Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New Deal Era murals depict a simpler county life

The Hyattsville Post Office, in Prince George's County, Maryland, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On most days, hundreds of people come and go by the post office, depositing their stamped, outgoing letter mail in one of four sturdy, blue U.S. Mail boxes that flank both sides of the post office's front staircase. Then, they disappear just as quickly, going about their daily business, perhaps ducking into Vigilante Coffee around the corner for an espresso drink or a croissant.

However, it's worth slowing down for a just a moment – or three – to go inside the interior of this north-facing, rectangular Colonial Revival building that was constructed during FDR's New Deal Era and discover the rest of the story behind this remarkable, one-story brick structure located at 4325 Gallatin Street. To do so is like stepping back in time into a simpler era of county life during a different century.

One look around the Hyattsville Post Office lobby reveals six murals created by the American Regionalist artist Eugene Kingman (1909-1975), whose en plein style depicts the agricultural heritage of Prince George's Country situated in Maryland's 5th Congressional District bordering northeast Washington, D.C. A cornstalk stripe below each mural ties their composition together.

A large wall plaque dated 1935 honors the beginning of the Hyattsville Post Office building, which was erected "under the acts of Congress of May 25, 1926 and June 19, 1934 and was completed during the administration of Frank D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America."

In researching the history of both the Hyattsville Post Office and Kingman's murals, I learned that they consist of vignettes depicting county life during the New Deal Era of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-37). Among the images are: horses grazing behind a fence, a rural church, frame structures along water with masts of sailboats visible in the distance, and ploughed fields. Several of these murals also reveal the appearance of rural delivery mail boxes in the foreground.

During the New Deal Era, Kingman, a native of Rhode Island, received commissions to create murals for two other U.S. post offices besides Hyattsville. His murals are still on display in post offices in East Providence, Rhode Island, and in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

It should be noted that credit for the architectural quality of the Hyattsville Post Office goes to Fourth Assistant Postmaster General Smith W. Purdum, who was a Hyattsville resident and lived nearby. Purdum spearheaded the engineering and research of the post office building and devoted great attention to its construction as well as to the design and execution of the murals.

Just after 8 o'clock one recent morning, as I stepped inside the Hyattsville Post Office to check my P.O. box for incoming mail – I was the only person inside the building's lobby before the post office windows opened for business at 9 a.m. – I looked around and marveled at both the beauty and artistry of this place and its murals. I tried to imagine what it must have been like when mailing a first-class letter cost just three cents. One thing that I find impressive today is the lobby has retained a remarkable degree of integrity. It has an old-fashioned look and feel, yet it also serves the residents of Hyattsville and the general public who also use it very efficiently.

(Learn more about the architectural detail of the Hyattsville Post Office here.)

Photos: Mural photos by Michael Dickens © 2017. Hyattsville Post Office photo courtesy of Google images.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Saturday road trip: On Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail

Be a trailblazer! / Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail
Last Saturday, my wife and I drove about 60 miles up the I-95 northeast past Baltimore to Bel Air, Maryland, in Harford County, in search of old fashioned ice cream at Broom's Bloom Dairy.

A lot of other Marylanders and tourists had the same idea as us.

On this summer afternoon, Broom's Bloom Dairy was a very popular destination. When we arrived about 1:30 p.m., there were plenty of cars lining the spacious gravel parking lot, and the line for food and ice cream was out the door. A sign near the entrance warned us: "Be patient – we are not fast food."

I learned that Broom's Bloom Dairy farm is named after the colonial land grand for the area and each year in late summer, there are lots of blooming sunflowers dotting the landscape. In 1997, as David and Kate Dallam began milking the 65 cows on their farm, one thing led to another and, more recently, they started making and selling old fashioned ice cream to go along with farmstead cheese and pork sausage. Their animals are fed a natural diet of grains and forages and they don't use artificial growth hormones.

Once inside, there were still at least half a dozen parties in front of us, but we were determined. The downtime gave us time to peruse the menu posted on a chalkboard, which consisted of variations on a main theme of quiche, mac and cheese, as well as Maryland crab soup, salads and sandwiches all featuring cheese. And, of course, there's the old fashioned ice cream – the reason why we drove to Broom's Bloom Dairy. We had a choice of about a dozen or so traditional (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream) and eclectic (coffee, salted caramel, graham cracker cake batter, maraschino cherry and chips) choices, but I'm told that Broom's Bloom Dairy produces more than 100 different flavors – and it ranks in Trip Advisor's Top 10 Ice Cream Shops in America. While there may be a certain sadness when a choice gets erased from the chalkboard, soon it's replaced with another amazing flavor. Obviously, it will take plenty of visits for us to get through all of them – traditional and eclectic. Not to worry, though, the farm and the house have been around since the early 1700s, and it's now supporting its ninth generation of the Dallam family.

Welcoming sign to Broom's Bloom Dairy in Bel Air, Md.
I couldn't help but feel that being surrounded by corn fields and having the rustic family farm nearby gives one a feeling that everything at Broom's Bloom Dairy is fresh – and it is. Plus, there's plenty of seating, both inside and outdoors, live music on the weekends, and the big open field lends itself to a friendly, family atmosphere.

By the time it was our turn to order, both of us decided on a lunch of mac and cheese and I asked for mine to be covered in chili, which proved to be a hearty compliment. We pre-paid for our ice cream dessert – each of us chose "a very small size," which was actually a very generous, nearly-two scoop portion of our choice – caramel and cashew – and were given a couple of poker-chip medallions to use when were were ready to order our ice cream. This allowed us to skip the main line and queue up for the afternoon's main attraction. After all, ice cream was the real reason for our trek on Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail.

There's a back story to our journey on the roads of Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail:

Maryland has nine dairy farms that offer fresh, delicious on-farm ice cream sold directly to consumers. Together, they make up Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail. Let's see, in addition to Broom's Bloom Dairy, there's Prigel Family Creamery in Glen Arm (Baltimore County); Kilby Cream in Rising Sun (Cecil County); South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, Rocky Point Creamery in Tuscarora, and Keyes Creamery in Aberdeen (all in Frederick County); Woodbourne Creamery at Rock Hill Orchard in Mount Airy (Montgomery County); Misty Meadows Farm Creamery in Smithsburg (Washington County) and Chesapeake Bay Farms, Inc., in Berlin (Worcester County).

"The Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail is a great way to encourage Marylanders to get out and visit a real working farm," Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder said last month in kicking off the 2017 season. "Maryland is home to many outstanding dairy operations, and I challenge all residents to visit at least one of the trail's nine stops this summer."

Sunflowers dot the landscape at Broom's Bloom Dairy.
Now in its fifth year, Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail – a joint production supported by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association, the local affiliate of the National Dairy Council – officially opened its 2017 season on May 26 and it runs through September 25.

Ice cream enthusiasts can become a "trailblazer" by having their ice cream passport stamped by all nine creameries. And, if they wish, they can mail it in to the state's agriculture department to be entered in a drawing for some cool food and dairy-themed prizes.

Knowing that the milk that goes into the ice cream served on Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail comes from good places, the Maryland Department of Agriculture wants everyone to know that these dairy farmers take good care of their animals and the land that they farm. Not only are they active members of their respective communities, they contribute greatly to their local economies, which we witnessed firsthand on this sunny summer afternoon. In the hour or so we were at Broom's Bloom Dairy, easily 100 scoops of ice cream were dished up by the enthusiastic and friendly waitstaff. With lots of enjoyable and creative, home-made flavors, there was not shortage of good choices. My velvety caramel cashew ice cream – most definitely – was not only delicious, it was welcome relief on this hot summer afternoon.

Caramel and cashew ice cream at Broom's Bloom Dairy.
Think about it. What a great concept enjoying homemade ice cream on a dairy farm is – changing Maryland for the better, so the slogan goes. With one stamp in our Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail passport, we hope to visit many more this summer.

Note: Broom's Bloom Dairy, 1700 S. Fountain Green Road (Maryland Highway 543), in Bel Air, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 9 p.m.; closed Monday. 


Photos: Courtesy of Maryland Dept. of Agriculture and Broom's Bloom Dairy. Ice cream photo by Michael Dickens © 2017.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ways of Grace: How sports can bring us together

James Blake left Harvard to become a professional tennis player in 1999, playing until he retired at the U.S. Open in 2013. He received the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2005 following a horrific injury, and was named the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year in 2008.

In his newly published book, Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, and How Sports Can Bring Us Together written with Carol Taylor (which I recently checked out from my local branch of the D.C. Public Library), Blake reflects on his experiences as a professional and shows how athletes have long been at the forefront of social change throughout our history. He pays tribute to those who were willing to raise a fist, take a stand or take a knee.

From Olympians Muhammad Ali to John Carlos and Tommie Smith; from trailblazing female athletes Billie Jean King to Brittney Griner; and from outspoken professional football players Chris Kluwe to Colin Kaepernick, many athletes have used their public roles not only to overcome adversity but also to effect social change and to advocate for a broader social justice. We learn through the stories Blake uncovers how athletes have used sports to unite rather than to divide – and how "simply being in the game," these activists fought against the barriers of oppression, discrimination, inequality and bias, in whatever form they might take.

In praising Ways of Grace, Wimbledon champion Venus Williams wrote that Blake "reminds us all of the power of sports." And John McEnroe said that in Ways of Grace, Blake "proves the vital role athletes have played in further discussion around society's most pressing issues. It is an inspiring and important work."

The 36-year-old Blake's journey to becoming an activist athlete – and the impetus for writing Ways of Grace – came to him when in August 2015, he found himself standing outside his high-rise hotel on a busy Manhattan sidewalk preparing to head to the U.S. Open – he's the chairman of the United States Tennis Association Foundation – and, soon, was tackled and handcuffed by a police officer in a case of "mistaken identity."

Although the feeling of rage would have been totally justified, instead, Blake faced the incident with a sense of dignity. He used this experience as an opportunity to raise awareness about the dangers of racial profiling.

James Blake
"It should not matter that I am a tennis star, or a public figure with access to the media, to be treated respectfully and not have my rights taken for granted by law enforcement," wrote Blake.

"All people, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or perceived socioeconomic standing, should know that police officers will treat them respectfully and issue an accurate and timely report of any incident or altercation between them and law enforcement.

"That I have a platform and access to the media should not make what happened to me any more significant. No one should be manhandled without due process and definitely not because of a vague likeness to someone else."

In this age of social media, where 140-character tweets can have an immediate and lasting impact, many well-known professional superstar athletes such as LeBron James have not been afraid to further dialogue about our most pressing issues, "despite the risks that have often accompanied that self-expression." Rather, they are "leading the charge to preserve a diverse and tolerant world."

Not only is winning on the court and playing field important, but so is standing up for their beliefs off of it – and Blake wanted to use his voice and his role as an athlete to make a difference, to turn a very unfortunate incident into a catalyst for change in the relationship between the police and the public that they serve, "in a way that would be helpful to both."

In writing Ways of Grace, Blake was inspired by Arthur Ashe's memoir, Days of Grace. "Illuminating and insightful, his life story is a testament to how moments of adversity can actually move you in a direction of grace, and how you can respond to life in a graceful way as opposed to a reactionary, divisive way," wrote Blake. "Ashe showed us you can use adversity to heal and not hurt; we can use it to unite and not to divide."

As a Wimbledon champion, Ashe also fought apartheid, fought for those who were less fortunate, fought for those who were in bad situations. He had the ability and resources to help. Towards the end of his life, when he had HIV, when he contracted AIDS, Ashe was helping others who did not have the means to the same treatment he had, who did not have the money he had. Even as he struggled physically, Ashe sought to help the cause of HIV/AIDS research.

"Ashe taught me that despite the situation you are in, no matter how grave, how embarrassing, or how devastating, you can try to find a positive way to affect the world. As I considered Ashe and his profound impact on not only sports but also the world, I considered other sports figures who have sparked change, on the field and off," wrote Blake.

"I wanted to bring to light their stories of activism, advocacy, and courage even as they faced a harsh personal, societal, and financial backlash. As I researched, I was struck by how many athletes – past and present – have championed causes they are passionate about and have created change in positive and uplifting ways, publicly and privately. I want to tell their stories."

To read a sample of the book:

Cover photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins.com.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Words that built America: Thoughts on this Fourth of July

"Where liberty is, there is my country." 

– Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Today is Independence Day – America's birthday – the day the United States celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, signed 241 years ago on July 4, 1776, and the separation of the original 13 colonies of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations from the British Empire.

According to Garrison Keillor, broadcasting in his Writer's Almanac  this morning across National Public Radio stations from coast to coast, I learned this: "Thomas Jefferson wrote most of the Declaration of Independence; everyone else in the room thought he was the most eloquent and the best writer and he offered no dissent. It's said that John Hancock wrote his name in extra large script so that King George would be sure to see it; the king suffered from cataracts. Fifty-six men from 13 colonies signed the document. One out of eight of them had gone to Harvard. Two would go on to become presidents of the United States."

Now it can be told: The signing of the Declaration of Independence actually took place on July 2, not the Fourth of July, and, said Keillor, "this fact always irked John Adams, who decided to protest the date of the new celebration by never, not once, attending a July Fourth celebration as long as he lived."

Also, the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place in Philadelphia on July 18, 1776, in Independence Square. Bells were rung and music filled the air. Congress established the Fourth of July as a national holiday in 1870. It became a federal holiday in 1938.

Today, Independence Day throughout the United States is commonly associated with fireworks and parades, backyard barbecues and picnics in city parks and at lakes and beaches. We celebrate family reunions and go to baseball games, too. Indeed, Independence Day is our celebration of our National Day in the United States.

And yet, in recent days, out collective liberties and freedoms have come under attack, thanks to the actions of a few – but with far-reaching consequences. Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, recently wrote that real patriotism "isn't about putting up walls, excluding Muslims and refugees, giving tax cuts to the rich, threatening freedom of the press and attacking the federal courts, or dividing Americans by race and ethnicity." In fact, he goes on to say, it's just the opposite. "Real patriotism requires sharing the burdens and sacrifices of keeping America going, paying taxes in full, cherishing democratic institutions, and bring America together."

Indeed, in this era of Trump, it is important that we remind ourselves what "We the People" truly stands for.

Here's one final thought worth sharing on this Fourth of July, 2017:

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

– And, so began the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, the statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, who were then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. Instead, they formed a new nation – the United States of America.

Happy Birthday America!