rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,
rejectomorph
flying_blind

Sudden Ends of Time and the Persistence of Memory

Google Books is putting up scads of scans of early 20th century trade journals dealing with architecture and construction. They are a total time hole for me. I've been spending hours looking at pictures of new buildings that are now old or gone, many of them designed by architects nobody remembers. These magazines have been stuck in the stacks of libraries for decades, probably seen by only a handful of people during all that time, and now here they are in digital form, flaunted on the Internets like so much porn. And (if published before 1923) all for free!

For one example, the September, 1912, issue of a journal called The Ohio Architect, Engineer and Builder presented a portfolio of dozens of photos, drawings, and plans of buildings designed by a local architect named Paul A. Rissmann. Rissmann had only been in the area for six years, but had obviously been very busy. There are houses, business blocks, schools, churches, lodge halls, banks, even a hospital and a YMCA. He also designed at least one theater, mentioned in the introduction to the portfolio, but not pictured.

Digging about on the Internet I've found that the theater Rissmann designed, originally called the Majestic but later renamed the State, met a dismal fate on June 24, 1924, when the town in which it was located, Lorain, was struck by a tornado. The theater was destroyed, along with much to the town, and fifteen people were killed when the roof collapsed and took the balcony down with it.

Other buildings Rissmann designed were probably also destroyed by that tornado. It's a bit eerie to look at the pictures from 1912 and know that some of the buildings in them were probably doomed to sudden destruction just a few years later. But many more of them have undoubtedly succumbed to more mundane but equally fatal forces such as gradual physical decay, economic decline, and the changing desires and tastes of a fickle population.

Seeing these digitized journals has reminded me again how the Internet is like a huge virtual midden, where everybody gets to play archaeologist, rooting around in heaped fragments of the past— yet no matter how much digging we do, not only does the midden remain, it even grows larger. I now have stuff on my computer that I gleaned from it, but that stuff is still on Google's heap as well, where anybody can see it. And a few months from now there will probably be still more issues of still more journals on the heap. I'll squander countless hours looking at them, of course.

It would not be surprising if, should I become demented in my old age, I'd be unable to tell which of the vague memories that remained to me were actually mine and which were things I picked up on the Internet. Maybe I'll end my days having false memories of living in Ohio in the early 20th century and weeping over the rubble of the State Theatre. But then, if one is demented, does it really matter? And even if it matters, does one demented even care?

Back to the midden!
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