The region of upstate New York State that my friend Maria awoke to on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 was home to many creative individuals in the arts. So many artists, musicians, and writers lived in the area that I really did not have handle on all of them. In my town we had a few authors such as Merle Miller who had written several well known autobiographies on U.S. presidents, plus his well known book entitled On Being Different, What It Means To Be A Homosexual. It was his much talked about 1971 New York Times Magazine cover story that made me realize he lived in my town since our town was mentioned as part of the dateline.
Another author across town near Merle Miller was Rex Stout, who had created the well known Nero Wolfe series and was a friend of my grandfather. Stout had passed on the year before in the fall.
My brother with Rex Stout, circa 1965, gazing at Stout's garden and below one of around fifteen Rex Stout books I have from the '50s and '60s.
Unknown in 1976 was that a resident of my town since childhood, Laura Branigan, would become a superstar in the '80s. Her very successful musical career would be cut short by her sad and untimely death a few decades later in 2004 and at the time of her passing she would be a resident of Suffolk County, Long Island. Unfortunately, our paths never crossed when she lived in my town in her earlier days. Here is a live version of Gloria from a 1996 performance in Chile:
To the town immediately to our south of ours, North Salem, my brother had heard through the grapevine around 1970 that Joni Mitchell owned a house there. Felix Cavaliere, of The Young Rascals lived in nearby Danbury, CT, too. Of interest to photographers was Aperture Press, which was located about an hour north of me in Millerton, NY. And so it was, lots of talent to be found north of Manhattan in the hills and valleys.
This was all of great interest to Maria because where she hailed from in coastal Maine was more sparsely populated by well known creative people. Naturally, I was a enthusastic promoter of my area because I was thinking ahead to the period after graduation and where she might be living. She had mentioned an interest in living in New York, but other cities like Boston looked great to her, as well. Her desire to accompany me to my neck of the woods for Thanksgiving had the potential for having her choose the metro area, plus the bucolic country north of the city, as her destination after graduation. I had now known her for four years and I felt I knew nearly everything about her and was certain she would be the wonderful and creative person I would spend the rest of my life with.
I had yet to meet her parents, but from her description of them I couldn't picture them as the type of dreaded in-laws that one hears about in life.
Originally a blank book and front cover (before I added doodles) from the mid '60s reveals I was marriage minded--at least in a humorous way--back when I was around twelve as the sentence states, "The future Mrs. (designanator) is: "
It was our family tradition to have Thanksgiving dinner around noon, as compared to others who tended to have their dinner in the evening. Just as in prior years, my parents cooked the turkey at their house and my grandparents cooked the yams and other side dishes in their kitchen. There was little for me to do in the food preparation area so I took Maria for a tour around the farm. The weather was typical for November with no snow forecast for the holiday weekend and a temperature of around 40 degrees. While she had left her camera in Providence, I had my Minolta SLR with me and took some photos while we were at my place.As we walked around I talked of stories relating to what particular spot we happened to be in. The cow barn had so many stories related to it that I could only touch upon a few. Later in the day I would pull out a few boxes of old photos to show her how the farm had changed over the years.
Below is a photo essay that provides the flavor of the sights I showed Maria Thanksgiving morning presented here with a mixture of'old and new photos.
A shot of the barns taken yesterday afternoon:
Thanksgiving weekend, 1976:
Late winter, 1975:
Spring 1975, one of our caretaker's beagles with my hand petting her:
Spring, 1975, a photo of the goats our caretaker owned and kept in our cow barn:
A painting of my grandfather's greenhouse painted from memory in 1971 while in the Adirondacks at the SUNY Potsdam summer art camp:
A painting, also from 1971, created while sitting in the greenhouse with acrylic paints, canvas, and easel:
My grandfather transplanting oakleaf lettuce, summer of '75:
A shot of lettuce in the cold frame, 1975:
The vegetable garden plowed under for the winter, Thanksgiving weekend, 1976:
My brother with the International Harvester Farmall tractor heading up the hill, Thanksgiving weekend, 1976:
After a walk around and through the barns we crossed the road and I showed her the secluded pond we had at the base of the hill. This pond had been swampy pasture land that I grandfather had excavated in 1938 to create a two acre pond. Everyone that I had shown the pond to had always been impressed by its beauty and Maria was no exception. I related a few quick stories about having fun on the water with a sailboat my father had built and also of ice skating when I was younger.
The pond as seen yesterday afternoon:
My next spot on the tour was walk through the fields adjacent to the pond and then to climb our wooded hill that was to the south. The shot below shows the view north over the three fields to the house.
Late winter, 1975:
Same location, last week showing second growth forest where the fields were until we stopped mowing them each summer:
Another view close to the above shot:
Maria, photographed on top of our wooded hill, Thanksgiving weekend, 1976:
Additonal woodland scenes from my Christmas break in December, 1976 and corresponding locations photographed last week in color showing how little of this part of the landscape has changed in 36 years:
Two more woodland views taken last week:
A monolithic stone, separated from stone ledge by ages of freezing and thawing ice:
With seven of us at the table we had to add an extra leaf to accommodate everyone. The dinner conversation was smooth and pleasant. Maria fit right into the groove and a lot of the discussion was about news from the neighborhood and the like. Maria was asked a few questions now and then but certainly was not grilled and the situation reminded be of when one of my cousins from Colorado would visit and we'd be catching up on what was happening in Denver.
My grandfather had clipped the following story about the MoMA Cézanne exhibit from The New York Times for my general information and passed it to me Thanksgiving Day. The article planted the idea that Maria and I should go down to the city the next day and take in the exhibit. We had previously thought a trip down to New York would be a great addition to our time before heading back to school on Sunday. When I broached my idea of going to the city the next day instead of Saturday, she wholeheartedly agreed with the plan.
On Friday morning my father left us at the railroad station in the village and we caught the train into the city around 10:00 which would arrive at Grand Central around an hour and forty minutes later (assuming the old diesel locomotive didn't die along the route). Fortunately, we made the trip with no delays, as I recall.
The old freight house which was razed in the early '80s is shown in this photo I took the day the building was being demolished. I have added it here because it shows the appearance of the railroad station area in 1976:
By contrast, in a photo taken recently, the station is shown with fencing to keep people from walking over the electric third rail and the newest generation of railcars that now run on the line can be seen below:
By this point in 1976 Billy Joel had already recorded New York State of Mind, and I added it here because it relates so strongly to traveling into the city, although along the Hudson River, not the Harlem line. I recall hearing the song sometime after graduation in '77 and I didn't get very excited about the song at first, but then it became one of the symbols of that period in the '70s and I liked it more after that point for nostalgic reasons and did get hooked on the great melody and interesting lyrics. This video was produced in 1978:
Below are photos of New York taken recently and last summer that illustrate part of our journey that day.
Crossing the Harlem River on the train:
Grand Central Station and I should mention how different the terminal was in 1976 with lots of ads all around and no stairway to the south balcony which now houses the Apple Store:
Pan Am was the name on the building atop the Grand Central tracks and MetLife came along many years later:
The Philip Morris building in the center of the photo and across the street from the station did not come along until 1982:
In the mid '70s most of travels around the city were mostly within the area shown in red below. Once I graduated from college I started to explore far more of the city:
After arriving at Grand Central we walked out the front of the terminal to 42nd Street and headed west until we came upon Fifth Avenue. Walking up Fifth to 53rd Street and hanging a left brought us to the front door of MoMA. In the photo below which I shot last July the two buildings that were present in 1976 are still visible today, however, the museum has expanded a tremendous amount since those days. The Museun Tower which is visible in the photo just beyond the two original buildings was proposed to the public in the fall of '76.
On the trip down Maria mentioned an exhibit of RISD photo department teacher Harry Callahan that was opening in early December. This was to be a solo exhibit and would span his career. As luck would have it, I noticed in the MoMA bookstore signed limited edition books of Callahan's work and was able to buy a copy while there which is shown a few photos below. To add to the special quality of the deal, a signed and original print of his wife, Eleanor, taken in 1954 was part of the package.
We hit the Museum cafe just after arriving and before viewing the Cézanne exhibit. I had experience with the cafe getting crowded soon after it opened and I thought we'd enjoy the museum better with full stomachs!
Given that it was the day after Thanksgiving the museum lived up to my prediction that it would be packed. Nevertheless, we were able to view the permanent collection and the Cézanne exhibit with some ease, but we had to really take our time in the most crowded of the galleries. It was freshman year that I first studied the work of Cézanne and to be able to view the artwork brought in from other collections worldwide was worth the trip!
MoMA, July 2011:
It was around 4:00 when we left the museum having seen everything, plus we had the Callahan book in hand. Seeing all of the artwork in detail had taken many hours and we decided to head out of the city before dinner since there was plenty of leftover Thanksgiving Day food at my home.
The walk back to Grand Central was along a different route. This time we followed 53rd Street east to Lexington so we could take a look at the relatively new Citicorp Building that had been completed just a few years earlier.
The Citicorp Building as seen in January of this year. 599 Lexington Avenue, which is on the right of the photo, came along years later:
The underground part of Grand Central has seen its share of changes over the years, but in the two photos below it is quite easy for me to remember how this part of the station doesn't look much different than in 1976:
Once seated in the train we started looking through the Callahan book. For us it represented the bond between us that had its start back in Photo I class in 1972. Harry Callahan was the guiding force behind the photography department starting in 1961 and eleven years later we had both benefitted from his ideas that were so much a part of the curriculum. We didn't know it at the time, but when we would be graduating next May Harry Callahan would be retiring from teaching at our school.
I could find a great reason to have number 71 of the limited edition. That was the year we both applied to college and the result of that was our friendship that started twelve months later in September, 1972.
Below is a photo Callahan took in Providence in 1976:
Avenue of The Americas, not far from where we had just been at MoMA:
Below is a contemporary view of the same buildings shown in Callahan's photo above:
The next month Maria would provide me with a photo copy of MoMA's press release on the Callahan exhibit:
Riding north on the Harlem line of Metro North provides the passenger with the views shown below. I shot these photos a few weeks ago and I focused on shots that looked very much like what a passenger would have seen on the trip in 1976. Obviously, there are many changes along the route since those days, but I ignored those and went for these views instead:
We arrived back at my local train station around 6:30 and I called home from the station payphone to see who could drive over to pick us up. Everyone was home and it was my brother who drove to the station.
While driving back to the farm I mentioned it would be fun to go down to Chappaqua the next night (Saturday night) to have dinner at The Siding. Seeing the restaurant from the train had reminded me about the place. In the past my brother and I had some wonderful times eating dinner and hearing live bands of the rock and roll type at the restaurant. My brother had no commitments for Saturday evening and he would check with his girlfriend to see if she could join us.
Back home we had dinner, talked to my grandparents for a while and then went to bed relatively early. The next day I wanted to spend some time talking to everyone since we'd be heading back to Providence Sunday morning.
In past years I would be sad at the prospect of having to leave after just a few days but with Maria with me this time the feeling of returning to Providence and getting back into our life there was something I was really looking forward to.
Saturday night found us in Chappaqua at The Siding as planned. The restaurant is now long gone having been opened only during the decade of the '70s. The place was an old building directly next to the train tracks so whenever a train passed by you could feel the vibrations run through the building. Also, they had one of the more sophisticated logos for that period of time for any of the local restaurants and a large scale version of the logo in three dimensions was on the wall directly above the area where bands played.
My brother's girlfriend was able to join us which made for a wonderful foursome. The band was one from the region and I hadn't seen them before. The evening was fantastic. There was talk about future plans on the part of each of us. Having the four of us together and being the younger generation with our lives ahead of us was exciting to think about. We headed back home around 11 PM. It had been a long day and we didn't have the energy to stay up late like we had Wednesday night.
Even though we didn't drive by the Chappaqua railroad station or downtown that Saturday evening, I have included some shots here since this is the town where newspaperman Horace Greeley once lived ("Go West, Young Man") and Bill and Hillary Clinton currently have a home. These photos were taken several weeks ago. The postcard appears to be early 20th century.
The Siding Restaurant was located in the building shown in the distance below. When it became an office building the exterior changed radically from when it had been the restaurant.
A closer view from the parking lot:
The logo for The Siding:
On Sunday morning we were packed up and ready to leave. All of the members of my family told Maria how much they enjoyed meeting and talking with her and looked forward to her return soon. Maria said the feeling was mutual and she would be back as soon as possible. This Thanksgiving break had been one of the most memorable on record for me and now it was time to head up to Rhode Island to wrap up the rest of the semester.
We said our final goodbyes and my father drove us to the bus station in Connecticut for the trip back.
Previous installments of the series leading up to this point:
Art school senior year chronicles:
Roadkill brought us closer together:
Photos, paintings, and text are ©2012 by B+Co., Inc.