04 March 2015

Mess With The Bull...

This clipping is from the October 30, 1894 New Brunswick Daily Times.  Read to the end for the punch line.  Says something about the relative value of farm laborers and prize bulls.  At least in 1894.......

03 March 2015

Four- Feet Tall and Searching

Who's your favorite Wizard of Oz character?  Dorothy? Scarecrow? Perhaps the great and powerful Oz himself?

Position wanted ad from Billboard, January 22, 1921

My favorite is a character, who, despite decades of watching the film - first on the annual CBS television broadcast in the 1960s, then on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and finally Blu-Ray - I have never actually seen.


I am talking about my cousin John Ballas.  My grandfather's cousin more precisely - but mine too, because that's how those things work - who appeared with dozens of other little people as a Munchkin in the classic 1939 MGM film.  And it's not correct to say I have never seen him in the film.  I must have.  I just didn't know which one he was!

Story from the Buffalo Courier Express, October 23, 1927

Johnny, a native of Brooklyn, NY, got his start in show business in 1919 at the age of 16.  Two years later, probably eager to break out of the Coney Island sideshow world, he placed an ad in Billboard providing prospective employers with his most vital statisitics.

I am a midget, 18 years of age, height, 3 ft., 11 in.; 60 lbs.  Have had one year and six months experience in show business.  Would like to get with good, reliable show company.

1927 advertisement from the Buffalo Courier Express

By the mid 1920s, Johnny was working regularly in vaudeville, including a revue called Midgets' Pastime, which included future fellow Munchkins the Hoy Sisters.

Tonowanda News, October 27, 1926

Evidently John Ballas was no small talent (pun intended), and soon graduated to Broadway, appearing in the 1930 revival of Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland.

The Taming of the Shrew 1935 program, John Ballas among the dwarfs

In 1935, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne had an idea to add dwarfs to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and John Ballas was given one of those four unique roles.

December 28, 1935 New York Post

Many of the little people who answered the call for The Wizard of Oz were part of the Singer's Midgets troupe.  Others, like John Ballas, were working actors with long resumes.  Several were given featured roles in Munchkinland - the Mayor, the Coroner, the Lollipop Guild trio, etc. - but John Ballas was not among them.  He was one of the many dozens, spectacularly costumed, but more or less employed in filling out the scenes.

Munchkins with actor Victor McLaglen on the backlot of MGM.  John Ballas is second from left.
I have only been able to find a couple of photos of my cousin from his Wizard of Oz experience - neither in costume or on the set.  Still, I will keep looking for that needle in a Munchkin-land haystack.  At nearly four feet tall, he shouldn't be THAT hard to find!

02 March 2015

Sugar Maple Celebration....Are We Nuts?

Jack Kuhlman is a tree nut.  In fact it could be said that Duke Farms Certified tree Expert is indeed "certifiable".  And that's a good thing!

Our first lesson - MAD Horse

Patty and I and about thirty other Duke Farms Fans - kids and adults - braved the below freezing temps on Sunday morning for a ninety minute "tree hike" from the Farm Barn to the Hay Barn and back, with plenty of stops along the way.  This was part of Duke Farms' Sugar Maple Celebration which also included tree-tapping demonstrations, activities for kids, and a special maple syrup inspired menu at the cafe.

A fine specimen near the Farm Barn

With Jack leading the way, stops were as informative as they were frequent.  With an enthusiasm that cut through the cold, our tree expert led us out the back door of the visitors' center, barely reaching the corner of the building before we halted to receive our first lesson - MAD Horse.  Yep, only four trees have branches that grow in opposite pairs - maple, ash, dogwood, and horse chestnut. MAD Horse.

Not all trees lose their leaves

More lessons: Some trees, like beeches and oaks, retain their leaves through much of the winter. The willow isn't the only tree that "weeps", there's also a weeping birch! 

The weeping birch

The London plane looks like a sycamore, but is actually a cross between a sycamore and an oriental plane, the difference being that the London plane has seed-filled fruit that hangs in pairs while the sycamore fruit hangs singly.

The London plane, a hybrid of the oriental plane and the sycamore

Everywhere Jack looked, there was another tree to describe.  We spent the morning swiveling right and left following the expert finger!

Look, it's a tree!

The group arrived at last at the grove of sugar maples near the Hay Barn. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make about 1 gallon of maple syrup.  Apparently you can also get sap from birch trees, but you'll need 60 gallons for your 1 gallon of birch syrup.

Buckets in the sugar maple grove

Jack explained the traditional method of drilling the holes for the taps using a hand brace and specialized drill bit.

The hand brace

The sugar maple tap with the insert that allows it to be hammered into the tree

Kids got the feel for "tapping" by drilling into a fallen tree. The sugar maples at Duke Farms were tapped using a cordless electric drill.

Kids go "hands-on" with the brace and bit

Jack has been with Duke Farms for about eight years and is responsible for caring for thousands of trees.  With a nod to sustainability and ecology, Duke Farms cares for their trees differently than a typical suburban New Jersey homeowner.  Aesthetics are far less important than allowing for the trees to provide natural habitats for animals and birds.  To that end, dead limbs are not pruned all the way back, and  dead trees are left standing as long as there is no chance they will fall or injure anyone.

Jack Kuhlman examines a tree injured by last year's frost and quick thaw.

The Sugar Maple Celebration brought 3,000 visitors to Duke Farms.  I'm glad we took the bull by the horns and ventured out to join them.  In that kind of weather, I guess we were all a little nuts.

The Farnese Bull

26 February 2015

The Residence

The Duke residence at Duke Farms.  Home to James B. Duke, and later his daughter Doris Duke.

Duke Residence 1915

Duke Residence 1940

Duke Residence 2015

25 February 2015

Backyard Critters

I was digging through the hard drive this week when I realized that hidden among the photos of family vacations, birthday parties, school concerts, etc. were various photos of backyard critters I had snapped over the years.  This must be the digital equivalent of "finishing up the roll".  The camera is out, the battery is charged, let's take a walk out the back door.

22 February 2015

Otto's Farm Park

I am not sure if this will help, but I have been advised to think warm thoughts.  

Otto's Farm Park is at the corner of Wertsville and Montgomery Roads.  These photos are from July 2014.

19 February 2015

1906 Duke Estate - in Color

These photos of Duke's Park are from a 1906 postcard-sized foldout folio.  They are gently hand colored.  Enjoy.

18 February 2015

Hillsborough Highwayman - 1911

Highwaymen - glamorized as "gentlemen of the road", immortalized as Robin Hood-types - but in reality the bane of the British traveler for more than two centuries.  By 1831, when the last robbery by the brutal outlaws was recorded, these "road agents" had been essentially banished from the English byways.

Goya's "Robbery of the Coach"
Not so in America, where the arrival of the first automobiles, slower and more dependent on the road than the typical coach of the day, presented the dastardly scoundrels with a new opportunity.  The problem was so great that by 1911 the Automobile Club of America was advertising a $1,000 reward payable "to any person causing the apprehension and conviction of any robber who held up and robbed a motorist on a public highway."  It wasn't long before a holdup caused them to made good on that offer - and it happened right here in Hillsborough.

Charles Dumas, the well known, and well-off, candy manufacturer and ice cream store proprietor of Somerville was taking Mrs. Dumas for a tour of the countryside around Hillsborough on the late afternoon of August 24,1911.  Around 8 pm, as they slowly made their way back towards Somerville, they passed through the beautifully landscaped Duke's Park, the home of tobacco and water power magnate James B. Duke.

Dukes Parkway circa 1906

At the end of Dukes Parkway, Dumas activated the headlights of his open roadster, and made a left turn onto South Somerville Road.  Today, this section is part of Route 206, but before the highway was built, this was just a narrow two-lane road which continued north, crossed Dukes Parkway East, and became South Bridge Street.

As they approached the small wooden bridge crossing Duke's Brook, the headlights shone on a long plank stretched across the road, propped on a barrel at one end.  Dumas brought the auto to an abrupt halt.  He stepped from the car with the intention of removing the obstruction - obviously left from some earlier road work - and then continuing cautiously home.  But just as he stepped onto the roadster's running board, a shot rang out from the hedge and stone wall along the Duke estate.

1898 map showing Somerville and Hillsborough.
The spot on South Somerville Rd. where Charles Dumas and his wife
were held up is now seven lanes of Route 206!

As the highwayman burst forth from the hedge, Dumas realized that he had been shot clean through the forearm near the elbow.  Mrs. Dumas screamed and pleaded with her husband to give up his money, but Charles Dumas was having none of it.  He replied in anger, "I won't.  He shan't have it!"

"You're an obstinate cuss, Charley," said the robber as he shoved the revolver right in the face of the businessman.  "I want your money, and your watch."  Dumas was reluctant, especially since the watch had been a gift from his father, but the screaming and pleading of Mrs. Dumas made sense.

"Oh, give it to him Charley. For heaven's sake, let him have it.  He'll kill you otherwise!"
Dumas emptied his pockets of about $3 in change, smartly not making any indication he still had $50 in a wallet in his breast pocket, and reluctantly snapped the chain of his watch, handing that over as well.  He took a good look at the robber, who wore a red handkerchief over his nose and mouth, and had mud spread over the uncovered parts of his face in an attempt to make it seem that he was black.

The highwayman, still waving the revolver in the direction of Dumas, went around to the passenger side of the car, jumped up on the running board, roughly grabbed the arm of Mrs. Dumas and demanded her rings and jewelry.

New York Time Headline August 25, 1911

Another scream from his wife, and Dumas had had enough.  He sprang around the front of the vehicle, ignoring the gun, and lashed out with his good right arm while at the same time landing a fierce kick to the miscreant's midsection.  As the highwayman tumbled backwards off the running board, Dumas jumped into the driver's seat, gunned the engine of the still running roadster, and released the clutch crashing right through the plank and barrel and speeding north to Somerville.

The bandit fired twice more, both shots hitting the auto, one taking out a headlight, but Mr. and Mrs. Dumas escaped.  Despite losing a considerable amount of blood, Mr. Dumas was able to navigate to the home of Dr. Halstead on Grove St., where Somerset County Detective George Totten and Somerville policeman Julius Sauter were notified and motored south to begin a search.


It was Philadelphia pawn shop proprietor Reuben Cohen, Jr. who ended up claiming the Auto Club reward.  Police and pawn shops up and down the east coast were notified to look out for a gold watch bearing the initials C.M.D, and large placards announcing the reward were placed around Somerville and along the major roads leading north and south.  Less than 24 hours after the holdup, William Diamond walked into Cohen's Philadelphia shop with a desire to pawn the watch.  On the pretense of making a closer examination of the timepiece, whose initialed engraving could be seen to have been partially scratched out, Cohen headed to the back of his shop to call police.

New York Time Headline August 26, 1911

Diamond scuffled with police as they arrived, firing three shots from his revolver, but surrendered soon enough.  Charles Dumas came down from Somerville and positively identified Diamond as the man who robbed him.  Diamond, who was an African-American, had rubbed dirt on his face pretending to be a white man disguised as a black man!  In the end, it was his voice - and possession of the watch, revolver, and a sneaker imprint left at the scene - that eventually got him sentenced to fifteen years in the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

In their January 6, 1912 Club Journal, the Automobile Club of America reported that, since this incident, "there have been few, if any, highway robberies reported of late."

15 February 2015

Cholesterol? Throw it on the Pile

The US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is set to recommend that dietary cholesterol is no longer a "nutrient of concern". It turns out that the amount of cholesterol in your blood is not significantly influenced by the amount of cholesterol you consume, and cholesterol intake is not a risk factor for cardiac disease.  Just more egg on the face of the consensus experts, I guess.

It seems like a lot of science hasn't really been scientific for quite a while now - like maybe the last 100 years.  The late writer Michael Crichton wrote that when science and politics mix you get "consensus science".  And science has nothing to do with consensus. It's either correct or incorrect.  There is no voting.

So let's go through the list.

  • Eugenics
  • Nuclear Winter
  • Overpopulation Famine
  • The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
  • DDT ban
  • Secondhand tobacco smoke
  • Climate Change

There are more, but that should give you a start.  

It's pseudoscience based on terms that can't be defined for equations that can't be calculated leading to solutions that at best do nothing, and at worst cause more damage that can be properly anticipated until it's too late.

12 February 2015

Behind the "Scenes" at Duke's Park

Over the past couple of weeks I have included a number of images in my posts that are derived from 110 year old postcards of "Duke's Park" in Hillsborough.  Today I offer a handful of additional depictions of the grounds of what is known today as Duke Farms from a different series of 1905 postcards.

All of the cards come from my personal collection, I own a few dozen in all.  The clearest views of the J.B. Duke estate come form the very earliest postcards, from 1905 to around 1910.  After that, most of the publishers seem to have garishly hand-colored photos that were already somewhat degraded.

To be clear, none of the images in my posts are the unadulterated cards as they exist in my collection. I have been more interested lately in attempting to rediscover the underlying photograph within the postcard.  To that end, all of the images have been scanned and cropped and cleaned up on the computer.  Blemishes, scratches, rips, tears and extraneous writing have been mostly removed.

I have all of the originals safely in a binder on the shelf, and they make for interesting artifacts in themselves - including many century old postmarks and messages on the reverse.  Some day I may even get to posting the "flip sides".

But today, I am still on the hunt for more cards!