May 4, 2001
You may have seen the story in the newspapers a few months ago, or perhaps the more recent television news item. British artist Michael Landy wishes to make a statement about our consumer society. Not condemning it really, not trying to change it, just commenting on it. Takes over a defunct department store in a London shopping district. Lines up a large number of yellow bins on a series of conveyor belts, ending up at a large blue pulverizer. Fills the bins with his life. Furniture. Photographs. His bed. Slippers with koalas on them. A painting worth $30,000. Everything he owns except for the clothes on his back. Then invites spectators to watch as he commits possessional amnesia. Turning the "stuff" of his life, including his previously dismantled Saab, into a fine powder, which he now intends to bury beneath a shopping center under construction. Whatever you may think of all this, you will probably agree it takes a certain amount of daring. How hard is it for most of us to toss a favorite sweater that's seen better days? Or the back-issue magazine with the article we intend to read someday, when we have the time?
No attempt was made to stop Michael Landy from destroying his past. It wasn't quite so easy for Captain William Chase. And there was only one part of his past he wanted destroyed. Or at least captured. Sent to Pensacola, Florida, by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1829, he arrived to find a sleepy little backwater on the Gulf of Mexico. Home to a naval yard and very little else. Allotted $75,000 to build a fort, he set about finding a brick supply other than the one in Mobile, Alabama, the Army had been using. He considered their price of $13 per thousand bricks to be too high, especially for an inferior product. He turned entrepreneur and went into the brick making business. This kind of thing would be frowned upon by U. S. military officialdom these days but standards were looser back then, especially for those at the far end of the civilized world. He backed ten area citizens who were interested in manufacturing bricks. In 1831 he began depositing his government allotment into a new Bank of Pensacola, with himself as a major stockholder, but with no intention of enriching himself at taxpayer expense. By the time he completed Fort Pickens in 1834 he was expanding into real estate, railroad building, and other business enterprises. And, it just so happened, when the fort construction was completed there were 3 million bricks left over. And just at a time when the U. S. became militarily paranoid and embarked on a fort-building frenzy, especially along the Gulf. Soon Chase had permission, and funds, to erect Fort McRee across the bay from Pickens, as well as other forts from Key West to the Dry Tortugas. By now, thanks to Chase, Pensacola was on firm financial ground. It even survived the panic of 1837, if only just barely, thanks to Chase's government contracts. In 1856 he turned down an offer to command at the West Point military academy and retired from the army.
Fast forward to 1861. The threat of secession hangs over the country like a sword. Coastal defenses are strengthened. It's a toss-up as to whether war will break out at Pensacola or a fort off Charleston, South Carolina. Chase, by now a thorough southerner, takes command of militia forces at Pensacola. He rapidly captures the navy yard, an army barracks, and Fort McRee, then turns his attention to his best, past effort. Fort Pickens. On January 12th, 15th and 18th Chase demands Federal forces under Lieutenant Adam Slemmer surrender the fort. Slemmer refuses. Standoff! Then politicians on both sides get into the act and the standoff continues until spring, through the summer and then into autumn. The Confederacy is formed. Chase and his militia are replaced by regular troops. Sumter falls. The Civil War wheezes into life. Pickens is reinforced by more Federal troops in April. Finally, on October 9th, one thousand Confederate troops attack the outer works at Pickens but are driven back. Further attempts are frustrated and Pickens remains in Federal hands throughout the war. Chase has builded even better than he thought.
For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor
URL OF THE WEEK
One of the most durable building materials, after stone, is brick. From Federal-style mansions to meandering garden paths to ivy-covered university halls, these rectangular, red (most often) building and paving blocks are found wherever suitable clay can be found. One such site is Somereset County, Pennsylvania, and the area is also the source of Rick's Bricks - http://www.shol.com/agita/sitemap.htm . Besides photos of a number of Pennsylvania brick farm houses you'll also find descriptions of The Fine Art of Brickmaking from around 1850, a facsimile and text version of a brickmaker's agreement, a scrapbook of brick images, brick-related excerpts of books by Henry David Thoreau and James Michener, and an illustrated guide to bonding patterns. You can even order a load of bricks online, if there are any left - no rain checks. And last, but not least, you'll find several learned treatises on The Three Little Pigs, including The Wolf's Side of the Story! (I suppose Rick's Bricks felt he "hod" to include it :-)
The Game's Afoot ! !
© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte