Originally published on Mental_Floss, Dec. 24, 2014. For a short window in the 1960s, aluminum Christmas trees gleamed in living rooms nationwide—but this glorious, glittering reign would be all too brief. Within the decade, they were relegated to the curb as aesthetic tastes shifted. But nostalgia has fueled an aluminum tree renaissance in recent years. Here's a brief history.Read More
Beneath the water lie memories of vibrant villages.| Originally published in The Magazine, September 11, 2014.
Sally Norcross stands outside what was once her childhood home, in the heart of Dana, Massachusetts. She and her family left town 76 years ago, but she has clear memories of throwing crabapples into the yard of her grouchy neighbor Mr. Vaughn. Across Main Street is where she used to sit in school and watch out the window as the men dug up all the graves in the cemetery.
The bodies and headstones were relocated and the town of Dana abandoned. Her family’s house is an empty stone cellar overgrown with brush, like the remains of all the other buildings that made up the town. Dana is one of four towns that once lay in the Swift River Valley. All four of them are gone. Dana is unique in that its town common is the only one of the four that’s still above water and accessible.Read More
Originally published at Curbed on June 18, 2014.
Due to plummeting enrollment and a troubled district, vacant school buildings—heck, just vacant buildings—are none too rare in Detroit. After 19 years of abandonment, the Nellie Leland School, however, is no longer vacant—it, as abandoned urban buildings are want to do, is back in session as condos. When it first opened in 1919, vacancy was far from anybody's mind; in fact, demand was so high that it had a waiting list for admittance, and two years after opening had to build an expansion that more than tripled its enrollment. The reason Leland was such hot property? It has little to do with the economy, and everything to do with the fact that it was the first opportunity most local students with disabilities had for a public education.Read More
First published in American Forests magazine spring/summer 2014. |
In the 1820s, America's cities had a problem: People kept dying, and church burial grounds were filling up. Fortunately, a group of horticulturists in Massachusetts had a solution and, in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge became the first modern cemetery. Other cities began to follow suit, dedicating rolling, scenic tracts of land on the outskirts of town to honor the deceased. This “rural cemetery,” or “garden cemetery,” movement not only temporarily solved the problem of where to put the dead, but it also gave us the nation’s very first parks.
Over the decades, cemeteries fell out of vogue as cultural centers, but their fall from favor was not to be permanent. Today, the practice of using cemeteries for outdoor recreation is bubbling up once more, as urban dwellers seek out nature in the city.Read More
Gabriel Hounds is a brand of jeans in the same sense that Zero History is a book about fashion. Both statements are technically accurate, but only as a gateway to something…slippery. In Gibson’s 2010 novel, the Gabriel Hounds are a “secret brand.” The Kaizer Soze of pants. The smoke monster of denim. The brand is the MacGuffin in a hunt for truth beyond brand names, knockoffs, seasons, and flickering atemporality in a world that is evolving faster than we can focus our eyes.
Setting aside for a moment the product itself, and the very concept of a secret brand or a microbrand, a line of products marketed through non-marketing and secrecy (we can get to that later), the concept of a Gabriel Hound is a fitting one for the brand at the center of Zero HIstory.Read More
Originally published on Curbed National, April 18, 2014. |
The Boott Mills complex stretches along the Merrimack River like a fortress, a 179-year-old set of connected brick buildings that once housed roaring hydroelectric textile factories in the heart of Lowell, Mass. It's a remarkably intact representation of the mills that launched Lowell and other towns like it to prominence during the Industrial Revolution, and then left them in economic decline in the second half of the 20th century. But Lowell's factories—most recently, the iconic Boott Mills near downtown—are making a comeback.Read More
Originally published in Souciant on August 15, 2013. | Lauren Beukes transcends genre mashup with a gut punch portrayal of violence against women. Serial killer fiction and time travel fiction are two troubling genres. At its worst, the serial killer story offers the cheap thrill of watching a charming genius killing at will. And time travel can be an irritating, messy plot device that hogs the spotlight and drains a story of its reality. But South African writer Lauren Beukes’ third novel The Shining Girls avoids these pitfalls. Sure, it could have been an obscenely high-concept slashfest. But don’t worry, it’s not.
Beukes, instead, has written a story of sepia tones and sad laughter, in which both the serial killer and time travel elements take a decidedly background role to the emotional reality of violence, in particular against women. And somehow, for a book that deals in such pitch-black subject matter, it remains lively, with alternating moments of gee-whiz historical facts and truly frightening suspense.Read More
Originally published in Souciant Magazine on February 4, 2013. Warren Ellis’s latest novel Gun Machine is like a cop thriller set in a fever dream, twisted genre fiction that employs the conventions of a primetime police drama to investigate a series of brutal crimes, but also the bloody history of New York City itself.
The novel starts with a compelling premise — an empty apartment hiding 200 guns, each implicated in a separate unsolved murder — and then plays out the mystery with the familiar elements of a hardboiled detective story or an episode of CSI.
But while Ellis, who is best known as a renowned graphic novelist, toys with the genre’s well worn tropes with glee, the real joy in this book is not in police work itsef, but in the archaeology it makes possible.Read More
Originally published in Souciant Magazine on December 12, 2012. The back cover and spine of Punk: An Aesthetic are almost entirely white, with a clean, black typeface. Seen from a distance on a bookshelf, it could be any modern art book. But the front cover — punk cartoonist Gary Panter’s illustration of the singer for The Screamers — is another matter, a large, low-quality print of a black-and-white face fixed in what looks like a scream of rage, befitting the book’s innards.
Look inside and you’ll see a riot of images: hand-scrawled political rants, shredded clothing, swastikas, pornography, violent photomontage and hundreds of others from the 1970s punk movement. That screaming face on the front cover gives you the feeling the content inside doesn’t want to be contained.Read More
“Ekranoplan,” said Gareth. “A ground effect vehicle. He’s mad.” … The ekranoplans reminded Milgrim of the Spruce Goose, which he’d toured in Long Beach as a high school student, but with its wings largely amputated. Weird Soviet hybrids, the ekranoplans; they flew, at tremendous speeds, about fifteen feet above the water, incapable of greater altitude. They had been designed to haul a hundred tons of troops or cargo, very quickly, over the Black or Baltic Sea. This one, an A-90 Orlyonok, had, like all the others, been built in the Volga Shipyard, at Nizhni Novgorod.Read More