Elmo and Historic Architecture

Flickr image by creativedc

I’ve only recently discovered that Elmo, the fuzzy red Sesame Street muppet, is a huge promoter of knowledge, causes and good habits. My younger sister grew up in the era of Bert and Ernie, Big Bird and Cookie Monster, and my daughter doesn’t watch television, so I had only a passing familiarity with Elmo, i.e. I knew he had a voice that annoyed adults.

However he came to my attention last month in a post on Lenore Skenazy’s Free Range Kids blog when she mentioned Jason Mraz singing “Let’s Go Outdoors” set to “I’m Yours”. It’s a great song and the message is one I endorse wholeheartedly

Last week Elmo was front and center again on the same blog (and many other places!) for his song about opposites. Actually, the furor was all about Katie Perry’s outfit, not the concept of opposites.

I now had two Elmo songs now running through my head, for once you hear an Elmo version it’s the only one that comes to mind. But it occurred to me, if Elmo can promote getting back to nature, why can’t he promote historic preservation? Certainly Sesame Street is no stranger to history or the values that historic preservation promotes. The show has been responsible for many historic firsts in children’s television programming, and those brownstone stoops are utterly charming. The concept of neighborhoods and streetscapes is well ingrained in the show.

All we need is to find the right song – one that can be modified to be a rallying cry for preservation – and I’ll pitch it to the folks at Sesame Street. Who knows, maybe it could even be filmed it at one of Adventures in Preservation‘s volunteer project sites! If you can think of a song that might work, let me know.

Historic Landscape Gardens of the Hudson River Valley

Hudson River from Olana

Hudson River from Olana - Robyn Fleming

A new exhibit – running through 24 October – featuring guided tours, lectures and family events showcases the art and influence of New York’s historic Hudson River Valley landscapes that helped define American culture in the 19th century.

With fall approaching, it’s a beautiful time to tour the region!

Learn more at www.hudsonrivervalley.com

Happy Birthday, Cori!

The people behind any organization are what make it a success, and I think it’s important to recognize those who work so hard on our behalf.

We’d therefore like to wish our wonderful web designer a happy birthday today! With our name change from Heritage Conservation Network to Adventures in Preservation, we wanted a new look for our website and new ways for people to learn what it’s like to join an AiP project. Cori’s done all that and more.

Cori, who runs Lam Design, came recommended from a friend, and we’ve since recommended her to others.

You can see what she’s done for us at, where else, www.adventuresinpreservation.org.

Discovering a Masonry Tradition

Volunteers restoring a stone oven at AiP’s historic preservation project in the small town of Brecljevo, Slovenia, stumbled upon an old tradition, adding a bit of excitement to the last day of work.

Earthenware pot in Slovenian oven

Revealing the earthen pot in the oven wall

While removing loose stones and mortar in the oven, Leah found a ceramic pot. Tucked inside the pot was a coin placed inside for good luck, dating from about 300 years ago when the stove was built.

I tweeted about this discovery and quickly found, from @JoeValles, that there are still masons out there who practice this tradition. Joe was kind enough to send the following.

“Around 1997, a stoneworker called me from England looking for a job. He did cathedral restoration. I couldn’t offer him work but I told him to look me up if he ever got to the States. He did and I showed him some of my work around Raleigh. He asked me if we threw coins in our work here. He said the Romans sacrificed children to appease the gods when they were bridge-building. He said that they still find child skeletons in the piers when they excavate in Europe. At some point it evolved into using coins.

I’ve never researched what he said so I don’t know the full history but I’ve been doing it ever since. I usually just throw whatever I have in my pocket into my work for good luck – walls, bridges, patios etc. I enjoy history and being part of an ancient tradition appeals to me. Everyone wants to leave something of himself behind. Imagine centuries later someone discovering your coins. I love that idea!”

Earthenware pot uncoveredThis whole thing has got me wondering about building rites and traditions. I had known about the “topping out” ceremonies during which a tree or evergreen is placed to a final timber or beam as it is hoisted into place. And of the course many official buildings have a ground breaking ceremony and cornerstone that often includes the laying of a cornerstone. The idea of a “coin of the realm” is somehow more personal, a smaller scale way for a craftsperson to say “I was here”.

I’d love to learn more so if anyone has any insights or stories to share, please pass them along!

Stories from Katrina

August 25, 2010 marked the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With so many other weather-related disasters in the world, it’s easy to forget one that happened five years ago. Yet the people whose lives were affected by Katrina are still living with daily reminders of the storm and its aftermath.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, was one of the areas hardest hit by the storm, which made landfall nearby at high tide, causing a storm tide over 30 feet (9.1 m) deep. Lives, buildings, and neighborhoods were destroyed. Adventures in Preservation, then known as Heritage Conservation Network, sent teams of volunteers the following January and March to help clean up historic neighborhoods and salvage materials for reuse. One of the people we met there was our project partner, Ellis Anderson.

As we have found with so many of the people we meet through our work, Ellis is an amazing person. A writer, designer, musician and civic activist, she saw her neighbors face the enormity of making their homes and neighborhoods livable again with courage, pride, and a common sense dose of humor.

Cover of "Under Surge"Ellis rode out the storm in her home and struggled through the aftermath along with neighbors and friends. Ellis is a courageous woman who opened her house to a number of people who lost theirs. She  became involved in fighting for the best recovery plan for the town, giving endless hours and boundless energy. It was a long struggle but she stuck with it, giving her all to her neighbors and the town. She also recorded her story, and her book, “Under Surge Under Siege”, was published in June. We have just learned that she has been named the 2010 recipient of the annual Welty Prize book award, to be presented at the Eudora Welty Writer’s Symposium in October.

Ellis describes the book as a blend of memoir, personal diary and journalism, whose lyrical style creates a modern-day American testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Learn more:

A writer, designer, musician and civic activist, she saw her neighbors face the enormity of making their homes and neighborhoods livable again with courage, pride, and a common sense dose of humor.