Stroll through Ipswich, haunted by the apparitions
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by Bob Waite
As I walked and drove around Ipswich recently, I realized that I was seeing things that others weren’t seeing.
Call them ghost images. Appearances. Spectra.
These are things – mostly buildings, but sometimes trees – that are no longer there, but linger in my mind.
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Coming onto the South Green, for example, I see the old South Church, a four-columned white neoclassical structure that stands at one end, despite the fact that it burned down in December 1977.
Just like the Dude’s favorite rug in The great Lebowskifor me, this church really tied the South Green together.
I also see stately elm trees scattered around the Green and the rest of the city. Two, I remember, in particular, were in front of what was then the home of Dr. Arthur Grimes on South Main. They were brought down in 1954 by Hurricane Carol. The rest of this majestic species succumbed to Dutch elm disease over the following decades.
Crossing the causeway between Great Neck and Little Neck, I see a lodge to my left, despite the fact that it was completely demolished during the Great Blizzard of 1978.
And so on. I can still see Bill’s Variety Store nestled against Choate Bridge, the South Side Store, the Marguery Restaurant, the Hayes Hotel, the Strand Theatre, Daisy Lane Cleaners, Hill’s Men’s Shop (later Family Store), the White Cap Restaurant, and on and on.
These images are so imprinted that it is a wonder that I see what is actually there today.
All of this reminds me of two places I visited that attempted to juxtapose past and present.
The first is Saint-Remy de Provence in France, where we once rented a cottage. Saint-Remy is the town where Vincent Van Gogh spent some time in a psychiatric hospital… but also where he executed some of his most famous paintings.
There is a bronze statue of the famous artist near the city center. But much more interesting are the reproductions of his paintings on small billboards placed exactly where the artist was standing when applying brushstrokes. What you see is what he saw then – and what is there now.
Sometimes things look much the same today as they did then. In other cases, the landscape has changed completely: a road crossing, or the addition of multi-storey buildings, or electrical wires. There is also writing on the notice board – in French, of course – providing context.
The other place that comes to mind is in Ripton, Vermont, near the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College, where Robert Frost had a cabin he used during the summer.
Here, in the middle of the Green Mountain National Forest, you’ll find the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. About a mile long, it features seven of the poet’s best-known works. I hiked the trail while on a break while studying at the Bread Loaf Writers School.
The path near its start parallels a typical New England rock face. You then come across Frost’s poem, “The Mending Wall”. There is a fork in the trail and you come across the stanzas of “The Road Not Taken”. Etc. If you love poetry, this is a walk in the woods worth taking.
There may be an opportunity here for Ipswich. Perhaps a stanza or two from Anne Bradstreet’s “Prologue” on the High Street near the site of her former home? Or a few lines from John Updike’s novel Couples describing the 1965 fire that destroyed the first church placed on Meeting House Green?
Again, these could be reproductions of Ipswich artist Arthur Wesley Dow’s landscapes placed in the places where he painted.
Of course, my favorite would be the erection of a life-size photographic facade of the Old South Church at the end of the South Green. It would definitely tie the green together.
Bob Waite’s instructors at Bread Loaf included John Irving, Toni Morrison and Tobias Wolfe. They offered him to take up painting. You can reach him at [email protected] You can read more of his columns here.