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The beloved Princeton Children’s Book Festival returns on Saturday, October 8 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Princeton Public Library and Hinds Plaza. This largely outdoor, in-person event brings together some of the most popular children’s book authors and illustrators, giving families the opportunity to meet their children’s favorite storybook creators. Book sales for the event will be available from jaZams in downtown Princeton. Authors and illustrators will be available to sign personalized copies and describe some of the details and inspirations behind their books. more

On October 15 from 12 to 4 p.m., join Washington Crossing Historic Park for an Autumn Market and Encampment, a chance to travel back in time and experience life in a Revolutionary War camp.

Costumed Colonial townspeople will gather at the marketplace to show off their crafting skills and goods. Soldiers will also be on-site to drill and perform 18th century military tactics, and the fife and drum corps will stage performances throughout the day. With crafts, cooking demonstrations, and one-on-one interactions with Colonial reenactors, it’s a great opportunity to enjoy a fall day outdoors with the entire family. more

The 2022 Surf & Turf Seafood Festival at Monmouth Park will take place on Saturday and Sunday, August 13 and 14 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Presented by 107.1 The Boss, Thunder 106, and Kona Brewing, the Jersey Shore’s freshest seafood festival features lobster rolls, crab cakes, calamari, and more. Expect live music from 12 to 4 p.m. and lots of family friendly activities and entertainment. Participating food vendors include Cousins Maine Lobster, Four Boys Concessions, Kiersten’s Creations, Highway Ohana, Sherri’s Crab Cakes, Point Lobster, Green Dog Mobile, Playa Bowls, Star of the Sea Seafood, Sweetpepper Venezuelan Specialties, L’Acquario Seafood Italiano, and Wild Bill’s Old Fashioned Soda. more

On Sunday, October 30 at 3 p.m., Jaws, the original summer blockbuster film with the Academy Award-winning score by John Williams, will be performed at State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick by New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

Directed by Academy Award-winner Steven Spielberg, Jaws set the standard for edge-of-your-seat suspense, quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon that forever changed the movie industry. more

Image Credit: War “Hello” Girls, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

On Thursday, August 3 at 6:30 p.m., join Monmouth University Professor and former U.S. Army Fort Monmouth Command Historian Melissa Ziobro for a talk on how the U.S. Army Signal Corps employed women as telephone switchboard operators during WWI. The “Hello Girls” worked long hours to ensure battlefield communications. Their chief operator, Grace Banker, hailed from New Jersey. After the war, the women fought for veteran status, and they are being considered for a Congressional Gold Medal today. more

It’s all about peaches at Terhune Orchards’ Annual Just Peachy Festival on Saturday and Sunday, August 6 and 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Partake in the summer bounty with a full weekend of family fun. Try peach treats in the form of fresh fruit, icy drinks, and crumble pie while the kids visit with the farm animals and play on the tractors. Hands-on aspects include the Discovery Barn and Junior Mechanics Barn.  more

Join Beast Coast Productions on September 18 for the first annual Mercer County Half Marathon. This is a USATF 13.1-mile course that traverses farmland and quiet roads throughout the community of Robbinsville. Slightly rolling hills and a few turns will encourage fast race times and an enjoyable course. The race chip will be timed, and acclaimed Beast Pacers will be on-site to assist with timing all finishers.  more

Every Wednesday in August from 8 to 9 a.m., Bowman Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pa. will host relaxing and restorative outdoor yoga sessions led by Priscilla Hayes. Hayes is a Preserve volunteer naturalist as well as a certified yoga teacher in the art of gentle yoga, which aims to build body awareness, flexibility, and strength. Holding the class outdoors adds another element for participants, enabling them to better disconnect from technology and reconnect to the sounds and rhythms of the summer season.  more

(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

From the Casual to the Chic

By Wendy Greenberg

“There are few things so pleasant as a picnic eaten in perfect comfort.”
– W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge, 1943

When cookbook author Mary Abitanto eats al fresco, she appreciates both the landscape and the escape.

“A picnic to me is a chance to become grounded in the literal and figurative sense,” she says. “You become engulfed by the beauty of nature’s landscape and awaken your sense of smell (fragrant flowers, ocean breezes), sense of sound (birds chirping, ocean waves crashing), and taste (yummy picnic food).”

Abitanto calls it an “awe-inspiring backdrop that we cannot find anywhere else except in nature’s midst.”

Think Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass or The Picnic, or Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Eating outdoors enjoyed a renaissance during the pandemic as socializing moved mostly outside. Even now, shared outdoor meals remain a go-to social event, an experience that can be casual or upscale.

The modern picnic is accessible to all levels of merriment and communing, keeping in mind food safety and environmental responsibility, along with a great culinary experience, and a delightful view. (It has also become a popular Instagram opportunity.)

“Picnicking has become a popular trend,” says Suzette Louis-Jacques, a luxury picnic planner at La TAS Events in Somerset County. She said it started before the pandemic in the U.S. South and on the West Coast, and had been pivoting to the Northeast.

Louis-Jacques adds that “picnics are not for everyone,” so she discusses personal taste with the picnic-goer. “You want to plan it out,” she says.

Whether the emphasis is on the food or the mood, there are choices to be made: what food to bring, how complex a meal, and location. Additionally, we might think about how to reduce food waste, and, perhaps just for fun, step up our accoutrements: there are some pretty amazing backpacks that include glasses, utensils, blankets, and much more. more

Confronting the rising tide of plastic waste, Susan Hockaday and her family fill the world with music, art, design, adventure, and good chemistry

By Ilene Dube | Photography by Andrew Wilkinson

Several years ago, artist Susan Hockaday was invited by First Lady Tammy Murphy to exhibit her fine art photographs of plastic detritus at Drumthwacket, the official residence of the governor of New Jersey. Hockaday has photographed the non-biodegradable remains of our civilization from all vantage points: flying overhead with a pilot friend; weaving in and out of old ship skeletons in a boat graveyard in Arthur Kill, the tidal strait between Staten Island and New Jersey (“I never had more fun, it was like being 16 years old,” she said); under water at Cape Breton Island; and on tabletop tableaus in her studio.

“Soft petaled flowers, weathered branches, polished stones, and shells blend with man-made objects,” Murphy wrote in the accompanying exhibition catalog. “Yet, upon closer inspection, a menacing struggle disrupts the ostensibly harmonious scene. Plastic containers, twisted bits of rope, and nets slowly entwine and strangle their organic counterparts.”

Why is the artist obsessed with plastic waste?

“Plastic has now bonded with biology,” Hockaday writes on her website, referring to the Great Garbage Patches of plastics in our oceans. “Plastic has become my symbol of climate change, of a planet being overwhelmed by millions of destructive changes in the rhythms of nature.” Whether working in drawing, etching, photograms, papermaking, or photography, she has, over the decades, focused on the unruliness in nature.

While putting together the show for the Princeton-based Drumthwacket Foundation, Hockaday welcomed the curator on a studio visit to her Hopewell home, a refurbished barn that — in contrast to unruly nature — is elegantly appointed with a George Nakashima dining table, Hans Wegner chairs, Eero Saarinen chaise, Charles Webb sofa, and George Nelson lamps. As the two were chatting, Hockaday observed a snake clinging to the stone fireplace surround.

Ever resourceful, she donned a pair of rubber gloves, seized the reptile, heaved it outside into the woods, and shut the door. “Barns are notoriously permeable,” Hockaday calmly stated during a recent interview. “Animals are continuously trying to get back inside and sometimes succeed. I took off the gloves, and we never talked about it. She was a really nice person. We felt a teeny bit embarrassed.”

The story illustrates both the artist’s embrace of the natural world, its unruliness, and her fortitude in dealing with its intrusions. more

Meet “Coach,” Princeton University’s Therapy Dog, and Her Devoted Handler

By Taylor Smith | Photo by Puppies Behind Bars 

Sgt. Alvan Flanders has worked in the Department of Public Safety (DPS) at Princeton University for over 25 years, which spans his entire law enforcement career. “I love it here. I love the town, I love Princeton,” he said.

Typically, the role of the DPS is to police the campus, aiding in general security and supporting the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff alike. At times, the DPS has developed mixed reviews and reactions from college students who see them as strictly law enforcers, but the introduction of a therapy dog named Coach has changed all of that.

A black female Labrador retriever with a shiny coat and sparkling eyes, Coach was “matched” with Flanders through a rigorous program he attended at Puppies Behind Bars (puppiesbehindbars.com). Flanders learned of Puppies Behind Bars through a contact at Yale University, which also incorporated a therapy dog into their on-campus DPS services.

Puppies Behind Bars (PBB), based in New York City, was founded in 1997 at the Bedford Hills Women’s Prison to raise and train service dogs for aid in law enforcement. The program gradually expanded into training dogs for other lines of service such as veterans suffering from PTSD, first responders, therapy dogs for police departments, and an explosive-detection canine program. The first service dog paired with an Iraq War veteran took place in February 2008. more

Immersive Learning in an Inspiring Setting

By Laurie Pellichero | Photos courtesy of Peters Valley School of Craft

Located within the scenic Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area in Sussex County, just under two hours from Princeton, the Peters Valley School of Craft is a haven for artists from across the country and around the globe. Formerly known as Peters Valley Craftsmen, it was established in 1970 in partnership with the National Park Service to promote and encourage education and excellence in craft.

Each May through October, the nonprofit offers a wide range of immersive learning experiences in unique studio-based settings. Its programs include adult summer workshops, youth programs, opportunities for artists, public exhibitions in the campus gallery, artist residencies, demonstrations, and community outreach.

Peters Valley focuses on eight disciplines: blacksmithing, ceramics, fiber surface design, fiber structure, fine metals, photography, special topics (glass, printmaking, and mixed media), and woodworking. More than 125 intensive two- to five-day workshops are offered each year.

Workshops were presented virtually during the pandemic, with participation from all over the world.  “Our audience grew — the word got out,” says Executive Director Kristin Muller, who adds that they are very excited to be back to in-person workshops. “Enrollment has been very strong, and our programs are growing.”

The school’s facilities are in what was once the farm village of Bevans. Through adaptive reuse, the historic buildings in the rural, wooded setting now serve as studios and dormitories for this unique community of artists. The Peters Valley Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. more

A Safe Haven For Nearly A Century

By Anne Levin | Photos courtesy of Princeton Nursery School

In a colorful classroom lined with child-size desks, bookshelves, and cozy nooks, nap time is coming to a close. Sleepy-eyed 3- and 4-year-olds are beginning to stir on their mats. As soft music plays in the background, their teacher sets out afternoon snacks of apple slices and peanut butter.

It is a ritual that has likely been repeated, at this preschool on Leigh Avenue, for nearly a century. Housed in two simple buildings converted into one, Princeton Nursery School has been a mainstay of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood since 1929. It was founded by a wealthy Princeton resident, Margaret Matthews-Flinsch, to help working mothers who desperately needed a place for their preschool-aged children to go during the day. As the story goes, Flinsch was motivated to act when she discovered that her laundress was locking her child in the servants’ quarters while she worked.

Matthews-Flinsch persuaded her wealthy friends to contribute. The idea was not only to provide affordable child care, but to also give the children a preschool experience following the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, encouraging development of the whole child.

From its inception, the school was integrated — unlike elsewhere in Princeton, where elementary schools remained segregated until 1948. That posed a challenge.

“The late John Matthews spoke of the difficulty his cousin Margaret experienced in obtaining funding for the school because of its integrated student body,” wrote Wendy Cotton, a former executive director of the school, in a letter to Town Topics newspaper in 2015. “Margaret’s parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Paul Matthews, and many of their friends provided financial support to the school.” more

A scene from “The Gilded Age.” The show, which depicts upper-class life in 1882 New York, often is distinguished by lavishly decorated sets and opulent costumes. (Courtesy of HBO)

How Rutgers Professor Erica Armstrong Dunbar Helped Shape HBO’s Hit Series

By Donald H. Sanborn III

HBO’s popular period drama The Gilded Age depicts the late-19th century conflict between Manhattan’s old-money elite and the nouveau riche robber barons.

Created and written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, The Gilded Age also explores the Black elite, as well as the domestic workers who tend to the needs of the wealthy.

One of the central protagonists is Peggy Scott (portrayed by Denée Benton), an aspiring African American writer and journalist who works as a secretary for old-money socialite Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski). A story arc of the first season concerns Peggy’s stormy relationship with her father, successful pharmacist Arthur Scott (John Douglas Thompson); and her mother, Dorothy (Audra McDonald). Peggy also has an uneasy friendship with Agnes’ niece, the well-meaning but naïve Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson).

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the Charles and Mary Beard Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University’s School of Arts and Sciences, is a co-executive producer of The Gilded Age. An article about Dunbar’s work on the series, published on the Rutgers website, notes that she “made sure the show — which debuted January 24 — also brought to life authentic characters of color who too often have been reduced to stereotypes or entirely overlooked in media portrayals of American history.”

“You can’t tell the story of The Gilded Age without thinking about, or examining, the Black elite,” Dunbar comments in The Black Elite, an HBO featurette for the series. “We have this generation of men and women who are born without enslavement as a reality. And so, as this new sort of generation of men and women come of age, communities of the Black elite develop. It was a moment of opportunity.”

Dunbar continues in the documentary, “When we think about a Peggy, a young woman who is educated, she is representative of this new generation of Black men and women who wrestle with ideas about injustice — who don’t accept those ideas as unchangeable … if we don’t show the story of Black triumph, of Black joy, alongside trials, tribulation, violence even — then we don’t have a complete picture.”

In addition to her work on The Gilded Age, Dunbar is the author of several books, including She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman (2019), Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge (2017), and A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City (2008). In 2011 she became the inaugural director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, and she has been the national director of the Association of Black Women Historians since 2019. more

By Stuart Mitchner

It’s a stretch, but you could say that Princeton University paid for my son’s birth while I was helping Alexander Leitch deliver the first Princeton Companion to Princeton University Press. In that sense, the Companion godfathered my son. And since Robert K. Durkee’s The New Princeton Companion reports that the Press was founded in 1905 with a loan from Charles Scribner II (Class of 1885), you could also say that Scribners — the publisher of Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway — godfathered (or godparented) the Press.

In 1911 Scribner gave land, an endowment, and a Collegiate Gothic building modeled on Antwerp, Belgium’s Plantin-Moretus Museum. A drawing of the courtyard entrance is featured on the cover of A Century in Books: Princeton University Press 1905-2005, which highlights 100 of the then-nearly 8,000 books it had published, from Albert Einstein’s The Meaning of Relativity (1922) to George Kennan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Russia Leaves the War (1956) and Robert Shiller’s Irrational Exuberance (2000).

A Centenary Echo

In 1922, at a time when the author of Moby Dick was still on the road to rediscovery, the Press published a limited first edition of Herman Melville’s John Marr and Other Poems, which receives a centenary echo in Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times (Princeton $32) by Cornell professor of history and American studies Aaron Sachs. According to a press release, “Mumford helped spearhead Melville’s revival in the aftermath of World War I and the 1918–1919 flu pandemic, when American culture needed a forebear with a suitably dark vision. As Mumford’s career took off and he wrote books responding to the machine age, urban decay, world war, and environmental degradation, it was looking back to Melville’s confrontation with crises such as industrialization, slavery, and the Civil War that helped Mumford to see his own era clearly.” In a starred review, Kirkus calls the book “an incisive homage to the continuing relevance of two towering writers.” more

Map of Mercer County, New Jersey relief shown by hachures, left. Includes names of property owners. Otley, J. W. – Keily, James. 1849. (Library of Congress)

The Bygone Hamlet with a Colorful Past and Charming Presence

By Wendy Greenberg

Neighborhoods come and go, and if we are lucky, they leave remnants and memories. In the case of Queenston, which was centered at Nassau and Harrison streets, the hamlet has blended into its surroundings, and is now seamlessly part of Princeton.

But some 250 years ago, Queenston, or Jugtown as it was also called, was a settlement all its own. It comes alive through oral and written history as a place that influenced what Princeton is today.   

“Lost in the glamor enveloping Princeton University is the fact that there once existed within the present limits of the university town a separate community called Jugtown — named for the primitive pottery operated by the Horner family, the first settlers, from 1765 until 1856,” says Old Princeton’s Neighbors, a 1939 publication of the Federal Writers Project.

“Jugtown as a political entity no longer exists although it continues to contribute more than its share of officials to Princeton. But the peaceful charm and dignity of the old community live on. Under its ancient trees and its mellowed houses, historic and unsung, lingers many a tale,” notes the publication. more

The Somerset County 4-H returns on August 10 through 12 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at North Branch Park in Bridgewater. The largest under tent 4-H fair this side of the Mississippi, the Somerset County 4-H is a celebration of New Jersey’s agricultural spirit and heritage. Like any true fair, this one includes mouthwatering food, live music, local artists, go-karts, exhibits, and large and small animal contests.  more