Monday, September 28, 2015

To Iowa and Back

I just returned from a trip to Davenport, Iowa made in honor of my father's birthday. 

In the past I have made the 850-mile trip from Denver to Davenport in a single day.  This time I took my older son's advice and limited my driving to about 400 miles per day.  (My son's last visit to Denver was in a behemoth RoadTrek conversion van, and this probably influenced his thoughts on how far one could comfortably drive in a day.  A van of similar vintage is shown below.)

My first day of travel got me to Grand Island, Nebraska in the middle of the afternoon, early enough to see a tourist attraction.  I googled the town's list of attractions and chose the 3:30 p.m. tour of the Hornady ammunition works. 

When I arrived, I found that I was the only one present for the tour.  Therefore, I got a private showing from the tour guide, a very sharp and personable young lady.  The fabrication processes on shop floor were fascinating, and the tour guide gave me excellent answers to all my questions.

Unfortunately, no photographs of the shop machinery were permitted, in order to protect trade secrets.  All that I was authorized to photograph was the office area.  In what must have been intended as a motivation experiment, the Hormady office workers are surrounded on all sides by stuffed animals bagged by the company founder, Mr. Joyce Hornady.

My favorite was this goat, whose calm expression reminded me of a young Alec Guinness.

I arrived in Davenport, Iowa the following day and began an enjoyable three-day visit with friends and family.  One unexpected highlight was watching my brother-in-law perform an aerial flip with his electric drone.  I would have bet that the stunt was impossible until I saw him do it.

I returned to Grand Island on Sunday evening.  The next morning I drove down Interstate 80 to the famous Kearney arch.

On the grounds there was a facsimile of a pioneer's sod house.

Feeling a bit like a peeping-tom, I positioned my little camera between the guard bars on the doorway and photographed the interior.

A placard outside the sod house interested me from a chemistry perspective: it described the process for whitewashing the walls.  It also described the construction of the bed.

The placard reads:  "Whitewashing the inside walls made the sod house brighter and easier to clean.  Slaked lime was a common base to make whitewash.  The slaked lime was made by heating limestone at high temperatures, turning it into calcium oxide, and then adding water (or milk) to the mixture to make calcium hydroxide.  As the whitewash was exposed to carbon dioxide in the air, it cured, acquiring a distinctive bright white color.  It was possible to enhance the white color by adding chalk, ground rice or flour.  After it first dried, the whitewash seemed rather thin, almost translucent.  However, a day or two to cure finished the process, leaving the whitewash mostly opaque.

The rope-bed was made without nails or screws.  A bit-and-brace drilled the holes for the rope, which was woven both directions to create the foundation for the mattress.  Keeping the ropes tight made for a more comfortable bed.

Did you know the term 'Good Night, Sleep Tight' refers to keeping your rope-bed tight?"

The placard stimulates my inner mad scientist.  I feel an urge to get some limestone and a propane torch and make some whitewash for the inside walls of my townhouse.  However, I feel no urge whatsoever to make a rope-bed.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Walker Home Ruins

I trudged up Mt. Falcon this afternoon to see the Walker Home Ruins.

A helpful placard gave the history of the ruins of the home built by John Brisben Walker (1847 -1931).

The main text reads:

John Brisben Walker
Devoted family man and visionary businessman

"John Brisben Walker is personally responsible for the way much of the front range looks in this area.  In his quest for the perfect place to build a home for his family, he preserved thousands of acres of land around Morrison.  As a well-rounded businessman, he launched many projects in the Denver area.  All of these ventures continue to impact people who live and play here now.

The ruins you see here are the remains of a grand home belonging to John B. Walker.  A self-made millionaire by 1905, he purchased more than four thousand acres of land in this area, including now what is Mount Falcon Park.  Tragedy struck the Walker family in 1916 when Mrs. Walker died.  Lightning struck the Walker home and it burned down in 1918, forcing John to leave the area.  These ruins are only the foundation of the craftsman-style chalet that once stood here.  His vision of preserving large pieces of land eventually became the foundation for Denver Mountain Parks and Jefferson County Open Space."

Let's take a brief digression to get a glimpse into Walker's character.

John Brisben Walker had been a journalist and editor early in his career. After he purchased the failing Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1893, in addition to his main duties as publisher, he would occasionally get back into harness as a journalist.  I was impressed with the clear and forceful style of his prose in his series of articles about the 1904 St. Louis Exposition (World's Fair).  As Buffon stated: the style is the man.  Here is an example from The Cosmopolitan's World's Fair edition, September 1904, which seems to summarize Walker's own credo.

XV.  Art at the Exposition

by John Brisben Walker

I confess to a feeling of profound disappointment with reference to the art displays at the Exposition.  To begin with, nine-tenths of the statuary is commonplace to a degree.  There is an absence of intellectuality; the work of copyists everywhere abounds.

An artist is called upon to represent "Transportation by Land," and he can think of nothing better than a woman with an expressionless face holding a toy locomotive on one arm as she would a poodle-dog.  Another artist, or probably the same one, when he comes to represent "Transportation by Water," has another woman, very likely the same model, but this time, in the astonishing versatility of his genius, he puts into her arms a toy ship – again held a la poodle-dog.  War-chariots do duty above buildings intended for the most varying purposes.

One searches almost in vain for originality of conception, or for the work of an artist behind whose molded forms lies a worthy thought.  Occasionally there is a statue which shows the intellect of the true sculptor, as in the case of Daniel C. French's "Napoleon," in which the world's greatest genius sits, map in lap, pondering the necessity of parting with his empire in North America.  It is an attitude of profound melancholy; the prophetic mind beholds clearly the great republic which will one day occupy the lands which he is turning over to the United States.  This statue will remain, after this World's Fair, one of the most notable "Napoleons."

Occasionally a sculptor escapes from his "beaux-arts" studies of Greece and Rome.  The result, however, is scarcely more happy, for in front of the Pike we have fixed in staff a drunken orgy – an inconceivable embodiment designed to perpetuate three of the lowest types of Western cowboy.  Certainly a misunderstanding, to say the least.

I took a committee of five, two of them selected for their knowledge of art, through the vast art-galleries of the Exposition – in which are displayed a greater number of square yards of mediocrity than have ever been brought together before in the history of the world.

It was my intention to pick out and reproduce ten really great paintings, or, at least, ten great enough for three of five of the committee to agree upon.  I have always entertained the theory that a truly great painting will be recognized as such by all classes of people.  It may require a connoisseur in art to tell the points of a moderately good work, but a subject which rendered in a really strong way stands out evident to all.

It was with surprise, then, that as my committee reached the last room I discovered that we had not secured the necessary three-fifths vote required to complete our list of ten.

Of those selected, three were taken from painters of other times recognized as great masters.  Yet here were thousands upon thousands of pictures, painted with laborious art, and these in turn selected from other thousands; and not ten really great paintings amongst them all, upon which three out of five persons would agree.  I went out in a melancholy frame of mind, determined to return and find the secret, if I could, of such vastness of commonplaceness.

Upon my next visit I wandered through the rooms alone.  Gradually it seemed to become clear.  The art-schools of to-day teach method, technique; they do not teach students to think, or to express thought in original ways.  The man or woman becomes a copyist or attaches himself to some fad.  There are many artists like unto those novelists who attempt to write without ideas.  They are not infrequently ignorant of pretty much everything except their own "art."  They know little of government, little of science, little of industrial life, little of those authors whose work has been most ennobling.  And endless number of them know the female figure; an endless number know of the city life of Paris, London, and New York.  A still greater number have copied the busts and limbs and the groups of Greek art.  And as a consequence you have in this Exposition hundreds of paintings that are base, thousands that are copies, and the great majority destitute of an elevating thought or of an idea that rises above the commonplace.  There are portrait-painters and copyists of nature; but we are almost destitute of great artists.

I should like humbly to submit this advice to the young man studying art: "To really succeed in art you must be able to think great thoughts; you must keep away from what is enervating as you would from a reservation of leprosy.  Blood cannot be taken from a vegetable; profound thoughts do not spring from ignorance.  Before an artist can paint great ideas, he must be capable of profound analysis.  He must lead a broad life, not merely that of the studios.  He must take an interest in the politics of his country and in affairs.  He should hang these words of Victor Hugo up over his doorway:

"For the world lets everything perish which is nothing but selfishness: which does not represent an idea or a benefit for the human race."

Here is a 1913 picture (stolen from Wikipedia) of John Walker and Ethel Richmond Walker, his second wife.  She looks like a jolly woman in her late thirties.  He is 66 years old and looks like a fiery, stern-jawed old coot. 

 Here is a picture of their home during construction in 1909.

Okay, here is the courtyard view of the north wing today.  The doorway and the first window to its right remain intact.

The ruins retain a rustic beauty.  However, the arches over the doors and windows disappointed me.  I had expected a bit more precision and a more graceful curve from craftsmen brought all the way from Italy.

The views from the home were marvelous.  Here is the view to the west.

Here is the view to the east – the foothills and the city.

John Brisben Walker was a talented, energetic, and restless man.  He raised quite a whirlwind in the early years of the twentieth century.

As I made my way back down the Mt. Falcon trail, I saw two deer and a fawn down below me in the bushes.  I took five photographs. Four were duds.  But one captured a deer in the photograph's very top left corner.  Here is the relevant blown-up portion of the photograph.  The deer appears to have a strange green nose, like some kind of inverse Rudolph.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Family Hike and Dinner

My older son and my daughter-in-law are visiting from California.  Today I invited then to a short, scenic hike at Castlewood State Park.  The day was mild and sunny.  (My daughter-in-law, unfamiliar with Colorado weather, was dressed for late October rather than early September.)

The trail afforded a view of a hay field on one side and a view of rugged Castlewood Canyon on the other.

A fine day for a family hike!

Postscript:  In the evening my younger son whipped up a tasty Sichuan meal of Pork Dan Dan Noodles, brown rice, and stir-fried vegetables.

I have many blessings to count today.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ashley Sterne Spickness and Spanness

Here is an excellent wartime article by Ashley Sterne, as reprinted in The Journal, Adelaide, SA, 18 January 1918.

In the article Sterne mentioned a previous article about the duties of a "grub" orderly.  I hope to find this article some day.

[Note, the word "lyddite" below refers to a high explosive containing picric acid, used by the British during the Great War.  The word "cruse" refers to a small jar for storing liquids (cf. the story of Elijah and the widow in 1 Kings 17.)  The word "spillikins" refers to the game of jackstraws — called "pick up sticks" in the United States — where spillikins are the set of straws or thin strips that are let fall into a heap.  Each player tries to remove one at a time without disturbing the heap.]

Spickness and Spanness
In the Soldier

[By Ashley Sterne, in London Opinion]

The very last thing which the soldier has either time or opportunity to clean is himself.  The military authorities long ago decided that the sight of several dozen dazzling brass buttons marching along the road was infinitely more ennobling and inspiring than one fair, lily-white neck and a brace of coral-pink ears; and accordingly they present each recruit with a small brass-foundry of buttons, number-plates, buckles, and badges, which for ever after (or the period of the war, whichever be the longer) he is doomed to keep in a condition of shining splendor of that would shame the summer sun.

On an average at least two hours per diem of the soldier's hard-won leisure are occupied in bringing his collection of minerals to that state of refulgence which shall ensure immunity from a severe ticking-off by an officer or N.C.O., .whose own metalwork has been rendered san peur et sans reproche in the hands of an unfortunate menial.  To appear on parade with a button or cap-badge of the hue of the rich, red gold of Ophir is a military crime, and the only excuse accepted for this breach of discipline is the plea of sudden and total paralysis.  Buttons are usually polished by means of "soldier's friend" — a paste that is distinguishable from the potted salmon and shrimp supplied at the canteen by the label on the lid, which is spelt differently.  At first, most recruits wonder how it came by the name of "soldier's friend;" but after daily spending more time in the society of their tins than in the company of their associates, they begin to understand.  When we return to civilian life, I am certain that many of us will give the family solicitor a month's wages in lieu of notice, and for the future unbosom ourselves and confide our heart's innermost secrets to the ear of our little pale-pink companion.

A good soldier, they say, does no cleaning overnight; and if this be true, I, for one, am a heartless forgery.  I have to admit that the problem of how, in the hour and a half that elapses between reveille and first parade, to polish the odd score of buttons with which I am so picturesquely decorated, clean my rifle and bayonet, remove a large portion of the dear homeland from my boots and black them, dress, wash, shave, make my bed, sweep the floor, and fight 20 other ruffians for my breakfast; is one whose solution. completely baffles me.  When to this is perhaps added the duties of "grub" orderly (whose unhappy lot I have previously described) you will appreciate the fact that many a man has gone to bed with this terrible load of responsibility upon his mind, only to find in the morning that in the course of one single night the whole appearance of the battalion has been ruined by his hair turning grey.

Nor does the good soldier shave overnight, is another army axiom.  This granted, the army is at least one short of the efficient strength it shows on the books.  If one attempts to shave with the razor provided by the army it is absolutely essential to commence, at all events, the operation overnight, and — in extreme cases — two nights before the face is required on parade.  Plucky and indomitable men have, indeed, been known, by shaving  zealously all through the hours of darkness, to pass the scrutiny of a myopic officer the following morning; but many of us, whether we employ an army razor or one of our own that really will cut better, have not yet surmounted the difficulty of shaving in the dark.  Those of us who attempt to do so generally present in the cold light of day faces that have apparently had the whiskers blown off them by a charge of lyddite.  Indeed, one persistent individual, afflicted with a relentless growth of face-vegetation, who sedulously shaved himself for eight consecutive hours, was next morning called from the ranks, and in front of the whole battalion presented by a humane and understanding C.O. with an assortment of golden wound-stripes.

Luxuriance of hair upon the head, too, is oftentimes a matter for censure, and a rigid inspection of our skulls and the napes of our necks takes place periodically — more especially at such times as there is a shortage of material for filling the sacks required for bayonet practice.  Apparently the soldier is expected to have among his other accomplishments a knowledge of practical hairdressing; for not infrequently does one hear the remark at inspection, "Your hair's too long. Cut it during the next stand easy."  Then, if the culprit cannot borrow the sergeant-major's sword, he has to perform the operation with his bayonet.  At least I suppose that is what happens.

Then, too, there is one's rifle to keep clean.  Granted that every man were served out with a perfectly clean rifle, this would not be a task of much magnitude.  I can conceive that he would be able to keep it clean and still find time to wash some of his fingers or one of his ears.  But one may be excused from wondering, when rifles are served out, whether their prime function is to fire bullets or to hoe turnips.  I extracted enough soil from mine to plant a geranium, and the wealth of oil I subsequently lavished upon it would have shamed the contents of the widow's cruse.

Theoretically, one is supposed to keep the interior of the rifle barrel bright and rustless with the aid of a "pull-through," and there is a rumour current in camp that the battalion actually does possess one.  But I am afraid it belongs to the same category as the sea-serpent and the Indian basket-trick.  Men know of others who have seen and used it, and their actual identities are sometimes disclosed when the canteen coffee gets into their hands and sets their tongues a-wagging.  But I know of no man who has personally handled or seen our battalion "pull-through."  Enquiries for the loan of one at the armoury, after I had spent an afternoon in a futile attempt to clean my barrel with a sardine tied to a string, merely resulted in my leaving the armourer sergeant feverishly hunting up the word in the dictionary.

When arms are dealt out to us, one of the first things we are taught is the proper care of them.  This instruction is usually given in the form of a "lecture" — not one of those comfortable lectures with dissolving views at which a common interest in the search after the fundamental truths of science and art sanctions holding hands with the fair damsel in the next pew, but a highly dramatic monologue delivered in the middle of a draughty, muddy cow pasture by a sergeant-instructor who has a lot of spillikins embroidered on his sleeve.  He tells us how, twice a day, we should wipe the entire rifle over with an oily rag, how (in defiance of all journalistic tradition) we should keep the magazine dry, and free from all foreign matter; how our life may one day depend on our taking care that the bolt be always covered with a thin film of oil (or not covered with a thin film of oil — I forgot which); how we must never fire a loaded rifle at a sergeant-instructor, even in fun; and how, in conclusion, the rifle is the soldier's best friend, and will repay all the care, oil, tenderness, boiling water, affection, emery paper, and friction that we bestow upon it.  "In short," he will add, "treat your rifle as you would your wife."

I take his meaning, though I fancy most married men would think twice before attempting to wipe the wife over, morning and evening, with an oily rag.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Architecture of Jules Jacques Benois Benedict

In my previous blog entry I mentioned an architect named J. B. Benedict in connection with an ill-fated plan to build a Summer White House on the top of Mount Falcon.  I would not wish to leave my blog readership with a poor impression of Mr. Benedict based on his involvement with this failed commission.  He was a very able architect, as the following material will attest.

From Wikipedia:  "Jules Jacques Benois Benedict (April 22, 1879 – 1948) was one of the most prominent architects in Colorado history, whose works include a number of well-known landmarks and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Commonly known as Jacques Benedict, he was born in Chicago in 1879, and he studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts.  He came to Denver in 1909, and became renowned for his many prominent works including homes, churches, academic and public buildings, spanning a range of architectural styles and with a particular gift for melding with natural landscapes."

Today I consulted the list of Benedict's buildings in the National Register of Historic Places (United States Department of the Interior - National Park Service) and then drove to see them for myself.
One of Benedict's best known residences is the Campbell House, which is on the south end of the Denver Botanic Gardens.

From the National Register of Historic Places:  "J. J. B. Benedict drafted plans for the Campbell House/Botanic Gardens House, 909 York Street, Denver (1926, 5DV182; National Register and Denver Landmark) for Richard C. and Margaret Campbell.  Richard Campbell was the business manager for the Rocky Mountain News and founder of the Campbell Investment Company, while Margaret was the daughter of the U.S. Senator Thomas Patterson.  The irregularly-shaped two-story house had stucco walls, brick and stone door and window trim, and a steeply pitched green tile roof.  The Beaux-Arts style house was donated to the Denver Botanic Gardens (immediately north of the house) in 1960 by Ruth Waring, who had acquired it two years earlier."

Here is its picture from years ago.

Here is how it looked this afternoon.

A half mile away was another Benedict house, called the Kistler-Rodriguez House.  I liked its second-story chimney, which seemed to float in mid-air.

From the National Register of Historic Places:  "Erle D. Kistler and his wife were the initial occupants of the Kistler-Rodriguez House, 700 E.9th Avenue, Denver (1920, 5DV1497; National Register and Denver Landmark).  Erle Kistler was the treasurer of the W.H. Kistler Stationery Company and the son of W.H. Kistler.  The two-story hipped roof brick residence had contrasting stone quoins, window trim, and a center entrance with a semicircular compound arch.  The west wall featured a horizontal band of corbelled arches at the base of the upper story and a tall brick chimney with a corbelled base. The National Register nomination for the house characterized its style as Jacobean Revival.

Benedict also was the architect for the St. Thomas Theological Seminary in Denver.

From the National Register of Historic Places:  "Jacques Benedict’s largest commission for the Catholic Church was that for the construction of St. Thomas Theological Seminary, 1300 S. Steele Street, Denver (1926-31, 5DV729, National Register).  The design of the seminary was considered for a number of years, and many conferences were held between the Diocese and the architect.  Completed over a fiveyear period were the components of the main seminary building: Administration Building (1926); 138-foot Tihen Tower (1927); St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel (1930-31); and Dining Hall (1931).  Benedict employed what he called the 'Lombard style' for the seminary and 'an attempt was made to have the architecture fundamentally symbolical.'  The building was constructed of buff brick, with cast stone trim, round arch doors and windows, and a tile roof.  The chapel used over nine hundred different shapes of brick of various colors and glazing as an integral part of its ornamentation."

I drove into the seminary area and found a parking lot behind the main building.  As an ardent admirer of Bible translator William Tyndale (murdered by English Catholics in 1536), I felt slightly ill at ease as I walked the grounds and snapped photographs.  Nevertheless, I was struck by the beauty of the architecture.  The seminary looked (to my inexpert eyes) like a Northern Italian Renaissance villa -- a villa that had been tricked out with a few statues of saints and angels here and there.

A marvelous entry way.  I can imagine the Duke of Mantua returning to his villa on the back of a proud stallion after a successful campaign against his Austrian foes.

Now we come to the impressive tower.  I had to back up to see the top.

The cornerstone says CMXXVI or 1926.  I walked to the left and saw a second pair of tower doors and another wing of the building.

I was delighted with the detailed ornamentation.

Today, when I searched the internet for Jacques Benedict, I discovered that one of his houses had been restored and put on the market in July at an asking price of $3.2 million.  The house is called the Wilson-Wilfley House.  If I had known that the house was for sale, I could have liquidated my entire net worth and made a down payment on the little room above the garage.

From the National Register of Historic Places:  "The Wilson-Wilfley House, 770 Olive Street, Denver (1917, 5DV709.3, remodel) was built in 1890 and nearly destroyed in an explosion in 1907. In 1917, Albert E. and Mabel Wilson acquired the ruins and hired Benedict to rebuild the house in a Tudor Revival style.  The reborn dwelling was two stories in height and featured stucco walls with half-timbering, clipped gables, and a projecting one-story entry topped by a crenellated balcony."

Here are a few exterior and interior photographs from the realtor site.  The sight of modern furnishings is jarring.  I would rather see the original furnishings from 1917.

Jacques Benedict was clearly a gifted and versatile architect.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Success on Mt. Falcon

I finally made it to the top of Mt. Falcon this afternoon, traveling 2.8 miles up the hill.  In doing so, I gained 1500 feet of elevation and a great deal of potential energy.  Unfortunately, this store of potential energy didn't make me feel any more energetic.  In fact, the higher I hiked, the weaker my legs became.

The top of Mt. Falcon is fairly flat, with a number of prominences rather than one dominant peak.  I hiked up the Castle Trail and stopped at the first prominence, called Walker's Dream.

I was disappointed to find that Walker's Dream was, in large degree, merely imaginary.  The site was a jumble of lichen-covered boulders.  The only thing of interest was a marble cornerstone on a short section of stone masonry -- a mocking reminder of grandiose plans for a Summer White House that came to nought.  The cornerstone says:  Summer Home for the Presidents of the United States.  The gift of the people of Colorado, 1911.

To keep the tired and sweaty hiker from feeling that this hard-reached destination was a cruel hoax, the good people of the Jefferson County Parks Department provided this informatory placard.

The text reads:

"Summer White House

In 1911, John Brisben Walker, owner of the property that is now Mount Falcon Park, promoted the idea of a Summer White House.  The cornerstone of Colorado yule marble was laid on July 4, 1914 on this proposed site for the building.  What you see here is all that remains of his dream to create a "castle in the clouds" for the enjoyment of the Presidents of the United States.

Modeled after castles in Europe, the idea was to give the President a place to spend time enjoying Colorado.  John Walker hired Denver architect J. B. Benedict to draw up renderings for a 22-room castle on Mount Falcon.  The design sketches were made in an effort to promote the idea and raise funds to begin construction.  Proposal to fund construction included a scheme to persuade the nations' school children to contribute their pennies.

Shortly afterward, Walker became involved with other projects and his plans for the Summer White House never materialized.  However, his vision of preserving the natural beauty of Colorado continues in Mount Falcon Park."

As I retraced my steps back to the parking lot, I noticed two examples of interesting local fauna.  First, I spotted a pygmy lizard that was no more than an inch and a half long, including tail.

It was not keen on being photographed.  I had to chase it around a bit before I got this grainy frontal shot.

It had a bad attitude and was doing its best to resemble a tiny crocodile.

Farther along I encountered a young rattlesnake who was sunning himself on the trail.  He seemed perfectly at ease and did not pay me the slightest attention, until I started taking pictures.  Then he turned his head around and slid over the rest of his body, as if he were climbing a rope.