Connecting with the past at the Seagram Building, New York City

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The Seagram Building – 375 Park Avenue, New York, NY

On my way to Rockefeller Center this past December, I decided to take a short detour over to Park Avenue. I wanted to see the Seagram Building. I’ve seen it before − walked by it many times and even hung out on the famous plaza, but I never gave it much thought − until recently. It has been described as one of the most beautiful buildings in New York City. The design has been copied so often since it was completed in 1958, that today it seems commonplace. However, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s statement “God is in the details,”  aptly describes this sleek and modern skyscraper. Only the finest materials were used − marble, bronze, travertine, and granite − and they were used with exquisite detail.

I hadn’t noticed the plaque on the front of the building before. Even if I had and taken the time to read it, I would not have connected anything it said to me. Until recently, the sentence on the plaque ending in “and Swenson pink granite for the Plaza” would not have held my attention. But after a trip to Maine last summer I have felt  a personal connection to the Seagram Building and the granite  spoken of here − the granite that makes up the beautiful plaza − the granite taken from the former Bald Hill Quarry in Wells, Maine where my Dad, Wally Paton, grew up and his father, George Paton, worked.

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Plaque on the Seagram Building – “and Swenson Pink Granite for the Plaza”

“Bald Hill Quarry was owned by a conglomerate known as Swenson Pink Granite of Concord, New Hampshire. … Although the use of granite for steps or building foundations was common among the early settlers, the first granite quarry business wasn’t established until the late 1800’s in Concord, New Hampshire. … Under John Swenson’s leadership, the company continued to flourish and eventually added regional quarries like Bald Hill in Wells, Maine, where my grandfather worked. … eventually, Swenson would carry over 18 different colors, the pink stone coming from the quarries in Maine.” Excerpt from Journey Home: How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy by Bonnie Paton Moon

At the time of the Seagram Buildings completion, it was the most expensive skyscraper ever built. CEO of the Seagram Liquor Company, Samuel Bronfman, spared no expense in the construction of his company’s world headquarters. Over the years,  it has received many awards. In 1960, the Plaza was declared “a source of inspiration” for its innovative,  privately-owned public space, − “an open, urban plaza set back from the street creating the groundbreaking concept of pedestrian space.”  The public plaza was a revolutionary idea and led to a landmark planning study called Social Life of Small Urban Spaces in which daily patterns of people socializing around the plaza were recorded.

In 1976 the exterior and in 1990 the interior, were designated New York City landmarks. In 1999, the New York Times declared it “the Millennium’s most important building”  − important because Mies van der Rohe’s design ushered in a new era of skyscraper − one which showcased the building materials rather than covering them up with brick and mortar and ornamentation.

Not only were the original granite slabs making up the Plaza taken from Bald Hill, but when Aby Rosen, the new owner, embarked on a major renovation project in the year 2002, the 110 pink granite replacement slabs came from there as well.

“Perhaps the most remarkable rehabilitation project is underfoot. At a cost of $1 million, about 110 large granite paving slabs have been replaced. Close inspection reveals that the new and old stone looks identical – specks of salmon and gray, threaded with subtle veins of red and orange.

‘They are identical,’ said Sal Aiello of Concept National in Carlstadt, New Jersey, the contractor on the job.

“He knows because he tracked down the quarry himself, beginning with a dive into the book ‘Building Seagram.’ There, he learned that the original slabs were made of Swenson pink granite from Maine.” Excerpt from nytimes.com/2016/07/19 − What Stays as the Seagram Building Loses the Four Seasons.

I tracked down the  Bald Hill Quarry myself this past summer, along with a few of the Paton family joining in the fun of connecting to my Dad’s childhood home. The house is gone, replaced by the Quarry’s office building, but much still looks like it did when my grandfather worked here during the Great Depression. The fields where my Dad roamed and the woods where he hunted as a child are untouched by development.

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Millennium Granite (former Bald Hill Quarry) – 2018 (Photo by George Paton)

Discarded equipment and piles of stone now liter the land close to the Quarry, where wildflowers compete to reclaim their space. It is comforting to know that much is unchanged at the old Bald Hill (now thriving under the name Millennium Granite) making it easier to connect to my family history − a history that includes beautiful pink stone that traveled from Maine to New York, gracing one of the most beautiful buildings in that city.

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Bonnie Paton Moon hanging out on the Seagram Building’s famous plaza – pink granite slabs from the former Bald Hill Quarry, Wells, Maine – 2018

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George Paton (back row center) at Bald Hill, Wells, Maine – 1939

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My grandfather, George Paton with children, Doris and Wally Paton, posing on granite – 1929

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Wally Paton’s childhood home – Bald Hill Quarry, Wells, Maine – 1934

Journeying Home Again – Sudbury, Massachusetts

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A few weeks ago,  on one of those spectacular fall days, my husband and I drove to Massachusetts to see what mysteries were buried in the Sudbury historical files.

Sudbury, Massachusetts is where my mom, Marion Garfield (Paton) grew up. Following an email from Sally Purrington Hild, the Historical Society Director, I was excited to learn more:

“The Garfield family contributed so much to Sudbury. Yes, we have a great variety of information in the archives and Curt Garfield, who is still living… was our town historian for many years.”

Our first stop was the Ralph Cram House (Stop # 6 on the Town of Sudbury Tour map).  Sitting stately on a small hill, now over 200 years old, Cram called the house “Whitehall,” after the place of King Charles’s martyrdom.   Staring at this still beautiful home,  I imagined my mother staying here as a child and helping her Dad work in the many flower gardens which Cram loved − something she would grow to love too. I wonder if perhaps this is where her passion for flowers and gardening began.

During the Depression my grandfather, Sherrold Leroy Garfield,  worked for Ralph Adams Cram.

“But then again, she was quite lucky [Marion Garfield] because her father had a job as caretaker for an architect— Mr. Cram there in Sudbury. He was the chauffeur and caretaker of the grounds. They had a 22-room mansion. And they used to go there and take care of it in the winter because they went to Europe and didn’t want to leave the house alone.” –Wally Paton

“Fortunate to have a job during the Depression, my Grandfather Garfield found local work as a caretaker for a notable citizen of Sudbury, architect Ralph Adams Cram. Cram lived in Sudbury from 1900 to 1942. During his prolific career he and his firm, Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson designed many churches, perhaps the most notable being the  Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, which my grandfather helped build. Taking almost 50 years to open, the church was nicknamed “St John the Unfinished.” In 1907, Cram took over from the original architects, Christopher Grant LaFarge and George Lewis Heins, and put his own “Gothicized” style on the structure. He was a leading proponent of Gothic Revival Architecture. During the 1920’s, Cram’s career took off and he was frequently mentioned in the press including the cover of Time Magazine in December of 1926…Due in part to Mr. Cram’s success, my grandparents survived the Depression better than many in Sudbury.”– Excerpt from Journey Home: How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy by Bonnie Paton Moon

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Ralph Adams Cram house at 427 Concord Rd., Sudbury, MA

 In 1900 Cram bought the house at 427 Concord Road; he resided there for the next 42 years. During these years he designed hundreds of churches, academic buildings, libraries, even bridges. His works include the Post Headquarters and the Cadet Chapel at West Point, the Princeton University Chapel, Rice University Campus, Philips Exeter Academy Chapel and Davis Library and many others. Undoubtedly, his most notable work, is the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Although less known, but none the less significant are his designs of the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges connecting the mainland to Cape Cod.

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Ralph Cram on the cover of Time Magazine- 1926

Ralph Cram moved to Sudbury to escape the city. Living in a townhouse near his Boston office provided convenience, but he longed for the tranquility and open space that only the country could provide.

“For seven years, my wife and I had been seeking for that place in the country that should be a permanent home for us and, we hoped, for our descendants in generations to come…A city domicile could never take the place of land ─ land in the country, farm and garden land that should be our own and, if possible, with a really old house… Finally by an intervention of a kindly Providence, it was found; and in the old and gratefully isolated town of Sudbury. Excerpt from Ralph Adams Cram: An Architects Four Quests

In 1913, Cram decided to design a small chapel behind his house in Sudbury for worship with his family and friends. It is named after his wife and youngest daughter, Elizabeth. Local Sudbury craftsmen built the chapel from stones dug on Crams many acres of property. Everything was done by hand. One of those local craftsmen that helped build the chapel was my grandfather, Sherrold Leroy Garfield.

His years with Cram sparked in my grandfather a passion for building and he went on to become a master carpenter, building not only his own home in Sudbury, but many others as the suburbs spread from Boston to the surrounding areas.

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St. Elizabeth Chapel, 435 Concord Road, Sudbury MA

Next stop – the Chapel.  Up a small hill and along a wooded path it sits. It is striking in its simplicity, and seems the perfect setting to commune with nature and spirit. Here also are the grave sites of Ralph Adams Cram, his wife Elizabeth and two of their children. A break in the trees allows the morning sun to shine here, perhaps strategically planned also.

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Ralph & Elizabeth Cram and two of their children are buried here

“People of many creeds, as well as parishioners, continue to worship at the chapel as well as use the grounds and churchyard for quiet contemplation and reflection. Mr. Cram would have been pleased, for he wrote that any true church ‘should express the great idea of unity’ in the worship of the Almighty God. Strangers climb the winding paths under the towering pines to the door of the little chapel, and the sense of worship is so strong within its great stone walls that many kneel to pray. Young and old, of many diverse nationalities…. all these elements of beauty and worship blend.” – St. Elizabeth Chapel History

I would have loved to spend more time here, but time was running short.  I needed to head over to the Historical Society to perhaps unravel a mystery.

About a week after I had written to the Historical Society, I received an email that was a complete surprise. One doesn’t expect to hear from a cousin they never knew existed.

“Hi Bonnie,

I am Elizabeth Forsberg (Lisa). My mother Grace Ella Garfield was the daughter of Elmond Flagg Garfield (Babe) & Grace Anna Miller – he was Sherrold’s brother. I have the Garfield family tree which I will share a copy with you. Many of our people are buried in the Concord Sleepy Hollow cemetery. I live in Northborough, MA and would love to meet you.”

Wow, someone at the historical society knew I had a long lost cousin living close by and gave them my contact information. Lisa and I decided to meet at the Historical Society to see the files together.

The Historical Society is in the middle of a new building project. Meanwhile they are housed at the very top of Sudbury Town Hall. Up a steep staircase to what appears to be the attic, they carry out their mission with few paid staff and a lot of volunteers. Space is at a premium here. Sally greets us and introduces us to one of the volunteers, Beth, who will help guide us and hopefully have answers to our questions.

When Lisa enters the room, my first words were: “Wow, you so remind me of my Aunt Bess.” Aunt Bess was my mother’s big sister. They were very close, so we saw a lot of Aunt Bess growing up. Even into their eighties my mom and she took vacations together. Lisa and I sat down to chat and share photos and look over the Garfield family tree that Lisa had brought. As it turned out Lisa grew up in the town next to mine −Northborough. She went to the same high school as I did − Algonquin Regional and she lived next door to one of my classmates for decades. Lisa worked at her grandmother’s restaurant. Called “Svensk Kaffestuga,” a Swedish coffeehouse with the slogan “A Little Bit of Sweden” painted on its front entryway, it was a popular restaurant in Sudbury for many years − replaced now by The Lotus Blossom.

How could I not know of Lisa or her grandfather – my grandfather’s brother? No one knows why Sherrold and his two brothers, Elmond (Babe) and Fordis Garfield were not close in their later years. Perhaps a family dispute was responsible. It seems that this will remain a mystery − for now.

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Lisa and I share memories at the Sudbury Historical Society – October 2018

I also learned of another, more distant cousin – Curtis Garfield. A copy of his book is part of the  Historical Society’s collection. It is filled with historical facts, stories and photos − what one would expect from someone who was the head of the Sudbury Historical Society for many years.

Curtis Garfield Sudbury book

Our final stop for the day was across the Town Green to Grinnell Park to see the WWI Memorial. Among those honored here is Sherrold L. Garfield. He joined the Navy in 1917 and was assigned to the Submarine Division as a Machinist Mate First Class.

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In Honor of the Men of Sudbury Who Served in the World War

When I arrived home I wrote to another of my cousins, the son of my Aunt Bess Garfield, to tell him about Lisa and ask if he had ever heard of our Uncle Elmond or Fordis. His wife wrote back:

“Dick does know that grandpa had two brothers. He thinks one name was Fortis and the other was Babe. Thinks Gramps was the oldest, then Babe, then Fordis. We never met them so do not know when they died. I remember that restaurant (Little Bit of Sweden) very well. I had an uncle who was Swedish. He lived in Worcester and would come out to the restaurant on Sunday’s for dinner. Small world!!” – Barbara Coppinger

And getting smaller all the time.

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Sherrold Garfield

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Marion Garfield’s Childhood Home – 332 Goodman’s Hill Rd., Sudbury, MA

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Jessie, Bess, Bill, Marion and Sherrold Garfield

Bald Hill Granite Quarry Visit- Paton Legacy – Part II

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Edith with her children, Doris and Wally Paton at Bald Hill Quarry, 1929 – ©Paton Family

Many of the photos taken of my Dad as a kid have a back drop that includes Quarry equipment or  the family surrounded by giant pieces of granite. He spent the better part of his childhood on a granite quarry in Wells, Maine called the Bald Hill Quarry. In a small house on land owned by Swenson’s Granite, he and his sister Doris and his parents George and Edith Paton lived. They moved there in 1929, when my Grandpa George got a job there. It was the height of the Great Depression and people often took to the road in search of a job.

There is no doubt that the years living on the Quarry were formative ones . Food was scarce and there was little money for anything other than the bare necessities. But here on these 40 acres of land that surrounded their little quarry home there was great bounty.

They planted a huge garden, gathered wild nuts and fruit, raised chickens and goats, fished and hunted deer, grouse and rabbit. They heated their small house with two wood stoves from wood cut from the surrounding forest. In addition to his many chores, my Dad worked throughout his childhood here, getting up at 3:00 in the morning to walk over a mile to milk the neighbors’ cows before getting the school bus and in the summer he worked on a local lobster boat.

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Wally Paton heading out for a day of fishing, Wells, Maine – ©Paton family

Lately, I’d been thinking a lot about the place where my Dad grew up, so one night I googled “Bald Hill Granite Quarry” to see if there was any historical information. The last time I had visited the Quarry, which was many years ago,  it was dormant and looked like it had been that way for quite some time.

“The Bald Hill Quarry has been closed for decades but the farmhouse still stands, surrounded by fields overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. Giant pieces of abandoned granite litter the fields as a reminder of what once was. I imagine my dad growing up here on these acres of fertile soil, playing in the dirt with his toy hoe, exploring the miles of wilderness that surround the Quarry. It is here I am sure that his love and appreciation for the land evolved.” – Excerpt from Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy.

To my  surprise I discovered a website.  The Bald Hill Quarry had re-opened under new management,  and was now called Millennium Granite.  Pictures on the website showed some of its former glory – days when the train tracks led down to the quarry, days when hundreds of quarries thrived in New England.  I wrote to the new owner, Richard Bois,  to tell him my Dad’s story and share a few of the historical photos I thought he might enjoy seeing of his Quarry  during its heyday. I wasn’t really expecting to hear anything back.

But I did.

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Bald Hill Quarry – 1929 – © Paton family

Coincidentally, Mr. Bois had also grown up in these parts and felt a strong connection to this land. He too had roamed these fields of abandoned granite as a kid and that was what inspired him to buy it.  Mr. Bois hadn’t really intended to re-open the Quarry, at least not at first. The price of the Quarry was “right” he said and it included acres of land. He figured on selling off parcels as building lots someday – that is , until he got a phone call from a guy by the name of Mr. Aiello.

In the year 2000, Aby J. Rosen, the new owner of the Seagram Building at 375 Park Avenue in New York City,  embarked on an extensive maintenance and renovation project. Part of that project included $1 million to replace 110 of the pink granite slabs that make up the famous Plaza. Sal Aiello, the contractor hired for the project soon embarked on his own mission – to find the exact same granite used in the original building project. He drove to New Hampshire to  Swenson’s Granite Quarry only to find that the quarry had been closed for years. So he started calling around to various other quarries and by chance found himself in a conversation with the new owner of the Bald Hill Quarry, Richard Bois. A partnership evolved and the quest to find the granite that was used in the original building of the Seagram plaza began. Mr. Bois knew that the pink granite at the Seagram Building had come from his Quarry – they just had to find the exact spot.

And so they did.  Bald Hill Quarry was in business once again.

Eighteen years later, Millennium Granite is a thriving business  as I discovered during a recent visit to reconnect with my dad’s childhood home.

This past July, my brother, George Paton, my cousin, Bruce Garfield, Bruce’s daughter, Kim Henry, my husband Richard, my Grandson Matthew  and I met at the Bald Hill Quarry. We came equipped with cameras and old pictures to share. Unlike my visit years ago when we only found  abandoned fields littered with boulders, on this visit we had to make an appointment to tour this now busy site. Mr. Bois and his office assistant, Sue Penney graciously spent several hours with us showing us around and sharing interesting stories.

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Richard Bois (far right) leads the group around the Quarry, Bruce Garfield, Bonnie Paton Moon, Kim Henry and George Paton – July 2018

We too were on a mission of sorts. From the historic family photos we hoped to find some of the landmarks of my dad’s early years here. The old farmhouse where he grew up is gone now, but we determined after much detective work that Mr. Bois’ office was the sight of the former house. We wanted to find the dirt road in the picture of my dad and the family arriving at the Quarry in 1929, and we concluded it was the dirt path that remained in front of Mr. Bois’ office.

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George & Edith with children, Doris and Wally Paton arriving at the Bald Hill Quarry – 1929 – ©Paton family

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We determined this to be the dirt path passing by the former homestead – 2018

Then, we happened upon an old piece of equipment that had obviously laid dormant in a field for decades. We decided that  it could have been used by my Grandfather George to pump the water out of the Quarry. That was his job – to keep the water out of the hole so drilling could continue.

“He had a job where he made, I think, about $12 a week running the pumps, because the water would come into his excavation. His hole, where they were actively working, was over 100 feet deep, so the water would get in there, and in order to keep working they’d have to pump it out. So he had a – you wouldn’t say a good job – but it was a reasonably good job for those days.” – Wally Paton quote from Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy.

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Abandoned equipment from a by-gone era at the former Bald Hill Quarry,  2018 (photo by George Paton)

 

We were as excited about our discoveries that July day as Mr. Aiello must have been when he heard Richard Bois  on the other end of the phone back in 2000 saying “you dialed the person who owns that Quarry now.”

In a New York Times article, dated July 18, 2016 about the Seagram Building,  Mr. Aiello talks about his quest to find the original granite for the plaza.

“’I was on a mission,’ he said. ‘I love the Seagram Building. It will always be in my heart.’  He explained that his father, a mason who had immigrated from Sicily, helped set the kitchen tiles at the Four Seasons.”  – the restaurant that once occupied the Seagram Building.   Likewise, our mission was accomplished with a great sense of pride and satisfaction and the new Millennium Quarry will always be in our hearts as well,  thanks to Richard Bois.

 

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Sharing old photos at Millennium Granite with Sue Penney (far right) are Bonnie Paton Moon, Kim Henry, Bruce Garfield and George Paton

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Kim (Garfield) Henry, Bruce Garfield, George Paton, Bonnie Paton Moon, Richard and Matthew Moon at Millennium Granite – 2018

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Wally Paton at the Bald Hill Quarry – 1934- © Paton Family

Edith Paton’s Dolls

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Edith Paton with her rag dolls, Florence, Jane, David, Baby Dumpling, Betty Boop – 1933

“Each doll is a conscious individual creation…The individual nature that comes from conscious creation of folk art dolls make them a rich source in information about their maker’s past, economic and cultural traditions. By examining the creations we can extract a very wide sweeping narrative about the maker and her world.”The History of Toys – Creation in the Hand

The notebook arrived first, followed a few weeks later by the box of dolls – a gift from my Cousin, Alan Garfield, from my Nana Paton’s collection. Emmie, Bessie and Cookie are among the dolls described in my Nana’s notebook, titled “My Dolls.”  The notebook chronicles just some of the many dolls my grandmother made and collected over the decades. As early as the 1920’s she crafted dolls ─   rag dolls, some of which she sold during the Depression for about $2.00 each. Considered the oldest toy in existence, rag dolls have been around for centuries. During  the years of the  Great Depression, they were hugely popular in the United States. Raggedy Ann, perhaps the most famous rag doll, created by Johnny Gruelle in 1915, became the subject of his book, Raggedy Ann Stories, published in 1918. Her brother Raggedy Andy was introduced two years later.  Also referred to as folk-art dolls, rag dolls are individually crafted from any materials on hand, mostly from scraps collected in the family rag bag. My Nana’s rag bag was filled with not only discarded pieces of fabric, but a variety of materials – leather, yarn, feathers, even rubber.

The doll named “Joe – I made this doll from an inner tube when we lived in Wells. ME in 1939. Wool chinchilla cloth for hair.” – Edith Paton Continue reading

Bald Hill Granite Quarry, Wells, Maine

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Wally Paton at the Bald Hill Granite Quarry – 1934

My Dad grew up on a granite quarry in Wells, Maine during the Great Depression.

“Like thousands of others, my grandfather, George Paton, was forced to take to the road in search of any employment he could find. When my Dad was six years old the family moved to Wells, Maine, when Grandpa George got a job at the Bald Hill Granite Quarry there.” Excerpt from Journey Home: How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy by Bonnie Paton Moon

Bald Hill Quarry was originally owned by a conglomerate known as Swenson Pink Granite of Concord, New Hampshire. A family-owned business founded in 1883 by Swedish immigrant John Swenson, it has recently reopened under the name Millennium Granite, owned now by a gentleman named Richard Bois. Mr. Bois, a civil engineer, has a special affinity for the quarry having grown up nearby  and having spent endless hours playing in the fields nearby – not unlike my Dad who spent most of his childhood running around these same fields and woods.

A couple weeks ago an email arrived on Mr. Bois’ desk from a Harvard professor and architect who is doing research on the granite used in the Seagram Building in New York City – “as you know granite from your quarry was used in the famous plaza there.”  The Harvard professor asked to tour the quarry and was interested in any historical documents or pictures Mr. Bois might have.

 Coincidentally,  a few weeks ago I, too, became curious as to what had become of the Bald Hill Quarry so I conducted some of my own research. When I read on the Millennium website that Mr. Bois had reopened the quarry after years of dormancy,  I decided to reach out to him and send along a few photos of the Paton years living on his quarry. I included the story of my Dad’s later success in creating a world famous birding sanctuary in Patagonia, Arizona called Paton’s Birder Haven. With my permission, Mr. Bois shared this with the Harvard professor. The architect wrote back the following.

“Thank you for sharing these emails and stories. I find the stories very touching, a very genuine glimpse of life around the quarry at that time. It is really striking how amazing that depression era WWII generation was, how they lived and what all they accomplished. These stories are a fine glimpse into that. I am finding such rich information that I think I will turn the project from an article into a book.”

Who knows, perhaps a few of our quarry photos or a bit of my Dad’s story will show up in the architects article or book – or perhaps I will even write a story myself. I am planning a field trip to the old Bald Hill Quarry this summer and will combine it with seeing the Paton Homestead where my grandmother’s relatives  lived for decades. More to come…….

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George and Edith Paton and children, Doris and Wally, arrive at the Bald Hill Quarry – 1929