Tom Paine assembly, visiting Alton Lemon, 2008 party plans and Widener speakers

It’s three days after the presentation of “The Life of Thomas Paine” at the Philadelphia Academy Charter School and I’m still glowing from the experience. Interacting with children who are receptive to learning is so gratifying. The audience was comprised of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders. It was a wide range of ages, but I think the text reached across the discrepancy of ages.

I ran a little late that day, but Kelly and Brian from the Rational Response Squad were there ready to unload my car, set up the room and help me into my costume. I could not have done the assembly without them! It was the first time they have seen me perform and yet they knew immediately how to set up the table of Colonial games and the PowerPoint. We were ready within a half hour of my arrival.

Kelly and Brian wore “I love Margaret Downey” T-shirts. It was so nice of them not only to be there to help, but to show the students and teachers that they support my efforts. I was so proud!

Kelly and Brian had a lot of other work to do at home so after a nice lunch at Chickie and Pete’s (yummy King Crab Legs there, by the way), we went separate directions. I traveled to Germantown to visit Alton Lemon. It took much longer to get to the Germantown Home so my visit with Alton was cut short. I had tickets to the Widener University Speakers Series held at the Kimmel Center once a month. It’s a fantastic series and I highly recommend it. Here is the link:

My favorite speaker I’ve seen through this series (so far) is Robert Ballard. He is an oceanographer. He discovered the ruins of the Titanic in 1985.  You can read more information about him at:

I also enjoyed Colin Powell and James Lovell, Commander of Apollo 13. I wrote out two questions to Lovell, but could not get the usher to take them to Lovell in time. I was pleasantly surprised when the two questions I had were actually asked by others in the audience.

First question (I’m paraphrasing here using my best recall memory):

You are listed as a member of the Boy Scouts of America’s Advisory Board. Do you approve of their new “private” status and their new restrictive membership rules?


I no longer support the Boy Scouts of America and I think their policy is shameful.

He got a big round of applause for that answer and I was absolutely thrilled to hear him say what needed to be said about the Boy Scouts of America. I only hope more people will speak up. You know, I contacted him 15 years ago via snail mail, asking him to disassociate himself from the Boy Scouts of America. He never responded to that letter or my phone calls. At least I know he finally did what I wanted him to do 15 years ago.

Second question:

Are you a superstitious person especially after having the trouble on Apollo 13?


I am not at all superstitious.

Lovell then went on to say something about circumstances and how great the technical team on Earth handled the situation.

Wow! What a fantastic guy. I wish we could get him to attend an Anti-Superstition Party!

Oh, I’m working hard on the plans for the 2008 Anti-Superstition Party. Janice Rael is now on my committee. She and I are writing an article, looking at location options, booking speakers (James Randi has agreed to attend) and searching for a DJ. Watch the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia (FSGP) website for more details. Here is the link:

Back to my visit with Alton Lemon—I walked into the dining room at the Germantown Home where Alton was sitting with his beautiful wife Augusta. He looked up and I saw a flicker of a smile. He said my name and I nearly cried. Alton is paralyzed on the right side. He uses a wheelchair now. It was very sad to see my friend in such bad shape.

Alton was able to talk a little bit, but not much. I asked him if he could autograph a book (Lemon v. Kurtzman and the Separation of Church and State: Debating Supreme Court Decisions). He beamed and tried to lift a pen with his left hand. It was painfully difficult for him and Augusta needed to assist.

The autographed book is going to be given to Matthew La Clair. He is the New JerseyNew York City during an event hosted by the New York Society for Ethical Culture. If you are interested in going to the event, here is the link: student who recently tape recorded his proselytizing teacher. The book will be given to him in

More news tomorrow...