Gate of Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia (all photographs by the author)
Philadelphia's Mount Moriah Cemetery has been officially closed and abandoned since 2011, its 380 acres now overgrown, the over 85,000 graves consumed by an encroaching forest. Incorporated in 1855, it was once among the most elite of the Victorian cemeteries. Now you're lucky if you can find a family member's grave without rubbing against poison ivy.
How such a significant place fell into such ruin is complicated, and years after its last burial it's still effectively without an owner. A nonprofit volunteer-spurred group called Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery regularly cuts a path in the bramble so there is at least some navigation through the grounds. But as the cemetery is divided between Philadelphia and Delaware counties, each with its own potential managing corporation, as of this month Mount Moriah's future is undecided by the two sides.
Mausoleum crumbling in the flora
Vines climbing up a statueRead More
Main Support Frame of Engine Unit, March 20, 1902. (Courtesy of New York Transit Museum)
The steam-powered trains that first provided New York City with mass transit quickly became a sooty mess, rumbling over the elevated tracks above the streets and leaving dark clouds in their cacophonous wake. So in 1900 construction began on a massive new facility that would use alternating current (AC) electricity to propel the transit lines of the Second, Third, Sixth, and Ninth avenues in Manhattan.
An exhibition at the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn called Anatomy of a Powerhouse: Electrifying the El, brings together 31 photographs of the building of the 74th Street Powerhouse. The images are all from an archive of 1,200 photographs donated by the MTA New York City Transit, Department of Subways, Division of Electrical Power Operations. They show the colossal engineering of 6,000 tons of metal — both steel and iron — that went into the machinery. Generators, transformers, steam pipes, and coal conveyors all fit together into what was the world's largest AC power station. Designed by George H. Pegram, the building radically influenced the future of New York City mass transit when the elevated lines in Manhattan were all electrified by June 25, 1903, even if the fanfare was minimal. Yet the subways are cleaner, safer, and more efficient today thanks to this incredible engineering project.
Such an achievement deserves celebration, and now over a century later Atlas Obscura is partnering with the New York Transit Museum this Thursday, October 1, on an evening called Power Play. Situated alongside Anatomy of a Powerhouse, as well as its companion exhibition ElectriCity: Powering New York's Rails, the after-hours event will feature music from gypsy punks Amour Obscur, artifacts from the Museum of Interesting Things, and other retrotech-themed marvels to honor this powerful transit history. We hope you'll join us! Below are some images from Anatomy of a Powerhouse that show the turn-of-the-century grandeur of the 74th Street Powerhouse.
Manhattan Railway Company 74th Street Powerhouse, ca. 1902. (Courtesy of New York Transit Museum)Read More
A well & water bogie spirit (illustration from "Books and Bookmen," 1899, via Internet Archive Book Images)
The Japanese are renowned for the supernatural — the yokāi (roughly "monsters"), and yūrei ("ghosts"). The ghosts and monsters of Japanese tradition still infiltrate and live in the Japanese conciousness, with school children telling stories about yokāi first mentioned a thousand years ago, alongside some that were only invented during the 20th century. Remakes of Japanese films such as The Ring and The Grudge have also helped to introduce these stories to larger audiences around the world.
Rumors of haunted temples, office buildings, and homes are widespread around Japan. Imagine a Google Maps page where the archipelago that makes up Japan is obscured by red pins of hauntings, from Okinawa to Hokkaido. Yokai, like the Nopperabō (the "man with no face") and the Kuchisake Onna ("slit-mouthed woman") are still seen on city streets, and terrified bystanders have been known to report their presence to the police. Places like the Aokigahara Suicide Forest and Sunshine 60, a mixed-use skyscraper in Ikebukero, Tokyo, are well-known as haunted sites in Japan, and each summer Obake Yashiki ("haunted houses"), such as Tokyo's the Cursed Tooth, pop up to give people a chill in the hot weather.
A Storm-Fiend (illustration from "Books and Bookmen," 1899, via Internet Archive Book Images)
The props and scares of the Obake Yashiki industry might be worth a scream and a moment of terror with your friends, but traditional Japanese ghosts are not to be laughed at, as a spirit will only return to spook the living if it died due to serious betrayal or other powerful, unresolved emotions. So-called kodokushi, or "lonely deaths," are also implicated, as are suicides and murders, and to live in a house where such a death has occurred is to tempt fate.
A "lonely death" is one where the body is not found for a long period after death, and the stains left behind on the floor are, in the Japanese mind, the path for the ghosts to re-enter the world. Although the traditional Japanese view of family is one of three generations living together, this life is far removed from the modern reality. In 2008, Tokyo saw more than 2,200 people over the age of 65 die a lonely death.Read More
Anita in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (photograph by beccapie/Flickr)
Alongside the huge airplanes and spacecrafts in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is a small spider who went to space, the name "Anita" stuck onto her preserving jar. Anita and her companion spider Arabella were part of an experiment to see if spiders would weave their webs once propelled out of the Earth's atmosphere.
Spiders are known to use the weight of their bodies to coordinate their web weaving, so a change in gravity was something scientists were interested in testing, especially as studying the nervous system of spiders could have an impact on essential drugs for humans. As NASA explains on their site:
The experiment was designed to measure motor response, an indication of the functioning of the central nervous system. Drugs such as stimulants and sedatives affect the nervous system by causing degradation of certain motor responses. In an effort to study the effects of drugs, researchers have often utilized spiders as test subjects. The geometrical structure of the web of an orb-weaving spider provides a good measure of the condition of its central nervous system.
High school student Judith Miles presenting her proposal for a Skylab experiment with spiders in 1972 (via NASA)
Last week the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum shared Anita and one of the spider cages also on display on their Twitter. The idea to send spiders to space actually came from a 17-year-old Lexington, Massachusetts, high school student named Judith Miles. She proposed the "Web Formation in Zero Gravity" test as part of an initiative to bring 25 student experiments aboard the Skylab 3 mission. Two common Cross spiders were selected, given a housefly meal before launch, and from July 28 to September 25, 1973, they were sent to spin where no webs had been spun before.
After being coaxed into the cages designed specifically for the experiment, neither spider started web building immediately in the microgravity, reportedly demonstrating "erratic swimming motions" upon entering. A camera was trained on their movement, and despite the totally unfamiliar dislocation from the planet, in two days Arabella built a web, and later Anita would spin one of her own. They were finer webs than those they made on Earth, but otherwise not completely dissimilar.Read More
From August to September, Eames Demetrios, Geographer-at-Large for Kcymaerxthaere, is serving as the Geographer-in-Residence at Atlas Obscura. Read his previous posts & discover places in a world parallel to our own here.
It is dawn in west Michigan and tomorrow, at 8:30 AM (getting coffee at 8), some intrepid folks will begin their journey of story from Michigan to Indiana, and thence to the 9th Annual All-Kymaericas Kcymaerxthaere Spelling Bee in Paris, Illinois.
Never been to a parallel universe spelling bee before? Here is what one looks like. DON'T miss it.
ArtPrize in Grand Rapids has been going on for four or five years now, and is the largest crowd-sourced arts festival anywhere in the world. Even as I prepare for the caravan, I've been lucky enough to take a look around at a couple of things.
One of the most striking so far? Anila Quayyum Agha at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It is just one of 1,500 works spread around the city for three weeks, creating a real celebration of public space.
I have a soft spot for ArtPrize — it was where I installed the five markers we'll be touring here, one of the densest concentrations of Kcy sites anywhere in the world. And because of ArtPrize, we were able to install right by the river, so important to the story — and so very close.Read More
Sunken lane in Normandy, France (photograph by Jean-François Gornet/Flickr)
Appearing like trenches dragged into the earth, sunken lanes, also called hollow-ways or holloways, are centuries-old thoroughfares worn down by the traffic of time. They're one of the few examples of human-made infrastructure still serving its original purpose, although many who walk through holloways don't realize they're retracing ancient steps.
The name "holloway" is derived from "hola weg," meaning sunken road in Old English. You're most likely to discover a holloway where the ground and the stone below are soft, such as places rich in sandstone or chalk. No one ever engineered a holloway — erosion by human feet, and horses or cattle driven alongside, combined with water then flowing through the embankments like a gully, molded the land into a tunneled road. It's hard to date them, but most are thought to go back to Roman times and the Iron Age, although in the Middle East some are believed to stretch back to ancient Mesopotamia. They even have their own ecology, such as the spreading bellflowers that enjoy the disturbed earth.
Last year Robert Macfarlane published a book called Holloway that mused on the landforms alongside gorgeous woodcuts by Stanley Donwood. Macfarlane described the sunken lanes as "rifts within which time might exist as pure surface, prone to recapitulation and rhyme, weird morphologies, uncanny doublings." Back in 2008, he described the geology of the holloways in an Orion magazine article:
The oldest holloways date back to the early Iron Age. None is younger than three hundred years old. Over the course of centuries, the passage of cart wheels, hooves, and feet wore away at the floor of these roads, grooving ruts into the exposed stone.
Some holloways have garnered modern infamy due to their use as shelters in war, such as one in La Meauffe, Normandy, that earned the nickname "Death Valley Road" in a clash between American and German soldiers, or another now called "Bloody Lane" after the hundreds who died there in Maryland's Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War. However, most are quietly still offering passage through forests and the overgrowth, just as they have for centuries.
Erbrée, Brittany, France (photograph by Olybrius/Wikimedia)
Sunken lane in La Meauffe, France, site of a 1944 World War II battle (photograph by Romain Bréget/Wikimedia)
Doel, Belgium (all photographs by Chris Staring/Skaremedia)
Despite the fact that Doel has existed for more than 700 years, this small village will soon be erased in order to make way for the constantly expanding Antwerp port.
Doel, Belgium, sits about a 20 minute drive to the northwest of downtown Antwerp on the edge of the port inlet. Since the 1970s, Doel has been scheduled for demolition multiple times, but the residents managed to delay the inevitable through repeated protests. After almost 30 years of delays, however, the government finally scheduled Doel for complete demolition, and in the late 1990s the residents slowly started trickling out of Doel, leaving their houses empty, and ripe for street artists to use as their canvas.
Some demolition work appears to have already begun
When visiting Doel, it really feels like you have entered a post-apocalyptic world with its empty streets, overgrown vegetation, and abandoned houses, all in the shadow of a nearby power plant.
The gates to the village Lock, with the power plant looming in the background
A lot of the artwork scattered around Doel depicts the nearby cooling towers from the nuclear power plant
Visible storage at the Luce Foundation Center for American Art (photograph by Cliff/Flickr)
In the world’s largest museums, only a small fraction of their collections are ever placed on display. This makes the storage capacity and conditions of museums incredibly important.
Jennifer Jones, chair and curator within the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, wrote a few years ago about the difficulties museums face when considering storage and how it should work. As time elapses, museum staff must contend with an increase in collections, as well as technologies and filing systems that go out of date.
While museums are chiefly concerned with the health and condition of their collections, they are also keenly aware of the need to compete with outside influences to keep patrons heading in through their doors. Whether it is other museum options in major metropolitan areas, the need to attract brand new visitors, or tech projects like Google Art, museums find themselves constantly on the lookout for new acquisitions, exhibit redesigns, and inventive ways to attract visitors.
These conditions have helped produced the ever-popular trend of "visible storage," a new way museums across the world are preserving their collections in beautiful, yet safe, environments that offer museum-goers a window into the daily operations behind-the-scenes, all the while maintaining tight conservation control over storage systems and collections.
One of these institutions is the Brooklyn Museum, where Luce Center for American Art visible storage enables visitors to view approximately 2,000 items from the museum’s storage facility. This 5,000 square-foot space enables visitors to view a rotating collection of storage items that would normally be packed away in the dark. At any one time, 600 paintings from the museum’s holdings are rotated in and out on rolling racks situated behind glass walls, with numerous other artifacts positions in cases around the gallery.
Kevin Stayton, chief curator at the Brooklyn Museum, explained: “Since the installation was introduced in 2004, [visitation] numbers are up and have consistently risen.” According to Stayton, visitors have described visible storage as providing a “treasure box feeling,” enabling them to find hidden objects and make connections with surrounding displays without much guidance. But the Brooklyn Museum is just one of a growing number of museums around the world that are developing beautiful, visually-stimulating visible storage facilities, allowing museum goers to see more than ever before.
Below is a photo collection of just a few of the world’s most beautiful visual museum storage spaces:
Luce Foundation Center for American Art
photograph by Cliff/Flickr
photograph by Cliff/Flickr
Mists of Mùli (all photographs by the author)
In the Faroe Islands, automatic transmission vehicles are hard to come by. And I soon found that my quick practice run around the block in a borrowed pick-up truck only moments before I left for the airport in Boston hadn't prepared me for a multi-island odyssey along wildly curved one-lane roads and through aging mountain tunnels.
After stalling the car in the unlit, single-track tunnel between Árnafjørður and Hvannasund (and being unable to restart it as a set of headlights barreled toward me), I wound my way along a wrinkled gravel road gouged from the side of a mountain to its terminus, the now-abandoned village of Mùli at the tip of the northern island of Borðoy.
Looking Down the Fjord from Mùli To Hvannasund
Author's accommodations in Mùli
As I stepped out of the car I was instantly enveloped by a crushing silence — a vacuum of human sound that swallowed even the miniature noise of gravel under my shoes as I walked over to the house that I'd rented from a woman living in the capital. Out the kitchen window, across the fjord, the towering pyramid of rock, Malinsfjall, cast deep shadows across this isolated microcosm. In a golden un-night, I heard the roar of quiet just beyond the waves that crashed against the cliffs below the deserted hamlet.Read More
J. W. Ocker, the author of Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, out now from Countryman Press, discovered a surprising array of sites and artifacts connected to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” in his year-long trek to visit all things Poe in the many places the poet lived.
Illustration by Édouard Manet for a French translation by Stéphane Mallarmé of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" (1875) (via Library of Congress)
You know the image. A lone man sits in his chamber one midnight dreary pondering over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, when his reverie is interrupted by a grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore that perches on a pallid bust of Pallas just above his chamber door.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” was published in January 1845 in New York’s Evening Mirror. This was less than four years before Poe died, and 15 years since he last published a full volume of poetry. Its 18 stanzas represent the peak of his fame in life. It probably still does, but that’s two very different peaks, like Bunker Hill and Olympus Mons different.
Today, “The Raven” is as relevant, well-known, and popular as, well, whatever the kids are listening to and watching these days. Sorry. I’m old. Artists and storytellers, even the National Football League, have tried to wrestle the image of the raven away from Poe’s death grip, but all have failed to even rustle a single ebon feather. Perhaps the strangest thing about this poem that started in one man’s imagination and expanded into the collective cultural consciousness is how many physical artifacts related to it have survived.
For my new book, Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, I spent more than a year visiting memorials, mementos, monuments, and more dedicated or connected to Edgar Allan Poe in the places he lived and visited. That meant traveling from Massachusetts all the way down to an island in South Carolina, as well as across the Atlantic, seeing amazing Poe sites and artifacts and meeting the people responsible for maintaining his physical legacy. By far, some of my most favorite sites were directly related to “The Raven,” most in surprising ways.
Once Upon a Midnight Dreary
W. 84th Street in Manhattan (all photographs by the author unless noted)
It seems like a normal Upper West Side Manhattan street. People cram the concrete, cars cram the asphalt, the kind of thick bustle of humanity you either love or hate. Until you look up and see the shiny green sign that says "Edgar Allan Poe St." It’s a short stretch of West 84th Street, from West End Avenue to Broadway, a mere block, but the sign doesn’t honor Poe randomly. It hints at something significant related to Poe in the area. You have to lower your gaze to discover what that is.Read More