Up, Down, and All Around

The first time I climbed the Traveler’s Tower I was in second grade. My memory of the field trip does not actually include the observation deck, however. I remember scratching my wristwatch on a street-level wall. And I believe one of the other classes got ice cream later on at Elizabeth Park (they had the cool teacher). The funny thing is that now, over 29 years later, I’m realizing that the way I remember the watch scratching incident, it couldn’t have happened. I wear my watch on my left wrist, and as I remember the wall, it was on the right.

Yesterday I inadvertently left my current watch at home, and it was more of a hot beverage day than cold ice cream. However, I found out the tower was going to be open for tours, and was intent on being in line when they started.

The tower was open as part of downtown Hartford’s EnvisionFest. I had some fun getting there. As I biked along Capitol Ave., a well intentioned pedestrian I encountered at the intersection with Laurel St. informed me I wanted to turn right, not continue straight. As the light turned green, I tried to quickly explain that I was not riding the Discover Hartford route. I’m not sure he understood.

I locked up my bike and walked toward Travelers. After circling the block and not finding anything indicating where the tours would begin, I decided to ask at an information booth. One girl tried to tell me the Travelers building was in the direction of Bushnell Park. She did not believe me when I pointed directly at it and basically told her she was wrong. My cycling attire (helmet and fluorescent jacket) caused some confusion as well. A guy at the same booth suggested I wanted to be in Bushnell Park because that’s where the bicycling was taking place. I had a very hard time convincing him the tower tour had nothing to do with bicycles.

Eventually I found the entrance (which had not been open when I first passed by and was not the one they had originally intended to use) and was in the first group to ascend 24 flights in the elevator and 70 additional steps (someone asked, I didn’t count). Despite the clouds, it was still a great view.

View of Hartford, North, from the Traveler’s Tower

When the leaves are off the trees in the winter, I can see the light at the top of the tower (an additional 147 steps up) from my back window. My house is somewhere in this direction:

View of Hartford, West, from the Traveler’s Tower

If you have ever wondered just how much of Hartford is covered with highway and pavement, this view to the South should answer that question.

View of Hartford, South, from the Traveler’s Tower

To the East is the Connecticut Science Center and more highway.

View of Hartford, East, from the Traveler’s Tower

While I was admiring the view, I kept thinking about a blog entry I wrote for work a little over a year ago, about the Hartford Public Library’s Caroline Hewins taking students to see the view from the Travelers building. Coincidentally, I left Travelers and immediately headed over to Hartford Public Library to work the multi-touch table, on display as part of EnvisionFest. The table is essentially an oversized iPad connected to a big screen tv. It is programmed with highlights of Hartford history, including the story of the Charter Oak, radio personality Bob Steele, actress Katharine Hepburn, scans of postcards and glass negatives.

During the morning my concentration had been on seeing Hartford from above. The most enjoyable moments of the afternoon, however, focused on what is below ground in Hartford. When selecting to view the glass negatives on the table, an 1898 map of the city displays along with thumbnails for three of the negatives in the collection. My favorite of the three is the stepping stone bridge in Bushnell Park:

Stepping Stone Bridge, Bushnell Park. Image property of the Hartford History Center, Hartford Public Library.

Many of the people with whom I spoke knew that the river now runs underground. But for those who were not aware, it was a great story to tell (you can read more about it in a New York Times article, a piece in the Hog River Journal, and listen to Catie Talarski’s recent trip through the conduit). Not only were these people surprised to learn about the river, they were equally astonished when I told them the library building now stands directly above a portion. The Whitehead Highway runs over the covered river. Creating a tunnel over the highway, is the Hartford Public Library.

I got to see the city from above in the morning, and teach with archives in the afternoon. How much better can a day get?


Bike-n-hike (or, A Really Mediocre Photoessay)

“Enjoy the freedom.” Since I left the CHS, I have found this to be the most popular thing people say to those without full time jobs. However, freedom needs to come with a rather large infusion of cash. So while I really wanted to head to Ikea today, I once again chose to go for a bike ride. Though this did nothing to increase the shelf space in my apartment, it did get me to a state park I’d never been to.

You can’t work for four years in the playroom-turned-ballroom of Curtis Veeder‘s mansion without gaining an appreciation for the guy. And having gone three weeks without my daily fix of Veeder engineering, it seemed like the perfect time to visit his property atop Simsbury Mountain.

Entrance to the trails (click to enlarge)

My plan was to take a slow, leisurely ride to the park, hike the trails, enjoy my sandwich with a view, and eventually head back home. The ride there was in fact slow and leisurely. It seems, though, that the state park donated by the inventor of the cyclometer does not have a bike rack or any decent bicycle parking (I was on my hybrid, which has actually lacked a cyclometer for the past few years). This immediately brought the hiking to a minimum. The road around the property is passable by bike (some of it is closed to cars), so I continued my journey on wheels.

I have to say, I was not impressed. There were no maps available at the entrance, but I knew I could, and did, download one from the DE(E)P‘s website. Thank goodness for smartphones. I still was only marginally sure of where I was, most of the time. I made it to Lake Louise, but decided not to eat my lunch there because while it was pretty, I wanted the view. Especially with a bicycle, the view was a little difficult to attain. There is an easier way and a hard way, and I inadvertently took the hard way. This involved a .3 mile hike on the yellow path. Finally I was there.

View from Cedar Ridge Overlook

So were a couple of 20-somethings, smoking a substance I am too naive to recognize (thin cigars?). Whatever it was, I was regretting passing up the picnic tables down at Lake Louise. I also only got photos from the sides of the ridge, because the two were sitting right in the prime spot.

Another view from Cedar Ridge Overlook

Disappointed and hungry, I found the easier path back down to the road, and ended up eating my sandwich back at the Veeder Rock. On a positive note, I had planned the bike ride rather well, and the journey home was almost entirely downhill. When I got home and re-read my friend Steve’s post about Penwood, I realized I had also managed to miss all the good stuff – building ruins and such. I think I may have to go back someday soon; approaching in vehicle.

Same as the first view from Cedar Ridge, but with the zoom

The Hidden Plot

One woman, one bicycle, and a search for dead relatives.

I am not a genealogist. I used to work with a woman who was fairly intent on finding a connection between herself and everyone else in the building. That is a bit intense. I believe it is good to have some knowledge of family history, but grandparents, great-grandparents, and a layer of cousins or two is good enough for me. However, combine anything with bicycling and exploring Hartford’s history, and I’m game.

Garden Street Synagogue. Jacob Richman was a founding member of the congregation.

Regular readers of this blog (*chuckle*) will recall a post from earlier this summer in which I discussed my great-grandfather, Jacob M. Richman. Recently, a cousin found that post. On Friday evening I had a phone conversation with him, during which he told me about the work he is doing on our family tree. He asked me what I knew about when Jacob came to Hartford, and if we have any idea when he actually came to the country. None of this information is easy to find. When the cousin sent me the link to the information he has gathered, I admit, I was hooked.

The timing was really perfect. I need things to focus on in between sending out job applications. If I had called the cousin when he originally contacted me, I would have had all the resources of the CHS at my disposal. Alas, having waited a couple weeks, I had to sign up for the free two week trial of Ancestry.com. After reviewing much of the information on the tree, I decided it was time I did some exploring.

I have visited my maternal grandparents grave many times; it is quite nearby. Never, though, had I seen the graves of my their parents. Locations in hand, helmet on my head, and camera in my pocket, I set out for the cemeteries.

Hartford’s first cemetery, now known as the Ancient Burial Ground, has always been in the heart of the city. As the years went by, the residents of the city came to the conclusion that living so close to death and disease might not be the best policy, not to mention the cemetery was filling up. For their next burial ground, the residents went north, starting Old North Cemetery. Later, Hartford’s first Victorian era cemetery, Spring Grove, would be put into place a few blocks away.

United Synagogues Cemetery, F. D. Oates Ave., Hartford

The Jewish cemetery where Jacob and Hannah Richman are buried is adjacent to Spring Grove. It is one cemetery, occupied by three Jewish organizations, one of which is now known as the United Synagogues of Greater Hartford.

From what I had found on Ancestry, I knew Jacob’s grave was “X53.” Unlike some cemeteries that label their sections, the only markings visible were on the stones themselves. I had no idea where to start. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I started at Row A. It took a while to get to Row X, but eventually I did. Walking up and down each row, I found a few other cousins as well. There was plenty of room between rows for me to walk with my bike. In most cases, there is so little space between headstones, everyone underground must be pretty cozy.

Jacob and Hannah Richman

Next I rode south to Zion Hill Cemetery. I have passed Zion Hill countless times. I couldn’t get to my graduate courses at Trinity College without going by. Yet, I had never been in there. Part of the reason for this is the surrounding fences and gates do not make it appear very welcoming. I entered through the first open gate I found, only to realize later that there were many open gates, and a main entrance.

Zion Hill was too large to employ the start-at-row-A method. Luckily as I rode around, I was able to find the portion of the cemetery occupied by the Hartford Workmen’s Sick Benevolent Association. Even more

Workmen’s Sick Benevolent Association Cemetery, Zion Hill, Hartford

fortunate was that Morris and Paulina Scharr were in the first row I walked down. Since they were “G32” and “G31,” respectively, I then knew which direction to head to find their daughter and her husband, Bessie Scharr and Jacob Zwillinger.

Even though this morning I had found an obituary for another daughter of Morris and Paulina, Ida Scharr Zwillinger, I had somehow missed the fact that she is buried next to her parents. I was glad her headstone caught my eye as I was heading back out of the cemetery (it seems that Bessie Scharr’s first husband died, and following Ida’s death, Bessie married Jacob Zwillinger; it cuts down on the relatives at Thanksgiving).

Jacob and Bessie Scharr Zwillinger
Ida Scharr Zwillinger and her parents, Morris and Paulina Scharr.

Within two hours I had biked through the city, located the markers for several relatives, and visited two Hartford cemeteries I’d never explored before. It was a great way to spend a crisp, late summer/early fall day. Overall, finding the cemetery plots was fairly easy. Some of the roads were a little sketchy, but being on the bike reinforced to me how close these memorials have been to me. I love living in a place that I know so well, yet there is always someplace new to explore.

I was left with one unanswered question. Why did we give the dead people such a great view on the city?

View of the Hartford skyline from Zion Hill Cemetery.

A Couple Hours Downtown

The advantage to unemployment is finally having the time to visit museums and other cultural institutions that are generally only open when you are working. That is what I did today, parking my bicycle at the Wadsworth and walking the rest.

(Clicking on the first photo will then allow you to scroll through the rest of them.)

I made it through the first week of #funemployment2012. There was house cleaning, time in coffee shops, work on a continuing project, bicycling, and today I just relaxed and enjoyed the city.

My Time at CHS

September 2, 2008 was the beginning of my tenure as Project Archivist at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS). I interviewed early in August of that year. From the moment I walked into the late 1920s mansion in Hartford’s West End, with its dark wood interior and grand staircase, I wanted to work there. As I learned about the collections held in the archives, which mirrored my local history lessons in the Glastonbury Public Schools, I was convinced it would be a fabulous place for me to continue my archives career.

The project, funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC), was initially two years and renewed for another two. As with all jobs, it was not completely perfect all of the time, but it was a great experience. Our goal (myself and CHS Archivist Barbara Austen) during the first two years was to create online catalog records for 900 manuscripts and account books. We surpassed 2000 records. During the second two years, we succeeded in adding over 3000 more.

Some of the records, particularly the seemingly unending supply of anonymous farmers account books, were nothing short of boring to complete. I tried to be as creative as I could in each of my entries. However, there are only so many ways of saying that a farmer, whose name and location are unknown, sold beef and corn.

Other records were an adventure. The CHS staff and I were, till the very end, laughing over the Stonington Selectmen’s records. Each and every piece of paper in the collection had been folded and bundled together with string. I assume some of the debris I encountered was mouse droppings. Creatures had snacked on the records during storage in a barn or garage. All of it was covered in a layer of black dust. With help, I eventually managed to unfold all of it, give it some semblance of organization, and create the record.

At my farewell gathering on Thursday evening, someone asked what my favorite find was. With so many records created, it is really hard to say. Many of the collections that I found exciting, I was able to write about on the manuscripts blog.

Per the details of the grant, I was only supposed to catalog. But as a still-new-archivist, I knew it would be detrimental to my career if I merely sat and stared at OCLC Connexion for two years at a time. So between farmers account books, I sat at the reference desk. I served on the Web Task Force (for which we avoided using an acronym), the Digital Asset Management committee (for which we enjoyed using the acronym) and the Toilet Renovation committee (no acronym). I brought CHS into the social media era by creating and maintaining Facebook and Twitter accounts. As part of the final project for my Masters degree at Trinity College, I updated the finding aid files, and encoded finding aids previously only in Word documents, to be added to the new CHS website. When we implemented a new library catalog, Barbara and I discussed the structure of the new database and I customized the front end view.

I made friends, too.

From the beginning I knew there was a slim chance they would be able to create a permanent position for me after the grant ended. Nonetheless, I held out hope until mid-June. At that point a schedule was distributed. I was on it for July and August, but not September. I knew then that my half-hearted job search over the previous six months needed to become full-hearted. The economy isn’t great right now, and for archivists it really isn’t great. There are opportunities, though, and I am doing my best to find one that will match my needs.

And so, on August 31, 2012, I handed in my keys and bicycled away from the CHS for the last time as Project Archivist. I am proud of the work I accomplished and the information I have made available to the public. I am grateful for four years of indoor bicycle parking (and some ski parking). But leaving is hard. Very, very, hard. As others who have gone through this know, it is difficult to have done so much, and to just walk away from it.

While some people tell me this is the beginning of my next great adventure, I find myself still reflecting on the end of four, professionally full, years. If I can do so with humor, I will try to write about my unemployment trials and tribulations. First, though, I need to re-orient myself. The first step will be turning off the alarm clock.