Two friends on the staff of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport are engaged in a poetry-photo challenge. Their goal is to lift the spirits of their quarantined colleagues.
Ed Clampitt has been a member of the Museum’s security staff for four years. He challenged Ellen Mason, a volunteer tour guide for 14 years, to write poems inspired by his photos. Clampitt, who also has written some of the poems, likes to record seasonal beauty at Eagle’s Nest, the spectacular 43-acre Vanderbilt Estate that is also home to the Vanderbilt Museum and Reichert Planetarium.
“During discussions about our upcoming children’s book, Ellen discovered her previously untapped talent for writing poetry,” Clampitt said. “I enjoy being her muse and inspiring that wonderful talent to blossom!”
Mason said, “Ed suggested that he take photographs at the Vanderbilt and challenged me to write poems to correspond to them. He surprises me with the photos and gives me no prior information. And I surprise him with the poems.”
Then the creative partners email the results to the Vanderbilt staff and members of the Board of Trustees. Their responses: delight and gratitude.
“It’s such a pleasure to receive their poems and photos,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, the Vanderbilt Museum’s interim executive director. “Ed and Ellen’s creations remind us of how lucky we are to work in such beautiful surroundings, especially now when we cannot physically be at Eagle’s Nest. Their pictures and words are inspiring.”
Clampitt, a Huntington resident who also has worked for Stop & Shop supermarkets for 40 years, is a front-line worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is also co-creator and author of Team Dawg, a character-education program and children’s book series that has been widely used in elementary schools throughout Long Island.
Mason, a Stony Brook resident and retired Centereach High School English teacher, leads tours of the Vanderbilt Mansion. She tells visitors stories about the Vanderbilt family and provides details on the Mansion’s architecture and centuries-old art and furnishings. During summer Living History tours, she and the guides dress in 1930s costumes to portray famous summer guests of Rosamond and William K. Vanderbilt II.
Here are two of Mason’s poems and one by Clampitt, with four of Clampitt’s photos taken on the Vanderbilt Estate:
By Ellen Mason
Wrought iron gates / Now closed to us;
No sound of car / Or van or bus.
No children shout /Or laughter rings
Amid the trees /Where birds still sing.
The empty paths / And courtyard bare
Of visitors /A sight so rare.
A vista /Just around the bend,
Might give us hope / And chance to mend.
To breathe the air / At Eagle’s Nest,
Would lend our hearts / And souls some rest.
The day will come / When we’ll return,
To hug and share / Our lessons learned.
We’ll walk the paths / Blue sky above,
And celebrate / This place we love.
Night in the Museum
By Ellen Mason
The grounds are dark, /And silence reigns;
No traffic noise / On roads or lanes.
No human sounds /Disturb the night,
As paths are bathed /In pale starlight.
Within the hushed /Exhibit halls,
Some species stir /On floors and walls.
With restlessness, /They shift and shake,
And move their eyes, /And try to make
Some sense of what / Has come to pass:
No students here / With friends and class,
In lines of two, / With cell phones poised,
They used to laugh /And make loud noise
Where are the folks, / The steady band,
Who climb the stairs / With map in hand?
The whale shark swings / Both to and fro,
To catch the sight: / No one below.
The polar bear, / Now wide awake,
Believes there must be / Some mistake.
In the museum, / High on the hill,
In quiet rooms, / Alone and still,
The sharks, the eels, / The manatee,
Hang, waiting for /Humanity
Their vigil here, /Throughout the night,
Continues on / In morning light.
And so they wait, / And hope to learn,
Why we were gone, / When we return.
By Ed Clampitt
She’s still hard at work, / Preparing this place,
For the day coming soon, / When we meet face to face.
Each day brings new changes, /Some larger, some small,
She knows in her heart, /We feel blessed by them all.
Mother Nature the Wonder /Signs of hope that abound,
Just trust in her plan / What’s been lost will be found.