High Violet, The National
4AD, May 10, 2010
Track Listing: 1. Terrible Love, 2. Sorrow, 3. Anyone’s Ghost, 4. Little Faith, 5. Afraid of Everyone, 6. Bloodbuzz Ohio, 7. Lemonworld, 8. Runaway, 9. Conversation 16, 10. England, 11. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
It was early winter and I had been invited to a meeting at Hull-House by a group of museum people. I decided to take the subway to the University of Illinois, Chicago campus where Hull-House is located. It was already dark when I arrived and began to melt in with the students criss-crossing the campus heading to dinner.
I began to walk around architect Walter Netsch’s 1960’s brutalist campus which had been remuddled to such an extent I was amazed how much it had changed. Much of the brutalism had been removed. I guess all we have to do is jack-hammer away the cold raw concrete and granite and it will somehow change the typical damp bone-chilling grey of a Chicago winter day.
“Sorrow found me
When I was young
The main excedra, which was the site of many speeches and the starting point of many late 1960’s protests, had been replaced with a nondescript suburban shopping mall plaza. Students were walking through it oblivious to the radical past of the place. I am certain that they were even less aware that a few hundred feet away was Hull-House where Jane Addams in the late 19th century was considered the most dangerous woman in Amerika because of her radicalism on behalf of children, immigrants and workers.
A few quick pertinent facts: After the Civil War Chicago was the fastest growing city on the planet. It was also the most densely populated. Jane Addams was the first person to do any urban mapping and she found that every person had only 28 sq. ft. of living space. Wages were about 4 cents/hour for a 12-hour day, 6 days a week. Forty percent of all children died before age five. All the while the 1%ers were fighting every attempt at reform and using the established immigrant Irish police force as their personal goon squad to keep the new immigrants in line. They were making so much money they couldn’t build houses big enough or buy property fast enough to spend it all. Sort of like now … actually just like now.
“I still owe money to the money to the money I owe
I never thought about love when I thought about home
I still owe money to the money to the money I owe
The floors are falling out from everybody I know”
-from “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
I walked through the student union and over to Hull-House only to find it dark and locked. I walked around the house and into a little garden. There was a broken fountain in the center of the garden. I was about to leave when I noticed a plaque just off the path. I ignored it at first because I would have had to step into the garden bed to read it but for some reason I decided to stop and actually step back into the garden. The plaque said the fountain was a replication of the original that was donated as a gift from (cue the Twilight Zone theme) my very own graduating class. I was stunned, then I remembered donating money for the gift at Mother’s insistence.
“Didn’t want to be your ghost
Didn’t want to be anyone’s ghost”
-from “Anyone’s Ghost”
All the time students were walking in and out of the student union and down Halsted Street. I am sure they didn’t see me since they were clearly going about their business in the 21st century, while I was slipping minute by minute back into the 20th century and rapidly heading for the 19th in Jane Addams’s garden. It was like the wrought iron fence around the house and garden was a time shield. I was on one side and the current students on the other.
Actually it was not an unfamiliar phenomenon to me because when I was a student I too walked past Hull-House a thousand times and never gave it a thought. There must be some sort of protective shield around the property since so many hundreds of acres of the west side of Chicago were bulldozed to build the campus with only Hull-House spared … especially in a city notorious for demolishing its past and losing so many of its architectural treasures.
I walked out of the garden and over to the museum office which is connected to the original dining hall. I found one of the curators and she said she would let me in before the main group showed up. Now here’s where it gets interesting. When I told my friend Paul, who has been ghost hunting for many years, that I would be visiting Hull-House he implored me to take photos if I could. It is reputed to be one of the most famous haunted sites in Chicago, so famous that the museum website states emphatically that they cannot accommodate visit requests from paranormal groups.
I was all alone in the famous old building and what’s this in my pocket? A small digital camera. Paul told me to photograph the corners of rooms and I did as I wandered through the house for about a half hour by myself before anyone else arrived. The house was very quiet and most rooms were filled with the artifacts and furniture that Jane Addams used when she was there. I occasionally heard rumbling noises that I attributed to an old furnace. The camera started to malfunction and eventually died which I attributed to battery burn out and I hadn’t brought any extras. The other guests began arriving so I put it away and began to mingle.
“Afraid of the house, stay the night with the sinners
Afraid of the house, stay the night with the sinners
Afraid of the house, ’cause they’re desperate to entertain”
After the tour was over we all walked over to the great dining hall where Jane Addams used to have salon type dinners with Sinclair Lewis and other “radicals” of the day. Being a history geek I was in heaven sitting in the very same room where ideas were hatched that made all our lives better and having dinner with this group while we discussed the Hull-House museum.
When I got home later that night we looked at the photos and most all were just nice photos of the interior of Hull-House except for one. In the photo of one corner of Jane Addams’s room where her bed is located there is a streak of light visible. No apparent explanation.
“But I don’t have the drugs to sort
I don’t have the drugs to sort it out
Sort it out”
-from “Afraid of Everyone”