I have such an odd memory. I remember things that I read or write extremely well, and I have a historian’s command of the irrelevant detail. But when it comes to my personal life, my memory is such an odd jumble. I can’t really compare it with someone else’s memory, of course, having experienced only my own, but it is so fragmentary, so impressionistic. My oldest memories are all just a few seconds long, if that: my mother outside the house trying to use a broom to keep water from the basement, rolling a Hot Wheel down a table (I don’t know if our house was completely level), pedaling a Big-Wheel-like contraption around my grandmother’s store/house, seeing something weird (a bat?) flying around in my bedroom, being in the back seat of our car when my parents spelled the word “i-c-e-c-r-e-a-m.” Things like that. Concrete or sequential memories are much rarer. I do remember one, perhaps because I learned a lesson. I remember watching “I Love Lucy” on television, then us turning off the tv and going somewhere. When I got back, I turned the tv on to finish watching “I Love Lucy” only to discover some other program was on. That was when I discovered that when you turned the tv set off, tv programs kept going. Well, they used to, my young on-demand, streaming darlings, they used to.
That is what you might expect for memories of someone 3-4 years old, but the thing is, that is the way all my memories are. That is the way my high school memories are—momentary, fragmentary, mixed up. That is the way my college memories are. Oh, I remember more things, but what is amazing to me is how much I have not remembered—whereas I can tell you with certainly the most obscure details about World War II, something I never came close to experiencing. In some respects I know more about the world I did not live in than the world I lived in. That’s reality giving me an atomic wedgie, that is.
[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image. Also, the EXIF data for each image contains GPS coordinates that you can use to locate the exact place where the photograph was taken.]
That is why photographs are interesting, I suppose, because they provide anchors for those floating, eddying, ephemeral memories of mine. They lock down at least one moment of one instance of existence to a more real form. I think I can understand why some people want to use photos to document every experience they have. How else can you guarantee that experience will continue to be experienced? It is scary how fleeting the feeling of having lived life is.
With that bit of existential dread out of the way, we can see what moments of my own life I captured on this day in June 2014, travelling across the Ohio countryside to see what I could see.
I am going to confess right off the bat that, sight-wise, this excursion into eastern Ohio was great, but photography-wise, it was a disaster. I had recently purchased a polarizing filter, which is a filter that can improve certain shots of sky and water, and my intention was to keep the filter on the camera all the time (thus it could also help protect the lens). What I didn’t know—because I learn almost everything the hard way when it comes to photography—was that with that filter on and with my ISO setting on “auto,” the camera on this cloudy day was going to pump up my ISO to ridiculously high levels, instead of slowing the shutter speed to compensate. For you non-camera people out there, just know that high ISO means lots of digital “noise” in pictures—stray dots of color throughout the picture, kind of analogous to grainy film in the old days. In other words, it can really mess up your pictures. I did not happen to notice my ISO levels until many hours of taking photographs had passed. Sure enough, when I got home, I had a mess of really noisy pictures, some of which were simply way beyond my ability to fix.
So what you have here are 1) some of the few photographs that were still decent, and 2) some photos with a lot of noise that I was able to salvage to one degree or another. Other photos essentially ended up ruined. What can I say? Ansel Adams, I’m not.
On this trip, I drove eastwards from Columbus towards Zanesville, paralleling I-70 but a bit south of it, then after Zanesville headed slightly southeast until I got to the Ohio River. You don’t have to get too far east of Columbus at all before you start seeing your first oil wells.
Where there are oil wells, there are also oil tanks. I don’t usually photograph these, but they dot the countryside in the same numbers that oil wells do.
This was an example of a nice shot of a tree, a field, and a barn that ended up being ruined by too much noise. Well, I should say I took a number of shots, with different compositions and different zoom levels, and most were simply unusable. I found that this one, if I converted it to black and white, so that some of the noise simply looked more like film grain, was salvageable, but I had better shots that were just lost.
I like this photo of a farmstead on a gently sloping hill primarily because I am amazed at all the buildings. Surely every single one of those buildings cannot have a unique use—and I don’t see most farms having such a plethora of buildings. It is as if the owner, or generations of owners, just constructed new buildings for every thing they wanted to put in a building, instead of re-using ones they had already constructed.
Here’s another, more “ground level” shot of the same place.
Eventually, I reached Zanesville, Ohio (population 25, 487, salute!), which is about an hour’s drive east of Columbus if you take I-70. I decided to explore parts of Zanesville I had never seen before and was glad I did, because I discovered the abandoned Mosaic Tile Company factory, a fascinating place.
I’ve mentioned many times that eastern Ohio used to be a huge source of pottery, masonware, and so forth. The Mosaic Tile Company was one of the great pottery companies of this largely-lost Ohio industry. Karl Langerbeck and Herman Mueller started the Mosaic Tile Company in 1894. An 1897 article in the publication “Brick and Clay Worker” described the factory as the place where “the remarkably ingenious invention of H. C. Mueller is operated. This invention is a method of making an encaustic, or mosaic tile of any desired pattern or combination of colors in a very simple and expeditious way.” The company started off manufacturing octagonal, hexagonal and square floor tiles, then expanded to other products as well, including artistic and decorative items, such as medallion of General John Pershing.
According to one source, at the height of its success, the Mosiac Tile Company was the largest tile producer in the world.
Nothing lasts in this world of ours. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, from earth we came and return we must.
The Mosaic Tile Company shut its doors in 1967, never to reopen them.
Even when I left the sad walls of the Mosaic Tile Company behind, I could not escape the shadows of the past. East of Zanesville, I came across this old carnival truck. It belonged to Nolan Shows, a small, family-owned traveling carnival based in Ohio began operation in the 1940s and lasted for many years after that. I read somewhere that descendants of the original family were trying to get it going again. Here’s hoping they succeed.
Zanesville lies on the Muskingum River, a major river that bisects eastern Ohio. Quite attractive and restful, long stretches of its banks are dotted with river cabins and shacks for fishing vacations or just getting away from it all. I’d love to own one of these myself, although a design like this, sticking out over the river, would trigger my fear of falling. Firm ground beneath me is all I ask for, thank you very much.
Southeast of Ohio is a fairly large area that consists primarily of woodlands and semi-woodlands, dotted with small lakes. In some places, the terrain is unlike any other place I’ve seen in Ohio. The above photograph is a good example of this, looking south across a large area of relatively open ground, dotted with trees, but no real forests. It almost looks like a place somewhere on the plains of Africa more than it looks like a slice of Ohio. Many people come to fish at these small lakes. On this day, I approached a vehicle parked by the roadside. Its occupants were clearly off fishing somewhere and, as I got closer, I actually saw the family walking back to the SUV, their day already over. I slowed down to make a bit of friendly conversation. “Anything biting?” I asked, seeing all their fishing poles. A boy, 12 years old or so, spoke for the entire family, when he replied, in the most disgusted, unhappy, disappointed voice possible, “YEAH, THE TICKS.” I guess they didn’t fry any fish that night.
As you get into southeastern Ohio, farmland turns to pastureland as the landscape grows more hilly and less accommodating to large-scale agriculture. Much of what is grown in the region is simply fodder for the cows or horses kept on property, and maybe a little extra.
I particularly like this shot of a hill-side barn juxtaposed against the hilly, wooded terrain of southeastern Ohio. You can see the cow trails in the background.
The rural countryside is dotted with old cemeteries, some family cemeteries, some simply graveyards that have lasted longer than the churches that once accompanied them. Here is the Old Hoskinsville Cemetery, Noble County, Ohio. This is an ancient, abandoned and unmarked gravesite of perhaps 15-20 graves in southeast Ohio (Hoskinsville itself has maybe 8-10 families, it seems). The gravestones, which date from the early to mid 1800s, are virtually all illegible. Someone erected a newer monument to one couple, Samuel Cain (1800-1853) and Elizabeth Cain (1801-1850), who died young. One of the older, partially legible gravestones may possibly be theirs. Two of their children were involved in the so-called Hoskinsville Rebellion of 1863, when a U.S. marshal and several soldiers who went to Noble County to arrest a deserter were met with an armed mob who forced them to return. A larger complement of soldiers soon returned and arrested scores of people. This tiny graveyard, with its illegible, overturned headstones, has a very ghostly quality to it.
As I make continued excursions across the countryside, I tend to see examples of certain things again and again. Some you learn to love—for me, 19th century one-room schoolhouses are one such item—some you come to hate. One thing I discovered early on that I hated was asphalt siding, which is a sort of imitation brick or stone siding that is actually made of asphalt. Apparently, this style of siding grew in popularity in the early 20th century because it was cheap, because (during World War I) it was made out of stuff not in short supply because of the war effort, and because (enhanced with asbestos) it was more fire-resistant than wood shingling. But let me tell you, it is ugly as sin and it ages very poorly. The older the stuff gets, the more clearly unbricklike it becomes, especially as the outer layers start to warp or shrink or peel. We hates them, my precious, we hates them. In the above example, we see a cottage covered with the stuff, but the Shingle Gods have fittingly decreed the ruin of the entire cabin.
I am not entirely sure why I was taken by this pastoral scene, but perhaps it is simply the angles: angles of the fence, angles of the tree trunks, angles of the slopes. There is some “whole” to this scene that is greater than the sum of its parts.
We’ll end this part of our trip—halfway through—with a photograph of the type of cabin or house that I like to describe as being always in a state of incompletion. Many houses just never seem to get finished, as new projects begun while old projects are just never quite brought to completion. It’s a sort of architectural restlessness.
Okay that’s it for now. Part 2 will feature a sort of ghost town. I bet you can’t wait.