Thursday, June 28, 2012

Night Life in an Old Cemetery

A few of us were playing music at the Newtown Square Friends Meeting House last night. It was a perfect summer night, not too hot, a nice breeze, and a sliver of a moon.  Such a nice night in fact that we decided to play outside, and so we carried the porch benches out into the cemetery and set up on the other side of the wall near the porch. 

As it got darker, with a bright slice of moon, we heard high pitched chattering inside the porch roof. And then one bat flew out, and another, and another, and then in twos, and threes. We were ten feet away - and when they came out - through a small crack between the porch roof and the stone meeting house, they would swoop down, within a few feet of my head, before rising and flying off. I was at the end of the bench nearest the flight path. At time I put up my guitar in front of my face - purely defensive - because I still have those childhood stories in mind about bats getting in to your hair.  I know they can turn on a dime - but perhaps one might be thinking of something else, a fight with his spouse, worried about his kids, and BAP - in a moment of inattention, he runs right into my head.  You never know.  So I cowered behind my guitar and watched them come out and then soar off.

We continued to play, and they continued to trickle out over the next 30 minutes - perhaps a hundred in all. They didn't bother us; we didn't bother them. It actually was not too buggy out - I guess we have them to thank for that. Fireflies lit up the cemetery. Several cats were running about - we would see them darting and stalking between the gravestones. A fox was making noise in the back, on the other side of the cemetery wall. At one point a human form, in white, walked along the wall at the road near where the old crypt used to be. And the bats, out in the night sky, continued to wheel overhead. 

There was a lot of life in the old cemetery last night!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In search of Broomall ...

My wife and I were walking through our neighborhood the other night and I said, “I have traveled extensively in Broomall."  Thoreau fans will get the allusion, but my wife is not a fan.  I’ve lived longer in Broomall than in any other one place in my life, and yet as we passed by the Marple township building and saw the old Keystone marker (see photo) that mentioned where the name “Broomall” came from, I thought that I know nothing about our namesake, other than he was “some politician." 
After a few hours of research today, I know much more about John Martin Broomall. He was much more than “some politician," and his life and career are worth reviewing. He was, in the words of a contemporary historian, “one of the most able and conspicuously useful men of his day."
The Broomall family came over early from England, in 1682 or so, in the same time period as William Penn. They settled in Chester County, and generations spread out in Nether Providence, Edgemont, and Chichester.  Our subject, John Martin Broomall, born in Chichester in 1816, was a fifth generation Broomall, born to John Broomall and Sarah Martin.  He was a twin; his sister also carried the Martin middle name: Elizabeth Martin Broomall (see photo). They were raised in a Quaker family and John went to Quaker schools, before graduating to Samuel Smith’s Quaker boarding school in Wilmington, where he was first a student and then upon graduation a teacher for several years.
His ambition led him to study law, in the office of one of Philadelphia’s finest attorneys, Quaker John Bouvier. He passed the bar in 1840 and began his practice of law which would continue for more than 50 years. The following year, he married Elizabeth Booth, from a Chichester family; earlier that year his twin sister, Elizabeth, had married William Booth of the same family–and so John and his twin were not only brother and sister, but in-laws as well!
His career from that time was a series of increasing responsibilities and successes. At age 32 he began serving a three-year term as deputy attorney general. He served as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1851-1852, but declined re-election.  With his law partner, William Ward, he began investing in real estate in Chester, building homes in the south ward, and over the years became very wealthy from those holdings as well as other business ventures. He built the Penn Building in Chester, which housed Broomall's department store, run by his brother George, and a landmark in Chester for 79 years. 
He was the first president of the Chester Gas Company, as gas lamps began to replace candles for lighting of homes and streets. In 1852, he built a unique house at Front and Penn streets in Chester–called the Mud Fort by the locals (see photo). It was constructed “one half inside the old marsh river bank, and one half outside of the bank. To prevent uneven settling, it was constructed on a timber crib tied together with iron rods.” In addition to having a great river view, the house incorporated a tidal pond to drive a hydraulic ram that supplied the household with water. It was had a gas plant, installed in the basement to light the house, one of the first in the whole country.  People must have come from miles around through the darkened streets of Chester simply to watch him turn on his house lights at night. But when the county seat moved from Chester to Media, Broomall did too, leaving the Mud Fort behind. 
First wife Elizabeth died young, leaving two children, and Broomall took a second wife in 1852, marrying Caroline Larkin (see photo). They had five additional children, three of whom lived to adulthood. 
In 1856 he was active in the organization of the Republican party in Delaware County. He ran for Congress several times in the 1850s, and lost, but served as a delegate to the 1860 Republican Convention that selected Abe Lincoln as their candidate.  He was elected to Congress in 1862 and served three terms. 
His Quaker beliefs instilled in him a lifelong hatred of slavery, and throughout his public career he zealously advocated against it. He aligned with Lincoln in that respect, and was a major proponent of the Reconstruction Amendments (13th-15th) which abolished slavery, and promised each person the right to vote. In 1865 he spoke in Congress in favor of the Civil Rights bill, and his speech was recalled as “one of the most magnificent utterances ever voiced in the House, and an unsurpassed example of conciseness and force in the use of the English language.” 
During the Civil War, when the south made its two invasions of the north, Broomall, though in his late forties, was appointed to lead a company of militia and prepared with his men for the invasions that were turned back, at Antietam and Gettysburg. His 20-year-old son William B. Broomall saw service and combat at Antietam and Chancellorsville. 
Towards the end of his terms in Congress, he remembered his constituents, as a new post office was established in his district. Post offices were given names that were not always consistent with the name of the nearest town or township, but could be named for local attractions or people. The new post office created in 1868 and located in the general store at the northwest corner of West Chester Pike and Sproul Road (now McDonalds), was called “Broomall."
After the war and his congressional service, he continued as a trial lawyer; he was well respected and sought after, and rarely lost a criminal case. He was elected as the first president of the Law Library Association of the Delaware County bar. He served as president of the Delaware County Institute of Science. 
In 1872, he was a member of the Electoral College that elected U.S. Grant president for his second term. In the same year, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention that was re-writing the Pennsylvania constitution, and authored two provisions that were consistent with his Quaker training and beliefs, but provoked much debate: giving the vote to women, and prohibiting capital punishment. He argued in favor of both provisions, but they were rejected in the final document. Nevertheless, in the next year he gave speeches in support of the new constitution, as a bulwark against what he saw as the corruption of the legislature. 
He was appointed as a Delaware County judge and served with distinction, but in 1872 was defeated in his bid to retain his seat by Thomas J. Clayton, and they continued to butt heads for the balance of his life. During a trial before Clayton, Broomall became irritated at the judge and packed up to leave the court. Judge Clayton told him that if he left the courtroom, he would be held in contempt of court. 
Broomall stayed, and finished his case, but announced afterwards that he would never try another case before Judge Clayton, and sued the judge for his arrest and contempt charge. Years later, in 1889, Clayton was in his courtroom picking a jury, and the jury list was exhausted. He ordered the courtroom doors closed and everyone in the court to submit to jury duty (excluding, of course, the attorneys in the room).  Broomall, by then age 73, was in the courtroom at the time. He approached the bench, no doubt remembering that earlier trial, and said to Clayton, “May I be allowed to go?”  As described in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “As the bar and the audience caught on to the question, there was a broad smile, and it was evident that Judge Clayton struggled to maintain his dignity as he answered 'certainly.'  It was a plainly amused judge that sat on the bench the balance of the day.” 
When Broomall married the first time, it was to a non-Quaker, and he was “read out of meeting” for marrying outside of his religion. This was not a “shunning," where he was no longer welcome at the meeting. Rather, he was still welcome to worship, but was no longer permitted to participate in the business affairs of the meeting.  Nevertheless, when he moved to Media, he would attend the Providence Friends Meeting, and regularly spoke there as well.  In late years, he was invited to formally re-join the meeting, but declined. Nevertheless, his Quaker beliefs guided his public responsibilities; and towards the end of his life, when applying for a passport in 1889, when the form would have required him to “swear” to the truth of the application, “so help me God," Broomall crossed out the word “swear” and the reference to God, and put “affirm” in its place. Quakers are taught to always speak the truth, and that there was no need to “swear” to God, because their word was their truth. And John Broomall’s word was his truth. 
His last year was his worst one. There was a national economic depression, and many in Chester were thrown out of work when the mills closed. Broomall’s real estate holdings included hundreds of homes for these workers, and as they became unemployed and left the area, the rents dried up and Broomall could not pay his mortgages. 
He made an assignment for his creditors–the equivalent of a modern day bankruptcy. In that year he had also been stricken with pneumonia, and it had weakened him badly. He went off to stay with his daughter, Dr. Anna M. Broomall, at 1229 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, but never regained his health. He died there on June 3, 1894, at age 78.  His body was brought back to his hometown of Media, and he was interred in the Media cemetery. 

John Martin Broomall was remembered as “the central figure in the affairs of [Delaware] County …”  His obituary said that “no man was better known or more respected by the people of [Media].”  He was well respected by his colleagues at the bar, and the people he served with in various public capacities. He had strong Quaker values, and he lived his beliefs each day, rather than for an hour each Sunday.  He spoke passionately for the values he stood for. He was a giant in his time.
We would be fortunate to have his kind in public service today.  He was far more than “some politician."  And our crossroads village of Broomall should be honored to bear his name.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Running between the centuries

I went for a long run tonight through Haverford Township. But first, I strapped on my heart rate monitor - I had stents put in a few months ago, and want to monitor what's going on in there. On the other wrist - my regular watch - which is also a stop watch.

Then I downloaded an mp3 file of the oral argument that took place before the Supreme Court today on Obamacare onto a small playable flash drive. I hooked the flash drive up to a plug in the pocket of a hoodie that is wired through the ties to tips which serve as ear buds. Feeling like Inspector Gadget, I started all of my gadgetry and off I went, down Darby Road to Oakmont, listening to the arguments that had taken place just hours before, and glancing from time to time at my time and heart rate.

My half way point was the Old Haverford Friends Meeting, founded in 1683; and one of the few places in what is now Delaware County where William Penn is known to have visited. This is one of many old Quaker meeting houses in our area, still hosting weekly "meeting" - the silent worship of the Quakers.

As I ran by, with all of my gadgetry running as well, I thought how very different is our world from the time of Penn. Our technology, our pace of life, and our culture are all changing at warp speed. The people of the 17th, 18th and 19th century all traveled by foot or by horse or mule power. They would recognize and be comfortable in each other's world. But they would no doubt find ours overwhelming.

Yet not everything is change. Many of us still gather in silence in those old Quaker meeting houses on Sundays. We go to worship at places that have been in use for that purpose for hundreds of years. They are filled with that history. They are silent and peaceful and they welcome us to sit in that community of silence for an hour and take stock of our lives and our relationship to the larger world.

Sitting in the benches worn by centuries of use, we seek not complex but simple truths. We shift out of high gear and into park. We take the measure of our hearts, not with 21st century gadgetry, but by listening carefully in the silence, just as our 17th century friends did. We search for those truths that give our life purpose and meaning. "The unexamined life is not worth living." So we examine them.

And for that hour, sitting in the same buildings and the same silence as Penn and his brethren, we find that we are not so different after all.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Listening to her daughter's heart ...

This is a re-print of an article by a friend, Frank Myer. It spoke to me, and so I wanted to re-publish it, with his gracious consent:

Good Morning Folks,

Enjoy the long weekend, an extra day to ponder life or escape the daily grind. Even better, college football starts this weekend.

The other day a story caught my attention. A mom got to listen to her daughter’s heart for the first time in a long time. Short version – a teenage girl lost her life in a skiing accident. The parents donated her organs. Then they got curious about who the heart went to. As you might guess, the organ donor people frown on this kind of thing. As fate would have it, the recipient of the heart got curious too, and she started searching to find out who gave her the heart that let her have a second lease on life.

They met.

Can you imagine the emotions flying around the room when the two ladies met? The lady was a nurse, a mom, a wife, and just a pretty neat lady. The tears were flowing. At one point the new holder of the heart got out her stethoscope and let the first mom listen to her daughter’s heart. The dad did too.

Think about this. When was the first time you heard your child’s heart? I can tell you when I heard my daughter’s heart. I can remember when she would be asleep and I’d just lay my hand on her, feeling that little heart beat.

Imagine placing the ends of the stethoscope in your ears, taking the other end and placing it on the chest of the woman who now lives because of the heart you allowed to be shared. Would that make an impact? Would your hands shake? Would you be recognize the steady beat? Would you reconnect?

As they were leaving, a group hug, more tears and the dad whispered: “I am so glad you are such a good person.” Who wouldn’t be? If you lost a child and you made the choice to allow organ donations, wouldn’t you want the organs to go to good people? It’s common sense. Anybody ahead of me on this one?

When I heard those words from the dad’s mouth, other words shot to my mind. “While we were yet sinners God sent his son for us.” We may be good people now, but we weren’t. We were horrible people. You name it, as a body of folks, we’ve done it. I had a friend that told me he didn’t believe in original sin because every one he committed had been done before.

Try to fathom the emotions of that mom and dad as they listened to heart beat of their daughter’s heart. Try to understand the love that God must have to allow his son’s heart to be stopped for you. When you begin to grasp that concept, the world changes. You change because you understand without that sacrificial heart you would not be who you are, you’d be a lot worse.

In the interview of the recipient, she told about being in her last days. She was so weak she was sleeping 18 hours a day. It’s all her heart could do. Then she got the new heart.

What are you doing to do with the new heart? Ignore it? Take it for granted? Gloss over it? Or
Share what you have?

Be nice to someone. Someone that may not have the ability to be nice back.

Enjoy the ride,

Frank Myer

PS from Doug: There are things you can do to share your heart. Make a living will. Fill out a donor card. Explain your wishes to your loved ones. Join the Bone Marrow Registry program at: . There is no shortage of good ideas for giving back to the community and the world.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Twilight Meetings for Worship

I am sharing this article by John Custer of Newtown Square Friends Meeting, which describes the twilight meetings for worship that he has taken the lead in organizing. Typically these meetings are held on a Sunday beginning a half hour before sundown, at a local preserve, usually on a hillside (like the one in this the photo - at the Okehocking Preserve in Willistown). Everyone brings their own chairs, and we set up to watch the "show" that God puts on each night for free. A great and peaceful way to end the weekend, enjoying the sundown, the natural setting, in community with friends. When we have a schedule of these planned meetings, we will post it up here. Stay tuned. Now, here's Johnny!

John Custer
Newtown Square Friends Meeting
Reprinted from “PYM Today” Spring 2011

I suspect that many if not most Friends are able to center without much difficulty within the friendly walls of their respective meetinghouses. However, there are some, including myself, who center much more readily outside in a natural setting. Many happy hours of my childhood were spent walking the fields and woods of my aunt’s ten-acre farm in lower Bucks County. Those times created in me a passion for the environment that continues unabated to this day. I am a member of, and active participant in, a number of environmental organizations, including the Environmental Advisory Committee of Newtown Township (Delaware County).

Several years ago, I began heading to parks and preserves at the end of the day, to meditate while watching the sun go down. This experience created in me a leading to share this wonderful experience with others, and the result has been “twilight meetings for worship.”

The first experimental twilight meeting for worship took place during the summer of 2009 at a local preserve, and included about eight Friends. Bolstered by the very positive feedback from all participants, I scheduled a series of monthly twilight meetings for worship in the spring, summer and fall of 2010. All of these meetings occurred on a Sunday, from about 45 minutes before to about 45 minutes after sunset. All meetings, with one exception, were in the various Willistown Township Preserves created through the hard work and industry of the Willistown Conservation Trust.

The final meeting, thanks to member Ron Ploeg, took place behind the Willistown Friends Meetinghouse, gazing into the extensive fields and woodlands so well preserved by that Meeting.

Response has been enthusiastic. We have attracted members and attenders from Newtown Square, Willistown, Valley, Radnor, Chester, Chestnut Hill and Providence Friends Meetings, and others without any affiliation. All spoke in glowing terms of their experience. The settings and the time periods can only be described as magical. We have been privy to breathtaking sunsets, with the sun disappearing behind woods and fields, and the sky slowly changing from one beautiful hue to another. We have sat at the top of a hill under a spreading oak tree, and watched the surrounding fields come alive with the beacons of thousands of fireflies. We have shared our habitat with deer, horses, red tailed hawks and Canada geese. Birds are seen flying to their evening roosts and heard celebrating the conclusion of one more day on Earth. And always, always, the presence of God is all around us.

We are planning to continue our twilight meetings for worship in 2011, and would welcome anyone who wants to join us (you can contact me at Also, if you live a distance from Willistown Township, you may also wish to create twilight meetings for worship within your own meeting. All that is needed is access to a natural setting.

If you are anything like me, the spiritual rewards will surprise and delight you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Batmen Return

The last bat exclusion project at the Meeting House was done around 1995. Their concern then was the same as ours now - the accumulation of bat guano in the attic. So, they sealed up the areas where they could see daylight - and boarded up the seams between the stone walls and the roof to keep the bats out. We could see their handiwork up there. But for the last several years, it had been clear that the bats were back. I watched several times last summer as at dusk they came pouring out of the building to do their thing. I don't mind them in the neighborhood - I know they are good guys - but I didn't want them living there for 10-20 years, hundreds of them, adding to the piles of guano, and one day having the dropped ceiling fall in from the weight of the guano, and having that smell be the permanent fragrance of the Meeting House. So, that was the impetus for the current project - to exclude them from the attic, but also to welcome them to new bat houses that we would put in place.

So this morning we were again at work at the Meeting House. Another 8:00 a.m. gathering of Scott and Tayo and me. Bob popped his head through the hatch later. As long as we had the ladder up and lighting in place in the attic, I wanted to put down more boards to walk around safely in the attic, and provide a platform and staging area for tools and equipment. So, I bought 1" plywood boards last night, and we hauled them up to the attic; then loaded up more planks that Bob had dropped off earlier in the week as well. Then the three of us climbed up as well - through the hatch, and started laying out the boards where we wanted them.
When you come up the ladder, it does not come through the hatch but ends right below it. So, you come to the hatch, with hands full of gear, you need a place to put down whatever you are carrying up, because then you need two hands free to be able to lift yourself up through the hatch, and then climb off and onto the beams. Last week, and for the last 220 years, you were coming through the hatch and then stretching out to get a hand on a beam, then a foot, then another foot, and then be able to balance on the beams before standing up. There was no floor surface, and you do not want to stand on the plaster and lathe between the beams.

We nailed the plywood in place so now there is a platform to pull yourself on to, and a staging area for tools and supplies beneath the window, which lets in a fair amount of light when opened. We also put in place the planks so that you can walk easily down to the far end, traverse north and then back west, on a boardwalk of planks, all laid from beam to beam and nailed into place.
The last piece of the attic project will be to run wiring for lighting, so that we won't have to carry temporary lights and an extension cord up and set that up to see. A row of ceiling lights and an electrical outlet will provide all the comforts of home for that next group who needs to go up and work in this attic. Perhaps that is 10-20 years from now - who knows - but I wanted to add the electric piece to the project. We could easily just close the hatch and let the next group worry about the same issues when they pop their heads up there in 10-20 years. But I want to make it better for that next group - so that their job up there is made easier than ours was this time.

The planks that Bob has dropped off were vertical slices of tree, not finished sanded wood, but lengths of tree run through a sawmill, some with bark still attached. I suggested that future groups who come up here will think that those are planks from the original construction back in 1791. Scott said "yeah, until they see the nails - that gives it away." The old nails in the 18th century were hand made and very expensive. I did not see any old nails in the attic. Much of the original wood is joined and then has wooden pegs to hold the pieces together, and not nails. We were securing the walkways in place with modern nails. That will be the giveaway. Let those future groups figure that out as well.

Looking back, I know that not many people have been up in this space in 220 years. I've been attending this meeting House since 1995 or so, and had never been in the attic until last weekend. It is inaccessible - there are no stairs in place, no ladder in place, to be able to get there. Before two years ago, you also had to pass through a dropped ceiling of tiles and insulation to get to the attic hatch. So, a long extension ladder had to be brought in and then inserted almost straight up to get to the hatch.

But as a practical matter, there was no reason to go up there, as nothing was stored up there. There had been a bat exclusion project in 1995 or so, and that was the last time the attic has been visited by humans until this spring. I had contacted Beth, one of the people involved in that previous bat project, to ask her about what they had done. She shared the details that she could remember. And then I wondered about who else was in this very select club of people who had been up in that attic. I am guessing that if we gathered together all the people who had ever been in that attic since 1791, we would all probably fit up there. It's a select club. In thinking about that, I decided that when we are done up there this spring, I will print out these journal entries, and the photos of the people who have been involved in the work, and put that all in a time capsule up there, so that the next groups can read what we have done, can add their own entries. If each group does that, and if the Meeting House is still standing in another 100-200 years, there will be a history of the attic visits and the maintenance history up there as well. And each group from the past will introduce themselves to each group from the future in that way. "Hello friends from 3011, and greetings from Doug Humes, in 2011."

After the attic work, we put up the first bat house on an exterior wall of the building. Bob had built the bat house based on readings on the internet. When you are luring bats from their old haunts, we read that it should be sited near the old haunt. It should also face south and east to get full morning sun. While I do not like the idea of having the bat house on the building, I view it as a short term measure. The instructions had further said that once the bats spend a few years in the new space, you can then move it away from the building. So, if the current bats take to this new house, then perhaps in a few years we can move it onto poles in the cemetery.
So, the new bat house went up on the wall of the building, and then Scott reached into our guano bucket, with plastic newspaper wrap on his hand, and rubbed the old guano all over the bat house. The bat house is not far below where the bats had been entering the attic. We were in full sun when putting it up, so it will get full morning sun. So, let's hope they find it, and like it. But I would like to put other bat houses in other locations nearby as well. And soon. They are due back any day from whatever bat cave they spent their winter in.

Two summers ago I tore down the old dropped ceiling and the insulation to open up the west side of the Meeting House so that you could see up to the ceiling below the attic. That also opened up the view to the windows on the south side of the wall, and brought natural light into the room. In uncovering the upper walls, I also uncovered various cracks and bubbling of the plaster walls that need attention. When taking down the dropped ceiling, I had not been able to get to the top of the ceiling to unhook the wires that held the ceiling in place, and so there are about 20-30 wires hanging from the ceiling that need to be removed. To get up to the ceiling to remove those old wires and to patch the various cracks in the ceiling plaster, we need scaffolding. Not many places will rent that any more. I suppose with insurance costs and the risks that working on scaffolding poses, the rental companies simply decided not to carry it or rent it any more. Fortunately, Bob says he has some old scaffolding, and that be believes he has enough of it to build a moving platform. We would erect it inside where we first wanted to work, and the would then move it over, secure it, and then work from point to point, till the wires were removed and the holes were all patched. Then repeat to paint the ceiling. The last piece of the current project would then be to hand new ceiling light fixtures and one or two ceiling fans. With this work done, that room would then be available to hold Sunday meetings in a fresh "new" space, and also make it available for other gatherings - perhaps concerts, speakers, meetings, yoga classes, etc. I want to bring more life to the Meeting, and so I want an attractive space to be able to host those events.

That is where I want to be by June - with that room patched and painted and with new lights and a fan in place. What happens after that is largely out of my hands, but these are good improvements to make. The alternative is to simply let the building continue to deteriorate. Or to say "Let someone else worry about it". But I know that no one else is going to do it right now. I love being in that old building. When everyone left today, I sat down and played the piano a bit, and looked around at the other small improvements that I have made this spring - coat hooks, moving the bulletin board to a more noticeable place, making a more accessible space to display reading material, a new trash can, putting fresh batteries in the flashlight. I have a small notebook full of future potential projects like this. I had the thought a few weeks ago to each week make some small improvement, and over time, they will accumulate. And even after just a few weeks, the chance is noticeable - to me. But if I keep this up, just think what it will look like in a year. I am looking forward to seeing it then.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Community of Friends

A few weeks ago I was alone in Meeting at the Newtown Square Friends Meeting House on Sunday, wondering where to begin on all the things that need work in our old Meeting House. And by sharing those thoughts online, I have had a wonderful response. A friend of mine, Scott, offered help with the project. When I met him last week to take the initial look (climbing up twenty feet on an extension ladder to a hatch leading to the attic), I also invited Bob, a local sawmill owner had had said he would be glad to help. We assessed what we would need - the attic has no lights, no flooring, and 10-15 years worth of bat guano, and is the summer home of a colony of bats. The purpose of the project is to secure that attic against entry by the bats when they return from hibernation, and also to provide alternative housing for them.

We needed a flooring surface to walk on. Bob has a saw mill and lots of boards in his inventory that he said would be good for our use. Long, but not so wide that we could not fit them through the hatch. We needed lights - and all agreed to bring extension cords to reach from the first floor up and throughout the attic, with a splitter to be able to plug several portable lights in. We needed items to block the entry points - hardware cloth and foam sealant - both available at the local hardware store. Other tools - tin snips to cut the cloth, hammer and nails to secure the flooring, step ladders to be able to reach the high areas, a saw, face masks to filter the guano air. Several people had suggested that in a closed area full of bat guano, we should have full respirators. I had consulted with a bat expert several years ago, and she had said that west of the Mississippi there is a nasty fungus, but that in this area there is no disease spread by guano. So, the basic white mask would be enough.

The wood planks were dropped off earlier in the week. Another friend, Tayo, volunteered to help. We agreed to meet this Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. The weather was not cooperating - the morning temperatures were supposed to be mid 30's - in an unheated stone building. I wore several layers. Everyone was on time - and we worked first on moving the wood up to the attic - I handed the planks one by one to Tayo, halfway up the ladder leaning against the wall, and he worked it up to Scott, sitting in the hatch, who pulled it through. Ten or twelve planks went up that way. Then we plugged in the extension cords and handed them up and into the attic. Scott had brought large spotlights - so when we fired these up, it lit up the huge old attic fairly well. We then had individual lights to move from place to place as well. We also brought up buckets with tools and supplies, and several step ladders. Everything came up the same way, carried up the 20 foot ladder to the hatch and then handed up. We constructed a boardwalk to be able to navigate the space - we would be fine with the beams that hold our weight, but in between those beams were wood lathe strips to hold in the ceiling plaster. Step on them and down you go - a long drop down. But the wooden planks, laid end to end across the beams, gave us a nice surface to walk back and forth.

With the space set up, Scott went to work on the bat exclusion - setting up a ladder, and several wooden shutters on ceiling beams as a platform for high work. Tayo started digging the piles of bat guano into a large bucket. There were stacks of old windows and decayed lumber in the attic as well, so I made several trips to cart those items out of the attic, down the hatch and the ladder, to a trash pile outside. Back in the attic, there was a small attic window that I was able to open up - it had likely not been opened in 20-30 years, but with some gentle force, it opened without breaking, and brought in a lot of additional light to that end. I looked down to the far end and could see a pair of legs hanging down from the overhead joists. When Scott needed help, Tayo went to join him, and I took over the thankless job of gathering the bat guano into the bucket, using a small broom and a dustpan, and at times gloved hands. It is old guano, not fresh, and so it has no smell. Just piles of small dark pellets, spread out in some areas, and sometimes in piles below favorite nesting areas.

We are going to use the guano in another part of the project. Part of the exclusion process involves providing alternative habitat for the bats. I had given Bob a sample bat box that we had outside for years (and that was never occupied by bats). He is working up several designs based on this sample and what he may find online. The trick then is to make the bat house attractive to the returning bats. How to do that? Make guano stew. Take the guano, soak it in water, and then dunk and soak the bat houses in the resulting stew. Then hang the bat boxes up in locations favored by bats - they need morning sun, and accessibility, yet safety from other predators. So, we are still studying design and placement issues - though we need to get a move on it as the bats return in April.

While we were working in the attic, another friend, Chris, popped his head up to check out the work. He has volunteered to build signage for the meeting house, to replace an old sign that the winter storms damaged this year. So I joined him downstairs and we walked the property to discuss sign design and placement. We have some ideas, and will work on turning them into something concrete in the next few weeks.

Up in the attic there were signs from the original construction of this portion of the meeting house in 1791. Men who had witnessed the American Revolution had been climbing in this same space, to expand the original 1711 one story Meeting House to a much larger two story building with full attic. Each joist had identifying numbers carved into the ends using Roman numbers. Each beam had been numbered below, before being brought up and laid in place sequentially. I don't know who these original workers were, but I felt a kinship with them, hopping from beam to beam as they no doubt were in 1791. Newtown was founded by Welsh Quakers, and so perhaps at the time of construction, many of the workers were members of the Meeting. On Sunday, none of these friends were Quakers or attended this Meeting. They are friends in the broadest sense - people who are willing to take time out of their busy lives to help their friends and neighbors, and work to preserve an old building in need of some love.

We don't have a lot of money to throw at this project. But three weeks ago I was in this same space, wondering where to begin with so much to do. And on Sunday, a small group of friends gathered, and by early afternoon, we had turned off all lights in the attic to check our work, and saw no daylight. We think we have made it much more difficult for the bats to re-enter the building. That's a start. Bat boxes are in the works, and we are studying up on where to install them. I am going to go back to the attic and secure in place the temporary walkways that we put up there. I have asked Bob if he can drop off more of the same type of wood, so we can extend the walkways to the north side of the attic, so that we can circulate there rather than having just one passage east and west. I may also buy some plywood to build a staging area at the hatch, so that when you are at the top of the ladder, hands full of tools, you can reach through and put them on a platform before climbing in and righting yourself on the same platform, rather than stretching and balancing on joists before standing up. I have mapped out in my mind a circuit of lights in the attic, so that the next time someone needs to do work up there, when they come through the hatch, there is a light switch waiting for them, and when they switch it on, there is light. We will need to pull wire up to the attic, but that was part of the next phase anyway - replacing the old wiring and installing light fixtures for the room below. All of these tasks are tasks I can do, with a little help from my friends.

When everyone left on Sunday, I went back into the Meeting House, and sat in silence for a few minutes, in the same place as three weeks ago when I was wondering where to begin. Now I know the answer. I begin there, sorting it out. I reach out and ask for help. I have many talented and knowledgeable people in my life, and many friends who are glad to contribute their skills and knowledge and time, if I only ask. Though the community looks much different from what it did in 1791, and we wear different clothing, and arrive at the meeting house with horsepower rather than on horseback or by foot, yet the human heart remains the same. People of goodwill enjoy helping others. Friends enjoy helping friends. People find virtue in contributing to the community. Being a part of something larger than themselves. Lending a hand so that this old meeting house, which has served the community for 300 years, will continue to do so, if we keep it up, and keep the doors open for each new generation to discover it. I am very grateful for this lesson, and thankful for my friends who made this day possible. There is more to do, but I have the lesson of the last few weeks to guide me. I am looking forward.

The view that few have seen since 1791 - looking out the attic window to the cemetery.

The beams, all marked with XVI for this particular joint.