Casual Demo on Market Street: Updated yarn 01/16/21

There is a story behind this, but it’s not here. I’m sort of rushed today.

EDIT: This is a chance for me to reveal a bit about my situation. My personal life is boring and sad, but I want to stay grounded, so I need to express my personal connection to the crumbling edifice of Western civilization, and so forth. I spend fifteen hours a day with my kids, and sometimes I need to bard up, to make sense of what is happening now. I catch it in the flow.

I was not surprised these buildings fell. These buildings were basically 100 years old. In conversation with a retired native of Brownsville, an old mechanical engineer, I discovered a bit more about the history of the building site. I was interested in compiling his trove of videos, images and collected stories for the historical society in Brownsville, but, as I explained to him, I was, as I am today, not doing anything for anyone for free until I get a job to pay my bills and feed my kids. He never told me the buildings would fail, but, in hindsight, all the clues were there right under my nose.

He had studied the old deeds, drawings and documents pertaining to the history of Brownsville, and had a lot of information about the development of the business district on Market Street. He wanted me to turn it into a presentation. People used to say, before steel industry kicked into high gear, that Pittsburgh was trying to be like Brownsville. Brownsville had industry and retail. This was the Western Frontier, and in the rush to establish a trading post, the flood plain upon which downtown Brownsville had to be raised, stabilized and festooned with shops and lodgings to attract travelers and explorers before they crossed the Mon and headed West. We had blacksmiths, builders, tanners, coopers, weavers, trappers, guides and boat builders. Today, the riverbank is buttressed with a giant wall that spans the town, but two hundred years ago, it was all rickety and weird.

The oldest iron arch bridge in America passes over Dunlap’s Creek where it meets the Monongahela River. The creek had to be channeled away from ‘The Neck’, the narrow passage up the slope which used to travel right up my street, Front Street, past Nemacolin Castle, the home of Philander Knox, and other property sprung up in the early 19th century that one can still see today.

The crick was channeled to provide a better foundation for buildings planted up the slope towards Rose Mansion and Nemacolin Castle, both still standing. One could plainly see travelers who used the creek, and, presumably, could be shot with cannons or muskets from the promontory where Nemacolin Castle if needed. There were marauders, militia and Native American raiding parties, drunks and scamps and everyone else to judge and be fearful of.

In Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia, I read how perceived immorality often cleaved towns to pieces, the deeds and realignments through Reformation played out in microcosm in the Quaker societies. Instead of rational reorganization of labor into mercantile systems, people were kicked out of churches for getting wild booty. That pissed off the clergy. Gossip was a scourge. You can find copies of records in old libraries here.

I saw no documents pertaining to the original location of the mouth of the creek, but, judging from the location of the collapsing shops in the video here, I can guess that they were built on the floodplain over unstable ground, either over or adjacent to an old creek bed. It just seems likely the erosion occurred alongside an old main. The amount of run-off from the Spring thaw swells the river sometimes twelve feet or more.

As you look at the river from the vantage point of the viewer in Figure 6. , you would notice that Dunlap creek would have passed into the river underneath the spot of those damaged buildings (south of these damaged buildings). This is all a confusing story about a creek meant to take your mind off troubling current events, ok, fines . You can see the terrain and an old rail line cut through the hills in Figure 4 and Figure 5.

Figure 3. Stoner, J. J, and Beck & Pauli. Bird’s-eye-view Brownsville, Bridgeport, W. Brownsville, Pa. [Milwaukee, Beck & Pauli Lithographers, 1883] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/7469315

I wanted to recreate this hilltop image taken from a hilltop in Figure 3 for the historical society, but no one cared for me to do it, but someone should, someone from here, because that’s how it works here: outsiders not welcome. I do the work, but I receive no credit. Thoughts and prayers.


Figure 4. The old rail line cut under town to Simpson Mine at marker bottom at right to center, courtesy of Google Maps
Figure 5. Marker in upper left for proposed aerial photo location, courtesy of Google Maps

In the late 20th century, when Brownsville died, about 100 abandoned structures were purchased and left to rot. Some say it happened when the National Highway was slapped through the borough of Upper Market Street. Others say it happened when retail dried up. I think it depended on what people considered irretrievably lost. The purchase of all of these buildings was made by an unknown investor, and perhaps it was just an idea that never panned out. The population shrunk to a bare fraction of what it once was. It was a short. It killed the town and destroyed property value. Dead Brownsville meant towns elsewhere close to it could attract business. This helped Pittsburgh grow. Brownsville collapsed due to the disinvestment in small towns and small town lenders, and the general demise facing other industrial communities: coal, steel, and then retail came and went, and people never came back.

Figure 6. Union Station and the Flatiron to the right (north) of the mouth of Dunlap’s Creek before it was channeled.

Another building downtown sits at a slight tilt, and is the current home of Leaning House Cigars. It is close to where the old massive movie theater, department stores and boutiques thrived in the 20th century.

This was a place of industry from the very start of this country, and is now largely abandoned. People never move here, and people would offer condolences to me for having done it, anyways. People are not friendly. Not to say they are mean and rotten, just disinterested in you unless you grew up here, too, tribal. After eight years in residence, this place is the least friendly small town in which I have ever lived. Maybe it’s us. I accept that. Either way, we are still lonely and wish we could be a part of a community. The Covid-19 pandemic has fairly destroyed that opportunity. We are on our own now more than ever.

The day I took that video clip, a nurse had wheeled an older woman in a wheelchair to the demolition fence. They gawked in disbelief at the rubble. The sense of permanence the old buildings exuded must have been comforting for decades. I watched them a moment. I had a mask and gloves on, so I gave the woman a postcard of the image in the banner, the one with the goofy font that says ‘Where America Moves Forward’. She probably thought that was weird. It was weird to me. I used to leave those postcards at two concerts, fifteen rest stops, and a few coffee shops. I went to four concerts in the past decade: OPN, Sunn O))), Parkay Quarts, and Combo Chimbita. I am a breed of introvert that likes to photograph ruins, whether it be recent or ancient. I loved architecture.

I grew up in the ‘burbs in Atlanta, in a strip mall interzone. There was an anonymous feel to the place. Nothing was very old.

My street in Brownsville has half a dozen houses built before the 1850s, and that’s unreal to me, that sense of permanence. We never planned to stay here – I got laid off, and my house outside Atlanta was ransacked by a deceased tenant’s family and drunks who hung around a liquor store within walking distance, so we had no home to return to anyways. We were paying a quarter of our tenant’s rent to the property manager because she was on social security, and we thought she was super nice. It was a shame when she died. Our old home was cozy. I renovated it, put in new appliances and flooring. I was going to plumb out a patio and turn it into an apartment for my ailing mother-in-law, but my wife’s father offered us a place to stay, temporarily, in Morgantown, WV. What about my house, I asked him. I have a mortgage on it. He said he would help. His land was being fracked, and we’d be rich. That was a load of malarkey. Someone drank his milkshake, and a disturbing story about my father-in-law came to light when we moved here. It’s shocking.

When he was a young man, brash and bold and in love with a connected socialite, my father-in-law found out about an affair she was having and decided to catch them in the act. He confronted them at a hotel in town and shot the cad with a pistol. He was wounded, and the father of his girlfriend covered it up so his daughter’s honor wouldn’t be tarnished. Fifty years later, my father-in-law lured us to West Virigina from Georgia, both my family and his sick ex-wife, lured us to his childhood home, and then abruptly evicted us over an argument he had with his daughter about his freely coming and going whenever he pleased, and she asked me to talk to him. He told me to fuck off, and then evicted us. My mother-in-law had to move to Florida to live with one of her wild Juggalo daughters, and there she died after a few years battle with cancer, two months shy of my graduation from college again with a triple major in robotics stuff, in 2018. We were going to put her in the carriage house on the property. The owner usually rented to fracking camptowners. My father-in-law was abusive to my wife’s mom, and her sisters, too. Rape was mentioned. I don’t pry. My wife has never really talked about him, and she never wanted him around much. I wish she had told me about her dad shooting someone out of jealosy BEFORE we got married. I wonder what other skeletons are in her closet. I am not in control of much more than my thoughts or my ability to enjoy being a dad, so it is easy to get paranoid. I was raised to be paranoid of strangers. My family was pursued from Dallas to Atlanta by a violent felon. My dad nearly killed him with a bat. If I hadn’t called him to rescue us at my moms apartment, we might’ve been maimed like his other victims. My mom caught him trying to break in her apartment via a rope ladder. Dumb ass went to prison, and my childhood blossomed.

What savings we had is gone. We sacrificed to get me through school so someone would hire me. I was turned down for a job today, only the fifth rejection this year. I estimate I could have fifty more on a good year, but now, now there’s no telling. This place is desolate. I am lucky to find some treatment for ADHD and depression. I took about fifty jobs in my 20s and 30s to see people working in different situations. I was like an explorer.

I dream up cool cinematography to film, and if I’d made one friend here, I could have made some magic. I need an assistant or a mentor, same difference, maybe a friend. The stuff I want to do requires an extra set of eyes for production and safety. Being weird has its logical limitations in an old self-obsessed town where people generally only leave…and this story has been told in Songs for Drella, so what.

Today, I was turned down for a job that would cover half of my bills. Imagine that being a good option. Now the country is becoming a giant Brownsville, so maybe betweenness matters, between jobs, between lovers, between towns. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a coma because this is so predictable and banal.

I dad 24/7. My old born is already taller than me at age 13. I justvinhetited a bunch of his cool clothes! My younger son is disabled, and, in second grade, on Zoom, I saw him reach the crossroads of tracking downward. I had the same MO, but they beat the crazy out of me at school and at home. For someone who lived in the cycle of violence, breaking it is difficult, and therapy helps. I saw him separate from the other students, saw him watch the train pull away from the station, saw the light go out in his eyes. I waited, and after a few weeks in goofy home schooling classes, I saw him try and try and try. Fuck sake. He thought I was kidding about him failing 2nd grade. I warned him he would lose all his friends if he didn’t keep up, that the school would drive them apart, but he thought I was teasing him, a big old silly daddy.

Without recess, without art, without community culture, it would be easy for townspeople to dehumanize kids like my son. Small town gossip is stupid and predictable, driven by ignorance, enflamed by fear and hatred, and so forth. I can endure that. It’s ugly and predictable.

Living within a ‘rational transformative event’ like a plague and its subsequent affect on ideological conventions can make people susceptible to brainwashing. They are frightened, and I truly respect organized religions and counseling services offered by society that strive to help people get through hard times. That being said, we are fucked. The calming psychology of mass media, the test, is replaced with the servitude to the organizers of the transformation, but through that, people can emerge with a sense of belonging, cut their losses and try to deal. I see that coming. When the deaths from plague mount over the next month, doubt in institutions will erode society, and charity remains.

Kids trapped indoors get fully exposed to the ramblings of parents and siblings living in a dystopia. I beat myself up for my own cynicism, and maintain this website as a way to experiment with art and technology. I am a tinkerer.

I do not cotton to conspiracy theories. People are ruled by money, fiat currency divorced from the gold standard in an event called Nixon Shock. The cryptocurrency episodes convulsing central banking system make things even stranger now. I draw a parallel, and as before, it has to do with inequality and racism.

Please remember the Holocaust. My ex-grandparents had Holocaust tattoos on their arms. They had numbers on their fucking arms tattooed on them in death camps. My ex-grandfather was a pioneering laser surgeon. We drift like tumbleweeds in this forlorn place, with me relaying anecdotes of atrocity to a dying world, and so forth. My thoughts are imperfect and flawed.

I play games with, instruct, and protect my sons. I like the world through their eyes. I am in therapy because I am cynical about their chances. I pursued studies in robotics to basically automate their security…The day my younger realized he was different was pretty rough. It was inevitable, and I went back into therapy. We have no privacy in this plague, especially in the middle of winter, and he understands IEP meetings are about his learning problems, and his social anxiety issues. He never knew other kids don’t have speech and occupational therapy every week. He has no friends. The isolation here is troubling, so I go to therapy to battle my own depression. I went through the same thing as a child, but only to a minor degree in my early years. I had been through a rough divorce and stalking episode. Having a real bogeyman makes you grow up quick.

I took to books to escape in first grade, and there I stayed. My son went into video games. He will be hikikomori, too. I am emerging from the deepest depression of my life better equipped to handle this preposterous situation, this pandemic, this sense of alienation. I was trained in my youth to live for sustenance, and be mindful of the source of all I own, and so I desire very little for myself. A job would be amazing. So, in spite of my efforts to stop writing about this place history, I find myself drawn to the idea that this place was a community, solid as rock, and if I don’t get out from underneath it, we’ll be crushed here in silence.

Now that these buildings have come down, one can see the library more easily from the SR 40 bridge. As soon as I get a job, I go back to working on a book. Being highly principled, I never engage in works of leisure until my house is in order, except for blogging and oil painting, but for the sake of posterity, I need to at least address the reason why I cannot, in good conscience, give all my work to people who do not pay me. This is a free range yarn.

Feel free to offer corrections and criticism. They are welcome, as always.

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