A Man Who Captured Beauty and Made a Difference

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Stoddard's people of the Adirondacks

Stoddard’s people of the Adirondacks

Seneca Ray Stoddard had not only a great name but an enormous love for the Adirondacks. A self-trained artist and photographer Stoddard documented the people, the beauty and the every day life of the region producing 3000+ images over forty years. He passionately worked to keep the Adirondacks wild and his persistence paid off when Governor Hill signed a bill in 1892 establishing the Adirondack Park.

CLICK HERE FOR A BEAUTIFUL GLIMPSE INTO STODDARD’S WORLD

Three boys lounging on beach, Adirondacks

Three boys lounging on beach, Adirondacks

 

A veteran angler

A veteran angler

 

Lake George in summer

Lake George in summer

 

Out-of-doors in Adirondack Mountains, New York: Who wouldn't be a boy?

Out-of-doors in Adirondack Mountains, New York: Who wouldn’t be a boy?

 

People relaxing on sandy beach in the Adirondack Mts., N.Y.

People relaxing on sandy beach in the Adirondack Mts., N.Y.

Photos courtesy Library of Congress

I’m convinced that every boy, in his heart, would rather steal second base than an automobile. ~Tom Clark

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Spring training. Bring it.

Spring training. Bring it.

“Red Lights and Wide Open Policy” The Birthplace of Spring Training

Books I’ve Known And Loved

fgnfgngImagine you’re a Virginia Historical Society curator in 1994 hanging out with your curator buddies. The phone rings. An art dealer has a bunch of original Civil War drawings and maps. “Sure, bring ‘em by,” you say, not expecting much. The art dealer places four tattered volumes of intricate, beautiful drawings and paintings on your desk. Your heart skips. You don’t let on to the dealer. You make some calls, beg some people and buy the volumes.

But there’s more! A little (a lot) of digging at the National Archives and a conversation with a 99-year-old local and family historian leads you to a storage facility in Arizona belonging to the great-grandson of Private Robert Knox Sneden the artist of the maps and drawings. Inside the storage unit lies 5000 handwritten pages and hundreds more drawings documenting Private Sneden’s incredible, harrowing and ultimately inspiring journey through the Civil War!

Private Robert Knox Sneden Courtesy Virginia Historical Society

Private Robert Knox Sneden
Courtesy Virginia Historical Society

I bought this book years ago because I liked the drawings. I didn’t read the preface or the book blurb when I finally read it this week. For the first 50 pages I read it mainly because I still liked the pictures. Sneden got lucky. General Samuel Heintzelman noticed his maps and drawings and scooped him up. As a lowly private Sneden was given enormous freedom in his new position. As the army sat idle under McClellan he wrote about the everyday life of an army at rest.

courtesy VA Historical Society

courtesy VA Historical Society

Eventually he wrote about an army at war. Just when I got lulled into the boring life of a waiting soldier Sneden’s luck changed. The private didn’t write like a prissy 19th century guy.  Horrifying, funny and grim events are detailed in a matter-of-fact way that’s a little unsettling.  At first it’s just soldiers robbing graves in churchyards,  a few injuries and deaths, but then all hell breaks loose on the pages: mules and horses left for dead after giving out in thick Virginia mud, others slaughtered wholesale so the enemy won’t get them during a retreat; locomotives filled with millions of dollars worth of supplies and ammo set fire to as they screech driver-less over a bridge and into the water; blood streaming out the bottom of ambulance wagons and walking wounded dragging themselves with terrified eyes away from the Rebel army nipping at their heels.

One dark evening Sneden and a few other engineer types are stay behinds at a temporary headquarters. Sneden spots shadowy figures on horseback in the woods. He fears them–I feared them as I read. He warns his roommates but they laugh. The following morning they’re captured. I kept waiting for Sneden to escape even though by now I’d looked ahead and knew the poor private I’d grown to love would end up at the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp.

Prison Camp

Prison Camp

Throughout his harrowing year in prison Sneden keeps his wits as 30,000 men are crammed into a tiny prison yard on swampy, treeless land in Georgia. Millions of maggots rise from the swamp, thousands of men lie sick and dying. “Sick and dying” is a clinical way of putting the immensity of the suffering that Sneden writes about in such detail. He’s a good man and that’s what really gets me as I read this. He shares, never descends into the depravity of the desperate others who gather around a sick man waiting to steal his tin cup when he dies.

hgkhAll the while he sews his shorthand notes into his shirt, trousers and hat, sending home his sketches when he can. He lives but never forgets the enormity of the evil he witnessed. His hatred for the enemy is expressed at a cool distance, but it’s there and who can blame him? War is hell.

After the war he’s left with ailments that keep him from steady work. Government doctors dismiss many of his claims as they do so often now with veterans who give everything even their health to a cause. He doesn’t marry. He writes to the pension office. He writes his memoir. He crosses out his name in the book of the dead or missing and lives out his final years in an old soldiers’ home because he can’t afford to live anywhere else.

I hope he had people who appreciated him as he sat on the old home porch in summer. In the winter I hope someone knitted him socks. He deserved at least that.

Tour of Andersonville

Documenting Union POWs

The Eye of the Storm by Robert Knox Sneden

An Invitation to Guest Post

No, it's okay that everyone's forgotten my birthday . . . sigh.

No, it’s okay that everyone’s forgotten my birthday . . . sigh.

This is what happens when people forget my birthday: First I say it doesn’t matter, then I grumble and finally I blame every little thing that goes wrong for the next two weeks on someone having  forgotten my birthday. I’m an adult and should get over it but I don’t.

Thank you, Sebastian!

Thank you, Sebastian!

My husband has never forgotten my birthday, but he’s witnessed my plummeting mood when certain adult children have failed to remember. This year my good husband was traveling on my birthday and we agreed that since he was under a lot of stress doing technical engineering things for IBM that my traditional meal out would be put off a few weeks. I was fine with it since after about a week my son finally sent flowers and a heartfelt apology.

When my husband came home this weekend, he saw the stir-crazy look in my eyes and pronounced it the weekend to get me out of the house right quick–before anything bad happened–to acknowledge my birthday. He’s a doll, I tell you. While I love editing novels there comes a time when you just need to celebrate your birthday.

Steininger's is famous for their chocolates and eclectic menu.

Steininger’s is famous for their chocolates and eclectic menu.

He took me to Steininger’s in Salem, New York. This is were I bring out-of-towners for a quaint yet sophisticated meal. We ate German food and laughed about the importance of keeping writers’ birthdays special (engineers don’t seem to care much about birthday celebrations). We picked a selection of chocolates to-go as classical music played in the background.

Just before the lunch rush.

Just before the lunch rush.

Now if my husband took me to an engineering museum for his birthday I’d secretly want to slit my wrists, but my good old husband is a real sport. As the snow began to fall yet again, we slid up the path to the Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls and walked into this delightful room:

Buck's summer dining room?

Buck’s summer dining room?

This fantastic gem of a tiny museum is part restored 19th century home/part gallery. I’m always decorating my characters’ homes in my head. My husband knows this so when we walked through the house he smiled, satisfied to just tag along as I snapped pictures and basically did research. He could have complained that I wasn’t paying any attention to him (I may have done that if we went to an engineering museum), but he didn’t. In fact he spent time pointing out details I might want to capture like the calling cards in the coat room or the diary entry on the desk about the many fires in town that year–one having destroyed the family hardware business.

Imagine this as your writing office:

Yes, I've decided that Buck Crenshaw will have this study in his summer home at Saratoga--book five.

Yes, I’ve decided that Buck Crenshaw will have this study in his summer home at Saratoga–book five.

In the gallery was an exhibit of old photographs of forgotten people. You know I love that sort of thing. Local writers were invited to write fictional histories for these lost souls and others.

Bridget is the girl standing behind the family.

Bridget is the girl standing behind the family.

In honor of forgotten people everywhere I’m inviting writers, artists and anyone else to write a fiction or non-fiction post inspired by an old photograph. I will post one a week on Fridays. It can be long or short. It can be poetry. Whatever comes to mind as long as the photo is pre-1930’s. Contact me at: morris_adrienne@rocketmail.com if you’re interested and have a great birthday!

B&W Photos courtesy of Chapman Historical Museum

The Unfairness of Beauty

Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921

Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921

The young goatherd Paris had no idea he’d start a war. All he wanted was the most beautiful mortal of his day–Helen of Troy. Beauty and equality do not go hand in hand. It’s not enough to be one of the beauties or to admire one of the beauties. We must crown one as supreme.

Juno, Venus and Minerva quarreled amongst themselves over who was most lovely. They bribed a goatherd to settle things. But beauty is unsettling. It’s fleeting and it makes us wonder about fairness. Beauty captivates us even when we think we should know better. Shouldn’t we love even second-rate art? Beauty shows us the most pleasing sights, yet leaves us sometimes feeling resentful and inadequate.

Way back in the mists of time beautiful women came to symbolize the virtues of nations. P.T. Barnum in 1854 saw another way to capitalize on humanity’s beauty cravings. After successful dog, chicken and baby beauty contests he stepped it up with the first American beauty contest. People were outraged at the idea of virtuous young women being ogled and judged. Barnum scratched his head. Beauty should be celebrated as one of the finer things in life. We all secretly judge and make friends first on their attractiveness. We look at masterpieces in the high falutin’ museums because those nudes take our breath away. Who are we kidding?

She even had a beautiful dog!

She even had a beautiful dog!

Barnum never gave up. He changed the rules ever so slightly. Okay, no women standing there getting uncomfortable. Send me your daguerreotypes and a little bit about what you do as a beautiful person. If you win you get a fancy portrait done of yourself instead of the promised dowry for the old contest. Seems pretty girls like selfies. The contest was a grand success at combining low-brow and high-brow entertainment for the masses.

I know some of you will cry, “How snobby of you to delineate between high and low! Children’s drawings and Renoir are just the same!” “Beautiful women should not be objectified!” No one puts a gun to the beauty’s head (do they?).

I get it. Ugly people can lurk within their beautiful bodies, but let’s not pretend we aren’t mesmerized by symmetry and smooth skin. In the interest of being nice and democratic let’s not embrace mediocrity as a badge of honor. I’ve never entered a beauty contest and I’m well past my prime, but I don’t hate beautiful people. I don’t automatically love them either. I just like to look at them.

Margaret rocking the stockings.

Margaret rocking the stockings.

The first Bathing Beauty Pageant  took place at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware in 1880 as an advertizing gimmick.

“The modern beauty pageant’s origin is traceable to the “Atlantic City’s Inter-City Beauty Contest” in 1921, which was held to entice summer tourists to stay in town past Labor Day. Local newsman Herb Test created history by offering to title the girl who won “Miss America.” Out of the eight competitors for the title, Margaret Gorman, who represented the nation’s capital as Miss Washington D.C., was declared the beauty queen, winning the first-ever Miss America title.” theloc.gov

Are You Physically Fit? A Must Watch!

Check out the cool 70-year-old smoker and tell me he’s not living the life 57 seconds in! The little lady playing the guitar rocks as well. Let’s all decide to be these sorts of old people (my time is just around the corner–just get me some shoes!).

CLOGGING is an All-American Dance form.

“As the Appalachians were settled in the mid 1700’s by the Irish, Scottish, English and Dutch-Germans, the folk dances of each area met and began to combine in an impromptu foot-tapping style, the beginning of clog dancing as we know it today. Accompanied by rousing fiddle and bluegrass music, clogging was a means of personal expression in a land of newfound freedoms.

The word “Clog” comes from the Gaelic, and means “time”. Clogging is a dance that is done in time with the music -to the downbeat usually with the heel keeping rhythm.

As clogging made its way to the flatlands, other influences shaped it. From the Cherokee Indians, to African Blacks and Russian Gypsies, clogging has enveloped many different traditions to become truly a “melting pot” of step dances.” History of Clogging

Puritans Danced

Not New Jersey. Not the 1980's. Courtesy History Hoydens Blogspot

Not New Jersey. Not the 1980’s.
Courtesy History Hoydens Blogspot

A long time ago in New Jersey (the 1970s-80’s) kids square danced. Yes. New Jersey. Mind you they didn’t do it because they wanted to. It was fashionable to curse under your breath in the cold gymnasium of February as the teacher set up the record player. You were assigned a circle and a partner. Secretly you almost died when the kid you liked since eighth grade was assigned your partner.

Everyone laughed at the twangy first bit of music, but no one wanted to be the person left hanging mid-circle screwing up the call. Even the most broodingly handsome rebel got caught up in what turned out to be a lot of fun. Sure one or two insecure kids didn’t dress for gym those days, but they really missed out.

A Country Dance, PD Mac Donald

A Country Dance, PD Mac Donald

In 1903 Dr. Luther Gulick the newly appointed athletic director of the schools in greater New York decided that “folk” dances were more fun than dumbbells and a movement began. Boys and girls across the country learned the country dances. Some suggest the reason the dances didn’t go completely mainstream again is because boys didn’t like the idea of dressing in ethnic clothing (a misstep on the movement’s part).

Accidents happen. . .

Accidents happen. . .

Despite their dour reputation Puritans loved to dance. They did not think it evil. Like their favorite authors Spencer and Milton they believed all good people danced. Harriet Beecher Stowe wondered how the rumor that Puritans hated dancing ever got started. “Dancing taught manners and manners were a minor branch of morals.”

Americans devised a more democratic dance (think Virginia Reel). Unlike aristocratic dances, anyone at the dance could lead or follow. Everyone had a chance to dance with everyone else, but it’s the aristocrats and city dwellers whose dances were first copied and changed to what we think of as folk dancing. In America reels were big.Usually brides were first in line but many times ladies and gents picked straws for their places.

During the War of 1812 people wanted nothing to do with things British so they turned to the French who were more into square dances( the French adapted the name country dance to contre-danse–coming back to America as contra dance and finally contra). We took the squares and made them our own with a twist. It used to be that the dances had to be taught and memorized. Sometimes cards were given out with instructions, but then a brilliant American came up with the idea of calling the moves.

Calling became an art form in itself with the caller changing the dances on the fly. As long as you knew the basic moves you were set.

For my birthday one year I begged my family to take me square dancing. They did. They came, they saw and they didn’t conquer. I laughed through every misstep, but my husband watched our five kids spoil a square with their ineptitude and it killed him inside. Well, not really killed him inside. He vowed never to do it again but I’m working on him. He said he’d show up if I was able to convince another freethinking friend of mine at the church to organize a dance. The church we go to lately is Baptist so I think my husband hopes they’re anti-dance. He also knows I’m a terrible organizer, but I may surprise him.

MORE ON THE HISTORY OF SQUARE DANCING HERE

 

 

 

Where the Cadets Go for Kissing

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Kissing in the woods . . .

Kissing in the woods . . .

Once a military trail, now a lovers’ lane, Flirtation Walk or Flirtie Walk was opened to West Point Military Academy Cadets and their guests in the 1840’s as one of the few places they could flirt and kiss in private. Part of the path is smooth sailing on firm ground, but there’s bumpy parts, too–perfect for falling into your guy’s arms.

In my upcoming novel, Buck Crenshaw’s romantic dreams are thwarted on one balmy evening along Flirtation Walk as the military band practices in the open air. We all know Rose Turner’s no good for Buck, but he doesn’t. A much better girl waits right under his nose, but you know young cadets. They’re silly.

Do people sneak off into the woods to make out anymore? In our town we had  “The Pond” and “The Woods.”  Is everyone afraid of ticks? Where did you go for secret romance?

Many a heart went pitter-patter under the arches of glorious trees . . .

Many a heart went pitter-patter under the arches of glorious trees . . .

Think while listening to Dick Powell sing about Flirtation Walk.