Bethlehem’s H.D.: the Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure (1)

(1st in a series of posts on H.D.)

“FINDING H.D. is a community exploration of our greatest literary native daughter.”

“H.D. is the most profound interpreter of the meaning of Bethlehem that we have yet had.”

Seth Moglen

One of the warmest places in our town for fifty or so lovers of literature on a brutal bitter Wednesday night was the 2nd floor meeting room in the library, where Prof. Seth Moglen of Lehigh’s English Department led a “community exploration” to find H.D.

Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), known as H.D., was a Bethlehem native whose “innovative and experimental poetry and prose established her as a leading Modernist artist and pioneering voice in feminism in the 1910s and 1920s.” City Hall was built on the site of her family home, she’s buried in Nisky Hill, and Lehigh gave her an honorary degree in 2015. She was added to the Literary Landmarks register in 2017, and there’s a plaque at the library.


FINDING H.D. A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle” — a partnership between the Lehigh University English Department, the Bethlehem Area Public Library, Mock Turtle Marionette Theater, and Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center — is a 12-month-long community exploration of the life and work of H.D., culminating in the premiere of a new play by Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre in October of 2019 at Touchstone Theatre.

Jodi Duckett, “’Finding H.D.,’ a year-long exploration of the life of feminist poet Hilda Doolittle, kicks off in Bethlehem.” Morning Call, November 9, 2018.

Linda Doell, “Hilda ‘H.D.’ Doolittle: Exploring a Bethlehem-born poet and a community.” Morning Call, January 25, 2019.

Moglen’s warmly intimate remarks entitled “How I Fell in Love with H.D. (And Why You Should Too)” was the second in a series of about a dozen events centered on “the Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure” starting last November and extending into next October.

The full calendar of this “Year of H.D” can be found in the FINDING H.D. brochure linked here.

The next event is “H.D.’s Moravian Roots in Bethlehem” by Moravian’s Craig Atwood, February 26, 6:30-8 at the library.

Logistics done for now. Let’s begin to think why we should “find” H.D.

Gadfly is ashamed. Not only has he not covered “the Arts,” but he must candidly admit to knowing virtually nothing about H.D. Gadfly bets most of his followers would say the same. “Who is this remarkable woman whom most of us have never heard of?” says Moglen.

Well, Gadfly learned a lot about H.D. last night, things he will share over the next several posts about her. For starter was Gadfly’s surprise that the work of this woman who left town while quite young, who traveled the world, who spent virtually all of her adult life outside the United States, who moved in the highest literary circles of her day always had Bethlehem on her mind. She wasn’t just born here; she was shaped here.

FINDING H.D. is a community exploration of our greatest literary native daughter, and FINDING H.D. is posing the kind of question that I wish people all over the United States were posing, which is to say, not just how can we learn about an important writer but how by engaging with art do we learn who we are, how do we learn about ourselves by encountering writers and artists who have shaped and transformed us. Every time we encounter a work of art you encounter partly some aspect of yourself which resonates with that work. And to be part of a community engaged in a systematic endeavor saying what does it mean that this writer who transformed literature in English grew up, was a child, and was raised in this place, and thought about Bethlehem all her life. What does that mean to talk about the poet she became, and what does that mean about the city she bequeathed to us.

And she wasn’t just born here and shaped here, but she can tell us about ourselves: “H.D. is the most profound interpreter of the meaning of Bethlehem that we have yet had.”

Now that’s intriguing!

In my view, H.D. matters to the city of Bethlehem not only because she was born here. But the body of poetry and fiction and memoirs that she created would have been unthinkable had she not grown up in this place and had her family not had such deep roots here. But in my view, H.D. is the most profound interpreter of the meaning of Bethlehem that we have yet had. The body of work that H.D. produced about the city of Bethlehem, about the meaning and evolution of the city over the 150 years before her childhood is an extraordinary body of work

So mark your calendars for the February 26 “Moravian Roots” lecture.

Gadfly will remind you.

And Gadfly will present more of Moglen’s remarks in upcoming posts.

A tip o’ the hat and a wave o’ the wings to event organizers Doug Roysdon, Jennie Gilrain, Seth Moglen, Mary Foltz, Josh Berk, Liz Bradbury, and others I don’t know – and to BAPL’s Matt for coordinating the local arrangements.

Keeping an eye on the politics of climate change

(The latest in a series of posts relating to Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan
and Environmental Advisory Council)

Gadfly is keeping one eye out for hopeful indications that climate change will get more political attention.

See Kamala Harris — newly announced presidential candidate — foregrounding it.

Colby Itkowitz, “Kamala Harris just set the litmus test for Democrats in 2020 on health care, climate change and guns.” Washington Post, January 29, 2019.

Harris also came out in support of a Green New Deal, a plan to address climate change and income inequality promoted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). In tweeting about it in December, Ocasio-Cortez wrote, “Our goal is to treat Climate Change like the serious, existential threat it is by drafting an ambitious solution on the scale necessary – aka a Green New Deal – to get it done.” At the town hall, Harris adopted similar language: “I support a Green New Deal. And I will tell you why. Climate change is an existential threat to us, and we have got to deal with the reality of it.”

See the CNN Town Hall (mins. 28:45 – 30:45), where Harris talks of going with science fact rather than science fiction.

On a different note, the DNI Director Dan Coats report (p. 23) that was the basis for the newsworthy “Worldwide Threat Assessment” meeting yesterday didn’t mention threat on our southwestern border but did mention climate change.

Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.

Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.

Good signs that good things might get done?

It’s Wednesday, January 30, do you know where your local Climate Action Plan is?

Banana Factory: Round 3 (8)

(8th in a series of posts on Banana Factory Expansion)

Nicole Radzievich, “Historic panel backs $16 million cultural center concept at Banana Factory.” Morning Call, January 28, 2019.

In this third appearance (January 28) before the Historical Conservation Commission, ArtsQuest asks for “buy in” that they are heading in the right direction for their Cultural Center proposal for the Banana Factory site. There are still some things that Zoning needs to approve, but ArtsQuest asks for approval that they are heading in the right direction and can move forward with their design. The only point of contention was the ArtsQuest continued plan to demolish the house on the property. Three commission members opposed that.

In this detailed ArtsQuest document prepared for the meeting, Gadfly particularly noted the information on the two plazas in the last section of the document.

artsquest january 28

Approval was given with a 5-3 vote. Sounds like the ArtsQuest plan for the Banana Factory site is over the hump. Smooth sailing from here on. Ultimate approval, of course, comes from City Council.

Historical officer Jeff Long (20 mins.)

— begins with detailed description of the property
— 6:25: evaluation of the proposal
— 7:45: summary of HCC commentary points from the previous HCC meeting
— 9:35: how the current plans respond to that commentary
— 13:26: goes building by building indicating what is appropriate and what not

Discussion (40 mins.)

— lots of conversation over specific details
— 3:48-8:30: CMs Traupman and Cornish argue to save the house from demolition
— 23:43-29:25: CM Silvoy makes a proposal to save the house, and CMs Starbuck, Roeder, and Traupman engage
— 19:15-21:50: discussion of a new indoor/outdoor area with canopy off the lobby (similar) to what is now at ArtsQuest


Dr. Roy responds on charter schools (7)

(7th in a series on Education)

High-five to Dr. Roy for immediately responding to Gadfly’s charter school questions  with this mini-tutorial. Let’s take some time to absorb and then discuss.

1) What is the cost per student – regular and special education – you used for charter school payments this year? (here and below, or for the last year you have figures)

Regular Ed per student = $12,099.34 — Special Education per student = $25,760.00.  Please note that the issue here is that the special education charter tuition is calculated on an AVERAGE of BASD’s special education costs — which include very involved, high-need students. Charter schools do not accept students with multiple physical handicaps or significant disabilities. Special Education students at charters tend to need limited supports for learning or speech therapy, for example. As a result, charter reap a windfall because the tuition they receive from BASD far exceeds their actual cost of educating the special education student. Note that on one of the slides attached titled Charter School Subsidy [see link below] we make the point that when the charter law was originally passed in 1997, it included a reimbursement from the state to district recognizing that district overhead costs remain when a student goes to a charter. In 2011, Gov. Corbett cut that subsidy, and it has never been reinstated. If the reimbursement were in place at the old rate of 25%-30%, BASD would receive $7 million per year in reimbursement. It is not an exaggeration to say that without charter, BASD would have had no reason to raise property taxes over the past number of years.

charter slides 19-20 for budget

2) How many students from BASD are attending charter schools this year?

2099, although this number fluctuates weekly by a few.

3) What percentage of BASD students are attending charter schools?

13%. Important to note that as one of the largest districts with a concentrated population, we have one of the largest charter populations in the state. In fact, roughly 75% of all charter students statewide come from only 20 school districts (out of 500). So the cost of charters is borne disproportionately by a handful of mostly urban districts.

4) How much of the BASD budget – dollar amount and percentage – is going to charter schools this year?

We expect to spend $29 million in charter tuition this year, which is roughly 10% of our budget. Please note that 14% – 15% of each homeowner’s property tax bill goes solely to paying for charter schools!!

5) What charter schools are BASD students attending this year? Both name and number.

headcount on oct 1 2018 – charter by grade

6) Is there a limit to the number of students that can attend charter schools? For instance, is the only limit the number of charter schools and their capacity? Theoretically, could charter schools drain the district of students?

Interesting question. If a charter school and the district agree to a limit on students, then, yes, there can be a limit. Unfortunately, a charter can reject a limit and go to the state’s charter appeals board and receive a generic charter to continue to operate. This happened recently with the LV Regional Academy Charter School refused to agree to a generous cap on students and appealed to the state board. Conversely, the LV Dual Language Charter agreed to a limit. Another angle on this is when Allentown approves a charter and puts limits on only the number of Allentown students. The charter school then recruits heavily in Bethlehem. So we pay the price and have absolutely no oversight authority for a school approved by Allentown.  Could charters drain the district? It won’t happen here. But in places like York and Chester Upland School District and to a degree Philadelphia that is what has happened — putting the district into a death spiral financially.

7) Is there anything else about this issue that you think we should know?

Interestingly, the vast majority of elementary school charter students return to the district for middle school and high school because charters cannot compete with us for the range of courses, music, arts and athletic programs we offer. Also interesting to note that the vast majority of students in charters started in charters in kindergarten. Most kids who start with us, stay with us — with very satisfied parents. PA has enabled two publicly funded education systems at great additional cost — our traditional public schools and the privately run but publicly financed charter schools. It’s an enormous waste of money. BASD estimates that if all 2,000 charter students returned to us, we would spend about $6 million in additional teacher salaries but SAVE $24 million per YEAR overall. We can easily absorb those students into our existing 22 schools. This is the cost of school choice the proponents of choice simply deny.

We need a glorious implosion and a party following it

(2nd in a series on Martin Tower)

John Marquette is a retired librarian/archivist, author, historian, and a resident of Bethlehem. His current project is focused on the restoration of the interior of the Archibald Johnston Mansion in Housenick Park. 


Martin Tower is coming down. The developers have decided.

For some, the demolition of the tower is painful. For others, it’s overdue. I confess to expecting the building with its gaping windows to be taken down sooner rather than later, but hearing it today was still a shock.

My first thought was to post the news link on the “You know you’re from Bethlehem…” Facebook group, and found that I was beaten by one minute. My later reflections were about something more important: the life and spirit of our city and how we’ll explain Bethlehem’s history without being able to point to Martin Tower.

And then I thought about how I’d like to be remembered. My uncle’s ashes were loaded on board a small boat and the family attempted to set it ablaze in the middle of a pond. They were not successful, but their hearts were certainly in the right place. A friend wants a New Orleans jazz-style funeral, with trumpets and celebration and music. I prefer joy to sadness.

The end of Martin Tower deserves an event the likes of which this city has never seen. With the cooperation of Messrs. Ronca and Herrick, we need a glorious implosion and a party following it to collect, share, and celebrate our collective memories of the building and of the Steel. I can think of only one party organizer big enough to handle this: Jeff Parks.

Maybe Jeff has been planning something in the background all along and his (and ArtsQuest’s) plans will be announced tomorrow. Or maybe in the turbulent months since the end of Musikfest, the flapping plastic from Martin Tower’s windows haven’t been front-and-center. Now we know. Let’s plan for a party to laugh, cry, and celebrate our love for the city and for the women and men — Nikolaus and Benigna Zinzendorf, Lenape Chief Lapowinsa, John Fritz, Archibald Johnston, H.D., Eugene Grace, Gertie Fox, Edmund Martin, Charlene Donchez Mowers, and many more – on whose shoulders we stand.

Jeff Parks, let’s have a party!


Movement on Martin Tower (1)

(1st in a series on Martin Tower)

Nicole Radzievich, “Martin Tower, landmark of the Bethlehem Steel era, to be demolished. Morning Call, January 28, 2019.

The headline in the print edition is:


“Martin Tower, once Bethlehem Steel’s world headquarters, will vanish from Bethlehem’s skyline this year after a 47-year reign as the Lehigh Valley’s tallest building, a representative of its owners confirmed Monday.”

“The developers have not yet determined whether the 332-foot building will be imploded or dismantled, Duane Wagner, director of development for HRP Management, said Monday on behalf of the owners. Wagner’s comments mark the first time the owners, a partnership of investors Lewis Ronca and Norton Herrick, have revealed their intentions for the skyscraper since the 53-acre property, at 1170 Eighth Ave., was rezoned a little more than three years ago.”

“In a 2017 interview, Ronca said he wasn’t sure of the tower’s fate even as he began a more than $4 million project to remove the asbestos from it and demolish surrounding ancillary buildings. ‘Over the past several years, even prior to the abatement process, we 009explored reuse internally and with several third-party groups, and were not able to create an economically viable plan for [its] reuse,’ Wagner said. Removing the tower opens for development the valuable property just off a Route 378 interchange. Wagner said the developers will submit a master plan for the site during the first quarter of this year.”

“Mayor Robert Donchez said the building proved over the years to be too inefficient to market. It’s better for the city as a whole, he said, to start fresh with tax-generating projects, rather than let the property continue to languish. While some may mourn the tower’s loss, Donchez said, the city can take solace in saving older symbols of Bethlehem Steel: the Steel General Offices, where famed executives Eugene Grace and Charles Schwab ruled, and the blast furnaces. ‘A certain number of people feel strongly about Martin Tower, but I think there is a stronger attachment to the blast furnaces, which really has become the skyline of Bethlehem,’ Donchez said.”

“The Martin Tower site, in the Lehigh County portion of Bethlehem, has been eyed for redevelopment since the final tenants moved out in 2007. The property was included in 003the 5-year-old City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, a tax incentive that allows developers to pay off construction loans with certain state and local taxes. Demolition will prevent the use of federal tax credits developers once eyed when they successfully petitioned to get Martin Tower on the National Register of Historic Places. It was a noteworthy application because the building was younger than 50, yet preservationists agreed its ties to mighty Bethlehem Steel made it noteworthy.”

“In 2006, Martin Tower landed in the hands of the company that now includes Ronca and Herrick. There was little demand for the tower’s 600,000 square feet of office space. Its size and shape were unattractive to investors and its mechanical system was outdated. It was difficult to find a single occupant to fill the building, and its layout was inefficient. Developers had first envisioned a $200 million residential community, but that faded when the residential market took a downturn. Those plans were shelved after the housing crash. The property lingered until 2015, when city zoning was changed to make it easier for Martin Tower to be demolished and allowed a mix of office, commercial and residential development.”

Objections to the Zrinski resolution

Tara Zrinski’s resolution (see Sunday’s post) regarding plastic bags and straws passed the Northampton County Council, but it got hammered in this morning’s issue of “Lehigh Valley Ramblings.”

In this criticism, we probably see a foreboding taste of what a proposal from our Environmental Advisory Council will encounter.

Here are key sections from the “Ramblings.”

Problems with the resolution:

There are several problems with Zrinski’s resolution. First, it was never vetted by a Council Committee, which is the norm. Second, it is essentially identical to one tabled in December. Zrinski dishonestly or mistakenly suggested her previous proposal was an ordinance. Third, it is nonbinding, meaning it means nothing. Fourth, no municipality I know of looks to Northampton County Council for guidance on anything. Fifth, the research cited in the resolution is flawed. Some of it, I kid you not, comes from a 10 year old’s school project.

The alternate solution the Rambler offers:

I agree that plastic pollution is a serious problem, but an unenforceable plastic straw ban is a joke mostly designed to make Zrinski and her followers feel like they’ve accomplished something while the world still goes to hell. They can pat themselves on the back while whales still die. What is a solution, here in the Lehigh Valley, is periodic sweeps along the waterways to pick up plastic. Open space money could be used for this and pay people with limited incomes, but we’d rather spend that money to preserve undevelopable swamps and cliffs.

It might be wise to answer the Rambler. Good practice. His fifth problem, the charge that a ban is unenforceable, and his alternate solution look to Gadfly as the three specific points on which to focus (Gadfly expertly avoids ending the sentence with a preposition.)

Gadfly asks followers to eschew (good SAT word) caustic and ad hominem comments and language. Best, in fact, to avoid the Rambler’s name. In fact, let’s stick to the facts. Let’s assume these objections will come up again and again and need to be reasonably answered.

In fact (so awkward repeating this phrase three times) some sort of look at the objections that were overcome in places that have a ban and the objections that prevailed in places where the ban was defeated might be good strategy in preparation for a Bethlehem proposal. Gadfly can see in mind’s eye a list of objections with a paragraph answer for each that goes along with a proposal.