Today is made of yesterday, each time I steal toward rites I do not know, waiting for the lost … ingredient, as if salt or money or even lust would keep us calm and prove us whole at last. -Ann Sexton
To many, especially in our modern world; so full of the transient nature of technology; everything is so empty. I see so many drunk with a fascination of the “new thing” only to realize as I take my long commute to work, the front yards of hundreds of homes selling off vainly the “new thing” technology of yesteryear which no one wants. And yet, there is a thirst, an intense desire to find something that was lost, something that is missing which would make us all feel whole and reinvigorate our purpose in life. Newburyport is filled with this empty sensation.
It has a palpable substance to it.
Even as we are overcome with new construction and a building frenzy in the city; even as we see busy restaurants and varied shops; it persists! The historians and historic preservationists in town know that something is missing; the developers and city planners know that something is not quite right – uneasiness that their business plans may come to nothing or a queasiness from the fear of failure.
What is it you may ask?
OUR CITY HAS NO THEME, NO UNITY OF PURPOSE AND NO FUTURE.
The fact is that Newburyport was designed to be in a leadership position. Our town started with that in mind and when it reached its peak at the beginning of the 19th century – it shook the world with the ideas that came from the humble shores of the Lower Merrimack. Even after the dark days from 1807 to 1825; you couldn’t keep this indomitable spirit down and wild times occurred from 1830 to the close of the 19th century. Because we have lost so much of this spirit; everything that occurs in our city is shallow; with no historic significance. We have lost spirit of our founding fathers; we have lost purpose. We’re basically soulless performers making show for customers and tourists. And it shows in our lack luster results. We’re no better than the shiny Simons Malls surrounding Boston – just to walk in them is to feel emptiness.
It is my responsibility now that I have exposed this problem to offer a solution. It is not my desire to drag you to this awful condition only to let you commiserate in despair.
And it is surprisingly apparent but it will require lots of hard work.
First, our historic restoration of the downtown was the spark of bringing back our city. But so much has been lost in significance. We can not trust historians to proclaim it. We need the P.T. Barnum’s of this world to provide us the excitement, the romance and the energy of celebrating these accomplishments.
Second, we must not let the new demographics of our city population to smother and downplay these historic achievements. We’ve got demo lawyers, real estate exploiters, cold-hearted business people, dark siders coupled with those who hate what America was founded on and despise it’s values; all chiming in to kill what made Newburyport great in its storied past.
Third, we need to be steeped in historic memorabilia. I am shocked when I visit so many of our downtown restaurants who have bent over backwards to make sure there is nothing relating to the past in their dining atmosphere. People “feel” the history of our city and then it just dies when they enter some of our dining establishments. It was humorous when Ten Center Street worked so hard to strip away the history; Nix’s first move was to boldly proclaim the history on the outside of the building. It is sad when outsiders ‘get it’ but the businesses here do not.
Fourth, we need to be a port again. We must have the restored Revenue Cutter Massachusetts on our waterfront; perhaps a privateer and yes, perhaps in the future – a Clipper Ship. At the very least we need a regular parade of these sailing ships on our boardwalk and along side it a culture to maintain and support them. Whether it is The Ridge of Mansions or the humble homes of Joppa; our port is linked to our history and to our city. It is the linking theme of everything and will give purpose to the Art Culture, the Historical Society, to the Preservationists and to the business community.
Without these necessary steps, we are as lost as so much of our history and much like Ann Sexton, look only forward to dying even as everything around us becomes modern and new.