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Friday, July 20, 2018

The House Built From Tombstones

This humble two-storied marble-clad house in Petersburg, in the US state of Virginia, has more than 150 years of Civil War history embedded in its walls. Yet, it was built only in 1934.
That year, resident Oswald Young struck a deal with the Poplar Grove National Cemetery near Petersburg. The cemetery was trying to save money on maintenance, and the park superintendent of the National Park Service, who manages Poplar Grove, decided that if they uprooted the tombstones from the graves and laid them flat on the ground instead, they would have less grass to cut and more money saved.
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The Tombstone House. Photo credit: CNN
Consequently, over 2,000 headstones were removed, cut into appropriate size and converted into flat ones. At the end of this exercise, the cemetery had thousands of pieces of cut marble slabs that needed to be disposed off quickly. The opportunistic Oswald Young snagged hundreds of good pieces for the princely sum of $45. These pieces were used to decorate the exterior of his house, pave the walkway and even construct the fireplace mantle of what has come to be known as the Tombstone House.
The violated graves belonged to no ordinary people—they were graves of Union soldiers killed during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864-65. The dead were originally buried hastily near the battlefield, some in single shallow pits, others in mass graves. Only a few were given proper burials and their graves marked with a wooden headboard.
In 1866, Lt. Colonel James Moore began scouting the Petersburg area for land for a National Cemetery. Eventually, a farm just south of the city was chosen. This tract of land had been the campground for the 50th New York Volunteer Engineers. During the war there was a Gothic Revival pine-log church there called Poplar Grove, and that’s how the cemetery got its name.
After the establishment of the cemetery, work began on the transfer of bodies. Thousands of bodies were dug up from nearly 100 separate burial sites around Petersburg and reburied at Poplar Grove. About a hundred men volunteered for the search and recovery mission, meticulously searching every square inch of the battleground for unmarked graves. Known as the “burial corps”, these men worked for three years until 1869. By then, they interred approximately 6,700 remains, of which only 2,139 bodies were positively identified.
In the decades following the conversion of the cemetery’s tombstones, the Poplar Grove Cemetery slowly slipped into neglect. Mowing the grass and the annual placement of flags were the only maintenance work performed. Poor drainage caused to cemetery to flood after heavy rains, and the water began to eat away the headstones laying flat on the ground. The cemetery's wall crumbled and its flagpole collected rust.
Families and descendants of those buried complained for years for the dishonor shown towards the fallen war veterans. Eventually, the government earmarked a budget of several million dollars for rehabilitation of the cemetery. Between 2015 and 2017, more than five thousand markers were replaced and improvements were made throughout the property. Graves of the known dead got new upright headstones, while graves of the unknown got square markers above ground, mirroring the cemetery's original configuration. The old gravestones were grounded up and disposed of in order to prevent another Oswald Young from using them in inappropriate ways.
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The Poplar Grove National Cemetery after the tombstones were uprighted. Photo credit: CNN
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The new upright markers on the graves. The old markers were destroyed. Photo credit: CNN
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Markers for the unknown are six inches by six inches and rise a few inches above ground. Photo credit: CNN

The Japanese Museum With The Most Flexible Opening Times


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Ichimura Mamoru stands in front of his museum in Kyoto. b
In a quiet residential street in Kyoto, Japan, just around the corner from Kennin-ji Temple, stands a tiny, one-room museum dedicated to the art of Ukiyo-e, or woodblock paintings. This small family-run museum set in an old wooden machiya townhouse is “the smallest ukiyo-e museum in the world.”

The Ukiyoe Small Museum is owned and managed by Ichimura Mamoru, one of the last ukiyo-e artists—numbering around fifty— left in Japan. This unique art form first emerged in late sixteenth century, and usually depicted scenes from everyday life. It wasn't until the eighteenth century that ukiyo-e became a popular art form, thanks partly to advances in woodblock printing techniques. The subject matter of the prints also changed from everyday scenes to female beauties, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, scenes from history and folk tales, travel and landscapes, flora and fauna, as well as erotica. The influence of these charming woodblock prints spread far and wide, with the likes of van Gogh and Monet drawing inspiration from their unique style. 
Ichimura Mamoru started training in ukiyo-e at a very young age from his grandfather. Mamoru took over his grandfather more than fifty years ago. In the early 2000s he opened the museum in order to spread the word about this wonderful dying art.
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A Winter Party, by Utagawa Toyoharu, mid-18th – late 19th century
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Mirror of the Japanese Nobility, by Chikanobu, 1887
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A mid-19th century ukiyo-e showing the woodblock printing process of ukiyo-e.
Making woodblock prints is a multi-stage process, usually involving different craftsman. At first a design is made on paper, which is then carved into wooden blocks. Then colored ink is applied to the blocks and the pattern is impressed into sheets of paper to print the design. Usually, different wooden blocks are used for each color with different parts of the carving raised for each individual color. Ichimura Mamoru performs all the three roles—that of the artist, the carver and the printer—all by himself. The entire process takes a lot of work, but once the blocks were prepared, it becomes easier to mass produce the same design.
Ichimura Mamoru’s museum became very popular a few years ago when images of the unusual sign he had put up in the front caught the attention of the internet. The original sign was in Japanese. It was so honest that a tourist helped him translate it into English back in 2003. Since then, Mamoru’s museum has been enjoying a small amount of fame.

The master printer
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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Inception Scenes Recreated in Lego

Ever since Inception was released, it has been the talk of the Internet with parodies and infographics surfacing around. A Lego version was inevitable. Two Flickr users, Profound Whatever and Ochre Jelly, just did that. Those who haven’t seen the movie shouldn’t worry about spoilers, for none of the plot or story lines are given away. On the other hand, these amazing creations might just drive you to the theatre today. 
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A Swimming Pool of Diet Cola

How would you like to swim in a pool filled with delicious, sugary cola? Artist Mike Bouchet, who started making his own cola in 2004, recently tried out this insane idea. On July 4th, in Twentynine Palms, California, the artist filled a swimming pool (oddly at the former home of sugary British 60’s singer Donovan) with 100,000 liters of homemade Diet Cola. The Cola Pool is the culmination of several cola based art work by the artist which includes paintings made using cola as paint and a Cola Fountain.
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Thursday, June 14, 2018

What Rooftops Tell About Hong Kong’s Residents


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For over four years, photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze has been training his lens on the rooftops of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, in particular those aging buildings located in the very center of the city. These are the only buildings, unlike modern skyscrapers, where the rooftop is left unlocked and accessible by all inhabitants. Given the scarcity of space in a city of 7 million, these communal rooftops are like courtyards, but in the air.
“Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than any other city on earth: 7,044 buildings with more than 12 storeys,” writes Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze in his new book Concrete Stories. “That means, with few exceptions, if you’re standing on a roof, someone is peering down at you. But the rooftop promises a cloak of invisibility and we are eager to accept the lie. As a result, you see the most extraordinary things on Hong Kong’s rooftops. Or more precisely, you see things that are banal and domestic, but extraordinary in the way they are liberated from the self-consciousness that everyone feels in public.”
A woman hangs laundry on her sixth-storey terrace, one floor above the sparkling water of a swimming pool. A dog runs through a forest of potted plants. A skinny papaya tree grows improbably on the 15th floor of a grimy apartment block. A man does pushups, and another plays guitar in red boxer shorts.
Rooftops have always held a special place in Hong Kong’s history. As the city grew denser and more crowded after World War 2, they became a natural outlet for things that couldn’t be accommodated inside buildings. Schools held classes on the roofs, families built makeshift houses and grew vegetable beds. Rooftops hosted bars, parties and even film screenings. Rooftops also became veritable slums for thousands of illegal squatters who could afford a house. Some of these “villages in the sky” spanned entire city blocks.
Nowadays, these buildings are disappearing at a fast pace as the authorities are pulling them down in order to leave space to taller and more modern ones. Modern rooftops are often reserved for the occupants of top-floor apartments. Others are well secured and not accessible to any residents.
Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze’s photos from his book Concrete Stories will be on show at Hong Kong’s Blue Lotus Gallery until June 16, 2018.

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The Niagara Gorge Railroad

Before the Niagara river plunges along the Canada–United States border to create the mesmerizing Niagara Falls, it cuts a 11 km long gorge through the hard dolomite rocks of the Niagara Escarpment. This gorge has been a popular scene for sightseers ever since Niagara welcomed its first tourists more than a hundred years ago. Back then, the gorge was home to another attraction—a narrow-gauge railroad running along the shoreline at the bottom of the gorge.
The Niagara Gorge Railroad was the dream of Civil War veteran Captain John M. Brinker, who was one of Buffalo's foremost citizens. It was Captain Brinker’s idea to build an electric rail road through the Niagara Gorge. His proposal was at first met with incredulity, but his earnestness compelled attention. It was, however, not an original idea. Prior to Captain Brinker, the Niagara Falls and Whirlpool Company made a half hearted attempt to construct a railroad within the Niagara gorge, but legal obstacles prevented the company from executing the plan. Some sources say that the Niagara Falls and Whirlpool Company went bankrupt soon after.
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Trolley car of the Niagara Gorge Railroad. Photo credit: Library of Congress
Learning from the mistakes made by the previous company, Captain Brinker devised a new plan to connect the city of Niagara Falls to the city of Lewiston, both in New York, through the gorge. Brinker hoped riding along the gorge on an electric train would be a novelty that would draw large crowds. So the Niagara Falls and Lewiston Railroad Company was founded, which was later renamed to the Niagara Gorge Railway Company, and work commenced on the line in early 1895. It was a tremendous feat to build the gorge railroad. A gradual descent from the city of Niagara Falls into the gorge had to be excavated through the rock, and rock excavation was necessary at many points along the route in order to lay the tracks at or near the foot of the cliffs along the river. The line proceeded along past the Whirlpool and Devil's Hole to Lewiston, where it again returned to the top of the gorge. When the railroad opened later that year, it became an instant marvel of engineering technology, and an attraction rivaling that of the Falls itself.
The Niagara Falls and Lewiston Railroad provided the public with a remarkable view of the mighty Niagara River including the colossal waves of the raging Whirlpool Rapids, and the majestic Niagara Falls. In summer, open sided trolley cars were used with seats running completely across the width of the trolley. The railroad became so popular that a second track was laid the very next year. This allowed the railroad company to operate cars in both directions at the same time with greater frequency.
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A similar double track line, connecting Chippawa to Queenston, was built on the Canadian side of the border on the top of the gorge. This line opened in 1893, two years before the American gorge railroad opened. Both of these lines—the Queenston-Chippawa railroad and the Niagara Gorge railroad—continued to be popular attractions until 1902, when the two trolley lines were purchased by the International Railway Company and combined into the "Great Gorge Route." Fiver years later, the Great Gorge Route was running trolley cars through the gorge in fifteen minute interval, from seven in the morning to midnight, seven days a week.
The Great Gorge Route closed seasonally between March and April because of spring thaw, which was when most rock falls occurred. Erosion of walls of the Niagara Gorge and rock falls became the biggest enemy of the railroad. Numerous mishaps happened during the railroad’s forty-year lifespan, and they were not without casualties. In 1907, an avalanche of ice just north of the Whirlpool Bridge killed a conductor and eight passengers. In 1915, a trolley carrying a Sunday School group from Toronto left the rails, killing thirteen people. In 1917, a trolley derailed and plunged into the Niagara River killing twelve. In 1930, a small rock slide crashed down on the rail bed carrying it and a number of power poles into the river. These regular disruption from rock and landslides began to eat into the profits, and in 1932, the Canadian portion of the Great Gorge Route was terminated. The American side continued until 1935, when five thousand tons of rock fell and buried more than 200 feet of track and rail bed, forcing the Great Gorge Route to close for business.
Today, the nature trail along the former rail bed at the base of the Niagara Gorge along the American shoreline are all that remains of the Great Gorge Route. 
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Niagara River Rapids before the Whirlpool, viewed from the Spanish AeroCar, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dr. Evermore’s Scrap Metal Yard

Located on Highway 12, in Wisconsin, U.S. is Dr. Evermore’s Scrap Metal yard that features a wide variety of strange metal creatures to form an steampunk orchestra, a band of 70 bird-like statues, made from different musical instruments.
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The Bird Band, as this unusual orchestra is commonly known, is made up of a giant metal cello, tubes, flutes, xylophones and bells. Tom Every, the creative genius behind Dr. Evermore’s scrap metal world, built every one of the statues, without any blueprints or previous designs. He just builds them off the top of his head, adding various parts and instruments, as he goes along.
In case you’re wondering who this mysterious Dr. Evermore is, he‘s a fictional character, created by Tom Every. Tom Every still works on new creations, so every visit to Dr.Evermore’s Scrap Metal Yard is full of new surprises.

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