Hard Times in the Country Country

Posted August 19th, 2011 at 6:24 pm (UTC-4)
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These are gloomy days in much of rural America.  One national newspaper described what it called a giant “rural ghetto.”  Another’s story, titled “America’s Failed Frontier,” concluded that the farm belt is steadily dying.  When we think about ghettos, we picture old, dilapidated inner-city communities.  But poverty and decay are rife in the country as well.

By that I mean the country country, where cows and chickens and coyotes, as well as people, live the best they can.

Boom-and-bust cycles are nothing new to rural America, of course.  In 1987 two New York academics, Deborah and Frank Popper, found the economic prospects on the Great Plains so grim that they advanced a radical solution that has become a metaphor for a region in steady decline:

The Poppers' vision of the Great Plains if things keep going the way they are.  (Jack Dykinga, USDA)

The Poppers' vision of the Great Plains if things keep going the way they are. (Jack Dykinga, USDA)

 

Shut the whole place down, the Poppers advocated, and return it to a “buffalo commons,” where tourists could see bison once again and hike the tallgrass prairie.

 

That was exaggeration for effect.  At least I hope so.

 

Dust Bowl days on the Plains.  (Library of Congress)

Dust Bowl days on the Plains. (Library of Congress)

But this year, Oklahomans and Texans have lived through the worst drought since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.  And there’s been a sharp drop in commercial activity in nearly every county — and declining population in several — all the way up to North Dakota at the Canadian border.

In fact, America’s poorest county is nowhere near a big city.  Ironically — the Poppers should read this — it’s Buffalo County, South Dakota.  Four other counties with the nation’s 20 lowest income levels are in South Dakota, too, and the remaining 15 are in rural parts of Texas, North Dakota, Alaska, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, and New Mexico.

In hard-pressed rural backwaters, the triple whammy of a shaky national economy, ever-fluctuating farm prices, and continued takeovers by corporate farming enterprises has put thousands of small-scale family farmers out of business.

At the same time, millions of rural, often low-skill, industrial jobs, especially in the South, have fallen prey to the dismal trends in U.S. manufacturing, including downsizing, plant modernization, and the export of jobs overseas.  In many Midwest states, Hispanic workers have moved in to take low-paying jobs in mills and processing plants, changing not only employment demographics but also the entire cultural dynamic of what was once a homogeneous — non-Hispanic white — population.

Rural Iowa alone has 12 times as many Hispanic residents as it had a decade earlier.

In that same period, almost one-third of rural Great Plains counties lost 10 percent or more of their people.  Meantime, 103 plains counties that include decent-sized cities grew by 12.7 percent.

So what is now America’s age-old flight from farms to big towns has not abated.

It’s easy to understand why. According the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute, which conducts policy research on vulnerable children and families, 46 per cent of America’s rural children live in poverty.

Good news in the country country is hard to find.

I’m a city fella, born and raised and still dwelling.  But a few years ago, on an extended visit to Kansas, I got a sobering look at the challenges that rural Americans face.

That's Steve Bacchus in the center, with Chris and Karen Campbell of Leavenworth County, Kansas, on a lobbying trip to Washington.  (Kansas Farm Bureau)

That's Steve Bacchus in the center, with Chris and Karen Campbell of Leavenworth County, Kansas, on a lobbying trip to Washington. (Kansas Farm Bureau)

Steve Bacchus was, and remains, the farm bureau president there.  “There’s a tremendous amount of heartache,” he told me.

My phone rings literally daily — not just from farmers who are losing their land, being forced off the land because they can’t get the money to keep going.  But I get phone calls from businesses.  And they’re asking, how are they going to stay in business?  How do we sell enough cars to stay here, or the insurance companies, how do they sell enough policies to stay on Main Street?  There is real concern out in the country now about not just losing the American farm in rural Kansas, but losing rural communities, entire towns simply dying and going away.

Things fluctuate out in the country country from month to month and year to year, depending on crop prices, droughts, and storms.  But most economic trend lines keep spiking downward.

At the state’s principal agricultural research center, Kansas State University in Manhattan, economist David Darling has tracked it.

“As they say in Chinese proverbs, ‘May you live in interesting times,’” he said to me.  “Well, there are a lot of people in Kansas who are hurting, and there’s no question about it.  The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

 

The "hope business"?  How would that play in Comstock, Nebraka?  (Carol M. Highsmith)

Darling told me he is in what he calls the “hope business.”  He tries to help small towns take advantage of what assets they have.  Dr. Darling says survival in hard times calls for a core of optimists willing to develop a vision for their town, then an economic action plan.  But more often than not instead, he says, skepticism greets him.

There’s a lot of hurt in the countryside.  They really do have to ask themselves, “How are we doing business?  And should we do business a new way?”  I was in Ellsworth the other day, and they actually admitted to me that they do not have a coherent plan to move forward.  Places that are hurting the most often are their own worst enemy.

The best hope for many rural counties, Darling believes, is a regional approach in which economically sound communities like Salina and Hays become employment, education, and medical hubs, and surrounding counties offer recreation, tourism and agricultural support. Read the rest of this entry »

Where Have You Gone, D.B. Cooper?

Posted August 17th, 2011 at 5:26 pm (UTC-4)
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One of the first things that journalists learn is that their stories should answer six essential questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?

So far, I’m only 3½ out of 6 when it comes to D. B. Cooper.

His story — his legend — began to unfold in Portland, Oregon, on a Wednesday afternoon in late November, 1971, the day before Americans’ Thanksgiving holiday, when an inconspicuous fellow wearing loafers, a black raincoat and dark suit, a pressed white shirt with a clip-on mother-of-pearl pin was among 37 passengers who walked up some steps and onto a plane.

Northwest Orient flight 305 was prepped for departure to Seattle, Washington, a 28-minute hop, skip, and a jump up the Pacific Coast.

Dan Cooper: Mr. Ordinary.  (FBI Composite)

Dan Cooper: Mr. Ordinary. (FBI Composite)

The ordinary fellow had bought his ticket, for only $20 cash, and given his name as “Dan Cooper.”  He could have said it was Groucho Marx; airports weren’t yet paying much attention to IDs and security screenings.  People could carry guns in their pockets or bombs in their backpacks, as some did, and nobody would be the wiser.

Dan Cooper would change that, all by himself.

Cooper looked as average as average can be.  He weighed about 75 kilos (165 pounds), spoke softly and politely, and was sensibly groomed.  So forgettable was he that later, when it was important, nobody could say much about him.  He looked to be about 45, give or take 5 years.

He was Ordinary Dan, the only American hijacker never caught or killed.  Unless you include in the latter a possible encounter with wild bears.

Dan didn’t sweat or twitch or look around, wild-eyed.  You’d have bet he was a music teacher off to visit his aunt, or the guy who makes his own, diagonally sliced baloney-and-cheese sandwiches to take to work at the insurance office.

He certainly didn’t look like the outdoor type that you see a lot of up in that land of thick pine forests and towering mountain peaks.  He might have been though, under that neatly pressed shirt, considering what he was about to do.

Passengers used to routinely board airliners via rear "airstairs."  Now, if they even exist, they're welded shut.  (Wikipedia Commons)

Ordinary Dan boarded with 36 other passengers, possibly from the aft, or rear, pulldown stairs that descended from the airplane’s tail.  A lot of people did that when boarding Boeing 727s in those days.  If so, he didn’t have far to go once he was inside.  He had booked a seat in Row 18, the last row, where the seats don’t recline because they’re wedged against the lavatory wall behind them.

These were the worst seats on the plane, and since it was only one-third full, Dan had the row to himself.  Once the other passengers shuffled past him to their seats, they paid him no mind.

Dan lit a Raleigh cigarette — smoking was fine and dandy in the rear of a plane back in those days.  And when a stewardess came by — they weren’t “flight attendants” yet — he ordered a bourbon and water.  You could down a drink or two before takeoff then, too.

Dan sipped his cocktail as the jet rolled into queue, rumbled down the runway, and lifted into the air at 2:50 p.m. Pacific standard time.

For some reason, it was only then that Dan put on a pair of sunglasses.

Then he turned and motioned to Florence Schaffner, who was seated behind him in the stewardess “jumpseat” attached to the pulldown stairs.  Dan passed her a note, which she slid, unread, into her purse.  Then as now, pretty flight attendants get a lot of notes on which men have written a phone number or a proposition.

Noticing, Dan leaned into the aisle, twisted his head toward her, and whispered, ever so properly, “Miss, you’d better look at that note.  I have a bomb.”

She read it then.

In letters drawn with a felt-tipped pen, it said, “I have a bomb in my briefcase.  I will use it if necessary.  I want you to sit next to me.  You are being hijacked.”

Schaffner slid in next to him.  To be sure he was serious and not just a couple of bourbons into a fantasy, she asked him to open his case.  He did, just a crack.

Inside, she spied eight red cylinders attached to wires and a large battery.  He was serious.

No longer so ordinary, Dan told her he wanted $200,000 in unmarked $20 bills brought to him when they landed.  And he wanted the plane refueled: They wouldn’t be staying in Seattle.

It wouldn't be long before people around the world knew what Dan Cooper looked like.  (FBI)

It wouldn't be long before people around the world knew what Dan Cooper looked like. (FBI)

“No funny stuff, or I’ll do the job,” he said.

$200,000 in 20s sounds like a haystack of cash.  But surprisingly, 10,000 U.S. banknotes weigh only 9½ kilograms (21 pounds).  An ordinary guy, and Dan was an ordinary guy, could lift them — or strap them to his body and move around just fine.

That’s germane when you hear the second of his demands: four front-mounted, civilian-issue parachutes with manually operated ripcords.  Four, it is speculated, because he wanted authorities to think he’d be forcing at least one hostage to jump with him if he ever used them.  That way, they couldn’t sabotage the chutes.

The commandeering of airliners was new but somewhat trendy in those days.  There had been hijackings to Communist Cuba, especially, mainly nonviolent.  Every one resulted in the hijacker’s immediate or eventual capture.

Like bank tellers, airplane crews were briefed on what to do: Stay calm. Humor the guy.  Get the passengers, and yourselves if possible, out of harm’s way. Leave the heroics to others.  So stewardess Schaffner calmly walked forward and briefed Captain William Scott.

America’s only unsolved hijacking was underway.

When it neared the Seattle airport, the plane circled for two hours.  A “minor mechanical difficulty,” the other passengers were told.  Sorry, they’d also have to remain onboard awhile after landing while the “problem” was fixed.

Of course the “problem” sat right behind them, calmly unfolding his plan.  It was the strategizing by Northwest Orient and the FBI that was causing the delay.

Cooper saw beautiful country out the window.  He'd soon be in it, dead or alive.  (Brendan Reals/Photographs America)

Cooper saw beautiful country out the window. He'd soon be in it, dead or alive. (Brendan Reals/Photographs America)

Schaffner and stewardess Tina Mucklow talked with Cooper often.  “He seemed rather nice,” Mucklow told authorities later.  Schaffner noticed that Cooper, peering out the window, was well acquainted with the terrain and landmarks below.  Cooper ordered, and insisted upon paying for, a second bourbon.  He could afford it, and a lot more, if all went well.

Seattle banks helped the FBI assemble the ransom — in sequentially numbered bills that agents methodically photographed.  So much for unmarked currency.

When the plane landed at 5:45 p.m., Cooper instructed that it taxi to an isolated, well-lighted spot.  He ordered the cabin lights dimmed – to deter snipers, he explained to the stewardesses.

By this time, though, everyone aboard had figured out what was up. Read the rest of this entry »

Flash Mobs, Jim Thorpe, and Mighty Little Leo

Posted August 12th, 2011 at 6:48 pm (UTC-4)
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There’s an amusing commercial on U.S. television these days — one of those that’s so clever, you remember everything except the name of the sponsor.

It’s shot in a busy train station.  A nice-looking fellow in a trench coat walks forward while glancing furtively at the overhead terminal clock.  Tick-tick, it progresses.

At the precise stroke of noon, our man throws off his overcoat to reveal a skimpy workout outfit.  And he launches into an elaborate dance, a sort of cross between Irish clogging and a chorus line routine.

He struts and taps and moonwalks for about 10 seconds until it dawns on him that people are staring at him, and not in the way he had hoped.  Others who were supposed to join him in a “flash mob” of dancing are shaking their heads in disgust.

How easy it is to stay in touch, for good or evil, these days.  (Johannes "volty" Hemmerlein, Wikipedia Commons)

It seems that thanks to their handheld mobile devices, they, but not he, knew that the flash dance had been postponed half an hour.

I don’t lead a sheltered life, but this was the first that I had paid much attention to flash mobbing, if that’s a word.

That is, until the disturbing outbreak of violence in London, where looters appeared seemingly out of nowhere in places where bobbies were not.

Then — still texting and calling among themselves as they smashed store windows, helped themselves to loot, burned cars, and even robbed each other — they seemed to vanish.

London looters do their thing.  (Tim Hales/AP Photo)

London looters do their thing. (Tim Hales/AP Photo)

Outraged observers variously called the flash mob’s destruction mindless vandalism, anarchy, take-what-you-can-get greed, pent-up rage by minority immigrants against racial oppression and cuts in benefits to the young and poor, and a naked attempt to embarrass Britain and alarm game officials as London prepares to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Prime Minister David Cameron was blunter.  The rioting was the work of “opportunistic thugs,” he said.  “This is not a problem of poverty but of culture.  A culture of violence, lack of respect vis-à-vis the authorities.”

Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for the Guardian of London, but writing in America’s Washington Post, had some advice for our country as a result of this hit-and-run rampage across the pond.

“If today’s looters have a political point to make,” Freedland wrote, “it is that politics doesn’t matter.”

Freeland warns us that our young and poor, too — and some would include an increasingly restive middle class, staring at a widening income gap between the wealthy and themselves — are facing what he calls “America’s own retrenchment.”

We, too have handheld devices and cellphones, and in profusion.

Britain’s debate over spending cuts on social programs, and whether they fueled London’s wilding, Freeland writes, “could be coming your way.”

Flash mobs seemed like a harmless idea at the time.  (Wikipedia Commons)

Flash mobs seemed like a harmless idea at the time. (Wikipedia Commons)

Flash mobs began as peaceful and humorous acts of public performance, such as mass pillow fights or the kind of dance routine that the actor botched in the TV commercial.  But, as an Associated Press report put it, “the term has taken a darker twist as criminals exploit the anonymity of crowds, using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to coordinate everything from robberies to fights to general chaos.”

Just ask Scotland Yard.

“Free flow of information can be used for good,” David Cameron told the British people.  “But it can also be used for ill.  And when people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them.”

This could portend attempts to curtail, or almost certainly, heated debate about whether to curtail, that free flow of information, beginning in Britain but ending who-knows-where.

 

Grave Rattling

Back in the 1800s, neighboring coal towns with the unusual names of “Mauch Chunk” — Bear Mountain in the native Lenape Indian tongue — and East Mauch Chunk in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh River Valley were pretty and rich.

Then-thriving Mauch Chunks in a 1915 postcard view.  (Wikipedia Commons)

Then-thriving Mauch Chunks in a 1915 postcard view. (Wikipedia Commons)

So pretty that people called the surrounding Pocono Mountains “the Switzerland of America.”  And so rich that the towns had 13 millionaires between them when a million dollars was a good chunk, or mauch chunk, of change.

But over time, the coal vein played out, the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, and the valley sank into obscurity and disrepair.

That is, until the 1950s, when it attempted to stem its decline by changing its name.

Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk merged and adopted the name of a sports hero who never set foot there, at least not while he was alive.

Together, they became “Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.” Read the rest of this entry »

Down in Old San Antone

Posted August 10th, 2011 at 5:17 pm (UTC-4)
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It’s “San Antonio,” of course, but I keep thinking of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, singin’ about “Old San Antone” when it was a sleepy, blistering-hot place far down at the end of the trail.

It’s hotter than ever there now, as you know if you’ve heard about the record heat wave and drought that have broiled Texas to an even cracklier crisp this summer.

But sleepy it’s not.

Even San Antonio's skylline looks festive.  Of course, this was taken at Christmastime.  (Corey Leopold, Flickr Creative Commons)

Even San Antonio's skylline looks festive. Of course, this was taken at Christmastime. (Corey Leopold, Flickr Creative Commons)

You could win a lot of bets with this nugget:  Not only is San Antonio Texas’s second city, behind Houston, it is also the seventh-largest city in America, with a population of 1.4 million people.  That’s fact, not Texas brag.

It doesn’t seem that big when you’re there.  Maybe they’re counting the thousands of young men and women just passing through at the city’s four huge military facilities — and there used to be something like seven — or included some longhorn cattle busting through the brush outside of town.

Big or not, podner, San Antone’s a mighty interesting place.  It bakes in south-central Texas, straight west from sprawling Houston, down the trail a piece from the state capital at Austin, and lassoing distance — sorry — from Hill Country.  More about that magical place in a bit.

San Antonio is named for a saint, Anthony of Padua, Italy, but only because his feast day happened to fall on June 13th.  By chance, that was the calendar day when a Spanish expedition camped in the area in 1691.  If the explorers had shown up a bit later, the place might be San Ignacio.  July 31st is St. Ignatius’s feast day.

San Antonio grew into a provincial capital of New Spain and, in the early 19th century, of independent Mexico.  Today, nearly 60 percent of its population is Hispanic.  The Spaniards called the province Tejas — Friendship — and Texans still give you handshakes to remember.

The state is world-famous for cowboys, open rangeland, oil wells, big-time football, and boot-scootin’ music.  But its two biggest tourist attractions are urban, right in downtown San Antonio.

The Alamo at night.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

The Alamo at night. (Carol M. Highsmith)

One is the Alamo, a tiny stone mission where, in 1836, almost 200 defenders died fighting for Texas’s independence from Mexico.  About a block away is the Paseo del Rio, or River Walk, a subterranean fairyland along the San Antonio River.

Now mind you, that river through town is a most ordinary stream.  It begins in the aquifers of the Texas Hill Country and meanders southward to the Gulf of Mexico. In some spots, you can step across it.

But beneath the streets of San Antonio, the river is transformed into a Venice of the American West.  Boats filled with tourists glide around a hairpin bend, past cobblestone walkways and beneath arched stone bridges.

If ever there were a place that looked relaxing, the River Walk is it.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

If ever there were a place that looked relaxing, the River Walk is it. (Carol M. Highsmith)

Under colorful umbrellas set out by hotels, restaurants, and bars, visitors sip Texas and Mexican beer and stiffer drinks, including margaritas made from the fermented juice of the prickly pear cactus.

Up above, at street level, it’s often broiling hot and oppressively humid.  But down along the River Walk, it’s cooler, calmer, and far more romantic.

What, you don’t think strolling mariachi bands, scented flowers, and passing gondolas are romantic?

During fiesta each spring, waterborne floats parade past thousands of spectators.  And come Christmas season, more than 120,000 tiny lights twinkle in the hibiscus bushes and willow trees.  Candles, glowing in paper bags weighted with sand, line the river.   Romantic, I tell you.

The inspiration for the River Walk was a tragic flood.  In 1921, the normally placid San Antonio River raged out of its banks, right downtown.  More than 50 people died. Outraged citizens demanded flood controls, but no one wanted to destroy the park-like setting along the horseshoe bend of the river. Read the rest of this entry »

More On Memoirs

Posted August 5th, 2011 at 3:23 pm (UTC-4)
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Each Monday morning, VOA’s features staff gathers to rattle off the compelling stories on which we’re working or hope to work at some point in our lives.

When it was my turn last week, I mentioned that I was going to write about the wrenching, sometimes scary, process of examining one’s own life through words and then sharing this memoir with the world.

As I spoke I could not help but observe a startled look and arched eyebrow on the face of one of our editors.  Not a skeptical arch.  A knowing one.  It signaled that she knew all too well of what I spoke.

Especially the scary part.

Jane Friedman then disclosed that she, herself, has been writing a memoir, in fits and starts, lo these many years.  After some cajoling on my part and much mulling on hers, she agreed to share not only some insights from her journey of self-exploration, but even a few excerpts of the incomplete results.

The book-in-progress is called The Diamond Dealer’s Daughter, with the subtitle, Escaping 47th Street Through a Life in Journalism.

Willem Friedman had been a conscript in the Belgian Army.  He became a prisoner of war but was released by the Germans. Willem made his way to Free France and Marseilles, where the Belgian consulate drew up papers that helped him finesse his way to a reunion with other Belgian Jews in Portugal.  (courtesy, Jane Friedman)

Willem Friedman had been a conscript in the Belgian Army. He became a prisoner of war but was released by the Germans. Willem made his way to Free France and Marseilles, where the Belgian consulate drew up papers that helped him finesse his way to a reunion with other Belgian Jews in Portugal. (courtesy, Jane Friedman)

That’s 47th Street in Manhattan, the center of New York’s Diamond District, where her father, Willem, cut and sold diamonds for half a century after a harrowing escape from his native Belgium through Nazi-occupied France and fascist Spain into Portugal in 1940.

Jane is our cultural-affairs editor.  She hones my colleagues’ stories about the arts, movies, and other matters related to human imagination and skill.

She has worked for other prestigious news organizations besides VOA, including Newsweek magazine and CNN, in exotic posts such as Paris, Jerusalem, Beirut, and Cairo.  In the last of these, she was the first Jewish woman to head the bureau of a leading news organization.

Jane is white.  Her former husband is black.  And Egyptian.  And Muslim.  That’s just the beginning of her yeasty memoir material.

In her manuscript, she writes:

I married Aziz in a grubby Egyptian government office, his relatives snapping away.  We were next after the aging Saudi in a long white robe and keffiyah with his 16-year-old peasant bride, who he obviously had paid for.

Jane had thought back to her unprincesslike wedding ceremony while sitting in a different grungy room at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, where agents had pulled aside several Third Worlders — and New York-born Jane — for closer customs inspection.  She was returning to the United States with Aziz and their two children.

“I was home,” as she puts it, “after seventeen long years and four presidencies.”

Jane interviews a prominent Kuwaiti newspaper editor in 1984, during the 'Tanker War' in the Gulf.  'Kuwait was difficult,' Jane writes.  'No drink.  Very hot. And very government controlled.' (courtesy, Jane Friedman)

Jane interviews a prominent Kuwaiti newspaper editor in 1984, during the 'Tanker War' in the Gulf. 'Kuwait was difficult,' Jane writes. 'No drink. Very hot. And very government controlled.' (courtesy, Jane Friedman)

At the beginning of my self-decreed exile, I had set off for France, believing that, because my family was French-speaking, I belonged there.  After seven years as a journalist in Paris, and my fill of left-wing intellectuals discussing nouvelle cuisine at cocktail parties, I moved to Israel.  Four years in the holy land, again as a journalist, taught me that, although Jewish, I wouldn’t parlay that identity into an Israeli one.  The Israelis were tough, brusk and nosy, and the nation had lost it moral compass.  It was not the light unto the nations that [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin said it was.

Jane says that among the toughest stories for her to tell are her recollections of her young life as a sheltered child in a Jewish neighborhood on New York’s Long Island.

Sheltered, she says, because her mother, Helene — pronounced “el-ENN” in the elegant French fashion — who coincidentally had also fled Belgium but had not yet married Jane’s father-to-be, thought of herself as a refined European in a culture of unsophisticated, loose-living Americans.  She kept herself and her daughter dressed to the nines and did not want Jane associating much with the casual, carefree urchins around her.

Marcel Ginsburg, Jane's grandfather, sorts diamonds.  The diamond business goes back many generations in her family, to Antwerp and beyond. (courtesy, Jane Friedman)

Marcel Ginsburg, Jane's grandfather, sorts diamonds. The diamond business goes back many generations in her family, to Antwerp and beyond. (courtesy, Jane Friedman)

Jane was cloistered in, as she puts it, the “Belgian Jewish bubble.” It was bilingual and intellectually stimulating thanks to her father, a voracious reader and student of history.  But bubbles can be lonely places when you see all the fun that people outside are having.

One cannot minimize the impact of such emotional tyranny on an impressionable little girl.  Jane describes it starkly:  It was “a ghetto existence that led to my escape into journalism.”

Since she is extremely sensitive and perceptive, I was surprised to learn that Jane finds writing with emotion to be the most difficult part of the memoir chore.  But her explanation makes sense: “It’s because I am trained as a journalist — detached.  Writing about yourself, your family and friends, and your life, you have to write about feelings, write WITH feelings.”

“This does not come naturally to me,” Jane admits.  And she’s a ruthless critic of her own work.  “It’s only enjoyable if I see something I’ve written that I like,” she says.  “So far, that’s not frequent.”

At last back in what she describes as “home sweet American home” in 1990, Jane and her family settled in a furnished apartment in Falls Church, a leafy Virginia suburb of Washington.  “I spied a yellow school bus,” she writes, “and at the sight of something so familiar, so quintessentially American, so wrought up with my childhood, I began to cry.

Jane, her husband Aziz Fahmy, and their two children, Ines and Adam, in happier days in Cairo in 1989.  (courtesy, Jane Friedman)

Jane, her husband Aziz Fahmy, and their two children, Ines and Adam, in happier days in Cairo in 1989. (courtesy, Jane Friedman)

After long years, I was back.  My family — my father, my brother and uncle, Jews originally from Belgium — were nearby in New York.  My brother had encouraged me to return and rejoin the family.

The career stuff was a snap to write about, she says.  But she turned out those chapters years ago. With a fresh eye, she finds that they need work.  Jane is an editor, and thus a perfectionist, after all.  She’s toughest on herself.  “You keep evolving as a person,” she realized.  “You look back at what you’ve written and are certain that some things need to be recast.”

“That is the problem with a memoir,” Jane says.  One of them, anyway.

A part of her manuscript that she calls her “France chapter” tells the story of a memorable “get,” as we say in the journalism game — an unforgettable interview with an elusive subject. Read the rest of this entry »

Your Life, Written Down

Posted July 29th, 2011 at 6:49 pm (UTC-4)
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When it comes to autobiographies and memoirs, you think of famous or eccentric people.  But in thousands of senior centers, churches, synagogues, and night-school classes, ordinary Americans are daring to learn, and write about, their lives.   And perhaps why Iris DeMent was wrong when she sang, in one of her mournful mountain songs, “My life, it don’t count for nothing/  “A passing September that no one will recall.”

Poor Willie Loman.  We never even know what he sold.  (Howdy, I'm H. Michael Karshis, Flickr Creative Commons)

Poor Willie Loman. We never even know what he sold. (Howdy, I'm H. Michael Karshis, Flickr Creative Commons)

In Arthur Miller’s bitter play, “Death of a Salesman,” Willie Loman’s wife Linda lectures her sons that even the life of a broken-down old salesman is worth remembering.  “Attention must be paid to this man,” she says.  “He must not be allowed to drop into his grave like a dog.”

These powerful words kept popping into the thoughts of a 75-year-old woman I met in Galveston, Texas, a few years ago.

She is, or was — I don’t know if she’s still alive — known around town simply as “Miss Ellie.”  Eleanor Porter, who had built a distinguished career as a magazine editor in New York City, signed up for a workshop on how to write one’s memoirs.

In those sessions, Miss Ellie’s world came to life on paper.

“We are paying attention to our lives, to what we have done and been and lived through,” she told me.  “To have people respond and say that it meant so much to them is extraordinary. Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’ and this is an examination of one’s life.  It’s not unimportant.”

A requiem is a Mass for the souls of the departed.  A memoir is a storehouse of memories of those who live or have lived.  (wall flour, Flickr Creative Commons)

A requiem is a Mass for the souls of the departed. A memoir is a storehouse of memories of those who live or have lived. (wall flour, Flickr Creative Commons)

Books such as Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s memoir of growing up in Ireland, have brought home the same point, that ordinary people can tell extraordinary stories.  It begins, “When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how my brothers and I managed to survive at all.  Worse than the ordinary childhood is the Irish childhood.”

Thomas Cole, now a department head in the medical branch of the University of Texas, organized the Galveston workshop, which brought the 20 or so seniors together.  Dr. Cole’s academic specialty is human geriatrics or, as he puts it, “the human face of growing old.”

“Given the speed of change, the world is such a different place by the time you reach 55 or 65 or 70, let alone 80 or 90,” he told me.

You feel a little bit like Rip Van Winkle [novelist Washington Irving’s character who awoke after being asleep for many years].  Who are you?  What are you worth?  And autobiographical work, or life-story writing, is a form of creativity that enables people to answer that question for themselves and to share it with others. I’m after their genuine experience and their recovery of it, and their ability to share it.

Thomas Cole believes memoir writing is a tonic, even for those for whom life has grown weary.  (UT Health Sciences Center at Houston)

Thomas Cole believes memoir writing is a tonic, even for those for whom life has grown weary. (UT Health Sciences Center at Houston)

And when you create a safe environment, even people who are terrified and have had enormous amounts of suffering in their lives can grow.

Even a blue-collar worker with just a basic education and almost no writing experience found that he had a story to tell and relished the chance to tell it there.  Bob Harvey was a 66-year-old former equipment repairman when I met him.  He said he always loved swapping tales with his buddies over a beer.  He called it “telling big lies based on little truths.”

But when you sit down to write, somehow or other the truth just keeps popping up. And when you get into it, you don’t want to sidestep it.  It kind of validates living.  When I recall the things that I did, then they become real once again, and I can once again reach out and touch the emotions and smell the smells.

“What did you learn about yourself?” I asked him.

“Want to know the truth?  I’m finally learning to like me.  I wasn’t such a bad guy after all.”

Another writing group member, Tina Pereboom, grew up in England.  In 1940 when she was five, she and a sister were evacuated from London to avoid the German bombs that were sure to come.  The girls were shipped to the country, where they lived apart from their family for six years. Age 66 when we talked, Pereboom wrote about that painful childhood separation.

She said she usually bottles up her emotions in stoic British fashion.  But with her friends in the writers’ group, she let more than a few tears fall as she read her story.

Writing alone can be daunting, discouraging.  A group offers encouragement and support.  (GrowWear, Flickr Creative Commons)

Writing alone can be daunting, discouraging. A group offers encouragement and support. (GrowWear, Flickr Creative Commons)

I had never really given myself permission to think about myself.  If I’d known myself this well many years ago, I would have lived a little bit differently.  I wouldn’t let people roll over me like they always did.

“I’ve heard that it’s a bad idea for older people to look back on their lives, because it makes them sad or morose,” I told her.

Oh, heavens, no.  I don’t think any of us have got morose or upset or unhappy. It’s paying attention to someone’s life, and so many times when you’re older, nobody wants to pay attention to you. Read the rest of this entry »

Re-Creations Not Going, Going but GONE

Posted July 26th, 2011 at 7:01 pm (UTC-4)
3 comments

Nat Allbright died last week in a Virginia hospital at age 87.  Unless you’re an American over 60, an ardent baseball fan, and a bit of a history buff, you’ve probably never heard of him.

In his day, Nat Allbright was a legend — a craftsman, an artist, a master teller of baseball tales so vivid, you believed every word.

When radio came along in the 1920s, baseball was one of the first sports to go on the air.  Before long, all the major-league teams were broadcasting their games.

From their own ballparks, anyway.  It was frightfully expensive to send play-by-play audio descriptions from distant stadiums because of the high Western Union charges for dedicated broadcast lines.

There were not yet radio accounts of the action when this Chicago White Sox game was played in 1912.  (Library of Congress)

There were not yet radio accounts of the action when this Chicago White Sox game was played in 1912. (Library of Congress)

So, as Tony Silva writes in a 2007 Journal of Baseball History and Culture story, frugal team owners turned to art and artifice to bring their games to fans.  “Due partly to the lack of a budget, inadequate technology, and the resistance of team owners to broadcasting games live for fear of hurting business at the gate, early radio broadcasts actually were imaginative re-enactments of games that had already been played moments or even hours earlier.”

They were performances, in other words — sometimes of Shakespearean proportions — based only in part on the facts of games that the talented announcers were describing but not really watching.

This was the Post's big scoreboard above its offices during the hometown Senators' first World Series appearance in 1924.  (Shorpy.com, courtesy Bob Barrier)

This was the Post's big scoreboard above its offices during the hometown Senators' first World Series appearance in 1924. (Shorpy.com, courtesy Bob Barrier)

The idea evolved somewhat from the days before radio, when big-city newspapers and local taverns set up huge display boards outside their offices on which constantly updated scores and other game details relayed by Western Union would be posted for passersby to follow.

If the game was crucial and the whole town was keen on following its every development, traffic jams, stopped trolleys, and packed sidewalks ensued.

In 1912, one barkeeper in Oakland, California, even sued his landlord for tearing down the makeshift scoreboard he’d erected on the roof.  It had brought in lots of business.

 

This is backstage at Washington's National Theater, where the funny-looking contraption to the left cast lights on a translucent sheet that gave the look of players running around the bases.  (Shorpy.com, courtesy Bob Barrier)
This is something called the “Coleman’s Scoreboard,” backstage at Washington’s National Theater, where the funny-looking contraption to the left cast lights on a translucent sheet that gave the look of players running around the bases. (Shorpy.com, courtesy Bob Barrier)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here's what the audience out front saw, as it followed game action that had been relayed to the theater and re-imagined here.  (Shorpy.com, courtesy Bob Barrier)

And here's what the audience out front saw, as it projected a crude version of game action that had been telegraphed to the fellow sitting in the chair in the previous photo and re-imagined here. (Shorpy.com, courtesy Bob Barrier)

Using nothing but telegraphed or wire-service accounts of pitches and plays in the field, baseball’s radio re-creators turned the idea of updating game action into an artform.  They sat in a studio and painted exaggerated “word pictures” of what was happening on fields far away. Read the rest of this entry »

Riding the Old Roads — and Reminiscing

Posted July 22nd, 2011 at 2:48 pm (UTC-4)
7 comments

There was once a Golden Age of automobile travel in the United States, when driving seemed carefree and scenic, and two-lane highways snaked across the countryside and right through the hearts of towns and cities.

No slick “bypasses” in those days.  No siree.  The whole point was to funnel travelers and their dollars right past local businesses.

Distinctive U.S. Highway signs had the look of a police shield, and in places that could afford it, reflective insets.  (U.S. Highway Administration)

Distinctive U.S. Highway signs had the look of  police shields and, in places that could afford it, included reflective insets. (U.S. Highway Administration)

Many of these routes had started as unmarked Indian trails and grown and grown until they got catchy names such as “Dixie Highway” — and then, in 1925, official U.S. highway numbers.  Some, such as U.S. 66, the “Mother Road” about which many nostalgic books have been written, became the stuff of legend.  It stretched all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles.  Elsewhere, busy state roads such as Pennsylvania’s old Lincoln Highway were pieced together to form a road network that spanned the entire country.

The U.S. Government helped build and fix up these improved national roads, and crews tacked up thousands of shield-shaped signs with the highways’ numbers.  At last you wouldn’t need 20 different maps to get from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, California.   Just one U.S. road map, put out by Pure or Esso or Gulf Oil.

If you had spunk and a sense of direction, you didn’t need a map at all.  You just got on the new U.S. Route 50 in Maryland and headed west.

Even-numbered national highways ran east-west — and of course, west to east as well.  Odd-numbered ones cut north and south.  Numbers for modern, high-speed Interstate expressways, which sucked much of the traffic off the old roads, work the same way.

Even the amenity of color TV couldn't keep this old place along U.S. 66 in business.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

Even the amenity of color TV couldn't keep this old place along U.S. 66 in business. (Carol M. Highsmith)

Although Carol and I have cruised along Old U.S. 66 out W est three or four times as she searched for classic shots of old motels, coffee shops, and neon signs, I am partial to another national road closer to our Maryland home.

It’s U.S. Route 11, which I like to call the “French Connection.”  It starts at Rouses Point, New York, on the edge of Lake Champlain at the Canadian border below Montreal and meanders down through Appalachian Mountain valleys before dipping into southern cotton country and fizzling out 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) away in formerly French Louisiana.

You’d expect such a Francophile highway, crusty with age or not, to conclude triumphantly in the heart of New Orleans’ storied French Quarter.  Instead, Old 11 dead ends ignominiously at an east-west highway just outside of town.  Instead of seeing the dancing lights of Bourbon Street, you confront a nondescript parking lot at 11’s terminus.

If the ride along it — through what has become the boonies — wasn’t bad enough, this is a deflating letdown.

Here's U.S. 11 in its long, grinding entirety.  You start out on one end trying to drive the whole thing, and it's an adventure.  Before long, it's an ordeal.  (U.S. Highway Administration)

Here's U.S. 11 in its long, grinding entirety. You start out on one end trying to drive the whole thing, and it's an adventure. Before long, it's an ordeal. (U.S. Highway Administration)

Even in its heyday, U.S. 11 was never a sexy route.  It was a narrow, workmanlike Canada-to-Gulf of Mexico highway, choked with trucks.  Drivers endured it, then largely deserted it the minute the Interstate opened along its path.

In western Virginia, the cracked old highway wraps around I-81 so many times that, from the air, it must look like a snake on a beanpole.  U.S. 11 intersects at several exits, taking traffic into towns, but disappears entirely for long sections where engineers simply straightened and widened it and turned it into the faster Interstate.

If you could take a pencil to Route 11, it would look like a Morse code message, with dashes and dots and long breaks along the way.

One sliver that I traveled much farther north, near Syracuse, New York, was still labeled the “Iroquois Trail” because its route followed an old Indian footpath up to Canada.  The green, rolling country around it was once dotted with zinc, talc, and even salt mines.

In little North Adams, New York, 98-year-old Earl Timmerman recalled the days when Route 11 was the big deal, the haughty main road, lined with busy motor courts, drive-in-movie theaters, roadside diners, and produce stands. Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s to the Troubadours

Posted July 20th, 2011 at 6:18 pm (UTC-4)
3 comments

I’ve been downloading some of my favorite folk music to my iPod, a sicknasty* example of bridging the generation gap, if you ask me.

[sicknasty: a good thing, like, you know, extremely amazing]

In these days of indie, emo, screamo/post-hardcore, alternative-pink, goth punk, and grindcore musical genres — and I use the term “musical” gingerly — acoustic folk music must seem like the equivalent of the Gutenberg Bible.  And before you ask, no, I’m not entirely sure what “emo” music is and, for the sake of my cochlea, don’t want to know.

The fancy term for folk music these days is “traditional” music.  It began in England and elsewhere in Europe as tunes written by anonymous commoners and sung by the lower classes.  Sometimes the peasants would twang a string or two in accompaniment, sometimes not.

Lead Belly (his preferred spelling) was a 12-string guitar virtuoso as well as a powerful blues and folk singer.  (Wikipedia Commons)

Lead Belly (his preferred spelling) was a 12-string guitar virtuoso as well as a powerful blues and folk singer. (Wikipedia Commons)

Immigrants brought these straightforward, lyrical sounds to the United States.Their message songs gained traction thanks to troubadours such as Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, Lead Belly (Huddy Ledbetter) and Pete Seeger in the 1940s and ’50s, and a “folk revival” spread across the land in the following decade of social unrest.  I’ve never figured out the “revival” part, though, since this simple but provocative style of music had never before gone mainstream.

In retelling the story of its sudden popularity, we sometimes exaggerate the stridency of the “movement,” as if Seeger, Guthrie, and Peter, Paul & Mary were inciting antiwar protesters with angry words and chants, just as Woody Guthrie had once performed with a guitar on which was written “This Machine Kills Fascists.”

Guthrie and his "killer" guitar.  (Al Almuller, Wikipedia Commons)

But in the folk heyday of the ’60s, almost all of the singers instead took a thoughtful, quietly provocative turn, setting moral suasion to music.

Many of their themes were not radical at all: Everybody matters.  Injustice is inexcusable.  Peace is worth working for.

Despite the smears of their many rancorous critics, most of these singers were not cowardly “peaceniks.” Consider these Seeger lyrics from his “Dear Mr. President” song two decades earlier, as the nation was fighting Nazi madman Adolf Hitler’s forces during World War II:

Give me a rifle, Seeger sang to the tune of his long-neck, five-string banjo:

I never was one to try and shirk,
And let the other fellow do all the work,
So when the time comes, I’ll be on hand,
And make good use of these two hands.
Quit playing this banjo around with the boys,
And exchange it for something that makes more noise.

But Seeger made it clear why he would fight and kill if need be:

Not because everything’s perfect or everything’s right.

No. it’s just the opposite… I’m fighting because I want

A better America with better laws,

And better homes and jobs and schools,

And no more Jim Crow and no more rules,

Like you can’t ride on this train ‘cause you’re a Negro,

You can’t live here ’cause you’re a Jew

You can’t work here ’cause you’re a union man.

Seeger did join the U.S. Army, which shipped him to the Pacific theater as an airplane mechanic.  Pete didn’t have the hands for wrenches, apparently, for he was soon reassigned to entertain the troops with his music.  Asked later how he spent the war, he replied, “I strummed my banjo.”

Little could he have imagined, singing in smoky coffeehouses, that 20 years later Americans by the hundreds of thousands would be buying the “folkies’” phonograph records, attending their concerts, and singing along with their lyrics — not in violent protest, but in what years later even some who sang the loudest would call naïve idealism.

A worn Peter, Paul & Mary album cover from 1965.  (Epiclectic, Flickr Creative Commons)

A worn Peter, Paul & Mary album cover from 1965. (Epiclectic, Flickr Creative Commons)

As I download some of their music and reminisce, I can’t help think about those days and the PP&M vinyl album — we Peter, Paul & Mary fans easily slid into using just their initials — that had been played so many times and endured so many scratches that, years later, I still walk around the house singing along to their “500 miles”:

 

“Not a shirt on my back

“Not a . . . my name.”

The ellipses mark the place where the record skipped, leaving out the words “penny to” every time.

I think of these singer-songwriters often these many years later because, after all, Seeger is 92.  Leukemia has taken PP&M’s Mary Travers.  Peter Yarrow is 73, and Noel Paul Stookey is 74.  P&P still appear, but infrequently and with sadness in their hearts and voices.

So take a few moments to remember them all with me.

Pete Seeger is still going and, for his age, going strong.  (Anthony Pepitone, Wikipedia Commons)

Pete Seeger is still going and, for his age, going strong. (Anthony Pepitone, Wikipedia Commons)

The son of  Harvard University classical musicologists, Pete Seeger discovered folk music at a humble square-dancing festival in rural North Carolina.  “Whereas most popular music seemed sappy or trivial to Seeger,” biographer Thomas Blair wrote of him, “these songs seemed frank, straightforward, honest.

“Folk music’s new convert was to become its greatest proselyte.”

Seeger left his privileged Connecticut surroundings and hit the road, soon meeting and collaborating with Guthrie and Ledbetter.  Seeger and Guthrie traveled together, stirring up folks at union organizing rallies.  And he swung through Washington, D.C., regularly, immersing himself in folk traditions as an assistant archivist of folk songs at the Library of Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Most Unusual and Surrealistic’ Central Park

Posted July 12th, 2011 at 5:28 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

The quote in my title is from the Bulgarian-born artist Christo, who, with his wife Jeanne-Claude, erected 7,500 colorful “gates” draped in billowing saffron-orange fabric in New York City’s Central Park over 16 days in the dead of winter in 2005.  Their work was surrealistic, too, as you see:

Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "Gates" brightened the drab winter landscape of Central Park.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

At 341 hectares (843 acres), Central Park is nowhere near the largest urban park in America.  It’s certainly not the oldest; that would be a smaller park or two in St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565 — 60 years before Dutch settlers moved their cattle onto Manhattan Island.  A year later, they bought the whole island from resident Indians and named it “New Amsterdam.”

Fueled by its port and shipments sent down the Hudson River via the Erie Canal that connected to the Great Lakes in the nation’s interior, lower Manhattan grew into a teeming, polyglot economic powerhouse.  In 1811, city commissioners got around to drawing up a grid pattern of long north-south avenues and orderly east-west cross streets for mostly empty upper Manhattan.  As a result of that plan, to this day people who can hardly find their way around middlin’-sized cities elsewhere navigate New York’s bustling thoroughfares with ease.

Multi-unit “walk-up” buildings rose along these arteries.  Their apartments were eagerly rented by young couples, large immigrant families, and single “bohemians” such as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, a wealthy, dilettantish young architect from London.  Together, they had just won a nationwide competition to design a grand urban park in the midst of it all.

Their “Greensward Plan’s” vision of a wild yet easily accessible park was Olmsted’s doing.  Some of Central Park’s most cherished, manmade touches today, including its graceful bridges and arches, Victorian shelters, and ornate fountains, were Vaux’s.  The end product, in which Manhattanites take fierce pride — and frequent respites — is nearly universally regarded as one of the most important landscaped green spaces ever created.

The area that became Central Park in 1860, three years into the park's creation.  (Library of Congress)

The area that became Central Park in 1860, three years into the park's creation. (Library of Congress)

Even before before Olmsted and Vaux moved to town, the city was gradually purchasing tracts of bramble bushes and copses and swampland that one report called a “pestilential spot where rank vegetation and miasmic odors taint every breath of air.”

The idea was Mayor Fernando Wood’s.  He foresaw thousands of jobs for, and votes from, the unemployed resulting from development of the area.  The mayor proved right on both counts.

Novelist Washington Irving and poet William Cullen Bryant, among others, sat on the committee charged with determining what to do with this scraggly burren.

Currier and Ives's depiction of the park's "Grand Drive" in 1869.  (Library of Congress)

Over a 20-year period beginning in 1857, Olmsted and Vaux transformed the place into a playland of lawns, gardens, rock outcroppings, skating rinks, castles — even its own small zoo — New York’s first — which began as a small “menagerie” of exotic creatures.  The two designers built in separate “circulation” systems for pedestrians, horseback riders, and “pleasure vehicles”: sporty horse-drawn phaetons in those days.

Four roads, now called “transverses,” that connected the city’s east and west sides were sunk below Central Park so as to be unobtrusive.

As the park neared completion, several Vanderbilts and other old-money aristocrats — as well as the nouveau riche — began a spate of “can you top this?” construction of fabulous city castles on Fifth Avenue alongside the park.

In 1872, building commenced on what would become the world’s largest art museum, the Metropolitan — or “Met,” as New Yorkers like to shorten it, on a parcel of land that intruded slightly into the rectangular park’s eastern perimeter.  An entire “museum mile” of cultural institutions would march northward next to it thereafter.

Skaters before The Dakota, which stood out alone and prominently in uptown Manhattan when this was taken in the 1880s.  (Library of Congress)

Skaters before The Dakota, which stood out alone and prominently in uptown Manhattan when this was taken in the 1880s. (Library of Congress)

Over on the west side of the park at 72nd Street rose the enormous — and posh — Dakota Apartments, a landmark building where, almost a century later, Beatle John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, lived — and outside which Lennon would be murdered by an obsessed fan in 1980.  The Dakota took its name from its remoteness as it appeared in 1884 on what then seemed like Manhattan’s equivalent of the Great Plains.

Many New Yorkers describe the delights, not just of skating or hiking or biking; skiing along the park’s paths in wintertime; dropping a coin into the hat of a talented busker or the fellow who bends balloons into giraffe shapes outside the Central Park Zoo; climbing schist and granite outcroppings; taking in a superb Shakespearian play or a free concert at the park’s open-air stages each summer; but also of just peering out the window of the Dakota or the equally massive, French Renaissance-style Plaza Hotel, where Rockefellers and other prominent New York families kept apartments, onto Central Park’s lagoons and trails, horse-drawn carriages and leaves that come and go and change with the seasons.

Some say 35 million out-of-towners also walk in or catch a carriage ride into Central Park each year.

I grew up five blocks from a heavily forested urban park just outside Cleveland, Ohio; Carol lived for a time in Philadelphia, whose Fairmount Park is filled with glorious statuary; we love the live oaks and Spanish moss in New Orleans’s City Park and San Francisco’s magical Golden Gate Park that stretches right into sand dunes on the Pacific.  And we’ve walked Boston Common, the Revolutionary War-era assembly grounds that Olmsted’s sons, John Charles and Frederick Jr., touched up in the early 20th Century.

Calvert Vaux's beautiful terraces, shown in this early-1900s postcard view.  (Library of Congress)

Calvert Vaux's beautiful terraces, shown in this early-1900s postcard view. (Library of Congress)

But to us, nothing compares with what Old Man Olmsted called Central Park’s “restorative powers” to energize the body and aesthetics to soothe the soul.

Disdaining the formal, fussy “gardening” techniques of the day, he and Vaux preserved many wild places and created buildings and manmade bodies of water to complement them.  “Service must precede art,” Frederick Olmsted Sr. once stated, “since all turf, trees, flowers, fences, walks, water, paint, plaster, posts and pillars in or under which there is not a purpose of direct utility or service are inartistic if not barbarous. Read the rest of this entry »

Ted Landphair

About

This is a far-ranging exploration of American life by a veteran Voice of America “Americana” reporter and essayist.

Ted writes about the thousands of places he has visited and written about as a broadcaster and book author. Ted Landphair’s America often showcases the work of his wife and traveling companion, renowned American photographer Carol M. Highsmith.

Ted welcomes feedback, questions, and ideas. View Ted’s profile. Watch a video about Ted and Carol by VOA’s Nico Colombant.

Photos by Carol M. Highsmith

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