Saturday, September 17, 2011

Memory and Loss: Abandoned Memorials

As with most folks, memorials have been our mind of late.

Salem has lots of memorials. Some are big and obvious or even a little famous. We've mentioned several times, for example, the Doughboy memorial to those who died in World War I. Others are small, just a plaque on a park bench.

Unfortunately, there are a number of memorials in Salem that are a little neglected - maybe a lot neglected and are themselves lost - and we'd like to remember them a little better, in hopes that someone else will know more and perhaps add a comment and even generate interest in restoring the memorials as befits their original intent.

And some of them are just kinda neat, even.

On an urban exploration in Salem with RC, the CT Expeditionary Forces came across this abandoned fountain.

A plaque is set on top of it.

The inscription reads:
This area is dedicated to the memory of
Bertha Amy Gamer
First Grade Teacher at Grant School 1920-48
Donna Wolfard Aldrich
Benefactor of Public Parks for Boys and Girls
Both Shared a Deep Concern for Children
The fountain is cast-concrete, made to look like alphabet blocks from a child's toy set. Seats form a fairy ring of stylized toad stools. Like the Mill Race park at Pringle Plaza, and Peace Plaza between the Library and Civic Center, it has that 60s and early 70s look of Salem's first wave of urban renewal. The blocky whimsy is no longer fashionable, but it's still kinda cute, isn't it?

This utopian impulse has since proven overoptimistic, with too much high-flying theory and not enough attention to ground-level ways people actually use space and congregate in place. Second and third-wave urban renewal efforts have sometimes worked better. Here, the fountain's plumbing may not have been durable enough to withstand vandals. The cluster didn't attract other amenities, and the rest of the playground structure is on the opposite side of the school and park grounds. The memorial is now orphaned, a solitary island stranded from the archipelago of play.

Plain forgetting also is a factor. It takes work to remember things. The slender lineage of so many medieval manuscripts, with some classics depending on a single monk's handiwork in a scriptorium somewhere, reminds us that each generation has to recite the facts it deems important. Urban legends spawn in ease, and important facts struggle to stay fresh. Maintenance budgets are never big enough.

There doesn't seem to be information about Bertha Gamer online or in the Marion County Historical Society's "School Days" issues, but the Salem Foundation administers the Donna W. Aldrich trust, which also helped to fund Aldrich Park, which now adjoins the new site of Bush School. We suppose she might be related to former Mayor Kent Aldrich.

Does anyone know more? And do you have a favorite memorial, especially one that is hidden or neglected and does not commemorate someone close to you?

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