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.

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.

Bridal Shower History

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Having just given a bridal shower for a very dear friend’s daughter this weekend with a couple of friends and the bride’s sister,I started wondering what the history is of bridal showers. This is what I found out:

Bridal showers in the earlier eras were very different from what they are today. The modern-day celebration of this old custom is marked with fun, fiesta, food and favors, and sums up as one complete farewell bash for the bride. However, bridal showers weren’t one such gala affair in the past.
This custom, which traces its roots and origin back to 16th century Holland, was initiated as an alternative to the dowry system, where friends and families brought small favors for the bride to help her begin with her married life. If the mother of the bride was too poor to afford a dowry, or if the father was opposed to the alliance, then the friends of the bride would bring her small gifts to make up for the dowry and help her walk down the aisle with the man of her choice.
In fact, there is a very interesting Dutch legend on bridal showers, which narrates the story of a young Dutch girl of high standing who fell in love with a miller’s son. She was so smitten by the young lad that she wanted to marry him, even though her family was opposed to the alliance owing to the boy’s poor standing. Her father wanted her to marry a wealthy pig farmer and threatened to withhold her dowry if she disobeyed him. However, when her friends and the village folks learned about it, they insisted on bringing her gifts to fill in for the dowry and help her begin her married life. It’s said that the father of the bride was so touched by this sweet gesture that he agreed to the marriage and also dished out a hefty dowry to bless the new couple. Since then, it has been a custom for the would-be-brides family and friends to shower her with gifts before she embarks on a new journey, namely -marriage.
Bridal showers became a part of elite United States culture in the late Victorian Era, when ladies of high social standing organized bridal showers to fete would be brides. These ladies held bridal showers, regardless of the need of the bride, to gather and gossip and exchange thoughts, ideas and have fun. Plus, the brides didn’t mind getting a few special items to mark off their new roles as wives either.
Although a bridal shower was an alien custom to the English, it became quite a rage in USA during the 1930s. The bridal showers of the early to mid 20th Century were simpler affairs as compared to their modern day avatars. Gifts were more modest and usually included a collection of kitchen implements, a single plate, table linen etc.

Thoreau’s Cape Cod

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In 1849-1857 Henry David Thoreau took 4 trips to the area called Cape Cod. As George Howe Colt points out in his book “The Big House” Thoreau is the first person to pronounce living near the sea to be a therapeutic thing to do! Up until then only fishermen lived near the sea and it was not considered desirable.

Here is an excerpt from Howe’s book-“In 1849 the notion of voluntarily traveling to Cape Cod to see the ocean -without planning to fish,build a ship,go whaling,or scavenge a wreck-would not have occurred to anyone except,perhaps,a man who had spent two years gazing into a small,dark pond. Cape Codders considered shorefront land nearly worthless.Cape Codders would have snorted if someone had told them their most valuable resource lay in those serene bluffs and forbidding shores. But Thoreau knew better-” the time must come when this coast will be a place of resort for those New Englanders who really wish to visit the seashore.” In July of 1872,the Old Colony Railroad completed an extension down the east shoreline of Buzzards Bay to Woods Hole. Over the next twenty years,the Old Cape Cod was overlaid with the new.”

This is very interesting to me on a personal note as our area in Falmouth was started exactly then-the first six cottages went up in the late 1870’s. Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard and many other communities sprung up at this time-many of them,such as ours, were originally camping grounds for church-related activities and renewal. In fact, when you buy a house in our area the lots are designated as “tent lots”!

It Ain’t Easy Picking Greens,continued

Here is another favorite green.This one is made by C2 Paints and is called Saguaro (4094). There is also (not pictured)  Wasabi(4080)made by C2.While Saguaro has some blue tone in it,Wasabi has a bit of yellow. I have used both for family rooms,living rooms,mudrooms and kitchens for different clients.