Wednesday, April 28, 2021

In My Footsteps: 4K New England - Wachusett Dam, Clinton, MA

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Child of the 1980's - Early Educational Television Shows


                I don’t know about anyone else, but few things got me more excited during my elementary school years than walking into a classroom and seeing a television.  The big old television sets on the rolling cart meant that we were going to get to watch some sort of video.  Granted it was an educational video, but a video nonetheless.  Sometimes we would get the retro filmstrips with the audio that didn’t quite line up but mostly it was one of a few educational television shows geared toward kids between 6-10 years old.  As a child of the 1980’s these three shows coming up were a huge part of those classroom video days.  Do you remember them?

                For the younger children of the 1980’s, born during the latter half of the decade The Electric Company might not have been on your itinerary for classroom viewing.  The sketch comedy show meant for kids began with its iconic ‘Hey, you guys!’ opening line. 

     Airing from 1971-1977 it helped establish people like Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, Irene Cara, and Bill Cosby.  The show helped kids with spelling and grammar in addition to educational yet humorous sketches.  Created by Samuel Gibbon Jr. The Electric Company won an Emmy and a Grammy during its 780 episode tenure.  Though crossovers from some of the Muppets from Sesame Street helped, the show was ultimately canceled despite being very popular.  It was a staple during my first few years of school but was ultimately replaced by two other more contemporary shows.
     Focusing more toward the scientific realm came 3-2-1 Contact in 1980.  Despite it also being created by Samuel Gibbon Jr. it initially was a flop.  The first season showcased college students discussing science in a place called ‘the workshop.’  It would be shelved for nearly three years before coming back in 1983 retooled with several different child hosts.  This was another show that immediately caught the eye of kids with its catchy intro.  

     It kept our attention with scientific content mostly created by Dr. Edward G. Atkins along with memorable sketches like the Bloodhound Gang who solved mysteries using their knowledge of science.  Airing until 1988 over the span of 225 episodes 3-2-1 Contact was usually the show of choice by my teachers, except for possibly one exception.
     When it comes to 1980’s educational television few things come to mind before Reading Rainbow.  It had perhaps the catchiest theme song with the unique Buchla synthesizer playing over lyrics sung initially by Tina Fabrique.  ‘Take a look, it’s in a book.’ 

     Created by and starring LeVar Burton, who was only twenty-six when the show debuted in 1983, this series encouraged children to read.  Every episode would feature recommendations of books to read, though Burton would always say we didn’t have to take his word for it.  There would be celebrity readers as well during the show’s 155 episodes which ran from 1983-2006.  All in all Reading Rainbow would be the third longest running children’s series behind only Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street.  It would claim twenty-six Emmys including eleven for Outstanding Children’s Series before it was said and done.
      Few things made school more fun than getting to watch television as part of your learning.  These three shows were a huge part of 1980’s educational television, but I am sure there are more.  What was your favorite early educational television show?  Was it on this list? Stay tuned for more sweet 1980’s memories!

In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 17: Let's Go To Friendly's; Road Trip Nantucket Pt. 1; Old School Sleepover Stories, This Week In History


Sunday, April 18, 2021

Child of the 1980's - Introduction to Reading


                One of the first accomplishments of any child along with walking and potty training is learning to read.  According to WebMD children often start to learn to read in First Grade.  Granted what they learn to read is very simple, usually a few words mixed with lots of colorful images.  These books can end up being very special to children as they are associated with a positive achievement.  I don’t know about anyone else but I can still remember the first books I learned to read on my own.  I am here to share a few of my favorites.  Let’s see how many great memories come flooding back with these titles, authors, and photos.

                My First Grade year in school was 1984.  I do not remember when exactly I first learned to read, that is a question my mother could answer.  However when I stop and think of the books I enjoyed as a child a few come to mind immediately.
One of Richard Scarry's Busytown Books

    There is a name that should be very familiar to all children of the 1980’s.  In my mind those old enough to have had concrete memories from the decade count, so basically 1975-1985 is your date range, anything after you’re a child of the 1990’s, sorry.  Anyway, that name is Richard Scarry.  Scarry was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1919, close to my home of Cape Cod.  His most well known books concerned that of Busytown, a place inhabited by anthropomorphic animals like cats, dogs, pigs, foxes, and others like the popular Lowly the Worm who rode in an apple car.  These books were published from the mid-1970’s on, right in the wheelhouse of all 1980’s children.

     Ironically even though Scarry gained a lot of his notoriety through his Busytown, including two animated series, his career began in 1949 as an illustrator for the equally beloved Little Golden Books.  In total Scarry would publish more than 300 books during his forty-five year career which ended with his death in 1994.  These books have sold more than 100 million copies and are still readily available today for all parents who loved them as children and want to keep that tradition alive.

                The other books I wanted to mention were by a man named Roger Hargreaves.  The name might not ring a bell but if I mentioned Mr. Men and Little Miss it might come flooding back.  The British author, born in 1935, created the Mr. Men series first beginning in 1971 with Mr. Tickle.  The books were simple and to the point.  Each was based around one particular characteristic of the man or miss.  Some of the Mr. Men characters included Mr. Greedy, Mr. Happy, Mr. Silly, Mr. Lazy, and Mr. Funny.  The books would tell a story focused around that one character trait.  The brightly colored main characters stood out and their colors and shapes changed to fit the special trait the book was about.
Mr. Tickle by Roger Hargreaves

     Hargreaves had gotten the inspiration for the series when his son Adam, who is now also an author, asked him what a tickle looked like.  That question led to thirty-nine Mr. Men books being released between 1971 and Hargreaves’ death in 1988.  Little Miss books followed in 1981 beginning with Little Miss Bossy.  There would be twenty-four Little Miss books published before his death as well.
     After Roger’s death his son Adam took over the franchise and is still publishing books to this day.  Total there are now eighty-five books between the two series which have combined to sell more than 100 million copies.  The new books as well as the classics are still readily available as well for those looking to stroll through childhood again.
     Those are just a few of the books I remember truly enjoying during my first few years of reading.  I am sure there are many others I have not mentioned.  What are your favorite picture books you remember during your childhood?  What made them special to you?  Do you share them with your children?

This Week In History - In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 16

Sunday, April 11, 2021

In Their Footsteps: New England History - Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket

    It is one of the most recognizable lighthouses. It is located on one of the most popular vacation destinations in America. It is the second oldest light station in the United States. Shifting sands necessitated its move. Despite last nearly three centuries this light station's story has been far from stable. It is Brant Point Lighthouse located on Nantucket island and here is some of its history.

Brant Point Lighthouse

    Nantucket in the 18th century was one of the busiest whaling ports in the world. The amount of vessels in and around the harbor entering the 1740's eventually led to talk of a light station being constructed. Light stations were a new concept in the mid-18th century. In fact the only American light station at that time was Boston Light in Boston Harbor. The responsibility of raising the appropriate funds for such an endeavor fell to the same sea captains for whom the light station would protect. After approval at a town meeting on January 24, 1746 several captains raised 200 pounds ($274 in 1746 or $15,000 in 2021) for the materials and the hiring of three men to do the work.

    The spot chosen for the light station was Brant Point. It had gotten the name for the Arctic shorebird that had set up nests there, although the numbers of birds at the point had dwindled since the whaling industry began flourishing. It was a natural location also due to the fact that several shipbuilding yards were in that vicinity.

    A diminutive wooden lighthouse, resembling a tripod, was first lit in 1746. The lantern at the top was lit using the plentiful whale-oil on the island. This oil though, along with the crude lantern construction, likely was the cause of the fire that burned down the lighthouse in 1758. The lighthouse had proven to be very helpful and a second tower, also made of wood, was built in the same location immediately after the first's demise.

    Brant Point's second lighthouse stood until March 9, 1774. It was during a terrible storm that the wooden beacon was completely destroyed. A third tower was erected immediately after at great cost to Nantucket. This was remedied by a tax levied against any vessel larger than 15 tons. Approved by the Massachusetts General Court on August 1, 1774 this was a 6 shilling (Approx. $35 in 2021) tax against any such vessel entering or leaving but only for the first time each year. This tax solved the problem, and although the tax was paid to the Massachusetts colony the control of the lighthouse stayed in the hands of the locals on Nantucket.

Brant Point Light with the old one behind it showing the changing shoreline.

    During the time of the American Revolution Brant Point lighthouse was barely ever lighted and fell into great disrepair. In 1783 Massachusetts appointed Stephen Hussey to a committee to restore the lighthouse, the cheaper the better. 1786 saw the third tower burn to the ground. The replacement, and fourth on the site, was the most basic yet, a lantern affixed atop a pair of spars. The light was so dim that sailors called it 'bug light' since it reminded them of a firefly. This lasted barely two years and was blown down some time in 1788.

    Undeterred a fifth lighthouse was constructed, this time by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was ceded to the Federal Government in 1795. During the War of 1812 Brant Point Light was dimmed. Another whaling boom in the 1820's coupled with the deterioration of the fifth tower made it necessary for yet another lighthouse to be constructed. In 1825 the lighthouse was condemned, torn down, and replaced by a new lantern atop of the keeper's house.

    Lighthouse five was no without its problems. The lantern was reported to rarely be cleaned, leading to it smoking at times. In 1843 reports said the keeper's house cellar routinely flooded, this was troublesome as the oil was stored there. Water damaged the lantern as well causing it to become rusty. Despite its dilapidated condition the fifth Brant Point Lighthouse lasted until 1856.

    The sixth-time was the charm. A 47-foot tall brick tower and a brick keeper's house were built and the tower first lit on December 10, 1856. Ironically it was nothing to do with the lighthouse itself that necessitated a new tower being built. It was the shifting sands of the harbor itself which accreted over time. In 1900 a red lantern beacon was affixed to the current end of Brant Point. This lantern was 600-feet from the actual Brant Point Lighthouse.

The former Brant Point Light built in 1856.

    Lighthouse seven, the current beacon standing today, was first lit January 31, 1901. At 26-feet tall it is the lowest lantern focal point of any lighthouse in New England. The former lighthouse had its lantern removed and still stands to this day. Brant Point Lighthouse has since become one of the most recognizable and photographed beacons in the world. Anyone who has entered Nantucket Harbor via boat in the last century-plus has gazed upon it. A replica was built in Mystic, Connecticut in the summer of 1966.

The Mystic, CT replica

    Despite lasting for 120 years currently there have been troubles at Brant Point, mainly dealing with the unpredictable weather that New England is prone to. Soon after being built 500 tons of stone was laid around the lighthouse to create a barrier from the sea. The lantern's white light was changed to red in 1933 to help avoid confusion with surrounding house lights. In 1983 the entire Brant Point complex was renovated by the Coast Guard. The Perfect Storm of 1991 caused some damage necessitating repairs and occasionally extreme high tides can surround the lighthouse with water. However the rather diminutive beacon still stands strong welcoming visitors and locals home to Nantucket.

    The second-oldest light station in America, with seven beacons to its name, Brant Point finally has seen stability over the last century. If traveling to Nantucket from Hyannis via ferry one can have a nice bit of symmetry. Inside Hyannis Harbor sits Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse, a nearly identical twin of Brant Point. In a bit of irony though Hyannis Harbor Light is actually older than the current Brant Point having been built in 1849 despite being far less well known.


Previous Blog Posts:

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher
Zazzle Store: Cape Cod Living

Monday, April 5, 2021

In My Footsteps: Nina Finds Grampa In Heaven

(Based on a vivid dream I had the night my Nina died. I'm presenting this like an illustrated short story. All photos used are my own, or creative commons/public domain. I hope it brings you hope and happiness)

    A bright shapeless entity floats toward the gates of heaven. It is Nina in her spirit form. She moves toward the gates but is beckoned toward a small building to the right. She enters and a man behind a counter welcomes her to heaven. His only distinguishing features are that he is thin with short dark hair.

    The interior of the building is very similar to a dry cleaning business. There are countless outfits in garment bags on hangars that seem to go on forever despite the building not have appeared to be so big from the outside. He explains that before she enters heaven she has a choice to make. As it is heaven for everyone Nina is allowed to choose the exact appearance that she takes upon entering.

    The man presents her with a digital book. Inside it are images of Nina from every possible time of her life. He explains that she gets to flip through the images, much like swiping through photos on a smartphone. Once she gets to one that she likes he will retrieve that outfit for her. Nina swipes along, eventually settling on a the version of herself that she wants to wear for eternity. It is difficult to know the exact age she has chosen but it is likely sometime in her 30's or 40's.

    The man behind the counter asks her if she is sure and Nina says yes. Once in agreement he thanks her and says he'll be right back. He returns with the garment bag that matches the form Nina chose. She enters the outfit much like entering a sleeping bag. The man 'zips' it up essentially allowing Nina's spirit to begin running the body. After this she is told that now she may enter heaven. She exits the building as the gates to heaven slowly open.

    Immediately we are taken to a narrow, slightly curvy cobblestone street. It feels similar to England in the 1880's. It is dusk and it is misty but not in an eerie way. The street is lined with lamp posts that give the surrounding area an orange glow due to the mist.

    Nina walks down this street as if she already knows where she is going. There is no looking around in wonder at this street in heaven. After rounding a slight curve she stops at what must be a nightclub as there is the faint sound of music from inside. A large imposing bouncer stands outside a heavy wooden door with a thick vertical handle. Nina stops and before even saying hello the bouncer breaks his menacing stare and smiles.

    'We've been expecting you,' he says. At this point he swings the heavy wooden door out toward the street allowing the searing energy of the music to fill the street. It is a up-tempo jazz song with a man singing. Nina enters and stands at the back of the club. It is packed with people dancing.

    People look at Nina and slowly a chatter builds among them and it heads toward the stage. By the time the up-tempo song ends the singer on stage has been told of who has just entered the club. He smiles and looks off into the dark crowded club. It is Grampa. He knows Nina is there and begins to sing a slower song, one that he knows she wants to hear him sing.

    As Grampa sings very slowly the crowd of people begins to part like the sea. Nina is beaming with a bright smile and she nods in thanks to those allowing her to move toward the stage. Her walk is more of a float as she makes it across this massive dance floor near the end of Grampa's song to her. They stare at each other as the vocals end and the music slowly fades.

    Grampa steps down from the stage and takes Nina by the hands. They speak softly to each other but the words are not clear. Grampa looks back toward the band on the stage and gives them a nod. They break into a mid-tempo song as Nina and Grampa begin to dance. Slowly we pull back from them as the crowd begins to fill in around them.