Monday, August 20, 2012

Haverhill's Cool Mural

Living near Boston means living side-by-side with the new information economy and the old industrial revolution.  The first is situated in places like Cambridge, Boston, Waltham and Burlington, churning away at pharma and Big Data and start-ups of all shapes and sizes.  The second, or at least its ghost, is found in the old industrial centers of Lowell, Lawrence, and Fall River--places that were booming in the years before the Great Depression with textiles, shoes and tool-making, but struggling now with varied success in attracting the new economy.

(Cities like Waltham, in fact, have bunches of both, home to companies like Zoom, Lycos, and Liquid Machines not so far from the very start of the American Industrial Revolution.  See Steampunk in Pictures at the old Waltham Watch factory.  For other historical junkets, see Gettysburg Redux and Edison in Winter.)

So it was we found ourselves the other day in one of those old booming industrial centers, Haverhill, once home to ship-building, tanneries, millinery and enough shoe-making (especially women's) to earn for it the title "Queen Slipper City."   We don't have reason to visit often, so it was a pleasant surprise to find this stunning mural, a visual history of Haverhill, beautifully rendered on the side of an old brick building.


Cool, eh? Who came from Haverhill?  Look below.  See the two ballplayers?  That's Mike Ryan (who played for the Phillies, Pirates and Red Sox in the 60s and 70s, including the Impossible Dream team of 1967), and Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena, born in the Dominican Republic but a favored son of Haverhill, where he spent much of his childhood.  Recently-departed Gene Goodreaualt of Detroit Lions and college-All-American fame is also featured on the mural.

That sturgeon suspended over the stage?  He's said to be Haverhill's oldest resident--one of the many interesting branding strategies Haverhill is using to lure visitors and companies. Just above him is Chief Passaconaway, another nod to Haverhill's rich past.

And the guy looking at you with the green tie?  That's Louis B. Mayer of MGM fame, who opened his first theater, the 600-seat Orpheum, in Haverhill in 1907.

Sitting next to him (facing ahead) is Andre Dubus III, who wrote Townie (about growing up in Haverhill) and brought us all The House of Sand and Fog.  And, occupied amidst all the shoes is a little girl reading an Archie comic.

That's because Bob Montana, the creator of Archie, lived in Haverhill as a teenager and used characters from Haverhill High as inspiration.  (Montana is tucked way up at the top of the mural.)

The bearded gentleman looking out the window below is Rowland H. Macy, who opened the original Macy store in 1851 in Haverhill before moving to New York in 1858.

And, yes, (below) with the skeleton shirt standing in the balcony--that's Robert Bartleh Cummings, or Rob Zombie.  He was born in Haverhill in 1965.

That gentleman on TV (below)--that's Tom Bergeron of Dancing With The Stars fame, born in Haverhill ten years before Zombie.

Finally (though there's lots more) that huge ship-chandelier below is the Ulysses, built in Haverhill and registered in 1798, immediately heading for the Netherlands and a long merchant marine career.

From the Ulysses to Zombie, local celebrities to national icons, the mural in Haverhill--along with a great dinner at Olivia's--is a reminder that there's lots of new life in the old mill towns.  There can also be lots of surprises right around the corner from home, especially in the summertime when there's just a little more time to look around.  (For more on the mural, and a good video, see here.)

Just for good measure: I've seen places with painted horses (West Hartford) and painted elephants (Copenhagen), and even painted sheep.  But Haverhill is the first place I've ever been with painted shoes.