Saturday, October 30, 2010

Washington Tower @ Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge

Looking at Bigelow Chapel from the tower

Named after the first president, Washington Tower is situated at a hill on Mt Auburn Cemetery. This not-creepy-at-all cemetery was founded in 1831, and the 62ft (19m) tall tower was completed in 1854, taking two years of stacking the Quincy granite. 

The tower is the best place in Boston metropolitan area to see leaves changing color; it's free, nice, quiet, and damn close. Why reserve a hotel room in Vermont months 'n years ahead? (Well, because we can visit Ben & Jerry's factory.)  Here are the views from the tower over three month, recording how the leaves change color:

August 30

October 13

October 22

October 29

I hope someone with acrophobia or my friend who missed visiting Boston this autumn enjoy the view. Season's  greetings from me:

Happy Halloween!

Locate Washington Tower @ Google Map

Friday, October 22, 2010

Metropolitan State Hospital, Waltham

(Continues from Metfern Cemetery, Waltham 2-2)

Now for rent.

Few thousand dollars a month.

A former psychiatric hospital is now available as apartment housing. The majority of the hospital wards was razed when renovating in 2007, but the chronic care ward somewhat keeps its original rectangular building layout and enclosed yard. Only the administration building named Dr. William F. McLaughlin Building is preserved, no, left to be abandoned for some reason.   

On the way back from Metfern Cemetery -- where the patients of Metropolitan State Hospital and Fernald State School between 1947 and 1979 are buried -- I dropped off by the former administration building. Metropolitan State Hospital was founded in 1927 and closed its door in 1992 as a part of privatization.

As I wrote above, the renovation started in 2007, now available as apartment for rent. The first time I came across the trend converting disused, architecturally imposing or intimidating asylums into condominiums was in Cork, Ireland, sometimes around in 2004.

While I was living in London for a brief moment of my life, I was surprised by the abandoned churches converted to luxury condos. Real estate industry was booming and I had an impression that every parcel of the land has to be utilized as something commercially viable. Realtors were aggressively speculating how their properties, or products, stand out from competitors, creating all the lifestyle psyche about living in somewhere historically significant. So they kicked out the homeless who sought abandoned churches as a shelter and built condos, nice one, too.

On the entrance: what are those wooden boards?
Looking above: oh, I see...
I'm not particularly a religious or spiritual person, but the concept of converting a church or any sort of hospital into housing complex puzzles me (note: it is my personal observation. At the end of the day, it is personal liberty to choose where to live. On the other hand, I also have a liberty to examine, hell it's interesting!) But why does it puzzle me? That's the question...

Church and hospital are closely related to death. No, they are believed to be closer than the rest (remember, I grew up in Hiroshima.) The distinction of life and death is sharply contrasted, and the two have to be separated. Why does the very sick have to face the moment of death in hospital? Why do people meet the deceased at a funeral home or church? Is a wake carried out in the US, or is it even possible to do so? As long as death is deemed as societal taboo that has to be separated from our everyday life, church and hospital are the most likely the place one meets the dead.

But the case with psychiatric hospitals is more puzzling. They are indeed more close to death than our everyday life; even at McLean Hospital -- a mental hospital for the elite and famous situated only a mile apart from the MSH -- bathroom mirrors are made of metal so that patients won't attempt killing themselves (from Gracefully Insane.) But there is something more about those redbrick buildings.

The very nature of the institution, if I dare to use an antiquated expression, confinement of the insane is the core of my feeling attached to these hospital buildings. Before the arrival of psychiatric medication, patients were physically separated from the rest of society for a long period of time or the rest of his/ her life.

But what is insanity? How do we define it? Single mothers of the 19th century (added on Dec. 18: it is more likely a case in the early 20th century. Please refer to: Our Lady's Hospital, Cork, Ireland.) were regarded as insane (as long as I know, it happened in the UK and Ireland.) The definition can be awfully changing depends on the time, place, and situation. Until recently, the identities -- faces and names -- of patients were left out to be sadly obscure in Massachusetts; like the gravestones with numbers, signifying that they are best to be kept as unknown as a taboo resembles to our notion of death.

The remain of Metropolitan State Hospital is historically and architecturally significant. But for me, it is heavily connected to indifference, injustice, sadness, and indescribable fear representated by the gravestones with numbers whose identities are reduced to either Catholic or Protestant.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Metfern Cemetery, Waltham 2-2

Continues from Metfern Cemetery, Waltham 1-2

After many encounters, doubts, questions, and arguments, we were finally able to reach Metfern Cemetery, the final resting place for the patients from Metropolitan State Hospital (now defunct psychiatric hospital) and Walter E. Fernald State School (an institution for people with developmental disabilities) located somewhere in the nature trail in Waltham, MA.

As the sign on the cemetery entrance shows, the MSH and Fernald patients between 1947 and 1979 are buried here. The number of burials differs depends on the source, but there are over 300 headstones sorted by "C + number" as Catholics, and "P + number" as Protestants (I first thought the P stands as "P"atients.) There are four gravestones with names, and the years of birth and death (and one of them needs a serious maintenance.)

An alter roughly divides the Catholic and Protestant plot. I thought there is a sculpture of a candle on the alter. But looking at the pictures I took, it is more likely a remain of a statue snapped out from the bottom.

As a person outside of Christianity, I was wondering why the distinction between the two beliefs mattered more than the patients' individual identities.

My husband, Brian, was following after me while I was investigating the cemetery. But after he saw steps only existed on the Protestant side, a guy from a "small" Irish family sat on the other side and began to read a book. For him, the steps are the luxury only available to Protestants.

As I returned from the Protestant side, he was looking at a gravestone of an Irish baby girl. He seemed to be feeling closer to her because she was born only a year different from him. Considering from her young age, she might have been at Fernald. As I imagined her short life, I was remembering what I read from a brilliant book about a life of a Catholic boy who wrongfully put in the institution during the 50's.

There was a new cross in front of the alter contributed by the ex-children of the Gaebler (the MSH branch for youths.) They must have visited the Gaebler building before the demolition, and then stopped by the graveyard with the cross. We all should remember a thoughtful note from them: "Though your names are not known, Your lives will never be forgotten..." 


Continues to: Metropolitan State Hospital, Waltham
Locate Metfern Cemetery @ Google map

P.S.: On the way back from the cemetery...

I've never seen a snake here in the US before. I deem it as a symbol of immortality.  

A direction to Metfern Cemetery (good one, too):  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Metfern Cemetery, Waltham 1-2

If you are interested in the history of Massachusetts (or even American) psychiatric institutions, Trapelo Road is the place to go. 

Around the narrow road that cuts through a genteel, wooded residential area of Waltham and Belmont is indeed a home of McLean Hospital (a private psychiatric hospital that treated Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace and other notable people), Walter E. Fernald State School (est. 1888, formerly known as Fernald School for the Feebleminded), the Metropolitan State Hospital (a public psychiatric hospital est. 1927) and the Gaebler Children's Center (est. 1955, the MSH's branch for youths. Sadly, it is under demolition as of writing.) 

The Metropolitan and Fernald patients deceased between 1947 and 1979 are buried in the Cemetery. The site is tucked in a nature path along Trapelo Road, and it is a little mystery (and hike) to get there. A mystery often requires an accomplice for many reasons, I managed to coax my husband to help me.

It was a gorgeous autumn day. I parked my car at a baseball field off Trapelo Road with no apparent confidence, and stepped awkwardly into a wooded area holding a flower bouquet I bought from a nearby supermarket.

Sort of a path in the middle, right?
Holding a trail map, I was scratching my head. Where are we? But as soon as I saw a red brick building under demolition, I realized where we are: the Gaebler!

The interior is completely gutted...
 Waiting for a wrecking ball ...

The ruin momentarily appears from a thick wood always fascinated me, but the sign of NO TRESPASSING on Trapelo Road entrance discouraged me from investigating the place (I even saw two police cars on the parking lot on the Google satellite map.) Well, it's fortunate I finally had a chance to observe the building from a distance on the last moment. Let's keep going!

... I thought I knew where I'm heading to, but I didn't expect to get to a water tower. We are going to be trapped in the woods, forever!!

And we spray paint with freak kids over and over...

"Hello," a woman with skis and poles talked to us. "Why is she skiing without snow, the world is upside down," I was thinking. I looked twice; it was the one with caterpillars. I think we are back from the Twilight Zone.

I think...

Demolition  begins on Waltham 's 58-year-old Gaebler School: Wicked Local Waltham, Nov. 15, 2010 (added on Nov. 29)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sahara Syrian Restaurant, South End

Is the Sahara in Syria? A thought came up to my mind. An abandoned red brick building in a decidedly “hip” Boston neighborhood provokes a kitschy Geo-confusion like, say, “Geisha-bar Beijing”. A restaurant sign with a vintage typography tells you that this place has been closed for a long time.

The South End used to be a Syrian neighborhood. A little web search showed me that the building has been abandoned for at least 43 years. Folks who spent the time there remember it used to be a “swank nightclub type” place catered for romantic occasions. The property is owned by a Syrian grocery store on the same street which used to operate the Sahara business.

The Syrian grocery store & a trendy shop

A few Syrians linger around the area, but the current demographic groups are Puerto Ricans and young white middle-classes transplanted from the Republic of American Suburbs. It was a weekday afternoon, and a young Caucasian mother with a baby strap and pure-breed dog passed by the street. What kind of people patronize the dog biscuit boutique down there, I was thinking…

The neighborhood has gone through gentrification...
and Urban Renewal

“¿Hablas espaƱol?” A guy with a worried face talked to me. “No, I don’t, sorry…” I answered, thinking how silly I am answering him in English.

I admit I speak English with Japanese accent. This burdensome personal complex makes me feel I cannot be other than Japanese in the States, trapped in an unbreakable demographic differentiation.

On the other hand, Latinos talk to me in Spanish, cashiers in Korean supermarkets talk to me in Korean, and even a Japanese hair dresser pointed out my awkward Japanese. Strangely, I feel relieved from the sense of ethnic isolation when people talk to me in their native languages.

So, what’s the conclusion? Yeah, Syria, Sahara…what’s the difference, man. We are all friends! … No, stop being a hippie, there is a difference…

Locate Sahara Syrian Restaurant @ Google Map

Villa Victoria: The Transformation of Social Capital in a Boston Barrio by Mario Luis Small