Saturday, October 22, 2016

Eugene Gochenour's Memoirs: New York State Theme Parks of the 1950s

Santa's Workshop at the North Pole, 1957, New York State
The North Pole, New York State, 1957
This selection from my dad's memoirs recalls family vacations we took in 1956 and 1957. I recall these trips although I was only four and five years old: The North Pole, Frontier Town, The Land of Make Believe, and The Enchanted Village.  
Santa's Workshop at The North Pole, NY, 1957. Dad, me and Grandma Gochenour
"Once a year Joyce, Nancy and I would take a week’s vacation. Most years we went to the Adirondack mountains.

"Once we took Nancy to the North Pole to see Santa's Workshop.
Here I am at the North Pole. I remember there were goats
that followed me, chewing on my jacket, and I was scared of them.
"Then we went to Frontier Town where we rode on a stagecoach and were robbed by bandits. We also watched a gunfight on the main street of town. The stagecoach robbers were caught, and punished.

Frontier Town, New York State, 1957
I'm in jail at Frontier Town, 1957

And Mom in the pillory while Grandma Gochenour stands by. Frontier Town 1957.

Frontier Town, 1957
At Frontier Town surrounded by cowboys
"I always had a fishing pole along, and if we found a cabin by a lake or river I would spend the evening fishing. On some of our trips we went to Whiteface Mountain, Fort Ticonderoga, and the Au Sable Chasm, and took the ferry to Burlington, Vermont. While in Vermont we drove through the Green Mountains, then traveled the Taconic Trail. 
Au Sable Caverns 1957
Nancy, 1957
Howe Caverns 1957
I was only five years old but I remember this cabin. It was a lovely
retreat at the end of a busy day of sightseeing.
Dad preparing fish on our family vacation in 1957
"One year we went to Hyde Park, the home of President Roosevelt, then to the Howe Caverns, the Vanderbilt Mansion, and the Corning Glass works where there was a glass museum and a factory where we watched them blow glass objects. Nancy was always a good traveler. Most of our vacations were in New York State.
That's Mom and Me on the right at the foot of Paul Bunyan
the Enchanted Forest 1957
At The Enchanted Forest with Mom and Grandma Gochenour
The Enchanted Forest, 1957, talking to the Pumpkin Eater's wife
The Enchanted Forest apparently had an ark
At the Land of Make Believe 1957
The Land of Make Believe, 1957. Dad, me and Grandma Gochenour
The Land of Make Believe, 1957

Learn more about these attractions:

The North Pole, NY Santa's Workshop was the first theme park and featured the first petting zoo in America.

Frontier Town in North Hudson, NY 1952-1999, Story Town which opened in 1954, The Land of Make Believe, and Santa's Workshop were all in the Adirondacks. Here is a brochure for the theme parks:

The Land of Make Believe, Upper Jay, NY, 1954-1979, which sadly was flooded out:

Story Town:

The Enchanted Forest opened in 1956:

Mom and I feeding critters

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Rise and Fall of the Glass Armonica

Angelic Music by Corey Mean is the story of Ben Franklin's Glass Armonica, the invention that gave him the "greatest personal satisfaction."

When we lived in Philadelphia in the mid-1970s to late 1980s we saw the Glass Armonica at the Franklin Institute. And we had heard a man perform on musical glasses in several venues around the time of the Bicentenniel. So I had heard the ethereal, angelic music of the musical glasses.

I had not realized that the Glass Armonica was all the rage in the 18th c and early 19th c. Chamber music including the instrument was written by Mozart, Beethoven, and Handel. Vituosos toured Europe playing the music that made women swoon.

It gained a tarnished reputation in the early 19th c when people believed the music could drive one mad and cause illness, or summon the dead with magical powers. Mesmer used it in his seances.

As music changed from small ensambles to large symphonic orchestras in halls the Armonica fell out of favor, relegated to being a museum curiosoity. But in the last twenty years it has found a revival, electronically enchanced, and used in pop music, movies, opera, and chamber music.

I was fascinated by this book. Corey covers the rise and fall of the musical glasses, the development of glassmaking, early musical glasses, Franklin's musical background and development of the Armonica, the hey-day of the Glass Armonica, and Mesmer's career and his use of the instrument, including his comissioning an opera from Mozart, the decline and revival of the instrument.

When German glassblower Gerhard Finkenbeiner saw a Glass Armonica in a musem in 1960 it was a curiosity. He rediscovered how to create the glass and instrument and the instrument found a revival.

Today a few people are experts, including Dennis James whose collaboration with Linda Ronstadt on six CDs revived an interest in the instrument. A a boy he saw Franklin's instruemtent at the Franklin Institute; in music school he asked what it sounded like and his professor answered, "No one knows. It hasn't been played for two hundred years." Now he leads the world's first known glass music studies program at Rutgers University.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Learn more about the Glass Armonica:

The Glass Armonica
Corey Mead
Simon & Schuster
Publication October 2016
$28 hard cover
ISBN: 978-1-4767-8303-1

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Artists of the Revolution and The Creation of an American Identity

In 1783 John Adams was in London and commissioned American expat John Singleton Copely to paint his portrait.

Adams was fresh from Paris where, along with John Jay and Benjamin Franklin, he had signed the Treaty of Paris. His accomplishments included obtaining recognition of America and negotiating a treaty with the Dutch, plus obtaining a Dutch loan to fund the American war for independence, and establishing the very first American embassy in Amsterdam. He was instrumental in the Provisional Treaty with Britain.

A man must be his own trumpeter Adams had written in a letter. Adams knew his place in history, even if at home and abroad Franklin was everyone's darling.  He deserved a portrait. Copley was to paint an eight-foot tall, full portrait of Adams, full of symbols designating  his place in history.

Art teaches values, Adams knew, and can be used as propaganda, promoting ideals that outlast personal memory.

Upon seeing the impressive portrait Adams realized the vanity of his desire. He left it behind.

Of Arms and Artists by Paul Staiti considers the lives of the great artists of the Revolution in context of their time. I was fascinated by the stories of the artists. Learning about the paintings was enlightening. For instance, on my last visit to the Detroit Art Institute I was thrilled to see Watson and the Shark by Copely. This is a painting often reproduced in books. Statai tells the story behind the painting.

The commissioned painting memorializes the experience of real life Brook Watson. The dramatic painting shows a man in the water reaching for a rope thrown from a boat while a sailor readies to harpoon a shark whose open maw is feet from the unfortunate boy.

The real Watson was a Tory politician who wanted the painting to create a personal identity, eliciting sympathy and connoting courage. He was a British spy who announced that slavery was "merciful and humane."

Americans will recognize famous paintings by these artists. They created the mythos of America.

Charles Willson Peale was an enthusiastic patriot who was a captain in the Pennsylvania militia. He was at the crossing of the Delaware and the Battles of Trenton and Princeton and the fall of Philadelphia to the British. Peale visited Valley Forge, painting miniatures of the officers--not as they were but cheery visions to send home to loved ones. He painted George Washington after the Battle of Princeton.
George Washington, Peale
John Singleton Copley left America to study in Europe. He endeavored for neutrality and painted portraits of Patriots and the British.
Paul Revere, Copley
John Trumbull captured pivotal moments in history. He witness the battle of Bunker Hill and served as an aide to Gen. George Washington. In Paris he was a go-between for Thomas Jefferson, delivering love notes to the married Maria Cosway. His paintings are in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol including the signing of the Declaration of Independence which places historical accuracy secondary to America ideals.
Trumbull, signing of the Declaration
Benjamin West left Pennsylvania for a 'grand tour' to broaden his knowledge of art. He stayed in London as the historical painter to the court of George III. His historical paintings included The Death of General Wolfe.   He painted his close friend in the allegorical Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity From the Sky.
West, Benjamin Franklin
Gilbert Stuart was a master in portraiture, painting over 1,000. He studied under Benjamin West in England. Constantly in debt, he spent the summer of 1789 in  the Marshalsea Prison. His painting of George Washington was saved by Dolley Madison when the British invaded the Capitol.
Stuart, George Washington

Having read a number of books on the Revolution was an asset to understand the historical events of the paintings created by these artists, but enough information is provided by the author for the general reader. I appreciated how the author brought these men to life.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Of Arms and Artists
Paul Staiti
Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication October 18, 2016
$30 hard cover
ISBN 9781632864659

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Poet, The World, and Everything: Songs of Myself by Walt Whitman

In 1969 I picked up a paperback copy of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. I still have the book, underlined and worn. For me, Song of Myself has always been one of Whitman's trickier poems to tackle and I have only read it in bits and pieces. I was excited to see this new volume of Song of Myself with commentary. It gave me an opportunity to read the poem in its entirety, with aids to help me sort it out.

In 2014 the University of Iowa offered an open, international online course, Every Atom: Walk Whitman's "Song of Myself." This book arose from that project. This is the first section-by-section reading of the poem.

The introduction, Reading Song of Myself, notes that the poem appeared in six editions from 1855 to 1881, and its meaning changed as did America, viewed as nostalgia, or as arising from the Civil War and later class and racial stress, or even as mystical. It's appearance as the main poem of Leaves of Grass never changed.

Folsom reminds us of the huge changes during Whitman's writing of the poem: The Civil War and Reconstruction; scientific advances that toppled humanity's concept of itself in relation to time and the universe; the breakdown of religious beliefs constraining scientific beliefs; the struggle for freedom for African Americans.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,And what I assume you shall assume,For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

In Song of Myself, Whitman was offering a paradigm for understanding the interconnectedness of all things, imagining an ideal Democratic society and setting forth its tenets. What he proposes is radical. We are called to rise above all conventional and group thinking to perceive the material reality. All perceived divisions are false. Atoms flow from one thing into another which makes all interrelated and one. The grass arises from the dead in a perfect circle of life.

A child said What is the grass?...And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves....What do you think has become of the young and old men?And what do you think has become of the women and children?They are alive and well somewhere,The smallest sprout shows there is really no death...

The poet embraces all humanity, identifying himself with every sort of person and every sort of human experience. Work, war, sex; slave and master, male and female; the innocent and the guilty, the quick and the dead; there is nothing alien. Boundaries, hierarchies, divisions are artificial. He shares all with everyone, and speaks for everyone.

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.
I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also. 

Whitman ends the poem with the lines "I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable/I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world." Words can scare communicate what the poet wants us to understand. We may need to look for his body "under your boot-soles" but his "barbaric yawp" has endured, to "make of it what you will." Thankfully, this commentary has aided me and opened up a new understanding of America's greatest poem.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Song of Myself: With a Complete Commentary
Iowa Whitman Series
Walt Whitman with Commentary by Ed Folsom and Christopher Merrill
University of Iowa Press
Publication October 15, 2016
paper back ISBN 978-1-60938-465-4
ebook 978-1-60938-466-1

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Eugene Gochenour's Memoirs: Floods and Subs

Gene with baby Nancy and niece Linda Guenther
at Kuhn's house across Rosemont Ave with
the station and the Military Road house in the background.
In this section of his memoir Dad writes about touring my Uncle Dave's Navy submarine and the flooding caused by the development of the farm land in the post-war building boom.

"A few years after we married we had our first child, Nancy Adair.
My parents with newborn me in our Military Rd house. Dad was 22 and Mom was 21.
Gene with 14 month old Nancy at the station
"My sister Mary and her husband Clyde lived in the apartment below ours, and they had a daughter named Linda. My younger sister Alice was still living with my parents at the apartment next door.

"This picture was taken at the rear yard of the house. The girl with the cowboy hat is Linda Guenther, the other is Nancy. The lot behind them is where the Town dumped trash, and where a Texaco gas station and a bicycle shop would be built. Connie Ippolito ran the bicycle shop, and his brother Joe ran the station. Also in the background is the Brace Mueler Steel warehouse. The house on the right was owned by the Kellers, and it sat on the other side of Waverly Street.

Rosemont Ave, 1953. Mom and Mary Becker (wife of Levant Becker) with
me and cousin Debbie Becker.
Rosemont Ave houses. I rode this tricycle until Dad bought me
a blue Schwinn bike from the shop next door.

Along Rosemont Avenue, 
"When all the soldiers came home after the Second World War, there was a terrific building boom. After all the fields we had once farmed were developed, our house was now below the grade of the new ones, and when it rained, water would come gushing out of the sewers and flood Military Road. 

Military Rd flooding- our house,the station, and  the Texaco station.

Military Road flooding. The Kuhn house.
"During one particular severe storm the water raised to within inches of filling the basement of our house. The house had been there for over a hundred years, and just then was threatened by a flood! When the water receded, there were fish all over our yard. The fish were suckers, and they probably thought they were swimming up a stream, and when the water receded, they were stranded. We picked them up and dumped them back into the sewer grates on the street from which they had come.

"The photo below shows the Erie County Highway Department garage across the street from the station on the right, and the bowling alley on the left. Ensminger Road lies between them. I
August 1965 dated photo of flooding

The bowling alley at Military Road and Ensminger Road from Rosemont Ave. 1965.
The bowling alley at Military and Ensminger Road. 1965.
The bowling alley at Military and Ensminger Roads, 1965 flood. In far distance
are the Sheridan Park project homes.
"There were many more floods after the fields were filled with houses. The photo below shows the Erie County Highway Department garage across the street from the station on the right, and the bowling alley on the left. Ensminger Road lies between them. In the distance, to the left of the bowling alley, on the last flood photo, can be seen some of the Sheridan Park Housing project homes. The railroad tracks is just on this side of them.

Dave Ramer
"Joyce had a sister named Nancy, and twin brothers, Don and Dave. Dave was in the U. S. Navy and one summer day Joyce and I drove to New Haven Connecticut where Dave was stationed. From there we drove to New London where his sub, the U. S. S. Angler was stationed. In the harbor where the sub was docked was a large fleet of moth-balled sub tenders. They were docked side by side in two groups. Across the river was the Electric Boat Company, and at their dock floated the Sea Wolf, an atomic submarine that they had just completed building for the Navy. 
The U.S.S. Angler 
"All the crew of Dave’s sub the Angler had invited girlfriends and family to spend the day sailing Long Island Sound on the sub. While we were on the sub, each of us operated some part of the sub, such as the periscope, or angle of descent, as we submerged. When we were top surface, a sailor with a life jacket was thrown overboard, to show long it would take for the sub to turn around and rescue him. We went in a big circle covering a few miles before we got back to him. All the visitors got a chance to look through the periscope. It had two settings, one for objects nearby, and another for distant objects. 
My mom is second from left in scarf, dad is behind her to the right. On the deck
of the U.S.S. Angler.
"Then we were taken for a tour of the sub and shown the huge engines and the bank of batteries that weighed many tons. In the front of the sub were the torpedo tubes and torpedoes. There were bunks for sleeping built in between the torpedoes because all the space was utilized on submarines. The wartime complement of men on that sub was one hundred. 

Dad in center, inside the U.S.S. Angler
"After we submerged and the diesel engines were running, the captain opened and closed the air intake in the periscope, to simulate how it would feel in rough sea. When the sub is submerged and the diesel engines are running, the air they need is delivered to them through a tube in the periscope. When waves pass over the periscope, a valve closes and the air is taken from inside the sub. When this happens you can feel it in your ears, like when you drive up a mountain. While we were submerged we were served an excellent diner of steak and mushrooms. Joyce and I enjoyed our day cruise on Long Island Sound, a day we long remembered.
Dave Ramer on the SSX-1 Sub

"The next time we visited Dave and his wife Pat, he was stationed at Annapolis. They had three girls, Debbie, Cindy, and Linda. Joyce and Nancy stayed with Pat and the girls and Dave and I drove to the Naval station where he worked. It was a small building with a dock on a river that flowed into Chesapeake Bay. 
My Grandmother Ramer on the SSX-1 Sub, Annapolis, MD

"No one was at the base when we arrived there so we played a game of pool on their table, then went to the dock to see the sub he worked on. It was the U. S. Navy’s only fifty-foot experimental sub, and it was painted fluorescent red. Dave was part of the crew, and occasionally they would sail out onto the bay where they would run submerged at different depths under a bridge. The bridge had equipment suspended beneath it that was used in an attempt to detect the sub as it passed under, by the effect it had on the surface of the water. After checking out the sub we took a Navy boat, a Whaler, and went out on the bay to fish. We did not catch any fish that day, but we did have a nice boat ride. 
The SSX-1 Sub, Annapolis, MD
"When we got back to the dock it was getting dark and the tide was coming in bringing many jellyfish with it. With a flashlight we could see many strange ocean fish I had never seen. The next day we bought some crabs from a street vendor and brought them back to Dave’s house. We all had a feast, and Dave’s daughters were experts at dissecting and eating crab. Then Dave gave Joyce and I a tour of the Annapolis Naval Station. There we saw huge sailing ships that were used by the cadets for training, the barracks where they stayed, and the parade grounds. Groups of cadets were on the grounds parading. We enjoyed that vacation."

I remember this vacation very well. I loved those crabs, but the next day driving home I felt sick. It was hot, the windows were blowing hot air. Mom took a home movie from the car, and I show up red faced and woozy.

Read more about the SSX-1 at
Read about the U.S.S. Angler at