The air holds still as I quietly pass through the city corridors. What did it look like then?, what were these people thinking? . . . how is it that though time has passed, the memories are anchored in the still standing stone and ever watching sky? At long last, I placed one foot in front of the other as I ascended a lonely stone staircase en la ciudad de Barcelona, España.
I breathed in . . . and then exhaled.
Closing my eyes, I felt the movement of hundreds and thousands of people before me. I felt as though I was out of place, in world that was no longer my own, experiencing a story that was not mine yet just as real as any other.
My eyes then opened.
With the light, memories too flooded into my mind. A world lost finally reconnected with mine. On this staircase once stood Cristobal Colon as he stood before la Reina Isabela I de España Católica. In other words, my person shared ground with Christopher Columbus, in the exact location where he told Queen Isabel I that he discovered what would become the “New World” . . . and change both “New” and “Old Worlds” forever.
If sharing my little story with you accomplishes anything, I hope that it begins to unravel the tapestry that binds both place and history together.
History, like a scent, an omen, or an emotion, lingers and clings to the location that once housed its life. History may pass and flow like the river of time, but the place names and locations it leaves behind can help us reconnect with our own past.
Just last week, my fellow scholars in the Ramonat Seminar and I had the pleasure to travel to the Back of the Yards, Chicago – the neighborhood and stockyards that forged Chicago into the legendary city that the Midwest marvels at today.
Take this photo of the sign on Packers Avenue for example. All visible record of the history of Packers Avenue is gone, today it stands as any other road in any other city. Only its name remains. However, if history is to be like solving a mystery, the name of the street is clue enough.
In the Back of the Yard, the meat packing industry provided jobs for the resident immigrants and civilians. And Packer Avenue . . . well it got its name for the fact that many of the packaging plants were located along its pavement.
Everything is different now, isn’t it? Before one looked upon a dusty road. Now it is as if one can smell the raw meat in the air and hear the shuffling of feet moving to and from work. With this rich history in mind, Packers Avenue becomes a focal point for people who want to move back through history and watch as Chicago emerges as the epitome of modernity and majesty.
Anchors in Stone. . .
Yeah, I think that is the whole point when it comes to the importance of places and locations. Reading in a book about Chicago’s Union Stockyard may inform you in a literal sense, but the lives of the people whom you study do not dance in your memory until you look upon, for example, a monument built in 1865. Sealed in this stone are the stories and struggles of every person who traveled beneath its gate from 1865 to the present date.
As a lover of history, I pray that our civilization never loses the esteem it has given to historic place names, monuments, and sites. Even as a student, I grew heavy in heart when I moved out of my freshman year dorm. I knew I would miss all of the memories that I forged in that building. But after much consideration, a smile appeared on my face, as I knew that the building would stand longer still, preserving in its walls both emotion and memory.