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By rebeccapricejanney, Apr 19 2017 06:44PM

White House Memories.

When I was a college sophomore, I received an invitation to a picnic on the South Lawn of the White House. My memories of that golden night include dancing with a reporter, who had no idea I was one myself, while my ROTC friend danced with a man in uniform, who also didn’t know about her background! I also recall the red and white checked cloth napkins (I still have mine), the beautiful view of the Washington Monument at night, and standing in a receiving line to shake the President and First Lady’s hands. I haven’t been back until two days ago when I went with my husband and son to the White House Easter Egg Roll, thanks to a good friend who was able to secure three tickets for us.

This tradition is one of the oldest annual celebrations held at the White House. Some say Dolly Madison hosted the first one. Most historians of the event believe by the 1870s, children regularly gathered at the Capitol’s West Grounds on Easter Monday to roll eggs, and themselves, down the hill. Concern for the landscape led to a banishment of the practice in 1876, and no one showed up the following year anyway because of rain. In 1877 local kids again went to the Capitol, but police escorted them off the premises. Undaunted, the little ones headed up the road to the White House, and President Rutherford B. Hayes told the guards to let them come through the gates to roll their eggs. What a nice thing to be remembered for!

The first time I was on the South Lawn, I was brought through the White House and after passing through security, went on outside. On Monday, however, along with some 5,000 other people slated for the 12:15-2:15 time slot, we wound around the sidewalks flanking the lower grounds, then serpentined through a few checkpoints before being allowed inside. My son was fascinated by the presence of sober-looking Secret Service agents dressed in no-nonsense black uniforms and policemen on horseback. We were told in advance to be prepared to wait for an hour before we could be escorted onto the South Lawn, so I was ready for standing that long. What caught me somewhat off guard, however, was the rain. Yes, I had checked the weather forecast several times before and during the event, but the percentages were low, especially for our time slot. When the heavens opened up in spite of the weather people, I huddled under an umbrella with Scott while David hunkered down under the other one we’d brought. Before many minutes, my right arm and backpack were soaked, and my hair had begun to “explode.” Far worse off was the family in front of us, with just one umbrella and two little kids, both in summer clothes, the mom in a sleeveless sun dress sporting goose bumps. No one was in a bad mood, though. In spite of our drowned rat appearances, our group was far too excited to complain.

By the time we got inside, the rain had slowed to a drizzle, and smiling greeters handed us map/schedules and “egg pops,” hard boiled eggs on sticks. Yum! I once again, as I did as a college student, felt the awe of being at the White House, this place of so much of our nation’s treasured history and countless stories of courage and freedom. I also smelled something like the fragrance of being outside when a neighbor is using the clothes dryer. I joked to Scott, “Melania must be doing the laundry.” He just grinned and shook his head. “Melania does not do laundry.”

We walked up the paved road to the right, past the gleaming Presidential Limousine, toward the South Portico and a striking wisteria next to the door. Children were lining up for the egg roll, so David fell in waited a short time for his turn. I was struck by how short a course it really was, less than the length of a bowling “alley.” I snapped several photos as my son rolled his hard-boiled, colored egg with a spoon-like paddle, and won his race!

We spent the rest of the time listening to music at the concert area, in a Minecraft exhibit, talking to other parents and White House volunteers. A couple of highlights included listening to Dr. Ben Carson and his wife tell a story at the “reading nook,” and then bumping into national security advisor Sebastian Gorka, who graciously got into a selfie with us.

We didn’t get to see the President, First Lady, and Barron, who had come out for an earlier group, but just being at the White House was a huge treat for us. As we left the South Lawn with our newly minted memories, David was handed a poster and a bag of goodies, along with a commemorative wooden egg. I hope when he’s a dad, he’ll be able to recount the wonder and joy of this day for his children.

By rebeccapricejanney, Apr 13 2017 05:39PM

This week I’ve been posting on social media about the 100th anniversary of World War I, namely some interesting facts such as the story about the wounded pigeon who still carried out its duties and managed to save an entire battalion. I talked about Harry Truman’s desire to serve in spite of his poor eyesight, how he memorized the doctor’s chart and managed to get into the service, attaining the rank of captain. There’s also the memorable tale of Sergeant Alvin C. York, a backwoods Tennessee native and conscientious objector who went on to become one of the war’s greatest heroes (I just love the movie about him starring Gary Cooper). There are so many more stories of bravery, patriotism, and honor.

When the U.S. entered the war, President Woodrow Wilson spoke about the great need to “save the world for democracy.” Like millions of Americans, he was burdened by the massive destruction casting a pall over Europe as belligerents hurled horrific new forms of death at each other, made possible by the technology that at the beginning of the 20th century, was supposed to have made such conflicts obsolete. The American forces were viewed by many to be the continent’s last, best hope to bring about an end to the devastation.

We might rightly say the 2.1 million Americans who served on the frontlines from 1917-to 1918 acted in the role of saviors of a suffering humanity. Many tens of thousands of them made the ultimate sacrifice, over 53,000 on the battlefield, and more than 63,000 who perished from disease and accidents. Then there were over 200,000 wounded and many more who would suffer themselves from post traumatic stress.

Each American soldier who stepped on a troop ship as he prepared for war was given a New Testament provided by the New York Bible Society. In it a message from former President Theodore Roosevelt was inscribed, encouraging the men, “Love mercy; treat your enemies well; succor the afflicted; treat every woman as if she were your sister; care for the little children; and be tender with the old and helpless. Walk humbly; you will do so if you study the life and teachings of the Savior, walking in His steps.” He reflected the belief that stretched all the way back to the Pilgrims and Puritans that America needed to set any example for other nations and people who had lost their way in a darkened world.

I find it fitting that we’re observing the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I during Holy Week. For as great as the debt we owe to those “Doughboys,” there is One far greater who paid the ultimate price to save the entire world from the dungeon of sin and death for all generations, until He comes again and beats our swords into ploughshares.

World War One Poster
World War One Poster

By rebeccapricejanney, Apr 5 2017 01:32PM

Are there any bridges of special interest to you or for which you have a certain affection? I recently showed a close friend around Easton, and when I pointed out some houses rimming the Delaware River on the other side, she gasped. “I had no idea Easton and Phillipsburg were so close!” she said. Indeed, when I was growing up there, the bridges connecting the two towns were more like streets running through the middle. If I had a dollar for every time I crossed one of the two bridges, you’d see me dancing around like someone who’s just had balloons and a mammoth check brought to her house by perfect strangers while a camera is rolling.

In Easton at the Forks, I wrote from this perspective while painting a picture of Erin Miles’s relationship to the bridges. Today I’d like to tell you more about them.

Aside from the railroad bridges spanning the Delaware at the forks, there are two for the conveyance of vehicles and pedestrians. (There also is a Route 78 bridge downriver, but being newer and not a whit romantic or historic, I’m leaving it out of the present discussion.) The oldest, and to me the most graceful, of the two is the Northampton Street Bridge, which locals often call “The Free Bridge” for obvious reasons. This is the second span to link Easton and Phillipsburg there, replacing a wooden, covered bridge which served the people for most of the 19th century (1806-1896). From 1739-1806 a ferry had taken passengers and horses from one bank to another. Although the covered bridge withstood the slings and arrows of stormy weather and floods, the revolution in transportation rendered the structure obsolete.

In 1896 a Lafayette alumnus and professor, James Madison Porter III, designed a modern bridge to replace its antecedent. Its delicate, almost lacey, appearance belies its durability, but as the machine age progressed, the Northampton Street Bridge faced the dilemma of its predecessor—larger trucks and buses needing to cross the Delaware were just too heavy for constant use, in addition to an influx of new automobiles in the 1920s and 30s. Instead of simply replacing the bridge to keep up with the times, however, a new one was built just upriver to the north, a bridge that would carry newly minted U.S. Route 22 across the water. The Easton-Phillipsburg Toll Bridge was opened on January 14, 1938, but locals whose lives stretch back a few decades still tend to call it “The New Bridge.”

I took my early memories of these bridges and transferred them to Erin in my novel. Like me, she grew up hearing stories about the great flood of 1955, the one brought about by Hurricane Diane (actually, a previous hurricane had blown through the area a week earlier). So vivid were her relatives’ recollections of what happened next, Erin felt as if she’d lived through the event herself. In August 1955, “Diane” caused the Delaware to rise 44 feet above its normal levels, and on the 19th, they cascaded over the top of the Free Bridge. The stalwart structure held firm, however, that is until the remains of the shattered Portland-Columbia covered bridge smashed into it, tearing away the center portion, leaving the sides sagging like too-big trousers with suspenders hanging down.

In order to accommodate traffic, tolls were lowered on the New Bridge from 10 to five cents for the next two years, and two, temporary, Bailey bridges flanked the Free Bridge as it was repaired. My mother used to tell me stories about using those “pontoon bridges,” as she referred to them, and how scary she found them to be since they didn’t have “sides” like a regular bridge.

I’m including a photo of an ornament I was given of the Free Bridge for Christmas last year. Please tell me any bridge stories you may have to share!

By rebeccapricejanney, Mar 29 2017 01:32PM

Today at breakfast I mentioned this is my maternal grandmother’s birthday, and once again I shared some stories about her with our son. He never met her, but through such tales and photographs, he is getting to know her in a different way. I’d like to tell you something about her as well.

Ethel Ritter was born in Easton, Pennsylvania—where else, right? Her childhood was moderately privileged according to old photos in which she’s seen wearing the latest fashions in hats and the requite furs of her day. She told me about outings with her girlfriends to a hotel in present-day Jim Thorpe and how excited she used to get whenever the circus came to town. When she was a young woman, her world changed when her father was killed in a railroad accident. Not long afterward, she married my grandfather. Together they raised five children, but their marriage didn’t reach far beyond their 20th anniversary because he died after a lengthy illness. There she was, without a father or husband, at the tail end of the Great Depression and on the eve of World War II. She gamely went to work to provide for her family.

By the time I came along, her working years were mostly behind her, but she remained active in retirement, especially as a volunteer at her church. She was Grammy Kocher by then, having married a coworker in her 60s—he was a World War I veteran and lifelong bachelor. To me, they’d always been together because I didn’t know either of them any other way, but when I was five, he died.

I spent a lot of time at my Grammy’s house over the years, including living with her during college, and she taught me a lot. Some things were funny, such as “Never leave the house without earrings,” or when someone dropped, spilled, or broke something, she’d do a quick assessment then pronounce, “Nobody hurt!” It was her way of putting the incident into proper perspective, and the saying is one I still keep handy. I also learned resilience from her. With faith in God, good humor, and determination, a person can get through anything.

Grammy always dressed nicely. For instance, when my mom would take her to the bank, Grammy wore a nice dress and heels, and gloves when women still wore gloves in public. However, she was never prim or prissy. When I was a student at Lafayette College, one day I took her for a ride onto the campus because I needed to get something at the library. As we drove along the Quad, Grammy was waving out the window and calling, “Hello boys!” I was mortified. “Grammy, you’re embarrassing me,” I said. She just smiled and went on greeting my fellow students. I think they were pretty amused because they smiled and waved right back.

When she turned 90, Grammy Kocher declared, “I’m never going to look in a mirror again.” I asked her why, and she said, “Because when I see what I look like, it doesn’t match the way I feel inside.” She died a year later, and I still miss her all these years later. Her warmth and humor, strength, and faith, however, still bless and guide me. Happy birthday Grammy! I love you.

Ethel Ritter Price Kocher
Ethel Ritter Price Kocher

By rebeccapricejanney, Mar 23 2017 01:13PM

Do you have a particular family homestead, either a venerable historic place or a fond house where you spent some important years? I always think in terms of my Grammy Kocher’s twin where so many family gatherings occurred over the years and where I lived during college. There’s another place, though, one I didn’t realize was even my family’s until recent years.

When I was growing up, I passed the Springbrook Tavern hundreds, maybe thousands of times, but I don’t remember really noticing the 18th century building back then. Are you like that? You live near a place others would find fascinating, but because it’s always just been there, you barely see it. I would give a lot now to be able to see the the Springbrook again, but I can’t.

Two miles from the center of Easton, at the corner of 25th and Northampton Streets in what is now Palmer Township, the Springbrook Tavern, aka the Fountain House, first came into existence at the hand of my five-times great grandfather, Peter Kichline, Jr. (1750-1828) A Lieutenant in the American Revolution, Kichline built the two-and-a-half story, stone edifice along the Bushkill Creek near a spring. According to various accounts, he made a trough in the western end of the cellar through which the water ran, and there he kept trout until they were needed to feed his guests. Trout was, therefore, a specialty of the house for travelers making their way west and north out of Easton in the early days.

I also have read when Kichline first built the tavern in 1794, he inscribed the following on an exposed stone in the western gable: “P.K. 1794.”

In the 1880s, the owners of the Fountain House built a clapboard frame addition. I’m not sure at what point the place became known as the Springbrook Tavern, but my parents and others have told me they remembered going there over the years.

In 1978 the old tavern was torn down, and a Silo appliance store erected in its place. That upstart business, however, did not stand the test of time like my ancestor’s did—now there’s a Dollar Store on the premises. I wish historic preservation had been in the 70s what it is today when most people are loathe to destroy 18th century properties. Then the Fountain House could continue to delight more generations. Still, I can’t help but wonder what archeological treasures might lie underneath that parking lot! Is anyone up for a dig?

Image Courtesy of Preston Keith Hindmarch, Aardvark Graphics, Easton, PA
Image Courtesy of Preston Keith Hindmarch, Aardvark Graphics, Easton, PA
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