Off Track: Take One

I’m on a Fellowship adventure to look at disaster memorials, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to look at just disaster memorials right? I believe that disaster memorials find themselves in an odd place. They occupy a space between being significant places of remembrance and reflection, national monuments, pieces of public art, landscape architecture, regular architecture and just plain ole art.

I figure the more different types of memorials I can see and experience the better. So let’s call this Off Track: Take One.

Time Landscape – New York City

A colleague sent me off to find ‘Time Landscape’, (this is what happens when you’re into memorials) in Lower Manhattan. ‘Time Landscape’ is a kind of green memorial I suppose. Designed by landscape artist Alan Sonfist (I highly recommend a look at his website – with your phone/computer sound up), it is a living memorial to the natural landscape lost to the development of Manhattan. The shrubbery, trees and plants are all native to this particular part of Manhattan to represent what may have been on this very spot on the corner of Houston and La Guardia in the West Village prior to colonisation.

Irish Hunger Memorial – New York City

Technically, this is a disaster memorial. Though that depends on your hang ups with the whole disaster definition argument. My old masters textbook would call a famine a calamity. Regardless of where you stand, when thinking about memorials, it is definitely different to a memorial for a sudden onset disaster or terrorist event. In terms of planning, when the idea is conceived etc. So for the sake of this project it goes in the ‘Off Track’ category.

I have to say, to date, this is probably my most favourite memorial. Not just on this trip either. Ever. Big call for this memorial nerd (with over six weeks still to go on my Churchill adventure). I first visited the NYC’s Irish Hunger Memorial last year with my Mum and sister. My Mum is Irish so it was cool to be there with her and maybe my Irish heritage is why I like it so much. I have my own personal memories of the Irish countryside. I have vivid memories of exploring an Irish farm with my sister and brother as a teenager, lime green grass was a completely alien to three Australian kids raised during a drought.

The idea that I like this memorial because I have my own memories to connect to it is interesting to me in itself. Particularly because those memories are of the land which had a pivotal role in the Great Famine and is the main focus of this memorial. It also highlights that in any memorial process people are going to want to have their own personal connection to it or want to attach their own memories to it in some way. This is easy to do when the memorial already exists, less so when a memorial is still being planned.

I also like that there is also so much symbolism and connection to place in this memorial. A few examples; all the plants are native to the west of Ireland, there are stones from each of the 32 Irish counties and an entire abandoned cottage imported from Ireland, stone by stone. Also, when you reach the top of the memorial you have an incredible view out over the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. The same view, though a different vantage point, that tens of thousands of Irish immigrants would have seen when sailing into New York harbour.

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Looking at the Irish Hunger Memorial from North End Avenue & Vesey Street.
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Look at this luscious-ness.

Salem Witch Trials Memorial – Salem, Massachusetts

While I was in Boston I hired a car and drove up to Salem to check out the Salem Witch Trials Memorial (and also because Hocus Pocus anyone?). A Witch Trial Memorial? How could I not brave driving on the right hand side of the road. The Salem Witch Trials occurred in 1692 during which 20 people, 14 women and six men, were accused of being witches then tried, convicted and executed. They were executed on June 10, July 19, August 19, September 19 and September 22, 1692.

The memorial was dedicated in August 1992 on the 300 year anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. The memorial is as much about remembrance of those executed as it is about the mass hysteria that led to the executions.

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View of the right side of the memorial as you enter, with the Old Burying Point in the background.
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Each bench around the memorial is inscribed the the name of a victim and the method and date of their death.
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Sarah Good.
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As you enter the memorial you cross the boundary with quotes from the testimony of those executed. Bridget Bishop – I am no witch. I am innocent. I know nothing of it. Martha Carrier – I am wronged. It is a shameful thing that you should mind these folks who are out of their wits.
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It took poor Giles Corey three days to die. He refused to be tried and was the only one to be pressed to death.

Curley Memorial Plaza – Boston

James Curley was a mayor. Mayor of Boston, four times. The last time he was voted in he was in prison! True story, for mail fraud (he took the postman’s exam for a friend who couldn’t read). That’s how much the people of Boston loved him.

The story goes that when he died it was decided a statue would be erected in his honour. Hello Standing James Curley. The problem was that the people who knew him didn’t think that this statue represented the real James Curley at all. He was much more a man of the people they say. He was always up for a chat and had time for everyone and they wanted this to be reflected in the memorial. So another James Curley was created. A seated James Curley.

I think this memorial represents where a lot of memorials can, and sometimes do, end up when people are not consulted appropriately. The development of memorials can get caught up in just getting something ‘up’ or ‘done’. This can lead to people not being happy with the final result and then you end up with two James Curleys!

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Standing James Curley and sitting James Curley.
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The sitting one is much friendlier. Looks like someone left him lunch.

*The quotes in the title image are segments of the following:
Rebecca Nurse – “Oh Lord, help me! It is false. I am clear. For my life now lies in your hands….”.
Mary Bradbury – “I do plead not guilty. I am wholly innocent of such wickedness.”

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