Wednesday, December 31, 2014


New Year's Eve my Senior year at Yale was a disaster. I had planned to meet some friends in Times Square in New York... and this was pre-renovation Times Square...pretty grungy as I recall. Of course, this was way before cell phones. Somehow we missed connections, and I found myself alone in Times Square in a downpour without an umbrella. After wandering around interminably, I eventually headed over to Port Authority, only to learn that the last bus had already departed for Ridgewood, New Jersey. I was planning to visit my sister Julie and brother-in-law Tom Martin in Wyckoff, next door to Ridgewood. The ticket office was closed, so I sat down on a bench on the platform and tried to sleep. No sooner had I done so than a policeman roused me awake. It was not permitted to sleep on the bench without a ticket. "But the ticket office is closed, sir." "No matter, you're not allowed to sleep without a ticket." It's amazing I didn't get bronchitis.

Anyway, I hope you are having, or will have had a more exciting New Year's Eve this year! Best wishes for 2013!

Thursday, December 25, 2014


This is something that might be appropriate to post on Christmas Day [so this year I will]. But the first part of my story began in early December…many years ago back in Central Pennsylvania.

When I was in kindergarten at the Catherine Sweeney Day School, I had a major disappointment my first Christmas at our home on North Second Street in Harrisburg. Dad took me to see Santa Claus at Cline Village Shopping Center (a prototype of those ubiquitous malls, which –along with fast food chains— seem to be one of America’s principal contributions to global culture). I made my request to Santa. Then on the way home, Dad tried to get me to reveal my conversation. I resisted at first, saying that it was a matter between Santa and me. Eventually, I relented…to his apparent relief.

My sister Julie and brother Sherry encouraged me to leave cookies for Santa next to the tree by the stone fireplace in the finished basement. Christmas day came. The cookies were gone and in their place was a note & large cardboard box that looked something like a medieval strong box. I opened it, stared, and expressed instant disappointment. “There’s been some mistake!” I said. “Santa couldn’t have gotten it wrong. I was very clear!”

Daddy was disappointed too. Inside was a plastic medieval knight’s suit of armor. Dad must have gone to a lot of trouble to find it; but it was not what I had asked for. “I specifically said I wanted Roman soldier’s armor just like the picture on Roman Meal Bread. There’s a problem here. Santa couldn’t have misunderstood me. All right Daddy, tell me: is there or is there not a Santa Claus? I can take the truth.” …………So that’s how I found there was no Santa. My questions about the historical Jesus began soon afterwards.

(Years later, in 1989, I was in my first Grove Play, “Pompeii,” at the Bohemian Grove. I was not a soldier. But in the production was just the kind of armor I had wanted thirty-three years before. I mentioned it to Dennis. Then at Christmas 1992, I opened a large package— too big for a box— and burst into laughter. There was my suit of Roman armor. Dennis had bought it, along with a piece of styrofoam lava, from our friend, John Blauer, head of the Costume Department at the club, and co-author of the play. Thirty-six years is a long time to wait for a special Christmas wish… I only wish Dad had lived long enough to have been my guest at the Grove. Dad would have loved the club with its four pillars of Music, Art, Literature and Theatre. Sherry Bell would have been a great Bohemian!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Sometime in the late autumn of 1972— when I stayed at home in Harrisburg, Central Pennsylvania to help my parents get re-settled after the flood of Hurricane Agnes– my father's friend and older assistant pastor, Wallace J. Cummings died. I don't recall the exact circumstances of his death, but I do remember his funeral.

Following my reflexive, spontaneous remarks from the pulpit the Sunday after Christmas 1969— a traumatic time in my life— when during a student-led service I said that I hadn't been sure about my faith in God since I had been a child, but appreciated all the support I had recently been given— Pastor Cummings informed Dad that I had told a different story when I had given a talk, concerning young people's doubts about religious faith, to the Men's Bible Class at Hart's diner in Paxtang two years before. 

I clearly recall that talk, and remember how I very carefully phrased and characterized my remarks as "not necessarily my own." In fact, they mostly were. But I had learned the lawyer's – or politicians trick— of plausible deniability.

At Wallace Cummings' funeral, the Grace Church Chancel Choir sang a chorus from the Du Bois "Seven last Words", a traditional Good Friday anthem at Grace Church. Most of the choir was in tears, and could barely make it through the piece. For some reason, I was strangely unaffected. 

But the Sunday afternoon before Christmas, when we sang the same chorus—from the rear gallery below the marvelous Tiffany Ascension window—as part of the annual Christmas pageant, I had a delayed reaction, I guess, and blubbered throughout the entire piece. 

Later that week, we had choir rehearsal in the Robert Lee George Chapel— for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. My father's organist, Robert Clippinger, had been there for years. He was a superb musician with impeccable technique. He never made finger errors. His entire family –wife, two sons, and a daughter, who had made extraordinary efforts to be there— and his entire choir – were at the rehearsal. 

Half way through a "Halleluia" from a Bach Christmas Cantata, Dr. Clippinger had a cerebral hemorrhage. He started to make mistakes, again, something he had never done in my memory. I was sitting behind him. I couldn't see his face, but he kept on playing. With almost super-human effort, he finished that piece. Then he toppled over—never to regain consciousness. He died two days later. For all practical purposes he died at the rehearsal. 

Think about it: an organist with his family and choir at Christmas rehearsing Bach. It doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Seventeen years ago today is when my sister Cynthia sent that charmingly assertive and passionate, red and white Blenheim Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Tara's Miss India, from Miami straight to San Francisco. What an extraordinary gift! What wonderful memories!

Dennis’ first and favorite Cavalier, Nell, had died several years before. When she was failing, we made arrangements with the vet at Pets Unlimited on Fillmore Street to come to the house, so that Nell would not end her life in a cold antiseptic doctor’s office. In a way it paralleled Dennis’ arranging a vet to come to his flat on McAllister when Nell gave birth to her five puppies. As Dennis described it, Nell didn’t need any assistance then. In her basket on the rose patterned window seat in Dennis’ yellow bedroom, she was transformed from a cute and dizzy puppy to the very personification of Earth Mother. “I had puppies…..what have you done?”

Now Nell’s fragile tricolor daughter, Lady St. Albans, was ailing. I called her Winkie or ‘Libet. (When my Mother heard that one of the puppy’s names was ‘Elizabeth Lady St. Albans,’ she exclaimed: “Ah, my namesake!”) Winkie’s end seemed near, but we decided not to call the vet. Everything seemed to be progressing naturally.

One Thursday I went to work and told my fellow supervisor, Dale Ilderton, that one of my dogs appeared to be dying. A few minutes later my boss, Francean Rible, came and told me to go home to be with her. I spent the day holding her in my lap or taking naps with her on the bed. For years ‘Libet had slept next to me and cuddled so close that Dennis remarked you'd have to separate us with a knife.

Late in the afternoon I needed to leave because I was in a Thursday night show at the Bohemian Club. It was Vaudeville Night. Dennis came to dinner and the show. He was dressed in a business suit and appeared to have a good time. On the way home, after getting off BART at 24th Street, Dennis turned right on Bartlett Street and stopped by a front yard rose garden to tell me that Winkie had died fifteen minutes after I had left the house. We wept, then continued home.

Dennis’ Irish side was soon apparent. Lady St. Albans was lying in state in a basket in the middle of the dining room table surrounded by four large silver candlesticks. A white linen napkin covered her body, and on top was a garland of white lilies.

A few days later Dennis had an accident at his temp job. After a cigarette break he rushed in the side entrance to Tiffany’s and slipped on the granite floor and landed on his shoulder. In great pain he went back to work until he started to faint. It turned out he had broken his clavicle. But he didn’t find that out until more than two hours later.

I think he missed only a single day of work, then returned with his arm in a sling. He was not going to lose that job at Tiffany’s. People were so impressed that soon he was offered a permanent position.

Meanwhile my sister Cynthia in Florida was considering sending a plant to honor the memory of ‘Libet. But Cynthia decided that she’d rather give us a puppy. She checked online and learned that puppies were out of her price range, so next she considered two and three year old dogs. Cynthia found a very attractive Blenheim with a breeder north of her, but concluded the dog was rather snooty. Then she visited another three-year-old Blenheim (red and white) with a breeder south of her in Homestead. This dog had a funny looking mouth— slightly undershot— but appeared to have a wonderful personality.

So Cynthia telephoned me to ask if it would be appropriate to give a dog to Dennis. I replied that it was extremely thoughtful and generous of her, but that Dennis was very particular and would want to choose his own dog. Furthermore, he would insist on a puppy because he would want to train the dog from scratch.

A few days went by. Then casually I mentioned Cynthia’s offer to Dennis. He stopped and thought about it for a few minutes, then said that it might not be such a bad idea to have an older dog. Lord Dundee was an older dog himself and might have difficulties adjusting to a rambunctious puppy.

So I called Cynthia back and asked if we could reconsider her offer. Cynthia went to Homestead and bought the dog and brought her home to Stuart. After two days, her husband Bob said they needed to send India to California immediately. He was afraid that Cynthia would bond with the dog and never give her up. So Bob and Cynthia got up at three in the morning to drive to Miami International and put a spunky little red and white dog on a direct flight to San Francisco.

I took the day off work, rented a car, and drove to SFO with my tricolor Lord Dundee in the back seat on December 23rd 1997. I parked on the roof of the parking garage and opened the rear windows a crack so Dundee had air.

At baggage claim I waited for an attendant to bring the airline kennel. I took a photo as he approached. When I opened the grated door, out pranced a happy, assertive— rather comic looking— red and white Blenheim girl. Her mouth was a little undershot. But she had beautiful markings and a luxurious coat.

I carried her in the kennel until we got to the car. Then I put her on a leash, opened the door and introduced her to Lord Dundee. He didn’t know what to think of her at first. I got a good photo of their meeting.

After taking Dundee home, I drove downtown and parked near Union Square. Carrying India in my arms when I got to the front door of Tiffany’s, I walked to the silver room in the back. With India on one arm and a camera in the other hand, I spoke from behind and said: “Mr. Graham” and Dennis turned from his customer and broke into a wonderful grin.

I was home only a few days. This was the day before Christmas Eve. After midnight mass at St. Francis, we celebrated Christmas early in the morning – or, middle of the night, as was our custom— before flying to Pennsylvania to spend a week with Mother at her retirement community, Green Ridge Village, in Newville near Carlisle.

All four children, Julie, Sherry, Cynthia and I, spent several days with Mother to enable her to divide her many possessions among us as she moved from her own retirement house into a single room in a main building for assisted living. She had waited until all of us could be there.

While I was gone, Dennis spent a lot of time with India. Her formal name was Tara’s Miss India. There was a Gone With The Wind theme to her litter. She was named for Scarlett O’Hara’s sister. Indeed, one of her own sisters was named Tara’s Miss Scarlett.

For the first few days Dennis said to her: “You’re not as beautiful as Nell. You’re not as cute… you’re not even as clever as Nell.” But then one day, Dennis picked her up in his arms and said: “You’re not as beautiful as Nell. YOU are as beautiful as INDIA….You are my India Pudding!” From that moment on she was completely his.

My sister Julie used to have a large St. Bernard named Pudding. Partly as a joke, we called our nineteen pound Blenheim Cavalier “India Pudding” and it stuck.

One time Dennis came home from work and greeted Lord Dundee, lying on the edge of the bed (with a pile of pillows leading to the trunk to help him to get up). He was a distinguished senior dog entitled to special privileges. India observed all of this, pranced over, hopped on the bed and whacked Dundee on the head with her paw. She considered that she was entitled to be greeted first!

Dennis used to comment on India Pudding’s assertive personality: “What would you expect from a dog born on Elizabeth II’s birthday, the day after Adolf Hitler’s … with a jaw like Mussolini!”

India loved to spend time with Dennis— in the garden, in the kitchen, especially in the car (when we had one) Of course, all our Cavaliers have had a passion for riding in cars.

When Dennis and I took our Mediterranean cruise from Rome to the Greek isles, ending in Istanbul, we left our three dogs (by that time Dundee had gone and I had bought my black and tan boy Rupert— named for Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of Charles I, and commander of the Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War— and as a fee for his paternity duties, Rupert had ransomed his ruby sister, Rose) with our friend Nijole Adams in Sebastopol. Nijole had seven or eight Cavaliers of her own and slept with all them in a large king-size bed in the middle of her bedroom. Our dogs just joined the crowd.

From Rome, Dennis and I called Nijole to check on the dogs. Nijole said that Rupert was fine. What a sportsman. He loved to play ball. He never stopped! Her arm was about to fall off! And Rose… what a sweetheart. She was rather shy and stayed by herself a lot.

And India…how is Miss India? Nijole paused…….then slowly said: “Everybody knows she’s Queen!”

So India Pudding had joined a household with eight other Cavaliers …….and took over!!

Later when Dennis was let go from Lang Estate Jewelry, he helped out occasionally at our friend Chris Wahlgren’s rug store on 24th St. India loved to spend the time alone with Dennis at the store (since Rose and Rupert had proved unreliable, or rather too predictable with accidents on the rugs.) India romped over the rugs and exalted being with Dennis, whom she adored.

In his twittier moments, Dennis called India Pudding by the sobriquet “Contessa Zuppa Inglese” a special Italian pudding. How he loved her!

Monday, December 22, 2014

GIACOMO PUCCINI ~ December 22, 1858 ~ November 29, 1924

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (22 December 1858 – 29 November 1924) was an Italian composer whose operas, including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Turandot, are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire. Some of his arias, such as "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi, "Che gelida manina" from La bohème, and "Nessun dorma" from Turandot, have become part of popular culture.

The subject of Puccini's style is one that was once treated dismissively by musicologists; this can be attributed to a perception that his work, with its emphasis on melody and evident popular appeal, lacked "depth." Despite the place Puccini clearly occupies in the popular tradition of Verdi, his style of orchestration also shows the strong influence of Wagner, matching specific orchestral configurations and timbres to different dramatic moments. His operas contain an unparalleled manipulation of orchestral colors, with the orchestra often creating the scene's atmosphere.

The structures of Puccini's works are also noteworthy. While it is to an extent possible to divide his operas into arias or numbers (like Verdi's), his scores generally present a very strong sense of continuous flow and connectivity, perhaps another sign of Wagner's influence. Like Wagner, Puccini used leitmotifs to connote characters (or combinations of characters). This is apparent in Tosca, where the three chords which signal the beginning of the opera are used throughout to announce Scarpia. Several motifs are also linked to Mimi and the bohemians in La bohème and to Cio-Cio-San's eventual suicide in Butterfly. Unlike Wagner, though, Puccini's motifs are static: where Wagner's motifs develop into more complicated figures as the characters develop, Puccini's remain more or less identical throughout the opera (in this respect anticipating the themes of modern musical theatre).

Another distinctive quality in Puccini's works is the use of the voice in the style of speech: characters sing short phrases one after another as if they were talking to each other. Puccini is celebrated, on the other hand, for his melodic gift, and many of his melodies are both memorable and enduringly popular. These melodies are often made of sequences from the scale, a very distinctive example being Quando me'n vo' (Musetta's Waltz) from La bohème and E lucevan le stelle from Act III of Tosca. Today, it is rare not to find at least one Puccini aria included in an operatic singer's CD album or recital.

Unusual for operas written by Italian composers up until that time, many of Puccini’s operas are set outside Italy – in exotic places such as Japan (Madama Butterfly), gold-mining country in California (La fanciulla del West), Paris and the Riviera (La rondine), and China (Turandot).

Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Lloyd Schwartz summarized Puccini thus: "Is it possible for a work of art to seem both completely sincere in its intentions and at the same time counterfeit and manipulative? Puccini built a major career on these contradictions. But people care about him, even admire him, because he did it both so shamelessly and so skillfully. How can you complain about a composer whose music is so relentlessly memorable, even — maybe especially — at its most saccharine?"

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

SHERIDAN WATSON BELL, JR. ~ December 21, 1908 ~ October 30, 1982

How difficult to Dad, Sherry Bell, the Rev. Dr. Sheridan Watson Bell, Jr., was born one-hundred-six years ago today!! Dad was the youngest of four children, as am I, so my paternal grandfather, Sheridan Watson Bell, Sr., whom I never knew, was born during the American Civil War!!

Sherry Bell was a loving man of conviction, warmth, generosity, passion, impulse, flamboyance, gusto, humor, spontaneity, balance, dedication, support, vocal gifts, drama, wise counsel, compassion and faith: a pastor of people, rather than a great preacher, though occasionally a speaker of profound ideas and natural eloquence. I’m lucky and so very proud that he was my Father.


Today is also the greatly anticipated end of the Mayan Calendar. See you all tomorrow!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

LOUISIANA PURCHASE Completed December 20, 1803

1803 – The Louisiana Purchase is completed at a ceremony in New Orleans.

The Louisiana Purchase (French: Vente de la Louisiane "Sale of Louisiana") was the acquisition by the United States of America of 828,800 square miles (2,147,000 km2) of the French territory Louisiana in 1803. The U.S. paid 60 million francs ($11,250,000) plus cancellation of debts worth 18 million francs ($3,750,000), a total cost of 15 million dollars for the Louisiana territory.

The Louisiana Purchase encompassed all or part of 14 current U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The land purchased contained all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River, most of North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide, and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. (The Oklahoma Panhandle, and southwestern portions of Kansas and Louisiana were still claimed by Spain at the time of the Purchase.) In addition, the Purchase contained small portions of land that would eventually become part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The purchase, which doubled the size of the United States, comprises around 23% of current U.S. territory. The population was estimated to be 97,000 as of the 1810 census.

The purchase was a vital moment in the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. At the time, it faced domestic opposition as being possibly unconstitutional. Although he felt that the US Constitution did not contain any provisions for acquiring territory, Jefferson decided to purchase Louisiana because he felt uneasy about France and Spain having the power to block American trade access to the port of New Orleans.

Napoleon Bonaparte, upon completion of the agreement, stated, "This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride."

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Naturalists John Muir & J. Horace MacFarland

When I was a young child, my Dad’s study was in the parsonage at 216 State Street, a handsome four story Federal-style detached brick house (circa 1916) next door to the stone Gothic revival church just down the street in front of the State Capitol, a successful architectural pastiche with the general layout of the capitol in Washington, the staircase from the Paris Opera, and the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome (before the church turned the old parsonage into the church offices and bought a grand detached stone house uptown as the new parsonage).

Occasionally I visited Daddy in his study on the second floor at 216 State Street. I remember seeing Thanksgiving Day parades from the bay window. Other times we watched from the street by the green, where we used to have strawberry festivals – before they turned it into a double-sided car park.

This is reminiscent of the McFarland gardens at Polyclinic Hospital. It had been one of the premier rose gardens in the United States, with reflecting pools, arcades, and a handsome bronze fountain of the Three Graces, which Milton Hershey— of chocolate fame— had commissioned for his private garden. But Mrs. Hershey found the nudes offensive; so Mr. Hershey donated the fountain to the McFarland rose garden. J. Horace McFarland, a doctor and a founder of the American Rose Society, had created and endowed these gardens at his hospital.

The connection to the former green in front of Grace Church is almost a direct quote from an old Joni Mitchell song: “They paved paradise … put up a parking lot.” That’s exactly what they did to the rose garden. They turned it into a three-block parking lot. Dad did what he could to prevent it; but was unsuccessful. It broke his heart. I still have a jar of potpourri made from some of the last roses. Dad, however, was instrumental in preserving the Three Graces and placing them in the middle of Italian Lake, just a few blocks from the old rose gardens.

Previously he had recommended the new site above Italian Lake for the relocation of the Civil War obelisk commemorating “The Suppression of the Rebellion,” which had blocked traffic on Second Street in front of the Capitol and had been a genuine traffic hazard. Dad was able to suggest these changes because he had been a friend of the two mayors at the time. Both events occurred when I was in junior high school or at Mercersburg, in the early or mid sixties.

When Mother sold the house on North Second Street to move to a retirement community about thirty-five miles away, I took an extended leave from my job at Neiman-Marcus to assist her. (My parents had bought the house after the Hurricane Agnes Flood.) It was some of the most strenuous physical labor I’ve ever done.

While cleaning out the detached garage, I went through several boxes of assorted objects and papers from Miss Helen McFarland’s house. (Helen was the distinguished spinster daughter of J. Horace McFarland and had lived alone for many decades in her Victorian mansion, Breeze Hill, that had an uncanny similarity to the house in Psycho, though it was a much finer house. Helen McFarland was a close friend of my Dad’s and his great friend, Helen Heisey. The two of them worked together on a Decorator Showhouse at Breeze Hill after Miss McFarland’s death.)

A small Christmas card caught my attention. It had a sepia photo of the "Lone Cypress" at Carmel. I picked it up and read the note. It was from John Muir to his friend J. Horace McFarland and was dated 1914. I happened to know that John Muir died Christmas Eve 1914, and thought at first this must be one of the last things he wrote. But on closer examination, the card was notated “Rec’d 1/10/14” so it was from Christmas 1913. Even so, it’s a very special communication.

The card’s inscription reads:

“Dear Mr. McFarland,
Many warm thanks for the great work you have done and are doing for God’s beauty. Tho our long hard fight for Yosemite Park is lost, some compensating good must come from the aroused conscience of the whole country.Yours with love and admiration
John Muir”

I think the reference was to Hetch Hetchy Valley, which was dammed to provide a reservoir for San Francisco. Even today there is discussion about whether or not to restore the valley to its former natural state. I don’t think that will happen. We really need the water. But I’ve double framed the card, and consider it one of my most valued possessions.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Carl Maria von Weber ~ December 18, 1786 ~ June 4, 1826

Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (18 December 1786 – 4 June 1826) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school.

Weber's works, especially his operas Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon greatly influenced the development of the Romantic opera in Germany. He was also an innovative composer of instrumental music. His compositions for the clarinet, which include two concertos, a concertino, a quintet and a duo concertante, are regularly performed, while his piano music—including four sonatas, two concertos and the Konzertstück (Concert Piece) in F minor—influenced composers such as Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn. The Konzertstück provided a new model for the one-movement concerto in several contrasting sections (such as Liszt's, who often played the work), and was acknowledged by Igor Stravinsky.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

WRIGHT BROTHERS ~ First Manned Flight ~ December 17, 1903

The Wright Brothers make their first powered and heavier-than-air flight in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.

The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were two Americans who are generally credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight.

They are also officially credited worldwide through the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics, as "the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight." In the two years afterward, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing flight possible.

The brothers' fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on unlocking the secrets of control to conquer "the flying problem," rather than developing more powerful engines as some other experimenters did. Their careful wind tunnel tests produced better aeronautical data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers more effective than any before. Their U.S. patent 821,393 claims the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulates a flying machine's surfaces.

They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice. From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first aircraft engine in close collaboration with the brothers.

The Wright brothers' status as inventors of the airplane has been subject to counter-claims by various parties. Much controversy persists over the many competing claims of early aviators.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ENGLISH BILL OF RIGHTS ~ December 16, 1689

The Bill of Rights (a short title) is an act of the Parliament of England, whose title is An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown. It is often called the English Bill of Rights. It was adopted December 16, 1689.

The Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament in December 1689 and was a re-statement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right, presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1688, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. It enumerates certain rights to which subjects and permanent residents of a constitutional monarchy were thought to be entitled in the late 17th century, asserting subjects' right to petition the monarch, as well as to have arms in defence. It also sets out—or, in the view of its drafters, restates—certain constitutional requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people, as represented in parliament.

Along with the 1701 Act of Settlement the Bill of Rights remains, today, one of the main constitutional laws governing the succession to not only the throne of the United Kingdom, but, following British colonialism, the resultant doctrine of reception, and independence, also to those of the other Commonwealth realms, whether by willing deference to the act as a British statute or as a patriated part of the particular realm's constitution. Since the implementation of the Statute of Westminster in each of the Commonwealth realms (on successive dates from 1931 onwards) the Bill of Rights cannot be altered in any realm except by that realm's own parliament, and then, by convention, and as it touches on the succession to the shared throne, only with the consent of all the other realms.

In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by the Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 as some of the basic documents of the uncodified British constitution. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act, applies in Scotland. Further, a bill of rights has been listed, in Republic of Ireland's Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union), as an English act of parliament to be retained as part of the country's law. The English Bill of Rights 1689 inspired in large part the United States Bill of Rights.

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Today is also the birthday of my brother, Sheridan Watson Bell, III. Sherry has been a wonderful brother to me, my friends and partners, and to my several dogs.

Monday, December 15, 2014

GONE WITH THE WIND Premiered December 15, 1939

Gone with the Wind received its première at Loew's Grand Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. The film premiered on December 15, 1939, as the climax of three days of festivities hosted by Mayor William B. Hartsfield which consisted of a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags, false antebellum fronts on stores and homes, and a costume ball. Eurith D. Rivers, the governor of Georgia declared December 15 a state holiday. The New York Times reported that thousands lined the streets as "the demonstration exceeded anything in Atlanta's history for noise, magnitude and excitement". President Jimmy Carter would later recall it as "the biggest event to happen in the South in my lifetime."

Hattie McDaniel, as well as the other black actors from the film, were prevented from attending the premiere due to Georgia's Jim Crow laws, which would have kept them from sitting with the white members of the cast. Upon learning that McDaniel had been barred from the premiere, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event. McDaniel convinced him to attend.

In Los Angeles, the film had its premiere at the elegant Carthay Circle Theatre. From December 1939 to June 1940, the film played only advance-ticket road show engagements at a limited number of theaters, before it went into general release in 1941.

It was a sensational hit during the Blitz in London, opening in April 1940 and playing continuously for four years.

Gone with the Wind is a 1939 American drama romance film adapted from Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel of the same name and directed by Victor Fleming (Fleming replaced George Cukor). The epic film, set in the American South in and around the time of the Civil War, stars Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland, and tells a story of the Civil War and its aftermath from a white Southern viewpoint.

It received ten Academy Awards, a record that stood for twenty years. In the American Film Institute's inaugural Top 100 American Films of All Time list of 1998, it was ranked number four; although in the 2007 10th Anniversary edition of that list, it was dropped two places, to number six. In June 2008, AFI revealed its 10 top 10 — the best ten films in ten American film genres—after polling over 1,500 persons from the creative community. Gone with the Wind was acknowledged as the fourth best film in the Epic genre. It has sold more tickets in the U.S. than any other film in history, and is considered a prototype of a Hollywood blockbuster. Today, it is considered one of the greatest and most popular films of all time and one of the most enduring symbols of the golden age of Hollywood. When adjusted for inflation, Gone with the Wind remains the highest grossing film of all time in North America and the UK.

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Reportedly, the original title of the book was: "Tomorrow Is Another Day!"

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Today is the third Sunday in Advent. In the Episcopal & Roman Catholic traditions a pink candle is lit on the Advent wreath. The running gag is that Mary was expecting a girl!

Listening to a Purcell anthem at a Chanticleer concert on a Saturday night in March a few years ago, brought back a flood of memories… about Louis Botto, the nominal founder of Chanticleer— particularly during the several years I knew him before the founding of Chanticleer— and was an example of what could have happened to my father at the Hershey Convention Center when Dad suffered cardiac arrest as soon as he had finished giving a speech in 1977.

Louis and I had been two of the soloists for “Rejoice in the Lord Alway” with the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys on the third Sunday of Advent that same year, 1977. “How could I possibly remember with such specificity?” you ask. I’ll soon explain.

Louis was the alto soloist, and I, the tenor. Rob DeWitt was Baritone, I believe. Boyd Jarrell was new to the choir then; so I don’t think he was the baritone soloist. In any case, I’m absolutely certain about Louis and me.

Stanley Rodgers was the relatively new Dean of Grace Cathedral. His teenage son, Malcolm, was a member of the choir, and his wife, Helen, was sitting in the congregation. Dean Rodgers had just delivered one of his better sermons (part of which dealt with speculation about advances in military technology, which seemed to foreshadow President Reagan’s “Star Wars” policy, and how Dean Rodgers feared that our false reliance on technology would actually make us more vulnerable to risky adventures). That day Dean Rodgers was also the Celebrant, which was unusual – to do both in the same service. He was sitting in the large center chair directly behind the high altar in the crossing.

At the offertory we sang Henry Purcell’s “Rejoice in the Lord Alway.” We didn’t have a string ensemble; but we did use alternating organ and harpsichord. John Renke was at the organ, and John Fenstermaker, at the harpsichord, and from there, he directed the full choir. The piece is a long one with an extended bell tone introduction, repeated sections of soloists, ritornelli, chorus, and back and forth. Somewhere in the middle of the piece, Dean Rodgers slumped over in his chair. From our soloists’ vantage point we could observe, but we kept on singing. The head verger, Charles Agnew, walked over to see what was the matter. Soon he was joined by a doctor. We continued to sing. Then four men from the congregation came and carried Dean Rodgers away in his large wooden chair, and still we kept on singing.

Afterwards, the service itself continued as usual. As we were coming back to the Cathedral for rehearsal before Evensong, we heard the carillon begin to toll and toll – indicating that Dean Stanley Rodgers had, indeed, died as we had sung “Rejoice in the Lord Alway.”…...It was many years before we would sing it again.
Some time later we had a new Dean with a whole new set of problems and major controversies. The organ conservator— with a wry and wicked sense of humor— quipped: “Isn’t it about time we brought back that Purcell piece.”

My Mother’s family, the Rich’s, would get together for the first two weeks in August at Zavikon, my grandfather Baba's summer house in Canada, and have a family dinner in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on a Saturday - two or three weeks before Christmas. I guess Harrisburg was a more central location for relatives coming from Washington, Lancaster, and Woolrich --and later South Carolina and Chicago.

We generally had an afternoon dinner in a large banquet room on the second floor of the Hotel Harrisburger across the street from the State Capitol grounds. We cousins loved to run up and down the large staircase, which led to the banquet room. (Later the management tried to maximize floor space by eliminating the staircase; but they only succeeded in ruining one of the best features of the hotel and hastening to bring about its demise.)

The hotel had a fine English restaurant called the Pickwick Tavern, one of the few really good restaurants in town. The aunts and uncles would generally meet there for cocktails before dinner. Grandfather Rich never allowed any wine at his table.

We all sat at one large table— probably several put together—covered with white linen tablecloths, and Mother's colorful holiday tablecloths on top. My Dad’s friend, Helen Heisey, usually completed the decorations, incorporating Mother's several silver candlesticks, and made holly floral arrangements. After Baba's second marriage to Pattie Wideman, the table accommodated almost thirty people. There was a small poinsettia at each place setting, and a silver dollar underneath each person's salad plate or first course.

Two uncles sat at opposite ends of the table to carve the turkeys. Dad always got a kick out of using his electric carving knife.

After dinner, Baba insisted that all the cousins perform. Scottie Kurtz would play the accordion. David Staats would recite a poem. Everybody did something. Then Baba dispensed the silver dollars.

We Bell's all played music – Cynthia on the violin; Julie, the flute; Sherry, the clarinet; and I, the 'cello. Sometimes we'd play duets or trios, and I'd accompany everybody with Christmas carols on the piano. The other cousins thought the Bells were show-offs. But we sure raked in those silver dollars!

(And these were genuine silver dollars – not sandwiched copper.) Sometimes I left with more than fifteen or twenty. But I don't have them today. I gave some away as birthday presents. But most, I just spent – primarily on candy. I remember buying one hundred pieces of licorice at a corner grocery for a silver dollar.

GEORGE WASHINGTON ~ February 22, 1732 ~ December 14, 1799

George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He was also the commander in chief of all American forces during the American Revolutionary War.

His mother was Mary Ball and his father was Augustine Washington. They were teachers at the local university. They lived in Virginia. As a child, Washington did not attend school for very long.

There is a nice but untrue story that Washington cut down his father's cherry tree. When asked, he did not lie and said that he did cut down the tree. This story is supposed to show that Washington was honest. The funny thing is that the story is not honest because it was made up by Parson Weemes.

Before the Revolutionary War
Washington was a farmer like his father. His large farm, or plantation, was called Mount Vernon. He also served as a surveyor, someone who measures farms.

Washington began his army career during the French and Indian War. He first was a messenger for Virginia. He later led troops against the French. The British did not think soldiers from the colonies were as good as they were, so Washington went home and started to farm again.

In 1759, Washington married Martha Custis Washington. They did not have any children.

The Revolution
Washington wanted the Thirteen Colonies to be independent and was a delegate to the Continental Congress, which wanted independence. Washington was chosen by the Second Continental Congress to be the commanding general of the Continental Army. Washington led the army from 1775 until the end of the war in 1783. He is noted for leading troops across the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1777, in a surprise attack on German mercenaries at Trenton, New Jersey. The British had more troops and more supplies than Washington. However, Washington kept his troops together. He did not win many battles, but he never let the British destroy his army. With the help of the French navy, Washington made the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. The war officially ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

After the war
When the Revolutionary war ended, Washington went home to Mount Vernon. He wanted the colonies to have a strong government. Washington was voted president of the Constitutional Convention in 1785. Washington wanted the states to ratify the Constitution of the United States and they did.

In 1789, Washington was elected president without any competition. Washington was the first President of the United States. Washington helped the government get started. Washington did not belong to a political party. He was re-elected to a second term, but chose not to run for a third term. Because of this, most other presidents chose to follow this tradition of not running for a 3rd term.

Washington went back home to Mount Vernon after his second term ended in 1797. He died on December 14, 1799, in Mount Vernon at the age of 67. He was the only leader of the early United States who decided in his will that his slaves were to be freed once he himself and his wife had died. Washington, D.C. and the state of Washington are named after him. He is on the one dollar bill and the quarter coin.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

EDWARD VIII ~ Abdicates December 11, 1936 ~ 75th Anniversary


Edward VIII (Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David; later The Duke of Windsor; 23 June 1894 – 28 May 1972) was King of the United Kingdom and the British dominions, and Emperor of India from 20 January 1936 until his abdication on 11 December 1936. After his father, George V, he was the second monarch of the House of Windsor, his father having changed the name of the royal house from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1917.

Before his accession to the throne, Edward held successively the titles of Prince Edward of York, Prince Edward of Cornwall and York, Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, and Prince of Wales. As a young man, he served in World War I, undertook several foreign tours on behalf of his father, and was associated with a succession of older, married women.

Only months into his reign, Edward caused a constitutional crisis by proposing marriage to the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Although legally Edward could have married Mrs. Simpson and remained king, the prime ministers of the British Empire opposed the marriage, arguing that the people would never accept her as queen. Edward knew that the ministry of British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin would resign if the marriage went ahead, which could have dragged the King into a general election and ruined irreparably his status as a politically neutral constitutional monarch. Rather than give up Mrs. Simpson, Edward chose to abdicate, making him the only monarch of the Commonwealth realms voluntarily to relinquish the throne. With a reign of 325 days, he is one of the shortest-reigning monarchs in British and Commonwealth history, and was never crowned.

After his abdication, he reverted to the style of a son of the Sovereign, The Prince Edward, and was created Duke of Windsor on 8 March 1937. During World War II he was at first stationed with the British Military Mission to France, but after private accusations that he held pro-Nazi sympathies, was moved to The Bahamas as Governor and Commander-in-Chief. After the war, he was never given another official appointment, and spent the remainder of his life in retirement.


One of my peculiar interests is a collection of memorabilia from the Coronation of Edward VIII. It celebrates a non-event. I was amazed at how much stuff there was. But I guess it makes sense. It takes months, if not almost a year of preparation to get ready for a coronation. Originally I had just a ribbon. But then I looked around on eBay and found ceramic & porcelain teacups, teapots, plates, silk handkerchiefs, coins, medallions, candy tins, books, and even a bust. I have dozens of objects.

It drove Dennis to distraction. Why was I devoting any energy to such a weak man? Unlike most Americans, who think it romantic that he “gave up the throne for the woman he loved,” Dennis took the British view that Edward was a traitor. I really think he was disappointed in me for showing any interest at all. (He did, however, approve of the teacup commemorating Wallis' death.) Though I must say, that on our second trip to England in 1988, when Dennis took his beloved Bianchi bike with him, he rode all around Windsor Great Park and managed to find Fort Belvedere, (David’s country place and the site of the abdication broadcast) then rented by an Australian businessman. (It wasn't indicated on any map.) So Dennis must have had a spark of interest himself.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)