Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Mystery of the Suspicious Packets: A Frank March Adventure

It's been a while since I reported on any of my cases, quite a while; years I think. Here is a recent mystery. I was hiking about in Rockford Museum Park, a regular morning routine, when I noticed beneath a stone bench some kind of packet tucked back in the showdown of the support stone. He, I though, someone forgot their lunch. But on reflection I figured someone sat there, ate their meal and hid the refuge beneath the bench.

A litterbug!

I continued on. This was the Northern Delaware Freeway Trail that ran from the Brandywine Creek State Park through Alapocas, Rockford, Rockwood, Bringhurst Woods, Bellevue and Fox Point State Park. Where I saw the packet was the beginning of the long and winding hill, up into the woods and to the highest point within these grounds.

At the top I turned right onto a dirt trail up to that very highest point where a gazebo sat overlooking the
Southern vista. There, to the rear near the gazebo seating, was another packet. These consisted of a plastic storage box, one of those you might stick a sandwich in. The top sealed down very tightly. This, in turn, was inside a clear ZipLoc bag.

Since this was not so tucked away I could take a closer look. You could see through the baggie right on through the lid of the box. Inside were two vials, similar to those you are given with your prescription pills. There were no pills here. The contents inside the vials appeared to be a white powder. Ut oh!

What in the world was the purpose of these packets and was there something nefarious in the works.

I went down the steep side of the hill and eventually wound my way around into the Kitchen Garden behind the Carriage House. This area is surrounded by a stone wall. To one side are trees with thick drooping branches, evergreens of some sort, that form a canopy. They sometimes hold weddings in this courtyard and the bride will enter from beneath this canopy, so obviously you can walk beneath the branches. It is much like walking through a cave. In the center inside there is another bench. I walked through the tunnel of nettled branches and stopped to stare at two more of these mysterious packets under that bench, one to each side.

I went to the Mansion and saw the lights were on in the upstairs office. I rang the doorbell. Shorty a man came down and opened the door. His name was Phillip. He was the Park Director. I inquired if he knew anything about these packets. He did not.

I wrote about these discoveries later on Facebook.

I received several comments all advising me to contact the police.

I emailed the New Castle County Police, enclosing the photos I had taken of the various packets. Next morning I received an email in return. It informed me my original notice and pictures was being given to an officer. It then spend some time telling me I should have phoned the police rather than send an email.  I though an email was more effective since I could include photos. Oh, well.

I then got a phone call from this same police contact, who spent more time telling me I should have called rather than emailed. I'm sorry. She said I would hear from an officer. I heard from a Police Sargent about two hours later. He asked several questions.

"Are you at the park now?"
"No, I'm home. But the packets are still there. They have been there two days. I actually found another one this morning. It is down on the porch of what is called the Porter Lodge."

"Did you collect the packets?" he asked.
"No," I said, "I wasn't touching those things."

He paused as if forming his next question, which was, "Is the Park Direct there?"
"No," I said. "I'm home. He is probably in the park. But I spoke with him and he knew nothing about them."
"Okay, I'm going to drive over to the park and talk to the Director."
"Fine, but he doesn't know anything. The easiest one to find is at the Porter Lodge." I figured the cop could stop on his way in, he would have to drive past where the Porter Lodge was in order to get up the hill to the office.

The next morning all the packets were still in place, except the one on the stone bench was pulled out from underneath partway. As I went on the route about the paths and drives I saw the Manager of the Carriage House arrived just as I was about to leave. I hurried across the lot to speak to her, leaving my walking stick behind in the car, which meant I really didn't hurry very fast. Still I caught her.

Her name is Barbara, but it turned out she knew nothing of the packets either. She said she would call the police, but I told her I had already done so and also reported them to the Park director. Barbara said she would follow up with the police. My goodness, we are getting quite involved here and still don't know what these mysterious packets are. Or what was in the vials each packet contained.

The next day, no change, except the Stone Bench packet was now on top of the bench. Another day passed and the packed was again tucked in the showdown beneath the bench.

On the next day, this packet and the one in the Gazebo were gone, but the two under the tree canopy remained, only one was outside the bench and both had been flipped over.

Now on what, the seventh or eighth day, all the packets had disappeared as strangely as they had appeared. I still had no clue to what they were for. This was driving me crazy. I hate not knowing. Especially, since on the next day after they all went away, they came back.

However, the content was different. There were no vials. Instead they contained a rock and paper. I looked closely at the one on the stone bench. Yes, this packet was atop the bench, not under it. The paper inside looked very much like folded up money. The ploy thickens or the mystery deepens or some such saying.

Okay, so this morning, after over a week of mysterious packets, all were gone, except one. That's right, there was a packet sitting atop that blasted stone bench where all this first began for me. I sat down next to it and opened it up. I had a great deal of difficulty opening the lid of the box inside the ZipLoc bag, but persisted. Inside beneath a rock were the cut up pieces of a photograph, but no money. There was also a piece of paper. Typed upon this strip was, "Mr. Salisbury once lived here."

Mr. Salisbury had been Joseph Shipley's gardener and when the wealthy merchant banker retired and built Rockwood, he brought Salisbury with him as his landscaper. But the cut up photograph was of the Porter Lodge, not the Gardener's Cottage. At any rate, I tucked everything back away and left it where it was.

The mystery was about to unfold.

Up at the high point, within the Gazebo was no packet found this morning; however, the rock that had been in the second set of boxes was there as was a long strip of paper it had contained.

Those were direction that took one from this gazebo down to that infamous stone bench.

I ran into the Park Director as he arrived this morning and asked him if they had found out what the packets were. He told me, "Yes. The police were out to investigate. They checked out each site."

So what were they?

There had been some organization that held a scavenger hunt for children this past weekend. They had planted the original packets as a test run. Nobody informed any authority at the park. It was just a harmless game. Still, I was thanked. I did the right thing on seeing suspicious packets laying about. It could have been something no good. Never be afraid to report strange packages or odd behavior, especially in our current age. Risk the embarrassment of looking a fool, better that that a tragedy or crime because you ignored such things.

Case closed on the Mystery of the Suspicious Packets.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

From Garden to the Cliffs: Changes Part II

If you read Part I, then you know we left off at the Gardener's Cottage. Obviously, if you have a gardener's cottage, then there must have been a gardener, and if there be a gardener, there must be a garden in the story somewhere.

The gardener was one Robert Salisbury and Joseph Shipley had brought him from England to design his gardens and tend them on his new American retirement estate of Rockwood.

Salisbury is something of a mystery man in the Rockwood history, but we can surmise he must have
been a very good gardener given that Joseph moved him and his family to the estate and even had the cottage designed and built for him. Beyond the fact that Salisbury was a gardener, we know little. We don't even know if Salisbury gardened at Joseph's rented estate in England; although it would not be a bad assumption that he did. He may have influenced the overall Rockwood landscaping, but we don't know if that is a fact. Much evidence shows that Joseph himself did much of the design. Joseph Shipley tended to bring a lot of his favorite things to America. He even had trees uprooted and transported for replanting here. He collected exotic trees from all about, which makes Rockwood very interesting indeed. Whether Salisbury had any influence over the landscaping we don't know. We do know Salisbury continued working at Rockwood even after Joseph Shipley went under the dirt.

I couldn't replicate the photo of the Formal Garden because it was an arial shot taken in 1950.
The Kitchen Garden at the top next to the Carriage House is today the Rose Garden. The larger patch shown to the left of the Carriage House has changed a lot since 1950. Much is taken up by a little cluster of trees that appear as if one giant tree. These form a canap├ęs over much of the plot and you can walk under the branches like going through a cave. Weddings are often performed on this plot and the bride come to the ceremony from out of these trees.

To the back of the Kitchen Garden and facing the Carriage House are the Potting Sheds and Boiler
Room. The picture of the sheds on the right was taken about 1900. There are two sheds with an entry into the garden between them.  Back in Shipley's time the one was a cold house for vegetables and the other contained a boiler and piping to make it a hothouse for the exotic plants that Shipley grew. In Joseph's time the garden was for growing vegetables, but starting in 1910, the Bringhurst Family converted it to a formal flower garden.

The current county gardeners still use the sheds for potting and for storing their equipment. The boiler is gone.

There are paths looping the gardens and the formal garden is surrounded by rose bushes. The garden is quite beautiful when in full bloom.

There is a stone wall blocking it off from the main grounds. Back in Shipley's day British custom dictate that garden's be hidden from view to the general public. Only invited guests of the family were invited to enjoy them.

On one end of the Mansion is a Conservatory, shown jutting out from the right side of the mansion. This is the rear of the mansion, by the way, taken from the rear lawn, which is protected by the ha-ha. Again, Shipley modeled the Conservatory on the one on the home he rented in England.

Both home were designed by the English architect, George Williams. The estate in England, near Liverpool, I believe, was named Wnycote.

The Conservatory if more promenade in this 1851 photograph of the rear of Wyncote on the left.

You can see how strikingly similar the two Neo Gothic Houses were to each other. They were so much alike I mistook the old photo of Wyncote for Rockwood when I posted the pictures on Facebook, where I pointed out that the tower behind the Mansion no longer existed at Rockwood. Of course not, there was never a tower at Rockwood.

Posing in the Conservatory around 1895 are George Kennedy Smith and Edward Bringhurst III, dressed as sailors. I could not go inside to snap pictures, so the photo on the left was taken through the window that the two boys had their backs toward.

There are shelves full of plants today just as there was in the 1895 photo, which blocked my getting the same view through the windows by the side of the mansion.

As mentioned earlier, Joseph Shipley liked his exotic plants and he had a hot-water heating system piped through the Conservatory to store these plants over the cold Delaware winters. In the summer the plants were carried out and planted in the garden. Seems like a lot of work to me.

Shipley didn't do the heavy lifting himself. He may have liked gardens, but he suffered from gout. As a well-to-do merchant banker in England he indulged in a lot of rich foods and thus he developed the "rich man's disease."

He still liked to indulge himself in some pleasures the common man couldn't, such as eating free fruit for Christmas when the snow was atop the grounds.

Just behind the Carriage House is a Fruit Cellar. Extending eight to ten feet below ground, it acted as a natural refrigerator for storing fruits and vegetables beyond their growing season. Remember winter temperatures in Northern Delaware will go as low as a Frigidaire or even a freezer.

This is another old photo that distorted distant, like the one of the Scenic Vista in Part I. The Fruit Cellar looks longer than my photo. I also could not get the same angle.

I didn't have snow on the roof either, this not being the season for snow and the temperature that morning was around 60 degrees. I don't know what the white stuff is in my photo, but it isn't snow.

The old photo of the Fruit cellar was taken about 1920.

There is a sign showing three kind of random scenes about the landscape. One is a man using two horses to mow what they refer to as the North Lawn. This is a large patch of ground to the front of the mansion. The photo is from about 1895 and the man is unidentified. I would imagine he was a workman for the Bringhurst Family.

I tried to take this shot from approximately where the man was mowing. There are more trees and bushes now. It is on this lawn that the Holiday Open House festivities official open during the first weekend of December. Choir stand here to sing Christmas songs and the County Executive reads the "Night Before Christmas" beneath that tall evergreen.

They light the giant Christmas Tree on Friday evening and this is the tree that's used. The strings of lights are still hanging down it. The use to light another tree next to this one, but during one of our summer storms about two years ago it fell over.

There is also a random picture of Anna Webb Bringhurst standing between a rock formation on the
North Lawn. This was taken about 1884. At this point Joseph was dead and the property was owned by his sisters, Sarah and Hannah. In 1891 they put it up to auction and Joseph's niece, Sarah Shipley Bringhurst purchased it. She had been the one urging him to buy the place way back in 1851. She turned the property over to her son, Edward Bringhurst, Jr., somewhere at this time.

It is interesting because Joseph Shipley and Sarah Bringhurst would argue about the many rocks on the property. She felt they should be gotten rid of, but he loved their look and insisted they remain.

It took me a bit of searching, but I did finally find the rocks that Anna Webb Bringhurst posed between. There is a small garden to their front and some different bushes and trees backing up the scene, but I'm certain I was posing where she had stood 122 years earlier. I did not have a parasol to twirl; however.

I did have my walking stick.

My legs weren't covered by a long gown, either.

This brings us to the cliffs and the conclusion of this journey to the past. The cliffs are to the right as you drive or walk up the driveway from the park entrances up the hill toward the mansion.

This photo is of Mary Bringhurst standing at the top of these cliffs in 1900.

She must have come up a path behind the rocks on which she poses because I doubt she scaled the cliffs in that outfit for this purpose. Now I realize she was a healthy and hardy person, who loved to be 100, but I wouldn't have attempted the climb when I was younger without ALS.

There is a windy trail up behind those cliffs. Today it is paved over, but my guess is it follows some trail that existed back in the estates history so the owners could go to the highest point and look at the view. The cliff is steeper than the picture would indicate. Today there is a gazebo at the highest point where one can sit and look out over the grounds.

But with all the underbrush it is difficult to look at the 1900 photo and determine the exact location.

I went up the trail, then off on a dirt path that runs directly behind the cliffs, which may be the remainsof the original means of going up there. My guess is these may be the rock outcropping where Mary stood so long ago.

These rocks are relatively flat. Even I managed to walk onto them despite my imperfect balance and unsteady gait these days.

I bet Miss Bringhurst was not one bit hesitant to such rock standing.

A couple notes on the last post:

I did not get a photo outside the original entrance to the estate last week, but I did yesterday. This site hasn't changed greatly, except I think it had tall, wooden gates then. All Joseph Shipley's visitors would have come in here and checked in at the Lodge with the Gatekeeper. Pulling past this checkpoint they would see the mansion sitting up upon the hill.

The information sign here called this little building, "The Lodge", but I noticed this morning that the identifying marker to the front of its door calls it "The Porter's Lodge".

This is certainly more correct. Calling it The Lodge sounds like guest may have stayed there, but it was really the home of Shipley's Gatekeeper or Porter.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Changes or Not So Much

Okay, I admit, this post will not be so curmudgeon-like. It will also repeat some photos and comments I posted on Facebook recently, but both are expanded. Call it a bit of calm within the storms of life.

There is a park near my home that I take my walks in these mornings. It is a nice place, but I would much prefer the more rugged trails and challenges of traipsing through more rugged plays, such as Brandywine Creek State Park or Delawares newly designated National Park. It is ironic that Delaware, the First State was the last to get a National Park, but ironic that Delaware, the First State was the last to get a National Park, but so be it.

The former Woodlawn Trustees Lands went to the Feds a couple years ago to become, along with a couple other sites, as our National Park. The name is a bit confusing. It is either the First State National Monument Park or the First State National Historical Park. At least they did not name it after some politician. It is a small wonder in itself they didn't name it the Joseph Blabbermouth Biden National Park. Okay, that is about as curmudgeon that we're going to get.

The former Woodlawn Trustees Lands went to the Feds a couple years ago to become, along with a couple other sites, as our National Park. The name is a bit confusing. It is either the First State National Monument Park or the First State National Historical Park. At least they did not name it after some politician. It is a small wonder in itself they didn't name it the Joseph Blabbermouth Biden National Park. Okay, that is about as curmudgeon that we're going to get.

My disease has pretty well now restricted me to the paved paths and less challenging trails of Rockwood Museum Park, a beautiful New Castle County Park. This land was once the estate of one Joseph Shipley, born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1795, immigrated to London England in 1823 and make his fortune as a Merchant Banker. In purchased land near Wilmington to be his retirement estate and built Rockwood there from 1851-1854. He died in 1867. (Young Joseph Shipley on the right.)

The estate went to his sisters, Hanna and Sarah. When Hannah died, Joseph's niece Sarah Bringhurst bought it. After her demise it was inherited by her son, Edward Bringhurst, Jr., and then to Edward's daughter Mary, who died at the age of 100. Mary's niece, Nancy Sellers Hargraves inherited and in 1973 she donated the estate to New Castle County, whose governing body restored the estate in 1999. Now spending several years hiking about this place brought to my mind recently an idea involving the several oval markers on the grounds. These described a bit about the sites they marked and displayed some old photos as well. I decided to take new photos and compare the old to the new. I discovered not too much had actually changed, even though most of the pictures were well over one hundred years old. Here then are those comparisons. I have added some more material to what I posted on Facebook recently.

Let's begin with the ha-ha. Heh-heh, what the ho-ho is a ha-ha? Well, that's a joke on you if you are a
grazing livestock, like a sheep or goat or cow. You are just chomping away at the green grass of the meadow and hardly notice he ground has suddenly dipped down, but next thing you know you are down in this indentation, probably lined with a wall of some kind and that is as far as your are going. You ain't getting up in the owner's yard or garden. Nothing to do but turn around and go where you been. Ha-ha!

"A ha-ha is a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond.
The design includes a turfed incline which slopes downward to a sharply vertical face, typically a masonry retaining wall. Ha-has are used in landscape design to prevent access to a garden, for example by grazing livestock, without obstructing views."

The picture on the left is the South Lawn ha-ha photographed in 2003. I can't believe they couldn't find some antique snapshot of the ha-ha, but apparently they couldn't. The photo on the left is my picture taken this past week of the same location.

This picture, showing the corner of the mansion beyond the ha-ha below the north lawn. It was taken in 2002.

I took my shot from approximately the same place, but mine shows a lot of tall trees had grown up in the meantime.

On the other side of the ha-ha wall is a path that surrounds the back yard of the mansion. Down on the near side around a bend is a sign picturing what is called a Scenic Vista. It looks down across the fields toward the distant woods. The photo was taken in about 1920, nearly 100 years ago.

On the right side of the photo you see the stone wall that decides the fields. These stone wall crisscross the estate in various places. There are a couple of dogs chasing across the top of the field and below is what looks to be a corn field. There is a stone structure on the left. One noticeable difference between the old photo on the right and my new photo on the left is how the old photo seems to stretch the scene further than it actually is. That stone wall certainly seems closer to the structure on the left than it does in the original. There are a couple of old photo that distort the actual distances of scenes.

In my picture is a gazebo in the field that didn't exist in 1920. However, that stone structure on the left once held a gazebo that the Bringhurst Family constructed in 1910. Those stone steps were not there in 1920, but since that time the ground has been built up and far less of the stone structure shows today.

The gazebo is gone from the top of that stone structure. It hasn't been there in my time. Up until a couple years ago there was around the flat top of the old gazebo base a sort of ornate cast iron fence, much like the small one picture nearby in front of some kind of shoot.

The iron fence has been replaced by a plastic barrier. A couple years ago, perhaps during Hurricane Sandy, a tree that grew right up on the corner of this platform was uprooted in the wind. It pulled up a chunk of the concrete and took down the entire cast iron fence. I thought maybe they would release it, but they never did. They just hauled it and the fallen tree away.

If you look up at the 1920 photo of the vista you will notice a farmhouse standing down a bit in the field. In my recent snapshot that house is gone, but perhaps the base remains next to that purple blossomed bush.

If you walk down the hill and cross the entry drive you will find this rubble by that bush. It is the remains of Edward's Playhouse.

In the old photo here on the left we see the building that was concerned to Edward's Playhouse. The little boy sitting by the corner reading a book is Edward Bringhurst III and the photo was taken in 1895.

At one time the building on this site was a farm house belonging to Levi Weldin whose property Joseph Shipley bought as part of his estate. The Bringhurst Family converted the farmhouse into a playhouse for their youngest son.

I believe when you look at the Scenic Vista photo from the past you are seeing the old Weldin home there in the middle of the field.

Once upon the time, the main entrance to the estate was east of Edward's Playhouse. It is no longer used for that purpose, but the wall and the gate across the drive all still exist. This is how it looked in 1900. The building on the left is called the ledge. It also still stands.

In my photo of the old main entrance you can see little has changed here, although the gates back then may have been taller and made of wood.

This is the structure they called the Lodge. The man standing on the steps is unidentified. He may have been the gatekeeper, for this little house was the gatekeeper's home.

The lodge today has a sign on the door says it is a private residence, no trespassing. I have seen inside and there is nothing inside but dust. Otherwise it hasn't changed its outside looks.

For a couple of years the had an empty police car parked down near the lodge. It was moved once in a while. Someone told me it was an old model. They had been having some problems with car breaking on the parking lots at the time, like this dummy police car was going to scare any crooks away. It was taken away earlier this year.

Speaking of crooks and bad people, I am always very aware of my surrounding when I am out. I am very caution if anything looks out of place. Lately I have been keeping my eye on a car whose driver was acting suspicious to my mind. This car would drive into the Carriage House parking lot when I was in that vicinity in the morning. It would com slowly, then stop in the middle of the drive, sit there for awhile, then drive a bit further, stop again, over and over. It would drive out the lane, go up by the mansion and then exit, all the time stopping, waiting then driving little further to repeat. There was an older man, too, who often walked through the park in the same manner. I notice he constantly looked down at something he held.

I began to think they were some kind of security, but could not figure out what thy were checking out. It made me a bit nervous. A couple times the car driver would pull into the lot, park, get out and walk up a path into the woods. A short time he would return and then drive off in his idd manner. I thought maybe he was going up in the woods because he had to urinate.

This morning I solved the mystery. I had finished my walk and was sitting in my car when this fellow
came walking into the lot. I recognized him as the man who usually drove that misbehaving car. He was walking in the same strange manner. When he stopped he was looking down at a smart phone he carried. He paused right behind me and so I got out, walked over and said, "Good morning". He did so back. "What are you doing?" I asked. "Looking for Pokemon," he replied. He was playing Pokemon Go. We had a nice chat. He was originally from New Zealand.

He was searching right at the Gardener's Cottage. When Joseph Shipley was designing his estate he imported his English Gardener to America to do his landscape. The man's name was Robert Salisbury. In 1855, Shipley had two Baltimore Architects, named Thomas and James Dixon, design and build the Cottage for Salisbury to live in.

The photograph is from about 1900. The two women aren't identified. They may be the Bringhurst sisters.

I tried to get the picture of the cottage as it now is from the same angle. I'm a bit off, but close enough.

I couldn't get any women or dogs to pose as models for me, though.

To be continued.