Monday, June 27, 2011

War of the Worlds

From Dave Brigham:

Water Tower #3

In Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds," Martians land in Grover's Mill, NJ, and began killing folks. Because some people in the sleepy burg weren't aware that the broadcast was a radio play, they shot up a water tower that they mistook for one of the massive invaders.

As I stood under this tower, located near the grounds of Golda Meir House, a senior Jewish community in Newton, MA, I could understand their fear. Looming above an apartment complex, trolley station and country club, the tower is quite imposing.

The tower is owned by the city. It's unclear if it's still in use.

Water Tower #2

Water Tower #1

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Gut

From Mick Melvin:

I was driving in my adopted hometown of Downingtown, PA, (I was born in New Jersey) and thought I would drive past my old house. As most of you know by now, I love nostalgia. Downingtown is an old paper mill town along the Brandywine River, which was the site of many battles in the Revolutionary War. The town is a mixture of 18th century stone homes and new mega-houses.

On the way to my destination, I saw this old rundown house with the words "No Trespassing" spray painted on the front.

No Trespasing

I remember driving by this house a million times. It has steadily declined over the years. The house is right next to the former home of the Anderson family, which are still friends of my family to this day. These houses are located in a section of town known as "the Gut."

The Gut was a small stretch of road with about 10 or so homes. Most of the families who lived in the Gut were African American. Many of the homes were in decline, which is probably the reason it was called the Gut.

The houses up the hill from the Gut were more modern and up to date homes; we lived "up the hill." When coming from Downingtown, we had to drive up the hill and through the Gut to get to our house. I remember my father telling me that the real estate agent didn't want to take him that route for fear of seeing that section of town. It ends up that it was one of the major selling points for my parents.

As it turns out, the families we met in the Gut will be friends of ours for life. The Boggs, Smith, Simpson, Walls and the Anderson families to name a few. My family always lived in the white neighborhoods (up the hill), but our parents made sure we lived close to other African Americans so we would understand and appreciate our culture. I basically lived in two worlds growing up, the white and the black. As a result, I have friends and acquaintances from many cultures in Downingtown.

Home Sweet Home???

I'm so glad my parents picked that location, because it exposed me to those cultures. Seeing that house reminds me of a time when I was trying to figure "it" all out. It comes down to the fact that we are all connected no matter the color of our skin. Taking pictures in my old stomping grounds brought back memories of a childhood with many good friends and a lot of lessons learned. If any of those families get to read this, I'd like to say thank you for all the love and the life lessons I gained because I lived up the hill from the Gut.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Play Ball?

From Dave Brigham:

I love baseball. Always have, always will. I'm a lifelong Red Sox fan; I played Little League, Babe Ruth, and, when I turned 40, old-guy baseball. I coached my son's first Little League team last year, and go to every one of his games now to cheer him on and encourage him and his teammates.

So one recent day as I was driving past Officer Bobby Braceland Playground in my adopted hometown of Newton, MA, I turned in to the parking lot to see what was beyond the nicely groomed baseball diamond I could see. I knew, from an earlier exploratory drive on the opposite side of the Charles River, in Needham, that there was something down the slope from the baseball field.

The first thing I saw was this frame for a batting cage.

Bent batting cage

Little League is a pretty big deal in most corners of Newton, so I was surprised to see the condition of this cage. I thought at first that perhaps it just needed a little TLC and that it would be up before too long, witness to the sweet crack of wooden bats. But then I saw the netting, and realized nobody had taken any cuts here in quite some time, and likely wouldn't in the foreseeable future.

Batting cage netting

And judging by the nearby snack shack, nobody was grabbing a mid-game cheeseburger, Slushie or pack of sunflower seeds either.

Defaced concession stand

I walked down the slope, past the sad batting cage, and toward the field at the bottom of the hill. There, I found a diamond that looked more like an emerald: all green. No more dirt.

Home plate/no dirt or plate

Heck, even the lone baseball I found had seen better days.

Torn leather

I wandered along the fence that separated the field from the Charles River, wondering how many times kids had to scramble over to fetch foul balls or home runs or ground-rule doubles. I almost ran into something jutting out of a bush. Took me a minute to recognize the elements of a bench upon which proud parents had once watched games.

Broken and overgrown bench

I was a little bummed. My mood wasn't helped by my conversation with a woman who was letting her dogs run through the outfield. "What are you taking pictures of?" she asked. "I like to take pictures of places that have been forgotten, like old buildings or baseball fields," I answered. Not my best answer.

"Oh...OK," she answered with a smirk.

"That's my thing," I answered flatly.

Still, I didn't leave feeling completely bummed about the fact that this field had evidently been turned into a dog park.

Because love was in the air.

The Aussie Loves You

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Graffiti Train

Dave Brigham:

Trains have become a big part of my life in recent years. My son, who just turned 9, has loved subway trains for a few years now. Of late, he's started getting into commuter rail trains and Amtrak trains. The two of us have taken countless trips on Boston's MBTA system, photos from which I've posted in these pages (see August 30, 2010 "Going Underground" and November 4, 2010 "Can You Ever Get Enough of Train Tracks?").

I love our journeys, because I get to see parts of the Greater Boston area you can't see from side roads and highways. A jaunt through the tunnels of the Green Line is a trip back in time. You travel through tunnels that are more than 100 years old, and see evidence of tracks that have been discontinued, and trains that no longer work. The Red Line parallels Route 93 South out of Boston, offering views of the Backside of Dorchester. Take the Orange Line north out of Boston and you get to see the underside of an assortment of highways and ramps, and get close up to the Boston Sand & Gravel company, and the various freight and commuter tracks that abound.

Recently, after a trip to the fabulous Ward Maps store in Cambridge, where I bought some nice MBTA-themed birthday gifts for my son, I had a bit of time on my hands before picking up my daughter from preschool. So I decided to venture across Cambridge to seek out some spots to take pictures in neighboring Somerville.

I spent a few years living in the one-time auto theft capital of America, and had cruised around aimlessly many years ago. I headed to the Inner Belt area, where I knew there were a bunch of warehouses, auto body shops, factories and train tracks (I learned while writing this piece, that the area is named for a planned six-lane, limited-access highway that would have run through parts of Somerville, Boston, Cambridge and Brookline, but that was shot down in the early '70s after protests by neighbors and then-Gov. Francis Sargent's moratorium on highway construction inside Route 128.).

I found some interesting sites in the Inner Belt, but nothing that really grabbed my eye. So I drove on. Soon, I found myself on New Washington Street. Just after passing a Brazilian restaurant called Cafe Belo, I spied a few box cars by the side of the road.

Box cars #1

I found it odd that they were just sitting there, in plain sight, covered in rust and graffiti.

Box cars #3

As I walked around snapping pictures, I realized that these old cars were functioning as an outdoor office or rest area of sorts.

Somerville Box Car

Box cars #2

Because these box cars are so close to the road, and in an exposed area near the above-mentioned restaurant and a recently opened dog park, I doubt they're providing shelter for homeless people. It's more likely that the trash I saw was put there by workers from the MBTA, which owns the cars. I conducted a Google map search of New Washington Street, and when I clicked on "street view," saw two different cars in the same spot where I took these pictures. So obviously the MBTA moves cars around and uses this area as a holding spot.

I suspect next time I swing by, I'll find two different photo subjects.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Roadside Attractions?

From Kristen Smith:

Maybe you haven’t noticed them, but they’re there, peering out as you whiz by. Once you pick up on them though, they seem to come out from the shadows to haunt you. Mysterious. Odd. Mournful. Ramshackle. Puzzling. Even whimsical. Yeah, I’m talking about those weird little shacks on the side of the road that make you go “hmmmm.” At least that’s what they do to me.

This one (somewhere in Vermont), for example, had a sink in that little turret part and a bed and armchair in the main section. Even a tiny breezeway with cabinets on the wall. All decrepit now and totally falling apart, but just look at it. So cool.

Fractured Fairytale

For years I’ve been photographing them. They fascinate me. Strange structures now falling into disuse and decay. Who built them? Why? When? Sometimes it’s obvious, like this old greenhouse in Plymouth NH. Someone put a lot of love and attention into it once. It had lots of shelves and plenty of work-space, hooks overhead, nice windows and even electricity.


Sometimes, well, less obvious is a kind phrase. Most of the time I have no idea what the heck I’m looking at. A kid’s playhouse? A little shack to protect a well or some machinery like a pump? Tool shed? Take this example: the door isn’t full sized, but the window is. It’s next to a pond right by the side of the road.

Roadside Attraction

No idea. I love the four-sided roof, though. Wintertime is the best season for spotting them, for obvious reasons. Sometimes you can see one well back from the road that isn’t ordinarily visible. Those are tougher to photograph in winter, but more interesting to explore once the snow melts. I’ll stop and check them out even while on vacation, like this amazing house in rural Montana. The lure of The Backside is ever-present.

Abandoned house from above

Monday, June 6, 2011


From Dave Brigham:

I live in Newton, Mass., which despite its proximity to Boston, manages to squeeze in some nice little nature outposts. Still, while wandering through the woods, I'm always aware of how close to civilization I am. I can hear airplanes, busy roads, lawn care guys, dogs barking, you name it. But it's nice to get in among the trees and bugs and birds even for a little while.

Recently, I ventured into Kennard Park, which, according to its web site, "is a post-agricultural forest grown up on 19th century farmland." As such, the park contains some nice stone walls.

Used to be farmland


Nevertheless, there are plenty of signs of current-day civilization. I'm guessing somebody left this behind while collecting berries.

Forgotten basket

And once you venture out to the park's perimeter, you find a few entrances that butt up right against pleasant neighborhoods.

Pleasant entrance/exit

Nonetheless, it was a nice walk.