Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wildlife Watch: The Black Vultures

If you've been a visitor to Graeme Park lately, you may have noticed a few ominous looking figures hanging around (and no, we don' t mean our ghosts!). We've had a pair of black vultures on site for the past season, perching on the barn roof, fences, trees, and chimneys. According to the Cornell All About Birds website, black vultures are very social birds with strong family loyalty. They will aggressively prevent non-relatives from roosting with them or following them to food. They form pair bonds and will continue to feed their young for up to 8 months after fledging. They lay their eggs on the ground and both parents will take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks. According to the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, the babies are very susceptible to imprinting and if raised by humans will not be able to be released into the wild.

While they eat carrion, they do not have a great sense of smell, and therefore will follow their red-headed relative, the turkey vulture, to food. While the turkey vulture is slightly larger, they are more solitary, so the social black vultures are then able to drive them away once they find the food. 

A few interesting (and kinda gross) facts about the black vulture. If threatened, they will throw up their food. According to Wikipedia, this defense mechanism helps to lighten their load so they can take off quicker and also may distract whatever it is that might be trying to prey on them - it will go for the regurgitated food rather than the bird. Their stomach acid is highly corrosive and will allow them to digest putrid food infected with bacteria that would be lethal to other scavengers. They will also urinate down their legs, an act which kills the bacteria they pick up from walking through carcasses and also acts as a cooling method. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

What Is It? Where Is It? (August): Quintal Vase

This month's "What is It? Where is It?" got lots of correct guesses of "a vase" through our Facebook page, but no one got the specific type of vase. It is officially known as a "quintal" or "five finger" vase. The form was originally developed by the Dutch to display tulips and was copied by 18th century English potters. They were popular because they allowed for a fuller looking arrangement with minimal flowers - today we might make a small cluster of bud vases to achieve the same effect.

Graeme Park has two of these vases, both displayed in the master bedroom. Ours are reproductions made in Holland and the United States. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What Is It? Where Is It? (August)

We're nearing the end of August already - can you believe Labor Day Weekend is just two weeks away? Of course this means it's time for another exciting edition of "What Is It? Where Is It?" - our monthly guessing game where you, dear reader, try to guess what is pictured in the photograph and where it is located at Graeme Park. We've covered the lifting stone, brazier, portrait of Ann Graeme, butter churn, door counter weight, and marriage marks so far and hope you've learned a little something about items in our collection and the architecture of the buildings. So, what do you think the below object is? I'll give you a hint: it's not a ceramic baseball mitt. 

Let the guessing begin! You can post your responses here in a comment or on our Facebook link. We'll be back next week with the answer. Also, don't forget we're presenting a Living History Theater program on the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 next Sunday - it a great opportunity to sneak in a little learning before school starts and entertaining too. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Senior Day at Graeme Park

In the spirit of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s famed Attic Evenings, where people gathered to discuss various topics and learn from one another, senior citizens and early retirees are invited to historic Graeme Park, in Horsham, for a full day of classes and discussions on a wide range of topics. 

The program is being offered on Wednesday, October 2, and the registration deadline is September 20. You can download the registration packet from our website. The cost is $35 for the day and the price includes a complimentary continental breakfast and lunch buffet. The courses being offered include:

Session 1- 9:30-10:30 AM

Prairie Women
Presenter: Ellen Matter, retired educator and collector
Meet an 1850 prairie woman from the Great Plains. Learn about the hard lives our brave ancestors faced just to survive in the new frontier. Tools and materials of that time period will be exhibited.

Spirited Graeme Park
Presenter: Laurie Hull, author and paranormal investigator
Hear the history of Graeme Park and the tragic story of its 18th c. mistress. Does her restless spirit still roam these halls? Personal experiences, lore, investigation techniques, and actual evidence from Keith House investigators will be shared.

The Spice Rack, the Corner Drug Store, and the Home Depot: Everything in the Colonial Herb Garden
Presenter: Jim Miller, retired biology professor
This will be an interactive (touchy, feely, sniffy) look at the multiple uses of herbs and garden plants in the colonial home. Garden design and maintenance practices will be addressed. A brief garden tour will be included if weather permits.

Session 2- 10:45-11:45 AM

American Musical Icons
Presenter: Marvin Feld, retired music educator
This country has a rich musical heritage. From Berlin to Bernstein, from Sousa to Gershwin, you will be introduced to these musical giants. Their contribution to the fabric of America will be discussed with representative music.

Reenacting the Past
Presenters: Jack and Mary Washington, Revolutionary War reenactors and Jim Cherry,
WWII reenactor
Learn about the outfitting and equipment of a camp follower/indentured servant of the Revolutionary War period. A reenactor who regularly takes on the role of either a civilian or ensign in the military during the Revolutionary War shares how he got involved in reenacting and his experiences. One of the organizers of our WWII event at Graeme Park tells why he got involved in reenacting the war that his grandfather fought in and shares his experiences.

Exploring the Rights and Roles of Women of the 18th and 19th centuries
Presenter: Andree Mey Miller, Project Coordinator for the Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories, a project surveying archival collections in small organizations in the greater Philadelphia area, for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
When Elizabeth Graeme married Henry Hugh Fergusson in 1772 she gained a husband and lost the ability to control her land, assets, and income. The legal status of women changed upon marriage; they relinquished their autonomy and became in the eyes of the law one with their husband. In the 18th century, women were expected to be wives and mothers; by marrying Hugh, Elizabeth was conforming to society’s expectations. This lecture will explore how societal expectations and legal rights defined the roles of single and married women in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Session 3 – 1:00-2:00 PM

Victorian Mourning Customs
Presenter: Bob Reese, collector of Victorian funeral artifacts, with assistance from Ginny Benner
This will be a discussion of mourning customs such as draping windows in black and turning mirrors backwards. You will also learn about the mourning dress for different stages of mourning. See how the extravagance of funerals depended on social class and financial means.

“Excuse Me, Where’s my Family?”An Archivist’s Tale
Presenter: Kellee Green Blake, Director, National Archives Mid-Atlantic (retired)
Join retired Federal Archives Director Kellee Blake for a look at some of the zany, poignant, funny, surprising, and heartbreaking stories from her thirty year national career. Folks ask some crazy questions and records tell some hard truths but again and again she has been reminded that truth is stranger than fiction. Best of all, you’ll learn about Federal records and family stories you didn’t know existed.

Pearl S. Buck: The Lady and Her Legacy- Writer, Mother, Advocate, Humanitarian
Presenter: Cindy Louden, Chair of Pearl S. Buck Writing Center
Perhaps you know about Pearl S. Buck the author or Pearl S. Buck the humanitarian. But as important as those two things are, her legacy is so much more. Learn about this amazing woman who spent part of her life raising an international family in Bucks County, PA.

Session 4- 2:15-3:15 PM

Graeme Park Goes to War!
Presenter: John Brunner, retired educator and co-director of Graeme Park’s school programs
Visit with a member of the PA Militia to learn about the dramatic events in the fall and winter of 1777-78 at Graeme Park. This was the scene of two military encampments during the American Revolution. The Revolution touched the lives of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson and her family in powerful and fateful ways. As part of your visit, you will be given a demonstration on the handling and firing of a flintlock musket.

American Cemeteries: Stories they Tell of Times Past
Presenter: Steve Heck, retired history educator
This program will exam the development of cemeteries and the amount of information they contain about our country and our families. Imagine the excitement of finding a relative’s grave site and what it might be able to tell us about your family’s history.

What Can I Feed My Gluten Free Guest?
Presenter: Holly Niemeyer-Schorpp, educator
More and more people are eating gluten free- some by choice and some due to medical necessity. If you have a friend or family member with celiac disease, they cannot eat foods containing gluten. So, what can you serve them? Diagnosed with celiac disease over 8 years ago, Holly will share ideas for snacks and meals. She’ll also direct you to local restaurants and markets that have gluten free foods.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Wedding at Graeme Park: Jen & Tom

Jen and Tom chose a lovely August evening at Graeme Park to tie the knot under a big tree on the edge of the woods with greenery and more trees as the backdrop. Fortunately it wasn't typically hot August but absolutely gorgeous during the afternoon and, dare I say it, even a bit cool once the sun had gone down.

After the ceremony, guests were treated to hot butlered hors d'oeuvres prepared by O'Neill's Catering of Horsham. Selections included phyllo pastries with spinach and feta, skewered chicken with mango chutney, Philly cheese steak rolls, and scallops in basil blanc beurre. In addition there was a station with platters of grilled veggies, bruschetta, and fruit. 

In keeping with their green, woodland theme, tables were set in green and yellow linens and the centerpieces were simple, pretty and natural potted plants, candles in glass cylinders anchored with stones, and rustic wooden plaques with elegantly scripted table numbers. 

O'Neill's served a buffet style meal of salad, chicken roulade stuffed with spinach, beef with mushroom sauce, mixed veggies, roasted potatoes, and bow tie pasta with vodka sauce.

In lieu of a traditional wedding cake, the couple chose a towering stack of cupcakes, decorated in a natural, woodland theme and created by Rilling's Bucks County Bakery of Warminster.

The selection included vanilla, chocolate, and red velvet with chocolate, vanilla or green icing, and they were decorated with dogwood flowers, leaves and sweet and homemade looking...and delicious.

As the sun set, the music, which was kept quieter during the dinner hour, was cranked up and the dancing began. 

Congratulations Tom and Jen on your new family and thank you for celebrating at Graeme Park! 

If you're interested in learning more about weddings at Graeme Park, we have an open house scheduled for September 19 from 6 - 8 pm. Please R.S.V.P. to

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Wedding at Graeme Park: Rachael & Stephen

Rachael and Stephen chose to hold their July ceremony in front of the historic Keith House at Graeme Park with the herb garden at their feet and their guests facing the pretty 1721 stone structure. They were attended by ten bridesmaids dressed in long gray gowns with gorgeous fuchsia colored flowers. In lieu of boutonnieres the groomsmen had a handful of pink Sharpies clipped to their chest pockets - I didn't get a chance to ask, but my guess is there was some significance behind the choice. 

While the day was somewhat overcast and the ceremony was punctuated by a single loud clap of threatening thunder, they did manage to avoid the rain before heading off to their indoor reception at another location.

If you're interested in finding out more about having your wedding at Graeme Park, please RSVP to for our September 19 Open House. In addition to seeing the property and tent and having your questions answered, there will be caterers on hand with samples, and other vendors for you to meet with as you begin to put together your plans.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Day for Homeschoolers at Graeme Park

Graeme Park has always been a popular place for school field trips, and every year we entertain thousands of local school children, teaching them about the former residents of Graeme Park and the kind of life they led here in once rural Horsham. Now homeschooling families can get in on the act too! On Wednesday, September 18, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, homeschoolers and their families are invited to enjoy a day of fun and learning with interactive activities and tours of the historic Keith House.

Kids will enjoy writing with quill pens, playing colonial games on the lawn, making toys, and participating in a militia drill and orienteering exercise. The cost is $6/person and children must be accompanied by a responsible adult (no drop-offs).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Wedding at Graeme Park: Jo & Matt

As the program says, Jo and Matt chose to make their vows and celebrate their union at Graeme Park on a Friday evening in late June.

The bride was escorted down the aisle to meet her groom in front of the historic stone Keith House. She was accompanied by her mother and brother, maid of honor, and led by a gaggle of young nieces and nephews.

Once the vows were said, the couple led their wedding party up to the 19th century stone barn for cocktails, games on the lawn, and a buffet dinner, catered by Jamie Hollander of New Hope, in the Open Aire Affairs wedding tent.

Their cute handmade sign, cleverly hung from one of the disguised park signs, pointed the way to all the evening's activities.

Cocktail hour was held under an open tent in the barnyard in front of the barn, and consisted of a variety of homemade (by the caterer) chips, pita, and crackers and a selection of salsas and hummus. All was artfully displayed for guests to help themselves.

Guests were greeted at the tent by place cards strung up with tiny clothes pins from a lattice fence that had been constructed for the purpose.

Tables were kept simple, modern/country and youthful with vases of varying heights full of fresh lemons and hydrangeas along with pale gray and white table linens, white votive candles and classic white dinnerware.

The table numbers, which were printed on burlap squares, were attached right to the centerpieces with garden twine. 

The menu consisted of homey dishes like chicken, a carving station with beef and pork, roasted potatoes, and orzo salad, but the real star (for this sugar-loving blogger anyway) was the dessert station. Pans and pans of hot apple and pecan pie/crumble, ice cream to melt on top, and the little fruit filled tarts Jamie Hollander is famous for, capped off the meal. Despite a (thankfully) brief rain shower, guests enjoyed the ambiance of the lighted tent and were still able to get in plenty of game playing on the lawn after dinner.

Congratulations and best wishes to Jo and Matt and thanks so much for choosing Graeme Park for your celebration.

If you're planning your own wedding, Open Aire Affairs and Graeme Park are hosting an open house for couples and their families on the evening of September 19. There will be some caterers and other vendors to meet with and sample from, and you can see the property and we'll answer any questions you may have. Please RSVP to if you're interested in attending.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Wedding at Graeme Park: Lori & James

On a hot day towards the end of June, Lori and James chose to celebrate their vows at Graeme Park with the reception being located somewhere with hopefully more air conditioning. The day started with the bridesmaids attempting to smuggle the bride down to the Keith House sight unseen so she could make her big entrance down the aisle. While we don't allow receptions or larger ceremonies within the historic building, we are happy to make arrangements for the bride and her attendants to walk out of the building on her way down the aisle if it is so desired.

The ceremony itself was held near the little stream that runs in front of the house, with beautiful greenery as the backdrop for the bridesmaids' bright red dresses.

We even had our first celebrity wedding guest, a friend of the groom, Chubby Checker. Let's twist again, like we did last summer....

Congratulations and best wishes to Lori and James ...

The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 and its Effect on the Residents of Graeme Park

In the summer and fall of 1793 the residents of Philadelphia were in the gripes of a panic, precipitated by a malady whose origins they didn't understand. Not only did they not know where this fever, the symptoms of which included yellowing of the eyes and skin, came from, they didn't know how to avoid it. All they knew was that their friends and neighbors were getting sick and dying. Even if they had known how to help, they didn't want to risk their own health. Homes of the victims were marked by flags, and those who were healthy, and had the means to do so, fled to the country. There was one problem with trying to escape the disease-ridden city however: not wanting legions of potentially infected refugees roaming the countryside, travelers were stopped by guards and turned back unless they could prove they had somewhere to go.

Fortunately for Elizabeth Graeme's nephew-in-law, Dr. William Smith, and his second wife, Letitia, they had purchased Graeme Park in 1791 and it was to their new estate in Horsham that they were able to escape during the summer of 1793. Elizabeth had remained in residence at Graeme Park after the Smiths' purchase and was happy to do so as long as they remained in their city home. Once they removed to Graeme Park, however, despite the Smiths’ assertions that she was welcome to stay, Elizabeth was not comfortable with the role of guest in the home of which she had once been mistress. As the Smiths had left the city in haste, bringing nothing with them in the way of furniture and household goods, she remained with them during the course of the fever so that they could make use of her things, but by December of 1793 Elizabeth was preparing to make her move to Mrs. Todd’s boarding house in Hatboro and to leave the running of Graeme Park to the new owners.

During the three months that the fever raged in Philadelphia, Elizabeth was in contact with her dear friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who employed controversial bleeding practices in an attempt to cure the afflicted of yellow fever. He sent her articles on the fever and debated with her his theories on the cause. Never one to be afraid to form or express her own opinions, she went so far as to send him proof that his theory that the fever was caused by “bad air” was wrong and that it was, in fact, brought in by refugees from the islands.

On Sunday, August 25, 2013 from 12 noon to 3:00 pm Graeme Park will be presenting a Living History Theater program telling the story of how the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 affected the residents of Graeme Park and those in their social circle. These tours feature costumed actors throughout the house and will take place approximately every half hour. Tickets are $10 for adults 18+ and $5 for children and teens 6-17; light refreshments are included in the cost of the ticket.

What Is It? Where Is It? (Jun-ly): The Lifting Stone

Due to the time demands of putting on our 17th annual Celtic Festival, we combined the June and July "What Is It? Where Is It?" into one Jun-ly post and charged readers with guessing what the above object is and where it is located at Graeme Park.

The where is pretty easy if you're at all familiar with the house. It sits atop a stone pillar on the north, or former garden side of the house - you can just make it out there over on the far left corner of the building.

This isn't its original location though, as you can see in this 1958 HABS (Historic American Building Survey) photograph where it is absent.

I couldn't find the specific citation of where it originally was located on the property, but we've always know it to have been "at the entrance."

Now the more interesting question here is "What Is It?" Early 20th century references have called it "the lifting stone" and it has been described as being used by Governor Keith to test the strength of both applicants for work and slaves he was considering for purchase.

In 1912, in their book The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and It's Neighbourhood, Harold Donaldson Eberlein and Horace Mather Lippincott provided the following description:

Lofty sentinel sycamores in front of the mansion, indicate what was once the entrance to the courtyard. All around are ancient trees, many of them doubtless survivors from the primeval forest. Not far away is the great "lifting stone," a mushroom-shaped boulder with which Sir William always tested the strength of an applicant for work. If he could not lift it - and it is of substantial weight - he was not employed.

A few years later, In his 1917 book, Old Roads Out of Philadelphia, John Tomson Faris, described its location and function as:

Crowning a gatepost before the farmhouse of the present owner of the property, Morris B. Penrose, is the curious mushroom-shaped boulder used by Sir William as a test of the strength of applicants for work. Those who could not lift the stone could not hope for employment.

In 1937 the writers involved in a New Deal Federal Writers' Project, Philadelphia, A Guide to the Nation's Birthplace, identified a more sinister explanation for the stone:

In front of the house is Sir William's "lifting-stone," a large mushroom shaped boulder which he used to test the strength of slaves before purchasing them.

The stone was placed in its current location, a reconstructed pillar from the garden wall, by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during one of its early restoration phases on the house. It is cemented in place and we do not know the weight of it, but it appears quite heavy. We don't have any anecdotal evidence as to whether or not anyone was ever able to lift it, other than to assume that if Keith wouldn't hire anyone who couldn't and we know he had laborers working here, that they must have been able to. Regardless, it is a fun story to tell and is usually met with doubt by visitors.

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