Geology answers for Montecito and Santa Barbara

The geology meeting at the Santa Barbara Central Library on Thursday looked like this from the front of the room (where I also tweeted the same pano):

Geologist Ed Keller

Our speakers were Ed Keller of UCSB and Engineering Geologist Larry Gurrola, who also works and studies with Ed. That’s him in the shot below.

As a geology freak, I know how easily terms like “debris flow,” “fanglomerate” and “alluvial fan” can clear a room. But this gig was SRO because around 3:15 in the morning of January 9th, simultaneous debris out of multiple canyons deposited fresh fanglomerate across the alluvial fan that comprises most of Montecito, destroying (by my count on the map below) 178 buildings, damaging more than twice that many, and killing 23 people. Two of those—a 3 year old girl and a 17 year old boy—are still interred in at places unknown in the fresh fanglomerate, sought

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Making sense of what happened to Montecito

Note the date on this map:

That was more than a month before huge rains revised to red the colors in the mountains above Montecito. The LA Times also ran a story a week before last, warning about debris flows, which are like mud slides, but with lots of rocks.

When rains locals called “biblical” hit in the darkest hours last Tuesday morning, debris flows gooped down the mountainside canyons that feed  creeks that weave downhill across Montecito, depositing lots of geology on top of what was already there. At last count twenty people were dead and another three missing.

Our home, one zip code west of Montecito, was fine. But we can’t count how many people we know who are affected directly. Some victims were friends of friends. It’s pretty damn awful.

We all process tragedies like this in the ways we know best, and mine is

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BYSMD

4-1-06 detroit & ccs 005 web Once, in the early ’80s, on a trip from Durham to some beach in North Carolina, we stopped to use the toilets at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. In the stall where I sat was a long conversation, in writing, between two squatters debating some major issue of the time. Think of the best back-and-forth you’ve ever read in a comment thread and you’ll get a rough picture of what this was like. So I sat there, becoming engrossed and amazed at the high quality of the dialog — and the unlikelihood of it happening where it was. Until I got to the bottom. There, ending the conversation, were the penultimate and ultimate summaries, posed as a question and answer: Q: Why do people feel compelled to settle their differences on bathroom walls? A. Because you suck my dick. That story became legendary in our family and social Continue reading "BYSMD"

The Giant Zero

The Giant Zero

The world of distance

Fort Lee is the New Jersey town where my father grew up. It’s at the west end of the George Washington Bridge, which he also helped build. At the other end is Manhattan.

Even though Fort Lee and Manhattan are only a mile apart, it has always been a toll call between the two over a landline. Even today. (Here, look it up.) That’s why, when I was growing up not far away, with the Manhattan skyline looming across the Hudson, we almost never called over there. It was “long distance,” and that cost money.

There were no area codes back then, so if you wanted to call long distance, you dialed 0 (“Oh”) for an operator. She (it was always a she) would then call the number you wanted and patch it through, often by plugging a cable between two holes in a

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Speeding on the Subway

subway-speedtest At the uptown end of the 59th Street/Columbus Circle subway platform there hangs from the ceiling a box with three disks on fat stalks, connected by thick black cables that run to something unseen in the downtown direction. Knowing a few things about radio and how it works, I saw that and thought, Hmm… That has to be a cell. I wonder whose? So I looked at my phone and saw my T-Mobile connection had five dots (that’s iPhone for bars), and said LTE as well. So I ran @Ookla‘s Speedtest app and got the results above. Pretty good, no? Sure, you’re not going to binge-watch anything there, or upload piles of pictures to some cloud, but you can at least pick up some email, look some stuff up on the Web, or otherwise tug on your e-tether to everywhere for a few minutes. Nice to have. So I’m Continue reading "Speeding on the Subway"

Valley Fire losses

Here is the current perimeter of the Valley Fire, according to the USGS’ GEOMAC viewer: ValleyFire 2015-09-13 at 3.10.24 PM_a As you see, no places are identified there. One in particular, however, is of extremely special interest to me: Harbin Hot Springs. It is where I met my wife and more friends than I can count. It is also one of the most lovely places on Earth, inhabited and lovingly maintained by wonderful people. I just matched up a section of the map above with Google Maps’ Earth view, and see that Harbin and its neighborhood are in the perimeter: Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.12.19 PM Still we’re talking about a perimeter here. Not everything within one burns. Harbin is mostly in a valley. Could be the fire jumped from ridge to ridge and missed it. But I suspect that instead we are looking at very sad news here, especially after seeing this picture here, which looks northwest
COyGRRHVAAEwC4w
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What’s up with @TMobile in North Carolina?

Check this out: oakleaf I took that screen shot at the excellent Oakleaf restaurant in Pittsboro, NC a few days ago. Note the zero bars (or dots) of telephone service, and the very respectable (tested!) data service. To confirm what the hollow dots said, I tried to make a call. Didn’t work. This seems to be a new thing for T-Mobile in North Carolina, where I spent much of this summer — or at least in the parts of it where I visited. The company’s mobile phone coverage is pretty lousy to begin with, on the whole: great on highways and in the larger towns; but spotty when you head into the suburbs and countryside. What changed is the sudden near-disappearance of voice phone coverage in some places where it had worked before, and the improvement at the same time of data coverage. At my sister’s house, near a major Continue reading "What’s up with @TMobile in North Carolina?"

Sports as a propaganda laboratory

TBasketballhe other day a friend shared this quote from Michael Choukas‘ Propaganda Comes of Age (Public Affairs Press, 1965):
This is not the propagandist’s aim. For him the validity of an image must be measured not by the degree of its fidelity, but by the response it may evoke. If it will induce the action he wishes, its fidelity is high; if not, low. … The standard that he uses in choosing the images to be disseminated — his “truths” — would be a scale based on the range of possible human responses to an image. His criterion thus is established on the basis of overt action.
At first this made me think about journalism, and how it might fit Choukas’ definition of propaganda. Then it made me think about how we might confine the study of propaganda to a harmless subset of human story-telling. That’s when sports jumped to mind. Sports are almost entirely narrative. They also have, as social phenomena go, less importance outside themselves than such highly fraught concerns as politics, religion and business. To the cynic, sports are Kurt Vonnegut‘s foma: “harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls…Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.” Yes, sports are more than that, but my soul at its simplest is a fan of the Mets. (And, less simply, a fan of the Red Sox.) Likewise, among my least productive time is spent listening to sports talk radio — unless I count as valuable the communing of my simplest self with the souls of others who share the same mostly-harmless affections. But how much more productive is the time I spend listening to NPR, or reading The New York Times?
harmless-untruth2x2
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Figuring @Flickr

Here’s a hunk of what one set (aka Album) in my Flickr stream looks like: Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.57.58 PM And here are what my stats on Flickr looked like earlier today (or yesterday, since Flickr is on GMT and it’s tomorrow there): Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.02.09 PM I ended up with 32,954 views, with no one of my 49,000+ photos getting more than 56 views. More than 95% of those views arrived via Flickr itself. The stats there are spread across 87 pages of results. Pages 1 to 63 go from 395 views (#1) down to 2. From page 64 to 87, all the results are for 1 view. I just pulled the searches alone, and got this:

1

Searched for: bay area aerial

395

2

Searched for: doc searls

307

3

Searched for: los angeles aerial view

206

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Will WMAL survive losing its transmitter?

Back in radio’s golden age — when AM ruled the waves — the stations battling for the top of Washington, DC’s ratings heap were WTOP and WMAL. WTOP peaked when it went all-news in the 1960s, and plateau’d at the top ever since. It did that by becoming a DC institution, and moving to FM a few years back, taking over the channel (103.5) long occupied by classical WGMS. (WTOP’s 50,000 watt signal at 1500am is now WFED, or Federal News Radio.) WMAL did less well, but remains a DC institution, now listened to mostly on 105.9fm (it’s #9 in Nielsen’s latest figures, while WTOP is #1). But considering that only two AMs show in the ratings at all, it’s a good guess that WMAL-AM isn’t worth very much. So it’s no surprise to read news (via The Sentinel) that Cumulus Media, which owns WMAL, has put the land under its Bethesda AM transmitter up for sale. Simply put, the land is worth more than the station. Says the report, “Local real estate experts estimate the property could be worth hundreds of millions.” I don’t know what WMAL is worth, but I’m guessing it would be a few million, tops. (WOR in New York, a bigger station with actual ratings in the #1 market, just sold for $30 million.) Unless a way can be found for the station to co-locate WMAL’s transmitter with another AM station, it will go dark after the land is sold. This is a bit of a long-shot, though it can be done. KHJ in Los Angeles recently moved to another station’s towers after the land under its own was sold. The signal isn’t as good (the new towers are less efficient), but at least the station stayed on the air.
towerimage
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Local jazz radio coming to Kansas City

mutualmusiciansSo I just learned that a Kansas City Jazz station is headed toward existence. If you love any of these musicians, this should be very good news. The story begins,
By this time next year, Kansas City-style jazz might be bebopping out of a new radio station near you. The Mutual Musicians Foundation in the 18th and Vine jazz district announced this week it’s been granted a construction permit for a noncommercial, low-power FM radio station. The foundation is hoping the KC jazz station, at 104.7 FM, will be on the air by next January.
It will be called KOJH-LP. LP stands for low power, or what the FCC calls LPFM. Here’s the application for what’s now a granted CP, or Construction Permit. In fact there is a jazz station called KOJH already — a streaming one in Oklahoma. Though it’s not a licensed radio station, it may have inherited those call letters from one. (I’ve looked, but haven’t been able to tell. Maybe the lazyweb knows.) Here’s the station’s mission, filed with the FCC. Continue reading "Local jazz radio coming to Kansas City"

Shooting my escape to Paradise

Here is how New York looked through my front window yesterday at 3:51am, when I was packing to fly and drive from JFK to LAX to Santa Barbara: Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 7.37.38 AM I shoveled a path to the street four times: the first three through light and fluffy snow, and the fourth through rain, slush and a ridge of myucch scraped in front of the driveway by a plow. By the time we got to JFK, all the pretty snow was thick gray slush. It was a good time to get the hell out. Fortunately, @United got us onto the first flight out to LAX flight in the morning. (We were booked on a later flight. To see the crunch we missed, run the FlightAware MiseryMap for JFK, and watch 2 February.) The flight to LAX was quick for a westbound one (which flies against the wind): a little over five hours. For half the country, the scene below was mostly white. This one… Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.14.24 AM … of the ridge country between Beaver Dam Lake and Columbus, Wisconsin, said far more about snow than the white alone suggested. Those linear hills are were left by the departing Wisconsin Glacial Episode, which ended only about ten thousand years ago — a mere blink in geologic time. And here’s the snow-covered Mississippi, by Prairie du Chein, on the Wisconsin-Iowa border: Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.14.39 AM Then, a couple hours later, we flew straight over the Grand Canyon, which has a horizontal immensity one tends to miss when gawking at the canyon’s scenic climaxes from the ground. One of my favorite scenes is the Uinkaret Volcanic Field, which poured like syrup over the Canyon’s layer cake of 290-1700-year old rock only 70,000 years ago:
Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.13.47 AM
Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.13.30 AM
Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 7.40.01 AM
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Blogging the #BlizzardOf2015 in #NYC that wasn’t

The blizzard hit coastal New England, not New York City. In fact, it’s still hitting. Wish I was there, because I love snow. Here in New York City we got pffft: about eight inches in Central Park: an average winter snowstorm. No big deal. I was set up with my GoPro to time-lapse accumulations on the balcony outside our front window. I had two other cameras ready to go, and multiple devices tuned in to streams of news stories, tweets and posts. Instead the story I got was an old and familiar one of misplaced sensationalism. Nothing happening, non-stop. At least here. The real news was happening in Boston, Providence, Worcester, Montauk, Scituate, the Cape and Islands. But I didn’t have anything useful to add to what thousands of others were showing, posting, tweeting and blogging. Back during Sandy, I had a lot to blog because important stuff wasn’t being said on media major and minor. For example I predicted, correctly, that many radio and TV stations would be knocked off the air by flooding. I also thought, correctly, that New York was under-prepared for the storm.
Not so this time, for any of the places the storm has hit. With the snow still falling over New England…
Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 8.17.02 PM
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Blogging #BlizzardOf2015 in #NYC 02

11:31pm — Nobody is saying it, but so far the #BlizzardOf2015 in #NYC is a dud. I mean, yeah there’s snow. But it’s not a real blizzard yet. At least not here, and not in Boston, where it’s supposed to be far worse. “A little bit more than a dusting” says the CNN reporter on the street in Boston, sweeping a thin layer of snow off some pavement. The anchor on the street in New York stands in front of a bare wet sidewalks while the street behind is covered with a couple inches of slush. Apparently the only vehicle on the streets is CNN’s Blizzardmobile: Blizzardmobile WNYC‘s listeners are weighing in with snow totals that look a lot deeper… Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.42.16 PM…than what I’m seeing out my window: Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.49.00 PM But the wind is getting stronger now. Maybe this thing will be as big as they’ve been predicting. But I’m not seeing it yet. And I do want to see it, because I love snow. A sampling:

Blogging #BlizzardOf2015 in #NYC 01

7:56pm — Since I’m a #weather and #journalism freak hunkered down in #NYC, I’m digging the opportunity to blog the juncture of all three #s as the #BlizzardOf2015 bears down on the Northeast Coast. So here’s the first interesting thing. While the coverage is all breathless with portent… cnn on the storm weather channel on the storm… the generally reliable Intellicast app tells me this: intellicast1907 In other words, 1) No snow now, where I am in Manhattan (under the green dot); 2) Less than half an inch more by 12:30am tomorrow; and 3) One to three inches after that. This is on top of a whopping 1 inch or so already there. But then there is this: In other words, kinda like CNN and Weather.com are saying. So: we’ll see. I’ll get back after we watch a movie.

Raising a glass to @AtwatersBakery

No sooner do I publish Let’s bring the cortado / piccolo to America than I discover it has already arrived at Atwater’s in Baltimore: atwaters-cortado And here’s how it’s featured on the coffee menu: atwaters-coffee-menu @AtwatersBakery at Belvedere Square Market was already our favorite place to grab a bite in Baltimore. (Here’s a menu.) Could be they already offered cortados and I didn’t know. Usually we go there for the bakery’s homey and original breads, soups and sandwiches. But either way, I hope their embrasure of the cortado is a harbinger of a larger trend. Anyway, if you’re in The Monumental City, check ‘em out. They have six locations, so it shouldn’t be too hard.

The Most Spectacular Place You’ll Never See

Unless you look out the window. When I did that on 4 November 2007, halfway between London and Denver, I saw this: baffin Best I could tell at the time, this was Greenland. That’s how I labeled it in this album on Flickr. For years after that, I kept looking at Greenland maps, trying to find where, exactly … baffin1 all these mountains and glaciers were. Then, two days ago, I found out. They were just north of the Arctic Circle on the Cumberland Peninsula of Baffin Island, an Arctic landform almost twice the size of New Zealand. I had just finished photographing everything I could of Greenland, en route from London to Los Angeles in a United 777, looking back out my dirty and frosty window near the trailing edge of the wing. After we finished crossing Davis Strait, and started seeing the islands on the Baffin Island coast, I realized that the scene was familiar. My GPS and the plane’s own map filled in the gap I’d been mulling for most of a decade. Cutting through the center of the peninsula was a 75-mile long Yosemite-grade valley called Akshayuk Pass, connecting the North and South Pangnirtung Fjords. Feeding into the valley were glaciers slowly sliding off ice caps. On the west side of the pass was the Penny Ice Cap, a mini-Greenland icing a spectacular cake called Auyuittuq National Park, almost all north of the Arctic Circle, meaning that it will be in darkness around the clock a month from now, when the Winter Solstice comes. Wikipedia: “In Inuktitut (the language of Nunavut‘s aboriginal people, the Inuit), Auyuittuq (current spelling: ᐊᐅᔪᐃᑦᑐᖅ aujuittuq) means ‘the land that never melts.’” Nobody lives there. On the first trip I was fascinated by a mountain that looked like an old tooth with fillings that had fallen out. It’s in the lower left side of this shot here: asgard So I recognized it instantly when I saw it again. Here’s the same scene after seven years: agard2 The mountain is Asgard, and named after the realm of Norse gods. From below it looks the part. (That link is to some amazing photos, taken from Turner Glacier, above Asgard in the shot above. One of the great James Bond ski chase stunts in history was also shot here. See this video explaining it. Start at about 1:33.) A bit before I started shooting these scenes, a flight attendant asked me to shut my window, so others on the plane could sleep or watch their movies. Note that this was in the middle of a daytime flight, not a red-eye. When I told her I booked a window seat to look and shoot out the window, she was surprised but supportive. “That is pretty out there,” she said. Later, when we were over Hudson Bay and the view was all clouds, I got up to visit the loo and count how many other windows had shades raised. There were eight, out of dozens in the long Economy cabin. No wonder one cynical term used by airline people to label passengers is “walking freight.” The romance and thrill of flying has given way to rolling passengers on and off, and filling them with bad food and “content” from entertainment systems. But there’s more than meets the shade. Much more, if you bother to look.

Summer vs. School

This was me in the summer of ’53, between Kindergarten and 1st Grade, probably in July, the month I turned six years old: 1953_07_paradiseI’m the one with the beer. And this was me in 1st Grade, Mrs. Heath’s class: Grade_1I’m in the back row by the aisle, looking lost, which I was. Some kids are good at school. I sucked at it until my junior year in college. That was when I finally grokked a rule: Find what the teachers want, and give them more than that. When I shared this insight with my wife, she said “I figured that out in the third grade.” She remembered sitting in class at her Catholic grade school, watching the nun go on about something, pointing her pencil at the nun and saying to her eight-year-old self, “I can work with this.” Which she did, earning top grades and blowing through UCLA in just three years before going on to a brilliant career in business. Don’t get me wrong. I learned a lot in school — probably just as much as the other kids, and maybe more than most because I read a lot and was curious about approximately everything (which is still the case). I also enjoyed hanging with friends and doing what kids did. But I hated the schooling itself: the seven lessons teachers were paid to deliver
  1. Confusion
  2. Class position
  3. Indifference
  4. Emotional dependency
  5. Intellectual dependency
  6. Provisional self-esteem
  7. Submission to authority
But Summer was paradise. One big credit for that goes to Grandma Searls, whose birthday is today. She’s top left in the first photo, which was shot at her house in the woods in what’s now Brick, New Jersey. (Back then it was still in the Pine Barrens — a more delightful region than the name suggests.) If Grandma was still around, she’d be 132 years old. (She died in 1990 at nearly 108.) Back then she was merely our family matriarch, but without the regalities. She was merely one of the world’s most loving and welcoming people. Gatherings like the one above were constant and wonderful, all summer long. I also want to give a big hat tip to Nancy Gurney, one of the other faces in the back of the room in the second photo. Nancy has put together this Bogota High School site for our graduating class: 1965. I didn’t go to Bogota, but I did go to Maywood elementary and junior high schools, which fed into Bogota High back in those days. When I look back at the old photos on the site, only fun memories come back.

Every thing has a face, and vice versa

That line came to me a few minutes ago, as I looked and read through the latest photographic blog posts by Stephen Lewis in his blog, Bubkes). This one… Stephen Lewis photo… titled Farmyard, Grandmother, Chicken, and Ovid in Exile, is accompanied by richly detailed text, including this:
The courtyard in the photo no longer exists; it and and the vegetable garden were uprooted several years ago.  in their place: a summer-time restaurant surrounded by neatly planted flowerbeds and a tall antenna tower of a mobile telephony company resting on a broad concrete footing.  The grandmother still lives on the plot, however, and tends the little that remains of her garden.  She is in her late-eighties now and, at day’s end, often sits on the raised curb of the newly paved road next to her former farmyard in expectation of passersby…

Nothing is permanent, but in this case the more durable feature is the grandmother and her friendly face — the face of the place, while she lasts. Also arresting is Corn Stalks, a Plateau, the Black Sea, and the Horizon: dscf0268 It’s a place that calls to mind face in its verb form. A synonym might be to meet, or to confront. We face a challenge, an opportunity, a problem, success, failure, or the world. Things face us as well, but not always directly. Three of the four things in the photo are mostly hidden by the first, but far more vast and open. Also flat. Horizons may feature mountains, but they are horizontal: flat and wide. We are walking and running animals that work best in the horizontal. Our eyes shift more easily to left and right than to up and down. Our stereoscopic vision and hearing also locate best in the horizontal spread from one here to many theres. Our species dispersed from Africa toward gone horizons, mostly along coasts long since drowned by melting ice caps. The Black Sea has changed greatly in spread and shape throughout human history, and may have reached its present height in a deluge through the Dardanelles and Bosporus seaways. The view on the path in the photo is framed between the vertical blinders of dry corn stalks at the edges of fields of unseen vastness. (Corn fields have always been both beautiful and a tiny bit creepy to me, ever since I got a bit lost when wandering as a kid into a cornfield somewhere, with no clear direction out other than the sound of distant voices.) Between the last paragraph and this one, Stephen posted another photo, titled Shabla, Bulgaria: Seawards and Kitchenwards, taken on the shore of the Black Sea: shabla-bulgaria-seawards-and-kitchenwards The subject is mostly boats and ramps. In the foreground are stairs and wood railings, two of the many literal and figurative framings, none quite horizontal, in a vertical photo with dimensions we call “portrait.” On the face of this Bulgarian shore, one ear is the sea itself. All the ramps face land and sea. To them the camera is an unseen visitor from another dimension. While seeing and hearing are mostly horizontal (our ears as well as our eyes are aligned with the horizon), eating is vertical: food is something we “eat up” and “get down.” So is nutrition: we “raise” crops and cattle.” In Stephen’s photos, things have faces too. Some are literal, such as in Guns of August, Books of August: The Iconography of a Gravestone in Prague: ww-i-grave-prague-copy-2 The photo puts in contrast the irony of cemetery “monuments” (as gravestones are now called), commemorating stuff nobody alive remembers, for an audience a living performer might round to zero. Under the subhead The Emotions of the Living; the Passivity of the Dead, Stephen writes,

The photo above, taken in the immense cemetery in the late-19th/early-20th century residential quarter of Vinohrady, portrays a gravestone tableau of life’s emotionized figures that reveals the ways that those in the comfort and safety of the home-front consciously or unconsciously sanitized, rationalized, and ennobled the senseless carnage of World War I.

Last month I visited the graves of relatives three generations and more ahead of mine, at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, and reported on that visit in Lives of the Dead. While some graves at Woodlawn yearned toward the kind of extravagance Stephen found in Vinohrady, my late kinfolk leaned in the opposite direction, marking little or nothing of who they planted there. To my knowledge, I was the first to surface (at those last two links) twenty Englerts, Knoebels and others whose faces in death are carpets of mowed grass. And who knows how long anything will last on the Web? My old blog, on which I wrote from 1999-2007, survives by the grace of a friend, and its blogroll is a near-cemetery of rotting links. Every thing faces a future for as long as we grace it with expectation of use, appreciation or some other goodness. Why else save anything? So I’m glad Stephen keeps putting these photos up, and enlarging them so well with prose. Here’s a list of other photos in his series, posted since the last time I last blogged his series: It’s a wonderful gallery. Enjoy.

Lives of the dead

A couple weekends ago I visited the graves of relatives and ancestors on my father’s side at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx. All of them died before I was born, but my Grandma Searls and her sisters often visited there, and I thought, Hey, now that I’m in New York a lot, and live nearby, I should visit all these dead folks. And Grandma would like that. Grandma was born Ethel Frances Englert, on November 14, 1882, the third of four sisters. Here she is at at age three, in early 1886: 5220039836_7fef3aa9ed And here is her gravestone, in Brookside Cemetery, over in New Jersey, nor far from Fort Lee, where she lived for most of her married life. That life commenced when she was 20, in 1902: 10848257303_d5752b6d04_zThe absence of a death date is no exaggeration. Grandma died in 1990, at nearly 108 years old. Her youngest daughter, Grace Apgar, lived to 101. Grace’s 100th birthday party was a gas. (My father was her big brother, Allen H. Searls.) Here are the four Englert sisters with their dad, Henry Roman Englert, in 1894: 5212424474_60250bb2dc_zGrandma is the foxy one on the lower right. They lived here, at 742 E. 142nd Street in the South Bronx: 424060093_8e824804f9_z That row house was razed, along with the rest of the block, to make room for what is now called “Old” Lincoln Hospital. Today an impoundment lot for towed cars reposes atop a hill formed by the imploded remains of the hospital. Henry was a son of Christian and Jacobina Englert, immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine, and head of the Steel & Copperplate Engraver’s Union in New York. His first wife, the four girls’ mom, was Catherine “Katie” Trainor, the daughter of Thomas Trainor, a carriage maker who emigrated from Letterkenny, Ireland at age 15 in 1825. Catherine’s brother Charles was killed in the Civil War. Family legend says he ran away as a teenager to fight, and was shot carrying the Union flag. But he didn’t die then. The old man visited the kid in an army hospital in Washington, barely recognizing his son through a thick red beard. On Christmas 1865 the son arrived home in a box. Father and son are among the early plantings in the vast Calvary Cemetery in Queens. At three million corpses strong, it is New York’s largest. I’ve never been there, and I’ll bet almost nobody else has in over a century. (Other than Aunt Catherine Burns about which I say more below.) Katie’s sister Margaret, better known as “Aunt Mag,” or “Maggie,” was a favorite of the Englert girls and a source of family wisdom. A sample: “You’ve got it in your hand. Put it away.” Here she is: Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 3.30.49 PM Katie died at 38, and Henry married Tess Atonelle, a family friend, not long after that. Here is Tess with Andrew Englert, brother of Henry: andrew-tess Tess and Henry produced a number of additional offspring, of which only one was remembered often by Grandma and her sisters: Harry, who died at age 4 in 1901: harry-roman-englert That was about when Grandma married George W. Searls, my grandfather, who was 19 years older. George was, among other things, the head carpenter for D.W. Griffith, when Hollywood was still in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where the family lived. Here he is… 3503899717_c271f6610d_zwith his crew. Grandma met Grandpa when she was working as cleaning help in a boarding house or something, where Grandpa was asleep. She was so attracted to the sleeping carpenter that she bent over and kissed him. He woke up instantly, and hugged and kissed her back. Natural selection, I guess. Grandpa died in 1934 at age 70 after catching erysipelas from a nail that scratched his face. If they had penicillin back then he might have lasted a lot longer. I remember his older sister, Eva Quackenbush, well. She was born in 1953, lived almost to 100, and told stories about what it was like when Lincoln got shot. She was 12 at the time. I was lucky to know so many interesting characters born two centuries back, or close: stories of New York when the streets were all dirt and cobble, of the arrival of gas light, electricity, subways and trolleys, cars and phones. These people were living history books. Grandpa walked with a limp from a wound he got fighting in the Spanish-American War. He ran the crew that built the Cyclone at Palisades Park: the scariest roller coaster in world history. Pop was the first to ride it. He was a fearless dude. Through the Depression Pop worked as a longshoreman in New York, helped build the George Washington Bridge, served in the Coastal Artillery and went to Alaska to build railroads. That’s where he met Mom. Then he re-enlisted to fight in World War II, where his last job was as General Eisenhower’s phone operator in Paris. All four Englert girls were still going strong the whole time I enjoyed perfect childhood summers at the beaches and in the backwoods of South Jersey. Here they are on the Jersey shore in 1953: 5212836913_d34a32ef94_z They all spoke Bronx English, so the place where they stood was called ‘Da shaw.” It was also Mantoloking, not Point Pleasant. Just being historically accurate here. What matters are the memories, which fade in life and disappear in death. I had hoped to bring some up, or to organize them in some way, when I visited Woodlawn. It was less eerie there than simply blank: dead in several meanings of the word. Graves not “endowed” were marked by stones sinking into soft and hummocky glacial moraine. Who still remembers or cares about Henry Kremer (1853-1905) and his infant son, whose headstone is a few years away from burying itself? Those who cared enough to buy the stone are surely gone. How about the very late Joseph Harper, who departed in 1897? Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 6.04.34 PM Bet nobody. I took those photos while following a map made for me by my cousin, Martin Burns, who shares the same ancestors and relatives, and who had been there before with his mother, Catherine (named after her mom, Katie), who did much of the genealogical and photo-gathering work from which my research here benefits. She died not long ago in her late ’90s. (If accident or disease doesn’t get us, we’ve got a nice portfolio of genes to work with here.) I walked around for about half an hour. During that whole time, and while driving in and out of the cemetery, I saw nobody else, other than my wife, sleeping in the car. (Later she said this wasn’t her idea of a fun date.) Verdant and peaceful as it is, Woodlawn is a well maintained place abandoned by nearly all but the dead who reside there. The Englert inhabitants are spread across three grave sites. A fourth is the Knoebels — the family into which Aunt Gene, Grandma’s oldest sister, married. She’s the second one from the left in the beach shot, above. There are six graves in the Knoebel plot, which is the only one of the four that I found. Thirteen people were buried there. One, Aunt Gene, went in when she died in 1960, and came out a decade later, when she was moved to Fairview Cemetery in New Jersey. Christian and Jacobina are in an endowed plot, so their headstone stands upright. Here are aunt Catherine and cousin Kevin Burns (brother of Martin), standing behind it a few years back. There are three graves here, containing the bodies of seven people. I’ve listed them in this photo, by Martin. Four died young, and three lived full lives. The single grave of Andrew and Annie Englert is unmarked, far as I know. (That’s Andrew next to Tess, above.) I didn’t find it. Nor did I find the grave of Henry Roman Englert, the root stock of most of the descendants I knew and heard about growing up. (I hadn’t yet posted the photos I got from Martin, so all I had to go by was a print-out of his map.) I remember standing still at one point and sending a mental message to any ghosts who might be around, asking for a clue. I felt and heard nothing: clear evidence that the departed are truly gone. Later, when I looked at these two photos, I saw that I was standing exactly on top of the graves of Henry, Katie, Harry, and several others. Here they are, in a photo Martin shot: 15095589240_d1f5ca7970_c Several things about this weirded me out, once I looked at the affidavit Catherine got from Woodlawn (or somewhere), listing the deceased under the grass here. First was that there was a fifth Englert sister, Grace, who died at age 2, and was buried here in 1889. Obviously my aunt Grace Apgar was named after this kid. But I either never heard about the late baby Grace or forgot about it. Still, it was a surprise. Second was that little Harry lay beneath both his older sister, who died at 28, and his mom, Tess, who died at 63. All that seemed even more tragic to me. (I’m five years older than Tess was when she went.) Third was that Henry got the only headstone, and it was probably not one he bought for himself. I’m sure it was put up after he died, I suppose by his surviving daughters. Yet the site was visited often, way back when, I was told. Why did nobody ever mark them all? Or those in the other plots? I think it’s because, after awhile, nobody needs it. If the dead remember the dead, they don’t do it here on (or in the) Earth. At any given moment there are better things to do than dwell on the dead that nobody here remembers or cares about. I’m probably wasting my time and yours by visiting the subject right now. But yet I do feel a need to memorialize these people in pixels on the Web, rather than just on cemetery stones. I am sure, for example, that some Englert descendants — cousins I don’t know — will some day find this post and appreciate the efforts put in, mostly by Catherine and Martin. Harvard, founded in 1636, is likely (I hope) to keep this blog up long after I’m gone; but even Harvard won’t be around forever. Everything dies. Rock under uptown Manhattan dates from about a half billion years from now. Another half billion years in the future, life will have been burned off the Earth by a growing Sun. Kevin Kelly once told me over dinner that in a thousand years evidence of nearly everybody alive today will likely have disappeared. It’s a good bet. Life is for the living. So is knowledge. All I’m doing here is contributing a little bit of it to the few people who might care — And acknowledging the love that flows between loved ones of all generations, nearly all of which are gone or not yet here.