St. Patrick’s Day

Here in the United States St. Patrick’s Day brings to mind green, shamrocks, leprechauns, Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, green food and drinks, a parade, a green river, etc.  It doesn’t typically recall the story of St. Patrick or the religious aspects of March 17.

In fact, St. Patrick’s Day became even more popular when, in 1995, the Irish government began a national campaign to showcase Ireland, using St. Patrick’s Day to help.  Since St. Patrick’s Day is a religious day in Ireland, pubs were closed on March 17 until the 1970s, which is probably contrary to popular belief. [Source: History.com]

Yes, St. Patrick’s Day is mostly a secular, fun, green holiday for us Americans; however, it couldn’t hurt to understand the traditions associated with the holiday. Check our History.com’s The History of St. Patrick’s Day page for information about St. Patrick, the traditions, symbols, religious origins, etc. 

For instance [from History.com], why do we eat corned beef and cabbage? This is not a traditionally Irish dish.  Instead, it originated at the turn of the 20th century when Irish immigrants living in New York City could not afford their traditional Irish bacon, so they replaced it with the cheaper corned beef.  If you are Irish, did you know that Irish immigrants were members of the Protestant middle class in America until the mid 19th century? Then, when the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland, millions of Catholics fled, now poor and uneducated and starving, and the Protestants began to reject the Irish Catholic, denying them jobs and creating negative images – hence the infamous, “No Irish Need Apply”.  The New York City parade began in 1848 and over time became a source of pride for Irish citizens. However, it wasn’t until 1948 that a president, President Truman, attended the parade to show support for those Irish-Americans who had faced prejudice for so long.

You can read more interesting facts about St. Patrick’s Day on History.com. And while you’re celebrating the luck o’ the Irish today, religiously or secularly, remember that the Irish have come a long way. Make a toast to your neighbor and enjoy.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. My favorite Irish blessing for you:

May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be ever at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rain fall soft upon your fields,

and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of his hand. 

Book Club Begins

The Preservation in Pink Book Club has officially chosen its first book. See the Book Club page for more information. It is now a permanent fixture on this site.

Hope you will join us!

Bingo!

You have most likely played bingo at some point in your life, the typical number bingo in an elementary school cafeteria or perhaps you were one of the lucky kids to have auto bingo cards.  My sisters and I had yellow auto bingo cardboard cards with red sliding covers for each object (telephone wire, stop sign, train, truck, etc.)  Now you can search for “auto bingo” or “travel bingo” and find a wide variety of bingo cards.

Have you ever played architectural bingo?  Greater Portland Landmarks of Portland, Maine has developed architectural bingo with suggestions on how to play outside or even online. It is a great, fun, easy way to practice your architectural terms and identification skills.  On the website Greater Portland Landmarks helps out bingo players with a glossary and offers a printable pdf card with directions for playing. Of course, you can always make up your own rules. This is great for kids or students of any age. Download the card here. Who wants to play?!

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Have fun! If you feel creative and want to make your own regionally based architectural bingo card, send it to Preservation in Pink.

Microfilm Lessons

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Would that be considered optimistic or pessimistic? Is it really true or just one of those things people say in cliche form? While reading microfilm archives of the Harnett County News at the Harnett County Library yesterday, I found my evidence that many things do stay the same. Collectively, society changes and stays the same. Advertisements and news articles reveal very similar issues to those in today’s media. For example, an article in the 1934 Harnett County News questioned if movies are bad for children’s health, with subsequent articles following. I had to laugh in amazement and amusement; current articles about movies or television and the effect on children are easy to find. The 1934 news reported foreclosures, murders, new highways, community events, births, deaths, marriages, visitors in town.  Advertisements proclaimed sale prices, quality, trust, and odd medicinal fads. The main difference, to me, was that most papers do not print social engagements anymore, or at least not as prominently.

While I have seen many old newspaper articles, I have seldom used microfilm in my research, partially because it was unnecessary and partially because it makes me terribly nauseous, and I suppose that only by scanning many weeks of the paper can one get a true overview of the issues of the time. While it would be nice to assume that problems of 75 years ago have been fixed by now, it’s comforting to realize that people are people and despite flaws, society continues to move forward and thrive in spite of the obstacles.  And the tragedies of yesterday such as segregation, tuberculosis, child labor, etc. have been addressed and generally corrected, if you will.  We have come a long way. Granted, they have been replaced by new tragedies, but it gives me faith that these, too, will be erased. For those who feel disconnected from history, perhaps browsing the old newspapers will bring a stronger sense of understanding and legacy and be able to relate to historical events and figures.

One note about newspaper research: just as today’s paper will misquote people and get information incorrect, historical news articles are likely to have the same problems. Don’t take every detail as an absolute truth. (I constantly find names and dates associated with Overhills to be incorrect, which is why I say this.)

Aside from these lessons, I discovered that microfilm no longer makes me nauseous and it is a lot of fun – not an everyday kind of fun, but a good research excursion when necessary. And I’ll take the opening statement as optimistic.

My (Misguided) Preservation Induced Psychosis

Historic houses and modern houses are easy to distinguish from each other, right? For the sake of this argument, historic means the typical 50+ years-old home. I tend to scoff at modern homes, particularly brand new construction because generally it seems like it is only enormous, ostentatious, energy sucking McMansions being built or condos in terrible locations.  And I’m spoiled where I live now, because my running routes and the places I tend to walk are all historic and beautiful. Lucky for me, I don’t have to worry about coming across new development with its huge front lawns, double car garages, vinyl siding, out of proportioned architectural features, etc. While this is a generalization, it tends to be quite common in housing developments.

Knowing this, imagine my shock when, on a few occasions, I have found myself running past a house, thinking oh I like that… but the gable looks too big and those windows are odd and that brick looks too perfect… and oh my goodness, that is NEW construction!! I feel like I’m cheating on the historic houses. How could I actually like a house that is only a few years old? As a preservationist, I never intend to own a house of non-historic construction and I like to believe that people who live in historic houses enjoy them more than new houses. Call me naive, but let me live in this personal bubble for just a bit longer.*  This psychosis of not being able to look at modern houses or feeling guilty when doing so is probably mentally connected to other crazy things of mine like an addiction to running, and the need to drink a lot of coffee.

But, let’s get back to the houses. Because of this preservation induced psychosis (however misguided), I have been considering “historic” 1950s suburban development, and even all houses when they were new.  At some point in time, these houses all looked similar, like cookie cutter houses. As obvious as this is, one of the reasons that these houses and yards are now distinguishable from their neighbors is because decades of owners have added their own personal touches: renovations, paint colors, landscaping, porches, windows, shutters, whatever the case may be. The houses have weathered and been lived in; trees have grown and shade the yards, and the neighborhood has come to belong to itself. It no longer looks like it was just stuck on top of the earth.  And those neighborhoods are now acceptable, in my mind.

Thus, I have reminded myself that my generalization of new development is entirely too narrow. It is not all evil, obviously. It can’t be; people need places to live and not all construction is made to last forever. Hence, new housing is necessary. And when new housing is sensitive to its surrounding structures and landscape, then it can blend in just as well and fool even those of us who scowl at it. Does this mean new development is acceptable because one day it will no longer be “new”? No. All development should be sensitive to the exiting surroundings and the scale should be within reason.  But, when development is done correctly, it is okay to like it.  I want to like it. You can’t build something old, so it should at least be respectful of the context and design. Hopefully architects, developers, and preservationists are reaching a common ground where they communicate needs, wants, and can create functional, appealing houses. I think we’re on the right track.

Maybe next time I pass a new house that I accidentally like, I’ll look at it a second time and silently thank the architect and construction company rather than be horrified with myself. Anyone want to go for a house gazing run? Or perhaps someone would like to confess their own preservation induced psychosis…

*Disclaimer: I do not believe that all preservationists should feel how I feel. This is part of the personal standard that I set for myself, which may vary from the general preservation tenets. This can be turned off and replaced with rational, trained thought about preservation, rather than the amateurish views.

Alabama #1: Kelly Ingram Park

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Sweet Home Alabama, where the skies are so blue.

As some vigilant readers may have noticed, Wednesdays tend to be travel days here at Preservation in Pink. This past weekend, Vinny and I visited a friend in Birmingham, Alabama.  Our friend is a wonderful host and catered to our interests, which included a lot of preservation related sites. Thus, Birmingham posts will be a series. This is Alabama post #1, the Kelly Ingram Park in downtown Birmingham. Alabama posts will appear on Wednesdays for the next few weeks.

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16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL

The Civil Rights District in downtown Birmingham, Alabama is a six block area recognizing important events of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Among these sites are the 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park. The 16th Street Baptist Church, a National Historic Landmark, is the site of a September 1963 bombing that killed four young African American girls. The church had become the site of civil rights demonstrations and after the bombing, the United States and other nations around the world openly condemned segregation. See the HABS documentation of the 16th Street Baptist Church here from the Library of Congress – photographs and historical research and measured drawings.

Closer view of the 16th Street Baptist Church

The brick construction and the neon sign of 16th Street Church.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the opposite corner of 16th Street Church is Kelly Ingram Park, formerly known as West Park, where police and fireman attacked civil rights demonstrators in May 1963. Men, women, and children were hosed with high pressure fire hoses, beaten with policemen’s night sticks, and arrested. One man attacked by a police dog. Men, women, and children as young as six years old were arrested and jailed. Images of these tragic incidents were broadcasted all over the world. Seen in the above photograph is a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the park.

Kelly Ingram Park memorials

Today, the four acre is park is home to the Freedom Walk, which leads visitors in a circle around the park through sculptures of the police dog attack, the fire hoses, and a jail cell. The park was named Kelly Ingram Park in 1932 for Osmond Kelly Ingram, a sailor in the U.S. Navy who died in World War I and received the Medal of Honor posthumously. In 1992 the park was renovated and rededicated with the Civil Rights Institute.  Visitors may take an audio tour or their own self guided tour to enjoy the peacefulness of the park today. Seen below is the police dog attack sculpture in the park.

The police dog attack

The sculptures are powerful images, a contrast to the beauty and unity of the park today. It is across the street from the Civil Rights Institute and worth a visit, as a tribute to those who fought long and hard and suffered in order to earn equal rights in the United States.  See the National Register of Historic Places Travel Itineary for additional historic sites of the Civil Rights movement.

The fountain at the park

The park fountains.

Historic Running Tours

Visitors’ centers, historical associations, museums, and others, often offer historic walking tours; included may be a detailed pamphlet with a map and information about stops along the route, perhaps an audio headset, or plaques to read on your tour. Walking tours are a beautiful, environmentally friendly way to see the neighborhood and enjoy the good weather of tourist season.

However, walking tours do not suit everyone. Some people cannot walk for long periods of time (i.e. the elderly); in which case a bus tour may be a better option, in cities anyway. Or a walking tour of everything you want to see may take too much time.  Most people, at a leisurely pace, will require 20-30 minutes to walk one mile, especially with stops included.

And then there are some of us who find any pace of walking too slow (yes, that’d be me).  I like walking around town and strolling in the warm, sunny weather or in the cold, snowy weather; but if I am in a new town and want to see everything, I need a faster way to go sight seeing, one that is not dependent on a motorized vehicle. Bike tours are one option, though my favorite is a running tour. This past weekend, while visiting a friend in Birmingham, Alabama, we went running around his neighborhood. We covered three miles of gorgeous architecture and city views in about 30 minutes, stops included. Had we been walking, we would have never been able to see as much.

Running provides a fast way (faster than walking) to cover a fair amount of distance and sight seeing provides endless entertainment while running, and it is much safer than driving and attempting to sight see. Whenever I travel, I explore by running and discover places I wouldn’t have while walking. When running I’m in comfortable clothing, sturdy sneakers, and I am alert and interested in my surroundings. Even on my daily running routes I take note of the changes in town, whether it be construction, home improvements, or the number of people working in their yards or the children at the playground playing basketball or the hours of the downtown stores.  So why not combine the two? Runners are preservationists and travelers, too!

However, the only “historic running tour” I can find is this one from the New York Flyers, a running club in New York City. The running tour provides bag check (for gear), a water stop, tour guides, and an option for a group lunch afterwards. This run is about 12 miles long, which probably scare off most travelers.

Thus, we need other historic running tours! Perhaps a guide who can talk while running at a comfortable pace, run backwards, move his/her arms to point when necessary, and speak loudly enough for the entire run.  It sounds difficult, but coming from this track coach, it’s just something you get used to.  Who would like a running tour? I’ll volunteer!

Some cities have “tours” via iPods and mp3 downloads nowadays. That could work for running, too, since many people run with iPods. The pros and cons of this are up for debate (safety being the primary concern).  

How does it sound? Let’s get started. A website with running routes, historical information, water stops and bathrooms along the way, perhaps markers on the route, would be great. But for now, the best way is to find a friend who is a runner and can lead you through her neighborhood. Or, just get out the door and take a historic running tour of your own.  If you like running, you won’t regret your new perspective on sight seeing.

Beautiful House

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This house in Southern Pines is a beautiful example of rehabilitation and renovation. When I moved here 2.5 years ago, this house was completely gutted on the inside, sitting empty for so long, and rumored circulated about who would buy the house and what would happen to it. The rumors were never very positive. While I do not know what the house looks like inside, it’s a beautiful lot in town and a great addition to the neighborhood. And the renovations are respectful to the rest of the historic district. I love this house.

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Field School

With spring looming, we’re all dreaming of warm weather days, road trips, outdoor field trips, warmer survey weather, spring break, internships, summer jobs, graduation…among other things. One idea you should consider is participating in a field school this spring or summer.  Whether you’re in preservation or considering preservation, a field school can give you the perfect opportunity to do hands-on work and participate in group projects. While some field schools last weeks and months and cost thousands of dollars, there are often local workshops that you can attend and shorter field schools. If you’re employed, perhaps you have professional development funds or at least a few vacation days for a field school. Your best resource is to peruse the academic programs’ websites or PreserveNet postings. If you have the time and the money, the field lengthy field schools sound fantastic! See the University of Oregon, the University of Virginia, John Cabot University, and Old Salem Museums and Gardens, to name just a few – but there are many more. If anyone is interested in a longer list, leave a comment here or send an email.

I would recommend Poplar Forest Restoration Field Schoolas the best preservation field school, for many reasons. First, if you are consider the financial aspect, you cannot beat the price.  For two weeks, the $350 tuition covers materials, field trips, and everything else at the school. And, for lodging, all field school students stay in nearby Lynchburg College dorms for about $30/day.  Food and transportation to Poplar Forest are your responsibility.  Right around $700 with the known costs so far, that is so much cheaper than any other field school.  Now, for the content. The days are action packed, long days divided between lectures, field work, and site visits. Travis McDonald, the Director of Restoration at Poplar Forest, has been teaching the field school for almost two decades. He is wonderful. He’ll address documentation, conservation, restoration, investigation, curation, and so much more. On the website you can see a typical field school schedule. Two weeks was the perfect length for an intensive field school. I cannot say enough about Poplar Forest. I attended last year and wrote about it in these posts. (Or just read the posts from May-June 2008 and one is September 2008).  To apply, you have to write a cover letter and submit one letter of recommendation by April 29, 2009. If you love preservation or are interested in the field, you will not regret it.  There is also a month-long Poplar Forest Archaeology Field School and I can only imagine that it’s as good as the Restoration Field School.  Apply by April 8, 2009.

Enjoy the upcoming spring season and get outside! Field schools are an excellent chance to out of the office and out of the classroom.

The World of Interviews

During high school, I worked on the school newspaper every year.  My junior and senior years, I enrolled in the journalism class.  I loved everything about journalism and newspaper production: interviewing people, coming up with story ideas, writing, editing (or sometimes slashing), layout, proofreading, captions, terminology, teaching the younger students, and of course, the brand new, hot-off-the-press stack of newspapers.

In college, when I participated in the Veterans History Project through my folklore class, interviewing a subject came naturally to me. My professor told me that my experience in journalism had definitely given me a step-up over people who had never done such a thing. I loved this project. Of course, this foreshadowed my future in oral history.

Yet, despite the lessons I learned in journalism and folklore, the similarities, and the root of wanting to know the story, the fields are incredibly distinct and interviewing for journalism is an entirely different task than conducting an oral history interview.  [By journalism, I mean am referring to typical newspapers, which is not necessarily every facet of journalism].

Generally, news interviews are short and to the point. A news interviewer asks direct questions about what she needs to know.  There isn’t a need for a relationship and extended communication between the interviewer and the interviewee.  Contrarily, an oral history interview is extended, often hours and sometimes multiple meetings. Establishing trust is essential. Following the interview agenda is important, not entirely expected. Most people will address topics irrelevant to the researcher’s goals.  Open ended, but guided questions are the best type to ask. After the interview, according to oral history ethics, the interviewee has the opportunity to review the transcript and any product. The interviewee can retract statements. In journalism, the interviewee has no idea what will appear in the paper.

I make these statements based on my own experiences. Keep in mind, my journalism days are limited to high school and my oral history methods may vary slightly from those of others. But, I mention these basic, stark differences because on a few occasions, potential oral history interviewees have been very wary of the oral history project, or have even refused because they had been misquoted in news articles. Therefore, they no longer trust anyone who uses the word interview.

That’s a fair enough reason, and often people’s fears are soothed with further explanations of the project and the interview process (recording, transcribing, interviewee review).  Many people initially dislike the idea of the interview being recorded, until they fully understand the transcript and availability to review and have a final say.  It’s commonplace in oral history work.

However, the fact that so many people feel they have been misquoted in newspapers in disheartening.  Indeed, I know how they feel. When Jeff and I were interviewed for our book, Overhills, we had no idea what would be in the paper or what snippets would be used, since the reporter barely wrote down anything. I imagine it’s a skill to remember interviews without an audio recorder. As it turns out, the article was fine, but until we were able to read it, the fear of misquotation lingered.

Of course, I imagine people have been misquoted in oral history projects, sometimes accidentally. Transcriptionists may not understand every word and therefore, unknowingly invent entirely new phrases and statements. (Sometimes, this is quite hilarious).  Or a transcript (accuracy unknown) can be the only product used, and extracted passages are not what the interviewee originally said.

Both journalism and oral history have their benefits and disadvantages and the quality from each will depend on the person conducting the research. For instance, a simple, local news story does not require hours of interview time and transcription. A few questions are all that is necessary.  On the other hand, the history of a house or of a town cannot be answered in a few journalism style interviews. Depth is necessary and the human memory works best with time to recall the past.  One field cannot replace the other.

I’m grateful for my time in journalism and oral history, both of which I enjoy. There is great value in both, when done properly. I’d have to say that oral history is much harder and more rewarding than journalism, but of course, that’s to me, since I love history and almost forgotten stories.  Now, if only journalists and oral historians could develop different ways to say “interview”, because I haven’t met anyone scared away from interviews by oral history projects, only those scared away from interviews by newspapers.  

And, call me a creature of habit, but I always prefer to be the interviewer rather than the interviewee.  To me, it’s easier.