- Historic Sites
Letter From The Editor
August 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 5
The life of a radical in the old days was hard and dangerous. He was rarely successful and tended more often to wind up badly— he was jailed, run out of town, laughed at, or, worst of all, ignored. But in modern times we have changed all that. We listen, which may be the root of the problem, and we adopt the scheme in question at once, however harebrained. The theme is “instant acceptance.” It happens steadily. Just the other day it was pants for women, and then long hair for men. One minute little Willie had a shaggy head and a wisp of a new beard, and within six months even old men were hiding their ears behind large, fluffy sideburns and their collars under gray pageboys. Somebody suggested that Ms. would be a fine form of address for the liberated woman who does not want to reveal what used to be called her “condition” as either spinster or married woman. Now mail floods into this office addressing as Ms. a great many women who previously saw no objection to being either Miss or Mrs. The surrender outruns the attack.
Much the same thing can be found daily in anyone’s morning paper. Homosexuals demonstrate, just as though they were Teamsters, or Italian-Americans, or welfare recipients, and the Establishment falls on its knees. And so Yale gets an officially recognized Gay Alliance, probably next door to Skull and Bones, and no skeletons are hidden. A similar corporal’s guard of liberated women, or militant blacks, or rioting students can produce the same effect. Businessmen crumble, city councillors tremble, faculties cave in. Those who resist are denounced; the New York Times recently called one group of holdouts “self-appointed upholders of ‘the old virtues’ ” (which leads one to wonder, disloyally, who appointed the New York Times , and to what).
It is a great time, one has to admit, to be on the bandwagon of radical change, and it is obvious that nothing—old virtue, old idea, even old landmark—is going to escape. With thoughts like these in mind, we picked up a recent issue of Preservation News , the esteemed publication of The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which devotes itself to fighting the battle against the bulldozer and the builder. The Trust, which is one of the few remaining American organizations with a bit of backbone left, reproduces the little picture shown here, depicting Faneuil Hall, one of the birthplaces of our liberty, as it will look when an enormous forty-four-story office building is completed beside it. There’s radical change for you. Since one other big building has already been erected behind it, and Boston’s hideous new City Hall has gone up across the square (far right), the old hall will be effectively hemmed in. Boston has asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ( HUD ) to approve the new structure, and we are sorry to say that despite some opposition, it obtained the approval of, of all things, the Massachusetts Historical Commission. As one local official, the Honorable John F. X. Davoren, commented, the historic structures would be no less historic “in shadow than in light.” Here is a project, certainly, to match the proposed Soy-foot observation tower overlooking the battlefield of Gettysburg, both in taste and monumentality.
It is easy enough to tear down what the pitiful handful of reactionaries like us regards as beautiful old buildings, as any official of HUD can tell you. The scars of HUD’S achievements pockmark the country. But if it is merely expensive to engineer simple destruction, it takes skill and imagination to erect true enormities. To help out in any shortage of ideas, we have a store of ready-made enormities to suggest for any locality in need of one. Here are a few samples:
- 1. The Top-out Cop-out: In this beautifully designed plan, the amenity to be preserved—say, Independence Hall, Philadelphia—is lifted up and dropped on the top of an eighty-story building, thus enshrining it in a position where it can overawe lovers of liberty within a radius of several hundred miles, in smog-free periods.
- 2. Forever Amber: This scheme involves embedding an entire district—say, Beacon Hill, Boston, or the Battery in Charleston —in clear or tinted fireproof plastic, thus preserving it like baby’s bronzed booties and at the same time keeping out undesirable elements. Aluminum walkways entirely encircle the preserved area and are washed down nightly by electronic means with a substance that removes all traces of graffiti.
- 3. The Disney: In this method, the landmark in question— say, Bunker Hill—is surrounded with an amusement park on the order of Disneyland. Cunningly devised monorails carry the visitor back and forth between the lines of simulated redcoats and patriots, clever mechanized figures that re-enact the battle every two hours so realistically that many of the patrons must be taken away fainting to local first-aid stations, although medical attention would be included in the admission charge.
- 4. The Cloverleaf: Since the modern American spends hours of his time on superhighways, and most of that circling on and off cloverleafs, it is clear that maximum attendance can be expected if these are situated at historic points like Plymouth Rock or the Alamo. Let us not forget what Dr. Johnson said in his Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland: “That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.” Imagine one cloverleaf twisting around the White House, so that tourists can be inspired with intimate views of the Executive Mansion while they circle it again and again, hunting for exits. In order not to disturb the privacy of the Presidential family, no exit would actually lead anywhere except back onto the throughway.
We have a great many more schemes like these available, of course, for in revolutionary times one should always be a few surrenders ahead of the attackers.