Washington Square’s Latest “Ghost”

5 11 2009

All this talk of ghost stories and history seems to be (pardon the pun) haunting me. After thinking, just two days ago, upon the literal layers of a historic house in New Hope, this morning I read in New York Magazine about the headstone unearthed last week in Washington Square Park. It’s no secret that the lively park has had many incarnations in its long history, one of which as a “potter’s field.” Last year, the first phase of a renovation project led to the discovery of intact skeletons.

The second phase is now under way, and last week a neighborhood resident reported seeing a crew dusting off a headstone. The stone dates back to 1799 and marked the grave of James Jackson, a grocer who died at the age of 28. Now the quest is on to figure out who James Jackson was. Given that the park was a Potter’s Field, there would not have been headstones in it, but there was also a church cemetery in the park at one time, or, as this blog suggests, some rare yellow fever victims did have tombstones.

Whatever the case, I will be following it, not only because it’s a fascinating sliver of New York history, but because, yet again, it underlines my vision of the city as palimpsest (which, it turns out, is not a vision unique to me), where life and stories are layered upon one another, like the paint covering John Pickett’s landscapes in New Hope or the park covering a former resting place for the city’s poor.



Historic Haunts (and Hauntings)

2 11 2009

I did not dress up for Halloween this year. Not surprising given my dearth of creativity when it comes to costume ideas (and general dislike of the tradition as a result). What I did celebrate, however, was my favorite part of the holiday, the focus on ghosts and hauntings. While I’m not so much obsessed with ghosts, the whole historic aspect of it I find thrilling. Last Halloween, I did a pub crawl of some of New York’s favorite haunted hot spots.

This year, I’m thinking of some of the other haunted places to visit. Every major city, it seems, has its own host of ghosts, and every place worth its salt as a travel destination has a tour to explore them. I’ve been on ghost tours in San Francisco and Edinburgh and New Orleans, to name a few. They are often cheesy but always fun, and the beauty of them lies not so much in the scary factor (for me at least) but for the glimpses of history they provide.

Most recently, I visited New Hope, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest (and arguably quirkiest) towns, where they have their cadre of spooks and spirits who add a little local color to an already colorful place. On a ghost tour of the town we learned about Joseph Pickett, a painter who only received acclaim following his 1918 death, after his wife had auctioned off much of his work. The quirky Mr. Pickett is said to have shown those who made fun of his work but painting one of his landscapes on the outside of his home. While the building has been painted over today, his ghost is said to remain. This is the sort of local color I love, and the ideal ghost story, one that unearths a bit of a place’s history in relation to its sights.

For more fun “haunts” check out Budget Travel’s list of haunted walking tours.

Local Love, and Yumminess

12 10 2009

Food is great. It’s also necessary. But what goes into creating a good meal can sometimes not be so good for the environment, or local industry for that matter. In that vein, my friend and co-worker, the amazing Liz Griffin, decided to tackle the task of creating a delicious meal made entirely from local ingredients. It was more of a challenge than she thought it would be (sitting across from her, I got to witness the kinks), but the outcome was fantastic. Or at least looks as though it was… (I guess I wasn’t cool enough to warrant an invite!) Read about the adventure and get tips on planning a Home State Plate of your own. I have every intention of weaseling my way into her next one…

Literary Movers and Shakers (and Litquake-ers)

9 10 2009

It’s that time of year again, and I (tear) am missing it. Litquake, the world’s best literary festival and big sister to LitCrawl NYC, begins tonight. And promises to be the best one yet. it had better be. It’s celebrating its 10th birthday. I’m especially sad to be missing Sarah Vowell, the North Beach Literary Tour and, of course, the Kerouac event, but as always the entire schedule looks phenomenal. Guess I’ll be spending the week doing a little extra reading…

More on Maine: the “Eco-est” of Eco Inns

8 10 2009

inn by the sea

I’ve neglected my new obsession with Maine, partly due to a hectic schedule and partly just due to the fact that if I think about Maine I want to go back—at least while the weather is still not freezing. Anyhow, I think it’s high time to re-visit (at least in words) one of the aspects that made Maine so amazing. I had the pleasure of spending my last evening in Maine at the gorgeous Inn by the Sea, an amazing property on the coast of the sleepy town of Cape Elizabeth, just 20 minutes from Portland.

What makes Inn by the Sea amazing is not only its charming New England design and its proximity to, well, the sea, but the fact that it’s a friend to the environment in just about every aspect possible. A few years ago, the inn was taken down to the studs and experienced a multi-million dollar remodel, not to make it more luxurious (which it is) but to make it completely green from its re-purposed flooring to its
solar-paneled roof.

On top of that, guests can participate in a whole array of fun yet educational events, like classes on planting native gardens or beach cleaning festivities, all that end with guests receiving milkweed seeds, to help expand the areas in which endangered Monarch butterflies lay their eggs. And all this is just the beginning. Read more about my trip here.

Regarding the Kindness of Strangers

10 09 2009

One of the loveliest things about travel is the aspect of connecting with strangers. This is pretty much a constant in foreign travel, especially when you are traveling solo and even more especially when you are a solo female traveler. But in general, if you are open to “communing with the natives,” locals tend to be open to communing right back. It is my general experience that people are proud of their country/city/home, and eager to share it with those who are eager to really experience the life and culture there.

I came across much of this in South America, and most of the highlights of that trip, not surprisingly, have to do with random conversation or experiences with friendly strangers. This is less the case in the U.S., however. Nice as Americans are, we are generally a bit more closed off, going about our own lives and in general far too busy to show off our homes to folks we do not know. It’s  difficult to imagine, for example, that a strange girl with no place to stay might knock on the door of a vacation rental somewhere in Anywhere, USA and have the family on the other side take her in as the lovely parents of Octavio and Julia did for me in Humahuaca.

Emphasis, here, on in general. Not all Americans are skeptical of random strangers. Especially, it turns out, on the idyllic roads of Long Island, where we recently went wine tasting and were treated not only to lush scenery, but some of the nicest people one can imagine.

Corey Creek

Picture this:

Four ladies arrive in Mattituck, LI after a two and a half hour train ride and decide to walk to the first winery since their bus is nowhere in sight. It’s sweltering, and after a half hour of walking they are sweaty and trudging, but nearly there, when a car pulls to the side and the woman inside offers them a ride, explaining emphatically when the very relieved ladies climb into the car that  she never does this, then gushing over the area and suggesting countless wineries to try, insisting that she drive them further than their original destination and drop them at one of her favorite wineries.

Savior Sasha bids the ladies adieu at Croteaux, a tiny mom and pop winery that rather perfectly for the idyllic setting only serves rosés.

Croteaux bottle

There is much drinking of pink wine, but there is also some petting of Sargent, the resident pup, and best of all some great conversation with the proprietor, Croteaux himself, who shares that he and his wife moved to the property without the intention of making wine, but saved the historic neighboring farm by purchasing it. After much conversation, and in the second act of kindness of the day, Croteaux offers the ladies the use of his family bicycles to make their way to the next few wineries.

The ladies discover there is little more picturesque than biking on North Fork roads. Unless, perhaps, it’s the sight of bikes against rows of grape vines.


As the day passes there is dancing (with strangers), playing the sunglasses game (more strangers) and finally the kind stranger who gives the ladies a ride back to the train station. Long Islanders, it is clear, are some of the friendliest (and most helpful) folks in all the land. Perhaps it’s the wine?

For more on how to wine hop in Long Island, click here (warning: shameless self-promotion link). More of the mayhem, and a clearer idea of the sunglasses game (mind bafflingly complicated) here.

US Open!

4 09 2009
Nice seats, eh?

Nice seats, eh?

In case you didn’t know it, there’s a big tennis competition going on. I know it (even though I don’t know for certain is “tennis competition” is the proper term). I know it because last night, for very first time, I visited the US Open. The great people at Olympus had a nice comfortable box for several members of the press to play with cameras and watch Roger Federer and Serena Williams.


Though I only vaguely understand tennis, it was great fun. I took a camera down to some seats within spitting distance of the court and played a little with photography, gawked at Kim Cattrall just two boxes away (it can’t all be tennis, right?) and even watched (and learned a little about tennis). But best of all, I participated in another little bit of New York greatness, watched at home by the rest of the world. Gotta love New York.

Some thoughts and observation on my first US Open experience:

  • You don’t have to be as quiet here as you see people being in those Wimbledon movies. You do, I learned from another journalist, at the real Wimbledon.
  • The poor ball boys must be under a lot of pressure. The race nervously on and off the court and always seem more than a little bit worried.

ball boy

  • On that note, what’s the deal with the need for so many tennis balls anyhow? The ball boys pick up the balls after each play, and then are constantly feeding the players new balls. It all seems a little absurd to me. But fascinating.
  • Serena Williams is quite fun to watch, but I was distracted by her amazing ability to play so well weighted down with all that bling she has going on (she was wearing huge hoop earrings and a very heavy-looking necklace).
  • Last, the US Open is just yet another very cool thing about living in New York.

California Academy of Sciences – Finally!

1 08 2009

Last weekend while at home I finally made it to the California Academy of Sciences. I’ve been wanting to visit since it reopened last year, after nearly 10 years and $500 million of renovations.

It was worth the wait. The new building is pretty spectacular, complete with a living roof that not only collects rainwater to prevent polluting runoff, but reduces energy needs, provides a habitat for local flora and fauna and is pretty darn lovely to behold on top of it all.

We visited Madagascar, Borneo and Costa Rica in four stories, compliments of the museum’s tropical rain forest, which is teeming with vibrant butterflies, but, lucky for me, the birds tend to remain well hidden. The penguins never fail to please (don’t believe me? watch them), and the planetarium was pretty fantastic, though I think the highlight may well have been the albino alligator that graces the swamp part of the aquarium.

I visited this place as a child, but I have to say the awe I feel as an adult far exceeds any I could have felt then. As an adult, I fully appreciate the scope of the place, and all the effort that went into making it what it is today. It’s been a key feature of Golden Gate Park, and now its sustainable design ensures that it will continue to be so for a very long time. And that makes this girl very, very happy.

Save California State Parks!

31 07 2009

I may not currently live in California, but that doesn’t mean I love it any less. In fact, living away from what is arguably our nations best state has made me even more devoted. I love New York, and I am fascinated by the number of beautiful places and the rich cultural and historical sights and stories the East Coast has to offer, but you don’t get much better than California’s weather. Until, that is, you add its beaches and its mountains and its incredibly laid back and happy people (how can you not be happy living there?).

And this to say nothing of its many popular and incredible State Parks. Recently, however, things are a bit amiss in the Golden State. It’s no secret that California is having some money troubles. And these money troubles mean troubles for the State Parks. The recent budget cuts mean the possible closing of up to 100 state parks. Travesty much?

So I’m taking a moment to get a little political (and a little sappy) and urge everyone who has ever marveled at the enormity of a redwood (or dreamed of doing so) to take action. Get more information on what you can do here.

Rushmore Addendum (and more on girlfriends)

7 07 2009

I realize now that I was mistaken about the name of said creepy Texas town. After writing the post, I quickly dashed off an email to Kristi and Christine, noting that the town of Leprechaun became even more creepy when it failed to exist. Both remembered said town and the fear and speed with which we passed through it. But Kristi made a good point: the town was not named Leprechaun at all. Here I will quote Kristi, because she captures the sentiment well:

I saw the blog post of the road trip! And it got me thinking more about that lovely stop in Texas we made and realized that it was actually Shamrock, TX that we went to (hwy 40 goes right through it). Aside from the creepiness factor, I remember joking that leprechauns were going to jump out of hiding places and kill us (probably where you got the idea that the town was Leprechaun, TX). I also remember a lot of neon signs and a lack of people. There was some food court area or county fair area and nobody was there – it was empty – like a ghost town. So instead of eating dinner there, we drove to the next town.
To further underline the “FREAKIN CREEPY” aspect of the town, she included a link to this image:
My point here is twofold:
  1. Shamrock, TX remains just as creepy a prospect as Leprechaun, TX would be if it did in fact exist, even though its Economic Development site makes it seem rather quaint( but does the happy waitress on the front page look as though she’s missing an arm??)
  2. Shamrock, TX is a “Legend of America,” which is a nice way of saying that even if it doesn’t have leprechauns waiting to prey on young college girls, it certainly has its share of ghostly lore. (Why, now, do I somehow find this aspect fascinating?)
  3. Most importantly, Shamrock, TX, and my “mis-memory” of it, sparked a whole new round of reminiscing about said trip, with this response from Christine: What a good trip that was, can you believe how young we were?? We couldn’t even drink. And why didn’t we bring any alcohol around with us to drink at night? What did we do for entertainment?…

Her list goes on, as could mine, but I’ll save more stories from the road for another day. Nearly 10 years later (gasp!) they still haven’t gotten old, and they are a sign of the strength of gal pal bonds and the thrill of travel that solidifies them. Perhaps that Shamrock was a little lucky after all…