Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Six National Historic Sites

So National Historic Landmarks are relatively rare, with about 2,500 designations. Spread across thousands of years from Native American designations, through the colonial era, to very nearly the present, as well as a geographical area from Morocco to Micronesia, helps give some context to that number.

But National Historic Sites – there are approximately 80,000. So, North Dakota, for example, has the smallest number of Landmarks (7) whereas New York has the most (274). Their respective numbers of National Historic Sites, however, are 437 for North Dakota (Hawaii has the least, at a measly 345) and New York still claiming the top spot with…5,875.

When I think National Historic Site – I think ‘house tour’. And plaque. So with that in mind, here are six Americans who I think deserve at least a plaque, and maybe some preservation. Maybe even a Landmark - but definitely, at least, a Site:

1.      Toni Morrison’s Childhood Home (2245 Elyria Ave, Lorain OH) Lorain County, 47 (the number they use to designate the districts within the Department of the Interior)

The great, Nobel-prize winning novelist absolutely deserves recognition. Sinclair Lewis, Pearl S Buck, Hemmingway, O’Neill, Faulkner, Steinbeck, and even Isaac Bashevis Singer’s apartment – they all got their houses preserved, along with many other important authors, from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Willa Cather. Morrison undoubtedly deserves equal recognition.

Important point, before we go on: Regarding the Nobel author’s home not mentioned: Saul Bellow, his house is currently lived in, near Bard college, which is obviously problematic for protection / declaration purposes. You can’t make a museum if the tenants are still inside, after all. And this is also the case with Toni Morrison’s childhood home. But a plaque, and some sort of agreement that when they die / move out it will go to the government – and that they’ll keep it in good order – I think we can manage that. This will also apply to a few other entries, such as the other literary Nobel Laureate not mentioned…

2.      Bob Dylan’s Childhood Home (Corner of 7th Ave East and 25th St, Hibbing MN) St Louis County, 72

Dylan’s home is something of a tourist attraction in Hibbing. He was born in Duluth but moved to Hibbing when young, staying in the home until he moved out to go…be Bob Dylan, I suppose. They’ve even renamed 7th Ave Bob Dylan Drive. Like Morrison’s home, currently occupied.

3.      Ansel Adam’s Home (Address unknown, Carmel Highlands CA) Monterrey County, 27

To complete the trifecta of entries still occupied, Ansel Adams home is still occupied by his daughter and her husband. It was the house he lived in towards the end of his life, once famous, and has built-in gallery spaces and lots of light (and of course a darkroom, etc.) It seems he wanted it to be a museum / gallery someday anyway, though, which is why I’m pretty hopeful for it being added eventually.

At least there's a bench...

4.      Emperor Norton (624* Commercial St, San Francisco CA) San Francisco County, 38

Emperor Norton used to have a plaque (although not an official US Government one) but now even that is gone. Perhaps because his building is gone. The nationally famous eccentric, we know from he same famous Census entry which listed his occupation as “empror”, tells us he lived at an apartment complex now gone, and replaced by a sky-scraper. A plaque, then, would have to suffice commemorating where he once lived.

5.      Willard Libby Radiocarbon Laboratory (Kent Chemical Laboratory Building, 1020 E. 58th St, Chicago IL) Cook County, 16.1

Willard Libby should be a household name, but for some reason is not. He discovered, at the University of Chicago, radiocarbon dating (practicing on a mummy) and opened up all of our modern understanding of history. He deservedly got the Nobel prize for it in 1960, but for one of the biggest scientific ramifications of the century, unlike dozens of other such Sites already included, no memorial has yet been declared.

6.      Edward Gorey House (8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth MA) Barnstable County, 1.3

Finally, a quick shout-out to the great illustrator Edward Gorey, whose home, already well-preserved as a museum and dedicated to the author’s life, would be fairly simple to add, thanks to the efforts already undertaken by historically-minded citizens.

Of course there are many more, very deserving, designations that could be added. Just in illustration alone: What of Charles Schulz, of ‘Peanuts’ or Winsor McKay, of ‘Little Nemo’, or Dr. Seuss? But tonight here are just six favorites, to get started.

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