The story of the towers
At 12:31 p.m. Saturday, March 22, alerted by a squeaky sort of honking in the sky, I watched a flight of geese flying roughly east north east over Rockland. I estimate there were 35 to 40 of them, the first I have seen this spring. These concrete towers where I live at the foot of Mechanic Street, next to the shipyard, are a good place to notice such things.
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I received a friendly note from Mr. Felton, the gentleman on Linden Street whose flag I mentioned two weeks ago was hanging backwards. He has since turned it around. He finishes his note in Welsh: “Hun chan’r lloniannau’n fywydol ydy yn dysgu,” which I partly understood but which I had to get properly translated by a machine. It means something like “Life is for learning.” His note was accompanied by a new flag, for which I am grateful as my last one more or less fell to pieces from prolonged exposure to the elements, rather like my dear friend Petrified O’Meara of the Bangor Dreadful News.
Now I have several friends who, God bless them, find the flag to be something they cannot attach themselves to. They feel it has been used for wrong purposes by people whose motives they do not approve of, etc., and wish to distance themselves from such things. George Orwell wrote about this problem, saying that in his opinion we are mistaken to allow a national flag or similar universal symbols to be appropriated, removed from us, simply because they are sometimes used by people with whom we disagree. If we were not so quick to abandon meaningful symbols like flags, and did not so quickly allow them to be taken over by disagreeable parties, they would not so easily become associated with forms of extremism, and our objections would melt away.
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Now that spring is here, in name if not yet much in fact, I find my mind turning to the possibility of projects. During winter the major project is life itself, simply to survive, which in my case mostly means trying to keep warm enough not to lose health or life. Spring hints at the possibility of exploring less basic and more embracing interests, and having lived theoretically in these concrete towers for two years I find I am becoming interested in their story to the extent that it might become a project. These silent gray eminences, two such opposite shapes, that loom over the corner of the South End remind me in certain ways of the great castles and cathedrals of my childhood, and also in some strange manner of the utterly incomprehensible Stonehenge which I visited and climbed upon as a boy and which is capable of producing a sensation of hypnotic fascination and deep confoundment; for all such buildings express something of the people who made them, and like those ancient things but in a more modest way these unusual towers have their own human story too.
I know the basic facts, that they were built here in the 1960s to receive, store, and distribute chicken feed, and that this enterprise did not last very long. But details are scarce, and although I might have left my request rather late if I hope to hear from the principles, I am very interested in hearing from anybody who can help provide facts, who can offer a more refined description of the idea behind the towers, and who can perhaps tell the story. To begin with it would be helpful to know some dates, and it would be useful to locate photographs and other records of the construction and operation of the towers. Having dates would mean I can go to the news archives and dig around for reports.
Because we are a small community where the keeping of long records is not greatly attended to, it will be as easy to lose the story of the towers as it was to lose the story of Stonehenge. Who were the people involved in the project? How did they come up with the idea? What were the economic facts that made it seem viable? How were the towers built and who built them, and what other facilities were connected with them? What was the name of the company or business which was involved, and why did the enterprise last such a short time? One could ask the same questions about the old standing stones.
Readers willing to share information are encouraged to write to the email address at the foot of this column, or to lend material in care of the newspaper offices. I especially would like to see photographs and read descriptions of the construction and operation of the facility. Any material loaned would be copied and returned to the sender, of course. Even the smallest pieces would be gratefully received.
The towers will not always stand. There will no doubt come a day when they will begin to crumble and must be taken down. A history of concrete I read two years ago suggests a lifespan of about 100 years might be anticipated for steel-reinforced concrete structures that are not maintained, before the things return to the dust from which everything is made. I would like to take a stab at recording the basic story of these unusual structures and the people and ideas behind them. All help will be appreciated.
David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.