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‘Hudson Rising’ Exhibit at New-York Historical Society Shows River Was Incubator for America’s Environmental Movement

“Hudson Rising” at the New-York Historical Society: Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, with a model of the Clearwater, led a movement to reclaim the Hudson River from industrial destruction and overdevelopment © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

This spring, the New-York Historical Society presents Hudson Rising, a unique exhibition that explores 200 years of ecological change and environmental activism along “the most interesting river in America” through artifacts, media, and celebrated Hudson River School paintings.

On view March 1 – August 4, Hudson Rising reflects on how human activity has impacted the river and, in turn, how the river environment has shaped industrial development, commerce, tourism, and environmental awareness. The exhibition also explores how experts in various fields are currently creating ways to restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change.

Indeed, we tend to think of the environmental movement as originating with Yellowstone and the national parks, but it is fascinating to realize that the beginning of environmental activism – and the techniques – began here. Citizens rallied to oppose the construction of a Con Ed plant on Storm King Mountain; one of the new organizations, Scenic Hudson, sued; the case, in 1965 set a precedent beyond the Hudson, establishing that citizens have standing to sue on behalf of conservation, even when they do not have a direct economic interest,  that beauty and history also merit protection – the forerunner of the Environmental Protection Act. Later, a “viewshed,” modeled on the concept of a watershed, in connection with landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana, also warranted preservation.

Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, “Hudson Rising” begins where environmental consciousness of the Hudson River began, with the landscape artist Thomas Cole © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hudson River raised consciousness of the importance of environmental protection. the exhibit opens with paintings from Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School art movement (America’s first native-grown art movement), who worried even then about the encroachment of development. His paintings depict an idyllic landscape, but also the destruction of the forest to lumbering.

Much more than a body of water, the Hudson and its surroundings have been the home for humans and hundreds of species of fish, birds, and plants; offered an escape for city-dwellers; and witnessed battles over the uses of the river valley and its resources. For over 200 years, writers and artists have captured the river in paintings, drawings, literature, and photographs, and surveyors and scientists have mapped and measured its every parcel.

The Hudson has always encapsulated the tension between development and conservation. But it was more than about aesthetics, and the need for urbanites to be able to seek respite in the countryside: an early environmental scientist realized that logging in the Adirondacks, which was discovered to be the source of the Hudson, was jeopardizing the watershed supplying New York City.

Scientists at the same time discovered the critical link between forests and the health of rivers. They realized the Adirondack forest supported the Hudson River and aquatic animals. That begins the movement to save the Adirondacks, including the forests. Ultimately, it leads to New York State’s “Forever Wild” amendment to the state constitution, in 1894.

“This path-breaking exhibition explores ideas about the environment that developed in the context of the Hudson, examining how we became aware, as New Yorkers and as Americans, of the role that humans played in the river’s ecological degradation,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “The exhibit also looks at the strategies we devised to address it. Spanning the entire industrial era, Hudson Rising presents a compelling account of how the Hudson has been an incubator for our ideas about the environment and our relationships to the natural world for two centuries-plus.”

Indeed, we learn that Theodore Roosevelt, before creating the first national park as president, innovated environmental protection as Governor of New York State, working with New Jersey, to protect the Palisades as a “park for the people” (hugely popular with immigrants who crammed into cities, the park had 2 million visitors in 1920, many who came by a free ferry); similarly Franklin Roosevelt, when he was New York State governor, created what would become the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps when he was president.

Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, and Jeanne Haffner, associate curator, Hudson Rising begins with a prelude featuring artist Thomas Cole’s panoramic five-part Course of Empire series (1834-36), a treasure of New-York Historical’s collection that depicts the transformation of a pristine landscape into a thriving city, then its dramatic decline, and the fall of civilization.

Thomas Cole’s painting, Catskill Mountain House © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cole railed against “human hubris” and the exploitation of nature. “The ranges of the ax are daily and increasing,” Cole said. “Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it?” he wrote in his “Essay on American Scenery” (1836). Cole’s poetic questioning of the social costs of what was seen in his time as progress, serves as a prelude to the exhibition narrative, which begins with the industrial age and continues into the present day. The Hudson River, we learn, was the incubator for the environmental movement.

The exhibition is organized chronologically and geographically into five sections that highlight significant places and events in the environmental history of the river: Journeys Upriver: The 1800s, The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s, The Palisades: 1890s-1950s, The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s, and A Rising Tide: Today.

The exhibit is designed to meander, like the river itself, and uses actual artifacts – there is even the smell of freshly cut wood from the Adirondacks – that bring you, as much as possible to the Hudson: bricks from Haberstraw; rocks from the Palisades; iron from Cold Spring Foundry across from West Point; wood from Catskills; hemlock (used for tanning), even a fish tank with striped bath (blue eels will be added later). “The layout is a metaphor for the river,” said Ken Nintzel, the designer.

A cherished tourist panorama of the Hudson River from 1847, that was so big, it was accordioned into a book © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are historical maps – one of the most impressive is a panorama map from 1847 that stretches the length of a wall, that tourists would use, “one of the great maps of American history”- photos, paintings, news clips that trace the battle to reclaim the Hudson from industrial pollution. A map from 1890s shows how the Hudson was “redesigned” to make it more navigable for shipping, changing the way the river ran, but in the process, did away with the shallows that hosted aquatic life and mitigated flooding. Another map documents how plentiful oysters used to be – New York city used to be the primary exporter of oysters and clams – until sewage in the Hudson killed off the oysters.

The painting by Thomas Cole of the Catskill Mountain House reminds that American tourism began here in the Hudson – today, you can hike up to where the hotel used to be and gaze out over the Hudson.

The exhibits surround you, and there are various interactive elements. 

“Hudson Rising” features a combination of paintings, artifacts, maps, photos, videos to tell the story of the development of the river and its preservation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Journeys Upriver: The 1800s starts with a steamboat journey up the Hudson River from the New York City harbor to Albany, inspired by one of the great tourist guides of Hudson River history, the Panorama of the Hudson (1847). The detailed rendering of the river landscape led steamboat and armchair travelers from New York City to the last navigable point of the river near Troy, pointing out natural wonders, Hudson Valley industries, notable individuals, and Revolutionary War sites along the way. Also on view are paintings, industrial objects, and an important Army Corps of Engineers map that shows how the Corps engineered the river to be a more navigable and predictable shipping channel. Hudson River School art on display include Robert Havell Jr.’s View of Hudson River from near Sing Sing, New York (ca. 1850) and George Henry Boughton’s Hudson River Valley from Fort Putnam, West Point (1855), both depicting tourists enjoying the landscape.

The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s examines the creation of Adirondack Park, established to save the source of the river and combat deforestation in order to protect the viability of the entire Hudson watershed. Advocates for the area included surveyor Verplanck Colvin, who mapped the area’s peaks and lakes as superintendent of the State Adirondack Survey and identified the source of the river at Lake Tear of the Clouds, and Seneca Ray Stoddard, a photographer whose images of deforestation made a case for forest conservation. On view in this section is one of Asher B. Durand’s majestic depictions of the Adirondack wilderness, Adirondack Mountains, New York (ca. 1870).

The Palisades: 1890s-1950s traces the protection of the forests and cliffs of the Palisades to maintain the health of the river and preserve a place for beauty and nature. In the late 1800s, the Palisades cliffs were being blasted to bits by road builders who prized their rock. Citizen activists, such as the New Jersey chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, fought back and helped create Palisades Park in 1909. Residents of New York and New Jersey thronged to the park, arriving by foot, ferry, train, and car, with over two million people visiting in 1920 alone, most of them from Manhattan. The exhibition features a selection of tourist brochures from that era, including one with a trio of women posed on the cliff edge, above the river.

The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s explores how activism along the river helped spark the modern American environmental movement. By the early 1960s, untreated sewage and industrial pollutants were poisoning the river. Increasing numbers of power plants were also rising along the Hudson, whose operations were killing millions of fish, and whose monumental structures were intruding upon the most treasured vistas. When Con Edison announced plans to build a plant on Storm King Mountain, citizen activists fought back and prevented its construction. By the 1980s, citizens could legally intervene to stop development that put treasured natural resources at risk. On view is an aquarium featuring striped bass and other fish native to the Hudson River, which now thrive due to activists’ efforts to save them.  Displays of artifacts, images, and media from the environmental campaigns of the era include a 1983 photograph featuring John Cronin, river patroller for the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association (now called Riverkeeper) on his first day on the job, confronting an Exxon tanker discharging polluted water into the river.

The final section, A Rising Tide: Today, discusses the process of reimagining and reclaiming the Hudson River in the 21st century, as experts in many fields explore ways to restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change. The exhibition showcases innovative projects addressing these concerns, such as a system of “living breakwaters,” reef-like structures designed to restore diverse aquatic habitats, lessen wave impacts, and restore the shoreline, implemented by the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and landscape architecture firm SCAPE.

“We hope Hudson Rising will inspire visitors to see the river differently, and how movements like environmental activism get born,” Dr. Mirrer said.

“It’s not a new story, but this is the first exhibit that presents such a comprehensive look at the Hudson River as an incubator of the environmental movement.”

Programming

As part of New-York Historical’s What the History programs, a suite of interactive talks, history classes, art-making workshops, and social evenings for a young professional audience illuminates the environmental history of New York, the lasting impact of the Hudson River School painters on the American imagination, and how contemporary design and ideas are engaging with the threats climate change pose to the city.

Visiting families can enjoy a special guide featuring suggested exhibition highlights to view as a family, discussion questions, and gallery-based activities. During the April School Vacation Week (April 19-28), Museum’s family programs explore environmental activism, including art making using recycled materials in Museum galleries. On the weekends (April 20-21 and April 27-28) visiting families can interact with Living Historians portraying famous and unsung activists of American history.

On April 16, architectural historian Barry Lewis discusses how the Victorians “greened” their homes and cities, bringing nature into city greenbelts and private home design. On May 22, Douglas Brinkley, New-York Historical’s presidential historian, explores how presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt championed the protection of the nation’s natural treasures and established a sprawling network of state parks and scenic roadways, respectively. On June 9, author Leslie Day leads a tour along the Hudson River exploring its rich geological and human history and its diverse ecosystems.

Present Day Relevance

The exhibit is particularly timely: years of exploitation and pollution have resulted in the entire Hudson River, from the Battery to Hudson Falls, some 200 miles, designated a superfund site by EPA. Mandated clean-up by industrial polluters including General Electric, have significantly improved conditions. But the Trump Administration’s EPA is moving to issue a Certificate of Completion which would end GE’s responsibility for cleaning up the Superfund site, despite the state’s research that shows high levels of PCBs remaining in the river.

Governor Cuomo issued a statement ahead of Administrator Wheeler’s visit to New York:

“In New York, we are leading the fight to protect our environment with the most ambitious environmental agenda in the nation. Administrator Wheeler, while you are in New York, I urge you to visit the Hudson River, one of this country’s natural treasures that is also one of the most pressing Superfund sites in the country. New York has fought to restore this vital resource but the ball is now in the EPA’s court. The EPA can either do the right thing and continue to hold GE accountable for continued clean up, or they can side with big polluters and let GE off the hook for its responsibility to clean up PCBs in the river.

 “We refused to allow PCB contamination to continue to jeopardize the health and safety of our communities for generations to come. We hope and expect that the EPA will join us in ensuring the full completion of the cleanup.”

I suggested Wheeler visit “Hudson Rising”.

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical’s mission is to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only 20 in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), www.nyhistory.org.

See for Yourself: Hike the Hudson River School Art Trail

Walk in the footsteps of the Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand, Jasper Cropsey, Sanford Gifford and other pioneering American landscape artists, literally walking into their paintings, and appreciating their work in an entirely new way.

New York State created the first “viewshed” – a protected view – at Frederic Church’s Olana, Hudson NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See what inspired Thomas Cole, his art and his passion to save the Hudson Valley environment, when you visit his home and art studio. Visit Frederic Edwin Church’s magnificent Olana,  walk the gorgeous trails and see the very first protected “viewshed”  (Olana State Historic Site, 5720 State Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.) Hike the trails that take you up to where the Catskill Mountain House would have stood, to Sunset Rock, to Kaaterskill Falls, North-South Lake, just as the Hudson River School painters did, often with markers that show the paintings that were created from that very same vantage point.

The view from Sunset Rock in the Catskill Preserve, one of the hikes on the Hudson River School Art Trail, the same view as Thomas Cole painted © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Hudson River School painters believed art to be an agent of moral and spiritual transformation. In large-scale canvases of dramatic vistas with atmospheric lighting, they sought to capture a sense of the divine, envisioning the pristine American landscape as a new Garden of Eden. Their work created not only an American art genre but also a deeper appreciation for the nation’s natural wonders, laying the groundwork for the environmental conservation movement and National Park System.”

Most of the stops on the trail are within 15 miles of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, in Catskill. (Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, thomascole.org)

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Come Face to Face with T Rex, The Ultimate Predator, at the American Museum of Natural History

The new exhibit T. rex: The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History brings you face to face with the most fearsome dinosaur © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have become well aware how terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex was, but who knew that T. rex hatchlings were fluffy and gangly, more like turkeys than the massive killing machines they grow to be? Or that the mega-predator had the rare ability to pulverize and digest bones and re-grow its teeth? Or that it grew at the rate of 140 lbs. a month, weighing 6 to 9 tons when fully grown and lived no more than 28 years? That it had excellent vision and sense of smell, but puny hands that probably were vestigial? T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the first major exhibition of the American Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary celebration, brings us face to face with  the most iconic dinosaur in the world through life-sized models—including the most scientifically accurate representation of T. rex to date–fossils and casts, engaging interactives, and the Museum’s first multiplayer virtual reality experience.

T. rex: The Ultimate Predator opens Monday, March 11, 2019 and will be on view through August 9, 2020, when the exhibit will likely go on tour.

Founded in 1869, the Museum has a long and celebrated history of international exploration and research in paleontology dating back to the 1890s, with an outsized influence in a field that sits at the intersection of cutting-edge science and the popular imagination. The Museum has a particularly special relationship to T. rex: its famous paleontologist, Barnum Brown, was the first to discover T. rex – in 1902 in Montana – and the first T. rex on display anywhere was here at the museum. This makes the new blockbuster exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, inspired by a legacy of scientific exploration and bringing the latest science to the public, a natural launching point for the museum’s 150th anniversary programming.

With more than 120 years of dinosaur research and discovery, the Museum continues to be a leader in this field. Its paleontology collection is one of the largest and most diverse in the world, with specimens that have led to amazing discoveries, including the identification of the first dinosaur eggs and early evidence of dinosaur feathers. A number of recent discoveries about the tyrannosaur group are highlighted in this exhibition.

“Dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular, are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of Dinosaurs.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

“Dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular, are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of Dinosaurs. This exciting and fascinating exhibition will do what the Museum has done throughout its history and continues to do today: share the latest scientific breakthroughs with the public, introduce visitors to the researchers on the cutting-edge of discovery, shed new light on the great story of life on Earth, and inspire wonder and curiosity in visitors of all ages.”

Indeed, while Barnum assembled the most complete collection of dinosaur fossils in the world for the museum, the museum has some 34 million specimens and artifacts – one of the most important collections of natural history anywhere. Its library and archives of research documents – like Barnum’s own field notes and letters which show how painstaking and difficult the expeditions were – are the most complete and extensive in the world.

”Dinosaur fossils, like other echoes of ancient life, are discoveries of the science of paleontology. But dinosaurs have a special status that transcends their importance to science—they fascinate and inspire the masses like few other animals—living or extinct—can,” said Michael Novacek, the Museum’s senior vice president and provost for science. “Chief among them is T. rex, perhaps the most famous and celebrated dinosaur that ever lived.”

Visitors to T. rex: The Ultimate Predator encounter a massive life-sized model of a T. rex with patches of feathersthe definitive representation of this prehistoric predator. The exhibition includes reconstructions of several T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old juvenile T. rex; a “roar mixer” where visitors can imagine what T. rex may have sounded like by blending sounds from other animals; a shadow theater featuring a floor projection of an adult T. rex skeleton coming to life; and a life-sized animation of T. rex in a Cretaceous environment that responds to visitors’ movements. At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” visitors can explore a variety of fossil casts ranging from coprolite (fossilized feces) to a gigantic femur, with virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to learn more about what such specimens can reveal to scientists about the biology and behavior of T. rex.

T. rex: The Ultimate Predator is curated by Mark Norell, who joined the Museum in 1989. Norell, who is the Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology and its chair, has led and participated in a number of scientific investigations into the biology and evolutionary history of tyrannosaurs and other theropods—the group of dinosaurs most closely related to modern birds. His work includes the first discovery of a feathered tyrannosaur, Dilong paradoxus, in China in 2004. In addition to Dilong, many of the species studied by Norell and his colleagues and former students, and recent research findings, are featured in the new exhibition.

Scientists discuss the research that went into the new exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator: #1 Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President, Provost of Science and Curator, division of Paleontology; Mark Norell, chair and Macaulay Curator, Division of Paleontology and Curator of T.rex: The Ultimate Predator; Gregory Erickson, Paleobiologist, Florida State University and Jasmina Wiemann, Molecular Paleobiologist, Yale University. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a huge increase in both the number of tyrannosaur fossil discoveries as well as the availability of technology that lets us explore complex questions about these charismatic animals,” Norell said. “I never would have imagined that one day we’d be able to look at the shape of T. rex’s brain, analyze the tiny daily growth lines on their massive teeth to determine how quickly they put on weight, or use advanced biomechanical modeling to figure out the force of its bite.”

Humble Origins

T. rex may have been a mega-predator, but it evolved from humble origins. The full tyrannosaur family includes more than two dozen different species and spans more than 100 million years of evolution, with T. rex appearing only at the very end of that period, between 66 and 68 million years ago. Most dinosaurs in the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea were not giants like T. rex, which, fully grown, weighed between 6 and 9 tons. Early species were small and fast, likely avoiding confrontations with larger dinosaurs.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the exhibit, we come face to face with life-size models of a number of tyrannosaurs, including: Proceratosaurus bradleyi, the earliest known tyrannosaur that lived about 167 million years ago and was about the size of a wolf with a crest on its snout; Dilong paradoxus, which like many early tyrannosaurs, had arms that were relatively long and capable of seizing small prey, and was the first tyrannosaur found with fossilized feathers (discovered by exhibition curator Mark Norell and his colleagues in China); and Xiongguanlong baimoensis, a mid-sized tyrannosaur that, when it was discovered in 2009, offered a rare glimpse of a transitional species between the smaller early tyrannosaurs and the later giants.

The exhibit features interactive elements: visitors are tasked with placing various tyrannosaur family members in the correct time period on a magnetic wall and can experiment with a praxinoscope that animates the difference between walking and running—T. rex could only truly run when it was young. A hands-on interactive lets visitors attach the right size tail to a T. rex torso to create a balanced posture.

Getting Big

How did T. rex get so big when its ancestors were so small? And how did a young T. rex, the size of a turkey grow to the size of a truck? The simple answer: by growing very quickly. T. rex reached full size by its early 20s—about as fast as a human does—but it put on much more weight in that time, gaining up to 140 pounds (65 kg) per month. The exhibition shows T. rex in early developmental stages, showing how the dinosaur transformed from a vulnerable hatchling with a more than 60 percent chance of succumbing to predators, accidents, disease, and failure to find food in its first year of life, to a gargantuan predator at the top of the food chain. No T. rex has been found that has been identified as being older than 28 years.

“T. rex was the ‘James Dean’ of dinosaurs; he would have been very beat up,” said Gregory Erickson, paleobiologist from Florida State University.

Much of what we see in the exhibit is the result of a new approach to studying dinosaurs – integrating other scientific disciplines, such as molecular biology and chemistry, and comparative techniques to contemporary animals such as crocodiles and birds, as well as new technologies like 3D scanning.

The latest understanding also presents T. rex’s “arms” as even tinier than before, suggesting that they had no function and were vestigial in the course of evolution. Also, the “hands” have two fingers instead of three.

So far, though, the scientists have been unable to determine a dinosaur’s sex from the skeleton. “It would be nice to know the sex ratio to understand population biology, how bodies changed over their lifespan,” Erickson said. “You have to appreciate just how rare these specimens are – just 1,000 dinosaurs have been named.”

Erickson explains that though scientists know what strata to search, it has to be relatively close to the surface for paleontologists to safely extract the bones without damaging them; also, many of the sites where dinosaurs might be found are in very remote, difficult places. And it may well be true that there were relatively few of the largest dinosaurs, because of the supply of resources available.

The exhibits display T. rex at various stages of its development.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see a life-size model of a four-year-old T. rex, which although not yet the “king” it would become in adulthood, would have weighed about five times more than a four-year-old boy and was as large as any other predatory dinosaur in its habitat. Fully covered in feathers for warmth and camouflage, this juvenile T. rex had relatively long arms (unlike its adult counterparts), a slim body, and bladelike teeth that could cut through flesh but were not yet capable of crushing bone.

We encounter a real fossil of a T. rex toe bone and a touchable cast of a T. rex thigh bone to gain a sense of scale for the fully grown giant, which stood about 12 to 13 feet high at the hip and was about 40 to 43 feet long. Fossil casts from a close relative to T. rex, Tarbosaurus bataar, illustrate that T. rex wasn’t the only tyrannosaur that looked and behaved dramatically differently throughout its life. A cast of the youngest and most complete juvenile tyrannosaur fossil found to date, a two-year-old Tarbosaurus, has a delicate skull with thin bladelike teeth it likely used to catch small vertebrates and insects, while the cast of the huge adult Tarbosaurus skull indicates that when fully grown, it used its heavy, bone-crushing teeth and jaws to eat large animals.

Biggest, Baddest Tyrannosaur

All tyrannosaurs were built to kill, but the biggest and baddest of them all was T. rex. With its huge size, sharp claws, and teeth that could bite through bone, it dominated the competition. New research shows that a T. rex could bite with about 7,800 pounds of force—equivalent to the weight of three cars – compared to 3,700 pounds of force of a modern crocodile.

We see a fossil of one of these huge, banana-shaped teeth, which relied on deep roots to withstand the immense forces during a bite, as well as a cast of a fossilized T. rex lower jaw demonstrating the constant replacement cycle of its fearsome teeth. A full-scale reproduction of the T. rex fossil skeleton on display in the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs—in a different pose—is the subject of the exhibition’s “shadow theater,” in which the skeleton’s 40-foot shadow (somewhat jarringly) “comes to life” and demonstrate to visitors how the animal moved and interacted with prey and its own kind.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Scientists long suspected T. rex could bite through bone, thanks to fossils of its powerful skull and teeth. But now there’s proof in fossilized feces, or coprolites, which contain many tiny chunks of bones eroded by stomach acid. High-tech imaging tools like CT scanners, X-ray fluorescence, and microprobe analysis reveal that T. rex was one of the rare species on Earth that could pulverize and digest solid bone. In fact, some T. rex coprolites are 30-50 percent crushed bone. The exhibition features a cast of one of these telltale coprolites as well as a cast of a tail bone from a duck-bill dinosaur with an embedded T. rex tooth surrounded by new bone growth, indicating that T. rex was not just a scavenger but also attacked live prey.

We learn about the fierceness of two other top predators in the tyrannosaur subfamily, which lived side by side in Asia about 70 million years ago: Alioramus and Tarbosaurus. Bulky Tarbosaurus and nimble Alioramus likely specialized in different prey, much like lions and leopards do today.

Keen Senses of Sight, Smell

We know T. rex from fossils—but what was it like in the flesh? The exhibition’s massive life-size adult T. rex model is based on the most up-to-date findings and represents the most scientifically accurate representation of this pop culture icon to date. New research on this powerful hunter’s senses show that keen vision, smell, and hearing made it very hard for this predator’s prey to avoid detection.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Brain casts indicate that T. rex had excellent vision. Its eyes, the size of oranges—some of the largest eyes of any land animal—faced forward like a hawk and were set wider apart than most other dinosaurs, giving it superior depth perception.

How can you tell the shape of an extinct animal’s brain? Soft tissues such as brains rarely fossilize. But fossilized skulls often contain a space where the brain used to be, revealing its precise shape. Scientists use these fossilized brain cases to make a model, or endocast, of the missing brain. They also use CT scanning to make a 3D printout of the brain. The exhibition includes a fossilized partial brain case of a T. rex as well as the endocast scientists created from it for study.

By comparing the areas of the brain that are responsible for scent, vision, and hearing in tyrannosaurs’ closest living relatives, birds and crocodilians, researchers have determined that the T. rex brain had similar regions. For instance, T. rex had an unusually large olfactory region for a dinosaur, indicating it had a very good sense of smell. Also like their alligator and crocodile cousins, tyrannosaurs would likely have had highly sensitive faces. Visitors can inspect the series of tiny holes on a fossilized skull of Daspletosaurus torosus, a tyrannosaur that lived between 77 and 74 million years ago. The holes are nearly identical in number and location to those on an alligator, which have jaws so sensitive to touch that they can gently pick up an egg or tiny hatchling without harming it. Fossils of T. rex show similar rough, pitted surfaces, suggesting it also had similar sense organs.

Technology has allowed scientists to uncover a great deal about the inner workings of these gigantic predators, but a number of mysteries remain. For one, what did a T. rex sound like? No one knows. But a logical place to start is to study their closest living relatives. In the exhibition, a “roar mixer” enables visitors to combine the calls of birds and crocodilians with the sounds of contemporary large animals such as elephants, whales, and bison to create a customized roar that accompanies an animated T. rex

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And what about its outward appearance? Feathers are very delicate and are rarely preserved, and they haven’t been found yet on T. rex. But many other dinosaur fossils, including those from other tyrannosaurs and their relatives, preserved feathers, suggesting that T. rex had at least some feathers. Many scientists think that T. rex hatchlings were probably covered in fuzz like a duckling—but adults were mostly covered in scales, likely with patches of display feathers concentrated on attention-getting areas such as the head and tail. Nobody knows what color T. rex was, and it is often depicted as drab, like a crocodile. But reptiles come in every color of the rainbow, so T. rex could have been brightly colored. Exhibition visitors get to choose from a wide palette of colors, stripes, and spots to imagine what T. rex may have looked like in an engaging interactive experience

Despite the high level of scientific research that has gone into T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the notes that accompany the displays are designed to be accessible especially for young people who will be enthralled.

At the end of the exhibition, there is a 32-foot long animated projection of a T. rex and its offspring in a Cretaceous-age setting. The huge dinosaur seems to react to visitors, leaving you wondering, “Did that T. rex see me?”

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Engaging with T. rex in Virtual Reality

The Museum’s science visualization group renders the latest scientific discoveries in paleontology and other fields through the visualization of big data. Using digital technologies, scientists today observe, measure, and reproduce hidden dimensions of the natural world. From the edges of the observable universe to the evolution of life on Earth, researchers are developing a radically new understanding of nature that the Museum strives to communicate to visitors in highly authentic, intuitive, and novel ways. One of these is virtual reality: an experiential tool that uses objects, models, photos, video footage, and other types of physical evidence of life history to engage and excite visitors.

As part of T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the Museum will present T. rex: Skeleton Crew, its first interactive, multi-player virtual reality experience, created in collaboration with HTC VIVE. The five-minute experience will be offered to visitors ages 12 and up within the exhibition.

“Virtual reality is a magical realm in which our perceptions of time and space are suspended,” said Vivian Trakinski, the Museum’s director of science visualization. “In virtual reality, nothing is too small, too big, too fast, too slow, too distant, or too long ago to be appreciated. We hope this technology will let our visitors experience the most fantastic and inaccessible realms of nature.”

“Through VR, visitors can engage with the subject of the exhibition in an exciting, in-depth way that enriches their knowledge and leaves a lasting memory for years to come,” said Victoria Chang, director of HTC VIVE Arts. “This remarkably engaging VR project harnesses the power of premium VR, bringing visitors closer to the anatomy, scale, and majesty of T. rex like never before.”

The facilitated experience “transports” as many as three players at a time to a space similar to the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, where they team up to build a T. rex skeleton bone by bone. Once all of the bones are in place, the players watch as the T. rex comes to life in marshland that is now Montana, its home 66 million years ago.

A home version of T. rex: Skeleton Crew will launch on VIVEPORT, HTC VIVE’s global platform and app store, for VIVE owners in summer 2019.

Visitors need to purchase a timed ticket to see the exhibit. You can book online, https://ticketing.amnh.org/#/tickets.

150 Years of Scientific Inquiry

Be amazed – this cast of Titanosaurus skeleton (the actual bones would be way to heavy to display) – is 150 feet long, extending out of the Orientation Room. Makes you think: how did dinosaurs of such size reproduce?How many of them could have lived at any one time, given the amount of resources they would need? © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.

A rare tour of the AMNH’s proboscidean laboratory, where scientists research mammals including mammoths and mastodons that would have lived 1-2 million years ago. The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists and sponsor about 100 expeditions a year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, as well as on specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. The museum is the launchpad for some 100 expeditions a year. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and also to grant the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

Visits to the museum have grown to 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows are seen by millions more in venues on six continents. The Museum’s website, mobile apps, and massive open online courses (MOOCs) extend its scientific research and collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to additional audiences around the globe.


Fantastic prehistoric creatures roamed New York City! On a shelf in the Proboscidean lab, mastodon jaw bone uncovered from Inwood! In March 1925, the AMNH was notified that mastodon remains were exposed during a construction excavation. They were buried in a peat bog, 21 ft. below the sidewalk level at NW corner of Seaman Ave., and Dyckman St. Several of the teeth were stolen while on display at the construction site, but two molars were recovered after a plea for their return. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Candlelight Evening in Old Bethpage Village Restoration Warms the Heart, Soothes the Soul

Carolers sing holiday favorites at the bonfire in the middle of Old Bethpage Village © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Music abounds throughout Old Bethpage Village Restoration, the evening warmed by the orange-red glow of candlelight, fireplace embers, a bonfire.   The annual Candlelight Evenings at Old Bethpage Restoration, a living history museum on Long Island, is one of my favorite holiday events.

The most wonderful thing about the candlelight evenings at Old Bethpage Village Restoration on Long Island, is yes, the sense of stepping back into time, into an idyllic peacefulness that makes you feel as if you have just fallen into a Christmas card. But what I love best are the serendipitous moments when you engage the reenactors in conversation- the questions that arise just because you are immersed in that experience.

Each year, I add to the stories, my understanding of history and our community’s heritage.

Just leaving the visitors center is an experience. Just before you exit the center, inside, a group of Santas in modern dress are singing but as you walk down the ramp into the darkness, leaving pavement and electric lights behind, carolers are singing in a shadow. I meet up with them again in the village.

The village is actually a created place, assembled from historic homes from across Nassau County (it was Queens County when they were built), except for the Powell Farm, which is the only original homestead here and dates from 1855. Many of the homes were built by people whose names are well known to Long Islanders: Hewlett, Searing, Schenck, Cooper (built in 1815 for the famous inventor, Peter Cooper, in Hempstead). Most were built in the 1800s, but the Schenck House, the oldest, was built around 1765 for a Dutch landowner, Minne Schenck, who had 300 acres in Manhasset (manpower was provided by African slaves and servants).

Walking along the pebbled path, lighted only with flames, I come upon a brass band outside the Conklin House, built in 1853 by Joseph H. Conklin, a bayman, in the Village of the Branch.

Santa is making lists and checking twice, here in his workshop at the Layton House and General Store  during Candlelight Evening at Old Bethpage Village Restoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The centerpiece of the Village is the Layton General Store and House, built by John M. Layton, a storekeeper, around 1866 in East Norwich. Though the house seems very fine – with large rooms and tall ceilings, I am told that he was middle class. Here, in the parlor, I meet Santa Claus who seems to be making out his list and checking it twice. In the next room is the Layton General Store – the Walmart of its day – where you can purchase candy and dolls that are made by one of the interpreters.

Max Rowland plays banjo at the Noon Inn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next important house is the Noon Inn is appropriately just across from the general store, where when you climb the stairs, you find Max L. Rowland regaling an audience with his banjo, reconstructed to its period of the early 19th century (no frets, gut strings, deeper tone), and a concertina. If you ask, he will tell you about the instruments: in the mid-1800s, the concertina was the most popular instrument around – because it was relatively inexpensive (costing less than a violin), and compact, easy to carry and capable of such rich sound and complexity.  It was extremely popular with sailors, who could tuck it away in their gear. Rowland can testify to it: this particular concertina has crossed the sea three times with Rowland, who lives on a boat.

Carolers at the Noon Inn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Downstairs at the Noon Inn, which dates from 1850 and was owned John H. Noon, innkeeper, in East Meadow, you can get hot mulled cider and cookies, while outside, there are carolers singing beneath a lamplight. I catch up with them again later singing at the bonfire. It is magical.

At Queens District No. 6 School House, which dates from c. 1845 in Manhasset, there is traditional fiddle music, played on a period instrument, a 150-year old violin that had been made in Prague, that has no chin rest or frets. We learn about the Manhasset School house – children attended the one-room school house six days a week – attendance wasn’t compulsory and kids came sporadically. Music would have been widespread but there were no real professional musicians in Long Island. The school house would have been the venue for music, entertainment (like the Magic Lantern shows, the movies of their day), and various gatherings in the evening. He tells me that all of Nassau County used to be part of Queens County, until the residents wanted to separate from New York City. One of the songs he plays is the Fireman’s Quick Step, written in 1822 by Francis Frank Johnson, an African American composer, for the Philadelphia Fireman’s Cotillion fundraiser.

At Queens District No. 6 School House, which dates from c. 1845 in Manhasset, there is traditional music played on a 150-year old violin, such as the Fireman’s Quickstep, written in 1822 by Francis Frank Johnson, an African American composer, for the Philadelphia Fireman’s Cotillion fundraiser  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Music was so important to the people of the mid-19th century, the period which Old Bethpage reconstructs. When you think about it, people could only appreciate music live, in the moment.

At the Hewlett House, a grand home high on the hill, built by the founder for which the town of Hewlett is named, a fellow plays a series of flutes and a violin, while popcorn is popping in the kitchen fireplace in the next room (samples provided).

Traditional music and popcorn at the Hewlett House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the beautiful Manetto Hill Church, 1857, a Methodist church that originally was located in Plainview, there is singing and storytelling – the origin of holly (representing male), ivy (representing female), so the two entwined are a symbol of marriage; mistletoe (which, rather than a romantic prompt for kissing, was used to make peace between quarreling individuals) and poinsettias. We sing carols and learn that “Jingle Bells” was written by a Sunday School teacher for a Thanksgiving  pageant(New Englanders didn’t celebrate Christmas), and Silent Night was a poem written in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria by  Father Joseph Mohr in 1818 (his organist Franz Xaver Gruber wrote the music), desperate for Christmas music when the church organ broke.

Singing holiday songs, learning about holiday traditions at the Manetto Hill Church © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Luyster Store, which dates from c. 1840 and was built by John B. Luyster, a storekeeper in East Norwich, you see the rare craft of broom making (and can purchase the brooms that are made here). Tim works on a machine from 1840 which was in the museum’s collection, and you can see how much physical effort goes into it. He says he and his brother, Chris, are two of only three broommakers left on Long Island (the third is their mentor). He explains that a home would have had 2 brooms per room, or 18-20 per household, so not to transfer dirt from one room to the next. Brooms were actually expensive: an ordinary broom might have cost 24 cents – but that was equivalent to half-day’s wages in the 1840s, when the Great Recession was worse than even the Great Depression and the average man took home 48 cents a day; that means a broom would cost about $50 today (so his price of $20 for a fancy broom decorated for the holidays with fancy ribbons, holly and weaving, is a bargain).

Tim, the Broommaker at Luyster Store, one of only three broommakers left on Long Island, who demonstrate the craft © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This was an enterprise that farmers would do in winter to make extra money, and they would allocate an acre of land to cultivate the special wheat sorghum (called “corn” but not corn) for that purpose. A father would teach his child the craft. An interesting artifact in the store is the massive safe. The building itself was once a hardware store that was the only one within 10 miles of Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill, so it may well be that Roosevelt would have stopped by. There is also an interesting Harrison for Reform banner, referring to William Henry Harrison, the shortest-lived president (he died of pneumonia after one month in office).

Traditional holiday music at Benjamin House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Benjamin House, dating from 1829, was built for William Benjamin, a minister and farmer in Northville, where there a husband and wife play holiday melodies that would have been popular at the time on a gigantic bass fiddle (it seems to fill the room) and a violin, like “Deck the Halls,” which was a Welsh melody dating back to the 1600s. We discuss Christmas traditions of the time (gift-giving wasn’t yet a tradition, but Queen Victoria had popularized table-top Christmas trees as a loving gesture to Prince Albert).

I stop into the Conklin House, a house that dates from 1853 and was built by Joseph H. Conklin, a bayman in the village of Branch. Last year, there was a demonstration of spinning being done in front of the fireplace, but this year, two ladies relax over a cup of tea after demonstrating how they bake ginger snaps.

Ladies relax over a cup of tea after a busy evening baking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tiny Searing House (this is the first time that I can remember it being open for Candlelight Evening), was Dr. James Searing’s office, a Hempstead physician, built in 1815 – where the doctor would have prepared his medicines  before going out by buggy to visit patients – and here, we are treated to freshly roasted chestnuts.

I usually save the Schenck House for last because each year, because it is here that I come upon the most unexpected encounters and find it the most illuminating. Instead of interpreting the holiday traditions of the mid 1800s, the Huntington Militia re-create a Colonial Christmas in the 18th century. The Schenck House dates from 1765, owned by a Dutch farmer. Here, our presenters speak in the style of the time, and celebrate Christmas of 1775, just two months after Martin Schenck, who inherited the house from his father,  had been one of the leaders of the committee of Patriots that decided to break from Loyalist Hempstead, and form North Hempstead. I learn that the south shore of Long Island was a occupied by the British from 1776-1783, the entire duration of the Revolutionary War, while the north shore was a stronghold for Patriots, many of them the Dutch families who had no great affinity for the British monarch. The Schencks came to the New World when New Amsterdam was a Dutch colony; the British took it over in 1754.

Schenck House, oldest in Old Bethpage Village, dating from 1765, where the Huntington Militia enacts a Christmas gathering in 1775 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am swept into its history. I am transfixed talking with “Ambrose Everyman,” a fellow from 1775, an American of English descent really troubled by North Hempstead’s succession from the Town of Hempstead over the issue of rebellion against the King and Crown. His loyalties are clear. He raises the question over how the colonists are made so dissatisfied with the King – and questions the veracity of the crimes and accusations designed to foment rebellion. He notes that since the first Continental Congress, the Massachusetts faction of the Patriots have banned women from going to the tavern, banned theatrical entertainment – in effect, installed the Puritan societal structure on the colonies. And because of the “attack against one of the colonies is an attack against us all,” he questions whether the attacks in Lexington and Concord, portrayed as a British massacre, really happened that way.  “How do we really know?” he tells me (the original “fake news”?).  Mr. Everyman was upset with the upstarts in Massachusetts who caused so much trouble, who dared to pretend to be Indians and toss tea into the sea. He called them cowards for hiding behind their disguise. He said he knew war – had fought in the French and Indian War – but was too old to fight again. If there was a break with England, he says, his business of building and repairing houses, would be destroyed.

Schenck House, oldest in Old Bethpage Village, dating from 1765, where the Huntington Militia enacts a Christmas gathering in 1775 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But, he says, he cannot express his feelings: the local Committee is strictly enforcing its ban on English tea and though it had no force of law, someone who broke faith would be shamed in the Gazetteer as “an Enemy of American Liberty,” would no longer get business, and ultimately be forced out of the community. So he keeps his views to himself. Taxes? What difference does it make to pay taxes to England or taxes to the Congress, he says. And doesn’t England deserve to get repayment for the expense of fighting for the colonies? How would those who would break from England confront the greatest army on earth? Would they get aid from foreign powers like France, when France would want to take over the colonies for itself?

He gives me the sense of what a difficult dilemma this was – the prospect of confronting the most powerful nation the world had never known, the superpower of its time – and how while there had never been consensus (New York patriots fled to Philadelphia), the forcefulness with which the revolutionaries pressed their cause, the violence, a literal civil war within communities.

He goes on to show the group of Candlelight visitors that has gathered how the owner of the House, Martin Schenck, would have celebrated St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), when the children put out wooden shoes, filled with a carrot to draw the horse that St. Nicholas rides through the sky on, and leaves them treats – an orange that would have been an expensive treat having been imported from Jamaica, and  skates for the young girl, a pull-toy for the baby.

The Noon Inn, built around 1850 in East Meadow by John H. Noon, innkeeper, is the centerpiece of Old Bethpage Village Restoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, at The Barn on the Long Island Fairgrounds- a reconstruction of the Queens county Agricultural Society Fairgrounds that was built in Mineola, 1866-1884, there is the model train show, crafts fair, contra dancing, a brass ensemble and a delightful performance of “Scrooge’s Dream” (a condensed version of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol”).

This year, the Old Bethpage Candlelight Evenings are only five nights, Dec. 22, 23, 27, 28 and 29, 5-9:30 pm. Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Road (Exit 48 of the Long Island Expressway), 516-572-8401; Adults/$10, children 5-12/$7 (under 5 are free); and $7 for seniors and volunteer firefighters.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Favorite Places to Travel to Spend the Christmas Holidays

An urban resort stay:Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide kept frozen at 9 degrees © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have so many fond memories of Christmases past, spent in charming, festive places that capture the magic and spirit of the season, and most importantly, bring our family together with experiences we share.

My criteria for great destination places to spend the winter holidays starts with charm, offers plenty to do indoors as well as outdoors that interests everyone in the family, is walkable to get around or at least offers great public transportation, perhaps even a cutesy trolley or something that is fun. Has great decorations, has a festive feel, and most important, doesn’t shut down and close up for the holidays. 

Christmas in the Capital

Washington DC certainly fits this bill – you can spend all your time just on the National Mall, visiting iconic museums like the National Air & Space Museum (a major favorite for families, great café also)), the relatively new Museum of the American Indian, the even newer Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, National Archives, and just across the avenue is the gorgeous National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice skating rink and charming café (also skating at The Wharf, Georgetown, and Capitol Riverfront). Go further afield to the Spy Museum and if the weather permits, the National Zoo (easy access by Metro).

Ice skating on the Sculpture Garden rink across from the National Archives. Washington DC is one of the best destinations for family travel over the Christmas holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best way to take in the Capital city’s holiday lights is with these free offerings: Tour America’s historic train stations in miniature at Seasons Greenings: All Aboard! at the U.S. Botanic Gardens (thru Jan. 2); Smithsonian National Zoo dazzles with more than 500,000 LED lights, snowless tubing and more at ZooLights, 5-9 pm thru Jan.1, (closed Dec. 24, 25, 31); take in National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse is attended by 56 decorated state and territory trees and Santa’s Workshop and enjoy nightly musical performances thru Dec. 31.

Also memorable: George Washington’s Mount Vernon celebrates the season with Colonial dancing, chocolate-making and caroling, Nov. 23-Dec. 31; candlelit tours run Nov. 23, 24, 30; Dec. 1, 7, 8, 16.There are Holiday in the Park thrills at Six Flags America with lights, rides and s’mores: Nov. 23-25, Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 21-23, 26-31. Among the holiday performances underway: National Symphony Orchestra’s Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 20-23); at Warner Theatre, the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker recasts the classic in the Lincoln White House (Nov. 29-Dec. 28); and Richly Dressed, A Christmas Carol (Nov. 15-Dec. 30) at Ford’s Theatre.

Find inspiration for memorable getaways on Destination DC’s holiday landing page on washington.org, and its Instagram and Facebook channels, including festive hotel packages, menus, holiday lights, ice skating rinks, gift markets, can’t-miss exhibitions and events across the city’s welcoming neighborhoods. Help with planning is available from a DC travel expert weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm, 800-422-8644.

To really get into the spirit, stay at the elegant and historic Willard InterContinental  (it’s a stone’s throw from the White House and was where Abraham Lincoln stayed before his inauguration) which transforms into a holiday-inspired wonderland, a beloved tradition that both locals and visitors have come to anticipate each year, with its display of yuletide trimmings, musical fanfare and epicurean delights thru January 1. The centerpiece is the treasured Christmas tree, boasting decades of sentiment on each carefully curated branch. The Willard is the only hotel in Washington  to feature the White House Ornament Collection, an initiative founded by the White House Historical Association in 1981: each ornament honors a different U.S. President or special White House event. This year honors Harry S. Truman, 33rd president, and the three significant changes made during his administration – one to the Presidential Seal and two to the White House itself. Another iconic facet of the hotel’s décor is their picturesque gingerbread display in the lobby that pays tribute to an iconic landmark in and around D.C.  This year’s display pays homage to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and with a magnificent replica that will include all terminals, lighted runways, a control tower and even parts of the Washington Metro.  

Turn your visit into a complete resort stay at the Gaylord National Resort which has its Christmas on the Potomac festival that is not to be missed (whether or not you stay), that includes ICE! where you walk through a winter wonderland carved from over 2 million pounds of ice, this year telling the holiday tale of A Charlie Brown Christmas www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com. (https://www.marriott.com/gaylord-hotels/gaylord-national-harbor-christmas-on-the-potomac.mi)

Christmas in Newport

Newport, Rhode Island is always enchanting, but never more so than at the winter holidays, when, it seems, the entire town is one big festival. There’s a palpable elation throughout the City-by-the Sea during Christmas in Newport, a month-long celebration toasting simple traditions of the holiday season. For nearly 50 years, this event has made for an extraordinary holiday respite in a quaint New England coastal town. White lights illuminate homes, shops, restaurants and the bustling wharves in a ritual meant to represent candlelight from days gone by, when families would wait for their loved ones to return home from their seafaring adventures. Holiday events are tailored to entertain every age, including tree lightings, Polar Express train rides, historical tours, shopping strolls, concerts and dances like the Newport Nutcracker, Island Moving Company’s rendition of the classic holiday ballet, Victorian-era Christmas festivities, culinary fêtes, arts and cultural celebrations and more. (Where else but Newport can you gaze at a 16-foot working gingerbread lighthouse?) (See discovernewport.org, 800-326-6030, for trip planning help.)

The Great Hall of The Breakers, decked out for the holidays, part of Christmas at the Newport Mansions and festivities that take over the City-by-the-Sea, Newport, RI.

Christmas at the Newport Mansions returns to The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House with newly imagined holiday decor thru Jan. 1. The three houses offer a total of 25 large decorated Christmas trees, plus additional smaller potted trees and topiaries. Windows in each mansion are lit with individual white candles. New this year, professional event designers will create contemporary holiday tablescapes in the dining rooms at Marble House and The Elms, and in the Breakfast Room of The Breakers, to provide inspiration and ideas to visitors for ways they can decorate their own holiday tables.

Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions recreate the ambiance of an evening soirée during the Gilded Age: at The Breakers are Saturdays, December 1, 8, 22 and 29, 6-8 p.m; On December 15, guests can visit both The Elms and Marble House for the price of one, 6-9 p.m. ($35 in advance, $45 day-of the event. Children 6-17 are admitted for $10 in advance, $15 day-of. Children under the age of 6 free. More information and tickets are available online or call (401) 847-1000.

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House open daily for tours, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, through Jan. 1. Rosecliff will also be open in December, with a new exhibition, Bill Cunningham: Facades, featuring photographs by the late New York Times photographer. A Winter Passport ticket providing daytime admission to up to 4 houses can be purchased for $30 for adults, $10 for children 6-17. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free. Individual house tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased online or at each property. (Program information at newportmansions.org.)

A chanteuse entertains at The Vanderbilt, a Grace hotel, that was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of marvelous hotels and inns to accommodate. We loved our holiday stay at The Vanderbilt, a historic boutique hotel a short walk (and what a rooftop view) to Newport’s delightful waterfront, which makes you feel like a Vanderbilt. In fact, it was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania. The 1909 mansion has been restored to its former glory and is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as a fully functioning luxury hotel in Rhode Island. The Vanderbilt offers 33 rooms and luxury suites, a lavish spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a signature restaurant, The Vanderbilt Grill. A Grace Hotel, it is now part of the Auberge Resort Collection (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt/).

More Favorite Places for the Winter Holidays 

Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village, hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). There are tours of decorated inns, pub crawls with local restaurants offering special pairings, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and the Elf Express Train ride. A highlight of any visit to Manchester is a tour Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln’s estate, festooned in Victorian finery, just as it might have been when they stayed for the holidays so many years ago. Take the self-guided tour; throughout December, talented musicians play Mary Lincoln’s Steinway and the vintage Aeolian organ (www.hildene.org). (Trip planning help at visitmanchestervt.com/merriment).

One of our favorite places to stay for the holidays in Manchester is the historic Equinox, where Mary Todd Lincoln would spend summers. The Equinox has since become a four-season luxury resort with every imaginable amenity including world-class spa, indoor pool, Orvis fly fishing school, a falconry school, Range Rover driving school. Besides outlet shopping and historic sites such as  Hildene, the Equinox is also a short drive to superb downhill skiing at Stratton, Bromley and Magic Mountain (www.equinoxresort.com, 800-362-4747).

Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England village, oozing charm and its centerpiece is the historic Woodstock Inn. An AAA Four Diamond resort, it is decked out in holiday finery and activities galore (Tubbs Snowshoe Adventure Center, cross-country skiing, luxurious spa and indoor recreation center with tennis, visits to the fascinating Billings Farm & Museum, downhill skiing at the resort’s own Suicide Six ski hill, with Killington just 25 minutes away and Okemo 40 minutes away. Founded by the Rockefellers, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs. Find vacation packages and specials at www.woodstockinn.com.

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, the hub for nearby historic Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Valley Region. There are scores of holiday attractions and activities –Longworth Gardens, famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains (open even on Christmas Day), “Yuletide at Winterthur” Museum, Gardens and Library with its sensational holiday performances; the fascinating Hagley Museum and DuPont Mansion; the Brandywine River Museum of Art with its unparalleled collection of  Wyeth family art and nearby historic towns of Old New Castle and Odessa (http://thebrandywine.com/attractions/index.html). See schedule at https://www.visitwilmingtonde.com/events/holiday/

Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special; that Christmas Eve we walked across the street to participate in the evening church services. (www.hoteldupont.com)

Christmas in Victorian Cape May, NJ

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) through Jan. 1.Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1,; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. There are historic district trolley tours (many themed, like Ghosts of Christmas Past), house tours, Lamplighter Christmas Tours which are self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns and private homes, specially decorated for the holidays. Here, the perfect place to stay is in one of the historic inns (www.capemay.com/stay). For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Go back even further in time at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, a living-history museum, fill out the visit with Busch Gardens Williamsburg and other attractions including the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, where you will experience  Christmastide in Virginia. (Dec. 20-31), offering a glimpse of 17th and 18th century holiday traditions including daily appearances by the Lord of Misrule at Jamestown Settlement and period musical entertainment at both museums. At Busch Gardens, enjoy Christmas Town (select dates through January 5) offers one of the largest light displays in North America with more than 10 million lights. New this year, Busch Gardens Railway turns into the Christmas Town Express, with caroling, 2 million lights, holiday-themed vignets along the 1.5 mile route around the theme park; plus 25 rides are open including InvadR and Verbolten roller coasters. (Planning help at www.visitwilliamsburg.com). Complete the magical experience with a stay at the grand, historic Williamsburg Inn, a full-service luxury (five Diamond) resort (www.colonialwilliamsburghotels.com).

Christmas at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

St Petersburg, Florida affords the unparalleled opportunity to combine arts, culture, heritage with a glamorous, historic and grand beach resort, the DonCesar Resort, known as “the Pink Lady” (www.doncesar.com). St. Petersburg/Clearwater offers  scores of special activities – lighted boat parades that take place at various times in small villages; outdoor carolers at the holiday market. The very special Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of the Dolphin’s Tale stories) transforms into Winter’s Wonderland through Jan. 6; watch special Santa dive presentations at Mavis’s Rescue Hideaway (CMA holiday fun). The annual Holiday Lights in the Gardens has a million LED lights shining throughout the Botanical Gardens (from 5:30 p.m.; $5 suggested donation) through Dec. 30.Head to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens for some great thrill rides and to see the park transform into a holiday wonderland of Christmastime entertainment, holiday shopping and a million twinkling lights!  (through Dec. 31). (www.visitstpeteclearwater.com)

Trade pine trees for palm trees for the winter holidays at Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”), on St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

San Francisco has so many amazing attractions and charms (I can’t get enough of the trolley cars or the trolley museum), but really gets decked out for the holidays when the entire city becomes a Gallery of Light Art.  Now in its sixth year, “Illuminate SF Festival of Light” celebrates 37 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations located throughout San Francisco. Located in 17 different neighborhoods, the works, by 30 local and world-renowned light artists, are accessible by public transport and many are free for all to view, thru New Year’s Day. The works come to life at dusk throughout the city with a luminescence that will turn any evening into an illuminating adventure, especially when combined with exploring San Francisco’s world-class museums performing arts and restaurants. The light art can be found in neighborhoods in the Embarcadero along the waterfront, in North Beach, Civic Center, Central Market, the Inner Sunset, South of Market (SoMa), Potrero, Mission Bay, Bayview, Golden Gate Park, Hayes Valley, South Beach, the Castro, the Mission District and even flying in or out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). (The San Francisco Travel Association offers a guide to all of the installations and artists at www.illuminatesf.com; plan your visit at www.sftravel.com.)

One of the light art installations that decorate San Francisco for the holidays, “Photosynthesis Love for all Seasons” by Ralsy Sabater.

Combine city and country with a stay at The Tenaya Lodge at the doorstep to Yosemite National Park.  Families are delighted by the festive décor and special holiday activities, including gingerbread house and ornament decoraiting workshops, live lobby music, a  Christmas Eve reading with Mrs. Claus, and Dinner with Santa. The resort has its own ice skating rink, sleds, horse-drawn sleigh rides, showshoes.  And this holiday season, the resort is helping California wildfire victims by donating $25 toward  CalFund’s Wildfire Relief Fund on stays booked with this offer where you also save 15% on holiday stays, Dec. 21 to Jan. 6, two-night minimum stay, promo: HOLIDAYS (www.tenayalodge.com).

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave  and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents when you visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter. 

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the legendary railroad station, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access), and the station serves as the hotel lobby (you can also tour some of the historic trains and meet the engineer). A free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown.  I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and interesting stay. (Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529, www.choochoo.com.)

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation Draws Thousands

Macy’s Balloon Inflation goers get a first look at Goku, the legendary hero of Dragon Ball who makes his Parade debut this year ahead of his starring role in the North American theatrical release of Dragon Ball Super: Broly this January © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Millions will line the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route despite record cold temperatures for the 92nd annual parade, but on the night before Thanksgiving, tens of thousands come out to take part in a pre-holiday festival, which has come to be known as the Macy’s Balloon Inflation.

After braving lines that funnel through 73rd and Columbus to Central Park West, snaking up to 77th Street, they get to see up close as 16 giant character helium balloons and 43 novelty/ornament balloons, balloonicles (a hybrid balloon and vehicle that Macy’s invented), balloonheads and trycaloons (a Macy’s hybrid tandem bicycle and balloon concoction) being readied for their Thanksgiving Day flights. The new class of balloons includes the anime star Goku from “Dragon Ball Super, Broly”; Fleck, Bjorn, Jojo and Hugg the elf stars of Netflix’s “The Christmas Chronicles,” Little Cloud by Friends With You; the newest entry into the Parade’s Blue Sky Gallery series of balloons by renowned contemporary artists, the Go Bowling pins and bowling ball balloonicles; Sinclair’s Baby Dino balloonicles and the astronaut star of Macy’s Christmas celebrations, Sunny the Snowpal.

Hundreds of volunteers take part in the event, many who will be proudly marching with their balloons the next day. Among them, Douglas Malnati, who has been one of the balloon volunteers for 15 years, starting right out of college. He’s otherwise an IT guy.

Douglas Malnati, who has been one of the balloon volunteers for 15 years, starting right out of college. He’s otherwise an IT guy. He will be handling one of the balloons in the 92nd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here’s who to look for in the parade

CHARLIE BROWN PEANUTS WORLDWIDE

Everyone’s favorite blockhead, PEANUTS’ Charlie Brown once again flies through New York City with his trusty kite. This November, Charlie Brown will practice his flight moves ahead of next year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of man- and beagle-kind landing on the moon! The celebration kicked off in July with the signing of a Space Agreement with NASA to bring the joy of space exploration to a new generation. Despite getting tangled with his kite’s tail, Charlie Brown is sure to arrive just in time to 34th Street for his big moment in the spotlight. Balloon Dimensions: 53-feet long, 31-feet wide, 46-feet tall Fun Fact: Charlie Brown’s famous kite measures 26-feet wide and nearly 30-feet tall and its tail is more than 80-feet long.

Charlie Brown gets inflated ahead of next year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of man- and beagle-kind landing on the moon © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID® ABRAMS CHILDREN’S BOOKS

The mega-popular star of the internationally best-selling book series, Greg Heffley will fly in the Parade for the ninth time this Thanksgiving. The second edition of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid balloon takes its third trip down the Parade route celebrating the release of the 13th book in the series, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown.” As always, Greg will delight millions of fans as he seemingly slips on ice during his Parade march down the streets of New York City. Balloon Dimensions: 62-feet long, 32-feet wide, 62-feet tall Fun Fact: 2018 marks the ninth Parade appearance for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the third flight of the latest version of the main character Greg Heffley as a balloon giant.

SINCLAIR’S DINO® SINCLAIR OIL CORPORATION

America’s most famous Apatosaurus, Sinclair’s DINO (pronounced DYE-NO), returns to New York City after traveling across the country visiting stations and meeting fans. DINO is a classic Parade balloon, first appearing in the 1963 Macy’s march. Balloon Dimensions: 72-feet long, 24-feet wide, 36-feet tall Fun Fact: The original DINO balloon was inducted as an honorary member of the Museum of Natural History in 1975, and the balloon returned to the Macy’s Parade in 2015, after nearly 40 years.

THE ELF ON THE SHELF® The holiday season would not be the same without Santa’s trusted Scout Elves. The arrival of the Elf on the Shelf® balloon marks the kickoff of the holiday season for families across the country as they prepare to welcome back their Scout Elves during Scout Elf Return Week™. Balloon Dimensions: 46-feet tall, 28-feet wide, 64-feet long Fun Fact: The Elf on the Shelf balloon is one of the biggest balloons in the Parade by height, width and length.

DRAGON BALL SUPER: BROLY’S GOKU FUNIMATION® The legendary hero of Dragon Ball takes to the streets of Manhattan for his Parade debut this year ahead of his starring role in the North American theatrical release of Dragon Ball Super: Broly this January. Goku, the star of the iconic Japanese animation franchise Dragon Ball, is a Saiyan warrior who was sent to destroy Earth as a child. When a brain injury changed Goku’s programming, he became peaceful, good-natured, loving and honest – many adjectives that describe the celebration of Thanksgiving! Balloon Dimensions: 70-feet long, 36-feet wide, 56-feet tall Fun Fact: The Goku balloon is depicted in his new Super Saiyan Blue form, which represents a new era of the Dragon Ball franchise.

ILLUMINATION PRESENTS DR. SEUSS’ THE GRINCH ILLUMINATION ENTERTAINMENT Everyone’s favorite Christmas curmudgeon returns this Thanksgiving as The Grinch, along with his loyal dog Max, return to the Parade route trying to steal more than just Santa’s thunder. With a sack full of toys the duo celebrates their second Parade this year and the release of the new comedy Illumination Presents Dr. Seuss’ THE GRINCH Balloon Dimensions: 49-feet long, 24-feet wide, 37-feet tall Fun Fact: The Grinch and Max are only the fourth-ever giant balloons to take flight as a duo in the Parade’s history.

Watching the Macy’s Balloon Inflation has become an iconic New York City event along with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, now in its 92nd year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

JETT BY SUPER WINGS™ ALPHA GROUP Jett, the fun-loving transforming plane from the animated preschool series Super Wings on both Netflix and Universal Kids, is used to adventure as he travels the world delivering packages to children and solving problems along the way. This November he will be fueled and ready for takeoff on his second flight through the streets of New York City Thanksgiving morning. Balloon Dimensions: 47-feet long, 39-feet wide, 31-feet tall Fun Fact: Jett made his debut in 2017 and is the widest balloon in the Parade — his wingspan is equal to the size of an actual Learjet.

OLAF WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS Olaf, the beloved snowman from Disney’s Frozen, returns to the Macy’s Parade with his usual cheerful disposition on full display. Taking a break from his starring role in the hit Broadway Musical Disney’s Frozen, Olaf will spread dazzling smiles down the route, warming the hearts of millions of spectators this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 58-feet long, 32-feet wide, 60-feet tall Fun Fact: Olaf is the first-ever Macy’s balloon to glisten, mimicking real snow. This required perfecting the right mixture of white shades of paint and glitter that truly make Olaf standout as he takes flight down the Parade route.

PAW PATROL® SPIN MASTER LTD. & NICKELODEON Showing the citizens of New York that “no job is too big, no pup is too small” Chase the Police pup from the popular preschool series, PAW Patrol, is ready to protect all as he flies down the 2.5-mile route this November. Balloon Dimensions: 60-feet long, 36-feet wide, 43-feet tall Fun Fact: Chase’s hat could cover an actual police squad car and his paws are larger than two full-grown German shepherd dogs.

Macy’s volunteers inflate Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

PIKACHU™ THE POKÉMON COMPANY INTERNATIONAL The much-loved Pokémon Pikachu returns to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the 18th consecutive year – just in time for the launch of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee, the newest video games from the popular entertainment franchise. This year, Pikachu is bundled up in a warm scarf for the chilly New York weather, ready to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season with fans. Balloon Dimensions: 36-feet long, 29-feet wide, 53-feet tall Fun Fact: While the Parade’s third version of Pikachu is of giant proportions, Pikachu in reality officially measures just 1-foot, 4-inches tall.

PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY™ PILLSBURY™ Inspiring Thanksgiving bakers across the country, the classic Pillsbury Doughboy celebrates the fall spectacular at Macy’s alongside millions of Americans as they enjoy both his cheerful giggle and home baked holiday treats. Balloon Dimensions: 54-feet long, 34-feet wide, 46-feet tall Fun Fact: It would take more than four million Pillsbury Crescent Rolls to create a “dough-sized” version of the balloon.

Macy’s Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

RED MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGER HASBRO The 92nd Parade marks The Power Rangers’ historic 25th anniversary. It remains one of the longest running live action children’s series in television history. The iconic Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger balloon will remind millions of Parade spectators that it’s Morphin Time! this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 77-feet long, 26-feet wide, 56-feet tall Fun Fact: The larger than life Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger is the longest balloon in the Parade; one of his arms is the length of a standard school bus at 45-feet.

RONALD McDONALD® McDONALD’S® Ronald McDonald, the world’s most famous clown and McDonald’s Chief Happiness Officer, gives his signature “thumbs up!” to the season of thanks as he joins millions in celebrating the start of the holiday season. Ronald says; “see a smile, share a smile” and he is sure to delight spectators and prompt millions of smiles across the country. Balloon Dimensions: 61-feet long, 29-feet wide, 67-feet tall Fun Fact: The iconic “Big Red Shoes” Ronald is wearing are 6-feet long!

Ronald McDonald, 61-feet long, 29-feet wide, 67-feet tall, at Macy’s Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS NICKELODEON The nation’s favorite pineapple-dwelling sea sponge, will celebrate his 14th Parade this Thanksgiving. Next year, Nickelodeon invites fans to join a celebration of 20 years of SpongeBob – one of the most beloved animated characters in TV history – with a new season of episodes, events and more. Balloon Dimensions: 41-feet long, 34-feet wide, 44-feet tall Fun Fact: SpongeBob SquarePants defied gravity as the first-ever square Parade balloon and is pulled into his signature shape by more than 800 internal tie-lines.

TOOTHLESS DREAMWORKS ANIMATION’S HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD The world’s most heroic dragon, Toothless will return this fall for a new flight down the Parade route. The famed Night Fury will fly above the streets of Manhattan, before he and his Viking friend Hiccup are seen in DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ,which opens in theaters nationwide this winter. Balloon Dimensions: 72-feet long, 36-feet wide, 48-feet tall Fun Fact: This midnight-colored dragon used a special paint to get his signature color. It collects heat in order to properly conserve his helium filled structure.

Macy’s volunteers inflate Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon. This midnight-colored dragon used a special paint to get his signature color. It collects heat in order to properly conserve his helium filled structure © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

TROLLS© DREAMWORKS ANIMATION AND UNIVERSAL PICTURES TROLLS stars Poppy, Branch and Guy Diamond will once again fly and swing down the Parade route on their Caterbus. Officially kicking off the holiday season, the Trolls will spread color, joy and cheer to a nationwide audience on both the route and in DreamWorks’ Trolls Holiday this fall. Balloon Dimensions: 57-feet long, 38-feet wide, 38-feet tall Fun Fact: Each of the Troll’s iconic hair is more than 12-feet tall.

TROLLS stars Poppy, Branch and Guy Diamond get ready to fly and swing down the Parade route © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOVELTY BALLOONS FLECK, BJORN, JOJO AND HUGG NETFLIX’S “THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES” Meet Fleck, Bjorn, Jojo and Hugg. These charming elves will help Santa save Christmas in the new Netflix film “The Christmas Chronicles.” You can often find tiny Fleck carrying Santa’s bag tracker and Bjorn in a candy cane-fueled toy-making frenzy, while troublemaker Jojo delivers letters to Santa and Hugg is hard at work making toys with his chainsaw. Balloon Dimensions: 16, 20-feet wide, 30-feet tall Fun Fact: The Christmas Chronicles elves are the first Netflix balloons to be featured in the Parade.

Fleck, Bjorn, Jojo and Hugg the elf stars of Netflix’s “The Christmas Chronicles,” are new for the 92nd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

LITTLE CLOUD FRIENDSWITHYOU™ Little Cloud, the iconic emblem of art collaborative FriendsWithYou, takes to the sky on Thanksgiving as part Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery series, which invites contemporary artists to recreate their work as Parade balloons. Artists Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III will join Little Cloud and two raindrops in this year’s Parade, creating an artistic expression of joy and love fitting for the iconic Macy’s Parade route. Balloon Dimensions: 22-feet tall, 30-feet wide Fun Fact: Little Cloud represents the seventh balloon in Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery art balloon series.

THE NUTCRACKER UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT™ This classic Christmas decoration appears in the form of a super-sized balloon to help kick off the holiday season! The Nutcracker balloon made its debut in the 2017 “Universal Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s” at Universal Studios Orlando, and marched its way up to New York to join the Parade this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 45 feet tall, 18.5 feet wide, 16-feet long Fun Fact: The Nutcracker balloon is 24 times the size of the traditional holiday decoration.

SUNNY THE SNOWPAL One of the many holiday heroes in this year’s Parade is Macy’s very own Snowpal, Sunny! This cool cosmonaut comes to the rescue with her friend Fox when Santa’s sleigh breaks down on Christmas Eve. Blasting off in her rocket ship, Sunny works her magic to repair the sleigh and save the day, showing us all that there are so many reasons to believe in the wonder of giving! Balloon Dimensions: 26-feet tall, 19-feet wide, 16-feet long Fun Fact: Sunny is an original character created for Macy’s 2018 holiday campaign.

BALLOONICLES (A Macy’s Parade innovation, hybrid cold air balloon and self-propelled vehicle) BABY DINOS SINCLAIR OIL CORPORATION The three newborn Baby DINOS from Sinclair Oil Corporation are anything but prehistoric! The adorable Apatosaurus trio came straight from the nest to join the Sinclair DINO balloon in this year’s Parade. Fun Fact: Like the Sinclair DINO balloon, the Baby DINO balloonicles appear in life-size form. GO BOWLING There will be turkeys at Thanksgiving meals and on the Parade route this year with the new Go Bowling™ balloonicles. Two bowling shoes and six bowling pins will be chased by a determined bowling ball down the route. Fun Fact: With 16-foot-tall bowling pins and a 12-foot diameter bowling ball, this Balloonicle is sure to score! 5 THE AFLAC DUCK AFLAC, INC. The world’s most famous “spokesduck,” the Aflac Duck has returned for his eighth Parade, having smartly prepared all year long so he would not miss this quintessential NYC holiday experience. Balloonicle Dimensions: 30-feet tall, 15-feet wide Fun Fact: The Aflac Duck’s glowing heart is encased by his heart shaped-wings. His inner tube base to “slide” down the Parade route is larger than the size of an in-ground home swimming pool.

One of the hundreds of volunteers out braving cold and wind cheerily inflating the 16 giant character balloons and 43 novelty balloons that will fly in the 92nd Annual Macy’s thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

HERITAGE BALLOON AND BALLOON

HEAD LINE-UPS

ARRTIE, THE PIRATE Arrtie the Pirate a recreation of the classic Pirate balloon of 1947 returns! Arrtie, the loveable pirate with map in hand is on a search for Holiday treasure this Thanksgiving. Balloon Dimensions: 36-feet tall Fun Fact: A staple of the Parade in the late 1940s and 1950s, Arrtie was recreated as part of the Parade’s heritage balloon program that reinvents historic Macy’s characters for a new audience.

MACY’S STARS (BLUE & WHITE, RED & GOLD, YELLOW, GOLD STARFLAKES, BELIEVE) You’ll be seeing stars at the 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade– literally! See if you can spot them in blue and white, red and gold, with gold star flakes, in yellow and proclaiming “Believe” at various points in the parade lineup! Balloon Dimensions: 12-feet deep, 24-feet wide, 25-feet tall Fun Fact: The Macy’s Stars are representative of the Parade’s changing color scheme from autumnal colors to the bright and cheerful colors of the holiday season.

Watching the Macy’s Balloon Inflation has become an iconic New York City event along with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, now in its 92nd year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

PILGRIM MAN & WOMAN BALLOONHEADS MAMA, PAPA & BABY BALLOONHEADS The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade family would not be complete without Pilgrim Man & Woman and the Mama, Papa and Baby Balloonheads! Balloon Dimensions: 12-feet tall with costume, 4-feet wide Fun Fact: The balloonheads are based on classic Parade designs from the 1940s.

AMERICANA SPHERES Rounding out the 2018 lineup are the new Americana Spheres. These patriotic balloons bring the colors of the flag to new heights. Balloon Dimensions: 14-feet wide Fun Fact: Originally conceived by legendary Macy’s Designer Manfred Bass in the 1980s

TRYCALOONS (A Macy’s Parade innovation featuring a hybrid tandem tricycle and balloon) BULLDOG Beware of dog! The Bulldog Trycaloon’s bark is as big as his bike. TOUGH GUY There’s been a jailbreak on the Parade route, and the Tough Guy Trycaloon is one inflatable character you don’t want to mess with.

NUTCRACKER Clara joins the title character of Tchaikovsky’s famous holiday ballet on a high-speed Trycaloon chase alongside the Mouse King. MOUSE KING The villainous Mouse King from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet pedals down Manhattan accompanied by one of his furry-tailed soldiers.

Macy’s CEO Jeffrey Gennette with NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Police Commissioner Jim O’Neil, Congressman Jerry Nadler, NYS Senator Jose Serrano, and NYS Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal discuss preparations for the 92nd annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade during the Balloon Inflation Event © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Holidays in New York, Most Magical Time of the Year

 

The most stupendous float of all at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade carries Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer ushering in Christmas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The winter holiday season may well be New York City’s most magical time of the year and gets underway with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the iconic Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, and constantly delights with festivals, special events and attractions, and all the dazzle of holiday decorations right through New Year’s Day.

“The holiday season in New York City is a spectacle unlike any other,” said NYC & Company President and CEO Fred Dixon “It is a time when the vibrant energy that makes up the very fabric of our city is magnified through the joy of dozens of multicultural celebrations among New Yorkers and global visitors who make the five boroughs a centerpiece of their annual festivities.”

Highlights include landmark events and first-time New York–style holiday celebrations of a nearly endless variety for travelers to enjoy this winter. Visitors delight in historic and new shopping destinations, world-famous department store window displays (Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue), unrivaled outdoor ice-skating rinks and more scattered all throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The five-borough-wide season wraps up in a fashion as dazzling as ever with various New Year’s Eve celebrations.

As always, three iconic events bookend the introduction and conclusion of the holiday season in New York City:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, performances by the casts of Broadway musicals, select marching bands from across the nation and celebrity appearances—kicks off the holiday season on November 22 at 9 am. A staple of the holiday season since 1924, the 92nd edition, the line-up will feature 16 giant character balloons; 43 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 12 marching bands (macys.com/parade).

But the event has a pre-quel, The Great Balloon Inflation, that takes place the night before, when the streets around the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West are literally flooded with tens of thousands of people coming to delight in seeing the massive balloons being inflated by hundreds of volunteers.

Tens of thousands come out the night before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade to watch the Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Manhattan, November 28, 2018: A lineup of live performers rivaled by few events all year will help light up New York City’s biggest and brightest home for Santa’s Christmas eve delivery again. The more than seven-story tree will spread holiday cheer to the millions of visitors it welcomes until the lights dim on January 7 (rockefellercenter.com).

New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, Manhattan, December 31, 2018–January 1,2019: In 1904, the former New York Times owner convinced the City to rename Longacre Square in honor of the world-famous publication. In addition to the name change and the opening of NYC’s first subway line, that year marked the inaugural Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, and the “Crossroads of the World” has been the historic backdrop of the City’s New Year’s Eve celebration ever since. Approximately 1 million visitors are expected to gather to watch the ball drop in person again this year. This is something that should be on every bucket list to do at least once in a lifetime (timessquarenyc.org).

Angels light the way to the most famous holiday tree, at Rockefeller Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light show that is projected onto Saks building) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman. Separately, I will take in Bloomingdale’s (a “Grinch” theme this year, connecting with the new movie), and Barney’s downtown on Broadway.

Meanwhile, there are more than a dozen celebratory events to delight this holiday season in NYC.

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, Manhattan, December 1–23, 2018: The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership welcomes visitors this December to enjoy contests, performances, free neighborhood walking tours, giveaways from local businesses and an interactive installation in the North Public Plaza. Other unparalleled offerings can be found in the historic 103-block neighborhood stretching from 23rd to 28th Street, bordered by Third and Sixth Avenues (flatirondistrict.nyc).

A Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights Tour, Brooklyn, December 1–30, 2018: Every holiday season, more than 100,000 visitors descend on Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood to view the most extravagant Christmas displays in the New York City area. This tour, operated by born and raised Brooklynites, stops by the most over-the-top exhibits of the season while telling patrons the story of how “Dyker Lights” came to be nearly 40 years ago (asliceofbrooklyn.com).

Enchanted by the holiday windows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another popular tour is the holiday edition of The Ride, “a 21st century sleigh ride” aboard patented $1.5 million travelling high-tech theaters with floor-to-ceiling gigantic glass windows featuring side-facing VIP seating making the streets of New York the stage. Original seasonal music, videos and hilarious hosts support the dazzling Holiday performances along the 4.2 mile journey through Midtown Manhattan (http://experiencetheride.com, 212-221-0853).

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Holiday Engagement at New York City Center, Manhattan, November 28–December 30, 2018: City Center’s 75th Anniversary Season will feature a wide range of performances including new productions, annual favorites, live music and Alvin Ailey’s feature performance Revelations. A special show on December 11 celebrates City Center’s opening performance in 1943 (alvinailey.org).

Saks Fifth Avenue becomes a canvas for a holiday lightshow © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Museum of Natural History’s Holiday Season, Manhattan, November 20, 2018–January 7, 2019: The museum’s cultural celebrations begin with the decoration of the Origami Holiday Tree—complete with more than 800 hand-folded paper models created by local artists—and continue through the New Year. On December 29, the AMNH will host its 40th annual Kwanzaa celebration. The festival of African-American heritage celebrates the seven core principles of Kwanzaa while exploring the rich history behind its traditions. Family-friendly activities, musical performances and an international marketplace are also included (amnh.org).

Apollo Theater Presents “Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night,” Manhattan, December 29, 2018: The legendary Harlem theater is celebrating Kwanzaa with visitors for the 12th consecutive year with a night of music and dance that honors the principles of Kwanzaa—family, community and culture (apollotheater.org).

Brooklyn Ballet’s Nutcracker, Brooklyn, December 14, 2018: The hip-hop and ballet infused replication of the holiday classic, reimagined in various Brooklyn neighborhoods, is hosted by the iconic Kings Theatre, in Flatbush, for the first time this year (brooklynballet.org).

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical: Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, December 13–30, 2018: Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic is sure to cause audiences hearts to grow at least three sizes when they watch the story of the true meaning of Christmas come to life in this limited engagement at the world’s most famous arena (msg.com/hulu-theater-at-msg).

Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, Queens, November 10, 2018–January 21, 2019: Since 2013, the edible village at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, has set the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of gingerbread houses and structures with each new installment. The record is sure to be challenged again this year (nysci.org).

Grand Army Plaza, Largest Menorah Lighting, Brooklyn, December 2–10, 2018: With the help of local synagogues, the Grand Army Plaza, located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has hosted the nightly lighting of the 32-foot menorah since 1984. Visitors are invited to celebrate the holiday with concerts and gifts for children through each day of the Jewish Festival of Lights (largestmenorah.com).

Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, The Bronx, December 8–9, 2018: At this holiday craft fair, in addition to creating the usual wreaths and treasure boxes, families are invited to work on the feature project: the hamsa, or hamesh, the multicultural symbol of an open hand. Guests explore the spiritual side of the holidays as they make the palm-shaped amulets (wavehill.org).

New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, The Bronx, November 17, 2018–January 21, 2019: The annual exhibition of classical model trains moving through a hand crafted display of New York City’s built environment is back for the 27th year. More than 175 miniature iconic city structures such as Yankee Stadium, The Brooklyn Bridge and The Statue of Liberty are replicated entirely out of plant parts and will coincide with other holiday celebrations such as a cappella performances, Bar Car Nights and more at the New York Botanical Garden (nybg.org).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, November 23–December 30 at Lincoln Center (nycballet.com).

Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society Presents “Harry Potter: A History of Magic”, Manhattan, through January 27: Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures, including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library, the New-York Historical Society, and other museums, as well as never before seen material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives. The New York exhibition, showcasing a selection of objects not featured in the London presentation that are on view to the public for the very first time, is sponsored by Audible. There are also a slew of special events and family programming in conjunction with this not-to-be-missed exhibit, which vanishes, poof, after January 27, 2019. The tickets are timed; you can order online. Also visit The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, created for children  8-13, which presents 350 years of New York and American history through character-based pavilions, interactive exhibits and digital games. (New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org)

New York Philharmonic Presents “Home Alone in Concert, ” Manhattan, December 20–21,2018: The acclaimed New York Philharmonic will perform John Williams’ score live to the classic Christmas film Home Alone, for a 2018–19 holiday season special event—booby traps and lovable bandits not included (nyphil.org).

A carriage ride down Fifth Avenue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal Holiday Train Show, Manhattan, November 15, 2018–February 3, 2019: A staple of Grand Central Terminal during the holiday season since 2001, the train show features a 34-foot-long track where vintage trains from the museum’s collection travel through a miniature New York City and countryside scene all the way to the North Pole (grandcentralterminal.com).

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, Manhattan, November 9, 2018–January 1, 2019: Everyone’s favorite high kickers dance their way from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve and champion the holiday spirit of New York City with their extravagant costumes and breathtaking state-of-the-art production (rockettes.com).

St. Thomas Church which is famous for the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 4, 6). Also this year, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten (Dec. 13). (Purchase tickets, www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts); also take a tour of this magnificent edifice, built in 1913 in the French High Gothic style. (5th Avenue and 53rd Street, www.saintthomaschurch.org).

Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is also a highlight of the holidays and it is remarkable that you can just walk in and enjoy an inspirational service.

Cathedral of St John the Divine offers inspiring concerts throughout the holiday season, with a Concert for Peace on New Year’s Eve © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I personally love to close out the holiday season on New Year’s Eve at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which presents the most magnificent annual Concert for Peace, founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music in a most magnificent setting. Indeed, the cathedral offers a rich calendar of concerts throughout the holiday season, as well as tours of this architectural jewel. Check the website for details.(The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org)

Favorite Places to Catch the Holiday Spirit

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays. In addition to the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com), The Swedish Cottage is an enchanting place that is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park’s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939 (West Side at 79th Street). Currently playing is “Yet, Set, Snow!”, an original story and production from the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, with performances through the season until Feb. 24, 2019. (Purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre)

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, festive holiday markets, cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become one of the city’s iconic holiday places. Of course, there is skating right below the magnificent Christmas tree at the Rink at Rockefeller Center (therinkatrockcenter.com). There is also skating and The Rink at Brookfield Place opens November 1 (230 Vesey St., 860-209-3459, gpice.com).

Skating at Bryant Park where there is also a holiday market © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

For a festive place to shop: The Shops at Columbus Circle, a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that free priceless view of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). But there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:

Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances begin Monday, Nov. 12 and take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10. Shows begin at 5 pm and last approximately 20 minutes.  (Free and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required.)

The stars are aligned at the Shops at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a festive shopping, dining and entertainment destination especially at the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.

Culinary Delights:  Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars: from Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., to the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se). The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.

Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows,  visitors can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.

(Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for ever-changing list of events and happenings.)

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Biking the Delaware & Lehigh Trail, Showcased on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Last Sojourn BikeTour

Buttermilk Falls, along the Delaware-Lehigh Trail, is a highlight of Day One’s ride on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Fall is a superb time to bike some of the phenomenal multi-purpose trails repurposed from rail lines and canal tow paths.

This year, I became acquainted with one of the best in our area – the Delaware-Lehigh Trail just across from New Jersey in Pennsylvania, a 165-mile long trail that follows the Delaware Canal State Park and the Delaware Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. The trail was featured in this year’s Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn, an annual multi-day supported biking/camping trip. The itinerary included riding a portion of one of my favorite trails on the planet, the Delaware-Raritan on the New Jersey side of the river.

Rails-to-Trails has offered these supported Sojourn biketours annually since 2002 to showcase repurposed rail trails and highlight the need to advocate for future projects. These trips are incredibly popular and the 300 of us on this year’s trip were saddened to learn that this Sojourn would be the last, because RTC will be focusing on advocacy and leave such organized bike tours to local organizations. Appropriately, the focus of the last Sojourn was also the trail for its first.

Still, it is there for all of us to enjoy, any time.

Beautiful scenery along the Delaware-Lehigh Trail on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D&L) follows the Delaware and Lehigh Canals and the old Lehigh Valley Railroad as it stretches through five counties, from the city of Wilkes-Barre in the mountainous coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania, to historic Bristol borough, along the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

Congress established the Heritage Corridor in 1988 at a time when the region was economically depressed with the collapse of coal and steel industry that had birthed these communities – the mining towns, factory and milltowns –  to begin with.

With 86 of the D&L Trail’s 165 miles located within two state parks (Lehigh Gorge and Delaware Canal), the advocates to create the trail out of disused towpath had a jumpstart to connect people to the region’s story—one of innovation, conservation and industrialization.

About 92 percent of the D&L Trail is built and the goal is to connect all 165 miles by 2022. Three gaps will have been closed in 2018, including the opening of the $4.1 million Mansion House Bridge across the Lehigh River at Jim Thorpe (we get to participate in the opening ceremony and are among the first to cross), a road/railroad crossing at Middleburg Road in Luzerne County and a connector in Delaware Canal State Park at Tyburn Road in Bucks County.

These trail projects inspire local groups, breathing new life into the small downtowns along the corridor. Three regional revitalization efforts in particular: a 2004 move to greener programming; a 2005 Superfund reclamation project at Lehigh Gap Nature Center (which we visit); and Tales of the Towpath, an educational curriculum that now has 80 schools participating, which we get to sample at the National Canal Museum at Hugh Moore Park in Easton. And all along the way, we get to see participants in the Get Your Tail on the Trail wellness program who so far have logged more than 3 million miles.

As we, the beneficiaries of all this effort, appreciate over the course of our Sojourn, the trail showcases and immerses us into two significant revolutions in American history: the American Revolution (particularly when we get down to our most southerly point, Washington Crossing) and the Industrial Revolution. All along our route, which follows the canals built to transport anthracite coal from the mines to the markets, we see the markers and remnants amidst a beautiful setting.

Indeed, for me, the big surprise was seeing remains of the historic canal, the locks and gates, dams and lockmaster houses all along the ride.

Here we see the underpinnings, the infrastructure of the Industrial Revolution, which enabled the United States to ascend as a world power. Yet, from where we are on the trail alongside the canal with trees on one side, in a more natural state, except when we come upon long-shuttered steel mills that now seem like oversized sculpture.

A Soggy Day One

We meet up at Hugh Moore Park in Easton, Pennsylvania, (which we learn is land donated by the man made rich through the manufacture of Dixie Cups) where we park our cars and register. Interestingly, we will be returning here to camp the next night.

Rain starts just as we board the buses that take us an hour and a half to the start of the D&L trail near the quaint mountainside community of Glen Summit. But instead of stopping as forecast, the drenching rain continues on, and on, and on, throughout the day and into the night – almost 24 hours before it stops. I’ve never been outside in the rain for a full 24 hours before.

We set out on the ride – 160 miles over the course of five days – at the highest, steepest part of the trail, literally in the mountains where anthracite coal was mined. The trail becomes muddy and slick in the steady rain. I make myself feel comfortable with the feeling of slipping, but soon enough, the trail flattens out. The trail is surprisingly still solid enough to keep the tires from sinking or catching.

But we miss the gorgeous views for which this part of the trail is renowned.

I am loving the new poncho that I bought at the Bike Expo before the NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour, but thinking about having to set up my new REI tent in the rain which I have never done before, kicking myself that I didn’t use the Comfy Camper service (closest thing to glamping) so that my tent would be up, with an air mattress, when I arrived.

Instead of just enjoying the scenery and the thrill of biking downhill, this becomes an interesting physical and mental  challenge that tests character, an adventure in overcoming obstacles, that when it is accomplished, changes you because you know you have done it and can do it– a value of a biking/camping trip in itself.

We ride along the river and see people out there in canoes and kayaks having a rollicking good time – clearly a great day for a waterborne activity.

Buttermilk Falls, along the Delaware-Lehigh Trail, is a highlight of Day One’s ride on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

This first day, we bike 35 miles southeast along the rushing Lehigh River, passing the most rugged and natural landscape of the ride – 800-foot hillsides of the Lehigh Gorge. At Moosehead Lake there are the remnants of highlift locks that were part of the Lehigh Canal’s Upper Grand Navigation.

Even this grey day cannot mar the beauty of the waterfalls we come upon, particularly Buttermilk, which cascades down in tiers.

Jim Thorpe, PA

We bike to the quaint town of Jim Thorpe, which (we discover), because of its steep hillsides, narrow streets, and terraced gardens is known as the “Switzerland of America.” I think of it as the San Francisco of Pennsylvania.

Our campsite is on a baseball field literally a 1.5 mile hike up a steep winding narrow road from the center of this charming town, pushing our bikes up (it’s only about half-mile walk back down along a steeper route). The rain is unfortunate because unlike most campgrounds on these trips, the only cover are a couple of dugouts that we have commandeered to stow our stuff (one woman has set up her tent inside one), but no pavilions.

I overcome one of my anxieties, setting up my brand new tent in the rain, fortunately, which has abated to more of a drizzle.

We stand outside in the rain waiting out turn for the shower truck to clean off the mud before walking back down into the town for dinner (tonight’s dinner is on our own).

The charming town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The town of Jim Thorpe is absolutely charming even in this weather that has many of us buying up sweatshirts and sweatpants and even taking lodging in one of the many charming inns and guesthouses instead of camping out.

I am invited to join some new friends from the Sojourn I meet on the walk down for dinner at the Molly McGuire pub-style restaurant, which I learn is named for the Molly McGuires, labor agitators who were executed here (you can visit the Old Jail).

I stroll around awhile – struck by the many American flags and other patriotic displays, and in one of the charming historic inns, I find a poster of Jim Thorpe.

Established in 1818 as Mauch Chunk, which means “Mountain of the Sleeping Bear,” the name the Lenni Lenape Indians gave to the nearby mountain, it was later renamed for an Oklahoma-born Native American, Olympic hero, Jim Thorpe, who is buried there. Thorpe was born in Oklahoma in 1888 and raised on the Sac and Fox Reservation and had never set foot in the borough.  But Patsy Thorpe, Jim’s third wife, cut a deal with two struggling towns in Pennsylvania, that if they would merge and rename themselves Jim Thorpe and build a memorial to honor him, she would present them his remains for burial. 

Here, entrepreneurs led by Josiah White formed the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in the 1820s (we can still see the brick building), which shipped tons and tons of anthracite coal and other goods to market via the Lehigh and Delaware Canals which they constructed. The town grew in importance when it was named Carbon County’s seat in 1843.

I explore this charming town before taking one of the shuttles the organizers have arranged for us to ferry us back up to the campground.

I am comfortable in my tent despite the rain which continues to fall, At 1:45 am, I hear the rain abating, so I race to the bathroom and get back to tent just in time for the rain to start up again. It stops in the early morning, so I rush to take down the tent before it rains again.

This morning’s breakfast as been arranged in a restaurant a short walk from the campsite.

I remember that they have arranged for us to have a guided tour of the Asa Packer Mansion (before the bridge dedication) and I race over there.

Asa Packer Mansion

Two things stand out as I regard the exquisite decoration and furnishings in the Asa Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, a charming town on the Delaware-Lehigh trail: the house, which dates from 1861, was vacant from 1912 to 1954, but never disturbed, never vandalized, never burgled despite the fantastic riches it contained; and Asa Packer, who I had never heard of before, was a rags to riches American Dream come true story, who became one of the richest people in the world (Queen Victoria even gave him a table which we see in the house), but was always beneficent to his workers (he built housing for them and paid in cash from a strongbox), founded Lehigh University (was originally for boys who attended tuition-free), hospitals. In fact, everything that he built is still in existence and used for good purpose. Cornelius Vanderbilt hated him because Packer, an intensely religious man, made the miser look bad.

The mansion, built in 1861 by Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan, and containing the original furnishings and exquisite architectural details, is spectacular in its own right.

Asa Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe, PA © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The mansion was constructed over a span of two years and cost a total of $14,000 dollars.  Topped by a red-ribbed tin roof and a central cupola, or belvedere, the home was built over a cast iron frame and consists of 3 stories, 18 rooms and approximately 11,000 square feet of living space.

The furnishings are exquisite – a “Mermaid” chandelier, an important grandfather clock by Bailey Bay Banks & Biddle of Philadelphia, a table that was a gift of Queen Victoria. The mansion had gasoliers (capable of both electric lights, which was new, and gas) and a self-cleaning stove. But out of all this splendor, there is a “settler bench,” dating from the 1700s, that seems out of place: Asa kept it as a reminder of where he came from.

The mansion is spectacular enough, but  what fascinated me is the story of Asa Packer, one of the early Industrial Revolution millionaires (he became one of the richest people in the world), but who never forgot his humble beginnings, acted honorably to his workers, antagonized the likes of the cheapskate Cornelius Vanderbilt, and whose beneficence created many important institutions that are still operating today, including Lehigh University (which was tuition free when it opened) and St. Lukes Hospital, because there weren’t any hospitals in the area. He made considerable donations to the Gothic Revival  St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in downtown Jim Thorpe. “Everything he built is still operating,” the docent tells me.

The mansion – in contrast to Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s Breakers mansion in Newport – is a testament to Asa Packer’s humanism: he kept a safe from which he would pay workers’ wages and from the mansion you can look out on row houses on Ray Street that he built for workers; he built an entire new wing on the mansion and hung gold wallpaper (literally gold) for his 50th wedding anniversary gala at a time when few people lived long enough to celebrate a golden anniversary. He took in two orphan girls who became cooks – their rooms were actually quite splendid (especially compared to the servants’ quarters at The Breakers); the butler’s room had a copy of Lincoln’s bed and was where the son, Harry, would stay when the Bishop visited. (Just next door to the Asa Packer Mansion is the Harry Packer Mansion which was a wedding present; the Victorian mansion is also a jewel, indeed it was the model for Disney’s Haunted Mansion; today, it is an inn and hosts murder mystery weekends and wine tasting events.)

Born in Mystic, Connecticut, Asa Packer (1805-1879) left home when he was 17, setting out on foot to Brooklyn, Pennsylvania where he apprenticed as a carpenter to his cousin, Edward Packer. In 1828, he married Sarah Minerva Blakslee (1807-1882) and the couple tilled a farm they rented from Sarah’s father.  But after four years, they were just as poor as when they started. So hearing that men were needed to captain coal barges on the Lehigh Canal, Asa traveled to Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, in the winter of 1832. He used his skill as a carpenter to build and repair canal boats. He resettled his family in Mauch Chunk and became the owner of a canal boat that carried coal to Philadelphia, then opened his own firm, A. & R. W. Packer, which built canal boats and locks for the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company.

He tried to get the company to build a railroad, but was refused. So, in October 1851, risking financial ruin, Asa purchased nearly all the controlling stock and interest for the unfinished Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad (later known as the Lehigh Valley Railroad).  By November, 1852, he expanded the railroad from Mauch Chunk to Easton, Pennsylvania, in exchange for the company’s stocks and bonds, and later into New York State.

He became the third richest person in the world and parlayed his business success into political success, serving asja Judge, a state representative, a two-term Congressman (1853-7), and challenged Ulysses S. Grant for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868. He narrowly lost election to become Pennsylvania’s Governor in 1869.

The Packers settled in their Italianate Villa in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania in 1861 and on January 23, 1878, Asa and Sarah celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a fantastic gala (a newspaper printed in gold described it, and the man who performed their wedding attended). Asa died just 18 months later. For all his success, their life together was marked by tragedy.  Daughters, Catharine, Malvina and Gertrude all passed away before the age of three.  Lucy Eveline (1832-1873), Robert Asa (1842-1883) succumbed to pneumonia. Harry Eldred (1850-1884) passed away from cirrhosis of the liver (the mansion next door was built for him and is operated as an inn today). Mary Hannah (1839-1912), was the last of their children to pass away; she was supposed to sail on the Titanic, but got sick in 1912; she was legally blind when she died.

The Harry Packer Mansion Inn inspired Disney’s Haunted Mansion; it offers Murder Mystery Weekends and wine-tasting events © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Asa never fully forgot his humble beginnings, his generous deeds spoke for him. A philanthropist throughout his lifetime, Asa gave $33 million to the town of Mauch Chunk and the Lehigh Valley.  At the time of his passing, Asa retained an estate valued at $55 million.”

Asa’s daughter, Mary Packer Cummings, who moved into her mother’s bedroom when she got sick, inherited the mansion and estate as the last surviving child of seven (becoming the second richest person in the world after the Queen of England). When Mary died in 1912 (the calendar on the desk is from 1912); she bequeathed the home and all its contents to the Borough of Mauch Chunk as a memorial to her father and his accomplishments. But the house remained shuttered from 1912 to 1954, until the Bear Mountain Lions became trustees and reopened the mansion to the public in 1956. Remarkably, the true testament to Asa Packer and his family is that in all that time the mansion was vacant, with all these priceless antiques inside, it was never vandalized or burgled.

“Robert, the only grandchild who survived, didn’t want the house after Mary died,” the docent relates. “Robert’s great granddaughter and her daughter came on tour once,” she recalled.“

(The Asa Packer Mansion Museum, Jim Thorpe PA  18229, 570.325.3229, www.asapackermansion.com).

Rides on the historic the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway are one of the attractions at Jim Thorpe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This quaint village of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania is actually a hub for many marvelous natural and historic attractions including the Harry Packer Mansion; the Old Jail Museum (where the Molly McGuires were jailed; Cell 17 with its mysterious handprint on the wall, under the gallows on which seven of the accused Molly Maguires were put to death, and down into the eerie dungeon); the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, the St. Mark’s Church, Historic Stone Row, the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Anita Shapolsky Art Center, Mauch Chunk Museum and Old Jail Museum, plus wineries, distilleries (Big Creek Vineyard and Stonekeep Meadery), biking, hiking and rafting (PoconoBiking.com, PoconoWhitewater.com, Adventurerafting.com.

There are a score of historic bed-and-breakfasts, inns and guesthouses.

Jim Thorpe Visitors Center, 2 Lehigh Ave., Jim Thorpe PA 18229, 570-325-3673, jimthorpe.org. 

The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, 2750 Hugh Moore Park Road, Easton, PA 18042, http://delawareandlehigh.org/ (It also has a description of the bike trail.)

Rails-to-Trails Sojourners are among the first to cross over the new Mansion House Bridge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors; it advocates for  its 160,000 members and supporters, 31,000 miles of rail-trails and multi-use trails, and more than 8,000 miles of potential trails waiting to be built, with a goal of creating more walkable, bikeable communities in America. RTC offers TrailLink, a free service that lets you access RTC’s 30,000 miles of trail maps and itineraries and downloadable mobile app.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 2121 Ward Court, NW, Washington, DC 20037, 866.202.9788, railstotrails.org,TrailLink.com.

Next:

Rails-to-Trails Sojourn on Delaware-Lehigh Trail Showcases Repurposed Canal Towpath & History of Industrial Revolution

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Endlessly Fascinating, Newport RI, Playground for the Rich, Makes its Attractions Accessible

 

The Gold Room at Alva Vanderbilt’s Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, epitomizes the Gilded Age © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

by Karen Rubin & Martin D. Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Each time I visit Newport, Rhode Island, the guided tours of these Gilded Age mansions get better and better, more immersive into the lives upstairs and downstairs, more intriguing, and the relevance to society today more apparent. The gap between rich and poor hasn’t been this great since Cornelius Vanderbilt II built his palatial summer “cottage,” The Breakers.

Newport is still a playground for the rich – it is the reason it is the home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and considered the sailing capital of the country, why it is so associated with classic cars – but the interesting thing is you don’t have to be rich to play, too.

This most recent visit to Newport comes as a port of call on the second day of Blount Small Ship Adventures’ week-long voyage to New England islands. We have a full day to explore, and sailing in gives a very different perspective.

We also are able to experience Newport from the perspective of how well the destination accommodates visitors with mobility issues.

Our ship, Grand Caribe, docks at Fort Adams State Park, “America’s largest coastal fortification,” a short stroll to a launch or a water taxi to the “downtown”.

Many of our fellow passengers are taking the island tour that the ship offers, which will include a stop at The Breakers, and the cruiseline had also arranged a 2-hour sail aboard an America’s Cup classic yacht (which had to be canceled because of weather). But I have some particular goals for our day in Newport.

We are met by Andrea McHugh from Discover Newport who has organized an itinerary to maximize our time gives us our own island tour (as well as the gossip of which tech billionaire has just bought which house, and how Jay Leno, who visited and attended events at the new Audrain Automobile Museum (which we will visit), passed an oceanfront mansion he liked and bought it on the spot, and now is seen regularly tooling around).

The gorgeous coastal views along Newport’s 10-mile Ocean Drive © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive along the magnificent 10-mile long Ocean Drive with its scenic views and rocky shore, and pass the driveway into Hammersmith Farm, the Auchincloss estate where Jackie married John Kennedy. It used to be open to the public with a fantastic exhibit of the Kennedys but was acquired by Peter Kiernan (notable for the Robin Hood Foundation, funded by John Jr.), and is no longer open.

We pass Beechwood, a mansion once owned by the Astors and for many years, where actors played their parts in period dress. It is now owned by Larry Elllison (Oracle), who, we are told, is planning to open part of the mansion as an art museum.

We pass Belcourt, once owned by Oliver H. P. Belmont (who became the second husband of Alva Vanderbilt), which was purchased in 2012, by Carolyn Rafaelian, who has spent a considerable sum on a multi-year restoration and has reopened it for public tours.

The Breakers

The Breakers, the 70-room summer “cottage” built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1895 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive at The Breakers, probably the most famous (and emblematic) of the Newport Gilded Age mansions that line Bellevue Avenue. It has a new visitor center which is really well done – barely visible from the street, it blends in wonderfully architecturally while affording a very comfortable (air conditioned) place to pick up tickets (take advantage of the multi-ticket options offered by The Preservation Society, which operates 10 of these glittering Newport Mansions, each with special exhibitions and presentations (see NewportMansions.org), refresh at a delightful café (sandwiches, $9.95), and utilize accessible restrooms (before, it was difficult for people with mobility issues to access a bathroom on property).

The new visitors center at The Breakers has a lovely café and sitting areas and is particularly helpful for visitors with mobility issues © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each time I visit, I find new things to appreciate and understand– audio-guides, for example, which replace the scheduled docent-led tours so let you tour at your own pace, are endlessly fascinating with opportunities to click on specialized topics. (A free app, Newport Mansions, let you download the commentary on a smart phone even when you aren’t touring the property.)

(The audio-guide lets you know that people who can’t climb the stairs can ask a docent to escort them upstairs in an elevator.)

Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II (the grandson of “The Commodore,” the founder of the fortune, who turned a ferry boat into a shipping empire into a railroad empire), this breathtakingly grand, eye-popping, 70-room Italian Renaissance “cottage,” designed by Richard Morris Hunt, replaced a wooden structure that burned down. This was 1895, and the United States was jockeying for a position as an industrial power on the global stage. Hunt, the commentary relates, had a vision for an architecture expressing an American Renaissance, one that was classic, grand in scale, but that which reflected the hope and optimism of America.

Eye-popping grandeur at The Breakers, Newport © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is mind-boggling to recall when you see the gilding, the carefully carved wood, the marble, the artwork, that this palace (they called it a “cottage”) was only used about eight weeks of the year, during “the season.” The Breakers would have had 40 staff in summer (Newport had 2,000 servants, mostly immigrants).

The Breakers is as much an architectural and artistic treasure as a touchstone to social, cultural and political currents of the Gilded Age.

We learn about the family and the social structure of Newport: Mrs. Alice Claypoole Gwynne Vanderbilt’s bedroom, for example, also functioned as an office from which she ran the home.

Newport was actually run by women, we learn. These grand homes were designed to present their wealthy daughters (heiresses) to be snapped up for a favorable marriage.

Dressing was important. Women would have to change something like seven times a day (a riding habit, tea gown, bathing outfit, tennis, golf, sailing). Newport was the first place women played outdoor sports; whole new fashions were created.

The Breakers had 15 bedrooms and 20 bathrooms (we see one bathtub, carved from a single block of marble that was so cold, it had to be fully filled and drained several times before it would be warm enough to bathe in.)

We see the servants corridors, hidden closets and back stairs. “Female servants were invisible.”

When we arrive in daughter Gertrude Vanderbilt’s bedroom, we learn that she was upset to learn she was an heiress. She preferred to be an artist, and became a sculptor, an art collector and patron and, in 1931, founded the Whitney Museum. (Here, I click the audio guide for more detail on specific things: Gertrude was on the forefront of the New Woman, an educated girl. The idea to become an artist came to her in a dream.)

We come to the mezzanine overlooking the grand staircase. (People who cannot climb stairs can ask to be escorted to an elevator.) “Gilded Age Newport was built, managed, and maintained by women. It was the backdrop for the presentation of women” at a time when a woman’s fortune depended upon making a favorable marriage.

The Breakers’ Grand Staircase – the steps were made two inches shorter so the debutantes would not trip on their gowns © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We learn that the grand staircase stairs were built (and even rebuilt) to be two inches shorter, so the young debutantes could be presented in their gowns without fear of tripping.

At this portion of the tour, you can click on the audio guide to hear more detail about how the Vanderbilt’s attained such wealth and privilege (but it is really, really hard to keep the players straight without a scorecard – so many have the same name like British royalty).

The Commodore left the vast majority of his enormous fortune to his eldest son, William Henry Vanderbilt (“Any fool can make a fortune; it takes a man of brains to hold onto it,” Cornelius Vanderbilt said.) Though he outlived his father by just eight years, in that time William doubled the Vanderbilt wealth from $100 million to $200 million.

In the oddest quote on the audio-guide, William Henry Vanderbilt explains why he sold controlling stock of the Vanderbilt empire to a syndicate headed by JP Morgan: “The care of $200 million is too great a load for any brain or back to bear. It is enough to kill a man. I have no son whom I am willing to afflict with the terrible burden.” The commentary adds, “Without a single visionary leader like the Commodore, there was no one to invest in the next new technology. Automobiles and airplanes replaced the railroads, the once vast fortune was split and shared among generations of descendants.”

When we visit the kitchen, we get to appreciate some of the modern innovations of the house. The first Breakers burned down so when Cornelius II rebuilt it, he had the kitchen separated from house and no burners. Zinc, the stainless steel of its day, covered the worktable. There was a separate, smaller room which could be kept cool, for preparing pastry.

The Music Room at The Breakers, Newport © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is worthwhile to appreciate that as we see the trappings of obscene wealth, privilege and power, we also get to appreciate that the servants – who were mainly immigrants – saw their position in these mansions as improvements, and many were able to embrace the American Dream and move up in station and class.  The Breakers’ chef, we learn, started as a kitchen boy and became known as the Omelette King.

The Butler’s pantry, a two-story affair, had a safe for the butler to lock the silver away. The butler, we are told, was like the captain of ship.

Leaving The Breakers, we walk down to the Cliff Walk, the most visited attraction in Rhode Island, and for good reason. This is a delightful walkway along the cliffs (mostly paved and accessible for someone who uses a cane or, as I urge instead, hiking sticks), behind the grand mansions such as The Breakers, and free to enjoy. It extends 3.5 miles all the way to Doris Duke’s Rough Point (where the walkway becomes more scrappy). Today, we only get a taste of it, in order to conserve time and energy.

The 3.5 mile Cliff Walk goes behind many of the magnificent Newport mansions and provides stunning views of the ocean © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marble House

If The Breakers is about patriarchal wealth, power and privilege, Marble House, built before The Breakers by Cornelius II’s sister-in-law, Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt, tells the story of burgeoning feminism and what happens when a smart, ambitious woman has few outlets for her vast talents beyond making an advantageous marriage.

Of the $11 million spent to build Marble House was built for Alva Vanderbilt, $7 million was spent on 500,000 cubic feet of marble © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marble House (which we reach by hopping Newport’s delightful trolley-style bus) was designed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt (who also designed The Breakers). Inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles, Marble House was built between 1888-1892 at a cost of $11 million of which $7 million was spent on 500,000 cubic feet of marble. When it was finished, William Kissam Vanderbilt, the Commodore’s grandson, gave the house to his wife as a 39th birthday present.

Alva built Marble House to be “a cottage like nothing Newport had ever seen.” As it turns out, Alva Vanderbilt was also like nothing Newport had never seen.

At a time before there were public museums, The Gothic Room at Marble House, which Alva Vanderbilt purchased “en bloc” in Europe, became a private museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gothic Room featured an important Gothic collection from Europe, which Alva purchased “en bloc” – the whole caboodle. “She considered herself equal to European collectors but didn’t want to collect over generations.” The room was designed and executed in Paris – then reassembled here piece by piece.

At a time before there were public museums, this room became a private museum.

The most revealing room into Alva’s soul is the library (the “morning room”), where you see photos of Alva’s children and a portrait of Harold, born when her oldest, Consuelo was 7, who came back one day to find she had a baby brother and was told “God had sent him to us.”

The room is Alva’s feminist declaration, decorated with images of goddesses representing beauty, wealth and power. She wove into the frame and the fabric of the room images of women’s accomplishment – women holding a quill pen, Cleo, the Greek muse of history, female images of learning and the arts – the four corners showing (mythical) women in chemistry, botany, astronomy.

Part of the ceiling decoration in the Marble House Morning Room, depicting women in intellectual roles, part of Alva Vanderbilt’s declaration of women’s rights. She later was a leader and benefactor of the Women’s Suffrage movement, holding rallies at Marble House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In education, women have made tremendous strides,” she said. “It is not so long since women freed themselves from their man-made belief that it was unwomanly for a woman to have an idea of her own.”

She also said, “A man’s brain is not half a brain and we are the other half. Blending of the two will make a better whole.”

Her bedroom also was a display of the power she coveted – a bed on a throne-like platform, and images of Athena – goddess of wisdom and war.In this period, though, she saw social standing – that is, marriage to wealth – as a woman’s only means to power and independence. She applied this to her daughter, Consuelo, and raised the child to marry royalty.

Alva Vanderbilt’s throne-like bedroom in Marble House © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Consuelo seems to have been Alva’s obsessive focus. You hear how she was groomed to be married off to European royalty – from childhood forced to wear a steel rod from her neck to waist with a strap around her shoulders, to force her to sit up straight.

From her quotes, Consuelo seems to be fully aware of how she was being dominated by her mother, yet was a dutiful daughter, very close to her mother and understanding. We visit her  austere room decorated by her mother which, she says, “reflected in my mother’s love of me.”

Consuelo Vanderbilt’s bedroom at Marble House © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see the guest room – the only one in this fabulous mansion – decorated in rose silk, with an 18th century bed. The most famous guest was, of course, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, Consuelo’s intended. We learn there is only one guest room in the house because people who would visit the house either had their own “cottage,” rented for the season or stayed in a hotel. “Marble House is built for the family.”

Consuelo “reluctantly accepted a proposal from the Duke of Marlborough.” She was one of the “Dollar Princesses,” American heiresses who married foreign royalty.”Consuelo Vanderbilt not the first or the last, but she was the best known.”

These marriages, “were a melding of the old world and the new world. They enabled royalty to maintain property and palaces for another generation.”

Indeed, the Gilded Salon – literally painted in 22 carat gold, the very epitome of Gilded Age – had a featured role in Duke’s marriage proposal.

But after Consuelo was married off to British royalty, Alva acted for herself, divorcing William K in 1895.

My favorite quote from the audio guide, “I was the first of my set to marry a Vanderbilt and the first to get divorced – but not the last.” Alva Erskine Smith of Alabama felt herself a pioneer for her class, a female knight reassuring others. “Mine was the first, but the first of many.”

She ditched William K. Vanderbilt to marry her husband’s best friend, Oliver H.P. Belmont, moving down the street to Belcourt.

After her second husband’s death, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont reopened Marble House and had a Chinese Tea House built on the seaside cliffs, and held Women’s Suffrage rallies © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After Belmont’s death, Alva reopened Marble House and had a Chinese Tea House built on the seaside cliffs. She became active and a major donor to the Women’s Suffrage Movement, holding rallies in 1909 at Marble House.

She raised money for the cause by opening Marble House to the public: “Shop girls could mingle with socialites” for the price of a $5 ticket (which would have been equivalent to $500 in today’s money).

Alva insisted, “Women shouldn’t marry until we get vote,” a pronouncement considered hypocritical for a twice-married woman.

Following her mother’s example, after 26 years as Duchess of Marlborough living in Blenheim Palace, Consuelo ended her loveless marriage in 1921, giving him $2.5 million a year, and married “for love” a French aviator, Jacques Balsan. (More about these personal relationships in a fantastic photo gallery in the basement.)

In stark contrast to the grand (albeit austere) bedroom that Consuelo occupied, her brothers’ rooms were tiny and spartan; Willy K Jr.’s room was occupied by Marble House superintendent, William Gilmour, who joined the household when he was 16 to be Willy K’s companion.

We visit a trophy room (that had been converted from two dressing rooms that were between Alva’s bedroom and Consuelo’s), that recognizes sons William K., Jr.’s role in pioneering the sport of auto racing in America (he created the Vanderbilt Cup auto races and built the Vanderbilt Parkway which starts across from where he had a home in Lake Success); and Harold Stirling, one of the finest yachtsmen of his era who successfully defended the America’s Cup three times and invented the game of contract bridge.  Notably, as chairman of the board of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Harold supported integration.”He wanted to be associated with positive, progressive thinking.”

In the basement kitchen (capable of feeding 100), we see yet another side of Alva in a quoted segment complaining “how the rich are exploited. When a shopkeeper learned my address, he said he made mistake of the price and added 50%.” This at a time when she paid a French chef (after all, you had to have a French chef), the massive sum of $10,000 (equivalent to $250,000 today).

We see in the cupboard silver trays etched with the children’s names and china made with “Vote for Women.”

In Marble House, too, people who have difficulty climbing stairs can ask to use an elevator, and the docents will find a place to sit and rest, as necessary.

In summer, the Preservation Society has 10 properties open, all with distinctive presentations and exhibits.

Rosecliff, the 1902 “fantasy in terra-cotta”, is presenting “Bohemian Beauty” celebrating the ideals of the Aesthetic Movement, personified by Oscar Wilde who visited Newport twice, with furniture, ceramics, wallpaper, glass, silver, paintings and clothing (thru Nov 4).

(Plan your visit in advance at The Preservation Society of Newport County, 424 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI 02840,  401-847-1000, info@newportmansions.org, www.newportmansions.org.)

In addition, there are the homes and heritage sites operated by Newport Restoration Foundation including Rough Point and Whitehorne Museum (51 Touro St., Newport, RI 02840, 401–849–7300, newportrestoration.org).

Tennis, Classic Cars

Between The Breakers and Marble House, we take in some of Newport’s other distinctive attractions:

The grass tennis court at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, where the first US Open tournaments were played. The hall of fame honors tennis champions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The International Tennis Hall of Fame, which features the original grass court where American tennis began. The museum features 2,000 artifacts spanning hundreds of years of tennis history (such as the patent for the game of tennis signed by Queen Victoria in 1874), displayed in redesigned galleries with some interactive exhibits. One of the newest, most novel exhibits features a hologram of tennis legend Roger Federer who offers the top 10 reason why he loves tennis. The Hall of Fame honors hundreds of the most accomplished champions, inducted since 1954. After touring the museum, you can explore the seven-acre historic grounds of what the Vanderbilts’ would have known as the Newport Casino (the Tiffany clocktower and Shingle style building was originally developed by architects McKim, Mead & White in 1880), grass courts of the Bill Talbert Stadium and newly built indoor courts (you can even rent time to play on its grass courts). Here, too, we are able to request the use of an elevator to get up to the exhibits on the second floor. (194 Bellevue Avenue, www.tennisfame.com).

Audrain Automobile Museum offers regularly changing exhibits based on its private collection of 250 cars (every one in working condition), from 1899 to modern day, as well as special events. Ever changing exhibits display 15 to 20 cars at a time around a theme. We had just missed the “Muscle Car Madness” exhibit featuring cars of the 1950s and 1970s, accompanied with surf boards and original art.) On view now are some intriguing cars I had never seen before: Messerschmidt, which after World War II when Germans were no longer allowed to build airplanes, used airplane parts to create a micro-car that basically looks like a cockpit with wheels. A French version is also on view. “They aren’t great to drive,” says the young docent who drove it and says all the cars on display have to be in working condition.  (Audrain Automobile Museum, 222 Bellevue Avenue, 401-856-4420, audrainautomuseum.org)

Audrain Automobile Museum offers regularly changing exhibits based on its private collection of 250 cars; here some of the micro cars produced after World War II that are more like an airplane cockpit (and made from airplane parts) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We enjoy a marvelous lunch at Annie’s bistro café (176 Bellevue Ave., anniesnewport.com) – elegant dining in a casual atmosphere and the best New England clam chowder anywhere –before hopping a trolley-style bus for a short ride to Marble House (you can see the schedule on googlemaps.com on your smartphone).

Andrea returns us to the Grande Caribe, where it is too late to explore inside the fort, but I walk along the Bay Walk (a 2.5 mile  loop with gorgeous views of Narrangansett Bay and Newport Harbor) before returning to the ship for the cocktail hour and dinner.  (Blount Small Ship Adventures, 800-556-7450,  www.blountsmallshipadventures.com).

This was what you could do with one full day in Newport. There is so much more to do, and so deserving of a return multi-day visit. Top on my list: Doris Duke’s Rough Point (newportrestoration.org); Touro Synagogue and Loeb Visitors Center (tourosynagogue.org), Redwood Library and Athenaeum (opened in 1750 and has a collection of more than 200,000 titles, www.redwoodlibrary.org), and The National Museum of American Illustration (americanillustration.org), to list but a few.

See more and plan your visit: Discover Newport, 23 America’s Cup Avenue, Newport, RI 02840, 800-326-6030, 401-849-8048, www.discovernewport.org.

Blount’s Small Ship Adventures’ Grande Caribe © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Grande Caribe will next sail to New Bedford (see A Spectacle in Motion: Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World is Once-in-a-Lifetime Must-See at New Bedford Whaling Museum) and on to Martha’s Vineyard.

Blount Small Ship Adventures, 461 Water Street, Warren, Rhode Island 02885, 800-556-7450 or 401-247-0955,  info@blountsmallshipadventures.com, www.blountsmallshipadventures.com). 

See also:

Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grande Caribe Voyage to New England Islands Proves Ideal for Babyboomers Who Still Crave Thrill of Travel, Albeit at Slower Pace

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

A Spectacle in Motion: Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World is Once-in-a-Lifetime Must-See at New Bedford Whaling Museum

“The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World” is the longest painting in America, as long as the Empire State Building is tall © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New Bedford Whaling Museum calls its special exhibition a “A Spectacle in Motion” – a title that proves to be anything but hyperbole. Imagine before documentary, before moving pictures, before photography, where the only way people could see images of places beyond their own experience was through painting, etched drawings in newspapers, or scrimshaw. Now imagine a whaling voyage that starts in New Bedford and travels thousands of miles to Fiji, painted on one mural, nearly one-quarter mile long – the longest painting in America. I can only imagine the sensation “The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World,” caused when it was first exhibited in 1849.

“Purrington & Russell’s Original Panorama: Whaling Voyage Round the World. Three Miles of Canvas” a poster from the Boston showing in 1849 proclaims. “Tickets 25 cents, half-price for children” (at a time when the sailors themselves earned $1 a day).

“A Spectacle in Motion,” a special exhibit of the New Bedford Whaling Museum featuring an extraordinary quarter-mile long mural painted in 1848 (longest painting in America) depicting “The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World”  was the Virtual Reality of its day © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The mural, which is only rarely displayed in its entirety, has not been seen since the 1960s and is only on public view through October 8 by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, in New Bedford, Massachusetts (and very possibly never again), is a documentary of the whaling voyage, and while it stays still, it is you that gives it motion as you walk down the long, long stretch of each of the four panels – altogether nearly one-quarter mile long. But in its day, it was designed to be rolled so that it did in fact create a moving picture.

Coming upon this spectacle was one of the highlights of the Blount Small Ship Adventure cruise of New England Islands, all the more thrilling because it was completely unexpected, as most highlights and adventures are. As I was leaving the New Bedford Whaling Museum, I spotted a flyer saying that there was a free shuttle to “the mural.” I took a leap of faith and within moments, was traveling in the van for the five-minute, two-mile drive to the historic Kilburn Mills,as the van driver (a 47-year veteran of the museum who had a hand in moving it and laying it out to be photographed for the digitized exhibit) explained. Even after he gave me some sense of what the mural was about and why it needed to be housed in such a sprawling building, I was completely unprepared for what I would encounter. Indeed, seeing the Grand Panorama proved to be a thrilling experience and not a mere ‘viewing”. But as I climbed the flights of stairs to the fourth floor and got my first glimpse, it was, OMG. It took my breath away. Titling the exhibit “A Spectacle in Motion” was not over-selling.

 “The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World” starts with the departure from New Bedford in scenes that are mimicked today. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The mural, in four panels each that stretches the entire length of the mill, is as long as the Empire State Building is tall; it is the longest painting in America.

Painted in 1848 by two New Bedford artists, Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell based on Russell’s actual around-the-world whaling journey, the mural documents every aspect of the places visited as well as key events. You see Pitcairn, settled by the Mutineers of the Bounty wound up; the scene as the whale rammed the Essex, the 1820 event that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”; the island of Juan Fernandez off Chile, the temporary home of castaway Alexander Selkirk who was the model for Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe.” It shows in gory detail the harpooning of a whale, blood spewing into the water; the danger as whalers are thrown into the churning sea; the 1847 eruption of the volcano at Fogo, Cape Verde, spewing its orange-red lava; sailing through a dark furious storm.

“The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World” by New Bedford artists Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell, depicts important scenes like the whale that rammed the whaler, Essex, the event Herman Melville used in his novel, “Moby Dick.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The voyage starts in New Bedford, with the first section looking so much as it does from the water as we have seen, coming into port on Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grande Caribe.

The last scene is in Fiji and the last panel is curious: it seems to depict two women, one giving birth and the other a midwife.

I can only imagine the sensation that The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World caused when it was first exhibited in 1849 – before documentary, before moving pictures, before photography, when the only way to get a visual impression of some place beyond your own experience was through painted or drawn images. But this goes so far beyond. Over the course of 1,275 feet, the mural documents the entire whaling voyage, from its departure from New Bedford, to Fiji Islands. Along the way, it shows the blood, gore, the dangers and hardships of whaling. And because you move, it is the closest thing to a “moving” picture documentary they would have had.

The final panel of “The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World” is set in Fiji where there is a curious scene that seems to depict a woman giving birth and a midwife © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But where the mural transported these 19th century viewers to places on the globe they had never been – it was the 3D Imax, the Virtual Reality of its day- it transports us back in time. And in its day, it was designed to actually move. Before moving pictures, the scrolls were cranked on either side like reels of film, and displayed on a theater stage.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum calls the exhibit “Spectacle: A Voyage in Motion” in appropriate typeface that shouts its excitement. It is astonishing, captivating, awesome – on so many levels – the sheer size and ambition, the quality of the art – the delicacy and fine line of scrimshaw, stunning use of colors – the insights into the events – the importance of the subject, and on top of that, the achievement of restoring the painting – and finally, the enormity and rarity of the work being displayed at all – just the process of unrolling it and hanging it for display damages the painting.

Reproduction of a poster announcing “The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World” at Amory Hall, Boston. The mural was first exhibited in 1849. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum spent two years restoring the mural, which originally was shown by rolling it so that the images actually did move – and important details of that conservation process, along with historical notes, are provided that are fascinating.

The mural is displayed in four sections that each cover the entire length of an historic textile mill (textile manufacturing displaced whaling when that industry collapsed, and then was replaced itself in the 1950s when climate controls made it possible to manufacture more cheaply in the South, which was then replaced by tourism).

Given the extraordinary length, the fragility of the painting, the sheer cost of moving it, setting it up, and finding a room big enough to display it, this is the first time in generations that the entire Panorama can be seen by the public.

Like a true documentary, “The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World” by New Bedford artists Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell, depicts the blood and gore, the danger and risk of a whaling voyage © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

From where it is unfurled in the building two miles from the Whaling Museum, you travel around the world and back in time with the whalers without ever leaving the city. The exhibition’s interpretive panels and kiosks are fascinating to enrich the context and content of the Panorama, as well as to give a fuller appreciation of what went into the two-year restoration project.

The notes from the museum describe the Panorama as “a maritime artwork of national historical importance, authentically depicting a whaling voyage originating from the port of New Bedford in the mid-19th century. It was painted in 1848, by New Bedford artists Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell, who traveled it around the country as a commercial enterprise.”

The panorama as a form of public entertainment was developed in Europe in the late 18th century and subsequently made its way to the United States after demonstrating its commercial potential to an armchair traveler audience. Robert Barker, who patented this exhibition style, defined a “panorama” as “all view.”

He felt that spectators should feel like they were “really on the very spot,” that they should feel as if they were part of the scene in a surrogate reality, an imaginary “Grand Tour” of the world.

This is precisely what visitors will experience. It was the Virtual Reality of its day.

In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, well before the age of cinema, the Panorama was designed and performed as a moving panorama, a form of entertainment where multiple scrolls moved across a stage similar to how a reel-to-reel film would later be shown.

The Grand Panorama depicts the island of Juan Fernandez off Chile, the temporary home of castaway Alexander Selkirk who was the model for Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But, “after years on display, the wear and tear on the 170-year old painting was so extensive that it was deemed worthless and impossible to conserve. After decades of conservation planning and method strategy research, the Museum brought this national treasure back to life and is proud to share it with the public. However, due to the extensive conservation efforts that have been invested into the painting, it will no longer be shown in its original format – as a moving panorama – as this would undo the extensive work recently completed.”

The Panorama drew crowds in the era of public entertainment before moving pictures and films. To celebrate this origin, the exhibition is coupled with dynamic and engaging programming all summer long. Live performances, contemporary artistic presentations, and other unique interpretations accompany educational programs and cultural celebrations.

Plan on being dazzled for at least one to two hours.

The exhibit is billed as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” and is free and open to the public, through Columbus Day, October 8, 9 am to 5 pm at Kilburn Mill (the museum provides a free shuttle service every half hour from 10 am to 5 pm through Labor Day).

The Grand Panorama: The Experience 

As the Panorama was being conserved, it was photographed at high resolution to produce this fully digitized recreation of the entire painting for the first time, allowing the Museum to create a exhibition of The Grand Panorama it calls “The Experience” – recreating the same experience the 19th century audiences had of seeing the original Panorama on a theatrical stage, with music and narration.

You stand on the bow of the world’s largest model whaleship, the Lagoda, and watch the Panorama scroll by in a life-sized digital format projected in a full theatrical setting, and experience what Benjamin Russell and other whalers saw as they left the port of New Bedford and traveled the sea in search of whales. This re-creates the experience that the 19th century viewers would have had, since the mural was originally rolled.

Visitors can stand on the bow of the world’s largest model whaleship, the Lagoda, in the New Bedford Whaling Museum and watch the Panorama scroll by in a life-sized digital format projected in a full theatrical setting, and experience what Benjamin Russell and other whalers saw as they left the port of New Bedford and traveled the sea in search of whales. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The stage set is based on drawings and prints from the period and is installed off the Lagoda’s bow so visitors can experience the performance from the deck, from theater seating on the floor level, or from vantage points to the port and starboard of the iconic whaleship.

Since the original score and narrative have been lost over time, they have been recreated and remastered for the new installation, and includes new research and points of interest.

Visitors are able to dive deeper into the specifics of the Panorama story on a large, touch-screen, interactive kiosk. The kiosk will have thematic tabs on various subjects, including a map of the voyage, related Museum artifacts and paintings, and the Panorama’s conservation history. You will be able to zoom in close to any scene or detail that interests you and get rich context for each section.

Enhancing the experience, artifacts from the Museum’s permanent collections further illustrate Russell’s own global travels and connect locations represented in the Panorama with relevant ethnographic material and objects. Exhibitions that tell the stories of Yankee Whaling, the connections with the Azores and Cabo Verde, as well as the many stories told in the existing Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World exhibition help amplify the content of the Panorama. The Panorama in the context of its own time – the era of the “public spectacle” is explored in the exhibition, and includes complementing pieces from the Museum’s permanent Collection.

While I strongly recommend the incomparable experience of seeing the mural first-hand and this Virtual Reality experience, the museum will also have an online digital version, an interactive designed to expand access to the Panorama and to supplement both the Spectacle in Motion exhibitions, the Original at the Kilburn Mill and The Experience at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. While it will work on a phone or tablet it has been optimized for desktop viewing.

At the New Bedford Whaling Museum, you can look through etched glass to see the exact port where our ship, Blount’s Grande Caribe, is docked today and yesterday © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The quality of the collection at New Bedford Whaling Museum – consisting of the merger of two private collections of whaling artifacts – is not to be believed, including what is claimed to be the largest collection of scrimshaw. I love the way the gallery rooms are like a warren – you come upon them.

I love the theming of the rooms: From Pursuit to Preservation: The History of Human Interaction with Whales;  Energy and Enterprise: Industry an d the City of New Bedford; Enlightened Counters: the Two Nations of Manjiro Nakahama  (about a 16-year old Japanese sailor who was rescued and spent eight years in New Bedford, the first Japanese person to live here, then went back to become a major counselor to the Emperor negotiating with the US and England) and The East Unlocks its Gates: American Whalers and Trade in Asia.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum, in New Bedford, MA, a private non-profit museum, has one of the largest collections of scrimshaw in the world © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is (of course) a Herman Melville room (while Melville never actually visited Nantucket before writing “Moby Dick,” he sailed from New Bedford on his whaling voyage), artifacts collected from around the world brought back by the whalers and opened the New Bedford people to the cultures of the world. There are sections dedicated to the Portuguese from the Azores and the sailors recruited from Costa Verde and how they impacted the diverse community in New Bedford. I am introduced for the first time to Captain Joshua Slocum, the first to solo circumnavigate the world.

An astonishing sight is the skeleton of a whale that is suspended from the ceiling as you enter the Museum, its bones with oily brown patches. It turns out that the bones still have oil which drips out and is collected in a jar below.

Whale skeleton still drips oil from its bones at the New Bedford Whaling Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is the world’s largest model whaleship, the Lagoda, at half-scale that takes up the entirety of the Bourne building, that you can climb aboard. In addition, there is the Mariner’s Home that is used for exhibit, and the Seaman’s Bethel which offers a superb video about whaling.

It drives home the theme that is so pressing today: “Trade: Expand American Ideas” (but also bring ideas back).

New Bedford Whaling Museum, 16 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford MA 02740, 508-997-0046, www.whalingmuseum.org. 

They are contained within the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, a 13-block historic district of cobblestone streets, historic, stately buildings now juxtaposed with contemporary art galleries and funky restaurants and shops (my favorite: Sanctum – Folklorica: Apothecary and Witchwares, Tarot Reading). At the visitors Center, you can watch a 20-minute orientation movie and take in exhibits about whaling and New Bedford, “The City That Lit the World.” (www.nps.gov/nebe/planyourvisit).

Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grand Caribe docked at the State Pier in New Bedford, Massachusetts, just steps away from the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This was one of the incredible highlights of our own voyage aboard Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grande Caribe, on the third day of a seven-day New England Islands cruise. We docked in the port along with the largest fishing fleet on the East Coast, and could look through etched glass of the same port in 1914 of our ship. Arriving by ship – we had come from Warren, Rhode Island to Bristol and had come this morning from Newport and will be going on to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket – made this experience even more tangible.

Blount Small Ship Adventures, 461 Water Street Warren, RI 02885, 800-556-7450, www.blountsmallshipadventures.com.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Governors Island: New York City’s Island Retreat So Near Yet So Far Away, Introduces Glamping

Governors Island, reached by ferry from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, gives you a getaway to faraway destination, chock full of historic attractions like Castle Williams, a fortification built for the War of 1812, used as a prison during the Civil War. Enjoy festivals like the Jazz Age Lawn Party, then tour the island by surrey. You can rent bicycles too and beginning this year, even camp out © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com 

Governors Island, a 712-acre island in the heart of New York Harbor, but a mere 800 yards off Lower Manhattan and even closer to Brooklyn, is a sensational getaway destination in its own right – historic sites like Fort Jay and Castle Williams, bicycle paths, playgrounds, art venues, and marvelous festive “happenings.” You never have had to go so near to be transported so far in time or place.

Arriving by ferry at Governors Island © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Be one of the first guests to stay overnight on NYC’s historic Governors Island with Collective Retreats. With unique accommodations including luxury tents (glamping) and designer modular containers, guests enjoy a full-service hotel-style retreat with unparalleled waterfront views of New York City and the Statue of Liberty (collectiveretreats.com).

Be among the first to experience luxury camping (glamping) on Governors Island; dinner and breakfast are included © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can rent bicycles at Citibikes and at Blazing Saddles (which offers a free hour-long ride weekdays before noon) and delightful surreys.

Governors Island has a fabulous history that goes back to the Native Americans and colonial days of  the Dutch and the British in New York. It has had a military purpose going back to the Revolutionary War. Between 1806 and 1809, the U.S. Army reconstructed Fort Jay and built Castle Williams on a rocky outcropping facing the harbor. During the War of 1812, artillery and infantry troops were concentrated on Governors Island.

Built before the War of 1812, Castle Williams on Governors Island was used to imprison Confederate soldiers during the Civil War © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The island continued to serve an important military function until the 1960s. During the American Civil War, it was used for recruitment and as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers (on one visit, I came upon Civil War reenactors practicing drills, quite a mind-bender from having just come from the 1920s Jazz Age Lawn Party). Throughout World War I and II, the island served as an important supply base for Army ground and air forces (my father was stationed at Fort Jay during the war.)

Civil War reenactors at Fort Jay on Governors Island © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over the years, Governors Island has served as the backdrop for a number of historic events. In 1986, the island was the setting for the relighting of the newly refurbished Statue of Liberty by President Ronald Reagan. In 1988, President Reagan hosted a U.S.-U.S.S.R. summit with Mikhail Gorbachev on Governors Island, and in 1993, the United Nations sponsored talks on the island to help restore democratic rule in Haiti.

Enjoy stunning views of New York City from Governors Island © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

In April 2010, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson reached an agreement on the future of Governors Island. The City of New York is now responsible for Governors Island and created the Trust for Governors Island, the organization charged with the operations, planning and redevelopment of the Island.

The Island has become known as New York City’s “Playground for the Arts,” hosting cultural events, festivals, concerts, performances throughout the season.

Jazz Age Lawn Party, held 4 times a year, is one of the cultural festivals held on Governors Island © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Trust for Governors Island, also offers a wide variety of programming on public access days. Visit them at www.govisland.com for more information.

Access to the island has been greatly improved.

This summer, you can stay late on Fridays, when is open until 10 pm (May 25-September 14); you can have cocktails and dinner at the outdoor cafes and bars;  outdoor films and other events are scheduled.

Governors Island is open daily May 1-October 31, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and weekends from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.,  Fridays from May 25-September 14 until 10 p.m.. You can get ferry schedules here (ferries during Late Fridays will run from the Battery Maritime in Lower Manhattan, located at 10 South Street), https://govisland.com/visit-the-island/ferry.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures