Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Guest-Blogger Steven Hart's 5 Top Sites at the Crossroads of History, Industry, Commerce and Art

Guest-blogging today is New Jersey writer and journalist Steven Hart, whose first book, The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America's First Superhighway ,was published in June 2007 by The New Press. He was introduced to Madam Mayo's readers via the estimable guest-blogger Jeff Sypeck, and today he speaks to us directly.

The subject of my book--- the construction in the 1920s and early 1930s of America's first major highway project, and its most visible remnant, the Pulaski Skyway crossing the New Jersey Meadowlands--- appealed to me because it was a neglected piece of history, in which new technology (the automobile and its transformation of America) ran headlong into old-style urban machine politics, touching off a vicious labor war that led directly to a sensational murder trial, and indirectly to a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. When I wasn't dabbling in biography and political science to describe labor unions and the long reign of political boss Frank Hague, I was trying to get my brain around bridge design and the developing science of traffic engineering, all while contemplating industrial archaeology and the unlikely aesthetic appeal of a gigantic pile of black steel crossing some of the ugliest real estate on the eastern seaboard.

Since I am termperamentally incapable of doing only one thing at a given time, it was a hugely enjoyable project. In the same spirit, here are five highly recommended sites that sit at the crossroads of history, industry, commerce and art.

#1. Modern Ruins
Photographer Phil Buehler's site is a showcase for his images of industrial archaeology, such as the old World's Fair site in New York and the defunct Greystone facility in northern New Jersey. Among the most striking images are interiors from the derelict Alcoa factory in Edgewater, a New Jersey community huddled along the Hudson River at the foot of the Palisades -- not far from Jersey City.

#2. The Biographer's Craft
Just a year old this month, James McGrath Morris' monthly newsletter offers news of upcoming and recently sold biographies, shop talk on writing and research, and links to reference sites (many supplied by readers) that will surprise even the most wonkish of Web surfers. I'm always delighted to see the latest issue pop up in my in-box.

#3. Librarians' Internet Index
Happy surprises and unexpected bits of information are the lifeblood of research, and this is a great place to find them. A frequently updated, constantly churned collection of links to "Websites you can trust," on topics ranging from U.S. history and gardening to international law and film history.

#4. History of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge
Engineering failure is one of the themes of The Last Three Miles, and this site maintained by the University of Washington showcases one of the most notorious bridge failures in U.S. history.

#5. Dark Passage
It was through the beautiful site Detroitblog that I learned about the subculture of urban infiltrators, those freelance archaeologist-adventurers who love nothing better than to explore long abandoned buildings, factories and facilities where the detritus of modern life is still turning into history. I really and truly admire the combination of intellectual curiosity, thrill-seeking and sheer balls-to-the-wall spelunking nerve involved in exploring sealed-off buildings and tunnels that are ignored by the rest of the world.

--- Steven Hart

--->To read more Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.
Up next week: travel writer Isabella Tree