Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hoover Dam

From as early as 1900, there had been discussions about a dam being built in the Black Canyon and Boulder Canyon. The proposed purpose of the dam was threefold: it would control floods, provide irrigation water, and produce hydro-electricity for the surrounding areas. It wasn't until Congress passed a bill approving the construction of the dam in 1928 that the Bureau of Reclamation created the bid documents, selling them to companies for five dollars.  It was decided that the contractor chosen to build the dam would have seven years within which to do so.  The contractor was obliged to prepare the site and build the dam with materials provided by the government. 

In 1931 the successful bidder, a company called Six Companies Inc, began construction of the dam.  The dam was to be built curving upstream in a narrowing curve, directing most of the force against the canyon wall.  This arch-gravity dam was to be constructed on the chosen site that lay in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, situated between the U.S. States of Arizona and Nevada. It was to be the largest concrete construction ever attempted. 

Originally the city of Vegas, about 48km from the dam site, lobbied to become the construction headquarters.  Instead, Six Companies was asked to construct a model city for the workers that would become known as Boulder City, Nevada.

Built during the depression, thousands of workers and their families descended on the site.  The then-President, Herbert Hoover, brought the construction start date forward, so the model city had not been built. A government camp was established for engineers and surveyors, and a shanty town of squatters, looking for work with their families in tow, blossomed around the site. The squatters' camp became known as McKeeversville. The conditions were extreme, with daytime temperatures reaching 48.8C (119.9F).  

A Los Angeles-based architect, Gordon B Kaufmann, designed an elegant Art Deco style for the new dam, replacing the original gothic-inspired design.  Artist Allen Tupper True used Navajo and Pablo designs and symbolism for the designs throughout the dam on walls and floors, and also devised an ingenious colour-coding system for pipes and machinery.  The finishing artistic touches for the dam were created by Oskar J W Hansen.  He created sculptures around the dam, as well as the 9.1m (30ft) bronze statues, known as the "winged figures of the Republic".  Hansen also created a monument to those killed during the construction of the dam.

The dam was completed two years before the expected date.  Impounding Lake Mead, it is the largest reservoir in the United States by volume.  After a small controversy with the name of the Dam, some people preferring Boulder Dam to Hoover Dam, it was finally decided that the dam would be named after Herbert Hoover. 

There were 112 official deaths associated with the construction of Hoover Dam. The first death was that of a surveyor called J G Tierney, who drowned while searching for the best spot to place the dam. He died on December 20th 1922.  Exactly thirteen years later to the day, the last death associated with the construction of Hoover Dam was that of Patrick W Tierney, J G Tierney's son.  Not recorded as official deaths, many people died of pneumonia.  It's believed that these deaths were actually caused by carbon monoxide in the tunnels below the dam, a rumour further supported by the fact that all those who died of pneumonia were workers at the dam, not their families.  The torrid heat conditions also resulted in the deaths of people living in the shanty town.  Officially, 12 people are recorded as having died from heat prostration.

With so much having occurred during the construction of Hoover Dam, it is not surprising that it's believed to be haunted.  Many people that work at the dam have allegedly seen a man in old working gear wandering in places he shouldn't be.  When confronted, he is said to vanish. There are stories of echoing footsteps coming from deserted corridors.  Closer to the canyon wall, it is said that people have heard weeping and yelling with no-one in sight. Workers and visitors have reported hearing disembodied voices.  There have also been tourist photographs with strange anomalies in them. 

I visited Hoover Dam in a Plymouth Prowler hired in Vegas.  It was quite an experience seeing this beautiful architectural construction, with its Art Deco design and sculptured embellishments. The sheer size of it is breathtaking and, I must admit, there is a sort of interesting vibe there...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

New Norcia

In 1846 two Spanish monks, Rosendo Salvado and Joseph Serra, established a Benedictine Monastery 132km north of Perth. Within a year it was moved 8kms to where the mission stands today. In honour of the birthplace of St Benedict, Nursia in Italy, the mission was called New Norcia. 

Assigned to the first Bishop of Perth, RT Rev John Brady, the two Spanish monks were sent to create a mission in the central area of the diocese. Joined by a French Benedictine novice, Dom Leander Fonteinne, and an Irish Catechist, John Gorman, they set off to create a mission that would help bring Christianity to the indigenous population of the Victoria Plains. The initial months were harrowing, and Fonteinne returned to France after accidently shooting John Gorman to death.

The first fifty years of the mission were overseen by Bishop Rosendo Salvado.  His mission was based around the notion of creating a Christian, self-sufficient village for the indigenous population based on agriculture. This, however, did not happen after the decimation of the indigenous population through the accidental introduction of diseases to the local population in 1860.  Following this devastating blow to the parish community, Bishop Salvado decided to focus on the education of indigenous children.  These children were brought from all over the state to New Norcia to be taught. 

Bishop Salvado did much to enhance the success of the mission, including several fundraising tours to Europe.  Through these tours he was able to purchase land, construct new buildings and buy livestock and much needed equipment for the mission.  In his 83rd year, on one of his tours to Rome in 1900, Bishop Salvado died.  His beloved community brought his body back to New Norcia, where he was buried. 

After Bishop Salvado passed he was replaced by Fulgentius Torres.  The mission took on a more European feel.  Although education and community care for the indigenous population was continued, the mission started to place emphasis on the rural community.  Torres built two colleges, St Ildephonsus for boys and St Gertrude's for girls.  Torres brought in Josephite Sisters to staff the girls school. During Torres' period, Rome sanctioned that New Norcia Abbey would extend its parish administration to cover 30,000 square miles.

When Torres died, Dom Anselm Catalan became the Bishop.  He led the mission through two world wars and maintained a stable town.  He built a hostel to house visiting parents of children from the schools. Dom Catalan also supported the talent of religious music composer Dom Stephen Moreno.
From the 1980s New Norcia has found itself having to cater to tourists, visiting groups and those wanting to spend a little time in a monastic retreat. New Norcia is the only monastic town in Australia.

The buildings of New Norcia are primarily in the old Spanish style, though some of the architecture is Edwardian, Gothic and even Art Deco. In the mission there are the mission buildings, St Gertrude's and St Ildephonsus, the Abbey Church, an old mill, a wine press, hotel, a museum and art gallery. The old boarding schools of St Gertrude and St Ildephonsus are now used as accomodation for large groups of visitors. The New Norcia Hotel, which was once a hostel, has rooms for people visiting the town. 

In order to keep the mission self-sufficient, the monks still produce many products.  The olive press established in the 1850s is still used to produce olive oil.  Using the original wood-fire oven, the New Norcia Bakery produces artisan breads, New Norcia nutcake, pan chocolatti and almond biscotti. They bake seven days a week.  Since 1917 New Norcia has produced its own wines, and now helps in the creation of an ale.

Astonishingly, an art gallery in New Norcia has a one-of-a-kind painting in Australia.  The gallery houses mostly Italian and Spanish post-Renaissance art reflecting the history of the mission. In 1986 the community also purchased one hundred modern artworks, all with a religious theme.  The most significant piece in the gallery was purchased in 1999, and is housed in The Raphael Room.  The picture is entitled "Head of an Apostle" and was commissioned by Pope Leo X in the 16th century.  The work was completed in the workshop of Raphael. 

There are many strange stories about New Norcia.  In December 1947, a huge bushfire swept towards the mission.  The prevailing southwest winds drove the fire relentlessly, and attempts by the monks and indigenous Australians to stop it failed.  In desperation, the monks took the painting of  "Our Lady of Good Counsel" from the church and placed it facing the oncoming fire.  They knelt and prayed and, as they did, the wind changed just in time to save the mission. It was later discovered that a local man called Moonangka had lit the fire deliberately, hoping it would engulf the mission.  Bishop Salvado forgave him and, when Moonangka heard about the painting and prayers, he became a convert. 

The graveyard of New Norcia is literally in the centre of town, and it is here that reports have been made of a ghostly monk walking around.  A pale-faced girl has been seen in one of the windows of St Gertrude's when no-one should be in the building.  The girl is said to be one of the school students  who died at the school when she was ten. There have been reports of strange poltergeist-like behaviour in the New Norcia Hotel. One of the most persistent and often sighted phenomena is that of a nun in blue who is said to fly around the clocktower of the mission just as the clock strikes midnight. 

I have visited New Norcia many times. The first thing that strikes me is how isolated it is, and I can only wonder in awe at the thought of heavily-clad monks making their way through the harsh bush terrain of Western Australia.  New Norcia is still an oasis in a very remote part of the state.  It's quite magnificent to just come upon this mission with its amazing architecture and products.  When you go into the art gallery, which is housed in a humble building, and stand in front of a painting created by Raphael's workshop, you feel astonished.  I would recommend any visitor to Western Australia travels to New Norcia. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle has a torrid history that can be traced back to as early as the defeat of the Celtic British Tribe, the Sirules, by the Romans and their subsequent occupation of Wales.  When the Romans conquered the Sirules they built a fort on the current site of Cardiff Castle. By 75AD the fort was rebuilt on a smaller scale. Around 300AD the Romans had established the fort as an important bastion against assault by sea. The fort served the Romans until they left Wales in the 5th century. 

The next to realise the strategic importance of the fort were the Normans, who raised it again. The Norman Lord of Gloucester, Robert Fitzhamon, became the Lord of Glamorgan and built a "motte" or mound 40ft high at the keep. The keep built by the Normans was wood and gave shelter to outbuildings that housed the Lord and his garrison.

When  Robert Fitzhamon was killed in battle his daughter Mabel married Robert, the son of King Henry I of England.  Robert, the new Lord of Glamorgan built the stone keep of Cardiff Castle. The castle and the Lordship passed through several generations until in 1217 it was handed to Gilbert de Clare, the son of Robert's daughter Amicia. Gilbert de Clare's grandson Gilbert de Clare "The Red" reconstructed the defences of the castle.  He installed permanent lodgings for his Knights of Glamorgan. 

Gilbert de Clare "The Red's" grandson fell in battle and Cardiff Castle fell into Royal Custody.  When Gilbert's sister Eleanor was awarded the Lordship she married Hugh Despenser in 1306. The Despensers retained the Lordship for almost one hundred years.  Isabella, the estranged wife of King Edward II attacked the Despensers.  They were captured just near Cardiff Castle, Edward Despenser was murdered and his brother Hugh, Eleanor's husband, was hanged.  

The Welsh Rebellion of Owain Glyndwr saw Cardiff Castle set alight. Following the rebellion, the heir to the Castle and Lordship, Isabel Despenser married Richard Beauchamp of Warwick, after the death of her first husband.  He was responsible for new constructions on the castle.   Richard's wealth passed to his sister Anne who married Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and the man later known as "Warwick the Kingmaker".  When he was killed in battle his youngest daughter Anne and her husband Richard, later to become King Richard III, took over the castle.  When Richard ascended the throne he sent his agent James Tyrell, notoriously linked to the murder of the two young Princes in the Tower, to become Constable of Cardiff Castle .

In 1485 Henry Tudor, head of the House of Lancaster, killed and defeated Richard III and gave Cardiff Castle to his cousin Jasper Tudor. When Jasper died Cardiff Castle fell under the crown and remained that way through the reign of Henry VII and Henry VIII.  In 1551 Cardiff Castle was given to William Herbert.  Williams sons went on to extend Cardiff Castle, modernising it. 

In 1776 Glamorgan Lands and Cardiff Castle were awarded to the Butes through marriage. The Bute family were instrumental in bringing power and wealth to Wales.  It was during their reign in Cardiff Castle that the castle was transformed into a Neo-Gothic Fantasy Castle. During the 1770s much was done to transform the landscape of the gardens.  Trees were removed, ivy was chopped from the tower and the moat was filled in. The lodgings that had once served the Norman Knights of Glamorgan were removed. The north and south  walls were rebuilt and the Roman ruins were rediscovered. 
In 1814 the Bute family developed the estates interests in industries and shipping. 

In 1865 the then Marquess of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart, hired the architect William Burges.  Burges, an English architect and designer was an advocate of the tradition of Gothic Revival and echoed, in his works, the artwork of the Pre-Raphaelites. Lord Bute hired the best historians and artisans of the time to carry out the renovations of Cardiff Castle. Stonework was restored, a covered parapet was built and a clocktower was constructed on the site of the Roman fort. Two original towers were restored and two new ones were added.  A library and a banqueting hall were created.  The castle was filled with murals and stained glass, as well as elaborate wood carvings. 

In 1947 Cardiff Castle was given to the people of Wales by the then Marquess of Bute.

As can be imagined with such an ancient site, having been witness's to so much history, there have been many reports of hauntings.  Most of the paranormal activity that occurs at Cardiff Castle happens in the south-west corner of the castle grounds. It is said that the ghost of John Crichton-Stuart, the Second Marquess of Bute, has been seen wandering in the library of the castle, He died in a small chapel near the library and has been seen in a long red coat walking through a fireplace back into the chapel. 

A female ghost, which could be that of Sophia Rawdon-Hastings, the wife of the second Marquess of Bute, wanders the castle grounds at night.  The stockroom of the castle has been the site of unexplainable events. Objects move on their own, and a mist like figure has been seen in the room. 
The large heavy doors of the Dining Room open and close at precisely 3.45am on their own, lights also flicker on and off and occasionally furniture moves on its own in this room. 

For many years there has been a belief that the castle is haunted by a spectral horse and carriage. It was sighted as recently as 1950 and at times it can still be heard in the castle grounds. This ghostly vehicle and horse make their way along Cowbridge Road East to the gates of Cardiff Castle.

I enjoyed my visit to Cardiff Castle.  It was a beautiful Castle, with a fabulous landscape within its bastion walls. My fondest memory is the Castle Falconry which housed the most gorgeous birds including my favourite, owls ! Cardiff Castle is well worth an explore.