Monthly Archives: January 2011

Loving Our Sons and Daughters

Dear Friends,

A week ago a young man from our neighborhood and a childhood friend of our son’s died in a fatal car accident. Our hearts are breaking for his mom, younger brothers, dad, extended family, and friends.

Within our community and among my children’s circle of friends, this is the third such horrific death of a young man, in as many months.

Hold your sons and daughters. Tell them everyday how much you love them and why. Choose your battles to be few and far between. Try to help them as best and in as many ways as you can to see beyond their immediate teenage travails and anguish. Help them imagine the beautiful adult they will grow to become as they will know in their hearts that they are well- and greatly-loved and well- and greatly-appreciated.

There is nothing more shattering than a vibrant life ended prematurely and nothing more punishing than a life lived longer than that of your child’s.

And know, too, that there is randomness to death, no matter how hard you love your sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters.

In loving memory of my brother Bill

Sea Squirts

Beautiful Industry Monkey Balls

From Joey at Good Morning Gloucester:

Our fishermen call them Monkey Balls but they are more commonly referred to by marine biologists as “Sea Squirts”. Sea Squirt is a pretty apt description as every time one gets squished they seem to find a way to squirt you right in the eye. I took these photos Saturday morning just as they came out of the water.

See more of Joey’s great photos, an informative and comprehensive series by Kathleen Valentine titled How to Publish Your Book (or Not) and all the good things going on over at Good Morning Gloucester.

Chris Leahy and The Birds of Cape Ann

Bird Talk

Come hear Mass Audubon’s Chair of Field Ornithology and Gloucester’s own Chris Leahy at the Sawyer Free Library on Tuesday, February 1 at 7pm, main floor. Chris promises a lively and comprehensive talk about the myriad beautiful bird species that surround us here on Cape Ann. His published works include Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife, Introduction to New England Birds, and The Nature of Massachusetts.

This lecture is free and open to the public

Postponned: New date to be Announced

New Director’s Series at the Arnold Arboretum

Magnolia 'Betty' Arnold ArboretumMagnolia ‘Betty’

In this new lecture series, nationally recognized experts will examine an array of contemporary topics related to Earth’s biodiversity and evolutionary history, the environment, conservation biology, and key social issues associated with current science. Opportunities to informally chat with the speaker will follow each lecture.

Lectures are free, but registration is required. All lectures held in the Hunnewell Building, Arnold Arboretum.

Register online or call 617.384.5277

A note about the photo above: I love taking photos at the Arnold Arboretum. Not only does every turn along the sweeping paths lead to a beautiful vista, with gorgeous and beautifully cared-for examples of individual plant specimens, but also because the garden is organized by plant family. As as example, surrounding the Hunnewell Building is a stunning collection of members of the Magnoliaceae, or Magnolia Family, both cultivars and species from around the globe. This allows you to more easily compare and comprehend some of the similarities and differences between, for instance, native sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginina), tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and hybrid ‘Magnolia ‘Elizabeth.’ When photographing at the Arnold I also take a photo of the identifying tag attached to the tree or shrub, which allows me to continue photographing without having to stop and write down the information. Later I can easily look up the plant to find out all I can.

A Darwinian Look at Darwin’s Evolutionist Ancestors
Ned Friedman, Director, Arnold Arboretum
NEW DATE ADDED: Monday, January 31, 6:30–8:30pm

For over a century before the publication of On the Origin of Species, naturalists, theologians, atheists, horticulturalists, medical practitioners, poets, and philosophers had advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life through descent with modification. The early history of evolutionary thought will be examined through the lens of Charles Darwin’s highly personal views of his evolutionist ancestors. We will examine the question of what set Darwin apart from the dozens of advocates of evolution who preceded him. Is Darwin truly deserving of his place in history? Come find out!

Register online or call 617.384.5277

Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution

Robert Robichaux, University of Arizona
Monday, February 7, 6:30–8:30pm

Evolving in splendid isolation over millions of years, Hawaii’s native plants exhibit patterns of diversity that are unrivaled elsewhere on Earth. Especially striking are the many examples of adaptive radiation, in which original immigrants to the islands evolved into dazzling arrays of plants exhibiting great variation in form and habitat preference. Yet Hawaii’s native plants face an uncertain future. Many native plants, such as the exquisitely beautiful silverswords and lobeliads, now teeter on the edge of extinction. Join botanist Robert Robichaux of the University of Arizona and the Hawaiian Silversword Foundation as he discusses recent efforts to restore Hawaii’s marvels of plant evolution.

Register online or call 617.384.5277

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

The Robin is the One

That interrupt the Morn

With hurried — few — express Reports

When March is scarcely on –

The Robin is the One

That overflow the Noon

With her cherubic quantity –

An April but begun –

The Robin is the One

That speechless from her Nest

Submit that Home — and Certainty

And Sanctity, are best            - Emily Dickinson

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)American Robin

They’re back this winter, and in legions! The Robins have returned to our garden to feast on the fruits of the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. For more information on the American Robin see older post: Round Robin Red-breast.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) ©Kim Smith 2010

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) tailfeathers Beautiful Tailfeathers!

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Songbirds in Winter ~ Sharing Recent Letters from Readers

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)American Robin

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops – at all -

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet, never, in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of Me         –  Emily Dickinson

Dear Gardening Friends,  Please forgive when I am slow to answer your kind and thoughtful letters. I am struggling with an elbow injury and have had to limit my writing and photography somewhat (with extreme reluctance!!!). I love to hear about your bird and butterfly encounters, so please, keep your letters coming–just know that I am slow! Warmest wishes, Kim

From Jeannette in Marblehead – Kim Happy New Year, So enjoy your emails.  Walter and I were in Gloucester in November and drove by your home to try to peak at your garden but of course, it was the end of November and the gardens were sleeping.   It looked enchanting with the little sparkling lights. A quick questions where does one find the Nyjer feeder and seeds.  We have been so unsuccessful, all our bird feeders in the past have become squirrel feeders. I  hope to come and see your gardens this Spring/Summer.

Dear Jeannette, We purchase Nyjer and safflower seeds from our local Essex Bird Shop and Pet Supply and I imagine most Mom and Pop type bird and pet supply shops stock both varieties of seeds as well as the Nyjer seed feeder. I like looking at the Duncraft website–they have quite a selection of Nyjer seed feeders. We have the very basic single tube feeders, but I lust after their three tube copper feeder. I wonder if they photoshopped all those finches!

From Judy in Gloucester -Thanks for the wonderful information, Kim.  I have what I think is a sparrow that spends each evening tucked into the corner of the little porch over my side door facing your house. S/he is there reliably every late afternoon as soon as it is dark and leaves in the early morning.  It was the same routine last year.  I’m wondering if it’s the same bird every evening and perhaps even the same bird last year and this.

Dear Judy, I can’t say for sure without seeing a photo or the actual bird, however, House Finches and European House Sparrows are well known for their habit of nesting in the eaves. We have had several pairs of House Finches build their nests on top of the porch pillars that are tucked under the porch roof, as well as House Sparrows sleeping overnight in the same areas, just as you describe yours. I would think it is the same bird every evening and possibly from year to year. House Sparrows are year round residents on Cape Ann (and nearly everywhere else).

From Joan in Gloucester -Dear Kim, As always, I enjoy your email messages. We use Nyger seed for one feeder, as well as sunflower seed for another and sunflower hearts for the third. We happily feed whoever comes to eat‹birds (our preference), but the cleverness and ingenuity of squirrels as well as their acrobatic antics have brought us much laughter over the years. For a while we tried many different types of feeders guaranteed to defeat squirrels, but found that the squirrels almost always could find their way to defeat the feeder designers.

It turns out that we also feed a lot of pigeons, starlings and other (I consider) less than appealing species of birds, but in the end, we are feeding hungry creatures who are our neighbors (including a brown rat who lives in the marsh next to our yard).

I love watching the various eaters and how they perch on nearby trees or shrubs waiting their turn, having little spats, diving in to disrupt each other, chasing each other away and reflecting the behavior of the humans who occupy our world in many of the same ways.

Thanks for your always wonderful photographs and the information that is so interesting.

Gratefully, Joan

From Diane in Ipswich -Hi Kim,I so enjoy your e-mails!  Today one of our “mystery birds” was identified in your e-mail!  We have had Eastern Towhees in our yard the past couple of weeks.  I could not find them in my Audubon book.  I saw Eastern Towhee mentioned in the e-mail and googled it to see what that was and voila!  There was our mystery bird!

We have also had many Pine Siskins lately.  I did not know what they were called either!

I too delight in watching the birds. I have two sets of feeders and keep them well stocked with Nyger, woodpecker food, black oil sunflowers and suet.  I also throw millet, sunflower and sometimes, as a treat, peanuts in the shell for the ground birds – and squirrels.  Since I have been doing that the squirrels leave the feeders alone.  Although watching their acrobatics on the feeders is very entertaining!

The birds I know the names of that are here in my Argilla Rd. Ipswich yard are chickadees, siskins, red & yellow finches, various sparrow like birds, a wren or two, towhees, titmouses, lots of juncos, two kinds of woodpeckers, mourning doves, blue jays and 3 or 4 pairs of cardinals.  Sometimes the chickadees will eat out of my hand.  What a feeling! Have a lovely day!

Dianne Fischbach

Ipswich Garden Club

CBR, CRS, GRI, Green

Broker / Owner

Coast & Country Real Estate

From the Byers in Gloucester - Thanks for your very interesting email on Pine Siskins! I have never been able to identify any on the feeders previously, but thanks to your excellent photo (which I printed & stuck in my bird book) I may now have a chance. We have all the rest of the gang, goldfinches, chickadees, 2 var of nuthatches, titmice, purple (or maybe house) finches, juncos (ours seem to be much darker than your photo shows) & of course, zillions of sparrows. So maybe we can now separate out those pine siskins. Thanks again!

A quick note on the subject of butterflies: if you haven’t seen it yet, you should, & I would say ASAP.  The Library has, in their 1st display case on right as you go in the front, a fantastic display of tropical butterflies! The story Tom & I got from a couple of the librarians is that these display trays they have were seized by customs authorities for some malfeasance; & that customs has the option, instead of destroying the stuff, to “lend” it to educational, nonprofit, etc. institutions. I would suspect they will not be on display for long, & probably the fluorescent overhead lights would in any case be detrimental to the magnificent colors.

Best wishes & here’s to an EARLY spring! Ann (& Tom) Byers Western Ave., Gloucester

From Sally on the South Shore - Hi Kim — I just heard yesterday for squirrrel proof feeders, you hang a SLINKY at the top!   Remember them?   I guess a toy store would be the place to look.   I am going to get 2 and can’t wait to see if it works.   Love your column.   Sally Goodrich

Hi Sally, let me know if slinkies do the trick!

Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend

Dear Gardening Friends,

Tim Burton from the local Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce (no affiliation with the US Chamber of Commerce) emailed with a reminder to the upcoming Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend, February 4th through February 6th. For information about registering and schedule of events visit their website  at Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce.

Cape Ann is known to birdwatchers worldwide for its exciting concentrations of winter seabirds. Loons, grebes, gannets, sea ducks, alcids, and gulls gather in impressive concentrations and variety, and a careful exploration of the area’s gorgeous coastal geography is quite likely to turn up such winter bird specialties as our logo bird, the Harlequin Duck. Working with the Mass Audubon Society, the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce is planning a weekend filled with opportunity for bird lovers of all skill levels to join expert guides on a tour of Cape Ann’s birding hot spots- including a sea trip on the 7 Seas Whale Watch boat the Privateer IV!

About Mass Audubon

Mass Audubon works to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife. Together with more than 100,000 members, we care for 33,000 acres of conservation land, provide educational programs for 200,000 children and adults annually, and advocate for sound environmental policies at local, state, and federal levels. Mass Audubon’s mission and actions have expanded since our beginning in 1896 when our founders set out to stop the slaughter of birds for use on women’s fashions. Today we are the largest conservation organization in New England. Our statewide network of 45 wildlife sanctuaries welcomes visitors of all ages and serves as the base for our conservation, education, and advocacy work. To support these important efforts, call 800-AUDUBON (800-283-8266) or visit

About the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce

The Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce promotes the area as a premier, year round destination. The Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend allows the Chamber to highlight Cape Ann’s beauty and the wealth of opportunities for birding and outdoor activities in the region.


Pine Siskin ~ Carduelis pinus

Pine Siskin ~ Carduelis pinusPine Siskin ~ Carduelis pinus

We certainly weren’t expecting to see and hear a new-to-our garden species of birds flocking to the Nyjer seed feeder on a frigid mid-January day. American Goldfinch in size, the richly mottled plumage resembled something closer to a sparrow. Their delightful birdsong was new and fresh to my ears and sweetly cheering. Currently in residence is a flock of House Sparrows, with several Song and Savannah Sparrows tagging along, but I had no success with identifying this new entourage when thumbing through the sparrow section of Audubon’s books. Returning to the goldfinch pages, Pine Siskins are closely related to American Goldfinches (the two species comprise the subgenus Spinus), and information was readily available, once on the right track.

To be sure, I emailed a snapshot to Chris Leahy at Mass Audubon and he confirmed that this was indeed a flock of Pine Siskins and that they are having an “irruptive” year. In ecological terms, irrupt is defined as “to increase rapidly and irregularly in number.”

Pine Siskins are “classic,” or true finches—small to moderately large, with twelve tail feathers and nine primary feathers, and strong conical shaped beaks designed to both penetrate the hard external shells of seeds and delicately extract a morsel of food. Members of the genus Carduelis sensu lato feed their young on a highly nutritious and easily digested diet of partially regurgitated, milky cereal-like blend of seeds.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Fringillidae

Genus: Carduelis

(Sub) Genus: Spinus

Species: pinus (Pine Siskin)

Species: tristis (American Goldfinch)

Pine Siskins are primarily a northern species, whose irruptive winter activity in the United States occurs in years when seed crops have failed in the boreal forests. Ornithologists believe the severity of winter weather in northern parts of the siskins’ range, as well as factors not completely understood, also contribute to their irruptive cycles. The siskins’ principal foods are the seeds of alder, cedar, birch, hemlock, and a variety of conifers. Occasionally, large flocks will appear as far south as Florida. Protecting coniferous forests will help protect the Pine Siskins.

Nimbly dangling upside down and every which way to feed, battling for a place at the feeder, and seemingly unafraid of my approach with camera in hand, the gregarious Pine Siskins are a fascinating species to observe. I am so glad I took a few snapshots when I did. Today it is snowing, again, and the temperatures are hovering around freezing. Perhaps they will stay (we keep the Nyjer seed feeder well stocked) or perhaps they will continue migrating further south.

Pine Siskins typically breed in coniferous forests. Although monogamous, they nest in both isolated pairs and loose colonies, and pairs may visit one another’s nests. The female constructs the nest on a horizontal branch of a conifer, well hidden and well away from the trunk.The nest resembles a large shallow basket, is watertight, and built of twigs, grass, rootlets, strips of bark, lichen, and leaves, and lined with moss, plant down, feathers, and hair. The female incubates the eggs for about two weeks, rarely leaving the nest. The male brings her food while she incubates and for the first few days after the young hatch. The fledglings leave the nest in approximately two weeks. The male and female continue to feed the young for several more weeks.

Because Pine Siskins forage in flocks and nest in loose colonies, they are particularly susceptible to salmonella. It is important to keep Nyjer seed feeders (all bird feeders) scrupulously clean. Scrub inside and out weekly with a solution of vinegar and water.

American Goldfinches display a dramatic example of sexual dichromatism in their plumage; during breeding season the males molt to brilliant cadmium yellow while the females maintain their olive hue year round. Pine Siskins show a more subtle form of sexual dichromatism. The male is typically identified by yellow patches in the wings and tail feathers. The female shows much less yellow. Sexual dichromatism is the systematic difference in color form between male and female in the same species (Greek, di meaning two, and chromatic relating to color). The yellow color of the pine siskins is not always clearly visible when perching and they are often mistaken for sparrows, with their similar brown, heavily streaked underparts.

Friday is my well-guarded, sacred day to paint, and I am currently finishing my illustrated book about butterflies. If I can’t manage to squeeze in any other time during the week to paint, at least I know I will have my Friday. My painting area is arranged beneath a northeast- facing window, ideal light for painting flora and fauna as the light coming through the left side evenly illuminates the subject placed on the table. Several of the bird feeders hang a mere ten feet from the window and are a wonderful source of distracting entertainment. Today at the bird feeders we observed the flock of Pine Siskins, a Dark-eyed Junco and his Song Sparrow friend (an oddly matched pair who always appear to come and go together), American Goldfinches, Blue Jays, Harrier Hawk, a pair of Northern Cardinals, one Carolina Wren, and the ubiquitous House Sparrows. A Northern Mockingbird, lately joined by an American Robin, comes daily to the winterberry and hollies, helping themselves to only a few berries, and then departing. The days are growing longer; we’re half past January, we only have February to get through, and soon we will be welcoming spring. I am looking forward to black earth revealed, new notes of fresh scents, and the chorus of courting songbirds.

Squirrel Proof Bird Feeding

Dark-eyed Junco "Snowbird"Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

The following note is from my friend Heidi Kost-Gross in Wellesley. Heidi reports many of the same species of songbirds flocking to her feeders as we attract further east on Cape Ann. She also sent information about the bee colony collaspe disorder (more re in upcoming post).

Hi Kim, Many thanks for the beautiful Cardinal pics.  I, too, have a couple at my feeders.  Wonderful companions.  I also have three Blue Jays coming in the middle of the day scaring off the little birds but not the squirrels.  What’s up with the Jays? Are they also mating for life?  Yesterday counted 24 Juncos around three feeders having a fine time.  Chicadees are ever-present and so are Titmice and Doves … counted 7 of them yesterday. House Finches and Gold Finches are steady customers as well. Seemed that Friday was feeding day all around.  What do you feed your birds.  We feed both sunflower seeds and kernels, as well as thistle seeds. Hugs and thanks for all; and all the best wishes for 2011.  May we all stay well. Heidi

Dear Heidi,

For squirrel-proof bird feeding, we feed the songbirds only Nyjer seed and safflower seed.

We fill the platform-type feeder only with safflower seeds because it has been my experience, as well as friends who I have recomended this to, that squirrels do not like safflower seeds. I would rather provide the songbirds with a more varied selection, but every time I try to sneak black oil sunflower seeds into the mix, the squirrels detect it within a day or two. I imagine the birds find different types of seeds at neighboring feeders and, of course, from wild berries and seeds.

The Nyjer seed only goes in the Nyjer seed feeder, which has tiny ports that the squirrels cannot access. Nyjer seed is the small black seed that resembles grains of wild rice, and is often called thistle seed. Nyjer is rich in protein, with a high fat content, and is highly desirable not only to the American Goldfinch and Purple Finch, but to Black-capped Chicadee, Pine Siskin, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Mourning Dove, and Eastern Towhee. Nyjer seed is the the seed of the nyjer plant (Guizotia abyssinica) native to the highlands of Ethiopia. Purportedly, there is no need to worry about it spreading noxiously as the seed sold as bird seed in this country is now heated to prevent germination.

Blue jays form lasting monogamous bonds and will typically stay together until one of the pair dies.

Thank you Heidi for all that you do, for NELDHA especially!

Katherine K. MacDonald Named Executive Director of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society


Seasoned strategist Katherine Macdonald has extensive background in non-profit management and strategic planning

WELLESLEY, January 6, 2010 — The Massachusetts Horticultural Society announces today that it has named Katherine K. Macdonald as the organization’s new executive director.  Ms. Macdonald brings a wealth of experience to her new position, including both public company and not-for-profit management experience.  Macdonald was President of KMAC Marketing and, prior to that, was Vice President of Marketing for Thompson Island Outward Bound, a non-profit focused on experiential education. Continue reading

Message from NELDHA President Heidi Kost-Gross

Dear Members –

Happy New Year to all of you and best wishes.

As many of you know, I have been involved for nearly four decades with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society chairing many Spring Flower Show committees, as well as collaborating in educational programs and as a Trustee and Overseer of the corporation.

For nearly five years now, MassHort has been laboring hard to get out of its massive debts incurred through exceedingly poor management. Staff firings and board resignations allowed a thorough house cleaning and in the process new boards of Trustees and Overseers with administrative and financial acumen were recruited.

However, an Executive Director was sorely needed to steer all those valiant volunteer efforts of MHS’ members, garden clubs and the Master Gardeners, given do maintain the organization, into cohesive directions. AND, finally, after over 100 applications and 20 interviews, the right person for the job has come along. Continue reading

Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Focus on Feeders

Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus)Pine Siskins ~ Carduelis pinus

Hi Kim,

I really enjoyed your latest blog entry with the photos of the birds at your feeder. In case you are interested (or would like to let your readers know), we have our free annual Focus on Feeders Weekend coming up on Feb. 5 & 6.

In a nutshell (or a suet feeder) we ask people to fill out a simple form noting the number and diverse species of birds visiting a backyard feeder. All of those who submit reports will be entered into a random drawing contest for free prizes. We’re also encouraging people to submit their wildlife photos (can be any animal species) and we will award prizes in several different categories.

It helps us to track trends in abundance and distribution patterns of birds. We’ve run this fun event for 40 years now and over time have collected quite an interesting database of information.

For more information or to download a reporting form, please visit:

Thanks for helping us spread the word among your friends.



Jan Kruse
Communications Manager

Cardinal Attacking Mirror

Black-capped Chicadee and Northern Cardinal feeding hungrily during blizzard

Dear Gardening Friends,

During inclement weather, particularly when it is blizzarding, please don’t forget to knock the snow off, and clear the base around, your feeders. While working on a drawing this afternoon and looking out onto the snowy backyard scene I observed a half dozen species of our feathered friends searching for food at the bird feeders and in the fruit-bearing shrubs. The fearless Black-capped Chicadees, with cheery birdsong chic-a-dee-dee-dee, have their amusing habit of darting in for a seed and skedaddling away as quick as can be to crack it open against a firm surface. Particularly sweet was a cardinal pair. They took turns at the feeder; while one was eating, the other was always close by and at the ready with a warning cry.

A question from one of my dear readers:

Dear Kim, I have a question that maybe you can answer. Last summer a male cardinal sang his heart out every day from the tree tops around our house. I thought he must be calling for a mate, but I never saw him with a female at all. Then the most curious thing happened: he began to perch on either my or my husband’s side mirror on our cars. He would peck away at the mirror and flap his wings. It was then that I concluded that he was desperate for a mate. This fall and winter, a male and female have appeared. There is a male (maybe the same one) that has started perching on my car mirror again. Since it is December/January, and if it is the same cardinal who now has a mate, it may have nothing to do with trying to find a mate. If you have any ideas, let me know.
Male Northern Cardinal
Dear Wendy, Although I have never observed male cardinals attacking mirrors or windows, they are well-known for this territorial behavior. The birds see their own reflection and believe it to be a competing male.  A group of male turkeys in Rockport has become a real nuisance, aggressively attacking the poor mailman because they see their reflections in his shiny white truck. The species that most frequently display this behavior are: American Robin and Northern Cardinal, and occasionally Northern Mockingbird, American Goldfinch, Wild Turkey, and Ruffed Grouse. To read more about it, go to Mass Audubon’s page on Birds Attacking Windows.
Stay warm and cozy,

Hilton Netherland Plaza

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati OhioRace Street Entrance with Brass Torcheres Flanking the Porte-cochère.

Notes About the Cincinnati Netherland Hotel Plaza and Carew Tower

I find it extraordinary that the plans for the Carew Tower and Netherland Plaza Hotel were announced in August of 1929, the foundation begun in January of 1930 and the project completed by January, 1931, not only because of the lightning speed in which this opulent monument to Art Deco design was constructed, but because the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 occurred several months after the project was first announced.

The financing came from the Emery family, which had made its fortune in Cincinnati’s stockyards. John Emery hired designer Walter W. Ahlschlager and Colonel William Starrett of Starrett Bros. & Eken of New York. William Starrett at that time was arguably the standard bearer of building first class buildings. Starrett Bros. & Eken are most famously known today as the builders of New York City’s Empire State Building. (For more information about William Starrett see The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark by John Tauranac, Scribner, 1995).

The Carew Tower and Netherland Plaza were designed to be what Col. William Starrett termed a “city-within-a-city.” By the time Emery brought him to Cincinnati, Starrett had written of his urban vision in his seminal book Skyscrapers and the Men Who Build Them (Scribner, 1928). Due to traffic density, Cincinnati was ranked the third most congested city in the U.S. Part theoretical and part practical, Starrett’s solution to the increasing density and street level congestion in American cities was an untried, mixed-use skyscraper complex—a city-within-a-city. Although the concept was new at the time, Emery was willing to risk his fortune, believing that the combination of department store, shops, offices, and hotel would invite downtown residents, workers, and visitors. The Carew complex was the first experiment in the design, construction, and development of such a concept and it inspired other mixed-use complexes such as Rockefeller Center, which was completed in 1934.

Emery’s vision for Cincinnati led to bold financial moves. He had approached the bank to underwrite his city-within-a-city project but because the concept was so novel the bank declined. Emery sold all his stocks and securities. The plans and the financing for the building complex were in place when the stock market crashed. Had he left his stocks and securities tied up in the market, he would have lost everything. The construction project became one of Cincinnati’s largest employers during the years after the Great Crash, creating over one thousand jobs.

The Restaurants at Palm Court

The Palm Court was once the main lobby for the hotel. Egyptian, French, and Greek influences abound and are transmuted into an eclectic vision of Art Deco design. At the far end of the Palm Court is a ram’s-head fountain with a breche marble ziggurat-shaped surround, guarded by two strikingly handsome seahorses, crowned with lotus-shaped lights.

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Breche marble

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio

Hilton Netherland Plaza Seahorse Cincinnati Ohio

George Unger, a talented theatre designer during the 1920s and 1930s, is credited with the majority of the interior design work. Although myriad mythological figures are found throughout the hotel—the ram, dolphin, seahorse, and mermaid represent protection for travelers—the variety of Art Deco images and forms were adopted not so much for their for their symbolic attributes, but for their dramatic visual effect.

Carew Tower Rookwood Ceramic Arches Cincinnati OhioCarew Tower Ceramic Arches

Detail Carew Tower Ceramic Arches Cincinnati Ohio

Detail of Ceramic Rookwood Art Tiles from the Carew Arcade Arches

Carew Tower Rookwood Ceramic Arches Cincinnati Ohio

The seahorse, fountain, and Carew Arcade ceramic tile arches were made at the world-renowned Rookwood Pottery studio located atop Mt. Adams, one of the seven hills surrounding Cincinnati. The magnificent floral arches are located on the east and west ends of the Carew Tower Arcade and are one of the largest installations of art pottery in the world. Because of their highly visible location they are one of the most publicly accessible. The tiles are the work of William E. Hentschel and are based on a repeating motif designed by the French metalsmith and armaments designer Edgar Brandt, establishing a link between Hentschel’s Arts and Crafts movement heritage and Brandt’s influence in the French Arts Décoratifs et Industrials Modernes of the mid-1920s. Although not ever directly acknowledged by the developer, builder, or architect, Brandt is considered the “decorative artist in absentia,” particularly of the Netherland Hotel. The appropriation of knock-offs of Brandt’s signature themes such as the frozen fountains, sunflower patterns, rams’ horns, and antelopes into the complex filled an immediate need for a decorative vocabulary in the massive building on the developer’s fast-track schedule.

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio


The wall lighting in the Netherland Plaza was considered ground breaking design because the light bulbs were not visible through the silver and nickel sconces.

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati OhioLotus-shaped Light Crowning the Seahorse’s Coronet


Preparations Underway for the Grand Christmas Dinner Feast at the Palm Court!

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Christmas

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Christmas

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Christmas

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Christmas

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Christmas

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Christmas

A quiet morning after…

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Christmas

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Christmas


Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio ChristmasConfections created by hotel staff

The Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza is an Historic Hotel of America and in 1985 earned National Historic Register and National Landmark Status.

End Note: Breche marbles are a category of marbles that are of similar composition: the pressure and distortions at the time of the geological formation of the stone created a marble with large elements. See photo below and photo of the ram’s head statue surround.

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio Christmas

Christmas in Cincinnati

Hilton Netherland Plaza Cincinnati Ohio

Christmas in Beautiful Cincinnati

We spent the holidays with my husband Tom’s parents in downtown Cincinnati. Several years ago my in-laws sold their home on Indian Hill and moved to the city, which is located directly on the Ohio River in southwestern Ohio.  They love the close proximity of the new home to their church, offices, cultural institutions, and shops. Surrounded by seven hills, the beauty of the region was not lost on the early German immigrants; one of the oldest neighborhoods is still referred to as Over-the-Rhine. Cincinnati boasts a wealth of museums and performing centers and is a veritable treasure trove of superlative examples of American architecture.

For close to one hundred years the family has celebrated the holidays with an annual Christmas Eve party. The party was originated by Tom’s great grandmother Freida (Mrs. Louis) Hauck in their family home atop one of Cincinnati’s hilltops. Today, members of the “older” generation take turns hosting; this year was my mother and father-in-law’s turn. Comparing family photographs of the gala event from decades past, they have continued with the custom of hosting in the most elegant and lovely of German traditions. Particularly as the family becomes more dispersed with each passing year, the party affords a welcome opportunity to stay in touch.

Cincinnati Country ClubGorgeous Table Setting by Janet, my mother-in-law

Cake from The BonBonerieSuper Delicious Cake from The BonBonerie

As guests of my mother- and father-in-law, we were invited to stay at the Westin Hotel, which is located within walking distance of their apartment. The enchanting view from our hotel window:

Fountain Square Cincinnati OhioFountain Square, Cincinnati, Ohio

In search of breakfast on the first morning after arriving we left the lobby of the Westin, crossed Vine Street and entered the fascinating and fantastical French Art Deco world of the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel and Carew Tower. We quickly found the luncheonette Hathaways, tucked in amongst the shops, a favorite spot of my father-in-law’s, then wandered the public areas of the Carew Tower, eventually wending our way through the lobby and restaurants of the Palm Court of the Netherland Plaza.

Husband Tom

Son Alex

Blanketed by a cold front, the sun shone once during our entire stay; however, that did not deter us from having a grand holiday. Perhaps the next time we visit my mother- and father-in-law in downtown Cincinnati, the weather will be warmer. I plan to bring you additional photos from the gorgeous Hilton Netherland Plaza—the snapshots in this posting and the following are but a modicum of the stunning design elements found there—as well as more photos representative of the beauty that is Cincinnati.

Batsakes Haberdashery Cincinnati OhioBatsakes~ Genuine haberdashery, located around the corner from the Westin, well-stocked with fedoras, pork-pies, et al.–custom gold-leaf monogramming, stamped inside the hat brim, is provided with purchase!


Sister-in-law Amy and beau Arnold

Nieces and cousins Carolyn, Hannah, and Katharine

Rookwood Pottery Overlook


Over the bridge to Newport Kentucky to keep son happy with with burger and shake…we miss you Johnny Rockets!

Johnny Rockets Newport Kentucky

Johnny Rockets Newport Kentucky

Seahorses at the Newport Aquarium

Lined Seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) at the Newport Aquarium of Greater Cincinnati.

Notice the rapidly fluttering dorsal fin and the tiny pectoral fins, which are located above the eyes; seahorses have no caudal fin. Seahorses suck up food through their long snouts, and similarly to chameleons, their eyes can move independently of each other.

Habitat: Atlantic coastal waters from Nova Scotia to Uruguay. Diet: Small shrimp, other small crustacean, plankton, and tiny fish. The female seahorse deposits eggs in the male “brood pouch.” The male carries the eggs until the fry emerge. He expels fully developed miniature seahorses into the water.

“Hippocampus” comes from the Ancient Greek hippos meaning “horse” and kampos meaning “sea monster”.