Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Metro-East Moat

Growing up in East St. Louis, I had heard tales of the famous gangster, Buster Wortman and his house outside of Collinsville with its own protective moat. We speculated on what kind of nefarious activities must take place in a house that needed so much security. I was somewhat disappointed years later, to discover it technically wasn’t even a moat, more of a wrap-around lake for his residence. I was therefore surprised to discover that another Metro East residence actually did have a moat – The “Hartford castle.”

This forgotten mansion was destroyed by fire in 1973 and the abandoned site has slowly reverted to woodlands, slowly fading from the memories of local residents.
      Actually named “Lakeview,” the 14-room mansion was constructed by a French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant in 1897 for his English wife. A moat was dug around the perimeter of the property on the Mississippi floodplain. Dirt from the moat was used to make a low hill for the house to sit on.

The area inside the moat was filled with woods, walking paths, a stream and a gazebo surrounded by water. Tragically, Biszant’s young wife died in the early 1900s and he sold the property and moved on, although ghost stories still exist of the forlorn Frenchman haunting the site. The property went through a variety of owners and served as a speakeasy during Prohibition. A couple owned Lakeview for almost 40 years until the last one died in 1964. After that vandalism and eventually fire reduced the once-beautiful home into rubble.

    The site is located off Poag Road along the same set of railroad tracks that carry Amtrak trains into St. Louis. It is considerably overgrown so the best time to visit is in the late fall, winter or early spring.

I doubt the water is very deep but there aren’t too many places where you can cross the moat.

Pretty much the only thing left at the site is what was made out of cement. A few walls, wells and walkways still exist but not much else. The biggest remaining construction is the water tank, which was designed to look like a gazebo.

Another gazebo is located along the moat on a small island. A cement walkway had to be crossed to get to it. Although the gazebo is still here, the pond has dried up.

There are several wells on the property but most have wood and other junk in them as well as water.

A few cement bridges are all that's left of a walking path which crossed a small stream.

A cement dog still waits for an owner who will never return,,,,,,,,

Monday, May 17, 2010

Spill, Baby, Spill

   The collapse of the Deepwater Horizon Oil platform last month is shaping up to be the largest environmental disaster in history. Regardless of how you feel about offshore oil drilling, it has become painfully obvious that this form of energy production can be potentially hazardous. Ironically, when the rig blew up on April 20, seven BP executives were on board for a ceremony hailing the project's safety record! All 7 were injured but not killed.
   In an effort to re-assure the public, Janet Napolitano appeared afterwards on the Sunday talk shows to let us know that this rig was just one of 30,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico, alone. I didn't find this especially comforting when you consider these wells presumably have the same "blowout preventer" as the one that failed.

Oil on the waters

   It seems likely that the Federal government will re-think its policy of letting the oil companies regulate themselves when it comes to worker's safety and environmental protection. Repeatedly, BP executives assured lawmakers that the industry is safe, the likelihood of a spill is negligible, and that their capacity to respond to a spill was so effective that there should be no public concern with their operations.
   Apparently, no one in the legislature bothered to check with their own agency responsible for overseeing drilling operations, the Materials Management Service, to see whether the industry's claims were true. According to the MMS, there have been 1,443 serious drilling accidents in offshore operations just from 2001 to 2007. These failures caused 356 spills, 302 injuries and 41 deaths.
   At any rate, there is plenty of other evidence to remind us of how risky oil production can be. The global petroleum industry is a complex system of oil wells, refineries, pipelines, ports and oil tankers all of which carry a risk of accidental release. I thought it might be interesting to look back at some previous spills to illustrate this point.

In 1967 the tanker Torrey Canyon ran aground off the Cornwall coast of England, contaminating large stretches of the English and French coasts. Although it was an American ship, it was being leased to British Petroleum at the time.

The Santa Barbara oil spill occurred in 1969 when an oil platform blew out and released 100,000 barrels of oil onto the California coastline. The Santa Barbara beaches were still contaminated when I was there in 1981.

The Argo Merchant was a Liberian-registered oil tanker that ran aground southeast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts in 1976. Rough seas made it impossible to contain the oil but favorable winds pushed it all out to sea and away from the coastline.

In 1978 the Amoco Cadiz ran aground off the coast of Brittany, resulting in the largest oil spill ever up until that time (1.6 million barrels). The extensive beaches and marshlands along the coast were severely polluted and resulted in massive damage to wildlife.

In 1979, two giant oil tankers, the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain, collided near Trinidad in the Carribean. Huge amounts of oil were released but most oil never made it onshore.

Another wellhead blowout occured off the coast of Mexico in 1979 when the Ixtoc I exploratory well suffered the failure of its blowout preventer. It took over 9 months to cap the well and over 3 million barrels were released, some of which made it to the Texas coastline.

In 1987, the U.S. began re-flagging Kuwaiti oil tankers in an effort to protect them from Iranian attacks. Unfortunately, the heavily-laden tanker Bridgeton struck an Iranian mine and nearly sank. Somehow, it managed to make it to port without losing much of its cargo.

Many Americans remember the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 which spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound. An inexperienced pilot steered the ship onto a reef where the vessel broke up.

Despite an extensive cleanup, only about 10% of the oil was actually recovered, most ending up along hundreds of miles of rocky Alaskan coastline. Like BP, Exxon was criticized for its slow response to the accident.

Despite BPs claim that blowouts are unlikely, there have been 39 of them between 1992 and 2006.

Another ship collision in 1994 leaked crude oil into the Arabian Sea after a Panamanian-flagged ship collided with the UAE tanker Baynunah off the UAE port of Fujairah.

The Ecuadorean-registered tanker Jessica ran aground in 2001 near the Galapagos Islands and began leaking oil. The spill affected large populations of birds, gulls and sea lions.

Over 1000 beaches in Spain and France were contaminated when the oil tanker Prestige sank off the Spanish coast in 2002.

The Jiyeh Power Station oil spill was an environmental disaster caused by the Israeli Air force in 2006. During their invasion of Lebanon they bombed oil storage tanks at the thermal power station in Jiyeh, Lebanon, just south of Beirut.

Satellite views showed the oil slick flowing down and covering a third of the Lebanese coastline. Here, the black line along the shoreline is evidence of the oil residue.

The COSCO Busan oil spill occurred in 2007 when an oil tanker collided with one of the supports of the Oakland Bay Bridge in dense fog. Because of the tidal mechanics of the bay, the oil spread quickly and much was never recovered.

Over 50 beaches were closed and wildlife was affected over the entire Bay area. The fishing industry still has not completely recovered from the contamination.

Another oil spill occurred in 2008 when a tanker and a barge collided releasing over 400,000 gallons of oil into the Mississippi River.

Another major spill occurred along the Australian coast in 2009 when a tanker leaked large quantities of oil after the ship was caught in Cyclone Hamish.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Receding Airline

      It happened as I sat wedged in my narrow, cramped airline seat, pondering whether to eat my four peanuts all at once or string them out to prolong the pleasure. I came to the sudden realization that I had been lied to. Looking back on the day's long lines, embarrasing security measures and extra bag fees it occurred to me that my entire generation had been sold a bill of goods. We "Baby Boomers" were told that our standard of living would be better than that of our parents. As the World's dominant power our nation would naturally be so prosperous we would be swept up in a rising tide of wealth. Somehow it hasn't worked out that way.
   Sure we have iphones and flat-screen TVs, but in the ways that count, I wonder if our quality of life has actually gone down? There are many examples of how the food we eat, the products we buy and even the way we travel are inferior to those of the past. One of the most obvious is air travel, which sadly, has become something you have to endure to get where you want to go.
   Let's take a flight of fantasy and look back at a more "primitive" time before anyone had ever heard of levereged buyouts or marketized securities and airlines promised to take us into that brave new future.

In the early days of commercial aviation the airlines would roll out the red carpet for their pampered passengers.

It was nice of the airport to let Timmy's family (and their dog) out onto the runway to see their daddy off.

This 1929 passenger plane could hold 14 people and two pilots.

No air-conditioned hydraulic jetways in those days. You just walked out onto the field and climbed in.

When American Airlines introduced the Condor in 1933, it became the nation's first sleeper plane.

Buckminster Fuller once pointed out that whenever a new technology is introduced, people tend to treat it the same way as the technology it replaced. This Boeing 307 berth was clearly using a railroad model but the airlines learned early on that space was too valuable to waste to let people stretch out horizontally.

Flight deck of a 1941 passenger plane.

While railroads made it easy to see the country, airplanes seemed to make it easy see the world.

Fairly-cramped interior of a Boeing plane of 1933.

TWA had a pretty snazzy lounge in this 1950s plane.

Early view of Miami International Airport.

These 1930 stewardesses got to wear stylish capes as airlines began to compete over who could offer the best passenger amenities.

This interior of a Douglas DC-7 Cabin is more recognizable to modern flyers but note how much more individual space there is even in coach class. Travel was so special, people dressed up for it. Every man in the picture has a tie and the woman in yellow obviously added a corsage just for the flight.

Just like the trains, the larger passenger planes had lounges where one could get drinks served in a casual environment.

It's interesting that this is an ad from a manufacturer, not an airline.

This swinging singles airplane lounge has it all: mini-skirted stewardesses with Bride-of-Frankenstein hairdos and George Jetson furniture Where is the seat belt on that chair?

This BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) ad assures the passenger that they can always rely on the courteous cabin staff to recommend the appropriate wine.

This Canadian airline served a full-course meal, including fresh fruit.

Even when airlines did serve meals I don't remember seeing anything like this!

The food is so good even the kids love it.

Farewell, hope you had a good flight!