Category Archives: Walking Tours

A Day in Nantucket: How a Tiny Isolated Island Became a Global Powerhouse (With Lessons for Contemporary America)

The tall ship Lynx, an 1812 privateer, sails past the Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket, second oldest lighthouse in America, first built in 1746 © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin and Martin D. Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Nantucket, a porkchop-shaped island just 14 by 3½-miles with just a few thousand inhabitants, hangs 30 miles out to sea off Massachusetts’ mainland. That creates a special kind of isolation and 350 years ago, made for a special incubator for culture and industry.

“Nantucket has been a microcosm of America for 350 years, a magnet and unique laboratory for some of our most powerful impulses…People around the globe knew of Nantucket whalers,” says the narrator of a documentary, “Nantucket” by Ric Burns. Nantucket, he says, has a history of reinventing itself.

“Nantucket was created by sea. In as little as 400 years, it will be taken by the sea. We are on borrowed time.”

That alone sets up the drama before our visit to Nantucket. The documentary is an evening’s activity aboard Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grand Caribe, and now, we sail into Nantucket’s harbor in a dense fog, on the last day of our week-long voyage that has taken us to the New England islands.

Picturesque Nantucket © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This tiny place, we learn, became a global powerhouse because of whaling, which itself required technological innovations and produced a revolution in the way people lived: “Nantucket was the first global economic engine America would know.”

Indeed, here in Nantucket, we realize how revolutionary candlelight was, extending people’s days into the darkness of night. “Nantucket sperm oil made the Industrial Revolution happen.”

It also proves to be a lesson in the importance of globalization and immigration.

“In 1820, Nantucket entered its golden age. The entire Pacific its backyard, America as world power.” The square-rigged whaling ships we think of as quaint today “were state of art, decades into development, a perfect factory ship to render oil. They could go anywhere, withstand horrible conditions, serve as the home for dozens of men for three to four years at a time. They were vessels of exploration, the space ships of their day, they could travel to unknown worlds…Nantucketers were astronauts of their day.”

(I appreciate this all the more after having seen the “Spectacle of Motion: “The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World,”  at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, a few days before on our own voyage. See story)

But here on Nantucket, we are introduced to another aspect of the story: Quakerism and feminism.

Whaling, it turns out, became a thriving industry because of the Quakers who settled Nantucket, peacefully coexisting with the Wampanoags who had lived here for thousands of years (their numbers were decimated, though, by the diseases the Europeans brought). The Wampanoags knew how to harpoon whales that were beached and introduced the English to whaling.

But it was the Quakers’ open-mindedness, their values of modest living, hard work and practice of reinvesting money into the industry rather than on lavish living that produced the innovations. Even more significantly, Nantucket could become so successful in whaling because of the Quaker sense of egalitarianism, seeing women as having equal ability. How else could Nantucket men go off for years at a time, leaving their home, business and community to be run by the women they left behind (one street is known as Petticoat Row because of all the women-owned businesses)? Quaker women, including Lucretia Coffin Mott (who was from Nantucket) became leaders of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement.

So it is no wonder that Nantucket enabled a woman, Maria Mitchell, to thrive.

Portrait of Maria Mitchell, America’s first female astronomer, in an exhibit at the Nantucket Whaling Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Born in 1818 on Nantucket, Maria Mitchell became America’s first woman astronomer (famous for discovering a comet in 1847, which was named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”), the first woman elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1848) and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1850).  She was Vassar’s first professor of astronomy, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Women, and active in the Women’s Suffrage movement.

We first are introduced to her on “Gail’s Tours” of the island, then when we visit the Whaling Museum which has a whole gallery devoted to her, and after, I am so fascinated with her, I follow a self-guided “Walking in the Footsteps of Maria Mitchell”  which takes me to the Quaker Meeting House. (Ironically, Mitchell  was too skeptical and outspoken for the Quakers and “written out” so she joined the Unitarian Church instead, which today shares its building with the Congregation Shirat Ha Yam, “a pluralistic Jewish congregation”).

Nantucket has a land area of about 45 square miles (about half the size of Martha’s Vineyard), yet seems larger, somehow, to get around.  The best way to experience Nantucket when you only have a day and when mobility may be somewhat limited, is to take an island tour.

Grand Caribe passengers take the launch into Nantucket © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

So we take the launch boat into Straight Wharf (this is the only stop on the New England Islands cruise where we anchor instead of dock), and walk along the cobblestone streets about half-mile to where Gail Nickerson Johnson has her van parked in front of the Visitor Center.

The first impression of Nantucket is how much it looks like a movie set with its quaint shops and cobblestone streets. Indeed, the one square-mile National Historic District is the largest concentration of antebellum structures in the United States. I take note of a mural on the side of a building that shows how many miles from places like Iceland, Pitcairn and Cape Town are from Nantucket, as if the center of the world.

A map on the side of a building shows how many miles from places like Iceland, Pitcairn and Cape Town are from Nantucket, as if the center of the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have been recommended to Gail’s Tours, and what a find this is. Gail, it turns out, is a 6th generation Nantucket native, descended from the Nickersons (her family line includes the Gardners, Coffins, Foulgers), was raised here, and knows just about everybody and every house we pass. She took over the tour business from her mother, who, she says, used to summer here before marrying her father. Her mother used to take visiting friends and relatives around in a woodie, and then got the idea to turn it into a tourist business, which she ran for 40 years.

Gail points out all the local sights:” I remember when….” “We used to ….,” “When we were kids….” “That used to be ….”

She notes that some 10,000 to 15,000 people live on Nantucket year-round, quite a jump from the 3,000 people who lived here year-round when she was growing up.

Gail jokes that Nantucket is on shaky ground – it is predicted to be under water in 400 years time. “In 300, I’m outta here.”

The Coffin House, oldest on Nantucket, dates from 1686 © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We pass all the important sights: the island’s oldest house, built as a wedding present for Jethro Coffin and Mary Gardner Coffin in 1686. It has been restored after lightening struck the house, splitting it in two; the Old Windmill (1746); the Quaker cemetery where there some 5,000 people are buried but few headstones, so it looks more like a rolling field; the Maria Mitchell Observatory; cranberry bogs; the Life Saving Museum.

She points to the house that Frank Bunker Gilbreth owned – the efficiency expert depicted in his son’s book, “Cheaper by the Dozen.” “They found among his papers Morse code for how to take bath in 1 ½ minutes.” The family still owns the house. She points to where Peter Benchley (“Jaws”) lived, the house where John Steinbeck stayed when he wrote “East of Eden.”

The 70-foot tall Sankaty Head Lighthouse was built of brick in 1850 but moved to its location next to the fifth hole Sankaty Head Golf Course in 2007 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stop at Sankaty Head Lighthouse so we can get out for a closer look. The 70-foot tall lighthouse was built of brick in 1850 and automated in 1965; its beacon can be seen 26 miles away. It had to be moved and was re-lighted in its new location, just next to the fifth hole of the Sankaty Head Golf Course in November 2007.

The tour finishes just around the corner from the Nantucket Whaling Museum. We pick up phenomenal sandwiches from Walter’s, have lunch on benches outside the museum.

Gail’s Tours, 508-257-6557.

Nantucket Whaling Museum

We had been to the excellent New Bedford Whaling Museum and now come to the renowned Nantucket Whaling Museum. Interestingly, the presentations and focus are very different – so the two are like bookends that add to the telling of this dramatic story.

We arrive as a historian is describing the hunt for whales, and then join the docent-led highlights tour, which is sensational.

The sperm whale oil, she says, “is a light source, power source and lubricant and could be used in winter. Artificial light in winter revolutionized life for 3 to 4 months of the year. It was used throughout the United States and Europe, prized the world over.”

The earliest whaling industry was created by Quakers, who were austere, not vain, and reinvested income into growing the industry. Portraits were not permitted (the portraits that decorate the entire wall are made later), but by the 19th century, they were not practicing Quakerism. She points to one of the earliest portraits which, without a tradition of art education in colonial America, was probably made by a housepainter, and probably an authentic representation of her likeness without artifice. She has one blue and one brown eye, which was a genetic trait among some of the earliest Nantucket settlers.

She points to a portrait of Susan Veeder, one of the women who accompanied their husbands on a whaling voyage. She kept records of the day-to-day life. “Her journals are anthropological, whereas the men’s journals were mainly about weather, tides and number of whales caught. She is the reason we know so much about life on whaling ship.” The docent adds that Veeder delivered a baby daughter while on board, but it died. “While British whalers had to have a surgeon on board, American whalers were not required to. The ship had a medical kit with numbered vials and instructions. But if they ran out of #11 vial, a captain might just add #5 and #6 together.”

Another painting shows a wife standing beside her husband seated at a desk. “It’s a rare image. Women had roles in Nantucket – they ran the town, home and business. Her husband was a whaling captain who brought back artifacts; she set up a display in house and charged admission fee and told stories. This was the first museum on the island. The contents went to the Atheneum and now are part of the Historical society collection.”

She points to a jaw bone that is the height of the room. It would have come from 80-ft whale such as rammed the Essex (the event that inspired the story of “Moby Dick”).”For people of Nantucket (most of whom had never seen a whale) would have been seen as a sea monster. For the captain to make the decision to keep this onboard for two years or so of the journey, taking up precious space on ship, speaks to how important it was.”

We go into the part of the museum that was originally a candle factory, built by the Mitchell family immediately following the Great Fire of 1846, where there is the only surviving spermaceti lever press left in the world.

She explains, “When the ship returned to Nantucket harbor, filled with as many as 2000 barrels of oil, each holding 31.5 gallons apiece, the oil would be put in storage.

“They would wait for winter to begin processing because only highest quality oil would remain liquid in winter; then process the lowest quality in spring and summer. They kept the lowest quality in Nantucket and sold first and second pressings.

“The best oil was used for lighthouses. What was left was used for spermaceti candles.These were the best candles – they burned with no odor, no smoke, no drip. They were prized throughout US and Europe. They changed the quality of life because of having a reliable light source.”

At its height, there were 36 candle factories in Nantucket.

You become aware of hearing sea chanties in the background.

Detail of the “Ann Alexander teeth” scrimshaw in the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The Ann Alexander was also sunk by a whale, but the men were rescued © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She leads us up to the second-floor Scrimshaw gallery (those who have difficulty with steps can ask to use an elevator). “It was a way for captains to keep their sailors entertained and occupied (so they didn’t get into fights). They would soak whale teeth, burnish with shark skin (like sandpaper); sharks would be attracted to ship when processed whale – and they would kill sharks for food and use the skin.

“Sailors may be illiterate. They would trace designs from newspaper images and advertising. Victorian woman a common subject for scrimshaw because they were commonly used in fashion ads they traced.”

Some scrimshaw was functional – like pie crimpers. The men would fashion corset stays as tokens of love (they were worn close to heart). Only captains would have the space to make swifts – tools to wind skein of yarn.

Today, she says, the scrimshaw is priceless.

She notes that the Essex was not the only ship that was sunk by a whale: the Ann Alexander also was sunk by whale, but the sailors were rescued the next day and returned home.

“Another ship in the Pacific found a whale with a harpoon from the Ann Alexander in it – killed the whale and made scrimshaw out of its teeth, known as the Ann Alexander teeth” that we see here in the gallery.

There is a small room devoted to Essex story, and we come upon a storyteller retelling the story of the Essex, sunk by a whale – the event that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” – from the point of view of the actual events as documented in Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, “In the Heart of the Sea” which ended with the men so desperate, they committed cannibalism.

The cabin boy on the Essex who 30 years later wrote his memoir, was Thomas Nickerson (one of Gail’s ancestors? I wonder).

This was the first known incident of an unprovoked whale ramming a ship. But, he says, they now believe that it was hammering to quickly repair one of the chase boats used when they go after the whale, that caused the whale to charge.

Melville, it turns out, only visited Nantucket for the first time in 1852, after he wrote Moby Dick.

Most interesting is the room devoted to Maria Mitchell’s Legacy, where we are introduced to her biography and achievements.

The Nantucket Historical Association which operates the museum also operates several other attractions which are included on an “all access ticket”($20/adult, $18/senior/student, $5/youth 6-17): the Oldest House & Kitchen Garden (the 1686 Coffin House); the 1746 Old Mill (you go inside and meet the miller); the Old Gaol (1806), the Quaker Meeting House (1836), the Fire Hose Cart House (1886, the last remaining 19th century fire hose cart on the island); and Greater Light.

Nantucket Whaling Museum, 13 Broad Street, 508-228-1894, https://nha.org/visit/museums-and-tours/whaling-museum/   Allocate at least two hours here.

In Search of Maria Mitchell

Nantucket is dramatic, of course, because of the whaling industry – an invention that revolutionized life by bringing light into winter’s darkness and what the oil meant to enabling the Industrial Revolution.

But for me, the most fascinating thing is being introduced to Maria Mitchell – we are shown important sites associated with her on the island tour and at the museum. I am so inspired that I follow a self-guided walking tour that is delightful to give structure to exploring the town.

I meet her again in a storefront display dedicated to her, and then follow the Maria Mitchell Foundation sites: the Nantucket Atheneum (she became the first librarian, at age 18); the Pacific Bank where her father was president; the Unitarian Universalist Church which she joined after leaving the Quakers; Mitchell’s House where she was born, the Observatory built after her death in 1908 and the natural history museum operated by the Maria Mitchell Foundation (mariamitchell.org).

The Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This leads me to the Quaker Meeting House where I have a most unexpected – and fascinating – discussion of Quaker religion sitting in a pew.

“Quakers were the social cement of the community.” You couldn’t do business without being Quaker, but you could pretend to be Quaker.

“Quakers were seen as activists, the hippies of their day,” because they were free thinking and were egalitarian in their treatment of women and people of other races.

The Quakers were considered heretics and banned by the Puritans because they believed in an “inner light”. They refused to pay taxes to the church or accept authority, or take oaths (for this reason, they couldn’t become doctors or lawyers). It went counter to the control mandated by the Puritans, Anglicans.

“They would show up naked at an Anglican Church,” she tells me which sparks a thought: why isn’t Quakerism being revived today? It seems more consistent with modern-day approaches to organized religion.

Most heretical of all: they did not require those they sought to convert to accept Jesus. “They did not require personal knowledge or acceptance of Jesus, just to find God through Inner Light.”

“The Quakers were hanged, branded, their noses split.”

But they found safe haven in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, because in 1661, Charles II ordered that all trials of Quakers had to take place in England. “They were safe in America since they wouldn’t be shipped back to England.”

And over time, the Quakers toned down the “dangerous” rhetoric.

“They were excellent businessmen. They valued education (to this day): boys were educated to 13 or 14 when they were expected to join the whaling ships; but girls were educated to 17 or 18, so they had more formalized education than men.”

The women, therefore, were left in charge of home, businesses and community when the men left for their whaling voyages. Centre Street was nicknamed Petticoat Row because women owned all the businesses.

On the other hand, Maria Mitchell must have stepped over the line, because in 1843, even though her father was an elder, her “skepticism and outspokenness resulted in her leaving Quaker Meeting and being ‘written out’ by the Society.”

A pair of Greek Revival houses tell of the heyday of Nantucket’s whaling industry © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The decline of Quakers in Nantucket followed the decline of the whaling business. A great fire in 1846 destroyed much of Nantucket’s infrastructure and the livelihoods of 8 out of 10 Nantucketers. When gold was found in California, in 1849, scores of whaling ships sailed for San Francisco and were sunk in the harbor there rather than return; when petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania in 1859 as a cheaper, easier fuel, scores of Nantucketers went there. The ships, which had to be built bigger and bigger for the longer journeys, had trouble coming into Nantucket’s harbor because of a build-up of silt. Then the Civil War came – more than 300 Nantucket men joined the Union and 73 were killed; the whaling ships were easy targets for the Confederates. The last whaling ship sailed from Nantucket in 1869.

“By that point, Nantucket well out of picture,” the “Nantucket” documentary notes. “The city in the middle of the ocean was evacuated. It went from a population of 10,000 to 3000 in a matter of decades, like a sleeping beauty castle, waiting 100 years with only the memories of whaling.”

Now, the docent says, there is only one full-time Nantucket resident who is Quaker. “We get 5 to 8 people for Sunday meeting.” During that time, people sit and meditate; they do not even read a Bible.

I stop in at the Research Library where there is a stunning exhibition of needlepoint on display.

A display of carvings in one of the Nantucket shops © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is so much more to see; I make notes for my return visit:

Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum  (49 Union Street, 508-228-1177, https://www.nantucketlightshipbasketmuseum.org )

Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum (158 Polpis Road, 508-228-2505, http://eganmaritime.org/shipwreck-lifesaving-museum/.  The museum is located at some distance from the town; you can obtain a free Wave bus pass to the Museum at Visitor Services at 25 Federal Street in downtown Nantucket. Nantucket Regional Transit Authority is on 20 South Water Street not far from the Whaling Museum)

Cisco Brewers  (5 Bartlett Farm Road, 508-325-5929, http://ciscobrewers.com/ . The brewery operates its own free shuttle, noon to 6:30 pm daily on the half-hour, from Visitor Services at 25 Federal Street downtown.)

Bartlett’s Farm (33 Bartlett’s Farm Road, 508-228-9403, https://bartlettsfarm.com/; located about 10-minute walk from Cisco Brewers.)

There is easy access to Nantucket’s beachfront and coastline; half of the island is protected from development © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ever-shifting sandbars lurking beneath the waters around Nantucket have caused between 700 and 800 shipwrecks, making lighthouses necessary navigational aids. Besides the Sankaty Head Lighthouse which we have seen there are two others that are worthwhile visiting:

Brant Point Lighthouse, standing at the entrance to Nantucket harbor, is the second oldest lighthouse in North America, first built in 1746 (the oldest is Boston Harbor Light c. 1716). Over the years, it has been moved and rebuilt more times than any other lighthouse in the country. The present lighthouse is the ninth one built on Brant Point. It is 26 feet tall wooden tower topped with a fifth-order Fresnel lens that was built in 1901. Still in active use, it is owned by the US Coast Guard and closed to the public, but you can visit the grounds (www.nps.gov/nr/travel/maritime).

Great Point Lighthouse (also called Nantucket Lighthouse), New England’s most powerful lighthouse, sits at the extreme northeast end of the island. A wooden tower was quickly built and the station with a light was activated in October 1784 (and destroyed by fire in 1816). The following year a stone tower was erected which stood until toppled in a storm in March 1984. The Lighthouse was rebuilt again in 1986, the stone tower was built to replicate the old one, and still remains in operation today. Modern additions include solar panels to recharge the light’s batteries, and a sheet pile foundation and 5-foot thick concrete mat to help withstand erosion.

Nantucket also offers miles upon miles of beach open to all. And thanks in large part to the early efforts of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, nearly half of the island’s 30,000 acres are protected. A network of beautiful cycling paths wind through the island.

Contact the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce, Zero Main Street, Nantucket, MA 02554, 508-228-3643.

Now it is time to return to the Grand Caribe. (they make it very easy to step from the launch boat onto the stern of the ship through an open bay).

I’m back in time for the farewell cocktail reception, an open bar with delicious hors d’oeuvres. Dinner is lobster tail or prime rib (both fantastic); vanilla gelato or crème brule.

Fog envelops Nantucket harbor © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are eating dinner when the fog starts rolling in most dramatically. Within minutes, it is difficult to see even the boats anchored nearby. The foghorn blasts every few minutes – which is funny as we sit in the lounge watching the movie, “Overboard,” when the blasts seem coordinated. (Jasmine, the cruise director, has opted for this romantic comedy instead of the movie “Perfect Storm.”)

It will be a nine-hour sail back to Warren, Rhode Island where the Blount Small Ship Adventures is based. Captain Patrick Moynihan tells us to anticipate three to four foot seats for about an hour when we reach Rhode Island waters.

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

Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grand Caribe anchored in Nantucket harbor © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See also:

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

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

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

Cruising into Martha’s Vineyard’s Warm Embrace

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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

72 Hours in Philadelphia: Ben Franklin, America’s Revolutionary ‘Elder Statesman,’ Would Have been Quite at Home in 21st Century

Benjamin Franklin, “The Sage” is the only Founding Father to have signed all four of the major documents of the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance (1778) with France, the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolution (1783) and the United States Constitution (1787), though he was sick and suffering in pain during the Constitutional Convention and died shortly after, in 1790 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My third day of my deep-dive into Revolutionary War America in Philadelphia is devoted to exploring key figures and sites that I have never visited before: Benjamin Franklin Museum, the Betsy Ross House and the National Constitution Center.

Once again, the best way to connect is to walk because you are quite literally walking “in the footsteps” of these iconic individuals, and in so doing weave together the places and events, create a context. It is exciting to happen upon a site – a historic marker, a building keystone – that you would never have thought to seek out.

I set out again from my hotel, the Sonesta Downtown Rittenhouse Square, walking down Market Street, through City Hall, to Chestnut Street.

I am off to visit the Benjamin Franklin Museum, which is relatively new (open four years) and very close to the very new Museum of the American Revolution. The trick here is that you need to walk up an alley (I missed it the first few times I went by). I enter from Chestnut Street, but you can also come through from Market Street, where there is a row of townhomes (“Franklin’s Neighborhood”) that includes the post office, Franklin’s print shop, and looks back at City Hall.

Ben Franklin is, of course, a native son of Philadelphia, and justifiably the most revered figure, and here we learn why that is so deserved, why the city still has his stamp.

The “Ghost House” frames where Ben Franklin’s house would have stood, in what is now Franklin Court © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You enter a courtyard and come upon the “Ghost House” – the sculptural frame of Franklin’s home (the museum is actually in what would have been the basement) you can peek into the archeologically preserved remains of the foundation of his house. Franklin’s grandkids, unable to afford the “prohibitive” taxes, tore the house down in 1812 to sell to a real-estate developer. Eventually, a rooming house was built on the site. The National Park Service tore that down in the 1950s in order to restore the Franklin site, and after the Independence Bicentennial in 1976, it became a National Park, administered by the National Park Service.

The exhibit area is divided into five “rooms” with each room interestingly focusing on a particular trait of Franklin’s: ardent and dutiful, ambitious and rebellious, motivated to improve, curious and full of wonder, and strategic and persuasive. There are videos, touch screen interactives, mechanical interactives, and artifacts in each area. An additional area called the “Library” presents a video with excerpts from Franklin’s Autobiography.

The exhibit is well presented to give a total biography of this fascinating Renaissance, self-made man, who so epitomizes the American Dream.

I come to Franklin Museum hoping to learn more of this fascinating man, and was richly rewarded. I did not realize his humble beginnings, or fully appreciate the range of his talents, accomplishments.

But my essential question about Franklin – my theory that it was the Stamp Act (not the tea tax) which imposed taxes on newspapers – that was the key to the colonists taking up arms to “free” themselves from the greatest superpower humankind had known. Franklin was not just a printer, but a newspaper publisher who provided seed money to newspapers throughout the colonies and became (what I consider) the first syndicated columnist, sending out editorials that would have been printed in those papers. My theory (as yet unproved) is that newspaper editors were the ones who turned opinion against British rule, gave the colonists the notion that they could actually win their independence, and gave the colonists from Massachusetts to Virginia, who were then (as now) very different,  a sense of unity. Had the British not imposed the Stamp Tax, the newspaper editors may not have been so gung ho for Revolution. If my theory could be addressed at the museum, it was not at all clear to me.

Ben Franklin as inventor: glass harmonica © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

But what is clear is that Franklin lived in the Age of Enlightenment – ideas and innovations were spread by trade and globalism – and people with the wit and wisdom like Franklin – despite having only two years of formal schooling – were encouraged to learn, innovate, invent not just technology (he did experiments with electricity and invented the lightening rod, bifocals, Franklin stove, urinary catheter and glass harmonica and charted and named the Gulf Stream) but civic society (volunteer fire department, the Philadelphia hospital, library, founded what became the University of Pennsylvania) and politics. There was greater willingness to challenge authority and notions of “divine right” – even question institutionalized religion – and class rather than be ruled by them. Colonists – who hailed from many countries in addition to Britain and would not have had loyalty to the Crown – had already lived in the New World for a century, and saw themselves not as British but as Americans. And Franklin knew better than anyone that a person from humble beginnings could ascend the ranks of social status.

I am surprised to learn that Franklin never patented his inventions, believing in the equivalent of what we call “open source.”

He was a key figure in creating the Declaration of Independence – one of the committee of 5 (with Jefferson, Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston); and along with Adams nominated Jefferson to write the Declaration and made some important changes to Jefferson’s draft.

He was a generation older than Adams and was in his 80s during the Continental Congress – near death and in significant discomfort. He was considered a giant, an elder statesman, “The Sage.”

America’s ambassador to France during the Revolution, he secured critical support of the French.

I was shocked to learn that Franklin initially owned and dealt in slaves (it was a time when that was common place, even in the North) but by the 1750s, he argued against slavery from an economic perspective and became one of the most prominent abolitionists.

His personal background is worthy of a multi-part dramatic series:

Ben Franklin at 9 years old (artist’s rendering) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ben Franklin was born in Boston in 1706, one of 17 children of his father. He only attended two years of formal schooling which ended when he was 10; he continued his education through voracious reading.

At 12, he apprenticed to his older brother, James, a printer, who founded the first independent newspaper in the colonies. Ben started publishing columns secretly under a pseudonym (his brother was furious). When James, who was a free thinker, was jailed for three weeks in 1722 for publishing material unflattering to the governor, Ben took over the newspaper and wrote, in the character of his alter-identity Mrs. DoGood, “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”

In 1723, Franklin escaped his apprenticeship and fled to Philadelphia, making him a fugitive. He took up lodging in the Read home, and at the age of 17, proposed marriage to 15-year old Deborah Read. But her mother refused permission for them to marry. Franklin went off to London for several years and Deborah married John Rodgers, who abandoned her, ran off with her dowry and but without a divorce, left her unable to remarry.

When Ben Franklin returned to Philadelphia, he formed a common-law marriage with Deborah who becomes a mother to Ben’s illegitimate son, William.(William grew up to become a Loyalist and self-exiled himself to London; William too had an illegitimate son who became Ben Franklin’s secretary and aide). Deborah and Ben had two more children together, but his son died at the age of 4 of smallpox; his daughter Sarah married, had children, and took care of Ben in his old age

I hadn’t realized that Franklin spent much of his life abroad, especially between 1757-1775, and as Ambassador to France from 1776-1785.

Franklin returned to the United States in 1787 and is the only Founding Father who is a signatory of all four of the major documents of the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance (1778) with France, the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolution (1783) and the United States Constitution (1787), though he was sick and suffering in pain during the Constitutional Convention.

A civil war reenactor at Philadelphia’s Veterans Day Parade peeks in at Franklin’s grave at the Christ Church Burial Ground © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

When Ben Franklin died in 1790, 20,000 people attended his funeral. Later, I see where he was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground. It is interesting to note that in 1728, when he was just 22, Franklin wrote his own epitaph: “The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author.” But the tombstone simply reads, as he specified in his final will, “Benjamin and Deborah Franklin.”

You leave the museum realizing what a remarkable Renaissance man Franklin was – like Thomas Jefferson in that way – with all the inventions and areas of success. Franklin was very much a modern man; if ever there was a person who could find himself 250 years in the future, he would have been very much at home in the 21st century. And very much Philadelphia’s Favorite Son for good reason.

The Ben Franklin Museum is a very welcoming space that really humanizes and personalizes Franklin. I love Franklin’s witty quotes, the portraits of him that show him throughout his life, even his love letters (to women not his wife).

Fire insurance symbol, one of the civic innovations that Ben Franklin introduced, can still be found on Philadelphia houses © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For children, there is a scavenger hunt for the small squirrel figurines located throughout the exhibits. Franklin delighted in pet squirrels, or skuggs as they were known in his day.

You need at least an hour to visit.

The museum and print shop are operated by the National Park Service as part of the Independence Hall.

Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission $5/adult; $2/children 4-16.

Benjamin Franklin Museum, 317 Chestnut St., Philadelphia 19106, 215-965-2305, https://www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/benjaminfranklinmuseum.htm

Print Shop

From here, I go back up to the court yard and find my way to Franklin’s print shop, where there is a replica of an old-style printing press (not much different from the days of Gutenberg), where National Park Rangers run off documents (you can buy a printed Declaration of Independence though Franklin never actually printed it). If you are lucky, you may visit when the ranger is in period dress.

The Print Shop where National Park Service rangers demonstrate the printing process that would have been used in Franklin’s time © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the Market Street side of Franklin Court, there is the B. Free Franklin Post Office, where you can get postcards hand-stamped just as one would have when Franklin was the first postmaster. The line of attached buildings are very much the way they were when Franklin lived here. You notice on Market Street and then around the historic district townhouses that still have the reliefs that show what fire insurance company protected the house. On this day, the street is closed off for a street festival. After spending some time enjoying the music and festivities.

I also pass a firehouse with a wonderful bust of Benjamin Franklin.

Philadelphia had just held a Veterans Day parade, and just as I pass the Christ Church Burial Ground where Benjamin Franklin and many other Founders are buried, I come upon Civil War re-enactors from the 3rd Regiment: Sgt  Major Joseph Lee and Corporal Robert F. Houston.

The Franklins’ tombstones – extremely modest – is easily the most visited (and can be seen through the gate from the sidewalk). People throw pennies onto the tombstone – a nod to Franklin’s motto that “a penny saved is a penny earned,” as well as a symbol of good luck.

People throw pennies onto the modest tombstone of Benjamin Franklin and Deborah at Christ Church Burial Ground © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Others buried here include John Dunlap, who printed the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, composer and poet Francis Hopkinson and medical pioneers Dr. Benjamin Rush and Dr. Philip Syng Physick. Divided into quadrants, the ground is mapped and plots are identified with markers where the original inscriptions are gone. A book of 50 biographies is available for purchase at Christ Church. (There is an admission to the burial ground, $3 adults/$1 child or $8/$3 with guided tour.) (5th and Arch Streets, Philadelphia 19106, 215-922-1695, ext 30, http://www.christchurchphila.org/about-the-burial-grounds/

Christ Church Burial Ground © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk the few blocks to the Betsy Ross House, another Revolutionary character who would have been thoroughly at home in the 21st Century. 

Follow in Franklin’s Footsteps

Take a walking tour and follow in Ben Franklin’s footsteps through historic Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

VisitPhilly.org, the city’s convention and visitor bureau, offers a marvelous walking tour to discover historic attractions visited by Franklin himself, sites dedicated to his accomplishments and local restaurants that would appeal to one of history’s most prolific men.

The Franklin’s Footsteps Itinerary starts at the Benjamin Franklin Museum, Franklin Court, the Ghost House, the Print Shop and Post Office and continues:

City Tavern (138 S. 2nd St. 215-413-1443), where Colonial America is recreated at this authentic tavern in Old City

Carpenters’ Hall (320 Chestnut St., 215-925-0167), the site of the First Continental Congress, was once the home of Franklin’s Library Company and the American Philosophical Society (APS), two organizations he founded.

Carpenter’s Hall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Christ Church (20 N. American St., 215-922-1695), where Franklin and his family attended services, and Christ Church Burial Ground.

Fireman’s Hall Museum, (147 N. 2nd St., 215-923-1438), commemorates the history of firefighting in an old firehouse

The Liberty Bell Center (6th & Market, 215-965-2305), home of the internationally known symbol of freedom (pick up timed tickets for Independence Hall at the Independence Visitor Center, or order them online at recreation.gov).

My immersion into Revolutionary War Americana in Philadelphia, which started with the National Museum of Jewish American History and Museum of American Revolution, continues at Betsy Ross House and the National Constitution Center.

Visit Philadelphia provides excellent trip planning tools, including hotel packages, itineraries, events listings: 30 S 17th Street, Philadelphia PA 19103, 215-599-0776, visitphilly.com.

See also:

National Museum of American Jewish History is Unexpected Revelation in Philadelphia 

Philadelphia’s New Museum Immerses You into Drama of America’s Revolutionary War

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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

 

Saratoga Springs is Firmly En Pointe as Center for Dance, Culture

Saratoga Springs, which is the summer home of the New York City Ballet and the location for the National Museum of Dance, celebrates its connection to dance with painted shoes that decorate the streetscape © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

With just one full day to explore Saratoga Springs, I am still able to take in the high points that distinguish this town, which has been so popular a place for visitors going back to the 14th century, when its mineral springs were first discovered by Native Americans. Later, it became a major center for organized horse racing, a tradition which remains today, and draws the biggest crowds during the six-weeks of racing season. But Saratoga Springs, owing to the millionaires and elites and then the colleges including Skidmore, has also become a cultural mecca, especially for dance. The Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center is the summer home for the New York City Ballet and now the home of the National Museum of Dance. 

National Museum of Dance

During my one full day in Saratoga Springs, after thoroughly exploring its horse-racing traditions at the race track and the National Museum of Racing, I next visit the National Museum of Dance, which is located just at the entrance to the Saratoga Spa State Park in what had been the historic Washington Bathhouse (there is still an exhibit to the historic spa). This is such a surprise.

It exquisitely reflects the visual as well as the athletics and art of dance; surprised at seeing video going back to 1895 of dance. All the dance legends are represented with stunning photos, videos, costumes.

So far, 50 dance pioneers including dancers of all genres, choreographers, composers, writers and patrons have been inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Established in 1986, the National Museum of Dance & Hall of Fame is the only museum of its kind in the nation and one of only a few in the world dedicated to the art of dance (which is why they claim the name, “National.”)

It is set in the former Washington Bathhouse, a 1918 Arts & Crafts style building in the Saratoga Spa State Park which provided health spa treatments (there are rooms you can visit from that time).

The Museum’s archives house a growing collection of photographs, videos, costumes, documents, biographies and artifacts that honor all forms of dance throughout history.

The museum’s galleries feature rotating exhibits and three permanent exhibits including the Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame.

Dancers in Film is an enchanting ongoing exhibition at the National Museum of Dance © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dancers in Film, a delightful ongoing exhibition, celebrates the relationship between dancers and film, and features both well-known dance stars and our favorite actors who have had world famous dance roles on the silver screen. Highlighted in the exhibit are Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients Ann-Margret (2010), John Travolta (2014), and Chita Rivera (2015). You will love sitting and watching the fast-changing videos. I am frankly amazed to see some of the oldest ones, even from 1895 (at the very dawn of movie-making).

Sparked by an abundant discourse both age-old and current, The Dancing Athlete is an innovative exhibition that explores the inherent connections between dance and sports, and dancers and athletes, and the influence and confluence of these forms throughout history. Through costumes, photographs, video, objects, and archival materials, the exhibit examines these relationships within several themes such as cross training and physiological impact, shared movement vocabularies, and sports-inspired choreography, among others. A select group of athletes and dancers including Lynn Swann, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Edward Villella are showcased as well as several choreographic works including Gene Kelly’s stunning  “A Man’s Game”. By highlighting the athletic prowess of dancers and injecting popular sports and athletes, boys, especially, will better appreciate dance.

The New York City Ballet company presented their autographed pointe shoes in honor of Peter Martins’ induction into the Dance Hall of Fame © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Opened in 1987, the Dance Hall of Fame honors dance pioneers of all types whether they are choreographers, composers, writers, dancers, or patrons; there are more than 50 who are so far included in the Hall of Fame. Among them: Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Agnes deMille, Rudolph Nureyev, Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Busby Berkeley, Jerome Robbins, Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, The Nicholas Brothers, Bob Fosse, Marge Champion, Tommy Tune, Edward Villella and Michael Jackson and the newest inductees, Gregory Hines and Patricia Wilde who are featured in special exhibits devoted to their careers  (see a complete list of the inductees, http://dancemuseum.org/exhibits/hof.html).

The Museum campus also includes the Lewis A. Swyer Studios, a building constructed specifically for the purpose of keeping live dance as part of the Museum’s offerings. The Swyer Studios welcome frequent master classes, lecture/demonstrations, residencies, and other programs, as well as the Museum’s very own dance school, the School of the Arts, which offers dance classes to all ages, levels, and interests. The Museum also offers a wide selection of special programs, events, and workshops throughout the year.

Twist! Jump! Play! Dance! The Alfred Z. Solomon Children’s Wing is an interactive space just for kids, with a video library, reading corner, movement and balance toys, and stage area. A Kids’ Gallery showcases rotating exhibits of children’s artwork and is where visitors can create their own masterpieces.

The museum also offers a Resource Room with thousands of books, periodicals, and print items for dance research available to the public.

A young dancer photographs one of the ballet shoes outside the National Museum of Dance, which also has its own dance school on the site of the former Washington Bathhouse at Saratoga Spa State Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

When I visit, I notice young girls, their hair tied back in the bun typical of dancers, looking on with adoration. This is their Cooperstown.

National Museum of Dance, 99 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, 518-584-2225, dancemuseum.org,  info@dancemuseum.org

There is a very good reason for the National Museum of Dance to be set at Saratoga Spa State Park: Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), a stunning amphitheater, is set in the heart of The Spa State Park and is the summer residence of the New York City Ballet as well as the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra. Surrounded by 2,400 acres of green hills, geysers, natural mineral springs and hiking trails, you can enjoy jazz, pop and classical concerts. (108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, spac.org).

I didn’t get a chance to really explore the Saratoga Spa State Park, but it has a score of attractions contained within it, in addition to the National Museum of Dance and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. It also has the Saratoga Automobile Museum, which this year is featuring as its main exhibit, “The Gavel: Cars of the Saratoga Auto Auction” which gives an insider look at the workings of the classic and collector automobile auctions that have become so popular with television viewers. Vehicles on display range from a 1931 Ford Model A Woody to a very rare 1957 Chrysler 300C standard shift, a 1957 Ford Thunderbird and a 1957 Continental Mark II. Imports represented include a 2003 Maserati Spyder convertible and a 2013 Lotus Exige Factory Cup on display.  These cars, along with hundreds of others, are on display until September 17, when they are all headed for the auction block in September at the Saratoga Auto Auction. (110 Ave of the Pines, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 , 518-587-1935, www.saratogaautomuseum.org, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm).

The Saratoga Spa State Park Golf Course offers two beautiful golf courses; a championship 18-hole course and a challenging 9-hole course, complete with pro shop and restaurant. (Information and to reserve a tee time online visit: Saratoga Spa Golf).

Saratoga Spa State Park, distinguished by its classical architecture and listed as a National Historic Landmark, is noted for its diverse cultural, aesthetic and recreational resources. In addition to the nationally-known Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Spa Little Theater, the National Museum of Dance, the Saratoga Automobile Museum, the Gideon Putnam Resort and Roosevelt Baths and Spa, Spa Golf Courses, the park offers a pool complex including slide complex and historic Victoria Pool surrounded by arched promenades; hiking and walking trails, running courses, picnic areas; winter activities include cross-country skiing on approximately 12 miles of trails, ice skating, ice hockey, and two golf courses.

Saratoga Spa State Park, 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, 518-584-2535, saratogaspastatepark.org, https://parks.ny.gov/parks/saratogaspa.

Neighborhoods

Saratoga Springs, home to the national Museum of Dance and summer home of the New York City Ballet, celebrates its connection to dance with painted shoes that decorate the streetscape © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

My walking tours from the Inn at Saratoga take me passed and through Congress Park, where in 1792, New Hampshire Congressman John Gilman discovered a mineral spring. (I also take note of a free cutey-pie trolley that operates up Broadway, but I prefer to walk). In 1822, Dr. John Clarke purchased Congress Spring and surrounding land, drained the swamp and built a park where he offered concerts. He built his impressive Greek Revival home overlooking the park, as well as a bottling plant. In 1876, Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who designed New York’s Central Park, designed the gardens. The Park today harbors a visitor center (built in 1915 as a trolley station); the Casino (a gaming house for men built in 1870 by prize fighter, former Congressman and gambling entrepreneur who developed Saratoga horse racing, John Morrissey, which today houses the Saratoga Springs History Museum), Italian Gardens, Congress Park Carousel, and some wonderful sculptures, fountains and monuments.

John Morrissey’s casino in Congress Park has been turned into the Saratoga Springs Historical Museum © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the visitor center you can pick up some wonderful self-guided tours, such as North Broadway, “a neighborhood of exceptional residential architecture”; West Side Neighborhood (“The City’s first prime residential location, where many of the people who owned, supported and worked in the bustling resort industry lived.:”and East Side Neighborhood, once home to Skidmore College, rich in history and spectacular architecture, including stunning examples of Greek Revival, Victorian, Gothic, Italianate, Second Empire and Queen Anne styles.

On the Friday night I am in Saratoga Springs, I have a plethora of choices: watching harness racing, polo matches, a performance of the New York City Ballet, and any number of live music venues, including Caffe Lena.

Caffè Lena, a famous folk-music venue since 1960, has just undergone a $2 million renovation but still offers an intimate space to appreciate folk, jazz, poetry and well-established performers as well as newcomers © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I wander over to Caffè Lena, a famous folk-music venue which the New York times in 2013 called “Folk Music Heaven, was sporting a $2 million renovation, its first since opening in the 1960, and had people lined up out the door hoping to get through a wait-list for that evening’s performance. It actually offers a range of styles – folk, jazz, poetry night, open-mike night – and still retains the intimacy of a small room and small stage, so you are mere feet away from the performer. “Opened in a former woodworking shop in 1960, the café has helped launch many of America’s best loved songwriters, ranging from Bob Dylan in 1961 to Sawyer Fredericks in 2014, with an dazzling Who’s Who list in between. When founder Lena Spencer passed away in 1989, Caffè Lena was converted to a non-profit institution supported by concert revenue, private and corporate donors, grants and bequests, and an ever-evolving team of volunteers.” (Caffè Lena, 47 Phila Street, 518-583-0022, Tickets: 800-838-3006, email:  sales@caffelena.org. caffelena.org.) 

For more information or to help plan your visit, Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau, 60 Railroad Place, 855-424-6073, 518-584-1531, https://discoversaratoga.org/. 

Also, Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center, 297 Broadway
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, 518-587-3241, Email: visitorinfo@saratoga-springs.org,  www.saratogaspringsvisitorcenter.com

See also:

Historic Inn at Saratoga Captures Sense of Place, Gracious Victorian Style 

Saratoga Springs, Age-Old Mecca for Horse Racing, Gets Better with Age

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© 2017 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

 

 

San Francisco Throwing Year-Long 50th Anniversary Celebration of Summer of Love – Be Prepared to Be Blasted into the Past

Wes Leslie, co founder of Wild San Francisco tours, is offering Haight-Ashbury Walking Tour: A Musical Trip of The 60’s for free during the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My, how time flies!

It’s the 50th anniversary of San Francisco’s Summer of Love, when, in 1967, nearly 100,000 young people converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, turning San Francisco into the epicenter of a cultural phenomenon known as the Summer of Love. It was a transformative time, when music, fashion, art and new ideas flourished and there was a feeling that everything was possible.

“The city of San Francisco was a magnet for musicians, artists and social rebels in the mid-to-late 1960s. They created a counterculture bound by leftist politics, tribal spirit, music and art. Long stamped a literary bohemia, attracting nonconformists like the Beat Generation writers of the Fifties, it was a natural progression for free-thinking San Francisco to give birth to a radical new movement eventually embraced by the rest of the world.”

The 50th Anniversary Celebration – with some 60 different events, special tours, concerts – is already  well underway in San Francisco and I’m guessing that tens of thousands of Baby Boomers will grab their tie-dye t-shirts, bell-bottom jeans, and put a flower in their hair and join in for a mind-blowing time-travel blast back into the past.

You feel you are in a time warp in Haight-Ashbury district, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’ve just returned from my own magical mystery tour – more precisely, Haight-Ashbury Walking Tour: A Musical Trip of The 60’s, a musical Summer of Love walking tour with Wes Leslie of Wild San Francisco Tours – when I was stunningly, and eerily transported back to my past.

Let me say at the outset that I can’t recall taking a historical tour where I personally lived the history.

Wes (he jokes that he is called “Wild Wes”) is perfect to lead this tour, using his guitar at opportune points – in front of the homes where the Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Country Joe (of the Fish) and others lived – to recreate the iconic music of that era. What is more, in keeping with the spirit of the Hippie Movement, the tour during this anniversary year is “free” (you pay a suggested donation at the end).

Though I lived through that era – memories came flooding back with Wes’ narration – there is so much more of the inside, behind-the-scenes, backstage stuff that I hadn’t known. It is kind of like sitting around a table with relatives and finding out inside scoop you hadn’t realized went on.

Wes’ anecdotes and folksy style make the tour as entertaining and fun as it is informative from a historical and cultural point of view.

Earthsong shop on Haight Street © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I come away with is a realization that the Summer of Love would not have happened without The Pill and how that spurred cultural changes – most significantly a willingness to challenge the entrenched White Patriarchy and Power Structure. I come away with is a new appreciation of how the Women’s Liberation movement actually fueled the Hippie movement, which, through its counter-cultural, anti-establishment, anti-institutionalism, then paved the way for civil rights, gay rights and peace movements – methods and organizations and themes which are eerily resurgent today.

During this Wild San Francisco walking tour through Haight-Ashbury (with music!), I learn about the rise – and fall– of the Hippie Movement that reached its pinnacle during that Summer of Love, when some 100,000 descended and overwhelmed San Francisco (consider that the city has a population today of 800,000), much to the horror of local Hippies who decried that famous song, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair.”

The popularity of “If you’re going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” Scott McKenzie’s song, contributed to the undoing of the Hippie Movement in Haight-Ashbury after the 1967 Summer of Love © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The very “success” of the Summer of Love proved the undoing of the Hippie Movement, much to the delight of Mayor Shelley at the time, who went after the hippies with such vengeance that he told area hospitals not to help young runaway teens who OD’d, and told the police to stand down so that chaos would reign. It is a complete surprise to me to learn about how brief this movement was in Haight-Ashbury – like a brief, shining light.

The Hippie Movement, which emerged 1965-1967, was aimed at overturning the 1950s culture of uniformity, conformity and obeisance to The Man (whether that is the Capitalist or the Authority of the white patriarchy power elite). The “Hippies” (named because they were the next-gen Beatniks but not quite the Hipsters the Beatniks were, according to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen who coined the names for both) renounced capitalism and embraced everything “free” (free food, free concerts, free health clinics, free love), which is why they were considered so dangerously radical (Communists!) and vilified by The Establishment. After all, America was still in the throes of the Cold War.

The social, political ideologues shaping the movement were The Diggers, Wes explains (a group I had never heard of before even though I lived through this era) and must have been news to the other people on our tour, who hailed from Wales, Australia, Hungary, Berlin and Los Angeles (that fellow had taken two other tours with Wes).

San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district has the most magnificent surviving Victorian-era homes, like the one known locally as Hippie Temptation © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Haight-Ashbury district, where the Hippies were concentrated, today seems an odd locale for these counter-culture radicals, because this district is dominated by the most magnificently preserved (expensive!) Victorian-era homes, some dating from the 1890s, surviving the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire which destroyed 80 percent of the city. Wes explains that by the 1960s, the district was run-down and cheap to live in after white flight to the suburbs. Back then, you could rent an entire Victorian house for $175 a month and divide that among 10 people (amounting to $80 a month per person in today’s money, compared to the $3400/month rent for an apartment the district now commands). So naturally, it attracted artists, writers and musicians.

In the 1960s, half the American population was under 25 years old. These were the Baby Boomers and they were coming of age, disillusioned with income inequality, segregation, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“Maybe they hadn’t figured out the solutions but they wanted whatever was furthest from whatever set those things into motion,” Wes tells us as we face one of the most magnificent Victorians, known as “Hippie Temptation”, so they reclaimed the derelict urban cities, swore off capitalism, and embraced drugs that were emerging and love and a philosophy of individual discovery and expression.

They picked up where Jack Kerouac (“On the Road” was a handbook for the Beat Generation) and Alan Ginsberg (“Howl”) left off.

Wes Leslie across from pink house where Janis Joplin used to live in Haight-Ashbury © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The emergence of drugs (and the drug culture) was a significant element that led to the rise of the Hippie Movement– like LSD (which was legal), which led to the rise of “psychedelic” experimentation and provided the subtext for culture of “seeing the world in a new way” and a devotion to individual expression, rather than conformity. “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” declared Timothy Leary.

The Diggers, Wes explains, took their name from a 17th century group of anarchists in England who would take over unplowed fields and would give away the harvest to end inequality.

San Francisco didn’t have farms, but it did have food waste, so the Diggers would go dumpster diving and brought the food to All Saints Parish Church (where we find ourselves standing) and would make a pot of Hippie Stew which they would bring to Panhandle Park (where our tour began, named for the shape, not for handouts), to distribute for free. (The church still gives away food weekly.).

One day, The Diggers gave away free food on the steps of City Hall, which enraged San Francisco’s mayor. “’We are not a charity,’ the Diggers declared,” Wes tells us. “’We are an anarchist organization doing what government should do’.” (a philosophy that is reemergent with the anti-Trump activism) It was the act of it, in contrast to the liberals at Berkeley, the intellectual kids, who were theorizing.

“The Diggers said, ‘Just do it, don’t theorize.’ The Diggers started putting ‘free’ in front of everything: free food, free concerts, free health care.”

San Francisco’s famous Haight-Ashbury district has resurrected the psychedelic look and feel of its mid-1960s heyday © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wes traces the actual beginning of the Hippie Movement that led up to the Summer of Love to “The Death of Money” March the Diggers put on. The Diggers, he says, were the activist branch of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a political satire and theater group.

Hundreds came out wearing dark clothing and carrying a coffin filled with cash and coins – “50 years before the Occupy Wall Street movement and Bitcoin.”

They opened a free store, stocked with contributions from shopkeepers and what they could scavenge. Tie-dye? That gender-bending fashion innovation developed, Wes says, because the Diggers would get contributions of white shirts and would die them.

Interestingly, Wes points out, there was a revolution within the Diggers because the men were writing the manifestos but the women were actually doing the work.

Ultimately, he relates, “the structure of the Diggers – who eschewed “leadership” (they were anarchists) – falls apart.” But they will be forever remembered for coining the famous phrase: “Today marks the first day of the rest of your life.” And for providing the template for social innovations that followed.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, still beloved in Haight-Ashbury, immortalized in a mural © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By now, we are standing in front of the most famous house in Haight-Ashbury: the “crash pad” for the Grateful Dead, the most beloved group in San Francisco, “hallowed ground for Haight-Ashbury.”

As Wes is talking, a 60ish man in long white beard, long flowing hair, wearing a tie-dye shirt and bright colored vest comes out of his bright colored house and into his red car, looking every bit the part.

Wes regales us with stories about Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, the Hells Angels, Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin as we visit their houses and important landmarks.

The Hippie Movement had its “greatest moment” not in the Summer of Love, but in January 1967, with a Human “Be-In” in Golden Gate Park. It was supposed to attract a few hundred people. Instead, some 20,000 turned out. The Diggers provided free food; the Hells Angels provided child care, Wes says. (Photos of the event are on view at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, which this season has a special “Summer of Love Experience” exhibit.)

Kids 12 to 14 years old were running away from home to join the Haight-Ashbury scene, and they were overdosing on the ubiquitous drugs.

“Wild Wes” of Wild San Francisco Tours relates the history of Haight-Asbury’s free clinic during his musical walking tour of the district © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dr. David Smith, who was then a 28-year old medical intern (he still lives here), decided to do something and opened a free medical clinic in June 1967, which despite Mayor Jack Shelley’s efforts to shut it down, actually still exists (as we discover that we are standing in front of it) and has served as the model for some 2,000 free clinics since.

As the Summer of Love event approached, the city was freaking out at what would likely be an invasion of some 50,000 (the museum says 100,000 came). Mayor Shelley shut down the clinic and the police, hoping people would be turned off from coming.

Instead, the locals who occupied those Victorian houses turned over their keys to The Diggers, so that the visitors would have some place to sleep, and left town themselves. The Diggers opened “The Switchboard” putting visitors in touch with apartments (sounds like a forerunner of Air BnB), with jobs, and provided a central place for parents to send messages to their runaway kids.

The “success” of the Summer of Love was actually the undoing of the movement, which unraveled after that, Wes explains.

The Grateful Dead left, the Hippies moved to North Bay where they created a farming commune, the Diggers disbanded.

“The Last Hurrah was the ‘Death of Hippies’ march” paralleling the “Death of Money” march which initiated the movement. The Diggers, again wearing dark clothing, carried another coffin, this time with a Hippie inside, covered with flowers and incense.

The Hippie Movement, they said, “was killed off by fame,” adding, “If you care about this, take what you learned and radicalize it.”

Indeed, they did: the Hippies willingness to take on the Establishment unleashed the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, Gay Rights Movement and Peace Movement.

Amoeba Records, world’s largest independent record store, still has its psychedelic location at 1855 Haight Street © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

But Haight-Ashbury sunk further and further into decline, becoming an outright derelict and dangerous place, until the Dot.Com resurgence of San Francisco in the early 2000s, and tourism which has resurrected the colorfully decorated shops, including Earthsong, and Amoeba (which Wes says is the world’s largest independent record-album store).

Wild San Francisco’s other tours – such as “Radical SF”, a walking tour through the Mission and Castro districts – are focused on the people’s history and social movements (there is also a historical ghost tour for good measure).

Wild San Francisco’s co-founder Wes Leslie is a third-generation San Francisco Bay native (I admire his ring with the insignia of the Golden Gate Bridge and 3 diamonds, which he tells me was his grandfather’s, a transit driver for 3 decades). He makes “bedroom soul” music as Wes Leslie, the Bedroom Player (wesleslie.com) and fixes cocktails at Mrs. Jones on Market Street.

Contact Wild San Francisco Tours, 415-580-1849, http://wildsftours.com/, info@wildsftours.com

Special Tours Celebrate Summer of Love Anniversary 

2017, the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, is being marked with a year-long celebration of San Francisco’s counter culture with a 1960s throwback including some 60 exhibitions, performances, literary events, tribute concerts and recognition of significant moments in time.

While the Summer of Love remains a key moment in history, the free love movement can be experienced through a number of geography specific tours, neighborhoods and performances throughout the year.  In addition to Wild San Francisco’s offerings, other tours include:

A variety of San Francisco tour companies are offering special Summer of Love programs through Haight-Ashbury district in 2017© 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Flower Power Walking Tours: Walk in the footsteps of Janice Joplin and the Grateful Dead on the Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tours touching on the history of it all, from rock and roll to art, fashion and architecture. (www.haightashburytour.com/)

FOOT! Fun Walking Tours:  is presenting a special tour, Flashback: From the Summer of Love to the Winter of Discontent, from the highs of the summer of 1967 to the restlessness that followed. Follow in the footsteps of music legends like Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia with this walking tour in the iconic Haight Ashbury neighborhood.(www.foottours.com).

San Francisco City Guides Haight-Ashbury Tour: Explore streets, sidewalks, parks and vistas that tell the story of a Victorian era resort site subsequently developed by comfortable merchants, whose gingerbread homes still grace its streets. Offered most Sundays, see website for details.  Somewhat strenuous.    San Francisco City Guides offers free (donations welcome), volunteer-led tours of a variety of neighborhoods, landmarks and topics. To bring eight or more walkers to a regular tour, click here for information on private group tours. (www.sfcityguides.org, tours@sfcityguides.org.

Detour’s Walking Tour: Walk through the epicenter of the Summer of Love with Detour’s Walking Tour of the Haight, narrated by one of the activists who was at its center, Peter Coyote. (www.detour.com/san-francisco/haight-ashbury).

Avital Food Tours, Haight Ashbury: Did you know that local food co-ops were born out of this era? Delve into one of the world’s best food scenes to hear the stories of restaurant owners, chefs and industry experts for a culinary experience in San Francisco.  Walking tours are available in iconic neighborhoods across the city including Haight Ashbury (http://avitaltours.com/san-francisco/).

San Francisco Love Tours: Ride a VW hippie bus with San Francisco Love Tours and experience modern day San Francisco infused with the spirit of the 60’s (http://sanfranciscolovetours.com/).

Magic Bus Experience: This two-hour+ adventure, “Time Machine to the 60’s,” is a “mind-bending” combination of professional theater, film, music and sightseeing that allows tour goers to travel back in time to the summer of 1967.  The Magic Bus is an actual bus colorfully painted and filled with a sound system, micro projectors and screens that periodically lower over the windows making the bus into a moving movie theater (http://magicbussf.com).

To help visitors plan their “trip,” the San Francisco Travel Association has launched a special website, www.summeroflove2017.com, which provides an ever-expanding guide to the whole groovy scene, including events and itinerary ideas. (San Francisco Travel. 415-391‑2000, www.sftravel.com)

Next: Special Events, Exhibitions Planned for San Francisco’s 50th Anniversary Summer of Love

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© 2017 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

 

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Strip District Exemplifies City’s Past, Future

Pittsburgh’s Strip District has an artful, playful vibe © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Pittsburgh’s Strip District has an artful, playful vibe © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(With only one full day to explore Pittsburgh, I specifically seek out attractions that define the city, all walkable within the downtown, getting advice from the Omni William Penn Hotel concierge. I start on its two remaining funiculars, going up the Monongahela Incline and down the Duquesne Incline, dating from the 1870s, and stroll Grandview Avenue that links the two, and continue on to Point State Park and the Fort Pitt Museum, then on to the National Aviary and the Andy Warhol Museum. This is fourth in series.)

I walk back over the 7th Street Bridge (The Andy Warhol Bridge, as it happens), into Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, where there is a cluster of theaters and galleries, including one named for another native son of Pittsburgh, playwright August Wilson (there is an August Wilson Center / African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, in the Cultural District).

I take it all in, but I am en route to the interestingly named Strip District, where literally in front of your eyes, you can see gentrification unfold – factories converted to apartments and lofts. This has become an amazing restaurant district, capitalizing on the diverse immigrant experience in Pittsburgh. Within a few blocks, there is a United Nations-worth of dining traditions and markets.

Pittsburgh’s Strip District shows off the city’s past, present and future © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Pittsburgh’s Strip District shows off the city’s past, present and future © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Strip District is described as “authentic Pittsburgh,” where the locals go for great goods at low prices. The streets along the half-mile long district are linked with restaurants, ethnic grocers, produce stands, sidewalk vendors, meat and fish markets – a haven for foodies. It is so colorful, artful, playful.

Pittsburgh’s Strip District offers trendy restaurants © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Pittsburgh’s Strip District offers trendy restaurants © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Fabric store in Pittsburgh’s Strip District © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Fabric store in Pittsburgh’s Strip District © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A sign over a restaurant, Gaucho, an Argentinian Grill, which has a line of people outside waiting their turn, reads Home Improvement, Lifestyle, Dining & Entertainment. I pass Vietnamese, Korean, Thai restaurants, markets like Robert Wholey Co. purveying live Maine lobster, whole farm raised rabbits and whole duckling; a Middle Eastern grocery, Stamoolis Bros. Co, since 1909; the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (fresh handmade mozzarella, Pennmac.com); a Mexican grocery; Pittsburgh Popcorn, next door to La Prima Espresso Corp, across the street from Chocolat; an Asian supermarket across from the Brooklyn Brewery; the S&D Polish Deli, Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop, a textile shop selling fabrics, thread and button; and Mike Feinberg & Co’s sports store.

And trendy restaurants like Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grill (probably related to the market); Jade 99, Chicken Latino (Peruvian); Casa Rena (Mexican),

Smoke billowing from a processing plant © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Smoke billowing from a processing plant © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking back, I see smoke emanating from a factory with the Heinz name on it, and pass a red-brick building with a giant neon Heinz Ketchup display (above the Heinz History Center building), diagonally across from United States Steel Corporation offices (while downtown is the United Steelworkers Union building).

Senator John Heinz History Center 

I am too late to visit the Senator John Heinz History Center, but it is on my list to visit when I return.

Devoted to the history and heritage of Western Pennsylvania, the 370,000 sq. ft. Senator John Heinz History Center (more formally known as the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania) is Pennsylvania’s largest history museum and, since 2000, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.

Ketchup Bottle in neon above the Heinz History Center © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Ketchup Bottle in neon above the Heinz History Center © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition to the Fort Pitt Museum which I have visited, the Senator John Heinz History Center family of museums and programs includes:

The Senator John Heinz History Center presents compelling stories from American history with a Western Pennsylvania connection in an interactive environment; the museum’s Smallman Street home combines the former Chautauqua Lake Ice Company building with a five-story Smithsonian wing.

The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, a museum-within-a-museum located on the History Center’s second and third floors, celebrates the region’s passion for amateur and professional sports, from football to baseball and hockey to golf.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, the oldest site of human habitation in North America, is located in Avella, Washington County, Pa. Meadowcroft Rockshelter, a National Historic Landmark, showcases 16,000-year-old evidence of the region’s earliest inhabitants under a massive rock overhang. In addition to the Rockshelter, the site is also home to three outdoor historic areas, including a 16th century Indian village, 18th century Frontier Trading Post, and 19th century village that help visitors experience life over the past 500 years.

More than 250 years of Western Pennsylvania’s history is preserved at the Thomas and Katherine Detre Library & Archives. Founded in 1879, the Library & Archives’ collections, located on the History Center’s sixth floor, are accessible to researchers, students, and the general public.

The new Museum Conservation Center provides visitors with professional services and expert advice on how to properly preserve and care for family heirlooms.

Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222, 412-454-6000, www.heinzhistorycenter.org (10-5 daily)

Biking on a dedicated lane in Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Biking on a dedicated lane in Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other important Pittsburgh attractions which I have on my list for my next visit:

Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, the nation’s only military memorial dedicated to honoring all branches of service – exhibits cover all of America’s conflicts and include a face casting done of Abraham Lincoln the month he died; the Frick Art & Historical Center, the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History (from fine art to fossils, masterpieces to minerals, CMOA.org;  the Carnegie Museum of Natural History offers 5 billion years of Earth’s history, and the world’s third largest dinosaur repository (carnegiemnh.org). Also, the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens and the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

For more information, contact Visit Pittsburgh, 412-281-7711, 800-359-0758, 877-LOVE PGH (568-3744), info@visitpittsburgh.com, www.visitpittsburgh.com. 

Next: The Omni William Penn Hotel is Part of Pittsburgh Heritage 

See also:

One Day, Two Nights in Pittsburgh: From Grey to Green, A Proud City Revitalized

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Point State Park Proves Highlight of Walking Tour

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum is at Center of Revitalized City

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com 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