Friday, September 28, 2012

Haskins Park gets a cleaning.

I blame it all on D.

She is the one who originally got interested in Haskins Park, which sits on a hilltop not far from where we live. Through the local Historical Society -- where she is a volunteer and board member -- she has unearthed a great deal of information on the Park and its creator, Leander M. Haskins.

While you can (and should) read about it hereherehere and here in D.'s blog, I'll give you the shorthand version: Leander Haskins grew up in this town and made a fortune after the Civil War. He purchased 70 acres on Poole's Hill and built an estate in 1892, which he left to the town (to use as a hospital or park) when he died in 1905. The main buildings were made into a public hospital, which eventually closed circa 1920 after the Spanish Flu epidemic. A local physician, Dr. Heberle, leased the place in 1932, and ran it as a combination sanitarium and hospital until 1938. The buildings were then abandoned and, in 1960, burned as a "training exercise" by the local fire department. Since that time, much of the site has steadily been swallowed up by vines, trees, catbrier and other obnoxious wild growth. Only the hilltop, though more heavily wooded than it was in 1905, and the area taken by the town to build a massive tank for the water system, are readily accessible. People like to take their dogs up there for exercise.

D. decided that something more was necessary. If the Haskins estate couldn't be rebuilt -- and it can't -- at least the grounds should serve two purposes: to be more accessible and attractive for use as a park, and to expose people to the history and generosity of Leander Haskins. Others in the Historical Society readily agreed and, after some time-consuming and careful preparatory work by D., so did the town's Board of Selectmen.

The plans even attracted the notice of the newspaper in the next town, which sent a reporter and photographer to do a story. While I generally find the paper to be mainly a source for bizarre typographical errors and new forms of improper English -- many articles read as if they are Google translations into English from Urdu, with side trips through Russian, Japanese and, perhaps, Tagalog -- the writer was reasonably accurate and comprehensible.

Last Saturday was the first Haskins Park Clean-up Day. Volunteers showed up starting at 8:00 A.M. with clippers, rakes, gloves and -- most vital -- insect repellent. By 3:00 that afternoon, more than 20 people had gone to work. And "work" is an understatement: We gathered up three dump-truck and two pickup truck loads of brush, leaves and other debris.

And whence, you might ask, came the dump truck we filled? From the town's Department of Public works, which sent a crew out do do some of the heavy cleaning on Friday...

...and returned the truck to be filled three times by the volunteers on Saturday.

Though contact had been made -- and posters were put out -- in a variety of places, we did not get any volunteers from the schools or other organizations we thought would be interested. D. calculated that the average age of the crew was 62. Hmmmm....

The "morning crew" -- a total of 24 showed up

And they worked! Harder and more effectively than we could have hoped. Some ugly overgrown areas were cut away, leaving open space and attractive plants. What was more surprising, all of them seemed to enjoy the work. No one complained -- not even me.

At the end of the day, Haskins Park looked better than it has in years. It looked a bit better still three days later, when we met four of our friends at the park so they could do their bit as well. And I cleared away a little more of the unattractive overgrowth.

This photo doesn't show any benefits of the clean-up, but I like it.

There was a secondary motive to getting the place spruced up a bit now: the sons of Dr. Heberle, who ran the place as Restcroft Sanitarium, will be visiting next week. D. wanted it to be as nice as possible for them. I think she succeeded.

In future, the hope is that a suitable memorial plaque will be placed to honor Leander Haskins, along with some new benches and some other appropriate amenities. D. is also working to see that the stone entrance pillars are restored, along with a couple of special (though not well known) features from the Haskins era that are tucked away in an inaccessible part of the property.

Me? I ache. If Restcroft was still in operation, I'd head up there for one of Doctor Heberle's electrical treatments (yes, he had some strange ideas, not unlike those employed by John Harvey Kellogg at his sanitarium) in hopes it would burn away the pain.

I will admit this is not the way I think history should be treated. I am not in favor of plaques and museum exhibits, preferring instead to keep historical objects large and small in usable, original condition.

PARENTHETICAL I'M-BEING-CONSIDERATE THOUGHT: You do not want to start me on a rant about historical homes and structures, or certain old and valuable objects of various kinds. I could launch into a 12-hour nonstop rant about the destruction caused by inattention, greed and ham-fisted, uneducated "restorers." But I have learned that it's a thankless task, and that's as true here as anywhere.

But Haskins Park is a lovely place and, after being introduced to its story by D., I am captivated by it. I'll be ready for the next phase of the work. I hope my muscles will be, too.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Signs that make you say "hmmmmm...."

I guess this one would qualify, yes?

D. and I were recently in New Bedford visiting some of her family. We happened to see this while driving through town; I must say I'm glad I wasn't driving, as I probably would have run into something while digging out my camera....

Now, I am not what you'd call really hip regarding some aspects of religion. I've spent a lot of time in churches, more than I've spent drinking beer. My pipe-organ service work accounts for a majority of those hours in Houses of the Lord, but never mind that. I simply haven't seen anything quite like this before*.

Well, one time I did. Many years ago, I was working on the installation of a new pipe organ in a Catholic church. We had been at it for several hot days, and were almost to the point where the heavy lifting had been completed. Father O' Something-or-other (I don't remember his name, but he was a foine old Irish priest who could have been played in the movies by the late Pat O' Brien) walked in and said (in a lush Ould Sod  brogue), "you lads look like you could use a beer." He proceeded to bring in a couple of six-packs of tall ones and -- dare I say it? -- a church key.

I don't think they were Budweisers, though.

But they were appreciated, even if one result was that we delayed some of the more skilled work (such as tuning) until the next day.

Perhaps, time permitting, I should have dropped by this feast and looked to see if Father O' Something-or-other has been transferred to New Bedford....

* You might say I'm a believer in the Separation of Church and Beer. Or not.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


That's what it is around here...finally!

The weather has been plenty cold, but there hasn't been much snow. I'm told the snowfall totals have been well below normal; we had a dusting on Christmas Day, a light fall later, and a more significant storm yesterday. With temperatures not going above freezing for the last few days, I expect the white stuff to last for a while. At least until Wednesday, when the forecast is for a daytime high in the mid-40s.

PARENTHETICAL IT-AIN'T-TRUE-JUST-BECAUSE-IT'S-ON-THE-INTERWEBZ THOUGHT: My clever little weather gadget from The Weather Channel is very optimistic when it comes to temperature: our thermometer says it's 26 degrees right now, while the the little gizmo on my computer screen says it's 37. Hah!

Anyway, it was a lovely (if cool) day for a walk, which took us around the Goose Cove reservoir...

The ice didn't look stable enough to walk on....
Otherwise, I've been spending an inordinate amount of time continuing work on the pipe organ in a local church. Weather gets some blame for that. Right after, that is, the installation of new carpet in the sanctuary. We scheduled a tuning for a couple of Sundays ago; turns out that was the day the carpet people were coming to pull up the shaggy old stuff and, to avoid problems, we had to remove part of the organ instead.

That went back together after a few days, after which I found I had to dismantle part of the organ's facade and some interior woodwork to gain any access to the pipes. This took long enough that we couldn't finish in one day. Returning the next morning, we found that what I had done on Day One was now hideously -- as in a squadron of angry cats shrieking at each other -- out of tune. The building's heat had been set to 68 the day before, and then was shut off overnight. The 20-plus degree change (down and back) did the damage.

Photo by D., who luckily couldn't hear what I was thinking!
After the heat came up, we got it all tuned the second day, got everything reassembled, and it was operable for the service on the following Sunday. The organist said she received comments on how well the organ sounded.

Naturally, the improvement wasn't solely the result of my sensitive ears and capable hands. Without getting too technical, most modern instruments are tuned to a specific pitch, which is A=440 cycles per second. When this organ was built (1920 or earlier), it was not uncommon to find pipes constructed to sound best (and speak the right note) at A435 instead. Tuning to the slightly flatter pitch made a noticeable difference in the sound quality.

D. was a trouper throughout. She put up with the noise, time spent rectifying mistakes, my finessing and fussing and the sheer tedium that are all part of the job. I will also say the check to come for the work will ease some of the aches and pains caused by crawling around in an organ that was clearly designed to be serviced by the likes of Tom Thumb and Billy Barty....

Outdoors, more snow possible this week, before and after the "warm" days midweek. Now prepared as I was not in my California days -- I'm now equipped with proper boots, thermal socks, undershirt and Long Johns, plus gloves and a wool cap -- I'm quite enjoying this mild taste of winter!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, and...

...but first, Merry Christmas, courtesy of the good folks in nearby Gloucester (a seafarin' town) who assembled a tree from lobstah traps and floats, plus strategically placed ornaments and lights.

Even the lobstahs get a holiday!

As for the "and" bit:  herewith, an unsolicited testimonial for Richard's Delicious Seasoning, which came to us as a present from JohnO. He's currently Somewhere In Florida, but shipped the tasty stuff before leaving home.

The seasoning is delicious, noticeable but not overwhelming, with a peppery (but pleasant) aftertaste. And is salt- and MSG-free, if that's of interest to you. John advised that it is suitable for "fish or flesh," neither of which he eats. So far, I can only report that it's remarkably tasty when sprinkled on meat. Other uses will no doubt come to mind. Get some; you'll like it.

All presents acquired. All I need to do now is wrap 'em. Which is what I'm off to do.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Favorite Son candidate!

I try to avoid politics here -- and in real life, too -- but there sometimes are exceptions, and today is one of them.

For three years, I have maintained that I would support a lump of month-old road kill if it ran against the current president who, I firmly believe, will take his place among such horrific past "leaders" as Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding*, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

While offering my vote to an unidentifiable, decomposing hunk of meat, however, I was actually hoping a candidate would appear who exceeded my pitifully low expectations. One's support for the worst doesn't mean that's what is really wanted. Sadly, that is what we have gotten.

Now, at last, I believe I have found an alternative, already campaigning to win the New Hampshire primary election. That would be Vermin Supreme.

Has kind of a nice ring, doesn't it? President Supreme. Rolls right off the ol' tongue....

Here's Vermin Supreme during a recent "candidate's forum" event in New Hampshire:

Vermin Supreme (l.), and some hack political gink (r.)**

I know what you're thinking: this Supreme dude is a gag, right? Some lunatic joker with more time than sense stirring things up for a cheap laugh.

That, as Maxwell Smart used to say, is what they want you to believe.

In truth, Vermin Supreme is no political novice. He ran in 2008, scoring 41 votes in New Hampshire and, according the the Federal Election Commission, some 43 write-in votes in the general election. He is the Voice of Opposition to incumbents, having run as a Republican in '08, and as a Democrat in '12.

If one judges by his website, he is not concentrating on the major issues. That seems a Good Thing to me, as the entrenched politicians in Washington have messed up virtually every large problem they laid their grubby hands on.

Supreme likes to tell voters  that he is alone among presidential candidates as an organ donor, having offered up one of his kidneys when his mother was ill. We each have two kidneys and need only one, he reminds us; he is in fact a serious champion of organ donation. Compare him to the grasping greedheads he's running against and the contest is already over. Who (especially among politicians) could believably muster up any kind of claim to surpass a man who gave so selflessly?

He is also a champion of dental hygiene and more brutally honest than anyone in American politics, past or present. He says he is perfectly willing to lie as president, for the simple reason that he can. And, in a case of sheer inspiration, he is the only candidate who supports fully funding time-travel research in order to go back and kill Hitler before he was born.

Actually, his website had my full attention the moment I saw a little drawing of a horse -- captioned "Screw World Peace, I Want a Pony" -- on the main page.

Finally, there's the "favorite son" bit: Vermin Supreme makes his home right here in my very own town, not two miles from where I am currently typing. It would do this burg no end of good to bring in the additional tourism generated by locating the "Eastern White House" right here on Cape Ann!

I find it slightly odd that, though Mr Supreme has been mentioned in the local newspaper, I have yet to see a single "Supreme in '12" bumper sticker, yard sign or lapel button anywhere in town.

If, in time, you see someone so equipped, that'll be me. As soon as Mr Supreme makes 'em available, that is. I can even forgive his involvement in the "Occupy Boston" debacle. Other Massachusetts politicos were far more offensive during that mess....

For quite a while, too much attention to politics has made me want to throw up. Thanks to Vermin Supreme, I've been able to smile a bit lately when contemplating the horde of goons, felons and self-anointed royalty infesting D.C. That, in and of itself, is something....

*   Whose real and enduring claim to fame is the coining of the words "normalcy" and "bloviate."

** Photo stolen from the web, via some other blogger who stole it from a legit photographer without giving a credit line.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


One of the Christmas traditions here in Sandy Bay is an "open house" at Tuck's Candy Factory....

Yes, that's World Famous Motif #1©  in the background....
On weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Tuck's invites the public to come into the factory and see how their candies (a wide array of chocolates, hard candies and salt-water taffy, in a bewildering range of flavors) are made. It's all done the old-fashioned labor-intensive way; that's no surprise, as Tuck's has been around since 1929.

The hard candies begin with a large quantity of sugar, cut slightly with water and cream of tartar, heated to 300 degrees in a copper kettle, at which point it has become a syrupy mass. The liquid is poured onto a special table, where it begins to cool...

Somehow, I was reminded of my days working with fiberglass....

From there, the sweet globs are hung from a hook, where they are twisted and pulled to remove air bubbles. Flavoring (peppermint, etc.) is also added at this stage....

The mixture turns white (sort of) as air is forced out

Then the stretched, tugged and flavored sugar paste, still cooling, is taken to yet another table, where it is further pummeled and either rolled into long, thin tubes (for hand-formed candy canes) or stretched flat and cut into discrete strips to be fed into a vintage hand-cranked machine...

Some engineer spent hours -- maybe days! -- designing this candy machine....

It emerges from the fiendish device as ribbon candy, to the delight of the audience....

Will there be free samples???
Other types of candies are produced by machines of similar vintage. The taffy-wrapping device (older than Tuck's!) is worth a separate post and, in time, will get one. But the small-mint cutter is neat, too...

Oddly enough, Tuck's doesn't sell these mini-mints nowadays

I'm not that much of a candy-eater, but enjoyed watching the show and very much enjoyed munching on samples. All that hand-work pays off: I've never tasted better candy! And yes, I put my name in the box for a chance to win the Christmas six-foot chocolate-filled candy cane!

P.S. I'll do the same when Tuck's has a drawing for its giant chocolate rabbit come Easter....

PARENTHETICAL TOO-GOOD-TO-LEAVE-OUT THOUGHT: The local newspaper never disappoints. This little gem comes from Friday's police blotter: "A woman called to report a barking dog on White Way at 12:46 a.m. Wednesday and was referred to the dog officer. According to police, the caller said she had spoken to the dog, but that it had refused to comply with her request that it stop barking."

All I can say is: "Woof...."

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Fa la la la la...

...and so on.

Despite my own Grinchishness, which has traditionally kept all thoughts of the upcoming Non-secular Winter Holiday -- that would be Christmas -- out of my head 'til roughly December 20th, D. and I went down to Sandy Bay's chilly downtown last evening to see annual rituals performed.

First, of course, was the arrival of Ol' Saint Nick, who naturally makes his way into town on a fishing boat, accompanied by the Harbormaster and Coast Guard....

The sleigh and reindeer are probably belowdecks....

After the vessel moored, Santa found getting up on the wharf -- the same wharf on which World-Famous Motif #1© is located -- somewhat problematic, but there's no doubt he just didn't have his land legs yet....

The local reporter for the next town's newspaper claimed Santa would "walk up the ladder...."

After that, he transferred to the Forest Fire Department's truck, a restored classic, for a trip through town....

Not a sleigh, and the reindeer are likely forbidden by law from wandering around downtown.
After cheering on Santa, the throng -- far larger than a crowd, almost a multitude -- were enthusiastic as one of the Selectmen (actually, it was the Chairpersoness of the Selectpeople) lit the town Christmas tree.

Then they went home....

Sandy Bay is thoroughly modern...we have electricity!
Cold, even chilly, but festive!

Ho, ho, ho....