Ice Fog

The transition to winter here in the North East made me think of our time in Alaska.

F-4 Phantom Landing in Alaska

When we lived in Anchorage, winter came early, nearly always at the end of September.  It was then that there appeared what the locals called “Termination Dust” on the Chugach Mountains to the north of the city.  We could clearly see its arrival:  one day the mountains were dark, the next the peaks were covered with a coating of new snow.  So winter began and didn’t end until the last part of May.

Still winter wasn’t as bad as many think.  In our part of Alaska the city was situated on the Cook Inlet, which moderated the climate.   The added bonus of winter in Alaska was Ice Fog.  Ice  Fog usually occurs under specific conditions: humidity near 100% as temperature drops below 32 °F. This allows ice crystals to form in the air, which then settle and coat  surfaces.

This was a great time to grab the camera and go out in the wild areas near the city as the sun rose.





As the sun crept barely above the horizon the ice began to glow in a magical way.  The air was still and the only sound was the crunching of the snow, which also was cover in the ice crystals.  Everywhere you turned there was something to capture on film.


Still while this was truly beautiful in the woodlands and fields,  the Ice Fog often contributed to horrendous traffic accidents on the local roads.  I am not sure if these were caused by people looking at the scenery or by the roads themselves being coated.   In any case it was wise to avoid the most heavily traveled roads until later in the day when the situation improved.

I have experienced Ice Fog in our part of New York state when the weather conditions were just right, but never on the scale of the Alaskan Ice Fog.

When the ice coated nearly everything in sight, the effect was magical.




Posted in 43 TFS, Air Force, Alaska, Alaskan Air Command, American History, Anchorage, Anchorage Alaska | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

John and Priscilla and Myles and Rose

John Alden and Priscilla Mullins Alden are my 8th great grandparents.  Lets get this out of the way right at the start.   Plymouth

Does this make any of me better than anybody else? Nope.

So that said, I will share a bit more, my wife is descended from William Brewster; her brother, a Brewster descendant, is married to a descendant of Samuel Fuller.   A niece and nephew are an another Alden-Brewster pairing.

It is an amazing thing but the current estimate is that about 10-12 percent of all Americans are descended from one or more of the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower.   Telling folks about this has been a quandary over the years,  lest you think I am bragging, I am not.  We are who we are.

The thing the Pilgrims have going for them, that sets them apart from many other immigrants,  is the mythic status that they have assumed in American life.  This is mainly due to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, himself an Alden descendant, and his poem: “The Courtship of Myles Standish,” which created the romantic triangle of Alden, Mullins, and Standish.  Longfellow had heard this folk tale from a relative, Peleg Wadsworth.  Myles was married to Rose Standish who died in the brutal winter of 1621, as did many others.  He later married a woman named Barbara.  The closest alliance between the Aldens and Standishes occurred  later when their children and grandchildren intermarried in the years after 1630.

Like many other myths surrounding the folks of Plymouth Plantation this romance never occurred. Most are familiar:  “Landing on Plymouth Rock”  – not true, and it isn’t clear when this started to be told, but most likely in the 19th century in the wake of Longfellow. Others think that the Pilgrims were a dour people and no fun.   They drank beer, danced and hunted, and also believed that sex was a natural thing among married adults.  Not too big on adulterers, though.  That they were all Puritans.  Nope – they were separatists who wanted to leave the Church of England not purify it.    In fact half of the folks on the Mayflower weren’t part of the religious group, they were merchants and craftsmen who came to the new land for business purposes.  John Alden was a cooper or barrel maker hired in Plymouth for the voyage to tend to the barrels of beer and spirits in the hold of the Mayflower.   MayflowerRather than return to England, he saw the new world as a place of opportunity and decided to stay here.

Opportunities  not available in Europe drew many in the 19th century.  My son-in-law’s family were hard-working miners in Pennsylvania who came over from Slovakia about 1880.   They faced an entirely different set of challenges than did the Pilgrims of 1620, but not necessarily easier.    The pilgrims at least spoke the same language and shared a common heritage.  The miners were transplanted to a new land and as strangers there faced many more difficulties to make their places.   In this they were  very much like every person who came to this country from 1607 until last week.  The path into America was not easy then and is not easy today.

So at Thanksgiving we should celebrate all who have made this land great, and remember that no matter when you came here you faced challenges and worked hard to overcome them.  And I can honestly say I am sure that all who did this were truly thankful for all the blessings that they received.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Other descendants of John and Priscilla Mullins Alden

John Adams – President
John Quincy Adams – President
Norma Jean Baker (Marilyn Monroe) – Actress
William Cullen Bryant – Poet
Martha Graham – Dancer
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Poet
James Danforth Quayle – Vice President
Bishop Samuel Seabury, Jr. – Episcopal Clergy
Adlai Ewing Stevenson – Politician
Frederica von Stade – Opera Star
(George) Orson Welles – Actor and director

Posted in American History, American holidays, Colonial History, Family History, Holidays, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, Longfellow, Pilgrims, Plymouth, Thanksgiving | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

November 1965

When I was a college student,  November seemed to have a significant event each year.

1962  End of the Cuban Missile Crisis

1963  Death of John F. Kennedy

1964 Election of LBJ as President

1965 Great North East Black Out

While it can be argued that the death of John Kennedy and election of Lyndon Johnson changed the trajectory of many lives, it was the great North East Black out of 1965 that comes to my mind these 50 years later.  Skyline

The event began about 5 p.m. on November 9, 1965.  It was later traced to a maintenance mistake made by workers at a power station in Queenston, Ontario, Canada, which had caused a relay to malfunction.   This caused a cascade effect as power was transferred to additional lines with no place to go, which in turn tripped additional relays.  With no place to go the power continued to flood the grid and tripped additional relays in its path.

When the grid went dark, a sort of reverse effect occurred and lines began to drain power from the New York City area back to the grid.  By 5:30 New York City was blacked out.  Luckily there was a bright full moon that night which helped the many who were not trapped in the subways or in elevators in the high rise buildings of the city.   There was a photo taken of the New York City skyline completely darkened, which later appeared in the National Geographic.  The power was not restored to the City until the next day.

The amazing thing is that I was actually in one of the few places in the North East that had power.   Geneva New York appears to have gotten its power from a different transmission system than those affected.   According to the Canandaigua Messenger Newspaper of November 10:  “Harold Allen, [Rochester Gas and electric] district manager in Geneva, said customers of his company in Ontario County suffered no outage during the evening. “There were two momentary dips in power and a short period when power was low, but our customers were not without power at any time.”

At the time I was working in the student dining hall.  The lights dimmed but the power did not go out.  Life went on as usual and only later as the word spread of the extent of the blackout did we learn of its magnitude.  So that was our part of the great blackout — non-existent.  A  big adventure, no.   And,  yes it  seems a bit anticlimactic thinking about it now.

I later heard stories of how friends who had  family members in New York coped with the loss of power.   And amazingly, there were very few episodes of looting reported,  few seemed to panic on the subways, and I recall several stories at the time of sing-a-longs that New Yorkers began.  Imagine being trapped on a subway today and joining the others singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”   No the people weren’t stupid or naive.  It  was much more of an innocent time  and showed how much faith people had in the authorities to help them.    People in the subways “knew” that help was on the way; today it would be hard to feel that much confidence.  It was  truly reflects a lost world.

Posted in American History, Hobart College, New York, Norvell Family History, NY, NY History, Ontario Co | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Flame Motel and other horrors

Haunted House

During my 23 years in the Air Force, I moved 9 times. Most moves were uneventful, but every now and then…

In 1973 as we traveled across Texas it was late at night when we finally stopped.  It was almost a scene out of a horror movie.  The rain was pouring down, and thunder and lightning crashed in the night sky.  I remember looking out the windshield and seeing the sign “Flame Motel”  through the rain streaked windshield.   We had not planned to drive so long that day, but for some reason we had not made a reservation for the evening, figuring we could find a place.  So here it was about 11 p.m. and we were dead tired.

Wait I know you are thinking did I see this story in a movie.  You know tired traveler stops at the Bates Motel for the evening.  Well it wasn’t quite that bad and yet ….

I parked the car and went into the office to register.  I should have known that this was not the usual place we chose to stay when the clerk asked me, “Do you want it for the night or by the hour?”  That said it all.   We went to our room to settle in and to put it charitably it was not deluxe.  There was a half eaten sandwich in the trash and the bathroom looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned since Texas independence.  We spent the night sleeping on top of the spread and got on the road about 4 a.m.

Now if you are thinking I am picking on Texas, don’t worry we had a similar experience in Alaska once when we lived there.

We had driven down the Kenai peninsula in June 1975 to see Homer Alaska.  My mother and aunt were visiting and on the way back we had car trouble.  The car had been experiencing electrical problems for a while, but in Kenai  it died.  We were forced to spend the night at the Kenai Royal Redoubt Motel.  Again a less than deluxe place.  And certainly not living up to the Royal nomenclature of course unless you were the King of the Trash Heap.

When we were settled in we compared our rooms, my mother and aunt boasted, “We have a TV.”  We haughtily replied. “We have a chair.”   I guess the Royal Redoubt felt that they should spread the amenities around so that the guests would not be too spoiled.  You get the TV, you get the chair, you get the bed, and so forth.

We did not say long and left early the next morning.

If you travel around the U.S. you will encounter places such as these even today.  Some friends visited the Finger Lakes last summer and chose a place from the internet, spending only one night and then moving on early, there seems to be a pattern here.

You see you don’t need Norman Bates to spoil your visit.

There are plenty of other horrors lurking between the sheets, in the corners, and in the dark places.  So beware.

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At Sleepy Hollow

Ichabod meets the Headless Horseman John Quidor 1858 Source Wikipedia

Ichabod meets the Headless Horseman
John Quidor 1858
Source Wikipedia

For many years, after we moved back to New York, we wanted to visit Sleepy Hollow at Halloween time.  It probably has to do mostly with the Disney movie version of Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

If you somehow missed this classic, Bing Crosby is the narrator of the tale and does a good job telling the story and in the process poking a bit of fun at his earlier image as a crooner in the 1930s.  But it is the finale of the cartoon when the Headless Horseman pursues the hapless Ichabod Crane that really captures the essence of Halloween and the terrors of the night.  Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

So in 2007 we made our first trip (about 4 hours from where we live) and had such a good time, we returned again five years later.   In addition to many events  centered around the “Headless Horseman,” Old Dutch Church and its cemetery, Sleepy Hollow is a quaint place to visit.

Old Dutch Church and graveyard

Old Dutch Church and graveyard

It is  nestled in the rolling hills on the east side of the Hudson, north of Tarrytown and the scenery in October is worth the trip alone.  Near Tarrytown is the home of Washington Irving, Sunnyside, and also the Hudson Valley estate of the Rockefeller family,Kykuit.

Kykuit, rhymes with “high cut” according to Wikipedia,   is a word of Dutch origin meaning “lookout” or “high point.”  It began with a farm retreat and blossoming into a 40 room mansion and gardens.   Both are worth a visit, if you have the time.  But if not there is one thing not to miss:  The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze.

The Blaze is held north of Sleepy Hollow at the Van Cortland Manor.  More than 7,000 illuminated Jack O’ Lanterns surround this 18th century home.

Sleepy 022There is every conceivable type of display from graveyards, to under the sea scenes, giant spiders and dinosaurs all made of hand-carved pumpkins. The event is held almost every night in October and we were lucky  on our two visits that the weather was great.

You begin by walking toward the illuminated house, see below, through a large “graveyard” display of hundreds of  Jack O’Lanterns.

Pumpkin Graves

Pumpkin Graves

Sleepy 020

The first year many of the carvings looked like grave stones, the second visit was a bit different with many on the ground and in various displays, like pyramids or totems.

Then there are many theme area such as the one below with a seabed scene, with fish, plants etc. carved in silhouette on the pumpkins.


Then there are giant spiders, dinosaurs, and much, more.  People wandered around at their own paces, but you could clearly see that they were enthralled by it all.


Finally you exit, to a gift shop area of course, through a long tunnel of pumpkins overhead.

Sleepy 035

It was great fun and a source of ideas for our own Halloween house in Canandaigua.

Norvell Halloween house Canandaigua NY

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Fixing the Car

My grandfather often told of the times in the 1920s, when he was a young man and a good mechanic. Here’s a story of how his children helped him and he had to fix the car.1920 Chevy

In the 1920s we lived in Ingell’s Crossing, New York near Fulton and I had a Chevrolet. (similar to the one at left.)

I was going to take the children out for a ride (Marjorie, Bette, Robert, and Barbara) to where I was brought up one Sunday. It was the only day that we could go because I worked on the farm the rest of the week.

I thought I’d better change the oil in the car. Well, we had a couple of maple trees at the place, but they didn’t produce enough syrup so I bought some maple syrup. When the can was empty, I told the children to put it in the dump, so they did. Later I wanted to get the oil for the car, about four quarts, and I told the children to get me a gallon can. Well there were lots of cans there, but they picked the syrup can.

I went downtown and got the oil in it and put it in the car. Well, the next morning we started off. We had gotten as far a Sandy Creek when the children had to go to the bathroom. So I shut off the car and when they came back it wouldn’t start. I stepped on the switch, but it still wouldn’t start. I always carried tools in those days as I did all my own work on the car and I loosened the flywheel to the generator, it was loose, so I put it back and the car still wouldn’t start. So I got the crank out, but it wouldn’t budge.

The maple syrup left in the can had mixed with the oil and when I stopped it had gummed up the engine and set it up tight. I went to the neighbors, I was fortunate for there was a young lad nearby who did auto repair work. He came and tried it and said, “You’re set up, how come?” I said, “I don’t know.” It hadn’t come to me about the maple syrup yet. In those days it was easier to work on a car. We started at 8 a.m. and by 5 p.m. we had the whole engine apart. We took the head off and drained everything and took the base off with the oil in it and could see the maple syrup. We had to clean the whole engine with alcohol. When we finished there was a little squeak in it, but it would run. I said, “I’ll fix that.”

The next day I went down to the dealer and traded it for a new car.

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Tales and Tails of the Hospital

Graduation from nursing school, 1970

Graduation from nursing school, 1970

My sister, Linda,  near the end of her life spent a great deal of time in the hospital, and not because she was a nurse.

She was suffering from an auto-immune disease that relentlessly was wearing her body away.  It was not surprising, as she also suffered from psoriasis, which my maternal grandmother had and I do as well.   So those last few months, leading up to her death, were spent off and on in the hospital as her immune system faltered more and more.

My brother-in-law was a good husband.  There is no other way to put it.  He deeply cared for my sister and tried to make her last days comfortable, as she moved in and out of intensive care.    In the last six months of her life, she had virtually no immune system and any event might send her to the hospital.  Two stories illustrate how he cared for her in those last days.

Now those of you in health care out there, try not to be shocked or upset, as I guarantee these stories are not what you would expect.

We would often drive up on the weekends and she would ask us to go to the  local deli and get her a sandwich.  She loved reubens and I suspect that they weren’t often on the menu. One Sunday, we left to get her a sandwich and when we returned.  We noticed the oddest smell on the floor.  It smelled as if someone were frying french fries.   As we got closer to her room the odor got stronger and stronger.  When we looked in there was a deep fryer on the stand and he was cooking french fries for her.   We did not stay long, and I am not sure what the nursing staff said.   Perhaps they cut her some slack as they knew she was one of them and how ill she was at the end.

But it didn’t seem to phase either him or her.  He wanted so much to do something for her to ease her state and bring some happiness.

One one of our last visits, before she died, while we were there visiting her, he arrived late in the day.  We noticed something very odd as he came toward us.  There was a large bulge under his coat and sticking out the front was the very furry tail of her cat.    He had smuggled her cat into the hospital.   Now why the nurses didn’t see this is clearly beyond me, and why the cat allowed it, is also a mystery.  Perhaps the cat knew that she needed him at this moment.  We will never know, but it seemed to bring her great comfort, as she lay in her hospital bed to be soothed by the purr of her furry, good friend.

And so she left us in June 2002.  She had gone to the dentist as she had an abscessed tooth, the concurrent infection, coupled with her weakened system, brought on Septicemia.  She went into a coma, from which she never awakened.  She died at the age of 52; at peace at last.

When I think of her, which is quite often, I cannot help but think of french fries, cat tails — comfort food and comfort pets-and a man who went to great lengths for the one he loved.

Posted in American History, Norvell Family History, NY | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment