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Posts by Alison Leslie Gold:
PLACE: HOTEL BALFOR, AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND
Winter in Amsterdam, 1984-5: A minute single room with a narrow bed on the back side, second floor at the Balfor Hotel on Surinameplein. While living there I’d wake very morning in the dark, go to the breakfast room for a Dutch buffet breakfast of breads, butter, strong coffee, cheeses, meats, yogurt, honey, chocolate ‘hagelslag’ (sprinkles/hailstorm) to add to buttered bread, sometimes a soft boiled egg. Then (it’s still dark) I’d grab my coat, notes, pen, tape recorder and walk rapidly along three or four very long streets until I reached Woesduinstraat 86 where I’d resume working with Miep and Jan Gies in their living-dining room on what would become our future book “Anne Frank Remembered“. Over strong coffee and something sweet, we’d fish all morning for long-ago memories, then lunch at the same table on which we’d gathered, dictionaries and other references on it, now covered with a starched white tablecloth, silver (unmatched) napkin holders encircling Miep and Jan’s white napkins, mine simply folded beside — a glass of milk, two kinds of bread, soft butter, cheeses and/or meats. Afterwards I’d bid them farewell. Quite often (by way of the #2 tram) would visit Leidseplein area, would raid second-hand bookshops, wander friendly Dutch streets. Later on, as the day darkened, I’d rest on the number #1 tram until the very last stop, disembarking in darkness as night had (again) engulfed the day. Back in my tiny room, I’d go over my notes, skim whatever second-hand books I’d purchased, then (more often than not) play a cassette by Philip Glass titled “Glassworks” using the same little tape cassette recorder on which I’d recorded that days interviews, also on cassette that would be ver precious in future times. Lying on the starched, white sheets, I’d listen to this music and gaze out at a small fur tree at the entrance to an old age home. In December a modest string of white lights were strung around this tree. I spent almost half a year in that room listening to, never tiring of ,“Glassworks” — repetitive, melodic, swirling, avalanches of melodies, contrary arpeggios, rehashed patterns, solo piano, ensemble pieces — the only music I possessed during this consequential time.
During this dense, wrenching moment in time, the title of long-suffering Canadian writer, Elizabeth Smart’s book “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept” (published in 1945) comes to mind. The image of simply plopping down and weeping describes my condition these days and weeks, hours and minutes. It’s all just to much!
Israel and Hamas. Pro-Israeli rhetoric. Pro-Palestinian rhetoric. Threats against Jews ‘above Cayuga’s waters’ . Threats against Rashida Harbi Tlaib. Creepy Mike Johnson. Ambulances and fire trucks roaring through my neighborhood. Jack-hammers on 25th Street. Construction site thunderous poundings on 8th avenue. Leaf blowers harassing fallen leaves in the small park below both living room and bedroom.
No resistance against being sucked into a whirlpool of shrill hate: MAGA fascism in the name of Christianity. Quivering anti-Israeli bleats. So much human coldness that every part of my being is chilled. It seems impossible to imagine anything that might warm me. Shall I wrap myself in blankets? Take strong drugs? Hide in a monastery? Bury myself in silky sand? Drink undiluted Vivaldi, Mozart, Corelli?
Alice Walker commented in “The Color Purple”: “People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it [God) always trying to please us back.”
Could have fooled me.
After 24 hours of deluge in NYC–public transportation flooded, cars floating on Brooklyn streets, raging rivers along railway tracks in Westchester, rainfall records broken–dawn brought mere drizzle under soggy gray skies on September 30th. With umbrella stuffed into backpack, I ventured outside to attend a memorial service for a neighbor who’d died a few months previously on what happened to have been my birthday this past July. The service would be at the Quaker Meeting House in the Gramercy Park neighborhood.
This was a woman I very casually knew from our communal garden. When our paths would cross in the garden (surrounded by cherry tomatoes, climbing roses, stalks of rosemary) we’d amicably chat and exchange a few words; if we ran into one another on a neighborhood street, we’d do the same after which she’d mount her bike and ride away. She always seemed to have a bicycle beside her.
Here’s her New York Times obituary: https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/nytimes/name/gail-orr-obituary?id=52525102
The entrance to the Meeting House is on Rutherford Street. It’s an unadorned, red brick building constructed in 1861, built by pacifists for pacifists. When I arrived a sprinkling of people of all ages were already seated around the large room on wide dark brown wood benches. On the dot of 12 the event began.
One by one, folks got up, found a microphone, and uttered a few words. Between these shortish comments was silence. Friends, family and neighbors told of shared interests, protests attended, lives bursting with good causes and hard fights for social justice. Most of those in attendance were residents at our ten building complex.
The wide benches, the lack of flowers or photographs or music or religious hoopla, the teenage granddaughter recounting a memory, transcended the usual stock testimonials. I experienced a feeling of pride to be one of the group and when I noticed the dead neighbor’s resemblance on the face of her daughter, I was pierced by an arrow of posterity. The daughter, a woman in her fifties with a white pony tail, stood and recounted a few memories. She unfolded a sheet of paper so as to recite the poem “An Art of Losing” by Elizabeth Bishop, but words wouldn’t come, and she crumbled, went back and sat down beside her father–a stony-faced old, old man who’d been with the departed for 60 years–and let someone else take the paper from her hand and read:
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.***
I don’t know why I’d made the effort to be in that room on a dismal, wet day; I don’t know why I shed such a Niagara of tears for almost a stranger; nor way I’m always so miffed by this Elizabeth Bishop’s poem?
The service concluded on the dot of 1. Forgoing the buffet lunch, I left. Glancing back through the black fence at the Society of Friends Meeting House (where profound silence is meant to replace music or a minister’s liturgy) I saw a place that (if nothing else) encourages resolution of conflict through peaceful means. Though I’d hardly known my fellow gardener, it happened to be September 30th, which happens to be a consequential date of mourning for me, making attendance at a memorial seem apt.
September 30th had been the birthday of a great friend of mine–Rie Albertsen–a beautiful Danish woman with a dazzling mind and lightening wit who’d unexpectedly died a decade ago in Rhode Island.
September 30th is also the anniversary of the death in Athens of my great mentor and friend Lily Mack whom I’d memorialized in Sylph Edition’s Cahiers #12 “Lost and Found”* and then again in Notting Hill Edition’s “Found and Lost.”** Both of these iconic friendships (begun in 1970 in Greece) have proved irreplaceable. Each had simmered in its own pot like delicious, never dull, soup for over forty years. The ache of these absences hasn’t lessened, in fact, the opposite has been true, as more and more time passes.
Planning to pick up something for lunch on the way home, I turned west among puddled sidewalks. There were more puddles in the street, puddles on the soggy grounds inside the 15th street fence surrounding the Meeting House. Half way to 3rd Avenue I noticed a paint brush lying on wet sidewalk. It was maybe nine inches long, used up, the kind of cheap brush given with the cheapest child’s water color paint set–the kind whose hairs fall out or stick together, or stiffen and never soften up again.
I’d almost walked passed but stopped short. I remembered how much ‘junk’ I’d seen Lily bend and pick up from the street, or the garbage, or the beach–rusted safety pins, a plastic doll with no head, broken pencils, half crushed gardenia blossoms–during the many decades of our friendship and how, after a time, I’d acquired this same habit–a murky white marble, the Queen of Hearts from a deck of playing cards, a rusted crucifix. Looking at the sad paintbrush, I wondered if Lily’s spirit had put it in my path as a test? I thought of a poem by William Empson that Lily loved and had often recited, that had also always miffed me too –
It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.‘
Of young dog blood gave but a month’s desires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.
Usurp the soil, and not the soil retires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The complete fire is death. From partial fires
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.****
–and bent to retrieve the water-logged brush that I put it into my jacket pocket for safekeeping.
***[“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop, 1911-1979*]
****[“Missing Dates” by William Empson, 1906-1984]
*[“Lost and Found“ http://sylpheditions.com/cahier/C12]
from a poem by Lesya Ukrainka
OPERA Based on Events in the Life of Alberto Giacometti:
Alberto Giacometti – a Swiss sculptor – Tenor
Diego Giacometti – his younger brother – Baritone
Annetta Giacometti – their mother – Mezzo-soprano
Peter van Meurs – an older Dutchman – Base
Policeman – Bass-baritone
Coachman – Alto
Giant Sheep – Contraltos
Time: Twentieth Century
Place: Switzerland and Italy
Scene I: Autumn 1904
The village of Stampa is in the Bregaglia Valley of southeast of Switzerland. Piz Duan Inn is located on one side of the street across from a rose-colored house that includes a hay barn along with a stable. Slowly the street fills with a flock of giant, milling sheep. A small boy, Diego Giacometti (age three) wanders from the rose-colored house to the road. Diego gets lost among the sheeps legs and is overcome with sobs. At a window Alberto, the brother, age four, has been watching. He’s beside his mother, Annetta Giacometti, who is laughing. Soon Alberto can’t see Diego any longer but can still hears the pitch of sobbing so he dashes outside and enters the wall of sheep (some with thick dreadlock-like fur). When he locates Diego, he lifts him from between the legs of a sheep. Having remained at the window of the Inn, their mother’s laughter roils on
Scene II: September 1921
High in the mountains of Madonna di Campiglio, a post coach travels along a narrow, twisting road toward the face of cliffs above precipitous gorges. Inside the coach, Alberto Giacometti, age nineteen, sits beside Peter van Meurs, a sixty-one-year-old Dutchman who has pouches under his eyes and stooped shoulders. The coach drives toward the entrance to the Grand Hotel des Alpes, a rambling structure built on the ruins of an ancient monastery and stops. There is a forest in back and a field beside the hotel.
In a narrow room Alberto is asleep in a narrow bed; so is van Meurs, in his own bed. Heavy rain is fall outside the window that opens onto a wooden balcony. At some point that night when Van Meurs begins to writhe from side to side, Alberto sits up, sits beside the sick man. He opens his book | Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pecuchet | begins to read from an introductory essay by Guy de Maupassant: “Those people who are altogether happy, strong and healthy…are they adequately prepared to understand, to penetrate, and to express this life we live, so tormented, so short? Are they made, the exuberant and outgoing, for the discovery of all those afflictions and all those sufferings which beset us, for the knowledge that death strikes without surcease, every day and everywhere, ferocious, blind, fatal?”
Van Meurs’ cheeks have sunk; he is barely breathing through his gaping mouth. Alberto takes paper and pencil and begins to draw the sick man on a great sheet of paper. Alberto draws the concave cheeks, the open mouth, the fleshy nose. Alberto looks up and realizes that van Meurs’ nose is growing longer and longer.
Finally, when Van Meurs closes his eyes and dies, the nose stops extending.
Alberto lights the lamp in order to make the room brighter and brighter until white light fills all the space.
Dear Rosemary Sullivan,
I’ve been meaning to write to you since the publication of your book THE BETRAYAL OF ANNE FRANK in January 2022 to register the shock (even outrage) I experienced after reading your book. At the most basic level, this work is irresponsible, sprinkled with inaccuracies, distortions, is historically dangerous, but time passed and other things got in the way and I never wrote to you.
I’m the co-author with Miep Gies of Miep’s memoir ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED and have had my finger on the pulse of Anne Frank’s world as it relates to (among other Holocaust-related matters) Miep and Jan Gies since 1987 and will continue to have a stake in its faithful preservation until the day of my death.
I believe that your book should have been immediately withdrawn (as the Dutch publisher did) or else seriously revised to reflect accuracy and finger-pointing, especially in matters relating to Mr. van den Bergh. If Harper Collins is unwilling to do so, why haven’t you insisted? Where is your honor? Listen to the Spui 25 symposium **REFUTATION OF “BETRAYAL OF ANNE FRANK” from 3/22/2022 available on YouTube [see link below]and elsewhere if your conscience needs prodding.
Alison Leslie Gold
(BTW: I fear reading your book VILLA AIR-BEL wondering what you’ve done to THAT story since Mary Jayne Gold happens to have been my husband’s aunt? Oh: and my first name is Alison not Leslie, as you refer to me in your book.
Meet Newton Mansfield: Polish-born, naturalized American violinist in the New York Philharmonic. (1930-2018)
A natural musician, Newton Mansfield always hated having to practice. One day in childhood, rather than practice, he sat down on, and crushed, his violin. When his father, a tailor, came home from work and saw what had happened, he didn’t utter a word, simply turned around, left, and came back with another violin.
Newton’s family left Poland for France, then France for Spain to escape Hitler, finally managing to get to America where Newton became a professional musician. (“I knew I wanted to be a professional musician as soon as I got paid for it! In Paris when I played I got balloons. In New York, when I was 11 or 12, I got paid!“) After playing in symphony orchestras in Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, he joined the New York Philharmonic (then under Leonard Bernstein) in 1961 and performed with them for 55 years. He retired in 2016; died in 2018 at age 88.
Despite distaste for doing so, Newton did practice.
In the early 1950s he purchased a fine, antique violin on which, as it would turn out, he’d play for the rest of his life. This instrument was certified by Rudy Wurlitzer who oversaw the Wurlitzer rare and historic stringed instrument department’s 42nd Street headquarter in New York City. The certification attested that the violin had been made by M.A. Bergonzi, describing: “The back is of one piece of semi-slabcut handsome figure maple. The scroll and ribs matching the back. The top is one piece of wide, slightly irregular grain spruce.”
Meet Michel Angelo Bergonzi: Cremona is a small, mercantile city in the Lombardy region on the River Po in northern Italy. Son of Carlo (1683-1747), father of Nicolo (1754-1832), Michele Angelo Bergonzi (1721-1758), was a Cremona-based violin maker. This family produced exceptional violins during what is considered as the golden period of violin-making, 1650-1750.
Although Wurlitzer certification described the violin as an “M.A. Borgonzi of Cremona (with sound post crack in the back)” unease about its veracity hovered since Wurlitzer was generally thought of as a manufacturer of pianos, organs as well as a purveyor of jukeboxes, vending machines and even carnival rides. Newton, of course, realized that Rudy Wurlitzer was not very highly regarded as an authority on Cremonese violins and that his violin would need to get a certificate written by a more highly esteemed source. When he showed the violin around opinions rarely differed: It was likely a Bergonzi … especially the bottom and sides, but … the top of the violin had …. quirks!
In 1992 he commissioned an appraisal by violin maker and restorer Boris Sverdlik in New York, then, a second appraisal in 2020 by Christophe Landon Rare Violins, Inc. also based in New York. Both were useful in establishing an approximate value should Newton ever want to sell it, but – alas – cast no light on the issue of the violin’s flimsy purveyance. So, whether or not it was truly a Bergonzi made by either father, son or grandson, and as much as Newton hoped it was, he never did get around to verifying the authenticity in his lifetime.
After Newton’s death, his violin was stored with other instruments in a humidity-controlled vault near Lincoln Center and time passed.
Meet David Mansfield: American musician and composer, Newton Mansfield’s eldest son (b. 1956).
David, a child prodigy in music like his father, always suspected that the issue of establishing the violin’s purveyance (he refers to a violin as a fiddle) would – by default – someday fall into his lap. In fact his father had warned him as such. And so it did.
When the time came, he reached out to the world’s leading (also unrivaled) experts – Beare & Son – a family firm based in England, founded by John Beare in 1865. There were long waits for appointments and no way to hurry the process. Close to his eventual appointment date, David retrieved the fiddle from where it safely rested and flew with it from Newark to Heathrow, then traveled (by train) to a market town in Kent (Tonbridge) where a taxi took him to his AirBnB in nearby Penshurst – another beautiful Kent village of historic houses and gardens surrounded by woodlands and fields. It was springtime, there were martins and skylarks and the light in the sky lingered until late evening.
David brought the fiddle to the Beare Atelier in the morning and handed it off to an assistant whom, he presumed, would pass it to the highly esteemed, most respected violin expert on Bergonzi violins in the world, Charles Beare (b. 1937). Hopefully, at this point, Charles or perhaps one of his sons (Peter or Freddie), would oversee an examination and provide a certificate that would officially authenticate Newton’s fiddle as a Bergonzi.
Or they wouldn’t.
That was it. David left empty handed.
A few months later the violin was ready for retrieval so he hurried back to Penshurst but no certificate awaited him. Instead, he learned that Newton’s violin was definitely not made by Carlo Bergonzi. The reason for the certainty was that Charles owned Carlo’s molds. Additionally: Newton’s violin is slightly larger than a Bergonzi and its arch is so high, almost touching the finger board. There was a slight possibility, though, that the violin had been made by Carlo’s son Michel, though Charles doubted it, also a slim possibility that he had been made by Nicolo but Beare didn’t have the expertise to certify as such. When Peter Beare examined the varnish, he decided that the wood probably wasn’t a composite even had uncertainty as to whether or not it was from the 1700s.
Because a dendrochronology (technique for dating artifacts by tree rings) report hadn’t been gotten, Beare suggested he get in touch with Christopher Reuning who knew more about Nicolo’s work.
Meet Christopher Reuning: An American born maker and restorer of fine violins, Reuning is considered one of the world’s leading experts. He owns Reuning & Sons Violins in Boston’s Back Bay and provides appraisals, also certificates. Thus, shortly after returning from Kent, David transported Newton’s violin to New England and left it with Reuning.
When the violin was ready to be retrieved, he hurried north again.
The reveal: Reuning concluded that (as Beare suspected) Newton’s violin was not a composite, that it hadn’t been crafted by anyone in the Bergonzi family. The conclusion: Newton’s violin had been made by Jose Contrares (1710-1780) probably in Madrid. (Admired for building fine violins, Jose Contrares began receiving commissions from the Spanish royal court after which his fame grew.) It was possible that Contrares had been assisted by his son. Reuning based the conclusion on the fact that the scroll on Newton’s violin pointed directly to Contrares regardless of the “curve” and strange placement of the f holes that weren’t typical of Contaras’ style. In the later part of his life, had Contraras experimented by copying Bergonzi’s violins as opposed to his earlier violins that were based on Stradivarius and Guarnerius. Perhaps the unusual placement of f holes and the curve under the fingerboard were part of this experimentation?
Christopher arranged for the dendro report to be done. Conclusion: the violin was made in 1734. Additionally, that Newton’s violin was slightly larger than those made by a Bergonzi was (finally) clarified. By ‘larger’ it was meant that it didn’t match Bergonzi’s molds. The difference was miniscule … insignificant … except for identification purposes. Reuning did concede, though, that the wood or dendro (the Greek word for tree) from which Newton’s violin came might have originated from the same source used by other Cremonian’s – Bergonzi included – as some of the same dendro verdors sold both in Italy and in Spain in the 1700s.
One side note: Reuning (who’d written a book on Contraras) took the violin with him to Madrid to a private exhibition on Contraras work (June 2023) attended by dealers and experts. He told David that Shlomo Minz, the Israeli violin virtuoso and conductor, owned a violin quite similar to Newton’s.
So much for purveyance.
Certified or not, Newton’s violin remains an instrument that has survived intact from the 1700s until the present. If safely stored in its sturdy case in a climate-controlled vault, the wood will continue to age and, as it does so, the sound will get even better. Of course, only if the violin is played. David: “It’s thought that the modern violin reached an apex in the 18th century … so, you see, those violins will always be the very finest ever made.” I note this. David: “Yes, Newton’s violin is ready for another set of hands … ready for another fine violinist. Now, since provenance is established, it can … indeed … move from the hands of one fine professional to another over future decades and centuries. Maybe, though, if it hadn’t received certification, I might have kept it. But now … I can let it go.” Any regrets? “I only wish I’d met Charles Beare.”
Subsidiary reveal: While cobbling together this post, I am struck by how abysmally ignorant I am when it comes to David’s world, his father’s world, the world of the wooden chordophones (string instrument) generally known as the violin or fiddle. Truth be told, I wouldn’t know how to bend my wrist around one, wouldn’t really have any idea if a sound it emits is superior or ordinary or if the bow I’m clutching is right side up or upside down. I do know, though, that when the sound of a violin reaches my unrefined ears, feelings of shivery sadness are released, also melancholy. Some part of my heart breaks open. Trying to explain these deep feelings leaves me inarticulate. Perhaps someone else can put their finger on what I’m trying to say better than I, a post-covid rock or clot of mineral matter whose ten fingers often caress a silicone keyboard. During his musings on woodwind instruments (piccolos, flutes, oboes etc.) in relation to violins, Christopher Carroll wrote in “The Knight Errant and other Music Criticism” (his biography of Virgil Thompson) the following: “While the wind plays sustained harmonic progressions … the violin caresses with almost inaudible tendrils of sound, like wiggly figures that dart like silent goldfish around a rock.”
[A violin maker is also called a luthier or one who builds or repairs string instruments that have necks and a sound box. The term was originally used for maker of these luters and also for makers of other bowed and plucked stringed instruments including other members of the violin family: violas, cellos, double basses and guitars.]
[Coco Gauff almost didn’t become a tennis pro. Echoing Newton on the matter of practice she said, “When I was younger I didn’t want to practice at all ...”]
[Photo credit: Photo of David by Masie Mansfield-Greenwald, David’s daughter]
[Violin photograph in this post is generic – not, repeat, not – Newton’s actual violin.]
[Full disclosure: David is married to my sister Maggie Greenwald, the award-winning independent film director and writer.]
MEET FOUR BOYS*
Meet four boys born in the City of L:
The boy born in February was bathed in the kitchen sink. He was slight, pale, had pimples. His father drove a green bus.
The boy born in June was called ‘a horrible piece of red meat’ by his father.
The one born in July was the son of a bakery worker. He was sickly, spent so many months in hospital, he could barely read or write. His mother was a barmaid.
The boy born in October wore thick black-framed eyeglasses and wouldn’t do his homework. He was the oldest, born during a midnight bombing blitz.
The City of L was bombed over 80 times during that war. Most born there never left, died there and were buried in Merseyside or West Darby, Yew Tree or Anfield graveyards.
The mother of the boy born in October never spread tangerine marmalade (that was rumored to taste of sunshine with or without rind and pith) on bread. Neither did she serve bitter orange – the kind Alice of Alice-in-Wonderland – clasped in her fist as she free-fell into the rabbit’s hole. Like bacon, butter, cheese, milk, soap, sugar, jam and marmalade were rationed, even after the war. They existed only in clouds in the sky.
East of the City of L flows the River Mersey. A tug (was said to have) sunk during the blitz though some bits were left visible above the water line. A sailor on the bridge of the tanker Adula, on the way to Stantow, glimpsed protruding parts belonging to two ships sunk by mines – the Tacoma City, four crew dead, the Ullapool, fifteen crew dead.
The Mersey empties into the Port of L, the starting point for convoys filled with supplies and cargo crossing to and returning from across the Atlantic. Half its docking births were bombed, but the port functioned somehow with the help of barrage balloons and decoy fires set to distract attacking aircraft. Mines that drifted into the river menaced crisscrossing ferry traffic. Nonetheless: the Oxton and Bebington crews attached cranes so as to unload airplanes delivered from America.
Recreational boats were few, but as the war and its souvenirs were blotted away with time, small boats again plied the river. Idlers in them called back and forth to each other.
When Buddy (of Buddy Holly and the Crickets) went down in an airplane, all four boys knew a diamond had fallen from the sky. And was gone.
To earn extra money the boy born in February delivered meat for the local butcher on Saturday by bicycle.
In grade school the boy born in June became an apple polisher and a Boy Scout. When he was 13 his mother died of breast cancer and he had to learn to sew, cook, wash and iron to help his father keep going.
To earn extra money the one born in July worked as a delivery boy.
The boy born in October failed every single exam at 16. His middle name was Winston. He hated the nickname “Winnie” and if anyone called him by that name, he would fight. Instead of doing homework he drew cartoons of deformed babies.
(*This story is to be included in a compilation of short works – both fiction,
nonfiction, and everything in-between – now under construction.)
Nolan, an author, historian, and civil right activist helped to change that.
“I dropped out of school in the 1960s to work in the civil rights movement,” Nolan said.
In 1963, there was a movement taking place, one Nolan couldn’t ignore.
“That was the most meaningful year of my entire life, I’m sure,” Nolan said.
It was the year of the demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway. Also in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech in Washington D.C. Then on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“This was what was happening in America,” Nolan said. “And I was, you know, growing up and you had to decide which side are you on. And to me, there was no question it was going to be that side.”
He’s held on to old articles and memorabilia over the years, detailing his journey, choosing at times the unpopular path. From Virginia to the South Carolina Sea Islands, Atlanta to St. Augustine, Florida living among history.
“It’s almost like heaven except there’s also hell attached to it,” Nolan said. “But, you’re right. I mean, for me, as a historian the greatest pleasure is walking down the street and walking past people who made history.”
Nolan arrived in the Ancient City in the 1970s and was among a group created to survey the city’s old buildings.
“I walked up and down every street of St. Augustine for two years, I walked through the soles of many pairs of shoes,” Nolan said.
His worn-out soles led him through the city’s historically Black neighborhood of Lincolnville.
“St. Augustine had been this incredibly important place in the civil rights movement, it was the place between Birmingham and Selma,” Nolan said. “It was the place that gave rise to one of the two great legislative accomplishments of the movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And yet, when I came here, it was never talked about, it had been completely swept under the rug.”Nolan picked up that rug, dusted it off and put just about everything he could find underneath on display. These included things such as a permanently marked Freedom Trail of historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement, trolley tours sharing the city’s Black history, and Florida’s first civil rights museum.
A founder of ACCORD, recognizing St. Augustine’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, Nolan still lights up while sharing the past.
“St. Augustine is really a treasure but we’ve got to guard it constantly,” Nolan said.