Monday, February 25, 2013

GCVM Agricultural Fair

I very nearly went to the Genesee Country Museum enough this year to justify buying a membership. Somehow I got on their mailing list, so I kept finding out about things I didn't want to miss, like the Agricultural Fair, which promised all kinds of silly period entertainment and an entire tent of goats. I forked over sixteen dollars before you could say Baa-ah-ah-ah-ah!

It turned out the goats were actually the least interesting part. I was not expecting to be so utterly delighted by everything I saw. When I got into the main square, it felt like a circus. Since I've been so many times lately, I knew that my first order of business was, necessarily, to stop by the general store and buy a maple sugar cookie. Once the cookie had been safely deposited in my stomach, I was able to roam about happily with my camera.

The first tent I came to was the Punch & Judy tent. Punch & Judy have always creeped me out, but I was betting on a child-friendly show, and I was correct. This is Punch doing battle not with his wife but with an alligator.


The woman who was interpreting the goings-on for the children was delightful, and the puppeteers were top notch. I thought it was great that they were even dressed in period clothing when they came out and took their bows.


The next tent really was a bit of a circus: there was a lady inside )who seemed to have some relationship with Italy), and who walked a loose-rope, and juggled flaming sticks, and cajoled us into giving her money. I liked her so much that I went back for her second show.




It was the perfect day for being outside in the fall: the leaves were changing and it was pleasantly cool and, of course, it smelled like woodsmoke.


Most of the buildings were either empty or closed, however.


Some with good reason.


This one (below) never seems to be open, but right after I took this picture, a girl walked by with her cow, as if she were taking for its morning constitutional. Which is why I love places like this.


Speaking of our bovine friends:


This bull had much to say, and vehemently.

While I was waiting around for some kind of demonstration, I caught this fellow using a corn peeler.


Corn peelers are hilarious. You get the crank going, stick the corn in the hole, and listen for a zzzzzzzt. Then the kernels drop from the bottom and the naked cob flies out the side in a markedly comical manner. I got to try it myself, and I'm telling you, farmers have it easy. This is the most fun ever.

The demonstration I was waiting for was the horse-powered thresher. I was less interested in the threshing than the horse-powering, which is just what it sounds like: a horse on a treadmill.


I've never seen an animal on a treadmill -- apparently, though, it used to be very common even with dogs. This horse seemed well aware of its rights and was not thrilled. Perhaps that's why it was so bad tempered. When it was in its pen, it looked perfectly friendly, but it was LYING.


This lying liar tried to bite me. TWICE. I suppose the second time was really my own fault.

To comfort myself, I headed over to see the baked goods. It turns out, though, that nineteenth-century food that's been sitting around for five hours often isn't very appealing. But I was impressed with this:


And this:


The highlight of the entire thing, curiously enough, was the vegetable tent. They had made nice beds of dirt to display the vegetables on, and they looked so handsome and colorful! I took pictures of almost all of them. After a while, the proprietors of the tent started looking at me funny.


But it was magic in there. MAGIC, I tell you.


Look at these carrots! Have you ever seen such beautiful carrots!


And these peppers! Even the leaves arranged themselves to put these peppers at an advantage! Nature bows to these peppers!


These tomatoes! Holy Moses, these tomatoes are gorgeous! I'd get wallpaper of this pattern!


The color! The delicate texture! If this isn't the finest rutabaga I've ever seen, I'll eat my hat. Or this rutabaga.


This leek. I mean. This is a divine leek.


I had a revelation when I got to this tomato. It spoke to me. It said, "Simon. This is a tomato speaking. Listen: you need to eat more vegetables." It was so remarkable I had to go back to the goat tent to get ahold of myself.


The goat told me I needed more hay in my diet, so now I don't know what to think.

By far the strangest part (even considering the talking tomato) was the exhibit of Harry Houdini paraphernalia. I saw some personal trinkets, some handcuffs, a wand. Some photos. They were shown to me by some descendants of his niece or goddaughter or something, who were peculiarly obsessed with him and could not have thought him to be a more important personage if he had been Winston Churchill. It was all very strange. I felt like I had come upon actual nineteenth-century hucksters, except that they were very sincere. It started to get colder and windier at that point, so I decided to call it a day without having my character analyzed scientifically through phrenology. I can only imagine what insights I missed.

Before I left, however, I did stop at the tent of curiosities, which had, and I am not kidding, gen-u-wine artifacts of American and world history, such as George Washington's cherry tree (which looked awfully fresh even for the time period we were supposed to be in), a glass container of tea from the Boston Tea Party, the Donner Party's kettle, a mummy, a piece of the Great Wall of China (which was a broken plate), and many things of that ilk. A corner of the tent was sectioned off; that was where they kept the Man Eating Chicken (Alive).


It was very shocking, I can tell you. Oh, the tearing of flesh!

The only thing that would have made this agricultural fair better was a butter sculpture. Other than that, I really couldn't ask for a more pleasant, amusing, informative, delicious, and light-hearted good time.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Transportation Slam

All the posts you've read in the past six weeks were written in the space of about five days, and I must say, I'm starting to feel like I'm doing very uninformed school reports on field trips. That's why, for the Transportation Museum, I am going to do a poem. It is a rough draft.


Our fair city once had a subway
And this car is all that's left


The outside is disastrous
And the inside looks bereft.


We took a ride on the trolley,
Which long ago was hopping,
Back when women needed to know
The hour for good shopping.


They ferried us in little cars
Out on the trolley tracks.
It was so hot in the open
We nearly had heart attacks.


The station was quaint and old;
Not much had changed within,


But the oil cans sat behind glass,


And the stationmaster was not in.


I wanted to push all the buttons,
And to tell the truth, I did,


And I also snapped a picture
of this adorable kid.


She was in the red caboose,
Which looked brand new to me, or


At least cleaner than this cooler,
(Secured by ADT).


The refrigeration car was pretty cool;
Please excuse the pun.

The sign says: "You will notice you are standing on a wood slat floor that keeps you up above the car's actual floor. This was done for air circulation. However, it was also necessary to clean the cars out of any perishable material that may have fallen below the slat floor. Therefore, my job is to hold up the slat floor which is made of the hinged panels which left up from the center toward the outer walls of the car. I slip between two of the slats and hold the panels up so the car can be cleaned out!"

If you think I'm really sorry,
I'll pull the other one.


Here's a chart of train parts
I'd happily hang on my wall,


And here's a shot of a car
Tinted with a gloomy green pall.

trolley compilation

We got a bit overexcited
About switching the trolley pole.
The driver couldn't help but notice
And thought we were rather droll.


But the best part of the museum
For a person whose humor is dark
Were these safety signs on display
Which frankly I thought were a lark.






When next you go by the railway
Remember these signs and don't scoff,
Because if you so much as look at a train
Your leg will come right off.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Susan B. Anthony

Bonus non-Monday post! But first a note: Be not afraid, for the header will be back. Flickr had a glitch and lost it, and I keep forgetting to put it back up.

And now for today's special two-part post on the hot topic currently on everyone's minds! Yes, that's right: women's suffrage!

Part 1: Votes for Women

Today, February 15th, is Susan B. Anthony's birthday, and there is currently a display in the library about her. That display (of items and documents behind glass) coordinates with another display (of books you can check out) by the reference stacks. There is nothing we like more, in the library, than displays. Every time anything remotely interesting happens, we look at each other and say, "Do you think we can do a display on that?" The answer is always yes. So we're doing these displays, and I'm in charge of the book one. In deciding what to put in it, I realized that I didn't know enough about Susan B. Anthony, so I started reading about her. And then I got this grand idea that I should include in the display a sampling of contemporary newspaper articles about her, because hey, it would only add ten additional hours of work!

I decided to focus on the time Anthony got arrested for voting and was put on trial. I thought for sure there would be some great articles on that, and I was right! It was really fun watching the trial unfold as told by journalists who had no idea what to make of Anthony. One referred to her as "that sublime and infatuated pantaloonatic," which is now my preferred term for trailblazing women. As I was watching things progress, I was awaiting the triumphant moment when the judge hands down Anthony's sentence, which was a fine of $100, and she jumps up and cries out, "I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty!" (It is possible I'm imagining that moment as being more dramatic than it was . . . but honestly, I can't see how it wouldn't be dramatic.) I waited and waited and read every article about her sentencing that I could find, but it did not appear. "This is strange," I said to myself. "Did it even happen? Is it apocryphal?" The newspapers were emphatic: she never said it. Take this Philadelphia Inquirer article for example:


It says right there, in print: "The judge then sentenced her to pay a fine of one hundred dollars and costs of prosecution, and immediately added . . ." It is the and immediately added that interests me. Because, according to Anthony, it isn't true. According to her account of her own trial, she made a whole speech between the judge announcing the fine and then telling her she would not "stand committed" (i.e. go to jail). "I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty" was only the beginning of it; she goes on for a whole paragraph. In her account, she does a great deal more talking during her sentencing than the judge does.

It's hard to tell how accurate this is. Another account by Anthony's friend has Anthony saying little more than, "I don't have any money and in fact I'm ten thousand dollars in debt." And Anthony's account does seem suspiciously eloquent. On the other hand, Anthony was quite accustomed to public speaking and the accounts agree on other shorter but equally eloquent remarks she made. In fact, she was so famously vocal that there was jokes going around in the newspapers about how funny it was that the judge even bothered to ask the legally-required question at the beginning of the sentencing: "Does the defendant have anything to say why the sentence should not be pronounced?" Why bother asking, comment the newspapers; of course she had something to say. Susan B. Anthony always has something to say. All accounts then agree that when Anthony started talking, the judge told her to stop.

It's possible that Anthony found herself somewhat cowed by the strikingly unjust judicial system and all the men in charge of it. What she reported herself saying may have been what she wanted and intended to say had she not been facing a hostile judge intent on committing a brazen act of injustice -- not only did he find her guilty, but he announced that he would find her guilty before her trial started, and never asked the jury for their verdict, instead demanding they find her guilty. Under these circumstances, it may not have been possible for her to say what she wanted, so when she wrote up her account, she added in the things she would have said. Knowing people would be interested, it was an opportunity for her to make the case to the public that she had not been able to make in court.

But it's also possible that the men in charge of newspapers were willing to report on the antics of these "wild women" who voted only insofar as they were amusing (and losing). Few articles show outrage at her daring to vote; they're amused at the idea. A woman! Voting! Ahahahahahahahaha. What a pantaloonatic! One much-reprinted article noted in its report of Anthony's arrest that she did indeed admit to being a woman at the time that she voted, har har. The tone of almost all the articles is jocular if not outright condescending. When Anthony was arrested, the general response was surprise. The New York Herald-Tribune said that their voting had "taken on a new and less good-humored phrase." I am not sure what they thought good humor had to do with women trying to exercise their constitutional rights, but it seems they thought it was kind of a joke. Women were so powerless that the antics of suffragists could be tolerated because they were not perceived as a threat. But Susan B. Anthony was a bit threatening -- even if she was quiet in court, she certainly wasn't outside of it. Which could explain why, if Anthony stood up (as I imagine it) and declared to the judge that she would not accept her sentence, it seemed less funny and more frightening, and was left out of the news. What if women were to vote? What might they do?

Part 2: The Woman Voter

By coincidence, the same day that I read the above article, I ran across a book in the stacks called The Woman Voter: An Analysis Based upon Personal Interviews (1955). This is how it begins:

"It cannot be denied that women are fascinating. But it can also be said, without being at all facetious, that the voting behavior of women is even more fascinating."

The book is little more than a pamphlet -- sixteen pages of summarized interviews in which women show themselves to vote in neither a more nor less fascinating way than men. I wouldn't say women or their opinions are exactly denigrated, but there is a tone of pleasant surprise: Why, women are well-informed! They are interested in politics! They understand that politics affect their lives! Their opinions are not identical to their husbands'! Sometimes they even influence their husbands' opinions!

Without being at all facetious, I was baffled as to why such a book should exist. And then I realized that women had only been voting for 35 years by that point. Voting was new for women, and women voting was new for the government. It's almost like women were new for the government. Who are these creatures? What do they want? How can we get them to vote for us? Which just goes to show how important the right to vote was, since the government didn't have to care about women at all until they had it.

I suppose this post is just an excuse to spend some time thinking about Susan B. Anthony and what she and other supporters of women's suffrage believed and accomplished. It isn't only about voting, after all. There was something else she said (or wanted to say) at her trial that struck me: "As then, the slaves who got their freedom must take it over, or under, or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so, now, must women, to get their right to a voice in this government, take it; and I have taken mine, and mean to take it at every possible opportunity." It's really about rebelling against unjust laws, whatever they may be. Since we have a lot of those, I think it's worth remembering Susan B. Anthony not just in the context of women's rights, but in the wider context of justice; standing up for civil rights over, under, or through unjust laws, at every opportunity.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Claude Bragdon's Terminal Velocity

At work, I'm in charge of the faculty book display. By "in charge" I mean I do the gruntwork that other people tell me to do. It is one of my least favorite parts of my job, on account of the alarm system and the embarrassing number of times I've had to show my ID to security to convince them that I'm not breaking in. Oops! Anyway, the books stay in the display for three years, and there's one that's been in there since I started here about Claude Bragdon called Claude Bragdon's Beautiful Necessity. I always misread it as Claude Bradgon's Terminal Velocity. I don't know, it makes a lot more sense to me!

Claude Bragdon was an architect (among other things) who had a practice in Rochester from 1900 to 1917 or so. He was part of the Arts & Crafts movement, but had his own particular style. He was a pretty prolific writer, for an architect, and published whole books in which he said things like: "From the architecture of a true democracy, founded on love and mutual service, beauty would inevitably shine forth; its absence convicts of us a maladjustment in our social and economic life. A skyscraper shouldering itself aloft at the expense of its more humble neighbors, stealing their air and their sunlight, is a symbol, written large against the sky, of a will-to-power of a man or a group of men --  of that ruthless and tireless aggression on the part of the cunning and the strong so characteristic of the period which produced the skyscraper. One of our streets made up of buildings of diverse styles and shapes and sizes  -- like a jaw with some teeth whole, some broken, some rotten, and some gone -- is a symbol of our unkempt individualism, now happily becoming curbed and chastened by a common devotion, a common danger."

To this, some would say Yes yes yes! And some would say No no no! He goes on to say that too often style is subjugated to practicality, when they should be equal and inseparable, which I think is difficult to argue with, but then again, I have never studied architecture and had to read up on Bragdon for this post, so what do I know. Anyway, Bragdon is an interesting character, about whom Rochesterians may be hearing more as the city goes with plans for its new train station. The style of the old Bragdon Station, which was demolished in 1965 (to build a parking lot, godhelpus) is being incorporated into the plans for the new station. This is the one (1) and only example of Rochester making a sound architectural decision that I've heard of in the past several years, and I am very pleased.

The three paragraphs of background you've just read have been basically pointless because this post has far less to do with his architectural accomplishment as it does with his second career in stage designing, and even that is tangentially related to my point. In 1916, Bragdon staged his first Festival of Song & Light in Highland Park. I have stolen this description from the Rush Rhees Rare Books Department's description of the Bragdon Family Papers: "In 1915, Bragdon introduced his new system of ornament, which was based upon four-dimensional geometry. . . . Using projective ornament and color theory, he created complex installations marrying choral music to colored light. These festivals, with stage sets framed by thousands of lanterns and screens fashioned like stained glass windows, were witnessed by audiences of up to 60,000. For the next thirty tears, Bragdon explored various means of animating color and light, including 'color organs' that linked chromatic and musical scales with electricity to play four-dimensional colored light forms."

This is a (sadly) black-and-white photo of a photo of one of these festivals - possibly one in New York.


Last August, the Historic Maplewood Association and the Rochester Oratorio Society put on a similar event. It did not exactly live up to the Claude Bragdon originals, but it was a solid effort. My main complaints were that (1) I was expecting beautiful, ethereal choral music, and instead, it was pretty corny a capella standards, complete with some contributions by Disney, and (2) the lanterns were neither numerous nor luminous enough. I was not reminded of the "cathedral without walls" that Bragdon wanted to evoke. Stained glass patterns printed on plastic was a good idea, but not quite breathtaking. They should have been bright and warm, but instead they were blue and cold.


Which isn't to say it wasn't pretty. One tree had a lovely collection of lanterns, even if there was no four dimensional color theory hocus pocus going on.


This colorful glass thing came a bit closer to what I think Bragdon would've had.


And for no particular reason, I liked this gazebo decked out in lights, complete with an old man.


I can only hope this will become an annual festival and will improve every year. It would be wonderful to see a really accurate reproduction of one of Bragdon's Festivals of Song & Light, for I bet it was a sight to behold.