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Holiday Posts from Bricks + Mortar

Christmas at the Biltmore


The Biltmore

The Biltmore, America’s largest house, is lavishly decorated for the holidays each year. The 250-room French Renaissance chateau took six years and 1,000 men to build and is a National Historic Landmark open to the public today.  It takes a staff of 1,800 over a month to light and decorate over 100 Christmas trees, hang 10,000 feet of fresh garland, miles of ribbon and hang thousands of ornaments for the more than 300,000 visitors that visit during the holiday season… [read more]

A Christmas Story House


Screenshot of the house in A Christmas Story. Image via A Christmas Story House

This holiday season, Best Buy featured the house from the 1983 classic A Christmas Story in one of it’s commercials.  I’ve never actually seen the entire movie from start to finish, but I’ve seen each scene (out of order, backwards and forwards) probably hundreds upon hundreds of times.  (Ours is one of those families that turns on TBS’s A Christmas Story marathon on Christmas Eve and doesn’t turn it off until every present is unwrapped and every treat eaten on Christmas Day.  It is the soundtrack to our entire holiday! And I’m happy to report that when it comes to A Christmas Story trivia,  I’m the reigning office champ!)  So when I saw the commercial, I was intrigued by the preservation effort, to say the least.  I did a little Googling and discovered that the project is really quite interesting – and not a preservation effort at all.  And although the nugget of my heart that is devoted to A Christmas Story is delighted, the big huge preservationist chunks of my heart are cringing and appalled! … [read more]

A National Trust Christmas


Hall fireplace at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire. Image via The National Trust

The National Trust works to preserve and protect the coastline, countryside and buildings of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Incorporated in 1894, The National Trust is one of the largest landowners in the United Kingdom. It owns and operates heritage properties, including historic houses and gardens, industrial monuments and social history sites, most of which are open to the public free of charge.  During the holiday season, the Trust opens many of its most important homes and landscapes for special events including visits from Santa, decorating and cooking workshops, Dickens readings and concerts… [read more]

Four Unusual Traditions for the Fourth of July

There are plenty of traditions associated with the Fourth of July:  fireworks, parades, family barbeques.  Here are four unusual celebrations that have been shaped by their unique locations!

1. Coney Island: Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest


Image via Things to See NYC

For nearly 100 years, Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand in Coney Island, Brooklyn has celebrated the nation’s independence by sponsoring a hot dog eating contest. Upon closer examination, the tradition is more patriotic that it seems. Legend has it that the first contest was held in 1916, in order to settle a dispute between four immigrants as to who was the most patriotic.

2. Murrell’s Inlet, SC: Parade of Boats


Murrell’s Inlet Hooked on Freedom. Image via Fun Beaches

What is a community to do when its waterways are more popular transportation corridors than Main Street?  Take the Independence Day Parade to the creek, of course! In Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina they give parade float a more literal meaning! Boats are festooned in red, white and blue then paraded down the local creek to the cheers of spectators lining the  shores.

3.  New England Salmon
In New England, the tradition of eating salmon on the Fourth of July is as old as the US.  According to legend,  Abigail Adams served up the dish to John Adams on the first 4th of July in 1776! The tradition stuck because the date coincided with schools of salmon swarming New England rivers midsummer.  Unfortunately Atlantic salmon are on the decline, forcing New Englanders to source their favorite patriotic dish elsewhere. Luckily,  the tradition lives on, along with the peas and new potatoes (also in season) served alongside it.

4. Grave Yard Cleaning Off and Potluck


I didn’t have a photo of our family gathering handy, but this is the family cemetery courtesy of Google Maps.

While the beautification of family graves may seem like more of a Memorial Day activity to most, my family gathers at the  cemetery every Fourth of July.  The family cemetery is a smallish affair nestled in the woods of Pennyrile Forest, a Kentucky state park that abuts the property line of the former family farm.  Everyone gathers in the coolness of the morning to put fresh flowers on the graves of loved ones and ancestors.  By the time the midday heat has reached its zenith, everyone is gathered in the shade of the trees eating down home dishes in lawn chairs, catching up on news and gossip and swapping old tales. Despite doing this all my life, it is still feels pretty strange (if not a little morbid) to have a picnic among the graves of my ancestors.  But what can you do? It’s tradition…

So how does your community or family celebrate? Have any unusual traditions of your own? Share in the comments!

The Sedgwick Pie


The Sedgwick Pie in Strockbridge Massachusetts. Image via Wikipedia

The preservation of cemeteries/monuments is not something I know very much about, but there is an entire cadre of preservationists out there who are dedicated and incredibly enthusiastic about this subject.  Thanks to them, I’m slowly learning more and more about the topic and find my own enthusiasm growing.  Because, as Sunny Townes Stewart recently wrote regarding her latest experience with this type of work,

Being in an old building is in many ways a spiritual experience for me, but I think graveyard work is perhaps even more meaningful. Historic graveyards, in particular, are powerful places, and they are poignant reminders of the fragility of life. Feeling the love of the dead’s survivors, literally etched into the stone, and doing this kind of work preserves what might be the only lasting legacy of a person’s life is a rewarding task, indeed.

I think it is the idea that in preserving a grave monument you might be preserving “the only lasting legacy of a person’s life,” that really resounds with me.  Let’s face it, we won’t all go down in history.  After all the people who love us and do remember us  also die, all that will be left is a stone with our name and dates on it (and of course all of the internet and phone records the US government is collecting and storing ha!). But really, for those who aren’t famous, not much is left of our story. Not to be maudlin or anything!

Moving on!  In light of this burgeoning (if not a little lachrymose) interest, I wanted to share with you an incredibly unique burial plot I recently learned about – The Sedgwick Pie.  (I would like to tell you I discovered the Sedgwick Pie while pursuing something high-minded, but really I clicked on a random link having to do with Hollywood stars with roots in  Colonial America or something equally ridiculous!*)

The Sedgwick Pie, which takes its name from its unusual shape, developed in the early 19th century in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  Located at the back of Stockbridge Cemetery, it is a series of concentric circles, all ringing a common pair of ancestors. At the center are the graves of Theodore Sedgwick, family patriarch and a justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and his wife, Pamela Dwight Sedgwick.  At their feet, buried in a circle around them are their seven children. The children of those children are buried around them and so on for SIX generations.  The pie also includes in-laws, servants, and family pets all grouped by family affiliation.


Diagram of the Sedgwick Pie. Image via

And if that wasn’t enough, the buried are laid to rest with their feet toward the center. Traditionally (at least at Stockbridge Cemetery), graves are oriented to the east – the direction of the rising sun, Jerusalem, and the Resurrection.  So the joke is that when the Sedgwicks rise on Judgement Day, they will only have to see other Sedgwicks!

Beyond the kooky-ness factor of the Sedgwick Pie, I really like this funereal anomaly because it tells a story. There is a bigger picture here than a single grave with a headstone. By choosing to be buried in this manner, it is obvious that these Sedgwicks (as not every descendent has chosen to be laid to rest here) value their family and tradition.  And not just that, they value their traditions above others. They don’t mind hanging out for eternity eschewing the traditions of the majority (feet facing east? pshaw!)  just doing their own thing with their own peeps.

So I guess the lesson here  is if you aren’t famous and you are afraid of being forgotten, make sure you’re buried in an unusual way?  Have you seen other unusual burial plots? Or tombstones?  Share in the comments!

*It was Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer, Something to Talk About, Phenomenon) that was the Hollywood star with Colonial roots. Also there was Edie (who is not buried in the pie, unfortunately). And there are a whole host of other famous Sedgwicks (authors, lawyers, politicians) as well.

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.


SC Johnson Frank Lloyd Wright Research Tower – The Journal Times


SC Johnson Headquarters Research Tower. Image via SC Johnson

“SCJ is currently in the middle of an eight-year, $30 million restoration and conservation plan.  ‘Our family’s long partnership with Frank Lloyd Wright led to these architectural treasures that we’re honored to work in every day,’ company President and CEO Fisk.  Johnson said Friday via email. ‘The Research Tower represents the completion of the work that Wright began here in the mid-1930s with our Administration Building.  As we have made significant investments in these historic buildings and expanded our free public tour program, including the Tower was the natural next step.'”

Locally Owned Businesses Can Help Communities Thrive and Survive Climate Change – The Grist

“Cities where small, locally owned businesses account for a relatively large share of the economy have stronger social networks, more engaged citizens, and better success solving problems, according to several recently published studies.  And in the face of climate change, those are just the sort of traits that communities most need if they are to survive massive storms, adapt to changing conditions, find new ways of living more lightly on the planet, and, most important, nurture a vigorous citizenship that can drive major changes in policy.”

Never Altered Modern in Cali to be Demolished – Curbed Los Angeles


[Photograph courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions; original photograph by Julius Shulman of the J. R. Davidson Kingsley residence, to be sold with the corresponding lot on Sunday, May 19, 2013]

“On Sunday, Los Angeles Modern Auctions is selling off the custom-built furniture from the Kingsley Residence in Pacific Palisades, designed by JR Davidson, the underrated architect who designed three houses for the Case Study House program (Numbers 1, 11, and 15). Why? Because the 1947 house has recently sold and the new owner is planning to demolish it very, very soon, according to the seller (members of the Kingsley family). Boo! Hiss! According to a LAMA press release, this is “One of the last remaining Davidson houses in its original form … The Kingsley residence was never altered in terms of the structure, and aside from minor updates by the architect in the 1950s, the interior of the home remained almost identical to the [Julius] Shulman photographs for over 60 years.”

Boom or Bust? Saving Rhode Island’s ‘Superman’ Building – NPR


“The iconic Industrial Trust Tower, knows as the “Superman building,” stands in downtown Providence, R.I. The art deco-style skyscraper, the tallest in the state, lost its last tenant when the bank’s lease expired in April.”

“In Rhode Island, the issue [shrinking revenues, lost jobs and general economic malaise]has come to a head around the future of the once-iconic Industrial Trust Tower, or, as it is known more affectionately, the Superman building — named for its resemblance to the building the Man of Steel leaped “in a single bound” in the . The building is empty for the first time in 85 years, and casts a shadow over a city struggling to reinvent its economy.”

Repurposing Streets with No Name – Rustwire

“In a number of cities, there are certain derelict streets that are nearly denuded of dwellings or businesses. Desolate and forlorn, these streets resemble something out of a post war apocalypse. Detroit may be the poster child du jour of such stark and sad emptiness, but there are many other examples across the Rust Belt and elsewhere. What to do with neglected streets has long been a source of planning discussion and conjecture.  In some instances entire abandoned neighborhoods have or are being converted to urban agriculture or community gardens.  However, this avid bicycle commuter has another suggestion for a few of these lowly streets without names – repurpose them to active transportation byways.”