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Remember: Our city of Ghosts

Monday, May 11, 2009

Our city of Ghosts

I visited my great grandparents and great uncles today. I saw some cousins and family friends. None of them saw me of course, being this was at the cemetery. I took my friend Katie with me. She is the writer of lvvoice and a very active and concerned young citizen of a newly developing Allentown.

The people we went to visit were citizens of Allentown as it was developing in very different eras than the one today. Andrew Joseph Brennan (whom I am named after) moved to Allentown with my great-grandmother, my grandmother and her four siblings in the mid twenties. They were second generation Irish immigrants coming to Allentown after leaving the mines in McAdoo. Their Allentown was a town of immigrants. They city was divided into neighborhoods of ethnicity. They are buried in what was the Irish neighborhood, in the churchyard of the Irish Church. Their Allentown existed before the high swell of commercial success in the mid 20th century. They were the workers and citizens who helped that Allentown come to fruition.

From the cemetery there is an excellent view of the rapidly (and tragically) disintegrating Neuweiler beer plant. That ghost falls apart in the shadows of the tombstones of many people who worked there and in the other deteriorating relics of a different time of manufacturing and production. Truly, there is little or any of that left in our city, our city of ghosts.

My father came to the Valley after immigrating to North Carolina from Germany. He arrived here at the great height of commercialism in the 1950s. He worked at Zollingers which was one of three department stores anchoring Hamilton boulevard and defining downtown Allentown for many years. My mother worked at Hess’. Their Allentown was of glitz and glamour. They have also bore witness to the cities decline over the last thirty years. They have seen Allentown become the city of ghosts.

Today Katie and I stood in that cemetery and looked at our Allentown. Most of what defines our Allentown is in planning phases and revitalization committees. I say that because the truth to our city without the planning phases and revitalization committees is bleak at best and nearly hopeless at worst. We can never return to the commercial mecca we were in the fifties. We will never return to a manufacturing and textile hub as we were in Andrew Brennans time. Those are our ghosts.

We can however, learning the lessons of our past move forward and take our Allentown into a new era with new thinking and a real possibility. There is a potential in this city of ours although it is hard to see past the shadows of crime and urban decay.

Today it felt good to acknowledge the past; but we cannot let that past forever dominate our future. We learn from it but we must not become it. We preserve what we can, and what we should in order to provide the cornerstones and catalysts for new growth.

Only longtime Allentonians can truly know the history of our city because they are the ones that have experienced it. I listen intently each time my mother or father speaks of the experiences they had growing up here if only to imagine what that feeling was like. I will never attempt to recreate what caused it but hope someone can create something new that makes that feeling come alive again.



Blogger michael molovinsky said...

good post, and very true we cannot go backwards. people of good intentions can disagree on the plans in place to go forward. i note that the majority of the stimuli money is being spend on low-income housing. one of those projects isn't even necessary, the re-siding of cumberland gardens. although putting an emphasis on the economically deprived is morally commendable, i don't think it will achieve the revitalization you hope for. to be more blunt, plans alone do not visionaries make. to often these 'plans' are stock formula's from magazines for government professional bureaucrats. these career types are more interested in building a resume than enhancing the quality of life in allentown. thank you for changing your comment section to accommodate the technically challenged.

May 12, 2009 at 11:27 AM  

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