I spent the day yesterday traveling on business to and from Trenton, New Jersey. I had never set foot in New Jersey's capitol city before: just noted the big letters on the bridge proclaiming "Trenton Makes, The World Takes" while rattling over the Delaware on Amtrak. It turns out that I found things there to interest me, which was a blessing because I was in Town in my capacity as a board member of a not-for-profit that had run out of money and was forced to terminate its executive director and cut back on other staff. It has been a long while since I was faced with the hard task of firing someone for reasons other than poor performance (not that that is any picnic), and I made the trip from Connecticut to show respect and accept my share of ownership of the decision. Many of my fellow Board members were absent, or only could participate on the phone instead of in person. It is time, I believe, to absent myself from this Board altogether. Failure isn't fundable, and dysfunction is depressing.
With these cheery thoughts, I got to Town an hour before my meeting, and started to recognize street names from reading Stephanie Plum paperbacks. It turns out that Barracks Street was just a block from my meeting at the Capitol Building, and I have reasons to be interested in this 18th-century structure as it features prominently in the opening chapter of my work-in-progress alternative history novel, in which Washington is captured and executed during a failed attack on Trenton. I was the only visitor to the Old Barracks Museum at 11:00 a.m. yesterday morning, and so had a personal tour with a very engaging guide who has volunteered at the site for nearly four decades (photo credit via answers.com). The original parts of the building date to the French and Indian War, and it is the only barracks from this period that remains anywhere in the United States. There is an excellent exhibit on the archaeological finds unearthed at the site of an 18th-century riverside store, including the armor plated scales of the enormous sturgeon that once thrived in the Delaware and other rivers along the Atlantic seaboard.
None of my Patriot ancestors from New Jersey fought at the Battle of Trenton, but my great Grandfather Archibald Gracie Ogden died there in 1932 after suffering a massive seizure while attending a meeting of the State chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati. As I walked through the sumptuous halls beneath the Capitol rotunda, I suddenly noticed the portraits of New Jersey's governors and quickly found that of my 4th Great Grandfather, Aaron Ogden, who served a single year term in 1812 and turned down an appointment as a major general to do so. There are a number of engravings based on this portrait, including the one at left, but I had never before seen the colored original. Note the badge of the Cincinnati pinned to his breast; he was the president of the New Jersey Chapter for many years. I had no camera with me and cannot find an image of it on-line, so perhaps I have a reason for a return visit.
We met in Senate Legislative Committee Room #1, but I took so many twists and turns upstairs and down that I felt the urge to shout out "Hello Cleveland!", though I doubt any of the staffers, lobbyists or security personnel would have gotten the reference to Spinal Tap. The room, when I found it, was laid out in standard fashion, with the curved desks of committee members glaring down on the chairs of those giving testimony. We were so small a group, we sat below the salt in a semi-circle of our own. The walls were painted an unfortunate shade of institutional green that almost could have been called pistachio but had a tinge of sickly yellow. I am sure it was designed to put those in the hot seat even less at ease. The cool pink marble and gilded halls outside were decidedly in contrast to the parts of the building where the sausages get made.
The meeting did not conclude until practically 4 p.m., guaranteeing that I would have New York rush hour traffic to contend with on my return. I thought better of the George Washington Bridge cider press and slipped up the Palisades and over the Tappan Zee to the Sawmill and Taconic, getting home by 8:30 with perhaps 45 minutes stuck in traffic. What otherwise felt like attending a funeral turned out to be a good day in Trenton.