Most of us have seen strange events, designed to be something no one else has done. Things like getting married in a hot air balloon, or during a skydive, or even on horseback. And speaking of horseback…how about dining on horseback. I know, it seems strange, unless maybe you are a kid like my grandnephew, Bowen Parmely, who fully enjoys a popsicle on the back of a horse. While that is a bit unusual, it is not the strangest incidence of dining on horseback.
During the Gilded Age (1870 – 1900), everything was elaborate…for the very wealthy, that is. From estates that were bigger and more ornate and elaborate than many castles, to elaborate train cars, to dining on horseback…really?? How did that fit in with the extravagance of the other things? Normally, during the Gilded Age, meals were elaborate affairs and almost always held indoors. However, there were a few rather strange exceptions. The point of the Gilded Age and the very wealthy people who championed it was that everything had to be outlandish. It had to have a wow factor, and maybe even a shock factor. In fact, the whole point was to shock the people with the very richness of everything they were seeing, as well as the shock of its monetary extravagance.
So, how do you make dining on horseback into something elaborate, elegant, expensive, and rich? Obviously, outlandish was easy on this one. Remember that paper plates didn’t exist then, and the very idea of the ultra-wealthy people eating a fancy dinner with their fingers…well, it is outlandish, I guess. Most meals involving the very wealthy, involve several courses, so just imagine devouring those endless, rich courses, while trying to steady not only the horse, but the China dishes, crystal, and silver too!!
While everyone at the dinners were treated like millionaires, including the horses, the whole affair must have had some rather unpleasant components to it too. Never mind the fact that you are trying to juggle plates, cups, and silverware while on horseback, but consider the smells in the room. The food smelled delicious, I’m sure, but you cannot keep a horse from doing what horses do, so in addition to waiters, were there also stable boys in attendance. And as for the waiters, I’m quite sure it was necessary to watch where they walked…very carefully. The last thing they needed was to slip on a pile of manure and land on the floor, after throwing the food intended for a guest to eat, all over said guest. The horses were encouraged to stand still and behave, by being provided with their own individual bags of oats. I’m sure that helped, but it would still be very hard to stand perfectly still, especially since these horses weren’t previously trained for a life as a piece of furniture.
One such dinner was hosted by millionaire C K G Billing and was held at a swanky New York restaurant. Now just imagine having all those horses inside a restaurant. It would take a week to clean up afterward, I’m sure, and all of this came at an enormous cost. Billing’s bill came to $50,000, an amount unimaginable to most people in the world, but for Billing…well, he was just showing off! As for the guests…I’m sure it was considered a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, or at the very least, I’m sure they hoped it would only be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Who in their right mind would want to repeat such a dinner? Certainly not me!! And I venture to say, these guests didn’t either.
We don’t often think of the United States having castles, but some do exist. Most are not considered true castles, but are rather country houses, follies, or other types of buildings built to give the appearance of a castle. In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but suggesting through its appearance some other purpose, or of such extravagant appearance that it transcends the range of usual garden buildings. Castles seem like almost ancient history items to most of us, and when it came to the United States, many people thought of the Old West and homestead type dwellings. Nevertheless, there are a few real castles here in the United States, even if we don’t have royalty here.
One such castle is Bannerman Castle in New York. The castle is located on Pollepel Island, about 50 miles north of New York City, on the Hudson River. The castle is in serious disrepair, but the Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc is trying to shore up the buildings so they don’t deteriorate further. The analysis that has been done indicates that 5 out of the 7 buildings on the island could be shored up. The others are too far gone. The castle has a strange history, and I suppose some would debate it’s claim as a true castle. The castle was built by Frank Bannerman VI over a period of 17 years. The island’s buildings were personally designed by Bannerman without professional help from architects, engineers, or contractors. The island has buildings, docks, turrets, garden walls, and a moat in the style of old Scottish castles. That was his passion. He loved Scottish castles and built his castle with a Scottish flare. All of the buildings are elaborately decorated, from biblical quotations cast into all fireplace mantles, to a shield between the towers with a coat of arms, and a wreath of thistle leaves and flowers.
Bannerman’s family immigrated to America in 1854, when he was three. They settled in Brooklyn, New York, where his father established a business selling flags, rope, and other articles acquired at Navy auctions. He was a patriotic man, who joined the union army during the Civil War. At that time young Frank began running the business. He was 13 years old. When the Civil War ended, the US government auctioned off military goods by the ton, mostly to be scrapped for their metal. It was young Frank who saw the importance of these materials, and it was his wise purchases that earned him the moniker “Father of the Army-Navy Store.” He could see that much of what was being sold had a market value higher than scrap. Under the guidance of the younger Bannerman, the Bannerman family became the world’s largest buyer of surplus military equipment. By this time, their storeroom and showroom took up a full block at 501 Broadway. Bannerman made his store into a type of museum/store. It opened to the public in 1905. Of it, the New York Herald said, “No museum in the world exceeds it in the number of exhibits.”
Frank was very prosperous, and it was during a business trip to Ireland that he met his future wife, Helen Boyce. They had three children. At the close of the Spanish American War, Frank Bannerman purchased 90 percent of all captured goods in a sealed bid. After that, it became necessary to find a secure place to store their large quantity of very volatile black powder. His son, David saw Pollepel Island, in the Hudson, and Frank Bannerman purchased it in 1900. Following the purchase, the building of the castle began. Today, the island is owned by the state of New York, and at this time visits are prohibited until the buildings can be made safer.
Once a year, on March 17th, the world takes a day to celebrate the wearin’ o’ the green. Saint Patrick’s Day, is really just one of the more fun holidays, that for most of us means nothing more than pinching ayone caught not wearing green, eating corned beef and cabbage, or drinking green beer and celebrating with our friends.
If we lived in Ireland, the day would be very different. That is because in Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate Saint Patrick, who was the patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick lived in Ireland in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, but he wasn’t Irish. He was was a Romano-Briton who was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. Saint Patrick was the kind of man who, made lemonaid out of the lemons he found himself with. While he was enslaved in Ireland, he made it his goal to become a missionary there, and he is credited with bringing Christianity to the country, as a result. In Ireland, that makes the holiday a religious holiday, similar to Christmas and Easter. These days you can find Saint Patrick’s Day parades, shamrocks, and green Guinness beer in Ireland, but it’s mostly there for the tourists who think that is the right way to celebrate the day. For most of the Irish, however it would not be that way, and in fact, up until 1970 Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on Saint Patrick’s Day. That is a stark contrast to the way the day is celebrated here, but it doesn’t mean the same thing to Americans.
Like many people, I like to eat corned beef and cabbage and pinch those unsuspecting people who have forgotten their green, and while I don’t drink beer…green or otherwise, I like to have fun with the day. But, I also like to reflect a little bit on my Irish roots. I have several parts of my family who came from Ireland, including my Grandma Byer’s family. She wanted to get in touch with her Irish roots too, and so she and her siblings took a trip back to the old country, where they saw the castles, and cemeteries, kissed the Blarney Stone, and visited all the other sites, and I believe they met some of the family who still lives there too. It wasn’t Saint Patrick’s Day when she went, but they really had a good time.
My niece, Christina Masterson recently moved to Germany to live with her mother for a while. It is a wonderful opportunity for her to see the world, and still spend time with family. During the time she has been living in Germany, her family has traveled to France, as well as visiting many of the castles in Germany. I would love to have the opportunity to visit some of the places she is visiting, so I hope she knows what a blessing this is for her.
Christina is just four days older than my grandson, Christopher Petersen, and five days older than my granddaughter, Shai Royce. The three mothers shared their entire pregnancies…first for all three. It was a wild time. In fact, Christina’s mom, Angie almost had to leave her baby shower early to go have a baby. The funny thing was that the baby who was born last, my granddaughter, Shai was due first, and the baby that was born first, Christina was due last. Nevertheless, babies have their own timetables, and they are born when their time is right.
The three kids shared so much, but it was Christina and Shai who would become close friends. I’m sure it was because they were both girls and so they shared similar interests. For years, they were inseparable. I suppose that is what makes Christina’s move to Germany seem so strange. It’s not strange in that Christina moved, but rather that the girls wouldn’t be together anywhere near as much. That is odd, but you just don’t know what turns life will take you on. Not everyone knows what their life’s work will be, and so trying out new things is important. I’m think that time will return Christina to the United States to stay, but you simply never know.
It is so hard for me to believe that Christina is nineteen years old today. I remember so vividly the days that her mom was pregnant with her, and her arrival. I remember so well her childhood, and all the time she and my granddaughter, Shai spent together, being crazy kids, and sometimes even driving all of us crazy with their antics. Now…suddenly, those days are over and before us stands a beautiful young lady. She is making new friends, and she has become a world traveler. I can’t believe how much has changed. She has so much potential and so much life ahead of her, and it will be exciting to see what her future brings. I know that is will be wonderful in every way. Today is Christina’s 19th birthday. Happy birthday Christina!! We miss you, because you are so far away. Have a great day!! We love you!!
Since it is Saint Patrick’s Day, I decided to explore the Irish connection in our family. One of the main connections to Ireland that our family has comes from the Pattan family. I believe that the Shaw family who married into the Pattan family to become my ancestors, also came from Ireland, but I have no concrete information to corroborate my beliefs, as of right now. The Pattan name has changed over the years, and might be spelled Patton, Patten, or Pattan, as ours is. We have a number of Georges in our family, but I have found no connection to General George Patton, as of yet….not that it would surprise me if I did. Our family in America began, when John Pattan come over to the United States from Ireland in the early 1800’s, and the family has grown by leaps and bounds since that time.
Before her death, my grandmother, Harriet Pattan Byer, and some of her siblings made the trip to Ireland to see the country of their ancestors, and hopefully to be able to connect with some of the family that might be still living over there. I don’t recall if they found any family or not, but I do know that they had a wonderful time. They explored the castles in the area…sometimes I wish we had castles. They kissed the Blarney Stone, which is a block of carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle, and a must when visiting Ireland. They went out by the sea and into the towns, and they have a marvelous time.
I suspect that most of us have some Irish background, but many people may not know it. It seems to me that a lot of people have immigrated from Ireland over the years, and if that is the case, there are probably very few families who don’t have a least a little bit of the Irish in them, but then that could be a lot of blarney too. Nevertheless, Irish or not, most of us like to celebrate the wearin’ of the green every year when Saint Patty’s Day rolls around. So, whether you drink green beer or eat corned beef and cabbage, or simply wear green so you don’t get pinched, happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all!!
Being widowed is quite likely the most devastating thing that can happen in a married person’s life. The immediate feeling is “how can I go on” or “I don’t want to go on” or something similar, and yet, life does go on, whether we like it or not. The spouse who has gone home wouldn’t want the surviving spouse to quit. They want them to continue to live a full life. They must go one living until their own time comes, but how full that life is…well, that is up to the surviving spouse. I have looked through pictures of my grandmother on trips taken after Grandpa passed away, and while I know that she missed Grandpa terribly, Grandma knew that he would want her to go on living life to the fullest.
In many ways, it reminds me of the latest version of “The Titanic” in which Rose, after losing Jack, went on to do all the things he had inspired her to go out and do. Looking at my grandmother walking along the Gulf of Mexico, or exploring the castles of Ireland, tells a tale of survival. She went on to do some of the things that Grandpa would have been so thrilled to see her do. I have to wonder what was on her mind as she took some of these trips. I suspect that it was somewhat bittersweet, because while it was exciting to see these places, it would have been sad to think that her beloved husband didn’t get to experience it with her. I’m sure she also felt like he was with her in spirit, but that really is not the same.
While the years following being widowed can seem long and lonely, they often aren’t many, and they fly by. My grandmother followed my grandfather to Heaven in 1988, just 8 years after Grandpa went home. I’m sure they are happily discussing her adventures during the time they were apart, and knowing my grandpa, I’m also sure his eyes sparkle when she tells him of that time, although, nothing could possibly compare to what they are experiencing now. In fact, come to think of it, they probably haven’t even given Grandma’s adventures a single thought since she arrived.
My grandmother never learned to drive a car. That was not an unusual situation during her lifetime, even though it is very unusual today. I never could figure out how women…or anyone for that matter…could get by these days without being able to drive, much less manage to raise nine kids and get them through all the stuff needed for their schooling without driving a car. Nevertheless, my grandmother did just that.
Since she didn’t ever drive, and counted on Grandpa for all the things that went with raising a family, I also found myself surprised when she said she was taking a trip to Ireland with her sisters. It wasn’t so much that traveling was so unusual for my grandmother, because my family had taken her places, as had Bob and I. I also know that there were other family members who had taken them traveling…so, while taking a trip wasn’t an unusual thing…taking a trip to Ireland seemed like taking a trip to the moon. It seemed so strange that Grandma and her sisters would be going so far away alone!!
The trip was to follow their roots. They planned to stay with family that lived there. It was the trip of a lifetime for my grandmother and while I felt nervous, I was so excited for her. She would see the green Irish hills, castles and ruins. She would see the coast of Ireland that I had heard was so beautiful, and most of all she could trace her roots back to there. I can’t think of a more exciting trip for my grandmother to get to take. What a wonderful treat for her!
The trip was everything she had hoped it would be, and she returned to us different somehow. She was a world traveler now. She had been to distant shores and visited family and graves far away. I was so happy for her, and secretly hoped I’d be able to make such a trip some day. I imagined seeing castles and the ruins of castles. I wondered what stories I would hear of the past and those who lived in it. I am so happy that my grandmother had the opportunity to take such a trip. The chance to see new places, and meet new people…the chance to go in search of her roots.