Thursday, December 30, 2010

The doorway to 2011

Somewhere on a Waltham nature path, nearby the site of Gaebler Children's Center.

I was tempted to get inside of the fridge, close the door, and wait what would happen.

But I had a feeling next time I see the sunshine is...

Well well, this will be the last posting in 2010. It's been quite a fun, in a non conventional way.

May hope things in the world will get better in 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Our Lady's Hospital, Cork, Ireland

(Pictures taken in 2003)

Princess Ann's 
Bull Terrier
Queen's Corgi

A tabloid said. It was 2003 Christmas, and the first time I set my foot in Ireland. It was a bumpy but memorable overnight travel from London by a train, ferry, bus, then train; a guy with a mullet playing rock music on the ferry, children dancing. Passengers on the bus so sleepy... or pissed that couldn't tell...or gave a damn about an exit and entry. In the dawn, a horse was scratching its back in a mud field. Crumbling ruins in the countryside...

Looking the interior through a broken window

An abandoned psychiatric hospital called Our Lady's Hospital (or Eglington Asylum, the Cork District Lunatic Asylum, etc.) sits on a river bank on the outskirts of Cork, Ireland. It is literally situated on the boundary between the town and country. As driving a car, my aunt-in-law told me that it is renowned as "the longest hospital in Europe".

Completed in 1853 by a local architect William Atkins, this Gothic revival hospital must have functioned as a watchdog for the Catholic morality. I mean, "You've been a baaaaad girl, I'll bring you to the loony bin on the hill" type of deal. Well, the statement is not far fetched because my uncle-in-law -- who brought me and Brian to the hospital -- told us that unwed mothers used to be chained there.

Looking the interior through a broken window

No way, I thought.

"They are fixing the hospital to make an apartment."

Double no way.

The vision of an unwed mother chained in a desolate cell haunted me. Why having an out-of-wedlock child regarded as "insane"? That's beyond absurd and an outright violation of human rights, I thought. Anyway, it's not fair the guy spilled seeds unpunished.

But I was not aware of the influence of the Catholic Church in Irish society, functioning as the social and moral framework. Father Ted didn't teach me about that!    

Is it true that unwed mothers in Ireland were held in lunatic asylums? I started researching, and found that there were numerous workhouses for unwed mothers and other "fallen women", not only in Ireland but also in Scotland, England and even in the US (note: they were not necessarily Catholic institutions).

For example, at the infamous Magdalene Asylums, women held there were forced to engage with laundry work in order to "wash away their sin":
The laundries got their name from Mary Magdalene, the fallen woman who became one of Jesus' closest followers. They began 150 years ago as homes to rehabilitate prostitutes. But by the early 20th century, the role had been expanded to care for unwed mothers and other young women the church considered to be wayward. -- from
In accordance with the expansion, the institutional character became increasingly punitive in Ireland. Here is the documentary about Irish women who spent their time in the asylum, separated from their babies and constantly humiliated and abused by the nuns:

Why did the attitude towards unwed mothers become more punitive and organized in the early 20th century? In Ireland, the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 gave the church a further opportunity to stigmatize the unwed mothers by systematically managing them; the workhouses for fallen women were separated by "first-time offenders" and "multiple offenders". To avoid the separation with their children and social stigma, many mothers fled to England.

The concerns over unwed mothers were not limited in Ireland; in 1921, the City of Boston established a residence for unwed mother in Long Island, taking a place of a poorhouse that had established in 1891.

But all the cases were in workhouses, not lunatic asylums. I was thinking my uncle-in-law must have been told an exaggerated story from his folks.

Removed window boards looked like gravestones

Sorry, Tom. I was wrong.

I finally found confirmed cases in Yorkshire, England, where women with illegitimate children were sent to psychiatric hospitals:

Lucy Baker was sent to St Catharine's hospital in Doncaster in 1921. At the time of filming in 1972, she was released from the hospital and at an old people's home. But this 75 year-old Yorkshire accented grandma had spent 51 years of her life in the mental hospital.

She wasn't sent to St Catharine's immediately. She became pregnant by meeting a married man. At first, her parents were helping her by taking care of her baby while she was working at a local mill as a weaver.

Three years later, she again became pregnant from a different guy. This time, her father sent her to a workhouse, and her second child was born. Separated from her children, the situation "got on my nerve", she said. Her written pleads to be released from the workhouse were rejected. As anyone with a right mind would do, she escaped from the workhouse. When she was found, the authority put her into St Catharine's. The documentary also interviewed  a grandma in St Catharine's who had three illegitimate children.

I am surprised that the case I found was in the early 20's; I was expecting to find sometimes around, say, the mid-19th century.

In Ireland, the establishment of the Irish Free State would be the main reason, but it is not limited in Ireland. The reaction to the Suffragettes movement? Flappers must have raised an eyebrow of an American conservative. But I think the growing popularity of eugenics in the early 20th century must have given authorities an excuse to punish, and eventually eradicate the unwanted segment of population with a back up of "science". Here is a kind of discourse prevailed against unwed mothers:
The unmarried mother was perceived as doubly deviant. Not only was she a threat to the social order, but her child could be infected with deviant genes and perpetuate the threat in future generations. -- Crime, punishment and the search for order in Ireland (Italicized by S.K.)
A female as a reproductive sex bore some of the tremendous burdens eugenics created. In the US, the movie Black Stork was released in 1917, leading to Carrie Buck who was compulsorily sterilized in 1927.

In England, the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act was greatly influenced by the burgeoning eugenics. Many like Lucy Baker were labeled as  "individuals with loose morals" under the act. No matter how eugenics were praised as the beacon of rational science, it is impossible to rationalize morality; it belongs to the realm of muddy, subjective, ephemeral world of human minds.   

So now, Our Lady's Hospital is converted to an apartment complex. I am generally cautious about converting historic asylums to for-profit establishments (i.e.: Metropolitan State Hospital). Whether the building is architecturally significant or beautiful, the symbolism contained in those walls is too sad and grave to glamorize it as a tool signifying a luxurious life style. On the other hand, I don't want to see abandoned psychiatric hospitals being razed just because people don't want to face the uncomfortable past...It's the dilemma keeps me being interested in those ruins.

I don't know what kind of folks live there now. Correct me if wrong, but I have a feeling it's not the Cork natives' first choice. When I visited Ireland in 2003, the economy was booming; there must have been a steady influx of EU professionals to the town. Now? I have no idea, ask the Bank of Ireland.

Thanks for reading my long due lengthy memory and thoughts, and Merry Christmas!

Locate Our Lady's Hospital @ Google Map

The Magdalen Asylum, Co. Cork.: Abandoned Ireland (Check out the picture of gravestones on the last page, it's sadly horrifying...)
The Magdalene Laundry:
Sex in a Cold Climate: YouTube
Wasted Lives: YouTube
Crime, punishment and the search for order in Ireland by Shane Kilcommins: Google books
Planning for life by Liam Concannon: Google books

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

J.R.'s Con' Enie Subs, Somerville

What is "Con' Enie"? Please somebody explain it to this non-native speaker.

"With Enie"? An abbreviation of "convenience"? I assume it's the latter, but I've never heard of that expression before. A dapper slang back in the day? What day?

Somehow this space makes me feel I've stuck in the fifties

This abandoned funky sub shop is off the Grove-Cedar Bikepath, nearby the site of the International Paper Company. I've been walking around the bikepath to find any interesting industrial structures to imagine its railway past. I found this sub shop during the excursion.

Me, too

An old guy was at the intersection working as a school crossing guard. This nice grandpa helped me crossing the road; how can you decline his offer? But sir, I'm 31 year-old...

Look at the lovely brick work, removed signboard...A shuttered counter on the storefront must have offered a quick, "con' enie" lunch for the nearby factory workers alike. It could have been an after school hang around space for kids, too; it has that kind of vibe.

Do you see the faded "J.R." on the shutter?

There is little information about the store; When did it open? What kind of clientele? How long it's been closed? And of course, what is "Con' Enie"?

Locate J.R.'s Con' Enie Subs @ Google Map

Saturday, December 4, 2010

International Paper Company (site), Somerville

Then: Data unknown, from MACRIS database
Now: Dec. 2, 2010

Continuing from the previous two entries, I've been sketching the industrial past of the Minuteman Bikeway and its extensions.

The ruin of a gigantic paper box factory used to stand on a tip of a delta island created by the arrays of railways and ex-railways. I said "used to" because this iconic ruin is already demolished. I wish I took some pictures a year ago or so, but what is gone is gone. At least I can show you what is left. Good news is that there are cool pictures documenting the factory inside and out, and can be seen via Flicker like here and there.

From Google Street View retrieved on Nov. 29

The factory building was known as the International Paper Company because of the fading sign on the building. According to the MCRIS database, it was constructed in 1928 as "Agar Manufacturing Corrugated Box Co.". History suggests the site had been a brickyard before the construction of the factory. Anyway, the building was a paper box factory.

What surprised me was its size:

The above is a screen shot of a cleared site. The length of the factory must have been over 600ft (180m). Compare with the surrounding houses! While separated by train tracks (or the remain of them), how close the factory and the surrounding houses were, too.

Not only the size and the proximity to the surrounding houses but also the height of the factory was astonishing; it was well over roomy 4 stories. When I first saw the abandoned factory, I thought it was an engine shed because the site was adjacent to a junction of the two railroad services;  trains from Boston split off at the tip of the factory site to the Boston and Lowell Railroad (main line) or the Lexington and Arlington Railroad (the acquisition of the B&L ).

From Google Street View retrieved on Nov. 29

But for an engine shed, I guess the height of 4 stories is too much. Even for a paper box manufacturing, though. Were they manufacturing a cardboard house, or the capitalist's precursor of the Trabant

But I remembered that the J.H. Emerson's main office (an Iron Lung manufacturing company) was originally owned by the Climax Paper Box Company. The loft was built in 1909 and J.H. Emerson Co. took over the place by 1937 (from Cambridge Historical Commission in PDF). I guess many paper box companies clustered along the Lexington and Arlington Railroad, but why? That's an interesting question that I don't know yet.

The last passenger service of the Lexington and Arlington was in 1977, and the final freight service was in 1981.The L&A side of the train tracks has been cleared, making a way for the future Muniteman Bikeway extension that connects Lexington and Boston. However, the path beyond Cedar St is still unpaved and an off-limit.

The future bike path goes beyond Cedar St, the factory site on the left
The future bike path towards Cedar St, the factory site on the right
The Boston and Lowell Railroad tracks are still in use
Where the junction used to be. Can you see the B&L Railroad tracks?

When the bikeway extension is completed in the future, the factory site will be converted to something else. A public park, another condo? I'll keep on checking what is going to happen to the site.

Locate Intl. Paper Co. @ Google Map

Click picture to enlarge

MACRIS Database: Agar Manufacturing Corrugated Box Company Building
borisjason's Flicker:
dzm's Flicker:
City of Somerville: MaxPak Planning

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Somerville Electric Light Company, Somerville

Triggered by the previous post, I'm on a crusade to fill the pieces of industrial facilities along the Minuteman trail and its extensions, imagining the landscape of the area sometimes between the late 19th and mid 20th century. The Grove-Ceder section of the bikepath (a part of the Minuteman Trail Extensions that goes eastward from Davis Sq.) used to be a railroad track for the Lexington and Arlington Railroad established in 1870.

The path is filled with bikes, babies, grown-ups, and dogs on a sunny weekend

This main power station for the Somerville Electric Light Company (SELCO) was opened in 1889 and is still operating. By the time of the establishment, the adjacent railroad was owned by the Boston and Maine Railroad. Boston Edison Company took over the SELCO in 1903, and the Edison merged into NSTAR in 1999, so I guess this place is now owned by NSTAR.

Somebody please tell me the truth!

Speaking of the power station, do you know about Battersea Power Station in London? Doesn't ring a bell? How about Pink Floyd's album Animals? It's the most ginormous and awesome power station in the world, I swear. I felt as if I was struck by a lightning when I saw the disused power station from a train approaching to Victoria Station, thinking why a mock Greek temple in the middle of the industrial area around the Thames.

What a gray day it was, only in London...
The disused power station is nearby Victoria Station

On the contrary, the SELCO Generating Station reminds me a small electric substation for a tramway in Hiroshima; Hatsukaichi Electric Substation was built in 1922 and demolished in 2009. Because the city of Hatsukaichi is next to Hiroshima city, it temporary supplied the electricity for the tramways serviced in the area destroyed by the Atomic Bomb of 1945. The proximity to the residential area (whether the residents like it or not), train tracks...Why did they demolished it? 

Hatsukaichi Electric Substation: from Wikipedia
SELCO Generating Station
Look at the star-shaped iron wall supporters

Like Hatsukaichi Electric Substation was owned by a tramway company, I first thought the SELCO Generating Station has something to do with the railway right next to. But I realized an electric locomotion (not for a trolley or tram) was introduced to the US in 1895, while the station was built some six years before. Anyway, as the name Somerville Electric Light Co. suggests, it was built for supplying electricity for light, not for the railway.

Locate SELCO Generating Station @ Google Map

Click picture to enlarge

Somerville's first high-tech startup (PDF file) MACRIS database

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Emerson's Iron Lung and Quonset Hut, Cambridge

I have a slight touch of claustrophobia. I hate being trapped in a windowless space. I hate working at a department store, I hate a long haul economy class airplane trip. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. How much do I hate? I'll prove you, I didn't get Vertigo. I mean I felt sorry for the detective suffering from acrophobia, but I was more worried about the effect of excessive peroxide on Kim Novak's scalp.

Being stuck in an Iron Lung is one of the recent entries. The fear has germinated since I saw an Iron Lung at display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Looking at the picture of an airplane hanger like space filled with hundreds of Iron Lungs at the height of Polio outbreak, I had a strange sensation that the lives of children in the equipments were detached from human warmth; they weren't  human or even machine, something else that I cannot grasp...

Iron Lungs saved many lives, but the sensation of strong fear and rejection the children must have experienced is something I would never want to experience. I couldn't laugh when Lebowski  and Walter entered a room with an Iron Lung, while them plotting to beat the crap out of a kid who stole the Dude's car (and money.) However, I enjoyed the subsequent scene where the golf club flinging Walter destroys a red sports car with 'Nam related (?) moral talk.

Forgive my jerkiness, I'm feelin' nervous. Let me knit for a while...

I'm back. As you have already realized, my fear of Iron Lung is somewhat different from the detest of a department store and crappy airplane trip. A strange fascination with Iron Lung grew like a HeLa cell, and it had some meaning, I think. One day I stumbled upon the main office of the leading Iron Lung manufacturer, J. H. Emerson Co. during a walk in my neighborhood, just a pure chance.

the empty hut was making eerie creaking noise as a wind blows

The company's office and Quonset hut -- originally a military-use prefabricated steel structure developed in 1941 -- are located along the Minuteman Trail Extension, the former railway track for the Boston & Maine. A few creaky cylindrical equipments in the hut used to be visible from the sidewalk. I first thought they were just rusty boilers.

But the every clue was telling me what they are: the Quonset hut was a  popular structure during the Polio outbreaks of the 40's and 50's. The nearby  railway  provided the mode of transportation to the hospitals. The name Emerson rings a bell. And Boston as the center for the Polio treatment...The demand for the equipment was so high that the company possibly needed to install a prefabricated hut across the street to store more Iron Lungs.

How many children or adults spend a time in this Iron Lung? Are they all right now? Somehow a series of  thoughts came up to me during the dinner time and led to lose my appetite.

The company was sold in 2007, ten years after J. H. Emerson's death. The office and Quonset hut seem to be lying vacant, and a notice for the hearings regarding zoning changes implies that the Quonset hut is going away soon. The loft looks like an ideal candidate for a new condo project.

The Iron Lung is becoming the relic of the past. But the site is historically significant and needs more attention. Next time you are on the Cambridge section of the bike path (or a virtual tour via Google), look closely for the hut. They are in a quiet residential area and I beg you, don't trespass; I'm afraid there is nothing left in those buildings.

Locate Emerson's Quonset hut @ Google map

Cambridge Historical Commission (PDF file)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Round House, Somerville

This is a strange, ahem, unique house. Surrounded by typical three-story houses in Spring Hill, Somerville, this cylindrical oddity (oy!) has been under renovation since a local man purchased this abandoned house in 2007.

Originally, the Round House was owned by Enoch Robinson, who operated a prominent hardware manufacturing company. Built in 1856, this three story single family home contained an oval library and living room among with more conventional-shape kitchen and dining room on the 1st floor. 2nd and 3rd floor were consisted with bedroom and bathroom shaped like a divided piece of sliced pineapples in a tin. By the way, the diameter of the house -- how many times do I have an opportunity to say so -- is 40ft (13m).

A construction project is going on behind the Round House. I don't know it's the same operation as the renovation project, but they aren't going to raze the house, right? But look closely, the exterior of the 3rd floor, modillions, window heads, the order, etc.  have been refurbished.

Tinplates? It looks like air ducts jutting out with no apparent reason, no, I think they are battlements.

The current state of the interior is a big mystery to many. Originally, the interior was equipped with nice hardware due to the nature of Robinson's business. The roof was topped with a glass skylight, and the walls were decorated with "the French scenic wallpaper." (from Centers and Squares) It sounds like a house with full of fun.

Now (on the right is ex-Carr elementary school)
Vintage View of the Carr School in Spring Hill
Then: vintage post card from Centers & Squares

This month, I've been covering 1850's octagon-themed buildings. The Round House is a derivation of them, and I'll take it further next time: I'll cover possibly the first octagon cage ring built in the mid 19th century which hosted a match between Chuck Norris and the dude with star-spangled bad boy pants. I've heard about it few years ago and just found it's in my neighborhood. (Oy, can't you wait for 4 1/2 months?) Ah, I love Massachusetts!

Locate Round House @ Google Map
For the original floor plans, etc.: Centers & Squares