Tuesday, October 9, 2007


This is a re-write of our August 2001 trip to New England. We flew to the Hartford, CT. airport to attend the wedding of Ariel Cahn and Rafael Flores, scheduled for the following day in Amherst, MA. Ariel is my first cousin, once removed. She is the daughter of my cousin Fred and the granddaughter of my Aunt Lil, my mother's twin sister, who is now 95 and doing well, thank God.

We rented a car and proceeded to drive North on I-91 through Springfield, MA, past the Basketball Hall of Fame and then the Volleyball Hall of Fame in Northampton, MA, and then went East on Route 9 to Amherst.

We checked in at the Holiday Inn at Amherst, actually in Hadley, about a mile from downtown Amherst. Amherst is a college town, home of Amherst College and also the University of Massachusetts (Umass). We first stopped at the Lord Jeffrey Inn, which is on the Town Square in Amherst. The town was founded by an Englishman, Lord Jeffrey Amherst. This is a hotel which is probably 200 years old and was the site of the wedding we were to attend. Most of the wedding guests stayed there, but they were somewhat disappointed with the rooms there which were small and musty. We were quite happy with the Holiday Inn which was not more than a year or two old.

We planned to meet my sister Gerry, but she had not yet arrived, so we went walking around town looking for a good restaurant. We stumbled into Judies which turned out to be a fine dining experience. They served the best seafood bisque I've ever tasted. Their specialties included popovers which is hollow bread usually stuffed with meat of some kind. I had it with homemade apple butter. The desserts included rich chocolate cake.

We walked around town some more and found Emily Dickenson's house. She obviously wasn't home because she's been dead for over 100 years, but there was a guided tour. For a small fee, we took the tour. The elderly lady giving the tour was pleasant enough, but she appeared to be in the beginning stages of dementia in that she would repeat herself quite often. But we learned much about Emily Dickenson who was a recluse for the last 30 years of her life. She never married. Neither did her sister Lavinia, who cared for Emily. Their father was a prominent figure who founded Amherst College and also the church across the street. He was also a congressman. He threw many lavish parties in the house, but the partygoers rarely saw Emily. Talk about eccentric.

She wrote 1000 poems, of which 10 were published in her lifetime. She wanted all the rest destroyed, but fortunately for American literature, they were saved. Many volumes of her letters to various people were published.

Most of her personal effects, and house furnishings were given to Harvard University, and not to Amherst, because of a complex set of events. Emily's father willed the house to his mistress who lived down the block. The mistress, who for understandable reasons, was not accepted by the Dickenson family, took out her revenge by giving everything to Harvard.

We came back to the hotel and found my sister Gerry, who had checked in and we made arrangements to meet several cousins for dinner. The other wedding guests were invited to the rehearsal dinner, but we were not, so we went out to eat. We found an Italian restaurant on the next block, Pinocchios, which is supposedly one of the finest restaurants in town. We were not impressed. We ordered things, but what we were served did not appear to be what we had ordered. Certain things were good however--the pizza bread, the fried calamari, the Caesar salad. The main courses were not so good.

We returned to the Lord Jeffrey Inn and found my cousin Fred and his recent bride Emily (not Dickenson) and went to the hotel bar with them, and Gerry and my other cousins and sat around trying new mixed drinks and talking to the two bartenders, a young clean cut black man whose father is a college professor and a 30ish young lady who is a single mother. They gave us advice on sights to see. I wanted to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, but the bartender said it was in such a bad neighborhood that even he would not venture there. They are constructing a new building at a different location, but it isn't done yet. I've visited the Hall of Fame many years ago, and maybe I'll get to see it again on some future trip.

We got to know Fred's wife Emily better than we did when they got married last year, and she is fun to be with. Most of the women in our family are assertive, and take charge, and Emily is no exception.

The next day, Friday, we drove up to Deerfield, MA. to visit the Yankee Candle Factory. This is a sight to see. This is a 100-200,000 square foot complex in a largely rural area, selling toys, candles and household items. It has elements of FAO Schwarz, with large scale toy trains going all around overhead. It also had elements of Crate & Barrel, selling pottery, tablecloths, and other such items. It also sold a multitude of Xmas items like giant Santa Clauses dressed in the clothes of many nationalities. We were invited to dip and color our own candles.

The place also had a large antique auto museum with perhaps 100 cars--Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces. Also a Dusenberg, a Hudson Hornet (or was it a Hudson Wasp), a '54 Corvette, '57 Chevy, Amphicar, 1911 Maxwell, '55 T-Bird, Shelby race cars, Nash Metropolitan. An 1884 Benz, which was basically a carriage with a washing machine motor. Those cars were all detailed and beautiful.

Leaving Yankee Candle, we proceeded down the road to Deerfield, which was founded in the mid 1600's. It was then at the edge of the frontier and was often attacked by indigenous people (Indians?). Many of the houses dated back to the 1600's. This is a museum area but unfortunately we didn't have the time to properly explore it. We did stop at the Deerfield Inn for lunch which was very good, I especially liked the homemade apple cider and potato salad.

We returned to Amherst to prepare for the 4:00 wedding. The wedding was an outdoor affair in the garden of the hotel. The weather cooperated and it was warm and sunny. Prior to the ceremony, an African musician from Mali (think Timbutku, although he was from a different part of the country) played the kora , which is a stringed instrument with a casual resemblance to a bagpipe. The sounds were very melodious and the music was beautiful. None of the songs were any that we knew.

The bride and groom are both musicians and are studying for advanced degrees in music at UMass. Rafael, the groom, plays the guitar and percussion instruments and is writing a thesis about Cuban music. The couple visited Cuba earlier in the year to study the music. They had to go to Canada in order to get to Cuba. The band they hired for the wedding was a Cuban band playing exclusively Cuban music. We got our familiarity with Cuban music from the I Love Lucy Show and it's fine music, but there was no Hava Negilah or even the Funky Chicken.

The couple were married by a rabbi, Marcia Rappaport who is an itinerent rabbi from New York who could stand in for Joan Rivers. She did the wedding vows and Hebrew words with a Brooklyn accent Apparently, she specializes in mixed marriages. She had a good sense of humor and did everything in good taste and we enjoyed this wedding more than most weddings. We had seen the Rabbi around the hotel earlier, and did not, of course, know that she was the Rabbi until she appeared in front of the chuppah.

At the wedding, I met my cousin Susan from Connecticut whom I had not seen for about 30 years, but had always enjoyed her bubbly personality when I was in my teens and in college. She is about 6 years older than I am. I had stayed with her mother on several occasions in Hartford, CT. when I was in school. Susan's husband, Allen, a pharmacist, had to work so she came alone to the wedding. She is a person who takes charge of any situation, and she made it her business to plan a trip for us the following day to New Hampshire and Vermont.

The wedding dinner was very good--Dianne had salmon, and I had vegetarian paella, but I should have had the prime rib when I tasted Gerry's and found it to be excellent. The appetizer was gazpacho soup which was cold--actually it was supposed to be.

The next morning, after breakfast, Gerry, Dianne and I set off on a road trip planned by my cousin Susan. We went up I-91 past Deerfield and Greenfield and got off on a side road which eventually led into Winchester, New Hampshire. We went into a couple of antique shops there and didn't buy anything. The only thing I saw that I liked was a Falstaff beer painted plate for hanging on the wall for $40. It was a picture of the Shakesperian character Falstaff on a horse in front of a castle with other people in medieval dress and it was beautiful, but I didn't buy it. I thought I might find something better, but I didn't.

We continued down the road to FitzWilliam, NH, which was on Susan's itinerary. This is a small New England town with a white church with a tall spire and other 17th century buildings. There were several antique stores and a Xmas store where we purchased ornaments. I must look like I belong there because several motorists stopped me to ask for directions. Since we had already driven the length of the town, I was able to help them.

We then drove North through Keene, a larger city, enjoying the countryside and picturesque towns. They all have white churches with tall spires. We eventually crossed over the Connecticut River and entered Vermont. This was a momentous event in my life because I had now traveled to all 50 states. Prior to this trip, I had never been to New Hampshire or Vermont. My next project is to hit all the Canadian provinces (I've been to 6). The tough one will be Nunavut because you can't drive to Baffin Island.

In any event, we passed through Brattleboro, VT. and headed North toward Newfane, the next stop on the list. Fortunately for us, all the New England states are small, and what looks like a great distance on the map is only a few miles. We reached Newfane and found another historic town with the obligatory churches and general store and fudge place and courthouse. It was very pretty and we took many pictures. We purchased fudge and cheese, and of course, postcards at the general store. The shopkeepers were very friendly.

Our next destination was Bennington, clear on the other side of the state, but only about 40 miles away. We took a shortcut through South Newfane,and when I got to the fork in the road, I followed Yogi Berra's advice and took it. It turned out to be the wrong road, which after a few miles, became a dirt road throught the forest. The scenery, at least, was nice. I know from past experience, since I don't ask for directions, that roads usually have outlets at the other end, and after about a half hour we got to Route 9 which is the road to Bennington.

On the way, we found another nice tourist town, Wilmington, VT. which has many souvenir stores like Long Grove. After another stop we proceeded toward Bennington. The road is fairly long because it winds through the Green Mountains which, of course, are green. New Hampshire has the White Mountains, but we didn't get that far to see what color they are at this time of the year. The Green Mountains are a national forest and the views are wonderful.

We arrived in Bennington after 5 P.M. and sought out the pottery factory for which the town is famous. It is also the home of Bennington College which last year had the highest tuition of any college in the country, but that is a story for another day. The pottery factory was a rambling store with many rooms of dishes and cups and other dinner items. We spent about an hour there and bought some stuff. By now, it was time to return to Amherst where we had a 7:30 dinner reservation with the family. Its about a 60 mile trip but not on a superhighway.

We drove down U.S. 7 back into Massachusetts, into North Adams where we passed by Williams College, another exclusive school. It has a very beautiful campus with Greek style architecture buildings dating from the 1700's. We turned off on Route 2 which is called the Mohawk Trail and is considered a scenic route. It is long and winding with spectacular views of the hilly countryside. I went as fast as I could possibly go on that twisting and turning road and we arrived in Amherst about 7:15 with just enough time to change for dinner.

We went over to the Lord Jeffrey to find my cousins and learned that they made the reservation at the hotel in Northampton, about 15 miles away. So we had to hightail it over there to not miss dinner, and we eventually got there. Northampton is the hometown of Calvin Coolidge and also Smith College, and it's a fairly big town with a downtown area and a large courthouse.

We had the whole room to ourselves--a party of about 15, including the bride and groom. We sat around and talked for about 3 hours. The special on the menu was peppercorn Filet Mignon. I had it and it was too peppery. The filet part was great but the pepper had to be scraped off. The clam chowder was excellent.

On Sunday, we checked out of our hotel early and picked up Gerry. We headed down the back roads through Holyoke and eventually picked up I-91 in Springfield. We drove down into Hartford, CT and turned East on Route 2 toward New London. Route 2 is a major highway with a speed limit of 65. We decided to go to Mystic which is East of New London, on the coast of Long Island Sound. After an hour's ride, we arrived in Mystic, very hungry. Mystic is a seaport town with a large river and
a drawbridge which frequently goes up. It has many quaint shops and we strolled the street going into many of them. This is a real tourist town. We had lunch at a fine seafood restaurant on the river next to the drawbridge. Dianne had a whole lobster which she enjoyed immensely. I had the salmon.

We spent a couple of hours in Mystic, driving past Mystic Seaport, which is essentially an amusement park, but one with historical significance. We didn't have time to go in, so we cruised through the town, getting the flavor of the old houses.

We then drove East on U.S. 1, toward Stonington, CT, where we would find the beach. Dianne loves the beach. We were starting to run out of time because we had to catch a flight from Hartford to Chicago. We drove through narrow streets past the lighthouse to the beach and walked around for awhile. We toured the lighthouse, climbing the steps to the top. We took many pictures. But it was getting really late when we left Stonington, actually Stonington Borough, the historic part, and headed East toward Westerly, Rhode Island where we would pick up Route 2, according to the map. We did, but Route 2, on the 20 or so miles to Norwich, was a 2 lane road. We found that it goes right past Foxwoods, an Indian gambling casino which is larger than any of the Las Vegas hotels. We ran into heavy traffic there and were concerned that we would miss our plane.

But we didn't miss it (remember, this was before 9/11), as we rushed, out of breath, through the airport and caught the flight back to Chicago.



Thursday, October 4, 2007


With National Fire Prevention Week upon us, you might like to learn about the great fire of October 8, 1871, which led the nation to devote this week to fire safety. The fire was the most destructive one in history in terms of lives lost--the Great Peshtigo Fire (you thought I was referring to the Chicago Fire?). The local natives pronounce it "PESH-ti-go", not "pesh-TI-go" as I did.

Every Wisconsin school kid is required in fourth grade to learn Wisconsin history, and they're told about the great forest fire, in Northeast Wisconsin, which claimed about 2000 lives. The best account we have of that fire was that of Rev. Peter Pernin, the parish priest for the small towns of Peshtigo and Marinette, who published his account in 1874.

It started about the same time as the Chicago Fire, but there was no smoking cow or lantern or anything else--the cause was uncertain. Experts have speculated on possible causes, ranging from meteor showers to lightning, to careless campfires. There had been severe drought conditions throughout the Midwest; and apparently the "slash and burn" land clearing practices of the time caused many small fires to combine into one large conflagration when a cool front blew in with strong winds to fan the flames. For days before, there had been small fires which created dense smoke throughout the area, darkening the air on Green Bay so much that daylight navigation had to be done by compass.

Over the years the Peshtigo Fire remained largely unknown except to the few survivors and scholars, while the Chicago Fire was covered extensively in the print media and history books. Obviously, the great city of Chicago, with its major railroad hub and media center grabbed the headlines. The small village of Peshtigo, with a population of only 1700, had one telegraph station and that was desroyed in the fire.

The outside world didn't learn of the Peshtigo Fire for several days because the little logging town was leveled and more than half the inhabitants were killed. Even then, when news of the tragedy reached the state capitol in Madison, the governor and other state officials were away in Chicago, helping out with disaster relief.

After destroying Peshtigo, the fire didn't stop there. It continued to burn on through nearby Marinette, WI, burning down its churches and homes. The fire ultimately burned through around 2000 square miles (almost 1.5 million acres) of forest, destroying many millions of trees along with 12 towns. It even jumped over the waters of Green Bay, fanned by strong winds, and it then burned a large portion of Door County, on the other side.

Incidentally, on the same day, across Lake Michigan, the towns of Holland and Manistee, Michigan, were also burned in what was called the Port Huron Fire of 1871.

Many of the people who survived did so by jumping into the Peshtigo River or in wells and nearby lakes. Even that didn't save many people who either drowned or were burned in the intense firestorm when they came up for air. They could not flee the town, which had wooden buildings and sidewalks, sawdust (from logging) in the streets and a burning forest surrounding the town. It was reported that the firestorm generated infernal tornadoes which literally threw rail cars and houses into the air.

Within 3 years, the town of Peshtigo was completely rebuilt, but the surrounding forest did not recover. Today, dairy farms abound where the land was once covered by trees.

If you ever get the opportunity, visit the Peshtigo Fire Museum, just off U.S. 41, which has artifacts, pictures and first person descriptions of the event. The curators are friendly and helpful, pointing out that Chicago also had a fire that day.

Remember, it's called "PESH-ti-go", as in Peshtigo Court, the street next to the Prudential Building in Chicago. In case you were wondering, Peshtigo has a street called Chicago Court. I'm not sure how the Peshtigans pronounce that.