Some time ago I stumbled across some information on how to make a flame stitched Wallet. I guess these were a pretty common way for people of the 18th century to carry money. This wallet consists of a needle worked panel on the outside that is stitched using the Irish Stitch design.
This panel is backed with linen and sewn up to form a wallet. Someone shared a link to some really great instructions for making a wallet from Interweave Press.
They also have a chart you can print to achieve the Irish Stitch pattern the author used for her wallet.
Irish Stitch Chart
And here are some more detailed instructions on making the Irish Stitch (also called Bargello).
Irish Stitch How-To
This is a project that I would love to get around to doing, but of course finding time for all these things may require that I create a machine that can double the hours in a day. But if any of you are inclined to try this project before I do, please share with me how it turned out!
I have a new home! Check it out here:
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Here is an interesting article from July 2008 about a dig in New Orleans. I found the article on WWLTV.com, and here is the full text for you.
NEW ORLEANS -- The first archaeological dig at one of the nation's oldest cathedrals has turned up a mix of new finds in the heart of the French Quarter. Discoveries behind St. Louis Cathedral include a small silver crucifix from the 1770s or 1780s and traces of previously unknown buildings dating back to around the city's founding in 1718.
Shannon Lee Dawdy, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, shows off some of the relics found during an archeological dig behind St. Louis Cathedral. Achaeologists digging behind St. Louis Cathedral are unearthing nearly three centuries of history: the porcelain head of a tiny doll, an ersatz colonial-era pipe from the 1800s, bits of pottery that Indians may have traded to the men who built New Orleans.
The crucifix might have belonged to Pere Antoine, a Capuchin monk who was rector of the cathedral which dominates Jackson Square, lead archaeologist Shannon Lee Dawdy told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Pere Antoine came to New Orleans under the Spanish Inquisition as the Rev. Antonio de Sedella and lived in a hut behind the cathedral, where he was rector from the late 1700s until his death in 1829.
The crucifix "was found in a corner of the garden, near where Pere Antoine's hut was said to have been and dates to the period near the beginning of his time in New Orleans (1770s-1780s)," Dawdy wrote in an e-mail. The artifact will be sent to experts for evaluation.
Dawdy, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, and eight students spent a month excavating St. Anthony's Garden, a fenced area behind the cathedral. They concluded their work earlier this week.
The cathedral was completed in 1851 to replace one that burned down, along with most of the city, in 1788.
Until now there has never been an archaeological excavation anywhere on its property, said cathedral spokeswoman Nancy Averett. After Hurricane Katrina toppled the garden's live oaks and sycamores in August 2005, the cathedral secured a Getty Foundation grant to restore the garden and dig into its history.
Finds have included clay pipes, children's marbles, remains of china dolls and bits of what may be some of the first Indian trade goods in Louisiana.
The crucifix is about 1 3/4 inches high; the face of Christ might fit on half of a grain of rice. The right arm of the cross and the right side and chest of the figure of Christ are badly corroded. The figure's right arm and much of the minuscule face are gone.
Dawdy said the most significant find is probably the foundation of a hut where archaeologists uncovered a mixture of French artifacts from the early 1700s and fragments of Native American pottery, some painted red and others tempered with crushed shells.
A thin L of dark soil in a layer several feet below the surface showed where wood walls had rotted -- probably from a temporary hut where settlers may have lived while clearing trees for the first settlement, Dawdy said. In the corner of the L was a square post-hole -- a sign of French axes.
The walls don't line up with the street grid set in 1724, so the hut probably was built before that and may be from the settlement's very start, Dawdy said in an interview.
In another pit, Dawdy and her crew found sloping bricks from a colonial sidewalk and -- below that -- cypress timbers from another building not on any city map.
Unlike the hut, those timbers align with the 1724 street grid, Dawdy said Tuesday. She said the building probably dates from the 1720s or '30s.
"There are at least six timbers in place -- three upright and three running lengthwise," she said. "We just caught a piece of it."
She hopes to return for further excavation.
"This site is by far the richest and most interesting one I have worked on yet in New Orleans and the excellent preservation of the frontier phase of the city's founding makes it the `Jamestown' of the Lower Mississippi Valley," she wrote in her e-mail.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The U.S. Army Center of Military History website has a monthly artifact of the month. For July the artifact was a Revolutionary War cartridge pouch that they have in their collection.
Contrary to popular belief, American soldiers in the Revolutionary War generally carried cartridge boxes, rather than powder horns and shot pouches. The cartridge box held fixed cartridges of paper for faster loading, even in damp weather. This Pattern 1777 cartridge box represents one of the Army’s first attempts at standardizing military equipment.
Monday, September 22, 2008
This recipe is a bit out there for me, I am not sure that I will ever make it, but it sounded interesting, and who knows, maybe one day I'll give it a try! This recipe comes to us from Historic Foodways. It is a Pickled Peach recipe by Hannah Glasse that has a modern adaptation done by Kimberly Costa. Here is the recipe and the adaptation:
To Pickle Peaches by Hannah Glasse in
The Art of Cookery Plain and Easy 1747
TAKE your Peaches when they are at full Growth, just before they turn to be ripe; before they are not bruised; then take Spring –water, as much as you think will cover them; make it soft enough to bear an Egg, with Bay and Common Salt, an Equal Quantity of each; then put your Peaches, and lay a thin Board over them, to keep them under the Water. Let them stand for three days and then take them out and wipe them very carefully with fine soft cloth, and lay them in your Glas or jar; then take as much White Wine Vinegar, as will fill your glas or Jar: To every Gallon put one Pint of best well-made Mustard, two or three heads o Garlick , a good deal of ginger Sliced, half and Ounce of Cloves, mace and Nutmegs, mix your Pickle well Together, and pour over your Peaches. Tye them close with a Bladder and Leather, they will be fit to eat in two Months. You may with a fine Penknife cut them a –cros, take out the Tone and fill them with made Mustard and Garlick, and Horse-reddish and Ginger, tye them together.
Modernized and Adapted by Kimberly Costa
4 pounds fresh peaches
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons whole cloves
5 cinnamon sticks
1 3 inch piece of fresh ginger (optional)
large pot of boiling water
large bowl of cold water with ice cubes
small piece of cheese cloth or large loose tea ball
Mason jars and caps, pre boiled
Bring large pot of water to boil. When water boils drop 2-3 peaches into the boiling water for 10-20 seconds. Pull out of water and drop into large bowl of cold water and ice cubes. Continue until all peaches are blanched. Peel, de-pit and slice peaches. You can slice in quarters or in halves.
Place cloves, ginger (optional) and cinnamon sticks in cheese cloth, tie closed. You can break the sticks if need be. Combine the sugar, vinegar , spices and water in a large pot, bring to a boil and continue to boil for about 5 minutes. Add peaches and boil for 15-20 minutes until tender but not mushy soft.
Put peaches into the boiled Mason jars. Fill with glass with syrup leaving about half an inch to the top. Wipe off rims, add lids and caps. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes or on your counter turn jars upside down for 10 minutes. When you turn the jars over test seal on lid. It should not ‘pop’ if pushed in the middle. If it is not sealed turn over for another 10 minutes. If the lid still pops when you press it the jar has not properly sealed itself. Proceed with the regular hot water bath canning method.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I have another article for you written by Bruce Batten. This one was previously published in the Continental Soldier, the magazine for The Continental Line. He was kind enough to share this with me, so I could share it with you. I hope you enjoy it!
By Bruce Batten,
First New Hampshire Regiment
United Train of Artillery
The details of the capture and execution of Nathan Hale have perplexed historians for years. This confusion may have come to an end because of a manuscript given to the Library of Congress in 2000.
This manuscript was written during, or soon after the war by Consider Tiffany, a shopkeeper from Connecticut, who was also a British sympathizer. The manuscript was donated to the Library of Congress by G. Bradford Tiffany, a descendant. The manuscript details blunders made by Hale that led to his hanging on September 22, 1776. The manuscript identifies Major Robert Rogers, British hero of the French and Indian War as the man who trapped Hale.
Hale, a graduate of Yale College and a Connecticut schoolteacher joined the Continental Army and quickly rose to the rank of captain by 1776. At this time the American army had been driven from Long Island and Washington desperately needed information on the strength and plans of the British. This meant sending a spy into British territory. Hale volunteered.
Captain William Hull, a friend from Hale's regiment tried to discourage Hale from volunteering for such a danger filled mission. Hale told his friend, "I wish to be useful and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary". This was at a time when spying was seen as a dishonorable engagement, but still necessary for the information spies could provide.
Hale, dressed as a civilian crossed by boat from Norwalk, Connecticut to Long Island and slipped behind enemy lines. Hale was untrained in the art of spying and was an easy target for the cunning Major Rogers. Rogers was an expert frontier fighter who had led a group of fierce, resourceful rangers from New Hampshire during the French and Indian War.
Rogers had recently escaped from the Americans and was on Long Island recruiting tories as troops to fight for the British. According to Tiffany’s manuscript, Rogers had been observing Hale for days. Hale’s activities raised suspicions for Rogers and led him to believe that Hale was in disguise.
Rogers decided to talk to Hale and he led Hale to believe that they were on the same side. According to the manuscript, Rogers said, “ he was upon the business of spying out the inclination of the people and motion of the British troops. Hale then told Rogers of his own mission. Rogers invited Hale to dine with him. At dinner, Rogers and several friends engaged Hale in similar conversation. “But at the height of their conversation, a company of soldiers surrounded the house, and by orders from the commander, seized Captain Hale in an instant,” wrote Tiffany.
Captain John Montressor, a British officer sent to Washington’s headquarters for an exchange of prisoners told the rest of the story to Hale’s old friend Captain William Hull. Montressor told Hull that Hale had taken notes on British forces and was brought before Sir William Howe, British commander. Hull reported, “those papers concealed about his person betrayed his intentions”. Hale was hanged as a spy the next day by the British.
Thank you Bruce for sharing your article! Here are the sources that Bruce used.
Carl Hartman, The Associated Press, The Concord Monitor, Concord, NH, Saturday, September 20, 2003.
Hutson, John. "Nathan Hale Revisited." Library of Congress Information Bulletin. July 2003. Library of Congress,
Thursday, September 18, 2008
It looks like there is a new movie coming out called The Duchess. Here is the trailer for the movie. Just a warning, it will begin playing as soon as you open it. I wanted to put it right in this post, but figured that would get old quick when you visit my blog! Also the website linked above has a different trailer on it, so check that one out too!
The Duchess Trailer
It doesn't look like the movie has a wide release as of yet, but I do hope it makes it way around the country. I think it would be a real treat to see on the big screen. From the sounds of it though, we may have to settle for the video in our area.
I grabbed the description of the movie from IMDB.com:
A chronicle of the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who reviled for her extravagant political and personal lives. She is a vibrant beauty and celebrity of her time. But she is trapped in an unhappy triangle with her husband and his live-in mistress. She falls passionately in love with an ambitious young politician, and the affair causes a bitter conflict with her husband and threatens to erupt into a scandal.
And here is an article from an interview with Keira Knightly who stars in the movie. It was done by USA Today:
TORONTO — For someone constantly scrutinized for her slender frame, Keira Knightley knows how to stuff her face.
"I have food! That's so good!" crows Knightley, surveying the spread before her. She jams chunks of a banana into her mouth and cheerfully recounts an earlier mishap with an ingestible.
"I was wearing really great trousers, but then I spilled tea down (them)," says Knightley, who changed into a flouncy green skirt paired with a white blouse, blue jacket and decadent Chanel Mary Jane heels.
She points to her gams, now on display. "And I didn't shave my legs. It's quite embarrassing," says Knightley, as she admits how hard it is to shake the illusion that "randomly, somebody is just rubbing them up and down."
Knightley, 23, may act laissez faire about her own sartorial misfires, but her latest character is dubbed the "empress of fashion." In the lavish historical drama The Duchess (opening Friday), Knightley dons staggering headgear and spectacular, intricate gowns as Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, an 18th-century "it girl" trapped in a frigid marriage to a frosty duke (Ralph Fiennes) who demands a male heir she can't produce. Georgiana channeled her energies into frocks, electoral activism and an affair with budding politico Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) as things on the home front became ever grimmer.
"The costumes, I saw them more like an armor than anything else," Knightley says. "She creates the person she wants to be. As it gets worse and worse and worse, the (costumes) get bigger, and the wigs get wider. It's more that, 'I'm here, and I'm fine.' A lot of the time, we do do that. I've got a friend who says, 'When something (expletive) happens, you put your red lipstick on, and you go out.' "
The Duchess is the first film almost entirely carried by Knightley, who earned a best-actress Oscar nomination for her spunky turn as Elizabeth Bennet in 2005's Pride & Prejudice and sashayed through three Pirates of the Caribbean hits with Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom. Since then, she has gravitated toward smaller, more intense films, such as last year's Atonement and the upcoming Dylan Thomas drama, The Edge of Love, written by her mother, Sharman Macdonald.
Last year, Knightley said she was apprehensive about playing the duchess, the subject of a best-selling biography by Amanda Foreman. The film delves into only a small part of Georgiana's colorful life, largely skimming over her gambling addiction and debts, and not touching on her relationship with France's equally stylish royal Marie Antoinette. Though Knightley had read Foreman's book and Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey, she simply couldn't nail down how to get into Georgiana's head or the most real way of playing her.
But once she reported to work, she laced up that corset and felt "really excited, actually. In every performance, in everything I try to do, you have to look failure in the face," she says. "You have to accept that you're going to fall down in a really embarrassing way and then dive into it knowing that it could go very wrong but trying your best. It was scary but equally so rare that such a wonderful character comes through the door. You can't say no. You have to play her."
Of course, Georgiana's accoutrements, culled by costume designer Michael O'Connor, proved rather unwieldy for Knightley, who, when not on red carpets, mostly kicks around at home in flats and T-shirts.
"High heels are bad enough. I don't think you need a corset and wigs, as well," she says. "The wigs were the problem. They were big like birdcages. The hats were sewn onto the tops of them. And the whole thing was glued to my head, pinned in. I had neck aches. I literally couldn't hold the thing up. So they built me a stand so I could rest the whole lot on."
He's the duke, not Voldemort
Neck aches aside, there's also the heartache of playing hostile spouses. She and Fiennes had never met before the film and in the movie have no loving, or even coolly affectionate, scenes together. His duke lavishes warmth on his dogs but dismisses her. Her duchess shacks up with a younger and far more attractive lover. He threatens to take away her kids. She refuses to save the marriage. In real life, both say they got along just fine. "To play a married couple that have no familiarity with each other was an interesting test," Knightley says.
So, how did she keep the tension and rancor alive even as she got to know Fiennes better?
"I don't know. It's a very American question, how. It's (expletive) acting!" retorts Knightley.
One thing she avoided? Watching Fiennes' Lord Voldemort torture and torment Hollywood's most beloved young wizard in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. "I've read the books but haven't seen the films. He's a snake, right? I didn't watch it because I decided I think it would frighten me if I had to play his wife," she says.
Fiennes stayed in a hotel while Knightley opted to share a house with co-stars Cooper and Hayley Atwell, who plays her confidante. The arrangement helped them keep their distance on-screen.
Because of their proximity, Knightley says, her trio "formed a little group."
"It was good fun, that house. We had good fun, long dinners that were cooked for us."
Fiennes, for the most part, was excluded. "When it was me as the duke, I thought, 'She didn't like me,' " says Fiennes, referring to his off-screen relationship with Knightley, which he says was actually a positive one. "It's a shame we don't have any scenes where they are companions. I sort of decided he loved her deep down but didn't know where to start. And they don't start off as adversaries. She's just bruised by his insensitivity. He expects her to understand that it's absolutely fine that he brings in his illegitimate daughter."
Knightley doesn't see much of herself in Georgiana, a feisty yet ultimately tragic figure. Her best friend (played by Atwell) moved in with the couple and had a long-term affair with the duke, and Georgiana, meanwhile, was forced to give up the infant conceived during her tryst with Grey.
"I live with me every day. It's not that fun. I'm not looking for biographical work," Knightley says. Taking the role was "about escapism. She was a character so easy to sympathize with, empathize with. I wasn't looking for any parallels with myself. It's more general terms than going, 'Oh, I gave my baby away, too.' "
She pauses just a beat. "Which I didn't, by the way."
Knightley just 'has it'
For someone barely in her 20s, Knightley is preternaturally poised and mature in interviews, her self-professed jet lag notwithstanding. She's quick-witted, swears like a sailor and comes across as just self-deprecating enough to be real.
"Keira has great clarity as a person (and is) amazingly open for her age," Fiennes says.
Even though he and Knightley are hardly buddies, they did click during the shoot. "She has a great maturity and an openness and a natural spontaneity, a vivacity. That's a crucial thing you can't act. She has it," he says.
She doesn't moan about the paparazzi attention she gets at home in England and dismisses her peers who act surly and dismissive in public. "They hate their jobs," she says with a laugh.
Yet she draws a firm line between business and her own real life. To wit, she has never talked about her boyfriend, actor Rupert Friend, and won't even confirm she has one.
Knightley buries herself in books and has a penchant for the bleak. Recent reads include Bernhard Schlink's "beautiful" The Reader and Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road. "Two really depressing books but really good," she says. "Not exactly a barrel of laughs."
This time last year, she was devouring Gitta Sereny's Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder, an account of Treblinka's commandant Franz Stangl. Now, she has moved on to the works of novelist and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn.
"Not exactly happy, but interesting. Really great writing creates such amazing images," Knightley says. "It's a compilation of investigative journalism. She has just gone into Dachau. It's awful, but the way she writes is wonderful. I just started it. I'd never read any Martha Gellhorn before, and she's a wonderful writer."
She'll have plenty of reading time after she's done promoting The Duchess. Knightley has nothing lined up for the rest of '08.
"I haven't quite found what I'm looking for yet," she says, adding that her selection process is more instinctive than calculated. "What I'm not capable of doing is, 'For my career, I should be doing this right now.' I can't do that because I can't try and be interested in something that I'm not."
Nor can she fake enthusiasm for a film she despises when it's time to go out there and sell it.
"It has to be about something that I do actually want to talk about. It can be really embarrassing and depressing and very cynical if you sit there and go, 'Well, I got a really big paycheck.' "
Knightley isn't all doom and gloom. In fact, when it comes to films, she says the oddball and offbeat move her. "There's an amazing film called Couscous (La Graine et le mulet) — so beautiful, about a guy who's trying to open a couscous restaurant," says Knightley. "I sat in the cinema crying and crying and crying. I want to phone the guy up and say thank you.
"Film can be so magic."
I so hope it comes to a theater near me before it goes to DVD! If you have seen it, please let me know how it was!!
Update: The movie is now out! Check it out here: The Duchess
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I stumbled on a great article a little while ago and I wanted to share it with you here. It talks about how a 220-year-old mystery has been solved. On May 19, 1780 darkness fell upon New England and for the longest time it was a mystery as to what happened. They had theories of a forest fire, but no proof. In 2007 it looks like they found proof of a huge fire in Canada. Here is a link to the article in Wired (which links to even more information elsewhere on the web), and here is the text for you to read:
1780: In the midst of the Revolutionary War, darkness descends on New England at midday. Many people think Judgment Day is at hand. It will be remembered as New England's Dark Day.
Diaries of the preceding days mention smoky air and a red sun at morning and evening. Around noon this day, an early darkness fell: Birds sang their evening songs, farm animals returned to their roosts and barns, and humans were bewildered.
Some went to church, many sought the solace of the tavern, and more than a few nearer the edges of the darkened area commented on the strange beauty of the preternatural half-light. One person noted that clean silver had the color of brass.
It was darkest in northeastern Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire and southwestern Maine, but it got dusky through most of New England and as far away as New York. At Morristown, New Jersey, Gen. George Washington noted it in his diary.
In the darkest area, people had to take their midday meals by candlelight. A Massachusetts resident noted, "In some places, the darkness was so great that persons could not see to read common print in the open air." In New Hampshire, wrote one person, "A sheet of white paper held within a few inches of the eyes was equally invisible with the blackest velvet."
At Hartford, Col. Abraham Davenport opposed adjourning the Connecticut legislature, thus: "The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty."
When it was time for night to fall, the full moon failed to bring light. Even areas that had seen a pale sun in the day could see no moon at all. No moon, no stars: It was the darkest night anyone had seen. Some people could not sleep and waited through the long hours to see if the sun would ever rise again. They witnessed its return the morning of May 20. Many observed the anniversary a year later as a day of fasting and prayer.
Professor Samuel Williams of Harvard gathered reports from throughout the affected areas to seek an explanation. A town farther north had reported "a black scum like ashes" on rainwater collected in tubs. A Boston observer noted the air smelled like a "malt-house or coal-kiln." Williams noted that rain in Cambridge fell "thick and dark and sooty" and tasted and smelled like the "black ash of burnt leaves."
As if from a forest fire to the north? Without railroad or telegraph, people would not know: No news could come sooner than delivered on horseback, assuming the wildfire was even near any European settlements in the vast wilderness.
But we know today that the darkness had moved southwest at about 25 mph. And we know that forest fires in Canada in 1881, 1950 and 2002 each cast a pall of smoke over the northeastern United States.
A definitive answer came in 2007. In the International Journal of Wildland Fire, Erin R. McMurry of the University of Missouri forestry department and co-authors combined written accounts with fire-scar evidence from Algonquin Provincial Park in eastern Ontario to document a massive wildfire in the spring of 1780 as the "likely source of the infamous Dark Day of 1780.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I found this wonderful video on YouTube recently. There is something so striking about hearing the Declaration of Independence read out loud, especially by such a wide variety of individuals. I hope you enjoy it!
Monday, September 8, 2008
Recently I was browsing around the SmugMug galleries searching for pictures with the tag “Revolutionary,” when I stumbled on a few gems. I am not sure who these belong to, but here is a direct link to the entire gallery. These are of the First New Hampshire at Fort Ticonderoga back in 2005. Enjoy!
Pictures and videos from this weekend at Fort Ti coming soon!!
Friday, September 5, 2008
The article I posted on a few days ago was actually written back in July. This past Wednesday there was a new article written about the goings on with the Fort. I thought I would share this new article here with you. It comes to us from the New York Times.
Historic Fort Sustains a Breach
By LISA W. FODERARO
Published: September 3, 2008
TICONDEROGA, N.Y. — Perched on a wind-swept bluff above Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga has a timeless presence. Its thick stone walls appear impenetrable, more than two centuries after being contested, variously, by French, British and American troops.
This summer, the national historic landmark — called Fort Ti for short — began its 100th season as an attraction open to the public with two causes for celebration: the unveiling of a splashy new education center, and an increase in visitors, reversing a long decline.
But instead of celebrating, its caretakers issued an S.O.S., warning that the fort, one of the state’s most important historic sites, was struggling for survival, largely because of a breach between the fort’s greatest benefactor — an heir of the Mars candy fortune — and its executive director.
The problem is money: The fort had a shortfall of $2.5 million for the education center. The president of the board that governs the fort, which is owned by a nonprofit organization, said in an internal memo this summer that the site would be “essentially broke” by the end of the year. The memo proposed a half-dozen solutions, including the sale of artwork from the group’s collection.
“The fort is facing a financial crisis, which puts its very existence in question,” the president, Peter S. Paine Jr., said in the memo, which first surfaced in local newspapers last month.
The economic troubles are compounded by the recent falling-out between the fort’s longtime executive director, Nicholas Westbrook, and benefactors the fort had come to rely upon: Forrest E. Mars Jr. and his wife, Deborah Clarke Mars, a Ticonderoga native. It was the couple’s idea to build the education center.
In a February e-mail message that ended up being reported by the news media, Mr. Mars told Mr. Westbrook that the “ride is over” and, in case there was any doubt about what he meant, that the couple would “not be writing any further checks.” He chastised Mr. Westbrook for making “nasty comments about Mars money” and accused him of “not communicating and running away from decisions.”
At the July opening of the new center, officially called the Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center, Mrs. Mars, who had abruptly resigned as the fort’s board president in late January, was conspicuously absent. In recent weeks, board members have squabbled over who is to blame for the rupture as they try to solve the fort’s pressing financial problems.
“Running off our chief benefactors and putting us in this situation in the 12th hour before the opening of the new education center is unforgivable,” said one board member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the awkwardness of continuing to work with Mr. Westbrook.
For his part, Mr. Westbrook, who serves at the pleasure of the board of trustees, said in an interview on Aug. 20 that he had no immediate plans to leave, explaining that it had been his dream since the age of 6, when he first visited Fort Ticonderoga, to one day lead it. He has been executive director for 20 years.
In a recent news release, however, Mr. Paine announced that Mr. Westbrook “has reiterated to the board his desire to retire in the course of next year as part of the planned, orderly succession.”
Mr. Westbrook declined to comment on his relationship with the Marses, saying only that they have “been enormously generous and supportive, and I consider them very, very good friends.” But of Mrs. Mars’s tenure as the fort’s board president, he said, “To be a hands-on president of this organization from a house in Wyoming or from the south of France is very difficult.”
It is not clear what prompted the breach between Mr. Westbrook and the Marses, but Mr. Mars’s e-mail message suggested that perhaps the relationship had grown too cozy. “I think you should remember,” he wrote to Mr. Westbrook, “that: a) Deb and I helped pay to send your son to Northwood,” a boarding school in Lake Placid, N.Y. He continued: “b) we offered and had your other son here in Wyoming for an apprenticeship working with iron and steel; c) your vacations to Antarctica and other ones were paid for by us.”
Efforts to reach Mr. Mars, who is often described in news reports as a reclusive billionaire, were unsuccessful. A caretaker at the family’s ranch in Wyoming said that he and Mrs. Mars were away. Mr. Mars did not respond to messages left at Mars Inc., where he retired as chief executive in 1999.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Paine, the new board president, said that he “supported both Mr. Westbrook and the Marses.”
From the perspective of some board members, the friendship had seemed a godsend — that is, until it soured. While some 500 people made donations to the $23 million construction project, which included the new education center and upgrading utilities throughout the fort, the Marses contributed well over half the cost.
“The fact that they left,” said Mr. Paine of the Marses, “was unhappy and unfortunate and regrettable. There was no formal pledge by them to cover the $2.5 million, but they had been extremely generous and the hope was that they would fund at least some of that as part of their ongoing support. Their departure was not helpful.”
The airing of internal disagreements has unsettled the fort’s supporters, among them descendants of William Ferris Pell, who bought the fort’s ruins in 1820 and built a country estate, called the Pavilion, a cannon shot away on the shores of Lake Champlain. In 1909, another generation of the family restored the fort and opened it to the public.
“The fort has always been a low-key private institution, and the Marses are obsessively private people, and the fact that this has happened has caused a lot of distress,” said Deborah Pell Dunning, who visited her grandparents at the Pavilion as a child and who is writing a book about Fort Ticonderoga and the Pell family.
Since a meeting of the board of trustees in July, the fort has narrowed the $2.5 million gap to $1 million by dipping into its endowment. “We used our rainy-day money, but we need that money back because that’s what we use to run the business,” Mr. Paine said.
The shortfall may not seem like much, Mr. Paine said, but for an institution with an endowment of less than $5 million, “that is an enormous number.” In addition, the fort has an outstanding construction loan of $1.7 million.
Among the strategies for getting the fort back on sound financial footing, as outlined in Mr. Paine’s memo, is the sale of artwork. The fort owns several paintings, including one by Thomas Cole, and numerous valuable artifacts. The most extreme solution on the list was closing the fort, although Mr. Paine said it was “designed primarily to get people’s attention.”
As a state-chartered museum, however, the fort is subject to regulations of the New York State Board of Regents. A new regulation relates specifically to the sale of artwork and forbids museums and historic sites to use proceeds from such sales to cover operating expenses or to pay down debt. Rather, they can be used only to acquire new works or conserve existing artwork.
Mr. Paine makes the case that the historic structures that make up the fort are the “collection.” And work on the education center amounted to “conservation” of that collection since it entailed upgrading utilities and combing the grounds for additional artifacts. Archaeologists found, among other things, an eight-inch rosary dating to the 1750s inside the fort’s original ovens.
The education center, while new construction, restores the “original skyline” to that of the 1750s, as Mr. Westbrook likes to say, in that it is based on the floor plan of a warehouse for gunpowder that stood on the site.
But Cliff Siegfried, director of the New York State Museum and the State Department of Education’s assistant commissioner for museums, said that Mr. Paine’s line of reasoning was problematic. “There have been a number of buildings and sites that have tried to make that argument, and we’ve resisted that argument each time,” he said.
Still, he insisted that the Regents were committed to the fort’s survival. “Its importance to the economy of that region and the history of New York is obvious,” he said. “We’re going to work with them to make sure that it doesn’t fail. This is a hiccup in its history.”
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Here is an interesting article that was published in July at PostStar.com, regarding some internal turmoil occurring at Fort Ticonderoga is having. Here is the text of the article:
TICONDEROGA - In recent days, re-enactors dressed as French and English soldiers have been pretending to gun each other down while attacking and defending what we know as Fort Ticonderoga, part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Carillon.
Meanwhile, the fort's trustees have been continuing, in earnest, a battle of their own, struggling over the museum's leadership and its future after the angry departure of its largest financial benefactor and president of its board.
The Battle of Carillon took place in 1758 among log barricades French troops built outside the fort as a much larger contingent of British soldiers bore down on them.
The French troops slaughtered the British in the barricades, killing 2,000 while losing only 440 of their own.
The Battle of Carillon was the bloodiest on American soil until the Civil War more than a century later, but the British got revenge the next year, marching on the fort again and forcing the French out.
As they evacuated Fort Carillon, the French troops blew up its powder magazine, a munitions warehouse they called the magasin du Roi.
That building was reconstructed recently as the Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center, part of a $22 million project paid for in large part by the woman whose name it bears.
Mars grew up in Ticonderoga, and some of her family still live there. She married Forrest Mars Jr., one of three Mars siblings who inherited the Mars candy company fortune.
Forrest Mars, worth $14 billion, is the 46th richest person in the world, according to Fortune magazine.
Since Deborah's happy match, with many millions at her disposal, she has turned a philanthropic gaze on her hometown and, in particular, her hometown's historic landmark, Fort Ticonderoga.
Starting with a $2 million gift nine years ago, Deborah and Forrest Mars launched a capital campaign to rebuild the magasin du Roi with a historically accurate exterior and modern interior, including a theater, galleries and exhibit and meeting space.
The Mars project would not only enhance the historic value of the fort's campus; it would transform the museum from a seasonal attraction, where many of the buildings lacked insulation and plumbing, into a year-round center of teaching and study.
"Our huge frustration, lo these many years, as educators, is that the fort is closed when kids are studying the American Revolution," said Nicholas Westbrook, the museum's executive director. "We had no water, had no heat in the existing buildings. Now it will be possible for school groups to come in February, for elderhostel programs to come in November.
"When Forrest and Deb made the lead gift in this project, back in 1999," Westbrook said, "it was not so much about the building, but leading Fort Ticonderoga into the new century. You, we and they are going to see that dream come forth and blossom."
If Deborah Mars had gotten her way, however, that dream would be blossoming without the presence of Nicholas Westbrook.
As the Marses' energetic interest in the fort continued and strengthened, with Deborah Mars serving two terms as president of the board, the once-close connection between them and Westbrook soured.
Deborah Mars took part in an effort by some board members to shuffle Westbrook into retirement, a push that sparked a vigorous push-back from other board members.
Westbrook survived, but, in the aftermath of the struggle, Deborah Mars quit the board and, more ominously for the fort, she and her husband cut off the cash flow.
"Dear Nick," begins a Feb. 17 e-mail from Forrest Mars to Westbrook, "The ride is over. Deb and I are out for good."
Forrest Mars' goodbye e-mail, which was leaked to The Post-Star, was sent to Westbrook and copied to leaders of the museum's board of trustees -- Anthony D. Pell, Edward Pell, Terry Beaty, Calvin Staudt and Alexandra Pell Kuhel.
All five trustees have, over the last month, either refused to comment on the internal turmoil at the fort or not returned repeated telephone messages left for them at work and at home.
Some people close to the fort -- board members, volunteers, community leaders and former employees -- have expressed chagrin at its problems, but they are reluctant to make things worse by criticizing.
Others have talked more openly, but refused to be quoted.
All have expressed reverence for the fort's unique place in American history and hope that it will flourish in the future.
But the fort is saddled with long-term infrastructure problems, such as the bulging and crumbling of the reconstructed stone walls and the decaying of The Pavilion, a historic lakeside house on the museum's grounds.
With the fort also experiencing a decline in attendance, its future currently looks as precarious as that of the French forces in 1758.
Two sides to story
Forrest Mars' e-mail sets out a litany of complaints about Westbrook's performance as the museum's executive director.
Mars said Westbrook failed to communicate regularly with him and Deborah, even though she was the board president, and they were the fort's largest benefactors and had done personal favors for Westbrook, such as help "pay to send your son to Northwood," a prep school in Lake Placid.
"We will not be attending any more meetings, the ball, or the opening of the center," the e-mail states. "It follows of course that we will not be writing any further checks, so you will not be able to make the nasty comments about Mars Money which have come back as you could predict."
Westbrook refused to address any of the specific complaints in Mars' e-mail, but he did contradict some of the statements generally.
"My wife and I consider Deb and Forrest very good friends," he said. "That hasn't changed one bit."
It was difficult for Deborah Mars to keep up with the demands of being board president from her home in Wyoming, Westbrook said.
"She brought a great deal to the table as our fearless leader," he said. "Typically, our presidents during my tenure have physically been able to be here maybe three times a month. When you're coming from Wyoming, that's a pretty difficult level to keep up with. ... It was pretty darned hard for her."
As for the future of the Marses' patronage, Westbrook said, "Who knows what anybody's benefactions will be?"
But he was expecting them to be at the opening of the Deborah Clarke Mars center on Sunday, Westbrook said.
"I cannot imagine them not being there, after pouring their hearts and souls into it," he said.
A May 19 e-mail from Forrest Mars, responding to several questions sent to him by The Post-Star, says the couple will be unavailable during the opening of the center named for Deborah Mars.
"We are at sea during the dates for the opening of the center -- Bermuda to Halifax," he wrote.
Mars also addressed the couple's future connection to the museum: "I do not know if Deborah would entertain returning to the board, but I do not believe they would have her, and I do not know if she would accept. I was not a board member, only a volunteer, so I do not expect to be asked again to fill that role."
Missing the money
After Deborah Mars' departure from the board, Peter Paine, a longtime trustee of the museum, took over as president.
Paine is a lawyer and the president of Champlain National Bank in Willsboro. He has been active in Adirondack environmental and civic causes for decades.
Paine acknowledged that the abrupt departure of the Marses from the ambitious project they led has left the fort in difficult financial circumstances.
"Yes, the fort is facing some financial constraints," he said, "in part as a result of the departure of Marses, particularly the timing of it. We're looking at a series of things we could do to get the institute back to health."
A recent memo from Paine to the fort's trustees puts the situation more starkly.
The fort, the memo says, was left with $2.5 million in unpaid bills on the Mars Education Center.
"In oversimplified terms, the fort is running through its available endowment funds to pay the MEC bills and, in the absence of a MAJOR infusion of funds, the fort will be essentially broke by the end of 2008," the memo says.
The memo also lays out the agenda for the board of trustees meeting on Monday and mentions seven strategies for financial survival, as follows:
- short-term financing to create negotiating room;
- new capital campaign for $3-5 million;
- bail-out grant from state;
- takeover by state or federal government;
- IDA financing for about $3-5 million;
- sell assets (land: Fernette Farm; major objects: Cole painting; Polk, et al., paintings); and/or
- close in 2009.
But Paine had earlier discounted that last option.
"I'm really optimistic we'll come through all of this," he said. "I think the fort will survive."
Check out another article on this topic here from Yahoo News.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Upcoming this weekend we have an event at Fort Ticonderoga. We did this event last year, and it was a lot of fun, even with the torrential downpour on Sunday. You can visit their website here:
And you can find a little more information about the event here:
If you are in the area, please come out and support the Fort, there has been some rumblings of hard times financially with the Fort and we want to try and do all we can to keep this important Fort open!
As always if you do come and visit, be sure to stop by the 1st New Hampshire dining fly, we would love to meet you!