I recently read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. In it there’s a brief exchange between a young shepherd who’s wrestling with the idea of pursuing his life dream, and a wise old man who eggs him on.
The exchange goes like this:
“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised.
“It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
The idea of fate as a catalyst in American history is peculiar. For decades following the country’s founding, the American experiment was largely considered to be by design. In some eras, perhaps even today, it was thought to be sanctioned by God. Conversely, Americans can feel uncomfortable with the idea that their country and their national history are not driven explicitly by them, the people; fate takes control out of their hands and leaves the future up to chance—it’s unsettling to have no autonomy over your life and its direction.
But we’re hard pressed to consider the presence of fate when it comes to some of America’s most notable figures. Imagine if George Washington had not dodged at least four bullets in the French and Indian War, more than 30 years before he became the first president? Where would we be today had he not defied death?
Since Washington, no other president has looked death in the face and lived to tell the tale more often than Theodore Roosevelt. (In 1912, Roosevelt famously delivered a 50-page speech more than an hour long after he was shot in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver.) Can we really say fate was not at play when he nearly died in Pittsfield, Massachusetts?
Image via Arnold Gatilao (CC BY 2.0)
George Washington is always depicted as a solemn individual. From the dollar bill to the National Portrait Gallery, Washington is consistently precisely dressed, masculinely posed, and practically frowning. He was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”1 He was our first president and arguably most famous American. He secured a place in American folklore, like the Cherry Tree myth where a six-year-old Washington, wiser than his years, proclaims “I cannot tell a lie.”2
But his place in American legend fogs the fact that Washington was a person like us, one with flaws, imperfections, and sometimes questionable tastes. Through his quirky sense of humor, we can strip away the glossy veneer of Washington: the historical figure and get better acquainted with Washington: the man. For, like many of us, he had at times a slapstick, situational, lowbrow, and deadpan sense of humor, sometimes coarse, cutting, and sometimes cringe-worthy.
He didn’t refrain from laughing at lewd jokes or the physical pain of others. Sometimes he was the center of a comedic situation simply because of his good nature, the brawny Washington an awkward if not comical sight when performing acts of genuine kindness to others unexpectedly, appearing, if only for a few moments, a mere mortal instead of a living legend.
Snowflakes have finally transitioned to raindrops, lawns are becoming thicker and greener, and thermometers are steadily on the uptick. The spring season is now very much here. In our little corner of the country, though, the focus is elsewhere: divots in the road have transitioned to potholes, potholes are becoming deeper potholes, and potholes, it seems, are generally on the uptick. I cringe for everyone’s axles just thinking about it. But there is one place in Massachusetts where potholes are a welcome sight, strange as that may sound. For those willing to trek to the foothills of the Berkshires, risking their vehicles’ suspensions and wheel rims on pothole-riddled roads, they are in for an idyllic treat.
Roughly two hours west of Boston is the unassuming town of Shelburne Falls, nestled upon the eastern bank of the Deerfield River. This community is a bucolic destination for New England tourists wanting to break from typical destinations down along the coast or high up in the mountains. Here they’re treated to a healthy dose of New England hilltown atmosphere along with views of what are called glacial potholes, etched by Mother Nature out of the rocky riverbed.
Satans Kingdom, MA
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to numerous cities and towns whose namesakes are of European descent dating back hundreds of years. It makes sense, of course, given that European powers claimed communities up and down the East Coast, with the British concentrating, in part, around New England during its earliest period of colonial settlement. Some of these weird Massachusetts town names, though, have a muddled origin; some have changed over time, as all languages do, while others remain unexplained to this day. Take, for example, the village of Satans Kingdom in Northfield, Massachusetts.
Satans Kingdom is arguably the strangest name of any area in Massachusetts. Consider for a moment that the state is overflowing with place names that are blatantly English (e.g., Gloucester, Leicester, Leominster, Worcester), are currently names of other more prominent places worldwide (e.g., Florida, Peru, Holland, Mt Washington), and are names of local historical figures (e.g., Adams, Hancock, Webster, Lowell, Revere, Winthrop). Others are comically odd (Braintree, Belchertown, Cummington).
You get the idea.
But Satans Kingdom is noticeably different. It injects an air of foreboding, casts a dark mystique over the area, implies the dominion of the devil. So how could Massachusetts name a place so eerie when it’s surrounded by places with names so endearing?
On January 22 it was announced that The Colvest Group bought and will redevelop a three-acre parcel of land on King Street in Northampton, MA. The space falls under Highway Business District zoning regulations.
The land in question hosts the corroded bones of the Bill Willard Inc. concrete plant which closed in 2016. The Colvest Group’s new purchase adds to its King Street portfolio, where it also owns adjacent land upon which sits a fast food structure (formerly a Papa Gino’s), as well as a nine-acre spread upon which Colvest built Northampton Crossing (née Hill & Dale Mall), home of Baystate Outpatient Center, Greenfield Savings Bank, and Firestone Auto Center.
The property was sold for $2.25 million as per the purchase and sale agreement. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Colvest plans to create office or retail space on the site.
The Gazette also notes that King Street has seen its fair share of redevelopment over the past few years, including “new banks, car dealerships, retails businesses, and office space.”
To me, this signals that King Street is ripe for a more substantial refresh. Colvest has a prime opportunity to build something unique, something that can take advantage of the land’s surrounding amenities for the city’s residents who have an inherent taste for things home grown and craft made. Continue reading
The founding and maintenance of the United States by its presidents led to the subsequent naming of cities, towns, schools, roads, bridges, and buildings in their honor. Perhaps the most obvious example pertains to George Washington, namesake of our nation’s capital; not to mention, it seems like every community in every corner of the country has a Washington Street of some varying length and prominence.
James Monroe with Washington shares the distinction of having a national capital named for him: Monrovia, Liberia. Here in the US at the state level there’s Jefferson City, MO (Thomas Jefferson); Madison, WI (James Madison); Jackson, MS (Andrew Jackson); and innumerable counties nationwide named for every one of these men and others. The list continues on through the forward trajectory of history.
This trend seems to have peaked after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, prompting a wave of locations, public spaces, and memorials named for the 35th president. With the founding and incorporation of towns essentially at a standstill since westward expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries, most modern presidents lend their monikers to the likes of battleships, airports, and national parks.
There was only one president, though, actively took part in the naming of a city and put pen to paper, scribing its name identically to his. One can almost picture him slouched over a desk, lazily and loopily sketching his name on the incorporation papers where a line on an official document thirsted for ink: L-I-N-C-O-L-N.
Road trips tend to be about the experience, the journey more than the destination. For many, the importance of budgeting time is as important as budgeting gas and tolls. Travelers want to see as much as they can in the time allotted them. This often means driving by highway or other major arteries. This, in turn, often means feasting at fast food restaurants overrunning rest stops, or from whichever bag of mass-produced corn chips hanging in prepackaged plastic along the aisles of the cheapest gas station contains the most real ingredients.
Eating healthy on the road isn’t particularly easy. Few items are natural, many are saturated with sodium and other preservatives that slowly rot the body from the inside out. Normally I’d recommend shopping ahead of embarking. Preparing food is perhaps the most cost-efficient and time-efficient means of eating while on the road.
But if for whatever reason this is not an option, travelers can still enjoy healthy fare, picturesque scenery, and a hint of collegiate nostalgia.
Ahead of a recent road trip from Western Massachusetts to the Dayton, Ohio suburbs, my fiance and I decided against the most expeditious route– I-90 West, known colloquially to Mass. natives as The Pike — which would take us westward through Upstate New York, down the coast of Lake Erie, southwest from outside of Cleveland to Columbus, and finally due west again. We knew it’d be lined with stops peddling Auntie Anne’s, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Papa Gino’s, Roy Rogers, Tim Hortons, Sbarro, Subway, Steak ‘N Shake, and, well, you get the idea.
Alexander Stephens (1859)/ Image via Public Domain
On Sunday, May 21, 1865, the president and vice president of the Confederate States of America bade each other farewell. The latter would recall of the former, “he seemed more affected than I had ever seen him. He said nothing but good-bye, and gave my hand a cordial squeeze; his tone evinced deep feeling and emotion.”
It would be the last time rebel leaders Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis would shake hands.
Stephens had been arrested ten days prior at his estate in Crawfordville, GA — the main house of which he ironically named Liberty Hall — on charges of treason. He had woke that day, May 11, “a most beautiful and charming morning,” ate breakfast and wrote letters, and learned Union cavalry had descended on the rustic Georgia town to apprehend him. After a short time packing necessities, and no time to send word to his family, he boarded a Union train bound for Washington D.C.
It wasn’t until nine days later, while afloat off the coast of Virginia, that he learned his destination had been rerouted to Boston.
“I knew then that Fort Warren was to be my place of imprisonment.”
— Continue reading
It’s been difficult, as of late, for Boston to maintain its distinction as one of the foremost liberal, progressive, tolerant, and accepting cities in the country.
Twice this year the city’s solemn Holocaust Memorial was shattered by projectiles hurled by locals, the first in June by a Roxbury man, the second on Monday by a Malden 17-year-old. Prior, since its dedication in 1995, it had stood unscathed.
Boston was called the most racist city by SNL cast member Michael Che. Baseball player Adam Jones was subjected to racial slurs in the outfield of Fenway Park.
On a fairly regular basis, it seems, incidents and encounters such as these teem to the surface, tearing the scar of racism before it’s ever been fully healed — if it ever can be. And almost every time Boston residents recall about its most infamous race-related moment: busing.
In order to create a unified front against these ongoing acts of racism, of which recent incidents also include a man being called the “n-word” while walking down the street and a woman being struck with an umbrella and berated with anti-Islamic slurs on the subway, the residents and government of Boston must rally behind the city’s seemingly forgotten heritage of standing up to such prejudices instead of defaulting to recollections of the busing incident, which does not define Boston’s attitude toward minorities.
Heirloom portrait of Robert E. Lee sitting in my closet.
One fond memory of a trip to Gettysburg National Park consisted of my siblings, my cousins, and myself participating in a juvenile reenactment of the battle, complete with replica hats, jackets, and a discussion of soldierly life.
The instillment of the Civil War era in my life made it so the very idea of the conflict edged unassumingly along the spectrum of familiarity to complacency; to me Lee was always more of a character in a dramatic historical play, more protagonist than antagonist.
Consequently, I never considered the differing perspectives various people might have of the portrait of Robert E. Lee that hung in my childhood home, stoically placed as if the general himself were keeping watch over us.
I never thought twice about asking my parents for the portrait when they moved out of their house and downsized to a condo lacking abundant of wall space for Lee to reside.