The second day of December is not yet winter, with traces of muted versions of the fall colors lingering, especially in the trees and grass of an old cemetery, almost forgotten. On that date this year, Yang and I finally got to visit the Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Ct. When passing by on the highway, we would always look down on the Victorian Gothic chapel and monuments to those lost in death, leaving us fascinated by its haunting, melancholy beauty. Finally, we managed to make a trip there to explore. We were not disappointed.
Of course, we stopped first in Seymore for tea at Tea with Tracey, where I enjoyed a delicious fig and cherry tea and Yang took pleasure in a nice green tea. The array of tea sandwiches was yummy, and soon we were well fortified for our expedition into the past of Waterbury through its monuments to the passed. The day was appropriate, with grey skies and a nip in the air. As you entered, you are greeted with an exquisite monument to the Elton family. The bronze has turned a soft green, but the female figures flanking either side of the memorial urn are beautifully articulated. On one side is a shrouded figure of grief at death and on the other a hopeful one looking upward serenely. The execution of the figures is graceful and feeling. Interestingly, the handles of the urn are cherubs, somewhat menacing in demeanor. I think it’s kind of neat that the man’s name is John Elton. Reverse the order and you have . . .
You can find the actual grave of the Elton family deeper into the cemetery. Clearly this was one of the leading families of Waterbury in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I heard that there was even a highly regarded Elton Hotel in the town quite some time back. What has happened to them since? I can’t tell you. Perhaps there are some Waterbury historians reading this blog who would like to take that one? I’d love to know!
There were several others who were clearly prominent in the town, indicated by the plaques on their graves or the imposing nature of their monuments. One interesting sort was the Civil War veteran John Lyman Chatfield. This plaque tells the story of his wounding on the battlefield and subsequent death back in Waterbury. The bronze statue of him in uniform further attests to his history as a Civil Warrior. The Chatfield family must have been one with tremendous clout in the city to be able to leave such an imposing monument. Any local historians want to fill us in on more about him?
The Spencer family also must have been amongst the movers and shakers of 19th-century Waterbury. Witness the tall monument with the carefully carved likeness in relief. This guy must have worked awfully hard for his money and position because he does look rather cranky, don’t you think?
Here we have a doctor who must have had a great deal of success and done much good. The description of his work helping children reveals his value to the population. Perhaps that’s likely the reason for the sleeping children on the corners of the face of this elaborate tombstone. They are a little creepy though, don’t you think? I guess that’s why they’re so Victorian, the era of photographing your dead all dressed up to remember them by – if you were upper middle class.
And of course the BPOE was a force to be reckoned with in those days as well. If you were a high-antler and did a lot of good, then you’d certainly be properly memorialized, so check out this monument. I don’t remember of the chap honored here, unfortunately, but I had to get several shots of this elk. How does he compare with the elk in the Edson Cemetery of Lowell’s ? Click here for an earlier blog to make a comparison. The one in Lowell does have the advantage of being cleaned and returned to its original bronze glory. Anyway, I can’t help providing you with several shots of this wonderful statue. It’s so cool how his base is shaped as a rock crag and is set on the hillside, so that he presides over the rolling slopes of the cemetery.
And roll those slopes do! I think navigating that terrain is half the reason the injured ligaments in my knee haven’t healed yet! You notice that geography immediately on entering the cemetery, with mausoleums banking upwards to a bleak late autumn sky, almost as grey as their stone. I want to share images of the slopes of stone rolling through the cemetery, topped with trees whose mostly denuded branches scratch across the grey sky, the grass rusty brown, and an occasional shrub or tree bearing the maroons or dark orange of late fall. Definitely the perfect setting for a mystery or a tale of terror. I just have to work this place into a novel, too!
Of course the statuary revealed the entrancing work of inestimable craftsmen. There were so many haunting statues of women. For example, regard the deep feeling of this woman who guards the entrance to one family’s mausoleum. Is this an actual likeness to a wife or mother of the N.J. Welton family who preserved that family’s secure home? Was the truth of that family portrayed in this woman’s intense devotion, or are any conflicts whitewashed here for posterity?
This statue of woman and child from another branch of the Welton family seems to portray a sad loss. Did mother and child pass when both were young or are they immortalized as eternally young in the next world? The child seems afraid, burying herself in the comforting lap of her mother, who has one arm around her but raises her hand hopefully, while the other holds a book and looks into the beyond. Is she holding the Book of Life or the Bible? Her steadfast stare and gentle but firm hold on her daughter indicates her guidance of her family toward redemption. This seems a statuary representation if the Victorian Angel in the House.
It’s hard to select which other statues to show you, there are so many beautiful, poignant ones, so I’ll try to select the more unique. I was fascinated by the bronze cast of this woman, whose plaque celebrated her firm virtues. The photo doesn’t quite convey how massive the bronze form is. Her hair style, dress, and sandalled feet portray her as a Roman matron. so, clearly, she was a powerful force in her family, devoted to her duties there and preserving them. Again, the book she holds indicates learning and wisdom, though perhaps only in religion if it’s a Bible. More knowledge of the family and this woman might indicate she was actually learned in areas outside the woman’s domestic sphere. Anyone know something of her?
This statue was particularly intriguing, for the base was not a smooth column, but in the shape of a cairn, with the information of the family’s deceased inscribed on the individual stones. I’m fascinated by the creativity of the masons who contributed to the Riverside Cemetery. Their statuary is amongst the most unique I’ve encountered in my explorations of cemeteries.
Now this statuary tremendously intrigued me. Coming upon it from behind, both Yang and I thought it was a spectral figure in a shroud, a figure implying the mystery of the world beyond this. However, as we came around the front of the monument, we realized that what you saw from the front was a partially draped urn. This leads me to wonder if the artist intentionally played with our perceptions, implying the ineffablity of pinning down or defining death. Was he, perhaps, implying our thoughts of ghosts and spirits turn out to be nothing more than dust in a dead stone urn? Or was he implying that perception of death as final dissolution into dust and cold stone was a superficial view that we have to look behind or beyond to accept the mystery of the world beyond? Maybe I just think to much? I was an English professor; it’s an occupational hazard.
I’ll just wrap up with an image that delights me in my most melancholy, Keatsian vein.
Here we are with only two days left to November, closing out autumn. Though the season doesn’t officially end until December 21 or 22, depending on the year, the last day of November always feels like the turn of the page into winter with December 1st. So, I’d like to present you with a blog or two taking a lingering, pleasing look back at the “season of mellow fruitfulness.”
Last year, Yang and I celebrated Halloween during the day with a hike at Colbrook Reservoir in western Mass. Remember how we were in drought status that year? Well, that’s why we not only were able to have a memorable walk along the waterway on an abandoned two-lane paved road, but also could discern parts of the town that had been submerged by the flooding to create the reservoir. We even caught sight of the phantom bridge! This year we sought to repeat our adventure, with hopes of an even more pleasant outing since the weather was so much warmer than last year. Unfortunately, in 2021 we had so much more of something else than last year: Rain!
Last year there was water, shoreline, road, rocks and trees. This year, there was water, rocks, and trees. We were flooded out in both directions of the road from the parking lot. Yang mentioned that we also rode our bikes here the day after Thanksgiving last year; so, I commented that unless we had paddle boats, we weren’t doing any paddling here this year! Disappointed, I still managed to get some nice shots of foliage and water, as you can see. Yang had another idea, which also had been percolating in my head. We hopped in the car and headed just across the nearby border for Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain in Connecticut! (If you want to get a look at what we saw at Colbrook last year, click here for my earlier blog .)
A little on Heublein Tower. Heublein was the third tower to stand on Talcott Mountain, built by German-born, American businessman from Hartford, Gilbert Heublein, While hiking the mountain with his fiancee, he promised her “a castle on a mountain,” keeping his promise after their marriage by constructing this tower. The edifice, which contained bedrooms on all but the pinnacle, a spacious ground-floor living room and foyer, dining room; second floor sun room, an elevator, and a ballroom on the glassed-in top floor was completed by 1929. Here, the Heubleins relaxed in their summer home, inviting guests and holding events that drew the cream of Hartford’s social crop. Heublein died in 1937, with his building falling out of use until bought in 1943 by The Hartford Times. Once again, it became the place to be for social events with celebrities of the era in attendance, including Tallulah Bankhead! Eventually, it was let slide by the Times and nearly bought by developers, until saved by the group Save Talcott Mountain. Now the mountain and the Tower are open to the public for hiking and viewing, as the area has become a state park. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy nature and some unique architecture. For more details on the Tower and the park, click here for the web site.
Hiking up the mountain isn’t too bad a hike at all. There are several trails to get to the Tower. The most popular one is a little steep at first, through autumn woods, but there are benches along the way if you’re out of shape and need a rest. We were in good enough shape not to! Then, you come out of the woods and onto a ridge overlooking the valley below. The view along this ridge is wonderful, and you might even see a hawk as we did! Some great overlooks.
The Tower itself is quite a treat! This old photo shows what the foyer and living room originally looked like. My shot lets you see an updated in-color version. The furnishings have been carefully assembled to approximate the style and taste of the original era. Though I’m not sure I would have wanted a big deer head on my wall, I would have loved to relax before that fireplace in a comfy chair or to play card games with friends on a crisp fall evening, with coffee or tea and scones for sustenance. And how about this nook by the window that looks out over a gorgeous mountain landscape, cascading fall colors into the valley below? How’s that for having breakfast or an afternoon tea? I wonder what flavor that cake is on the table?
Or maybe I’d take tea, solo or with companions, on this wonderful sun porch, warm with solar emanations? Could also be a great place to settle down and read or listen to the radio programs back in the day. And the view from up here ain’t bad, either.
How about some of those bedrooms? Not necessarily luxurious, but roomy enough. Plenty of sunlight during the day, should you wish to retire here. Pleasant, if not elaborate, decor. But you’re on a rustic retreat, so who needs frills? Though this set up is far from camping on the cold, hard New England bedrock. And, oh, those views when you get up in the morning! Imagine the rising sun setting aflame these fall colors!
One of the most interesting parts of the Tower is the observation deck. Originally, this area was known as the ballroom, as you can see from this old image of the earlier set up. Wouldn’t it be grand to dance away the evening on these hard wood floors? It could be a real Stardust Ballroom, with the twinkling lights of the darkened heavens glittering through the tall windows of all four sides of the room. Of course, you’d have to move away all that furniture. Great place for a big party!
Yet there’s no need to wait for evening to fall in love with the observation deck. During the day, you get views for miles, across Connecticut and into Massachusetts – an especially fine sight in the autumn, when the hills burst with colors. Feast your eyes!
Finally, returning to the first floor, towards the rear of the building, you find the formal dining room, gorgeous in wood paneling, dark wood furniture, marble fireplace, exquisite Persian rug, elegant china and cutlery, and painted medallion above the fireplace. How about the gorgeous beamed ceilings? It’s fun to notice that the door to the butler’s pantry is hidden in the shape of the paneling on one side of the fireplace, while a closet is similarly hidden on the other. Light pours in the windows.
Now, I ask you, would this not be the perfect setting for a mystery? This is how the UConn campus at Avery Point inspired me for Always Play the Dark Horse. So, how should we work this? Jessica and James are invited for a weekend by the owner, a mysterious sort who seems to know more about them than they about him or her? Or maybe it is someone they know, or think they do. Should guests start dropping like flies over a dinner in that elegant dining room? Should Jessica settle down to a quiet read on the sun porch, only to be interrupted by a figure sailing past to his/her death below? Should Liz also be on hand? What do you think?
The first day of October, Yang and I journeyed to Windsor Locks for one of our favorite bicycle trails. It’s shorter than many of the ones we ride (about 9 miles round trip); however, the surrounding trees, along the Connecticut River on one side and the canal on the other, provided plenty of natural beauty-including natural habit for lots of interesting critters.
We wanted to make sure we got in a ride before too late in the season because the trail officially closes from November to April while the resident bald-eagle couple nest and raise their young. Sometimes they nest earlier than usual, so we lose out on a fall ride. The swift-flowing Connecticut River on one side and its attendant canal on the other provide them with plenty of fish and other tasty treats. As this picture shows, the nest is close enough to the trail for the eagles to be disturbed by passersby. Anyway, take a gander at that nest. Enormous, isn’t it?
As we started off at the trail head, I noticed that the lock gate had been held open by a log washed down into the canal. All the recent rain must have swollen the river so that it drove much debris down river and some over the dam to the canal. You can still see the canal wending beyond and banked by trees that we later found filled with Cedar Waxwings, Chickadees, Robins, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Those warblers must get some teasing with a name like that. Yet that rump is a lovely bight shade of yellow! Not my photo, though. The little guys move way to fast for us to photograph! This was my first ever sighting!
Here’s how the trail looked as we were starting off. You can see the leaves subtly shifting from green to soft autumn yellow. At the beginning of the trail, they created an almost chilly canopy, but not too cold. It was a gorgeous, sunny fall day, with bright sunlight and a soft blue sky. The perfect day for a bicycle ride! There were also hints of red sumac and orange maple splashing through the green and yellow, creating beautiful early-autumn accents. You can see the river and the opposite bank through the trees as well. Don’t these berries also add a wonderful dash of contrasting color?
Those berries were not only attractive to us! We saw fleets of Cedar Waxwings dashing from tree to tree, hopping about to snack on these and other berries. They are one of Yang’s favorite birds with their slick buff-colored feathers, crests, triangular black masks, and bright yellow borders on their tails. Apparently, these guys may sometimes feast on berries that have fermented, and then you never know who might stagger about the trees! Again, they moved way too fast and were too distant for us to take pictures. However, as with the Yellow-rumped Warblers, our trusty binoculars gave us a nifty view of them, even if we couldn’t capture them on film. Fortunately this site did.
We did see lots of neat critters that day, though we couldn’t always get a shot for one reason or another. I did get this picture of a beaver’s den on the bank of the opposite side of the canal. There were at least two of three of them along the way. Apparently the beavers are starting a development here. We also saw a majestic Great Blue Heron on the canal banks opposite, lots of Mallard’s hanging out, turtles basking in the sun on logs, and even a Cormorant scanning for fish from a dead tree extruding into the canal.
There was another neat creature whom I barely avoided hitting with my bike as he was stretched across the road.
Trigger warning- and I’m not referring to Roy Rogers’ horse- if you’re askeerd of SNAKES, scroll right past this paragraph.
I thought this guy was pretty cool! He extended nearly half way across the road, even semi-coiled. I think this is similar to one we saw in the marsh on the Kingston, RI trail. Is it a black snake? He seemed to just chill for a bit while Yang and I watched him, then WHOOSH! he was across the road, down the bank, and headed for water. I bet he’s glad that the eagles aren’t back yet, because they find guys like him pretty tasty.
I thought that now I’ll just drop some lovely images from the trail on you. Isn’t it beautiful the way the canal reflects the changing colors in the trees and brush?
I love this image of the power lines extending to a tower across the river. You can see some of the changing colors in the plantation and the beauty of the river and the soft blue skies dashed with clouds, their white shadowed with slatey blue.
I love the way the bitter-sweet-yellow leaves and softening greenery embrace and curve about the rusty maroon of the railroad bridge here.
There’s almost a Lovecraftian touch to the exposed roots of ancient trees snaking through and over the red rock on the other side of the canal- as if they were something sentient. Heh, heh, heh.
SNAKE TRIGGER WARNING AGAIN!
“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DemIlle!”
Yellow-rumped Warbler: https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/yellow-rumped-warbler
Part Three: Always Play the Dark Horse
The ground may be covered with snow right now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Yang and I had an autumn day at the beach. Of course, it was kind of a gothic day at the beach because we were visiting one of the famous Five Ruins of Connecticut, The Aquinas Retreat at Charles Island.
We hadn’t planned on starting the grand tour, but our love of ruins has already taken us to two of the locations in the set. I posted our earlier visit to Hearthstone Castle in Danbury, CT. So, that Sunday afternoon, we trekked down to Milford, CT to finally get the chance to travel the tombolo out across the bay to
the island. This trip had been on our agenda for years, but getting to the island is no easy feat – not because of reefs, pirates, or sea monsters, though. The ocean only subsides from the tombolo during low tide and this land path is only dry and clear enough when the moon and sun exert their strongest gravitational pull. On top of that, colonies of egrets and cranes nest on the island from April until September, so the Wildlife Service has deemed Charles Island off limits during that time.
There’s a legend about the island holding Captain Kidd’s hidden treasure, but the treasure we found were beautiful ocean scenes and fun walking and exploring the edges of the island that has a circumference of a bout a mile. The going could be a bit rocky and uneven when you start out counterclockwise, but you get to enjoy the gorgeous ocean bay as much as do the lounging cormorants.
Then there are the ruins of the Aquinas Retreat Center. Not many extensive ruins to find. Built in 1929 by the Dominican Fathers as a lay retreat, it was abandoned by 1938. Perhaps storms or difficult access for supplies undermined its success. At this point, there are barely the scraps of stone and mortar outlines left to some out buildings and small towers.
There was also one lovely archway. I wonder if this structure could be the remains of an entrance to a chapel or shrine.
This space must have been a wonderful location for contemplation and communing with God through nature amidst the calls of wild birds, the surge of waves, and the rush of wind.
We also saw some nice smaller birds on the island. Yang got a great shot of an Eastern Kingbird.
And while I was watching birds, Yang was watching me!
It was such a lovely, warm and sunny fall afternoon. There were families and young and old couples, also making the circuit of the island, but never so many you’d feel crowded – and the cormorants didn’t seem to mind.
Say, what do you think of this place for setting a mystery novel? In the 1860s, there was resort here. Maybe Jessica and James need a vacation, or Liz needs a retreat – Naagh, no shopping!