Sunday, March 25, 2012

Give Me Liberty


This is one of those mixed bag posts. If you see a section you don't like, just move on.

A few weeks ago in Liberty Enlightening the World you might recall that the back of the package said:
Remove buildings from water and it will shrink to original size.
Surprise! Not really! I gave Colored Growing a few weeks to be totally dried out, but she's still about half again original size. And she looks different.

They've got me though. The directions say to remove buildings from water. If I complain they'll ask whether I removed any buildings from water. I did not.

Spring! Click to enlarge!

Out front, the daffodils get your attention first, and then the small purple flowers everywhere of the groundcover, vinca. Some pink hyacinths are scattered around. In the lower left quadrant please notice the clumps of purple and white snow glories, from little bulbs we planted laboriously last fall.

Up the hill out back, we have a nice grouping of hellebores. Behind them are a carpet of vinca and marsh marigolds. The yellow flowers of the marsh marigolds are closed today because it's been overcast. Near the top are cherry blossoms of the last remaining stem of an old tree. We had to cut down its main trunk last year because it was dead. It never produces cherries but the flowers and bark are unmistakable.

People keep asking, "Joe, did you forget about the New Jersey Terminals project?" So I believe. But if they are asking, they don't realize that I can't hear them from here.

Anyway, I have put up the 1915 lines and stations over on the web page. This is a candidate for the peak year. I left off the base map on this one to get a cleaner image.

The colors indicate the different railroad companies, with street railways in purple.

I found the street railways poorly documented but fascinating. In this portion you can see the Hoboken Elevated and several other sections of off-street running, particularly where cars ascended the Palisades.

A surprise to me was continued Pennsylvania Railroad service at Marion for a time after the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad opened. It probably had low platforms till the end. The service is documented in a 1915 Official Guide. H&M Newark trains ran past Marion without stopping on the same tracks as the Pennsylvania trains.

More fun next time.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ball's Bluff

It was nice day today, Sunday, so we went wandering in the woods in South Mountain Reservation in search of two places. There was a place called Ball's or Balls Bluff that I had never been able to find, and not far from it is Hemlock Falls, our own local natural wonder, which we've found many times but not approaching from the south.

According to the local journal Matters Magazine (originally Maplewood Matters, which was a nice pun, but hard to adapt when they decided to cover South Orange too),
On March 18, 1896, Philander Ball, who lived in Maplewood at 172 Parker Avenue, sold three and a half acres of nearby wooded property to the recently created Essex County Parks Commission. This transaction is remarkable because Ball's parcel of land was the first to be acquired for what would become South Mountain Reservation.
He was of the same family as Timothy Ball, whose colonial-era house I've mentioned in posts about stone houses and the Crooked Brook.

Here's a quick awful map of where we walked. Like many local maps the county's park map follows Dutch tradition and has west at the top.

We parked in a small lot with only two cars in it, the one where the red lines touch the solid black automobile road.

We struck off through the woods following vaguely the so-called trail shown by a dashed line on the map, and found the "bridle path" shown as Overlook Trail. The bridle paths are wide, unpaved, and well eroded. No one rides horses on them.

As shown the bridle path divides at "Balls Bluff". The location is a high knob overlooking the valley to the west, through which flows the West Branch of the Rahway River. It was probably a fine overlook 200 years ago when all the trees had been cut down for lumber.

Here's the same area on the 1902 map, when the reservation was new. The so-called bridle paths are shown by solid lines, which the legend calls "Temporary Drives / Old Woods Roads Improved". The double lines are "Proposed Drives" that were never built.

On the 1902 map, Balls Bluff is called Overlook Point, which matches nicely with the name Overlook Trail on the county's park map.

We started down the Lenape Trail, shown by a dotted line on the map, and found the remains of the Balls Bluff shelter. There's probably an old photograph of it somewhere but I can't find it. (By the way it is hard to search the web for Balls Bluff because there was a Civil War battle of the same name.)

Although we failed to bring a camera with us, all is not lost. Last September the blog Gone Hikin' ran photographs of scenes from a pretty long hike in the res including where we walked today. Before I send you there, let me describe the ruins. Pillars of rounded stones cemented together form a circle around sloping ground. The pillars on the uphill side are very short while those on the downhill side (seen in the photograph) are the tallest. After a moment we realized the tops of the pillars, or at least the unbroken ones, are all level. They must be supports for a wooden floor that is now gone.

Now go look. About halfway down is a photograph of the ruins at Balls Bluff, and right below it is also a photograph of Hemlock Falls.

That's about it. We took the Lenape Trail over hill and through dale and reached the falls. It hasn't rained a lot lately so it was less impressive than it could be. There are new benches. We went back up the grade on the bridle path, past Balls Bluff again, and again had to make our own way from there to the parking lot. We saw a pileated woodpecker working a hole in a tree, a warbler, and some chickadees. It was good.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Doff and Don


It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
Some character says that in an issue of Superman I read as a kid. The story line did not involve a windy day so I knew it was an old saying, but the meaning escaped me.

I was around ten at the time. Superman did not seem to me to be written for kids. I saw it as a window into an adult world where people said mysterious things and did things I didn't totally grasp.

For example the title character would repeatedly doff his civilian clothes to go do something super and then eventually don them again. These were words I did not know before.

The Oxford English Dictionary says of doff:
Etymology: Coalesced form of do off  [...]  In ordinary colloquial use in north of England (not in Scotl.). Elsewhere, since 16th cent., a literary word with an archaic flavour. Ray noted it as a northern provincialism; Johnson, as ‘in all its senses obsolete, and scarcely used except by rustics’. In 19th cent., from the time of Scott, very frequent in literary use.
And of don:
Etymology: contracted < do on [...] After 1650 retained in popular use only in northern dialect; as a literary archaism it has become very frequent in 19th cent. [...] The opposite of DOFF.
The literary use alluded to appears from the citations to be mostly adventure stories set in olden times. Ripping yarns. This suggests what the writers of Superman grew up on.

Make that one particular writer. I didn't know at the time that most of the stories I was reading were by the creator of Superman, Jerry Siegel. I didn't know because DC didn't run credits back then, and even if they had done, I wouldn't have known who Jerry Siegel was. DC had dropped him in 1947 when he sued for ownership of the character, but somehow he was allowed back in 1959 and worked for several years, right around when I was reading. He revitalized the sagging popularity of the Superman book with tricks like stories running a full issue, "imaginary" stories outside the canonical storyline, and new forms of kryptonite. As someone said (in a book I can't find so I can't quote it directly), he acted as if he owned the character and wasn't afraid to introduce new things.

Jerry's scripts always tended to the verbose. I realize now they also tended to the archaic. I'm not sure Jerry actually read Walter Scott, although why not? People still did in those days. But I bet the archaisms also appeared in the flowery heightened language of the dime novels that preceded comic books.

Then there's presently. This word appeared, followed by dots, in the yellow narrator box at the top of a panel in which the story shifts to a different scene. In case you didn't notice from the artwork, or couldn't just figure it out, you were thrown this obscure clue. It was another word I had never heard before. It was many years before I realized it means "soon" rather than "now". At any rate it seems to be just a case of Jerry Siegel being verbose. It was his style.
It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
I think it means that a circumstance bad for one person is usually good for somebody somewhere. I'd have to see the story again to see what Jerry thought it meant.

You should see "Federal Men". One good story from 1936 is on the blog Four Color Shadows, from which I have taken the two panels above. Joe Shuster art of course. The "Federal Men" series pre-dates the first appearance of Superman in print in 1938 although Siegel and Shuster had created him in 1934 for possible newspaper syndication. There are more panels from episodes of "Federal Men" scattered through the related blog Days of Adventure, which covers Adventure Comics from its beginning. Yes, "Federal Men" ran in Adventure Comics, the book later published by DC.

It brings up an interesting point about "Superman". The usual story— such as the Wikipedia page— has Siegel and Shuster trying to break in to the business for years before finally getting it published. Sometimes writers admit the pair did a few other comics in the meantime.

But a review of Adventure Comics from 1935 to 1937 on the Days of Adventure blog (see the earliest entries and work forward) will show plenty of comics by Siegel and Shuster as they tried out different heroes. "Federal Men" is a standout not only in retrospect but in its own time. It was the only series in Adventure Comics to have its own fan club, the Junior Federal Men. It was their finest hour to date.

When the editor wanted to start a second book, Action Comics, it's no wonder he was interested in Siegel and Shuster's Superman character. They weren't newcomers. They were known for quality work that attracted readers. That's why Superman appears on the cover.

Then followed the desperate deadline scramble, as usually told, where the pair cut up Shuster's artboards for the projected newspaper strip, dropping some of the panels and adding dialog or narration as needed, to create comic book pages. The cover of Action Comics number 1 was from an even older Shuster drawing, and has Superman with a different simpler logo on his chest. Days of Adventure reveals that Action Comics was first advertised a month too early in its sister book, as if despite the haste it just wasn't ready when planned.

I'd love to find for you the earliest use of doff and don in the Siegel oeuvre, but I'll have to leave it to someone else. I didn't see it in available panels of "Federal Men". I just can't do it all.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Liberty Enlightening the World


I was handed a little package about two inches high. Patriotic lettering announced it as COLORED GROWING, but it didn't fool me. Why it's Liberty Enlightening the World, America's favorite colossal statue.

Here's a better look at it. If you click only one image, to enlarge, this is the one to click. Check out the texture.

Now take a better look at the card.

COLORED GROWING. DO NOT SWALLOW. EXPAND 600% OF SIZE. Yes, it's dangerous. That is how you get people's attention. If you swallow this miniature statue, it becomes six times its size and explodes your intestines!

There's more on the back.

Again, its name seems to be Colored Growing, and again, we are alerted DO NOT SWALLOW.

The temperature of the water is under 35° C. What water? See step 2. I recognized the work of the Direction Writing Cartel. They almost got me again.

Amazing fun and an educational experience. My daughter has learned her New York attitude well. "What am I gonna learn from this?" she wanted to know.

Actually you should click on that one too, and look at the lower left, to see the symbol of the unhappy toddler who is not allowed to have amazing fun and an educational experience.


I always like a combination of fun and education myself. And I laugh at danger. Taking care not to swallow anything, I looked around for a container that would hold water.

The 600% enlargement concerned me. My first choice was a sink. After an hour or so, I realized that this meant we couldn't wash our hands while using what is after all called a washroom, so I transferred Colored Growing to a large spaghetti pot.

I checked the card again. 72 hours? Seriously? No wonder it looked like not much had happened after just one seventy-second of that time. Do not expect instant results.

The next morning, the replica was undeniably larger than it had been. When I picked it up, some of the paint flaked off and fell into the water. The base was rippled and warped. It looked pretty grotesque. But then, it had not even been a full 24 hours yet. I just needed to have faith.

Then we noticed one of the cats drinking from the pot instead of the nice clean water we provide them three feet away. The pot has a lid. I put it on. The magic would proceed in darkness.

The next images were captured generously more than 72 hours after the start of the experiment. But it says after 72 hours, not at exactly 72 hours, and I maintain that eight days is in fact after 72 hours.

Here is the pot.

I don't know what the white stuff is and ignorance is bliss. I know that the dark stuff at the bottom is paint that flaked off, mostly from the base of the statue.

But of course you don't get the scale from that picture. I was thinking ahead that I would put a ruler in the pictures, but in my excitement I forgot.

That's OK though. I had been provided with two copies of Colored Growing, so all we need to do to appreciate the transformation is place them side by side, before and after.

The educational thing I got out of this experience is that 600% means double the height, when you convert from meters.

I held the larger Colored Growing for her closeup.

She's getting ready to swing that torch at me. So I have nothing to lose by adding the sexy rear view of her and her little sister.

There. I did have amazing fun after all.

I wonder whether that pot will come clean.