Wonders of Woburn


Woburn, Massachusetts, is only about 25 miles from where I live, but I don’t know anyone who lives there, and I’ve never had any particular reason to go there. I think have only actually been in the town a few times. Recently, however, I realized that Woburn happens to have five of my favorite things:

#1: A Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentenary Marker
I love these beautiful cast iron markers, erected throughout the Commonwealth in 1930, and have been photographing and documenting them for a few years. Many of the original markers have been lost over the years, and others are in rough shape or located in places where they’re seldom seen. This one, however, is beautifully situated in the center of town on the Common, surrounded by grass, trees, flowers and monuments.

Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentenary Historical Markers — I manage a Flickr group for photos of these historical markers.

Lanna Thai Diner#2: A Worcester Lunch Car Company Diner
The Lanna Thai Diner was custom built in 1952 for its small lot, and was originally Jack’s Diner, and later Genia’s Diner and Main Street Diner.

Although it’s now a Thai restaurant rather than a “real” diner, it’s nice to see it still serving food in the location where it’s been for over fifty years.

Best Gas: Woburn, Massachusetts#3: A Colonial Filling Station
There are only a few of these beautiful domed Beacon Oil Company filling stations from the 1920s still standing, and this is the only one I have seen that still a service station — the others that I have visited are the Dairy Dome ice cream store in Stoneham, and Maria’s Pizzeria in Malden.

This is also the only one that I have seen topped by the original globe decoration — either original or a good reproduction.

The Hiker: Woburn, Massachusetts#4: A Hiker Monument
Spanish-American War soldiers were known as “Hikers,” and this sculpture of a Hiker holding a rifle was designed by Massachusetts sculptor Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson to honor soldiers who died in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War and the Boxer Rebellion. Her Hiker monument was cast over fifty times, and can be found in public squares across the United States.

The Hiker Monument — I started a Flickr group for photographs of these monuments.

#5: An H.H. Richardson Library
The Woburn Public Library, built in 1879, was designed by my favorite architect, Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886.)

Architectural Detail

Did Your Mother Come from Ireland?

Post Office, Clare IslandOr your grandfather or your great grandparents? If so, you should check out the National Library of Ireland, the newest member of the Flickr Commons. They have an interesting collection of photographs and will be adding more.

The Flickr Commons is a program that encourages museums, archives and libraries to share collections of historical images on Flickr where the active community of members can not only enjoy them, but add comments, notes and tags to help make them more searchable. Flickr members often identify people, places and events, and add other interesting information about the images.

Cooperage, Killarney, Co.KerryYou might recognize a photograph of a relative here, pr a photograph of the town where your great grandfather was born. Even if you don’t find anything that relates so directly to your own relatives, it’s interesting to look through these photographs just to see the faces, the clothes, the toys and tools and houses and landscapes.



Just in case the title of this post made you want to hear the song, here’s the late, great Gracie Fields (1898–1979) :

Day 1: January 1, 2011

I don’t really believe in the Golden Rule. I don’t think we should treat others the way we want to be treated, I think we should treat others the way they want to be treated. This is much more difficult, because it requires us to carefully observe others and try to see things from their point of view.

Nina in the Snow

Toby Stops WalkingOne of the things I like about having pets is that it’s clear that they’re different from us, and have different interests and needs. Right now, I’m living with two dogs, and they’re not only differerent from me, they’re different from each other. Nina, who is my dog, loves the snow and wants roll around in it, run around in circles scattering it around, loves to dig in it. Toby, my daughter’s dog who is spending a few months with me, dislikes the cold and hates snow, and never wants to leave the house if there’s snow on the ground. His point of view in undoubtably affected by his size — he’s a tiny thing with short little legs, so even a few inches of snow is overwhelming to him.

Stone Wall in the SnowBut today the three of us went for a walk that was perfect for all three of us. The weather was mild and the sidewalks were clear, which was good for Toby; there was still a lot of snow piled next to the sidewalk, which Nina enjoyed; and we took a route with a lot of stone walls, which I like to photograph. (At one point, Toby decided he’d had enough and stuck a pose of passive resistance, but after I picked him up and carried him for a few minutes, he was willing to continue walking.)

Scan and Copy Those Precious Pictures

Day 241: August 29, 2010I’m going through a box of old Polaroid pictures taken by my uncle Steve Brown, and came across these three. Wonderful photographs taken over fifty years ago of my father, my aunt, my grandmother and my cousins, pictures I had never seen before.

But look how close these were to being lost! They were in a fire and could easily have been destroyed, but fortunately the flames just nipped around the edges and didn’t destroy the images themselves.

Photographs are so precious and so vulnerable. Printed on paper, they can all too easily be destroyed by fire or flood, or damaged by mold, mildew, insects, etc. Digital images can be lost when a drive crashes, deleted in error or forgotten in the transfer to a new computer. And both types of photographs can be lost to posterity if the right person doesn’t take possession of them after you’re gone.

So scan every paper photograph you care about, and make more than one copy of the file, kept in different places on and offline. Give copies to members of your family, either on a CD/DVD or other storage device, or sent by e-mail. Upload them to Facebook or Flickr or Ancestry.com — the more copies that are out there, the less likely it is that the image will be lost to future generations.

Digital copies are great, but make paper copies, too. Prints are inexpensive, so make lots and give them to all your family members. Some people will just toss them in a file or a desk drawer, but most of those copies will get passed along to younger family members, and there’s usually at least one person in every generation that’s interested in this kind of thing.

The care and preservation of photographs is a complex topic, and there are lots of books and websites that explain it all in more detail. But sometimes I think the technical stuff scares people away, and that they put off doing anything with their photographs until they have time to learn more and do it right. But don’t put it off — stuff happens and a single copy of a photograph can so easily be lost forever.

Nubble Light

Nubble Light

Nubble Light is just off the easternmost point of Cape Neddick in York, Maine. It’s one of the most-often photographed lighthouses in New England not only because of its beauty, but because it’s so easy to photograph. It’s located on a tiny island just off Sohier Park, which provides ample parking and a great view of the lighthouse. Visitors are not allowed on the island itself, which means that there’s no one wandering in front of the lighthouse cluttering up your shot, and nearly every photograph of the island and lighthouse looks picture-perfect.

Nubble Light Links

More information and photographs of this 1879 lighthouse:

View Nubble Light in a larger map

Acquaviva delle Fonti

Acquaviva delle Fonti

Last week I celebrated my birthday in Italy with my daughters. We spent a few days in the Puglia region, where both of my father’s parents came from, and on Tuesday we took the train from Bari and spent an afternoon in this town, the birthplace of my grandfather, Luigi Giuseppe Balestracci (1892-1972).

We didn’t do any of the things you might expect me to do — track down relatives, go to the cemetery and find the graves of my great grandparents, or even just to make a decent tour and photographic survey of the town. I didn’t want to do any of that, not this trip, anyway. My only goal was to be there, to know what it was like to get off the train and know that I was actually there in Acquaviva delle Fonti, Fountain of the Living Water, a magical place name that’s lived in my imagination for as long as I can remember.

It was a gray and overcast day, threatening rain when we got off the train. I had the irrational notion that we’d step off the train and find ourselves in 1911, the year my grandfather left for America, and that gaily dressed Italian peasants would be dancing around the fountain singing folksongs. Or that my unknown relatives, the descendants of my grandfather’s brother Domenico, would just happen to be strolling by the train station and would see me and instantly recognize me as one of them. But none of that happened…we just got off the train and aimlessly wandered around town for a while. It felt good to be there, and to see the ordinariness of the town. I wondered what my grandfather would think of me bringing his adult great granddaughers, born after he died, to his hometown. It was nice, but I still wanted a little more.

Jean, Lucrezia, Luigi, Oseo and Betty BalestracciHeading back to the train station, we passed a restaurant and decided to stop for a late lunch. We walked in and the first thing I saw was a dark wooden cabinet with glass doors, holding wine glasses. It looked a lot like the one in my grandparents’ dining room, seen in the background of the photo on the right. And on the wall was a landscape framed in a distinctive thick oval wooden frame, just like the frame that held photographs of my great-grandparents in my grandparents’ house. I know these aren’t really amazing coincidences, but these familiar objects made me feel more connected.

Acquaviva delle FontiThe waitress was friendly and patient with our limited Italian, and the food and wine were great. We had a good time sitting there, enjoying the food and conversation, and I decided that although I miss my parents and grandparents and honor their memories, it’s better to live in the present and appreciate spending time with the living members of my family!

Chatham County Courthouse: Pittsboro, North Carolina

Confederate Memorial, Chatham County Courthouse, Pittsboro, North Carolina

Tonight a Flickr member posted this comment on my photo of the Chatham County Courthouse: “I will miss this building terribly.” Miss it? Was he moving away, perhaps? Surely they weren’t planning to demolish it? I looked at my statistics and saw that I had gotten a spike in views on this picture this evening, and wondered what was going on. A quick search have me the answer: this building was seriously damaged in a fire today. A sad thing. I hate the fact that nearly every article about the fire at this 1881 building mention its role in the John Edwards sex tape dispute. It shouldn’t be remembered that way.

When I talk about why I take so many photographs of buildings and want everyone else to do the same, I always say, “It could burn down tonight! It could be gone tomorrow and then all we’d have is photographs.” Which is true, but then when buildings I’ve photographed happen to burn down, I have a small, irrational feeling that maybe I caused it.

I remember taking this picture. I was visiting my daughter and her boyfriend (now husband) in North Carolina and we drove out to Pittsboro for lunch and spent some time poking around in the shops. It was a cool, damp, overcast day, but I was happy to be in the South and away from the New England weather. We were getting back in the car and I stopped for a minute to take this picture. Not an especially good picture, but good enough to remember the building and remind me of a very nice day. And now it’s gone.

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