Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ice and Fog, Mist and Mountains: Photographs of Quabbin in March

The long view is clouded in the sulky immediacy of ice-out fog; the mist both bridal veil and funeral shroud: Spring born on the last breath of frost.

And tho' the seasons may be counted, the curtain of human uncertainty prevails and filters the future, line of sight lassoed into a tight and constant radius. One must step into the cloud or stand still, an unread letter in an envelope of white.

What is over there? What is on the other side of opaque? Gypsies and wanderers wrap themselves in the warm blanket of fog, moving through the haze like ghosts searching for home, questions looking for answers.

Contours and curves reveal themselves in the gradual lilting dance of elements. Spin with arms spread wide, fingertips reaching: This is your world. The known, the seen, the touchable and changeable. The rest is fluff and fog swirling about in a constant perimeter governed by one's own paralysis or progress. Who knows tomorrow? We may.

The planet is a gracious host despite her unruly guests, sharing party favors of ice and water, earth and sky; though she'd revolve just as surely and steadily as a barren rock for eons still were she to turn a cold orb and shrug her visitors out the door. And it matters not to her.

Moments come to pass of misty clarity, distances discerned with a reasonable certainty of truth and calculated measurement. The flat path or the mountain climb reveal themselves as choices, the way slipping again into the siren shroud of the unknowable with the first step of the embarking soul. Other roads are for other lives. This we discover.

Etch-a-sketch landscape, ever-changing, murky pitfalls scooped in sand caught lurking as the trap-door cloud of camouflage slides back over the complicit reservoir. The restless spirits of Quabbin are scarcely contained within the confines of her banks and boundaries: Their strength erodes and expands limits frailly imposed by man.

And at the end of the day, looking back on the hike, revealed is what once was hidden. The fog rolls out, rocks smooth to sand and the road rising ahead is bathed in light and easily trod. The way home from a journey taken. We rest there. Wait for the others to emerge from the mist.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

Photographs taken in Petersham, Massachusetts, March 29, 2003.

More about Quabbin Reservoir on EWM: The Quabbin Page.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Postcards: Court Street, Westfield, Massachusetts

Here are a few postcards from Westfield's Court Street at the turn of the twentieth century from the Barbara Shaffer collection. Thanks for sharing with us Barbara!

When this postcard was mailed from Westfield to South Deerfield on November 12, 1921, the Westfield State Normal School building at 59 Court Street was just months away from its thirtieth anniversary of stony silent service in the advancement of education. Dedicated on June 21, 1892, the following autumn brought eager students across new thresholds as regular classes commenced in the fresh facilities. The building - erected at a cost of $150,000 - was constructed in response to a burgeoning student body that had stretched the walls of the former school building on the corner of Washington and School Streets. In 1956, the school quit the Court Street building for a new campus on Western Avenue, turning the structure over to the City of Westfield (which still utilizes the monolith as municipal offices) for the grand sum of one dollar. The multi-medium, Romanesque edifice achieved architectural rock'n'roll star status on March 8, 1978, when it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the first building in Westfield to gain that distinction.

The Westfield State Normal School dormitory of Dickinson Hall on the Court Street campus was a mere five years old - new by most folks' standards- when this postcard was stamped on September 20, 1908. The sender is obviously pleased with her accommodations and, better yet, is expecting a friend to join her on her adventure. "N. E. W." writes to Marietta in North Adams (c/o North Adams Normal School): "I have marked our room. Don't you think it is a beauty. Was glad you may be sure to get your postal." Ah, the wistful stirrings dusted up by ink dried long a year; a century and life passed for good and bad as sure as the sun rose this morn'.

At the time this postcard was dropped in the mail on its way from Westfield to Belleville, New York on November 4, 1910, the house in the foreground, 81 Court Street, was in the middle of its second decade of occupation. Built in 1894 at a cost of $5,000, the home's original owner was William Lyman. This view of Upper Court Street is very much the same today, the homes retaining their elegance and charm assisted by the loving touch of a new generation, descendant at the dawn of another century's turn. History lives.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

For more Westfield postcards, check out the previous EWM posts:

'Postcards: Westfield, Massachusetts; July 22, 2007'

'Postcards: The Green, Westfield, Massachusetts; August 31, 2007'

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Map: Bird's-eye View of Westfield, Massachusetts, 1875

Who doesn't like looking at an old map? Well, I suppose a traveler on a new highway might not, but hey, if you're using a bird's eye view from 1875 to navigate now, here's three letters for you: G - P - S. Not that I own one of the newfangled devices, but then again, I tend to stick to the old, well-worn highways and byways anyway. 'Tis always a gift to spot the new along a familiar road.

This O. H. Bailey & Company map of Westfield, Massachusetts in 1875 has lots of interesting features. The racetrack on the corner of Main and Meadow Streets, the remnants of the old New Haven- Northampton Canal running alongside the railroad tracks through downtown and the covered bridges over the Westfield River are but a few. This map also shows the area of North Elm Street at Depot Square before the railroad tracks were raised (in 1896) and the road dug out beneath them. What is today the dead-end of Old Pochassic Street can be seen on the map as the road leading to the old bridge spanning the railroad tracks. All in all, it's a neat map to peruse. Unless, of course, you're lost in the 21st century.

For more maps - old and new- of Western Massachusetts and beyond, take a look at the EWM page 'Trails, Rails & Roads: Maps,' an exclusive feature always accessible via sidebar link.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

Map source: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division; Westfield 1875. C.H. Vogt Lith.; J. Knauber & Co. Printers; O. H. Bailey & Co. Pub.;

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Federal Theatre Project Visits Mt. Park Casino

The taxpayer-funded Works Progress Administration's (WPA) Federal Theatre Project put some of the nation's unemployed actors to work during the last depression. Writers and artists, too, were sustained through those lean years by the massive get-to-work WPA program, instituted by executive order in 1935 and funded with a nearly five billion dollar initial outlay by Congress. Public works projects commenced, as well, under the auspices of the WPA. According to Indiana State University's Lilly Library WPA web page:
"By March, 1936, the WPA rolls had reached a total of more than 3,400,000 persons; after initial cuts in June 1939, it averaged 2,300,000 monthly; and by June 30, 1943, when it was officially terminated, the WPA had employed more than 8,500,000 different persons on 1,410,000 individual projects, and had spent about $11 billion. During its 8-year history, the WPA built 651,087 miles of highways, roads, and streets; and constructed, repaired, or improved 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, 8,192 parks, and 853 airport landing fields."
Folks in Western Massachusetts benefited from many of the economic stimuli the federal government was using to try to kick start a hungry nation way back when. Roads and parks, plays and displays...somehow America muddled through those hard times to get more hard times. Well, okay then. Here we are. Let's build some cool stuff. Let's fix some roads and bridges. Let's clear some trails. Let's not forget the artists and most of all: Let's laugh. It's free.

Here are some posters from the WPA Federal Theatre Project - found in the archives of the Library of Congress - advertising shows at Mountain Park Casino, Holyoke, Massachusetts.

July, 1938

August, 1938

September, 1938

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

More on Mt. Tom and Mountain Park from EWM:

A Ride on the Mt. Tom Railroad, Holyoke
Holyoke, Massachusetts: Mountain Park (c1900-1915)
A Misty Morning on the Bray Loop Trail

Poster sources:

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