George Howe Colt

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The intricate challenge that brothers pose for each other, aptly characterized by the playwright Athol Fugard as a “blood knot,” is right up there with the most intense, frustrating, rewarding and self-defining of social bonds. If I speak from experience, having one brother, think how much more is George Howe Colt, with three — an older, Harry, and two younger, Ned and Mark — authorized to expatiate on the subject. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of reading Colt’s previous, National Book Award-­nominated work, “The Big House” (2003), will know his delicate, detailed, ironically self-­mocking way with prose, and his lucid, affectionate fair-­mindedness. That book dealt mainly with the generational fortunes of his Boston/Cape Cod WASP clan; the present one, “Brothers,” is more a meditation on himself and his contemporaries, seen through the fraternal lenses.

But that is only a part of this ambitious study, and by no means the most interesting. Subtitled “On His Brothers and Brothers in History,” it attempts nothing less than an exploration of the full range of male sibling relationships. At its heart are five extended historical narratives, each emblematic of a different fraternal dynamic: the prominent actors Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, exemplifying in broad terms the good brother and the bad; John and Will Kellogg, a feuding, litigious, brother-against-brother pair in Battle Creek, Mich., the former a health spa guru, the latter a cereal king; Theo and Vincent van Gogh, a “brother’s keeper” tale of mutual dependence; the Marx Brothers, who in spite of their profound disharmony functioned for decades as a corporation of zanies; and John Thoreau, a protective older sibling whose death spurred the younger Henry’s loss and grief into literary achievement. Though some of these cases may seem at first overly familiar, Colt has done a prodigious job of research and synthesis, and his skill at storytelling is such that each of them is transformed into something fresh, dramatic and emotionally piercing.

These meaty accounts, approaching novella length, are supplemented by briefer examples drawn from every conceivable brother act: the Kennedys, DiMaggios, James boys (both outlaws and authors), Manns, Capones, Wrights, Rothschilds, Lehmans, Mayos, Collyers, Clarks, Kaczynskis, Bachs, Joyces, Chaplins, Bushes, Grimms, Goncourts, Nicholases, Disneys, Gershwins, Waughs. . . . Psychological and sociological studies are also cited in analyses of birth order, parental favoritism, sibling rivalry, the pigeonholing of traits and the developing of one’s own niche, and the prevalence of sibling aggression among animals. Siblicide does indeed occur in nature: “Sand tiger sharks . . . devour one another inside their mother’s womb,” while “spadefoot tadpoles are more considerate; they taste other tadpoles before devouring them in order to determine whether their prospective meal is a relative. If they accidentally swallow a sibling, they spit it out, but if food is scarce, they become less gastronomically discriminating and gobble up any passing tadpole, related or not.” Humans are relatively gentler, we learn: brothers under the age of 7 fight only “every 17 minutes.”

How is it, Colt ponders, that two brothers like the Booths who were reared in the same family can be so different? “Psychologists say that the experience of each child within a family is so distinct that each grows up in his own unique ‘microenvironment,’ ” he writes. “In effect, each sibling grows up in a different ­family.”

He alternates historical and scientific material with chapters about his brothers and himself. I love the chapter where he describes the competitive atmosphere in which he grew up. Here is an excerpt:
“Part of the reason I craved attention was that with three young boys in one house,I harbored the suspicion that there might not be enough to go around and I’d better make sure I got my fair share-or preferably,a little more. Harry,Ned and I rarely fought physically,but there seemed to be nothing we didn’t contest:who found the most foil-wrapped chocolate eggs in the backyard at Easter;who collected the most Halloween candy;who could make a popsicle last the longest;who got the first look at the Sear catalog;who got the Sunday funnies first;who had the best godparents(i.e. whose godparents gave the best presents).Stakes were high at the dinner table.Who got the biggest chicken breast? Who got the biggest piece of bacon on his cheese dream?” He then goes on to say that the “Holy Grail was the prize at the bottom of the cereal box”. This part literally made me laugh at loud remembering my own kids when they were small….

The Black Dog

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“On New Years Day 1971, the doors to the Black Dog Tavern opened. Everyone said the chowder was just right, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.”

The Black Dog is a restaurant and tavern in Vineyard Haven on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. The restaurant was founded in 1971, and became well known for its souvenir T-shirts, featuring its logo of the eponymous black dog. They subsequently expanded to sell other products with the same logo.
The Black Dog T-shirts became well known during the 1990s as photographs of celebrities wearing the shirts began appearing in national publications.I also remember they changed the color of the t’shirt every year so that kids had to have the “new color” every summer-very smart marketing! A photograph of then-President Bill Clinton jogging while wearing one was distributed by national wire services. Black Dog merchandise became part of the Lewinsky scandal, as items from the store were purchased by Bill Clinton and given to Monica Lewinsky.
Marketing at The Black Dog was effective. During the early 1990s, the merchandise was only sold at the Martha’s Vineyard location. Only a limited number of people were allowed in the store at one time, so lines formed down the wooden fenced ramp that ran from the front door. While waiting in line, visitors were given catalogs to browse. Nowadays, the merchandise is also available at “mainland” Cape Cod and Newport “Black Dog” stores as well as online.
In 2000, The Black Dog released a cook book called The Black Dog Summer on the Vineyard Cookbook.The New England Multihull Association and The Black Dog host a 22-mile yachting race from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown and back called the Black Dog Dash.
The Black Dog currently has many locations on Martha’s Vineyard and one on the island of Nantucket, as well as in the mainland Massachusetts towns of Falmouth, Mashpee, Provincetown, Newburyport, and Chatham. Outside of Massachusetts they have stores in Newport, RI, Portland, ME, Mystic, CT, and Annapolis, MD.

Highfield Hall in Falmouth MA

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The story of Highfield Hall coincides with the arrival of the railroad in Falmouth on July 18, 1872. The ability to reach Cape Cod from Boston or from New York by train transformed the area from a quiet farming and fishing community to an exuberant summer community. Middle class families stayed in inns, many of them homes converted to lodgings to handle the explosion of summer visitors. Wealthier families eventually built seaside estates in areas such as Quissett, Chapoquoit and Penzance.

Among the first newcomers escaping the heat of the city were the Beebes of Boston. James Madison Beebe, wealthy from various dry goods and manufacturing businesses, and his wife, Esther E. Beebe, first converted the Thomas Swift House on Shore Street to a summer home they called Vineyard Lodge. They subsequently bought more than 700 acres of land on the hill above the railroad station, more than half of which has been preserved as Beebe Woods.

After the death of James Beebe in 1875, his children built two grand residences on the hill. Brothers Pierson and Franklin and sister Emily built a lavish “summer cottage” in the Queen Anne stick style modeled after the British Pavilion in the great 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Highfield Hall was completed in 1878, and its sister mansion, Tanglewood, where the J. Arthur Beebes took up residence, was finished in 1879. Thus began over fifty years of Beebes living and entertaining in their “summer cottages” at Highfield. In its heyday, the hill must have been a bustling scene. The miles of carriage trails, riding trails, gardens, two huge homes, and numerous outbuildings required a small army of servants to maintain. The Beebes even started a farm on Shore Street to provide produce for their Falmouth and Boston residences.

The Beebes were undoubtedly a formidable family. The children made an impact on Falmouth with their financial support for the building of St. Barnabas Church on Main Street (1890) in memory of their parents, St. Barnabas House (1890), a carriage shed (1894) for the church which in 1962 was converted into a garden chapel, and conversion of the Bodfish House into the Rectory (1901). For some years in the 1880s, the Beebes were the largest taxpayers in Falmouth.

Franklin, the last of the Beebe children, died in 1932. After that, Highfield Hall passed through a succession of owners, each with a dream for its use. First, in the thirties, E.H. Bristol wanted to turn it into a health resort. That was succeeded by two dreams in the forties: J. Elwin Wright, a religious revivalist, wanted it to become a religious hotel and retreat. Subsequently, Arthur J. Beckhard ran the two mansions as hotels and converted the former stable into what is now Highfield Theater.

In 1949, the entire Beebe estate was purchased by DeWitt Ter Heun, a friend of Arthur Beckhard. TerHeun and his wife loved the theater and the opera and hoped to turn the Highfield estate into a center for the performing arts. They launched a training ground for student actors, inviting first Williams College and then Oberlin College to perform at Highfield Theatre. The couple remodeled Highfield Hall to serve as their summer residence, adding a plantation-style front on the building. A portion of the house was in use as a dormitory by the theater company, while all of Tanglewood was used for that purpose. Mr. TerHeun’s daughter, Patricia, converted the Tanglewood stable into an art gallery, showing the works of abstract artists such as Jackson Pollack and Robert Motherwell. The TerHeun summers were alive with theater, art, and culture on the hil

After Mr. TerHeun’s death in 1962, the estate was eventually purchased by summer residents Marjorie Whittemore and Stanley Welsh. They ran the theater and kept up the two houses while considering the options of what might be done with the property. At that time, the Highfield parcel was the largest single plot of developable land on Cape Cod. Welsh and Whittemore, who were siblings, considered creating a planned community on the property which would have featured clusters of houses, shopping, and a school (much like the concept employed a decade later at Mashpee Commons). Up to 500 residential units were considered, but various roadblocks from town officials, along with Whittemore and Welsh’s own hesitancy to develop the land, prevented any progress with the concept.

In 1972 the entire estate was purchased by Josephine and Josiah K Lilly III. The Lillys generously gave the nearly 400 acres of Beebe Woods to the town for permanent conservation as green space. The buildings and acreage on which they stood were donated to a local arts organization.

Sadly, on May 20, 1977, Tanglewood succumbed to the wrecker’s ball and bulldozers, and Highfield Hall entered two decades of neglect and vandalism.

In 1994, Highfield almost suffered the same fate as Tanglewood when a demolition permit was pulled by the owners. However, the Town of Falmouth had just instituted a demolition delay bylaw, which mandated a 90-day period after application for demolition of any historic building so that the local Historical Commission could attempt to effect a preservation compromise This bylaw went into effect two days prior to the permit being issued!. An advocacy group, Friends of Highfield, sprang into action to save the building. That group became a not-for-profit corporation, Historic Highfield, Inc., in May 1994.

Many years of legal disputes followed as Historic Highfield tried to stave off demolition and gain control of the building from its nonprofit owners. Volunteers cleared the lawn, boarded windows, and tried to ward off further decay and vandalism. They also raised money and worked to convince residents that Highfield Hall was worth saving. Eventually, collaborating with Selectmen, Historic Highfield was able to convince the town that Highfield Hall was important to the Falmouth community and extraordinary measures were warranted to save the property.

In 2000 Town Meeting Members authorized Falmouth Selectmen to take Highfield Hall and six acres by eminent domain, and in 2001 the Town signed a lease with Historic Highfield to renovate and operate Highfield Hall. The extraordinary restoration effort that followed was made possible through donations totalling in excess of $8,000,000 — almost all of which were contributed by private individuals.

Legos for Girls!

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Two years ago, in 2011, 90 percent of Lego’s consumers were boys. A tough statistic to swallow for those of us who grew up playing with Lego’s gender-neutral buckets of bricks. But the statistic came straight from Lego, which was then focused on boys with franchised sets based on properties like Star Wars and The Avengers after weathering a disastrous period in the 1990s that left the company on the brink of collapse.

“Construction had never worked for girls, for whatever reason,” says Garrick Johnson, a toy analyst for BMO Capitol Markets. “It took [Lego] four years of research to figure out how to address the girls’ market, how to attack it the right way.”

Lego Friends turned out to be one of the biggest successes in Lego’s history. They’re five adorable little dolls with distinctive names and storylines and sets that encourage girls to build karate studios, beauty parlors and veterinary offices. The line doubled sales expectations in 2012, the year it launched. Sales to girls tripled in just that year.

Johnson says the company carefully studied differences between how girls and boys play. “When boys build a construction set, they’ll build a castle, let’s say, and they’ll play with the finished product on the outside. When girls build construction sets, they tend to play on the inside.”

And research showed that girls loved little details, says Lego brand relations manager Amanda Santoro. “When we were testing this, we asked girls what would you like to see in a Lego school?” she said, as she showed off the line at Toy Fair, the massive industry event held each year in New York City. “Of course, they said an art studio. So we see a lot of detail here with the different paint canisters and the canvas here [a Friend] is creating.”

David Pickett blogs about Legos at Thinking Brickly, where he’s criticized the Lego Friends’ gender implications. “Their legs can’t move independently, so they move as one big block,” he points out.

That’s not the case with “minifigs” — the classic Lego minifigures with stocky little torsos, snap-off heads, and feet designed to click onto Lego blocks. Additionally, Lego Friends cannot turn their wrists.

“That sort of sends a message about what we expect women being able to do physically,” Pickett notes.

Lego Friends triggered the ire of Joy Pochatila, a scientist and mother of two small girls. Her first reaction to the line was dismissive. “Why can’t they just play with regular Legos? Why does it have to be girl-driven?” she wondered.

But Pochatila also was dismayed by how many of the regular sets revolve around male superheroes. “You don’t see a Wonder Woman set,” she points out.

Her husband, Davis Evans, is a staunch Lego defender. When presented with the minifigs’ skewed gender numbers, he argued that the androgynous figures could be read as female. Pochatila said she’d prefer a few more specifically female figures, ones that reflect a real-life ratio. And it’s hard, she admitted, to argue with Lego Friends’ appeal, the complexity of their sets and their overall message of empowerment.

The success of the girl-centric Lego Friends has led to little girl dolls popping up in construction sets all over the place, including pink ones from Mega Blocks and Mattel’s Barbie. That’s great, say fans, for developing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills for girls. But critics wonder, would it be so hard for Lego to develop — even market — toys for girls and boys to enjoy together?

Oak Bluffs on the Vineyard

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A really fun day trip is to take the Island Queen ferry from Falmouth MA to Martha’s Vineyard-this particular ferry drops you in Oak Bluffs. Here is some history of the town:

Oak Bluffs was first settled by Europeans in 1642 and was part of Edgartown until 1880, when it was officially incorporated as Cottage City. Oak Bluffs was the only one of the six towns on the island to be consciously planned, and the only one developed specifically with tourism in mind.
In 1866 Robert Morris Copeland was hired by a group of New England developers to design a planned residential community in Martha’s Vineyard. The site, a large, rolling, treeless pasture overlooking Vineyard Sound, was adjacent to the immensely popular Methodist camp meeting, Wesleyan Grove, a curving network of narrow streets lined with quaint “Carpenter’s Gothic” cottages, picket fences, and pocket parks. Seeking to take advantage of the camp’s seasonal popularity (and overflowing population), the developers established Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company, gaining immediate success: Five hundred lots were sold between 1868 and 1871. Copeland would end up creating three plans for the community to accommodate its constant expansion. Oak Bluffs is the one of the earliest planned residential communities and largely informed later suburban development in the United States.
Some of the earliest visitors to the area that became Cottage City and later Oak Bluffs were Methodists, who gathered in the oak grove each summer for multi-day religious “camp meetings” held under large tents and in the open air. As families returned to the grove year after year, tents pitched on the ground gave way to tents pitched on wooden platforms and eventually to small wooden cottages. Small in scale and closely packed, the cottages grew more elaborate over time. Porches, balconies, elaborate door and window frames became common, as did complex wooden scrollwork affixed to the roof edges as decorative trim. The unique “Carpenter’s Gothic” architectural style of the cottages was often accented by the owner’s use of bright, multi-hue paint schemes, and gave the summer cottages a quaint, almost storybook look. Dubbed “gingerbread cottages,” they became a tourist attraction in their own right in the late nineteenth century. So, too, did the Tabernacle: a circular, open-sided pavilion covered by a metal roof supported by tall wrought iron columns, erected in the late 1880s, which became a venue for services and community events. The campground’s gingerbread cottages are cherished historic landmarks as well as very expensive real estate. Many are still family owned and passed on generation to generation. On April 5, 2005, the grounds and buildings in the Campground were designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior.
Nineteenth-century tourists, arriving by steamer from the mainland, could also choose from a wide range of secular attractions: shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors, dance halls, band concerts, walks along seaside promenades, or swims in the waters of Nantucket Sound. In 1884, the Flying Horses Carousel was brought to Oak Bluffs from Coney Island and installed a few blocks inland from the ocean, where it remains in operation today. Built in 1876, it is the oldest platform carousel still in operation. Like the grounds and buildings of the Campground (so designated in April 2005), the Flying Horses were designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior.

The Return of the Twinkie!

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I heard on NPR the other day that Hostess is bringing back the Twinkie. I googled it and found there are a lot of websites regarding this big event. There are festivals planned,a website with a countdown and various others that I thought I would share….

“The clock is ticking. And when it reads septuple zeros, the greatest treats the world has ever known will triumphantly return. Twinkies®, CupCakes and other American snack icons that the people decided they just couldn’t live without. So join the countdown by entering your email. And share this page with your friends by clicking the buttons below. We’ll send you an official notification the second we’re back in stores.”

EMPORIA(Kansas) — “Twinkies are not just snack cakes in Emporia. They’re something to celebrate, which the city will do with a Twinkies Festival on July 15, the day Hostess Brands plans to return them to store shelves.

The Emporia Gazette reports the event will also honor the company that’s reopening the city’s Hostess bakery after buying the snack cake lines out of bankruptcy.

More than 500 people lost their jobs when Hostess closed the Emporia plant last November following a strike by union bakers.

The new owners, doing business as Hostess Brands LLC, decided to reopen it as their flagship bakery. It’s reopening this summer with an expected 250 employees to start.

The Twinkies Festival at Flinthills Mall will feature such activities as a Twinkie-eating challenge and a Twinkie costume competition.”

and even Wickipedia:

“The Twinkie is an American snack cake, marketed as a “Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling”. It was formerly made and distributed by Hostess Brands and is currently owned by private equity firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. Twinkie production in the United States will resume after an absence on American store shelves, becoming available again by July 15, 2013.”

Keep your eyes open for “em!

6 Things You Might Not Know about The Fourth!

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1. Perhaps the greatest misconception of this American holiday lies in the name and its equally iconic date. The true “Independence Day” depends on your definition of when such an official declaration was indeed truly official. It’s widely believed that America’s first Continental Congress declared their independence from the British monarchy on July 4th, 1776. However, the official vote actually took place two days before and the “Declaration” was published in the newspapers on July 4th.

2. It is also often believed that when the vote was made official, everyone signed it on that fateful day, a moment that’s often portrayed in popular paintings. However, it took an entire month to get all 56 delegates together to put their “John Hancock” on the document. In fact, the only person to sign the document on July 4th was also its first signer: John Hancock.

3.One of the Declaration’s signers and future presidents wrote a famous series of memorable letters to his beloved wife Abigail detailing the events that led to the nation’s founding. The one he sent announcing the Congress’ vote regarding the official Declaration of Independence predicted, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.”

4.The publication of the Declaration of Independence may have accidentally made the Fourth of July the official day of independence for America, but the deaths of two of its founders cemented its creation of the date’s designation. US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away on July 4th. The even more amazing coincidence is that both died on the same day in the same year of 1826 by a difference of five hours with Jefferson passing first at age 82 and Adams at age 90.

5.Fourth of July celebrations these days are filled with fireworks, clothes and ornaments covered in red, white and blue. Such colors weren’t widely available for decoration in the shadow of the nation’s birth, especially in the heat of battle during the Revolutionary War. The first few Independence Day celebrations used greenery as decorations instead. They also fired artillery used in battles following the completion of the war for the Fourth of July, but the practice dissipated as the cannons fell apart over time and were slowly replaced with fireworks.

6.The American flag has gone through many alterations as the regions grew and even reached beyond its borders. The modern “50 star flag,” however, has an interesting story behind its creation.
High school student Robert G. Heft of Lancaster, Ohio was assigned to create a new “national banner” for America that would recognize the statehood of Alaska and Hawaii. Heft simply added two extra stars to the flag to give it an even 50 and stitched his own design. His teacher only gave him a “B-minus” for his effort, so he sent his project to President Dwight D. Eisenhower for consideration and a change of grade. Eisenhower chose his design personally and the new flag was officially adopted in 1960. His teacher then gave him an “A” instead.