Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Post About Posts

“Do you know where my coat is?” I called to Kate. “It’s hanging on the newel post,” she called back. “Wtf is a newel post?” I responded. Actually I didn’t, but I thought it. Upon politely enquiring what a newel post was, Kate took delight in pointing out to me, someone who regularly looks into the meaning and origin of things in Bytes, that a newel was the main post at the end of the staircase banister. 

Ever since then I have had the newel post hanging over my head, like a staircase sword of Damocles. If I get a good score against Kate in Words with Friends she will look at me and slowly, smilingly say in precise tones, “Newel post!” Explain to her politely why her directions when navigating were incorrect, I hear “Newel post.” 

So as a service to husbands everywhere, I make the following comments about newel posts, in the hope that they will not suffer the same purgatory that I go through . . .

  • A newel, also called a central pole, is an upright post that supports the handrail of a stair banister. In most cases it is the main post at the foot of the staircase but newel posts can also be intermediate posts and at the top of a staircase: 
  • Newels have often been adorned and decorated and can be constructed in various architectural styles: 
The Downton Abbey staircase showing newel posts. 

The Titanic's Grand Staircase 

Jacobean newel 

"In the early American colonies, simple lathe-turned posts, often similar in profile to the balusters of the railing, or simple tapered square posts were used. Later, in the Georgian period, the turned posts were formed similar to classic architectural columns and then became thinner and delicate in the Federal period. Around 1840, posts began to appear similar to the Greek Revival columns seen on the exterior of buildings, popular at that time. In the third quarter of the 19th century, the newel posts became heavier and broader, as the stair and banister assemblies of that period have massive proportions in the details. Towards the end of that century and into the first quarter of the 20th, square, panelled or faceted posts were popular, often with large caps, heavy mouldings and carvings." 
- Bill Kibbel, Old House Blog 
  • Where the newel post is large, it was often hollow. That hollow space has, so it is claimed, been used by some homeowners for retention of documents, often the house plans, and for concealment of valuables. (If I was a bad guy engaged in breaking and entering and I saw a large newel post, that would be the first place I would now look). 
  • Some different newel posts:
Carved newel posts by artist Lueb Popoff: 

Squirrel and fox newels 

Raccoon newel 

Bear and squirrel 

Rabbit and squirrel 

Chainsaw sculpted newel posts by Brian Richter, wood sculptor 

You call that a newel post? This is a newel post! 
Paris Opera Theatre staircase (remember the Masquerade number in Phantom of the Opera?
  • And speaking of chainsaws and newels, there is a scene in Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation where Chase’s character, Clarke Griswold, loses it. As Clarke, dressed as Santa and carrying a chain saw, walks past the newel post that has an annoying lose cap on it he cuts the whole top off and cheerfully calls out “Fixed the newel post.” 
See it at: 

  • One final item: 
It has sometimes been said that the button on top of the newel post cap is known as the mortgage button and that it signifies that the house mortgage had been paid. The document was rolled up and placed in the hollow post. This is an urban myth, see: 

Nonetheless, ornate mortgage buttons can be purchased:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


"The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls..."

- Simon and Garfunkel, Sounds of Silence

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Some Thoughts on Cheese


“Cheese - milk’s leap to immortality.” 

- Clifton Fadiman 

“A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be over sophisticated. Yet it remains, cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality.” 

-Clifton Fadiman 

Three years!" I cried. "Were you shipwrecked?" 

"Nay, mate," said he; "marooned." 

I had heard the word, and I knew it stood for a horrible kind of punishment common enough among the buccaneers, in which the offender is put ashore with a little powder and shot and left behind on some desolate and distant island. 

"Marooned three years agone," he continued, "and lived on goats since then, and berries, and oysters. Wherever a man is, says I, a man can do for himself. But, mate, my heart is sore for Christian diet. You mightn't happen to have a piece of cheese about you, now? No? Well, many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese-toasted, mostly - and woke up again, and here I were." 

"If ever I can get aboard again," said I, "you shall have cheese by the stone." 

- Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, Ch 15 The Man on the Island (the finding of castaway Ben Gunn by Jim Hawkins) 

“God defend me from that Welsh fairy, 
Lest he transform me to a piece of cheese!” 

- William Shakespeare, Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor 

“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” 

- Charles De Gaulle 

Merrily taking twopenny ale and cheese with a pocket knife;
But these were luxuries not for him who went for the Simple Life." 

- G K Chesterton 

“A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” 

- Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Pics

When They Were Young . . . 

Academy Award Nominees
Best Actor and Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Jessica Chastain 

Emanuelle Riva 

Denzel Washington 

Daniel Day-Lewis 

Bradley Cooper

Quvenzhane Wallis 

 Joaquin Phoenix 

Jennifer Lawrence 

Naomi Watts 

Hugh Jackman