Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall Fest At Hillside Farms--Go If You Can!

The complete name of this place is The Lands At Hillside Farms, and I wish I had had more advance notice of their Fall Festival so I could have shared it with you sooner. (The dates--note them now--are Saturday, Oct. 2 and Sunday, Oct. 3. For further information call 570-696-4807).
I don't want to discourage you and your family from visiting as many Fall festivals as possible. This one will have many of the same features as all of them do--hayrides, story telling, refreshments, cooking classes, and demonstrations by such craft workers as blacksmiths, stone and wood carvers, and basket weavers. But the venue of the Fall Fest of The Lands At Hillside Farms makes it different--and, possibly, more memorable than most.
Because it is an important site, historically, culturally, and environmentally. And because it may be the only place in Pennsylvania where you can buy an ice cream cone and then wonder off with it to enjoy the site and whatever is going on at the time.
Only a couple of decades ago this 412-acre parcel of land in Shavertown, with the buildings on it, seemed destined for what is sometimes called "redevelopment." It was a decayed summer estate and dairy farm. Then it was taken over by a determined non-profit organization.
Today the public is welcome to visit, and to enjoy the revitalized venue. The place is the last working, self-sustaining dairy farm in Luzerne County. This means you can buy top-quality Hillside Gold dairy products in the dairy store there--ice cream, milk in returnable glass bottles, and more--all from grass fed cows which are free of Bovine Growth Hormone. Then you can walk over and make the acquaintance of the cows who provided the milk.
The site is open all the year round; and, under the eye of staff and volunteers, you can stroll the hiking trails and interact, not only with the cows, but with the horses, goats, and other animals.
In addition, there are other festivities, not to mention quality educational experiences, available all through the year.
The Lands At Hillside Farms can be found at 65 Hillside Rd., Shavertown 18078; its enticing website is As noted above, its phone is 570-696-4807.
I will be doing more posts on this place in the near future. It has too much to offer for one post to suffice.
I will make it a point, too, to tell you how to help it keep doing what it does.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Federal Colored Troops In Harrisburg

No sooner had the tragic Civil War receded into history than the victorious Union backhanded some of its bravest and most dedicated soldiers. United States Colored Troops were not allowed to march in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington in May, 1865. Shocked at such a display of ingratitude, the women of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital, decided to do what they could to remedy the injustice. The result was the Pennsylvania Grand Review, held in November, 1865, and welcoming U.S. Colored Troops and their families from 25 states.
That event will be recreated from November 4-7 this year, as part of the nationwide sesquecentennial observance of the Civil War. There will be pomp and parades, exhibits and lectures and parties. No matter what your color, you may want to take in part of it; it's part of our common history--and I, for one, am proud that the slight of May, 1865 should have been redeemed a few months later by Pennsylvania.
Are you a descendant of one of these brave African-American soldiers? Then you may be able to play a special role in honoring your ancestor. Pennsylvania is assembling what it calls "an army" of volunteers to reclaim if necessary, and to preserve, the graves of 24 U.S. Colored Troops who are buried in the Commonwealth. A number of gravesite preservation weekends are planned for this purpose. For more information on how to help, email
Or perhaps you want to become part of the network of descendants who will be coming to honor their ancestors in Harrisburg in November. To join without delay, just call (800) VISIT PA.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oliver H. Perry's Flagship Today

If you want to visit the Flagship Niagara, the reproduction of the ship in which Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry won the 1813 Battle Of Lake Erie, you'll find it moored at the Erie Maritime Museum--assuming it's in port. The Niagara is without much question the prime exhibit of the imposing museum, but the institution's scope covers the entire maritime history of Lake Erie.
The whole complex, museum, Niagara, and all, used to be administered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The reins have been taken by the Niagara Heritage League, which runs everything from the scheduling of the ship to fundraising, to recruiting the ship's professional crew and volunteers for all programs.
The volunteer programs here definitely seem to be the type you can interact with. Always wanted to be a re-enactor? This is rather a high-investment option; but if you know your history and have the money for costumes or uniforms and traveling, you can be a member of The Ship's Company, the Niagara's crack reenactment unit. Or you can be involved in the actual maintenance of the brig. You can learn to make ship models, or work in the museum's gift shop, or be a docent and lead tours of the Niagara or the museum.
You have to be in the neighborhood, so to speak, to volunteer for the museum or for service on the Niagara. But to donate, or to join the Niagara Heritage League, or to shop at the online gift shop, you just need to go to and sign on. Do what you can; because, like all other organizations striving to take over from the state, the Niagara Heritage League needs all the help it can get.
Check the website, too, for schedule hours and days--very important, since the Niagara is not always in port, and there very likely are times in winter when the complex is closed. I could not verify this by phone, because I found the line busy. But I say again, check the web site in advance. You don't want to take a long trip and find the place shuttered.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Books--and Moon Trail's

Several people have asked about my books--their subjects, availability, and so on. Thanks to Moon Trail books, which has published the smallest of them, there is now a place where you can go to learn about them all. It is the Moon Trail website, which you can access at (Note: In this case, DO NOT type in "http://www" That seems to fill in itself if you type in the rest. If you have trouble--this is a new site, and I have found that access has some quirks--leave a message in the comment box, and I'll check it out.)
Once you have accessed the Moon Trail site, click on "about the authors", then on the two pages with my name, Joan Campion.
While you're there, check on ALL the Moon Trail authors and their books. This little niche publisher is an amazing outfit. It has so far put out four books, and is about to publish a fifth. All of them are beautiful to look at and pick up and read--a booklover's dream. All have interesting stories to tell. Two have won prizes. And, by sheer coincidence, all of them--including the small booklet by me--have Pennsylvania connections. AND, Moon Trail also uses s quality Pennsylvania printer, rather than ship projects out-of-state, or even to China.
For a small company like Moon Trail, this gesture can be nothing more than symbolic. But symbolism is important.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oliver Hazard Perry, Fighting Sailor

"We have met the enemy and they are ours: two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop." So reported Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to General William Henry Harrison after defeating British forces on Lake Erie in September, 1813.
Six craft? It sounds like a bathtub battle, instead of the very important naval conflict that it was.
It took place during the War of 1812. a conflict that was a muddle to the school children of my time, and that probably has not even been heard of by today's students. The British wanted to accomplish two things. First, they wanted to prevent American forces from advancing deeply into Canada (if memory serves, we had already burned Hamilton, Ontario, and British forces had burned Washington, DC). Second, they wanted to block the United States from advancing into the West and taking over the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys.
Perry's little fleet, and Harrison's army, were dedicated toward opening the West and Canada for their side--and they won as far as the West was concerned. Americans did not, of course, extend their reach into Canada.
Harrison won an important land battle--Tippecanoe--and later became President of the United States. But who was this Oliver Hazard Perry, the victor of the Battle of Lake Erie?
The young commodore--he was in his late 20s at the time of the battle--had been born in 1785 in South Kingston, Rhode Island. He died of yellow fever in Trinidad on August 23, 1819--his 34th birthday.
Perry had seen important naval action long before his encounter with the British on Lake Erie. As one of Commodore Edward Preble's "boys", he took part in the so-called First Barbary War--against North African pirates who had been plundering American shipping and enslaving American seamen. One of his fellow officers was James Lawrence, who died of wounds suffered when the ship he was commanding at the time, the USS Chesapeake, was roundly defeated by a British ship.
Lawrence's admonition to his crew had been, "Don't give up the ship." Perry had this slogan placed on his personal battle flag, and named his flagship the Lawrence. But when the battle was joined on the Lake, the Lawrence was hit hard and didn't last long. Grasping his battle flag, Perry had himself rowed half a mile to the brig Niagara, which became his new flagship--the moment is commemorated in a famous painting. The Niagara took a pounding similar to that which had destroyed the Lawrence; but it survived and compelled the surrender of the British flagship.
The battle was over. One day that had helped shape the destiny of two nations. One day that conveyed historical immortality on a young man destined not to become too much older.
One day that gave us a slogan that Pennsylvania, and the United States, and for that matter the world, seem to need now more than ever.
"Don't give up the ship."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

More About Water

In today's Morning Call Weekly (September 18, 2010) I found an unbylined article called "Drilling to impact Lehigh River?" While this obviously is about the area where I live, the writer does provide me with some specific data that helps illustrate the magnitude of the challenge of Marcellus shale.
Natural gas is trapped in the shale, and is released by a process called hydraulic fragmentation--or "fracking", which somehow sounds more appropriate. This involves shooting massive amounts of water into the well, water which is laced with various chemicals. The companies refuse to reveal what chemicals they use, claiming these formulae are "proprietary."
According to the Morning Call Weekly writer, each well needs 3 to 6 million gallons of this polluted water to be "fracked." There already are thousands of such wells in the state; it seems logical --and at the same time crazy--to assume there soon will be thousands more.
The water that is shot into the ground can still possibly do a great deal of harm--that is, beyond being lost to any normal use. In parts of the state where natural gas drilling is already in full force, so are law suits from land owners and other parties who claim their wells and streams have been poisoned by fracking chemicals.
Even assuming no chemicals were involved, can we afford 3 to 6 million gallons of water per hole in the ground? I have heard that some 24 Pennsylvania counties are under a drought watch.
It sounds like a very good time to save the water resources we have, not to squander them.
Yes, we need energy. Yes, we need jobs. How much can we possibly afford to pay for them?

Samuel Barber. Outstanding Pennsylvanians 5

Early in the 20th century a nine-year-old boy from West Chester outlined his hopes for his career in a letter he sent to his mother. "I was meant to be a composer and will be I am sure..." he told her. "Don't ask me to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football."
His mother didn't. In fact, Samuel Barber grew up in a family of classical music lovers, and more--his aunt Louise Homer was a famous singer at the Metropolitan Opera, his uncle Sidney Homer was a composer of concert songs. His mother played the piano; and it seems likely that his doctor father at least permitted himself to be borne along to concerts and recitals.
So when young Samuel expressed an interest in writing symphonies, operas, and the like, it is safe to say he was not locked in the closet under the stairs, like Harry Potter. He was encouraged instead; and he thrived under that encouragement. He became, in fact, one of America's greatest musicians and composers, although not as famous as, say, Leonard Bernstein or Aaron Copland.
He was born in 1910, which means this year would be the centenary of his birth. Although he died in 1981, and thus did not live to see the celebration, music lovers and musicians are having some major parties without him.
(One wonders whether he would be fully appreciative. His last major work was the opera "Antony and Cleopatra", which was commissioned for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City. For--probably--a variety of reasons, it failed. He spent the rest of his life embittered, and doing very little composing. Perhaps he would be a little consoled if he could know that his other important opera, the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Vanessa", is receiving more performances now than it had been earlier.)
Don't like opera or symphonies? Chances are you still have heard music by Barber--namely, the serene and melancholy "Adagio For Strings", adapted from an early string quartet by him. It was played at the funerals of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, and many other times and places as well . The "Agnus Dei" section of the Roman Catholic Mass has been sung by choirs to this music. You may also have heard it in churches of other denominations, or on the radio or television. It's around.
Want to hear some Barber right now? I can't give you exact urls or anything; but if you will google "Samuel Barber" you will find links to some of his music, which you can listen to for free. I myself just listened to his wonderful, lyrical violin concerto, with its incredibly demanding final movement. There were some recordings of the "Adagio for Strings" there, too.
Go and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

S. C. Foster: Outstanding Pennsylvanians 4

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) has been called "the father of American music." He has also been called "the American Franz Schubert," comparing him to the great Austrian composer who is renowned for his songs. Foster's work and career are significant enough to be honored at the Stephen Foster Memorial Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh--Pittsburgh being the city with which he is most associated. (He was actually born in Lawrenceville, PA--on July 4, no less.)
If this makes him seem"veddy classical", well, that would be all right with a lot of us. And Foster did write songs concert singers like to sing, like "Beautiful Dreamer", "Open Thy Lattice, Love," and "I Dream Of Jeannie."
But he also wrote many songs almost all of us know, like the evergreen "Oh, Susannah."
Foster was a popular song writer who ground out songs--carefully crafted pieces at that--in quantity. Yet we probably do not hear as much of his music as we once did.
That would be because of the social circumstances in which he lived his brief, 37-year life. Stephen Collins Foster was born, lived, and died in pre-Civil War America. Much of his life was lived in places--Pittsburgh, Cincinnati in Ohio--where the South of slave owners and the North, relatively free of and opposed to the institution--came together.
To make matters worse, one of the most popular forms of entertainment of his time was the blackface minstrel show, where slaves and other blacks often were held up to ridicule and contempt.
Foster wrote songs for such performances--but with a difference. He was a friend of the distinguished abolitionist editor and writer Charles Shiras, and is said to have made it a cause to uplift the level of civility and sympathy displayed in the minstrel shows.
But his texts, of course, remain on paper. Since I am among the many ex-school children who have sung Foster songs, I can tell you there is really only kindness in songs like "My Old Kentucky Home", and even the shockingly titled (for our time) "Old Black Joe".
Poor Foster. He was no racist--far from it. What he may need is a new lyricist for his wonderful tunes.
A good place to learn more about Stephen Collins Foster is the University of Pittsburgh site at amerimus/foster.htm

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

From A Pennsylvania Dutch Kitchen

From the beginning I have said I planned to run some recipes of ethnic groups associated with Pennsylvania. So far this has proved to be easier said than done; but my luck seems to have turned. While surfing the net I discovered a public domain cookbook on the Gutenberg Project. It is called The Project Gutenberg EBook of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking, Author Unknown.
I found this rather hard to locate, and would be afraid to try to give you the url for it, for fear of getting it wrong. But if you find it and like it, you can download it free of charge and use it in almost any way you like. That's the meaning of Public Domain.
I suspect that some of these recipes will never be used again. In my personal experience they were delicious; but society has moved some distance from some of the ingredients, culturally speaking. That would be true of most ethnic cuisines, I suspect.
Anyway, here's a recipe that is delicious and simple to make. If you want to leave anything out, I suspect you could get by without the bacon.

Pennsylvania Dutch Corn Chowder

4 slices bacon
2 Tbs. onion, minced
1 Tbs. celery, minced
1 Tbsp. green pepper, minced
2 cups corn, freshly cleaned kernels or frozen. Canned might be all right if it is rinsed and drained.
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
3 cut-up tomatoes
1 qt. milk
salt and pepper to taste

Put bacon, onion, celery and green pepper into skillet; heat, stirring, until the onion is brown. Add corn and saute the mix for 3 minutes. Add potatoes, tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add milk, heat to the boiling point, garnish with a little parsley (preferably fresh and chopped), and serve.

NOTE: Whether your family came from Scotland, Slovenia, or somewhere else, if you have a traditional recipe you'd like to share I'd like to run it. Drop me a note about it via the comment box below.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Water Everywhere? Or Empty Cup?

As noted, water is the issue which could turn Penn's Woods into Penn's Desert. And, since water is necessary for life--no exceptions here--the issue cannot be dismissed as a mere matter of aesthetics. It doesn't matter whether you prefer the landscape of the Sahara Desert or of a tropical rain forest, you need water to live in that landscape.
What threatens Pennsylvania's abundant lakes, rivers, and streams? First of all, we ourselves. We need to use our water supply frugally, whether for drinking, personal hygiene, home cleanliness, or recreation. But, although this step is necessary, it pales in comparison with some other steps we need to take. They involve standing up to some pretty daunting forces.
Right now, it seems to me the biggest threat to our water is the extraction of natural gas from marcellus shale. A lot about our future depends upon whether this is done with intelligence or without it. And I fear that corporate and personal greed will militate against intelligence.
Much of the problem lies in a procedure called fracking (hydraulic fracturing). This involves pumping many thousands of gallons of water, mixed with often undisclosed chemicals, into the shale to extract the very last bit of natural gas.
What effect will this have on our water? Or on plant and animal life? We do not yet know. It seems better to find out now, in the early stages of this inevitable development and while we have some chance to control it.
Other things that need to concern us are projects t0 drill for oil in lakes, from Lake Erie down to the smallest pond. Such projects have one more complication even than the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. That is because we will be risking fresh water, not salt water. That is, water for drinking.
We have no way of replacing ANY water we have. No science known to us can do that.
And that leads to another threat: the privatizing of public water supplies. There ARE already some private water companies, and presumably some of them are doing a good job. But the temptation for a private company to cut corners for profit will always be present. In general, it seems to me that it is better to keep functions vital to the public good in public hands, and to supervise them with diligence. There have been too many stories of public officials who let public assets like water systems run down so that "privatizing" them seems to make sense. And there also are tales of private water companies plugging the water pipes of customers who cannot pay with concrete, rather than trying to work with them.
The next few years will indeed be perilous. If we survive, it will be because we have learned to work together for interests that transcend profit. Because, dare I say, we have learned to work together in the tradition of William Penn.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pigeon Shoots: A Promise Broken

As this is written, my understanding is that Pennsylvania is the only state still permitting live pigeon shoots. That disgusting distinction almost came to an end recently; but it seems the legislature broke a promise to vote these "sporting" events out of existence at the end of their most recent sitting. True, they had to attend to a budget matter before they went home; but how much would it have hurt them to stay on an extra half hour? They could have taken an action that would not only have been right in itself, but that would have pleased 80 per cent of the Pennsylvania electorate.
After all, a ban on pigeon shoots is not an attack on guns, gun ownership, or the Second Amendment. Pennsylvania voters, many of whom grew up eating venison or wild rabbit and take the first day of deer season off as a holiday, understand this. The National Rifle Association wants to confuse the issue, but has evidently succeeded in confusing only members of the legislature.
Why? It's hard to figure out. In this case doing the right thing wouldn't seem to take any special courage. The NRA has only about 200,000 members in the state; the Humane Society just about 670,000. And the two NRA members I know--I live in an urban setting--find the pigeon shoots detestable. You'd think people who get and hold on to their jobs through elections would be more conscious of the numbers, and go with the majority. But perhaps NRA members who ARE fans of the shoots are better at applying pressure than the rest of us. If so, we need to change that.
News that the shoots would continue was profoundly saddening to Heidi Prescott, the national Humane Society official I introduced in my previous post. I do not know her personally, but wish I did. I do have the good fortune to know one or two others like her. They, too, have seized on a small part of life as theirs to defend --all they can encompass, since they are not God. The world needs more of them; but as a rule they are treated very badly.
Ms. Prescott is no exception: she has been slammed against cars, had her feet stepped on, and been imprisoned, among other things. But for her no punishment can compare to the horror of seeing innocent animals slaughtered while she is powerless to stop the proceedings. She has attended some 50 of these horrific spectacles, steeling herself to report this cruelty back to those of us who have not been paying attention.
Born in Buffalo, NY, she graduated from Pennsylvania's Edinboro University (then Edinboro State College) and later got an Master of Fine Arts. In addition, she studied psychology, specializing in domestic violence. She began her working career as an artist.
Her life changed, though, when her then-husband placed a dying woodpecker in her hand. She could not save it, but the experience of trying led her to become a trained wildlife rehabilitator. Later she went to work for the Humane Society, where her efforts helped cut back on the fur trade and promote other programs to benefit animals.
Not until 1990 did she center her attention on ending Pennsylvania's pigeon shoots. That was when, during the Hegins shoot, she was handed a pigeon whose legs had been shot off. It needed to be euthanized by her colleagues. She remains haunted by the memory of its fight for life and breath.
Within a few minutes of reading Walt Brasch's newsletter about the pigeon slaughters I had decided to give Ms. Prescott all the support I could--and I was on the phone to my state representative. If you agree with me that these shoots misrepresent Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians, why not call YOUR state representative and express your own view?
Be prepared to keep at the issue. Lawmakers really do have a full plate, and because of that can have a short memory for what they may regard as a small issue. But gratuitous cruelty can never be a small issue for a society that aspires to be healthy.

Stop Pigeon Shoots In Pennsylvania!

Some feel that in my previous post I let our current group of "political leaders" off far too easily. Since writing it, I have received an indication that the complainants may be right. The indication came from Walt Brasch, distinguished journalist and educator, with whose work I keep in touch.
When I got the most recent issue of Professor Brasch's newsletter, "Wanderings", it provided an update on a Pennsylvania problem that I thought had been solved more than a decade ago. The sort of problem that makes the heart sick and the day gray just to think about. A real moral problem--still there, still sullying the reputation of the Commonwealth, years after it should have been gone.
Pigeon shoots. For "sport", for "fun", for "profit". Here's what they involve:
Thousands of pigeons, often trucked into Pennsylvania to be killed for the entertainment of inhumane humans, are released from cramped cages and shot at close range by "sports" -men (and presumably some "sports"-women) armed with 12 gauge shotguns. Few of the birds are killed at once. Some manage to crawl off the field of butchery to die in agony, while many others are strangled or bludgeoned by children--some as young as eight-who receive a little money for this soul-shriveling "work".
I first became aware of the "sport" of the pigeon shoot back in the mid-90s, when it was linked to the small Schuylkill County coal town of Hegins. And the Hegins pigeon shoot managed to get national attention for the state, of the very worst kind. I don't imagine the people of Hegins are worse than the rest of us. But this thing was a tradition with them, going back to 1934 and the Depression years; and besides, the "profits" from the annual event went for "good causes". Like equipment for the fire department and other truly important civic needs. They just didn't know of a different and better way to meet those needs.
When I learned about the Hegins pigeon shoot-- this was about the mid 90s-- I immediately joined the public outcry against it. As I recall, there were a lot of us crying out; and by 1998 or 1999 this event was gone. I hope the community has healed, and has found a better way to raise money. Even at the time it ended I felt sorry for the Heginsians who had nothing to do with the pigeon shoot, and who wanted nothing more than to live a normal life in a town perceived as normal.
But if I thought the end of the Hegins event meant the end of pigeon shoots in our state, I was deluded. One person who could have set me straight--better than perhaps anyone else--is Heidi Prescott , senior vice president of campaigns for the Humane Society of the United States. Much more of her in my next post.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pennsylvanians and Politics

If you're like most of us (including me), you've had it up to HERE with politics and with (most) politicians. Don't fall into the trap of despising ALL politicians, though; there still are elected officials out there trying to serve the public. One of our important jobs as citizens is to find these dedicated men and women, and work with them.
Because everything is up for grabs, everywhere--not just in Pennsylvania. My own sense is that we don't have a lot of time to try to fix it. Although I hope I'm wrong, I am trying to act as if I might be right, and my efforts--together with those of other like-minded citizens--are desperately needed to turn things around. Because--and this, I think, paraphrases somebody--Who are we to believe in our own unimportance? If we do that, we are falling into the plans of others. And those plans may not be the best thing for us, or for our society.
I believe the issues that need to concern us most as Pennsylvanians are: !. water; 2. energy, and 3. the control of "development."
While we have our minds set on oil and gas, the real potential scarcity is of water. Common drinking water included. This is worldwide, although the patterns change with wind currents. Which is why, right now, Pakistan is drowning while Russia is frying. Right now we seem to be in a period of drought here in the Keystone State. Like all things related to climate and weather, the situation is variable. We need to plan for it as intelligently as possible. Which is why such projects as drilling for oil in Lake Erie or using millions of gallons of water to free natural gas from marcellus shale must be shelved.
Am I saying we can do without natural gas and oil? I wish I could--but clearly that is not in the cards; and it is likely that, even in a much brighter future, we will still be using some carbon fuels. But we should strive to use as little as possible. Nothing will change the fact that these fuels are polluting and poisonous. First we need to use all renewable energy resources as fully as possible--wind and solar, geothermal (probably not available here), water power, whatever we have access to.
Finally, "development". A good reason to help retain parks is that people need them for recreation--much more than they need another shopping center or housing development or casino. A good reason to help retain farmland is that it is needed to grow food.
Go and see what your elected representatives think about such issues. If they support your ideas--which I hope are pretty much the same as mine, or you wouldn't have read this far--then support them. If not, try to replace them.
Whatever we do, though, let's not make the mistake of believing we can do without politics and politicians.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Let's WinThe New Battle of Brandywine

The Battle of Brandywine, largest land battle of the American Revolution, was fought near Chadd's Ford in 1777--September 11, to be exact. Washington led the Continental Army to defeat here; but what he and his army learned helped lay the groundwork for eventual victory in the war. The site is a National Historic Landmark, and until recently a functioning Pennsylvania state park.
Until a few years ago the battle anniversary would have been commemorated by the rattle of musketry and the sight of colorfully uniformed re-enactors sweeping across the field--at least, if the weather was clear. But there was no re-enactment last year (2009), nor will there be one this year. And that is because the state has virtually closed Brandywine Battlefield State Park.
Administering the park has fallen to a citizens' organization called Friends of Brandywine Battlefield, which has most things going and accessible except for the historic Gilpin House. But it cannot do the re-enactment.
Beth Rorke, education programs and volunteers coordinator for the Friends organization, regrets that. As she observes, the re-enactment, when it happens, is a good way to draw public attention to the battlefield and what occurred there. But it is too expensive to do right now. She does expect a re-enactment in 2012, the 135th anniversary of the battle.
Friends of the Brandywine Battlefield has a stiff fight on its hands to keep the park viable. The fact that its 52 acres are strategically located to appeal to developers of such "amenities" as shopping malls, housing, and even--maybe-- casinos only makes things more difficult. How can the rest of us help win this new battle?
There is always the need for money. The Friends organization is attempting to acquire all the acreage of the site and set up an endowment to preserve it as it is. To contribute, or to join Friends of the Brandywine Battlefield, go to
Would you like to volunteer? Or to apply for a prestigious but unpaid internship? In either case, contact Beth Rorke, 610-459-3342 x3003; or email her at

Message To Gettysburg

The Second Battle of Gettysburg roars on. The issue: Shall there be a casino within a mile of the great battlefield where many thousands died in a titanic struggle over America's future? The casino forces seem implacable, aided by citizens who believe the casino is necessary for jobs and economic development.
Well, I live on the outskirts of Bethlehem, a city with a rich history and a new casino. And I am saying, Don''t expect a casino, if you get one, to solve all your economic and employment problems. Or even any of them.
There is a simple reason for this. There are casinos everywhere, in cities which thought they would be an answer to job and economic development challenges. I haven't done deep research on this, but even huge, glitzy establishments designed to separate people from their money don't always do well in a bad economy and with a lot of competition. Why should people who are determined to gamble away money go to your city to do it when they can go to the casino next door--or, for that matter, to the coming video poker games in their friendly local bar or restaurant?
The last I heard--correct me if I'm wrong--even old-line gambling sites like Atlantic City and Las Vegas are in trouble because of new competition and the poor state of the economy. According to local news stories, the head of the Sands Casino here has admitted that, if he had it to do over again, he would not build in Bethlehem.
One more thing. If you get the casino some of you wish for, you will feel different about your town. Trust me on this. Some of you might feel proud and empowered, at least at first. More of you, I believe, will feel diminished. Especially when you will be trading being a unique American shrine for being just another roadside emporium.
Think it over. And good luck.