Movie Review: Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot (1957)

Title: Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot
Release Date: March 30, 1957
Director: George Seaton
Production Company: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation | Paramount Pictures

For 63 years, visitors to Colonial Williamsburg have been introduced to the Historic Area with this docudrama account of the years leading up to the Revolutionary War in Virginia.  I first saw in 1985 at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center and later on hotel tv loops, and now I got to revisit it on a Zoom presentation from the Williamsburg Regional Library (which included a slide presentation on the making of the film and its restoration).  This movie is short, and a bit corny, but I maintain a stupid love for it that I cannot explain.

A young Jack Lord stars as John Fry, a wealthy plantation owner who serves in the Virginia legislature in the 1760s and 1770s.  He interacts with famous historical figures like Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington as well as less famous historical figures like William Byrd III, John Randolph, and George Wythe.  The movie expertly depicts the series of incidents that precipitated the Revolution and the vote for Independence, and through Fry we see the gradual transition of someone from being a loyal British subject to supporting independence.  The movie also offers an introduction to the many sites in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area, especially when Fry gives a tour of the city to his family.

The movie does fail from a social history perspective, as views of historical events outside of Fry’s patriarchal, slave-owning planter class are kept to the margins.  Nevertheless, the movie packs in a lot of historical detail in 37 minutes.  And it does it with a score by Bernard Herrmann (of Vertigo, Psycho, and Taxi Driver fame) and in beautiful technicolor.  When I worked at Colonial Williamsburg in the 1990s, I frequently had people ask if I starred in this movie which demonstrates that the movie doesn’t look like it was made 16 years before I was born and that these people did not watch Hawaii 5-0.

Can You Spot the Difference?

Jack Lord







All these years later, Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot remains “ever the best!”

Rating: *****

25 Years Ago Today: I Graduate From College

On May 14, 1995, I completed four years of undergraduate education at the College of William & Mary in Virginia (that is its official name).  In many ways, it feels like yesterday as the years since I went to college have gone by much faster than the years leading up to college.  And yet, I also feel that I have changed quite a bit in the intervening years.

Me with W&M icon Ernestine Jackson.

I was so anxious then but more confident in myself now.  Conversely, I was more social then but much more comfortable spending time alone now.  Even when it comes to learning, I look back and am appalled at how slapdash I was in studying and research. And yet I learned things at the time that I could expound upon at length, that I can’t remember anything about now. Oh, and that whole thing about getting more conservative as you get older? Not true.  I’ve moved much farther to the Left as I’ve become increasingly cognizant of the woes of the world.

A very wet but memorable procession across campus.

Anyhow, here is what I remember about that Sunday (which was also Mother’s Day) when I officially became a college graduate:

  • It rained.  On the traditional walk across campus from the William & Mary’s historic Wren Building to the William & Mary Hall arena, the heavens unleashed a deluge of biblical proportions.  Graduation gowns provide absolutely no protection from the rain.
  • We were warned about increased security because of our commencement speaker (see below), but no one really checked us at all.
  • Former President George Bush spoke.  I’ve always been grateful that he kept his remarks short, not least because it was uncomfortable sitting in damp robes.  He mentioned “a kinder, gentler nation” and “a thousand points of light,” castigated the NRA (to great cheers, even in Virginia), and told a joke about a long commencement speech at Yale. In this yarn the speaker expounded on a word starting with each letter in YALE for 30 minutes each.  The punchline is a student praying to “thank God I didn’t go to The College of William & Mary in Virginia).
  • After the main ceremony, we went to the diploma ceremonies hosted by each discipline. I double-majored, and chose to receive my diploma at the English department ceremony rather than History (I can’t remember why, but it was a good choice, because my friend who went to History said they bungled the ceremony).
  • My mother hosted a reception for friends and families.  My sister had too much punch and introduced herself as my brother.

And that’s about all I can remember about that day. I was a college graduate.  Four months later I started working as an historical interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg. Three years later I moved to Boston.  Five years later I started working in a library.  Nine years later I received a master’s degree in Library and Information Science.  Ten years later I got married.  Twelve years later I became a Dad.  Sixteen years later I had two kids.  And now, here we are twenty-five years later!

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Beer Review: AleWerks Old Stitch

Beer: Old Stitch
BrewerAleWerks Brewing Company
Source: Draft
Rating: *** (7.2 of 10)

The waiter at Chowning’s Tavern is a beer aficionado and set me up with a sample of another AleWerks beer (I left him a generous tip).  Old Stitch is brown with a cream-colored head. The nose is sweet and chocolatey, while the taste is nutty and well-balanced.  This is a tasty brew and I wish I’d had time to sample more.


Beer Review: AleWerks Dear Old Mum

Beer: Dear Old Mum
Brewer: AleWerks Brewing Company
Source: Draft
Rating: *** (7.6 of 10)
Comments: Visited Chowning’s Tavern at Colonial Williamsburg and enjoyed a mug of this locally-brewed, 18th-century recipe beer.  Dear Old Mum is unfiltered with a honey-color and not much head.  The scent is grainy and the flavor is spicy with a sweet, malt finish.  There’s an effervescent tingle on the tongue and the flavor grows stronger the more you drink.  Nice to see Williamsburg making a strong addition to the craft beer revolution.


Hyperactive Hyperlinks

Here’s another post that’s nothing more than a collection of links, many of them silly, the majority introduced to me by Metafilter.

Abandoned But Not Forgotten is a collection of photos of abandoned, historical, and unusual locations from around the world. Beware of the slow loading vintage web design (somewhat apropos to the topic actually) but it’s worth slogging through to see the cool photos.

PCWorld collects The Strangest Sights in Google Earth, which of course is the same as our own planet earth but frozen in time and shared with everyone who lives here. Again, be wary of some crummy web design.

A clever video in which two young men celebrate the city that rocks: Colonial Williamsburg. Funny in that they don’t openly mock CW but let the incongruities of music and images speak for themselves.

PinchHitter 2 is a frustrating and addictive baseball game that will take you from the sandlot to the majors.

If you like ugly, but tasty, fruit and vegetables, you’ll enjoy the stark images of the mutatocollection. The oddity here is that many of these are actually naturally grown vegetables as opposed to the genetic mutations that pass as “perfect.”

Is the world of Gil Thorp in the Matrix? Could explain the oddities of that comic strip. I particularly like Clambake as Morpheus.

From world travelers, a collection of 20 funny signs from around the world. Reminds me of a sign I saw in Ireland near a cliff’s edge showing a car flying over a cliff. The Irish are not subtle.

Finally, a demographic study of Pluggers and They’ll Do It Every Time, a scientific analysis of the two head scratching, anachronistic comics drawn on suggestions mailed in by readers.

While I’m posting links, I may as well introduce some recent additions to the blogroll:

  • Bringing Home the Word: Exploring the Bible Through the Catholic Lectionary – Fairly self-explanatory title, good reading for lectors like myself.
  • Digital Campus – A biweekly discussion of how digital media and technology are affecting learning, teaching, and scholarship at colleges, universities, libraries, and museums. This is actually a podcast, but they post links relating to the topics discussed on the show.
  • Francesco Explains It All – Blog by the creator of Sally Forth.
  • History Conversations – An occasional dialogue with historians and history lovers about their interests, their ideas, and their lives in history. A podcast from the creator of Found History.
  • lower east side librarian – A personal/professional library blog by a librarian who is interested in/expect to write about zines and alternative press publications in libraries, library activism, open source technology applications and culture, and lolcats.
  • Ms. Magazine – More than a magazine, a movement. More of a feed than a blog.
  • Nobody Loves Rusty – A tribute/mockery blog for Mark Trail.
  • Paste Magazine – Updates on signs of life in music, film, and culture.
  • pazonada – A spiff local photo blog.
  • Pitchfork Media – New music reviews to help me feel old.
  • separated by a common language – Observations on British and American English by an American linguist in the UK.
  • Stat of the Day – This and that about baseball stats. From the people who brought you Baseball Reference.
  • Uncontrolled Vocabulary – A live discussion of news, trends and topics in librarianship. Another cool podcast that’s like The McLaughlin Group, but with Librarians. Useful links posted on the blog after the show.

You may also notice on the sidebar that I’ve added links to my new Library Thing profile and catalog.  I should be adding books over time.

Book Review: Jamestown, the Buried Truth

As my mom likes to tell the story, back in 1994 archaeologist Bill Kelso addressed a small audience to introduce his plans for the Jamestown Rediscovery project. The lack of interest arose from the notion that all that could be learned about the early days of the settlement had already been discovered. It was popularly believed that the remains of James Fort had been eroded by the James River.

Bill Kelso proved them wrong.

Jamestown, the Buried Truth by William M. Kelso tells the story of 12 years of excavation and discovery at Jamestown. The remains of the triangular fort from Jamestown’s early period 1607-1624 were there to be found, and the was just the beginning. The archaeologists uncovered remnants of the monumental effort to build a new colony in an unforgiving country fighting diseases, weather, starvation and conflicts with the native population of Tsenacomacans. The material record tells stories undocumented in the colonists records and early histories. The archaeological team may even have uncovered the remains of Bartholomew Gosnold, an early leader of the colony.

Kelso emphasizes that despite their flaws and mistakes, the Jamestown settlers were far from failures and Jamestown was not a fiasco but in fact successfully the first permanent English settlement in North America. Much to my pleasure, Kelso writes a chapter on the long, often overlooked period of Jamestown after initial settlement. From 1619-1699 Jamestown was home to the first popularly elected governmental body and served as the capital of the Virginia Colony. Kelso traces the development of that government through the traces of the five structures that served as the State House.

I’ll be traveling to Virginia in a couple of weeks for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s settlement. It should be an exciting event and a big party. More information at Jamestown 2007 and Jamestown 400. Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestowne (National Park Service), and Historic Jamestowne (Association for the Preservation of Antiquities) are always worth a visit, in person or online.

Other Jamestownia worth reading:

The cover story in the May 2007 edition of National Geographic is all about America in 1607.

A January 9, 2007 article in the Boston Globe about archaeological discovery of seeds, Jamestown seeds reflect survival efforts.

If you like a little fiction in your history, there’s Secret Histories: The Jamestown Colony in Postmodern Fiction at The Millions (A Blog About Books).

Library News for April

Here’s my latest collection of news and opinion of interest regarding the library.

The World Almanac puts out a call for help to librarians (and includes links to even more librarian blogs than I already read). Having been a compulsive reader of The World Almanac since childhood, I stammer and drool when I hear my help is needed.

Lots of discussion regarding issues regarding the homeless in libraries (hey, the homeless are patrons too!):

ACRLog debates the future of the Reference Desk. I’m all in favor of an hovering reference-o-matic platforms myself.

This doesn’t really have much to do with libraries, although it is a book that will be in libraries, and the coolest website around: No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July.

I totally want to hang this flyer from Tinfoil + Raccoon in my library. I like the Spinal Tap reference especially.

Tame the Web reports on a Looking for a Good Book readers’ service at Williamsburg Regional Library. This warms the cockles of my heart since this once was my local public library and it’s good to see them at the forefront of technology. The two libraries in the system despite their small size have excellent collections. In fact, when I was in college I often found books I needed at Williamsburg Public Library that were checked out or otherwise unavailable at the college library.

Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog has a good tribute to the book, which in itself is an advanced form of technology. Makes sense, after all I have a degree in Library Science to deal with this technology.

As if I needed BBC news to tell me, LIBRARIANS SUFFER THE MOST STRESS!!!!. Circ and Serve has suggestions for how to manage your time and multi-task to help reduce that stress (none of which involve beer kegs at the circ desk).

That’s it for the cruelest month. There are many librarians a-tap-tap-tapping on their keyboards, so I’ll have more to share in the merry month of May.

First Night Williamsburg 2007

Susan & I spent the holiday week visiting family in North Carolina and Virginia. We rang in the New Year with my mother by attending First Night Williamsburg 2007. We spent almost the entire night in the University Center at the College of William & Mary and heard a lot of great music (and a couple of duds).

  • Celtibillies — As the name implies they play Celtic and Appalachian styles of music. There are a lot of bands that do this so they could probably do without the silly name, but they play it well. I love those jigs and reels.
  • St. Veronica’s Youth Steel Orchestra — A bunch of exuberant youngsters from Baltimore played everything on the steel drums from Earth, Wind & Fire to a medley of Christmas songs. I especially like the bass drums which sound like strings.
  • C. Shells — We popped in for the end of this participatory children’s performance. I especially liked the song about a kitten on Christmas morning. The women in this duo remind me of Carole and Paula from The Magic Garden. My mother and wife have no idea who I’m talking about.
  • Ron Fetner — This guy is from Virginia but sounds like he’s from the Boston folk scene.
  • Bagels and Fraylox Klezmer Band — We really enjoyed this klezmer band which featured a guest mandolin player on a couple of songs.
  • Friends of Appalachian Music (F.O.A.M.) — In my college days I was a regular a F.O.A.M. contra dances in Norge so this was a nostalgic moment. Susan and I stood in for a couple of easy square dances which was enough to work up a lather.
  • Poisoned Dwarf — This contemporary Celtic band was really good. The room was so crowded that Susan & I listened from the corridor. Too bad Poisoned Dwarf wasn’t asked to play the Grand Finale.
  • Schnicklefritz and the Oompahs — I forced my beloved wife and mother to leave the University Center to hear some German music. Perhaps this band wasn’t talented, perhaps they were over-amplified, or perhaps you need beer to enjoy oompah music, but we bear to stay longer than one song.
  • Grand Finale featuring Coyote Run — I went to the very first First Night Williamsburg to ring in 1994 and for the Grand Finale someone dropped a pineapple off the balcony of the Wren Building at the College of William & Mary. In later years they had music and fireworks in the Sunken Gardens. Now the finale is in Zable Stadium. Since we abandoned Schnicklefritz we got to Zable early and sat in the stands. The band Coyote Run played and they were kilt-wearing, hooting & hollering and basically Scottish cliches who didn’t play very good music. Apparently all the good bands were in the University Center. Then it started to rain so we huddled under the stands to keep dry. At midnight, the fireworks began and for the first few minutes they were pretty pathetic. Then they started firing the good fireworks. It may say something about my age, but after 20 minutes I was checking my watch and ready to go home. After 10 more minutes of booms and flashes the New Year fireworks show was complete and we went home to bed.

Gaudete Sunday

In my own life experience, I was slow to recognize the gift of Gaudete Sunday (just as I’m slow in getting this post up a day late). The Third Sunday of Advent is given the name Gaudete, Latin for “rejoice.” On this day a pink or rose colored candle is lit on the Advent wreath instead of a purple one and the clergy wear purple vestments. This Sunday represents a shift in attitude from waiting for the Lord to recognizing that “God is with us,” Emmanuel. More on the history and practice of Gaudete Sunday can be found at Catholic Encyclopedia.

I first heard of Gaudete during my freshman year at the College of William & Mary. Due to bizarre sleep patterns I found myself atypically awake at dawn on a clear, sunny December morning. I went for a walk and came upon a poster for the Catholic Student Associations Gaudete Sunday Mass a 9 o’clock with caroling to follow. I was all set to put on a clean shirt and necktie and head to the church when I noticed that the event actually took place at 9 PM on Saturday night. In my long sleep and lethargy I had missed it. I had to wait a whole year to experience Gaudete CSA style.

The next year I ensured I’d be part of the Gaudete Mass by signing up to be lector. It was in fact the first time I was ever lector at any Mass. It didn’t help that I had a lifelong fear of public speaking. In the hours leading up to the Mass I was holed up anxiously reading and practicing proclaiming the verse I’d been assigned. One of my first tasks during the Mass was to carry a candle through the darkened parish center and light small candles for people throughout the congregation. I recall walking down an aisle lighting candles to my left and to my right, and then turning around to return down the aisle and being amazed by the blazing gauntlet before me (yes, I suffered from pyrophobia as well).

While it took me a while to settle in, the Gaudete Mass had some special touches. It began triumphantly with trumpets blasts of “O Come Emmanuel” and then a procession accompanied by “Prepare Ye, the Way of the Lord” from Godspell, first sung by one voice and growing to include the voices of everyone present. The candle-lighting followed, again with just one small flame growing to light the faces of all the students in the parish center. Some very symbolic and awe-inspiring moments. Gaudete Sunday grew to be one of my favorite events in college and remains so to this day.

Not related to the Catholic church but to my college experience is the Yule Log ceremony. This is a big event at the College of William & Mary although I didn’t participate until my Junior year. You’ll remember I was sleeping the first year and practicing my reading the next year. I made up for it by attending the Yule Log two more times after graduation. The ceremony involved songs, prayers, stories, a W&M-themed “Night Before Christmas” read by a college official and a dramatic reading of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by the President of the College, Tim Sullivan decked out in a Santa suit. Then a Yule Log would be carried through the gathering while students attempted to hit the log with a sprig of holly. Inside the Wren Building, students could throw their holly into a blazing fire, symbolic of unburdening their anxieties. Both events occurred on the same night, Yule Log followed by the Gaudete Mass, and provided for my friends and I a break from exams, a communal experience, and a spiritual renewal.

As I’ve grown older Gaudete in many ways has taken over the feelings of anticipation and joy I had for Christmas as a child. Typically I participate in activities such as the Christmas Revels and the Advent-Christmas concert at the Paulist Center on the weekend of Gaudete. For me it is a time of friends and family, singing joyfully, and reflection on the important things in life. It is a time to rejoice that God is with us.

Colonial Williamsburg: An Artifact of Popular Culture

During my senior year at college and for three years afterwards I worked at the living history museum Colonial Williamsburg. Although my days of wearing a tricorn hat and stockings (and showing of my well-developed calves) are long gone, I still try to keep up with what’s going on in CW and it’s place in popular culture. I regularly listen to the Colonial Williamsburg: Past and Present podcast which provides interesting “behind the scenes” interviews with the people who work at CW. The interviews are fun and interesting to listen to, especially when it’s someone I know.

A couple a days ago I stumbled across an article by Christopher Geist (someone I’ve actually met a couple of times) about Colonial Williamsburg’s place in popular culture. The article is an interesting summary of CW in movies, TV, books, collectibles, and toys — including the dreaded Felicity doll. There are a number of pictures of celebrities in Colonial Williamsburg but sadly no mention of my appearance on the NBC News overnight special on Christmas in Williamsburg.

While short on analysis, the article does have a good summary of Colonial Williamsburg’s popular appeal:

Popular culture artifacts are widely recognized and accepted by the general public as representing cultural importance and shared meanings. Like most aspects of popular culture, such artifacts are frequently commercialized, appear in the mass media, are generally understood and available to most members of the culture, and have the power to entertain, as well as to enlighten and educate. Though popular culture is generally associated with leisure time activities and frequently involves mass production and consumerism, it does not follow that the underlying meaning is trivial or easily forgotten. On the contrary, such popular culture artifacts as Colonial Williamsburg help to shape our understanding of our culture and its history.

Why is Colonial Williamsburg so frequently represented in the products of popular culture? In most instances, the creators of popular entertainments and consumer goods, as well as the consumers who patronize them, are drawn to the most conspicuous example in any given class of items. Colonial Williamsburg presents a generally accepted popular vision of colonial America, and it is the most prominent example of a living history museum village. Its presence is ubiquitous in popular culture materials, and it became the popular standard in the field of living history.

When I met Geist at Colonial Williamsburg he was a professor from Bowling Green State University with intentions of writing a book on popular culture in Colonial Williamsburg. I was looking for information about the book when I found this article, but sadly it does not seem that the book yet exists.