Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lest we forget ... Veteran's Day ...

Veterans Day 2014. Remembering our veterans and their sacrifices. 

On the first Saturday in December, an army of volunteers - Boy Scouts, history buffs, local residents - descends on the Antietam battlefield in Maryland, and spends the whole day setting up luminaries in perfect lines simulating a military cemetery. How many? One for each casualty of the bloodiest single day in American military history: 23,000 men were killed, wounded, missing by the end of the day on September 17, 1862.

The park is closed in the afternoon - cars line up for hours, and then at 6:00 p.m. you are allowed to drive through. Waiting in a line of cars several miles long, it took us several hours to get to the park entrance - but once inside, you are overwhelmed by what 23,000 lives look like on the field in which they made their sacrifice.

Barb and I visited in 2012. And discovered some special significance for us. My GG Grandfather Samuel Humes was there that day, wearing blue. His regiment, the 1st Pa. Light Artillery was kept in reserve on the hillside behind the Union line that was ordered to cross at Burnside's Bridge.

Samuel Humes
Quartermaster Sergeant
1st Pa. Light Artillery

And Barb's GG Grandfather Henry Virginius Moore? He was there too - wearing gray - on the heights opposite the Union position at Burnside's bridge.

Henry Virginius Moore
6th Virginia infantry

Burnside's Bridge, viewed from the Confederate side. 

Both men survived the day, and served through the end of the war. And then went home, tried to forget all of the horrors that they had seen for five years, and re-joined their communities, and raised their families.

Later we returned to our B&B - up on South Mountain overlooking the glowing fields. Very moving from that vantage point as well - 23,000 lives lost or forever changed that day. And the ripple effect on their loved ones - families left to deal with the loss. And this was just the cost of one bloody day in one extended bloody war. The loss that day was staggering. Multiply that loss by all of the battles of that war, and all of the battles of each war in our history. And the ripples that spread out over millions and millions of families throughout history.

It is good to remember these men (and women) and to honor them on Veterans Day, and every day. And it is also good to see the immense scale of loss with your own eyes, to try to comprehend so many lives changed, shattered bodies, shattered minds, shattered families, widows, orphans, and communities devastated when war descends on them and demands its payment.

When we appreciate the full cost of war, we may be less inclined to rush into it. 
So why is this something that is right with the world?

We went there to see the luminaries, and tour the battlefield and cemetery, that day and the next. At night, we were in a beautiful B&B, the Antietam Overlook Farm. My wife was tuckered out from the day. But I wanted to check out the hot tub, outdoors and overlooking the battlefield. Sitting there by myself, warming my insides with a glass of brandy made available by the B&B, I was awash in thoughts - feeling a bit guilty looking down and knowing that Samuel Humes had been down there under much less pleasant conditions. And I knew Barb's ancestor had been a Southern soldier, but at that point I did not know where he had served. But I knew he was a Virginian - and figured he had to be with Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia - and so he would very likely have been there at Antietam. And whether it was the brandy or not, I sensed that we four were all connected to this place.

It had not been my idea to come down here - it had been Barbs. And she did not know of her connection to it or mine. She had simply read about the luminaries and suggested it to me. But at home that Sunday I went right to my research, dug out my notes on Henry Virginius Moore, found his regiment, the 6th Virginia, and found out where he was on the Antietam battlefield: on the right wing facing off at Burnside's Bridge opposite Samuel Humes.

The weekend would have been a wonderful moving experience, even without the personal connections. But knowing the genealogy, and knowing the history, it becomes a much more meaningful moment for us. The payoff for hundreds of hours of genealogy research. Making those connections to place, and through that, having a better understanding of the lives of those ancestors who passed through that same space, gives more meaning to both. That's what is right about the world.

Thank you to the men and women of our military, for their sacrifices that enable us to enjoy our freedoms.

For more info on the annual Antietam luminaries, go here:


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ten on the Man Scale

Several years ago, we took a family vacation to the Canadian Rockies.  We went primarily to attend the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, and to see for the first time the beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains.  Our home base was a time-share in Canmore, one of the locations for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, about an hour west of Calgary.  Canmore is a resort town at the foot of a range of mountains that runs north as far as the eye can see.  On the descent in the airplane, and then on the road from Calgary, we could see the mountains that we were headed for, but by the time we arrived, late at night after a full day of travel, we were tired, and simply wanted to find our rooms, get our luggage in, and have the fight over who gets what bedroom, and who sleeps on the couch.  And as the adults, we knew we would not be sleeping on the couch.    The woman at the reception desk explained what we needed to know, and mentioned those words that a coffee addict lives to hear:  free coffee in the lobby starting at 6:00 a.m.

The next morning, I was out to the lobby at 6:00 a.m. for the coffee.  I saw several people outside, looking up, and so went out to see what they were seeing.  The sun was coming up behind us, and putting on a spectacular light show on the flat vertical face of the mountain that rose up behind our development.  The mountain looked a bit like the vertical face of Half Dome in Yosemite – a mountain cleaved in half, with just the bare vertical face of it rising up and presenting itself for the morning sunshine to play on its surface.  God’s large screen HD television. 

Barb came out to join me, and we simply watched the show, the warm orange of the morning sun lighting up the mountain face and turning the grey stone into a colorful montage that changed every few minutes.  I had my coffee, she had her tea, there was a cool breeze so we had light sweatshirts on, the children were still sleeping, we had successfully traveled a large part of the continent to get there the day before, and this was Miller Time – just standing in awe of something that we had never seen before – the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  Some of the most memorable experiences of life can be that simple. 

As I found out later, that mountain that put on a show for us each morning had a name, an unusual name, and a story behind it.  It had for years been called Chinaman’s Peak, but in a politically correct age, the name had been changed to Ha Ling Peak.  Both names refer to the same man – Ha Ling – a cook working for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1896.  The crew was in Canmore, where you can look west and see the peak, and in what sounds like a bar bet, Ha Ling was offered $50 if he could climb the mountain, plant a flag on the summit, and be back to Canmore in 10 hours.  He took the bet, climbed the mountain, was back with time to spare, and collected his $50.  And his name has been associated with the mountain ever since.

Each morning I would repeat the first morning’s routine, grab my coffee and go out and watch the show on Ha Ling.  On this and surrounding mountains, you could see the tree line – the place on the mountain above which nothing grows.  I thought to myself “I’ve never been above the tree line.”  Lots of symbolism in that thought.  I’ve never been above the tree line in life.  I’ve read with enthusiasm about men climbing mountains, but I have never been one of those men.  I wondered if people climbed up Ha Ling – I never saw anyone on top.  How long did it take?  How difficult was it?  Could you do it without gear?  Not on the sheer face we looked out on.  Maybe there was a back door?  I wonder what the view is like up there?   

We had arrived in Canmore on Saturday.  I enjoyed the morning coffee and the view all week.  And then in the Thursday newspaper, on the front page, there was a story that grabbed me and shook me:  Richard Guy had climbed Ha Ling the previous Saturday.  In the words of the article “the 95 year old mathematician made the slow, steady six-hour hike to the top of the mountain, gaining 8109 metres of elevation along the way with single minded fashion.”  Richard and his wife had climbed the peak about 20 times together, but she had passed away a few years before.  He wanted to climb it one last time in his life in her memory.  And so he set out early Saturday morning, and he and his friends made the summit, raised a glass of single-malt scotch in celebration, and then “Coming down was the real test.  Richard had to dig down deep … He was down to running on empty, but he joked he didn’t have a choice”. 

While I was sitting there each morning with my coffee, navel gazing and wondering whether I had the guts to get above the tree line, 95 year old Richard Guy was out there doing it.  He climbed Ha Ling.  A part of me, the lesser part, thought “If a 95 year old can do this, then I can do this too.”  And the better part of me thought “Richard Guy must be one tough bird.  A real 10 on the Man Scale.  God bless him.” 

We had a day of activities planned for that Thursday, and at the end of the day, we were in a pub in Canmore – and could see the mountain beckoning to me in the distance. No doubt just like that day in 1896, when Ha Ling took the dare – after a few beers, anything seems possible.  In your mind, of course.  But Ha Ling the cook got up the next morning and did the climb.   Ha Ling was a 10 on the Man Scale.  Richard Guy too.  We were leaving Canmore on Saturday.  If I was going to do anything, about climbing Ha Ling, it would have to be the next day.

Back at the time share, I found information about the trails leading up to the peak on the internet.  You could not approach from the eastern face that we saw.  You had to drive about five miles to the back side of the mountain, park, and find the trail that led up the mountain.  I bounced the idea of doing the climb off my wife, a fount of wisdom and common sense.  Opposites attract.  She was not thrilled.  I had two heart stents put in about six months earlier, and was proposing to go out there on my own, inexperienced in mountain climbing, in a place where we had been told about what evasive action to take if we came across bears and mountain lions, and so she imagined the worst.  But I was determined to give it a try.  Why?  The age old question – “Why do men climb mountains?”  And the age old answer, sufficient for most men:  “Because they’re there.”

On Friday, I was up in the dark, at 5:00 a.m. and found my way to the trail head - a beautiful drive through the woods.  I was the only car in the parking lot.  Bears were on my mind as I headed to the Porta Potty.  Cautions from my readings – berry season so they are out and about.  Look for scat.  Be loud.  Carry pepper spray.  Travel in groups.  If you encounter a black bear, you should run; if it’s a grizzly, play dead.  Or is it the other way around?  In the Porta Potty, I heard noise outside.  “Oh my God – the bear has me trapped in the Porta Potty.  Can’t play dead in here.  Could I sprint to the car?  Will he knock down the whole damn thing to get at me?  How will I taste, covered in old crap and pee?  Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is not a bear.”  I peeked out – no bear in sight.  I tiptoed out, feeling like a 1 on the Man Scale.  Do I really have what it takes to climb this thing?  Or should I go home and go back to bed? I headed off to the trailhead to find out.

The trail led through the woods – twisting and turning but always going up.  Zig zagging up.  Some straight up.  Some places where the trail was washed out and so I detoured around and went up.  I had a day pack with food and water – so I would stop for a nip of water and to catch my breath.  The first 20-30 minutes I was gulping for breath, could feel my heart racing a bit – but then as my body warmed up, it all started coming together.  The breath, the heart, the mind – finally stopped looking for bears and bear poop at every step.  You have to pay attention to your footing – so you are looking down a bit – but also taking in the surroundings.  An hour into the climb, I was feeling pretty good.

About an hour and a half into the climb, I finally came to the tree line.  The walk in the woods ended – the trail itself largely ended.  The view spread out – you could see up the mountain – nothing but mountain in front of you – and the surface was rocky.  Not a tree, not a bush.  You picked and chose your line of ascent – at times the rocks slid away beneath your feet – at other times there were stretches of bare rock path with solid footing.  You could not see “the top” – you simply looked up and the saw the mountain sloping up and away from you – and then it ended in the distance and the sky began.  I was above the tree line – and feeling good about life.  Feeling fully alive. 

As I got higher, the destination came into view.  The peak is not actually a single peak – this is a range of mountains and they are connected at the shoulder, and so there comes a point when you choose to head to one or the other places.  Up ahead was a giant U – a saddle (see first photo).  A peak on either side, and a lower and closer edge of the mountain in the middle.  I headed for the edge.  At that point, I could look to either side and see a peak, and straight ahead, the earth fell away and you could see the entire Canmore valley below. 
Mountains in the distance.  Mountains everywhere.  Beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains.  I headed left towards the summit of Ha Ling.  Still heading up – but within reach.  The footing was still rocky, still climbing up, but in a few minutes I was there – as high as you can go on Ha Ling. 

The view was wonderful.  I could see down to our resort – did not see anyone out drinking coffee and looking up, but waved down to them anyway.  I had my cell phone – it picked up a signal and so I tried calling Barb to tell her I was safe at the top.  Could not get through – but then tried my daughter and left a message.  We live in an incredible age of technology. 

So what to do when you are up at the top and have taken in the sights?  I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and granola bar.  Drank my water.  And entertained a guest – a chipmunk was up there at the top with me.  How did he live up here? What on earth did he eat when there was not a visitor throwing him bread and nuts?  Did he retreat down to the tree line for shelter come the winter?  How long must it take him to get there on those little legs – it was twenty minutes away for me.  Actually longer going down – as I found out. 

From the top where I was – Ha Ling simply ends – the sheer face just drops down a long way.  I had my camera.  Tried to capture what I was seeing with photos.  The battery light was blinking at me – oh hell – not much battery juice left.  I had what I thought was a brilliant idea.  I set up the camera on a pile of rocks and turned it to video.  Scrambled out in front of it – just at the edge.  Gave my speech (see link here for the actual video).  Tongue in cheek.  Dancing on Ha Ling peak with James Brown.  The camera quit right as I panned down the valley.  But, I had a few photos, a short video.  Proof that I had made it to the top. 

I did not plant a flag.  It was enough that I was there – at 8:00 a.m. while the rest of you ordinary mortals were sleeping or chowing down on your breakfast sandwiches.  I was standing on top of Ha Ling.  The first man to ever set foot on it.  Today at least.  No one else in sight.  Yes, 95 year old Richard Guy was here a week ago.  But he is a 10 on the Man Scale.  Ha Ling himself was here more than a hundred years ago.  Walked all the way out from town and then climbed it and then back down and back to town.  Definitely 10 on the Man Scale.  And now, Doug Humes from Broomall, Pennsylvania was here as well.  Feeling very full of himself.  Feeling very “10 on the Man Scale”. 

I said goodbye to my chipmunk friend, and began making my way down.  Down goes more slowly than up.  The rocks slide away under your feet.  Not big enough to start an avalanche – but I could see how in the right circumstances a rock slide could occur.  I did not want to twist my ankle up here – can’t out run a bear with a sprained ankle.  So I went slowly.  Eventually found my way to the tree line and back into the woods.  And within a few minutes I heard voices, and soon the source came into view.  Three young men – 20 somethings – carrying huge packs on their backs.  Were they going up to camp?  Above the tree line?  At 9:00 a.m.? 

We exchanged pleasantries.  “Are you going to camp up there?”  “Nah – we got parachutes.  We’re going to jump off.”  “Where do you land?”  “Down in the big field by the reservoir.”  “Wow. Good luck with that!”

I had passed the reservoir on the drive in.  I wondered whether I could get down the mountain in time to drive back there and witness their flight.  Probably not.  In hindsight I should have followed them back up and watched them go.  But people were waiting and worrying at home.  And I had no battery juice left in my camera.  Does an event actually happen if I am not there to take a picture of it?  I didn’t wait to find out. 

After that encounter, I was feeling a bit deflated.  If I was really a 10 on the Man Scale, what were these guys?  All I did was climb up the damn thing.  I didn’t have to eat that chipmunk to survive.  Didn’t have to cut my arm off with a pen knife to get out of a tough fix.  Didn’t have to drink my own blood or urine to stay hydrated.  Just climbed a moderately strenuous peak, on a beautiful summer morning. And met three guys who had done the same hike, with heavy packs, and were headed up to the top of it.  To jump off.  A thought that would never have entered my mind. 

In the movie “Spinal Tap”, the guitar player is asked about his amp – and he proudly points out the volume setting – generally manufactured with a range from one to ten.  His volume setting goes up to “Eleven”.  And that morning, I found out that so does the Man Scale.  I was still a Ten, but the young men I passed – they took it up to Eleven.  And they earned it.  We all did.  It was a kick ass morning to be alive.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

An Old Friend at Rose Tree Park

Driving past Rose Tree Park a few weeks ago, I saw the Christmas displays set up for their annual Festival of Lights.  Each year it seems that more and more things are added to the display – trees, lights, holiday figures.  But my eye is always looking for one figure in particular: Schroeder, the piano playing character from Charles Schulz “Peanuts” comic strip.  The other Peanuts characters are there as well – Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy.  But when I first visited the Festival in 1995, while the rest of the Peanuts gang was there, Schroeder was not.
I was newly divorced and had moved to nearby apartments, and was out exploring my new neighborhood with my children, then 8 and 7, when the holiday lights drew us in.  The Peanuts figures were at the far end of the walkway, and as we walked down towards them, the music of Vince Guaraldi was playing.  He was a jazz composer who came to public prominence in the 1960’s when he composed the music that was the theme of the Peanuts television specials.   You may not recognize his name, but most people would instantly recognize the Linus and Lucy theme (click through to hear it at YouTube).  You hear that piano music, and you instantly think of the Peanuts characters.  We saw them, enjoyed the lights and the music, but I was slightly disappointed.  Hearing the piano music, I was expecting the piano player, Schroeder, but he was nowhere to be seen.  I have heard somewhere along the way that the initial figures were made and donated by the Williamson Trade School.  They made the “A List” of Peanuts characters, but left out were the ones who were less prominent – Schroeder, Sally, Pigpen, Peppermint Patty, pick your favorite. 
I am a piano player, and so I guess my nose was out of joint because the piano player had been overlooked.  I must have said something to my children, although at this distance – 16 years later – I don’t recall the exact conversation or the timing of all that occurred next.  But we decided that we were going to fix the problem by building a version of Schroeder and then bringing him to the Park and donating him.  It is the type of project that fathers and their young children talk about – grand plans – but typically do not follow through with.  “Why don’t we do this or that some day …”  And then it recedes into memory, and at times is lost forever. 
But this idea had staying power.  We did nothing that Christmas season – but one of us must have remembered the idea the following fall – probably the children – and so we talked about what we would have to do.  The children took books out of the school library so that we could see how Schulz draws Schroeder.  We copied the pages.  The existing characters had been cut out of plywood and then painted.  So we bought the plywood; picked out the paint colors that matched; and then came the business end of the project – actually doing it.  I am not an artist or a woodworker, and living in an apartment, I had no workshop.  I was simply a father who was carried away by his children’s enthusiasm for the project.  They were still at that age where they thought I could do everything, and I didn't want to disappoint them with the truth.  Let them wait until they made that discovery as teenagers. 
It is said that the Pope asked Michelangelo how he created his David from a block of marble, and Michelangelo replied “I just cut away anything that does not look like David.”  Great minds think alike – I used the same system.  We laid the plywood down on the ground, I drew the outline of Schroeder, and his piano as best I could, and at the children’s insistence, we added another character, the small bird named Woodstock, dancing on the piano.  I had no vise, and so wrestled a hand saw through the outline, as the kids held the wood tight against a table.   Woodstock was going to be a pain to cut – and so after considering the problem, I decided not to cut out the actual outline of the small figure, but to leave a square piece on top of the piano and paint him into that square.  When we were done, we had a serviceable piece of plywood whose outline looked vaguely like Schroeder at the piano. 
The next step – drawing in the articles of clothing and the faces and such.  Charles Schulz, bless his soul, used very simply line figures for his characters, and so it was not that difficult to sketch them onto the board.  I think I may have primed the board as well, so we drew on a white surface.  And then, as Michelangelo suggested, Schroeder and Woodstock and a piano finally began to emerge from the piece of plywood.   Over the next several weeks, we painted the figures in, then gave a second and third coat, then painted a clear sealant over the whole project.  And like all great artists, we signed our work.  On the back we each wrote our names, and “Xmas 1996”.  And we were done in time for the opening ceremonies of the Festival of Lights that year.
That night, we put Schroeder in the car, drove to Rose Tree, and there was a huge crowd.  We didn't know quite who to approach about it, so we stood around and watched and waited till the ceremony part was over, and then approached one of the speakers, carrying Schroeder with us.  We explained that we wanted to donate Schroeder to the display.  He told us to go down to the office and talk to the park director.  We did as told, walked in the door, and asked for her.  She came out – saw Schroeder – and immediately started beaming.  “I always thought we needed the piano player up there.”  She was thrilled to accept our gift.  We had just the wooden figure, as we were not sure how they were mounted to stand up, and the director assured us that they would take care of this all, and said “come back next week – we’ll have it all done by then”.  And they did.  The next weekend, we went back to Rose Tree Park, and there he was – playing the piano, while Woodstock danced, and the other characters smiled at us.  And he looked good – not amateurish or passable but good.  Like he belonged.  We were thrilled. 
I moved away from Rose Tree the following spring, but each year for the next few years, we would go back to visit and make sure that Schroeder was there, and then check to see our names on the back.  It is fun to take in the Festival of Lights each year, but even more so when you have a secret like this – “We made Schroeder!”  But children grow up, and move away, and it has been years since we have been back. 
Charles Schulz died shortly after these events occurred, in 2000.  If you are ever in California’s wine country, there is a wonderful Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.  Schulz was born in Minnesota, went into the military, and ended up in California after the war.  He missed his Minnesota winters, and so built an ice skating rink in his adopted community, and went there for breakfast each morning.  His seat at the rink is memorialized, and the skating rink is still active.  His Peanuts figures are not as iconic today as they once were.  There are so many other items of popular culture that now compete for attention.  And as newspapers fade away, so also do the comics section of the paper.  Do children today know that there is a comics section of the newspaper?  But for now, and for the generation that grew up with him, Schulz, the artist, is remembered.  As are his creations.  His kids.
Driving by Rose Tree Park earlier in the month, I saw the lights up, and noticed that the Peanuts kids were no longer set back at the far end of the walkway, but were now front and center near the parking lot.  I parked and went over to see them, and found as well that they had been repainted – though they kept our color scheme.  But the back had been painted as well.  Our names – once prominently displayed on the back for all the world to see – were no longer connected to the figure.  While thrilled to see that they had a new lease on life in a new location, I was a bit disappointed that our names were no longer attached to Schroeder.  No one would see those names scrawled on the back and wonder who we were and what our story was.  I felt the pain that Michelangelo would have felt if someone scratched his name off of David!
But today we have the Internet.  We can “inscribe” our name by connecting it to terms that a search engine can find.  And so when this article is sent off into cyberspace, Doug Humes, and Elizabeth Humes, and Drew Humes, will once again be linked to Schroeder at Rose Tree Park in Media, Pennsylvania.  And that’s the rest of the story!
For more on the Rose Tree Park Festival of Lights, visit here:  http://www.co.delaware.pa.us/depts/rosetree.html

December 22, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Casa Mia today

My office is in an old Main Line mansion, built as a single family home in the 1920’s.  The estate was subdivided and a town home community was built in the 1970’s, but the old house was retained as the community center.  When I came here in 2003, my first office was in the servants’ quarters.  I would go up and down the back stairs several times a day to use the microwave oven to heat water for tea.  And while waiting those three minutes for my water to heat, I would look around in the kitchen and pantry – thinking about the activities that must have occurred there when this house was in its heyday – with a family living here and likely many servants scurrying about in this kitchen.  At some point I “discovered” the servant’s bell box on the wall in the pantry.  The house was originally wired so that each main room had a button on a wall; when pushed, it would ring the bell over the bell box, and also trigger a small arrow on the box that would point to the room where service was required.  The servant would then report to that location to hear what was required. 
The Bell Box

The bell box contained a hint of who may have lived here when the house was first built.  Two of the locations in gold lettering on the bell box are Mr. Jacob’s Room, and Mrs. Jacobs Terrace Room.  A pamphlet on the history of the house gave me a little more to go on.  I have been doing my own genealogy research for years, and so there finally came a moment when I decided to go off looking for the Jacobs family and see what I could find.  Over the last several years I have been able to find a fair amount on the family:  father John Jr., mother Dorothea, daughter Louise and son John III.  Their time in this house was not that long – from 1926 to 1938 – but they were the only family to own and occupy the house.  They lived here in style – they had approximately ten servants while they lived in the house that mother named Casa Mia:  chauffeur, gardeners, a cook, maids, a nanny.  They enjoyed entertaining – why else build a house with its own ballroom?  They sailed – at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Philadelphia when in town, and at the Watch Hill Yacht Club in Watch Hill, Rhode Island where they summered.  They rode horses – with the Radnor Hunt and jumping at Devon.  The children went to good schools – Shipley and Haverford School. 

Louise, Dorothea and Jake
 And yet no one’s life is all roses.  Mother and father divorced when young John went off to college, and the family moved away from Bryn Mawr, never to return.  Young Louise married a dashing young man from a prominent Chicago family, moved off to a beautiful apartment overlooking Central Park in New York City, had a child, but was stricken with cancer and died before the child’s first birthday, in 1941.  Mother moved off to New York and lived at 950 Park Avenue in Manhattan, where she passed away at age 71 in 1967.  Father lived in Florida, remarried, and kept a summer home in Hyannis.  He died in 1970, at age 76.  And young John, called “Jake” by his family?  In reaching out to his descendants, I was astounded to find that Jake was alive and well, and living in Connecticut.

Jake left Bryn Mawr for Williams College.  World War II intervened and he enlisted in the Army Air Corps.  His rationale:  “If I was going to go to war, I decided I’d rather fly there than walk there.”  He returned to Williams to get his degree after the war, and met and fell in love with beautiful Greta.  They raised 9 children, 8 girls and a boy, and spent a long life together along the Connecticut and Rhode Island shoreline that he had grown to love during his summers there as a child.  Greta died a few years ago, and John has moved into a retirement community in Essex, Connecticut. 
Jake on left, and the author on right, recreating the original photo.
 After years of chasing after these ghosts of the Jacobs family, I really wanted to meet him and spend some time with him.  Essex is 4 1/2 hours by GPS, but an hour or two longer if you actually have to drive on I-95 in Connecticut traffic, so it is not exactly around the corner.  In conversations with his eldest daughter, I offered to drive up and meet her there so that she could introduce me to her father.  Our schedules were never quite in synch.  She sent me pictures last year of the celebration of his 91st birthday.  If I was ever going to meet Jake, I needed to do it sooner rather than later.  But finally this week, we made a firm date – “come up and have lunch with us in Essex.”

I spent several hours taking lots of photos and movie clips of the house.  Jake’s bedroom was in the room that is now my office.  We both had a view of the same huge oak tree through the back window, and the view of the comings and goings from the two driveways in to the house.  I think of him whenever I walk in – I see the young boy from the pictures that the family has shared with me.  On Tuesday I loaded up my computer with the photos and off I went to Essex.  It is a gorgeous New England town – immaculate and with well preserved 18th and 19th century homes.  I stayed in the Griswold Inn, the oldest continually operating inn in the country – since 1776.  I woke up early and explored, then studied my Jacobs family history notes, and put the photos in some kind of order.  I was not sure if our meeting would simply be lunch, or whether I would get a chance to talk more about his memories of Casa Mia.  I was prepared for either, but hoping that we could chat. 

As it turns out, we hit it off well and had a wonderful time.  We enjoyed lunch together with two of his daughters, and a caregiver.  After lunch both daughters had to leave, but Jake and I went back to his room to talk, look at his photos, and then look at my photos of his boyhood home.  He left to go off to college in 1938, and returned once, in 1980, when he spoke to the residents of Millridge on his family’s life there in the 20’s and 30’s.  The photos brought back memories – and we spent the afternoon talking about them. 
Jake on left, and author on right.
I sat in Connecticut traffic for a long time on the ride home.  But that gave me plenty of time to review my thoughts on this whole improbable journey, that started with a name on the bell box.  I have delved in to their family history as if it was my own.  I have put flowers on the grave of the young Louise.  I play the piano in the ballroom and think of what songs were being played during parties in the 1930’s.  My wife and I had our wedding reception on the back patio here.  And now I have met the last known living link to that past. 

I am not obsessed – but was simply drawn into this story – of the Main Line during its golden era.  And in researching the story, I have wanted to share what I have learned, and that has led me to regular writing for publication – something that I had always wanted to do but never had the time for.  Now I make the time for it.  I have met some wonderful people along the way.  Life has layers that we sometimes are not aware of.  If you are walking about in this house, and not thinking about the past, then you are missing one of those layers.  I always see the young boy, running in and out of these rooms.  Now I have met him.  The story has come full circle.  And I have been changed and enriched in the process.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

April 12, 1912: And the Band Played On

On April 14, 1912, the Titanic hit the iceberg at 11:40 that night. The eight band members, who were off duty by that time in their second class cabin on E Deck, were called on by their bandleader, Wallace Hartley, to assemble on the deck and play music to help calm the situation. The ship was unsinkable, as everyone knew, and so seeing the band playing without concern would show people that everything was under control.

The band, also called the orchestra, was an "all star team" - assembled from the best of the musicians who worked the White Star line. The five older members who played as a quintet in the first class area were Wallace H. Hartley, 33, the bandmaster, Jock Hume, 29, first violin, Fred Clark, 30, bass viol, Percy Taylor, 32, piano, and John Wesley Woodward, 32, on cello. Three younger musicians filled in with the main band, and also played as a trio in the second class cabin and restaurant: Theodore Brailey, 24, piano, Georges Krins, 23, violin, and Roger Bricoux, 20, cello.

They played songs from their usual sets, first in the first class lounge on the A Deck, which had an upright piano, when it was unclear what had happened to the ship. Later they moved outside the lounge to the main deck, where they continued to play (without the piano) when it became more likely that the ship would not survive the night. They played popular music - light waltzes and ragtime, remembered by one survivor as "lively airs". The White Star Line had a songbook for the musicians who played on their cruises, the White Star Line Songbook. In the book were popular favorites like Alexander's Ragtime Band, the 1911 hit song for young American songwriter Irving Berlin, Oh You Beautiful Doll, Offenbach's Barcarolle waltz, and the Blue Danube Walt. Ragtime was a relatively "new" style, and most of the passengers who recalled specific songs that night remembered the more classical ones such as Songe d'Automne and Valse Septembre.

By 2:00 A.M. the last lifeboat had left the ship, and yet there were still over 1,500 people on board. The giant gash that had ripped into the hull had allowed the sea water to begin filling the lower holds of the ship, and so the front of the Titanic, the bow, sank lower and lower into the water, and towards the end the back of the ship, the stern, began to rise out of the water. When it became clear that all was lost, bandmaster Hartley dismissed the small band that had played now for about two hours. By some accounts, one musician, either the violin or cello, began to play a hymn, which some remembered as "Nearer My God to Thee". The other musicians joined in. Musicians, when inspired, play from their heart, and no doubt in this circumstance, and knowing you are probably playing the last song that you will ever play, your emotions flow into the song. That was the last song of the night, the last of the crossing, the last song these musicians ever played. Its sounds floated out over the ocean to the lifeboats that had pulled away from the sinking ship.

The band no doubt said their thanks to each other, "It was great playing with you", and then their goodbyes. In that situation, each person makes peace with his thoughts. Bandleader Hartley still had hope: he put his violin in its case, and found rope to strap it to his body. Minutes later, at 2:28 a.m., the ship plunged into the sea and disappeared from view.

All of the musicians died. The bodies of three were recovered: Hume, Clark and Hartley. Hartley's violin was still strapped to his body. The violin disappeared into history, but recently resurfaced. It has been a gift from his fiancĂ©, and was inscribed on the back: “For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement. From Maria.” After Hartley's body was recovered, the violin was sent back to Maria, as she mentions it in her diary.

Clark was on his first trip across the Atlantic. He had never played for White Star before, but the company wanted the best musicians to play for the greatest ship in the world, and so offered him good pay to make just one trip. His winter concert season had just ended, and so he finally accepted.

A fellow White Star musician and friend heard the news and lamented, "The thing I can't realize is that happy Jock Hume is dead. He was the merriest, happiest young Scotchman you ever saw. His family have been making musical instruments in Scotland for generations. I heard him say once that they were minstrels in the old days. It is certainly hard to believe that he is not alive and having his fun somewhere in the world."

Many of the bodies that were recovered were brought to shore in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Three cemeteries there are the final resting place of 150 of the passengers that night, including musicians Hume and Clark. Hartley's body was returned to his home town of Colne, England.

In the 100 years since that night, some have criticized the band, for playing light music, for setting a mood that may have convinced some passengers that they did not really need to get into the lifeboats. There is debate about whether they actually played "Nearer My God to Me". There are several tunes to which the hymn is sung, two of which were more popular in England and one more popular in America. The first British tune is called Horbury, and was composed by British composer John Bacchus Dykes. A second tune for the hymn, popular with British Methodists, is "Propior Deo" (Nearer to God), written by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan). The American tune is called Bethany, and was composed by American composer Lowell Mason (best known for "Joy to the World"). Several surviving passengers claim to have heard the hymn from their lifeboats, but the American passengers heard the American version, and the British passengers heard an English version. Which tune was actually played? The answer went down with the ship.

I leave it to Captain Hindsight and Colonel Quibble to wrangle about the details. As a musician and a band member, I applaud these men for what they did. If faced with the same prospect, if I knew that I had one hour to live, what better way to spend it than playing music with my musical friends, and performing for a crowd who needed the calming and the hope that music provides?

For one version of this final performance, check out this You Tube clip from the 1958 movie, "A Night To Remember".

For the boys in the band that night, your fellow musicians remember you and salute you.

"Still all my song shall be, nearer my God to Thee."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mr. Stubblebine's Horse

(I wrote this story several years ago about s small moment in time where the lives of my mother and the Stubblebine family intersected. I was supposed to play music last night with a Stubblebine descendant. Unfortunately she could not make it, but running into that name made me go and dig out this story to re-publish it.)

In 1942, my mother Mildred Sheeler Hall was a 16 year old high school student living in West Philadelphia. Her mother, Ida Evelyn Sheeler, had died in 1931 when Mildred was five years old, and Mildred knew her only through the memories of her Spring City cousins, the Sheelers and the Cooks. After her mother's death, Mildred's family had moved to Orlando, Florida, where they lived across the street from a municipal park and riding academy. Mildred learned to ride horses while living in Florida, and after her father died in 1940, she had returned to the Philadelphia area to live with her aunt, Mildred Mae Sheeler, near Rittenhouse Square in the city. After school and on weekends, she would go to the Fairmount Stables in West Philadelphia to ride horses.

Her Aunt Edie Cook knew of Mildred's love for horses. Edie, the daughter of Francis Cook, a Spring City pharmacist, had occasion to talk to Mr. Stubblebine, who ran the real estate agency next door to the Cook pharmacy in Spring City. Mr. Stubblebine had a horse that he was very proud of. Edie asked whether her niece could ride it some time, and Mr. Stubblebine extended the invitation to her to come out and ride his beautiful horse. Edie then passed along the invitation to Mildred to come out to Spring City and ride Mr. Stubblebine's horse.

Mildred was a good judge of horses, having ridden both good and bad ones in her time in Florida and at the Fairmount Stables. Her expectations were low on the weekend when she went out to Spring City to meet Edie and go see the horse.
They went to Mr. Stubblebine's house and then out to the barn, and Mr. Stubblebine brought out a magnificent horse. Mildred couldn't believe her good fortune, to be permitted to ride this beautiful animal, nor the generosity of Mr. Stubblebine to entrust this proud possession to her. He saddled the horse, and then had it pose for Mildred to take several pictures. She then mounted the horse and rode around the barn area to get the feel of the horse. Once she and the horse had gotten comfortable with each other, and Mr. Stubblebine had gotten comfortable that this young girl knew what she was doing, she asked if she could take the horse out through the fields to nearby Zion Lutheran Church cemetery. Mr. Stubblebine said that would be fine, and so off went Mildred astride this magnificent horse.

Mildred's mother, Ida Evelyn Sheeler, was buried in the cemetery at Zion, along with Ida's mother, Ella Mae Cook Sheeler, and Ida's sister, Doris Sheeler. Ella Mae and Doris had died within a year of each other in 1912-13 from tuberculosis, the same disease that had taken away Ida in 1931. Mildred had never been to her mother's grave. She rode the horse methodically up and down the rows of gravestones at Zion Cemetery for an hour or so, but she never found her mother's grave.

Years later, in 1984, I went to Zion Cemetery on the same mission, to try to find the grave of my grandmother, Ida Evelyn Sheeler. Instead of a horse, I rode my trusty Schwinn 10 speed bike. I didn't know of Mildred's ride many years before. I simply did what she must have done - started at one end and worked my way up and down, row by row, though the cemetery. I was more fortunate than the young Mildred;

I found the Sheeler family grave about midway up the one field that I had started in, and pulled out a notebook and described where I had found it. When I returned home that day, I called my mother and told her that I had found her Sheeler family's grave sites, and she and I returned several weeks later so that I could show the graves to her. That is the only time she had been at her mother's gravesite.

As I write this, it is now May of 2005. My mother, in her eightieth year has been diagnosed with cancer, and I have been visiting her to go through her old family pictures and stir up these old memories. When we came to the series of four unmarked photos which my mother immediately identified as "Mr. Stubblebine's horse", my siblings and I all laughed that she recalled this horse and the peculiar name of its owner, sixty five years later. She can look at pictures of the various horses that she rode in the 30's and 40's and remember their names and some of their attributes.

I wouldn't have remembered this name for very long, but coincidentally within a couple of days, as I was searching on the Internet for what had become of Spring City High School, I came across the name Stubblebine in connection with Spring City, and I followed the link to a Stubblebine genealogy site that mentioned several Stubblebines in Spring City. Two likely candidates stand out: Harvey Stubblebine (b. 1900, d. 1964) and his brother Everett (b. 1901, d. 1978), who both were born and died in Spring City.
The report of Everett's marriage noted that he had just completed a course in real estate law, so it seems that he is most likely the Mr. Stubblebine who owned the magnificent horse. Unfortunately, his back is turned to us in the surviving pictures (see attached), and so the identity is a mystery to us, at this distance, but it may well be that his descendants may recognize this side of him.

I wrote to Joe Stubblebine, the keeper of this very thorough Stubblebine genealogy web site, and he suggested that I write out my mother's story and send it along with the pictures that we had. I was glad to do so. The story is not one of action or adventure; simply a slice of life from this time, a brief intersection between the Stubblebines and the Sheelers of Spring City, a thread in the tapestry of life. I am glad to share it with the Stubblebine family and friends.

Contributed in August 2005 by Douglas P. Humes

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Smokers Unite – you have nothing to lose but your chains!

What is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done in life? For me, there is a variety to choose from. But in the Top 5 has to be the decision to smoke cigarettes, a mistake made with that first one in 7th grade, and then repeated approximately 20 times a year, 365 days a year, for over thirty years. I quit a hundred times during that period, but only the final one ever lasted any significant time. But that final quit, in 2001, has been the life changer. I don’t miss it, and I don’t kid myself about its virtues. It is a powerful addiction to a drug, and like any addiction, it whispers lies into your ears about how much you need it. I could not quit until I approached it not as “giving up” something that I liked, but quitting an addiction to something I hated.

About six years later, having lived through a number of deaths of contemporaries, I began to wrestle with that issue of mortality. I always thought that some day I would have to pay for my 30+ years of smoking. And I wondered whether there was anything proactive that I could do. Through a client that arranges for clinical trials of cancer drugs, I became aware of that whole world of clinical trials, and so I went searching in the public data base for clinical trials of lung cancer. And I found what I was looking for: a clinical trial for the early detection of lung cancer. I signed up for it.

The common wisdom on lung cancer is that once it is noticeable enough to detect, it is too late in the process to offer much in the way of treatment. (And of course there are exceptions to that rule – exceptions who I know by name and who are disease free years later). But that is the basic state of the art with lung cancer: if they could catch it earlier, then they might have more treatment options. The clinical trial I signed up for is seeking to do just that – it is exploring whether there are perhaps biological markers that may indicate why lung cancer starts to grow in certain people but not others.

How do they gather this information? First, they start with the study group most likely to get lung cancer – heavy smokers and former heavy smokers. They bring us in one by one, and first ask a battery of questions on lifestyle and family history. They test our lung capacity now to establish a base line. Take blood samples. And sputum samples. And then do a CT scan of our lungs. The scans are reviewed and then we are sent a report, with a nifty CD containing our lung scans (see photo above for one little slice). They tell us where we are today. If there is no apparent disease or progression, we are told simply to come back in a couple of years and they will look at it all again. If they see disease, then you are sent to your own medical providers for treatment. The study is not a treatment study, but an information study.

We are all adding our data to the data base. Over time, some of us will be diagnosed with lung cancer. When they have a larger enough study and history, then researchers will be looking for biological markers that may differentiate the cancer patients from the rest. And if they can find those markers, then in the future they can perhaps select people with those markers for earlier treatment.

My latest visit was two weeks ago. The location of the study is at NYU Medical Center in Manhattan, in a big medical complex a few blocks south of the Untied Nations near the East River. I am situational friendly with Ellen and Jacquie, the nurses who are working on the study. We repeat the sampling and questions from the original visit. Chat about our lives. This year Ellen said “we want to make a good effort on the sputum sample this year.” She laughed when she said it; I asked “why?” She said that in a colon cancer study they think they may have found a marker in sputum. So she repeated “they’re really pushing the sputum.” I did my best, in a telephone booth contraption breathing a saline inhalant that irritates the lungs, and was finally able to deliver a small sample into a plastic dish with a lid. I apologized for it, and she said “No, that is actually a nice one. I’ve become an expert on sputum!” It was all done in a light hearted way.

After the visit, I met my wife waiting in the lobby, and off we went to see the rest of New York. Each time I have gone, we have turned the visit into a night or a weekend in New York. We walked a bit, had a nice dinner, and saw Spiderman on Broadway. We stayed overnight, and then made our way home the next day. The visit and the participation in the study is something that I look forward to. I am being proactive. I am contributing to the greater good. I am having a great weekend with my wife. And two weeks later I get my report, with a new CD with the newest scans and the older ones as well. And so far, it has always been good news.

More good news. Participation is free. I think they put through a claim if your insurance covers some of the items, but otherwise, you get these diagnostic services for free because you are participating in a study. Of course there is no such thing as “free”; someone is funding the study. Ellen indicated that they have funding to last for at least another five years. I asked her if they are still enrolling new participants. She said yes, indeed. That’s where you, the reader, come in. If you are a current or former heavy smoker, and are willing to get yourself up to New York once every year or two, then this is a good reason to do so. And if you are not that smoker, but know of loved ones who are, you may want to let them know about this study.

Here is the background and contact information:

Ellen Eylers, RN, MSN, MPH
Program Coordinator
NYU Lung Cancer Biomarker Center
550 1st Ave, 7N24NBV
New York, NY, 10016
p 212.263.6126
f 212.263.7980
website: http://medicine.med.nyu.edu/pulmonary/node/731

So am I blogging about lung cancer as something that is “right with the world”? I am not. I hate cancer. Despise it. It has taken a lot of love out of my life. So this is the way I fight back. I become proactive. I let everyone know that this study is out there. We together accumulate data, and a lot of smart and talented people review it all, and find better ways to combat our common enemy. We still lose soldiers along the way; but hopefully with enough of us contributing, we eventually win the war. That’s what is right with the world – people devise this study, people fund it, people participate, people administer it, and over time, we find some truth that helps make the world a better place. And we see a lot of Broadway shows in the process.