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Reading my mother's mail on Veterans Day

For Veterans Day, here is a letter from my Uncle David (Oscar David Boutilier, 1923-1990) to my mother, Aileen Boutilier Hall (1919-2004) while he was in North Africa. In WWII he was a pilot and spent time in North Africa and the Mediterranean. In this letter he tells of a frightening experience with turbulence or wind shear. Apparently they did not know very much about it then, and stories of the more extreme turbulence events were often discounted as exaggeration.

Two of my mother's brothers were in the war, Foster and David. Very few letters were saved, and I am glad to have this one. My mother was living in Old Orchard Maine with her family at this time and she went to Farmington Teacher's College (now U of Maine at Farmington). She told me about making parachutes to help the war effort and she also worked in a program to help people can produce from their victory gardens.

Letter from David to his sister Aileen from Paris during World War II. Page 1 of 6. Select the image for a larger view. Letter from David to his sister Aileen from Paris during World War II. Page 2 of 6. Select the image for a larger view. Letter from David to his sister Aileen from Paris during World War II. Page 3 of 6. Select the image for a larger view.

Letter from David to his sister Aileen from Paris during World War II. Page 4 of 6. Select the image for a larger view. Letter from David to his sister Aileen from Paris during World War II. Page 5 of 6. Select the image for a larger view.

Letter from David to his sister Aileen from Paris during World War II. Page 6 of 6. Select the image for a larger view.

My Recent Articles in Folklife Today

I am busy writing for a blog at work, and so not posting here much. I want to get back to this journal. But, for today, here is what I have been working on this year.  The blog is Folklife Today by the staff of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, and you will see there are quite a mix of topics. We include lots of links to audio, video, images, old song sheets, and sheet music in Library of Congress Collections.  There are several other LC blogs to check out as well.

The Folklore and Folksong of Trains in America, Part One, July 23rd, 2015 (Focuses on the development of railroads in the US in the 19th century)
The Folklore and Folksong of Trains in America, Part Two, August 19th, 2015 (Focuses on the symbolism of trains)

Earlier in 2015:
Celebrating All the Molly Pitchers, June 28th, 2015
Songs and Music of Refugees of the First World War, June 23rd, 2015
East Asian American Traditions, May 27th, 2015
The Language of Birds, April 24th, 2015
Poetry Afield, April 16th, 2015
Voices of African American Women, February 27th, 2015
Vasant Panchami: A Celebration of Learningi: A Celebration of Learning, January 24th, 2015

Select "about this blog" to learn about other bloggers in Folklife Today. There are also guest posts by experts on various topics.

Two Weeks in the Virginia Woods

OaksI spent a couple of weeks tramping around in the woods in Virginia just east of Shanendoah National Park at a retreat.  I have put up a collection of nature photos of Sevenoaks where I stayed.  I also took a side trip to Grand Cavern with of our group and pictures of that will be found in a separate gallary abum.  We had spectacular weather for October-November.

The retreat was to take some time learning about healing techniques in shamanism and during that I met some extraordinary people. Some had long experience with core shamanism, while others had just discovered it, but all had a strong commitment to learning and practicing more.  I went because I am trying to figure out what to do next with what I have learned. I know that trance experience has helped me a great deal in taking care of my own health problems, and I would like to find ways of sharing that with other people struggling with pain or chronic illness. The main discovery for me over the years has been that a drum beat can have such a profound effect on my wellbeing and has made such an effective accompanyment to mainstream medical treatment. That rediscovery of ancient practices is starting to be picked up by people with various medical problems who are creating drumming circles specifically for thier medical issues.  So it was interesting to talk with students who had experience with alternative healing techniques.

One of the best things I did for myself during this retrerat was hiking out in the woods and taking pictures. I was recovering from a broken foot and had a clumsy boot on one foot, but I hiked anyway. I plan to keep up the hiking as it is a great way to get out in nature, improve my stamina, and enjoy photography.
If you are a Facebook reader you may have liked the page of a nonprofit organization because you value their service, value the content they provide, and wish to call the attention of others to the work they are doing. But have you seen their posts recently? When was the last time they showed up in your news feed? What is going on?

Nonprofits BlueFor the past couple of years Facebook has been courting nonprofit organizations to create pages and participate in providing quality information to the social network. Museums, libraries, religious and spiritual groups, charitable organizations, causes, educational organizations, and research groups took up this opportunity to use a free service to reach out to existing and new constituents. This has added a great deal of new educational content to Facebook. But all this could be going away. Even as Facebook courted nonprofits, at the end of 2013 they were drastically cutting the numbers of people who had liked organizational pages who would see their posts.

There has been confusing news coverage of the consequences of the reduction of organizational visibility on Facebook as it is usually described as only impacting large businesses. But all organizational pages are seeing this reduction — from major corporations, to small businesses, to your local library.  All organizations now need to pay advertising fees if they want their posts to reach more than a small fraction of their fans. Facebook has been drastically reducing the number of posts that are seen by people who have "liked" an organization's pages, which is called "organic reach." At the end of 2013 it was estimated that only about sixteen percent of those who liked an organizational page would see any given post. This percentage is reported to have dropped to around five percent this spring, and Facebook plans to reduce it to one or two percent, or perhaps to zero. This new policy is a result of the popularity of Facebook and the need to reduce volume. Surveys indicated that users wanted less advertising and more quality news, so Facebook now favors only one sort of organizational post — that of news organizations.

The impact on businesses has made the news, but less has been written about the impact on nonprofit organizations. Articles I have found have mainly been addressed to nonprofits to give them tips on how to deal with the drastic reduction in their organic reach. But users also need to know  what is happening. Since large businesses have budgets for advertising, they are able to buy a larger audience for their posts. Organizations that have little or no budget for advertising are becoming less and less visible. Reducing the visibility of nonprofits is an unintended consequence of the policy. An April 2014 article by Lyndal Cairns goes so far as to advise nonprofits to consider ending their use of Facebook.

As Facebook users are more and more overwhelmed by posts in their news feeds, they tend to just browse through new posts and do less liking, sharing, and seeking out the home pages of organizations. The reason to like organizational pages in the first place is to “subscribe” and get more of that organization’s posts in their news feeds. Users may not yet be aware that their “subscription” has been greatly reduced – even effectively cancelled.

Organizations are being told that they should create a larger audience by providing quality information in their posts and create reach by fans sharing and liking these posts. Posts users interact with will help the organization reach more users. Users who like or share posts will be given a higher percentage of views of future posts, for instance, helping to increase the reach of that post and the visibility of the organization that posted it. But, as fans see fewer and fewer of nonprofit organizations' posts come up in their news feeds, opportunities for likes and shares diminish. For well-established nonprofits with a large number of Facebook fans, this situation may be survivable. But for smaller organizations and those starting up, building an audience has become much more difficult.

I am not sure what this means for the future of nonprofits on Facebook. But the reason news service posts are currently favored is that users have told Facebook that they value these. If the quality content from nonprofit groups is also valued, it may make a difference if users say so.

What can Facebook users do to help? Take an active role in promoting nonprofit organizations:

  • Like post of nonprofits you value

  • Share posts to help the organization reach more eyes – and increase the quality posts on Facebook

  • Visit the pages of nonprofit organizations you have liked or have an interest in to actively seek out and find posts to like and to share.

  • Spread the word to others that nonprofits need their support

Some recent articles of interest on this subject:

Sheep vs. Dog

Last weekend I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. It is one of the largest shows of its kind in North America, and I can always count on seeing new things there. There were many rare breeds of sheep being shown off, and I have a few photos of these in my gallery for this year's event. But the most astonishing event happened at the last sheep dog demonstration of the day. I have seen dogs loose control of sheep before and fly around trying to round them up again. I have seen sheep try to out stubborn the dog. But I have never before seen a sheep actually attack the dog. The sheep were tired of being the object of demonstrations all day, and they were not familiar with this particular dog -- both these factors could lead to unexpected developments. But the events show that neither sheep nor dog should ever be underestimated. So here is a photo essay on what happened.

This photo shows the task the Border Collie has been asked to do. The white fence is a chute that the three sheep need to go through. It has a board platform that the sheep need to step up on. Getting sheep into chutes like this are a practical way to hold them still to give them medication or other treatment. They aren't enthusiastic about doing going in the chute, so it is good to have a dog trained to help the shepherd with this task.  On a farm the chute would be built into the fence so that the sheep could not get away on either side. But in sheep dog trials the chute is freestanding, making the task for the dog much more difficult. In this photo the dog has the sheep behind the chute. She needs to get them into the chute. The shepherd can help by blocking their path to escape somewhat, but with the way open all around the chute, the sheep have lots of maneuvering room.

The dominant ewe in this group of three is important to control, because if she accepts the chute, the others will follow.  But this ewe has had enough of being ordered around for one day. She makes a break for it. When the dog tries to head her off, she runs at her, head down.  The dog is taken by surprise but she manages to avoid being butted.

This is a young dog and hasn't had whole lot of experience, but she does know one important thing -- stand your ground.  She may be rattled, but she knows her job is to  get the sheep under control.

So the dog tries to round the sheep up again and head them back towards the chute.  But the ewe is angry.  She stands her ground, raises a foreleg, and waves her hoof in the air, threatening the dog!  You can see her raised hoof in the photo. I have seen a lot of sheepdog trials and demonstrations before and I have not seen this happen before, so it seems likely that this young dog hasn't experienced it either. But she does not back down.

This is a dangerous situation for the dog. But the shepherd doesn't want the young dog to have an experience of failure. Even if she is told it is ok, the dog will know that she was asked to do a job and she didn't get it done.  So at this point the shepherd, and the other human member of the team, the announcer (who is also a shepherd) are trying to work out how to help the dog to succeed and still be safe.

The dog rounds the sheep back up again.The two that are more docile go back towards the chute. But the ewe in charge has other ideas. She makes a break for it and dog has to round her up again.

So the announcer takes up her role as shepherd and brings in another dog. The dog is older and in semi-retirement. But the two dogs know each other and have worked together before (I am not sure if they are related). The older dog doesn't do much but crouch down and stare at the sheep. But that is a pretty strong psychological barrier. It is enough to help the younger dog get the situation under control. The announcer and the older dog position themselves along the route the ewe was taking to try to escape back to her pen.

With this added pressure on the little herd of sheep the younger dog is able to work with the shepherd and get two of the sheep through the chute.  The obstinate ewe hangs back and does not go into the chute. But nobody wants to press that issue. The dog has done the job she was asked to do, and has had an experience of succeeding by standing her ground.

The announcer said "brave dog!" and she certainly was. But I can also see the stubborn ewe's point of view.  As dogs and sheep work together on a farm, they get to know each other and work together.  The sheep learn how far they can push the dog, and the dog knows what will work to get the sheep to cooperate.  But in a demonstration like this one, the dog may meet up with sheep she does not know.  And the way that dogs control sheep is by using the same behaviors that wolves use to hunt herding animals. I interpret the ewe's behavior as defending her little flock from a predator. So both the dog and the dominant ewe were being brave.

So finally here is the triumphant dog with the shepherd, taking the ewes back to the pen where they will be loaded up in a truck to go home.  I am sure the ewe felt she had won.

There are more of my photos of this sequence in my gallery for the 2014 Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

Of Songs and History

I have spent much of the past two years writing, working on an educational project on songs and history in the US called The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America that went online at the end of September. I was one of several subject specialists who wrote or co-wrote articles on various subjects relating to songs about history, songs that relate to  particular historical moments, song genres, ethnic groups and so on. Collaborating on articles went very well, with people helping each other in order to make the site better. As I wrote articles about US ethnic groups -- their history and songs -- I was often dealing with a new language and culture every week or two, so I really appreciated it when a colleague with expertise in a particular language or topic agreed to read an article and make sure that I got it right. Sometimes I was pretty much on my own, though. For example, "Hawaiian Song" required a lot of research into Hawaiian history and the history of particular songs. I dealt with the language through a sort of cultural immersion -- as well as I could do that in a couple of weeks. It is a fascinating topic and a beautiful language, so I hope the article does the subject justice.

SeegerRoosevelt300UnionCanteen8d41983rThe site went online shortly before the government shutdown while we were still busy fixing links and checking content as the site was moved from the test server to the public view.  We had to stop this work and so we know the site still has issues but can't do anything about it until we can get back to work. In spite of that, it is a good site.  I really want to get back to work to finish this job.

This link goes to the "Songs of Social Change" article, I think one of the better ones that I wrote. It is actually a group of articles so there are links at the bottom to articles about specific historical events related to social change. I love the photo. The young guy with the banjo and the curly hair is Pete Seeger singing at a gathering at the new Washington Labor Canteen (a CIO union social club) in Washington DC, February 14, 1944. The club was open to all union members, and, because of segregation laws at the time, the mixed crowd in the photo is an illegal gathering. And there, sitting between two sailors, is First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. We wanted not only to highlight songs in history and songs about history, but also songs and singing making history, and this is a good visual example of that.

I  found that when I spent all day writing I was not so interested in writing when I got home from work. So I haven't posted to my journal much for quite a while.  Now that this big project is nearly done, I hope I will be able to put more energy into my own writing again.

Yule posting

My First ChristmasJust a few entries down is my post from this time last year, reminding me that I haven't written very much at all this year.  Last year and early this year I participated in the creation of a documentary about the President's house, called the Edward Minor Gallaudet House at Gallaudet U. where my grandparents lived and where my father was born and grew up.  I have not heard that the project has been completed, yet.  I did scan some family photos for the film and put some of these in my Family Gallery and my  Dad's gallery. More fun than perhaps it sounds -- there are motorcycles.  I also worked on the settlement of my parent's estate, and in the process more photos were found. My brother found this photo of me in front of the Christmas tree in 1953.

I have a sense of having missed much of 2012.  I became ill June with what seemed to be a digestive problem. Experts were consulted, many tests were done, and many theories of what was causing it were proven wrong.  My digestive system was thoroughly researched and pronounced sound, despite the fact that I kept getting worse. I kept telling the doctors that it hurt inside my back, but that was dismissed. Since I couldn't keep solid food down and had no appetite, I had to figure out how to get nutrition from  a liquid, low fat, low fiber diet. I avoided many foods in case it was an allergy.  The gastroenterologist and my GP both decided to blame my medications for different reasons. Getting me off the blood pressure medicine did seem to help a bit. I became exhausted from both the illness and not eating enough. When not in severe pain I slept. I slept through the summer, through a hurricane, and a major election.  When I finally developed a kidney infection after Thanksgiving, the doctors became interested again.  The whole thing was was likely a caused by a kidney stone that must have been expelled by the infection. It was not found in the scan, but it is the only theory that fits the facts.   At last I am on the way to recovery.

The battle betwen the Book Dragon and St. GeorgeThe above kept me out of the mummers play this year, but I did take photos which can be found in my Mummer's Gallery.  The players  came up with a really fun script based on the concepts of steampunk fiction, digital libraries, and venerable old books -- still based in the tradition of folk plays. I believe the main contributors to the script were Stephen Winick, Jennifer Cutting, and Thea Austin.  The dragon costume I made last year was used again as the Book Dragon, played by Valda Morris Slack. She kills digital St. George (Brock Thompson), whose fighting ability is not much aided by his use of a dragon slaying app on his iphone. Digital media and traditional formats are reconciled in the end. Much fun was had by all. I wish I could have been in the play, but it was fun to watch. Here is a link to a description of the event from Father Christmas himself, Stephen Winick.

For Yule I  bought myself a new 21st spinning wheel, one of the new small models that has great reviews, a Spinolution Queen Bee, which I hope will spin fine yarns better than my old one did.  I want to get back to ceramics. I have had to just write down ideas for pots I want to create until I am able to get back to the studio -- soon I hope. So there is a New Year's resolution --get healthier and do more art.   

My Dad's Stretch Indian

My father, Jonathan Hall (1912-2008), told a story about taking a couple of Indian motorcycles to make a stretch Indian when he was in college (1930-1934). He and his bicycle riding friends had customized their bicycles before that, stripping them down to make them lighter, chopping the handlebars, or even elongating the frames so that the rider would lie down to ride and go faster (or at least look fast).  So he took two Indian Scouts and cut one for a long piece from the front and cut a long piece from the back of the other, then welded the two long pieces together.  He said that he rode it  between Gallaudet and Rollins College in Florida, and on several tours to other states. He said that it did not corner very well, but it sure looked cool.

I have told this to motorcyclists to learn more about customizing bikes of that era, but I was met with disbelief. The belief among historians on the subject today is that this kind of customization did not happen until after World War II.  "I'd have to see a picture of that" was a common reaction. So I have wished I had a photo of my Dad's stretch Indian. 

J. Hall on his stretch IndianRecently I have been going through some boxes of photographs because my brother and I have cleaned out the family house to be sold. There  are many boxes with photos in amongst other stuff, so it takes some sorting.  I almost passed up a box that had mostly ancient financial papers in it, but stuck my hand in there anyway. There it was, the photo of my Dad sitting on the stretch Indian, in front of the house where his family lived on the Gallaudet campus in Washington, DC (a view looking away from the house).  In the background are two Model A Fords, which were first offered for sale in 1930.  Judging from other photos, I think this was about 1932 or 1933.  In 1930 he still looked like a skinny kid. By 1934 he was trying out a mustache, and the mustache is not there. 

Is this the earliest documentation of a stretched motorcycle? I don't know. Since it has been so widely assumed that this kind of customization did not happen until nearly 20 years later, perhaps folks have not been looking for earlier examples.  I wonder if my Dad's bike inspired any other motorcyclists of that era to experiment?

At least now I have a photo to go with the story. And there are lots more boxes to go through -- who knows what else might turn up?

Note: see the gallery of photos for Jonathan Hall to see photos of my Dad and his other Indians.This photo was probably taken by one of my grandparents: Ethel Taylor Hall or Percival Hall, Sr.

Family photos, diaries, letters

Jonnathan Hall, age 2, August 1914I am going through boxes of family memorabilia for a few reasons.  Gallaudet is making a documentary about the Edward Minor Gallaudet House (aka "House Number One" ), the president' house where my father was born and grew up. The documetary team has asked for family photos that show something about life there when my grandparents lived there.

In a recently-discovered box just marked "Aileen Hall papers" I found some of my mother's school papers, letters, and diaries all from about 1934 to 1953. She kept several years in each diary, writing very tiny, so these will take time to go through.  One diary covers the WWII years when she worked in a Maine state program to  help women to  can produce from their victory gardens. 

Also in the box are letters home from my Uncles David Boutiler and Foster Boutiler who were in the Army, addressed either to my mother ("Sis") or their mother, Jesse Springer Boutilier. David flew as pilot or co-pilot from Africa to Europe. Foster was in a mechanics division in Europe. One letter mentions what he was doing just prior to the Invasion of Normandy -- in charge of a supply depot in Glasgow, sending out supplies as fast as he could.  I have scanned these letters and put them online. David's letters are first, followed by Foster's.

The photo, right, is my father, Jonathan Hall, age 2, August 1914. Probably taken by Ethel Taylor Hall as it is part of the album she kept documenting his childhood from birth to 18.


I spent the week working on a major web project at work and performing in a mummer's play at the yearly office parties.  I played Hind-Before, a clown with clothes on backwards who helps the action along.  It was fun, if a bit hectic. I also made the dragon costume, which turned into quite an art project. This is the second year that I played Hind-Before, and It is a fun part. Next year the plan is to create new roles. I don't feel I am done with work on the Dragon yet -- for next year I may add more dramatic wings. A challenge is to make the costume so that it can take a lot of bumping around. The Dragon is killed by St. George, then brought back to life by the Doctor, so it needs to allow the performer to fall down without losing pieces off of the costume.

Mummers, December 2011My friend, neighbor, and co-worker Steve Winick has a new blog that is really good (here's his home page).  He started out by putting together some articles that were published in magazines and journals that are no longer in print with some performance photos and audio clips.  All a really nice combination.    He has written an article on his blog about this year's play, including the script and a few photos. He put together the mummers play by combining parts of plays from the James Madison Carpenter Collection of British songs and plays.

I think this photo was taken by Guha Shankar, but I need to check on that-- several people took photos.  Left to right are Valda Morris as the Dragon, Joanna Russo as Captain Thunderbolt, David Quick as Beelzebub, Steve Winick as Father Christmas, with the wreath on his head, Jennifer Cutting as Clever Legs supplying the music, Todd Harvey in the back as St. George, I am the Hind-Before with the broom, and the Doctor is Thea Austen.


Stephanie Hall

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