Before Coffee: Ghost Architecture
August 11, 2016 § Leave a comment
It’s already humid and on its way to hot when I open the garage door. I’m up an hour earlier than usual because I have to run an errand for my parents.
Most days, I judge how late I’m running by whether I’m in the car in time to hear the 8:00 news update on WGUC, our local classical music station. Today, I’m in the car an hour and twenty minutes before that.
I do the thing for my folks, which takes me through my old neighborhood. I’ve beaten the sunrise, and now I get to watch it set the clouds afire. It’s pretty, but it would look prettier from bed, with my eyes closed and brain churning out some REMs.
In my early morning fugue, I start to see ghosts. I’m at the corner of Montgomery and East Kemper, one mile exactly from the house I grew up in—a pale yellow farmhouse that stood for almost 200 years before being bulldozed to make way for three $700,000 homes. I’ve watched this intersection mutate over the years. Child-me wouldn’t recognize it.
Waiting for the light, I see the gray image of a SOHIO gas station superimposed over the Panera on the corner. Across the street, a phantom farmhouse shimmers in the parking lot of the massive Union Savings building. They sold sailboats out of that farmhouse. Dozens of white masts reaching above a chainlink fence, despite the nearest recreational body of water being an hour’s drive distant.
The long stretch of shops on my right was a pasture. Spectral cows graze among the SUVs and shit on the hoods of BMWs and Mercedes.
If I continued up Montgomery Road, I’d pass the ghost of the 20 Mile Stand, an old stagecoach stop so named because it was 20 miles north of the Ohio River. Montgomery Road is also known as State Route 22, and before the highways were built, it was the main conduit for traffic heading to Columbus and points north.
The old stagecoach stop changed hands several times over its 191 years. It was by turns a saloon, a fine restaurant, a family restaurant, a sports bar, and several other permutations before it was finally bought by Shell Oil and torn down. Not so that they could build a gas station, mind you; that would be insult enough. No, they bought it and tore it down so it wouldn’t block the view of the gas station they built right next door to it. Because fuck your local history, that’s why.
It’s too early to get angry, so I turn left onto East Kemper, then right onto Snider Road. At the corner is the Silver Spring House. It, too, changed hands many times. The earliest name I recall for it is J. Gatsby’s. The sports bar that stands there now entombs the original building; even though it’s still standing, it might as well be a ghost.
Up Snider, over Dimmick to Deerfield Road, past more shopping plazas cropped up from farmers’ fields. There’s the golf course where my brother used to cut grass in exchange for free play. Closed for years, it’s overgrown and waiting for developers to scrape it bare and vomit up another splatter of shops.
Down Western Row, diverted from its original course to accommodate the increased traffic from all the fields being turned into neighborhoods. They’re still not done building, and the road will be changing again soon.
In Dublin, I drank in a pub called The Brazen Head, and it was built before Christopher Columbus was even born, much less discovered the continent I live on. Its American epigone, The Brazenhead, was built less than a decade ago and is already closed. It’ll probably be torn down for office space, or because it blocks the view of the UDF across the street. That’s how we do things in the ol’ US of A.
The house I grew up in is gone. My elementary school was torn down and rebuilt a hundred yards back to allow for a bigger parking lot and updated facilities. My high school, like J. Gatsby’s, has been enveloped by expansion. All the bookshops I used to haunt have vanished. The list goes on.
I arrive at work five minutes before the news update comes on. The morning sun, bright now, chases away the ghost architecture. I look at the building I work in—a pretty glass box only a few years old—and wonder when it, too, will become a ghost. You can almost see through it already.
The Twenty Mile House as I knew it in my childhood. Photo credit: Steve Link