Monday, October 27, 2014

Just Try To Keep Up With This New Nonagenarian

[I hope you will indulge me as my family celebrates my mother's 90th birthday. She's an incredible individual, and not just because she's my mother. - SMC]

Lorraine "Ma FAST" Morong
At the Town Hall on Saturday, October 18, 2014, long-time Madbury citizen Lorraine Morong celebrated her 90th birthday, with hundreds of friends and family from near and far. The event may have been this New Hampshire town’s most festive event of the year, second only to Madbury Day, its annual festival.

This year also marks Lorraine’s fiftieth year living in Madbury, NH. When in 1964 the Morongs moved there, the town had little in the way of community services, with its population then of about 700. No municipal center. Other than one part-time volunteer, no police department. No school. No library. No industry. The only agricultural enterprise of note was the Elliott Greenhouses which produced roses wholesale for metropolitan centers across the country. Other than a hardware store on Route 108, no commerce. Schooling, employment, marketing – everything was done outside of Madbury. The only activity that Madbury residents all had in common was that they slept there. In fifty years, the town has grown to 1700 and now boasts a school, emergency services departments, other facilities, and several small businesses, but has retained its rural atmosphere.

By no means has Lorraine transformed the town single-handedly (the town is full of civic-minded souls), but she’s had her hand in a number of projects, in particular the establishment of the Madbury Public Library in 2000 and the assignment of Madbury’s new zip code in 2004. Her dedication to the First Aid & Stabilization Team earned her the name of “Ma FAST.” 

Lorraine has been the news correspondent for the town almost since she arrived, for the Portsmouth Herald, the Tri-Town Transcript, and most recently for Foster’s Daily Democrat. As correspondent, she attends meetings of the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, and other municipal offices and community organizations. Her personal collection of journalism archives frequently provides newcomers with an important foundation of recent town history in community concerns. She has also sat as an alternate on the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and continues to be active with the Madbury Community Club.

Husband Bill, who passed away in 1991, was also involved in town affairs, including membership on the valuable Water Resources Board; Madbury provides the City of Portsmouth, NH, with most of its municipal water supply.

Just a few of us Morongs - 4 generations
The Town Hall was bursting at the seams with well-wishers from 1 to 93 years of age, from every walk of Lorraine’s life. A fair sample of Madbury’s population rubbed shoulders with denizens of Muscongus Island (Lorraine’s summer home in mid-coast Maine, where she still paddles her own canoe - er, rows her own dinghy - see evidence below) and multitudes of Lorraine’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, to say nothing of cousins and long-time friends. Folks came from Virginia, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other far-flung locales to celebrate this dynamo known as Lorraine.

Denise Shames, former resident, noted that of the original four Vestal Virgins in ethereal robes who graced Madbury’s Bicentennial pageant in 1968, only two remained, she and Lorraine. The other two - more Madbury icons - were Denise’s mother Elizabeth and Joan Schreiber, both of whom were close friends of Lorraine. Denise suggested that it may be time to reenact the pageant; Madbury’s 250th anniversary comes up in 2018, only four short years away. Maybe Lorraine and Denise can reprise their old roles.

Joan Schreiber’s son Kurt gave Lorraine a small essay he prepared, in part of which he commented that if he was ever concerned as to the whereabouts of his mother, he could usually find her whispering with Lorraine in the back row of a meeting, conniving on strategy over one or another current concern of town or state political import.

Live music by Castlebay filled in the spaces among the celebrants. Castlebay’s husband-&-wife team Fred Gosbee and Julia Lane of Round Pond, ME, specialize in Celtic, medieval, and maritime music with harp, fiddle, flute, and voice. Puppeteer Nancy Sander of Salisbury, MA, glided among the guests with a giant butterfly which kissed children and adults alike with its fuzzy pipe-cleaner nose, when she wasn’t enchanting the same audience with puppet shows. Nancy’s 15-foot Chinese dragon wended her way through the crowd several times (I believe it was a girl dragon: she had pink flowers on her nose), bumping her horns against the ceiling amiably, and dancing around the building. Balloon-artist Beth Booth of Lee, NH, proved popular, too, creating colorful creatures and innovative headdresses to everyone’s delight. 

The Madbury Community Club and members of Friends of the Madbury Library collaborated with Lorraine’s son Duffy on food preparation, service, and clean-up. Duffy also prepared many of the sandwiches and other treats. Granddaughter Amy made both chocolate and vanilla 2-layer cakes with sugar-screened photographs of Lorraine (into which images no one wanted to cut!). Everyone raved about the delicious quality of these excellent cakes, a most welcome respite from the usual insipid and greasy commercial products.

Lorraine insisted on no gifts for herself, but requested that anyone so inclined should make a donation to the Friends of the Madbury Library. Most attendees have done so, increasing the Friends’ treasury significantly. Donations continue to arrive via the postal service, from many who couldn’t attend.

“A good time was had by all” is a paltry description of the bustling, magical cheer that pervaded the celebration of a woman whose friendship, practical good sense, bonhomie, and wisdom has graced us all. To Lorraine, in the Irish Gaelic: “Sláinte!” - “Good health!” - for many more years! 

Mark your calendars for the 100th!  Lorraine has!

Lorraine at Muscongus Island, August 2013 (compass heading: Year 2024)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Capturing The Wild Kingdom Before “Wild Kingdom”

Birth of Martin Johnson, Pioneer Wildlife Photographer
Oct. 9, 1884

Remember Marlin Perkins in Mutual of Omaha’s 1960s TV show “Wild Kingdom,” and how he left all the rhino-wrestling to his buddy Jim? To say nothing of Steve Irwin’s popular “Crocodile Hunter” forty years later. This post celebrates intrepid forerunner Martin Johnson, who broke trail for the likes of Marlin, Jim, and Steve.
Martin and Osa Johnson

Martin Elmer was born on October 9, 1884, to John and Lucinda Johnson, in Rockford, IL, where John, a Swedish immigrant, worked as foreman at a watch factory. Within a year of Martin’s birth, the Johnsons moved to Lincoln, KS, where Martin’s father then ran a jewelry store. They moved again in 1896, away from Lincoln which was crippled with drought, to Independence, KS, where John met with new success in selling jewelry and books.

Although his father taught him how to repair clocks and watches and details of the jewelry business, Martin’s mind was always on birds in the nearby woods and turtles basking on the river rocks. He constantly rebelled against both school and store. He frequently ran away from home, riding the rails and meeting hobos. When his father’s store expanded to include camera supplies, the boy became obsessed with photography as a means of escape to freedom from the workaday grind.

Young Johnson, upon expulsion from high school for photographic breaches in etiquette and protocol, embarked as an itinerant photographer. He met his future wife, Osa Helen Leighty, in 1902 when she was only eight. At the time, she was offended by the gawky teenager, ten years her elder, but neither did she quite forget him. She had taken her 3-year-old brother to the makeshift studio of this traveling artist, and was dismayed when the young man, who was developing his skill and his eye along with his images, insisted on mussing up the toddler’s hair for the expensive photograph, delighting little Vaughn but ruining Osa’s intent on a formal portrait.

When he came back to town – Chanute, KS – in 1910, his adventures drew Osa, and they eloped after a three-week acquaintance. In the intervening eight years, he had had a lifetime of adventure. He had worked on a boat to England, then stowed away on his return. He had sailed the Pacific with Jack London on that disastrous trip aboard the Snark (making the acquaintance of South Seas cannibals and headhunters), proving himself far better at ship operation and maintenance than at his job as cook.

With native friends in Borneo in 1935
The young couple worked at movie theaters and displayed his South Seas photographs on the vaudeville circuit for a while, but finally bit the bullet in 1917 when they invested everything they had in photography equipment and headed back to South Seas. They spent nine months visiting and filming wildlife and natives of the New Hebrides and Solomon Islands, including the fierce Big Nambas tribe of Malekula. Although warned against taking a white woman among these people (indeed, the local British garrison warned against anybody approaching them), both Martin and Osa forged ahead anyway, and Osa survived a baptism of fire that would have made most others, men or women, quail in terror.  Her gritty courage impressed both natives and British.

They returned to Malekula in 1919. They completely wowwed the Big Nambas when, with equipment and a generator, they showed the tribe the film they had made from footage on the earlier trip, Among the Cannibal Isles of the South Seas. The film technology displayed to the natives imbued the Johnsons with powerful medicine. From this second trip, which included a voyage by boat along the eastern coast of Africa, they produced two more feature films, Jungle Adventures (1921) and Headhunters of the South Seas (1922).

Martin and Osa’s attention now turned toward Africa. They ultimately made five expeditions there, between 1921 and 1934, ground-breaking, multi-year projects with immensely complex planning and execution. They worked in Uganda, the Serengeti Plains, and the Belgian Congo.

In between their multi-year safaris, they conducted national tours, lecturing, exhibiting their still photography and artifacts, and producing over fifty films and seven books about the wildlife and habitats of Africa and the South Seas. Their films were hugely popular throughout the United States.

Osa was the ultimate partner to Martin, coordinating the expeditions and running the camps, and guarding against wildlife attacks while Martin shot footage. She was a crack shot, providing game for the table as well as protection to the camp and crew. She remained cool-headed during attacks by lions, rhinos, and elephants. She quickly picked up a multitude of native languages, and filmed as well as developed footage with her husband, all with an indomitable, positive attitude which matched Martin’s adventuresome spirit.

About his wife Martin once stated, "For bravery and steadiness and endurance, Osa is the equal of any man I ever saw. She is a woman through and through. There is nothing 'mannish' about her. Yet as a comrade in the wilderness she is better than any man I ever saw."

In 1932, both Johnsons learned to fly, which expedited their expeditions considerably. They purchased two Sikorsky amphibious planes, Martin’s S-39-CS named “Spirit of Africa,” which sported giraffe spots, and Osa’s S-38-BS named “Osa’s Ark,” striped like a zebra. They were now able to collect aerial footage, the first ever of migrating herds on the African grasslands.

Sadly, while on their lecture circuit, the Johnsons were involved in a deadly plane crash in California on January 12, 1937. The commercial Boeing airliner, fighting foul weather, failed to reach the runway on approach. Martin died of his injuries the next day, one of five deaths, at age 52. Osa was also severely injured, but continued their schedule of lectures in a wheelchair once she was released from the hospital.

Osa continued their work after Martin’s untimely death. She wrote several memoirs, led more expeditions to Africa, wrote children’s books, produced more films, including one based on her memoir , and continued on the lecture circuit. At age 58, she died in 1953 in the midst of preparing to lead another African safari.

I read I Married Adventure a couple of years ago, and enjoyed the rich adventure thoroughly.

The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum

Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society,

Women Film Pioneers Project at Columbia University

Wikipedia – Martin and Osa Johnson

The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum

Richard Ker, North Borneo History