I wonder if, in years to come, some bright scholar will name Maya Lin as the fulcrum upon which everything we believe about dying in service to one’s country shifted. Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., pulled off something magical and strange with her beautiful black wall, which before it was even built divided the veterans of that misbegotten exercise into two camps; one called it a “black ditch of shame,” and the other said, “I dunno, it’s got something going for it. Let’s build it and see.”
The wall was built. The wall began attracting visitors. The wall became something bigger than itself. The wall became the most popular monument in Washington, and not just because the veterans of the war it memorialized were still alive. The wall became something much bigger than a war memorial. It’s a therapy session for everyone who sees it.
The black-ditch-of-shame crowd was flummoxed, and insisted on tarting it up. A bunch of flags were added, and a sculpture of some soldiers, and another sculpture of female service members, but someone had to realize they’d been defeated. Who goes to the the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see the flags or the sculptures? They go to see the wall, and they want to see the wall because of the names.
Lots of war memorials feature names. There was one in my hometown, an archway entrance to a public park, with bronze plaques on either side, with lists of local soldiers who served, and one with those who died. My friends would sometimes pick out a grandfather or uncle in the service list, but the killed-in-action side by definition left fewer survivors to run their fingers over the letters.
But the Vietnam wall names were different. It was all the names, not just one town’s, and the brutal and elegant simplicity of their presentation — they’re etched in a timeline of when they died, starting in a trickle with the “military advisors” period of the war, swelling to a crescendo in the late ’60s and tapering down again as we packed our belongings and took off from the roof of the embassy — underlines the futility and stupidity of the war. All those boys, sons and fathers, brothers and uncles, gone. For what? The wall asks a question. You provide the answer. It’s why everyone who goes there cries.
Ever since, memorials of all types have included names, lists of names. It’s perhaps insulting to think memorial designers want a popular site, but all those pictures through the years, of crying survivors at the Vietnam wall touching names, making rubbings of names, watching their own reflections in that polished granite, the reflections crossed by names — it has to be an influence, and not just on designers. Look at the Oklahoma City memorial to the bombing there. If the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center site is ever built, it too will include names.
(Lin designed that one, too.) It’s no longer enough to lump the dead in one big number, perhaps under the inscription Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Now you have to name every casualty.
President Obama spoke yesterday at Fort Hood, at a memorial service for the 13 people who died during the shootings last week. I didn’t see it live, but I started seeing the reaction online almost immediately. “Best speech ever” was the general tone, even from people who can be reliably counted on to hate everything the president says. I made a point of catching it on C-SPAN later. It was a great speech, masterfully delivered, but we’ve come to expect that of Obama, the first great orator of the 21st century. But what spiked it deep in the brain were the names. Because there were 13 and not 300, he could give names and brief biographies:
Major Libardo Eduardo Caraveo spoke little English when he came to America as a teenager. But he put himself through college, earned a PhD, and was helping combat units cope with the stress of deployment. He is survived by his wife, sons and step-daughters.
Staff Sergeant Justin DeCrow joined the Army right after high school, married his high school sweetheart, and had served as a light wheeled mechanic and Satellite Communications Operator. He was known as an optimist, a mentor, and a loving husband and father.
The names, in this case, were not just a reflection of today’s army, but of America itself: Staff Sergeant Amy Krueger… Private First Class Kham Xiong… Private First Class Aaron Nemelka… Men, women, this one an Eagle Scout, that one an immigrant, this one the daughter of a father from Colombia and a Puerto Rican mother.
I don’t know how much of his own speechwriting Obama can do anymore. I don’t really know how much he’s done since he began his run for the presidency. Good writing takes time, for both thought and revision, and time is something he of all people is chronically short on. But I will say this: His speeches sound like they came from him, from what we know of his heart and mind, and I have to think he has a heavier hand in their crafting than some previous occupants of the office.
If nothing else, at the subconscious level, that speech acknowledges what is becoming painfully obvious about this incident at Fort Hood: It was Vietnam on a different scale, a series of stupid decisions and a case of willful blindness, culminating in a massive and unforgivable loss of life. It demands an accounting and a reckoning, and we hope that will come later.
Until then, what we have are the names.
Tori said on November 11, 2009 at 11:58 am
That was a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you, Nancy.
While I’m here, I want to thank the veterans for their service to our country.
Peter said on November 11, 2009 at 12:01 pm
Well, as an architect, you can guess what I think about Maya’s design and the thochkies placed around it as an afterthought. I think the best part of the design is how the memorial handles the names and in an abstract nature tells the narrative of the war.
For those who don’t know, Maya was a graduate architecture student at Yale, and was enrolled in a course on cemetery and monument design. The teacher found out about the competition, had everyone in class submit an entry, and lo and behold, Maya won, beating out, among others, her teacher.
She’s done some nice stuff since, but she didn’t turn into the starchitect that I had expected – you don’t really hear about her compared even to other female architects like Zaha Hadid…
As for Fort Hood – that was a great speech. As for the event itself, what saddens me is that in one sense the Army is like the Catholic Church in that they’re stretched way too thin – a normal hospital would have cashiered that nutcase a long time ago, but when you’re so low on resources, a crazy psychiatrist is better than no psychiatrist, just like a pedophile priest is better than none…
Dorothy said on November 11, 2009 at 12:05 pm
A thank you from me as well to all the veterans today. I’ve been to two funerals for WWII vets in the last five years. I imagine I won’t be to very many more.
My daughter sent me this link a few days ago and I just now remembered to go to it. She said in the subject line of the email that it would make me cry, so I was trying to purposely steel myself so I would not. But she was right. It did. She saw it in the Post-Gazette, but of course they mention that it was originally published in the NY Times.
LAMary said on November 11, 2009 at 12:18 pm
I’m glad Peggy Noonan isn’t writing speeches for Obama.
Julie Robinson said on November 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm
I was already in tears from Nancy’s fine piece and Dorothy’s link has completely undone me. Both are great tributes to our services. Thank you.
Jolene said on November 11, 2009 at 12:57 pm
This is a Pulitzer-worthy essay, Nance. Beautifully done.
Sue said on November 11, 2009 at 1:30 pm
Stop crying, everyone. Here’s some happy for you:
Jolene said on November 11, 2009 at 1:35 pm
Obama’s Veterans’ Day speech was another homerun. There may be a better link somewhere later w/o all the junk littering up the screen. You’d think they could turn it off for 10 minutes.
Jenflex said on November 11, 2009 at 1:36 pm
Ditto on the kudos…this is just beautiful.
mark said on November 11, 2009 at 1:37 pm
Nice to be momentarily on the same page with everyone else. A very well-done piece, nancy. Good remarks by the president and well-delivered. I, too, think he stays pretty involved in the speech-writing.
The wall is a remarkable memorial and it probably frustrates subsequent designers/architects.
Deggjr said on November 11, 2009 at 1:46 pm
Pearl Harbor is another moving memorial. Names are up on a wall on the Arizona and at some level they are distant names. The visitors center had (has?) a personal scrapbook on display, showing the events from one life that ended without warning on December 7, 1941. Multiply by 2,403.
Jeff Borden said on November 11, 2009 at 1:46 pm
I honor my dad, who passed away in July 2008, and had spent three years in the prime of his young adult life as a soldier in the Big Red One, including a lengthy stint in occupied Germany. And my uncles on my mom’s side, who not only served in the Navy during World War II, but were recalled and taken from their families for Korea. And two my uncles on my dad’s side, including a Marine who fought on Tarawa and now battles a stroke, and the other an Army Air Corps instructor.
Every male on both sides of my family tree was involved in World War II. My mom’s youngest brother, just 17, ate prodigious amounts of banana and cream, believing it would help him gain enough weight to join the Navy. (Apparently, it did.)
And lastly, I do not forget my grandfathers and grandmothers, who watched their sons enter the service. One of my prized possessions is the tiny pocket bible my fraternal grandmother gave to my dad, which is inscribed simply, “Love always, Mom.” Or the women who endured the long, long days without word of their brothers and boyfriends, and who carried on with their lives under the weight of unknowing.
I would hope that all of us, regardless of age or politics, make ourselves advocates for veterans. These men and women deserve far more than we often give them, as the scandalous stories out of Walter Reed a few years ago underscored. This is especially true for our all volunteer armed forces, who make up only a tiny percentage of our population yet bear so much of the burden.
Jenine said on November 11, 2009 at 1:52 pm
Ha – Sue that happy dog made me cry too.
Julie Robinson said on November 11, 2009 at 1:55 pm
Amen, brother Jeff.
LAMary said on November 11, 2009 at 2:09 pm
That dog is doing what people feel inside.
Pam said on November 11, 2009 at 2:22 pm
President Obama’s chief speechwriter is a young man named Jon Favreau, who the campaign called a speechwriting genius with an ear for Obama’s voice. Here’s a wiki link with info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Favreau_(speechwriter)
HBO is running a special on the Obama campaign. While watching, it struck me how difficult it must be to be a speechwriter. But maybe it’s a little easier when you’re writing for a great speech giver.
nancy said on November 11, 2009 at 2:32 pm
Speechwriting can be insanely difficult; it’s so much more than putting words in someone else’s mouth, because if the words don’t sound like the person’s voice, the overall effect is immediately ruined. It’s more like channeling, and the fact Obama calls Favreau his mind-reader is telling, because that’s about how close you have to be.
I heard an interview with one of Clinton’s speechwriters, who wrote a book about it that I never read (“POTUS Speaks”). Clinton is another natural, who once had his text incorrectly installed in the Teleprompter, and still managed to talk for 40 minutes without anyone noticing. (Imagine Dubya in such a quandary.) The guy said what made Clinton great to write for was his encyclopedic knowledge of public policy and government, but mostly of religious texts. Being a southern boy, he knew how to take a single Bible verse and preach from the hip on it at length. And because this is Clinton, at great length.
Jolene said on November 11, 2009 at 2:55 pm
Here’s a short piece on how Obama writes his speeches. I’ve seen a number of discussions of this online, not all of them findable at the moment, but they all make clear that Obama is very much in charge and very hands-on.
I’ve sometimes thought that Obama’s writerliness accounts for why he is sometimes less than fluent when not speaking from a prepared text. There haven’t been so many of these occasions lately, but, especially during the debates in the primaries, there were lots of “uhs” and “ums” in his speech. He also tends to look away, rather than looking at the questioner. In those instances, I think he is “writing” a response on the inside of his skull, and what we are seeing and hearing is a writer’s search for just the right words as he speaks.
Jolene said on November 11, 2009 at 3:09 pm
Jeff: Thanks for your comments re your dad and your other relatives. My WWII veteran dad died this year, so I’m thinking a lot about him this Veterans’ Day and, as you say, the people who worried about him during the more than two years he was overseas. Here’s how he looked during that time, and here’s a passage from his obituary re his military service.
As a soldier in the First Armored Division, he fought in North Africa and Italy, serving for a time as the gunner in his battalion’s Command Tank. On May 6, 1943, the tank was hit by an anti-tank shell, and Mr. Galegher and his colonel, Henry Gardiner, were the only survivors. For wounds he suffered in this incident, Mr. Galegher was awarded a Purple Heart. He was discharged in September, 1945, having spent three years, 11 months, and 19 days in the military—a timespan he mentioned on more than one occasion. Like many veterans of his generation, he almost never spoke of the horrors of war, but was proud of his service and deeply attached to the Army buddies who served with him.
As we’ve gone through his things, I was able to read the letters he wrote home. They were mainly very plain statements, but they revealed so much: how much letters from from home meant to him, how wonderful it was to experience the rare creature comfort (e.g., a shower), how much he cared for the people he was with.
We also found tiny B&W pictures that my grandmother had sent to him–all of people and things going on at the farm. A new dog, chickens in the yard on a warm, winter day, spring flooding, his own grandmother. “Looks good for nearly ninty, doesn’t she?” was my grandmother’s inscription on that one. You didn’t have to think very long to get a sense of a mother striving mightily to keep her faraway son connected to herself and home.
Dexter said on November 11, 2009 at 3:12 pm
Thanks for the topic and the blog post. Excellent.
Dexter, presente. We went to Applebee’s in Defiance where I sat with my wife at a table, nodding at strangers in salute when our shifting eyes met from across the room, as the restaurant is providing a free entree to all veterans today.
I usually remove all headgear in a restaurant but today I and most of the other men left our caps on. Mine has the iron cross VFW design, and a flag pin and some other do-dads pinned on it. Other men wore their personalized caps, too.
I didn’t see any women vets wearing any identifying tributes , but no matter.
It eerily reminded me of two other times, one was when I saw Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” on a Saturday matinee and it seemed the theater was filled with vets like me, strangers, nodding in acknowledgment to each other in the theater lobby, not saying a damn thing…and also when I walked around the veterans’ tribute monuments in Indianapolis about 10 years ago. Same thing.
I went to the Wall in D.C. the summer after it opened. I had gathered up a bag full of stuff I had brought back from Vietnam and I left it at the Wall: some piasters… paper and coins, some photos, a pair of tire-soled sandals, and some other junk. I had my parents, my daughter and my niece with me. It was a helluva thing, beyond description really, to see and experience that Wall. As we descended down towards the 1960’s section, Dad told the others it was time to go and leave me to myself for a while. I had every intention of doing some name-tracing but instead I just became lost in memories and sort of glided past and through with all the other tourists. It was a mind-fuck that I know will not be duplicated for me, ever.
I also don’t know how it may or may not affect people that did not go to that war or who did not live through that period of US history that was so divisive, but all I know is that as a monument, it works.
Jolene said on November 11, 2009 at 3:23 pm
One more thing and then I’ll be quiet: Nancy’s reference to Clinton, prompts me to link to one of my favorite Clinton speeches, a campaign speech given on behalf of Jim Webb during his 2006 campaign for the Senate, which, as you may recall, gave rise to George Allen’s “macaca moment”.
Clinton’s Election Eve speech is a rhetorical tour de force, ranging from points in which he draws a laugh from the audience by lampooning Republican ideas, but then says, “We laugh, but it ain’t funny” to the end at which point he quotes the “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” phrase from the Declaration of Independence. That’s quite a leap from “it ain’t funny”, but Clinton is natural and compelling the whole way through.
Deborah said on November 11, 2009 at 3:25 pm
I haven’t read all of the comments yet, but immediately felt compelled to tell you Nancy, what a fine, fine post this is. My husband is both an architect and a Vietnam vet, we think the memorial is a true masterpiece. I haven’t yet heard or read Obama’s Fort Hood speech and can’t wait to do so now that I have read your post. Nancy, thanks for writing this.
Jean S said on November 11, 2009 at 3:48 pm
oh, the Wall, the Wall…a tough place to go, but so important.
and what Jeff said. We have my father-in-law’s letters home. I don’t think my husband has ever read them. Too hard.
Julie Robinson said on November 11, 2009 at 3:53 pm
Dexter, the wall worked powerfully for me and I didn’t know any of the names up there. It was a stunning and visceral blow to the gut and I was sobbing the whole time we were there. It affected me like no other memorial I’ve been to.
Jeff Borden said on November 11, 2009 at 3:57 pm
The father of one of my pals back in Ohio was in the First Armored, so I know your dad went to hell and back. Those guys saw a lot of brutal action. I can’t imagine the fears that would flood a normal man who is cramped inside a tank, which for all its armor is a handsome target to the enemy, and rumble into battle. And they did it largely without complaint.
My dad, like yours, generally refused to talk about the war. He maintained a membership in an American Legion post, but never visited, largely because he did not want to be reminded. He came close to being killed or captured in the Battle of the Bulge, and went to his grave wishing he had been able to thank the Belgian family that hid him when he was cut off from his unit and Nazi troops were searching high and low. I feel remiss now for not having been clever enough to have found that family, or its descendants, but all we know was that the man was a baker and they lived near Bruges.
I kept my student deferment during Vietnam and the draft had ended by the time I graduated. I’m not proud of that fact, knowing that other men and boys without the financial resources to stay in college may have gone in my place. But I have kept one promise to myself, which is to always acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who have served in all our wars, and to be frugal in my support for other wars. Watching the collection of loud-mouthed chickenhawks in D.C. during the run-up to the Iraq War –led by Dick “Five Deferments” Cheney– only cemented my belief that we who did not serve should keep our fricking traps shut most of the time when it comes to sending the sons and daughters of our nation into harm’s way.
Sue said on November 11, 2009 at 4:16 pm
Well, since we’re getting all serious here…
Kudos to those spouses who stick with the changed and damaged people who come back from the wars. Cheers to those who learn exactly how to wake up a spouse from a nightmare without getting injured themselves. Salutes to the ones who stay in spite of the alcohol, fights and general bleakness. Courage to those who don’t leave even when it becomes apparent that the hospitalization didn’t work.
Solace to those who have to get out for their sanity and/or safety.
And my God, my God, blessings on all the kids along for the ride.
Damn, we deserve our own free meal at Applebee’s.
Jeff Borden said on November 11, 2009 at 4:21 pm
You speak great truth beautifully.
One of the most poignant photo essays I’ve ever seen was about the young Marine who was horribly mangled and burned in an unarmored Humvee in Iraq. His face mostly had melted away, but there he was in dress blues beside his bride in her lovely white dress when back in the States.
I no longer have the words to express the contempt I feel for the bastards who ginned up the war in Iraq, ignored the expert testimony of real military men who argued for more troops, and send these men and women overseas without the proper equipment. A life of hard labor in a maximum security prison would be too good for them, yet many are writing books and collecting fat speaker’s fees for meaningless speeches. Damn them all to hell.
Jolene said on November 11, 2009 at 4:43 pm
John Kelly had a good column in today’s WaPo re military spouses. Not about sticking by the sick and injured, but sticking by, nonetheless. But your point is powerful and powerfully expressed, Sue.
Through reading Tom Ricks, who has written two of the best books on the Iraq War, I learned about The Yllescas Family, which is a blog written by a woman whose husband was severely injured in Iraq and eventually died at Walter Reed. I hadn’t looked at it for quite a while, but Ricks called attention to it again recently on the first anniversary of her his death. You can’t read it all at once, but you don’t have to spend much time with it, to be forever unable to put it out of your mind–mainly because it contains so much detail about what it means to lose someone in this way.
Some of the pieces I’ve read about Fort Hood in the wake of the shooting have been devastating in terms of what’s happening there w/ people who’ve come back. One chaplain said something along the lines of, “I have some soldier shouting at his wife in my apartment every night.”
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on November 11, 2009 at 4:58 pm
Maya Lin appears to think of herself as almost more of an artist than an architect, so she hasn’t starchitected herself into a pile of marginally usable buildings. She found a way to express an artistic vision through public memorials and landscape sculpture that serves a communal purpose, but she will likely spend her entire career framed by her first major work . . . which isn’t too bad a problem, imho.
The vets i know best refer to the addendum statuary at the Vietnam Memorial as “The Twilight Zone” guys; some mean it in a good way, most less so, but their take is that the look on their faces is best described as having walked through a portal in space-time from the Mekong delta into the Mall, and are now looking at their aging buddies standing along a black wall covered with names . . . including their own? And they’re not quite ready to step forward and look.
Each of my last few visits i’ve tried to assess my own feeling about the statuary group, and it kind of works in that light, but i’ll let those who were there make the final call.
It just happened that at 11 am i was walking through an opening in a vast, 2,000 year old Native American earthwork with 32 kids and 2 teachers. We stopped a moment, and as nearby bells ran faintly through the nodding, barren treetops, i told them about the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, that used this enclosure as their training ground for two months in 1861, then walked past where we stood to board trains for the Cumberland Valley and on towards Vicksburg and Atlanta.
And i told them of the reunion after the Grand Review in Washington in May of 1865, when only 350 of the 900 returned home. We had our moment of silent respect for them all, and then the kids ran onwards through the piled leaves, heading for the next mound and marker, eager for lunch.
Regards to all who have served, in whatever role (or whichever century).
moe99 said on November 11, 2009 at 5:36 pm
Wonderful post, Nancy. Truly inspirational. Thank you so much.
Dexter said on November 11, 2009 at 5:47 pm
Jeff Borden and Sue, you both have touched me with your latest comments.
Only economics kept me out of my freshman college year, and I was drafted before I could earn tuition dough, and we just didn’t pursue loans then…I read how the classes at Bowling Green in the Fall of 1967 spilled out into hallways, as all male kids were in school that could possibly find a way, to evade the draft.
Some friends think that well, at least I have colorful memories of those times, compared to their routines of classes and keggers. I just know this: I knew the score then and I know the score now, and that’s what happened and it all worked out, and I never held a grudge against any college kids,and I know I didn’t go in their place. And I got to go to college for a while anyway on the puny GI Bill.
Sue, you are right. They also serve who stay behind. No doubt.
Book of the day…
…alternating narrative of happenings in Vietnam and also UW Madison. Great book.
Dexter said on November 11, 2009 at 5:52 pm
crinoidgirl said on November 11, 2009 at 6:22 pm
Yes, wonderful post, Nancy.
And thank you for the book link, Dexter. I’ve ordered it from the library. I was 13 then, but that year’s still vivid.
Jeff Borden said on November 11, 2009 at 6:34 pm
Thanks. You know, my dad used to chide me that I’d never have seen combat because I knew how to type. He figured I’d be in some tent or trailer somewhere, churning out the paper that makes the Army move. After all those years, though, I still feel guilty.
I wish our nation had learned a lesson from Vietnam. Clearly, we did not. And now Obama, who ran as an opponent of the Iraq war, confronts a situation in Afghanistan that might become to him what Vietnam became to LBJ.
Let’s pray there is a good ending to this, but I’m not all that optimistic.
moe99 said on November 11, 2009 at 6:51 pm
btw, Sarah Palin’s book tour takes her through the heartland starting with Grand Rapids, MI Nov. 18.
nancy said on November 11, 2009 at 8:36 pm
I call it Sarah’s Real America Tour 09. She’ll be in Fort Wayne, too.
Julie Robinson said on November 11, 2009 at 6:56 pm
And on the very next day she will be signing books where I ususally do the grocery shopping. Maybe I need to find a different store?
Jeff Borden said on November 11, 2009 at 7:05 pm
Re: Our Lady of Wasilla, Time has a report based on a few copies of the book that have been given to St. Sarah’s associates. They note it is 400 pages long, but only five chapters.
There are five major thrusts including how her childhood shaped her worldview and the role of faith in her life. The juicy stuff will be her score-settling with the McCain aides and her latest broadside against the national media. Also, the book does not include an index, so people will have to actually read the thing to find out if they are in it.
There’s an interesting story in a business publication that covers the publishing industry, which speculates Harper Collins paid her $5 million and the ghostwriter likely got about $200K. The story says the book has to be a monster hit for HC to make back its advance money and suggests the only way to make that happen may be to flood the Christian and religious book stores with copies. This was the strategy used for the “Left Behind” books. Ted Kennedy was paid $8 million for his book, but it has been sold to overseas publishers and is likely to turn a profit. The story was unsure of whether Palin would have the kind of international appeal of someone named Kennedy.
Finally, if you can stand it, look on YouTube for a channel called WisconsinOne. Someone tape-recorded the portion of Miss Iquitarod’s appearance before a right t life group where she is talking about that dark conspiracy to move “In God We Trust” to the edge of the new dollar coins. (The decison was made in 2007 while W. was still wreaking havoc.) You may be pleased to know that the eardrum-shattering nasalness of her voice remains intact.
Yes, I know, I used three snotty nicknames for this money-grubbing grifter. It felt good.
nancy said on November 11, 2009 at 8:35 pm
I really don’t get the publishing business. If they have to do these highwire acts just to get their advance back, what are they doing paying these ridiculous advances in the first place? I know she wasn’t going to write on spec, and she was going to get something, but what was her advance? Something like $1.2 million? Why not pay half that and breathe a little easier? If Zondervan wants to pay more, let ’em. That’s who will be buying this thing anyway.
Dave K. said on November 11, 2009 at 8:07 pm
I really can identify with the father of the young soldier being married and returning to active duty. (Dorothy #3). My oldest daughter and son-in-law are also active duty soldiers, and SIL recently left for a 6 month tour in Iraq.
Can anyone please clarify the end of the story for me? The father writes,”…and just like that he was gone”. Does he mean “gone” as in back to Afghanistan? (I have experienced that painful departure at the airport many times and it never gets easier.) Or does “gone” indicate killed in action? Praying that is not what happened.
Sincere thanks and prayers to all those who serve, or have served, our country.
brian stouder said on November 11, 2009 at 9:42 pm
This was a marvelous thread; compliments to all, and especially our Proprietress.
But – since we’ve shifted to Palin’s impending return to the Fort, I can tell you that while I’ll be skipping that event, this evening Grant and I went to a (well-attended) lecture at the downtown library, presented by Jon Swerens of the News-Sentinel, titled “Longing for a City” and subtitled “Why we miss old Fort Wayne and what we should do about it.”
That sentence struck me as provocative enough to merit rolling down there, to see why he thinks “we miss old Fort Wayne” in the first place.
The lecture was in support of a fairly handsome picture book that he and several other N-S staffers put together (in fact the second such book) out of the extensive News-Sentinel photographic files.
Mr Swerens, who seems to be a very pleasant fellow, put on a very nice power-point show featuring many interesting photos from the mid-1950’s, and at length he expressed the belief that zoning laws were as much (or more) to blame than any other single thing in the (unwelcome) changes that came to downtown.
In amongst the photos he had several of “the elevation” being constructed (the elevated railway that goes right through downtown Fort Wayne, east to west), and which he blithely glided right past.
Well, lots of older fellas were in the crowd, and it DID seem to be a pleasant trip down memory lane for many of them, as they called out additional details in Swerens’ News-Sentinel photos, and the show rolled merrily along.
At the Q&A part of the show, I was tempted to raise my hand and ask Mr Swerens if he had ever read a really big, front-page feature series that a very sharp reporter* that worked for the News-Sentinel wrote, looking back to when Fort Wayne made one of the largest mistakes in it’s history, and skipped the chance for a bargain-priced expressway through town (in conjunction with that railway elevation)
But – I was tired, and he was on a roll, and those were the good ol’ days, and none of it matters anymore anyway, right?
*the husband of the Proprietress of this place
edit: and then we discover, there’s this website that has a sort of odd vibe
nancy said on November 11, 2009 at 9:51 pm
Zoning laws? Did he elaborate? That’s a new one, and it makes me suspicious, because Jon is probably the one person in the newsroom who is as far right on the political spectrum as Kevin Leininger, and I know zoning laws are one of those nutty libertarian bugaboos. I don’t get it, m’self, but then, I’m no libertarian.
I’ve been to zoning-free Houston, and I didn’t think it was that great.
brian stouder said on November 11, 2009 at 10:10 pm
Well, he mentioned that he lives in the Nebraska neighborhood (off west Main street, not far from me), and if a house burns down, it cannot be rebuilt because there’s not enough space between the existing houses under current code(!); plus, in the old days, an ice cream shop (and other such small walk-in places) existed in his neighborhood. He placed a lot of stock in the virtue of businesses you could walk to from home, and be amongst lots of other people doing the same thing (and again, if I was a mouthy crank, I’d have said you can’t throw a dead cat and not hit a gas station in this town, almost all of which offer all sorts of ice cream and pop and candy. For that matter, I remember walking to a shoe-repair shop back in the day – and such businesses as that don’t exist ANYWHERE anymore, but we digress!)
I wasn’t really following his point on zoning, but that was still clearer than his examination of the 4 main perspectives and expectations of citizens (such as egalitarianism, individuality, and I forget the other two) which drive the developement and design of a cityscape
The point was that it’s not nostalgia if you look at the photos and say “I want things to be that way now”….or something.
Actually, I don’t mean to be so snarky; it was an interesting picture show, presented by an engaging fellow. More can be seen here:
Dexter said on November 11, 2009 at 10:15 pm
Here’s a blog with muchos fotos of Fort Wayne, taken from the Lincoln Tower Bldg.
nancy said on November 11, 2009 at 10:16 pm
Well, that’s pretty silly, then. Old neighborhoods should be grandfathered in under their existing plats.
That said, I’d be stunned that anyone wants to build new construction in Nebraska. Unless the neighborhood has really come up in the world.
Dexter, that’s Bob Pence, an old friend of Alex’s. Nice guy.
Dorothy said on November 11, 2009 at 10:45 pm
Dave K: I’m not 100% sure, but I got the impression that “gone” just means he was no longer in his line of vision. In other words, on the plane and off to Afghanistan. If the soldier were dead, I’m pretty sure he’d be very clear about that in the article.
Jolene said on November 11, 2009 at 10:51 pm
Dorothy: That was my take too–that the soldier had just gotten on the plane and was gone.
Brian: How was the Andrew Sullivan talk?
crazycatlady said on November 12, 2009 at 2:49 am
Thanks, Nancy. I defy anyone to see the Vietnam Memorial and not be moved. Try not to trace the letters of names on the cool black granite with your finger as you imagine the sadness families continue to feel at their loss. Try not to see the tears on the cheeks of Veterans as they stand at that sacred place and remember that which can never be erased. Try not to see the flags, the scraps of paper with written messages to the dead, the trinkets of a life gone too soon. Can’t be done.
brian stouder said on November 12, 2009 at 8:35 am
Jolene, see the bottom of the last thread; but in a word, Dr Sullivan was interesting
coozledad said on November 12, 2009 at 8:52 am
At what point does someone’s ignorance of civics disqualify them from television journalism? I’d hate to be the ambulance chaser CNN will have to hire when they catch Wolf doing whatever creepy ass thing it would take to get a garden-gnome- made-flesh off, but I understand why the law demands it.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on November 12, 2009 at 9:06 am
You can rebuild, you just have to get a variance. Same thing if there’s a zoned ten foot setback in your neighborhood, and your entire west wall is four feet from the property line, and you want to build a room onto the back following the line of the house. Even if the new room doesn’t push back into the setback zone, you have to get a variance for the wall extension, because it’s within the ten foot.
Anti-zoning folk love to say “you can’t” when the actual fact is “you can, but now you have to tag second base on your way around the field.” They just don’t want to do that.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on November 12, 2009 at 9:14 am
Sarah Palin didn’t put an index in her book, and DC insiders are wailing — “waaaa, waaaaa, i’m gonna have to have a staffer *read* the dang thing now to find out if i’m in it!”
Julie Robinson said on November 12, 2009 at 9:17 am
I’ve been to no-zoning Florida, and I did not enjoy all the businesses people were running out of their garages at all hours of the night. With their loud customers, louder swearing, and and even louder music, the auto repair place 20 feet from the bedroom window at my sister’s place seriously impeded my sleep and cranked up my crankiness. Zoning is a good thing.
My late father-in-law was a dreamer and visionary like his son and he had lobbied for that highway. Thought it was a huge mistake to not build it.
My aunt and uncle in Iowa still live in the fifties. It’s a wonderful place if you are white, male, and wealthy. Life today is much less powerful and more threatening for Leininger, Swerens, and their ilk, what with women and people of color surrounding them. No wonder they want to turn the clock back.
nancy said on November 12, 2009 at 9:24 am
Don’t get me wrong — Jon’s an OK guy, and, far more than Kevin, generally doesn’t expect others to share, or listen to, his views. He’s quiet, keeps his head down, and works hard.
It’s just…zoning? Huh? I think most of us would consider reasonable zoning restrictions a good thing. But Leo Morris, also my former N-S colleague, is also one of those who believes zoning constitutes an infringement on personal liberty. I just don’t get it. One of the things about old cities that I don’t like is how factories and such are located in residential neighborhoods. There was a reason for it once upon a time — in fact, I believe generally the neighborhood came after the factory — but their time has passed. (As anyone cursed enough to own a house next to the Packard plant would surely agree.)
brian stouder said on November 12, 2009 at 9:36 am
It’s a wonderful place if you are white, male, and wealthy
ding ding ding ding!!!!
Actually, the “wealthy” part would be good in any era, but indeed – the way things were ‘back then’, and the big social transformation from then to now are simply inseperable. Swerens would agree with that much, I think, but one wonders what he would have to say about that expressway that was never built; about all those families who weren’t white who never got a buy-out, and who never got displaced from downtown, and who therefore didn’t get the opportunity to move elsewhere in Fort Wayne, where the (mostly white) IH and Tokheim and ITT and Fruehauf workers (etc) lived.
edit: I forgot one ‘dog whistle’ moment in Mr Swerens’ presentation, wherein he related a story he’d read somewhere, and which struck him as insightful. The supposition regarded the societal difference between 1900 to 1950, as compared to the difference from 1950 to 2000; the idea was that if a man was magically transported from the circa-1900 city street to the 1950 city street – he’d be taken aback by the cars and trucks (instead of horse-drawn carriages), but if he saw a lady and tipped his hat, or held a door open for her, he’d be right in-step.
But, if a man was magically transported from the 1950 street to the 2000 street, he’d offend one person after the next with the things he’d be liable to say or do.
Several folks nodded at that; my chin dropped a little, but while I pondered what he was trying to say the talk proceeded on, so I have no idea how that changed our city-scape, or whether this was really thought to be the city we want to go back to, or what….(sorry!)