Everything listed under: Live

  • Gods of Pennsylvania: Henry Mercer

    From the moment I stepped inside the central atrium of the Mercer Museum, I felt like Alice falling through the rabbit hole and emerging in Wonderland.

    My senses were overloaded as floor after floor contained an eclectic display of pre-industrial tools, seen from a multitude of vantage points, which made each tier of this castle grander than the next.

    Simply put -- this place is magical.

    Unless you live in the Doylestown area (a northwest Philadelphia suburb), it is doubtful you know much, if anything, about Henry Mercer and his giant, six story, cement building in the middle of the borough.

    So -  let me take a moment to introduce you to the man and his mission.

    Henry Chapman Mercer was born just prior to the Civil War in 1856, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania to the wealthy Mercer family (Massachusetts textile industry). He was well educated and had lots of opportunities to travel, especially throughout Europe. He acquired a degree at Harvard, then went onto law school at the University of Pennsylvania, but never practiced because his interests turned toward archaeology - this is when he helped found the Bucks County Historical Society and was appointed the curator of American and prehistoric archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania's museum.

    His turning point in life was around 1897 when he noticed the quick decay of early American society, which was being replaced by industrialism. Mercer’s story is that he saw a mess of old agricultural tools and household utensils piled together to be sold, and then realized that American pre-industrial history was being discarded. He made it his mission to start saving these items to be preserved for future generations and according to the Annapolis Capital Newspaper, he went about "rummaging the bake ovens, wagon houses, cellars, haylofts, smokehouses, garrets, and chimney corners" for anything Americana.

    The collection continued to grow until he had over 30,000 items - and like any good collector, he needed a place to display his wares.  This is where the Mercer Museum comes into play.

    In 1913, Henry, along with eight day-laborers and “Lucy” the horse started construction on the 6-story concrete castle (completed in 1916) and filled it with his vast inventory. Every year, more than 80,000 people visit the showroom and leave awestruck over what they see. And since the museum was specifically designed by Mercer to display pre-industrial tools, he created an experience for people to view the items up close and from many different perspectives - this produces an intimate connection to the people who used these devices.

    One of the best compliments about the location came from Henry Ford, who stated that “the Mercer museum was the only museum worth visiting in the United States”, and if you have ever been to Ford’s own museum in Dearborn, Michigan, it’s apparent that Mercer inspired him greatly.

    So - now that you have a little background, here’s my picks for why he made the Gods of Pennsylvania list:


    When we see a problem, what do most of us do? We usually shrug our shoulders and wish there was something they could do about it. Well, when Mercer saw a problem, he went about fixing it.

    For instance, while he was amassing his collection of pre-industrial tools, he became interested in German Pennsylvanian tile making and quickly realized this craft was going the way of the dinosaurs. Mercer immediately apprenticed himself to an authentic potter in Bucks County where he became proficient in the art. He then followed up by building the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works to preserve the craft (which still operates to this date).

    His passion led him to action - something we all should desire.


    In a few of  Mercer’s books, he talks about his frustration with certain aspects of archeology, especially drawing conclusions from finding items that don’t have a connective line to the present. So his idea was to start with the present (what we know) and then work toward the past.

    Also, while he travelled throughout Europe, he became aware that many museums had been destroyed (and with it their collections) by fire. He had the foresight to make his house, tile factory, and museum out of reinforced concrete to ensure they would around for a very long time.

    Renaissance Man

    Much like Thomas Jefferson and Leonardo Da Vinci, Mercer was well educated and gifted in many fields of study. In his lifetime, he was a lawyer, architect, artisan, engineer, anthropologist, collector, curator, author, historian, and a tile-maker (to name a few).

    After talking with Ed Reidell, site administrator at the Fonthill Museum (Mercer’s home), it became apparent that Henry was incredibly gifted at whatever he set his mind to do. Henry’s skill at tile-working landed him the job of creating four hundred different scenes from Pennsylvania’s history to decorate the state Capitol’s floor. His work also shows up at the Monte Carlo casino, Rockefeller's New York estate, the St. Louis Public Library, and Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California.

    Upon his death in 1930, Henry Mercer left Fonthill Castle to his housekeeper and the museum and tile-works to the Bucks County Historical Society where they continue to keep his vision alive today.

    I highly recommend you put Doylestown on your lists of “must sees” and visit all three of Mercer’s buildings (The Mercer Mile), but if you can’t get there immediately, check out this virtual tour of the main atrium.  (http://www.mercermuseum.org/themes/mysite/swf/p01tm.swf)

    To see pictures from my adventure there, click here.

  • Pennsylvania's Only President

    While many U.S. Presidents have lived in Pennsylvania, only one was born in the Keystone State.

    He was the fifteenth President, the last born in the eighteenth century, and was the nation’s only lifelong bachelor Commander In Chief -- James Buchanan -- he is often noted as one of the most ineffective Presidents and is often found on the list of America's’ worst list.

    While he was in office, a whole list of historical events happened:

    The Dred Scott Case

    Chaos in Kansas

    Panic of 1857

    War Against Utah

    Disintegration of the Party

    Fort Sumter

    Basically, he was a stepping stone that launched Abraham Lincoln into the Presidency and essentially became a cause of the Civil War happening.

    A couple of other interesting facts about Buchanan:

    In his inaugural address, he announced that he would only be a one term President.

    He declined a nomination by President Polk to be a Supreme Court Justice.

    For 15 years, he lived with Alabama Senator William Rufus King (later Vice President under Franklin Pierce) sparking allegations of inappropriate relations.

    There is a mysterious pyramid monument built over his birthsite in Stony Batter, PA, now a part of a state park.

    While President James Buchanan is hardly spoken of today, it’s crucial to remember the men and women who helped shape this country into what it is today.

    Happy Election Day!

  • Pennsylvania Halfway Point

    I love mountains!

    So much so, I really should get a bumper sticker that declares my affection for these ancient geographical structures.

    Mountains are pleasing to look at, fun to explore, and easily inspire adventurers, which is why they do a great job of being a metaphor for many aspects of life -- not to mention being a great way to illustrate the halfway mark on the Pennsylvania, Here A Year project.

    The way up:
    Typically, climbing up a mountain is the most challenging and difficult part of the hike, but when looked back upon, it usually contains the most memories. So far, this has been true for my journey as well.

    I said goodbye to my extended family in Minnesota, right after having my beagle, Elli, unexpectedly die from a respiratory disease, followed by my grandma dying the week after -- all leading up to living in a strange state, in a bungalow, on a animal rescue farm.

    When I arrived, I instantly started my trek of exploring unique cultures - Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish/Mennonites, Mummers, South Philly Vibe, Pittsburgh’s Art Scene, The Cove, People of the Poconos, Commonwealth Capitol District - and it didn’t take long before I was discovering the richness of the state by walking around the annals of history - William Penn’s homestead, Gettysburg National Battlefield, Independence Hall, etc., and celebrating the state by going to festivals and parades, and seeing the land from above in an experimental aircraft (not to mention skydiving), along with diving to the depths of an underwater ghost towns, seeing dogs fly, and fire twirled, and concerts played, and trees being zipped across, and hills being rolled up, and baseball games being soaked up, and kites, kites, kites, and running up the Rocky steps, and laughing at roadside attractions (Centralia, Whistler’s Mother Statue, Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum, Shoe House), and being stuffed with cheese steaks, ice cream, chocolate, chow-chow, and whoopie pies...(I’m out of breath!)

    I think you get the picture.

    On top of all this, my 225,000 mile-driven Mazda quit (for good), I had a total body poison ivy outbreak, and I was attacked by a goat -- all a part of the adventure!

    But most importantly, I’ve made so many wonderful connections with terrific people all across Pennsylvania. Some are virtual through Facebook, Twitter, and the Here A Year website, but most are in the flesh - taking me on tours, showing me the hidden gems of their cities, letting me into their circle of trust and friendship.

    This is especially true about the people who are out there, working to make their communities and this world a better place. And of the three verbs I use as a guide through this journey (Live, Discover, Connect), CONNECT is the one I enjoy the most.

    So far, I’ve been averaging 18 hours a week volunteering with organizations from all over the state, namely: Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue, Special Olympics Pennsylvania, The Super Hero Foundation, Pyrotopia, Gino J. Merli Veterans' Center, Ivyland 5k, Random Snacks of Kindness Project, and the PA State Parks Department - all with the hope to do more.

    At the top:
    The best part about making it to the top of any mountain is the view. And with the view comes heightened emotions of joy.

    This is true for the halfway point of my lifestyle experiment as well.

    The ability to look back and see what has been accomplished as well and getting a vantage point of what might be to come is priceless. I feel like I have good grasp on how the journey is evolving and with that, looking into the future to see what its potential might be.

    But I must continue on down the mountain. No one is able to stay on the peak forever.

    Coming down:
    Most people think that the trek down a mountain is super easy. I disagree.

    I don’t see the next six months getting any easier as this venture is not able to survive by me sitting back and coasting. On the contrary, the back half might even be tougher.

    When I think about the days ahead, I like to think of them as keeping the momentum alive. Here A Year is just now getting its base of supporters set. It’s just now finding its groove with blog postings and video highlights. It’s just now getting taken as something serious to enjoy.

    All a part of what momentum does -- and I hope the snowball effect continues.

    I still have many places to go, along with many cultures to understand, and  new charities to volunteer alongside of -- I can’t wait!

    With so many things to do, it’s important to get feedback from those who are fellow adventurers - whether that be in person or in the online world. There will be even more opportunities for you to vote on, not to mention the giveaways of sweet PA goodies.

    I hope you’ll stick around.

    So here’s at the halfway point -- and to many more adventures this year. Cheers friends!

  • Hex signs, distelfinks, & unicorns -- Oh my!

    The Irish have four-leaf clovers, the Chinese have tigers, the British have acorns -- every culture seems to have some way of expressing “good luck” -- it’s no different for those who live in Pennsylvania Dutch country, for they have hex signs.

    Hex signs originated in the 1800’s as a form of folk art where the “fancy” farmers (those who were not of the Amish or Mennonite faiths, i.e. the “plain people”) would paint geometric shapes onto the sides of their barns. 

    You could also find these symbols painted on doors, books, walls, and other household goods.

    Hex signs were more than just shapes and symbols, they were a family's story or legend. Careful consideration went into choosing the proper hex sign for each homestead. It wasn’t until the 1940’s, when an eleventh generation Pennsylvania Dutchman named Jacob Zook, started silk screening the patterns onto round disks.

    Because of Mister Zook’s efforts, hex signs are enjoyed all around the world, bringing good luck and heartfelt warm wishes to those who see the sign.

    I bet there’s one somewhere in the area where you live.

    Here’s what some of the most popular designs mean:

    Horse Head:
    Symbolizes protection for your farm animals and pets

    Unicorn: A message of piety, virtue, peace and contentment

    This sign is meant to give a warm and cordial welcome to visitors

    Wilkom Hearts:
    A Pennsylvania Dutch way to welcome all visitors to your home

     good luck and happiness -- if there’s two birds, double the luck

    Mighty Oak:
     brings strength, good health, and longevity the the household

    a symbol of love and happiness in marriage

     expresses love and romance in a relationship

    Irish: bestows the luck of the Irish

    8-Pointed Abundance Star:
     offers abundance and goodwill to everyone

    Double Bird Wilkom:
    another symbol of love and happiness in a marriage

    Bless This House:
     to bless the entire house and all those that occupy it

     ensures that you will experience good luck throughout the entire year

    Bird of Paradise Wilkom:
    a welcome to one and all

  • The Little League World Series reminds us how great baseball is

    It was the bottom of the sixth and Southeast, the team from Goodlettsville, Tennessee, had the the Little League U.S. Championship game in the bag.

    What happened next made history.

    Team West was down ten runs with only one at bat left in regular play. They drove in four runs before the second out, which brought up Bradley Smith.  He hit a double, followed by back-to-back homers by Kempton Brandis and Hance Smith which tied the game at fifteen and sent it into extra innings.

    Southeast wasted no time bringing in nine extra runs to cement their lead and ultimately win the U.S. title, giving them the right to face Japan in the World Series Championship game.

    When the dust settled, both teams has scored a combined total of forty runs, both had more runs than hits, and needless to say, the pitching lineups were exhausted.

    Joey Hale, the Southeast manager, summed it up best: “We just went through a roller coaster.”

    - - -

    A handful of events are exclusive to Pennsylvania: Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia, and, of course, the Little League World Series in South Williamsport.

    South Williamsport, a borough of six thousand, swells to over five times its normal size as it hosts teams from all over the world. The Howard J. Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums, side-by-side in the middle of town, are the game's epicenter for a week and a half in the summer.  This is where thousands of kids dream to be: cracking the ball out of the park, running down the home stretch with teammates and families cheering on.

    As incredibly enjoyable as these games are to watch, it isn’t always what's broadcast on television that makes this tournament great.

    It's the Little League’s devotion to helping children develop good characteristics—citizenship, discipline, healthy living, and teamwork—that makes this tournament great.  They emphasize this goal on their website: “the Little League Baseball and Softball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes.”  But there's nothing like seeing it in person.  None of these kids have a hundred million dollar contract or a shoe named after them or even an agent; but there's still an unmistakable innocence to the game.  That's something we would all like to see more of in our world.

    If you ever find yourself in Pennsylvania near the end of August, be sure to stop by South Williamsport and catch a game or two.   You'll cheer for the games, but you'll leave inspired by the character of the coaches, families, and players.