National Parks The Great Outdoors

Niagara Falls: America’s First State Park

On the American side, Niagara Falls brings in about 9 million visitors each year, according to Western New York Connect. With more than 13 million visitors on the Canadian side, the combined total is roughly 22 million yearly visitors. The park offers a great deal: one-of-a-kind scenery, live entertainment, walking and hiking paths, boat tours, and more.

The area around Niagara Falls has a rich history, from the beginning of America to the industrial revolution. The Erie Canal, the first canal in the United States to be constructed with public financing, runs nearby, connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Niagara Falls was the site where Nikola Tesla and Westinghouse Corporation in 1895 built and installed the first-ever alternating current hydroelectric generator.

“We have many a monument of past ages; we have the palaces and pyramids, the temples of the Greek and the cathedrals of Christendom. In them is exemplified the power of men, the greatness of nations, the love of art and religious devotion. But the monument at Niagara has something of its own, more in accord with our present thoughts and tendencies. It is a monument worthy of our scientific age, a true monument of enlightenment and of peace. It signifies the subjugation of natural forces to the service of man, the discontinuance of barbarous methods, the relieving of millions from want and suffering.”
—Nikola Tesla

Depending on how you travel to the falls, you might cross a small bridge from which you can see Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls. When you arrive at the main entrance, a short walk will take you to the highlight, Horseshoe Falls, and as you approach, you’ll begin to feel the mist created by the tremendous volume of water flowing over the precipice. On sunny days, you can always see rainbows there.

(Getty Images)


What we know today as Niagara Falls was formed by receding glaciers more than 16,000 years ago. Before that, ice sheets almost two miles thick covered the Niagara region. These glaciers carved out the Great Lakes and the area of the three waterfalls. Erosion over the past 12,000 years pushed the falls seven miles downriver, a process that continues at a rate of about one foot per year.

Niagara Falls consists of a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge, between the state of New York and the Canadian province of Ontario. The largest of these, Horseshoe Falls, straddles the U.S.-Canada border and is the most powerful waterfall in the United States, followed by American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, both of which are in U.S. territory.

(Getty Images)


One of Niagara Falls State Park’s oldest attractions is the Maid of the Mist boat tour. Originally a border-crossing ferry christened in 1846, the vessel was the primary means of travel between Niagara Falls, New York, and Toronto, Canada. The modern-day tour begins with an elevator ride down the Prospect Point Observation Tower to the boat-loading and launch point. The boat takes riders past American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls before approaching Horseshoe Falls. As the boat nears the waterfall, the roaring sound gets louder, and a spray of mist picks up. The waterfalls have a combined maximum of more than 6 million cubic feet of water per minute flowing over the crest of their 167-foot drop. The boat travels close to the edge for a breathtaking face-to-face with the falls.

The park is open year-round and in addition to its water features, has a variety of attractions throughout the year.

Niagara Falls. (Getty Images)


The falls in winter are a sight to behold. With large swaths of the falls frozen, and the mist freezing on contact with anything near it, the scene becomes a winter wonderland. The falls don’t completely freeze during the winter, however, and visitors are still welcome, weather permitting, to see them shimmering with the mist-formed, fantasy-like glaze coating all around. There are also winter activities, including touring the snow-and-ice-covered Cave of the Winds, and even renting snowshoes to hike the snow-covered trails.


As soon as the snow melts in the spring, a number of activities open up: golf, fishing, day trips down the historic Erie Canal, visits to Old Fort Niagara, and regular Revolutionary War re-enactments. Goat Island, with almost 20 miles of trails of varying difficulty around the falls, offers strolling and hiking for all ages and skill levels. You can also take the kids to the Niagara Aquarium or embark on the Maid of the Mist boat tour.


Goat Island is a perfect place for summer picnics, for viewing Bridal Veil Falls or taking the Cave of the Winds tour. You can even zipline down the side of the falls or play a few rounds of golf. There are many other adventures to discover, as well as a casino with live entertainment in the city of Niagara Falls. There are wax museums, walking tours of the historic sites of the area, and jet boat tours on which you can explore Niagara Whirlpool and see other nearby sites.


The entire Niagara region lights up as autumn approaches. Surrounded by a state park, Niagara in the autumn is simply beautiful, with burnt-orange, brown, and red spreading in all directions as fall colors take over the area. The man-made Dufferin Islands, abundant with nature trails and quietude, offer enjoyable autumn forest sights, sounds, and smells. A walk to Green Island and Luna Island, which sit between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, gives another vantage point of the smaller two waterfalls. Finally, the Rainbow Bridge provides a better view of the whole Niagara Gorge area.

Old Fort Niagara

A highlight of the region is Old Fort Niagara, with a history spanning more than 300 years. Built in 1726, and at various points controlled by the French, British, and American militaries, the fort today is a historic site that offers visitors Revolutionary War re-enactments, educational programs for local students, period-accurate cooking, and demonstrations of life on the frontier.

The re-enactments, which are based on historical documents, are as accurate as possible and involve hundreds of costumed participants, including adolescents playing drums and fifes, and would-be soldiers with cannons and muskets, all across the old battlefield. The galley, blacksmith’s shop, and other parts of the fort, which showcase the manner in which different jobs and tasks were historically carried out, are also open to the public. The barracks, in particular, give a glimpse into the provisions and daily life of the average soldier.

Niagara Falls State Park has something for everyone, at any time of the year. It is rich in history and culture, and there are activities for people of every age and level of ability (many attractions are accessible). There’s plenty to do outside the park as well. The Niagara area undoubtedly makes for a fun and memorable visit.

American Artists Arts & Letters

Norman Rockwell’s America

“I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.”
—Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell’s career spanned six decades, and he is certainly one of America’s best-known 20th century artists. Many of us love him. Many dismiss him as a romanticist and kitschy caricaturist, but a showing of his works gives a much deeper appreciation for “America’s Best Loved Artist.”

“Triple Self-Portrait,” cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, Feb. 13, 1960. (Norman Rockwell Museum Collection)

When the show came to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, we went to see it with anticipation. “Will it have any original paintings in it?” my wife asked. “I certainly hope so,” I replied. Yes, I would have enjoyed a selection of Saturday Evening Post covers, but I really wanted to see brushstrokes! I was not to be disappointed!

Rockwell began painting professionally at a young age. At 21, he was painting covers for the Saturday Evening Post. He was a disciplined and masterful painter and achieved solid success very early. While most of us are familiar with the oft-reproduced Saturday Evening Post illustrations, few are aware of other masterful works that appear early in his career. These paintings show a keen sense of observation and composition, and a genuine knowledge of the techniques of the old masters.

“Young Valedictorian” by Norman Rockwell, circa 1922.

She stands erect before an audience, lit from above and behind, in a style reminiscent of the works of Degas or Rembrandt. The light is accentuated by a touch of impasto and skilled brushwork. The subject is a serious one. “The Young Valedictorian,” painted in 1922, captures a young girl standing before her school in a white dress at graduation. The interior behind her is meticulously detailed. In the shadows, a row of seated faculty members listens. A globe on stage reflects a spot of light in highlight on its varnished surface. A clock on the wall, to the upper right of the speaker, marks time.

All eyes are on the face of the young speaker. Rockwell’s lighting and masterful composition see to that. Here are the brush strokes of a genius! Amazingly enough, this work was never published. Few people are aware of it, and if it were on a wall by itself, perhaps few would attribute it to Norman Rockwell. There is no irony, no humor, and no caricature. It is a beautiful capture of a poignant moment. It reveals a Norman Rockwell I want to know.

“After The Party” by Norman Rockwell, circa. 1922

“After the Party” is another painting by Rockwell from the same year. It was painted as an advertisement for Edison Mazda (later to become General Electric). In a masterful bit of chiaroscuro, Rockwell captures a conversation between a young woman and an elderly lady. A single electric lamp backlights the two figures—presumably talking late in the evening after an important social event. The composition creates the conversation. Again, it shows Rockwell’s mastery of his art, as well as his observational skills.

In “Two Children Praying,” painted much later in his career—in 1954—Rockwell captures an America still in touch with its core values. This painting was done for a billboard advertisement for Longchamps Restaurant, Union Square, New York. The background is a night sky illuminated by a bright star, and its light falls across the faces of a young boy and girl as they pray. Rockwell’s detailed pencil study for the work shows the artist’s commitment to excellence in a work like this. The sketch is reminiscent of those that Leonardo da Vinci did leading up to painting “The Last Supper.” When one remembers that Leonardo took a commission for a rather common refectory scene and added the drama of the betrayal—rendered in the relatively new medium of oil paint—one can begin to appreciate that Rockwell stepped up to the easel of an illustrator and brought to it the drama that his artistic skills made possible.

Both da Vinci and Rockwell could capture the fine nuance of personality. Though Rockwell would often push it to the limit in his magazine covers, he could pursue subtlety. In a painting entitled “Norman Rockwell Visits a Country School,” painted in 1946, Rockwell depicts a loving teacher in a small (perhaps one-room) schoolhouse reading to a rapt group of students hanging on her every word—all but one! There, on the other side of the wood stove that heats the room, sits a girl lost in her own book. The painting tells its own story. Here I must tell you, Rockwell’s interiors are gorgeous! If I wanted to recreate a country schoolhouse, this painting is the template, rendered down to the minutest detail. Even the children’s art on the walls is amazingly realistic. Norman Rockwell was witness to an America in transition.

The body of his work is no less than a historical record. His work spans the Roaring ‘20s, the Great Depression, and the Great War. Read the headlines of the Saturday Evening Post covers, and you discover an America whose journalists were not afraid to call out the evils of Communism. Rockwell may indeed have romanticized some of his work, but he had a sense of the life and struggle of ordinary Americans.

Nowhere is this more evident than in a series of posters he designed for a commission from the government: “The Four Freedoms.” The paintings are based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address. The president laid out four “fundamental freedoms” in that speech: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The first two, taken directly from the First Amendment of our Constitution, reiterate freedoms unique to people living under a system of limited government—freedoms that belong to the people. In the painting “Freedom of Speech,” a man in a worn work jacket stands to address a meeting of local government. The image resonates with all of us who are now standing up at school board meetings to protect the interests of our families.

The second painting, “Freedom of Worship,” shows a rich composition of diverse faces—the faces of the devout. This resonates with all of us whose ancestors came here for freedom to practice our faith’s dictates. But here, the freedoms take a turn from freedom to “do” something to freedom “from” something.

Freedom from want and freedom from fear are not in the Constitution. They are rather a statement of some of FDR’s New Deal ideals. They would play out in the work of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, near Washington, D.C., where much work was done to create our modern, chemically dependent agriculture. Located next to Beltsville is Greenbelt, Maryland, originally an example of Eleanor Roosevelt’s idea of a centrally planned city, intended to replace the squalor of depression America. Here, the government proposed that it could eliminate want and fear. That was a new idea. All one had to do was “democratically assent to central planning.”

In 1963, Rockwell left the Saturday Evening Post, and worked for Look magazine. Here he was given more creative latitude, and he freely pursued his passion for civil rights and space exploration. He painted right up to his death in 1978 at the age of 84, leaving an unfinished work on his easel.

Veterans Features

Healing Waters

In the spring of 2014, while returning from “a whirlwind RV road trip” to his sister’s wedding, Josh and Neysa Grzywa and their two children learned that two more of Josh’s military “brothers” had committed suicide. Both of these suicides happened within a week. Eight of his military friends had died this way. All eight died within a six-week span. As a result of these significant tragedies, Deep Sea Valkyries, or DSV, was born.

Josh and Neysa began to consider why Josh, who had served 15 years in the Army and had been deployed multiple times in support of the global war on terror, had been able to readjust successfully after his back surgeries and his return from the military. In 2014, he was medically retired because of severe spinal injuries that he sustained in a mortar attack in Iraq. He received the Purple Heart.

“I could no longer do skydiving or rock climbing,” Josh remembered, “so diving became essential to my recovery.” This awareness led to the couple’s founding Deep Sea Valkyries (, a veterans’ trauma-counseling retreat program.

“We chose scuba diving as the primary activity because of its unique benefit for people with physical trauma,” Josh explained. “Amputees, people with partial paralysis, and those with neurological conditions can all participate.”

DSV is open to vets of all eras, and it’s tailored specifically toward combating post-traumatic stress disorder. DSV has served vets from the present time all the way back to those from the Vietnam War, according to Neysa, who is the director of business operations.

“Diving was the activity that Josh took up as a new hobby, because regardless of one’s disability or injury, she or he is weightless in the water and can participate fully,” she said.

DSV’s first retreat was held in July of 2016. Josh, who is president, emphasized the importance of meaningful counseling, in which the veteran can be fully invested. Vets often begin counseling with the Veterans Administration for an hour each week. But around that, Josh said, they are bombarded with all of the issues that we all deal with day to day, which can be overwhelming for them.

Jason W. on a DSV trip. (Courtesy of Neysa Grzywa)

DSV’s retreat program takes vets out of the home setting. They don’t have Wi-Fi or cell phones. Being separated, they are free of concern about what family members or friends might think of their counseling sessions, he explained. “They only need to focus on themselves and how to shift the trajectory of their lives.”

“Treating trauma effectively doesn’t happen in a week,” Josh observed. “There’s no quick fitting of a cast and prescribing medication for pain, as one would receive with a broken bone. Trauma counseling takes time.”

Rich M. on a DSV trip. (Courtesy of Neysa Grzywa)

“We tell people right up front, we’re not going to fix you in a week,” Josh continued. “They need to shift the trajectory of their lives. We try to arm them with tools so that after they return home, they will seek out treatment in long-term care programs, so that they’ll be in a better place with friends or whatever the case may be.”

He said that when many of the vets return home, they don’t have large vet groups in their communities. “One of our members has participated with his daughter. After the vets’ initial retreat, they can include family members.”

“People with soft-tissue injuries are freed by being under water,” Josh explained. “The only sound is the sound of their own breathing. Very tranquil. It’s well known that breathing exercises help to bring people who have suffered trauma back to the present moment and remove them from painful memories.”

In February of 2022, DSV will hold a reunion event in the same place where the alums’ first retreat took place, Josh said. “They will be engaged in physical activities together, and they open up to share the beginning of the changed trajectory that flowed from the first retreat. This helps family members to connect in deeper, more meaningful ways.”

Tyson G. on a DSV trip. (Courtesy of Neysa Grzywa)

The essential goal of their week at sea is to shift the trajectory of their lives, according to Josh. “The vets who join us are not happy with the status quo of their lives. They’re looking for a change. Many have participated in VA programs in which they haven’t really had needs met,” he explained.

He indicated that the objective is to get them on a path of greater hope and for them to have a brighter outlook. Josh and Neysa said they know firsthand that there are challenges that vets face with some of the organizations that serve them.

“We try to be very careful not to over-promise or to guarantee that we can do something that we can’t,” Josh emphasized.

Primary retreats are held each summer, and the window for applying to participate usually runs through the entire month of December. Each retreat departs out of Nassau, Bahamas, for a week. Participants will be at sea the entire time, according to Neysa.

She reflected that each day begins and ends with a devotional, led by DSV’s military chaplain, who focuses on the moral injuries of war. DSV is open to vets from all religions and to those without religious affiliation, but it was founded on Christian principles. This is a prominent foundation of the program, she said.

All participants are expected to participate in all aspects of counseling. There are morning and evening group-counseling sessions, facilitated by a licensed counselor who focuses on combat PTSD. Travis, the current counselor, who served in the Marines, also works as a counselor for the VA.

A former Navy fighter pilot and current counselor helped to create the DSV program, she said. Jeff Hensley still serves as DSV’s director of clinical services and oversees the content of the counseling materials. He retired from the Navy after 21 years and went through the VA counseling system himself. He experienced all of the shortfalls of that system, and this prompted him to go back to school to become licensed so that he could help other vets.

According to Neysa, the program has added two additional counselors. Both are vets.

Participants must be dive-certified before their first event, she explained. DSV works with local dive shops to arrange training for applicants who aren’t certified, so that they can become dive-certified and open-water scuba-certified prior to the retreat.

DSV provides all gear needed by participants, so there is no cost to vets to participate. Patriots for Disabled Divers, an affiliate organization, provides dive training on a year-round basis, if the vet lives in an area with one of their affiliate shops. Vets need to apply separately for this service, she indicated.

During retreats, participants typically dive three to four times, depending on the day. Opportunities for deep-sea fishing and exploration of remote, uninhabited islands also are provided. “A lot of vets who join us heard about DSV from word-of-mouth referrals from other vets.

“These activities reinvigorate participants, allowing them to experience again, service-related camaraderie, while equipping them with tools for dealing with issues that many vets face when transitioning from service,” she explained.

Former participants often return in various staff roles, as a way to pay it forward to other vets. The present primary counselor, Travis, was a participant in 2018, and he has returned for the last three retreats as a counselor.

A current dive master, Matt, was a participant in 2017. He has returned in three subsequent years in staff roles, she said.

A 2019 participant, Felipe, had never dived prior to applying to the program, and he has now worked his way up to the highest level of instructor, through the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, PADI, and is working in the dive shop that trained him, according to Neysa. He now trains other vets. He returned as a dive-master in the recent retreat, which had to be rescheduled because of the pandemic.

Previous participants have gone on to either start school, return to school, or open their own businesses and give back in various volunteer roles to other nonprofits serving vets, as well as programs that serve communities.

“It has been such an honor to be a part of their healing process, as they write their next chapter, post-service,” Neysa said.

Up Armor, a new project that was created by Project Healing Heroes founder and CEO Lieutenant Colonel David Tharp, will partner with DSV in January 2022 to provide continuing care via Zoom counseling sessions, Josh and Neysa said. “He has graciously partnered with us to be an extension of our program.” Meetings will take place once or twice a week, led by a psychologist. Up Armor will focus on some of the same issues that the primary retreat dealt with.

Up Armor will serve vets from around the world, Josh said. Those from Japan and Australia, for example, and from across this country, will meet in real time for these Zoom meetings. This will allow them to maintain their connection within the vet community, and it will encourage their continuation of care.

Both of Neysa’s brothers served in the military. Aaron Fulsome served in the Marines, while Owen served in the Army and was stationed in Iraq, along with Josh. Owen was wounded in Samarra, Iraq. Neysa explained that when she traveled to visit Owen, she met Josh. Owen, like Josh, received the Purple Heart. Josh and Neysa’s two children are Sydney, 10, and Killian, 8.

“Sydney just completed her junior open-water scuba certification through PADI and is a natural at diving,” Neysa reported. “Killian can’t wait to turn 10, so he can get certified as well.”


When Imagination Perseveres

James Von Allmen Hart, lovingly referred to as “JV” by his family and protégés, is the creative force behind several of our nation’s most prominent family films, including “Hook,” “Tuck Everlasting,” “Dracula,” and “August Rush.” Well before he began his career as a Hollywood screenwriter, he grew up on drive-in movies and Saturday matinees in Fort Worth, Texas. His whimsical childhood adventures and deep connection to his family helped to shape him into the great creative that he is today.

In 1952, when JV was 5 years old, his father built a two-story Cape Cod house overlooking several acres of land, called “the field” by him and his brother. “It became our fantasy world, our Neverland,” said JV. “We built forts, tree houses, slayed dragons, buried and unburied treasure. It was literally a field of dreams for the imagination.” It would be the place where, at only eleven years young, he would film his first eight-millimeter movie.

Every Saturday at 10 a.m., JV’s mother would drop him and his brother off at the Gateway Theater, a classic Art Deco style cinema with a large marquee and tall neon sign. “For 25 cents we got a truckload of cartoons, two serial installments like Flash Gordon and Commando Cody, and then a double feature,” said JV. These Saturday mornings would serve as the foundation for his future creative endeavors in the film industry.

There is something so extraordinarily authentic about the characters that JV dreams up. “There is always part of me in everything I write,” he said. Though JV attributes this iconic authenticity to letting his characters, rather than his pen, take the lead, it is obvious that there is a tremendous connection between writer and character. Take, for example, Peter Banning of Hart’s quintessential swashbuckler adventure film, “Hook.” When asked which character in the picture he relates to most, it’s no surprise that it is Peter Banning, the grown-up version of Peter Pan. Banning’s childlike wonder is nearly a mirror image of JV’s own disposition.

(SAM Photography)

“Certainly the grown-up Peter Banning who pursued success at the expense of his family came from my personal fears about losing [my] imagination as an adult and missing [my] children’s milestones.” This idea deeply resonated with Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, and Bob Hoskins, who marvelously acted in “Hook,” and Steven Spielberg, the film’s director.

Always on the lookout for a good idea to turn into a story, JV credits his family with providing him with the most inspiration. After all, it was a game of “What If” in 1985 at the dinner table with his son, Jake, then 6 years old, that inspired JV to develop “Hook.”

“This is now part of our family mythology as Jake, now grown up and one of my writing partners, claims he does not recall this evening. It went something like this:

Jake: Hey Dad, did Peter Pan ever grow up?

Dad: Now that’s a really dumb question. (Good Parenting.) Of course he didn’t grow up. He was the boy who couldn’t grow up.

Jake: (Defiant.) Yeah, but what if Peter Pan grew up?”

As soon as he asked the question, something clicked. Jake had unlocked the code of the Peter Pan story that so many talents in Hollywood had been trying to crack.

“We cobbled together the story based on Jake’s innocent and brilliant question. Captain Hook would kidnap grown-up Peter Pan’s kids and force the adult Pan to return to Neverland with all his adult hangups, and having forgotten how to fly (since all adults do), and having to face his old nemesis Captain Hook in order to save his kids.”

The next day, JV wrote a story treatment and called his agent, who then shopped the project around. Every producer and studio passed. The following years were misery for JV as “Hook” was, in his own words, “the best idea [he] had ever stolen from [his] kids.” His family remained ever supportive; they tried lifting JV’s spirits by gifting him with Peter Pan themed presents at holidays and birthdays.

Finally, the year 1989 brought a break. A producer read the script and believed it to be one of huge potential. The script was then taken directly to Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, who attached themselves immediately. And the rest is history.

“Hook” went on to generate over $300 million at the box office and is globally known as one of the most exemplary American family films of all time. He explains, “I never would have written ‘Hook’ had I not been a father with Jake and Julia to inspire me.”

JV is constantly preparing new content and brainstorming new ideas in order to bring more joy to the world. Of all the lines he has ever written, one of his favorites is, “Music is proof that God exists in the Universe.” This comes from his Oscar nominated film, “August Rush.” The picture traces the life of a boy (played by Freddie Highmore) who uses his musical talent as a clue to find his birth parents.

When reflecting on the important themes that are artistically woven into his works, JV believes Americans should pay most attention to “Tuck Everlasting.” The story of Winnie Foster, a girl on the cusp of maturity who must ultimately decide to live forever or let her life continue as planned, instills in the audience a sense of the importance of a life well lived on one’s own terms. “Don’t be afraid of death, be afraid of the unlived life,” said JV. “You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

JV Hart with filmmakers Rachael (R) and Laura Doukas. The Doukas sisters are working on turning their award-winning short into a feature film, “The Ryan Express.” The story is about a boy with autism who loses his right to play on his little league team after a violent outburst, working on building a time machine in his bedroom so he can go back in time and apologize.  SAM Photography)

Rachael Doukas and Laura Doukas are sisters and filmmakers currently working their first feature film, “The Ryan Express,” based on their award-winning short, “Rocket Man.”

History Founding Fathers

Roger Sherman, Low-Key Founding Father

Among the Founding Fathers, Roger Sherman is one of the best-kept secrets. But he shouldn’t be, especially in light of the cumulative and lasting effect he has had on this nation, including the present-day debates on the meaning and legal effect of the Ninth Amendment.

Most notable is the fact that he is the only Founding Father to have signed all of these prominent founding documents: the Declaration and Resolves (1774), which contain many of the rights that are enumerated in the First Amendment; the Articles of Association (1774), which was a trade boycott with Great Britain; the Declaration of Independence (1776); the Articles of Confederation (1777); and the U.S. Constitution (1787).

Sherman’s influence on the Constitution was greater than most realize. Historian Richard Werther wrote in 2017 in the Journal of the American Revolution that, at the Constitutional Convention debates, “of 39 issues cited, Sherman prevailed on 19, Madison on 10, and 7 resulted in compromises (the other 3 were interpretational issues for which no clear-cut winner is determinable).” Werther adds, “While no one is arguing that Sherman, not Madison, assumes the mantle as ‘Father of the Constitution,’ clearly Sherman had a bigger role than may have been previously understood.”

As a boy in Connecticut, Roger Sherman was self-educated in his father’s library and later by a newly built grammar school. He managed two general stores. Although he had no formal education in law, he passed the bar exam and was admitted to the bar in 1754. He wrote and published an almanac each year from 1750 to 1761. He served as a mayor, a justice of the peace, a county judge, a Connecticut Superior Court judge, and as a delegate to both the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress. After ratification of the Constitution, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789 to 1791 and in the U.S. Senate from 1791 until his death in 1793.

Sherman’s reputation was stellar. He was described as honest, cunning, a staunch opponent of slavery, a devout Christian who was outspoken about his faith, and a protector of states’ rights. William Pierce, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention who took extensive notes, said of Sherman, “He deserves infinite praise, no man has a better heart nor a clearer head. If he cannot embellish he can furnish thoughts that are wise and useful. He is an able politician, and extremely artful in accomplishing any particular object; it is remarked that he seldom fails.”

Role in the Bill of Rights and the Ninth Amendment

Originally, Sherman was opposed to adding a bill of rights to the Constitution due to its being “unnecessary” and “dangerous.” He, like other Federalists, stated that it was unnecessary as the powers enumerated in the Constitution granted limited authority; if certain powers were not enumerated and delegated, then the federal government wouldn’t have the authority to infringe upon the rights in question. Plus, the states had their own constitutions protecting their citizens’ rights, and the Constitution is concerned only with federal guarantees, not states’ guarantees. The Federalists considered it dangerous to list certain rights as it could be construed that other rights not singled out were surrendered to the government; in other words, if they were not written down, then those rights would not be considered protected.

The original Constitution was signed by 39 delegates on September 17, 1787. It was during the First Congress on June 8, 1789, that James Madison proposed to “incorporate such amendments in the Constitution as will secure those rights, which they consider as not sufficiently guarded […] to satisfy the public that we do not disregard their wishes.” After Madison persuaded Congress to create a Bill of Rights, the proposals were referred to a House select committee, the Committee of Eleven, which took up the debates. In 1987, the National Archives discovered among Madison’s papers the only known copy of the deliberations of that House Committee, and they are in Sherman’s handwriting, most likely reflecting the thoughts of the committee as opposed to his personal views.

This discovery has created a vigorous debate among legal scholars as to the meaning and legal effect of the Ninth Amendment, the text of which reads, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”: namely, what are the rights “retained by the people” referring to, and what legal effect do they have? To give context, it is essential to go back to Madison’s original draft regarding retained rights:

The exceptions here or elsewhere in the Constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people, or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the Constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.

After the House committee’s debates and revisions, Sherman’s notes read:

The people have certain natural rights which are retained by them when they enter into society, such as the rights of conscience in matters of religion; of acquiring property; and of pursuing happiness and safety; of speaking, writing and publishing their sentiments with decency and freedom; of peaceably assembling to consult their common good, and of applying to government by petition or remonstrance for redress of grievances. Of these rights therefore they shall not be deprived by the government of the United States.

According to the Bill of Rights Institute, once the Bill of Rights was drafted, Sherman supported it, just as the people of Connecticut supported it.

Deborah Hommer is a history and philosophy enthusiast who gravitates toward natural law and natural rights. She founded the nonprofit ConstitutionalReflections (website under construction) with the purpose of educating others in the rich history of Western civilization.


Three Sisters on a Mission to Make Tahini an American Pantry Staple

Say the word “tahini,” and most Americans might conjure up an image of a jar gathering dust on the bottom shelf of the international aisle in the grocery store. Press them for one of its uses, and the answers will generally be one of two foods: hummus or tahini sauce.

Amy Zitelman, one of the three sisters who founded the Philadelphia-based tahini company Soom Foods, knows this because she used to feel ambivalent about the sesame seed paste herself—until a cake changed her sister’s mind.

“My middle sister, Jackie, moved to Israel after high school,” she said. “She went to college there and met her husband, Omri. Omri has been in the tahini business for 20 years now.”

Tahini is a paste made with roasted and pressed sesame seeds. It’s rich and nutty, and healthy, too: full of omega-6 fatty acids, calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamins. What Jackie noticed in Israel was how integral sesame seeds and tahini are to Middle Eastern culinary traditions. An ancient food, tahini is not only an often-used ingredient, but central to many dishes, taking on far more interesting roles than a supporting act for hummus.

She also noticed how much better it tasted: rich and smooth, earthy and nutty, with just a hint of bitterness. It was a far cry from the often dull, chalky options back in America.

Jackie started talking to Amy and Shelby, their oldest sister, about the tahini she found in Israel, and its superior texture and flavor. When Shelby went to visit Jackie, she finally tasted what Jackie had been raving about.

“We started asking a lot of questions,” said Amy. “Why was this tahini so much better than anything in the United States? Why was it so much more revered in Israel than it has ever been in the United States?”

The sisters went to see Omri’s mother, who made them a carrot cake that changed the trajectory of their lives.

“When Shelby tasted that carrot cake and learned it was made with tahini instead of oil, that’s what pushed us to start this business. We realized, if you can use tahini in carrot cake, the possibilities are endless.”

The idea for Soom Foods was born, with a mission: to make tahini a staple ingredient in the American pantry.

Rachella’s Tahini Carrot Cake. (Photo copyright Jillian Guyette, courtesy of Agate Publishing)

Starting From Seeds

Though all three sisters were new to the tahini business, they were no strangers to the food industry. Their maternal grandfather was a butcher, and their father was raised in the restaurant industry.

“Because our father was raised in the restaurant industry, it was family law we couldn’t go into the restaurant industry. Our grandfather always said he didn’t work so hard for his grandchildren to have to go into restaurants. We joke that we ended up going through the backdoor,” Amy said.

The Soom sisters. (Jillian Guyette)

As they worked toward making tahini a more visible product in the United States, Shelby asked Amy to do some market research. She went to grocery stores and took notes on the labels of tahini, what they cost, what they tasted like.

Her findings? The labels were generic and uninteresting, and the tahini itself tasted bland and unexciting.

The next step was to find out what Americans thought about tahini. The sisters began asking friends, neighbors, even strangers at the farmers market what came to mind when they heard the name. Most people, if they had even heard of it, said it was something you put in hummus. Few people could think of any other use for it.

“We saw an opportunity in making tahini accessible to American consumers by educating them, and branding it more familiarly than brands coming over from the Middle East,” Amy said.

To do that, they would also need a premium product. Since the only ingredient used to make tahini is sesame seeds, they needed to start with premium-quality seeds.

Omri had long been in the industry, buying tahini from large manufacturers and distributing it to his own network of restaurants and caterers. Through Omri, the sisters found a manufacturer in Israel that used the seeds they liked: Ethiopian White Humera sesame seeds. Grown around the town of Humera, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, this buttery, nutty variety is the world’s most prized. Most sesame seeds are used to make oil, but Humera seeds are used solely to make tahini. The sisters ordered a container-load of the tahini to be shipped to the United States.

“I think they [the manufacturers] were surprised to hear from three American girls who wanted to buy tahini,” said Amy, “but we were committed to our idea and seeing if it worked.”

Grown around the town of Humera, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, buttery, nutty Ethiopian White Humera sesame seeds are the world’s most prized. (Photo copyright Jillian Guyette, courtesy of Agate Publishing)

In 2013, Soom Foods received their first import of tahini and hit the streets—literally, taking samples to markets and restaurants, trying to sell to chefs, restaurant owners, and vendors. They were given the opportunity to meet with Michael Solomanav, owner of Philadelphia’s award-winning Israeli restaurant Zahav.

“When we asked him what tahini he was using, he said, ‘I don’t have access to good tahini and I’m looking for something better.’ So his restaurant was actually one of our first customers.”

Today, Soom Foods is going strong. The company sells both to restaurants and directly to consumers, both online and in retail stores. It ships and distributes to restaurants and chefs in over 25 states, and more than 500 retail stores across the country.

One Ingredient

Most surprising to Amy about her journey with Soom Foods is that they’ve built an entire business around one ingredient.

“It’s something that I take a lot of pride in,” she said, “doing one thing and doing it well. It would have been easy to get distracted by launching other products, and we almost did. … But when we took a step back and really focused on tahini, we saw our most success.” Soom Foods also sells Chocolate Sweet Tahini, a chocolate spread made with their tahini, cocoa powder, and cane sugar, and silan, an all-natural date syrup, but their original tahini remains the heart of the business.

(Jillian Guyette)

All three sisters are still involved with Soom Foods, now balancing work, family, and motherhood. “We often bring our children into our warehouse,” said Amy, who lives in the Philadelphia area near her sister, Shelby (Jackie still lives in Israel). Their children are being brought into the family fold of food and entrepreneurship.

Last November, Amy released a cookbook called “The Tahini Table,” about incorporating the versatile ingredient into everyday cooking. Packed with gorgeous photos and simple but delicious recipes, the cookbook is all about making good, uncomplicated food with quality ingredients—which has been the heartbeat of Soom Foods all along.

And yes, the recipe for the carrot cake that started it all is in there, too.

RECIPE: Rachella’s Tahini Carrot Cake
RECIPE: Mom’s Chicken With Turmeric Tahini, Chickpeas, and Onions
RECIPE: Tahini-Dressed Tuna, Chicken, Egg, or Whatever Salad

Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website,


Baking With Love

Kristina Cho has vivid childhood memories of the scene at her grandparents’ Chinese restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the kind of place where literally everyone in the family chipped in to help.

“I remember growing up, all my aunts and uncles and my mom had full-time jobs elsewhere working at hospitals and banks—you know, very normal professional jobs. But they would still come to the restaurant after work,” Her mother was an all-around talent. “She would do everything,” Cho said in a recent interview, from hostessing to making drinks at the bar to being the carry-out runner. “I just remember my mom zipping through the restaurant constantly, even though I knew that she was working at the hospital, like 40 hours a week.”

Her maternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong in the late 1960s and later decided to open a restaurant to support the family. Her family members worked hard to keep the American dream going.

Cho’s family instilled in her a love for food. She recalls regular childhood trips with her grandfather to get dim sum, the Cantonese brunch meal that typically serves bite-sized treats with tea. “When we would order things, he would whisper in my ear and explain” what the different dishes were. Later, while researching for her cookbook, “Mooncakes & Milk Bread: Sweet & Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries,” she discovered a little more about her family history: her grandfather’s first restaurant job was as a baker. The job was a step above dishwasher in the kitchen. “It also was a rare station, because few Chinese restaurants served desserts beyond fortune cookies and sliced oranges. He spent day after day making endless trays of his golden, almond-studded cookies,” Cho writes in her cookbook.

Grandpa’s Influence

This discovery also held special significance—her grandfather’s background as a baker meant that her passion for baking had a family connection. “When I was writing the book and I learned a little bit more about my grandpa’s baking journey, it made me feel like, ‘Oh, there’s some type of connection there.’ I’m not the first baker in the family. My grandpa actually did it first,” she said.

Cho writes in her cookbook that her grandfather, who passed away several years ago, once made his family-famous almond cookies for her before she left for college; the cookbook includes a recipe for the treats as she remembered from that day baking with her grandfather. She also turned to her grandmother for help developing recipes for traditional Chinese desserts (which are often steamed, not baked), but she wished she learned more from her grandfather. “Looking back at it, I wish I took better notes to fully remember how to do this stuff. He always had a mind of tinkering and figuring out how to do stuff. I definitely took that with me as I got older and went through different career paths and ended up doing what I do now,” Cho said.

She wasn’t always a baker; she trained to be an architect and moved to San Francisco to work as a designer for several firms. But being an architect did not satisfy her creative energy the way baking and cooking did. In early 2017, Cho started a blog called “Eat Cho Food,” creating recipes inspired by her family’s Cantonese cooking and developing her own twists on her favorite foods.

Unique Flavors

“Mooncakes & Milk Bread” is a compilation of her inventive projects, as well as an homage to the Hong Kong-style bakeries that are a fixture of Chinatowns across the country. Owing to over 100 years of British rule, bakers in Hong Kong adopted Western baking traditions, creating pastries, biscuits, and cakes “using the ingredients they had access to and incorporat[ing] flavors and ingredients more aligned with the Asian palate. Sugar levels were reduced, cakes became lighter, and ingredients like black sesame seeds and mango worked their way into everything. Thus, the classic Chinese bakery style is a quirky melding of Western and Eastern cultures,” as Cho explained in the book.

(Courtesy of Kristina Cho/Mooncakes and Milk Bread)

Cho said that this is similar to how bakers in America use the ingredients native to their region. “[They] are adjusting their recipes and flavors to wherever they are. So did the bakers back then in Hong Kong. Instead of using cream or butter, maybe they’d use coconut milk or lard, because that’s what they had, you know? So they adapted it.”

Cho melds East and West in her recipes, too, with fun takes on classic Western pastries like black sesame souffle cheesecake, Asian pear turnover, and Thanksgiving “guabao” with leftover turkey, brussels sprouts, and cranberry sauce sandwiched between steamed buns. Sometimes, she celebrates her Midwest upbringing; the book includes a recipe for “pepperoni bread,” what she calls “an Ohio delicacy”: pepperoni stuffed into a roll. Her version uses milk bread, a fluffy bread made with “tangzhong,” a roux of milk and flour.

Cho also pays tribute to pillars of her Cleveland community who are not blood-related, including Auntie Lydia, a close family friend. Cho’s grandmother first got to know Lydia through the latter’s mother-in-law. “After living in Hong Kong and immigrating to Cleveland, she hung on tightly to the practices she’d learned from her own family and found Lydia’s mother-in-law’s food comforting and familiar. Over decades, the three of them bonded in the kitchen as they gossiped, swapped recipes, and made enough food to feed their loved ones and more,” Cho wrote in the book—noting that without Auntie Lydia, her grandmother may not have learned to make some of the traditional recipes showcased in the book.

The baker expressed gratitude for these keepers of important food traditions, too. “I’m thankful that someone like her exists in our small Chinese community and continues to carry on the history, culture, and recipes for future generations. It’s not only the bakeries and restaurants carrying on our food traditions—it’s also the quiet home-cooks and Auntie Lydias of the world,” Cho wrote.

Arts & Letters History

A Pedestal Waiting for a Monument

The crypt of the U.S. Capitol isn’t the dark, dank dwelling conjured up by its evocative moniker. On the contrary, the crypt is a well-lit circular chamber on the ground floor, under the rotunda, traversed by countless people every day, hurrying on their way—blinders on—to a hearing or meeting of reputed import. George Washington was supposed to be interred here—hence the name of the burial place—but his body never made it. Construction of the crypt was interrupted by the War of 1812. His family decided to honor his wish to be buried at his Mt. Vernon, Virginia, home, just a few miles away from the Capitol.

Magna Carta

Tucked away in the crypt—hidden in plain sight—is a replica of the Magna Carta, the 800-year-old document reining in the monarch. On tours, I make a point of directing my visitors’ attention to this transformational declaration; otherwise, they might miss it, given all the magnificent distractions surrounding it—forty neoclassical columns, and thirteen statues of prominent Americans of the original thirteen colonies.

In all the times I’ve entered the crypt—and it’s been plenty—I’ve never seen people clustered around the gold and glass case containing this most essential document, the greatest relic in the room.

The history of the Magna Carta predates our nation’s founding by more than five hundred fifty years, which might explain how it sometimes escapes people’s attention today. King John of England signed the Magna Carta on June 15 of 1215, after a severe clash with his barons, who had become frustrated with the monarch’s arbitrary rule and abuses of power. The noblemen set out to craft a document to rein in the king’s powers. The document they formulated prohibited arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and established individuals’ right to a fair trial and the protection of private property. Those rights are foundational to the rule of law, and essential for limiting the powers of government.

The Magna Carta—Latin for “the Great Charter”—provided the key principles of the supremacy of the rule of law that formed the foundation of our Constitution. In this respect, it is symbolic that the Magna Carta replica lies in the crypt—the literal foundation—of the Capitol, erected to support the rotunda above it. The document’s most important principle— that no man is above the law, not even the king—is the foundation for American rule of law, and the base upon which we have built our system of government.

If those basic rights recognized in the Magna Carta sound familiar, it’s for good reason. America’s founders drew heavily from the ideas in the Magna Carta to write the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The Compass Star

Only a few feet away from the Magna Carta is a worn white marble stone compass star embedded in the center of the floor of the crypt. While it may seem, at first glance, the two features of the Capitol are unrelated, they each reinforce the primacy of the rule of law and the importance of the legislative body.

That compass star is the point in Washington, D.C. where all four quadrants of the district—northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest—converge. If you place your foot on the compass, as I have from time to time to demonstrate for my visitors, you are standing in all four quadrants of the city simultaneously. When I take tourists to this spot, the following ritual tends to take place: They stand on the star, which droops below floor level, smoothed down with the passage of time. Then they hop off the star, pull out their smartphones, and take photos of what is, admittedly, a cool symbol. But it holds even greater significance. The compass star is the key to understanding the vital role the legislature plays in our republic.


We must first revisit Pierre-Charles L’Enfant. After he wrote to President George Washington, offering to create a capital “magnificent enough to grace a great nation,” he got the gig in 1791. Influenced by the France of his youth, L’Enfant borrowed ideas from the grand sweep of the Versailles palace, conjuring up what are now distinct D.C. features, such as its broad avenues, designed on a slashing angle. The cheerful L’Enfant sought another epic brush stroke, designing a considerable park in front of the White House, for the benefit of the president, whoever happened to be in residence. But Thomas Jefferson put the kibosh on those plans out of a worry such an exclusive domain didn’t mesh with the nascent nation of the people. Hence, the space became a public gathering spot you might have heard of—Lafayette Park.

L’Enfant, though, got his way on a more vital part of his plan, to make the Capitol the central point of the new capital district. The Capitol was created to be the central focus of the new government, a building perched on a slight hill, elevated above the rest of the city. That hill was known in our nation’s earlier years as “Jenkins Hill,” because a man named Thomas Jenkins apparently once grazed livestock at the site. L’Enfant saw it in a more enchanted way, as “a pedestal waiting for a monument.” That pedestal has come to be known as Capitol Hill, today.

The location of the Capitol building speaks volumes about the role our founders intended the legislative branch to play—and the paramount role of the rule of law. Because the Capitol is located on a hill, on one of the highest points in Washington, D.C., it reminds all of us that the legislative branch—the part of the federal government most accountable to the people—is the most important branch of government.

Excerpted from the 2020 book “Capital of Freedom, Restoring American Greatness” by Colorado Rep. Ken Buck

Food Recipes

America’s ‘Barbecue Diplomacy’

People often say that we are what we eat. As a country built by immigrants, America’s food culture is as rich as the various cultures represented by the people who make up this diverse nation.  Our ancestors brought the traditional dishes of their native countries with them and passed these delicacies down from one generation to the next. So, what really is “American” food?

Some may say the quintessential American food is a burger, or a hot dog. And in fact, these delicious items are the mainstay of the traditional barbecue parties that are essential to many American celebrations. The key to serving up good barbecue is having love and patience. This tradition may be simple, but it can change the world—as hot dogs and burgers have sometimes played a critical role in U.S. diplomacy.

The first, and perhaps most important, “barbecue diplomacy” event was arguably held in June 1939, when King George VI of England and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (mother of Elizabeth II), visited the United States. Following their royal state visit to Canada, President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited the British sovereigns to visit his home in Hyde Park, New York, for an American-style picnic.

Prior to this visit, no reigning British monarch had ever set foot on American soil. In 1939, England was on the brink of war with Germany, while the United States was pursuing a foreign policy of isolationism.  Many Americans were worried that Britain might drag their country into a foreign conflict. While FDR wanted to lend help to the British, he had to convince the American public that such support was warranted.

On June 11, 1939, perhaps the most famous hot dogs in world history were served to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the Hyde Park picnic. Apparently, the royal couple had never been served frankfurters before, and the Queen quietly asked her host just how one should go about eating a hot dog. This humorous inquiry made headlines in the American press at the time. It was also included in the popular TV drama series, “The Crown” (Season 1).

We will never know what kind of meat or other ingredients were used to make those royal hot dogs, but they apparently made a significant impression on the royal couple. While the Queen purportedly used a knife and fork, the King ate his U.S. treat, American-style.

No doubt, this “hot dog diplomacy” was a great success. Just three months later, Britain declared war on Germany; and while the U.S. did not enter the war in Europe until December 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Hyde Park picnic had helped FDR introduce the King and Queen of England to American isolationists in a relatable manner. The hot dog picnic changed the relationship with Great Britain forever: no longer as a former imperial power and its runaway colony, but now as friends and important allies.

“Barbecue diplomacy” has since been utilized by other U.S. presidents as well. George W. Bush hosted a barbecue party for German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2006, and another for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007, treating them both to delicious Bush-style cheeseburgers.

Chef Matthew Wendel, who worked for GW Bush and his family at Camp David, and at their Texas home, revealed the recipe in the book, “Recipes From the President’s Ranch: Food People Like to Eat,” with First Lady Laura Bush providing helpful tips on assembling the burgers, such as using extra sharp cheddar cheese and toasted whole-wheat buns.

Sweet and Smoky Cheeseburgers Recipe

Serves 4


  • 1 ⅓ pounds lean ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons favorite barbecue sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Oil, for brushing the grill
  • 4 slices extra sharp cheddar
  • 4 whole-wheat buns, toasted


In a bowl, mix the ground beef with barbecue sauce and salt and pepper just until combined; do not over-mix. Divide the meat into 4 equal patties about 1/2-inch thick.

Lightly brush a charcoal or gas grill with oil and heat to medium. Grill burgers for about 5 minutes, until charred on the bottom. Flip burgers and cook for 1 minute more. Top each burger with cheese and cook just until melted, 1 to 2 minutes more, or until cooked to desired temperature.

Serve on toasted buns with your favorite burger condiments.

Recipe from “Recipes From the President’s Ranch: Food People Like to Eat,” by Matthew Wendel (The White House Historical Association, 2020)

Features History

A Secret Language That Helped End World War II

In war, information can be more valuable than tanks, planes, ships, or soldiers. Information sent and received without detection can mean the difference between victory and defeat, even between life and death.

Protecting information means developing elaborate codes. One code, which Native Americans developed and used, played a pivotal role in helping the United States win the Pacific front during World War II and bring the conflict to an end.

In the process, it became the only spoken code in military history never to have been deciphered.

Members of the Navajo tribe combined with the Marine Corps to create a code using the Navajo language. The Navajo Marines who employed that code became known as “Navajo Code Talkers” and participated in every Marine assault in the Pacific, including Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

The code “saved hundreds of thousands of lives and helped win the war in the Pacific,” said Peter MacDonald Sr., a 93-year-old Marine veteran and one of only four Code Talkers still living.

At Iwo Jima, six Code Talkers sent and received more than 800 messages without making a mistake.

“Were it not for the Navajos,” 5th Marine Division signals officer Major Howard Connor once said, “the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

A Spark of Genius

The idea to use Navajo came to a civil engineer in Los Angeles. Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary, grew up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona and maintained contacts with Navajo friends. Johnston, who fought in World War I, had learned that the U.S. Army used the language spoken by the Comanche tribe for military communications during field maneuvers.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Johnston contacted the Marines and presented his idea in 1942. The Marines asked him to organize a demonstration, so Johnston chose four Navajos who were working in Los Angeles’ shipyards at the time.

The demonstration succeeded. The Navajos decoded and transmitted three lines within 20 seconds.

MacDonald Sr. with his veteran insignia. (Tom Brownold for American Essence)

So the Marines approved Johnston’s plan and recruited 29 Navajos to write a code book. But since Navajo was only spoken, not written, the authors devised an alphabet for written communication and colorful descriptions for military terms.

For example, the Code Talkers used the Navajo word for chickenhawk to describe a dive bomber.

“We had a lot of chickenhawks on the reservation,” MacDonald said. “They fly high, but when they see a raven down below, they dive real fast, and they have a nice lunch. So by using the action of the bird and the action of the airplane, we can help us memorize what those code words are.

“Code words were not very difficult to remember because they were all based on something that we’re all familiar with. All the names of different airplanes took the names of different birds that we are very familiar with on the reservation.”

Breaking New Ground

The armed forces used other Native American languages as codes during World War II, but Navajo provided several advantages. First, it remained an unwritten language. Second, only about 30 non-Navajo Americans understood the language when the program began. Third, Navajo’s grammar and syntax differ dramatically from other languages.

Though the program began in 1942, MacDonald had no idea it existed when he joined the Marines in 1944.

“It was top secret to begin with,” he said. “None of us knew that there was such a program until after we passed boot camp, combat training, and communication school. Only after that were we then introduced to a very private, top secret, confidential, Navajo code school.”

At that school, instructors who served overseas taught the students how to use and pronounce code words, how to use the new alphabet, how to write legibly on a special tablet for the code, and how to practice their new skills.

Working Under Fire

The Code Talkers who graduated became as indispensable as rifles or mess kits.

“Every ship used in the landing—battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, aircraft carriers—all had Navajo Code Talkers along with the English [language] network guys,” MacDonald said. “Every Marine air wing, Marine tank unit, and Marine artillery unit also had Navajo Code Talkers assigned to them.”

So how did the whole system work under fire?

“There are two tables [where Marines worked], one for the Navajo communication network, a second table for the English communication network,” MacDonald said. “As soon as the first shot is fired, messages are coming in Navajo as well as in English. All Navajo messages are received by Navajo Code Talkers.

“The message comes in, you write it down in English, and hand it over your shoulder to the runner standing behind us. He takes it up to the bridge and gives it to the general or the admiral. He reads it, he answers, and the runner brings it back down to us.”

The runner had his own special way to determine a communication’s importance.

“If he says ‘Nevada,’ ‘New Mexico,’ or ‘Arizona,’ we send a message back out in Navajo code,” indicating the message was important, MacDonald said. “If there is a top secret or confidential message that needs to be sent to another unit or another location, it’s given to a Navajo Code Talker.”

By the time World War II ended, more than 400 Marines served as Navajo Code Talkers. Their secret vocabulary grew from 260 code words used during Guadalcanal, the Code Talkers’ first battle, to more than 600, MacDonald said.

Preserving a Legacy

Yet not until 1968, when the government declassified the program, did Americans know about the Navajo Code Talkers. Now, 80 years after serving, the surviving Code Talkers are trying to preserve their legacy for future generations.

“We have been going across the country, via invitations, to tell our story,” MacDonald said, “and we are making headway to get American people to know this legacy.”

MacDonald Sr. with his grandchildren. (Tom Brownold for American Essence)

Part of that campaign involves plans for building a museum dedicated to that legacy.

“We found that many Americans and foreign nations didn’t know anything about this unique World War II legacy,” said MacDonald, who is spearheading the project. “The museum will tell the story of who we are, our heritage, our culture, our language, and the sacrifices we’ve made like so many other peoples.”

Those sacrifices enabled the United States to help protect the world from tyrants, he added.

Joseph D’Hippolito is a freelance writer based in Fullerton, California. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Federalist, The Guardian, The New York Times, and the Jerusalem Post, among other outlets.


The Fall Harvest—in a Pie

As American as apple pie. It’s an expression commonly used to describe something that completely encapsulates the American character.

But surprisingly, the kinds of apples we commonly see in our markets and grocery stores are not actually indigenous to the United States. The crab apple is the only species in the genus Malus that is native to North America; it was English settlers who brought cultivated apple seeds with them. According to the University of Illinois, the first apple trees were planted by pilgrims in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Americans soon started grafting different cultivars, and today, there are roughly 2,500 varieties grown in the country.

Meanwhile, the earliest forms of pie were oblong—meant to transport food easily and preserve food for longer periods in the age before refrigeration. The crust was often inedible.

The first truly American apple pie recipe appeared in “American Cookery,” by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796. The cookbook is considered to be the first to use ingredients and cooking techniques distinct from the English tradition. True to American taste, the recipe called for cinnamon and mace—the outer covering of nutmeg—as spices.

Expressing Ourselves

Why did the apple pie become America’s signature dessert and a symbol of Americana? Ken Haedrich, author of several pie cookbooks, including the most recent “Pie Academy,” believes the versatility of the pie is a reflection of America’s love for self-expression.

“We’re all cowboys, you know. We like to do our own thing. And an apple pie is great for that. You can use virtually any type of apple that you want, any type of sweetening, any type of thickener, you can put a top crust or no crust, you can put a crumb topping,” explained Haedrich, who describes himself as apie apostle” and runs an online forum devoted to helping bakers with pie-related quandaries. “I think this is one of the things that has made apple pie the quintessential American pie—the fact that we can shape it into anything we want it to be.”

(Courtesy of Storey Publishing)

Pie is not only an expression of individual personality but also of America’s different regional attributes. In parts of New England where there is a lot of dairy production, a tradition emerged to place a slice of cheddar cheese on top of apple pie. “You start to get this confluence of regional ingredients with apples, and you’re going to find that in every part of the country. They will have their own sort of variations of apple pies based on what else grows there or the area is known for,” Haedrich explained.

Some in New England also use maple syrup as a sweetener, while in parts of the country with large Amish communities, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other parts of the Midwest, apple custard pies are common due to their dairy farming.

Pie is a reflection of the American penchant for self- expression. (Lux Aeterna Photography)

But there are other fruits of the harvest represented through pie. In the South, pecan pie is the ultimate fall dessert as the nuts are harvested during that season. In the Pacific Northwest, Rebecca Bloom, founder of the Piedaho Bakery based in Hailey, Idaho, throws in cranberries with local Jonathan and Jonagold apples and thyme for a fall treat. The pie company also uses flash-frozen berries from Washington in pies that are served throughout the fall and winter. Bloom loves the wild huckleberries that grow in Idaho, but she has yet to find a way to source them adequately to make pie—though she hopes “one day maybe we will find a treasure trove of them!”

(Lux Aeterna Photography)

And in Indiana, the Hoosier sugar cream pie—made simply of cream, sugar, flour, and spices—emerged during lean times when eggs and fresh ingredients were not available, explained Capri Cafaro, cookbook author and host of “Eat Your Heartland Out,” a podcast on Midwestern food traditions. “We’re dealing with ingredients that […] could be utilized […] with the resources available to people,” she said.

Also in the Midwest, other types of pie became popular due to the waves of immigrants who settled in the region and introduced their culinary traditions, explained Cafaro. In the Upper Peninsula region of Michigan, handheld pies called pasties reign supreme. They are typically savory and trace back to immigrants from Cornwall, England, who came for mining jobs during the mid-1800s.

But the custardy, delicious pumpkin pie did not emerge as a classic fall dish until Thanksgiving became a regional holiday in New England during the 1800s, Cafaro explained. Many abolitionists in New England featured pumpkin pie in their writings, and it became a symbol of the movement. After President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, pumpkin pie became a symbol of the fall bounty.

There is also the wholly American tradition of making recipes developed by major food corporations to promote their products. One year, Cafaro won the third-place ribbon at the Ashtabula County Fair in Ohio for her peaches and cream pie—which incorporated gelatin. The recipe came from one published by Jell-O. During the mid-20th century, with the rise of industrial food, brands popularized many classic desserts, such as the icebox cake, made with Nabisco chocolate wafers, Cafaro explained. “They oftentimes become heirloom recipes in their own weird way.”

Fall Memories

For Haedrich, who grew up in New Jersey with six siblings, pie-making was a treasured fall family tradition.

“Mom and Dad used to pile all of us in the station wagon. We had an old Woody, and we’d go up into the hills around Plainfield,” he recalled. “They’d buy bushels, baskets full of apples, and they’d come back and they would make their apple pies together.” Mom was in charge of the apple filling, while Dad was the crust maker. He believes these kinds of precious memories are “one of the things that strengthens our ties, our love of apple pie, and our love of pie, period.”

Julianna Butler, a baker in Vermont, similarly feels that pie gives off a “homey feel”—a comfort food that “reminds you of your grandmother.” In fall 2019, Butler won second place in an apple pie baking contest held by a local farmers market. The winning recipe incorporated her experience working at a pie bakery in her hometown in Virginia. Pie is Butler’s favorite dessert; in fact, for her upcoming fall wedding, instead of serving a wedding cake, she plans to give out mini pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies from the Virginia bakery.

Bloom, of Piedaho, said she recalls baking pies—especially her grandfather’s favorite, pumpkin pie—as a young child, and gifting them to him on birthdays. Her grandfather has passed away, but she still makes the same recipe—with a few of her own tweaks—to this day.

Rebecca Bloom, owner of Piedaho, grew up baking pies for her grandfather, who loved pumpkin pie. (Courtesy of Piedaho)

Haedrich said many of the people who email him with pie-related queries mention how much they enjoy the tactile experience of making pie. “You get your hands into it, you get to smell all the lovely ingredients.” For those who are new to pie-making, he recommends that they just practice—and not worry too much about how it looks. “I always tell people, don’t be afraid of strutting your ugly pies. Everybody makes a lot of ugly pies when they first start out,” he said.

He notes the most important thing is to enjoy the process. “Just immerse yourself in it totally. Just enjoy every aspect of it.”

Features Small Farms

The Apple Orchard Birthed in the American Revolution

Decades before Johnny Appleseed started planting apple trees in Pennsylvania and Ohio, two brothers created an apple orchard in Limington, Maine, that has endured for 238 years. It was 1783, and the Treaty of Paris had officially ended the American Revolution and ratified the independence of the thirteen American states.

Joshua Brackett and his elder brother Abraham had traveled the 30 miles from Portland, known then as Falmouth, Massachusetts. It was a journey of about a day by horseback. But on their way to the newly settled area of Little Ossipee Plantation, their horses were spooked by an unexpected encounter with a bear. They shot the bear with their Brown Bess musket and considered the fact that the horse had warned them about the animal a sign of good fortune.

Both brothers had followed the example of their father, Lieutenant Joshua Brackett, Sr., and had joined the Continental Army: Abraham in 1778 and Joshua, Jr. in 1780. War in the New World was not new to the Bracketts. Their second great-grandfather, Anthony Bracket, had immigrated from England to New Hampshire around 1623 and was killed by Indians in 1691 at the age of 78. Conflicts with local Indian tribes and the French and Indian War in 1754 brought numerous tragedies to their family.

But when Independence from Britain was declared, the Bracketts joined the American cause, as did many of the citizens of the District of Maine. Joshua, Sr., was a captain of a company of minutemen who marched to Cambridge in 1775. He then became a Second Lieutenant in Captain Joshua Wentworth’s company, while both of his sons served in Captain Joseph Pride’s company, with Abraham discharged in 1779 and Joshua, Jr. discharged in December of 1780.

Joshua, Jr., had the colorful distinction of serving in a detachment of men deployed on boats that warned fishermen about the incursions of the British Naval Captain Henry Mowat, who had burned Falmouth in 1775.

The brothers had received a grant of land as recompense for their military service. Discharged, with the war winding down in 1781, they journeyed to their new holdings at Little Ossipee Plantation, later incorporated as Limington. They found that the hilly country was ideal for apple trees, so the brothers formally established a farm and orchard in 1783.

Joshua didn’t know that 238 years later, a ninth-generation Brackett, his sixth-great-grandson Manley Brackett, would still be running the orchard at the age of 99.

The brothers could not have imagined the future threat to their family farm posed by modern technology or an apple called “Honeycrisp.”

The 99 years of their descendent’s life were, except for a few brief interludes, resonant with the fragrance of apples. Manley Russell Brackett was born on the farm in 1922 and was wheeled in a baby carriage by his mother as his parents planted rows of McIntosh apples.

His parents were Guy Bracket, born in 1884, and May Russell, born in 1881. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” must have worked quite well for the Bracketts—Guy and May were 78 and 89 when they passed away in 1963 and 1971.

Guy and May had decided to stop raising cattle and had converted the farm to only grow apple trees, even though at that time it was still a small farm of about 10 acres. Manley joined the Merchant Marine in World War II and served for two years on a Liberty Ship as the ship’s purser and quasi-pharmacist. After the war, he came back to the farm and helped his father slowly expand the orchard until, in the ’70s, the apple trees covered 120 acres.

The Manley Expansion

Manley married Marion Virginia Sawyer right after the war when Manley was 25. “Ginnie” was a graduate of the Concord School of Business and served as Manley’s business partner, balancing the books “down to the last penny.” They had two daughters, Diane and Debra. Diane told me that Manley had once remarked that “asking Ginnie Sawyer to marry me was the best decision I ever made.”

Manley and Ginnie grew the business until it was a substantial success, shipping 30 to 40,000 bushels of apples a year, many of them out of state and as far away as Europe. In 1964, Manley was featured in The Portland Press Herald as one of the “Faces of Maine.” The farm is a member of the Maine Pomological Society, an organization founded in 1873 that includes apple orchards all over the state and deals with the science of fruits and fruit growing.

Manley developed the orchard even more when he installed a cold storage facility and took on the task of packing the apples in-house. Both decisions increased profits by cutting out two levels of middlemen.

When Manley was 57 in 1979, he was chosen as the York County Farmer of the Year by the Soil and Water Conservation District. The former Journal Tribune newspaper from Biddeford, Maine wrote on November 8, 1979:

“It is because of Manley’s efforts to conserve soil, his progressive and sometimes aggressive efforts in growing apples, in putting up wind fences, pruning trees, and turning apple-raising into an art that won him the award.”

“Operating an orchard is a year-round business, and the way Manley Brackett operates it is not so much a fight against the elements of time and weather, but rather a combination of agricultural technology with an understanding and appreciation of nature. It is learning to work with the weather, soils, trees, and the experience of apple-raising, handed down from generation to generation.”

Planes, Packing Houses, and Big Farms

In 1972, Manley’s daughter Debra married a young man named Guy Paulin. A year later, Guy started working for Manley in the orchard and has worked there ever since. Debra became a school teacher, and Guy and Debra had two boys who were “mirror twins”—identical twins except that one was left-handed and the other right-handed. Both boys graduated from Bentley College.

For the last 12 years, Guy has been the manager of the orchard and has witnessed seismic changes in the apple-growing business. After years of growth, Brackett’s has been confronted with the stresses of foreign competition and the implementation of modern but extremely expensive packing machines. Many other orchards have gone out of business, but Brackett’s has survived due to the commitment to the orchard by Guy and his wife, Debra, who is the farm’s bookkeeper and full-fledged partner.

Apple brokers are the key to success for a large-scale orchard since it’s an apple broker that arranges contracts with a variety of grocery stores across the country. Manley used a broker to get his apples in stores in Florida, where they were purchased by snowbirds from New England. But he eventually stopped using brokers because their increase in packing requirements was not cost effective.

Prior to the delivery of food items by aircraft, customers didn’t expect fresh apples to be available at every grocery store, 12 months a year. Now, with apples flown in from countries like Chile, one can buy a crispy, delicious apple at any time. Although that’s been great for consumers, smaller orchards have struggled to compete.

Brokers now go with the large orchards that can meet a continuous demand, whether foreign or American, and their requirements for packing and delivery have increased. Instead of apples being shipped loose in a box, many brokers want them packed in individual compartments as they are done with eggs. Additionally, supermarkets want a sticker on each apple, which is too labor-intensive for smaller orchards.

The year-round demand has made it tough for farms like Brackett’s, especially with apples like the Honeycrisp, which have stringent requirements for storage and a high percentage rate of failure.

The Rise of the Honeycrisp

Guy told me that Honeycrisp apples are extremely profitable and popular but require expensive equipment to ship year-round. To preserve them, farms need packing facilities that include controlled-atmosphere storage, which regulates the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen, as well as temperature and humidity. Many big packing houses have specialized x-ray machines that scan the inside of the apples for defects. But those machines are far above the budget of many growers.

Developed at the University of Minnesota and released in 1991, the Honeycrisp apple is a hybrid of the Keepsake variety and an unreleased apple labeled the MN1627, a grandchild of the Duchess of Oldenburg and the Golden Delicious apples.

Its crispness and sweet taste have made it a must-have apple at grocery stores, and it sells at a high price. Customers want Honeycrisp apples, so stores and growers have to respond.

Yet for growers, the Honeycrisp is not all joy. In the article “The Dark Side Of Honeycrisp,” by Christina Herrick, published on the Growing Produce website on January 27, 2015, Herrick writes:

“Ask any grower whether they enjoy the experience of growing Honeycrisp year in and year out and they’ll likely tell you no. But it’s a necessary evil. Without Honeycrisp—one of the most profitable varieties to have in an orchard—many growers believe they can’t stay competitive. …”

“It is by far and away the most difficult variety I’ve ever grown,” says Bruce Allen, president of Columbia Reach Pack in Yakima, WA.1

In spite of the problematic side of the new Honeycrisp apple, Guy has planted over 3,000 Honeycrisp trees at Brackett’s. Because of changes within the industry and the consolidation of many smaller farms into larger ones, Guy also had to cut costs to stay competitive.

Downsizing and Fine Tuning

After years of expansion of their farmland, Guy has trimmed the land down to 55 acres. The orchard grows McIntosh, Cortland, Honeycrisp, Spencer, Macoun, Yellow Delicious, Red Delicious, and Northern Spy apples. He’s also added blueberry bushes and peach trees. The Brackett farm stand sells its own apple cider as well as a variety of other local products.

The farm has no broker, due to its size, so Brackett’s has been shut out of the supermarket routes of sale. To compensate, Guy supplies apples to 10 school districts within a 50-mile radius. The farm also has a very popular pick-your-own apple program at their high-ground orchard, which has a 180-degree view of the mountains of New Hampshire.

Brackett’s has also struggled with labor, as many companies have. Guy is fortunate that he’s been working with some excellent apple pickers from Jamaica that come every year for 10 weeks, from September to November. One of them has been working for Brackett’s for 10 years. But local help is much harder to find.

I asked Guy about his work schedule, and I was surprised, even though I shouldn’t have been. I’ve known for a long time that farmers are a special breed of human, far too often unappreciated by their customers who enjoy—in this case literally—the fruits of their labor.

Guy’s day goes from around 4:30 in the morning to 7:30 at night—a 15-hour day—seven days a week. One hundred hours of work a week is something that mere mortals don’t normally wish to contemplate. But that’s what farmers do, and that’s what Guy has been doing for the more than 40 years that he’s worked at Brackett’s. He has been fortunate that, as he stated, Manley was “an easy boss.” And, of course, Guy is now part of the Brackett family, and he loves his work.

Guy and Debra are both taking care of Manley as he approaches his 100th birthday. They’ve helped Manley fulfill his pledge to his father “to keep the orchard going.” Manley often told customers as they left the orchard with bags of apples: “We’ll see you down the road.”

Debra’s sister, Diane, has performed the invaluable service of keeping track of the history of the orchard and the Brackett family.

Guy Paulin of Brackett’s Orchard. (Peter Falkenberg Brown)
(Peter Falkenberg Brown)
Guy and Manley. (Peter Falkenberg Brown)

The Future of Brackett’s

We concluded our conversation by looking at the future. It would be easy to sell their orchard, but they don’t want to. They want to continue and make it work. Guy is 68, and he’s hoping that one or both of his sons might manage the farm. The farm is still profitable, although it’s always on the edge, as many small farms are. Crises are always waiting in the wings, in the form of bad weather or crops that fail.

When I looked at Guy, sitting in the small visitor’s cabin on the top of their beautiful hill facing the western mountains in New Hampshire, I was reminded of Rocky Balboa. The Bracketts have been fighting to survive, to grow, and to bring value to their neighbors for 238 years.

The Brackett’s Orchards farm most certainly qualifies, at least in my mind, as a Historical Landmark. It is indeed a historical treasure. In addition, when I drove through Brackett’s apple trees and came back to their farm stand to shake Manley’s 99-year-old hand and wave goodbye, I felt that this was one farm that must not be subsumed by the bean-counters of Big Agra. The orchard has too much soul and too much history. Brackett’s Orchards must continue.