Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers, rest in peace

We heard the news this morning of the death last night of Mary Travers, age 72.

Mary's straight blond hair once inspired Nancy to iron hers straight. There must have been many young women in the late 60s who did the same: the much sought after Mary Travers look.

I doubt anyone in the English-speaking world got through the 60s without getting to know by heart some of the songs recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary: If I Had a Hammer, 500 Miles, Puff the Magic Dragon, Blowin' in the Wind, The Great Mandala, In the Early Morning Rain, Leaving on a Jet Plane...

Nancy and I spent lunchtime today listening to a best-of Peter, Paul and Mary CD. It brought tears to my eyes. There is an earnest innocence and deep purity in their voices that many these days would probably regard as naive.

I recall Peter and Paul visiting the office of the Catholic Peace Fellowship on 5 Beekman Street in Lower Manhattan back in 65 or 66 when Tom Cornell and I were CPF’s co-secretaries. Would that I could remember what we talked about -- probably our work to assist conscientious objectors.

Tom just sent me a note reminding me that they arrived in a red sports car which they parked on the street below (no doubt illegally, as in that part of town, half a block from City Hall, it was easier to find the Holy Grail than a legal parking place).

Then there was the evening when I went with a friend to see “Godspell” (it opened that night) at a small Off Broadway theater in Greenwich Village -- the part of New York where Mary Travers grew up -- and found that we were sitting just a few seats behind all three of them. We had a great time. Between acts the cast served wine to all who had turned out.

Songs and their singers can make a difference. We owe a debt to Mary Travers.


PS Take a moment and visit the Peter, Paul & Mary web site:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Four hundred years ago

Here’s a watercolor of Manhattan as it appeared from the Brooklyn side of the East River in 1665. One of the treasures of the Royal Library in The Hague, it’s now on exhibition in New York.

Members of my family were among the inhabitants at the time, but I know little about them. My mother wasn’t the sort of person to devote much time to chronicling the family tree – she was far more interested in current events and her current or forthcoming battles with the Powers That Be. Because I was curious about the centuries-old wooden shoe that had come down to us over the generations, she did occasionally say a little bit about the Dutch side of the family. Mother’s maiden name was Hendrickson. She was a direct descendant of Hendrick Hendrickson who, so mother had been told by her father, was an Utrecht-born navigator who had piloted the Dutch East India ship “Halve Maen” – Half Moon – which was captained by Henry Hudson. The ship entered New York Harbor 400 years ago today: 11 September 1609.

Hudson was the polar opposite of a likeable man, which perhaps was a factor in explaining why Hendrick Hendrickson became part of the first generation of non-native settlers in Manhattan.

There is a famous map of which gives a bird’s eye view of the town on the southern tip of Manhattan, Nieuw Amsterdam, each house clearly drawn and numbered, with a listing on the side giving the names of the occupants. Hendrick Hendrickson’s house was at the north end of Breedtstraat (literally, Broad Street, today’s Broadway), just inside town wall, Wall Street, as it is today.

I would love one day to find out how much of the family story is legend, how much of it is true. Perhaps I will find a book about Hudson’s 1609 voyage with details about the crew of the Half Moon. Who was Hendrick Hendrickson? Was he really Henry Hudson’s navigator?

The one major relic of the family past in that era is a 17th century New Jersey farm house, the Hendrickson House, now a beautifully restored museum run by the Monmouth County Historical Society.

-- Jim