Imagine That!

Once upon a time, refrigerator-sized radios streamed fairy tales into our ears.

Once upon a time, refrigerator-sized radios streamed fairy tales into our ears.

Before the Mickey Mouse Club— before the Flintstones and Batman and Captain Kangaroo, there was the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, and the Green Hornet. The serial adventures of the 30s and 40s had kids glued to the radio from the time they got home from school  until dinnertime. But best of all was a Saturday morning show called Let’s Pretend, a 30-minute dramatization of a different fairy tale each week.

These programs were not a feeble prelude to children’s televised fare of later years. In one respect at least, I think they may have been even better because they demanded that we cultivate the power of our imaginations. That’s me in the picture at the age of 8 or 9; the book on my lap is a prop introduced by my father,the photographer. He probably thought I should look like I was doing something. But listening to these stories was doing something, something intense. We didn’t need the help of illustrations to create imaginary worlds of enchantment in great detail. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the subterranean kingdom I envisioned as a little girl where the trees had leaves of silver and gold and twelve beautiful princesses (with curly hair, I might add) danced all night in a glittering palace with their handsome partners.

In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim, the child psychologist, contends  that unlike any other form of story, the fairy tale meets the psychic needs of children. Before the child can rationally understand what troubles him or figure out what he must do to be a good independent person, he unconsciously identifies with the symbolic elements of the fairy tale and is comforted and instructed.  Separation anxiety, feelings of powerlessness in an adult world, sibling rivalry, fear of growing up—this is the sort of thing the repeated telling of a specific tale can ameliorate.

Even though one might not accept the Freudian concepts underlying Bettelheim’s analysis, it’s hard to argue with the idea that fairy tales are unique in their ability to meet some of the conscious and unconscious requirements of the listeners. How else to account for their ubiquitous appearance in all cultures and their phenomenal staying power. The oldest record of a variant of Cinderella dates back to the ninth century—in China!




Filed under Education, Folklore

A Valentine Story

2000px-Heart_corazón.svgOne of our many neighbors recently buttonholed Herb in the elevator and asked him if he would consent to be interviewed for a video she was helping her son make for his high school English class, which was researching “The key to happiness.”  He said he would (how could you not?) and when the elevator deposited them in the lobby, she escorted him to the little niche where the mail boxes are, and . . .”Roll ‘em!”

He dutifully gave his name, his age, and revealed that he thought the key to happiness was to have a person who loved you.

“Oh! the woman squealed. That’s sooooooo good!”

I hope the kid gets an “A.”


Filed under Uncategorized

“I Believe in the Profession of Journalism”

University of Missouri

University of Missouri

A former student and Facebook friend asks me what I think about Brian Williams. “I have been wondering what thoughts you have on Brian Williams. Journalism today is not the journalism we learned in your classroom.”

Indeed, journalism has changed since Barbara, her fellow students and I were responsible for putting out the Balboa high school paper, The Parakeet, some 40 years ago. I tried to teach those students the principles I had been taught at the Unversity of Missouri School of Journalism. The current flap over NBC’s anchor and Barbara’s question led me to remember what that education was like.

For one thing, to earn the coveted B.J. degree, we were required to memorize “The Journalist’s Creed,” written over a hundred years ago by Walter Williams, the school’s founding dean.  I think it is worth reading and asking ourselves how closely those we depend on for the news live up to these ideals. I confess I could only remember the first two sentences, but Wikkipedia came to my rescue. You won’t have to read far to discover where Brian Williams went astray.

I believe in the profession of journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust, that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public, that all acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman, that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleasing another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a  single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of public service.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds the best-and best deserves success-fears God and honors man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride or opinion or greed of power; constructive, tolerant, but never cruel; self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of the privilege or the clamor of the mob,seeks to give every man a chance, and as far as law, an honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship, is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.

If Walter Williams were alive today, observing what goes on in the medium of television,  he might warn journalists to resist our lazy  desire  to be constantly entertained. The purpose of journalism (broadcast or print) is to inform, not to entertain. Unfortunately, journalism  is subject to a kind of Gresham’s law: entertainment drives out information. When the journalist yields to the temptation to be entertaining when reporting hard news, it’s all over. Sooner or later, entertainment will prevail and since it is not necessarily compatible with truth, truth will inevitably be sacrificed. It happens too often.

Jennifer Griffin, Fox News

Jennifer Griffin, Fox News

This is not to say that there are not good journalists out there doing a great job. Sadly we lost one of the best this week, Bob Simon of CBS News, who was killed in an auto accident here in New York.

Two practicing journalists today who are outstanding in their reporting  are Catherine Herridge, chief intelligence correspondent for Fox News and Jennifer Griffin, national security correspondent, also of Fox. I am in awe of the professionalism of these women.

Catherine Herridge, Fox News

Catherine Herridge, Fox News

So what do I think about Brian Williams? As we learn more, it becomes apparent that Brian Williams did not “misremember”—he lied.  I think he should go. Now. Not six months from now. Now. Because I still believe in the profession of journalism.


Filed under Uncategorized

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the Opening of the 1939 World’s Fair

2014-04-29 21.13.37We weren’t there, but our wastebasket was! It’s a souvenir brought back to Kansas City by Herb’s parents and it occupies a place of honor in our home beside Herb’s easy chair where he reads, sometimes writes, and seems to generate a lot of waste paper. Herb’s dad was in the lumber business and this walnut wastebasket no doubt appealed to him for that reason.

The Fair was located in Flushing Meadows, Corona Queens, and “The World of Tomorrow” was its theme. Fairgoers were awestruck by the latest inventions that within one lifetime (mine) have become so commonplace that we don’t even think of them as anything special: television, electric refrigerators, fluorescent lights, automatic dishwashers, nylon stockings, to name a few. With the rapid acceleration of change in technology that is now taking place, you can’t help but wonder what will be available in the next 75 years when the World’s Fair of 2089 (if there is one) rolls around.

The Trylon and Perisphere— iconic symbols of the 1939 World's Fair

The Trylon and Perisphere— iconic symbols of the 1939 World’s Fair

It’s not clear to me what the walnut wastebasket had to do with “The World of Tomorrow.” It does not strike me as futuristic even by 1939 standards. In fact, it makes me think of  William Morris, who in the 19th century transformed the world of decorative arts, reestablishing the value of handcrafted work and natural materials. True, the wastebasket is made by machine, but it certainly is a wonderful natural material and it seems to me to adhere to Morris’s golden rule of decor: “Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Certainly the wastebasket is useful and I do believe it is beautiful. And it has the added advantage of connecting us to a brief episode in our family’s history.















Filed under Technology

Loveliest of Trees. . .

Riverside Park, New York City, April 21, 2014

Riverside Park, New York City, April 21, 2014



A.E. Housman


Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.


Now of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

It only leaves me fifty more.


And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs is little room,

About the woodland I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.


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Filed under Poetry


Forsythia is blooming!

Forsythia is blooming in Central Park


Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower,

But only so an hour

Then leaf subsides to leaf

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day,

Nothing gold can stay.

But what the poet doesn’t tell us is that it will be back next spring!


Filed under Poetry

When Is a Window Not a Window?

Answer: when it’s between rooms instead of between a room and the outdoors. You’re not expected to look through a Borrowed Light Window. In fact they are usually positioned high on the wall. Their purpose is to bring light from a room that has outside windows into an otherwise dark interior space like a closet or a hallway.

When the 1832 New York City rowhouse now known as the Merchant’s House Museum was opened to the public as an historic house museum in the 1930s, some minor modifications had to be made to provide for public amenities. Recently, research was undertaken to find out just what those modifications consisted of. Much to everyone’s surprise, a Borrowed Light Window was discovered under the plaster of the original kitchen.

The borrowed light window  at the Merchant's House Museum, recently discovered and restored.

The borrowed light window at the Merchant’s House Museum, recently discovered and restored.

That window has now been restored so that visitors can be reminded of what was certainly one of the greatest domestic concerns before the introduction of gaslight and particularly electricity.

It’s hard for us to imagine just how demanding the task or how different life was without the instantaneous availability of artificial light.  To supplement the natural light of the sun during dark days and of course always at night, it was necessary to have a fire of some kind, and all fires tend to be accompanied by smoke. Candles smoked and dripped; oil lamps  smoked and smelled and wicks had to be trimmed, candle wax scraped off of holders and glass shades cleaned every day. Oil spills were common and were a mess! Kerosene came along in 1859, but though the light burned brighter, other drawbacks persisted. Once the sun dropped below the horizon, most of the house was enveloped in total darkness. Typically there was a pool of light—what we would consider very dim light— where the family sat together around a single light source.

Borrowed Light Windows helped some during the day. They were a common feature of houses built before the introduction of electric lights.

On a recent weekend trip to Philadelphia we stayed in a bread and breakfast located in a colonial home built in 1769. And what do you know? In the bedroom we discovered—a borrowed light window!

Borrowed Light Window in the Thomas Bond House, Philadelphia.

Borrowed Light Window in the Thomas Bond House, Philadelphia.

P.S. Since posting, I’ve received a photo of a Borrowed Light Window in the Steinway Mansion in Astoria, Queens from Kevin. A 19th-century Italianate villa, the mansion is privately owned, but Friends of the Steinway Mansion have mounted a campaign to purchase the house and open it to the public.

Does anybody else have a picture of a Borrowed Light Window?

Borrowed Light Window in the Steinway Mansion

Borrowed Light Window in the Steinway Mansion



Filed under Historic House Museums, Merchant's House, Museums, Restoration