In the summer of 2013, my dad convinced me that I needed an iPhone for everyday life. Previously, the mobile phone that Rich and I brought with us, if we went out of town, in one of our two 1999 Ford Econoline vans, in case we needed to call AAA, was a Trac-Fone. And you couldn’t really text with a Trac-Fone. My dad, a retired USN helicopter pilot, was an early adopter of technology. When I finished school and moved back to Mystic in the summer of 1990, he had a corded Motorola phone in his car, that was in the middle console, nestled between the drink holders. He loved to call ahead to his destination that he was “on his way”, and when he was fifteen minutes out.
The first text message between my dad and I was on 25 July 2013 at 12:07 pm:
LG: “Michelle: Running a little late: be there by 12:45 to 1. Please acknowledge. Thanks, Dad.”
MG: “Got it…that’s fine.”
It was a Thursday, and I had been at work since 9 am at the Mystic Army Navy in Downtown Mystic. I had been co-owner with my dad of our two stores- one in Downtown Mystic, the other in the Olde Mistick Village, since September 2010, when his business partner (also his best friend from the old neighborhood), had retired after 17 years. They reached an agreement, and then my dad made me the co-owner. There was an understanding between the both of us that I would be taking over the two stores, when he was ready to retire. That day seemed far off at the time. I felt more than ready for the future change of ownership.
I had been raised in the family business, A Stitch in Time Boutique in Downtown Mystic, opened when I was five years old. Although we lived in Noank, my sister Maria and I would take the afternoon school bus that routed to Downtown Mystic, and we would get off at Pearl Street, and walk across the street to the store, where our mother worked the final shift that ended at 6 pm. Maria and I loved being at the store, and “helping” the customers, and would thrill to the attention that ensued: “Oh, I want the little lady to show me the silver rings in the case…” Our summers were spent at the store, working as a family. By the time I was fourteen, I was on a schedule, and have been ever since. As I was back in Mystic that summer of 1990 , I resumed working at Stitch in Time for my mom. Rich and I started our relationship then, and I found myself swept up in the excitement of an intense art scene in Mystic, that he was integral in, and I became enamored with photography. In 1995, I was fortunate to gain the employ of the professional photographer, Rollie McKenna of Stonington, until she retired in 1998. At that point, I joined the newest family business, Mystic Army Navy that my dad had started in 1993, to fill the void, post- divorce, where my mom “got the store” (Stitch in Time), and my dad “got the house” (in Noank), and “got the boat”.
I had invested in the family business. I was involved in every aspect of helping to run the retail business with my dad and his business partner on a daily basis, but mostly I was chief negotiator between the two Navy veterans, each stationed at their preferred store, my dad was at the downtown store(DT), and his partner at the Olde Mistick Village store(OMV). By the summer of 2013, the business was getting ready to celebrate its twentieth year in business, and we all felt a sense of relief, especially after surviving the tumultuous Hurricane Sandy catastrophe in October 2012, when the DT store flooded up from the floorboards as a tidal surge from Long Island Sound forged into the Mystic River. The DT store had to be emptied, and all of the merchandise relocated to the OMV store. The store had to be bleached and dehumidified, and then rebuilt, and it had been the most difficult professional experience thus far. However, our staff performed on a high level; it was all hands on deck in true Navy fashion, and we were successfully back on track.
Little did I know that three months after getting the iPhone, my father would pass away on 27 October 2013. The five day sequence leading up to his death, is burned into my memory, and I realized that this year, 2019, marks the six year anniversary, and as such, the days and dates are lined up in the exact order as they happened. I went into my iPhone for the first time to look at all of the text messages between us, which are all still there, buried at the bottom of my phone.
Prelude on Monday 21 October 2013: 12:46 pm
LG: “Michelle: Don’t forget I have an endoscopy tomorrow at the WHVA (West Haven VA) hospital. Not sure about Wed/Thurs/Fri at MANS (Mystic Army Navy Store): depends what they find? I’ll keep you posted. Love, Dad.”
MG: “The store will be fine..Don’t worry there, and try to keep the worry component down..Keep me posted tomorrow.”
Tuesday 22 October 2013:
My scheduled day off, and I had a photoshoot planned at 2 pm, with a brand new model: a veritable “Greek God” that Rich had enthused about to me, Titus Abad, who happened to be a most ardent fan of Slander, Rich’s latest band. Titus and I were going to shoot at the Greek Revival Mansion in Old Mystic, the “House of 1833”, run as a Bed and Breakfast by Evan Nickles, a longtime Mystic entrepreneur. Titus was 20, and had participated in some photo shoots at school, but had moved back to Mystic, and I was confident that we would hit it off. It was a great shoot. I didn’t text with my dad that day, but we talked on the phone. It had been a month of mostly minor physical discomfort: he thought he had an ulcer and wanted to get it checked out at the VA. He was in fair spirits, but I could tell that he was worried. He had just turned 70 on September 19th, and out of nowhere really, he seemed to taking the birthday milestone hard. He was the most vivacious person I have ever known, so to not be up on the mountain, that was so unlike him.
Wednesday 23 October 2013 at 3:52 pm
MG: “Any news on the biopsy and cat scan?”
LG: “They found one small polyp in my stomach & sent it out for biopsy. Results due in today with cat scan results. Went to see my GI (Gastro-Intestinal) guy here in New London this morning, and I’m going to let him take over the GI stuff. West Haven just too far away.. will keep you posted. Love, Dad.”
My dad loved the West Haven VA Hospital: he had a procedure there in December of 2011, unrelated to his current state, and he always raved about the legendary treatment he had received there. But Pat’s schedule with her new job, which required some serious travel, would have an impact for his future medical appointments, which is why he was considering the local doctor.
We talked on the phone a lot as I was running the two stores , while he was convalescing at his house between doctor’s appointments this week. He was still involved in daily store business, and we would discuss store banking, and other pressing matters. That night he and his girlfriend Pat went out to a scheduled dinner in Providence, and attended a theater fundraiser. They got dressed up in fancy clothes, and from the photographs I later saw, he looked fantastic on the outside, with a big smile on his face.
We’re both Red Sox fans, and that year, our team was playing in the World Series. Later that night, we texted at 9:41 pm
LG: “Cards making too many errors!!!
“Triple Play! Wow!”
MG: “We like this lead, but Sox have to realize that no lead is safe..”
MG: “Love it!!”
This back and forth between us was during Game One at Fenway Park, and the Sox won 8-1.
We were excited.
Thursday 24 October 2013 at 1:05pm
I was at work at the downtown store, and I texted my dad:
MG: “How are you feeling—it’s beautiful out there-hopefully you can catch some warm rays!”
LG: “Having lunch: back later.”
MG: “At home?”
MG: “How are you feeling? Any pain today?”
LG: Actually took a full Vicodin last night and slept straight through!!! First full night’s sleep in about three weeks.. Having a meal with us, or just appetizers? Thanks, Love, Dad.”
I was working until 4 pm, then had a mammogram appointment at Pequot, and Rich had a gig at the El-n-Gee later that night with Slander, and I planned to attend with my friend and model Jane, and would be meeting up with Titus there as well. But I wanted to see my dad for dinner and a visit for a couple of hours beforehand. We had veggie burgers and a bunch of appetizers, but he was not his usual self. He was down, and I know he was worried about the medical results.
Later that night, while I was at the Gee, he texted me updates on Game Two of the World Series at 8:53 pm
LG: “Top of the 3rd¨Sox finally got a MOB, but then fly out. Waca throwing much heat, but so isn’t Lackey!”
He kept me posted throughout the game, which resulted in a loss for the Red Sox (Cards 4 Sox 2), though Rich and I made it home to watch the end of the game, with the Sox down.
MG: “We’re home now, and hoping for the best!!”
Friday 25 October 2013
I went to work at OMV for my regular shift of 10-6 pm. My dad normally worked with me out there every Friday, ever since his partner had retired, and we always had a full plate with receiving merchandise, and wanting to get everything in place for the always important weekend. My dad, who enjoyed a good meal immensely, always treated every Friday with a takeout lunch from Mango’s. The Garlic Cheese Bread: “Mozzarella & Romano cheeses, fresh garlic & olive oil on our hearth baked flat bread.” and The Blacksmith Salad: “Crisp lettuce, grated Romano and Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, tomato and red onion. Served with our house balsamic vinaigrette dressing.” It was easier to manage a few bites of bread and salad around customers, and making sales.
But we hadn’t ordered lunch from Mango’s since the last time we ended up working together out there, October 11th, a Friday, two weeks earlier.
So I texted him at 12:19 pm
MG: “How are you feeling today?”
LG: “Ok. Slept good again last night. The VA needs more blood work today, so Pat and I are driving to West Haven today & procedure is next Tuesday (cat scan with needle biopsy), Keep you posted. Love, Dad.”
And then he got back to me at 5:40 pm
LG: “Hell’s bells!!! Just got back from West Haven & they called & said my potassium level was dangerously high (6.5), and it should be under 5. He told me to go to an ER ASAP to get it lowered immediately! Life’s a test, Michelle & Maria, & what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger!! Love to everyone! Dad & Grandpa.”
MG: “Good Luck!! What do potassium levels indicate? Where are you going to ER?”
He was at Pequot, and I was planning on going over there to visit him right after work. When I got there, his potassium levels were already stabilizing and he seemed in fine spirits and little pain. But because Pequot closes at 10 pm nightly, and is the outpatient arm of Lawrence and Memorial Hospital, they decided to transfer him there for the night so they could monitor him. Before I left to go home, Pat went to their house so she could pack an overnight bag for her and my dad, as she planned on staying the night with him in the room. I wished him a good night and went home. The next day I had to open the downtown store at 9 am, and planned to visit him at L & M after work at 5.
26 October 2013 at 8:07 am
MG: “Good morning!”
LG: “Good morning! Fairly decent night’s sleep! Waiting for ultrasound. Can eat after that!!!”
MG: “Great! Did you text Maria last night or this morning? Let me know how the day goes..”
This was the last text message between us, as he was busy with tests and doctors in and out of his room. He called me later at work, and told me how he had talked to Maria, and his business partner, and some other friends and family, just letting them know he was getting some tests, pretty normal stuff still.
Game Three of the World Series was at 8 pm that night, and our house was Sox HQ for a few close friends, so they were planning on coming over to watch the game. I headed over to New London to go visit my dad at L & M, and would keep Rich posted. Visiting hours were over at 9 pm, but at 8:30 the doctors came in to take him down the hall for a MRI, as they were still trying to discover what was going on with him, so I said goodnight to him, and told him that I would come over with Rich on Sunday since it was on our day off. I left L & M, and had taken Exit 88 to get back home, as the van was acting up, and I didn’t want to press it on the highway longer than I had to. I was about to pass by the Dairy Queen in Poquonnock Bridge when a call from Pat came in to my iPhone, so I quickly pulled in to the DQ, and took her call. She was hysterical: the doctors just told her that he would not live through the night! The MRI had finally revealed the source of all of this: pancreatic cancer, and his organs were now in final shutdown. Stunned I told her that I was on my way back to the hospital. I sat there, and called Rich in disbelief, and told him that I would be in touch.
We sat in his room and I held his hand and talked about the store, and happy times, sailing on the Mystic River into Fishers Island Sound, and so many others. I told him that I had anticipated taking the store over when he was ready to retire, and not that he would be throwing the reins to me! He laughed.. Pat dialed the number of every family member and he talked to them, so bravely and lovingly. Then she dialed the number of all of his Navy buddies and I could hear them breaking down in shock and he comforted them. I talked to Maria in Syracuse and they were having an early Autumn snow storm, and since it was her oldest daughter’s 12th birthday the following day, she had 8 girls at her house in a sleepover party for Emma. My dad recorded a birthday message for Emma that night in his hospital bed, and I don’t know if she has ever heard it. But I urged Maria not to drive down, as I felt it was too dangerous to risk. She was having a hard time with it, and she really wanted to come down. By midnight they were upping the morphine, and he was trying to rest and sleep. Pat was in his room and the rest of us were out in the waiting room. I left at 6 am, and everyone there was trying to doze. I went home and sat there.
Sunday 27 October 2013
Pat texted me at 9 am that he had passed. With Rich by my side, I called Maria, my mom, and Gordon at the store so he could tell the rest of the staff.
The very last text message entry from his contact in my phone was from Pat using his phone because she couldn’t find her phone and we were making funeral arrangements:
PB on LG’s phone: “Heading back home to find phone.”
MG: “I am at Dinoto in the parking lot drinking coffee. I will wait in my car so I can help you carry the photos in when you get here..”
Thank you to Rich for the title, given to me five years ago on the first anniversary of my dad’s passing, and all I could do was to schedule another photo shoot with Titus on 22 October, a tradition we managed to uphold until recently, thank you to Titus!
Thank you to Red Sox HQ: Peter Jazz, Humpy and Malthus!
Thank you to Dan Curland, who almost died the same night as my dad, having choked on chicken at dinner, and saved by his daughter Lena running to our house down the street and getting Rich and Peter to go help him. Dan was brought to L & M the same night that my dad was there, and turning the corner, I bumped into Peter Jazz!
“They Who Transplanted Still Sustain”
“The brand’s beleaguered design team, accustomed to a spreadsheet mentality—churn out X chinos in Y colors, repeat—were suddenly given what felt like creative carte blanche. Drexler “put the product and the design before the business, in a way,” recalls a former employee. “He made the creative drive the business.”
Drexler once told a roomful of employees that he’d passed on a hire because the candidate didn’t know the meaning or origin of her high school’s name. How could you go someplace every day and not be curious enough to figure out where the name came from? Drexler stayed five steps ahead, and for those who could keep up, the sky was the limit: invent a new product, a new category, a new business within the business. And if you can’t keep up, get the hell out of the way.”
“The original Fitch High School (now the former location of Fitch Middle School) was built in 1928 next to the Town Hall on Poquonnock Road, and was funded in part by the will of a local merchant, Charles Fitch, with the stipulation that it be named after his son, Robert E. Fitch. In the early 1950s, the district enrollment was larger than the school could handle. The school district decided to split to a junior high and senior high system. In 1954, the school district built a new school, the current Robert E. Fitch Senior High School, in its current location at the top of Fort Hill Road, and renamed the existing school Robert E. Fitch Junior High School.”
Notable alumni and faculty:
- Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon winner
- Dave Campo, Dallas Cowboys Secondary Coach
- Jason Filardi, screenwriter: 17 Again, Bringing Down The House
- Jesse Hahn, Major League Baseball player
- John J. Kelley (1930–2011), winner of the 1957 Boston Marathon, member of two U.S. Olympic Marathon teams and a coach at the school
- Fran Mainella, National Park Service Director, 2001–2006
- Paul Menhart, former Major League Baseball pitcher
- Matt Harvey, 7th overall pick in 2010 MLB draft to New York Mets
- George Hall, Arena Football League linebacker
- Samantha Urbani (Singer/ Songwriter)
If you have not checked out the music of Samantha Urbani, I urge you to do so forthwith: https://luckynumber.bandcamp.com/album/policies-of-power-ep
featuring Model: Caroline Walz
as my PISCES
for Personal Universe, an astrology series
26 September 2017
Watch Hill, Rhode Island, USA
Photograph by Michelle Gemma
title from the song, “Caroline’s Supposed Demon” by His Name is Alive, from their album Livonia (1990). Lyrics by Warren Defever
“Caroline’s supposed demon
Caroline they say she’s haunted
We may only once divide the
Pain and darkness deep inside us”
“Defever began recording in his basement in 1985, while still in high school. His initial work consisted primarily of Defever alone recording the music to a 4-track recorder, with friend Angie Carozzo providing vocals. After Defever went off to college and met Karin Oliver, she became the band’s primary vocalist.
The group’s work resulted in a self-released cassette. Defever sent the tape to 4AD in hopes of being signed to the label. Despite label president Ivo Watts-Russell‘s rejection of the band, Defever continued to send him tapes, with improved versions of the songs appearing on each new tape. Ivo signed the band in 1989, believing that (along with his This Mortal Coil partner John Fryer) he could re-mix the songs into a proper album 4AD could release. Livonia appeared in the summer of 1990, and became one of the label’s biggest sellers of the year. ‘He took it apart, and he didn’t put it back together,’ Defever would later comment on Ivo’s production style.”
When I was on social media (June 2013-June 2019), I came to the attention of Warren Defever, because, on occasion, I posted a variety of his lyrics, mostly from Livonia (1990), and Home Is in Your Head (1991) to illustrate my photographs. I used the hashtags #hisnameisalive and #hnia and #warrendefever
and soon enough, I found that he would “like” the posts. His user name was “xoxowar” and one day I realized what his name meant! I thought, oh he must sign his letters with the fond and cheerful “xoxo” which means hugs and kisses (I had many Italian aunts who used this signature for all correspondence). And his nickname must be “war”. I was so excited that I decided to message him on Instagram. He responded soon after, telling me that I was correct! That was the extent of our correspondence.
And I laugh as I drift in the wind
Dancing on a beach of stone
Cherish the faces as they wait for the end
Sudden hush across the water
And we’re here again
And the sand
And the sea grows
I close my eyes
Move slowly through drowning waves
On a strange day
My head falls backs
And the walls crash down
And the sky
And the impossible
Held for one moment I remember a song
An impression of sound
Then everything is gone
A strange day”
“*FULL MOON* in Aquarius alchemizes the cauldron of our humanity. Within this axis, Aquarius (humanitarian) and Leo (Self), we become the change. It’s easy to focus on others, but if we keep our focus on our Self and do what we feel moved to do, we create space for others to be informed and inspired by our actions and be led by their own free will, rather than through any kind of pressure or intimidation. This Aquarius FULL MOON encourages us to witness what is being illuminated and unhinge from the ties of public opinion to continue to unfurl who we truly are. We are in an evolutionary time that is encouraging us to embody our true essence. Everything is shifting right now, and it is a time to access higher mind and take a broad wide view. These are the keys that open the doors to new perception. Our thoughts create our world. That is the frontier.” http://www.mysticmamma.com/astrology-full-moon-in-aquarius-august-15th-2019/
“The Full Moon in August is called Sturgeon Moon because of the great number of this huge freshwater fish that could once be found in lakes and rivers in North America. Other names for this Full Moon include Grain Moon, Green Corn Moon, Fruit Moon, and Barley Moon, all inspired by various crops that can be harvested in August. The lake sturgeon has a greenish-grey color and a pointed snout with two pairs of whisker-like tactile organs dangling near the mouth. It is sometimes called a “living fossil,” as it belongs to a family of fish that has existed for more than 135 million years. Lake sturgeons are extremely long-lived. The males can reach 55 years, while females can live up to 150 years! And they can grow to be enormous. They are the American continent’s largest fish and can grow to over 2 meters long (6 feet) and weigh around 90 kilos (200 pounds). Lake sturgeons do not only live in lakes; they also live in rivers, but not in the ocean. This monster fish used to be a major part of the ecosystems in North America’s Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and in the Mississippi River, and they were once found all the way from Canada to Alabama. Today, the lake sturgeon has become one of the rarest fish in North America because of intense overfishing in the 19th century, pollution, and damage to their habitat and breeding grounds due to agriculture and lumbering.” https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/moon/sturgeon.html
featuring Model: Hadlai Palmerone
15 August 2019 during the Full Sturgeon Moon of August
Barn Island, Stonington, CT USA
Photographed by Michelle Gemma
featuring lyrics from “A Strange Day”, by the Cure, Pornography, (1982).
“Following the band’s previous album, 1981’s Faith, the non-album single “Charlotte Sometimes” was released. The single, in particular its nightmarish and hallucinatory B-side “Splintered in Her Head”, would hint at what was to come in Pornography. In the words of Robert Smith, regarding the album’s conception, “I had two choices at the time, which were either completely giving in [committing suicide] or making a record of it and getting it out of me”. He also claims he “really thought that was it for the group. I had every intention of signing off. I wanted to make the ultimate ‘fuck off’ record, and then sign off [the band]”. Smith was mentally exhausted during that period of time: “I was in a really depressed frame of mind between 1981 and 1982”. The band “had been touring for about 200 days a year and it all got a bit too much because there was never any time to do anything else”. The band, Smith in particular, wanted to make the album with a different producer than Mike Hedges, who had produced Seventeen Seconds and Faith. According to Lol Tolhurst, Smith and Tolhurst briefly met with the producer Conny Plank at Fiction’s offices in the hopes of having him produce the album since they were both fans of his work with Kraftwerk, however, the group soon settled on Phil Thornalley. Pornography is the last Cure album to feature Lol Tolhurst as the band’s drummer (he then became the band’s keyboardist), and also marked the first time he played keyboards on a Cure release. The album was recorded at RAK Studios from January to April 1982. On the album’s recording sessions, Smith noted “there was a lot of drugs involved”. The band took LSD and drank a lot of alcohol, and to save money, they slept in the office of their record label. The musicians usually turned up at eight, and left at midday looking “fairly deranged”. Smith related: “We had an arrangement with the off-licence up the road, every night they would bring in supplies. We decided we weren’t going to throw anything out. We built this mountain of empties in the corner, a gigantic pile of debris in the corner. It just grew and grew”. According to Tolhurst, “we wanted to make the ultimate, intense album. I can’t remember exactly why, but we did”. The recording sessions commenced and concluded in three weeks. Smith noted, “At the time, I lost every friend I had, everyone, without exception, because I was incredibly obnoxious, appalling, self-centered”. He also noted that with the album, he “channelled all the self-destructive elements of my personality into doing something”. Polydor Records, the company in charge of Fiction Records, the label on which the album was released, was initially displeased with the album’s title, which it saw as being potentially offensive. Regarding the album’s musical style, NME reviewer Dave Hill wrote, “The drums, guitars, voice and production style are pressed scrupulously together in a murderous unity of surging, textured mood”. Hill further described it as “Phil Spector in Hell”. Trouser Press said about the track “A Short Term Effect”: It “stresses ephemeralness with Smith’s echo-laden voice decelerating at the end of each phrase”. Ira Robbins observed that “the song closest to basic pop” is “A Strange Day”: It “has overdubbed backing vocals plus a delineated verse and chorus wrapped in some strangely consonant guitar figures”. The journalist also commented: the song “Cold” “gets the full gothic treatment”, with “grandiose minor-mode organ swells”. Describing the title track, writer Dave McCullough said that it “tries to copy Cabaret Voltaire, all shuddering tape noise”.
Smith said that “the reference point for the record was not Joy Division at all but the first Psychedelic Furs album which had, like, a density of sound, really powerful”. Smith also cited Siouxsie and the Banshees as “a massive influence on me […] They were the group who led me towards doing Pornography. They drew something out of me”. In 1982, Smith also said that the “records he’d take into the bunker after the big bang”, were Desertshore by Nico, Music for Films by Brian Eno, Axis: Bold as Love / Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix, Twenty Golden Greats by Frank Sinatra and The Early Piano Works by Erik Satie.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography_(album)
This post is dedicated to Dan Curland, owner of the Mystic Disc and sponsor of the music-film series showing at Mystic Luxury Cinemas. The Cure’s “Anniversary 1978 – 2018: Live in Hyde Park London” played at the Mystic Cinema on 11 July 2019, and Curland’s attendance that night introduced him to the Cure for the very first time. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/the-cure-40th-anniversary-concert-film-841494/
He was moved immensely seeing the film, and the record store has had “Disintegration” and “The Head on the Door” playing on repeat ever since that night. I asked Curland about his recent fascination with the Cure.
MG: What were your first thoughts seeing, hearing and being immersed in the Cure’s anniversary film?
DC: Even though it was a movie I could feel that opening, the love of the crowd for Robert was so real and immense and the same for Robert to the audience. He just seemed so damn real, humble and then, I did not even know he played guitar, he plays so uniquely, throw into it Simon who is also so charismatic, the power of the drummer, I could not take my eyes off of them obviously Robert is the focal. On stage, one mic, no harmonies, no need for that, he is a troubadour, totally unique. The amazing thing was I knew none of their songs, no lyrics ( Although the way he sings and his emotion I felt like i knew what he was saying) usually I know a song or two, I knew nothing, amazing that he could grab me like that.
MG: After being convinced for yourself, of the mastery of the sonic and lyrical content of the Cure, what keeps you coming back?
DC: The incredible songs, lyrics that just blow me away, again even on a record he exudes this beautiful authenticity. I keep going back because once Robert has you that’s it.
MG: I find it really fascinating that you are so into the Cure and I think that your insights are so fresh and refreshing. I think it reminds all of us to give something a chance that you might not initially think is for you. And when you said that your rock band is learning some country songs, that’s pretty interesting. I guess it’s the essence of being human and I’m glad that you’re here to teach us all a little something!!
DC: We all learn from each other.
“He stands, today, as every day, in a pose of attack. The sword is being drawn as every sunrise arrives.”
A period of upheaval surrounded the removal of the Major John Mason statue in Mystic, Connecticut. The public discourse around the relevance of the memorial grew heated, and local factions clashed. The result of that discourse was the relocation of the statue. The Mason statue was moved to Windsor, Connecticut—the American hometown of the Major—after pressure from Native groups. The controversy around its removal eventually led to a collective understanding by the local population that their society was far different from the post-Civil War era that created the monument. During the decades following the end of the Civil War, many Americans funded the creation of memorials to lost figures in American history who had participated in the colonization of the US. The citizens of Mystic, Connecticut chose Major John Mason as their historical hero. In 1889, the Mason Memorial, designed by sculptor James G. C. Hamilton, was placed at the intersection of Clift Street and Pequot Avenue.
Mason led a coalition of English soldiers and Native tribes in a coordinated attack on the Pequot settlement at Mystic during the Pequot War of the 1630’s. What ensued was the first large scale military operation on American soil. The Pequot were nearly annihilated in the course of one day. Had it not been for the Pequot warriors who resided at Fort Hill, a few miles away, they most certainly would have.
The conventional wisdom about the battle is that hundreds of men, women and children perished at Mystic because of their lack of defense. But Kevin McBride, former head researcher at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, determined that the Pequot warriors made the trek from Fort Hill to Mystic just in time to drive the remaining combatants off, chasing them through the nearby wooded area to the west, and then further south toward the coves around the peninsula at West Mystic. Archaeological digs have uncovered evidence that the English and Native coalition was not successful in eliminating the tribe, despite the massacre of over 400 people.
Why did the Pequot need to be forced into submission? They sat on the largest concentration of wampum in the southern colonial settlements, the currency that was at the center of the fur trade, which brought both English and Dutch explorers to the area. The Pequot essentially were The Bank of Southeastern Connecticut.
They were also not looked upon kindly by neighboring Native groups, for that reason and others.
In 1636, the Pequot took to the offensive, attacking settlements at Saybrook and Wethersfield. On the first of May 1637, the Connecticut colony ordered war against the Pequot. Twenty-six days later, the attack at Mystic began.
By 1910 there were only 66 members of the Pequot tribe. Today they oversee an international casino empire, and the power which they leveraged in the early 1990s to bring about the removal of the Mason statue was real.
“You cannot alter history…”
Following the tragedy at Charlottesville, I found myself thinking back to 1991, when the residents of Mystic began their discussion about the removal of the Major John Mason statue. Of course, those opposed offered as their central argument that such removal would be “Altering History”. I wanted to remind Mystic about how local debates over the Mason statue had resulted in its relocation. I also wanted to make a public statement about how to move forward with the removal of Confederate memorials. I decided to add a touch of confrontational graffiti to the jersey barriers acting as a replacement guardrail on US Rt. 1, near the Baptist church in town.
WE REMOVED MASON’S STATUE
My goal was to send a message that removing controversial memorials had a precedent, right here in Mystic. I was surprised that the graffiti had been covered by slate grey paint the following day. Undaunted, I decided to return two nights later, to restate the message. After all, I painted graffiti on the original Mason statue in 1990:
AMERICAN FREEDOM FIGHTER
That was during the aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal, a period when the Freedom Fighter moniker received renewed scrutiny. I returned to the jersey barriers and again sprayed in black paint:
WE REMOVED MASON’S STATUE
The message was again painted over and covered up the next day. I was shocked: it seemed that our community wouldn’t broach the topic that we had defined decades earlier, to help assuage another similar issue in another part of the country. A friend told me that descendants of Mason would have painted over my graffiti. But I was still convinced that Mystic could give our fellow citizens a roadmap toward a future that would represent shared values. Confederate memorials could be approached the way Mystic dealt with Mason. We had already established an historical precedent around the topic.
During the writing of this piece, my research has been two-fold: the resistance to change among the local population regarding the Mason Monument, and how our local controversy mirrors the protests against removing Confederate statues from the public square.
“In his effort to clarify and simplify, noted local historian, William Peterson has stated; ‘Many of us have gotten lost in a forest of peripheral issues …. The implications of removing this statue go far deeper than our own parochial interests. The real issue is not about who was right or wrong in the early 17th century; it is not about justice or injustice; it is not about sacred sites or battle sites; it is not about John Mason or genocide. The merits of these points can be argued (or acted) convincingly and emotionally, but to no one’s satisfaction. The fundamental issue is FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION – one of our basic American ideals! The location of the statue may be insensitive by today’s standards but a past generation could not possibly anticipate the moral persuasions and cultural sensitivities of future generations. The site, the plaque language, and the statue are part of the 1889 expression. The reasons that the site was sacred to the Colonists and their descendants may be different from the reasons given by other people today, but they are no less valid.’ Mr. Peterson believes
“That the statue should remain where it is, unaltered.”
“The moral and cultural sensitivities of future generations.”
This is the lesson that the generations before us did not recognize. This is not an accusation. This is a description of an awareness that is an undeniable fabric of modern American life.
The most revealing element was the counter argument from the defendants, as presented by the Mason Foundation during negotiations. The family foundation was surprisingly accommodating at every level of the negotiations, and yet they ended up with no concessions at all.
We, the members of The Mason Family Memorial Association Inc., being descendants of Major John Mason, do
hereby submit the following specific recommendations to the State of Connecticut.
1. REMOVE ENTIRE STATUE from its present location on Pequot Ave.
2. REMOVE ORIGINAL PLAQUE and loan it to a local museum. Suggested museums: The Indian and Colonial
Research Center, The Mashantucket Pequot Cultural Museum, The New London County Historical Society, The
Mystic River Hist. Soc.
3a. INSTALL STATE HISTORICAL COMMISSION MARKER at the Fort site. b. Promote acceptance and
implementation of Marcus Mason Maronn’s entire proposal for an alternative monument at Pequot Ave. site.
4. RELOCATE ENTIRE STATUE TO HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT. Site on the grounds of the State Capitol or the
5a. REBIRTH IMAGE to represent John Mason as a whole person. b. INSTALL NEW PLAQUES as per M.M.M.
6. PROCLAIM DAY OF HONOR for Major John Mason.
7. PRODUCE DOCUMENTARY FILM of the entire process for historical and educational purposes.
8. APPOINT M.F.M.A. MANAGEMENT STATUS in regards to J. M. Statue.”
However, their initial stance was confrontational:
“Marcus Mason Maronn has the right idea when he says, ‘We could save a lot of time and energy if the council simply passed a motion to dismiss this entire issue, which has no basis other than the motivation for revenge by certain radical extremists.”
Letters to the editor of the local newspaper echoed those sentiments:
“No matter the right or wrong John Mason acted according to the best thinking of the time. What happened, happened. Our monuments and writings must remain undisturbed.”
“I must be dreaming – having a nightmare, that is. An article in The Day is headlined, ‘Groton OKs loan of statue to Pequots.’ Going back in time a little, the Pequot Indians approached the Groton Town Council requesting that the John Mason statue be removed because it was ‘too painful for (them) to look at.’ Now the Pequots are to gain possession of the Mason statue for their own museum? This was a gutless decision by gutless town officials. Only Town Councilor Frank o’Beirne had a grip on reality, stating that he’s “having a hard time understanding how a statue that was offensive to them (where it is located now) … would not be offensive if they put it in their museum.’ Councilor O’Beirne expressed his concern for the welfare of the statue in an earlier meeting, a concern I share. Just how much time do the Indians spend cruising Pequot Avenue, being ‘hurt’ by the presence of an historical monument?”
The writers of these letters have attitudes similar to those of people opposed to the removal of Confederate memorials in the South. My southern friends like to remind me that the North is not so innocent.
Chicago. Cleveland. Boston. Philadelphia.
I kept turning it over in my mind, what I might have blocked out at the time, due to a myopic focus on my own expectations toward a certain outcome. The point of view that we cannot remove specific memorials was not isolated to a predetermined understanding of Southern values, but was readily expressed by Northerners during a similarly divisive discussion on inclusion and exclusion. And yet, after all of the arguments, the opinions being stated, historical precedents being presented, our community finally removed the Mason statue.
Mystic, Connecticut can show the nation a road map to the future. Our story can teach others how to remove memorials that create hate and division, through thorough negotiations with all sides represented equally.
The conflict delineates history. American history deserves to be a truthful recitation.
source links: indianandcolonial.org
additional edits by rvljones
“In an era of great division, a point that is often missed in the Confederate monuments debate is that most factions rightly agree that history should not be erased. The question is in how it should be remembered.” — Dr. Susannah J. Ural, “Let Us Speak of What We have Done”
Ancestry.com is a Pandora’s Box. I always knew that there were wealthy slaveholders on my mother’s side, who owned large plantations in Georgia before the Civil War. But I had been told by my father that they were the exception, not the rule; and that his ancestors had been of a different class, working poor who couldn’t have owned slaves even if they’d wanted to. But the hours I’ve spent on research have disproven any imagined innocence of my paternal line. Census record after census record show that many of my predecessors on both sides owned slaves. Some may have owned just a few, but others hundreds. Sometimes the first names of these slaves are listed in census documents, but more often not, as they were considered property. There are no records of them beyond that, where they were from or where they were buried. Their descendants can’t build family trees.
All of my ancestral lines came to America early. They turn up in the first censuses taken in colonies in what are now Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. A few were Pilgrims, several were Quakers (something I never knew) and a number were Huguenots (far more than I realized) who came here to escape religious persecution. Some came as indentured servants or prisoners of war, some as wealthy planters or traders. I’ve found four ancestors accused of being witches in colonial Massachusetts, and one hung for heresy. Many fought in the Revolutionary War, and many would fight in the Civil War, for the South. I qualify as both a “Daughter of the Revolution” and a “Daughter of the Confederacy” many times over. In other words, I’m the product of settler colonialism, both Northern and Southern.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that one branch of my family tree was triracial (Native, Anglo, African). My great, great, great grandmother was Annie Jean Jacobs of North Carolina. The North Carolina Jacobs have been multi-racial for generations, and can be traced back to one slave, Gabriel Jacobs, who was freed around 1690. My father told me that my grandmother had some Native American ancestry, although he kept changing the name of the tribe: Tuscarora, or Waccamaw, or Lumbee. He didn’t say anything about her African American ancestry because it had been a family secret, I think, for years. Studying the census, I can see that my Jacobs ancestors made a choice around 1850 to present as white; they had previously identified as free people of color. Other Jacobs identified as Native Americans, and I have found records that classify the same person as “Mulatto”, “White”, and “Indian”. The more that I look, the more stories I uncover about the “tri-racial isolates” (as anthropologists call them) of North Carolina. Their histories are case studies about the complex realities of racial identity in early America. I can see on paper the effects of changing laws (for example the one-drop rule) on the Jacobs over generations.
I wish I could share these discoveries with my father, but he isn’t speaking to me, because I don’t like Trump or the Confederate flag.
When people ask me where I am from, I tell them Atlanta, Georgia. If they ask me if I consider myself Southern, I say yes. I suppose if I tracked all my days from the ages of 0 to 18, most of them would have been lived above the Mason Dixon. But I spent the first 6 years of my life in Georgia, and my ancestors have lived in the South since before the Revolutionary War. Moving as a child to the most Yankee of places—Mystic, Connecticut—didn’t change that.
For those who aren’t locals, Mystic is beautiful historic village on the coast of Connecticut, close to the Rhode Island border. The Mystic Seaport is there, and the Charles Morgan, the only wooden whaling ship left in the world. Mystic is a place where the lines between past and present constantly blur, and it is easy to time travel there (especially as a teenager on acid).
After my stepfather got a job at the Mystic Seaport, he moved us into a house on Pequot Avenue, a street that cuts across the hills above town, running parallel to the river, down to the sea. Clift Street climbs up from the river to meet Pequot Avenue at its top. At the intersection of Clift and Pequot, there is an odd little roundabout, just a circle of grass, that forces drivers around it for no discernible reason. The roundabout isn’t a speed bump or an abandoned garden; instead it served for many years as the base for a statue of John Mason, a local colonial hero.
Mason’s statue was erected to commemorate a raid that he led on the Pequot tribe in 1637, afterwards known as the Mystic Massacre: “Major John Mason… said, We must burn them, and … brought out a firebrand, and putting it into the matts with which they were covered, set the wigwams on fire. Within minutes, Mistick Fort was engulfed … In one hour, more than 400 Pequot men, women and children were killed.”
The Pequot War is a pivotal moment in colonial history; the tribe was vanquished so the English could continue to take over Connecticut. Mason’s statue was placed near the approximate location of the Pequots’ fort, and its purpose was forthright: it was to mark, in space and time, the successful displacement of natives by settlers. The local people (including some Mason descendants) who devoted themselves to the cause of raising a memorial on Pequot Avenue—a considerable investment of time, energy, and money—did not question his heroism. Their intention was that the statue would evoke awe and gratitude in its viewers. After all, without Mason, there wouldn’t be white people in Mystic, or Connecticut for that matter.
As a kid, I didn’t understand that my house was built where hundreds of Native people burned to death. But the woods behind our house scared me, and I never explored it. I waited for the school bus at Mason, sometimes leaning against him, or climbing over him, or chasing my friends around him. I read the inscription on his base again and again—“Erected AD 1889 By the State of Connecticut to commemorate the heroic achievement of Major John Mason and his comrades, who near this spot in 1637, overthrew the Pequot Indians, and preserved the settlements from destruction”—but I didn’t wonder about the story being told, let alone the stories being left out. He was huge, bronze, and he had a sword. Looked like a hero to me!
But as I grew older, my feelings about Mason and his statue changed. I was not alone. Mason and his troops, despite their best efforts, didn’t kill off all the Pequots, and descendants of the massacre survivors still live in the area. After getting federal recognition in 1983, they built a huge casino on their reservation, Foxwoods, which became a spectacular success. Regaining economic and political power in Connecticut after centuries of marginalization, the tribe again became a force to reckon with, and they directed some of that force at taking Mason down. For them, the statue was an insult, the equivalent of a murderer doing a victory dance on top of his victims, and its removal was imperative. After years of efforts by activists, Mason was relocated, peacefully, away from the site of the massacre, leaving only grass behind. There was some local fuss but certainly nothing like the deadly riots over the Robert E. Lee memorial in Charlottesville. My stepfather, an old Yankee through and through, was fascinated by the archeologists digging around his yard. He did not protest Mason’s removal, unlike some of our neighbors, but he was once a history teacher, and better prepared than most to think through the complexities of public memorialization.
When the topic of Confederate memorials started appearing in headlines a few years ago, my first reaction was their removal was a bad idea. I imagined all the statues in little towns across the South, and then Charlottesville-style violence erupting at each one because of outsiders coming into peaceful communities. Leave those statues alone, I thought, don’t make trouble!
But then a friend from Mystic reminded me of Mason coming down. The statue’s removal and relocation were reparative acts. Instead of just accepting history as told by “the winners”, Pequot activists demanded acknowledgement of other perspectives. For them, Mason is nothing to celebrate; he destroyed their culture. By challenging the established narrative of his heroism, they made room for other views, for example that colonization is a cruel and destructive process, based on theft and murder. Their perspective is valid, and could apply to many other memorials on American soil as well.
My initial resistance to the removal of Confederate memorials was due to my consideration of only one side of the story. There are several men in my family tree who fought for the South. My mother’s elderly relatives in Eatonton, Georgia, still referred to “The War” and told stories passed down about Sherman’s March (his troops stole all the food but spared the Steinway piano). My father told me more times than I can count that the display of Confederate memorials and flags is intended to “honor our ancestors”. What he never mentioned, and still doesn’t seem to consider, is the perspective of the descendants of slaves. The Civil War and its aftermath are still quite present for them too, but there aren’t any flags or statues for their ancestors, although they suffered much more than ours did before, during, and after “The War”.
Many of my ancestors once owned slaves, and fought a war so that they could keep on with that owning. There is no way to separate that truth from the existence of Confederate memorials. Public sculptures aren’t just gravestones, created to honor individual family members. They are monuments in common space that everyone sees while going about their daily business. In my opinion, we should certainly remember and memorialize our dead, but we can’t ask (or force) others to honor them, as Confederate statues in public space demand. There are many bodies in Southern ground unmarked by even the smallest of stones: the bodies of people stolen from their families, then abused, and then buried in strange soil. We should remember and honor their lives too, rather than continuing to erase their histories.
Two years ago, in July 2017, I attended a festival organized by my father, Ben “Cooter” Jones, at his Dukes of Hazzard museum and store in Luray, Virginia. Although I was glad to be with my family, I was uneasy about everything else. My father had created the festival as a response to the ongoing controversy over Confederate symbols. It had been two years at that point since the Charleston shooting, and during that time, my father had doubled-down on his defense of Confederate flags and memorials, even serving as spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Because of his role as Cooter Davenport on The Dukes of Hazzard, my father still has a certain celebrity. His events can draw thousands of fans. As a public figure, his opinions carry weight and have consequences outside our family. While wandering the midway, I tried to laugh with the crowds at the monster truck races and wrestling matches, but what I really felt was dread. I kept repeating “freedom of speech, freedom of speech” to myself, as if that would fix what was going on around and inside me. My father’s anger at “Political Correctness” was spilling out more often, both onstage and off, and he was directing some of it at me, the lefty, queer New Yorker. The audience gave him validation for his beliefs, something I could no longer do.
In August 2017, just a month after my father’s festival, a group of white supremacists held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a town an hour south of Luray. They came to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee memorial. They flew Nazi and Confederate flags, burned torches, and chanted racist and fascist slogans like: “Jews Will Not Replace Us.” During the rally, James Fields, a neo-Nazi, rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring almost 20 other people. He was sentenced to life in prison for this act, after pleading guilty to 29 hate crime charges.
My father is holding another festival this summer, two years almost to the day of the Charlottesville riot. I wonder if he chose the dates that he did because he is aware that some of his fans were likely at the rally in 2017, flying Confederate flags purchased from his stores. Perhaps he is trying to offer them an alternative venue for their complaints, to make things safer for them and for those they disagree with. I hope so.
I’m sad about my estrangement from my father, because I love him, no matter what differences we have. This is not our first falling out, and perhaps we will be able to reconcile again. But it is more likely that our Civil War will continue. My father is furious because he feels that his freedom of speech is under assault, although in reality he remains completely free to fly the Confederate flag and to state his beliefs. And I’m furious too, about his demands that I respect and agree with ALL of his opinions, while not being allowed to have any of my own. It is an oppressive dynamic, a dictatorship rather than a relationship, and a double standard that is no longer acceptable to me.
“The Full Moon on Tuesday, July 16, 2019, at 24 degrees Capricorn is a partial lunar eclipse. The lunar eclipse July 2019 astrology is powerful and confrontational because of close conjunction to Pluto. Intense emotional reactions, compulsive behavior, and power struggles are likely to result in a crisis. Lunar eclipse July 2019 is also square the dwarf planet Eris which will reenergize the #MeToo Movement. It will strengthen the feminist attack on the patriarchal authority. Other planetary aspects and fixed stars point to scandal, intrigue, public disgrace, and destroyed reputations. But they also give hope that empathy and understanding will lead to lasting changes.”
featuring Models: Piper Meyers, my Capricorn and Lehla Owens, my Aries from the Personal Universe series, 2018
16 July 2019 during the Full Buck July Moon, a Partial Lunar Eclipse in Capricorn and a Cardinal Grand Cross: Cardinal Fire represented by Lehla as Aries, Cardinal Water represented by the Sun in Cancer, Cardinal Air represented by the Photographer as Libra, and Cardinal Earth represented by Piper as Capricorn
The July Full Moon is known as the Buck Moon, because, “the Algonquin tribes in what is now the Eastern USA called this full Moon the Buck Moon. Early Summer is normally when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. They also called this the Thunder Moon because of early Summer’s frequent thunderstorms.” https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/995/july-2019-the-next-full-moon-is-the-buck-moon/
Here we used braids to represent the antlers for the Full Moon.
Photographed by Michelle Gemma
Elm Grove Cemetery, Mystic, CT USA
featuring Model: Caroline Longo
The New Moon of June
3 June 2019
Chez Elle, Mystic, CT, USA