From Abandoned Hospitals to Sea Serpent Sculptures: OTIS Miscellany III

June 23, 2013It’s time for a third installment of OTIS Miscellany, where I cash in multiple moments of my life all at once for maximum Internet points. Also where I fool myself into thinking ten short write-ups is an easier post than one full write-up. You can read the previous two installments here and here.

Basically, I comb through my picture folders at random until I hit ten things that probably won’t ever get a full entry on OTIS for a range of reasons that often have more to do with my own shortcomings than any with the oddity itself. By their powers combined, though, I think they make for a solid entry.

Norwich State Hospital for the Insane, Preston, CT: Even if my bumper doesn’t say it, I brake for abandoned mental asylums. Especially ones prominently placed on a highway. Right on Route 12 in Preston, CT, just across the river from the shiny, towering Mohegan Sun casino, is the outer edge of the Norwich State Hospital for the Insane. Built in 1904, it expanded over the years to 30 buildings and 900 acres, and then shut down in 1996. Since that time, the place has been in that limbo of decay that most of these institutions undergo.

I don’t advocate trespassing except for when I do advocate trespassing, and I didn’t penetrate very deep into the property for the more picturesque buildings. That’s why this thing gets thrown on the miscellany pile. Still, what is viewable from the well-travelled highway and adjacent commuter parking lots and (unrelated) graveyards is pretty spooky. Note the burn marks in the windows from when Satan makes his regular visits.

National Aviary, Pittsburgh, PA: You’d think there’d not be much to say about this place. Just awesome rooms full of awesome birds. Approximately 500, in fact, some of which are allowed to roam free with the visitors. However, while ogling an eagle that wasn’t allowed to, I saw a plaque half buried in the mulch covering the concrete floor as part of the ruse to fool that national symbol that he was careening over mountaintops in the open atmosphere.

Leaves covered most of the inscription, but I found it online:

Site of the Western Penitentiary. Erected 1826. Razed 1880. Where August 5, 1863 to March 18, 1864 were incarcerated 118 officers of General John H. Morgan's cavalry, C.S.A.—the only Confederate prisoners of war held in Pittsburgh who had surrendered—near Lisbon, Ohio, July 26, 1863. Marked by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission and the Pittsburgh Chapter United Daughters of the Confederacy. 1911.

That’s a birdcage with some history.

Random Alien, Providence, RI: I don’t know much of the story behind this. Just the short conversation I had with the guy behind the counter at the gift shop for the Roger Williams Park carousel. Allan Shawn Feinstien is a local philanthropist that made his fortune by selling collectible stamps through the mail...somehow. All I know is that his Wikipedia page has a controversy section and that he apparently donates custom-made alien toys with Darth Vader breastplates as part of his philanthropic efforts. It was not for sale.

Catacombs of San Callisto, Rome, Italy: You’d think an ancient underground cemetery in Italy constructed in secret and stuffed with dead popes would be interesting enough to merit its own entry. And it is, except for two reasons: 1) Photography is not allowed in the Catacombs of San Callisto and 2) All the remains were removed ages ago. So you get these two random photos I took at the entrance and a link to a Wikipedia entry. All the pics I tried to sneak turned out blurry.

The history of the Roman catacombs are awesome. Ancient persecuted Christians buried their dead in secret and had clandestine meetings among the bones. After the religion was legalized, the place was further hallowed by becoming a burial place for popes. Unfortunately, the awesome history didn’t match up to the modern experience for me somehow.

Usually when that happens, I just assume I was broken that day. In this case, it’s probably because the spot is now just a bunch of empty human-sized slots in the walls that has been industrialized into a crowded tourist factory. Still, you’re walking around in an underground ex-cemetery of popes, so it’s worth bringing up.

Bette Davis Plaque, Franconia, NH: So the house in Lowell, Massachusetts, where actress Bette Davis was born has a plaque on it that testifies to the fact. However, two hours north, there’s a more remote plaque that Baby Jane herself installed as a testament to her dead husband.

In 1939, Bette Davis met Arthur Farnsworth while wandering lost in the Bridal Veil Falls area of Franconia Notch. They married, and he died a few years later from a fall. Davis then had installed a plaque near where they met, on a boulder in the river. It’s dedicated to “The Keeper of Stray Ladies” and is attributed to a “Grateful One.” It’s pretty easy to get to, right off Coppermine Trail, near where the path parallels the river.

Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal, Quebec: Outside, Montreal’s 190-year-old Notre-Dame Basilica on Rue Saint Sulpice looks exactly like the type of opulent Catholic church you’d find in a major city. Imposing and ornate and old. Inside, it looks like the place where all those choirs of angels hang out who sing when people have revelations in movies. I mean, every big church is kind of that way, but this church is surprisingly so.

Most of the interior is dark wood, which is basically just the interior design equivalent of a lead-up to the awe-inspiring blue and gold panoply at the front of the church. It was true at the time and true of the dozens of times I’ve looked at my pictures after the fact…I still don’t exactly know what I’m looking at.

Also, if you can pull yourself away from all that dazzle, it’s worthwhile to see the altarpiece at its Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur.

The Fonz Jacket and Archie Bunker Chair, Washington, DC: I’d forgotten until after I published my visit to Milwaukee’s Bronze Fonz that I’d also seen his leather jacket in a small group of pop culture artifacts exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Now that it’s less relevant I’ll try to make it more so by mentioning it was kept company by Archie Bunker’s living room set, as well as Kermit the Frog and Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

Dover Insane Asylum Fire Monument, Dover, NH: This is sad-stuffed sad topped with sad flambeaux. In 1893, the Dover Insane Asylum caught fire, killing 41 of its 44 inmates. According to a New York Times article published the day after entitled A New Hampshire Horror, ‘The smoking ruins show the charred bodies still laying on their beds.” Investigators believed the fire was started by a smoking inmate and exacerbated by negligent management.

Broken brains and burnt bodies. At least they get a monument. It’s on a small hill behind a retirement home on County Farm Road.

Lizzie Carr Hull, Rye, NH: In 1905, a schooner named the Lizzie Carr wrecked in a storm on the New Hampshire Coast. In 1998, a wall-sized portion of its hull was found by a father and son when it surfaced in the sand after a severe winter storm. It was removed, identified, and now hangs in the small Seacoast Science Center close to where it was discovered. I once found a dead seal on the beach.

Sea Serpent Stairs, Boston, MA: This stainless-steel wireframe cryptid that, like its inspiration, is the devil to photograph can be found across the street from the entrance to Boston’s Word Trade Center, cascading down the steps like a giant Slinky. Installed in 2002, the 100-foot-long, 26-foot-tall art piece is called Leviathan and was created by Wendy Ross, who is apparently all about steel wireframes.