Hire me! Did you know I offer my servcies as a professionally trained historian to you, as a genealogist? Would you like to know more about your family’s story? Is there an old document or family photograph teasing your brain?
It’s a pretty ease process to add something to Google Maps but it can be rather difficult to demonstrate some random spot in the woods is a place of some significance. It is with some sense of pride and accomplishment that I have added Swartwood Cemetery back on the map. This cemetery had long been off the map, its graves had long been left untended. Using the details available and with some lingering photographs, I had an idea of what to look for as I ventured out into the hills across Route 209 from the Valley View campground. Using the AllTrails app I recorded my trail and I marked my GPS coordinates upon arrival.
I place that has been long forgotten and/or overlooked has been reclaimed through research, tracking, sharing knowledge and a little bit of activism. How can you reclaim a place? Research. Identification. And education.
My interest in the abandoned village of Egypt Mills began when family history research led me to look for the Valley View, or Swartwood, Cemetery not far down the road on Route 209 in Bushkill, Lehman Township, Pike County, Pennsylvania. According to information provided by the National Park Service, the land was settled in the late 18th century, with a 1776 land purchase by William Nyce; their leaflet makes reference to the Nyce family farm and a postcard from a once well-known Hunting Club but the village was small, prosperous and filled with lively cast of characters who would call this place home.
My project began out of curiosity; following the Tom’s Creek trail out towards Landis lake and wanting to know more about the remains of what I discovered, and the surrounding area between Little Egypt and Big Egypt Roads — remains of stone foundations and wools, mill runs, and steel tools. I began to photograph my surroundings and mark the GPS coordinates of each location. Then I pinpointed every location on Google Earth and added an overlay of old 1872 map of Lehman Township to identify what these structures may have been and to whom they belonged.
Continue to follow as explore each structure, the remains of the village, its current natural beauty and its lively history.
While attending church services the Sunday after Easter, also known as the Second Easter Sunday, I heard what was common for such on occasion and that was a sermon rooted in the New Testament story of doubting Thomas. My pastor stated in his sermon that Thomas was the only one to whom Jesus revealed himself individually. When he took his seat, our co-pastor whispered to him, after the service my pastor made an announcement to the congregation that he had been corrected by our co-pastor, that Jesus first revealed himself to Mary following the Resurrection. In my own mind, I immediately went to the Virgin Mary thinking Jesus revealed himself to his mother. I went to the Scriptures and read, and it was Mary Magdalene. Both held graduate degrees from Union Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary, respectively; however, it was the woman, and Princeton alumna, that did not overlook the significance of Mary Magdalene in the story of Jesus Christ. Inclusion and diverse perspectives did not rewrite the Gospel but highlighted passages important to their own experience which gave us a fuller meaning to the Gospel. This I believe, that pluralism and religious literacy have a symbiotic relationship, to which inclusion and allowing diverse perspectives enriches our understanding our own beliefs and those of others and encourages a more accepting, pluralistic society.
What would cause such a faux pas to occur? Both ministers were clearly well-educated individuals, so it was not a matter of ignorance. Each had related to the Gospel in their way by that which moved them. Gender differences aside, as it can only be an assumption this was the key factor, and maybe it was, one pastor was moved by the skepticism of Thomas whose faith was reaffirmed with a qualified revelation of the truth; whereas, the other pastor was moved by the woman whose embattled soul had been freed by Jesus Christ when he cast out seven demons, also a qualified revelation of faith based on seeing. The human experience of faith is a relative experience, even among clerics as this example demonstrates.Seemingly, we would think this is where the conversation begins but often this is where the conversation ends.
This piece is as much reflections on my education as a continuing graduate student as well as my role as a history and social studies teacher at an independent Waldorf high school. Scandals like last year’s Operation Varsity Blues bring to the fore the role of socioeconomic status and inequality at elite institutions of higher learning. It even calls into question what it means to be “elite” — either as an institution or as a student/alumnus. Writing of the lowly plebeians seeking an elite education, Daniel Golden wrote for Town and Country in 2016: “Today the prospects for these unconnected applicants, who are predominantly middle-class whites and Asian-Americans, are even bleaker. The poor shmucks have to walk on water—during a tsunami.” There has certainly been a demonstrable advantage for the well-heeled; however, Golden’s observations may be an oversimplification and hyperbole. Allow me to shed some light on how this Waldorf Teacher broke into the Ivy League. This first piece will explore: how my family helped me break into the Ivy League, and get into Columbia University.
First, I will provide some key attributes which I shall elaborate upon in this and my next installment in this two part series: curiosity, faith, grit, hardworking, imagination and grace. An excellent book on this subject that I first read four years ago was How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Consider this passage from James: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 NRSV. Let perseverance and faith do its work in developing your character and destiny, which can be a painful process but it remains our divine calling to self-actualize and push through–but many of us have both divine and mortal help.
When I was a young child, we moved from New Jersey into rural Pennsylvania and we did not yet have cable television. On account of my father’s career, we had a personal computer — an IBM PS/2. I wrote short stories on the word processor, and I “composed” music with the MIDI music software. It may sound strange, to some, to read of a Waldorf teacher actively embracing this kind of technology; the computer was a piece of cutting edge technology that was fun to engage with and allowed me to express my creativity in storytelling as well tinker with a diverse array of musical instruments to produce “entertaining” sounds. This “tinkering” and exploration through play developed into a passion tempered and cultivated by discipline, practice, precision, literacy. As I grew older, I continued to develop a keen interest in history and literature as well as music. I took Advanced Placement and honors classes as well as accelerated college bridge classes. I learned to play four instruments: the clarinet, the saxophone (alto and baritone), the violin and the guitar — with varying degrees of continued proficiency. I would really love learn the piano.
My mother was a high school mathematics teacher that taught AP Calculus to rural high school students. She was also quite creative at home. Delicious meals and desserts from scratch. And made Play-Doh from scratch–our toys. And always encouraged my creativity. For a school project, I made a longhouse from popsicle sticks and craft glue as well as my homemade Play-Doh to make people, bowls and a campfire. My masters thesis explored the struggled for recognition of a local Native American tribe.
My maternal grandmother was the first in her family to attend college and she earned a bachelors degree in economics and later a masters degree. She had the most amazing collection of books and antiques! When I was younger and visited her house, I would have quiet time sitting in the living room scanning through her encyclopedias and books on ancient Egypt. My paternal grandmother always encouraged my learning. Perhaps too much too early, she gifted my Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book to me when I was six years old. LOL. My maternal grandfather was a local public official, from a longline of civic leaders dating back to the colonial era. My paternal grandfather was an absolute lion of a man but also a kind, gentle and courtly soul. A decorated war hero, successful business executive and generous community leader. He was a absolute Lion, and we, his family, were his pride.
My struggles made me. You see, its not the “A” that often defines the student but the “C.” I was encouraged to take risks, explore, hit dead ends, try harder, and try a different way. I took risks. I hit dead ends. I was broke. I sometimes worked two jobs. At my lowest point, I was deathly sick and housebound, but I had faith in myself and with God’s help, I got up and pushed through. I had role models. I always “gave back.” My first job was in environmental policy before working in healthcare, and then in banking before becoming a social studies teacher at a Waldorf high school. As a social studies teacher, I encourage students to learn the hard yoga (breathing, flexing and strengthening) of living in a complex, social world. Each one. Reach one. Teach one.
In the words of Kurt Hahn, as I tell my students: “There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.”
So, you see, this is how my family helped get into the Ivy League.
Welcome to my professional page. I’m Stephen McDonald. I am, in no order of consequence: a writer, a photographer, an explorer, an Americanist cultural and historical scholar, a Progressive Christian and a devoted father a much beloved daughter. (Maybe the best for last!)
This page will include my thoughts, queries, musings and links to my writing. I also hope to include links to historical sites and places of significance that I visit to share them with you. Additional plans not limited to this page include educational videos and podcasts.
I studied at the University of Vermont but finished my undergraduate degree with a BA in American Studies from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Presently, I am a graduate student pursuing an MA in American Studies from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
Presently, I am writing my thesis exploring tribal identity and sovereignty of northeastern Native American tribes, focusing on the Ramapough Lunaape Nation.
My research interests include: Hudson Valley and New England history, American literature, American art, American music, social history, immigration and the peopling of America, slave narratives, immigrant narratives, social inequality, environmentalism, education, American social thought, progressive theology, and religion in American life.
Additional interests include psychology, economics, health care, science and technology, homesteading, country living, farming and sustainable agriculture. I like to sail. I make candles and dabble in woodworking. And I’m pretty good cook. I learned and continue to play three instruments: the guitar, the violin, and the saxophone. And I am fascinated by genealogical research and family history.
Pennsylvania is where I was raised. New York is where I live. Connecticut is where I study. Maine is where my heart lies.
After life transforming experience and finding renewed solace in my Christian faith, I am open to motivational speaking.
Please follow my blog if you like what you read. Please contact me with any thoughts, words, queries you may have.
Thank you. And Enjoy!