I had some unexpected time off in October, while Congress debated and filibustered. I started a project I called “Furlough Mail” which had the advantages of giving me something to do, depleting a trove of vintage postcards looking for places to go, and supporting the struggling United States Postal Service. Oh, and friends who responded to the Facebook post also received something other than bills and window replacement coupons in their mailboxes!
I’ve seen articles in respected publications about the state of letter writing in the world today. Is it a lost art? Is it making a comeback? I can tell you that one thing that hasn’t changed is the smile prompted when receiving a piece of mail with a person you know at the other end. It creates a connection. You hold it in your hands, perhaps more than once, and are pleased that the person remembered you and you are reminded of the past, times you once had. Even if you print out an email, it never really accomplishes all that.
In the early part of the 20th century, my grandfather’s cousins made sure that he would have some mail of his own, a smile, a memory of their last visit. They’d send a glimpse of the great big world to the small boy living on a country mill. He saved them all.
I’m sharing this one from 1909 with you — Uncle Sam sitting down to tuck in to a Thanksgiving turkey. (I guess that’s before the idea of pardoning turkeys at the White House came along….)
What was going on in 1909? Taft was president. British explorer Ernest Shackleton reached the South Pole, while later in the year Robert Peary and Matthew Henson reached the North Pole. Workers started pouring concrete for the Panama Canal. And to mail this postcard from Camden, New Jersey, to rural Greenlane, Pennsylvania, Cousin Violet licked a one cent stamp featuring Benjamin Franklin’s profile and placed it on the back of the card.
This year, I’m still thankful for the thing and people I outlined in this post — “I’d like to give thanks, and you should, too”
My Edgar Allan Poe-ka dot shout-out to Halloween and historic preservation
It’s an oldie, but a goodie. If you’ve been following this blog for more than a year, this post will seem familiar. But I think it’s good to revisit old classics from time to time, especially on special occasions. Enjoy this building-centric excerpt from Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.
Happy Halloween to one and all! Stay safe out there!
“There,” he whispered. “There’s the only house in town worth visiting on Halloween! There!”
“Yeah!” said everyone.
For it was true. The house was special and fine and tall and dark. There must have been a thousand windows in its sides, all shimmering with cold stars. It looked as if it had been cut out of black marble instead of timbers, and inside? Who could guess how many rooms, halls, breezeways, attics. Superior and inferior attics, some higher than others, some filled with dust and webs and ancient leaves or gold buried above the ground in the sky but lost away so high that no ladder in town could take you there.
The house beckoned with its towers, invited with its gummed-shut doors. Pirate ships are a tonic. Ancient forts are a boon. But a house, a haunted house, on All Hallow’s Eve? Eight small hearts beat up an absolute storm of glory and approbation.
But they were already crowding up the path. Until they stood at last by a crumbling wall, looking up and up and still farther up to the great tombyard on top of the old house. For that’s what it seemed. The high mountain peak of the mansion was littered with what looked like black bones or iron rods, and enough chimneys to choke out smoke signals from three dozen fires on sooty hearths hidden far below in the dim bowels of this monster place. With so many chimneys, the roof seemed a vast cemetery, each chimney signifying the burial place of some old god of fire or enchantress of steam, smoke and firefly spark. Even as they watched a kind of bleak exhalation of soot breathed up out of some four dozen flues, darkening the sky still more and putting out some few stars.
“Boy,” said Tom Skelton. “Pipkin sure knew what he was talking about!”
“Boy,” said all, agreeing.
They crept along the weed-infested path toward the crumpled front porch.
Tom Skelton alone itched his boney foot on the first porch step. The others gasped at his bravery. So, now, finally in a mob, a compact mass of sweating boys moved up on the porch amid fierce cries of planks underfoot, and shudderings of their bodies. Each wished to pull back, swivel about, run, but found himself trapped against the boy behind, or in front, or to the side. So with a pseudopod thrust out here or there, the amoebic form, the large perspiration of boys leaned and made a run and a stop to the front door of the house which was as tall as a coffin and twice as thin.
They stood there for a long moment, various hands reaching out like the legs of an immense spider as if to twist that cold knob or reach for the knocker on that front door. Meanwhile, the wooden floorings of the porch sank and wallowed beneath their weight, threatening at every shift of proportion to give way and fling them into some cockroach abyss beneath. The planks, each tuned to an A, or an F, or a C rang out their uncanny music as heavy shoes scraped on them. And if there had been time and it were noon, they mght have danced a cadaver’s tune or a skeleton’s rigadoon, for who can resist an ancient porch which, like a gigantic xylophone, only wants to be jumped on to make music?
But they were not thinking this.
Henry-Hank Smith (for that’s who it was) hidden inside his black witch’s costume, cried: “Look!”
And all looked at the knocker on the front door. Tom’s hand trembled out to touch it.
“A Marley knocker!”
“You know, Scrooge and Marley? A Christmas Carol?” whispered Tom.
And indeed the face that made up the knocker on the door was the face of a man with a dread toothache, his jaw bandaged, his hair askew, his teeth prolapsed, his eyes wild. Dead-as-a-doornail Marley, friend to Scrooge, inhabitor of lands beyond the grave, doomed to walk this eearth forever until…
“Knock,” said Henry-Hank.
Tom Skelton took hold of Marley’s cold and grizzly jaw, lifted it, and let it fall.
All jumped at the concussion!
The entire house shook.
Its bones bound to ground together. Shades snap-furled up so that windows blinked wide their ghastly eyes. Tom Skelton cat-leaped to the porch rail, staring up. On the rooftop, weird weathercocks spun. Two-headed roosters whirled in the sneezed wind. A gargoyle on the western rim of the house erupted with twin snorts of rain-funnel dust. And down the long shaking serpentine rainspouts of the house, after the sneeze had died and the weathercocks ceased spinning, vagrant whisps of autumn leaf and cobweb fell gusting out onto the dark grass.
Tom whirled to look at the faintly shuddering windows. Moonlit reflections trembled in the glass like schools of disturbed silver minnows. Then the front door gave a shake, a twist of its knob, a grimace of its Marley knocker and flung itself wide. The wind made by the suddenly opened door almost knocked the boys off the porch. They seized one another’s elbows, yelling. Then the darkness within the house inhaled. A wind sucked throughthe gaping hole. It pulled at the boys, dragging them across the porch. They had to lean back so as not to be snatched into the deep, dark hall. They struggled, shouted, clutched the porch rails. But then the wind ceased.
Darkness moved within darkness.
The excerpt spooked its way here from The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury
Photo by Sabra Smith and was originally Henry Mercer’s Fonthill before it became the House o’ Haunts.
Our summer expedition took us to the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts. The site includes the birthplaces of two presidents: John Adams (second President of the United States) and John Quincy Adams (sixth president). And, just as Abigail would have demanded, the interpretation remembers the ladies and tells the stories of the savvy women behind the men. Visitors also meander through “Peace Field” — the home John Adams retired to following his presidency, and home to four generations of the Adams family.
The teenager rating? He says that he learned a lot and was amazed by the Adams family’s long legacy of public service and scholarship. The visit changed his estimation of John Adams and his descendants. He was impressed by Peace Field and feeling of experiencing the many generations who lived there through the objects, the changing technologies, and the stories about the individuals.
It was one of the most muggy of summer days and we were thrilled to discover air conditioning inside the library barn. Don’t leave the structure without finding out the secret of the tile floor.
Mmmm. Minty. But not fresh — this is a commemorative medal/coin dating from 1969. (Buy it now: click here.)
I bought this souvenir while on a church youth group trip from York Beach, Maine, to Pennsylvania. We toured from mining country in the western part of the state, to the minister’s family home in Lancaster County (his parents’ house nestled among Amish farms), to Philadelphia. There we toured the University of Pennsylvania’s museum, saw Independence Hall (with the Liberty Bell on display in the hallway), and toured the new Philadelphia Mint. I bought this coin/medal, encased in its snazzy plastic display stand with faux bois detailing.
The first mint was built in Philadelphia in 1792. The building pictured on this coin was the fourth Philadelphia mint, opened on August 14, 1969 and designed by architect Vincent G. Kling. It was the largest mint in the world until 2009, covering a full block, from North 4th to North 5th Streets, from Race to Arch Streets. You can still tour the building today, though I’ll bet you can’t get a nifty souvenir coin like this one anymore!
From Philadelphia Architects & Buildings database at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia
Vincent Kling, who would head the largest architectural practice in the Philadelphia region in the 1960s and 1970s and shape much of downtown Philadelphia in the post-World War II era, was born and raised in East Orange, NJ. The son of a builder, Kling worked for his father’s construction firm in the summer during high school. He began his architectural training at Columbia University and earned his tuition through a variety of jobs during the lean years of the Depression when his father had little work. Kling was an outstanding student at Columbia, winning numerous prizes and completing a B.Arch. in 1940. This degree was followed by an M.Arch. from M.I.T. in 1941. Kling enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the attack at Pearl Harbor, and served as a pilot in the Atlantic fleet naval air force until the close of the war. Flying has remained one of Kling’s life-long interests: he was a licensed commercial pilot into the 1980s.
After the war, Kling returned to New York, where he entered the office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as a designer. The corporate organization of the growing firm undoubtedly served as the model for the practice Kling would later build in Philadelphia. He left Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1946 to establish his own office.
As SOM also did, Kling grew his firm into a group of studios, each headed by an architect supervising a team of designers and draftsmen. In the 1970s, this process was further refined by the corporate subdividing of the firm into architecture and related specialties (including engineering and landscape design). This highly organized and efficient system was a key element in the successful completion of a prodigious number of projects, many on a large scale, in the Philadelphia region and beyond. One of the earliest of these was the creation of Penn Center in Philadelphia in the 1950s, for which Kling was the principal architect and planner. By the late 1960s, Kling’s firm had become the largest in Philadelphia, and by 1973, Kling was at the head of the largest architectural practice in Pennsylvania, with an office of nearly 400 employees.
Kling became a member of the national AIA in 1948, and was named a fellow in 1960. He served on many AIA committees between the 1960s and 1980s. Kling was a director of the Philadelphia Chapter between 1959 and 1961, and its president in 1965. The projects accomplished under his direction have been recognized many times by the profession: he received national AIA honor awards in 1954, 1966, 1967, and 1969; the Philadelphia Chapter bestowed 11 awards on the work of the office between 1949 and 1980. In addition to these honors, he was awarded the Samuel F. B. Morse Medal by the National Academy of Design in 1968 and 1972. He served on the Philadelphia Art Commission between 1968 and 1972, and was a trustee of Columbia University in 1965-1971, among other involvements.
Kling retired from practice in 1987.
Written by Emily T. Cooperman.
More about Kling and his “architecture for the people” was posted by my historic preservation classmates at the University of Pennsylvania, David Artigas and Fon Wang: “Vincent Kling and the Penn Center”
This bronze coin was valued at $8 — selling for less.