Sunday, March 26, 2017

Civil War Sunday Throwback - Historic Walls

This post was originally written in September of 2014.

Civil War Sunday - Historic Walls

The escaped slaves huddled in the cluttered basement.  It was cluttered intentionally, to give them places to hide if the basement was raided.

It was cold and damp, but they did not care.  They had suffered every day of their lives - forced to labor from an early age, with little opportunity to rest.  Some labored on plantations, in the hot, burning sun.  Some were house slaves, attending to their master's every whim.  Others were skilled craftsmen, who had to give some or all of their earnings over to their masters. Some knew extreme cruelty.  Others knew mainly neglect.   They all, however, had one thing in common:

They had the burning desire for FREEDOM.  It was the desire that made them risk everything.  If they were caught, death or cruel punishments awaited, so they only had this one chance.  Somehow, they all had met up with this guide, the guide that would take them north to a magical place called Canada, where men hired by their masters to hunt them down and bring them back could not pursue them.

And now they were in this basement, in a place called New York State, just a few days run from freedom.  It was so close!

The guide had brought them there, but they could only stay a night or two. Then they had to move on.

The house was owned by a white man.

Who was the white man who was sheltering them for the night?
It may have been the man who owned this house in Auburn, New York.  This house was owned by someone who may well have become the Republican candidate for President in 1860.  But Abraham Lincoln got that nomination instead, and the owner of this house became Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State during the Civil War.

He became a friend of former slave, Underground Railroad conductor and overall amazing woman  Harriet Tubman, whom I blogged about last Sunday.  In fact, for some years, they lived only a couple of miles apart, on South Street in Auburn, New York.
His name was William H. Seward. When I went to school, I learned of him only in connection with something he did in 1867.  His entire history before that date was a big unknown.

Photography is not permitted in the house or in the basement that was a stop on the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War, but I can show you the exterior and grounds of this house.

Ironically, Seward was the son of a New York slaveholder, growing up just north of New York City at a time before slavery was outlawed in New York State. As a child, one of his playmates was a slave owned by a neighbor, a black boy who escaped one day after a vicious beating due to a prior escape attempt.  As an older teen, he lived for a time in the Southern state of Georgia, and what he saw of slavery during his time there turned him totally against the "peculiar institution".

Seward risked a lot in sheltering slaves in the years prior to the Civil War, but he risked even more by being an anti-slavery Senator.  He lost the opportunity to run for President of the United States as he was so hated in the states that ended up seceding and forming the Confederate States of America.

(As for those slaves, did they succeed in reaching freedom? We will never know. But like many things in the Civil War, everything was complicated. White men enslaving blacks.  White men helping slaves to freedom....although few of those white men considered blacks as their human equals, and that must also be pointed out.)

Seward nearly lost his life on the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  The plotters, who included John Wilkes Booth (Lincoln's assassin), also targeted others in Lincoln's administration for death.  The man assigned to assassinate the Vice President lost his nerve. The man assigned to assassinate Seward, Lewis Paine, went to Seward's house, gained entrance by trickery, attacked Seward's son Frederick,  and seriously wounded Seward.

Seward survived. However,  Seward's wife died of a heart attack shortly afterwards.

After the Civil War ended, Seward remained Secretary of State under Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson.  In 1867, he purchased land in North America from the Russians, who had lost interest in that piece of land. Many people opposed that sale.  They called it Seward's Folly. But the sale went through. 

That land became, almost 100 years later, the State of Alaska.  You could say, though, that Seward had the last laugh when Alaska became our 49th state and proved its worth during the Cold War.

William Seward died in 1872 and is buried just a few blocks away from that house in Auburn.  His last words were "Love one another".

Look at that house.  It's a house that sheltered escaped slaves, was the home of a governor/senator/Secretary of State/ and saw a bloody assassination attempt turned back.  Kings and princes visited Seward there and dined with him, as did many famous people of the 1800's.

Their pictures line the walls of the house.  But you won't see any portraits of the slaves that sheltered in that cluttered basement.  I can wonder what happened to them, and their descendants.

It's a cliche to say "if only those walls could talk" - but, if only those upstate New York historic walls could talk, what would they say to us of the 21st century?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Local Saturday - April and Ava

Hundreds of thousands of us are captivated by a giraffe (still pregnant as I blog this) living in Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York.

But I am just as captivated by (as a famous journalist once based a long series of broadcasts on) "the rest of the story."

April the Giraffe lives about 30 minutes from where I live.  This park is owned by a man by the name of Jordan Patch, who you will see in this video along with zoologist Allysa and keeper Corey, and a bunch of tortoises. (why tortoises? You'll have to watch the video).

Last year, Jordan Patch and his wife Colleen welcomed the birth of their first daughter, Ava.  But this birth was not your usual birth.  Seven weeks before Colleen's due date, Colleen showed signs of premature labor, and a sonogram was done.  Soon after, doctors gave the couple dire news.

Their unborn baby had an arachnoid cyst — between the surface of the brain and the cranial base or on the arachnoid membrane, one of the three membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord.  The cyst was monitored by neurologists, but, two weeks before her due date, labor had to be induced due to the cyst's rapid growth.

After birth, and a number of health emergencies, a diagnosis emerged.

Ava has a condition called agenesis of the corpus callosum, further compounded by infantile spasms.  In layperson's terms, the two hemispheres of Ava's brain are not connected.  This condition probably stemmed from the existence of the cyst.

Doctors don't know Ava's prognosis.  The condition could result in nothing.  Or it could result in Ava being severely disabled.  She may never walk.  She may have severe physical or mental deficits.  The Patch family may not know the entire truth for several years.

The Patch family has not let that uncertainty stop them.  Already, they and Animal Adventure have held a fundraiser for another local family with a baby challenged by a serious condition called "Ava's Little Heroes".  They wanted to take the love their community showed them and "pay it forward".  There will be another fundraiser this summer.

Many watching April did not know about the behind the scenes drama of Ava Patch, the baby whose nursery is decorated in giraffe prints and who helps feed carrots to April and her mate, Oliver.


There will also be an online naming contest when the giraffe calf is born.  With each $1 contribution, you will get a vote, and the proceeds will go to some worthy causes, including an animal conservation foundation in Africa, maintaining the local giraffes at the park, and for "Ava's Little Heroes".

And mark your calendars for May 13, when Animal Adventure Park opens for its fifth season, and show your support of the Patch family, and animal conservation.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Skywatch Friday - Mares Tails

It was the first day of spring in upstate New York, and what did I see?

Clouds my husband (a weather "geek") calls "mares tails".  Quoting from Wikipedia:
"Cirrus uncinus is a type of cirrus cloud. The name cirrus uncinus is derived from Latin, meaning "curly hooks". Also known as mares' tails, these clouds are generally sparse in the sky and very thin."

In sailor's lore, these clouds mean "prepare for a storm".


On this first day of spring, nature was wondering what had happened.  After a mild February, we were covered in a record snowfall.  Afterwards, the temperature had risen and the snow was melting, but winter was getting ready to return.

The trees, already budded out earlier than normal, had no choice but to wait it out.


Be sure to visit other blogs participating in #Skywatch Friday, and see skies from all over the world.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Real Life Hero

On the day after the horrific terrorist attack in London, I feel compelled to look for an example of good in humanity.  It didn't take long to find one.

On last night's evening news, they did a feature on the oldest working nurse in the United States. 

Florence "SeeSee" Rigney has been working as a nurse for over 70 years. She started out as a student in 1946.  Now in her 90's (she will turn 92 in May), she has scaled down to working two days a week.  On her work days, she sometimes walks three miles, and can still set up an operating room with good speed.  She no longer works directly with patients.

She even makes coffee for the break room for her co-workers.

She wouldn't have it any other way.  Her zest for life is obvious.

What an inspiration, to make a career out of caring for other people and doing it for so long.  And, if you want to read even more stories of inspiration next month, tune into the Blogging from A to Z Challenge and the posts of a man in India who will be blogging about "real life heroes".

Do you have an inspiring story to share today?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spring Things - Presto Change-O

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, our area had between two and three feet of snow.

Monday, spring came (and my Wednesday feature transitions into Spring Things.)

Yesterday, after a weekend with some cool weather, it got up into the 50's F (about 11 C), and the snow really started to melt.  It was the first full day of spring, after all.

Today, winter is back, with howling winds, snow, and cold.  The wind chill is about 13 (-10.5).

My bulbs wait patiently for spring to truly begin.

They may look a bit wilted, but they will recover.

I, however, am less patient.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Giving Tree

I am a grown-up crybaby.

I cry at weddings.  I cry through movies.  Some children's books choked me up so much that I couldn't even read them to my then-young son.

Strange how, recently, the memory of gardening led to the memory of a book I was given to read sometimes to my then young son called The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. But I was never able to because the mere thought of that poem makes me cry.

This is a poem you either love or hate.  I think, in a way, that I both love and hate it.

I never understood that poem until I was a mother.

Now, there is a real Giving Tree in Oakland, California.

It still makes me cry.

What am I crying for?  Youth lost?  A son grown?  I really don't know.

Is there a book, a poem, or a movie that makes you cry?

Tree (not an apple tree) Binghamton, New York, October 2016

Monday, March 20, 2017

Traveling Through Time and Space the A to Z Way - #atoztheme reveal #atozchallenge

Picking my A to Z theme for 2017 was difficult, and I don't know why.

At first, I thought, "Oh, nostalgia."  For many of us, nostalgia is a fun pastime.  What would be hard about it?

When you get to a "certain age", your memories become a kind of museum.   A museum of historical events.  A museum of obsolete technology.  A museum of memories that sometimes mean so much to others younger than you.  But sometimes, those memories don't matter at all.


I've accumulated a lot of memories in 64 plus years of living, after all.

Recent memories.  Memories from long ago.  Some happy.  Some not so happy. Memories of travel.  Memories of everyday life.  Times of nostalgia.  All them, I hope, interesting.

But, we have to live in the present, too.

So, my theme for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge is:  Traveling Through Time and Space.  For most of the challenge, I will dust off some of my thousands of iPhone photos and travel once again to places I've been, and memories I've accumulated.  Other days, it will just be memories in writing.

I invite you to join me on my 30 day trip.