Posts Tagged ‘History’

TGIF Readers! I feel like this is Friday #2 this week, with the holiday on Wednesday. Speaking of the 4th of July, since I am still coming down from my post-fireworks euphoria, I have decided to theme today’s Fantasy in honor of our recently passed holiday. As you may know (or may not, as I do have some foreign readers), Independence Day (often better-known as the 4th of July, for the date the holiday falls on) is an American Holiday in which the citizenry celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, by which the Founding Fathers of our nation stated that America was its own country and should be free of British rule. This act of treason led to war between Britain and the American colonies, which eventually led to the creation of the country we know today… and it all began on July 4, 1776 (granted, that’s the thumbnail sketch of the founding of the United States, as there were many acts of rebellion that led up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, not to mention some confusion among when the Declaration was actually signed, but to avoid writing a book that’s been written several times over, I’ll leave us with the understanding that the holiday is on July 4th and we’re celebrating America).

Today, the 4th of July represents patriotism and love of country, both of which I can wholeheartedly support.  In honor of those sentiments, today’s Fantasy is tied to one of America’s most beloved Presidents: Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was America’s 16th President, responsible for leading the Union through the Civil War, writing the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, and he was also assassinated.  What many people don’t know about President Lincoln is that, although he loved the White House, he actually dearly loved another house in Washington, DC, more. This other  house was a seasonal retreat for Presidents.  It was (and still is) a cottage on the grounds of what was known as the Soldiers Home (Now known as the armed forces retirement home).

(Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) Photo, by way of wikipedia)

The Cottage was built in 1842 for George Washington Riggs (who later went on to found Riggs National Bank… Yeah, I’ve never heard of that bank either, but the guy had enough money to found a bank, so there you go….) in the fashionable Gothic Revival style. However, it did not remain a private home for very long, as President Lincoln had taken up residence there by the summer of 1862. It is even said he wrote preliminary drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation in the cottage. (Photo from lincolncottage.org and Armed Forces Retirement Home)

The cottage underwent a major restoration beginning in 2005, and opened to the public for the first time in 2008.  The site was declared a National Monument by President Clinton in 2000, as well as a being included in the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark.   Today is is maintained and run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Photo from National Geographic)

Hope you enjoyed this look at President Lincoln’s Cottage. If you are in Washington, D.C., you should check it out. If you won’t be in the D.C. area anytime soon, you can visit the Cottage Website here.

Have a great weekend!


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Happy Friday readers!  This week’s Fantasy will be especially poignant for all New England residents, people who love New England, people who love baseball, and people who love cheering for the underdog (mostly when the underdog wins in the end).  I’ll leave you to Ash’s tender care, because he begged me for the opportunity to write this particular post.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of Historic Fenway Park in Boston.  This afternoon, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of our ballpark, doing the thing that we love to watch them do, playing out a rivalry as old as Fenway itself.  This year is even more auspicious, as it will be the first season we’ll watch a game played out in a bonafide historic ballpark that’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places!  Yes, you read that right.  Fenway was listed in the National Register just last month, thanks to the efforts of Fenway Sports Group and their associates, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission.  But what makes it so special?

Construction of Fenway Park began in September, 1911, and the 24,400-seat stadium opened seven months later.  On April 20, 1912, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Highlanders (a team you might recognize better by the name they were given a year later: the Yankees) faced off in a brand-new stadium in Boston’s Kenmore-Fenway neighborhood.  The Sox won that momentous very first home opener, and went on to win the 1912 World Series.  Fenway’s long and storied history has been played out by countless baseball legends, with seasons that brought both joy and heartache, triumph and trials.  From the Green Monster to the Red Seat, the manual scoreboard to Pesky’s Pole, Fenway has become an icon to Sox fans, the holy ground where they go to commune with the heart and soul of America’s pastime, to feel the presence of heroes past and present and maybe walk in their footsteps.  The park has seen its share of renovations over the years, but has remained largely unchanged, even the seating numbers haven’t changed much, with a capacity a little over 37,000.  It’s likely that the parks various quirks, such as its asymmetrical field (like many of the ballparks built during the ‘Golden Age’, Fenway was built on an asymmetrical lot, resulting in an asymmetrical field, measuring only 302 feet along the right field line to the foul pole) and “outdated” systems and features, prompted the former owners to announce a plan for the demolition and replacement of Fenway with a new, modern ballpark.  Due to public outcry, stalled negotiations with the City of Boston and the sale of the Red Sox to more sympathetic owners in 2001, that dreadful plan was dropped, to be replaced with ten years of preservation and renovation projects intending to keep Fenway running for at least 50 more years.

Now, the architecture!  Fenway was built in the Tapestry Brick style, which utilizes a combination of red brick and cast stone laid in decorative patterns to give the building visual interest.  Designed by Boston architect, James E. McLaughlin, the Yawkey Way facade, which you can see below, is an excellent example of the style, and shows how the brick is tilted, pushed and pulled on the facade surface, and woven into an aesthetic tapestry.

In 1933-34, the engineering firm responsible for designing the stands in 1912, Osborne Engineering of Cleveland, designed the expansion that extends toward Brookline Avenue.  Though more Gothic in its styling, the use of red brick, stone and arched windows blends it well with the older portions of the ballpark.

Before I wrap up, I’ll leave you with a view of the field.  After all, what’s a visit to a ballpark without seeing the place where the magic happens!?  There’s the Green Monster, the massive 37-foot left field wall that not only holds the scoreboard, but dashes many a home run hopeful’s hopes and dreams.

In closing, there’s Pesky’s Pole, the right field foul pole named after Red Sox legend, Johnny Pesky.  You can also pick out the Red Seat in the center field bleachers among a sea of blue.  That seat marks the longest recorded home run, a bomber that Ted Williams launched back in 1946 that went a distance of 502 feet! I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of Fenway, but I highly recommend making a trip sometime, especially if you’re a baseball fan.  It’s awe-inspiring to step into a place where so much baseball history has taken place.  Have a great weekend!  Go Sox!

-Ash and Etta

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I think it is pretty well established that I love Thomas Jefferson. I have written plenty of posts on his architecture (if you want a recap you can find them here, here and here ), so imagine my surprise when I found out that Thomas Jefferson is alive and well in Chicago, along with some of his founding father friends.

For those of you who might not know what I’m talking about, let me introduce you to my new favorite thing (I have a lot of favorite things. It’s something I have in common with Oprah… well, that and we have the same birthday). That thing is the website I Made America. “I Made America” is a website dedicated to the modern-day exploits of George Washington, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton,Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (who isn’t well after his trip to the here and now) and how these paragons of America are dealing with life in 2012 after being transported forward in time. Who could ever have imagined that paying an electric bill would be a task beyond the grasp of the Father of modern banking, or that Pop Tarts would hold such allure to a former French ambassador?

Here is a taste by way of the first episode.

I Made America Ep. 1

Though it’s more comedy than history, I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!


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Hey Readers. TGIF! Today’s Fantasy is one of the most famous homes in the country ( in the fields of Architecture, Architectural History and Historic Preservation), so I thought it might be a change of pace to share a relatively well-known house with you. Let’s take a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House.

The Robie House is the quintessential example of the Prairie Style, and probably the best representative of the style that Frank Lloyd Wright created in the early 1900s. The Prairie Style is characterized by an open, spacious interior layout, long horizontal lines like the landscape of the prairie, low pitched hipped roofs and long banks of windows. The goal of a Prairie building (like any FLW building) is to add to its natural setting rather than dominating it, with an emphasis on craftsmanship.

Built between 1908 and 1910, the Robie house was built for Frederick C. Robie, the 28-year-old Manager of an excelsior  supply company. Shortly after Robie and his family moved in, they had to sell the house due to financial trouble. The house was sold and re-sold several times in the following years, but Wright furnishings stayed with the house when it was sold, fortunately.  Eventually, the Chicago Theological Seminary bought the house with plans to expand their campus.  It narrowly escaped demolition twice at the hands of the Seminary, the final time in 1957, when several vocal advocates for the home, including Wright himself who was 90 years old by then, turned out to protest the demolition. The building was ultimately purchased by a friend of Wright in 1958, who donated it to the University of Chicago.  The University eventually turned over operation of the Robie House to the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust (FLWPT).  The FLWPT undertook a massive restoration that costs over 10 million dollars to bring the home back to its original understated grace and beauty.  They continue to give tours of the house and grounds weekly, Thursday-Monday.

Now for some pictures of the Robie House. (Pictures from Wikipedia)

I hope you enjoyed your architectural history lesson for the day. Have a great weekend.


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Happy New Year Readers! Today’s Fantasy is about The Winchester Mystery House and new beginnings. It’s also kinda creepy, but that’s the way I roll so I hope you enjoy it.

The Winchester Mystery House (a huge Queen Anne Mansion in San Jose, California) is actually not as much of a mystery as it is the sad story of a grieving woman driven insane by an unscrupulous “spiritualist”, who preyed upon her pain and fears. It still makes for an interesting little architectural oddity, as well as presenting a great muse for Stephen King as the basis for the story of Rose Red ( a vampiric house that kept building itself even after its owner died by feeding on psychic energy). Being a Mainer, I love me my Master of Horror! Now onto some background!

Sarah Winchester was the wife of William W. Winchester (ya know, the one that made all the guns). In the early years of her life, Sarah was known as the “Belle of Hartford”, but after she married her life took a sad turn. Sarah gave birth to a daughter who died shortly after she was born, then her husband died of tuberculosis. Both deaths took a significant toll on Sarah, so her friends encouraged her to seek guidance from a medium and spiritualist (spiritualism was all the rage in the late 1800s, after all). So, Sarah went to a medium in Boston and was told that all of the misfortunes in her life were caused by spirits of the people who had died at the hands of men who wielded Winchester guns (naturally, instead of the easily explained high infant mortality rate of the time and the fact the there wasn’t a cure for tuberculosis yet). The medium told Sarah that the Winchester curse might be after her next!  However, there was an alternative to her demise…. If she went west to the setting sun and built a house for the vengeful spirits, then she would live a long life in peace. That’s exactly what she did without delay. Sarah moved to the Santa Clara Valley and purchased an unfinished farm house and began to make additions.  And more and more and more additions.  She continued building for the next 38 years without ceasing (that’s what a 20 million dollar inheritance would get you in the Victorian era), and she left behind what is know as the Winchester Mystery House today.

Why is it called the “Mystery House” you might ask? Well, other than the vast size of the mansion… which the New Englander in me cringes at, but it’s in California so heating it can’t be THAT bad right? The house also has some peculiar spirit confounding features such as staircases that end in walls and doors and windows that lead to nothing (except possibly to your death, if you weren’t careful). And if all those crazy architectural features weren’t enough, it is also said that Sarah slept in a different room every night just to further confound the spirits, lest one try to off her in her sleep.

Now for some pictures!There are some great photos of the quirkiness that is the Winchester Mystery House mine came from(from top to bottom): Wikipedia, Prairieghosts.com, Petticoatsandpistols.com and The Poison Forest.com,

This first photo gives you a good idea of what the house looks like today.

This next image gives you a sense of the overall scale of the house.

This next photo I call the “stairs to no-wheres”

Watch that first step, it’s a killer!

Hope you enjoyed Mrs. Winchesters “new beginning” and this bizarre tour of the Mystery house! For more information check out the Mystery House website. Have a good weekend!


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Happy Friday, Readers. Today’s fantasy isn’t a house but a house of Worship. It’s Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, and it is the oldest synagogue in America (building wise, anyway). I know, I am a bit late for Hanukkah, so please forgive me.  I had intended to post this last week,  but Ash and I had a change of plans for the holidays so this post got a bit delayed.

The Picture below is the exterior of Touro from the website Panaramio (by Dana Jensen)

Touro has a great website  and you can find it here. It also has a fascinating history.  In 1658, a group of 15 Jewish families came to Newport (from Spain) after they heard about the religious freedoms that Roger Williams proposed for the new colony of Rhode Island. They started a community there that grew for over 100 years, and in 1758, they colony adopted a spiritual leader named Isaac Touro, who was a Dutch Jew. The following year, they the congregation purchased land and hired well-known architect Peter Harrison to design their synagogue, which was finished in 1763. When the British occupied Newport in 1776, they commandeered Touro Synagogue for use as a hospital, which essentially saved the building from being burned or ransacked like so many others in the city.

After the British were defeated, the synagogue was used as a meeting place for the Rhode Island General Assembly and the Supreme Court. In 1790, Touro was mentioned by Washington in a letter telling the Newport Congregation that this new Nation would  “give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Touro survives to this day as an active house of worship.

The amazing interior shot of Touro below comes from Stevens.edu, The older image is from Offbeat Travel and the last image is an historic postcard view from the National Museum of American Jewish History’s Jewish postcard exhibition.

Touro Synagogue: Newport, RI

You all know how much I encourage you to visit Newport, so I won’t beat a dead horse, but when you do go MAKE SURE you go to Touro. It’s breathtaking!

Have a Safe and Happy New Year!


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Happy Friday Readers! I continue to be in the Christmas Spirit, so this week’s fantasy will again be a festive one filled with Yuletide cheer. But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten my Jewish friends! I have a special Hanukkah treat coming sometime next week!

Today’s Fantasy is the Victoria Mansion, also known as the Morse-Libby House, in Portland, Maine.  I got my pictures from a blog called Cindy’s Photo Quest  and her work is AMAZING, so you should all go check it out right after you finish reading this! She is a professional photographer and her site offers a lot of images for sale so you just might find a Christmas gift for someone special while you are there, like say the picture of the stairs  at Portland Head Light (hint hint, Ash). I really can’t say enough about her work!

The construction of the Morse-Libby house began in 1858 and continued for two years. It was built for Ruggles Sylvester Morse, a Maine native who made a fortune operating hotels in New Orleans. Morse died in 1898 and his wife then sold the home to J.R. Libby. Luckily, the Libby family maintained the house in much the same state they found it in, which is what makes Victoria Mansion so special… its interior is truly breath-taking, so unaltered that you feel that women in bustled skirts and men in morning suits and top hats are waiting to greet you in the drawing room, much that same way that reading the Great Gatsby takes you to the Roaring Twenties.

The house suffered some damage in the Hurricane of 1938, which led to the decision  to demolish the house to make way for a gas station (Such a Preservation cliche but the truth in this case). Fortunately for everyone who loves history and communities with some character, Dr. William H. Homes stepped in and bought the home, which he proceeded to open to the public as a museum to honor Queen Victoria. Later, the Society of Maine Women of Achievement took over operation of the museum, and they continue to run things to this day, under the auspices of the Victoria Mansion, Inc., a non-profit group. The museum’s website is VERY detailed and it can be found here.

Now, without further ado: The Victoria Mansion!

Edit:  The Victoria Mansion graciously alerted me to some pictures of this years Christmas displays so I am am adding them here. The photos are from the mansions facebook page and are by Gregory P. Sundik

Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of Victorian Christmas Splendor! I think I know where Ash and I will head this weekend while we visit my family! Have a great weekend!


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