Extraordinary Stories

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The "Non-routine Landing" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Walking out to put some envelopes in the mailbox when I heard it.  A loud whoosh and then a hissing sound.  Looked up in the sky and there behind the dentist's office across from the my driveway was a hot air balloon.  Heard the hiss of the burners and saw the flame as the pilot tried to gain some altitude.  Turned around and headed into the house to get my camera for a couple of shots.  
By the time I had returned the balloon was much higher in the sky and headed southwest across Lancaster.  This morning I opened the newspaper and on page 3, the local page, was a photo of a hot air basket with its balloon in the distance.  Seems the wind had been causing problems for the balloon and when the wind shifted later in its flight, it went down in nearby Lancaster Township.  Actually it was two balloons that had been traveling together and both had to make landings in a non-routine location.  The two balloons landed about two city blocks away from each other, neither with any problems.  They did graze the tops of the trees in the area in order to slow them so they could land in open areas away from homes.  The newspaper reported that the "chase teams" of each balloon loaded the balloons into their trailers and left shortly after they had landed.  I remember years ago being in a hot air balloon and going through the same thing.  My wife had bought me a balloon ride for my birthday and a few weeks later I was in the air to the north of Lancaster.  Traveled over farmland with three other riders until the wind picked up and caused the balloon to head off course.  The pilot managed to control the balloon and descended onto a county road.  Spooked a horse pulling an amish buggy as we touched down.  The pilot tried to get the balloon under control, but it was pulled down the road as the balloon dropped.  We hit a ridge along the side of the road and the balloon tipped over.  Myself and the other passengers fell on top of the pilot who took the brunt of the abrupt stop.  The pilot was the only one with any scraps and we all hopped in the chase van and headed back to our take-off spot.  Neat experience which I never had enough nerve to try again.  The balloon is always at the mercy of the environment and at times it does create problems.  Luckily the two balloons that landed prematurely yesterday didn't have disastrous results.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The "Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum: The Conestoga Wagon" Story

The lazy board can be seen in the middle of this photograph.
It has been pulled out from the wagon and can be used for the
driver to sit on when driving the wagon.  Also seen in the photo
is the tool box, all-purpose ax and brake chain used to stop the wagon.
It was an ordinary day.  Taking photographs of the lazy-board that's on the side of the Conestoga Wagon that's sitting in front of me in the farm machinery and tool barn located in the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  The Conestoga Wagon was a farm wagon that came into existence as early as 1717 and was adapted for use on the rough, hilly terrain of Lancaster.  
Here you can see two places that the driver can sit to drive the Conestoga wagon.  One is on the lazy board on the side of the wagon while the other is on the rear-left side horse.
It was about 18 feet long and pulled by teams of specially bred horses known as Conestoga horses.  The wagon's body had an upward curve on the ends to prevent the cargo from shifting.  It was made from a variety of woods which were cut and dried or cured for three or four years to make the wood harder and more rugged.  
The Conestoga wagon which is on display
at Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum. 
The large rear wheels were ideal for crossing creeks and rolling over large rocks while the smaller front wheels made turning easier.  Conestoga Wagons had no seats.  The driver walked along the left side, rode the horse closest to the wagon on the left side or sat on the lazy-board which was also on the left side of the wagon.  He controlled the team of horses with a single long "jerk line" running to the lead horse at the left front.  It has been said that the reason we drive on the right side of the road in the United States is due to the Conestoga Wagon navigating the roads in early America on the right side of the road.  The cargo might be anything from barrels of grain or flour to cured meats to kegs of whiskey or cider to tanned animal skins or lumber.  Wooden bows supplied the support for the canvas cloth top of the wagon.  The front and rear of the wagon had bows that were flared away from the wagon at the top to keep the weather from reaching the cargo.  
Another photo of a Conestoga wagon.  Notice the bells on the horses which help warn others that the wagon was coming.  
The wagon's wheels were made from the hardest woods by a wheelwright.  The outer rim of the wheel, as well as some of the hub was made from iron and forged on an anvil.  Wagons might weigh about 10,000 pounds when empty.  
USA Postage stamp showing the Conestoga wagon.
When going down inclines a chain on the back wheel, called a wheel lock chain, could be used to stop the wheel from turning thus causing it to slide and slow the wagon.  The driver of the wagon was known as the "teamster."  The teamster's saddle, if he were riding the left-rear horse, had long heavy leather skirts to keep road grit from getting against the horse.  Each of the 6 Conestoga Wagon horses usually wore a rack of bells that warned other traffic of their approach.  During much of the eighteenth century it was common for 100 or more Conestoga wagons a day to pass through Lancaster on what what known at the time as King's highway.  
Another Conestoga wagon on display at the Bird-In-Hand
Farmer's Market in Lancaster County.  Here you can see
clearly the 8 wooden bows that support the canvas top.
Thus the town was always alive with the sound of ringing bells and the smell of horse manure.  The journey from Lancaster to Philadel- phia with a loaded wagon would take about four days traveling at 15 miles a day.  Muddy roads would slow the wagon while frozen winter roads increased the speed of the wagon.  By the 1830's the Conestoga wagon began to lose its place in history for moving goods when cheaper ways such as canals and railroads came into use.  Lancaster county can always lay claim to being one of the main manufacturers of the Conestoga wagon and the wagon I'm standing in front of is a fine example of the craftsmanship of the Pennsylvania Germans who lived in Lancaster in the mid-1700's to mid-1800's.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The "Head Honcho For The Day" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Just realized that I missed one of the most historical days in the history of the city in which I live.  Yesterday was the 238th anniversary of Lancaster, PA being the Capital of the United States - if only for a day.  It was in the late summer of 1777 when the British advanced on Philadelphia.  With General Washington being defeated at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, the Continental Congress evacuated Philadelphia.  The delegates fled westward and eventually regrouped in Lancaster, the next largest town to the west.  
The Lancaster, PA Courthouse by Charles X. Carlson.
On September 19, 1777 they fled Philadelphia and headed by a round-about route to Lancaster which included stops in Trenton, Easton, Bethlehem and Reading arriving on the 27th.  They took the Liberty Bell with them, but a wagon break-down forced them to leave it along the way, and it was hidden in an Allentown church until the British threat to Philadelphia was ended.  People such as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee and Charles Carroll assembled with the Congress to conduct business.  After their meeting on that historic Saturday they decided to move once again across the broad Susquehanna River to York, Pennsylvania which became the next capital of our nation until July or 1778.  Other capitals of our nation have been (1) Philadelphia, PA, (2) Baltimore, MD, (3) York, PA, (4) Princeton, NJ, (5) Annapolis, MD, (6) Trenton, NJ, (7) New York City, NY , (8) Washington, D.C.  Kinda disappointed that my hometown was only capital for a day, buy hey,  how many cities in the country can claim they were capital of the United States of America, even for just a day!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The "Sweet Treats Abound in Lancaster" Story

C. Emlen Urban's design for
the Keppel's Candy Company.
It was an ordinary day.  Stopped with Carol at Miesse Candy along Fruitville Pike to buy a gift for one of her high school classmates who had invited us to supper.  Neat new store that is hard to exit without buying a variety of chocolate treats to eat in the near future.  I wrote a store a few months ago about Miesse Candy and wrote a story years ago about Milton S. Hershey and the candy company he opened in Lancaster in the late 1800's.  Lancaster County has been home to many chocolatiers over the ages and gave birth to not only Hershey's, but to Peeps and chocolate Easter Bunnies and still boasts a few chocolate companies such as Miesse and Evans, but also has a large chocolate manufacturer in Wilbur Chocolate Company in nearby Lititz.  Thirty minutes away is the world famous Hershey's Chocolate Company which was opened after Milton S. Hershey sold his business in Lancaster and moved to Hershey, PA.  
The chute can be seen
towering above Keppels.
Well, there used to be another chocolate company in downtown Lancaster that closed in 1988 known as Keppel's Candy Company.  Located along North Queen Street in the center of the city of Lancaster, it was housed in one of the neatest buildings in Lancaster.  The Keppel factory is a classical design with Greek and Roman influences and was designed by famous Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban.  The windows featured transoms and decorative motifs while Urban used a symmetric plan which shows in the identical windows and ornate sculptures in the building.  The building was built around a steel frame with stone while the inside has primarily red brick walls and hard wood floors.  Along the left side of the front is a rusting spire that appears to be some sort of chute or elevator.  Recently Jack Brubaker, a staff writer for the Lancaster Newspapers, wrote about the chute, saying that the apparatus delivered granulated cane sugar for most of the lifetime of the company.  
Keppels Inc. was located at 323-325 North Queen St.
The tower-like duct was probably installed in the 1930's or 1940's, but stopped operating 27 years ago.  Keppel's cooked their candy on the top floor of the building so the chute helped deliver the sugar to the top floor.  The chute was actually an elevator that carried the sugar to the rooftop where a conveyor delivered the sugar to a storage bin at the rear of the building.  
The Greek and Roman architecture can be seen in this photo.
Machinery inside the building moved the sugar to the cooking stations as needed.  Jack notes that one good aspect of the remaining decaying chute is that it probably saved the building from a lightning strike over the years.  I made a trip to the downtown location to take a few photos showing what the place looks like today, including the rusting metal chute that has been a Lancaster eyesore for years.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The "A Drawer Full Of Memories" Story

One of a few Slaymaker padlocks I found in my drawer.
It was an ordinary day.  Going through a few of my desk drawers when I came upon a few old padlocks.  Forgot all about the locks that Carol's father had given to me years ago.  Charlie, my father-in-law, worked for years at the Slaymaker Lock Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  One of the best and well-known lock companies in the United States in the early 1900s.  Samuel R. Slaymaker, founder of the lock company, began his interest in locks while working for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a civil engineer.  The railroad switch and signal locks gave him the background he needed to start his own lock company in 1888 when he opened Slaymaker Lock Company on North Water Street in downtown Lancaster.  
The front door of what was Slaymaker Lock Co.  It is now
a series of offices and retail stores.
They offered quality padlocks at a reasonable price and gained many customers.  The US Government and the Pennsyl- vania railroad were two of the biggest customers when Slaymaker first started in business.  In 1918 the company moved to South West End Avenue to gain more space.  
The beautifully restored building on South West Ave. and 1st St.
In the early 1920s, another Lancaster lock manufac- turer, Walter Fraim, who had recently sold his share of the Fraim Bros. business to his brother, bought a major interest in Slaymaker Lock Company and it became known as Fraim-Slaymaker.  Eventually the company retained the name Slaymaker Lock Co., but folded in 1986 with the onslaught of inexpensive foreign padlocks.  The Slaymaker building on South West End Ave. is now a beautifully restored office complex.  One of my former students, Eric Forberger, now has a large photography studio in the restored old Slaymaker Lock Company.  Carol remembers living a few blocks away from the lock company as a child.  
Corner markings on the Slaymaker Lock Co.  Carol and
her mom and dad lived a block away on 2nd Street.
Her dad walked to work daily and was the Personnel Manager of the plant.  In 1966 they moved from 2nd Steet in the city to an apartment unit about a block away from where I was living with my mom, dad and brother in Grandview Heights.  Charlie decided that whenever there was a problem at the factory he was called first since he lived real near the plant, so they moved outside the city.  After Carol and I met and began dating, I remember making a few visits to the plant to see her dad and I got a chance to see around the place.  It was sometime during those years that Charlie gave me a few of the old Slaymaker locks that I have rediscovered once again.  Gonna have to do some research on them and see what their value might be.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The "Iconic Shelter Haven Hotel" Story

The Shelter Haven Basin is seen in this view of Stone Harbor.
It was an ordinary day.  Just finished down- loading the photos I took of the 37-room hotel known as The Reeds at Shelter Haven which is located at the corner of 96th Street and Third Avenue in Stone Harbor, New Jersey.  Neat place that is the third generation hostelry to sit on one of the main corners of the seashore town that has a population of 847 during most of the year, but swells to many times that in the summer months.  For years my family has visited neighboring Ocean City, Sea Isle City and Avalon, but recently Carol and I have made frequent visits to Stone Harbor to stay with my cousin and his wife as well as making visits with my brother and sister-in-law during their annual fall week to the town.  
The original Shelter Haven Hotel.
During those years of travel to Stone Harbor I can remember the second building that stood on that corner known as the Shelter Haven Motel which eventually was demolished as was the original Shelter Haven Hotel which was originally constructed and opened in 1912.  In 1910, when the town of Stone Harbor was in its infancy, brothers Frank and Jonathon Janson, known as "butter and egg" men, purchased the lot on the corner of 96th and Third for $1 with hopes and dreams of building a hotel.  
The destruction of the Shelter Haven Hotel in 1961.
The two farmers from Bally, Pennsyl- vania, a small town in Berks County, opened their vision in August of 1912.  It was a five-story, 60 room hotel that was the largest building in the town and overlooked the beautiful Shelter Haven Basin.  The hotel sported a dining room, bar, rooftop garden, cafe and a barber shop.  Many of the 60 guest rooms overlooked the beautiful basin to the south-east.  The Shelter Haven Hotel became the hub of the town and drew many guests to the quickly developing town.  Four years later the Jansen brothers decided to attempt another adventure and sold the property, but continued to spend their summers at the Shelter Haven Hotel.  Eventually, after changing hands 12 times and showing its age, in 1961 the Shelter Haven Hotel was demolished.  
The Shelter Haven Motel.
Shortly after, the 52-room Shelter Haven Motel was built.  The motel featured an elevator, heated pool, boat slips and a bar and liquor store.  
The Reeds at Shelter Haven Hotel.
I can remember making visits to Stone Harbor during the years after the motel was built and remem- bering how neat the place looked.  The motel also featured a gourmet restaurant with a fantastic chef, but after refusing his demands for a long-term lease for his restaurant, the motel began to slowly go downhill and was demolished in 1999.  I can remember the large movie screen that was put in place that summer so people could bring their beach chairs to the corner lot and watch movies under the stars.  
The Third Avenue side of The Reeds at Shelter Haven.
The Shelter Haven was such a big part of the town and its shopping district that something had to happen to bring back the corner of 96th and Third.  The same year of the motel's demolition, a couple of developers purchased the property and began to make proposals that were nixed due to zoning.   Then the recession struck a blow.  Eventually a 37-room boutique concept hotel was proposed and approved and on June 19, 2012 the Reeds at Shelter Haven was opened.  The heart of Stone Harbor has again begun to beat.  The rooftop garden has returned with rooms that face the Shelter Haven Basin yielding majestic water views and spectacular sunsets.  Old postcards of the Shelter Haven Hotel line the walls and the once popular watermelon festival has returned.  The legacy of the Janson brothers is alive and well once again in Stone Harbor.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.    

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The "Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum: The Pennsylvania Long Rifle" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Thinking how I can write my story today without insulting those readers that may live in Kentucky, for you see, Kentucky should not be given credit for the invention of the long rifle.  That credit is part of Pennsylvania heritage and should be given to the many rifle makers that lived in Lancaster County between the 1770s and 1840s when long rifle making was at its height.  
The birthplace of the Pennsylvania Long Rifle.  This is
the Martin Meylin Gunshop near Willow Street, PA.  It
was in 1704 that Meylin made what is supposed to be
the first Pennsylvania Long Rifle.
The Pennsyl- vania Long Rifle is the gun that helped lead our nation across the Appalachian Mountains.  It also was the rifle that was given credit for defeating the British during the American Revolution.  One of my favorite TV personalities, Davy Crockett, was carrying a Pennsylvania Long Rifle when he died at the Alamo in 1836.  The Pennsylvania Long Rifle was the choice of Lewis and Clarke when they departed from near St. Louis in 1804 and made their way through the continental divide to the Pacific coast.  
The Lititz, PA Post Office on the far left was once the home
to Andrew Albright, a respected gunsmith who created
Pennsylvania Rifles.  The rifle was so popular on the frontier
that it later mistakenly became known as the Kentucky Rifle.
The Pennsyl- vania Long Rifle was also the weapon of choice of a guy named Daniel Boone who just happened to use it in Kentucky and made it so famous that Kentucky tried to take credit for making it.  Boone was a native Pennsylvanian who used his Pennsylvania Long Rifle for hunting and carried it west to tame the wilderness.  He helped establish the community of Boonesborough, Kentucky which made everyone believe his long rifle was a product of that state.  
The Lancaster Coin Club produced this commemorative
gold coin in honor of the "Hub of Colonial Gunsmithing -
But, that myth will be put to rest right now when I tell you that the first Pennsyl- vania Long Rifles were made in Lancaster County, PA by a German immigrant by the name of Martin Mylin in his gunshop in what is now known as Willow Street, PA.  A Long Rifle from 1704 bears the mark of Martin Mylin and leads one to believe that the Mylin Gun Shop was the birthplace of the most effective weapon in early American history.  
A display of flintlock Pennsylvania Long Rifles at the
Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum.
The Pennsyl- vania Long Rifle was able to shoot five times farther, and with greater accuracy, than any musket of the day.  The spin created by the "rifling" of the barrel produced a bullet that spun, thus gained the extra distance and accuracy than the smooth musket balls that tended to drift off-line and drop to the ground sooner.  
The Pennsylvania Long Rifle was famous for its accuracy, even at great distances.  Lancaster's Jacob Metzger was considered to be one of the best master gunsmiths of his time, creating both a reliable and attractive rifle.  These are just a few of the rifles he created in the mid-1700s.
The Pennsylvainia Long Rifle provided a considerable military advantage for the Continental Army because of the fact that they were more accurate and could shoot greater distances than the British smooth bore muskets that forced their troops to get close before their weapons were effective.  
A beautiful flintlock Pennsylvania
Long Rifle made from Maple wood.
I recently made a visit to the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum where I had a chance to talk to the volunteer who was in the Village Gun Shop.  I learned about the early weapon and about a few of the gunsmiths from Lancaster County, PA who played a big part in establishing Lancaster as the leader in long rifle production.  Besides Martin Meylin, there was Robert Baker who formed a partnership with his son, Caleb and on August 1719 erected a gun boring mill on the Pequea Creek in southern Lancaster County.    Another local rifle maker was Jacob Dickert who perhaps made the Pennsylvania Long Rifle that Davy Crockett had with him at the Alamo.  
Ornamental pan primer and powder
horn for a flintlock rifle.
Mr. Dickert had a shop in the city of Lancaster on North Queen Street where the Brunswick Hotel was eventually built.  He eventually formed a partnership with Lancastrian John Henry and they built a gun barrel boring mill in Manheim Township.  The two were contractors for the Continental Army and in the early 1790s sold thousands of guns to the US government.  Other famous Lancaster gunsmiths have names such as Andreas Albrecht, John Newcomer, Christian Gumpf, Jacob Sees, Andrew Albright, Jacob Metzger, John Drepperd and Melchior Fordney.  Henry Eichholtz Leman was said to have sold rifles to the Indians via a War Department contract in 1839 for $14 each.  Most shops didn't make the entire rifle.  
Display at Landis Valley that shows the caliber of shot.
One might have made the stock, one might have made the barrel while another may have made the lock, butt plate or trigger guard.  Gunmaking was a big part of Lancaster's history and the Village gun shop I visited has many of the tools and machinery used for making the guns. I had the chance to see how they were made and saw the many racks that held some of the best weapons of the late 1770s to the early 1840s.  So, there you go Kentucky!  Seems that your rifle is famous because so many explorers, settlers and frontiersmen from Pennsylvania traveled west with their Pennsylvania Long Rifles and you got the idea that they were made in Kentucky.  Didn't happen!!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

This shows a flint lock rifle's parts.  The flint struck an iron plate, called a frizzen which created a spark which ignited a prime charge of gunpowder in the flash pan under the frizzen.  The spark traveled through a small hole in the back of the barrel and ignited the larger charge of powder projecting the ball out of the barrel.
The percussion cap rifle has a chamber which held a small amount of detonating powder which, when its firing pin was struck by the hammer, caused sparks into the barrel to discharge the gun.  Much more reliable and quicker.
This final frame shows a flintlock Pennsylvania Long Rifle made by John Drepperd who was a gunsmith in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The "Deal Of A Lifetime" Story

My brother, Steve, checking his eBay account.
It was an ordinary day.  My brother Steve  is showing me exactly how much money the 136 bubblegum cards have generated since he put them on eBay a day ago.  They will remain on the website a few more days then he will accept the highest bid and mail them to the winning bidder.  At the moment we were looking at the site, the cards had bids totaling $4,457.75.  Amazing considering he just bought the cards a few days ago.  
Some of the cards Steve has on eBay to bid on.
Seems that a fellow who deals in trading cards from all sports and who had a stand at the nearby Recreation Center one time a year, had died recently.  His widow decided to try her luck at selling some of the cards and also died.  This left the huge collection of cards to their adult son and daughter.  They decided they wanted to know the value of the collection so paid someone to evaluate the collection of cards and put a price on them.  
Rookie cards of famous baseball players.
The cards filled box after box and numbered close to 10,000 cards with some trophies and a signed Pete Rose baseball.  The retail value of the whole works was set at $50,000.  Many of the cards had been sent away over the years to a rating service that determined the authenticity of the cards and the condition they were in.  The price looked good to the owners and they asked for help from another dealer to try and sell them.  A few prices or bids came in with $14,000 being the highest and the owners thought someone was trying to rip them off not realizing the bids were made as wholesale bids.  
Signed rookie cards.
They took them off the market until recently when they needed some quick cash and asked for help once again to try and sell them.  My brother got wind of the cards and asked to see them and give a price for them.  He examined them and saw the condition and all the rookie cards from all sports and thought he would bid on them.  Steve found out that his bid was exactly the same as another one and decided to increase his bid.  He told the fellow that he would pay cash instead of a check and would give him the autographed baseball if he got the cards.  Viola!  
Early cards that were part of the deal.
I'm visiting with my brother, looking at the 10,000 cards that cost him $12,700.  And, the first 136 he put on eBay are now worth $4,457.75.  That doesn't include the signed cards from Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, Whitey Ford and quite a few others.  Doesn't include the signed rookie cards from Gil McDougald, Don Larsen, Billy Martin, Bob Feller, Ted Williams and others.  Doesn't even include the old-time cards from Connie Mack, Lefty Gomez, Vince Di Maggio and others which are both black and white as well as color.  And then there are the multiple unsigned rookie cards from Mays, Drysdale, Clemente, Banks, Kaline, Aaron, Maris, Mantle and a multitude of others.  
A few of the cards that had been graded.
He also pulled out the graded cards from Carlton, Schmidt, Frank Robinson, Bench, Rose and others.  What was really neat that he showed me were three signed rookie cards done as small trophies with football helmets that featured two Peyton Manning and one Johnny Unitas.  He pointed out at least three large boxes of cards that he hadn't even had a chance to look through yet.  
Rookie cards with small trophy and helmet.
A monu- mental task will follow!  Steve has been collecting sets of card and reselling them for years and he finally got the deal of a lifetime. Can't imagine how many hours will be needed to scan them and place them all on eBay and how many hours will be needed to package all the cards that were bid on and won by people who collect them.  Steve is extremely knowledgable about cards from all sports and will reap the rewards that he will finally receive for all his years of collecting and selling that he has done.  He happened to be in the right place at the right time and knew the right person.  And, he won't even miss the signed Pete Rose baseball.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The "Six Thousand Dollar Church" Story

St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Stone Harbor, NJ.
It was an ordinary day.  Talking to the organist at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Stone Harbor, New Jersey.  The 10:00 AM Sunday morning service had just ended and most of the parishioners and visitors to the service had exited the rear door.  My mission was to take a few photos of the inside of the church to post on my story I was planning.  
Entrance I used to enter the church.
As I entered I saw that most everyone was gone, but the organist was still sitting at the small organ, clearing his music and turning out the light on the organ.  I introduced myself telling him I was a member of St. James Episcopal in Lancaster, PA and asked if I was allowed to take photos.  We talked a short time about the church and he left while I began taking a few photos.  
Rear of the small church showing the beautiful windows.
The church is quite beautiful with resplendent stained glass windows allowing the light to filter through the glass, illuminating the inside of the church.  The symmetrical interior has enough seating for maybe 150 people and a very simplistic altar with organ pipes on either side of a wooden cross behind it.  The red mahogany seating and altar compliment the deep red seat cushions;  
One of the many colorful windows in the church.  The original
windows were made of an opaque gold colored glass to keep
the cost to a minimum, but eventually the current windows
were added to the church.
a place that would be easy to call home if you were a member.  The exterior is a cedar-shingled frame structure that was built in 1910 and dedicated on July 2, 1911; the cost ..... $6,000.  Originally the church was known as St. Mary's-by-the-Sea and was designed to be a summer mission overseen by a visiting priest.  Personally, the original name is really neat and seems perfect for a mission church along the Atlantic Ocean.  A year after the dedication, Grace Church in Philadelphia donated an organ to the fledgling congregation. For close to 40 years the church remained a summer-only parish, but in 1953 Elizabeth LoBue, one of the biggest advocates of the church by the sea, visited the Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey hoping to convince him that St. Mary's should be a year-round church.  
The altar of St. Mary's Episcopal Church.
Elizabeth knew she needed to add some incentive because of the added cost to the diocese so she told the bishop she would make the choir robes for the choir and feed the new rector at her own dinner table.  How could anyone refuse that offer, so in 1955 the church received its first vicar.  Nine years later the church once again appealed to the diocese to change their status from "mission church" to "parish" which happened in 1967.  The majority of the church's parishioners live on the Seven Mile Island, which is where Stone Harbor is located, but does have quite a healthy summer congregation.  The charming church-by-the-sea, under the inviting trees, is a treasure for Stone Harbor.  I felt at home from the minute I walked through the door.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

The "Surfing Sisters" Story

Nun's Beach, Stone Harbor, New Jersey
It was an ordinary day.  Standing on Nun's Beach taking a few photos of the beach and the nearby Villa Maria by the Sea which is a retreat for the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. For many years I have often wondered what went on inside the beautiful building located on the 111th Street plot in Stone Harbor.  
The Villa Maria by the Sea retreat for the Sisters of
the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
I had heard that the place was used for retreats, but never knew exactly what type of retreats.  My photo shoot today gave me a closer look of the neat white building at the south end of Stone Harbor.  There was absolutely no one around when Carol and I arrived about 9:00 AM one Monday morning a few weeks ago.  Place looked deserted.  
The Garden behind the convent which features
the Stations of the Cross.
We first walked toward the beach, stood and watched the tide lap at the shore, then turned to admire the 250 room building that shone brightly in the early morning sun.  I pulled the car closer to the building and told Carol I would be right back after I grabbed a few photos.  She pointed to the sign that said about trespassing, but I told her I was on an assignment so that was different.  
Photo showing the convent from the late 1930s from "Stone
Harbor - One Hundred Years Of The Seashore At Its Best."
Well, after loading my photos onto my laptop I did some research on the building to see exactly what I had just taken photographs of an hour before.  The Immaculata, Pennsylvania-based Sisters had just lost their Cape May retreat to a terrible storm and decided they wanted to rebuild.  They bought the 6 1/2 acre beachfront property in nearby Stone Harbor for $2,000.  
Aerial shot of Villa Maria by the Sea from
the same publication as above photo.
They got permission to build in 1937 and hired architect Peter Getz to design the building that was built on 600 pilings, required 19 car loads of lumber from the nearby Stone Harbor Lumber Company and 13,000 feet of water and drainage pipes. Amazingly, the construction of the building took only 118 days to complete.  For years the building was used for summer retreats for teaching nuns,  In the mid-1990s Sister James Dolores took over management of the building which had deteriorated due to the salt-water atmosphere.  New windows were installed and vinyl siding was placed on the exterior walls.  
Lancaster, Pennsylvania artist and high school teacher at
Lancaster Catholic HS designed the Nun's Beach t-shirt logo.
Donations from friends, neighbors and benefactors helped pay for much of the renovation, but a new venture was started in 1996 to help raise money for the retreat.  The beach in front of the convent, which is one of the few private beaches in New Jersey, became the home of the Nun's Beach Surfing Contest.  

Street sign advertising this year's contest.
As a money-making endeavor, the competition wasn't a big success at first, but then the convent took over ownership of the Nun's Beach brand and began capitalizing on their status as a righteous oddity on the Jersey Shore.  The annual contest draws surfers from all over the world to tiny Stone Harbor and the nuns sell Nun's Beach visors, towels, magnets, hats, shirts and barbecue aprons.  The logo used features a drawing of nuns carrying a surfboard with the slogan "Pray for Surf: Nun's Beach.  Sister Dolores said she got on a wave runner in her habit to pose for a publicity photo.  
Closer view of the front of Villa Maria by the Sea.
The Vatican tends to frown on the selling of indulgences, but the Pope never said anything about selling of souvenirs Sister Dolores said.  A few years ago the event became so large they had to change the contest to an invitational to control the amount of contestants involved.  It has been reported that none of the sisters surf in the contest, but that may be due to the fact that the average age of those who come to the summer retreats is 65.  They do don one-piece bathing suits to enjoy the ocean currents.  My photo session led to more than I had expected with learning of the history of the beautiful building as well as getting a few interesting photographs.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an oridnary guy.