18 April 2015

The Thorn Puller, Then and Now

Referred to around Duke Farms as the Blue Boy statue, Lo Spinario (The Thorn Puller) is a copy of a first century Roman bronze.  Much celebrated throughout the Renaissance and later, many copies were made, both in bronze and marble.  Naturally, James B. Duke needed to have a copy for his Hillsborough estate, where the sculpture became part of what the New York Herald described in a 1902 headline as "The Most Imposing Private Collection of Bronzes in America."

The Thorn Puller at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915

The Thorn Puller at Duke Farms, March 2015

15 April 2015

Lord McKenzie of Flagtown

Did you hear the one about the farmer's daughter?  How about the one about the farmer's daughter and the bogus Scottish nobleman? For one New Jersey family, the adventures of one Edward Hugh "Lord" McKenzie ended up being no laughing matter!

McKenzie arrived as a tramp at the door of farmer William Johnson in New Brunswick in the fall of 1887.  Exhausted from weeks and months on the road, he was nursed to health by Johnson's daughter Emma. Regaining his strength, he told a tale of having run away from Glasgow on a lark with a friend, leaving his wealthy father behind to have an adventure in America.  When their money ran out, the friend returned. But Hugh was too embarrassed to face his father, so he decided to stay and travel the country, finally winding up in New Brunswick where he learned of his father's death, and the immense inheritance he was about to receive.

You almost wouldn't blame the farmer's daughter for falling in love with the delicate young "gentleman" - if you believed any of that story was true. In the event, the couple were soon married - over the protests of neighbors, friends, concerned citizens, and the press who could find no evidence that McKenzie was in line to receive any inheritance, or had any other means of providing for his wife.

By the time McKenzie had used up what goodwill he possessed to buy a Flagtown farm on credit and start a family, his brother showed up on the scene and spilled the true story.  It seems that their father was indeed a man of means, but was in no way dead!  McKenzie had been attending college in Glasgow when his father learned he was getting into some mischief.  Among his many capers at school was the one where he posed as an American exchange student who had run out of money and cajoled classmates into buying him suits of clothes.  The elder McKenzie sent his son away to relatives in the West Indies as punishment - and it was from there that he ran away to America.

For a time, Emma Johnson made a go of it.  Working the farm, and taking care of their baby - but it wasn't long before the farm. which was never paid for, had to be returned to the seller, and Emma was back living with her father, working in neighbors' kitchens. Meanwhile McKenzie was still bumming around New Brunswick, defrauding boarding houses and dining establishments at least through the end of 1889 when he arrested for threatening to bash his wife's brains in with their baby's rattle!

After this gruesomeness - and the charges were dismissed - the newspapers, to their credit, no longer seemed interested in "Lord" McKenzie, and so the trail grows cold.  We can only be left to come up with our own punchline for the one about Lord McKenzie of Flagtown!

11 April 2015

Eagle Gate Fountain, Then and Now

Visitors to Duke's Park a century ago would have encountered this beautiful rustic fountain when they entered through the Eagle Gate off of Duke's Parkway. Today you will pass what remains of this "niche" as you stroll Habitat Lane.  The waterfall appears shorter in the 2015 photo because the pool has been mostly filled in with gravel.

Eagle Gate Fountain postcard circa 1913

Eagle Gate Fountain at Duke Farms as it appears in March 2015

04 April 2015

Vista Lake Bridge, Then and Now

I think I was pretty close with this one.  The tall trees in the foreground and to the right of the bridge really change the scene.  In the 1915 postcard, the Vista Lake Bridge looks quite impressive.  The 2015 photo from the same perspective doesn't capture what it's like to be there in person.

Vista Lake Bridge at Duke's Park, postard circa 1915

Vista Lake Bridge at Duke Farms, March 2015

29 March 2015

Mermaid Pool Staircase, Then and Now

Another "then and now" from Duke Farms.  This one was difficult.  The perspective shown in the circa 1907 postcard is almost from down in the gully - a shooting location that would not be appropriate, or even allowed, today.  In scouting these scenes, it became apparent that many postcard photos were taken from spots that are inaccessible in 2015 - so let me assure readers, and Duke Farms, that I am sticking to the paths, and the mowed lawns with the picnic tables. I enjoy a challenge!

Mermaid Pool Staircase at Duke's Park circa 1907

Mermaid Pool Staircase at Duke Farms, March 2015

26 March 2015

Neshanic Bridges

Here's a 1909 postcard view of the three bridges spanning the South Branch of the Raritan River. The Central Railroad of New Jersey bridge is in the foreground, followed by the Elm Street bridge, with the Lehigh Valley Railroad bridge in the distance.

Neshanic Station postcard circa 1909
Don't be confused by the postcard title.  This is not Three Bridges - which is the next village down the line - nor is it Neshanic.  It's Neshanic Station.  The village of Neshanic is centered around the Dutch Reformed Church on Amwell Road.

Bird's Eye view of the bridges at Neshanic Station

25 March 2015

Bound Brook's Goat Problem

At their November 6, 1898 meeting, the borough council of Bound Brook, NJ passed a solemn resolution ordering their policemen to "attack and kill all goats." Yes, you read that correctly.  Bound Brook was being overrun with goats, and something had to be done.

The New York Times, November 7, 1898

"Overrun" may not be a strong enough term to describe what was happening to the good citizens of Somerset County's commercial and transportation hub.  Wayward goats, "homeless but ill-tempered", were charging through the streets ramming and throwing pedestrians with no regard to age or social class!  As The New York Times reported:

"Parents fear to allow their children on the streets, not knowing at what moment one of them may be mashed up against a fence or wall or hurled through a plateglass window."
"It has been no unusual spectacle of late to see a dignified and representative taxpayer being shot across the street as if thrown from a catapult."

Talk about Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying!

East Main Street, Bound Brook, circa 1898
After weeks of citizen complaints, and threat of lawsuits, the borough council was determined to act. They turned first to the Street Superintendent, reasoning that street menaces of this type were within his purview, but the Superintendent was having none of it. Not only did he refuse to do the council's dirty work - arguing that there was nothing in his contract about killing goats - but also came out on the side of the goats, touting their fondness for street refuse and stray grass.

East Main Street circa 1910 ,at the intersection of South Main, Bound Brook
Noting that one of the borough's finest, Policeman Anderson, had also registered a complaint - it seems a party of goats had eaten his entire family's laundry off of the washing line, including his rubber coat! - the council turned at last to the police.  Somewhat out of practice with their revolvers, it was suggested that the officers be issued Krag-Jorgensen bolt-action rifles while on duty!

I was unable to find a follow-up story, but there can be no doubt that, somehow, the Bound Brook bleaters were beaten.

22 March 2015

Duke's Brook, Then and Now

I've been having some fun at Duke Farms trying to photograph scenes as they appeared in century old postcards.  Yes, photographer friends, I know it IS possible to get these "just right".  It takes a lot of time to find the right angle and focal length - more time than I can spend on an offshoot of a sideline of a hobby!  Still, it's fun to try - kind of like speed golf, maybe?

Duke's Brook Postcard - 1915

Duke's Brook Postcard - 2015

19 March 2015

Duke Farms Marbles

A sojourn to Duke Farms would be incomplete without a visit to the Hay Barn.  One of "Duke's Park's" original structures, the building was consumed by fire in 1915, leaving just the stone and brick walls.  Decades later, Doris Duke collected many of the marble statues from around the estate inside the open-roofed structure, creating a contemplative sculpture garden.

Hay Barn Statue, Summer 2013

I never gave the figures much thought until I came across the circa 1918 postcard pictured below. The photo shows a grouping of four marble sculptures surrounding a centerpiece consisting of three joined figures.

Statuary in Duke's Park circa 1918

I immediately recognized the centerpiece as the Three Graces, which adorned the Italian Garden section of Duke Gardens, Doris Duke's indoor display gardens that were open to the public between 1964 and 2008.  The figure on the far right of the postcard also featured in the Italian Garden -somewhat obscured by the plant in the photo below from Wikipedia - and the girl playing the harp was re-purposed for the Gardens too.

By Nathan Siemers (originally posted to Flickr as Paradise Lost)
 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Upon closer inspection, I realized the two on the left in the postcard are in the Hay Barn today, albeit deprived of their pedestals, as are all of the Hay Barn sculptures.  I photographed these earlier this week.

At least two sculptures at Duke Farms retains their proper pedestals - the boy with the violin across the road from the Orchid Range and the boy sitting with his shoes off (and feet missing!) just down the path near the lake.

Sculptures, both marbles and bronzes (which I will write about soon), were commissioned and brought to the United States from Europe by J.B. Duke at great expense. It is a shame that so little information about them is available today. Below are the rest of the sculptures currently on display in the Hay Barn.  Perhaps a knowledgeable reader will provide additional information about these fine works of art.