Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Are You Ready? Okay, Lets Roll.

The Flight 93 Memorial

Where do heroes come from?

On September 11, 2001 Captain Jason Dahl and First Officer LeRoy Homer Jr. joined flight attendants Lorraine Bay, Sandra Bradshaw, Wanda Green, CeeCee Lyles and Deborah Welsh in boarding a Boeing 757 aircraft in Newark NJ bound for San Francisco.

These career United Airlines flight professionals had no way of knowing the flight for which they were preparing was destined to become a resolute and enduring symbol of heroism in its most pure form. Flight 93 would come to symbolize two of America's most cherished values - democracy and self-sacrifice.

As the passengers boarded 4 were hijackers with the goal of weaponizing the flight. They entered the plane intent on using Flight 93 to destroy symbols sacred to Americans.

At 8:00 AM Flight 93 backs away from its gate. It is delayed, held due to airport congestion. 

At 8:42 AM  Flight 93 lifts off.

At 8:46 AM  Flight 11 flies into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

At 9:03 AM  Flight 175 flies into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

At 9:24 AM  United Flight Dispatcher Ed Ballinger messages Flight 93 warning of hijack risks. 

At 9:26 AM  Flight 93 confirms receipt of Ballinger's warning.

At 9:28 AM  First Officer Homer radio's "Mayday, Mayday! Get Out!" amidst the sound of violence in the cockpit. It is followed 35 seconds later with "Mayday! Mayday! Get out of here! We're all gonna die here!" 

Hijackers move all passengers to the very rear of the aircraft.

At 9:30 AM  Passengers, now grouped in the back of the aircraft, begin the first of 35 calls using the airplane's airphones along with 2 cell phone calls. Tom Burnett makes several calls to his wife. His wife tells him airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center.

At 9:31 AM  As the pilot and first officer lay wounded and / or dying, the plane is now under the control of one of the hijackers.

Before losing control of the cockpit, however, Captain Dahl is able to activate the aircraft's autopilot system and switch radio communications to be heard by Cleveland Center.

The hijacker's first announcement meant for the passengers is instead broadcast to Cleveland Center. In the background of that transmission flight attendant (believed to be Debbie Welsh) is heard struggling with a hijacker who chillingly announces "Everything is fine. I finished".

At 9:35 AM  Flight Attendant Sandra Bradshaw calls United maintenance to alert them of the hijacking and that a passenger and member of the flight crew have been stabbed.

At 9:37 AM  Flight 77 hits the Pentagon.

Passenger and crew calls confirm for them the fate of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Flight 93's few minutes of ground delay has allowed its passengers the ability to surmise the true knowledge of its intended mission.  All now understand their aircraft is part of a suicide mission.

At 9:37 AM Mark Bingham calls his mother telling her the plane has been hijacked by men claiming to have a bomb. Simultaneously Jeremy Glick calls his wife telling her his flight has been hijacked. Glick's call remains connected until the plane crashes. During the call he tells his wife the passengers and remaining crew have voted to "rush" the hijackers.

At 9:43 AM  Joseph DeLuca calls his father and Todd Beamer attempts to call his wife. Instead Beamer reaches GTE operator Lisa D. Jefferson. 

The hijackers reprogram the plane to fly toward Reagan Airport.

The Route of Flight 93

At 9:50 AM  Flight Attendant Sandra Bradshaw calls her husband telling him she is preparing scalding water to throw at the hijackers. She passes the phone to Honor Elizabeth Wainio.

At 9:55 AM  Bradshaw returns on line to tell her husband that "Everyone is running up to first class, I have to go. Bye"

At 9:57 AM  Wainio tells her stepmother "I have to go they are breaking into the cockpit, I love you". Tod Beamer, during his call with Operator Jefferson, asks her to contact his family, recites the Lord's Prayer and 23rd Psalm, ending his call with the muffled words to his fellow passengers "Are you ready? Okay, let's roll"

The hijacker's now realize a revolt has begun and start maneuvering the plane violently. 

At 9:59 AM  The cockpit recorder captures sounds of a wounded hijacker outside the cockpit. Passengers and crew are now battering the cockpit door with a food cart.

At 10:01 AM  The hijacker pilot repeats "God in Great" several times and asks the other hijacker in the cockpit "shall we pull it down?" 

At this point the second hijacker appears to wrest control of the yoke from the main hijacker pilot who begins yelling "Give it to me!" repeatedly.

At 10:03 AM  Flight 93 plane accelerates, flips upside down, crests a hilltop and then crashes upside down into an empty field in Stonycreek Pennsylvania.

The crash site becomes a crime scene netting the FBI much of the critical evidence allowing for the 911 plot to be discovered.

The Memorial
Crescent of Embrace

A common field one day. A field of honor forever.

At the top of the hill portals composed of tall curving concrete walls frame the sky. 

 The Portals and the Final Flight Path

A walkway tracing the final route of Flight 93 slices through the portals culminating in an overlook of the crash site. Now, forever, a field of honor.

The Overlook

From the portals a large circular walk emerges a crescent of embrace, a walkway extending down into the bowl (passing 40 memorial groves along the way). The groves serve as living, growing tributes to the passengers and crew of Flight 93 whose lives were cut short.

At the Field of Honor individual white stone panels are each etched with only one name. Each panel is part of a whole, yet slightly separated from each other. 

Solidarity and individuality.

A Wall of Honor

The Price

The actual impact site is simply designated with a large boulder at the point of impact. It is ceremonially gated and made accessible only to family members of the victims.

 The Gates
(The boulder in the distance is the impact site) 

A future final element completing the memorial is yet unbuilt. A Tower of Voices, to house 40 chimes representing the last voices heard from the flight activated by the wind. 

The Memorial Architect's Quotes

How do you convey hope?
This project has changed me as an architect. 
It has deepened my resolve to value what we do.  
What we do as architects is unreasonable. 
We try to bring something positive through many barriers.
But, it is worth it.

Paul Murdoch AIA
Flight 93 Memorial Architect

Where do heroes come from?  

Here, in a field of honor, we know this is where one journey of heroes ended.

Visit and you will depart changed, having found tears you did not know you had.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

PS I couldn't help but wonder why this memorial took so long to be built, and remains incomplete. 

It turns out this $60 million dollar memorial was held hostage for years by a tea party congressman who demanded that any Flight 93 memorial be cheaper and built primarily using private funds (despite nearly $7 million dollars - raised from private donations). 

The same congressman fully supported a $600 million dollar "Road to Nowhere". 

His story is here.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Frank Lloyd Wright's Kentuck Knob

The Hagan House

During my recent pilgrimage to Frank Lloyd Wright's celebrated Kaufmann residence "Fallingwater" I also had an opportunity to visit "Kentuck Knob", another nearby Wright residence. Kentuck Knob is one of Wright's last homes. It is located about 4 miles uphill from Fallingwater.

The Hagan's were wealthy Pennsylvania dairy owners who were friends with the Kaufmann's. After spending time at Fallingwater the Kaufmann's decided to approach Wright for a home design of their own. Edgar Kaufmann put them in contact advising them to plan on spending twice whatever budget they set for Wright.

Wright began design the home in 1953, with construction completed in 1956. At the time the project began Wright was 86 years old and very busy with the Guggenheim Museum. He is said to have accepted the commission saying that, despite being busy, he could "shake it (the design) out of my sleeve".

Wright never dedicated a trip to visit the Hagan site but did make a detour to visit during construction while on a visit to Fallingwater.

Wright's "of the hill" concept is in evidence here.

A Crescent Shaped Usonian "Deluxe" Home

Of The Hill

When the site was selected it had a spectacular view due to a tree blight that had cleared the ridge of trees. Mrs. Hagan had thousands of trees planted and today the house, although still lovely, is in a forest without those territorial views.

  The View Afforded Before The Replanted Trees

The Hagan's were enthusiastic and respectful clients. Mrs. Hagan did, however, make certain design needs clear and Wright adjusted his design to enlarge a tiny dining area. He also raised the kitchen ceiling and his window design was revised to allow human beings the ability to actually clean them. Despite not seeing it completed, Wright was clearly proud of the Hagan house "signing" it with one of his red signature medallions (which were reserved for projects he felt were his best).

 Looking Into the Dining Area

 The Living Room

The house has the usual Wright quirks, narrow corridors, areas with very low ceilings etc. But despite that the Hagan's loved the house and went on to live in it for 30 years.

 The Linear Terrace

By 1986, the Hagan's now in advanced years, offered the house and grounds for sale. It was then acquired by the current owner, Lord (Peter) Palumbo.

Lord Palumbo has made the home and grounds available for tours while transforming the site into an outdoor sculpture garden. Lord Palumbo resides in the house seasonally and when we toured the hint of cigar smoke confirmed he was in residence.

Photography inside the home during tours is not permitted. So my photographs into the house were taken from the exterior through doors and windows.

Personally, aside from the home itself, I could have spent hours admiring Lord Palumbo's art and the beautifully composed family photographs that adorn each room.

I was also delighted to find that Lord Palumbo has acquired one of the little chairs from the Coonley playhouse. My mother played in the playhouse when she was 5 or 6 years old (when the Kroehler's owned that home). It was fun imagining mom sitting in that chair.

Kentuck Knob is an exceptional home. It was meticulously created and has been loved and treated with exceptional care.

Kentuck Knob tour reservations may be made on line. There is a gift shop and a cafe in the old greenhouse (Hagan ice cream is served).

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Frank Lloyd Wright's Perfect House

Fallingwater at Bear Run

When I was five or six years old I visited a small shop on San Francisco's Maiden Lane with my grandmother.  It was kind of an amazing little building that you entered through a little glass arch with curving brass mullions. 

After passing through the entry the space inside the shop just seemed to burst open. It was an interior space filled with light and wrapped with an interior curving ramp to gently take customers from floor to floor.

Years later I came to realize the shop was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (and a mini prototype for his Guggenheim). I also came to realize the concept he demonstrated so well in that shop (where you move from a confined space to a soaring space) was what he described as "Compression and Release".

The revelation of that space, along with Julia Morgan's buildings at Mill's College, the Space Needle at the Seattle World's Fair and my first visit to the (then) new Oakland Museum, all contributed to my resolve to grow up and become an architect.

Visiting various Wright building's over the years made me put a trip to see his most famous residence "Fallingwater" on my "To Do" list. I made that visit a couple of weekends back, so Fallingwater is now officially ticked off!

Fallingwater is the iconic modern weekend home Wright designed for Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann during the depression.

It is located in the forests of the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania and is famously perched directly over a waterfall.

At the time of its design there was simply nothing like it anywhere in the world. Now, 80 years later, there still isn't.

Fallingwater at Bear Run

The house and the family that built it present one hell of a story.

Whenever you see an architectural tour de force like Fallingwater it is easy to just be taken in by the beauty. But beauty like this exacts a price in money, passion and ego. Such endeavors are typically chaotic, adversarial and (in this case) involved a constellation of people and events coming together at just the right time.

The story begins with the celebrated Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

The Kaufmann's
• Edgar Kaufmann Sr. (EJ)
Edgar Kaufmann Sr. (referred to by friends as EJ) was heir to the the Kaufmann Department store chain (headquartered in Pittsburgh). EJ consolidated control of the store through a marriage of convenience to his first cousin Lillian Kaufmann.

Edgar Kaufmann Sr. was a smart, brash, handsome and charismatic retail merchant. He rode steeplechase (and had back injuries to prove it). He fenced (and had scars to prove it.) His personality was magnetic.

Under the creative and perceptive leadership of EJ and Liliane, sales revenue at Kaufmann's tripled. This led to an expansion of the chain and the building of his flagship store in Pittsburgh (where Frank Lloyd Wright would eventually design his private offices). His enduring relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright becomes pivotal in the story of Fallingwater.

As Kaufmann's wealth and fame grew, so did his philanthropy and desire to leave an enduring legacy. He was a generous patron of the Pittsburgh arts scene who commissioned muralists and financed Pittsburgh's Civic Light Opera Company.
 Edgar J (EJ) Kaufmann (1885-1955)

Kaufmann cared for his employees and his employees were devoted to Kaufmann's Department Store.

Edgar Sr. was also a serial philanderer whose infidelities were so overt that he issued his mistresses special platinum charge cards for use in his stores.

• Lillian (Liliane) Kaufmann
Edgar's marriage to his first cousin Lillian took place in 1909. The marriage was conducted in New York (were such marriages were legal).

Lillian was smart, progressive, detail oriented, well-traveled and multi-lingual. She spent much of her time in Paris as a buyer for the store. She was a natural at interpreting trends and possessed an exceptional sense of design and style. One of those trips provided an introduction to Liliane de Rothschild. Lillian was so enamored with her, she decided to change her own name (from Lillian to Liliane) as she felt it to be more sophisticated.

Liliane's style sense was responsible for the transformation of Kaufmann's previously unsuccessful 11th Floor Women's Fashion department into the Parisian influenced (and very profitable) Vendome Shops.

She was also famous for her commitment to public health (serving as President of the the Board of Trustees for Montefiore Hospital for 9 years).  

Liliane was famous for carefully managing the social calendar of the family homes with both charm and military precision. She was admired by the staff that worked in the various Kaufmann residences. When Mrs. Kaufmann was in residence so were her long haired dachshunds.

Liliane Sarah Kaufmann
Photo 1942 Eero Saarinen Archives

• Edgar Kaufamann jr.
The Kaufmann's had one child, Edgar Kaufmann jr. (he preferred "jr" to be lower case) born in 1910.

Edgar jr. grew up to be exceptionally well read, well traveled and artistic. Prior to 1934 he lived in Europe studying painting and architecture.

In 1934, after a period studying painting in Europe, Edgar jr. began an apprenticeship at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Studio in Spring Green Wisconsin. During that period Edgar jr. developed a deep respect for Wright and his design philosophy. His apprenticeship was cut short however by Wright who sent him home for lack of "circumspection" (which historian Franklin Toker speculates was actually code for Edgar jr's sexual activity while in the program).

In 1935 Edgar jr. began working at the Home Store of Kaufmann's. Then, in 1937 he began an 18 year career at the New York Museum of Modern Art. 

Although EJ left much of his estate to the Edgar Kaufmann Sr. Charitable Foundation, Edgar jr. was well provided for.

After his parents death Edgar began the process of carrying out his father's wishes for the transfer of Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

1963 became a pivotal year for Edgar jr. He completed the transfer of Fallingwater, began serving as an unpaid adjunct professor of Architecture and Art History at Columbia (a role he would maintain until just three years before his death) and he began a 36 year relationship with architect Paul Mayen. Incidentally, Mayen was the design architect for Fallingwater's welcome center.

Upon Edgar jr's death in 1989 his ashes were scattered at Fallingwater. Similarly, when Mayen died his ashes were also scattered there.

The Second Coming of Wright
As the nation entered the depression Frank Lloyd Wright's career was effectively over.

While undoubtedly a genius, Wright's well publicized marital infidelity, the stigma of the grisly 1914 mass murder at his home in Wisconsin, his nasty divorce and his well earned reputation as an egotistical pain in the ass to work with, all resulted in a dwindling pool of clients willing to finance his vanity and endure his tantrums.

The situation came to a head after his return from Japan (after completing the Imperial Hotel). By 1927, with no meaningful work and a bank foreclosing on Taliesin, Wright began selling off prized possessions. In 1932 Wright began an apprentice program where students would actually pay him to work in his "Fellowship".

It is frequently suggested that EJ and Liliane met Wright for the first time during a visit made to see Edgar jr. during his apprenticeship at Taliesin.  However, historian Toker pretty well discredits that as a myth. In fact, Toker supposes that Wright and EJ had prior contact and may have conspired to enable Edgar jr's apprenticeship.

However it began, the relationship between Edgar Kaufmann Sr. and Frank Lloyd Wright would prove to be complex and confrontational.  Wright, who had openly expressed his suspicion of Jews, now found himself with his most important client, a successful Jewish merchant.

Yet, their relationship went on to last a lifetime.

The combination of Edgar jr.'s enthusiasm for Wright, coupled with Edgar Sr's appreciation for Wright's work, led him in 1934 to take a chance on hiring the down and out architect to design a weekend house at Bear Run. 

Neither could have realized the result of this effort would be America's most prized home and the catalyst for Wright (at age 71) to resurrect his career.

Design and Construction
Wright had the Bear Run site carefully surveyed. He wanted to know the size and position of the falls and every tree and rock outcropping. He then spent time contemplating how a design would work on the site.  

Here is where another of Fallingwater myth's is oft repeated. The story goes that after receiving nothing from Wright, Edgar Sr. called Wright to give him 2 hours notice his impending arrival at Wright's Taliesin studio.  Supposedly Wright answered the phone and told "EJ" that his timing was perfect and that "we are all ready for you!".

Then in only 2 hours Wright feverishly transferred what was in his head to paper. In reality, the plans had been developing for considerable time.

It is true that Edgar was very surprised when Wright presented his design for the house (which he called "Fallingwater") placed directly over the falls, instead of down the hill where the Kaufmann's felt it would be afforded a striking view of the falls.

Kaufmann, with some skepticism, approved Wright's initial designs and the main house began construction in January 1936. 

Wright's design required opening a local sandstone quarry, recruiting highly skilled stone masons and the engineering of heroic concrete cantilevers.

The construction process unleashed Wright's usual series of cost overruns and outbursts of ego. Liliane and Edgar demanded design adjustments, Wright sniveled.

Kaufmann discretely had Wright's structural system reviewed and approved enhancements to Wrights design (including doubling of the rebar).
Meanwhile as the rude correspondence and angry demand letters flew back and forth, Fallingwater began to emerge.

The design was tweaked down to minute details. Desks were carefully notched to allow for window openings. Window glass "disappeared" into stone walls. Black walnut furniture veneers were selected with horizontal patterns to reinforce the lines of the house. Even toilets where positioned low to aid "colon health".

 A Design The Emphasizes Soaring Cantilevers

 Interior Floor Planes "Float" Boldly Over The Falls

Window Glass Recessed Directly Into Stone Walls 
Internal Floors Are Not Expressed Stressing Verticality

The enduring magic of Fallingwater is how it seems to float weightlessly over the falls and up the hillside. Spaces allow you to effortlessly move from indoors to outdoors from most major rooms.

However, the magic came with a price. Persistent cracks in the structure over the years confirm EJ's decision to upgrade the structure.

By the 1990's forensic assessments confirmed that the house was close to toppling into the falls. To preserve the house massive reconstruction efforts were undertaken in 2002. Floors were extensively re-engineered and carefully post-tensioned (a process not available when the house was designed).

 Terraces Emerge From Every Major Room

The siting of the house carefully sequences visitors in their arrival. First, there is the initial view of the home, then the crossing the water, then the recess leading to the front door.

 Entry Sequence

The Stream Fed Foot Bath 
Next to the (Recessed) Front Door

The home itself then presents space that reaffirms Wright's concept of compression and release. Similar to my childhood experience at the little Maiden Lane jewelry shop at Fallingwater, you walk through (very) low corridors into rooms that open up and blur any distinction between indoor and outdoor space.

  An Boulder Becomes a Fireplace Hearth

In Fallingwater horizontal planes are expressed as solid while vertical planes are stone. Rock outcropping are incorporated in walls and fireplaces. 

 Shelves Are Aligned With Built-in Furniture and Window Mullions

The house celebrates water. Water drips down the face of stone walls lining the driveway. Water flows from the stream into the swimming pool and then (unchlorinated) out of the pool to rejoin the stream. In the summer Mrs. Kaufmann complained about how the house (directly over the falls) felt "clammy".

 And, like most Wright houses, water flowed freely through the roof.

The Swimming Pool

Despite the perceived size of the overall home, many interior spaces feel very intimate. The only bedroom with window blinds for privacy was this guest room. And the guest list at Fallingwater was impressive. Albert Einstein and Frida Kahlo were among its house guests.

The house was Ayn Rand's inspiration for The Fountainhead. 

The Main House Guest Room 
(The small painting is one of two original paintings in the house by Diego Rivera)

The Other Rivera Painting
(Located in the bridge that leads to the guest house)

• Wright
In 1937 EJ persuaded family friend Henry Luce (publisher of Life an Time magazines) to put Wright on the cover of Time Magazine with the rendering of Fallingwater in the background.

The barrage of EJ's PR machine delivered Wright an avalanche of new commissions. His second chance at a career was in full swing.

His "second chance" allowed him to produce a second major masterwork; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Until his death at age 90 in 1959, Wright was never again without work.

• EJ
EJ went on to commission architect Richard Neutra (a former employee of Wright) to design a desert home in Palm Springs. The house was likely designed to provide a new venue for his affairs.  At this point EJ finally pissed off his wife, his son and Wright (furious that the Palm Springs commission went to Neutra, whom he now counted as an enemy).

EJ and Liliane moved from house to house sometimes carefully avoiding each other.  

• Liliane
Despite vocal misgivings about Wright's design, Liliane grew to appreciate the light, sounds and smells of Fallingwater.

And, as life with EJ got tougher to bear, she came to spend most of her time there. 

Liliane, balanced her time at Fallingwater with time spent in Palm Springs. But she never liked Neutra's boxy house. She toyed with the idea of building her own (EJ free?) second home in Palm Springs. She went so far as to attempt to hire Wright to design another house on the same Palm Springs compound. Wright blew her off until the commission came from EJ. He then designed the Boulder House for Palm Springs. But Wright's Palm Springs "Boulder House" was never built.

On September 7, 1952 Liliane locked the door to her bedroom at Fallingwater and overdosed on booze and EJ's barbiturates (for EJ's back pain).

EJ had her bedroom door forced open and, upon finding her overdosed, attempted to drive her to a hospital in Pittsburgh (having no confidence in local doctors). She died en route. Had he gone to a close by doctor and had her stomach pumped, she would have likely survived.

• Edgar jr.
Edgar's adoration of his mother and growing disgust with his fathers affairs culminated in 1952 with the death of his mother. The circumstances of Liliane's death would haunt Edgar jr. the rest of his life.

Upon the passing of his father in 1955 Edgar jr. brought his parents together for the last time by creating a mausoleum at Fallingwater. He commissioned Alberto Giacometti to cast the bronze doors for the crypt. He then had Liliane's remains moved from Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh and placed her side by side with EJ forever.

After donating Fallingwater intact with its furnishings and art (inclusive of 2 Rivera's and a Picasso) to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy Edgar jr. presided over its preservation until his own death in 1989. Edgar jr. also appears to have used the years in between to carefully rewrite the history (create the myth?) of Fallingwater. In his version he overly emphasized on his own participation in the project.

• Grace Stoops
After Liliane's death EJ married his nurse Grace Stoops (who was half his age).  Seven months after the wedding EJ was dead.

Although EJ provided for her, Grace tried to acquire 1/2 of the $10,000,000 Kaufmann estate. Grace's efforts failed however because of the prenuptual agreement she signed.

Just six years after EJ's death Grace burned to death when, wheelchair bound and crippled with MS, her heating pad caught fire.

• The Kaufmann Office
EJ's Wirght designed office was removed from Pittsburgh and gifted by Edgar jr. to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where it may be viewed today. 
• Palm Desert
The 3,800 square foot Neutra house in Palm Desert (that EJ loved and Liliane hated) was purchased by a succession of wealthy owners and celebrities, each changed walls and personalized it. Barry Manilow owned the home from 1973 to 1993 with Filmmaker John Waters and Suzanne Somers as guests.  

The condition of the house was eventually considered to be pretty well wrecked. So much so that Realtors marketed the house as a tear down.

It was however, purchased by a wealthy new owners Beth and Brent Harris who cared enough about its architectural integrity to oversee its meticulous restoration. Mr. Harris still owns the home.

The Kaufmann Residence in Palm Springs Residence
(In photographer Julius Shulman's famous photo
Liliane was persuaded to recline on an airbed
by the pool to block glare from the pool light).

Plan your Fallingwater trip in advance. Especially if you will be visiting in summer. Reserve your tour online. Arrive on time. Wear comfortable shoes and plan to walk the grounds after your tour. Parking is free. Photographs in the house are prohibited (unless your take the costly in-depth tour).

Also consider combining the tour of Fallingwater with a visit to Kentuck Knob (another close-by Frank Lloyd Wright home that offers tours).

Fallingwater proves that circumstance is everything. When the right circumstances come together, imperfect humans are capable of creations that inspire.

Roadboystravels.blogspot.com © 2016

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Johnstown Flood

Getting Away With Murder

Years ago I watched an episode of the PBS series the American Experience that left me stunned. Charles Guggenheim's Academy Award ® winning documentary chronicled the Johnstown Flood of 1889. The film complemented historian / writer David McCullough's 1968 book by the same name. At the end, while closing credits rolled, I tried to process what I had just seen. Like me, the film is a bit dated now. It may be viewed on "You Tube" here.

The film and book made me resolve to visit Johnstown someday.

As measured in loss of life, only Galveston's 1900 Hurricane claimed more flood victims than the Johnstown Flood. It even eclipses the loss of life attributable to 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Here is a (very) short version of the story.

Johnstown Pennsylvania
In the years leading up to the 1889 flood, Johnstown was a prosperous city of 30,000 residents. It was home to America's largest steel mill (the Cambria Iron works). Its star was rising due to its development of the "Bessemer" process producing cost effective steel of exceptional quality.

This is the steel that triggered rapid expansion to America's railway network and (along with the development of Elijah Otis' revolutionary elevator) enabled the era of the American skyscraper.

The demand for Johnstown's steel delivered its residents commerce, art, culture and an exceptional standard of living.

The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and Lake Conemaugh
Fourteen miles above Johnstown was the South Fork Dam and the Western Reservoir.

Dam construction was completed in 1852 by the State of Pennsylvania to provide a stable source of water for its extensive canal transport network. However, due to Pennsylvania's rapidly expanding rail network, its canals (and correspondingly the dam and reservoir) soon became obsolete and were abandoned.

The South Fork Dam was repeatedly sold until it was eventually purchased in 1879 by a group of wealthy investors who made some "repairs" to it in 1870. The club renamed the Western Reservoir Lake Conemaugh to serve as the centerpiece of this ultra exclusive new "invitation-only" Fishing and Hunting Club.

The "Club" consisted of just 66 members including the elite of  Pittsburgh industrialists, bankers and lawyers. Members included Andrew Carnegie, Philander Knox and Andrew Mellon.

Over the next decade maintenance to the dam was cosmetic and performed without aid of appropriate engineers.

Summertime at the Club

 Fishing, Sailing and Gas Powered Boats
Were Popular on Lake Conemaugh

Interim owners and the Club made three critical adjustments to the dam. Its height was reduced at the center to create a wider carriage lane. It's flood release tubes were removed and sold for scrap. And the spillway was obstructed to prevent valuable lake trout from escaping.

The changes meant that the level of Lake Conemaugh could no longer be controlled or systematically drained.

The Club was an instant success and from 1879 until 1889 the shores of Lake Conemaugh saw development of giant "cottages" and a luxurious clubhouse. The club was now a well guarded exclusive private playground for Pennsylvania's richest families.

The Flood
Disaster struck after a record rainfall pounded Lake Conemaugh Memorial Day 1889.  The lake rose by the hour finally breaching the (lowered) top of the dam. 

Once water began flowing over the dam it simply began washing the dam away eventually releasing 20,000,000 tons of water into the valley below. The amount of water released was the equivalent of the water flowing over Niagara Falls in 36 minutes.

As floodwaters churned down the valley they ingested rail lines and a barb wire factory. The water sucked in trees and scoured away most of the valley towns along the way.

As the floodwaters passed there were few traces that the towns ever existed. 

Where the Flood Entered Johnstown
(Viewed from Johnstown's Incline Plane) 

Aftermath Photos 

 The Famous "Staged" Newspaper Photo
A Photographer Asked a Friend to Play Dead
The Clean White Shirt Gave it Away

 The Most Famous Flood Photo

 Magnifiers Show High Waternmarks on City Hall
Top = Flood of 1889
Middle = Flood of 1936
Bottom = Flood of 1977

By the time the flood reached Johnstown it was no longer just a body of water. It was a multi-story rotating and grinding pile of trees, barb wire, steel and debris. 

Club attempts to alert Johnstown of the dam's failure were hampered as the massive storm had left telegraph lines fragile. 

So Johnstown faced the flood with little warning.

When the flood reached Johnstown it spread out flowing over the top of the city destroying virtually all of the wood frame buildings in town.

A 30 ton pile of debris then slammed into the Stone Bridge at the far end of Johnstown causing the flood to ripple and backwash back through the City.  The debris field at the Stone Bridge included everything the flood had picked up along the way including many trapped victims.

 The Unique Internal Rib Structure of the Stone Bridge
The Internal Ribs May Have Contributed to Damning up of the Debris Pile

As desparate attempts were being made to free the victims trapped in the debris (now filled with hot coals and gasses) it spontaneously ignited, burning uncontrollably for days. Bystanders could only watch as trapped victims, many of whom had ridden rooftops into the debris pile, perished in the fire.

The Death Toll
2,209 bodies were officially counted at City morgues. However many victims were never found or accounted for. 99 entire families were killed. 750 victims could never be identified. Bodies were found as late as 1911, as far away as Cincinnati Ohio.

The Roar and the Whimper
The world expressed outrage and responded with a massive outpouring of relief. 

Clara Barton arrived with America's new American Red Cross. She worked tirelessly, never leaving Johnstown, for the next 5 months. 

Club members never accepted any responsibility for the flood and accompanying disaster. A few made small contributions of blankets and supplies to relief efforts. Andrew Carnegie helped repair Johnstown's Library.


Andrew Carnegie
Industrialist and Club Member

Lawsuits against the club were lodged, but eventually were all defeated. Club member's simply contended it was an Act of God and walked away.

Many went on to assume some of the most powerful governmental positions in the US.

 Andrew Mellon
Pittsburgh Banker and Club Member
Went on to Become Secretary of the Treasury

 Philander Knox
Lawyer and Club Member
Went on to Become US Senator and US Attorney General

Despite Johnstown's efforts to rebuild (including the development of the worlds steepest Incline Plane allowing access to new hilltop neighborhoods), Johnstown never fully recovered. Today, it is Pennsylvania's poorest city.

 Johnstown's Incline Plane
The Steepest Incline Railway in the World

American history, right up to the unpunished crimes from OJ to Wall Street, reaffirm that responsibility of the rich for its negligence or lawless behavior, no matter how repugnant, may be made to go away if you avert your eyes to the suffering you cause and have the resources to "lawyer-up". 

To me the Johnstown Flood serves as a mirror to American history. 

And, against that prism, it is disheartening that, even in 2016, American apathy seems to expect that the rich are entitled to, and deserve, special treatment.

Our presidential candidates even openly express how they are above the law.

One even boasts he could "kill someone in broad daylight in Times Square and get away with it".

Failures to learn from our past can foreshadow our future.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Heard Museum

The Cultural Gateway to Arizona

Every year millions of visitors come to the Valley of the Sun.  The reasons they visit usually revolve around climate and/or attendance at some special event. While they are here they may golf or hike, enjoy spring training and Phoenix's red-hot indie restaurant scene. Many go on to visit the Grand Canyon, the Red Rocks of Sedona or the mystical lands of the Hopi and Navajo.

The Grand Canyon 2016
Tony Abeyta 

If you choose to visit, you will have much to choose from. But here's an inside tip from a local. Begin your visit by gaining insight on the richness, beauty and culture of our magnificent Sonoran Desert home.  And a great way to accomplish that is by investing an hour or two at Phoenix's remarkable Heard Museum.

Gift of the Earth 1991
Allan Houser (1914-1994)

 Navajo Water Girl 1999
Doug Hyde
Nez Perce / Assiniboine / Chippewa

Dwight and Maie Heard
Dwight Heard arrived in Chicago from Massachusetts in 1886 to work for (True Value) hardware wholesaler Adolphus Bartlett.

Seven years marked to life changing events for Mr. Heard. He married Adolphus' oldest daughter Maie. And, together, he and his new wife experienced Chicago's World's Columbian "White City" Exposition. This is the fair that introduced the world to widespread public use of electric lights and the world's first Ferris Wheel. It is very possible the exposition triggered their lifelong desire to explore the world.

Then, just two years later Dwight was diagnosed with tuberculosis. And, like many others, it  provoked the Heard's to relocate to the fledgling city of Phoenix, Arizona where he began a new career in farming, ranching and publishing.

Over their lifetime the Heard's carefully acquired art and treasures from Arizona (and around the world).  And, they eventually decided to create a museum to showcase their collections with a focus on Native American culture.

Indian Pottery 
Function Elevated to Art

Part of The Goldwater Katsina Collection

Koyola, Hano Clown 2000
Marlin Pinto

A few months before Dwight's death in 1929, the Heard Museum opened to showcase and celebrate the culture and art of the First People's.

The Heard
In addition to its core gallery's there are always new and changing exhibits. My visit last week offered two that I particularly enjoyed. There was a special exhibit "Over The Edge: Fred Harvey at the Grand Canyon" showcasing the Fred Harvey Company's powerful influence in western hospitality and major role in framing America's imagery of the Southwest.

Fred Harvey Santa Fe Railway Advertisements
McClure's Magazine 1912

Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter
The Design Force Behind Fred Harvey

Advertisement for La Fonda Hotel 
Santa Fe, New Mexico
A Colter Designed Hotel

I was also moved by a powerful and immersive permanent new exhibit presenting the Bureau of Indian Affair's boarding school program. The exhibit carefully illustrates and describes its profound and frequently heartbreaking impact on generations of Indian children.

"The Torture Begins"

Culture Wars
Participate in Sports!
Become Civilized!

The Way White People Do.....

Allow at least 2 hours for a visit. The museum is open seven days a week. There is a modest admission fee (admission is free to American Indians and to everyone on First Friday's). 

Consider a little extra time to explore the museum store, bookstore, cafe and coffee / espresso bar all located around the shady forecourt to the museum. The parking is free and the museum is immediately accessible to light rail.

The Heard Forecourt

Come Visit.

Enjoy the sun, the Golf and the food!

But start your visit at The Heard.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016