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Comfort in strange places December 27, 2011

Posted by Jenny in history, memoir, travel.
Tags: , ,

A gnarly cedar stood over the old tombstones.

Update, January 3: Betsy is being discharged from the hospital today! Hooray!

On the day before Christmas, I had occasion to spend a few hours in Deerfield, Massachusetts. I had flown up to visit my sister, who lives in nearby Northampton. Nothing about my visit turned out the way I expected, but the short time I spent in this very old town proved restorative in the face of great difficulties.

Followers of this blog may remember that last August Betsy had a mastectomy—her second. When I visited her back then, I was deeply impressed by her resilience. We laughed together about silly things—we laughed so much when I saw her at the hospital that the nurse became concerned that the post-surgical dressing would be disturbed.

Betsy has been dealt out a hand that most people would find very hard to play. Not only has she fended off breast cancer twice within 16 years, she has struggled for many years with mental illness. I have so much respect for her courage.

A few days before Christmas, I tried to reach Betsy about the details of my flight up to New England. When there was no answer, I knew something had gone wrong. A bit of detective work gave me the information I needed: Betsy had been admitted to the locked psychiatric unit of a hospital in Holyoke.

The agency that’s been helping her out follows a stringent privacy policy. I understand the reason for this, but it has made things difficult for me. They do not call family members when something like this happens, and they do not give out information. They only told me the name of the hospital.

I was able to talk to Betsy on the phone before I flew up.  Even that isn’t so easy—you call a payphone in a hallway and let it ring and ring until someone finally picks it up, and then you ask that person if they will go find her. At any rate, Betsy sounded okay but said she’d been feeling overwhelmed and had made the decision herself to go to the hospital.

First thing Saturday morning, I went to see her. With a few difficulties caused by a bad set of directions, I found the hospital. It did not look like a regular bustling sort of place—the high-rise building stood in the center of a vast, bleak, empty parking lot. Nobody was coming or going, and a security car was stationed at the door.

I went in, expecting a reception desk. There was none. At length I noticed a telephone on the wall. I called up to her unit and was told that I couldn’t see her—visiting hours were from 5:30 to 6:30 that evening. So, how to spend the day until then? As I drove north along the Connecticut River valley, I remembered having passed once before through Deerfield, a town first settled in the 1600s.

Among people interested in history, Deerfield is best known for what is either called “the raid on Deerfield” or “the Deerfield massacre.” That event occurred in February 1704, when a force of French colonists from Canada joined with Abenaki, Iroquois, Pocumtuc, and other native groups to attack the town. Fifty-six villagers were killed by fire in their burning houses or by weapons such as tomahawks. The attackers took 112 others prisoner and marched them through the snow toward Canada, killing those too weak to keep up—mainly women and children. (However, some accounts say the captives were on the whole not treated badly.) One of the women, Eunice Williams, was later adopted by a Mohawk family and married a Mohawk man. The story of Eunice was told by her father, Rev. John Williams, in a famous book titled The Redeemed Captive, published 1707.

"Deerfield Return," by Howard Pyle, 1902

My account of this interesting subject is very superficial, for lack of space. You can read an introduction to these events here.

Deerfield (well, just down the road—South Deerfield, actually) is also, incongruously, known as the headquarters of the Yankee Candle operation—just the thought of all those scented candles and colonial-style decorations makes my head ache. And Deerfield is known as well for the prestigious Deerfield Academy, a prep school. I point these things out because America of the year 2011 is full of these different layers of culture bumping into each other with great dissonance, and that’s something I often notice.

Why would Deerfield turn out to be a good place for me to go that day? It was cold with a chilly wind blowing, it was devoid of tourists other than myself, it was pure somehow, and severe. As soon as I started walking around the village, I felt the comfort of deep human experience whose suffering has been transformed over time. I saw the boulder with a plaque commemorating the family of Godfrey Nims, whose wife and seven children were either killed or taken prisoner in 1704.

Monument to members of the Nims family killed or taken prisoner in the raid.

The monument stood next to the red brick Memorial Hall, a building of a later period. In the center of Deerfield, structures from the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries stand together harmoniously. Such a contrast to the jarring jumble of stores and gas stations and restaurants just down the highway.

Memorial Hall

I liked the way the shadow fell across this great clock face.

The clock told the correct time.

I had not dressed warmly enough to spend time outside on this day of brisk wind and cold sunshine, so I would hop into my rental car, drive a short distance with the heater going full blast, then hop out again. I visited the graveyard.

Mrs. Thankful Shelden

A ghost seemed to emerge from the headstone of Mr. Ebeneezer Wells.

I wonder if the angel's face and hair were meant to depict the departed Mary Lock.

Dorothy Ashley was an "agreeable companion."

I walked down to the Deerfield River. My view of the river was improved by my memory of having hiked near its headwaters, which lie just east of Glastenbury Mountain near Wilmington, Vermont. That is a wild, high-elevation area that I came to appreciate through my friendship with Bob.

Deerfield River not far from its confluence with the Connecticut.

I’d noticed this brown frame house near the graveyard, and I stopped to take its picture.  It had a wonderful weathervane on the roof.

This is a nice shade of brown.

The weathervane had the image of a bullfrog on it.

At last I decided to retreat from the cold. I drove back to Northampton, where I bought myself a couple of good books to read in my motel. I visited Betsy that evening and then again on Christmas afternoon, about a half hour each time. I can draw no conclusion from those visits, I can only hope to offer Betsy my support. Betsy, I suspect you will read this at some point, and I want you to know that I think of you often.

Sunlight on the Deerfield River

Lincoln Highway: Ohio—part 2 December 19, 2011

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Minerva, OH, boasts an old gas station whose pumps are now filled with real coffee beans for the establishment now in charge.

In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.

When we traversed the four miles of Lincoln Highway that cross a sliver of West Virginia, we visited the manufacturer of Fiestaware in Newell, WV. That town is located on the east bank of the Ohio River. Right across the river, East Liverpool, OH, similarly boasts a history of pottery-making.  Why East Liverpool? you may ask. It’s because a town called Liverpool already existed in western Ohio, and it vehemently protested the use of its name. That more westerly Liverpool has long since disappeared.

This East Liverpool pottery operated 1844 to 1939

An English potter named James Bennett started producing ceramics near the banks of the Ohio in the 1840s. At the height of its glory, East Liverpool’s production accounted for more than half of the nation’s pottery output. Most famous was the “Lotus Ware” manufactured by Knowles, Taylor & Knowles in the 1890s. It featured swirling, dreamlike Art Nouveau forms—suitable for the hookah of Kubla Khan.

East Liverpool was one of eight Ohio towns to contribute funds in 1915 for the making of a movie about the Lincoln Highway, hence to be included in the film, according to Mike Buettner’s account.

The Lincoln Highway roughly follows US Route 30 across the state, although that route now bypasses many town centers. Buettner’s description follows the 1928 route, noting the turnoffs from US 30, the dead ends, and the traces of historic brick pavement along the way. I see him as the archeologist of the Lincoln Highway in Ohio. I will proceed in a more superficial fashion, simply noting points of interest on or close to the highway.

We pass through the historic town of Hanoverton, an important stop on the Underground Railway in the Civil War period. It is known for the Spread Eagle Tavern, established 1837 and now a regular stop for campaigning politicians. It has been visited by Abraham Lincoln, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, and John McCain. The first of those names so totally overshadows the others that I half-expected my spell-check program to reject those last three names as I typed.

You probably wouldn't order tofu and bean sprouts at the Spread Eagle Tavern's Patriot Room.

The channel of the old Sandy & Beaver Canal  parallels the highway west of Hanoverton. It operated just four years (1848 to 1852) before succombing to structural problems and competition with railroads.

Sandy & Beaver Canal

The route continues through Minerva, home of the coffee-bean filling station pictured at top, and through East Canton. This section offers several remnants of the old brick paving, including an impressively “photogenic” segment 2.4 miles long, according to Buettner.

The next major point of interest—we are necessarily speeding along here—is Canton, which boasts two very different attractions: the William McKinley memorial and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An early photo of the McKinley memorial shows the “Long Water,” a rectangular pool bordered by brooding trees—a place suitable for quiet meditation about the assassinated 25th President.

McKinley Memorial as it appeared before 1951

But the pool was filled in, the large trees removed, and the memorial has lost something of its spirit, I feel.

Modern McKinley Memorial

Canton’s claim to special importance for pro football stems from its being the place the American Professional Football Association (predecessor of the NFL) was founded in 1920. The Hall of Fame opened 1963 and has been greatly expanded since then.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Canton and Massillon are bypassed by modern US 30, but Massillon has a Lincoln Way running through town along the old route. Several places of business feature the Lincoln name, including the Lincoln Theatre.

Lincoln Theatre

The theater opened 1915 and must have been a nice place for early travelers on the Lincoln Highway to take a break.  It had a pipe organ to accompany the silent screen and “was considered the finest moving picture house in Ohio,” according to the theater’s website. It has been through several incarnations and was rescued from ruin by the Lions Club in 1982. It now features classic films for the lucky local residents.

Massillon is also famous for its Massillon Washington high school football team, which has a deadly rivalry with Canton McKinley. Massillon’s Tiger Swing Band, formed in 1938, features musicians marching with a swing step, which you can see in this YouTube video.

Also in Massillon, travelers may admire the Stark County Court House, built in 1870. Four angels with trumpets perch high on the clock tower.

Stark County Court House

Forging ahead to the west, we pass through Dalton, which has “the distinction of being the first Lincoln Highway town in Ohio to be bypassed with a superhighway,” writes Buettner.  Next we visit Wooster, home not only to the College of Wooster but also, up until very recently, Boyd’s Drug Store, an establishment which for many years preserved its late-19th-century heritage. It boasted oak counters, glass-stoppered bottles, old-fashioned brass balance scales, mortars and pestles, pill rollers, and many other such paraphernalia. Sadly, the pharmacy closed in 2000 and its contents were recently auctioned off.

Coming next, Mansfield is one of the towns that has some really beautiful old houses along or close to the Highway. Imagine sitting on the porch of this impressive home and sipping lemonade on a summer evening.

One of many lovely old houses in Mansfield

Buettner tells the story that the route of the Highway through Mansfield changed several times in the 1920s. When the route went along Fourth Street, merchants on nearby Park Street supposedly moved the Lincoln Highway signs by stealth over to their Park Street location.

The Highway continues through Crestline to Bucyrus, a town known as the “Bratwurst Capital of the World.” An annual festival features a beauty pageant.

Downtown Bucyrus

It’s around the vicinity of Bucyrus that a surprisingly high number of Lincoln Highway pillars appear to have met with a tragic fate. First, let me explain that in addition to the concrete posts with the Lincoln Highway emblem that were erected by Boy Scout troops across the whole highway in the thoroughfare’s early years, larger pillars were built in many places. These were not uniform in appearance—not “official” markers in any way—but were simply constructions sponsored by a variety of people of their own volition, in a variety of designs. Buettner gives a detailed account of many of these installations. One, for instance, was a substantial monument erected 1921 near Osceola to commemorate the completion of brick paving across Crawford County.

At any rate, within a short stretch of highway one pillar was demolished by a wayward car in 1927; one was destroyed by a landowner who did not want it in front of his property; and one survived until 1993 before being wiped out by a van. The second of these was dedicated to Henry Ostermann, field secretary of the Lincoln Highway Association, who was himself killed in a traffic accident. To top it all off, a bridge over the nearby Sandusky River collapsed in 1931 when a Studebaker truck slammed into the steel truss structure. It all amounted to a strange confluence of accidents—a “Bermuda Triangle” of sorts for the Lincoln Highway.

We continue the theme of accidents: in 1939, at the hamlet of Gomer,  Admiral Byrd’s “Snow Cruiser” plummeted into a nearby creek. The gigantic polar exploration vehicle, measuring 55’8″ long, 19’10” wide, and 16′ high, was constructed in Pullman shops in Chicago and had to reach Boston via ordinary cross-country highways in less than two months in order to meet the ocean vessel of Byrd’s Antarctic expedition.

The 75,000-pound contraption looked like something straight out of Jules Verne. It was designed to traverse crevasse-ridden wastes to probe the South Pole continent for mineral wealth that might be exploited by the U.S. Its giant tires were set close to the center of the vehicle and could be retracted into the body. When a crevasse was encountered, the front tires would be retracted while the back wheels pushed the front across the hazardous gap. Once the front half had cleared the obstacle, the back wheels would be retracted and the front ones would pull the Cruiser the rest of the way across.

Admiral Byrd's Snow Cruiser

That all sounded good in theory. However, the Cruiser proved woefully underpowered, lacking the necessary flotation, burrowing its nose deep into snowbanks again and again. But even before it arrived on the Ross Ice Shelf, it had plenty of trouble just getting from Chicago to Boston. Constantly scraping against bridges, sideswiping other vehicles, and struggling to make headway through crowds of curious onlookers, it limped its way through Indiana and into Ohio. Upon reaching a sharp curve near Gomer, the Cruiser’s brakes apparently failed—the incident was blamed on a break in a hydraulic line—and took out a fence and a guardrail on its wild descent into Pike Run. National media converged on the little western Ohio village, along with throngs of onlookers.

The Cruiser did manage to reach Boston at last and met Byrd’s ship North Star in time to sail November 15. Plagued by mechanical problems at its destination, the Snow Cruiser was at last abandoned in early 1941. Another minor problem had developed for the expedition—World War II had started. For an informative account about the whole history of the ill-starred Cruiser, go to this link.

As we approach the Indiana state line, we visit Van Wert County, where in 1994 the local historical society placed four sets of Burma Shave signs along the Highway. Here are a couple of my favorite Burma Shave verses—now isn’t this better than today’s billboards?

Does your husband/ Misbehave/ Grunt and grumble/ Rant and rave/ Shoot the brute some/ Burma Shave.

A peach/ Looks good/ With lots of fuzz/ But man’s no peach/ And never wuz/ Burma Shave.

It’s best for/ One who hits/ The bottle/ To let another/ Use the throttle/ Burma Shave.

And a 1960s-vintage one: Henry the Eighth/ Sure had/ Trouble/ Short term wives/ Long term stubble/ Burma Shave.

We’ll see you soon in Indiana!

Van Wert County Court House, opened 1876 and restored in the 1990s.

Chestnut Branch to Cammerer (again) December 18, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: , ,

Even in December, it was a beautiful day to enjoy the teeming life of the Smokies.

I’d done the Chestnut Branch/Cammerer hike this past January.  Since I’ve been holding off on bushwhacking the past six weeks because of my knee problem, I was looking for a really good trail hike—and this is one that brought back good memories, so why not try it again? There aren’t that many places to get in a decent amount of vertical on a trail dayhike in the Smokies, but this one gives you 3500′ or so, 12 miles roundtrip.

Starting out in the upper 20s, the morning was about five degrees warmer than the last time—no old snow today, but a few spots of ice—with brilliant, luminous sunshine. But the really great thing today was that I discovered that, after weeks of physical therapy, I have legs of steel! (No matter that I also have brain of silly putty.) I will never underestimate strength training again.

I averaged 2.75 mph over the whole distance. All those hours of lunging, squatting, stepping, hopping, and balancing seem to be paying off. In early January I will find out what the doctor has to say, and I hope very much to get back to off-trail. Something short would seem appropriate—like one of the routes on the north side of Cammerer.

You may be surprised that I took no pictures from the summit of Cammerer despite the crystal clear visibility. All I can say is that some photos can be beautiful and boring at the same time. The first picture I took was on the way back down, of some frost needles pushing up through the soil.

Extruded frost

At around 4500′, the giant spruce trees loomed overhead. This is my favorite kind of forest. The only problem for photographers is that it’s nearly impossible to get tall trees into the lens.

In the halls of the giant spruce

I emerged from the pleasant gloom of the evergreens at a switchback where a dramatic rock outcrop leads down, down, down into the complicated stream valleys. Pines—I believe they were pitch pines—grew along the spine of the rocks.

Layer upon layer of depth and distance

Looking south, I noticed the same ridge I’d observed on my January hike. This time, just below the heath I’d noticed before, I spotted tall green healthy evergreens above a forest of brown hardwoods, with probably dead hemlocks mixed in.

Alternation of green and brown

Just past the outcrop, I passed a beautiful wall constructed by the CCC crew—obviously the same hands were at work here as at the Cammerer lookout.

CCC wall

On the way up, a seemingly infinite series of log steps on the trail had caused me some annoyance. They weren’t quite as irritating on the way down, but they still seemed gratuitous. For some reason, trail maintenance crews installed these dozens and dozens of steps on the section of the A.T. between the Lower Cammerer junction and the upper Mt. Cammerer turnoff. They are not waterbars—they are definite steps, placed along a very moderate grade where the footing is not difficult. The result, for a hiker climbing upward, is a constant little burst of extra effort every few feet—not so bad for a dayhiker, but I think probably pretty aggravating for someone with a full pack. On one of the Smokies hiking forums, I recently came across a comment that the Chestnut Branch/A.T. approach to Cammerer was strangely tiring. I believe this is the reason why.

Why are there so many of these *#@! steps?!

I enjoyed the music of Chestnut Branch as I descended into the lower portion of the valley, listening to the water resounding over all the little cascades and pools. The water was descending to Big Creek and then to the Pigeon River. I leave you with a few photos I took at the Pigeon, down by the Waterville hydro plant, in the morning shortly before I started my hike.

The Pigeon River is never quiet

The waters of Shining Rock, Middle Prong Wilderness, and the eastern Smokies all join here

Ceaseless flow

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