Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts: Leading Ladies

Streep and Roberts: Leading Ladies

When Carla was paging through the Road Scholar catalog and came across the title “Leading Ladies: Streep and Roberts,” she exclaimed, “That looks interesting!” Wayne responded, “OK, let’s go.”
We paid little attention to the other two topics included in the package offered that week at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. — “Close Harmonies, from the Pied Pipers to Manhattan Transfer” and “Hollywood Hits to Broadway Musicals” — but we found them to be as interesting and delightful as the leading ladies section.

We had not realized at the time that Eckerd College is an old timer in the field of adult education and entertainment, having offered Road Scholar programs — formerly known as Elderhostel — since 1977. The Eckerd team is offering 36 programs through April 2016
Joy Katzen-Guthrie, who graduated from Stephens College, was the lecturer for the leading ladies section. She selected film excerpts that helped us appreciate their genius as actresses.

We were especially impressed with Meryl Streep’s ability to become so many different characters convincingly. Streep often would study a language to get an accent right. As we watched, we were moved to laughter, tears and concern for others. We had avoided the film “Sophie’s Choice,” and the excerpt showing Streep having to choose between the life of her daughter and the life of her son brought us to tears.

It was almost difficult to believe that the various characters she played were all the same person behind the accents and makeup. How can Julia Childs, Margaret Thatcher and the witch from “Into the Woods” have anything to do with the characters in “Mama Mia” and “A Prairie Home Companion”? Amazing.

Streep has acted in 62 movies and received Oscar nominations for her first few films. She has received 15 nominations for best actress and four for best supporting actress. She is one of the first actresses to remain in demand for great roles after the age of 30.

Julia Roberts is younger and had had a difficult childhood, as she grew up in a somewhat dysfunctional and less supportive family. In her first film, she was recognized as an actress who could become a multitude of personalities. She has acted in 51 films and received many awards. One of the films, “August, Osage County,” includes both Streep and Roberts. Wayne had forgotten — or repressed — the fact he had seen it. He thought Streep’s character was so mean to her children, one of whom is Roberts, that he thoroughly disliked the movie.

The program “Close Harmonies” was taught by a music expert, Tom Lippert, who took us through the history of vocal jazz groups from the 1940s to today. Often, they made musical instrument sounds as part of their performances. We remembered many of the popular songs.

Groups covered were the Pied Pipers, Modernaires, the Four Freshmen and the Beach Boys. The Hi-Los, the Manhattan Transfers and Singer Unlimited always worked in a recording studio and often recorded the voices many times, making them sound like a major choir. Lippert played the piano well and had good video examples of all of their work.


McCormick Farm

McCormick Farm

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The blacksmith shop at the McCormick Farm is where Cyrus McCormick and his brothers developed the first reaper, a tool that changed the face of agriculture.

When Carla and I were in Lexington, Va., earlier this year, I made a special trip to visit the McCormick Farm, which was home to Cyrus McCormick. In 1851, McCormick patented a much-improved mechanical reaper.

What, you ask, is a reaper? It’s a piece of farm equipment that looks like a large lawn mower. It first was pulled by horses and then by tractors.

Still, the simple reaper drastically changed agriculture and practically put the making of scythes out of business, relegating them to the same status of the buggy whip after the horseless carriage was invented.

Before McCormick patented a reaper in 1834, harvesting was a labor-intensive business done mostly with a scythe and the whole family working together, often with neighbors helping to get the crop in on time.

With a reaper, whole swaths of grain could be cut at one time. With later developments, the swaths could be bound into bundles and gathered into shocks to dry. The dried shocks then were pitched on a wagon and brought to another great invention, the threshing machine, for the wheat to be separated from the straw.

During the late 1940s, I ran a reaper using a tractor. I bundled the grain, shocked the grain, pitched bundles — and hated it. It was the main reason I went to college, where I was sure I would learn something that would prevent me from having to work for a living.

McCormick’s father had been mechanically inclined and had experimented with designs to mechanize agriculture. I suspect his son had a similar reason for inventing the reaper as a way to cut down on labor. His innovations did more than that — they revolutionized farming and markedly increased the size of crops that could be planted and harvested.

The main part of the museum at the farm consists of two old buildings: one was the family grist mill, which was powered by a local stream, and the other was a blacksmith shop. On the first floor is the shop where McCormick and his brothers made the first reaper.

The second floor has a model of the first reaper developed, which was pulled by one horse. Over time, the reapers got bigger. Growing up, I had never seen one that didn’t need two horses to pull it. Also in the museum is a series of small models of the reaper, which show its development over time. The reaper was so successful, and McCormick so good at convincing farmers they needed it, that he was able to move his operation to Chicago, where it became International Harvester and J.I. Case.

The reaper was one of the new inventions that changed agriculture by enabling fewer people to raise more food, thus freeing up a work force to run industries. This helped change us from a rural nation to an urban one. Later, the invention of the combine also helped in this way.

The museum is on the grounds of the 634-acre farm, historically called Walnut Grove, that now serves as a research station for Virginia Tech. The day we visited, a number of other visitors were having a picnic on the half-dozen tables overlooking a pond with geese and ducks on it — an idyllic setting for a major advance in the mechanization of agriculture.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sharlot Hall Museum

Sharlot Hall Museum sheds light on Southwestern history



A display at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Ariz., shows an American Indian Clovis point hunter.

            The Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Ariz., a living history museum, now has a 4-acre campus and seven historic buildings with a fine collection of artifacts. Hall originally opened the museum as the Old Governor’s Mansion Museum.

            We started our visit at the John and Helen Lawler Exhibit Center, where a section focuses on the founder, Sharlot Hall, who lived a very interesting life as a writer and activist for women’s rights at a time when most women’s lives were very limited by household duties and raising children.

            Hall wrote, “Unless an unmarried woman is a hopeless lump of stupidity, she has a hundred times wider opportunity for an emotional life full to overflowing than it is possible for an ordinary married women to have.”

            Born on the frontier in 1870, Hall was appalled at men’s treatment of women and became one of our first liberated women. She was a territorial historian who had an influence on Arizona being admitted to the union as a separate state from New Mexico. When Calvin Coolidge won the presidential election in 1925, she was the elector who delivered Arizona’s votes to Washington.

            The dress and copper accessories on display was the ensemble she wore at the inauguration, and it became her uniform when she gave lectures about Arizona. She was given the Governor’s Mansion to form the basis of the museum in 1927 and she added to it in the 1930s when federal relief projects allowed her to bring in more historic buildings. Hall had published over 500 articles, poems and stories before she died in 1943.

            Each of the six major buildings has a well-trained volunteer to share knowledge about the building and its contents with visitors. All of them have had a 16-week preparation course, and two of the five we talked with had masters degrees in history.

            A movie provided background not only on the history of the farmers, cowboys and miners who had settled Arizona, but also the Indian tribes who had made up the original people of the region. A second film covered more than 150 years of what the lives of sheriffs were like, with hangings, shootings and trouble between miners and cowboys.

            One room was filled with historical items used in law enforcement during this period. Cases held guns, uniforms and stories. One of the sheriffs featured in the museum was one of the famous Earp brothers. An unusual artifact on display was the trapdoor of the gallows used in the last hanging held there.

            During Prohibition, one sheriff always gave a warning by first driving past the speakeasy or still when he was about to raid it. He was re-elected. A later sheriff took Prohibition more seriously. He was not re-elected.

            The major portion of this building is given over to prehistorical exhibits, which includes material on the animals of the area, many of which became extinct, such as the giant bison, American lion, mammoths and short-faced bears.

            Especially impressive in their realism were two striking displays portraying Clovis point hunters; one with an elk pierced by an arrow lying at his feet, the other throwing a spear at a running deer. With the extinction of the large animals such as mammoths, the Indians had to change their lifestyle, develop agriculture and hunt small animals. The exhibit also pushes back to the arrival of Indians in this area several thousand years.

            In our second story on the Sharlot Hall Museum we will share findings from our visit to other major buildings included in this living history museum.

The museum has dioramas showing living conditions in Arizona in the early days

A Clovis period hunter throwing a spear at a running deer