Posted in Holidays, Museums, Summer, Wow!

Vacation? Vacation!

Okay, just two days but that’s a record these days. We’re in cloudy Burlington, Vermont visiting the Shelburn museum. Primarily American folk art housed in historical buildings. Some of the structures themselves are museums, like an old steam boat that was moved two miles over land to get here.


The Ticonderoga ferried passengers across Lake Champlain from New York state to Vermont. And they did it in style.


Pretty amazing.


Posted in Art, Museums, Music, Oddities, Wow!

Here’s Your Hundred-Year-Old iPod. Got a Truck?

Sure this will fit through the door?

When I was kid, we used to go to an amusement park in Ontario called Crystal Beach. We used to play in the sand and kick our feet in the lake, then check out the kiddie amusement park. There were grown-up rides, too, but we were too small to go on them. So, we spent our afternoon driving kiddie cars or rockets on a circular track. There were similar rides in boats, going around and around in a little pool of water.

My brother loved Leo, the Paper-Eating Lion. It was a garbage receptacle in the shape of a circus lion’s cage. Leo’s head poked through the bars and his mouth was part of a vacuum that sucked in light paper waste. No need to say that the area around Leo the Paper-Eating Lion was as clean as a whistle.

There were fun rides, Crystal Beach suckers, cotton candy and a little train that toodled around the perimeter of the park. Our favorite ride, though, was the merry-go-round. It was a grand attraction with hand-carved  horses and a mechanic band organ that played Sousa marches and popular tunes from the 1890s. We went around, up and down, and I loved watching the machine play its melody over and over. There were drums that beat to the tune that was carried by a cheerful pipe organ. It was like something out of a gay 90s retrospective.

Crystal Beach is long gone and the rides scattered to the four winds. Some were sold to other amusement parks, some were restored for a local museum. The others were destroyed. I always wondered what happened to that band organ and I never found out. Is is still around, captivating children in some other city lucky enough to keep its amusements alive? I hope so. In the meantime, I’ve come across an article online about orchestrions, which basically are grown-up versions of the mechanical band organs we may know better. Once upon a time, they were common fixtures in restaurants and saloons, where a patron could feed it a coin and listen to an entire orchestra, at least if that person had a good imagination.

Lo and behold, the past is present. There are a limited number of these behemoth orchestrions still around, maybe a few thousand. Collectors have found and restored them. How about a little Yankee Doodle on this gorgeous machine?

Evidently, this machine is still in use and you can see at its home in Columbus, Indiana if you’re ever passing by, or even if you live there! Boy, don’t that beat the lowly pipe and drum machine I loved so much as a child.

But, wait, there’s more! They really did try to turn these things into portable orchestras, complete with strings and woodwinds to match the drums, organ and piano. Some of the designs amaze me as much as the music does. The top of the line orchestrions could be large as “12 feet tall, 12 feet wide, and 5 feet deep.” You’d almost have to buy a second house to fit it all in. These giants were serious though, and incredibly expensive. They became the toys of the guilded age rich, both here as well as in Europe.

Damn! That thing’s playing violins, too. I’d go to the Utrecht’s Speelklok tot Pierement Museum in the Netherlands just to see that player in action. I’m crazy about old musical instruments and players. I’d probably faint dead away if someone gave me an old phonograph with a needle and a stack of 78s to play. Just look at this!

Doesn’t it make you want to jump up and play it?

These lovely creatures were eventually supplanted by phonographs and then radio. They were too big to comfortably fit into most commercial establishments and, besides, they could make as much money on the new music players at a fraction of the expense. So, the orchestrion passed away and only the humble organ bands remained to provide the background music for carousels. And now even those are gone.

But not forgotten, it seems. A few of these beasts have been restored for sale. I don’t know who would buy them except other collectors, but I’m glad they’re still around to remind us of what the past sounded like.

The article from which I’ve drawn this bit of information finishes with a contemporary take on this old, mechanical model. Jazz musician Pat Metheny grew up with a player piano in his grandfather’s house and used it as a model for his own compositions. He’s got the benefit of modern solenoid technology and the result is really beautiful.

I’m so glad I came across this article (thanks, BoingBoing!). Here’s the original article on Collector’s Weekly. I’ve got to check out some of their other articles now!

Posted in A Bit of This, A Bit of That, Awwwwww!, Funny Stuff, Museums, Travel With Margy!

Letters of Note: I am only 6 but I think I can do this job

From the National Railway Museum in York:

In July of 2009, having heard that the director of the National Railway Museum in York, Andrew Scott, was soon to retire after 15 years at the helm, 6-year-old train enthusiast Sam Pointon sent the following letter to the museum in an attempt to fill Scott’s shoes and land his dream job.

Letters of Note: I am only 6 but I think I can do this job.

Mr. Scott is the Museum’s Director of Fun, as of 2009. Wish I were closer!


Mr. Director of Fun!


Posted in Art, Museums

Ancient and Artful Devotions

Took a whole day off today, without feeling blitzed or overwhelmed. Well, maybe still a little overwhelmed. We collected the in-laws and drove out to Clinton, Massachusetts (not far from Bolton, for those in the know), enjoying the waning colors of fall on our way out. Our destination was a Museum of Russian Icons, right there in the middle of rural Eastern Massachusetts.

We’ve been meaning to visit this museum for years. My hubby went to Russia back in the old Soviet days and saw some rather fabulous iconography there. We had no idea what to expect, but we went anyway and were not disappointed.

The museum’s collection goes back to the 1400s. I took (non-flash) photos – but of course – and tried to find some Russian liturgical music to accompany them. Do you have ANY idea how difficult it is to find free downloads of Russian liturgical music?? And, once I found it, I had to continue the search to find something that wouldn’t put me to sleep in the first two minutes. I guess glory to God is not a musically high-energy tradition in the Eastern Orthodox world. More like “Mwwwwaaaaaaaaaa zuuuuuuuuu meeeeeeeeee…” You get the idea.

I finally did find something a bit more energetic. It’s by those wild and crazy “Monks and Choirs of Kiev Pechersk Lavra,” performing their hit single: “Small Doxology.” I hope you enjoy the show!

Posted in A Bit of This, A Bit of That, Art, Museums

Fenway Bound

So, a Town Day festival with fireworks, a dinner treat, a fine arts museum and a rose garden. That should set my karma straight for a little while at least. We visited the Museum of Fine Arts, then walked along the Muddy River. That’s part of the Emerald Necklace right behind the museum:

Path Along The Muddy River

We came across a war memorial, with several names lists for wars WWII, Korea and Vietnam. I was quite moved by it all, especially the very long name list for the men who gave their lives in WWII:

Word War II Memorial

Panel after panel after panel. It was sobering.

The afternoon was warm and life beckoned, though, so we walked along the path and came to some interesting architecture. This was originally a dental hospital for children, doors and all:

Forsythe Institute

Each door has a panel of a caring adult with a young child or infant. According to the descriptive plaque, this institute predated the era of more universal health care for children (unfortunately, this hasn’t changed much). Any and all were welcome to the dental clinic, regardless of ability to pay.

Right Panel of Door
Left Panel of Door

I’ve decided I’d like to go back there and visit the museum again, also spend more time wandering around the area. It’s got a cluster of wonderful museums, like the MFA (European and Asian Fine Art), Symphony Hall, several universities and the Gardener Museum (medieval art). It’s also got the Emerald Necklace along the Muddy River and some very classy architecture, like this marble facade on a brick building:

Marble Facade

Here’s a closeup of that facade in more detail. Amazing:

Facade Closup

I think it’s university student housing, now. Now those are some lucky kids.

Posted in A Bit of This, A Bit of That, Art, Museums

Hello, World/s Outside My Door!

An Arlington Sculptor

Well, it’s day two of world readjustment time. I made today a vacation for myself and the hubby, a chance to check out the booths and activities for Arlington Town Day followed by a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Hey, they were both free!

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Town Day was a bit hot and overwhelming, but I did get a chance to wander from booth to booth saying hello to a few folks I know. I was getting increasingly dazed by the heat, so I bought myself a tall tumbler of iced coffee and headed home. After a bit of reading in my (relatively) cool house, the hubby and I headed off for Boston proper. The MFA, our very own fine arts museum, was free today. We got there with 45 minutes to spare before closing, but enjoyed the visit nonetheless. We saw 18th and 19th century European pieces: paintings, porcelain, furniture, tapestries and the like. We also took in a Monet or two. The MFA is an incredible place, with ceilings like this:

MFA Ceiling

And this:

Ceiling at the MFA

See what I mean?

The MFA has a collection of musical instruments, some of which are still played and all of which are on display. Their collection covers Europe (both classical as well as folk instruments), India, the middle east, Asia and Africa. I want to come back there for one of their original-instrument concerts.

We finally got kicked out at 4:45 pm. I took some pics of the periphery of the building, including – and I’m not kidding – two sculptures of baby heads. I’m not quite sure that fit with the overall decor – all fine-arty and classical – but what do I know?

Yes, That's A Baby Head

Is it me, or does that head look kinda’ weird with the Greek classical columns? I mean, really…

This Can't Be Right