Tuesday, August 28, 2012

 

All about History

Fritz gave me a wonderful little book for Christmas that's full of fun facts about European royalty, listed chronologically from AD800 to the present.  And by fun, I mean really around the bend in some cases.  So I thought that for a while, I'll open each post with an example or two of the more colorful high jinks of those who used to rule as absolute monarchs on the basis that they'd been put on their thrones directly by god.

-------------------From Timeline of Kings & Queens from Charlemagne to Elizabeth II by Gordon Kerr -----------------------

AD885  Byzantine Empire: Emperor Basil I dies in a hunting accident; his belt is caught in the antlers of a deer and he is dragged 16 miles.

AD 897  Rome: The remains of Pope Formosus are exhumed and put on trial in the notorious trial known as the Cadaver Synod -- he is found to have been unworthy of the pontificate; Pope Stephen VI is imprisoned and strangled following the Cadaver Trial; Romanus is elected pope but is deposed`three months later; Theodore II is elected pope.
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The book I just finished, Londinium: London in the Roman Empire, is the work of the late, eminent British historian John Morris.  He died just short of the final edit which was completed by a student of his who also included the latest archaeological findings to keep the book as current as possible.

A study of the founding of London, its rise to become the grandest of the provincial capitals and its decline in the two centuries following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire would be interesting enough.  Morris goes further and weaves throughout London's early story a remarkably clear, concise and detailed history of the Roman Empire itself, as well as its institutions that became the basis of British law and social organization.  London, he declares, was unique from the beginning; other Roman provincial capitals developed from existing towns or cities but London was founded and planned specifically to be a great capital in a land that had never seen anything like it.

Morris begins by laying out the geography of Britain, where agriculture and hunting were possible or not, where early people traded and the routes they established to do so.  When Augustus decreed the founding of London, those trade routes and fertile lands dictated the location of London, down to the placement of the first London Bridge across the Thames.  Roman architects and engineers worked with their customary speed to build government buildings, water supply, temples, residential areas and military bases. 

Just about all of it was destroyed in the amazingly successful rebellion led by Queen Boudicca in AD60.  Roman London rose again, in stone rather than burnable timber and kept expanding and growing richer over the centuries.

Morris reveals in detail the workings of Roman law to set fair wages, for example compensating teachers, depending on their rank within the educational system, up to 80 times the wage for day laborers.  A lot of the narrative is devoted to the Roman system of assimilating originally subject peoples and within a generation turning them into loyal Roman citizens.  Of the books on the Empire that I have read, none has brought home the immensity of the loss in national security, economic prosperity, international peace, or advancement in arts and sciences that occurred when the Empire fell.

I had no idea, for example, that the Romans had developed the technology for steam power.  This enormous advance, and the invention by a Roman engineer of a construction crane that was stronger and easier to operate than anything else in existence, were rewarded handsomely by the Emperor -- and were then forbidden by him to be used on the basis that they would throw thousands of day laborers out of work.

As Rome was divided into Western and Eastern Empires, London was protected by a strong city wall (above) and prospered as never before.  The western Emperors depended on Britannia to supply the Legions of the Rhine River valley with timber, grain, housewares, fabric, weaponry, wine and other goods.  As Rome began to become depopulated, the countryside beyond London's city wall filled with massive, stunningly luxurious villas of the increasingly prosperous mercantile class.  Some of these buildings covered an area of an acre or more and their residents established a lifestyle that influenced English upper class customs for centuries to come.

One of many Roman villas excavated in England, all of which featured elegant mosaic floors that provided central heating by a hypocaust system underneath.

Morris closes with a brief but informative chapter on King Arthur and his reign after the final withdrawal of Roman government and military from Britannia.  Unlike others who speculate on which tribal leader Arthur might have been, Morris presents Artorius, a Romanized Brit who made a great success, against considerable opposition, of reuniting Britannia and reestablishing Roman law.  It all ended with his death in battle and the gradual fragmentation of Britannia into separate kingdoms that were prey to invasion and migration from Ireland, Francia and Denmark.  But London survived and remained THE city in Great Britain to this day.

Londinium: London in the Roman Empire by John Morris (revised by Sarah Macready).  © 1982 Paperback 2005 by Phoenix Books, London

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

 
I'm a little concerned about blogging these days.  Many of my favorite bloggers have cut back significantly in their number of posts and some have gone "on haitus" which usually means a farewell message several months down the line.  Others certainly are thriving.  The big political blogs that mix in some pop culture and occasional (or even regular) eye candy -- Joe.My.God, Towleroad, Bill in Exile, et al. -- put out several posts each day and get hundreds of comments.  But the really intelligent personal blog does seem to be something of an endangered species.

I don't get as many comments as I used to.  Sometimes I wonder if I have become boring or have perhaps occupied too much of niche with talk of the arts and history.  Then, unexpectedly, I'll get a most welcome comment or two from a totally unknown reader and think, well OK, I have readers who really are out there.

I began a bit of a hunt this summer for bloggers who had dropped out of sight to see if they had come back to blogging as they had said they might in their farewell messages.  These were people with whom I had great conversations that I came to value for their personal take on things, and from whom I learned a lot.  And by a lot, I mean from the lives of men in their 80s with an enormous life perspective, and from men in their 20s who kept me connected to the pop culture and The New, which is very important to someone working in the arts with progressively younger and younger colleagues.

I found a former classical musician who left it all for the Law and settled in New York City (the connection between classical music/opera and Law is very strong, interestingly, in Germany where a large number of conductors and the great soprano Hildegard Behrens all had law degrees in addition to major music careers).  I was particularly happy to rediscover a New Yorker I had followed from blog to blog years ago and from whom I had the recipe for what he called a "minimalist paella" that has become a staple of my dinner guest repertory.  He's in Miami now, teaching (lucky students!) and wrote back saying he was happy to have been found.


There was a time before blogs or telegrams or phones or communications of any kind beyond the written word entrusted to a messenger (for the wealthy) or the postal service (for everyone).  Writing letters was essential but also an art.  People wrote extensively, kept the correspondence sent to them, and made copies of their own letters in reply.  When they died, their correspondence was kept in the family, sometimes published if they'd been prominent in any way, or archived in a library to be accessible by researchers.

I began to think of blogs as the written letters of the modern world, self-archived at the blog site, including the responses of the blogger's correspondents.  I know of several bloggers whose blogs have become the basis of books.  As for research, when the history of the U.S. war in Iraq is written, I would be surprised if the blog of Salaam Pax weren't referenced, and the same is true for a number of international political and cultural blogs that have captured moments in history from personal involvement.  These are prime source material, valuable documents.

Unfortunately, when a lot of the blogs that were important to me shut down, the only way to keep in touch with their writers was via Facebook where thoughts can't really be developed at length.  Casual updating is easy, depth difficult or non-existent.  Twitter is even more limited.  I keep hearing that social media discourages, and may even eliminate, social contact.  What I think it limits or even destroys is the expression and expansion of ideas.

  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

 
Last weekend was my annual trip out to Cooperstown, NY for the Glimmerglass Opera Festival, my 20th consecutive year there.  They do four operas a summer an by the time all four have had their premieres, you can see all four in three days from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.  This year for the very first time, Fritz came out with me.

Fritz is not an opera fan, a great theater fan but not opera.  Last year, however, the festival began a new policy of performing three operas and one classic American musical that would be performed in the original orchestrations and keys, and with no amplification whatsoever.  These musicals all require legitimate rather than pop-rock voices anyway, so an opera company that treats opera like theater is thoroughly appropriate.  This summer, in addition to The Music Man, they were doing Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars, a play with music, so Fritz came for the two non-operas and I saw all four.

Cooperstown is about more than the Festival for me.  I go out to the Ommegang Brewery southeast of town to pick up a couple of cases of their Belgian-style beer that's given a secondary fermentation in the bottle, exactly like Champagne.  The first stage fermentation tanks are shown above.  This year I got three cases so as to get a fourth for free.  Among all their beers, my favorites are Hennepin, a wonderfully rich ale, and Rare VOS, "a spicy, fruity amber ale," brewed with orange peel and coriander in addition to other spices. 


Before the Sunday matinee we visited Hyde Hall, an English-style manor house begun in 1817 that overlooks Otsego Lake (its famed tin-domed gate house, above).  The Clark family that built it was distinguished by public service to the state of New York and included many colorful characters including one mistress of the house who was notorious for her flirtatious behavior with other men while being the mistress of the homeowner.  A major party animal, she was known in winter for running her sleigh and full team of horses down the nine miles of the lake at any hint of a social function in Cooperstown.  Coming into the 20th century, the Clarks lost one family head on the Titanic and welcomed home his traumatized family when the survivors finally landed in New York City.

The house is built of New York limestone in a very austere version of the neo-classic style.  Among its innovations was the first indoor flush toilet in New York State and heated floors on the first floor.

Hyde Hall had been neglected for a while when the owner deeded it to the state which immediately went to work to stabilize it structurally, finally beginning a full-scale restoration.  Paintings of at least two of the grand rooms on the first floor that were done in the mid-19th century aided in the restoration as did the discovery up in the attic of the original wooden molds for ornamental plaster cornices and moldings.
The house has a lot of variety -- the ornamental squares in the top corners of the door frames are of different styles from room to room, for example. The dining room table is set with the house's original early 19th century French china and Waterford glassware.                                             

The view from a second floor bedroom.  Trees are being selectively removed to recreate the vista the original owner had of the northern end of the lake.

This handsome wood stove in the entrance hall is constructed like a German or Russian stove to be tended and cleaned from a corridor behind the wall so that guests did not have to be inconvenienced by seeing servants at work.

I had first visited Hyde Hall ten years ago when some rooms still had debris in them and conditions for the visitor were raw to say the least.  The progress has been amazing.  I won't let be another ten years go by before I visit again 

The opera house is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season.  Architect Hugh Hardy attended the Saturday evening performance (Lost in the Stars) and received enthusiastic applause from the audience when asked to stand.

The performances were, in order:
Jean-Baptiste Lully's Armide, a seventeenth century opera-ballet in a sumptuous, gorgeously painted production that had come from Marie-Antoinette's opera house in Versailles.   The singing and dancing were on a very high level; one outstanding singer-dancer, Curtis Sullivan, brought an electric erotic presence to the stage in his character, Hatred, dancing essentially naked and singing like a star.

These ornamental elephants made of grape vines were an art installation on the Glimmerglass grounds and did not appear in Verdi's Aida, which was updated to the Middle East at any time a conflict has occurred there between two nations, which means the period could have been any time in the last 60 years.  The concept worked well, the production bristled with tension, fear and loss instead of the accustomed lavish decoration, costuming and stately posing.  The main setting was a partially bombed building, a daring choice, but the audience was soon into it and applauded enthusiastically at the end.

Lost in the Stars, magnificently directed by Tazewell Thompson in a production shared with the Cape Town Opera, South Africa was a virtually perfect production in every way.  The stand-out performance was exactly the one it needed to be -- the great Eric Owens as Stephen Kumalo, a clergyman who suffers the loss by hanging of his son in a country sharply divided by apartheid laws and the resulting strict social stratification by race.

The weekend ended with The Music Man.  I saw its original production in New York with Robert Preston and Barbara Cook.  Cooperstown native Dwayne Croft had starred in the musical while in high school; he is now an established international opera star with a career centered at the Metropolitan.  His suave baritone was in great shape, as expected, but who knew he had the chops of a suave song and dance man?  With a strong supporting cast and a production that looked to Grant Wood for its vision of life in 1940s (updated from 1912) America, it was a joyous end to our weekend.     

Friday, August 10, 2012

 
I'm off today on my annual trip to the Glimmerglass Opera Festival in Cooperstown, NY.  Their policy under the new directorship of Francesca Zambello is to devote one of the four annual productions to a classic American Musical Comedy performed in the original keys, with the original orchestration but WITHOUT amplification of any kind.  This year it is Meredith Wilson's The Music Man.  

The operas are Verdi's hardy perennial Aida and Lulli's Armide along with Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars, a famous musical play on the evils of Apartheid during the time of its formulation in South Africa.  Weill's music requires operatic voices.  Another Zambello innovation, the resident big star who spends the summer in a wide variety of activities at the Festival, this year has brought the sensational baritone Eric Owens to Cooperstown.  Owens will sing the lead in Lost in the Stars as well as Amonasro in Aida.

On Saturday morning, I'll head out to see what's left of the great antique barns that used to be among the best I'd seen anywhere but which were closing rapidly last year, unable to survive the under 30-somethings' preference for Ikea to great furniture from the past.  Along the way, there'll be a stop at the Ommegang Brewery for a couple of cases of their magnificent Belgian-style beer (secondary fermentation in the bottle as with champagne).

Glimmerglass has announced its offerings for 2013 already -- resident artist next season will be heartthrob baritone Nathan Gunn who will sing Launcelot in Lerner & Loewe's Camelot.  There will also be Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, Verdi's early-career Un Giorno di Regno, and a rather odd double bill called Passions consisting of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, The Little Match Girl Passion and, from the 18th century, Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, a religious cantata which may or may not be staged -- I can't tell from the publicity.      

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With thanks to George Takei, "How things went afowl between good friends"

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

 

Designerblog celebrates 9 years.

Today is the 9th Anniversary of Designerblog.  I have no interest in twitter, but do a lot on Facebook which I hear has made blogs obsolete.  Nevertheless, I still feel blogs are irreplaceable for telling a story or revealing a life.  I have loved blogging, still do, and am looking forward to many more years.  Thank you to all of you who read Designerblog, especially to those of you who comment and become part of my life.

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We spent the weekend with friends on the Rhode Island coast.  Gary and Steve have a beach house in Westerly, one block from the beach and in walking distance of a reserve for birds surrounding a brackish water pond.  There snowy white egrets and osprey nests.  Like Fritz and me they both cook (very well) and like to explore.  They'd suggested spending a day on Block Island, a place Fritz and I had always wanted to visit.  

The ferry out of Point Judith on the west coast of Narraganset Bay takes just an hour to Old Harbor, Block Island.  There was fairly heavy fog on the mainland that lasted for about half of the crossing, before giving way to a clear, hot day.  The National Hotel, above, dominates the harbor, one of two Victorian-era grand hotels still in operation.                                         

The other is the Surf, a "shingle-style" building typical of much of the look of the Island.  We had lunched when we came on shore and spent the next several hours strolling the town, stopping for ice cream or cold drinks when necessary.

Old Harbor is an old New England town.  Houses are close together and in summer flowers are everywhere.  We stopped into shops and art galleries.

On the way back to Point Judith five jet skiers shadowed the ferry like dolphins, racing ahead and crossing the bow, then dropping back to leap over the boat's wake, regroup and surge ahead again.

All five, far from sight of land and about to cross the bow for the final time and race back to the Island.

Gary and Steve live in a comfortable old neighborhood full of some interesting houses, like this plain little two story with an unexpected gazebo on its entrance landing.

This was a modernization job that went wrong somewhere long the line.

Not all of the houses were small.  A short drive and we were into the great old summerhouse of the super-wealthy of the late 19th-early 20th centuries. 

The scale wasn't quite like the famous Newport "cottages" made of marble with grand ballrooms, dining rooms for a hundred and servants' quarters for a small army.  But they have a presence of their own.

And Westerly can boast its own grand hotels.  The Ocean House has an interesting history.  Like so many of these enormous wooden structures, it burned to the ground one day, a pile of charred ruins all that remained.  But the hotel was rebuilt in fireproof materials, an exact replica of the original building.

Friday, August 03, 2012

 
My reading is all over the map these days and I don't mind that one little bit.  When I was younger, and younger means all the way back to my preteen years, I usually had two books going at once, one a major history or biography, the other something lighter.  I'd go back and forth during breaks in my homework and it kept my mind fresh, particularly as my extra-curricular reading was always a good deal more interesting than anything going on in school.  I still read two simultaneously sometimes.

I begin and end my day reading in bed.  I've never needed the classic eight hours of sleep to operate at a good, sustainable level of energy.  For most of my life five to five and a half hours were all I needed; when I woke my mind would kick into gear and that was that.  My parents frequently urged me to roll over and go back to sleep, but for me that meant rolling over and staring at the wall wide awake, so I began reading for an hour or so in the morning to get me to their normal get-up time.

Magazines play a big part in my reading.  Eight or nine come into the house  regularly.  Opera News is one I've subscribed to since late in grammar school.  It is denigrated by some ("Opera Snooze") as it doesn't traffic in the often unsubstantiated and bitchy gossip in which some opera lovers revel, but it keeps me up on trends in the profession, singers and their careers and, via international reviews, what's happening in production styles which is important to my work on stage and in lecturing.

The Historic New England magazine relates directly to my last post (the cover picture on the left is the working kitchen from Beauport, the house I spoke of and illustrated at length).  Fritz and I value this area's historic architecture (including a great deal more than Historic New England manages).  HNE is always filled with articles on the restoration and preservation techniques required to stabilize and preserve historic structures as well as biographical information on the houses and their various occupants over the centuries.


The Gay and Lesbian Review (formerly Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review) has become a great source for my other type of reading, biographies and books on history, specifically gay history that is now being published frequently enough to give a true picture of the gay life through the centuries.  I also get at least enough, if not a great deal too much, academic gay theory from the articles -- things like we can't call people who loved members of their own sex before the 20th century gay or homosexual because those words didn't exist then.  True enough, but psychiatric writing includes speculative diagnoses of schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder when writing about Roman Emperors and other historical figures and I'm quite sure those terms didn't exist thousands of years ago either.  GLR generally has good, level-headed editorial comment and letters that are often highly controversial and that begin spirited dialog.


Smithsonian is one that Fritz has been subscribing to for many years and it's always full of things I love, particularly archaeology, an early interest of mine that has only deepened over the years.  The scope of Smithsonian's interests is huge; of all the magazines that come into the house, it is the only one that can really not be classified.  It resembles National Geographic in that way, always filled with surprise topics.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) Bulletin is published quarterly.  The first three issues of any year are devoted to one particular topic: a single artist, the jewelry of the Italian Renaissance, early Egyptian sculpture, etc., etc.  The fourth issue is always devoted to the Museum's recent new acquisitions.  The Bulletin comes as part and parcel of my annual Christmas gift from a cousin of mine and his wife.  Each year, they give me a membership to the Museum that I use frequently for free entrance during my trips to NYC for performances and to purchase books and other gifts at a discount.                                                                          

I have given up saving magazines.  For decades, I saved Opera News and Fanfare which reviews classical, jazz, opera, ancient music, and a lot of totally unclassifiable music, all of which I am interested in.  The result was that moving from residence to residence was a nightmarish job of packing and carrying heavy cartons up stairs and finding or making sufficient shelf space for storage.  When I retired from MIT, and Fritz and I could finally live together, I bit the bullet hard and made up a huge recycling load.  I only save selected issues of the Bulletin now when their subjects coincide with current or upcoming projects.  

In truth I do miss Opera News on occasion when I'm researching my symposium presentations for Greenfield Community College, or when I was doing pre-performance talks for HD European opera presentations at the art theater in Exeter, NH.  But most of the information can be reclaimed from  archives on the web, so great is the amount of information available these days.

The Week is given to both of us each year at Christmas by the same cousin and wife.  We appreciate having the stories and issues of the preceding week covered in excerpts from reporters and commentators of several different political and cultural biases for each topic.  The Week also covers performing arts, recent books, current movies and television nation-wide.

The Advocate used to be a lot bigger but got absorbed by Out which is of
little interest to us.  I see it as a gay People, largely concerned with glitz, trendy fashion and a lifestyle rather far from ours.  I do skim it when it arrives just to keep up with pop culture.  The Advocate is now tucked into Out and cannot be subscribed to separately any more.  It remains a fairly intelligent magazine but a lot that I miss was jettisoned by Out in the merger.

As to the books I read, many of them are connected to current projects, operas I'm designing, or titles that grab my interest.  I support my reading habit by shopping for used books on Amazon.  One of the joys of being self-employed is that after decades in a highly demanding profession, I am finally getting the chance I've always dreamed of to read as much as I want!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

 
A while ago Fritz gave me a really inspired gift given our shared interests: a dual membership in  Historic New England which describes itself as "the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive regional preservation organization in the country."  HistoricNewEngland.org   HNE owns, operates and preserves thirty six significant properties, including any out buildings and acreage, going back to the middle of the seventeenth century and as recently as the home of the famous Bauhaus-founding architect Walter Gropius that dates to 1938.

New England is the site of the oldest surviving wood frame houses in the U.S. in Dedham and Swampscott, Massachusetts; both date from 1637 and are among no fewer than 57 seventeenth century wood buildings, mostly residences but also a couple of churches/meeting houses, that survive in Massachusetts alone.

We both love visiting historic buildings (including a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright) but when I saw the antiquity of HNE's holdings, I said "Great!  I love old things" to which Fritz replied without missing a beat, "Which is why you love me!" 

A week after our return from Alaska, we treated Fritz's office manager to a day out for her birthday. The idea was to tour two of HNE's properties and have lunch in between.  The first site in Newbury, MA was the Spencer-Pierce-Little Farm (seen above in winter), an impressive English country manor-style house begun in 1690 and added to twice in its history to serve the needs of the three families through whose hands it has passed.  It is not in any way the cramped, low-ceiling early colonial house that is often seen; the Spencers laid its rooms out to be large and comfortable in graceful proportions.  The Pierces added the wooden clapboard-clad wing to the left to provide a more healthful place to sleep and entertain as Mrs. Spencer worried that the all-masonry main house was a little damp.  The three ladies who made up the last generation of the Little family arranged for the house to go into a protected future as an educational and historic property.

In 1800, the Little family built an entirely new house as a wing onto the main building to house a family that would operate the farm.  Through the next century and a half, several generations of Littles maintained very cordial relations with the tenant farmer families, sometimes dining together, employing their children to babysit, and providing financial support for their children's education.  
   
The farm hosts a summer camp for children with emphasis on the arts and nature.  Roosters and hens walk free on the property and generally follow the children around.  There are also sheep and goats, so there's an extensive spinning/weaving/knitting program.  About half of the 200 acre property is rented to local farmers and corn seemed to be doing very well.  The farm is thus an integral part of the greater Newbury community in these and several other ways.

The great barn dates from 1775 and plays a large part in both the farm and the camp.

Here is 800 pounds of Oscar the pig, one of the many animals the MSPCA houses on the farm.  Many have been rescued by the Society from abusive situations and, like the roosters, are used to introduce children to farm animals, their needs and care.  Oscar has a habit of going AWOL; when you weigh 800 pounds, are strong and smart (pigs are VERY smart) you don't take fences all that seriously.

None of the original interiors remained in the house except for one small and very primitive room on the second floor that had been the original master bedroom.  All other rooms had been updated by the Pierces and the Littles and are seen now as they were in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.  The continuity of the Little family's ownership meant that a great amount of their furniture from a couple of generations is on view.  One interesting feature of the house was a number of windows of various sizes in interior walls, designed to convey light from rooms with exterior windows to staircases and landings deep in the interior.  We spent a couple of hours touring the house all the way up to the massive attic.  We then lunched at a well-known fish restaurant in town overlooking the water and then headed south to our second tour of the day.

If the Spencer-Pierce-Little farm was "the real thing," Beauport (Le Beau Port was explorer Samuel de Champlain's name for Gloucester harbor), which began construction in 1907 and was expanded  for several decades, is a great piece of artifice that speaks to the styles, tastes and pretenses of the first half of the 20th century, along with a generous helping of social history.

The house occupies a rock ledge overlooking the harbor of Gloucester, MA and was the residence cum showroom of the man who was the first celebrity interior designer/decorator in the United States.

Henry Davis Sleeper (1878-1934) built the enigmatic building to display and market what he could do.  Clients were invited for dinner and tours; they could order wallpapers, window treatments, everything up to entire rooms to be recreated in their own homes based on Sleeper's creations.  It's enigmatic because as it was expanded, some rooms cut into others, some nightmare roof joins were created, the height and depth of stair treads change from staircase to staircase, and there are blind doors.  But others see more psychological meaning in Beauport's quirks: "'there are those who maintain that the house with its crooked passageways, doors leading to nowhere, secret staircases, dramatic surprises and shadowy recesses is Sleeper's most revealing statement about himself—a riddle with a different answer for everyone who tries to solve it,' write two experts on the house, Nancy Curtis and Richard C. Nylander.  Beauport may be a game of hide and seek: Look at me! No, look away! I'm gone. Know me/you can never know me. Admire me! Go away! Go home."  (From an article by preservationist Howard Mansfield).

Sleeper had a taste for orientalia and a gift for recreating the American colonial period which was very popular at the time.  The 100th anniversary of the American Revolution and the ongoing efforts to define the meaning, date and appropriate menu for Thanksgiving had created a vogue for Puritan Style beginning in the late 19th century.

This is Beauport's Kitchen -- except that it isn't.  The house had a state of the art kitchen for its day but this one is like a stage set.  It's really the prelude to a dining room, with the long American-Jacobean style dining table and chairs occupying an alcove to the right. 

The Mariner's Room was used to display historical maps, charts, navigational artifacts and marine art.  Here and throughout the house, Sleeper used what we call architectural salvage with great skill and imagination.  This room and the one one below directly overlook the harbor and, by turning to the left, Boston in the distance.

One of Beauport's largest, brightest and lightest rooms is this dining room whose big window could be lowered into the wall below it to provide the effect of outdoor dining with sea breezes in the summer.  In addition to the long central table, a smaller one is set at the window looking outward. 

The harbor shore along Eastern Point Boulevard became a gathering place for a bohemian crowd made up of young, wealthy bachelors, and a couple of equally young, wealthy unmarried women, along with frequent visits from the more unconventional members of Boston society.  Among the leaders along with Henry Sleeper was his friend A. (for Abram) Piatt Andrew who built a lavish, if more conventionally decorated home named Red Roof two doors down from Beauport.  It did have one oddity: a peep hole in the floor above the living room that allowed Andrew to see what guests were doing on the sofa below.  " Gossip had it that often all the guests were men, their pastimes peculiar," a statement heavy with code for young gay men feeling free to be themselves in a semi-isolated community they more or less controlled.

When our tour was over, I felt sufficiently comfortable speaking with the young man who had been our witty and very informative guide, about the frequent presence of Isabella Stewart Gardner (of continuing interest to Fritz and me after having written the libretto of an opera on her life) at Beauport and some of those "peculiar" pastimes.  Brightening right up, he took us to the small but interesting gift shop and showed us an extraordinary photograph of Isabella delightedly leading A. Piatt Andrew and another young man, both on all fours, around the garden on dog leashes while Henry Sleeper looked on in amusement.
I could not locate a copy of that fascinating picture on the web, but did at least find this badly reproduced photo of Isabella and six of the boys. Henry Davis Sleeper is second from the left; A. Piatt Andrew is at the far right.

Epilog: When World War I broke out, it was a long time before the U.S. joined in.  Many Americans went immediately to the aid of France, among them A. Piatt Andrew (above) who founded the American Field Service, an ambulance and mobile medical operation that saw frequent service on the battlefield.  Andrew served in France for four and a half years and was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French Government and the Distinguished Service Medal by the American Army.

Henry Sleeper worked with him as the U.S. Representative of the Field Service and its chief fund raiser, crisscrossing the Atlantic with funds and supplies and working directly with the French military, for which France awarded him the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor.

At various times in his life, Andrew was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Director of the U.S. Mint, Economics Professor at Harvard, and Massachusetts' Representative to the U.S. House.  He died full of honors in 1936.  Henry Sleeper died in 1934; Beauport was declared a National Historic Landmark on 2003.  

During the idiotic and hysterical danger warnings from the opponents of the repeal of DADT, it might have been interesting to have the courageous actions of these two gay men read into the Congressional Record and given the publicity they deserve.

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