Monday, November 30, 2015

Revolution on Wheels, Part One

When Henry David Thoreau set out to explore the North Shore in September 1858 he walked from Salem to Gloucester with his friend John Russell. They rose early the next morning, continued on past Loblolly Cove to Rockport, then to Folly Cove where Halibut Point framed his view to the sea. 

Imagine if Henry had taken this sojourn twenty years later on wheels. He who disdained the extravagance of carriage and horse would have had at his disposal the first gift of technology to individual mobility, appropriately self-powered and self-reliant, the bicycle. Meandering or mad-capping Henry could have extended his geography without distancing himself from the wayside landscape.
By 1885 when John S. Webber, Jr. published In and around Cape Ann: A Handbook for the Wheelman Tourist, bicycling excursions had become a popular recreation.
     "After turning the curve in the road, near the old Babson homestead, a long gradual descent gives the opportunity for a delightful coast, and the tourist then catches a pleasing view of Folly Cove and the adjacent bay....The way now leads through a quaint little fishing settlement, and soon the wheelman enters the thriving village of Lanesville, after passing through a section of the road arched completely over with the thickly entwined branches of mammoth willows. A dismount at this cosy looking place, and you have the opportunity of partaking of ice cream or soda at the little wayside store here, kept by Mrs. Marchant. Beyond the willows the road rises with a gradual sweep, continues along by the deeply cut quarries of the Lanesville Granite Company."

Velocipede rider, downtown Gloucester
 The first two-wheelers in town, velocipedes, appealed to daredevil spirits. They were introduced at indoor rinks with smooth flooring.

Cape Ann Advertiser, February 12, 1869
An 1869 advertisement touts "the graceful science of velocipede riding." Local journalists, representing a more sedentary set of citizens, frolicked with the novelty of riders on wheels:
     "The Californians look with contempt upon the new velocipede. 'They will do very well,' says an editor, 'for Paris, where many people cannot afford to keep horses, and could not ride them very will if they did. But they will never do in California, where boys of ten years of age ride full-grown horses at the top of their speed around the streets."' Cape Ann Advertiser (CAA), Jan 15.
     "Surgeons and tailors are much interested in the velocipede mania. It suits both." Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph (CALGT), Feb 27.

Velocipede club, internet photo
Before long a more generous view recognized that the public would be sharing its roadways with wheeled contraptions that captured the imagination of young men, with broader societal benefits. "One of the results of the velocipede excitement in this town is, that it draws the young men away from the drinking saloons, and gives them a pleasant and beneficial turn to their minds as well as a healthy exercise of body." CAA, Mar 5. Women too could get aboard. "It has been demonstrated out West, that women can ride the bicycle velocipedes by wearing bilegular garments." CALGT  Feb 13

Fourth of July Road Race
Gloucester Daily Times  June 27, 1899
As velocipedes evolved into bicycles they captivated enthusiasts both in the saddle and off. Anywhere young men can pit themselves against one another an arena develops, and young ladies appear. Children adhere to the crowd inexorably and seniors gather to the sporting set. What better centerpiece for the national anniversary than heroics on the open road?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gold Fever, 1898

Under the headline "That Gold Plant" on April 16, 1898 the Gloucester Daily Times acknowledged that "as yet very little is known about the plant that is being set up at Halibut Point....Many think it is for the purpose of obtaining gold from the salt water."

Curiosity built. Two weeks later "a party of Lanesville bicyclists rode over to Halibut Point, Saturday morning, and one little girl asked the man in charge if he would please tell her the object of the building. 'Why, didn't you know it was for three cannons to fire on the Spaniards?' he asked. She apparently believed him, said 'Thank you,' and was leaving, when the man said, 'No, little girl, it isn't that at all, this is a contrivance to obtain gold from salt water.' She said 'thank you' and left."

On August  2  the newspaper printed an update. "The gold plant at Halibut Point is still running day and night. The people of the town have had a good opportunity to see the men who have been interested in the local plant and it must be admitted that the impression they have made here is very favorable."
Advertisement from the Gloucester Daily Times, October 28, 1897
Cape Ann was mightily stirred in 1898 by the allure of prosperity for the taking. Procter Brothers, the publishers of the Times offered a zestful account of the road to riches. 
On February 15 a letter had reached home from one of the crew of the Blackburn party that had rounded Cape Horn en route to the Klondike. "The seas [in the Straits of Magellan] rolled twice as high as our mast, and part of the time our craft stood on end....One of our men was washed overboard and by the same sea washed back." The drama gripped even (or especially) a hardened seafaring populace.

During the previous summer Gloucester's legendary Howard Blackburn had proposed and organized the first of the local expeditions to join the Alaskan gold rush. The Times boasted that "the announcement of Mr. Blackburn's scheme in the local papers was sufficient to have it heralded all over the country and in many metropolitan dailies appeared column articles and words of praise for Mr. Blackburn and his project."

Separated from the fishing schooner Grace L. Fears in an 1883 winter gale, Blackburn had rowed his dory for five days and nights with hands frozen around the oars to reach the Newfoundland shore. He returned to Gloucester having lost all his fingers, most of his toes, and the first joints of both thumbs. He founded a popular saloon in his home port.
Blackburn hand-picked members of his expedition to include diverse skills for the voyage, and to re-assemble the 50-foot flat-bottomed steam launch suitable for traversing the shallow Yukon River. The launch he had had built, taken apart and stowed on the schooner Hattie I. Phillips along with a cargo of coal to be sold in San Francisco. He expected to take on extra passengers on the West Coast and sell the schooner when no longer required.

      "Amid lusty cheers of the assembled thousands which thronged Perkins' big salt wharf Monday afternoon, the lines which held the good schooner Hattie I. Phillips were cast off and the party of enthusiastic and earnest Klondykers answered cheer for cheer as the tugboat Joe Call took her down the harbor--the first step on her long journey to the regions of gold....
      "The sightseers maintained a respectful silence while fathers and mothers parted from sons and wives and children said their good byes to husbands and fathers. All strove to be brave, but it was a trying moment and tears would come as the thoughts of parting filled the hearts of those little family groups."
Gloucester Daily Times, October 19, 1897
"The schooner Hattie I. Phillips, carrying the Blackburn Expedition,
clears Gloucester Harbor." Joe Garland, Lone Voyager.
Photo credit Sandy Bay Historical Society
All told eight Gloucester schooners were sold in 1897 to gold rush ambitions up and down our Northeastern coast. Other prospectors crossed the continent by train. They faced every manner of hardship and canny competition in the Klondike, but some said they preferred it to fishing. A Times reporter visited  28-year old Howard Wonson at his Mount Pleasant Street home during a brief return to Gloucester. "Mr. Wonson had been at Rampart City about two weeks when a report came that gold had been found in Munock, a few miles away. A great stampede followed, and Mr. Wonson says that the best way he can describe it is to imagine a large fire in a city and having five hundred people all running and crowding in that direction."

Albert Butler, shipwrecked on the coast of Labrador, returned to Gloucester to found the United Mining Company in January 1898 for pursuit of gold in another challenging northern land.

Six weeks later the discovery of gold on Cape Breton Island set off a mad rush into the Salt and Skye Mountains of Nova Scotia for  a lode reported to be "one of the richest ever made in North America."

Back on Halibut Point the enterprise to distill gold from seawater ended inauspiciously and apparently without a post mortem in the newspaper. In San Francisco Howard Blackburn resigned from the Gloucester Mining Company over administrative disagreements and returned home without reaching the Yukon.
The following summer Blackburn commissioned an eighteen-foot fishing sloop for a voyage more closely suited to his independent spirit. He sailed the Great Western single-handedly, with no fingers, across the Atlantic, reaching England in 62 days at sea. Two years later he sailed the twenty-five foot sloop Great Republic alone to Portugal in 39 days.
It was Howard Blackburn's destiny to make his mark with precious mettle rather than precious metal. 
"Tuning her up for Portugal, Howard takes Great Republic for a trial spin
out of Gloucester Harbor." Joe Garland, Lone Voyager.
Photo credit Sandy Bay Historical Society

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Autumn Reflections

An unseasonably warm rain saturates, then clarifies the air at Halibut Point. It concocts an atmosphere that invigorates the sunlight and the scenery.

For better views I chase the angle, the interplay of weather and clouds and clock and calendar. Fall tapestries double below the quarry rim.

Warm rain awakens the seemingly bare rock. Subtle patinas on the granite swashbuckle their specific lives.

Mosses and lichens stretch, glow, and celebrate in procreative splendor.

A busy community jostles in an amphitheater between pebbles.

Microcosmic architecture invents forms to answer an essential call in the moment of the rain and sun.

Quarrymen's fractures complement geologic fissures in the granite. An inadvertent beauty surrounds the wound.

To preserve the peace I don't choose between Industry and Nature. The facts harmonize in reflections.

My son Patrick sends pictures from Hanoi after receiving my wartime portraits from Saigon.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Veterans Day Reflections

Recently a friend of mine put out a call to his fellow veterans to write about their reactions when people say to them, "Thank you for your service." He has included my response along with diverse others in a section of his website titled Five Simple Words.*  

Here's the way it struck me, along with a few photographs of my encounters with local people in Vietnam, 1971-72.

Four years in the Army. If I'd truly given of myself the words 'Thank-you' would be welcome. Nothing beats hearing thank-you for a sincere and meaningful gift.

Why did I volunteer for Vietnam? There may have been a touch of nobility or sacrifice among my motives. But mainly an adventurous pulse beat within me then. I heard tribal voices calling in the haze. It was my life's chance to rub shoulders with war.

"Possibilities of a hat"
Mortality was never an issue in my youthful mind. Not my own nor toward anyone else. I wasn't capable of considering it. 

Airborne School was a hard-earned lark. At Ranger School I was resourceful enough to match up with tough training. I stuck bayonets into straw dummies screaming "Kill, kill, kill!!!" The classmates who really understood were combat veterans.

There were other things I didn't grasp. I had only a dim awareness of the currents of myth and entitlement that underlie national as well as personal destiny. I remember looking back toward America from an Asian shore wondering if this entire history had happened to teach me something.

After an interesting couple of years as a construction officer in Thailand and Germany I reported in June 1971 to the assignment station at Cam Ranh Bay. I volunteered for combat engineering duty with the 101st Airborne Division. I wound up at a geographical intelligence desk in Saigon. Perhaps it was a miraculous intervention. I do say thank-you for that. 

It was my third time living in Southeast Asia. My Dad had been military attaché to Burma during my teen years. Then the posting to a young man's paradise, for seaport construction in rural Thailand. Now to the capital of French Indo-China, the Pearl of the Orient - in turmoil.
"Weighing Peppers"
I liked the local people. I spent many hours after work wandering the streets of Saigon photographing its citizens. I got around town by bus, spent nights printing portraits and city scenes in the darkroom.

"Two Buddies"
Who knows how close VC sympathizers were to me during these escapades. No one ever bothered me except motorcycle-mounted Saigon cowboys stealing cameras. Once a taxi driver pulled a gun over a disputed fare after curfew. I walked away, he didn't fire.

I figure I had protection, perhaps the protection of innocence. Sometimes you shouldn't look down. 

The first time I reported for night duty officer I tried to load bullets into the .45 cal pistol worn on security patrols. My hands shook with the sudden clarity of what that gun was for. I threw the ammo clip back into the drawer, strapped on the pistol and went out into the night. I never carried a loaded weapon that year.

Yes, it was a year of innocence in the sense of not provoking a bee hive into attack. In other ways, not innocent at all. I tried hard to support the war effort with good intelligence studies. I relished a pat on the back from senior officers. I regarded field grunts as tainted by blood on their hands.

"Funeral music"
I came home unscathed, untroubled except by those shadows of self-discovery and judgment.

I've added my voice and my photographs to the peace movement since 1972. I've pondered the sometimes gratuitous gesture "Thank you for your service." The wars keep on coming.
People want to connect. Many have profound ambivalence, sorrow, confusion about the wars. Maybe they feel guilt. Maybe they understand there's a terrible price for war and its damage to participants on all sides. Maybe they hope to separate the warrior from the war. They offer "Thank you for your service." Maybe they're lock-step patriots. 

I  don't presume to know the burdens of combat vets any more than the average person who says "Thank you for your service." But by surviving they may have gained enviable fraternity with their brothers. They deserve a special chance to share in all the fruits of life available to their fellow citizens.

With Veterans for Peace protesting the troop surge in Afghanistan
at The White House, December 2010

* Five Simple Words can be found online at Marc Levy's website Medic in the Green Time.