Archive for January, 2010

Women’s history evoked in photographs.  Phyllis Schlafly, Patricia Carbine, and women in space.  Shots by Diana Mara Henley, photographic interpreter of social issues and events.  Her works adorn the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives and the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.  See the video linked below.  Where were you in the 1970s?

\“A time in our lives when all things seemed possible.\”–L.C. Pogrebin

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“If there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it….  It was about as popular as a root canal.” — Barack Obama

Putting some teeth in it. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2010/01/root_canal.html

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About 60 miles west of Philadelphia lies the city of Reading (prononced “Redding”).  Reading developed rapidly in the 1740s as part of the northern Lancaster County.  The area has very fertile soil, a favorable climate for agriculture, and a location within Pennsylvania that was central at the time. Fleeing persecution by anti-Protestant Catholics and the disastrous Thirty Years’ War in Europe, many Europeans emigrated there.

By the 1740s, the new residents had petitioned to establish a new jurisdiction around Reading.  German immigrant Conrad Weiser, a local farmer, real estate speculator, tanner, and merchant, headed the drive.  On March 11, 1752, Berks County was formed from parts of Lancaster, Chester, and Philadelphia Counties.  Weiser would go on to befriend the local Iroquois, negotiate a treaty of friendship between ten neighboring tribes and the European immigrants, and work with Benjamin Franklin establishing a chain of forts to defend against the hostile Lenape tribe.

Two years after Weiser’s success in founding Berks, a geneology tells us, another farming family emigrated to the colonies from Hesse Darmstadt, Germany. Johann Dechert, a man of French Huguenot descent, had tired over the European religious wars.  He sought a better life in the new country, as yet unplagued by constant debates and violence.

The Decherts settled in the Reading area with their son Peter.  When he attained majority, Peter became an innkeeper and married a neighbor, Elizabeth.  The couple had a son whom they named John, after his immigrant grandfather.  Like the well-to-do Porter family in Philadelphia, the Decherts of Reading entered the struggle for American liberty, though their speech still retained its German rasp.

About 40 when revolution broke out, Peter Dechert devoted himself to the cause of freedom in his adopted nation.  He raised an entire company of colonial soldiers to take on the British.  Dechert was officially commissioned their captain on January 5, 1776, under Lt. Col. Lambert Cadwalader.

British attacking Continentals at the battle of Long Island, 1776

The Dechert company served in the first major engagement of the revolution: the campaign on Long Island, where George Washington lost almost a quarter of his entire command in an effort to protect the city of New York.  The colonial forces were forced to retreat.  They evacuated to Manhattan under cover of night, fog, and poor weather, leaving the British to stare at empty trenches the next day.

Three months later, Peter Dechert’s soldiers saw action in defense of the upper reaches of the Hudson.  Between the unreinforced earthwork of Fort Washington on Manhattan and its New Jersey counterpart, Fort Lee, the colonists had sunk a line of obstructions to prevent British ships from passing up the river. The Dechert company joined Col. Robert Magaw’s force of 2,900 at the underdeveloped New York post.

Chill below freezing and high winds marked the beginning of the Fort Washington conflict.  Troops from Generals Washington, Nathaniel  Greene, Putnam, and Mercer attempted to reinforce the small New York contingent, but to little avail.  In an unpleasant surprise, Captain Dechert found himself in battle against one of his father’s Hessian countrymen, General Knyphausen.  A seasoned veteran, Knyphausen served under the command British General Howe.  The irony of Peter Dechert’s situation turned bitter when a deserter with plans of the fort betrayed the Americans.  Amid confusion and bloodshed, Col. Magaw was forced to surrender the garrison.

Over 150 Americans died in this battle.  A huge store of cannon, muskets, and ammunition was lost.  Many of Washington’s men were rendered unfit for duty from sickness or for want of clothes and shoes.  Worse, thousands were captured.  Peter Dechert was one of a hundred officers imprisoned by the British.  About a year later, Dechert received a parole.  He returned to his family and farm near Reading.

John Dechert, Peter and Elizabeth’s son, had kept up the farm during Peter’s absence.  He had also become a local cattle dealer.  John married Deborah Davis, a Quaker, and the couple had five sons and a daughter.  His life ended in mystery, however.  In 1807, John gathered two brothers and two friends and went west to scout for more livestock.  All five men were lost in the wilderness.  Deborah never heard from her husband and brothers-in-law again.

You will now discover the cause of congruence between the Philadelphia family of Washington’s chief engineer and the prosperous band of German immigrant farmers in Reading.  John Dechert’s brother, a lawyer named Elijah, united the Decherts and Porters by marrying Mary Williams Porter.

Like their forebears, Elijah and Mary had a large family.   The first three of eight children were all girls—Sarah, Mary, and Agnes.  Mary died in her youth, and the other two young women moved to Ohio and Connecticut when they married.  Henry Martyn Dechert, born March 11, 1832, was the eldest boy.

Philadelphia Porters and Decherts at the mid-nineteenth century

When Henry Martyn was born, his parents decided to move from Berks County to the former capital city of Philadelphia.  At this time, Philadelphia maintained a concordance of the Quaker, Protestant, and German values of economy, cleanliness, and outspokenness of sentiment. The city was growing ever more quickly with the influx of emigrants from western Europe, especially famine-struck Ireland and Scotch-Irish Ulster, and the African slaves turned freedmen in the north.

Elijah and Mary’s sons Henry and Robert Porter Dechert (namesake of General Andrew Porter’s youthful aide), ten years apart, accompanied them. In Philadelphia, the Decherts rejoined the Porter family.  The Decherts’ move pleased Mary by returning her to her old home and beloved relatives.  With its wealth of opportunities for lawyers, the city suited Elijah as well.  And the cultural richness and opportunities of living at the hub of the young nation enriched the lives of Henry Martyn and his young brother.  The Porter family flourished, with cousin David Rittenhouse Porter being elected governor of Pennsylvania, and another cousin, Mary Todd, marrying Abraham Lincoln, later president of the United States.

Naturally bright and inquisitive, the Dechert boys readily took to city life.  Both received sterling education. Nineteen and unmarried, Robert Porter Dechert attained great prominence in the military.  He rose from private to lieutenant colonel during the Civil War, accompanying General Sherman on his fiery march through Georgia.

Henry Martyn, the older brother, graduated from Yale University at the age of eighteen.  He then spent a few years teaching school near Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  When war divided the states, Henry served as a lieutenant for two years.  During the later days of the national cataclysm, Henry returned from Pottstown to rejoin his family of birth and organize the West Philadelphia Home Guard.  Popularly known as the “Hamilton Rifles,” this unit was called up only once, around the time of the battle of Antietam.

The war between the states began Philadelphia’s period of swift industrial growth.  Vital raw materials such as iron, coal, steel, and oil underwent refinement there and passed through the city to the factories.  Local companies (Baldwin, Cramp) forged steam engines and steam ships.  Railroads—the dominant Pennsylvania, the Reading, the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O)—put down track overnight.  The air, water, and earth were used, used again, and eventually fouled by the wasteful manufacturing of the Industrial Revolution.   By the next century, Philadelphia would come to resemble a gigantic foundry.

After his service and admission to the Bar in Philadelphia, Henry Martyn Dechert married Esther Servoss Taylor. Following the war, Henry settled down to a multiple career in law and banking and title insurance.  After distinguishing himself in the war, brother Robert Dechert, a confirmed bachelor, took up law and politics as well as soldiering.  He served in the Philadelphia City Troop of cavalry and then rose to Brigadier General commanding the Pennsylvania National Guard.  As well as being a state senator from Philadelphia, Robert Porter Dechert was first the city’s assistant district attorney and then the city controller.  In the controller’s race, Dechert prevailed despite the opposite-party sweep in the presidential race for Republican Benjamin Harrison.  Robert thus earned distinction as the last Democrat in Philadelphia to win such an important office until 1933.

The additional stresses of their expanded household prompted Henry Martyn and Esther to look for a larger house.  The couple liked west Philadelphia, where they had been living, because it was a quiet, airy, open haven, free from the frantic growth, the oppression of traffic, the humid summers, and the constant social pressures of the city’s downtown just across the Schuylkill River.  The few roads that existed in west Philadelphia at the time were of packed dirt.   Shade trees were plentiful, and most of the land beyond 41st Street was still farmland.

The Decherts particularly enjoyed the new Victorian Gothic houses on Walnut Street.  Most of them were doubles, which sat well back from the road in keeping with Penn’s plan.  Gas lamps lit the street every night.  Each house had shutters inside and out, with high ceilings, hardwood floors, ample light, bay windows, spacious porches, gardens in the back, and Mansard roofs that allowed an extra story of living space.  Socioeconomically, these houses were precursors to the mid-twentieth-century American single-family house on a tree-shaded lot in the suburbs.

Development had begun to reach west Philadelphia with the Centennial Exposition, a massive world’s fair celebration which took place in 1876.  Having gradually lost its reputation since the nation’s first century as a cultural and commercial hub, the city began to reestablish itself as the country’s techno-capital.  Two years later, Henry Martyn and Esther purchased a new house at 3930 Walnut.

West Philadelphia was key in the city’s technological and industrial conversion.  Science, medicine, and engineering became important exports from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.  Stockyards, meat packers like Swift’s and Armour, and wholesale produce companies began to crowd the land along the west banks of the Schuylkill River.  The Pennsylvania Railroad, unquestioned giant of the economy, built a large interstate passenger terminal at 32nd Street to accommodate Centennial travelers.

Behind a stone wall at 42nd Street, the initial and extensive Pennsylvania hospital for the insane grew up. The hospital was known for a long time as Kirkbride’s in honor of its feisty superintendent, Dr. Thomas S. Kirkbride.  Local citizens were lifetime supporters, and Henry Martyn Dechert presided over the board of the institution for six years. Then Presbyterian Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania each began to build on large tracts of land in the area.  And in the form of horse car trolley lines and railroads, mass transportation—the great enabler—started to connect the area to the rest of the city and its environs.

Henry Martyn and Esther Dechert eventually had four children: Henry Taylor; Bertha; Ellen (who died in her early 20s); and Edward Porter Dechert.  The family grew up in this atmosphere of rapid industrial and social change.  Father Henry eventually became president of Commonwealth Title & Trust, earning himself the dubious honor of being caricatured in the Philadelphia press.

The oldest of the four young Decherts, Henry Taylor elected to attend college and law school at the nearby University of Pennsylvania, known familiarly as “Penn.”  He did well there and was chosen to give the Class Oration in 1879.  Then he obtained both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in law.  Still living at home in the 1880s and working for the small law firm of Melick, Potter and Dechert, Henry Taylor spent a great deal of time emulating his uncle Robert in the ceremonial and social activities of Philadelphia’s First City Troop and the Pennsylvania National Guard.  When the general died, the streets of west Philadelphia were reportedly packed with mourners near Woodlands Cemetery on the Hamilton estate, where he was interred.

A slim, erect man with reddish hair and a small moustache, Henry Taylor Dechert cut a dashing figure in uniform on horseback and clearly enjoyed being a soldier.  Although he practiced law, the military remained an important second career–and perhaps a first mistress–throughout his life.  However, on January 30, 1895, at 36 and five years after his mother Esther’s death, Henry Taylor Dechert finally married.

The new member of the family, Virginia Louise Howard, was a beauty with brown hair, swept back, and dark eyes.  She came from a New Jersey farming family.  Virginia Louise and Henry Taylor Dechert were married in Emanuel Protestant Episcopal Church in the Holmesburg section of Philadelphia, north of the city’s center along the Delaware River.

Copyright (c) 1999-2010 by Sandy Dechert.  Worldwide rights reserved.

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Sound of early winter

First snow on the ground.

Above, cranes whoop, high in vees,

cold beneath gray tatters.


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Mensa Invitational

The Washington Post’s “Mensa Invitational” once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the 2009 winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Barbara Floyd!

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…as he walks the tightrope between populist sentiment and special interest groups?  Insights available later tonight with the State of the Union address.

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