Monday, October 23, 2017

Hampton National Historic Site House and Garden

The mansion house at Hampton (in Towson, Maryland, just north of Baltimore) was built from 1783 to 1790 by Captain Charles Ridgely. He had supplied the American revolutionaries with iron implements, arms, and ammunition through the family's iron works. He became quite wealthy and wanted to show it with a large Georgian mansion. The building has the classic symmetrical design--smaller wings on each side connected by hallways or "hyphens." Capt. Charles died the year the mansion was completed and so never lived in it. He died without issue so the house went to his nephew Charles Carnan Ridgely, who moved in immediately and within a year his first son, John, is born there. The house was owned by six generations of Ridgelys. It became increasingly more difficult to maintain the mansion and it was eventually sold to a trust that donated it to the National Parks Service, which manages the house and approximately sixty acres of land.

Hampton house

We went to visit the house on a school holiday and had the early morning tour mostly to ourselves. We had fun though the toddler occasionally laid down on the floor--not so much in protest as in boredom. He didn't complain, so that was good.

Approaching from the side

Visitor entrance in back (into one of the hyphens!)

After a video overview of the house, we went in to the music room, one of many designed for entertaining and impressing. The portrait over the fireplace is Charles Carnan Ridgely, nephew of the builder of the house. The harp is famous since it was played by Eliza Ridgely, Charles's daughter-in-law. Her portrait (which included the harp) was painted by Thomas Sully and remained in the house until the 1900s.

Music room

Charles Carnan Ridgely, second owner

The famous harp

A spot for relaxing (or saluting, if you are a toddler)

Out in the main hall is a copy of Lady with a Harp, the famous portrait. The portrait stayed in the family until the 1940s, when John Ridgely, Jr., sold it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. When the gallerist came to pick it up, he noticed the run down condition of the house and the architectural fineness of its construction. He helped to have the mansion and estate designated a national historic site, enabling renovations and the first tours in the late 1940s. The Ridgelys moved into the Lower House, the original residence of Captain Charles back in the late 1700s.  

The central hall

Over the doors

Copy of Lady with a Harp

At the front of the hall is the parlor, where guests would be entertained during the day. Business was sometimes conducted there so a desk is present as well.


Work desk and clock

On the south side of the hall is the formal dining room, set for the after-dessert course of fruit. The table includes lemons, oranges, and pineapples, which were definitely a delicacy since they weren't readily available in Maryland. The estate does include a greenhouse called the "Orangery" where they grew the more tropical plants. The wallpaper is a copy of the original, hand-painted paper that depicts monuments of Paris.

Dining room

Close-up of side board and fancy wallpaper

The front drawing room was the typical place for the ladies to gather after dinner (the men would stay in the dining room or head outside). The large and impressive set of Baltimore-made hand-painted furniture with red coverings were bought by Eliza (she of the portrait) and her husband John in 1832. They wouldn't have kept the whole set there but since the National Park Service owns the whole set, they are showing off a bit!

Drawing room with 1830s furniture

A snack table?

More classy furniture

On the second floor are the bedrooms, both for residents and guests. The first room we toured was set for one of the daughters, though the youngest children would be up on the third floor. They have strong legs to make it that far and their noise would not travel back down to the formal, first floor rooms.

Daughter's bedroom

The master bedroom is quite large and ostentatious as well. One of the wives had fourteen children in the house! With the inclusion of bed rest, you can imagine she spent a great deal of time here. When her friends came to visit, they'd have to come upstairs, so the family wanted to keep up wealthy appearances. The paint is the same as from the dining room, an expensive blue color.

Master bedroom

Next door is a guest bedroom.

Guest bedroom

The third floor and cupola were not part of the tour, so we headed back downstairs to the kitchen. Along the way we saw the servants' bells that were hooked up to various rooms in the house. One is still set up and the docent pulled the bell for us.


Down the hall is the kitchen where food was prepared for guests, sometimes as many as two hundred. It doesn't look very large but does have many amenities, including an in-wall oven and two spots for soup/stew/sauce to be cooked.

Kitchen with fake food

Soup cookers and oven

The south lawn leads down to the Parterres, the formal gardens of the house. Our children loved to explore them.

Formal garden

More colorful formal garden

My son ran down to be in the picture

Here he is, a little more visible

Exploring the gardens

In the next post, we'll see some of the outlying buildings including the dairy and the slaves' (later the workers') quarters.

Checking the map for more things to see

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Book Review: Amulet: Book Four The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet Book Four The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

Stonekeeper Emily has arrived at the ancient, fabled floating city of Cielis. Her group wants to enlist anyone left in the Guardian Council, the Stonekeepers dedicated to ruling the planet. Unfortunately, things are not as they planned. Emily is drawn into a competition for a spot on the Council, which means a fight to the death with other young Stonekeepers. Meanwhile, her family and friends discover the city is gripped with fear and on the verge of falling apart. Luckily a new ally is coming, so there might be some help on the horizon.

The story's mythology grows by leaps and bounds in this book, which I find delightful. The competition does have a Hunger Games feel to it but is so steeped in the Stonekeeper mythology that its only slightly derivative. I'm enjoying the book a lot and am looking forward to the next volume.

Highly recommended.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Movie Review: What We Become (2015)

What We Become (2015) written and directed by Bo Mikkelsen

A family's extremely typical life (the teenage son is sulky and troublesome, the 10-year old daughter is focused on her bunny) becomes a lot more difficult when a virus breaks out in their Danish suburb. It doesn't spread too quickly and the government establishes a quarantine almost immediately, so the family is stuck in their house for a month while the local CDC tries to find a cure. Things slowly fall apart as the son sneaks out to check on the new girl across the street and on the situation in general. The government starts to lose control and neighbors come to seek shelter at their home, causing more tension and drama, especially since the new girl's mom has a scratch on her leg.

While the movie breaks no new ground (really, nothing that happens is surprising or original, other than the slowness of the build up and the quarantine including gigantic plastic wrap covering the houses), it is solidly engrossing. The gore is left mostly to the end when the situation gets out of control. The movie emulates the pessimistic world view of most zombie films, i.e. that we are doomed (hence the title of the movie). Even with these flaws, the characters are well-written and acted so that viewers care for them and do feel bad when the inevitable zombie apocalypse gets apocalyptic.

Recommended, but mostly for zombie movie fans. I guess if you haven't seen a lot of zombie movies, it might look original to you.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review: Serling by Gordon F. Sander

Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man by Gordon F. Sander

Rod Serling achieved his lasting fame in the early 1960s when he wrote, produced, and hosted the iconic science fiction and fantasy series The Twilight Zone. The series was wildly popular (and is still in syndication and streaming today) thanks to the intelligent scripts, the visual creativity, the twist endings, and the compelling nature of Serling's introductions and conclusions. The series spawned many imitators and the phrase "twilight zone" has become idiomatic.

Even before The Twilight Zone, Serling was a television celebrity, writing many dramas in the golden age of television, including Requiem for a Heavyweight (later made into a film) and Patterns (his breakout work that earned him his first of six Emmy awards in less than ten years). He wrote about both political and personal challenges of his day. He drew from his life experience as well.

Serling grew up in rural New York. During World War II, he joined the 511th Airborne as a paratrooper, even though he was too short to qualify. He had the personal ambition and strength of will to be a paratrooper. Ironically, he saw very little action for the first few years but then was part of the very intense fighting in the Pacific theater. He returned at the end of the war, as many GIs did, to college. He worked at the campus radio station where he first felt the need to entertain. He worked in radio as a script writer and made the transition to television as it became more popular. The intimacy and the immediacy of television fascinated him and, with a lot of work under his belt, he became a fine writer.

The book starts with his personal life but his writing career becomes the central focus. Serling's wife Carol fades into the background as Serling's television career takes off. Sander mentions that Serling had affairs after the family moved to Hollywood but does not delve into them. Serling was also distant from his two daughters, who are only mentioned occasionally. The real focus of this book is on Serling as an icon of television's golden age and how the collapse of that age played out in his life. Like film auteur Orson Welles, Serling started to cash in on his celebrity, doing parodies of himself and working on commercials. In the last years of his life, Serling's greatest joy was teaching college, where the students were often in awe of him, something Hollywood lost when The Twilight Zone finished. His personal life is at best a secondary theme of the book.

The book identifies Serling as "television's last angry man" in part because of his career ambitions. He wanted to write great dramas about contemporary topics. He especially wanted to write against prejudice, which he abhorred. At first, television was looking for prestige projects to validate the medium as a form of art as well as entertainment. Sponsors and executives eventually became more concerned to avoid controversy, making it a fight for Serling to produce what he wanted. Ironically, starting The Twilight Zone looked like a sell-out for Serling--he'd be making a popular entertainment show. But it really gave him a platform from which to comment on social issues and morality, albeit indirectly through placing the issues in other times or places.  The production schedule on the show was too much, leading to burn out and a drop in quality in the later years. Those factors, combined with increasing challenges with the network and the sponsors, drove Serling away from Hollywood in frustration over what he could no longer do.

I found the book fascinating throughout. I didn't mind the focus on his career (gossipy biographies are of little interest to me). His early life and military service are interesting, especially when they are connected to his writing career.

Recommended, especially for Twilight Zone fans.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Son Turns Ten

My eldest has turned ten! For his birthday, like last year, he wanted a Nintendo-themed party. The star of this year's part was probably the cake, which was in the shape of an ? Box. These boxes can be found in many Mario games. When a player hits one, a special bonus is revealed--a coin, a power-up, etc. My wife was clever enough to add gold coins inside the cake. First, she baked several layers. Then she cut the middle out of some, leaving a hollow inside the cake. Icing held it all together and kept the secret.

Layers of cake

Gold coins!

Sealing it up

Cutting out decorations

Attaching decorations (see a sample box between the wrists!)

Happy craftsman

The day of the party, we had the guests dress up just like they were making Mii characters on the Nintendo Wii. The boys were very creative.

Sorting through items

Not sure who this is

Birthday boy

Mario/Pac-man hybrid

Minimalist costume

Duh Hand

Mario/Shirley Temple hybrid

The whole gang

We had some indoor activities including a treasure hunt and a bit of actual playing on the Wii. After pizza dinner, we ate the cake, which was delightful to all.

Candles blown out

The final activity was the "boss stage" where the party goers faced off against King Boo. King Boo manifested himself in the form of a piƱata hanging in the garage. Revelers lined up for a go at knocking him out.

Ready to strike

The face of Boo

Using glasses doesn't necessarily help

Daughter takes a whack

Birthday boy goes for the knock down

The kids loved the party. My son said it was his best birthday party yet. How will we top it next year?