The Adventures of a Bergen County Kas

A kas or kast is a large Dutch-style linen cupboard, and the one pictured here is one of my favorite heirlooms.  It was made sometime in the 18th century in Bergen County, New Jersey of native red gum, probably for a member of the Zabriskie family.  American kasten are difficult to date because they were made in essentially the same style by many cabinetmakers over a long period, from the later 1600s to the early 1800s.  Furniture historians ascribe this conservatism to the relative cultural isolation of rural Dutch-American communities in New York and New Jersey.

Zabriskie Kas

Also kasten were often made for future brides to store up the linens they would need when setting up their own households.  Like a Norwegian wedding chest, they were not only cultural emblems but were also bound up with traditions surrounding marriage and proper housekeeping.  A newfangled one might be good for storing linens, but it wouldn’t make the same cultural or value statement.

When my mother decided to send it to me, we had a hard time figuring out how to ship it from Los Angeles to Cincinnati.  I thought one of the carriers whose trucks I often see would be a possibility, since their slogan is “We ship anything, anytime, anywhere,” but it turns out that “anything” does not include antiques.

We turned to a well-established furniture moving company, and had it shipped directly to Professional Furniture Service, Inc. in Amelia, Ohio for restoration.  They have done work for the Cincinnati Art Museum, so I trusted them to do a sensitive job.  Unfortunately the kas was only a small part of a larger load headed for New York City, and the furniture restoration shop was not open when the truck first came through Cincinnati, so the driver had to keep going.

It took a full month for the kas to make it back to Ohio, and though the moving company seemed to know approximately where it was most of the time, it was nerve-wracking for us to think of our precious, ancient heirloom wandering the country by itself, possibly getting bumped and bruised.  It spent some time in a warehouse in Brooklyn, closer to its place of origin than it had been since 1959.  Finally it arrived at the restorer and did not seem to have any new damage.

I mainly wanted the restorers to reattach one of the drawer knobs and make appropriate feet.  Almost all kasten have large, bulbous feet, and though you could see where they had originally been attached, ours had lost its feet at some point.  To figure out the correct shape and proportion for a Bergen County kas, I read American Kasten: The Dutch-Style Cupboards of New York and New Jersey 1650-1800, a publication of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Page 22 of this book shows a photo of a kas nearly identical to ours so I knew that similar feet would be appropriate.  The restorers did an excellent job of turning and finishing copies so that they look almost original.

Usually the cornice of a kas juts out at a 45 degree angle but the cornice on ours is more vertical.  The shapes of the moldings used on ours exactly match the diagram of typical Bergen County cornice moldings in the MMA’s book, but they have been mitered to form a less dramatic, less baroque crown.  I am not sure why that is, but a member of the Bergen County Historical Society told me that this was sometimes done so that the piece would fit within a particular spot in the home.   The cornice seems to be a slightly different color than the rest of the piece, and I wonder if it is not original.  Someday I would like a kas expert to examine it and tell me what they think.

In spite of this quirk we really enjoy having it in our home.


Top Five Favorite Old Photos

My computer was in the shop this week, so I had my early mornings free for other projects.  I began to clean my old photos and to put them into protective sleeves I ordered from Archival Methods.  I made great progress and also really enjoyed looking at the pictures.  These are my five favorites.

Thurber, James Milford 4

This is a picture of my great-grandfather James Milford Thurber (1865-1958) taken in his 90s, probably somewhere in Vermont.  He was a tinsmith and, according to my Dad, fairly stern, so I like this picture of him in extreme old age–perhaps having mellowed–holding a posy of hollyhocks.  Also his pants are hiked up old man style, and the scenery is pretty.

Zabriskie, Adelia

This is Adelia Zabriskie (1834-1869) the wife of William Sickels Banta of Bergen County, New Jersey.  Even though I am not a fan of Victorian style, this picture reeks so strongly of the period that there is something appealing about it.  You can almost hear her silks rustling.

Thurber, Robert Maybury 1939

I like this picture of my Dad–the boy on the far left–in Burlington, Vermont circa 1939 with his second grade classmates.  One of his report cards actually says “Bobby is bothering the other children less” than before, so he got into quite a bit of mischief and I think he looks mischievous in this picture.  Plus he has an amazingly bad haircut.  On the back of the picture he wrote all the children’s names, noting that sadly the boy second from the right died in the Korean War, and then wrote “Dad was my barber!”  My grandfather saved a little money during the Depression by cutting my Dad’s hair himself, always with disastrous results but this is the worst example I have seen.

Haring, Children of John A. and Elizabeth (Haring)

I like this picture from about 1900 even though most of the people in it look fairly crabby.  One amazing thing about it is that I was able to figure out not only who but also where they are.  I also found that this Revolutionary-era house still stands in Rockland County, New York.  They are all siblings, the children of John A. and Elizabeth (Haring) Haring and this is the Abraham D. Haring House, also known as Scotland Hill Farm, built in 1783.  The lone gentleman is Jacob Eckerson Haring (1836-1915) who was somewhat famous as a breeder of racehorses.

Aguilar and Thurber Children

I like this picture taken September 1968 in La Crescenta, California even though the sewer pipe portends the upcoming overdevelopment of the Los Angeles basin.  It reminds me of all the fun my sister and I had with our cousins who lived in La Crescenta.  (We lived in Eagle Rock, part of Northeast Los Angeles.)  It also reminds me of how much time we spent barefoot.  I am at the top left and my sister is next to me.  Standing behind us is our cousin Marty.  At the top of the pipe is our cousin Sherry and second from the bottom is our cousin Scott.  We played very often and for hours at a time with Sherry and Scott especially.  If this picture had a soundtrack, the music would be by The Monkees.

A Great Uncle: Regis Zabriskie Bogert (1904-1978)

My maternal Gramma’s brother Regis was the only other member of her family we saw on a regular basis, most of them living in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania while we lived in Los Angeles.  By the time I was born in 1962 Uncle Regis lived in the beautiful hills near Sebastopol in Sonoma County, California. For quite a few years we visited him in August for a week or so, after meandering up the coast, usually stopping at one or two of the California Missions and at scenic places like the Monterey peninsula along the way.


Gravenstein apple orchard near Sebastopol, California.  Photo by Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons.

He had 18 rural acres and a house filled with books and family heirlooms, including a few very old large bibles.  Once we decided to defrost his refrigerator while he was out and we broke his hammer.  When we told him we had broken his hammer he said “Well of course it broke, it’s over 200 years old.”

Bogert, Regis Zabriskie 6

My sister, Uncle Regis and me in 1973.  From that picture window above you could watch the fog roll into the valley.

The quiet there astonished me.  Often the only sound was the wind in the evergreens up on the ridge or the lowing of the neighbors’ cows.   Thick fog rolled in almost every evening and the weather in August was always cool and pleasant.   His long driveway was lined with rain lilies which were always in bloom during our visits, and the air smelled of sweet grassland.

He grew an enormous quantity of ‘Seneca Chief’ corn every year, which he said must be cooked for eight minutes within twenty minutes of harvest.  (I still cook corn for eight minutes.)  My sister and I shucked the corn and sometimes gave the shucks to the neighbor’s cows who relished them.  We picked Gravenstein apples from his trees and made sauce with uncle Regis.  He also grew red potatoes and showed us how to dig them.  I don’t remember any  dinners there that did not consist of good beef, mountains of corn on the cob, salad and mashed potatoes but we must have eaten other things.

Bogert, Regis Zabriskie 1953 Holland Society

He knew a tremendous amount about his ancestors and had a lot of ancient family papers–a few dates I have only because my mother copied them down from papers at his house, the church records being lost.  He never married.  He never held a regular job as far as I can tell, living off of investments for his entire life.

Bogert, Regis, Alice and Bob

From left to right, Regis, his older sister Alice, friend Hugh Masterson, and brother Bernard Oblenis Bogert II who was known as Bob.  Bob became a geology professor.

He stood about 6’4″ and was very kindly, and used the word “certainly” when most people would have said “yes.”  He was a practical person who didn’t understand why I would waste my energy jogging when I could have used it to accomplish something.  I never asked him much about his own life, though now of course I wish I had.  As a kid and a teenager I was more interested in enjoying the rural wonderland and perusing his many interesting books.  Here is what I have been able to piece together.

Bogert, Regis, Beth, Alice

Regis is seated second from the left and my Gramma is just to his right.

Uncle Regis was born 30 Sep 1904 in Paramus, Bergen County, New Jersey to Bernard Oblenis Bogert and Eliza Pell Vermilye, the second of their five children, my Gramma Elisabeth being the third.

Bogert, Regis Zabriskie 7

With his parents at his Columbia College graduation.

He went to Ridgewood High School and then to Columbia College, graduating in 1929.  By the 1930 census he was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico with my Gramma and their sister Lida, known as Lee, though all three are also listed in the same census as being in Paramus with their parents.  The siblings rented a house at 1204 Central, which seems to have been torn down since.  Regis remained in Albuquerque after his sisters had left, earning a Masters Degree in Political Science from the University of New Mexico in 1934.  He was always interested in history and politics and was a lifelong Republican.

In 1935-1936 he traveled quite literally around the world, visiting the South Pacific, the Middle East and most of the countries in Europe.  He posted letters home fairly often.  He wrote from Algeria, saying that it was so much like New Mexico, that that is where he would have thought he was if he didn’t know better.

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Envelopes from letters Regis wrote home while traveling the world in 1935-1936.

From 1936 to 1938 he studied law at Stanford University but did not graduate.  Afterwards he went back to Bergen County, New Jersey and became active in civic organizations and in local politics.  He was a Councilman for the Borough of Paramus 1940-1942.

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On 15 Aug 1942 Regis joined the U.S. Army and entered basic training at Fort Dix, 16 miles southeast of Trenton, New Jersey.  He spent three years in the Pacific Theater as a Special Agent in the Counterintelligence Corps and was honorably discharged 21 Aug 1945.  He was awarded the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Campaign Medal and the Victory Medal.  I am sure he had a few adventures during this time and I need to ask living relatives if they remember him saying anything about his time in the Army.

Bogert, Regis Zabriskie 8

Regis in uniform.

After the war he settled back into life in Paramus, serving on various municipal committees and as Secretary-Treasurer of the Bergen County Welfare Board.  He was involved with several clubs and organizations, including the Rotary Club, which he would support for the rest of his life.  In 1953 he joined the Holland Society, “a historical and genealogical society founded to collect and preserve information respecting the early history and settlement of New Netherland by the Dutch.”  Like most of his ancestors, he was a member of the (formerly Dutch) Reformed Church.

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Regis and my grandmother were descended at least nine times from early New Jersey settler Albrecht Zabriskie (1638-1711).

In 1959 Regis made the big move to Sebastopol.  I am not sure why he uprooted himself and settled on the opposite coast.  In Sebastopol he continued his heavy involvement with Rotary, tended his large vegetable garden and graciously entertained his relatives and friends.

Uncle Regis died 1 Mar 1978.  Though his obituary says he was to be interred at the Chapel of the Chimes in Santa Rosa, in the end he was cremated with his ashes spread over his corn field.

Bogert, Regis Zabriskie 2

Regis in 1929.