Hi there readers,
It’s been a while since we got a chance to catch up with you. Truth be told, academics and working exclusively on the web as a result of the Covid-19 shift to all-digital function has us turned off for a bit from the online writing habits we used to hold. The good news is, the semester is coming to a close, and the election in the USA has us hopeful that things are changing (for the better). Regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on or observe from, the status quo is being challenged.
We observed history this week. We watched as a pivotal election was prolonged over nearly a week’s span. And then it turned into a ‘blue wave’ with the swing of three neck-and-neck states for electoral votes, yielding Joe Biden as our 46th president. It’s a rather interesting angle to watch from- seeing half of the population enraged and believing that the voting system is ‘rigged’ and someone cheated, with the other half celebrating and dancing in the streets of every major city from coast to coast.
It’s all quite a polarization. I wonder where the ‘united’ part of the states comes back into play. I wonder if the ‘good old days’ best facets can truly be ressurected without the atrocities of racism, discrimination, and hate. All we can do, darling readers, is sit back and watch. Observe. Listen. And decide how best to conjure up a sense of community from the damaged hearts and hurting populations that shared their stories of impact from the last four years.
Cheers darlings. And please- be the change you want to see. We will be bringing you some uplifting news as we follow a live restoration of a local farmstead from the ground up as the year carries on. Take care of yourselves, your neighbors, and everyone. Blessings aplenty.
In this written review of Duke’s Estate, we were able to reconvene after much ado thanks to the global pandemic from covid-19, coronavirus. Our spurt with wandering across the property was a refreshing shift back into our regularly scheduled passion for history and preservation. The challenges of covid-19 cannot be understated, but the recent ability for new jerseyans to return to somewhat normal levels of function was exactly what the doctor ordered for us. As usual, the overall estate brought us several pleasant surprises and a few notions that suggest they still have a long way to go toward recovering from their poor decision to demolish Duke’s mansion. This is not to be confused with resignation because there are some telltale signs across the property that give us great hope. We noticed a few exceptional changes on the property- such as nearly algae-free lakes and streams (major difference from previous years), repairs in mortar along the iconic stone wall, a few broken streetlamps at the conservatory’s front esplanade, the still-missing DD insignia affixed above it’s doors, removal of fencing around the statue of Athena, and a recently cleared half acre or so facing south from the bridge at great falls that facilitates a view of the lake and fox hollow trail below. There’s so much changing in the world, so it is our hope that things change to support a fuller illustration for the multifaceted legacy that the Dukes left behind. We see it being made more and more possible here, and we will continue to offer what insights we can in these history-making times.
Some great strides and some little reparations yet to be made makes for a mixed review of the property from us at RRBlog. It continues to be one of our favorite places to kick back, picnic, and find peace at the intersection of past, present, and future. Perhaps the most incredible change however comes in the form of a person. This new face has finally fixed the vacancy in the executive directors position as of yesterday. we are so hopeful to have a new team member spearheading the efforts at Duke farms to honor the legacy or Doris in a way that shows her love and dedication for all things of the organic world- both flora and fauna- that meshes gracefully with her homage to her roots, and to her father’s extraordinary attention to detail in tending their opulent acres.
We look forward to observing the progress that this extraordinarily historic, unique, and highly potent model for stewardship and preservation makes as it enters a new era of management. Congratulations to the staff for their selection of a new director!
We just wanted to take a moment to reach out to everyone in the wake of some of the most turbulent political and social crises of our lives. It has been a wild experience between the Covid-19 pandemic, the protesting of the death of George Floyd, and the ongoing political climate of fear and hate mongering. Regardless of anyone’s beliefs, we feel that it is important to publicize that we- as writers, professionals, and hopefully decent and moral human beings- write about themes of the middle of the 20th century (1950-60s mostly) to bring back an aesthetic, a nostalgic feeling. We DO NOT and WILL NOT tolerate the same or even similar racial disparaties, discriminatory patterns, or prejudices that reflect those eras bygone. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the title’ retro revival’ and presume we advocate for ‘all’ things retro. We try to be selective and pick only the themes that are positive, community-supporting, and all-inclsive. This is particularly true because we acknowledge and validate that the pleasant, nostalgic feeling of the retro times was not experienced across diverse populations.
The Retro Revival Blog would like to take a moment to say we stand in solidarity with those seeking justice peacefully and in unity- for a sense of morality and true equality- to bring us closer to a life we all can be safe in, comfortable with, and proud of. Every life is worth living.
In a most trying time, the global community has faced a pandemic unlike anything in the past 100 years. As we are certain our readers are aware, the dangers of this novel coronavirus, ‘covid-19’, can not be understated. With hopes or reducing the new incidences of illness in people across the world, governments have taken steps to isolate germs and people, effectively placing most of the modern world on quarantine- and we are often left with minimal work or no job at all- which means we all get to stay at home for days- weeks- months on end.
Just the other day, we were watching CBS2 News out of New York, where a conversation was sprung about competing with food scarcity and the need for the community to feel some sense of control in these unique circumstances. Victory Gardens, a concept from back in the days of World War 2, was a fantastic intervention suggested by the news station. A victory garden is a formal term (rebranded with a new name) that describes a garden that families and individuals plant for sustainability. Instead of depending on hte mainstream marketplace for produce, these victory gardens allow households to grow their own food, effectively releasing the burden that markets have right now to meet excessive demand.
This got us thinking; even though covid-19 is no small situation and we recognize the dangers it poses, what about this quarantine period could be positive? What about this shared experience can bring back a better version of normal? What if this ‘new normal’ that will emerge after the virus is really just a resurgence of good habits from yesteryear? What does this mean for a legitimate retro revival?
It’s a highly silver lining among the headlines of morbidity and sorrow. Community orientation, policy advocacy, and social empathy are all on the rise already; even as the majority of us stay locked in our homes, the need for revitalization and change is a pulse that links us together. We are being given the best platform to slow down, appreciate the little things in life, and reignite relationships with our family members and friends (virtually). Even slight lifestyle changes like planting your first victory garden to tolerating leftovers a little better, wasting less to learning a new skill like sewing or painting or woodworking in your spare time all contribute to a healthier and more productive life overall.
Think about it this way; if your neighbors don’t have as much of a yard as you, and your family plants a victory garden that flourishes, you may be more inclined to share your surplus- which facilitates conversation with people who you may not have interacted with on a usual basis. *Note, sharing and interacting herein refers to socially distant and safe measures.
That resurging sense of ‘togetherness’ unites us all, makes the world a smaller place, and develops a stronger sense of empathy than before. With empathy, we are more likely (on a psychological level) to react to others in need, in distress, or otherwise that trigger us to feel. This is what makes the world a kinder place. Everyone loves those feel-good articles of humanity- and with all of us honing in on our social emotions and exercising empathy, there’s bound to be a lot more of these articles being published because of our newfound call to action.
So embrace your retro soul and teach it to your children! Engage in activities that are joyful and enriching to you and to those around you. Paint a picture for your family member, write letters to our brave first responders, grow vegetables for the block, and communicate with people for the sheer purpose of being kind and bringing a smile to someone new. Above all, encourage and teach others around you to share in this new spirit of unity. Togetherness, after all, is how we are stronger. Post-War America was painted as a friendly time… (Author’s Note, we recognize it was plastered with racism, and it was far from perfect)… but post-viral Earth can realistically be a friendly time. Cheers, readers- be the change you want to see.
Stay healthy, stay safe! -Retro Rebellious Curious- The RRBlog Staff
A surefire sign of the changing of the times is a literal change of the guards. No, we aren’t talking about Buckingham Palace, but we are referring to James Buck Duke’s place in South Somerville (now Hillsborough), New Jersey. As of recently, a rare golden opportunity has emerged with very little fanfare attached. Duke Farms recently posted a job opening for the elusive title of Director at Duke Farms.
Yes, you read that correctly. What is most stifling is that it is an external application which, unlike the last time this position was overturned to a new set of hands, suggests that new faces are warranted at this historic nonprofit. Last time, this position was filled through referral and was filled by a consultant who partnered with the estate long ago. Now, the wealthy organization has an executive team searching for the right candidate to lead Duke Farms into a new era of innovation and be the face of positive change.
For interested persons with experience in nonprofit work and environmental consciousness, or for those who just feel they have what it takes, the listing is available on dukefarms.org/ Perhaps this new beginning can bring the Dukes back to the property in ways that guests can enjoy.
Stay curious, darlings.
Check this out! Click Here: Duke Farms Greenway Opens
This was a cited reason for why the infamous Duke Mansion just had to be demolished. Sounds pretty legit, right? If the house isn’t in the way (which sadly, it’s gone now), the Duke Farms administration can make a lovely trail that connects Raritan’s stunning Nevius Street Bridge to the trails at Duke Farms for continuity and improved pedestrian flow. They did just that, and the trail is very easy to navigate. In addition, trails flanking the northern border of the estate (the wetlands) have been opened to foot traffic since the demolition.
There’s a tragic flaw in that logic, however. The greenway path does not intersect with the mansion’s footprint. In fact, the two aren’t anywhere near each other in the 52 acres of ‘Arboretum’ that demo’ing the mansion opened up.
Don’t believe the ‘opposition’? Let’s see what the actual distances look like in the spring when we are thawed out.
On the subject of pathways, there was a lovely gate whose pillars were restored by the remarkable team of historic architects at DKA (omitted for privacy unless otherwise stated), at the southern side of Dukes Parkway West. Now that gate is replaced with sad-looking wooden posts and a thick rope. Something tells me that wasn’t too original, tasteful, or publicly recognized for changing. Where’d it go? We would love to know.
Stay dangerously curious, darlings~
It is always a distinct feeling of joy someone gets when a happenstance occurs that we previously thought to be impossible.
Today, readers, was a microcosmic nugget of happenstance that was just enough to get Harpie to smile from ear to ear until ebullience became the sound of laughter that echoed through the Ginkgo trees at Duke’s Estate.
The adventure for today began with a simple ride around the circle that fronts the 1907 Conservatory, where I started a sketch to practice depth in watercolor. (Authors Note: Harpie is an expressive art therapist, which hopefully explains the artsy component of her existence.) I couldn’t recall specifically whether or not the Statue of Athena was once flanked by overgrown trees or shrubs. Something in my memory fabricated tall pine-line trees, but as I paused to sketch, no such trees were there anymore. Apparently, recent vandalism replaced the trees with a sturdy black fence that now protects Athena. I tried to think nothing of it and continue my dabble in the arts.
I hit the Orchid Range for some color pop and floral inspo. Status Quo. Day was going great, cardio is done for a solid 2 weeks. Next stop was Great Falls. As usual, I missed the waterfall itself. It was a splendid struggle uphill filled with cramps and internal crying over my tiny legs. But… I made it. So after careening down the hill from the Old Foundation, something pulled me toward my old favorite… the Eagle Gate Fountain.
This sad little corner of Duke’s was once the grand entrance for guests. It featured a bi-level fountain with a basin where water flowed at ground level. For as long as I’ve been going to Dukes (~2013), this fountain was inactive and decrepit- the main features were rusted out pipes from an era bygone and a large collection of rocks. Today, in the still of the silence and absence of many visitors, I thought it was a mirage.
Although not to rival its former glory, the sweet sound of a waterfall cascaded against the faint whooshes of traffic beyond the gates. Was I dehydrating? Was I developing heat exhaustion? It wasn’t even that hot out…
It was real as day. I stood dumbfounded, overjoyed, and felt outwardly ridiculous. A simple gesture like fixing a fountain changed the atmosphere completely from ‘forgotten’ to ‘full of life’, and it was palpable. Maybe someday, the full restore of these incredible testaments to water display will be implemented, but for now- we are so excited to see the baby steps of meshing historic integrity with a natural feel. It’s almost like the Dukes themselves gave us an entire blueprint to follow 😉
I realize that it is also a form of modeling for good behavior; there have been several instances of vandalism beyond the Statue of Athena. The Blue Boy’s well was severely mistreated as well. It is assumed that the perpetrators recognized that no one was caring for the property, so it wouldn’t matter if they graffiti’d up the place. It is not acceptable, quite simply. With the steps toward revitalization and balancing intended aesthetic with new-wave eco-think, it is my professional opinion that possible perpetrators will be dissuaded by this simple mindset. The new norm seems to be that the property is cared for and monitored neatly, which is a vicarious teaching method for visitors to copy themselves.
Congratulations to the Duke Estate proprietors; in one small way, you have illustrated that, for the second time this month, you are capable and willing to restore the memory, preserve the legacy, and integrate a reminder of the past into the visions for the future.
It’s the Dukes way of doing, after all. Let’s hope from here, only more is done to preserve what’s left.
We at RRBlog and our incredible allies in Operation ORCHID want to take a moment to express that we aren’t a hostile group. In the past, we have been called names such as muckrakers, the opposition, instigators, aggressors, and even ‘precocious, misappropriated broads’. That last one is Harpie’s favorite. Despite the curious rumors and false accusations, we are always prepared to give credit where it is due, even if we don’t like the view of a person or group receiving credit.
Today actually yielded a pleasant surprise. After a two-mile stretch on bicycles, we decided to take an overdue wander on the northern end of the Duke’s Estate property which is known best as the site where the mansion stood. The ‘arboretum’ is its formal name, although for some reason the foundation never held any official opening to the area. Its as if they didn’t have an overwhelming sense of pride- rather they carried a guilt or shame associated with the demolition and subsequent display of the now-emptied landscape. It was always evident something was missing… until another someone was lost.
The final manager of logistics at Duke’s Estate was known affectionately as Cupie. Her role in the Duke Legacy can’t be understated. Since her arrival to America as an immigrant, Doris and she had a bond. Cupie was originally hired as a head-of-residence and maintained Miss Duke’s affairs. Her entire family was known to have involvement in the caretaking of the estate and its many facets, but Cupie was priceless. For many years, Cupie’s family lived in-residence on the former Duke Mansion before it was destroyed. Her contributions as a professional liaison to Miss Duke are catalogued as part of the Oral Histories Project at Duke University and it appears as though her work was acknowledged by the foundation as well. In honor of her passing, we discovered a beautiful plaque and memorial overlooking Heron Lake in what would be the backyard of Miss Duke’s home.
Duke Farms, Operation Orchid and RRBlog respectfully say thank you, sincerely, for taking a moment to honor and recognize the value of Miss Duke’s hand-selected staff. We feel that the memorial is well-deserved and a step in the right direction to fully represent the Duke way of being. Our condolences are with Cupie’s family. You have more friends and support than you know.
In addition to this profound statement, it appears as though the good will and TLC didn’t stop there. (Author’s note: bikeriding makes the entire estate far more accessible. We heartily recommend- safely- trekking up the Old Foundation hill just for the sake of zooming down the steeper side by the Kiva doors.) Pausing for tea breaks is essential; and we stopped on the south-facing clearing by the foundation that faces Vista Lake. It warmed my heart to be able to see straight across Vista Lake, which was clean of algae (mostly) without the overgrowth permeating the view.
It’s not a perfect situation by far, and nothing excuses the atrocities committed by the DDCF and DFF against the historical integrity of the state of New Jersey and Somerset County, however….
We are thankful that it appears that… in small steps…. the values of family, community, and meaningful, multi-track legacy are creeping back into the protocol fabric of Duke’s Estate.
We are eager to see how everyone is able to identify, develop, and act on new ideas that truly reflect Miss Duke’s methods from home.
As the year 2019 cadences into its autumnal season here in the Eastern Corridor, we are preparing at the Retro Revival for one of the most outstanding decades to come! That’s right, the Roaring Twenties are back! But this time, they’ve got a particularly ferocious ‘roar’ about them. Unlike the years of prohibition and the stock market crash of 1928, the year 2020 is already filling with milestones, great events, friendly bonding, and adventure.
What we can tell you right now is that we have outgrown the RRBlog’s mission, which means we have to expand well-ahead of the new year. We have decided that in order to encapsulate the past but continue to advocate exclusively for the best pieces of yesteryear, while complimenting meaningful discussions and challenging the norms- all in the name of a new version of traditional- we have to also include our rambunctious adventures and our rebellious spirits. This means that the Retro Revival has evolved! We are humbled and excited to introduce our readers- new and old;
Retro, Curious, Rebellious: The Revival
You see, we are inquisitive creatures; we question the world as it has transformed into a highly-modern and sometimes inefficient system. We are retro; we sample and implement facets of the ages before ours into today’s world to lead by example. However, we are also rebellious; in order to advocate well for a better tomorrow, we have to break the new norms like we offered to the DORIS group of 2015-16 in pursuit of the change we want to see.
It gives us a broader platform to introduce topics of discussion that have political heat, debate, and even some dissent as they relate back to the way things were. It also gives us a chance to integrate some advocacy on behalf of historic sites, both in need and already supported. We look forward to the chance to bring you something lively, different, and engaging, but all the same retro and timeless.