Saturday, July 6, 2013

July 4 on Liberty Island

On July 4, 2013 under skies that wavered between ominous clouds and scorchingly bright sun, an estimated 20,000 people visited Liberty Island to get close to the Statue of Liberty. The “Mother of Exiles," as Emma Lazarus called her, was unscathed by Superstorm Sandy, but almost everything around her was demolished by the water that surged through New York harbor on Oct. 29, 2012. For eight months, Liberty Island was closed to the public.

Crews worked around the clock for three months to get the island ready to reopen. The work still isn’t finished, but at least the electricity is back, 53,000 pavers have been installed to create new pathways, the docks are once again intact.

"Lady Liberty has been a beacon of hope for 127 years," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at the reopening ceremonies. “We have created the most welcoming and open society on the planet – one that thrives in its diversity, one that breeds innovation and opportunity that is the envy of the world."

People from all over the world were on Liberty Island on opening day, gazing at the statue’s handsome face and posing for photos at her feet. The sun was blazingly hot, popsicles cost $4 each, the lines for the ferries to Battery Park in Manhattan and Liberty State Park in New Jersey were long — but it didn’t matter. It was a glorious day.

Statue Cruises runs the ferries to Liberty Island. Get tickets in advance at Adults, $17; seniors 62+, $14; children 4 to 12, $9; under 4 – free. Ticket prices include an audio tour, available in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish. If you wish to visit the crown, tickets are $3 more each. Ferries run every 15 minutes. The first departure is at 8:30 a.m. and the last return trip leaves Liberty Island at 6:15 p.m.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Get a Jump on Springtime at the Philadelphia Flower Show

Since 1829, the Philadelphia Flower Show has been an antidote to the winter doldrums. This year, the largest indoor flower show in the world opened to the public on March 2 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

The main part of the show covers 10 acres. In addition, there are satellite exhibits — 33 acres worth in all.

Produced by the renowned Pennsylvania Horticultural Society with a different theme each year, the current show celebrates the landscapes and cultural icons of Great Britain. Visitors enter the exhibition through massive gates made of flowers surmounted by a floral crown. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a reproduction of Big Ben that serves as a screen every half hour for a light and sound show.

"London Fog," an exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show,
recalls London weather with umbrellas and clouds of mist.
Among the British-themed tableaux are a dining table set for the Mad Hatter's tea party, photographs of the royal family paired with hats made of flowers, ball gowns decorated with flowers, a picturesque potting shed and garden path and a cricket green. One exhibit, called "London Fog," is constructed of umbrellas and flowers suspended over a reflecting pool that sends up clouds of mist.

Clivia originated in the southern part of Africa.
(Photos: Terese Loeb Kreuzer)
In addition, there are hundreds of exhibitors who bring their prized plants to the show to be judged by experts from all over the world. There are spectacular epiphytes that grow on trees in the jungles of Argentina and Brazil, absorbing their nourishment from the air; there are succulents from South Africa, tables of orchids, cacti of all descriptions, enormous philodendrons with perfectly formed leaves, pots of tulips in a dazzling array of colors, cases of miniature bonsai trees that have been nurtured and trained for decades.

Botanical illustrators demonstrate their craft. A vertical garden of kale and collards exemplifies how urban gardeners can produce food in small spaces. Experts including Mark Lane, the Gardens Manager for the Royal Household, give free lectures daily on everything from green walls and green roofs, to ornamental gardens and edible landscapes, to tree and lawn care.

Gardening tools and decorative artifacts for the garden are for sale as are scarves, hand-embroidered pillows, bone china, teas, soaps, aprons, hats, and toys.

The show closes on March 10 but there's always next year. Plans are already in the works for "Articulture," which will explore the ways in which horticulture has influenced painters and sculptors and vice versa. For this show, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society will collaborate with some of Philadelphia's museums.

For tickets and more information, go to


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mystic Seaport's Gerda III

Tied to a dock at the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut a small, white lighthouse tender sports a huge Danish flag on its stern. The little boat, the Gerda III, belongs to the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Manhattan’s Battery Park City. It was given to the museum by the Danish parliament in recognition of what the Gerda III and its crew did in October 1943 when Germans attempted to round up the Jewish population of Denmark for extermination.

Over a period of several weeks, the 46-foot-long Gerda III made numerous trips across the sound that separates Copenhagen, Denmark from Sweden, each time with 10 to 15 Jews packed into its tiny hold. In Sweden, which was neutral, the Jews were safe from Hitler’s Nazis. The little ship and its brave crew saved 300 lives.

Almost 70 years have passed since then, but the story of the rescuers and the rescued remains as gripping as it was when it happened.

In 1943, there were 7,500 Jews living in Denmark. Germany had occupied Denmark since April 1940, but the Danes had been allowed to continue their government with little interference. Jewish life also went on as it had before. Danish Jews continued to hold religious services and retained their businesses and their property.

On Sept. 29, 1943, that changed. The day before, a senior German official, G. F. Duckwitz, had quietly alerted some senior members of the Danish government that the Jews were going to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps beginning on Oct. 1. The Danish officials contacted the heads of the Jewish community and told them to urge everyone to flee. Danes — Jewish and non-Jewish — went door to door to Jewish households with the news.

One of those who fled, Herbert Pundik, then 16 years old and later a journalist, wrote a book about what occurred. “The result was that on the night of October 1st, when the Germans came, most Danish Jews had flown the coop,” he wrote. “They sought refuge with non-Jewish friends and acquaintances or with complete strangers who opened their doors to them.”

Then hidden in trucks and in ambulances, the Jews were driven to the coast, where they were surreptitiously ferried to Sweden. Several hundred ships took part in the rescue. Gerda III was one of them. More than 7,000 people were saved — almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark.

At the time, Henny Sinding, 19 years old, was working for a lighthouse-tending business that her father managed. The Gerda III’s crew approached her to ask her help and her father’s permission to use the boat to rescue the Jews.

“Henny’s father gave tacit permission,” said Anita Kassof, Deputy Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, “and thereafter for that critical month of October she would leave her parents’ house at one in the morning to go smuggle Jews and her parents essentially just looked the other way.”

A video called “Rescuers” in the Museum of Jewish Heritage honors people such as Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler who aided the Jews. The segment about the rescue of the Danish Jews is simply entitled “Denmark.”

“Everybody in Denmark helped the Jews,” says Leif Donde — among those rescued — in the video. “It was the students, the workers, the business executives. It was the farmers. It was the fishermen.”

Henny Sinding appears in the video as Henny Sinding Sundø — her married name — by then a woman in late middle age with a weathered, sunburned face, short hair, no jewelry, a dab of lipstick and bright, blue eyes.

“Why should the Germans kill our Danes?” she asks in the video. “They were Danes like we were. Danes? Jews? They were just Danes.”

Of her role in the rescue, which would have resulted in imprisonment and death had she been caught, she says, “Nobody – he or she – thinks that they are heroes because it was not a very heroic thing to do. It was just a natural thing to do.”

In the video, another woman, Elsebet Kieler, who participated in the rescue, explains her actions by saying, “If you want to remain a human being and take care of your own human dignity, you have to take care of your neighbor. It’s the same thing. You have to protect everyone.”

Denmark was the only Nazi-occupied country that managed to save most of its Jewish citizens. In fact, elsewhere much of the local population enthusiastically collaborated with the Germans in rounding up the Jews.

The Danes protected not only Jewish lives but Jewish property. “Most of the Jews came back after the war and they found their houses intact,” said Kassof. “It’s really a remarkable story. I think it’s a testament to the Danish character.”

Anita Kassof said that Gerda III is in Mystic, Conn. rather than in Manhattan because the Mystic Seaport, a world-renowned maritime museum, has a full-time staff to care for the boat and to make sure that people have access to it and that it’s being interpreted accurately.

“What started out as a temporary arrangement at Mystic has become unofficially a permanent arrangement,” she said. “It’s working out well for everyone.”

For Mystic Seaport hours, admission prices and directions, go to For information about the Museum of Jewish Heritage at 36 Battery Place, go to Herbert Pundik’s book, “In Denmark It Could Not Happen” about the flight of the Danish Jews to Sweden is available in the Museum of Jewish Heritage bookstore for $16.95.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dr. Barnes in Philadelphia

One of Dr. Barnes' "ensembles" contrasts a cozy family portrait by Renoir  with a painting by Cézanne of nudes in a hostile landscape
With jubilation and some residual sour faces from the bruising legal brawl that preceded the occasion, the Barnes Foundation opened its Center City Philadelphia campus on May 19, 2012. A hundred years ago, Dr. Albert C. Barnes began buying Impressionist, post-Impressionist and early 20th-century art, assembling one of the world's great collections, larded with old masters such as El Greco, Hals and Goya and African and Native American work that intrigued him. He was also interested in Pennsylvania German folk art and furniture and in centuries-old metalworking. He liked the inventive shapes of hinges, locks and keys and ornamental metalwork.

Dr. Albert C. Barnes as painted by Giorgio de Chirico
The doctor, who was born in 1872 in what might politely be called a "working class" neighborhood of Philadelphia and whose father was a butcher before he lost his right arm in the Civil War, made a fortune with his invention of the antiseptic Argyrol. Barnes used his money to buy art, which he installed in a building that he commissioned in Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia. From behind that barred door, he spurned the art critics, socialites and celebrities who had spurned him. He turned down their pleas to see his collection, admitting factory workers, young artists and others who gratefully feasted on the wonders that Dr. Barnes had amassed and carefully arranged.

Under the tutelage of the educator John Dewey, who became a friend, Barnes developed his own methods of education. There would be no mind-numbing curatorial explanations in his galleries. He wanted his visitors to look, not to read. Barnes stipulated in his will that his collection was to remain exactly as it was at the time of his death and that of his wife, Laura. Nothing was to be loaned or moved.

Dr. Barnes was killed in an automobile accident on July 24, 1951. Laura died in April 1966. For the ensuing 40 or so years, the Barnes collection remained sequestered in Merion with comparatively few visitors and insufficient funds to maintain the building and the grounds of the doctor's estate. But the legal wrangling necessary to break Barnes' will and move the collection to Center City Philadelphia was intense.

The Barnes Foundation building
It happened and it's over and undoubtedly a lot of people are and will be grateful. The collection is dazzling and the building that houses it, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, does it justice. Within an understated, 93,000-square-foot building, the architects recreated the rooms that once housed the collection in Merion. They preserved the exact proportions and detailing, including the orientation of the windows, the placement of the objects in each room, the colors of the walls and trim. Their changes were subtle to enhance the luminosity of the galleries.

Each gallery has been outfitted with benches where visitors can sit comfortably and meditate on the art. That's what the doctor wanted — an educational and emotional experience based on observing shape, color, line, spatial arrangement and content transcending the work of any one artist or period — each piece reflecting the others on that wall and in that room in what Dr. Barnes called "ensembles."

The guiding hand remains Dr. Barnes' own. He saw the connections in the art that he owned. It soon becomes apparent that the reason he wanted nothing moved was that the galleries themselves were his art.

The new Barnes Foundation building is on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, right next to the Rodin Museum, which has the largest collection of Rodin's work outside of Paris, and down the hill from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, making Philadelphia a must-see destination for any art lover.

Admission to the Barnes Foundation collection is still by timed ticket, but tickets are easy to come by now. No one will be turned away.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Titanic Trail in Manhattan

In the run-up to April 15, 2012 — the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking — museum
exhibits, lectures, concerts and even entire museums are memorializing the collision between the opulent ocean liner and an iceberg that killed more than 1, 500 people. But Manhattan tells
the Titanic story with more than just ephemera.

The Titanic was headed for Manhattan when she went down at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912 off the coast of Newfoundland. The Carpathia brought the survivors to Manhattan. Many of the people on board were New Yorkers or were bound for New York City to make it their new home. Manhattan, therefore, has more authentic sites connected with the Titanic than anywhere else except for Belfast, where she was built. Unlike a museum visit, the Titanic Trail in Manhattan takes travelers to fascinating places in the city — a shrine for America’s first native-born saint, the South Street Seaport, an old-fashioned hotel where the bellmen wear 1930s regalia, lower Broadway with its famous statue of a charging bull and the gorgeous Hudson River Park with its gardens, fountains and five-mile promenade along the river.

The 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking will come and go. In Manhattan, the Titanic is part of the city's fabric — Pier 54 at 13th Street, where the words "Cunard White Star Line" are still visible in faded paint on the rusted ironwork, 9 Broadway, where the White Star office was located at that time, the American Seamen's Friend Society Sailors' Home and Institute, now The Jane, a hotel at 113 Jane St., where the surviving crew members of the Titanic were housed, and more. Long after the centennial, in Manhattan the Titanic and its story will live on.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Philadelphia Flowers

Philadelphia's famed flower show, which has been presented with few interruptions since 1829, closes today (March 11) but other flowers are still blooming in Philadelphia. A captivating exhibit called "Van Gogh Up Close" continues at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through May 6.

Van Gogh loved flowers and painted them over and over -- in vases and in fields and gardens where he marveled at their colors as they played
against an abundance of greens that evoked every nuance of his palette. Van Gogh's passion is
readily felt in his flurries of brush strokes, stipples and thickly applied paint. As he experimented and grew more sure of himself, his paintings become luminous with deftly applied layers of color that feed off each other -- orange and yellow and lavender and blue violet. Van Gogh's love of nature is a balm in our technologically saturated times. People are flocking to see his paintings. They look at them in reverential silence.

Timed tickets are required to see "Van Gogh Up Close." For more information, go to

Sunday, February 21, 2010

SS Normandie Sails into Manhattan

The 19th-century piers that once lined the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan are gone except for one. The trans-Atlantic ocean liners they serviced are also gone except for Cunard's Queen Mary 2, which now docks in Red Hook, Brooklyn, when she visits New York City. But the SS Normandie, considered by some people to be the most beautiful ocean liner ever built, has returned.

This past week, an exhibit called "DecoDence: Legendary Interiors and Illustrious Travelers Aboard the SS Normandie" opened at the South Street Seaport Museum on Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan. Photographs record the splendor of the Normandie but the array of objects in this exhibit come closer than any picture could to suggesting the magnificence of this ship.

Amid cases of bibelots and fragments of the ship's luxurious appurtenances, chairs and tables are skillfully arranged in front of wall-sized photographs depicting the rooms for which they were designed. It's easy to imagine those grand rooms decorated with Aubusson carpets, Lalique chandeliers and glass panels painted on the reverse side with gold and silver (a technique called verre églomisé) casting a flattering glow over the ship's elegant passengers. Add the detail mentioned by one passenger that the ship smelled of French cigarettes and expensive perfume, and it's possible to be back there again. Almost. If only.

The keel for the SS Normandie was laid on a cold January day in 1931 at Saint-Nazaire on the Loire. Though the world was going through an economic Depression worse than any since, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT) subsidized by the French government was determined to construct the most beautiful and most technologically advanced ocean liner ever built. The ship was to be a showcase of French design and the epitome of luxury.

The Normandie's completion was delayed by several years because of the Depression, but finally, on May 29, 1935, she left Le Havre on her maiden voyage. She arrived in New York City on June 3, accompanied by tugboats, excursion vessels, yachts, ferries and fireboats. Around 30,000 people lined the seawall at Battery Park to see her come in.

The Normandie's seagoing career proved to be brief. In August 1939, she nosed into Pier 88 in midtown Manhattan for the last time. On Sept. 1, Germany invaded Poland and it was deemed better for the Normandie to remain in New York. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. government took over the ship, renaming her the USS Lafayette. She was stripped of all her finery, in preparation for becoming a troop ship. On Feb. 9, 1942, sparks from a welder's torch set some kapok-filled life jackets on fire. The fire raged out of control. On Feb. 10, she capsized, lying on her side at Pier 88 like a dying animal. Finally, she sank.

It's possible in the South Street Seaport Museum's exhibit to still feel the weight of that loss. The sadness is mitigated, however, because so much of what was in the Normandie was preserved. Almost all of the items in the exhibit come from the collection of New Yorker Mario Pulice, whose passion for the Normandie is only matched by his generosity in lending his collection to the museum for almost a year. The exhibit will be at the South Street Seaport Museum through January 2011, giving ample time to visit again and again.