Tuesday, September 05, 2006

“Miscellaneous and Unknown"

In Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick recounts Native Americans’ 17th century practice of maintaining “memory holes”---foot-deep circular holes that members of the Pokanoket tribe dug at points wherever “any remarkable act” had occurred. The holes caught the attention of New World immigrants Edward Winslow and Stephen Hopkins as they set out on a walk in the summer of 1621 to better acquaint themselves with their new neighbors. As Philbrick tells it
As they conversed with their new companions, the Englishmen learned that to walk across the land in southern New England was to travel in time … It was each person’s responsibility to maintain the holes and to inform fellow travelers of what had once happened at that particular place so that “many things of great antiquity are of fresh memory.” Winslow and Hopkins began to see that they were traveling a mythic land, where a sense of community extended far into the distant past. “So that a man travelleth …,” Winslow wrote, “his journey will be far less tedious, by reason of the many historical discourses that will be related to him.”

They also began to appreciate why these memory holes were more important than ever before to the Native inhabitants of the region. Everywhere they went, they were stunned by the emptiness and desolation of the place. “Thousands of men had lived here,” Winslow wrote, “which died in a great plague not long since, and pity it was to see, so many goodly fields, and so well seated, without men to dress and manure the same.” With so many dead, the Pokanokets’ connection to the past was hanging by a thread---a connection that the memory holes, and the stories they inspired, helped maintain.”
We were reminded of the memory holes after reading this fine Washington Post story on Mark Opsasnick, an obsessive amateur historian/journalist, self-published author (The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia--sounds like a page-turner, don't it?) and full-time civil servant who’s on a one-man mission to document the hidden history of the Washington D.C. area. David Montgomery writes:

Every community that doesn't have a Mark Opsasnick needs to get one. He is a tall and obsessed man from Greenbelt who quietly rages against forgetting. What he rescues from collective amnesia are not the big things. One of his favorite phrases is: "miscellaneous and unknown."

He's the guy to ask about, say, Patsy Cline's seminal gigs at the Dixie Pig in Prince George's County. Or James M. Cain hard-boiling his last novels in a house near College Park. Or the true story of the local "haunted boy" who inspired "The Exorcist."

This set us to wondering whether Houston, a city whose ”shrines” date to the 1930s, boasts of any similar person or persons.

If not, we'd like to volunteer you for the job, although this gentleman, who apparently is based out of South Carolina, does some entertaining work, and this forum seems to argue against the notion that Houstonians don’t care about their history (recent as it may be).

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