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!

Bound Brook East Main Street, postcard circa 1907

After weeks of citizen complaints, and the 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 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 is the only natural watercourse at Duke Farms. In his transformation of the property around the turn of the last century, tobacco tycoon James B. Duke dammed the stream in several places to create lakes. One of these dams can be seen at the Roycefield Road bridge and this one is right at the entrance to the historic core of the property.

Duke's Brook - 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.

12 March 2015

Millstone Whigs Out Over Native Son Frelinghuysen

"Hurray, Hurray, the Country's Risin' – Vote for Clay and Frelinghuysen!"

One of the largest political assemblies in the history of New Jersey took place in the tiny Hillsborough Township hamlet of Millstone the first week of August 1844.  The occasion was the annual convention of the New Jersey Whig Party, and the wholehearted endorsement of the Whigs' 1844 presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

Whig Party national campaign banner, 1844

The New York Tribune reported, courtesy of one of their affiliated newspapers, that by 11 o'clock in the morning, 782 wagons had already passed over the Millstone River Bridge, and by the time festivities began at 1 pm there were 4,005 wagons in the village!  It was estimated that more than 20,000 residents of Somerset County and the surrounding areas came out that afternoon to show support for the candidates. Delegations from Essex and Middlesex Counties arrived in schooners and sloops by way of the Delaware and Raritan Canal with, "their thousand banners floating in the breeze, strains of vocal and instrumental music swelling on the air, and all the regalia of a triumphant and victorious army."

New York Tribune, August 9, 1844

The enthusiastic response may have had something to do with the fact that the Whigs' candidate for vice president was former United States Senator and Millstone native, Theodore Frelinghuysen.  He was born in the village in 1787 and enjoyed a long career as a lawyer, New Jersey Attorney General, Mayor of Newark, and US Senator, before being elected president of New York University in 1839.

Frelinghuysen campaign poster, 1844

Hillsborough Township was well represented at the event, with both J. Wykoff and P. Beekman being appointed as vice presidents of the state party.  Alas, it seems the two national candidates were not present that day, but there were many speeches given by distinguished Whigs, most denouncing utterly the ambitions of the "Loco-Focos" - the radical Democrats of the day.

Democrat Party national campaign banner, 1844

The primary issue of the 1844 election was slavery and the potential annexation of Texas.  The Whigs were against the annexation of Texas, wishing to keep the delicate balance between free and slave states.  The Loco-Focos were for annexation.  James K. Polk emerged as the unlikely Democratic flag-bearer -  America's first "dark horse" candidate. He received no votes on the first seven ballots at the convention, in contrast to Henry Clay, who the Whigs chose unanimously on the first ballot.

Clay and Frelinghuysen ended up losing the popular vote by 38,000 - out of 2.7 million votes cast and lost the electoral college 170-105.  Third-Party anti-slavery candidate James G. Birney collected more than 2% of the popular vote and may have cost the Whigs the election. His 15,000 votes in New York, where Clay and Polk were separated by only 5,000 votes, probably tipped those 36 electoral votes to the Democrats, depriving Hillsborough of its very own home-grown vice president!

11 March 2015

Animal Rights on Amwell Road

Hillsborough friends and neighbors who commute to New Brunswick and points east are no doubt rejoicing today over the reopening of the canal bridge over the Millstone River.  But did you know that as you travel Amwell Road near the intersection of Clyde you'll pass the epicenter of an epic animal rights battle that took place over a century ago?

Rockefeller Institute. New York

By 1907, the four-year-old Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research had come to the realization that midtown Manhattan was not the most desirable location to carry out scientific experiments concerning contagious and life-threatening diseases - especially those involving animal dissection, a large focus of the research.  Directors were beset by problems right from the start, not the least of which was how to obtain animals suitable for vivisection.

New York Herald, October 20, 1907

Neighborhood boys, lured by the promise of fifty cents per pooch, terrorized the upper east side in their quest for terriers.  It got so bad that beleaguered pet owners knew to go immediately to the Institute pound upon realizing Fido was missing, where the dogs were always happily reunited with their masters. Some dogs were snatched and sold as many as five or six times - good money for the boys, but bad business for the Institute.  Besides, constantly collecting "orphan" dogs gave no possibility to observe the effects of disease or medication on subsequent generations.

New York Herald, November 27, 1909

The obvious solution was to find a large farm in the country where animals could be kept and bred safely.  The Rockefeller Institute settled on a 97-acre tract in the Clyde section of Franklin Township. The farm already contained numerous barns and other buildings, all of which were rehabilitated for the purpose of keeping animals. And there were plenty of animals.

The first residents were the dogs that came from the Institute's 66th Street pound.  There were also sheep and goats and guinea pigs and rabbits and mice and monkeys.  Some horses, some cows, chickens, and pigeons.

As recounted in the 1964 book A History of the Rockefeller Institute 1901-1953 by George W. Corner, the New York Herald's October 1907 six-column feature story about the farm was accurate and fair, but also suggested that vivisection on such a large scale would attract "universal attention" from antivivisectionists, and would become "the antivivisection storm centre of the world." A prediction that the Herald was committed to fulfilling, apparently, as they were the only New York daily on the side of the animal activists for the next several years! 

New York Herald, January 1, 1910
On the other side, The Times, Sun, Evening Post, Tribune, and Collier's magazine, kept the protesters honest by debunking crazy claims of cruelty at the farm and highlighting the advances of in medicine coming out of the Institute.  Still, New Jersey and New York were both ready with bills to outlaw vivisection as early as 1908 - and the battle raged on.  After a suspected antivivisectionist protester set fire to many of the farm buildings, unwittingly killing many of the animals he sought to save, the Herald put forth the proposition that the incendiary's mind had been "unhinged" by reports of animal suffering.

The protesters began to lose ground by the end of 1909 when Mrs. Kennedy, a former farm employee who had sworn out an affidavit alleging the worst cruelties, was accused of bribing other employees to confirm her story.  All along, scientists remained on the side of the Institute and helped to inform the public of the necessity of animal testing in scientific research.

According to Corner, the antivivisectionists actually helped the cause of science by forcing researchers to clearly and openly explain their goals and successes to the public.  I might add that the pressure applied by animal rights activists on Amwell Rd. and around the country, while not ending animal research, undoubtedly led to the more humane treatment of the animals who have given their lives so that we might save ours.

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