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Queen Victoria

“Isn’t this the Queen’s court?”

May 24, 2022

Alexandrina Victoria was born on May 24, 1819, and – until 2015 – had the distinction of being the longest reigning world monarch ever.

Victoria, age 18, when she became Queen of England

We know her as Queen Victoria. She ascended to the British throne, at age 18, through a series of serendipitous occurrences. Despite having three uncles in line for the monarchy before her, their deaths – and the death of her own father when she was less than a year old – put in place the exact circumstances necessary for her to become Queen.

When she was barely 18 years old, King George III – her grandfather – died and she became the heir. She went on to reign for 63 years.

Victoria – along with her husband Prince Albert – seemed to understand the future of the monarchy would be one of ceremonial influence. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Through Victoria’s reign, the gradual establishment of a modern constitutional monarchy in Britain continued. Reforms of the voting system increased the power of the House of Commons at the expense of the House of Lords and the monarch. In 1867, Walter Bagehot wrote that the monarch only retained ‘the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn’. As Victoria’s monarchy became more symbolic than political, it placed a strong emphasis on morality and family values, in contrast to the sexual, financial and personal scandals that had been associated with previous members of the House of Hanover and which had discredited the monarchy. The concept of the ‘family monarchy’, with which the burgeoning middle classes could identify, was solidified.”

During her six decades reign, her popularity waxed and waned. After an assassination attempt in 1882, sympathy and approval of the Queen soared. Victoria said – when the-would -be assassin was found not guilty by reason of insanity – it was “worth being shot at—to see how much one is loved.”

Victoria and Albert on their wedding day

Perhaps her greatest influence was on the culture of the day. As the mother of nine children and 42 grandchildren, she came to represent home and hearth.

The Infallible Wikipedia offers this:

“The rise of the middle class during the era had a formative effect on its character; the historian Walter E. Houghton reflects that ‘once the middle class attained political as well as financial eminence, their social influence became decisive. The Victorian frame of mind is largely composed of their characteristic modes of thought and feeling’.

Industrialisation brought with it a rapidly growing middle class whose increase in numbers had a significant effect on the social strata itself: cultural norms, lifestyle, values and morality. Identifiable characteristics came to define the middle-class home and lifestyle. Previously, in town and city, residential space was adjacent to or incorporated into the work site, virtually occupying the same geographical space. The difference between private life and commerce was a fluid one distinguished by an informal demarcation of function. In the Victorian era, English family life increasingly became compartmentalized, the home a self-contained structure housing a nuclear family extended according to need and circumstance to include blood relations. The concept of ‘privacy’ became a hallmark of the middle-class life.”

Victoria has been called the ‘grandmother of Europe’ as her nine children produced 42 grandchildren

For those of us who observe the British Monarchy from a distance, it’s impossible to fathom a system built on a tradition of grandeur and pomp. Yet out of the monarch system – especially true of the Regency and Victorian eras – mountains of fiction have been written.

During the era, novels erupted in popularity, chronicling the time. Even today, the Victorian novel remains popular. A quick search reveals 214 current “Victorian” novels for sale on GoodReads.

Besides the books written by the Bronte sisters, I’d never read many Regency or Victorian novels. But my mother did. She loved the eras and the stories, especially Regency author, Georgette Heyer.

When, in late November 2010, my mother fell ill, she ended up spending 9 days in the hospital as she had contracted the H1N1 flu. It was touch and go, but eventually she no longer required hospitalization and was to be moved to Good Samaritan in Yakima for rehab. Transfer day was scheduled for December 7 and I had driven over the mountains the previous afternoon to be there to facilitate her relocation.

There were patches of snow and ice on the ground. It was cold, gray, and raw. I spent the night at my sister’s house and the next morning made my way to the hospital. Soon Mom was in the aid car and then arrived at her new room at Good Sam.

I spent the afternoon with her as a parade of nurses and caregivers came and went as they got her settled in.

Now, my mother had been suffering with dementia/Alzheimers for at least a few years by then. Nearly two weeks of severe illness had exacerbated the situation.

But the folks at Good Sam didn’t know her and did not realize how extensive the memory issues were.

About 3 p.m., a young woman enters the room and introduces herself as the Occupational Therapist (OT) and wants to talk with Mom. Mom’s bed is parallel to a window which looks out onto an interior courtyard. I’m sitting on a chair right next to Mom, between the bed and the window; the OT is on the other side, closer to the door.

Mom and me snapping green beans at her and my Dad’s home, Thanksgiving Day 2010. Dad was in the hospital THAT day but came home the next afternoon; four days later Mom ended up in the hospital with the H1N1 flu… and was never able to live at home again.

So Mom keeps swiveling her head between us as the OT asks the questions; it’s as if Mom is looking to me for confirmation that she is answering correctly. For my part I am, of course, letting her answer the questions even if the answer is “I don’t know.”

Mom does know her name, her birthday, and the name of the town where she lives. Then the OT asks the following:

“Do you know where you are?”

Silence. Mom looks over at me and clearly does not know for SURE where she is, then turns back to the OT and says “Isn’t this the Queen’s court?”

The OT’s eyes lock on to mine and get very wide. I nod and smile because in that one answer the OT understood quite clearly that rehab for Mom wasn’t going to mean sending her home to resume life as most of us know it.

After the OT left, I stayed with Mom through her dinner and then made my way back to my sister’s for the night.

The next morning, before heading home, I stop in to see how Mom is doing. The first thing I notice is how pretty the snow looks as it gently falls outside the window, the ground now a blanket of white. Mom is awake, propped up in the bed and finishing breakfast. The room is warm and Mom looks comfortable.

With a big smile – she’s obviously glad to see me – exclaims “Oh, you’re back from England!”

Indeed. We had been to the Queen’s Court and back. The nearest to a monarchy I’m ever likely to get.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Victoria

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_era

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgette_Heyer

Yellowstone National Park

One of the world’s most magical places

March 1, 2022

The family at the northern entrance to the park in 2013

There are only a few places in the world I consider to be magical. This site – which became America’s first National Park – is such a place.

Long before that event, however, stories of this fantastical spot were dismissed as the ravings of madmen. Yet, as more and more intrepid explorers ventured into the American west, the stories of superheated water shooting hundreds of feet into the air, boiling mud lakes, and running water in winter, could no longer be dismissed as pure fantasy. Eventually, the stories proved to be true and, on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established. Today marks the 150th anniversary of that event.

As always, the Infallible Wikipedia, shares some of that history:

“In 1806, John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, left to join a group of fur trappers. After splitting up with the other trappers in 1807, Colter passed through a portion of what later became the park, during the winter of 1807–1808. He observed at least one geothermal area in the northeastern section of the park, near Tower Fall.  After surviving wounds he suffered in a battle with members of the Crow and Blackfoot tribes in 1809, Colter described a place of ‘fire and brimstone’ that most people dismissed as delirium; the supposedly mystical place was nicknamed ‘Colter’s Hell’. Over the next 40 years, numerous reports from mountain men and trappers told of boiling mud, steaming rivers, and petrified trees, yet most of these reports were believed at the time to be myth.

Honeymooner Hubby at Old Faithful September 2, 1980

After an 1856 exploration, mountain man Jim Bridger (also believed to be the first or second European American to have seen the Great Salt Lake) reported observing boiling springs, spouting water, and a mountain of glass and yellow rock. These reports were largely ignored because Bridger was a known ‘spinner of yarns.’ In 1859, a U.S. Army Surveyor named Captain William F. Raynolds embarked on a two-year survey of the northern Rockies. After wintering in Wyoming, in May 1860, Raynolds and his party—which included naturalist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden and guide Jim Bridger—attempted to cross the Continental Divide over Two Ocean Plateau from the Wind River drainage in northwest Wyoming. Heavy spring snows prevented their passage, but had they been able to traverse the divide, the party would have been the first organized survey to enter the Yellowstone region.”

The author at Liberty Cap in the Mammoth Hot Springs region July 1982

While today we take for granted our National Parks, in the early years the western lands were often auctioned off, with the thought that having private enterprise take over regions would be best for getting the vast western lands settled.

Thankfully, due primarily to the efforts of geologist Ferdinand Hayden, Congress was convinced to create Yellowstone NP, preserving the lands for future generations to enjoy in as natural a state as possible.

Now, to be fair, this article could go on for pages and pages. There have been books written about the park and its 150 year history. It truly is an amazing story and a good start is on the Infallible Wikipedia page or the official National Park Service site (links below).

Reading about Yellowstone – or even watching video – simply does not do it justice. It has to be seen, smelled, felt, to truly be embraced by the magic of the place.

The author on a hike 1982. The upper geyser basin in the background.

As a child, my family never strayed far from home when we went on vacations. Each summer was a week or two at the beach. As a teenager, we took one trip to California and Disneyland with a stop at Crater Lake in Oregon on the way home.

I was 23 years old the first time I laid eyes on Yellowstone. The hubby and I had been married two days earlier and our honeymoon trip was, in theory, to drive back to Tampico, Illinois to visit his sister and her family. It turned in to so much more.

It was late afternoon on September 1, 1980, when we drove into Yellowstone. From my accounting of that day:

“About 5 p.m. we were at the park entrance. We did stop briefly in West Yellowstone for gas and miscellaneous groceries. While in the park that evening we stopped to see the mud paint pots and smaller geysers. (The hubby) was amazed at me upon witnessing someone who was seeing Yellowstone for the first time.

At every new site, I’d get excited just like a kid at Christmas. The same words always flowed from my mouth: ‘Oh! Wow!’”

Riverside Geyser adorned with a rainbow. 1982

Actually, I think my reaction was more like ‘Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!’

It was not until the next day that I saw a few of the ‘big’ geysers, including Old Faithful. Once again, I was stunned by the amazing displays:

“Two of the more notable geysers we saw erupting were Grand and Riverside. Grand was by far the more spectacular of the two, shooting 200-250 feet into the air.”

That 24 hour visit to Yellowstone was a lot like speed dating. We crammed as much into the visit as our time allowed before continuing east to Illinois.

Yet the ‘date’ left me wanting more. Two summers later we planned and then set out on a two week western US trip which took us back to Yellowstone. Our goal for that trip was to drive on every road in the park, and stay at least one night in each distinctive region. On that trip we found ourselves, literally, walking in the middle of an elk herd! (It was dusky and we were on our way to a campfire program put on by the ranger) We counted 29 does and fawns.

Upright petrified trees can only be seen on an insane hike called ‘Climb Through Time.’
Son and daughter at Minerva Terrace 2013

We saw a moose, marmots, and bison. We climbed to the top of Mt. Washburn and enjoyed spectacular views. We shared our camping spot with an Italian couple who had inadvertently joined us when they didn’t understand how the system worked. We visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Mammoth Hot Springs area. We did a ‘climb through time’ to see a standing petrified forest.

And we achieved our goal of driving every road in the park.

When we left Yellowstone on August 1st, I felt as if I had gotten my fill… at least for a few years.

The pair of us returned in 1989, and then brought the kids in 1998 when they were 8 and 5. Our last visit to the park was in 2013, the kids now 23 and 20, as part of a journey to move our daughter to Nashville.

Even writing about the trips creates a yearning to visit Yellowstone once again. Perhaps it is time to start planning for at least one more journey to this magical place.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_National_Park

https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm

The hubby and kids from our last Yellowstone visit in September 2013

The Dakotas

But Which One Was First?

November 2, 2021

The author in South Dakota in 2014

Up until November 2, 1889, this region was collectively known as Dakota Territory. But it was on that date when the two were split and became the 39th and 40th states in America. But which was first? South Dakota or North Dakota? No one knows for sure.

 The Infallible Wikipedia shares the following story:

“As the southern part of the former Dakota Territory, South Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889, simultaneously with North Dakota. They are the 39th and 40th states admitted to the union; President Benjamin Harrison shuffled the statehood papers before signing them so that no one could tell which became a state first.”

The scene is all blue and yellow at an entrance to North Dakota Road Sign

Or, if you prefer it from the perspective of the other half:

“North Dakota was admitted to the Union on November 2, 1889, along with neighboring South Dakota, as the 39th and 40th states. President Benjamin Harrison shuffled the statehood papers before signing them so that no one could tell which became a state first; consequently, the two states are officially numbered in alphabetical order.”

Sure sounds like North Dakota thinks they were first. For those paying attention, there were four states admitted to the union in November 1889. Besides these two, Montana and Washington were welcomed on November 8th and 11th respectively. But back to the Dakotas.

I find it interesting that they were split north and south since in reading about them geographically, an east/west split would have probably made more sense. The Eastern half of both states are considered part of the Great Plains with climates and an emphasis on agriculture which reflects this. For both states, the majority of their populations live in the Eastern half.

West of the Missouri river – which bisects all of South Dakota and most of North Dakota – the terrain changes. One notices that there are more mountains and the landscape is more rugged as the climb towards the Rocky Mountains begins.

Both states have abundant natural resources particularly gold in South Dakota, rich oil deposits in North Dakota.

The number of folks who call each state home live in their cities as follows for South Dakota:

“Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota, with a 2010 population of 153,888, and a metropolitan area population of 238,122. The city, founded in 1856, is in the southeast corner of the state. (snip)

Rapid City, with a 2010 population of 67,956, and a metropolitan area population of 124,766, is the second-largest city in the state. It is on the eastern edge of the Black Hills, and was founded in 1876. (snip)

The next eight largest cities in the state, in order of descending 2010 population, are Aberdeen (26,091), Brookings (22,056), Watertown (21,482), Mitchell (15,254), Yankton (14,45), Pierre (13,646), Huron (12,592), and Vermillion (10,571)”

North Dakota’s cities are even smaller with Fargo, based on 2021 estimated numbers, coming in the largest at 125,804 residents. The next nine are:

Bismarck (74,129), Grand Forks (54,243), Minot (47,236), West Fargo (38,654), Williston (32,189), Dickinson (24,007), Mandan (23,190), Jamestown (14,840), Watford City (9,345)

I compared these numbers to the three cities of Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond, Washington – where the family lived for many years – which has a combined population of about 331,000 people. King County claims 2.3 million people. The two Dakota states combined have about 1.67 million population.

Over the years, the hubby, the kids, and me, have been to both North and South Dakota. Never more than a few days at a time and mostly as brief stops to visit a National Park, Monument, or to spend the night on the way somewhere else.

After the hubby I were married in 1980 something, we drove east on our way to Illinois so that I could meet his older sister and her family. It was day four of our drive when I first saw South Dakota. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I cannot claim actually ‘seeing’ much since we arrived at the hotel where we were able to get reservations in the middle of the night. It was now September 3rd.

After a short night’s sleep, we were up and out the door by 9 a.m. I wrote about that day with the following:

“Our major stop of the day was at Mt. Rushmore. We saw the presidents and then had a picnic lunch on the shores of Horsethief Lake. We barbequed 3 veal cubesteaks on the hibachi.

The author in all of her age 23 glory at Mt. Rushmore in early September 1980

By 1:30 we left Rapid City, S.D. and headed east on I-90. We drove all day until we got to the Lake Vermillion Recreation area, only to discover that it was no longer a picnic area (or a campground as shown on our AAA map!)

We almost cooked dinner there, but gusty winds made us decide differently. We also learned why it was called Lake Vermillion as just at sunset, the lake turned a deep, blood red color. It was quite pretty against the deep green grass along its bank and the blue and purple puffed clouds in the eastern sky.

The sky which caused us to rethink our plans for camping out on the South Dakota prairie.

Sioux Falls was only a few miles down the road so we decided to eat there. We also decided to stop there – instead of in Fairmont, Minn – when we saw a huge thunder and lightning storm boiling up in front of us.

We stayed at the ‘Thrifty Scot Motel.’ We ended up eating dinner at the “Happy Chef’ – a VIP’s or Sambo type restaurant.* We tried to eat at a Mexican restaurant but it had closed by the time we found it.

One nice feature of the Thrifty Scot was that they had doughnuts and Orange juice for breakfast at no extra cost. We paid $22 for our room there.”

A 1960’s era matchbook cover from Sambo’s restaurant. Because back then not only was the theme politically incorrect, but smoking inside a restaurant was also allowed!

A few things come to mind as I read this account from 40 some years ago. One, anyone under the age of 60 has likely NEVER heard of VIP’s since the last of the chain of 53 restaurants closed in 1988. Two, you can be forgiven for not knowing what a Sambo’s is either as it filed for Chapter 11 in 1981. The owners, Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett, combined their names to get the name “Sambo’s” never intending it to be associated with the popular 1899 children’s story of the Indian boy Sambo who turns tigers to butter.

I also guess that the Thrifty Scot was ahead of its time, giving ‘breakfast’ to the travelers for free. J Nowadays, I’d likely skip both the doughnut and the OJ.

In all fairness to North Dakota, we traversed THAT State on the return from Illinois. Unfortunately, I was sick which prompted a stop in Fargo at the emergency clinic, the acquisition of a sulfa prescription for a bladder infection, and then spent the night in the highly entertaining town of Bowbells. (Population 587 in 1980… now about 336) Which is also a story for another post or, possibly, the basis for a work of fiction.

Personally, I think everyone who has the time and the means should attempt to visit every state in the United States. There are interesting things to see and do and one gets a different perspective when one goes beyond the familiar surrounds of where they live.

For more information about the two Dakotas and other items in the post here are some links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Dakota

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Dakota

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambo%27s

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VIP%27s_(restaurant)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowbells,_North_Dakota

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_Little_Black_Sambo

Scituate, Massachusetts

What a Mann!

October 5, 2021

When one thinks of the earliest communities settled by the European immigrants, no doubt the word ‘Plymouth’ rolls off most people’s tongues.

New England was not, however, just that one community, but a whole network of towns and villages, dotting the east coast like sand dollars.

As someone who loves history and genealogy, I was thrilled to learn in my research that I can trace several of my family lines to some of the earliest settlements of the now northeast United States.

One of these places is a small town in Massachusetts named Scituate. The spelling alone is enough to cause most people to stop and say ‘how do you pronounce THAT!?’ So let’s get that out of the way. It’s pronounced ‘SIT – U- ATE.’ Just think of it as something you do at dinner each night.

It was on October 5, 1636 when the town was incorporated. Happy 385th birthday!

For those who don’t recall, Plymouth was settled in 1620 when the Pilgrims arrived. Following the success of the early settlers, no doubt word got back to England, and more people made the treacherous sea voyage seeking refuge in the new land.

The Infallible Wikipedia tells us this about Scituate:

“The Wampanoag and their neighbors have inhabited the lands Scituate now stands on for thousands of years. The name Scituate is derived from ‘satuit‘, the Wampanoag term for cold brook, which refers to a brook that runs to the inner harbor of the town. In 1710, several European colonizers emigrated to Rhode Island and founded Scituate, Rhode Island, naming it after their previous hometown.

European colonization brought a group of people from Plymouth about 1627, who were joined by colonizers from the county of Kent in England. They were initially governed by the General Court of Plymouth, but on October 5, 1636, the town incorporated as a separate entity.

The Scituate lighthouse at sunrise.

The Williams-Barker House, which still remains near the harbor, was built in 1634. Twelve homes and a sawmill were destroyed in King Phillip’s War in 1676.

In 1717, the western portion of the original land grant was separated and incorporated as the town of Hanover, and in 1788, a section of the town was ceded to Marshfield. In 1849, another western section became the town of South Scituate, which later changed its name to Norwell. Since then, the borders have remained essentially unchanged.

Fishing was a significant part of the local economy in the past, as was the sea mossing industry. The sea was historically an integral part of the town with occasional incidents such as that described February 13, 1894, in which eight men clinging to the vessel’s rigging on a schooner grounded off Third Cliff apparently died before a large crowd watching from shore ‘literally frozen to the ropes’ while unsuccessful rescue efforts continued through the day and their apparently lifeless bodies were covered by nightfall. A small fishing fleet is still based in Scituate Harbor, although today the town is mostly residential.”

Sign outside the Mann house in Scituate. Photo taken by author 2008

In April 2008, the hubby, daughter, and I took a trip to Massachusetts. We spent two nights in Plymouth. Day three was designated as the day to drive north and stay in the greater Boston area. But something had started niggling at me. Didn’t I have ancestors who came from Massachusetts? I had done research some 10 years earlier and hit the genealogic jackpot when I was able to connect up with a whole string of people who zoomed the family line back from 1848 Wisconsin to Scituate and before that across the Atlantic to England. I now have the Mann’s traced back to 1457.

Although it was the days before Ancestry.com or 23andMe, there were programs on the internet where one could store their family trees. So I logged in and, low and behold, as I worked backwards I found Richard Mann, an early founder of Scituate.

Armed with this information I knew we HAD to go through Scituate! Once headed north, we soon found ourselves inching our way there. There were no interstate highways or tollways, just idyllic backroads decorated with budding deciduous trees and bright spring flowers dotting the landscape. The houses we passed were classic New England colonials and saltboxes. It was all very charming.

Scituate was, well, situated on the coast; still primarily a fishing village three hundred and seventy some years later.

And, of course, I was determined to find the home of great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great -grandpa Dick.

As it turns out, my direct ancestral line left Scituate sometime in the early 1700’s when one Abigail Mann married the (it turns out) scoundrel Simon Baxter, Sr. and moved to Connecticut. That didn’t work out so well for her in the long run as Simon got involved with another woman. Divorce, though rare, was granted in this case to great-great-great-great-great-great grandma Abby since Simon had engaged in “fornication with the widow Rebecca Berg” according to the documents of the day. Yikes.

My Mann ancestry

Fortunately for me, they had managed to produce a son, Simon Baxter, Jr. and HE had a daughter Prudence who fared much better than her grandmother and married one Aristides Huestis (my son is, no doubt, thankful I didn’t want to name him after Aristides). The Huestis family lived in Crown Point, New York. They were hardy people and produced a large gaggle of offspring including my great-great-great-great grandmother, Polly Huestis Noyes, who ended up being an early settler into the state of Wisconsin in 1848.

And on the western migration went clear to the other side of country in only 275 short years.

But I digress. Because there are moments in life when one takes a step back and says ‘this explains so much.’ The visit to Scituate was one of those times.

Poor grandma Abby didn’t have a chance, of course, since the way of the world was very patriarchal at the time. While she married scoundrel Simon and moved away, her brother stayed. And his eldest son, and the eldest son after that, and so on and so forth with a new male heir produced each generation. All the way to the 1970’s when the last direct male descendent of Richard Mann, Percy, died without offspring.

Oh dear. What to do with the house in Scituate? How about we make it a museum?

Which is exactly what they did.

This is a nice thing to do for ancestor hunters because much of the heritage of that particular family line has been preserved for all us ‘Mann’ descendents.

So we arrive at the Mann farmhouse on a cool, but sunny, April afternoon. The house (now the museum) is shut up tighter than a reticent New Englander’s mouth. But the gardens and property were open, so we wander about.

And then we find it – the prize which all genealogists want – that thing, that one thing which makes you say “Huh? So THAT’s where that trait comes from!”

Tucked away behind the house and far from the gardens is a tree… surrounded by a car. That’s not entirely accurate. This whitewashed account is from the Scituate Historical Society:

“After Percy Mann had a run-in with the town’s officials in the 1920’s, he decided that rather than pay vehicle registration fees, driver’s license fees, and car insurance, he would just drive his automobile into the back yard, park it and never drive it again. Over the course of time a tree grew up through the middle of the car, which remains where Percy left it almost a century ago.”

The remains of Percy Mann’s car in 2008

I still laugh when I imagine how this whole thing REALLY went down. Old Percy must have been as stubborn as a Nor’easter in November. No one, not even the town leaders, were going to tell him he had to pay fees and get a license to drive a car. “Ah, hell,” one imagines he railed, “I did fine with my horse and wagon and no one’s gonna force me to buy a g-damned license for it!”

So he did what any rational Mann man would do. He drove the car onto the property and never touched it again. That’ll show ‘em.

There is absolutely no doubt my DeVore family is related to the Mann’s, possessing that same stubborn New England Yankee obstinate spirit. It’s in the genes.

As always, a link or two:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scituate%2C_Massachusetts

http://scituatehistoricalsociety.org/mann-house/

http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~dyer/genealogy/Mann/D1.htm

Boston, Massachusetts

To Wooster and Beyond

September 7, 2021

One of the best parts of travel is climbing behind the wheel of a car and exploring interesting historical places. Boston is one of those places where history seems to live on every corner.

The Old North Church, Boston Commons, Bunker Hill, and Paul Revere’s house are but a few of the many  locations one can visit.

Paul Revere statue on a rainy day in April 2008

Boston – which was named as a settled town on September 7, 1630 – was one of the earliest and most influential places in America.

Of course The Infallible Wikipedia has something to say on the subject:

“Boston is one of the oldest municipalities in the United States, founded on the Shawmut Peninsula in 1630 by Puritan settlers from the English town of the same name. It was the scene of several key events of the American Revolution, such as the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill and the siege of Boston. Upon American independence from Great Britain, the city continued to be an important port and manufacturing hub as well as a center for education and culture. The city has expanded beyond the original peninsula through land reclamation and municipal annexation. Its rich history attracts many tourists, with Faneuil Hall alone drawing more than 20 million visitors per year. Boston’s many firsts include the United States’ first public park (Boston Common, 1634), first public or state school (Boston Latin School, 1635) and first subway system (Tremont Street subway, 1897).

Today, Boston is a thriving center of scientific research. The Boston area’s many colleges and universities make it a world leader in higher education, including law, medicine, engineering and business, and the city is considered to be a global pioneer in innovation and entrepreneurship, with nearly 5,000 startups. Boston’s economic base also includes finance, professional and business services, biotechnology, information technology and government activities.

In the United States today, the greater Boston area is the tenth largest Metropolitan Statistical Area and the largest city in New England.

The hubby and daughter at Ben Franklin’s birthplace

The hubby, daughter, and I had the chance to visit Boston in 2008 when she was the representative for Massachusetts for the Washington Idaho Rainbow Girls. We only had one day in Boston proper, but visited a number of the historic sites. The city was a busy, vibrant place even on that cold and rainy April day. We walked around the city and thoroughly enjoyed the historical immersion.

Now, getting into Boston was a completely different experience. Because our trip would take us into western Massachusetts, renting a car was essential.

On the day we arrived at Logan Airport we picked up our luggage then made our way to the rental car lot. The clerk was not too concerned about which car he assigned us; instead he told us to pick one from this one particular row of vehicles.

So out we wandered to the dozens of identical make cars. How to choose? We decided on one with New York license plates for no other reason than our niece and my sister were visiting in New York while we were in Massachusetts.

Soon we were ensconced in the car and off on our adventures. On our second night – after our first down in Plymouth – we stayed in a hotel out in Revere. This afforded us reasonable access to Boston proper with about a 20 minute commute.

Soon we learned that to get to Boston the most direct way was to head south on Everett Street and then merge into the traffic rotary (we call them roundabouts in Washington) and then on to the 1-A.

It was a great plan in theory. In fact there were two things wrong with our plan. Did I mention that we were driving a car with New York plates?

New York license plates? Not a good idea.

As it turns out, people in Massachusetts pretty much hate New Yorkers. Might be related to the Red Sox and the Yankees, but I’m speculating. Or it might be that they just have no patience for anyone who does not drive as crazy as they do.

We were honked at, gestured at, and given the double middle finger salute multiple times over the course of the week.

But back to the rotary. This particular roundabout was HUGE… and the cars were doing at least 40 miles per hour and, in some cases, traveling three abreast.

The death trap rotary as seen from my map App

The hubby, like a good granny driver, pulls up to the stop sign and then waits for a break in the traffic; but there is no break in traffic. Cars whiz by at speeds which made my head spin.

Meanwhile there are now cars backing up behind us. Horns are honked at us as if doing so will somehow motivate the hubby to hit the accelerator and dive into the path of oncoming death.

Then the weirdest thing occurs. The car behind us – his patience apparently all used up – pulls around us on the left and, in a life endangering move, zooms into the rotary, squeezing between a truck and a car. This happens a couple more times – honking horns, hand gestures, and illegal passing – while the hubby is evaluating the possibility of success. Eventually he spies two feet of open space, floors the gas pedal and we rocket into the rotary, somehow emerging unscathed.

In fact our visit to Massachusetts was one driving adventure after another. Heaven help you if you miss your exit and end up in Jamaica Plain. But that’s a story for another day. And woe unto you if you are relying on paper maps… by the time we got to Worcester (pronounced Wooster, by the way) street signs had all but disappeared. I guess most people have lived there for so long that they don’t need street signs.

The street signs we found were mostly of this variety…

Somehow we made it to Barre (pronounced Barry) for our event despite the navigator (that would be me) making wild guesses as to which road we needed to take.

So just remember this… if you are flying into Boston and need a rental car, never ever, under any circumstances agree to drive one with New York plates. On second thought, hiring an Uber might be a better plan.

A link or two:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundabout

Mt. St. Helen’s

Vancouver, Vancouver! This is it!

May 18, 2021

There are only a very few days in our lives which we recall with complete clarity. One’s wedding day, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one. There are also days which are touchstones because they affect so very many people. December 7, 1941. September 11, 2001. May 18, 1980.

The last date was, particularly for those of us living in Washington and Oregon, the day when we understood the terrible, yet awesome, power of nature. In less than two minutes, the top 1,314 feet of Mount St. Helen’s was blasted away and swept down the north face of the mountain, leveling everything in its path.

Photographer Keith Ronnholm was in the right spot at 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980 when he captured the eruption in a series of still shots.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The landslide exposed the dacite magma in St. Helens’ neck to much lower pressure, causing the gas-charged, partially molten rock and high-pressure steam above it to explode a few seconds after the landslide started. Explosions burst through the trailing part of the landslide, blasting rock debris northward. The resulting blast directed the pyroclastic flow laterally. It consisted of very hot volcanic gases, ash and pumice formed from new lava, as well as pulverized old rock, which hugged the ground. Initially moving at approximately 220 miles per hour (350 km/h), the blast quickly accelerated to around 670 mph (1,080 km/h), and it may have briefly passed the speed of sound.

Pyroclastic flow material passed over the moving avalanche and spread outward, devastating a fan-shaped area 23 miles across by 19 miles long (37 km × 31 km). In total about 230 square miles (600 km2) of forest was knocked down, and extreme heat killed trees miles beyond the blow-down zone. At its vent the lateral blast probably did not last longer than about 30 seconds, but the northward-radiating and expanding blast cloud continued for about another minute.

Superheated flow material flashed water in Spirit Lake and North Fork Toutle River to steam, creating a larger, secondary explosion that was heard as far away as British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, and Northern California.”

This is the scientific description of what happened. The only way to describe that day on a personal level was ‘surreal.’

At 8:32 a.m. the hubby (he was the fiancé on that day) and I had just awoken. We were up in Blaine, Washington, the last town (population 2,683 in 1980) before crossing the border to British Columbia.

We had been there since Friday night when we arrived and sat in the family kitchen and announced our engagement. The weekend had been spent visiting, playing cards, and hanging out. The hubby and I were to leave in the early afternoon and head to Seattle where he lived. I would have to head further south to Eatonville.

But I digress. 8:32 a.m. and there are two loud ‘claps’ and the walls of the house shudder. I’m thinking earthquake or, possibly, that the bull my future father in law kept out in the field, had escaped and was ramming the house. This was not an impossibility since it had happened once before.

I say to my hubby, “Maybe the bull got loose.” But his reply is prescient when he says “It’s Mount St. Helen’s.”

It was nearly two hours before his words were proven true and the TV news stations began showing video of the nearly 80,000 foot ash plume soaring above the now sheared mountain. Planes flew over the Toutle and Cowlitz rivers with photographers filming entire houses and forests being swept down the rivers, taking out bridges and all vegetation in its path. We were glued to the TV.

I had but one thought, I needed to get back to Eatonville as I was the sole reporter for the weekly paper and – although the community was not in the path of the ash cloud – being less than 60 miles from the mountain, it WAS the news story of the week, perhaps the year or even the decade.

That evening, after checking in with the publisher and working on a story for the paper to be included in the layout the next day, I was at my apartment fixing myself some dinner. I turned on the TV – KOMO 4 – and at first I thought something was wrong with the TV. It was a hand-me-down, early 1960’s, black and white which had been my grandmother’s TV when she was still alive.

All I could see on the TV was a black screen with a smudge of white appearing every so often. But it wasn’t the fact that there wasn’t much picture so much as what I was hearing. It became evident quickly that I was watching a film from someone who had been caught in the eruption. Someone who wasn’t sure if they were going to live or die. It was riveting. I later learned that the person was Dave Crockett and he did survive. But 57 others did not that day.

In the summer of 1985, the (now) hubby, me, my Mom and Dad, drove to Mt. St. Helen’s and along the forest service roads on the east side of the mountain. Nothing had yet been developed. There wasn’t a visitor centers or restroom. Just a few Honey Buckets set up where the crowds had organically gathered. We stopped at a pond where every tree surrounding it had been blown down or broken. Yet, new sprouts had started to grow, and tadpoles skittered through the shallows.

The pyroclastic flow tossed the trees around like toothpicks, laying them out in swirl patterns
I’ve always wondered about the occupants of this car and their last terrifying moments.

We saw a destroyed car, a sad monument to whoever was caught behind the wheel. We stood below the mountain and looked up in amazement at miles of the once 70 to 80 foot tall trees now scattered across the landscape like some giants’ game of pick-up sticks.

We stopped on a ridge to the northeast of the mountain and gazed down at a log clogged Spirit Lake and into the steaming crater of the mountain.

At the time – as is so often the case – we didn’t fully appreciate that the sites we saw that day would soon be gone, changed by snow and sun, rain and wind, and the regeneration of life.

A pond regenerates after the blast
My parents during the 1985 tour of Mt. St. Helens. They had been plunged into volcanic darkness in Yakima five years earlier the morning the mountain erupted.

Every year on May 18 I pause and reflect on the events of that day, still as clear in my mind as if it was last week. Mt. St. Helen’s eruption changed me; in so many imperceptible ways it marked the moment when I began to view the world from an adult perspective, recognizing there are forces in the universe over which neither I nor anyone else has control.

Mt. St. Helen’s made me more cautious and more aware of the transitory nature of life. But it also brings to mind the phrase from the Roman poet, Horace, ‘Carpe Diem.’ Every day is the right day to do just that. Go seize yours.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980_eruption_of_Mount_St._Helens

https://petapixel.com/2013/02/26/photographing-the-eruption-of-mount-st-helens-from-10-miles-away/

January 26, 1700

The Great Quake

January 26, 2021

Thunderbird and Whale battling

 “There was a great storm and hail and flashes of lightning in the darkened, blackened sky, and a great and crashing ‘thunder-noise’ everywhere. Here were also a shaking, jumping up and trembling of the earth beneath, and a rolling up of the great waters.”

So the oral story of the Hoh people had been told, passed down from generation to generation. The event, it turns out, was not the stuff of fiction but can be pinpointed to the night of January 26, 1700.

It was at that moment, triggered by a sudden unlocking of the Juan de Fuca and North American geologic plates, that a estimated 9.2 earthquake shook the west coast from Northern California to Southern British Columbia.

The earthquake triggered a huge tsumani which inundated the coast, wiping out entire villages of people, submerging land, and killing forests.

And then? And then only the oral stories remained and were passed down. But when new people arrived nothing was known of this history until the 1970’s when geologists started piecing together the geologic history.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The earthquake took place at about 21:00 Pacific Time on January 26, 1700 (NS). Although there are no written records for the region from the time, the timing of the earthquake has been inferred from Japanese records of a tsunami that does not correlate with any other Pacific Rim quake. The Japanese records exist primarily in the modern-day Iwate Prefecture, in communities such as Tsugaruishi, Kuwagasaki and Ōtsuchi.

The most important clue linking the tsunami in Japan and the earthquake in the Pacific Northwest comes from studies of tree rings (dendrochronology), which show that several ‘ghost forests’ of red cedar trees in Oregon and Washington, killed by lowering of coastal forests into the tidal zone by the earthquake, have outermost growth rings that formed in 1699, the last growing season before the tsunami. (snip)

Local Native American and First Nations groups residing in Cascadia used oral tradition to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next, so there is no written documentation like that of the Japanese tsunami. However, numerous oral traditions describing a great earthquake and tsunami-like flooding exist among indigenous coastal peoples from British Columbia to Northern California. These do not specify an exact date, and not all earthquake stories in the region can be definitively isolated as referring to the 1700 quake in particular; however, virtually all of the native peoples in the region have at least one traditional story of an event much stronger and more destructive than any other that their community had ever experienced.”

This forensic information, combined with the Japanese records, have made it possible to pinpoint the date and time of the great event.

Ground Zero seems to be located at the mouth of the Copalis River, just north of Gray’s Harbor in Washington State. The ghost forest appears at low tide. It’s been determined that the ground dropped over 6 feet and that the trees all died as a result of a singular event. Through carbon dating and evaluation scientists now know that the event occurred in either late 1699 or early 1700.

But it wasn’t just a onetime thing. Scientists have also found evidence that over 40 megathrust quakes have shaken the PNW in the past 10,000 years. That, it turns out, means an average of 430 years between the quakes. The three most recent events occurred in 810, 1310, and 1700. It’s now been 321 years since the 1700 event. Scientists predict that there is a 37 percent chance of an 8.2 or greater quake in the next 50 years.

Ghost forest on the Copalis River near Gray’s Harbor

For those of us who have lived our entire lives in the PNW, we know exactly where we were and what we were doing on two specific dates in the last 50 years: April 29, 1965 and February 28, 2001.

Those were the dates of the most significant ‘recent’ earthquakes in the region. I was seven years old for the first one and, prior to that April morning, had never heard the term earthquake or understood what it was.

I was standing at the counter in our family bathroom (we had one bathroom for six people!) and my mother was fixing my hair for school. We lived in Yakima, 150 miles from the quake’s epicenter. When the house started to shake my mother, so very calmly, said to me, “It’s an earthquake,” and instructed me to hang on to the counter. Soon that event was forgotten but everyone of my age or older knows where they were at that exact moment, especially people who lived in the Puget Sound area.

Fast forward to February 28, 2001. It’s just before 11 a.m. The kids are at school and I have spent the morning volunteering with my fifth grade son’s class. Around 10:30 – when two other parents arrive – I take off as I have errands to run in advance of the Boy Scouts Blue and Gold banquet scheduled for March 2nd.

When I arrive back at our house on the hill above East Lake Sammamish parkway, my in-laws are there as they have been staying with us for a few days. I tell them that I’m going to have something to eat then go do my errands. I walk to the fridge and open the door. There’s a significant jolt. I shut the fridge door and look up and say “Did you…” to my father-in-law who is standing a few feet away. But I never finish the sentence. By then the entire house is shaking. So I do what my plan has always been in the event of an earthquake. I hurry to our built in desk, move the chair out of the way, and crawl under.

When I turn to look out I see two things: first is my mother-in-law who is sitting on the couch and looks as if she’s bouncing in a boat on choppy water; the second thing I see are my father-in-laws legs getting bigger and bigger until the legs and him attempt to crawl under the desk with me. Trust me, it was not a big desk and that plan did not work. Instead, he ended up crouched next to me until the worst of the shaking stopped after about a minute.

I emerge and look out the back windows; trees are still vibrating and shaking despite the quake being over. Of all the memories of that day, I can still see those trees vibrating. Then I walk around the house to see what’s been damaged. Room after room nothing seems to have fallen… that is until I get to the living room. The painting which hung over the fireplace has slid off the wall and come straight down onto the mantle. There it rests, still intact and literally resting behind a decorative glass piece which, by rights, should have been a casualty of the event.

Later that evening I have the assembled family stage a photo to commemorate that day and soon that quake is also forgotten.

Nothing in the china cabinet was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually quake

It’s on days such as today, however, that I am reminded that the ‘big’ one could strike today, tomorrow, next week, next year, or longer. It really is just a matter of time.

Many links for all my fellow science nerds:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1700_Cascadia_earthquake

https://www.amnh.org/explore/videos/earth-and-climate/tsunami-science-reducing-the-risk/ghosts-of-tsunamis-past

https://slate.com/technology/2015/09/earthquakes-and-tsunamis-in-the-pacific-northwest-native-american-myths-and-geoscience.html

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/pacific-northwest-prepares-for-massive-earthquake

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1965_Puget_Sound_earthquake

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_Nisqually_earthquake

Here’s the list of Great Quakes from the Infallible Wikipedia:

1May 22, 1960Valdivia, Chile1960 Valdivia earthquake9.4–9.6
2March 27, 1964Prince William SoundAlaska, United States1964 Alaska earthquake9.2
3December 26, 2004Indian Ocean, Sumatra, Indonesia2004 Indian Ocean earthquake9.1–9.3
4March 11, 2011Pacific Ocean, Tōhoku region, Japan2011 Tōhoku earthquake9.1[3]
5July 8, 1730Valparaiso, Chile (then part of the Spanish Empire)1730 Valparaiso earthquake9.1–9.3 (est.)[4]
6November 4, 1952KamchatkaRussian SFSRSoviet Union1952 Kamchatka earthquakes9.0[5]
7August 13, 1868Arica, Chile (then Peru)1868 Arica earthquake8.5–9.0 (est.)
8January 26, 1700Pacific Ocean, US and Canada (then claimed by the Spanish Empire and the British Empire)1700 Cascadia earthquake8.7–9.2 (est.)
9April 2, 1762ChittagongBangladesh (then Kingdom of Mrauk U)1762 Arakan earthquake8.8 (est.)
10November 25, 1833Sumatra, Indonesia (then part of the Dutch East Indies)1833 Sumatra earthquake8.8 (est.)

Y2K

The Apocalypse That Wasn’t

December 29, 2020

By the spring and summer of 1999, the world had turned their full attention to the impending turn of the calendar to the year 2000. Or, as it was familiarly known, Y2K.

Signs and stickers like this one warned us for months of impending doom.

It was truly a global phenomenon and there was no shortage of doomsday predictions as to what would occur when at midnight, on December 31, 1999, the digits all changed.

As it turned out, it was a nothing burger. The year 2020, however, was a whole lot closer to what people expected the year 2000 to be.

Y2K was originally an abbreviation assigned to a problem dubbed the Millennium Bug. The challenge they envisioned was that computers everywhere would not be up to the task of functioning properly when the year 2000 started. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The acronym Y2K has been attributed to Massachusetts programmer David Eddy in an e-mail sent on 12 June 1995. He later said, ‘People were calling it CDC (Century Date Change), FADL (Faulty Date Logic). There were other contenders. Y2K just came off my fingertips.’

The problem started because on both mainframe computers and later personal computers, storage was expensive, from as low as $10 per kilobyte, to in many cases as much as or even more than US$100 per kilobyte. It was therefore very important for programmers to reduce usage. Since programs could simply prefix ‘19’ to the year of a date, most programs internally used, or stored on disc or tape, data files where the date format was six digits, in the form DDMMYY, DD as two digits for the day, MM as two digits for the month, and YY as two digits for the year. As space on disc and tape was also expensive, this also saved money by reducing the size of stored data files and data bases. (snip)

Special committees were set up by governments to monitor remedial work and contingency planning, particularly by crucial infrastructures such as telecommunications, utilities and the like, to ensure that the most critical services had fixed their own problems and were prepared for problems with others. While some commentators and experts argued that the coverage of the problem largely amounted to scaremongering, it was only the safe passing of the main ‘event horizon’ itself, 1 January 2000, that fully quelled public fears.”

Newspaper and magazine articles on the topic bombarded readers; books were written; the nightly news was full of stories which promoted fear in the public mind. Doomsday preppers encouraged people to keep months of supplies in their pantry since at 12:01 on January 1, 2000, the world, as we knew it, was going to end.

TP shortage and electrical grid shutdowns were but two of the predicted problems.

The Infallible Wikipedia continues:

“Y2K was also exploited by some fundamentalist and charismatic Christian leaders throughout the Western world, particularly in North America and Australia. Their promotion of the perceived risks of Y2K was combined with end times thinking and apocalyptic prophecies in an attempt to influence followers. The New York Times reported in late 1999, ‘The Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that Y2K would be the confirmation of Christian prophecy — God’s instrument to shake this nation, to humble this nation. (snip) Along with many survivalists, Mr. Falwell advised stocking up on food and guns’. Adherents in these movements were encouraged to engage in food hoarding, take lessons in self-sufficiency, and the more extreme elements planned for a total collapse of modern society.”

A whole lot of hype!

Of course we all know what happened: nothing. The resources which were poured into fixing the bug were enormous and the switch was mostly seamless. A whole lot of people no doubt had enough food and TP to survive for a year. My own parents eventually donated a case of green beans purchased ‘just in case’ to the food bank.

I personally never bought in to all the hype, instead believing that human ingenuity would find a way. In fact, my sister and I hatched a plan to spend New Year’s Eve 1999 in Leavenworth, Washington. We booked several rooms nearly a year in advance and arrived to a winter wonderland a day before the big event. Despite their trepidation, even our parents joined the party. Our two sets of kids – ages 10, 9, 7, and 6 – had a blast. We went sledding, indoor swimming, shopping, eating and explored the town. We all eagerly anticipated staying up to welcome in the new Millennium. About 10 minutes before midnight we bundled up in our coats and hats and walked to the corner of a nearby intersection, noise makers in our mittened hands. It was snowing lightly and all the Christmas lights cast an enchanted glow of red, blue, green, and gold over the entire scene.

As the moment ticked closer my six year old daughter became distraught.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her.

“Is the world going to end?” she said, her lower lip quivering.

“No, of course not,” I tried to reassure her.

Even so she snuggled close to me as the final countdown began… ten, nine, eight…

When it reached Zero we all shouted Happy New Year and blew our horns.

The countdown to Y2K in Leavenworth. I’d never noticed before my Dad checking his watch…
I snapped this shot less than a minute before midnight.

And then it happened. Off to the right a red glowing orb appeared in the dark sky and was headed our direction. My daughter started to cry, certain that some bad thing was going to happen. Turns out it was a hot air balloon of some sort and when she was brave enough to look began to understand that it was just part of the celebration.

The next week the kids were back in school and her first grade teacher assigned the class the typical ‘draw a picture and write a sentence describing your winter break’ project.

Me and my daughter in front of one of Leavenworth’s many wonderful murals before the poor child’s anxiety took over.

My daughter drew a picture of stick people drinking out of gigantic wine glasses and wrote that we drank ‘champan’. I got asked about it. I explained that we really had sparkling cider. I think the teacher thought we had a problem. I looked for that paper but it appears it was kept by the teacher so as to keep an eye on me.

Soon the anxiety over Y2K was forgotten. Then one day about a year and half ago I made a random comment to my daughter about Y2K . She got a funny look on her face and there was dead silence before she said, “Wait. Does Y2K stand for the Year 2000?” I might have burst out laughing.

It’s all true. She didn’t know until she was 26 years old what Y2K stood for. But to make the story even funnier is that when she asked her fiancé (now husband who is the same age) if he KNEW what Y2K stood for, he didn’t either.

I’m thankful that Y2K turned out to be a joyous occasion and that the world was able to celebrate such a momentous once in a thousand years event in grand fashion. I am positive that ringing in 2021 will be more somber and that people everywhere will be eager to say ‘get lost’ to 2020.

The banner we hung in our hotel room December 31, 1999

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_2000_problem

One Giant Leap for Mankind

Men walk on the moon

July 21, 2020

“One small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.”

Man on the Moon 1969These words were spoken at 2:56 a.m. (UTC) on July 21, 1969 when astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon.

For those of a technical bent one could argue that those famous steps took place on July 20th; at least that was true for those of us living on the west coast of the United States. Everyone was glued to their television sets all that Sunday afternoon and evening, the drama playing out in a single day.

The race to the moon began over a decade earlier in November 1957 with the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by then President Dwight Eisenhower. Its formation was in response to the USSR’s launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. This was followed in early 1961 with the first earth orbit by a human. (see my blog about the Century 21 Exposition and the day a Russian cosmonaut visited!)

The U.S. – now behind in the space race – was urged by President John F. Kennedy to throw their resources and national enthusiasm behind the program. On May 25, 1961 he implored Congress thus:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations—explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the Moon—if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

— Kennedy’s speech to Congress

Despite setbacks in the Apollo program, resources were poured into the ambitious plans. With each Apollo mission, the systems were refined as the best and the brightest minds of the day labored to solve the myriad of problems encountered. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In July 1962 NASA head James Webb announced that lunar orbit rendezvous would be used and that the Apollo spacecraft would have three major parts: a command module (CM) with a cabin for the three astronauts, and the only part that returned to Earth; a service module (SM), which supported the command module with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen, and water; and a lunar module (LM) that had two stages—a descent stage for landing on the Moon, and an ascent stage to place the astronauts back into lunar orbit.] This design meant the spacecraft could be launched by a single Saturn V rocket that was then under development.

(snip)

Project Apollo was abruptly halted by the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967, in which astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee died, and the subsequent investigation. In October 1968, Apollo 7 evaluated the command module in Earth orbit, and in December Apollo 8 tested it in lunar orbit. In March 1969, Apollo 9 put the lunar module through its paces in Earth orbit, and in May Apollo 10 conducted a “dress rehearsal” in lunar orbit. By July 1969, all was in readiness for Apollo 11 to take the final step onto the Moon.

Ap11InitialThe Soviet Union competed with the US in the Space Race, but its early lead was lost through repeated failures in development of the N1 launcher, which was comparable to the Saturn V. The Soviets tried to beat the US to return lunar material to the Earth by means of un-crewed probes. On July 13, three days before Apollo 11’s launch, the Soviet Union launched Luna 15, which reached lunar orbit before Apollo 11. During descent, a malfunction caused Luna 15 to crash in Mare Crisium about two hours before Armstrong and Aldrin took off from the Moon’s surface to begin their voyage home. The Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories radio telescope in England recorded transmissions from Luna 15 during its descent, and these were released in July 2009 for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.”

It was truly an amazing feat as has been chronicled in book, documentary, and a feature length movie.

At the time Armstrong, particularly, became a national hero; the very face of American greatness. No doubt that mission motivated a whole generation of science minded kids to dream of one day traveling into space beyond the moon.

It was truly an inspirational moment and ranks up there with other events that you absolutely remember where you were and what you were doing.

In those days most families had a single television. So you watched whatever your parents watched. With three basic channels (ABC, CBS, NBC) the choices were limited. On July 20, 1969, ALL three channels were broadcasting just one thing: man landing on the moon.

I was 11 years old that July day and it was a pretty typical Yakima summer day with temperatures in the low 90’s. Like any self respecting kid, I’d watched the initial landing but then wandered off to do other things.

Sometime after dinner, the family gathered around the TV once again to watch the first steps on the moon by Armstrong. A couple of things stick out. Despite having a color television, the moon landing was all in black and white. The American Flag they planted was stiff since there was not any sort of breeze to flap the cloth. And everything was done very, very slowly.

My older brother and I decided to play cards as a way to pass the time. The game was called Casino and it consisted of trying to collect more cards than the other person AND obtain certain specialty cards which were worth points. I remember the two of spades was a desired card, and I doubt I could play the game today. At the time I was pretty good at the game AND very competitive. My brother and I were sitting on the floor of the family room a few feet from the TV, playing our game, and looking up every once in a while to see if anything was happening (it wasn’t).

Finally, just before 8 p.m., Armstrong slowly bounced his way down the steps of the Lunar module, his echo-y micro phoned voice coming through the TV as he intoned, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was years later when I learned that he had not said what he planned, since the sentence was supposed to be “that’s one small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind.” Personally, I think it was much cooler the way it came out.

Soon after his grand arrival – not being particularly interested in watching the astronauts collect rocks – I drifted away to do other more interesting 11 year old things. I do think we all went outside and stared up at the quarter moon that night, in awe of what had been accomplished.

casino cardsI really can’t recall who won the Casino game, so I’ll just claim I did and squabble with my brother when he reads this. And, BTW, Mr. P., the Shaw and Sons little league guy was out. That’s what Dad always said. Higher and Higher. Cherry Cola. Sibling rivalry and inside jokes are the best.

Winchester Mystery House

38 Years of continual construction

June 30, 2020

winchester_mystery_house

The sprawling footprint of the Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California

By the time the last hammer was silenced in 1922, this house comprised a 24,000 sq. ft.  “foot print” which had been added one room at a time over the course of 38 years. It was a short nine months later, on June 30, 1923, when the house opened for its first tours. The Winchester Mystery house – as it known – is a fascinating place to visit. And the story behind its genesis is the stuff of novels.

Sarah Winchester was the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Her husband, William, had died in 1881 of tuberculosis. Sarah, then age 42, had lost her only child 15 years earlier just six weeks after the baby’s birth; she came to believe that the tragedies which had befallen her were due to the immorality associated with the guns manufactured by Winchester Arms.  Like so many of that age, she consulted a psychic who told her to leave Connecticut and go west. Her mission, she came to believe, was to spend the rest of her life spending her considerable fortune to build a house to atone for husband’s company.

Sarah Winchester

Sarah Winchester

She purchased an 8 room house located on a sprawling farm in the Santa Clara valley of California in 1884; she immediately hired workers to transform the structure into a Victorian mansion. No architect was ever engaged and no blueprint ever produced. It was Sarah who designed and added the rooms. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“There are roughly 161 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms (one completed and one unfinished) as well as 47 fireplaces, over 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys (with evidence of two others), two basement levels and three elevators. Winchester’s property was about 162 acres (66 ha) at one time, but the estate has since been reduced to 4.5 acres (1.8 ha) – the minimum necessary to contain the house and nearby outbuildings. It has gold and silver chandeliers, hand-inlaid parquet floors and trim, and a vast array of colors and materials. Due to Mrs. Winchester’s debilitating arthritis, special ‘easy riser’ stairways were installed as a replacement for her original steep construction. This allowed her to move about her home freely as she was only able to raise each foot a few inches. There was only one working toilet for Winchester; it has been said that ‘all other restrooms were decoys to confuse spirits’ and that this is also ‘the reason why she slept in a different room each night’. The home’s conveniences were rare at the time of its construction. These included steam and forced-air heating, modern indoor toilets and plumbing, push-button gas lights, and Mrs. Winchester’s personal (and only) hot shower from indoor plumbing. There are also three elevators, including an Otis electric and one of which was powered by a rare horizontal hydraulic elevator piston. Most elevator pistons are vertical to save space, but Winchester preferred the improved functionality of the horizontal configuration.”

Winchester-Banner-1

Front entry to the estate

Upon Sarah Winchester’s death September 5, 1922, the property and all her belongings were inherited by her niece and personal secretary who took what they wanted and sold the remaining furniture in an estate sale. The house was considered mostly worthless due to damage sustained during the 1906 San Francisco quake and considered unsellable due to the size and nature of the house.

A local investor, however, purchased it for $139K then leased it to a couple who gave the first tours. That couple, John and Mayme Brown, eventually purchased the house ten years later and it is still owned and operated by their heirs.

2709270244_eee185a1feIf you are in the bay area and have a few hours, a visit to the Winchester Mystery House is worth the time and money. Our family visit occurred in 1995. For my daughter – who was two that year – the intricacies of the house were lost. My five year old son, however, was enthralled. Around every corner was another oddity – a set of three stair risers leading to a door. Which, when opened, revealed a wall. There were rooms where, when you looked up, you saw windows into more rooms. Stairs which once led to upper floors… those levels long since removed but the stairs remained. Up and down the many staircases the tour went… room, after room, after room.stairs to nowhere

My son talked about the mystery house for months, intent, I think, on building his own such house. Thankfully, his obsession waned, as we could not afford unending building projects.

Today, my  now 30 year old son is more minimalist, recognizing that one does not need a lot of space to comfortably live. At the time of our visit to Sarah’s mansion, we lived in a nearly 4,000 square foot house. The problem with a large house is that soon you are filling that house with stuff. Always more stuff. In the past two years the hubby and I have made a concerted effort to reduce our stuff.

One of the blessings of the extended stay at home orders of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there has been time to focus on reduction. Each week, it seems, another box is sorted and purged, the proverbial grain separated from the chaff.

I’m pretty much down to my last big purge: photographs. A couple days ago I ventured in to what I call the “Harry Potter closet” as it is a space under the lower level stairs reminiscent of where the boy wizard lived before discovering his magic powers. Since we moved in it has been the repository for all the bins of family history, the slides of my grandparents as well as our own, 8 and 16 mm movie projectors and reels, VHS and digital camera tapes, and boxes and boxes of photos.

Harry Potter closet

The ‘Harry Potter’ closet after the reorganization. Picture on the left is the entry way.  The picture on this right is what’s stored under the stairs behind the wall from the first photo.

Last Saturday much of the contents of the closet were extricated and then organized and stacked back in the closet for the next purge. Sunday, the first bin of photos dating from the 1990’s to the early 2000’s hit the dining room table.

Ironically, in my first sort, I found photos from our 1995 trip to San Jose but not a single picture from the visit to Sarah Winchester’s house. I wonder what happened to those photos? It’s truly a mystery.

A couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winchester_Mystery_House

https://winchestermysteryhouse.com/

  • Update June 30, 2022 – The Harry Potter closet got an upgrade! Shelves have been built thanks to the hubby and son. Reorganization has taken place but the ongoing photo project is slow going. A few photos of construction and reorg. 
The Harry Potter closet getting shelves
The Harry Potter closet with all the photos, slides, and historical documents
More of the collection…