Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Photo Essay: Clown Motel, Gateway to the Haunted Miners' Cemetery

For nearly three decades, the Clown Motel has been scaring the bejeezus out of weary travelers along the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, a.k.a. US-6.

At least, those with coulrophobia—a fear of clowns.

I feel rather indifferent to clowns, having grown up with my mother's obsession with Emmett Kelly, surrounded by the Pierrots and Mira Fujita harlequins that were so popular in the 1980s, and falling asleep to the dulcet tones of "Send in the Clowns" on WEZG-FM.

And I particularly like the iconography of circuses and carnivals, so how scary could a clown be?

And how creepy could a clown-themed motel be?

I found the whole experience quite friendly.

Though, in retrospect, maybe some of those clowns weren't just clowning around.

Maybe they were trying to scare me.

But if I could survive being trapped with hundreds if not thousands of Ronald McDonalds in the unofficial McDonald's museum in San Bernardino...

...I would be just fine for a few minutes, alone with shelves full of clown dolls and figurines.

To me, the Clown Motel is just another example of a collection taken to the extreme—like the Bunny Museum or the Banana Museum.

Only—you can spend the night surrounded by these hoarded collectibles.

I chose to limit my visit to the daytime, making sleeping arrangements elsewhere down the road.

Too often, my imagination runs wild.

I see too much life in inanimate objects.

Those clowns might seem safely perched on the shelf during the day...

...but who knows what they'll do while I dream?

Who knows what they'll do in jest?

But my suspicion doesn't stem from these figures being clowns, posing as clowns, or identifying as clowns.

I'd feel the same if there were that many collected chickens being held captive in the lobby of a Cheep Motel. Or miniaturized kings and queens at a Crown Motel.

The owners say that all the clowns at the Clown Motel are happy clowns...

...but that's not necessarily true.

It's not even open for interpretation.

And some of those clowns have seen better days.

Besides, aren't all clowns sad on the inside?

If that's what scares people about clowns, then I get it.

How can you trust a clown who's crying inside but tries so hard to outwardly cheer other people up?

Of course, the creepiest thing about the Clown Motel might not be the clowns at all—but rather, the neighboring cemetery.

Contrary to what you might've heard, it's not "abandoned."

Just nobody gets buried there anymore.

After all, it was Tonopah's first such cemetery...

...when the town was known more for its silver mines than as a truck stop midway between Vegas and Reno.

Back at the turn of the last century, people in mining towns like Tonopah died in all sorts of horrible ways...

...whether from illness (including the "Tonopah Plague" of 1902), old age, or murder...

...or from accidents like runaway ore carts, mine fire, and faulty hoisting devices.

Whether they came from Finland, British Columbia, or New York, for them, Tonopah was the end of the line. Most of them were miners or mining family members. Some were railroaders. There's no telling whether any of them ever masqueraded as a clown.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: How Billions of Burgers Got Their Start in Southern California
Photo Essay: The Museum That's Gone Bananas
Photo Essay: Hoppy Holidays from The Bunny Museum
Photo Essay: The Bunny Museum Strikes Back
Photo Essay: The Death Toll of Tombstone

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Photo Essay: How Bellfounding Helped Build an Unfinished Utopia

I knew about the bells, but only tangentially. I'd never encountered them in person, never heard their din or ding or clatter or cacophony.

I didn't know how musical they'd be.

I've kind of got a thing for bells—church bells and liberty bells and sleigh bells, not to mention bell towers, carillons, and chime towers.

So, while I was in Phoenix for a wedding, I wanted to see how Paolo Soleri's bells were made at his Cosanti studio in Paradise Valley.

Normally, you can take a tour and see a foundry demonstration, but as it was Memorial Day, the studio was open to visitors but had suspended any other programming.

So, I looked around, took some photos, and rang some bells.

Bell design and fabrication wasn't Soleri's first love...

...but his output became so popular that the endeavor funded his true passion, architecture.

Well, not exactly architecture in the traditional sense, but a kind of earth-conscious, experimental bent on building that he called "arcology."

And while the structures at Cosanti Originals give a glimpse into that ecologically utopian built environment that Soleri dreamed of, the only way to truly experience it is to visit his "city"-in-the-making, Arcosanti.

Never one to be satisfied with just a passing encounter, I booked a tour and a room to spend the night.

Located in the Sonoran Desert about an hour north of Phoenix, Arcosanti is a world away.

Born and accredited in Italy, Soleri apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesen West in Scottsdale and Talisen in Wisconsin. But then, upon his return to Arizona, he took Wright's concept of organic architecture and, with it, made a sharp left turn.

And in 1970, he began his experiments in urban planning and living—with, in true FLW style, the help of a number of apprentices and interns who were there to learn from the master.

Originally intended to house 5000 people, it hasn't gotten anywhere close to that—and the extant structures are so old (some nearly 50 years) that most of the incoming funds have to be allocated to maintenance, upkeep, and repairs.

The buildings that have cropped up on the compound are weird and wondrous, to say the least.

It makes you wonder whether they're conversation-starters for the students who've been continuing Soleri's legacy since his passing in 2013—a way to break the ice and inspire them way beyond what they'd ever learn in architecture school.

The structures look somewhat Brutalist (or even Communist), but the philosophy behind them is far kindler and gentler.

It's about maximizing city living while minimizing the impact on the environment—not necessarily to escape urbanity, per se, but do embrace it without sucking the life out of the land it's built upon or its denizens.

The first structure to be built at Arcosanti was the South Vault, at the top of the hill...

...featuring precast panels made of silt and colored in the mixture rather than being painted later.

It's now the centerpiece of a prototype of how a dense population could live together in a smallish space, walking everywhere they need to go and abandoning their driving habits.

Sunlight abounds, especially with the quarter-sphere semi-domes built for ceramics and bronze-casting.

Natural methods are used to heat and cool the residences, including harnessing the greenhouse effect and taking advantage of the late-day breezes and microclimates that occur on the property.

As daylight waned after taking the last tour of the day, it was time to retire to "Camp"—a motel-style row of a dozen rooms with concrete floors and huge picture windows looking out at the mesa.

When you spend the night at Arcosanti, you can roam about the property as you please without a guide and observe how the light and shadows change the arches and crescents and circles and spheres. In the summer, it's quiet—it could accommodate as many as 500 people, but it doesn't.

Not yet, anyway.

But the people who do share the space are convivial, sharing cafeteria-style meals in the dining hall and leaving their doors and windows open for the breeze, the view, the socializing, and of course the windbells.

I hoped to encounter one of the critters the staff had warned me about, though I shut my door tightly when I went to bed, as instructed. I heard neither scratching nor roars, only the pitiful cry of a peacock, looking for a partner, long as the night wore on.

To me, this was the opposite of futurism—a way of stepping back in time when earthen materials (mud, adobe) were all you had to choose from, and you couldn't go very far for any other supplies.

Will we ever return to those days? Sometimes it seems like we've passed the point of no return.

And we seem to have given up on any inkling of utopia, too. It's just became... passé.

Maybe we've just gotten too used to being miserable, we've given up on ourselves and the planet, and we've got to just make peace with what we've got.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Design of Living at A-Z West
Photo Essay: Under a Desert Dome
Photo Essay: Llano Del Rio Company Colony, Abandoned