Friday, February 17, 2012

Physically Deleting Bad Memories

Sometimes the fourth dimension can be held still by the other three. Certain locations conjure memories almost as well as they convey the present. If you think about it while you're there, just standing in the same physical space where something notable happened at some point in the past will make you feel some sort of a connection to the event.

The bomb was placed near the rightmost small green building
I felt this way as I stood in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, across the street from the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola. I was looking for the exact location of the bombing that occurred during the Olympic games in 1996, and was standing in the spot that my research led me to conclude was the exact location where the explosive device detonated. Hours before this happened, I had been in the park with a friend's family; later that night I saw my dad glued to a television watching news footage of the terror attack play on a loop.

I looked at the park, very much different than half a lifetime ago when the attack happened, and envisioned a nighttime scene of nearly a hundred people injured by shrapnel. Though the only people in sight were tourists in winter coats, I felt I was more vividly able to experience the dramatic scene simply by standing where the explosion occurred.

Then I walked up Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard with the hope of finding the pay phone that Eric Rudolph called in the bomb threat with, just three blocks away. He hadn't wanted to hurt any children or individuals he deemed "innocent," so he picked up the pay phone to call an operator. Despite placing a deadly device nearby, his intention was to evacuate the park, leaving just police officers nearby to be injured. When the operator picked up, he had just enough time to read the words "We reject your—" before being hung up on. The telephone operators during the Olympics didn't have time to mess around.

I searched, but the pay phones were gone. The phones were gone due to being obsolete and not due to any negative publicity, but I couldn't help thinking about what it might have been like to pick up the handset he used and hold it. I certainly don't respect his actions, but there's something curious about that thought that can't quite be explained.

It's the same reason tourists in New York City gather outside of The Dakota building where John Lennon was shot. It's part of why Auschwitz still exists — as a museum. It's very much the reason that the hypocenter of the nuclear attack on Nagasaki has a monument.

The precise location of the last wartime nuclear explosion

Not all notable physical locations memorialize terrible events, of course. We can stand where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, visit Bethesda Fountain in Central Park and think of the dozens of movie scenes that have been shot there, or visit the Alamo or any other fort in the world and think about the brave soldiers who fought to the death there.

As I headed toward the Georgia Aquarium, I shuddered while thinking about the free Nickelback concert I had attended on that plot of land just a decade before. Not all physical locations are notable.

But while massive disasters — nuclear bombings, concentration camps, the World Trade Center attacks — are hideous on such a scale that they cannot, should not be forgotten, some horribly tragic events are just small enough that society chooses to delete them. If they can't get them out of their mind, at least they can wipe them off the face of the Earth.

Houses that serial killers committed their heinous deeds in can still be sold. There's no law against it, and no law requiring disclosure of the events at any point. There's always going to be tourists and entrepreneurs looking to experience or capitalize on the macabre so one might expect that these structures might stick around, but the people in the community generally decide to completely eliminate these locations altogether (whether by public agreement or anonymous vandalization). I'll admit that I'll drive past one of these locations just as I'll drive past the birthplace of MLK, but sometimes it really is better to forget.

Here, then, are a collection of 5 notorious mass murder locations deleted from the Earth.

H. H. Holmes' castle
W. 63rd Street and S. Wallace Street, Chicago, IL 60621

During the 1893 World's Fair, evil opportunist Herman Mudgett set up camp in Chicago by building a block-long three story hotel to house fairgoers. Known to the neighborhood's residents as Dr. H. H. Holmes, his "castle" was a landmark for many of the locals. On the inside, it was a confusing maze of more than a hundred rooms, mostly windowless, with trap doors, dead end staircases, soundproof rooms, and torture devices. He used gas lines to suffocate his victims and dumped their bodies into the cellar via chutes attached to many of the rooms.

Holmes was eventually captured and charged with a handful of murders, even though he confessed to more than 27. Very soon after his capture, the castle burned to the ground. It has been presumed that the residents could not stand the thought of such a devilish structure looming over their neighborhood any longer, especially with prospectors looking to turn it into a tourist attraction.

Today, the plot of land is occupied by a U.S. Post Office, possibly because no one else would build on the land.

Gein farm
Archer Avenue and 2nd Avenue, Plainfield, WI

Ed Gein is not remembered for the two murders he committed as much as he is notable for being an extensive body snatcher. His childhood and early adulthood were dominated by an overbearing and overprotective mother who convinced him that the world outside was dangerous and that everyone was evil. She'd beat him and his brother mercilessly. His older brother died of a heart attack during a brush fire, and when his mother subsequently passed away, he lost his last friend in the world.

Gein filled the void by digging up corpses in nearby graveyards and manipulating their bodies. He'd turn body parts into household items such as cookware and belts, but also made a suit out of female body parts to fulfill a wish to be transgendered. The bizarre practices occurring on his extremely rural farm were exposed in 1957 when a sales receipt linked him to a missing person whose body was later found on his property.

In early 1958, the property was scheduled to be turned into a tourist attraction but, just like the Holmes hotel, it mysteriously burned to the ground. Today, the site is overgrown with trees and there is no evidence of any structures, with the exception of one poorly maintained dirt road.

The Polanski-Tate residence
10050 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90120

Film director Roman Polanski resided here with his very pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, in the 1960s. It was a large, classic estate built in the 40s and previously occupied by numerous Hollywood socialites before becoming the site of one of the most horrible murders in Los Angeles history. The followers of Charles Manson killed six people on the property in a senseless massacre intended to spark a race riot in the city on August 8, 1969.

Despite an enormous amount of publicity surrounding the home, the property changed owners for many years and continued to have occupants. Trent Reznor, the musician behind Nine Inch Nails, was the last to live in the house. After meeting Tate's sister, he decided that living in the house was actually insulting to the victims and allowed it to be demolished — but not before taking the famous front door to be installed in his New Orleans recording studio.

Hollywood producer Jeff Franklin purchased the property in 1994 and built a new mansion in its place. The new address is 10066.

John Wayne Gacy's Chicago home
8213 W. Summerdale Avenue, Chicago, IL 60656

Though sentenced to 10 years in prison for sodomizing two teenage boys, Gacy was released after just 18 months in June of 1970. Forbidden from seeing his wife and children, he moved to Chicago where he lured young men to his house, murdered them, and buried them in the crawlspace. He committed so many of these crimes that he ran out of room under the house and in the yard and began throwing bodies into a nearby river.

When a 15-year-old boy went missing after telling his mother that he was going to see about a job with Gacy, policed arrived at his house with a search warrant. A relatively lengthy investigation resulted in the discovery of more than thirty victims. Gacy actually assisted on-site during the exhumation of the bodies, providing highly accurate details about where they could be found.

The house and everything else on the property was demolished in 1979. The lot stood empty in the neighborhood for years until another house was built in its place — with a different street address.

Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment
924 N. 25th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53233

Dahmer moved into apartment 213 in May 1990 and began murdering there within two months. He had already killed five people, but did so while living with relatives. This was his own place, where he could do whatever he wanted with people. It wasn't really his intention to kill anyone, but that was the only way he could think of to make them submit to his will. He killed twelve people in the apartment, keeping body parts in various states of decay, including several human heads, severed hands, and a heart in the refrigerator.

Neighbors complained of the smell, but he wasn't caught until June 1991 when one of his victims escaped and brought the police back to find numerous photos of his deceased victims and a large barrel with a decaying body in it.

Dahmer's crimes were so horrifying that the entire apartment building was torn down. At one point, plans for a memorial in its place were made, but the idea never materialized. The lot remains empty.

Looking at these locations, I realized that two were in Chicago and two were in Wisconsin, and all four involved the individual's own residence while the L.A. incident happened in a victim's residence. Is there something about the cold weather of the Great Lakes that makes psychopaths act violently within their own homes? Who knows.

In the case of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing that I missed by only a few hours, the incident killed one person directly and lead to the heart attack of a camera man running to cover the chaos. But because 111 people were injured, a memorial was placed in the park called the Quilt of Remembrance. It's not the exact location of the bomb's detonation, but sometimes you don't really need to be quite that accurate.


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