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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Jean Mattson passes, photographer, curator, Plainfield cultural icon

Jean Mattson (center), president of the Historical Society of Plainfield
conducts the 2001 annual meeting.

Plainfield cultural icon Jean Mattson passed away on May 1 at her home.

I knew Jean as a photographer, an indefatigable events and exhibits organizer, and as a friend. She was indeed, as her daughter Lois has said, a force of nature.

Her photography was masterful, with attention paid to every detail. (For my notice of her 2010 retrospective show at the Plainfield Public Library, click here.)

Over the years, she began a continuing project of recording the images of the Plainfield men and women who had been crucial in some of the great civil rights struggles of the 20th century.

Eventually, she expanded that project to include a broad segment of Plainfield people and presented the final work as an exhibit at the Plainfield Public Library.

'Young girl on a bench,' from Jean's 2010 show.

She also celebrated her Irish roots and mounted an exhibition of photographs from her travels in Ireland in another Library show.

But perhaps Jean's most important contributions to Plainfield's diversity were the events she organized.

In 2000, Jean put together an exhibit at the Library entitled "100 Years of Plainfield Artists", drawing on Plainfield's many talented artists -- such as painters Riva Helfond, Alonzo Adams, Indira Bailey, and landscape artist Gerri Heydt -- as well as recognizing artists of the past with Plainfield connections, such as Jonas Lie.

Jean at '100 Years of Plainfield Artists' in April, 2000.
(l ro r) Gerri Heydt, Mayor Al McWilliams, and Indira Bailey.

She also put together an exhaustive exhibit of 20th century Plainfield life, decade by decade. Her rich connections to the community resulted in many families lending photographs, ephemera, clippings, programs and other material never seen by the public.

In addition, Jean was a motive force behind Ethfest, a celebration of Plainfield's cultural diversity in music, dance, and arts and crafts. The series of festivals, which ran from 2000 through 2002, was made possible by the support of Mayor Albert McWilliams.

Jean and Mayor McWilliams pose with Guyanese
participants in first Ethfest, 2000.

Peruvian musicians perform at Ethfest 2002.

Crowds thronged Ethfest 2002 at Cedar Brook Park.

She served on the Plainfield Cultural & Heritage Commission and on the board of Plainfield's museum, the Drake House.

But as much as I valued Jean's contributions to the community, she was also a friend.

The first time I met her, shortly after moving to Plainfield, she remarked that her daughter Lois and I "must have been separated at birth," a joke that caused hilarity over the years.

Nat and I were adopted into the family and spent many years together at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

Christmas Eve dinner, following Swedish customs and menu, was invariably served at Jean and Moose's landmark Ravine Road home, after which we all would attend Midnight Mass.

For years, when Al McWilliams' star was on the rise as mayor, Jean could be seen riding her bike throughout the neighborhood, soliciting anyone she met to vote for McWilliams, who referred to her simply as "the Citizen".

Owing to Covid-19 restrictions, a small, private funeral will be celebrated Thursday, with Canon Robert Griner officiating. You can read the online obituary at Higgins Home for Funerals here. The family plans a memorial service after the pandemic restrictions are eased.

Jean, I shall miss you greatly, but suspect you are already organizing an exhibition that will outdo all your previous efforts.

Rest in peace.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Social distance and stay-at-home have helped Plainfield 'flatten the curve'

Expected (upper) vs. actual (lower) cases in Plainfield,
last thirteen days.

Plainfielders' adoption of Gov. Murphy's stay-at-home and social distance have enabled Plainfield to 'flatten the curve'. That, plus masks and plenty of good, old-fashioned hand-scrubbing.

But how do you know anything good is happening? News of hospitalizations in alarming numbers and rising death tolls just keep coming at you. It can be frightening, and unnerving even to the most steeled.

But there is a way of knowing how far we are along in the process of a swelling curve and eventual dropping to manageable levels.

It involves the authorities keeping (and sharing) reliable, accurate data on a regular basis.

And a key way of noticing change over time is the number of days it takes for the number of cases to double.

In the chart above, we have been watching for the doubling of the last 'marker' figure of 863 on April 18. Instead of doubling in 8 days, as previously, it looks to be reaching that mark on May2 -- or 13 days -- 5 days more than the last doubling. Evidence of 'flattening the curve'.

In the earliest days of the crisis, when many people were distracted because the numbers seemed so small and others outright disbelieved there was a crisis, the speed with which cases of infection double was astonishing.

In the earliest days of Plainfield's noting growth in cases, they doubled every three days, then every four.

On April, they reached 863 and the most recent double period had been eight days. My suspicion was that we were approaching the crest of the wave, which I detailed in this chart --

The moment it dawned we might be reaching the crest.

An unexpected stay at JFK meant I was away from my computer and tools for a week, but that week gave us a definite glance at how things were developing (that chart is at the top of this post).

I think it is safe to say the coronavirus has crested in Plainfield.


  • Infections will continue, rising more slowly than previously, but rising.

  • It will become apparent through testing that a larger percentage of the population than previously thought has been infected with the virus (many only mildly).

  • Hospitalizations will continue, though at a decreasing pace.

  • The most vulnerable -- the elderly and those with compromised immune systems -- will continue to be at greater risk.

  • The pressure to take the lid off will be considerable -- folks are tired of being cooped up and unable to participate in normal daily life or gatherings (weddings, funerals). But experts warn that taking the lid off too fast could put us back in the same pickle. Part of this, of course, is citizen cooperation. Do your part!

Just on Saturday, Gov. Murphy bowed to growing pressure to re-open State and County parks. No group sports or activities -- yet. Social distance applies. But you can be out in the fresh air!

Gov. Murphy has a six-point program for re-opening businesses and we can expect to see progress on that front in the next few days.

Plainfielders can be proud of the role they have played in 'flattening the curve'.

And we can be proud of our first responders and health care workers who put themselves in deadly danger to administer care to victims.

Other towns are recognizing these people with daily noisemaking at an appointed time. We should be thinking about what Plainfield will do to remember the victims, honor the healthcare workers and recognize citizen contributions.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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