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Orphan Train - Objects, Memories, Improv

Langston Darby held an icepack to his jaw before his program on “Found Objects: Unleash the Voice of the Everyday through Performance“ at the Chestnut Hill Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. But the icepack was to ease the pain of an earlier dentist appointment and not part of his program, one of many events in the Library’s One Book One -Philadelphia celebration. This year’s selection, The Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline is about the relationship of an older woman, Vivian and a young woman, Molly. Molly is a Penobscot Indian who has lived in various foster homes and gotten into trouble. Molly is assigned community service to help Vivian sort through the many keepsakes Vivian has stored in her attic. These objects evoke memories of the older woman’s own traumatic childhood experiences after she was sent on an “orphan train” from New York City to the Midwest during the Great Depression subsequent to the death of her Irish immigrant parents and siblings in a tenement fire.

 

Darby led our small assemblage through improvisation centering on objects- like a certain knife from our own memories and then had us feel for and pick the thing out of a “magic bag”, instructing us to let the object choose us. A sparkly dark orange artificial pumpkin chose one of us, a large black plastic knight/horse from a chess set, another. A small book chose your correspondent. Recommended reading: The Orphan Train.

Watch video here.


Historical Society opens archives

Cu sonderskov historical societyVolunteer Shirley Hanson was on hand to greet visitors at the Chestnut Hill Historical Society on their first Saturday of the month open house. The Society’s archives house some 20,000 historical items including photos, many available digitally online.

Your correspondent asked about the history of his house. Volunteer Meredith Sonderskov located a 1916 newspaper illustration of the newly built twin houses on the 200 block of East Highland Avenue featuring then modern amenities – refrigerator rooms, trunk rooms and set-in tub bathrooms. The garage and 14 foot driveway would accommodate  the popular Ford Model T and nearly 100 years later are more than enough room for your correspondent’s machine. Watch video here.


Landscaper continues family tradition

Fifty years ago, when John Antonucci’s grandfather, Frank, immigrated from Italy and established his masonry business in North Wales, Pa outside Philadelphia, there was just a stop sign outside at the now busy intersection of Stump Road and Route 309. Frank’s son Salvatore expanded the business and now Sal’s Nursery and Landscaping has nineteen acres of nursery which is mainly a source of plant material for the company’s landscaping operation. Customers can also walk in and buy plants at retail. Sal’s specializes in upscale projects like in-ground pool, pool houses and patio installations. And, unlike the big-box stores, it offers rare varieties and very large specimens so that customers who have lost shrubs or trees say, during the recent rough winter, can match and fill in the gaps in their landscapes. On a crisp spring day, John spoke proudly about the family operation and pointed out several beautiful plants like the cluster of dark red-leafed and flowering ninebarks. (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Watch video and tour here


Accompanies WC Fields silent film with digital Wurlitzer

 keyboardistwc fields old army game poster

Moviegoers attending the Chestnut Hill Film Group’s inaugural screening of the season this Tuesday evening were delighted by the artful musical accompaniment of veteran keyboardist Don Kinnear. Kinnear improvised as he watched, for the first time, two silent short films chosen by Jay Schwartz (founder of the Secret Cinema) and employed the operatic style of playing and interweaving themes assigned to different characters for the silent main feature he had seen before, W.C. Fields’ 1926 “It’s the Old Army Game.” With his electronic keyboard and a laptop loaded with a digital version of the Wurlitzer organ of the Virginia Theater in Champaign, Illinois  he reproduced the music, sounds and special effects (“toy counter”) the original audiences  in the 1920s may have experienced. Watch video interview here.

ch hill film society social

Living in Princeton U's 1860s President McCosh's House

Living in the house of 1860s Princeton University President James McCosh

David Meadow leads a short tour through his home, known to the Princeton NJ community as “the McCosh house” because it was the residence of the James   McCosh, president of Princeton University from 1868 -1888.  

In recent years, the mansion had been divided into two large condominium units and last year, Meadow and his wife Lisa Mirin have taken up residence in the larger side.

Meadow relates that McCosh had built the structure in 1887 as his retirement home. Before it was moved to its present location on Princeton’s main street, Nassau Street, in 1906, it was originally situated on Prospect street, where it had housed a student eating club [the “Quadrangle” of which novelist and Princetonian F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about in “This Side of Paradise.”] 

On Nassau it sat on a large tract of land and its owner in 1980, Architect Robert Hillier sought to tear it down for a townhouse development. The Historical Society and the community waged a battle in the local newspapers to preserve the historical house. Hillier relented, and was able to comply with regulations concerning the housing development by moving the house once again, but this time only 20 feet closer to the street.

Meadow points out the elaborate, original stained glass work, woodwork, and scrollwork in the main entrance area and along the grand stairway to the second floor. 

When the house was moved in 1980, some of the original stucco was uncovered a curious feature was revealed: The year “1888” and McCosh’s initials where McCosh presumably had scratched them into the wet stucco.

Watch video interview and tour here.


Three days on roof, survived Hurricane Katrina

NOTE: INFORMATION HAS BEEN RECEIVED ON 4/21/13 WHICH CALLS THE VERACITY OF THIS ACCOUNT INTO QUESTION.

Mount Airy resident survived Hurrican Katrina

Watch video interview here

Jo Quasney is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina. Of French Creole heritage, Quasney is a native of New Orleans who was living alone in her house in the eighth ward when the hurricane struck on August 29, 2005.  Quasney bred birds and had no way of transporting or finding shelter for the birds when New Orleans residents were advised to evacuate so she stuck it out. Her neighborhood began to flood after she heard an explosion that she attributes to a Halliburton company oil barge breaking through a levee. (For a discussion on the cause of the breech, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ING_4727)

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Nana's Wicker Back

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Nancy-Ellen sculpted characters from her book “Nana’s Wicker Back.” The title references the scarring pattern on her own grandmother’s back from whippings as a slave. “These women are bought and sold [many were bore] into slavery who were regarded as mules or just property. Yet I wanted to depict that they had spirits, they had souls, they fell in love, they cried and some were very overt in personality some were very quiet and timid. And I never know what I’m going to make. As I start pushing clay, they start telling me who they are.” Nancy-Ellen. Watch video interview here


Million men marched

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Kelly Starling Lyons, an author of African American theme pictured books, shared her stories with students at the J.S Jenks Middle School in Philadelphia in celebration of Black History month in February.

One Million Men and Me is based on Lyons attending the Million Man March in Washington, DC in 1995 and seeing a little girl there with her father. In Lyons’ eyes the little girl looked like a princess surrounded by a sea of princes and kings. Lyons has met several men who were moved by their participation at the event to become leaders in the community. Watch Million Men interview here.

Tea Cakes for Tosh, coming out this fall, was inspired by her grandmother who recounted baking cookies called teacakes growing up and grandmother’s stories of her own grandmother’s family who would pop the cookies in their mouths while working out in the field. In Lyons’ re-working, the ancestor is a plantation cook who baked the cookies and, despite being forbidden from keeping any of them, snuck some for the children to eat so they could have a taste of freedom. Watch Tea Cakes video

Ellen’s Broom is about the legalization, during Reconstruction, of the marriages of former slaves. Marriages were not recognized and slave husbands and wives could be sold apart. To show their commitment to one another a slave couple would jump over a broom. In Lyons story, Ellen questions why her parents want to keep the custom. Jumping the broom is a link to the past, and, like other contemporary couples, part of Lyons and her husband made it part of their own wedding. Watch Broom video here.

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Sackbut - built it, plays it

Sacbut, made it plays it

Nate Wood, a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in trombone, makes his living freelancing with various baroque music groups, mostly in Europe. He also has two of his own period instrument ensembles, the Habsburger Camerata specializing in 17th century music and Mandragora, a 16th century Renaissance wind band.  And he builds some of his own instruments, true to historical design. Here he plays snippets on his hand built sackbut and slide trumpet. Columbus, Ohio.

Watch video here