Wordless Wednesday: Halloween c. 1955

While scanning family photos, my aunt and I came across this Halloween class photo (my mom is in the back row, 6th from the left, wearing a bonnet and glasses; I think she’s either a pilgrim or a nurse). This would have been circa 1955. I find the masks to her left completely terrifying. Some of the costumes remind me of the Halloween scenes from the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Hill: Amazing Tales and Discoveries

I had an amazing time today at the presentation about The Hill in Easton — I got to hear stories from current and former residents about the way African Americans developed this neighborhood from the late 18th-century to today. We took a walking tour and stopped into one of the churches that is at the neighborhood’s core. I also discovered that I had happened upon a real gem during a prior project that has value for the history of The Hill.

Below are some photos and tidbits from the day (click on the photos for larger versions):

Our tour started on Higgins Street, in front of these duplexes that pre-date indoor plumbing. A resident said that bathrooms eventually were built on to the back porches of houses.

Another view down Higgins Street, with the AME church steeple in the background.

The steeple of the church is topped with a pineapple, a Colonial symbol of welcome and hospitality.

The church dominates the view down South Lane.

The “Buffalo Soldier’s House.” Sgt. William Gardner never lived there, but his enlistment papers were found there. The house was owned by his brother.

View of the “Buffalo Soldier’s House” with one of The Hill’s AME church steeples in the background. Archaeologists from the University of Maryland will dig at this site this summer.

Barney Brooks, a descendant of one of the owners of the “Buffalo Solider’s House” is interviewed by a student from Morgan State University during today’s breakout session, where residents could tell their stories and have their documents scanned for posterity.

Habitat for Humanity will be renovating this house. Today, they were painting the boards over the windows and doors to make them look like real windows and doors in the interim, to keep the property from looking abandoned.

This is one of the oldest houses, especially brick structures, in The Hill neighborhood, dating to 1798.

The corner of Hanson and South Streets, with 3 c.-1870 brick homes. The neighborhood has traditionally been mixed-race. Columbia, Md., developer James Rouse (aka actor Edward Norton’s grandfather, for those outside of Maryland), grew up here. He got his ideas for creating a mixed-income, mixed-race community from his time spent in Easton.

Frederick Douglass once spoke at both AME churches in Easton. The rostrums at which he spoke survive to this day. Here is the rostrum at the Bethel AME Church on Hanson Street.

Now, for the coolest part of the day for me. In a talk about the “Buffalo Soldier’s House,” local historian Priscilla Morris mentioned two black women from The Hill, Ann Eliza Skinner Green Dodson and her sister, Temperance (whose son was the Buffalo Soldier, William Gardner). [4/2: Oops! I was a little confused during this presentation -- I was so excited when I realized I had the photo. Temperance's sister Ann was an early owner of the property known as the "Buffalo Soldier's House." The house passed to Temperance's son before it was sold to the Gardner family.] Morris mentioned that Temperance was a servant of the Hambleton family, who lived in the building that is now the Bartlett Pear Inn.

I realized I had a photo of Temperance.

When I did the history of the Bartlett Pear Inn, I came upon a stereograph image of the building (the top photo on the poster here) at the Historical Society of Talbot County. Pictured on the front porch are members of the Hambleton family. On the sidewalk, with two of the Hambleton children, is the Hambleton’s African American servant. Temperance.

No one at today’s meeting had seen the image before — I was able to show it to them on my phone. It was so exciting to share this rare piece of history with the group!

The Hill Project Presents: “A Stroll Down Memory Lane”

I hope those in the Easton area can attend this event on March 31 (click on the poster for a larger view):

I’m really looking forward to learning more about this area from the residents and to participate in the walking tour. I’ll post a follow-up blog post when the event is over!

Learn more about The Hill here and/or visit the Historic Easton web site.

“Missy! It Happened Again!” 9-11 Memories

Seen on the Mass. Ave. Bridge in Boston shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

“Missy! It happened again! Another plane just hit the World Trade Center.” One of the students in the research group I worked for at MIT was on the phone with her husband, who was in Brooklyn, relaying to her the horrible things he was seeing on September 11, 2001.

The first time he called to tell her a plane hit the WTC, we couldn’t believe it. I wondered how it could even happen. Was it on purpose? The second time he called, we knew.

That morning was probably the strangest morning of my life. People gathered around the available TVs to watch the news coverage. After the Pentagon was hit as well, rumors swirled about other planes in the air, aiming for the White House, Capitol Hill (where dear friends of mine worked) and other places in my hometown of Washington, D.C.

You couldn’t get calls to go through to check on loved ones for the longest time. I didn’t have a cell phone yet. I tried and tried to reach my grandma, who lived in Alexandria, Va., not far from the Pentagon. She used to work at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon is where my grandparents met.

Hours after the attacks, I finally got through. She was very upset. Turns out, I didn’t know how upset. I thought she told me one of my aunts was there with her. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least she wasn’t alone. Turns out, my aunt was stuck in traffic trying to get there.

It was one of the last times I would talk with my grandma. She died the next month.

We had to wait weeks to bury her. She was to be buried at Arlington National Ceremony, but there was a backlog of funerals for the victims of the Pentagon attack.

I returned to the D.C. area for her memorial service soon after she died. We drove past the Pentagon on the way. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the gaping hole in the side of that massive building.

I remember the outpouring of goodwill from other countries after the attacks. The way people helped each other to recover. Sadly, much of those attitudes have been lost in the intervening years. I hope it doesn’t take such a tragedy before we see that caring and thoughtfulness again.

Hurricane Irene: The Finale (Day 5)

Read about Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4

Sunday, August 28

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. because my bedroom door was rattling. Now I could hear a really strong wind, which had shifted so it was coming from the south (correction, west; I’m notoriously directionally challenged) and hitting the window behind my bed. I could tell it wasn’t raining as much. I’d apparently slept straight through the worst part of Irene.

I got up to see what was going on in the rest of the house. A very damp smell hit me when I opened the bedroom door and walked into the dining room (where the basement door is). There was still water in the basement, but the leaks appeared to be slowing. The attic leaks looked to have stopped completely. The wind was rattling the exterior cover of my bathroom vent quite loudly. Thankfully the power was still on.

This led to a comedy of errors though because I had turned on the overhead light in my living room so that I could see. It’s operated from a remote control and though I was able to turn it on, the remote then stopped working. I tried using a remote for a similar fixture in the dining room. That turned on the dining room light, but then it also stopped working. Now I had two blazingly bright lights on in my house at 4:30 a.m. and I just wanted to go back to sleep. I plucked a third remote from the wall in the guest room and removed its battery, swapping it out for those in the other two remotes in turn, which then allowed me to turn off those lights.

Then I flopped back into bed.

Just little branches fell on our street.

I awoke again at 7:15. Very strong winds were once again causing my bedroom door to rattle. The screens in the windows were rattling too. I chanced a peek outside and saw lots of small branches were down in the street.

I got up and once again surveyed the various parts of the house. I took the big floor fan I’d purchased out of its box and set it up to start drying out the basement. I also set up the canisters of DampRid. Then I took the tower fan out of my bedroom and set it up downstairs as well, for good measure.

Once it stopped raining and I saw folks venturing outdoors, I went out and picked up the largest limbs from my front yard. I took a quick walk around our block — the old oaks had dropped tons of small branches.

Tree broken in half on Dover Street.

I came back to my house and grabbed my phone and set off for a longer walk. It was still quite gusty. I took several pics of large limbs down along the way. A large tree in front of the Inn at 202 Dover had broken in half.

A large limb down on South Harrison

Large limb down on Goldsborough.

When I got back to the house, I decided to use Febreeze in the living room and dining room to try and combat the damp smell. I emptied the cooler that had been storing ice, which was now mostly melted.

Downstairs, I opened a small window to let still more air into the basement. It caused the basement door to rattle whenever a strong gust blew through.

I began emptying the large plastic drawers filled with water that were in the tub. Then I folded the tarp in the living room and started moving my scrapbooks and documents back into the office, which fortunately did not leak.

Blue sky!

At 1:30 p.m., I spotted the first hint of blue sky since Friday. Shortly thereafter, the sun was out. I pulled my car out of the garage and then I went out back to get my composter out of the shed and wrestled it back into its frame. I re-hung the flag out front.

After a trip to the gym, I was pleased to discover that the house no longer smelled like a swamp when I walked through the door. I’m contemplating returning the un-opened sub-pump and hose. Surely if the basement didn’t flood after nearly 9 inches of rain in less than 24 hours, I’m not going to need it, right?

Later in the afternoon, all the neighbors were in their yards raking up the branches and leaves that had fallen. I opened all my doors and windows to let as much fresh air as I could into the house. I made another sweep of the sidewalk to get still more sticks out of the way. Everyone was saying how lucky we were that it wasn’t worse, even though we’d all prepared for it.

I took another walk into town and noticed quite a bit of the damage that I’d seen before was already cleared away. Talbot County Schools are closed tomorrow, but everything should be back to normal after that (at least in our part of town). Good riddance, Irene!

Hurricane Irene Arrives (Day 4)

Read about the prep: Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3

Saturday, August 27

Woke up worrying about my water heater. It’s in the flood-prone basement too and while it’s raised up on cinderblocks, still susceptible to water if my basement really floods. It’s gas too, which kind of scares me, for all its normal convenience. On the advice of a friend, I called Easton Utilities and they assured me that it probably had an automatic shutoff mechanism should the pilot light extinguish. That made me feel better — I didn’t want to have to preemptively shut off anything if I could help it.

Since it was just overcast and not actually raining yet, I ventured down to the open-air market. I wasn’t sure if it would be open and there were less than half the normal vendors (and those that were there weren’t set up as elaborately as they normally would be). I picked up some fresh veggies to have on-hand, a sugar waffle for breakfast and some smoked salmon salad for a sandwich for lunch.

Soon after getting home, the rain started, lightly at first. I hurried to put my car in the garage and then I showered so I could try and fill the tub with water for later, in case I needed it. I also filled my largest pots on the stove with filtered drinking water.

The only problem was that the tub kept draining. It doesn’t have a stopper — you pull up a lever that is supposed to close the drain. I tried setting a saucer over the drain, then a mug, then a bowl, then a towel covered by a bowl, then a canning lid covered by a towel weighted down by a bowl. It just kept draining.

Creative water storage, crowd-sourced on Facebook.

I crowd-sourced my problem on Facebook and received a number of suggestions including using cellophane and a potato. Finally, a friend suggested that I just fill the tub with other items filled with water. That set off a brainwave for me. I remembered these two storage units I bought at Walmart ages ago — they each have 3 huge plastic drawers. I emptied two of the drawers in the unit in my bathroom closet and filled them with water while I fetched the three drawers from the other unit, which was sitting empty in the attic. I was able to stack the filled drawers in the tub and felt much better knowing I had a stash of water for washing and for flushing the toilet, should it come to that.

After checking on the chest freezer, I noticed that one of the bags of water I had put in the day before hadn’t frozen completely, so I cranked up the cold on that unit and on the fridge upstairs (that was actually a recommendation from one of the emergency management organizations I’d been following lately anyhow). I also cranked up the a/c and turned on all the ceiling fans on high. If the house lost power, I wanted it as cold as possible.

At around 1:30 p.m., the radio station in Annapolis that I was listening to (WRNR) was knocked off the air because the City Dock area lost power. I switched over to WCEI here in Easton, which was providing regular updates from around the area. I checked outside and noticed at least an inch of standing water on the sidewalk out front. There wasn’t any water in the basement yet, but the wind and rain really started to pick up then. There were several rivulets in the basement just a couple of hours later (and a trickle running down my chimney in the attic). By that point, we’d had over 3 inches of rain in Easton.

Hurricanes make me hungry.

I kept a close eye on the Internet for weather and local updates. I heated up some of the Amish pork bbq for dinner and had it with coleslaw and corn on the cob (bought at the market that morning). And beer. I was strategically working my way through the beer in the fridge, in case power was lost. Then I could tap the wine stash.

The weather continued to get nastier and nastier. The puddles got bigger down in the basement, but there wasn’t a deluge, as I had feared. The chimney started leaking on three sides in the attic and also was leaking at its base down in the basement. I knew it needed a new cap, but the flashing would need to be looked at too.

Thankfully, I still had power. The lines on my street are buried. The last time our power went out, lightning struck something in the area and we were in the dark for several hours. I was bracing myself for a similar situation, which didn’t transpire.

At around 10:30 p.m. I was pretty exhausted and started to get ready for bed. I didn’t think I’d be getting much sleep — all reports indicated the worst was yet to come. I unplugged everything and stowed the computers and chargers under the tarp in the living room. I took my cell phone into the bedroom with me and also pulled in my extra jugs of water and food bag.

I’d read that you’re supposed to close all of your interior doors at the height of a storm. I suppose that’s so if a room sustains damage, the wind and water will hopefully stay contained in that room.

After closing the door to my room, I couldn’t hear much of what was going on outside, thankfully. The overhead fan also was helping to drown out the noise of the wind and rain. I had debated sleeping in a different room because there is a window at the head of my bed, but the really bad stuff was coming from a different direction. I figured I’d be okay.

I woke up once before midnight — I can’t remember what woke me up, but I went back to sleep shortly thereafter.

(to be continued)

Prep for Hurricane Irene, Day 3

Read about Day 1 and Day 2.

Friday, August 26

Clouds creeping into the area on Friday night.

I worked from home and took breaks to get still more things squared away for the hurricane. One of the first things I did was head back to Target at 9 a.m. because I realized I hadn’t gotten enough C batteries for my radio. Well, they’d since been cleared out. I picked up a couple other items and then headed to Lowes, hoping for better luck.

Lowes had a huge battery display near the registers, but there weren’t any Cs there. I did find a few packages at the customer service counter. I bought enough batteries to power my radio two times through. I also bought DampRid canisters in anticipation of a soon-to-be-damp basement. I contemplated picking up a high-power fan too, but decided I’d return for that later (my hands were full).

Upon returning home, I plugged in both my personal and work laptops and began charging my phone off of the personal laptop. I figured that if the power went out, I could continue to charge the phone from both laptops. I also emptied my ice maker into my cooler for the first time. I brought up my cleaning bucket from the basement to fill with water later.

Around lunchtime, I moved all of my dear-to-me scrapbooks out of my office (an old porch I was afraid would be more prone to leak), along with my fire safe and important papers. These I arranged in the middle of my living room floor to be covered with a tarp later.

Basement-drying supplies.

After work, I went back to Lowes and bought a huge floor fan, a sub pump, a 50-foot hose to drain from the basement to the street using the sub pump, and said tarp for the living room.

While I had my provisions in case of a power outage, I needed some real food too, to get me through until the power was out. So, next I went to the Amish market. The bakery was completely wiped out. I bought one of the remaining two bags of hot-dog buns for the bbq I purchased for dinner over the weekend. I bought some snacks as well — yogurt and kettle corn.

While I was pulling my purchases out of the car, I chatted with some of my neighbors. One of them was pulling his tomato and pepper plants (in pots) into his house — they were all bearing fruit that would have been ruined (not to mention the plants themselves could have become missiles in the wind). The other neighbor had moved a boat normally parked by his house around the corner, where it wouldn’t be as close to trees. His kids seemed excited by the upcoming storm. Everyone was upbeat but somewhat resigned to whatever was coming our way.

Before leaving, I had begun backing up my laptop. While I waited for that to finish up, I did the dishes in the sink and ran the dishwasher. After that finished running, I did two loads of laundry and then unplugged the washer and dryer. On the advice of a friend, I started filling large ziploc bags and tupperware containers with water and these I started stowing in my kitchen freezer and my chest freezer downstairs. The idea being that the more full your freezer is, the cooler it will stay if the power goes out. I also filled two thermoses with filtered drinking water and put them in the fridge to cool.

Finally, I packed a backpack with a change of clothes and toiletries. Just in case…

(to be continued)

Sunset Friday night.

Prep for Hurricane Irene, Day 2

Read Post 1 here.

Thursday, August 25

Rainy/fiery sunset on Thursday, Aug. 25.

The warnings became more dire and Ocean City (about an hour away from me) was ordered evacuated by 5 p.m. Friday night. On my way home from work, traffic heading west on Route 50 was heavy, but it also was slow eastbound, which I chalked up to folks driving to the coast to check on properties before the storm. I saw extra MTA buses heading to Ocean City to aid in the evacuation. I also saw idiots headed in the same direction with bikes and kayaks strapped to their cars.

I still had more provisions that I needed (mostly of the non-food variety) so I headed to Target. There, I bought:

Nuts (I meant to buy these the night before, but forgot)
C batteries for my radio
A solar/wind-up flashlight
A battery-operated LED tap light
Trail mix (there’s a particular variety sold at Target that I really like)
Baking soda (in case the items in my fridge and freezers spoil; might be needed to combat odor later)
Duct tape (FEMA recommended it; wasn’t sure what I would need it for, but sounded like a good idea)

Target was out of 1- or 2-gallon jugs of water and I hated the idea of buying so many small bottles. I went back to Railway Market, where I’d done my food shopping the night before, and bought 3 1-gallon jugs. They say each person needs 1 gallon per day and they recommend a 3-day supply.

When I got home, I noticed my neighbors pulling in items from their backyard and started doing the same in mine. I pulled my empty garbage cans into the garage, leaving room to pull in my car later. I also took down a flag and pole hanging from my front porch and stowed these in my shed.

Then I had my composter to deal with. I thought it would be a simple matter of dragging it into the shed too, but the handle I use to spin the bin made it just too wide to fit through the door. It was starting to rain at this point (not hurricane-related yet). I ran inside to grab a wrench and pliers and started to disconnect the bin from the frame. Luckily, the bin wasn’t anywhere near full, so I was able to lift it into the shed and then the frame fit in easily after that. I did acquire a massive bug bite in the process.

Left to do:

Protect my important documents (personal records, house-related papers, scrapbooks, etc.)
Laundry, and then unplug the appliances (they’re only a couple inches off the ground in my leaky basement)
Start stocking ice in my little Playmate cooler
Backup at least my laptop
Move my office PC out of my office (a converted porch that I’m not entirely convinced won’t leak)
Mail bills before I became homebound
Pull the car into the garage
Fill the tub with water and also a bucket (could be used to pour into the toilet to make it flush, if needed)

(to be continued)