after touching, will be subjected to much pain and swelling. It seems, however, that despite the yellow and black coloring and spiked hairs, some humans cannot resist picking them up.

Related Article: Our Insect Friends and Random Acts of Kindness

As happens on the Internet, stories of cute animals being saved by someone spreads through social media like a a wildfire. Seldom do we here of an assist to our insect neighbors.  In this touching vignette, Scott offers a battered Swallowtail a last sip of nectar.

“Got your Goat,” Street Performance, Plaza Mayor, Madrid

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While in Spain, I enjoyed watching the many street performers and their interactions with visitors.

One of my favorites, took place at the Plaza Mayor, in Madrid, as two little girls interact with a “goat.”

From Autonomous Kingdom of Northern Spain, June 2013.

Tides of Freedom: Amistad’s Visit to Philadelphia, May 2013

Bridge, Boat, Philly Panorama1

The chance to experience a voyage on a schooner while reflecting on the circumstances that brought free people into the imprisonment of slavery was an opportunity I could not miss. On Saturday and Sunday high winds cancelled the river tours aboard the Freedom Schooner Amistad, but by Monday the breezes died down, and we were good for a launch from the Independence Seaport Museum’s dock. The Freedom Schooner Amistad, a replica of the original La Amistad, has collaborated with international organizations throughout the Americas, Europe and Africa to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the former British empire and the United States abolishing the slave trade in the first decade of the 1800s.

Before starting the sail on the Delaware River, I had to get “onboard” with some research on the history of the La Amistad.

Brief History 


1840 engraving depicting the Amistad revolt. Wikipedia.

In 1839, Portuguese slave hunters kidnapped Africans from Sierra Leone and sent them to Cuba, a center for the slave trade. Treaties at that time banned the practice; nevertheless, Spanish planters purchased 53 Africans, including four children, who were shipped toward a plantation in the Caribbean aboard the schooner La Amistad. The Africans seized the ship, killing the captain and ordering the planters to sail to Africa. On August 24, 1839, the La Amistad was seized off the coast of New York, and the Africans were imprisoned on charges of murder. Despite having the charges eventually dismissed, the Africans were held in prison because of the issue of property rights. The case went to the Supreme Court; the justices ruled in favor of the Africans, and 35 survivors were returned to Sierra Leone. The Amistad case advanced the abolitionist movement, which eventually led to the abolition of slavery.

Julia Weathers related the story in her own words . . .

Films and Books

Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film, Amistad, popularized the story and received mostly positive reviews. Roger Ebert wrote,

What is most valuable about Amistad is the way it provides faces and names for its African characters, whom the movies so often make into faceless victims. 

The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom  by Marcus Rediker, published in 2012, retells the story from the point of view of the slaves. An article in the Philadelphia Tribune offers a detailed description of this book. Previous films and books centered on the legal battle and interplay of the politicians, abolitionists and judges rather than on the rebellion and the experience of the Africans. By taking this short voyage on the Amistad, I could imagine how the first sparks of rebellion were ignited against those who had the audacity to believe they could enslave another human being.

The Crew

IMG_2589Twelve members of the crew are part of the Ocean Classroom Foundation, an organization that offers programs of sea education to students. Watching the students do their tasks was amazing as they climbed the rigging and hoisted the sails. What was great about the experience was the crew encouraged passengers to take part in helping out with some of these chores. Passengers pulled the ropes in unison to bring the sails into the wind. A student assisted my friend, Frances, in stacking the rope in a pattern of thirds.  It then occurred to me that this is where the expression “learning the ropes” came from.

The Schooner

The Amistad, built in 2000, is a 129-foot Baltimore Clipper and a replica of the original vessel. Classified as a Sailing School Vessel, the schooner is equipped with modern navigation equipment and is certified to make international voyages.

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The rig and construction are authentic; and as I walked the deck, I admired the wooden pulleys, steering wheel and mast, which retained that old-world feel of craftsmanship, the wood shining with the richness of spar varnish.

The original ship has been long-lost somewhere in the Caribbean, but the Freedom Schooner Amistad will not let the story of 53 determined freedom fighters be forgotten.

Music Video

“Dry Your Tears Afrika,” written by John Williams, is from the movie, Amistad.

Thanks to Abi Iverson for rearranging our tickets and providing additional information for the blog.

“Rock-‘n-Roll is Here to Stay”

Waxing Nostalgia: Teen Dance Scene 1964

For some time I have thought about dancing again as I’ve missed my ice skating dance routines ever since my hip replacement. Reflections about dancing brought me back to the time when my girlfriends and I went to the teen mixers at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Springfield, a suburb just outside of Philadelphia. I couldn’t find any references to the dances on the web, but in the mid-1960s, Holy Cross was the place to be on a Saturday night.

Most of the teens who attended the dances came from the working class communities in the adjacent neighborhoods, and most were Catholic, of course. We attended the public school so it was a bit of a leap to attend a dance outside of our school where we wouldn’t know anyone. Some of our friend’s parents didn’t like the idea of their daughters going to a Catholic dance, but somehow we convinced them it would be ok. Secretly, we always thought that Catholic boys were “fast” but not necessarily that was bad, just we had to be aware. I can’t remember that myth ever playing out. We were somewhat protected in our suburban bubble. My sister remembers her shocked reaction when she saw smoking going on around the corner of the church.

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The Church kept a strict dress code. Boys had to wear coats and ties and for girls, skirts or dresses. We would spend all day getting ready: washing our hair in the morning and using those humongous plastic rollers so that our hair would have puff rather than curl. We would sit under a hair dryer bonnet for hours. More daring girls would wear heavy eye makeup and challenge the limits on how short their skirts could be. It was a fine line, and the authorities would send you home, if you crossed it. Looking back, I believe the dress code established a certain decorum, even if we complained at the time.

We would join long lines outside the gym to pay our 75 cents to get in, passing by the three or four priests that lined up near the entrance. Everybody danced on the crowded floor; we didn’t have to worry about being a wall flower. When dancing, the boys would cut in front of us, nudging each other out-of-the-way. We had bragging rights depending on the number of boys that would cut in. The temperature in the room would rise through the night, but the boys still had to keep their jackets on.

Versions of the Bristol Stomp provided the basic dance steps, and dancers would hit the wooden floor with a collective stomp on the beat. That unison had to be a genre of tribal dancing, and while we danced with a partner, it was really a group dance–and that made it exciting!

The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol,
When they do the Bristol Stomp. Whoa-oh.
Really somethin’ when the joint is jumpin’,
Ah-ah-ah, ah. When they do the Bristol Stomp.

Kal Mann & Dave Appell

After every dance number, we would escape back to our girl pods and share our analysis. “Wow, that was a cute guy you were dancing with.” “He asked for my number!” “Look, he’s wearing a Beatle jacket.” “Did you see that split?”  Boys were considered hot if they did a split; and if a guy had a Beatle haircut, he racked up more status points.

The DJ usually played Doo-Wop music for the slow dances: See the Pyramids Across the Nile, In the Still of the Night, Till Then, You Belong to Me. I remember melting every time the songs played.

Back to the Future: Learning to Dance all Over Again

I looked around the web to find a local dance studio that might offer a few lessons in rock just so I could get dancing again. Ironically, not far from Holy Cross Church, I came across Don’s Dance World, and he was setting up a small adult class in jitterbug. When the class started, what was strange was learning steps to what I just kinda did without thinking when I was a teen. Now, I had to think about it! Don had us repeat the steps many times, switching partners often. He also recited little mantras to help remember the steps:

Sweet ta heart ta back-step
Guy a-turn-a back-step
Girl a-turn-a back-step

Many thanks to Joan, Mike, Robyn, John and Don for their part in the video. At some level, I channeled back to those steamy nights at Holy Cross.

Rock and roll will always be.
I dig it to the end.
It’ll go down in history,
Just you watch, my friend.
Rock and roll will always be.
It’ll go down in history.

David White

Edgewood Plantation: Haunts of the Past

A bit of research, a bit of luck . . .

Brought us to the Edgewood Plantation in our search for a bed and breakfast in the area along the James River, which runs through Richmond to the Chesapeake Bay. The Edgewood website richly described the historic house and gardens quoting Country Collections magazine, “Have you ever dreamed of waking up to an antebellum room that would be the envy of Scarlett O’Hara?” A resident ghost, chased by the TV Ghost Hunters, reportedly resides in the upper story. Sounded like a perfect place to stay!

We drove from Petersburg crossing the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Bridge to the John Tyler Memorial Highway (Route 5), a scenic road lined with forests on either side. A bike path parallels the road in several sections. We drove up a circular driveway to the house, an example of Gothic Revival architecture with a fan-style front porch decorated with wicker seating and floral arrangements on the tables.

An orange cat greeted us in the parking lot and led the way to the porch steps where we met the proprietor, Dot, who warmly welcomed us, offering a glass of wine as we walked through the gardens.

The Edgewood Estate had once been part of the Berkeley Plantation, the home of the ninth President of the United States, William Henry Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, became 23rd President. Harrison built a mill at this site in 1725 so that he could grind wheat and corn rather than having to export the crops elsewhere for processing. Water flowed from a pond down to the mill, creating a waterway, now arched by a white clapboard bridge.

Around 1854, Richard S. Rowland traveled from New Jersey to run the grist mill, moving into the house with his family. Harrison also owned large bake ovens for making sea bread, a food used by the sailors on voyages to England. The mill operated into the 1930s and was known for the excellent meal produced by the burr stones turned by a water wheel.

We explored around the mill peeking through an open door. Inside remnants of the mill remained including chains and hooks still hanging from the cross beams; the famous limestone grinding stones rested on the ground outside.

Older view of the mill; photo courtesy of Dot

A  building that was once the slave quarters sits in back of the main house. Restored and now used as guest rooms, certainly would not resemble what once the slaves called home. According to the definition on Wikipedia, a plantation would have been supported by slave labor. Any romantic recounting of the period that only includes the view of grand mansions with elaborate furnishings and horse-drawn carriages quickly dissipates at the thought that the system of slavery that imprisoned people to a master. A first-hand account here describes the conditions the slaves endured.

Dot shared with me this photograph of the slave quarters.

Antiques of Every Kind

The rooms in the house provided a backdrop for an eclectic collection of antiques and artifacts. Dot restored the kitchen, taking down a plaster wall that hid the original fireplace.

Original Fireplace in the Kitchen

Other rooms in the home in the slide show:

Ties to the Civil War

During the Civil War the Confederate generals camped at the Berkeley Plantation and relied on their soldiers to climb to the third story of Roland’s house, which they used as a lookout post for union troops. On June 15, 1862, Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart stopped at Edgewood for coffee on his way to Richmond to warn General Robert E. Lee of the Union Army’s strength.  Two weeks later 100,000 Union troops spread over the lands along the James River and camped for six weeks. The owners have found shell casings on the property. The mill ground corn for both the Union and Confederate armies.

Rooming with a Ghost?

Lizzie’s Room was our accommodation for the night. Elizabeth Rowland, daughter of the original owner, carved her name on an upstairs window pane. Legend has it that she died of a broken heart when her lover never returned from the Civil War. Some say Lizzie still waits at the window on the third floor.

Ghosts Come to Life as We Breakfast with the President and Mrs. Lincoln

We were fortunate to have breakfast with folks who bring the era of the Civil War to life through reenactments. One of the guests, Gary, portrays a Private 3rd Class in the VT Hemlocks, who are “dedicated to proudly and accurately portraying the common Vermont infantry and artillery soldier during the War of the Rebellion, 1861 – 1865.”

We also had the honor of breakfast with President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, a.k.a. Robert and Cheryl. The context of seeing Abe and Mary Lincoln within the Edgewood Plantation house was amazing. As they descended the staircase, we wondered, were we seeing ghosts?

President and Mrs. Lincoln . . .

Mrs. Lincoln with our Host, Dot

An evening spent at Edgewood carried us back to another time. These buildings were haunting in of themselves as they served as witnesses to history. Lizzie carved her name in the window, perhaps imaging that the house would hold her permanent legacy. We look forward to another visit to uncover more historical treasures. And maybe a President will join us for tea.


James River Plantations, US Parks Service

Edgewood Plantation

Civil War Links

Rediscovering Train Travel

Plane or Train?

For a journey of 270 miles, which is the best way to travel? I decided not to drive so the other options were plane or train. I checked on the airfares and for nonstop flights–a cost over $1,000! Fares ran about $700 for one stop. I thought time to check with Amtrak fares: a one-way ticket with a discount costs $59.50.

Time is a consideration when planning a trip, and the train would take eight hours compared with one hour on a nonstop flight. Depending on the location of the stopovers, the airplane could take anywhere from four to five hours. Also, I would have to get to the airport an hour before the flight takes off. So now I’m down to just a couple hour difference and a savings of $600!

Blogging on the Train!

It’s been awhile since I’ve traveled by train in the US, and as I sit here typing away, I am really enjoying the trip. I did not know that the train had WiFi so wasted no time sending off a couple emails. The connection is a little slow but certainly not unreasonable for a moving vehicle. A receptacle is built into the wall and right by the tray table. The seat is certainly wide enough and room to keep my backpack at my feet to reach travel accessories. The train moves at a good clip . The views along the way make me think that I’m looking at America’s back yard: junk yards, refineries, abandoned factories, back doors of row homes. Expansive views of  waterways also pass by.

What would seem to be the train’s greatest disadvantage has become its greatest asset. The travel time provides the needed relaxation between two destinations: an opportunity to collect thoughts and enjoy the scenery. I’m thinking I don’t miss traffic congestion and cars jockeying for a place on busy highways.

Journey’s End

I’m almost at my destination. I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised with this trip and can recommend taking the train.

The Wren’s Vanishing Act

Every morning I hurriedly climb a back staircase to get to the office to begin another day of work. A week ago a small brown bird danced along the hand rail as I came up the steps. The little bird stood her ground. I admired her defiance.

On the second morning, she was back flitting between a nearby tree and the railing. The night before I checked my bird book and identified her as a House Wren, with her turned up tail and warbling tweetie song. I thought she must have a nest somewhere. I looked in the tree and scanned the walls of the building to see if twigs might be sticking out from a light fixture or downspout, but no such signs appeared.

Checking the Internet, I learned that Wrens can build their nests in strange places. A cavity nest builder, their nests turn up in abandoned bee hives, old hats, tin cans or flower pots. I couldn’t see any such cavities in the area.

On the third morning, the Wren appeared again. This time I watched her from the window on the second floor. Surprisingly, the little Houdini just disappeared! I had to get a closer look to discover the magic trick.

I inspected the railing and found a tiny opening between the pieces of metal. Evidently her brood had already hatched judging from the beak full of breakfast she prepared.

Her magic disappearing act worked well as almost no one noticed her on the stairway–until those babies started squawking, drawing attention to themselves. I guess a loud voice trumps discretion for the young ones.

As I rise and fall on the steps, I think about the deliberate actions of the parent Wren on the railing and the little ones tucked in the metal encasement. I wonder at their place on the staircase, intentions as deliberate as mine heading to the office.

April’s Pink Moon


Friday, April 6, 2012, at approximately 09:18:42 pm.

The April full moon is also known as the Full Pink Moon, which was named for the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, one of the earliest flowers of the spring. Many other pink flowers bloom in April as well as blossoms on the trees. In just a short walk around the neighborhood,  I was able to photograph nature’s many variations of pink.

The moon, like a flower
In heaven’s high bower
With silent delight
Sits and smiles on the night.
                     ~ William Blake

Flowers in the video, in order of appearance: Lilac, Crab Apple, Redbud, Pink Dogwood, Tulip, Cherry, Crab Apple with Chickadee, Rhododendron

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