Friday, November 27, 2009

Pilgrim Monument, Plymouth, Mass.

Before there was Thanksgiving, and before there was Plymouth, Mass., there was this thin, curling, arm of sand upon which the Pilgrims landed before looking for more hospitable and more promising land to choose for new home.

This is the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, at the very tip of Cape Cod. The tower, perched on High Pole Hill, rises 350 feet above sea level. The tallest all-granite tower in the U.S., it was constructed from 1907 to 1910, when President William Howard Taft came to dedicate the tower, a campanile in the design of Torre Del Mangia in Sienna, Italy. Next year in 2010, the monument celebrates its centennial.

The view from the top is spectacular, for there is nothing as tall as this for miles. The curve of the Cape can be seen (more clearly on some days than others when the fog and mist set in), and the cozy town of below, the wharves stretching outward, are all indications that Provincetown would not continue to be so bleak of prospects as the Pilgrims had imagined.

Looking eastward, we see the beginning of the Cape Cod National Seashore, with its natural setting, its dunes that are only some inches to some feet high and yet with a curious trick of perspective, seem like great hills. This part of Provincetown is likely how the Pilgrims saw the place when they first landed here, and how fortunate it is that has been preserved.

When they arrived on the Mayflower, sailing from Plymouth, England some 67 days before, the 102 passengers moored here for some five weeks while small parties explored the windswept, barren land. They composed and signed the Mayflower Compact, which they acknowledged and vowed that they were “straightly tied to all care of each other’s good and of the whole by everyone.”

You'll note that though the Pilgrims found on the tip of the Cape what they considered to be barren land, there was at least ample free parking.

Then it was a brief sail across Cape Cod Bay to a new “Plimoth”, and a new adventure.

For more on the Pilgrim Monument of Provincetown, Mass., have a look at this website.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bridge of Flowers - Shelburne Falls, Mass.

One last look at one last flower before the snow falls. This bloom resides, or did reside, on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. You can see through the rail another bridge opposite on which a car is passing. That other bridge is still in use for motor vehicles, but this bridge is active only for pedestrians and plants.

It had been a trolley bridge in 1908, curving over the Deerfield River, uniting one section of town with the other on the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway. This company went out of business in 1928. The following year, the abandoned trolley bridge was turned into this Bridge of Flowers by some ingenuity and perhaps a desire to not see such a practical piece of infrastructure go to waste.

Volunteers, and donations from the public, and a paid gardener, keep the bridge this way, season after season. For more on the Shelburne Falls Bridge of Flowers, have at look at this website, and this one.

Friday, November 20, 2009

1918 Influenza Epidemic in New England

We had touched upon the Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 on my Tragedy and Comedy in New England blog last week. With the H1N1 flu and the regular flu season upon us, references are inevitably made to that mysterious pandemic which killed over 50 million people around the world. That flu likely had its origins at a Kansas military base in the spring of 1918, but by the autumn, Boston had noticed beginnings of the epidemic.

Navy physician Lt. (jg) J.J. Keegan was one of he earliest doctors puzzled by the new illness in August, 1918. Stationed at the Chelsea Naval Hospital, he began to see the wards filled with sailors of the First Naval District. The illness spread with frightening speed, and moved quickly beyond the service personnel into the civilian population by September. More than 1,000 died in Boston by the end of that month.

Navy personnel reported the first cases in New London, Connecticut on September 11th. By the end of October, there were over 180,000 cases in Connecticut. Boston’s situation was so severe, that an urgent plea was made for Connecticut doctors and nurses to come help. Similarly in Maine, naval ports of call such as Eastport and Portland were the first to receive reports of the illness.

New Hampshire suffered less than the other New England states, with more deaths occurring in the cities of Manchester and Nashua than in rural areas. Vermont, though similarly predominantly rural, suffered a greater outbreak of the illness. Rhode Island suffered about 50 days per day from September through November.

People nationwide were starting to die by the thousands. According to the excellent material here on the National Archives website on the epidemic, one-quarter of the U.S. population caught that flu, and the national life expectancy dropped 12 years. More information, including individual stories, is here on the website of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (including photos such as the one taken at Ft. Devens, Mass. above).

The epidemic, also called The Spanish Flu, killed more people than died in World War I. A strange and horrific finale to that war, this major disaster seemed to have been omitted from the study of popular history for decades, at least until new threats of the past few years with swine flu and avian flu made the old specter raise its head. We learned then, and need to remember now, that the best way to fight the flu is to take care not to spread it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fisherman Statue - Eastport, Maine

Eastport, Maine, the nation’s easternmost city, is the home of this easternmost whimsical statue. We’ve covered whimsical statues before, like the Samantha statue in Salem, Mass. and the Frog Bridge in Willimantic, Connecticut. But the silly fisherman standing on the wharf here, though perhaps less dignified and celebrated than the Fisherman’s Memorial in Gloucester, Mass., has its own poignant story to tell of tragedy and dignity.

Back in 2000, Eastport, and neighboring Lubec, were chosen as the site for the filming of a Fox television reality miniseries. It was called “Murder in Small Town X” and the scenario was a kind of whodunit contest. This 12-foot tall fiberglass cartoonish fisherman (without the pedestal), created by Jeff Poss, was a prop to represent the fictional town.

When the filming ended in 2001, the statue remained and became a curiosity, a photo-op for tourists, and, unexpectedly, a memorial.

The winner of that short-lived reality series contest was a man named Angel Juarbe, a firefighter from New York. The show’s finale aired September 4, 2001. One week later, firefighter Angel Juarbe was killed on September 11th at the World Trade Center.

The goofy statue, intended to be temporary was kept as a tribute. It was refurbished after some deterioration when the town raised a special fund for that purpose. It was put back, its colors restored, for the July 4th festivities in 2005. Independence Day is a huge celebration in Eastport, where U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard ships make a port call and conduct tours.

The setting of the wharf is extraordinarily lovely, and the statue, a heart-tugging combination of silly and sad, makes remembrance bittersweet. For a better view of the refurbished statue, have a look at this website.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mount Battie Memorial Tower - Camden, Maine

Continuing our look at World War memorials, we move from the traditional town honor roll to this Memorial Tower on the top of Mount Battie in Camden, Maine.

A previous post on the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in Camden mentioned that the lovely view from the top of Mount Battie inspired her poem “Renascence”. This tower was constructed in 1921, three years after Millay’s famous poem. It was built partly using stones from the foundation of the Mount Battie Club House, a tourist destination which had previously stood here and was destroyed by fire.

The tower’s tablet honors the “men and women of Camden in the World War” and the hope to provide “an enduring memorial.”

It’s endured pretty well, and if you drive up the 800-foot summit, take a few more steps up the tower to enjoy the astonishing pleasure of that most uplifting scene of where the mountains meet the sea, and the little town below on Penobscot Bay. But hurry, the auto road is closed in winter.

If you can’t make it, have a look at this post on the film “Peyton Place” on my Another Old Movie Blog for a couple of pictures of the view from the top.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Enfield, Mass. Honor Roll

This Roll of Honor lists the names of some young men who served in World War I. It seems especially poignant because it represents the Town of Enfield, Massachusetts, which no longer exists.

Enfield, Mass. was incorporated in 1816, but the land thereabouts, originally called Quabbin Parish, was settled as far back as the late 1700s. Enfield had a decisive end to its existence when as April 27, 1938 struck midnight and became April 28th, Enfield and its nearby towns of Prescott, Greenwich, and Dana, were dissolved by legislation. All that land is now the Quabbin Reservoir. More on that another time. Here is a previous mention of the Quabbin winter sunset.

For now, with Veteran’s Day upon us tomorrow, which was of course originally Armistice Day commemorating the end of World War I, we have this simple town honor roll which stands in front of the Swift River Valley Historical Society in North New Salem, Massachusetts. There are honors rolls standing here for the other three towns of Prescott, Greenwich, and Dana as well.

You’ll note at the top, the servicemen are honored for their sacrifices in “the World War.” They did not know there would be another World War to follow in another generation, but these towns would not exist by that time. Enfield’s timeline came to an abrupt end at the stroke of one midnight many decades ago. So, there really would never be another war.

For more on the Swift River Valley Historical Society, an invaluable resource which contains a museum of artifacts from the valley towns, have a look at this website.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Shunpike - Charlemont, Mass.

Still lingering in Charlemont, Mass. (see Tuesday’s post on the Bissell Bridge), we come upon this historical marker for the “Shunpike.” You can read for yourself that it marks the spot on the colonial road (now called The Mohawk Trail by the tourism industry and called Rte 2 and Rte. 8A by the mapmakers), where 18th century travelers forded the Deerfield River rather than pay a toll to cross over the bridge.

This boycotting took place in 1797, and the movement it began led to the establishment of toll-free travel in Massachusetts by 1810. The 20th century brought us new tolls on the Mass. Pike, but that’s another story.

This Mohawk Trail was originally a footpath carved out of the woods by the natives, then hacked out into an ox road by the English settlers. While this historical marker might seem to reinforce the legend of Yankee tightfistedness, we might remember that so-called “shunpikes” (because you were shunning the turnpike toll), popped up in various other parts of the U.S. as well. This might have been the first, but was by no means the last.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bissell Covered Bridge - Charlemont, Mass.

This is the Bissell Covered Bridge in Charlemont, western Massachusetts. If you look through the trusses you can just about see the small open bridge behind it. It almost looks like a symbol of the feud between past and present, but it’s really emblematic of the future, the kind of future we choose.

The Bissell Covered Bridge, this one, was built in 1951. There had been an earlier bridge here built in 1880, but was condemned in the 1940s. When the town chose to replace the bridge, they decided to replace it not with a modern open bridge, but with another covered bridge. The wood is Douglas fir from Oregon, and shingles are cedar.

This bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in 1995, and would have been replaced by the state with a modern open bridge, except Charlemont said no thank you in no uncertain terms. A stalemate lasted some 14 years while the state built that temporary bridge in the background, and the town continued to push for the renovation of the covered bridge, in the foreground. The bridge in the foreground won.

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, the one-span Bissell Covered Bridge is a variation of a Long Truss style, 92 feet in length. It was re-opened to vehicular traffic only about six months ago after a two-year restoration. (In responding to a comment on covered bridges opened only to foot traffic in this post on the Arthur A. Smith bridge, I mistakenly referred to the Bissell as being currently open only to foot traffic. I also mistakenly referred to it as being in Conway. Never rely on memory.)

So, drive your car on over to Charlemont and over the bridge, but then walk back. It’s worth a closer look.