Back in July 7, 2009, I added an entry on this blog about Bletchley Park, a super-secret World War II cryptograohic center in England used by both British and American forces to decode intercepted Nazi communications. This was also in effect the birthplace of computers. NOW, November 1 2012, comes news of a startling new development.
David Martin, 74, of Surrey in England recently decided to restore a long-disused fireplace in his home. Upon clearing out the chimney he discovered the skeleton of a long-dead carrier pigeon complete with a message tube. Most likely enroute from German-occupied Europe to Bletchley Park, it carried a coded message. The bird probably stopped to rest after the long cross-channel flight, became overcome by fumes from the chimney, died, and fell in. The message is now at Bletchley being decoded. What will it say? Is it still top secret? Stay tuned.
Carrier pigeons have long been used by military forces to carry messages, and can reach speeds of 80 mph on distances of up to 700 miles. The RAF trained about a quarter-million such birds during World War II. They were dropped into Nazi territory using mini parachutes. Our intelligence agents on the ground then inserted messages into their red tubes and sent them back to England on their own wings.
Visiting London? Learn much more about Bletchley Park and many other intrguing places nearby by checking out my new app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch: London Travel: a Guide to Great Day Trips. It's full of current, up-to-date information, special maps, day trips, walking tours, offbeat destinations, and much, much more.
Yesterday, May 4, 2012, I attended the opening of a new exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. "Avedon Murals & Portraits" drew an enormous crowd, with a waiting line extending down West 21st St. Fortunately, I got there early and didn't have to wait. Since the gallery is located practically underneath New York's great High Line elevated park, I decided to arrive by strolling along it from 14th Street, and along the way I encountered this billboard announcing the event:
The show was a massive display of oversized murals in four galleries, depicting Andy Warhol and The Factory, the Chicago Seven, the Mission Council, and Allen Ginsberg's family, plus many related items of smaller size:
There's more on this blog about Avedon. CLICK HERE.
The other day a friend and I became ravenously hungry for a really good Rueben sandwich, a treat that is difficult to find here in the Philadelphia suburbs. Okay, you can get a good one locally, but not a really, really, superlatively good one. One that just oozes Russian dressing, melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and plenty of sliced corned beef — all between freshly baked rye bread.
So we headed over to New York City, to its Lower East Side, and thence to Katz’s Deli on East Houston Street. Long a favorite of both New Yorkers and in-the-know visitors, Katz’s has been at that location since 1888 and is widely considered to be among the city’s best sandwich joints. A visit there is a real experience, one that is quite rare in this age of chain eateries whose only interest is the bottom line.
Not that Katz’s is especially cheap. It isn’t. Nor is it fancy or even comfortable. Upon entering the premises you are handed a ticket, which you present at each food station as you assemble your meal. On this is kept a running total, which you present to the cashier on the way out, making payment there.
During World War II Katz’s advertised with the phrase “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army,” a tradition they still honor with free shipping to overseas U.S. military addresses including Iraq and Afghanistan. Another catch phrase from the 1950s became part of a popular Tom Lehrer song with the words “Remember Mommy, I’m off to get a Commie, so send me a salami, and try to smile somehow.”
Well, we didn't get a commie, but we did smile after sharing that delicious Reuben (way too big for one person!) and washing it down with two large beers.
Oh, happy day! The first copy of my new guidebook just arrived from the printer, and it's all I hoped for. The operative word in the title — and what distinguishes it from my earlier books about England — is "From." This time I've eliminated the walking tours inside London in order to make space for new discoveries within daytrip range of the city. These include a preserved 19th-century canal village where you can ride a canal boat, take a waterside walk, visit the National Waterways Museum, or just watch the activities from a canalside café. Another is to a highly secret World War II military intelligence center where the Nazi codes were cracked and early computers developed. A third features a secluded 14th-century moated manor house, Winston Churchill's country estate, and one of the greatest of England's stately homes, along with the optional opportunity for real country walks. Then there's that Thameside village just west of London long favored by leading artists, and where the Keeper of the Royal Swans pursues his strange and uniquely British ceremonial duties.
My very first "Little Adventure" happened a long, long time before I even thought of starting this blog. In 1936, to be exact. I was all of two years old and already wanting to see the world. That summer my parents took me along to a summer camp, probably run by a church group, at Peck’s Pond in Pike County near the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. This “pond” is actually a fair-sized lake, created in 1906 by damming up Bushkill Creek in the heart of the Pocono Mountains, right off Route 402. One night, while they were fast asleep, I decided to go looking for bears. Cute little bears. Sneaking out of the cabin, I wandered by moonlight into the woods alone. Fortunately, no bear had me for a midnight snack. I wouldn't have tasted very good anyway, as I was a skinny little brat.
My parents soon realized I was gone, and sounded the alarm. Moments later the entire camp went looking for me, and found me down by the water’s edge. After that they never left me out of their sight.
By the age of four I became fascinated by motor vehicles, as most boys at that time were. So I took “driving lessons” on an old abandoned truck at the farm of my mother’s Uncle Sam (photo, above). Somehow the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania did not deem this sufficient for a driver’s license, so I had to wait another twelve years.
In the meantime I yearned to fly, so in 1939 my dad took me on a sightseeing flight from the local airport, Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton (ABE) (Now Lehigh Valley International, LVI). The aircraft used was already ancient, dating from 1927. It was a Ford Trimotor, commonly known as the “Tin Goose” because it used all-metal construction, and had wicker seats for the 8 passengers. We circled the Allentown area at a low-enough altitude so all could see the sights, such as they were. (photo above).
Another event in 1939 that could qualify as an “adventure,” at least to a impressionable five-year-old boy, was the fabulous New York World’s Fair, an international extravaganza celebrating the transition of the World of Today into the futuristic World of Tomorrow. My dad took me there, mostly because he wanted to see it himself. We rode a Lehigh Valley Railroad steam train from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to Penn Station in New York City, stopping at Newark to change to an electric locomotive. Once there, it was the subway to Flushing Meadows in Queens. The most memorable sight was the Trylon and Perisphere (stamp picture, left) , but to me the best were the roller coaster rides in the amusement area.
As World War II progressed I became ever more fascinated with aviation. For Christmas 1944 Santa brought me a toy cockpit made of cardboard, complete with working pedals, and a wheel on a movable stick. The instruction book showed me how to take off, bank and turn, level off, and land. Then, our primary school held a contest to see which kid could sell the most war bonds, a government plan for financing the conflict. The first prize was a flying lesson with the Civil Air Patrol. Since my dad sympathized with my desires and considered these bonds to be a good investment, he bought a bunch from me, and I won. The war was not yet over when the day of my lesson arrived. We took a bus out to ABE Airport and I climbed into the front seat of a 1937 Piper T3 trainer (photo, right), commonly called a “Piper Cub.” The instructor sat in the seat behind me, with another set of controls. He, of course, did the takeoff and landing, but once at altitude he let me take over for a few minutes. What a thrill as I flew low over our neighborhood!
Thank you, Dad. Thank you for everything.
So those were my earliest real adventures, which prepared me for many more in later years. Some of these now fill the entries on this blog.
Glamour Daze, a well-designed website of vintage fashion and beauty, has just posted a full page about my beginnings with Avedon. There are five photos of me, and two of Dick, all circa 1953. To visit CLICK HERE.
Two days after the Ninth Anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, a friend and I traveled to New York to see how reconstruction of the World Trade Center is coming along.
We began by driving from the Philadelphia suburbs to Hamilton, N.J., from where we got a Jersey Transit train to New York's Penn Station — riding upstairs for a good view. Since we both qualify for Senior fares, this was a very inexpensive journey.
Here comes the train!
Then a quick subway ride to Lower Manhattan.
CLICK ON MAP TO MAKE IT MUCH LARGER From the subway exit it's only a few steps to the best place to see what's going on, the churchyard of Saint Paul's Chapel. Built in 1766, this is the oldest public building in continuous use in Manhattan. Flanked by a picturesque graveyard, it was modeled after London's Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Inside is the pew from which George Washington worshiped just after becoming our first president, and the wonderful altar attributed to Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the man who basically designed Washington, D.C. Above the pulpit is the symbol of the Prince of Wales, testimony to the fact that this was a royal church back in Colonial days. Inside also are memorials to 9/11 documenting the role that the church played in the recovery, and the support it gave to the rescue workers. The Bell of Hope, outside in the graveyard, is a recent addition, a gift from London, rung every September 11.
The Bell of Hope, St. Paul's graveyard, and Ground Zero in the background.
Visitors can't get any closer than this. The two buildings on the left are part of the World Financial Center, which survived the attack, as did the buildings to the right. The structure topped by two cranes is the rapidly growing 1 World Trade Center, also called the Freedom Tower, scheduled for completion in 2013. With its mast, it will top out at 1,776 feet, a figure of great historical significance.
Nearby, a Memorial Wall(photo, right) erected in 2006 honors the ultimate sacrifices made by heroic New York City Firemen who perished on 9/11 while helping others to survive.
Strolling around, we came across other views of the various buildings under construction and of the workers erecting them, although we could not really get close enough for a good view. The photo below is about the best I could do using my tiny pocket-size digital camera. After this we repaired to a nearby Irish pub for lunch and a Guinness Stout. This was certainly most welcome as neither of us had eaten since early morning back in Pennsylvania, and it was now in the middle of the afternoon.
Getting here from Penn Station is quite easy, just a matter of taking the clean, modern Eighth Avenue E Train to the WTC station at the end of the line.
Here's another photo:
Lastly, we walked north a few blocks to 45-51 Park Place, the highly controversial proposed site of a new Muslim-American Community Center. Since this, if built, will contain a prayer room, it is being referred to as a mosque. There is a substantial Muslim population among the bankers, traders, and other businessmen here in the Financial District, and the existing mosque is simply not large enough for their growing numbers.
That's it above. As you can see, there were precious few protesters there and only a small police presence. The guy to the right of the small tree was showing his rather badly executed painting of a Trojan Horse, while to the left of that a hand-drawn sign listed reasons why not all Muslims are terrorists and in fact most are good citizens.
Not long ago, in 2008, the Borough of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, opened a new park. Now, Lansdale was already awash in parks, but this one is special in that it has a magnificent nature trail meandering through dense woodland. Stony Creek Park, as it is called, is a real treat in such a highly urbanized area. It is, in my opinion, the nearest thing to Heaven that you'll find in Lansdale.
Click on map to enlarge. Numbers on the map correspond to numbers in the text.
The Nature Trail: A good appreciation of this amenity begins with a stroll of about a mile, level all the way. Starting at the parking lot (1) it follows a paved trail parallel to Hancock Street past a large pond (2) with a fountain and a statue (below) of three children fishing. The pond’s perimeter features native vegetation, various little wildlife, and geese.
As the trail curves to the right, leave it and follow the sidewalk on Hancock Street to the Nature Trail entrance (3). If it’s a hot day you’ll immediately notice welcome relief under a golden canopy of moist leaves. I’ve walked here even in 95º weather and remained comfortable. The dense foliage, at times radiating in arboreal splendor, is especially nice on a sunny day during the Fall Foliage season.
A perfect musical accompaniment to this walk, if you happen to be carrying an audio device, is Forest Murmurs from Wagner's opera Siegfried. Another good choice would be Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.
You’ll soon pass over an elevated wooden walkway protecting your feet from a short patch of soggy ground, then a wooden bench beside the crushed-stone trail. Turn left at the intersection (4), where there is another bench, and continue over another elevated walkway. The trail meanders around quite a bit through the Woodland area, then turns right to a second intersection (5).
Whoever designed this trail clearly understood the visual impact of the S-curve, a basic concept in both painting and photography. This place is full of them.
A left turn here leads out of the woods and onto a gravel road with an overhead power line. Just across this, mostly buried in the overgrowth, is an abandoned rail line (6) (photo, right) that was once a freight spur to long-since-vanished factories. To the right, just beyond the end of the gravel road, a nearly hidden path leads back into the woods. There are small clearings there where, I imagine, kids can go to hide and play. I know that we would have, way back when we were all of eight years old. This is exactly the kind of place where we built our “forts.”
While again exploring that hidden path today (Sept. 7, 2010) I noticed a large lean-to in the clearing, recently made of fallen branches. Some adventurous kids must have been building their "fort," just as we did 70 years ago! Hooray for them!
The active rail line just ahead now carries freight only, but prior to 1951 was the route of the Liberty Bell Limited, an interurban trolley car that ran from Allentown to Philadelphia.
Return to the intersection (5) and turn left. After curving around quite a bit among mature trees and dense forest, the trail enters its Wetlands stage. At this point it becomes an elevated wooden walkway (photo, above) for quite a distance, wandering around above tiny rivulets that come to life after a heavy rain.
Back on dry land, you’ll notice several small clearings between the tall, old trees. This scene just cries out for a gingerbread house, complete with Hänsel und Gretel and the Wicked Witch of Grimm’s fairy tale and Humperdinck’s opera.
After the second sharp bend to the right following the wooden walkway a well-defined path leads off to the left and deep into the woods. The earth here is quite eroded from heavy rains, with a great many tree roots exposed. Again, this is a great place for kids to hide.
Turn left at the next intersection (7) and enter the treeless Meadows section of the trail. Here you can walk in the sun, soaking up Vitamin D to strengthen your bones. There’s both a bench and an explanatory sign along the way, but keep an eye out for bees!
Here the Nature Trail ends as you step into the park proper.
An overview of the entire park can be enjoyed from the top of a small rise (8), reached by a curving path to the right. After the exhausting 14-foot climb to the top you’ll be happy to see a bench, and for the curious a binocular gadget mounted on a pole.
Click on panoramic photo to make it really, really big
Below this is an enclosed playground (9) for very young kids, with all sorts of safe activities in a naturalistic environment sure to engage children’s vivid imaginations.
The Pavilion (10) (photo, above) is a nice, shady place for an alfresco lunch, with both sheltered and open picnic benches provided along with two grills. It may be reserved for private affairs by contacting the Parks Department (link below), but most of the time is open to the general public. There is a convenient drinking fountain just outside the structure.
Finally, a most unusual and enlightening feature. The Labyrinth (11) reflects both the spiritual and philosophical aspects of medieval thought. The original design dates to around 400 BC and became widely used during the Middle Ages. Symbolically, it represents a single path to a deity in a clearly defined center reached from only one entrance, often thought of as birth. As well as spiritual salvation, that center goal can also be enlightenment. Meandering along the twists and turns causes a loss of direction and a sense of the outer world, thus quieting the mind. Or so they say.
Here’s a satellite view (above) of the Stony Creek Labyrinth. See if you can follow the route to the rock in its center. It’s tricky. And here's a view from inside the labyrinth (below).
One day while walking along the Woodland section of the trail I saw a deer — a fawn, really — standing in the path watching me. As I resumed walking it scampered off into the woods. Encounters like this enhance the experience of being in a natural environment, yet so close to busy urban life. Other wildlife includes rabbits, squirrels, and of course mosquitoes. For the latter it is wise to use a spray deterrent before setting out. Lastly, I once got stung by a bee in the neck, back in the Meadows area next to the sign explaining how bees pollinate the plant life.
A Plea to the Powers-That-Be:
Please leave the Nature Trail as it is. Don’t make it pretty. Remove only the fallen trees that actually cross the trail. Let Mother Nature do Her own thing. And please replace the missing shrubs in the labyrinth. That is all. Thank you.
Hancock Street is only two lanes wide and is extremely busy in both directions during rush hours. Exiting the park, those making a left turn may have a long wait for a break in traffic. It may be easier to make a right turn, then a left at Church Road.
Pending construction of proper restroom facilities there is a porta-potty outhouse in the parking lot.
Be sure to use bug spray if you’re walking on the Nature Trail during summer. Mosquitoes abound.
There are two free dispensers of plastic dog waste bags, one by the parking lot and the other at the Hancock Street trail entrance.
How the Park Came To Be:
Stony Creek Park is part of the proposed Liberty Bell Trail, a string of parks and trails following the route taken by America’s Liberty Bell in 1777 as it was spirited off to a safe hiding place in Allentown during the Revolutionary War. Only a few of these parks have opened as yet, but more are on the way. It also closely follows the route of the former Liberty Bell Limited, an interurban trolley car that connected Allentown with Philadelphia from around 1900 until 1951. As a child, I used to ride this back in the 1930s and '40s. Starting from a depot at 8th and Hamilton streets in Allentown, it crossed a long bridge over the Little Lehigh, then followed old route 309 (now 145) across South Mountain and down into Quakertown, Sellersville, Telford, Souderton, Hatfield, Lansdale (where it stopped across the street from the present SEPTA train station), West Point, East Norriton, Norristown, and down into Philadelphia.
A Living Blog:
My plan is to keep this blog alive with frequent updates and fresh observations as the seasons change and in all kinds of weather — always, of course, with new photos. The latest entries are at the bottom, just before Local Links.So keep coming back by noting this direct link:
These images are/will be copyrighted and available for use by others only with my permission. Non-commercial use will be free as long as attribution or a link to this blog is made; commercial use may require a fee. Nearly all of the photos are/will be available from me in high definition jpeg files suitable for reproduction.
Here's the lean-to I mentioned above.
Thurs., Sept. 9, 2010, 10:15 am. This morning there were "working on the railroad" sounds coming from the freight line west of the park. I followed these around to the abandoned rail line (6) and turned right. Up there a CSX crew was busy servicing their line with a strange device mounted on a truck that ran on both rails and roads. Returning to the intersection (5) I was startled when what I swear was a coyote (or maybe a fox) darted out from the woods, crossed the trail, and dashed into the dense underbrush to the east.
Fri., Sept. 24, 2010, 1:15 pm. Today I revisited the rock in the center of the magical Labyrinth. To some this represents God, to others Wisdom. To most, however, it's just a rock.
Another thought came to me on the trail. Why not occasionally leave the "beaten path" and just go off into the woods to really commune with nature, maybe becoming more one with the Universe. I tried it, and it works.
Here's what the "Wetlands" part of the trail looked like on this, the day following the Autumnal Equinox:
Here'a a bend in the trail near position 5 on the map, in Autumn:
Click on it to enlarge.
Friday, Oct. 1, 2010, 10:30 a.m. Rain, glorious rain. After months of semi-drought came the downpour. From early yesterday morning until noon today something like 6 to 8 inches fell. Naturally, I had to rush out to see what the "Wetlands" part of the trail looked like. Along the way I had to climb over a fallen branch and wade through a shallow-but-wide puddle at the same spot where two days earlier I had seen a deer crossing the trail. Below is a little bit of it, looking down from the elevated walkway:
Finally, the "Wetlands" is wet! And by the next morning the fallen branches and puddles were gone. Good work, guys!
Tues., Oct 5, 2010, 10:00 a.m. The rain continues, with the "Meadow" area impassable without walking through wide-but-shallow puddles. So I got my feet wet. The elevated walkway through the "Wetlands" area carries walkers above roaring streams of water, a welcome change after a summer of baked, cracked earth. The "Woodlands" is, well, just dripping wet but easy to negotiate. I saw a fawn, leaping like a gazelle across the trail and gracefully bounding off into the woods. Others have seen as many a three young or female deer at a time, but never a buck. Wonder where he hides?
Thursday, Oct 14, 2010, 3:00 p.m. More and more rain. This time I wandered through with my camera, determined to make it look as wet as it actually was. The photo above is of the "Wetland" sign, the elevated trail, and a flowing rivulet. Yesterday I got a fleeting glimpse of a strange animal as it dashed across the trail. It was solid black, looking like a very large cat, but with a huge, bushy tail. Wonder what that was?
Below is a new picture of the pond, taken the other day:
Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, 12:30 p.m.Vandalism! The first act of deliberate vandalism and unlawful behavior that I have ever witnessed at Stony Creek occurred today. Four or five guys in their late teens or early 20s jumped out of a Nissan car with New York plates beginning with the letters FEZ, knocked over the PortaPotty in the parking lot, and ran down the Meadows path, shoving people out of the way while screaming loudly in Spanish. They entered the woods making extremely loud noises and frightening walkers. Fearing a dangerous encounter, I left. If this is allowed to continue there will be no point in having this park.
Thurs., Oct. 28, 2010, 2 pm. Fall has finally done its thing, and all the leaves are down. The trail has a certain beauty in this starkness, as I hope I captured in the photo above. This shows the elevated portion in the "Wetlands" portion. Today the park crew was busy removing the fountain in the pond before the pipes freeze. They are also planning to drop the water level in the pond so that when winter comes it will be safe for skaters.
Sun., Nov. 21, 2010, 10 a.m.
All the leaves are down...and the skies are grey...and the woods are small...but they're still okay,
It's amazing how much smaller the park seems without leaves. Now you can clearly see houses, businesses, and even a hotel through the barren branches. Soon it will snow.
Wed., Dec. 8, 2010, 10 a.m.
Bitter cold, much rain, and heavy winds have made the trail impassable. Much of the "Meadows" area was thin ice with about an inch of water under it. Winds have apparently swept water from the pond into the "Woodland" and "Wetland" areas, eroding the trail and leaving a frozen mess. There was also a large fallen tree trunk laying across the trail. I quickly gave up and went home to dry out my feet. The entire trail area is as dreary as dreary can possibly be dreary. But soon it will snow, bringing new visual pleasure.
Saturday, January 1, 2011. It snowed last Sunday and Monday, and even though the temperature is in the high 40s right now, this much is still left.
Expanding This Blog:
Until now, Life's Little Adventures has focused on rather distant places and exotic happenings, covering periods of time from the mid-1930s until the near past. Now I plan to add more local material, some historical and some contemporary, with an emphasis on Eastern Pennsylvania, especially on Montgomery and Bucks counties. Stay tuned.