The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences, Kensington Gore

 

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Opening of Royal Albert Hall. Illustration in Public Domain from The Illustrated London News, April 8, 1871.

Royal Albert Hall was constructed along with the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.  Her Majesty the Queen Victoria announced the planned opening for March 29, 1871 (The Pall Mall Gazette, January 26, 1871, p. 14).

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Indeed, the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences, constructed in the popular Italianate style of architecture, was formally opened March 29

…with a stately ceremonial by the QUEEN, assisted by the Prince of WALES.  After an address to her MAJESTY stating the objects for which the building was intended, read by the Prince of WALES, the QUEEN said that she was glad to be present at the opening of the institution and expressed her earnest wishes for its success and usefulness.  The Bishop of LONDON then offered prayer, and the Prince in her MAJESTY’S name declared the hall “to be open.”  The band struck up the National Anthem, and a park of artillery outside fired a Royal salvo.  A grand musical performance, conducted by Sir MICHAEL COSTA, concluded the proceedings of the day.  (The Standard, March 30, 1871, p. 4)

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Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall in South Kensington, London and seats 5,272 persons, although originally designed to hold 6-7,000 in the hall and additional 2,000 in the picture gallery circling the hall (The Morning Post, Mar 30, 1871, p. 6).  The hall hosts many notable events, including the BBC Proms concerts, held every summer since 1941.  Prom is shorthand for Promenade concert, the term originating in London in 1838 in reference to the open air concerts where patrons could stroll (“promenade”) during the concert.

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The hall was designed by Francis Fowke and Henry Y. D. Scott and built by the Lucas Brothers.  Constructed of Fareham Red brick with a mosaic frieze, it includes historical and religious quotations above the Triumph of the Arts and Sciences represented by the mosaic.

The base is of plain red brick, with single-headed windows, the keystone of which is formed of the crown and cushion and the letter “V.,” above which the principal floor is divided by terra-cotta pilasters, between which are semicircular-headed windows. (The Morning Post, Mar 30, 1871, p. 6).

Gibbs and Canning supplied the terra-cotta blocks, Minton, Hollings, and Co. made the frieze, using the female students of the School of Art at Kensington.  The mosaics were designed by Horsley, Armitage, yeames, Marks, Poynter, Pickersgill, and Armstead.  Queen Victoria laid the cornerstain May 20th, 1867.  The news item included extensive detail of the interior boxes, tiers, private rooms, galleries, and furnishings.

And yet again, I am belatedly learning some 13 years later the story of this building and the history of the event playing there during our short visit.

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The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens

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Prince Consort Albert was the husband of Queen Victoria from 1840 until his death in 1861.  Having a passion for the arts, Prince Albert was the inspiration behind the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London.  The complete title was the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.  Queen Victoria commissioned the memorial after his death in 1861. 

Initially named the Prince Consort National Memorial and designed by George Gilbert Scott in “high-Victorian gothic” style influenced by the 13th century Eleanor Crosses, it stands in Kensington Gardens across from the Royal Albert Hall.

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Prince Albert is depicted holding the catalogue for the Great Exhibition, held in Hyde Park in 1851.  Among the many items represented in the Exhibition were:

  • Syria: “silk, gold, siver [sic] lace and embroidery, native jewellery, [sic] Lebanon horns, petrefactions, oils, different sorts of woods, seeds, the apples of Sodom, etc.”
  • Pacha of Jerusalem: “Bethlehem work in mother-of-pearl, which is brought by the Hadji from Mecca, such as the crucifixion, and other holy subjects”
  • Ireland: “Waterford glass…and epergne of most massive dimensions, embellished with the most exquisite cuttings”
  • St. Helen’s: “stained glass…a splendid painting of the Archangel Michael casting out of Heaven the great Red Dragon”
  • St. Kilda: “a piece of cloth and a plaid obtained from that island…of native manufacture”
  • Vatican: “a half figure of St. John the Baptist, copied from Guercino’s celebrated picture, and executed in fine mosaic by the artist Castellini” (Things to be looked for, The Observer, Feb. 2, 1851, p. 4)

At each of the corners of the base were representations of Africa, Asia, Europe, and America. 

Further up toward the central section are figures representing manufacture, commerce, agriculture and engineering.  The base frieze depicts 187 figures of painters, sculptors, musicians, architects, and poets, reflecting Prince Albert’s appreciation for the arts.DSC_0982.NEF

On the spire are gilded bronze statues of the angels and virtues.  Throughout the Exhibition, the London Morning Chronicle ran supplements of

the most copious details respecting everything of interest connection with the Great Exhibition…the fullest information on all matters worthy of their attention, whether within the building of the Exhibition, or throughout the Metropolis. (Oct 10, 1851, p. 1.

The paper also provided descriptions in French and German to assist the many tourists visiting the Exhibition.

Additional sources not cited in text: The Royal Parks.org.uk; Death of the Prince Consort. (Dec. 21, 1861). Hampshire Telegraph and Naval Chronicle, p. 7.

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Haywood Farms: USDA Farm Security Administration project

The New Deal’s Resettlement Administration was established in 1935, under the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935.  The RA’s purpose was to create planned communities to “resettle destitute or low-income families from rural and urban areas” (Resettlement Administration, Living New Deal), rehabilitate overused land, and make loans to purchase land and equipment by farmers and tenant farmers, or sharecroppers.  The RA lasted only a couple of years, but in 1937, the Farm Security Administration was created and lasted until 1946.

One of the resettlement projects was Haywood Farms in Tennessee, for African American farm families.  In 1937, it was still acquiring the land for the proposed Douglass Community project.  By June 1938, over 100 houses for tenant farmers had been built or repaired for West Tennessee.  At Haywood Farms, 19 houses were nearing completion.  W. O. Wyatt, a contractor from Jackson, received the contract to complete 34 farm units, with four buildings for each unit.  The houses were 4-room frame houses, 36’8″ by 22’8″ and included stock barn, poultry house and smoke house, and a well.

Along with the houses and farm buildings, the project was responsible for construction of a school and well for the rural community children.  The first building was frame, later bricked and with some alterations to doors and windows and included grades 1-10.

At the beginning of the first crop season, Haywood Farms was described as “one of the most outstanding agricultural projects in the nation developed by the United States Department of Agriculture” (Haywood Farms Opening First Crop Planting. (Apr. 27, 1939). The Jackson Sun, p. 16).  At completion, the project included 5,400 acres and 56 units with each having over a 100 acres of farm land.  The average cost of each unit, including house and farm buildings, was $2,000.  The first crop included strawberries, fruit trees, grapevines, sweet potatoes, and Irish potatoes.

At some point, an additional building was constructed that serves as the community center.  Many of the original houses are still in use and others have been enlarged and improved over the years.  The Douglass Community holds a homecoming celebration annually in August and remains an active community.

Posted in New Deal Administration, school buildings, school houses | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

What we should have learned from the New Deal 1933-1942

Grandpa and Dad

Grandpa with Daddy and Uncle G

My dad and mother were children of the Great Depression.  I grew up hearing the stories of the survival of their families–when so many did not.  When I began to work on the Living New Deal project, I felt a deeper connection with my parents and grandparents and what they had survived, and accomplished afterwards, that humbles me and awes me.

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Papa holding Aunt G and Mama with Mother

 

One of the most important accomplishments of my academic career to me is the work I do with documenting the New Deal through the Living New Deal project.  Today while researching the newspaper archives I ran across the following item:

President Roosevelt’s statement that ‘rural and urban housing programs together should continue to grow’ aroused speculation today as to whether he would press for enactment of an $800,000,000 senate-approved bill sidetracked by the house last year.

Delegates to the national public housing conference called yesterday for approval of the measure, which would increase the lending capacity of the United States housing authority, and at the same time urged rejection of a proposal to bar aliens as tenants in public housing projects (emphasis mine).

‘By economic circumstances,’ the conference said in a resolution, ‘immigrants who come to the United States looking forward to citizenship and blessings of equal opportunity are most likely to be forced into degradation of our slums.

‘The public housing program is not a largess to citizens, but a defensive move by the nation against the deteriorating effects of economic underprivilege, and the remedy must be applied where the problem is found.’ (Housing. Jan 27, 1940. Hattiesburg American, p. 1)

That bears repeating in the current socio-political-cultural environment.  “…not a largess to citizens, but a defensive move by the nation against the deteriorating effects of economic underprivilege, and the remedy must be applied where the problem is found.”

My parents worked hard–as did many if not most or all of their generation.  In spite of the fact that we never (that I recall) went hungry, without shelter or adequate clothing and other items to meet the needs of our family, my parents bought the only house they ever owned in 1966.  My sister had just graduated high school, I was a rising junior, my brother a year behind me, and my father was 40.  He said, “By the time this house is paid for, I will be 60.”  While that was true, he would go on to live in that paid-for house for the next 33 years and surrounded by those who loved him, die in that house.

So what does this have to do with the lessons I assert we should have learned from the New Deal Administration and the programs that led to recovery from the Great Depression?  Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected because the nation decided that the federal government had an obligation to the citizens of this nation who were unable to provide for themselves through no fault of their own.  We are smack dab in the midst of the same thing now, and it is not just the citizens of the nation but indeed those immigrants who still come to the United States “looking forward to citizenship and the blessings of equal opportunity” who are suffering because there are some few who have far more than they will ever need and do not pay their fair share and far more have less than it takes to survive no matter how hard they work and cannot pay their fair share, and the burden is carried by those of us in the shrinking middle who pay more than our fair share.

In the last 7 years–those same 7 years I spent traveling back and forth to Texas in caregiving for parents and the only house they ever owned, I have submitted a total of 555 projects that were funded or built by the New Deal Administration.  That is a drop in the bucket to all that was achieved, but every time I find a new one (and my focus is mainly Mississippi), I am awed yet again at how that led to a better standard of living for so many, and that much of that infrastructure still stands today and benefits us some 87 years after the first projects began in 1933.

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Public Housing, Jackson, Tennessee

To paraphrase President Roosevelt: The [federal government’s obligations] are not a largess to citizens, but a defensive move by the nation against the deteriorating effects of economic underprivilege, and the remedy must be applied where the problem is found.

The problem is found not in the people, but in those who cannot or will not lead for the benefit of the nation.

 

Posted in New Deal Administration | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Shrimp White Bean Bruschetta

Shrimp white bean bruschetta 2

How could anything so simple taste so good?  While reading the news in the Washington Post a few days ago, something called Voraciously appeared with a header about one pot-one sheet pan-one skillet meals.  I love to cook, and I love delicious and pretty food.    I picked 4 simple recipes that intrigued me with things I like and headed to my new best friend in grocery stores, the Larson’s Cash-Saver, independent and locally owned.

Let me just say that after the year or more I have been shopping there after I got annoyed with the large chain store due to a series of repeated mistakes, and the debacle that clinched the deal during my broken foot saga, I realized what a prize Larson’s is.  Ingredients in hand, I tried my first of the recipes for lunch today.  Yes, using frozen store-brand shrimp that quickly thawed in 3 minutes in a colander placed under cold running water, canned store brand white cannellini beans, canned store brand diced tomatoes, canned store brand tomato paste, deli French bread, store brand olive oil, and a couple of leaves of fresh basil purchased in the produce section, I made the most tasty, amazingly quick, and delicious meal with simple and mainly healthy ingredients.  The original recipe called for whole wheat crusty bread, which I love and do eat, but occasionally, I grab a white French baguette because…well, I like it and it tastes good.  Ten minutes prep, 15 minutes in the oven toasting the bread and heating the bruschetta, and a nano second to assemble.  Yes, I had seconds.

 

Posted in Food and Wine, Mississippi, Oxford | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Alison Lapper

Birds flying

In 2006, quite unexpectedly, R and I found ourselves in London for a very short few days.  We took one of those hop on-hop off bus tours for a few hours.  Also quite unexpectedly, as we entered Trafalgar Square, we got our first glimpse of a statue about which I would not learn the story–nor that of the woman it represents–until 2019.  I think that might be one of those symbolic moments–that Alison Lapper and her story may be unknown to many people who saw this statue in the two years it occupied Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square.  After all, it took a chance encounter with my photographs and the reminder that I never learned about the story behind the sculpture to send me on a search 13 years later.

Lapper eyes

Sculptor Marc Quinn was commissioned by the Mayor of London in 2005 to create the statue of Lapper for the Fourth Plinth–the northwest pedestal in Trafalgar Square.  The fourth plinth was originally intended to hold the statue of William IV, King of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 1830-1837.  Lack of funds to complete the statue left the pedestal empty for 150 years until it was decided to use it to hold temporary exhibits, the first in 1998.  Quinn’s larger than life (12 feet tall) sculpture of Lapper occupied Fourth Plinth from 2005-2007, so it was indeed mere happenstance that I would be there to observe it at all.

Given that the other statues in Trafalgar Square are of men and figures from the past, described as “public heroes,” Quinn wanted

…the placement of Alison Lapper on the Fourth Plinth as a ‘monument to the future’, celebrating ‘someone who has conquered their own circumstances, rather than someone who has conquered the outside world’. (from marcquinn.com/artworks/alison-lapper)

Quinn’s original sculpture of Lapper was done in 2000 when she was 8 months pregnant, followed later that year with one of Lapper and her son. He made several of Lapper between 2000 and 2012.  Alison Lapper is an artist, television personality, public speaker.  Quinn’s newest exhibition opens in 2021 on the steps of the New York Public Library.

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Hilgard Cut

Hilgard Cut marker

Like most stories, there is a lot more behind Hilgard Cut and the University Avenue bridge over it than is evident by this marker.  I discovered quite by accident that the bridge was a New Deal Administration construction, and in researching it, discovered the origins of the Cut.  The construction of the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad from the Louisiana state line to Canton, Mississippi was part of the plan to connect New Orleans to Chicago by rail in 1854.  Originally, the line was planned to extend from Canton to Grenada, through College Hill just north of Oxford, and on up to Holly Springs.  The line from Memphis to Holly Springs was running in 1856 and plans for Holly Springs to Canton was expected to be ready by July of 1856.

University bridge toward depot

Enter Col. James B. Brown, one of the trustees of the University of Mississippi, recently established in 1848.  Brown desired for the railroad to connect to Holly Springs through Oxford at the University so folks could look out the window and see the fine new institution.  The problem with this plan is the steep grade that the train would have been required to make to accomplish Brown’s goal.  Oxford and the University are part of the northern hills area in the state, and the terrain is often full of slopes, steep grades, etc., all of which can be problematic in construction of transit.  Peer over the edge of the 1940 bridge toward the depot, just visible on the right edge of the road, with trees and hills behind.  Yes, Col. Brown got his way.  That highway below is Gertrude Ford Boulevard now, but was originally the rail bed for the Mississippi Central coming through to connect in Memphis.University Avenue overhead bridge at Hilgard Cut

From the vantage point below the bridge, it is far easier to get an idea of the work that was required to develop the “cut” that would be known as the deepest cut on the line.  Keep in mind, it is 1856, and work like this required human manual labor.  Brown secured the help of local slaveholders Thomas Isom, L. Q. C. Lamar, and Jacob Thompson who provided the enslaved workers who dug this cut by hand.  Brown’s vision of visitors looking out at the new Barnard Observatory did not come to pass, however, as the rail bed was below the level where the campus was visible from the train.  A walkway was constructed from the depot over to the campus, along with a wooden two-lane bridge to connect Oxford to University.

T. M. Strider and Company was in charge of construction for the four-lane steel-reinforced concrete bridge replacement over Hilgard Cut.  Eugene Hilgard was the University Professor who supervised the digging of the cut, due to his expertise in geology and desire to study the soil.  The access via University was closed for six months in order to construct the bridge, funded by the United States Bureau of Roads.  The bridge was completed in summer 1940, and opened for traffic October 19th for the University’s homecoming game.  The final total cost shared by Federal Government and Mississippi Highway Department was $65,000.

Posted in Bridges, Mississippi, New Deal Administration, Oxford, railroad lines, University of Mississippi | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“The Queen of Yohomia”

Chances are, unless you were from Mississippi c. 1935, you are not familiar with the Queen of Yohomia.  It is, after all, a look back at a period in time with the foresight of 85 years of experience.  Other than the Mississippi newspaper advertisements for the year 1935, I only found one mention of Yohomia–in a 1787 Pennsylvania Archives report that indicated the Ohio County of Pennsylvania had been formerly named Yohomia.  That may have been a transcription error, as any attempts to find Yohomia/Ohio county Pennsylvania during that time period did not turn up the term, although Yohogania County appeared.  As autocorrect is want to do, a search for Queen of Yohomia asks if you mean “Queen of Bohemia”–‘ya know, just in case you cannot spell the subject you are researching.

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The Indianola Enterprise, Apr. 18, 1935.

 

Yes, I confess to immediately dropping my jaw in amazement…because, well, you know.  First up, there was that whole “Yohomia” thing which is clearly a Mississippi languaging of your home.  It defies my imagination as to how anyone could think that was a good idea, and then smack dab in the middle of Jim Crow and its history, “if you are a slave.”  The tiny print goes on to clarify that Yohomia is “the Empire within the walls of your home”–again, in Mississippi where empires known as plantations defined the culture of the south and race relations.

But now, it is 1935 and we are mightily concerned with selling modern appliances to the modern housewife, i.e. her new servants–“for the modern Queen of Yohomia.”

Queen of Yohomia was the brainchild of George Godwin, the advertising and publicity manager of the Mississippi Power & Light Company. Godwin is credited with the Queen of Yohomia, and its “cooking schools” held in towns across the Mississippi Delta during April, May, and June of 1935.  In conjunction with Mississippi Power & Light, local businesses served as sponsors, such as the grocery store and appliance store.  Two cooking “experts” provided the cooking demonstrations.  Miss Mary Alice Willis and Mrs. Doris Green were home economists employed by Mississippi Power & Light featured in the advertisements.  A “talkie” ten-minute motion picture was featured as part of the demonstration.  Titled “The Queen of Yohomia”, it was billed as “interesting,” “most outstanding sound film ever produced in the interest of Home Modernization,” “a pioneer production in home modernization,” and “depicts in truly romantic fashion the advantages of home modernization and complete home service.”

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Enterprise-Journal, May 9, 1935

Yes, you, too, could have been part of the fantasy of “freedom” from those dreaded daily chores of cooking, laundry, and other joys of home management–released from bondage by the addition of electricity.  Cities offered the cooking school and “crowning event of 1935”–the contest for the Queen of Yohomia, where young attractive women (rather than actual wives running the home) competed for the honor of being crowned Queen, dressed of course in “house dresses appropriate for the housewife and shoulder streamers designating the firms they represented.”

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Enterprise-Journal, May 3, 1935

It may just be me, but I fail to see how crowning a “popular local girl representing the McComb Bakery” as the Queen of Yohomia helped convince housewives and their husbands that this was beneficial to their freedom, let alone discovery of the treasure map of Yohomia where x marks the spot where freedom is found.

Finally, let’s not forget those “latest tempting recipes” that were shown, such as the “Yohomia Special.”

One cup and one quarter of rice is cooked in six cups of water, and formed into an oval border on an oblong platter.  Inside the ring of rice is roughly arranged by tablespoonsful three cups of mashed Hubbard squash, and inside this go four cups of cooked French white turnip balls.  The center is filled with a pint of fresh green peas.  The whole, with or without the addition of a cheese sauce, should serve eight persons.  A green salad may follow, and with a fruit pie for top-off the dinner should please a vegetarian. (Semi-Weekly Journal, May 7, 1935, p.8)

Because so many husbands in 1935 were vegetarians?  I love vegetables, and rice, but this does not sound appetizing in the least, and frankly, with white rice, orange squash, white turnips, green peas, and cheese sauce, it does not produce a pretty picture in my mind either.

Godwin resigned from advertising and publicity manager of the Mississippi Power & Light Company “in order to devote his entire time to Dixie Advertisers, Inc., Jackson, of which he has been president and general manager since its organization in March 1937″ (Godwin to Leave Post with MP&L, Clarion-Ledger, Nov. 21, 1937, p. 13).  Godwin said his goal was to build an agency “thoroughly capable of presenting the story of Mississippi and Mississippi products to the entire nation.”  His work was reported to have received nation-wide attention as he was credited with the characters “Chill Chaser” (natural gas heaters) and “Happy Homer” (symbol of modern home service).  His sales activities “The Queen of Yohomia” was reported as among those that have “kept the Mississippi Power & Light Company listed among the most alert advertisers in the utility field.”

In 1956, Godwin changed the name of the agency to Godwin Advertising Agency due to opening an office in New York.  “The regional name of ‘Dixie’ could not apply well to a national organization” (Congratulations to Godwin Advertising Agency, Mar 5, 1956, Enterprise-Journal, p. 2.).  Godwin died in 1968.

Posted in Mississippi, Mississippi Delta Towns | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Haywood Farms: Jungle Gym Fever

Jungle gym

Last August on our trip to Nashville, we stopped for me to photograph part of the Haywood Farms Project.  As a child growing up in the 1950s, I spent plenty of time on “monkey bars.”  I was fascinated that the equipment was like tiny little rooms in a tall house, limited only my imagination.

through the bars

While for many reasons, mostly those of safety, monkey bars (also called jungle gyms and climbing frames) have largely disappeared from the playgrounds of the nation.  This pair of climbing frames stand side by side on the playground of the former school for Haywood Farms, a rural Resettlement Administration community from the New Deal Administration.

The first commercial “junglegym” was patented by Sebastian Hinton in 1920.  The term “monkey bars” appears in the 1927 in New York in reference to a girl scout activity, and in 1929 in reference to a playground near the South Ferry L station.  The earliest news item I located was March 11, 1921 when the New Castle News, Pennsylvania reported from London about “jungle exercises” with the goal of “a nation of straight-backed, supple-limbed boys and girls” and the introduction of correctly performed “jungle-gymnastics.”  The Evening News of Pennsylvania reported August 30, 1921 about the “Junglegym”–something new in playground paraphernalia” as recommended for installation in the Chicago park system.  (Hinton was from Chicago.)

The Brooklyn Times Union followed up in 1922:

Junglegym To Satisfy Boys’ Monkey Instincts.  

The junglegym, which is being introduced in Manhattan playgrounds in order to satisfy the “monkey instinct” in children, will probably be installed in the Flatbush playgrounds at Rogers avenue and Robinson street and at Newkirk avenue and East Thirty-second street.

The first to be installed in New York is now in operation at the Tompkins Square Playgrounds at Tenth street and Avenue A.  Since its completion four days ago it has been the centre [sic] of interest of the children if the neighborhood and at least a thousand, ranging from two to three years up to the park limit of sixteen years, make use of it every day.

The junglegym is a maze of iron bars, built in two-foot squares.  It is ten feet six inches high and covers an area of sixteen by eight.  It is said to be the most compact of all systems of athletic exercise.  No less than seventy boys and girls have been seen on the new Thompson Square junglegym at the same time.

Looks kind of dangerous,” said Jack Kalmbach, who directs the playground in the afternoon.  “That’s why it’s so popular.  Look out there now.  It’s fairly alive with kids and they are having the time of their lives.  But if they only knew it, it is very safe, the safest way of climbing I know.  WE haven’t had an accident yet, and don’t expect any.  You see there is a bar every two feet.  If a boy falls he can’t help but get hold of one of the bars.  In all there are 278 climbing bars.  One is always near to help the top-heavy climber.  Looks like a lot of little monkeys, climbing all over the place, don’t they?”

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Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Jan. 30, 1923, p. 10.

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The Vancouver Sun, Dec. 16, 1923, p. 39

The junglegym was also installed at the Ontario School for the Blind for “healthful exercise.”

While Sebastian Hinton is credited with inventing and patenting the device, the first model was actually constructed by Hinton’s father, Charles Howard Hinton, a mathematician.  Charles constructed the model from bamboo when Sebastian was a child, with the proposal to help children understand 3-dimensional space.  He invented a game where the bars were defined as axes x, y, and z, and numbered.  He called out the number and axis (e.g., y5) and the children raced to be the first to grasp the correct bar.

Vibrant gym

Posted in New Deal Administration, school houses | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

2020: The Year of Clearer Vision

Here is that fresh new year ahead of us, just waiting for us to write the stories, the pictures, the music, the learning, the relationships, the fun, the sadness, the opportunities that each moment brings for us to become a more effective human being.

You know, the one with clearer vision, intentionality, and a seeker of knowledge and personal growth.  So, with great intentionality, my first effort toward clearer vision follows.

Embrace growth

Embrace growth.  Life happens.  Change is required.  Coping with it depends on many factors: our outlook, our supports, our characteristics, and our choices and opportunities.  Moving on does not mean forgetting, but it can signal that we have moved forward toward new paths.  Suzassippi did not start out to be the face of a horse named Rio–it just happened.  (See “how Suzassippi became a horse.”)  Some changes do not come easy, and Rio as the face of this blog has been one that has hung on since his loss in 2017. (See “Rio go rest high on that mountain.”) . I have been in transition for the past 2 years, and last night, transition involved my stepping in with Rio as the blog’s faces.  It is symbolic to me that here I am facing ahead, while Rio is in the background, taking care of eating.  We will hang out here together for a while; after all, some change is best done gradually.

Give flowers now

Give ’em their flowers now.  May 2018 was Mom’s 91st birthday–her first one after Dad passed over in November 2017, not long after Rio.  There had been many changes in those 6 months, including the move from her home into an assisted living facility.  My cousins, whom she dearly loved as the first two children of her only sister, made the trip from New Orleans and San Antonio to spend it with us.  While we did not anticipate it, it would be the last birthday we celebrated with Mother.  It meant so much to her, and to the cousins, and to me and Sis as we cherished those moments in that week.  When Mom passed over barely 8 months later, it was a reminder that what we do now with our opportunities matters.  During the years from 2012-2019, I knew that at some point in time, there would not be the “next time.”  I went home as often as I could.  There were times I could not go, and I carry no remorse for those.  We are finite and limited, and what matters is what we do with the opportunities we have.

Appreciate what you got

Appreciate what you got.  There must be a special gift some people have for being able to be thankful for all things, for the opportunities and lessons they bring us.  I am not one of those people by nature, but I am choosing–largely due to the experiences I have had in Mississippi these past 16 years–to cultivate the growth of “choosing what you got.”  It does not matter if I like snow, or do not like snow.  It will sometimes snow.

Wilburs

Take time for the music and the friends.  While these years here have brought their share of hard times, they have also brought a wealth of new experiences.  A couple of those are my friendships with my colleague, from whom I have learned so much about teaching, social work, and living in Mississippi (and who is also a talented musician) and her husband, an amazing songwriter musician.  I love the songs he writes, and how he embraces making music and telling stories with that music.  One of my favorite lines from his work is “I don’t want my life to read like a heart-break song.”

Feedback

Seek feedback.  This past fall, I taught the foundation level students for the first time in several years.  Students are always anxious at the beginning of graduate school, questioning whether or not they can do it.  I asked: What do you need from me in order to learn?  As social work uses a systems perspective, seeking feedback has been part of my work since the first time I learned about systems theory.  Feedback is what tells us if ‘it’ is working, or not.  Several students commented that it was the first time in their education that an instructor had asked them what they needed in order to be successful.  I am sure other teachers do so, but clearly, it is not always common to all.  We cannot know how to become more effective at whatever we are attempting without knowing how we are doing.  We need to know, especially when what we are doing is not working.  We need to know that from the perspective of those who are involved, affected, and know what they need or do not need.

Practice with a plan

Practice with a plan.  We have all heard the saying “Practice makes perfect.”  It is not true.  In order for practice to be beneficial, we need to practice with feedback (see above!) and with a plan, using that feedback.  Feedback is best when it combines a variety of vantage points, which is also why in addition to asking students, I ask their classmate peers to give feedback.  It can open up new perspectives, and also solidify that we are on the right track–i.e., “the plan.”  It is easy to get blindsided, or to think we know something, but a little feedback can be a reminder that even when we might know something very well, it can be good to check in with others.

Honor the past embrace the future

Honor the past; embrace the future.  While home in October to close on my parents’ estate, I found myself sitting on the curb waiting for Sis and Bro to arrive.  I have seen this building a thousand or more times during the years that little rural town was home.  I always loved it, and wondered about the theater that had once been there.  While it has been home to other businesses over the years, this is the first time I noted its current use.  I love old buildings, architecture of many sorts, and the history of places.  I also appreciate when a historic place continues to be useful.  Change is not always hard, or bad, or wrong, but it does need to be thoughtful and intentional.  Otherwise, we face the risk of “Preservation Fail.”

Seek and bring peace

Seek and bring peace.  My longtime friend Jane has always gifted me with amazing items that support important work, usually in the name of peace.  The latest was ‘She brings peace’, which has an honored place on the wall next to my desk, where I can look up often and see a tangible reminder of the important work we all have to do in the name of a more peaceful and just world.  (See the work of Seek the Peace.)

Seek and embrace learning

Seek and embrace learning.  Among the new things I discovered in the past year was the work of The Bitter Southerner  and learned “Why we created the Bitter Southerner in the first place.”)  Always a thoughtful and interesting read, the stories they share bring greater awareness, of self and others.  While you can read for free, you can also sign up for a membership to support their work.  I recommend it: there is a lot more to the South than just moonlight and magnolias, and some of it is downright amazing.  Go ahead, keep learning, listening, reading, and let’s all broaden and deepen our understanding this year.  You know, like 2020 vision for the world.

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