Sunday, July 16, 2017

Part I of II: A Mosey Through Boston

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Photo: Chronica Domus


This was our first visit to Boston. Boston USA, that is.  It's funny to think that only six months prior, quite by serendipity, we found ourselves visiting the original market town of Boston in Lincolnshire, when we traveled there on our way to view the house I wrote about, here.  The two towns could not be any more different.  Boston Massachusetts is enormous by comparison to the somewhat sleepy Lincolnshire port town.

With only two days and three nights to take in the charms of this bustling city, we decided to camp out at Copley Square, a good central starting point for anyone wishing to explore the city on foot. Within a few minutes walk from our hotel, we found the main branch of the Boston Public Library, the first of many places we had earmarked to explore.  Make no mistake, for there is plenty to view in this magnificent temple of scholarly pursuits beyond books. John Singer Sargent's murals, for example.

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The Triumph of Religion murals, seen in the vaulted Sargent Gallery, were painted in England and installed between 1895 and 1919 and are a departure from the artist's usual subject matter of society portrait painting
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Philosophy, Astronomy, and History form part of Chavannes' Muses of Inspiration Gallery which vies for attention amid the striking stonework of the library's impressive marble staircase 
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The inspirational Bates Hall, named in honor of the library's original benefactor, makes me want to perform scholastic gymnastics
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No tour of Boston would be complete without walking part or all of the two and a half mile long Freedom Trail.  By following the red-lined route along Boston's brick pavements, visitors will have the opportunity of viewing sixteen historical landmarks that tell the story of Boston and the part its citizens played in America's revolution and independence from Britain.  Beginning with a leisurely mosey across Boston Common, we found Park Street Church and the Granary Burying Ground.

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In its early days, the Granary Burying Ground was not exactly an ideal locale for a graveyard where boggy conditions from underground springs caused caskets and their contents to regularly float about the place
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It is here that some of Boston's famous sons and daughters are laid to rest including revolutionary patriot Paul Revere, statesmen Samuel Adams and John Hancock and, of note, Hancock's servant Frank, who lays at his feet.

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I believe the headstone of Officer John Hurd, who died in 1784, is the most fetching grave marker I have ever laid eyes upon
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Continuing on, past King's Chapel, Boston's old City Hall, and Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the United States, it was time for some afternoon refreshment. A pot of tea would surely revive our flagging spirits.  Conveniently, and to the delight of our daughter Patience, we just happened to be standing by the hotel that in 1856 invented the Boston Cream Pie.

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This particular Boston Cream Pie vanished almost as soon as it was served to us at
The Omni Parker House Hotel, America's oldest continuously run hotel ...
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... as did this, another of the hotel's claims to fame, a light-as-can-be Parker House Roll
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After our well-earned intermission of tea and cakes, we were adequately fortified to face the red-brick road ahead.  As it turned out, more tea would soon await.

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The tea leaves contained within the small glass vial, along with the Chinese tea label, survived being tipped into the harbor on December 16, 1773, the day of Boston's famous Tea Party
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The Old South Meeting House, built in 1729, is home to some fascinating artifacts and exhibits which tell the story of the Boston Tea Party.   Also on display is a giltwood clock that made my heart beat a little faster.

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I was rather gobsmacked at the sight of this fine colossal gallery clock, made by Simon Willard in 1800
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Next stop, The Old State House, Boston's oldest public building.  It was in this building that the Declaration of American Independence was first read to Bostonians in 1776, an amazing feat when one considers the Old State House was once the seat of colonial British government.  As I stood in the building's basement, I heard what I perceived to be the rumble of nearby trains. Astonishingly, my ears did not deceive for I soon learned the historic structure sits smack dab atop a subway station.

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A model of the Old State House - notice the doorway to the right which leads to the subway station directly beneath the building
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At some point in the building's history, an architect followed a set of incorrect plans and installed this spiral staircase instead of an intended assembly chamber - I'm rather pleased he did because I was compelled to photograph it, so impressed with its shapely form, and unaware of its quirky history until doing research for this post
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On we trod, past Faneuil Hall to Charles Bulfinch's extension, The Great Hall, which looked appropriately festive for the upcoming Independence Day holiday.

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George Peter Alexander Healy's painting, titled Webster Replying To Senator Hayne, took seven years to complete and hangs on what I've nick-named the 'Wall of Worthies' alongside other notable figures in America's history
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By early evening, having zipped by several more notable landmarks, it was beginning to feel as though the Freedom Trail would never end.

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"Are we there yet?"
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Time to call it a day but not before a table for dinner was secured at the Union Oyster House, America's oldest restaurant.  Established in 1826, this popular eatery was packed to the gills with hungry patrons looking to fill up on New England's best seafood dishes. With a forty-five minute wait ahead of us, there was plenty of time for one of these:

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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Shown here are three of the many booths available for patrons' dining pleasure - Number 18, not illustrated in this photograph, was President John F. Kennedy's favorite booth
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Boston is indeed a fun and thriving city full of interesting architectural gems and historic treasures. What I've covered in today's post is just the tip of the iceberg to what is available to be enjoyed by Boston's fortunate visitors.  If you are pressed for time and can only spend a single day here, I highly recommend following our path and walking part, if not all, of the Freedom Trail.  By doing so you will be rewarded with an understanding as to why Boston is one of America's best preserved historical cities. And, like me, you will probably find yourself uttering the words "old" and "oldest" repeatedly throughout your day.

Coming up next, Part II - In pursuit of beauty and culture.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Back From New England and Beyond

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The dramatic sky that welcomed us over Boston Harbor 
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My family and I have just returned from a supremely pleasant, ten day whirlwind tour of captivating historic and cultural landmarks, both in New England and Upstate New York . We had a marvelous time.  In fact, my head is still spinning from all the awe-inspiring sites we toured and the sights we beheld, both in town and country. The verdant landscape alone would have satiated my senses to contentment.  What a treat it was to immerse within such green and pleasant lands after living so long within drought savaged California.

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What a view!  The resplendent Hudson River Valley as seen from Boscobel House
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William Blake might as well have written his poem about the Hudson River Valley for it surely is as green as England's green and pleasant land
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I am planning a series of posts, distilling our experiences in Boston, Cambridge, Waltham, Lexington, Concord, Salem, Cooperstown, and Hudson. I do hope you return soon to share in the retelling of our adventures.  In the meantime, please excuse me while I sift through the two thousand photographs compiled along the way, to pluck those deemed most representative.  I expect to offer up a selection in my next post.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

George Washington, Silver Spoons, and Thomas Jefferson's Peas

As far back as I can recall, I've had an eye - or rather two - for detail.  I blame my parents for the affliction, which can be both a blessing and a curse.  My father for example, now retired, was highly skilled in his profession as a tailor; details meant the world to him.  My parents would actively encourage my sisters and I to observe, compare, and contrast in order to better understand how the smallest detail - be it a button or the cut of a lapel - might add to or detract from the overall appearance of a garment.

The smallest details don't only fascinate me, but can at times become my impetus for telling a story and the lens through which I see a larger picture. Take for example the spoons seen in the photograph below.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


At first glance, these two early American coin silver spoons appear to be quite unremarkable.  Devoid of decorative detail, aside from a simple monogram, one could easily be forgiven for not offering a second gander.  In fact, both the teaspoon and the large serving spoon possess rather a severe aspect to their design. There is a reason for this, and a fascinating one at that.

You see, it is believed that "coffin-end" spoons, as these are called, were fashioned by American silversmiths to commemorate the death of George Washington in 1799. The tip of the spoon's handle was clipped by the silversmith to imply the form of a coffin. This was a design which remained popular until about 1810.

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The distinct shape of this early American coin silver teaspoon tells us that it was fashioned to commemorate the death of George Washington in 1799
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A view of the flowing monogram engraved upon the coffin-end handle of the large serving spoon
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Having culturally attained the honorary title of  "Father of His Country", George Washington, America's first president, was largely revered at the time of his death. His passing was felt deeply across the young nation.  Many citizens of his newly born nation were so moved as to actually don mourning clothes for months thereafter.  As one can imagine, it was not long until all manner of commemorative household goods and artworks appeared to mark this solemn occasion.

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Oh how I kick myself for not bidding on this ink and silk mourning needlework picture when it came up for auction in San Francisco a few years ago - what was I thinking?


I have owned the diminutive coin silver teaspoon for a number of years and acquired it without prior knowledge of any significance to its design.  It was much later that I learned about the association of the coffin-end handle and its connection to Washington's death.  Naturally, when I saw the large serving spoon for sale at a recent antiques fair, I had to have it.

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Article Number 12 in the collection of a local professor was a coffin-end serving spoon made by silversmith Judah Hartt of Middletown, Connecticut in 1800, now happily ensconced in my own collection
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The dealer from whom I purchased this piece had acquired it as part of a sizable lot of early American silverware assembled by a local professor. The professor had thoughtfully tagged each item with an informative label noting details of the item's origin and year it was made. The preceding photograph shows the label still attached to the serving spoon on the day I purchased it.

As this is a post about a presidential-related item, I thought it would be only fitting to photograph said item on an early green shell-edge pearlware platter. Thomas Jefferson, who followed in George Washington and John Adams' footsteps to become America's third president, utilized this pearlware pattern at Monticello, his mountaintop home in Virginia. Fragments of it have been excavated from the grounds surrounding Monticello's kitchen yard. Today, visitors to Monticello will be delighted to view an entire service of this attractive earthenware laid upon the dining table of the chrome yellow painted dining room.

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Two Washington coffin-end coin silver spoons rest upon a green shell-edge pearlware platter, a pattern favored by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello
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And, of course, what could one serve from such presidential dining accoutrements? Why, peas of course!  Not just any old peas, mind you, but the very same heirloom variety, Pisum sativum 'Prince Albert', selected by Thomas Jefferson to grow within the vegetable garden at Monticello.  Some of you may recall the post I wrote in June 2014, found here, on how I came to include these scrumptious peas in my own garden.

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Thomas Jefferson's peas are still growing in my vegetable patch, from seeds gathered after each year's harvest since planting the original package, purchased from Monticello's garden shop in 2012 - this particular addition to our meal was collected early on the morning of June 24 this year
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Here are those peas, served upon the same shell-edge pearlware pattern so favored by Thomas Jefferson ...


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... and scooped from a commemorative George Washington coffin-end serving spoon
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I do hope you enjoyed learning about these rather obscure silver spoons and their association with the passing of America's first president, along with revisiting momentarily the dining table of our third. Between these two men, of course, rests much of the reason for such a uniquely American day of celebration, on this fourth day of the seventh month.

Happy Independence Day everyone!



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