The spirit of an October letter

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Any time of year is the right time to enjoy the beautiful Art of Letter Writing but when temperatures fall and leaves begin to turn those rich colors of Autumn it’s especially nice to cuddle up in a cozy corner with paper and pen and write letters.

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 At this time of year my correspondents often choose stationery that reflects the beauty of the Season adding to my pleasure in receiving their letters.

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I too consider the Season when choosing or creating my stationery.  I’ll often draw  sunflowers or Autumn leaves on my letter papers.  Stationery and art play can be a large part of letter writing fun.

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Did you ever make faux postage stamps for your letter envelopes? It’s easy using your camera and a computer.  In October I like to create these stamps picturing my house with its dogwood tree in Autumn color.   Also, just for fun, I add little pumpkin men to the envelope.

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Some times in October I use a rubber stamp picturing an old spooky house.  I’ll add a tree or two, a ghost, a bit of chalk, and presto – Seasonal stationary.  There are so many possibilities.

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Then there’s color!  With Halloween around the corner it’s not unusual for me to receive letters on bright orange paper along with the talk of ghosts and goblins.  Color is fun! Some people enjoy decorating their houses for the Season, but letter writers often put that effort into the look and subject matter of their letters.

My letter friend Kim’s recent orange letter shared interesting information about the Celtic roots of Halloween –  how some 2000 years ago people thought the division between this world and the other world was at its thinnest nearing the end of October so at this time family ancestors were honored and invited home whilst harmful spirits were warded off.  People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves from the evil spirits thus avoiding harm. Interesting, huh?

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Kim’s envelope was very “Halloweeny”. and besides containing a good letter it was full of goodies for me.  How nice is that?  What fun to go to the mailbox and find letters, but letters with gifts inside?  Yes!

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See?  The decorated tissues held lip gloss, little packets of body butter and the most delicious-smelling soaps. Don’t you wish you had a generous letter friend like Kim?  Hopefully you do.

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Well I like to share in my letters too.  I share all sorts of things.  In October as Halloween approaches I like to  share a little something to do with old houses.  You see, I love old houses. I enjoy living in this old house. To me old houses are romantic, gracious and mysterious for they witnessed lives and times that have come and gone.

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 I used to live in an 1829 house, but these days I live in a newer house, an 1853 house built by Jeremiah Brown, the half-brother of John Brown, the famous abolitionist.

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In Autumn, especially when Halloween is near, my thoughts wander back in time and I like to think about the people who lived in my old house and what life must have been like for them back then.  I love so many old world ways – letter writing, afternoon tea, chamber music, candlelight, things undoubtedly enjoyed by people of the past… actually I often wish I lived a hundred or two hundred years ago. but by living now I’m able to encourage these and other old world pleasures that modern people seldom consider today.

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There’s a ghost flying outside my house in October and though I’ve never actually seen any other ghosts on the property I have a feeling they’re there.

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One of my “dead friends”. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote a poem about all this and I like to share this poem with all my letter friends each October because it captures my feelings about spirits and old houses. Like Kim’s envelope this poem is very “Halloweeny” too.

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I’ve known Henry for years, first meeting him when I lived in Boston.  I met Henry at a Country Inn and I love Country Inns just as much as I love old houses.  Originally this Inn was named ‘The Wayside Inn”, but it was renamed Longfellow’s Wayside Inn after Henry wrote his “Tales of a Wayside Inn” while being a guest there.  The Inn has a lovely perennial garden and in that garden is a statue of Henry.

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Then later I discovered Henry’s beautiful house in Cambridge, Massachusetts and while there I really sensed his spirit all around me, especially in his study where he did all of his writing. I revisited his house often while living in Boston and even when I moved to Ohio I would return to Boston and pop in at Henry’s place because it was just so nice.  Funny too how one time after visiting there Henry followed me home.  You see, I decided to spend a night at The Red Lion Inn in the Massachusetts Berkshires on the way back to Ohio and whose picture was hanging outside the door to my room?  You guessed it.  It was a picture of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Henry’s house is kept up beautifully by The Department of National Parks and within his house is a little shop which sells materials by and about Henry. It’s because of these materials which I purchased there and studied  carefully that I now feel I know Henry quite well.

These days he is a frequent companion on my Country Inn Days.  His spirit keeps me company at afternoon tea. With the help of his biography, his writings, and other books I feel we’re together, at least in spirit.  “Dead friends” are wonderful.  I hope you have some of your own.

I like so much of Henry’s work but his poem entitled “Haunted Houses” is my favorite and that’s because he puts into words all the feelings and love I have for old houses.  So here I share Henry’s poem with you.  Enjoy!

Haunted Houses

All houses wherin men have lived and died

Are haunted houses.  Through the open doors

The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,

With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them on the doorway, on the stair,

Along the passages they come an go,

Impalpable impressions on the air,

A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts

Invited; the illuminated hall

Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,

As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see

The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;

He but perceives what is; while unto me

All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;

Owners and occupants of earlier dates

From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands.

And hold in mortmain still their old estates,

The spirit-world around this world of sense

Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere

Wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense

A vital breath of more etereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise

 By opposite attractions and desires;

The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,

And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar

Of earthly wants and aspirations high,

Come from the influence of an unseen star,

An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud

Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,

 Across whose tremblng planks our fancies crowd

Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends

A bridge of light, connecting it with this,

O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,

Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

I’m sure Henry is happy that I’m writing about him and sharing his poem with my letter friends and with you for no one wants to be forgotten nor have their work  forgotten.

So when you see an old house think of me , think of Henry, and think of all those who have gone before us.  Say a little prayer.  We’re all in this life together, but someday we will all be together with Henry, off in the spirit world wherever that may be.  I’m in no hurry to get there, but it will certainly be interesting meeting Henry and others face to face or shall we say spirit to spirit.  Till then let’s celebrate life, letters, and sharing.

And as Henry used to say, “Look then in your heart and write.  I will answer.”

I’ll answer too if you leave me a comment.

The Personal Letter

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I love the artistic and personal aspect of letters, don’t you?  The one-to-one… Some messages can be posted on Facebook or written up in a blog and that’s fine, but other messages are meant to be shared with only particular people.  There’s something magical about writing and receiving personal letters – where you know the words are meant just for you or for one special friend.  As I like to say in the talk I give on The Art of Letter Writing –

“The pleasure of a letter written just to me… why there’s practically a radiance to it!”

I can’t help but relate the subject of personal touch to the very different kinds of in-person conversations we might have. Talking to a group of people at a big party, as opposed to an intimate dinner or tea, suggests very different talk. There are many subjects we just wouldn’t want to bring up in a large crowd.  Not only do we have to generalize our topics when lots of people are participating, but some information we would want to share with only certain people.  And so it is with our writing.  If a letter isn’t personal, if it’s just a lot of general chatter, it’s not nearly as special to write or receive.  And it’s this Personal Touch that’s suffering in our modern age of electronic communication.

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 Today I spent part of the morning at a farmer’s market in my town of Hudson.  I had a wonderful time strolling around, looking at all the goodies I might purchase.  In the next few letters I write I’ll go into some details of my shopping experience if the particular correspondents enjoy this sort of thing, but other letter friends not interested in farmer’s market shopping won’t be bothered with these stories. That’s the thing, each letter we write (hand write I hope) and all our topics of conversation should be tailor-made to interest each of our correspondents. To make each letter we write unique, one-of-a-kind, (not like those carbon-copied holiday letters ) aimed at the interests of our correspondents, that’s one of the secrets to making a good  and personal letter.

IMG_4650[1]You might enjoy walking past farm stands set up with produce, olive oils, candles, fresh bakery, etcaetera etcaeterorum

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feasting your eyes on vegetables and flowers which you might buy and place in your own garden

IMG_4652[1]or maybe you are the kind of person who simply likes hearing about beauty and reading descriptions of garden -like settings, with a few pictures inserted in the  letters you receive, pictures to give you ideas for your own garden .

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Maybe you’re an animal lover and you would like to hear about the people I met at the farmer’s market who run an Alpaca farm in Hudson called Whistler’s Glen Alpacas (www.whistlersglen-alpacas.com or http://www.alpacastore.com).  Those Alpacas are so cute!

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 Maybe you’re a fashionista and you’d like to hear about the sweater-coat I bought today at the farmer’s market.  It’s made from Alpaca yarn.  (Shopping is funny.  I went out today planning to buy only wax beans, but I came home with a whole lot more.)

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or maybe you’re a knitter like me and you’d like to hear about the Alpaca yarn and pattern I purchased

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in order to make this Twisted Shrug which converts into a hood or cowl scarf.   It’s worked up on size 15 needles using only one skein of Alpaca yarn (approx. 150 yards).

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But maybe you’re not like my wonderful pen friend Amelia who I wrote today.  Amelia would enjoy all the above topics.  You might not enjoy any of the above topics.  That’s ok.  If these topics bore you I’d try to find different topics you would enjoy.   After all, I don’t write friends with the intention of  boring  them to death, and I hope you don’t either.

My “dead friend’ Robert Louis Stevenson said,

“The world is so full of a number of things I think we should all be as happy as kings”.

And because there are so many things to talk about and share in our personal letters we should have no trouble picking and choosing those topics which delight both our friends and ourselves. Don’t you agree?

So till we meet again, enjoy writing and receiving  lovely personal letters.  Enjoy some reflection and then some sharing.  Hand write.  Add some original art.  The world has plenty of electronic chatter already, but what the world needs now, besides love sweet love, is more  communication with the personal touch.

Let’s Get Personal!

Come, come, come to the garden!

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Hello again,

It’s a beautiful June day, the perfect day for a walk in the garden and having you along makes it even more perfect, for you know what I always say – sharing doubles the joy!  I was busy this morning planting lamb’s ears and dusty miller to keep my spirea and viburnums company.

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 These plants are situated in front of our barn.  They are joined by evergreen trees, very old honeysuckle bushes and a red maple.  I thought the greenery needed something, and adding white plants is a first step in order to create a little interest but  still keep the  peace.  What do you think?

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It’s  hard to capture the whole area in a snapshot while at the same time being close enough  to focus on the small white plants, but perhaps you get the idea.  This area has a way to go, but I’m working on it.

I just love lamb’s ears, don’t you?

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Lamb’s ears are also known as Wooly Betony.  I remember this plant in my father’s garden.

My father was a fantastic gardener.  Maybe that’s because he grew up on a farm.  His family’s  farm was in Pennsylvania.  I would be in heaven if my father could be here with me these days working  side by side with me in my garden.  I know my father would love all my land for here he would never run out of projects just as I don’t. He’d love my barn for it would remind him of his childhood days on his family’s farm.   I would love my father’s expertise and help for some days I don’t know what to tackle first and I have so much to learn.  But my dad can’t be with me because he’s already in heaven. Now he can only join me in spirit, but I’ll take that.  Because he loved nature and gardening as I do I feel he is with me when I’m working outdoors in my yard and that makes my gardening work extra enjoyable.

In my Dad’s last years he was in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He stopped speaking except to say the phrase “that’s a big one”.  Those words made no sense at the time, but now whenever  I’m working in my garden and I chop into a big root or see a big mushroom I’ll say “That’s a Big One!” and I have the distinct feeling my Dad is with me. This makes me very happy.  It’s good to be a spiritual person.  It really is!

Well, let’s move along.  I’d like to show you my herb garden.  It’s just a few steps away, but here’s a view of it from one of the upstairs windows.

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The herb garden
In this next picture you can see where it is in relation to the plantings I just showed you in front of the barn.

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You may have noticed there’s a design going on in the herb garden – mini and larger boxwood mixed with roses and spruce.  In the center is a dwarf Japanese Willow that is in need of pruning.  We’ll get to that one of these days.

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A close up of the Willow’s very white leaves

The leaves of the Willow will turn green as the Summer wears on, but aren’t its white leaves enchanting?  I fell in love with this type of  tree when I first discovered it in a friend’s garden.

At the base of the tree are large rectangular stones set like the spokes of a wheel.  In between these spokes I planted thyme.

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Thyme

  In each indentation of boxwood a different herb is planted.

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Here you see Lavender amidst  a bit of the boxwood, spruce and roses

It’s early in the season so all the herbs are still rather small, but in this sunny spot they will flourish. Here’s what my herb garden contains:  Basil, Lavender, Rosemary, Tarragon, Marjoram, Mint, Summer Savory, Sage, Fennel, Thyme and Chives.

This is a view of the herb garden as if you were walking up to it.

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The Willow tree doesn’t seem very large in this picture but after only a few years growth it is now about 20 feet tall  yet compared to the old trees of the Secret garden set behind it the Willow seems very small indeed.

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See what I mean?

When we moved to this property a few years ago the circle contained a very old and sick apple tree.  Around it were a jumble and I mean a JUMBLE of perennials and weeds. This circle was a project and a half!  We added bulbs for Springtime and lights for night time.  Now just to keep it weeded.

I grow other herbs in my patio garden.  I’ll show you that area another day but now  take a look at my climbing rose at our entrance door.  It’s a delight!  It greets me and my guests every day.

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The rose is going to town this week with flowers galore.  This rose is about three years old.  It took this long for it to look robust.

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I love this flower.  Roses are my favorite flower.  Did you know the rose has been associated with love and with marriage for centuries?  Having many rose bushes in the garden assures me of a rose on my nightstand every night – at least at this time of year.

“My garden all is overblown with roses,

My spirit all is overblown with rhyme,

As like a drunken honeybee I waver

From house to garden and again to house

And, undetermined which delight to favour

On verse and rose alternately carouse.”

Vita Sackville West

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The roses mingle with the scent of lavender for lavender is growing in the urn beside the trellis.  Old fashioned fragrance for an old fashioned house for an old fashioned girl.  The plaque on the wall states the name of the house’s first owner and the date the house was built.

 Jeremiah Brown

1853

Now let’s walk down the driveway.  We’ll first pass some knockout roses and the flagpole.

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Aren’t knockout  roses wonderful?  They never stop blooming.

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Knock out roses

 And look who’s watching us from the porch window!

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It’s Alexander

He’s doing much better these days, eating again  now that he’s getting people food.  Ha!   Tomorrow he goes to the beauty shop for a grooming.

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Here we are at the base of the driveway.  It’s lined with Lily of the Valley.  These plants were put in by a former owner.  They’re  thick as thieves  now – another charming old fashioned flower.

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How do such tiny flowers produce such  sweet scent?

“What was Paradise? but a garden, full of pleasure, and nothing there but delights.

William Lawson, 1617

At the front of the yard there are very large trees and bushes which line the sidewalk.  They must be 150 years old like the house.

 Maybe Jeremiah Brown, John Brown’s half-brother, planted these trees himself

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and he planted the many evergreens too.

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I am trying to establish roses and various ground covers in little pockets of space between the trees and shrubs,  both along the outer area of the beds at the sidewalk, and at the inner areas along the grass toward the house.

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The roses here are a lighter pink in color.

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Pink knockout roses

And in the picture below you see Myrtle that’s quite established.

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The   Spotted Deadnettle, sometimes called “White Nancy”, on the other hand has a way to go in order to fill in the space provided, but  it’s coming along.

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There’s Common Ivy that getting established

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and I’m hoping these little bluish plants spread in future days  Are they called Stonecrop or “Lidakense?

My plan is to get these various ground covers established so there won’t be as  great a need for mulch from year to year. Some large open areas will get mulch, but  hopefully these smaller areas will have a variety of plants  covering the ground. Oh, I also purchased some Sweet Woodruff or Galium Odoratum”, but I haven’t planted it yet.

Well, let’s head back to the house.

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When we get to the back yard we can sit and relax for a while.  Maybe you will tell me about your garden.  You can do that by clicking “comment” at the end of this post.  I’d love to hear from you.  Really I would!

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And here we are. Can I offer you an ice tea?

Let me tell you about this lawn furniture, how it was almost stolen years ago, way back when we lived in Boston.  This furniture was set out on our patio at our very first garden apartment.  In those days we lived on the main floor of an apartment building.  Our patio looked out toward a brook where ducks swan by on a regular basis.  It was a very pretty apartment complex because the brother of the owner owned and operated a garden nursery so he tended the grounds.  The lawn was perfect and was equipped with  a sprinkler system.  There were  flowers everywhere. It was usually a very safe place too, but some neighborhood boys  decided they wanted to get into the furniture business.  By that I mean they decided to steal garden furniture and resell it making a sweet profit for themselves.

Sadly, we thought we best get a chain to secure our new furniture, so one sunny Saturday we went off to the hardware store.  We bought a chain and lock,  but as we entered our apartment I could see through the sliding glass door a young man carrying off  some of our very own furniture.  WHAT?  How dare he!  It was broad daylight and neighbors were out and about.  The nerve!

Without thinking twice I tore after that  fellow yelling all the way and he dropped the furniture and took off.  SUCCESS! … so I have it today.  Hurray for me!

I bet you have a few good stories too.  Do share.  Sharing doubles the joy!  It’s been fun showing you around part of my garden.  I’m glad you stopped by.  Another time we’ll explore the Secret garden.  (That’s what I’ll be working on later  today). Tomorrow I’ll be having another  tea.  This next tea will be  on the patio.  I know you can’t come in person but perhaps you’ll come in spirit when you read about it some future day.  I’ll show you around the patio garden at that time.

But before you go,  let me leave you with these parting words.

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“The art of gardening.  In this the artist who lays out the work, and devises a garment for a piece of ground, has the delight of seeing his work live and grow hour by hour; and, while it is growing, he is able to polish, to cut and carve, to fill up here and there, to hope, and to love.”

Prince Albert (1819-1861)

“Gardening, reading about gardening, and writing about gardening are all one; no one can garden alone.”

Elizabeth Lawrence

The Little Bulbs (1957)

So thanks for joining me!

Haunted Houses

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Hower House
“All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses”, so says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and this is Hower House, a Victorian Mansion built in 1871.  It was the home of John Henry Hower and Susan, his wife.  I dropped over to sing John “Happy Birthday” along with a number of his other friends – The Friends of Hower House and a group called, The Victorians.  When you’re turning 191 years old it’s only right that people fuss a little,  pop over to your house with a cake, and sing a chorus or two in your honor.

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Carol Ann, Evelyna, and her beautiful cake
 Here I am with John’s cake and the lady who created it, my friend, Evelyna.  Not only is Evelyna a master baker and my friend, but she’s also my pen friend.  We send letters back and forth to each other in between our visits. Everyone should have talented friends like Evelyna,  plus a handful of pen friends, and of course, a few dozen “dead friends” too.

But let’s get back to John and Evelyna’s cake.  Here it is in its full delicious glory.

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One luscious slice
Evelyna calls this cake her Half and Half.  You’ll want to remember that name in case you order one for your next party.  Trust me.  It is DELICIOUS!  In between the white and chocolate cake is a European butter creme filling.  Yum!  The frosting is Italian Satin, based on a meringue style frosting recipe.  A shame John couldn’t have a piece of his own birthday cake, but hopefully he has pleasures of equal or greater value where he is now.

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John and 2nd and 3rd generation Howers
Here’s an old picture of John (on the far left) with his son and grandson.  Because I’ve been to their house a number of times I’ve learned a lot about John and his family.  I’ve learned John was born February 22, 1822 in Stark County, Ohio and I learned we have a few things  in common.  We’ve both been teachers.  John taught school for a while and I taught  music in schools.   Both John and I value creativity.  I create posts for my blog, write books, give talks on the art of letter writing, host teas and dinner parties, and John created a successful business that made him a fortune.

John was in the right place at the right time.  He met the inventor, John F. Seiberling, who patented the Excelsior Mower and Reaper, a machine that dramatically influenced the mechanization of agriculture, and they formed a business partnership that thrived  because of the Civil War.  The Union army required food and supplies and the agricultural machinery industry was there to provide what was needed.

Yes, John is one of my many “dead friends”.  What are “dead friends”?  They’re people of the past who we meet and get to know by discovering their work, reading their biographies and letters and visiting their houses.

John was truly one of Akron, Ohio’s leading industrialists, a great man, but he’s moved on now to a new address.  I’m not exactly sure what that address is, but  whatever it is, I bet he’s happy there, pleased that his Second Empire Italianate house is still being carefully maintained.  I’m pleased too, because historic preservation is important to me.

John’s house has been called one of the finest examples of Second Empire style in Ohio.  Historically, the House is the last remaining mansion from Akron’s first “Gold Coast,” and was the home of three generations of a  family that shaped history.  The Howers and their descendants occupied the home continually from 1871 until 1973.

Now Hower House is owned by Akron University and is opened to the public for guided tours. It may also be rented for receptions and private parties..

I love visiting most old houses, but I especially love visiting the old houses of my “dead friends”.  To see the very things these people lived with, the simple things, their antiques, the treasures they collected from far off places —  it’s fascinating!  But it’s not just the material goods that make a big impression on me.  It’s the very spirit of the people who lived in those places, spirit that may not be obvious to everyone, but is usually quite visible and clear to me.

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The Longfellow House
 I first experienced the  spirit of a ‘dead friend’ when I popped in at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s House in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Henry’s spirit was  all around that house.  I felt he’d be walking through the door at any moment.  Then, as if  that wasn’t enough, I discovered his very own words on the subject.  His thoughts about spirits and houses were captured in his poem,  Haunted Houses.  Henry was my very first “dead friend”.  Many more followed, and now John Henry Hower is one of them too.  You can never have too many friends you know — be they old, new, living,  or “dead”.  As friends share their stories inspiration flows.

Drop in at Hower House when you’re in Akron, Ohio and get to know John Henry, his family and his house.  If  you’re in Boston, pop on over to  Henry Longfellow’s house.  Tell them both I sent you.  But now, before you go, Henry wants to share his poem with you.  I hope you like it as much as I do.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 HAUNTED HOUSES

All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses.

Through the open doors the harmless phantoms on their errands glide,

With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,

Along the passages they come and go,

Impalpable impressions on the air, A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the host invited;

the illuminated hall is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,

As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see the forms I see,

nor hear the sounds I hear;

He but perceives what is;

while unto me all that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title deeds to house or lands;

Owners and occupants from earlier dates

From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,

And hold to mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit world around this world of sense

Floats like an atmosphere,

And everywhere wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense

A vital breath of more ethereal air,

Our little lives are kept in equipoise

By opposite attraction and desires;

The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,

And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perterbations, this perpetual jar of earthly wants and aspirations high,

Come from an influence of an unseen star,

An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud

Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,

Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd

Into the realm of mystery and light,  —

So from the world of spirits there descends,

A bridge of light connecting it with this,

O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,

Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.