Monday, August 14, 2006

Haunting Visage of a House


My hometown of New Bedford, Massachusettes was awash in wealth during the latter part of the 19th century, extending into the early years of the 20th century. It was a major whaling port, going back to colonial times, and somehow managed to transition itself into a mill town transforming bales of southern cotton into cloth and clothing. The wharves once full of barrels of whale oil were full of cotton bales, and the steam engine which revolutionized ground transportation also mechanized the spinning of thread and the looms for weaving it into cloth.

Many of the seafaring folks went from whaling to cod fishing on the Grand Banks off of Newfoundland, Canada a few hundred miles to the north. Then after World War One, called The Great War in those days, along came Prohibition making it illegal to posess or sell alcohol. It was still available in Canada, though, and many of those boats coming into port had barrels and bottles of whiskey under all those codfish packed in ice.

When I was a little kid there was a photograph on the wall of the front hall. It was my mother's father holding the reins of the horses as he sat in the wagon full of barrels of whiskey. It was legal whiskey, before prohibition. He had a wholesale liquor business on the main street between the docks and downtown. He made good money and bought several office buildings with a partner who also had interests in the fishing business. During prohibition, of course, the store was "closed" and the country sank into The Great Depression, with millions of people out of work. Strangly My grandfather made more money than ever. When prohibition ended the store "reopened" again.

In the late 1960's I was back there visiting and shot a few rolls of Kodachrome II of some of those fanciful old houses built in the late 1800's and early 1900's. I don't recall the address, but this was a few blocks west of downtown and I loved the way it had the round tower incorporated into the design.

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